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And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear unto him, was sick, and ready to die
The centurion and his servant
A Roman soldier, a stern, unbending man, accustomed to be obeyed absolutely; accustomed to oppress a downtrodden, conquered race, no one daring to raise a murmur; a heathen, too, a man whose religion was odious and contemptible, a man, therefore, without real power over his actions, the creature of caprice: such, at least by instinct and education, must the good centurion have been.
Yet the grace of God is well-nigh irresistible, it triumphs against desperate odds. At first he has nothing but contempt for a religion which, good in itself, was made almost insufferable by its priests and professors. As he looks deeper down; as he begins to think; takes the trouble to examine this old creed, at first it may be with a sort of antiquarian interest, then with growing curiosity, then with an honest desire to learn; God teaches him, the Holy Spirit enlightens his heart, and he begins to love the nation whom he had been sent to trample upon rather than to rule. So between this rough soldier and his neighbour there sprang up mutual confidence, even love; at last, so drawn was he towards the people of God, that with boundless generosity he built the men of Capernaum a synagogue. Nor was this soldier’s love only to the inhabitants of Capernaum; his servant, a poor slave, a youth stolen from home and friends, expecting only cruelty and stripes, “was dear unto him,” and he lay at home sick and ready to die.
1. The wisdom of accepting God’s plan of life as the one by which we can most glorify Him. Who does not often wish that his place in life had been quite differently cast? If we only had had more money, leisure, scope for talents, friends, what could we not have done for God, what might not God have accomplished in us? See the correction of this foolishness in the saintly centurion’s history. A heathen soldier mixing with men whose actions, however brave they might be, were always cruel and hard, living amongst companions coarse and low, where passion was unbridled, pity unknown; a man sent to serve m despised Galilee, amongst a nation utterly degraded, hopelessly vile; his headquarters one of the most corrupt cities of that land of darkness; how could circumstances be apparently more against him? Yet what seemed hindrances, he turned into helps. If he had not been in the Roman army he had never seen Capernaum; if he had not been quartered near Capernaum, he had never built a synagogue; but for his sorrow he would never have had personal intercourse with the Lord of Life; but for his great need he would never have won so gracious a benediction from God’s Son. So is it with every one born of woman. Where our lot is cast, what our circumstances may be--all this is God’s plan. Therefore it follows, they are the best circumstances conceivable, by which we may mount to Him. Shun discontent. Ourselves, not our circumstances, are our hindrances.
2. There is another line of thought suggested by the relationship which existed between this master and those whom God had placed in his home--“his servant was dear unto him.” It is difficult for us to realize thestrangeness of the situation. Christianity has taught men pity, tenderness, sympathy for weakness and suffering, yet this centurion was not even a Jew. Somehow the tender heart of this valiant soldier, illuminated by the light of conscience, taught him that his slave lad was brought into his home, in order that he might lift him out of the lower depths of degradation, succour and help him in his need. How clear the lesson to a Christian, to a soldier of the cross. Are we not taught the strange responsibility which is placed on each as, in turn, he becomes a master or a messenger, as parents or teachers--immediately, that is, God gives us any authority? Home, the centre of Christian influence, home, the place where servants, children, guests, are all brought together for this end alone, that by love those in authority may win those over whom they are set, and so God may win them too; this, indeed, is the lesson of the good centurion’s action. (T. B. Dover, M. A.)
The centurion’s faith
Notice some of the lessons, naturally lessons touching faith, which this passage is designed to teach.
I. We learn that GREAT SPIRITUAL ADVANTAGES ARE NOT ALWAYS NECESSARY TO GREAT FAITH. Let us never despair of truth-sowing, in waste and unlikely places. The so-called rose of Jericho drops its dried-up germ on the parched desert sand. But God’s mind does not leave it to perish. Swept hither and thither, it finds at last its oasis, some hidden spot of moisture, and there it abides and sprouts, and becomes again a thing of life and beauty. A drifting cocoa-nut, cast by the surf ashore upon some barren limestone reef, seems in itself the very image of failure and utter loss. But see I this apparent waif, under the watchful eye of Providence, becomes the beginning of an earthly paradise. It is faith in sowing that brings the harvest of faith (Ecclesiastes 11:6).
II. It is more than hinted, further, that GREAT FAITH IS MOST LIKELY TO BE FOUND IN CONNECTION WITH A NOBLE NATURE. Equity, generosity, sympathy, humility, such traits were prominent here, and they made room for tile working of great faith in Christ. Faith is something that has to do with ideas, and hence holds mere things cheap. It is not so much what they achieve as what they believe in and strive for that makes men noble and great. “What I admire,” said Turgot, “in Christopher Columbus, is not that he discovered the New World, but that he went to look for it on the faith of an idea.”
III. Again, GREAT FAITH HERE, AS ALWAYS, IS ACCOMPANIED BY A SENSE OF GREAT NEED.
IV. Further, it follows also from what has just been said, that GREAT FAITH IS ACCOMPANIED ALSO BY GREAT HUMILITY. Its sublimest flights, like those of the birds, are always preceded by a settling low down. There are some beautiful plants whose leaves grow even smaller as the plant grows higher.
V. Still again, THE GREAT FAITH OF THE CENTURION WAS NO UNREASONING FAITH. A great deal is said about believing blindly. And there are times when a simple trust is all that is left us; but generally speaking, we may reason from the seen to the unseen, front ourselves and our finite circumstances to God and His unlimited might. Faith is not blind, except to trifles. It sees! It sees more, not less. It sees with new light and new powers. This earth of ours is but a simple birthplace, a nest of sticks and mud on the swinging bough. It is the point of departure, not the place of rest, and the man of faith has realized this in some degree. He has looked over its borders into the unsounded depths. He has gazed on the immeasurable vault. He has the evidence of things unseen. He knows that though “the steps of faith fall on a seeming void, they find the Rock beneath.”
VI. It is interesting to notice, in the next place, THE KIND OF MORAL TRAINING THAT SEEMS TO FIT ONE FOR THE EXERCISE OF GREAT FAITH.
1. Obedience. Our centurion, as a soldier, had learned to submit his will, to obey. But it is still better to learn obedience in the family than in the army.
A loving, filial obedience towards Christian parents is of all earthly things the nearest to that service which our heavenly Father claims from us.
2. Liberality. Our centurion was a generous giver, too. There is a really potent moral discipline in giving. Just as the largest ships only venture into the deepest harbours, so it is safe to expect that the Divine blessing--especially an all-conquering faith, one of the greatest--will only there come richest and fullest where the sluices are held widest open, through a noble, perpetual outgush of kindly feeling and generous doing towards one’s fellow-men.
VII. GREAT FAITH DOES NOT LIFT ONE OUT OF THE BEACH OF INTERCESSORY PRAYER ON THE PART OF THOSE HAVING LESS.
VIII. GREAT FAITH IS ABLE TO BEAR WITHOUT PERIL GREAT BLESSINGS. Ships that are well ballasted you may load high, and they will not careen or refuse to mind the rudder.
IX. WHETHER FAITH BE GREAT OR SMALL, IT IS THE SAME THING IN ESSENCE, AND INEXPRESSIBLY WELL-PLEASING TO OUR LORD. The principal thing is to have some faith, though it be little. It is that which brings us into the blessed circle of the beneficiaries of Jesus, while the want of it shuts us wholly out. Men have had it who had little else that was good, who had, in fact, much else that was bad, and yet, because they had it, were enrolled among the heroes of God’s shining host. (Edwin C. Bissell.)
Kindness to inferiors
Xenocrates, though a heathen, was pitiful to a poor sparrow, which, being pursued by a hawk, fled to him for succour. He sheltered her until the enemy had flown off, and then, letting her go, said that he had not betrayed his poor suppliant. A Christian should have more pity for a distressed Christian than a heathen has for a bird. A master should be a physician to his servants; as careful to preserve their health and prevent their death, as to provide them work. Another heathen told his wife that it was part of her office, and the most grateful part of it, in case a servant fell sick, to tend him and promote his recovery. This centurion, though a soldier (and their hearts usually are more obdurate and less compassionate than others), was earnest and diligent for the help of his sick servant. (G. Swinnock.)
The increase of faith
I. FAITH IS THE CONDITION OF THE EXERCISE OF GOD’S POWER UPON US--a condition, let it ever be borne in mind, of God’s own making, and springing wholly out of God’s own wisdom and love to us. For, I ask, What is faith? and I reply that, speaking generally, faith is sympathy with God--it is the receptive attitude of the soul--it is the laying open of the whole being to the influence of God. If I would keep the tender flower from the frost, I must cover it up and wrap it round to shut out the icy touch that would freeze up its life. But would I quicken it with the sun I must take away all barriers and let its blessed rays stream in. Unbelief covers up and closes the soul: faith opens it to the sunshine.
II. FAITH IS THE MEASURE OF GOD’S GIFTS TO US. The gifts are proportioned to our fitness and our power to receive them. There are partial gifts for partial faith; fuller gifts for fuller faith. To recur to my former illustration, the measure in which the sun streams into a chamber depends on the degree in which all impediments are removed from its entrance. The limit is not in the glorious orb, but in that which receives it. It will enter wherever it can, though it be but through a broken link. Throw wide open the broad shutters, and how it will stream in, till every object becomes beautiful in its rays! If we would have more faith, we must cultivate it; and I will tell you how.
1. There must be conscious desire in your minds for more faith--not a general wish for more grace in a vague and unmeaning way, but a deep sense of your need of a fuller trust in God and an earnest desire for it.
2. Try to exercise faith. The gift, indeed, is all of God; but He works through the human effort. Not the listless idle soul, that folds its hands and takes its ease in Zion, will ever get close to God, but the soul that presses on and up, and, in our Lord’s vivid language, “takes heaven by violence.”
3. To assist you in this effort, endeavour to watch and study the dealings of God with you, like one who expects to see God everywhere. Be not like the man who saunters along the road, not caring or thinking whom he shall meet; but like one who is looking out for a friend, and watches on every side to see him. Think of God as a real being, and both in the answers to your prayers and in the details of your life, try to trace His providence.
4. Let us dwell much upon the promises; let us live in them and on them, making them the habitual atmosphere of our religious life. (E. Garbett, M. A.)
The centurion of Capernaum
I. There are three aspects in which this “centurion of Capernaum” commands our attention; as a MAN, as an OFFICIAL, and as a PROSELYTE. His attraction is thus PERSONAL, POLITICAL, and RELIGIOUS.
1. The personal interest that attaches to him.
2. His political interest, or official significance. As an officer of Rome, the representative of Roman power at a Jewish Court, he draws our notice to himself. The Jew is the world’s representative Religionist; the Greek its representative Thinker; but the Roman its representative Ruler. He is the typical warrior and administrator. Her own greatest poet put into the prophetic mouth of Anchises in the nether world this description of her mission:--“Others, I grant, shall with more delicacy mould the breathing brass; from marble draw the features to the life; describe with the rod the courses of the rising stars. To rule the nations with imperial sway, be your care, O Romans; these shall be thine arts--to impose terms of peace, to spare the humble, and to crush the proud.” When the Word of God became Incarnate He entered into a world politically prepared for His Advent after a fashion not less perfect for the purpose designed than strange because of the means by which it had been wrought. Of this preparation Rome was the instrument; and of Rome her officer at Capernaum is a representative. Is there not, then, about him, as an official, a deep political significance and interest?
3. His interest as a Proselyte, This term, “Proselyte,” leads me to call attention to a function of the Jewish Prophets in Messianic preparation, not always adequately measured by us in our estimate of them as divinely ordained to “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Joel thrills him; Jeremiah melts him; Ezekiel elevates him; Isaiah entrances him. The Greek Philosophy, which formed the polite study of every educated Roman, had taught him to look beneath the surface and to gather the truths unseen by the vulgar eye, to see substance under shadow, reality under form, and the truth typified under the typifying symbol. He is thus prepared to pierce beneath the rites and sacrifices to that to which they pointed and which they forecasted.
II. His action, in circumstances which to many men in his station would have been trivial, reveals a new beauty in his character, and demands from us a new admiration. His servant--“dear to him” in a personal way, as one bound to him by personal links, and not merely, as were his soldiers, by official relations--“was sick and ready to die.” The manifestation of a noble nature was grateful to the Son of Man. His Divine Humanity rejoiced as the flower of faith blossomed in the hearts of those He loved. (G. M. Grout, B. D.)
The centurion; or, an exhortation to the virtuous
This centurion certainly had a high reputation. Two features of character blend in him which do not often meet in such graceful harmony. He won the high opinion of others, and yet he held a low estimation of himself.
I. To begin, then, here is a HIGH CHARACTER; let us thoroughly appreciate it, and give it a full measure of commendation. This centurion must have been a man of sterling worth. He was not merely quiet and inoffensive like some men who are as insipid as they are harmless. It would appear, too, that his private temperament, as well as his public spirit, contributed to the estimation in which he was held. Next to this, you will observe his generosity. It is not by occasional deeds of showy lustre, but by the habitual practice of comely virtues, that a worthy character is built up. A thousand kindnesses may be nestling beneath the soil, like the many-fibred root of a gigantic tree, when it is said, “He loveth our nation”; and then the conspicuous fruit appears in its season--“He hath built us a synagogue.” But, remember, and here I close this point, however good your character, or however excellent your repute, not one word of this is ever to be mentioned before the throne of the Most High.
II. Secondly, in the centurion we see coupled with this high and noble repute, DEEP HUMILIATION OF SOUL--“I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my root.” Humility, then, it appears, may exist in any condition. There are some men who are too mean to be humble. They are too crouching, crawling, sneakish, and abject to be humble. It certainly is not for the least vermin that creep the earth to talk about humility. But a man to be humble, needs to have a soul; to stoop, you must have some elevation to stoop from; you must have some real excellence within you before you can really understand what it is to renounce merit. We have heard of a certain monk, who, professing to be humble, said “he had broken all God’s commandments; he was the greatest sinner in the world; he was as bad as Judas.” Somebody said, “Why tell us that? we have all of us thought that a long time!” Straightway the holy man grew red in the face, and smote the accuser, and asked him what he had ever done to deserve such a speech.
III. The main thing I am aiming at, because, after all, the most practical, lies in my third point. However deep our humility, however conscious we may be of our own undeservingness, WE SHOULD NEVER DIMINISH OUR FAITH IN GOD. Observe the confession--“I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof.” What then will be the inference?--“I fear, therefore, my servant will not be healed”? No, no; but--“Say in a word, and my servant shall be healed.” It is all a mistake that great faith implies pride. Beloved, the greater faith, the deeper humility. The more the glories of God strike your eyes, the humbler you will lie in conscious abasement, but yet the higher you will rise in importunate prayer. But now just imagine what your own case is, and the case of others, and let us apply this principle to it: we are utterly unworthy to obtain the temporal or spiritual mercy which, it may be, we are now seeking: we may feel this, but in asking anything for ourselves, we must still ask in faith in God, in His promise, and in His grace; and we shall prevail. Whatever thy desire may be, only believe, and it shall be granted unto thee if it be a desire in accordance with His will, and in accordance with the promises of His Word; or else God’s Word is not true. Be humble about it, but do not be doubtful about it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The centurion’s faith and humility
The greatest light may enter into the darkest places. We may find the choicest flowers blooming where we least expected them. Here was a Gentile, a Roman, a soldier--a soldier clothed with absolute power--and yet a tender master, a considerate citizen, a lover of God! The best of pearls have been found in the darkest caves of ocean. Let no man think that because of his position in society he cannot excel in virtue. It is not the place which is to blame, but the man.
I. THE HUMILITY OF THE CENTURION WAS NOT AT ALL INJURIOUS TO THE STRENGTH OF HIS FAITH. You may have noticed in the biography of some eminent men how badly they speak of themselves. Southey, in his “Life of Bunyan,” seems at a difficulty to understand how Bunyan could have used such depreciating language concerning his own character. For it is true, according to all we know of his biography, that he was not, except in the case of profane swearing, at all so bad as the most of the villagers. Indeed, there were some virtues in the man which were worthy of all commendation. Southey attributes it to a morbid state of mind, but we rather ascribe it to a return of spiritual health. Had the excellent poet seen himself in the same heavenly light as that in which Bunyan saw himself, he would have discovered that Bunyan did not exaggerate, but was simply stating as far as he could a truth which utterly surpassed his powers of utterance. The great light which shone around Saul of Tarsus was the outward type of that inner light above the brightness of the sun which flashes into a regenerate soul, and reveals the horrible character of the sin which dwells within. Believe me, when you hear Christians making abject confessions, it is not that they are worse than others, but that they see themselves in clearer light than others; and this centurion’s unworthiness was not because he had been more vicious than other men--on the contrary, he had evidently been much more virtuous than the common run of mankind--but because he saw what others did not see, and felt what others had not felt. Deep as was this man’s contrition, overwhelming as was his sense of utter worthlessness, he did not doubt for a moment either the power or the willingness of Christ.
II. I shall want you for s moment to attend while we shift the text to the other quarter. THE CENTURION’S GREAT FAITH WAS NOT AT ALL HOSTILE TO HIS HUMILITY. His faith was extraordinary. It ought not to be extraordinary. We ought all of us to believe as well in Christ as this soldier did. In his heart he enthroned the Lord Jesus as a Captain over all the forces of the world, as the generalissimo of heaven and earth; as, in fact, the Caesar, the imperial Governor of all the forces of the universe. ‘Twas graciously thought, ‘twas poetically embodied, ‘twas nobly spoken, ‘twas gloriously believed; but it was the truth and nothing more than the truth, for universal dominion is really in the power of Jesus to-day. Here is one point to which I recall you; this man’s faith did not for a moment interfere with his thorough personal humiliation. Because Christ was so great, he felt himself to be unworthy either to meet Him or entertain Him. The application shall be to three sorts of people.
1. First, we speak to distressed minds deeply conscious of their unworthiness. You feel that you cannot repent, but cannot Jesus make thee repent by His Spirit? Do you hesitate about that question? See the world a few months ago hard bound with frost, but how daffodil, and crocus, and snowdrop, have come up above that once frozen soil, how snow and ice have gone, and the genial sun shines out? God does it readily, with the soft breath of the south wind and the kind sunbeams, and he can do the same in the spiritual world for thee. But, perhaps, it is some bad habit which gives you trouble. You cannot get rid of it. Ah! I know your dreads and despairs; but, man, I ask thee, cannot Jesus deliver? He whose every act is wonderful, can surely do what He will within this little world of thy soul, since in the great world outside He rules as He pleases. Believe in His power, and ask Him to prove it. He has but to say in a word, and this matter of present distress shall be taken away.
2. A second application of our subject shall be made to the patient workers who are ready to faint. The last application I shall make is the same as the second, only on a wider scale.
3. There are many who are like watchers who have grown weary. When He saith, “Do” it shall be done, and His name shall be praised. O for more faith and more self-abasement. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Motives of humility
I. THE FRUITS OF HUMILITY.
1. Humility keeps us from many sins.
2. Humility preserves the other virtues.
3. Humility attracts Divine grace (James 4:6).
4. Humility inflames the heart with Divine charity.
5. Humility exalts us to the height of heaven (Luke 18:14; Luke 18:14; 1 Peter 5:6).
II. THE TEACHING AND EXAMPLE OF JESUS CHRIST. Jesus has enjoined on us this duty--
1. By words (Matthew 11:29).
2. By example.
(1) In His birth.
(2) In His circumcision.
(3) In washing the disciples’ feet.
(4) In His death on the cross.
III. OUR OWN MISERY.
1. We find motives in the outer world.
(1) If you look at the earth, you behold your grave.
(2) Beneath the earth, you find hell.
(3) In heaven is God, and the gate of heaven is low.
2. Motives within ourselves.
(1) Concerning our body.
(2) Concerning our soul. (Laselve.)
He that would build lastingly must lay his foundation low. The proud man, like the early shoots of a new-felled coppice, thrusts out full of sap, green in leaves, and fresh in colour; but bruises and breaks with every wind, is nipped with every little cold, and being top-heavy, is wholly unfit for use. Whereas the humble man retains it in the root, can abide the winter’s killing blast, the ruffling concussions of the wind, and can endure far more than that which appears so flourishing. Like the pyramid, he has a large foundation, whereby his height may be more eminent; and the higher he is, the less does he draw at the top; as if the nearer heaven, the smaller he must appear. And indeed, the higher man approaches to celestials, and the more he considers God, the more he sees to make himself vile in his own esteem. He who values himself least shall by others be prized most. Nature swells when she meets a check; but submission in us to others begets submission in others to us. Give me the man that is humble out of judgment, and I shall find him full of parts. Charles
V. appears as great in holding the candle to his departing visitors, as when he was surrounded by his victorious officers. Moses, who was the first and greatest divine, statesman, historian, philosopher, and poet; who as a valiant general led Israel out of Egypt; who was renowned for his miracles, and could roll up the waves to pass his men, and tumble them down again upon his enemies; who was a type of Christ, and styled a friend of God; was nevertheless meek above all that were upon the face of the earth and lest our proud dust should think it a disparagement to be humble, we are assured by our Saviour Himself, that to be so will be rest to our souls. No man ever lost the esteem of a wise man by stooping to an honest lowness when there was occasion for it. I have known a great duke to fetch in wood to his inferior’s fire; and a general of nations descend to a footman’s office in lifting up the boot of a coach; yet neither thought it a degradation to their dignity. (Owen Felltham.)
A full sail
The full sail oversets the vessel, which drawn in, may make the voyage prosperous. (Owen Felltham.)
If I had seen this centurion only when he was dressed for battle I should not have thought of him as gentle. I should have seen him carrying a sword to kill men with, and a shield to defend himself from being killed by others. And as he had other soldiers under him, I might have heard him speaking to them in a loud commanding way, and telling them to do hard and cruel things. But, as we see him in the Gospels, his sword and shield are hanging on the wall, and he is sitting beside a little bed in his room in the soldiers’ barracks. After one of his dreadful battles he had got for his share of the spoil a little boy who had been taken captive--a poor little boy, torn away from father and mother, and forced to be aslave. He was the slave of this soldier; he cooked his food, he tidied his room, he polished his armour, he went his errands. Then the rough soldier was as tender as a mother could be. He sat by his bed; he watched over him day and night. One day, as the big soldier was sitting by the little bed, somebody came in and said, “A great prophet has come to the town. Jesus of Nazareth has come.” “Jesus of Nazareth?” the soldier said; “the Healer of sickness? Oh that He would heal my boy!” But then this thought came into his mind, “I am a soldier of the nation that is ill-treating the Jews. I am not worthy that a Jew so good as He should do anything for me.” Then other thoughts came, and in his great love for the boy, and knowing that Jesus could heal him, he at last ventured to send this humble message: “Oh, my Lord, my servant is near to die, and Thou art able to save from dying. I am not worthy that Thou shouldest visit my house. But only speak the word, and he shall live.” Now when Jesus received that message, a great joy came into His heart; and He said to health, “Go to that soldier’s little servant, and make him well, for I have not found a heart so gentle as his master’s--no, not in all Israel.” And He had no sooner spoken, out on the street, than the thing He commanded was done. Health came back to the sick boy in the soldier’s house. And the gentle heart of the master swelled up in thankful joy, as he stooped down and kissed the child whom Jesus had made well again. (A. Macleod, D. D.)
Cues to character
There are three separate spectators of every man’s life--himself, his neighbours, and his God. Let us consider concerning this man--
I. WHAT HIS NEIGHBOURS THOUGHT OF HIM--that he was worthy.
1. They formed their opinion of his character from his conduct--“He loveth,” &c. They judged of his worth, not by his words but by his works.
2. Their estimate of his character was singularly just.
II. WHAT HE THOUGHT OF HIMSELF--“I am not worthy.” Doubtless this feeling of unworthiness which prompted him to procure the services of the Jewish elders, instead of going direct to Christ himself.
1. A truly good man has a higher standard of moral excellence than other men.
2. A truly good man is conscious of numerous imperfections which other men do not perceive.
III. WHAT THE SAVIOUR THOUGHT OF HIM--“I have not found so great faith,” &c.
1. Christ estimates a man’s character according to the amount of his faith.
2. All true faith prompts to corresponding activity in doing good. Morality without faith is heathenism, and faith without morality is antinomianism. (W. Kirkman.)
The threefold influence of faith
I. THE INFLUENCE OF FAITH UPON SOCIETY--“He is worthy.”
1. Faith influencing society through the lowest natural means. Stones and mortar. “He hath built us a synagogue.”
2. Faith influencing society through the highest human means. Philanthropy. “He loveth our nation.”
3. Faith continuing to influence society independently of the means by which it manifested itself. Every heart says till this day, “He is worthy.”
II. THE INFLUENCE OF FAITH UPON THE MAN HIMSELF.
1. It gives man a right estimate of himself--“I am not worthy.”
2. It gives him the right estimate of what he has--“Under my roof.”
3. It gives man right ideas of God--“Speak the word only.” He believed
(a) that Christ has authority to speak;
(b) in His willingness to speak;
(c) in His power to accomplish--“And my servant shall be healed.”
4. It gives to the soul the right idea of duty. Loving the nation and caring for the welfare of his domestics.
5. It gives to the soul the right religious impulse--“He hath built us a synagogue.”
6. It converts the soul into a most Christ-like aspect. Disinterestedness pervades all the centurion’s acts. All for others.
III. THE INFLUENCE OF FAITH UPON THE SAVIOUR--“I have not found so great faith,” &c.
1. The uniqueness of the faith. It took the Saviour by surprise.
2. The clear conception which his faith had of the person of the Saviour.
3. The estimate which his faith had formed of the Saviour’s feelings. Believed there were sympathy and tenderness in the Saviour’s heart.
4. The estimate which he had formed of the resources at the Saviour’s command.
5. His implicit confidence in the Saviour in His absence.
6. The Saviour’s unreserved compliance with the centurion’s request, and the desired blessing bestowed. (W. A. Edwards.)
The lessons of the narrative
1. The true Church in the world in all ages is wider than the visible Church.
2. There are in all ages lost characters within the pale of the visible Church. “They are not all Israel which are of Israel.”
3. True piety always insures membership of the invisible Church.
4. We are led into circumstances at times in which our religious sympathies ought to transcend all the narrow sectional lines of our creeds.
5. True faith presents itself to Christ and the world in very different aspects.
6. True faith never fails to enlist Christ’s sympathy and help.
7. Devotion to the welfare of others is a safe path to personal happiness and heaven’s approval. (W. A. Edwards.)
1. Truth may prosper when the Church is not aware of it.
2. Truth prospers at times beyond the expectation of the Church.
3. Truth prospers often where we least expect it.
4. Contact with Christ reveals the true condition of the soul:
(a) Faith in the heart of the centurion;
(b) Unbelief in that of the Jews.
5. The noble influence of religion, conquering the bigotry of the Jew, and inspiring the heart of a Gentile to build synagogues to the service of the living God.
6. Privileges enhance responsibility, and neglect of them involves the saddest consequences.
7. Man’s work is ever in proportion to his faith.
8. Man’s influence upon society is ever in proportion to the amount of his faith.
9. Man’s influence with Heaven is ever in proportion to the strength of his faith. (W. A. Edwards.)
A soldier’s training
This centurion was a Roman, a captain in the army, who had risen from the ranks by good conduct. Before he got his vine-stock, which was the mark of his authority over a hundred men, he had, no doubt, marched many a weary mile under a heavy load, and fought, probably, many a bloody battle in foreign parts. That had been his education--discipline and hard work. And because he had learned to obey, he was fit to rule. He was helping now to keep in order those treacherous, unruly Jews, and their worthless puppet-kings like Herod; much as our soldiers in India are keeping in order the Hindoos, and their worthless puppet-kings. This was the great and true thought which had filled this good man’s mind--duty, order, and obedience. The message which he sent to Jesus means this: “There is a word of command among us soldiers. Has God no word of command likewise? The word of my superiors is enough for me. I say to those under me, ‘Go,’ and they go. And if I can work by a word, cannot this Jesus work by a word likewise? “By some such thoughts as these, I suppose, had this good soldier gained his great faith; his faith that all God’s creatures were in a divine and wonderful order obedient to the wilt of God who made them; and that Jesus Christ was God’s viceroy and lieutenant (I speak so, because I suppose that is what he, as a soldier, would have thought), to carry out God’s commands on earth. This is the character which makes a good soldier, and a good Christian likewise. (Charles Kingsley.)
Paradoxes in the character of the centurion
1. A soldier accustomed to scenes of bloodshed, yet preserving, amid all the hardening tendencies of his profession, a tender heart.
2. A slave-owner, yet solicitous for the welfare of his slave.
3. A representative of the usurping power, yet one who had secured the respect and affection of the leaders of the subjugated people among whom he lived.
4. A proselyte to the religion of Israel, yet more truly religious than the people whose religion he had adopted.
5. A Pagan by birth, a Jew by conversion, a Christian by faith. “The first heathen man of whom we read, that he acknowledged Christ.” Learn that a true religious faith is able to overcome in the man who possesses it the untoward influences of
(d) circumstances. (J. R. Bailey.)
Faith of the centurion
I. THE FAITH WHICH WAS COMMENDED.
1. First evidence of its existence--His tenderness to his servants. Of course this good act might have existed separate from religion. But we arc forbidden to view it so, when we remember that he was a proselyte.
2. Second proof: His humility.
3. Third: His belief in an invisible living will.
II. THE CAUSES OF CHRIST’S ASTONISHMENT.
1. The centurion was a Gentile, and therefore unlikely to know revealed truth.
2. A soldier, and therefore exposed to a recklessness, and idleness, and sensuality, which are the temptations of that profession. But he turned his loss to glorious gain.
III. THE SAVIOUR’S COMMENT CONTAINED THE ADVANTAGE OF DISADVANTAGES, AND THE DISADVANTAGE OF ADVANTAGES. The former, “Many shall come from the east and the west,” &c. The latter, “The children of the kingdom shall be cast into outer darkness” (Matthew 8:11-12).
IV. THIS INCIDENT TESTIFIES TO THE PERFECT HUMANITY OF CHRIST. The Saviour marvelled. It was a real genuine wonder. (F. W. Robertson.)
I. THIS FAITH IN ITS AWAKENING IN THE MAN’S LIFE.
II. THIS FAITH IN ITS EXPRESSION IN THE MAN’S LIFE. (J. Ogmore Davies.)
The faith of the centurion reveals itself.
I. As A POWER OF CONCEIVING GREAT THOUGHTS. His idea is, that just as the hundred men under his command are at his beck to come and go, and do as he pleases, so all the powers of nature arc ready to do the bidding of Christ. Was it not a great original idea? Observe, it was an idea, the credit of which belonged to the centurion’s faith. To conceive it required more than a clever brain, even the daring spirit of which faith alone is capable. Unbelief cannot entertain such grand ideas of Divine power.
II. AS A POWER OF DWARFING INTO INSIGNIFICANCE MOUNTAINS OF DIFFICULTY. Weak faith makes difficulties, but strong faith annihilates them. (A. B. Bruce, D. D.)
Masters and servants
The centurion was
(1) a man of faith.
(2) He was also a man of liberality.
(3) His charity began at home.
There are many faults noticeable in rulers of families.
1. Injustice in the assignment of duties.
2. Unreasonableness in the expectation of perfection.
3. Negligence in the consideration of religious interests.
He loveth our nation
I. THE PRINCIPLE ON WHICH THE CENTURION ACTED.
II. THE ACTION ITSELF. “He hath built us,” &c. We estimate love by the service that it renders, and the cost that service occasions. (J. C.Galloway.)
The candour and liberality of the centurion recommended
I. THE SUPERIORITY TO PREJUDICE WHICH HIS LOVE FOR THE JEWISH NATION IMPLIES.
II. THE SOLID GROUNDS ON WHICH HIS ATTACHMENT TO THE JEWISH NATION RESTED. It was such an attachment as it was next to impossible for a good man not to feel. To love the Jewish nation is still a natural dictate of piety.
III. THE MANNER IN WHICH HIS ATTACHMENTS TO THE PEOPLE OF GOD WAS EVINCED. It was not an empty profession, productive of no fruit.
IV. THE HIGHLY PRAISEWORTHY AND EXEMPLARY CHARACTER OF HIS CONDUCT. To assist in the erection of places of worship, providing it proceeds from right motives, is unquestionably an acceptable service to the Most High. (R. Hall, M. A.)
I do not know that we ever feel the immense interval between ourselves and the Son of Man more keenly than when we compare that which astonishes us with that which astonishes Him. To us, as a rule, the word “miracles” denotes mere physical wonders; and these are so wonderful to us as to be well-nigh incredible. But in Him they awake no astonishment. He never speaks of them with the faintest accent of surprise. He set so little store by them that He often seemed reluctant to work them, and openly expressed His wish that those on or for whom they had been wrought would tell no man of them. What does astonish Him is not these outward wonders so surprising to us, but that inward wonder, the mystery of man’s soul, the miraculous power which we often exercise without a thought of surprise, the power of opening and shutting that door or window of the soul which looks heavenward, and through which alone the glories of the spiritual world can stream in upon us. Only twice are we told that He marvelled to whom all the secrets of Nature and Life lay open; once at the unbelief of men, and once at their faith. When He came to His own, and they received Him not, He was driven from His wonted calm by an immeasurable surprise: He marvelled at their unbelief (Mark 6:6); and, again, when He came to those to whom He was a Stranger, and they took Him in, He was beyond all measure astonished; He marvelled at their prompt and vigorous faith. (S. Cox, D. D.)
Faith and reason
We are told that this man’s faith excited the wonder of the Son of God, and, therefore, everything that belongs to that faith must be interesting to us.
1. Already, then, this man was recognized for his devotedness of character.
2. Since our Lord knew that the character of this centurion was that of a devout, unselfish believer in God, we can easily understand that His expectations must have been large.
3. And yet we are told that His expectations were exceeded. Expecting much, He found more.
4. Some people have thought that the humility of this centurion was so extreme as to be exaggerated, and even unnatural. Yet remember
(1) that he had been taught that the position of a Gentile was that of a profane and unclean person;
(2) that his humility was founded, doubtless, upon moral as well as ceremonial reasons. He realized the greatness of the Lord Jesus.
5. How did he reason with himself? In a way which shows that the basis of true faith is always humility. (Bishop Moorhouse.)
The centurion’s faith
Faith and humility, my brethren, may be described as two sister virtues, so closely are they connected together, that the one cannot flourish without the other. We are taught that we may possibly have something like a vague hope that, through God’s mercy, our sin may, ultimately, be forgiven, and our souls rescued from ruin: but for a man to say that he knows that salvation is his, that he is in a state of acceptance, that the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ has been applied to his soul, and that now he is the child of God, is presumption, and that no real, humble-minded Christian will speak in this way. Thus we find, that while, on the one hand, faith is, by one class of persons represented as presumption, on the other hand, it is exaggerated into presumption just because people fail to exercise the virtue of humility. There is no humility in my doubting the Word of God. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” Let us take the narrative as it stands, and learn a few practical lessons from it.
I. The first thing I notice about this centurion is, that although he was a man in a considerable social position, HE WAS ALTOGETHER FREE FROM THAT PETTY FORM OF CONVENTIONAL PRIDE, WHICH IS IN TOO MANY INSTANCES THE CURSE OF MODERN SOCIETY. Here is a very practical lesson with respect to humility. My friends, I do not believe much in the humility of man towards his God where his conduct is characterized by pride towards his fellow men. Yet, again, the centurion was free from that miserable form of pride which exhibits itself in national prejudice. The man that really wants to get a blessing from the Lord Jesus Christ must be content to take the lowest place, to think everybody better than himself, to see himself as God sees him, and to be willing to accept from any man whatever reasonable help that man seems likely to offer to him.
II. Well, listen to THE WORDS OF COMMENDATION OF THE MASTER. “When Jesus heard it, He marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith: no, not in Israel.” I want to ask you, before concluding my sermon this morning, Are you prepared to receive a blessing, dear friends, on those terms? If the Lord Jesus Christ were to stand in this pulpit, looking every one of you in the face, and were to say, “ Go thy way; as thou hast believed, so be it unto thee,” would you reply by a fervent exclamation of grateful joy? Should we be able to say so? or should we not, in common honesty, have to look up, and say. “Not so, Lord; I have net believed, or trusted my case into Thy hand; on the contrary, I feel in my own heart, that I have been constantly taking it out of Thy hand, and transferring it from Thee to myself? I have had my own feelings and thoughts; I have been reasoning about possibilities; and, so far as I have been taking it out of Thy hand, I cannot claim Thy blessing.” Oh, dear friends, remember that God cannot alter His conditions. They are fixed in the very nature of things. (W. H. Aitken, M. A.)
The centurion at Capernaum
I. HIS PIETY WAS MARKED BY ZEAL AND LIBERALITY. The true secret of this soldier’s “love “ for the Jewish “nation” is thus explained. It was a “love” founded upon religion, and it expressed itself in religious acts. The conversion of this Roman soldier gives an interesting and instructive view of the power of Divine truth. In scarcely any period of its history was there a more sad declension of genuine piety in the Jewish Church, than in the age to which the text refers. Scepticism, formality, hypocrisy, and sin, seemed to pervade all ranks. Yet, amidst all this degeneracy, the truth remained embodied in the sacred Scriptures, the purity of which was most sedulously guarded; and by means of that truth, however it might be dishonoured by its professors, this heathen soldier was effectually “turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.” How wonderful are the dispensations of Providence! The Roman army conquered the Jews in battle, and rendered their nation tributary; but the Jews, in their turn, armed with the power of revealed truth, effected a greater victory. They overcame the understandings and the hearts of many of their conquerors, and laid the hardy soldiers of heathen Rome prostrate in prayer before the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. In connection with this part of our subject I wish particularly to invite your attention to the liberal and generous character of true religion. A good man cannot live to himself. His property, his influence, his person, are freely placed upon God’s altar, and offered in sacrifice to the Lord of all. But the piety of the centurion mentioned in our text was not only characterized by zeal and liberality; it was equally marked--
II. BY KINDNESS AND HUMANITY. He had a “servant that was dear to him”; and when that servant “was sick, and ready to die,” the tenderest sympathies of the master were awakened. We are here reminded of that diversity of rank which has prevailed in the world from the earliest ages. While poverty remains, servitude must also continue. This diversity of rank, in consequence of the depravity of human nature, has often given birth to feelings and acts alike dishonourable to God and man. True religion effectually corrects all these evils. It produces a spirit of justice, equity, and love; and it inspires the mind with the fear of God, and a supreme regard for His authority. It renders the rich man the guardian and benefactor of the poor; and it makes the poor cheerful, contented, and honest. And let no one suppose that this spiritual equality and affection is subversive of order and of just authority. The most perfect of all government is the government of holy love. This remark will apply both to families and the Church. His piety and kindness, so far from impairing his authority, seem to have even increased it; and the probability is, that a master more respected, or an officer more efficient, did not then exist. The obedience which he received was remarkable for its promptitude and cheerfulness; so far was his pious kindness from rendering his domestic servants insolent, or his soldiers careless and remiss.
III. THE CENTURION’S DEEP AND UNAFFECTED HUMILITY, Humility consists in lowliness of mind. It is a disposition which becomes creatures of even the highest order. Angels never affect independence. Humility especially becomes fallen man. Humility so profound as this is rarely met with, and argues an extraordinary degree of self-knowledge. The centurion was now converted from the error of his way; bat his conversion was effected by the grace of God, and therefore conferred upon him no proper merit, or worthiness, before the Lord. It was not self-righteous pride, but the want of better knowledge, that led him, under the mingled influence of shame and fear, to shun the presence of his Saviour. Increasing light would discover to him that his own unworthiness constituted the grand reason why he should come to Christ, and entrust all his concerns with Him. Tim simplicity and ingenuousness with which the centurion had already received the truth would prepare him for those further discoveries of the Divine mind and plan which the doctrine of Christ and His apostles was about to present to the world. The spiritual benefits resulting from humility are numerous and great. This temper is especially pleasing in the sight of the Lord. The piety of the centurion was particularly marked--
IV. BY STRONG FAITH. The faith of the centurion was not a blind and presumptuous confidence.
1. The subjects which I have brought before you on this occasion, I fear suggest to many of us matter of shame and humiliation before God. What an example of practical godliness have we in this centurion! and yet how great were the disadvantages under which he laboured!
2. But there is another view to be taken of this subject; and it is one which is full of encouragement. The argument which we have just urged may be changed, and proposed thus: If this heathen soldier, in whose mind there was so much error and prejudice to be overcome, and whose means of instruction and spiritual improvement were so vastly inferior to those which we enjoy, attained to all this religious eminence; what may not we attain to, with all our helps and advantages? (T. Jackson.)
The centurion’s faith
Now, that we may profit by this example, let us consider these three things--
1. What was his faith, and wherein the greatness of it lay.
2. How this faith was bred and begotten in him.
3. The effects and fruits of it, or how it discovered itself.
I. THE NATURE OF HIS FAITH. It was a firm persuasion that all power and authority was eminently in Christ, and that He could do what He pleased.
1. You must distinguish of the times. In that age there was no human reason to believe this truth. Antiquity was against it, and therefore, when Paul preached Jesus, they said, “ He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange Acts 17:18). Authority was against it: “Which none of the princes of this world knew, for had they known it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8). The universal consent of the habitable world was against it; Only a small handful of contemptible people owned Him: “Fear not, little flock “ (Luke 12:32). At that time it was the critical point, the hated truth, that the carpenter’s Son should be owned as the Son of God. Those bleak winds that blow in our backs, and thrust us onward to believe, blew in their faces, and drove them from it; those very reasons which move us to own Christ moved them to reject Him. For many ages the name of Christ bath been in request and honour, but then it was a despised way. At His first appearance a certain persuasion, impressed upon the soul by the Spirit of God, of the Divine power and all-sufficiency of Christ, so as to repair to I-lira for help, was faith and great faith; when the veil of His human nature and infirmities did not keep the eye of faith from seeing Him to have a Divine power, though they could not unriddle all the mysteries about His Person and office, this was accepted for saving faith.
2. The speculative belief of this truth was not sufficient then, no more than it is now, but the practical improvement. Grant that truth, that Jesus is the Son of God, and other things will follow, as that we must obey His laws, and depend upon His promises, and make use of His power, and trust ourselves in His hands; otherwise the bare acknowledgment was not sufficient.
II. How was THIS FAITH WROUGHT AND BRED IN HIM? I answer--The groundwork was laid in his knowledge of the omnipotency and power of God, and his acquaintance with the Scriptures of the Old Testament, though he were not a professed Jew. This prepared for his faith in Christ; the report or hearing was the ground of faith: “Who hath believed our report?” (Isaiah 53:1.) He had heard by fame of His excellent doctrine: “ That He taught as one having authority, and not as the scribes” Matthew 7:29). And he had heard the rumour of His miracles, more particularly the late instance of curing the leper, which was notorious and public; for Christ biddeth him “show himself to the priests” (Matthew 8:4); and also the miracle in recovering the ruler’s son, an instance near, which was done in time before this: “And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum; end he heard that Jesus was come out
of Judaea into Galilee, and he went unto Him, and besought Him that He would come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death” John 4:46-47). By all which he was moved to ascribe the omnipotency of God, which he knew before, to Jesus Christ. Thus the Spirit of God blessed the knowledge of this centurion, and the rumours that were brought to him of Christ’s doctrine and miracles.
III. THE EFFECTS OR FRUITS OF IT, OR NOW IT DISCOVERED ITSELF.
1. In that he applieth himself to Christ. They that believe in Christ will come to Him, and put Him upon work, whilst others prize His name but neglect His office. A gracious heart will find occasions and opportunities of acquaintance with Christ, if not for themselves yet for others; for when they have heard of Him, they cannot keep from Him.
2. That He accounteth misery an object proper enough for mercy to work upon. The centurion came to Him, saying, “Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented “ (verse 6), that is, grievously affected with the disease. Alas! what can we bring to Christ but sins and sicknesses?
3. When Christ offereth to come and heal him, “I will come and heal him” (verse 7), (which was the great condescension of the Son of God to a poor servant), see how the centurion taketh it, “He answered, and said, Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof” (verse 8). Humility is a fruit of faith. Why are true and sound believers so ready to profess their unworthiness? They have a deeper sense of God’s majesty and greatness than others have, and also a more broken-hearted sense of their own vileness by reason of sin. They have a more affective light and sight of things; God is another thing to them than before, so is sin and self.
4. He is content with Christ’s word without His bodily presence: “Speak but the word, and my servant shall be healed.” God’s word is enough to a believer.
5. Here is Christ’s power and dominion over all events, and events that concern us and ours, fully acknowledged, and that is a great point gained: “He is Lord both of the dead and living” (Romans 14:9). Health and sickness are at His command. “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I, the Lord, do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).
6. He reasoneth from the strict discipline observed in the Roman armies, where there was no disputing of commands or questioning why and wherefore: “I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me; and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth.” Reasoning for God and His promises is a great advantage. We are naturally acute in reasoning against faith, but when the understanding is quick and ready to invent arguments to encourage faith, it is a good sign. Use. Go you and do likewise. From the example of the centurion let me encourage you--
(1) To readiness of believing (James 3:17).
(2) To represent our necessity to Christ, and refer the event to Him, to commit and submit all to Him.
(3) To be humble. In all our commerce with Christ, faith must produce a real humility. Faith is most high when the heart is most low (Luke 18:11-14).
(4) To meditate often on the sovereign dominion of Christ, and His power over all things that fall out in the world. (T. Manton.)
Sickness the servant of the Saviour
I. LET US LOOK AT THE PROOFS OF THE STATEMENT.
1. In Christ’s world-wide love we have the proof of it. Christ’s love to men is the assurance that He reserves to Himself the entire control of whatever makes them suffer.
2. Then the fact that suffering is the servant of the Saviour is shown in Christ’s universal sovereignty. He is “Lord of all”; “all authority is given unto Me in heaven and earth.” He is therefore Lord of Providence.
3. And we may add that in His miraculous works we have a token of this. When He stood before sickness on earth He could do with it what He liked, it recognized His voice and bowed submissive to His Word.
II. If then, this suggestion of the centurion is an established Scripture truth, let us pass on to see WHAT IT INVOLVES WITH REGARD TO SICKNESS. Our Lord is to sickness what the Roman captain was to the soldiers under him.
1. Then we may say that sickness only comes at His building. Compact, motionless in their ranks, stand all possible pains and sicknesses before Him, until He singles one out and bids it hasten here or there.
2. And this truth implies also that sickness is restrained by His will. Like the centurion to his servant, so says Christ to sickness, “Do this,” and it doeth it. It can only do what Christ permits.
3. And if sickness is Christ’s servant, then sickness is sent to do His work. His servant! Then it has some message to bring, some gift to leave behind, some mission to fulfil for its Master; there is a distinct purpose in it. And the sooner that purpose is fulfilled by our discovery and acceptance of it the sooner will the sickness be withdrawn. That invests sickness with great solemnity.
III. These are THREE CLOSING LESSONS.
1. This should teach us the sacred blessedness of sickness.
2. And this should call us to reverential service for the sick.
3. And this should show us the possibility of redemption, to those who are sick. (C. New.)
An endeared servant
“She was a special Providence to me, “wrote the late Earl of Shaftesbury concerning his father’s housekeeper, Maria Millas. He explains his meaning by stating that this good woman had almost the entire care of him until he was seven years old, when she died. Yet such was the impression she made upon him in those few years, that towards the close of his truly noble life this good man said: “I must trace, under God, very much, perhaps all, of the duties of my later life to her precepts and her prayers.” What a striking testimony is this confession to the fidelity of an obscure Christian woman! And what a grand result it wrought! Lord Shaftesbury’s nobility of birth, represented by his earl’s coronet, when placed beside the moral grandeur of his character, was but as a glowworm to a star. Through his long life his supreme devotion to works of benevolence gave him an undisputed right to say--
“Write me as one that loves his fellow-men.”
His deeds gave light, hope, comfort, and elevation to many thousands who were born heirs to an inheritance of poverty and woe. And those deeds were the precious fruit of the influence of a servant in his father’s household.
Importance of servants in a household
A worldly man began to taunt a celebrated preacher, and, among other things, told him it was true his congregation was large, but it was chiefly made up of servants and low people. “I know it is,” said the sagacious divine. “My Church is composed of such converts as Jesus Christ and His apostles gained; and as for servants, I had rather be instrumental in converting them than their employers.” “Why so?” inquired the man. “Because,” observed the minister, “they have the care of all the children.” (Baxendale.)
Humility always seasonable
I think it was Bernard, or one of the preachers of the Middle Ages, who said, “There is one thing to be said for humility, that it never can by any possibility do one harm.” For if a man goes through a door, and he has the habit of stooping his head, it may be the door is so high there is no need for stooping, but the stooping is no injury to him; whereas if the door should happen to be a low one, and he has the habit of holding up his head, he may come into sharp contact with the top of the door. True humility is a flower which will adorn any garden. This is a sauce with which you may season every dish of life, and you will find an improvement in every case. Whether it be prayer or praise, whether it be work or suffering, the salt of humility cannot be used in excess. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Humility does not lessen dignity
A person of great sanctity once paid a visit to the Caliph Haroun. The Caliph rose to receive him, and with every mark of reverence conducted him to his own seat; and when he took his leave the Caliph rose again, and accompanied him a little way. Some of the nobles afterwards observed that such condescension would lessen his dignity, and diminish the awe that belongs to a prince. The Caliph replied, “The dignity that is lessened by humility is not worth maintaining; and the awe that is diminished by paying reverence to piety should be got rid of as soon as possible.”
The story is told of a young general in the ninth century who, with five hundred men, came against a king with twenty thousand. The king sent word that it was the height of folly in so small an army to resist his legions. In reply the general called one of his men and said, “Take that sword and drive it to your heart.” The man did so, and fell dead. To another he said, “Leap into yon chasm,” and the man instantly obeyed. “Go,” he said to the messenger, “and tell your king we have five hundred such men. We will die, but never surrender.” The messenger returned with his message--a message that struck terror into the heart of the whole army of the king. (Baxendale.)
Ready to obey
The Duke of Wellington was an eminently magnanimous man, bribes could not buy him, threats could not annoy him. When a lower place was offered him, he said, “Give me your orders, and you shall be obeyed.”
The discovery of the New World, as the continent of America and its islands are called, was not, like many discoveries, an accident; it was the reward of faith--the reward of Christopher Columbus’s faith. He found fruits on the shores of Western Europe, cast up by the Atlantic waves, and brought there, as we now know, by the Gulf Stream, perfectly diverse from any that the temperate, fiery, or frozen zones of the Old World produced. So one day, let me say, strolling by the sea-shore, he saw a nut. He takes it in his hand, and looks at it; he takes it into his capacious mind, and out of that little seed springs his faith in another world beyond that watery horizon, where, as he believed, and events proved, the sea had pearls, and the veins of the earth were filled with silver, and the rivers that flowed through spicy groves ran over sands of gold. They thought him mad to leave his sweet bays, and his land, and his pleasant home, to launch on a sea which keel had never ploughed, in search of a land man had never seen. I tell that infidel that I know in whom I have believed; I can give a reason for the faith that is in me; and so he could. And so he launched his bark on the deep, and with strange stars above him and strange seas around him, storms without and mutinies within, no man of all the crew hoping but himself, with a courage nothing could daunt, and a perseverance nothing could exhaust, that remarkable man stood by the helm, and kept the prow of his bark onward and westward till lights gleamed on San Salvador’s shore, and as the day broke, the joyful cry “Land!” rang from the mast-head; and faith was crowned with success, and patience had her perfect work. Now I look on that man, and the world has looked on him, as one of the finest types of a believer; but I cannot read his story without feeling that it puts our faith to the blush, and, as it were, hearing the echo from heaven of that voice that said, “I have not found such great faith; no, not in Israel.” (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
For he loveth our nation, and hath built us a synagogue
The usefulness of good men
I. LET US CONSIDER WHAT IT IS TO SEEK THE GENERAL GOOD OF SOCIETY.
1. That to seek the general good of society, men must sincerely desire that good as an ultimate object. The worst member of society may desire the general good of society, when he apprehends it will have a favourable aspect upon himself; and he may seek the general good in that view of it.
2. Men’s seeking the general good of society, implies their seeking that good in preference to their own.
3. That men’s seeking the general good of society farther implies their actually using all the proper means in their power to promote it.
II. THAT IT BECOMES ALL MEN TO SEEK THE GENERAL GOOD OF SOCIETY. This will appear from a variety of considerations.
1. Men were formed for society. It is one important end for which they were created rational beings. No man was made solely for himself; and no man is capable of living in the world totally independent of society.
2. It becomes men to seek the general good of society, because this is the great and valuable end of entering into society. Every body of men, which deserves the name of society, unite together for some valuable and desirable purpose.
3. It becomes men to seek the general good of society, by obeying the general laws of society. Societies are not formed by mere accident.
4. Every society needs the assistance or co-operation of all its members, to promote its general prosperity and happiness.
5. It becomes all men to seek the general good of society, in return for the benefits they receive from it.
6. There is something so amiable and beautiful in seeking the general good, that it commands universal approbation and esteem. For this the Roman centurion was so highly esteemed and applauded by the Jewish nation.
7. It becomes all men to obey the will of their Creator; and it is expressly His will that they should seek the general good. He says to every man, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” The apostle requires the same things under different forms of expression. “By love serve one another.”
1. If it becomes men to seek the general good of society, then it becomes them to be truly religious. There is a natural, and even necessary connection between their being religious, and being good members of society.
2. In the view of this subject, parents may learn how much it becomes and concerns them to educate their children in the best manner to qualify them to promote not only their own good, but the general good of society.
3. It appears, in view of this discourse, that all men are morally bound to promote the general good of society, in proportion to the various abilities they possess. Knowledge gives men ability to promote their own good, and the general good. Wealth gives men ability to do good. Men in authority have peculiar ability to promote the general good of society.
4. Since it becomes all men to promote the general good of society, it is unbecoming men to pursue any courses which are either directly or indirectly injurious to the public good. Not only idlers, but all profane swearers, Sabbath-breakers, neglecters and despisers of all religion, act a part highly detrimental to human society.
5. It appears from what has been said, that those who are truly pious are the best men in the world. They are the only men who have true love to God and man.
6. We learn the goodness of God in prolonging the lives of His pious and faithful servants. He is good to His cordial friends in carrying them in His arms, and guiding and guarding their lives, even to old age. He has promised this as a mark of His favour to the godly man. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
The centurion’s love for God’s house; an example of Christian duty
I. THE POWERFUL FAITH DISPLAYED BY THIS CENTURION.
II. THIS CENTURION’S EXAMPLE OF GREAT LOVE FOR THE PUBLIC WORSHIP OF GOD. We here find his true piety shown in his liberality in building a house of God for public worship. When he knew Divine truth, he loved the people among whom it shone, and he then erected a synagogue for God’s honour.
III. IS IT NOT, THEREFORE, OUR PLAIN DUTY AS CHRISTIANS TO SUPPORT PUBLIC WORSHIP IN THE CHURCH OF GOD AMONG US?
IV. THE WANTS OF THE PEOPLE, WITH THE WISHES OF OUR CHURCH BUILDING SOCIETIES, SHOULD WARMLY EXCITE OUR CHRISTIAN LIBERALITY. (J. G.Angley, M. A.)
Religion essentially included in the love of our country
These remarks may be sufficient to illustrate the general principle. We will now attend to its operations.
1. If we love our country, we shall be affected with her dangers and calamities. “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,” says the Psalmist; “let my right hand forget her cunning.”
2. This principle will restrain us from injuring, and prompt us to serve our country. “Love works no ill.” “By love we serve one another.”
3. A lover of his country has an affection for the Church of God, and a concern to promote its credit and interest.
4. Love to our country will express itself in prayers for her prosperity. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” says the Psalmist, “ they prosper that love thee.” I have illustrated the nature and operations of love to our country.
I now ask your attention to some reflections which result from the subject.
1. True patriotism is a nobler attainment than some seem to imagine. It includes compassion for the unhappy, hatred of sin, love of virtue, disinterestedness, self-denial, industry, prudence, piety and devotion; yea, everything that is excellent and amiable.
2. There is a great difference between talking warmly in our country’s favour, and really loving it. A man may say much in the praise of his country, its constitution, trade, soil, and climate, and give it the preference to all other countries; he may plead for its rights with great earnestness, and do much to support its credit and respectability; and yet not be a real lover of it not have any pure benevolence, any piety to God, or regard to virtue; but be influenced wholly by ambition and avarice.
3. It appears from our subject, that a people who enjoy, who profess to believe, Divine revelation, ought to make some stated provision for maintaining and preserving the social worship of the Deity. This is a plain dictate of reason, as well as Scripture.
4. If we ought to regard the interest of our country at large, we ought, for the same reasons, to consult the peace and happiness of the smaller societies of which we are members.
5. We see how careful we should be, that no selfish or unworthy motive influence our social or religious conduct. (J. Lathrop, D. D.)
And it came to pass the day after that He went into a city called Nain
The funeral of a youth
The miracle requires a few REMARKS and a few REFLECTIONS.
I. The first thing we behold is a FUNERAL PROCESSION. But let us draw near, and contemplate this funeral solemnity. It was the funeral of a young man. We are not informed whether he died by disease or accident, slowly or suddenly; but he was carried off in the prime of life. He was the “only son of his mother.” There is an ocean of love in the hearts of parents towards their children. But what closes the melancholy tale of this woman is--that she was a widow! A widow is always an affecting character, and she is liable to injustice and oppression from those fiends who take advantage of weakness and distress; as she is deprived of the companion of her journey, and compelled to travel alone; as her anxieties are doubled: and there is none to share them with her.
II. OBSERVE OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR. First, He knew all the particulars of the case. Those who were with Him could only see, as they were passing by, a funeral--but He knew the corpse stretched upon the bier; He knew that it was a young man; that it was the only son of his mother; and that she was a widow! Secondly, He did not wait to be implored. “I am found of them that sought Me not.” Sometimes, before we call He answers: such a very present help is He in trouble. Thirdly, When He saw her, He had “compassion on her.” By nothing was our Saviour more distinguished than by pity and tenderness. Fourthly, He “said unto her, Weep not.” How unavailing, not to say impertinent, would this have been from any other lips! Fifthly, Jesus, without any ostentatious ceremony, “ went and touched the bier--and they that bare it stood still”; all amazement and expectation! Every eye is fixed upon Him. Finally, observe the application, the delicacy--what shall I call it?--of the miracle; and “He delivered him to his mother!”
III. Let us conclude by three GENERAL REFLECTIONS.
I. WHAT A VALE OF TEARS IS THIS WORLD! HOW various and numerous are the evils to which human life is exposed! “Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble!”
II. LET THE AFFLICTED REMEMBER THAT THEY ARE NOT LEFT
WITHOUT RESOURCE. Let them learn where to flee in the day of trouble. It is to the Friend of sinners.
III. WHAT THINK YOU OF CHRIST? Does not His character combine every excellency and attraction? (W. Jay.)
Young man, arise
I. I notice first THAT THIS YOUNG MAN IS FOLLOWED BY A BROKENHEARTED MOTHER, A POOR SORROWFUL CREATURE. He was her only son, and she was a widow. Do you know I cannot help thinking that one often sees the same sort of thing now. How many a young man there is who is being borne along towards that fearful interment to which I have already referred, who is followed, as it were, by the tears and expostulations--I may say the anguish, the heart-breaking anguish--of one who loves him as her own soul, and who would readily offer a thousand times over her own life, if only his soul might be saved. Young man, there are a good many fellows who think it a manly thing to slight a mother’s love, to go far to break a mother’s heart. Believe me, there is scarcely a more unmanly sin possible for anybody to commit. Amongst the saddest incidents in my experience as a mission preacher are cases of this character, where I am addressed by mournful-looking women, who come to me with a terrible burden on their hearts. I ask what it is. It is not about themselves. No! no! so far as they themselves are concerned, they have a good hope through grace. “Well, what is the matter?” “Oh, it is my boy,” says the poor stricken creature, “my boy.” How many are ready to say, as David said about Absalom, “Would God I had died for thee.” Some little time ago, I had a conversation after one of my services with a minister of the gospel, in the North of England, who said to me, “I want to tell you about my son, who is just going to offer himself for the Christian ministry. He had a remarkable conversion, and I should like to tell you about it. Two years ago my dear wife died, and as she was dying, she called her children around her. As they approached her bed one by one, she stretched out her hand and took theirs in hers, and very solemnly, for she was on the brink of eternity, she said to them, ‘I charge ye before God, meet me at God’s right hand.’ When it came to the turn of my eldest son, I saw that she was greatly moved, for up to that time he had shown no disposition to give his heart to God. She grasped his hand in hers and said, with tears in her eyes, ‘My boy, ere I die, I want you to make me a promise; I want you solemnly to promise me that you will seek for the salvation of your soul.’ He hesitated, and stood silent for a few moments, hanging down his head. When he lifted up his eyes he met his mother’s gaze. That deep, tender, earnest gaze seemed to plead with his inmost heart. ‘I charge you,’ she said, ‘meet me at God’s right hand.’ ‘Mother,’ he said, ‘I will; I will.’ Her face brightened up; a heavenly smile stole over her features; she lifted up her hands and said, ‘Thank God, I am ready to go now.’ Well, she died. My son remembered his promise. He began to read his Bible and to pray, and the Lord was pleased to send him a very deep conviction of sin. He became intensely wretched. Weeks passed away. Still he could get no comfort. Weeks became months. He could not shake the subject from his mind. The weight of his sin was continually resting upon his soul, and seemed almost to drive him wild, till on one occasion he found himself in such a state of frenzied agony, that he felt ‘I really can stand this no longer,” and suddenly grasping his hat, he dashed out with a determination to drown his sorrows in drink at the nearest gin-house. Down the street he went, and up to the door of the public-house. Just as he stood at the door and was stretching out his hand to open it, it seemed to him as though his mother stood before him. There was the same look upon her countenance that it wore when she took leave of him on her dying bed, and he seemed to see those tears glistening in her eyes. It was no vision, but the thing was so powerfully brought before his imagination, that it was like a vision, and he seemed to hear her saying, ‘My son, your promise!’ ‘I turned,’ he said, ‘and fled from the public-house as though I were pursued: I dashed into my own room. ‘Great God! I cried, ‘Thou hast saved me by my mother’s prayer; Thou hast saved me from the depths of hell! There and then I cast myself in utter weariness and helplessness and self-despair at Jesus’ feet, and there and then the pardoning love of Christ reached my heart.’”
II. Well, there was something more that the eye of Christ rested upon besides this poor broken-hearted woman to whom He said, “Weep not.” THERE WERE THE BEARERS. NOW this also, as it seems to me, is wonderfully true to life. Wherever I go I find that young men are mostly under the influence of bearers. I know what your strong points are, young men, yes, and I know your weak points too. You are wonderfully gregarious animals. One man goes in one particular direction, and the rest must follow if he happens to be a leader. There is a strange fatuous influence which man exercises over his fellow-man. Ah, my brother, how many a man is as it were held spell-bound by the influence of false friendship. Get him away from his friends and you can do something with him; but so long as he is in their society he is a helpless slave to adverse influences. Yes, I may be speaking to some to-night who, although only young, are already saying, “I have gone too far; the chains are bound too tightly round me.” I tell you no, in God’s name, No! One touch of almighty power from the finger of Christ, and those chains shall break; one glance from those eyes so full of beneficence, and the shadows of death shall flee away. I remember, some time ago, hearing a remarkable circumstance related by a public speaker to whom I was listening. It happened that a ship was being towed across the Niagara River, in America, some little distance above the well-known falls. Just as she got into the middle of the stream the hawser parted, and the unfortunate ship began to drift down the river stern foremost. Efforts were made to save her from impending ruin, but every effort failed, and the unfortunate ship kept drifting farther and farther down the stream towards the terrible abyss below. The news of the disaster spread along the banks of the river, and in a very short time there were hundreds of people, and they soon swelled to thousands, looking on in breathless anxiety to see what was to become of this unfortunate ship and crew. There is a point that stretches into the river which bears the name of Past Redemption Point, and it is believed in the neighbourhood that nothing that passes that point can escape destruction. The current there becomes so strong, the influence so fatal, that whatever goes by Past Redemption Point is inevitably lost. The excited multitude upon the banks of the river watched the helpless ship drifting down farther and farther till she was within a few hundred yards of the fatal point. One effort after another was made, one effort after another failed; still she drifted. Only a few moments, and she passed the point. There was a kind of sigh of horror from the vast multitude as they saw her swing round, for they knew she was lost. But just as she rounded the point the captain felt a strong breeze smite upon his cheek. Quick as thought he shouted at the top of his voice, “All sails set!” and in almost less time than it takes me to tell it every stitch of canvas on board the ship was stretched to catch the favouring gale. A cheer broke from the multitude on the shore as they witnessed this last effort for salvation. But would it succeed? The ship was still drifting, though the wind was blowing against it, and she was still moving downwards, stern fore most, though the wind was bellying out all her sails. It was a battle between the wind and the current. With breathless anxiety they watched the result. She slacks! Another moment--they scarcely dare whisper it--she stands! Yes, that terrible downward course was actually stopped. There she was, still as a log upon the water. Another moment, and inch by inch she began to forge her way up the stream until the motion was perceptible to those on shore, and one great shout of victory burst forth from a thousand voices: “Thank God, she is saved! Thank God, she is saved!” In a few moments more, with considerable headway upon her, she swept right up the stream, by Past Redemption Point, right into the still water, saved from what appeared to he inevitable destruction, just because, in the very moment of moments, she caught the favouring breeze. Young man, in that ship behold a picture of yourself. There is many a young man who, like that ship, has been drifting. You know it; ah! and your friends know it; your mother, praying for you tonight, knows it; your Christian friend that brought you here knows it. You are drifting, drifting, and you know what the end must be. It may lie far on in your life’s voyage, or it may be very near at hand, but before you lies the terrible fall, and the abyss and depth of doom. If you say, “How shall I arise?” I reply, there is only one way of arising. Fix your gaze to-night upon Him who is the Resurrection and the Life. When I was a young man of eighteen, I was preaching in the open air in the streets of Inverness, when there happened to pass by a young medical student--I think, from Glasgow University. He was like many of you, and had been living an aimless, self-pleasing sort of life. As he passed by in the crowd he heard a young man’s voice, and caught the words of Christ, “Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.” The message went home like an arrow to the man’s heart; he got away into his own chamber, and there he cast himself by his bedside and exclaimed, “O God, that is what I want. Up to this moment my life has been a wasted life; I have nothing to show for it; I have lived for myself; I have lived in vain. I see it all now. There is one power, and only one, that can raise me up and make me really what I ought to be.” There and then he gave himself to Christ, and he went forth from that room a new man. He had just received a commission as a surgeon in the army, and soon afterwards he went to India, where, for five or six years, he was a burning and a shining light. Many a poor heathen native heard the truth of the gospel first from his lips; many a godless English soldier was led to the Cross of Christ by that young man’s influence; many a brother officer first heard from him the glad tidings of great joy, or, at any rate, first had them pressed home upon his mind. After five or six years’ service, the Lord called him home. I never met him, never shook his hand. I hope to meet him up yonder, some day. (W. Hay Aitken.)
Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity
I. WHAT ARE WE HERE CERTIFIED CONCERNING JESUS CHRIST?
1. This miracle attests that He was an authorized messenger of God. This was the direct and immediate conviction that it wrought upon those who witnessed it. “There came great fear upon all; and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us, and, That God hath visited His people.” Nor were they mistaken in their conclusion from the premises. No one can recall the dead but by the great power of God. Only He who originally gave life can restore it after it is gone.
2. The same forcibly attests the compassionate sympathy of Jesus for human sorrow.
3. And He is as mighty as He is good--as able to help as He is ready to pity. It is no easy thing to console and heal a broken heart. But Jesus not only relieved it, but entirely removed it. In a mere moment of time He dislodged it, and set a light in that darkened mother’s soul, brighter than had ever shone there before. This miracle accordingly shows Him possessed of redeeming power, as well as sympathy.
II. WHAT IS PICTURED TO US IN THIS MIRACLE OF THE WORKINGS OF GRACE?
1. Jesus found this young man dead, and being borne to burial. And herein is shown the sad and hopeless condition of everyone apart from Christ’s gracious interposition for our rescue. The help of man in such a case is utterly powerless. If it were a case of mere physical disorder, the great storehouses of nature might perhaps furnish a remedy. If it were a case of mere functional lethargy or error, some stimulant or alternative might chance to be found out by the physician to correct the ailment. Or if it were a case of mere mental aberration, science and a better philosophy might serve to set the matter right. But the case is one of death; and no power of man has ever been able to bring the dead to life again.
2. “He came.” There was no going or bearing of the dead man to Christ; but a coming of Jesus to him. The first approaches of grace and salvation are all from the side of a Divine movement toward us. From first to last, He is ever the coming One, who comes to us, approaches us, and brings to us whatever of salvation is ever experienced. “Lo! I come!”
3. “And touched the bier.” Not without veritable contact with the polluted things of earth could spiritual quickening be imparted to its fallen inhabitants.
4. Yet it was by the Word that the resuscitation was imparted. “He said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.” All the potency of creatorship and resurrection resides in it, and goes forth through it. People often have a very poor appreciation of the Word. They care not to hear it. Many only despise it. Christ’s words are spirit, and they are life.
5. When Christ’s word of command reached the consciousness of this dead man, it then devolved upon him to obey it. Human agency and volition must, after all, cooperate with Divine grace.
III. WHAT, NOW, AS TO THE PROPHECIES AND FOREPLEDGES CONTAINED IN THIS MIRACLE?
1. It was a raising of a dead man to life, and so an exhibition of resurrection power. To raise one requires the power of God; to raise all requires no more. He has raised the dead, and He can raise all.
2. It was the making glad of a very sorrowing heart and a very desolate home. (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
Jesus and the widow of Nain
III. SUCCOUR. (R. V. Pryce, M. A. , LL. B.)
What, then, is the comfort which even now the gospel of our Saviour mingles with the mourning of His people? What advantage has the Christian under bereavement, and wherein does he sorrow not as others?
I. In the first place, THE GOSPEL HAS ENTIRELY CHANGED THE CHARACTER OF DEATH TO THE DEPARTED THEMSELVES. Thank God, the Christian’s is a stingless death. Since the guilt of those we mourn was cleansed in the blood of Christ, and their pardon sealed by the Holy Ghost, death did not come to them as an officer of justice, but as an angel of peace. He came to loose the prison-bands of clay and set them free to go home to their Father’s house. O selfish heart, bear silently thy burden and rejoice in secret at the lost one’s joy. Why should I not? Love is more gladdened by another’s gladness than grieved for its own trouble. God did two kindnesses at one stroke when He bereft you of your beloved: one kindness to him; another kindness to you. To him, the perfecting of character and bestowal of bliss; to you, ripening of character and preparation for bliss.
II. As Christ teaches us to expect a “better resurrection” for our dead, so also for ourselves to look for better reunion. Not by their coming back to be for a little while longer with us, is the craving heart to be appeased, but by our going to be for ever with them. This is best. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)
The miracle at the gate of Nain
I. I learn two or three things from this subject; and first, that Christ was A MAN. You see how that sorrow played upon all the chords of His heart.
II. But I must also draw from this subject that HE was GOD. If Christ had been a mere mortal, would He have had a Tight to come in upon such a procession? Would He have succeeded in His interruption?
III. Again, I learn from this subject that Christ was A SYMPATHISER.
IV. I learn again from all this that Christ is THE MASTER OF THE GRAVE. Just outside the gate of the city Death and Christ measured lances, and when the young man rose, Death dropped. (Dr. Talmage.)
Young man, is this for you?
I. I shall ask you first, dear friends, to reflect that THE SPIRITUALLY DEAD CAUSE GREAT GRIEF TO THEIR GRACIOUS FRIENDS. If an ungodly man is favoured to have Christian relatives, he causes them much anxiety. Many young persons who are in some respects amiable and hopeful, nevertheless, being spiritually dead, are causing great sorrow to these who love them best.
1. The cause of grief lies here: we mourn that they should be in such a case. In the story before us the mother wept because her son was dead; and we sorrow because our young friends are spiritually dead.
2. We also mourn because we lose the help and comfort which they ought to bring us. She must have regarded him as the staff of her age, and the comfort of her loneliness. With regard to you that are dead in sin, we feel that we miss the aid and comfort which we ought to receive from you in our service of the living God.
3. A further grief is that we can have no fellowship with them. The mother at Nain could have no communion with her dear son now that he was dead, for the dead know not anything. Alas! in many a household the mother cannot have communion with her own son or daughter on that point which is most vital and enduring, because they are spiritually dead, while she has been quickened into newness of life by the Holy Spirit.
4. Moreover, spiritual death soon produces manifest causes for sorrow.
5. We also mourn because of the future of men dead in sin.
II. Now let me cheer you while I introduce the second head of my discourse, which is this: FOR SUCH GRIEF THERE IS ONLY ONE HELPER: BUT THERE IS A HELPER. This young man is taken out to be buried; but our Lord Jesus Christ met the funeral procession. Carefully note the “coincidences,” as sceptics call them, but as we call them “providences” of Scripture. He meets the dead man before the place of sepulture is reached. A little later and he would have been buried; a little earlier and he would have been at home lying in the darkened room, and no one might have called the Lord’s attention to him, The Lord knows how to arrange all things; his forecasts are true to the tick of the clock.
III. That hush was not long, for speedily the Great Quickener entered upon his gracious work. This is our third point: JESUS IS ABLE TO WORK THE MIRACLE OF LIFE-GIVING. JESUS Christ has life in Himself, and He quickeneth whom lie will (John 5:21). He could derive no aid from that lifeless form. The spectators were sure that he was dead, for they were carrying him out to bury him. Even so, you, O sinner, cannot save yourself, neither can any of us, or all of us, save you. Your help must come from above.
2. While the bier stood still, Jesus spoke to the dead young man, spoke to him personally: “Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.” Lord Jesus, art Thou not here? What is wanted is Thy personal call. Speak, Lord, we beseech Thee!
3. “Young man,” said He, “arise”; and He spake as if the man had been alive. This is the gospel way. Our faith enables us in God’s name to command dead men to live, and they do live.
4. But the Saviour, you observe, spoke with His own authority--“Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.” Neither Elijah nor Elisha could thus have spoken; but He who spoke thus was very God of very God.
5. The miracle was wrought straightway: for this young man, to the astonishment of all about him, sat up. It did not take a month, nor a week, nor an hour, nay, not even five minutes.
IV. Our time has gone, and although we have a wide subject we may not linger. I must close by noticing that THIS WILL PRODUCE VERY GREAT RESULTS. To give life to the dead is no little matter.
1. The great result was manifest, first, in the young man.
2. A new life also had begun in reference to his mother. What a great result for her was the raising of her dead son!
3. What was the next result? Well, all the neighbours feared and glorified God. These prodigies of power in the moral world are quite as remarkable as prodigies in the material world. We want conversion, so practical, so real, so Divine, that those who doubt will not be able to doubt, because they see in them the hand of God.
4. Finally, note that it not only surprised the neighbours and impressed them, but the rumour of it went everywhere. Who can tell? If a convert is made this morning, the result of that conversion may be felt for thousands of years, if the world stands so long; aye, it shall be felt when a thousand thousand years have passed away, even throughout eternity. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
The widow and her dead son
1. The mystery of God’s providence is encircling our daily lives. God had planned that meeting from eternity. Nothing happens by chance. Every event in the dullest day has a purpose.
2. And a further consideration must of course be our dear Lord’s tender sympathy with mourners, and His hatred of our last enemy, death. (T. B. Dover, M. A.)
The widow of Nain
Such were the works of our Saviour’s earthly ministry; and it is of no little moment that we enter fully into their significance. By them, then
(1), He manifested forth His glory; they were the countersigns and credentials of His mission. By them
(2), again, He showed the infinite compassion wherewith His heart was full. By them
(3) He lightened the burden of human suffering. Further
(4), they are the abiding witness to the Church of the truth of His Divinity.
These mighty works bring before us the true glory of our redeemed state. They show us, in the person of our Lord, for what each one of us is training who of His mercy have been baptized into Him, and are daily seeking to grow up into Him in all things. They show us why and how we should strive after a closer union with Him; that we, too, may triumph with Him over these rebellious powers, under which our race has so long groaned. For He is the healer of our spirits as He is of our bodies. Here, too, His words are “spirit and are life”; for with them goeth forth the mighty Spirit of life. He meets us bearing forth our dead hopes through the city’s gate; He meets us when our hearts are faint and weary; when we feel the emptiness of all with which this world has sought to cheat our earnest longings for the great, the real, and the true. He stands beside the bier, He bids us weep no more, He stops our mourning steps; the dead hear Him; hopes of youth, aspirations of heart, dreams of purity, of reality, of high service, with which once our spirits kept glad company, but which had withered, and sunk, and died, as the hot and scorching sun of common life arose upon us--these revive; they sit up; they begin to speak; they find a voice; they turn to Him; and He gives them back to us, and bids us cherish them for Him. On Him, then, may our affections fix. On Him, the Healer, the Restorer of humanity, may our hearts learn to lean the secret burden of their being.
1. If earthly trouble is upon us, let us fly to Him; let us beware of all those who would cheer us without Him; let us be always sure that the poison of the asp is hidden under their softest and most enticing words.
2. Or, is it the heavier burden of spiritual trouble under which we groan? Let us see here that His purpose is the same. For why does God suffer this to harass oftentimes His faithful servants, but to teach them to lean more simply upon Him? (Bishop Samuel Wilberforce.)
Young man, Arise!
There is something specially touching and impressive in a village funeral. In a small population every family is known; and death, when it enters, throws a general sadness and gloom around. There were several things that combined to make this funeral peculiarly affecting.
1. Raise up for a moment the sheet that is spread over the corpse (for the coffin is borne on an open bier), and look on that pale countenance--it is the face of a young man. Perhaps it was consumption that laid its withering hand upon him, or fever may have snapped the thread of life; but there he is, cold, motionless, and still. I think death never seems so utterly cruel, as whoa it cuts one off in the bloom of opening manhood. And yet, mysterious as is the event, and deeply affecting, it is no uncommon one. It occurs every week in London. Even in this church I have seen some of the most bright and promising lives suddenly brought to a close. Your youthful strength gives you no guarantee that death is far away. Nobody steps out of the world when he expects to do so. Though for twenty years you have never had an ache or a pain, you can make no safe calculation about the future. A fine, amiable, robust fellow of twenty, who used to worship here, was sitting in his office one day, when a fellow-clerk came up merrily, and slapping him upon the back, said, “Well, how are you this morning?” That good-humoured blow injured the spine, and after some weeks of almost total paralysis, the young man was borne to his last resting-place.
2. There is another thing that adds much to the impressiveness of this funeral: the young man is an only son. Well, I imagine that, let a family circle be ever so large, the parents feel there is not one of them that can be spared. Every one is dear, every one is precious. A rich and benevolent gentleman, who had no children of his own, was entering a steamboat one day, when he noticed a poor man with a group of little ones around him, all in a state of pitiful destitution. Stepping up to him, he proposed to take one of the children, and adopt it as his own. “I think,” said he, “it will be a great relief to you.” “A what!” exclaimed the other. “A relief to you, I said.” “Such a relief to me, sir,” rejoined the poor man, “as to have my right arm cut off; it may be necessary, but only a parent can know the trial.” But, an only son, in whom all the hopes and the joys of the parents centre: ah! it is long since the extreme bitterness of such a bereavement passed into a proverb (Zechariah 12:10).
3. I have not yet finished the picture. You will not wonder that this funeral created exceptional sympathy, and that “much people” of Nain joined the procession, when I remind you that this young man’s mother was a widow. The light of her dwelling was now put out; the comfort and support of her advancing years taken away. No doubt he had been a good son, or his death would not have created so profound a feeling in the place.
4. With Dr. Trench, I believe that this majestic voice was something more than a summons back to this mortal life--that it included also an awakening of the young man to a higher and a spiritual life; with nothing short of which would the Saviour have “delivered him to his mother.” He gave him back to her who bare him, not merely to be for a few years longer her earthly companion, but, as now a saved and regenerate man, to be to her a joy both for time and for eternity.
(1) Arise from the death of unbelief. Conversion is a passing from death unto life. When you become a saved man, it is as though a corpse were quickened into life.
(2) Arise from the bondage of sin. You cannot afford to be lost. The interests at stake are too tremendous to be imperilled by delay. Won’t you yield, and say, “Yes, Lord, at Thy bidding I arise, to live from this day for Thee”? But some young man will say, “I feel the force of all you say; I know I ought to be a Christian, and shall never be happy till I am one; but it is no use trying; sin has got the upper hand of me, and when certain temptations meet me, I fall, and must fall, and will fall.” I remember of a young man talking to me in that style, and saying, “I believe the gospel to be true: that Christ is an omnipotent Saviour, I have not a doubt. I can fully trust Him, so far as that is concerned; and yet I dare not profess Him, because I know that a particular sin has complete mastery over me, and I am not going to be a hypocrite.” But I took him by the buttonhole, and said, “Let me read a verse to you,” and then I turned to John 1:12 --“As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God”; and I showed him that, when one accepts Christ, he accepts Him, not merely as a Saviour from guilt and from hell, but as a Saviour from lust, and from vile passions, and from evil thoughts; and that He must be trusted for this just as for the other.
(3) Arise from the apathy of indolence. The great mass of nominal Christians are asleep. The only thing they want religion for is its comfort; it gives them a pillow to lay their heads on. Is that the purpose for which you have enlisted? When the stern Scottish chief was walking round his encampment one night, he saw his own son lying on a pillow of snow which he had carefully gathered and packed together before he lay down; the father kicked the pillow from under his son’s head and said,” Come, I will have no effeminacy here. I want robust men in my army.” Oh, how many in Christ’s army are fast asleep, not on a bolster of snow, but on a pillow of down. “Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.” Arise from the slumber of lethargy and come and grapple with the foe. (J. Thain Davidson. D. D.)
The raising of the widow’s son
Some places have been made famous by a single incident. Nain is the village of the widow’s son whom Jesus raised from the dead. By no other event is Nain known. For a moment the light of heaven fell upon it, and haloed it with a glory which has attracted the eyes of all the Christian ages, and then it disappeared into its former obscurity. The site of the ancient village is well authenticated; it is occupied by the modern Nein, a squalid, miserable collection of huts, situated on the northwestern edge of Jebel el Duhy, or the “Little Hermon,” where the hill slopes down into the plain of Esdraelon. Our Lord came to Nain on His way south to keep the Passover. The day before He had healed the centurion’s servant at Capernaum; and now, after having walked eighteen miles since the cool hours of early morning, He toiled slowly in the afternoon up the steep slope leading to the village. He was tired and footsore. But there was work for the Father awaiting Him, in the doing of which He would find His meat and drink. They were carrying a dead man to his burial on the east side of the village, where the rough rock was full of sepulchral caves.
1. It would be difficult to make the picture of desolation more complete than the evangelist has done by a few simple words. Notice that the three recorded miracles of restoration from the dead were performed upon young persons.
2. We are apt to look upon the fact of Jesus meeting the funeral procession at the precise moment when it was issuing out of the gate of the city as a mere chance or fortunate coincidence. But nothing really occurs by chance; there is no such divinity in the universe.
3. “And when the Lord saw her He had compassion on her.” It is not said that the bereaved mother addressed Jesus. But He knew all the circumstances of the case. Never was there a human heart so feeling as His. The very word employed in our version to express His sympathy denotes His exquisite tenderness. It signifies the unutterable pity which a mother has for her offspring. Jesus Himself was, strictly speaking, the only son of His mother; and, as Joseph was in all probability dead by this time, she, too, was a widow, worn down by the duties and cares of a humble home. We cannot wonder, then, that the woman who came before Him in agonizing circumstances, similar to those in which He would soon have to leave His own mother, drew from His heart a peculiar compassion, and induced Him, unsolicited, to perform for her one of His rarest and supremest acts of mercy.
4. “And said unto her, Weep not.” This “weep not” different from that addressed to the hired mourners of Jairus’s household. There it was uttered in indignation, for the purpose of restoring quiet; here it is said in deepest sympathy, for the purpose of cheering and soothing. How often do these words proceed from the lips of earthly comforters! No argument here for stoicism under sorrow. No one need be ashamed of tears, since our Saviour’s eyes were filled with them. The very existence of tears shows that God has designed them and has a use for them. When Christ then, says, “Weep not,” He does not mean to forbid tears, or to make us ashamed of them; but to give us a reason, a sufficient cause for drying our tears.
5. “He came and touched the bier.” Not necessary for Him to do this, so far as the exercise of His Divine power was concerned. But there was deep significance in what He did. He violated the letter of the law that He might keep its spirit.
6. “And they that bare him stood still.” They were struck by a sudden consciousness that they were in the presence of One who had a right to stop them even in their progress to the tomb; and they waited silently and reverently for what He might say or do. What a scene for the genius of a great painter does the imagination picture at this sublime expectant moment, when the power of God is about to be visibly displayed. The mother bowed down with grief, and yet lifting up to the face of Jesus eager eyes, in which a new-born hope struggles with the tears of despair; the bearers of the bier standing still with looks of awe and astonishment; the motley groups of the funeral procession, and the multitude who followed Jesus in their picturesque Oriental dresses, turning to one another as if asking the meaning of this strange proceeding; the calm, holy form of Jesus touching the bier, and the last red level rays of the sun setting behind the green hills on the western horizon, haloing with a sacred glow the head of the Redeemer, and the shrouded figure that lies motionless and unconscious on the bier, speaking touchingly of that sun that shall no more go down!
7. The stillness is broken by words such as human ears had never heard before--“Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.” How suggestive of omnipotence is that “I.”
8. And he that was dead sat up and began to speak.” What did he speak about? His lips were sealed upon those things which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Our Lord Himself, after His resurrection, said not a single word regarding what He had seen and heard during the three days when His body was in Joseph’s tomb and His soul in Hades. How opposed is all this to the so-called revelations of spirits, given to those who call themselves spiritualists.
9. “And He delivered him to his mother.” Who can describe the unutterable gladness of that restoration? The revulsion of feeling must have been painful in its very intensity. But the evangelist has left a veil over it, for there are feelings with which a stranger may not intermeddle. Truly the promise was literally fulfilled to her, “Weeping may endure for the night, but joy cometh in the morning.”
10. Upon the spectators the effect of the wonderful miracle was overwhelming. A great fear fell upon them, that strange instinctive fear produced by sudden contact with the invisible world, which we feel even in the presence of our beloved dead, on account of the awful mystery in which they are shrouded. They glorified God that the long period during which there had been no prophet, no supernatural sign, no communication between heaven and earth, nothing but the continuous motion of the wheels of providence along the same beaten track, and the uniform action of the dull unchanging signals of nature that carried the general despatches of the universe, had come to an end at last. They had open vision once more, and a sense of the nearness of heaven. But far short were their impressions and conceptions, however vivid at the moment, of the glorious truth. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
The story of Nain
I. THE WORDS OF CHRIST’S CONSOLATION WERE SIMPLE, AS ALL CONSOLATION OUGHT TO BE. Too much talking spoils comfort. Give few words, but let them be crowded with the infinite of feeling.
II. CHRIST PUT THIS COMPASSION OF HIS AT ONCE INTO ACTION. NO sooner had the feelings of pity arisen within Him than He came forward and touched the bier, did what He could to help the woman. That is a deep lesson to us, though a commonplace one. What an absurd self-deception it is to call ourselves Christians if we never, like Christ, come forward and touch the bier.
III. THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF DIVINE POWER IN THE MIND OF CHRIST. Contrast His consciousness of Divine power with His lovely, sad, and hidden life.
IV. IT WAS ALWAYS FOR PROFOUND MORAL AND SPIRITUAL ENDS THAT CHRIST USED THE POWER HE WAS CONSCIOUS OF POSSESSING.
V. THE SPIRITUAL LESSONS TO BE DRAWN FROM THE MIRACLE.
1. Often in the midst of death that we meet the true life.
2. Every miracle has a two-fold object, to meet some physical want or distress, and to point to Christ Himself as the one alone who could relieve the higher wants of the spirit of man. It is with us spiritually as it was with the widow’s son. Upon the path of life comes Christ, and touches the bier, and that which was dead arises. (Stopford Brooke, M. A.)
The widow’s son of Nain
This miracle has much in common with Christ’s other two miracles of raising from the dead. The same calm authority, the same Divine self-confidence is evident in them all.
I. CHRIST’S IMPULSE OF COMPASSION. We are not satisfied with our knowledge of any man until we have seen something of his impulses.
1. See how this illustrates the greatness of Christ. His air was not distraught. His sympathies were as prompt, His considerateness as full and tender, as though not a care was on His spirit.
2. Remember, too, how Christ subordinated family affection to the call of the gospel. How hard and irresponsive, how cold and unsympathetic, are men who have sacrificed affection to obedience.
3. This gives us a view of God which we sorely need. Nature reveals one whom the strong may adore; a God for the happy. Christ reveals God as coming down to us in compassion and tender personal sympathy.
II. THE SIMPLICITY OF CHRIST’S COMPASSION. For simple unmingled grief, simple unmingled comfort is the only balm. He could afford often to dispense with speech, because His life was unmistakably a witness for God. Simplicity is the great want of modern Christian life. If it were deeper it would be less fussy. (A. Mackennal, D. D.)
The widow of Nain
I. THE BEREAVED MOTHER. Painter, as well as physician, we can believe St. Luke to have been. Desolation was never more graphically and pathetically summed up than in the words, “The only son,” &c. Then, too, it is hard for the young and strong to leave the world. Cut off prematurely, sayest thou? What if it be that the corn of wheat must fall into the ground and die, and thus bear much fruit. Bereaved mother, a word to thee! If thy son is dear to thee, think him as much so to thy Saviour.
II. OUR LORD’S ATTITUDE ON THIS OCCASION.
1. In the associations of the miracle there is much of deepest interest:
(a) Our Lord’s power to grapple with sudden emergencies.
(b) His sensitive compassion.
(c) The paucity of His words.
2. The miracle itself: All its details are commonplace, entirely divested of any clothing of the would-be wonderful.
(a) In the mercy there were the elements of fresh trials. Again there were all the anxieties to undergo, all the battle again to fight, the prospect again of severance.
(b) Why are miracles of resurrection no longer possible? Because there is no longer the same end to be nerved.
(c) Such miracle typical. Death a type of sin. Renewal of human nature a resurrection with Christ.
III. THE PEOPLE WHO ACCOMPANIED THE MOURNER.
1. Gratifying as their sympathy would be, the very crowds would cause her to feel more solitary.
2. In the feelings excited by the performance of the miracle, we trace no thought for those of the mother. We find only superstitious fear, which, in its turn, gives place to wild enthusiasm. The words of the people seem to denote that the miracle recalled those of Elijah and Elisha, and the prophet’s vision (Ezekiel 37:1-28). They indulged in sentimental Messianic dreams; they built themselves up afresh in national pride; they gave themselves over to self-important babbling. We have only here a fresh illustration of that false spirit to which it was our Lord’s sad destiny to minister. With all their enthusiasm He knew that there was no real life, no deep apprehension of the character of the truths He had come to teach. (W. J. Gordon.)
Gospel for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity
I. SOME MIRACLES OF THIS KIND WERE NEEDED, IN ORDER TO GIVE A FULL VIEW OF THE WORK AND POWER OF CHRIST.
II. Of this most striking class of miracles ONLY THREE ARE RECORDED, AND WE MUST SUPPOSE ONLY THREE WERE WROUGHT. For this infrequency there may have been many reasons.
1. A desire to make the miracle mote striking by its isolation.
2. The unbelief of the people. Christ is never asked to raise the dead. Even Martha just hints and no more, that God will grant whatever He asks.
III. THERE IS A GRADATION IN THE MIRACLES, LEADING UP, AS IT WERE, TO A CLIMAX. Just dead; twenty-four hours dead; four days dead. In all cases, the fact of the death well-ascertained, and abundance of witnesses secured. What must be the feelings of a man between one death and another?
IV. A MIRACLE PRODUCES ITS EFFECT ACCORDING TO THE STATE OF MIND OF THOSE WHO WITNESS IT. It does not necessarily carry conviction. Here a fear comes on all, and they glorify God. In the second miracle they are astonished with a great astonishment. At the crowning miracle, the hatred against Jesus having become more intense, some went their way to the Pharisees and reported what Jesus had done. (G. Calthrop, M. A.)
The miracle of Nain
How splendid the career of Jesus! Observe here--
I. WHAT THE REDEEMER BEHELD.
II. WHAT CHRIST FELT--“Compassion.” His eye affected His heart.
1. Agreeable to His nature.
2. Agreeable to all His works.
III. WHAT CHRIST SAID--“Weep not.” Was it not a very harsh and unreasonable demand?
1. Might she not have reminded Him that to weep was in accordance with the feelings of our nature?
2. Have not the best of men wept?
3. This was an extremely afflictive case. Still He insists that she must weep not. We shall soon perceive the reason: He was about to remove the cause of sorrow.
IV. WHAT THE REDEEMER DID.
1. He touched the bier. Arrested it in its course; bearers felt it impossible to advance; finger of God was upon it. Hence they stood still-astonished, amazed.
2. He commanded the corpse to arise. Although dead, he heard the voice of the Son of God, and lived. His spirit heard it in Hades--the invisible state, and came back.
3. He delivered him to his mother. Christ might have insisted on the consecration of himself to His service, as a disciple, evangelist, or apostle. Compassion commenced, and compassion gave the finishing stroke to this splendid and Divine scene.
4. The people glorified God. The glory of God was the grand object and end of Christ’s undertakings.
Application: See in this young man--
1. A striking picture of the natural state of man.
2. Learn the only means of restoration.
3. God is greatly glorified in the salvation of sinners. (J. Burns, D. D.)
Christian attendance at a funeral
What are the sentiments with which we attend a funeral?
I. OUR CONDUCT IN RELATION TO THE DECEASED AND HIS SURVIVING FAMILY.
1. Let us attend the funeral not merely for the sake of politeness, but out of Christian charity.
(1) Such attendance is in conformity with human nature.
(2) It is beneficial to ourselves, reminding us that we are brethren, children of the same heavenly Father.
2. Let us succour the deceased, by remembering him in our prayers, &c.
3. Let us console the family of the deceased.
(1) Let us weep with them that weep. Compassion is like balsam.
(2) Let us speak comfort to the grief-stricken family. Remind them of the dispositions of Divine Providence, of immortality, and future reunion.
(3) Let us perform consoling works.
II. OUR CONDUCT WITH REGARD TO OURSELVES. A funeral is a warning to us.
1. Look at the corpse.
(1) What has it been? What we are: full of life and health, full of hopes, prospects, and plans for the future. Was this person young or old, rich or poor, beautiful or deformed, learned or illiterate? It does not matter. No one is secured against death. The only important question is this: Was the dead person virtuous or wicked?
(2) What is it now? What we all shall be: a hideous corpse, deprived of life and “beauty, deprived of all advantages of mind, form, and earthly conditions. Only one thing has been spared by death: the good and evil deeds done in life.
(3) How has it come to this state? In the same way as that by which we must pass--death. Has death come unexpected, or after an early warning? When and where?
(4) What will it be? Like every one of us, a prey to vermin, an inhabitant of the grave. So passes the glory of the world. But, at the same time, it is the seed of a future body--either glorious or ignominious.
2. Let us turn our eyes to Jesus, the Life-giver. (Tschupik.)
A bereaved mother
The mother of poor Touda, who heard that I wished to see him once more, led me to the house where the body was laid. The narrow space of the room was crowded; about two hundred women were sitting and standing around, singing mourning songs to doleful and monotonous airs. As I stood looking, filled with solemn thoughts, in spite of, or rather because of, perhaps, the somewhat ludicrous contrasts about me, the mother of Touda approached. She threw herself at the foot of her dead son, and begged him to speak to her once more. And then, when the corpse did not answer, she uttered a shriek, so long, so piercing, such a wail of love and grief, that tears came into my eyes. Poor African mother! she was literally as one sorrowing without hope; for these poor people count on nothing beyond the present life. For them there is no hope beyond the grave. “All is done,” they say, with an inexpressible sadness of conviction that sometimes gave me a heartache. As I left the hut, thinking these things, the wailing recommenced. It would be kept up by the women, who are the official mourners on these occasions, till the corpse was buried. (Du Chaillu.)
The voice of a funeral
Every funeral is God’s repetition of His anathema against sin. When our friends are carried to the silent sepulchre the Lord of all does in fact say to us, “See what a bitter thing sin is; it takes the light from the eye and the music from the ear; it silences the voice of song, and palsies the hand of skill; it quenches the fire of love upon the heart’s altar, and removes the light of understanding from the brain’s judgment seat, and gives over the creature once so lovely and beloved to become a putrid mass, a horror and a loathing, so that affection itself cries out, ‘Bury my dead out of my sight.’” Thus every gravestone and every green hillock in the cemetery may be regarded as the still small voice of God solemnly condemning sin. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A risible sermon
Archbisbop Leighton, returning home one morning, was asked by his sister, “Have you been bearing a sermon?” “I’ve met a sermon,” was the answer. The sermon he had met was a corpse on its way to the grave. The preacher was Death. Greatest of street-preachers!--nor laws nor penalties can silence. No tramp of horses, nor rattling of carriages, nor rush and din of crowded streets can drown his voice. In heathen, pagan, and Protestant countries, in monarchies and free states, in town and country, the solemn pomp of discourse is going on. In some countries a man is imprisoned for even dropping a tract. But what prison will hold this awful preacher? What chains will bind him? He lifts up his voice in the very presence of tyrants, and laughs at their threats. He walks unobstructed through the midst of their guards, and delivers the messages which trouble their security and embitter their pleasures. If we do not meet his sermons, still we cannot escape them. He comes to our abode, and, taking the dearest object of our love as his text, what sermons does he deliver to us! His oft-repeated sermons still enforce the same doctrine, still press upon us the same exhortation, “Surely, every man walketh in a vain show. Surely they are disquieted in vain.” “Here we have no continuing city.”
Power of sympathy
Happy is the man who has that in his soul which acts upon the dejected as April airs upon violet roots. Gifts from the hand are silver and gold; but the heart gives that which neither silver nor gold can buy. To be full of goodness, full of cheerfulness, full of sympathy, full of helpful hope, causes a man to carry blessings of which he is himself as unconscious as a lamp of its own shining. Such a one moves on human life as stars move on dark seas to bewildered mariners; as the sun wheels, bringing all the seasons with him from the south. (H. W. Beecher.)
Bishop Myrel had the art of sitting down, and holding his tongue for hours, by the side of a man who had lost the wife he loved, or of a mother bereaved of her child. (Victor Hugo.)
The compassion of mankind a sign of the compassion of mankind’s Head and Lord
Contrast between the two compassions of which the bereaved mother was the object. Helpless compassion of multitude; mighty compassion of Christ.
I. The Father sent His Son into the world to adopt and justify these common and daily human compassions, and to reveal what had all along been implied though hidden in them.
II. Jesus Christ shared in the compassion of the Jewish mourners, and shares now in such compassion everywhere because He is the Son of Man.
III. The text, however, reminds us that He who comes to meet the funerals of our kind and unites His compassion with our compassion, is more even than the Son of Man, the Head of our race. “And when the Lord saw her.” The Son of Man, who is the Lord, has compassion with humanity in its troubles. (T. Hancock.)
The power of Christ’s voice
Only three such reprieves recorded in the Gospels. Not fewer, that there might be no doubt as to the fact; not more, that the fact might not be too common.
1. All whom our Lord called back to life were comparatively young. It was death as a blight that He checked and restrained.
2. In all three cases it was kindness to the living which chiefly moved Christ to raise the dead. In each act we see Jesus in a higher character than a worker of miracles; it showed Him as the binder of broken hearts.
3. The resurrection of the dead is the result of the Divine power of Christ, In the most stupendous of all His works of power He put away secondary means; the creative command went direct from the creative voice to the matter and the spirit which were bound to obey that voice. The mode of working is majestic, Divine.
4. The three risings which took place at the command of Christ were preludes and foreshadowings of His own. But they did but imperfectly resemble that one complete resurrection. Christ rose at no word of command, but because He had life in Himself.
5. Taking our stand upon the truth that Christ is risen from the dead, we may see in these revivals the foreshadowings of that universal revival, when all the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God and live. If you do not hear and obey the gentle, persuasive, loving voice of Christ now, it will be ill with you when that great voice sounds which will call all of us from our graves, and which we shall then be compelled to hear and obey. (The late Dean of Ely.)
Visit to Nain
We crossed Hermon, and found ourselves in a small decayed village on the edge of another bay of Esdraelon, which runs between the hills of Galilee and Hermon to the north. It was Nain. It is poor, confused and filthy, like every village in Palestine, but its situation is very fine, as commanding a good view of the plain, with the opposite hills, and especially of Tabor, that rises like a noble wooded island at the head of the green bay. And Nain, in the light of the Gospel-history, is another of those fountains of living water opened up by the Divine Saviour, which have flowed through all lands to refresh the thirsty. How many widows, for eighteen centuries, have been comforted; how many broken hearts soothed and healed; by the story of Nain--by the unsought and unexpected sympathy of Jesus, and by His power and majesty! What has Nineveh or Babylon been to the world in comparison with Nain? And this is the wonder constantly suggested by the insignificant villages of Palestine, that their names have become parts, as it were, of the deepest experiences of the noblest persons of every land and every age. (Norman Macleod, D. D.)
THE WIDOW OF NAIN.
Forth from the city gate the pitying crowd
Followed the stricken mourner. They came near
The place of burial, and, with straining hands,
Closer upon her breast she clasped the pall,
And with a gasping sob, quick as a child’s,
And an inquiring wildness flashing through
The thin grey lashes of her fevered eyes,
She came where Jesus stood beside the way.
He looked upon her, and His heart was moved.
“Weep not!” He said; and as they stayed the bier,
And at His bidding laid it at His feet,
He gently drew the pall from out her grasp,
And laid it back in silence from the dead.
With troubled wonder the mute throng drew near,
And gazed on His calm looks. A minute’s space
He stood and pray’d. Then taking the cold hand,
He said, “Arise!” And instantly the breast
Heaved in its cerements, and a sudden flush
Ran through the lines of the divided lips,
And with a murmur of his mother’s name,
He trembled and sat upright in his shroud.
And while the mourner hung upon his neck,
Jesus went calmly on His way to Nain. (N. P. Willis.)
Art Thou He that should come, or look we for another?
John’s doubting message to Jesus
1. Much discussion has taken place concerning John’s doubt, whether it was real or affected; and if real, what was its cause? We believe there was doubt in the mind of the Baptist--serious doubt--arising out of no personal or petty source, but caused by the way in which the Messianic career of Jesus was developing itself.
2. This doubt was not in regard to the identity of the worker of the works reported to John with Jesus, but in regard to the nature of the works viewed as Messianic. But why should John stumble at those works, so full of the spirit of love and mercy? Just because they were works of mercy. These were not the sort of works he had expected Messiah to busy Himself with; at all events, so exclusively. Cf. Jonah’s zeal for righteousness.
3. The reply sent back by Jesus to John amounted to this, that the sure marks that He was the coming One, the Christ, were just the very works which had awakened John’s surprise.
4. Having recounted rapidly His mighty works, Jesus appended the reflection, “And blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in Me.” We are not to find in the words traces either of harshness towards John or of wounded feeling in the speaker. The tone of compassion rather than of severity is audible in the utterance. Jesus felt keenly how much John missed by being in such a state of mind that that in His own work which was most godlike was a stumbling-block to him. Translated into positive form the reflection means, “Blessed are they to whom the mercy and the grace of which I am full, and whereof My ministry is the manifestation and outflow, are no stumbling-block, but rather worthy of all acceptation.” (A. B. Bruce, D. D.)
The test of Christianity
1. Jesus deliberately declined to rest His claims upon any other grounds than the testimony of His Father, a testimony which shone in the truth of His words, and in the heavenly character of His mission.
2. If the Master Himself is willing, nay demands, to be judged by results, manifestly organizations and churches that claim to be called by His name must not shrink from the same test.
3. The only proof of your being in contact with the living Saviour, the only proof that you rightly apprehend and sincerely embrace Him, is the result in your own hearts and conduct. No religion is worth anything that is not a power. (E. W. Shalders, BA.)
Looking for another Christ
There are times when, through the disappointments and failures of our personal religious lives, it may be necessary to look for another Christ than the Christ we have already known.
1. There are some who have been restless for months, perhaps for years, about their sin. They have appealed to Christ again and again, and the peace of Christ has not come to them. They are tempted to put this question. Christ may reply by pointing them to the great triumphs of His mercy by which they are surrounded. Go to Christ with all your trouble, and with a clear and vivid remembrance of His death, and you cannot put this question.
2. There are some who feel that their Christian life has not had the power and brightness they hoped for. This, also, often arises from a defective knowledge of Christ. Perhaps you have forgotten that He is not only a Saviour, but a Prince, and that you must accept His law as the rule of your life, and strive to get His will done on earth as the will of God is done in heaven.
3. This question may be suggested by the general condition and history of the world, a large part of the world is still unsaved: the misery Jesus came to console still largely unconsoled. Do you look for another Christ? Can the contents of His revelation be anyhow enriched? Can there be more careful warnings, more glorious promises, more compassion, more gentleness and beauty, than there are in Him and His gospel?
4. We do not look for the coming of another Christ, but the Christ whom we know will come in another form, to complete in power and majesty the work which He began in weakness and in shame. (R. W. Dale, D. D.)
The answer of Jesus to John
It seems to me that here the Lord prescribes to His Church the answer she should give in all days when men rise up and question whether He comes from God, when men rise up to say to His Church, “Are you the kingdom of God? are you the Divine society established upon earth to be the home of the new life, and the source of a wide-spreading influence? Are you the city set upon a hill that cannot be hid?” When such questions are asked, the Church must be ready, not merely to give proofs of her ancient origin, her orthodox title-deeds drawn from the dusty safes of her theology, but she must be able to say, “Look at my life, my work. See what I am doing for the poor, the destitute, the oppressed, and judge me as you find me.” Can the Church of God, in these days, bear such an appeal as that? Can she say, “Look at the asylums I nave founded and support for the poor, the lame, the halt, and the blind! Look at my children giving devoted labour in the lowest dens of your cities; at my sons faithfully striving for the truth in the halls of your legislature; and see in juster laws and a purer life, and a more brotherly relation between man and man, proofs of the power of my spirit, and of the truth of my labours”? She must answer so, and so must you and I, when challenged to prove that we are of God. We hear a great deal in these days about answers to the infidel, about arguments philosophical, historical, and scientific, which shall have the power, in the hands of skilful men, of silencing the antagonist. But a better argument and a mightier that any of these, an argument that never fails, is that derived from the fruits and results of religion in the life. The man who reads your history with criticism, and meets your argument with argument, will bare his head and bow his neck before the spectacle of a holy and devoted life. That he sees is true, whatever else be false; that is of God, whatever becomes of books and institutions. (Bishop Moorhouse.)
The message of John the Baptist
I. THE MESSAGE. What did it mean?
1. To convince his disciples? Not suited to do it; suggesting doubtfulness in their master; impairing previous witness.
2. To reassure himself? At variance with
(1) his character, testimony, Divine assurance.
(2) Words of the Lord (Luke 7:24), aimed to prevent the supposition.
(3) The occasion. “When he had heard the works of Christ”--the last work being the raising of the dead.
3. Message not of uncertainty, but of impatience. Things do not go as the Baptist expected. The world left in doubt. Opinion taking wrong turn for want of distinct assertion. Works of Christ, but no proclamation of Christ. It ought to be made. The time is come. He the proper person to obtain it. He will demand it in the interests of all.
II. THE REPLY.
(1) To what was said. The facts are sufficient answer.
(2) To what was meant. The method will not be changed. The Lord must choose His own course. Men must see and judge. Facts first, then assertions.
2. Warning. There is danger in this disposition--danger of questioning God’s methods; restlessness, dissatisfaction, diminution of attachment, failure of faith. (Canon T. D. Bernard.)
Moral evidence of Christianity superior to miracles
1. It is evident John did not clearly apprehend the spirituality of the kingdom Christ was to introduce. Like the apostles, he expected the kingdom of God would come with observation, instead of its being of a slow, quiet, spiritual growth. He looked for something more visible. There were the remains of the old dispensation mixed up with his ideas of its nature; too much of the Old Testament theocracy.
2. The remarkable manner in which the idea of the coming of Christ had taken possession of the minds of men at the time John sent his disciples to inquire respecting it. The familiar designation of the Messiah was “the Comer.” “Him that is to come” is but the common version of the world’s designation of the Messiah. The Comer, as if with Him came everything else desirable. The coming of all future good depended upon His coming.
3. I might notice the world’s slowness in recognizing Christ as the Messiah, and the circumstances which occasioned that slowness to admit His claim.
4. He proceeded to enforce His claim by evidence corresponding with His character, and their necessities, and by evidence alone, the result of which
He is prepared to wait (Luke 7:21-23). As if He had said, “Go and tell John My kingdom is a spiritual kingdom, and the employment of other than spiritual means would be uncongenial and obstructive.”
5. That our Lord not only employed evidence in contradistinction from worldly display and physical force, but that He presented to these inquirers and the multitude moral evidence as superior to miraculous.
I. CHRIST’S PREACHING CONSISTED, IN A REMARKABLE DEGREE, OF DEEDS.
1. Thus on this occasion, the God-like reply to the inquiry, “Art Thou He that should come?” His deeds spoke. He entered into no argumentative defence of His claims--“Actions speak louder than words.” “In the same hour He cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind He gave sight.” He left the stupendous miracles He had performed to speak for themselves (Psalms 19:1-14.l-3). The heavens had done much, and now He is in the world to develop what the heavens could not declare. It was not to be expected that His more full manifestation would be verbal merely, or chiefly, for how can speech, which is but the symbol of thought, convey ideas of what thought cannot grasp respecting “God, who is a spirit,” immaterial, infinite, invisible, incomprehensible. Speech fails to do justice to the finite, the visible, the material, and comprehensible; to convey the greatest and best conceptions of our own minds.
2. Christ’s verbal teaching related especially to Himself. Each portion of it was either the vindication of acts He had performed, or an intimation of some purpose he was about to accomplish, or a development of the kingdom He was then establishing--relating to its nature, origin, character, or growth.
3. This distinctive and important fact supplies a reply to the following objections.
(1) The first objection we refer to, more frequently felt than expressed, relates to the greater fulness of evangelical doctrines in the Epistles than in the Gospels. Although the latter comprise the discourses and teaching of Christ Himself, we reply to this by saying, “Christ came not so much to preach the gospel as to procure it, to establish and confirm it, to perform the deeds, the record of which constitutes the gospel.”
(2) The second objection urged from the time of Celsus downwards is, that parallels to some of our Lord’s sayings are to be found in the writings of
Plato, Isocrates, and others. Hence it has been inferred, absurdly enough, that the gospel had been anticipated--that Christianity was not original. To which we reply, admitting the supposed resemblances, the wonder is that they are so extremely few--two or three mere maxims of morality, and these but the distant reverberations of Sinai’s echoes of the ancient and moral law. What is Christianity? Nothing but a few maxims of morality? We triumphantly point inquirers for Christianity to her spirit and her works--her resemblance to her Lord.
II. His WORKS WERE WONDERFUL. It is a frequent description given of God in the Old Testament, “He only doeth wonderful things.” To achieve wonders is the prerogative of God. “He alone doeth wonders”; and this called forth the grateful praises of His people. Not only is God the wonderworker, but strictly speaking, all that God does are wonders, only wonders. The atom is as an atom not less wonderful than a world. Both owe their origin to His creative power, and are impressed with the Divine signature. Was it strange then that when “God was manifested in the flesh,” that when He appeared amongst us, who was predicted as “the wonderful,” His works and deeds should be “mighty signs and wonders.” There was a sense in which He could do nothing which was not wonderful; His constitution made it impossible that anything ordinary could emanate from Him.
III. HIS WONDERS WERE MERCIES.
1. All His miracles were miracles of mercy. Nor was it necessary to alter His laws, imposed at the first on nature, they suffered no violence from His mercy; on the contrary, they harmonized with it. In giving sight to the blind, He was but restoring the eye to the use and exercise of its proper function. His power He used as a trust to be administered for man’s good alone.
2. Besides the present happiness, His mercies conveyed in the physical and mental benefits, miraculously bestowed, they had a higher value, a symbolical meaning, pointing to spiritual necessities and supplies, to the things relating to our redemption.
3. His miracles demonstrated His power, and our interest in turning the elements of earth to account of spiritual uses, relating them to heaven. In opening the blind eye He denoted that He came to be the Light of the world, and that we need that the eye of the understanding should be open to receive that light. The greatest wonder was that of His incarnation. In comparison with this wonder, all mere acts of His power were less splendid. This was the long desired and promised wonder. The ancient tabernacle foreshadowed His tabernacling among men. The temple with its indwelling Shekinah symbolically predicted this. Every instance of union between God and man, and the union of soul and body, prefigured this infinitely more mysterious union of the Divine and human natures in His person.
IV. HIS MERCIES, like His acts, by which He replied to John’s disciples, WERE ANSWERS TO MAN’S NECESSITIES. This is only another mode of saying that the blessings of His redemption are fully adapted to man’s exigencies. It might have been otherwise. His words might have been works; His works might have been wonders; His wonders might have been mercies; and yet, after all, there might have been a want of strict suitableness between our necessities and the mode of meeting them, but the text reminds us that His mercies and deeds are exactly suitable and fully answerable to the exigencies.
1. This correspondence admits of universal application. He comprehended the entire scheme of nature and Providence. No legitimate question on any natural subject can ever arise in the mind of man, which his Creator and Redeemer has not foreseen; to which He has not inserted an answer in the things which He has made. Ten thousand answers are silently awaiting the future questions which shall call them forth. At this moment, while we are assembled here, the Creator may be elsewhere exhibiting similar demonstrations of His perfections in reply to inquirers. In the amplitude of space, hosts of intelligent beings may be collected around the chaos of a world, wondering whether it will ever be restored to harmony and order; whether all creative acts are at an end, and while they are inquiring the fiat may go forth from the Creator again, as “in the beginning,” “Let there be light,” and the light of Divine power may kindle around them.
2. The lessons of the Old Testament are represented as replies. God was graciously pleased to allow Himself to be inquired of. His replies were called responses or oracles.
3. But now Christ had come as the living oracle; from Him the questions which human guilt and misery had never ceased to agitate, were to receive a full practical satisfactory reply.
V. A PRACTICAL CHRISTIANITY ALONE, A CHRISTIANITY EMBODIED IN DEEDS OF MERCY, ADEQUATELY ILLUSTRATES THE WORKS OF REDEMPTION BY CHRIST. “Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in Me.” Our
Lord meant not that His wondrous works should end with Himself. All power was given to Him as Mediator and Head of the Church, as a centre of an ever-enlarging circle. From Him as the Head of all things to the Church all emanates. (J. Harris, D. D.)
The soul dependent on physical conditions
However good and great you may be in the Christian life, your soul will never be independent of physical conditions. I feel I am uttering a most practical, useful truth here, one that may give relief to a great many Christians who are worried and despondent at times. Doctor Rush, a monarch in medicine, after curing hundreds of cases of mental depression, himself fell sick and lost his religious hope, and he would not believe his pastor when the pastor told him that his spiritual depression was only a consequence of physical depression. Andrew Fuller, Themes Scott, William Cowper, Thomas Boston, David Brainard, Philip Melancthon, were mighty men for God, but all of them illustrations of the fact that a man’s soul is not independent of his physical health. An eminent physician gave as his opinion that no man ever died a greatly triumphant death whose disease was below the diaphragm. Stackhouse, the learned Christian writer, says he does not think Saul was insane when David played the harp before him, but it was a hypochondria coming from inflammation of the liver. The Dean of Carlisle, one of the best men that ever lived, and one of the most useful, sat down and wrote: “Though I have endeavoured to discharge my duty as well as I could, yet sadness and melancholy of heart stick close by and increase upon me. I tell nobody, but I am very much sunk indeed, and I wish I could have the relief of weeping as I used to. My days are exceedingly dark and distressing. In a word, Almighty God seems to hide His face, and I intrust the secret to hardly any earthly being. I know not what will become of me. There is, doubtless, a good deal of bodily affliction mingled with this, but it is not all so. I bless God, however, that I never lose sight of the Cross, and, though I should die without seeing any personal interest in the Redeemer’s merits, I hope that I shall be found at His feet. I will thank you for a word at your leisure. My door is bolted at the time I am writing this, for I am full of tears.” (Dr. Talmage.)
Inactivity a cause of doubt
Doubt often comes from inactivity. We cannot give the philosophy of it, but this is the fact, that Christians who have nothing to do but to sit thinking of themselves, meditating, sentimentalising, are almost sure to become the prey to dark, blank misgivings. John the Baptist, struggling in the desert, needs no proof that Jesus is the Christ. John shut up became morbid and doubtful immediately.
We are mysteries, but here is the practical lesson of it all: for sadness, for suffering, for misgivings, there is no remedy but stirring and doing. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Christ is the dispeller of doubt
During his earlier life Dr. Merle D’Aubigne, the Swiss historian of the Reformation, was grievously vexed with depressing doubts. He went to his old teacher for help. The shrewd old man refused to answer the young man’s perplexities, saying, “Were I to get you rid of these doubts, others would come. There is a shorter way of destroying them. Let Christ be really to you the Son of God the Saviour. Do His will. His light will dispel the clouds, and His Spirit will lead you into all truth.” The old man was right, and the young D’Aubigne was wise enough to adopt his counsel. He hoisted anchor, and moved out of the region of fogs, and quietly anchored himself under the sunshine of Christ’s countenance. (Dr. Cuyler.)
Devotion to Christ a cure for despondency
Active devotion to Christ’s service is another cure for spiritual despondency. The faith-faculty gets numb by long inaction, just as a limb becomes numb and useless if it is not exercised. The love-power grows cold if it is not kept fired up. When faith and love both run low, the soul easily falls into an ague-fit. What you need is to get out of yourself into a sympathy with, and downright efforts for, the good of others. When a desponding Christian came to old Dr. Alexander for relief, the Doctor urged him to prayer. “I do pray continually.” “What do you pray for?” The young student said, “I pray that the Lord would lift upon me the light of His countenance.” “Then,” replied the sagacious veteran, “go now and pray that He will use you for the conversion of souls.” (Dr. Cuyler.)
To the poor the gospel is preached
The gospel preached to the poor
I. THE EXCELLENCY OF THIS LAW. A new development of a heaven-laid plan to enlighten the poor; to raise them in the scale of being; to sweeten and adorn their lot by the honours of intellectual culture, the comforts of social life, and the hopes of immortality. The wisdom of our text, as a poor’s law, excels all the contrivances of men. It does not so much provide for the poor as it prevents men from being poor. It cuts off the causes of poverty.
II. THE OBLIGATION IT LAYS UPON US. The way to the most effective sense of duty is by discovering the need and the worth of the thing that is enjoined; and is this a thing to be countermanded or opposed?: But if the argument from the goodness of precept seem too weak, let us view its peremptory demand. It is the will of our Saviour that none live in a Christian land without hearing the glad sound, that so all may walk in the light of His countenance.
III. How is THIS GOOD LAW OF OUR LAND TO BE FULFILLED.? (N. Paterson.)
1. Our Saviour’s works were words.
2. His works were wonders.
3. His wonders were wonders of mercy.
4. His wonders of mercy were suited to the necessities of man.
5. The suitableness of His wonders of mercy to the necessities of man is a satisfactory proof of His Messiahship. (G. Brooks.)
The suitability of the gospel to the poor
The gospel is especially adapted to the poor, in respect of--
1. Their education.
2. Their resources.
3. Their opportunities.
4. Their prospects. (G. Brooks.)
A preacher to the poor
John Wesley always preferred the middling and lower classes to the wealthy. He said “If I might choose I should still, as I have done hitherto, preach the gospel to the poor.”
Trophies of the work of Christ
Before many a Popish shrine on the Continent one sees exhibited a great variety of crutches, together with wax models of arms, legs, and other limbs. These are supposed to represent the cures wrought by devotion at that altar--the memorials of the healing power of the saint. Poor, miserable superstition, all of it, and yet what a reminder to the believer in Jesus as to his duty and his privilege? Having pleaded at the feet of Jesus, we have found salvation; have we remembered to record this wonder of His hand? If we hung up memorials of all His matchless grace, what crutches and bandages and trophies of every sort should we pile together! Temper subdued, pride humbled, unbelief slain, sin cast down, sloth ashamed, carelessness rebuked. The cross has healed all manner of diseases, and its honours should be proclaimed with every rising and setting sun. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Christianity and the poor
A celebrated doctor of divinity in London, who is now in heaven I have no doubt--a very excellent and godly man--gave notice one Sunday that he intended to visit all his people, and said,that in order to be able to get round and visit them and their families once in the year, he should take all the seatholders in order, A person well known to me, who was then a poor man, was delighted with the idea that the minister was coming to his house to see him, and about a week or two before he conceived it would be his turn his wife was very careful to sweep the hearth and keep the house tidy, and the man ran home early from work, hoping each night to find the Doctor there. This went on for a considerable time. He either forgot his promise, or grew weary in performing it, or for some other reason never went to this poor man’s house; and the result was this, the man lost confidence in all preachers, and said, “They care for the rich, but they do not care for us who are poor.” That man never settled down to any one place of worship for many years, till at last he dropped into Exeter Hall and remained my hearer for years till Providence removed him. It was no small task to make him believe that any minister could be an honest man, and could impartially love both rich and poor. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in Me
Taking offence at Christ
Some are offended and stumble at Christ, on the pretence that there is not sufficient evidence of His Divine mission.
2. Some are offended in Christ because of circumstances connected with the Person and history of Christ Himself.
(1) His dignity and Godhead.
(2) His humiliation.
3. Some are offended in Christ because of His peculiar doctrines. They dislike mysteries, they say. But what is there which is not mysterious, when searched into very closely?
4. Some are offended at Christ because of His precepts, or the holy life which He requires them to lead.
5. Some are offended in Christ on account of the conduct of those who profess to be His followers. But, however lamentable such misconduct may be, it is unjust to impute it to Christ, or His gospel. We ought always to distinguish between the system and the inconsistencies of those who profess to hold it.
6. Many are offended in Christ because of the trials to which fidelity to Him would expose them. (James Foote, M. A.)
The blessedness of not being offended in Christ
1. A fatal stumble in the way to happiness, which many of the hearers of the gospel make. They are offended in Christ. They stumble at Him. Observe here, the object of their offence, Jesus Christ. It is at Him the world is offended. The God that made and guides the world, the Saviour that redeemed them, does not please the world. What wonder then that others cannot do it. There is something in the mystery of Christ, with which the unbeliever will always be finding fault. The world is unholy, and takes offence at Him. He is the brightness of His Father’s glory: and they, like owls and bats, are blinded at the shining Sun, and therefore carefully keep at a distance from Him. They are offended. In the Greek, scandalized. Now the blind world, by reason of their own corruption, are thus offended or scandalized in Christ. “And He shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, to both the houses of Israel: for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.”
2. In the text there is the happiness of those who escape this fatal stumble. I shall show--
I. What it is to stumble at Christ and be offended in Him.
II. That stumbling at Christ abounds very much in the world.
III. That they are happy indeed who are kept from being offended in Him. And then add some improvement.
I. To SHOW WHAT IT IS TO STUMBLE AT CHRIST, AND BE OFFENDED IN HIM. This is a very awful matter. For a man to die of his disease, when he might have been cured, is sad; but it is a double death for one to destroy himself by the abuse of a remedy prescribed that would have cured him infallibly. It has reference to four things in the general.
1. To the grand device of salvation through Jesus Christ, laid in the infinite wisdom of God, and fixed by the Divine counsel. And at this the unbelieving world ever stumbles, and their hearts can never fall in with it.
2. To the offer of Christ made in the gospel. To be the sinner’s Head, Lord, and Husband. To be their Prophet, Priest, and King, their all and instead of all. But sinners love not the offer, they stumble at His offices.
3. To the making use of Christ for all the purposes for which the Father has given Him.
4. To the practical understanding of sinners. They ever form a wrong judgment of Christ, and nothing less than overpowering grace will rectify their apprehensions of Him. This stumbling at Christ lies in these four things.
(1) The blind soul ever finds some fault in the mystery of Christ. There is always something in or about Christ that disgusts the sinner, is quite disagreeable and shocking to him. The Son of God is not a match suitable to those whose minds are not savingly enlightened.
(2) That which disgusts them, is what they cannot get over. There is something not to be found in Him, which they cannot want, and something in Him which they cannot endure. And by no art can they reconcile their hearts to it.
(3) Because they cannot get over that one thing, it keeps Christ and the soul asunder effectually. Could the Jews have got over the offence of the mean appearance of Christ, and reconciled it to their own notion of the Messiah, they would have been fond of Him, as they were while He was not come.
(4) This keeping Christ and the soul asunder, the soul is at length thereby ruined, and brought into a worse case than if Christ had never come in the way. “If I had not come,” says He, “and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloak for their sin.”
II. TO SHOW THAT STUMBLING AT CHRIST ABOUNDS VERY MUCH IN THE WORLD. Let us view the heaps upon heaps that are lying broken, snared, and taken.
1. Let us take a view of those that are lying rotting above the ground in open profanity; they are kept away from Christ, even by the very far-off sight of Him and His way. There are many at this day who cry, “Let us break their bands asunder, and cast their cords from us. We will not have this Man to reign over us.”
2. Let us take a view of those who are lying dead upon their murdered convictions.
3. Those that are lying broken and pining away, having stumbled aver the Cross of Christ.
4. Those that are fallen away from the lusts of Christ’s consolation, to the fulsome breasts of the world and their own lusts. In every age there are many like the mixed multitude that came out of Egypt, who for a time kept up in the ,wilderness, but afterwards lost hopes of Canaan, and fell a “lusting, and even the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat?” Finally, Look at those whose soul exercises have issued in putting their case in the hands of a physician of no value.
III. TO SHOW THAT THEY ARE HAPPY INDEED WHO ARE KEPT FROM BEING OFFENDED IN HIM.
1. Their eyes are opened to see that superlative glory in Christ that all the unbelieving world cannot discover.
2. Their hearts are new formed, cast into a new mould, otherwise they could never be pleased with Him. “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them who believe on His name.”
3. That soul cannot fail to embrace Christ, to receive Him by faith and unite with Him. For to be well pleased with Christ, is in effect to say amen to the great bargain. Uses for improvement:
1. Be convinced then of this bias of the heart, this disposition of the soul to stumble at Jesus Christ.
2. I exhort one and all of you, that have a mind for any share of eternal happiness, and particularly communicants, that you would try yourselves this night, whether you be well pleased with Christ or not. (T. Boston.)
What went ye out into the wilderness for to see?
Why did our Lord select these figures rather than others?
I. Our Lord’s three questions RECALL THE WRY SCENE, THE PECULIAR FORM, AND THE ANIMATING SPIRIT OF THE BAPTIST’S MINISTRY.
1. The first would recall, to the listening crowd, Jordan, with its reedy, wind-swept banks--the strong rapid stream, by which they had listened to the prophet’s call, and in which they had been plunged for the remission of their sins.
2. The second would recall the asceticism of the Baptist, the rude simplicity of his garb, the rustic fare with which he was content.
3. The third would recall the fervour and inspiration with which he spoke, whom “all men confessed to be a prophet indeed,” and the profound impression he had made upon their light, fluctuating hearts.
II. We may take these questions as SETTING FORTH THE BAPTIST’S RELATIONS TO MAN, TO SELF, TO GOD.
1. John was no reed to be shaken by the breath of popular applause. He delivered his rebukes with fearlessness.
2. Severe to others, he was also severe to himself. He might have dwelt in king’s houses, yet he made the desert his home. A preacher of temperance, he carried his own temperance to asceticism.
3. Severe in the demands he made on men, still more severe in his demands on himself; he devoted himself wholly to the will and service of God. In his relation to God he proved himself a true prophet, yea, and very much more than a prophet, a man of God who was not disobedient to the word of the Lord.
III. We may take these questions as ADDRESSED TO THE THOUGHTS AND INTENTS, THE WISHES AND HOPES, OF THE CROWD WHO LISTENED TO THEM. What did you want and expect to find? Did you not covertly hope that, as John became popular, he would bend before the popular currents of thought and aim? And yet, could this have been your expectation and your hope? Had you wanted a courtier who would speak smooth things to you, would you not have gone to the palace for him? But, whatever drew you into the wilderness, whatever you thought or hoped, did not you find a prophet? As you listened to him, did not you find that life grew large and solemn? (S. Cox, D. D.)
Thrice, in as many minutes, our Lord demands of the multitude, “What went ye out to see?” Here was their error: professing concern to know the will of God, to prepare themselves for His service and kingdom, they were bent on sights, on spectacles, on indulging their curiosity and love of the marvellous. They went out not to hear a prophet, but to see a prophet; not to imitate the temperance and abstinence of the Baptist, but to gaze on a man who could prefer camel’s hair to soft clothing; not to feel the Divine regenerating mind of the Spirit, but to gape at the reed which shook and trembled in it. And this is the error against which we must guard. We are not to be over-much concerned with the spectacular, the external, the marvellous in religion, but to fix our thoughts and affections on its interior and eternal realities. (S. Cox, D. D.)
The unshaken prophet
The form into which Christ in this passage throws His view of the character of John the Baptist illustrates more than the symbolic method of His teaching. One sees in the choice of a natural object like the reed shaking in the wind in order to form a contrast to the unshaken temper of the Baptist, the same love of symbolism which led Him in His parables to make the ordinary things of Nature and of human nature images of the relations and laws of the spiritual kingdom. In the case of the parables, symbolism is deliberately used for the purpose of instruction. In the case before us it is used, as it were, unconsciously, and it reveals the natural way in which His mind united the world of Nature to the world of Man. When the image of the Baptist rose before Him--stern, uncompromising, fixed in moral strength, and with it the Jordan bank where first He met him, and the baptismal hour when He stood in the flowing river--He remembered the reeds as they shook in impotent vacillation in the wind, clasped the two images together in vivid contrast, and said, “What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind in the stream of the Jordan? nay, a rock, deep-rooted, firm, removable.”
I. EVERYTHING WE KNOW OF THE BAPTIST CONFIRMS THIS VIEW He learnt concentration of will in the solitary life of the desert. With the unshaken firmness which Christ saw as a root in his character, he accepted his position at once and for ever. Not one step did be take beyond his mission, though he must have seen to some distance beyond it. Never for a moment did he cease to point to Another away from himself. Iris as noble a piece of self-renunciation as history affords, and it was unshaken. Though a hundred temptations beset him to do so, he never allowed his teaching to step beyond the limits of its special work. He met his death because he was no reed to be shaken by the promises of a wicked king.
II. AND NOW TO MAKE THIS REAL TO OURSELVES.
1. Fidelity to our vocation in life.
2. The sinking of self in religious work.
3. The being unshaken in our truth and right, both in act and speech, against worldly influences when they are evil; and even When they are not evil in themselves, when they make us weak and vacillating. (Stopford A. Brooke, M. A.)
The Christian ministry
I. IT IS NOT A LINE OF PRIESTS. The principle of the priesthood rests upon a truth, the mediatorial power which man exercises over man. The apostles were in a sense mediators, and so far priests. But the prophecy of old was taken up joyfully by the apostles as the richest tune in the mediatorial kingdom, when the last offices of the priesthood should be taken away, when they should no longer teach every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord, for all should know Him, from the least even unto the greatest. This, then, is the spiritual priesthood. But the priestly system-1. Removes God from the soul, whereas God is ever near.
2. Degrades humanity, for its language tells us not of the affinity of man to God, but of the immense distance between the two.
3. Produces a slavish worship. Pass on to consider what the ministry is.
II. IT IS PROPHETICAL, not priestly. We greatly mistake if we think that the office of the prophet was simply to predict future events.
1. It was the office of the prophet to teach eternal truths. John’s only prediction was, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
2. All the most sublime passages in the Bible are from the writings of the prophets. The priestly writings were but temporary.
3. The difference between the prophet and the priest was that it was the office of the prophet to counteract the priestly office. “Bring no more vain oblations,” &c. “Wash you, make you clean.”
III. THE MINISTRY OF OUR BLESSED LORD HIMSELF, HERE ON EARTH, WAS PROPHETICAL AND NOT PRIESTLY. I lay a stress on that expression “here on earth,” because unquestionably He is a priest in heaven above. The high priesthood of the Son of Man is spoken of in the Hebrews. There it is denied on earth, but asserted to be in heaven. “For if He were on earth, He should not be a priest”; in other words, there is a priesthood now, but no earthly priesthood. In conclusion, I notice two points which seem to favour the notion of a priesthood:--
1. Absolution. Unquestionably, there is a power of absolution in the ministry of the Church of Christ, but it is the power of the prophet and not of the priest.
2. Apostolical succession. There is such a thing; but it is a succession of prophets and not of priests, a succession never extinct or broken. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Good and bad ends in attending ministrations
I. WE OUGHT ALWAYS TO HAVE AN END IN VIEW IN ATTENDING THE MINISTRATIONS OF THE SANCTUARY.
1. It is due to ourselves.
2. It is due to God.
3. It is due to the occasion.
II. THERE ARE SOME ENDS WE OUGHT NOT TO PROPOSE TO OURSELVES.
1. The gratification of curiosity.
2. The exercise of a critical and censorious spirit.
3. The improvement of our social position.
4. The pacifying of our conscience.
III. THERE ARE SOME ENDS THAT SHOULD ALWAYS BE PRESENT TO OUR THOUGHTS.
4. The diffusion of the gospel. (G. Brooks.)
A reed shaken by the wind
The ordinary interpretation of this expression has been this: “Did you suppose that John was one of the weaklings of this world, a mere courtier with delicate words and flowing robes, who would be tremulously seeking popular approval, who would turn and trim in order to secure favour, now one thing and now another, like a rush shivering in the breeze? “But lately, a new suggestion has been made by one who was born in Palestine, and who has been educated in the Greek language. He says that shepherd-boys often shelter them selves among the tall grass, and while away the hours of hot sunshine by playing on their native flutes; hence one frequently almost stumbles upon such a musician by the rivers or along the hillsides. So soft is the tone of the feeble instrument that it appears effeminate, and might well be the symbol of a gentle sweetness of entertainment without vigour or force. So here the exposition may be somewhat like this--“ Did ye come down here beside the Jordan to hear a timid little flute-player, a reed blown with one’s breath?” (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Behold I send My messenger before My face
John first, then Jesus
WHAT DID JOHN THE BAPTIST PREACH?
1. He delivered the whole law against sin, arousing the consciences of people.
2. He made a demand for immediate repentance (Matthew 3:11).
3. He heralded Jesus as the Messiah predicted of old.
4. He announced the special office of Jesus as a Redeemer of men John 1:29-36).
II. Now WHAT DID JESUS TEACH WHEN IT CAME TO HIS TURN?
1. Christ testified to the entire accuracy of John’s doctrine (Matthew 11:11).
2. He proclaimed the full necessity of an atonement.
3. He declared that the necessary sacrifice was now to be accomplished by Himself (John 3:16-17). It shocked and stumbled His disciples, but He persisted in declaring that He came into the world to die.
4. He thus raised no new issue between men and God, but the rather narrowed down all the old into one; He made it clear that faith was to be the instrument of salvation (John 6:28-29),
III. Thus, then, we reach the conclusion that, so far as Jesus’ teaching and John’s teaching had value in the New Testament, THE POINT OF GREATEST IMPORTANCE IS THE ORDER BETWEEN THEM. John’s came earliest in fact, and earliest in logical necessity.
1. The historic position of the two men is enough to show all that is here claimed. There is an order in doctrine under the gospel arrangement as strict as the order of demonstration in problems in Euclid’s geometry. John’s work was a necessity and a solemn pre-requisite to the work of Jesus.
2. The similar form of procedure which in all their teaching these two preachers preserved, adds confirmation to the proof. John presented the law first, then the gospel; but his office was plainly to press the law into prominence. Jesus presented the law first, then the gospel; but His office was to bring the gospel into prominence. In both eases the law came earliest.
3. Our conclusion, therefore, is inevitable and clear. There remains no reason now why a single proposition should not be framed for permanent recollection and use: law-work preceded gospel-work in all God’s dealings with souls.
Practical inferences in conclusion:
1. We see why religious instruction in our day sometimes appears so tame, and proves so inefficacious. It is because Christian people preach Jesus without John.
2. We see why inquirers are so slow in finding peace at the cross. Peace? Why, there has been no disturbance! (see Ezekiel 33:32).
3. We see why there is so much of unrest and misgiving among Christian people. They have no intelligent sense of Christ’s legal work in bearing the curse of the law in their behalf. Hence they labour to keep up a mere fire of fervour in their souls. They have studied regeneration more than justification; and it is by justification that one finds peace. So, not united consciously to Christ as a Surety, they are not sure.
4. We see why backsliding is so frequent as the sin of converts. Some have never been taught what leaving first love implies.
5. Finally, we see how the new life begins and continues, according to the revealed plan (Romans 5:1-2). (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist
Much more than a prophet, but less than a Christian worker
John’s greatness not that of function or office only, but of character.
But his greatness bows before the excelling and incomparable greatness of the Lord. Further, our Lord here declares that every lowliest stoner who accepted Him as his very own Saviour, thereby passed into the kingdom of heaven, and by this one act and fact took a stamp of greatness besides which even that of John the Baptist was dwarfed. As our tidal rivers enlarge into bays and reaches of the sea by the sea’s simple flowing into them, or communicating its own mass and strength and riches to them; so these relatively narrow beings of ours become spacious and Christlike by the indwelling and sway of the Spirit with all the new and august power of the new kingdom. Three practical remarks.
1. Be it ours who are privileged to work for Christ to emulate John the Baptist’s type of work. No thought of self.
2. Be it ours in the full day of the gospel to realize our greater responsibility.
3. Be it ours to beware of assumption (or presumption) of this excelling greatness. Mere function, mere human recognition, will count for nothing beneath the eye of Him with whom we have to do. (Dr. Grosart.)
Nature and circumstances
Jesus told men that the true greatness of human life must come by following Him. It was inevitable, then, that men should ask, “How is it about those great men who are not His followers; those great men who have gone before Him--are they not truly great? And if they are, what has become of His saying that true greatness lies only in Him, and in the Kingdom of God to which He is so earnestly summoning us? “To this question Jesus gave answer in the words of the text. Let us study the answer.
I. It is a question which belongs not to the things of Christ nor to religious things alone. All life suggests it; for in all life there are two ways of estimating the probable value of men--one by the direct perception of their characters the other by the institutions to which they belong, and the privileges which they enjoy. Sense in which the school-boy of to-day is greater than Socrates. The two elements of greatness--greatness of nature, and greatness of circumstance. They are distinct from one another; they do not make each other.
II. Christ recognizes the two elements of personal greatness and lofty condition, and He seems almost to suggest another truth, which is at any rate familiar to our experience of life--that personal power which has been manifest in some lower region of life seems sometimes to be temporarily lost cud dimmed with the advance of the person who possesses it into a higher condition. What really is a progress seems, for a time at least, to involve a loss.
III. In ordinary life the power of the temptation to be satisfied with greatness in some lower sphere and not to aspire to the highest sort of existence, is constantly appearing.
IV. See how the truth of the text applies to the explanation and understanding of a true and noble life lived in a false faith. I believe that this is the simple truth which a good many puzzled people among us need to know. The Christian, with his unbelieving friend whose daily life, so pure, upright, and honest, shames the poor half-discouraged believer every day--what can you say to him?
1. Bid him rejoice that his Christ can and does do for that friend of his so much even when that friend denies Him.
2. Bid him see that if that friend of his could conscientiously know and cordially acknowledge the Christ who is doing so much for him already, he would give that Christ a chance to do still more which now He cannot do.
3. Let him, for himself, be filled with an inspiring shame which shall make him determined to be worthier of his higher faith. This is the true ministry which ought to come to any Christian from the presence of a man who believes far less than he does, and is a far better man than he is.
V. See how all of this must tell upon the whole idea of Christian missions. There may have been a time when, in order to make it seem right for the Christian world to send missionaries to the heathen, it required to be made out that all heathen virtue was a falsehood and delusion. That day is past, if it ever existed. May not the Christian glory in every outbreak of the heathen’s goodness as a sign of the power with which his Christ, even unknown, may fill a human life which in the very darkness of its ignorance is obedient to whatever best spiritual force it feels? May not that very sight reveal to him what that aspiring heathenism might become if it could be made aware of the Christ whom it is in its unconsciousness obeying? May he not, even while he goes out to tell the heathen his completer gospel, be filled with an inspiring shame at his own poor use and exhibition of that gospel which he offers to the heathen world? This is the true attitude of Christendom to paganism. It is not arrogant; it brings no insult; it comes like brother to brother, full of honour for the nature to which it offers the larger knowledge of the Father’s life. To such brave missionary impulse as that let us be sure that the increase of rational and spiritual Christianity will only add ever new and stronger impulse and inspiration. (Phillips Brooks, D. D.)
The judgment of Jesus on John
One thing clear at the outset, viz., that the comparison is not absolute, but relative to certain aspects under which the parties compared are viewed; such as the happiness they respectively enjoy, the spirit by which they are respectively animated, or the nature of the spiritual movements with which they are respectively identified. Christ’s purpose in making the statement was not to assist the people to take full and accurate measure of John’s genius and character. He did not discuss the question of the Baptist’s comparative greatness in the spirit in which, in a debating society, youths might discuss the question, Who was the greater man and general--Caesar or Napoleon? He was concerned about far higher matters. His anxiety was to get people to understand the spiritual phenomenon of their time, and in particular to form true, just, and wholesome opinions concerning the religious movements with which John and Himself were identified respectively. For the opinions we form of men very seriously affect our opinions concerning principles and movements. Those who thought too much of John would remain with him, and never join the society of the Christ whose harbinger tie was. On the other hand, those who thought too little of John would think just as little of Christ. It is manifest, then, that the judgment pronounced is not so much on a man as on an era. It is a judgment on the law given by Moses; and the comparison made between the last prophet of law and any little one in the kingdom signifies the immense inferiority of the legal economy to the era of grace which came by Jesus Christ. Paraphrased, the verse means: John, the last prophet of the old time, was a great prophet--none greater. No one who went before ever did better justice to the law than he; preached it with more power and boldness, embodied it in a more upright, blameless life, or gained for its claims more widespread and respectful attention. Still, with all that, nay, just because he is a hero of law, John is a weak, one-sided man. What he has is good, but he wants something of far more value, something which puts its possessors on a different platform altogether from that which he occupies, insomuch that it may be said without extravagance that those who possess it, though immeasurably inferior to John in other respects, are greater than he. He wants the spirit of the new time, of the era of the better hope. Strong in zeal, he is defective in love; strong in denunciation, he is weak in patience towards the sinful; strong in ascetic abstinence, he is weak in the social and sympathetic affections; strong as the whirlwind, the earthquake, and the fire, he is weak in the moral influence that comes through the still small voice of a meek and merciful mind. In these respects, any one in the kingdom of heaven animated by the characteristic spirit of love is greater than he. The programme of Jesus as in contrast to that of John might be summed up in these two principles:--
1. Salvation by Divine mercy, not by penance.
2. New life by regeneration, not by reform. (A. B. Bruce, D. D.)
Was John the Baptist not in the Kingdom?
He was outside it in the same sense in which many excellent men are outside the visible Church, though not, thank God, on that account outside the invisible Church. In former times he had proclaimed the near approach of the kingdom, but at this moment he was in doubt whether either the King or kingdom had come, the actual characteristics of both being so different from what he had expected. In this sense John was outside the kingdom: he was not connected with it as a visible historical movement called by this name. The Kingdom of God was in him, in his heart: in his thoughts continually. His very message of doubting inquiry showed this; for his was a case in which there was more faith in honest earnest doubt than there is in the belief of many men. And in what he said Jesus had no thought of calling in question, or of so much as hinting a suspicion, as to John’s spiritual state. And we must strive in this respect to imitate our Lord, and to bear in mind that because a man is outside the visible Church he is not therefore unsaved; that there may be many who, from one cause or another, are alienated from the visible Church, who nevertheless are children of God and citizens of His kingdom, though in many respects too probably erring, one-sided, defective men. If Christ judged John leniently and charitably, how much more should we abstain from judging those who are without, and full of prejudices against Christianity, when too probably the blame of their prejudice and alienation lies at our own door! Surely this is a very legitimate lesson to draw from the striking saying we have been studying. (A. B. Bruce, D. D.)
Grace is better than power
To insist, in the presence of a successful millionaire, or a triumphant prince, or a victorious soldier, or a medalled artist, that the veriest infant in the class of a Sunday-school, who has intelligently learned the articulate language of love to the Saviour, is better than he, is a brave thing to do, of course. But whether the courage will be rewarded with any prosperity in making him believe it, is quite another consideration. It is power that most men are seeking, and not grace. And it is a pity that they do not all get either, even after the seeking. Think of the unfortunate architecture of Cologne Cathedral. The pile of stone has stood through the ages incomplete; just now it has at last been finished. But--most singular fate of genius--nobody on all this earth knows at the dedication who drew the early plans for the building, or whose is the fame of its beauty. John Keats left for his tombstone in Rome the somewhat violent epitaph: “Here lies one whose name was writ in water!” Alas1 cannot we hope that it was written in the Lamb’s Book of Life? It is exceedingly interesting to find the jealous Turner’s beautiful landscapes between the two Claudes in the British Gallery; for we are glad to know neither of the great canvasses suffered from the comparison. But then who can help putting the tranquil inquiry, What difference does it make to those painters now which of them is considered the better artist? And where is Turner to-day, and where is Claude Lorraine also? For grace settles the long mysterious future; and gift is not grace. Socrates was a great man; but some say he sold his wife at a price. Alexander was a great monarch; but he died in a drunken debauch. Lord Byron was a great man; but his statue at Trinity College has on its front look the divinity of a genius, and on its profile one side is the leer of a lecher. It would be useless to deny that these famous people had power; but grace is better than power. (C. S.Robinson, D. D.)
The smallest diamond is made of more precious substance than the largest flint. (Archdeacon Farrar.)
The greatness of the Baptist
In John 10:41 it is stated that “John did no miracle,” and to some this may seem inconsistent with what our Lord here declared concerning him. Mightiness indeed is reckoned, and very justly reckoned, a considerable element of a prophet’s greatness. Let us, then, consider how John the Baptist deserves the title of the greatest of the prophets, in spite of his having never wrought a miracle.
1. It is a greater thing to exercise a wide moral and spiritual influence upon our generation, than to work a miracle before their eyes. To work a miracle is to exhibit power over matter; to exercise a wide moral and spiritual influence is to exhibit a power over mind. To be made the means, in God’s hand, of swaying the human will, curbing the unruly human passions, arousing the human conscience to wholesome alarms and sincere inquiries after the way of salvation, is a higher distinction than to be made the means of reversing nature’s laws, or restraining the fury of the elements, or calling forth the tenants of the sepulchre from their dreamt abode.
2. It is partly, I conceive, in his very lack of miraculous power, that the grandeur of John the Baptist as a prophet consists. Without the aid of miracles to give effect to his words he wrought a national reformation. Without supernatural resources he accomplished what other prophets were only able to effect with their aid.
3. John Baptist’s magnanimity is another feature which enhances his greatness as a prophet. He sinks self, that he may exalt Christ.
4. Another element in his greatness is the relation in which he stood to Christ as His forerunner, and the opportunity which it afforded him of bearing testimony to the person of our Lord.
1. Learn to estimate aright, and not by the world’s standard, the true greatness of man.
2. The testimony of Christ is the spirit of prophecy.
Rejected the counsel of God against themselves
The rejection of the counsel of God by the Pharisees
There they stood on the banks of Jordan, self-complacency written on their countenances, the calm peace of death upon their hearts; whispering to one another as they heard the fervid words of the preacher, “Never mind; you and I know better than that; we are not to allow ourselves to be carried away by this hot-headed enthusiast; we are too intelligent people for that; we are educated people; we have a certain refinement which, of itself, precludes our being so influenced.
That is not the man for us; we will go back to our synagogue. I like to hear the calm, quiet exposition which Rabbi So-and-so gives of the Book of the Law; it is very interesting to listen to him, but this enthusiastic fanatic does us no good: come away, come away; we have had enough. He calls us ‘a generation of vipers.’ You cannot listen to a man that insults you.” “But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected,” &c. Yes, and that very moment “the axe was laid at the root of the tree.” Yet another moment, and that axe should be lifted up by the hand of Divine judgment; a few short moments more, and that stroke should fall; only a few years were to pass over their heads, and the city they gloried in, and the temple they prided themselves about, were to lie strewn along the dust. Their name was to be obliterated from the roll of the nations of the earth; their national existence was to be trampled upon; their streets were to be drenched with blood; they themselves, as a den of robbers or a gang of murderers, were to be crucified round the wall of their own city, or dragged into captivity to adorn the triumphs of a foreign conqueror. All this was already in store; the edge of the axe was already sharp, and the hand of justice was already grasping it; and, all the while, these poor self-complacent men were flattering themselves that the message was not for them. “We have Abraham to our father; we are the children of privilege; what have we to fear?” And so they slept their sleep; and so they “rejected the counsel of God against their own souls.” There are plenty of Pharisees in our own day, and they are just as true to the instincts of their own life as were the Pharisees of eighteen hundred years ago. What was the characteristic of these Pharisees? Self-complacency. They were satisfied with themselves. They had not yet found out “the plague of their own hearts.” (W. H. M. H. Aitken, M. A.)
Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation
The Baptist and Christ
In the metaphor of the reed shaking in the wind, we traced that close observation of nature which enabled Christ to interpret so much of human life to man.
In the similitude He uses here we trace His close observation of the ordinary aspects of human life, and the use which He made of them to interpret to men His own thoughts, and the times in which He lived. Every one knows from pictures, from descriptions, the general appearance of the market-place of an Eastern town. One may image the quiet figure of Christ moving through the throng, enjoying its humours, with now a gentle smile, and now an inexplicable sadness on His face, as if all things spoke to Him of far-off analogies. One sight He often saw--the children at play in the unoccupied spaces and corners of the markets. They had their games in and out among the serious doing of the place, and one of these games is often spoken of in Eastern tales. It is the acting of childish dramas which the children themselves invent. Often three or four exhibit their little talents for the rest, while now and then a bearded man or a veiled woman loiter by to watch the sport. Sometimes the invented story is sportive, sometimes sorrowful, and the acting of them is good or bad, according to the sympathy given to the children. One such scene, at least, remained vividly in His mind (and He uses it with astonishing force), when the little band of actors, having tried to win the favour of their comrades with tiny tragedy, and then with tiny comedy, failed in their hopes, and said, “We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept.” In this slight scene Christ saw a picture of the religious state of Palestine. There was no moral depth in that society, no vital strength to carry out in a life the wavering feelings of repentance. At first they tried the Baptist, but they soon had enough of that resolute teaching. They turned away with indignation, and said, “He hath a devil.” They were mourned unto, and they had not lamented. All the same, they could not get rid of the religious impulse in their hearts. It seemed that Christ required no ascetic life, that He did not wish them to separate themselves from the world. “ This is the teacher for us,” they said, and they sought Him out and followed Him. “We will dance to His piping,” was their thought, “and possess a religion.” But the result was a still more complete failure.
1. The religion of the Baptist had been too hard for them because of its stern morality. It demanded outward purity. “We shall be better off with Christ,” they thought. And they found themselves worse off than before. It was bad enough to hear that the whole of the outward life had to be reformed; it was ten times worse to hear that the inward life had to be reformed.
2. The religion of the Baptist had been too hard for them because of its demand for self-sacrifice. And lo! Christ was ten times more severe on this point than John. They turned away in wrath, but the little grain of conscience that still remained made them bitter. To relieve their conscience, they turned to abuse and vilify Him who had shown them a vision they could not bear. If they could put Him in the wrong, they might put themselves in the right. “Behold, then, a gluttonous man,” &c. They were piped unto, and they had not danced. There is much the same sort of thing among men now.
3. Another class of men turned from the Baptist to look at the religion of Christ--the religious leaders of the day, the Pharisees. These drifted out to John in the wilderness; the wave of religious excitement had sent its tide even into their land-locked harbours; one wonders what took these models of piety to John. He could not understand it; his astonishment was frank enough. “Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” When they found that John did not pay them snore attention than the rest, when they saw that he talked with the publican as he did with them, they turned back, saying, “He hath a devil.” So the hypocrites among them thought they would hear what Christ had to say. He might do them more honour. He might recognize their proud position as leaders of religion. But alas! they were disappointed. I suppose no sharper or more indignant language was ever used by man against other men than the words with which Christ denounced them. As to the other class of Pharisees who were pious bigots, they found in Christ all that they had disliked in John multiplied tenfold. He would have nothing to do with them unless they came to Him and humbly confessed themselves sinners. Not among their ranks, but among unlearned fishermen and villagers He chose His special followers. He dined with the publicans; even at one of their houses He admitted the sinful woman to salvation. It was snore than could be borne. This was music no man could dance to. There are men of this sort at this time among us. (Stowford A. Brooke, M. A.)
Children at play
(To children.) The children of two thousand years ago were very like the children of to-day, even in their sports. Then, as now, when a number of children came together, and especially when they came together out of doors, they found it impossible to sit still or stand still. Whatever the game at which they played, there was pretty sure to be some mimicry in it, some quaint imitation or comic burlesque of what they had seen their elders do. Now it happened one day that the Lord Jesus, as He passed through the streets and bazaars of a Galilean town, came on a number of children who were thus employed. They played first at a wedding, and then at a funeral. And we cannot wonder that they chose these two ceremonies for imitation. For a Jewish wedding was then, as to this day an Eastern wedding is, a very gay spectacle, sure to seize the fancy of children. The bridegroom and the young men who accompanied him were tricked out in their best and brightest robes; and they went in public procession, with music and with perfumes floating in the air, to fetch the bride to her new home. For many days after the wedding open house was kept. There was much mirth and feasting. The friends of the wedded pair went, with trains of their kinsfolk and servants, to carry them their presents, or to pay calls of ceremony and congratulation. The whole town was alive with music and dancing and feasting; and in the streets gay companies were continually passing to and fro. That was thought a very poor marriage, the festivities of which were not kept up for at least a week. So, again, a Jewish funeral must have been a very striking and dramatic spectacle to children. The body was carried by on an open bier, so that all could see it. And not only did the kinsfolk and friends of the dead man follow him to the grave with the most extravagant expressions of grief; but they were foolish enough to hire professional mourners, who tore their hair, and beat their breasts, and raised a keen cry or wail. Now children who saw these sad processions constantly going about the streets could not fail to be impressed by the dramatic features of the scene, and were likely enough to imitate and burlesque it in their play. That was what the children whom Jesus watched had been doing. First they had said, “Let’s play at marrying!” And then the more forward and lively children of the company began to march, and to move their fingers up and down as if they were stopping and unstopping the holes of a flute. One of them, no doubt, was chosen to personate the bridegroom, and others to stand for the “ sons of the bridechamber,” i.e., the young men who accompanied him; and off they started, as though to fetch the bride home, expecting that the rest of the children would follow, dancing and shouting, and pretending to carry torches. But those who should have filled this part declined to fill it. They were sulky, and would not play at this game. And so the cheerful children had to say to the sulky ones, “Why, what’s the matter? We fluted to you, and you did not dance.” Then they thought they would try another game. Perhaps the first was too lively. And so they say, “Let’s play at burying I “ And off they go like bearers of the bier, or like the hired mourners, walking with folded hands and downcast heads, but every now and then flinging up their heads, and howling, Oh, so dreadfully. But their companions won’t play. This game does not suit them either. For, again, the first place is not assigned to them. And so, the livelier, the merry, good-tempered children have to turn upon them again, and say, “Whatever is the matter with you to-day? We wailed, and ye did not beat your breasts.” Now if these children had known that Jesus was watching them; if, moreover, they had known how kind and good He was, do you think that any of them would have turned sulky and refused to play? It will do much to make you and those about you happy if you will learn to play in the right spirit. But this is not the only or the best lesson which Christ has made these children teach us. He told the men who were listening to Him that they were like those children in their treatment of John the Baptist and Himself. “ The fault,” He said, “is in you, not in the Baptist or the Son of Man.” We are to show the very opposite spirit. Instead of hating the truth, and refusing to listen to it, wherever or however God speaks to us, we are to love the truth, and to welcome it, whatever the form or the tone it takes. Put yourselves to this test: “Am I really trying to do God’s will and to love it, as Jesus did? Whether I work or play, do I try to show the kindly, unselfish, cheerful temper which He approves?” (S. Cox, D. D.)
On the impossibility of pleasing everybody
Explain the phrases, “children”; “market -place”; “piped unto you”; “mourned unto you.” Learn--
I. THE GOSPEL IS SENT ONLY TO SINNERS.
II. IT IS RIGHT TO USE VARIOUS MEANS TO BRING MEN UNDER THE POWER OF THE GOSPEL. Look at the difference between the ministry of Jesus and that of John.
III. IN THE USE OF THESE MEANS IT WILL BE IMPOSSIBLE TO PLEASE EVERYBODY, John was a recluse, and they said he had a devil. Jesus came eating and drinking, and they said, “Behold a gluttonous man,” &c.
IV. ALL TRUE PREACHERS OF THE GOSPEL MAY EXPECT OPPOSITION.
V. NEVERTHELESS, WE MUST NOT CEASE DECLARING THE TRUTH. (A. F,Barfield.)
This little picture of children’s plays, which Jesus gives us, is an illustration of the illogical objections made against the truth, and shows us many things.
1. It shows us how uniform are the tendencies of human nature in all ages and times. Jesus, passing through the market of Nazareth, or Cana, saw the children playing their games, just as children play them now. The little Syrian boys and girls belonging to the great Semitic race, living eighteen hundred years ago, amid Asiatic customs and scenery, were just such little children as you and I saw playing on the common yesterday. They played games, imitating the customs of grown people; just as little children now play soldiers, play horse and driver, so they then played weddings and funerals.
2. It shows us Christ’s habit of taking illustrations from everyday life. In His teachings there is nothing conventional, nothing formal. No fact in God’s world is to Him common or unclean.
3. It also shows how much easier it is for good men, though differing in ideas, tastes, and methods, to agree in a mutual respect and sympathy, than for self-willed men to form any permanent union. No two were more unlike than Jesus and John; but they had a common aim. It was to do God’s will; to make the world better. So they had a mutual respect for each other. There was a real union between them. John made the turning-point from the law to the gospel; his was the transition period, within sight of the gospel, yet with the terror of the law behind it. Such a transition period has continued in the Church down to our time. Perhaps the majority of Christians are now living, not under the dominion of law, nor yet in the kingdom of heaven, but in the dispensation of John the Baptist. But halfway convictions are not very satisfactory, and the remedy for this evil is to put both the law and the gospel in their right place. We cannot dispense with either, but we wish to distinguish between their sphere and their work. (James Freeman Clarke.)
Fickleness and folly in dealing with religion and its professors and teachers
I. THE CONTRARIETY BETWEEN THE CONDUCT OF CHRIST AND THAT OF JOHN, AS DESCRIBED IN THE TEXT, WAS RENDERED NECESSARY BY THE DIFFERING STANDPOINTS AND MISSIONS OF EACH. These descriptions--“neither eating bread nor drinking wine,” and “eating and drinking”--are particular features, put for general character and conduct. John’s abstemiousness and austerity befitted him as the last prophet of the Old Dispensation. Christ had come to establish a new order of things, to substitute for the bondage of the law the liberty of the gospel, to insist on inward purity as of in finitely greater importance than outward observance. Specifically his eating and drinking meant--
1. His oneness with humanity.
2. The sacredness of common life and occupations.
3. That the natural appetites are to be reasonably and legitimately satisfied, not trampled upon.
4. That religion has its social side.
5. That it is possible to be in the world while not of it.
II. THE PEOPLE, WITH THEIR LEADERS, NOT RECOGNIZING THAT THIS DIVERGENCE WAS FITTING AND NECESSARY, MISJUDGED BOTH CHRIST AND JOHN. The really austere life of John was a reproach to the pretended austerity of the Pharisees, whilst the immaculate purity of Him who could yet suffer His feet to be washed by the tears of the woman who was a sinner rebuked alike their uncharitableness and their hypocrisy. Hence, not being willing to repent at the call of John, or to humble themselves at the command of Christ, they must, to be consistent in their hypocrisy, condemn alike Christ and John-pronounce them to be either immoral in life, or endued with power from below. But the point in which they most pointedly warn us not to copy their example is here--that they formed their judgments upon grounds so insufficient. Learn the danger of hasty judgments--
1. As regards the person judged.
2. Others, who might be benefited by him.
3. Ourselves. Prejudices hide the truth.
III. THE TEXT SHOWS HOW EASY IT WAS FOR THE MEN OF CHRIST’S DAY, AS IT IS FOR US, TO FIND AN EXCUSE WHEN ONE IS WANTED. HOW did the Pharisees, feeling conscious that they were wrong, excuse themselves the trouble of putting themselves right? They adopted the plan which is said sometimes to be resorted to by legal pleaders: “If you have a weak case, blacken your opponent’s counsel.” How true a picture of the way in which men generally treat unpalatable truth! Note some of the flimsy grounds on which many reject Christianity, or refuse to make a Christian profession, e.g., difficulties in the Bible; inconsistency in professing Christians. (J. R. Bailey.)
The sanctity of the common life
1. Poverty the common lot.
2. The happy endurance of poverty rare. The secret of its trust.
3. Besides these sweet virtues of resignation, trust and contentment, there is another which seems to me to become rarer and rarer--cheerfulness. Our age is not only perplexed but sad. There is not enough of enthusiasm and unselfishness left among us for hearty and wholesome laughter. (Archdeacon Farrar.)
The use of the world
Christian self-sacrifice is not asceticism. The idea of the essential badness of pleasure has been very commonly held and advocated by the propounders of ethical and religious systems. Even Plato says that every pleasure enjoyed is as a nail fastening the soul more securely in its dungeon; every pleasure given up a nail withdrawn, and hastens on the period of its release. Like many other views which find no warranty in the Christianity of Christ, it has had a considerable influence upon the Christianity of Christendom. The pillar saints, e.g. If pleasure were essentially sinful, Stylites was the wisest of men. This not the kind of self-denial which Christ requires from us. Serious and earnest as He was, no one can say that He was a harsh or gloomy ascetic. Think of Him at the marriage-festival. Think of His friendly visits to the family at Bethany.
Think of Him at the great feast in Levi’s house. Think of His final interview with the disciples on the shore of Tiberias, when He accosted them with the words, “Children, have ye any meat? “ and then, leading the way to a fire, “with fish laid thereon and bread,” said to them, “come and dine.” Christ never bids us give up anything that is good, unless it would keep us from something that is better. “The Son of man came eating and drinking.” Ay, the very Man of Sorrows refused to join in the irrational worship of pain. (A. W. Momerie, M. A. , D. D.)
The Son of man
This title is in the New Testament significantly enough used, with one exception [Stephen], by Christ alone. It emphasizes the humanity of Him who bears it, but a humanity that accomplishes a Divine work, creates and controls a society which is so finely human because so entirely a realization of the thought or mind of God as to man. Schleiermacher rightly said: “Christ would not have adopted this title had He not been conscious of a complete participation in human nature. But His use of it would have been meaningless had He not had a right to it which other men could not possess.” The Son of man is the bond between earth and heaven, belongs in an equal degree to both; He is the medium through which God reaches man and man reaches God. The title, so often and so emphatically used, enables us to see what Christ conceived Himself to be, and where He believed Himself to stand; He affirmed that He possessed our common human nature.
But He also affirmed His pre-eminence--
“The Son of man.”
Other persons had been, or were, sons of individual men, members of particular nations or families; but Jesus, as “the Son of man,” was no man’s son, but the child of humanity; belonged to no age, but to all ages; to no family or people, but to mankind. He is, as the Divine idea realized, universal and everlasting, an individual who is, in a sense, humanity. (A. M. Fairbairn, D. D.)
In the Bible Christ is presented to us in many aspects--as a Judge, a Saviour, a Counsellor; as Brother, Prophet, Priest, and King. In this passage He stands forth in the light and garb of a Friend. I do not intend to analyse friendship, and enumerate its elements. I will only suggest one or two of the more prominent.
II. IMPARTIALITY. Not a friend only to the good.
IV. THE SPIRIT OF HELPFULNESS. Christ was the friend of those who were morally all wrong. It is to those whose lives have been a failure, whose natures, spiritually considered, are all in ruins, that Jesus comes in the spirit of friendly assistance. (W. H. H. Murray.)
Sinners wilful and perverse
I. THE COMPANIONS OF THESE PERVERSE CHILDREN EMPLOYED VARIOUS MEANS TO CONQUER THEIR OBSTINACY AND PERSUADE THEM TO JOIN IN THEIR AMUSEMENTS. SO God has employed a great variety of means to persuade sinners to embrace the gospel. He has sent judgments to subdue, and mercies to melt them; arguments to convince, and motives to persuade them; threatenings to terrify, and invitations to allure them. In different parts of His Word He has exhibited Divine truth in every possible variety of form. In one place it is presented plainly to the mind in the form of doctrines; in another, it is couched under the veil of some instructive and striking parable; in a third, it is presented to us in a garb of types and shadows; in a fourth, it is illustrated by the most beautiful figures; and, in a fifth, exemplified in some well-drawn character, or interesting portion of history. Corresponding to these various means, and to the different modes of instruction adopted in His Word, are the various gifts and qualifications, with which He furnishes those who are sent as His ambassadors to men. As He knows the different tastes and dispositions of men, and the modes of address best adapted to convince and persuade them, He endues His messengers with a great diversity of gifts, so that by one or another of them, every class of hearers may be gratified.
II. Notwithstanding the different means employed with these perverse children, THEY WOULD NOT BE PREVAILED UPON TO COMPLY WITH THE WISHES OF THEIR COMPANIONS. We have piped unto you, say they, but ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, but ye have not lamented. Precisely similar is the conduct of impenitent sinners.
III. THE REASON WHY THESE PERVERSE CHILDREN COULD NOT BE PERSUADED TO COMPLY WITH THE WISHES OF “THEIR COMPANION” WAS, THAT THEY WERE OUT OF HUMOUR, OR FOR SOME OTHER REASON FELT INDISPOSED TO GRATIFY THEM. Similar is the reason, why sinners will not be persuaded to embrace the Gospel, by all the means which God employs for this purpose. They do not come to Christ for life, because they will not. (E. Payson, D. D.)
The success of the gospel
I. OBSERVE GOD’S GRACIOUS DEALING WITH MAN. He useth all kind of means, sendeth men of several natures, austere John, and meek Christ. He turns Himself into all shapes to gain wretched man unto Him.
II. OBSERVE THE ORDER GOD USETH; FIRST JOHN, THEN CHRIST. John prepares the way, throwing down hills: “O ye generation of vipers” Matthew 3:7). Oh, say they, this man is too harsh, I think he hath a devil. Then Christ comes with blessed: “Blessed are the poor, blessed are you that weep,” &e. (Matthew 5:3, seq.). So He sent the law first, then the gospel; first He threatens, then promises.
III. OBSERVE THAT THE MANNER OF THEIR TEACHING IS DOUBLE, BY DOCTRINE AND LIFE, AND THESE AGREE, wherein observe it is good that life and doctrine should suit; for John’s life was austere and retired, his doctrine was also tending to beat down the proud conceits of man. Christ came to all, conversed with all meekly and lovingly; and the reason of God’s making use of men of severe dispositions is because of the different natures of men, whereof some can better relish one nature than another. Some love the hot and fiery nature, others delight in the meek spirit; and though there be diversity of gifts, yet they come from the same Spirit. Even as the diverse smells of flowers comes from the same influence, and the diverse sounds in the organs comes from the same breath, so doth the Spirit diffuse itself diversely, as it meets with diverse natures. Yet all tendeth to the perfecting of one work. And the papists shall never be able to prove their foolish austere vows of a solitary life, &c., to be preferred before communication and society, unless they will prove John better than Christ. And again, this should teach us to moderate our censures of the diverse natures and carriage of men, as knowing that God in wisdom hath appointed it for excellent use, and that all agree in the building up of the spiritual temple of the Church.
IV. OBSERVE THAT WHERE GRACE DOTH NOT OVERPOWER NATURE, NO MEANS WILL PREVAIL OVER THE OBDURATE NATURE OF MAN. Neither John nor Christ could work anything upon these Pharisees.
V. In the next place, observe, from the calumniation of the scribes, THAT REBELLION AND OPPOSITION AGAINST GOODNESS IS NEVER WITHOUT SHOW
OF REASON; and men they will never go to hell, but they have reason for it. Austere John “hath a devil”; sociable Christ “is a wine-bibber.” And the reason is, the pride of man, that will not be thought so foolish as to speak, or do anything without reason, and therefore when it is wanting they will feign one.
VI. For use therefore of this doctrine, LET US ACCOUNT IT NO STRANGE MATTER IF WE BE TRADUCED, DISGRACED, AND SCANDALISED, for it was Christ’s and John’s lot. Great slanders must be maintained from great men, such as them that sit in Moses’s chair, the Pharisees and Scribes.
VII. LET US TAKE HEED WE TAKE NOT A THING IN THE WRONG SENSE AND OF VAIN PREJUDICE. Men are witty to lay stumbling-blocks in their own way to heaven. This preacher is too strict, that too mild; this too plain, that too poor. “But wisdom is justified of all her children” (verse 35).
I. From the connection of these words with the former, by this word “but,” we may observe, THAT IT IS THE LOT OF GOD’S TRUTH TO HAVE DIVERSE ENTERTAINMENTS IN THIS WORLD. Some will be children of wisdom, and justify it; others, as the Pharisees, will scandalise it. This is wisdom; and called so here by way of emphasis, showing it is the only excellent wisdom, which will further appear in these respects.
1. It doth arise from a higher beginning than all other wisdom whatever; for it comes from God’s goodness and mercy.
2. The matter. It is a deep mystery. Christ, God-man; His nature, offices, and benefits.
3. It is more powerful than all other wisdom; for it transforms us. It makes us wise, and changes us from wicked, and makes us good.
4. It is better than the law, which was a killing letter. This gives life.
5. Furthermore, this wisdom is everlasting, and it is ancientest: intended before the world was. It is also inviolable. God will change the course of nature for His Church’s sake; and sooner will He break covenant with the day and night than this covenant, which shall be for ever (Psalms 19:9).
6. The end of it is “to bring us home to God” (1 John 1:3).
1. From the doctrine we may observe, therefore, that those that follow the best rule, which is God’s Word, and intend the best end, which is their own salvation, these are the most wise.
2. And, in the second place, let this persuade us to attend upon wisdom, be we who we will be, a publican, an extortioner, a persecuting Saul.
3. In the next place, observe the children of wisdom do justify it; that is, they receive it, approve it, defend it, maintain it. (R. Sibbes, D. D.)
On profaneness to disparage religious characters
I. I design, in the first place, TO EXPLAIN THIS PASSAGE.
II. HOW SHALL WE APPLY TO OUR EDIFICATION THE LESSONS WHICH THIS PORTION OF HOLY SCRIPTURE CONVEYS?
1. Let us consider it as a very unfavourable symptom of the state of our hearts, if we discover in ourselves a propensity to cavil at religion; and to impute blame to those persons, whether ministers of the gospel or individuals among the laity, who, by holiness of life and conversation, conspicuously demonstrate the power of faith.
2. If, through the influence of Divine grace, you have been brought to the love of religion, wonder not, nor be discouraged, when you hear the truths of the gospel slandered, or yourself made the theme of evil-speaking for their sake. Thus it always has been; and thus, until Christianity shall have established a more general dominion over the hearts of those who avow themselves her subjects, it always will be.
3. Justify wisdom, justify true religion, by manifesting yourselves to be her children.
4. If you thus justify wisdom, behold the hour approaches when before the assembled world wisdom shall justify you. (T. Gisborne.)
Children sitting in the market-place
I. THAT THE PREACHING THE GOSPEL OF PEACE AND RECONCILIATION TO SINNERS MAY FITLY BE COMPARED TO SWEET AND SOUL-RAVISHING MUSIC.
1. Music hath its distinct notes, and that makes it melodious; so ministers should preach distinctly, not confusedly, for that makes no music. “If the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who shall prepare to the battle?” (1 Corinthians 14:8.)
2. He that would make sweet music, must not harp too much upon one string, or have only one distinct note. So a preacher that would, make right gospel-music, must not always preach upon one particular gospel truth.
3. It is a curious art to attain to the clear knowledge of music, and to be very skilful, or play well upon an instrument. So it is a most blessed spiritual art to know how to preach the gospel with all true spiritual wisdom; for as music is a mystery, so is the gospel a great mystery.
4. Some musicians make sweeter music than others, though all may have some skill in it; so some ministers make more sweet gospel music than others.
5. Music elevates the hearts of some people wonderfully; so the doctrine of the gospel tends to raise, nay, to ravish, the hearts of gracious persons.
6. But though music is sweet to some, others love it not, but cry, “Away with it, it makes our hearts sad.”
II. THAT THOUGH THE MINISTERS OF CHRIST DO WHAT THEY CAN, OR STUDY WHAT WAYS AND METHODS THEY CAN, AND LIVE NEVER SO CIRCUMSPECTLY, YET THEIR PERSONS NOR THEIR MINISTRY SHALL BE ACCEPTED OF SOME PEEVISH AND FROWARD PEOPLE. (B. Keach.)
Nearly everybody has heard the story of the painter of olden time who exposed his picture to the public criticism, and put a paintbrush handy, that anybody might paint out any particular feature he did not approve. Of course, the stupid man soon found that everybody had some fault to find, and his picture was totally obliterated. Just as it was with that artist’s picture, so it is with the life-work of the majority. Somebody will be pretty sure to take a crooked and distorted view of our characters and doings, however meritorious they may be. Some will do this wilfully and maliciously, others through misunderstanding.
Unfair objections are often prompted by selfishness
Many an objector to Christianity in our day, if he said out what he really thinks, would say, “I disbelieve Christianity, because it does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil; it makes such serious demands, it sets up so high a standard, it implies that so much I say and do is a great mistake that I must away with it. I cannot do and be what it enjoins without doing violence to my inclinations, to my fixed habits of life and thought.” This, before his conversion, was the ease with the great Augustine. Augustine tells us in his “Confessions” how completely he was enchained by his passions, and how, after he had become intellectually satisfied of the truth of the creed of the Christian Church, he was held back from conversion by the fear that he would have to give up so much to which he was attached. (Dr. Talmage.)
But wisdom is Justified of all her children
We trace the truth and the applicability of this saying--
IN THE DIFFERENT FIELDS OF PURELY HUMAN INTEREST AND STUDY. Each subject that engages the attention of man has a wisdom, that is to say, governing principles, methods, modes of thought and inquiry--in short, a philosophy peculiar to its own. Those who have mastered this wisdom even in part are prepared for results which are startling or absurd in the eyes of others who are strangers to it.
II. IN THE REGION OF HUMAN CHARACTER. That which enables us to do justice to character is sympathy with it.
III. IN REGARD TO THE CHRISTIAN CREED. Here, too, it is clear, upon reflection, that “wisdom is justified of her children.” The word “wisdom” in our Lord’s mouth had a special significance. His more instructed hearers would recognize in it an ancient and consecrated word (see Proverbs 8:1-36.). This Eternal Wisdom, born of a virgin in the fulness of time, crucified, bruised, risen, ascended, is at once the Teacher, and in the main the substance, of the Christian creed. Two practical lessons:
1. Nothing is so fatal to the recognition of moral and religious truth as a scornful temper.
2. Wisdom may and must be won by prayer. (Canon Liddon.)
Wisdom justified of her children
“Justified” means acquitted, recognized, or acknowledged. “Of” means “by.” And Christ says, “Wisdom is recognized by her children.” The wisdom of a Divine life had appeared in two forms--ascetic in John the Baptist, social in Christ. The world recognized it in neither. In John they said it was insanity; in Christ worldliness and irreligion. To the world Christ replies that they were incompetent judges. None could recognize the Divine life but those who lived it; none justify wisdom except her children. The Divine life was always the same, but it expressed itself outwardly in no special single form of life. Wisdom, under whatever form she might appear--the life of asceticism or the life social--would be justified or recognized by her children.
I. THE TONE OF MIND WHICH CAPACITATES FOR JUDGING HUMAN CHARACTER. By sympathy alone can you judge of character. This is the doctrine of the metaphor. A mother, changing her garb, may be mistaken by strangers, but under every metamorphosis she is recognized by her children, who know her voice by the secret tact of sympathy. Would you judge of Christ? Feel Christ. “Learn to love one living man.”
II. THE TONE OF MIND WHICH INCAPACITATES, AND THE HINDRANCES TO RIGHT JUDGMENT OF HUMAN CHARACTER.
1. The habit of insincere praise incapacitates for forming a right judgment of character. During the life of Jesus the Pharisees and Sadducees alike flattered Him. To their unreal flatteries He returned indignant replies: “Why tempt ye Me, ye hypocrites?”
2. A light, satirical, and irreverent spirit also incapacitates. See how ribaldry unfitted them for judging, and how even a Divine character could be made to seem ridiculous! That such cannot judge of character is intelligible. One reason is--
(1) Because excellence of character is not shown them; and another,
(2) because this spirit withers all it touches.
3. Jealousy incapacitates for forming a right judgment. The scribes were jealous of Christ, because His teaching was on a principle different from theirs; the Pharisees, because His righteousness was of a different stamp. Joseph’s brethren, Haman--examples of jealousy. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Life’s gladness, its joy, its humour, and its mirth, are sometimes stumbling-blocks to “serious” people. Wisdom’s children, in the main, we charitably and devoutly hope they are, but none the less we see in them a touch and trick of the children in the market-place. There is a foolish seriousness, and there is a wise mirth. How often do we see pathos and humour, tears and laughter, rapidly following each other, even joining and blending in the person of some strong, wise man, whom we can both respect and love; while the stolid people, who pride themselves upon their “seriousness,” too dull for mirth, are amongst the most unlovable. Robert Hall was conspicuous for the blending in his fine nature of the pathos and humour that we speak of. On one occasion, when he had preached a most solemn and pathetic discourse, and was followed in the evening by a “serious” brother, when the day’s work was done, he was as witty as he was wise, mirthful and jocund, and the cause of wit in others. The “serious” brother at length remonstrated. “Mr. Hall, I am surprised at you, sir, after the solemn discourse you preached this morning, that you should trifle as you are doing now.” “Are you, sir,” replied Mr. Hall; ,’ shall I tell you the difference between you and me, sir? You talk your nonsense in the pulpit, I talk mine out of it.” A bit of sound philosophy l for the bent spring when released will recoil, and where the mind of a man has been wrought up to the highest tension, the reaction, by God’s great mercy, comes as one of the conservators of the forces of life. And herein, also, is wisdom justified of her children. (J W. Lance.)
If wisdom was justified in the cases both of John and Jesus, it follows
I. THAT WISDOM IS COMPATIBLE WITH VARIOUS WAYS OF LIFE.
II. THAT WISDOM IS NOT A TIME-SERVER, SEEKING TO PLEASE THE WORLD BY FOLLOWING ITS FASHION. Many men, many minds. It is hard to please all, and best not to try. Following fashion is wearisome, for fashion changes fast. (A. B. Bruce, D. D.)
Waywardness and wisdom
I. WE HAVE HERE A CONTRAST PRESENTED. On the one side the perverseness and waywardness of man; on the other side the sympathy of wisdom with wisdom; the kindred and affinity which exists between the voice of God in His Word and the voice of God in the heart and conscience of His creatures.
II. THE WAYWARDNESS OF WHICH OUR LORD HERE SPEAKS IS MORE OR LESS IN ALL OF US.
III. THE MOST DISTRESSING OF IT IS THAT IN WHICH IT RUNS ON INTO THE AFFAIRS OF THE SOUL. (Dean Vaughan.)
They whose hearts are softened by a true self-knowledge, and enlightened by a real communion with God; they who are wise in that wisdom of which the condition is humility, and the beginning the fear of the Lord, will see wisdom in that which to the caviller is folly, will recognize a Divine harmony where all is discord to the self-confident, and own an abundance of resource worthy of the All-wise and the Allmerciful, in that variety of evidence which affords to different minds and, perhaps, to different ages of the world, their appropriate, as well as conclusive, reason for believing. The very things which others calumniate are to them indications of wisdom. They see how the message of the Baptist and the habits of the Baptist--the office of the Saviour and the life of the Saviour--are severally harmonious and of a piece. (Dean Vaughan.)
The union of good men is internal, though there may be outward differences. The union of selfish men may be external, but there are always inward differences. The children of folly may unite for a common purpose, may be allied together as Herod and Pilate were allied against Christ. Pirates may join for plunder; the children of this world, for power, pleasure, and earthly gain, But there is no inward union, and, as soon as the outward advantage of the alliance ceases, the partnership is dissolved. But good men, though separated outward-y, are inwardly at one. They belong to one invisible and indivisible Church. By and by they shall come together outwardly, and see eye to eye. The inevitable logic of faith and reason shall at last unite them, and then “wisdom shall be justified of all her children.” John the Baptist will understand Christ; Barnabas will comprehend Paul: Fenelon and Martin Luther, Athanasius and Arius, Dr. Channing and Dr. Beecher, will recognize each other’s worth, and bless God together for what each has accomplished for the kingdom of heaven. So shall wisdom be at last justified of all her children. So shall all good men, sincerely desiring to do right, be found at last to be walking together on the same road towards the best things. Wisdom is not sectarian nor bigoted; she has a large Church, and many children, and is justified of them all. (James Freeman Clarke.)
And, behold, a woman in the city which was a sinner
Jesus anointed by a weeping penitent in the house of Simon the Pharisee
Much love shown where much sin has been forgiven
IT IS TO THIS INDIVIDUAL THAT OUR ATTENTION IS, IN THE FIRST PLACE, TO BE DIRECTED. Her name is not given, but only her character. This poor sinner had very different reasons from those of the Pharisee for wishing to see Jesus. The recent miracle of restoring to life the widow of Nain’s son, had produced, in regard to its author, a deep and general impression. “There came,” we are told, “a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, that a great prophet is risen up among us, and that God hath visited His people. And this rumour of Him went forth throughout all Judaea.” Simon, among others, wished to know something more perfectly concerning Him. The motives of the poor sinner were of a far higher and more interesting nature. She also had heard the fame of Him who had raised the dead, and, instead of merely musing whether He was a prophet, she seems to have been fully persuaded that this was the case; nay, that He was the Great Prophet--the promised Messiah--the Saviour of sinners. Yet all that she had heard of Him only made her wish to hear more. She had already tasted of the fountain of living waters; and the language of her soul was, “Let me drink again--let me drink abundantly.”
1. She evinced her humility and her godly sorrow. Nor did her humility proceed only from the profound sense which she had of His surpassing excellence and dignity. It proceeded partly from the feeling of her own past guilt and exceeding unworthiness. Her humility, in other words, was closely associated with her deep and godly sorrow.
2. But, by her conduct in the guest-chamber, the penitent also evinced her gratitude and affection. Great as were her modesty and humility, she did not permit these feelings to keep her back, even in the presence of uncharitable observers, from expressing her unspeakable obligations and ardent attachment to Jesus. They were tears of affection not less than of sorrow. They were what she could neither repress nor conceal.
3. The penitent here evinced her profound sense of the veneration and homage that were due to Christ. She came for the express purpose of anointing Him--not only of acknowledging her personal obligations and attachment to Him, but of owning and honouring Him as the Messiah or Anointed One lie was the object of her faith not less than of her love.
II. The next subject, then, which now solicits our attention, IS THE WAY IN WHICH OUR LORD MET THE INWARD SURMISES AND COMPLAINTS OF THE “PHARISEE, AND IN WHICH HE NOT ONLY VINDICATED THE CONDUCT OF THE WEEPING PENITENT, BUT SET IT FORTH AS AN HONOURABLE CONTRAST TO THE CONDUCT OF THE PHARISEE HIMSELF. (J. Grierson.)
In the conduct of this penitent we may observe the following particulars:
1. Her deep humility--“She stood at the feet of Jesus.” Mary, the sister of Martha, sat at His feet, which might signify the calm, settled, and composed state of her mind. But this woman stood; a posture which denotes humility, reverence, and fear. She stood like a servant in waiting, ready to put in practice what she had designed for His honour.
2. Observe the holy shame of this penitent--“She stood at Jesus’ feet behind Him.” Such was the beauty of His holiness that she was ashamed, and such the glory of His majesty that she was afraid to look Him in the face.
3. Her unfeigned sorrow “She stood behind Him weeping.” Those eyes, which had been the inlets of temptation and sin, now become the outlets of godly sorrow.
4. Her sorrow was not only sincere, but abundant--“She stood weeping, and washed His feet with tears.” It was not a sudden gust, but a continual flow.
5. Witness the ardour of her love to Christ--“She kissed His feet, and anointed them with the ointment.” A pardoned sinner will think no expense too great whereby he may honour Christ or testify his love to Him.
6. Her contempt of the world. She did not mind the things of the world any more than the men of the world. The box of precious ointment was of little value to one who had found the pearl of great price.
7. Her gratitude and joy. All her grief was mingled with love and thankfulness; her tears were tears of joy for sin pardoned, as well as of sorrow for sin committed. Her ointment became a thank-offering to her Saviour. From this instructive history we may learn that the displays of Divine mercy have always a practical tendency. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
A great sinner and a great Saviour
1. First, THE CHARACTER OF THE WOMAN. Everything in Scripture is addressed to character. Oh, how true is that statement of the Apostle Paul, when he declared that “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” Witness the record given in the Word of God of a variety of prominent characters who have been the recipients of the grace of God. Go back to old father Abraham; an idolator amongst the Chaldeans, yet the grace of God found him, add brought him out, and distinguished him. Mark the character of Jacob. I cannot admire it, except in that which grace did for him. He was a deceitful, supplanting young man; and who would not censure him for the conduct he pursued in obtaining the blessing? Beloved, I wish you to be brought to a deep consciousness that sinnership belongs to us, as well as to the woman of the city, and that our sinnership is such that nothing but the blood of Christ can meet our condition before God. Mark yet further. This poor woman was evidently overwhelmed with the consciousness of her sinnership. It is not simply a cold admission of the fact, but compunction is felt, distress of soul realized, a broken and a contrite heart bestowed, an overwhelming consciousness that you deserve nothing but eternal wrath.
II. Now let us glance at THE OPPORTUNITY WHICH THE POOR WOMAN HAD OF COMING TO JESUS. There is something interesting in the fact that it should have been in a Pharisee’s house. Think for a moment, here, of the display of discriminating grace. Simon might look upon her to hate, but Jesus looked upon her to manifest that the distinguishing grace which He is accustomed to exercise in the most sovereign manner had reached her heart; and thus, in Simon’s own house, the discriminating grace of God was exhibited to take the sinner and to leave the Pharisee. Moreover, this poor woman must have been informed where Jesus was, and what He was as the sinner’s Friend; and this is the very pith of the message of the gospel of Christ. Our great business, from Sabbath to Sabbath, and from week to week, is to publish the name and the fame of the sinner’s Friend. There must have been after all, an influence put forth upon this poor woman s soul to bring her to the feet of Jesus, or she would never have come there.
III. WE NOW COME TO THE MANIFESTATION OF FEELING IN THIS POOR WOMAN. What are the feelings that she must have been the subject of? The first I shall mention is the feeling of necessity, and the second is that of a new nature’s affection for what she had discovered. She loved much. This feeling of necessity not only brings the sinner to Jesus under Divine power and might, but constrains the sinner to put forth the emotion which is described of this woman--weeping. I do act so much regard the literal effusion of water from the bodily eyes as I do the weeping of the soul--the compunction of the spirit; though, with persons who are naturally sensitive, this very compunction will flow forth in external tears, but in other constitutions not so visibly. I am very much afraid that many who pass for Christians have glided into their Christianity in a very smooth and easy manner; and I as strongly fear that they will glide out of it as easily, and perish for ever. The best repentance which is known on earth is that which flows from Calvary, from atoning blood, from pardoning love in the contrite soul. What knowest thou, my hearers, of these feelings? Many persons are greatly frightened about going to hell, and sometimes, perhaps, grieve lest they should do so.
IV. Let us now pass on to say A FEW WORDS CONCERNING THIS POOR WOMAN’S EXPECTATIONS. No doubt they were great. They are not recorded, but I should think we might sum them up in two particulars. She expected to eye the glories of His person, and gaze upon Him with delight; and she expected, also, to receive absolution from Him, and she got both. Now, if you are brought to the feet of Jesus, I would have you encourage this two-fold expectation. The first is, to eye the personal and official glories of Christ. Think, for a moment, of the privilege of gazing by faith upon Him, who is declared to be “the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of His person.” “Behold Me,” is His cry. Look off from everything else to gaze upon the precious Christ of God, and know more and more of Him; yea, till ye “know even as ye are known.” This poor woman expected, also, to receive absolution from the Saviour, and she obtained it. A word relative to the difference between the declaration of the doctrine of absolution, and the reception of it from Christ by the poor sinner. They are two different things. Unto Simon the Lord Jesus Christ said, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven.” But that would not have satisfied her if she had stopped there. (J. Irons.)
A bruised reed
Probably when Simon invited our Saviour to dine there were a great many that wondered why. Simon was, I suppose, a very good-natured fellow, evidently shallow, but easily excited and easily forgetting it. He was a slate, on which you could write that which you could easily rub out. Everybody was running after the Saviour, and Simon was one of those men that liked to catch lions and parade them in his house. He was, therefore, patronizing Christ. Still he did it cautiously. He professed simply to be His gracious entertainer. Christ went. It is of more importance perhaps to ask, “Why did He go there? “ Well, He went, because He was neither an ascetic nor a rigorous moralist, after the modern sense of the term. He never was afraid of soiling Himself. He carried in Him the light that dispels darkness. Nor do I suppose He ever once thought, “ What will folks say? Is it best for Me to go?” While they were reclining there was an uninvited guest that came in, “And behold!”--an exclamation, to arrest attention--“a woman which was a sinner.” Her outward life had been bad. But there was a woman within the woman, a soul hidden within the body. How knew she of Christ? She had heard Him doubtless. She had beheld His face and His eye of mercy, and the gentleness with which He treated children and the poor, and she had said within herself, “If there is a good man living, that man is good.” So, hearing that He was gone to dine with the Pharisee, she determined to go and see Him. What kind of a teacher must that man have been who could inspire in a harlot’s bosom those conceptions of human and Divine greatness as manifested in Christ, and who could also draw towards Him from out all the lines of wickedness a creature like unto this woman? Christ was a prophet, and more than a prophet. He saw not only the woman, but also the man; her depth and power, his shallowness and feebleness. He then preaches a short sermon to Simon. No words had passed, but He answers Simon’s thought. Let us believe, with all true charity, that from the hour of her resurrection she followed the footsteps of her new-found Master, and that she dwells with Him in the purity and the bliss of immortality. Now translate from the wonderful scene some lessons.
1. Your own duty. Separate not yourselves from those that have gone wrong.
2. Have faith to believe that under bad appearances there yet lurks and there yet sighs a soul, a moral conscience.
3. Never forget that when a man has gone wrong he can go right. God is on the side of every man that, having stumbled and fallen, gathers himself together and gets up; and, though his garments may for a long time be soiled, he is on his feet again, and prepared to resist again. Do not forget the all-loving heart of God. (H. W. Beecher.)
Jesus in Simon’s house
I. THE FORBEARANCE AND CONDESCENSION OF CHRIST.
II. LOVE IS IN PROPORTION TO THE GREATNESS OF THE BENEFITS FELT TO BE RECEIVED.
III. From Simon’s mistake learn THE DANGER OF SPIRITUAL PRIDE.
1. Spiritual pride blinded his eyes as to himself.
2. It misled him in estimating the character of this woman.
3. It prevented him understanding Christ. (D. Longwill.)
Much forgiveness, much love
The woman had a definite purpose in coming to the house of Simon. She came, not to be a mere spectator, but to anoint her benefactor with a box of precious ointment. Her benefactor we must assume Jesus to have been, though we know nothing of the previous relations. Conduct so unusual could not fail to create a general sensation in the guest-chamber, and especially to arrest the astonished attention of the host. Happily for the object of his harsh judgment, there was One present who could divine the real situation. One brief, simple parable serves at once to apologize for the accused, and to bring a countercharge against the accuser. The parable was spoken with a threefold aim.
I. TO DEPEND THE CONDUCT OF THE WOMAN BY SUGGESTING THE POINTS OF VIEW UNDER WHICH IT OUGHT TO BE REGARDED.
II. TO IMPUGN THE CONDUCT OF THE PHARISEE.
III. To DEFEND THE CONDUCT OF JESUS HIMSELF IN ACCEPTING THE HOMAGE RENDERED. (A. Bruce, D. D.)
1. Let sinners of every name and degree be encouraged by this narrative to go at once to Christ.
2. If we would be successful in raising the fallen, and reclaiming the abandoned, we must be willing to touch them, and to be touched by them.
3. If we wish to love God much, we must think much of what we owe to Him. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Faith and forgiveness
1. Does it not seem as if the Pharisee, if he had had a larger heart, would have gained something of the experience of the woman’s sin without entrance into the sin in the midst of which she had lived, and so would have known the richness of love with which she came to the Saviour?
2. The Pharisee has precisely the same reason for thanking God for having been saved from falling into sin that any vilest sinner has for thanking God when he has been dragged out of sin after falling into it.
(1) that you have the right and the power to rescue your brother-man, and share in the enthusiastic and ecstatic gratitude of the rescued soul;
(2) that every soul has sin enough in it to warrant a consecration of the whole life to the God who has rescued the soul, even from that degree of sin in which it has lived;
(3) that the sense of preservation may lay as deep a hold upon our affections as the sense of rescue. (Phillips Brooks, D. D.)
The weeping penitent
I. Love for the Saviour brought her into His PRESENCES.
II. HUMILITY for her sin brought her to His FEET.
III. Sorrow for her sin made her WEEP AT HIS FEET.
IV. GRATITUDE for sin forgiven led her to WASH AND ANOINT HIS FEET. (J. Dobie, D. D.)
The guests are in their places, not sitting cross-legged on the floor, like modern Orientals, nor seated on chairs, as with ourselves; but reclining, after the old Roman fashion, on couches, the head being towards the table, and the feet, unsandalled, stretched out behind, while the body rested on the left side and elbow. Around the walls of the room sit some of the inhabitants of the place who have heard of the feast, and who have come in to see the banquet, and to listen to the conversation. In one of the earliest, and still one of the best, of the books of Eastern travel, being the report of the party of which Andrew Bonar and Robert McCheyne were members, we find the following statement:--“At dinner, at the Consul’s house at Damietta, we were much interested in observing a custom of the country. In the room where we were received, besides the divan on which we sat, there were seats all round the walls. Many came in and took their places on these side seats uninvited and yet unchallenged. They spoke to those at table on business or the news of the day, and our host spoke freely to them.” (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Jesus and the woman
There was an unrecorded history behind this manifestation. The two must have met before. This was not the first time she had seen the Lord. On some previous occasion virtue had gone out of Him to her, and had awakened new hope within her. She saw the possibility of being forgiven, even for her life of sin. She felt uprising within her the determination to become a pure and noble woman. Nay, she had the persuasion that she was already pardoned and accepted by God; and so, unmoved by all surrounding discouragements, conscious of nothing but that He was there to whom she owed her new-born blessedness, she eagerly threw herself upon His feet, and took this method of telling Him “all that was in her heart.” She came to Him, not as a penitent seeking pardon, but as a sinner already forgiven; and so that which looked like extravagance to others was perfectly natural in her, and thoroughly acceptable to Him. It was but the “return and repercussion” of that love which He had already shown to her. Her tears were, as Luther calls them, ‘, heart-water”; they were the distillation of her gratitude. She had not come indeed to weep; she had come designing to use the ointment only. But her tears had, as it were, stolen a march upon her; they had come unbidden and unexpected, and had rather interfered with the fulfilment of her purpose. But, in order that her original intention might be thoroughly carried out, she wiped them from His feet with her flowing tresses, and then poured over Him the precious ointment, whose odour filled the house. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
At His feet
I. IT IS A BECOMING POSTURE.
1. As He is Divine, let us pay Him lowliest reverence.
2. As we are sinful, let us make humble confession.
3. As He is Lord, let us make full submission:
4. As He is All in All, let us manifest immovable dependence.
5. As He is infinitely wise, let us wait His appointed time. The best are at His feet, joyfully bowing before Him. The worst must come there whether they will or no.
II. IT IS A HELPFUL POSTURE--
1. For a weeping penitent (Luke 7:38).
2. For a resting convert (Luke 8:35).
3. For a pleading intercessor (Luke 8:41).
4. For a willing learner (Luke 10:39).
5. For a grateful worshipper (Luke 17:16).
6. For a saint beholding his Lord’s glory (Revelation 1:17).
III. IT IS A SAFE POSTURE.
1. Jesus will not refuse us that position, for it is one which we ought to occupy.
2. Jesus will not spurn the humbly submissive, who in self-despair cast themselves before Him.
3. Jesus will not suffer any to harm those who seek refuge at His feet.
4. Jesus will not deny us the eternal privilege of abiding there. Let this be our continual posture--sorrowing or rejoicing, hoping or fearing, suffering or working, teaching or learning, in secret or in public, in life and in death. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Pharisee’s mistake
I. AS IT REGARDED CHRIST.
1. He could not read Christ’s nature, and undervalued it.
2. In regard to Christ, he mistook also His way of rescuing from sin.
II. AS IT REGARDED THE WOMAN.
1. The Pharisee thought that as a sinner she was to be despised.
2. He did not see that into her heart a new life had entered.
III. As IT REGARDED HIMSELF.
1. The Pharisee showed that he did not know his own heart.
2. He did not see that in condemning this woman he was rejecting the salvation of Christ.
IV. SOME TRUTHS WHICH WE MAY LEARN FROM THE PHARISEE’S MISTAKE.
1. Those who profess religion should be careful how they give a false view of it by uncharitable judgments and assumptions of superiority.
2. On the other side, we must remind those who profess to be seeking religion that they are bound to form their judgment of it from its Author. (J. Ker, D. D.)
She is a sinner
This is the Pharisee’s compendious trial and verdict and sentence of one in whose soul, it seems, the sore but wholesome struggle of repentance was actively going on. “She is a sinner”; accursed from God she is, and must continue. There is abomination in her touch, and falsehood in her tears. All that a prophet can do for her is to pass her by on the other side. Thus reasoned a sincere, respectable man among the Jews; not a monster of intolerance; Dot a brutal scorner of the suffering; but a respectable Jew of the most exact sect among the Jews, speaking in the interests of society, and echoing an acknowledged social principle. And thus reason many sincere and worthy men amongst ourselves almost two thousand years after the Lord has taught lessons of another spirit and a more loving wisdom. “She is a sinner.” One word suffices to classify all that have gone astray; the Pharisee makes no inquiries, draws no distinctions, indulges no hopes. It is all one to him whether a depraved will or a giddy vanity made her a willing victim, or the sheer presence of starvation drove her to ruin. It is all one whether, every day when she rises and every night when she lies down she hates herself, and in bitter anguish compares the thing she is with what she was; or acquiesces in her own destruction, and does all she can to hasten the darkness that is settling down upon her moral nature, and to welcome the perfect night. We pass our hasty sentence upon thousands and tens of thousands of erring beings, not considering for a moment how many among them are devoured by an unspeakable remorse; how many are capable of sorrow, though they stave it off; hew few, comparatively, are the hopeless children of perdition, lost in this world and the world to come. Now there are two facts which may well make us pause ere we adopt the hard and thoughtless rule of society in dealing with guilt; and they are facts, not surmises.
1. Society is, in a large measure, responsible for the very sins which it so readily condemns and casts out.
2. That there is hardly any escape for those who have once entered the path of sin. “She is a sinner”; no one will take her into a blameless home to employ her; no one will visit her and give her counsel. Thus does one step in sin utterly destroy one whom God created to serve and praise Him. God bids the sinner turn from evil ways, and we will give her no chance of turning. (Archbishop Thomson.)
The woman represents humanity, or the soul of human nature; Simon, the world, or worldly wisdom; Christ, Divinity, or the Divine purposes of good to usward. Simon is an incarnation of what St. Paul calls the beggarly elements; Christ of spirituality; the woman of sin. (Preacher’s Lantern.)
The secret of devotion
I. We find here an illustration of THE RECOGNIZED VALUE OF ALL ACTS OF SIMPLE-HEARTED DEVOTION TO CHRIST. In the act of justification God is entirely sovereign, and man is entirely passive; but in the work of sanctification which succeeds it we are permitted to co-operate with the Holy Spirit. And all along in our career, as the forgiven children of the Highest, we are welcomed in the ministries of affection which evidence our appreciation of Divine grace. The early reformers had no confusion in regard to this point. Their notion as to the proper blending of faith and works may be seen in the two seals which Martin Luther used indiscriminately in his correspondence. On one was cut his family coat-of-arms--two hammers laid crosswise, with a blunt head and a sharp head, his father’s tools at the time when he was a miner; and Martin used often, in connection with this, to quote the saying of Achilles: “Let others have wealth who will; my portion is work.” Upon the second seal was cut the device of a heart, with wings on each side of it spread out as if soaring, and underneath this was the Latin motto: “Petimus astra.”
II. Our second lesson is concerning THE ACTIVE PRINCIPLE ON WHICH ZEAL PROCEEDS, AND FROM WHICH COMES ITS VALUE.
1. Many men feel the superior power and dignity of a Christian life, and so seek something like conformity to its maxims. They move on in a correct living of outward morality, because it brings a reputation with others and satisfaction in their own minds: they are wont to speak pleasantly of themselves as “ outsiders, with a great respect for religion, you know I “ No value whatever in this. The instincts of an honest heart make us claim, as the very first characteristic of friendship, its disinterestedness. We “will not suffer ourselves to be used or patronized; can we suppose God will endure it?
2. Another motive, which gives to many a life a sort of religious cast, is found in conscientiousness. We are all by nature devout; something draws us, and keeps drawing, to God; we grow uneasy under its tension. We seek a kind of temporary relief by yielding a little, without at all intending to yield the whole; just as the foolish fish is said to run up towards the fisherman for a moment, to ease off the stress of the hook, and yet without purposing ever to leave the water. Such a service of God we call “duty.” Now there is no value either in the surrender we make, or in the acceptance we profess. When we give up sin from mere pressure of pain, we are apt to choose those which will be missed the least, and have grown the weariest in indulgence. Nor is our obedience any better; we go on with a round of duty-doing as senseless as the whirling of a Japanese praying-machine in the market-place. Our motive is the refinement of selfishness, for we work like a galley-slave who is afraid of the lash. Because we mean to cheat on the “principal” by and by, we scrupulously keep paying the regular “interest” now. And all this is mere hypocrisy.
3. The true motive for all Christian zeal is found in love--simple, honest affection for Christ as the Lord of grace and glory. A good deed is measured by the temper and feeling which underlies it.
III. THE RECOLLECTION BY WHICH TRUE ZEAL IS STIMULATED. “To whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.” The one great matter of notice here is that alabaster box. It becomes the symbol of a heart full of experience, which no possible language could describe. It would have been more properly named a phial or a jar. It was one of those small vessels, wont to be cherished in that day by vain and silly women, containing rare and curiously-perfumed cosmetics, used by the fastidious Orientals for a meretricious and luxurious toilet. Two things, therefore, were exhibited in the act of this woman--penitence and faith.
1. Her penitence appears in the surrender of the unguent; it was one of the tools of her trade. By this act she avowed her definite and final relinquishment of that old, gay life she had been living.
2. Observe, also, the faith in this action. She ventured much when she came to that feast unbidden. If Jesus should rebuke her, she would be excluded with contumely and contempt. But she trusted Him with all her heart; she believed in her forgiveness in the very moment of asking for it. So she offered her Saviour the highest of all she had. She gave Jesus her last glory; He gave her His full pardon of her sins as His reward and benediction in return. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Jesus in the house of the Pharisee
Then one of the Pharisees desired that Jesus would eat bread with them; and as the crowd falls back they go on their way together to this Pharisee’s house. And now He lies reclining on the couch. LET US TURN TO LOOK AT THE HOST. He has given Christ a very heartless welcome, and a very scanty entertainment. The commonest courtesies of life were wanting. There was no hint of enthusiasm, no whisper of affection; no token of any loving regard. Not even was it a stately formality--all was as empty as it was cold. Yet do not put down this man as a hypocrite or a knave. Not at all. We overdo the character of the Pharisee, and so we destroy it altogether. This man is just a fair type of a great many religious people to-day--people who are quite willing to extend a kind of patronage to the claims of Jesus Christ, but who never put themselves much out of the way for Him. They give their heart and energy to their business--for that no care, no toil, nothing is grudged. They give their enthusiasm to politics, if they live in the city; if they live in the country they share it with their horses and guns. They keep their money for themselves. For religion they are willing to expend an occasional hour on Sunday, and a vet more occasional subscription. Alas! that our Blessed Redeemer, the King of Heaven, should find still so cold a welcome and so scanty an entertainment in many a house to-day! With such people there may be a degree of orthodoxy on which they pride them selves, but what is much more rigid and essential is a certain refinement of taste, which is really the only religion of many; there is, too, a certain standard of morality, less important, however, than the standard of taste; and for everybody who does not come up to their standard either of manners or morals, there is a stoning to death with hard judgments--and an equal condemnation for those who venture to go beyond their standard. Look at it. It is religion without any love to God and without any love to man. It is religion without any deep sense of indebtedness, and without any glad devotion. There it is: religion without any deep sense of sin, and so without any glad sense of forgiveness; religion without any need, and so without riches; religion without a Saviour, and so without any love. This man knew of a law which demanded a certain degree of goodness: that was exactly the goodness which he himself lived up to. And good people like himself, of course, should go to heaven for ever and ever. And bad people like this woman should go--elsewhere; and he went on his way quite comfortable and contented with an arrangement altogether so advantageous to himself. Look at this man carefully; and see in him a peril that besets all of us who are brought up in religious forms and observances. It is religion without the Holy Spirit of God, who is come to convince of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment to come; to make these the great and awful realities, by which the world is tested and all things are esteemed, for without that Holy Spirit who is come to shed the love of God abroad in the heart, God is but a name; religion is but a form; sin is but a notion. Now LET US TURN TO THE UNINVITED VISITOR, The Eastern custom of hospitality meant very literally “open house.” The curiosity with which the people followed Jesus everywhere would be sure to follow Him here, and though He has entered into the house He cannot be hid. And yet of all heresies the most persistent and most deadly is that of which the Church makes but little ado. It is this--that Jesus Christ is come into the world to save good people who don’tthink they need any saving; and if real sinners come to Him--dreadful sinners: black sinners--it is a presumption and an intrusion which good people cannot tolerate. SEE HERE THE RIGHT CHARACTER, IN THE RIGHT PLACE, SEEKING THE RIGHT THING, IN THE RIGHT WAY. A sinner at the feet of Jesus--here is a sight that all heaven shall come forth to rejoice over; and they shall go back to celebrate it in the sweetest music that even angels ever sang. “She is a sinner”--it is the only certificate of character that Jesus wanted. The only thing for which He came, the only work for which He had qualified Himself, had to do with sinners. “She is ignorant,” said Simon, within himself. “The people that knoweth not the law is accursed. What does this wretched woman understand of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven? What appreciation can she have of its lofty promises and high glory?” She knew that she was a sinner and in that she knew more than Simon knew; and knew all that she needed to know. A sinner at His feet. Oh, blessed hiding-place! A refuge sure and safe, in His shadow, within reach of that Hand, there, where all the heart may pour forth its sorrow and the story of its sin, where all His love may look its benediction, and may touch with healing power. Coming in the right way. She just cast herself upon His love and help. Having no hope but in Him, feeling that the torrents swept and surged about her, but that Hand held her and was lifting her up, and should set her feet upon the rock. She came unto Him and found the rest that she sought. The hold of the past was loosed and broken; its record was blotted out and forgotten. The touch of that gracious Hand healed the broken heart. His words fell like the very music of heaven upon her soul. “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” And there came a new life, fresh, sweet, pure, beautiful, like the life of a little child. This is Jesus, our Saviour, who speaks to us this day. “Come unto Me, and I will give you rest.’” But the story is not finished yet. There with the sobbing woman down at His feet, with that gracious
Hand laid on the bent head--that Hand whose touch healed the broken heart--Jesus became her Advocate and Defender. The silence was broken as Jesus looked up and said, “Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee.” With what rich blessing must every word have fallen upon her--what gentle courtesy and tender grace was His! (M. G. Pearse.)
The woman that was a sinner
Here are two silver bells, let us ring them; their notes are heavenly--O for ears to hear their rich, clear melody! The first note is “ grace,” and the second tone is “love.”
I. GRACE, the most costly of spikenard: this story literally drips with it, like those Oriental trees which bleed perfume.
1. First, grace is here glorified in its object. She was “a sinner”--a sinner not in the flippant, unmeaning, every-day sense of the term, but a sinner in the blacker, filthier, and more obnoxious sense. Grace has pitched upon the most unlikely cases in order to show itself to be grace; it has found a dwelling-place for itself in the most unworthy heart, that its freeness might be the better seen.
2. Grace is greatly magnified in its fruits. Who would have thought that a woman who had yielded her members to be servants of unrighteousness, to her shame and confusion, should have now become, what if I call her a maid of honour to the King of kings?--one of Christ’s most favoured servitors? This woman, apart from grace, had remained black and defiled still to her dying day, but the grace of God wrought a wondrous transformation, removing the impudence of her face, the flattery from her lips, the finery from her dress, and the lust from her heart. Eyes which were full of adultery, were now founts of repentance; lips which were doors of lascivious speech, now yield holy kisses--the profligate was a penitent, the castaway a new creature. All the actions which are attributed to this woman illustrate the transforming power of Divine grace. Note the woman’s humility. She had once possessed a brazen face, and knew no bashfulness, but now she stands behind the Saviour.
3. I would have you remark, in the third place, that grace is seen by attentive eyes in our Lord’s acceptance of what this chosen vessel had to bring. Jesus knew her sin. Oh, that Jesus should ever accept anything of me, that He should be willing to accept my tears, willing to receive my prayers and my praises!
4. Further, grace is displayed in this narrative when you see our Lord Jesus Christ become the defender of the penitent. Everywhere grace is the object of human cavil: men snap at it like evening wolves. Some object to grace in its perpetuity, they struggle against persevering grace; but others, like this Simon, struggle against the bounty of grace.
5. Once more, my brethren, the grace of God is seen in this narrative in the bestowal of yet richer favours. Great grace saved her, rich grace encouraged her, unbounded grace gave her a Divine assurance of forgiveness. “Go in peace.”
1. Its source. There is no such thing as mere natural love to God. The only true love which can burn in the human breast towards the Lord, is that which the Holy Ghost Himself kindles.
2. Its secondary cause is faith. The fiftieth verse tells us, “Thy faith hath saved thee.” Our souls do not begin with loving Christ, but the first lesson is to trust. Many penitents attempt this difficult task; they aspire to reach the stair-head without treading the steps; they would needs be at the pinnacle of the temple before they have crossed the threshold. Grace is the source of love, but faith is the agent by which love is brought to us.
3. The food of love is a sense of sin, and a grateful sense of forgiveness. The service this woman rendered to our Lord was perfectly voluntary. No one suggested it, much less pressed it upon her. Her service to Jesus was personal. She did it all herself, and all to Him. Do you notice how many times the pronoun occurs in our text? “ She stood at His feet behind Him weeping, and began to wash His feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed His feet, and anointed them with the ointment.” She served Christ Himself. Forgetfulness of the personality of Christ takes away the very vitality of our religion. How much better will you teach, this afternoon, in your Sabbath-school class, if you teach your children for Christ! The woman’s service showed her love in that it was fervent. There was so much affection in it--nothing conventional; no following chilly propriety, no hesitating inquiry for precedents. Why did she kiss His feet? Was it not a superfluity? O for more of this guileless piety, which hurls decorum and regulation to the winds. This woman’s love is a lesson to us in the opportunity which she seized. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The woman that was a sinner
I. THE PERSON DESCRIBED.
1. She was a sinner. This applies to all.
2. A notorious sinner.
3. A mourning and deeply penitent sinner.
II. THE COURSE WHICH SHE ADOPTED.
1. Strong desires after the Saviour.
2. Deep humility and lowliness of mind.
3. Deep contrition.
4. True and hearty affection to Christ.
5. Liberality and devotedness to Christ.
6. An after-life worthy of the profession she now made. She attended Christ in many of His journeys, &c.
III. THE PUBLIC TESTAMENT SHE RECEIVED. She had honoured Jesus; and He now honours her, by testifying of her.
1. He testified to her forgiveness.
2. He testified to her faith as the instrumental cause.
3. He testified to the greatness of her love.
4. He testified to His approval and acceptance of her.
1. The condescension of Christ.
2. The riches of His grace.
3. His power and willingness to save the chief of sinners.
4. The true way of coming to Christ.
5. The effects of true love to Him. (J. Burns D. D.)
The penitent citizen
1. Her humility. She takes her stand at the feet of Christ, esteeming the lowest place too good for her, so vile an abject,
2. Bashfulness and shame. She cloth not boldly face Christ, but gets behind Him; being conscious of her sins, which thus placed her deservedly.
3. Sorrow. The rock is now turned into a water-pool, and the flint into a river of waters: she weeps, and in such abundance, as that she washeth Christ’s feet with those streams of penitence.
4. Revenge. That hair which she had so often gently combed, and cunningly broidered against the glass, and then spread forth as a net to catch her amorous companions withal, she now employs in the wiping those feet, which she had with her tears washed.
5. Love; manifested in kissing Christ’s feet, acknowledging thereby that she tasted of the comfort that was in Him. O how gladly will one who hath escaped drowning kiss the shore!
6. Bounty. She pours a precious and costly ointment upon those feet she had thus washed and kissed. Every way she approved herself a perfect penitent. And therefore no marvel (the great prize coming) if the trumpets sound; the news of this rare convert is proclaimed with an “Ecce, Behold a woman.” (N. Rogers.)
Jesus attracting sinners
Travelling along a country road in a hot summer’s day, you may have noticed the people before you turn aside at a certain point, and gather around something that was yet hidden from you. You knew at once that it was a clear, cold spring that drew them all together there. Each of them wanted something which that spring could supply. Or you have seen iron filings leap up and cling to the poles of a magnet when it was brought near to them. The attraction of the magnet drew them to itself. So sinners were drawn to Jesus; they felt that in Him was all fulness, and that He could supply their need. (American Sunday School Times.)
Love produces repentance
From this incident we see what it is that produces true repentance. If you were going out into the open air on a frosty day, and were taking a lump of ice, you might pound it with a pestle, but it would still continue ice. You might break it into ten thousand atoms, but so long as you continue in that wintry atmosphere, every fragment, however small, will still be frozen. But come within. Bring in the ice beside your own bright and blazing fire, and soon in that genial glow “the waters flow.” A man may try to make himself contrite; he may search out his sins and set them before him, and dwell on all their enormity, and still feel no true repentance. Though pounded with penances in the mortar of fasts and macerations, his heart continues hard and icy still. And as long as you keep in that legal atmosphere it cannot thaw. There may be elaborate confession, a got-up sort of penitence, a voluntary humility, but there is no godly sorrow. But come to Jesus with His words of grace and truth. From the cold winter night of the ascetic, come into the summer of the Great Evangelist. Let that flinty frozen spirit bask a little in the beams of the Sun of Righteousness. Listen for a little to those words which melted this sinner into a penitent--which broke her alabaster box and brimmed over in tears of ecstatic sorrow and self-condemning devotion: for, finding that you too have much forgiven, you also will love much. (J. Hamilton, D. D.)
When the prodigal son returned home, that respectable elder brother of his was the only one who begrudged his welcome. So this punctilious Pharisee murmured at the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet. It is told of a noted geologist that once, when travelling over a new district, he hired an ignorant countryman to carry the specimens of the different rocks which he had collected, to his inn. The countrymen afterwards, conscious of his own superior knowledge, used to tell of “the poor mad gentleman who went around gathering stones.” The Pharisee, clad in his own self-righteousness, has the same difficulty regarding the mission of Jesus; he cannot see how Jesus stoops to even the outcast. He does not see the hidden jewel of the soul; he forgets that the physician must lay his hand upon the loath some sore, if he would heal it. (American Sunday School Times.)
An unfeeling religionist
There is a story in the Bustan of the famous Persian poet Saadi, which seems an echo of this evangelical history. Jesus, while on earth, was once entertained in the cell of a dervish, or monk, of eminent reputation for sanctity. In the same city dwelt a youth, sunk in every sin, “whose heart was so black that Satan himself shrank back from it in horror.” This last presently appeared before the cell of the monk, and, as if smitten by the very presence of the Divine prophet, began to lament deeply the sin and misery of his life past, and, shedding abundant tears, to implore pardon and grace. The monk indignantly interrupted him, demanding how he dared to appear in his presence, and in that of God’s holy prophet; assured him that for him it was in vain to seek forgiveness; and to prove how inexorably he considered his lot was fixed for hell, exclaimed: “My God, grant me but one thing--that I may stand far from this man in the judgment day!” On this Jesus spoke: “It shall be even so; the prayer of both is granted. This sinner has sought mercy and grace, and has not sought them in vain. His sins are forgiven: his place shall be in Paradise at the last day. But this monk has prayed that he may never stand near this sinner. His prayer, too, is granted: hell shall be his place; for there this sinner shall never come.” (Trench.)
The nun and the penitent
One of the legends of Ballycastle preserves a touching story. It is of a holy nun whose frail sister had repented her evil ways and sought sanctuary at the convent. It was winter; the shelter she claimed was granted, but the sinless sister refused to remain under the same roof with the repentant sinner. She left the threshold, and proceeded to pray in the open air; but looking towards the convent, she was startled by perceiving a brilliant light issue from one of the cells, where she knew that neither taper nor fire could have been burning. She proceeded to her sister’s bed--for it was in that room the light was shining--just in time to receive her last sigh of repentance. The light had vanished, but the recluse received it as a sign from heaven that the offender had been pardoned, and learned thenceforward to be more merciful m judging, and more Christlike in forgiving. (S. C. Hall.)
Influence of Christ’s love
A pious man relates the following incident: One day I passed a shed where I saw several men at work loosening a waggon whose wheels had frozen into the ice. One of the men went to work with axe and hammer, and with much labour loosened one of the wheels, not, however, without doing considerable injury to it. Suddenly, the woman of the house came near, with a pailful of hot water, and poured it on the spokes. The wheels were now quickly loosened, and the loud praises of those standing near were bestowed on the woman. I thought: I will note this! The warming influence of Christ’s love loosens the icy bands around a sinful heart sooner than the axe of carnal power or dogmatic opposition.
Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee
On administering reproof
To say somewhat to our brother when we see him run into an error. In such a case we may not be silent. “Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him” (Leviticus 19:17). Observe--
2. Courteous usage should not keep us from telling men of their faults, and discovering their failings to them. (N. Rogers.)
Rebuke in parable
It is none of the worst observations we meet withal in Oleaster; that the holy prophets in dealing with great ones have spoken most an end in parables, as our Saviour did here to Simon. Let reproof be as good and wholesome diet as a partridge, yet it would not be served in to a great man’s table raw, or with the feathers on, but cooked and seasoned. Reproof of them must be well wrapped up (as we do a pill in sugar), that it may the more easily be swallowed, and work before they think on it. But it may not be wholly withheld from any man whatever, be he our dearest friend. In so doing we should deal unkindly with them who deal friendly with us. Unhappy is that friendship, saith Carthusianus, which favouring our brother’s cares doth break his neck. Such friendship David putteth in his Litany, and desireth God to keep him from. (N. Rogers.)
On receiving reproof
The word Christ speaks ought to be received with all readiness of spirit. Thus Simon received it, so ought we. Eli desired Samuel to tell him all (1 Samuel 3:17). Such should be the desire of all God’s people, that God’s ministers would deal faithfully with them in delivering the whole counsel of God unto them--as well one part as another. Wantons, you know, come into a garden to pick only flowers; here they pick a gay, and there another; but the good housewife comes to gather herbs: so should we come into God’s house to hear His Word. (N. Rogers.)
The ear the door to the soul
The devil s study is to keep this door shut, that Christ may not enter. Like a gaoler, he will sometimes be content to let his prisoner have hands and feet free, provided the prison doors and gates be fast locked and barred. His captives shall sometimes give an alms, or do
some other outward work of mercy, come to church to satisfy the law, &c. But he cannot endure the doors should stand open, for fear of an escape. Acts 7:57; Psa 58:45.) Search the Scriptures, and you shall find that none was cured with greater difficulty than he that had a deaf and dumb spirit. (N. Rogers.)
There was a certain creditor which had two debtors
God is our Creditor
God is this Creditor; He trusts us with His goods; what we have we have from Him to use.
1. How many daily spend of God’s stock and store. Neither man nor beast (for the use of man), but daily receive from His hand, and seek to be further trusted (Psalms 104:27). It would undo the richest man that ever was to have so many in his debt at once.
2. Think how prodigal and expensive men are in spending on God’s stock; how prodigal of His mercy, patience, goodness, &c. (Romans 2:4-5). How lavish are men of the time lent, of health, wealth, &c. (Luke 15:1-32.). Look but on the life of some one sinner, and judge of the rest (Ho Jeremiah 20:7).
3. Consider we with ourselves how long God hath forborne and been out of purse.
4. Add to all God’s bounty and liberality--which is renewed to us daily--He is as willing still to lend us, as if we had paid Him in all, and owedHim not a groat.
5. In all our wants and needs, from hence we have direction to whom to go a-borrowing.
(1) He is a bountiful Creditor, and no needy one; better provided than any other. He hath for our need, and always is at home.
(2) He stands not upon any great security; He is willing to take our words, our promises, for the payment (Gen 28:20; 1 Samuel 1:11; Matthew 18:26-27). Only He expects that we should be just of our words, that we may be again trusted (Ecclesiastes 5:4),
(3) Though we borrow of him to-day, yet if we stand in need of Him tomorrow, as questionless we shall, and desire to be further trusted, He will be willing to pleasure us, especially when He sees we employ those talents well wherewith He hath betrusted us. (N. Rogers.)
1. A day is set for the payment of other debts. Till the day be come we fear no arrest, they cannot be exacted. But the sinner goes in danger every hour; God may arrest him whensoever it pleaseth Him, as He often doth and hath done, when men think themselves most safe (1 Samuel 15:32; Daniel 5:4-30; Job 21:13).
2. Other debts make us liable but to a bodily arrest only. The conscience may be free; but the debt of sin doth endanger both body and soul too.
3. Other debts may be forgotten, and so not required; but the debt of sin cannot be forgotten of the Lord (Amos 8:7). He keepeth a debt-book, wherein all is written, with the day and place, &c. (Isaiah 65:6). Cain’sdebt is as fresh in God’s mind as if it were but yesterday.
4. From ether debtors there may be some protection, either place or person may keep us from arrest; but there is no protection against the Lord’s attachments. Angels nor men cannot save us (Job 10:7). The horns of the altar cannot protect us (1 Kings 2:28-31). Nor can mountains and rocks conceal us (Revelation 6:16).
5. There may be a flying away from other debtors, and a hiding ourselves from man’s attachments; but flying here will not save us (Psalms 139:7).
6. In man’s prison some favour may be showed, good usage obtained; but in the prison wherein sin doth cast us, there is no ease.
7. If thou art not freed out of the hands of other creditors, by friends or other means, yet death will free thee. But it is not so here, the debt which sin cast thee into is most called for, and most terrible after death. (N. Rogers.)
Condition of these two debtors
All are not alike indebted to the Lord. Some are more indebted to Him than others. This appeals by that parable Luke 16:5); and by other express scripture (Matthew 11:21; Matthew 12:31; Matthew 23:14-15; Matthew 23:24).
1. All have not received from the Lord a like number of pounds nor talents. He hath not given to all a like stock to trade with (Luke 19:14; Matthew 25:14).
2. Again, all are not alike deep in respect of actual transgressions. For albeit original sin be equally and alike extended unto all, it hath no degree nor parts in any child of Adam more than other: yet actual sins committed by us are of a thousand kinds, and every vice hath its latitude and degree. Some are bound up in folio, other some in quarto, others in octavo, and the sins of some other in a decimo sexto.
3. We have learned better, and accordingly we should examine of what kind our sins are, and how much our debt is; and as we find, let us put down in our account. To help us a little in this our search, take this for a general rule, the more directly any sin is done against God, the greater the sin is to be accounted of, and the more the debt. Thus the sin against the Holy Ghost is the greatest sin, because he who committeth that sin, sinneth of malice, purposely to despite the Spirit of grace. Hence it follows--
(1) The sins of the highest degree against the first table are greater than the sins of the highest degree against the second table.
(2) Those sins that are committed against the means which should keep us from sin are greater than other (Matthew 11:24). So sins against knowledge are greater than those that are committed out of simple ignorance (Luke 12:47; James 4:17). And as it is thus in the sins ofomission, so also in the sins of commission (Acts 3:17; 1 Timothy 1:13). Paul found mercy, because he did it ignorantly. So sins against the gospel are greater than those against the law, for that they are committed against more light. “This is the condemnation,” saith Christ, “that light is come into the world” (John 3:19). To commit sin in the clear light of the gospel is a reproach not much unlike that of Absolom. “He committed wickedness in the sight of the sun “
(3) Sins often committed are greater than those but once committed by us, for that here is an abusing of God s patience and forbearance (Romans 2:4-5; Jeremiah 5:6; 2 Peter 2:22). In arithmetic a figure, in the first place, stands for itself; in the second place, it stands for ten; and, in the third place, for a hundred, and so higher. (N. Rogers.)
No peace to the debtor
Augustus hearing that the goods of a merchant who died much in debt were set forth to sale, he sent to buy his pillow, saying that he thought it had some rare virtue in it to get one asleep, seeing he that owed so much could sleep on it so quietly. As for these who are so deep in arrearages with God, and in such danger by reason of their debt, and yet sleep securely, God keep me from their bed and pillow. That sleep of theirs is but Porkepose playing before a tempest. (N. Rogers.)
1. That the nature of sin stands not in the material part, but in the form, which is the transgression of the law.
2. Small sins, with their multitude and number, hurt the soul as much as great sins do with their weight.
3. Small sins serve to make way for greater. Huntsmen first ply the deer with their little beagles, till it be heated and blown, and then they put on their great buckhounds. Such use the devil makes of little sins. A long thread of iniquity he hath let in with a small needle, as we find in David’s case, and in Peter’s, &c. A great fire hath been kindled by a little spark; and a great blot made with a little hair hanging in the pen.
4. Small sins are cured with more difficulty than greater. A wound made with a stiletto is more dangerous than a wound made with Goliath’s sword; here the wound presently closeth up, and so bleeds inwardly in greater abundance.
5. Forget not what Christ suffered for small sins, even His precious blood Hebrews 9:7). Our great sins were as the spear in His side, and as the nails in His blessed hands and feet; and our small sins were as the thorns upon His head, they, though small, yet put Him to pain and grief. How dare we crown the Son of God (again) with thorns, and put Him by our small sins to an after suffering? (N. Rogers.)
I. IT IS AN UNSPEAKABLE MERCY TO HAVE OUR SINS FORGIVEN. This is the first desire and prayer of an awakened sinner, and a principal blessing in the covenant of grace.
II. IT IS THE SOLE PREROGATIVE OF GOD TO FORGIVE SIN. None can pass by an offence but the party offended, and none can discharge a debt but the person with whom it was contracted.
III. THOSE TO WHOM GOD FORGIVES SIN HAVE NOTHING TO PAY. The whole creation is become insolvent.
IV. THOSE WHOSE SINS ARE PARDONED ARE FIRST BROUGHT TO SEE THAT THEY HAVE NOTHING TO PAY.
V. THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS IS ALL OF GRACE.
VI. THE FORGIVENESS OF SIN TENDS TO GLORIFY GOD. Hence we may learn--
1. How much those wrong God who entertain hard thoughts of Him.
2. What gratitude and love is due to Him from those whose sins are pardoned! (B. Beddome, M. A.)
From the whole, we may observe these six things.
1. That sinners are in debt to God, as having violated His law, and so laid themselves open to the punishment threatened: “The wages of sin is death.”
2. Some have contracted greater guilt, and so are more in debt to God than others, as having laid themselves open to greater punishment; from the greater advantages they have enjoyed and abused, they have more to answer for and more to fear.
3. It is the common condition of sinners indebted to God that they have nothing to pay, nothing to satisfy Divine justice, or redeem themselves from deserved wrath.
4. God is able and ready to forgive the greatest debt and debtors, as well as the least; those that owe five hundred pence, as well as those that owe fifty.
5. Whom God forgives, He forgives freely; not excluding the satisfaction of Christ, but upon the account of it, which is so far from lessening the freeness of that grace that forgives us, that it greatly exalts it.
I. SOME WHO HAVE RUN FAR IN DEBT TO GOD HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN. Manasseh in the Old Testament, and Paul and Mary Magdalene.
1. Thus He magnifies His patience, and proves it Divine, the patience of God, and not of a creature, much less of a man. (1 Timothy 1:16.)
2. Some whose iniquities have abounded have been forgiven, for the greater exaltation of grace. Grace is thus exalted and glorified--
(1) In its fulness; that so where sin hath abounded grace may much more abound.
(2) Herein grace shines in its freeness: which, that it may be regarded, it is God’s method, before He makes the offer of pardon, to sum up what sinners have been and done (Isaiah 43:22-24).
II. WHAT THERE IS IN FORGIVING GRACE TO BE AN ARGUMENT FOR LOVE IN THOSE THAT RECEIVE IT. If blessedness be an argument for love, forgiveness has this belonging to it, and connected with it (Psalms 32:1-2). This is a comprehensive blessing, and the foundation of many others. They who have their sins forgiven, are freed from the greatest evil, the wrath of God, and eternal condemnation. Pardon of sin is a covenant-mercy, always connected with the favour of God, and a special relation to to Him. The pardon of sin will sweeten every other mercy, and render any outward burden or affliction tolerable. Sin imbitters, and adds a weight to any affliction; but pardon doth lighten and sweeten it. In a word, the sinner, pardoned in this world, shall have eternal life in the future.
III. How GOD’S GRACE, AS FREELY FORGIVING GREATER DEBTS, SHOULD LEAD THE FORGIVEN SOUL TO LOVE HIM THE MORE.
And here God’s rich grace, freely forgiving greater debts--
1. Tends to this, as it frees the soul from greater torment, to which its multiplied sins laid it open, especially those committed against light and grace.
2. God’s mercy, as forgiving greater debts, may free the soul from the more tormentful apprehensions it is under, even here, of the wrath to come, and so engage Him to love the more.
3. The greater and more astonishing grace abounding towards great sinners, and singling them out for mercy when others are left, is another ground of greater love.
1. Have such as have run deeply in debt to God been freely forgiven by Him? What reason have we, then, to believe Him when He declares Himself thus, “As I live, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live”!
2. How unreasonable are the hard and horrid thoughts whereby sinners, awakened to a sense of their vileness and guilt, are kept off from a forgiving God?
3. How disingenuous would it be for any to go on with the greater security and boldness in sin, because God is ready so freely to forgive the greatest debt?
4. For the greatest sinners to say, There is no hope in their case, is to say what they have no warrant for, from God or His Word.
5. Let such as have any good hope that their debts, how large soever, are forgiven, love much, yea, love the more, the larger their debts have been. If we are pardoned at all, it is a very great debt from which we are discharged. O let us labour after suitable affection, and show it.
(1) By reflecting upon sin with the greater shame and sorrow, hatred and abhorrence, as committed against so good a God.
(2) Having much forgiven, love God the more, and give Him the glory due unto His name. “Who is a God like unto Thee, who pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by transgression,” &c.
(3) Having much forgiven, let your love show itself greater by your growing esteem of Jesus Christ, whose blood was the price of your pardon, and though it is given you freely, cost Him His life. (D. Wilcox.)
He frankly forgave them both
There is one thing that is needful in all true religion--there is no religion without it--and that is love towards God.
It is quite true that some Christians love God more than others. Cannot you fancy what those two men went through? They would not each go through the same experience. There was a great difference between their cases. Take the first man. You can fancy his saying to himself: “ Well, it is a nasty thing, this little debt of mine; I wish I had not got so much behindhand; I do not quite know how I am going to clear it off, but I must try: perhaps my creditor will be content with a few instalments; if I pay him half a crown a week for such a time I shall begin to make a hole in the debt, and, ultimately, he may get it all: I must cast myself on his forbearance.” The other can indulge in no such hope. Let one of you--a poor, labouring man, earning fifteen or eighteen shillings a week--put himself in that man’s position. Just imagine yourself encumbered with a debt of a hundred pounds. How hopeless a thing it would seem to you; all your efforts to clear it off must fail; you might work almost to death, and yet the debt would be there still. We can fancy what took place in that man’s house as the reckoning day drew near. The debt laws in those countries, you know, were terribly severe. His feeling is one of hopelessness. The prison looms up in view; he will be sold, and all that he hath, his children will be torn from him; his little home will be broken up. How desolate the man feels! Try to make him happy if you can. Go and talk cheerfully to him. Tell him to have good hope, to keep up his courage, and that sort of thing. You cannot bring a smile to the man’s face; he looks as miserable as he can be. On his way he meets the other man, and he asks him what his business is. “Well,” says he, “I have got an awkward affair--not very serious, but still awkward; I have a nasty little debt that I cannot settle; I am sure I don’t know how the creditor will treat me; there are those fifty pence that I owe him; I know he has a right to exact them to the very last farthing, and I have ‘nothing to pay’; I do not know how he will deal with me.” “Well, what are you going to do?” “Oh, I am going to make a few proposals to him, and see if I cannot get him to take a few instalments, so that I may pay him off by degrees. What is your case, my poor fellow? You look very sad.” “Oh, mine is a far more serious case than yours.” At last the great man stands before them. “Well,” he says, “have you got your money?” They both hang down their heads. Turning to one he says, “Have you got your fifty pence?” “No, sir, I have not got it.” “Why have you not got it?” “Well, sir, the truth is, I have got no money--I am a bankrupt--I have nothing to pay.” Then, turning to the other, he says, “What have you got to say for yourself? Have you got your five hundred pence?” His head hangs down; tears come into the strong man’s eyes; his body quivers with emotion; he can hardly control himself. The next moment the mystery is solved. “He frankly forgave them both.” The one man rises to his feet, and says, “Sir, I thank you.” “The other drops on his knees, and buries his head in his hands. He cannot thank his benefactor, he is too much overpowered. The one man feels, “Well, he is very kind in his dealing with me.” The other feels,” He has saved me from ruin; I should have been utterly lost if this man had not acted such a generous part towards me.” The one man goes out of the house with a kind of respectful feeling towards his benefactor. The other goes away with the feeling that he has been bought over, so to speak, by the benefactor’s goodness: that all that he has, and all that he is, belongs to that man who has stretched out his hand of forgiveness, and done him so unexpected a favour. Now, my dear friends, among the many figures which bring before us some idea of our sin, there are very few more suggestive than this figure of debt. Now, is there any difference between us in this respect? Yes, doubtless, there are shades of difference. Some owe more than others. Some have been more prodigal in wasting the Master’s substance than others; but there are none of us who can say that they owe an inconsiderable debt. Friends, have you come to the point which these debtors reached? Have you discovered, that all your life, you have been heaping up debt, and that you have “nothing to pay?” What! will you tell me that these debtors did not know that they were forgiven? There are plenty of nominal Christians in our day who say, “Ah! but then we cannot know that we are forgiven; we may have a faint idea about it, but we cannot know it.” Did not these debtors know it? (W. HayAitken.)
The parable of the two debtors
This parable suggests a grave question, a question the answer to which branches out into many forms of practical truth. In the parable, the debtor who owes five hundred pence seems to have the advantage over the debtor who owes fifty. More is forgiven him, and he loves more; he is quit of the larger debt, and proves the better man. In the narrative, the Roman who is a sinner seems, in like manner, to have the advantage over the man who is a Pharisee--the harlot over the devotee. She is more open to the words of Christ, and, once forgiven, shows incomparably the warmer love. Now, if this parable and narrative stood alone, we might not care to raise the question, whether or not it is well to have sinned much--whether the greatest love springs from the most heinous transgressions, just as the fairest flowers and most fruitful trees spring from a plentifully manured soil? But they do not stand alone. The impression they make is deepened as we listen to other parables, as we turn to other narratives. (The two sons; the prodigal; the Pharisee and publican.) Is it, then, an advantage to have offended much, to have gone far and deep into sin? To suppose that to be the case is to utter a monstrous libel against God and man. Nevertheless the parables which seem to support this view subserve a most useful purpose; they contain truths which we are very apt to neglect, and suggest warnings of which we stand in constant need.
1. Observe that flagrant sinners are much more likely to discover that they are sinners than moralists and ritualists.
2. The much and the little of sin are for the most part measures of conscience, not of iniquity.
3. Christ does not teach us to run into sin, but to hate hypocrisy--the worst of sins.
4. Christ specially warns us against forming those hard judgments of our brethren, which of all men the “unco’ guid” are apt to form. (S. Cox, D. D.)
I. WE MUST FIRST BE SAVED IN THE SAME MANNER AS OTHERS.
1. All are in debt; we must heartily own this to be our case.
2. None have anything to pay; we must confess this, without reserve, as being our own personal condition.
3. The loving Lord forgives in each case; personally we have exceeding great need of such remission. We must feel this.
4. In each case He forgives frankly, or without any consideration or recompense; it must be so with us. We must accept free grace and undeserved favour.
5. Out of this arises love. By a sense of free grace we begin to love our Lord; and in the same way we go on to love Him more.
II. WE MUST AIM AT A DEEP SENSE OF SIN.
1. It was the consciousness of great indebtedness which created the great love in the penitent woman. Not her sin, but the consciousness of it, was the basis of her loving character.
2. Where sin has been open and loud, there ought to be this specially humbling consciousness; for it would be an evidence of untruthfulness if it were not manifest (1 Corinthians 15:9).
3. Yet is it frequently found in the most moral, and it abounds in saints of high degree (1 John 1:8).
4. It is to be cultivated.
III. THIS WILL LEAD TO A HIGHLY LOVING CARRIAGE TOWARDS OUR LORD.
1. We shall desire to be near Him, even at His feet.
2. We shall make bold confession, and shall do this at all risks.
3. We shall show deep humility, delighting even to wash His feet.
4. We shall exhibit thorough contrition, beholding Him with tears.
5. We shall render earnest service; doing all in our power for Jesus, as this woman did.
6. We shall make total consecration of all that we have; our tears, our choicest gifts, our hearts, ourselves. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The parable of the two debtors
I. THE INCIDENT WHICH OCCASIONED THE PARABLE.
1. The anointing.
2. The woman.
3. The manner in which the Jews sat at meat.
4. The woman’s conduct.
(1) Her deep humility.
(2) Her ardent affection.
(3) Her grateful sacrifice.
5. The presumption which led Simon to his surmisings respecting Christ.
II. THE PARABLE ITSELF.
1. That sins against God are justly denominated debts.
(1) Because they imply the withholding from God what is due to Him.
(2) Because they render us liable to be cast into the prison of hell.
2. That all mankind are debtors to God, but in different degrees.
3. That no debtor to God is capable of paying the debt he owes.
4. That the forgiveness of our sins, or debts, is of the utmost importance to us.
5. That a consciousness of our own insolvency must precede our pardon.
6. That forgiveness may be confidently expected, when sought in the way of God’s appointment.
III. OUR LORD’S APPLICATION OF THE PARABLE.
1. Just reproof wisely given. The evils reproved in the Pharisee were various and marked; including
(1) His unbelief in the Saviour’s mission.
(2) His self-esteem.
(3) His censoriousness.
(4) His want of respect for Christ.
2. Seasonable consolation graciously administered.
3. Divine instruction kindly suggested.
(1) That Christ is truly God. This is evident from His knowledge of Simon’s thoughts, and from the blessings He conferred.
(2) That forgiveness is certain to all true believers. (T. Gibson, M. A.)
The two debtors
I. MAN IS HERE REPRESENTED AS A DEBTOR. God as our Creator has an undoubted right to the universal obedience of His creatures. To Him we owe the consecration of every power and faculty, whether of mind or body. As moral Governor of the world, it is for Him to propound the rule of our duty; and accordingly He has given us a law, the transcript of His own Divine perfections, immutable in its demands, universal and perpetual in its obligations. But where is the individual who has kept it? There is none who has. Consider, each one, the vast number of your debts. They are too many to be told. God’s Book is full of them.
II. AMPLE PROVISION HAS BEEN MADE FOR THE FREE REMISSION OF THE UNTOLD DEBT. AS man is entirely ruined by sin, so he is entirely saved by the free grace of God. The debt is paid, justice is satisfied, God is glorified, and the sinner is saved. But by what mighty process has this been effected? God in the person of His Son appears as the Substitute for offenders. And it is a complete forgiveness, extending to the five hundred as well as to the fifty pence.
III. NOTICE ALSO THE GRATEFUL LOVE WHICH INVARIABLY FOLLOWS A SENSE OF PARDONING MERCY. DO not, however, imagine that the penitent women was forgiven because “she loved much.” Her love was not the procuring cause, but the effect, fruit, and evidence of the pardon she had received. Much had been forgiven her, therefore she loved her Saviour much in return. (James William, M. A.)
The two debtors
Our Lord’s immediate object in this parable was to defend the woman and justify His own allowance of her presence and expressions of affections. This defence and justification are accomplished when it is shown that the very familiarities which the Pharisee thought Jesus should have rebuked are the proof that the woman is forgiven, cleansed, and pure.
1. Christ points to the woman’s demonstrations of love to Him as proof that her sins are forgiven. His argument is, that she has been forgiven a debt, and therefore loves her creditor. It is Christ Himself she loves, and He therefore is the creditor who has forgiven her; but her debt was sin, transgression against God, and it is therefore God who is her true creditor. Christ thus identifies Himself with God, and in the simplest manner accepts love to Himself as if it were love to God, and as decisive evidence regarding the woman’s relation to the Highest. Love to Christ, therefore, is the measure and the pledge of purity.
2. Love to Christ is the result of forgiveness, and varies with the amount of debt forgiven. It is not, however, simply the amount of sin, but the sense of it, which is the measure of gratitude to Him who forgives it. (M. Dods, D. D.)
The two debtors
There are aggravated sinners who have no deep sense of sin, and there are great saints who regard themselves as the chief of sinners. The measure of one’s gratitude for forgiveness is the conception which he has of his sin. He who makes light of his sin will make light also of salvation. But he who has a profound conviction of the evil of sin as the abominable thing which God hates, will have an overwhelming sense of God’s love in granting him forgiveness. The deeper an apprehension of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the greater will be our love to Him who gives us deliverance from it. And where there is that sense of the hatefulness of sin, there will be no disposition to go deeper into it.
1. Let sinners of every name and degree be encouraged by this narrative to go at once to Christ. He will in no wise cast them out. “A bruised reed” was not deemed worthy of the shepherd’s trouble when he was piping in the field; and so he flung it away, and got another. “Smoking flax” gives an offensive odour; and rather than be annoyed with it, the housewife will take it out of the lamp, and tread upon it. But it was otherwise with Jesus. That which others would cast away, He sought to retain, and turn to good account. That which others would give up as hopeless, Be would not abandon.
2. If we would be successful in raising the fallen, and reclaiming the abandoned, we must be willing to “touch” them, and to be “touched” by them. In other words, we must come into warm, loving, personal contact with them. What an uplift Christ gave to the soul of this poor woman, when He, the pure and holy, let her thus approach Him! And this was His way all through His ministry. Contact is needed, if virtue is to go out. When the Lord wished to save the human race, He touched it by taking on Him our nature, without our nature’s pollution. So we must take the nature of the degraded, without its impurity, if we would help him. We must stoop to take him by the hand, or to let him grasp our hand, if we would lift him up.
3. If we wish to love God much, we must think much of what we owe to Him. Low views of sin lead to a light estimate of the blessing of pardon, and a light estimate of the blessing of pardon will lead to but a little love of God. This cuts deep, my brethren. Your love to God will be but the other side of your hatred of sin; and there, as it seems to me, is the radical defect in much of the religious experience of the day. Men make light of their obligation to Christ because they have first made light of sin. Low views of the evil of sin are at the root of all heresies in doctrine and all unholiness in life. Get rid of all such minimizing ideas of sin, I beseech you; and to that end come near the cross, for nowhere does sin seem so vile as it does there. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Bankrupt debtors discharged
I. First, let us think of THEIR BANKRUPTCY. This was their condition. They were unquestionably in debt. If they could have disputed the creditor’s claim, no doubt they would bare done so. If they could have pleaded that they were never indebted, or that they had already paid, no doubt they would have been glad to have done so; but they could not raise a question; their debt could not be denied. Another fact was also clear to them, namely, that they had nothing to pay with. No doubt they had made diligent search; they had turned out their pockets, their cash-boxes, and their lockers, and they had found nothing: they had looked for their household goods, but these had vanished piece by piece. Now there are certain temptations to which all bankrupt sinners are much subject. One of these is to try and forget their spiritual estate altogether. Another temptation to a man in this condition is to make as good a show as he can. A man who is very near bankruptcy is often noticed for the dash he cuts. There are some men of like manners; they have nothing that they can offer unto God, but yet they exhibit a glittering self-righteousness. Another temptation which lurks in the way of a bankrupt sinner is that of making promises of what he will do. And thus do sinners too. Another temptation is, always to ask for more time--as if this was all that was needed. Settle this business before you attend to anything else. Take care that you face it, like an honest man, and not as one who makes the best of a bad story. One thing more: it will be your wisdom give up all attempts to pay, because you have nothing to pay with.
II. Our second head is, THEIR FREE DISCHARGE. “He frankly forgave them both.”
1. In this free discharge I admire, first of all, the goodness of the great Creditor. What a gracious heart He had! What kindness He showed! He said, “Poor souls, you can never pay Me, but you need not be cast down because of it, for I freely cancel your debts.” Oh, the goodness of it; Oh, the largeness of the heart of God! I was reading of Caesar the other day. He had been at fierce war with Pompey, and at last he conquered him, and when he conquered him he found among the spoil Pompey’s private cabinet, in which were contained letters from the various noblemen and senators of Rome who had sided with him. In many a letter there was fatal evidence against the most eminent Romans, but what did Caesar do? He destroyed every document. He would have no knowledge of his enemies, for he freely forgave them and wished to know no more. In this Caesar proved that he was fit to govern the nation. But look at the splendour of God when He puts all our sins into one cabinet, and then destroys the whole.
2. Then, observe the freeness of it. They did not stand there and say, “ Oh, good sir, we cannot pay,” and plead and beg as for their lives; but He freely said to them, “You cannot pay, but I can forgive.”
3. Furthermore, this debt was fully discharged.
4. A very effectual forgiveness too.
5. An eternal discharge.
III. I now beg your very special attention to the last point, and that is THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THIS BANKRUPTCY AND THIS FREE DISCHARGE. It is said, “When they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both.” There is a time when pardon comes, and that time is when self-sufficiency goes. A sense of spiritual bankruptcy shows that a man has become thoughtful; and this is essential to salvation. Next, when we come to feel our bankruptcy, we then make an honest confession, and to that confession a promise is given--“he that confesseth his sin shall find mercy.” The two debtors had owned to their debts, and they had also openly confessed, though it must have gone against the grain a bit, that they could not pay. Under conviction a poor soul sees the reality of sin and of pardon. My dear hearer, you will never believe in the reality of forgiveness till you have felt the reality of sin. I do believe that the Lord will give us our quittance when we have got to our last farthing, and not till then, because only then do we look to the Lord Jesus Christ. Ah, my dear friends, as long as we have anything else to look to, we never will look to Christ. That blessed port into which no ship did ever run in a storm without finding a sure haven is shunned by all your gallant vessels: they will rather put into any port along the coast of self-deceit than make for the harbour which is marked out by the two lighthouses of free grace and dying love. We are emptied to be filled. When we cannot give, God can forgive. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Two ways of discharging a debt
A debt may be paid, or it may be pardoned. If it is paid, the debtor owes no thanks to his creditor. If it is pardoned, gratitude for the grace is a duty. A man under a burden of debt ought to know whether he can pay what he owes, or whether his only hope is of being forgiven. If he has anything to offer, he ought to proffer it. If he has nothing to offer, he ought to say so, and implore forgiveness as an unmerited favour. These two ways of wiping out a debt ought never to be confounded. In the one case, a man looks for a receipt; in the other for a pardon. It is the same in the moral world as in the material. A man can either meet and discharge his moral obligations, or he cannot. It is the one thing or the other. Apologies or excuses are not a payment. Yet how common it is for one who has nothing to pay with to thrust forward an excuse or an apology in place of a request for forgiveness. This is always evasive and unmanly. Instead of saying, “I forgot,” or “I didn’t mean to,” or “It was a mistake,” or “It was an accident,” we ought to come out frankly and unequivocally with the admission, “I was wrong. Forgive me”; or “I failed to do as I agreed to do. Forgive me”; or “I did not do as I was directed to. Forgive me.” Don’t let us shirk our duty of asking forgiveness when we have nothing to pay with. (H. Clay Trumbull.)
A generous creditor
One Reuben Rouzy, of Virginia, owed the general about one thousand pounds. While President of the United States, one of his agents brought an action for the money; judgment was obtained, and execution issued against the body of the defendant, who was taken to gaol. He had a considerable landed estate, but this kind of property cannot be sold in Virginia for debts, unless at the discretion of the person. He had a large family, and for the sake of his children preferred lying in gaol to selling his land. A friend hinted to him that probably General Washington did not know anything of the proceeding, and that it might be well to send him a petition, with a statement of the circumstance. He did so, and the very next post from Philadelphia after the arrival of his petition in that city brought him an order for his immediate release, together with a full discharge, and a severe reprimand to the agent for having acted in such a manner. Poor Rouzy was, in consequence, restored to his family, who never laid down their heads at night without presenting prayers to Heaven for their “beloved Washington.” Providence smiled upon the labours of the grateful family, and in a few years Rouzy enjoyed the exquisite pleasure of being able to lay the one thousand pounds, with the interest, at the feet of this truly great man. Washington reminded him that the debt was discharged; Rouzy replied, the debt of his family to the father of their country and preserver of their parent could never be discharged; and the general, to avoid the pressing importunity of the grateful Virginian, who would not be denied, accepted the money; only, however, to divide it among Rouzy’s children, which he immediately did. (Arvine.)
Released from debt
There is a story of a rich Eastern master whose most skilful artizan began to fall off in his work. The master spoke to his steward about it. The steward replied: “It is no wonder that the poor fellow cannot turn out good work. His hands tremble so that he cannot manage his tools; his eyes are so full of tears often that he cannot see what he is about. A heavy debt is pressing him, so that he even drinks to drown his sorrow. While that debt remains, you need not expect him to produce any more good work.” “Then,” replied the generous master “go and tell him that his debt is paid.” From that hour the artizan was a changed man. His tears were dried and he plied his tools with a happy heart; his work was done better than ever before.
When they had nothing, to pay
1. Had man any ability left, and were able to do something towards the payment of the debt due; yet if he cannot do all, how is the debt paid? Let but twelve pence be wanting in the payment of a £100, the bond, you know, is not discharged; let light gold be tendered, will it be accepted? Our best works are full of imperfections (Isaiah 64:6).
2. All the good a man can do, though he do more then ever any man did, is itself a due debt, and how shall that go for a discharge of former debts? One debt will not discharge another, nor the payment of this year’s rent discharge the last year’s forfeiture. (N. Rogers.)
We are not only debtors but bankrupts
1. A bankrupt makes great show of what he hath not; so doth a sinner Proverbs 13:7).
2. A bankrupt will be borrowing of every, one, but pay none to whom he is indebted; thus the sinner borrows of all. Of God, of man, of the creatures; but that love, duty, service, that is expected, he performs not. Promises, vows, bonds, all are broken (Romans 1:1-32.).
3. A bankrupt will take up at high rates, and put off at low; buy dear, but sell cheap; so doth the sinner. Ahab takes up land, Naboth’s vineyard; Achan, a wedge of gold; Gehazi, a bribe; Esau, Jacob’s pottage; Judas, thirty pence. All these took up their wares at dear rates, as do the sinners of these days. But one day will be forced to cry out with Lysimachus, “How great a kingdom for how small a pleasure have I lost l”
4. A bankrupt will be offering composition to his creditors; but it shall be very little, three or four shillings in the pound--it may be not so much. Thus deals the sinner; he will be offering a composition as Pharaoh did Exodus 8:25).
5. A bankrupt cannot be trusted of any one that knows him, no more a sinner; God will not trust him (Job 4:18-19); Christ will not trust him (John if. 24); nor will the godly, if they be wise (Jeremiah 9:14; Micah 7:2; Job 19:14-15). We may expect love and duty from them, but how can they pay who have nothing? (N. Rogers.)
Remission and forgiveness of sins is attainable
There is a possibility for a stoner to have his debts pardoned and remitted (Acts 3:19; Acts 10:43; Acts 26:18).
1. The sacrifices under the law prefigured as much (Hebrews 5:1-14.).
2. The grounds are two:
(1) Mercy in God, who “desireth not the death of a sinner” (Ezekiel 33:11). It is His name to be merciful; an attribute as infinite as Himself, it suits with His nature.
(2) Merit in Christ. By His sacrifice He satisfied God’s justice, and paid the debt of sin (1 Corinthians 15:9; Galatians 1:4; Ephesians 1:7; Col 1:14; 1 John 3:5; Hebrews 9:26). But whence is it that men are so careless in seeking after this one thing necessary?
Divers reasons may be rendered of this great neglect.
1. An erroneous judgment about the thing itself. Some think it is that which cannot be had, or if it be feasable, yet it is not so necessary as other blessings, which lies them more in hand to seek after. The error of which opinions what hath been said before, discovers.
2. This great neglect ariseth from want of due consideration of men’s present states, they spend no thoughts this way; like bankrupts, they love not to cast up their accounts.
3. This ariseth in some through a bold presumption of God’s mercy, conceiting that God will forgive us our sins, though we take no pains about it.
4. God in forgiving sin, fully forgives it, no part of the debt is reserved to be exacted of us. (N. Rogers.)
Pardon requires increased care for the future
And, to conclude, be careful that we lay up safe our discharge and pardon, having once obtained it. How careful men are to lock up a general discharge from some pecuniary debts, we know well enough; but no discharge to this, so lay it up, that you may not have it to seek in the hour of temptations and trial. Such times you must expect, and then your acquittance, sealed with Christ’s blood, will stand you in much stead. Our carelessness this way often causeth God to hide from us the comfort of it, to the end that we may seek it up and keep it better. Thus we lay some piece of plate aside for a while to teach a careless child or servant to be more careful of it after it is returned. And thus much of the fulness of God’s pardoning. Come we now to the freeness of it. He frankly forgave them both. Whence observe we--Remission is of free grace and mercy; whom God forgives He forgives gratis. The pope indeed sells pardons; God sells none--what God doth this way He doth freely. (N. Rogers.)
1. Forgiveness and pardon is general to all that cast themselves on God’s free mercy for it.
2. God forgiveth great debts as well as small, hundreds as well as tens.
3. He who owes least stands (as well) in need of mercy and forgiveness as he who owes most.
Which of them will love Him most
God is truly loved of all those whose sins are pardoned. This is a truth granted and unquestioned. If need were, it might be further strengthened from sundry other texts (Psalms 18:1; Psalms 18:1; Song of Solomon 3:5; Song of Solomon 3:5; Philippians 3:8-9; Psalms 119:132). How can it otherwise be? For every act of God’s special favour begets another in the heart of the godly like it. He choosing them, they choose Him again; He calls them, they call on Him; He loving them, they must needs again love Him. “We love Him,” saith St. John, “because He loved us first.” The cold stone cannot cast forth heat, as you know, till it be warmed by the sunbeams: being warmed by them, then it reflecteth back some of the heat which it received; thus is it with our cold hearts. (N. Rogers.)
I might use many arguments to put you on upon this pursuit. There is no duty hath more reasons to speak for it than this hath. I will name only two, which St. Bernard hath; the one is in respect of God, the other in regard of ourselves.
I. IN RESPECT OF GOD, and so nothing is more just and equal than that He should be loved of us.
1. This is that He doth require both in law and gospel (De Matthew 22:38). It is the first and great commandment, and that on which all other acceptable services are grounded.
2. This is that He doth deserve, for hath not He placed in us that affection of love? Is it not a stream of that living fountain who is love itself (1 John 4:8)? Now “he that plants a vineyard should drink of the wine thereof,” saith the apostle (1 Corinthians 9:7). And God who hath planted this affection in us, should chiefly taste of it Himself.
3. God hath manifested His love to us in giving His only beloved son for us John 3:16). He hath begun to us in the cup of love (1 John 4:10). Is it not fit that we should pledge Him? It is an elegant observation of St. Bernard upon the Canticles; of all the motions and affections of the soul, none is so reciprocal as love.
4. Besides, there is nothing in God but deserves love; “I will call upon God,” saith David, “who is worthy to be praised” (Psalms 18:3). So may we say truly, “I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be loved.” But if in case we set our love on any other object than the Lord, we become losers and not savers. By loving Him we are made better both in grace and glory. You know love assimilates the heart to the thing loved; so love of honour makes the heart proud; love of pleasure makes the heart vicious and loose, &c. And the love of God makes us to conform unto His image, and be like Him in holiness; thus we become better through our loving God in grace.
II. ALL THAT LOVE GOD DO NOT LOVE HIM WITH THE LIKE DEGREE OF LOVE. (N. Rogers.)
God seen in little love
They do not well to forget that Caesar’s image is not only seen in his coin of gold, but in his silver penny; and that this degree of love, though weak, is also the gift of God, and not to be despised Zechariah 4:10; 1 Corinthians 1:11; 1 Corinthians 3:1). He that made the elephant made the ant; the fly as well as the eagle; the poorest worm which creeps on the earth, as well as the most glorious angel, is the work of God’s hands, and He looks to be glorified in His least works as well as greatest. (N. Rogers.)
Small love not to be despised if it be growing
Give the humble daisy leave to grow, though it sprout not up to that height as doth the marigold. And let not him that joineth the frame despise him that heweth the timber or makes the pins; who so hath greatest degree of grace, let him use it to God’s glory, but no way despise his weak brother, who comes far short of his scantling. Let it serve for an encouragement to those whose hearts are newly warmed with the beams of love, though they find it not kindled to that height that others of God’s children have attained unto, It is not every one’s portion to attain to that height of passion, so as to be sick of love. God takes in good part a growing and increasing love which maybe attained.
1. By enlarging our communion with God both in public and private duties. Strangeness, you know, breeds an overliness with men; so with God. The nearer the fire, the greater the heat; speak often to God by prayer, hear Him again speaking unto you by His Word and Spirit.
2. By weaning our hearts more and more from this world. You know superfluous branches draw the sap from the top boughs, and the love of the world draws the love of God out of our hearts, as we find in Demas (2 Timothy 4:9).
3. Carefully observe and call to mind the many and sweet experiences you have of God’s love and favour. The more plentiful our apprehension is of God’s love to us, the more will our hearts be enlarged to love Him again. (N. Rogers.)
1. Inflamed or burning love will not be easily quenched; much water, many floods cannot do it (Song of Solomon 8:7). It is firm and invincible, so that neither force nor fraud, promises nor persecutions, height nor depth, things present nor things to come, shall be able to prevail against 2:2. Love inflamed is still ascending. It hath earnest and affectionate longings after God, and to enjoy Him.
3. Inflamed love gives great light. It is like a fired beacon on a hill, all the country take notice of it. Such cannot forbear but they must be speaking in God’s praise, and admiring everything that is in Him. “The tongue is the pen of a ready writer” (Song of Solomon 5:9). (N. Rogers.)
Simon, seest thou this woman?
Penitence worth seeing
Not only with the bodily eye, for with that he saw and mistook, but with consideration and observation. The deportment of a true penitent is worth our seeing; their carriage and conversation is worthy observation. (N. Rogers.)
Thou gavest Me no water for My feet: Ceremonies of courtesy
And, to reason from the less to the greater, if ritual observances are requisite for the full welcome of friends, think it not enough in entertaining your Saviour that you give Him the substance of good usage, neglecting the compliments. Simon, you see, here gave Him both meat and welcome, yet the neglect of washing, kissing, and anointing is not well taken. When we come to His house, and to His ordinances, as to the word, sacraments, prayer, we make Him good cheer, He esteems Himself then feasted; but if we perform not these things with the decency of outward carriage, we give Him neither water, kiss, nor oil. Believe it, our-best actions receive either life or bane from their circumstances; the substance or matter of a work may be good, and yet the work cannot be so called, unless it be done mode et forma. Velvet is good matter to make a garment, timber goad matter to build a house; and yet the one may be so marred in the cutting and the other in the framing, as that neither the one nor the other shall attain the name of good. What is good in the substance may be sin in the circumstance, and for want of care about the manner, the best work may be done thanklessly. (N. Rogers.)
She hath washed My feet with tears
There are two sorts of tears, as shows St. Austin. Some are commendable, others are discommendable.
1. Commendable tears are natural or spiritual. Natural tears, as Jeremiah 31:15. These discover natural affection, and being well bounded are not to be blamed (Luke 23:28).
2. Spiritual tears are either tears of passion and contrition, as Matthew 26:75, or of compassion and devotion, as Jeremiah 9:1-2; Luke 19:1-48. Tears culpable or discommendable are likewise of two sorts, temporal or infernal.
1. Temporal, are those shed in this life by wicked ones. And they are of two sorts, worldly or hypocritical.
(1) Worldly tears are those which are occasioned merely for worldly losses. Of these we read in Ezekiel 8:14; Hosea 7:14; Hebrews 12:1-29.
(2) Hypocritical tears are those which are produced from dissimulation and deceit. Of these we read in Jeremiah 41:5-6.
2. Infernal tears are those shed by the damned in hell (Luke 13:28; Matthew 24:51; Matthew 25:30). (N. Rogers.)
The smart of sin a good sign
And as it is in a diseased body or with some old sore, if in the dressing of the wound no pain be felt, we conclude the flesh is dead, but when the patient begins to complain of the pain and is sensible of the smart, then it is taken for a good sign that the cure is in a good forwardness. (N. Rogers.)
Is shedding of tears absolutely necessary in godly sorrow?
May not the heart be drowned, and yet the eyes dry? Tears are additions and necessary appendences of true repentance, but not always necessary and true tokens of it. Some have repented truly who have not wept, and some have wept bitterly who have not repented truly. All who shed tears are not straightway penitents; the hardest marble against some weather may weep. And how often do we see the dew to stand on the blasted corn or grass. There are eyeing waters spoken of by Jeremiah, as well as clouds without water, spoken of by St. Jude. It is an easy matter to give you instances Genesis 17:3-4; 1 Samuel 24:17; Malachi 2:13). Tears are deceitful things; nothing sooner dried up than a tear, and, therefore, not to be trusted too far. For a man may as well go to his grave’s end by water as by land. (N. Rogers.)
Tears few at first
In a deep or fresh wound in the body, there is not first that pain felt, nor so much blood seen, as is in a little cut of the finger, because the part is astonied for the time. So is it sometimes with the soul. The wine vessel, you know, without vent runs not though it be ready to burst. (N. Rogers.)
Tears have a voice with them, nay, they are not only vocal, but importunate. “What do you weeping, and breaking my heart?” saith St. Acts 21:13). You may remember how the tears of Moses, whilst he was floating in an ark of bulrushes on the water, prevailed with Pharaoh’s daughter. “The babe wept,” saith the text, “and she had compassion on him” (Exodus 2:6). (N. Rogers.)
To answer the greatness of our sin with the greatness of our sorrow
According to the proportion of the one, should the other be proportioned. Look how grievously we have sinned, so greatly should our sins be bewailed and lamented. A deep wound must have a large plaster, and our repentance, as showeth St. Cyprian, must not be less than our fault. (N. Rogers.)
Sorrow for sin must not be slight
Where sins are great, think it not enough that your sorrow be slight. If thy sins be small and little, thy sorrow may be the less, but if great, thy grief must be suitable. A garment that is deeply soiled cannot, without much rubbing and many layers, become clean. Where there is a deep pollution, and of a scarlet tincture, there must be not only ablutio, but balneatio, a soaking and bathing in the tears of contrition, as is required in Isaiah 1:16. But may not a man exceed in sorrow, may he not grieve over much? A man cannot exceed in the displeasure of his will against sin, yet he may in the testification of his displeasure by weeping and macerating of his body. Too much moistening chokes a plant, when moderate moistening quickens it. Too much rain gulls the earth, and standing waters on low grounds breed nothing but flags and rushes. So it is with our hearts when they prove standing pools. (N. Rogers.)
Sorrow for sin measured by duration
A torrent may run faster for the present than a continual current, but the current is to be preferred, and hath more water in it than the torrent. One keeps open house at Christmas, but all the year after the gates are shut; he hath taken up a city’s refuge. Another keeps a constant and full table all the year, though at that time he may not be compared with the other for abundance. Which of these two now would you count the best housekeeper? I suppose you will grant the latter. So is it here. (N. Rogers.)
Grace quickened by tears
By tears, likewise, grace is quickened. They are not like well water, springing out of the bowels of the earth, nor like rain, distilling from the clouds which clear the air, but they are as the dew of Hermon, which makes all herbs to flourish. Such as mourn for sin grow
up as the lily, and fasten themselves in grace like the trees of Lebanon. They are like the former and the latter rain, they make the heart fruitful in all good works, as you see here in Mary. It is a sovereign water, and will fetch the sinner again to the life of grace though never so far gone. As for glory hereafter (Psalms 126:5). Thus as the sun draws up vapours from the earth, not for itself, but to restore them back again; so cloth God our tears. But the bottle spoken of (Psalms 56:8), and the vial Revelation 5:8), are for the saints both. In them He preserves both their tears and prayers. Not a drop of their eye-water will He suffer to run in waste, He catcheth every tear before it comes to the ground; and till death close up those two fountains, Jor and Dan, flowing from Mount Lebanon, they shall never fail running, but then shall our souls be wafted in them from grace to glory, as they were first transported by them here from sin to grace. (N. Rogers.)
The city of waters taken by Satan
If, in case what hath been said of the good which our tears procure for us prevail not, then give me leave to add a word of the great danger which follows upon the neglect of them, and it shall be only by way of allusion to that we read (2 Samuel 12:27). Joab having taken the city of waters, he sent to David and willed him to come quickly to take the city itself, well knowing that it could not hold out, the city of waters being cut off before. Thus when Satan hath taken the eyes and cut off the pipes, can you think your soul can long hold out against his temptations? (N. Rogers.)
Wiped them with the hairs of her head
1. In true repentance there is a converting of those things which have been abused to the service of sin to the service of God.
2. That the best ornament of the body, in the judgment of a penitent, is not too good to be employed about the meanest piece of service which concerns Christ. (N. Rogers.)
Truth impressed by living examples
After all, there is no so forcible way of impressing truth as by a living example. The parable of the two debtors could but faintly show the power of forgiveness to win gratitude, in comparison with that vivid picture of the penitent, trusting, grateful woman, washing the feet of her Saviour with her tears, and wiping them with her dishevelled hair. And so it has been from the beginning. Would you realize the power of one person in tempting others to ruin? Seest thou this woman Eve, or this woman Jezebel? Would you realize the beauty of fidelity in friendship? Seest thou this woman Ruth? Would you realize the grandeur of moral heroism? Seest thou this woman Esther? ‘ Would you realize the holy influence of a mother’s love and faithfulness? Seest thou this woman Jochebed, or this woman Hannah, or this woman Eunice? Would you realize the power of unwavering faith? Seest thou this woman of Syro-Phoenicia? Would you realize the force and beauty of any trait of human character, or the preciousness of any truth which God would have his children to bear in mind? Seest thou this woman before you, who illustrates it as it could not be taught in any other way? That woman is your mother, your wife, your sister, your friend, your neighbour. Look at her glorious example, and thank God for the blessedness of His grace in a willing and trustful human heart. (H. Clay Trumbull.)
Seest thou this woman?
Simon had not seen the woman yet He had only seen the sinner. Look, then, on the woman at last, O Pharisee. Look upon her in the light of the parable you have just heard. Look on thyself, too, for as yet thou hast not seen thyself--the Pharisee hiding the man from thy incurious eyes. Thou poor blind Pharisee I if love be the proof of forgiveness, how much hast thou, loving so little, been forgiven? (S. Cox, D. D.)
My head with off thou didst not anoint
The use of hospitality
For such is our frailty that if we were not strengthened and refreshed with baits in the way our minds would grow dull and sluggish, and our bodies be tired out.
The heathen of old could say that the life of a man without some delight was like a long way without an inn, in which all is travel and toil, but no comfort or refreshing. The soul of such an one would be like a flower that grows always in the shade, which is nothing so sweet nor lovely as that which grows in the sight of the sun. (N. Rogers.)
“My head with oil thou didst not anoint.” Perfumes were associated with almost every action and event in the life of the ancients. The free use of them was peculiarly delightful and refreshing to the Orientals. A bouquet of fragrant flowers was carried in the hand; or rooms were fumigated with the odorous vapours of burning resins; or the body was anointed with oil mixed with the aromatic qualities of some plants extracted by boiling; or scents were worn about the person in gold or silver boxes, or in alabaster vials. When entertainments were given, the rooms were fumigated: and it was customary for a servant to attend every guest as he seated himself, to anoint his head, sprinkle his person with rosewater, or apply incense to his face and beard; and so entirely was the use of perfumes on such occasions in accordance with the customs of the people that the Saviour reproached Simon for the omission of this mark of attention, leaving it to be performed by a woman. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
Her sins, which are many, are forgiven
Incontinency of life is enough to give the denomination, and is a sin that is accompanied with many other sins besides itself.
A brood of sins are hatched out of this one egg. Instance we but in David’s case (we need go no further). The devil having prevailed with him in the sin of adultery, draws him on to other sins, whereby he might hide his wickedness from the world, so that they might not espy it. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
The greatest sin
I have read a story of a hermit that led a devout and solitary life. One day talking with the devil, he demanded of him which were the greatest sins; he answered him, Covetousness and lust. The other demanded again whether blasphemy and perjury were not greater. The reply of Satan was that in the schools of divinity they were the greater sins, but for the increase of his revenues, the other were far the greater. And therefore Bede styles lust, filiam diaboli, “the daughter of the devil,” which bringeth forth many children to him daily. Nor doth any one such special service to the devil as an harlot. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
That grievous sinners upon repentance shall find mercy
And for further proof, read 2 Chronicles 33:12; 1Co 6:11; 1 Timothy 1:12-13; Acts 2:38-39; Luke 15:20. Though then thou hast been an egregious sinner and led a vicious life, defiling thy soul with many sins, yet suffer not thyself through Satan’s malice to be plunged into the pit of despair; thou hast provoked God’s justice grievously heretofore by thy presumption, wrong not His mercy through desperation. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
For she loved much
A note of inference
But are they ignorant of this; the “for” is often times a note of inference or consequence, and as well an argument of the effect from the cause, as of the cause from the effect. We say it is springtime. Why so? “For,” or “because” the fig-tree puts forth and buds. The putting forth of the fig-tree argues the spring-time, but the budding and putting forth of the fig-tree is not the cause of spring-time. I say this child is alive, because it cries; or this man lives, because he moves; will any so understand me as if I meant the crying of the one and the moving of the
other is the cause of life and motion in the one or in the other? Our Saviour Himself useth this kind of arguing, as we find: “I have called you friends, for all things I have heard of My Father, I have made known unto you” John 15:15), where declaring of those things to them is the effect not cause of His love. And that our Saviour here reasoneth from the effect to the cause is evident enough from the whole discourse. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
Love as a cause
A proof (a posteriori)
from the effect is a strong proof, and very demonstrative. Thus the truth of our faith is to be proved James 2:18). And of repentance (2 Corinthians 7:11). And of charity (1 John 3:14). And so St. James proves wisdom from above by the effects (James 3:17). Still Scripture puts us upon the trial of our graces, by these kind of proofs. Grace is invisible in its nature, it cannot be seen in habitu. Therefore, as God was seen to Moses, so is grace to men, by its back parts; and as the wind, which no man can see in its proper essence, by the full sails of the ship is perceived which way it stands. Let this be a direction to us in our examination and trial of ourselves. Would I know if the sun shines? there is no climbing up to the sky to be resolved, nor examining what matter it is made of; I look upon the beams shining on the earth, I perceive it is up and shines by the light and heat it gives. Would I know if God hath elected me to life and to salvation? There is no climbing up into heaven to know His decrees and hidden counsel (as too many would most audaciously) but study well the marks of it from the effects. The head of Nilus cannot be found, but the sweet springs issuing from thence arc well known. No surer way to the sea, than by taking a river by the hand. Our vocation and sanctification will carry us to election Romans 8:30; 2 Peter 1:5-10). These are the means whereby our election and salvation is made certain, not the efficient causes whereby it comes to be decreed. The sun, not the shadow, makes the day, yet we know not how the day goes by the sun, but by the shadow. In a word, as the planets are known by their influence, the diamond by his lustre, and the soul by her vital operations, so grace is more sensibly known to us by the effects thereof. Secondly, we observe from hence, that a true and unfeigned love of Christ is a sure sign that our sins are remitted. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
Love hard to simulate
This grace can the hardiest be counterfeited of any other grace. There is scarce anything else that we can instance in, saith one, but a hypocrite may go cheek by jowl with a good Christian. He may do all outward services, he may abstain from sin, a great change may be wrought in him; we know how far the third ground went (Matthew 13:1-58.) And those (Hebrews 6:1-20.) But this they cannot counterfeit to love the Lord. A hypocrite may hear the Word, pray, give alms, but to do these out of love, that is a thing which no hypocrite is able to reach unto. Secondly, though saving graces have their counterfeits, yet a man may be assured by the Word that he hath this and other graces in him in sincerity, so as that he cannot be deceived in them. For as God gave Moses in the Mount a pattern, according to which He would have all things made in the Tabernacle (Hebrews 8:5), so that when he viewed the work and saw all was done according to that pattern, He was sure He had done right, and blessed them, as we read (Exodus 39:43). So hath God given us a pattern in His Word, according to which He would have everything in His spiritual tabernacle (as faith, repentance, love, obedience, &c.) to be wrought. And if a man can find that the grace he hath be according to the pattern, as (if he take pains with himself to view the work, as Moses did) he may, then he may be sure it is right, and shall have cause of rejoicing, as the apostle saith (Galatians 6:4). Thirdly, Learn hence a notable way to establish our hearts in the assurance of the pardon of sin. Thou needest not climb up into heaven to search God’s books, whether they be crossed or no, there to behold the face of God whether He smile or frown; but dive into thine own soul, and there find out what love thou bearest to thy Maker and blessed Saviour; if thou findest that thou lovest Him unfeignedly, that is, that thou lovest Him more than these, lovest Him for Himself, for those beauties and excellencies that are in Him. It is the greatest comfort that thou canst have in this life, for that thou mayest rest assured hereupon that God is reconciled to thee, and that thy sins (be they never so great or many) are forgiven thee. Finding this in thee, thou mayest be sure, and never till then canst thou be assured of it. For, we may easier carry coals in our bosom without burning, than by faith apprehend truly this love of God in the pardoning of sin without finding our hearts burn in love to Him answerably. Only see that our love be rightly qualified, that it hath these requisites which God’s Word speaks of, that it be with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our might (Deuteronomy 6:5; Mark 10:30.) In the fourth place we do observe, That loving much argues much mercy received from the beloved party. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
Love and forgiveness
This story contains three figures, who may stand for us as the types of the Divine love and of all its operation in the world, of the way in which it is received or rejected, and of the consequences of its reception or rejection. There is the unloving, cleanly, respectable, self-complacent Pharisee, with all his contempt for “this woman.” There is the woman, with gross sin and mighty penitence, the great burst of love that is flowing out of her heart sweeping before it, as it were, all the guilt of her transgressions. And, high over all, brooding over all, loving each, knowing each, pitying each; willing to save and be the Friend and Brother of each, is the embodied and manifested Divine love, the knowledge of whom is love in our hearts, and “life eternal.”
I. CHRIST HERE STANDS AS A MANIFESTATION OF THE DIVINE LOVE COMING FORTH AMONGST SINNERS.
1. He, as bringing to us the love of God, shows it to us, as not at all dependent upon our merits or deserts. “He frankly forgave them both.”
2. He tells us, too, that whilst that love is not caused by us, but comes from the nature of God, it is not turned away by our sins. Christ’s knowledge of the woman as a sinner; what did it do to His love for her? It made that love gentle and tender, as knowing that she could not bear the revelation of the blaze of His purity. “Daughter, I know all about it--all thy wanderings and thy vile transgressions: I know them all, and My love is mightier than all these. They may be as the great sea, but My love is like the everlasting mountains whose roots go down beneath the ocean; and My love is like the everlasting heaven, whose brightness covers it all over.”
3. Christ teaches us here that this Divine love, when it comes forth among sinners, necessarily manifests itself first in the form of forgiveness. There was nothing to be done with the debtors until the debt was wiped out.
4. We see here the love of God, last of all, demanding service.
II. THIS WOMAN--THE PENITENT LOVINGLY RECOGNIZING THE DIVINE LOVE. Great blunders have been built on the words of our text. I daresay you have often seen epitaphs written on gravestones, with this misplaced idea on them, “Very sinful; but there was a great deal of love in the person; and for the sake of the love, God passed by the sin!” Now, when Christ says, “she loved much,” He does not mean to say that her love was the cause of her forgiveness--not at all. He means to say that her love was the proof of her forgiveness. As for instance, we might say, “The woman is in great distress, for she weeps;” but we do not mean thereby that the weeping is the reason of the distress, but the means of our knowing the sorrow. The love does not go before the forgiveness, but the forgiveness before the love. That this is the true interpretation you will see, if you look back for a moment at the narrative which precedes: “He frankly forgave them both: tell me, therefore, which of them will love Him most?”
1. Then all true love to God is preceded in the heart by these two things--a sense of sin, and an assurance of pardon.
2. Love precedes all acceptable and faithful service. If you want to do, love. If you want to know, love.
III. A third character stands here--THE UNLOVING AND SELF-RIGHTEOUS MAN, ALL IGNORANT OF THE LOVE OF CHRIST. Simon is the antithesis of the woman and her character. What was it that made this man’s morality a piece of dead nothingness. What was it that made his orthodoxy just so many dry words, from out of which all the life had gone? This one thing: there was no love in it. And, love is the foundation of all obedience. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The text teaches--
I. THAT SIN IS PARDONABLE. A very elementary truth, yet a very important one. The obstacle to forgiveness.
1. Not in God.
2. Not in nature.
3. Not in the sinner, if he repents.
II. MUCH SIN CAN BE REPENTED OF AND THEREFORE FORGIVEN. “Her sins, which are many.”
III. A GREAT SINNER CAN BE A GREAT SAINT. Bunyan, in his sermon on “The Jerusalem sinner saved,” explaining the reasons why Jesus would have mercy offered in the first place to the biggest sinners, remarks, “If Christ loves to be loved a little, He loves to be loved much; but there is not any that are capable of loving much, save those that have much forgiven them.” Having cited Paul as an instance, he adds the quaint reflection, “I wonder how far a man might go among the converted sinners of the smaller size before he could find one that so much as looked anything this wayward.” Then coming to the scene in Simon’s house, the moral lesson it suggests is thus put: “Alas! Christ has but little thanks for the saving of little sinners, he gets not water for His feet by the saving of such sinners. There are abundance of dry-eyed Christians in the world, and abundance of dry-eyed duties too--duties that were never wetted with the tears of contrition and repentance, nor even sweetened with the great sinner’s box of ointment.” (A. B. Bruce, D. D.)
THE WOMAN THAT WAS A SINNER.
Simon, her kisses will not soil;
Her tears are pure as rain;
Eye not her hair’s untwisted coil,
Baptized in pardoning pain.
For God hath pardoned all her much,
Her iron bands have burst;
Her love could never have been such
Had not His love been first.
But oh! rejoice ye sisters pure,
Who hardly know her case;
There is no sin but has its cure,
Its all-consuming grace.
He did not leave her soul in hell,
‘Mong shards the silver dove,
But raised her pure that she might tell
Her sisters how to love.
She gave Him all your best love can.
Was He despised and sad?
Yes; and yet never mighty man
Such perfect homage had.
Jesus, by whose forgiveness sweet
Her love grew so intense,
We, sinners all, come round Thy feet--
Lord, make no difference.
The value of deep feelings
You will observe the very striking instance here of the difference between natural feeling and conventional feeling. There are many persons who would not desecrate, by wearing the hat, any cathedral or church, but who are not troubled by sin in their own souls--by pride, malice, envy or uncharitableness. This woman was heart broken in the presence of the Saviour, the contrast of whose purity and truth threw such a light of revelation upon her own past life; but in all her feelings, so strikingly manifested, the Pharisee saw nothing.
1. In the beginning it must not be supposed that love is to be derived only from a sense of benefit conferred, and that the conscious benefit of forgiven sin is the true fountain of the highest love. For love will be in proportion to the strength of the love-principle in the subject of it. We do not love God merely on account of what He has done for us. We begin to love God by a perception of His great mercy to us. It then goes higher, and widens and purifies itself.
2. Nor must we reason falsely upon the implications of this passage. For we might say, “If love is to be in proportion to the forgiveness of sins, then men should sin freely in order that they may love greatly.” Paul had precisely the same ease presented to his mind by an objector. He had been urging that God’s grace was in proportion to a man’s sin; and the objector said, “Must we, then, go on and sin that grace may abound?” “No, God forbid!” said the apostle. “That would be contrary to the very nature of love. It is impossible for a man who loves to go on sinning for the sake of loving more, or for the sake of winning more grace. The two ideas are practically incompatible with each other.” Nor are we to say, “As I have not been a great sinner, I am not bound to love much.”
3. But not to speak longer upon these possible perversions of this truth here, I proceed further to say that it is a truth which opens for consideration the question of the value of great feelings, deep feelings--especially a profound experience of personal sinfulness incident to a Christian life. There is a powerful effect wrought upon a man’s moral nature by the mental experience through which he goes. If a man has had such a struggle with himself that he is profoundly impressed with the might of evil in him; if there has been in his experience a revelation of the destructive tendencies of sin; all this experience would tend to produce, most vividly and most powerfully, a sense of God’s grace. His sense of the gift is to be measured by this experience. No man that has a low conception of sin will ever have a very high conception of grace. God’s rescue will seem great in proportion to your conscious peril. How much has been forgiven you will be determined by how much you consciously have been in debt. As a practical matter, almost all men know that eminent experiences have grown out of profound convictions of sin, and come up to this point of conviction of sin, and stopped there. It may be that you have not enough conviction of sin; you have enough to begin a life of reformation with. Then what will happen? In proportion as a man goes toward that which is right, his conscience becomes firm, his moral sense becomes stronger, and conviction of sin, like every other Christian experience, will develop and grow. Let the sense of sin grow as you grow. A profound experience of unworth will open more and more upon you as you go on in the Divine life. The magnitude of the debt that has been forgiven you, will constitute a growing practical Christian experience. You are like a child that wants to read a book, but will not learn his letters because he does not want to touch a book till he can go off all at once. You must learn your letters before you can read. The experience of every trait, of every element of Christian life, is an experience that begins small and waxes larger, and by and by becomes like a branch of a tree in full top. And that which is true of every other feeling is true of this one--namely, conviction of sin. If, then, you have enough feeling to condemn you, you have enough for yeast.
4. Very wicked men ought to become very eminent and active Christians. Usually, men who have been very wicked, are men who have very strong natures. Men who have been dissipated, arc men who have had very strong passions and appetites. Usually a wicked man is a man of power and audacity, if he is very wicked; but where there is great power to do wrong, there is great power to react from wrong; and if a man has been going away from God with vigour, that same vigour should supply him with the elements by which to return. It is pitiful to see a man fruitful, energetic, from day to day, and constantly diversifying his experience in wickedness, but sterile, and close, and formal, and proper when he becomes a Christian. Bad men also are usually acquainted with human life. They know the dispositions of their fellow-men; and whatever knowledge there is of bad men they have. And such men are bound to consecrate their knowledge, and to bring it into the service of the Lord Jesus Christ, who has forgiven them, and renewed their life, if they are born again. If a man has been a gambler, and is converted from his wicked way, that ought to be a sphere in which he feels peculiarly called to labour. There is also a sense of Divine goodness that ought to go with eases of conversions of bad men, and that ought to be specially affecting and influential. I see a great many persons who try to serve God softly. The devil puts excuses into their mouths like these: “I ought not to meddle with sacred things. I ought not to put on airs in religion, or give people reason to suppose that I do.” And under these guises they do but little, and very soon wither and go back to their old state. If, therefore, within the hearing of my voice, there are those who are thinking about a Christian life, I open the door of the church to you--but on this condition; come in with all your might! If you have been a swearing man, your lips must not be dumb now in the praise of that God whom you have been blaspheming all your life. If you were sick, and your case had been given over by all the physicians, and a stranger should come to your town, and should examine into your difficulty, and should say, “It is a struggle with death itself, but I am in possession of knowledge by which I think I can heal you;” and he should never leave you day nor night, but should cling to you through weeks and weeks, and at last raise you to health, would it not be contemptibly mean if you should be ashamed to acknowledge him to be your physician, and testify to what he had done for you? If I was that physician, would I not have a right to have my name and my skill made known by you?
5. Men who have sinned, not by their passions but by their higher faculties, if they would be true Christians, must have just the same spiritual momentum--though for different reasons--as those that have sinned by their lower faculties.
6. Let every man who is going to begin a Christian life pursue the same course that she pursued whose name has been made memorable, and whose soul this day chants before her Beloved in heaven--or she is one of those of whom Christ says, “The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you,” Pharisees. (H. W. Beecher.)
Much love the fruit of abundant pardon
Learn from the mistake of the Pharisee to be very careful in the formation of your opinions of others, and especially in the expression of your judgment. Great changes may take place in persons, which changes do not come to your ears.
I. THE FIRST OF THESE LESSONS IS, THAT GRATITUDE IN A LIVING HEART RISES WITH THE OCCASION. YOU know that gratitude is a joyous sense of obligation. I lay great stress upon that word “joyous.” There may be a sense of obligation without thankfulness-there may be a sense of obligation associated with hatred, and malice, and revenge. There are men who are excited to indignation by obligations which they cannot cast off. Gratitude is a joyous sense of obligation to another, accompanied by a desire to confess that obligation. If this sense be absent, and if the consciousness be painful, and if a man shrink from the utterance of acknowledgment of the obligation, gratitude is not in his heart. Now, as the mercury in the barometer rises with the lightness of the atmosphere, and in the thermometer with the heat of the atmosphere, so gratitude in a true heart swells with the extent of the obligation. Christ says of this woman, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.” Thankfulness in this poor woman’s soul had reached a very high point; that is, it responded to the demand made upon it. Gratitude in a living heart will not be stationary. As the clouds of guilt and sorrow are blotted out from the firmament of the man’s heart, and from the firmament of the man’s prospects, thankfulness will rise. Gratitude cannot be the same in two individuals of equal spiritual sensitiveness, but of different conditions. “She loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.” The difference in the condition, the heart being alive, produces the difference in the thankfulness. As a trunk-line receives traffic from its branch-lines, or as the principal stream through a valley receives accession by tributary streams, so thankfulness is deep or shallow, wide or narrow, in proportion to the circumstances which call it forth. The highest occasion of thankfulness is large pardon from God--pardon dispensed by God abundantly. Sin admits of degree. Transgressions may be many or few, and they are marked by degrees of aggravation. Observe, too, the manner in which God dispenses forgiveness. He pardons freely, without money, and without price; readily, without the vain repetition of continued entreaty--abundantly, making the scarlet, snow, and the crimson, wool. Now, until a guilty man is forgiven by his God, none of the gifts of the Father of Mercies partake thoroughly of the nature of blessing. He has health, and strength, and life; but these are only adding distance to his wanderings from God. Strong gratitude, brethren, is very free in its utterance. It is not restricted to place. The man who is really thankful cannot expend his emotions in the sacredness of retirement only. Yet the thankful heart is not dependent upon the excitement of the multitude. Still, gratitude is not restricted to time, or to mode. It finds regular seasons for utterance--in the morning and evening, and at noonday. It will lisp like an infant; it can chant like a seraph. It will utter itself in a sigh or in a song, in a tear or in an alabaster, in a look or in a course of service. Look at a third fact. Gratitude breaks the laws of propriety which a formalist would recognize. It puts its hand on the best and it offers the best. Now, how ought the gratitude of a forgiven man to be expressed? Honour the Saviour’s person in the persons of His disciples. (S. Martin.)
She loved much: she had much forgiven
In treating this subject more fully I shall try to analyze--
I. The secret springs of the poor sinner’s conduct.
II. The nature of the action, which was viewed so diversely by the Pharisees and the Lord.
I. THE STRINGS OF THE WOMAN’S CONDUCT. The woman was “a sinner.” Into the precise form or extent of her transgression there is no need to pry. The word was very significant; a “lost woman” would be its equivalent now. The sin was one which filled her whole consciousness. The springs of her action, perhaps, lie here.
1. In her desperate self-abandonment the Lord had lit one ray of hope within her spirit. “Come unto Me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” What sin-crushed spirit would not leap to hear such words from such Divine lips? Despair is the devil’s own instrument. The first step in the reformation of the most abandoned profligates is to get them to care for themselves--to think themselves worth the care. Doubtless, this poor sinner had long loathed her vocation. Doubtless, the burning blush of shame had often stained her cheek, and tears, tears that had a tinge of blood in them, had often dimmed her eye, when she remembered that she had lost her womanhood, lost her soul, lost her life, for ever. Surely, too, the thought of reformation had often visited her. But the “Where shall I go, what shall I do?” as often checked her. “Who in this universe cares for a woman that is a sinner?”
2. The Lord had quickened within her numbed and withered heart the pulses of a blessed and purifying love. Love is the strong redeemer of pollution. How hard and how long will even a human love struggle against the pollution of a sensual life. The devil has not fairly secured his victim until the very embers of love are extinguished in the hearth-fire of the heart. Jesus made her a woman again. The tendrils of love, torn from their pristine hold, all tangled and rotting on the damp earth whereon she grovelled, began to tingle and thrill again. Heaven seemed to open above her and beam its benediction.
II. And now LET US TURN OUR THOUGHTS TO THE NATURE OF THE ACTION, AND ANALYZE THE OPPOSING JUDGMENTS WHICH WERE PASSED ON IT BY THE DISCIPLES AND THE LORD, Worldly wisdom would probably find a double objection to this transaction.
1. It was shameful that a woman, who was a sinner, should approach a prophet; and--
2. The gift was lavish and wasteful, and might, have been put to better use.
And Jesus seems to me to say by His answers--
1. That love--such love- must be left to its native affinities. Its elections are absolute, its decisions are supreme.
2. The Lord said that there are gifts which a love like hers alone can justify. “She loved much,” He pleaded, in answer to the glances which condemned the occasion as a scandal, and the gift as a waste. There are gifts which are simply the utterance of the heart of the giver, outlets of surcharged feeling, expressions of thoughts too deep for words, for tears. Let the cold and cautious stand aside while such are passing, nor stay the flight of these angels on the wing. The heart’s first duty is to find itself expression. She loved much; she spent her living in telling how much she loved. Simon, there is malignant devil in that cautious calculation. Moreover, love like hers is not so uncalculating, though it disdains Pharisaic measures. The woman gave her living, but she won her soul. The ointment was lost, and the money which bought it, but her soul was for ever rid of its burden, and was braced for conflict and heavenly work. Love, though profuse in gifts, clears the intellect, kindles the spirit, stirs the courage, and nerves the hands.
3. The Saviour says that love like hers may well seek strange and profuse expressions, for it is the parent of a glory and blessedness which transcends all utterance and thought. Love is life. The woman who was a sinner, loving much, grew more swiftly and strongly to saintly perfectness, than Simon the just Pharisee measuring and obeying. Love, like electric fire, leaps swiftly to its object. Justness, the quiet sense of duty, the careful measuring of obligations, travels slowly, though wisely and surely, along the road. (Read Luke 7:47-50.) (J. B. Brown, B. A.)
Thy sins are forgiven
Assurance of forgiveness
It is not enough that our sins are pardoned in heaven, but we are to endeavour and seek after the particular assurance of the pardon of them to our own consciences for our further comfort.
Unknown things are not desired. How, then, can they be rejoiced in? Say a man be in prison for treason fast bound, and that a pardon is granted to him, yet, till he knows thereof, he can rejoice no more in that his happiness than if he were to be executed the next day. (N. Rogers.)
This serves to stir us up earnestly to seek after particular assurance of the remission of sins, as we desire true comfort to our souls. Let a man know never so much of God and of Christ His Son, yet the general apprehension of these things will but add a kind of vexation to his spirit, till he have assurance of some special interest he hath in God’s mercies. What a torment is it for a hunger-starved beggar to pass by a wedding-house, and smell good cheer, yet (Tantalus like) never taste of it? What a vexation to a poor man to see a great dole given, and multitudes relieved by it, yet he get nothing? So is it certainly in this case; the more any man knoweth of Christ, and of the plenteous redemption that is by Him purchased through His blood, the greater must the horror of his soul be when he findeth that he hath no part therein. (N. Rogers.)
The blessing of forgiveness
The text may suggest to us four subjects or heads of consideration.
1. The forgiveness of sin.
2. The forgiver of sin.
3. The means of forgiveness.
4. The blessed effect in the heart of man--“Go in peace.” (J. Slade, M. A.)
Pardon available for the greatest sinner
When the last war had passed, the Government of the United States made proclamation of pardon to the common soldiery in the Confederate army, but not to the chief soldiers. The gospel of Christ does not act in that way. It says pardon for all, but especially for the chief of sinners. I do not now think of a single passage that says a small sinner may be saved; but I do think of passages that say a great sinner may be saved. If there be sins only faintly hued, just a little tinged, so faintly coloured you can hardly see them, there is no special pardon promised in the Bible for those sins; but if they be glaring--red like crimson--then they shall be as snow. Now, my brethren, I do not state this to put a premium on great iniquity. I merely say this to encourage that man in this house who feels he is so far gone from God that there is no mercy for him. I want to tell him there is a good chance. (Dr. Talmage.)
Began to say within themselves
Care to be exercised in our judgment of others
This should teach us to take heed how we pass sentence upon the inward intentions and purposes of men.
This power is God’s, and belongs to Him; what have we to do to usurp it? It is a well too deep for us to draw in. And yet, such is the presumption of some, that they will take upon them infallibly to know what is in the bottom of that well, whence ariseth jealousies and contentions, many times as causeless as pernicious. Indeed, by some discoveries there may be some conjectures; but let not a small conjecture make thee a great offender. Every key a man meets with is not the right one for this lock; every likelihood thou apprehendest is not a sure sign of what is within the breast. Not to let a man be private in his house is a great injury; not to let a man be private in his heart is a greater. Lastly, let us be persuaded hence to be as upright before the Lord in thought as we are just in dealing before men. It is not the white fleece God especially eyes, but the sound liver. He hath windows into the soul, and there sees that hypocrisy which lies lurking there. He is very list of hearing, and well understandeth what the heart thinketh, and (as before was showed) will answer us accordingly, (N. Rogers.)
Thy faith hath saved thee
It is not every faith that saves the soul.
There may be faith in a falsehood which leads only to delusion, and ends in destruction. There is a faith that saves; it puts us into immediate and vital and permanent union with the Son of God. What was the nature of this woman’s faith? Was it merely an intellectual opinion, a clear conviction that this wonderful man of Nazareth was a strong and sympathetic character whom she could trust? Yes, it was that, and a great deal more. It was a transaction by which she approached Christ humbly, embraced His very feet, acknowledged her sinfulness, and relied on Him to do for her some great spiritual good. The woman was really saved through her faith. Jesus Christ Himself did the saving work. When I turn the faucet in my house, it is not the faucet or the water-pipe that fills my empty pitcher. I simply put my pitcher in actual connection with the inexhaustible reservoir which is at the other end of the pipe. When I exercise faith in a crucified Saviour, I put my guilty self into connection with His Divine self, my utter emptiness into connection with His infinite fulness. This is the faith which the apostles preached, and which you and I must practise. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. Not in Christianity, but on Christ. Not enough to believe in the Christ described in the New Testament. Millions of unconverted people do this, just as they believe in Wilberforce as a noble philanthropist, or in Lincoln as an unselfish patriot. When the miner looks at the rope which is to lower him into the deep mine, he may coolly say to himself, “I have faith in that rope. It looks well made and strong.” That is his opinion; but when he grasps it, and swings down by it into the dark yawning chasm, then he is believing on the rope, This is more than opinion, it is a voluntary transaction. Faith is the cling to the rope, but it is the rope itself that supports the miner.
I. FAITH IS A VERY SIMPLE PROCESS. The most vital of all acts is as easily comprehended as a baby comprehends the idea of drawing nourishment from a mother’s breast, and falling asleep in a mother’s arms.
II. FAITH IS A SENSIBLE ACT. The highest exercise of reason is to trust what the Almighty has said, and to rely on what He has promised.
III. FAITH IS A STOOPING GRACE. Self must go down before we can be lifted up into Christ’s favour and likeness.
IV. FAITH IS THE STRENGTHENING GRACE. Through this channel flows in the power from on high.
V. Finally, IT IS THE GRACE WHICH COMPLETELY SATISFIES. When a hungry soul has found this food, the aching void is filled. (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)
The prominence of faith in the thoughts of Christ
This was only to be expected in one who preached a gospel of grace. Grace and faith are correlatives. A gospel of grace is a gospel which proclaims a God whose nature it is to give. The proper attitude of those who worship such a God to the object of their worship is that of recipiency. (A. B. Bruce, D. D.)
To hold a correct dogmatic definition of “saving faith” has been considered the most important criterion of a standing or falling Church. Yet I defy anybody to put into dogmatic shape this woman’s “saving faith.” It put itself into shape, but it was the shape of feeling and of action; of love which braved all to express itself in outward acts of reverence and affection; of sorrow which found more joy in bitter weeping than ever in laughter and in song; of personal devotion which recked nothing of any one else’s opinion, if only it might gain one kind word from Him. Whoever they they need not fear but that theirs is “saving faith.” (R. Winterbotham, M. A.)
The work of faith and love in salvation
It is surprising to think that the conclusion of this affecting incident should have been made the battle-field on which controversialists should have contended, whether this woman was saved by faith alone, “Thy faith hath saved thee”; or by love, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much’; and as love is assumed to be a work, some on one side would deny that love had anything to do with saving her, whilst others, on the other side, would assert that her faith, unless it was mixed with love or issued in love, would be simply the faith of devils. Now, let us try and reconstruct, as it were, the spiritual history of this woman. In its leading features I think we cannot be far wrong. Our knowledge of human society would teach us that she could scarcely have been the only sinner of her class. Very likely great numbers who sinned either openly or secretly after the same sort of sin had heard, along with her, the Lord’s call to repentance. But there was that within her which attracted her to Him, and made her listen to Him, whilst other similar sinners did not. What was that? It was an alteration in her will, a sense of sin as foul and polluting, which made her not only be willing, but “will” (i.e., strongly desire) to be rid of it. This was the root of all. What was it? Being a change of heart, or mind, a turning from sin and turning to God, we may call it repentance; but it was not repentance alone, if so, it would have turned to despair--it was inextricably mixed with faith, faith in God and goodness, a belief in the present excellence and future triumph of purity, as distinguished from the present degradation and future condemnation of impurity. So it was faith as the evidence of things not seen. This gave her the ear to listen to the words of Christ, because in them she heard the words of One who was Himself divinely pure, and yet showed Himself able and willing to relieve the hearts of all who came to Him under the burden of impurity. This was a further act of faith on her part. She not only believed in a God of purity, but in Christ as the representative of that God of purity. She consequently came to Him in spirit as she listened to His words, because His words first opened before her the door of hope. So then we have here a confirmation of the truth o! the remarkable words of the apostle, “We are saved by hope.” If the words of Christ had not been full of hope for a person in her sad condition, she would not have listened to Him so as to be attracted to Him. But we have used the word “attract”; what is the attraction of soul to soul? Most people would unquestionably call it love, and they would be right; for how could there be the attraction of a penitent soul to a pure, yet loving, Saviour, for such benefits as forgiveness and cleansing, without love? What was it, then, which “saved” her? It was her will, the opposite of the will of those to whom the Lord said, “Ye will not come unto Me that ye may have life.” Being the change of her will, it was repentance (metanoia), “repentance unto life”; but repentance which differed from despair or worldly sorrow, because it was inspired by hope. It was a change of mind God ward, and so was faith in God; and Christward, because it recognized in the Lord the Saviour from sin; and yet from first to last it was faith, whose very life was holy love. She was attracted to the former guilty partners of her sin by unholy love; she was attracted to Christ by penitent, believing, hopeful, holy love. It seems to me the height of folly and presumption to try to separate the will, the repentance, the faith, the hope, the love, and assign to each their respective parts in the matter of salvation. God hath joined all together; let us not try, even in thought, to put them asunder. But what is the significance of the Lord’s words, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much”? The real drift seems to be in the many sins (αἱ πολλαί) and the loving much (πολύ), the same Greek adjective. A sinful life such as hers, in which she had laid herself out to seduce others to sin, required a deep sense of guilt, a deep repentance: a superficial, lighthearted sorrow in her case would have been, humanly speaking, of no avail, no repentance at all; but God, in His mercy, gave her true and godly sorrow. This appeared in her whole action, particularly in her washing the Lord’s feet with her tears, and wiping them with the hairs of her head. Now, Mary of Bethany similarly poured precious ointment on the Lord’s feet, and similarly wiped them with her hair; but in all the three accounts there is not a word said of her shedding a single tear; and if she had, her tears would not have been those of penitence, but of gratitude for the restoration of her brother. What, then, was the washing of the Lord’s feet with her tears? of what, I mean, was it the sign?--of repentance? of faith? of love? Of all three, I answer, all inseparable, all permeating one another, all sustaining and nourishing one another. The whole action, if a sincere one, could not have existed without all three. The Lord’s words, then, cannot have the slightest bearing on any post-reformation disputes respecting faith and works, faith and love, love as preceding forgiveness, or love as following it. They are emphatically natural words, describing the natural effect of the grace of God in the soul; for though grace be above nature, it yet works not unnaturally, but naturally, according to its own nature, and according to the nature of the human being who receives it. (M. F.Sadler, M. A.)
The true and believing penitent even in this life is saved
1. We have salvation in the promises of it (2 Corinthians 7:1).
2. We have it in those graces which begin it (John 17:3; Titus 2:12; Titus 2:12; John 3:8).
3. We have it in the assurance of it. Doth the Lord say and shall He not do? His foundation standeth sure and hath His seal. And if this counsel be, of God as Gamaliel said in another case, ye cannot destroy it. (N. Rogers.)
The weeping penitent and the disdainful Pharisee
I. THE PRINCIPLE TO WHICH OUR LORD ATTRIBUTED HER SALVATION WAS HER FAITH. This was the medium through which the blessing was conveyed, and this was indeed the secret spring of all her proceeding. And in what way, we ask, could this individual have been saved except by faith? As for salvation by works, that was out of the question in her case. She was a sinner, as the Evangelist testifies; and therefore, instead of being justified by the law, was convicted by it as a transgressor. What was there then that could save her? Her relation to Abraham? That she had virtually renounced, and by advancing any plea on that ground would only have convicted herself of apostasy. The comparative innocence of her early years? The sacrifices of the law? These had no power to purify the conscience; nor could “thousands of rams, or ten thousand rivers of oil” have washed away a single stain. Might her repentance, then, have saved her, and her diligent efforts after reformation? Alas, the convictions and terrors of a guilty conscience furnish no propitiation for sin, and have in them more of fretfulness and irritation than of submission and loyal obedience. And as for the feelings of broken-hearted contrition, of genuine love, of all true devotion, these are the fruits and evidences of mercy already experienced; and therefore, instead of saving the soul, they show it to be already saved. Her faith saved her as accepting the blessing freely given her of God. And this view of faith refutes the notion of those who, from a mistaken zeal for morality, ascribe the saving efficacy of faith to the moral excellence of this principle as implying submission and obedience; for this is to make faith itself a work, and to ascribe salvation to ourselves in performing it. But in Scripture, salvation by faith is constantly opposed to all idea of desert on our part; for “to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt; but to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him who justifieth the ungodly”--that is, one in himself ungodly--“ his faith is counted for righteousness.” We appropriate a gift, we have said, by accepting it; but does this acceptance merit the gift?
II. Having said this much of the nature of faith, it is fit we proceed to consider ITS GRACIOUS AND BLESSED EFFECTS AND EVIDENCES. For while faith saves us simply as receiving the Saviour, it is not to be forgotten that it is an intelligent, holy, and powerful principle: intelligent, as implying a just apprehension of man’s state and of God’s character; holy, as being the “gift of God,” and the first fruit of His regenerating grace: powerful, as bringing us under the influence and authority of those great truths which it is its essential character to embrace. For let it not be thought that in matters of religion, those laws that regulate intelligent natures are reversed, or that any such strange anomaly can exist in the spiritual world as a soul that believes, yet neither feels nor acts. But instead of general language, behold the genuine effects of faith exemplified in her to whom our Lord addressed the words before us. My brethren, the graces observable in this woman are the natural fruits and proper evidences of faith, wherever it is found. The peculiarities of her situation could affect only the mode of expressing them. Is not penitence a natural and necessary effect of faith? In order of time, they are coincident and inseparable; for as there can be no impenitent believer, so neither can there be any unbelieving penitent; but in order of nature, since the discoveries of Divine truth are the means of awakening repentance, it is manifest faith must precede it, to give these discoveries effect. And faith, ushered in by contrition, has love for an inseparable associate. “Thy sins are forgiven thee”; and, in spite of the cavils of unbelief, to add, “Thy faith hath saved thee, go in peace.” My brethren, it is the glory of the grace of the gospel, that it enfolds the chief of sinners; and blessed are those who are enabled, as chief of sinners, to embrace this gospel grace. (H. Grey, D. D.)
Peace is twofold.
1. There is a bad and appearing peace.
2. A true and sincere peace. Bad peace is threefold.
1. A defiled and polluted peace, as is that we find mentioned (Psalms 2:1-2; Psa 9:21; Psalms 83:4-6), so Ephraim against Manassah, Manassah against Ephraim; and both against Judah: Herod against Pilate, Pilate against Herod; and both against Christ. Est daemonum legio concors, there is such a peace as this amongst the devils; seven could agree well together in Mary’s heart, yea a legion we read of were in another. “If a house be divided against itself it cannot stand.”
2. A dissembled and counterfeited peace, when a man pretends peace, but intends mischief. So Joab spake peaceably to Abner when he stabbed him; Absolom invited Ammon to a feast when he intended to murder him.
3. An inordinate peace, which is when the greater and better obeys the less and inferior. So Adam obeyed Eve; Abraham yielded unto Lot, &c. None of these kinds of peace are here meant.
That peace which our Saviour speaks of is true and sincere peace, which St. Bernard thus tripleth.
1. External This is that peace we have with men for the time we live in this Romans 12:18).
(1) In the commonwealth, as when we are free from civil wars within, and foreign enemies without (Jeremiah 29:7).
(2) In the family, or special places where we live, of which peace St. Peter (1 Peter 3:12), and our Saviour (Mark 9:50).
2. Internal, which is the peace of conscience, proceeding from the assurance we have of God’s favour through Christ.
3. Eternal, which is that perfect rest and happiness, which the saints shall enjoy in heaven with God hereafter (Isaiah 57:2). The peace that our Saviour here speaks of to this woman is, that internal or pectoral peace, that stable and comfortable tranquility of conscience. Peace of conscience is the fruit of justification by faith. (Colossians 1:20; Eph Romans 5:1.) These texts of Scripture make strongly for the truth delivered. Alas for sinners! the misery of such as are not reconciled unto God, “there is no peace to the wicked, saith my God” (Isaiah 57:21). No peace, none with God, none with angels, none with men, none with the creatures. They are like unto Ishmael, whose hand was against every man, and every man’s hand against him. They may well fear with Cain, “Every one that findeth me will slay me.” All creatures being God’s executioners, and ready pressed to do His will. In no place peace: what Solomon speaks of an ill wife may aptly be applied to an ill conscience. At no time peace.
But how doth this seeming or false peace of sinners differ from that peace which ariseth from assurance of God’s favour through faith in Christ?
1. The conscience of a sinner is quiet, for that it hath no sight nor sense of sin.
2. A benumbed conscience, though it be quiet yet it comforteth not.
3. A dead or benumbed conscience feareth not sin, nor God’s wrath for sin. But a good conscience is very fearful of giving God the least offence. As it was said of Hezekiah, that “he feared God greatly,” so is it with the godly.
4. From the unspeakable benefits that true peace brings along with it. What is it that can make a man happy, but attends on peace? It comprehends in the very name of it all happiness, both of estate and disposition. That mountain whereon Christ ascended though it abounded with palms, pines, and myrtles, yet it carried only the name of Olives, an ancient emblem of peace. So though many mercies belong unto a Christian, yet all are comprised under this one little word which is spelt with a few letters, peace. (N. Rogers.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Luke 7". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13