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He went throughout every city and village, preaching
WE HAVE HERE THE SUBJECT OF OUR LORD’S MINISTRY--“the glad tidings of the kingdom of God.” In these words there is a manifest allusion to the predictions in which the prophets foretold the dispensation of grace and truth by Jesus Christ. The Greek word translated “kingdom” is of a more extensive meaning than the English one by which it is rendered, being equally adapted to express both the terms “reign” and “kingdom.” The first relates to the time or duration of the sovereignty, the second to the place or country over which it extends. Yet although it is much oftener the time than the place that is alluded to in the Gospels, it is never in our common version translated “reign,” but always “kingdom.” The expression is thereby often rendered obscure and awkward, as for instance, when motion is applied to a kingdom; when it is spoken of as coming, approaching, being near at hand, and the like. The word is rightly translated “kingdom” when it refers to the state of perfect felicity to be enjoyed in the world to come; but it is not always thus rendered with the same propriety when it relates to the reign of Christ, by His truth and Spirit upon earth. If, therefore, it be asked, when did the reign of heaven properly begin? we answer, When that prediction in the Psalms was fulfilled--“Thou hast ascended up on high, Thou hast led captivity captive; Thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God (the Holy Spirit) might dwell amongst them.” To a limited extent Jesus reigned before His ascension. He pardoned sins, promulgated laws, and brought very many under the dominion of His truth and grace. But the plenitude of the Holy Spirit’s miraculous gifts and sanctifying influences was reserved till Christ was glorified, to grace His inauguration as King of Zion; as monarchs when they are crowned, although they may have reigned some time before, on that great occasion bestow favours on their subjects, and elevate sonic to distinctions and honours.
II. WE NOW PROCEED TO CONSIDER THE SCENE OF OUR LORD’S MINISTRY. He preached in Judaea, and Samaria; in Jerusalem, in Sychar; but His time was chiefly spent in the towns and villages of Galilee--a distant and despised province, which the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judaea regarded with such contempt that it was asked, “ Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” One would think that had our Saviour intended that secular princes should rule in His Church, that the head of the State should by virtue of His office be also the head of the Church within His dominions, instead of spending so much of His time in Galilee, He would have converted Herod, and given him authority to settle all matters of doctrine and discipline for His subjects.
1. We have fully revealed to us and in our possession that truth by which Christ reigns, and accomplishes His gracious purposes. No new, additional revelation will be granted to the end of time.
2. We have Christ, enthroned in universal dominion, full of grace and power, present by His Spirit, with all His faithful servants, to make His truth effectual in the accomplishment of the purposes of eternal mercy. (Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)
Three “commercials” entered the railway carriage at C, and it was not long before all in the compartment were in conversation, Being one of the number, I took my part in the discussions which were held upon various topics. As per usual, the weather was commented upon, the state of Ireland, and the dulness of trade. This last subject seemed to be the most fruitful, for each traveller had his own tale to tell. As the different towns were mentioned which were the markets for the goods “travelled in” by the three gentlemen, I mentioned various incidents in connection with most of them, and through constantly visiting these places displayed some acquaintance with nearly every one spoken of by the “commercials”; until one of them said, “Are you on the road?” “Yes,” said I, “I have been on the road ever since I was nine years old.” All looked surprised, and then another made the remark, “That was rather early to begin such a rough life!” This produced the following reply upon my part: “Oh, there is nothing like starting young--a good beginning is half the race.” “May I ask what you travel for?” inquired a third. “I am on the road to heaven, and I travel for my Master; preaching everywhere for the salvation of souls.” (T. Spurgeon.)
And certain women
Mary of Magdala
This woman has “suffered much at the hand of many” commentators; preachers, painters, and poets, ancient and modern.
It is high time to do something to remove the foul stain which has so long rested on her fair fame. In the various notices of her history in the Gospels she exhibits” a character as pure and as devoted from the very first as any in the Gospel pages--a character not displaying merely the reflex action of a repentant spirit, but the faith which worketh by love.” She was--
I. A GREAT SUFFERER HEALED BY CHRIST (Luke 8:2).
II. A GREAT MINISTRANT TO CHRIST (Luke 8:2-3; Mark 15:41).
III. A FAITHFUL ADHERENT TO CHRIST. She follows Him to the last, and is one of the women who played such a prominent part in connection with the death, burial, and resurrection of the Saviour (Mark 15:40; John 19:25).
IV. A SINCERE MOURNER FOR CHRIST (cf. Matthew 27:61; Mark John 20:1-2; John 20:11-18).
V. AN HONOURED MESSENGER OF CHRIST (John 20:17-18; Mark 16:10). (T. S. Dickson, M. A.)
The ministry of women
We know very little about the women of this little group. Mary of Magdala has had a very hard fate. The Scripture record of her is very sweet and beautiful. Demoniacal possession was neither physical infirmity nor moral evil, however much it may have simulated sometimes the one or the other. Then as to Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, old Church tradition tells us that she was the consort of the nobleman whose son Christ healed at Capernaum. It does not seem very likely that Herod’s steward would have been living in Capernaum, and the narrative before us rather seems to show that she herself was the recipient of healing from His hands. However that may be, Herod’s court was not exactly the place to look for Christian disciples. But, you know, they of Caesar’s household surrounded with their love the apostle whom Nero murdered, and it is by no means an uncommon experience that the servants’ hall knows and loves Christ, whom the lord in the saloon does not care about. And then as for Susanna, is it not a sweet fate to be known to all the world for evermore by one line only, which tells of her service to her Master.
I. LOOK AT THE CENTRE FIGURE--THE PAUPER CHRIST--AS THE GREAT PATTERN AND MOTIVE FOR US OF THE LOVE THAT BECOMES POOR.
1. The noblest life that was ever lived on earth was the life of a poor man, of one who emptied Himself for our sakes.
2. Think of the love that stoops to be served. It is much to say, “The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister”; but I do not know that it is not more to say that the Son of Man let this record be written, which tells us that “ certain women ministered to Him of their substance.”
II. Look at the complement of this love--the love that stoops to be served, and that is THE LOVE THAT DELIGHTS TO SERVE.
1. There is the foundation. “Certain women which had been healed of their infirmities.” Ah! there you come to it. The consciousness of redemption is the one master-touch that evokes the gratitude that aches to breathe itself in service.
2. Do we not minister to Him best when we do the thing that is nearest His heart, and help Him most in the purpose of His life and death?
III. THE REMEMBRANCE AND RECORD OF THIS SERVICE. Just as a beam of light enables us to see all the motes dancing up and down that lay in its path, so the beam from Christ’s life shoots athwart the society of His age, and all those little insignificant people come for a moment into the full lustre of the light. The eternity of work done for Christ. How many deeds of faithful love and noble devotion are all compressed into these words: “ Which ministered unto Him.” It is the old story of how life shrinks, and shrinks, and shrinks in the record. How many acres of green forest ferns in the long ago time went to make up a seam of coal as thick as a sixpence? Still there is the record, compressed, indeed, but existent. And how many names may drop out? Do you not think that these anonymous “many others which ministered” were just as dear to Jesus Christ as Mary and Joanna and Susanna? How strange it must be to those women now I So it will be to you all when you get up yonder. We shall have to say, “Lord, when saw I Thee?” &c. He will put a meaning and a majesty into it that we know nothing about at present. When we in our poor love have poorly ministered unto Him, who in His great love greatly died for us, then at the last the wonderful word will be fulfilled: “Verily I say unto you, He shall gird Himself and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Self-devotion of women
The reckless rapture of self-forgetfulness, that which dominates and inspires persons and nations, that which is sovereign over obstacle and difficulty, and peril and resistance, it has belonged to woman’s heart from the beginning. In the early Pagan time, in the Christian development, in missions and in martyrdoms, it has been shown; in the mediaeval age as well as in our own time; in Harriet Newel and Florence Nightingale; in Ann Haseltine as truly and as vividly as in any Hebrew Hadassah or in any French Joan of Arc. You remember the Prussian women after the battle of Jena, when Prussia seemed trampled into the bloody mire under the cannon of Napoleon and the feet of the horses and men in his victorious armies. Prussian women, never losing their courage, flung their ornaments of gold and jewellery into the treasury of the State, taking back the simple cross of Berlin iron, which is now the precious heirloom in so many Prussian families, bearing the inscription, “I have gold for iron.” That is the glory of womanhood; that passion and self-forgetfulness, that supreme self-devotion with which she flings herself into the championship of a cause that is dear and sacred and trampled under foot. It is her crown of renown, it is her staff of power. (Dr. Storrs.)
He spake by a parable
Nature and design of parables
WHAT IS A PARABLE? It is a mode of instruction founded on the resemblances or analogies between spiritual and natural objects or events.
1. The form of the parable is a direct or indirect statement of a fact, or a narrative of either some possible or real event, that had occurred once or frequently. The growth of the mustard-seed is a fact of constant occurrence. The parable of Scripture differs from ordinary figurative language, not in its nature, but in its subject. And it might perhaps be correctly defined--a figurative description of religious doctrine.
2. To pass to the substance of the parables. We find their themes mainly to be--the sublime truths of grace, redemption, and retribution; the soul, its responsibilities and its destiny; the Church, and its destiny.
II. WHY DID THE LORD JESUS CHRIST TEACH BY PARABLES?
1. He designed to show the union between nature, human life, and the gospel. His presence among men was itself a manifestation of the Divine in the human, the invisible in the visible, the supernatural in the natural. The parable is a similar clothing of the unknown in the known, the heavenly in the earthly.
2. To unveil the mysteries of redemption.
3. To conceal the truth. “That, seeing, they might not see.” He aimed again at avoiding a premature irritation of his enemies. Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, elders and priests (proud, earthly, ignorant, bigoted, envious and murderous), were continually acting as spies around him. It was, therefore, indispensable that he should avoid giving them any ground of accusation before the Sanhedrim, the civil tribunal, or the people. (E. N. Kirk, D. D.)
Our Lord’s parables
1. The design of the gospel is to convert men from sin, and save their souls from hell; this is the real purpose of God.
2. Let us move forward a step: It is so ordered in the Divine wisdom that human freewill can refuse to accept the gracious provisions of the gospel, and even finally reject them.
3. Of course, therefore, we perceive that the preaching of the gospel will instantly divide men into two classes, whose moral state must be determined by their attitude towards it.
4. Thus we reach another suggestion: The gospel rejected or perverted does not lose its power, but now goes right on in driving the soul into deeper rebellion and hardness.
5. It now becomes clear precisely what God does do in the process of darkening the understanding and blinding the mind of a rebellious man who will not consent to be renewed and saved. He goes on doing what he was doing before. Suppose two merchant-vessels out on the same sea, sailing before the same wind which comes prosperously on their quarter. Suddenly upon one of them a mutiny is organized; the captain is murdered, and the crew put in irons; then the captors tan on their course exactly, face in the opposite direction, and start for some desolate pirates’ is]e where they may beach their stolen cargo in safety. The same wind which drives the honest ship along now drives the wicked one too, and so it helps in the crime. But all it really does to help is--to keep blowing on. Once for all be it said, that God never does anything to harden a heart which would not soften it, if properly received.
6. So, finally, we learn that the responsibility of all heart-hardening under the gospel lies only upon the wilfulness of the man whose heart has been hardened. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
A Sower went out to sow his seed
Parable of the Sower
BY THE WAYSIDE.
1. The design intended in God’s ordinance of preaching--what is it? We answer, your salvation.
2. The means of becoming interested in this salvation are also here declared. “Lest they should believe,” says the parable, “and be saved.”
3. A hindrance, with many, occurs at the very outset. No sooner is the Word of life spoken to them than--“then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.”
4. The success or failure of this hindrance will be owing, not to Satan--though his power is fearfully great--but to yourselves.
II. UPON A ROCK. A class of hearers in whom there is some appearance of believing the gospel. Further, their assent is not a cold and involuntary, but a warm and lively, approbation--“They receive the Word with joy.”
III. AMONG THORNS. A class of persons whose consciences appear to be touched, and, in a certain sense, permanently touched, by the solemn verities of the gospel. And a change has been wrought upon them, by what they have felt.
IV. ON GOOD GROUND. The superiority of this class consists in--
1. A difference of the soil. Here is “an honest and good heart.”
2. difference in the reception given to the seed sown; that is, to the Word of salvation. The honest and good heart, “having heard the Word, keeps it.”
3. There is a difference in the growth also, where the seed falls upon an honest and good heart. It germinates, not hastily, as where neither root nor moisture are found; not irregularly, and amidst perpetual resistance, as where thorny cares, deceitful riches, and ensnaring pleasures choke it; but “with patience”--progressively, uniformly.
4. A difference in the fruit produced. (J. Jowett, M. A.)
The parable of the Sower
1. Are you a careless hearer?
2. Are you an unsteadfast bearer?
3. Are you a worldly-minded hearer?
4. Are you a faithful hearer?
(1) Faithful hearers present to the sower an honest and good heart.
(2) They hear and understand: they go along with the love of the Lord as He instructs them, even if they cannot comprehend all mysteries, or gain all knowledge.
(3) They keep the Word: they think of it, meditate upon it.
(4) Whoever has been the human sower, they regard the seed as what it is in truth, the Word of God which effectually worketh in him that believeth--they are very jealous for the Lord God of Hosts--watchful that no onespeak lightly or jestingly of it--most watchful, in being very reverent towards it themselves.
(5) And they are patient also, in the possession of the Word--patient in trials, because they have such a pledge of God’s goodwill towards them--patient with others, as taught here in God’s exceeding great patience towards them--patient in darkness, knowing and feeling that that Word is still, and will always be, a lantern unto their feet and a light unto their paths.
(6) And finally, in this patience they bring forth fruit--each man according to his several ability--“some thirty-fold,” etc. They are assured that God asks them, not merely for attention, but for fruit: not only for a deep root, but for much fruit: not for an unworldly heart, alone, but for that glorious fruit of the Spirit which proves that the inner life of their souls has been begun, continued, and ended in God. (Canon G. E. Jelft)
Parable of the Sower
This parable displays profound knowledge of human nature, of human character, and of human history.
I. THOSE REPRESENTED BY THE SEED THAT FELL BY THE WAYSIDE ARE INFIDELS. Having the means and opportunities of knowing and practising Christianity, yet rejecting it wilfully and obstinately.
II. THOSE REPRESENTED BY SEED SCATTERED ON ROCKY SOIL ARE THE INDOLENT AND TIMID.
III. THOSE REPRESENTED BY SEED SPILLED AMONG THORNS ARE THOSE WHO ARE INFLUENCED BY THE STRONG AND ACTIVE PASSIONS.
IV. THOSE REPRESENTED BY SEED SOWN ON GOOD SOIL ARE GOOD CHRISTIANS WHOSE IMPRESSIONS OF RELIGION BECOME DEEPER AND BRIGHTER IN DIFFERENT DEGREES. This class includes all sincere persevering Christians.
1. There must be a good and honest heart.
2. A disposition to hear the Word, to receive it without prejudice, and with a sincere resolution to profit by it.
3. Constancy. Retaining the knowledge acquired, and constantly making additions to it.
4. Bringing forth fruit with patience. Our motives may be good, so also may be our intentions and aims; but to give these their full value they must be carried into action. Actions, followed by habits, complete the character.
5. Fruit in different proportions. Yet the lowest degree--thirtyfold--is not small. (J. Thomson, D. D.)
The Word of God as seed
God does not establish full-formed things. He plants seeds which grow. This is the uniform method of His procedure in every department, natural and spiritual. A seed is the most wonderful thing in the world. There is nothing else that contains so much in so little bulk. There is nothing else that concentrates within it such capacities and possibilities. It is the origin and end of organic life. It forms the bridge of transition from the grain of sand to the living cell. By means of it the naked rock is covered with verdure, and the desolate wilderness transformed into a garden. The analogy between the Word of God and a seed is remarkably close and striking. There are innumerable points of resemblance between them; but in this exposition I can only point out a few of the more obvious and impressive.
1. The first point of comparison is found in the life which they both possess. A seed is a living thing. And in this respect is it not a striking emblem of the Word of God? That Word is a living Word. “The words that I speak unto you,” says Jesus, “they are spirit and they are life.” It is not truth merely in a spoken or a written form. It is more than knowledge. It is a living power; it does not work mechanically, but vitally. The words of Christ were the concentration and embodiment of His own life, just as truly as the seed is the concentration and embodiment of the life of the plant. It is the highest of all life. And just as in nature it has been proved that dead matter cannot originate life under any circumstances whatever, except by the introduction into it of a living seed, so without the instrumentality of the Word of God there can be no spiritual life. The Spirit takes of the recorded things of Christ, and shows them to us. Without the Word there would be nothing to know, or obey, or love; without the Spirit there would be no saving knowledge, no obedience, no love. The Spirit operating upon the heart apart from the Word would be only to give a vague inclination without an object as its end and purpose. And therefore all religion that does not spring from the seed of God’s Word is a dim abstraction of an unreal sentimentality. It is aimless and powerless, the continual ploughing and harrowing of a field without putting any seed into it.
2. Another point of resemblance between the seed and the Word is the twofold nature of both. A seed consists of two parts: the embryo, or germ, which is the essential principle of life, and the materials of nourishment by which, when the seed germinates, the young life may grow. The seed is not all a living principle; its inner essential life reposes in a shrine so small that it can barely be seen. You take away fold after fold of the minute seed, part after part of its structure, and, after all, you have removed only food and clothing. The vital germ has eluded you; and even when you have come to the last microscopic cell, you know not how much of this cell itself is living principle, and how much mere provision for its wants. There is the same dual combination in every spoken and written word of thought and form, of sound and sense. As it was necessary that the Divine should appear in human nature in Christ, so it is necessary that we should have the Divine thought, the Divine life, in the literary form in which it is embodied in Scripture. We could not apprehend it otherwise. The living principle in the seed would not grow without its wrapping of nourishment and clothing; and the mind of God could not affect us unless it were revealed to us in our own human language, in the flowing images of time and sense with which we are familiar. When it is said that we are born again of incorruptible seed, of the Word of God that liveth and endureth for ever, it is not meant to be implied that the Word of God is itself the begetting principle. It is only the mode in which the principle works, the vehicle by which the mysterious power embodied in it operates. It is not the human language or thought, but the Divine life within it, that creates us -new. And when it is further said that this living Word endureth for ever, we are taught thereby that while it is only the vehicle of God’s begetting principle, it is no mere transient chaff, or husk, or nourishing material, like the perisperm of the natural seed, which has only a temporary purpose to serve, and then decays and passes away when it has served that purpose. It is “ no mere sacramental symbol lost in the using,” but it lives by and with the Divine principle which it reveals and employs, and endures for ever. And just as we see in the natural seed, owing to its twofold nature, an unbroken continuity of life, pausing here and unfolding itself there, casting off the chaff and the husks that have served their purpose that it may expand freely, the perisperm dying that the embryo may grow; so we see in the Word of God the same principle of identity running through the successive stages of its development--the same vital truth of redemption passing through various dispensations that have become old and are ready to perish, growing to more and more, casting off effete forms, and unfolding itself more clearly and fully in new forms better suited to the new needs. We see the germ that was planted in the first promise of the seed of the woman growing successively into the patriarchal and legal dispensations, and, when the leafage and fruitage of these dispensations waxed old and perished, taking a grander form in the gospel dispensation, and blossoming and fruiting with a new and Divine life in a new and regenerated world.
3. A third point of resemblance between the Word of God and a seed may be found in the small compass within which the living principle is enshrined in both. Nothing, as I have said, holds so much in so little bulk as a seed. It is the little ark that swims above a drowned world, with all the life of the world hidden within it. It is a miniature orb, embracing the whole mystery of animated nature. An atom, often not so large as a grain of sand, contains within it all the concentrated vitality of the largest forest trees. It is a most remarkable example of nature’s packing; for a seed consists- of a single or a double leaf, folded in such a way as to take up the smallest possible room. And in this respect the Word of God may be compared to a seed. It is truth in its seed-form. We have in the Scriptures the most concentrated form of heavenly teaching. Nothing is omitted; nothing is superfluous. It contains all that is necessary for the salvation of man. Nothing can be added to it or taken away from it. It is rounded and finished off--full-orbed and complete, as every seed must be. All is contained within the smallest compass, so as to be easiest of comprehension, easiest of being carried in the memory, and easiest of being reduced to practice. And the Word of God is so compacted in the seed-form, because it needs to be unfolded in the teaching and life of man. The soil was made for the revelation of the seed; and the seed was made to be revealed by the soil. As the seed cannot disclose what is in it unless it fall into appropriate soil, and be stimulated to growth by suitable conditions, so the Word of God cannot disclose all that it contains unless it grow in an understanding mind and in a loving heart; unless by meditation and prayer it can expand from the seed-form to the blade, and the ear, and the full corn in the ear. As wonderful as the unfolding of a beautiful flower from an almost invisible seed is the unfolding of the depth and fulness of meaning that is in the smallest precept of Scripture. For every new generation, the Word of God has new revelations and adaptations. The seed in the new soil and circumstances reveals new aspects of truth. The Word of God, like the great word of nature which is the illustration of it, holds in reserve for every succeeding age some new perception, some new disclosure of the Divine order and economy, revealing to no man, however studious and zealous, more than a part, and ever opening new vistas to reverent love and intelligence.
4. A fourth point of resemblance between the Word of God and a seed is the variety and beauty that may be recognized in both. Have you ever examined a seed under a magnifying glass? It is often seen to be very curiously formed, even by the naked eye; but the microscope reveals new beauties and marvels of construction in it. The other day, in my garden, I took up the withered head of a poppy, and poured out into the palm of my hand the contents of its curious seed-vessel. There was a little heap of very small round seeds that would take a long time to count. I looked at the handful with the aid of my pocket lens, and I saw, to my delight, that each was beautifully chased and embossed on the outside.. For the shapes of beauty often displayed by seeds language has no terms. A whole volume might be filled with an account of them. Some have curious wing-like appendages, on which they float away in the air in search of a suitable growing-place; some are covered with silky down, and some with lace-like tunics, while many kinds have hard enamelled or embroidered surfaces; and their colouring is as varied and beautiful as their forms. In this, the minutest of God’s works, this smallest and inmost shrine of life, His attention is acuminated, and His skill, as it were, concentrated; so that, above all others, these little things assure us that we are not living in a world left to itself, but in one that reveals at every step the “besetting God.” And in this respect of beauty and variety, does not the Word of God compare with the seed? How wonderfully is the Bible constructed! It is fashioned in human imagery. Every kind of literary style is found in it. The same truth is conveyed in many forms, and always in the most appropriate dress. Proverb and allegory and parable, history, psalm and prophecy, song and incident, everything that can charm the imagination and quicken the intellect and satisfy the heart, is employed to make its doctrines and precepts interesting and impressive.
5. A fifth point of resemblance between the Word of God and a seed may be seen in the wonderful effects which they both produce. There is something almost creative in a seed. You take a seed to a desert, sow it there, and you change the barren sand, by its growth, into a fruitful field. That seed alters the whole character of a place, makes the climate more genial and the soil more fertile, and the very heavens more accommodating. The flow of streams, the nature of the winds, the sunshine, the dew, and the rainfall, the verdure of forest and field, all depend upon the effects which a little seed produces. Man himself has his well-being affected by the growth of a seed. The sowing of seed must ever be the first process towards a higher state of things. Man’s natural life hangs upon the sowing of corn. His whole civilization springs from it. His capacity of improvement and capability of receiving spiritual instruction, and consequently all the revelations and experiences of the kingdom of heaven, are connected with the sowing of the seed of the meat that perisheth. And in all these respects, do not the effects produced by the Word of God resemble those of the natural seed? The Word of God is quick and powerful. It awakens an instinctive reverence which no other word inspires. When it enters the soul, it stirs up feelings that are peculiar to itself. It does not lie dormant in the intellect, but quickens the conscience. It does not affect our opinions or speculations merely, it affects our heart and life. We regulate our conduct and thought by scientific or literary truth, but such truth does not lord it supreme over our being: it is subordinate to us--it is our servant, and we use it for our own purposes. But the Word of God dominates our whole nature, and we must submit to it for its own sake. We cannot use or subordinate it to ourselves; we feel that it must use us, and that we must obey it. It has the power of transmutation in it. It has a spiritual quickening energy. It is the source of saving life to souls dead in trespasses and sins. It has taken its place in the heart of human culture. Nothing else has wrought such a mighty revolution in human ideas. It is a Divine seed which came from heaven, and has brought the kingdom of heaven down to men--made the desert to rejoice and blossom as the rose. The harvest which has sprung from it is everywhere visible in the Church and the world. It is increasing in beauty and fruitfulness every day. We are sent into the world to sow, and not to destroy--to sow the seed of heaven, and thus raise in it a heavenly produce foreign to it, impart to it a principle of spiritual life which, by its growth, will choke out old evils, and make all things new.
And let us remember that we must give our own life in the sowing, as the plant gives its life in the seed. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
The Sower; or, the origin and authority of the gospel
The man who sows has an end in view. On that his heart is set. The sower wisely selects, in reference to established laws, the means which are adapted to this end. In other words, this parable presents to our view, as its groundwork--The nature of the gospel as a revelation; the contents of the gospel as an instrument of redemption.
I. CHRIST CAME TO REVEAL GOD. I understand revelation to be contrasted with--
1. Speculation. The human mind is limited in its range of knowledge, and yet has an unlimited sphere opened to it.
2. Argument or reasoning. Here we need to discriminate. The Word of God is to be believed, because He affirms it; and He will hold His children responsible to recognize His voice. It only remains now to state, in regard to the nature of the gospel as a revelation, that it is a--
3. Direct unveiling of truth--it is called a mystery hidden from ages.
II. THE SON OF GOD CAME TO REVEAL GOD IN CHRIST. It is a revelation of God; but of God in Christ. It contains, then, as the instrument of redemption, or as the word of the kingdom--
1. The ground, extent, and consequences of man’s controversy with God. The Scriptures contain, also--
2. The ground and terms of reconciliation.
3. The motives to reconciliation. (E. N. Kirk, D. D.)
The four fields
1. On the hard field the seed can take no root. There are hearts like that hard field here to-day. They have been trampled hard by sin. The seed cannot grow there. I have heard of a man who had attended the Church for years, and who, when he was dying, told the clergyman that he had never heard one of his sermons. As soon as the sermon began, this man was accustomed to begin thinking of the result of his last week’s trade, and planning for the week to come. So the good seed fell unheeded on the hard, trampled field, and the birds of the air carried it away.
2. The seed which fell on the shallow field took root, and grew up very fast. But there was no depth of soil, the seed was not well rooted, and so it quickly withered away, and brought no fruit. How many of these shallow fields we have amongst us I The people represented by them are ready enough to come to church, and to take an interest in religious matters. But their religion is like an ague, a hot fit succeeded by a cold one. There is a special danger for such people in the wild, excitable forms of so-called religion, so common in these days. They forsake the old paths and the sober truths of the gospel for some scene of hysterical excitement, where men would force the seed to grow rapidly in a hot atmosphere of passion; and they mistake feelings for religion, and noisy display for real conviction.
3. Some seed fell on the thorny field, where the weeds grew thickly and choked it. Ah! my brothers and sisters, how many Epistles and Gospels, how many lessons and sermons have been lost to you because your life is choked with weeds!
4. And last of all, there is the good field, where the seed grows and bears abundant fruit. We cannot all bring forth the same fruit, or an equal amount. As one star differeth from another star in glory, so it is with God’s people. There is the saint of high and holy life, whose word and teaching sway the multitude. And there is the simple old cottager, who spells out her Bible with dim eyes and painful labour, and finds her treasure there. But both alike are God’s good fields, where the seed brings forth fruits. (H. J.Wilmot-Buxton, M. A.)
Parable of the Sower
I. THE SEED ITSELF. The seed is the Word of God--the word of prophecy; the word of promise; the word of sound doctrine; the word of strong exhortation, and solemn warning, and high encouragement, which is given by inspiration of God.
1. A quickening seed. It brings the dead in sin to spiritual life. It is also productive of much consolation to those who are quickened thereby.
2. A holy seed.
3. An incorruptible seed.
4. A seed of fruitfulness in every good word and work to do God’s will.
5. An abiding seed.
II. THE DIFFERENT RECEPTIONS OF THIS SEED, AND THE CONSEQUENT DIFFERENT RESULTS.
III. PRACTICAL OBSERVATIONS.
1. An important caution to all hearers to take heed how they hear, and to remember their awful responsibility.
2. Much matter of humiliation to the whole Church. There never has been, and never can or will be, any profitable hearing of the Word, unless the Holy Spirit change the heart and prepare the soil for the reception of the Divine seed.
3. Much matter of encouragement to every weak believer. If the work of the Holy Spirit is begun on the heart, the Word of truth may be heard with profit; and it has been heard with profit by all who are separated from the world, and transformed by the renewing of their mind.
4. Finally, the parable sets forth matter of important instruction to the individuals on the way to Zion, relative to the subject-matter of preaching that shall be profitable for them to hear. (W. Borrows, M. A.)
Christ’s classification of human hearts
According to the Bible, nothing determines the true worth of a man more clearly than the way in which he acts with regard to the Divine Word; and the different manner of his treatment of it. The Lord places this before us most clearly, intelligibly, in this parable.
1. The indifferent. A very numerous class. Word sown upon, not in, heart; and therefore is given up to any one who will take it away. To such persons life is a walk, not a journey. Unimportant to them whether they arrive at a definite goal; they only ask for the invigorating air on the way, to delight themselves with the sight of the beauties around them, and in cheerful conversation with those about them. The enjoyment of life is their watchword; they do not desire to live, that is to say, to work, but to enjoy.
2. The frivolous. , The Divine Word does not take root in these. It takes root only in the heart softened and moistened with the tears of daffy humiliation.
3. The impure. These have gone the way of humiliation; but have not quite given place to the Saviour. They have reserved this and that sinful joy and pleasure, this and that so-called favourite sin and weakness. Their spiritual life is gradually choked in them, and at last is entirely quenched.
4. The pure. These have had their hearts purified and made beautiful and good, by faithfully laying hold of the beauty and goodness of the Saviour. In this state of preparation they hear and receive the Word, and bring forth fruit. They do not release themselves from this obligation, but follow it earnestly and strictly, yet without self-righteousness. They bring forth the fruit of love, the only ripe fruit. They bring forth patience in humble and constant endurance, amid inward and outward afflictions; also in patience with the often scanty fruit, and especially in a mind which quietly and joyfully submits itself to God in all things. They bring forth fruit in different ways, partly because their soil is of different degrees of goodness, partly because their industry and faithfulness in preparing their soil are different. But none among them assumes superiority over the others; they all love each other like brethren. These alone are the hearts which really belong to Christ. (R. Rothe, D. D.)
Parable of the Sower
I. THE HEEDLESS. Bearing without attending. All a matter of form.
II. THE HEARTLESS. Interest easily enlisted; feelings quickly touched. Feelings so soon stirred are not likely to be deep, and principles quickly influenced are no safe guides. “Ruined by adversity” is the epitaph of the heartless. They may be good for a time, but they cannot be good long.
III. THE BREATHLESS. This is the prevailing phase of modern worldliness. It is an age of hurry. Many persons would be excellent Christians if only they were not so many other things besides; if they were not so engrossed in business, or absorbed in pleasures, or preoccupied by cares. This will not do. If religion is to thrive at all, it must carry on simultaneously two processes; it must strike root downward and bear fruit upward. These are precisely the two things which the worldly man’s religion can never do.
IV. THE GUILELESS. Of these, if we may say it with reverence, it must have been a real pleasure to our Lord to speak. Not, indeed, that the good are all perfect, or all alike good. No sameness in grace, any more than in nature. We expect differences, even among guileless hearts. It is characteristic of the guileless that they make no show for a long time; they develop surely, but very slowly. “Saved by patience” shall be written over them. (T. E. Marshall, M. A.)
The first parable
The first snowdrop, the first green leaf on naked hedges, the first few notes that sounding from bush or tree break the long, dreary silence--still more, the first smile that lights up an infant’s face, its first gleam of intelligence, its first broken word, possess an interest and yield a pleasure peculiar to themselves. With more interest still--did the world hold such treasures--would we look on the first stanzas of Homer’s muse; the first attempt of Archimedes’ skill; the first oration of Demosthenes; the first sermon of Chrysostom; the first sketch of Rubens; though we could hope to see nothing in these but the dawn of talents, which, at maturity, produced their splendid works, and won them immortal fame. What gives the interest to these things, gives a peculiar interest to this parable. Others may be as instructive and as beautiful, but of all those parables that He strung like pearls on the thread of His discourses, this is the first Jesus ever spake. As peculiarly befitting Him who came to sow saving truths broadcast on the world, no subject could form a more suitable introduction; and with the Divine skill with which He chooses, Jesus handles the topic.
I. THE SOWER
II. THE SEED.
1. There is life in seed. Gospel truth is the incorruptible and immortal seed; and though ornaments, polish, illustrations, eloquence in sermons, may help the end in view, as feathers do the arrow’s flight, or their wings the thistle-downs, as they float, sailing through the air, to distant fields, it is to the truth of God’s Word, blessed by God’s Spirit, that sinners owe their conversion, and saints their quickening and comfort in the house of God.
2. There is force in seed. What so worthy to be called the power as well as the wisdom of God as that Word which, lodged in the mind, and accompanied by the Divine blessing, fed by showers from heaven, rends hearts, harder than the rocks, in pieces? (Jeremiah 23:29).
3. There is a power of propagation in seed. There is not a shore which shall not be sown with this seed; not a land but shall yield harvests of glory to God and of souls for heaven.
III. THE SOIL.
1. Hearers represented by the wayside. Some who carefully cultivate their fields, or their gardens, or their business, or their minds, take no pains whatever to cultivate their hearts.
2. Hearers represented by the stony ground. What have we here? the Word listened to with attention; with more, much more than attention; with such feelings as a man under sentence of death hears the news of his pardon, or men on a wreck, lashed to the mast, hanging on the shrouds, hear the cry, the joyful cry, “A boat! a lifeboat!” Let us remember that convictions may be mistaken for conversion; admiration of the servant for attachment to his Master; an appreciation of the moral beauties of the gospel for an appreciation of its holiness; the pleasures of emotion, or such gratification as taste enjoys in a beautiful discourse, for the pleasures of piety.
3. Those represented by the ground with thorns. Dr. Johnson put the point well, when, on Garrick showing him his beautiful mansion and grounds, the great moralist and good man laid his hand kindly on the player’s shoulder, and said, “All! David, David, these are the things which make a death-bed terrible!” The equally dangerous and deadly influence of great poverty I may illustrate by a scene which I have not forgotten, nor can forget. Alone, in the garret of a dilapidated house, within a wretched room, stretched on a pallet of straw, covered only by some scanty, filthy rags, with no fire in the empty chimney, and the winter wind blowing in cold and fitful gusts through the broken, battered window, an old woman lay, feeble, wasted, grey. She had passed the eleventh hour; the hand was creeping on to the twelfth. Had she been called? It was important to turn to the best account the few remaining sands of life; so I spoke to her of her soul, told her of a Saviour--urging her to prepare for that other world on whose awful border her spirit was hovering. She looked; she stared; and raising herself on her elbow, with chattering teeth, and ravenous look, muttered “I am cold and hungry.” Promising help, I at the same time warned her that there was something worse than cold and hunger. Whereupon, stretching out a naked and skinny arm, with an answer which if it did not satisfy the reason touched the feelings, she said, “If you were as cold and as hungry as I am, you could think of nothing else.” The cares of the world were choking the Word.
4. Those represented by the good ground.
(1) They receive the Word. In their case it does not, so to speak, go in at the one ear and come out at the other. It does not fall on their minds to run off like water from a stone; it falls, but it is as seed into a furrow, to lodge itself in their hearts. They do not reject, but receive it.
(2) They understand it--appreciate its value; feel its power; and “comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.”
(3) They keep the Word: as--in contradistinction to soils that, puffed up by winter frosts, throw out, or others that starve their plants--good ground keeps the corn. With hearts where the tenderness of flesh is associated with the tenaciousness of stone, as granite keeps the letters of its inscription, so they “keep the Word.”
(4) They bring forth fruit. In the form of good works, of unselfish, gentle, and heavenly dispositions, of useful, noble, holy, and Christian lives, they bring forth fruit--some much; some little; but all some. (Thomas Guthrie, D. D.)
Preachers and hearers
I. AN HONOURABLE OCCUPATION.
1. The work of the husbandman too often regarded with contempt.
2. The husbandman a type of Christ.
3. Christ the type of many true teachers, inasmuch as their life’s morning is promising, and their evening dispiriting.
II. AN HONOURABLE OCCUPATION MAY HAVE DISASTROUS RESULTS. l. Unsuccessful results do not lessen the value of the seed.
2. Unsuccessful efforts should not be taken as the measure of the sower’s capacity and faithfulness.
3. Unsuccessful efforts must then be studied in relation to the sphere of operations.
4. The best seed will do no good on some lands.
5. The most skilful workman cannot turn a rock into a fruitful garden.
III. AN HONOURABLE OCCUPATION MUST HAVE BLESSED RESULTS, There will be patches of good ground in every farm. There are honest and good hearts in every community. No true teacher will have entire failure. (W. Burrows, B. A.)
The Divine Sower and His seed
Two things are clear at starting.
1. The seed is all of one kind--not a mixture, but the same throughout; many grains, but one, and only one quality.
2. It is absolutely and perfectly good; not only the same quality throughout, but that quality perfect, and so each and every grain complete in itself in all that constitutes the perfection of seed.
I. THE SEED. Seed is a living reality; seed is the germ or origin from which the plant in its strength and beauty springs. Yet withal seed, living as it is, quick with life which should propagate itself to a thousand generations, is dependent for its germination and its fruitfulness on the soil which receives it when sowed. Now our Lord teaches us that seed, possessing, as we know it does, these qualities, is an apt emblem of the Word of God.
II. THE SOWER. Jesus Christ Himself. As men do not always scatter their seed literally with their own hands, but use machinery, and yet it is in truth not the machine, but the man who sows it, by whom the seed is sowed, so, whenever His seed is sowed, He is the Sower, using the hands and mouths of men as His instruments, not giving up His office and work to them to discharge for Him, but Himself discharging His office and work by and through them. It is only a partial account of the ministry of His Church to say that He works upon men’s souls by means of it; it is He in it who thus works, and works effectually. He it is, then, who went out as the Sower; He went out, and He has never turned back; He has never ceased of His sowing. But when did He go out? It has been well written “He is said to go out by the act of taking flesh, clothed wherewith He went forth as a husbandman, putting on a garment suitable for rain, sun, and cold, albeit He was a King.” And yet we cannot limit His going out to sow to the actual period of the world’s history at which it pleased Him to put on that garment visibly before the eyes of men; for as it was His purpose from eternity to become Incarnate, so the power and virtue of His Incarnation reaches back as well as forward.
III. SEED AND SOWER ARE ONE. Christ is the Sower, Christ is also the Seed; for He is the Word of God. He sows Himself. And He is the Life; He hath life in Himself; He quickeneth whom He will. (C. S. Turner, M. A.)
In order to obtain the leading thought of the parable, and so get the key to all that follows, we must reverse the explanatory proposition, “The seed is the Word of God,” and take it thus--“The Word of God is seed.” The principle of germination is essentially Divine, and the germ idea is the distinctive characteristic of God’s work. Man’s sole method of increase is collection; God ever multiplies by scattering. We fill our garners with the harvested grain, and call it wealth; but its only end is destruction. God sends His sunshine to dry the ripening ear, and His wind to shake out the bursting seeds, and lo! for every fallen grain an hundred like to itself, all instinct with the same reproductive energy. Man constructs his wondrous mechanisms and quickens them into life with the subtle forces which he wrests from nature and compels to his will. But they wear out or rust out in time, and never reproduce themselves after their kind. If he plant them, they will not grow; if he break them and scatter their parts, they are utterly destroyed. Or he builds his mighty monuments and leaves them for time to crumble; and long centuries after we dig from the earth their imperishable remnants which have lain as they fell. Under God’s law a tree shoots heavenward, more complex and marvellous than the grandest result of human ingenuity. Its fruit falls, and from its decay another tree springs into being; a branch is out and thrust into the ground, and that, too, becomes a tree; a bud is slipped off and inserted in a growth of diverse character, but it becomes a limb, and bears fruit, and reproduces after its own kind. And even if God’s monuments, the everlasting mountains, crumble away, they make soil which enters into living organisms, which die and are resolved into dust, which is upheaved by some terrible throe of nature, and lo! a mountain again. Nothing ever produced by man can germinate. Nothing produced by God ever failed to do so, if placed in the proper conditions. Therefore, if the Bible be seed, it is God’s Word. But if the Bible be God’s Word, it must be seed; its distinctive character must be the germinative principle. It is the revelation to man of God’s truth. But it cannot possibly be all that truth, nor even any part of that truth in its fullest development, because God’s truth must be infinite, and this finite world could, therefore, never contain it. Being seed, however, it contains the germ of truth which, if subjected to the requisite conditions, will inevitably multiply itself in infinite series and ratio after its own kind. He who receives this seed as in good ground will, with absolute certainty, in due season bring forth as bounteous a harvest as his capacities may admit. He who receives God’s revelation under standingly, becomes possessed of all its potential results of Divine knowledge, which, under proper intellectual and spiritual culture, will be developed to the full capacity of his intellectual and moral constitution in this life and in the life hereafter. (Robert Wilson, M. D.)
The Sower sowing His seed
I. THE SOWER IS CHRIST HIMSELF. He that sows the good seed is the Son of man. Are not ministers sowers?
1. Christ sows His own field, which He hath dearly purchased with His precious blood: they sow not their own fields, but His, not being “lords of the heritage of God” (1 Peter 5:3).
2. He sows His own seed: so in the text. The sower sowed His seed. They have no seed of their own, but fetched out of His garner.
3. They differ in the manner of sowing. He was the most skilful Sower that ever was. He knew exactly what grain every ground was fitted for. With Him were treasures of wisdom. We that have but drops from His fulness, are unskilful in comparison. He could speak to men’s private and personal sins, as the woman at the well. He could answer to men’s thoughts and reasonings; we not so.
4. We differ in efficacy. We may sow and plant, and this is all. Suppose it be Paul, or Apollos himself, we can give no increase, nor make anything to grow. But He can sow, and give increase at His pleasure. He can warm it with the beams of grace, streaming from His own brightness (Malachi 4:2). He is the Sun of Righteousness. He can blow upon His field with the prosperous winds of His gracious and quickening spirit (Isaiah 3:8;Song of Solomon 4:16).
II. THE ACTION. This Sower goeth forth. Christ goeth forth to sow three ways.
1. In spirit, by inward inspirations and heavenly motions. And thus He sowed in the hearts of Adam, Noah, Abraham, and the prophets; who were, with other holy men, immediately inspired and acted by the Holy 1 Peter 1:21). So with the penmen of Scripture, and the apostles.
2. In person, according to His humanity He cometh out from the bosom of His Father, and comes into the field of the world by His happy Incarnation.
3. In the ministry of His servants He goeth forth, both the prophets and teachers before Him.
III. THE INTENTION IS, TO SOW HIS SEED.
1. As seed is a small and contemptible thing, altogether unlikely to bring such a return and increase; so the Word preached seems a weak and contemptible thing (1 Corinthians 1:23).
2. As the seed in the barn or garner fructifies not, unless it be cast into the earth; so the Word, unless cast into the ears and hearts of men, is fruitless, regenerateth not, produceth no fruits of faith.
3. As the sower pricks not in his seed, nor sets it, but casts it all abroad, and knows not which of his seed will come up to increase, and which will rot and die under the clods; so the minister (God’s seedsman) speaks not to one or two, but casts his seed abroad to all in general; neither knows he which and where the Word shall thrive to increase, and where not, but, where it doth increase, it riseth with great beauty and glory, as the grain of mustard seed becomes a tree in which the birds of heaven may build their nests.
4. As seed hath a natural heat, life, and virtue in it, by which it increaseth and begetteth more seeds like unto itself; so the Word cast into the good ground hath a supernatural heat in it, being as fire (Jeremiah 5:14), and a lively power to frame men like itself, to make them, of fleshly, spiritual; of blind, quick-sighted; of dead in sin, alive in grace. And as one grain quickened, brings sundry tillows, and many grains in each; so one Christian converted, and receiving this power in himself, gaineth many unto God, desiring that every one were as he is, except his bonds and sins.
5. As seed cast into the ground lives not, unless it die first; so the Word preached brings no fruit or life, unless it kill first and work mortification; yea, and by continual sense of frailty and acquaintance with the cross, it keeps under such natural pride and corrupt as resist the work of 2:6. As seed cast never so skilfully into the earth is not fruitful, unless God give it a 1 Corinthians 15:38); so neither is the Word, unless God add His blessing (1 Corinthians 3:6). (Thomas Taylor, D. D.)
Men do not perish, brethren, because there are not sufficient truths to save them. The seed-basket is ever full, and willing hands are ready to scatter the seed in all directions. What thousands of precious truths are uttered in men’s hearing every sabbath day. It is estimated that eighty thousand sermons are preached in this country every week; and what hundreds of thousands mere are circulated in the homes of the people by the press; and what constant utterance of saving truths by earnest men in Sabbath schools, in conversation, and by the couch of the afflicted l And yet does the upspringing of this holy seed appear in general righteousness, fidelity, and purity? Is the condition of society a manifestation of the truth supposed to be cherished in its inner life? Alas I no. The truth is but rarely sown in the heart, (W. O. Lilley.)
Some fell by the wayside
This first kind of soil is the only one of the four mentioned in which nothing came of the sowing.
In this alone there is a combination of causes which renders any good result impossible. Three causes are shown:
1. Before the sowing the soil was incapable of receiving the seed, for it was beaten hard by constant traffic.
2. After the seed had fallen upon it men trod it under foot and crushed out its life.
3. That which remained upon the surface the birds devoured.
The connection between the three is obvious. Had the soil not been trodden hard beforehand, neither would the after-treading have destroyed the seed, nor would the birds have found it lying ready. Hid in the bosom of the earth, it would have been safe from both. It is the picture of a thoroughly worldly man--not what would commonly be called a wicked man, not a man whose life is a scandal to the society in which he moves, by reason of the grossness of his vices, or the profane or ribald licence of his conversation, but simply one who may be in all outward and social respects without a speck or flaw in his character--nay, who may even be scrupulous in performing all such external acts of religion as the world is pleased to account marks of respectability and good taste, but who is withal simply incapable of receiving any wholesome impression from the ministry of the Word of God, because he has given up his whole heart and mind to worldly things, and heart and mind under their unopposed influence have become completely hardened. Such a man hears the Word. It is beautiful to him, it is pleasant to him, just as, and in no other way, than some history, or poem, or fiction, written by the hand, inspired by the genius of a fellow-man, is pleasant or beautiful. As the work of God’s hand, the revelation of God’s mind, he never for a moment recognizes it; as the voice of God’s Spirit speaking to and bearing witness with His own spirit he never for a moment thinks of it or feels it. And this because there is drawn over his heart and mind and spirit--over all that part of his being in which exists most fully the image of God and the counterpart of the Divine mind--that hard, callous covering of worldliness which is the common road of all that is unprofitable and vain, but is like armour of proof against the entrance of aught that is good and holy into the soil beneath. (C. S. Turner, M. A.)
How to reclaim the indifferent
If the farmer wish to throw into one his separated fields, and make the old roadway part of his productive soil, he knows that the very causes of its hardness have added some fertilizing elements, and that only deep and thorough tillage is needed to accomplish his purpose. But he carefully chooses the time to put in the plough. He does not begin his work when the frost has bound the land in its icy fetters, nor when the drought and heat have reduced it to stony hardness. But meantime he is diligently removing the fences and clearing away, as opportunity may offer, the obstructions which have accumulated. And then some day, when he sees it softened by gentle showers, which the shading clouds have allowed to soak into its bosom, he ploughs deep and harrows thoroughly, and lo, the work is done I In the same way must we deal with this indifference to religion. If we attack such a man when his heart is cold and careless, or when some angry spirit of controversy warms him into resistance, we shall meet only disappointment. In fact, we are sure to be disappointed if we attack him at all. We must wait patiently and watch closely. We must gently and quietly remove as we may the barriers which most frequently we have ourselves erected about him. So long as we keep him fenced out from the companionship and familiar intercourse of pious people, we can make no impression upon him. It was not John the Baptist, but Jesus the Christ who was the friend of publicans and sinners. If we seek the society of such people, and show interest and pleasure in their company, at first they may be shy, but we shall soon see that pass. If we are careful not to obtrude our religion upon them they will always be careful not to make their irreligion offensive to us. And then some time, when the clouds of sorrow have overshadowed them, and the gentle rain of kindly sympathy has softened the hard crust of reserve, God gives us our opportunity, and we may drop the rich seed of His saving truth into the deep furrows which lie open in the mellowed soil. Who knows but that when the harvest season comes, we may trace the old roadway all through the burdened field by the line of heavier sheaves which it has ripened! (R. Wilson, M. D.)
The highway ground
I. THE KIND OF SOIL.
1. As a highway lieth careless, neglected, unbounded, common, not several, but is trodden and beaten with the feet of all sorts of passengers, so these hearers’ hearts are not closed and made several for the seed of God’s Word, and for heavenly things, but lie common and open to all temptations and suggestions of Satan, to the covetous and carnal desires of earthly things, which eat up heavenly; to vain wandering, idle cogitations and thoughts, all which make a thoroughfare and beaten path in the heart.
2. As in an highway if any seed fall, no man looks to cover it, no man respects it, as looking for no good at all of it, but leaves it to be trodden of beasts, and eaten up of birds: so with these hearers, when the Word is preached, they hear it carelessly, without all attention, or affection, they care not to understand it, never cover it by meditation, nor receive it further than by giving it the hearing; they expect no good from it; let errors and lusts come and tread it down, let the devil by suggestions and tentations devour it up; they care neither to understand, nor receive, nor remember it.
3. As highway ground can neither receive nor cover the seed, or if it should, it is so hard and padded, that it cannot afford it the least rooting, at least to come unto fruit, the crop will never fill a man’s hand: even so these hearers, like hard and paved earth, continually trodden and trampled with wandering thoughts, and fruitless cogitations, and tentations of the devil, hear the Word sometimes, but without heart, mind, affection. A little seed may lie on the superficies or top of their brain, or tongue, or may make a little show on the outside, but nothing of it gets within them, nor takes any root, and consequently yields no fruit of faith, of God’s fear, of piety or Christian conversation.
II. CAUSES OF UNFRUITFULNESS.
1. Inward. Their own disposition: they tread the seed under foot; that is, despise and undervalue it. It is the careless hearer who understands not, nor attains. The careless hearer is the worst hearer of all, as this first ground is the worst ground of all. The other two are bad both, yet they gave the seed some cover, and receive it in; but these hold it out, and leave it where they found it.
2. Outward. The malice of the devil (see Luke 8:12). Where are three things to be considered:
(1) The description of this malicious person, both by his name and by a similitude.
(2) The exercise of his malice: “he cometh.”
3. The end of his coming; threefold:
(1) To steal the Word.
(2) To hinder faith.
(3) To bereave men of salvation. (Thomas Taylor, D. D.)
Seed on the wayside; or, the heedless hearer
This part of the parable is founded on the principle that attention is the first claim of the gospel. The gospel claims attention from us--
I. AS TRUTH By a mental law, truth and the mind can have no connection but through the medium of attention.
1. The attention is voluntary.
2. Attention is under the law of habit.
3. An obligation rests on man to exercise and improve this power. For we know that some of the highest obligations of life involve a right exercise of attention.
II. AS A SYSTEM OF TRUTH HAVING PECULIAR DIFFICULTIES TO THE HUMAN MIND. For it includes--
1. Spiritual facts as its basis and its end. The difficulties of life have been the occasion of making all the greatness the world has ever witnessed in men.
2. Painful truths; being a direct, unqualified attack upon cherished desires and confirmed habits.
3. The doctrines of the gospel are contested truths. And the contest, our Lord informs us, is first begun by another party before man takes it up. Some find insuperable difficulties in particular doctrines. Others are prejudiced against the principles for being so much better than those who profess to believe them. And he has taught another class in his school to look within themselves for illumination.
III. As TRUTH or SUPREME IMPORTANCE.
1. It is God’s special revelation in human language. It is God’s Word, addressed to all men, and to every man. Then, by everything sacred and decent, by every consideration of propriety and of duty, every human being should listen to the Word of God. And again we are bound to give such attention, because the Scriptures--
2. Fully and strongly exhibit our duties; the chief of which are those we owe to God. They also fully exhibit our duty to man.
3. God here treats of life and death eternal. This is the sum. (E. N. Kirk, D. D.)
They hear the Word as a man hears in a dream. They do not attend to it. It is a mere sound that has no meaning in it to them. If you ask them, “What think ye of Christ? “they reply by saying that they have not thought at all. He is not personal to them at all. It is a common thing to meet men and women who have been church-goers all their lives, and who tell you with the blandest manner, when you speak to them about their souls, that they have never really given the matter any serious thought. No impression of truth has been made upon their hearts. They are indifferent to it all, though keenly alive to and intelligent concerning a score or a hundred earthly interests. They are sometimes called “gospelhardened,” but this is a great mistake. They are world-hardened. They are like the mill-owner who had given half the money required to build a stately church upon the services of which he attended, and who, when asked what he thought of the sermon of dedication, to which he had been outwardly listening, said: “The fact is, I did not hear what the pastor was saying. I could not help thinking all through the service, as I looked at the spacious proportions of this edifice, if it was a cotton mill how many spindles I could set up in it.” The man was mill-hardened. A lady confessed to me once that, during the sermon, though she heard the words of it and understood the theme as I discussed it, she had been planning for a dinner party that she was to give during the week. Here was a heart society-hardened. I knew another man who acknowledged that during the sermon he had been mentally making a note of the men whom he noticed in the congregation, and arranged in his own mind how and when he would see them in order to induce them to take out policies in a great life insurance company, of which he had recently been made the local agent. Thus do men harden their hearts and become wayside hearers. (G. F. Pentecost.)
And some fell upon a rock--
The shallow soil
It is evident that there is a very considerable difference between the persons whose state is signified by the shallow soil and those who are represented by the hard field-path.
By those the Word of God is not received at all--merely heard with the outward ears, and in no true sense understood; by these the Word is not only received, but received with joy. The persons now in question do not simply listen to the Word of God with pleasure and admiration, as the worldly man does, because of the outward graces in which its expression is clothed. No I their joy is a joy of the heart--they understand that which they hear, in a sense in which the worldly man understandeth it not. Its inner meaning--its spiritual beauty--is not hidden from them, as from him. They are able to discern and to appreciate it as a revelation of God, and the excellence, the purity, the righteousness, the loveliness of that which is revealed find in their hearts a powerful attraction. They listen to the gospel story and, far from only enjoying it as a beautiful story, they feel themselves drawn “with cords of a man, with bands of love,” by Him of whose love and labour for them the story tells. Nor does the effect of the Word end there. They not only understand, they not only feel, but they act. The love of Christ constrains them--constrains them to break away from evil habits, to exercise self-denial, to follow in many ways that which they see to be good. What more, you may ask, could be expected or desired? Is not this the very result which the Divine Sower looks and longs for? Is not this proof which cannot be gainsaid that the Divine seed has taken good root, and is fulfilling the purpose of its sowing? How can this soil be classed as unfruitful when it is actually bearing so goodly a crop? Alas 1 the Sower Himself answers our questions. It is all good while it lasts; but it endures but for a time, and all trace of it is gone long before the reapers go forth to gather in the harvest. Then they find no more fruit here than on the path, and they carry no sheaves hence, for all its past promise, to add to the store in the Master’s barn. (C. S. Turner, M. A.)
On stony ground
The wayside had suggested incapacity for fruitage, resulting from a misapplication of the moral and intellectual faculties, the consequence of which was indifference to sacred things. The stony ground illustrates another and equally disastrous condition of irreligion, produced by an entirely different cause. Here the soil is good. In fact, in such places it is often of superior quality, produced by the rotting of leaves and other refuse matter in the moisture which cannot soak into the ground, But it has no depth. The seed which falls on this rich warm mould is rapidly quickened and soon germinates, shooting up with a green luxuriance that gives promise of speedy and abundant returns. The roots are thrown out all along the surface, but they can take no firm hold on the soft and yielding material, and the tap-root, which ought to penetrate deep into the subsoil to give support to the plant and find a never-drying source of moisture, is bruised and turned aside by the underlying stones against which it strikes, while the very rapidity and luxuriance of growth soon exhausts the scanty materials which nourish it. The warm sunshine which ought to give life and vigour becomes a source of injury instead, and the wilted plant droops, dies, and is forgotten long before the harvest season comes. Now we know perfectly well that such ground is far from useless; that if the proper treatment be applied it is often the most profitable, for these are just the conditions which we select or produce artificially for forcing. We want rich and rapid growth, and we know how to obtain it. Every gardener knows what special care must be bestowed upon the hot-bed to prevent the loss of all his labour. The hot, damp, shallow soil receives greedily the proffered seed, and with a marvellous quickness develops the germ. But the most assiduous attention is demanded, for these hotbed plants are far more delicate than those beside them from the same seed. They must he mulched and watered, the sunshine must be courted, but shaded off as it grows too warm, the cold air must be carefully excluded, but often discreetly admitted, and the least relaxation of all this diligence means destruction. A. sash left open, a mat removed, a single watering forgotten, and the plants wither and droop. The very same soil, if deeply dug, thoroughly drained, and well fertilized, will become permanently strong and productive. Surely we are only too familiar with the application in all its various degrees. We see all about us people in every stage and character of irreligion who were once, to some extent at least, professedly pious. It is fearful to contemplate how many such there are, and how very difficult it is to reawaken them to any interest in religion. The facility with which great numbers of persons may be made to acknowledge the influence of religious emotion is familiar to us all, and a little observation will also make us familiar with the startling disproportion of those numbers to the comparatively few who persevere. Nothing could be further from the truth than to accuse such persons of hypocrisy, for emotional characters are almost always sincere. It is precisely because their minds are so receptive, their feelings so readily impressed by eloquent and earnest appeals, that we find them yielding so readily and accepting the assurance of God’s love with a gladness as real as it is demonstrative. But they have no depth of character, and their very shallowness causes a rapid and laxuriant development of practical religion.
The drunkard is suddenly reformed; the profane swearer becomes frequent in prayer; the brawler grows peaceable and patient under insult. But one after another the old evil habits of life get the better of them, and their last state is worse than the first, because religion has become to them an experimental failure; the glowing faith which believed conversion an accomplished fact has given way to disappointment, and the man has lost all confidence in the reformatory influence and efficacy of religious belief and effort. Now if we bear in mind this warning lesson of the Master, we shall always become watchful and careful when we see any unexpectedly prompt and promising yielding to religious influence or exhortation. Beware of the quick fertility of the stony ground. (Robert Wilson, M. D.)
I. THE KIND OF SOIL. A kind of bad hearers, compared to stones, or stony ground.
1. For the natural hardness, which cannot be broken nor softened.
2. For their coldness: not warmed with the heat of the sun of righteousness, nor the Spirit of God, but abide cold as stones.
3. For their heaviness: a stone will not easily be removed out of his place, his proper centre is the earth.
4. For their unprofitableness, and resistance of the fruits of the earth: for as stoniness of ground by the curse upon man’s sin became very noisome to the fruits of the earth, so the stoniness of heart, a part of the curse, more hinders fruits of grace than any stony ground can hinder seed cast into it.
5. As stony ground and common stones are little esteemed, but rejected of men; so this stony ground is as little respected of God. Yet herein our hard hearts are worse than stones: they increase not their hardness; but ours is daily increased by wilfulness and perverseness.
II. Now to the success OF THE SEED in this stony ground: and first, the hopeful and commendable, in the beginning--“it sprung up.” Which implies that of Matthew 13:20, “He which heareth the Word, and incontinently with joy receiveth it.” Where we have four things considerable.
1. This bad ground receiveth the Word: wherein they go beyond the former hearers, who only heard the Word, but left it as soon as they heard it; let the devil, or any devouring bird eat it and take it from them, they care not.
2. This bad ground receives it “incontinently” (saith Matthew), when God speaks they will hear, and without delays or excuses willingly receive when God proffers.
3. These bad hearers, and stony ground receive it with joy.
4. This stony ground brings up the seed sown.
(1) Is rises to external obedience and reformation of many, perhaps most things.
(2) The seed springeth up to an outward profession, as those that hope to be saved by it, and so to an outward fellowship and communion with the saints in the Word, sacraments, and many other godly exercises, both public and private.
(3) It springeth up in the stony ground to a kind of faith, which hath in it not an enlightening only, but a taste of the heavenly gift and the powers of the world to come, by which they are partakers of the Holy Ghost; that is, something they have so like true sanctification that both themselves and others may think them truly sanctified. Some of the Israelites tasted of the fruits of the land of Canaan, and did thereby perceive what a good land it was and desired part in it, and conceived good hope of enjoying and possessing it, yet never enjoyed it, but perished in the wilderness. Learn hence how far a bad hearer may go in Christianity. A man may hear the Word with diligence, receive it with joy, believe with some assurance, grow up to high place in the profession of religion, bring forth fruits of commendable obedience, and all this while be bad ground and in damnable estate. Having spoken of the success of this seed cast into the stony ground, in the commendable hopes it gave in the beginning; now we proceed to the lamentable and doleful success in the conclusion with the reason of it, both in the words now read unto you.
1. “It withered away.”
2. “Because it lacked moisture.”
First, of the withering of these glorious professors, then of the causes. This withering is a falling away, but not all at once, but by little and little, as a leaf loseth his greenness and flourish, and withers by degrees. For the word implieth the manner of their falling. Neither is it a falling away in part, or for a time, as the disciples and Peter in the time of Christ’s passion; but a final falling away from all their graces, from which falls is no return or rising. Here consider four things:
1. How men wither away in grace.
2. The danger of withering.
3. Notes of a man withering.
4. The use and application of all.
For answer to the first: Men, even great professors in the Church, wither four ways.
1. In judgment.
2. In affection.
3. In practice.
4. In the use of the means.
The second is the danger of such withering: Which we shall clearly see in four particulars.
1. In respect of God they are most hateful, seeing they can find nothing more worthy forsaking than the good way, and esteem everything better worth keeping than God’s image and graces.
2. In respect of the Church: They bring scandal to the weak, and the scorn of the wicked upon themselves and all professors.
3. In respect of the sin itself: None more dangerous. For first, relapses, we say, are far more dangerous than first diseases. Secondly, Satan returning, comes with seven more wicked spirits than himself, and so he is for ever held under the power of Satan. Thirdly, this sin is commonly punished with other sins, which is God’s most fearful stroke, to which He seldom gives up His own. Fourthly, it is in the degrees of the sin against the Holy Ghost, and easily brings a man into that estate that there may be left no sacrifice for his sin.
4. In respect of the judgment that awaits and overtakes this sin. The judgment is certain. The third general thing proposed is: Notes of a man withering in grace.
And these are six.
1. A resting in a common and general hope of a good estate, without desire or endeavour to seek marks of certainty or special assurance in himself, As a foolish tradesman hopes his estate is good enough, and bears his creditors in hand it is so; but he is loath to cast up his books or come to a particular view of it. No surer argument of a man decaying.
2. An opinion of sufficiency, that he hath grace enough, he will seek no more because he pleaseth himself in his present measure; and he that careth not to increase his stock wastes of the principal. And not to go forward is to go backward.
3. A comparing of a man’s self with those that are of lower and inferior graces or means.
4. A shunning or slighting of God’s ordinances; a willing excommunicating himself from the assemblies when he list. That man’s strength is abating who falls from his meals. He must eat that must live. And the plant that would not wither must draw moisture daily. Or, if using public means diligently he neglect private, he is on the withering hand.
5. Secret sins ordinarily committed, not bewailed, not reformed.
6. Hatred of God’s children, and the way of just men, whether open or secret.
What be the means to keep us from withering?
1. Get sound judgment, to discern the truth from error. If we would not fall we must be grounded on the foundation of the prophets and apostles; by private reading, meditating and conferring of the Scriptures, which notably begets and confirms soundness of judgment; and by prayer, which obtains the spirit who is called the spirit of judgment. The lamp fails without oil.
2. Sound persuasion of the truth thou professest; that thou mayest not please thyself that thou hearest the truth from the mouth of the preacher; or hast it in thy Bible at home; no, nor content thyself that thou hast it in thy mouth or discourse, but that thou hast the experience of it in thine heart.
3. Sound affection and love to the truth upholds from withering in it, when the wise Christian esteems the pearl worth selling all to buy it. Love anything better than grace, thou art gone. Demas loves the world better, and easily forsakes the truth. How many lights in the beginning of their profession have been extinct by the world coming upon them.
4. Sound conscience; to which is required--
1. When God’s Word makes no impression or gets not within the heart to renew or reform the man, though sometimes it may scratch the outside and restrain him.
2. Neglect, or light over-passing the works of God’s mercy or justice, upon himself or others.
3. Unfeelingness of hardness, and unwillingness to feel it; no mislike of it, no desire to understand the danger of it.
4. For the maintaining their estate, credit, and favour in the world, or their lusts and pleasures, to oppose and dislike such doctrines, courses, and persons as have the word on their sides.
5. Out of resolution of following a man’s own present course, whatsoever persuasion or doctrines he hears to the contrary, to fly occasions and companies which might touch or work upon his conscience.
6. Habits and customable sins, which make the heart as a pathway. A soft heart smites itself for once sinning and for small sinning.
(Thomas Taylor, D. D.)
Now the marks to know a hard heart are these:
Seeds on stony places; or, the cowardly hearer
Here is a case of great promise in the commencement. We should here take a distinct view of the nature of courage. The common notion of it is, indifference to danger. But that does not distinguish this noble principle from rashness. It properly refers to that quality of mind by which the higher sentiments overrule the dread of suffering. These sentiments are such as patriotism, philanthropy, integrity, sense of duty, and sense of right. The opposite state of mind is that which places the escaping from suffering above every consideration. And it is a person governed by that principle that is pointed out by this part of the parable. This habit of placing comfort before goodness equally facilitates the beginning and the ending of his religious life; for--
I. IT PREVENTS HIM FROM EVEN UNDERSTANDING THE THEORY OF THE GOSPEL, AND MUCH MORE FROM TRULY ACCEPTING ITS PROVISIONS. Imagine a person awakened by the law of God to an apprehension of danger; of guilt in his sight, and consequent exposure to the Divine wrath. If he would regard the testimony of God, he would find more in his case than the exposure to suffering. But such is the operation of selfishness in the human heart, that often where this sense of danger is irresistibly urged home, there is still such a magnifying of suffering as the great evil, that the attention shall be fully absorbed by that. The first consequence is--
1. He neither sees that Christ comes to save him from sin; nor that he is a sinner.
2. He misapprehends the atonement, or the ground of Christ’s death. This must make a superficial Christian.
3. He fails also to see the work of the Holy Spirit, and his own obsolute dependence on that Spirit for renewal and sanctification. There lies in that heart the deep, dead, broad rock of impenitence and pride. Into its compact substance no root of conviction, of repentance, of faith, of love, ever penetrated. The very thing he has bargained for is an easy service. Christ gives peace; and it is peace he wants, and not trouble. He can accordingly sail in smooth seas, and live well in fair weather with his religion. But--
II. HE CAN DO NO BETTER WITH THE PRACTICE OF THE GOSPEL THAN WITH ITS THEORY; for--
1. It requires him to struggle with sin in his own heart. The work to which Christ calls us is a progressive conquest over spiritual evils in ourselves.
2. His conflict with the world. Men of superficial religion are generally very much perplexed to know what the Scriptures mean by “the world,” against which they speak so severely. (E. Kirk, D. D.)
And some fell among thorns
The thorn roots
These are not thoroughly worldly persons, who pay no heed at all to the Word of God; nor yet are they persons who trust to their own feelings and impulses, and what are called religious impressions, for strength to stand in the evil day, and to endure tribulation for the sake of Christ; but they are those who set themselves to accomplish the task which our Lord says is impossible, of serving God and Mammon, of making, as it has been said, the best of both worlds.
They cannot seek God with their whole heart, because their heart is always occupied, in part at least, with some other object. God and the things of God are acknowledged by them as having a claim on their time and thoughts, but it is only the spare time, only the thoughts of (so to say) idle moments, that they can afford to give up in response to this claim. Whatever home the Word of God can find for itself in vacant spaces of mind and heart it is welcome to occupy; whatever influence it can exercise within the narrow limits which other things do not fill, they do not grudge it; but it can by no means be permitted to interfere with more pressing interests, or to assert anything like a free right of entry into all the concerns of life. It is not at all, I think, that, like those represented by the shallow soil, they grasp eagerly at the sweet and comforting portions of the Word’s teaching, set aside all that is more stern and terrible, and so live really under the influence of that part of the Word which they have gladly received until they wake to the conviction that what they have received is only a part, and that the time has come when the choice lies between giving up the part received and receiving in addition the part set aside, and then have not sufficient earnestness to take the harder and better course, and so fall away altogether. Rather it would seem they do from the first recognize both sides of the teaching--the sweetness of the promises, and the awfulness of the threatenings; but at the same time there is something which prevents them from fully appreciating either the one or the other; something which hinders them from really using all their energies that they may avoid the threatened woe and attain the promised blessedness. And this something is the hold upon their hearts which is already established by cares, riches, pleasures, delights of the world. Thus they feel some desire to escape the future punishment of sin, but the desire of being free from present cares lies deeper, and if it comes to a question between voluntary endurance of cares here for the sake of happiness hereafter, and self indulgence now with the risk of misery in the future, they choose the latter, because they see the things temporal more clearly than the things eternal,, and what they see most clearly they rank most highly. Thus also they wish to enjoy the glories of heaven, but they wish also to have all they can of the enjoyments of earth, and if they -must forego one for the sake of ensuring the other, they will most readily forego that which they wish for most feebly, because its excellence and desirableness is least real to them, and this again will be the distant glory which is discerned by faith only, not the present enjoyment which forces itself upon the notice of their senses. (C. S. Turner, M. A.)
Here a new and startling thought is brought out, which leads our minds into a different and most suggestive channel. The Master’s mind recurs to the great germ-principle, and teaches us that God’s Word is not the only seed that is sown broadcast over the world; that the controlling application of God’s fundamental laws covers evil as well as good, and that all through this vast globe of nature there are seeds which never fell from the hand of the Divine Husbandman, quick with the same mysterious germ of life, subject to the same law of germination and development under like conditions, and bound by the same inexorable necessity to reproduce themselves after their kind, but noxious in character, waging ceaseless and destructive warfare against the good, and promising an inevitable harvest of sorrow and death. Remembering, now, that all life is governed by this same law of the germ, we may go for our first illustration to what we call “animate nature,” where the seed is found under the form of the egg. Walking by the waterside we find two eggs on the shore, so nearly similar in size, and shape, and colour, that an unpractised eye would scarcely distinguish one from the other. The same white, brittle shell, every section of which is some modification of the arch, equally the strongest form to resist external violence and the weakest against pressure from within. Break this shell and we find in each a similar living membrane, an air-chamber for the support of the young animal, a yolk for its nourishment suspended by twisted ligaments and protected by an envelope of glairy albumen, with the germ-vesicle containing potentially the future young as yet indistinguishable by any human power. We submit these almost exactly similar eggs to the requisite conditions of time and heat until the breaking shell reveals the developed young, and lo! the marvellous difference! From the one, a bird of pure and beautiful plumage, serviceable to man in its every part, an ornament to nature and fitted to walk the land, to float on the crested wave, or to cleave the light air with its sweeping pinions as it soars toward heaven. From the other a scaly monster of loathsome form and frightful aspect, fitted to live only in slime and mire, and destined only to destroy its fellow-creatures. These results, we know, will be invariable, nor can any power reverse or modify them. Thus we learn how exact are the analogies between moral and physical nature. Experience teaches us, further, how full is all soil of the seeds of noxious weeds, and the parable shows us how equally full is our moral nature of the germs of deadly sins and cares which choke out every growth of good. So true is this in the physical world, and so absolutely impossible is it to detect the germs of life prevailing everywhere, that science has even dreamed of spontaneous life as the only solution of the mystery. Prepare your ground, however carefully, for the seeding, it will be green with unwelcome growths long before your grain has sprouted. Let a drop of purest water remain exposed for a few hours, it will swarm with animalculae and microscopic vegetables. Make anywhere an artificial pond, and in process of time it will contain fish and water-plants, but rarely of useful kinds. The air we breathe is full of the infinitesimal spores of deadly maladies, ready to germinate and produce their lethal fruit; but who ever heard of an atmosphere quick with the seeds of health? Under the same great law, then, the soul of man, his moral nature, the moral atmosphere in which he lives, must be full of those evil germs which bring forth the “thorns” of the parable. So evident has been this truth to all human experience, that men have believed in a dual source of life--the Ormuzd and Ahriman of the Persian mythology, the God and Demiurge of the Gnostic philosophy, the one the creator of evil, the other of the good. But whence come these seeds of evil? How is it that these germs of destruction so pervade all nature? Science has but recently demonstrated that they are not, in the physical world, of spontaneous origin. The water which so rapidly devolopes life becomes utterly lifeless when heated to boiling and absolutely excluded from the air. There is one series of processes familiar to us which gives the clue to all the rest, because it shows how God works in creation by the instrumentality of the law of germination. In the barren depths of ocean one of the lowest forms of animal life, the coral polyp, multiplies itself into unnumbered millions, exuding from its body the stony substance which slowly reaches to the surface and forms a reef. This catches the floating seaweed and the drifting pieces of wreck, which decay in the sunshine and form a soil. Some nut or fruit, protected by its hard covering, is borne by the waves from a far-off shore and cast upon the new-formed island, and sprouting there, in process of time produces a tree, which in turn produces others like itself. The falling leaves and rotting stems increase the depth of the soil. The wearied sea-birds seek shelter from the storm, and soon form a colony. Then other birds are driven there, and drop the seeds of their food, and man comes in his vessels and leaves behind him other germs of animal and vegetable life. Thus, in the course of centuries, a great and populous island comes into being. Were our opportunities and our faculties sufficient to the task, we could doubtless in the same way trace out the most mysterious of these phenomena, and learn how in thousands of simple, but unsuspected ways the seeds are carried and planted. The squirrel buries his winter store of nuts and acorns, only a small part of which are consumed; and in a few seasons the growth is entirely changed, and the grassy plain becomes a forest; the swift-winged pigeon is slain by the hawk miles away from his feeding ground, and the undigested seeds in his crop are scattered, and shoot into plants hitherto unknown there. But in the moral world there is another and a darker agency at work to disseminate the germs of evil, as it snatches away the seed which falls by the wayside; for we learn from the parable of the tares among the wheat that “an enemy hath done this.” There is an evil being of great power and malignant purpose who fills man’s heart with the deadly seeds of worldly cares and sorrows, and who well knows that the richest and mellowest soil is the best for his objects. (Robert Wilson, M. D.)
I. WHY LUSTS ARE COMPARED TO THORNS. Carnal lusts are fitly compared to thorns in five respects.
1. There are some flowers, and some show on thorns, small fruits, and many pricks; so whatever appearance these lusts make, no good fruit riseth of them, but many pricks and sorrows by them in the end. Thorns pierce the body, lusts the mind.
2. Thorns are everywhere armed, and ready to wound and tear him that, meddling with them, doth not carefully fence himself; so they that nourish the cares of the world, or addict themselves to pleasure or profits, pierce themselves through with many sorrows.
3. As a thorn held softly pricks not nor hurteth, but when it is held hard and crushed, it easily draweth blood; so a man may use this world, as not using it, without danger, and hold softly the profits and pleasures of this life; but grip them, and fasten on them, there is certain hurt.
4. Thorns and briars are the dens and receptacles of serpents and poisonful worms and creatures; so are these unmortified desires the harbours of infinite noisome sins, which shall creep as thick into the soul as the frogs into Pharaoh’s lodgings. As Israel, not content with God’s daily allowance, but out of a covetous and distrustful desire, against God’s commandments, saved some of the manna till morning, but it was all full of worms, and stunk; so do fleshly minds, by nourishing unlawful lusts, turn manna into worms.
5. As thorns and briars are at last good for nothing but fuel for fire; so these thickets of lusts, and pursuit after the profits and pleasures of this life, are the proper fuel of the fire of the great day, and prepare the ground itself (which all worldlings are), without timely repentance, as fuel for the fire of hell, which is unquenchable.
II. THESE BAD HEARERS ARE APTLY COMPARED TO THORNY GROUND. For as a thorny and weedy soil chokes and kills at length such seeds as come up hopefully; so a heart, stuffed with unmortified affections, at length resists and chokes the seed of God’s Word, that it shall not prosper to the salvation of that hearer in the harvest; for--
1. These thorns supplant the Word, and unroof it again, as thorns, to root themselves, undermine the seed below.
2. These thorny corruptions hinder the comfortable heat and shine of the sun from the heart, namely, the sweet beams and influence of the spirit of grace, which cannot come so sweetly and freely to the heart to cherish the growth and work begun, as thorns hinder the sun from plants.
3. Thorns draw away the moisture which should preserve the plants in their growth and greenness; even so these inward lusts draw the heart from means of moisture and grace; they sometimes give a man leave to hear, but as they prevail and take up the heart, there shall be little time allowed to remember, meditate, or apply that which is heard, and as small leave to bring things into practice.
III. THORNS AND LUSTS OF ANY SORT, SUFFERED TO GROW IN THE HEART, DO SOON OVERGROW THE WORD OF GOD, AND SUFFER IT NOT TO PROSPER. For as the husbandman, who suffers thorns and weeds to choke his seed coming up, loseth his harvest; even so that man loseth his part in the gospel that cherisheth lusts and disordered desires in his heart, together with the gospel. Hence the Apostle James (James 1:21) telleth us that if we would hear the Word so as it may be ingrafted in us, we must first east away, or put off as an old rag, “the superfluity of maliciousness and filthiness,” that is, the abundance of carnal affections, looseness of life, pride, disdain, wrath, contention, earthly pleasures, vanity, evil speaking of Divine doctrine, &c.; and in the next verse shows that with these lusts men may be hearers of the Word, but never doers till they be weeded out; they will at length overgrow it. Reasons:
1. Ill weeds, we say, spring apace; good seeds or herbs not half so fast. We shall see a bramble grow more in seven months than an oak in seven years. So our text--the thorns grow up with the seed, but choke it by overgrowing.
2. Our grounds are fit and prepared to produce thorns rather than bring up the good seed. Our hearts are the natural mother to lusts, but a step mother to seeds of grace. For there lies in our nature a sea of evil lusts lurking; our own original lust is a fountain, and an inordinate disposition to all evil. From which fountain issue innumerable streams of actual lusts, which are the innumerable motions of the soul, contrary to every commandment of God; all which, in their several armies and bands, issue out against God and His Word, as the Philistines still warred against Israel. Now, our ground being so apt to weeds, they will soon overgrow the Word, if but a little neglected.
3. A part of the curse on man’s sin is that the earth should bring forth thorns and thistles. The earth should have brought them forth, if man had not sinned; but they should not have been so noisome and hurtful to man and the fruits of the earth. Even so it is a part of the curse of our sin that there should grow up such noisome lusts (as thorns) in the ground of our hearts, as do far more hinder the growth of grace in our hearts, and choke the seed of the Word sown ill our souls, than all the weeds and thorns in the world can choke the seeds and fruits of the earth. Lusts are still remaining in the best, but not now as a curse, but only, as the Canaanites, to keep them humble.
4. The reign of lust cannot but thrust down the reign of the Word; for, first, that the Word may reign, it must be understood, but thorns hinder the light of the sun from the seed. One thorn is enough to darken the eye of the understanding. Secondly, that the Word may reign, it must first renew. But there can be no new creature, till the old man be put off, with his lusts Ephesians 4:22-23). Thirdly, that the Word may reign, it must be obeyed when it commands, and be expressed in the fruits of holiness. But lusts unsubdued oppose themselves, and hinder the motions when they should come into practice, and the Lord’s plant becomes fruitful only on that condition, that the Father purge it (John 15:1-27.).. Again, how can a man walk on cheerfully in his way that hath a thorn sticking m his foot? No less do these thorns cast men back in their way of obedience. These superfluities of lusts and inordinate desires are as dead branches, that must be lopped off before fruit can be expected. (Thomas Taylor, D. D.)
The seed among thorns; or, the fatal compromise
We are now introduced to another character, which we may denominate--the compromising. They strike hands with the gospel, but with the world at the same time. Some are willing to suffer for their soul’s good, who are still unwilling to relinquish each rival to Christ. The case has these prominent features--there is, under the hearing of the gospel, a partial suppression of worldliness. But the worldly desires gain an ultimate victory over the gospel.
I. THE PARTIAL SUPPRESSION OF WORLDLINESS IN HEARING THE WORD.
1. The attention of the mind is, for the time, diverted from the world. Human consciousness follows the will and sensibilities. It takes no cognisance of deep, underlying principles in the heart. They may be master-principles, giving to the character its every distinctive feature, and shaping the whole current of action; and yet, under particular circumstances, they shall be to the soul’s consciousness, annihilated. This law of the mind is of the first magnitude; and yet human history is filled with the delusions which men practise on themselves by overlooking it. Now, men may have no consciousness that they are governed by a love of the world, and may readily embrace the hopes of the gospel, under an impression of their entire sincerity and earnestness in doing it, while at the same time their hearts cling to the created sources of enjoyment, with a tenacity strong as the desire of happiness and dread of misery can make it. The first reason of this temporary ascendancy of the gospel, and of their delusion in regard to its completeness, is the strong impression which is, for the time, made on the sensibilities. It may come in various forms. One is--a temporary disgust with the world. This has deceived thousands; for this very disgust derives its acuteness from the strength of that affection which is disappointed. The man who has calmly looked behind every mask the world wears, long recognized the hollowness of its pretensions, and the falseness of its promises, is the very farthest from any paroxysm of disgust. He has been accustomed to consider a thorn a thorn, and if by any inattention he leaned his hand upon it, and it pierced him, he only reproaches himself for his heedlessness, and walks thereafter more guardedly. But here are your romancers, whose gravest occupation in youth was the day-dream. They studied the world through their fancies and their favourite writers. And on some dark day a storm arises, and lightnings strike the cherished tree on which grew their heart’s fondest hopes. In an instant its blossoms wither; its leaves are scattered; its shattered trunk alone remains. And to the heart’s moanings there is no response but sullen thunder, howling wind, and roaring floods. Such has the world become in one day to some that most fondly cherished, most devoutly worshipped it. Now the love of the world, as a principle, may remain entirely unshaken by all this violence.
2. The gospel is taken up without reference to its opposition to the world. Men do regard themselves as religious who never formed one definite idea as to the peculiar spirit of the gospel and its unworldly features. There are thorns in the ground which will yet effectually choke every religious sentiment and purpose.
II. THE ULTIMATE TRIUMPH OF THE WORLD OVER THE GOSPEL. “He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word; and he becometh unfruitful.
1. The feebleness of the religious principle. It sprung from transient causes. If these causes had been made merely occasions it would have been well. But it remained a thing of impulse, and did not become a matter of principle. He should have struck the blow that would have emancipated him from the world.
2. The strength of the worldly principle. There is a care which becomes us, as endowed with forethought. The poor feel it, the rich feel from it. Itself a sin, it begets sin. It fills the mind with so many vain desires, perplexing thoughts, and wicked purposes, that God’s Holy Word can find no permanent entertainment there. Then an innumerable host of interests, objects, and passions are included under the phrase--the lust of other things. But we have gone far enough to see this principle established--that the mastery of one worldly desire over the human heart will effectually neutralize all the power of the gospel. The evidence of it is in the fact that the prevalence of that desire proves the complete delusion of the soul on a vital point. And every indulgence of the desire strengthens the soul’s aversion to God. (E. N. Kirk, D. D.)
Thorns like flowers
Our thorns sometimes appear like flowers. Our worldly cares seem quite legitimate, our sins appear pleasant, our earthly graspings necessary; but there is not a single thing that hinders the reception and supremacy of the truth within us that will not become a thorn to pierce us. The rose of our sinful delights will wither, and we shall find that our hearts have nourished thorns. All these evil growths must be destroyed, brethren; the high towering thorns of pride that cast their shadow upon all tender springings of violet-like virtues; the creeping, entangling thorns of lusts; the glossy-leaved thorns of deceit, so smooth to the eye and yet so stinging to the touch; the long, bare spiney thorns of malice; the short stubbed thorns of worldly worry, and the sharp-hooking thorns of covetousness--all must be rooted out of us if the truth is to spring up into the pleasant foliage of moral beauty and the sweet fruit of gracious deeds. (W. O. Lilley.)
And other fell on good ground
The good ground
Here consider, as in the former--
The soil, good ground: where first, how it comes to be good: secondly, how it is known to be good, namely, by hearing with honest and good hearts.
2. The success of the seed in it--fruitfulness.
1. For the measure, or plenty--an hundredfold.
2. For the continuance, or constancy--with patience.
Of these in their order. And first, how the ground doth come to be good. Answer: It is called good, non a priori, because the Word finds it so; but a posteriori, because by the Word it is made so. Every man’s heart by nature is a stiff ground, a barren and cursed earth (Ephesians 2:1-22.).
2. But as stiff and bad ground becomes good by good husbandry and manuring, so do our hearts by the husbandry of the Good Husbandman. He alone changeth the heart.
I. It is called a good heart in two respects.
1. As emptied of bad qualities.
2. As well qualified by grace.
(1) It is emptied of bad qualities, being clean contrary to all the bad disposition of the three former kinds of ground. So as being contrary to all the other, it receives willingly, retains constantly, and perseveres fruitfully unto the end.
(2) It is well qualified by grace, as in our text.
(a) God hath made it of a cursed and barren earth, good ground.
(b) It hears the Word beyond the other. The former heard it, but without desire, this hears with study to learn, and industry to understand.
(c) It keepeth the Word in memory, mind, and practice; the other heard, but kept nothing, because there was no fit place to keep it in.
(d) It brings fruit. In the other was some care to hear, but here is a care of fruitfulness.
(e) It is careful to proceed in grace, to double and increase the measure of fruits, from thirty to sixty, and so to a hundredfold: but the other soon fall from their measure.
(f) It hath obtained by grace an invincible fortitude against temptations and trials, so as no fears or forces shall remove them from the study of piety and fruits of grace; for they bring forth fruits with patience, as the other did not.
So it is called an honest heart. As good is a general word, excluding evil qualities, and including good; so honest also is a general word, and put for the whole approved disposition of the soul, containing both civil and religious honesty. Here for our further direction in so weighty a business we will consider three things.
1. Means, whereby to attain a good and honest heart.
2. Marks, to know when it is so.
3. Motives to the attaining of such a heart.
The means are generally two.
1. Let us see our defect in nature, that our hearts are not good by nature, but stiff and stubborn as the stiffest ground.
2. Let us therefore seek a supply by grace.
This grace is twofold--
1. Of action.
2. Of acceptation.
The grace of action is threefold--
2. Of new creation.
3. Of irrigation.
But because all this grace of action is imperfect in this life, therefore that our hearts may become truly good and honest, there needs also the grace of acceptation. The best ground is good but in part, and no man can say his heart is clean, but much evil and guile will cleave unto it. Yet, where God hath begun a good work, and beholds a constant purpose of good, resolving against all sin, and to please Him in all things, He is pleased to behold only the work of His own finger, and to see us only in our Head, in whom He beholds us all fair and good, imputing His goodness to us, and covering our remainders of evil in Him. He esteems us according to that we are coming to, not by that we have attained. These are the means whereby our hearts become good. Now of the marks whereby they may be known so to be. These marks, because they are many, we will in general reduce them to seven heads, and consider this good heart.
1. In respect of God.
3. The Spirit of God.
4. The ordinances of God.
6. Good duties.
7. Sin and evil.
In respect of God, it hath five excellent properties. First, It desires nearer union with God daily, and all things shall set it nearer unto God. For it knows that everything is so much the more good as it approacheth unto the chief good. Secondly, If it seek God it will “seek Him with the whole heart” (Psalms 119:10), which is a sound conformity of the inward and outward man, directed in the service of God according to the truth of the word. Thirdly, A good heart will only and wholly stand to God’s approbation in that it doth or doth not. Fourthly, A good heart resteth and rejoiceth in God as in the best and only portion (Psalms 73:25). Fifthly, A good heart aims at the glory of God in all things. “In all his parts” (1 Corinthians 6:20)--in his body, because it is His, and in his spirit, because He is a Spirit. In respect of Christ it hath five other excellent qualities. First, It preferreth Christ before a thousand worlds (Philippians 3:8). Secondly, A good heart rejoiceth more in Christ and His love than in worldly joys. Thirdly, A good heart, seeing that Christ hath given Himself wholly unto us, gives itself wholly to Him. Fourthly, A good heart prepares a room in it for Christ to dwell in (Ephesians 3:17). Fifthly, A good heart conforms itself to Christ, and will walk as He gave example. For it knows the Scripture hath set Him out, not as a Redeemer only, but as a pattern of good life and imitation. It looks unto the Spirit of God; in four kinds of notes.
1. In respect of spiritual assurance.
2. Spiritual worship.
3. Spiritual graces.
4. Spiritual growth.
A good and honest heart looks to the ordinances of God, and so hath many excellent qualities. In two general respects--
1. In respect of Christian religion itself.
2. In respect of the means by which it is upheld, and these are three--
1. The Word and sacrament.
2. The Sabbaths and assemblies.
3. The pastors and ministers.
A good and honest heart hath many marks in respect of itself--as the Scriptures ascribe many properties unto it without which it cannot be good.
Marks of a good heart in respect of good duties. It considereth, first, that it is God’s new workmanship created to good works (Ephesians 2:10). Marks of a good heart in respect of sin. It knoweth, first, that nothing is properly hated of God but sin, as being directly against His law and His image, who is a God hating iniquity; and as God Himself is the chief and absolute good, so only sin is the chief and absolute evil. Hence--
1. It sees the misery of sin, and groans under the burden.
2. It truly repents for sin.
3. It seeks pardon.
4. It feareth and watcheth all sin to come, as it hateth and shameth for all sin past.
As nature shuns and fears all serpents, even little ones as well as great, so grace shuns all sins, and hates them, being the spawn of the Serpent. First, it knows all are hateful to God, all prejudicial to the soul, as one hole in a ship, or one swine in a garden, or one fly in the apothecary’s box is enough to spoil all; therefore it watcheth all. Secondly, Seeing small sins are commonly harbingers to greater, it dares not venture on the smallest. Thirdly, It knows that the way to avoid final defection, or backsliding, is to fear staying a little. Fourthly, It fears the show, the taste, the occasions, the first appearances of sin, lest from the broth, it easily fall to the flesh. Fifthly, It fears and hates his own sins more than all other men’s, and not as it is said of Anthony, “He hated the tyrant, not tyranny.” “I hate that I do” Romans 7:15). Sixthly, It hates and fears his own inward sins as much as the outward; wisely damming the fountain and well-head, and stocking up the root. Seventhly, It hates and fears the repetition of sin, and much more shakes off the habit of it, lest he should suddenly grow to expertness in the trade. Lastly, It hates and mourns for other men’s sins, and stops them when he can (Psalms 119:136). “And now tell you weeping” Philippians 3:18). Yea, the sins of others against God more smite a good heart with sorrow than their own sins can an evil.
5. It retains and still renews a full purpose of not sinning, so as though it sin, the conscience can testify that it is carried against the settled purpose of it. (Thomas Taylor, D. D.)
The seed in good ground; or, right reception of the gospel
I. WHAT IS THE RIGHT RECEPTION OF THE GOSPEL? The answer may be given in a word. It is the reception of it into the mind and heart as the remedy for sin. This involves--
1. The recognition of sin. An honest heart is one that ackowledges its wrong. There is no honesty in any of us denying that we are sinful before God and sinners against Him.
2. The acceptance of the remedy offered.
II. WHAT, THEN, ARE THE RESULTS?
1. The whole character is changed.
2. A change in the whole life. If a brackish fountain has suddenly lost its bad qualities, the change will be discovered in the sweetness of the stream that flows from it.
III. There is, then, A GREAT RESPONSIBILITY in preaching, hearing, and possessing the Word of God. Our responsibility is to God. That a field has soils of various kinds, may be a matter of no interest to any one else; but to the frugal farmer it is a matter of great interest. To the passing traveller it would occasion no anxiety to know whether all was hard as the wayside; or all a light soil on a broad undivided rock; whether thorns and thistles had intertwined their noxious roots over all its surface; or whether it would give bread to the sower, and return thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold to the reaper. But to the industrious labourer this was a matter of the first moment. (E. N. Kirk, D. D.)
Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of GOD--
The mysteries of the kingdom
A mystery, as the word is used in Scripture, is nothing more than an unknown thing.
It has no reference to anything obscure, or awful, or difficult to understand. The most simple truth may be called a mystery so long as it is concealed. That a Gentile could be converted to Christ was a mystery to the Jews--an unknown thing, not a thing difficult to be understood. Read the text, “Because it is given unto you to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given,” and the meaning is plain and complete.
I. Let us endeavour TO DISTINGUISH THE TWO CLASSES,--on the one hand, those to whom it was given to know the mysteries of the kingdom; on the other, those to whom it was not so given. Some have interpreted this passage as a judicial sentence of perpetual ignorance and unbelief. I am more disposed to interpret it as a description of a hardened and obdurate state of mind--a wilful ignorance connected with gross stupidity. Because their hearts had waxed gross, and their ears were dull, and their eyes were closed--wilfully closed--the Lord left them to the mystery of the parables, but expounded the interpretation to His disciples in their more private intercourse. Jesus had spoken His parables from a ship on the Sea of Galilee to vast multitudes who collected to hear Him from the neighbouring towns and country. We have, then, abundant illustration of the character of this multitude. They came from the places in which He had done most of His mighty works--Capernaum, Chorazin, Bethsaida, and the neighbourhood. In their synagogues Jesus had expounded the Holy Scriptures and showed their fulfilment in Himself. But these people had seen His wonderful works as though they saw them not, and heard His words of wisdom and love as though they heard not. The application is to you, and an affecting application it is. Take heed how ye hear. See that ye refuse not Him that speaketh from heaven. The dreadful shadow of the second death had fallen upon the multitude, and no beams from the Light and Life of the world could dispel its gloom. And oh, consider that the men of the neighbourhood where Jesus chiefly taught were those denied the interpretation of the parable. Exalted to heaven by their privileges, they were debased and brought near to hell by the abuse of them. Now let us look to those to whom Jesus gave the interpretation. The inquiry is, What had they which the others had not? If the disciples had not knowledge, they had the desire to obtain it, and the spirit to make it productive.
1. They had the desire to obtain it. In learning the mysteries of the kingdom (as in everything else) the docile disposition and the acquisition of knowledge are inseparably connected. What cared the multitude for the hard sayings of Jesus? Gratify their vain curiosity, amuse them with signs and wonders, feed them with loaves and fishes, and they are content. But the disciples--that is, the learners--longed to know the whole meaning of the Saviour’s lessons. They heard the parables, and they sought the interpretation. They felt that they lacked wisdom; they hungered and thirsted after the knowledge of righteousness, and with the docility of children they desired to learn the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. To them it was given to know--to them, having the teachable disposition, the instruction was readily and freely afforded. Multitudes are still ignorant of the truths of the Gospel, even in the midst of this bright day of clear, evangelical, heavenly light; but the ignorance of every one of them amidst so many means of instruction is to be attributed to their own wilful indisposition to learn. To how many among us is the Bible enveloped in thick darkness! its great truths are still to them mysteries of the kingdom--secrets hidden from their view, as with a Pharisaic contempt, or a sinfuldislike, they pass their wandering eyes over the words of the sacred page. They read, but understand not what they read. They have no interpreter. The Holy Spirit they have resisted and repelled. The avenues by which pure, Divine, holy truth might reach their hearts they have closed by the corruptions of the flesh and the cares of the world. But some of you have otherwise learned Christ. You were impelled by an ardent desire, and you went with humility, like children, to sit at the feet of Jesus to learn of Him. His words, read in the letter of Scripture, became much more than letter as you read them; they became spirit and life. You felt their spiritual quickening power. Imploring by earnest prayer the light of heaven, that light shone upon the Book of God, and you saw as you had never seen before, wonderful things out of His law. Thus to you much has been given. But--
2. The disciples had a spirit to make their knowledge productive. They did not neglect or abuse the knowledge they had. The good seed in their hearts brought forth its own fruit in its season. How often have the elements of scriptural knowledge been abused, and how often have they been suffered to lie neglected in the heart! And abuse or neglect will always prevent a clear and believing perception of the mysteries of the kingdom. If this be so, no one ought to utter a word of complaint respecting his ignorance of the mysteries of the Gospel. Why do they remain hidden from him? The answer is at hand: because he is not faithful to the little light he already has obtained. Men often see not the doctrine, because the present duty, always plain, it disregarded by them. You may think you know little of the mysteries. But do you not know that you ought to seek more earnestly than you have sought? to practise more self-denial than you have yet practised? to do many things you have not done, and to refrain from doing much that you continue to do? It is no wonder that you should remain still in ignorance of many things, seeing you have already more light than you follow in the practical part of religion.
II. LET US CONSIDER THE MEANS BY WHICH THESE MYSTERIES WERE REVEALED TO THOSE TO WHOM IT WAS GIVEN TO KNOW HIM.
1. A plain and easy way of giving the true knowledge is made apparent. We have the admonitions of Christ as well as His teaching. Our duty is not mysterious. We can seek wisdom, and seek it in the path of obedience.
2. The mysteries are revealed in their appropriateness to ourselves and their application to our wants: revealed to our hearts, according to our need. Show the man himself, a sinner ready to perish--the suitable Saviour for him is revealed by His paying the penalty of sin.
3. The mysteries are revealed in succession, as they prove useful, not to gratify curiosity. (R. Halley, D. D.)
The mysteries of the kingdom of heaven
God is always undoing mystery. He keeps no mystery for the sake of the mystery. He is never withholding, but always giving. His work in relation to us has been from the first an unfolding. He is the God that giveth truth. I say again, He does not put forth His will to hide, but ever and always to reveal. The mysteries of God are the things that the wise and prudent so often turn aside from--they take them as matters of course; and many besides the wise and prudent, many fools likewise, many who are wise in their own eyes--let me say all who are wise in their own conceits. “Of course, of course,” they say; “we know all about that; but we want to understand this, and we want to know what that means; and we want to see how you can account for this, and whether or not you can put this and that and the next thing in your scheme,” when all the time things are crying out in them and around them which they think are too common, too simple, puerile perhaps; “they do not interest us,” they say. That which God requires of men is lust to attend to the thing, whatever it is, that He requires of them, as revealed in their heart, in their feeling, in their sense, that they are not doing altogether right, that they are not being altogether right. And while they are speculating, perhaps, upon what they call the mysteries, what the theologian calls the mysteries, the thing that is a mystery to them is the thing that every simple child-heart can understand. When God calls His children it is that they respond as children in obedience--in obedience. The Lord in His parable is telling us something that perhaps has ceased to be looked upon as at all a mystery with us. Do you know what St. Paul so often calls the mystery that he has to reveal? It looks to us a simple thing enough. It was a very hard thing for many at that time to receive it, and now m other forms it is hard still for certain kinds of minds to receive it. It was just that God loved the Gentile as much as the Jew, that God was no respecter of persons, that He cares for the poor man as much as for the rich. That was the mystery. We think not very mysterious after the common use of the word, but the mystery is the simple truth, the fact of relationship that lies deepest and uppermost and everywhere throughout nature, making life worth living, and men worth being. That kind of mystery is a thing that it is so difficult somehow to wake up the minds of men to see. Try to show any man his duty and he will immediately begin to ask you questions about theories. To get man or woman to acknowledge--I do not mean by word of mouth, but by act of soul, by powerfulemotion of the spirit, of themselves, of their will--to acknowledge, I say, that there is between their hearts and the infinite, all-pervading, unseen force of life, that there is a heart thinking about their hearts, and wanting to have them, that there is a father-love at the heart of things that is looking down and brooding over the hearts of His children, and drawing them to lift up the heart to God, and be in His presence a live thing opening door and window to the reception of that which He is continually trying to give--this is the mystery, the absolute simplicity of life to which it seemsscarcely possible sometimes--I mean it sometimes seems scarcely possible--to wake up one’s own flesh and blood to understand and feel, for we are all one family in Him in whom the whole family in heaven and earth are named. Some would think it a grand thing to be told they could increase their life twofold, tenfold, and live for hundreds of years. God knows if I would turn that leaf to gain that. I should simply scorn it. Whatever is true in any of these things, whatever is true is mine; but I do not want it except by growing to it in the natural progress of the law of Him who is the root of my being, and who has told me that I inherit with Jesus Christ that which my Father has to give. I would put my hand forth, I say, to take no glory of existence save what the natural process of His developing of an obedient child comes to me in its own free, simple form. If you want to attain anything in the shape of true moral, physical, spiritual progress, I say, be the simple disciple of Jesus Christ. That is what you are born men and women for, not to make money, but to know God; and to know Christ is the only way to know God. You may learn of the power of God, but the power of God is not God. God is love, and until we love with our whole souls we do not know God. We may know Him a little, less or more, in proportion as we are capable of loving; or rather, not as we are capable of it, but as we do it--we know God. And in this spirit let us look at the parable that our Lord had just spoken about as containing mystery. Well, God knows it is to me the deepest of all mysteries, even in the common sense of mystery, a thing that utterly perplexes me, and I just stop there and cannot understand it, and that is, the point when the heart of man, the child of God, stops turning its back upon Him, and begins to wheel round the other way; the point when the prodigal, who is the type of every one who goes away from God, and loves anything better than God. God, it seems to me, alone can see and know that, but that this turning takes place we know, and plenty of testimony could you have to the fact. And so in this parable about the seed sown. And looking at all the parables of Christ, what I find in them is this, that He is doing what He can just so to wake up the soul of man, and to cause this change to be begun in the soul of man. He does not speak the parables for the purpose of concealment. Neither does He speak them for the purpose of instructing the intellect and the understanding about things. That is not His work, though all that follows is. Ah, you would know something, friends--let me speak to my young friends present--you would know something of the glory of a life that was independent of outside things. If you just set yourselves to be the thing God meant you to be, set yourselves to obey Him whom the Father sent just to make you shine in the very light, the supernal light, that is all about at the root of everything, wisdom and knowledge, everything that the heart of man falsely worships, precious as it is, freely worships at your command, and if you would but be Divine as you are meant to be, if you will be earthy, if you will be poor creatures, if you will be what Dante calls “insects in whom the formative power is lacking, defective insects that cannot pass into the glorious butterfly”; he says--and I am speaking now of what one of the greatest of men said six hundred years ago--“Do you not know,” he says, “that you are worms that are meant to go forth as the angelic butterfly?” “O foolish man,” he says, “why do you seek low things? Why are you content to be unborn in the cocoon, or in the chrysalis of the worm?” The Lord speaks, I say, in all His parables to wake up that power of life in us that makes a man put everything aside and look up and feel that he has but to be, and he must be, he must be the thing that the Eternal Father made His child to be, else we are but the defective insect we may be born. So what do I find? Here is the story of sowing seed. It falls on different soils, and at last it comes on good soil, and the Lord does not say a word about anything that the soil can do. But He seeks to make us think it and feel it and weigh it in our minds, and speaks of something that we have got to do with it--the hard-trodden ground by the wayside and the poor soil on the rock, with the corn hanging its head, drying up with the drought, and the corn that would look over the tops of the thistles--that would say, “I am bad soil, but I cannot help it; the seed has fallen, but what have I got to do with it?” But there is good soil, and that soil knows that it has got to do with it, and that is just the difference. When the truth of God comes to a true heart--and God claims that the heart should be true, and if the heart is not true there is its condemnation already--when the word drops into the true heart, the true heart says, “I must keep that: I must mind what I am about, I must see to this thing or that,” and so it grows and grows. There was one man I heard sometimes when I was a youth, and I cared more to hear him than all the rest put together. When I came out from hearing him perhaps I could not tell you a word he had said, but I knew I had something to mind; and you may make that a test whether you have been the true ground or not, when anything true has come to your consciousness as truth. The great trouble is, first, with those who never know that anything has anything to do with them. The time has not come, somehow. There may be good soil underneath, but the top is hard-trodden. There is something that seems to prevent any form of the truth getting down to the growing part of them. But when there is a sense of any call that you have not obeyed, made haste to obey it, that you may the sooner come forth into the light. Then there are some, you know, that are the picture of the different kinds of people. Well, I will not say it is wonderful, because it comes from the wonderful. Look how simple it is. There are those when they get moved with feeling begin to grow. They start very fast, you think, as though they would take heaven by storm, but the storm takes them; they are beaten down. They do not like to suffer. Well, we do not any of us like to suffer; but the question is, whether we will make the effort and even if foiled, make an effort again, to meet the future, or whether we shall let adverse powers, whatever they may be, beat us down to the dust, and we lie in the mud instead of soaring in the free air. What is it you want more than anything else? A good many of you think more about the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches; and the desires of other things enter in and choke the word--the word, the truth of God that you have got in you. There is something that you know is your duty. You may not love it very much. You have not seen the glory of it. It is to you like a rough diamond that does not shine. It is very dirty, perhaps. But you have got something in you that you know you ought to use. That is the thing the Lord speaks of; that is the thing that is come out of the heart of God into your heart, and the question is, are you caring about that more than anything else, or are you thinking, “ Well, I mind it just enough not to be cast out. You know it is absurd to ask me to he perfect. I am not perfect. I cannot be perfect,” and the person that says that has not tried enough to know the difficulty of it, but only takes it for granted. Mother, do you think as often about your Father as you think about your child? Oh, I do not want you to love your child less. God forbid. There are very mistakenly wicked things said of that kind. Mothers say, “I love my child too much.” Foolish woman! you never loved your child enough. If you had loved your child aright he would have forced you to lift up your hears to your Father in heaven. You are loving yourself, not your child. No, we cannot love each other too much. Oh, friends, the absurdity of it, that we will give three-fourths to man, and give God a fourth. Are we seeking Him as the business of life, or are we making money the business of life, and thinking of God now and then, sometimes? I do not understand half ways of things. But the people that are in the condition of this corn growing amongst thorns, they are perhaps the last that will understand “it to mean themselves; the strangeness of which is this, that a few more years and all the possibility of my having anything whatever to call my own--I shall have no hand to hold it, not to say no pocket to put it into. Then there is the ground that bears, some fifty, some sixty, and some a hundredfold. You get nothing except you look at that part. It is for yourself. But then perhaps you will say, “ May some bring forth thirty, some sixty, and some a hundredfold?” Yes. “ Does not that imply that the Lord is content to accept an inferior quantity? That some He will take though they only bring Him thirtyfold, and others when they bring Him sixty. But the hundredfold seems to be a maximum, and therefore it seems to imply that, well, perhaps we may bring thirtyfold and we shall be accepted. How low would it go, do you suppose? Twentyfold? Tenfold? How far down would it go? “Well, I think that the disposition that would be content to bring the thirtyfold would prefer to bring one seed or none at all. And I am certain of this, that if it be possible for you to bring forth forty, fifty, or sixtyfold, the Lord will not be content with your thirtyfold. And you will have something to go through yet. For observe this--“Every branch in Me that beareth fruit, He purgeth it.” Why? Because it is bringing forth fruit, why should He be hard upon it? He wants more fruit, and the man who is content with himself anywhere, is just the man that the Lord is not content with. I will tell you your thirtyfold would do very well provided you are not content with it, and you want to make it more. Oh, what a hopeless thing, do you say; we can never get at that? That He will see to, if you see that you want it, and that you are acting as far as you can upon it lie will see to that. Do you think that your Father in heaven will be content to have you, His child, deformed, ugly, lame, worn as with famine, with dirty face and hands, clothed in rags? What kind of a father or mother would it be who would be content to have a child such? Ah, he or she might be exulting unspeaking to have that poor miserable child in his or her arms, but would he be content to see it like that? Friends, do you want it? (G. Macdonald, LL. D.)
A right attitude essential to perceiving God’s truths
An Eastern legend relates that somewhere in the deserts of Arabia there stood a mass of jagged rock, the surface of which was seamed and scarred by the elements; but whenever any one came to the rock in the right way he saw a door shape itself in the sides of the barren stone, through which he could enter in, and find a store of rich and precious treasures, which he could carry away with him. There are some things in God’s universe that seem as barren and unattractive as bare and fissured rocks, but which contain an inwardness of warmth and sweetness inconceivable. The inner holies of God are fast concealed from those who will not come aright, with a heart of love and trust, but open to all who are willing to see and to hear. (Christian Age.)
The seed is the Word of God
THE TRUTH TAUGHT, THE SEED SOWN BY JESUS CHRIST, THE GREAT SOWER.
1. The necessity of repentance.
2. The forgiving love and power of God.
3. The necessity of holiness; of obedience, submission, trust, unselfishness, and brotherly love.
4. Christ enjoined fidelity, and warned of judgment to come.
5. Christ taught the necessity of His death for our redemption; proclaimed Himself the one Mediator between God and man; declared our dependence upon Him for all spiritual life and strength; promised His Spirit to lead us into all truth, and His grace to enable us to endure to the end.
II. THE APPROPRIATENESS OF THE ANALOGY BETWEEN THE SEED AND THE TRUTH.
1. Both contain the principle of life.
2. The development of the life in each depends upon conditions. The seed must be sown in congenial soil, and duly watered and nurtured; the truth must be received into an honest and good heart. (A. F. Joscelyne, B. A.)
I. WHAT IS THE SEED TO BE SOWN? The Word of God.
II. THE SOIL UPON WHICH THIS SEEN IS TO BE CAST. The field is the world.
III. THE MANNER OR SPIRIT IN WHICH THE SEED IS TO BE SOWN.
1. With much prayer.
2. In simple faith upon God’s promises.
3. In entire dependence upon the influences of the Holy Ghost.
4. In a spirit of love to Christ and the souls of men.
5. Not sparingly, but bountifully. (J. Hatchard, A. M.)
Use the Bible
Never were there so many Bibles in the world. The seed of eternal life is in our days plenteously sown. Why, then, has the crop failed so shamefully? The failure of a crop must be owing to one or more of these four causes. Either
(1) the seed must be bad; or
(2) the season must be bad; or
(3) the land must be bad; or
(4) the tillage must be bad.
Now the failure of a crop of holiness cannot be owing to the first of these causes, for the seed is as good as ever. Nor is the failure owing to any peculiarly bad season. The influence of the Holy Ghost still falls, like mild showers, gently and plentifully on men’s hearts, to soften and fit them for receiving the Word of God. The Sun of Righteousness still shines in the heavens, and from His golden throne, when the good wheat has sprung up and come to ear, He pours down warmth enough to ripen it and bring it to perfection. Nor again is the failure of the seed due to the badness of the soil. Bad enough it is, to be sure, naturally; but we know how much the very worst soil may be bettered by care and labour. Man’s heart is not worse than it was formerly. The scantiness of the crop, then, is owing to nothing but badness of tillage. (A. W. Hare.)
The seed gives life by means of death
Just so is it with all truth, and superlatively so is it with the Truth. How often does the discoverer reap his first harvest in derision and loss! How often does the pioneer of some beneficent enterprise lay its foundation in his own wealth, health, and peace I How often does the patriot pay the penalty of living a purer and nobler life than his self-seeking contemporaries! Above all, what a countless army of men, “valiant for the faith and truth upon the earth,” have had to water the seed of Christ’s gospel by their blood and tears! How often in this and that land, and in none more than in our own, have those gospel institutions, which are God’s Tree of Life for the world, had to grow up like a weeping willow and suck their first nutriment from the graves of their martyr-slain! The blood of Scotland’s proto-martyr, the noble Patrick Hamilton, and the memory of his dying prayer, “How long, O Lord, shall darkness cover this realm?” fomented the young Reformation life over a comparatively silent germinating period of more than twenty years. Knox, and with him Scotland, kindled at the pile of George Wishart. Andrew Melville caught the falling mantle of Knox. And as with the martyrs under Popery in that century, so with those under the “black prelacy” of the next. When Richard Cameron fell on Aird’s Moss--as if in answer to his own prayer as the action began, “Lord, spare the green and take the ripe!”--all the more strenuously strove Cargill, till he, too, in the year following, sealed the truth with his blood. And more followed, and yet more, through that last and worst decade of the pitiless storm known, as by emphasis, “the killing time.” Through those terrible years Peden dragged out a living death, and, as he thought of Cameron now at rest, often exclaimed, “O to be with Richie!” Young Renwick, too, caught up the torn flag, nobly saying, “They are but standard-bearers that have fallen; the Master lives.” Thus one after another, on blood-drenched scaffold or on blood-soaked field, fell the precious seed-grain to rise in harvests manifold, till just at the darkest hour before the dawn, Renwick’s martyrdom closed the red roll in 1688, the very year of the Revolution, and the seed so long “sown in tears” was” “reaped in joy.” Marvel not at this. He who is at once the sower and the seed had Himself to die that we might live. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
Vitality of latent seeds
Much interesting information has been furnished lately upon the vitality of buried seeds. It is astonishing how long many of them retain their germinating powers although lying so deep in the earth as to be beyond the reach of atmospheric influences. This is so--e.g., with the seeds of gorse. A piece of land in Northamptonshire was converted from a furze fox-cover to pasture, a state in which it remained for thirty years or more; it was then deeply cultivated, and the following season a crop of gorse sprung up over the whole field. A gardener, in order to plant some rhododendrons last spring, turned over a quantity of peat soil, the bottom portion being brought to the surface. That bed is now covered with a thick crop of seedling foxgloves, the seed of which must have been lying there in a state of complete dormancy for probably half a century. In the same manner do seeds of truth often lie in the hearts of men. The sower forgets that he has scattered them, or mourns that they have not sprung up. The harvest may come, however, after many years have rolled away, for the seed contains the germ of a God-given life. Those who scatter the “Word of God” ought never to despair of results. (Christian Journal.)
Sowing the seed of the Word
Billy Dawson, that great natural orator, had a wonderful sermon on the “Sower and the Seed.” With every stroke of the hand in imitation of the act of sowing, the speaker would drop some blessed passage of Scripture. The Methodist chapel in one of the midland counties not being big enough, the use of the Particular Baptist Chapel was secured. The minister of the chapel was upon the platform. Dawson gave this “sowing speech,” and went along the platform scattering the seed and giving one passage of Scripture after another: “God so loved the world;” “Come unto Me, all ye that labour;” then there came another handful; “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” “There, it’s out,” he said, “and you can do what you like.” When remonstrated with for this breach of ministerial propriety he said, “I did not think about the chapel, nor the parson! I thought about the seed.” (Handbook to Scripture Doctrines.)
Then cometh the devil
The devil’s punctuality, power, and purpose
First observe the evil one’s PUNCTUALITY. NO sooner does the seed fall than the fowls devour it. Our text says “then,” that is, there and then, “cometh the devil.” Mark renders it, “Satan cometh immediately.” Whoever else may loiter, Satan never does. No sooner does a camel fall dead in the wilderness than the vultures appear. Not a bird was visible, nor did it seem possible that there could be one within a radius of many miles, yet speedily there are specks in the sky, and soon the devourers are gorging themselves with flesh: even thus do the spirits of evil scent their prey from afar, end hasten to their destroying work h little delay might put the case beyond Satanic power, hence the prompitude of diabolic activity.
II. Notice his POWER. It is not said that he tries to do it, but that he actually does so. He sees, he comes, and he conquers. His power is partly derived from his natural sagacity. He is more than a match for preacher and hearer united if the Holy Spirit be not there to baffle him. He has also acquired fresh cunning by long practice in his accursed business. Moreover, he derives his chief power from the man’s condition of soul: it is easy for birds to pick up seed which lies exposed on a trodden path.
III. His PURPOSE. “Lest they should believe and be saved” Satan takes away the Word out of their hearts. Here also is wisdom--wisdom hidden within the enemy’s cunning. If the gospel remains in contact with the heart its tendency is to produce faith. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. WHAT IS FAITH? I answer, it is a firm persuasion of the truth of the gospel, accompanied with a deep sense of its importance, and a cordial acceptance of its gracious proposals; and so producing the genuine fruits of love and obedience. We have heard the gospel. Have we believed it? Have we received it in the love of it? and are our hearts and lives influenced and governed by it?
II. To speak of THE SALVATION PROMISED TO THEM THAT BELIEVE.
1. A salvation from moral evil.
2. A salvation from natural evil. Not that good men are exempted from the common afflictions of life. But they are converted into blessings for them, and they are provided with all needful supports under their afflictions.
3. A deliverance also from penal evil
III. THE CONNECTION BETWEEN FAITH AND SALVATION. It is necessary, in order to our being saved, that we believe. Now this necessity arises out of the Divine appointment, and the reason and nature of the thing.
1. It is the will of God, that those who are saved should believe.
2. There is a fitness or suitableness in faith to the end of its appointment, so that the necessity of it arises out of the nature of the thing itself. No sober man who contemplates faith, accompanied with those dispositions and affections necessary to constitute a real Christian, can pronounce it an unreasonable and useless thing. And how is that good to be possessed without a temper of heart suited to the enjoyment of it? And how is this temper to be acquired but by believing? Thus have we considered the nature of faith, described the salvation promised to it, and shown the connection between the one and the other. Let us now return to the argument in the text. Satan clearly perceiving the influence of faith in the great business of salvation, and well knowing, too that faith comes by hearing, uses all his artifices to divert men’s attention from the Word, and to prevent its salutary effect upon their hearts.
It now remains that we make two or three reflections on the general subject of this discourse.
1. If Satan takes the measures you have heard to prevent the success of the gospel, and to confirm men in impenitence and unbelief, how truly is he denominated by our Saviour “the wicked one,” and how righteous is that sentence which will shortly be executed upon him!
2. How much is it to be lamented that men will suffer themselves to be deceived and ruined by the devices of this great adversary!
3. And lastly, Let us admire and adore the grace of God which defeats the designs of Satan, and makes the Word effectual upon the hearts of multitudes, notwithstanding all the opposition it meets with. (S. Stennett, D. D.)
The fowls of the air
Satan’s power would be far less formidable if it extended to our circumstances only, and did not reach to our mind. We have, however, the express testimony of the Word of God that it does reach thus far; and it is this district of Satanic power which I purpose now to investigate.
1. With those faculties of mind, if there be any, which are purely intellectual, which do not in any way determine or affect moral character and conduct, it cannot be supposed that the great enemy of mankind busies himself at all.
2. Perhaps, however, there are fewer powers which are purely intellectual than we are accustomed to imagine. The mind and heart of man are very closely and subtly kneaded up together. Certain it is that there are certain faculties which, more or less, belong to both elements, of which it is hard to say whether they are more intellectual or moral.
3. One of these is memory. The agency of the fowls in the parable is external; it is not in the soil itself, nor is it connected with the soil; and in like manner, the foe who removes the seed from the heart, that is, from the memory of man, is external. In this parable you have the hosts or tribes of the air doing the work of the prince of the power of the air.
4. Thus, for all who recognize the words of Christ as being the very truth of God, it seems to be a settled point, resting upon the authority of the Master, that Satan exercises a certain power over the memory.
5. I turn with a sense of relief from this dark part of the subject to notice the immense power for good which the memory has under a guidance much greater than that of Satan--the guidance of the grace of God.
6. In conclusion, let the memories of the young be thoroughly charged with the Word of God. (Dean Goulburn.)
Beloved, how many professors fail in this respect. They follow the Lord by fits and starts; they go out from us because they are not of us; for if they had been of us, doubtless they would have continued with us. They leap into religion as the flying-fish leaps into the air; they fall back again into their sins, as the same fish returns to its element. They make a great flame for a time like the crackling of thorns, but lo! the flame has soon expired, for they are not like the miraculous bush which burned, God dwells not in them. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Lack of continuance
The great trial of our Christian life is at this point. Will we continue? Thousands of girls begin to practise at the piano; thousands make no small attainment; but only the scores continue, and become eminent. Half a college class, at some time or other, begin to collect a cabinet or herbarium, but only here and there one perseveres. After years have elapsed that one has become, perhaps, possessed of a wonderful treasury, and is, perhaps, also in the way of renown. All, or nearly all, of this is due to his gift of continuance. One day I was looking at a fruit-bearing passion-vine, covering half the side of a friend’s house, vigorous, graceful. That friend showed me two or three little, tiny, frail-looking specimens of the same in a box. “Why,” said she, “I keep the box full of seeds, but only a few of them germinate. They are so slow in germinating, too. It takes two or three months for one to make its appearance.” How many persons there are who would never have any noble passion-vine climbing in beauty about their dwelling, simply because they have no grace of continuing to care for the plant in the slow months of its early life. (A. L. Stone.)
And that which fell among thorns
Signs of excessive worldliness
TO APPLY TESTS OF WORLDLINESS IS VERY NECESSARY. It is difficult to convince ourselves that we are too much engrossed in our worldly cares. If a man is intemperate, or profane, or fraudulent, it is easy for him to know his own sin; but worldliness comes to us so much under the guise of duty, that it is difficult to detect its real character. There is, also, the further difficulty, that it is so hard to fix the boundary between a necessary attention to business and a sinful absorption in it.
II. One sign of excessive worldliness is, GREAT ANXIETY OF MIND IN OUR WORLDLY PURSUITS. A Christian should be diligent in business, and improve every lawful means of acquisition, but not as if his whole happiness were at stake. His real treasure is untouched, however the world may go with him.
III. But the great test by which the Christian should judge, is THE EFFECT OF HIS WORLDLY BUSINESS UPON HIS RELIGIOUS DUTIES. Even when the duties of devotion are regularly performed, it may be with the world uppermost in our hearts. When the Bible is read, the eye may see its words, but the thoughts may be upon some plan for the day, so that we may read as we would with one at our side calling us away to something we love better. (W. H. Lewis, D. D.)
Why cares and pleasures are associated together
No two persons are more unlike at first sight than the man of care and the man of pleasure. The man of care does not know what pleasure is; he is always fretting and chafing at something or other; everything goes wrong, or seems to go wrong, with him; he is always making the worst of things, looking at their dark side rather than their bright side. The man of pleasure, on the other hand, passes his whole existence in the sunshine. If, by chance, trouble comes in his way, he puts it from him, or closes his eyes against it; he is too much bent on enjoying himself to allow anything to annoy and disturb him. How comes it, then, that unlike, nay, opposite as such characters are, they are here set down side by side, and are represented as occupying precisely the same ground? How comes it that he who saunters leisurely through life, gathering freely as he goes of every pleasure, and he who drags himself heavily along, under the weight of many burdens, find themselves standing side by side at last, and coming to the same end? It is not difficult to find the reason. The cares of life and its pleasures are both of the nature of weeds--weeds of very different kind indeed, but each of them equally the natural product of the human heart; each requires only to be left to itself, and it will soon overrun the whole heart, and choke the good seed. And it will not make much difference, at the great harvestday, whether the failure of the crop in us was owing to an undue growth of cares or of pleasures. (H. Harris, B. D.)
Good ground spoilt by neglect
The very same piece of ground stands for both the man of care and the man of pleasure. And what kind of ground is it? Strange to say, the ground itself seems to be very good ground; it is not the hard wayside, where the seed never once gets beneath the surface, but is trodden under foot by every passer-by, and picked up by the birds; it is not even like the rocky ground, where there is no depth of soil to support the root when the seed has sprung up and begun to grow. No, the ground of which we are now speaking stands the very next to the good ground, and seems to be of very much the same kind with it; and yet, whilst the one is bringing forth its thirty-folds, and sixtyfold, and hundredfold, ripe for the harvest, the other has not a single full ear; it yields no more than the rocky ground, no more, even, than the wayside. And yet, how is this? How comes it to be so near to the good ground, and yet so far removed from it? how comes it to promise so much, and to break its promise so entirely? We shall, perhaps, best answer this question by means of an example. We sometimes, then, see two pieces of allotment, or garden-ground, lying alongside each other, the one with a very plentiful crop, the other growing nothing but weeds. And how comes this? It cannot be owing to any natural difference in the two pieces of ground, for they lie within a few feet of one another, and are exposed to just the same amount of air, and rain, and sunshine. How comes it, then, that the produce of the two pieces of land is so very different? We shall have no difficulty in finding the answer. We shall say at once, it is quite plain that these two pieces of ground have been treated quite differently; one of them has been kept properly looked to, and the other has not. And this, too, is the very difference of which we are in search between the good ground and the ground choked with thorns in the parable; the soil itself is the same, or much the same, in each, only in the one case it has been properly attended to, and in the other it has been left to itself. And so, whilst on the good ground the seed has had nothing to hinder it from steadily growing and ripening for the harvest, the seed on the other ground, after making a vigorous effort, has stopped short, and never got any further; the depth of earth which supports it has lent the same amount of nourishment to the weeds which have been allowed to grow up with it. As it has grown, so they have grown; and long before the time of the harvest has come, they have all run together, the good seed and the weeds, and have choked each other. (H. Harris, B. D. )
I. On those amusements which are absolutely sinful, it is not necessary that we spend many words.
II. There are innocent amusements in which a Christian may indulge, but with moderation. Still there must be a wise moderation. The love of pleasure, even where it confines itself to innocent modes of gratification, is an insinuating and mischievous passion. It may sow the seeds of indolence, create a distaste for the serious business of life, and so make a man’s course profitless both to himself and to others. We may see this in the history of nations. A pleasure-loving has never been a noble and manly people. When the Athenians yielded to the fascinations of the theatre, and appropriated to its purposes the funds that had been designed for the defence of the State, they speedily forgot their ancient love of freedom; the glories of Marathon and Salamis were shadowed by the disaster of Choeroneia, and the invincible antagonists of Xerxes became the fawning slaves of Philip. Even the Romans, who had conquered the world, and had for ages boasted of their independence, were content to wear their chains, when their tyrants had learned the art of lulling them to sleep by the Siren-like strains of pleasure, and the voices that had once been raised to rebuke their oppressors, were heard only to clamour for the bloody games of the circus. These are lessons to us both as individuals and as a nation. Changes in the moral character of both are for the most part accomplished noiselessly.
III. There are doubtful pleasures, as to which it becomes the Christian to exercise careful discrimination. To point out some considerations which may serve to guide the exercise of this high Christian expediency, is what we propose here.
1. Regard must be paid to the actual rather than to the possible character of any amusement, and each one must be judged by what it is not by what it might be.
2. Regard must be had to the tendencies of an amusement. We admit freely that this is a test to be applied with great caution. It is not a fair objection to any recreation to point to isolated cases, in which indulgence has been followed by serious moral and spiritual evil. It cannot be questioned that a pleasure, though not sinful in its character, may, in its general influence, be unfriendly to spiritual earnestness.
3. Each man must have regard to his own individual temperament. So varied are our mental habits and tendencies, that we may pass unscathed through scenes which would inflict on others permanent and wide-spread injury.
4. Still more must every man respect his own conscience, and not exercise a liberty wider than it approves.
5. We must, in deference to the opinions, feelings, and spiritual interests of others, sometimes exercise a self-denial which our own consciences do not feel to be requisite for our own safety. (J. G. Rogers, B. A.)
But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the Word, keep it
The necessity of patience
The necessity of patience in the Christian course appeareth by these reasons:
The scope of the gospel is to make men fruitful Christians. But this can never be, without the persecution of the world (2 Timothy 3:12). The shadow doth not more undividedly follow the body, than persecutions and trials follow the profession of the gospel. This necessity of suffering afflictions implies and infers a necessity of patience.
2. It is necessary in respect of the manuring and preparing to fruit. The best ground brings no fruit unless it endure the plough, the harrow, the cold, the frost: even so the Lord prepareth His children to fruits of grace, by patient enduring many trials. The walnut tree is made fruitful by beating, camomile by treading upon, the palm by pressing, and the Christian by suffering.
3. In respect of the producing of fruits, there is great need of patience: seeing there is no fruit of grace which Satan seeks not to kill in the very sprouting and first appearance; as the child in his birth (Revelation 12:4). And the wicked world seeks to blast them with the east wind of reproaches, yea to nip and pinch them, out-face and destroy them, with strong and violent persecutions: so as without patience “ enduring the cross, and despising the shame,” this thirtyfold cannot be expected, much less an hundredfold. Thus Christ Himself brings forth to us all His blessed fruits, not without the greatest patience, proportioned to His greatest sufferings: and after the same manner must we also bring forth our fruits to Him.
4. It is necessary, in respect of the growth and ripening of fruits. The seed sown comes not up all at once, but by degrees; “ first the blade, then the ear, then ripe fruit” (Mark 4:28). So all our graces and fruits are small at first, and receive increase by little and little.
5. It is necessary in respect of things that might hinder the growth, if patience prevented not: as first, the smart of present afflictions; for every affliction is “grievous for the present” (Hebrews 12:11), the mention thereof oftentimes makes us shrink, and startle, and grow out of heart, because of the roughness of our way. But now “by patience we possess our souls,” the present remedy of the disciple’s greatest persecutions (Luke 21:17-19), whereas by impatience we lose ourselves, and lessen our fruits. Secondly, the common crosses which accompany our mortal life will make us weary enough, unless patience supply some strength, and under-shore us. Thirdly, inward temptations, and disquietness of conscience, the wounds of spirit, are so intolerable, that the violence of them often shakes off many fruits, and makes the Christian walk weakly many days. Now patience alone keeps the soul at peace and quietness, waiting for God unto succour or issue. It holds the heart in expectation of the accomplishment of God’s promises, and our happiness in Christ. Fourthly, there are enemies without, which hazard our fruits. Fifthly, infirmities of brethren with whom we converse, were a great means to shake off our fruits (as Barnabas lost his sincerity for a time by Peter’s dissimulation), if patience did not uphold to discern and “bear the infirmities of the weak” (Romans 15:1-2).
6. Patience is necessary in respect of the harvest of fruits, the gathering and full reaping of all the seed sown. And thus the good ground brings forth “with patience,” i.e., with patient expectation of the full fruits; the first-fruits whereof are already attained (Romans 8:25). (Thomas Taylor, D. D)
If you would hear the Word aright, be not only attentive, but retentive. Lay the Word up in your memories and hearts. “The seed on the good ground are they who, having heard the Word, keep it.” The Greek word for “keep” signifies “to hold the Word fast, that it do not run from us.” If the seed be not kept in the ground, but is presently washed away, it is sown to little purpose: so, if the Word preached be not kept in your memories and hearts, it is preached in vain. Many people have memories like leaky vessels--the Word goes out as fast as it comes in: how, then, can it profit? If a treasure be put into a chest and the chest not locked, it may easily be taken out: a bad memory is like a chest without a look, the devil can easily take out all the treasure. Labour to keep in memory the truths you hear: the things we esteem we are not so apt to forget. (T Watson.)
Meditation renders good impressions lasting
Gotthold had for some purpose taken from a cupboard a vial of rosewater, and, after using it, inconsiderately left it unstopped. Observing it some time after, he found that all the strength and sweetness of the perfume had evaporated. Here, thought he with himself, is a striking emblem of a heart fond of the world and open to the impression of outward objects. What good does it do to take such a heart to the house of God, and there fill it with the precious essence of the roses of paradise which are the truths of Scripture? What good to kindle in it a glow of devotion, if we afterwards neglect to close the outlet--by which I mean, to keep the Word in an honest and good heart. How vain to hear much, but to retain little, and to practise less. How vain to experience within us sacred and holy emotions, unless we are afterwards careful to close the heart by diligent reflection and prayer, and so keep it unspotted from the world. Neglect this, and the strength and spirit of devotion evaporates, and leaves only a lifeless form behind. (Scriver.)
Paul Joanne ascribes amazing fertility to the soil of Mentone, and backs his assertions by a story which reads like a legend. He says that a stranger coming to pay a visit to his Mentonese friends stuck his walking-stick into the ground and forgot it. Coming back some days afterwards to seek his cane, he was surprised to find it putting forth leaves and young branches. He declares that the little tree has grown vastly, and is still to be seen in the Rue Saint Michel. We have not seen it, and are afraid that to inquire for it in the aforesaid Rue would raise a laugh at our expense. We may believe the story or not as we please; but it may serve as an emblem of the way in which those grow who are by grace planted in Christ. All dry and withered like a rod we are thrust into the sacred soil, and life comes to us at once, with bud and branch and speedy fruit. Aaron’s rod that budded was not only a fair type of our Lord, but a cheering prophecy of ourselves. Whenever we feel dead and barren let us ask to be buried in Christ afresh, and straightway we shall glorify His name by bearing much fruit. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The mystery of growth
In the growth of a grain of wheat are three miracles of wonders, viz., the power of absorbing fresh materials, the power of changing them into living vegetable substance, and the power of arranging the new materials according to a fixed pattern. Could we see this process through a powerful magnifying glass, so that the particles which are to be absorbed should seem as large as marbles, we should see millions of such marbles building themselves up into a green tree; some marching to one part, some to another; then changing themselves into tree sub stance, and, finally, all arranged into an exact pattern, so that no one can mistake the nature of the tree. Growth is a mystery. (E. White.)
Of all the characteristics of the good hearer, this, as it is the most valuable, is also the hardest to attain. To wait is even harder than to labour and to obey. Unless we are to have our harvest very soon, we have hardly the heart to sow. The husbandman has long patience--must have it--till he receives the early and the latter rain. So with us. To become a good hearer, i.e., a good doer of the Word, is a task which requires long patience. We must suffer many a killing frost, many a darkening shower, many a burning sun, before the good seed cast into our hearts by that great Sower, who daily goes forth to sow, will gladden us with its increase. But the longer we wait the more precious will be the harvest--it is only ill weeds that spring up apace--and the sweeter the taste of the bread which has been so hardly earned, and so long in coming. (S. Cox, D. D.)
No man, when he hath lighted a candle
The lighted lamp
The truth symbolized by this imagery is the self-revealing character of the real disciple of Christ.
His teaching is reproductive as the seed corn, it is diffusive as the light. The lamp is lighted to fill the room with light, and for no other purpose. Similarly all Christian truth which comes to the individual is intended to be diffused in a manner calculated to strike the attention of all who come from darkness into this marvellous light. If we compare the analogous expressions in Matthew, we see how naturally our Lord’s teaching glided off from this point into exhortations to transparent sincerity. For as the best lamp is one which gives most light, and casts the smallest shade, the best Christian is he who reflects most of Christ and least of self. (F. E. Toyne.)
The place and function of the lamp
We see at a glance that this parable throws some light on the social customs of the age and land in which it was spoken. It reminds us, for instance, that in Palestine, as indeed in ancient Greece and Rome, when the darkness fell, little lamps, containing oil and a wick, were brought into the rooms of all classes of the people and placed on slender stands, commonly some two or three feet high, to give light to all who were in the house. Our Lord uttered this parable to teach us that no man is illuminated for his own sake, just as no lamp is lit for its own sake. Just as the lamp is lit that it may shine, so we are taught that we may teach. No truth is a private possession, just as no truth is of any private interpretation.
“Heaven doth with us as we with torches do,
Not light them for themselves; for if our virtues
Did not go forth of us, ‘twere all alike,
As if we had them not.”
No truth is, or can be, dangerous. All that we can learn, we may learn. All that we have learned we are bound to teach; all that we have received we are bound to give. To conceal from others any truth which we ourselves have been taught of God is to hide the lamp that has come to us under a bushel or under a couch, instead of setting it under a lampstand. (S. Cox, D. D.)
Difference between this and other versions of the parable
Whereas St. Mark, who wrote mainly for the Romans, speaks of a Roman measure, the modius, St. Luke, who wrote for the whole Gentile world, speaks simply of a “vessel,” any vessel or measure used throughout the habitable globe. And whereas St. Matthew, writing mainly for Jews, speaks of the lamp as kindled that it may give light “unto all that are in the house,” St. Luke speaks of it as kindled in order “that they who enter into the house” may see the light. For St. Matthew was himself a Jew, and wrote for those who, like himself, were already in the household of God; but St. Luke was a Gentile, and wrote for those who, like himself, had a great desire to enter into God’s house and find themselves at home in it. He and they had, so to speak, long stood outside the Father’s house, seeing and desiring the light that shone through its windows; but now Christ had called them into the house, had bidden them enter, had assured them that the house was built and the lamp lit for them as for the Jews, for all who would come into it, as well as for all who are already in it. (S. Cox, D. D. )
The good done by being good
It is somewhat remarkable, and worthy of being remembered, of the late Dr. Charles Hodge, that the closing sentence of an unfinished autobiography--perhaps the last words which he wrote--speaking of a purpose which he formed to hold up a godly companion whom he greatly loved to his students as an example, he wrote “I wanted to show them how much good could be done by simply being good.”
Hiding the light
A young lady in a fashionable home had been brought to Christ, and had been enabled for some years, amid much opposition, to faithfully witness for Him. The attention she attracted was often painful to her; and once, when repulsed and wounded in an effort of this kind, she for a time lost heart, and felt she should have to give up being a consecrated Christian. Just at this time she was invited to visit friends whelm she had never seen, and who knew but little of her; and she resolved, that while there she would not openly speak of her Saviour, or put herself in a position to be noticed as peculiarly religious. Her visit passed away; and not happily to herself, she was enabled to keep her resolution. Upon the day of her leaving for home, a most attractive and accomplished lady, a fashionable woman of society, while walking alone with her, suddenly asked her, “Where is your sister, and why did she not come here? I mean your religious sister, the one who is known as the ‘religious Miss J.’ It was because I heard that she was to be here that I, too, accepted an invitation to come and spend the holiday. I am tired of the empty, unsatisfying life I am leading, and have longed to talk with a real Christian.” With shame and confusion the faithless witness was obliged to confess that she had no sister; that she was the one who had been sometimes called the “religious Miss J.,” and that shame of the badge, that should have been borne gladly for her Saviour, had kept her silent. A precious opportunity to lead a weary soul to the Master had been lost. (D. W.Whittle’s Life, Warfare, and Victory.)
Far nothing is secret that shall not be made manifest
Nothing is secret that shall not be made manifest, etc.
, that is to say, “There is now absolutely no light or truth veiled from men which it is not the intention and purpose of God to uncover and reveal to them as soon as they are able to receive it; nor was there ever, at any time, anything hidden from them which it was not for their good to hide from them for the time, and which was not disclosed to them so soon as it was for their good that the disclosure should be made. We have in this axiom and paradox--
1. The very charter of science.
2. A warrant for all honest inquiry.
3. A solid ground for hope. (S. Cox, D. D.)
Secret things made visible in due time
Dr. Draper, in his “History of the Conflict between Religion and Science,” says: “A shadow never falls upon a wall without leaving thereupon a permanent trace, a trace which might be made visible by resorting to proper processes. The portraits of our friends or landscape views may be hidden on the sensitive surface from the eye, but they are ready to make their appearance as soon as proper developers are resorted to. Upon the wails of our apartments there exist the vestiges of all our acts, silhouettes of whatever we have done. I have seen landscapes and architectural views, taken in Mexico, developed, as artists say, months subsequently in New York, the images coming out after the long voyage in all their proper forms and in all their contrast of light and shade. The photo had forgotten nothing. It had signally preserved the contour of the everlasting mountains and the passing smoke of a bandit fire.” (Christian Journal.)
Take heed, therefore, how ye hear
How to hear the Word
Several classes of persons, to be met with in every congregation, should attend to this caution.
I. In the first rank of these may be placed THE INDIFFERENT HEARER.
II. Another class of persons who should give heed to the warning of the text are represented by THE CRITICAL HEARER.
III. A third class of church-goers who derive little benefit from preaching, may be described as CAPTIOUS HEARERS.
1. Endeavour always to listen to the preaching of the gospel with a mind free from prejudice. Blind prepossessions and one-sided prejudices are like the trade winds, which, holding out in one course, render compass and rudder alike useless. When prejudice puts its hands before the eyes, that hand, small as it is, will be large enough to hide the sun.
2. Again. Sermons should be heard with a desire to profit by them.
3. Lastly. Sermons should be heard with humble dependence on God’s Holy Spirit, to open the understanding and to touch the heart. Plead His own promise (Isaiah 55:10-11). (J. N. Norton, D. D.)
The teaching of the Church
The Church teaches and is taught in turn; every Christian contributes to this mutual teaching, and has a share in it. Preaching can only have a strictly moral effect; it communicates to us thoughts and feelings, and therefore appeals to the thought and to the feeling. It provokes decisions, and therefore stimulates the will. It is accordingly the most moral means of grace, that which necessitates most the effective participation of our freedom. “Take heed, therefore, how ye hear.” To give more weight to that exhortation, let us consider who He is who speaks to us; what He tells us; the kind of attention which the truth revealed by Him requires; and, lastly, what it costs to despise it.
I. WHO SPEAKS TO YOU IN THE TEACHING WHICH YOU SEEK AT THE FOOT OF THE PULPIT OF TRUTH? DO you not know that it is God Himself? He speaks to you first by the Holy Book, which is the basis of all faithful preaching. Revelation must become real and present, passing through the impressions, the aspirations, the experiences, the secret sorrows of the human heart at every period. Certainly, our word must not be blindly received--it must be brought to the test of the infallible Word of God: for the pure gold of truth which we bring you by preaching is too often alloyed through human frailty. God condescends to speak through our unworthy mouths and to take us for His instruments also. Why, my brethren, do you so seldom perceive this? It is, in the first place, the fault of your preachers, who, too often being infatuated with themselves, interposing their personalities between you and the truth, care more for the fame of their name than for the triumph of Jesus Christ. Are you not constantly spreading under their feet that fatal net of vainglory?
II. It is God who speaks to you; BUT WHAT DOES HE TELL YOU? That which is of the utmost consequence to you--that which is necessary for time and for eternity. God does not speak to amuse our intellect, or to send to our hearts a sweet and figurative emotion. He wants to restore us to the truth in every respect. He reveals us to ourselves by rooting out every illusion of our mind. He shows us, in the narrow path which proceeds from the cross, the way of returning to God and to be restored to our own.
III. THE KIND OF ATTENTION REQUIRED. Shut up, as we are commonly, in the circle of visible things, it is difficult for us to lift our minds to the contemplation of invisible things. Our thoughts have been too much accustomed to creep; their heavy wings do no longer carry them, by a sudden flight, towards the celestial heights. Our preoccupations are for the world; this is the real disposition of our spirit--it has a great inclination for it. If we do not energetically react against that natural tendency, we shall be hurried by the stream of vanity far from truth. Attention is the prize of continued exertion--it supposes a firm resolution to remove every frivolous distraction. We must be watchful every moment to drive away those flocks of birds always ready to pick up the seed of eternal life as it falls on the soil. Yet attention is not sufficient, Christian truth claims a particular attention. It is not enough to bring great sagacity, a penetrating spirit, trained to study and fully determined to learn the truths which are presented. If it were only the question of a purely human knowledge, we should not require more. Religious truth has organs of its own, and by which it reveals itself to man. It addresses itself above all things to his heart and his conscience. There, in our moral being, is the inward eye, able to perceive the heavenly light; there is the sense of the Divine. Neither the understanding, nor the imagination, nor the reason, abandoned to itself, will ever receive a ray of it, because it may happen that we deny God and the invisible world, while we possess these faculties in a superior degree. Take heed, therefore, how ye hear. He only remembers it who tries to accomplish the Divine will, and who, from the always vague and movable impression, passes to positive acts. Besides, nothing is more sad, nothing, I should say, is more demoralizing, than to understand our duties and not perform them. To know the best and to do the worst is the perversion of perversions. Let us not take Christianity as Pharisees or as artists; let us take it seriously, as the rule of our life, a rule not only for the great days, but for the most ordinary course of existence. (E. de Pressense, D. D.)
The art of hearing
For be ye well assured that this is an infallible sign that some excellent and notable good is toward you, when the devil is so busy to hinder your hearing of the Word, which of all other things he doth most envy unto you. Therefore as he pointed Adam to another tree, lest he should go to the tree of life (Genesis 3:1-24.), so, knowing the Word to be like unto the tree of life, he appointeth you to other business, to other exercises, to other works, and to other studies, lest you should hear it and be converted to God, whereby the tribute and revenue of his kingdom should be impaired; therefore mark how many forces he hath bent against one little Scripture, to frustrate this counsel of Christ, “Take heed how you hear.” First, he labours all that he can to stay us from hearing; to effect this, he keeps us at taverns, at plays, in our shops, and appoints us some other business at the same time, that when the bell calls to the sermon, we say, like the churlish guests, We cannot come (Matthew 22:1-46.). If he cannot stay us away with any business or exercise, then he casts fancies into our minds, and drowsiness into our heads, and sounds into our ears, and sets temptations before our eyes; that though we hear, yet we should not mark, like the birds which fly about the church. If he cannot stay our ears, nor slack our attention as he would, then he tickleth us to mislike something which was said, and by that make us reject all the rest. If we cannot mislike anything which is said, then he infecteth us with some prejudice of the preacher; he doth not as he teacheth, and therefore we less regard what he saith. If there be no fault in the man, nor in the doctrine, then, lest it would convert us, and reclaim us, he courseth all means to keep us from the consideration of it, until we have forgot it. To compass this, so soon as we have heard, he takes us to dinner, or to company, or to pastime, to remove our minds, that we should think no more of it. If it stay in our thoughts, and like us well, then he hath this trick; instead of applying the doctrine, which we should follow, he turns us to praise and extol the preacher. He made an excellent sermon! he hath a notable gift! I never heard any like him! He which can say so, hath heard enough; this is the repetition which you make of our sermons when you come home, and so to your business again till the next sermon come; a breath goeth from us, and a sound cometh to you, and so the matter is ended. The Jews did hear more than all the world beside, yet because they took no heed to that which they heard, therefore they crucified Him which came to save them, and became the cursedest people upon the earth, which were the blessedest nation before; therefore the A B C of a Christian is to learn the art of hearing. There is no seed which groweth so fast as God’s seed, if it be sown well; therefore, that I may show you that method of hearing, which Christ commendeth here to His disciples, it is necessary to observe five things: first, the necessity of hearing; secondly, the fruit which cometh by hearing; thirdly, the kinds of hearers; fourthly, the danger of hearing amiss; fifthly, that manner of hearing, which will make you remember that which is said, and teach you more in a year than you have learned all your life. Is not this the cause why God doth not hear us, because we will not hear Him? Is not this the cause why ye are such doctors in the world, and such infants in the Church? Ye learned your trade in seven years, but you have not learned religion in all your years. Can you give any reason for it but this? You marked when your master taught you your trade, because you should live by it; but you marked not the preacher when he taught you religion, because you do not live by it. Come now to the danger by hearing amiss. Christ saith, “Take heed how you hear.” An evil eye engendereth lust, and an evil tongue engendereth strife; but an evil ear maketh an heretic, and a schismatic, and an idolater. This careless hearing made God take away His Word from the Jews; therefore, you may hear the Word so as it may be taken from you, as the talent was from him that hid it (Matthew 25:1-46.); for God will not leave His pearls with swine; but as He saith, “What hadst thou to do to take My words in thy mouth, seeing thou hatest to be reformed?” so He will say, “What hadst thou to do to take My Word in thy ear, seeing thou hatest to be reformed?” The greatest treasure in the world is most despised, the star which should lead us to Christ, the ladder which should mount us to heaven, the water that should cleanse our leprosy, the manna that should refresh our hunger, and the Book that we should meditate on day and night (Psalms 1:2), lieth in our windows, no man readeth it, no man regardeth it; the love of God, and the love of knowledge, and the love of salvation is so cold, that we will not read over one Book for it, for all we spend so many idle times while we live. If Samuel had thought that God had spoken to him, he would not have slept; but because he thought it was not God, but Eli, therefore he slept; so, because you remember not that it is God which speaks, therefore you mark not. But if you remember Christ’s saying, “He which heareth you, heareth Me, and he which despiseth you, despiseth Me,” you would hear the voice of the preacher, as you would hear the voice of God. Now, to show you how you should hear; when Peter and John would make the cripple attentive, they said unto him, “Look upon us” (Acts 3:1-26.); so many, to sharpen their attention, desire to stand before the preacher, that they may look him in the face. By this little help Peter showeth that we had need to use many helps to make us hear well. Christ in the beginning of this chapter sends us to the husbandman to learn to hear. As he prepareth the ground before he soweth his seed, lest his seed should be lost, so we should prepare our hearts before we hear, lest God’s seed be lost. What a shame is this, to remember every clause in your lease, and every point in your father’s will; nay, to remember an old tale so long as you live, though it be long since you heard it; and the lessons which ye hear now will be gone within this hour, that you may ask, What hath stolen my sermon from me? Therefore that you may not hear us in vain, as you have heard others, my exhortation to you is, to record when you are gone that which you have heard. (H. Smith.)
The heavenly thrift
First, he giveth us a stock, to prove our husbandry, and then if we thrive with that, he doth add more unto it, now a little, and then a little, until at last the inheritance come too. As they which try a vessel, first put water into it, to see whether it will hold water, then they commit wine into it; so, first, God giveth us one grace; if we use that well, then he giveth another, and another, and another; according to that, “He which is found faithful in a little, shall be made lord over much.” Thou shalt have a love to hear, read, and meditate: after thou shalt have a little knowledge to judge and speak of God’s Word, of the Spirit, and of doctrines; then thou shalt ascend to faith, which will bring thee unto peace of conscience; then thou shalt meet with good books, and God will send thee teachers to instruct thee, and encourage thee, like the angels which came to Christ when He hungered. Thus a traveller passeth from town unto town, until he come to his inn; so a Christian passeth from virtue to virtue, until he come to heaven, which is the journey that every man must endeavour to go till death. Christ saith not, It shall be taken from them which have, but from them which “seem to have.” (H. Smith.)
Hearing the Word
Those to whom the gospel is preached must take heed how they hear; take heed as to the act, matter, manner.
1. As to the act: Take heed that ye hear. This is implied, and necessarily supposed.
2. As to the objector matter: So take heed what ye hear. How with Luke is what with Mark.
3. As to the manner: How. This is principally intended, though the other be necessary. It is in vain to hear, in vain to hear that which is good, except we hear it well. The manner being principally intended, I shall principally insist on it.
I need not go far for reasons; this chapter affords abundance.
1. Few hear well. There are not many good hearers; the most miscarry; therefore there is need to take heed. Of four sorts of hearers in the parable, three are naught but one good.
2. There are many enemies to oppose, and many impediments to hinder you in hearing.
3. The advantage or disadvantage (Mark 4:24-25). According as you measure to God in hearing, so will He measure to you in blessing or cursing.
4. The gospel, according as it is heard, is a great mercy or a great judgment, a blessing or a curse, therefore great reason to take heed. The abuse of the greatest mercy may curse it.
5. It is that by which you must be judged at the last day--Judge, &c., according to this gospel (Romans 2:16; John 12:48). If we neglect, we shall never taste of Christ. The children of the kingdom shall be cast out. It will be with you in this nation, and this place, as with the Jews--He turned from them to the Gentiles. He will take Christ and the gospel from you and give it to others; and when the gospel is gone, then look for destruction and desolation.
The Lord convince you of the sinfulness of this sin!
1. It is a high contempt of God, of Christ. Contempt is the highest degree of dishonour; God is jealous of this.
2. If you will not hear God now, God will not hear you in the time of distress, though you may make many prayers (Isaiah 1:15). He willsend you to the gods whom ye have served.
3. Consider the state of the damned, those who, for neglecting the light, are cast into outer darkness. Use
II. Exhortation to this duty. It is a duty of Christ’s enjoining, and to His disciples. To further the practice of it, I shall
(1) remove impediments that hinder;
(2) prescribe means to facilitate and direct.
1. The impediments are ignorance, contempt, distractions, prejudice, obduration, bad ends or principles. Distractions: Wanderings, rovings of mind, will, affections, senses, caused by the cares of the world and lusts of the flesh; carefulness of other things makes careless of the Word. It is hard to hit a moving object, a bird in flight; as well, to as much purpose, sow the waves in a tempest, or cast seed upon branches tossed with the wind, as preach to a distracted, wandering hearer; nothing fixes, sinks, abides; his soul is like a highway, every man or beast has free passage. The remedy is to fix your whole soul on God. Prejudice: An ill conceit of the gospel; the matter, or the manner of delivery, plainness, simplicity; or ministers, their persons, conversation, office, or execution of it. To remove it, consider there is no reason, no room for prejudice against the gospel; those that despise it never saw its glory, nor tasted its sweetness--“If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost” (2 Corinthians 4:3). Shall we think worse of the sun because a blind man speaks against it, because an owl cannot behold it? and for ministers, there is glory enough in the gospel to gild them, how mean soever.
2. Directions how to hear.
(1) Get a punctual knowledge of the state of your souls in reference to God. The reason is this, we must take heed how we hear, that we may hear fruitfully, that the Word may be profitable. It is most profitable when it is seasonable. It cannot be seasonable to you (whatever it be in itself), except you be acquainted with your soul’s condition.
(2) Before you hear, endeavour to get your souls into a capacity of hearing fruitfully, to get spiritual advantage by hearing. Take pains with your hearts in private before ye come, make them tender, fit to receive impressions. Set them open, that Christ may come in. Make room, empty them of sin and vanity, that the Spirit may work freely, with liberty, without interruption. Get them melted in prayer, sublimated, raised by meditation.
(3) Receive the Word, and every part of it, as concerning thee in particular. Get knowledge of your greatest wants, weakest graces, strongest lusts, worst distempers, coldest affections, difficultest encumbrances, that so you may know how to apply the Word.
(4) Be not satisfied with anything in hearing, but the presence of God. That special presence, when operative, makes the Word effectual to the ends appointed. The presence of the Lord His glory filled the tabernacle under the law; and His presence is as abundant and glorious under the gospel.
(5) Take heed of suppressing any good motions raised by the Word. Constant hearers have experience of some convictions of sin, and resolve to leave it and mind the soul. Nourish these, take heed of smothering them. They are the blessed issues of heaven; will you stifle, murder them in the conception, make them like an untimely birth? They are buds springing from the immortal seed; will you nip them? They are sprigs planted by the hand of Christ, which would grow into a tree of life; will ye pluck them up by the roots, expose them to the frosts, break them while young and tender? They are sparks kindled by the breath of God, heavenly fire; will you quench it?
(6) Come with resolution to do whatever ye shall hear, to comply with the whole will of God without reserves. There must be no more respect of truths than respect of persons. Obedience is the sweetest harmony the Lord can hear on earth, the perfection of it is a consonancy to the Divine will; if every string, every act be not screwed up thereto, there can be no concert, nothing but discord, harsh and unpleasing in His ear. It is not enough to promise God to the half of the kingdom; halting obedience will never come to heaven: all, or none.
(7) Mix it with faith--“The word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it” (Hebrews 4:2). Faith is a necessary ingredient to all spiritual services.
(8) Receive the truth in the love of it--“Because they received not the love of the truth,” i.e., truth in love, “that they might be saved “ (2 Thessalonians 2:10). He that would hear savingly, must hear it with love; not out of fear, custom, not for by-ends, for credit, profit, preferment; but out of love to the naked truth, for its own native loveliness, without extrinsical consideration; as the truth is in Jesus, of Him, from Him. (D. Clarkson, B. D.)
On reading and hearing the Word of God
I. The dignity and excellence of the truths contained in the gospel appears in the fullest evidence when we reflect that they are the words of God, the dictates of that eternal wisdom from whence all light, all science is derived.
II. Still, my brethren, you will neither read nor hear the Word of God with any fruit, unless you bring with you suitable dispositions. (J. Archer.)
On hearing the Word
Your mode of hearing, therefore, should correspond, on the one hand, to the character you sustain as rational and accountable creatures; and, on the other, to the unspeakable importance of Divine realities. Hence we remark--
I. That it becomes you to hear ATTENTIVELY, and WITH DISCRIMINATION AND JUDGMENT.
II. That it becomes you to hear, on all occasions, WITH AN EARNEST DESIRE TO BE PERSONALLY BENEFITED.
1. Among those who appear in our sanctuaries, there are multitudes of merely formal attendants.
2. Among those who hear us, there are also frequently not a few actuated solely by motives of idle curiosity.
3. There are others who make it their entire business to sit in judgment upon the merits and defects of our addresses, both as to their style and as to their matter.
4. But, probably, the most numerous class of our hearers who stand in need of rectified habits, or, at least, that class which comprehends the greatest number of truly pious individuals, consists of those who hear for any but themselves.
III. Always hear with the impression upon your minds, that THE OPPORTUNITY YOU ARE ENJOYING MAY BE THE LAST YOU WILL EVER BE FAVOURED WITH.
IV. See to it that you always hear IN A DEVOTIONAL FRAME OF MIND. (J. P.Dobson.)
Directions for hearing sermons
I. DIRECTIONS FOR HEARING.
1. Hear the Word from right motives and for right ends. Multitudes go to church because their fathers went, their neighbours go, and they do not love to be singular. Many go, not to hear, but to see or to be seen. Some hear sermons to furnish their heads with knowledge, not to enrich their hearts with grace.
2. Our hearing should be preceded, accompanied, and followed by earnest prayers for the Divine blessing.
3. Hear the Word of God with pleasure and gratitude. Compare your circumstances with those of your forefathers, who had no other instructor than nature’s light; and with those of the many dark places of the earth, full of the habitations of cruelty.
4. Cultivate an honest, impartial love to truth, and a meek, humble, candid, and teachable spirit. Nothing ought to be admitted as an article of faith, or a rule of life, which is not either expressly contained in, or, by just consequence, inferred from the sacred oracles. Meekness is the fruit of the Spirit. Apply, therefore, to Him to form in you, by His grace, that humble, teachable disposition, which is so necessary to render outward instruction truly profitable.
5. Hear the Word with understanding and judgment.
6. Hear with attention, seriousness, and solemnity of spirit. Men are renewed and sanctified by the truth. But truth, not heard with serious attention, has no such salutary energy.
7. Let such a lively faith mix itself with your hearing as will produce affections suited to the truths you hear. A report, however interesting in its own nature, if not credited, can neither engage our affections nor influence our practice.
8. Wisely apply what you hear to your own case; and for that end, endeavour to be well acquainted with the true state of your souls.
II. DIRECTIONS AFTER HEARING.
1. Endeavour to remember what you have heard. A transient glance discovered some blemish on his face; but the faint impression it made on his imagination quickly vanishes, and, not observing it distinctly, he is at no pains to wipe it off.
2. Meditate, and expostulate with your hearts, upon what you have heard. Think not, when the minister has done preaching, that your work is over.
3. Converse with your fellow-Christians about what you have heard.
4. Reduce what you have heard to practice.
5. Often examine how you have heard and improved the Word.
6. If you have received any benefit by the Word, ascribe to God all the glory. (J. Erskine, D. D.)
How the Word is to be read and heard
I. SOME THINGS ARE TO GO BEFORE HEARING.
(1) Getting the heart impressed with an awful sense of the majesty and holiness of that God into whose presence we are going, and whose word we are to hear (Psalms 89:6).
(2) Banishing out of the heart worldly cares that are lawful at other Matthew 13:7).
(3) Application of the blood of Christ to the soul for removing guilt, and doing away any controversy betwixt God and the soul Amos 3:3).
(4) Purging the heart of carnal and corrupt lusts and affections
1 Peter 2:1-2).
(5) Stirring up in the heart spiritual desires (1 Peter 2:2).
2. Prayer. Pray
(1) For assistance to the minister (2 Thessalonians 3:1).
(2) For a meal to ourselves (Psalms 119:18).
(3) For an outpouring of the Spirit in His own ordinances.
II. SOME THINGS ARE TO GO ALONG WITH HEARING.
1. Attending unto the Word diligently. This implies--
(1) Waiting diligently upon the ordinances, so as people make it their business to catch opportunities of the Word, and let none slip which Providence will allow them to overtake. They that are only chance customers to ordinances, whose attendance is ruled by their own conveniences, without conscience of duty, causing them to take them only now and then as their fancy takes them, cannot expect good of them.
(2) A fixing and bending of the ear and mind to what is spoken. Hence is that counsel of the wise man (Proverbs 2:1-2).
(3) A discerning of what they hear, so as to distinguish betwixt truth and error, the corn and the chaff (Mark 4:24; Acts 17:11).
(4) An endeavouring to know the mind of God in His Word, to hear with understanding.
2. Receiving the Word rightly.
(1) With faith. A faith of assent. And a faith of application.
(2) With love. A love of esteem, highly prizing it. A love of desire after it. A love of complacency in it.
3. Laying it up in our hearts.
III. SOME THINGS ARE TO FOLLOW AFTER HEARING THE WORD.
1. Meditation on it in your hearts (Psalms 1:2).
2. Conferring of it on your discourse.
3. The main thing is practising it in your lives. (T. Boston, D. D.)
Jedediah Buxton, the famous peasant, who could multiply nine figures by nine in his head, was once taken to see Garrick act. When he went back to his own village, he was asked what he thought of the great actor and his doings. “Oh!” he said, “he did not know; he had only seen a little man strut about the stage, and repeat 7,956 words.” Here was a want of the ability to appreciate what he saw, and the exercise of the reigning faculty to the exclusion of every other. Similarly our hearers, if destitute of the spiritual powers by which the gospel is discerned, fix their thoughts on our words, tones, gestures, or countenance and make remarks upon us which from a spiritual point of view are utterly absurd. How futile are our endeavours without the Holy Spirit! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
“I have an ear for other preachers,” Sir John Cheke used to say, “but I have a heart for Latimer.” Here is a very clear and main distinction. Too often men hear the word sounding its drums and trumpets outside their walls, and they are filled with admiration of the martial music, but their city gates are fast closed and vigilantly guarded, so that the truth has no admittance, but only the sound of it. Would to God we knew how to reach men’s affections, for the heart is the target we aim at, and unless we hit it we miss altogether. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
We crossed and recrossed the river several times by the ferry-boat at Basle. We had no object in the world but merely amusement and curiosity, to watch the simple machinery by which the same current is made to drift the boat in opposite directions from side to side. To other passengers it was a business, to us a sport. Our hearers use our ministry in much the same manner when they come to it out of the idlest curiosity, and listen to us as a means of spending a pleasant hour. That which should ferry them across to a better state of soul, they use as a mere pleasure-boat, to sail up and down in, making no progress after years of hearing. Alas! it may be sport to them, but it is death to us, because we know it will ere long be death to them. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Uselessness of mere hearing
What a mistake to imagine that, by hearing first one preacher and then another, we can derive benefit to our souls i More is wanted than such hearing. A raven may fly from cage to cage, but it is not thereby changed into a dove. Go from room to room of the royal feast, and the sight of the tables will never stay thy hunger. Reader, the main thing is to have and hold the truth personally and inwardly; if this be not seen to, thou wilt die in thy sins, though ten thousand voices should direct thee to the way of salvation. Pity indeed is it that the bulk of hearers are hearers only, and are no more likely to go to heaven than the seats they sit on in the assembly of the saints. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
The ear’s music room
Picture to yourselves the contrast between a great orchestra containing some hundred performers and instruments, and that small music-room built of ivory, no bigger than a cherry-stone, which we call an ear, where there is ample accommodation for all of them to play together. The players, indeed, and their instruments, are not admitted. But what of that if their music be? Nay, if you only think of it, what we call s musical performance is, after all, but the last rehearsal. The true performance is within the ear’s music-room, and each one of us has the whole orchestra to himself. When we thus realize the wondrous capabilities of the organ of hearing, I think we shall not fail to find an intellectual and aesthetical as well as a great moral admonition in the Divine words, “ He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” (Dr. Wilson.)
“I reckon that’s very much o’ what the Lord Jesus meant when He said, ‘Take heed how ye hear.’ Whatever it means, an’ whatever it don’t mean, it means this plain enough--Don’t hear anyhow. You see that was the way with the ground that didn’t prosper--it took the seed all anyhow. There was the wayside; it let the seed come just as it could, and o’ course it all got trodden under foot, or was eaten up by the fowls, an’ not a grain was left. An’ then I daresay Brother Wayside went complainin’ that he couldn’t get any good under that preacher. There was the weedy ground, too, let it fall in anyhow among the thorns an’ thistles, an’ they grew up an’ choked it. An’ I shouldn’t wonder but Sister Weedy-ground whispered to Brother Wayside very piously, that for her part she did wish they had a preacher that would stir them up. Then there was Mister Stoney-ground, who liked it very much, an’ nodded to everybody over the nice sermon, but when the sun was up, that is, when dinner-time came, he could hardly remember the text. They all heard: but they were anyhow hearers. But there was dear old Father Good-ground, whenever he heard the Word it got in an’ went down, an’ took root, an’ sprang up, an’ bare fruit, an’ brought forth a hundred-fold; such wonderful crops o’ love, an’ joy, an’ peace, that set all the folks a scratchin’ their heads however he could manage it! Yet it was no such great secret; he got ready beforehand, that was all. He prepared for the seed. He’d have been weedy-ground, too, only he had been down on his knees, an’ pulled up the chokin’ cares an’ Saturday’s worries; he had picked out the stones, an’ had ploughed up the field, an’ had given the seed a chance, that was all, an’ so he got a harvest. You see there was the same sower, an’ the same seed, an’ yet it was only the ground that was got ready beforehand that got any good.”--(From “Daniel Quorra.”)
On hearing the Word of God
That we may so hear, as to profit by hearing, it is required--
1. That we hear with attention.
2. That we hear with impartiality.
3. That we hear with meekness.
4. That we hear the Word with an actual intention of practising what we hear. (Bp. Smalridge.)
The pulpit and the pen
1. A critical spirit is a great hindrance to profitable hearing.
2. A formal spirit is a great hindrance to profitable hearing.
3. The preparation of the heart is necessary to profitable hearing.
4. A teachable spirit is needful for profitable hearing.
5. Attention is necessary to profitable hearing. (J. Kelly.)
There is such a thing. The really eloquent listener is the devout listener--one who has come up to church as to the house of God, to meet God there, to sit at His feet, to learn of Him, with a heart anxious to know His will that he may do it. When people rush from their late beds, or their studied toilets, or their newspapers, to the house of God, without a moment’s preparation of serious thought, or reading of the Word, or prayer, what wonder that they find the services tedious and the sermon dull? The deaf might as well go to hear Beethoven’s symphonies, or the blind to witness the glories of a sunset, as for such to go and hear a sermon with a reasonable expectation of finding it eloquent profitable, or interesting. (Anon.)
There is a common consent among mankind that there should be some preparedness for worship. I see the visible signs of it here to-day. Before the Sabbath dawned you began to prepare clean linen and brighter garments than those of common days. It is but an outward and common matter; still, within the shell there lieth a kernel. My counsel to you is--cleanse your hearts rather than your garments. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A weighty exhortation
To give more weight to this exhortation, let us consider--
I. WHO IS HE WHO SPEAKS TO US? God Himself.
1. By the Holy Book.
2. By our preaching, in the measure in which it is approved of Him.
3. By the Holy Spirit.
II. WHAT DOES HE TELL US? That which is of the utmost consequence to us, for time and for eternity--the central truth which sways all others.
III. WHAT KIND OF ATTENTION DOES THE TRUTH REVEALED BY HIM REQUIRE? Mere attention is not sufficient. Christian truth claims a particular attention. It is not enough to bring great sagacity, a penetrating spirit, trained to study and fully determined to learn the truths which are presented. Religious truth has organs of its own, by which it reveals itself to man. Take heed, therefore, how ye hear. If your heart is not well prepared, if your conscience is not upright, you will certainly have sounds ringing in your ears: but those sounds, which bring to others an unspeakable joy, will for you be lost in the air where they vibrated.
IV. WHAT IS THE COST OF DESPISING THE TRUTH? The Word of God does not return to Him without effect, it comes back to Him after having saved us or ruined us. (E. de Pressense, D. D.)
The prepared hearer
The words of the text are necessary not only to give point to the parable of the sower, and to send it home to the hearts of the hearers, but also to prevent them from putting a disastrous misinterpretation upon the parable, from supposing that “the state of mind described as existing in different men, originated in some inherent necessity.”
I. THE HEARER SHOULD BE PREPARED AS WELL AS THE PREACHER.
1. He should have his body, so far as possible, in such a condition that it will not interfere with the free action of the mind. Some people break the Sabbath on a Saturday.
2. The mind should be prepared. Worldly cares and preoccupations should be bidden to stand aside.
3. Above all, the spirit should be prepared, be devout, humble, receptive.
II. THE PREPARED HEARER WILL HEAR ATTENTIVELY, in the spirit of the words uttered by Cornelius to Peter (Acts 10:33).
1. There cannot have been proper attention when a man goes away crediting the preacher with something which he never dreamt of saying.
2. There cannot have been proper attention when a sermon, which cost its preacher considerable pains in the production, is forgotten in less than a week.
3. There cannot have been proper attention when the sermon leaves no lasting result in the hearts and lives of the hearers. “Faith cometh by hearing,” as well as “hearing by the Word of God.”
III. THE PREPARED HEARER WILL NOT HEAR CENSORIOUSLY. I do not say that you should not hear critically in the true sense of that much-abused word. For true criticism is nothing more or less than judgment. But to bring a sound and healthy judgment to bear upon what we hear is one thing, to listen in a spirit of fault-finding is another. The man of censorious spirit; the man who thinks less of the sun than of his spots, can never hear to profit. Listen charitably and patiently.
IV. THE PREPARED HEARER WILL CARRY AWAY SOMETHING VALUABLE FROM THE POOREST PREACHER AND THE FEEBLEST SERMON. AS good George Herbert has it:
“God calleth preaching folly. Grudge thou not
To pick out treasures from an earthen pot.
The worst speak something good. If all lack sense,
God takes a text, and preacheth patience.
He that gets patience, and the blessing which
Preachers conclude with, hath not lost his pains.”
(J. R. Bailey.)
To him shall be given
The law of use
Hearing and doing should go together. Knowledge that is practical, blossoming out into character, shall keep on growing from knowledge to knowledge, more and more. But knowledge that never blossoms into character, shall by and by cease even to be knowledge. The tree that bears no fruit shall not be fruitless only; it shall rot and die. The idea is, that having is something quite other than mere passive possession--the upturned, nerveless palm of beggary. Having, real having, is eager,instant, active possession, the sinewy grip. Having is using. Anything not used is already the same as lost. It will be lost by and by.
I. This law of use is PHYSICAL law. Exercise, to be sure, may be overdone, as in training for athletic contests. But, on the other hand, muscular force gains nothing by being husbanded. Having is using. And to him that hath, shall be given. He shall grow stronger and stronger. What is difficult, perhaps impossible to-day, shall be easy to-morrow. He that keeps on day by day lifting the calf, shall lift the bullock by and by. So, even in this lowest sphere, the law is inexorable. Having is using. Not using is losing. Idleness is paralysis.
II. This law of use is COMMERCIAL law. Whoever indolently inherits an estate, never really comes into possession of it. Most of our famous merchants of to-day, of yesterday, are, or were, the architects of their own fortunes. Wealth goes down easily enough into the second generation, but not so easily into the third, and still less easily into the fourth. We take a tremendous risk in bequeathing fortunes to our children. Unless the children have been very carefully trained in the art of getting, they probably have not learned the art of keeping.
III. This law of use is MENTAL law Even knowledge, like the manna of old, must needs be fresh. It will not keep. The successful teacher is always the diligent and eager learner. It is related of Thorwaldsen that when at last he finished a statue that satisfied him, he told his friends that his genius was leaving him. Having reached a point beyond which he could push no further, his instinct told him that he had already begun to fail. So it proved. The summit of his fame was no broad plateau, but a sharp Alpine ridge. The last step up had to be quickly followed by the first step down. It is so in every thing. New triumphs must only dictate new struggles. If it be Alexander of Macedon, the Orontes must suggest the Euphrates, and the Euphrates the Indus. Always it must be on and on. Genius is essentially athletic, resolute, aggressive, persistent. Possession is grip, that tightens more and more. Ceasing to gain, we begin to lose.
IV. This law of use is also MORAL law. Here lies the secret of character. There is no such thing as standing still. And character, at last, is not inheritance, nor happy accident, but hardest battle and victory. From country to city is like some great change in latitude, and soil, and climate. As in going to the tropics, so here also the senses are stormed and captured. Luxuries, once only imagined, as a Greenlander might imagine an orange-grove, are now always in sight. Gains, that once seemed fabulous, are now the common talk of the street, the office, and the club. Something is in the air that poisons the blood like malaria. The muscles relax. The will relaxes. And, before we think of it, there is the old story, the old sad story, of mere passive and pliant goodness brought to bitter grief and shame. Or else the danger is overcome, and the manhood of man escapes unhurt; like the three young Hebrews out of the furnace in Babylon, like Daniel out of the lions’ den. If prayer be, what Tertullian has pictured it, the watch-cry of a soldier under arms, guarding the tent and standard of his General, then the habit of it ought to be growing on us. For the night is round about us, and, though the stars are out, our enemies are not asleep. If the Bible be what we say it is, then we should know it better and better. The longer we live, and the more we look beneath the surface of things, the more there is of mystery. So of all the virtues and graces. They will not take care of themselves. Self-denial and self-control, as against self-seeking and selfindulgence; absolute, chivalric integrity, as against the sharpness of the market; unshaken faith in God and man, in spite of all the mystery and meanness of life; the one simple purpose of loyal, steadfast stewardship and service in our day and generation; these neither come unasked, nor stay unurged. Easy things are of little worth. The spontaneities are mostly bad; mere weeds and briers. For the whole Church, in its organic life, the law is just the same. King David conquers out in every possible direction, north, east, and south. Solomon, settling down to the enjoyment of inherited dominion, loses the paternal conquests, bequeathing to his son a kingdom doomed already to dismemberment. So must the Church be always militant just so long as any body, or any thing, in this world remains unchristian. Such is the law: always the law, everywhere the law. Its law is not simple growth, as of the palm-tree, but conflict, as of armies. He that hath, to him shall be given; and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath. Be it remembered, however, that every gain is a vital factor. Interest changes constantly to capital, and changes rapidly. The progression is swiftly geometrical. It is the beginning always that costs. The poor invalid, after long confinement, is borne out to the carriage for a morning drive. If it agrees with him, the half-hour to-day may be doubled to-morrow. In toil or trade no dollar comes so hard as the first one. The next two or ten come easier; and more and more easy all along. A solitary virtue in some human life, if such a thins were possible, would be a forlorn and dreary sight: like a shaft of granite in a sandy waste, or a single bird in a silent sky. Thank God, the virtues go together: like trees in a forest; like birds in white-winged flocks, filling the whole sky with song. First, the chief end of discipline is high personal character. Second, character is triumph over temptation. Third, the surest conservative of character is service. Finally, let me emphasize, by repeating the two great lessons of our text. The first is, that beginnings are difficult: all beginnings, but especially in character; difficult by reason of bad appetites and passions. The best habits are not the ones most easily formed. “He that hath!” It is a great thing to have. The second lesson is, that gains and losses grow always more rapid and easy. Character grows always steadily less and less conscious of its own determinations. Moses knew not that his face shone. Samson knew not that his strength was gone. Bad habit begins easily enough. Good habit begins with effort, as one would climb a steep mountain, or lift a heavy gate from its hinges. But it ends in second nature. And the dividing line is crossed as silently as the tide swings, coming in this instant, going out the next; as silently as the sun crosses the Equator, northward and southward, carrying summer with it, leaving winter behind it. (R. D. Hitchcock, D. D.)
The possession of appreciation
That which Shakespeare and Wordsworth had of the seeing eye and the understanding heart is shared by you and me if we can read their writings with any appreciation. Have so much of that, of what they had, and in that measure there is given to you what was given to them. To him that hath it shall be given. Only bring to nature and life something of mind as free as mind should be, and you shall find them not sparing of their gift. Not only in regard to literature, art, science, the end of which is thought, but in regard to thought and feeling, in which the practical interests of men and nations are involved, to have in one’s self something which is real at all, or worth anything, is to be in the way of having much. (J. Service, D. D.)
An incentive to culture
More or less in every sphere of thought and activity, the inducement which a man has to cultivate what nature has given him in the shape of power and faculty, is that the reward is great. Much is given to him that has. That inducement is strong here as it is nowhere else. Augustine, it is said, when he failed as a lawyer, took the infinite for his career. As far as the infinite is synonymous with religion it is a term for a career which is open to every man, and in which success is no question of chance but one of effort and endeavour. In regard to religion, as in regard to every other department of human life, there is, of course, a difference between man and man, between class and class, people and people, generation and generation. By nature one man has much of what you call religious feeling, another man little. That is a fact not to be ignored. But whatever a man has in this kind, be it little or much, there is this inducement to cultivate it, that as far as, by putting it into exercise and so really possessing himself of it, he can be said to have it, much is given to him in it and with it, much in proportion to what he already has. Every step forward and upward in the career of Augustine’s--the infinite--the wider and greater is the prospect which for the soul is not prospect but property. (J. Service, D. D.)
From him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have
True and false possession
Apparent arbitrariness in this utterance. Not so, however. It is the expression of a law which underlies all things. Similar words occur frequently in the Gospels, in connection not only with parable of sower, but also with those of talents, pounds, &c. Thus the universality of its application is indicated.
I. WHAT IS THE NATURE OF TRUE POSSESSION?
1. It is something which is part of a man’s very self.
2. It is something which he turns to account, and does not allow to fust in him unused.
II. THERE IS A SEEMING POSSESSION WHICH IS FALSE. Does not conform to these two conditions. It is either external to the man, or unemployed by him.
III. TRUE POSSESSIONS TRULY USED EVER INCREASE, WHILE UNTRUE POSSESSIONS VANISH. “Seemeth” because it was offered him; “hath not” because he did not accept it. Apply to the highest possessions. Gospel privileges. Take heed how ye use them--how ye hear. (Anon.)
The grand test of a religious life
The principle enunciated is one which applies to many other things besides religious lessons and spiritual gifts. We all of us know for instance that there is a learning which is no learning; that there is a wisdom which is no wisdom; that there is a strength which is no strength; and a skill which is no skill. We know very well what is meant for instance by learning which is got up for a special occasion and is not part of a man’s real knowledge, which has not, as it were, mixed itself up with his faculties, and of which he does not understand the fundamental principles, and cannot tell what are the relations of it to other kinds of knowledge, or what is the right application of it to ourselves. Such knowledge as that prepared for any particular purpose may be entirely possessed and enjoyed at the moment after it has been so prepared, and yet everybody knows how entirely it passes away and is forgotten. For although the man had it in one sense, in another he had it not. So again, for instance, those who know anything of the writings of Aristotle will remember how he describes the spurious kinds of courage. There is, he says, a courage which is merely born of ignorance, which a man feels when he is in great danger; because he does not know what the danger is, he does not perceive its extent or how serious is his risk. That same man, when this danger was hidden from him, was perfectly calm and collected, yet if he knew what really was around him would very probably prove a mere coward, altogether unable to keep the balance of his mind. Just as we are told that sometimes men who have walked past precipices in the dark without the least sensation of fear, have turned sick and faint at heart when they have seen the danger they had incurred. So he says there is a courage which is born of knowledge, that courage which a man exercises when in danger because he knows precisely what are the limits and what the extent of that danger, knows exactly how he can deal with it, and consequently is able to keep himself perfectly calm and collected where others would be seriously afraid. Such courage is indeed real and genuine as far as it goes, and yet that very same man if he were put in circumstances where his knowledge would no longer apply, if he found himself in the greatest danger of which he knew nothing and the limits of which he could not estimate, might possibly be filled with an unreasonable panic, and lose his presence of mind when most he needed it. But true courage is that which rests upon real principle. It does not depend upon circumstances, but on a sense of duty which makes a man brave because he ought to be brave, and his master who put him there requires that no want of presence of mind, no disturbance of the balance of his intellect should interfere with the service which he has to do. The difference between them is that one man has courage really, and the other man while he has courage, yes, and as far as it goes, genuine courage, yet after all has it not. But our Lord is here of course applying this principle to the lessons which He Himself was teaching. “Take heed how ye hear!” He is applying it to religious instruction and spiritual gifts, and to the service of God. And it is not difficult if we turn to the Old Testament to find instances which will illustrate most clearly for us the application of this principle to human character. Thus when we read how Saul put away the wizards in Israel, plainly because he desired seriously to fulfill the will of God, we have no reason to doubt the sincerity of his desire. We have no reason to suppose it was hypocrisy, as we commonly use the word: that he desired to wear a religious character in the eyes of his fellows, and to obtain the approval of Samuel the prophet by doing the will of God. Yet we find afterwards this same Saul in his darkest need, when he cannot obtain counsel any longer from God, turns to the witch of Endor for advice, and thus falsifies all his previous services. Or to come down later still. Look at Ahab the king of Israel. He, we are told, after the slaughter of Naboth the Jezreelite, was reproved by Elijah the prophet in such stern language that he was struck, it may be with alarm, or it may be remorse, and showed every token of genuine repentance. He humbled himself and wept, and we are told that his repentance was accepted by God, and God Himself made an immediate acknowledgment of it, and therefore we know it could not have been merely a false exhibition of regret. But was Ahab really penitent? Are we able to say afterwards that his life was changed? In the very next chapter we find that he imprisons Micaiah the prophet because he will not speak smooth things to him, and then comes down the final judgment of God on the wicked king. But once more to turn to the instances which would naturally strike every reader of the Old Testament as the most striking instance of all, let us look at the familiar history of the prophet Balaam, and when we read it what do we see? Do we see a man who had no desire to obey God’s will: a man who was simply a rebel against the truth that was revealed to him? On the contrary, we know that he was a prophet to whom God’s will was plainly shown, and we see that be was a wicked man, and that he died a wicked man’s death. But have we any reason to say that his obedience to the Lord was entirely hypocritical? So far from that we see plainly that he is resolute to de exactly that which he is bidden. He does not flinch for a moment from the path of strict obedience. Not even in the presence of the king who could advance him to honour, not even there does he fail to pronounce the blessing which God requires him to pronounce, yet was his obedience all genuine? We can plainly see that his heart was set upon finding some way or other of reconciling Obedience in the letter with disobedience in the spirit, and going to the very verge of what is forbidden. He is resolute to do what he is told, but he will go as near as he possibly can to what he is told not to do. All through he is hoping that some way may be found by which the service of God and the service of man may be reconciled, and though he does what he is told his wish is for self-indulgence. He has obedience and genuine obedience, and yet he has it not. It is worthless although it is there. And if we turn to the New Testament we may find similar illustrations which I need not describe at so much length. Such, for instance, was the character of the man who buried his lord’s money in the earth. He had the talent which his lord had given him, and yet he had it not. Now, brethren, it is not difficult to see that all this applies also to ourselves, and to our own lives. We, too, if we choose to look can easily find many respects in which perhaps we really have and yet have not, and assuredly many in which we are in danger o” coming under the censure of our Lord. Let us, for instance, speak of some of the doctrines which we all hold. Let us take the doctrine of the omnipresence of God, one of the fundamental truths of the Christian faith, and which no Christian doubts for a single moment, and one which, if we did not believe, we should never venture to call ourselves Christians at all. We believe that God is present everywhere, and that He sees everything we do, and that He knows everything we think. We believe that His is the last, the supreme, the decisive judgment upon all our lives. And now let me ask you, if we have this doctrine, may it not sometimes nevertheless be said that we have it not? Let me ask you how often it may be the case that things that you would do when other people are not by, you would be unwilling, ashamed, afraid to do in the presence of others. Can it be said we are real believers in the omnipresence of God if it has no effect whatever upon our lives? Let me turn now, brethren, not to other doctrines, but rather to characters and circumstances of life. Let me, for instance, compare for a moment two different men under different circumstances who yet, under many respects, shall seem to be precisely alike. I will suppose two men who come here to church and who take a part in the service and worship of God, who listen to His Word when read and hear the message which God’s minister has to deliver. I will suppose these two men are both of them touched and moved, that they have heard words which in some way or other happen to suit their own particular ease, and I will suppose their hearts are stirred within them, and they feel somehow as if they had learnt a fresh lesson and caught a new sight of God’s truth, as if something was cleared up before them which had not before been plain to them; and they go away and feel, “I have been the better for coming here to church; that service has done me good,” and with that with one man there it ends. It is a genuine feeling; there is no hypocrisy in it at all, but there it ends and there is no more of it. But the other man, once his conscience is awaked, inasmuch as he is always on the watch to do what his conscience bids him, finds that there is a difference to be made in his own personal life, he sees something that he ought to change, he perceives something that he ought to elevate and purify and make more heavenly; he perceives something that he ought to give up, and some characteristic which is not quite consistent with the true service of God, he says he must cleanse himself from everything of that sort, and accordingly it has made a real difference--slight perhaps-.very slight, it is but the service of one afternoon, but it makes a real difference. Now here the two men have received both the same spiritual gifts, the same spiritual teaching, but the one man hath it and the other hath it not. To have the truths of God is to live in them and for them; to rise towards them, to grow in them, to learn somewhat more of God by them; it is to make them part of our lives constantly by day and by night, and unless we can make the doctrine of God outs in that sense, then we shall have to learn that they are not ours at all. (Bp. Temple.)
Then came to Him His mother and His brethren
Spiritual relationship to Christ
It is the higher kinship of the soul.
Christ did not set aside time relationships, but He opened up a far higher view, with which these were in analogy. Men know each other in various relationships; but very few men know themselves. Very few men know one another; but in the degree in which they do, they know each other at different points of the wide extension of man and his relations. A man may know his parentage and his home. That is primary knowledge, and very noble it is. He may know men by their co-operations and partnerships in the affairs of life--that, and only that. He may know men by some similar tastes and pursuits. Artists know artists; musicians know musicians; working men know working men; inventors know inventors. There is a line of sympathy that goes out from all these different points by which men interpret in other people something that they have in themselves. It is a knowledge which consists simply in the attempt to interpret in others something that we have felt in our own selves--to liken ourselves to those around about us. So a man may know his fellow-men in times of great excitement by partizan feeling, by party feeling, or by patriotism. The real relationship, the truest, the highest, while it does not disdain these lower relationships, regards them as external and transient. You may know men as parents, and not know them at all. You may know men as business factors and be utterly outside of them and ignorant of them. You may know men by tastes, by professions, by pursuits, and yet not know them interiorly. You may know men as your countrymen, and as faithful to law and order in times of great confusion; and yet that is exterior knowledge. It is juxtaposition, for the most part. Interiorly, how little does a man know his fellow-men until he has in himself the higher qualities, spiritual and intellectual, and until he interprets the like qualities that are in those around about him! Apply this to the relationship of men with Christ and with God. In the truest and highest sense, not until men rise into those qualities which constitute God can they be said to understand Him. We can understand Him when He thunders, because we can thunder in a small way; we can understand Him when He speaks of Himself as the Creator, because we are mechanicians in a certain way; when He sets His palace in order in the heavens above, when He fills the earth with His glory, when the firmament declares His glory and the earth His handiwork, we can understand all that well enough, because we ourselves are creators, re-arrangers of physical qualities and matter; and so we feel that we have an understanding of God; and we have. But our great wish is that we could understand Him according to our senses all the way through: “Why does He not speak to me? That is the way my children understand me. I wish God would bring Himself down within the scope of my eyes. Why does He not hear me? Why does He not come within the realm of my ear? Why does He not come where I can lay my hand upon Him--thrust it into His side, indeed?” We are always trying to come to a knowledge of God by bringing Him down to a level with our condition; then we think that we should understand Him; but the disciples did not. His brethren and His mother did not, and He was upon the line and level of their physical condition. They were just as far from Him, and just as far from satisfaction in regard to Him, as if they had never seen Him, or as if He had gone early from the cradle to the grave. And to-day men are seeking to know God by ratiocination. They are searching the origin of things, the germs of life, its unfoldings and its philosophy; and all of them are playing round about this great problem of the universe: “Is there a God? Where is He? Who is He? What is He?” The royal road to knowledge is goodness. He that loves, we are told in explicit language, knows God, though He cannot imagine the amplitude of such love. He that only knows the candle knows what the sun is a little bit; but the candle does not give him any conception of the magnitude and majesty and glory of the sun. He that loves here has one letter of the alphabet, as it were, but not the whole literature and philosophy of the Divine nature. This is the highway through which, and only through which, John declares that any man can come to an understanding of God. God is love; love is His constituent element, and no man can understand God that does not understand love. As no man can understand heroism except through the recipiency of, or sensibility to, heroism in himself; as no man can understand good taste except through the foregoing feeling of what is harmonious and beautiful; so it is in regard to the great discernments that reveal God to us. (H. W. Beecher.)
The affinity of the faithful
As this voice came to Christ while He was labouring, so many such voices come to us while we are labouring. One saith, Pleasure would speak with you; another saith, Profit would speak with you; another saith, Ease would speak with you; another saith, A deanery would speak with you; another saith, A bishopric would speak with you; another saith, The court would speak with you. Here is the rule now; if you live by it, then you are kin to Christ. As other kindreds go by birth and marriage, so this kindred goeth by faith and obedience. Hearers are but half kin, as it were m a far degree; but they which hear and do are called His mother, which is the nearest kindred of all. Therefore if you have the deed, then are you kin indeed; there is no promise made to hearers, nor to speakers, nor to readers; but all promises are made to believers or to doers. Again, by this you may learn how to choose your friends. As Christ counted none His kinsmen, but such as “hear the Word of God, and do it”; so we should make none our familiars, but such as Christ counteth His kinsmen. Again, you may see the difference between Christ and the world; Christ calleth the godly His kinsmen, be they never so poor, and we scorn to call the poor our kinsmen, be they never so honest; so proud is the servant above his Master. Again, by this you see how Christ is to be loved; for when He calleth us His mother, He shows us the way to love Him as a mother; for indeed He is the mother of His mother and His brethren too. Again, by this, all vaunting and boasting of kindred is cut off. Glory not in that thou hast a gentleman to thy father, glory not that thou hast a knight to thy brother, but glory that thou hast a Lord to thy brother. Again, by this you may know whether you be kin to Christ; as those priests were shut out of the temple which could not count their genealogy from Aaron, so they shall be shut out of heaven that cannot reckon their pedigree from Christ. Here are the arms now whereby you may show of what house you came. Lastly, by this you may know the devil’s kinsmen, and therefore Christ saith, “You are of your father the devil” (John 8:44), showingthat the devil and the wicked are as near kin as Christ and the faithful. (H. Smith.)
The two families--the natural and the spiritual
From these words of the Lord Jesus I learn that, without repudiating the family relations of earth, He institutes and proclaims the family relations of heaven. As a faithful minister of the gospel said once to a despotic sovereign, “There are two kings and two kingdoms in Scotland,” explaining how Church and State may live and thrive on the same spot at the same time, giving and receiving help reciprocally, if each will consent to confine itself to its own sphere and exercise only its own functions; so the Scriptures intimate that two families pervade society, both having to a great extent the same persons as members, yet without jealousy or collision, getting and giving reciprocal support. Both families are of God. He has planned and constituted them. To Him they owe their origin, and from Him they receive their laws. A place has been assigned to the one in creation; to the other in redemption. The one is the grand Institute of Nature; the other the grand Institute of Grace. Both are good, each as far as it goes; but the second is deeper, longer, broader, higher than the first. The first is the family for time; the second is the family for eternity.
I. CHRIST IS THE GOSPEL PERMITS THE NATURAL FAMILY, IN ALL ITS INTEGRITY, TO REMAIN UNDISTURBED. Jesus was Himself the member of a family. He received the benefits of that position, and fulfilled its duties. Honour all the pure affections of human nature, for they thrill in the Saviour’s breast; loathe all the sins that stain it, for they crucified the Son of God. If you examine the natural affections and instincts of living creatures, you will find that one principle lies like s measuring rod along the whole--utility. These affections are inserted, and inserted such as they are, in the constitution of the creature, because of their usefulness. They are the instruments whereby the Maker works out His own design. Some living creatures, as fishes and certain species of birds, have no perceptible filial or parental affections at all. In their case the instinct is not needed, and therefore is not found. In others, including all the higher grades of the brute creation, the parental affection is developed in great intensity for a short period, and then altogether ceases. A mother that would have shed her blood for her offspring a month ago, when it was feeble, does not know it to-day, at least does not acknowledge it in the herd. The instinct, having served its purpose, is not left dangling after its work is done. Relative affections in human kind expatiate on a wider field, and are more enduring. Here we enter a region in which these affections find room to range; they become, accordingly, manifold and strong. The roots go deeper down in the deeper, richer soil. A short-lived maternal love would not serve the purpose here; and therefore a mother’s love in this region is not short-lived. Christ was a perfect man. He was not only perfectly holy, but completely human. He took all our nature without its defects and defilements. He experienced filial and fraternal love. He loved His mother and His brethren with the true affection of a son and a brother. No disciple of Christ is permitted to break the bonds of kindred, and abjure the affections of consanguinity, on the plea of his Master’s example or command. Superstition has always shown a tendency to exalt the spiritual relations by crushing the natural; it would build up, according to its own false conception, the family of God on the ruins of the family of man. God did not built up the family in order to pull it down again. As the ordinances of the earlier dispensation were a shadow, and so a prediction, of better things to come in Christ, the natural family is a type, and so a promise, of the spiritual and heavenly.
II. CHRIST IN THE GOSPEL ESTABLISHES, ON THE SAME SPHERE, A NEW SPIRITUAL FAMILY. If any man be in Christ he is a new creature; in the new creature a multitude of new affections spring and flow, but being on a higher level, they never run foul of the affections that expatiate on the lower sphere of temporal things. Mind, conscience, immortality, have been imparted to man, and these faculties have free scope for action; but those operations of the higher nature do not in any measure impede the inhalation of air, the circulation of the blood, or any of the other processes which belong to us in common with inferior creatures. Now, as mind, acting in another sphere, comes not into collision with the functions of the body, so the new spiritual affections, which belong to us as Christians, do not interfere with the original affections which belong to us as men. There is a process in agriculture which presents an interesting parallel to the simultaneous and commingling growth of relations for time and relations for eternity in human hearts. A field is closely occupied all over with a growing crop which will soon reach maturity, and will be reaped in this season’s harvest. The owner intends that another crop, totally different in kind, shall possess the ground in the following year; but he does not wait till the grain now growing has been reaped--he goes into the field and sows the seed of the new while the old is still growing and green. In some cases a method is adopted which is, from our present point of view, still more suggestive: the seed which shall complete its functions within the present season, and the seed which, springing this year, shall bear its fruit upwards, are mixed together in the same vessel and scattered together on the same ground. Nor does the one lie dormant for a season while the other monopolizes the soil; both spring up at the same, or nearly the same time. The plant for the future germinates at once, but it does not reach maturity till the following year; the plant intended for the present season--the wheat or the barley--grows rapidly and ripens ere the winter come. Lowly, meekly at the roots of the waving grain springs the plant of the future; it passes through its earlier stages while the tall stalks of the wheat are towering over its head. It springs although, the grain is growing on the same spot, and springs better because the grain is growing there. The vigorous growth of another species all around it shelters its feeble infancy; and after the winter has passed, in another season, it starts afresh and comes forth in its own matured strength. Thus the affections and relations that belong to the future spring and grow under the shadow of the affections and relations that belong to the present. Those stars that studded the dark blue canopy of the sky were lovely; often through the weary night did the lone watcher lift his eyes and look upon them. They seemed to him a sort of company, and while he gazed on the bright glancing throng he felt himself for the moment somewhat less lonely. Yet you hear no complaint from that watcher’s lips when those stars disappear; for the cause of their disappearance is the break of day. Either the many fond individual companionships which cheer disciples in the night of their pilgrimage will remain with them, as bright particular stars in the day of eternity, or they will fade away before its dawning; if they remain, their company in holiness will be a thousand fold more sweet; if they disappear, it will not be that those joys have grown more dim, but that we do not observe them in the light of a more glorious day. Two practical lessons, one in the form of a warning, and the other in the form of an encouragement, depend from the subject visibly, and claim a notice at the close.
1. Reverting again, for a moment, to the analogy of seed for the future sown and springing under the shade of a crop that is growing for the present season, we may gather from nature a caution which is needful and profitable in the department of grace. When this season’s crop, amidst which next season’s seed was sown in spring, has been cut in harvest and carried home, I have seen the field in whole or in part destitute of the young plants which ought at that time to have covered its surface, the hope of future years. Sometimes after this season’s harvest is reaped, no living plant remains in the ground. As you walk over it at the approach of winter, you see rotting stubble, the decaying remnants of one harvest, but no young plants, the promise of another year. Why? Because the first crop has grown too rank in its robust maturity, and overlaid the second in its tender youth. The principle of this lesson applies to the business of life as well as the reciprocal affections of kindred. Beware! Open your hearts and take the warning in. Have you hope for pardon and eternal life in the son of God, the Saviour? Then bear in mind that, under the shade of your city-traffic and your home-joys, a tender plant is growing, native of a softer clime--a plant whose growth is your life, whose decay your ruin, in the great day; a plant that needs indeed the shelter of honest industry and pure family affections, but dies outright under the choking weight of their overgrowth; and see to it that the profits and pleasures of time do not, by their excess, kill the hope for eternity. What is a man profited although he gain the whole world, if he lose his own soul?
2. It is ever true, according to the symbolic prophecy of the Apocalypse, that the earth helps the woman--that the occupations and affinities and friendships of this life may and do cherish the growth of grace in the soul. (W. Arnot.)
On rightly seeking the Saviour
I. THEY DESIRED TO SEE CHRIST. This their desire might proceed--
1. From a proud and vainglorious principle, from which the best of men are not entirely free. They might want to make it known that they were related to Christ, a person followed and talked of, who preached such heavenly doctrines, and performed such astonishing miracles.
2. From an undue, and, indeed, mercenary regard to the health of Christ’s body and safety of His person.
3. From natural love, without any other design but to please themselves with the company and conversation of one with whom they were so nearly connected, and for whom they had so great regard. Religion is no enemy to natural affection.
4. There might also be a mixture of spiritual affection. Yet, though the principle might be good, their conduct was reprovable, the application being unseasonable; and the check that Christ gave them should teach us, that no intrusion or solicitation should draw us from the work of the Lord.
II. THOSE WHO DESIRE TO SEE CHRIST DO NOT ALWAYS TAKE RIGHT METHODS TO OBTAIN THEIR END.
1. Some, through an improper humility or servile dread, keep at a distance from Christ, even when they have earnest desires to see Him, which desires will never be answered without nearer approaches to Him.
2. Others seek Christ in duties and ordinances, in the streets and broadways, when they ought to see Him in their own closets. They seek Him abroad, but not at home, whereas the kingdom of Christ is within us, and where should the King be but in His kingdom?
3. Others, again, seek Christ out of the Church, who ought to seek Him in it. They “stand without.” Let them come in, and seek Christ where He is to be found. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
The Lord’s answer respecting His mother and brethren
On these words of our Lord we may remark--
1. That they are not intended to cast a slur on His mother and brethren, or to undervalue the duties men owe to their relations.
2. That we must not allow our regard to our relations to interfere with our duty to God.
3. The sinfulness and folly of all superstitions regard to the Virgin Mary.
4. Nothing but personal obedience and faith can avail for safety.
5. The great love Jesus bears to His true disciples, and the high honour He bestows on them. (James Foote, M. A.)
Divine and human relationship
A little sad, wasn’t it? that His mother and brethren were not sitting about Him. For, as another evangelist says, “He looked round on those that were about Him.” His disciples, who were learning of Him, were nearest to Him naturally, and His mother and His brethren were outside. It is a sad thing for any of us to be called by His name, and not know Him. It is the business of our human being to know Christ, and nothing else is our business. You observe Christ is always talking about His Father in heaven. You would think He knew nothing else. Did He, then, repudiate the earthly mother, and the earthly brother and sister? No verily. But it is a profound, absolute fact that our relation to God is infinitely nearer than any relation by nature. (George Macdonald.)
The true relatives of Christ
Kinship with Christ is not a matter of genealogy or of Church position, or the men around Him would have had it; not of birth, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man. Kindred with Christ is a matter of nature, and nature can never be tested but by action. If a man is a partaker of the Divine nature that will show itself, and the will that will rule him will no longer be his own, but the will of his Father who is in heaven. (W. Arthur, M. A.)
We have here two things, a character and a blessing,
I. THE CHARACTER. “These which hear the Word of God and do it.”
II. THE BLESSING. “The same are my brother and sister and mother.” (Dean Vaughan.)
(An Epiphany Sermon):--Successive steps in Christ’s revelation of Himself.
1. At twelve years’ old, though He must be about His Father’s business, yet He remained subject for the present.
2. At marriage-festival--“Woman, what have I to do with thee?” a clearer Epiphany, and yet “Mine hour is not yet come.”
3. His friends, His mother, seek Him. He utters words which show that in the higher spiritual relationship claimed for His disciples there is no room for sex; the tie of brotherhood and motherhood a faint type only of the close communion between the redeemed and the Redeemer.
4. At last, dying, He commends His mother to the disciple, “Behold thy mother,” as if to show that the human relationship had ceased for Himself and her. Natural relationships are swallowed up, the spiritual eclipsing them. Results of acknowledging this fact.
III. PRACTICAL EFFECT ON OUR LIVES, viz., our future relationship will be decided not by our present earthly ones, but by our birth of God. (O. Warren, M. A.)
Christ and kinship with Him
I. THE SPIRITUALITY OF CHRIST’S MISSION AND HIS ABSORPTION IN IT. Affections, even the purest, must be sacrificed when they intrenched upon His liberty to do what He had come into the world to do. “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.” Think of the loneliness of Christ. While holding intercourse with His friends at Bethany, or surrounded by His disciples, or pressed upon by the crowd, He was yet alone, always alone--alone in His knowledge of the full meaning of His life’s work, alone in the endurance of His bitterest pain, alone in the constancy and grandeur of His unfailing purpose.
II. THE LARGE-HEARTEDNESS OF CHRIST. He had two great lessons to teach men--The Fatherhood of God, and the common brotherhood of man How much larger our hearts would be, how much more generous our sympathies, if we shared more largely His Spirit of universal love.
III. THE NATURE OF KINSHIP WITH HIM. We all hear, and we all may do the Word of God. We have, then, set before us in the text a privilege in which we all may share--a sacred relationship with Christ into which we all may enter. Application:
1. Is there anywhere any poor man sorely tried, buffeted by circumstances, self-despising and despised of others, but who desires with all his heart to do the will of God. Rise up, and be of good courage, for thou art Christ’s brother.
2. Thou art perhaps a widow left alone and poor to struggle with the world; or a mother with the anxious care of a family upon thy shoulders; or a daughter whose life is passing away in some joyless home, and in devotion to an invalid parent whose petulance is thy daily cross. Be patient, and struggle on. Bear the cross, and do the duty, because it is God’s will. And remember for thine encouragement in every hour of trial that thou art Christ’s sister.
3. And O, aged mother’s heart, bereft of thy children, and refusing to be comforted because they are not, think that the Lord of life and glory condescends to call Himself thy son. He will be the comfort and stay of thy declining days, the prop of thy feebleness, the companion of thy loneliness. (J. R. Bailey.)
The household of faith
I. THE CONNECTION WHICH IS HERE PROCLAIMED.
1. In regard to the connection, the first point is as to the parties between whom it subsists. On the one side, we have a personage of inconceivable greatness and power. Is it some glorious angel whom God made as a specimen of what the Creator can do? No. It is one who is above the angels, and concerning whom it is written, “Let all the angels of God worship Him.” This is one to whom it can be said, “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever.” It is the eternal Son, the heir and Lord of all. It is Jehovah Himself, God manifest in the flesh! On the other hand, we have a portion of the human family. We have a company of dependent and powerless beings, whose breath is in their nostrils, and who have nothing of their own. Between Him, so great, and them, so mean, there is now the affinity mentioned in the text. He, the blessed and only Potentate, discovers and recognizes in them His brother, His sister, His mother!
2. The next point we shall inquire into is the nature of the connection.
(1) It is a close connection. There are many relations which belong to the constitution of human society. There are, for example, the relations of magistrate and subjects, master and servants, teacher and pupils, and so on. But the closest relation of all is the family relation. The family relation is fraught with intimacies which are known to no other. This is the relation which is declared in the text between Christ and His people. Christ and His people are embraced in the same family circle, the word being taken in its most limited acceptation. They are not remotely allied to Him. They are His nearest kindred. They are His brother, His sister, His mother. No tie of blood can be closer than that by which He and they are connected.
(2) It is an endearing connection. Love wells out of it--reciprocal love. We see, then, that between Jesus and His followers there is a connection which is fitted to give rise to love--which is fitted, we may say, to give rise to it in no ordinary degree, and to produce a most peculiar and devoted attachment.
(3) It is a connection that cannot be transferred. We are familiar with connections whose transference is easy, and is constantly taking place. There is the connection between master and servant. The master may be changed; and so may be the servant. There is the connection between bosom friends. He who is my friend now may become my foe in a little while, and I may get another friend in his room. Although I may change my friend, I cannot change my mother. Although I may change my servant, I cannot change my son. The connection between Christ and His people, then, is fixed. He cannot be supplanted in His relation to them, nor they in their relation to Him.
(4) It is a connection that cannot be destroyed. Recent occurrences in the history of the world have strikingly shown that the connection between a sovereign and his subjects is perishable, and may be suddenly dissolved. But, happen what may, brother and sister will continue to be brother and sister, and a man’s mother is his mother as long as she lives. Neither accidents nor efforts can sever the family tie. Death, indeed, may come, and, in one sense, put an end to it. But even death cannot prevail against the bond by which Christ and His disciples are united. He liveth for evermore, and so do they.
3. Our third point is the advantage with which the connection is fraught to Christ’s people. The Lord is laid under obligations by it, which will redound to their benefit. A brother, a sister, a mother, have peculiar claims, which no relative, with a conscience and a heart, will disregard.
(1) Is the disciple a brother? He has a claim upon the Saviour as such. One of the most emphatic declarations of Scripture tells of “a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” When a man is in straits of any kind, who so likely as his brother to relieve him, if that brother be able? Now, then, let the Christian rejoice that he is the brother of the Lord. Let him remember it in trouble, and let him not be cast down. The Lord Himself remembers it, and says to him, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee.”
(2) Does Christ declare that the disciple is His sister? A sister has claims even stronger than a brother. A sister is weak, and needs a guardian, and an arm to lean upon. A sister is timid, and needs a companion who has boldness and decision, that he may lead her forth, take her through the crowd, and encourage her by the way. A sister needs a prompt and powerful champion, that she may be defended from insult, and that her purity and honour may be cared for. And a sister turns to her kind and manly brother as the guardian, the bold companion, and the prompt and powerful champion that she needs. When Christ says that His disciple is His sister, He gives His people to understand that He is all this to them. And O how He cherishes and tends them!
(3) Christ says that His disciple is His mother. This also has great significance. It speaks to us of a son who devotes the vigorous labour of his prime to win a subsistence for his mother, and to make for her a comfortable and happy home.
4. A fourth point is the formation of the tie between Christ and His people. How is it constituted? How, then, is the rank of His mother and His brethren acquired? The question is answered in the following verse--“Whosoever shall do the will of My Father which is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother.” It is as much as to say to us all, “Do the will of My father in heaven, and ye shall become very dear to Me; ye shall acquire the strong claims of the closest relationship.” But what must we understand by the will of His Father? We have His own definition of the will of His Father, when He says, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.” After Christ’s ascension, the Apostle John announced the will of the Father, saying, “ This is His commandment, that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ.” And is this the way to become members of the family of Jesus? Is this the way to do, if we wish to be the brother, and sister, and mother of the Lord? This is the way. He comes to us in the Father’s name, with gracious proposals, as the sinner’s Friend. Let us bid Him welcome; let us accept His offers; let us yield to His love. So shall we be His: and He shall be ours. “To as many as receive Him, to them gives He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe in His name.” It is by faith that we enter the family of Jesus.
5. Our last point is the evidence of the tie. For this we go again to the same verse:--“Whosoever shall do the will of My Father which is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother.” That which creates the tie, also manifests it. Take notice, says our Lord, take notice of the person that does My Father’s will, and believes in Me; take notice of My follower, My disciple! The same is My brother, and sister, and mother. There is a family likeness between Christ and His people. The doing of the Father’s will is a family characteristic. It is a feature by which a member of the Church of the first-born may be infallibly discovered. Christ, the chief, the great Brother of the household, is the image of the Father. And of all the members of the blessed household it can be said that, “beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, they are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” One remark we must add here, lest the mother and the brethren of Jesus be discouraged. It is not our doctrine, it is not the doctrine of Scripture, or of the text, that those only who attain to a perfect fulfilment of the Will of the Father can claim to be the kindred of the Lord. His meaning was, and the true doctrine is, that his brother, and sister, and mother, are they who have entered the school, who are learning the lesson, and have begun to practise the duty, of obedience to the will of the Father.
II. The second branch of our subject relates to THE DELIGHT WHICH JESUS HAS IN THIS CONNECTION. The text is expressive of feelings of complacency and satisfaction. It was a burst of affection, the utterance of a loving and joyful heart, when He exclaimed, “Behold My mother and My brethren.” To illustrate the delight which Jesus has in the affinity between Him and His people, it may be well to show what is His behavour towards them.
1. He visits them. It happens sometimes in a family of humble rank, that one of the members rises far above the rest in point of circumstances and position. And it happens also, sometimes, in such cases, that the great and wealthy member of the family forgets his poor kinsmen, and seldom or never goes to see them. But Christ does not forget His people. He came and saw them often during the old dispensation. He has never been long away from them. One visit, most notable for the wonders of love it exhibited, was His advent in the flesh. It had been described beforehand, but the half was not told. “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory.” When He was departing, He said, “I will see you again.” The family of Jesus, like other families, has its meetings; the members often assemble; and now and then, at stated periods, they hold high festival together. On such occasions He, the exalted Brother to whom all look up, is never away. Absentees there may be, but He is not one of them; His place is never empty. Are they in darkness? He visits them and gives them light.
2. He sends gifts to them. He, the Brother of great possessions, sends gifts to His lowly kindred. All power is His, both in heaven and in earth. Do they need gold? He sends them gold, tried in the fire. Do they need raiment? He furnishes them with white raiment, that they may be clothed--robes of righteousness, garments of salvation. Do they need meat anddrink? He gives them bread of life, wine and milk, honey out of the rock.
We have spoken of their family feasts, but these would be feasts of emptiness, were it not for His bounty. What shall we say more? To express everything in a word, He sends them the Holy Spirit. That heavenly gift is completely subject to His administration.
3. He dwells among them. It is customary for the members of a family to dwell together. They group with each other in the same abode. It may seem strange to say that Christ dwells with His friends, after we have said that He visits them. But both are true. In this case there is no real inconsistency. Just before His ascension He declared to His disciples, “Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world.” I am going away, yet will I never be absent. “In Salem is His tabernacle, and His dwelling-place in Zion.”
4. He acknowledges them. “Behold My mother and My brethren.” Behold these fishermen, these peasants, these obscure Galileans, who receive My doctrine. These are My relatives; see, this is the family to which I belong. And was not that a signal acknowledgment of kinsmanship that He gave in the case of the three children, when, before Nebuchadnezzar, and his princes and captains, and the vast Babylonian concourse, He walked in the midst of the furnace along with them? He promised that He would confess His brethren before His Father and before His holy angels. He is confessing them now in His continual intercession at God’s right hand. (A. Gray.)
He went into a ship with His disciples
The Saviour in the ship
We do not need to be literally at sea, or to feel waves literally breaking over our heads, to find out what absolute helplessness is. The greater number of us, at some time in our lives, have known what it was to touch the last limit of our strength. One of the commonest forms of this exhaustion of human strength is in the struggle with disease or death, approaching yourself or some one you love like a part of yourself. The powers that overmatch us, tire us out, and run us down, are various--time, hereditary maladies, sudden sickness, the superior strength of other people serving their own interests against us, that formless enemy, never so seen as to be struck, but often “preventing” us--that we call “bad luck”; everything that edges about our inclinations, thwarts our plans, baffles the brain and the will, and brings us up where we wish not to be. Most plainly it is a part of God’s scheme of mercy to lead us, in our self-confidence and self-will, every one of us, to just that point, so that when we are obliged to stop trusting or calculating for ourselves we shall come willingly to Him.
The heart, with all its external, traditional, or formal knowledge of the Saviour, may hold Him as if He were asleep in its own dark chamber. He wakes, to us, whenever we go to Him and call upon Him. And they are the reckless mariners on a deeper sea who put the waking off, on one pretence or another, till the ship is covered with the waves.
2. Observe that when, at last, the voyager comes sincerely and anxiously to that, and utters the prayer, Christ does not refuse him because he did not call sooner, or because when he prayed his prayer was not the purest and loftiest of prayers. Hardly any heart’s prayer is that, when it is first agitated under the flashing conviction that it is all wrong. While its deep disorder is first discovered it can think only of being delivered. The life of God in the soul of man is always a growing thing, and so by necessity must be imperfect at the beginning. Every one that asketh receiveth more than he asketh. None of us know what to pray for as we ought. To him that crieth only in fear, and because the weather of this troublesome world is too much for him, the sea is smoothed. And whosoever so cometh, provided only it is to the Lord that he directs his supplication, shall in no wise be cast out.
3. But we should miss the fall breadth of gospel teaching in this miracle of the quieted tempest if we saw nothing more in it than a mere figure or likeness of what goes on in an individual heart. The whole strain of the New Testament teaches us a profounder doctrine than this of the connection between the visible world of nature and the invisible world of God’s spiritual kingdom. We needed to know what the Pagan, the Jew even, and many a student of science born and bred in Christendom has never really comprehended, that the Person of Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, is the actual bone of a living unity between both these two great realms of God’s creation; that He mediates between them and reconciles them. Scholars will never explore nature thoroughly, or right wisely, till they see this religious signification of every law, every force, and every particle of matter, and explore it by the light of faith. God is in everything or in nothing--in lumps of common clay, as Ruskin says, and in drops of water, as in the kindling of the day star, and in the lifting of the pillars of heaven.
4. Incomplete still would this enlarging view of the miracle be, if it did not further disclose to us the true practical use both of the gospel miracles themselves, and of every other gift and blessing of heaven, in leading us up in affectionate gratitude to Him who stands as the central figure among all these visible wonders, the impersonation of all spiritual beauty, the heart of all holy love, and the originator of all the peace-making powers which tranquilize and reconcile the turbulences of the world. “The men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this!” It was not the mercy to men’s imperilled or sick bodies that Christ had first in view when He loosened the bodily ordinances and let the streams of Divine energy flow in on mortal sufferers. “That ye might believe in Me” this is the continual explanation--we might almost say the excuse, He offered for deeds that must necessarily be exceptional and temporary. (Bp. F. D. Huntington.)
The miraculous stilling of the storm
When we use the words “Lord, save us, we perish,” we are really rehearsing two articles of our belief.
1. We are declaring that we believe there is a Lord--that in the visible world there is an invisible God with His over-ruling, and controlling, and appointing will.
2. We are also declaring that we believe this God is our Lord Jesus Christ. This it is which distinguishes Christian prayer from all other prayer. The story before us divides itself naturally into three parts: the voyage before the storm; the storm; the miraculous stilling of the storm. In each of these three parts we have one thing in common. We have man, in some way or other, encountering, or encountered by the outward and visible world.
I. MAN SUBDUING NATURE. It was by the knowledge of the elements and the laws of nature that man learned thus to sail upon the deep; and in this fact you have represented for you the whole of the material progress of humanity--all the triumphs of science, all the glory and beauty of art, all that marvellous mastery that man obtains by his inventive and creative will over the secret powers of nature, as he unlocks them one by one, and compels her to tell him her deepest mysteries--all that man has done as he has advanced from horizon to horizon of discovery, finding still new worlds to conquer, until we stand amazed at our own progress and the infinity of it.
II. NATURE SUBDUING MAN. Here we have the storm, in which the elements are man’s masters and not his servants; and he that one minute before was the boasting lord of nature is its toy and sport. The very foam upon the crest of those billows is not more helpless in the grasp of the elements than the lord and the king of them; they toss him to and fro, as the wind drives the stubble in the autumn. This is the terrible aspect of nature. This is nature in her might, and in her majesty, and in her pitilessness, and in her capriciousness--when nature seems everything, and man, in her awful presence, dwindles and dwarfs into very nothingness. This is nature as she masters man. Is it, then, any wonder that, in the early struggles of mankind with this terrible visible power of the creature, men came to worship the creature--that they ascribed to every one of these powers a divinity; that in the voice of the wind, and in the roar of the sea, and in the raging of the fire, they saw the signs of a Divine presence, and they said to these elements: “Spare us,” or “Save us, or else we perish”? And so all creation became peopled with gods-cruel gods, capricious gods, vengeful gods, gods whom men bribed with blood, gods whom, even while they bribed them, they could not love, and did not believe that they loved them. This is the first and most terrible form of creature worship; this was the idolatry of the heathen. But then, brethren, mark this; that such a worship as this could not continue long, because it is the worship of ignorance; it is the belief in the supernatural, only because it confuses the unknown with the supernatural. Even as science advanced must this faith melt away. Ever must the domain of the known push itself forward into the domain of the unknown. Ever does the man of science take one by one the gods of the man of superstition and break them upon their pedestals, and tell him this: “What you worship is no god. What you worship is no lord. It is not your lord; it is a servant of yours; and I class it in this or that rank of your servants.” It is that last and most terrible aspect of nature, when she appears, not as many gods, or many wills, but as a great soulless piece of mechanism, of which we are only part--a terrible machinery in which we are, somehow or other, involved, and in the presence of which the sense of our freewill leaves us.
III. THE MIRACULOUS AND THE SUPERNATURAL. We hear a prayer, and we see a miracle. In the face of the might of nature and the terror of her elements there rises up a Man in answer to man’s cry--there is heard a Man’s voice, which is yet the voice of God; and it rebukes the winds and the sea, and the elements of nature own their real Lord; and immediately there is a great calm. What is it, then, that we see? We see a miracle, and a miracle that answers to prayer; we see the living spirits of living men, in the hour of their agony and their distress, appealing from nature to the God of nature; and we have recorded the answer of God to man’s prayer. The answer is, that God is Lord both of man and of nature; and we say, therefore, that the miracle, and the miracle alone, sufficiently justifies the prayer. We say that the reason why men may pray is, and can only be, that they know and believe, that there is a will which rules the visible. If you have not this belief, then all prayer is an unreality and a miserable mockery. (Bp. W. C. Magee.)
God’s answers to man’s prayers for help
If prayer were always followed by a miraculous answer, then prayer would be easy enough; or, on the other hand, if there were no thought of an answer, then it might be possible, though not easy, to submit ourselves to the inevitable. But to pray, and not to receive an answer, and yet to believe that the very not receiving is an answer; to cry, “Save, or we perish,” and to seem about to perish; to believe that in what seems perishing is really salvation; to look for the living and watchful Christ, and to see what seems only the sleeping and regardless Christ, and yet to believe that the time will come when, at His word, there shall be a great calm--this is the patience, this is the faith of those who worship an incarnate Lord. And so we trace the history of Christ’s Church, and so we strive to trace the history of our own lives. Comparatively easy it is to trace the Church’s history along her voyage. The Church gives time for comparing events and testing faith; and so, believing still in the presence of her living Lord, the litanies of His Church ring oat, as they have ever rung, clearly and loudly, and high above the roar of the tempest and the rushing of the waters, still the prayer is heard, “Good Lord, deliver us”; and still again and again, as the storm sweeps by, and the Church passes out into calmer waters, still comes the voice of thanksgiving, “He hath delivered us.” Even in our shorter voyage are there none of us who can remember times when we have knelt in agony and wrestled in prayer with the Saviour, who seemed to have forgotten us, when the mighty storm of temptation and the billows of calamity seemed about to destroy us, and when we have cried to Him to save us, and He has seemed to sleep and to refuse to save? But at the last we can remember how He did reveal Himself, not stilling the raging storm when we would have had Him still the terrible tempest, not sparing, it may be, the precious bark that we had rigged, and manned, and launched ourselves with trembling hopes and loving prayers, and watched with eyes tearless with agony, as we saw it about to sink before us; and we have been led to see and believe that the living and loving Lord was answering even then our prayer, for the bark has at length entered that haven where we would be, and where the vexed waters of our voyage never awake a ripple on the calm depths of its eternal peace. (Bp. W. C. Magee.)
The miracle on the lake
1. This miracle proved Jesus to be both God and man, and therefore able to save us from our sins.
2. This miracle proves that the Redeemer never forgets His people, though He sometimes appears to do so.
3. This miracle proves that the Redeemer will certainly deliver His people at last. What should hinder Him?--not want of power, for He is “ the mighty God,” as this history abundantly shows; not want o! knowledge, for He is infinitely wise to know how to save; not want of will, for He loves them and delights to help them.
4. This miracle proves that Jesus is a Being whom it is impiety and ruin to resist, but duty and happiness to obey. (James Foote, M. A.)
The storm on the lake
“They took Him even as He was”! It was well. We need preparations. The Son of God needed none. Preparations are ours, not His! He is always ready, and for every emergency--for a storm as well as a calm. We are all of us always crossing over. We have some plan, some pleasure, some expectation, something we are looking forward to to-morrow, or next week, or next year, or at the close of our toils. Something we have, all of us, always before us, and towards which we are crossing--something on “the other side” of the present, whatever that may be, but which, before we reach, we may have to pass through a storm. But if it is necessary to our safety that we have Jesus with us in crossing over, it is equally necessary to our calmness, our peace, our joy, that Jesus be awake in us. It is in the storms of life that the all-sufficiency of Jesus comes out. We have never half known Him till now. We heard so before; we have proved it now. (F. Whitfield.)
Christ rebuking the elements
Why did Christ “rebuke” the elements? The word appears to me the language of one who either sees moral guilt; or who, in His affection, is indignant at something which is hurting those He loves. The elements, in themselves, cannot, of course, do a moral thing. But is it possible that the prince of the power of the air had anything to do with that storm? Was there some latent fiendish malice in that sudden outbreak of nature upon Christ and His Church? But however this may be, there is another aspect in which we ought to see it. We know that to the second Adam there was given just what the first Adam forfeited--perfect dominion over all creation. Accordingly, Christ was careful, one after another, to assert and show His supremacy over the whole natural creation--over the fishes, as when He made them crowd at His word to a given spot; over the swine; over the fig tree; over the earth, opening at His will; over the seas, unlearning their usual law, and making a pavement for His feet. In this light the present hurricane was like a rebellion, or Christ treated it as such, that He might show His mastership. Hence that royal word, “He rebuked them,” and hence the instant submission. But it might be, in His affection for His followers, as of one angry at what was disturbing their peace, He rebuked those troubled winds. For God is very jealous for His children’s happiness; and whatever touches it, He is displeased at. You may be assured of this--if you are a child of God, and any person, or anything, ever comes near to injure or to distress you, God is grieved with that person or that thing--He will rebuke it. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
And they launched forth
I take these words simply as a motto, that I may speak to you of the duty of setting sail on the Christian voyage.
1. “The other side”--the heavenly shore--that is the true destination for every one of us.
2. Your whole nature, with its varied powers and capacities, is the vessel with its furniture, freight, and crew.
3. Christ the Captain. You have no right to sail in any direction you please.
4. It is to be feared that there are many, even in our religious assemblies, who have never yet taken Christ as their appointed Captain, and decisively set sail on the Christian voyage. Repentance and faith necessary.
5. And here, in passing, I would say a word to any who may have set out years ago on this voyage, and yet are now back again at their old moorings. The sky was bright, and you set sail “with flying colours.” But by-and-by came the storm. You were not prepared for such gusts of temptation. You had not anticipated such hurricanes of trial. And so yon allowed yourself to be driven back, by stress of weather, to the shore you had left. If you had only obeyed the commands of Christ, you might have weathered the storm, and been making progress even now towards the heavenly kingdom.
6. If you have not yet set sail, let me exhort you to do so at once.
7. If you have set sail under Christ, why should you not hoist His flag? (T. C.Finlayson.)
The soothing voice of Jesus
During a heavy storm in the Mediterranean Sea, which lasted two whole days and nights, I was unable to get any sleep, the rolling of the vessel was so terrific. Two men were washed from the wheel and the lifeboat broken. Whilst lying awake hour after hour I heard at intervals a voice calling out some words which I could not clearly distinguish amidst the roaring of the wind and waves, but which I took to be intended to cheer on the sailors in their perilous work. I afterwards found the voice was that of the night-watch, who on completing his round each half-hour shouted “All is well!” I thought of the voice of Jesus as it rises above the storm, encouraging the despondent, tempest-tossed mariner in his voyage to the better land. (Richilde.)
Christ for our Captain
Now, I want you to come and see Jesus lying there upon the deck of the ship. Ah, how tired He is! Look at that face, so white, with the lines so deeply graven, the hands stretched out in utter helplessness. He had spent the whole day in preaching; then He had gone away and spent the night in prayer; the next morning He ordained the twelve, and before there was any time for breakfast the multitude came back again. When His friends heard of this they said, “He is out of His mind.” They always say that; whenever a man begins to be enthusiastic about the welfare of his neighbour they are sure to think he is mad. But all the great and noble deeds done in this world have been wrought by those who have been branded as madmen, and until we go mad too I do not think we are likely to do much good among our fellows. The very word “enthusiasm” means God in the man. When Livingstone was in Central Africa he tells us that he met some Englishmen who had gone there to shoot big game, and that these fellows talked about their self-sacrifice in exposing themselves to the same perils with himself. Self-sacrifice! Oh! in some cases the word becomes damnable. We never hear of self-sacrifice except for Jesus Christ. When a man goes to the ends of the earth to collect beetles, or catch fish, or shoot big beasts, who ever hears of self-sacrifice? But the moment he sets out on this long journey in order to help his neighbour, he is at once said to be demented. It is only for Jesus Christ that people invent these excuses. People are always needed elsewhere when Christ wants them. A man often takes one day a week from business to look after his garden or to enjoy himself with his children; but if when you knocked at his office door and were told he was absent on that occasion--as he always devoted one day a week to the care of the poorest of the poor--you would say, “Dear me, how very extraordinary! There must be some little softening of the brain.” No, no, sir! softening of the heart; and would to God you would catch the complaint and die of it. They said, “He is beside Himself.” And then His mother came. I never rightly understood before why she came, but I see it now. Poor mother! She saw the pale face, she knew how tired He must be; and He has had nothing to eat, and so she desired to speak with Him; but He was not to be hindered in His work, and so the day is passed in unremitting toil, until at last His condition became such as to suggest that strong arms support Him down to the ship, and the moment He is laid upon the deck, and His head touches the hard coil of ropes which is His pillow, He is fast asleep. Perhaps you have never thought of Christ being worn out with hard work. There is a kind of notion that He renewed His bodily strength from the springs of His Divinity. No, no; that is one of the temptations of the devil that Jesus Christ had always to withstand. If the devil could only have persuaded the Master to have met him as the Son of God there would have been no shame in his defeat; but to meet and conquer him as Man, as bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, that was the triumph of Christ. And so Jesus knew what it was to be utterly worn out. You sometimes have spent the day in work, so hard that you have hardly been able to drag one foot after another. Well, to-night you think to yourself, “Blessed Lord, I never thought before I had so much of Thy sympathy. I never knew before that Thou couldst say to me, ‘I know all about it; I too have been worn out.’” There may be some mother here whose rest is often broken at night, whose day is filled with dreary toil until the brain throbs and the blood is as fire. Ah! Jesus can come to thee and say, “ Dear heart, I know what it is. I, too, have been utterly spent.” He is asleep on the deck of the ship. Come and gaze upon Him yet again. Are you troubled with sleeplessness, sir? I do not mean under a sermon, but at night when you go to rest? I am told it is an increasing complaint, and I know there are a great many remedies, some of them worse than the disease; but here is one which the Master Himself used. Why does He sleep so soundly? I pray you try His remedy--get thoroughly worn out in doing good. The next time, sir, that you cannot sleep, just you try the remedy. Call on that poor old man whom you know, who seemed ill when you saw him last, and whose rent you think is not paid; sit and talk and pray with him, and when you leave, give him five shillings, for advice gratis is not worth much, and if at night you do not sleep you shall have sweeter dreams, perchance, than those who do. The Master sleeps. We talk about the sleep of the just. There were only two men who ever slept the sleep of the just--Adam and Jesus Christ. We hear in poetry of infant slumbers, pure and light; but some of you mothers know that the little ones sometimes awake with shrieks and cries from fevered dreams. No, no; there were only two sleeps which were the sleep of the just, and what a contrast between them I See where God has cast the deep sleep upon Adam. Was there ever such a resting place? The mossy bank whereon he lies; trees that bend lovingly over him as if to screen him; winds that are hushed lest they disturb his rest; the birds trilling forth their sweetest songs, as if to mingle with his dreams; the flowers that pour their fragrance round about him--these were the surroundings of Adam; but look, I pray you, at the rude discomforts of my Lord. We have heard of the plank bed, and our heart has gone out in indignation as well as in pity on that matter, but here is the plank bed of our Master, How little Thou didst know of luxury and comfort! You poor folks, take this to your heart: you can say this, “Well, I know that Jesus Christ knows more about my lot than the rich folks.” Oh, if I had had the ordering of that night, how different it would have been I Instead of the thin dress of the Galilean peasant, how I would have wrapped Him in robes so warm, how soft would have been His couch! I would have had the heavens hung with gold and crimson to curtain the couch of my Lord, and I would have charged the winds to sink down behind the purple hills lest they should ruffle with a breath the glassy surface of the lake that bore upon its bosom my sleeping Master. But it may not be. The wind is veering to the south-west, and there is going to be a dirty night. How the waves leap up and how the wind whistles and howls! Exactly. Think you that Christ is a fair-weather sailor? Think you that my Lord comes to see us only when we are in port, or to say “goodbye” when we weigh anchor and set out upon the voyage? Oh, no I that is not my Christ. My Christ never says “goodbye.” He says, “Soul, I am going with thee.” “But, Master, it is going to be a very dirty night.” “Very well; if it is to be rough for thee, it will be rough for Me.” I want a Christ to go to sea with me, to take life just as i find it. My Master! Thou art just the very Christ we want. Come, look once more. He is asleep in the hinder part of the ship. Then have I got more than His disciples. I have often said, “How glad would I have been to have looked into Thy face, to have drunk in the sweet music of Thy voice, to have felt the touch of Thine hand, to have had Thy shadow fall upon me, and to have told how I loved Thee.” Yes, that would have been much, but I have done more than that. Do you not see how that bodily presence shut Him in and shut them out, made a great gulf between them as black and deep and dark as bell? He sleeps! Oh, how dreadful is the storm! how the waves toss and tumble and roll, and yet He sleeps! Oh, I should not like to have a sleeping Christ! Nay. “He that keepeth Israel doth neither slumber nor sleep.” They watch that He may sleep, but my Master watches that I may rest. Now have I more than they. Look again. He is in the hinder part of the ship asleep. Why did He sleep? This was one reason--because He had nothing else to do. Well, I cannot but think that if you wanted to see John at his best it would be when he is running before a gale of wind, and Peter when taking in a reef, and Philip handling an oar. Jesus Christ was a carpenter. He was wonderfully clever at teaching people how to get to heaven, but what could He do on board ship? He could not help them at all, so He went to sleep. Oh, how the wind whistled I how the sea was tossed and tumbled! I seem to hear the hurlyburly of the storm. Here comes a wave leaping higher and higher, as if impatient for its prey, and His disciples would fain call upon Him to awake. Ah, how instinctively the heart turns to Jesus when trouble comes I I think nothing grieves Jesus Christ more than that we should keep Him out of the management of things. As soon as ever they get ashore I think I know what Peter said to his fellows. He would take them aside and say: “I have been thinking about last night, and I will tell you what I should like to do.” “What is that?” says John. “Let us make Him Captain. You see we can take in a reef, He can quiet the waves; we can put the helm up, He can hush the winds. Master, come, be Captain; just tell us how to put the craft about; take the helm.” Oh, blessed be His name! He does so love us when He can take the management. Dear friends, it hurts Jesus Christ when we shut Him out. Mother, there are those boys of thine. You have often asked the Lord to bless and save their souls, but thou art worrying thyself about what they are going to do in life. The Lord Jesus Christ knows how to help them a great deal better than thou dost. Ask Him to come in and guide thee and them. Sir, thy Master understands your business better than thou dost. Make Him the head of the firm, and say “Come in.” I remember I had, some years ago, to preach a sermon, and two or three venerable doctors of Divinity were going to be present. Through thinking about them, perhaps, more than the sermon I began to get rather nervous. While I was sitting in my study working at the text, “Cast all thy care upon Him,” and getting down very deep--I used to be lather an eloquent preacher, but, thank God! that has gone--all of a sudden, in the midst of my profound philosophical discourse, the door was burst open, and, looking up, I was about to say, “Now run away,” but the father was a great deal stronger than the philosopher, and the words died away on my lips, for there stood a little three-year-old, with chubby cheeks, holding in her hand a broken toy, the face a picture of great sorrow, the lip quivering, the tears running down her cheeks, and the hands holding out the broken doll. And what think you I did? Why, thrust aside my philosophical discourse, and said, “Come here, little one; what is the matter?” The child’s grief was too deep for words; she could only hold up the broken toy and give a great sob, which told its own story. I said, “I think we can manage this,” and the philosophical discourse was forgotten, and I got the gum bottle, and when I had restored the plaything, and put it in her arms again, I felt that I had my reward. The tears were dried up, and the sunshine came back to the little face, and, lifting herself on tiptoe, she paid me with a kiss, and then another, and then she trotted away, and at the door she turned to look back and nod her head and let me see her thanks again. I tore up my philosophical discourse, and I said I will go down and tell the people that we are just poor little children, and that our griefs are broken toys, and that our Lord hath joy in stooping down and taking into His hand our poor little sorrows, and healing them and wiping our tears away, and watching the sunshine come back again. Oh, how sorry Jesus is when you shut Him out, when you do not open the door to Him! Oh, I beseech you take Him as your Captain, let Him take the helm, and say to Him, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” He sleeps. I can fancy John saying, “I wonder He can sleep on such a night as this.” “Yes,” says Peter; “we can hardly hear each other speak for the noise.” Oh, how the wind howls, how the poor craft staggers and strains--now climbing the crest of a wave, now deep down in the trough of the seal “I wonder the Master can sleep--how tired He must be! Master, awake!” Ah! He was wide awake then. His was a mother’s love, not a father’s love. Your Father can sleep in a thunderstorm, you can sleep whether south-west wind moans and howls about the house, and when the waggons go rumbling along on their way to the market, but let the little one at mother’s side just make the feeblest beginning of a cry, and she is awakened in an instant. You, sir, sleep for ten minutes afterwards by the clock, you know you do. My Lord’s love--oh, it is the daintiest and most delicate thing upon the face of the earth! The love that Jesus Christ hath for us is a mother’s love; we have never to speak twice before He hears. The first time He is awake and listening, and there is a great calm. (M. G. Pearse.)
Where Is your faith?
Where is your faith?
It is as much as if He had said, “You thought that I was sleeping. But was it indeed only Me, or chiefly My eye, that slept? Was it not your faith.? You say, ‘Where is the Lord?’ but I say, ‘Where is your faith?’” It is a mistake, brethren, we are all making every day. We say,--“The Lord sleeps--the Lord sleeps.” But what is it,--“Your faith”sleeps. I begin by asking every one I am now addressing, “Where is your faith?” “Where is your faith?” Now tell me, is it in the First Great Source? or, is it in second causes?
1. It is astonishing how many men are putting their faith upon second causes! I can imagine the fisherman in the storm, looking at the wind and the gathering clouds, partly because they come with less trouble; partly from long habit; partly from the aversion which there is in the mind of men to every thing spiritual; but chiefly because men imagine they have no right to go up straight to God. Hence almost all men are found trying means as if they were ends; and God’s instruments as if they were gods. For instance, one man has a friend, and he hangs upon that friend, and you may see him behaving to that friend as if he considered that friend the arbiter of his life. Another is a man in business, and his study is about nothing every day but “his connection,” and it is plain that he looks to nothing but “his connection” to determine his rise or his ruin in the enterprise in which he is embarked. A third man is a farmer, and you will hear him talking about “the weather,” as if the crops had no other father but the sun and the rain. A fourth is a politician, and he makes the world turn--as upon a pivot--on the consideration whether this administration shall be in, or that. All are making their system of cause and effect; and they do not calculate upon the shadow of a doubt that if there is a prescribed cause, there must be the predicted event. Their whole hearts--their whole faith is in second cause. Now, brethren, we do not hesitate to arraign this trusting in second cause as sheer idolatry. It is the essential of God that He is final, and what is final is made God.
2. But I will turn to another class of life’s voyagers, and say, again, “Where is your faith?” Is it not in yourselves? Perhaps the fishermen on the Galilean lake thought it very little for them to cross those oft-traversed waters, and would have laughed at the idea of there being any danger in their barque landing in safety on the other side. Yet how little booted their skill and their confidence! There are two distinct ways in which persons put faith in themselves. One is, in trusting there is a sufficient measure of goodness in their own hearts: the other, is by admitting their hearts are very bad, but still, taking a compensation in something that they are doing.
3. But I turn to the third class, and I ask again, “Where is your faith?” and a thousand voices will answer me almost in this church, “Why, in God”; but I reply, “In what God?” But you say, “Oh, Him that is all mercy and all goodness.” All! and “all just!” Is not God all just? would He be just if He forfeited His own word? And has not He said it, “The soul that sinneth it shall die”? Has not He said, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish”? Has He not said, “He that believeth not shall be damned”? Has not he made a particular requirement of you, that you must keep His whole law; and has He not made it as sure, as necessary a thing, that every sin shall lead on to misery, as every seed leads on to its own harvest? O, tell me, is it possible--in any view you may take of good government--that any breach of itslaws should pass unpunished? Is not the suffering of the offender part of the mercy--the centre of the mercy--of a grand administrator? Else, would not license, aye, and premium, too, be given to crime? and must not the whole empire pass into recklessness and misery? (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Where is your faith?
1. “I believe in God.” How lightly, how carelessly, we repeat those solemn words, and yet what a universe of meaning lies in them!
2. Do we believe? Do we at all know what belief means? Do we suppose it to mean, “I am familiar with these formulae, I see no special reason for rejecting them.” Thou believest that there is one God. Thou doest well. The devils also believe; nay more, they tremble.
3. “I believe,” but, while with orthodox self-satisfaction we repeat our creeds, on which soul has dawned the tremendous responsibility of our belief, the transcendent obligation of all that it entails?
4. What, then, is wanting? Faith is wanting--that faith which is a possessing principle, an irresistible enthusiasm. Real faith--not the ineffectual pretence; not the faith which makes idols of formulae; not the faith which delights in rigid systems and fantastic self-delusions, groping in mediaeval traditions for a dead and material and exclusive Christ. Had we but faith as a grain of mustard-seed we should remove the mountains which overshadow and threaten to fall on us. (Archdeacon Farrar.)
One day when Stonewall Jackson, with his sister-in-law, was crossing the boiling torrent, just below the American falls at Niagara, in a slight boat manned by two oarsmen, the current so swirled the boat that the lady became terrified, believing they were going to the bottom. Jackson seized her by the arms, and turned to one of the men and said, “How often have you crossed here?” “I have been rowing people across, sir, for twelve years.” “Did you ever meet with an accident?” “Never, sir.” “Never were capsized? never lost a life?” “Nothing of the kind, sir!” Then turning in a somewhat peremptory tone, he said to the lady, “You hear what the boatman says, and unless you think you can take the oars and row better than he does, sit still and trust him as I do.” (Mackay.)
A certain man who had devils long time
The demoniac in the tombs as he resembles the unconverted sinner
Observe the parallel that exists between this poor demoniac and the unconverted sinner.
I. PREVIOUS TO CONVERSION.
1. Possessed by an unclean spirit.
2. Living among the dead.
3. Disordered in intellect.
4. His own tormentor.
5. In a state of utter destitution and wretchedness.
6. Beyond the power of human assistance or restraint.
II. AT CONVERSION.
1. The means employed: the Word of Christ.
2. The influence exerted: the almighty power of Christ.
3. The effect produced:
(1) The unclean spirit expelled.
(2) The naked one clothed.
(3) The wanderer sitting at the feet of Jesus.
(4) The maniac in his right mind.
III. AFTER CONVERSION.
1. Desiring to remain with Jesus. How natural--wishing to forsake all, in order to be near the Great Physician.
2. Christ’s command, whatever it may be, is immediately obeyed. (J. J.Rew, M. A.)
Plain words with the careless
1. A man may know a great deal about true religion, and yet be a total stranger to it. There are no sounder theoretical believers than devils, and yet their conduct is not affected by what they believe, and consequently they still remain at enmity to the Most High God.
2. There are a great many bad prayers prayed in the world. The man said, “I beseech Thee, torment me not.” A sinner’s prayer for his own misery is often a grim and awful thing to look upon, from its horrible earnestness.
I. A VERY MISCHIEVOUS MISAPPREHENSION. It is currently thought among mankind, that to receive the gospel of Christ would be to cease to be happy, to give up all joyfulness and cheerfulness, and to doom one’s self to a life of melancholy.
1. Now, I will admit that if men will go on in their sins, the gospel will, if it gets at their consciences, make them miserable. It will act as salt to raw wounds, or as a whip to rebellious backs.
2. Again, I must make another admission, namely, that a great many people, at the time when they become serious for the first, and give themselves to Christ, are rendered, for a time, very miserable. The terrors of the Lord are upon them, and they are feeling the burden of sin--it is no wonder that a cloud hangs over their brows.
3. But, now that I have admitted this, I want to ask those who say that Jesus Christ would make them miserable, a question or two. I have admitted a great deal--now, be fair and open with me in return. You are afraid of being made miserable. Are you so mightily happy, then, at the present moment? Excuse me if I say that I rather question whether those Elysian fields of yours are so very delightful. A man cannot sin without bringing upon himself some sorrow even in this life.
4. There is another question I would like to ask you, and that is: If you reply that you are happy now, I should be glad to know whether the present, happiness which you enjoy, or say you enjoy, will last you very long? The leaves are now falling very rapidly from the trees, and they remind us that we, too, must die. Will your mirth and your jollity support you in the dying hour?
5. But now, we will go farther in dealing with this mischievous misapprehension. You have a notion that if Jesus Christ should come into your heart, you would have to give up your pleasures. Now, what pleasures? The pleasures of the hearth and family fireside? The pleasures of seeing your children growing up around you to call you blessed? The pleasures of doing good? The pleasures of discharging your duties as in the sight of God? The pleasures of a quiet conscience? None of these pleasures will Christ take away from you. Still you say, “If I were a Christian it would make me melancholy!” Make you melancholy to believe that you are on the way to heaven, and that when the trials of this poor life are over, you shall be with Jesus for ever? I cannot imagine it. Let not Satan’s lie deceive you.
6. One thing I will also say, and then have done with this point. You believe that religion is a happy thing, though you pretend you do not. You must confess, and you do confess, that you desire to die like a Christian.
II. A QUERULOUS QUESTION. “What have I to do with Thee?” This is a question which we have heard many times. Poor people often ask it. I heard a workman say, “Well, I have nothing to do with religion; I know it is all very well for my master, for parsons, and fine ladies, and aristocrats, and old womb, but it is of no use to me; I have to work hard, and I have a family to bring up, and it has nothing to do with me.” Now, give me your hand, my good fellow, and, believe me, you are quite mistaken. Why, there is nobody in the world whom it has more to do with than it has with you, for “the poor have the gospel preached to them.” But very often the wealthy say, “What have we to do with Thee?” Lavender kid gloves and the gospel are not always well agreed: the upper circles are none the nearer heaven because of their imaginary elevation. There are also certain learned gentlemen who are instructed in metaphysics and philosophy who patronizingly inform us that the restraint of religion is a very proper thing to keep the working classes in some kind of order, but really they themselves are several degrees above it. Thus they say, as plainly as they can, “What have I to do with Thee?” Oh, my brethren, educated, refined, wealthy, as you may be, the gospel of Jesus has everything to do with you. The giant minds of Milton and of Newton found ample room in the gospel; they delighted to bathe, like leviathan, in the ocean of Divine truth. There are two or three matters in which all of you have to do with Christ, whether you will or not.
1. It is because of His intercession that you are alive tonight.
2. It is entirely owing to Him that you are now in a place where the gospel can be proclaimed to you.
3. At the last great day, if you have nothing to do with Him as a Saviour, you will have to appear before Him as a Judge. We must have to do with Christ. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A Chinese demoniac
A short time ago our Christian servant had a great trial; but it resulted, as trials have done to some of the rest of us, in the strengthening of his faith in God. His brother became insane, was very outrageous, and getting worse every day. Our servant always said he was sure his case was similar to that of the man who lived among the tombs in Gadara. At length his mother grew quite tired of him, and, thinking his case hopeless, sent him to the Yamen to be killed. He was to be beheaded in two days. We joined in asking God to heal him. Next morning he was much better, and in a few days he was quite well. The underlings then refused to let him out, except they received a good deal of silver. We thought this unfair, as he had had no food from them, and we declined to assist. Again we unitedly brought him before God asking Him to bring him out. Next morning we sent his brother to ask the mandarin to let him out, which he did. He stayed four days with us, heard the gospel, and went home quite happy to his wife and family, 120 li from the city. (J. Smith.)
The Gadarene demoniac
On landing, after a night of storm, our Lord was met by one who was scarcely human. The contrast between the rugged shore and the calm sea was not so striking as that between the wild demoniac and the calm and peaceful Son of God. This was a meeting of the representatives of two different kingdoms, the kingdom of darkness and that of light--of hate and of love; of misery and of peace. The Gadarene knew who Jesus was, yet, full of terror, he cried, “What have I to do with Thee?” and implored Him to depart. But the Lord had to do with him, and would not therefore depart, but commanded the demons to depart, and they did so; and then the wild man came to his right mind, and sat clothed at the feet of his Deliverer, meek and calm as a wearied child.
1. We have in this man’s history a most instructive evidence of the capacity of an immortal being to sink into the depths of sin and misery. What was essentially wrong in this man? It was his wrong mind. He was delivered from that by being brought to his right mind.
2. Look at the meeting of the demoniac with the Saviour. It was verily a crisis in the sad life of this miserable man. The inner conflict in this man’s spirit on meeting Jesus represents the struggle in many a heart, during a similar crisis in its history.
3. Observe the effects of this great act of love on the hitherto miserable demoniac. What outward force failed to accomplish, inward principle effected. His outward physical condition was the effect and sign of his inward reformation. Such will be the results, more or less, in every case where a soul is truly brought to the knowledge and love of God in Jesus Christ. Terror will give place to love.
4. Notice, further, that when Jesus cast out the demon, the Gadarene prayed that he might be allowed to follow Him. This prayer offered up by a true disciple was the only one, connected with the incident, which Jesus did not answer in the way requested. The demons prayed that they might be permitted to enter the herd of swine, and their prayer was granted. The Gadarenes prayed that Jesus would depart out of their coasts, and their prayer was also granted. Some prayers may be answered in judgment, and some refused in mercy.
5. But why did this man ask to be allowed to follow Jesus?
(1) It may have been personal love; or
(2) it may have arisen from a trembling fear lest the dreadful demons of the olden time should return with the departure of Jesus; or
(3) his prayer may have been offered from shame for his countrymen, who had asked the Lord of life and of peace to leave their coasts. But the worse the people were, the more they needed a missionary. And what a missionary this man would be! (Norman Macleod, D. D.)
On one occasion Christ’s power operated in a direction that was merely destructive. A legion of devils besought Him to let them enter a herd of swine (a terrible illustration of the intolerableness” of life in hell), and on obtaining permission the whole herd, to the number of 2000, ran into the sea, and was destroyed. Much has been said against the people who besought Christ to leave their coasts on finding their swine destroyed; they have been charged with sordidness, selfishness, and low ideas of the value of human amelioration. Though we may steal a cheap reputation for magnanimity at the expense of these unfortunate people, yet they were right after all in desiring such a man as they took Christ to be to depart from their midst. Their request was the expression of a great principle in the human constitution, implanted there by the Creator. Men cannot be benefited by mere power, but they are necessarily reduced to a meaner manhood by the presence of a power that is destructive. The history of despotism proves this. People never beg thunder and lightning to continue amongst them, but they often wish that summer would never go away. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Insanity is much nearer the kingdom of God than worldly-mindedness
Men with shattered reason felt the spell, while the wise and strong-minded too often used their intellect, under the bias of passion or prejudice, to resist the force of truth. In this way we may account for the recognition of Jesus by the Gadarene demoniac. (A. B. Bruce, D. D.)
A Saviour and not a tormentor
We may be sure of this, that just as the Saviour did not land on the coast of the Gadarenes to torment them, but to save them from the demons and sins that were their real tormentors; so He did not come into the world to torment us, but to save us from evil passions and desires, than which there are no worse tormentors. This, however, is what some people do not believe. They think that the religion of Christ is a tormenting religion, and that it torments in two ways:
(1) By putting restraint upon our conduct; and
(2) by taking up all our time. As to the first--in comparison with slavery to self the service of Christ is perfect freedom. As to the second--it takes no more time to do everything to the glory of God, than to do everything to God’s dishonour. (E. J. Hardy.)
Hell on earth
1. We may learn from this account that evil spirits are real persons. There is a notion got abroad that it is only a figure of speech to talk of evil spirits, that all the Bible means by them is certain bad habits, or bad qualities or diseases. When I hear such language--and it is very common--I cannot help thinking how pleased the devil must be to hear people talk in such a way. How can people help him better than by saying that there is no devil?
2. We have no right to believe--we have every right not to believe--that these evil spirits can make us sin in the smallest matter against our own wills. (Charles Kingsley.)
If we yield to temptations whenever they come in our way, we shall find ourselves less and less able to resist them, for we shall learn to hate the evil spirits less and less. We shall give place to the devil, as the Scripture tells us we shall; for instance, by indulging in habitual passionate tempers, or rooted spite and malice. And so a man may become more and more the slave of his own nature, of his own lusts and passions, and therefore of the devils who are continually pampering and maddening those lusts and passions, till a man may end in complete possession. Few men in England, of course, would be fools enough to indulge the gross and fierce part of their nature till they became mere savages, like the demoniac whom Christ cured; so it is to respectable vices that the devil mostly tempts us--to covetousness, to party spirit, to a hard heart, and a narrow mind; to cruelty, that shall clothe itself under the name of law; to filthiness, which excuses itself by saying, “ It is a man’s nature, he cannot help it”; to idleness, which excuses itself on the score of wealth; to meanness and unfairness in trade, and in political and religious disputes--these are the devils which haunt us Englishmen--sleek, prim, respectable fiends enough, and truly, their name is Legion. (Charles Kingsley.)
Spirits in possession of a man
I. THE CONDITION OF THE DEMONIC.
1. The extent to which he was possessed.
2. The effects of the possession.
II. THE DEMONIAC CURED AND CLOTHED.
1. He is brought to his right mind.
2. He appears in his right place.
3. He displays a right demeanour. (A. A. Ramsey.)
A genuine case;
The area which an unclean spirit is permitted, in taking possession of a man, is probably, in the present day, more limited than it was during our Lord’s personal ministry on earth. But the effects are not less disastrous, if less extraordinary, than they were then. Let me supply an example from within the range of my own observation. He was a choice young man, son of a wealthy citizen in the metropolis. Favoured by birth, distinguished by amiability of disposition and superior natural talents, clever in business, skilled in the sciences, he was the acknowledged centre of a wide and admiring circle of relatives and friends. One day an evil spirit, which for weeks previously had been hovering about his path, whispering in his ear, and injecting thoughts of envy, evil, and unbelief into his mind, took possession of him. It was while, at an evening party, he sat before the piano, discoursing exquisite music to an eager, enthusiastic group of friends. Suddenly there came upon him what he afterwards described to me as an irresistible impulse. It instantly detached him from the most agreeable associations. He glided out of the glittering room, rushed from beneath his father’s roof into the dark street, and almost before his absence from home was noticed, he was “among the tombs,” gnashing his teeth in a frenzy of lustful passion, rending those beautiful garments of virtue which cannot easily be repaired, and wounding himself with weapons which inflict a deeper scar in the conscience than “stones” do in the flesh. There, in the sepulchral regions of vice, in the charnel-house of the morally dead, he “dwelt night and day for years.” Neither could any man tame him. Again and again the task was tried and failed. Faithful reproofs, cogent reasonings, urgent entreaties, tender persuasions oft-repeated, were utterly fruitless in regard to his reformation. “Fetters” most strong and sacred were used to bind him. Fetters forged in the white heat of a mother’s burning devotion. Fetters skilfully woven out of the deep treasures of a pious sister’s heart. But they proved as ineffectual as did the seven green withes on the limbs of Samson. It was in an hour of direful wretchedness, when, in a paroxysm of mingled rage and remorse, he was rushing to the riverside, defiant of all that is holy and true, and seeking self-forgetfulness in the suicide’s grave, that Jesus met him, arrested his steps, cast out the demon that so long had led him captive, and constrained him to turn his face homeward, penitently and tearfully saying, “I will arise and go to my father.” (A. A. Ramsey.)
Sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind
Sitting at the feet of Jesus
Sitting at the feet of one is an expression which seems fitted not merely to describe local position, but to image forth the state of the mind of him who occupies it.
And among these we may notice--
1. Reverential affection for his Deliverer. Thus he sought to be near Him; yet would take the lowest place in His presence, from which he might look up to Him with admiring and loving regards.
2. Confidence in His power to save. “Sitting at the feet of Jesus:” the man out of whom the devils were departed, may have considered this as the place of safety.
3. Docility under His instructions. This was the position of an avowed disciple, according to the custom of the times, which assigned to the teacher a more elevated seat, while the scholars placed themselves at his feet. His place showed that he had been made willing to submit his own understanding to the wisdom of God, speaking by Him whom He had sent. And may we not conclude that there was not only acquiescence in the truth of what Jesus taught, but a deep and engrossing interest in the subjects of His discourse?
4. Submission to His authority, and devotedness to His service. By sitting at the feet of Jesus, would not the man whom He had delivered from the power of the demons express his sense of the obligations under which he was laid now to obey and serve Him who had done so great things for him, and had had compassion on him? What might he say by the place he occupied and his mien there? “O Lord, I am Thy servant, truly I am Thy servant, Thou hast loosed my bonds.” I would only add two observations farther.
1. That, in cherishing such sentiments and affections toward Jesus, we will show that we have come to ourselves, that we are now in our right minds.
2. By cherishing such sentiments and affections towards Jesus we consult our true happiness. (J. Henderson, D. D.)
A three-fold blessing
Three ideas are suggested by the brief but expressive description in the text:
I. REST--“Sitting.” Repose one of our prime needs. Is there rest anywhere? Yes, at the feet of Jesus.
II. RAIMENT--“Clothed.” Character the soul’s raiment.
III. REASON--“In his right mind.” There is such a thing as moral insanity, spiritual lunacy. Remember what is said of prodigal son--“And when he came to himself.” How suggestive! Sin deranges our being. To live without God is to be out of our true, proper, right mind. (T. R.Stevenson.)
Casting out devils
I. THE PICTURE AS A HISTORICAL FACT. The man sitting, sane, clothed, restful, decent, master of his own being, and all because of his closeness to the Lord. Explanation of all is ill the clause--“At the feet of Jesus.”
II. THE INCIDENT, AS A SPECIMEN OF THE TRANSFORMING POWER OF CHRISTIANITY ON A WIDE SCALE IN THE WORLD’S HISTORY.
1. It conduces to the material well-being. It is well to note that the man was “clothed.”
2. Its influence upon the mind.
3. Its power to deal with the sores and sins of single souls. The individual first, and the mass afterwards.
1. There are no outcasts beyond the sweep of Christ’s large mercy, beyond the leverage of Christ’s great love.
2. Here is what God sends me to offer to every man and woman here-rest, for distraction; peace, tranquility; quiet of heart, of conscience, of memory, of soul, of hope. Self-command. Emancipation from the madness of sin. (Expository Sermons on New Testament.)
The demoniac recovered
I. In the first place, you observe, THAT IN THIS CASE A MALIGNANT DISORDER HAD BEEN ENDURED.
1. As to the nature of the disorder, the person before us is described as “ a certain man which had devils long time.” Foul spirits, or demons, had mysteriously, though really, been permitted to enter into his frame, and to render his corporeal and mental existence subservient to the will and power of Satan. That so long as you remain untouched by another, by a higher, and by a far more commanding agency, so long you are “led captive by the devil at his will.”
2. Thus is illustrated the nature of the disorder; and we find the statement also presented as to its effects. The recorded effects of the disorder upon the victim here alluded to, are most pitiable and touching. My brethren, the subjection of man to the moral dominion of Satan exposes him to effects, of which those we have now described furnish a solemn and a striking analogy. There is the perversion of reason. Again: there is the exclusion of the soul from all associations which can constitute its comfort and its dignity. Then, again, there is the endurance of positive pain and agony. Indulgences are fraught with pangs; and the passions which prompt them only infuriate and convulse.
II. We have thus considered, that a malignant disorder had been endured; and you will now observe, secondly, THAT A SIGNAL RECOVERY WAS EFFECTED.
1. AS to the Being by whom the recovering agency was exerted, it was, we need scarcely remind you, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ is the one Deliverer appointed for men, from their subjugation to the slavery of Satan. Further: it will be observed, that the Saviour accomplishes the deliverance of man by the manifestation of Himself to them, in His person and in His work. The demoniac, you observe, saw the Redeemer; and it was in connection with His personal appearance that the cure was effected and achieved; and in this manner the Saviour also spiritually manifests Himself to the understandings of men. He presents Himself to man by His Word. He also presents Himself to men by His Spirit.
2. This, my brethren, is the Being by whom the recovering agency is exerted; and you are now to observe the extent to which that agency operated. We are informed in this beautiful narrative, that by some mystic charm the sufferer was attracted to the Saviour. What a change!--from the frenzied maniac, in his wild convulsions and his angry mien, to one quiet and clothed, rejoicing in privilege, and exulting in the hope of happiness! It was, indeed, the accomplishment of a new creation.
III. Then, brethren, from this signal recovery effected, we are also to observe, THAT IMPORTANT RESULTS WERE SECURED.
1. Observe the effects as they were produced upon the minds of others. It is recorded, that the men who had been guilty of the unholy traffic, and who by the loss of their foul property had been abundantly reproved and judged, “were afraid.” My brethren, what we desire to impress upon you here, is a fact which no genuine Christian will for a moment dream of disputing, that any real and well-ascertained conversion, by the energy of the Divine Spirit, through the work of the great Redeemer, must produce powerful influences upon the minds of those who can personally and truly observe it. Although, perhaps, you but imperfectly calculated and estimated them, it was an event which vibrated to the most distant regions of the universe. Anger was excited. Satan was angry, and his ministers of darkness were angry, when they saw you snatched from the burning, and taken from their thraldom and from their doom, into “the glorious liberty” and the glorious prospects “of the children of God.” Ungodly men, perhaps, were angry. But not only anger: astonishment was produced. You were a wonder unto others; they saw that which amazed them. There was the drunkard sober. And then, not merely was there anger and astonishment--there was joy. Your parents, your partners, your children, your friends, they rejoiced over you, when you told them of what God had done for your souls.
2. Again, brethren, we have also to observe the effect on the mind of the individual himself. And love to his deliverer was produced. And love, brethren, to Him by whom we have been emancipated from the thraldom of sin and Satan is the inevitable, and ought to be legitimately the master-impulse of our existence. Then again: zeal for his deliverer was produced; for we are informed, in a subsequent part of the narrative, that “Jesus sent him away, saying, Return to thine own house, and show how great things God hath done unto thee.” Christ, brethren, will have no indolent enjoyers of privilege with Him. We must look onward, brethren, to the grand and glorious consummation, when liberty shall reign over our apostate globe. (J. Parsons.)
Conversion of a sorceress
A remarkable case is reported by Mr. Owen Watkins, one of the most devoted and honoured missionaries in the Transvaal. He describes the baptism of a woman who had for years been famous among her people as a witch doctor, and was supposed to have the power of discovering secrets of every kind. Two years ago Mr. Watkins saw her at a great festival, engaged in her fantastic rites, leading a wild dance of women, with weapons in her hands and strange charms hung round her. She jumped and leaped, and shouted, he says, “like one possessed of devils.” All this has passed away now; she has broken with her old life, burnt her charms, renounced her fame and her power. The very difficulty of her conversion goes far to prove its reality. “Often when trying to pray she would rush away to the solitudes of the mountain, and there wander about like an unquiet spirit.” This is not the experience of one to whom the spiritual life is not a reality; and the fact that one who had so strong a hold upon their fears and superstitions should have thus accepted the gospel of Christ’s love is certain to impress the hearts Of those who used to dread and worship her.
God’s power in changing the heart
If God should speak to Niagara, and bid its floods in their tremendous leap suddenly stand still, that were a trifling demonstration of power compared with the staying of a desperate human will. If He should suddenly speak to the broad Atlantic, and bid it be wrapped in flames, we should not even then see such a manifestation of His greatness as when He commands the human heart, and makes it submissive to His love. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Changed by the power of God
A believer was giving in a prayer-meeting his testimony as to God’s grace and goodness, and said:--“On my way here to-night I met a man who asked me where I was going. I said, ‘I am going to prayer-meeting.’ He said, ‘There are a good many religions, and I think the most of them are delusions; as to the Christian religion, that is only a notion--that is a mere notion, the Christian religion.’ I said to him, ‘Stranger, you see that tavern over there?’ ‘Yes,’ said he, ‘I see it.’ ‘Do you see me?’ ‘Yes; of course I see you.’ ‘Now the time was, as everybody in this town knows, that if I had a quarter of a dollar in my pocket I could not pass that tavern without going in and getting a drink; all the people of Jefferson could not keep me out of that place. But God has changed my heart, and the Lord Jesus Christ has destroyed my thirst for strong drink; and there is my whole week’s wages, and I have no temptation to go there. And, stranger, if this is a notion, I want to tell you it is a mighty powerful notion; it is a notion that has put clothes on my children’s backs, and it is a notion that has put good food on our table, and it is a notion that has filled my mouth with thanksgiving to God. And, stranger, you had better go along with me--you might get religion too; lots of people are getting religion now.’” (Dr. Talmage.)
The demoniac at the feet of Jesus
In the first instance he was demon-possessed, and in the next he was Christ-possessed.
I. We shall direct our attention TO CERTAIN VIEWS SUGGESTED BY HIS INSANE CONDITION, AS CHARACTERISTIC OF MEN WHO HAVE NOT BEEN REDUCED TO A STATE OF SPIRITUAL SOUNDNESS BY THE HEALING POWER OF CHRIST. Among the various wrecks of humanity our eyes can scarcely rest on a spectacle more melancholy and humiliating than that of a poor helpless object, dragging out a seemingly profitless existence in a state of soulless idiocy. Deprived of that reason by which our race is mainly distinguished from the inferior animals, he appears but as the shadow or mockery of a man, because seemingly in possession of no more than his external form. Easily then can we conceive how much more friends would have preferred death for him to all this; and all the more earnestly they might long for it from concluding that his living could serve no good end, or be anything more than an oppression to himself and others. But, withal, how mistaken in their calculations! He had, notwithstanding all their misgivings, been created for the glory of God. Miserable, feared, and pitied, as he was, fleeing from human habitations and tearing his own flesh; yet the wretched man, wretched whilst in this state, was living for the glory of God, for, as proved in the event, he was destined to become the subject of a miraculous cure by the great Physician; and in this way was to help in attesting the Divine commission of that Physician. Thus in the first instance, although the devil was allowed to show what power he had gained over him by his state of lunacy: he was next to be an instrument in Christ’s hands, whereby the great Deliverer was to show in turn what supreme power He had over the devil himself, and what He was able to do in the reduction of moral as well as mental insanity; and thus clothe the spiritually naked, and put them in their right mind. In directing our attention to these views, we are able at once to perceive that this poor lunatic was of far more use in the scheme of God’s grace than multitudes who have thought themselves far wiser men. Assuredly they who sit down contented anywhere else than at the feet of Jesus, are still in a state of infatuation, so that in application to those who live and die in such a condition, we may employ the language of Solomon and say, “Madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead.” Nothing save madness, and that which in the end proves the worst kind of it, could lead men to embrace the world as a portion, when they might have instead the kingdom of heaven for an inheritance. What but madness could lead them to encounter at any moment, the risk of hastening into everlasting companionship with the devil and his angels, when otherwise they might be in the blissful condition of securing for eternity the society of the ministering hosts of heaven, and the spirits of just men made perfect. One of the tokens of insanity affecting the helpless maniac mentioned in the text, consisted, as stated by Mark, in “cutting himself with stones.” But would he have been any wiser if, like multitudes of our race, he had cut himself instead with gold or silver, or with some of the other glittering things for which worldly minded and ambitious men spend their lives? Would he have been less a madman if his cutting instrument of torture had been the drunkard’s glass, wherewith to have administered deadly poison till he perished in ruin? Would he have been less a madman to have climbed the ladder of ambition, till losing self-command in the giddy height, he had fallen to perish in misery, as hath happened, in the judgments of God, to many of the proud and insatiable tyrants of the earth. Would he have been less a madman to have frequented scenes of licentious and degrading sensuality, till wasting, loathsome disease, more cutting than all the stones of torture he employed, had severed the slender thread of life, and sent him an early victim to the all-devouring tomb? They may not, like the maniac before us, have their habitation among the tombs, but they live and breathe in as death-like places, inhaling the noxious vapours of mammon’s treasure-house, or the noxious fumes of the temple of Bacchus, or the pestilential atmosphere of the slaughter-houses of licentious indulgence. They may not appear actually behind in fetters and chains like the demoniac of the text; but they are more than iron-bound to their own lusts, and seemingly without such power as the demoniac had to snap them asunder. There are no chains so galling as those which are forged by enslaving passions or degrading appetites. “O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end.”
II. We shall show WHAT WE HOLD TO BE INVOLVED IN THE SPIRITUAL CONDITION OF MEN, WHEN IT MAY BE SAID OF THEM THAT THEY ARE IN THEIR “RIGHT MIND,” AND HAVE THUS BECOME TRULY WISE, The main thing to which we have to attend in the management of this is to weigh Scripturally what is implied in the situation here spoken of, as “sitting at the feet of Jesus.” It was there that the demoniac was found after he was brought to his right mind, and it is there that any one will be who is truly wise. No one can be said to have “come to himself” till in that situation. Wherefore consider that to sit in the church is not to sit at the feet of Jesus. To sit in the reading even of His own Holy Book is not to sit at the feet of Jesus. To sit as ministers, elders, or deacons, in discharging any of the offices which belong to His house, is not to sit at His feet. To sit at His own holy table on sacramental occasions, to eat and drink in His name, and, as called for, in remembrance of Him, is not that which constitutes sitting at His feet. Men may do all these things in their season, and with much regularity during the currency of a long life, and yet be found in the end to have been nearer the feet of Satan than the feet of the Saviour. All these are important duties in their place; but if done in mere formality, or hypocrisy, tend not to salvation, but to ruin.
1. It implies laying down at His feet the whole burden of one’s sin that He may pardon and purify--that He may forgive and cleanse from all pollution. It is only when men are in this state of consciousness as to the burden of sin, they will take any active part in placing themselves at the feet of Jesus; and when they come to this, it is because of the conviction there is no other place of safety for them. He is then seen as affording the only propitiation for sin, so that verily there is no other name under heaven whereby men can be saved.
2. Sitting at the feet of Jesus may be regarded as implying the willing reception for directions in faith and life of the heavenly lessons taught in His Word. No one, therefore, can be said to sit at His feet, and clothed in his right mind, who does not venerate the Scriptures, and apply to them for spiritual instruction. And it is just because there is so little ambition of this sort, if we may so speak, to be taught the legislation of heaven, by sitting at the feet of Jesus in learning, or becoming “ mighty in the Scriptures,” that there are so many blunders in civil legislation--so many blunders in education--and, we may say, so many blunders in preaching. They who have never been at the feet of Jesus learning His will, have not, like the demoniac, come to their right mind, and what are we to expect from the still infatuated, or from madmen, whether they be princes, or statesmen, or parents, or teachers? Mere science, worshipped as it may be, is of no use to man at the brink of the grave. He needs no geometry to enable him to measure its length and depth. He needs no chemistry to enable him to analyze the soil into which he is about to be laid. These and other branches of learning are of use in their proper place to living men, but are of no use to the dying. They are fit subjects for discussion in the halls of science, but serve no purpose in the chambers of sickness and dissolution. When the end is thus drawing nigh, nothing is of any value to the immortal spirit, except what is learnt by “sitting at the feet of Jesus.” The Bible, which contains the learning thus to be acquired, may have been despised before, but it can scarcely be despised now. (J. Allan.)
Testifying to the power of God’s grace
I have told you of African cruelty. Here is a story of what Jesus does when He gets into the hearts of such dreadful men. Some years ago there was a man called Africaner, a Kaffir, who was the terror of the whole neighbourhood. The mere mention of his name made the people tremble. Sweeping down upon towns and villages with his wild followers, he would murder all the men and even the children, would take the women as slaves, and having burnt the place, would drive the cattle back to his own territory. The bold missionary thought that the gospel of Jesus was able to save even this man, and he set out to preach to him. When the people found where he was going, they begged him to remain. His friends implored him not to go. Nobody expected to see him again. On he went, and speedily came tidings that he had been murdered, one man declaring that he himself had seen his bones bleaching in the wilderness. But some years after, two men came back amongst the white people. They knocked at the door of the farmer’s house; the farmer started and turned pale, “Why, this is the missionary’s ghost,” he cried. “No, no,” laughed Mr. Moffat, “it is the missionary himself, in the flesh still.” “Why, but you were murdered long ago,” gasped the farmer. But Mr. Moffat soon let him know that he was no ghost, and joy came in place of fright as the wife and children gathered around him with glad welcome. “But however did you escape from that dreadful Africaner?” asked the farmer, as if he could not quite believe it yet. “Africaner is now a truly good man”; and Mr. Moffat told of his conversion. The farmer listened in amazement. “If that is really so,” he said, I have only one wish before I die, I should like to see this eighth wonder of the world, cud I will go with you to see him.” The missionary coolly turned to the man at his side. “See,” he said, taking his hand, “here is Africaner.” The farmer started in terror; looking at him he saw the face, but with such a new spirit shining in it that he cried, “O God, what a miracle of Thy power; what cannot Thy grace accomplish!” (M. G. Pearse.)
Friends of the devil
Whole villages (of the Kohls in India) were found in ruins; for “an evil spirit has settled in them.” “Get up I be off!” shouted the excited people to the missionaries as they camped on a little green knoll near the hamlet. “Why?” “That is our devil’s place; you must not inconvenience our devil.” (Dr. Stephenson.)
Return to thine own house
The blessedness of active service
The words of this refusal seem to suggest to us its cause; for instead of staying with Him, our Lord bade the lately possessed man go home to his friends, and tell them the great things which God had done for him.
And in giving him this charge He did two things.
1. He thus in mercy provided that they who in their blindness had besought Him to leave them, and who would not, like the dwellers in Judea, have other opportunities of hearing Him, should still be reached by His blessed gospel: and so this instance stands alone. For whereas in other cases He ordered those He healed to tell no man, here, on the contrary, He sent away the healed man, charged by Himself to deliver this message of mercy.
2. He hereby calmed the fears of the restored demoniac. He bade him believe that in labouring thus for Him, in declaring His name, in blessing others, he should find that presence, and so that safeguard from evil, for which his soul craved. He answered the fears of his heart, and told him that whilst he laboured for his brethren, he should himself be safe from the assault of those mysterious powers he dreaded. The very charge was a promise. He was a monument of mercy--he should be kept as one: he longed to be in his Deliverer’s presence--he should be so: after another manner, indeed, from that for which he asked, but yet most truly, most closely, yea, perpetually; wherever there was another to whom he could testify, wherever there was a tormented body, or a vexed spirit, there he might find anew his own Deliverer in bearing witness to His power. And these are our lessons. With every heart which the Saviour hath set free He has left this charge: “ Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee.” Into all social life this light penetrates. Every man is to be to those around him a living preacher of the power of the Redeemer; he is to walk amongst his fellows as a witness for Christ. From him, too, the powers of evil have been banished; for him life wears another countenance; he is no longer, if he lives, as he may, under the renewing influences of the Holy Ghost, the slave of dark, or sensual, or furious, or earthly spirits. Silently it may be--meekly and unobtrusively it must be, but yet most truly--he is to bear witness to that mighty Deliverer, who found him out in his extremity, and broke the fetters which had bound his spirit. True Christian men in their own station do raise the tone of life round them: in a thousand little instances which are occurring daily, they are bearing a witness for truth, for sincerity, for reality, for purity, for meekness, for self-denial, for a spiritual life--which is not lost. For so it is that, most secretly, society is leavened for good or for evil.
II. And if this is our first lesson, our second lies close beside it. It is, that our own safety must consist in thus working for Christ. Even as from the recovered demoniac, so from us also, the powers of evil are to be kept off in our active fulfilment of our own charge. If these, then, are our lessons from our Saviour’s charge to this delivered man, let us gather them up into two strictly practical conclusions. And, first, let us see what a serious thing life is, even in its smallest parts. But it is a serious thing to live; serious both to ourselves and to others. To others, because all our life has its influence on them; because if we live unchristian lives, we throw away a ministry of mercy which might have saved some of them; because the very lowest of us cannot waste his own life and not injure other men; because we cannot be untrue to ourselves without being untrue to them. Let this, then, be our first conclusion, that it is a serious thing to live; and then we shall find encouragement as well as true instruction in this, as our second, that the sense of our redemption is to be the great foundation truth of all our life. We must have faith in this if we would know our charge, or in the least fulfil it. We must believe that we have been redeemed: we must have felt that He has indeed redeemed us from sin and its powers, from guilt and misery, or we cannot love Him as our Deliverer; cannot thankfully receive His easy yoke; and cannot witness of this truth to others. This is the great foundation of a true and earnest life: our hearts must yearn after Him; must pray that we may be with Him; must fear to be parted from Him; must long to live in His presence, finding it shelter, and safety, and peace; and then He will manifest Himself unto us. (Bp. Samuel Wilberforce.)
Exemplifying religion in domestic relations
I design to use the text to set forth the duty of exemplifying religion in the family and immediate domestic relations.
I. THIS IS THE PROPER PLACE TO COMMENCE ALL OUR EFFORTS TO DO GOOD.
1. The dearest relations of the world are there.
2. The family is the place of our most powerful and constant influence.
II. PEOPLE ARE GENERALLY BACKWARD TO PERFORM THIS DUTY. IS not this the very point of defect in the family training of many professing Christians? Do we not here come at the main reason, so far as human agency is concerned, why, in the domestic circles of some eminent Christians, there occur instances of sad indifference to Divine things, and of open profanity and irreligion?
III. The direction of the text demands our special attention, because it contemplates a sphere where SOME PECULIAR DIFFICULTIES EXIST, which are apt to interfere with the exemplification of high religious consistency. The very intimacy of the domestic intercourse is often a snare and a hindrance to one who does not religiously govern himself and watch against temptation. The freedom of family intercourse, also, is apt to take off restraints to the indulgence of our passions, and to the display of our real dispositions, which are felt in more public scenes. Let us be mindful, that the greater the impunity with which we may transgress, the greater the danger. (T. E. Vermilye, D. D.)
Vital principles of the kingdom
What are the principles that are to guide and rule our life when we become His subjects? This is our theme.
I. The first principle that our text gives us is this, that CHRIST’S WILL AND NOT OUR WISH IS TO REGULATE OUR CONDUCT. We are to use our reason; but we are not to set ourselves up in judgment against Christ. Get a good start, by laying hold of this principle in the first instance--that Christ’s will and not your wish is to regulate and rule your conduct. Remember that we have a right, whatever our wishes may be, to bring them before Christ. If you have strong desires concerning any matters in your hearts, you will find, if you lay them before Christ, He will not reproach you for doing so. He did not reproach this man for his prayer. The tender and wise Saviour knew what He was about. Instead of lacking in love to the man, He was overflowing with it, and He gave the best answer possible to his prayer, “Go home to thy friends, My good man; thou needest care, thou needest nursing. Do not think of becoming one of My followers; why thou wouldest soon have to give up that; go home to thy friends, and say what great things God has done unto thee.” My dear friends, believe me, God will hear and answer you! prayer if it be sincere, and if He does not answer it in your way, He wilt do so in a better way. Never swerve from this principle for an instant, that prayer is a reality. The little eaglet as it sees its mother spread her pinions to the breeze, cries, “Oh that I could fly!” and the mother answers the prayer by overturning the nest: her offspring thinks it cruel, but it is the only way its prayer can be answered.
II. The second principle is, that USEFULNESS AND NOT ENJOYMENT IS TO BE OUR SUPREME CONCERN. NOW a man that lives merely for his own personal enjoyment, although that enjoyment be of a spiritual kind, will find that he will very soon frustrate his own purposes and intentions, and instead of securing that for which he has so earnestly, but selfishly sought, it will evade his grasp and leave him altogether a stranger to it. Christianity is not the last spar of a wreck on which a man may float himself into the still waters of an eternal calm; but it is a life-boat, and every man must “man the life-boat,” and try to rescue others from the wreck which sin and Satan had made. Dear friends, you shall have enjoyment, but your enjoyment must come by way of usefulness. This principle of the kingdom of Christ is the principle of all kingdoms over which Christ rules and governs. All life is constituted according to this principle--that it shall only exist in a healthy condition as it gives out of that which it receives. The Dead Sea is a dead sea because it receives all and gives nothing. The brook is beautiful and lovely because it is constantly flowing, and all in nature that is healthy, is healthy because it observes this rule. The clouds take the water from the sea, only that they may give it back again in fertilizing showers to gladden and refresh the earth. In return the earth gives us fruit, flowers and herbs, indeed, everything good for man and beast.
III. Another principle closely associated with the foregoing is this, that OUR POWER FOR USEFULNESS DEPENDS UPON WHAT CHRIST HAS DONE FOR US. Christ said to this man, “Go and show what great things God hath done unto thee.” Your power for usefulness will not depend upon what you say, so much as upon what you are; and your great concern, if you want to be useful, is to live lives which are not inconsistent with your profession. Seek first of all to have an experimental acquaintance with Christ’s power upon your own heart.
IV. The fourth principle according to the text is that--OUR FIRST PLACE OF USEFULNESS IS TO BE THE HOME. “Return to thine own house, and show what great things God hath done unto thee.” We are to begin in the family circle first of all. (W. Williams.)
The religious use of excited feelings
Natural in this man to wish to continue with our Lord. Doubtless his mind transported with joy and gratitude. Christ impressed this very attendance upon others. In the case before us He suffered not what at other times He had bidden. A lesson may be drawn from this for the use of those who, having neglected religion in early youth, at length begin to have serious thoughts, try to repent, and wish to serve God better than hitherto, though they do not know how to set about it. Even for those who have neglected Him He has found (if they will avail themselves of it) some sort of remedy of the difficulties in the way of obedience which they have brought upon themselves by sinning.
I. WHAT IS THIS REMEDY? It is the excited feeling with which repentance is at first attended.
II. HOW IS IT TO BE USED? The restored sufferer in the text wished to be with Christ. Eagerness and zeal may lead to a false devotion which makes men desirous of keeping themselves in Christ’s immediate sight, rather than of returning to their own home, as He would have them, that is, to the common duties of life. Learn to live by faith which sees Christ and rejoices in Him, though sent away from His presence to labour in the world. (J. H.Newman, D. D.)
An unanswered prayer
I. WHAT INDUCED THE MAN TO OFFER THIS PRAYER?
1. Possibly fear.
2. Doubtless also gratitude. Not now possessed but possessing.
II. WHAT INDUCED OUR LORD TO REFUSE THIS PRAYER?
1. It was better for the man. Lest he should infer that the power of Christ was merely local, and not universal.
2. It was better for the man’s friends. The home-circle should be the great missionary-field. There are occasions when it is right for a man to narrate his personal experience. Showing is usually safer than telling.
3. It was better for the land in which he lived. If Christ had permitted him to follow Him, the whole land of Decapolis would have remained in darkness. (H. A. Nash.)
The home-mission work of Christians
1. Every man who is entitled to the name of Christian, knows in some degree what great things the Lord has done for him.
2. To every man, therefore, who knows this, however imperfectly or inadequately the blessing may be realized, the Lord says, “Go to thine own house,” &c.
3. Look at their sphere of missionary labour, in which every Christian is to be the missionary agent. The circle made up of our relations, friends, companions, and those with whom we come most into contact.
(1) Our own house has the first claim upon us.
(2) To show to our own house what great things the Lord hath done for us, is the very duty which every kind of religious fervour demands, in order to prevent it from dying out like a fire that leaves nothing but ashes behind, or from being spent like a fresh flowing stream in mere noise and foam, without doing any practical good.
(3) Our religion as seen in our own house is the best test of the reality of our Christian character.
(4) Our home is the field which we can cultivate better than any other.
4. We are further taught, by the history of this Gadarene, the way in which this home mission work is to be carried on. It is chiefly by our life: by what we are. This influence of a good life, however, does not exclude a more direct showing by spoken word, of what the Lord has done for ourselves, and what He is willing and able to do for all. (Norman Macleod, D. D.)
And regarding Christ’s treatment of this restored man, as in entire analogy with His treatment of true Christians, let us learn--
I. A LESSON IN REGARD TO GOD’S ANSWERING OF PRAYER. If our prayers are proper and right, both in their spirit and their objects, may we not come to the throne of grace assured that they will be answered? To which I answer--
1. That according to the principle just insisted on, that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, no man is competent to decide positively whether the prayer he offers is in the right spirit. The petition of this Gadarene may have originated in a selfish desire to be happy in Christ’s presence, rather than useful in His service. And if so, it was self-considered, an improper prayer, and not to be answered. And so of other prayers.
2. But we remark that, even were we certain that the prayer is such as God promises to answer, there remains still a more important point to be considered--viz., the best way of answering it. If the Gadarene prayed properly, desiring only his own greatest good and God’s greatest glory, then Christ may have seen that he would grow more rapidly in grace, and bring more honour to his Saviour, by remaining among his own countrymen; and thus really answered his petition by sending him away. And so it is always. God will assuredly answer all prayers that are proper and good; but then He answers them in His own way, and according to His own higher wisdom. The Christian prays to be sanctified; and this is a good prayer, and if offered in a right spirit is sure to be answered. But how! Ah, not according to the man’s thoughts I God lays His strong hand upon the man’s idols. He takes away his property; He takes away his health; He takes away his comforts; He lays the beloved of his home and heart into the unpitying grave--thus weakening his affections for the earthly and the carnal. “Ah,” but says the Christian, “this is not what I meant!” Be it so; yet if you prayed sincerely to be sanctified, this is precisely what you asked for--for this is sanctification! But passing now from this great lesson of prayer, and considering the text as containing important parabolic instruction, we learn here several lessons as to practical Christian influence.
I. We learn THE IMPORTANCE OF SUCH CHRISTIAN INFLUENCE. The text most impressively teaches us that the law of Christian life is not spiritual enjoyment, but usefulness. And so it is with the Christian. If the end of his conversion were his own spiritual enjoyment, then, as soon as he is converted, he would be translated to Christ’s presence in glory. There is nothing falser and fouler than that low, narrow, selfish idea of conversion, which regards it only as the condition whereby the man escapes from hell and gets into heaven. If such conversion makes a man good, it is a goodness out of harmony with all other good things. God’s great law of goodness is not absorption, but diffusion. All God’s glorious things, from a flower of the field to a star in the firmament, are not receptacles, but fountains. No man ever thought of one of God’s angels as sitting selfishly on a heavenly throne, contemplating in indolent rapture the sceptre he is wielding and the diadem he wears. And if one of those professing Christians, who think that all God requires of them is just to get themselves to glory, is a true child of God, then he lacks at least one evidence of sonship--he does not resemble his great Father. Of one thing we are certain, that every converted soul is designed by Jehovah to be “the light of the world.” And if Jesus Christ should descend again to the earth, dwelling as of old time with mortals, and one of these very happy and indolent Christians should come to Him, saying, “ O Lord Jesus, precious Saviour, let me ever sit at Thy feet in love, and rapture, and worship!” then, sure I am Christ would frown on him as a slumbering and selfish disciple, and, like the restored man of Gadara, “would send him away.”
II. Passing this, we learn from the text, THE SECRET, OR ELEMENT, OF ALL TRUE CHRISTIAN INFLUENCE, Our Lord sent this restored man away, that he might bear witness for God unto his kinsfolk and countrymen. But how was he to bear witness? Why, simply by making it manifest that the devil had gone out of him. But the power of his witness was not in his lips, but his life. They saw that he was a changed man. A hundred men might have come from Galilee, telling these Gadarenes of Christ, the worker of miracles, and yet all their arguments and eloquence would have been as nothing to one hour’s converse with this restored man--yesterday known to all as a raging demoniac, to-day a gentle and loving companion, in his right mind. His power of testimony for Jesus was the power of his life. And in this lies the secret of all true Christian influence. It is the easiest thing in the world to talk about religion. But mere talk about religion is the poorest thing in the world. Every true Christian will indeed talk about his Saviour. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. Nevertheless, here as elsewhere, the utterance of the lips is as nothing to the influence of the life. In the Divine economy, all grand forces are comparatively gentle and silent. The shallow rill, that is dry on the mountain-side half the year, brawls more noisily at times than yon mighty river. The boy’s sparkling rocket makes a louder demonstration in the night air than all God’s starry constellations. And yet, in the silence of their sublime manifestations, how eloquently do these great forces of the universe bear witness for God! And so it is of moral forces. The gentle movement of this restored man, amid his wondering countrymen, did more to convince them of Christ’s saving power than a thousand noisy utterances. And so is it with the convincing power of a Christian life. The converted man is left in this world a witness for Jesus--allying illustration of the power and blessedness of a religious life. He is to the theologic truth of the Bible what practical experiments are to scientific truths in nature. As the chemist talks technically of elements in analysis and synthesis, and exhibits, in illustration, free gases and ponderous compounds; and as the botanist discourses scientifically of the structure of plants, and the functions of their parts, and shows you his meaning by producing the petals of a lily, or a spike of lavender--so is it with spiritual science, in the hands of the Great Teacher. The Bible explains, and Christian life illustrates; e.g., Faith, by definition, is “the substance of things hoped for.” But, in order to make men understand it, I must be able to point to some man who, under its power, lives, as did Abraham, ever looking for a city whose maker is God. Trust in God is, by definition, an unswerving resting of the mind on Divine veracity and benevolence. But, to make a man comprehend it, it must be in my power to point to men who, under its influence, sit calmly, like Daniel in the lion’s den; or go resolutely, like the young Hebrews, into a fiery furnace. And so of all graces. In the Bible they are described, as in a written epistle--in Christian life they are illustrated, as in a “living epistle.” And in this sense are we, mainly, witnesses for Christ. As the Gadarenes saw that the demoniac was restored, so must the world see that the sinner is converted. He must speak for Christ, as the flower and the star speak for God, in the beauty and glory of their physical manifestations. Without this abiding savour of a holy life, all else will prove but a mockery.
III. Meanwhile, the text teaches us THE TRUE SPHERE OF THIS CHRISTIAN INFLUENCE. “Return to thine own house, and show how great things God hath done unto thee.” We may not be able to understand all the reasons of this command. It is, however, quite evident, first, that his home would be the field of his most powerful influence--since those who had best known him in his demoniacal state would be the most thoroughly convinced of Christ’s power of miraculous restoration. And, secondly, that his home would be the most appropriate field of his influence, since his kinsfolk had the first claim upon his sympathy and labours. And, were there no reasons but these, this direction of Christ teaches us this important lesson in regard of Christian influence--that its truest field, and its mightiest power, are alike always at home. Its mightiest power is at home, because the members of a man’s own household, and the familiar friends of his own social circle, are the best judges of the genuineness of his conversion. It is very easy to put on seemings of godliness that shall deceive strangers; but that must be a true piety, which, amid the daily vexations of life, and the unrestrained intercourse of the home circle, bears the image of Jesus. Meanwhile, a man’s home is the fittest field for the exercise of his Christian influence. Religion, like charity, should begin at home. See that your own field is well tilled, ere you go abroad to other fields. Your own heart first; then your own family; then your own Church; then your own country; and then the whole world. This is God’s great law of influence. The heart must be in strong health, if the circulation be vigorous and healthful in the extremities. The roots and trunk of a tree must thrive, if it would fling forth new branches. No matter, indeed, how largely a man expands--the larger his benevolence the better--if he expand harmoniously, from a healthy and permanent centre. Let him not mistake diffusion for expansion, nor a change of scene for an enlargement of influence. Would that all Christians, and all Christian Churches, would learn this simple lesson, which Christ taught to the, restored man of Gadara. One fixed and steadfast sun, standing earnestly in its appointed place, and diffusing constant light and life over the small circle of worlds God has committed to its keeping, is worth more than a hundred erratic comets, flaming out in the heavens, and casting a fiery and locomotive glare on a thousand constellations. “Let me walk through broad Galilee, and stand up as a living witness for God before Greek and Jew; before ruler and Pharisee.” And though this request falls in with the dictate of human reason, yet, oh, deeper wisdom of the blessed Saviour; Christ sent him unto his own kinsfolk, saying, “Go home! Go home!”
IV. Moreover, the text Leaches us THE MOTIVES OF THIS CHRISTIAN INFLUENCE. “Return to thine own house,” said the Saviour. The text tells us he had “ a home”; and faithful hearts, long agonized in his behalf, were to be comforted and blessed by his presence. And though, for his own sake, he preferred to be with Jesus, yet, for the sake of beloved kindred, he was willing to depart. Here was one motive, and a strong one. But the text gives us a stronger.
1. The Divine commandment--“Christ sent him away.” He may not have had the intellect to understand why Christ thus ordered it; but he surely had the heart that, in its supreme love to his great Deliverer, rejoiced above all things to do His bidding. And here are the types of Christian motives, in labour for the Saviour. Here is, first, philanthropy, the love of our human kindred; a desire to save the sons and daughters of our one great Father. But yet, strong as this motive is, it is as nothing to that second and mightier one--the command of his Master. Christ, his great and gracious Saviour, hath commanded him, as the grand end of his earthly being, to labour to bring impenitent men under the power of the gospel. And this motive is omnipotent. “The love of Christ constraineth him.” The love of my kindred might fail--but “the love of Christ constraineth me!” (C. Wadsworth.)
The people gladly received Him: for they were an waiting for Him
A welcome for Jesus
When Jesus is waited for and welcomed, He delights to come.
He is not waited for by all in our congregations; so that we may ask the question of our present hearers--Do you welcome Christ? Let it be answered by each one this day.
I. A BEAUTIFUL SIGHT. “They were all waiting for Him.” This waiting may be seen in several different forms.
1. A gathered congregation, waiting in the place where prayer is wont to be made. Want of punctuality, and irregular attendance, often show that Jesus is not waited for.
2. A praying company, an earnest Church, looking for revival, and prepared to co-operate in labour for it. Some Churches do not wait for the Lord’s presence, and would not be ready for Him if He were to come.
3. A seeking sinner, sighing for mercy, searching the Scriptures, hearing the Word, inquiring of Christians, constantly praying, and thus “waiting for Him.”
4. A departing saint, longing for home: saying, like Jacob, “I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord” (Genesis 49:18).
5. An instructed Church, looking for the Second Advent (Revelation 22:17). It is good for the eyes to behold such sights.
II. A SURE ARRIVAL. “Jesus was returned.” We are quite sure that our Lord will graciously appear to those who are “all waiting for Him,” since--
1. His Spirit is there already, making them wait (Romans 8:23).
2. His heart is there, in sympathy with them, longing to bless them.
3. His work is there. He has brought them into that waiting condition, and now He has found a sphere wherein to display his grace to saints and sinners.
4. His promise is there, “Lo, I am with you alway” (Matthew 28:20).
5. His custom is to be there. His delights are still with the sons of men Proverbs 8:31). What countless blessings His coming will bring!
III. A HEARTY WELCOME. “The people gladly received Him.”
1. Their fears made Him welcome. They feared lest He might have gone for ever from them (Psalms 77:7).
2. Their hopes made Him welcome. They trusted that now their sick would be cured, and their dead would be raised.
3. Their prayers made Him welcome. Those who pray that Jesus may come are glad when He comes.
4. Their faith made Him welcome. Jairus now looked to have his child healed (see verse 41).
5. Their love made Him welcome. When our heart is with Him, we rejoice in His appearing.
6. Their care for others made Him welcome. Jesus never disappoints those who wait for Him. Jesus never refuses those who welcome Him. Jesus is near us now: will you not open the doors of your hearts to receive Him? Revelation 3:20.) (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A congregation cannot be said to welcome the Lord Jesus unless they are all there, which requires punctuality; unless they have come with design to meet Him, which implies prayerful expectancy; unless they are ready to hear from Him, which involves attention; and unless they are resolved to accept His teaching, which demands obedience.” (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Waiting for Jesus
But do we, like the people of Capernaum, gladly receive Him, and are we all waiting for Him? The true child of God regards Christ as the “chiefest among ten thousand,” and the “one altogether lovely.” Rich are the promises made to those who thus faithfully wait upon Him. “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” “The Lord is good to them that wait for Him.” “Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thy heart.” “Those that wait upon the Lord, shall inherit the earth.” “Keep mercy, and wait upon thy God continually.” “And mind this other thing, prescribe nothing to God. If thou hast begun to wait, faint not, give not up, wait on still. It were good reason, were it but upon little hope at length to find Him; but since it is upon the unfailing assurance that in the end thou shalt obtain, what folly were it to lose all for want of waiting a little longer?” Thus it is that God waits for us, and we wait for Him. He waits for the fit times and seasons of His own appointment, that He may be gracious; and we wait patiently upon Him in the means and ordinances of grace, tarrying the Lord’s leisure, until He bring it to pass. We must wait for Jesus at such times as He may appoint, and one of these special times is the Lord’s Day. But we must wait for Jesus in the spirit which He requires. In order to a full enjoyment of Christ, there must be not only a waiting for Him, but also a glad receiving of Him. The coming in of Christ into the heart always begets gladness in that heart. This spiritual gladness is an important element of Christian character because, like sunshine, it brightens all within and reflects its glow on all without. But there are those who are conscious to themselves that they are not waiting for Christ, and have not gladly received Him. It is a blessed state to be in, to be waiting for Jesus--to have the soul in that position of expectancy that looks and longs for His appearing. (Bp. Stevens.)
And, behold, there came a man named Jairus--
Christ and the ruler
“And behold there came one of the rulers unto Him.
” This shows us the helplessness of the greatest men. The Word ruler indicates position, influence, power, personal supremacy of one kind or another. And yet here is a ruler coming to Jesus Christ for help. There is a point at which all human might becomes utter weakness. We should have said if any man can do without Christ it will be the man who bears the position and sustains the name of ruler. What is our rulership but a mockery in all the great crises and trying passions and terrible combinations of life? A very pretty thing for convenience sake, useful in a social point of view; but when life is driven to extremity, our rulership is nothing better to us than a nominal honour, and sometimes nothing more than a taunting mockery. Know this, then, that there is no title, no position, no supremacy that can cut you off from the fountain of life and make you independent of Emanuel, Son of God. And said unto Him, My daughter lieth at the point of death--showing us the helplessness of the kindest men. The man before us was not only a ruler, but a father; yet ruler and father were found at the feet of Christ. Kindness will do more than mere power. A father will always do more than a ruler. The ruler will work by law, by stipulations, by technical covenants, he will consult the letter of the regulations, and he will abide by the bond. But the father will interpret by his heart; he will avail himself of all the suggestions of love; he cannot be bound by the narrowness and limitations of the letter; he does not work by the clock, he works by his heart. Yet the father, the kindest man, came, as well as the ruler, the greatest man. Office and nature, position and life, status and love, will one day have to come to Jesus Christ to make out their petitions and to urge their cases--for even the deepest, grandest, royalest heart feels that it wants something beyond itself, and that something it can only find in Emanuel, Son of God. And it is often not until the ruler and the father have exhausted themselves that they will come to Christ. This ruler was never so truly a ruler as when he fell on his knees and besought Christ to help him. There is an abasement that is exaltation. There is a humility that is the guarantee of the surest independence: (J. Parker, D. D.)
The faith of Jairus
If Jairus had not been quite sure that Jesus could save her, could he have left his daughter in the very article of death to seek Him out? We may be sure that nothing short of an absolute conviction of Christ’s power to heal and save would have drawn Jairus from his daughter’s room. His faith had its reward. No sooner had he uttered his prayer than Jesus set out with him. But as they went, Jesus paused. Favoured by the darkness and by the throng which opened and closed about Him, “a woman having an issue of blood,” &c. (Luke 8:43), came behind Him, and laid her wasted hand on the hem of His garment with a touch that drew healing virtue out of Him. To Jairus, at least at first, this pause must have seemed an almost intolerable vexation. Every moment was precious. Even the apostles, long after this, thought there was hope for Lazarus so long as he was only sick, but none when once he was gone. We cannot suppose that the faith of Jairus was keener than that of Peter and James and John. To him, therefore, this check must have appeared well-nigh fatal to his hopes. The calmness of Jesus, His determination to probe the case to the bottom, to discover who it was that had touched Him, to compel the abashed culprit to tell the whole story of her disease and cure, to teach and comfort and assure her--all this must have been a sore trial to the father’s faith. Yet he is too generous, or too self-restrained, to utter a reproach, to urge haste. The delay had teaching for him and benediction. However he may have fretted at it, it brought him the very lesson and help he most needed. The healing of Veronica taught him that, though many throng and press on Jesus, the only touch that reaches Him is the touch of faith. When, too, he saw a woman healed who had been sick “twelve years,” that is, just as many years as his daughter had lived, must not that have enlarged his conception of the healing virtue of Jesus? must it not, by teaching him how great things faith can do, have strengthened and confirmed his faith. But as faith is the measure of the gift, as we receive just as much as we can take, this delay, by confirming and enlarging the ruler’s faith, made him capable of a larger blessing. As he passed on with Christ, after witnessing so great a miracle, he must, we think, have walked with a firmer step, and have lifted up his head with a more cheerful hope. It was necessary that he should be prepared for a great trial as well as for a great benediction. For his fears were verified. His daughter had died while they stopped to talk with the woman who bad laid a furtive hand on the Healer’s robe. And if by this time Jairus had not had a stronger faith than when he left home, he must have altogether lest faith. One other trial had still to be encountered. To hear of a death affects and awes the mind; but to stand in the presence of death, encompassed by all the signs of mourning and woe, bites more deeply, and rouses the emotions to greater vehemence. “ The child is not dead,” said Jesus, “but sleepeth.” How could He say that the maiden was not dead? Simply because it was true. We are no more without life when we die than when we sleep. Whether Jairus understood our Lord’s saying or not, it is obvious that the mourners did not understand it. “They laughed Him to scorn.” Their scepticism assures us of the reality of the miracle. If they knew the maiden to be dead, we know that Jesus must be able to quicken the dead to life. (S. Cox, D. D.)
We are apt to look upon the healing of the woman with the issue of blood as an interruption of the history of the raising of the daughter of Jairus; as a separate and distinct incident altogether. But there is in reality the closest connection between the two events. They are brought together by all the evangelists, not only because they occurred at the same time and in the same association, but because they help to explain one another. The two miracles fit in a striking way into each other.
1. The beginning of the woman’s plague was coeval with the maiden’s birth.
2. Is not the character of Jairus brought out clearly into contrast with that of the woman? We see the stronger faith of the woman, content with the minimum of means, and the weaker and more irresolute faith of Jairus which needed personal recognition and the support of sympathizing words, which demanded that Jesus should visit his daughter, and could not compass the thought that He could heal at a distance, and restore when the vital spark had fled.
3. Jairus needed the discipline of the woman’s cure. It prepared him for the miracle that was to be wrought for himself. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
Came behind Him, and touched the border of His garment
Life behind and life before Christ
We believe in the progressive character of the Christian life.
It is like the increasing light, which comes to us first as the dim dawn, then as the grey morning, and afterwards as the noon-day brightness. This progress is connected with, indeed is essential to, our highest well-being. It is a progress from good to better, and from better to best. Let us devoutly think of our life in its relation to Christ.
I. THE FIRST STAGE IS LIFE BEHIND CHRIST. And what a picture this woman presents, as she quietly presses her way through the thronging crowd, as if by stealth, to take away the needed boon. She had tried life away from Christ; and that had proved a failure. Now she tries life in contact with Christ; this proves an immediate success. When it is asked, What brought her to Christ at all? we can only answer, She was driven by her sense of need, and drawn by her faith in Christ. Driven and drawn. This, more or less, is the experience of all who come to Christ. A sense of their need drives them; a knowledge of His character draws them.
II. THE SECOND STAGE IS LIFE BEFORE CHRIST. Had this woman gone away as stealthily as she came, she would have gone away but half-blessed; she would have touched His garment and been healed; she would not have tasted His love and been made happy.
1. Life before Christ is life revealing itself to Him. And what a wonderful saying that is: “She told Him all the truth!” “All the truth” about what she had suffered; and that was a mournful tale. And we have not risen to the glory of life before Christ if we are not accustomed to go and tell Him every phase of our experience, all the truth about our sins and our sorrows, our hopes and our fears. There may be phases of experience which we have never breathed into any human ear; but we can whisper all in His ear, confident that He will neither betray our trust nor withhold His sympathy. It takes a great many keys to unlock all the rooms of a great house; but the owner carries a master-key that unlocks them every one. There are rooms in the house of the heart into which few, if any, of our friends are admitted; but the master-key is in the hands of Christ, and He can come and bring all heaven in His train.
2. Life before Christ is life working beneath His eye. The saintly Payson speaks of three classes of Christian workers, and represents them as occupying three circles around Christ. In the outer circle there are those who take rare side-glances at Christ; in the inner circle there are those who occasionally look up to catch His smile; and in the innermost circle there are those who bring all their work and do it beneath His eye. These last, in the truest, fullest, gladdest sense, stand in the presence of Christ, and have life before Christ.
3. Life before Christ is life blessed with His friendship. He is my physician, and I am grateful to Him; but He is my friend, and I am happy in Him. Obadiah 1:0 what a glory comes into the experience of him whose life is blessed with the friendship of Christ! Others may doubt; he has the witness in himself. Tell him that Christ is only a mythical character. You might as well tell him that the flowers that are breathing their sweetness in his presence are only painted flowers, that the sun which is pouring brightness into his chamber is only an imaginary sun. He perceives the sweetness, he enjoys the brightness that come from Christ into his very soul; and with a confidence that no sophistry can shake, with a love that no power can quench, he tells every assailant, You may as soon reason me out of the consciousness that I am alive, as out of the better and more blessed consciousness that I have the very life of God in my soul. (R. P. Macmaster.)
Christ’s particular sympathy and friendship
When a lone woman came up in a crowd to steal something, as it were, some healing power out of His person, or out of the hem of His garment, He would not let her off in that impersonal way. He compelled her to show herself, and to confess her name, and sent her away with His personal blessing. He pours out everywhere a particular sympathy on every particular child of sorrow. We have seen that He can love as a man loves another, and that such is the way of His love. He has tasted death, we say, not for all men only, but for every man. We even dare to say for me; who “loved me, and gave Himself for me.” Nay, He goes even further than this Himself, calling us friends, and claiming that dear relationship with us. “The servant knoweth not what his lord doeth; but I have called you friends.” He even goes beyond this, promising a friendship so particular and personal that it shall be a kind of secret or cipher of mutual understanding open to no other--a new white stone given by his King, “and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.” (H. Bushnell, D. D.)
The earnest touch
How many feel the reality of a personal relation to Jesus? How many consciously recognize that their lives are implicated with His life?
1. Of some, of many, it may be said that they touch Jesus with their respect. No doubt the religion of Christ is respected. Christianity is at least a respectable institution, Nevertheless, all this respect is not like that touch which was given in the earnest purpose of faith and need.
II. There are those who touch Jesus with their opinions. But, held as mere opinions, their intellectual validity gives us no real contact with the Saviour. We may actually be what we claim to be, exclusive possessors and vigilant guardians of orthodoxy, and yet be far from Him. The essential thing is not what we think about Him, but what He Himself, in His personal relations, in His healing, life-giving power, is to us.
III. Again, there are those who seek to touch Jesus through sacraments and ceremonies. The idea of the woman appears to have been of this kind. She thought, “If I may but touch His garment, I shall be whole”; whereas we know that the virtue went out of Him.
IV. There are those who touch Jesus timidly and fitfully. Their communion with Him is felt only in impulses of intermittent enthusiasm or seasons of excitement, or it is held as a secret of which they are ashamed. We must, indeed, respect the modesty of sincere faith, the sacred reticence that guards the deepest and truest feelings of the heart. We know that religious emotion may evaporate in words, and that sterling principle may be less demonstrative than the noisy ring of cant. But, notwithstanding all imperfections, he who has really touched Jesus will in memo way make the secret manifest, not in the mere profession of the lips, but in the confession of the life. (E. H. Chapin, D. D.)
Who touched Me?
I. THERE IS GREAT DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THRONGING AND PRESSING CHRIST, AND TOUCHING HIM, WITH FAITH.
II. SIMPLE FAITH IN CHRIST IS ALL WHICH IS NECESSARY TO SALVATION.
III. THERE ARE PREPARATIVES FOR FAITH. It may be said, “If believing in Christ be such a simple and easy thing, why can I not believe at once, and be saved? I have tried to believe in Christ, but hitherto without success.” There are preparatives for faith. Yes, as there are preparatives for cure, and healing, and rescue, so there are preparatives for faith. Preparatives for cure and healing are being sick, or wounded, and feeling the need of remedies. So the woman in the text had preparatives for faith in Christ by twelve years’ experience of fruitless help from physicians, Hope deferred had made her heart sick; she saw her property melt away; one new physician had encouraged her to expect from Him a cure; and she was sinking into the grave. These were the preparatives with her for saving faith. So that we may say, in general, that the preparatives for faith are, a deep conviction that Christ alone can help us, and a persuasion that He must save us or we perish.
IV. THIS WOMAN AFFORDS US A STRIKING ILLUSTRATION OF OUR DUTY TO COME TO CHRIST, WITHOUT WAITING FOR HIM TO COME TO US.
V. SALVATION FOLLOWS INSTANTANEOUSLY UPON BELIEVING IN CHRIST.
VI. THERE IS NOTHING WHICH CHRIST SEEMS TO LOVE SO MUCH AS FAITH IN HIM. (N. Adams, D. D.)
The throng and the touch
The woman reached out her hand and touched the Saviour’s garment. What was it that moved her hand? She believed. But in what did she believe? Not in herself, not in the motion of her arm, not that she was doing anything that was an equivalent for the cure, or would purchase it; nor yet did she believe that by standing aloof and waiting awhile till she was partly restored, made stronger or more presentable, by some skill of her own, she should be more likely to get the benefit desired; nor had she any theory whatever about the method in which the curative power was to take effect. You do not find in her clear and urgent sense of need that strange inverting of all reason that we so often see in men when they hesitate about coming to seek heavenly grace in Christ’s Church, pleading that they are “not good enough,” not strong enough, healthful enough, to be blessed by it. The soldier, after the battle, wounded and sick, bloodstained and feverish, creeps along the hot and dusty road, longing only to die under the old home-tree, and under the breath of a mother’s lips. He comes to a hospital, and sees it written over the door, “Whosoever will, let him come.” Does he creep back, pleading that he is not well enough to go in and be healed? What, then, did the woman believe? She believed that she was to receive something, a real blessing, from Christ. This was what distinguished her, in her humility and obscurity, from the sentimental crowd around her. This was that in her which was not in them. Most graphic history of how many hearts l She believed that she could have that new life by a touch. The reaching oat of her hand was an expression of that faith. Another signal might probably have done just as well. In other cases a prayer was as effectual. But there must have been two things: the faith that she should receive the benefit, and some act to embody that faith and bring the benefit home. With faith, action. (Bp. F. D. Huntington.)
1. There is the unbeliever s touch, like the impious touch of the unhallowed hands of the soldiers who nailed the Saviour to the cross of Calvary. How many there are that rudely and profanely handle the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ: they cannot leave Him alone: yet even while they “touch” Him, they only so “touch” Him as to bring judgment and condemnation upon their own souls, because the “touch” is the sacrilegious touch of unbelief. The Philistines were bold enough to touch the ark, but they found there was death in the touch.
2. Then again, there is the cold “touch” of the critic. He is not profane: he is not irreverent: he is simply critical. The character of Christ is the object in which they are performing their experiments.
3. Then again, there is the fashionable “touch,” which is much more common. Those who give this “touch” to our Lord are to be found in all our churches and places of worship, not unfrequently, probably once in a week; they have got their tribute to pay, and they pay it. Society expects it of them.
4. Then there is the formalists’ “touch,” where the “touch” is everything, but the Touched nothing! What is the most proper way of saluting Him whom you recognize as your Saviour? How are you best to arrest His attention? Form, form, form, from beginning to end.
5. There is one way in which s larger number of persons seem to “touch” Him Without receiving any help than in any other. It is the “touch” of indifference. There are many people who are no critics: they won’t give themselves the trouble for that. They will not be unbelievers: they will not be at the pains to be infidels. These, then, my dear friends, are some of the different ways in which we may “touch” Christ, and yet get no healing benefit. We should ask ourselves, How are we to “touch” with good effect? Again, there may be difficulties in our way: but few of us have such difficulties as that poor woman. The very nature of her disease was one which made her shrink back from anything like publicity. She might have waited until He was not surrounded by a crowd--waited for a more favourable opportunity. She says to herself, “I am going to be healed;” she does not say, “I am going to try.” How often do we hear that word “try.”
There are two little words beginning with “TR” the one is “TRUST,” and the other is “TRY.” I wish we were a little tender of the first, and less of the second. So, through the crowd she makes her way, draws near, stretches out her hand, and “she touched Him.” And now we have a blessed opening up of the inner life of Christ, which seems to bring Him wondrously near to us. It is this: amidst all the subjects that occupied His mind, there cannot proceed from Him the very slenderest favour to any of the creatures whom He has made, but He is sensible of it. The reception of grace shall be a mutual thing--a thing involving reciprocal consciousness, consciousness on our part of our approach; consciousness on His part that we are approaching: consciousness on our part of our stretching out the hand of faith; consciousness on His part of the flowing of the current of His own Divine healing. There shall be no blessing stolen from an unconscious God. We shall not get it from Him when He is asleep. We will not get it from Him when His attention is fixed upon anything else. It is when His own blessed God-consciousness comes into contact with our human sense of need that she miracle of grace shall be performed. Is it not a wonderful thing He can think of us!--that, while He is giving us blessings every moment, He nevertheless gives every blessing consciously? How near this brings God to us! (W. H. Aitken, M. A.)
I. Look at THE PATIENT.
1. Her courage. She was a woman who had suffered from a very grievous malady, which had drained away her life. Her constitution had been sapped and undermined, and her very existence had become one of constant suffering and weakness; and yet what courage and spirit she displayed. She was ready to go through fire and through water to obtain health.
2. Note also her resolute determination. She would die hard, if die she must. She would not resign herself to the inevitable till she had used every effort to preserve life and to regain health. It is a hopeful sign, a gracious token, when there is a determination wrought in men that, if saved they can be, saved they will be.
3. I admire also this woman’s marvellous hopefulness. She still believes that she can be cured. She ought to bare given up the idea long ago according to the ordinary processes of reasoning; for generally we put several instances together, and from these several instances we deduce a certain inference. Now, she might have put the many physicians together, and their many failures, and have rationally inferred that her case was past hope.
II. THE DIFFICULTIES OF THIS WOMAN’S FAITH They must be weighed in order to show its strength. The difficulties of her faith must have been as follows:
1. She could hardly forget that the disease was in itself incurable, and that she had long suffered from it.
2. And then again she had endured frequent disappointments; and all these must have supplied her with terrible reasons for doubting. Yet she was not dismayed: her faith rose superior to her bitter experience, and she believed in the Lord.
3. There was also another difficulty in her way, and that was, her vivid sense of her own unworthiness.
4. I do not know whether the other difficulty did occur to her at all, but it would to me, namely, that She had now no money.
5. Perhaps the worst difficulty of all was her extreme sickness at that time. We read that she was nothing better, but rather grew the worse.
III. THE VANISHING POINT OF ALL HER DIFFICULTIES. We read of her first that she had heard of Jesus. It is Mark who tells us that, “When she had heard of Jesus.” “Faith cometh by hearing.” The point to notice most distinctly is this. The poor woman believed that the faintest contact with Christ would heal her. Notice the words of my text: “If I may touch but His clothes.” It is not, “If I may but touch His clothes”--no, the point does not lie in the touch; it lies in what was touched. Splendid faith I It was not more than Christ deserved, but yet it was remarkable. It was a kind of faith which I desire to possess abundantly. The slenderest contact with Christ healed the body, and will heal the soul; ay, the faintest communication. Do but become united to Jesus, and the blessed work is done.
IV. HER GRAND SUCCESS. Let me remind you again, however, of how she gained her end. She gave to the Lord Jesus an intentional and voluntary touch. Yet note that she was not healed by a contact with the Lord or with His garment against her will: she was not pushed against Him accidentally, but the touch was active and not merely passive. And now see her grand success; she no sooner touched than she was healed; in a moment, swift as electricity, the touch was given, the contact was made, the fountain of her blood was dried up, and health beamed in her face immediately. Immediate salvation! I heard a person say the other day that he had heard of immediate conversion, but he did not know what to make of it. Now, herein is a marvellous thing, for such cases are common enough among us. In every case spiritual quickening must be instantaneous. However long the preparatory process may be, there must be a time in which the dead soul begins to live. There may be cases in which a blessing comes to a man and he is scarcely aware of it, but this woman knew that she was saved; she felt in herself that she was whole of her plague. She had next the assurance from Christ Himself that it was so, but she did not obtain that assurance till she had made an open confession. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. CONSIDER WHAT THIS SUFFERER SAID WITHIN HERSELF (Matthew 9:21).
1. As displaying ignorance of the true nature of Christ. Impossible then to have the clear and distinct ideas that we may now.
2. As displaying not only ignorance, but error, along with truth.
3. Was her faith, then, a foolish credulity? Not at all. She knew the wonders He had wrought on others, and responded to the goodness and truth His language and demeanour expressed; and on this convincing evidence she trusted Jesus, and was healed.
II. CONSIDER THIS FEELING TOWARDS CHRIST AS FINDING RECOGNITION WIDER THAN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. The world finds healing in the slightest contact with Christ. How vast the number, outside avowed followers of Christ, who crowd Christian sanctuaries Sunday after Sunday, with a more or less explicit conviction that it is good to be there.
III. REMEMBER THAT CHRIST CALLS US, BEYOND SLIGHT CONTACT, TO THE CLOSEST UNION WITH HIMSELF. This turning of humanity to Christ is like the turning of flowers towards the sun, their life-giver. It exhibits a true and healthy impulse; but how many forget that it is but the first step of what should be a close and continual approach to Him! There is healing in His slightest touch, but what in a living union with Him who died that we might live for ever! (T. M. Herbert, M. A.)
The woman healed by a touch
1. A disorder which was endured.
(1) The disorder was unavoidably marked by much and painful privation.
(2) The disorder was long-continued and inveterate.
(3) The disorder had been aggravated by bitter disappointment.
2. The remedy which was resorted to.
(1) Observe the Being to whom the application was made.
(2) The spirit by which the application was distinguished.
(a) There was a display of confidence.
(b) There was the spirit of humility.
3. The blessing which was obtained.
(1) The communication of the blessing of healing was immediate.
(2) The communication of the blessing was free.
(3) The communication of the blessing was kind.
Cured at last
I. Consider, therefore, concerning this woman, WHAT SHE HAD DONE. She had been literally dying for twelve years.
1. She had resolved not to die if a cure could be had. She was evidently a woman of great determination and hopefulness. Insensibility has seized upon many, and a proud conceit: they are full of sin, and yet they talk of self-righteousness. No doubt some are held back from such action by the freezing power of despair. They have reached the conclusion that there is no hope for them. Alas l many have never come to this gracious resolution, because they cherish a vain hope, and are misled by an idle dream. They fancy that salvation will come to them without their seeking it.
2. Let us next note, that this woman, having made her resolve, adopted the likeliest means she could think of. Physicians are men set apart on purpose to deal with human maladies; therefore she went to the physicians. No doubt she met with some who boasted that they could heal her complaint at once. They began by saying, “You have tried So-and-so, but he is a mere quack; mine is a scientific remedy.” Many pretenders to new revelations are abroad, but they are physicians of no value.
3. This woman, in the next place, having resolved not to die if cure could be had, and having adopted the likeliest means, persevered in the use of those means. Have you been to Doctor Ceremony? He is, at this time, the fashionable doctor.
4. But this woman not only thus tried the most likely means, and persevered in the use of them, but she also spent all her substance over it. Thus do men waste their thought, their care, their prayer, their agony, over that which is as nothing: they spend their money for that which is not bread. The price of wisdom is above rubies. If we had mines of gold, we might profitably barter them for the salvation of our souls.
II. We have seen what the woman had done; now let us think of WHAT HAD COME OF IT. We are told that she had suffered many things of many physicians.
1. That was her sole reward for trusting and spending: she had not been relieved, much less healed; but she had suffered. She had endured much additional suffering through seeking a cure. Efforts after salvation made in your own strength act like the struggles of a drowning man, which sink the more surely.
2. There has been this peculiarly poignant pang about it all, that you are nothing bettered.
3. We read of this woman, that though she suffered much, she was nothing better, but rather grew worse. You are becoming more careless, more dubious than you once were. You have lost much of your former sensitiveness. You are doing certain things now that would have startled you years ago, and you are leaving certain matters undone which once you would have thought essential.
4. This is a sad, sad case l As a climax of it all, the heroine of our story had now spent all that she had. Welcome, brother! Now you are ready for Jesus. When all your own virtue has gone out of you, then shall you seek and find that virtue which goeth out of Him.
III. This brings to our notice, in the third place, WHAT THIS WOMAN DID AT LAST.
1. Note well she resolved to trust in Jesus in sheer despair of doing anything else.
2. After all, this was the simplest and easiest thing that she could do. Touch Jesus.
3. Not only was this the simplest and easiest thing for the poor afflicted one, but certainly it was the freest and most gracious. There was not a penny to pay.
4. This was the quietest thing for her to do. She said nothing. She did not cry aloud like the blind men.
5. This is the only effectual thing. Touch Jesus, and salvation is yours at once. Simple as faith is, it is never-failing.
IV. And now, poor convicted sinner I here comes the driving home of the nail. DO THOU AS THIS WOMAN DID. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The woman who touched
I. MEN’S FAILURES. Human physicians could not heal. Sin incurable by self.
II. A SUPERSTITIOUS FAITH. Faith may grow in strange places.
III. AN ACTUAL TOUCH. We want the same living connection with Christ, and it is possible still.
IV. IMMEDIATE HELP. No need to wait long; prayer answered often sooner than we expect.
V. A TREMBLER IN HIDING. Glad to have blessing from Christ, but fearing to reveal how obtained.
VI. PUBLIC ACKNOWLEDGMENT. Christ requires this. We must bear witness, &c. Free men.
VII. INDIVIDUAL RECOGNITION. Christ will not pass us in a crowd.
VIII. GENEROUS ENCOURAGEMENT. He might have called her “rude” or “foolish.” Not so. He calls her “daughter.”
IX. SPIRITUAL ENLIGHTENMENT. It was not any power lying in the touching of My garment; it was thy faith that saved thee. Conclusion: The only one in the crowd blessed. Why? Lack of faith, not lack of need. How near we may be to Christ, and yet not find true spiritual healing or renewal. (T. Sherlock, B. A.)
The healing of Veronica
Who is this wan, feeble woman that struggles through the swaying crowd, and watches her opportunity to stoop and lay her hand on the Healer’s garment? This, say the Evangelists, is a poor woman afflicted for twelve years with a disorder, a haemorrhage, which was then held to warrant divorce--a disorder which rendered her” unclean “in the eyes of the law, so that she could neither enter temple nor synagogue. This, says Eusebius, was Veronica, a woman of wealth and repute, who dwelt in Casarea Philippi, at the northernmost extremity of the Holy Land, hard by the main source of the river Jordan, in a lonely valley at the foot of Hermon. “I, Eusebius, have seen her house in that city. And to this day [some three centuries after the miracle], before the gate of her house, on a lofty block of stone, there stands a brazen sculpture; on the one side, a woman drops on her bended knees, with hands outstretched as in supplication; and, opposite to her, stands a man, erect and tall, becomingly clad in a mantle, who extends His hand to the suppliant. At her feet there springs a certain strange plant, which rises as high as the hem of her garment; it is held to be an antidote to all forms of disease. This they say, is a statue of Jesus Christ.” Eusebius goes on to argue the probability that Veronica caused it to be erected, since it was a custom of the Gentiles to erect statues to those who had healed them; and Caesarea Philippi being, not a Jewish, but a Phoenician city, mainly inhabited by Greeks, we have every reason to believe that Veronica herself was a Gentile. But whoever she was, and whencesoever she came, she had heard of Jesus, and conceived a hope that He would heal her. A woman who had spent all that she had, only to suffer more from her doctors than from her disease, in her despair would be very apt to betake herself to One who at least demanded no fee, and who was reported to have wrought many marvellous cures … But why does she select the hem, or border, of His garment? Perhaps because in her diffidence she thought herself unworthy to do more. Perhaps because in her faith she thought even this would be enough. Perhaps simply because she thought the border of His garment might be most easily touched without attracting attention Beyond a doubt, her faith, though genuine, was darkened by superstition. In His grace the Lord Jesus corrects and enlarges her conception; He disentangles the truth in it from the error. But mark how He does it, how patiently, how gradually. At first it is her superstition, rather than her faith, which is confirmed But why did He not let the poor woman creep quietly away with her boon? Why compel her to tell her sad story of womanly pain and suffering in so many ears? Simply because He loves her too well to let her go away with half a blessing. Simply that He may teach her that it is her faith, and not, as she thought, her mere touch, which has saved her. It is a pathetic story, a story--
1. Full of hope and gracious incentive for all who believe, however weak their faith may be.
2. Conveying also a lesson of warning. Many thronged and pressed upon Christ; many touched His clothes; yet only one touched Him.
3. Teaching also a lesson of invitation. According to the Hebrew law she was impure, and made all she touched impure; but she ventured to touch Jesus, and, instead of making Him unclean, He makes her clean and whole. Now, whatever our sins may have been, we can hardly be farther from hope than she. And however faintly we may turn to Christ, however ignorantly, we can hardly do less than she who hid herself in the darkness and the crowd, and laid trembling fingers on the edge of His garment, to see what would come of that. Jesus did not know her or her story--did not know even that it was she who had touched Him. Yet she was healed. Why? Because His will is always for the health and salvation of men. Virtue is stored up in Him, and flows forth from Him at every touch of faith. (S. Cox, D. D.)
THE WOMAN WHO CAME BEHIND HIM IN THE CROWD.
Near Him she stole, rank after rank;
She feared approach too loud;
She touched His garments’ hem, and shrank
Back in the sheltering crowd.
A shame-faced gladness thrills her frame:
Her twelve years’ fainting prayer
Is heard at last; she is the same
As other women there.
She hears His voice; He looks about;
Ah! is it kind or good
To drag her secret sorrow out
Before that multitude?
The eyes of men she dares not meet--
On her they straight must fall:
Forward she sped, and at His feet
Fell down, and told Him all.
His presence makes a holy place;
No alien eyes are there;
Her shrinking shame finds god-like grace,
The covert of its care.
“Daughter,” He said, “be of good cheer;
Thy faith hath made thee whole”;
With plenteous love, not healing mere,
He would content her soul.
Glimpses of Jesus
I. THE SENSITIVENESS OF CHRIST. “Who touched Me?” Ruskin has said truly, “We are only human in so far as we are sensitive.”
II. THE YEARNING OF CHRIST FOR NEARER PERSONAL FELLOWSHIP WITH MEN. The question must be interpreted by the result. Evidently what He desired was to bring the woman nearer, and to establish more direct and abiding relationship between her and Himself.
III. THE JOY OF CHRIST IN CONFERRING BENEFITS UPON HUMAN SOULS. Mark--
1. The loving address--“daughter.”
2. The comfortable words--“Thy faith hath made thee whole.”
3. The gracious dismissal--“Go in peace.”
1. That we should come to Christ in our need.
2. That we should commune with Him with the greatest freedom and openness.
3. That we should confess gladly and gratefully before men all the good we have received at His hands.
4. That we should comply with all His solicitings, and ever seek nearer and dearer fellowship with Him as our Saviour and our God. (W. Forsyth, M. A.)
We have to trace the history of a touch. Let us inquire--
I. WHY THIS TOUCH ATTRACTED THE PARTICULAR ATTENTION OF THE SAVIOUR?
1. It was the touch of a sufferer whose case before that touch had been desperate.
2. It was the touch of faith.
3. It was a touch that wrought an instant and perfect cure.
II. WHY DID THE SAVIOUR ASK THE QUESTION, “Who touched Me?” This excited the wonder of the disciples.
1. Not from ignorance.
2. Not from exhaustion.
3. Not from displeasure. But
(1) To show that He marks the difference between thronging and touching Him. (“Many,” says Ambrose, “press upon Christ, in outward ordinances, but believers touch Him; it is by faith that He is touched, so as to have virtue from Him.”)
(2) To enlighten and invigorate the faith of her who touched Him.
(3) To assert His right to be glorified for what He has done.
4. That the interview might issue in the bestowment of His benediction. (C. Stanford, D. D.)
Oh, dost Thou ask who touched Thy garment? Oh,
Sweet Master, hast Thou not turned back and viewed
How round Thee throng and press the multitude?
“Not all who throng and press for Mine I know;
But trembling, falling, one now Mine draws near,?
To tell of garment touched and ended woe,
The things she sought not, nor has heard, to hear;
Things present, things to come, her deeds revealing,
The fount of sin whose flowing none may stay,
Till breaks on Calvary the Fount of Healing,
All wounds to staunch, all tears to wipe away.
This Flesh, My garment, feels but faith’s right hand;
All: many near Its hem, unhealed will stand!”
(A. M. Morgan.)
Virtue is gone out of Me
Virtue at one time meant strength, Now it is used to denote purity. Jesus meant that power had gone out from Him. It is worth while to note that virtue cannot leave one and pass to another without a loss to the giver. There can be little doubt that the sacred body of Jesus had to suffer for being the medium of healing, and that very costly was the honour of being the shrine of Divinity.
I. Virtue is gone out of Me to ONE WHO FAILED TO GET HELP ELSEWHERE. As a last resource, she came and tried Jesus. Is she not a picture of many among us, who try everything but the right thing, and also go anywhere rather than to the Saviour? There is Dr. Merryman. He has a very large practice. He is the most popular of all the soul doctors, and has an amazingly large connection among young people. If some one goes to him complaining of a sad heart, he will prescribe a change, lively society, the theatre, dancing, &c. There is another of these impudent quacks. I mean Dr. Devotee, who, like the famous Dr. Merryman, has a large number of patients, but they are generally rather older; indeed, many of them have been under Merryman till they were tired out; then they have gone over to the other side of the way to try if Devotee could help them. If you go into his waiting room, you will see some who have had disappointments, blighted affections, &c. When you are shown into his room, you notice how very grave he is--none of the flippancy of the other. He does not approve of Merryman’s prescriptions. Fasting and prayer and seclusion are his remedies. There is yet another of these medical gentlemen you must look in upon. This is where Dr. Apathy lives. He is the favourite doctor among men of business and commerce. They will tell you, “Merry-man is all very well for the youngsters, and Devotee suits the women, but for a sensible practical man, commend me to Apathy. Bless you, what I suffered before I went to him! I could not sleep at nights for thinking I might lose my soul. Really business began to suffer; so I went to him, and he seen put me to rights. When I told him my symptoms, he said, ‘I understand you, my dear fellow, you need a sedative. Stick to your newspaper, and give up all that nonsense about family prayer.’”
II. Virtue has gone out of Me to ONE WHO HAS OVERCOME GREAT DIFFICULTIES. This poor woman must have found it very difficult to come to Christ, for at least two reasons.
1. She was ceremoniously unclean. And so are we. Yet we should not let this deter us.
2. There was the difficulty of the crowd. The people thronged Him; and no wonder, for He was on His way to heal the ruler’s daughter. The crowd was between her and the Lord.
III. Virtue has gone out of Me to ONE WHO HAS FAITH. DO not wait till you have altered this, or improved that; all that can be done afterwards.
IV. Virtue is gone out of Me to one WHO MUST CONFESS THE TRUTH. (J. Champness.)
The cost of service
I. IN NATURE, WE HAVE WHAT HAS LATELY BEEN TERMED THE PERSISTENCE, OR CONSERVATION OF FORCE.
II. THIS LAW OF COST IS ALSO ECONOMIC LAW. In agriculture, what we call the bounty of nature, the gift outright, comes a long way short of what is needed even for merest comfort. The spontaneous products of nature are scanty. So of all industry and useful art. To begin with, there is the cost of raw material, come whence it may, from earth, or sea, or air. Houses, and their furnishing, tax the quarries, the clay-yards and the forests. Our wardrobes suggest cotton-fields, flax-fields, silkworms, flocks of sheep, herds of cattle, birds of the air, wild animals of sea and land, from pole to pole. Even wigwams and bearskins are no gratuities. Every coarsest want supplied, every adornment, every luxury, means work. Good things, fine things, cost.
III. THIS LAW OF COST IS ALSO MENTAL LAW. Mind is very much more than mere passive capacity; it is vital, organizing force. Learning, rightly apprehended, is not mere passive reception, as of water into a cistern, bringing with it all the accidents and impurities of roof or aqueduct. It is water in oak, or elm, making its way up through living tissue, filtered as it ascends, shaking out its leafy banner, hardening into toughest fibre.
IV. BUT THIS LAW OF COST IS PRE-EMINENTLY SPIRITUAL LAW. The so-called passive virtues either are not virtues, or are not passive. Humility, patience, self-denial, and the forgiveness of injuries, are battles and victories. So it has been, and so it shall be, in essence, to the end. Redemption cost infinitely in eternity, and must cost in time. Human history almost began with martyrdom. The blood of righteous Abel inaugurated the stern economy. Scarcely a people have ever been evangelized without the baptism of blood. Scarcely a man has ever been signally useful without the baptism of some great sorrow. We learn in suffering what we teach in song. (R. D. Hitchcock, D. D.)
Real contact with Jesus: a sacramental meditation
I. First, then, IN THE USE OF ALL MEANS AND ORDINANCES LET IT BE OUR CHIEF AIM AND OBJECT TO COME INTO PERSONAL CONTACT WITH THE LORD JESUS CHRIST.
1. Note, first, she felt that it was of no use being in the crowd, of no use to be in the same street with Christ, or near to the place where Christ was, but she must get at Him; she must touch Him. She touched Him, you will notice, under many difficulties. There was a great crowd. It is very easy to kneel down to pray, but not so easy to reach Christ in prayer.
2. Observe, again, that this woman touched Jesus very secretly. Beloved, that is not always the nearest fellowship with Christ of which we talk the most. Deep waters are still. Nathaniel retired to the shade that no one might see him, but Jesus saw him and marked his prayer, and He will see thee in the crowd and in the dark, and not withhold His blessing.
3. This woman also came into contact with Christ under a very deep sense of unworthiness.
4. Notice, once again, that this woman touched the Master very tremblingly, and it was only a hurried touch, but still it was the touch of faith.
II. THE WOMAN IN THE CROWD DID TOUCH JESUS, AND, HAVING DONE SO, SHE RECEIVED VIRTUE FROM HIM. In Christ there is healing for all spiritual diseases. There is a speedy healing. There is in Christ a sufficient healing, though your diseases should be multiplied beyond all bounds.
III. And now the last point is--and I will not detain you longer upon it--IF SOMEBODY SHALL TOUCH JESUS, THE LORD WILL KNOW IT. NOW, as Jesus knows of your salvation, He wishes other people to know it. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
She was not hid
I. First, then, we say concerning this woman, that HER HIDING SEEMED VERY EXCUSABLE. I have already said that if, in any instance, a cure might have been concealed, this was one; and it was so for many reasons.
1. Because of this woman’s natural timidity, and because of the nature of her malady.
2. In addition to this, remember that the Saviour did not court publicity. He laid no injunction upon those whom He healed that they should tell every one of the marvel.
3. There was another reason why she might have thought she need not make a public confession, and that was, that the Saviour was at that time exceedingly occupied.
4. Excuse might also have been found for the healed woman in the fact, that her cure would make itself known by its results. When she reached home everybody would see that she was quite another person; and when they asked how it came to pass, she could tell them all about 2:5. Another pretext might have served this woman, if she desired an excuse. She might truthfully have said, “It is evident that an open confession is not essential to my cure, for I am cured.”
II. Secondly, HER HIDING WAS NOT PERMITTED BY THE SAVIOUR. Her being brought out had the best of consequences.
1. For, first, an open confession on her part was needful in reference to the Lord’s glory. Beloved, the miracles of Christ were the seals which God gave to His mission. If the wonders which He wrought were not made known, the seals of His mission would have been concealed, and so would have lost much of their effect. If this woman concealed her cure others might do the same; and if they all did it, then Christ’s commission would have no visible endorsement from the Lord God.
2. Further, remember that our Lord’s miracles were illustrative of His teaching.
3. But the confession had to be made for the sake of others. Do any of you wish to live unto yourselves? If you do, you need saving from selfishness.
4. Do you not think that her public declaration was required for the good of our Lord’s disciples? When they heard her story, did they not treasure it up, and speak of it to one another in after days, and thereby strengthen each other’s faith?
5. But especially she had to do this for her own good. The Saviour had designs of love in bringing this poor trembler forward before all the people. By this He saved her from a host of fears which would have haunted her.
She had been a very timid and trembling woman, but now she would shake off all improper timidity. I have known many persons cured of timidity by coming forward to confess Christ. Our Lord also gave her an increased blessing after her confession. He gave her clearly to know her relationship to Him. He said, “Daughter!” Next notice that He gave a commendation to her faith--“Thy faith hath made thee whole.” Then the Lord gave her a word of precious quieting. He said, “Go in peace.” As much as to say: Do not stop in this crowd, to be pushed about or stared at, but go home in quiet.
III. Thus I have already reached my last point: YOUR HIDING OUGHT TO BE ENDED.
1. Do you not think you owe something to the Church of God, which kept the gospel alive in the world for you to hear?
2. May I be permitted also to say, I think you owe something to the minister who led you to Jesus?
3. Besides, you owe it to yourselves. Are you going to be mere pats, fluttering out when none will observe you, and hiding from the light? Are you going to be like mice, which only come out at night to nibble in the pantry? Quit yourselves like men!
4. You owe it to your family. You should tell your household what grace has done for you.
5. Do you not think you owe it to your neighbours to show your colours?
6. Now let me hear some of your objections, and answer them. I hope I have been answering them all through my sermon. Here is one. “Well, you know, I am such an insignificant person. It cannot make any difference what I do.” Yes, and this woman was a very insignificant person--only a woman! God thinks much of the lowly: you must not talk so. Do not excuse yourselves through pretended humility. “But coming out and joining a Church, and all that, is such an ordeal.” So it may be. In this woman’s case, it was a far greater ordeal than it can be to you. Jesus does not excuse one of his healed ones from owning the work of His grace. A dear lady, who has long since gone to glory, was once an honoured member of this Church: it was Lady Burgoyne, and when she wished to unite with us she said to me, “Dear sir, I cannot go before the Church. It is more than I can manage to make a confession of Christ before the members.” I told her that we could make no exception for anybody, and especially not for her, who was so well established in the faith that she could surely answer a few questions before those who were brethren and sisters in the Lord. She came bravely, and spoke most sweetly for her Lord. Some of you may remember her, with her sweet countenance, and venerable bearing. When she had owned her Lord, she put both her hands on mine, and said emphatically, “With all my heart I thank you for this; I shall never be ashamed of Christ now. When aristocratic friends call upon me I will speak to them of my Lord.” She did so constantly. You never found her slow to introduce the gospel, whoever might be with her. She frequently said to me, “Oh, what a training that was for me! I might have been a timid one all my days if I had not made that confession before the Church.” Now I say to you, if it be an ordeal, undergo it for Christ’s sake. “Alas!” says one, “I could not tell of what the Lord has done for me, because mine is such a sorrowful story.” Was it not so with this woman? “I have so little to tell,” says one. That is a good reason why you should tell it, for it will be all the easier for you to do so. He that has little to tell should tell it straight away. “But perhaps people may not believe me.” Did I tell you that you were to make them believe you? Is that your business? “Ah!” says one, “ but suppose after I had confessed Christ I should become as bad as ever.” Suppose that this woman had supposed such a sad thing, and had said, “O Lord, I cannot confess that Thou hast healed me, for I do not know how I may be in six months’ time.” She was not so mistrustful. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Grasping the “hem”
Dr. Simpson on his death-bed told a friend that he awaited his great change with the contented confidence of a little child. As another friend said to him that he might as John at the last supper, lean his head on the breast of Christ, the doctor made answer, “I fear I cannot do that, but I think I have grasped hold of the hem of His garment.” (Dr. Koenig’s Life of Dr. Simpson.)
The touch of faith
A lady was being shown through a corn mill, worked by a river which ran close by the walls. But all the wheels were in silent inaction. “Where is the power?” she asked. She was shown a handle, and told to press upon it. She did, and the mighty force was instantly turned on, the wheels moved, and the place was alive with activity. The power of God moves in upon us at the touch of faith. (Methodist Times.)
Thy daughter is dead--
Christian consolation under bereavement by death
Now the great grounds of Christian comfort in times of bereavement are two.
One relates to those you have lost; the other relates to yourselves. The first is, that those who have died in Christ have made a blessed and happy change in leaving this world for that where they are now. And the second is, that if you and they be both united to Christ, you have the confident assurance that you shall meet again. And, indeed, brethren, when we think of the first of these, we are constrained to feel and lament our want of faith. No truth can be plainer than that heaven is better than earth--a hundred things go to prove that; but it is only now and then that we are lifted up to a height of spiritual insight and fervour in which we truly feel that it is so. Strong convictions, large but vague, are often indicated by little things; just as floating straws show the direction of a great wind. And there is one little peculiarity in our common way of speaking which shows our natural unbelief in the grand Christian doctrine, that to the believer “ to die is gain.” Speaking even of friends who, we most firmly believe, have fallen asleep in Jesus, you know we habitually speak of them as though they were objects of pity; we speak of our poor friend, our poor sister, our poor little child, that died. This is, doubtless, a manifestation of that curious in consistency with which, I have already said, we think of the departed. Surely we should rather say “blessed”, “happy”; for have they not gone from this world of sin and sorrow and anxiety into the land of holiness, peace, and rest? But there is another reason why we should not mourn unduly for the dead who die in the Lord, one that touches us who remain more nearly. It is this, that we hope to meet them again; we know that if our own death be that of the righteous, we shall certainly meet them again: They have left you in this world, and you will miss their kind advice, and their warm affection, and their earnest prayers; but death can neither drown remembrance nor quench love; and they are remembering you and waiting for you, and theirs will be the first voices to welcome you entering the golden city. Now, let me remind you, in concluding, that all this strong consolation belongs only to such as have believed in Christ, and as mourn the loss of Christian friends. And the two practical lessons from this thought are, that if we would not have death part us eternally from those dear to us, we ought first to make our own calling sure by God’s grace, that we may not on the judgment day see them on the right hand of the throne, and ourselves cast out to perdition; and next, that we should care for the souls of those dear to us as well as for our own, lest upon that great day any such should accuse us of that neglect which ended in everlasting separation, saying that if we had warned them as we ought, they had not come to this end of woe! Do you sometimes think, as you sit by the warm winter-evening fireside, and hear the keen blast shake the windows, and howl mournfully through the leafless boughs, and as you look round on the cheerful scene within, with its warm light and its blazing fire, do you some times think then how, out in the dark of the winter night, the snow lies white or the rain plashes heavy above some dear one’s grave; how the sharp blasts roar round the headstone that marks where such a one sleeps--sleeps cold, and motionless, and alone; and does it seem to you a hardthing and a sad thing that in that dreary melancholy of the grave the departed one of the family must lie and slumber, while the fire is blazing bright on the hearth of the old home, till it seems to you a natural thing to weep for the dead, condemned to that cold negation of all that is bright and cheering? And do you sometimes think, in the long beautiful twilights of summer--summer, with its green grass and its bright flowers--that surely it is a loss to those that are gone that they cannot see the softened evening light, nor breath the gentle air? but that in their cold and narrow bed they still must rest and moulder, knowing nothing of the sweet scenes that surround them; not seeing the daisies in the sunshine over them, nor feeling the soft breeze sighing through the grass that lies upon their breast? If you do these things, then remember that it is not the dead you loved that moulder in that grave; it is but the cast-off robe, the shattered cottage of clay, that is turning there to the dust; it is the weak fancy of erring humanity to dream that what in our friends we loved has part or portion there. Remember that dwelling above, in light and glory, they never miss the warmth of the winter evening fireside, or the calm of the evening in June. (A. H. K. Boyd)
Death and life
I. DEATH AND LIFE ARE TERMS WHICH HAVE A SPIRITUAL AS WELL AS A PHYSICAL MEANING. A dead man physically is not always truly dead, and a live man physically is not always truly alive. The first occasion on which the ominous words--life and death--were used ought to teach us the mystery hidden in these terms. In the Garden of Eden there was the tree of life, which could not be merely physical life, since Adam was alive before and after he had access to that tree. And there again was another tree, with which the sentence was coupled, “The day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” Of that tree Adam ate, and so died--although physically he continued to live for nine hundred and thirty years. No one can have failed to notice how decidedly our Lord corrects the earthly, carnal, and limited ideas of the Jews in reference to the great mysteries of life and death. How often He used words which were beyond, aside from, and even against the common mode of speaking; not, surely, for the sake of singularity, but in order that he might recall and affirm the whole truth. When, e.g., people were indulging in loud and formal lamentation over the death of the ruler’s daughter--as if she were literally lost for ever--as if her death were death in the fullest sense--as if the separation of her soul and body were the saddest event which could befall her or her family; when our Master saw through, not only the obtrusive formality of this loud grief, but penetrated the false notions on which rested the deep grief of her parents and those who sincerely lamented with them, He bade them know that their lamentations were out of place, for that she was not dead, but asleep. And when they who were wailing for her laughed Him to scorn; and when they, too, who wept for real sorrow, were incredulous--He demonstrated the truth of His assertion, for “He took her by the hand, and the maid arose.”
II. DEATH, IN ITS POPULAR MEANING, IS BEST EXPRESSED BY THE TERM SLEEP. in giving to the separation of soul and body the title “sleep,” Christ has disclosed to us the true doctrine of the resurrection of the body, together with a warning, and comfort, which must not pass without distinct notice.
1. The doctrine. The exact phraseology of the Creed teaches us with authority the evangelical truth that we shall rise again; but the lesson can be also learned in the fact that the body of the Jewish maiden--when deprived of the soul--slept. They who sleep, awake again; if the dead body be not dead, but asleep, that is to say, if the term “sleep” be the most accurate one which He who gave us speech could single out, to describe the fact of physical death, then no dogmatic statement, no decree of council, could more clearly affirm the fact of the resurrection of the body.
2. The warning. There is no power in sleep to change one’s moral character; as we lie down, we rise up again when awake. Again, in sleep, though the body be motionless, the spirit is active. There are dreams that trouble, as well as those that please.
3. The comfort. Is it no comfort to be told that the friend you thought to be dead only sleeps? Is it not a perfect protection against over-much sorrow to receive the great mystery set forth here? There was a time when Christians took great consolation from this very truth, when it made them ready to die, and resigned to see those near them die at the call of God. Go look at the catacombs of Rome, and see in the records which those faithful caverns have preserved of the creed and life of our Christian fore-fathers--how the early Christians thought of death. The inscriptions are full offaith. Hero a mother “sleeps in Jesus”--there a child “sleeps in Jesus” husband, wife, and friend--they all “sleep”--there is no sign of death in the catacombs. Our martyred forefathers of the early Church may teach us how to live, to die, to bury, and to mourn for our dead. Our Master teaches us in the text that we are not to sorrow for the sainted dead as those who have no hope. They “sleep.” They shall rise. (Bishop W. H. Odenheimer.)
The ruler’s daughter raised to life
I. That sometimes while dealing with the Saviour the storm becomes darker than before. We cry for pardon, and feel a growing sense of guilt. We pray for sanctification, and the power of corruption seems to revive. We hope for deliverance, and our difficulties multiply.
II. Let us never deem importunity in prayer troublesome.
III. It is never too late to apply to the Lord.
IV. The way to obtain present ease, and certain relief, is to exercise faith under every discouragement. How well are “Fear not” and “Believe only” coupled together! Our Saviour could have healed the child at a distance, and with a word; but He chooses to go “to the house of mourning”--to teach us to go there. A family in such a condition is a very affecting and improving object. We melt into pity as we see the emblems of death. The world loses its hold of our minds. “Weep not: she is not dead, but sleepeth.”
1. He spake modestly. Another would have said, “Come; examine this patient; see, there are no remains of life in her--you will witness, before I begin, that there is nothing to aid my operations.” But He would not magnify the action He was going to perform. He sought not His own glory.
2. He spake figuratively. Sleep is the term commonly, in the Scripture, applied to the death of all believers; and it is peculiarly just. Sleep is the pause of care--the parenthesis of human woe.
3. He spake in reference to His present intention. Instead of a burial she was going to be raised to life.
4. He said this also to try His hearers. Accordingly, it showed their disposition. Here we are led to note two things. First: How much more are men governed by their natural views and feelings than by the word of truth; and how easily are they befooled in Divine things by their sense and reason! Secondly: We observe that a serious state of mind is the best preparation for Divine truth. “A scorner,” says Solomon, “seeketh knowledge, and findeth it not.” After they had made a declaration, which they could not retract, concerning the certainty of her death, “He put them all out”; and, as the Resurrection and the Life, lie “took her by the hand, and called, saying, Maid, arise,” when, lo! the fountain of life is warmed, the blood begins to liquefy and flow, the pulse beats again; she breathes; she looks--“her spirit came again, and she arose straightway: and He commanded to give her meat.”
This order was to show--
1. The reality of the miracle, by the use of her faculties.
2. It evinced the perfection of the miracle: she was not restored to the state in which she died--that was a state of sickness, in which food was rejected; but to the state she was in before her disease--a state of health and appetite.
3. It was also to mark the limitation of the miracle: nothing further was to be done preternaturally; but her life, which had been restored by extraordinary agency, was to be preserved, as before, by ordinary means. It also distinguished this miracle from that of the final resurrection. The resurrection will produce a spiritual body, requiring neither sleep nor food; but this damsel was raised only to a natural life, subject to the same infirmities as that of other people, and liable to die again.
Let us conclude.
1. If our Saviour so amazed the spectators, and honoured Himself, by the revival of one body newly dead, what will it be when He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe; when He shall speak, and “all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth--they that have done good unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation”! Again: It is worthy of remark that of the three persons whom our Lord raised from the dead, Lazarus was the loved and only brother of Martha and Mary; the young man was the only son of his mother; and the damsel the only daughter of Jairus: so touched is He with the feeling of our infirmities; so much regard does He show to relative affection. (W. Jay.)
Consolation for mourners
I. In the text we perceive A DEEP SORROW EXPRESSED “They all wept and bewailed her.” But, as we have said, where a bereaving providence is felt, the genuine expressions of sorrow will not be wanting, nor are they out of place.
1. This is natural.
2. To weep and bewail the loss of beloved relatives and friends is also consistent and affectionate.
II. To THE CONSOLATORY IDEA OUR TEXT COMMUNICATES--“Weep not; she is not dead, but sleepeth.” Many believers, through fear of death, are all their lives subject to bondage; but the consoling representation of our text strips it of all its terrors, for, surely, if we sleep, we do well.
1. Now the spirit is unconfined.
2. This is a consoling idea, because in sleep bodily labour is suspended.
3. The idea in the text is consoling, because our sleeping friends will awake again.
III. We now consider, thirdly, THE VALUABLE INSTRUCTION WHICH THIS SUBJECT SUPPLIES.
1. We may learn the necessity of faith in the Redeemer. Every spiritual blessing is promised alone to those who believe in the Saviour.
2. Our subject to-day teaches us the folly of an inordinate fear of death.
3. Once more, our subject reminds us of the duty of daily preparation for our approaching change. (T. Gibson, M. A.)
The Christian’s death a sleep
First, character; secondly, comparison; and, thirdly, conclusion.
I. We shall speak upon CHARACTER. It is entirely through the death and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ that the death of the believer receives and presents so mild, so peaceful, so softened a character as sleep.
II. We shall now consider the comparison in the text, or the several striking resemblances between death and sleep, and how they beautifully describe the condition of departed saints; and--
1. Sleep is exclusively applicable to the body, it does not appertain to the spirit; often while the body sleeps, the soul is conscious, and busily active in dreams of the most astonishing character.
2. Death and sleep have a marked resemblance. Sleep is certainly a type of death. Ovid, the Roman poet, said, “O fool, what is sleep but the image of cold death?”
3. Death, under the figure of sleep, represents a state of rest, a state of sweet repose.
4. Sleep is useful, is most profitable to the body. By sleep the powers of the body are strengthened, and refreshed, and fitted for the labours of the future day.
5. Sleep is absolutely essential. Who could live for any protracted period without sleep?
6. Sleep delightfully illustrates the prospect of restoration. We expect at lying down to rest to-night, to awake and to arise to-morrow morning.
III. We proceed to the CONCLUSION, or the inferences which the living should draw from the state of the dead, and especially the happy dead.
1. Are you yet unrenewed, unchanged by the Spirit of God?
2. Are you the children of a spiritual resurrection, passed from death to life, translated out of darkness into amazing light?--while we live here, let us live.
3. Let us act as believers in parting with believing friends. (T. Sharp, M. A.)
The daughter of Jairus
Subject: the delay of Christ in going to the house of Jairus, and allowing the child to die before He reached there.
I. CHRIST’S MASTERLY INACTIVITY.
II. HOW IT CAME TO PASS.
III. WHAT GOOD IT DID.
IV. PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS.
1. If we really feel our need of Christ we shall not mind how, when, or where, we seek Him.
2. Christ could not take a walk without doing good and being sympathetically ready to do it.
3. Christ never felt any call amiss to Him.
4. This miracle teaches that Christ can love the youngest.
5. We cannot do better than closely imitate the manner, spirit, and method of Christ’s working. (R. H. Lovell.)
The Master of Life
When the title which is here translated “Master” was in common use, it meant the master of a school. Using the word in its English sense, every man is more or less, in relation to one thing or another, a master; but in Christ alone does the term find its full and perfect realization.
I. VIEW THESE WORDS AS ILLUSTRATED BY THE NARRATIVE TO WHICH THEY BELONG. Was it of no use to trouble the Master?
II. VIEW THESE WORDS AS ILLUSTRATED IN THE HISTORY OF OUR OWN EXPERIENCE. “Trouble not the Master,” cries the specious philosopher, the mocking secularist, the trivial worldling. Unbelief, Pride, Despondency, Indolence, all say, “Trouble not the Master.” Test some of these objections.
1. “Trouble not the Master,” for there is no real power in prayer.
2. For the help you ask is too great for Him to render.
3. For the help you ask for relates to matters too insignificant for His dignity to notice.
4. For you have no assurance of His love.
5. For this is not the right time for your supplication.
Be deaf to every voice that bids you “trouble not the Master,” and listen to the voice from heaven that is for ever saying, “ Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence, give Him no rest, till He establish, and till He make Jerusalem a praise in all the earth.” (C. Stanford, D. D.)
Fear not, only believe
This encouraging direction was spoken by Christ to a man in the very crisis of his acutest agony, and was so efficacious in its influence that it lifted its recipient at once to the highest rank among the heroes of a victorious and manly faith, the faith that
(1) is persistent and triumphant in its contest with difficulties in the gravest perils of human experience;
(2) Opens, and keeps open, the nature for evermore to the highest, holiest, and helpfullest; and
(3) Eagerly avails itself of all contemporary life-interpreting facts.
I. “Only believe.” Yes, “only,” but what an only! Put yourself in this man’s position. “Only believe,” meant for Jairus attempting the hardest task mortal man ever engaged in.
II. Short as this sentence is, it is an ellipsis, and on the way in which it is completed depend the chances of our gaining a true conception of what a manly faith is, not less than a clear notion of this ruler’s act. Only believe--what? whom? Oh! if “only” some of our teachers would take thetrouble to think this clause out to its fullest significance, the passage would cease to be a miserable fetish, and become a spiritual power. What was this ruler’s faith? A correct idea? Yea, verily, for faith without knowledge is superstition. A feeling? Most surely. A tender regard for the Saviour glows in the scene, and faith works by love, and inspires courage never to submit or yield. Obedience? Yes I every step he took alongside of Christ revealed it. But was this all? Knowledge, love, obedience? No! The act is complex. Go to its roots, and you cannot set it out in a short phrase, or dispatch it in a definition. It is vital, like life; and like life, indefinable. It is an opening of the entire nature, in all its powers and faculties, to Christ, to receive of His energies, so that Christ is flowing into him, healing and strengthening him, and sustaining him as he journeys along, and finally giving him a complete victory over himself and his painful and distressing lot.
III. But it must not be forgotten that this quickening and stimulating counsel was enforced by an actual and positive fact, illustrative of that very heroism--of faith to which this perplexed and agitated man was encouraged. The direction is set in a background that brilliantly illumines and enforces it; for I cannot avoid thinking that the dangerous delay in reaching the poor man’s home, and the obvious determination of Christ to bring the tired and trembling woman to the front, and to compel the confession of her sad and lengthened illness, and of her speedy cure, was meant to encourage this believer in his difficult task. There is always close to us the human fact interpreting and enforcing the Divine direction, if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear the message of our Lord. God never gives us words alone.
IV. Let me ask you to take this direction and apply it to yourselves as this man took it. Cling to Christ, the truth, hold fast the gentle and healing hand of Christ. (J. Clifford, D. D.)
On the death of little children
Let me speak of the spirit and work of Christ in the home of a sick child.
1. By the death of little children the unity of home life is broken up.
2. There is something which we call unnatural in this manner of death.
3. The bereavement of children is a bereavement that so often never seems to be fully repaired till the bereavement shall be over, and the separated have met again face to face.
4. There is for us, however, over their tiny graves, a glorious “nevertheless.” We can enter into the joy of the word of the Lord that assures us that our loved children, numbered among the dead, are yet not dead, but only sleeping.
(1) It is a great blessing which God confers on a home when its inmates can say: “Part of our family is in heaven.”
(2) Those who form this part so perfectly blessed are for ever safe from all moral dangers and ills.
(3) And this because they are ever pure, without fault before the throne of God. (T. Gasquoine, B. A.)
Our lost children
“She is not dead.” This He said of all our children we have seen lying thus. Christ here reveals to us, as truth, what the poets of all ages have been telling the world. Our children are not lost. They sleep. The burden has been too much, the road too broken, the light too dim for their eyes. (E. Aston)
Not death but sleep
I. The words of the messenger (Luke 8:49) may serve to REMIND US OF THE LIMITS WHICH ORDINARILY OUR UNBELIEF SETS TO OUR FAITH. “While there’s life there is hope,” we are accustomed to say. But “if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” Christ has the same power over death now as He had when on earth. The difference between His treatment of death now, and His treatment of it then, is not in kind--it is only in circumstance and scene. Cling to the belief that Christ has abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light, and that one day your loved ones shall be restored to you and you to them, and, when set over against the consolation which that belief has power to yield, the question of the time when will come to matter less and less to you.
II. Looking at the text itself we find in it--
1. That when Christ reached the house of Jairus the relatives and neighbours who had assembled in the deathchamber, were, according to Eastern custom, bitterly weeping and loudly bewailing the loss which had just befallen the family; and--
2. That He bade them cease their mourning. WHY, THEN, DID CHRIST SAY TO THEM “WEEP NOT”? Surely their grief was pardonable and even fitting. Surely it would have argued the possession of a callous heart and an unsympathetic nature if they had been unmoved in that house of mourning that day. It seems to me that we must invest these words in the mouth of Christ with the tenderest look and the most sympathetic tone, and that we must regard them not as condemnatory of a grief that was natural, but as gentle chiding of sorrow that was hopeless, and therefore unbelieving,
“Weep not for them! it is no cause of sorrow
That theirs was no long pathway to the tomb;
They had one bright to-day, no sad to-morrow
Rising in hope, and darkening into gloom.
Weep not for them! give tears unto the living;
O waste no vain regret on lot like theirs!
But rather make it reason for thanksgiving
That ye have cherished angels unawares.”
III. THE REASON WHICH CHRIST GAVE WHY THEY WERE NOT TO WEEP. “She is not dead.” And yet the very next verse tells us that they all knew very well that she was dead. How came Christ then to deny a fact so patent to all? It was because He set His face and “the whole weight of His thought and speech “ against the merely natural and temporal views of men as to what death is--“The illuminating significance of the fact of Christ’s indisposition to use the word death.”
IV. We have seen that Jesus said, and why He said, that the daughter of Jairus was not dead. How, then, does He explain the wondrous and awful change which has come ever her visible form? HE SAYS THAT SHE IS SLEEPING. Perhaps never was a time, since men began to seek out the analogies in things, when they did not see and speak of the striking similarity between Death and his twin-brother Sleep. But is this fact enough to account for Christ’s use of the similitude? I think not. “If Christ had done nothing more for humanity,” says Munger, than give to it this word “sleep” in place of “death,” He Would have been the greatest of benefactors. To that which seems the worst thing, He has given the best name, and the name is true. It is a great thing that we are able to take that almost sweetest and most soothing word in our tongue--sleep--and give it unto death: sleep that ends our cares and relieves us of our toils, that begins in weariness and ends in strength.’, Out of sleep there is awakening, and the light of the eternal morning gladdens the vision of all who fall asleep in Christ. (J. R. Bailey.)
Very tender is the word in which Jesus addresses the dead child, as if she were still living. St. Mark alone records the original Aramaic expression, “Talitha cumi,” which had doubtless been indelibly impressed upon the memory of St. Peter, from whom St. Mark, who was his special friend and companion, must have obtained it. And the original expression is recorded, because it cannot be translated without losing much of its charm and significance. It contains a term of endearment derived from a Syrian word signifying “lamb,” often applied by fond parents to their children. It is as if the Good Shepherd had said, in bringing back in His bosom to the fold of the living this lost lamb that had wandered into the land of forgetfulness, “My little lamb, I say unto thee, arise.” By the word of love and the touch of power, the spirit is re-called from the everlasting spring, and the hills of myrrh, to the forsaken tabernacle. The wave of life rushes back to the quiet heart, the pulse is set beating anew; a warm glow diffuses itself through the frame and mantles on the cheeks and lips. She rises from the couch as from a profound dreamless sleep, in mute astonishment at the strange scene around her, all the feebleness of her illness gone. The sun of her life- as happens in the natural world on the borders of the Arctic regions in summer--just dipped below the horizon for a little, and then rose again; and dawn and sunset shone in the same sky. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
The Saviour raised Her hand from off her bosom, and spread out The snowy fingers in His palm, and said, “Maiden! Arise!”--and suddenly a flush Shot o’er her forehead, and along her lips And through her cheek the rallied colour ran; And the still outline of her graceful form Stirr’d in the linen vesture; and she clasp’d The Saviour’s hand, and fixing her dark eyes Full on His beaming countenance--arose. (N. P. Willis.)
He commanded to give her meat
The command of Jesus to give the restored child meat was intended, we may suppose, to serve several purposes: to supply
(1) a physical want, and in so doing to give clear, unmistakable proof of the reality of fine life restored to perfect health;
(2) to calm the apprehensions and the great astonishment of the parents; and
(3) to show that the course of nature, though violently interrupted for once, must be resumed according to the usual order. Jesus descended from the region of the supernatural to the region of ordinary life, from the working of a miracle to the satisfying of a commonplace want. And by that circumstance He teaches us the important lesson, that the spiritual life which He has imparted by Divine power must be sustained by human means. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
Death pleasingly described
It would seem that the Romans had even an aversion to mention death in express terms, for they disguised its very name by some periphrasis such as, Discessit e vita--“He has departed from life”; and they did not say their friend had died, but that he had lived--vixit! Even among a people less refined the obtrusive idea of death has been studiously avoided. We are told that when the Emperor of Morocco inquires after any one who has recently died, it is against etiquette to mention the word “ death”; the answer is, “His destiny is closed.” (I. D’Israeli.)
What withers on earth blooms in heaven
A delicate child, pale and prematurely wise, was complaining on a hot morning that the poor dewdrops had been too hastily snatched away, and had not been allowed to glitter on the flowers like other happier dew-drops, that live the whole night through and sparkle through the moonlight, and through the morning onwards to noon-day. “The sun,” said the child, “has chased them away with his heat, or has swallowed them up in his wrath.” Soon after came rain, and a rainbow; whereupon his father pointed upwards. “See,” said he, “there stand the dew-drops gloriously re-set--a glittering jewelry--in the heavens; and the clownish foot tramples on them no more. By this, my child, thou art taught that what withers on earth blooms again in heaven.” Thus the father spoke, and knew not that he spake prophetic words; for soon after the delicate child, with the morning brightness of his early wisdom, was exhaled, like a dew-drop, into heaven. (Jean Paul Richter.)
A glorified memory
Christian parents have a rich inheritance in the memories of their sainted children, and in the living treasures laid up in heaven. “Years ago,” says Dr. W. M. Taylor, “when I was leaving my Liverpool home to fulfil an engagement in the city of Glasgow, the last sight on which my eyes rested was that of my little daughter at the window in her grandmother’s arms. As the carriage drove me away, she waved her hand in fond and laughing glee, and many a time during my railway ride the pleasant vision came up before my memory, and filled my heart with joy. I never saw her again l The next morning a telegram stunned me with the tidings of her death; and now that earthly glimpse of her has been idealized and glorified, and it seems to me as if God had set her in the window of heaven to beckon me upward to my eternal home. I would not give that memory for all the gold on earth. I would not part with the inspiration that it stirs within me for all that the world could bestow.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Luke 8". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17