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He taught them again.
He taught them again
How thick and close does this Heavenly Sower scatter His seed! Every line is a new lesson, and every lessen a rule of perfection. Oh, the magnificent bounty of our God! He gives not barely the measure we give others; but “pressed down, and shaken together, and running over into our bosoms.” Why are we then so slow and dull to learn these Divine instructions? Why so remiss to practise them? Are they not sweet and excellent in themselves? Are they not infinitely profitable to us? Oh, make us greedy to learn what Thy love makes Thee so eager to teach! (W. Austin.)
Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife?
The family relation
One of the most pathetic incidents found in the narrative of one of the arctic explorations, is that of the attempt made to induce a native of that terribly inhospitable region to journey away with the returning navigators to a more sunny clime. Won by the enthusiastic descriptions of a land of orchards and meadows, of purling brooks and singing birds, he did indeed surrender himself to go. But hardly were they on the way out from among those mountain bergs of ice and dismal fields of snow, directing their course towards the latitudes where the blue tops of distant hills told of freshening verdure, before they missed their simple-hearted comrade. He had gone back clandestinely to the cheerless scenes of his former life. Cold and uninviting to a stranger, those northern solitudes were welcome to him because they had been his home ever since he was born. We smile at his simplicity, but how quickly, after all, do we give him our sympathy in the feeling! We love our homes unaffectedly and almost illogically at times; not because they in every case are better than others, but because they are ours.
I. The family is a Divine institution. We are not left to look upon it as a chance arrangement of individuals of the human species; it is a definitely fixed form of association.
1. It was ordained by the Creator himself when the race began (see Mark 10:6; Genesis 2:18-25). This order therefore cannot be changed irreverently, nor disturbed without peril.
2. It has been recognized all along the ages by the providence of God. When David (Psalms 68:6) says: “God setteth the solitary in families,” a more literal and more pertinent translation would give us this: “God maketh the lonely to dwell in a home.” The all-wise Creator has provided in the wide adaptations of nature for an abode of its own sort for every creature of His hand. He has set the coney in the rock, the ant in the sand, the fish in the river, and the whale in the sea; but to no one of them all has He given a home but to man.
3. It has been sanctioned by God in His Word (see Mark 10:7-9).
4. It has been symbolized and spiritualized in the Church (see Ephesians 3:15). And the relation between Christ and His people is like that between a husband and wife (see Ephesians 5:22-32). John saw the Church, “the bride, the Lamb’s wife,” descending out of heaven, “having the glory of God” (Revelation 21:9-10).
II. The family is a religious institution. That is to say, it has a distinct and valuable purpose to serve in aiding men to glorify God and enjoy Him forever as their chief end.
1. It is designed to perfect Christian character. The relations of a believer to his Saviour are essentially filial. The saints are the children of God. The Almighty Father, taking upon Himself the three obligations of a parent-government, education, and support-calls upon each Christian for the three duties of a son-subordination, studiousness, and grateful love. Hence, all our celestial connections with God are most perfectly and easily taught through our earthly connections with each other in a well-ordered home.
2. Again: the family relation is designed to concentrate Christian power. For it is the earliest outflow into practical use of the principle that in union there is strength.
3. In the third place, the family relation is designed to cultivate the Christian spirit. There ought to be in all organizations which are worth anything what the French people call esprit de corps; a peculiar, pervading tone of public sentiment and opinion, full of a generous confidence and pride, running through all its members. Each soldier feels his connection with the company to which he owes allegiance, thence with the regiment, and so with the entire corps. He is jealous of its honour, he is zealous for its name.
4. Once more: the family relation is designed to increase the Christian census. Children belong to the kingdom of God (see Mark 10:14). (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
The law of marriage
I. The nature of this contract. It is for life, and dissoluble only for one sin. It is subject to Divine laws. It is mutual. It must be based upon affection. It implies the surrender of various rights, but not of all, i.e. conscience. In case of difference of opinion, and within proper limits, the authority is with the husband.
II. The duties imposed by this relation upon both is imposed chastity. Likewise mutual affection. Also the duty of mutual assistance. The husband made by Scripture and by law the head of the domestic society; hence the duty of submission. Virtue and dignity of submission. (Dr. Wayland.)
God’s law greater than man’s
We are here taught that marriage, being an institution of God, is subject to His laws alone, and not to the laws of man. Hence the civil law is binding upon the conscience only in so far as it corresponds to the law of God. (Dr. Wayland.)
Influence of a Christian wife
There was a company of rough men together at one o’clock one night, and a man says: “My wife is a Christian, and if I should go home at this hour, and order her to get us an entertainment, she would get it with good cheer, and without one word of censure.” They laughed at him, and said she would not. They laid a wager, and started for his home, and they knocked at one or two o’clock in the morning. The Christian wife came to the door, and her husband said: “Get us something to eat! get it right away!” She said: “What shall I get?” And he ordered the bill of fare, and it was provided without one word of censure. After his roystering companions had gone out of the house, he knelt down and said: “Oh! forgive me! I am wicked! I am most wicked! Get down and pray for me!” and before the morning dawned on the earth, the pardon of Christ had dawned on that man. Why? His wife was a thorough Christian. He could not resist the power of her Christian influence. (Dr. Talmage.)
The special duties belonging to marriage are love and affection. Love is the marriage of the affections. There is, as it were, but one heart in two bodies. Love lines the yoke and makes it easy; it perfumes the marriage relation. Like two poisons in one stomach, one is ever sick of the other. In marriage there is mutual promise of living together faithfully according to God’s holy ordinance. Among the Romans, on the day of marriage, the woman presented to her husband fire and water: signifying, that as fire refines, and water cleanses, she would live with her husband in chastity and sincerity. (Thomas Watson.)
A cure for divorces
A gentlemen who did not live very happily with his wife decided to procure a divorce, and took advice on the subject from an intimate friend-a man of high social standing. “Go home and court your wife for a year,” said this wise adviser, “and then tell me the result.” They bowed in prayer, and separated. When a year passed away, the once-complaining husband called again to see his friend, and said: “I have called to thank you for the good advice you gave me, and to tell you that my wife and I are as happy as when first we were married. I cannot be grateful enough for your good counsel.” “I am glad to hear it, dear sir,” said the other, “and I hope you will continue to court your wife as long as you live.”
The marriage tie and the married life
The sacred institution of marriage has been fiercely assailed. The attempt is to shake off the authority of the great God who made and rules all things. Thus with regard to marriage, men tell us it is simply an agreement between two persons, which the State takes notice of only for the sake of public convenience, like it does of the lease of a house. This leaves out of view the most powerful part of matrimony-the religious. True, it is a legal engagement; but it is also a solemn engagement before God. “Whom God hath joined together,” etc. See, the golden links of matrimony are of heavenly temper. What hand can be so impious as to try to burst them asunder? The law of God has been transgressed of late years by the doctrine of polygamy as boldly proclaimed by the Mormon blasphemy. Everywhere Christ and His apostles speak of one wife; as the great God only created one man and one woman. It is a solemn moment when two immortal beings venture out on life’s stormy sea in the bark of matrimony, with no aid but their own to help them. A mistake in matrimony is a mistake for life. Do not Christians find it important to avoid the friendship of the irreligious; what then is likely to be the effect of marriage with the ungodly? Married life is a detector of the real character. After marriage, faults are discovered, perhaps, to be greater than was expected, and excellences less. Disappointment springs up; contempt follows. Do you find much you did not expect? Remember you also are showing much that was not expected, and as you do not like in consequence of your faults to cease to be loved, so also do not let the faults you see kill your own love. Do not gloomily meditate on each other’s failings, for that will make them seem greater than they are. If you would see your life partner’s faults amended, you should set the example by amending your own. Gentleness, firmness, forbearance, cheerfulness, openness, must be the chains with which husband and wife try to keep marriage love from escaping.
1. The want of experience is often a great hindrance to the happiness of married life; hence it frequently happens that the first years of married life are not the happiest.
2. The married life is often disturbed by the extravagance and folly of the husband or wife; for difficulties arise therefrom, and much bitterness is likely to spring up. Love is the universal law of marriage. Love will not easily find fault or rashly give offence. Poverty cannot quench it. The Christian rule for all applies doubly to man and wife-“weep with them that weep, and rejoice with them that rejoice.” Different dispositions and tastes may sometimes make mutual sympathy difficult. The sympathy of love and the sympathy of taste are distinct things. A source of unhappiness in married life is the habit of dwelling on individual right instead of remembering that love should not measure the service it bestows, nor that it receives. If difference of opinion does arise, the Christian duty is for the wife to yield. The marriage life was intended to promote human happiness; but it brings with it peculiar duties, and the happiness marriage was intended to impart will be wanting, if the duties of the married life are neglected. (A. Bibby, M. A.)
And they brought young children to Him.
Bringing children to Jesus
We know what it was to bring a little child to Jesus when He was on earth; we may ask what it is now, and wherein the difference consists.
I. In regard to the children themselves. It is a common expression on the lips of good people to bid children to “come to Jesus.” This cannot mean exactly the same as when Jesus was sitting in the house. The child saw Jesus with his bodily eye, might mark the kindly light in it, and be encouraged by the kindly smile that played around His lips. There could not be in the children on that day anything like what we now call a spiritual feeling, any doubts or difficulties as to what was meant by coming to Jesus. In more advanced years the notion of what is spiritual may be gradually developed in the mind, but in the tender time of childhood, religious ideas should be presented to children in forms that are true and natural to them. Let them feel that they are the children of the great unseen Father; that they have a Saviour and Friend; but beware how you mix up with that religious teaching a philosophy of human invention. Children are patterns of simplicity; do not reverse this picture.
II. What is the difference between bringing a child in Christ’s day to Jesus and bringing him now? What is the difference to the child himself, and what to the parents? At that time the parents saw whether the child was accepted; saw Christ bless the child; it was a matter of sight, not of faith. Now it is matter of faith. One would like to know the ground of the rebuke administered by the disciples. Perhaps the parents were interrupting the teaching of Christ, or the disciples thought that the placing of Christ’s hands on the children could do them no good. The objections of modern disciples are of the same nature. The action of Christ, as well as His words, is a rebuke to such. He does not say, “Take these children hence, they can get no good from Me. Bring them to Me when they can express assent to My teaching.” His words tell us that before the age of understanding God can do the child good. What is meant by “receiving the kingdom of God as a little child”? There are elements of a child’s life which cannot be continued in the life of manhood; but there are outstanding characteristics of childhood which must be seen in those who receive the kingdom of God.
1. He refers to naturalness, truthfulness, or single-mindedness, as opposed to the spirit of artifice or duplicity. The child’s nature comes out, unmindful of pain or pleasure to others, he speaks what is in him. His mind is a perfect mirror, throwing back all that falls on it, and he is utterly unconscious of any wish to give an undue colouring to his feelings or desires, he does not pretend to like what he hates; to believe what he does not believe; he is true to himself. Whosoever would receive the kingdom of God as a little child must be true to nature, the new nature, and be simple and sincere. How much more straightforward would the path be to the kingdom, and in the kingdom, if men would only renounce the crooked policy which they learn in the world.
2. The element of trust. (A. Watson, D. D.)
Children welcomed to Christ
I. The danger of sin standing in the way of children coming to Christ. Few persons ale aware of the extent to which children, even very young children’s minds, are capable of being affected, prejudiced, distorted, by the conversation which they hear. Children cannot balance and dismiss a subject as you do. It has fallen with fearful impression. But some cast obstacles less offensively, but perhaps more dangerously. They render religion repulsive to children. Where is that cheerfulness which a child loves, and in which real religion always consists? What ought to come as a pleasure you force as a duty: you are severe when you ought to be encouraging; abstract when you should be practical.
II. The duty of bringing children to Christ. Impressions made in childhood are sure to creep out in after life. Let them feel that at any point of life they have to do with Jesus. Your child has told a lie. Tell him, “Jesus is Truth.” This is leading him to Christ.
III. We ourselves must be like little children. Be quite a child, and you will soon be quite a saint. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The Saviour’s invitation to little children
Why does the Saviour show such tender affection for children?
1. Because they have a confiding trust in God.
2. Because they have a holy fear of God.
3. Because they have no false shame.
4. Because they have the spirit of humility.
5. Because they have the spirit of love. (J. H. Norton, D. D.)
The child’s gospel
“O mother,” said a little girl, on returning from church, and running into her mother’s sick room, “I have heard the child’s gospel today!” It was the very part which I am now preaching about. Another, about seven years old, heard the same passage read when she was near death, and, as her sister closed the book, the little sick one said, “How kind! I shall soon go to Jesus. He will take me up in His arms, and bless me, too!“ The sister tenderly kissed her, and asked, “Do you love me, dearest? Yes,” she answered, “but, don’t be angry, I love Jesus more.” (J. H. Norton, D. D.)
The poet Lamartine, in alluding to his father and mother, says, “I remember once to have seen the branch of a willow, which had been torn by the tempest’s hands from the parent trunk, floating in the morning light upon the angry surges of the overflowing Saone. On it a female nightingale covered her nest, as it drifted down the foaming stream; and the male on the wing followed the wreck which was bearing away the object of his love.” Beautiful illustration, indeed, of the tender affection of parents for their children. Much, however, as father and mother love their offspring, there is One whose feelings towards them are infinitely stronger and more enduring. I hardly need explain that I refer to our adorable Saviour. (J. H. Norton, D. D.)
The sin of keeping back children from Christ
I. It should be noted carefully that the parties who objected to the bringing little children to Christ were not Scribes and Pharisees, the unbelieving Jews who recognized nothing Divine in the mission of our Lord, but actually His disciples. They perhaps considered it entailing unnecessary fatigue on their Master, that He should have to receive the young as well as the old; or that no sufficient end was to be answered by bringing little children to Christ. They would have understood the use of bringing a lame child to Him, though too young to exercise faith; but they had no idea of a child in bodily health deriving any advantage from contact with Christ. The parents judged better than the disciples. Knowing that by God’s express command the rite of circumcision was administered to infants, they concluded, as we may suppose, that infancy of itself was no disqualification for a religious privilege, and that if there was anything spiritual in the mission of Christ, it might be communicated to the young as well as the old. If we delay religious instruction, under the idea that it is too difficult or too abstruse for a very young mind, are we not acting in much the same way as the disciples? In after life there is no greater impediment to religion than the want of proper habits of self-discipline and control. It may therefore be justly considered, that whatever tends to the forming such habits facilitates the coming to our Lord for His blessing. Then, what want of faith is there in the education of children. Parents are actually suspicious of the Bible, even when desirous of instilling its truths into their children. They run to good books to make the Bible easy and amusing, whose business it is to dilute and simplify the Word, ridding it of mysteries, and adapting it to juvenile understandings. But this is virtually withholding the children from Christ. Remember that for the most part what is mystery to a child is to a man. If I strive to make intelligible what ought to be left mysterious, I do but nourish in the child the notion of his being competent to understand all truth, and prepare him for being disgusted if he finds himself in riper years called upon to submit reason to faith. Do not let it seem to you a harsh accusation-consider it well, and you will have to confess it grounded upon truth-that whensoever there is dilatoriness in commencing the correction of tempers, which too plainly prove the corruption of nature, or the substitution of other modes of instruction for the Bible itself, or any indication, more or less direct, of a feeling that there must be something intermediate, that children are not yet ready for the being brought actually to the Saviour, we identify your case with that of our Lord’s disciples, who, when some sought for infants the benediction of Christ, rashly and wrongfully “rebuked those that brought them.”
II. But now let us mark more particularly our blessed Lord’s conduct, in regard to the children and those who would have kept them from Him. When he observed the endeavour of the disciples to prevent the children being brought, you read that “He was much displeased.” The original word marks great indignation. It is used on one or two other occasions in the New Testament, when very strong feelings were excited. For example, “When the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna, to the Son of David, they were sore displeased:” it is the same Greek word. Again: on the occasion of the woman’s pouring on Christ’s head an alabaster box of very precious ointment, “when His disciples saw it, they had indignation”-the same word-“saying, To what purpose is this waste?” These instances show you that the word denotes a very high degree of dissatisfaction, anger being more excited than sorrow, as though the thing done were specially offensive and criminal. It is never again used in connection with Christ; Christ is never again said to have been “much” or “sorely displeased.” On the occasion of having little children kept from Him, bat on no other occasion, did Christ show Himself “sorely displeased.” What an indication of His willingness to receive little children! What a declaration as to the duty of bringing to Him little children; and the sinfulness, in any measure or on any account, of withholding them from Him! And, perhaps, many children would go to Christ, if they were but suffered to go. Christ draws their young hearts; but how often are serious thoughts discouraged in children! How little advantage is taken of indications of youthful piety! Then, again, what inconsistencies they perceive in those around them! and who quicker than children in detecting inconsistencies? They are as sharp-sighted in their discernment of the faults of their superiors, as if they had been born critics, or bred up for censors. But inconsistencies will stop them, just when they might be determining on taking the first step towards Christ; and we do not “suffer” them to go, if by anything in our example we interfere with their going, putting some sort of hindrance-and it need not be a high one for young feet to stumble at. Yea, and we may actually “forbid them.” This is our Lord’s next expression; and it indicates more active opposition than when He only requires us to suffer. Evidently the worldly-minded parent or instructor forbids the children from coming to Christ, when he discountenances any religious tendency; when he manifests his fear of a young person becoming too serious, too fond of reading the Bible, too disposed to avoid gay amusements, and cultivate the society of such as care for the soul. This is the more open sort of forbidding. Not but what there is a yet more open: when children or young persons are actually prevented from what they are inclined to do in the matter of religion, and forced into scenes and associations which they feel to be wrong. It is not thus, however, that “disciples”-any who may be parallel with those to whom our Lord addressed His remonstrance-are likely to prevent little children. But are there no other ways of forbidding? Indeed, a young mind is very easily discouraged; more especially in such a thing as religion, towards which it needs every possible help, and from which it may be said to have a natural swerving. A look will be enough; the slightest hint; nay, even silence will have the force of a prohibition. There may be needed a stern command to withhold from an indulgence, but a mere glance of the eye may withhold from a duty. Not to encourage, may be virtually to forbid. The child soon catches this; he soon detects the superior anxiety which the parent exhibits for his progress in what is called learning, the comparative coldness as to his progress in piety. He quickly becomes aware of the eye being lit up with greater pleasure at an indication of talent, than at a sign of devotion. And thus the child is practically “forbidden” to come to Christ. He is practically told that there is something preferable to his coming to Christ. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Of such is the kingdom of God
Perhaps God does with His heavenly garden as we do with our own. He may chiefly stock it from nurseries, and select for transplanting what is yet in its young and tender age-flowers before they have bloomed, the trees ere they begin to bear. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
The conversion of little children
1. Because they are not too young to do wrong.
2. Because the regeneration of children or adults is the work of the Holy Spirit.
3. Because piety is a matter of the heart, rather than of the intellect.
4. Special examples found in God’s Word.
5. It is a pleasing confirmation of our faith in very early piety to observe the many instances within our own observation of the conversion of young children, and of their teachable spirit with reference to religion. (S. S. Portwin.)
The love of Christ to children
I. It is very old.
II. It is all-embracing.
III. It is all-sufficing. (Anon.)
Teachers warned against impeding children’s salvation
The impediments which teachers throw in the way of children coming to Jesus.
I. Inadequate piety.
II. Incompetent knowledge of the gospel.
1. Your knowledge must spring from faith.
2. It must be derived from scripture.
III. Injudicious modes of instruction.
1. Loading the memory with scripture without explanation.
2. Lengthened addresses in which children take no part.
IV. An improper spirit.
V. Inconsistent conduct.
1. Want of punctuality.
2. Gossiping. (J. Sherman.)
Jesus and children
1. The text teaches that Jesus is attractive to children.
2. That Christ takes a deep interest in children.
3. Jesus prays for children.
4. Jesus wishes children to be happy, and they could not be that without pardon.
5. There are a great many children in heaven. (Dr. McAuslane.)
Jesus and children
There was one thing about Jesus which no one could fall to notice-His great popularity with children. A certain fulness of humanity always seems to attract children. In Jesus this constituted an irresistible attraction. They ran after Him-they clung to Him-they shouted for Him. His must have been a joyous presence. Different from your sour-faced Puritan (who has his merits notwithstanding): your dried-up theologian (who is needful, too, in season): your emaciated ascetic (whose protest against sensuality is sometimes necessary and even noble). I think this power of attracting and interesting the little ones is one of the hallmarks of good men. The children’s unspoiled natures seem to cling to unspoiled souls-as like cleaves to like. “They brought young children to Christ.” Ah! there was no need of that, for they came to Him of their own accord-nor did He ever repulse them. How shall we bring the children to Christ-how shall we win them to love and follow Him? The best way of bringing our children to Christ is by being Christ-like ourselves. Let them see in us nothing but His kindness, wisdom, strength, tenderness, and sympathy, and they will learn to love their religion, and grow close to Jesus, as in the days when “He took them up in His arms, laid His hands upon them, and blessed them.” (H. R. Haweis, M. A.)
Christ’s sympathy for childhood
Jesus was the first great teacher of men who showed a genuine sympathy for childhood-perhaps the only teacher of antiquity who cared for childhood as such. Plato treats of children and their games, but he treats them from the standpoint of a publicist. They are elements not to be left out in constructing society. Children, in Plato’s eyes, are not to be neglected, because children will inevitably come to be men and women. But Jesus was the first who loved childhood for its own sake. In the earlier stages of civilization it is the main endeavour of men to get away from childhood. It represents immaturity of body and mind, ignorance and folly. The ancients esteemed it their first duty to put away childish things. It was Jesus who, seeking to bring about a new and higher development of character, perceived that there were elements in childhood to be preserved in the highest manhood; that a man must, indeed, set back again towards the innocence and simplicity of childhood if he would be truly a man. Until Jesus Christ, the world had no place for childhood in its thoughts. When He said, “Of such is the kingdom of God,” it was a revelation. (Eggleston.)
Bring the children to the Saviour
In a Chinese Christian family at Amoy, a little boy, the youngest of the three children, on asking his father to allow him to be baptized, was told that he was too young; that he might return to heathenism, if he made a profession of religion when he was only a little boy. To this he made the following touching reply:-“Jesus has promised to carry the lambs in His arms. I am only a little boy; it will be easier for Jesus to carry me.” This was too much for the father; he took him with him, and the dear child was ere long baptized. The whole family, of which this child is the youngest member, belong now to the mission church at Amoy.
The Saviour’s love for children reciprocated
A little girl, between six and seven years of age, when on her death bed, seeing her eldest sister with a Bible in her hand, asked her to read this passage respecting Christ’s blessing little children. The passage having been read, and the book closed, the child said, “How kind! I shall soon go to Jesus; He will soon take me up in His arms, bless me, too; no disciple shall keep me away.” Her sister kissed her, and said, “Do you love me?” “Yes, dear,” she replied, “but you mustn’t mind that I love Jesus better.”
Care in training children
What if God should place in your hand a diamond, and tell you to inscribe on it a sentence which should be read at the last day, and shown there as an index of your thoughts and feelings! What care, what caution, would you exercise in the selection! Now this is what God has done. He has placed before you immortal minds, more imperishable than the diamond, on which you are about to inscribe every day and every hoar, by your instructions, by your spirit, or by your example, something which will remain and be exhibited for or against you at the judgment day. (Dr. Payson.)
Children need to be brought to Christ
The apostles’ rebuke of the children arose in a measure from ignorance of the children’s need. If any mother in that throng had said, “I must bring my child to the Master, for he is sore afflicted with a devil,” neither Peter, nor James, nor John would have demurred for a moment, but would have assisted in bringing the possessed child to the Saviour. Or suppose another mother had said, “My child has a pining sickness upon it, it is wasted to skin and bone; permit me to bring my darling, that Jesus may lay His hands upon her,” the disciples would all have said, “Make way for this woman and her sorrowful burden.” But these little ones with bright eyes, and prattling tongues, and leaping limbs, why should they come to Jesus? Ah, friends I they forgot that in those children, with all their joy, their health, and their apparent innocence, there was a great and grievous need for the blessing of a Saviour’s grace. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The sin of keeping children from coming to Christ
It must be a very great sin indeed to hinder anybody from coming to Christ. He is the only way of salvation from the wrath of God, salvation from the terrible judgment that is due to sin-who would dare to keep the punishing from that way? To alter the sign posts on the way to the city of refuge, or to dig a trench across the road, would have been an inhuman act, deserving the sternest condemnation. He who holds back a soul from Jesus is the servant of Satan, and is doing the most diabolical of all the devil’s work. We are all agreed about this. I wonder whether any of us are quite innocent in this respect. May we not have hindered others from repentance and faith? It is a sad suspicion; but I am afraid that many of us have done so. Certainly you who have never believed in Jesus yourselves have done sadly much to prevent others believing. The force of example, whether for good or bad, is very powerful, and especially is it so with parents upon their children, superiors upon their underlings, and teachers upon their pupils. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Children the pastor’s chief care
Dr. Tyng, senior, of New York, said that in all his ministry he had never hesitated, when the choice must be made between one child and two adults, to take the child. “It seems to me,” he says, “that the devil would never ask anything mare of a minister than to have him look upon his mission as chiefly to the grown-up members of his congregation, while somebody else was to look after the children. I can see the devil standing at the door, and saying to the minister, ‘Now you just fire away at the old folks; and I’ll stand here, and steal away the little ones as the Indians catch ducks, swimming under them, catching them by the legs, and pulling them under.’”
Children to be brought into the Church at earliest age
Now let us see how this theory works. I cannot show its evil effects better than by taking an illustration from the first book I ever read-“AEsop’s Fables.” It is long since I saw the book, but its pages are vividly impressed on my memory, especially the pictures, and here is one of them, a fisherman is sitting on the bank of a stream. He has thrown in his bait, and brought out a very little fish. He has the fish in his hand, and is just about to put it into his basket, when the fish begins to talk. He is sitting up in the man’s hand, and addressing himself to the fisherman, speaks on this wise: “You see I am a very little fish. It is not worth your while to put me into the basket. Throw me back into the stream, and I shall become a bigger fish, and much better worth catching.” But the fisherman says: “No; if I throw you into the stream, it is most likely that I shall never see you again. I will keep you whilst I have got you.” And so he puts the fish into the basket. The wrong theory is the theory of the fish, the right one that of the fisherman. Now I ask you to consider this. In the present day we have vast multitudes of children under Christian teaching and influence. A careful estimate gives the present number of scholars in the Sunday schools of England and Wales as over 4,000,000; and there are very many children well taught in Christian homes who are not in the Sunday schools. There is also provision made in our elementary day schools for over 4,000,000 scholars. Now these children are, so to speak, yet in the basket of the Church, and we should use our utmost efforts to prevent them from ever getting out of it. According to the great Teacher the little ones belong to the kingdom of God in their earliest days. Why should they ever leave it? But, alas! instead of acting in accordance with the true theory, we too often act as if the wrong theory were true. We are not so anxious as we ought to be to bring our children at the earliest possible moment into the enjoyment of peace with God through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. We are not so careful as we ought to be to provide that before a child leaves school and his parents’ home he shall be fortified against the temptations of life by established faith in Christ.
n the salvation of all dying before the age of accountability
I. The conduct of the parents was very natural and commendable. “They brought young children to Jesus,” etc. Just as Joseph brought his sons to Jacob, that he might lay his hands upon them and bless them. His blessing would be sure to make rich in one way or another. These parents did not send their children to Jesus, but brought them; example better than precept. Let us not stop short of the Saviour. Morality good: but they must be born again.
II. The spirit and demeanour of the disciples were very repulsive-“They rebuked those that brought them.” What if the parents had judged of the Master by the spirit of His servants? There is love in His heart infinitely transcending all that exists in the hearts of His most devoted people.
III. The conduct of Jesus Christ was a perfect contrast to that of His disciples. “He was much displeased.” Christ may be angry with His own people, even when they think they are doing Him service. It is not enough to mean well. Is it any wonder that Christ should feel an interest in little children when He voluntarily became a little child Himself? “Of such”-in years-“is the kingdom of heaven.” All infants go to heaven. The lost will go away into “everlasting punishment,” but an infant cannot be punished, for that would imply personal criminality and conscious guilt: but an infant can neither do good nor evil. But may they not be annihilated? This passage kindles light in their little sepulchre and says, “Of such is the kingdom of heaven.” They live unto God. The only difference between the salvation of an infant and others, is this-the infant is saved without faith, by the direct agency of the Holy Spirit, in consequence of the finished work of Christ; others are saved by believing the gospel, and being sanctified through the truth. See the condescension of Christ. We cannot bless them as He did; we can plead for the Divine blessing upon them. (R Bayne.)
The salvation of infants
Infants are all saved.
1. Our remarks apply exclusively to children who are not yet arrived at years of accountability; that is, who are not yet capable of employing the appointed means of salvation.
2. It is not said that the children of believers and of unbelievers are in all respects in the same case; on the contrary the relative holiness of the children of believers is an important blessing; their circumstances are more favourable to the formation of a religious character; their means of salvation are more direct. But the child of a believer has no other claim on the mercy of God than that may be put in by any infant.
I. State the argument in favour of infant salvation. Considerations which may suggest this hope.
1. They are not accountable. They are incapable of moral obligation, hence are not condemned: free from personal guilt. Does it comport with the Divine Justice or mercy, to suppose that such are not saved whose only guilt is their unavoidable connection with a broken covenant? The benevolence of the Divine character suggests the hope of their salvation; and embraces infants in the redeeming purpose. The rectitude of the Divine government suggests their salvation; they cannot be healed according to their deeds who have neither done good nor evil. There are many general expressions of Divine favour towards infants; God contemplates their advantage in the blessings He confers on mankind (Psalms 78:5-6; Deuteronomy 12:28; Jeremiah 19:3; Jeremiah 19:9). He spared Nineveh for their sake (John 4:11).
2. There are gracious declarations of the Word of God which imply this truth (Matthew 18:1; Matthew 18:14). That infants are capable of receiving the principle of faith is plain; Jeremiah and John Baptist have been sanctified from the womb. The Jewish children were accounted worshippers of the true God, even from their infancy (Deuteronomy 29:10; Deuteronomy 29:13; Deuteronomy 5:3; 2 Chronicles 20:13; Joel 2:15-16). And so under the Christian dispensation children are viewed as believers, because visibly connected with the dispensation, and continue to be so accounted till they renounce it as their religion. Christ would not recognize as subjects of His kingdom here, those whom He did not regard as heirs of His kingdom hereafter. “Of such is the kingdom of God.” Romans 5:12; Romans 5:19 appears to involve this truth. It places in contrast the dispensations under which God has governed man; one at creation, the other at redemption. The curse of the broken covenant included the children; the saving benefit provided by Christ extends to them. “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive again.”
3. There are some recorded instances of faith in this truth, which support the conclusion (2 Samuel 12:22-23; 2 Kings 4:1-44).
II. Examine some of the difficulties which appear to lie in the way of adopting this conclusion.
1. The imputation of Adam’s sin. The doctrine of infant salvation does not deny this, but declares that the grace of God frees from the curse, and bestows the capacity for celestial happiness, through the mediation of Christ.
2. The temporal sufferings and death of infants. Because they suffer some of the effects of the curse it by no means follows that they suffer all. Actual believers suffer in this world.
3. The destruction of the children of the ungodly along with their parents. The case of Korah.
4. The declared necessity of faith in order to salvation. A new heart is the qualification for heaven, and may as easily be given to an infant as to an adult.
5. The early indications of sinfulness in infants. It is not easy to determine how far these are the result of animal propensities or deliberate choice. It is not said that infants are free from tendency to evil, or even apparent acts of sin; but are saved through Christ whose sacrifice puts away sin.
6. The silence of scripture.
III. The practical influence of this truth.
1. Let it be viewed generally in its aspect on the moral government of God.
(1) It relieves the difficulty connected with the permission of sin.
(2) It reflects the glory of Divine grace.
(3) It illustrates the declared importance of the mediation of Christ.
2. Let this truth be viewed in its aspect on the religious education of children. No excuse for the neglect of it.
3. Let this doctrine he viewed in its aspect on the seriousness of bereaved parents. (J. Jefferson.)
The death of babes
The whole case of the death of babes seems at the first thought to be indeed a marvel; yet what is there in life which is not a marvel? How few things there are which we can regard in any other light than that of unintelligent, though not unreasonable, wonder. Still, few things seem more marvellous in the rough aspect than that a little child should be allowed to suffer pain and die. Here is a little bud, a tender nursling of the spring, in the fairest way for flower, fragrance, and fruit, nipped by that bitter envious frost before a single leaf unfolds itself. Here is a little barque, freighted with costly wares for the markets of earth and heaven, bound for eternity, launched into life and wrecked at the very harbour mouth. A work nobly simple, yet beautifully complex, with God’s fresh breath of life inspiring its every look, and the power of the sweetest nature swaying its every movement; lo! it drops from His hand, as it might seem, in the very act of His holding it up to show its beauty to the world. It falls to pieces in an hour. The high art of its creation is negatived in a moment; its lovely mechanism siles off into dust; all its myriad contrivances for life-no one of which any man since the world began can imitate with the slightest effect, no, nor even rightly understand-in a few days are crumbled into mould, and as if they never had been at all. In fine, a work designed for duties of seventy or eighty, or perhaps a hundred years, capable of beautiful deeds, and of filling happy places in the house, the neighbourhood, the State, and all along in the family of the Church, is destroyed, as it might seem, by some slight accident, before any one of those duties has been met; and, to outward view, annihilated as though it had never been meant for anything whatsoever in the world. (W. B. Philpot, M. A.)
As a little child.
“Chrysostom,” says Manton, “has the following comparison: ‘A smith that takes up his red-hot iron with his hands, and not with his tongs, what can he expect but to burn his fingers?’ So we destroy our souls, when we judge of the mysteries of faith by the laws of common reason.” Common enough is this error. Men must needs comprehend when their main business is to apprehend. That which God reveals to us is, to a large extent, beyond the reach of understanding; and therefore, in refusing to believe until we can understand, we are doing ourselves and the truth a grievous wrong. Our wisdom lies as much in taking heed how we receive, as in being careful what we receive. Spiritual truth must be received by a spiritual faculty, viz., by faith. As well hope to grasp a star by the hand as Divine truth by reason. Faith is well likened to the golden tongs, with which we may carry live coals; and carnal reason is the burned hand, which lets fall the glowing mass, which it is not capable of canting. Let it not, however, be thought that faith is contrary to reason. No: it is not unreasonable for a little child to believe its father’s statements, though it is quite incapable of perceiving all their bearings. It is quite reasonable that a pupil should accept his master’s principles at the beginning of his studies; he will get but little from his discipleship if he begins by disputing with his teacher. How are we to learn anything if we will not believe? In the gloriously sublime truths of Godhead, incarnation, atonement, regeneration, and so forth, we must believe, or be forever ignorant: these masses of the molten metal of eternal truth must be handled by faith, or let alone. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Necessity of humility
A high-caste Brahmin came to receive Holy Baptism. He approached the font wearing the sacred thread which, amongst his Hindoo coreligionists, was the badge of his being amongst the “twice-born,” entitling him to little short of religious worship from those of a lower caste. But at the moment when he answered, “I renounce them all,” he stripped off the sign of idolatrous preeminence and trampled it under his feet.
Childlike trust in prayer
People say, “What a wonderful thing it is that God hears George Muller’s prayers!” But is it not a sad thing that we should think it wonderful for God to hear prayer? We are come to a pretty pass certainly when we think it wonderful that God is true! Much better faith was that of a little boy in one of the schools at Edinburgh, who had attended the prayer meetings, and at last said to his teacher who conducted the meeting, “Teacher, I wish my sister could be got to read the Bible; she never reads it.” “Why, Johnny, should your sister read the Bible?” “Because if she should once read it, I am sure it would do her good, and she would be converted and be saved.” “Do you think so, Johnny?” “Yes, I do, sir; and I wish the next time there’s a prayer meeting, you would ask the people to pray for my sister, that she may begin to read the Bible.” “Well, well, it shall be done, John.” So the teacher gave out that a little boy was very anxious that prayers should be offered that his sister should begin to read the Bible. John was observed to get up and go out. The teacher thought it very unkind of the boy to disturb the people in a crowded room and go out like that, and so the next day when the lad came, he said, “John, I thought that was very rude of you to get up in the prayer meeting, and go out. You ought not to have done it.” “Oh, sir,” said the boy, “I did not mean to be rude, but I thought I should just like to go home and see my sister reading her Bible for the first time.” That is how we ought to believe, and wait with expectation to see the answer to prayer. The girl was reading the Bible when the boy went home. God had been pleased to hear the prayer; and if we could but trust God after that fashion we should often see similar things accomplished. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A dying blessing
A few days previous to his death, Dr. Belfrage, of Falkirk, hearing his infant son’s voice in an adjoining room, desired that he should be brought to him. When the child was lifted into the bed the dying father placed his hands upon his head, and said, in the language of Jacob, “The God before whom my fathers did walk, the God who fed me all my life long to this day, the Angel who redeemed me from all evil, bless the lad.” When the boy was removed he added: “Remember and tell John Henry of this; tell him of these prayers, and how earnest I was that he might become early acquainted with his father’s God.” Happy are they who have their parents’ prayers.
Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?
The great refusal
I. We have here an inquirer. There are many things about him which awaken interest. He was young, thoughtful, an inquirer after the most momentous matter that can engage the attention of a man; not after methods of worldly success, speculative or antiquarian subjects.
II. How Jesus dealt with the young man. Christ “knew what was in man.” He varied His treatment of inquirers so as to meet the character, history, and disposition of each. He touched the conscience always in the quick. To Nicodemus: woman at the well. This young man had a narrow view of the commandments; he did not love God with all his heart. Christ put before him the same alternative which, in many different forms, He puts before some of His people yet in the dispensation of His providence. The one thing needful is always entire self-surrender to God.
III. The conversational comment of the Saviour on the young man’s decision. “How hardly shall they that have riches,” etc. He does not mean to say that wealth is a bad thing. Intrinsically riches have no moral character; all depends upon the use. Our Lord does not mean to say that it is an absolutely easy thing for a man that has no riches to enter the kingdom of God. Poverty has spiritual perils. It is not the amount of a man’s possessions, but the view which he entertains regarding them, that determines whether he will, or not, enter the kingdom of God. Salvation is a supernatural work. “With God all things are possible.”
1. That the whole battle of conversion has to be fought over that which is dearest to the heart.
2. We may see here how an experience like this youth’s takes the attraction even out of that which the heart prefers to Christ. “He went away grieved.” He had discovered his slavery, and such gladness as he had formerly known even in his possessions dropped in a large measure out of his heart. In that one interview with Christ he had seen, as never before, the world’s power over him; and even while he yielded to it, he loathed it. His property had a fascination for him, yet it seemed, even as he clung to it, the very price for which he had sold eternal life; and he could neither give it up, nor regard it with as much complacency as before. Just as the drunkard in his inmost soul loathes his slavery, even while he is draining the bottle to its dregs, and has no more such enjoyment in its stimulus as he had at first, because that which was then a delight has now become a bondage; so this youth, now that he saw that his property owned him, rather than ha his property, had no longer the same delight in it as of yore. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
The chemical analyst has different tests for different poisons. If he suspect the presence of arsenic, he will use one thing to detect that; if he is looking for antimony, he will take another to discover that; if he is trying for strychnine, he will employ quite another to bring that to light. The test that will reveal one poison may altogether fail to make manifest another. Now it is quite similar with the moral poisons which destroy the soul. Each has its own appropriate test, and that which would reveal the presence of one would be impotent to detect another. Hence, like a skilful analyst as He was, the Lord in dealing with this young man used those means which He knew would be most effectual in revealing him to himself. He did not need to use any measures for the purpose of satisfying Himself. He wanted rather to do for the youth what the woman at the well said He had dons for her when she affirmed “He told me all things that ever I did.” (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
What was the idea of eternal life which this young man had? Sores understand heaven; to others it means a particular kind of life, which even now fills the soul. In order to know what a man means by the words you require to know more about him and his modes of thinking. Which of these was the young man thinking of? What was the view of eternal life which Jesus Christ had in mind? The eternal life was the life that was in Him. You gather an idea of the life which is spoken of, in any case, from the specimen of it which is adduced. You speak of the life of poetry as seen in one man, of the life of science as seen in another, of the practical life of industry or benevolence as seen in a third; and when you read of the eternal life in Christ, you must consider His history and see what His life was. It was not a life of ease or quiet, or one free from trouble and suffering and care. But it was a life always manifested; a life visible in defeat as well as in power, in weakness as really as in honour; a life of absolute submission to the will of His Father; and a life which was full of wisdom, purity, gentleness, truth, Whatever was in the mind of Christ, the thoughts of the young ruler had not been quite so high as this. Possibly he could not have explained the thought to himself. Christ shows him his deficiency like a skilful physician. He has come up to the very gate of heaven, but cannot take the last step. There was a like crisis in the life of St. Paul. He was in search of eternal life, questioning what good thing he should do. He learned that it could not be won by good works. “Sell that thou hast, and give to the poor.” Must not explain these words away; nor must we apply to every case alike, or make the gospel, what it is not, a system of communism, or of purchase with certain outlays. To lose everything is a calamity which thousands have borne with courage. “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away.” They have entered the kingdom through losses and sufferings, not of property only, but of possession more precious. What is that state of mind which riches may injure. A comparatively poor man may be hurt by his wealth because of the place it has in his mind. We dare not direct men to outward acts in order to obtain eternal life, or to give up their property to religious uses. You may gain in material results, but lose in spiritual. Fellowship and sympathy with God, the mind that was in Christ-this is the highest possession. And if there is a hindrance to this-avarice or anything else-let us part with it at once, rather than obstruct the growth of our souls. (A. Watson, D. D.)
The disease pointed out
“What lack I yet? “he said, sincerely wishing to know wherein he might approach nearer to the standard of perfection, and thus attain the eternal life of which he was in search. And the answer of Christ shows that He discerns at once where the fault lies. It reminds one of a skilful physician who listens to the complaint of a patient telling him of some weakness and want of proper energy, but not knowing from what it springs; and at once the physician touches some muscle, puts his finger on a tender spot which had been unsuspected, presses it, and says, “Your disease is there.” The patient starts: he had never felt pain there-never until it was touched by that hand; but at once he knows that the physician is right, that he has all along been living in ignorance of the nature of his malady, and perhaps by his habits he has been feeding it. So this young ruler feels at once that Christ is right, but he cannot all at once make up his mind to the consequences. He has power to do much-power to part with much, power to restrain his hand and his heart from much; but here is a tenderness he had never dreamt of, a diseased organ which hinders the current of his life, and he cannot suffer it to be removed He has come up to the very gate of the kingdom, but he cannot take the last step and enter in. (A. Watson, D. D.)
Eternal life a gift
There was a strange inconsistency in this young man’s question, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Inheritances are not earned by services. They are gifts, not wages. I have read somewhere the story of a poor woman who looked longingly at the flowers which grew in the king’s garden, wishing to buy some for her sick daughter. The king’s gardener angrily repelled her. “The king’s flowers are not for sale,” he said, rudely. But the king, chancing to come by, plucked a bouquet and gave it to the wistful woman, remarking at the same time, “It is true the king does not sell his flowers, but he gives them away.” So, too, the Great King does not sell eternal life. He gives it. (Lyman Abbot, D. D.)
The splendid young man
“One thing thou lackest.”
1. The element of happiness. Happiness does not depend upon physical conditions. Some of the happiest people I have known have been those who have been wrapped in consumption. There is no happiness outside Christ; there is joy in His service. You lack-
2. The element of usefulness. You have not yet commenced the real service of life. You lack-
3. The element of personal safety. There is only safety in religion. (Dr. Talmage.)
A defective character
I. In all God’s dealing with men, there is one element of religious character for which He invariably looks. Men are influenced by a showy exterior; God sees the heart (see 1 Samuel 16:6-7).
1. What is this element? A comparison of the different parts of this story will answer the question. “A little child” has a single peculiarity as its controlling characteristic: it loves, trusts, and obeys its parent, its motive of life is sincere affection for him, above anything else. This is what God demands of His children: a full, filial regard for His honour, His commandments, and His affectionate approval (Malachi 1:6).
2. How do we know the young ruler did not possess this? He certainly seems like a thoughtful, amiable, virtuous person. But he owned that he still lacked something (see Matthew 19:20).
II. Let us take up a second lesson: no other quality of mind and heart, no other characteristic, no other grouping of elements of character, can atone for the lack of just this one.
1. Piety is the significant disposition which registers the value of everything else. Take any amount of ciphers, and arrange them carefully in a line; they will represent nothing, till you place a numeral figure at their head. We call that a “significant” figure; it gives reckoning of value to all the others. Now, with it at the head, each one of the ciphers increases it tenfold, while without it ten times as many ciphers would go for naught. The wiser a man is, the more distinguished a man is, the more wealthy a man is, the more lovely a man is-provided the consecration of his entire heart is rendered-the more helpful and useful he is as a Christian. But, the moment this consecration disappears, all these advantages are turned suddenly into dangers, for they work on the adverse side. Satan’s gifts helped him to be a worse devil.
2. We recognize the same principle in ordinary life. Suppose a journeyman, wilful and self-satisfied, comes to one of us, and asks for employment. We go to a master mechanic seeking work for him in his poverty. Each one in turn says he is well acquainted with the man, but will have nothing to do with him. Now we begin to expostulate: “Is he not skilful? is he not industrious; is he not honest? is he not a kind neighbour? is he not sober?” All this is true, comes the reply: “but the man will not obey orders.” The prime quality of a workman is gone; that lack vitiates all the rest; he breeds insubordination wherever he goes. His excellences simply render him dangerous.
3. The worst is, that God Himself gives all these characteristics on which moral men pride themselves, and they wickedly turn them against Him. It has happened that one man has interfered sometimes to reconcile another man with his disinherited son. For many years under the home roof he was unfilial, abusive, alienated from all who loved him there. The father admits that he has rejected him at last. The neighbour inquires, “Is he not educated, so as to be an honour to you? is he not a most agreeable companion? are not his manners gentlemanly? is he not the very likeness of yourself in form and mien? how can you keep him away from your heart?” And the father answers in sad sincerity of pity and love: All that you say is true; and it was myself who gave him these accomplishments: I educated my boys all alike, but this one turned against me; I love him, but he hates me; no matter how courteous he is to strangers, he vilifies me here before the others: till he changes from a prodigal to a son, he is only a peril and a disturbance in the house: he is all the worse, in that he knows so well how to be better.”
III. So we reach, as our third lesson this: such a defective character as is here pictured has to be reckoned according to its defect, to the exclusion of its excellences.
1. There may be a very showy morality without any true religion. Here was a man of great prominence and promise. He said he had kept the law (Mark 10:18-20).
2. There may be a very splendid manhood without any true religion.
3. There may be an unquestionable orthodoxy without any true religion.
4. There may be deep conviction of need in the soul without any true religion. Never forget the errand of this young man, nor the manner in which he discharged it (Mark 10:17). See his zeal: he came to Jesus. See his haste: he came running, See his courage: he was out in the highway conspicuous to all. See his humility: he kneeled at Jesus’ feet. See his anxiety: he waited for no circumlocution, but pushed his question straight towards the “eternal life“ he longed for. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
The rich young man’s question and carriage
I. The opinion of gaining eternal life by the outward observance of the law, will appear very unsatisfactory to an inquisitive conscience. This young man had not any full satisfaction in his own conscience, etc. He comes to Christ to receive instructions for the piecing up whatever was defective. Whosoever will consider the nature of God, and the relation of a creature cannot with reason think that eternal life was of itself due from God as a recompense to Adam, had he continued in a state of innocence. Who can think so great a reward due for having performed that which a creature in that relation was obliged to do? And if it were not to be expected in the integrity of nature, but only from the goodness of God, how can it be expected since the revolt of man, and the universal deluge of natural corruption? God owes nothing to the holiest creature; what He gives is a present from His bounty, not the reward of the creature’s merit (Romans 11:35).
II. It is the disease of human nature, since its corruption, to hope for eternal life by the tenor of the covenant of works (Mark 10:17). Cain thought to be accepted for the sake of his sacrifice. All men set too high a value upon their own services (Luke 19:12; Philippians 3:7). The whole nation of the Jews affected it, compassing sea and land to make out a righteousness of their own, as the Pharisees did to make proselytes. Man foolishly thinks he hath enough to set up himself after he hath proved bankrupt, and lost all his estate.
III. How insufficient are some assents to Divine truth, and some expressions of affection to Christ, without the practice of Christian precepts.
IV. We should never admit anything to be ascribed to ye, which is proper to God. If you do not acknowledge Me God, ascribe not to Me the title of good, etc. God is jealous of His own honour; He will not have the creature share with Him in His royal titles. (S. Charnocke, B. D.)
Gain though loss
A great gain was offered him, but a great loss was its condition. (T. T. Lynch.)
Glad though grieved
As thou once camest glad and wentest away grieved, didst thou ever come grieved and go away glad? (T. T. Lynch.)
Privilege a trial
Have compassion on the privileged; for their advantage is their trial, and may be their ruin. (T. T. Lynch.)
No heaven without merit
And if we cannot merit heaven, we cannot have heaven without merit. (T. T. Lynch.)
Ebb and flood
The ebb of this man’s wealth would have been the flood of his prosperity. (T. T. Lynch.)
The beauty of an amiable character
Why did He love him? Because He saw him as he was-pure, enthusiastic, unspoiled though unproved. It is a false and forlorn view to take of man, that there is nothing beautiful in him before he becomes saintly. The very attractiveness of an unredeemed soul makes us the more keenly desirous to redeem it. But often, as a cultured tree knows nothing of the husbandries which beautified the stock from which it sprang, and thus caused its beauty, so youths know nothing of the spiritual husbandries of past days, to which they are indebted for the moral attractiveness they have to others, and the moral strength which they themselves deem sufficient. The children of Christians, not yet Christian themselves, have by nature an advantage. Often they are more loveable than others. But they must not trust a “nature” in themselves that would never have been so lovely but for the “grace” that was in their parents. There is much in common, and even in perverted, men that has a rude native grace. There is yet more in the sons and daughters of the sincerely pious that has a natural hopeful bloom about it. God loves this, and so may we. But God may love a man whom He cannot yet trust; He may love a man who does not yet truly know, and cannot yet deeply love, Himself. (T. T. Lynch.)
Virtue dependent upon wealth
He hardly knew how much of his happiness as a virtuous man depended upon his being a rich one. People are often happy in their religion because they are happy in their circumstances. They do well because they are well to do. These are good people, but they are not the best sort of good people. They do honour to religion as their very good master, and to themselves as his very good scholars; but they are but dry pools when the rain ceases, for no inner fountain feeds them. They know not how much Christ can do for them without the world, but how much he can do with the world, to help Him. All such goodness is only hopefully good as it learns that, without trial, it cannot know that it is lastingly good. (T. T. Lynch.)
Life is enjoyed in keeping the commandments, in doing as God would have us His creatures do. But they can only be kept as we attain the living ability to keep them. Thus, an adult man’s privileges are enjoyed by doing as an adult man does: but a child cannot enjoy these privileges because his ability is not mature; nor an invalided adult because, though fully grown, he has not the powers of maturity. So an uneducated, uncivilized man cannot have the life of culture, because the “commandments,” the ordinances of that life, though suitable to him as a man, are beyond his ability as such a man. The way to keep God’s commandments in future is, first of all, to learn that you have never fully kept them yet. This young man really had kept God’s law according to his understanding of it; and he could only be blessed as his comprehension of the law and his disposition to fulfil it were advanced. But in him there was no capacity to become a chief example of obedience to the chief laws, as there was in Christ. (T. T. Lynch.)
On characters of imperfect goodness
I. Persons of this description are not qualified for discharging aright many duties to which their situation in life may call them. Mildness and gentleness alone are not sufficient. This is but plastic clay to be shaped either for good or bad.
II. These persons are also ill-fitted for resisting the common temptations to vice. A constant desire to please is a poor bulwark against the persuasions of wicked men.
III. They are also unprepared for sustaining the distresses to which our state is liable. Learn:
1. That fair appearances alone are not to be trusted.
2. Piety is the only safe foundation of character.
3. Discipline must also be practised.
4. Watchfulness is also needed. (Hugh Blair, D. D.)
“All these have I observed from my youth”
I. Consider his profession. He had not only made the law of God his study, but practice.
1. His obedience was early-“From my youth up.”
2. His obedience was universal-“All these.”
3. It was constant and persevering.
Here we remark-
1. How much the conduct of this young man condemns that of the generality of mankind, who, so far from having anything of true religion, have not even the shadow of it.
2. Those who have been preserved from such evils, and have attained a high degree of moral excellence, are apt to think better of their case than it really deserves.
II. His inquiry-“What lack I yet?”
1. He lacked the true grace of God, or an inward principle of faith and holiness. He was like a spreading tree without a root.
2. He was deficient in the knowledge of himself and of that misery in which sin had involved him.
3. He lacked a justifying righteousness in which to appear before God.
4. With all his professions he was not weaned from earthly objects.
1. We see that though grace puts sinners on the inquiry about salvation, yet all inquirers are not truly gracious; many ask the way to Zion whose faces are not thitherward.
2. Mistakes with respect to the spiritual state of men are more common than most people imagine.
3. We here see what is the right use of the Divine law: by it is the knowledge of sin. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
The goodness of God
The words are part of a reply of our Saviour to the young man’s petition to Him.
1. God only is originally good, good of Himself. All created goodness is an outlet from this fountain, but Divine goodness hath no spring; God depends upon no other for His goodness: He hath it in, and of, Himself.
2. God only is infinitely good-a boundless goodness that knows no limits.
3. God only is perfectly good because only infinitely good. He is good without indigence, because He hath the whole nature of goodness, not only some beams that may admit of increase of degree.
4. God only is immutably good. There is not such a perpetual light in the sun as there is a fulness of goodness in God (James 1:17).
5. All nations have acknowledged God good.
6. The notion of goodness is inseparable from the notion of a God (Romans 1:20; Psalms 145:6-7).
I. What this goodness is.
1. We mean not the goodness of His essence, or the perfection of His nature. God is thus good because His nature is infinitely perfect.
2. Nor is it the same with the blessedness of God, but something flowing from His blessedness.
3. Nor is it the same with the holiness of God.
4. Or with the mercy of God.
5. By goodness is meant the bounty of God-His inclination to deal well and bountifully with His creatures. This is the most pleasant perfection of the Divine nature.
6. Comprehends all His attributes. All the acts of God are nothing else but the effluxes of His goodness, distinguished by several names, according to the “object it is exercised about. As the sea, though it be one mass of water, yet we distinguish it by several names, according to the shores it washeth and beats upon (Exodus 33:19; Exodus 34:6; Psalms 145:7-8).
II. Some propositions to explain the nature of this goodness.
1. He is good by His own essence-not by participation from another. Not a quality in Him, but a nature; not a habit added to His essence, but His essence itself.
2. God is the prime and chief goodness to whom all goodness whatsoever must be referred, as the final cause of all good.
3. His goodness is communicative, diffusive, without which He would cease to be good (Psalms 119:68.) God is more prone to communicate Himself than the sun to spread its beams, or the earth to mount up its fruits, or the water to multiply living creatures.
4. God is necessarily good-inseparable from His nature as holiness.
5. God is freely good. The necessity of the goodness of His nature hinders not the liberty of His actions: the matter of His acting is not at all necessary, but the manner of His acting in a good and bountiful way is necessary as well as free.
6. Communicative with the greatest pleasure. What God gives out of goodness He gives with joy and gladness. He is as much delighted with petitions for His liberality in bestowing His best goodness as princes are weary of the craving of their subjects.
7. Its display was the motive and end of all His works of creation and providence.
III. God is good.
1. The more excellent anything is in nature the more of goodness and kindness it hath.
2. He is the cause of all created goodness.
(1) Is not impaired by suffering sin to enter into the world, and man to fall thereby. It is rather a testimony of God’s goodness, that He gave man an ability to be happy, than any charge against His goodness, that He settled man in a capacity to be evil. God was first a benefactor to man before man could be a rebel against God.
(2) Is not prejudiced by not making all things the equal subjects of it. Is any creature destitute of the open marks of His goodness, though all are not enriched with those signal characters which He vouchsafes to others (Genesis 1:4; Genesis 1:10; Genesis 1:12; Genesis 1:18; Genesis 1:21; Genesis 1:25; Genesis 1:31)?
(3) Is not violated by the severe punishment of offenders, and the inflictions He inflicts upon His servants.
(a) God’s justice is part of the goodness of His nature. Is it not a part of the goodness of God to make laws and annex threatenings? and shall it be an impeachment of His goodness to support them? Not to punish evil would be a want of goodness.
(b) Sometimes God afflicts men for the temporal and eternal good (1 Corinthians 11:32; Psalms 89:33; Hebrews 12:10).
IV. The manifestation of his goodness.
1. In creation of man-his being and nature; the conveniences He provided for, and gave to man; the world was made and furnished for man; the laws He hath given to man-fitted to his nature and happiness.
2. In redemption.
(1) Goodness was its spring. He was under no obligation to pity our misery, etc.
(2) Exceeds His goodness in creation: in regard to the difficulty of effecting it; its cost; man’s desert of the contrary. Greater goodness than was expressed towards the angels-standing or fallen. Greater than was for a time manifested to Christ Himself. He so loved the world that He seemed for a time not to love His Son in comparison of it, or equal with it (John 3:16). The first resolution to redeem, and the means appointed for redemption, could have no other inducement but Divine goodness. In God’s giving Christ to be our Redeemer, He gave the highest gift that it was possible for Divine goodness to bestow-greater than worlds or all things purchased by Him: greater because it was His Own Son, not an angel; and this Son given to rescue us by His death.
(3) This goodness is enhanced by considering the state of man in the first transgression, and since: nothing in fallen man to allure God to the expression of His goodness; man was reduced to the lowest condition; every age multiplied provocations; man was utterly impotent; the high advancement of our nature, after it had so highly offended; the covenant of grace made with us, whereby we are freed from the rigour of that of works-its nature and tenor, its confirmation (Hebrews 6:17-18), its easy, reasonable, and necessary condition; His affectionate method of treating with man to embrace this covenant; the sacraments He hath affixed to this covenant, especially in the Lord’s Supper.
(4) By this redemption God restores us to a more excellent condition than Adam had in innocence (John 10:10).
3. In His government-in preserving all things; in the preservation of human society; prescribing rules for it, restraining the passions of men, etc.; in providing Scripture as a rule to guide us, and continuing it in the world; in the conversion of men; in answering prayers; in bearing with the infirmities of His people; in afflictions and persecutions (Psalms 119:71); in temptations.
1. Of instruction. If God be so good-
(1) How unworthy is the contempt or abuse of His goodness.
(2) It is a certain argument that man is fallen from his original state.
(3) There can be no just complaint against God, if men be punished for abusing His goodness.
(4) Here is a certain argument, both for God’s fitness to govern the world, and His actual government of it.
(5) The ground of all religion is this perfection of goodness.
(6) Renders God amiable-to Himself, to us.
(7) Renders Him a fit object of trust and confidence.
(8) Renders God worthy to be obeyed and honoured.
2. Of comfort.
(1) In our addresses to Him.
(2) In afflictions.
(3) Ground of assurance of happiness.
(4) Of comfort in the midst of public dangers.
3. Of exhortation.
(1) How should we endeavour after the enjoyment of a God so good!
(2) Often meditate on the goodness of God.
(3) Be thankful for.
(4) Imitate-in relieving and assisting others in distress, etc. (Stephen Charnocke, B. D.)
I shall show what was commendable in this young man. First-The question asked-What shall I do to inherit eternal life?
I. It is not a question about another man, but himself. Many do not look inward, and are busy about the concernments of others; but here it is not, What shall they do, or what shall others do? but, Good Master, what is my duty? What shall I do to be saved?
II. It is not a curious question, or the proposal of some intricate doubt and nice debate (Titus 3:9 -“Avoid foolish questions”).
III. It is not about the body, but the soul.
IV. About his soul. And certainly such a question as this discovers a good spirit.
1. That he was no Sadducee, for he inquires after eternal life, which they denied.
2. It discovers some thoughtfulness about it; his thoughts were more upon the kingdom of heaven than upon a temporal reign.
3. It discovered that he was very sensible of the connection that is between the end and the means, that something must be done in order to eternal life. There are some men who would have heaven and happiness, but are loathe to be at the cost.
4. This question so put discovers that he was sensible that a slight thing would not serve the turn, not a little saying and outward profession.
5. This was the errand and great thing that brought him to Christ to find the way to heaven and true happiness.
V. This question was seriously put: he did not ask it in jest, but in the greatest earnest.
Secondly. Let us consider the person by whom it was put.
I. We find him to be a young man. God demands His right of the young man, that his heart be seasoned betimes with grace.
1. Consider how convenient and reasonable it is that God should have our first and best. The flower and best of our days is due to God, who is the best of beings. Under the law the first fruits were God’s; the sacrifices were all offered young, and in their strength (Leviticus 2:14). When wit is dulled, ears heavy, body weak, affections spent, is this a fit sacrifice for God? If a man has a great way to go, it is good rising early, in the morning; many set out too late, never any too soon. And for the convenience of it, young men are most capable of doing God service; the faculties of their souls are most vigorous, and the members of their bodies most active. It is not fit to lay the greatest load on the weakest horse; the weak shoulders of old men are not fit for the burden of religion.
2. Consider how necessary it is, because the lusts of youth being boiling hot need the correction of more severe discipline. As the boiling pot sendeth up most steam, so in the fervours of youth there are the strongest inclinations to intemperance and uncleanness.
3. Consider the profit of it.
(1) The work is more easy the sooner it is taken in hand: whereas the longer it is delayed, the more difficult. A twig is easily bowed, but when it is grown into a tree it is not moved. When the disease groweth inveterate, medicines do little good.
(2) You hereby provide for the comfort of old age. If you serve God in your good days, He will help you the better over those evil days wherein there is no pleasure. It will then be no grief of heart to you when old that you were acquainted with God young: whereas, on the other side, the vanities of youth will be the burden of age.
(3) Our great work, that must be once done, is put out of hazard when we think of heaven seriously while we are young. Life is most uncertain, and such a weighty business as this should not be left at peradventures.
II. This man was a rich man, one who had great possessions. This man, though he had enough to live happily in the present world, yet he thinks of the world to come. This is a question rarely moved by men of that sort. They think heaven is a fit notion to entertain the fancies of the poor and afflicted withal, a pleasant thought wherewith to comfort and relieve their sorrows; but this rich man, though he had great possessions, yet he hath his trouble upon him about his salvation.
III. He was a ruler, not a vulgar and obscure plebeian, but a man of eminence and authority, a nobleman (to speak in the English language), or the chief of his family. Thirdly. Here is the manner of his address, and thence you may observe-
1. The voluntariness of it.
2. The earnestness and fervour of his coming-“He came running.”
3. Consider his humility and reverence to Christ: he kneeled to him, in token of civil honour and reverence to Him, as an eminent teacher and prophet.
I. But where was his defect?
1. His fault was that he asked in the Pharisee’s sense, what good thing he should do. Now the Pharisee’s error was double; he thought that men should be saved by their own works, and that those works were in their own power. They were confident of their own merit and strength.
II. His next fault was his love of riches and worldly things, which is a dangerous obstruction and a let to salvation. First: This may serve to humble us. It were a blessed thing for the world if all men went so far as this young man, so as-
1. To have their thoughts taken up about eternal life. The most part of the world never consider whence they are nor whither they go, nor what shall become of them to all eternity. Should a man’s thoughts be taken up about furnishing his inn where he tarries but a night and neglect his home?
2. To be sensible, it is no slight matter to have an interest in the world to come. Most men think they shall do well enough for heaven; a small matter will serve the turn for that.
3. To have such a sense as to choose fit means. Many keep up teachers to please their own lusts.
4. To be so concerned as to be in earnest in the means. “Be swift to hear” (St. James 1:19). But we are cold, slack, and negligent.
Secondly: To caution us: do not rest in a common work.
1. In a desire of heaven is your only happiness.
2. Do not rest barely in a desire that moveth us to the use of some means, unless it bring us to a perfect resignation to God. This man had a good mind to heaven; he cheapens it, but is not willing to go through with the price.
3. If we would not rest in a common work, there are two things we must take care of, which are opposite to the double defect of this young man-brokenness of heart, and unbounded resignation of ourselves to the will of God; bring yourselves to that, and the thing is done.
(1) Brokenness of heart.
(2) Resignation of yourselves to God’s will. He that starves as well as he that surfeits hath his difficulties in the way to heaven. Every man hath a tender part of soul, some carnal affection that he doth allow, reserve, and is loath should be touched; therefore, till there be an unbounded resignation, and we fully throw ourselves at Christ’s feet, it is impossible ever we should come to the kingdom of heaven.
No; we should be glad to accept of mercy on any terms, and take heaven at God’s price.
1. This unbounded resolution must be seriously made (St. Luke 14:26).
2. It must be faithfully performed. There are four points of great weight and moment, which should ever be remembered by them that would make out their gospel qualifications or new covenant plea of sincerity.
(1) That any allowed evil habit of soul or reigning sin is inconsistent with that faith that worketh by love, and only maketh us capable of the great privileges of the gospel.
(2) That the usual bait of reigning sin is the world. The great difficulty of salvation lies in a man’s addictedness to worldly things of temporal satisfaction.
(3) That our inclinations to worldly things is various, according to our temper and constitution of men-“As the channel is cut so the river runs” (Isaiah 53:6).
(4) That many times, when pretences are fair, there is a secret reserve in our hearts. The devil seeketh to deceive men with a superficial change and half reformation, and moveth them to take on the profession of religion, and yet secure their fleshly and worldly interest. (T. Manton, D. D.)
We have seen the young man’s question: here is Christ’s answer; in which observe two things.
1. His expostulation with him-“Why callest thou Me good?”
2. His instruction of him-“There is none good but One, that is God.”
First: For the expostulation. He doth not simply blame him for giving Him this title, but argueth with him about it.
1. To show He loves no compliment or fair words which proceed not from sound faith and love to Him. As elsewhere (St. Luke 6:46)-“Why Call me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” It is a mockery to give titles to anyone when we do not answer it with suitable endeavours.
2. He takes occasion to draw him from his error of conceiving Him as a mere man. The attribute of good belongeth truly and properly to none but God.
3. Our Lord would teach us by His own example to cast all the honour we receive upon God. This is a common sin, that when God doth any good by His creatures the minds of men stick in the creatures, and never look up to God; and from thence comes idolatry.
4. I suppose the chief reason was to beat down this pharisaical conceit.
Secondly: I come to Christ’s instruction of him. There is none good but God. And there you have two propositions.
1. That in some sense there is no man good
2. That God only is good.
Doctrine 1: There is no mere man that is absolutely and perfectly good. I shall explain this negatively and affirmatively. First: For the negative part.
1. It is not to be so understood as if in no sense man were good, for it is said in St. Luke 6:45, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart”; and it is said of St. Barnabas (Acts 11:24) and of Joseph of Aramathea (St. Luke 23:50).
2. This is not so to be understood as if there were no distinction between men, but they were all equal in sin.
3. It is not so to be understood as if it were unlawful wholly to acknowledge that goodness that is in others.
Secondly: Positively. How is it then true that no man is good?
1. No man is of himself good, but only by participation of God’s goodness. As all the stars derive their light from the sun, so do we derive our poor weak ray wherewith we shine from the Father of lights (St. James 1:17). All the tribute we pay Him we have out of His own exchequer.
2. No man is good, that is, absolutely and perfectly good.
3. No man is good in comparison with God.
The consideration of God’s holiness and dignity obscureth all the glory and praise of the creature. As when the sun is up the lustre of the stars is no more to be seen than if they were not, so when God is thought on, and we are compared with Him, there are none good, no, not one.
1. This should ever keep us humble, for all the good that is in us, natural and spiritual, is not of ourselves but God (1 Corinthians 4:7).
2. This should keep us in a self-loathing frame and posture of heart, because the good that is in us is so imperfect and mingled with so much evil of sin.
3. This instructeth us, since none is good, where our happiness lieth, not in the plea of innocency, but in the pardon of sin (Psalms 32:1-2).
Doctrine 2: That God only is good. First, the absolute perfection of His nature and being, which is such as nothing is wanting to it or defective in it, and nothing can be added to it to make it better. In short, God is good, and only good four ways-originally; essentially, infinitely, and immutably.
1. Originally. He is αὐταγαθος, good of Himself.
2. He is essentially good. The goodness of God and the goodness of a creature differs, as a thing whose substance is gold differs from that which is gilded and overlaid with gold. A vessel of pure gold, the matter itself, gives lustre to it; but in a gilded vessel, the outward lustre is one thing, and the substance is another. The essence and being of an angel is one thing, and its holiness another. The holiness may be separated from the essence, for the essence and being of the angels was continued when their perfection and goodness was lost; so man’s substance is one thing, his holiness another, but in God His holiness is His being.
3. God is infinitely good. God is an ocean without banks or bottom; the goodness of a creature is but a drop from the ocean, or as a nutshell filled with the water of the sea.
4. God is immutably good: it cannot be diminished or augmented, for in infiniteness there are no degrees-it can never be more than it is or less than it is; for God hath actually all possible perfection.
Use 1. To humble us in our converse with God.
Use 2. To make us thankful.
Use 3. If we would have good wrought in us, let us look up to God.
Use 4. Let us love God, and love Him above all things, for He only is good.
He is the chiefest good. Other things are good in subordination to Him. All the goodness that is in the creature is but a spark of that good which is in God. If we find any good there, it is not to detain our affections, but to lead us to a greater good; not to hold us from Him, but to lead us to Him, as the streams lead us to the fountain, and the steps of a ladder are not to stand still upon, but to lead us higher. If the prince should woo us by messengers, and we should leave him and cleave to the messengers, this were extreme folly, and a great abuse and wrong to the prince. By the goodness of the creatures God’s end is to draw us to Himself as the chiefest good. Here is goodness in the creature, but it is mixed with imperfection; the goodness is to draw us to God, the imperfection to drive us from the creatures. Many a fair stream is drawn dry or runneth low by being dispersed into several channels, but that which is infinite cannot be lessened. (T. Manton, D. D.)
Question 1. Why Christ refers the young man to the commandments? To convince him of his impotency, to humble him in the sense of his guilt, to drive him out of himself, and to draw him to seek salvation by a better covenant, or if not, to leave him without excuse.
1. Christ used the same method that God did in giving the law upon Mount Sinai. Why did God give it then but to break a stiff-necked people, trusting to their own strength, by this exact yoke of duty, which neither they nor their fathers were able to bear? (Romans 5:20-21; Galatians 3:19.)
2. Practical conviction is best, and men never see their unworthiness so much as when they are held to their own covenant, and we are so far to condescend to the burnouts of men as to convince them and condemn them in their own way. As a presumptuous sick man, that is strongly conceited he is able to leave his bed and walk up and down, the best way to confute him is by trial.
3. It was a truth Christ spake. If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments; but we must consider his intention. Though men’s trusting in their own works is displeasing to God, yet good works are not displeasing to Him.
Question 2. Why the commandments of the second table are only mentioned?
1. In these the Pharisees conceived themselves to be most perfect, and yet these were a sufficient touchstone whereby to try and discover their unfruitfulness and their imperfection. Certainly if they be defective here, there is no standing by the law. If a man cannot go, surely he cannot run; if he cannot spell, surely he cannot read; if men be defective in the duties of the second table, certainly they are not able to keep the law.
2. These are most plain and easy to be understood, and the sins committed against them are most evident and apparent.
3. In the externals of the first table the Jews seemed very zealous, but negligent they were of the second; and herein they commonly fall who hypocritically make fair shows of devotion and outward respect to God in worship (Isaiah 1:11).
Doct. The true way to prepare men for Christ is to cause them to see their misery and impotency by the law. Because every man is apt to flatter himself with a spurious covenant of works of his own making, which is the main let and hindrance to keep him from Christ and salvation. It must be a powerful instrument to prepare men for Christ, because this covenant shuts up a sinner without any hope of relief, unless Christ and grace open the door to him. Let us then see how this law shuts men up.
1. The duty is impossible (Romans 8:3).
2. The penalty is intolerable (Galatians 3:10). There is none passeth into the new covenant till he be driven by the old; and therefore certainly this is the way to prepare a man for Christ, to have some sense and feeling of it in our heart, and we see we are cursed and undone creatures, and so lie at God’s feet with brokenness of heart (Romans 8:15).
To instruct us, if we would be prepared for Christ, what we must do.
1. We must be able to understand the law.
2. Meditate often thereupon (Psalms 1:6).
3. Judge yourselves by it-look into thy bill, what owest thou?
4. Beg the light of the Spirit to show thee thy sin and misery (Romans 7:9). Without the Spirit we guess confusedly concerning things, as the man that saw men like trees walking, and have but general, cursory, confused thoughts. (T. Manton, D. D.)
A good answer, if true
The young man’s answer was good if it were true. First. It is good in the first respect, as an universality of obedience is pretended; and I drop this note-Doct. They that would keep the commandments must observe not only one but all. It is true of the law of God, as it belongeth to the covenant of works, or to the covenant of grace.
1. As it belongeth to the covenant of works (Galatians 3:10; James 2:10). As one condition not observed forfeits the whole lease, therefore it concerns this legalist to make good his plea and conceit of perfection by the law, to say,” all these things have I done.”
2. But is not the covenant of grace more favourable? No; it gives not allowance to the least failings, but binds us to make conscience of all as well as of some.
(1) Because the authority is the same (Exodus 20:1). “God spake,” not one or two, but “all these words.”
(2) The heart can never be sincere when we can dispense with anything which God hath commanded; and you cannot have the testimony of a good conscience approving your sincerity when you allow yourselves in the least failing (Psalms 119:6; Luke 1:6; Psalms 66:18).
(3) God giveth grace to all. Wherever He renews and sanctifies is throughout. He fills the soul with the seeds of all grace, so as to dispose and incline us to every duty, whether to God or man, the world or our fellow creatures (2 Peter 1:7). Use. To reprove those that would keep some commandments, but not all. There is such an union betwixt all the parts of the law of God, that one cannot be violated without a breach of all the rest; therefore take heed of obeying God by halves. Secondly: There is another thing that is good in the reply the young man maketh, that is his early beginning-“I have kept all from my youth.”
1. Because it will be a help to us all our lives afterwards, before affections are forestalled and pre-engaged, to begin with God, and to have the inclinations of youth set right by a good education, to be restrained from our own will, and to be trained up in a way of abstinence from bodily pleasures. When men are well principled and seasoned in youth, it sticketh by them; the vessel is seasoned already.
2. While parents and governors are careful to season those tender vessels, the Lord is pleased many times to replenish them with grace from above, and to give us His blessing upon their education, and many have been converted that way. You will bewail any natural defect of your children, and seek to cure it while they are young, if they have a stammering tongue, a deaf ear, or a lame leg; certainly you ought much more bewail the want of grace. Dye the cloth in the wool, and not in the web, and the colour is more durable. God works strangely in children, and many notable things have been found in them beyond expectation.
3. It prevents many sins which afterwards would be a trouble to us when we are old. The sins of youth trouble many a conscience in age; witness David (Psalms 25:7; Job 13:26).
New afflictions may awaken the sense of old sins, as old bruises may trouble us long after, upon every change of weather. Alas I we cannot say “all these have we kept from our youth,” but when we come to look to the commands of God, we may say “all these have we broken from our youth.” But was it true?
1. It was true in regard of outward conformity. If there be light in the lantern, it will shine forth. If there be grace in the heart, it will appear.
2. It was not true in regard of that perfect obedience which the law requireth, and so he ignorantly and falsely supposed that he had kept the law well enough, and done those things from his youth. The falsity and presumption of this answer will appear by considering-
(1) What the Scripture saith of the state of man by nature (Genesis 8:21).
(2) The falsity of it appears by the sense of the commandment produced.
(3) The falsity of it will appear by comparing him with other holy men of God; how differently do they express themselves from this man that was so full of confidence. Compare him first with Josiah, who, when he heard the law read, rent his clothes (2 Kings 22:11). A tender conscience is all in an agony when it hears the law, and will smite for the least failing, as David’s heart smote him for cutting off the lap of Saul’s garment. But what is the cause that men are so apt to overrate their own righteousness and goodness before God?
1. Ignorant of the spiritual meaning of the law. A man that keeps the law only outwardly can no more be said to keep the law than he that hath undertaken to carry a tree, and only taken up a little piece of the bark.
2. They are ignorant of gospel righteousness, which consists in the remission of sins, and imputation of Christ’s righteousness applied by true faith. Ignorance, then, is one great cause of this disposition in men to justify themselves, ignorance of the legal and gospel covenant; they are ignorant of the nature, merit, and influence of sin, and of the severity of God’s justice.
Secondly. Another cause is error.
1. That they live in good order and are of a civil, harmless life, and are better than others, or better than themselves have been heretofore, and therefore are in good condition before God, and yet a man may be carnal for all this. A man may not be as bad as others, and yet not as good as God requireth (Galatians 6:4). What is short of regeneration is short of salvation.
2. Here is another of their errors: they are born and bred up in the bosom of the Church, and true religion: and because they are baptized, and profess the faith of Christ, therefore they think they ever had faith and a good heart towards God, and do not see why or from what they should be converted.
3. They know no difference between a state of nature and a state of grace; they know no such thing as passing from death to life, and therefore are never troubled about it. As if all were of one lump, and all should fare alike, and therefore think themselves as good as the best.
4. That those that are blameless before men, and well spoken of in the world, need not doubt of their acceptance with God.
5. Another sottish maxim is, that petty sins are not to be stood upon. Thirdly: Self-love is the reason of it (Proverbs 16:2). A man is very blind and partial in his own cause, and will not own any opinion and conceit against himself.
Fourthly. Negligence and want of searching, and taking the course whereby we may be undeceived. Fifthly. Security. As they will not search, so they will not know themselves when they are searched, and cannot endure thoroughly to be discovered to themselves.
1. They cannot endure to be searched by the Word (St. John 3:20).
2. When God searcheth them by affliction; when they do not judge themselves, they are judged by the Lord.
And that you may not be besotted with a dream of your own righteousness, consider-
1. How light every one of us shall be found when we are put in the balance of the sanctuary (Proverbs 16:2).
2. Consider how different the judgment of God and men will be (St. Luke 16:15).
3. Consider that self is an incompetent judge in its own case; and therefore you, that are to endure God’s judgment, should not stand merely to the judgment of self. (T. Manton, D. D.)
Then Jesus beholding him, loved him.
The young ruler, whom Jesus loved
I. Let us inquire into the nature of our Lord’s regard for the young ruler. “Then Jesus, beholding him, loved him.” There are those who think that ardent love for an unconverted friend is a misplaced affection; that we should only love what God loves. But the love of God must be different from the love of the creature. When God loves He loves the whole man, not for his moral qualities, but in spite of them. The love of man is partial in its object, for we can admire one part of a man’s character whilst we dislike another. Our attachments also in their present form must be of limited duration. What is implied in this love?
1. There is a sincere desire for such a person’s welfare and an anxious wish to do him good.
2. There is a feeling of mournful pity, that one endowed with such high and hopeful qualities should fall short of heaven at last.
II. What were the qualities which kindled our Lord’s regard for the young ruler?
1. A real concern on the part of the young man for the safety of his soul.
2. Our Lord would be pleased with the young man’s desire for religious knowledge.
3. The excellence of his moral character.
III. Having seen the nature of our Lord’s regard, and the qualities of the young man which seem most likely to have kindled it, let us conclude with a few practical reflections on the sad compatibility of both with the final loss of heaven.
1. How many amiable qualities are here spoiled at once by the love of this world.
2. What is the precise value of any combination of amiable qualities towards the securing of this rich inheritance? However the world may applaud noble qualities, they will not save in the day of judgment. There must be repentance and faith. (D. Moore, M. A.)
Amiable qualities in the unregenerate
There may be some amiable and good qualities in unregenerate men.
1. All are created with some inclination to good, though not to good spiritual, yet to good, natural and moral. In our decayed condition there are some remainders of right reason, some impressions of equity, some principles of common honesty, still left and preserved in us, though as to spiritual endowments, “we are altogether become filthy and abominable” (Psalms 14:2). As in a rifled palace, though the rich furniture be gone, the plate and the jewels, and though the fashion of it be much spoiled, yet some of the fabric is left still standing to show what a magnificent structure it once was.
2. For the good of mankind. God is the patron of human society, and delights in the welfare and preservation of it. Now there would be no such thing as human society, if there were not sweetness of nature and moral dispositions yet left in us.
3. There are other things besides renewing grace that might cause these amiable qualities.
(1) Bodily temper may incline men to some good.
(2) The increase of one sin may cause others to decrease, as a wen that grows big and monstrous defrauds other parts of their nourishment. Though all sin he kindly to a natural heart, yet some sins are more apt to take the throne, and other lusts are starved to feed that A prodigal man is not covetous, and so more prone to be liberal and free-hearted. Thus as weeds destroy one another, so do many vices; so many vices occasion something that is amiable. Ambition makes men diligent, sober, and vigilant to improve their opportunities.
(3) It may be occasioned partly by discipline and strict education, or else the miseries and calamities of the present life; for these things, though they do not mortify sin, yet they may much weaken and hinder the discovery of it.
(4) By politic government and laws, which keep men within the bounds of their duty, so that they are orderly by constraint, and for fear of penalty, which, if they should follow their pleasure in sinning, they would be exposed to. Austin compares laws to brooms, which, though they cannot make corn of weeds or of chaff, yet they serve to sweep in the corn and keep it within the floor. Laws may make men good subjects, though not good men.
(5) Unregenerate men may be translated from the grammar school of nature to the university of grace; and though they never commence there, and took the degree of true sanctification, yet they may come very near to it by common grace, and may not be far from the kingdom of God.
Use 1. It shows us how inexcusable they are in the sight of God, and how just their condemnation will be, that have nothing lovely in them.
Use 2. If there may be amiable qualities in unregenerate men, then do not rest in these things (St. Matthew 5:46). A good nature without grace makes a fair show with the world, but it is of little respect with God as to your salvation. All this may be from temper and awe of men. How may a man mistake a still nature for meekness, firmness and height of spirits for zeal, want of affection to holy things for discretion, stupidity for patience, obstinacy for constancy! But God knows how to distinguish. Will complexion and temper ever pass for grace in God’s account? And usually if a natural man hath one good quality, he hath another bad one to match it. Nay, a good nature once corrupted doth prove the worst of all others, as the sweetest wine makes the tartest vinegar-all their parts and excellences are but like a sword in a curler’s shop, as ready for the thief as the true man to purchase.
Doctrine 2. That in some respect Christ loves those that are orderly and civil, and do but outwardly carry themselves according to God’s commands.
1. The thing is good in itself, though the resting in it makes it useless as to the salvation of the person that goes no further (Micah 6:8).
2. Because our Lord Jesus Christ is willing and ready to own the least good in us, that He might draw us on to more (St. Matthew 12:20).
3. Because these things tend to the profit of mankind, and Jesus Christ’s heart is much set upon the good of mankind. Use. Now let us see what use we may make of this.
1. We cannot make this use of it as if Christ did love moral virtues as meritorious of grace; they are not such things upon which God hath bound Himself to give the grace of conversion.
2. We must not so take this as that He doth love good qualities so as to make them equal with Christian virtues or the graces of the Spirit. Morality is good, but we must not lift it up beyond its place. There is something better, and that is grace (Hebrews 6:9). Loose professors dishonour their religion, but the sound grapes in the cluster must not be judged of by the rotten ones, nor is the beauty of a street to be measured by the filthiness of the sink and kennel. Those that are the sink and disgrace of Christianity are unfit to show forth the virtue of it. So that if you compare these things, their morality is but like a field flower to a garden flower, or wild fruits to orchard fruits; it is a wild thing in comparison of grace, and not in any way comes up to the height of it.
3. We must not from hence make this use, that we should think ourselves to be in a good condition because of moral qualifications. Men may be viceless, but yet if they be Christless and graceless, and never brought to brokenness of heart (for certainly that is necessary to prepare men for faith, and for pardon of sins) they may perish for evermore.
II. Positively. What use may we make of this, that Jesus loved this young man?
1. If Christ did love civility, much more will He love true grace in any of His, though mingled with much weakness. Certainly He that delights in the obscure shadow of His image will much more delight in the lively picture and impression of it upon the souls of His people, though we have our weaknesses.
2. We learn by Christ’s example to honour others for their common gifts.
3. Thus we may learn children, young men, and others, all may know how to get Christ’s love if they be tractable. By the rule of contraries, if He loves conformity to the law of God in externals, He hates those that walk contrary to His laws.
4. It condemns those that will pretend to the peculiar love of Christ, when they are not moral, but forward, undutiful in their relations, unconscionable in their dealing, and have not learned to be sober, to possess their vessels in sanctification and honour. What I do you talk of being Christians, when you are not as good as heathens?
Object: What love doth Christ show now upon earth to those that are moral?
1. Moral virtues will at least procure a temporal reward.
2. There will be some serenity of mind resulting from the rectitude of your actions.
3. It is some advantage to grace; it is like the priming the post, that maketh it receptive of better colours.
4. As to their eternal state, it will be more tolerable for such than for others. (T. Manton, D. D.)
On discerning good in others
It is only St. Mark who informs us that our Lord, beholding him, loved him. There were many imperfections in this young man, who was far too well satisfied with himself; yet our Lord loved him. Thus when we see much in people to lament and condemn, we should try to discern something in them to love. We are often tempted to dwell on the worst side of our neighbour’s character. We shall never help him much unless we love him. Let us go on looking till the ungraceful qualities disappear from view, and we discover his better self. There is some such view taken of the departed. Sometimes while a man is alive we are keenly alive to his bad points; when the man dies we find there is another side to his character which we never suspected. We often do not know the value of persons till we have lost them. We should not wait for death to remove men before we appreciate them. Try to think not so much of what the man is as what he was meant to be. Reconstruct in imagination the pattern after which he was created. He was meant to be something better than he has yet become. God meant him simply to be courageous. He is now rash. He is now lavish-he was intended to be generous. His very faults are perhaps perversions of good qualities. What you think insincerity arises from a desire not to wound feelings. What you think abruptness is a distorted form of straightforwardness. Not that we should confound moral distinctions. The man is a drunkard-we need not justify intemperance, but we may yet think God meant him for something better. God drew the plan for each. I will consider what by grace they may yet become. The Saviour loves yon still, beholding you with all your blemishes. (H. W. Burrows.)
One thing thou lackest.-
The defective amiabilities of the young
There may be much exceedingly fair and interesting in youth, and yet one thing of essential importance lacking.
1. Corporeal beauty-comeliness of feature, freshness of complexion, symmetry of form, gracefulness of movement; but how terrible if united with depraved and deformed soul, if no Divine light within, no love of God reigning in the heart.
2. Tender sensibilities, ever apt to awake at sight of distress. And yet in same heart there may be no sense of sin, no repentance toward God, no regard for Christ, no graces of the Spirit.
3. Mental ability-strong memory, ready judgment, shrewd observation, lively fancy; and yet an understanding blind in reference to the things of God, e.g., Balaam, Ahitophel.
4. Docility-readiness to devote energies to this or that pursuit, but neglecting the greatest study of all. He who has been learning all other sciences, but will not learn of Jesus, has left out of his study that very science which alone can “enlighten him with the light of the living.”
5. Religious assiduity-attention to outward rites. It is possible to know the truth and not love it; to hear the gospel and not believe it.
6. Active benevolence. Kindness may be done from motives of self-interest. They may also proceed merely from natural instinct, and not from love to God.
7. Ardent friendship, without any concern about the Friend who sticketh closer than a brother. (John Mitchell, D. D.)
A special precept, given as a test
In the ruler’s mind there was an ideal goodness; would he act up to its requirements? Riches and poverty in themselves are of little moment; our views of them constitute their most important feature. The point is, Are we trusting in them? If so, they must be given up, for they are a snare to us.
1. This test is much needed; for, although so dangerous, riches are not avoided like a haunted house. Very few fancy that they are rich, therefore the warning passes by them unheeded. But, whether we possess much or little, we may be clinging to what we have, and that is the danger.
2. If there remains one thing wanting, we cannot know satisfaction. No matter what our earthly possessions may be, still we shall be disappointed. The desires of an immortal spirit can be satisfied with nothing less than immortality.
3. Christ alone can satisfy all our wants. If we take up our cross and follow Him, we shall discover treasure laid up for us in heaven. With Christ as our guide and our hope, we shall be able to despise the riches of this world as so much glittering dross. Our course will be forward, our hope consistent, and heaven’s pure treasures our everlasting portion. (G. C. Tomlinson.)
One thing thou lackest
A barren and a fruitful vine are growing side by side in the garden; and the barren vine says to the fruitful one, “Is not my root as good as yours?” “Yes,” replies the vine; “it is just as good as mine.” “And are not my lower leaves as broad and spreading? And is not my stem as large and my bark as shaggy?” “Yes,” says the vine. “And are not my leaves as green, and have I not as many bugs creeping up and down? And am I not taller than you?” “Yes; it is quite true,” replies the vine; “but I have blossoms.” “Oh, blossoms are of no use.” “But I bear fruit.” “What! those clusters? Those are only a trouble to a vine.” Such is the opinion of the fruitless vine; but what thinks the vintner? He passes by the barren vine; but the other, filling the air with its odour in spring, and drooping with purple clusters in autumn, is his pride and joy; and he lingers near it, and prunes it, that it may become yet more luxuriant and fruitful, So the moralist and the Christian. (H. W. Beecher.)
Whole-hearted allegiance necessary
What, then, did this young man lack? Not right desires: he wished to inherit eternal life. Not a good moral character: all the moral law he had kept from his youth up; he had been an honouring son, an honoured citizen, a pure man. Not earnestness: he came running to Christ. Not reverence: he kneeled before Him. Not humility: he made willing and public confession of his desire and his faith before the multitude in the open roadway. Not an orthodox belief: if words are creeds, no creed could be more orthodox than that which he compacted into the two words, “Good Master.” Not a humane and tender spirit: for Christ looking on him loved him. But he lacked absolute and unquestioning allegiance; entire and implicit consecration; the spirit of the soldier who only asks what the marching orders are; the spirit of the Master Himself, whose prayer was ever, “Thy will, not Mine, be done.” And, lacking this, he lacked everything, and went away sorrowful. (Lyman Abbot, D. D.)
Importance of the one thing lacking
The lack of one thing may make void the presence of all things else. Lacking its mainspring-which is but one thing-a watch with jewels, wheels, pinions, and beautiful mechanism, the finest watch indeed that ever was made, is of no more use than a stone. A sundial without its gnomon, as it is called, Time’s iron finger that throws its shadow on the circling hours-but one thing also-is as useless in broad day as in the blackest night. A ship may be built of the strongest oak, with masts of the stoutest pine, and manned by the best officers and crew; but I sail not in her if she lacks one thing-that trembling needle which a child running about the deck might fancy a toy; on that plaything, as it looks, the safety of all on board depends-lacking that, but one thing, the shin shall be their coffin, and the deep sea their grave. It is thus with true piety, with living faith. That one thing wanting, the greatest works, the costliest sacrifices, and the purest life, are of no value in the sight of God. Still further, to impress you with the valuelessness of everything without true piety, and to show how its presence imparts such worth to a believer’s life and labours as to make his mites weigh more than other men’s millions, and his cup of cold water more precious than their cups of gold-let me borrow an illustration from arithmetic. Write down a line of ciphers. You may add thousands, multiplying them till the sheets they fill cover the face of earth and heaven; yet they express nothing, and are worth nothing. Now take the smallest number of the ten, the smallest digit, and place that at their head-magic never wrought such a change! What before amounted to nothing rises instantly by the addition of one figure, one stroke of the pen, into thousands, or millions, as the case may be; and whether they represent pounds or pearls, how great is the sum of them! Such power resides in true faith-in genuine piety. It may be the lowest piety, but one degree above zero; it may be the love of smoking flax, the hope of a bruised reed, the faith of a mustard seed, the hesitating, fluttering confidence of him who cried, “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief.” Still, so soon as it is inwrought by the Spirit of God, it changes the whole aspect of a man’s life, and the whole prospect of his eternity. It is that one thing wanting which, however amiable, moral, and even apparently religious we may be, our Lord addresses us, as He did the young ruler, saying, “One thing thou lackest.” (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
One habitual fault may vitiate the whole life
When a clock is out of order, we take it to pieces, and search where the fault lies, knowing that one wheel amiss may hinder the going of the whole clock. Our hearts are every day out of order; our work must be to take them to pieces by examination, and to see where the great fault is. (G. Swinnock.)
One thing thou lackest
The celebrated preacher, George Whitfield, made it a custom wherever he went to speak to the people in whose houses he stayed concerning their souls. He used to travel throughout the country preaching the gospel, and was brought into communication with vast numbers. At one time he was staying in the house of a kind and amiable man, General E- , who was a great admirer of his preaching. The family was so extremely hospitable and kind that, though he saw no evidence of vital godliness among them, Whitfield’s lips seemed sealed to all but the genial courtesies of society, and he omitted his ordinary custom on such occasions. But when he went upstairs to bed the Spirit of the Lord said to him, “O, man of God, how shalt thou be clear of their blood if thou dost not warn them?” His own feelings would have led him to be silent; and the tempter suggested, “They are so amiable and good; how can you speak to them about sin? Besides, you have preached the gospel today in their hearing; surely that is enough.” There was a struggle in his mind, which he would fain have decided by continuing silent, especially as so much kindness had been received. But God would not let him sleep that night. The voice of conscience said, “This very kindness should appeal to your gratitude not to be silent. It is your duty to speak-to warn them.” Early in the morning, before going away, Whitfield took his diamond ring from his finger, and wrote on the pane in the window these words: “One thing thou lackest.” He was no sooner gone than the master of the house said, “I will go up and look into the room where this holy man slept,” for he had an almost superstitious reverence for him. The first thing that caught his attention when entering the room was the writing on the glass. Its meaning flashed across his mind. He stood and wept. He then went to the door and called his wife. On looking at the writing she burst into tears, and said: “I thought he was unhappy. There seemed to be something on his mind. I knew he was in trouble about us, that we were not converted. I had been hoping he would speak to us.” The husband said, “By God’s grace, then, we will seek that ‘one thing’ we lack.” He called his family together, three daughters and a grown-up son. The text was pointed out. The Spirit of the Lord blessed it to their souls. The whole family knelt in prayer, confessed their sins, and found joy and peace in believing. The narrator of this incident says: “I know the story to be a fact, a friend of mine in New York having in his congregation a young woman, the daughter of one of the three daughters who knelt with her family in Whitfield’s room, and she treasures up the pane of glass as a precious relic.” (Christian Globe.)
A good natural character without religion
The dahlia would surely be a very empress among flowers if it had but perfume equal to its beauty, even the rose might need to look to her sovereignty. Florists have tried all their arts to scent this lovely child of autumn, but in vain, no fragrance can be developed or produced; God has denied the boon, and human skill cannot devise it. The reflecting mind will be reminded of those admirable characters which are occasionally met with, in which everything of good repute and comely aspect may be seen, but true religion, that sweet ethereal perfume of grace, is wanting; if they had but love to God, what lovely beings they would be, the best of the saints would not excel them, and yet that fragrant grace they do not seek, and after every effort we make for their conversion, they remain content without the one thing which is needful for their perfection. Oh, that the Lord would impart to them the mystic sweetness of His grace by the Holy Spirit! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
One thing lacking
I. That no outward respect, however exact, or however long, to God’s law, can give us a title to eternal life.
1. It is not enough that there should be wishes after heaven: and even a willingness to do many things, so that we may obtain the crown and the glory which are there laid up.
2. It is not enough either that our hearts should be tender, and our temper amiable. For after all, delightful as is this frame of mind to those among whom we live, and on whom it sends forth a perpetual sunshine, it is the gift of God to us. It is not our own, but His, and, in many cases, we can no more help this sweetness of disposition, than the flowers of the field can help being fragrant and beautiful. It is their nature to be sweet, and ours, perhaps, to be amiable. But is it any excuse for not loving God, that we love everything and everybody else?
3. It is a mere wilful murdering of our own souls, to whisper to ourselves that the greatness of a sacrifice will plead before God in excuse for our not making it. Had the young man in the text prayed to God to help him in his strait, to conquer his carnal weakness, to support his fainting courage, and to gird up his soul with a triumphant faith, he would have prevailed; and so shall we. Faith, faith, faith-here is the want! (J. Garbett.)
Sermon to the young
I. What is there in the scale that is favourable to you?
1. There are many of the qualities of youth which are favourable to religion, and as such Christ regards them. Courage, warm affections, retentive memory. These favourable to piety.
2. There are words in Scripture that are peculiarly favourable to you, and should inspire your hope, “They that seek Me early shall find Me.”
3. So the works of God-His works of grace-confirm those things that are said, so earnestly, to encourage you. Perhaps not one in forty is convinced after the age of forty.
II. What is there in the scale that is against you? “One thing thou lackest,” etc.
1. All that is merely amiable and hopeful in nature is not grace, nor is it at all really valuable in God’s sight. It is not holiness.
2. All those things that may appear amiable and lovely, if they are not sanctified by religion, will become hostile. The readiness of mind that receives a report may render your mind the storehouse of all impurity.
3. That if the grace of God prevent not, all the promises of youth may perish in everlasting despair.
Now let me entreat you to take the following counsels.
1. Never think you are too young to be converted, and forgiven, and saved.
2. Never take up with anything short of true religion.
3. Never be satisfied with having religion-seek to abound in it.
4. Let me remind you that for this purpose you should study your own easily besetting sin, especially the sins of your youth.
5. For this purpose form a rule, lay down a plan for life, laying out every day as it ought to be spent, and as you will wish you had spent it when you come to die; for this purpose read daily the Holy Scriptures-consult aged and experienced Christians, and ask them how they would advise you to conduct yourself before God.
6. Lastly, seek to live not for yourselves, but to live usefully as well as safely. (J. Bennett, D. D.)
Now we come to Christ’s answer, and there take notice. First: Of the admonition of his defect: “Jesus said unto him, One thing thou lackest.”
1. Because it would have been tedious to convince him of all his defects, Christ would take the more compendious way, and insist but upon one thing, which was enough to show that he was not perfect, as he vainly dreamed. If a man brag that he is able to pay one hundred pounds, you convince him of his penury when you press him to pay one penny, and he cannot.
2. This one thing was sure, and would strike home; for our Lord knew his heart, and therefore was resolved to touch his privy sore, and doth propose such a precept as would cross his darling sin; and therefore he would only come with one thing, which would try him to the purpose.
3. That one thing which he lacked was the main thing, the principal thing of the law, which was loving God above all things; the sum of the law is to love God above all, and our neighbours as ourselves.
4. Because the young man erred out of ignorance, Christ would not deal roughly with him, or by way of sharp reproof; He doth not rate him.
(1) We learn-That proud sinners must not be soothed up in their self-conceit, but convinced of their defects.
(2) That the way to convince them is by representing their principal and chief faults, some one sin; as Christ dealt with this young man: and so He deals with the woman of Samaria, convincing her of her sin.
(3) The more our failings strike deep upon the main articles of our obedience to God, the greater our conviction, and the more sense we should have of our condition before God. Secondly: We come to Christ’s precept, command, and injunction. First: “Go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.” Not applicable to all, in all circumstances.
But yet still in some cases we are to forsake all.
1. When God by His providence reduceth us to a poor condition.
2. When we cannot obey any particular precept of God without danger of being undone by it. The reasons why we must do so.
(1) God hath an absolute right to all that we have by His own eminency and prerogative.
(2) Because it is impossible we should be Christians, if we come not to Christ with this mind and resolution to forsake all for our duty to Him (Luke 14:33). (T. Manton, D. D.)
One defect fatal
But is it right to make such destinies turn upon a single point? That depends on the point. In other relations one thing may bring ruin. At a crisis in worldly interests, one wrong step may lead to remediless disaster. One error in trade may make you bankrupt; one medicine in sickness may give the turn to your life; for the lack of one anchor a vessel is lost. In religion, how may “one thing” keep a soul from heaven? If there is a determined, persistent unwillingness to be saved, that would seem sufficient, would it not? Well, that is the “one thing” referred to by Christ. And, furthermore, it is some “one thing “which makes the unwillingness. The ruler loved his great possessions more than he loved his soul. But the “one thing” may take many forms. It may be one appetite, one ambition, one companionship, one pleasure. Every one is called to choose between one set of influences that helps religion, and some other set which hinders. (T. J. Holmes.)
Sell whatsoever thou hast.-
A severe test
It is not raw recruits and beardless boys that hold the front of battle. These are not the stormers they throw into the fiery breach. Where the bullets fly the thickest, and the carnage is the fiercest, the ground is held by veterans, men inured to war, the flash of steel and the roar of cannon; on whose grim faces calm determination sits, with scars and medals on their breasts. The post of danger is assigned to veterans. Heavy burdens are laid on the backs, not of boys, but of grown men. It were little else than murder to bid a youth, who had just left his mother’s side, nor ever had his foot before on a deck, climb the shrouds and reef the topsails in a storm, when the mast bends to the breaking, and the ship reels in the trough of the sea. That were not common sense; and what man, who loved his son, and had either sense or consideration, would put a tender youth to so terrible a trial? It is said here, “Jesus, beholding him, loved him”; and if He loved this young ruler, why did He put him to a trial that, I venture to say would test the faith, not of a young Christian, but of the oldest and most mature Christian here? Why did He, so to speak, send this boy to the very front of the battle, the thickest of the fight? Doing so, I confess that, for myself, I am not much astonished at the result. At first sight, at least, I wonder less at this youth shrinking back, than I wonder at our Lord bidding him go forward. Let the best Christian here put himself for a moment in this youth’s circumstances. Think how you would feel now, were you called upon today to give up all the earnings of a lifetime, to part with some ancestral property-the dear old house, and the old trees, and the scenes of your boyhood, your possession, fortune, estate, rank-to leave all, to become a beggar, and follow the fortunes of a man so poor Himself that He often had not where to lay His head. I doubt that would be a burden under which the oldest Christian would stagger. I suspect that would try the faith of the best man here. And if any of you are disposed to look with scorn rather than sympathy on this poor young man, I am not of your number; and I would ask you to think how you would have done, and how erect you would have stood, under the same trial. The question occurs, then, Why did our Lord put this youth to such a trial? Was it done to repel him? No; it was done to draw him. It was not done to quench the smoking flax; but to blow it, as it were, by what seemed an adverse wind, into a burning flame. It was done kindly, discreetly, mercifully. By this step Christ intended to make that man know what he was; to make him see that he was not what he seemed to others and to himself. This test was applied to convince him practically of what it was not possible, perhaps, to convince him theoretically-that there was one thing he lacked, and that (so to say) the one thing needful. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
I. Christ-following involves self-abnegation. You cannot have a little of Christ, and a little of self. All or none.
II. Christ-following must be the expression of the soul’s supreme love. You must not make Christ a mere convenience.
III. Christ-following means self-giving. Christ was the Giver, and men are like Him in proportion as they give. Giving is not yet understood as a test of discipleship. Giving is understood as a patronage, but not as a self-sacrifice. Giving means different things to different people. There are men who give a thousand guineas at once, yet is their gift without value. If certain rich merchants, whose purses are always accessible, would but utter two sentences distinctly in favour of Christ as their personal Saviour, that would be worth more to the Christian cause than all the gold they lavish on it. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Consecration of all to Christ
Commentators stumble over the difficulty of this command. But it came to others, and they stood the test. It came to Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, when Christ bade them leave all to follow Him, to become fishers of men. It came to Paul when Christ bade him crucify his pride, and go into Damascus, and take his instructions from one of the despised and persecuted Christians, who would tell him what he should do. It came to Luther when Christ bade him forsake the church of his fathers and of his childhood; to Coligny, when Christ bade him abandon wife, and home, and peace; to William of Orange; to the Puritans; to John Howard; to David Livingstone. In one form or another it comes to every Christian; for to every would-be Christian the Master says, “Give up your property, your home, your life itself, and take them back as Mine, and use them for Me in using them for your fellowmen.” He who cannot-does not-do this, is no Christian. He can do nought but go away sorrowful: in this life, if he is keen of conscience; in the life to come, if a false education has lulled his conscience into uneasy slumber, but slumber so deep that only the judgment day can awaken it. (Lyman Abbot, D. D.)
How to treat wealth
When King Henry asked the Duke of Alva if he had observed the eclipses happening that year, he replied, “I have so much business upon earth, that I have no leisure to look up to heaven.” So it is with those who entangle themselves with the riches and pleasures of this world. There is only one way in which we can make them helps instead of hindrances. As an old writer remarks, “If we place a chest of gold or treasures upon our backs, it weighs us down to the earth; but if we stand upon it, we are raised higher. So if our possessions are placed above us, they will surely keep our souls grovelling earthward; but if we place them under our feet, they will lift us nearer to God and heaven.” (Anon.)
“Once I was staying as a boy in a bishop’s house, and there was dug up the brass plate from the tomb of one of his predecessors, and I have never forgotten the inscription that was on it. It was this: “Stay, passer by! See and smile at the palace of a bishop. The grave is the palace they must all dwell in soon.” Some of the best bishops who ever lived have been housed in log huts, and lived in apostolic poverty, and on hard fare. So did St. Augustine, the sainted Bishop of Hippo. ‘Do not give me rich robes,’ he said to his people; ‘they do not become a humble bishop. When a rich robe is given to me I feel myself obliged to sell it to help the poor.’ In former centuries the first thing a bishop did, as a rule, was to part with all his earthly possessions; and, while the heathen historian of the fourth century praises them, he speaks with angry scorn of the pompous and worldly prelates of other sees.” (Archdeacon Farrar.)
Giving to the poor
The Dry Goods Chronicle says that the late Mr. Nathaniel Ripley Cobb, of Boston, was generous-hearted and conscientious in the highest degree. In November, 1821, he drew up the following document:-“By the grace of God, I will never be worth more than 50,000 dollars. By the grace of God, I will give one-fourth of the net profits of my business to charitable and religions uses. If I am even worth 20,000 dollars, I will give one-half my net profits, and if I am ever worth 30,000 dollars, I will give three-fourths, and the whole after my fiftieth thousand. So help me God, or give to a more faithful steward and set me aside. November, 1821.” He adhered to this covenant, it is stated, with the strictest fidelity.
Give God thy heart, and He will reward thee with heaven
From the circumstances of the case, then, to which the text particularly refers, it is evident this precept implies that religion requires the renunciation of every object that engrosses the mind to the exclusion of God and duty. Nothing short of a complete sacrifice can fulfil the design of the gospel. This is a sublime view of the spirit and design of religion. It is not enough to submit to some privation and endure some trials in performing its duties; religion is so authoritative and dogmatic, that it must govern the will. The precept of the text requires the avaricious to sacrifice their wealth; but their wealth is to be applied to useful and charitable purposes. The sacrifice is enjoined as an indispensable proof of sincerity. Religion casts contempt on all sublunary things; still it commands its disciples to make the world’s goods subservient to generous uses; it does not mortify one vice to afford scope for another. The wealth which the rich man in the text possessed, was to be distributed among the poor; and nothing can illustrate more strikingly the kind and charitable spirit of the gospel than the importance which is thus given to the claims of the destitute. In thus illustrating the benevolent spirit of the gospel, it is necessary to remark, that the text furnishes no argument for profuse and indiscriminate charity. There is a danger that our charity should not only be indiscriminate, but profuse. In enjoining these arduous and important duties, religion proposes a rich and splendid reward. The figurative language of the text was evidently suggested by the nature of the precept it contains. The individual to whom the text was addressed was commanded to renounce his wealth; and the reward promised to his obedience was a treasure hereafter, infinitely more valuable than all the treasures of the earth. We are accustomed to say of any object on which we set a high value, that it is a treasure. We say of knowledge, that it is a treasure; we say of fame, that it is a treasure; we say of affection, that it is a treasure-a rich, inestimable treasure; and in all these cases, the phrase expresses the importance we attach to the object to which it is applied. In its application to the reward which religion reveals, it is comparatively weak. Nothing that men value on earth can convoy any adequate idea of the splendour and value of that reward; for it includes in it all of dignity, enjoyment, and purity, of which our nature is capable-the greatest honour, the most exquisite happiness, and the most exalted virtue. It is a treasure of knowledge; for there all Divine truth will be revealed to the soul; doubts, errors, and prejudices, will be dispelled. It is a treasure of affection; for there all distrust, jealousy, and fear, will be removed; God’s generous, unchanging love, will enrich and soothe the glorified spirit; a pure and glowing sympathy will unite soul to soul; the sweetest thoughts, and the most confiding tenderness, will be cherished and enjoyed; no suspicions will ever darken or chill the current of love, as it flows deep and warm from the rich fountains of the soul; and in communion with God, in the society of angels, and amidst the bright company of the redeemed, all the delights of lofty devoted affection will yield perpetual ravishment. It is a treasure of joy; for there every hope will be realized, and every promise fulfilled; care, trouble, and grief, will be forever gone; all the meanness, sufferings, and bereavements of life, will have passed away; bright scenes will call up the fairest images, and awaken into life the most animating thoughts; and exercises of lofty meditation, and the purest devotion, will fill the soul with transporting ecstasy. It is a treasure of glory; for there the soul will be raised to its native rank, adorned with unfading righteousness, invested with the honour of a mighty triumph, associated with angels, and welcomed by Christ; then the white robes will be put on, the crown and victory’s palm; then the song of praise will smile from the innumerable host; all the glory of God, all the glory of angels, and all the glory of the redeemed, will meet in one resplendent blaze, and fill the vast heaven with its inconceivable brightness. Oh, what a treasure! valuable as the soul, lasting as eternity! Riches will decay and perish; the proud palace will crumble into ruins, and its stately chambers be lonely and silent; the charms of beauty will fade, the trophies of ambition moulder into dust; and all the gaiety, pomp, and splendour of life, will vanish like a dream, and leave not a wrack behind. (A. Bennie.)
Take up the cross.-
The Christian taking up his cross
I. The Christian’s cross-What is it? It is something painful and humiliating. No death inflicted by the Romans was so agonizing as crucifixion; no death so ignominious. The Christian’s cross is that portion of pain and humiliation and suffering which the wisdom of God may allot to him in the way to heaven. It comes on us in different forms; the world’s hatred; domestic sickness; in himself. One man’s cross is visible-all can see it; another man’s may be secret. Our crosses may be changed; my neighbour’s today may be mine tomorrow.
II. But we are to take up our cross. What is meant by this?
1. There are some things it seems to forbid. We are not to make crosses for ourselves; this is to invade God’s province. He will order our afflictions for us. We are to take those He lays down, not to aggravate or increase them. Not to wish to choose what crosses the Lord shall make for us. We often want other men’s crosses just as we want their comforts. We must let the Physician prescribe for our disease. The cross sent is that from which we would most like to be exempt; the man of strong affections is wounded in his affections. The text forbids stepping out of the way to avoid our cross; this is choosing sin rather than affliction. God can meet us with crosses in sinful ways as well as in righteous, heavier than those turned from.
2. We have seen what this taking up of the cross forbids: let us now see what it enjoins. To take our cross as Christ did His. We are to carry it patiently-voluntarily-cheerfully.
III. Look now at the command our Lord gives us to do this. “Come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” Be careful not to mistake. Suffering cannot expiate sin. Christ has done this completely. What will you say when you lay your cross down at the gate of heaven? (C. Bradley, M. A.)
There are many special reasons why Christ should be propounded to us as our pattern and example whom we should follow and imitate.
1. Because He is a pattern of holiness set up in our nature.
2. Because there are many advantages by this pattern in our nature; as
(1) our pattern is more complete than if God had been our pattern. There are some graces wherein we cannot be said to resemble God, and therefore we must look for a pattern elsewhere, as humility, faith, fear, hope, reverence, obedience; none of these things are in God, for He hath no superior, and these things imply inferiority and subjection.
(2) It is an engaging pattern. We are engaged by the rule of our obedience, but much more by Christ’s example.
(3) It is an encouraging pattern, partly as there is an efficacy in this pattern; as with the gospel or law of Christ, there goeth along the ministration of the Spirit, so also with the consideration of His example.
Use. To persuade us to follow Christ.
1. Our general profession of being Christians doth oblige us to be like Him; head and members should be all of one piece-oh! what an affront is it to Christ to put His name to the picture and image of the devil.
2. We shall never be like Him in glory unless we be like Him in grace also (Romans 8:29).
But wherein should we follow Christ?
1. In His self-denial (2 Corinthians 8:9).
2. In His humility (St. Matthew 20:28).
3. In His love to the saints (St. John 13:34).
4. In His usefulness and profitableness, and of this the whole Gospel is a narrative and history.
5. In His piety towards God.
6. In His spirituality add heavenly-mindedness.
7. In His obedience to His mean earthly parents.
8. In the sweetness and beauty of His conversation, and yet in a strict and winning way.
9. In the holiness and purity of His life.
10. In His wonderful patience and meekness.
11. In love to His enemies (Romans 5:10). (T. Manton, D. D.)
And went away grieved.-
Christ left sorrowfully
I. He went away from Christ, though good. Alas that the moral should ever be separate from the holy.
II. He thought so highly of Christ and yet went away from Him.
III. He had pure and lofty aspirations and yet he went away. Contentment in good is a sign of a poor aim, rather than a great achievement. His aspiration was weak, though pure. He was only partially prepared to do “the good thing.” He had imagined performance rather than sacrifice. He looked to receive a lesson, not to enter a school. Like one who would gladly gain health and soundness at any cost, and then shrinks from the medicine and the knife-like one who feels quite strong and vigorous on the couch, and falls when he attempts to walk. Men may be dissatisfied with their spiritual condition. This comes to naught. They want instruction to go on; they receive instructions to begin anew. Instead of being improved, they haw to be detected.
IV. He went away, though Jesus loved him. Jesus always is pleased with justice, goodness, truth; as far as they go, they are like Himself, and give Him joy. Jesus loved him: but He loved something more. Jesus may love you, and yet you may not attain to His righteousness and blessing. There is a point beyond which He cannot go with sinners, beyond which it would not be saving men, but forcing machines.
V. He went away, although he did it sorrowfully. The sadness of loss-of disappointment-of self-conviction. “Ah! He is right.” The sadness of shame. “He has seen through me-I have left Him.” But the sorrow did not prevent his going. Jesus may but baptize you for the dead. You may die and yet mourn the loss of heaven. There are special times when we may be said to leave Christ. Such a time is that of deep religious conviction; when we are obliged by outward circumstances to take a stand. In leaving Christ we leave all. Let those who are following Him “cleave to Him with full purpose of heart.” (A. J. Morris.)
Man good in the lower relationships of life, lacking in the higher relationships
So is it often still. Man is in ruins; but, as you often see in old religious houses, the part devoted to godly deeds has gone to utter decay, while that employed in providing for the lower needs of man is yet in good repair-though the spirit is wholly lost to God, the meaner but worthy offices of life are well discharged; and while the saint cannot be found, the man of the family, the place of business, and the social circle, are all that could be wished. Christ approved this ruler in the lower relations of social morality, while he pronounced him essentially defective in the higher; and “he went away” from Him in whom all morality might find its supplement and stimulus, its truest end and source. (A. J. Morris.)
How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!
Wealth a fearful snare to the soul
The Scriptures represent wealth, when used aright, as a distinguished blessing.
It may, and ought to, lead men nearer to God, instead of driving them far from Him.
I. The pride of life. The Scriptures speak of this as one of the most operative causes of human destruction. An inordinate and unreasonable self-esteem excludes God from the heart.
II. A strong impression of their personal independence. Though men are absolutely dependent on God, and to a great extent on one another, there is in all a natural feeling of independence. Nor will it be denied that wealth is very apt to foster this unseemly self-reliance, and this haughty contempt of God.
III. Their attachment to this world. There is no room in the heart for God where it is preoccupied by the world.
IV. Their cares and perplexities. Wherever you fired the greatest amount of secular care and solicitude, there, rest assured, is the greatest danger of losing the soul.
V. The best means of grace are rarely used with the rich and affluent. God has formed no purpose to save any man irrespective of the appointed means. From these views several reflections may naturally arise.
1. What melancholy evidence does this subject furnish of the strange depravity of the human heart.
2. Do not envy the rich.
3. Our subject then admonishes us to take care how we heap up riches.
4. Our subject affectionately addresses itself to the rich. Of all those who have hope towards God, the rich are most’ in danger of losing the savour and usefulness of piety, and of being “scarcely saved.” And that your riches may prove a blessing, mud not a curse, “set not your hearts upon them,” “be not conformed to this world,” “use this world as not abusing it, for the fashion of this world passeth away.” You are God’s stewards, and must give an account of your stewardship. And to the rich who are not pious, let me say, is there not fearful reason to apprehend that you will never enter the kingdom of God? Everything is leagued against you.
5. Let me say to all, while you envy not the affluent study to do them good. (Gardiner Spring, D. D.)
Use and abuse of riches
Riches neither further nor hinder salvation in themselves, but as they are used: as a cipher by itself is nothing, but a figure being set before it, it increaseth the sum. Wealth, if well used, is an ornament, an encouragement to duty, and an instrument of much good. All the danger lies in loving these things. Have them we may, and use them too, as a traveller doth his staff, to help him the sooner to his journey’s end; but when we pass away our hearts to them, they become a mischief … Let not, therefore, the bramble be king: let not earthly things bear rule over thy affections. “fire will arise out of them, that will consume thy cedars,” and emasculate all the powers of thy soul, as they did Solomon’s, whose wealth did him more hurt than his wisdom good. How many have we nowadays who, when poor, could read, pray, etc., but who, now they have grown rich, resemble the moon, which, grown full, gets farthest off from the sun, never suffers eclipse but then, and that by earth’s interposition! Let rich men therefore take heed how they handle their thorns: let them gird up the loins of their minds, lest their long garments hinder them in the way to heaven; let them see to it, that they be not tied to their abundance, as little Lentulus was said to have been to his long sword; that they be not held prisoners in those golden fetters, as the king of Armenia was by Anthony, and so sent by him as a present to Cleopatra; lest at length they send their mammon of unrighteousness, as Croesus did his fetters, for a present to the devil, who had deluded him with false hopes of victory. (John Trapp.)
Wealth not always desirable
How many can form any estimate as to whether it is best for them to be prosperous or not? If I should consult the wheat growing in spring in the field as to what was best for it, the wheat would say, “Let me alone. Let the rain feed me. Let the winds gently strengthen me. Let me grow to my full height and size.” But ah! the land on which that wheat is sown is over-rich; and if the wheat grows to its full height and size, it will be so fag and heavy that it will break, and fall down, and be lost. So the farmer turns in his cattle, and they browse the wheat. They eat it down to the ground. And by and by, later, when it is allowed to grow, it has been so weakened by this cruel pasturage that it will not become so rank as to break down, but will stand erect, and carry its head up, and ripen its grain. Many men will bear browsing. They get too fat, and cannot carry themselves upright and firm, and they break and fall down; and the best of them lies in the dirt; and all that stands up is straw and stubble … Who knows what is best for him? Some men can endure prosperity, and some cannot; but who can discriminate between them? (H. W. Beecher.)
Wealth genders pride
Who almost is there whose heart does not swell with his bags? and whose thoughts do not follow the proportions of his condition? What difference has been seen in the same man poor and preferred? his mind, like a mushroom, has shot up in a night; his business is first to forget himself, and then his friends. When the sun shines, then the peacock displays his train. (R. South, D. D.)
The rich should grow more humble
When flowers are full of heaven-descended dews, they always hang their heads; but men hold theirs the higher, the more they receive-getting proud as they get full. (H. W. Beecher.)
Riches often debase the character
See yonder lake! The bigger the stream that runs into it-lying so beautiful and peaceful in the bosom of the shaggy mountain-the bigger the stream it discharges to water the plains, and, like the path of a Christian, wend its bright and blissful way on to its parent sea. But, in sad contrast with that, the more money some men gain, the less they give; in proportion as their wealth increases, their charities diminish. Have we not met it, mourned over it, and seen how a man, setting his heart on gold, and hasting to be rich, came to resemble a vessel with a narrow, contracted neck, out of which water flows less freely when it is full than when it is nearly empty? As there is a law in physics to explain that fact, there is a law in morals to explain this. So long as a man has no hope of becoming rich; so long as he has enough of bread to eat, of raiment to put on, of health and strength to do his work and fight his honest way on in the world, he has all man really needs-having that, he does not set his heart on riches; he is a noble, unselfish, generous, large-hearted, and, for his circumstances, an open-handed man. But by success in business or otherwise, let a fortune come within his reach, and he clutches at it-grasps it. Then what a change! His eye, and ear, and hand close; his sympathies grow dull and blunt; his heart contracts and petrifies. Strange to say, plenty in such cases feeds not poverty but penuriousness; and the ambition of riches opens a door to the meanest avarice. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
Uncertainty of riches
How often have I thought of riches, when, intruding on their lone domain, I have seen a covey of wild fowl, from the reeds of the lake or the heather of the hillside, rise clamorous on the wing and fly away! Has not many a man who hasted to be rich, and made gold his god, lived to become a bankrupt and die a beggar!-buried among the ruins of his ambitious schemes. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
Wealth involves danger
It was as much as we could do to keep our feet upon the splendid mosaic floor of the Palace Giovanelli, at Venice; we found no such difficulty in the cottage of the poor glass blower in the rear. Is it one of the advantages of wealth to have one’s abode polished till all comfort vanishes, and the very floor is as smooth and dangerous as a sheet of ice, or is this merely an accidental circumstance typical of the dangers of abundance? Observation shows us that there is a fascination in wealth which renders it extremely difficult for the possessors of it to maintain their equilibrium; and this is more especially the case where money is suddenly acquired; then, unless grace prevents, pride, affectation, and other mean vices stupify the brain with their sickening fumes, and he who was respectable in poverty, becomes despicable in prosperity. Pride may lurk under a threadbare cloak, but it prefers the comely broadcloth of the merchant’s coat: moths will eat any of our garments, but they seem to fly first to the costly furs. It is so much the easier for men to fall when walking on wealth’s sea of glass, because all men aid them to, do so. Flatterers haunt not cottages: the poor may hear an honest word from his neighbour, but etiquette forbids that the rich man should enjoy the like privilege; for is it not a maxim in Babylon, that rich men have no faults, or only such as their money, like charity, covereth with a mantle? What man can help slipping when everybody is intent upon greasing his ways, so that the smallest chance of standing may be denied him? The world’s proverb is, “God help the poor, for the rich can help themselves”; but to our mind, it is just the rich who have most need of heaven’s help. Dives in scarlet is worse off than Lazarus in rags, unless Divine love shall uphold him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Riches are perilous to the soul
Christ does not speak of an impossibility, but of the difficulty of it and the rareness of it. Job unfolded the riddle, and got through the needle’s eye with three thousand camels. But it is hard to be wealthy, and not wanton: too often are riches, like bird lime, hindering the soul in its flight towards heaven. (G. Swinnock.)
The snares of affluence
I. The snares of affluence.
1. It begets on inordinate love of pleasure.
2. It banishes from the memory all considerations of God and religion.
3. It produces an insensibility to the attractions of the gospel.
II. The practical reflections that are suggested by the snares of affluence.
1. Affluence is not a proof of a state of grace.
2. The loss of wealth may be a spiritual gain.
3. Both religion and happiness abound most in the middle region, between extreme wealth and extreme poverty.
4. The hope of heaven should reconcile us to present hardship. (Plans of Sermons.)
Ruined by riches
Do not be over-anxious about riches. Get as much of true wisdom and goodness as you can, but be satisfied with a very moderate portion of this world’s good. Riches may prove a curse as well as a blessing. I was walking through an orchard, looking about me, when I saw a low tree laden more heavily with fruit than the rest. On a nearer examination, it appeared that the tree had been dragged to the very earth, and broken by the weight of its treasures. “Oh!” said I, gazing on the tree, “here lies one who has been ruined by his riches.” In another part of my walk I came up with a shepherd, who was lamenting the loss of a sheep that lay mangled and dead at his feet. On inquiry about the matter, he told me that a strange dog had attacked the flock; that the rest of the sheep had got away through a hole in the hedge, but that the ram now dead had more wool on his back than the rest, and the thorns of the hedge held him fast till the dog had worried him. “Here is another,” said I, “ruined by his riches.” At the close of my ramble I met a man hobbling along on two wooden legs, leaning on two sticks. “Tell me,” said I, “my poor fellow, how you came to lose your legs?” “Why, sir,” said he, “in my younger days I was a soldier. With a few comrades I attacked a party of the enemy, and overcame them, and we began to load ourselves with spoil. My comrades were satisfied with little, but I burdened myself with as much as I could carry. We were pursued; my companions escaped, but I was overtaken and so cruelly wounded that I only saved my life afterwards by losing my legs. It was a bad affair, sir; but it is too late to repent it now.” “Ah, friend,” thought I, “like the fruit tree and the mangled sheep, you may date your downfall to your possessions. It was your riches that ruined you.” When I see so many rich people, as I do, caring so much for their bodies and so little for their souls, I pity them from the bottom of my heart, and sometimes think there are as many ruined by riches as by poverty. “They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Timothy 6:9). The prayer will suit you, perhaps, as well as it does me, “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: lest I be full, and deny Thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain” (Proverbs 30:8-9). (Old Humphrey.)
A man of the world
The Interpreter takes them apart again, and has them first in a room where was a man that could lock no way but downwards, with a muck rake in his hand. There stood also One over his head, with a celestial crown in His hand, and proffered to give him that crown for his muck rake; but the man did neither look up nor regard, but raked to himself the straws, the small sticks, and the dust of the floor. Then said Christiana, “I persuade myself that I know somewhat the meaning of this; for this is a figure of a man of this world; is it not, good sir?” “Thou hast said the right,” said the Interpreter; “and his muck rake doth show his carnal mind. And whereas thou seest him rather give heed to rake up straws and sticks, and the dust of the floor, than to what He says that calls to him from above, with the celestial crown in His hand, it is to show that heaven is but as a fable to some, and that things here are counted the only things substantial. Now, whereas it was also showed thee that the man could look no way but downwards, it is to let thee know that earthly things, when they are with power upon men’s mind, quite carry their hearts away from God.” Then said Christiana, “Oh, deliver me from this muck rake!” “That prayer,” said the Interpreter, “has lain by till it is almost rusty. ‘Give me not riches’ (Proverbs 30:8) is scarce the prayer of one of ten thousand. Straws and sticks and dust, with most, are the great things now looked after.” (John Bunyan.)
A man in danger through riches
As a Christian man was passing out of church he met an old acquaintance whom he had not seen for several years. In the brief interview he seriously said to him, “I understand that you are in great danger.” The remark was heard with surprise. The friend addressed was not aware of any danger, and eagerly inquired what was meant. The answer was, “I have been informed that you are getting rich.” Men of this class are not accustomed to suspect danger from such a cause. They see none, and they see no reason why others should. And yet they are in peril; they are in great peril. They are in danger of making a god of mammon instead of the living God. They are in danger of seeking to lay up their treasures on the earth instead of in heaven, as the Saviour exhorts them to do. To His disciples He said, “Verily, I say unto you, that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of God.” And Paul thus wrote: “They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.”
Engrossed in worldly cares
We keep ourselves in such a continual hurry and crowd of cares, thoughts, and employments about the things of the body, that we can find little time to be alone, communing with our own hearts about our great concernments in eternity. It is with many of us as it was with Archimedes, who was so intent upon drawing his mathematical schemes, that though all the city was in alarm, the enemy had taken it by storm, the streets filled with dead bodies, the soldiers come into his particular house, nay, entered his very study, and plucked him by the sleeve, before he took any notice of it. Even so, many men’s hearts are so profoundly immersed and drowned in earthly cares, thoughts, projects, or pleasures, that death must come to their very houses, yea, and pull them by the sleeve, and tell them its errand, before they will begin to awake, and come to a serious consideration of things more important. (Flavel.)
Sanctified wealth is a blessing, not a hindrance, to its possessor
Two men have recently passed away, whose history, as one turns from their graves to sum it up, is at once a poem and a benediction. They were both men of large wealth and of inherited culture. They were both men with an intense love of life, and most human enjoyment of its pleasures. There have not lived in our generation two men who were more thoroughly alive, to their very finger ends, or who were more conspicuously exposed to the manifold dangers of the possession of great wealth. And yet who, in thinking of them, ever thought of their money? And when they died the other day, bereaving the two chief cities of our land with a sense of personal loss, who asked concerning either of them so beggarly a question as, “What did he leave?” What did they leave? They left each of them the fragrance of a good name, which is as ointment poured out. They left their image stamped in the hearts of thousands of men, women, and children, whose lives they had brightened and ennobled and blessed. Above all, they left a lesson to you and me of what men can be and do who say to wealth and the world, “You are my servant, not my master! I will not be slothful in business; I will be fervent in spirit, but it shall be always ‘serving the Lord.’” They have taught two great communities that it is possible to be rich and not selfish, to have wealth and not be enslaved by it, to use the world as not abusing it. And today, William Welsh, in the Indian wigwam in Niobrara, among the boys of Girard College with whom he spent a part of every Sunday of his life, in the homes of the working men of Frankford whom he taught to love him as brother man;-and Theodore Roosevelt in the newsboy’s lodging house, in the cripple’s hospital, in the heart of the little Italian flower girl who brought her offering of grateful love to his door the day he died, have left behind them monuments the like of which mere wealth could never rear, and the proudest achievements of human genius never hope to win. They will be remembered when the men of great fortune who have filled the brief hour with the fame of their millions shall have vanished into merited oblivion. They may have been poorer than these, but the world is richer because they were in it, and the influence of their large-hearted and unselfish lives will be owned and honoured when the mere hoarders of the day have ceased to have any slightest interest or influence among men, save as subjects of the somewhat curious and somewhat contemptuous study of the moral anatomist. (Bishop H. C. Potter.)
Right use of wealth
Wealth is dangerous; and the worshipper of mammon, whether he dwell in a palace or a hovel, will find it equally hard to secure an entrance into the kingdom of God. But wealth, like other dangerous powers, may be subjected to a wise discipline and a resolute control. Lightning is dangerous, but men have mastered it and made it do their bidding. Master your meaner lust for gain, and then make it do your bidding in the service of your heavenly Master. It is not how many bonds you have in a bank vault, or how much plate on your sideboard, that God looks to see, but how many lives have been brightened and how many sorrows have been healed by the gifts of your love. The cause of Christ, the cause of truth, the cause of humanity, need your gifts. But none of them need them half as much as you yourself need the blessed and ennobling education of being permitted to give them. (Bishop H. C. Potter.)
Christians laden with wealth
Crossing the Col D’Obbia, the mule laden with our luggage sank in the snow, nor could it be recovered, until its load was removed; then, but not till then, it scrambled out of the hole it had made, and pursued its journey. It reminded us of mariners casting out the lading into the sea to save the vessel, and we were led to meditate on the dangers of Christians heavily laden with earthly possessions, and the wise way in which the gracious Father unloads them by their losses, that they may be enabled to pursue their journey to heaven, and no longer sink in the snow of carnal mindedness. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
In an interesting article in the Expositor (1st series, 3.375), Canon Farrar mentions that some modem travellers in the East state that houses are sometimes provided with smaller gates in or by the side of larger ones, and that the former are called Es summ el kayut, the hole, or eye, of the needle. He also gives the following extract from the letter of a correspondent:-“In the summer of 1835, when travelling in the western part of Africa (Morocco), I took up my abode for a time in the house of a Jew named Bendelak. The house was built quadrangular, having an open court, in which beautiful plants were flourishing, and where the family sat in the heat of the day beneath a large awning. High double gates faced the streets, not unlike our coach house doors, in one of which was a smaller door which served as an entrance to the court. Being seated one day in a balcony of the upper chamber, I suddenly heard the exclamation, ‘Shut the needle’s eye; shut the eye.’ Looking down, I saw a stray camel trying to push through the little open doorway. Shortly afterwards I questioned the master of the house (a man whom I can never recall to mind without feelings of the utmost respect), and learnt from him that the double doors were always called ‘the needle,’ and the little door ‘the needle’s eye,’ which explanation, of course, reminded me forcibly of the well-known passage in St. Matthew. Bendelak assured me that no camel would push through ‘the eye’ unless driven by stick or hunger and always without any back load. If the allusion of Christ be to this, it forcibly teaches the lesson that a rich man must strive and humble himself, must be willing to leave behind the load of his riches, must hunger for the bread of heaven, or he can never pass through the narrow way that leadeth unto life eternal.”
The danger of riches
1. In the first place comes, very naturally, the idea of the young, that riches, in and of themselves, create happiness. A man’s happiness depends upon what he is. If his feelings are right, and he is capable of being happy, riches will make him happy; but if these conditions do not exist, then riches will not make him happy.
2. Then comes the idea that riches are a substitute for character in the eyes of men. There is an impression, if a man is only rich, he can do what he has a mind to, and that the world will accept his riches in lieu of excellence.
3. Passing to another great peril, riches and the pursuit of them are apt to absorb the life and time of men to a degree that shall harness them to mere external things, so that they have very little leisure and less disposition for self-culture.
4. Riches are apt to lift a man away from sympathy with common humanity; and that is always a sign of, and a step toward, deterioration.
5. Then there is a great tendency in riches to pamper a man’s pride. (H. W. Beecher.)
Riches do not of themselves create happiness
New, it is very true that riches are a power which, if rightly applied or used, may create happiness; but it is not true that riches, in and of themselves, ever do make men happy; and this indiscriminate notion, as an ideal on which they base their life, will be fatal to their happiness. If a man is prepared for happiness riches can make him happy. A man is an organ. I do not care if Beethoven is put before an organ that has not a pipe, and whose bellows is split, I do not care who plays on such an instrument as that, you will not get any music. And if the organ were perfect, and there was nobody that knew how to play, you would not get any music either. Where you get music you must have two things: a good instrument and a good performer on it. Now happiness, conducted on a great scale in life, requires that there should be a performer-and riches are the performer; but what does it play on? An empty case, a wind bag, a leathern pocket, an old iron chest, a rusty old miser. Do riches bring out anything in the way of happiness? Of themselves, no, they do not. The rich are not the happy folks in the world, as a rule. A great many of them are the most happy people on the globe; a man who has riches, and is otherwise rightly attuned, certainly can command as much happiness as any other man on the face of the earth; nobody can be any happier than he has the capacity of being. A man is happy according as he can generate sensibility of brain and nerve. Some men generate only five pounds, some generate fifteen pounds, and some generate twenty-five pounds. So some men can be happy a little bit, while others can be happy a great deal. Some men are not bigger than a daisy, and they can have only so much sunlight as can get into their disc. A man cannot be happy in one spot and miserable everywhere else, any more than he can have the toothache and feel well everywhere else but in his tooth. Happiness must have harmony in it. Where there is not harmony there is no happiness. If two-thirds of a man’s nature is morbid and wrong, the other third is not going to rule them down, and compel happiness. I think that when a man has good manners, and is a gentleman, good clothes are very becoming and comfortable to him, and pleasant to everybody else; but good clothes do not make a gentleman, any more than riches make a man happy. (H. W. Beecher.)
Man more than money
I do not object to a man’s having a good deal of property; I do not object to his having beautiful grounds, and making them shine like a garden of Eden, if he can; I do not object to his building himself a magnificent mansion, and storing it with whatever art can give; I admire the grounds, I admire the house, I admire the furniture, and I justify them. But now let me see the man. When a man has risen in wealth so that he can have fine grounds, a fine house and fine furniture, he ought to have something even grander in himself; and yet how many men are there that are like a monkey in an oriental palace, men that are ignorant, empty, narrow, conceited, poverty-stricken inside, but that outside glow like a rainbow! How many men there are that make the power of money in their hands simply picturesque, grotesque! (H. W. Beecher.)
Who then can be saved?-
The disciples wondering at the difficulties of salvation
Salvation! What so desirable and necessary? Why so difficult to obtain.
I. You know what salvation is. Deliverance from condemnation, and placing us, pure and happy, in God’s kingdom. We must take care that we do not mistake as to where the difficulty lies. It is not in God, not in Christ; milling and able “to save to the uttermost.”
1. There is the difficulty arising out of the pride of our hearts-the difficulty of falling in with God’s way of saving us. Salvation of grace troubles us.
2. There is the difficulty of complying with God’s terms of salvation. We trace this to unbelief. The tidings of the gospel seem too good to be credited.
3. The difficulty of our seeking, or even accepting, such a salvation as God offers. It is a deliverance from the love and power of sin. We are by nature unholy, salvation crucifies all that nature delights in; hence difficulty.
II. What the disciples felt at the prospect of these difficulties.
1. Wonder. “They were astonished out of measure.” There was a time when we considered salvation easy; God was regarded as merciful. No sooner did the Holy Spirit make us alive to our spiritual welfare, than wonder came as described in the text. They wondered at the patience of God, at His amazing grace, and the mountain of difficulties which lies between them and heaven.
2. The other feeling we discover in these men is despair-“Who then can be saved?” We must learn to look beyond our spiritual difficulties, if ever we would be carried over them.
III. Our Lord’s judgment concerning this matter. “You are right,” He says, “up to a certain point; beyond that you are altogether wrong.”
1. They were partially right. It is difficult for a man to overcome the difficulties between him and heaven. He is weak as well as sinful; must despair of his own power to attain salvation. Self-sufficiency, like self-righteousness, insurmountable obstacle in our journey heavenwards.
2. But these disciples were also wrong. He tells them that salvation was never intended to be man’s work; but God’s. What omnipotence undertakes can be carried through.
3. How compassionately He says this-“You have felt My power, difficulties have vanished.”
1. Some of you know nothing at all of the difficulties of salvation.
2. Others of you, like those disciples, have just begun to see the difficulties that lie before you.
3. A few of you have been long accustomed to spiritual difficulties. (C. Bradley.)
The difficulties of salvation
I. Let us notice mole particularly some of the difficulties in the way of salvation.
1. The truths to be believed are some of them very mysterious.
2. The sacrifices to be made are also in some degree painful.
3. The dispositions to be exercised are such as are contrary to the natural bias of our depraved hearts.
4. The duties to be performed.
5. The trouble and danger to which religion exposes its professors.
II. Attempt to answer the inquiry-“Who then can be saved?” Certainly not those who neglect the means of salvation; nor those who prefer other things before it; nor those who think to attain it in any other way than God has appointed.
1. Such shall be saved as are appointed to it.
2. Those shall be saved who are truly desirous of it.
3. Those who come to Christ for salvation shall be sure to obtain it.
4. Such as endure to the end shall be saved. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
Lo, we have left all, and followed Thee.
Sacrifice and reward
Christ had pity for this young man. He saw his soul visited by the dream of a more perfect life; then the dissolving of the dream and the return to commonplace. It were impossible not to pity his after life, for he could never be the same again. “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the Kingdom of God.” The disciples felt the difficulty. Then Peter said, “We have left all,” etc. “It was very ill done of them,” we say, “very selfishly thought, and no good could come of it.” That is the hard way in which we speak, but we forget, when we ask this fine spirituality from men who are beginning the higher life, that we are asking more than human nature can bear. We are asking of the student the self-denial of the scholar. Christ did not ask this; He was tender to spiritual childhood. He was satisfied with the seeds of affection. He knew that if love was there it would grow, and that as their mind advanced and their love changed to higher love, the reward desired would also change.
I. The sacrifice asked for here was to give up the whole world and its goods; to give them to the poor and to follow Christ. Is no one a Christian who does not utterly make it? Christ always asked for sacrifice of life, of self, for God. That is the principle. In this case a special form of the life was asked for, and for a special reason. The sacrifice of wealth was the special form. The special reason was this. Christ was the founder of a new method of religion; He wanted missionaries to propagate it. No one could think of Paul or Xavier or Henry Martyn with great possessions, without a smile at the incongruity. Apostolic work could not be done by a man with ten thousand a year. The special form of the demand was motived by special circumstances. Such a demand was not made of all rich men; it would be contrary to the universal character of His religion, which was to enter into the life of all classes, rich and poor, as a spirit. It would shut out all rich men from Christianity; it would upturn society for no good. In fifty years all the industrious and intelligent would be rich again. It would be wrong; for wealth has its duties, its own ideal of life. The wealthy are bound to keep their wealth, and to use it, but in obedience to the spirit of sacrifice.
II. All this kind of talk comes from persons being foolish enough to bind a spiritual idea into one special form. The spirit of sacrifice may express itself in a thousand different ways, even in opposite ways in different men, It may be the giving up of wealth in one man, the taking up its duties in another. One man may sacrifice by leaving those whom he loves, another by remaining at home. Take the principle; do not limit it to one meaning. That is one characteristic of the idea of sacrifice. It cannot be specialized. In one point the special demand made on the rich man is in accord with the whole idea of sacrifice; it is in its absoluteness. It asks us to give up all our selfish life. “It is an impossible demand,” say these persons. It was original, and Christ knew it. It did not say, like the moral law-this, do and you shall live, and you can do it. It did say “This ideal life I set before you is far beyond mere conformity with law. It is perfection. You shall not live by doing it completely, but by loving it and labouring towards it. It will transcend eternal endeavour, and thus secure eternal progress. The morality of the law is measurable, it stops at a certain point. The righteousness I put before you is immeasurable, infinite as God.” It was a higher method than that of the moralist. It is only by loving and following illimitable ideas that man grows great. Their impossibility is their highest virtue, and awakens the highest virtue; they kindle unfading aspiration. It is better for man to live by than the standard of immorality. I now turn to the question of reward as illustrated by the answer of Christ. It is the custom now to say that we are to live the high life without a single hope of future reward; to hope for it is to set religion on a selfish basis. But there is no selfishness in the doctrine of rewards offered by Christ. His rewards are naturally connected with the acts, following from them and contained in them, as a flower follows from, and is contained in, the seed. The word fruits is better than the word rewards. The fruits are multiplied results. To live, hoping for the reward of a more unselfish life, and becoming more unselfish as one hopes and acts for such a life-is it not too ludicrous to call that a selfish motive? The man who gave up lands, houses, etc., received them tenfold; but not in a way which could serve his selfishness; on the contrary, in a way which increased the spirit of a larger love. It lifted above the narrow circle of an isolated family rote union with mankind. Eternal life is another reward promised by Christ. “He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life.” It may co-exist with what the world calls misery-“with persecutions.” It cannot be material ease. So far, the element of ease or happiness is excluded. Love doubles itself by loving. Truth in us increases by being true. Mercy, purity, faith, hope, bring forth themselves in multiplied abundance. The sum of them all is a life with God and in God, and that is eternal life, a state of the soul. It cannot be selfish, it puts before man as his highest aim, union with God. (S. A. Brooke, M. A.)
Love consistent with reward
And the heart, do you believe that it can reconcile itself to your cold doctrine, and always love without hoping for return? It does not calculate, doubtless, but it believes that its flights do not disappear in a void. What is more disinterested than the love of a mother? Does she love her infant in order to be recompensed? Ah! though one should come and tell her that she must die before that infant can respond to her affection and reward her by a word, will she love it less, will she use the less on its behalf all that remains to her of energy and of life? Are there not every day and in all classes those martyrs of maternal love? And yet will you accuse a mother of loving less because, looking towards the future, she dreams with tremors of joy of the day when her infant’s look will respond to her look, when its heart will understand her, and when she will find in it her strength and her recompense? Her recompense, I have said Well, be consistent. Call her mercenary, accuse her of devoting herself to her task through self-interest, drag her to the tribunal of the human conscience, and, if she comes away from it condemned, you shall drag there the Christian who seeks his joy and his wages in the love of God, who finds his true life there, and who thirsts for immortality, because he thirsts for an eternal love. (E. Bersier, D. D.)
I. What is involved in being a true follower of Christ?
1. Partaking of His spiritual nature-being born again.
2. Resting upon the infinite merit of His atonement as the only ground of acceptance with God.
3. Sitting at His feet as a humble learner.
II. What are the distinguishing characteristics of the follower of Christ?
4. Intimacy. Not as Peter, who followed afar off.
5. Exclusiveness-Jesus only.
III. What are the rewards of the follower of Christ?
2. Constant access to God.
3. The presence of Christ.
4. Protection in danger.
5. Light in darkness.
6. Salvation here and glory hereafter. (Anon.)
God’s mode of recompensing self-sacrifice
The man who renounces temporal advantages for Christ’s sake, is rewarded in kind as follows.
1. He has communion with God and His consolations, which are better than all he has given up; as Caleacius, that Italian marquis who left all for Christ, avowed them; and as Paulinus Nolanus, when his city was taken by the barbarians, prayed thus to God, “Lord, let me not be troubled at the loss of my gold and silver, for Thou art all in all to me.” Communion with Jesus Christ is heaven beforehand, the anticipation of glory.
2. God often gives His suffering servants here such supplies of their outward losses, in raising them up other friends and means, as do abundantly outweigh what they have parted with. David was driven from his wife; but gained, in Jonathan, a friend whose love was beyond that of women. So though Naomi lost her husband and children, Boaz, Ruth, and Obed became to her instead of all. The apostles left their houses and household stuff to follow Christ, but then they had the houses of all godly people open to them, and free for them, and happy was that Lydia who could entertain them; so that, having nothing, they yet possessed all things. They left a few friends, but they found far more wherever they came.
3. God commonly exalts His people to the contrary good to that evil they suffer for Him; as Joseph, from being a slave became a ruler; as Christ, who was judged by men, is Judge of all. The first thing that Caius did, after he came to the empire, was to prefer Agrippa, who had been imprisoned for wishing him emperor. The king of Poland sent Zelislaus, his general, who had lost his hand in war, a golden hand instead of it. God is far more liberal to those who serve and suffer for Him. Can any son of Jesse do for us as He can? (John Trapp.)
The Lord’s reply to Peter shows
1. That he does not need man’s work in the sense that He must pay wages for it. There is no comparison between what is given; an hundredfold will be returned.
2. That Christian work must be done in the spirit of devotion, not of calculation. Many of the first may work in a wrong spirit, and become last.
3. The reward may not come in this life; the work is spiritual, as are the wages. (T. M. Lindsay, D. D.)
Reward of self-sacrifice
Jesus, knowing out of the depth of His own experience how great is the joy of self-sacrifice, how transcendently superior to anything else, assures them that they will have their reward both here and hereafter. Here, in a vastly intensified appreciation of earthly enjoyments, finding new homes and new friends wherever they go, and seeing new beauty in the commonest things-in earth and air, and sky and sea. It was true they would meet with persecutions, but these would not mar their happiness, for by a mysterious law, understood by those alone who experienced them, they were accompanied by a joy unspeakable and full of glory. And hereafter they would receive the fullest compensation, an eternal weight of glory in the life everlasting. (H. M. Luckock, D. D.)
“My Father’s will”
A pious old man was one day walking to the sanctuary with a New Testament in his hand, when a friend who met him said, “Good morning, neighbour.” “Ah! Good morning,” replied he; “I am reading my Father’s will as I walk along.” “Well, what has He left you?” said his friend. “Why, He has bequeathed me a hundred fold more in this life, and, in the world to come, life everlasting.” It was a word in season; his Christian friend was in circumstances of affliction, but he went home comforted.
Things to come are yours
Had Queen Elizabeth foreknown, whilst she was in prison, what a glorious reign she would have for forty-four years, she would never have wished herself a milk-maid. So, did but the saints understand what great things abide them both here and hereafter, they would bear anything cheerfully. (John Trapp.)
And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem.
Christ on the road to the cross
Full of calm resolve Christ comes forth to die. Behold the little company on the steep rocky mountain road that leads up from Jericho to Jerusalem; our Lord far in advance of His followers, with a fixed purpose stamped upon His face, and something of haste in His stride, and that in His whole demeanour which shed a strange astonishment and awe ever the group of silent and uncomprehending disciples.
I. We have here what, for want of a better name, I would call the heroic Christ. The Ideal Man unites in Himself what men are in the habit, somewhat superciliously, of calling the masculine virtues, as well as those which they somewhat contemptuously designate the feminine. He reads to us the lesson, that we must resist and persist, whatever stands between us and our goal. The most tenacious steel is the most flexible, and he who has the most fixed and definite resolve may be the one whose heart is most open to all human sympathies, and is strong with the almightiness of gentleness.
II. The self-sacrificing Christ. Hastening to His cross; surrendering Himself to death. His self-sacrifice was not the flinging away of the life which He ought to have preserved, nor carelessness, nor the fanaticism of a martyr, nor the enthusiasm of a hero and champion; but the voluntary death of Him who of His own will became in His death the oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.
III. The shrinking Christ. May not part of the reason for His haste have been that instinct which we all have, when some inevitable grief or pain lies before us, to get it over soon, and to abbreviate the moments that lie between us and it? (See Luke 12:50; John 13:27.)
In Christ this natural instinct never became a desire or purpose. It had so much power over Him as to make Him march a little faster to the cross, but it never made Him turn from it.
IV. The lonely Christ. Unappreciated aims; unshared purposes; misunderstood sorrow; solitude of death-all this He bore, that no human soul, living or dying, might ever be lonely any more. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The Saviour’s alacrity to reach the end of His course
A lowly band of travellers journeying towards Jerusalem. Already they are within sight of the hills that encompass the capital. One of the company out strips the rest. His countenance is lit up with joyous expression, like that which glows on the face of one who, after long absence, is again drawing near to his father’s house. It is Christ; and He is going up to Jerusalem to expiate a world’s guilt by the sacrifice of Himself. Sorrows such as have never yet filled the breast of man await Him there; and least of all is it ignorance of what is before Him, which makes Him in haste to press forward. What was it that prompted Him to such eagerness? He designed to teach by action
(1) a doctrine for His disciples to learn, viz., the necessity of His suffering, and suffering alone. In the work on which He was now entering, no man could be associated with Him. He must go before.
(2) An example for them to follow. If He goes first, they come next. By His alacrity He would teach them how noble a thing it is to suffer in a good cause. They would think of this afterwards, and take courage. They would recollect the insignificance of all their sufferings as contrasted with His; and as they remembered this, the thought how bravely the Saviour went forward in the path of tribulation would nerve them to endurance, and make them almost impervious to fear. Arm yourselves with the like mind, and blush at the very thought of cowardice or retreat when summoned to suffer for the Redeemer’s sake, remembering how eagerly He “went before.” (R. Bickersteth.)
Christ’s life founded on a plan
There was no uncertainty or experiment about that life; every detail was foreseen from the beginning. Every man’s life may be planned by Divine wisdom, but the man himself is ignorant of his own course, unable to foresee the next hour.
2. That Jesus Christ knew all the developments of His plan of life. The sorrow of the first day, the sleep of the second, the triumph of the third, were all before Him, as conditions of His daily labour.
3. That though He knew the result, He patiently fulfilled the whole process. There was no precipitancy; there was no fretfulness; every case of need was attended to as though it were the only case in the world. The Christian knows that heaven will be his portion at last; let him be stimulated to constant activity, as though human want demanded his whole attention.
4. That Jews and Gentiles were alike engaged in carrying on a work which was for the highest benefit of the whole world. How unconsciously we work! We may be pulling down in the very act of setting up.
5. That the assured triumph of the right is a source of strength to the good man. Jesus Christ spoke not of the crucifixion, but of “the third day.” The picture was not all gloomy. Light broke through the very centre of the darkness. How hopeless, but for “the third day,” is the lot of suffering men. The third day may suggest
(a) the brevity of bad influence;
(b) the impossibility of destroying that which is good, and
(c) the transference of power from a temporary despotism to an eternal and beneficent sovereignty. Brief and frail is the tenure of all malign powers. (F. Wagstaff.)
The cross, the object of desire.
I. That the cross should have been an object of desire and of intense longing to our Saviour’s heart is a statement too remarkable to be barely asserted. Such a death was abhorred by all mankind. It was a death of ignominy, agony, and shame. Yet, contrary to the universal sentiment, Christ desired it. That the cross was a token of desire rather than fear will be seen by the way our Lord checked every hindrance or suggestion raised against it, and by His words and deportment as He approached it (Matthew 16:23). He desired the cross, and wanted to communicate that desire to others. On one occasion He reveals His desire in most remarkable language (Luke 12:50). When He entered the Samaritan village, we are told “His face was as though He would go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:53). The text discloses the same zeal-“Behold we go up to Jerusalem”; a sentence which sounds the keynote of triumph. His eager gait betokened the onward desire of His soul.
II. We would consider the reasons for this desire. The cross could not be in itself an object of desire. It was not like the joy set before Him at the Father’s right hand; if desired at all, it must be because of its results. These were in two directions-one in relation to God, the other to man. The glory of God and the salvation of man were the ruling motives of Christ’s conduct. We can all strive to be like Him in His inward life, though only martyrs are completely like Him in His outward life, His great motive was the glorifying of the Father (John 5:30). God was glorified on Calvary (John 17:1). The cross was the Divine way of repairing the honour of God, which had been outraged by sin. The heart of Jesus was consumed with this desire of a reparation which was in His power. We know what it is to burn with indignation, when one who is loved, is offended and unjustly injured; how then must the true perception of sin have kindled the flame of desire for the cross in the Man Christ Jesus. Also the cross was to be the means of glorifying God by manifesting the Divine character-harmonizing mercy and justice; it was to be the witness of love-removing such misconceptions of the Deity, as may have arisen from the misery of sin. Thus viewed in relation to God, the cross was to Christ an object of desire. His love for us made it an object of desire on the human side. The cross was necessary according to the predestination of God as a means for imparting life to others (John 12:24). Thus an object of desire; for to restore the creature must redound to the glory of the Creator.
III. The greatness of that desire. Its greatness lies in its intensity and purity-“Jesus went before them.” It was not a mere impulse which prompted this onward movement, as the hero is carried forward in the excitement of battle. All impulse in Jesus was regulated by His calm mind and perfect will, therefore vehemency of action betokened the ardour of His soul. Moreover, our desires are in proportion to the strength of our inward faculties. Their intensity will depend upon the vigour of our wills and the reach of our minds. The mind must present the object sought. The perfection of Christ’s mind will show the strength of His desires. He saw the cross with all its detail of suffering. He saw all the effects of the cross. He looked beyond it and traced all its powers; all the powers of grace and supernatural beauty which would result from the merit of His passion; He saw the saints enjoying countless ages of happiness in heaven. Hence the intensity of His desire for the cross.
2. This desire may be measured by the natural fear which it overpowered. As man, Christ feared death and suffering. Pure human nature shrinks from torture.
3. The greatness of this desire of Christ for the cross, consists in its purity, as well as intensity. With all the vehemency of our Saviour’s zeal, there was calmness of spirit and an obedient will. The purity of desire lies also in the nature of the cross He had to bear, of shame and desolation. The hiding of the Father’s face separates His cross from that of the martyr. It was comfortless suffering. The cross, too, was a punishment viewed with contempt. Some desire to suffer great things, because their greatness brings renown. Pride will support much bodily mortification; the cross had at that time only the aspect of humiliation. Christ took His disciples aside that He might impart to them His desire. He wanted to cast out of that fountain of fire which glowed within His own soul some sparks which might inflame them also-“Behold we go up.” He suffers not only instead of us, but also to purchase for us power and grace to suffer with Him and for Him. He has not removed the necessity of suffering by His suffering, any more than He has removed the necessity of temptation by His being tempted. The same cross whereby we are redeemed promulgates, as the condition of emancipation, the law of mortification. The desire of the cross Christ communicates to His members. St. Paul prays “that I may know Him, and the fellowship of His sufferings.” It must begin with the mortification of our lower nature (Galatians 5:24). It is a high pitch of nature to desire to suffer as a means of closer union with our Lord; we must first learn to bear crosses without murmuring; then to accept them with resignation; and, lastly, to meet them with desire and joy. (W. H. Hutchings, M. A.)
As they followed they were afraid.
Following Jesus fearingly
See the union of two apparently contradictory things. The fear was not enough to stop the following, nor the following sufficient to arrest the fear. That walk up to Jerusalem illustrative of the path to heaven. You follow Christ, you love Him too much not to follow Him. But your religion is an amazement; it creates fear. Certainly, if you were not a follower, you would not be a fearer. I never knew anyone begin to fear till God had begun to love him, and he had begun to love God. The fear is an index that you are on the road. Fear! ought we not to be beyond it; ought not to be the motive. How is it that a real follower may be a real fearer?
I. They had not adequate ideas of Him whom they followed. They did not know what exceeding care He takes of His own. If you knew the character and work of Christ you would get rid of fear.
II. Though the disciples loved Christ, they did not love Him as he deserved. If they had, the love would have absorbed the fear; they would have rejoiced to die with Him.
III. They had not, what the Master had, one great, fixed, sustaining aim. This will lift above the petty shafts of little disturbances; above yourself.
IV. The disciples had their fears undefined. It was the indefinite which terrified them. Take these four rules.
1. You that follow and are afraid, fortify yourself in the thought of what Christ is-His Person, work, covenant; and what He is to you.
2. Love Him very much, and realize your union with Him.
3. Set a high mark, and carry your life in your hand, so you may reach that mark, and do something for God.
4. Often stop and say deliberately to yourself, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul.” Many increase their fears by thinking so much about them. The onward going will gradually overcome the inward fear. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Following and fearing
Experience ought to teach us that our fears are seldom fulfilled.
I. “As they followed”; then even the glorious army of martyrs were afraid. For “they” includes St. Peter. Fears disheartened them. Never let us think that the greatest souls are heroic right through, ever and always. The battle with the flesh was keen in them. Besides, some fears have their moral uses. It is well to be afraid of ourselves, if our dependence on Christ is strengthened. Then, what courage may not fear afterwards merge into!
II. “As they followed”: then fear did not hinder their progress. If there was fear in their hearts, there was fidelity in their steps.
III. “As they followed”; then we need not doubt our discipleship because we are afraid. It is indifference that is to be dreaded, and presumptuous self-confidence. Forgiveness is needed for others, not for them.
IV. “As they followed”: then the departure of some fears does not do away with them all, They did not fear poverty, they had left all to follow Christ; they did not fear change in Jesus, they found His word of promise sure. We shall never lose all fears here; this discipline is wise for us.
V. “As they followed”; then let none turn back. Even when the intellectual beliefs are burdened with difficulty, never be afraid. Follow on. Be faithful unto death. (W. M. Statham.)
As they followed, they were afraid
The disciples’ conduct. Up to the very period of Christ’s death and resurrection, the disciples looked forward to His manifestation as a prince who should release their nation from bondage, and advance it to an hitherto unattained height of glory and dominion. All along they had been staggered at the meanness of their Master’s outward appearance; and now they were amazed to find that the expected Deliverer of mankind was on His way to suffering. They could not understand it. They were amazed, too, at His readiness to suffer. He was advancing to the cross, like a victor to his crown. We must note here that
(1) they followed. This is to their praise. They knew He was going on to death, yet they did not desert Him. They had true faith. But it was also weak faith, for
(2) they were afraid. Strange, that while with Him they should fear. They thus missed much of the comfort they might have derived from His companionship. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea are instances of the same-a true but weak faith-a faith which does not fill its possessor with peace. Let us not rest in a timorous faith. Let us be valiant for the truth. We have not the same excuse for fear that they had. They had not then experienced the Resurrection, the Ascension, the gift of the Comforter. When once the Spirit was given, they no longer knew fear. Shame on us, if with all our superior knowledge and privilege, we cast not aside the fear of man, and follow Jesus, with diligence to do, and with readiness to suffer, whatever He is pleased to prescribe or appoint. (R. Bickersteth.)
Master, we would that Thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shalt desire.
Christ’s last journey to Jerusalem
I. Self-seeking. It is a plausible maxim of this world which says: “Every man for himself.” Prominent places are secured by those who seek them diligently, with shrewd management and artful manoeuvering. Why should not this principle be extended into the next world, and our prudence take merely a little longer range in looking out for the main chance? Many people seem to have convinced themselves that in striving to outdo one another they are simply obeying a necessary law-the law of emulation; and have much to say about the wholesomeness of competition. In this narrative we see what effect self-seeking had on the disciples.
1. It blinded their eyes to the glory of the Son of God. Men seeking conspicuous places cannot understand the mind which was in Christ Jesus, who made Himself of no reputation, and humbled Himself to the cross. What could they know of His going up to Jerusalem? They saw only thrones and kingdoms. A self-seeking spirit cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
2. It plunged the disciples into a quarrel on the eve of a great occasion. It converts the world into a place of violence.
3. It put the disciples into a false attitude off presumption, undertaking more than they were able to. “They say unto Him, We are able.” In a strength greater than their own they were indeed to drink of His cup; but only after learning their own weakness.
4. The spirit of self-seeking confused their notions of dominion. They had adopted the maxims of the Gentiles, and were in danger of believing that a man was great simply because he exercised authority. Position does not make the man.
II. Self-sacrifice-“Whosoever will be great among you,” etc.
1. The courage of self-sacrifice-“We go up to Jerusalem.” It shrinks from no danger.
2. The universality of self-sacrifice. Each man is to become like the Man Christ Jesus.
3. The reward of self-sacrifice.
4. The kingdom of self-sacrifice. Power to bless and rule. (E. B. Mason.)
The greatness of service
It is clear that the whole passage we are to study today arranges itself easily around these three particulars: the fact of which they were aware, the counsel which He wished to add to it, and the argument from the one with which He proposed to enforce the other (see also Matthew 20:25-28).
I. What they knew was this: in all the forms of government around them, ecclesiastical or political, with which they were acquainted, the principle of “lordship” held sway.
1. In those times the prominent matter of notice was a tremendous hierarchy in the Jewish Church, and a domineering aristocracy in the Roman government. The ancient people of God had travestied His word, and perverted His ordinances, and forfeited His favour. The “rulers” usurped authority everywhere in matters of faith and conscience. They destroyed the revelation from heaven by overlaying of human traditions. And as they continued to grow unrighteous, they began to grow oppressive. And surely, those Jewish disciples needed only to be reminded of the hateful superciliousness of the Roman empire that was holding their nation in captivity. They did indeed know that their “great ones exercised authority upon them.”
2. In our times the picture is quite like the old one in every point. Leave men to themselves, and the systems they are sure to construct will be centralized and monarchical. The common people will be dominated by lords, and the lords will have dukes, and the dukes will be put under a king. The one principle of organization is, that each one will try to monopolize position and power, and, by crowding down all he can beneath him, will seek to elevate himself into rule over the masses. Louis of France only uttered the universal sentiment when he gave his word to history: he was reminded that there was a State which ought to be considered: “L’etat! c’est moi!” was his answer: “The State! I am the State!” Look at the Papal Church, or the Greek Church. There are the poor worshippers that pray and pay and obey their leaders. Over these are the priests, then the prelates, then the archbishops, and ecclesiastics without number, narrowing in and rising up till they reach the patriarch or the pope. And even the tiara has its triple crown, running straight up to one point.
3. In all times this is almost inevitably the same. For unregenerate human nature is selfish and domineering. This is what “ye know.” The best figure of this is a pyramid. Builders construct these masses of solid stone out of blocks. They place the lowest layer on almost a half acre of land. After a base is made, they draw in a step on every side, then rise for a new layer; then narrow in, and rise again. So the structure lifts itself aloft till the apex crowns it with a single stone. The people are at the bottom; the artisans, the paupers, the slaves, the great wrestling toilers, whom everybody proposes to live upon and domineer over, if he can. Then there come landholders and monopolists and capitalists. After this, we expect to find some aristocrats, with titles, and entails of primogeniture. So we reach what are called nobles; and so on indefinitely, all working towards a pinnacle at the top.
II. This, Christ says, “ye know;” and now He adds to it a counsel of His own: “so it shall not be among you” (Mark 5:43).
1. He surprised His followers by relinquishing the “lordship “and disclaiming the “authority.” We must be careful to notice that He did not forbid ambition as a motive; He sought only to direct it into a new exercise (Mar 5:44). He did not say it was wrong to wish to be “chiefest,” but told them that a Christian should desire to be chief servant to all.
2. He suggested that the humblest service constituted the highest dignity (Mar 5:44).
3. Thus He completely reverses the whole notion of those who looked for lordship. Let us come back to the figure which we just left. The “chief” should be at the base, the “servant” of all those above.
III. Now we are ready to notice the argument with which Jesus enforces His extraordinary counsel: He offers Himself as an example for absolute imitation (Mar 5:45). Consider the plain fact in this case. Let us turn to a passage in one of Paul’s Epistles (2 Corinthians 8:9). (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
A religion which develops the fit and the useful
This was Christ’s eternal principle, “the truest supremacy is the most faithful service to men.” The view of Christianity which looks upon religion as an excellent way of “getting something,” is, we trust, fast dying out. Christ removed the question of getting to the level of enduring and doing. The most irresistible power in the world is the power of unselfishness. Is self-sacrifice possible, when self-sacrifice is, in reality, self-gain? These two disciples proved to be, although they little expected it, perfect types of that of which our Lord was speaking. James was the first apostle to receive the crown of martyrdom. John’s martyrdom was that of living; he was the last of the apostles to die. Learn the divineness of a life of service. “Whosoever of you will be the chiefest shall be servant of all.” The natural idea of the untutored mind is that a man in supreme power would rule and please himself. Qualifications for serving are becoming to be the badge of governing. What a world of thought we suddenly reach, when we strike the flint of one text with the steel of another text, and a Divine spark is emitted, which lights up our system with the Christ-like principle of the divinity of eternal usefulness! Is it not a part of that stupendous truth, that nothing can live eternally except that which is useful and good? All nature is teaching us this lesson; plants, and animals, and men, and nations, are disappearing and dying out unless they can give a favourable answer to the searching question, “Art thou useful? Art thou of any service to God or to man?” What a magnificent view this gives of man’s magnificent share in the universe! The worlds are hastening along in their prescribed courses-suns are forming-spheres are whirling in ordered procession through space: in what we call the chaos of nature there is no chaos: seas, and continents, and air, and clouds, are daily growing up and evolving; every star, every leaf, every creature that lives is busy, and is helping to roll the Great Universe along-and nature, if asked, “Art thou useful?” must reply, “Yea, every grain and every molecule, every breath and every atom, all are contributing to the order and the usefulness of God’s system!” What is nature? Nature is an aggregation and a development of the eternally fit and useful. So also man’s test must be this test of fitness too, and we may even go farther, and declare our belief that prospective material rewards are sometimes misleading in the way they are usually interpreted. Man’s highest reward must be perfect cooperation with, union with, and knowledge of the eternal God. When God’s purposes become man’s purposes, God’s aims man’s aims, God’s spirit and essence man’s spirit and essence; then we shall not find men clamouring for seats upon golden thrones, but we shall hear them ask, “How can I combine with God to further the purposes of man and of God?” for both these are identical. Or, to use our Saviour’s phrase, we shall hear men ask, “How can I drink of the cup which Christ drank of?” The eternally useful need not, of course, be the eternally assertive or prominent. Many careers of usefulness there are, which are perhaps more of enduring than of acting. To endure, in many circumstances, is, in a sense, to act. (A. H. Powell, M. A.)
Christ a Servant
I. “the son of man came not to be ministered unto.” This should teach us-
1. The emptiness of earthly greatness.
2. Contentment in our situation.
II. The Son of Man came “to minister” From this we learn-
1. To be diligent in doing good.
2. To condescend to the meanest acts of kindness.
III. The Son of Man came “to give his life a ransom for many.” It teaches-
1. The deplorable condition of sinners.
2. The amazing compassion of the Saviour.
3. The subject encourages our application to Him, and dependence on Him as the Saviour.
4. The subject stimulates us to seek diligently the salvation of others. (T. Kidd.)
Servant of all
A minister having accepted a cordial invitation to the pastorate of a Church, was visited by a lady, who said, “Sir, this Church, of which you are now unhappily the minister, is composed of such materials that you must either be its tyrant or its slave; which office will you select?” He answered, “Its servant, for Jesus Christ’s sake.” Not rendering service to please this one or the other, not giving forth dull tones to soothe the slumbering souls of those that love to sleep, not selecting dainty sentences of polite speech (polished swords that will not out), hoping to win the admiration and commendation of those that sit in the well-cushioned pews; but a servant, and the servant of the Church for Jesus Christ’s sake. Our highest relationship to God is a relationship of service; it ranks above sonship, because it is the fruit of adoption; love in action.
The servant of all
Men of the world would prefer to say, “I am among you, not as one who serves, but as one who rules. I live quite independent of the authority of any superior.” There is a natural revolt against dependence on another as something derogatory to the dignity of manhood. This revolt against rule, this chafing against the idea of interdependence, is founded on an utter misapprehension. If God is Creator, and we creatures, we are forced to concede the whole question at issue. There can be but one independent existence; man’s ignorance renders interdependence impossible. Again, he is a servant, and not a ruler, because of the physical laws which environ him. Man is equally impotent to resist the operation of moral law. The servant of these laws secures his highest well-being. The men who have been servants are the regnant men of the world. “Moses, my servant.” David cries, “Truly I am Thy servant.” Elijah says, “Whom I serve.” The whole life of Christ on earth was the demonstration of the truth of the text: “He came not to be ministered unto.” There was but one way in which He could derive new glory, and that was by service and sacrifice. All crowns were already His, save one, and that one was the crown of thorns. After this who will venture to call service derogatory to the dignity of manhood, when even the glory of Godhead derives new lustre from this matchless display of condescending grace? The spectacle of the great Lord of All shrinking from no office, however menial, whereby humanity might be cleansed and elevated and ennobled, has given a new ideal to the world. A new form of beauty rises on the vision of mankind. A new standard of greatness is established by the authority of the Highest. “He that would be chief among you, let him be the servant of all.” These are creative words. Out of them have come the philanthropies, the benevolent enterprises which the pious ingenuity of the Church has devised for the relief of suffering humanity, the sweet charities which minister to the physical and spiritual wants of the world. They are revolutionary words. They have reversed the judgments of men, and reconstructed public opinion as to what constitutes true greatness. (M. D. Hoge, D. D.)
Greatness realized in humble service
Dr. Chalmers was great when he presided over the General Assembly of his church, and when he lectured in the Divinity Hall from his professor’s chair, and when he electrified vast audiences by his power in the pulpit all over Scotland, but never did he attract more reverential admiration or loving regard than when he was seen walking through the dark “closes” and filthy lanes of Edinburgh, with ragged children clinging to his fingers and to his skirts, as he led them out and gathered them into the schools he had organized for their benefit. (M. D. Hoge, D. D.)
Ye know not what ye ask.
Prayers offered in ignorance answered in love
1. They did ask. Whatever be thy desire, go to Him.
2. These brothers had a definite purpose in coming to Him. Our prayers are often vague and indefinite.
3. These brothers were honest and sincere in their request. What, then, was there to be blamed in the matter? They had a false conception of Christ’s glory; also as to the things which were involved in the granting their request. Holiness is a character which is formed within a man; it is not a gift conferred from without. He is the highest in the peerage who has served his Master best. By the cross Christ was elevated to the throne. The text means, “Ye do not know what is implied in the terms you employ in making your request, or what is involved in granting it to you.” We may have a definite object in view, we may think it good and desirable; but we cannot trace it through all its bearings; we cannot see how it would affect us if bestowed; nor can we tell what may be required from us before it can be granted. The omniscient One alone can discern what is involved in our petitions. He will answer our prayers, if not in the letter, yet in the spirit. You ask for success in life, having in mind external prosperity. But God’s view of success is a very different affair; in His estimation, success consists in what a man is, not in what he has; and He gives you that success by denying you the other. You ask for forgiveness, and expect it in joy. God answers by showing you more thoroughly your sins. We pray for holiness; it comes through sore trial. Thus God answers the prayer for purity. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Ignorance in prayers
A beautiful instance of this in the life of the great Church father, Augustine, has often given both consolation and light. He wished to leave Carthage, where he had become deeply entangled in the snares of sin, and to visit Rome, then the metropolis of the world; but his pious mother, Monica, restrained him with her tears, and would not let him go, being afraid that he would encounter still more dangerous snares in the great city. He promised to her to remain; but, forgetful of his duty, he embarked in a vessel under the cloud of night, and in that very Italy to which her affection was afraid to let him go, he found salvation and was converted. Pondering in his mind how the Eternal Love had conducted him to where he himself had thought of going only in the forwardness of his heart, he says, in his “Confessions,” “But thou, my God, listening in Thy high and heavenly counsels to what was the scope of my mother’s wishes, refused her what she prayed for, at that time, that Thou mightest grant her what was at all times the subject of her prayers.” (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
A tradition current in Wales is a striking illustration of these words. It is said that an old woman, who was very ungodly, was once travelling from Cardiff to a neighbouring town, some twelve miles distant, for the purpose of selling her vegetables. It was a winter’s day, the east wind was blowing, and drove the hail and sleet right in her face, causing her to give vent to sundry curses and evil exclamations. When she was nearing the end of her journey, she began in a most irreverent manner to pray that the wind might turn to her back. Extraordinary to relate, the wind did turn, and for about five minutes she had the comfort of a tolerably easy journey. But, alas, poor short-sighted creature! she finished the sale of her goods, and at almost dark started to return home; but the wind, which she had been so anxious should change, had done so, and was therefore again in her face. She had forgotten, when she prayed in the morning that it might turn, that to go home she would have to turn too, and then be exposed to its violence during the cold and dark night. The storm, too, had increased in fury, and it was not till the next morning that the old woman reached her native town.
Christ’s cup of suffering
We cannot drink Christ’s cup of suffering so-
III. With such bitter ingredients.
IV. So capacious.
V. Deadly. (Plans of Sermons.)
Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of
I. Consider the cup presented to our Saviour and the manner in which he drank it. David speaks of a cup of joy (Psalms 23:5; Psalms 116:13); but there is a cup of affliction (Isaiah 51:17; Jeremiah 25:15).
1. It was a bitter cup, consisting of the bitter ingredients of sin and wrath.
2. It was deep and large, and contained much like that which was presented to Judah in her captivity (Ezekiel 23:32).
3. It was a cup without mixture, it had torment without ease. In what manner did our Saviour drink this bitter cup?
(1) He did it not ignorantly, but knowingly.
(2) He did it not reluctantly, but freely.
(3) He drank it not partially, but entirely.
II. The share which believers take in the sufferings of Christ. “Can ye drink,” etc.
1. As no one can do what Christ did, so no one can suffer what He suffered.
2. Though no one can suffer what Christ suffered, yet His people must have some fellowship with Him in His sufferings, and be conformable to His death.
3. The people of God must expect trials. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
Observations on the narrative of blind Bartimeus
I. Observe how singularly is the providential goodness of God displayed in the direction of the events leading to this interview. The blind man takes his place by the roadside, not to meet with Jesus or anyone else whom might restore his sight, but merely to procure from the uncertain compassion of travellers a small pittance that should serve to prolong his weary existence. Just at this juncture Jesus, having left Jericho on His way to Jerusalem, passes that way. Many travellers came and returned, but he knew them not. In this instance the rush of a multitude attracts his notice. That God who has denied him the use of sight can convey His blessings through another organ. It is affecting to think on what a trifle appear to hinge the most important relations and destinies of our existence.
II. The notice bartimeus takes of the information conveyed to him. It is with him no idle speculation. He did not fix on mere circumstantials, or on a topic of interest to others; he contemplated the matter in direct and prompt reference to his own case. Go at once to Christ, and cry so as to be heard through the crowd. The petition of Bartimeus deserves notice not less for the terms in which it is expressed than for the urgency with which it is preferred-“Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me.” It contains a full and prompt confession of Christ in that character, in which of all others He demanded the recognition of mankind, and of that age and nation in particular, and in which He was most obnoxious to the malice of His enemies. Nor is this testimony to Christ as the Son of David less valuable as an indication of great faith in the covenant mercies of God as set forth in prophecy (Isaiah 55:3; Psalms 72:12).
III. The cold and chilling repulse which he met with, not from Jesus but from the bystanders, perhaps even the disciples, for they had not yet learnt much of the spirit of the Master. Some undervalue accessions to the kingdom of Christ from the ranks of the poor. Indifference and suspicion often hinder religious inquiry.
IV. The conduct of bartimeus. When thwarted in your approach to the Saviour how has it operated? it has grieved you; but has it driven you back? Like the tide pent up, which bursting every barrier, rushes with accumulated force, Bartimeus is prompted by this ungracious repulse to cry so much the more. Go thou and do likewise.
V. Jesus stood still and commanded him to be brought. Of what importance is it, in the career of the great mass of individuals, when they move along or when they stop? There are men whose movements are eyed with anxious care. The steps of a Caesar, an Alexander, or a Napoleon, have borne hope or dread with them; the incidental halting of such characters has been identified with the fate of a city or a province. It is only of such as preach the gospel of peace that we can say, “How beautiful are their feet upon the mountains.” The cry of one poor man was of sufficient importance to arrest Christ in His progress.
VI. The commands are obeyed with alacrity.
VII. The same promptitude and determination which bartimeus before manifested guides him in this new aspect of affairs. His tattered cloak is cast away as a hindrance. He has an all-absorbing object before him. The sinner rejects as idle encumbrances his self-righteousness and self-indulgence, which have clung to him as his second self, and rushes alone into the arms of a compassionate Saviour.
VIII. The scene now increases in interest. The man is healed in the way of inquiry, “What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee? “This is the way disconsolate sinners are encouraged to tell their own tale.
IX. What reply is made to this inquiry? “Lord, that I might receive my sight.” He came by the shortest step to the matter in hand; in prayer we should have a specific object in view.
X. How it succeeded in the case before us? “Go thy way.” (A. G. Fuller.)
I. We look closely at Bartimeus on this occasion. It is true that Jesus is the centre of the picture, as He always is. But this miracle is peculiar in that the details of it am more than usually brilliant as an illustration of simple human nature in the one who receives the advantage of it.
1. The state of this poor creature is given at a stroke of the pen. It would be difficult to crowd more biography into one verse than we find in here. He was sightless. He had come to be called by that name, “Blind Bartimeus.” He was a pauper. “Begging” was his business. He was a professional mendicant. We do not look upon him as one who had got behind-hand for a little, and so was out on the street for a day or two, until he could get into employment. He “sat by the highway side begging.” He was helpless. There is no evidence that he had any friends who cared for him; they would have made themselves conspicuous after his cure, if there had been many of them. He was hopeless. It was impossible for him to do anything; he could not see to learn a trade. He was unpopular. Anybody had a right to snub him, the moment he said a word (see Luke 18:39). He was uneasy, and fiercely on the alert to better his condition.
2. Now notice his action. Here we need the verse which has just been quoted from Luke’s Gospel, for a link between the two apparently disjointed verses of Mark’s (see Mark 10:47). The way in which this man “heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth” is shown there; the multitude told him. Bartimeus sought information. He was not too proud to acknowledge he did not know. Does anyone suppose this poor beggar got offended because someone insisted that he was sightless? If a neighbour had showed himself a little friendly, and proposed to lead him up for a cure, would Bartimeus simply spite him for being impertinent about other people’s concerns? Then, next, this blind man began to ask for help (see Luke 18:38-39). His request was singularly comprehensive and intelligent. His cry was personal and direct: “have mercy on me.” He wastes no time in graceful opening or becoming close; what he wanted he tells. His prayer was courageous and importunate (see Mark 10:48). Bartimeus then “rose, and came to Jesus.” It would have been the height of folly for him to say to himself, “If it is the will of this rabbi to open my eyes, he can do it from a distance just as well as if I were there.” Then, also, this blind man put away the hindrance which it was likely would delay him in going for his cure (Mark 10:50). A simple garment, no doubt, but almost indispensable to him. Still, if it interfered with the restoration of his eyesight, it could well be spared.
3. Notice, in the next place, Bartimeus’s full surrender (see Mark 10:51). Two things are to be noted in this remarkable speech. We shall not understand either of them unless we keep in mind the most singular question which Jesus puts to the man, the moment he comes within hearing. It was not because He did not know this beggar’s condition, that our Lord asked him so abruptly what he would have Him to do. It must have been because He desired to fasten his faith upon one chief object of supreme desire. There was no end to the needs of Bartimeus: he wanted food, friends, clothing, home, everything that anybody demands in order to make a mendicant a man. But, more than all besides, he wanted eyesight; and he found that out when he went in upon his own soul to make inquiry. This explains his reply. He speaks with a declaration, “Lord.” This address, most inadequately Tendered here in Mark’s Gospel, means far more than mere respect. The word in Luke is different from this; here it is actually the same as that Mary Magdalene uses when she discovers that one she thought was the gardener is Jesus: “Rabboni!” There is concentrated in just a single word, a whole burst of generous and affectionate feeling: “My Master!” Faith, reverence, love unspeakable, adoring wonder, were in that word. He speaks with an ellipsis. As, before, we found more in his utterance than we expected, so now we find less. Bartimeus does not reply directly to our Lord’s question. He cannot: how could he know what a miracle worker should do? All he knew was what he himself wanted to be done. So his answer would read in full: “I do not understand what Thou writ do, nor even what I would have thee to do-oh, do anything, anything-that I might receive my sight!”
4. Once more, notice Bartimeus’s cure (Mark 10:52). It was instantaneous-“immediately.” It was perfect-“whole.” It was sovereign-“go thy way.” It was complete, including salvation-“thy faith hath saved thee” (see Luke 18:42).
5. Lastly, notice the man’s experience (Luke 18:43). He was full of joy; a new world had been suddenly opened upon him. He was obedient: he followed Jesus as a disciple. He was grateful: he glorified God. He was zealous. We may be sure he left not so much as one blind man in all Jericho without the knowledge of Jesus of Nazareth. “Oh that all the blind but knew Him, and would be advised by me! Surely would they hasten to Him, He would cause them all to see.”
II. So much then, concerning this miracle as a wonder; let us now study its lessons as a parable. It very beautifully pictures the steps of a sinner coming for spiritual relief to Jesus; the state, the action, the surrender, the cure, the experience. Indeed, this was a real part of the story that day.
1. Sightlessness is the symbol of sin. Not darkness now, for Christ has come (see John 8:12). The trouble is in the heart (see Ephesians 3:18). Who did this? (see 2 Corinthians 4:4). How deep is it? (see Revelation 3:18).
2. Sin destroys the whole nature. We do not say Bartimeus was injured in any of his senses except his eyes. But his blindness made him a beggar. His touch, hearing, and taste may have been perfect: indeed, they may have been rendered sensitive, sharp, and alert more than usual. But he walked as a blind man, he reasoned as a blind man, he thought as a blind man, and he went to his regular stand as a blind man, and then begged.
3. Awakening of sinners is often due to Christian fidelity.
4. In the salvation of his soul the sinner has a work to do. It is of no use to fall back on one’s blindness; the first step is to confess blindness, and go to Christ for help.
5. Prayer is indispensable in every case. No one can be saved who will not ask for salvation. The petition might well become a “cry.” And whatever hinders, let the man continue to pray, and pray “the more a great deal.”
6. All hindrances must be put away if one is in ear, eat to be saved. Many a man has seemed to start well, but has been tangled in the running by his garments of respectability, fame, fortune, social standing, literary eminence, or pleasant companionship. One may obtain the “whole world,” and lose “his own soul.”
7. Jesus is always ready to save anyone who cries to Him. Oh, most impressive moment is that when the Lord of Glory pauses in the way, and commands a soul “to be called”!
8. Unqualified acceptance of Christ in all His offices is the essential condition of acceptance by Him. The sinner must say “Lord,” “Jesus of Nazareth,” “Son of David,” and “Rabboni.”
9. Experience of salvation is the instrument to use incur efforts to save others. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
How to procure blessing from God
I. Cry aloud. “What is the noise?” asks this blind man. “Who is it?” “Jesus,” they say. And at once he cries, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” “Hush,” say some; “hush,”-not liking the loudness of the cry, nor the shrill, sad tone of it. But Bartimeus only cries the louder. Misery often makes a great noise in the world, a great and displeasing noise, if it can but get opportunity to make its want and its woe known. Surely, happy people should be ready to bear with the disturbance a little time; for misery has perhaps had to bear its sorrow for a long time.
II. Be in earnest. It has always needed an effort to come at Jesus. You must not be discouraged by hindrances.
III. Cast off incumbrances. The blind man throws aside his garment, lest it should hamper him, in his eagerness to get at Christ. Give him his sight, and he will not care even to look for this soiled and tattered garment any more, but will find a better. People that have their eyes opened will at the very least get their clothes washed. A neat, decent dress is often an early sign that a man is becoming careful who has hitherto been reckless. And new talk, new tempers, new estimates of things, are garments of the spiritual man, that show he has become a new man. (T. T. Lynch.)
The blind beggar of Jericho
This man is a picture of what we would fain have every seeker of Christ to become. In his lonely darkness, and deep poverty, he thought and became persuaded that Jesus was the Son of David. Though he had no sight, he made good use of his hearing. If we have not all gifts, let us use those we have.
I. He sought the Lord under discouragements.
1. No one prompted his seeking.
2. Many opposed his attempts.
3. For awhile he was unheeded by Christ Himself.
4. He was but a blind beggar, and this alone might have checked some pleaders.
II. He received encouragement. This came from Christ’s commanding him to be called. There are several kinds of calls which come to men at the bidding of Christ.
1. Universal call (John 3:14-15).
2. Character call (Matthew 11:28; Acts 2:38-39).
3. Ministerial call (Acts 13:26; Acts 13:38-39; Acts 16:31).
4. Effectual call (Romans 8:30).
III. But encouragement did not content him: he still sought Jesus. To stop short of Jesus and healing would have been folly indeed.
1. He arose. Hopefully, resolutely, he quitted his begging posture. In order to salvation we must be on the alert, and in earnest.
2. He cast away his garment, and every hindrance.
3. He came to Jesus.
4. He stated his case.
5. He received salvation. Jesus said unto him, “Thy faith hath made thee whole.” He obtained perfect eyesight: complete health.
IV. Having found Jesus he kept to him.
1. He used his sight to see the Lord.
2. He became His avowed disciple.
3. He went with Jesus on His way to the cross, and to the crown.
4. He remained a well-known disciple, whose father’s name is given. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
This man came out of cursed Jericho
Are there not some to come from our slums and degraded districts? This man at least was a beggar, but the Lord Jesus did not disdain his company. He was a standing glory to the Lord, for everyone would know him as the blind man whose eyes had been opened. Let seeking souls persevere under all drawbacks. Do not mind those who would keep you back. Let none hinder you from finding Christ and salvation. Though blind, and poor, and miserable, you shall yet see, and smile, and sing, and follow Jesus. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. We take those points which speak to us of our Lord. We are struck by the obvious fact that though attended by a wondering joyful crowd, He has an ear, grace, gifts, for the one; so to the one miserable man. We are apt to think the Lord of all has so many dependent upon Him, our distress may be overlooked by Him; and this fear is strongest when we are weakest. “Lord, that I may receive my sight.” “Receive thy sight” responds Christ. Christ gives us just as much as we can take-as much as we really ask for.
II. Let us now glance at bartimeus and his faith. It is to his faith that our Lord attributes his healing; therefore our attention is specially called to it. It was surprisingly great. There was pertinacity in his faith. Those who stand near Christ may rebuke the cry for mercy. The doctrinal rebuke. The philosophical rebuke. (S. Cox, D. D.)
The gate of the city
The gate of the city was, in the East, the favourite resort of the mendicant class; for there, not only must all travellers, and caravans, and peasants bringing their wares to market, pass them by, but the broad side arches of the gate, with their cool recesses and divans, were the justice halls in which suits and quarrels were adjusted, and the lounging place in which, when the labours of the day were over, the citizens gathered to discuss their local politics or to enjoy their neighbourly gossip. The very reason, therefore, which draws the beggars of Italy to the fountains or the steps of churches, and the beggars of Ireland to the doors of hotels, or to the spots haunted by tourists, and the beggars of England to the crowded thoroughfares and market places, drew the beggars of the East, and still draws them, to the gates of the cities. There men most congregate, and there they are most likely to meet some response to their appeals for pity and help. (S. Cox, D. D.)
Prayer of a solitary individual heard
You have seen a mother laughing and making merry with happy friends. Suddenly she pauses, listens, and leaves the noisy room. She has heard a tiny wail of distress which you could not hear, and she cannot be content till the cry of her babe be hushed, its wants satisfied. And shall God, who made the mother’s heart, be less tender, less pitiful, than the creature He has made? I tell you, Nay; but “as one whom his mother comforteth,” so will God comfort all the distressed who cry to Him. (S. Cox, D. D.)
The blind beggar
I. The origin of this poor blind man’s faith.
II. Its quickness in grasping the gracious opportunity.
III. Listen to this faith whilst it cries and begs.
IV. Observe how eagerly it obeyed the call.
V. Listen to this faith describing his case. He told it at once. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Thy blind man a earners cries
Wherever Jesus Christ is found, His presence is marvellously mighty Providence at all times co-works with grace in the salvation of the chosen people.
I. The blind man’s earnestness as a contrast to the behaviour of many hearers of the word. By a very short sermon he was led to prayer. Instead of praying over sermons, a great many disport themselves with them. Some are anxious for others, whilst this man cried for himself.
II. Notice this man’s intense desire as an absorbing passion. Some plead the excuse of poverty, and demands of business; and these are the two obstacles that Bartimeus overcame. Passover: and the passover time when roads crowded with pilgrims, was his harvest.
III. His vehemence was a most reasonable zeal. He knew the misery of blindness. He was a beggar, and had learned the weakness of man. He knew that Jesus Christ was near. He felt it was now or never.
IV. He experienced checks in his prayer.
V. His importunity at last became so mighty, that rebuffs became arguments with him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A great number of people.-
Christ and His many followers
I. That the followers of Christ are not necessarily his friends or true disciples. “He went out of Jericho with His disciples, and a great number of people.”
1. In the multitudes who accompanied Jesus out of Jericho, some, doubtless, followed Him out of mere curiosity.
2. Some followed because it was just then fashionable to do so.
3. Some followed with a view to future worldly advantage.
4. Such following is generally useless, deceptive, and mischievous, being of no real or permanent advantage to anyone.
(1) It confers no substantial benefit on any Christian country.
(2) It is of no real advantage to those followers themselves.
II. The text suggests to us that among a multitude of Christ’s followers you may generally expect to find some friends. “With His disciples.” Out of those who follow from curiosity Christ is drawing many real followers.
1. This should encourage us to persevere in our own following.
2. This should encourage us in relation to other followers. (J. Morgan.)
Christ and the true friends
I. That the true friends of Christ should follow Him constantly, closely, and collectively. But why should we be anxious to follow Christ thus?
1. Because it would gratify and glorify Christ.
2. Because it would bring great blessings to our own souls.
3. Because such following would exert a blessed influence over our fellow creatures.
II. But while the friends of Christ should thus follow Him constantly, closely, and collectively, they should also preach Him simply, directly, and lovingly. “Jesus of Nazareth passeth by.”
1. The sermon was a very simple one.
2. It was a very evangelical one.
3. It was a very sympathetic or loving one. (J. Morgan.)
A great number of people
There he sits hoping for mere worldly gain. He has not come to meet Christ. It was not in all his thoughts to get his eyes opened. How many like him are before me-dying sinners on whom God’s curse is resting, who yet did not come to secure the great salvation. God grant a further parallel; that you may get what you did not come for, even a solemn meeting and saving closing of your souls with Jesus Christ. A multitude with Jesus! a multitude of followers! How can He then complain, I have laboured in vain, I have spent My strength for nought? Simply because He had many followers, but few friends. A multitude with Jesus! But it is not all following that blesses. A multitude with Jesus! Yes, when His march is at all triumphal-when as He goes He invests His progress with the splendour of miracles, there will be no want of a crowd to gape after Him. A multitude with Jesus! Take care, then, ye members of the Church. Examine yourselves closely. Profession of religion is easy now. Numbers give power, respectability, fashion, even enthusiasm. A multitude with Jesus! Blessed be God, in that multitude some true disciples may be found; some who, though weak and sinning, forward, like Peter, when they should be backward, and then backward, of course, when they should be forward; ambitious, like Zebedee’s children, or doubting, like Thomas, are still true friends of Jesus, living for Him, suffering for Him, growing like Him day by day, and dying for Him without a murmur, if He so appoint. Among the professed people of God there have always been real people of God. “And hearing the multitude.” Oh, what a blessing is that! His ears are open though his eyes are shut. Thus God remembers to be gracious. Where He takes one mercy He leaves another. My text shall be my guide. The roadside was the church, the multitude preached, and Bartimeus was the hearer. And now for the sermon-“And they told him, Jesus of Nazareth passeth by!” “Jesus of Nazareth passeth by! “So you see it was a powerful sermon. It went to the heart and took complete possession of it. It was a very simple sermon. Who cannot preach it? “Jesus of Nazareth passeth by.” There is no follower of Jesus who cannot tell poor blind souls this. A good preacher tries to make all truth simple. He is a bad shepherd, say the old writers, who holds the hay too high for the sheep. According to Lord Bacon, little minds love to inflate plain things into marvels, while great minds love to reduce marvels to plain things. “The very essence of truth,” says Milton, “is plainness and brightness; the darkness and crookedness are our own.” “Better the grammarian should reprehend,” says Jenkyn, “than the people not understand. Pithy plainness is the beauty of preaching. What good doth a golden key that opens not?” An old lady once walked a great way to hear the celebrated Adam Clarke preach. She had heard he was “such a scholar,” as indeed he was. But she was bitterly disappointed, “because,” said she, “I understood everything he said.” And I knew a man who left the church one morning quits indignant, because the preacher had one thing in his sermon he knew before! It was a little explanation meant for the children; dear little things-they are always coming on, and I love to see their bright little faces among the older people. We used to need and prize these simple explanations, and why shouldn’t they have them in their turn? But, best of all, this sermon was about Christ. He is mentioned alone. “The excellency of a sermon,” says Flavel, “lies in the plainest discoveries and liveliest applications of Jesus Christ.” He passeth by! Now is your time; make haste to secure your salvation. How near He is! He passeth by in the light of every Sabbath sun, in every church built to His name, in every reading of His Word, in every gospel sermon, in sacraments and prayers and psalms, but most of all in every movement of His Spirit on the heart. But He “passeth by!” He will not always tarry. The day of grace is not forever. Its sun will go down, and the night that follows is eternal despair. Christ never passed that way again; He may never pass your way again. That was His last visit to Jericho; this call may be His last visit to you. This was Bartimeus’ only opportunity; today maybe your only opportunity. (Prof. W. J. Hoge.)
Three kinds of blindness
The eye of the body may be out, and we have no name for the result but blindness. The eye of the intellect may be out, and we name the result idiocy. We say the man is a fool. The eye of the soul may be out, and God names the result wickedness. He calls the man a sinner. Think of Bartimeus. He rose this morning, and his wife blessed him, his children climbed his knees and kissed him. They ministered to his wants. They led him a little way by the hand. But he did not see them. He knew of them, but he could not behold them. Their smiles or beauty were nothing to him-he was blind. Think of yourself, O sinner! You rose this morning, and the eye of your heavenly Father looked upon you. His hand led you, His power guarded you, His goodness blessed you. But your soul did not see Him. A vague idea that God had done it all may have occurred to you, but it had no vividness. He was no blessed reality to you. You saw not the lineaments of a father-the loving eye, the benignant smile. You saw nothing-your soul was blind. Think again of Bartimeus. He went abroad, and the rich valley of the Jordan spread out before him. The stately palms rose toward heaven, and waved their feathery tops in the early breeze. The gardens of balsam were clothed in their delicate spring verdure, and Jericho sat in the midst of these vernal glories, deserving its name-Jericho, the place of fragrance, deserving its frequent description among the ancient writers-the City of Palms. And high above all was the blue sky, bending over as if to embrace and bless so much loveliness of earth; and the great sun, filling earth and sky and balmy air with glory. But what was all this to Bartimeus? It might have been narrow and black for aught he could tell. It was an utter blank, a dreadful gloom to him. All was night, black, black night, with no star. Why was it so to him, when to others it was splendour and joy? Ah! he was blind. Unregenerate man, think again of yourself. You went abroad this morning, on an earth once cursed, as of old Jericho had been, but spared and blessed by redeeming mercy, even as Jericho was that day blessed by the presence and healing grace of Jesus. Around you, too, was spread a world of spiritual beauty. The walls and bulwarks and stately palaces of the city of our God were before you. The rose of Sharon, the lily of the valley, the vine, the palm, the olive, and the fig tree all stood about you in the garden of the Lord. Through them flowed the river of life, reflecting skies more high and clear than the azure of summer mornings ever imagined, and lit to its measureless depth by a sun more glorious than ever poured splendour even upon Eden, in our poor world’s ancient prime. You walked forth amid all this beauty, and many saw it-none perfectly, yet some very blessedly-but you saw nothing. You see nothing now. Nay, you cannot see it. Strain your blind soul as you will, you cannot see it. I see a beautiful mother gaze anxiously on her babe. She is trying a fearful experiment. She stretches out her arms to it, beseeches it with loving looks, holds out sparkling jewels to it, and flashes them before its eyes in the very sunshine at the open window. But the little eyes move not, or move aimlessly, and turn vacantly away. And she cries out in anguish, “Oh, my poor child is blind!” And now I understand why even tender children turn away from Christ, seeing no beauty in Him that they should desire Him, and caring nothing for all His smiles or tears, or offers of the rich jewelry of heaven. They see nothing of it all. They are blind, born blind. (Prof. W. J. Hoge.)
The danger of the blind
I once saw a man walk along the edge of a precipice as if it were a plain. For anything he knew, it was a plain, and safe. He was calm and fearless, not because there was no danger, but because he was blind. And who cannot now understand how men so wise, so cautious in most things, can go so securely, so carelessly, even so gaily on, as if everything were safe for eternity, while snares and pitfalls are all about them, and death may be just at hand, and the next step may send them down the infinite abyss! Oh, we see it, we see it-they are blind! A blind man is more taken up with what he holds in his hand, than with mountains, ocean, sun, or stars. He feels this; but those he can neither touch nor see. And now it is plain why unconverted men undervalue doctrine, saying, that “it is no matter what a man believes, so his heart is right;” that “one doctrine is as good as another, and for that matter, no doctrines are good for much;” and that “they don’t believe in doctrinal preaching at any rate.” They, forsooth, they! blind worms, pronouncing contemptuously of the stupendous heights and glories of God’s revelation, where alone we learn what we are to believe concerning Him, and what duty He requires of us. It is plain, too, why they see no preciousness in the promises, no glory in Christ, no beauty in holiness, no grandeur in the work of redemption; why they make a mock at sin, despise God’s threatenings, brave His wrath, make light of the blood of Christ, jest at death, and rush headlong on certain perdition. They are blind. (Prof. W. J. Hoge.)
Light no remedy for blindness
“But we want to see them. If they are real, they are our concern as well as yours. Oh, that some preacher would come, who had power to make us see them!” Poor souls, there is no such preacher, and you need not wait for him. Let him gather God’s light as he will, he can but pour it on blind eyes. A burning glass will condense sunbeams into a focus of brightness; and if a blind eye be put there, not a whit will it see, though it be consumed. Light is the remedy for darkness, not blindness. (Prof. W. J. Hoge.)
Blindness disqualifies the critic
Let the people of God no more wonder then at the clamours of infidels against the Scriptures. Would you heed a blind man criticising pictures, or raving against your summer skies? If he denies that the sun has brightness, or the mountains grandeur, will you believe him? And if a hundred blind men should all declare that they cannot see the stars, and argue learnedly that there can be no stars, and then grow witty and laugh as you as stargazers, would the midnight heavens be less glorious to you? When these men had thus satisfactorily demonstrated their blindness, would not the mighty works of God still prove their bright reality to your rejoicing vision? Would they not still declare His glory and show His handiwork? And shall the spiritually blind be more trusted? (Prof. W. J. Hoge.)
The blind man happy
In a journal of a tour through Scotland, by the Rev. C. Simeon, of Cambridge, we have the following passage:-“Went to see Lady Ross’s grounds. Here also I saw blind men weaving. May I never forget the following fact. One of the blind men, on being interrogated with respect to his knowledge of spiritual things, answered, ‘I never saw till I was blind: nor did I ever know contentment when I had my eyesight, as I do now that I have lost it: I can truly affirm, though few know how to credit me, that I would on no account change my present situation and circumstances with any that I ever enjoyed before I was blind.’ He had enjoyed eyesight till twenty-five, and had been blind now about three years.” “My soul,” Mr. Simeon adds, “was much affected and comforted with his declaration. Surely there is reality in religion.”
When may a man be called poor
Is wealth for the body alone? Has She heart no riches? May not a mind be impoverished, a soul be bankrupt? Ah! yes, there are riches besides money, wealth to which gold and rubies are as nothing. A man is poor when his need is not supplied. The higher the wants, the deeper the kind of poverty, the more the want, the deeper its degree. A man with neither food nor shelter is poorer than he who lacks shelter only. And is not the man without love or hope poorer than he who has merely no fire nor bread? Who shall deny the name of poor to him whose soul is unfurnished? What is the chaff to the wheat, the body to the soul? Are not the soul’s desires larger and more insatiable than those of the flesh? Does not the heart hunger? Is there no such thing as “a famine of truth and love”? Do desolate spirits never cower and shiver and freeze, like houseless wretches in stormy winter nights? Night and winter and storm-are they not also for the soul? And when it has no home in its desolations, no refuge from its foes, no shelter from the blast, no food for its hunger, no consolation in its sorrows, is it not poor? poor in the deepest poverty, which almost alone deserves the name of poverty? How much of such poverty is there, dwelling in princely halls, clothed in purple and fine linen, and faring sumptuously every day! How often does it walk in royal processions, and flash with jewels, and handle uncounted gold. (Prof. W. J. Hoge.)
Every sinner is a beggar
How can it be otherwise? Can such poverty be independent? In outward poverty, a well-furnished mind, a wealthy soul may be an inward solace. But when it is the soul that is bankrupt, there is no region still within, where it may retire and comfort itself. It will seek for happiness, and it must look without-it is forced to beg. And thus I see poor, guilty, blinded souls begging-begging of earth and sky, and air and sea, of every passing event, of one another, of all but the great and merciful God, who would supply all their need through Jesus Christ. They must beg. The vast desires of the soul, which God gave that they might be filled from Himself, and which nothing but His own fulness can satisfy; the noble powers degraded to work with trifles; the aspirations which thrill only as they mount heavenward, but now struggle and pant like an eagle with broken wing, and his breast in the dust; the deathless conscience, filled with guilt and touched with unappeasable wrath, drugged indeed, and often sleeping heavily, but waking surely, and then lashing the soul inexorably-all these compel it to be a beggar. (Prof. W. J. Hoge.)
Begging begins in childhood
We beg then with eager hope. We are sure we shall not be disappointed. Games, holidays, sight-seeing, all promise much, and childhood begs them to make it blessed. Vexed, wearied, sent empty away again and again, the boy sees, further on, the youth, pursuing his great hopes, and hastens to join him, confident that in higher excitements and larger liberty, in new aspirations and tenderer love, his soul’s thirst shall be slaked. Deluded once more, he grows sober and wise and firm. He is older. He is a man. He lays deep plans now, puts on a bolder face, and begs with sterner importunity. He can take no denial. He must have happiness; he will be blessed. Fame, wealth, power-these have the hidden treasure he has sought so long. He knows now where it is, and they must give it up. Years are passing, his time will soon be gone, and now he begs indeed! How these idols lead his soul captive! How he toils, cringes, grovels, sacrifices for their favour! Fame, wealth, power-deceitful gods!-still promise that tomorrow the long-sought good shall be given. But how many tomorrows come and go, and leave him still trusting to the next! Now he forsakes the pleasures he might have, dries up the fountains of his early love, sweeps all sentiment from his heart, crushes his dearest affections, tasks every power to the utmost, wrings out his heart’s blood, and lays all his soul before his idol’s feet-and is disappointed! Disappointed alike in failure and success! If he wins the prize, this is not what he coveted, and worshipped, and bargained away his soul for, and he curses it for a cheat. If he fails, he still believes that the true good was there, and he was near it; and he curses the chance, or envy, or hate which snatched it from his grasp. But who shall describe the base arts of this beggary? The disguises, the pretences, the fawnings-all the low tricks of street beggars-are adopted and eclipsed by those who will be rich, will be great, will have fame. And what are the profits of thus begging the world for what God alone can give? Observe a street beggar for a while. How many go by and give nothing, where one drops even a penny in the hat! So many of the passing things of time refuse altogether to give the soul the good it asks. See again. Do you mark the impudent leer of that mean boy? He knows the beggar is blind, and so he comes up pretending sympathy, and puts a pebble, a chip in that trembling hand. So a thousand times have you seen the world do for a begging soul. But there comes a still meaner boy; he puts that which, when the grateful old man’s hand closes on it pierces or stings it, and, laughing loudly in the blind, bewildered face, he runs away. And thus have I seen the gay, polished world put a sparkling cup to the young man’s lips; but when at last it bit him like a serpent and stung him like an adder, the polished world, jeered his imprudence, and turned him from its door. His excesses and agony and death must not be seen there! And when the beggar’s gains for the day are fairly counted, what are they? A few copper coins, foul with gangrene, and little bits of silver, rarely,-enough to buy a scanty meal and a poor lodging, and tomorrow all is to begin again. And thus the world gives-few pleasures, low pleasures, brief pleasures. They stay the soul’s hunger for a while, but never satisfy it, so that straightway we must go out and beg again. The world never raised a man’s soul above beggary. It is both too selfish and too poor. It gives but little of what it has, and if it gave all, gave itself, that would not fill and bless an immortal soul. These things make me think how sadly all this begging from the world ends. The hour comes when the world can do no more. It is a bitter hour-an hour of pain and anguish, of weakness and despair-the hour of death. The world is roaring away as ever, in business and mirth, all unconscious that the poor man who loved and worshipped it so, is dying. But oh, the begging of God which now begins! Bitter crying to Him whose gracious heart has been waiting to bless these many years, waiting in vain for one sigh of contrition, one prayer of faith to His infinite grace! But it is too late. His patient, insulted Spirit has been grieved at length. He has departed. (Prof. W. J. Hoge.)
And when he heard.-
And when he heard
Eternal salvation depends on right hearing. There are just two kinds of hearing, not three. There is a hearing unto life, and another hearing unto death; but there is no hearing between-none to indifference. You may try to hear merely that you may hear, and let that be the end of it-but that will not be the end of it. The end of it will be life or death! You may resolve that the preaching shall make no difference in you; but it will make a difference in you, and the difference will be salvation or perdition! The gospel leaves no man where it found him. If it be not wings to bear him to heaven, it will be a millstone to sink him to hell. Some of you think it the lightest of pastimes to come to church and hear a sermon.
I. His hearing led him to action. His very soul seemed to be roused, and he began to do something. Oh, for a pulse of life in those frozen hearts! A flush of blood, even though it were angry blood, in those pale cheeks! “I came to break your head,” said a man once to Whitefield, “but by the grace of God you have broken my heart.” That was a vile purpose to go to church with, but if he had gone in a complacent frame, and quietly slept or coolly criticised the preacher, it would have been far worse. He would not have carried away that priceless treasure-a broken heart. If what we say is true, why do you not act upon it? If false, how can you bear to be charged with it? If our charges are false, they are also insulting and outrageous. If you believe them to be false, your conduct, in hearing them so calmly, and coming back to hear them again, and even sometimes applauding us for the vehement way in which we assail and denounce you, is perfectly astonishing. Or if you say you believe these things to be true, your conduct is still more amazing. If true, they should concern you infinitely: yet you are not concerned at all. You will call Bartimeus a fool if he does not try to get his eyes opened this very day. But what name will you reserve for yourselves, if, while I this day, as one of these ambassadors of God, offer you pardon and healing and eternal life through Jesus Christ, who now passes by to bestow them, you once more refuse the Saviour, and go on as before toward perdition?
II. This reveals to us the second mark of right hearing-it fills a man with earnestness. If he has heard such truth as he ought, he not only acts, but acts with energy. Thus Bartimeus acted. “When he heard he cried out.” So it must be with you, O sinners. If you would enter heaven you must be in earnest about it. Let us now see how this earnestness found expression. So shall we have another mark of true hearing.
III. When the gospel is heard aright, it leads to prayer. This was the first thing Bartimeus did, when he was told that Jesus was passing by-he prayed. And this is always the first thing for a lost sinner who hears of Christ-let him pray. A soul truly in earnest after salvation will cry for help. Self-preservation is the first law of nature, and when our strength fails, prayer is nature’s messenger for helpers. And when did nature fail to pray in her need? Hunger will beg and pain cry out. Though the fever have caused madness, the sufferer will still cry for water. None need teach the babe to clamour for its nurture. Birds can plead for their young, and the dog entreat you, with all the power of speech, to follow him to the forest, where his master lies robbed and bleeding. And has the soul no voice in its sickness unto death? Is the instinct of the brute a sure guide, and do the reason and conscience of men slumber or lie? Or are they quicksighted and honest about bodily wants and earthly things, only to show themselves utterly besotted, when glory, honour, and immortality are at stake? When your souls are in jeopardy, must you be plied with such urgency before you will cry for help? If the voice of grace, sometimes warning, sometimes inviting, cannot wake you and bring you to your knees, God will try the voice of unmixed vengeance.
IV. And do it at once. Promptness is another mark of a good hearer of the gospel. It is found in Bartimeus. “And when he heard,” that is, as soon as he heard, “he began to cry out.” But what need of such haste? “Jesus is going slowly,” he might say, “and some little while must pass before He is gone. Be sure I will be in time.” “Or if He does get a little out of sight,” Bartimeus might say, “while I am attending to some little matters, I will run after Him and call Him.” “But I only want a little time, and that for most important business,” Bartimeus might plead. But if Bartimeus choose to attend to his alms instead of his eyes, see if he has not a still stronger reason. Begging is not only his business, but this happens to be a very “busy season,” as we say in the city, or “harvest time,” as they say in the country. A multitude was passing! He might go home almost rich-might almost retire from business! And after all has not Providence given him this opportunity, and would it be exactly right to throw it away? So have I heard professors of religion and non-professors reason. So do they put earth’s business above all the calls of God.
V. and VI. Two other marks of a good hearer of the gospel are found in Bartimeus. He heard with faith and humility. He trusted in Jesus and was lowly in heart. His faith even outran the word of the multitude. They spoke of “Jesus of Nazareth,”-Nazareth of Galilee-a despised town of a despised province: but he could call Him “Son of David,” and “Lord.” And how deep was his humility! He hid nothing, pretended nothing. He came as he was. Blind, he came as blind. Poor, he came as poor. A beggar, he came as a beggar. And so it is always. Faith and humility meet in the sinner’s experience, not as occasional companions only; they ever walk lovingly together as sisters. They cannot separate. Like the Siamese twins they live in each other’s presence alone; should they part, they would die. A sinner cannot believe in Jesus and not be humble; he cannot be truly humble without believing in Jesus. (Prof. W. J. Hoge.)
That he should hold his peace.-
That he should hold his peace
There is never a knock at heaven’s gate but it sounds through hell, and devils come out to silence it. The ungodly world bids anxious souls to hold their peace. It cannot bear the sinner’s distress. If his conscience is disturbed its own is not quite easy. Therefore the world sets itself to make an end of these convictions. For this it has innumerable devices. It will flatter or curse. For some it has persecutions, for others promotions. But I pause not on any of these. I wish now to address the professed people of God. I say, then, plainly: you are in great danger every day of rebuking anxious souls, and charging them to hold their peace.
I. By injudicious criticism of sermons you may stifle convictions and drive sinners away from Christ. I cannot better illustrate this caution than by a true narrative from “The Central Presbyterian.” “A pious lady once left a church in this city (Richmond), in company with her husband, who was not a professor of religion. She was a woman of unusual vivacity, with a keen perception of the ludicrous and often playfully sarcastic. As they walked along toward home, she began to make some amusing and spicy comments on the sermon, which a stranger, a man of very ordinary talents and awkward manner, had preached that morning in the absence of the pastor. After running on in this vein of sportive criticism for some time, surprised at the profound silence of her husband, she turned and looked up in his face. He was in tears. That sermon had sent an arrow of conviction to his heart! What must have been the anguish of the conscience-stricken wife, thus arrested in the act of ridiculing a discourse which had been the means of awakening the anxiety of her unconverted husband!”
II. Beware also of unseasonable levity after solemn appeals.
III. This brings to mind another way by which you may bid sinners hold their peace-by blindness to any beginning concern. Would you see how you should watch? Come with me to the chamber where a babe lies dying. A breathless messenger has gone for the physician, but still he comes not. How the worn mother gazes on her little sufferer in an agony of fondness and fear; how she sinks in anguish before the mercy seat, and pleads like the Syrophenician woman at the feet of Jesus; how she rises wildly, and watches at the window for the physician; how at every sound of wheels she flushes with eagerness, and then grows sick at heart as they turn the corner, and the sound dies away; how she springs to the door as his well-known step is heard on the stair; and then, as he searches every symptom, how she waits on his every look, living on a gleam of hope, ready to die if his face is darkened by a cloud!
IV. Nor is this the worst. Professing parents often lay plans for their children directly opposed to the Spirit’s work. (Prof. W. J. Hoge.)
Pertinacity successful in the end
Success in this world comes only to those who exhibit determination. Can we hope for salvation unless our mind is truly set upon it? Grace makes a man to be as resolved to be saved as this beggar was to get to Jesus, and gain his sight. “I must see him!” said an applicant at the door of a public person. “You cannot see him,” said the servant; but the man waited at the door. A friend went out to him, and said, “You cannot see the master, but I can give you an answer.” “No,” he replied; “I will stay all night on the doorstep, but I will see the man himself. He alone will serve my turn.” You do not wonder that, after many rebuffs, he ultimately gained his point: it would be infinitely greater wonder if an importunate sinner did not obtain an audience from the Lord Jesus. If you must have grace, you shall have it. If you will not be put off, you shall not be put off. Whether things look favourable or unfavourable, press you on till you find Jesus, and you shall find Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
And Jesus stood still.-
When Jesus thus “stood still,” He was on His way for the last time to Jerusalem. His “hour” was drawing nigh, and He was hastening to meet it. Can He be arrested in this journey? Where is the event mighty enough to stay His course? What destiny of man or empire is worthy even of a thought from Him now? “He stood still.” Let us also stand and admire. Here let us learn the grace of our Redeemer, and lay up in our hearts the blessed teaching. Then may we learn how unreasonable and how unnatural is a favourite clamour of infidels against the gospel. They say they cannot believe that the Son of God came to this world and died for its redemption. This world is too small and mean in the great scale of the universe, to allow them to think that the Creator of countless millions of glorious suns and systems, could have stooped to love and care and suffer and die for the poor creatures of a day, who live on this insignificant planet. To a narrow vision a structure may seem unsightly from its vastness, while in miniature the same eye might find the proportions exquisite. And have we not, in this standing still of Jesus, amidst the urgencies of such a journey, at the call of a beggar, a miniature of the very things by which some are confounded or repelled, in the immense transactions of the Atonement? It was worthy of the illustrious Stranger-nay, it was beautiful, it was sublime-to stay for the relief of the unhappy beggar, though His own mind was burdened with the weight of the infinite sacrifice He was about to offer. Then who shall so vilify the redemption of men by the Cross, as to pronounce it unworthy of the Sovereign of a universe to which our earth is but an atom? Shall an astronomer be so lost in God’s glory declared by the heavens, in their measureless and bright immensity, as to scorn the thought of His upholding and blessing each sun and star? Then if these philosophers gaze on the luminous, illimitable fields of creation, until their dazzled minds turn back with contempt to the world on which they dwell, and find no worth nor grandeur in the Cross which redeems it, though it saves numbers without number from perdition, and glorifies them in the light of God, and displays His Attributes before an admiring universe, let us hold up the confessed truthfulness and beauty of this simple incident, till, “like a mirror of diamond, it pierce their misty eyeball” and lead them on to the acknowledgment of the truth. “Jesus stood still,” and when did He ever refuse to stay at the call of the distressed sinner? Nay, if He stayed then, when can He refuse? Is He not the same yesterday, today, and forever? The fires of eternal vengeance stood still over Sodom till Lot was gone out. The waves stood still, and the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea till the children of Israel passed over. The down-rushing waters of swollen Jordan stood still, as the feet of the priests touched their brim, and rose up as a wall till the chosen tribes had gained their inheritance. At the cry of Joshua, the sun stood still in the midst of the heavens, and the moon in the valley of Ajalon, until the Lord’s hosts had avenged themselves upon their enemies. So we may look upon His call, and the gracious call of every sinner who becomes a saint, in its Divine origin, its gentle instruments, and its effectual aids.
I. “He called.” Our vocation is of God. He hath called us out of darkness into His marvellous light. “He called.” This word of Matthew contains, as in the seed, the expressions of Mark and Luke. All the agencies, by which the soul is persuaded and enabled to embrace Jesus Christ freely offered to us in the gospel, are hidden in this, His loving call, as the leaves and flowers and golden fruit are all folded in the germ. Many providences, many scriptures, many ordinances, many movements of the Spirit may lay hold on a soul to draw it to Christ; but they are all so many threads which Christ holds in His own hand. They have all their power from His drawing. Then let us use this truth for holy fear. If you resist the appeals of God’s ministers, you resist God. “He called.” In Jesus Christ we behold the best of preachers-the Divine Exemplar after whom all should copy.
II. “He commanded him to be called.” The Lord gave the word; great was the company of them that published it. Let him that heareth, say, Come! Then all the called may themselves become callers.
III. And now what a word of good cheer the third evangelist speaks-“He commanded him to be brought unto Him!” Admire the Lord’s grace to the blind man. He will not leave him to grope his dark way alone. Some shall lead him by the hand. In whatever way, he shall have all the aid he needs to come into the Saviour’s very presence. Blessed thought t that we who are but men may have some share in this dear work of guiding blind souls to Jesus. But here I rather choose to think of the higher than human aid, which Christ sends with His word to the souls of His chosen. The energy of Almighty power accompanies the preaching of the truth. The Spirit and the Bride say, Come! (Prof. W. J. Hoge.)
A gospel sermon to outsiders
I. Many persons who are really seeking the Saviour greatly want comforting. There is a sort of undefined fear that these good things are not for them. They are cast down because they think they have been seeking in vain. They are sad because many round about them discourage them. Their sadness also rise from their spiritual ignorance. They regard conversion as something very terrible.
II. This comfort is to be found in the text. The general gospel call ought to yield great comfort to any seeking soul. But there is also an effectual call.
III. This comfort should lead to immediate action. The exhortation to rise means instant decision. It means also resolution. You are also to cast away everything that would hinder you from finding salvation. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
He calleth thee.-The analogy would be perfect, if those who were sent to Bartimeus had themselves been blind, until their eyes had been opened by Christ. And who can say that it was not so with some of them? Then with what generous indignation must they have heard the cruel rebukes of the multitude! Then, too, with what alarmed sympathy would these men, once blind, now seeing, have regarded Bartimeus, if he had wavered in his earnestness after Christ! And with what alacrity would these messengers of Christ have hastened to bear His words of welcome to the blind man! Joy beyond expression would have inspired them. I have heard of a caravan which had lost its way in the desert. For days they could find no water. The suffering was sore, and many were perishing. Men were out in all directions searching for the water that was to be indeed water of life. At last, faint and ready to die, one man lighted on a spring. Cool and clear the stream gushed from the rock. Almost frantic with thirst, he rushed forward and drank, drank. Oh, how deep was the bliss of that draught! Is it strange that for one moment be thought only of himself? But suddenly the perishing multitude came before his mind, and he leaped up, and ran shouting, “Water! water! Enough for all! Come and drink!” And so from rank to rank of that scattered host he sped, until he had told them all, and was himself thirsty again. But when he saw the eager crowds rushing to the fountain, when be beheld the refreshment and gladness of all hearts and faces, and then stooped once more himself to drink the liberal stream, was not his second draught full of deeper bliss than even the first? Had he ever tasted such water as that? O blessed souls who have drank of the river of life, lift up your voice upon the mountains, and let your feet be swift upon the plains, publishing the good tidings of salvation. This brings to view the joyfulness of the gospel. It is not a message of gloom, a thing to be whispered in darkness as a dreadful secret. We dishonour the gospel when we would recommend it by a melancholy visage. Such is the spirit of the tidings these messengers bring to Bartimeus, in this, his second gospel sermon. The first told him simply that Jesus was passing by. Now he hears these heart reviving words, “Be of good comfort; rise; He calleth thee.” “Be of good comfort.” On thy long night, without moon or star, or even a dim candle in thy dwelling, the Day star is dawning. Thine eyes have never been used but for weeping; they seemed only made for tears. But now they shall serve thee for seeing. Sinners, poor, wretched, and blind, but crying for the Saviour, be not disconsolate. “Be of good comfort.” After your night of weeping, your morning of joy has come. “Rise!” say the preachers to Bartimeus, and so we cry. There is salvation for the sinner, none for the sluggard. Rise, then, ye unpardoned, Away with your fears and doubts. They are unreasonable and wicked. Break off your indifference. It is a noiseless chain, indeed, but be not deceived; the chain that does not clank is the tightest. Let me take the trumpet of the Holy Ghost, and may He fill it with sound that shall pierce your heart;-Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light! “He calleth thee.” What more canst thou want, Bartimeus? If He calls thee, He will cure thee. If He calls, who can forbid? Thy call is thy warrant. The call of Christ is warrant enough for any sinner. He may use it against the Law and Satan and his own evil conscience. For example, Satan comes to him and says-“What, wretch! art thou going to Christ?” “Ay, that I am, with all my heart.” “But will He receive thee?” “Ay, that He will, with all His heart.” “Truly, thou art a brave talker! Who taught thee this lofty speech?” “Nay, my speech is lowly, and I learned it of my Lord.” “But where is thy warrant?” “None can go to Christ without a warrant.” “He calleth me-be that my warrant!” “But where is thy fitness?” says Satan, shifting his ground. “Be my warrant my fitness-He calleth me,” answers the sinner, keeping his ground, his only ground. “But listen, soul! Thou art going before a King. He cannot look upon iniquity” (for you see Satan can quote Scripture), “and thou art but a mass of iniquity” (here the devil affects a great horror of it, to fill the sinner with fear). “The heavens are not clean in His sight; how then shall thy filthiness appear before Him? Look at thy rags, if thy blind eyes will let thee, and say, what a dress is this to take into His presence!” “It is all true,” says the contrite sinner, “still I will go, for He calleth me. I will bind this call about me and it shall be my dress, till He give me another. I will hold up this call, written with His own hand, and signed with His own name, and sealed with His own blood, and it shall be my defence and plea. Miserable and unworthy as I am, and deserving, I know, to die, with this I have boldness and access with confidence, saying only, like little Samuel, Here am I, for Thou didst call me!” Bartimeus needed no more. “Casting away his garment, he rose and came to Jesus.” It could not be otherwise. True earnestness does not wait. Conscious wretchedness in the presence of a trusted Saviour cannot delay. Only half-convictions can procrastinate. The ancient heathen had this saying: “The feet of the avenging deities are shod with wool.” Shod with wool! Yes, they crept with noiseless steps, that the touch that aroused might be the blow that destroyed. It is not so with our merciful God. He sounds an alarm that we may seek a refuge. His thunder rolls along the distant horizon, that we may take in sail and be ready for the storm, the storm which would have burst upon us no less surely without this gracious warning. As Bartimeus rose to hasten to Jesus, he “cast away his garment,” his loose upper robe. He would suffer no hindrance. He may have thrown it aside unconsciously, but it was the action of nature-nature in earnest for some great end. Let us take the lesson. If we would win Christ, we must lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily besets us-the sin we have daily wrapped about us like our garment. (Prof. W. J. Hoge.)
What wilt thou?-
Our wants must be expressed
If we would commune with Christ, we must draw near to Him. If we would hear His voice, we must fall down before Him. It is only there that heaven and earth may meet in peace. “What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? “A goodly word, indeed! What would not a soul, struggling in the depths and entanglements of sin, give once to hear it from his Lord? Let us admire-
I. The fulness of the grace. The tender love of Christ to lost souls is a great deep, without bottom and without shore. The wing of no angel can bear him so high that he can look over all its extent. The guilt of no sinner has been able to sound all its depth. King Ahasuerus said unto Queen Esther at the banquet of wine, What is thy petition? and it shall be granted thee: and what is thy request? even to the half of my kingdom shall it be performed. And so the monarchs of the East delighted to speak. But their utmost premise was half the kingdom, and their kingdoms were earthly, bounded and unsubstantial, and their pompous generosity often but the flourishing rhetoric of lust, pride, and wine. But Jesus puts no limit to His offers. Ask, it shall be given you. Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. Whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, that will I do. In Him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. All power is given unto Him in heaven and in earth.
II. Let us also admire the freeness of Christ’s offers to lost sinners. The freeness of the offer springs from the fulness of the grace. “What wilt thou?” Choose for thyself, Bartimeus. If thou dost not carry away a noble gift, it is thine own fault. I do not set bounds to thy desires. The treasure is infinite, and thou hast it all to choose from. The Spirit of the Lord is not straitened, and if we are, it is in ourselves. God’s grace is always larger than man’s desire, and freer than his faith. If we take little pitchers to the well, we shall carry little water away. Though the golden bowl be full of golden off, the lamp will burn dim, if the golden pipe be narrow or choked. The ocean itself can pour but a scanty stream through a slender channel.
III. See how Christ’s grace condescends to every soul’s peculiar need. He will suit His granting to our asking. To every soul He says, “What wilt thou?”
IV. This question teaches that, though Christ knows what we want and what He will do, He will have us express our wants. Through all the cold, dark night the petals of the flower were shut. So the sun found it and poured his rays upon it, till its heart felt the warmth. Then it yearned to be filled with these pleasant beams, and opened its bosom to drink them in. And so it is with man’s prayer and God’s grace. How pointless are the prayers we often hear. They scatter weakly over the whole ground. They have no aim and do no execution. If we would pray well, we must have something to pray for, something we really crave, we must know our wants, feel our wants, express our wants. We must have “an errand at the Throne.” I learned that expression from a pious old slave. He was asked the secret of the fervour and spirit with which he always prayed. “Oh,” said he, “I have always an errand at the Throne, and then I just tell the Lord what I come for, and wait for an answer.” Thus, too, shall we wait for an answer. Even the sportsman, who cares not for his game, follows the arrow with his eye, till he sees it strike. But how many never cast a second glance after a prayer which has left their lips! (Prof. W. J. Hoge.)
What wilt thou
?:-Did the omniscient Redeemer not know what was the calamity under which this man groaned? He did. It was evident to all the world. Was He not aware of the desire of Bartimeus’ heart? and that what he sought was not an ordinary alms? Undoubtedly, and He had already resolved to restore his sight. Why then did He put this question? It was that He might more fully manifest His Father’s glory; that He might awaken the man to a deeper consciousness of his misery; call forth his faith into liveliest exercise; and, especially, teach him and all of us the nature and necessity of fervent prayer.
1. God has appointed a definite way in which we are to obtain His aid and deliverance. If we would have we must ask. Prayer is the means He has prescribed. Why? We could not enjoy the blessing of God without it. It is indispensable as a preparation of our hearts.
2. Our prayers must be definite and precise. Beware of vague, general, pointless prayers. State at once the evil you would have removed, the want you would have supplied, the promise you would have fulfilled.
3. He who asks the question in the text, can answer it. Jesus has all things at His disposal. There is no limit either to His resources or His readiness to help. Be not afraid to ask much, to expect much, and much you shall obtain. He in, poses no conditions, no price, no merit. (A. Thomson.)
Immediately he received his sight.-
I. What, then, does this healing stand for in the higher spiritual world? Surely, nothing less than regeneration-the new birth of the soul. Of the many images employed by the Holy Ghost to set forth our natural state, perhaps none is more frequent than blindness. Darkness is ever the chosen symbol of the kingdom of Satan, and light of the kingdom of God.
1. That the new birth is from God. If the harp be broken, the hand of the maker may repair it, and wake the chords again to their old power and sweetness. There is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease. Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground, yet through the scent of water it will bud and bring forth boughs like a plant. But who can restore the shattered crystal, so that the sunbeams shall stream through it without finding a flaw, and flash, once more, as of old, in the ever-changing play of their splendour? And who can open the eyes of the blind? Who can restore to that most lustrous and precious of gems, its expression and power, when distorted and blotted by disease or violence? Who shall open again those delicate pathways for the light of two worlds-the outer world shining in and filling the soul with images of beauty, and that inner world shining out in joy, love, and thankfulness? Surely none but the Maker of this curious frame, who, when sin had so cruelly marred it, came in compassion as infinite as His might, to be Redeemer and Restorer where He had already been Creator. Only He can open the eyes of the blind. The power of God is in that work. But if a man die shall he live again? Oh, if the soul be dead, dead in guilt and corruption and the curse of Almighty God, can it revive? Yes, thanks be to God! by reason of the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead (after He had been delivered for our offences), we also may be quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins, and children of wrath, we may be quickened together with Christ; for we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works.
2. In the light of this miracle we also learn that, whatever activities the sinner may put forth before and after his regeneration, in the great change he is passive. All, the agonies of the blind man, all his tears and cries, all his rolling and straining his sightless balls, had just nothing at all to do with the act of restoration. That was Christ’s alone. And so in the new birth-“born of God,” tells it all. It is the “unparticipated work” of the Holy Ghost. In this, regeneration is distinguished from conversion. God turns the man, but the man, so moved, turns with his whole heart. It is the day of God’s great “power,” but also of the sinner’s great “willingness.” The fire which the sun has kindled mounts toward it at once. The kindling of the heavenly flame is regeneration; its upward motion, conversion. Regeneration is the Divine cause; conversion, the sure effect. Where there is the grace of life, there will be a life of grace.
3. Light did not open Bartimeus’ eyes, nor does truth alone regenerate the sinner. Pouring light on blind eyes will not heal them. Flashing truth, even God’s glorious truth, on the sinner’s mind will not regenerate him. Bartimeus was as blind at noon as at midnight. The sinner is as blind under the blaze of the gospel as amid the glooms of heathenism.
II. Let me now speak of the greatness and glory of this change.
III. As “Bartimeus immediately received his sight,” so, in regeneration, the great change is instantaneous. There is some one moment when the vision of the blind man, and the new life of the sinner begins. It may be feeble, but it has begun, and for the faintest beginning the creative act is needed. The main thing for every sinner is, to be able on good ground to say, Whereas I was blind, now I see. If he can say this, and have the witness of the Spirit to its truth, it matters little whether he is able to add, On such a day, in such a place, by such and such means, my eyes were opened. A good ship has been broken by the tempest. Mast and rudder and compass, all are gone. The storm is over, but the wreck is drifting away blindly through night and fog. At length all is still, and the wondering sailors wait for the day. Tardily and uncertainly it dawns, and as the heavy mists slowly dissolve, all eyes are busy trying to discover where they are. At length one descries a cliff which seems familiar, another a pier in which he can hardly be mistaken, a third the old church spire, under whose shadow his mother is sleeping, and now, as the sun breaks forth, they all cry out in joyful assurance, that they are in the desired haven! Mysteriously and without their aid, the Ruler of wind and wave has brought them there, and all are exulting in the great deliverance. Nay, shall we say not all? Can you imagine one poor melancholy man refusing to rejoice, and even doubting these evidences, because he cannot tell the hour and angle of his arrival, nor whether he was borne chiefly by currents of air or ocean?
IV. On the blessedness of this change in Bartimeus-image of the spiritual blessedness of him who is first tasting that the Lord is gracious-I can hardly bring myself to comment. When after long imprisonment in the chamber of suffering, we go forth again, leaning, perhaps, on the arm of a congenial friend, to breathe once more the fresh air, and rejoice in the measureless freedom of nature, she seems to have clothed her green fields and forests, her blue skies and waters, in a brighter pomp of “summer bravery” than ever before, and the strange beauty fills and almost oppresses the soul. In what affecting terms does Dr. Kane describe the almost adoring rapture with which the return of the first sunshine was hailed, after the long horror of an Arctic night-the frozen blackness of months’ duration, when he eagerly climbed the icy hills “to get the luxury of basking in its brightness,” and made the grateful record, “Today, blessed be the Great Author of light! I have once more looked upon the sun;” while his poor men, sick, mutilated, broken hearted, and ready to die, crawled painfully from their dark berths to look upon his healing beams; when “everything seemed superlative lustre and unsurpassable glory,” when they could not refrain; they “oversaw the light.” But what was this, what were all these, to the wonder and joy of Bartimeus’ first vision of the mighty works of God? They already had the sense of sight, and had enjoyed many pleasurable exercises of it. To him the very sense is new, unimagined before. And now, at the word of Christ, the glorious element comes streaming, suddenly and for the first time, and in its fulness, with thrills of inconceivable bliss, upon the sense and soul buried from birth in utter darkness. And what did he see first? Jesus, his best friend, his Saviour! Jesus, chiefest of ten thousand and altogether lovely; O enviable lot! The first image which the light of heaven formed in his soul was the image of that dear face; O rich recompense for the long pains of blindness! The first employment of his eyes was in beholding Him that opened them; O blessed consecration of his new powers and pleasures! Gaze on, old man! Thou canst not look too ardently or too long. But is the joy which attends spiritual illumination answerable to this? Not always (we have seen) as the immediate result. But it is attainable, and very soon the believer aught to have it, and, unless through ignorance, error, or guilt, will have it, and that abundantly. Moreover, the Bible is the sole Revealer of a conception of joy, in comparison with which every other idea of it, wherever found, is poor, earthly, and already darkened with the taint of death. It is a conception in which every best element of every earthly delight, by whatever name known-all the serenity of peace, all the exhilaration of hope, all the satisfaction of fruition, all the liveliness and sparkle of joy, all the mellower radiance of gladness, all the flush and bound of exultation, all the thrill and movement of rapture, are wrought into one surpassing combination, which, chastened by holiness, softened by charity, dignified by immortality and transfused by the beams of the all-encircling glory of the Godhead, is Blessedness. It elevates the soul to know of such a state as possible for itself; it purifies it to hope for it; strengthens it to strive after it. What, then, must it be to taste it, as we may on earth, and drink it to the full, as we shall forever in heaven!
The Lord’s answer
An echo from within the Veil! “Lord, that I might receive my sight!” cried the suppliant without. “Receive thy sight!” answers the Sovereign within. And so, if Christ suits His granting to our asking, it is because the Spirit has first shaped our asking to His granting. The purpose of grace is the foundation of the prayer of faith. Eternal grace is the mould into which faith is cast. Therefore there is harmony between faith and grace. “Grace crowns what grace begins.” And so “faith saves” and grace saves; faith as the instrument, and grace as the Divine efficiency; faith the channel, and grace the heavenly stream; faith the finger that touches the garment’s fringe, and grace the virtue that pours from the Saviour’s heart. Faith cannot scale the dreadful precipice from which nature has fallen, but it can lay hold on the rope which grace has let down even into its hands from the top, and which it will draw up again with all the burden faith can bind to it. And this is all the mystery of faith’s saving. Christ reaches down from heaven, and faith reaches up from earth, and each hand grasps the other; one in weakness, the other in power. Yea, the hand of faith is often but a poor, benumbed hand, stretched out in anguish from the dark flood where the soul is sinking.
Followed Jesus in the way.-
Attachment to Christ
Whoever has looked unto Jesus as the Author of his faith, will look unto Him as the Finisher. If the eyes be opened truly to see Him, the heart will be opened truly to love Him; and when the heart is thus enlarged, like David, we will run in the way of His commandments. This is the test of discipleship: “If any man serve Me, let him follow Me.” O friends, let us follow Him whithersoever He goeth. Let us follow Him “in the way”-the way laid down in His Word, the way opened by His Providence, the way of which the Spirit whispers, “This is the way, walk ye in it.” Sometimes His way is in the sea, and His path in the great waters, and His footsteps are not known. The path of many of us may lie much in the Valley of Humiliation-a life of obscurity, poverty, and lowly toil. We may be Christ’s hidden ones all our days. So thy way, believer, must lie by the cross and the grave. But beyond the grave is the resurrection, and then the crown of life forever.
Christ revealed to the needy
The loss of sight is spiritually the most significant of all privations. The loss of Eden was perhaps truly a loss of sight-a great shadow, as of an eclipse, fell over all the beauty and splendour of the world, as the sinner’s eye grew dim. Sin is privative. It works on us by limiting and finally destroying our powers. But this blind beggar had learned in, perhaps through, his blindness, more than Scribes and Pharisees knew. None of them have an eye for the Son of David, whom he saw in his blindness. Christ is revealed to those who need Him most. The man’s importunity. He cast aside his garment and came to Jesus. It means impetuosity, and carelessness about external things. He came in the naked simplicity of his need.
I. To see spiritually is to see Christ, the Light of the world, and to be penetrated with the sense of the beauty and fulness which are in Him.
II. A soul fully enlightened sees that in Jesus is all its salvation and all its hope. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)
Christ’s recognition of faith
I. The application.
1. He applies in the right quarter.
2. In the right spirit.
3. At the right time.
II. The reception.
1. Most gracious.
2. Most satisfactory.
III. The effect of the cure. He followed Jesus in the way up to Jerusalem. The love of Christ constrained him. Thus gifts from the hands of Jesus attach us to His Person. They form a link between us and Him. They are as a magnet to draw us. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
Christ and the blind
I. Christ came to open the eyes of the blind, and to be the Light of the world.
II. He did not disregard the meanest, and was ever ready to do good.
III. Some wait long in darkness before obtaining the help desired.
IV. Faith perseveres, receives encouragement, and attains its end. (J. H. Godwin.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Mark 10". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent