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That they might take Jesus by subtilty, and kill Him.
Craft and cruelty coupled in the Church’s adversaries
Neither of them “wants their mate,” as the Scripture says of those birds of prey and desolation (Isaiah 34:16). These priests and elders were so bitterly bent against Christ, that nothing would satisfy them but His blood. All plants and other creatures have their growth and increase to a period, and then their declination and decay, except only the crocodile, who, grows bigger and bigger, even till death. So have all passions and perturbations in man’s mind their intentions and remissions, except only malicious revenge. This dies not, many times, but with the man (if that), as nothing can quench the combustible slime in Samosaris, nor the burning flame of the hill Chimaera, but only earth. St. Peter tells us (1 Peter 2:23), that our Saviour, being reviled, did not only commit His cause to God, but Himself to God: as expecting the increase of His enemies’ opposition till they had put Him to death. (John Trapp.)
Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper.
Christ anointed for His burial
Let us endeavour to find out what was the latent virtue in the apparently simple act which won so noble a reward.
I. There can be no doubt that the majority of Christians would express surprise at the high honour promised to Mary for so slight a service, She did not resign wealth. What she did was of no utility. In these days and in this land we have a narrow and prejudiced way of judging of the character and actions of men. There is a national character, our likes and dislikes; we are disposed to try everything by this standard. Our national qualities are industry, prudence, regularity. There is another class of national qualities also-warm affections, enthusiasm, high unearthly devotion-these are contrary to our mental constitution. You find them in excess in warmer climates. Both of these characteristics have their faults and excellences. What is our ideal of a religious character? That a man should be upright, sober; hence our religious temper is not enthusiastic, The conduct of the woman was the result of overpowering love. May not this narrative teach us that God above all things values love to Himself, that one outgoing of the soul to Himself is worth hundreds of acts of duty apathetically rendered.
II. So also did she offer as Illustrious example of implicit faith. She had in view His burial, and did it to that end. A marvellous effort of faith. The apostles were not equal to it, though Christ had told them of His death and resurrection. (R. Woodford, M. A.)
True principles of Christian economy
I. Let us seek to, challenge and correct the world’s charge of waste brought against this and all similar acts of homage to Christ. Waste is useless and prodigal expenditure. Sin is the parent of extravagance. There are notions in the world on the subject of giving to God which we can correct:-
1. Let us mark, in opposition to selfish policy, that as hoarding is not always saving, so neither is expenditure always waste. So the Divine method. The sunshine streams clown from heaven with no stint, yet without waste; because all this vast outcome of goodness returns in richest blessing to its Parent Benefactor. The same principle of generous expenditure forms the life and success of commerce. A man of sordid habits toils with old worn-out machinery, because he dreads expense of repairs, only to find that his inferior goods have fallen out of demand. Again, does the selfish man congratulate himself, when he has refused some urgent opportunity of doing good, that, whatever conscience or the world may say of him, he has at least saved his money? He is mistaken. There is no safe keeping of that which vexes and displeases God. But there is another fallacy of the ungenerous and selfish, suggested by the text, viz., that everything is wasted that is given to Christ. Finally, it is the fallacy of the selfish that, while they will not make sacrifices for Christ, they think they have a right to prevent others; but this will not exempt us from doing our own duty.
II. What the world calls waste, as done to Christ and His cause, the Saviour Himself commends as duty, which secures our truest interest and honour. (J. R. McGavin, D. D.)
The problem of poverty, and how to deal with it
What are the cardinal principles of the problem?
1. The essential claim which this class of mankind has upon the common brotherhood is not one of charity, but is founded in religion. It is not a humane sentiment to be gratified, but a law of Christianity to be obeyed.
2. The poor may be considered in the light of Christ’s legacy to His Church in all ages. Had there been no poor claiming our sympathy and kindly ministry, what a lack there had been in the training of the Christian graces.
3. We are to perform this high and sacred duty in testimony of our love to Christ, and in gratitude for His love and services in our behalf. (American Homiletic Review.)
The worth of life enhanced by kinder acts, which serve no direct practical purpose
Indeed in many of the sweetest, and purest relationships of life, the half of those deeds of kindness and interest which are wrought, and often wrought at much cost and with labour, are of this sort. They are not absolutely necessary to the wellbeing or existence of those in whose behalf they are done. Probably life could be spent happily enough without the gifts which such deeds bring. But life is not mere subsistence; life is made up of a thousand little slender veins and channels through which affection flows noiselessly and unseen. Life and the inner power of life are made up of infinite little gleams of sympathy, and are not to be measured and weighed like beams of timber by their size. Life is a great and living tree, with countless twigs and foliage which render it fair and attractive. And in all the relationships of life, day by day all persons are conscious that a large portion of their thoughts and time and care is bestowed on what serves no other purpose than merely to express what is within the heart, and seeks for utterance. “To what purpose this waste?” one might say when one sees how much is thus given and done-not because it is essential to maintain life, but because it is simply the outcome of friendly interest and affection, and because to stifle it would be to prevent the free breathing of a pure and warm heart. (A. Watson, D. D.)
Spiritual emotion not to be suppressed
Is there no religion except what is called the practical? and must everything you say and do and give have a direct religious purpose? May that not be true in the sacred region of religious life, which I have already indicated as true in the daily home-life? May there not be great religious emotions and desires which seek for utterance, and nothing more? May there not be a deep gratitude for spiritual blessings which longs to show itself, and which only wants to express its force towards Him from whom the blessings have come? I am not encouraging a mere sentimental religion, or a religion which has nothing but emotion in it; but I desire to destroy nothing which God has formed, and to suppress no genuine spiritual aspiration. And I wish that all should feel how natural it is, and how true to the religious instincts, that there should be times and seasons when the devout soul finds pleasure and satisfaction in what seems to effect no direct purpose. There are occasions when the very essence of religion consists in words and works of worship and praise. To what purpose this waste of time, or thought, or language? some may ask. And the answer is, that goodness in religion is often what goodness is in the home-life of men; it is goodness, not for what it accomplishes, but for what it expresses of the state of the heart. (A. Watson, D. D.)
The universal memorial
1. This memorial affords an instance of the Saviour’s foreknowledge, and of His fidelity and power in the accomplishment of His predictions.
2. It reminds us that as we possess this gospel ourselves it is our duty to impart the knowledge of it to others. The text implies that the gospel is for the world.
3. It sanctions and encourages the efforts of Christian females, as well as of others, to serve the cause of Jesus Christ.
4. It teaches us that a desire to supply the temporal necessities of the poor is not to supersede a devout regard to the claims of Christ, and to the welfare of souls.
5. It directs us to serve Christ according to our ability, and intimates that no sacrifices are too costly to be made for Him.
6. It reminds us that Jesus Christ sometimes bestows upon us such peculiar mercies, as demand peculiar and extraordinary expressions of gratitude.
7. It shows that those things are the most agreeable to Christ which are done with a devout regard to His death.
8. It admonishes us that such opportunities as are peculiarly favourable for testifying our regard for Christ, and to the salvation of our souls, if they are neglected never may return. (J. Alexander.)
Mary anointing Christ.
I. Who was this woman? She was a blessed woman, had the favour of Christ in no ordinary way. Blessed in her deed and in the approbation of it. She was Mary of Bethany.
II. The estimate which christ formed of this woman’s act. It was not elicited by the act itself immediately, but by the estimate formed by others. What determines the moral character of a work? Not the work itself, its amount, but the motive. Love was her motive. The act itself was selfdenying. It was an act of clear preference. There were other objects on which she might have bestowed the ointment. It was a striking act of faith. She did it for His burial. Our Lord marked the deed of the woman not only in the credit He gave her, but in the comfort he imparted. She only wanted His approval. The honour He gave-“Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached,” etc. Why should not we love Jesus as did this woman? Mary anointed to His burial. To what shall we anoint Him? Let us employ our talents for Him and suffering humanity. (C. Molyneux, B. A.)
A woman’s memorial
I. Let us observe the woman herself.
1. This act was the impulse of a loving heart.
2. What this woman did was done purely to Christ and for Christ.
3. She did an extraordinary, thing for Christ.
4. Her act was beautifully expressive of her broken heart.
II. Look into the face of her loving Lord.
III. Appeal personally to you. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The originality of service
You and I generally look to see whether the thing our new heart tells us to do has ever been done before; and then, if, like Martha, we love Christ, we still think it will be the proper mode of showing our love to prepare Him a supper, and go and stand and wait at the table. We look for a precedent. We recollect that the Pharisee gave Christ a supper; we remember how many others of the disciples have given Him a dinner; and then we think that is the proper orthodox way, and we will go and do the same. “Mr. So-and-so gives ten guineas; I shall give ten guineas. Mrs. So-and-so teaches in the Sunday-school; I shall teach in the Sunday-school. Mr. This or That is in the habit of having prayer with his servants; I shall do likewise.” You see, we look to find out whether anybody else has set us an example, and then we get into the habit of doing all these things as a matter of form. But Mary never thought of that; she never asked whether there was anybody else that had ever broken an alabaster box of ointment on that sacred head. No, she goes her way; her heart says, “Do it,” and she does it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Jesus Christ deserves to be served after an extraordinary manner
Was there ever a people that had such a leader or such a lover as we have in the person of Christ? And yet, my dear friends, there have been many impostors in the world, who have had disciples more ardently attached to them than some of you are to Christ Jesus. When I read the life of Mohamed, I see men who loved him so, that they would expose their persons to death at any moment for the false prophet, dash into battle almost naked, cut their way through hosts of enemies, and do exploits out of a passionate zeal for him whom they verily believed to be sent of God. And even that modern delusion of Joe Smith lacks not its martyrs. When I read the history of the Mormonite emigrants, and of all the miseries they endured when driven out of the city of Nauvoo; how they had to pass over trackless snows and pathless mountains, and were ready to die under the guns of the United States marauders, and how they suffered for that false prophet, I do stand ashamed of the followers of Christ, that they should permit the followers of an impostor to suffer hardships, and loss of limb and life, and everything else that men count dear, for an impostor, while they themselves show that they do not love their Master, their true and loving Lord half so well, else would they serve Him in an extraordinary manner, as He deserves. When the soldiers of Napoleon performed such unexampled deeds of daring in his day, people ceased to wonder. They said, “No wonder that they do that; see what their leader does.” When Napoleon, sword in hand, crossed over the bridge of Lodi, and bid them follow, no one wondered that every common soldier was a hero. But it is wonderful, when we consider what the Captain of our salvation hath done for us, that we are content to be such everyday nothings as the most of us are. Ah! if we did but think of His glory, and of what He deserves-if we did but think of His sufferings, and of what He merits at our hands, surely we should do something out of the common; we should break our alabaster box, and pour the pound of ointment on His head again. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Things of highest value have not a marked price
To value only what can be “sold” is to appreciate least what in nature and man is most glorious, and most capable of affording exquisite and perfect satisfaction. The gold and purple of the sunset, the flushing tenderness of the dawn, the rippling songs of birds, the full-voiced chorus of breaking billows, the pure air fresh with the fragrant breath of wild flowers, the rain pouring its living draught into every arid blade and leaf, are God’s free gifts to men. The innocent joy of childhood, the generous enthusiasm of youth, the strength of wisdom, the serenity of a holy trust in God-in what earthly market can these blessed things of the Spirit be bought or sold? With what coin minted by man can you purchase the tenderness of sympathy, the confidence of friendship, the devotion of love? Only to be won are they by the unselfish blending of your own lives with the lives of others. The things that cannot be bartered, the price of which no merchant quotes, the value of which no figures can express, which no thief can steal, and no moth or rust corrupt, alone term the wealth of the soul. (J. R. S. Harington.)
The Saviour’s defence of sublime devotion
The action of Mary was deeply symbolical. There may often be more in our actions than we imagine. It may be by loving instinct she almost antedated the death of our Lord. It was the gospel in figure; in Mary’s offering He saw symbolized the greater offering He was about to make, prompted by a deeper love than hers.
I. The woman’s sublime devotion.
1. She was completely under the sway of devoted love to Christ’s person-“Unto Me.” The prominent feature of Mary’s character was her power of loving. This caught the eye of Christ, and gained His admiration. Here is an ideal of what a follower of Mine should be. Devotion to the Lora’s person is the chiefest of Christian virtues. Now in making love the test of excellence Christ differs from all the rest of the world.
2. Her devotion was original and fearless. It was her own way of manifesting her love. It shocked the twelve. Let a person only love and he becomes a genius in manifesting it. Mary was unmindful of criticism.
3. Her devotion was magnificent. She did not think how little she could give.
II. Christ’s chivalrous championship of this woman Note the resemblances that exist between the action of the woman and our Lord’s action in a few hours afterwards.
1. There is a resemblance in motive. Love led to both offerings. He died because He loved. He intercedes because He loves. There is a sweet savour in love. In His body there is an alabaster box that contains the ointment, a salve for every wound.
2. There is a resemblance of self-devotion. She could not have given more. Christ gave all that He could. He emptied Himself.
3. In the broken box Christ saw His end. That was the gospel.
4. The magnificence of Christ’s work. It is “plenteous redemption.” (A. G. Brown.)
Mediocrity in religion best liked by the world
The general verdict will be, “It is very romantic-very sentimental, and quite unnecessary.” The world likes a dead level of mediocrity in the things of God. Its perpetual cry is, “Now, do be moderate!” There are not a few who would like the religious experience of the Church to be something like Norfolk scenery. When I was preaching there some time back a farmer went out with me for a walk, and just as I was inwardly thinking that it was about the most deplorable bit of country I had ever seen-as fiat as a billiard table with here and there a ditch, he suddenly stopped, and said, “Now, sir, this is what I call a really fine view.” I looked at him with astonishment; but with all simplicity he said, “I call this really a fine view; for whichever way you look there is nothing to break it. Now in Kent and many other counties wherever you look there is some big hill or tree that stops the view, but here there is nothing.” This is the idea of Christian beauty which many entertain. Its charm lies in there being nothing to attract attention. In fact it has become quite a compliment now to say, “Oh, so-and-so is a fine man. He never forgets himself.” The man who never forgets himself is not worthy of the name of man. A man who never forgets himself is, to say the least, a miserably selfish mortal. What Christ asks at your hands and mine is-not a love which only sometimes makes me forget myself, but a love which will put self out of court entirely-a love which will raise me out of myself-a love which, in other words, will be superior to all calculation as to consequences. It was so with Mary. She had spent all her little earnings upon her gift. (A. G. Brown.)
Love the great energy in religion
Although this spirit of boundless consecration may often make mistakes, and it does-though it may often run into some strange extravagances, and it does-yet, at the same time, in the end it accomplishes far more than the very wise but very cold spirit. The author to whom I have previously referred makes this remark on the point, and it is very true-“One rash but heroic Luther is worth a thousand men of the Erasmus type, unspeakably wise, but passionless and time-serving.” The men who leave their mark on the world, and the men who really extend the empire of Christ’s kingdom, are not generally the men who are very calculating and very professional, but men who, whatever else they may lack, have their hearts surcharged with love. Oh would ye be a real power? Ye must have a love that scorns all meanness. How different does Mary appear from the disciples? She does a noble deed: they criticize it. It does not require love to criticize. Indeed, love will not criticize. Love is too noble a thing to condescend to it, specially when criticism means perpetual fault-finding. If there be good, love delights to take down her harp and praise it to her utmost, but if there is nothing to praise, love prefers to be silent rather than cavil. Only mean spirits find pleasure in finding fault. (A. G. Brown.)
Originality in religion
The Church wants a number of original workers-those who will not merely run in the rut that is already made in the road, but strike out for themselves some new ways of honouring Christ. It has been well remarked that when the stream is low it runs along the channel that is already made; but let there be a downfall of rain, let the river only rise, and it fills up all the channels, and then the banks, not able to restrain the stream, will overflow and run far and wide. The new wine of a passionate love to Christ can never be contained in old bottles. (A. G. Brown.)
Immortality of good deeds
There is nothing, no, nothing, innocent or good, that dies and is forgotten: let us hold that faith, or none. An infant, a prattling child, lying in its cradle, will live again in the better thoughts of those who loved it; and plays its part, through them, in the redeeming actions of the world, though its body be burned to ashes, or drowned in the deepest sea. There is not an angel added to the host of heaven but does its blessed work on earth in those that loved it here. Forgotten!-oh I if the good deeds of human creatures could be traced to their source, how beautiful would even death appear! for how much charity, mercy, and purified affection would be seen to have growth in dusty graves! (C. Dickens.)
Superiority of Christian to humanitarian virtues
The doing good may be a mere humanitarian virtue. It may be the cultivation of a virtue which is to help our kind. It may arise from the feeling of kindred, from sympathy, from compassion. When it has only this origin, it is a virtue worthy of all honour. It tends to make us think better of our race. It shows the nobleness which by nature is implanted in the human heart. It exhibits and testifies to the godlike qualities of the being who was made in the image of his Maker. The world is full of such acts. The book of “Golden Deeds” in which Charlotte Yonge has embalmed the memory of many an act of humanity, of patience, of self endurance, of bravery, tends to make us think better of humanity, helps to kindle the affections, and inspires us with emulation of imitating those deeds. But the act of Mary has another significancy. There is a quality in it which we put into our acts of mercy, self-sacrifice, and bravery. There is a quality in it which may be the very mark which is to distinguish our act as it distinguished hers; and that quality was the faith and love which were directed to the Saviour of the world. Without it the act was nothing. Without this quality we could not understand the commendation of the Saviour, and why it should be a memorial to all generations. It was the affections going forth to the Saviour; it was the homage which was paid Him as the Redeemer; it was the clinging to Him as the altogether lovely. A distinct act of faith to-day is a witness to the world in favour of Christian redemption. It was the great truth which was then dawning upon the world, that there was a Saviour, the Son of God, who had come to save man. Wherever this gospel was to be preached, wherever it was to be proclaimed that there are good tidings, wherever it was to be made known that there is mercy and life for man, there was this significant act of this woman to be told, because she saw this truth, because she thus proclaimed herself a believer in Him, a disciple of Him. She paid homage to Him in this character and office. (R. B. Fairbairn, D. D.)
The anointing at Bethany
Great love can impose great obligations.
I. The deed.
II. The significance of the deed. One only of those present at this transaction was competent fully to declare its import.
1. It was a useful work. Such is the first inscription. The word translated good means, primarily-fair, goodly, beautiful, as to external form and appearance. This it was, but the language implies more. It was moral excellence that distinguished the miracles and teachings of the Saviour, and the quality pertaining to them He ascribes to this humble performance. More precisely, however, the epithet refers to the effect and influence of the work possessing this quality. This is the ordinary sense of the word, where it is used to characterize the practice of piety among the followers of Christ.
2. It was a great work. “She hath done what she could.” The deed was co-extensive with her ability. To the eye that looked only upon the outward appearance, it seemed an act which nothing but its wasteful extravagance raised above insignificance. To the eye that searcheth hearts, it was grand, august, important. The value of a deed wrought upon Christ, or for the sake of Christ, though relative to us, is absolute to Him. If it he our best, though it were another’s least, it is great and precious when its perfume ascends to heaven.
3. It was an act of faith in a crucified Saviour.
III. The commemoration of the deed. For the most delicate service that mortal rendered Him on earth, our gracious Redeemer provides the most delicate reward. Upon the immediate disciples of our Lord the accomplishment of this declaration first devolved.
1. How exceedingly precious to Christ is the love of His people!
2. How precious to Christ is the memory of His people!
3. How great the jealousy of Christ for the good fame of His people!
4. How generously Christ estimates the offerings and services of His people! Mary was not so lavish of her ointment as Jesus of His praise. Be very sure that whatever others may do, He will put the best construction upon a work of faith and love wrought for His sake.
5. Learn how Christ would have us cherish the memory of His people. Records of good men’s lives are among the meads which God hath most emphatically approved and blessed for the sanctification of believers. (C. W. Baird.)
The woman that anointed Jesus
I. From the words of this text we evidently perceive that our Lord distinctly foresaw the great progress which the gospel would soon make in the world.
II. From the text we learn that reputation for good works is desirable and valuable.
III. Also we learn that some seasons and circumstances may justify uncommon expense.
IV. What this woman now did in anointing the body of Jesus was very commendable.
V. With all His great and transcendent wisdom, Jesus did not disdain what we call the weaker sex; but allowed them to be capable of true and distinguished worth and excellence.
VI. The text gives no encouragement to those honours approaching to idolatry or altogether idolatrous, which some have since given to departed saints, both men and women.
VII. We have, in this history, an instance of the favour of our Lord for virtue.
VIII. This text teaches us to think and judge for ourselves, and to act according to the light of our own judgment and understanding, after having taken due care to be well informed, without paying too great deference to the favourable or the unfavourable sentences of others. (N. Lardner.)
No one likes to be forgotten. Our Lord was not induced to pronounce this eulogy-
1. By Mary’s social position.
2. By the intrinsic value of that which was presented to Him.
3. By the opinion of those who were present with Him at the time.
4. The great thing, the one thing to which Jesus looked, was the motive from which the action was performed. What a sublime prophecy that eulogium is! (W. M. Taylor D. D.)
The anointing of the feet of Jesus
1. Man’s gifts to God are consecrated by love.
2. Profusion is not necessarily waste.
3. Amid the conflicting duties of life the immediate is best. “She hath done what she could”-not all that she could, but that which her hand found presently to do.
4. Our Lord not only accepts and commends the act and gift, but recompenses them in a royal manner. (H. M. Jackson.)
That is profitable waste which-
I. Makes solid, although often unseen, preparation for the future.
II. Sacrifices worldly advantages at the call of God and duty.
III. Spends labour, and parts with possessions, in exchange for spiritual attainment.
IV. Surrenders life for a blessed immortality. (Anon.)
Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests.
Judas, the truth sold for money
What was his prompting principle?
(1) Not a Divine impulse;
(2) or sense of public duty;
(3) or malicious feeling towards Christ;
(4) but avarice.
A man, to commit this sin, must have-
(1) Truth at his disposal.
(2) A tempting offer.
(3) Deliberately accept the offer. (Homilist.)
Men may sell the truth for money who-
(1) Have no dislike to it;
(2) feel themselves under an obligation to it;
(3) have no intention of doing any injury to it: (Homilist.)
Emblem of avarice
Gotthold’s sons had purchased a savings-box, to keep the little sums of money they occasionally received. They soon found that, however easy to drop the pieces in, it was much more difficult to bring them out. He thereupon observed, “That is an emblem of the hearts and coffers of the vast majority of the men of these times. They are very greedy to take, but very backward to give, especially for the glory of God and the relief of the poor. Oh, how long we must shake, and how many arts we must try, before we can extract even a penny from a hard and penurious man, for the service of God or his neighbours! So long as he lives, he imagines that the business for which he came into the world is to collect and keep money; but when he has to leave the world, and when death breaks the savings-box to pieces, and he must resign his hoard to others, he does it with reluctance and displeasure. I really believe that, were it not too absurd and useless, many a miser, in making his will, would do what a miser once actually did-appoint himself his own heir. How dreadful a folly to hoard up gold, and to lose heaven.”
And as they did eat, He said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray Me.
Every man is a mystery to himself. In every soul there lie, coiled and dormant, like hybernating snakes, evils that a very slight rise in the temperature will wake up into poisonous activity. Let no man say, in foolish self-confidence, that any form of sin which his brother has ever committed, is impossible for him. Temperament shields us from much, no doubt. There are sins that we are “inclined to,” and there are sins that we “have no mind to.” But the identity of human nature is deeper than the diversity of temperament.
I. All sins are at bottom but varying forms of one root. The essence of every evil is selfishness; and when you have that, it is exactly as with cooks who have the “stock” by the fireside-they can make any kind of soup out of it, with the right flavouring. All sin is living to oneself instead of to God, and it may easily pass from one form of evil into another, just as light and heat, motion and electricity, are all various forms of one force. Doctors will tell you there are forms of disease which slip from one kind of sickness into another; so, if we have got the infection about us, it is a matter very much of accidental circumstances what shape it takes.
II. All sin is gregarious. The tangled mass of sin is like one of those great fields of sea-weed that you sometimes come across upon the ocean, all hanging together by a thousand slimy growths; which, if lifted from the wave at any point, drags up yards of it inextricably grown together. No man commits only one kind of transgression. All sins hunt in couples.
III. All sin is but yielding to tendencies common to us all. The greatest transgressions have resulted from yielding to tendencies which are common to us all. Cain killed his brother from jealousy; David befouled his name and his reign by animal passion; Judas betrayed Christ because he was fond of money. Many a man has murdered another simply because he had a hot temper. And you have got a temper, and love of money, and animal passions, and that which may stir you up into jealousy. Your neighbour’s house has caught fire and been blown up. Your house, too, is built of wood, and thatched with straw, and you have as much dynamite in your cellars as he had in his. Do not be too sure that yon are safe from the danger of explosion.
IV. All transgression is yielding to temptations that assail all men. Here are one hundred men in a plague-stricken city; they have all got to draw their water from the same well. If five or six of them died of cholera, it would be very foolish of the other ninety-five to say, “There is no chance of my being touched.” And we all live in the same atmosphere; and the temptations that have overcome these men, that have headed the count of crimes appeal to you.
V. Men will gradually drop down to the level which, before they began the descent, seemed to be impossible to them. First, the imagination is inflamed, then the wish begins to draw the soul to the sin, then conscience pulls it hack, then the fatal decision is made, and the deed is done. Sometimes all the stages are hurried quickly through, and a man spins downhill as cheerily and fast as a diligence down the Alps. Sometimes, as the coast of a country may sink am inch in a century, until long miles of the fiat sea-beach are under water, and towers and cities are buried beneath the barren waves, so our lives may be gradually lowered, with a motion imperceptible but most real, bringing us down within high-water mark, and at last the tide may wash over what was solid land. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Is it I?-Sinful possibilities
A moment of dismay among the disciples. The Master had just declared that one of them should commit an act of the basset treachery, and betray Him to His enemies. How do they take His words? Do they break out in indignant remonstrance? Do they fall to accusing one another? Does each draw back from his brother apostle in horror at the thought that possibly that brother apostle is he who is to do this dreadful thing? No; they are all self-engrossed; each man’s anxiety is turned, not towards his brother, but towards himself. Now, there are times in the lives of all of us, when that comes to us which came here to Christ’s disciples.
I. When we see deep and flagrant sin in some other man. While the act from which we recoil is repugnant to our conscientiousness, the powers that did it and the motives that stirred those powers into action are human, and such as we possess and feel.
II. When we do some small sin, and recognize the deep power of sinfulness by which we do it. The slightest crumbling of the earth beneath your feet makes you aware of the precipice. The least impurity makes you ready to cry out, as some image of hideous lust rises before you, “Oh, is it I? Can I come to that?”
III. The expression of any suspicion about us by another person. Perfectly unwarrantable and false we may know the charge to be; but the mere fastening of the sin and our name together, must turn our eyes in on ourselves and set us to asking, “Is it possible? I did not do this thing, indeed. My conscience is clear. But am I not capable of it? Is there not a fund of badness in me which might lead me almost anywhere? And if so, can I blaze up into fiery indignation at men’s daring to suspect me? Can I resent suspicion as an angel might, who, standing in the light of God, dreaded and felt sin? No; our disavowal of the sin would be mot boisterously angry, but quiet, and solemn, and humble, with a sense of danger, and gratitude for preservation.
IV. By a strange but very natural process, the same result often comes from just the opposite cause. Unmerited praise reveals to us our unworthiness. A man comes up to our life, and, looking round upon the crowd of our fellow men, he says, “See, I will strike the life of this brother of ours, and you shall hear how true it rings.” He does strike, and it does seem to them to ring true, and they shout their applause; but we whose life is struck feel running all through us at the stroke the sense of hollowness. Our soul sinks as we hear the praises. They start desire, but they reveal weakness. No true man is ever so humble and so afraid of himself as when others are praising him most loudly.
V. Every temptation which comes to us, however bravely and successfully it may be resisted, opens to us the sight of some of our human capacity for sin. The man who dares to laugh at a temptation which he has felt anal resisted is not yet wholly safe out of its power. (Phillips Brooks, D. D.)
The apostles’ doubt of themselves
The form of the question in the original suggests that they expected a negative answer, and might be reproduced in English, “Surely it is not I?” None of them could think that he was the traitor, yet none of them could be sure that he was not. Their Master knew better than they did; and so, from a humble knowledge of what lay in them, coiled and slumbering, but there, they will not meet His words with a contradiction, but with a questions (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Need for self-control
Do not say. “I know when to stop.” Do not say, “I can go so far; it will not do me any harm.” Many a man has said that, and been ruined by it. Do not say, “It is natural to me to have these inclinations and tastes, and there can be no harm in yielding to them.” It is perfectly natural for a man to stoop down over the edge of a precipice to gather the flowers that are growing in some cranny in the cliff; and it is as natural for him to topple over, and be smashed to a mummy at the bottom! God gave you your dispositions, and your whole nature under lock and key; keep them so! (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Reward of treason
Philip, Duke of Austria, paid the ambassadors of Charles IV. (who had betrayed their trust) in counterfeit coin; and when they complained, made reply, that false coin is good enough for false knaves. James I., king of Scotland, was murdered in Perth by Waiter, Earl of Athol, in hope to have the crown; and crowned he was indeed, but with a crown of red-hot iron clapped upon his head, being one of the tortures wherewith he ended at once his wicked days and devices. And Guy Gawkes, that Spanish pioneer, should have received his reward of five hundred pounds at an appointed place in Surrey, but instead thereof, he had been paid home with a brace of bullets for his good service, if justice had not come in with a halter by way of prevention. Thus traitors have always become odious, though the treason were commodious. (Spencer.)
In the long line of portraits of the Doges, in the palace at Venice, one space is empty, and the semblance of a black curtain remains as a melancholy record of glory forfeited. Found guilty of treason against the State, Marine Falieri was beheaded, and his image as far as possible blotted from remembrance. As we regarded the singular memorial we thought of Judas and Demas, and then, as we heard in spirit the master’s warning word, “One of you shall betray Me,” we asked within our soul the solemn question, “Lord, is it I?” Every one’s eye rests longer on the one dark vacancy than upon any one of the many fine portraits of the merchant monarchs; and so the apostates of the Church are far more frequently the theme of the world’s talk than the thousands of good men and true who adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things. Hence the more need of care on the part of those of us whose portraits are publicly exhibited as saints, lest we should one day be painted out of the Church’s gallery, and our persons only remembered as having been detestable hypocrites. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Treachery, audacity, and hypocrisy
We have here an example of fixed determination to do evil, unshaken by the clearest knowledge that it is evil. Judas heard his crime described in its own ugly reality. He heard his fate proclaimed by lips of absolute love and truth; and notwithstanding both, he comes unmoved and unshaken with his question. The dogged determination in the man, that dares to see his evil stripped naked and is not ashamed, is even more dreadful than the hypocrisy and sleek simulation of friendship in his face. Most men turn away with horror from even the sins that they are willing to do, when they are put plainly and bluntly before them. We have two sets of names for wrong things; one of which we apply to our brethren’s sins and the other to the same sins in ourselves. What I do is “prudence,” what you do of the same sort is “covetousness;” what I do is “sowing my wild oats,” what you do is “immorality” and “dissipation;” what I do is “generous living,” what you do is “drunkenness” and “gluttony;” what I do is “ righteous indignation,” what you do is “passionate anger.” And so you may go the whole round of evil. Very bad are the men who can look at their deed, described in its own inherent deformity, and yet say, “Yes, that is it, and I am going to do it.” “One of you shall betray Me.” Yes, I will betray you.” It must have taken something to look into the Master’s face, and keep the fixed purpose steady. This obstinate condition of dogged determination to do a wrong thing, knowing it to be a wrong thing, is a condition to which all evil steadily tends. We may not come to it in this world, but we are getting towards it in regard of the special wrong deeds and desires that we cherish and commit. And when a man has once reached the point of saying to evil, “Be thou my good,” then he is a “devil,” in the true meaning of the word; and wherever he is, he is in hell! (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Supper with the twelve
On the eve of the crucifixion Jesus sat down to supper with the twelve, in the room which had been provided and prepared for them.
I. A picture of the poverty of Jesus on the eve of discharging the greatest debt ever owed by man. He must borrow a room and accept the hospitality of a stranger. But in a moral sense he was rich and able to atone for the sins of men. We must not judge the worth of a person by outward circumstances.
II. A picture of the calmness of Jesus on the eve of enduring the greatest anguish ever borne by man. With calmness he sat down with the twelve on the eve of the greatest suffering.
III. A picture of the friendlessness of Jesus on the eve of experiencing the greatest desertion ever known by man, He sat down with the very men who were to forsake him; but He utters no word of stern rebuke. (F. W. Brown.)
Christ foretelling the treachery of Judas
I. There is the prediction and it discovers to us-
1. The close and constant view which the Lord Jesus seems to have taken of His final sufferings.
2. The naturalness of our Lord’s mind; by this I mean its resemblance to our own minds. He has our inward nature. He felt treachery.
3. The exceeding tenderness of Christ. He cared for the love of the men around Him.
4. The wonderful self-denial of our Lord. He did not treat Judas differently from the other disciples, though so long false.
II. The effect produced on the disciples by this prediction.
1. Their simple faith in their Lord’s prediction.
2. Their warm love for Christ.
3. Their great self-distrust, (C. Bradley.)
Is it I?-
When the wind is rising it is good for each ship at sea to look to its own ropes and sails, and not stand gazing to see how ready the other ships are to meet it. We all feel that we would rather hear a man asking about himself anxiously than to see him so sure of himself that the question never occurred to him. We should be surer of his standing firm if we saw that he knew he was in danger of a fall. Now, all this is illustrated in Christ’s disciples. (Phillips Brooks.)
Judas rebuked by Christ
You have here an account of how our Lord, whilst partaking of the last supper with His disciples, predicted His betrayal. The disciples were greatly moved by the declaration: it is a good sign when we are less suspicious of others than of ourselves-“Lord, is it I?”
I. We regard the sayings of our Lord at this time as uttered with special reference to Judas, with the merciful design of warning him of the enormity of his projected crime, and thus, if possible, of withholding him from its commission. It is easy to see an adaptation between the words used by Christ and the feelings which may have been working in Judas. “The Son of Man goeth as it is written of Him.” Judas may have thought that he was helping forward the work of the Messiah; the crucifixion was a determined thing. “Woe unto that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.” Judas was free in his treachery, acted from his own will, in obedience to his depraved passions, as if there had been no Divine foreknowledge. Oh! the vanity of the thought that God ever places us under a necessity of sinning, or that because our sins may turn to His glory they will not also issue in our shame.
II. Let us now glance at another delusion to which it is likely that Judas gave indulgence; this is the delusion as to the consequences, the punishment of sin being exaggerated. There is such energy in conscience that it would hardly let a man run on flagrant acts of sin if there were not some drug by which it were lulled. It may be that Judas could hardly persuade himself that a Being so beneficent as Christ, whom he had seen healing the sick, could lay aside the graciousness of His nature, and avenge a wrong by surrendering the evil doer to interminable woe. But our Lord’s words meet this delusion-“It had been good for that man if he had not been born.” We expect to find Judas overawed by this saying.
III. It reveals his utter moral hardness. Christ had said, “Woe unto that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.” At this saying Judas asks, “Lord, is it I? “ Numbers bear themselves proudly against Christ and His gospel and go forth from the very sanctuary, with the words of condemnation in their ears, to do precisely the things by which that sentence is incurred. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it.
Relation of the Holy Communion to Christ
The bread and cup are His body and blood, because they are causes instrumental, upon the receipt whereof the participation of His body and blood ensueth. Every cause is in the effect which groweth from it. Our souls and bodies quickened to eternal life are effects, the cause whereof is the person of Christ; His body and blood are the true well-spring out of which this life floweth What merit, force, or virtue soever there is in His sacrificed body and blood we freely, fully, and wholly have by this sacrament; and because the sacrament itself, being but a corruptible and earthly creature, must needs be thought an unlikely instrument to work so admirable effects in men, we are therefore to rest ourselves altogether upon the strength of His glorious power, who is able and will bring to pass that the bread and cup which He giveth us shall be truly the thing He promiseth. (R. Hooker, D. D.)
The Eucharist the great feast of the Church
I. A true feast-for the nourishment of the spiritual life.
II. A sacred feast-sanctifying from all carnal enjoyment.
III. A covenant feast-sealing redemption.
IV. A love feast-uniting the redeemed.
V. A supper feastforefestival of death, of the end of all things, of the coming of Christ. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)
Sacrificial aspect of Christ’s death shown in the Lord’s Supper
This rite shows us what Christ thought, and would have us think, of His death. By it He points out the moment of His whole career which He desires that men should remember. Not His words of tenderness and wisdom; not His miracles, amazing and gracious as these were; not the flawless beauty of His character, though it touches all hearts, and wins the most rugged to love and the most degraded to hope; but the moment in which He gave His life is that which He would imprint for ever on the memory of the world. And not only so, but in the rite He distinctly tells us in what aspect He would have that death remembered. Not as the tragic end of a noble career which might be hallowed by tears such as are shed over a martyr’s ashes; not as the crowning proof of love; not as the supreme act of patient forgiveness; but as a death for us, in which, as by the blood of the sacrifice, is secured the remission of sins. And not only so, but the double symbol in the Lord’s Supper-whilst in some respects the bread and wine speak the same truths, and certainly point to the same cross-has in each of its parts special lessons entrusted to it, and special truths to proclaim. The bread and the wine both say, “Remember Me and My death.” Taken in conjunction they point to the death as violent; taken separately they each suggest various aspects of it, and of the blessings that will flow to us therefrom.
I. A Divine treaty or covenant.
II. The forgiveness of sins.
III. A life infused.
IV. A festal gladness. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The New Testament
God’s covenants with His people:-Ancient Israel had lived for nearly 2000 years under the charter of their national existence, which was given on Sinai amidst thunderings and lightnings (Exodus 19:5, etc.). And that covenant, or agreement, or treaty, on the part of God was ratified by a solemn act, in which the blood of the sacrifice, divided into two portions, was sprinkled, half upon the altar, and the other half, after their acceptance of the conditions and obligations of the covenant, on the people who had pledged themselves to obedience. And now here is a Galilean peasant, in a borrowed upper room, within four-and-twenty hours of His ignominious death, which might seem to blast all His work, who steps forward and says, “I put away that ancient covenant which knits this nation to God. It is antiquated. I am the true offering and sacrifice, by the blood of which, sprinkled on altar and on people, a new covenant, built upon better promises, shall henceforth be.” What a tremendous piece of audacity, except on the one hypothesis that He who spake was indeed the Word of God, and that He was making that which Himself had established of old to give way to that which He establishes now. The new covenant, which Christ seals in His blood, is the charter, the better charter, under the conditions of which the whole world may find a salvation which dwarfs all the deliverances of the past. Between us and the infinite Divine nature there is established a firm and unmoveable agreement. He has limited Himself by the utterance of a faithful word, and we can now come to Him with His own promise, and cast it down before Him, and say, “Thou hast spoken, and Thou art bound to fulfil it.” We have a covenant; God has shown us what He is going to do, and has thereby pledged Himself to the performance. (Ibid.)
The Lord’s Supper
I. The nature of the institution. It is a supper-strictly and essentially in its own particular nature it is nothing else. Was apparently in connection with another supper, and it seemed to be almost a part of that other supper. The supper was significant and emblematic-a representation of something else.
II. The object and design. The death of Christ is brought before us. The death of Christ as an offering for sin is brought before us. The death of Christ as the seal of the everlasting covenant between the Father and the Son is brought before us.
III. The observance of the rite. Just as simple as its nature and object. The frequency of reception is left open. The posture may he considered indifferent. The positive directions and the actual practice of our Lord. (C. Molyneux.)
The last supper
I. The time of the institution.
1. During the feast of the Passover. Christ the true Passover (Exodus 12:3; Exodus 12:6-7, and others; with John 1:29; Revelation 5:6).
2. On the eve of His being offered. The meaning and purpose of the Passover lamb transferred to Jesus, and the sense widened. That for the Jews only, this for the true Israel of God, etc.
II. The method of the institution.
1. With thanksgiving.
2. The bread-broken, distributed, eaten. Christ the bread of life. Received by faith.
3. The wine. All were to drink it. The blood of Christ shed for the remission of sin.
4. They sung a hymn-left the table with joy and thankfulness.
III. The purpose of the institution.
1. To supersede the Jewish Passover.
2. A memorial feast. No less binding upon Christians than any other law of Christ. A dying command. Sacredness of last words.
3. A bond of union among Christians, and public acknowledgment of indebtedness to and faith in Christ. (J. C. Gray.)
The Passover feast
Relate the history of this feast.
I. The passover feast commemorated a great deliverance.
1. A deliverance from what? From Egyptian bondage-the destroying angel-God’s judgment upon sin.
2. How was this deliverance effected?
3. Why was this deliverance commemorated every year?
II. The passover feast pointed to a greater deliverance.
1. A deliverance from what? From a worse bondage than that of Egypt, etc. (John 8:34; Proverbs 2:19). And from a judgment more terrible than came upon the first-born (Romans if. 3, 5, 8; Matthew 25:41).
2. How was this greater deliverance to be effected? Also by the blood of the Lamb (1 Peter 1:18-19; Revelation 5:8-9). Who is this Lamb? (John 1:29; Colossians 1:13-14; Hebrews 9:12; Hebrews 9:14). We must come to Christ and have heart sprinkled (Hebrews 10:19; Hebrews 10:22; 1 Peter 1:2). Each must have his own sin put away, etc.
3. How did the yearly feast point to this greater deliverance? Would show how deliverance from death could only be by death of another (1 Corinthians 5:7).
III. Christ instituted the Lord’s supper to commemorate this greater deliverance. In the Lord’s Supper two things done-
1. We commemorate Christ’s death for us.
2. We feed upon Him by faith. (E. Stock.)
The Lord’s Supper
Nature and design.
I. A commemoration. Includes-
(1) Adoration. Adoration due to God in fashion of a man. It is this that makes Him the central point of the universe, to whom all eyes are turned.
(2) Gratitude. The benefits-deliverance from hell, power of Satan, and sin; restoration to the favour and fellowship of God; fellowship with Christ, including participation with His life and glory. The cost at which these benefits were secured-Christ’s humiliation and suffering.
II. A communion.
1. An act and means of participation. We participate in His body and blood, i.e., of their sacrificial virtue.
2. The effect of this makes us one with Him; one body. Illustration from the Jewish rites. In this ordinance our union with Christ and with each other is far more intimate.
III. Consecration. We cannot commemorate Christ as our Saviour without thereby acknowledging ourselves to be His-the purchase of His blood, and devoted to His service. (C. Hodge, D. D.)
The institution and observance of the Lord’s Supper
I. A remembrance of the atonement of Christ.
1. How much He suffered.
2. How well He suffered.
3. How patiently -He suffered.
II. A proclamation of the atonement of Christ.
III. A participation in the atonement of Christ.
1. Great facilities granted.
2. A direct communication from Christ to His people. (B. Noel, M. A.)
The new wine of the kingdom
I. The words of the saviour as they regard the act in which himself and his followers were then engaged. They were drinking of “the fruit,” or, more properly, “the product” of the vine. Not a mere ordinary social communion, but in direct connection with the Passover. Christ did not design to honour a Jewish rite as commemorating a national deliverance, but as typical, holding a relationship to Him and the economy of which He was the head.
1. That the Lord Jesus led His followers to regard the Passover as being representative of His mediatorial sufferings and death.
2. The Saviour led His followers to consider the Passover as originating an ordinance to be perpetuated for important purposes throughout all the ages of the Christian Church.
II. The words of the Saviour as they regard the events he taught his followers to anticipate,
1. An event of approaching” separation-“I will not henceforth drink of the fruit of the vine until” a certain period afterwards-named; He and His disciples were bound to part.
2. An event of ultimate re-union-“When I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”
3. All the followers of the Saviour shall be brought to “ the Father’s kingdom.”
4. The mediation of Jesus Christ, of which the Paschal rite is to be regarded as a:permanent and symbolical pledge, is of such a nature as to secure that all those who have possessed a personal interest in that mediatorial work shall be brought into a state of glorious redemption in the bright worlds which lie beyond the grave.
5. The followers of the Saviour shall possess unspeakable and everlasting joy. The drinking of wine indicates the fruition of all delight.
6. The pleasures which are to be enjoyed by the followers of the Saviour in the Father’s kingdom are especially to be regarded as associated with His presence. How pre-eminently in the New Testament is the presence of Christ set forth as constituting the happiness of the celestial world (John 12:26). Learn
(1) How vast and wonderful is the love of Christ to man.
(2) The vast importance of being numbered amongst the followers of Christ ourselves. (J. Parsons.)
The new covenant
I. The new covenant of forgiveness and life. On God’s side is pledged forgiveness, remission of sins, sustained acceptance. On man’s side is pledged the obedience of faith. Christ, as mediator for man, receives God’s pledge; and, as mediator for God, He receives man’s pledge. As representative for man, He offers to God the perfect obedience, and pledges us to a like obedience; as representative for God, He brings and gives to us forgiveness and life, pledging God therein.
II. The blood which seals the covenant. The blood represents the yielding or taking of life.
1. In surrendering His life, Christ sealed our pledge that we will give our life to God in all holy obedience.
2. In giving His blood, His life, for us, as it were, to eat, He gives us the strength to keep our pledge.
III. The wine that recalls to mind and renews the covenant. God does not need to be reminded of His pledge, but frail, forgetful, busy-minded man does. (Selected.)
Christ’s own account of His blood-shedding
I. Whose blood was this? “ My blood.” It is a man, who sits at that table with others, not an angel. But He is also the living God.
II. By whom was this blood shed?
1. Himself, to speak with deepest reverence. Jesus shed His own blood-was the offerer as well as the sacrifice. He freely laid down His life.
2. In some respects the principal party in this mysterious blood-shedding, even the holy loving Father, as it is written, “God spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all; … This commandment have I received of My Father;” “The cup which My Father hath given Me.”
3. We, believers in Jesus. Our sins were the guilty cause.
III. To what end and issue was this blood-shedding? “For the remission of sins.” Our Lord singles out from all the benefits of redemption the remission of sins, not only because it is that which stands most intimately related to His blood-shedding, but because it is the foundation of all, carrying the others along with it by necessary consequence (Jeremiah 31:33-34). To what effect as well as design? A sure salvation for a great multitude whom no man can number. (C. J. Brown, D. D.)
Let me mention here a circumstance in the last days of the distinguished Lord Chancellor Lyndhurst, who, at an extreme age, but in full possession of all his rare mental powers, was brought to know the Saviour. He said, “I never used to be able to understand what these good people meant when they spoke of so much blood, the blood. But I understand it now; it’s just substitution.” Ay, that it is, in one word, “substitution;” “My blood shed for many for the remission of sins;” Christ’s blood instead of ours; Christ’s death for our eternal death; Christ “made a curse, that we might be redeemed from the curse of the law.” Once, in conversation, my beloved friend, Dr. Duncan, expressed it thus in his terse way, “A religion of blood is God’s appointed religion for a sinner, for the wages of sin is death.” (C. J. Brown, D. D.)
And when they had sung an hymn.
The parting hymn
Our Lord commemorated the Passover as His countrymen were wont to do; and we may justly conclude that He sung what they were used to sing in finishing the solemn celebration. When the Passover was instituted on the night of the destruction of the firstborn of the Egyptians, various forms and practices were enjoined (Exodus 12:1-51.). But in after times, especially in those of our Saviour, when traditions came to their height, numerous circumstances were added to the celebration, so that the original rites formed but a small part of what were practised by the Jews. And learned men have well observed that Christ commemorated the Passover without rejecting such customs as could not distinctly plead the authority of the law. For instance, the Jews altered the posture in which it was eaten. Also wine came to be taken as well as unleavened bread. In like manner, with regard to the singing of a hymn or psalm, there is nothing said of this in Exodus. Yet the hundred and thirteenth and five following psalms were selected.
I. We observe that our Lord, by conforming to certain customs of the Jews in the eating of the Passover, gave his sanction to ceremonies which may not be able to plead a divine institution. We venture to take our Lord’s conduct with regard to the ceremonies at the Passover as establishing the authority of the Church to ordain and alter ceremonies and rites, and as strongly condemning those who would make mere ceremonies the excuse for disunion. Our Lord conformed to customs and alterations for which no Divine warrant could be produced, and against which specious objections could have been advanced. We agree, therefore, that the Church is not bound to chapter and verse for any ceremony she may enjoin. The apostles might have said, “What an unnatural moment for singing joyous hymns,” as they grew sorrowful at the Lord’s departure. But they kept to the ordinances of the Church.
II. We may perhaps say that it was with the singing of a hymn that Christ prepared himself for his unknown agony. They were joyous hymns in which they joined. Was it a strange preparation for the Mount of Olives thus to commemorate the mercies and ,chant the praises of God? We should join praise with prayer and recount God’s mercies when face to face with new trials. For many, like the captives in Babylon, hang their harps upon the willows, when they find themselves in a strange land; whereas, if they would sing “One of the songs of Zion” it would remind of home and encourage them to expect deliverance. Paul and Silas sang in the prison. We may fairly say that the power of singing has not been sufficiently considered as one of the Creator’s gifts to His creatures, and therefore intended to be used for His glory. Singing, like music, has been too much given up by the Church to the world. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Music not merely a human invention
We are too apt to regard music as a human art, or invention, just because men make certain musical instruments, and compose certain musical pieces. And hence there are Christians who would banish music from the public worship of God, as though unsuited to, or unworthy of, so high and illustrious an employment. But it is forgotten, as has been observed by a well-known writer, that the principles of harmony are in the elements of nature, that, “the element of air was as certainly ordained to give us harmonious sounds in due measure, as to give respiration to the lungs.” God has given us “ music in the air as He hath given us wine in the grape; “ leaving it to man to draw forth the rich melody, as well as to extract the inspiriting juice, but designing that both should be employed to His glory, and used in His service. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Song more marvellous than speech
But, to quote again from the writer already referred to, “the faculty, by which the voice forms musical sounds, is as wonderful as the flexure of the organs of speech in the articulation of words.” Considered as the result of certain mechanical arrangements, singing is perhaps even more marvellous than speaking, or gives a stronger witness to the skill and the power of the Creator. This is not the place for bringing proof of such assertion; but they who have considered the human throat as a musical instrument, and have examined, on this supposition, its structure and capacity, declare that it presents “such a refinement on mechanism as exceeds all description.” And we are not to doubt that God gave this faculty to man, that he might employ it on His praises. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The spiritual benefit of improved psalmody
I do not merely mean that there is a humanizing power in music, and that the poor, taught to sing, are likely to be less wild, and less prone to disorder, and therefore more accessible to the ministrations of religion. Not, indeed, that I would make no account for this, for I thoroughly believe that, in improving the tastes of a people, you are doing much for their moral advancement. I like to see our cottagers encouraged to train the rose and the honeysuckle round their doors, and our weavers, as is often the fact, dividing their attention between their looms and their carnations; for the man who can take care of a flower, and who is all alive to its beauty, is far less likely than another, who has no delight in such recreations, to give himself up to gross lusts and habits. But, independently on this, if singing were generally taught, the psalmody in our churches could not fail to be generally improved. And I am quite sure that this could not take place without, by the blessing of God, a great spiritual benefit. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The closing hymn
1. It bears testimony to the inspiration of Christian song.
2. It bears testimony to the comfort of Christian song.
3. It bears testimony to the brotherhood of Christian song.
4. This act bears testimony to the power of song. Consider the nature of this hymn. Jesus kept the Passover. He conformed to the Jewish custom.
They use the hundred and thirteenth psalm, and five following psalms.
1. It was a song of praise.
2. It was a song of victory.
3. It was a song of joy. (J. A. Gray.)
The hymn of the Eucharist
In some respects this is one of the most remarkable statements in the life of our Saviour. Jesus sang. What was the subject of their song? The presumption is strong that they sung one of the inspired psalms.
1. In these words there is a fearful meaning. They went out to the scene of agony.
2. Is it not a fair conclusion, that sacred song adapts itself to seasons of the deepest grief? Songs of praise are not to be intermitted or silenced by seasons of great affliction.
3. That our emotions are increased or relieved by due utterance.
4. The particular mention of this hymn by two of the Evangelists, amidst the very record of our Lord’s death, shows clearly that sacred praise harmonises well with all the facts and all the doctrines of the atoning work. What can be a stronger argument for the authority and fitness of sacred song, in connection with sacramental communions! There is greatly needed a revival of the spirit of worship. (J. W. Alexander, D. D.)
The memorable hymn
I. The fact that Jesus sang at such a time as this. What does He teach us by it?
1. My religion is one of happiness and joy.
2. Our Lord’s complete fulfilment of the law is even more worthy of our attention. It was customary when the Passover was held, to sing, and this is the main reason why the Saviour did so.
3. The holy absorption of the Saviour’s soul in His Father’s will.
4. His whole-heartedness in the work He was about to do.
II. The singing of the disciples. Like true Jews they joined in the national song. Israel had good cause to sing at the Passover. What shall I say of those who are the Lord’s spiritually redeemed?
III. How earnestly I desire you to “sing a hymn.” Let your hearts be brimming with the essence of praise. “What hymn shall we sing?” Many sorts of hymns were sung in the olden time; look down the list, and you will scarce find one which will not suit us now-the war song, the pastoral, the festive songs, the love song, etc.
IV. What shall the tune be? The tune must have all the parts of music. It must be very soft, sweet, strong, etc.
V. Who shall sing this hymn? All the Father’s children. They only can. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Though all men shall be offended because of Thee, yet will I never be offended.
Enthusiasm and its dangers
I. The confidence of inexperience, aided by lack of imagination. How often is this repeated before our eyes! Castles in the air are built by inexperienced virtue, to be demolished, alas! at the first touch of the realities of vice. The country lad who has been brought up in a Christian home, and is coming up to some great business house in London, makes vigorous protestations of what he will, and will not, do in a sphere of life, of the surroundings of which he can, as yet, form no true idea whatever; the emigrant, who is looking forward to spend his days in a young colony, where the whole apparatus of Christian and civilized life is as yet in its infancy, or is wanting altogether, makes plans of a situation, of which he cannot at all as yet, from the nature of the case, take the measure; the candidate for holy orders, who anticipates his responsibilities from afar, gathering them from books and from intercourse with clergymen, makes resolutions which he finds have to be revised by the light of altogether unforeseen experiences.
II. An insufficent sense of the power of new forms of temptation. A man living in a comparatively private position is exemplary. His little failures do but serve to set forth the sterling worth of his general character. He seems to be marked out for some promotion. All predict that he will be a great success, since he has shown on a small scale excellencies which will certainly distinguish him, and will adorn a larger sphere. He is promoted, and he turns out a hopeless failure. “How extraordinary!” cries out the world. “Who could have anticipated this?” exclaim his friends. And yet the explanation may be a very simple one. He may have been brought, by the change of circumstances, for the first time in his life, under the influence of a temptation hitherto unknown to him. He may have been tempted in his earlier years by appeals to avarice, illicit desires, or personal vanity; but never, as yet, has he felt the pressure of the fear of man. In that place of prominence he, for the first time, feels the fear of a mass of human opinion which he does not in his conscience and his heart respect, but which he fears only because it is a mass. And this fear is too much for him, too much for his sense of justice, too much for his consistency and his former self. Alas! that new temptation has found a weak place in his moral nature; it has sprung a leak in him; and the disappointment is as keen to-day as the expectations of yesterday were unduly sanguine.
III. St. Peter’s over-confidence would seek to have been due in part to his natural temperament, and to his reliance on it. A sanguine impetuosity was the basis of his character. In this instance, there was probably a mixture of these dispositions-genuine love of our Lord, stirred to vehemence by the recent defection of Judas, combined with eagerness, the product of temperament. The exact proportions of the combinations we know not; but, at any rate, nature had more to do with his language than grace. And while grace is trustworthy in times of trial, nature may be expected to give way. An instance of this confusion between grace and nature is to be found in the enthusiasm which led to the Crusades. No well-informed and fair-minded man can question the genuine love of our Lord Jesus Christ, which filled such men as Peter the Hermit, and still more that great teacher and writer, St. Bernard. They exerted, these men, some seven centuries ago, an influence upon the populations of Central Europe, to which the modern world affords absolutely no sort of parallel, and at their voice thousands of men, in all ranks of life, left their homes to rescue, if it might be, the sacred soil on which the Redeemer had lived and died, from the hands of the infidel. Who can doubt that of these not a few were animated by a love which is always noble-that of giving the best they had to give from their lives to the God who had made and redeemed them. But alas! who can doubt that many, perhaps a larger multitude, were really impelled by very different considerations which gathered round this central idea, and seemed to receive from it some sort of consecration, and that a love of adventure, a love of reputation, a desire to escape from the troublous times at home, the ambitious hope of acquiring influence or power which might be of use elsewhere than in Palestine, which might found or consolidate a dynasty, also entered into the sum of moral forces, which precipitated the crusading hosts on the coasts of Syria? And how many a crusader could analyse, with any approach to accuracy, the motives which swayed him in an enterprise where there was, indeed, so much of the smoke and dust of earth to obscure the love and light of heaven?
IV. The lesson’s to be leant from this event.
1. Estimate enthusiasm at its proper value. It is the glow of the soul; the lever by which men are raised above their average level and enterprise, and become capable of a goodness and benevolence which would otherwise be beyond them.
2. Measure well our religious language, especially the language of fervour and devotion. When religious language outruns practice or conviction, the general character is weakened. If Peter had said less as they left the supper-room, he might have done better afterwards in the hall of the palace of the high priest. (Canon Liddon.)
Fickleness of the human heart
In a vessel filled with muddy water, the thickness visibly subsides to the bottom, and leaves the water purer and clearer, until at last it seems perfectly limpid. The slightest motion, however, brings the sediment again to the top, and makes the water thick and turbid as before. Here we have an emblem of the human heart. The heart is full of the mud of sinful lusts and carnal desires, and the consequence is, that no pure water-that is, good and holy thoughts-can flow from it. It is, in truth, a miry pit and slough of sin, in which all sorts of ugly reptiles are bred and crawl. Many a one, however, is deceived by it, and never imagines his heart half so wicked as it really is, because at times its lusts are at rest, and sink, as it were, to the bottom. On such occasions his thoughts appear to be holy and devout, his desires pure and temperate, his words charitable and edifying, and his works useful and Christian. But this lasts only so long as he is not moved; I mean, so long as he is without opportunity or incitement to sin. Let that occur, and worldly lusts rise so thick that his whole thoughts, words, and works show no trace of anything but slime and impurity. This man is meek as long as he is not thwarted; but cross him, and he is like powder, ignited by the smallest spark, and blazing up with a loud report and destructive force. Another is temperate so long as he has no social companions; a third chaste, while the eyes of men are upon him. (Scriver.)
Dangers of impulsiveness
I. Prone to over-estimate self, and underrate others-“though all men-yet not I.”
II. Natural instability-frequent reactions-can do, but not wait.
III. Violence and rapidity of its changes.
IV. Readiness with which it takes its character from immediately surrounding circumstances. Learn:
1. Let the cool and prudent be gentle in judging of the more fiery.
2. Let the impulsive take warning from this example.
3. Let the man who repents some sin of haste, take encouragement and hope. (Analyst.)
I. No strength of attachment to Jesus can justify such confident promises of fidelity, made without dependence upon Him.
II. That all promises to adhere to Him should be made relying on Him for aid.
III. That we little know how feeble we are till we are tried.
IV. That Christians may be left to great and disgraceful sins to show them their weakness. (A. Barnes, D. D.)
It is a common remark that in the absence of danger all men are heroes. Self-distrust does not enter into our calculations. Presuming upon the strength and permanence of present emotion, we hurl defiance at danger, and challenge circumstances to shake our magnanimity. Peter was not alone in this boast, but his conduct was marked by a more signal exhibition, both of self-confidence and of frailty, than that of his fellow-disciples. Fully, however, to estimate his fall-
I. Look at some of the concomitant circumstances by which his offence was aggravated.
1. He was one of the three disciples whom Jesus honoured with a peculiar intimacy.
2. He appears to have had an earlier and a stronger conviction of our Saviour’s Messiahship than his brother disciples (Matthew 16:13-17).
3. The particular crisis at which his offence was committed. Almost immediately after another of the twelve had betrayed Him, and when, humanly speaking, his Master stood most in need of his support.
II. These facts serve to illustrate the extent of his self-deception, and to impress more forcibly this most important lesson, that No reasonable dependence is to be placed on our mere untried feelings and resolutions; but that the only satisfactory evidence we can possess of the genuineness and stability of our religious principles, is that which our conduct affords. When Peter protested his fidelity, his constancy had not been put to the test. His character rendered him in an especial degree liable to this species of self-deception, still, his case may be selected as a striking illustration of the fallaciousness of mere untried feelings and resolutions, as a satisfactory evidence of religious character, and of the folly and danger of trusting to them as any security for future conduct. Few things are more common. Let us not mistake passion for principle (John 14:21; 1 John 5:3). (J. H. Smith.)
Protesting too much
When the subtle and ambitious John, of Gischala, pursuing his own dark course, as it is traced in the “History of the Jews,” joined outwardly the party of Arianus, and was active beyond others in council and camp, he yet kept up a secret correspondence with the Zealots, to whom be betrayed all the movements of the assailants. “To conceal this secret he redoubled his assiduities, and became so extravagant in his protestations of fidelity to Arianus and his party, that he completely overacted his part, and incurred suspicion.” His intended dupes began gradually to look with a jealous eye on their too obsequious, most obedient, and most devoted servant. (F. Jacox.)
remarks that Italian asseverations of any questionable fact, though uttered with rare earnestness of manner, never vouch for themselves as coming from any depth, like roots drawn out of the substance of the soul, with some of the soil clinging to them. Their energy expends itself in exclamation. The vaulting ambition of their hyperboles overleaps itself, and falls on the other side.
Truth not in need of an oath
Reality cares not to be tricked out with too taking an outside; and deceit, when she intends to cozen, studies disguise. Least of all should we be taken with swearing asseverations. Truth needs not the varnish of an oath to make her plainness credited. (Owen Feltharn.)
Lie following lie
Lie engenders lie. Once committed, the liar has to go on in his course of lying. It is the penalty of his transgression, or one of the penalties. To the habitual liar, bronzed and hardened in the custom, till custom becomes second nature, the penalty may seem no very terrible price to pay. To him, on the other hand, who, without deliberate intent, and against his innermost will, is overtaken with such a fault, the generative power of a first lie to beget others, the necessity of supporting the first by a second and a third, is a retribution keenly to be felt, while penitently owned to be most just. (F. Jacox.)
A place called Gethsemane.
The language and tone befitting our prayers to God
To a thoughtful and inquiring mind, nothing will be more manifest than the decorum of our Saviour’s addresses to the throne of grace. He is never betrayed into flights and ecstasies; never uses any phrase which is not marked by the strictest rules of soberness and truth. In His agony in the garden, when, if ever, the mind of an afflicted and sorrowful man, overwhelmed with grief, and preparing for trial and for death, might be expected to break forth into piteous cries and strong phrases, there is not one word which betrays the slightest excess. His soul is wrung with pain. He is very sorrowful. He is sorrowful even unto death. His agony is, perhaps, unspeakable; but not one impassioned cry, not one indecorous expression, not one familiar word, escapes his lips. His prayer is such as befits a son who honours his father, and who seems to have ever present to his mind the dignity of that parent. Now compare this with the prayers of ignorant and uneducated men-with the loud cry, the coarse phrases, the vehement gesticulations, the monstrous apostrophes they employ; above all, with the familiar way in which they speak of God and address themselves to Him, and judge between them and Jesus Christ. Jesus came to set us an example, as well in what He said as in what He did. He taught us how to pray. He showed on this great occasion, an occasion which none beside will ever experience, what is to be the tone and manner of our addresses to God. He was dignified in the midst of His distress. His holy father was an object of the devoutest reverence, so devout that He never presumes either then, or at any time, to use familiar language to Him..His prayer was such that it might have been listened to by the greatest prince or the pro-roundest scholar, yet it was a prayer so simple that any one can use it. Every sentence, every word, every syllable, is suitable to the majesty of heaven and the weakness of man. He never descends to low phrases and conversational terms, nor forgets, for one moment, that He is in intercourse with the Father of spirits. (George Wray, M. A.)
Submission to the Divine will
Payson was asked, when under great bodily affliction, if he could see any particular reason for the dispensation. “No,” he replied; “but I am as well satisfied as if I could see ten thousand; God’s will is the very perfection of all reason.”
Duty of submission
I know no duty in religion more generally agreed on, nor more justly required by God Almighty, than a perfect submission to His will in all things; nor do I think any disposition of mind can either please Him more, or become us better, than that of being satisfied with all He gives, and contented with all He takes away. None, I am sure, can be of more honour to God, nor of more ease to ourselves. For if we consider Him as our Maker, we cannot contend with Him; if as our Father, we ought not to distrust Him; so that we may be confident, whatever He does is intended for our good; and whatever happens that we interpret otherwise, yet we can get nothing by repining, nor save anything by resisting. (Sir Wm. Temple.)
“My will, not thine, be done,” turned Paradise into a desert. “Thy will, not mine be done,” turned the desert into Paradise, and made Gethsemane the gate of heaven. (E. de Pressense, D. D.)
A visit to Gethsemane
The interest attached to the events belonging to the course of our Redeemer becomes more touching and more absorbing as they advance towards the close, etc.
I. What was the “place called Gethsemane?” There were reasons why this garden should be selected, at once obvious and important. Knowing what He had to undergo, the Lord Jesus wanted privacy; the disciple who was to betray Him knew the place, etc.
II. The emotion of which the “place called Gethsemane” was the scene. It was the emotion of sorrow.
1. Its intensity. Formerly His sorrow had been chastened and subdued, while now it burst forth irrepressibly and without reserve. Presented in the Evangelical narratives.
2. Its cause. The solitude of the cause of the Saviour’s emotion, is exclusively this, that He was not only a martyr, but a Mediator, and that He suffered as an expiation on behalf of human sin. He was feeling the immense and terrible weight of propitiation.
3. Its relief and end. Support conveyed as an answer to His prayers, through the ministration of an angel, invigorating Him for the endurance of the final and fearful crisis which was before Him. He is enthroned in the loftiest elevation.
III. The impressions which our resort to the “place called Gethsemane” ought to secure.
1. The enormous evil and heinousness of sin.
2. The amazing condescension and love of the Lord Jesus.
3. The duty of entire reliance upon the Saviour’s work, and entire consecration to the Saviour’s service. For that reliance, genuine and implicit faith is what is required-faith being the instrument of applying to whole perfection of His work, etc. Who can do other than recognize at once the obligation and the privilege of entire consecration? (J. Parsons.)
The soul-sorrow of Jesus
I. That the bodily sufferings of Jesus, however acute and protracted, could not constitute a sufficient atonement for sin. Nor meet the demands of a violated law. The bodily suffering is no adequate compensation for the evil committed. The soul is the chief sinner. The sufferings of Christ in His body could not be a sufficient atonement for sin because they did not exhaust the curse pronounced by the law against transgression.
II. The severity of the mediator’s sorrow. When He made His soul an offering for sin.
1. He suffered much from the temptations by which He was assailed.
2. From the ingratitude and malignity of man.
3. The soul-sorrow of Christ was produced by the sensible withholding of all comforting communication from heaven, and by the feeling of forsakenness in the hour of distress.
4. The sorrow of the Redeemer’s soul rose to its height when he did actually endure the wrath of God due to our sins. (J. Macnaughton.)
The representative human conflict
Our Savour’s conflict in Gethsemane was a representative conflict, and it reveals to us the meaning of human life, and the struggle through which we must pass.
I. There are only two wills in the world-God’s wilt, and man’s will.
II. The blessedness of man, the creature, must lie in the harmonious working together of these two wills.
III. These two wills are at present in antagonism.
IV. How can these two wills be brought together into harmony? Answer-
1. Not by any changing of the perfect will of God.
2. Man’s will is wrong, imperfect, misguided, it may be changed, it ought to be changed, it must be changed. Here is the proper first sphere of a redeeming work. What shall change it? The truth as it is in Jesus. The work wrought out for us by Jesus. The grace won for us by Jesus. The constraining of the love of Jesus. The power of the risen and living Jesus. (Selected.)
The soul-passion of Christ
What is the explanation we are to give of this passage in our Lord’s life? One explanation which has been offered is that Gethsemane witnessed a last and more desperate assault of the evil One; but for this the Bible gives no clear warrant. Certainly, the evil One, after his great defeat on the mountain of the Temptation, is said to have departed from our Lord “ for a season,” aa expression which seems to imply that he afterwards returned; but, so far as the text of Scripture can guide us, he returned to assail not the Workman hut the work. What took place in Gethsemane is totally unlike the scene in the Temptation. At the Temptation, our Lord is throughout calm, firm, majestic. He repels each successive assault of the tempter with a word of power. The prince of this world came, and had nothing in Him, But in Gethsemane He is overcome by that, whatever it was, which pressed on Him. He is meek, prostrate, unnerved, dependent (as it seems) on the sympathy and nearness of those whom He had taught and led. There He resists and vanquishes with tranquil strength a personal opponent; here He sinks as if in fear and bewilderment to the very earth, as though a prey to some inward sense of desolation and collapse. His own words, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful,” point to some great mental trouble; and if He was suffering from a mental trouble, what, may we dare to ask, was its provoking cause?
I. Was it not, first of all, an apprehension, distinct, vivid, and overpowering, of what was presently coming? In Gethsemane, by an act of His will, our Lord opened upon His human soul a full view and apprehension of the impending sufferings of His passion and death; and the apprehension was itself an agony. The whole scene, the succession of scenes, passed before His mental eye; and as He gazes on it, a heart sickness-outcome and proof of His true Humanity-seizes on Him, and He shrinks back in dread from this dark and complex vision of pain.
II. He was, so to speak, mentally robing himself for the great sacrifice-laying upon His sinless soul the sins of a guilty world. To us, indeed, the burden of sin is as natural as the clothes we wear; but to Him the touch of that which we take so easily was an agony, even in its lightest form; and when we think of the accumulated guilt of all the ages clinging around and most intimately present to Him, can we wonder that His bodily nature gave way, that His Passion seemed to have been upon Him before its time, and that “His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Canon Liddon.)
The Christian’s Gethsemane
Surely He did not address these words, at once so imperative and so plaintive, to His apostle alone. They were words for all time, warning us not so to remember Calvary as to forget Gethsemane. Good indeed it is to retire to this inmost sanctuary of the human soul, to retire from a world of men, a world which chiefly fixes its eye on the outward and the material, and which passes its years in struggles and efforts that often leave no more traces upon anything that really lasts, then do the busy little children on the seashore, who diligently pile up their sand castles in face of the rising tide. The soul of Jesus in Gethsemane was, above all things, in contact with realities, but they are the realities of the world of spirits at the least not one whir less real than the stones and the gases of the world of matter. The soul of Jesus in Gethsemane was engaged in a fearful struggle, but it was a struggle with issues reaching not into the next few weeks or years of some puny human life here below, but into the most distant vistas of the eternal world. It is not at all times that even good Christians can enter into the meaning of this solemn scene, but there are mental trials which interpret it to us, and which in turn are by it (if we will) transfigured into heavenly blessings.
I. There is the inward conflict which often precedes our undertaking hard or unwelcome duty or sacrifice. The eye measures the effort required, the length and degree of endurance which must be attempted ere the work is really done; and, as the eye traverses the field before it, all the quick sensibilities of feeling start up and rehearse their parts by anticipation, and cling to and clog and embarrass the will, holding it back from the road of duty. Struggles such as this between inclination and duty may be at times sorrowful to the soul, even unto death. When they come on you, brace yourselves by watching and praying with Jesus in Gethsemane, that you may learn to say with Him, “Not my will, but Thine, be done.”
II. There are forms of doubt respecting God’s goodness and providence, which are a great trouble at times. Not self-caused doubts, but embarrassments which beset earnest and devout souls under stress of great sorrow or calamity. The best remedy for these is to kneel in spirit side by side with Jesus m Gethsemane; it is prayer such as His was that struggles under a darkened heaven into the light beyond.
III. Desolateness of soul, making God’s service distasteful. Prayer becomes insipid and unwelcome, duty is an effort against the grain, the temper is dejected. Tempted to give up all in disgust, and let things take their chance for time or eternity. They who experience this can but kneel in Gethsemane with the prayer, “O, my Father, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what Thou wilt.”
IV. The approach of death. This may indeed come upon us suddenly as a thief in the night, but may also be ushered in, as it generally is, by a preface of weakened health and lingering sickness. In many cases it has happened that at the very beginning of an “illness which was to end with life, a clear presentiment of this has been graciously vouchsafed. “I was sitting at luncheon,” said one of the best of Christ’s servants in this generation, “and I suddenly felt as never before: I felt that something had given way. I knew what it meant, what it must mean. I went up into my room; I prayed God that He would enable me to bear what I knew was before me, and would at the last receive me for His own Son’s sake.” It was the close of a life as bright as it was beautiful, in which there was much to leave behind-warm and affectionate friends, and an abundance of those highest satisfactions which come with constant and unselfish occupation; but it was the summons to another world, and as such it was obeyed. Death is always awful, and the first gaze at the break-up of all that we have hitherto called life must ever have about it a touch of agony. And yet, if Jesus in Gethsemane is our Shepherd, surely we shall lack nothing; yea, though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we shall fear no evil, for He is with us who has gone before, His rod and His staff comfort us. (Canon Liddon.)
Christ’s agony in the garden
I. We dwell more on the bodily anguish of our Lord than the metal. We figure to ourselves the external woes of which flesh was the subject rather than those griefs which were within the soul. We must not, forget that others besides Christ have died the most cruel deaths with fortitude. The bodily sufferings of Christ were but an inconsiderable part of His endurances. It was in soul rather than in body that our Saviour made atonement for transgression. You must be aware that anguish of soul more than of the body is the everlasting portion which is to be swarded to sinners; so we may expect that the soul-agony of a surety or substitute would be felt more than the bodily. Indeed, in the garden there was no bodily suffering, no spear, nails.
II. Exceeding sorrowful unto death The soul cannot die, yet so exceeding was Christ’s sorrow that He could speak of it as nothing less than actual death. The soul was the sin-offering.
1. We would have you be aware of the enormous cost at which you have been ransomed.
2. It gives preciousness to the means of grace thus to consider them as brought into being by the agonies of the Redeemer. Will you trifle with them?
3. Having spoken not only of the exceeding sorrowfulness of Christ’s soul, but of the satisfaction which that sorrowfulness yields, I would not conclude without a vision of His glorious triumphs. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
I. The causes of his sorrow.
1. That gloom may have been the sense of the near approach of death with all the dread misgivings which beset the spirit in that supreme hour.
2. It may have been the sense of loneliness, of the ingratitude, the failure of His disciples and countrymen.
3. Or it was the sense of the load of human wickedness entering into His soul, so as almost to take possession of it. “He who knew no sin was made sin for us.” These troubled His soul.
4. This scene is the silent protest against the misery of wrong-doing, against the exceeding sinfulness of sin.
II. The great example of how and in what spirit we ought to pray. There is something higher in the efficacy and in the answer of prayer than the mere demanding and receiving the special blessings for which we ask. The cup did not pass from Him; but in two ways His prayer was granted.
1. In the heavenly strength that was given to Him to bear all the sorrows laid upon Him. The very act of prayer gives strength, will open our souls to supporting angels.
2. Not the substitution of the will of Christ for the will of the Eternal God, but the substitution of the will of the Eternal God for the will of His most dearly beloved Son. Great as is the will, holy as are the desires, Divine as are the aspirations that go up from earth, there is something greater, holier, Diviner yet; and that is the will that rules the universe, the mind which embraces within its scope the past, the present, and the future, this world and the next, the seen and the unseen. Without the agony, without the cross, Christianity and Christendom would not have been. If any act or event in the world’s history was essential to its onward progress, essential to the elevation and purification of the individual man, it was the anguish which this night represents to us. This is the apparent conflict, but real unity of the sorrows of Gethsemane and Calvary with the perfect wisdom and mercy of the Supreme Intelligence. It is this conflict and this unity which lend such a breathless interest to the whole story of this week, which breathes at once the pathos and the triumph, the grief and the joy, through its example and its doctrine, through all its facts and all its poetry, through all its stirring music and all its famous pictures. And it is a conflict and a unity which still in its measures continue, and shall continue, as long as the will of humanity struggles and toils on earth to accomplish the will of Divinity. Not our will, but God’s will be done. Not our will, for we know not what is best for us. We still see as through a glass very darkly, the end is not yet visible. But God’s will be done, for He knows our necessities before we ask, and our ignorance in asking. His will, His supreme will in nature and in grace, let us learn to know; and having learned, to do it. Thy will be done. Make Thy will our will. Make Thy love our love. Make Thy strength perfect in our weakness, through Jesus Christ our Redeemer. (Dean Stanley.)
I. The right of petition. We infer it to be a right.
1. Because it is a necessity of our nature. Prayer is a necessity of our humanity rather than a duty. The necessity to
(1) that of sympathy;
(2) the necessity of escaping the sense of a crushing fate.
2. We base this request on our privilege as children-“My Father.”
3. Christ used it as a right, therefore we may. You cannot help praying if God’s Spirit is in yours.
II. Erroneous notions of what prayer is. They are contained in that conception which He negatived, “As I will.” A common conception of prayer is, that it is the means by which the wish of man determines the will of God. The text says clearly, “Not as I will.” The wish of man does not determine the will of God. Try this conception by four tests.
1. By its incompatibility with the fact that this universe is a system of laws.
2. Try it by fact.
3. Try it by the prejudicial results of such a belief. Gives unworthy ideas of God. Consider the danger of vanity and supineness resulting from the fulfilment of our desires as a necessity.
4. It would be most dangerous as a criterion of our spiritual state if we think that answered prayer is a proof of grace. We shall be unreasonably depressed and elated when we do or do not get what we wish.
III. The true efficacy of prayer-“AS Thou wilt.” All prayer is to change the will human into submission to the will Divine. Hence we conclude-
(1) That prayer which does not succeed in moderating our wish, in changing the passionate desire into still submission, is no true prayer;
(2) That life is most holy in which there is least of petition and desire, and most of waiting upon God; in which petition often passes into thanksgiving. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Prayer to seek God’s will, not man’s wish
Practically then, I say, Pray as He did, till prayer makes you cease to pray. Pray till prayer makes you forget your own wish, and leave it or merge it in God’s will. The Divine wisdom has given us prayer, not as a means whereby to obtain the good things of earth, but as a means whereby we learn to do without them; not as a means whereby we escape evil, but as a means whereby we become strong to meet it. “There appeared an angel unto Him from heaven, strengthening Him.” That was the true reply to His prayer. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Submission a progress
Let us come into the presence of the Suppliant-this most human, yet most Divine Person, who is wrestling here in an agony even more spiritual than mortal. It is night. Christ has left the guest-chamber. He has crossed the brook Kedron. He has entered a garden, oftentimes His resort during His visits to Jerusalem, at the foot of the slope of Olivet; He has come hither to pray. Such prayer must be secret. He leaves His disciples at the entrance. Even secret prayer may be the better for having friends near. So with a touching union of love and humility He entreats His three disciples to watch with Him. See the example of suffering which is here set before us in Christ.
I. That all sorrow, all suffering, even if it be anguish, is A cup. It is something definite, of a certain measure. It is of the Father’s mingling; the cup of medicinal love.
II. Concerning this cup itself You may pray. There is not the distress upon earth as to which we ought not to pray.
III. But how pray.
1. As to a Father.
2. Again with an “If.” You must recognize the possible impossibility.
3. With an earnest confession of the comparative value of two wills-your will and God’s. Jesus went away the second time, and prayed. And what was this second prayer? “O My Father, if this cup may not pass away from Me, except I drink it, Thy will be done.” This second prayer asks not at all for the removal of the cup. The first was prayer with submission; the second is submission without even prayer. Here is an example, set us by our Lord, of a progressive, growing submission to the mighty hand of God. I do not mean that our Lord had to learn, in the garden of Gethsemane, a lesson of obedience unknown before. How was Christ made perfect, but in the sense of a transition from disobedience to obedience. Yet, thus, in a constant development of obedience under a course of increasing difficulty. The earthly life of Christ was a perpetual going forward. “Let this cup pass.” Was it not an added trial that the Saviour, like an apostle (2 Corinthians 12:8-9) had asked relief, and not been answered? Beyond the submission of the will lies the silencing of the will; beyond the desire to have only if God will, the desire that God only may will, whether I have or not. All of us have wishes, strong impulses of the will towards this and-that; it is a part of our nature. By what steps shall they pass unto our final good?
1. We must turn them into prayers. Everything evil will refuse that test. You cannot turn a sinful wish into prayer.
2. The next step is not only to pray your wishes, but to pray them in a spirit of submission.
3. Then nothing remains but the act of submission, pure, simple, unconditional, absolute. No longer, “Let this cup pass,” but “If this cup may not pass, Thy will be done.” All this I leave to Thee; I ask not; I desire not; I pray not longer concerning it, only Thy will be done. (C. J. Vaughan, D. D.)
The figure of the cup
Do we not use the same kind of language ourselves, having still no such thought as that the cup of anguish we speak of, or pray to be taken away, is a judicial infliction? This figure of the cup is used in Scripture for all kinds of experience, whether joyful or painful. Thus we have “the cup of salvation,” “the cup of consolation,” “the cup of trembling,” “of fury,” “of astonishment,” “of desolation.” Whatever God sends upon man to be deeply felt, and by whatever kind of providence, whether benignant, or disciplinary, or retributive, is called his cup. (Horace Bushnell.)
There are several instructive features in our Saviour’s prayer in His hour of trial.
1. It was lonely prayer. He withdrew even from His three favoured disciples. Believer, be much in solitary prayer, especially in times of trial.
2. It was humble prayer. Luke says He knelt, but another evangelist says He “fell on His face.” Where, then, must be thy place, thou humble servant of the great Master? What dust and ashes should cover thy head? Humility gives us good foot-hold in prayer. There is no hope of prevalence with God unless we abase ourselves that He may exalt us in due time.
3. It was filial prayer-“Abba, Father.” You will find it a stronghold in the day of trial to plead your adoption. You have no rights as a subject, you have forfeited them by your treason.
4. It was persevering prayer. He prayed three times. Cease not until you prevail.
5. It was the prayer of resignation-“Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. Gethsemane suggests our blessed Redeemer’s longing for human sympathy. “Tarry ye here and watch with Me.” It is a purely human feeling.
II. Reminds us of the sacredness of human sorrow and Divine communion.
III. Reveals the overwhelming depth and fulness of the Redeemer’s sorrow. Reminds us of the will of Christ yielded to the will of the Father.
IV. Has its lessons and influences for all our hearts. How it condemns sin! How it reveals the chiefest human virtue, and the power by which it may be attained! How it brings the Father close to our hearts in their sorrow and extremity! (W. H. Davison.)
The prayer in Gethsemane
I. The occasion of these words.
II. The matter of these words.
1. The person to whom He makes His address.
2. The matter of His request.
3. The manner or earnestness of it.
4. The submission of it. Enforce two things:
I. There is an aversion in human nature from the pangs and bitterness of death.
II. Notwithstanding that, there are grounds of submission to the will of God in it. (E. Stillingfleet.)
The Father’s cup
It is a Father that gives the cup.
1. A Father who knows what is fittest to be given us.
2. A Father who stands by His children to help and assist them.
3. A Father who will abundantly reward the taking of what He gives. (E. Stillingfleet.)
Our Lord’s example of resignation
To show how the Son of God exercised this virtue here upon earth.
1. We all desire the conveniences of life, and to be above dependence. For our sakes He became poor, and never complained on that account.
2. Hard labour attended with weariness is disagreeable. Our Saviour’s life, during His ministry, was a life of hardship and fatigue.
3. Hunger and thirst, when long endured, are enemies to our nature, and put us to violent uneasiness till they are satisfied. These our Lord often suffered.
4. To those who have the instructions of others committed to their care, it is agreeable to meet with persons teachable and of good capacities, and tiresome to inform slow understandings.
5. Return of baseness and treachery from our intimates whom we have loaded with benefits, are most grievous to be borne, and will wring from the mildest temper complaints. Even to Judas, Jesus showed great lenity.
6. A good man, whose office it is to instruct others in religion, will be grieved when his charitable labours are lost, and he hath to do with stubborn offenders, who are deaf to all reproofs and admonitions.
7. To be injured in our reputation, and exposed to malicious calumny, is a great trial of human patience. This our Saviour endured.
8. To see multitudes involved in a great calamity is a grief to a charitable man.
9. Future evils, when we see them coming and are sure we cannot escape them, torment us near if not quite as much as when they are present.
10. Men love life and are unwilling to lose it. Most painful and ignominious was the death which Christ endured. (J. Jortin.)
Inducements to resignation
1. A belief in the goodness of God.
2. The reward in heaven which we may secure.
3. The behaviour of our Lord which we should be anxious to imitate. (J. Jortin.)
In the garden Christ is exhibited to us in a two-fold character-as our surety and as our example. As our surety, suffering for us, and as our example, teaching us how to suffer.
I. O`ur surety.
1. How great were the sufferings of the Redeemer, and what was their true character.
2. How terrible the wrath of God is.
3. How great the guilt of sin is.
4. How great is the love of the Father and of the Son for sinners.
II. Our example. From it we learn-
1. That our being severely afflicted is no proof that we are not the children of God.
2. That it is not sinful to shrink from affliction or suffering of any kind, and to plead exemption from it.
3. The duty of submission to the will of God even under the greatest trials.
4. The efficacy of prayer in bringing support and comfort under affliction. (A. L. R. Foote.)
Storms beat round mountain souls
It has been said by a great poet, that great characters and great souls are like mountains-they always attract the storms; upon their heads break the thunders, and around their bare tops flash the lightnings and the seeming wrath of God. Nevertheless, they form a shelter for the plains beneath them. That marvellous saying finds an illustration in the lowliest, saddest soul the world has ever had living in it-the Lord Christ. Higher than all men, around His head seemed to beat the very storms of sin; yet beneath the shelter of His great, consoling, sustaining spirit, what lowly people, what humble souls, what poor babes as to wisdom, what sucklings as to the world’s truth, have gained their life in this world and eternal rest in God. (George Dawson.)
The broken will
Man must be thrown down that his will may be broken; and his will must be broken that God may reign within him. The will of God in man is life eternal. (George Dawson.)
Falling on His face
His great life lies before us, that we may strive to follow Him; and then, though falling on our faces as He fell, we may find ourselves able to rise up as He did. For in rising, He laid down His own will and took God’s will in its place. (George Dawson.)
God’s providence an argument for submission
His providence is comprehensive and complete; no unforeseen accidents in the freest and most contingent things, no unvoluntary obstruction in the most necessary things can break the entireness, or discompose the order of His providence. How exactly and easily does He manage and over-rule all things? The whole world is His house, and all the successive generations of men His family; some are His sons, and by voluntary subjection; others His slaves, and by just constraint fulfil His pleasure. ‘Twas the saying of a wise king, instructed by experience, that the art of government was like the laborious travail of a weaver, that requires the attention of the mind and the activity of the body; the eyes, hands, and feet are all in exercise. And how often is the contexture of human councils, though woven with great care, yet unexpectedly broke? So many cross accidents interpose, so many emergencies beyond all prevention start up, that frustrate the designs and hopes of the most potent, rulers of this world. But God disposes all things with more facility than one of us can move a grain of sand. (W. Bates.)
Emblem of providence
The sun applies its quickening influences for the production and growth of a single plant, as particularly as if there were no ether things in the world to receive them; yet at the same time it passes from sign to sign in the heavens, changes the scenes of the elements, produces new seasons, and its active and prolific heat forms and transforms whatsoever is changed in nature. This is a fit resemblance of the universal and special operations of Divine providence. (W. Bates.)
Present comforts in affliction
The gracious soul has a taste and sight how “good the Lord is,” as an earnest of the fulness of joy in heaven. Hope brings some leaves of the tree of life to refresh us with their fragancy; but love, of its fruits to strengthen us. As transplanted fruits, where the soil is defective and the sun less favourable, are not of that beauty and goodness as in their original country; so heavenly joys in this life are inferior in their degree to those of the blessed above, but they are very reviving. (W. Bates.)
The entire resignation of our wills to the disposing will of God is the indispensable duty of Christians under the sharpest afflictions.
I. What is consistent with this resignation?
1. An earnest deprecation of an impending judgment is reconcilable with our submission to the pleasure of God, declared by the event.
2. A mournful sense of afflictions sent from God, is consistent with a dutiful resignation of ourselves to His will.
II. What is included in the resignment of ourselves to God in times of affliction.
1. The understanding approves the severest dispensations of Providence to be good, that is, for reasons, though sometimes unsearchable, yet always righteous, and for gracious ends to the saints.
2. This resignment principally consists in the consent and subjection of the will to the orders of heaven.
3. The duty of resignation consists in the composure of the affections to a just measure and temper, when under the sharpest discipline.
III. The reasons to convince us of this duty of resigning ourselves and all our interests to God.
1. The first argument arises from God’s original supreme right in our persons, and all things we enjoy.
2. The righteousness of God in all His ways, if duly considered, will compose the afflicted spirit to quiet and humble submission.
3. His power is immense and uncontrollable, and it is a vain attempt to contend with Him, as if the eternal order of His decrees could be altered or broken.
4. His paternal love in sending afflictions is a sufficient argument to win our compliance with His will.
(1) All His sons are under the discipline of the rod; and who would be so unhappy as to be exempted from that number for all the prosperity in the world?
(2) Chastisement is the effect of His parental love. (W. Bates.)
Comforts in trial
The historian tells of a clear vein of water that springs from Mongibel, that great furnace, that always sends forth smoke or flames, yet is as cool as if it distilled from a snowy mountain. Thus the saints in the fiery trial have been often refreshed with Divine comforts, and such humble submissions and gracious thanksgivings have proceeded from their lips, as have been very comfortable to those about them. (W. Bates.)
Man’s evil nature
Proud dust is apt to fly in God’s face upon every motion of the afflicting passions; and by the resistance of self-will He is provoked to more severity. (W. Bates.)
Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation
Who sleeps by a magazine of gunpowder needs to take care even of sparks.
Who walks on ice, let him not go star-gazing, but look to his feet, and take care of falling. “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation,” is a warning which no good man should disregard. (Sunday Teacher’s Treasury.)
Watching unto prayer
When an archer shoots his arrow at a mark, he likes to go and see whether he has hit it, or how near he has come to it. When you have written and sent off a letter to a friend, you expect some day that the postman will be knocking at the door with an answer. When a child asks his father for something, he looks in his face, even before he speaks, to see if he is pleased, and reads acceptance in his eyes. But it is to be greatly feared that many people feel, when their prayers are over, as if they had quite done with them; their only concern was to get them said. An old heathen poet speaks of Jupiter throwing certain prayers to the winds-dispersing them in empty air. It is sad to think that we so often do that for ourselves. What would you think of a man who had written and folded and sealed and addressed a letter flinging it out into the street, and thinking no more about it? Sailors in foundering ships sometimes commit notes in sealed bottles to the waves, for the chance of their being some day washed on some shore. Sir John Franklin’s companions among the snows, and Captain Allen Gardiner dying of hunger in his cave, wrote words they could not be sure any one would ever read. But we do not need to think of our prayers as random messages. We should therefore look for reply to them, and watch to get it. (Dr. Edmond.)
How to treat temptation
A sentinel posted on the walls, when he discerns a hostile party advancing, does not attempt to make head against them himself, but informs his commanding officer of the enemy’s approach, and leaves him to take the proper measure against the foe. So the Christian does not attempt to fight temptation in his own strength. His watchfulness lies in observing its approach, and in telling God of it by prayer. (W. Mason.)
Watch and pray-danger lurking in trifles
Not only (says Manton) do great sins ruin the soul, but lesser faults will do the same. Dallying with temptation leads to sad consequences. Caesar was killed with bodkins. A dagger aimed at the heart will give as deadly a wound as a huge two-handed sword, and a little sin unrepented of will be as fatal as a gross transgression. Brutus and Cassius and the rest of the conspirators could not have more surely ended Caesar’s life with spears than they did with daggers. Death can hide in a drop, and ride in a breath of air. Our greatest dangers lie hidden in little things. Milton represents thousands of evil spirits as crowded into one hall; and truly the least sin may be a very pandemonium, in which a host of evils may be concealed-a populous hive of mischiefs, each one storing death. Believer, though thou be a little Caesar in thine own sphere, beware of the bodkins of thine enemies. Watch and pray, lest thou fall by little and little. Lord, save me from sins which call themselves little. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
All sins dangerous
All consciences, like all stomachs, are not alike. How many do we see digest those sins with ease, which others cannot get down with struggling. One strains at a gnat, while another swallows a camel. He that will keep clear of great sins must make conscience of all. I will think no sin little, because the least endangers my soul; and it is all one whether I sell my Saviour for thirty pence with Judas, or for half I am worth with Ananias; whether I go to hell for one sin, or for many. (Bishop Henshaw.)
Conflict of flesh and spirit
Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, as he was passing on the way, espied a boy with a bird tied in a string to a stone; the bird was still taking wing to fly away, but the sterne kept her down. The holy man made good use of this sight, and, bursting into tears, said, “Even so it is betwixt the flesh and the spirit; the spirit is willing to mount upwards in heavenly thoughts and contemplation, but the flesh keeps it down, and, if possible, would not admit of the least thought of heaven. (Spencer.)
Conflict of the spirit with the flesh
Man is a trinity consisting of body, soul, and spirit. The word soul, in the language of Scripture, is not used in its modem significance. It stands for that part of our nature which we have in common with the brutes that perish. The spirit likewise in the language of both Old and New Testaments stands for that intelligent nature in man which the brutes have not. The spirit is the seat of the will, for it is written, “the spirit is willing.” The spirit is the perceptive and reflective faculty in man, for “no man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man that is in him.” The text suggests to us that though the spirit of man be illumined by the Spirit of God, the weakness of the flesh may bear him down. The word “flesh,” in scriptural language, means something quite different from “body.” It points to the nature of man as endowed with all its wondrous adaptations to the world in which he lives, which adaptations indeed supply his strongest temptation to forget God. Satan goeth about with muffled feet, seeking whom he may devour. As in the natural world there are subtle influences at work, in the power of electricity for example, which we can measure but cannot see, so there are angels bad as well as good, the one ministering to that minding of the flesh which is death, the others to that minding of the spirit which is life and peace. Heavenly influences begin with the spirit, affect the lower or soulish nature, and through it regulate the actions of the body. (J. G. Pilkington.)
Sleep on now, etc.
Luther reads the words indicatively, and by way of question, thus: Ah! do ye now sleep and take your rest? Will ye, with Solomon’s drunkard, sleep upon a mast-pole? take a nap upon a weathercock? Thus this heavenly Eagle, though loving His young ones dearly, yet pricks and beats them out of the nest. The best (as bees) are killed with the honey of flattery, but quickened with the vinegar of reproof. (John Trapp.)
The willing spirit and the weak flesh
I. A characteristic of the Christian-a willing spirit.
1. This is true of every one of Christ’s real disciples on earth.
2. We must set no bounds to the degree of the Christian’s willingness.
3. Christ constantly tested it. “Sell all that thou hast.”
II. The Christian’s infirmity. “The flesh is weak.”
1. True in prayer.
2. True in Bible reading.
3. True in Christian effort.
4. True in our losses and afflictions.
5. We must expect to experience more and more of this weakness of our mortal nature as life progresses.
III. The compassion of our lord for the Christian under his infirmity. Rebuke is soon followed by compassion. He was now overwhelmed with misery; but suffering did not make Him selfish.
IV. The conduct we are to pursue under our infirmities. Are we to allow the weak flesh to do as it will? We are to watch and pray. (C. Bradley.)
The sentinel and the arsenal
I. The Christian is a sentinel; his captain is Christ; and the word of command is “watch”
1. To be watchful implies wakefulness.
2. Watchfulness implies discrimination. A sentinel must distinguish between an enemy and a friend.
3. A sentinel will scrutinize and test the character.
II. It is not sufficient to engage a sentinel to watch agaonst the invasion of the foe: nor is it enough that he be faithful, and give the signal of alarm when needed. The arsenal is necessary; without this the sentinel would be weak and useless. “But in Me is thy help found.”
III. The inseparable relation of watchfulness and prayer. Thus are we saved from entering into temptation, since where a man is fully in it, there is an end of watching, and an indisposition to pray. (G. H. Jackson.)
Watching with Christ
I shall not follow this history further, except to develop this single fact-the need which our God has of our affection, and our sympathy, and our presence with Him. I know not how it is with you, but it is just this that makes me love God. It is just this need of being loved in God, and just this sense of loneliness without it, that calls forth my affection for Him. Power may be venerable, and wisdom may be admirable; but only affection is lovable. It is a marvel, if it be true-and blessed be God, it is true-that while we can do nothing to the Divine stature, and while we can do nothing to the Divine wisdom, it is in the power of a heart that knows how to love, to do much for the Divine happiness. For we are not to say that God is perfect in the sense that He can never feel any more. That is carrying philosophy to insanity. Every heart that loves God makes Him experience a Divine gladness. Every soul that lifts itself up into the presence of God with adoration of love makes Him happier. And now, further, is there not a relationship of this scene to our relations in this life, and to our experiences? Is Christ still upon earth in any such sense that it may be said that we are watching with Him here? I remark, that Christ’s life is going on in this world; that it is developing here, I had almost said in some respects more wonderful/y, than in heaven itself. In other words, the next representation is, that Christ has mingled His spirit with the hearts of the race; that by His life and example He is teaching men. And, above all, by His spiritual influences, Christ is germinating in the race His own nature, and is bound to carry the race above its animal conditions, and into the transcendent sphere where He Himself is. Wherever, then, in all the earth, there are those who need guidance; wherever there are those who need instruction; wherever there are those who are seeking the upward way, and looking about for some one to guide them-there the Saviour is with them. He, then, is watching with Christ, if these be truths, who watches with the Saviour in his earthly ministrations. Those who are in the midst of the glare and growth of material things in this life, and identify themselves, notwithstanding, with the interior, with the spiritual, with the religious affairs of men, may fitly be said to be watching with Christ. Still further, those especially who are watching as Christ taught that we should watch, are those who watch for the souls of men, and not for Christ alone. A man can watch with Christ in his own experiences, as well as in the experiences of others. (H. W. Beecher.)
Watchfulness and prayer
As all war is to be carried on partly by our own strength and partly by that of allies and auxiliaries called in to our aid and assistance, so in this Christian warfare the things which properly answer those two are watchfulness and prayer: forasmuch as by watchfulness we exert and employ our own strength, and by prayer we engage God’s; and if ever victory and success attend us in these encounters, these two must join forces, heaven and earth must be confederate, and where they are so, the devil himself, as strong as he is, and as invincible a monarch as he would be thought to be, may yet be forced to go off with a pluribus impar, and to quit the field with a frustration and a battle. (R. South, D. D.)
I. Imports a strong, lively, abiding sense and persuasion of the exceeding greatness of the evil, which we watch and contend against.
II. Imports a diligent consideration and survey of our own strengths and weaknesses compared with those of our enemy.
III. Watchfulness implies a close and thorough consideration of the several ways by which temptation has at any time actually prevailed either upon ourselves or others.
1. For himself. Every man should know the plagues of his own heart, and what false steps he has made in the several turns and periods of his Christian course, by what means he fell, and upon what rocks he split.
2. Let the watchful Christian carry his eye from himself to others, and observe with what trick and artifice the tempter has practised upon them.
IV. Watchfulness implies a continual, actual intention of mind upon the high concern and danger which is before us, in opposition to sloth, idleness, and remissness.
V. Watching implies a constant and severe temperance in opposition to all the jollities of revelling and intemperance. (R. South, D. D.)
Prayer in time of temptation
It is not in the power of man to secure or defend himself against temptation, something above him must do it for him, as well as very often by him; and prayer is that blessed messenger between heaven and earth, holding a correspondence with both worlds, and by a happy intercourse and sure conveyance carrying up the necessities of the one, and bringing down the bounties of the other. To render prayer prevalent and effectual, there are required to it these two qualifications:
1. Fervency or importunity.
2. Constancy or perseverance. Men too often divide between watching and prayer, and so use and rely upon these duties separately, which can do nothing but in conjunction. For watchfulness without prayer is presumption, and prayer without watchfulness is a mockery. By the first a man invades God’s part in this great work, and by the latter he neglects his own. Prayer not assisted by practice is laziness, and contradicted by practice is hypocrisy; it is indeed of mighty force and use within its proper compass, but it was never designed to supply the room of watchfulness, or to make wish stand in the stead of endeavour. (R. South, D. D.)
Preparing for temptation
Wise combatants will measure swords before they engage. And a discreet person will learn his own weaknesses rather by self-reflection than by experience. For to know one’s self weak only by being conquered, is doubtless the worst sort of conviction. (R. South, D. D.)
Danger of sleep in times of temptation
Another instance I have met with in story of a certain general, who going about his camp in the night, and finding the watch fast asleep upon the ground, nails him down to the place where he lay with his own sword, using this expression withal, “I found him dead, and I left him so.” (R. South, D. D.)
Lip-devotion will not serve the turn. It undervalues the very things it prays for. It is indeed the begging of a denial, and shall certainly be answered in what it begs. (R. South, D. D.)
Spirit willing, flesh weak
I. Give an explication of the words.
II. Show that our present state is imperfect, and there will always be defects-defects in our spiritual frame, defects in our obedience, defects in our approaches to God in our religious duties.
III. If the spirit be willing, and our infirmities are truly lamented and we watch and pray against them, God will graciously accept us, approve of our sincere desires and endeavours, and pardon our failings.
IV. That this grace of God and the Redeemer is matter of great comfort to the sincere Christian, a support to him under a sense of his weakness and unworthiness, and an encouragement to engage in solemn duties, particularly in the celebration of the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, with readiness and cheerfulness, and without amazing, distracting dread and terror. (John Whitty.)
I. Explain the nature of prayer, and set it in its true light, by stripping it of all foreign and superfluous circumstances. In order to understand the nature of prayer, let us take notice that the inward acts of mind and heart exerted in it, from which the outward expressions should flow, and by which they should be animated, are principally these three following:
1. A lively and intimate persuasion that we are utterly insufficient for our own happiness, and that we depend upon our Maker for all we possess here or hope to enjoy hereafter.
2. The second act of the soul exerted in prayer, is the lifting it up with the utmost ardour to that greatest and best of beings who brought us into life, and assigned us our station in it.
3. The third act of mind is a firm belief and assured trust in that God to whom we pray, and on whom we depend.
II. Vindicate prayer from the objections commonly urged against it.
1. That an omniscient God already knows what we want before we ask it. Answer: The real design of prayer is, in the first place, to express, under a lively impression of the presence of God, the sense we have of our dependence upon Him: and, in the second place, to express our earnest desires of having all those sentiments and pious dispositions which it is proper for us to entertain and cultivate.
2. That since God is infinite in goodness, He is always disposed to bestow on His creatures whatever is proper for them, and, since He is infinite in wisdom, He will always choose the fittest times and best manner of bestowing. Answer: Prayer is not designed to move the affections of God, it works its effect on us, as it contributes to change the temper of our minds.
3. Prayer can be of no importance, for all things are already fixed by an unalterable decree of God. Answer: None ever maintained that God hath determined events to happen without any means, and prayers are the proper means of obtaining spiritual blessings.
III. The advantages which arise from the sincere and steadfast performance of this duty.
1. As a break in our worldly life.
2. As inspiring us with the love, and animating us to the practice, of every virtue.
3. Putting us into the best frame and situation of mind for receiving the influences of heavenly light and grace.
4. Raising the human soul to an uncommon pitch of grandeur and elevation.
5. Giving a wonderful strength and firmness to the soul which is under the full power and influence of it. Since, then, prayer is a reasonable thing in itself, it must be both our duty and our interest to continue instant in it. (W. Leechman.)
Entering into temptation
To tempt is in general no more than to try, and a state of temptation is a state of trial; to pray therefore that we may not be put into a state of temptation, is to pray ourselves out of this world, which was designed by God for a state of trial in order to another world. Therefore, when we pray not to be led into temptation, the meaning is, that God by His wise providence would keep us from such trials as, according to the ordinary measures of grace, we should hardly be able to withstand. For, although it be possible for those to whom God gives extraordinary assistance, not only to resist the temptation, but to triumph over it, and to shake off temptations as St. Paul did the viper from his hand, yet, considering the frailty of human nature, and that God is not obliged to give assistance in difficult cases, it is a wise and becoming petition for us to our heavenly Father, that He would not lead us in this manner into temptation. (E. Stillingfleet.)
The attractions of two worlds
It is the love of this world, that is, of the riches and honours of it, which make the sins of ambition and covetousness so plausible and prevailing among those who profess to believe another world. Their souls are like a piece of iron between two loadstones of an unequal magnitude and distance; the one is far greater, and hath more force in itself to attract, but it is placed at a far greater distance; the other is much less, but very near, and therefore may more powerfully draw, than that which is more forcible but farther off. (E. Stillingfleet.)
Importance of resolution,
One of the best means in the world to withstand temptations to sin, because-
1. It keeps the mind steady and fixed, and therefore ready to resist the temptation when it comes.
2. Because it takes off the false colours and appearances of things; for everything may be represented plausibly to an irresolute mind. (E. Stillingfleet.)
Sins of will and sins of infirmity
By what certain rules may we proceed to judge what sins are wilful and presumptuous, and what are sins of infirmity, or such as come from the weakness of the flesh. We have two ways to judge by.
1. From the nature of moral actions.
2. From the Scriptures, declaring what sins are inconsistent with the state of salvation.
For there are two sorts of infirmities:
1. Such as belong to particular actions.
2. Such as belong to our state and condition.
There are three things which do very much alter and discriminate the nature of moral actions.
1. The choice and consent of the will.
2. The time and deliberation about it.
3. The manner of committing it. (E. Stillingfleet.)
What is watchfulness?
It is a constant care of ourselves and actions. We walk as it were upon precipices, and therefore had need to look to our standing, when we see persons falling on every side. (E. Stillingfleet.)
The defence of prayer
Prayer, when duly performed, not only diverts, and raises, and composes the mind, and so breaks the force of a present temptation, hut when a close siege is laid, it keeps the passage open for supplies from heaven, and brings down those supports which may enable us to endure. (E. Stillingfleet.)
Sins of infirmity
I. What is the scripture sense of infirmity?
1. The state of human nature is such as to be liable to many pains, diseases, and at last to death. In this sense Christ is said to bear our infirmities, being by the law of His nature subject to the like weakness-hunger, thirst, sleep, dread of pain.
2. Men are not more weak in their bodies than in their minds, nor more exposed to bodily pains than to the impressions of sin, which is our spiritual disease.
3. Next to this general sense of infirmity comes the particular infirmities included in it. It is urged in defence that these passions are natural; also that they are inherent. That a natural passion has the same author with nature, and belongs to us as we are men, therefore not to be avoided. None of these have infirmity enough to be an excuse for sin.
II. What sort of sins they are which will admit of an excuse because of the infirmity from which they proceed. There is an imperfection in the obedience of the best of men-coldness in devotion, wandering thoughts, which is a weakness to be forgiven. The one way to entitle us to the plea is by endeavouring sincerely and universally to obey the will of God. (T. Sherlock, D. D.)
The disciples in Gethsemane
I. The need of rebuke.
II. The method of Christ; rebuke is tempered and limited. The flesh is to be rebuked for its weakness, the spirit commended and strengthened for its willingness. Had Christ been of the spirit of some He would have allowed no such palliation of their weakness. How Christ put His knowledge of man into the other side of the balance-“He knew what was in man.” Imagine the disappointment with which the disciples awoke to find that their firm resolves had vanished. These words of Christ show rather His intense appreciativeness of all the concealed willingness of men than any desire to set their failure in aggravated form. He used His knowledge for their help, not hurt. He sees the redeeming brightness. Foster willingness of spirit.
III. Lastly, what a strengthened and rightly directed will can do; how it can rise above the flesh. We see it in worldly pursuits. How eagerly a man will pursue an idea when it masters his will. The ideal religious life is just a new ambition with Divine help to reach it. (C. J. Proctor.)
I. The sources of temptation.
1. Temperament and disposition.
2. The circumstances with which a man is surrounded and the training under which he has been brought up.
II. Passing from the sources of temptation, let me speak of the necessity of watching against it.
1. One reason is our ignorance of self.
2. Watchfulness is needed because the trial of man’s character is life-long.
3. Watchfulness of spirit will effect much, but it will be greatly helped if combined with a spirit of devotion. It gives him strength which in one sense is his own, but in a truer and higher sense is not his own. A sense of religious responsibility to God strengthens the sense of right against wrong. When he is resisting temptation he is not fighting singlehanded, but has the eternal law and will of God on his side. In every encounter it helps a man mightily to know that he is not single. (A. Watson, D. D.)
Watch our strength
Men may be on their guard against their infirmities, but unwary where they deem themselves strong. And just as every reader of history is familiar with stories which tell how fortresses and castles were taken by the enemy, not on their weak and well-guarded side, but on the side where they were deemed impregnable, and where watching was thought useless, so has it been a thousand times in the history of the human mind and life. The faithful Abraham fell into distrust; the meek Moses was ruffled in spirit; the wise Solomon was overreached by acts which he might have withstood; the courageous Peter, even when warned by Christ, was drawn into an act of cowardice. So we often see it in common life. We see the man of strong understanding thrown off his guard, and doing foolish things; the man of integrity, by some impulse, turned aside from the straight path. (A. Watson, D. D.)
I. To show the importance of and necessity of Christian vigilance. From-
1. The commands and exhortations of Scripture.
2. The deceitfulness and depravity of the human heart. The illusions it practices on itself. Like an ingenious advocate whose object is to colour and recommend a bad cause, it employs the most deceitful sophistry; and sin is artfully pleaded for on the various grounds of constitution, custom, expediency, and necessity.
3. The temptations to which we are exposed.
(1) The temptations of the world.
4. The sins into which many of the people of God have fallen through its neglect. Noah, David, Hezekiah, and Peter. No dependence can be placed in elevated station, piety, or experience. Adam fell when all was beautiful.
5. Review your own experience and see the need for vigilance.
II. The nature of the duty enjoined.
1. A deep and abiding conviction of danger.
2. A diligent use of appointed means. Avoid all occasions of sin; watch the beginnings of sin; watch your besetting sin; watch your thoughts; watch your company; watch your pursuits; watch in dependence upon God.
III. The persons on whom this duty ought especially to be enforced.
1. To ministers and all who occupy official stations in the Church of God.
2. It applies to the aged. They are not beyond the reach of temptation.
3. It applies to the young.
4. It applies to heads of families.
IV. To enforce the observance of this duty.
1. Think of the salvation of the soul.
2. Think of the consequences resulting from the neglect of this duty.
3. Think of the glory of God. (T. H. Walker.)
Watch the occasions of sin
Avoid all occasions of sin. Boston justly remarks, that, “as one who carries gunpowder would not wish to be where sparks are flying, lest he should be destroyed; so should we carefully avoid such places and company as may lead into sin.” (T. H. Walker.)
Watch the beginnings of sin
All sin proceeds by rapid and beguiling steps; and when its influence is once yielded to, who can determine all the possible declinations from rectitude which may afterwards follow? In its first approach it may seem altogether harmless; it may be nothing more than thought. The spark may seem to be harmless; but it shall enkindle a conflagration that shall resist, by its violence, the united wisdom and power of man. The shell may seem to be insignificant, but it contains a substance which, when matured, shall be “a serpent in the path, or adder by the way, that biteth the horse’s heel, so that the rider thereof falleth backward.” The rill that steals silently over the sod may appear trivial; but it shall multiply its waters, until it mocks the man who shall say, “Here shall thy proud waves be stayed.” (T. H. Walker.)
Christ’s consideration for the weakness of His followers
Applying the subject to ourselves.
I. Is the spirit willing? Are we willing, in the sense of being resolved, and bent upon doing God’s will, following after holiness, and showing sympathy with Christ by bearing the cross for His sake? Yet-
II. The flesh may be weak.
1. In religious exercises.
2. In the tasks and duties of our Christian life.
3. Most of all in suffering and trial.
III. The comfort and use of Christ’s gracious saying to us in such times as these.
1. It is a word of kind apology.
2. There is a tone of warning in it.
3. Our duty therefore is to do our utmost to keep awake and to maintain communion with our Lord. “Watch and pray.”
IV. Look forward to a better life. (T. G. Herren.)
And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come?
The last pleading of love
I. The patience of Christ’s love. The betrayer in the very instant of his treason has that changeless tenderness lingering around him, and that merciful hand beckoning to him still. Sin is mighty, but it cannot make God cease to love us.
II. The pleading of Christ’s patient love. There is an appeal to the traitor’s heart, and an appeal to his conscience. Christ would have him think of the relations that have so long subsisted between them, and of the real nature of the deed he was doing. The sharp question is meant to wake up his conscience. All our evils are betrayals of Christ, and all our betrayals of Christ are sins against a perfect friendship and an unvaried goodness. We too have sat at His table, heard His wisdom, had a place in His heart. It is the constant effort of the love of Christ to get us to say to ourselves the real name of what we are about. “Wherefore art thou come? “ Almost all actions have a better and a worse side, prudence is called selfishness; we are clever men of business, he a rogue. It is, therefore, the office of love to force us to look at the thing as it is. He must begin with rebukes that He may advance to blessing.
III. The possible rejection Of the pleading of Christ’s patient love. We can resist His pleadings. It is easily done. Judas merely held his peace-no more. Silence is sufficient. Non-submission is rebellion. The appeal of Christ’s love hardens where it does not soften. The sun either scatters the summer morning mists, or it rolls them into heavier folds, from whose livid depths the lightning is flashing by mid-day. That silence was probably the silence of a man whose conscience was convicted while his will was unchanged. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
God’s love embraces the worst man
As the sunshine pours down as willingly and abundantly on filth and dunghills, as on gold that glitters in its beam, and jewels that flash back its lustre, so the light and warmth of that unsetting and unexhausted source of life pours down on “the unthankful and on the good.” The great ocean clasps some black and barren crag that frowns against it, as closely as with its waves it kisses some fair strand enamelled with flowers and fragrant with perfumes. So that sea of love in which we live, and move, and have our being, encircles the worst with abundant flow. He Himself sets us the pattern, which to imitate is to be the children of “our Father which is in heaven,” in that He loves His enemies, blessing them that curse, and doing good to them that hate. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Man may reject the Divine love
We cannot cease to be the objects of His love, but we can refuse to be the recipients of its most precious gifts. We can bar our hearts against it. Then, of what avail is it to us? To go back to an earlier illustration, the sunshine pours down and floods a world, what does that matter to us if we have fastened up shutters on all our windows, and barred every crevice through which the streaming gladness can find its way? We shall grope at noontide as in the dark, within our gloomy houses, while our neighbours have light in theirs. What matters it though we float in the great ocean of the Divine love, if with pitch and canvas we have carefully closed every aperture at which the flood can enter? A hermetically closed jar, plunged in the Atlantic, will be as dry inside as if it were lying on the sand of the desert. It is possible to perish of thirst within sight of the fountain. It is possible to separate ourselves from the love of God, not to separate the love of God from ourselves. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Judas, why made a disciple
But why did Christ choose Judas as a disciple, knowing him a wicked man?
1. To teach us that He will tolerate in the Church militant evil men, and no society among men so small, so holy, but some will creep in.
2. To show His humility and patience in admitting to His board and bread so vile a person, yea, to dip his hand in the same dish.
3. To accomplish the ancient prophecy, that his familiar friend, and he that eats bread with Him, that went up to the house of God with Him as a friend, he should lift up his hand against Him (Psalms 55:13-14.) (Thomas Taylor.)
Perishing by the sword if we use the sword
Human vengeance will produce its own punishment. Resist, and you will be resisted. Treat men unkindly and they will treat you unkindly. But, on the other hand, be gentle and you will rule. Be willing to bear injuries and you will triumph. Believe in martyrdom. Let martyrdom be possible. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Christ is the great fulfilment of that beatitude; and His example is here before us, consistent to the end. (Dean Howson.)
Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to My Father?
War opposed to the precepts and spirit of Christianity
Show that war is opposed to the spirit of Christianity.
I. Offer such reasons as prove this.
1. The toleration of war under the New Testament dispensation is contrary to what Christianity was expected to be by the prophet who foretold the coming of the Messiah, and by the Church of the Jews, to whom they were sent (Isaiah 9:6; Zechariah 9:9-10).
2. The advent of the Saviour was attended with revelations, which indicated peace. The angels sang of peace on earth.
3. The doctrine which Christ taught condemns war (Matthew 5:3-9, etc.)
4. The example of Christ teaches the same truth. His life was unresisting.
5. War originates in a passion which Christianity condemns.
6. It can only be carried on by the use of those means which Christianity must condemn.
`II. Answers objections.
1. It is said that war was allowable under the Old Testament dispensation, that therefore it cannot be wrong in the abstract.
2. It is said that the predictions of the New Testament foretell wars in the course of Christianity through the world.
3. It is said that the civil magistrate shall not bear the sword in vain.
4. It is said that to argue in favour of these principles is a proof of cowardice and imbecility.
5. What will be the consequences if men act in this way?
III. Make a few reflections.
1. It calls for a close examination of the subject.
2. It is the duty of parents to be careful in training up their children.
3. I would urge that no professor of Christianity should think of bearing arms. (N. M. Harry.)
The willing surrender
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” The glory of Christ is in His willing surrender of that which belonged to Him, and which He might have always had and enjoyed. The multitude whom the chief priests had sent was arresting Jesus. Then one of His disciples drew the sword. Jesus bade him put his sword into its place again. He tells His eager followers that if He wants He can protect Himself. “Thinkest thou,” etc. The helpless prisoner looked up and saw the air thick with angels hurrying to His relief. A word from Him and they would have been His warriors. He had the power, but would not use it. The nobleness of this surrender of Jesus; no man becomes really noble who has not its repetition in himself. To give up some precious thing which is legitimately yours; to shut your eyes upon visions of glory, or safety, or luxury, which you might make your own without blame, that is one of the marks of nobleness. The man who is taking all that he has a right to take in life is always touched with a shade of baseness. Let us study the nobleness of voluntary surrender.
I. We want to feel how definite and distinct it is. There are base imitations of it. There are two kinds of renunciation of things which have this origin in unworthy motives.
1. The first is the renunciation which comes from idleness or lack of spirit. There will always be people who might be rich, learned, famous, who despise these things simply because of the trouble they involve. The surrender they make is a loss not a gain; it has nothing in common with the Divine relinquishment of Jesus.
2. The second of the two base forms of voluntary surrender is what we may call the ascetic form. It includes the renunciation of legitimate enjoyments, that we may be chastened by disappointment. Now turn back to Jesus. When He said, “I will not call the angels,” it was no pusillanimous submitting to His fate; nor was it any unnatural submitting of Himself to suffering that He might be cultivated and purified, or that the release from suffering when it came might be more sweet. It was the quiet surrender of what was His, because He could not have it and yet do His work and save the world. No man in this world has a right to all his rights. Here is really the key to the question of voluntary abstinence from certain innocent indulgences for the sake of others. Voluntariness lies at the root of it all. We talk of the glory of resignation to the inevitable; but the true glory is in resignation to the inevitable. To stand unchained, with perfect power to go away, and so standing to let the fire creep up to the heart-that is the truer heroism. Christ knew what it was to gain the life He lost, to have the thing that He surrendered. When He refused to call the angels to His help, the strength which was the meaning of the angels was surely entering into Him, and making Him ready for the battle which He was just about to fight. (P. Brooks, D. D.)
Self-surrender under the influence of a higher purpose
When a man who might be rich deliberately gives up the chance of wealth that he may be a scholar, men whose object in life is wealth, and who know that he has the same power to get wealth which they have if he should give himself to its pursuit, must honour him and feel the influence of his renunciation. It is not laziness, for he goes to work harder than any of them. It is not asceticism, for he has no foolish sweeping abuse of wealth with which to insult his fellow-men’s intelligence, It is not incapacity, for he is as bright as the brightest. It is simply the power of a higher purpose. It is the calm, manly, uncomplaining choice to do this greater thing, and to surrender whatever would hinder the doing of it most faithfully and well. The man goes off into his study, and thinks that nobody sees him-indeed, does not think for a moment whether anybody is seeing him or not; but his life and such lives as his are the salt of the society in which they live. (P. Brooks, D. D.)
Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled.
The causes, signs, evils, and cure of backsliding
I. Its causes.
1. Opposition and fear of injury from those who are the enemies of religion.
2. A too frequent and uniform conformity and intercourse with the world.
3. Self-confidence in spiritual gifts and attainments.
4. A neglect of the private duties of religion.
II. Its signs.
1. It is testified by signs which do not amount to that flagrant and public departure from the gospel which frequently is displayed.
(1) A relinquishment of public labour in the church;
(2) an irregular attendance upon public ordinances;
(3) a spirit of inattention and carelessness under these ordinances;
(4) an indulgence in social life of useless conversation.
2. Signs which do amount to a positive and public departure from the religion of the cross.
III. Its evils.
1. As they affect the individuals themselves.
2. As they affect the Church.
(1) They discourage others just setting forth in the way of religion;
(2) they lead others to sin;
(3) they cause mockery of religion.
IV. The cure.
1. Call to mind the times of former devotedness.
2. Contemplate the intense guilt of the act.
3. Resolve to forsake the transgression by which it has been brought about.
4. Connect all our convictions.and emotions with prayer for the influence of the Holy Spirit. (J. Parsons.)
Here we see four things.
I. Base ingratitude.
1. They had received special favours from Him.
2. They were under the greater obligation.
3. Tendency of gratitude to bind to benefactor.
II. Rash impulsiveness, probably roused by
III. Involuntary influence. One fled, then all fled. This should
(1) act as incentive to become thoroughly sound in character;
(2) make us cautious as to associations we form.
IV. False policy. Doing wrong to save the body
(1) injures the soul;
(2) endangers it. Learn-
(a) importance of cherishing a practical impression of our obligations to Christ;
(b) of cultivating the habit of acting from intelligent conviction;
(c). of habitually realizing the principle, that the path of duty is the path of safety.. (Homilist.)
The bees were haunting the flowering trees in crowds, humming among the branches, and gathering honey in the flowers. Said Gotthold, “Here is an image of temporal prosperity, So long as there is blossom on the trees, and honey in the blossom, the bees will frequent them in crowds, and fill the place with their music; but when the blossom is over, and the honey gone, they too will disappear. The same happens in the world, among men. In the abodes of fortune and pleasure, friends will be found in plenty, but when fortune flys away, they depart along with it. Temporal gain is the world’s honey, and the allurement with which you may entice it whithersoever you will; but where the gain terminates, there likewise do the love and friendship of the world stop. For this reason let all good men be advised to fly to Christ crucified, who never forsakes in their distress those who truly seek Him.”
The sin of apostasy
Disheartened by the extraordinary dangers and difficulties of their enterprize, a Roman army lost courage, and resolved on a retreat. The general reasoned with his soldiers. Expostulating with them, he appealed to their love of country, to their honour, and to their oaths. By all that could revive a fainting heart he sought to animate their courage and shake their disgraceful resolution. Much they trusted, admired, loved him; but his appeals were all in vain. They were not to be moved; and, carried away as by a panic, they faced round to retreat. At this juncture they were forcing a mountain-pass, and had just cleared a gorge where the road, between two stupendous rocks on one side and the foaming river on the other, was but a footpath broad enough for the step of a single man. As a last resort he laid himself down there, saying, “If you will retreat, it is over this body you go, trampling me to death beneath your feet.” No foot advanced. The flight was arrested. His soldiers could face the foe, but they could not mangle beneath their feet one who loved them, and who had often led their ranks to victory, sharing like a common soldier all the hardships of the campaign, and ever foremost in the fight. The sight was one to inspire them with decision. Hesitating no longer to advance, they wheeled round to resume their march; deeming it better to meet sufferings, and endure even death itself, than to trample under foot their devoted and patriotic leader. Their hearts recoiled from such an outrage. But for such as have named the name of Christ not to depart from iniquity, for such as have enlisted under His banner to go back to the world, for such as have renounced sin to return to its pleasures, involves a greater crime. A more touching spectacle bars our return. Jesus, as it were, lays Himself down on our path; nor can any become backsliders, and return to the practice and pleasure of sin, without trampling Him under their feet. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
But Peter followed Him afar off.
Danger of following Jesus afar off
I. What induced the apostle to follow Jesus afar of. It was fear of men, of the evil which might fall upon him. He might persuade himself that he could render no help to his Master. Compare the attachment of Ruth to Naomi. The apostle had some affection for Christ, or he would not have followed at all. The only safety is in following fully. Thus Peter’s self-confidence was rebuked.
II. Who were the companions with whom the apostle sat down? And what was his danger in doing so? He was in company hostile to Jesus, but did not resent their hostility. He did not side with his Lord. “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” There was a gradual descent in the fall of the apostle. He was first alarmed, and consulted his safety by flight; then he followed Jesus, but afar off; then he entered into the palace; then he sat down among the servants; then he listened without rebuke to their scoffs against Jesus; then he denied that he was a disciple; then he denied with oaths and curses. One step led to another.
III. what was the apostle’s state of mind when he went into the high priest’s palace? And how did this expose him to the danger of falling under temptation? He went in to see the end. Peter was not resolved how he would act. He might think that Christ would avow Himself; put forth His omnipotent power; or that he would acknowledge Jesus. He was in a state of mind easily to be overcome by temptation. He wanted to make his attachment for Christ such as to secure his own safety. (T. Stark.)
Following Christ afar off
I. The symptoms of following Christ afar off.
1. A gradual departure from Him. The first step was self-confidence; the second step was an ignorant zeal for Christ and the use of carnal weapons in His cause. The next step was an abandonment of the cause he had espoused-“Then all the disciples forsook Him.”
2. A disinclination to commune with Him.
3. Indifference to meet Him at public ordinances.
4. An attempt to stretch Christian liberty to the utmost.
II. The sad consequences of following Christ afar off.
1. Such a course grows worse and worse.
2. Such a state brings its own punishment.
3. Such a course is unspeakably offensive to Jesus Christ.
III. Some of the remedies for this state of mind. Consider-
1. Whom you follow.
2. The obligations you are under to follow the Lord closely.
3. What advantages you derive from following Him closely.
4. Who has promised to help you to follow Him.
5. If the consequences of following Christ afar off be so dreadful, what must be the consequence of not following Him at all. (J. Sherman.)
But Jesus held His peace.
Silence the best reply to slander
It is reported of Titus Vespasian, that when any one spake ill of him he was wont to say that he was above false reports; and if they were true, he had more reason to be angry with himself than the relator. And the good Emperor Theodosius commanded that no man should be punished who spoke against him: for, what was spoken slightly, said he, was to be laughed at; what spitefully, to be pardoned; what angrily, to be pitied; and what truly, he would thank him for. Oh, that there were but such a frame of spirit in this carping age of ours, wherein men, like tinder, are ready to take fire upon the least spark that falls, to quarrel sometimes on the most inoffensive word that can be spoken; whereas the best way is to be silent.
Silence sometimes the wisest policy
A courtier in the retinue of Alexander the Great paid a visit to the studio of Apelles, the celebrated painter, and was received with the consideration due to his rank. This excited his vanity and talkativeness, which, unhappily, sallied forth upon the fine art in questions exposing his own ignorance. Apelles interrupted him at length in an undertone: “Do you see those boys that are grinding my colours? While you were silent they admired you, dazzled with the splendour of the purple and gold with which your habit glitters; but ever since you began to talk about what you do not understand, they have done nothing but laugh at you.”
The silence of Jesus
We learn that there may often be prudence, wisdom, dignity, and power.
I. It will appear evident that the silence of our Saviour in the midst of His enemies was the most effectual and suitable reply which He could have made to their accusations. These accusations were false and frivolous. His life and doctrine had been a sufficient reply. No verbal defence could have been so powerful.
II. No verbal defence would have availed him anything with those who were determined to procure His condemnation. It was not for Him to join in a war of words; His last hours should be tranquil. How solemnly His silence rebukes the vociferation of the priests and populace.
III. There are seasons and occasions when silence for ourselves may be better than speech, sharper than argument, more effectual than verbal reply.
1. When our characters are attacked. If we are so happy as to own a life which can defend us, let us be silent that the life may speak.
2. Silence is often the best reproof of profane conversation.
3. It is often the only reproof of mere locquaeity.
4. We are apt to talk too much, and lay too much stress on talking. (P. W. P. Greenwood, D. D.)
The silence of Jesus
I. Prejudice, whatever be its source, gets nothing out of the Scriptures.
II. Habitual indulgence in sin will also prevent us from getting any answer to our inquiries from Scripture. The Herods of to-day get no answer from Christ.
III. The influence of scepticism makes the Scriptures silent. Pilate did not believe there was any truth, and if there was it could not be known. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
The silence of Christ
I. On one occasion Christ was silent in the presence of an overwhelming sorrow. The Canaanitish woman, “He answered her not a word.” This was a touching case. This was the silence of love. Sometimes Christ is silent at the beginning of the Christian life; sometimes at its close.
II. On another occasion Christ was silent in the presence of captious inquirers. The woman taken in adultery. This was a critical moment. This was the silence of reserve. There are many occasions in life when silence is golden. Some men are naturally of a quiet disposition.
III. On another occasion Christ was silent in the presence of personal suffering. When arrested. This was a remarkable scene.
1. The time.
3. Persons. This was the silence of submission. (J. T. Woodhouse.)
The silence of Christ
I. It was wonderful He could, by a word, have made the world tremble; judge and witnesses fall dead before Him. Why was He silent? He came not to be His own advocate, but ours.
II. His silence was full of suffering, suffering that was vicarious and expiatory. All who are great sufferers endure most at times when one hears no sound from their lips. It is a relief to pain to cry out.
III. It was ominous. It foreshadowed ills. His silence said, “What more can I do unto My vineyard?” It is an appalling sign when Christ ceases to plead with us.
IV. Christ was inspired, and thus full of instruction.
1. Take the doctrine of our Lord’s Deity. This is established by a mass of evidence, but there is no stronger proof of it than the silence of Christ.
2. Apply it to the authenticity of the Old Testament Scriptures, that against which the destructive criticism of our day is making such fierce attacks, and what an argument we find.
3. Apply His silence to the perpetuity of the Sabbath law, and with what force it speaks.
V. Christ’s silence was beautiful. Difficult to restrain malice before enemies.
VI. It is exemplary. Self-imposed silence often a duty.
1. Because of the perils of speech.
2. Because of the blessings of the discipline of silence. (J. T. Blackburn.)
Now Peter sat without in the palace.
The fall of Peter
One of the most melancholy instances of depravity ever committed. But a little while before so confident, seated at the table of the Lord, etc. Draw from it important practical uses.
I. The danger of self-confidence-“Let him that thinketh,” etc. Rely on God for strength.
II. The highest favours, the most exalted privileges, do not secure us from the danger of falling into sin.
III. When a man begins to sin his fall from one act to another is easy, perhaps almost certain. The downward road of crime is easy.
IV. True repentance is deep, thorough, bitter.
V. A look from Jesus-a look of mingled affection, pity, and reproof-produces bitter sorrow for sin. Him we injure by our crimes, etc.
VI. When we fall into temptation, let us seek the place of solitude, and pour out our sorrows before God.
VII. Real Christians may be suffered to go far astray. To show them their weakness, etc.
VIII. Yet though a Christian may be suffered to go astray, yet he who should, from this example of Peter, think he might lawfully do it, or who should resolve to do it, thinking that he might, like Peter, weep and repent, would give evidence that he knew nothing of the grace of God. (A. Barnes, D. D.)
Let us lay to heart some of the most important lessons of this subject.
I. Let no Christian rely on his disposition or feeling for safety from falling.
II. Let no Christian rely upon his past conduct as a safeguard.
III. Let no Christian presume to trust in conscience to keep him right in the hour of danger.
IV. Learn to realize the bitter memory of good words which came too late. (F. Skerry.)
I. Some of the reasons of St. Peter’s denial.
II. The repentance of St. Peter The compassionatism of the Man of Sorrows. He looked upon Peter. Memory acts in cases of repentance. (W. D. Herwood.)
Peter and Judas
I. Peter’s sorrow arose from a sense of the guilt of his conduct, but Judas’ from a perception of the consequences of his conduct.
II. Peter’s sorrow was full of hope, but Judas’ was full of despair.
III. Peter’s sorrow drove him nearer to God, but Judas’ drove him further from God.
IV. Peter’s sorrow developed his Christian manhood, but Judas’ became an element of sharp retribution. Repent or perish. (J. W. Mays, M. A.)
The denying disciple
I. Who? Peter, the confessor of the Christ of God, etc.
VI. How? Three times, after being warned, through fear of a woman: etc. (Dr. Bonar.)
Skill required to keep up a lie
A Spanish proverb declares that “ for an honest man half his wits is enough, while the whole are too little for a knave; “ the ways, that is, as Archbishop Trench expounds the adage, of truth and uprightness, are so simple and plain, that a little wit is abundantly sufficient for those who walk in them; whereas the ways of falsehood and fraud are so perplexed and tangled, that sooner or later all the wit of the cleverest rogue will not preserve him from being entangled therein-a truth often wonderfully confirmed in the lives of evil men. (F. Jacox.)
Telling a lie a big task
He who tells a lie is not sensible how great a task he undertakes; for he must be forced to invent twenty more to maintain that one. (Dean Swift.)
Occasional relapse compatible with spiritual advance
As an illustration of this law in the kingdom of grace, consider the movement of the tide, when it is coming in. It is movement upon the whole. The water is sure to cover that dry beach in two or three hours’ time, and to float that stranded sea-weed; but it is not a movement without relapses. Each wave, I suppose, gains a little ground, but each wave falls back as soon as it has plashed upon the shore. Even so in the Christian life, there may be a forward movement on the whole, consistently with many relapses, though this assertion requires to be guarded by the observation that the relapses must be such as proceed from infirmity, and not from malice prepense. Deliberate, habitual sin cannot possibly consist with spiritual growth; but the shaking of a man’s steadfastness by a sudden tornado of temptation (which was St. Peter’s case) may do so. The great question is whether, after each such fall, the will recovers its spring and elasticity, and makes a fresh start with new and more fervent prayers and resolve. Indeed the making many fresh starts after relapses of infirmity is a hopeful sign of growth. In order to any great attainment in spiritual life, there must be an indomitable resolve to try and try again, and still to begin anew amidst much failure and discouragement. On warm, dewy mornings in the spring, vegetation makes a shoot; and when we rise and throw open the window, we mark that the may is blossoming in the hedgerows. And those periods when a man can say, “I lost myself sadly yesterday in temper or in talk, but I know that my crucified Lord took upon Him those sins and answered for them, and to-day I will earnestly strive against them in the strength of His Spirit invoked into my soul by earnest prayer;” these are warm, dewy mornings of the soul, when the spiritual life within us sprouts and blossoms apace. (Dean Goulburn.)
The old nature reasserting itself
The old fisherman of Galilee, it would seem, in days gone by, had been a man who used strong language. Since He had been a disciple of Christ he had learned to control his language. Three years’ intercourse with Christ had done much for him, but it had not done all. The “ old man” was still alive and strong.” The “new man “ was very weak in Peter just at this time. The “ old man “had risen up against the “ new man.” The old nature in Peter was fighting against the Christ that was within him; and if the Lord had not just at that worst moment turned and looked upon Peter, the issue might have been more disastrous than it was. Then Peter saw what he had done-he had been stabbing his Master to the very heart-driving a nail into His cross, and piercing Him with another spear! (H. Bonar, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Matthew 26". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24