Click to donate today!
The Lord speaks the two parables on prayer—the importunate widow, and the Pharisee and publican.
And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint. The formnla ἕλεγε δὲ καί, literally, "and he spake also," calls attention to the fact that the parable-teaching immediately to follow was a continuation of what had preceded. Indeed, the connection between the first of the two parables, which urges restless continued prayer, and the picture which the Lord had just drawn of men's state of utter forgetfulness of God, is obvious. "The Son of man has been rejected; he has gone from view; the masses are plunged in gross worldliness; men of God are become as rare as, in the days of Abraham, they were in Sodom. What, then, is the position of the Church? That of a widow whose only weapon is incessant prayer. It is only by means of this intense concentration that faith will be preserved. But such is precisely the disposition which Jesus fears may not be found even in the Church at his return" (Godet).
There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man. Probably enough the whole scene was a sketch from life; under such a rule as that of Herod Antipas there were, doubtless, judges of the character here portrayed.
And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. The petitioner was a woman and a widow, the latter being in the East a synonym for helplessness. With no one to defend her or plead her cause, this widow was ever a prey to the covetous. Not once nor twice in the noble generous words of the chivalrous Hebrew prophets we find this readiness on the part of those in power to neglect, if not to oppress these helpless widow-women, sternly commented upon. So in Isaiah we read (Isaiah 1:23), "They judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them." While Jesus (Matthew 23:14) includes this cowardly sin among the evil deeds of the rulers of the Israel of his day: "Ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer." A more desperate situation, as regards any hope of obtaining the object of her earnest prayer, could not well be pictured—a careless, corrupt judge of the lawless Herod period for the tribunal in Israel, and a poor helpless widow for the suppliant. The forlorn woman of the parable represents the Church or people of God in dire straits, overborne by an unbelieving world and seemingly forgotten even of their God. The story is a reminder that there is hope even in that extreme situation sketched in the parable, if the petitioner only continues persistent in her prayer. The argument which lies on the surface of the parable, teaching is obvious: if such a judge will in the end listen to the prayer of a suppliant for whom he cares nothing, will not God surely listen to the repeated prayer of a suppliant whom he loves with a deep, enduring love? Such is the argument of the story. Importunity, it seems to say, must inevitably triumph. But underlying this there is much deep teaching, of which, perhaps, the most important item is that it insists upon the urgent necessity for us all to continue in prayer, never fainting in this exercise though no answer seems to come. "The whole limb of the faithful," as Origen once grandly said, "should be one great connected prayer." That is the real moral of the story; but there are a number of minor bits of Divine teaching contained in this curious parable setting, as we shall see. Avenge me of mine adversary. We must not suppose that mere vengeance in the vulgar sense is what the widow prayed for; that would be of no use to her; all she wanted was that the judge should deliver her from the oppression which her adversary exercised over her, no doubt in keeping from her the heritage to which she was lawfully entitled. Of course, the granting her prayer would revolve loss and possibly punishment to her fraudulent oppressor.
And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him? The Master tells us that God permits suffering among his servants, long after they have begun to pray for deliverance. But we are counselled here to cry day and night unto him, and, though there be no signor reply, our prayers shall be treasured up before him, and in his own good time they will be answered. Though he bear long with them. With whom does God bear long? With the wrong-doers, whose works and words oppress and make life heavy and grievous to the servants of God; with these who have no claim to consideration will God bear long. And this announcement gives us some clue to the meaning of the delay we often experience before we get an answer to many of our prayers. The prayer is heard, but God, in the exercise of mercy and forbearance, has dealings with the oppressors. It were easy for the Almighty to grant an immediate answer, but only at the cost often of visiting some of the oppressors with immediate punishment, and this is not his way of working. God bears long before his judgments swift and terrible are sent forth. This has ever been his way of working with individuals as with nations. Was it not thus, for instance, that he acted towards Egypt and her Pharaohs during the long period of the bitter Hebrew bondage? We who would he God's servants must be content to wait God's time, and, while waiting, patiently go on pleading, sure that in the end "God will avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him."
I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. "Non bientot, mais bien rite" (Godet). It means that God will act in accordance with his servant's prayer, not soon, but suddenly; sure and sudden at the crisis the action of Divine providence comes at the last "as a thief in the night." Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? These difficult words seem to point at least to a fear lest, the second coming being long delayed, true faith would have died out of the hearts even of the godly. Such a fear might be Jesus'; for we know, from his own lips, that to him, while on earth and wearing the body of humiliation, the day and hour of the second advent was not known. Was not our Lord speaking with the same sad onlook in his parable of the virgins, when he said, "they all slumbered and slept," wise virgins as well as foolish (Matthew 25:5)? "It is often the case that God's action as a Deliverer is delayed until his people have ceased to hope for deliverance. So it was with Israel in Egypt; so was it with her again in Babylon. ' Grief was calm and hope was dead' among the exiles when the word came that they were to return to their own land; and then the news seemed too good to be true. They were 'like them that dream' when they heard the good tidings. This method of Divine action—long delay followed by a sudden crisis—so frankly recognized by Christ, is one to which we find it hard to reconcile ourselves. These parables help us so far, but they do not settle everything. They contain no philosophy of Divine delay, but simply a proclamation of the fact, and an assurance that, in spite of delay, all will go well at the last with those who trust in God" (Professor Bruce).
And he spake this parable. With this parable, "the Pharisee and the publican,'' St. Luke concludes his memories of the last journeyings toward Jerusalem. The incidents which directly follow took place close to Jerusalem; and here St. Luke's narrative rejoins that of SS. Matthew and Mark. No note of time or place assists us in defining exactly the period when the Master spoke this teaching; some time, however, in these last journeyings, that is, in the closing months of the public ministry, the parable in question was certainly spoken.
Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. This parable constitutes an important chapter in Jesus' apology or defence—if we may dare use the word—for loving the sinful, for consorting with publicans and sinners. It tells men, in very simple language, how they are saved; not by works of righteousness which they have done, but of grace; in other words, by God's free mercy. Jewish religious society in the time of our Lord, as represented by the great Pharisee sect, totally misunderstood this Divine truth. They claimed salvation as a right on two grounds:
(1) because they belonged to the chosen race;
(2) because they rigidly and minutely obeyed the precepts of a singular code of laws, many of them devised by themselves and their fathers.
Upon these two grounds they claimed salvation, that is, eternal blissful life. Not content with this claim of their own, they condemned, with a sweeping, harsh condemnation, all other peoples, and even those of their own race who neglected rigidly to observe the ordinances and ritual of a law framed in great measure in the schools of their own rabbis. Two extreme instances are here chosen—a rigid, exclusive, self-satisfied member of the religious society of Israel; and a Jewish officer of the hated Roman government, who knew little or nothing of the Law, but yet who longed after a higher life, and craved for an inward peace which he evidently was far from possessing. These two, the Pharisee and the publican, both went up to God's holy house, the temple, with a view of drawing near to the eternal King.
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are. How closely drawn from the life is this picture of a Pharisee will be seen by a comparison of the prayer here with the prayer of a rabbi contained in the Talmud. When Rabbi Nechounia Ben Hakana left his school, he used to say, "I thank thee, O Eternal, my God, for having given me part with those who attend this school instead of running through the shops. I rise early like them, but it is to study the Law, not for futile ends. I take trouble as they do, but I shall be rewarded, and they will not. We run alike, but I for the future life, while they will only arrive at the pit of destruction" (from the treatise 'Berachath').
I fast twice in the week. There was no such precept in the Law of Moses. There only a single fast-day in the year was enjoined, the Day of Atonement (Le Luke 16:29). By the time of Zechariah the prophet (viii. 19) the one fast-day had grown into four. But this fasting twice every week was a burthensome observance imposed in the later oral Law. Thursday and Monday were the appointed fasting-days, because tradition related how, on those days, Moses ascended and descended from Sinai. Compare the Talmud (treatise 'Bava Khama,' fol. 82. 1). I give tithes of all that I possess. Here, again, the Mosaic ordinance only enjoined tithes of corn, wine, oil, and cattle. The later rabbinic schools directed that everything should be tithed, down to the mint and anise and cummin. And so this poor deluded Pharisee dreamed he had earned his eternal salvation, forgetting that the tithes he so prided himself on paying were merely tithes of goods of which he was steward for a little time, tithes, too, given back to their real Owner—God. Could this be counted a claim upon God? He boasted, too, that he was no extortioner: did he forget how often he had coveted? He was no adulterer: what of those wicked thoughts which so often found a home in his heart? He rejoiced that he was not like the publican and others of that same class: did he think of the sore temptations to which these and the like were exposed, and from which he was free? He gloried in his miserable tithes and offerings: did he remember how really mean and selfish he was? did he think of his luxury and abundance, and of the want and misery of thousands round him? did his poor pitiful generosity constitute a claim to salvation? All this and more is shrined in the exquisite story of Jesus, who shows men that salvation—if it be given to men at all—must be given entirely as a free gift of God.
And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner! Utterly sad and heart-broken, the publican neither recounts nor thinks of good kind deeds done, or special sins committed; no thoughts came into that poor heart, such as, "I have done some fair deeds; I am not altogether vile and sinful." He felt that with him evil so far overbalanced good that he could make no plea for himself, and yet he, too, longed for salvation, so he threw himself wholly upon God's mercy and love in his sad prayer, "God be merciful to me the sinner!" for so the words should be rendered. Different to the Pharisee, who thought himself better than his neighbours, this man, in his sad humility, evidently thought other men better than himself, but still he so trusted in God that he felt even for him, the sinner, there might be mercy.
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. And the publican was right; there was mercy even for him, all sin-stained though he was. The words with which the Lord closes his teaching are full of comfort. That prayer he tells us was heard and granted. The "I tell you" of Jesus here means, as Stier well puts it, "I tell you, for I know, I have seen, I have heard all this in many such a case, and in many such prayers." With this example of prayer favourably heard, there is surely no sin-burthened soul on earth who may not take courage in seeking God's face. One great object of this parable, we may believe, was to suggest some such thoughts, to embolden sorrowful, heart-broken sinners simply to go to God, trusting in his great pitying love. It should not be forgotten that the publican's prayer was heard in the temple; a silent approval seems given to his having thus sought out the appointed consecrated place of prayer.
Jesus and the children. The young ruler refuses to give up his riches. The Lord speaks of the reward of them that leave all for his sake.
And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them. Our Lord's noticing children is several times alluded to in the Gospels. There was something evidently in his look and manner which singularly attracted little ones to him. SS. Matthew and Mark both recount this blessing of the children immediately after the teaching on divorce. Our Lord thus sanctifies the bond of marriage and its legitimate offspring. It was a silent but powerful reply to the mistaken inference which his disciples had drawn from his words. They had said, "It is not good to marry" (Matthew 19:10). But when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them. Something of what the Master had said concerning the marriage state affected the disciples. Had he not just (see Matthew 19:10-12) been claiming high honour for the solitary life where there were no family ties to claim attention? Surely, then, these women and their children had better stand aloof: what had that grave and earnest Teacher of theirs to do with these? He had higher and more important matters on his mind f
But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. St. Mark, who gives us here the memories of a faithful eye-witness—St. Peter—records how much displeased Jesus was when he saw them pushing back the mothers and their little ones, eager to win a smile or perhaps a touch from him whom the people justly regarded as the children's Friend. It seems also to have been the practice for Jewish mothers to bring their babes to famous rabbis, and to ask these teachers to bless their little ones. Christ's "interest in the little children was real, and for their own sakes. It was primary; not merely secondary, and because of the childlikeness of his subjects. If they who are like little children belong to the kingdom of heaven, why should we for a moment doubt that the little children themselves belong to the kingdom? Doubtless they all do. And if that change which men call death happen to them while they are still little children, we may rest assured that it will be to the little ones bye everlasting. They will not be shut out from the higher province of the kingdom of heaven when they are snatched away from the lower" (Dr. Morrison). St. Mark's account, being that of an eye-witness, is fuller and more graphic. It is read in the Office of the Church of England for the Baptism of Infarcts, wherein young children are in like manner presented to Christ. It is considered that the Master's words and act here justify the Church in commending infants, as such, to the blessing of their Father. Surely if little ones were capable of spiritual blessings then, they are so now. It is noticeable that these children were not brought to the Lord to be taught, but "that he should put his hands upon them, and bless them" (Mark 10:16).
Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein. Jesus here reminds men that if they hope to enter the kingdom, it must be in the spirit of children, who never think of putting forward any claim of merit or paying any price for kindness showed them. His late parable of the Pharisee and publican was evidently in the Master's mind when he said this.
And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life! This incident is related in the three synoptical Gospels. St. Matthew speaks of him as the young man. St. Luke here styles him a ruler; by some the title is supposed simply to denote that he was the ruler of a synagogue or congregation; others, however, consider that it denotes that the subject of the narrative was a ruler of the Jews, and possibly, but this is of course doubtful, a member of the Sanhedrin. His youth (Matthew 19:20) is not at variance with this inference. Youth is defined by Philo as including the period between twenty-one and twenty-eight. All the three evangelists mention his great wealth. Dean Plumptre suggests that his large possessions and evident devotion had probably opened to him, at a comparatively early age, a place in the great council. His question concerning eternal life indicates that he was a Pharisee, and he evidently represented the noblest phase of this religious party. Ire had sedulously followed out the precepts of the best rabbinic schools of his day, but there was something lacking, he felt, and his intercourse with Jesus and the influence of the Master's words led him to take this question point-blank to the famous Teacher, who he felt—alone of any master whom he had met—was able to satisfy this longing desire of his heart.
And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God. The title "good" was a singular one for the young ruler to have used. It was never used to the most famous rabbis by their pupils. It implied an intense reverence, but nothing more. The young man distinctly did not then believe the Master was Divine, else he had never made the great refusal recorded directly afterwards. "To be a good man is impossible … God alone could have this honour" (Plate, 'Phaed.,' 27). "You are looking at me," said the Master, "as a man: why give me this strange, lofty title? You are looking on me only as an earthly Teacher." The great Heart-reader was reading the young man's thoughts, thoughts which soon crystallized, as we shall see, into the refused to do what he, whom he chose to style "good," directed him to carry out.
Thou knowest the commandments. The report in St. Matthew is somewhat fuller. There the ruler, when directed to the commandments, replies by asking "which?" expecting most likely to be referred to some of the elaborate traditional laws of the rabbinic schools, which were difficult to keep even by men in the position of a wealthy Pharisee; but to his surprise Jesus mentions the most general and best-known of the ancient ten.
And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up. He listens to the Master with something like impatient surprise. There is a ring of concealed indignation in his "All these have I ever kept. What do you take me for? I am a religious, God-fearing Jew; from my child-days have I kept these." Kept these! How little the poor questioner knew the secrets of his Own heart! Yet he had answered Jesus in the true spirit of a Pharisee trained carefully in the rabbinic schools. We read, for instance, in the Talmud how "when Rabbi Chaninah was dying, he said to the angel of death, 'Go and fetch me the book of the Law, and see whether there is anything in it which I have not kept.'"
.—Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing. St. Mark (Mark 10:21), who had St. Peter's memories to draw from, adds here a very touching detail. "Jesus beholding him [looking earnestly at him] loved him." There was something noble and true in that life, struggling in the imperfect light of the rabbinic teaching after eternity and heaven, and feeling that in all its struggles some element was surely wanting; and Jesus, as he gazed on the young earnest face, loved him, and proceeded to show him how far removed his life was as yet from the perfect life he dreamed of attaining to. He would show him in a moment how selfish, how earthly, were his thoughts and aims; how firmly chained to earth that heart of his, which he thought only longed for heaven. Sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me; "Well," the Master said, "I will test you. You say you have from your child-days kept your whole duty to your neighbour; you say that you hunger after the higher righteousness. Do you really? Will you indeed be perfect (Matthew 19:21)? Then I will tell you what you lack. Go, sell those great possessions which I know you love so dearly, and give all to the poor, and come, take up the cross (Mark 10:21), and follow me, the homeless, landless Teacher whom you call by the Divine title 'good.'" The "cross" of St. Mark only Jesus understood then in all its dread significance. It was coming then very near; and the great Teacher saw that his true servants, if they would indeed follow him, must follow him along that lonely road of suffering he was then treading. "Via crucis, via lucis." The young ruler, with his great wealth, thought he had from his youth done his whole duty to his neighbour. The Galilaean Master, whom he so reverenced and admired, reminded him that out of those wide domains, those stored-up riches, out of the mammon of unrighteousness, he had forgotten to make to himself friends who, when he died, should receive him into the eternal tents of heaven. This is what he lacked, lie had probably heard the Lord's teaching in the parables of the unjust steward and of Lazarus.
And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich. St. Mark adds (a memory of Peter's) that when he heard this the ruler went away frowning, with a lowering look. This was too much. He could not, even at the bidding of that loved Teacher, give up the pleasant life he loved so well, the things he prized so highly; so silently and sadly he turned away. The 'Gospel of the Hebrews,' a very ancient document, dating from the first days of the faith, a few fragments only of which have come down to us in quotations in the Fathers, thus describes the scene: "Then the rich man began to scratch his head, for that was not to his mind. And the Lord said to him, How then canst thou say, I have kept the Law; for it is written in the Law, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; and, lo! many of thy brethren, children of Abraham, live in the gutter, and die of hunger, while thy table is loaded with good things, and nothing is sent out to them?" (quoted by Origen, in Matthew 19:1-30.). Dante calls this "The Great Refusal," and represents the shade of the young ruler among the throng of the useless, of those who faced both ways (' Inferno,' 10.27). It is worthy of notice that there was no angry retort from the wealthy ruler, no scornful, cynical smile of derision, as we read of among the covetous, wealthy Pharisees (Luke 16:14). Still, in the heart of this seeker after the true wisdom there was a sore conflict. Grieving, sorrow-stricken, with gloomy looks, he turned away in silence.
And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! The temptations which beset a rich man are so many and so various. The poor, indeed, with all their trials, stand fairer for the kingdom than do their envied richer brothers and sisters.
For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. This simile, taken in its plain and obvious sense, appears to many an exaggerated one, and various explanations have been suggested to soften it down. The best is found in Lord Nugent's 'Lands Classical and Sacred,' who mentions that in some modern Syrian towns the narrow gate for foot-passengers at the side of the larger gate by which waggons, camels, and other beasts of burden enter the city, is known as the "needle's eye." It is, however, very uncertain whether this term for the little gate was known in ancient times. But the simile was evidently a common one among the Jews. The Talmud, for instance, gives us the parallel phrase of an elephant passing through a needle's eye. The Koran repeats the very words of the Gospel. it is the object of the proverb to express human impossibility.
"I would ride the camel,
Yea leap him flying, through the needle's eye
As easily as such a pampered soul
Could pass the narrow gate."
It seems strange that the three evangelists, SS. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, who tell this story of the young questioner and the Master's conversation with him, do not mention his name. And yet he must have been a conspicuous personage in the society of the time. First of all, his riches were evidently remarkable. One account tells us that he was" very rich." Two of the Gospels mention his "great possessions." St. Luke tells us that he was "a ruler." He was, then, certainly a very wealthy Jew holding a high official position, not improbably a member of the Sanhedrin council. Why is he nameless in the three Gospels? Dean Plumptre has a most interesting theory that the young wealthy ruler was Lazarus of Bethany. He bases his hypothesis upon the following data: He begins by stating that "there is one other case in the first two Gospels which presents similar phenomena. ]n the narrative of the supper at Bethany, St. Matthew and St. Mark record the passionate affection which expressed itself in pouring the precious ointment of spikenard upon our Lord's head as the act of 'a woman', leaving her unnamed. In John 12:3 we find that the woman was Mary, the sister of Lazarus. The train of thought thus suggested points to the supposition that here also there may have been reasons for suppressing in the records a name which was familiar to the narrator. What if the young ruler were Lazarus himself? The points of agreement are sufficiently numerous to warrant the conjecture. The household of Lazarus, as the spikenard ointment shows, were of the wealthier class. The friends who came to comfort the bereaved sisters were themselves, in St. John's language, 'of the Jews,' i.e. of the chief rulers (John 11:19). The young ruler was obviously a Pharisee, and the language of Martha (John 11:24) shows that she, too, believed in eternal life and the resurrection of the dead. The answer to the young ruler, ' One thing thou lackest', is almost identical with that to Martha, 'One thing is needful' (Luke 10:42). In such a case, of course, nothing can be attained beyond conjectural inference; but the present writer must avow his belief that the coincidences in this case are such as to carry the evidence to a very high point of probability."
And they that heard it said, Who then can be saved? This hard saying appeared to the disciples to be terribly comprehensive in its scope; the longing to be rich was confined to no one class or order, it was the universal passion. Were theft guiltless here? Were they not looking for riches and glory in the Messianic kingdom of the immediate future? And of all peoples the Jews in every age have been credited with the blindest devotion to this idol, wealth. In St. Mark (Mark 10:24) we find certainly an explanatory statement: "How hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!" But this explanatory and softened statement is not found in the older authorities; these read instead, in Mark 10:24, simply the words, "How hard is it to enter the kingdom of God!' Hard alike, the Master meant, for rich and poor, though harder for the former.
And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God. Yes, impossible, the Divine Teacher repeated, from a man's point of view; impossible from the platform of legal obedience on which the young ruler (Luke 18:21) had taken his stand, or the Pharisee in his prayer (Luke 18:11, Luke 18:12); but it was not impossible with God. He might give this salvation as a perfectly free gift, utterly undeserved, perfectly unmerited, as he did to the prodigal son when he returned, or to the publican when he beat his breast in almost voiceless mourning, or still more conspicuously, not many days later, to the penitent thief dying on the cross.
Then Peter said, Lo, we hays left all, and followed thee. Again the question of Peter, evidently acting as spokesman of the twelve, is repeated by the first three evangelists. Strangely faithful in their accounts of their own dealings with their adored Master, they never veil or hide any human weakness or error of their own which led to an important bit of teaching from their Lord. Now, in this place, they, in the person of Peter, gave utterance to a very worldly, but a very natural, thought. The ruler had failed when the test was applied to him; he was a conspicuous example of failure in the rich to enter the kingdom. But they had not failed when the test had been applied to them; they had given all up for his sake: what would be their reward?
Luke 18:29, Luke 18:30
And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God's sake, who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting. Evidently, from the reports of the three evangelists, the reply of Jesus was a lengthy one, and contained much deep teaching. St. Luke only gives us, however, one section, so to speak, of the great discourse which followed upon Peter's question. Here and in St. Mark Peter and the twelve receive a quiet rebuke in this general promise. The Master seems to say, "My promises are not especially to you, my first followers, but to all who, not for any selfish hope of recompense or reward, but for the kingdom of God's sake, give up what they hold dearest; there will be real, true happiness for them even in this world, and in the world to come unspeakable joy will be their portion; theirs will be the life that knows no ending." St. Mark adds, with rare truth, that the happiness which his faithful are to enjoy in this world will be accompanied with persecutions. It is the same beautiful thought which the Master had put out before, only the gem now is set in different words. "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:10; see, too, Matthew 5:11, Matthew 5:12), St. Matthew deals especially with another division of the Lord's discourse. Here Jesus speaks of the future of the twelve; and, looking forward to the generally noble and self-devoted lives he saw these would live, he tells them of the great destiny surely reserved for them if they remained faithful to the end. But even here, in his words, "the first shall be last" (Matthew 19:30), and still more pointedly in the parable of the labourers which followed (Matthew 20:1-16), he warned these devoted but often mistaken men of the danger of self-complacency. It was only because he foresaw that in these really great ones this spirit would in the end be overcome (at least in eleven of them) that he made the grand and mysterious promise of Matthew 19:28.
The narrative here, in the three synoptical Gospels, is not continuous; at this point there is a break. There is little doubt but that the sickness and death of Lazarus of Bethany, and the summons of the sisters to Jesus, took place about this period. The three synoptical evangelists are silent hero for reasons we have discussed elsewhere.
Between Matthew 19:30 and 31 there probably should be inserted the hasty journey to Bethany. The Master was not far when the news of his friend's death reached him. Immediately after the miracle there appears to have been a meeting of the Sanhedrin, when it was decided to put Jesus to death, though not during the ensuing Passover, with such precautions as were possible. The terrible decision became known. Jesus then retired to Ephraim, an obscure village about twenty miles from the city. Here a very short time was spent in absolute retirement and seclusion. But the Passover Feast was nigh at hand. In company with some of the crowded pilgrim caravans, and secure under their protection till his last few days of work were accomplished, Jesus journeys to Jerusalem. At this point the three synoptical Gospels take up the story again. The eleventh chapter of St. John fills up this gap in the connected story.
Jesus again tells them of his Passion. The healing of the blind at Jericho.
Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them. St. Mark (Mark 10:32) prefaces this announcement with the words, "And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them: and they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid." There was something unusual, evidently, in the manner and behaviour of the Master; silently, wrapped up in his own lofty meditations, he strode on in front of the company of his followers. A feeling of awe and fear stole over them as they watched the silent Master with the shadow of the coming cross falling, perhaps, across his countenance. Much had happened lately: the teaching growing more and more solemn as the end drew near; the raising of Lazarus; the intense enmity of the great men of the nation; the fixed determination to put the Master to death; his short retirement; then the announcement that he was going up to face his enemies at the great feast in Jerusalem; and now alone and silent he walked at their head. What was coming? thought the twelve and their friends. He read their thoughts, and, calling them round him, told them what was about to happen. Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished.
Luke 18:32, Luke 18:33
For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: and they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again. The outlines of the Passion he had sketched for the disciples before on two occasions, But never so clearly as now. He even tells them the manner of his end, and how his own countrymen would give him up to the Romans, and how these Gentiles, amidst every conceivable circumstance of horror, would do him to death. And the Master closed his dread revelation by predicting his speedy resurrection.
And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken. But they listened all dazed and confused; they could not take it in, neither the shame of the death of their loved Leader, nor the glory of the Resurrection which was to follow immediately after. They could not persuade themselves that the hopes of an earthly Messianic glory in which they were to; share must positively Be given up. "We must learn to love Divine truths Before we can understand them," said Pascal. "Toward everything which is contrary to natural desire," wrote Riggenbach (in Godet), "there is produced in the heart a Blindness, which nothing but a miracle can heal."
And it came to pass; that as he was come nigh unto Jericho. Jericho was once called "the City of Palms," afterwards "the City of Perfumes." It was about eighteen miles from Jerusalem. In the Herodian times it became a popular resort, owing to the affection the great Herod entertained for it. Its palm-groves and balsam-gardens were a present from Antony to Cleopatra. Herod the Great bought them from her, and made it one of his royal cities, and adorned it with many stately buildings, and eventually died there, it is now a miserable village. A certain blind man sat by the wayside begging. An apparent discrepancy exists in the three accounts given of this act of our Lord. St. Luke speaks of one blind man who was healed as our Lord was entering the town. St. Matthew and St. Mark mention that the miracle took place as our Lord was leaving the place, and St. Matthew mentions that two blind men received their sight at the bidding of Jesus. Several solutions of this little difficulty have been proposed. Perhaps the most probable is that the sufferers were sitting near the town gates as the Lord entered. They, hearing who was passing by, eagerly called to him for help. Surrounded by the crowd, he probably did not hear the cry, or possibly wished to test the earnestness of their faith by allowing them to wait. They follow him through the place, and in the open space outside the city they attract his attention, and he heals them. Or, in the words of Dr. Morrison, "the case seems to have begun as he entered into the city, but it culminated in all likelihood as he departed." A later explanation, apparently preferred by Godet and Farrar, is that, as Josephus and Eusebius distinguish between the old and the new Jericho—the old town on the ancient site, and the new Herodian town which had sprung up at a little distance from it—the blind man might, according to some traditions, have been healed as Jesus was leaving old Jericho; according to others, as he was entering the new town. The fact of SS. Mark and Luke only mentioning one blind man is easily explained. There was one evidently (as we shall suggest further on), a well-known character in Christian story—Bartimaeus. Two of the evangelists recorded his cure, as being of special interest to the Church, leaving the second among the numberless unrecorded miracles of healing of Jesus. A certain blind man. St. Mark names him Bartimaeus. It may be inferred that, as St. Mark specially names him, this man was well known in early Christian story. We know that after the cure he joined the company as one of the followers of Jesus.
And they told him, that Jesus of Nazareth passeth by. The Lord's name was by this time a household word in Palestine, and among the sick and afflicted a most precious and welcome sound.
Jesus, thou Son of David. This form of address distinctly shows that the idea that the Rabbi of Nazareth, the great Wonder-worker, the wise kind Teacher, was in some way or other the long looked-for Deliverer, was now taking possession of the people's mind. "Son of David" was distinctly a Messianic salutation.
And they which went before rebuked him. It must be remembered that our Lord was surrounded by a great host of Passover pilgrims, by many of whom he was reverenced as "some great One," perhaps the King Messiah. Such a low wailing cry on the part of a blind beggar, asking to be brought into the presence of him they wondered at and admired and hoped so much from, seemed a great presumption: hence these rebukes.
Luke 18:40, Luke 18:41
And Jesus stood, and commanded him to be brought unto him. St. Mark here adds, "And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; he calleth thee." These kindly sympathizing words of the disciples to the beggar, doing their loving Master's behest, were one of Peter's own memories of the scene under the walls of Jericho. And when he was come near, he asked him, saying, What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee? Many besides the governor Pilate, who a few days later put the query to him, "Art thou a King, then?" during this period must have often asked silently the same question. We shall soon see the whole multitude carried away with enthusiasm, giving him a royal welcome as he entered the city. Here, with a majesty truly royal, as Godet well remarks, Jesus seems to open up to the beggar the treasures of Divine power in "What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee?" and to give him, as it were, carte blanche. And he said, Lord, that I may receive my sight. There is a curious variation in the terms of this request in that ancient Syriac Version known as "the Cure-tonian," in the account of St. Matthew, "That our eyes might be opened, and we shall see thee."
And Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight. "Magnifique aumone du Christ" (Pressense'). Thy faith hath saved thee. The American Longfellow has united the cry for mercy of the blind, the kindly sympathizing words of the disciples, and the gift of Jesus Christ, in his exquisite poem of 'Blind Bartimaeus.'
"Those mighty voices three—
'Ἰησοῦ ἐλέησόν με!
Θαῤῥσει ἕγειρε φωνεῖ σε
Ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέ σε!"
The importunate widow.
The importance which Christ attaches to prayer is evidenced by the frequency with which he recurs to it in his teaching, and the variety of his illustration of its duty and blessedness. The sermon on the mount enforces it as one of the cardinal virtues of the perfect disciple. In the eleventh chapter of this Gospel both the manner after which we are to pray, and the assurance on which faith should rest, are presented. Again, towards the close of the ministry we are introduced to two parables bearing on it, each with the lesson which the Master would teach clearly defined. The former of these two has this as its object (Luke 18:1), "that men ought always," i.e. unremittingly, "to pray, and not to faint;" i.e. not to be scared by hindrances, or induced to desist by the sickness which comes through hope deferred. The structure of the parable is very simple. There is a judge who neither fears God nor regards man. A poor widow, who has been wronged, claims his interposition. He pays no regard to her suit. But she importunes him; day by day she presents herself, until, though he has no regard to the justice of her case, he listens to her pleading in order that he may be relieved of her solicitations. If man, unjust and selfish, thus yields to unceasing prayer, how much more, argues Jesus, will he, who is the Absolutely Just and the Infinitely Loving, yield to the cry, day and night, of his own people! Notice three features in the delineation.
I. GOD IN CONTRAST WITH THE HUMAN AVENGER. The latter consults his own ease. He acts in mere selfishness. The Eternal Righteousness is ever consistent with itself. "To this man will I look, even to him that is humble and contrite in spirit."
II. GOD'S PEOPLE IN CONTRAST WITH THE WIDOW. They resemble her in one thing—in the sense of need, of helplessness. But the widow stands in no special relation to the judge. God's people are his own elect. They are part of the blood-bought, ransomed family. "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God;" and "the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him." Each of them is in the most intimate relation to the Eternal. "I am poor and needy, yet the Lord thinketh on me."
III. THE LONG-SUFFERING OF GOD IN CONTRAST WITH THE LONG-SUFFERING OF MAN. The long-suffering of man is in consequence of the indisposition to act; if in the end. it is dispelled, if the action after a lengthened interval follows, it is only that repose may be purchased by the effort, and that the mind may be free to carry out its unloving projects. God bears long with his elect, not because he is unwilling to bless, but that he may draw them closer to himself, that he may prepare them for fuller measures of blessing, that he may chasten their wills into completer union with his will, and so ultimately bestow the higher gifts of his Fatherhood. When they cry, there is much that needs to be corrected; they desire only what they regard as the best or what will relieve them from some pressure. There is still a distance between their will and his; he delays the answer that they may be brought in true self-emptiness to his heart, and that, their faith being purified, they may be enriched out of his exceeding abundance. So the Lord bore long with Job; in him patience had its perfect work; he learned to "abhor himself, and repent in dust and ashes;" he was "attuned also to finer issues" by the charity which led him to pray for his friends. And the Lord turned his captivity when his prayer was thus disciplined and enlarged, and he received "twice as much as he had before." So, too, the woman of Canaan cried, and "the Lord answered her not a word" (Matthew 15:1-39.). Then came she "and worshipped him." She bowed her whole soul before him, and she received the reward of the "great faith." "Therefore," says the Lord, "faint not." "Pray without ceasing." The heavens above are not brass. There is a flexibility in the ordering of the universe which admits of the answer, direct and real, to prayer. "More things are wrought by prayer than the world dreams of." "O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come." The Lord anticipates a decadence in the belief as to the efficacy of prayer, for he adds a "nevertheless" (verse 8). Is this loss of faith true of the Church and of Christians in this day?
The Pharisee and the publican.
The lesson as to prayer is continued. The parable which follows exhibits the spirit and conditions of effectual prayer. Mark the two features of the audience specially addressed. He speaks to certain
(1) who trusted in themselves as being righteous;
(2) who, as the outcome of this trust, despised others.
He spoke in the previous parable of "God's own elect." Now, the Pharisees accounted themselves the elect of God. They were puffed up by this confidence. They regarded themselves as the righteous, who kept the Law, beth oral and written. And, indeed, they were most scrupulous as to every requirement; nay, they were willing to burden themselves with minute and vexatious observances. And the sin which beset them was the pride shadowed forth in one of the two who went up to pray. As the illustration of the elect, the Lord chooses a tax-gatherer, one of a hated class, for whom, in Pharisee-thought, there was no place in the kingdom of heaven. The instruction is suitable to every time. Pharisee separation and pride are features to be recognized in the Church of this day, as they were prominent in the Jewish Church of our Lord's day. Ever to be studied is the antithesis—respectability in the Pharisee, non-respectability in the publican. See the two. The one, with his broad phylactery, his supercilious bearing, his Pharisaism reflected in every feature of his sallow countenance, as with measured step he proceeds to the temple. In its inner court he stands erect; he arranges his prayer-robe, he looks around, the face darkened by a scowl as he observes the publican in a distant corner of the sacred building. And then he lifts his eye. No prayer trembles in any tone; no pleading escapes through any word; he "speaks with himself" rather than with God. It is a soliloquy, a self-gratified recital of his own piety. If he says, "God, I thank thee" (verses 11, 12), it is not for any grace that he has received, it is not in acknowledging that only through a higher mercy and strength he is what he is; nay, with something of familiarity in the address, he bids the Almighty join him in admiration of his virtues, on account of which he is lifted above other men. Only by certain averages of his own striking does he measure his excellence, the climax being reached, when there comes the contemptuous "even as this publican." Oh, what a superior person, to be sure! With what satisfaction must highest Heaven regard one who fasted twice in the week, and gave tithes of all he possessed! The other, with hurried gait, as one intent only on pouring out his heart before God, takes his place far off. He has no wish to disturb the complacency of his fellow-worshipper. He claims nothing; self-assertion in every form is absent from his heart. The only presence with him is the Holy One of Israel. Beneath the vision of his holiness all that is of the earth must keep silence. He wilt not even lift up his eyes. He has not much to record; human righteousness even is but a filthy rag when held up to the light of that Perfect Holiness. And as for him, oh, there can be only the one prayer, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" (verse 13). He is overpowered with the conviction of sin. His only refuge is the mercy of the eternal. "I tell you" (Verse 14). concludes Christ, "this man is manifested to be one of God's elect. He, not the other, returns to his house the one accepted and justified." The parable is most suggestive.
I. IT IS THE EXPOSURE OF SPIRITUAL PRIDE IN ITS ROOT AND FRUIT. Its root, the measurement of self by "other men." God is not in the thought. The song of the seraphim, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts," sounds faintly in the ear. The mind is not occupied with him and his holiness. It looks around rather than above. The standard is a social one. There is "a zeal for the law, but not according to knowledge. Having settled the constituents of righteousness, and having in conduct realized these constituents, it looks from the legal vantage-ground on others. And, seeing the many below the elected level, it whispers within itself, "I thank thee that I am not as they." The I struts abroad with a distinct sense of superiority. This pride is the parasite of religiosity. And religiosity is the whole religion of many. Religiosity means the performance, punctilious and sincere, of acts and offices, functions and services. It may comprehend a wide area of the existence. It may fill up much of time and much of thought, and he who abounds in it is held to be a religious man. But it is a morality untouched by the motion of the broken and contrite spirit. There is no distinctively evangelical motive force. On an earlier occasion the contrast between the routine religiosity and the warm religion of the heart was presented at the dinner-table where Simon the Pharisee presided, and the woman washed the Lord's feet with her tears. Of her he said, "She hath loved much." Here the Pharisee is in opposition to the publican, who had the inner spirit of poverty. Now, one who has the religiosity, not the religion, is apt to rest on the duties which he discharges, on the zeal which he manifests. He trusts in himself as being righteous, and, whenever there is this trust, there creeps around it a feeling of superiority. "I am not as other men are." It engenders the separatist's haughty spirit. It brings in the sentiment of a caste. The "I" belongs to the religious world, "others" are without. Let us beware lest we rest satisfied with a righteousness like that of the Pharisee, lest we substitute the outward for the inward—what we do for what we are. Let us beware of that which always develops with this tendency—the habit of comparison of self with others on levels lower than our own, instead of realizing "the vision splendid" of that righteousness which demands the entire self. It is this trust, this self-elevation, this pride of righteousness, which vitiates the sacrifice of many who go up to the temple to pray.
II. IT IS THE COMMENDATION OF HUMILITY, IN ITS ESSENTIAL NATURE AND BLESSEDNESS. What is humility? It is not so much a self-consciousness as a God-consciousness; not so much a mean thinking of ourselves as a thrilling, penetrating consciousness of him who is perfect holiness and truth. There is a self-abhorrence, but that follows the seeing of God with the opened inner eye. The Pharisee had no conviction of sin, because he had no discernment of the Eternal. His god was the property of his caste, one on whom he had a claim because of his belonging to the caste and doing what was required by it. The publican felt God at his heart; and the sight awoke the longing to be holy as God is, and the longing to be holy called out the sense of wrongness. Oh, how he had offended! how selfish and grasping and wicked he had been! All else fades into indistinctness; in that temple there are to him but the first cry of the soul which God has appropriated. There is no real prayer until that cry. A genuine earnest pleading is evoked. The beginning of all prayer, christ reminds us, is the taking of the sinner's place, and the simple appeal to mercy. And as it is the first, so it is the cry ever pulsing through prayer. It is never wanting from the justified. The pardon has been received. The blood cleanses from all sin; but not the less, all the more, is the knowledge of sin and the need of the ever-renewed application of mercy. This is humility—sinful self cast on Divine mercy, and, forgiven much, loving much. There is no measurement with other men, for God is all in all. And this is blessed. The Pharisee returns—his pride more deeply written into his nature, its blight and curse; no spring in the heart, no spring in the heart, no visitation of any day-spring from on high. Remaining in his pride, he was truly abased. The publican returns—a burden rolled off from his heart, a new elasticity in his step, a new light in his countenance. "The winter is past,… the flowers appear on the earth." He is at peace with God, justified, sanctified, righteous in the communion of the Righteous One. "I, yet not I, for he lives in me." In his humility he was exalted.
The ruler who refused the crown.
It is a certain ruler, a young man, who accosts our Lord. And the question which he asks represents one of the deepest cravings of the human breast. Is it only in the Gospels that we find this question? It is written into all the religions, into the best of all the philosophies, the poetries, the guesses at truth, which have commanded the thought of the ages, It is as old as human nature, as manifold in its complexion as the human experience, as abiding in its persistence as the human need. It is our question—one compared with which the hundred things which claim our attention are only as strivings after wind. Let us listen. The eternal life: what is it? and how is it realized?
I. WHAT DID THE YOUNG MAN MEAN when he came running and kneeling and asked, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" The answer may indicate the essential features of the desire that has haunted the breast. Clearly he meant three things:
1. A real, personal existence—one implying distinct consciousness and activity. He is too prosaic, too selfishly in earnest, to mean less than this.
2. An existence removed from the imperfections of the present time. His notions of immortality may have been crude; but he certainly desired a life which, as contrasted with the changeful and limited, is an eternal life.
3. A life in relation to a moral or spiritual system. He has possessions. Sirens are ever luring him to the fateful shores of pleasure. Against them "the categorical imperative" of conscience is ever dominant. It says, "Root thy conduct in the everlastingly true. The eternal life is not mere endlessness. It is endless goodness, truth. And to be in harmony with this is to live eternally." Now, such being the contents of his thought, the burden which he brings to the Master is—how it comes that, although the harmony of his conduct with this system is complete, he is still unsatisfied; nay, that the more he seems to approach the ideal the more conscious he is that it is far ahead of him. "Explain it to me" is the passionate entreaty; and who does not love him for this sublime passion? "What is the missing quantity? What is the plus yet to be possessed that I may have eternal life?"
II. Turning to THE ANSWER OF CHRIST, and connecting it with words elsewhere, WHAT IS CHRIST'S EXPOSITION OF THE ETERNAL LIFE? The question is, "What shall I do?" And to this the specific reply is, "Be free. Your ]ire does not consist in the abundance of your possessions. Can you part with them, that you may the more unreservedly obey the vision which has dawned on you?" (Luke 18:22). Thus the truth probed him. He might not have been called actually to sell his estate, any more than Abraham was called to offer up Isaac. But the trial of his will was made; and, in the trial, he was found wanting (Luke 18:23). Do we blame him?—we whom the truth is proving every day, only to find that we are caught up by all kinds of vanities! He turned away; and, alas! what of us? But the demand of the Lord reminds us of the requirement essential to the eternal life. Life, we are told by scientists, consists in an adaptation of organism to surrounding. When the adaptation is complete, and the surrounding nourishes the organism, there is health. When it is impaired, there is sickness; when it is broken, there is death. Human life has both a spiritual and a material environment. As the ruler rightly supposed, the eternal life implies correspondence to the spiritual environment.-Where there is no such correspondence, where, in Scripture phrase, the life is "without God," there is death. Where the correspondence has been formed, and the inner life is nourished by the system which surrounds it, there is spiritual, eternal life. But are not the phrases, "systems," "environments," too vague and abstract? Do we not need something more concrete, something nearer us, than such abstractions? This is more concrete, this is nearer us, "Take up the cross; come, follow me" (Luke 18:22). A perfect Man has walked this earth—One in whom the correspondence with the heavenly environment was complete, who lived in and with a Father in heaven, and whose meat was to do his will. His existence, in its details, we cannot copy; but his life, in its principles, inspirations, in all that gave it its beauty and glory, we can realize, under varying conditions. To be joined to him; to live in his light; to be the manner of person that he was; to be affianced to him as the Lord and Friend and Brother of our perfect choice; and have his flesh as meat indeed, and his blood as drink indeed;—this is the way to the eternal life. But what is this life whose way is thus defined? It must be kept always in view that eternal is not merely another name for endless. Endless time would not be eternity. The eternal is the timeless. Everlasting existence may be involved; but this is because the life is what it is—Divine, and therefore imperishable. Christ has supplied many unfoldings of this Divine life (see John 3:1-13; John 6:32-53; John 17:3). May the guidance of the Holy Spirit illumine this teaching! and may we all realize the secret of St. John: "He that hath the Son hath the life!"
III. THIS RULER INTERESTS US. The narrative concerning him suggests reflections which may be dwelt on with profit.
1. The difficulty, the hindrance, to salvation that is interposed by riches. (Verses 24, 25.) Great possessions, Christ declares, increase the risk of losing the true spiritual health, are apt to stand in the way of the eternal life. It is not the riches themselves that are evil; it is, as one of the evangelists explains, the trust in them, the sensation of them, that is the evil. And may there not be a trust in riches, even when they are not actually possessed? We may have very little, and yet have such a craving for more as proves that the ungotten wealth stands for our best. More than this, with little there may be as much of earthliness and love of the world as when there is much. It is a wretched slavery which one often sees, and the feeling of which one often detects in one's own breast. Persons are miserably ruled over by the sense of wealth. Neither do they get the good, nor does the world get the full good, of what they have. On the other hand, the poor cannot rise to the real dignity of their being because they set possessions on the height which they regard as the summum bonum. Social life is honeycombed by that trust in riches. "How hard it is," says Christ, "for those that have riches to enter into the kingdom of God!" (verse 24).
2. A crown is refused. Who the ruler was we cannot tell. On a sudden he appears, on a sudden he disappears. Is he wrecked, like a ship with full sail, at the harbour-bar? It is noticeable that Jesus "loved him;" in this distinction he is bracketed, in the Gospels, with Martha and Mary and Lazarus. For a moment the crown hangs over his head. Did he finally reject it? But he waves it aside. Oh, not the last who has missed the flood-tide—the blessing offered to the man, and the man turning from it! Young men, all, reflect!
Here are two noises suggestive of the human life with which we are all familiar. There is the tramp, tramp, tramp, of the swaying multitude, the din of the many minds, many experiences, many mouths, all moving in obedience to a common impulse. Men and women, when they become mere units of a crowd, forget for the time their personal histories, They are swept on by the current, sharing and adding to its excitement. There is nothing more unaccountable sometimes than the impulses which are communicated from person to person, and pass by infection to the multitude. Different days have their different idols. Those who are shouting themselves hoarse with their hosannahs at Jericho will shout themselves hoarse with the cry, "Away with him! Crucify him!" at Jerusalem. Oh, fickle popularity! The Lord knew what the applause of the crowd was worth. The children crying in the temple were far more to him than the loud voice and the tremendous enthusiasm of the thousands who had swelled the triumph of the entry into the city of David. But through that tumult, in the midst of that noise, there is another—that which always reaches the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. Only one voice, at most two voices, shrill and clamorous—the voice of misery and want and prayer! Had he not heard that same voice in highest heaven? Had it not pierced through the praises of angel and archangel, of cherubim and seraphim—the cry of a sinful and weary world? A little one only in the system of the universe, but the least in need has a special way of access to the Eternal Love. Far off the great Shepherd hears the bleat of the sheep that has strayed into the wilderness. He who heard the sigh of the world from the excellent glory will not turn from the piteous pleading of the poor and needy. God's tenderness individualizes. "This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles."
I. REGARD THIS POOR MAN. Perhaps we shall realize that he is our near kinsman.
1. He has been sitting by the wayside begging. And what are we all but beggars at the world's wayside? Even the mind most richly endowed, the heart most wealthy in love and imagination, needs "the life more and fuller." Is there no begging from heaven? no consciousness of a fountain of living waters? This Bartimaeus, taking his place day by day on the thoroughfare and asking an alms, is only too faithful a picture of me, wanting, desiring, and, alas! too often trying to satisfy my soul with some dole of happiness or excitement thrown to me—a beggar all the while, blind.
2. What is this? An unusual bustle and din. What does it mean? We can imagine the question addressed, with only a languid interest, to some person at hand—a languor which vanishes when the answer is given, "It is Jesus of Nazareth who is passing by." Ah! the newness of cry, sign of newness of life! What and how he had heard of this Jesus we know not; but he had heard enough to open the gates of the soul. The one argument is need, the one reasoning, "I am here; he is there. Son of David, have mercy on me!" It is the great hour of a human life when speech is begun between the soul and heaven. Such speech arrests the love of God in the way. "We enter heaven by prayer."
3. Those around bid the one who cries hold his local. So speak the many to the one in earnest. Notice how often in the Gospels the disciples are represented as keeping back from Christ instead of helping to him (see Luke 18:15). They did not know the heart of God. And men do not know it still. There is often a "send away" in the minds of even the well-disposed. Earnestness meets discouragements where it leasts expects them. Cry on, thou who hast felt the breath of the passing Saviour. If those about thee are unsympathetic, throw thyself the more on thy Lord; the more they protest, cry thou the more, "Son of God, they will not take me up. Father and mother even forsake me. Thou, thou only art my hope. Make no tarrying, O my God."
II. THINK OF THE SAVIOUR, IN WHOM THE LIVING GOD IS REVEALED.
1. There is the Christ-commandment. "Bring him hither to me." It is the commandment to an often misunderstanding and misinterpreting Church. Christ has much to bear at the hand of the world; he has much also to bear at the hand of his Church. How frequently those who are his repel rather than attract, send away rather than bring! "Bring"—there. is no gainsaying this charge. Instantly the tone of the multitude changes. Now it is, "Rise, be of good comfort; he calleth thee." And what alacrity in the Bartimaeus-obedience! The old tattered garment connected with the past time of, it may have been, a sinful life is thrown away. There is no stopping to inquire how the blind can reach that blessed presence. He has called. In the call there is the pledge of a sufficient grace. O mirror of Divine condescension! O word, preparing for work, of power! "The blind, the poor, bring to me!"
2. There is the Christ-question. "What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee?" The question is put when the presence is reached. The presence is the help to the answer. Now, the great underlying want is expressed, "Lord, that I may receive my sight." Is it not the prayer of the human heart when the quickening presence of God is realized? It is to prepare for the revelation that the will is gently besieged. He cannot force; he can only draw. Stooping to thee, the person thou art, and as thou art, the word of grace and truth is, "What wilt thou?"
3. And then the Christ-action. "He touched the eyes," says St. Matthew, "Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee," says St. Luke. His faith had been a trust in the dark. He could not make the light, but he could call for it. And he had called, he had pressed to Christ, awfully in earnest, unboundedly confident. The faith saved through what it did. It brought him to the Lord; and that is salvation. The first use of the new sight was to behold the Deliverer. The first face that wrote its image in the heart was the face of God in Christ. Saved, whole, because that face was formed in the heart of hearts, never more to fade from it. "I was blind; now I see." "Go thy way," says the Lord. "Nay, dearest Master, where thou goest I will go. Where thou dwellest I will dwell. Thy way is mine. Mine the new song which thou hast given. Thou hast touched my eyes—
"And in that light of life I'll walk
Till travelling days are done."
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Continuance in prayer: Divine delay.
We have first to consider what is—
I. THE ARGUMENT IN THE TEXT. It is one from the less to the greater, or rather from the unworthy to the worthy. If a bad man will, for a poor reason, accede to the request of one for whom he cares nothing, how much more certainly will the Righteous One himself, for a good reason, espouse the cause of those who are so dear to him! The reasons for confidence in God's faithfulness and interposition are therefore threefold.
1. If an unprincipled judge amongst men will finally do justice, assuredly the righteous Judge of all the earth will do so. His character is something which cannot fail; we may build on that as on the most solid rock.
2. If justice is granted by us for so poor a reason as that of fearing vexatious annoyance, surely God will listen and will respond to reverent and believing prayer. He is far more certain to be won by that in us which pleases him than is an unjust judge by that in his appellant which annoys him. And our approach to him in prayer, our reverent attitude, our faith in his goodness, our trust in his Word,—all this is very pleasing unto our Father.
3. If a man will yield a demand made by one to whom he does not feel himself related, and in whom he is absolutely uninterested, how confident we may be that God will interpose on behalf of those who, as his own sons and daughters, are dear to his parental heart, and who, collectively, constitute "his own elect "—those who are most tenderly and intimately related to him in Jesus Christ his Son!
II. THE SERIOUS FACT OF THE DIVINE DELAY. "Though he bear long with them" (Luke 18:7), or, "and he delays [to interpose] in their cause" (Dr. Bruce). It is certain that, from our point of view, God does delay to vindicate his people; his answer does not come as soon as we expect it; it is held back so long that we are ready "to faint" (Lose heart). Thus was it many times in the history of Israel; thus has it been frequently in the history of the Church of Christ. How many times have suffering bands of noble martyrs looked up piteously and despondently to heaven as they cried, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood?" Thus has it been in multitudes of individual instances; men have been oppressed, or they have been embarrassed, or they have been disappointed, or they have been otherwise afflicted; they have appealed to God for his delivering grace; and they have looked long in vain for the Divine response. They say, "O my God, I cry,… but thou hearest not" (Psalms 22:2).
III. THE EXPLANATION THAT WILL BE FOUND. The time will come when we shall understand why God did delay to answer us. But we may be quite sure that when it comes it will be seen:
1. That it was not in him—not in his absence from us, nor his indifference to us, nor his unreadiness to help us.
2. That it, was in us—in our unreadiness to receive his interposition, or in the misuse we should make of it, or in the greater and truer good to be gained by our patience than by our relief; and thus in the ultimate gain to our own well-being by his withholding.
IV. THE BLESSED FACT THAT IT IS ONLY A DELAY. "I tell you that he will avenge them speedily."
1. It is probable that when God does manifest his power he will work speedy and overwhelming destruction to the guilty; he will avenge "speedily," i.e. quickly, instantaneously. "How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors. As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image" (Psalms 73:19, Psalms 73:20).
2. It is certain that in his own time and way God will defend his people, that he will relieve his children, that he will redeem and bless his "own elect." His faithfulness to his Word; his love for them that love him; his intimacy of relation to those who are "in Jesus Christ;"—this is a sure and absolute pledge that the appeal to him cannot be and will not be in vain. Men ought continuously, perseveringly, to pray, and never to lose heart. The day of Divine appearing is entered in the books of God.—C.
"Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" These words have no special reference, if they have any at all, to the condition of the world at the "second coming" of Christ. In order to understand and appreciate them, we must consider—
I. WHAT IS THE FORCE AND RANGE OF THIS EXPRESSION, "the coming of the Son of man." And it will be found on investigation that it signifies any special manifestation of God's power or any special appearance of Christ either in Person or in providence. This may be:
1. In mercy; including the Incarnation, when the Son of man came "not to destroy but to save" the world; the Resurrection, when he came in power and triumph from the other world; the Day of Pentecost, when he came in marvellous outpouring of Divine influence upon the world.
2. In judgment; including the destruction of Jerusalem; the day of death to each human being; the day of judgment itself, when "before him shall be gathered all nations."
II. WHAT IS THE APPLICATION OF IT IN THE TEXT. A widow appeals for redress against "her adversary" (the defendant) to an unprincipled judge. He puts her off until her importunity makes him listen and respond in order to save himself from annoyance. Arguing a fortiori, our Lord contends that God, the righteous Judge, will most certainly grant to his own people (children) the requests they make of him (see previous homily). But, continues the great Teacher, who had such a perfect insight into our nature, when he does that, and "comes" in judgment to his foes and in mercy to his friends, will he find his friends expecting him? will they be looking for his appearing? will their attitude be one of holy expectation, of instant recognition, and of devout thankfulness? or will they not, after all their asking, be positively surprised and even incredulous at his manifestation? He will come most assuredly, but when he comes, will he find faith on the earth?
III. WHAT ILLUSTRATIONS WE HAVE OF THE TRUTH OF IT.
1. We have two striking scriptural illustrations.
(1) Christ's own coming, after his resurrection, to his disciples. Instead of looking for him and welcoming him, according to his word (Luke 18:33), they were astounded and incredulous (Luke 24:11, Luke 24:22, Luke 24:23, Luke 24:37). He did not "find faith" in them.
(2) His coming in providential deliverance to Peter. When the Church had been praying without ceasing for him, they should have been hoping for a Divine visitation in response to their prayer. Nevertheless, when it came, were they not found unbelieving and astonished (Acts 12:5, Acts 12:15)? Are we much better than they?
2. Christ's coming in judgment. Such narrow and false interpretations as the Jews were apt to put upon sudden and sad calamities (Luke 13:1-4) we must scrupulously avoid. But when we see a man who has defied all laws, human and Divine, brought down into shame and ruin, or when we see a guilty empire which was founded on violence, sustained by force, and nourished in corruption, stricken down by defeat and reduced to dishonour and disaster, shall we be surprised as if a strange thing had happened? or shall we not rather feel that this is precisely what we had every reason to expect from the righteousness of the Divine Ruler?
3. Christ's coming in grace and mercy. When the Christian family, in answer to earnest and continued prayer, is just saved from serious embarrassment and perhaps from disgrace; when the Christian Church, after much pleading for God's Spirit, receives marked and manifest tokens of the presence and power of God in the midst of it; when the Christian teacher or preacher, as the issue of much devout and faithful work, finds many souls to be seeking the life which is of God;—is the attitude of that family, that Church, that teacher, one of calm expectation and devout acquiescence? or is it not rather one of surprise, if not even of incredulity? When we have been imploring the Son of man to come, and he comes at our appeal, does he find us awaiting and expecting him? Surely, with fuller and deeper faith on our part, there would be a more frequent coming on the part of our gracious Lord in life-giving power and blessing.—C.
The Pharisee and the publican.
The scene indicated by our Lord's opening sentences is easily realized. We readily picture to our minds the place and the two persons in whom we are interested—the haughty Pharisee and the humble-minded publican. We readily imagine their demeanor as they enter, their posture as they pray, their reception as they pass through the courts going and returning. But we ask how and why was it that the Pharisee was rejected and the publican accepted. And in reply we say:
1. In some respects the two men stood on the same ground. Both were free from the taint of idolatry and were worshipping God; both appreciated the privilege of prayer; both came to the same building, and, using the same invocation, each uttered the uppermost thought in his mind.
2. In some aspects the Pharisee seemed to have the advantage.
(1) He had the respect of the public, the good and God-fearing public, of the respectable people of his day;
(2) he had lived the worthiest life in all social and political relations;
(3) he was much the more "religious ' of the two, in the sense that his habit of life Was devout and charitable, while that of the publican had been godless and avaricious.
3. The terms of their respective prayers are not decisive of their acceptableness in the sight of God.
(1) A truly humble man might speak to God in the strain, though not in the spirit, of the Pharisee. It is quite right to thank God for being preserved from presumptuous sins and being kept in the path of rectitude and devotion (see Psalms 41:12, Psalms 41:13).
(2) A thoroughly formal worshipper might present the petition of the publican. How often, since then, have these or very similar words been used by "penitents" who have been impenitent, by those who have taken the language of humility on their lip while they "have regarded iniquity in their heart"! A modern writer (T. T. Lynch) represents these two men as going up again to the temple; but this time the Pharisee, adopting the publican's form of words in hope of acceptance, is again rejected; while the publican, giving thanks to God for his reconciliation and renewal, is again accepted—
"For sometimes tears and sometimes thanks,
But only truth can please."
How, then, do we explain the fact that "this man went down to his house justified rather than the other"?
I. THE PHARISEE HAD FORMED A RADICALLY FALSE ESTIMATE of his own character, and the publican a true one of his. The Pharisee thought he was everything God wished him to be, and was miserably wrong in his estimate; he was reckoning that God cared chiefly if not exclusively for the outside in religion, that his favour was secured by ceremonies, by proprieties, by punctualities, by utterances of prescribed forms. He failed to understand that this was only the shell and not the kernel, and that the shell of correct behaviour is nothing without the kernel of a reverent and loving spirit. The publican, on the other hand, believed that he was very far from right with God; that he had been living a guilty life, and was condemned of God for so doing; and his thought was true.
II. THE PHARISEE'S FALSE ESTIMATE LED HIM INTO SELF-FLATTERY; the publican's true estimate into frank, penitential acknowledgment. Under the cover of gratitude, the one man paid himself handsome compliments, and held on high his great meritoriousness, thus confirming in his own mind the delusion that he was a favourite of Heaven; the other, moved by a deep sense of personal unworthiness, made honest confession of sin, and sought the mercy he knew he needed.
III. GOD HATES THE PROUD, AND HONOURS THE HUMBLE-HEARTED. Old and New Testaments may be said to be full of this truth. God has said and has repeated, he has most plainly and emphatically declared, that pride is odious and unpardonable in his sight; but that humility shall live before him (Luke 18:14; see also Psalms 32:5; Psalms 138:6; Proverbs 28:13; Isaiah 57:15; Matthew 5:3; 1 Peter 5:6; 1 John 1:8, 1 John 1:9). Here is:
1. A message of solemn warning. It concerns those who are the spiritual descendants of the Pharisee; who are satisfied with their spiritual condition but have no right to be so; who are building the hope of their hearts on things which are external, but in whom the love of God does not dwell. And here is:
2. A message of gracious encouragement. It concerns those who are burdened with a sense of sin and need not remain so. The way of mercy is open to every penitent soul. Jesus Christ is the "Propitiation for the sins of the whole world," and the grace of God in him far more than suffices for every guilty heart. In him we have forgiveness of sins; in him we have peace and hope and joy, even eternal life.—C.
Luke 18:15, Luke 18:16
Christ and the children: a sermon to children.
This familiar and attractive scene is well conceived and described in the lines commencing, "Over the hills of Jordan." It contains valuable lessons for the young.
I. THE KINDLINESS OF JESUS CHRIST. Some kind men are not kindly. They will do a great deal for you, will give much to you, will run serious risks or even make serious sacrifices on your behalf; but they are not gracious, genial, winning. They are not approachable; you are not drawn to them; you are not inclined to address them and make friends with them; they rather repel than invite you. Such was not Jesus Christ. He was not only kind at heart, but kindly in manner and in bearing. The children of his day went freely and gladly to him. That "he was never seen to smile" is a wholly unauthorized and, we may be quite sure, an entirely false statement. Did he not take those infants into his arms with a smile upon his face? Did he not frequently, ay, constantly, smile as he looked upon innocency, upon hopefulness, upon childhood? Think of Jesus Christ as not only the kind but the kindly One, as not only the good but the gracious One, as not only the wise but the winning One. Think of him as that One to whom, if he were with us now as he was with men of old, you would be drawn with an irresistible attraction, and to whom you could, without any effort, unburden your heart. And believe that just what he was on earth he is in heaven.
II. JESUS CHRIST STILL RECEIVES US TO THE SHELTER OF HIS LOVING POWER. He took them up into his arms. The arms of the parent are the place of shelter to the child; to them in all time of danger or of distress he naturally and eagerly resorts. It is the place of strength, of defence, of succour. But youth needs more than human sympathy and help; it needs a refuge in Divine tenderness and power. It does so always; but more particularly when parental care is lost, because the parents themselves have "passed into the skies." Very seriously is this need felt when parental care is left behind, when youth or young manhood goes forth from the shelter of the home. Then how priceless is the shelter of the loving power of the Divine Friend! In that unknown "world" which lies beyond the home-life are perils that cannot be anticipated, and that are all unknown. Take care to secure the invaluable refuge of the Divine arm; for only in the protection of the all-wise Leader and almighty Friend will safety be found.
III. JESUS CHRIST STILL LAYS HIS HAND UPON US. Mark tells us (Mark 10:16) that he "put his hands upon them, and blessed them." You still sing, "I wish that his hands had been laid on my head." It is a right and becoming thought. But the laying of the hand of flesh on those children's heads may not have wrought any great spiritual change in them; they may have grown up to reject him. Of far more consequence is it that Christ should now lay the hand of his Divine power and grace upon your heart; that he should so act upon you by his Divine Spirit that your mind should be illumined, and that you understand what is the good and the wise thing to do; that your heart should be touched so that you will live to love him who is worthiest of all that is best. "His touch has still its ancient power." Yes; and more than the healing touch which gave sight to the blind and wholeness to the poor leper is that benignant power which opens the closed mind and cleanses the unholy heart.
IV. JESUS LOOKS AND WAITS FOR YOUR SUBMISSION, He says that it is you who, of all people, can most readily enter his holy kingdom. He must have your free and full consent. When he made the world, and sent the sun on its course, and gave to the sea its bounds, "he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast." He compels all things in nature to do his bidding; but he asks, he invites your trust, your worship, your love. He cannot bless you as he would unless you consent to receive him as your own personal Lord and Saviour and Friend. But he assures you that this is open to you as it is not to others; the young can readily give their attention, their docility, their love, their obedience. Fewer and slighter hindrances are in your way than are in the path of those who have travelled further. Of such as you are now "is the kingdom of God." This is the golden chance of your life.—C.
The child of man and the kingdom of God.
Jesus Christ not only opened the gate of his kingdom to the little child as he opened his arms to the little children whom the mothers of Judah brought to him; he also took the little child as a type of the true disciple. He taught us that if we wish to enter his kingdom, our spirit must be the child-spirit. Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as," etc. And what is this spirit? It is that of—
I. DOCILITY, or readiness to accept what is told us. The ideal child is teachable; it will learn because it is ready to receive; it has not found out the way of distrust and of rejection; it takes in the light, the truth, which is offered and it grows thereby. Men of mature years and powers, who have had all the advantages of Christian privileges, often stand without the kingdom because they will not receive the truth that is offered them; their mind is preoccupied with theories, systems, imaginations, of their own. They seem to know much; they believe they know much, for they are familiar with some things of which many (perhaps most) are ignorant; they could easily puzzle their neighbours by asking questions which these could not answer; they have a number of facts and laws, and a much larger number of names at their command; they "seem to be wise" (1 Corinthians 3:18). But their knowledge is very small in comparison with all that has to be acquired; it is partly (largely) local, temporary, evanescent (1 Corinthians 13:8); it is nothing to the wisdom of God. It becomes them, as it becomes us all, to feel toward God as our little children feel towards us—to cherish a spirit of docility. How much more he has to tell us than we have to teach them! How much greater is our ignorance in his sight than theirs is in ours! He who will not accept the doctrine of the Divine Fatherhood; he who will not yield himself to a Divine Saviour; he who will not pursue the path of holy service, hoping to find at the end of it a heavenly home,—because this does not square with some favourite theories, or because it transcends the range of some intellectual faculties, cannot enter the kingdom of truth, and therefore shuts himself out of the kingdom of God. We shall fail to stand on the first rung of the ladder that reaches heavenly wisdom unless we realize that we are all of us but very little children in the presence of our Father, and unless with docile spirit we come to his feet and say, "Lord, we are very ignorant; wilt thou teach us?"
"Lead us, O Father, in the path of truth;
Unhelped by thee, in error's maze we grope."
II. SIMPLICITY. The little child (of our thought and our affection) is simple, transparent, sincere; he says just what is in his mind, does not pretend he is naughty when he believes himself to be good—is real. This God demands of us—"truth in the inward parts," sincerity of spirit. It does not further our cause with him to affect a piety that is not genuine; to simulate a penitence of which our heart knows nothing; to use the language of humility while pride is reigning within. He would rather we tell him just what we feel, just what we are, than adopt the most appropriate confessions or petitions. We must be like the children of our home; we must mean what we say when we draw nigh to him.
III. TRUSTFULNESS. Christianity is a religion which centres in a Person, in one Divine Being. "He that believeth in me," "that abideth in me,"—that is the prevailing note. Trust in Jesus Christ as the Teacher, Saviour, Sovereign of the human soul, is the way of life. He who has that stands within "the kingdom of God." Where shall we learn to trust? Is it not of the little child? As the child flees for refuge to its parent's arms, confides itself and all it has or hopes for to its parent's wisdom and love, so the human soul is invited to commit itself and all its everlasting interests to the Almighty Saviour, to say with implicit, childlike confidence and self-surrender—
"Jesus. Refuge of my soul,
Let me to thy bosom fly."
The golden chance: a sermon to the young.
Many features combine to make this incident one of peculiar interest.
I. THE PRINCIPAL ACTOR IS THE SCENE A YOUNG MAN. Matthew tells us this quite incidentally (Matthew 19:22), but it adds great interest to the occurrence. For our hearts are drawn towards youth. Youth is innocent, ingenuous, frank, trustful, hopeful, loving. There is, moreover, some mystery about it. We know what the old man has been; we know what the man of middle life will be; but of youth we cannot tell; it may accomplish great things; it is covered with the delicate buds, with the beautiful flowers of promise.
II. A YOUNG MAN OF WEALTH AND INFLUENCE. This might not make him more interesting to Christ; but it does to us. The rich young heir may be of no more intrinsic worth than the beggar by the wayside; but because he is the heir of fortune, we care about him, we watch his career; we are specially glad if he takes a wise course, and are specially grieved if he goes astray.
III. A YOUNG MAN WITH SOME OF THE NOBLER QUALITIES OF YOUTH.
1. We note his reverence. Youth should be reverent. Ignorance and inexperience should pay to knowledge and wisdom the regard which is their due. We like this young man because he saw in that homeless Teacher a wisdom superior to his Own, and came and prostrated himself before him in becoming homage.
2. We note his ardour. He came running (Mark 10:17) to meet and to learn of Christ. Youth should be, as in the person of this inquirer it was—eager, ardent, enthusiastic, sanguine of good things.
3. We note his religiousness. "Heaven lies about us in our infancy," etc. Youth is the time when heavenly visions are most and best seen; when Divine claims, spiritual realities, are strongest and clearest to the soul; then "life eternal" has the deepest meaning. So was it with him. To him life held something larger and better than all his lands and houses; other and higher voices than those of debtors and stewards reached his ear; he had a vision of a holy service in which he might be engaged; of a Divine life he might be living; and running in his eagerness, and kneeling in his reverence, he looked up into the face of Christ and said, "Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?"
IV. A YOUNG MAN IN THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST, exciting his special interest. A young man, with his life before him and a soul not yet stained by the evil which is in the world, standing in the very presence of him who knew what human life might include and what the human soul was worth, who could tell him how to enlarge the one and how to ennoble the other, and who (Mark 10:21) took a tender and loving interest in this earnest spirit,—what could we have more profoundly interesting than this?
V. JESUS CHRIST REVEALING TO HIM THE TRUE STATE OF HIS HEART. Our Lord's treatment of inquirers differed much; it was, no doubt, determined by the state of their heart, as he alone knew it. He replied to this young man as he did, because he wished him to know where he actually stood; he wished to show him that, in order to be prepared to lay hold on eternal life, it was not only necessary to have such sincerity as he had, and such earnestness as he had, but such earnestness as would make him ready to yield everything to the Lord of his life; and that this he had not. So, after leading him up to the point, he said, "Sell all that thou hast," etc. And then the inquirer knew that he lacked one thing—one essential thing; he wanted that thoroughness of purpose toward God which made self-surrender possible to him. It was a glorious, golden chance, then used or then lost when this interview was held. It must have been the crisis of his career, on which everything hung for all the future. Similar in its nature, though not alike in its circumstances, is the opportunity offered to each one of us.
1. All the life of Christian privilege is the golden chance of our existence. "Now is the accepted time," the period when everything is open to us, when a noble and immortal future stretches Out before us and is within our power.
2. Youth is the golden chance of life. It is in the days that are now passing, when the heart is warm, and the mind is open, and the conscience tender, and the life unburdened and unembarrassed, that Christ should be approached and his lasting friendship gained.
3. The day of Divine visitation is the golden chance of youth—that day when the truth and the grace of Jesus Christ are most powerfully felt, and a voice from heaven is heard saying of the path of life, "This is the way: walk ye in it."—C.
Wealth and piety.
Wherein lies the difficulty of a rich man entering the kingdom? This young ruler shrank from parting with his property, but Jesus Christ does not ordinarily ask men of wealth to "sell all that they have and give to the poor." His difficulty, therefore, is not the common one.
1. It is not that the rich man is not as welcome to the friendship of Christ as the poor man. He does not make distinctions in his invitation, or in his desire that men should come to him. In him in whom is neither male nor female, bond nor free, there is neither rich nor poor. The poor as much as the rich, and also the rich as much as the poor, are the objects of his love and of his seeking. The Lord of our nature regards us, and concerns himself for us, not on account of our circumstances, but because he knows the value of our souls.
2. Not because the rich man cannot illustrate the distinctive graces of Christianity. The sale and distribution of property in apostolic times was an expedient which was adopted for the occasion; but it was not insisted upon as necessary even then (Acts 5:4), and it was very soon abandoned. Paul, writing to Timothy, wrote on the supposition that the Christian Church included many wealthy men (1 Timothy 6:1-21.). Every age and every country has witnessed the lives of wealthy Christian men, who have illustrated every grace that the great Teacher has commended. It is clear that a rich man map be as humble, as generous, as temperate, as pure, as devout, as any poor man can be; and he sometimes is so. The explanation of our Lord's language is found in the fact that riches are apt to put a serious obstacle in the way of entrance into the kingdom. If we would find our way into that holy and blessed kingdom, it is necessary that we should have a sense of our personal emptiness and need. We come to Christ to be filled with his fulness, to be enriched by his grace and love. He is a Physician, and it is they who feel that they are sick that are likely to apply for his healing power. He is the Divine Source of all wealth and enrichment (Revelation 3:18), and they must know themselves to be poor who come to buy of him gold that they may become rich. Hence the difficulty. It is for this reason that—
I. A MAN WHOSE MIND IS FULL OF KNOWLEDGE finds it hard to receive distinctive Christian truth. He is rich, as compared with his fellows, in the acquisition of knowledge. He is proud of this possession of his, and is bent on making the most of it. Jesus Christ comes to him, and says that he must lay aside his own views and notions, and sit at his feet and receive the truth he brings to him from God. Then the "rich" man has to sacrifice his favourite theories, has to make nothing of his learning, that he may admit to his mind the wisdom that is from above; and he finds it very "hard" to do this.
II. A MAN WHO IS CLOTHED WITH HONOUR finds it hard to take a very humble view of himself. For honour is an order of wealth, and one that is highly prized. But the natural and common effect of it is to lead those who are the objects of it to form a flattering view of themselves; it is hard to get them to believe that in God's sight they may be as sinful as those held in very much less regard by their fellow-men. But the ground on which human souls must come to Christ is that of humility. "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
III. A MAN WHOSE CHAMBERS ARE FULL OF TREASURE is tempted to seek his satisfaction in the lower good. We have to make our choice, as Divine truth is presented to us, whether we will live for the service of Christ or for our own personal enjoyment and aggrandizement. To the poor, to the afflicted, to the suffering, to those who know they have not long to live, the temptation to live for this present world is not so strong; on their ear the overtures of the gospel of grace fall as that very thing they need for theft comfort and their peace; they have little to surrender, they have much to gain. But to those to whom every avenue of enjoyment is open; to those who may look hopefully, perhaps confidently, for place, for power, for society, for pleasure, for honour,—the inducement is very strong and urgent to cast in their lot with those "whose portion is in this life." Many voices very close to their ear, very clear and convincing, call for their strength to be given to the material rather than the spiritual, to the temporal rather than the eternal, to the human rather than the Divine; and it is "hard" for them to resist and to overcome.
1. Let poverty find its ample consolation in the accessibility of the riches that always satisfy and never flee.
2. Let those who know neither poverty nor riches thank God for the happy mean in which his providence has placed them—not subjecting them to the temptations of either.
3. Let wealth beware lest it make a sad, a supreme, mistake; lest, in the great spiritual strife, it—
"Clutch the tinsel gilding, and let go the crown of life."
Luke 18:28, Luke 18:29
Christ's estimate of a Christian life.
It is certain that no literalist could ever understand Jesus Christ. Men of this order of mind utterly failed to understand him in his own time (see particularly John 6:41-46), and they are equally at fault to-day. It is clearly impossible to give a literal interpretation to these words of the Lord; the facts of the case do not permit it. But going to the heart of this Divine utterance, we understand that any one who for Christ's sake suffers the loss of kindred and of worldly goods, shall have that which, in the sight of God and in the light of his truth, is worth a hundred times more than any human or earthly blessings can be. We shall better see the truthfulness of this declaration if we approach the main thought from a little distance, and consider that human life is something the value of which depends not on the quantity but on the kind of it. A small quantity of human life outweighs in value a large amount of animal life. A very small portion of the higher human life transcends in value a large extent of lower human life. "Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay." Bailey has well written—
"Life's more than breath and the quick round of blood;
It is a great spirit and a busy heart.
We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths;
In feelings, not in figures on a dial.
We should count time by heart-throbs. He most lives
Who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best."
And there is wisdom as well as strength in the lines—
''One crowded hour of glorious life
Is worth an age without a name."
Lifting up this truth to the spiritual level of the teaching of Jesus Christ, we find that in such a life as that which is of him and in him—for the attainment of which we may have to make very great sacrifices—
I. THERE IS AN ELEVATED AND TRANSPORTING JOY experienced in the very endurance of persecution; and this alone goes far towards fulfilling the Saviour's word. This statement is simply historical. The apostles returned from the council, condemned and severely scourged, "rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his Name." Paul and Silas sang the praises of God in the darkness and foulness of a Philippian dungeon. And under every sky since then, men and women, old and young and in the midst of life, have gone to the dungeon and to the stake and to the open grave in which they were to be buried alive, not with tears in their eyes and lamentations on their tongues, but with songs of praise upon their lips, and with keen, exultant triumph in their hearts. To-day there is far more of real and lasting joy to be found under the roof of the missionary compound than in the palatial buildings of European capitals, profounder and more lasting satisfaction in the self-sacrificing labours of the evangelist than in the lounging idleness of the sons and daughters of fashion and of pleasure.
II. IN TRUE DISCIPLESHIP THERE ARE SOURCES OF JOY which altogether outweigh any losses that may be entailed by fidelity. Some people know just enough of "religion to find it a weariness, a burden, an anxiety. This is neither piety nor policy; it does not secure God's favour, and it gives no satisfaction to them. But the true and thorough servant of Jesus Christ, heartily surrendering himself to his Divine Redeemer, and devotedly engaging in his service, has "manifold more" of blessedness than he loses by anything with which he parts. He has
(1) the favour, the forgiving and abiding love of God his Father; his lifelong, his unfailing friendship;
(2) happy, holy fellowship with Jesus Christ, and, through him, with the true and pure and good amongst men;
(3) a share in that holy service, outside of which is no rectitude for man, in which is rightness and wisdom, and therefore peace and joy;
(4) the luxury, the blessedness of usefulness, of doing good and communicating, of being a source of strength and healing to the poor and needy;
(5) "And in the world to come eternal life:" not the lingering and lasting shadows into which Greek and, Roman shrank from descending; not the uninviting sheol of the Hebrews; but everlasting day, eternal life—life in its fulness, its freedom, its blessedness, its glory, life never ceasing but enlarging and unfolding evermore. What commanding, convincing, constraining reasons are here for choosing the Master's service! What is it that he asks us to surrender for his sake? Anything in the way of profit, or pleasure, or companionship? Perhaps something in these ways. But what we gain by accepting him as Saviour and Friend is a thousand times more precious than all that we can be called upon to renounce. Even here and now God gives to us far more than he takes from us; and, beside this, in the world to come is" eternal life." We may well do as Peter said he and his associates had done—leave all to follow Christ.—C.
God's concealing kindness, etc.
The clear prevision which the Lord Jesus Christ had of the future which was before him may suggest to us the thought—
I. GOD'S KINDNESS IS CONCEALMENT. We often try to forecast the future, and sometimes wish that we could do so less imperfectly than we can. But our very inability to do this is to us a valuable shield that saves us from great unhappiness. For who of us would care to proceed at all if he knew all the sorrowful experiences through which his path would lie? We sometimes feel a humane satisfaction that the sheep anti cattle that browse so contentedly to-day in the field have not their short enjoyment marred by any expectation of the slaughter-house they are to enter to-morrow. And we may well be thankful that so thick a veil hangs over our future, that we cannot possibly tell what are the troubles that will befall us, or where our life will be darkened with its deeper shadows. Even when, as with Paul, we know that "bonds and afflictions abide us," still, like hire., we do "not know the things that will befall us" then. And whilst, on the one hand, we very commonly have enough of premonition to make desirable preparation for coming evil, on the other hand our life is so ordered that we go happily and hopefully on our way, untroubled by the evils which are in front of us but which are mercifully hidden from our view.
II. OUR LORD'S LEADERSHIP IN THE EXPERIENCE OF APPREHENSION. Our happy inability to anticipate the future is not the whole of the truth, though it is a large part of it. It remains true that there is a considerable amount of apprehension in the structure of our life. There are times when we clearly foresee some trial ahead of us. We may not know precisely the time of its arrival, nor the elements of which it will be composed. But we can tell that "our hour is coming." Before us, at no great distance, is suffering, is separation, is loss, is loneliness, is heart-ache. The road we are travelling along will soon descend, and we shall go down into the darkly shaded valley. Of that we have no doubt; and our spirit trembles, our heart is full of foreboding and, perchance, misgiving. How shall we pass through that dark valley? How bravely or how weakly, how worthily or how unbecomingly, shall we undergo that experience when it comes? There are many sources of encouragement to which we might resort. But this passage speaks to us of one of the best of them. Christ has gone this way before us—this way of keen and anxious apprehension. He knew that the most trying experiences were only a little way in front of him. He knew that the last extremity of human hatred and of human cruelty would be visited upon him. The Jews would condemn him with all their malignity, and the Gentiles would maltreat him with all their disdainful and powerful heartlessness. The sad and shameful future immediately before him stood clear to his sight, clearer far than any coming sorrow can shape itself to us. Therefore we may feel that:
1. We are treading in the footsteps of our Lord, and it is enough for the disciple to be as his Master.
2. We may be confident of his tenderest and fullest sympathy. He has suffered just what we are suffering now.
3. He will help us in our time of need. As he himself sought of man the succour he did not find, and was glad to receive from heaven the comfort he did not ask, we may be well assured that he will not refuse us all the aid we need and ask of him when the trial-hour of our experience shall have come.
III. THE DIFFICULTY OF DISCIPLESHIP—TO LEARN UNWELCOME TRUTH. There was no inherent incomprehensibleness in the words Christ here employed; yet "they understood none of these things" Why did they not comprehend such intelligible language? Because the truth conveyed was so exceedingly unwelcome. It cut across all their cherished hopes respecting the Messiah; it dashed their natural expectations to the ground; and it went sorely against all that their affection prompted them to believe and cherish. "It could not, must not, did not mean that," they said in their hearts. It is not the strangeness nor the profundity of truth which is too much for us; it is its remoteness from that on which we have set our heart. We do not understand that which clashes with our prejudices, or our passions, or our affections. The apostles of Christ would have saved themselves from many hours of awful sorrow and abject hopelessness and painful incredulity, if their feelings had allowed them to understand the truth which their Master put so plainly and so repeatedly before them (Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:22; Matthew 20:17). Can it be that Jesus Christ is saying something to us which we ought to understand, but do not because it is unwelcome to our hearts, or because it is at variance with all our old and strong habits of thought? Is it possible that he is calling us to repentance, to self surrender, to a full confession of our faith, to a nobler life, to some field of active work, and we do not understand what he is saying to us? Where his own apostles so greatly failed, may not we be found at fault? Shall we leave it to future darkness and a great surprise and a mortifying discovery of error to set us straight? Or shall we not rather recognize in time our liability to mistake; seek to have an open mind to receive all his holy will concerning us; ask God to help us to remove the bandages of prejudice and of earthly attachments from the eyes of our understanding; seek by docility and devoutness of spirit to be such disciples of the Master that, when he speaks even unwelcome truth to us, we shall understand him and obey?—C.
Present but passing opportunity.
Pathetic stories are told of those who, in circumstances of the greatest danger or distress, have suddenly found themselves almost within reach of blessed deliverance, but who just failed to realize their hope. It is the captive knight past whose dungeon a friendly host is filing, and the sound of the clarion drowns his pleading cries; or it is the shipwrecked sailor on the lonely island whose laboriously constructed signal the ship that is homeward bound does not descry, and who sees his one chance of rescue vanishing away. Those who have never known a supreme misfortune, together with a possibility, which was only a possibility, of deliverance, cannot realize the thrilling and all but intolerable suspense of such moments of present but passing opportunity as Bartimaeus now knew. He was blind, helpless, shut out from all the sights and nearly all the enjoyments of human life; his lot was of the darkest and the saddest; and there was passing by One who could turn darkness into day, dreariness and gloom into blessedness and beauty, if only he could win his ear and make his plea. This glorious Healer was within a few paces of him, would soon be actually in front of him, would all too soon be gone beyond his call. "Jesus of Nazareth was passing by!" We see here—
I. THE SORENESS OF OUR SPIRITUAL NEED. We are blind, helpless, suffering the worst privations, under the dominion of sin. We recognize rot our Father, our brethren, our true selves, our true opportunities, our chief perils, our real interests; and our blindness is not only immeasurably reducing the value of our present life, but is leading us to that which is darker still and sadder far.
II. THE NEAR PRESENCE OF JESUS CHRIST. A Divine Deliverer is at hand. Quite near to us, within reach of our voice, within touch of our hand, is One who can open our eyes and make us see clearly all that we need to know. At our very door is One who is not only ready at our entreaty, but even prepared already and eager to supply all our need. Here is One who offers to:
1. Enlighten our mind.
2. Restore the relationship to God our Father we have lost by our sin.
3. Constitute himself our almighty and unchanging Friend and Guide through all our life.
4. Conduct us and receive us to a heavenly home.
III. THE PASSING OF PRESENT OPPORTUNITY. This priceless chance is ours to-day; but how long will it remain within our reach? Jesus of Nazareth is near, but he is passing.
1. We know nothing of Christian privilege beyond the grave, and our life is hastening on; it may close at any hour, and it is hurrying away on the swift wings of duty and of pleasure.
2. The favoured period of youth is still more transient. Christ is very near us in the golden days of youth, when the spiritual nature is so open and so responsive; but how fast these days are fleeing! how soon will they be gone!
3. The hour of special grace and of rare privilege is but an hour—that time when Heaven puts forth its most constraining influences, and we see and feel that the gates into the kingdom of God are opened wide for our entrance, We cannot afford to delay when Jesus of Nazareth is near us. When eternal life is within our grasp, we must compel every other interest to take the second place; and this, not only because it is of such transcendent value, but because we may never have so golden an opportunity again. There is "a tide" in the history of every man which leads on to something more than "fortune;" it leads unto life—the life that is Divine and everlasting. On no account whatever must that be "omitted." Foolish beyond all reckoning, as well as guilty before God, is the soul that lets Jesus of Nazareth pass by without seeking his feet and finding his favour.—C.
What we want of Christ.
Our hearts are drawn towards blind Bartimaeus; we compassionate him for his long-continued blindness; we enter into his feeling of keen hopefulness when he hears of the passing of Jesus Christ; we like the importunity of the man, his sturdy refusal to be put down by popular clamour; we like also his manly directness in reply to the question asked him, "Lord, that I may receive my sight!" We owe him some gratitude in that it was his necessity which provided our Lord with one more opportunity of illustrating his power and his pity, and of carrying on the great redemptive work he came to accomplish. For these miracles he wrought were a part, and a valuable part, of that work of his. If apprised of less value than they once were, they are very far indeed from being valueless. And amongst other things they illustrate Christ's personal dealing with men. As he did not heal in troops and companies but addressed himself to each individual man or woman that was sick or suffering, blind or lame, so does he now make his appeal to each individual heart, and say to this man and to that man, "What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee?" And what do we want of him, as he thus approaches us?
I. THOSE WHO WANT NOTHING IN PARTICULAR. They meet with their neighbours to worship him and to hear about him, but they have no sense of need in their hearts; their souls are not suffering and smarting under a painful sense of sin; their hearts are not athirst for the living God and Saviour. They wish for "bread enough," but it is not the bread of life for which they hunger; they would like much to be wealthy, but they arc not careful to be "rich toward God."
II. THOSE WHO WANT NOTHING OF CHRIST NOW. The time will come when they will be glad of a Saviour and Friend—some future hour of sorrow, or difficulty, or loneliness, and certainly the hour of death; they would like to keep open the line of communication, but at present they do not feel that they want anything of the great Healer of hearts. But let us look rather at—
III. WHAT WE ALL DO REALLY WANT OF HIM. If our Divine Father is not to be disappointed in us, if our lives on earth are not to be miserable failures, then may we all urge, with this blind man, "Lord, that we may receive our sight!" For it is essential to the life of our life that we should be enlightened upon:
1. The transcendent value of the human spirit, and thus understand of how much more value we ourselves are than any of our earthly surroundings, or than the body which is our temporary residence.
2. The intimate and tender relation in which we stand to God. That God is the one Being with whom we have to do, from whom we cannot withhold our love and service without doing him and ourselves the greatest wrong, who is "earnestly remembering" and patiently seeking us in our distance and estrangement.
3. The supreme and abiding blessedness of the service of Christ; that this is the soul's only true rest and portion, its peace and its inheritance. We want that these great saving truths should stand out before the eyes of our soul as the solid and living facts, in comparison with which all other things are of small account; we want to recognize in them the great verities which alone will satisfy and save us. If we would that Christ should do this for us, we must remember that what he is saying to us is this:
(1) "Learn of me;"
(2) "Believe in me;" "Have faith in me;"
(3) "Abide in me;"
(4) "Follow me." ― C.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
Lessons in prayer.
Our Lord, in the two parables composing the present passage, gives the disciples encouragement to pray. The one brings out the need of perseverance and importunity in prayer; the other brings out the spirit of self-abasement which should be cultivated in prayer. They are thus linked together as twin lessons in the art of prayer.
I. LET US NOTICE THE NEEDFUL IMPORTUNITY OF GOD'S ELECT AS ILLUSTRATED BY THE IMPORTUNATE WIDOW. (Luke 18:1-8.) The story is about an earthly judge of unscrupulous character, to whom a widow in her weakness, but with a deep sense of injury, appeals for redress. The weak woman is able by her importunity to extort from the heartless judge the redress which he would give on no other conditions. He even becomes facetious and humorous over it, and declares that he will avenge her, lest "by her continual coming she strike me" Having related this story, our Lord makes certain deductions from it. And:
1. He declares that at his coming there will little faith in his advent. (Luke 18:8.) Now, this unbelief about his advent can be accounted for on several grounds.
(1) The procession of nature is so uniform. All things seem to continue as they were from the creation. Nature is on so largo and grand a scale that we do not appreciate the real progress, and imagine that we are in the midst of a standstill. Uniformity, however, is not standstill.
(2) Hope deferred will make many hearts sick. And so what has been so long talked of and yet has never appeared will be thought at last as never to appear. And
(3) stoicism will lead many just to take things as they are, and entertain no concern about any change. It is astonishing how easy-going people tolerate manifest wrongs rather than take the trouble either to pray about them or to work for their removal. But:
2. Our Lord acknowledges the wrong to which his elect ones have been exposed. Their cry is for justice, for redress, like the widow. Now, our Lord admits that his people have not got justice from the world. The world has not been worthy of them. The world has made them time after time martyrs. It is a great assurance that the Lord acknowledges his servants' wrongs.
3. He intimates at the same time that, like the widow, they will need importunity. The one weapon must be wielded and wielded incessantly. He keeps us waiting doubtless for our good. If we got all the moment we asked it, how should we ever learn patience? But:
4. He promises a sudden redress. The idea seems to be not "speedily" but "suddenly" he will avenge them. It will be a sharp and decisive deliverance when it comes. We thus see that all life's discipline is planned to stimulate prayer. And when we have least taste for it, we should, like Luther, pray on. This is the importunity the Lord loves and will answer.
II. LET US NOTICE THE SPIRIT OF SELF-ABASEMENT WHICH SHOULD CHARACTERIZE OUR PRAYER AS ILLUSTRATED IN THE PARABLE OF THE PHARISEE AND THE PUBLICAN. (Luke 18:9-14.) And in this second story we have a Pharisee first presented whose prayer is an outburst of self-confidence. He thanks God that he is so much better than his neighbours. For in these he recognizes extortioners, unjust men, and adulterers. A self-righteous spirit is censorious; its prayer is a criticism; even a publican's modesty in standing afar off, and his contrition in smiting on his breast, are set down to his disparagement. Then the Pharisee can congratulate himself on fasting twice a week, and on giving tithes of all he possesses. But he was not a bit the better for all tiffs so-called prayer, this bit of blatant self-praise. On the other hand, the publican, though he remained afar off and hardly ventured to look up, but smote on his breast and cried, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" went down to his house a happier and better man. For the important point is not their consciousness, but God's attitude towards their respective spirits. To the one spirit God responds by justification and a sense of acceptance. The other is sent empty away. Hence the principles Jesus deduces are twofold.
1. Self-exaltation always precedes abasement. The proud will sooner or later get his fall. The Pharisaic spirit is always humiliated in the end. The man who is filled with self-satisfaction is only demonstrating his own self-ignorance and distance from God and his great ideal.
2. Self-abasement always leads to exaltation. It is when we feel "as a beast" before God, like Asaph in the seventy-third psalm, that we are on the way to spiritual rapture. For God has provided for the abased sinner the pardon he needs, and, besides the pardon, sanctification and everlasting progress. Let us, then, pray in the penitential key continually, and let us pray determined not to be deified; and heights of spiritual exaltation and rapture will be seen rising from our very feet, and inviting us to sit down on them with Jesus.—R.M.E.
The children of the kingdom.
During the progress of the King towards Jerusalem, his personal influence and benediction were greatly valued. It would seem that mothers brought their children to him to be blessed, and ended by producing the very little ones. The disciples thought the line should be drawn somewhere, and so ventured to forbid the anxious mothers, only, however, to receive the significant rebuke from him, "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God." We are thus introduced to the important principle that—
I. CHILDLIKENESS IS THE QUALIFICATION FOR GOD'S KINGDOM. (Luke 18:15-17.) Now, that is only another way of stating that God's government is paternal, and that his subjects are sons. It is, in fact, "a mighty family" of which he is himself the Head. It is when we recognize in him our Father, and are prepared to accept as little children all he sends, and to do all he commands, that we truly belong to his kingdom. Hence the two characteristics specially brought out are
(1) trust, and
It is thus we are to test ourselves. Do we trust God our Father as little children trust their fathers according to the flesh? and do we obey our heavenly Father as little ones obey their earthly parents? Then are we in the kingdom.
II. CHRIST EXPECTS THE RICHEST RULER TO TRUST AND TO OBEY HIM LIKE A LITTLE CHILD. (Luke 18:18-27.) We have here an interesting case of anxiety, and how Christ dealt with it. And here we have to notice that:
1. Neither his wealth nor his position satisfied the young ruler. Something more was needed. The heart cannot content itself with either rank or gold. Hence his anxiety to lay hold on eternal life, which he felt was something more than he had yet obtained.
2. He fancied he could entitle himself to it by a stroke of public service. Hence his inquiry, "Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" His notion was that he could claim it as a right, if he could only tirol out the additional duty he felt able to discharge.
3. Jesus destroys with a single stroke his overestimate of human nature. The flattery of human nature coincides with self-esteem. The young ruler believed in his own goodness and capabilities, and he complimented Jesus as "good Master," because he believed in the existence of any number of good men—himself, of course, included. Now, Jesus will not accept a false compliment. Human nature is not good; and it is not as a mere man that he is going to receive such flattery. Hence he tells the ruler that there is no mere man good; that God alone is good. There is here no repudiation of goodness as belonging to himself, but simply a repudiation of goodness as an attribute of unaided humanity.
4. Jesus insists on examination of past conduct in the light of the Divine Law. He asks the young ruler if he has kept the second table of the Decalogue, and been dutiful to his fellow-men. Looked at from without, the self-sufficient mind imagines it is a simple thing to keep the Law. But when for "law" we substitute "love," the self-examination does not so assure us. Meanwhile the young ruler is strong in the belief that he has kept the whole Law.
5. Jesus now demands, as a test of his trust in him, the surrender of his riches to the poor, and the subsequent following of him. The demand was for faith. When we consider that Jesus was apparently but a poor artisan, then, unless the young ruler would absolutely and implicitly trust him, he would never think of obeying his demand. The result proved that he was not yet ready to trust Jesus. He trusted his money more! Hence his sorrow as he leaves the Lord. And herein lies the money-danger. It bids for the trust of the soul. Moneyed men find it hard to trust any one more than money. They think it only natural that they should feel independent. But if money leads men away from Jesus, it is a curse, and not a blessing. When tempted to be covetous, let us remember that money has its special dangers, and makes it harder and even impossible for some to enter into God's kingdom.
6. Jesus, while stating the difficulty which rich men find in entering God's kingdom, shows that God manifests his great power in saving some of them. Money is such a barrier that we might well despair of the salvation of any rich men. Poor men have a chance. They have so little that they dare not trust in it, but in God only. But the rich man is tempted to trust in the uncertain riches, and leave God out of the account. But for this very reason God magnifies his grace in saving some rich men—in saving some in spite of all their temptation to trust in their abundance. A rich yet real believer is a splendid illustration of the grace of God. He sees through his riches and forbids them to come between his soul and his Saviour.
III. CHRIST INDICATES THE RECOMPENSE AWAITING ALL THOSE WHO HAVE SACRIFICED. THEIR ALL FOR HIM. (Luke 18:28-30.) Peter, as spokesman for the others, asks Christ what they shall have, seeing they have sacrificed their worldly positions to follow him. They thought that they should have some recompense. Nor were they mistaken; for Christ shows that they shall have:
1. A recompense in kind in this world. Often when a home is left for the sake of Jesus, a happier home is found in the midst of the Lord's work. When rich prospects are renounced for the Saviour's sake, unexpected recompense comes round in the shape of riches. When relatives are resigned that Christ's cause may be promoted, new relations spring up around the devoted soul and bring compensation. And the spirit of loving appreciation which appropriates all things makes ample amends for all our self-denial for our Saviour (1 Corinthians 3:21-23).
2. A recompense in the world to come in the shape of eternal life. So that self-denial, self-renunciation, becomes the path to the life eternal. The opportunity of living in God and for God awaits all sincere souls in the other life, and satisfies them. Let us consequently rejoice in hope of the glory, and have grace to fear no evil.—R.M.E.
Blindness, mental and physical.
Having spoken to the disciples about recompense, he balances his consolation by giving them fair warning of his own approaching humiliation and death. But they were so infatuated about the honours that they were totally blind to the humiliation. Christ's words were no better than idle tales to them. It suggests—
I. THE ONE-SIDED WAY IN WHICH PEOPLE MAY READ THE BIBLE. (Luke 18:31.) What was about to happen to Jesus was prophesied ages before. The Old Testament presented a suffering as well as an exalted Messiah. But the Jews totally overlooked the humiliating aspect. And in the very same way people go still to God's Word, and find there only what they want to find. It needs great trials oftentimes to expound some passages of the Divine Word to us. We are partial students; we do not enter into the wide meaning of the Word as God would have us!
II. GREAT TRIALS ARE NEEDED TO OPEN OUR EYES TO THE OVERLOOKED REALITIES. (Luke 18:32-34.) It is plain that they did not take in Christ's meaning until he was actually taken from them and crucified. In the terrible suffering which seemed to extinguish all their fond hopes, the overwhelmed men got the spiritual vision, and were enabled to see a suffering as well as an exalted Messiah revealed in the Divine Word. And do we not often, when crushed and broken by trial, come to appropriate passages of God's Word which formerly were blank to us? We ought to bless God for the opened eye, even though the process of opening it be painful.
III. THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST MADE AMENDS FOR ALL THE PREVIOUS SUFFERING. (Luke 18:33.) For resurrection was exaltation; it was glory which could only be reached through the tomb. No possibility was there of Jesus being raised if he had never died. It is an experience cheaply purchased, perhaps, through death and the grave.
IV. LET US CONTRAST WITH THIS THE CURE OF BLIND BARTIMAEUS. (Luke 18:35-43.) From blind disciples—mentally blind—Luke proceeds to speak of the blind beggar and his physical cure. Jesus was proceeding to Jerusalem to enter it as King. It was a royal progress. Here was one of the splendid accompaniments of it.
1. The condition of the poor blind beggar. He was blind, and, as he could not keep himself by work, he had to beg. He was thus perfectly helpless and dependent. And he knew his deficiencies. There was no unconsciousness of them or indifference to them.
2. The knowledge he possessed of Jesus. He had heard of Christ's miracles, how he had cured several blind men previously. He knew he was the Son of David, and regarded him as true Messiah. Hence his knowledge of Christ was sufficient to lead him to throw himself upon his mercy as soon as he had the chance.
3. The visit of Jesus to his neighbourhood. Jesus was passing on, and the crowd surged mightily around him. The noise fell upon the blind man's acute ear, and led him to ask what it all meant. Then, as soon as he learned that Jesus was passing by, he began to cry, "Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me!" Noble example! Should not all who feel their need of mercy cry as Bartimaeus did?
4. Discouragement only intensifies Ms eagerness for blessing. The crowd rebuked him, but Bartimaeus persevered. The more discouragement, the more importunity. So let it be with us in our seasons of discouragement.
5. The call of Jesus. The importunate one is summoned to the Saviour's presence. Those who once discouraged him now urge him forward.
6. The inquiry of Jesus. Bartimaeus is asked what mercy he desires; and his whole soul goes forth in the words, "Lord, that I may receive my sight!" It is surely well when we clearly know our need and desire its supply.
7. The cure conferred and its consequences. Bartimaeus is thrown upon his faith; according to this is his cure. But his faith was strong enough for the occasion, He consequently sees plainly, and his fresh sight is used to guide him after Jesus. So is it with us if we receive from Jesus our spiritual healing. Then we see the Saviour plainly, and we learn and are proud to follow him. The people, too, in seeing us follow Christ, will learn to glorify the God of grace who has enabled us to do so.—R.M.E.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Luke 18". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26