The servant (or slave) of the centurion of Capernaum is healed.
Now when he had ended all his sayings. This clearly refers to the sermon on the mount. That great discourse evidently occupied a position of its own in the public ministry of the Lord. Its great length, its definite announcement of the kind of reign he was inaugurating over the hearts of men, its stern rebuke of the dominant religious teaching of the day, its grave prophetic onlooks,—all marked it out as the great manifesto of the new Master, and as such it seems to have been generally received. He entered into Capernaum. The residence of Jesus, as we have before pointed out, during the greater part of his public life. It was, as it were, his head-quarters. After each missionary tour he returned to the populous, favoured lake-city which he had chosen as his temporary home.
And a certain centurion's servant; literally, slave. The difference is important, as we shall see in the picture presented to us of the centurion's character. A centurion was an officer in the Roman army: the grade answers to the modem European captain—German, hauptmann; the command included a hundred soldiers. Scholars are not agreed respecting the special service of this particular officer. Some consider he was a Greek or Syrian holding a commission under the prince of the country, the tetrach Herod Antipas; others, that he was in the service of the empire, with a small detachment of the garrison of Caesarea, doing duty at the important lake-city, probably in connection with the revenue. It is clear that Roman garrisons at this period were dotted about the various centres of population in these semi-dependent states. At Jerusalem we know a considerable Roman force was stationed, professedly to keep order in the turbulent capital, but really, no doubt, to overawe the national party. Was sick, and ready to die. St. Matthew calls the disease paralysis, and adds that the sufferer was in extreme pain. The disorder was probably some dangerous form of rheumatic fever, which not unfrequently attacks the region of the heart, and is accompanied with severe pain, and proves in many instances fatal. The ordinary, paralysis would scarcely be accompanied with the acute pain mentioned by St. Matthew.
And when he heard of Jesus; better rendered, having heard about Jesus. His fame as a good Physician, such as never had arisen before, coupled with his reputation as a Teacher, had now travelled far and wide. The devout centurion probably had watched with extreme interest the career of the strange and remarkable Teacher-Prophet who had risen up among the people, and had apparently (see note on Luke 7:7) made up his mind that this Jesus was no mortal man. He sent unto him the elders of the Jews, beseeching him that he would come and heal his servant; better rendered elders without the article; that is, some of the official elders connected with his own synagogue. These would be able, with more grace than himself, to plead his cause with the Master, telling him how well the centurion had deserved any assistance which a Jewish physician could afford him.
Luke 7:4, Luke 7:5
He was worthy for whom he should do this: for he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue. There are several mentions of these Roman military officers in the Gospels and Acts, and in every instance the mention is a favourable one. Still more notable instances occur in the case of Cornelius—to whom Peter was specially sent (Acts 10:1-48., 11.)—of the centurion who was on guard at the execution on Calvary, and of the centurion who conveyed Paul to Rome (Acts 27:1-3). On these Gentile soldiers "the faith and life of Judaism had made a deep impression: he found a purity, reverence, simplicity, and nobleness of life which he had not found elsewhere, and so he loved the nation, and built a new one of the synagogues of the town" (Dean Plumptre). The centurion was apparently one of those foreigners who—without submitting to circumcision and other burdensome ceremonial rites which were incompatible with the exercise of his profession—had accepted the faith of Israel, and worshipped with the people in the position of one who, in another age, would have been termed a "proselyte of the gate." He was evidently one of those true-hearted men who translated a beautiful creed into acts, for it was specially urged by the elders, in their petition to Jesus, that he loved the people, no doubt emphasizing his generous almsgivings, and, as a crowning act of his kindness, had built a synagogue Capernaum. Modern travellers tell us that among the ruins of this city of Jesus are the remains of a white marble synagogue of the time of the Herods. This may have been the Roman soldier's noble gift to Israel. The whole character of this nameless officer seems to have been singularly noble. In those selfish days of undreamed-of luxury, cruelty, and heartlessness, for a master to care for, much less to love, a slave was, comparatively speaking, rare. From his message to Jesus (verse 7) it would seem as though he had a clearer conception who the poor Galilaean Teacher was than any one else at that period of the public ministry, not excluding the inner circle of disciples.
Lord, trouble not thyself: for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof. Augustine's comment on these remarkable words is good: "By saying that he was unworthy, he showed himself worthy of Christ's entering, not within his walls, but within his heart."
But say in a word, and my servant shall be healed. The Gentile soldier's faith was really great. He had risen above the need of an outward sign, such as a touch or even the sound of a living voice. He needed no contact with the fringe of the Master's garment, asked for no handkerchief or apron that had touched his person (Acts 19:12). The word the Master would speak would be enough; the result he willed would assuredly follow. "Do not come hither where my servant is, but only speak here where thou art." The centurion had a just notion of Christ's power. And our Lord greatly commended him, whereas Martha, who said, "I know whatsoever thou shalt ask of God he will give it thee" (John 11:22) was reproved as having spoken amiss; and Christ thus teaches that he is the Source of blessings, which he could not be unless he were God (compare Bishop Wordsworth, in part quoting from St. Chrysostom).
For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. What the soldier really thought of Jesus is evident when we read between the lines of this saying of his: "If I, who am under many a superior—the chiliarch of my thousand, the tribunes of my legion, my emperor who commands at Rome—yet receive a ready and willing obedience from my soldiers, and have but to say to one, ' Go,' and he goeth, to another, 'Come,' and he cometh; how much more thou, who hast no one above thee, no superior, when thou commandest disease, one of thy ministers, will it not at once obey?" The same thought was in Archdeacon Farrar's mind when he wrote how the centurion inferred that Jesus, who had the power of healing at a distance, had at his command thousands of the "heavenly army" (Luke 2:13; Matthew 26:53), who would
"At his bidding speed
"And post o'er land and ocean without rest."
When Jesus heard these things, he marvelled at him. Augustine strikingly comments here on the expression ἐθαύμασε, he marvelled: "Who had inspired that faith but he who now admires it?" In marvelling at it he intimated that we ought to admire. He admires for our good, that we may imitate the centurion's faith; such movements in Christ are not signs of perturbation of mind, but are exemplary and hortatory to us. I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. St. Augustine remarks here that "the Lord had found in the oleaster what he had not found in the olive."
Returning to the house, found the servant whole that had been sick. Farrar suggests "convalescent" as a more accurate rendering than "whole." The Greek equivalent is one of the medical words we find in this Gospel of St. Luke. The words, "that had been sick," do not occur in the other authorities. They are omitted in the Revised Version.
The Master raises from the dead the only son of the widow of Nain.
And it came to pass the day after. The Greek expression here, in the majority of the more ancient authorities, is vague as a note of time. The Revised Version renders it "soon afterwards." The incident that follows the raising from the dead of the widow's son is only mentioned by St. Luke. It is generally assumed that our Lord only raised three persons from the dead—this young man of Nain. the little daughter of Jairus the ruler, and Lazarus of Bethany. But such an assumption is purely arbitrary. We have before called attention to the vast number of miracles worked by Jesus during the two years and a half of the public ministry not reported by the evangelists at all, or only glanced at in passing. There were, most probably, among these unreported miracles several instances of men, women, and children raised from the dead. St. Augustine, in one of his sermons (98.), specially calls attention to this in his words, "of the numerous persons raised to life by Christ, three only are mentioned as specimens in the Gospels." Each evangelist specially chooses one of the various examples, no doubt known to him—that peculiar instance or instances best suited to the especial teaching of his Gospel. St. John alone recounts the raising of Lazarus. St. Luke is the solitary reporter of the miracle performed on the dead son of the widow of Nain. We may reasonably infer, says Dean Plumptre, that this miracle, from its circumstances, had specially fixed itself in the memories of the "devout women" of Luke 8:1, and that it was from them that St. Luke obtained his accurate and detailed knowledge of this, as well as of many other of the incidents which he alone relates in his Gospel. He went into a city called Nain. From the Hebrew מיען, naim fair, probably so called from its striking situation on a steep hill. It is on the slope of Little Hermon, near Endor, some twenty or more miles from Capernaum. The name Nein is still given to a small poor village on the same site. It is approached by a narrow, steep ascent, and on either side of the road are sepulchral caves. It was in one of these that the dead man was about to have been laid when the Master met the little mourning procession winding down the steep road as he and his crowd of followers were toiling up the ascent nearing the gate of the city.
And when the Lord saw her. It is rare in the Gospels to find the expression, "the Lord," used by itself, "Jesus" being the usual term. It agrees with the unanimous tradition in the Church respecting the authorship of this Gospel—neither Luke nor Paul had been with Jesus. These had always looked on Jesus, thought of him, as the Lord risen from the dead, enthroned in heaven. At the period when St. Luke wrote, not earlier than a.d. 60, this title had probably become the usual term by which the Redeemer was known among his own. He had compassion on her. In this instance, as in so many others, our Lord's miracles were worked, not from a distinct purpose to offer credentials of his mission, but proceeded rather from his intense compassion with and his Divine pity for human sufferings.
And he came and touched the bier. The young man was about to be buried in the Jewish manner, which differed from the Egyptian custom. The corpse was not laid in a coffin or mummy-case, but simply on an open bier, on which the dead lay wrapped in folds of linen; so Lazarus was buried at Bethany, and our Lord in his rock-tomb in Joseph of Arimathaea's garden. A napkin, or sudarium, was lightly laid over the face. It was pollution for the living to touch the bier on which a corpse was lying. The bearers, in their amazement that one so generally respected and admired as was Jesus, the Teacher of Nazareth, at this period of his career, should commit so strange an act, would naturally at once stand still to see what next would happen. Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. The Lord of life performed his miracle over death in a very different fashion to those great ones who, in some respects, had anticipated or followed him in these strange deeds of wonder. Before they recalled the dead to life, Elijah mourned long over the sea of the widow of Sarepta, Elisha repeatedly stretched himself as he agonized in prayer upon the lifeless corpse of the Shunammite boy, Peter prayed very earnestly over the body of Dorcas at Lydda. The Master, with one solitary word, brings the spirit from its mysterious habitation back to its old earthly tenement—"Kúm!" "Arise!" St. Augustine has a beautiful comment on the three miracles of raising the dead related in the Gospels. He has been saying that all our Lord's works of mercy to the body have a spiritual reference to the soul; he then proceeds to consider them "as illustrations of Christ's Divine power and love in raising the soul, dead in trespasses and sins, from every kind of spiritual death, whether the soul be dead, but not yet carried out, like the daughter of Jairus; or dead and carried out, but not buried, like the widow's son; or dead, carried, and buried, like Lazarus. He who raised himself from the dead can raise all from the death of sin. Therefore let no one despair". Godet has a curious and interesting note on what he calls a difficulty peculiar to the miracle, owing to the absence of all moral receptivity in the subject of it. "Lazarus was a believer. In the case of the daughter of Jairus, the faith of the parents to a certain extent supplied the place of her personal faith. But here there is nothing of the kind. The only receptive element that can be imagined is the ardent desire of life with which this young man, the only sea of a widowed mother, had doubtless yielded his last breath; and this indeed is sufficient, for it follows from this that Jesus did not dispose of him arbitrarily."
And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people. With the exception of two or three like the centurion, whose sick servant was healed, this was the general conception which the people had of Jesus—a fear is mentioned in this place—the natural result of the marvellous works, especially those worked in the case of the already dead, but nothing more. The sublime humility of the great Wonder-worker failed to persuade the bulk of men and women with whom he came in contact. They could not look on this quiet Rabbi-Physician, who gently put all state and pomp and glory aside, as the Divine Messiah; but that in Jesus Israel possessed a great Prophet the people were persuaded—they recognized that at last, after four long centuries of absence, God again had visited his people. There had arisen in the coasts of Israel no prophet of the Highest since the far-back days of Malachi, some four hundred years before the days of the Lord and his forerunner John.
John the Baptist sends messengers to ask a question of Jesus. The reply of the Master.
And the disciples of John showed him of all these things. St. Luke, unlike St. Matthew, in the corresponding passage in his Gospel, does not specially mention that John was in prison; he evidently took it for granted that this would be known to his readers from the account of the Baptist's arrest and imprisonment by Herod Antipas given in John 3:19, John 3:20. In the course of John's imprisonment, it is probable that very many of his disciples became hearers of Jesus. During the early period, at all events, of the Baptist's captivity it is clear that his friends and disciples had free access to his prison. There is no doubt but that, in reply to the anxious inquiries of John, his disciples told him of all the miracles they had witnessed, and the words they had heard, especially, no doubt, recounting to him much of the sermon on the mount which Jesus had lately delivered as the exposition of his doctrine. We can well imagine these faithful but impatient disciples, after detailing these marvels which they had seen, and the strange new words of winning power which they had heard, saying to their imprisoned master, "We have seen and heard these wondrous things, but the great Teacher gets no further; we hear nothing of the standard of King Messiah being raised, nothing of the high hope of the people being encouraged; he seems to pay no attention to the imperious rule of the foreigner, or the degrading tyranny of men like Antipas, the Herod who has wrongfully shut you up. He rather withdraws himself, and when the people, fired by his winning words and mighty acts, begin to grow enthusiastic, then this strange Man hides himself away. Can he be Messiah, as you once said?"
And John calling unto him two of his disciples, sent them to Jesus, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another? What, now, was in John the Baptist's mind, when from his prison he sent his disciples to ask Jesus this anxious question? Disappointed in the career of Jesus, possibly himself partly forgotten, accustomed to the wild freedom of a desert-life, suffering from the hopeless imprisonment,—had his faith begun to waver? or was the question put with a view of reassuring his own disciples, with the intention of giving these faithful followers of his an opportunity of convincing themselves of the power and real glory of Jesus? In other words, was it for his own sake or for his disciples' sakes that he sent to ask the question? Generally speaking, the second of these two conclusions—that which ascribed the question to a desire on the part of John to help his disciples (which we will call B)—was adopted by the expositors of the early Church. A good example of this school of interpretation is the following quotation from St. Jerome: "John does not put this question from ignorance, for he himself had proclaimed Christ to be 'the Lamb of God.' But as our Lord asked concerning the body of Lazarus, 'Where have ye laid him?' (John 11:34), in order that they who answered the question might, by their own answer, be led to faith, so John, now about to be slain by Herod, sends his disciples to Jesus, in order that, by this occasion, they who were jealous of the fame of Jesus (Luke 9:14; John 3:26) might see his mighty works and believe in him, and that, while their master asked the question by them, they might hear the truth for themselves" (St. Jerome, quoted by Wordsworth). To the same effect wrote SS. Ambrose, Hilary, Chrysostom, Theophylact. Among the Reformers, Calvin, Beza, and Melancthon contended for this opinion respecting the Baptist's message to Christ, and in our days Stier and Bishop Wordsworth. On the other hand, Tertullian among the Fathers, and nearly all the modern expositors, believe that the question of John was prompted by his own wavering faith—a faltering no doubt shared in by his own disciples. This conclusion (which we will term A) is adopted, with slightly varying modifications, by Meyer, Ewald, Neander, Godet, Plumptre, Farrar, and Morrison. This way—(A) generally adopted by the modern school of expositors—of understanding the Baptist's question to Jesus, is evidently the conclusion which would suggest itself to all minds who went to the story without any preconceived desire to purge the character of a great saint from what they imagine to be a blot; and we shall presently see that our Lord, in his answer to the question, where a rebuke is exquisitely veiled in a beatitude, evidently understood the forerunner's question in this sense. It is thus ever the practice of Holy Scripture; while it tenderly and lovingly handles the characters of its heroes, it never flinches from the truth. We see God's noblest saints, such as Moses and Elijah (John's own prototype) in the Old Testament, Peter and Paul in the New Testament, depicted in this book of truth with all their faults; nothing is hid. Only one flawless character appears in its storied pages—it is only the Master of Peter and Paul who never turns aside from the path of right.
And in that same hour he cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind he gave sight. "He knew as God what John's design was in sending to him, and he put it into his heart to send at that very time when he himself was working many miracles which were the true answer to the question" (Cyril, quoted by Wordsworth).
Tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised. These miracles which the messengers witnessed that day, striking though they were, were no novel ones in the work of our Lord. They were, too, precisely similar to those which had already been reported to him in his prison (verse 18). But Jesus, pointing to these signs, bade the friends of the Baptist return and tell their master what they had seen in these words. The great Messianic prophet, whose writings were so well known to John, had said that Messiah's advent would be heralded by these very acts. John would in a moment catch the meaning of the reply. The passages in question are Isaiah 29:18 and Isaiah 35:4, Isaiah 35:6. Wordsworth, on these works wrought by the great Physician, very beautifully writes, "One of the most consolatory reflections produced by these mighty and merciful works of Christ on earth is the assurance they give that at the great day of resurrection he will remove all infirmities and blemishes from the bodies of his servants, and clothe them in immortal health, beauty, and glory, so as to be like his own glorious body, once marred on the cross, but raised by himself from the dead, and now reigning for ever in glory" (Bishop Wordsworth). To the poor the gospel is preached. John would be able to draw his inference, too, from this feature in Jesus' work. His messengers would have heard the Teacher's words, and would have marked from what class especially his hearers were drawn. It was a new experience in the world's story, this tender care for the poor. No heathen teacher of Rome or Athens, of Alexandria or the far East, had ever cared to make this vast class of unprofitable hearers the objects of their teaching. The rabbis of Israel cared nothing for them. In the Talmud we often find them spoken of with contempt. But John knew that this speaking to and consorting with the poor would be one of the marked characteristics of Messiah when he came.
And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me. Our Lord here shows that he understood that this question came from the Baptist himself. Dean Plumptre calls attention to the tender way in which our Lord dealt with the impatience which John's question implied. "A warning was needed, but it was given in the form of a beatitude, which it was still open to him to claim and make his own. Not to find a stumbling-block in the manner in which Christ had actually come, there was this condition of entering fully into the blessedness of his kingdom."
And when the messengers of John were departed, he began to speak unto the people concerning John. When the messengers of John were departed, the Lord, fearful lest the people who had been standing by and listening to the question which the Baptist had put, and his answer, should entertain any disparaging thought of a great and sorely tried saint of God, spoke the following noble testimony concerning that true, faithful witness. It has been termed the funeral oration of John; for not long after it had been spoken he was put to death by Herod Antipas. What went ye out into the wilderness for to see a reed shaken with the wind? The imagery was taken from the scenery in the midst of which John the Baptist had principally exercised his ministry—the reedy banks of Jordan. It was surely to see an everyday sight—a weak vacillating man blown to and fro with every wind. John, though his faith failed him for a moment perhaps, was no wavering reed.
But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they which are gorgeously apparelled, and live delicately, are in kings' courts. Was it, again, to see one of earth's so-called great ones—a favourite of the reigning monarch, a courtier of the magnificent Herod? John was no court favourite, no powerful or princely noble. Dean Plumptre thinks that here a reference is made to the fact that, in the early days of Herod the Great, a section of the scribes had attached themselves to his policy and party, and in doing so had laid aside the sombre raiment of their order, and had appeared in the gorgeous raiment worn by Herod's other courtiers. "We may trace," adds the dean, "with very little hesitation, a vindictive retaliation for these very words in the 'gorgeous robe' with which Herod arrayed him in mockery, when the tetrarch and Christ stood for one brief hour face to face with each other" (Luke 23:4).
But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet. The great Teacher proceeds in his discourse. From the scene and the surroundings—the reeds of the banks of Jordan—he went on to speak of the great Jordan preacher, so unlike, in spite of this one weak wavering hour, the reeds in the midst of which he preached. Jesus thus painted the grave, austere man, first in his stern enmity to the seductive magnificence of a court-life, then in his severe austerity as regards himself. Who, then, was he—this preacher to whom the people had resorted in such crowds to see and hear? Was he a prophet? was he one more of those men who in past ages had been the salt which preserved Israel from decay? Yes; that is what he was, that true great one—a prophet in the deepest, truest sense of the word. Ah! higher still, went on the Teacher, John was much more than a prophet. What then? and the by-standers marvelled; what more could he be? Was he, peradventure, the Messiah?
This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. He quietly answers the question surging up in the listeners' hearts. No; not Messiah, but his forerunner. Centuries ago the mission of this John was foretold, and exactly described by one of the well-known and honoured prophet line. They who were listening, many of them, knew the words well, as the Teacher quoted from the great Malachi. The old ring of the famous prediction was unchanged; perhaps few of the by-standers noticed the slight alteration which was made by Jesus as he quoted. But in after-days the deep significance of the seemingly trifling change, we may well imagine, was the subject of many a deep solemn hour of meditation among the twelve and the early leaders of the faith. The words in Malachi 3:1-18.1 stand thus: "Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me." Our Lord so changes the text that, instead of "before me," it reads with this slight difference, "Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee." The Lord who speaks by the prophets in Malachi announces himself as the coming angel of the covenant: "my messenger shall prepare the way before me;" but this, the Lord who is come as the Son of man, may not as yet openly declare; it is enough that by the thrice-repeated σοῦ ("thy face," "thy way," "before thee"), he signifies that he is marked out and referred to by the Father. See how, without directly uttering it, he nevertheless announces his ἐω εἰμι ("I am he") in his sublime humility (so Stier, 'Words of the Lord Jesus'). Godet presents the same thought from another point of view: "In the prophet's eyes he who was sending, and he before whom the way was to be prepared, were one and the same Person, Jehovah. Hence the ' before me' of Malachi. But for Jesus, who is speaking of himself, and never confounds himself with the Father, a distinction became necessary. It is not Jehovah speaking of himself but Jehovah speaking to Jesus; hence the form 'before thee.'"
For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women, there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he. These striking words close the Master's splendid testimony to the great pioneer. The usual explanation adopted by most if not all modern theologians of the last clause of the verse is, that, great as John was, yet he that is least among Christians who have been born of God and have accepted as an article of their faith the crucifixion and ascension of the Son of God, is greater than that great prophet; or, in other words, the humblest child of the new kingdom is superior to the greatest prophet of the old. But many of the wisest and best of the Fathers of the Church—amongst others Chrysostom, Augustine, Hilary, and Theophylact—find grave difficulty in accepting this too sweeping and facile explanation of a hard saying. They suggest what seems to the writer of this Exposition a more reverential meaning to the Lord's words here. By "the least" we prefer, then, with Chrysostom and other ancient Fathers, to understand Jesus himself. The literal meaning of the Greek μικρότερος is "the lesser," not "least". By "lesser" or "little" Chrysostom supposes that the Saviour refers to himself as less than John in age and according to the opinions of many. "Thus, then, among the sons of men no prophet greater than John the Baptist has arisen; yet there is one among you lesser in age and perhaps in public estimation,—in the kingdom of God, though, greater than he." Wordsworth strengthens the above interpretation by his comment on the words, "among those that are born of women." "No one among those born of human parents had appeared greater than this John the Baptist; but do not suppose that he is greater than I. I am not γεννητὸς γυναικῶν, but θεοῦ, and though after him in the gospel because he is my precursor, yet I am greater than he." This great expositor, while on the whole preferring the usual interpretation, yet considers that the explanation which refers "he that is least" to Christ, is not lightly to be set aside. If this interpretation be adopted, the usual punctuation of the passage must be slightly altered thus: "He that is lesser, in the kingdom of God is greater than he."
And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God. This is not, as many expositors have assumed, a statement of St. Luke's own as to the effect of John's preaching on varied classes of his hearers, but the words are still the words of Jesus; it is a continuation of his eulogy of the Baptist. He says here that the people, "the folk," listened gladly to him; they were persuaded in great numbers of the necessity of a changed life, and were in consequence baptized by him. The meaning of the term, "justified God," is that these, the common folk, by their actions and ready acceptance of the great reformer-preacher, thus publicly declared that they acknowledged the wisdom and goodness of God in this his work through the Baptist; but, as is stated in the next verse—
But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him. The ruling classes and the highly cultured in Israel, turned a deaf ear to the fervent preaching of the gospel; as a class, they came not to his baptism. The result of the refusal of these powerful and learned men to hear the reformer's voice was that John's mission failed to bring about a national reformation. Rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him. The English Version here is not happy, and might lead to a false conception of the words of the original. The Greek would be better and more accurately rendered, "rejected for themselves the counsel of God."
And the Lord said, Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like? The Master evidently paused a moment here. He sought for some homely, popular simile which would drive home to the listeners' hearts his sad and solemn judgment of the conduct of the ruling Jews of this time. The generation he was then addressing had been singularly blessed with two great Divine messages—the one delivered by that eminent servant of God, John, about whom he had been speaking in such glowing, earnest terms; the other message was his own. He chose for his purpose one of those everyday scenes from the people's life, a scene which they had witnessed often, and in which, no doubt, in past days many of the by-standers themselves had taken a part—one of those child-games which the little ones in his day were wont to play in the summer evenings, and in which, likely enough, he in his boyish years had often shared in, as he played in the little market-place of Nazareth. He likened the wayward men of that generation to a group of children of the people in some open space of the city, now playing at rejoicings, such as take place at wedding festivities, now at wailings, which in Eastern countries accompany funerals; that is to say, the little group would divide itself into two companies, and one would say to the other, "Come, now we will play at a wedding; here are the pipers and the singers, do you come and dance and make merry;" but the others would not. Then the little company of would-be merrymakers would beat their breasts and cry with pretended sorrow; but the others still declined to join in the game of mourning—would not play "at a funeral," just as they refused to join in the game of "rejoicing at a wedding." To such a band of imperious little ones, who were angry if the others did not at once comply with their demands, Jesus compared the wayward and evil generation in which he and John lived. Had they not found bitter fault with John because he had declined to have anything to do with their wicked self-indulgent feasting and luxury? How often had Pharisee and scribe railed with bitter railings against Jesus because he would have nothing to do with their false and hypocritical fastings, with their pretended shrinking from what they deemed unclean and unworthy of them! Dr. Morrison puts it rightly, and forcibly: "They were dissatisfied with John, and would have nothing to do with him." If we are to have reformers, commend us to such as come near us, and visit our houses, and sit at our tables, and are sociable like ourselves.' They pretended, on the other hand, to scorn Jesus, who, while making so lofty a profession, yet went about eating and drinking in people's houses, and even in the homes of publicans and sinners. 'He should have gone into the desert and lived an abstemious life ... Commend us to ascetic men for our reformers.'" The line of interpretation which seems to us simpler and fitted to the framework of the little parable is in the main thus adopted by Meyer, Dr. W. Bleek, Bishop Wordsworth, and Dean Plumptre. "You men of this generation," writes Bishop Wordsworth, "are like a troop of wayward children, who go on with their own game, at one time gay, at another grave, and give heed to no one else, and expect that every one should conform to them. You were angry with John because he would not dance to your piping, and with me because 1 will not weep to your dirge; John censured your licentiousness, I rebuke your hypocrisy; you vilify both, and reject the good counsel of God, who has devised a variety of means for your salvation."
For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine. Referring to his austere life spent in the desert, apart from the ordinary joys and pleasures of men, not even sharing in what are usually termed the necessities of life. He was, in addition, a perpetual Nazarite, and as such no wine or fermented drink ever passed his lips. And ye say, He hath a devil. Another way for expressing their conviction that the great desert-preacher was insane, and assigning a demoniacal possession as the cause of madness. Not very long after this incident the curtain of death fell on the earthly scene of John's life. "We fools accounted his life madness, and his end to be without honour: how is he numbered among the children of God, and his lot is among the saints!" (Wis. 5:4, 5). We. may be quite sure that "in the fiery furnace God walked with his servant, so that his spirit was not harmed, and having thus annealed his nature to the utmost that this earth can do, he took him hastily away and placed him among the glorified in heaven" (Irving, quoted by Farrar).
The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners! The reproach belonged to the general way of our Lord's way of living, consorting as he did with men and women in the common everyday life of man, sharing in their joys as in their sorrows, in their festivity as in their mourning. But the words specially refer to his taking part in such scenes as the feast in the house of Matthew the publican.
But wisdom is justified of all her children. One of those bright, wise sayings of the Son of mail which belong not to the society of Capernaum and Jerusalem, but which are the heritage of all ages. The words find their fulfilment in all those holy and humble men of heart—rich as well as poor—who rejoice in goodness and purity, in self-denying love and bright faith, whether it be preached or advocated by a Fenelon or a Wesley.
The nameless woman who was a sinner, and Simon the-Pharisee. As regards the incident about to be told, some commentators have believed that the anointing was identical with that related by St. John as having taken place at Bethany very shortly before the Crucifixion. Without detailing the several points of difference in the two recitals, it will be sufficient surely to call attention to the character of the Bethany family, Lazarus and his sisters, the intimate friends of Jesus, to show how monstrous it would be to attempt to connect the poor soul who followed the Master to Simon's house with the sweet Mary of Bethany. A widely spread and, in the Western Church, a very generally received tradition identifies this woman with Mary of Magdala—the Mary Magdalene mentioned in Luke 9:2, and again after the Crucifixion, in company with the band of holy women (Luke 24:10). Out of Mary Magdalene, we learn, had been cast seven devils. This, however, gives us no clue to identify the two; rather the contrary. It is scarcely likely that the apparently well-known courtesan of the touching story was a demoniac.
The earliest writers say nothing respecting the identity of the two. Gregory the Great, however, stamped the theory with his direct assertion, and that the Western Church generally accepted the identification of the two is clear from the selection of this narrative of St. Luke as the portion of Scripture appointed for the Gospel for the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene.
It is impossible to decide the question positively. One modern commentator of distinction quaintly pleads for Gregory the Great's rather arbitrary theory, by suggesting that there is no sufficient reason to disturb the ancient Christian belief which has been consecrated in so many glorious works of art; but, in spite of this, the opinion which considers "the woman which was a sinner" the same person as "the Magdalene," is really based on Little else than on a mediaeval tradition.
St. Luke alone relates this touching story. We can conceive the joy of Paul when this "memory of the Master" came across him. It so admirably illustrates what this great teacher felt was his Master's mind on the all-important subject—the freeness and universality of salvation.
It seems likely enough that Dean Plumptre's interesting conjecture respecting this scene in the Pharisee Simon's house is correct. "Occurring, as the narrative does, in St. Luke only, it is probable enough that the 'woman which was a sinner' became known to the company of devout women named in the following chapter (Luke 8:1-3), and that the evangelist derived his knowledge of the fact from them. His reticence—probably their reticence—as to the name was, under the circumstances, at once natural and considerate." No special note of time or of the locality is appended. If this sinner was one and the same with the Magdalene, then the city implied is certainly Magdala, the modern mud village of El-Mejdel, but at that time a populous wealthy town on the Lake of Galilee. If, as we believe, the two were not identical, the city is most probably Capernaum, the usual residence of our Lord.
And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee's house. Up to this period the relations between our Lord and the dominant parties in the capital had not reached a state of positive hostility. The Pharisees, as the chief among these parties in the state, had taken the initiative, and were sharply watching One whose influence among the people they more than suspected was hostile to them. But they had not as yet declared him a public enemy and blasphemer. This wealthy Pharisee, Simon, was evidently, like others of his sect at this time, Wavering in his estimate of Jesus. On the one hand, he was naturally influenced by the hostile views entertained at head-quarters concerning the Galilaean Teacher; on the other, personal intercourse with the Master, the acts he had witnessed, and the words he had heard, disposed him to a reverential admiration. Simon evidently (Luke 7:39) had not made up his mind whether or not Jesus was a Prophet. His soul, too—this we gather from Luke 7:42—had received some great spiritual good from his intercourse with the Master. But though he invited him to be a guest at his house, and evidently loved him (Luke 7:47) a little, still he received his Divine Guest with but a chilling and coldly courteous reception. Not unlikely Simon the Pharisee knew lie was watched that day, and that among his guests were men who would report every action of his on that occasion to the leaders of his party in Jerusalem. His cold courtesy, almost lack of courtesy, towards the Master was thus probably the result of his fear of man and of man's judgment. And sat down to meat; literally, reclined. The Jews at that time followed in their repasts the Greek (or Roman) custom of reclining on couches; the guest lay with his elbows on the table, and his feet, unsandalled, stretched out on the couch.
And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house. The text in the older authorities is more forcible: "a woman which was a sinner in that city." Her miserable way of life would thus be well known to Simon and other of the guests. This sad detail would serve to bring out the contrast in more vivid colours. In these Oriental feasts the houses were often left open, and uninvited strangers frequently passed in through the open courtyard into the guest-chamber, and looked on. She had heard Jesus already, perhaps often, and had drunk in his pleading words, begging sinners to turn and to come to him for peace. Perhaps what had decided her to take this step of boldly seeking out the Master were words apparently spoken about this time (in St. Matthew's Gospel they follow directly after the discourse respecting the Baptist just related), "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest," etc. (Matthew 11:28-30). It was a bold step for one like her to press uninvited, in broad daylight, into the house of a rigid purist like Simon; but the knowledge that Jesus (though personally, as she thought, she was unknown to him) was there, gave her courage; she felt no one would dare to thrust her out of the presence of the strange loving Master, who so earnestly had bidden the sin-weary come to him, and he would give them rest! Brought an alabaster box of ointment. Pliny mentions alabaster as the best material for pots or vessels intended for these precious ointments. It was softer than marble, and easily scooped into pots or bottles. These costly unguents and cosmetics were much used by the wealthy Roman ladies. The precious ointment poured over the Redeemer's feet had probably been originally procured for a very different purpose. The word μύρον, translated "ointment," was used for any kind of sweet-smelling vegetable essence, especially that of the myrtle.
And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. It had been, no doubt, with her a settled purpose for days, this presenting herself to the pitiful Master. She had been one of his listeners, without doubt, for some time previously, and that morning probably she made up her mind to approach him. He was a great public Teacher, and his movements would be well known in the city. She heard he was to be present at a feast in the house of the rich Pharisee Simon. It would be easier, she thought, to get close to him there than in the crowd in the marketplace or in the synagogue; so taking with her a flask of perfumed ointment, she passed into the courtyard with others, and so made her way unnoticed into the guest-chamber. As she stood behind him, and the sweet words of forgiveness and reconciliation, the pleading invitation to all heavy-laden, sin-burdened ones to come to him for peace, which she in the past days bad listened to so eagerly, came into her mind, unbidden tears rose into her eyes and fell on the Master's feet as he lay on his couch; and, after the manner of slaves with their masters, she wiped the tear-wet feet with her long hair, which she evidently loosed for this loving purpose, and then quietly poured the fragrant ointment on the feet where her tears had fallen. It was the perfume of the ointment which called the host's attention to this scene of sorrow and heartfelt penitence.
Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This Man, if he were a Prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him. It is clear that it was no mere curiosity which prompted his asking the Master to be his Guest. Respect and love for the Galilaean Teacher alternated with dread of what the Pharisee order to which he belonged would think of his conduct. As we have said, he compromised the matter with his heart, by inviting Jesus publicly, but then only receiving him with the coldest formality. He seems half-glad of this incident, for it seemed in some measure to excuse his haughty unfriendly reception of One from whom he had undoubtedly received rich spiritual benefit, as we shall see further on. "Hardly a great Prophet, then, after all, else he would have known all about her." This was what at once occurred to Simon. For she is a sinner. Yes, in Simon's mind, and in the world's estimation, but before the throne of God she was differently viewed. She had heard the Master's loving call to repentance, and a new life and a change had taken place in her whole being since she had listened to his voice.
And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. How accurately did the Master read Simon's heart. Not a real Prophet because he was in ignorance of the character and life of the woman whom he suffered without rebuke to pour the fragrant ointment over him! We almost see the half-sad smile flickering on the Teacher's lips as he turned and spoke to his host. Such a parable-story as Jesus was about to give utterance to was no uncommon form of teaching on such an occasion when a well-known Rabbi like Jesus was Guest at a festal gathering.
Luke 7:41, Luke 7:42
There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. The illustration was from the everyday life of the people. This lending and borrowing was ever a prominent feature in the common life of the Jews. Pointed warnings against greed and covetousness, and the habit of usury, and the love of perpetual trafficking, we find in all the Old Testament books, notably in Deuteronomy, and then centuries later in the Proverbs, besides repeated instances in the prophetic writings and historical books. The character of the Jews in this respect has never changed from the days of their nomad life—from the times of their slavery under the Pharaohs to our own day. In this particular instance the two debtors were of the common folk, the sums in question being comparatively small; but in both cases the debtors could never hope to pay their creditors. They were alike hopelessly insolvent, both helplessly bankrupt. The larger sum, considering' the relative value of money, has been computed only to have represented about £50 of our currency. And the two received from their creditor a free, generous acquittance of the debt which would have hopelessly ruined them. In the mind of Jesus the larger debt pictured the terrible catalogue of sins which the penitent woman acknowledged she had committed; the smaller, the few transgressions which even the Pharisee confessed to having been guilty of. They were both sinners before God, both equally insolvent in his eyes; whether the debt was much or little was to the almighty Creditor a matter of comparative, indifference—he frankly forgave them both (better, "freely," the Greek word ἀχαρίσατο signifies "forgave of his generous bounty"). The Revisers simply translate "he forgave," but something more is needed to reproduce the beautiful word in the original. "Frankly," in the sense of "freely," is used by Shakespeare—
"I do beseech your grace …
... now to forgive me frankly."
('Henry VIII.,' act 2. sc. 1.)
Thou hast rightly judged. "Come, now, I will show thee what I meant by my little story, in thine answer. Thou hast judged thyself. Thou art the man with the little debt of sin, as thou thinkest, and the little love given in return for the cancelled debt; for see how thou hast treated me thy Guest, and how she has made up for thy lack of friendship and courtesy." The following contrasts are adduced by the Master: "Thou didst not provide me with that which is so usual to offer guests—I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet" (in those hot dusty countries, after walking, water to wash the feet was scarcely a luxury, it was rather a necessity); "in thy house the only water which has touched my feet was the warm rain of this sad woman's tears."
Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. "Thou gavest me no kiss of respect on entering, to which as a Rabbi I was surely entitled; she hath repeatedly kissed my feet."
My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. "It never entered thy thoughts to pay me the homage—and yet I had helped thee, too, a little—of pouring oil on my head"; "but she hath anointed, not my head, she shrank, poor soul! from doing this; but my feet. And, too, it was no common oil which she used, but precious, fragrant ointment. A cold, loveless welcome, indeed, my Pharisee friend, was thine! Thou thinkest it honour enough the mere admitting the carpenter's Son to thy table; no need of these special tokens of friendship for thy Guest—the water for the feet, the kiss for the face, the oil for the head. It were a pity, surely, for the great world at Jerusalem to look on thee as the friend of the Nazareth Teacher, as on the one Pharisee who loved to honour the Galilaean Reformer."
Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven. Again, as in the synagogue, and no doubt on many other occasions, when these words were uttered, a thrill would run through the company present. Who was this, then, one would ask the other, who with this voice and mien dared to utter such things? Only One could forgive sins! Was, then, the Nazareth Rabbi, the great Physician, the Worker of awful miracles—was he the One whose Name was lost, but the echo of whose voice still lingered, they hoped, in that desecrated Holy Land? For she loved much. Are we, then, to understand by this that her love for Jesus was the cause of forgiveness? Many Roman and some Protestant expositors have believed this is the meaning of the Lord's words. But at once a contradiction is given to this interpretation by a reference to Luke 7:42, where, after the remission of the two debts—the great and the little—Jesus asks, "Which of these will love him most?" But had love been the cause of a forgiveness of either or both of the debts, the question should have run, "Which of the two loved him most?" not "will love him most." In addition to which the Master guards against any view of this kind being entertained, by his concluding words (Luke 7:50), "Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace." The principle on which forgiveness was granted to the woman was faith, not love. Stier, in his comment here, writes that the expression of the Lord, "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much," is an argumentum, non a causa, sed ab effectu; in other words, "I say unto thee, Her many sins are forgiven, and thou must infer from this that she loved much, or, she loves much, for (that is, because) her sins are forgiven." Stier gives another example of the meaning of "for" ( ὅτι) in this place: "The sun is risen [it must have risen], for it is day" (Stier, 'Words of the Lord Jesus:' Luke 7:47). Some may ask—What great amount of sin is necessary in order to loving much? Godet well answers, "We need add nothing to what each of us already has, for the sum of the whole matter is—to the noblest and purest of us, what is wanting in order to love much, is not sin, but the knowledge of it. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. This saying refers to Simon the Pharisee; the first saying (in the former part of the verse) which we have been considering refers to the woman. The same principle exactly is presented as in the first instance, and viewed from the other side—the less forgiveness, the less love results. Our Lord is very tender in all this to Simon and men like Simon. This Pharisee had evidently tried to live up to his light, though his life was disfigured with censoriousness, narrowness, harshness, and pride—the many faults of his class. He too had heard Jesus, and had been moved and struck by his words, and, after a fashion, loved him; only the world—his world—came between him and his love, so that it was only a poor, pale reflection of the real feeling after all. But our Lord gives him full credit for that little love. He even excuses its poverty by saying that he, Simon, had only received a little forgiveness, and there fore only a little love was the result. Though the Lord implies in his sad irony that the little forgiveness which he had received was Simon's own fault, for he did not think, in his self-righteousness, that he had any need to be forgiven. "O Pharisaee, parum diligis, quia parum tibi dimitti suspicaris; non quia parum dimittitur, sed quia parum putas quod dimittitur". Godet has a deep reflection on this state of Simon's. He asks, "May forgiveness be only partial? Then there would be men half-saved, half-lost The real forgiveness of the least sin certainly contains in germ a complete salvation, but only in germ. If faith is maintained and grows, this forgiveness will gradually extend to all the sins of a man's life, just as they will then become more thoroughly known and acknowledged. The first forgiveness is the pledge of all the rest. In the contrary case, the forgiveness already granted will be withdrawn, just as represented in the parable of the wicked debtor (Matthew 18:1-35.); and the work of grace, instead of becoming complete, will prove abortive."
And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. Then, turning again to the woman, in her deep penitence, and at the same time in her deep joy—joy springing from her newly found peace—he formally renews to her the assurance of that pardon which she already was conscious of; but in renewing it the Lord mentioned no more "her many sins," as in the first place (Luke 7:47), but simply, "thy sins," thus reducing, as Stier remarks, at last both her and Simon to a common level.
And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace. Then, with just one solemn word reminding the people assembled in that guest-chamber of faith, that firm trust in the goodness and mercy of God upon which her forgiveness rested, he dismissed the woman, rousing her at once from her dreamy ecstasy, sending her from his presence back again into the ordinary life of the busy world, but bearing along with her now his mighty priceless gift of a peace which passeth understanding.
He is a Roman, whose inclinations were naturally' opposed to all that seemed Jewish. He is a heathen by birth, whose early education was wholly removed from the worship of the Father. He is a soldier with a charge in the garrison of Capernaum, tempted, therefore, to indulgence in a domineering spirit, and to the following of that voice which whispers, "Take thy fill ere death; indulge thee and rejoice." What is the portrait presented? A man deeply in earnest about religious things, seeking a fuller satisfaction for his need than heathenism can furnish; and on an occasion when human feelings are stirred, showing such kindliness, such gentleness, such deference along with his trust in Jesus, that, having regard to these qualities, the testimony is given, "I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel." Notice some of the features of this great faith.
I. ITS HUMILITY. He does not himself go to Jesus. He is only a Gentile. He will not so far presume as personally to make a request. He sends the elders of the Jews. Nay, further still, as the time of Jesus' approach draws near, another feeling arises. Is it not too great an honour that the Son of the Highest should come to his house? Other messengers are despatched, begging the Master not to trouble himself; it is too much to ask him to come under the roof of one who is not worthy to come to him. "Say in a word, and my servant shall be healed." Great faith sees the greatness of its object. This heathen soldier has seen the hidden glory of Jesus. The disciples saw power; he saw, felt, holiness; and herein he is our teacher. On the very day of the preaching of the sermon, he is the illustration of its first Beatitude. What is the response of Christ? He entered under the roof of the Pharisee and sat at his table, but this to the Pharisee was condemnation. We do not know whether he entered the house of the centurion, but he came into his soul. As St. Augustine says, "In counting himself unworthy that Christ should enter into his door, he was counted worthy that Christ should enter into his heart." "To this man will I look … even to him that is humble and contrite in spirit."
II. ITS SIMPLICITY. "Say in a word, and my servant shall be healed." Observe how far he is in advance of the faith even of those who knew Christ best. The sisters of Bethany, e.g., "If thou hadst been here, my brother had not died." His soldier experience and habits have come to his aid. Is not Christ the true King of Israel? Are not legions of angels at his bidding? Reasoning from himself, with soldiers under him, he argues—A sentence will suffice. The faith lies in his discernment of Jesus' real character, and his ready, implicit trust. Note two features in his word. Law: "I am under authority." Will: "I have under me soldiers, and I say to this one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh." These features are transferred to the conception of Jesus. Grand for its simplicity is this inner apprehension of Jesus' Person. The value of faith is that it opens the mind to the Lord. It is a poor, empty hand, but it lays hold of the law and the will. It is the "Amen" in which the soul appropriates the health of God's countenance.
III. ITS INFLUENCE. See the directions along which it wrought.
1. Zeal for the worship of God. "He loveth our nation." This of itself is sufficiently strange. But "he hath bulk us a synagogue." There was a spiritual want in his neighbourhood. What excuses he might have offered! "Help these Jews? I don't belong to their nation. I am here only for a time," etc. But he loved the God of the Jews; and the grace of God had educated the conviction that wherever the opportunity of usefulness opens there is the door of service. Faith is always evidenced by a similar zeal, by a desire to give as we have received, to witness for him to whom we owe ourselves. Andrew finds Simon. The woman of Samaria hastens to the city to preach Christ. The centurion builds the synagogue. "I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart: I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation. I have not concealed thy loving-kindness and thy truth from the great congregation."
2. An affectionate interest in the slave. "Dear to him." Cicero apologized in one of his noblest orations for being concerned about a slave. This soldier's heart is bound up in the menial who waits on him. May not this menial have been the instrument of the centurion's enlightenment? In the first Christian centuries the slaves were often thus blessed. If so, no wonder that he was grateful. Be this as it may, a true faith is a new bond of union with men. It gives a higher grace and character to every relation, because it invests the human life with a new sacredness, and reminds us of the equality of all in the love of God. In receiving God we receive one another. How does St. Paul write of the slave Onesimus? "A servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved." The sketch in the gospel is interesting, as a picture of both the good master and the good servant. "Dear to him," remarks Bengel, pointing to Luke 7:8, "because of his obedience." The master's interests are the servant's care. And to the master the dependent is more than "a hand." A nobler tenderness elevates the connection, and secures a place in the sympathies of the heart. Is there no homily in this touch of sanctified nature for our time?
The widow's son.
We are indebted to St. Luke for the touching incidents recorded in these verses. Observe—
I. THE SPRING OF THE ACTION. "When the Lord saw her, he had compassion." Some of Christ's most notable words and works were associated with, grew out of, circumstances which presented themselves in the course of his journeyings. There was no attempt at miracle. There was neither show nor effort. What was done was so spontaneous that it seemed as if he could not help doing it. Here a sad procession meets his eye. There are specialities in it which touch the fountains alike of Divine power and of brotherly sympathy. He is "moved with compassion." A beautiful phrase, which bids us not merely into but behind the humanity—into the light of such a sentence as "God so loved the world." What is redemption but the activity of Divine emotion? At Nain the compassion of Christ fulfilled itself by sparing an only son. The great love wherewith God has loved us has fulfilled itself by not sparing the only begotten Son. The compassion of Christ, as he approached the gate of the city, gave one son back to a mother. God's great love has, through the sacrifice of the cross, brought back many sons to the outstretched arms of a waiting Father. It is our faith in this infinite compassion that is the source of all our hopes for men. It cannot be a matter of indifference to the Father that one of even his little ones perish. There are problems, as bearing on this, which the facts we observe and some intimations of the meekest and lowliest himself suggest—problems so painful and awful that, in respect of them, we must hold our peace. But, against them, trust in a living God makes it almost a necessity to cling to this—that, in all possible states, God's compassion has a way towards the souls he has made. As regards this particular instance, the appeal to the compassion is threefold: a mother weeps behind the bier of an only son; a widow bewails the loss of her only comforter, the support and solace of her desolate heart; it is a son, a young man, with all the possibilities of use in this world cut off, who is being carried out. In response to this appeal, he is moved; and has he not, in thus yielding to a pure human impulse, left us an example? It is right to hold all impulses in obedience to reason. We must hold compassion with a firm rein; yet it is not to be restrained by irksome bit and bridle. The best teacher in all benevolences is the heart, like that of Jesus,
"... at leisure from itself
To soothe and sympathize."
II. THE MANNER OF THE ACTION. Interesting, with regard, first, to the event related. Note:
1. The whisper straight from the heart of the God-Man to the heart of the sufferer: "Weep not!"
2. The touch of the open coffin, causing ceremonial defilement, but expressive of the attitude of him who is the "Resurrection and the Life:" "He came and touched the bier."
3. Then, as the pall-bearers stand still, the word with power; "Young man, I say unto thee, Arise!" What a change is wrought in that moment, and by that word! "Death is swallowed up in victory." Suggestive and eloquent when accepted as a symbol of Saviour love and work.
Behold in the action a picture and a prophecy.
1. Hearken to the voice of God, "Weep not!" "Cure sin," it has been said, "and you cure sorrow." He who was made sin for us, of whom the forerunner had testified, "Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world!" could alone effectually wipe away the tear. The comfort of others plays on the surface; his comfort reaches into the hidden place, the hidden cause of all trouble—it is the cure of sin. Are there now only faint echoes—echoes becoming fainter and fainter as the ages roll on—of the sentence uttered at Nain? Nay; this sentence, now that he has ascended and is the Prince and Saviour, giving repentance and forgiveness of sins, is fuller in its volume and mightier in its force. All that can give strength, that can inspire with hope, is confirmed and sealed for evermore. "Weep not!" O bruised, broken heart, there is in the "strong Son of God, immortal love," an oil of joy for all your mourning, a garment of praise for every spirit of heaviness.
2. But the dead is there, with Christ; and the word for the dead is, "Arise!" Let us not think only of the physical death. The spiritual and the physical are always associated in the thought of Christ; and the work at Nain is a symbol of both. As special Christ-words conjoin "Weep not!" and "Arise!" "He saith," writes St. Paul, quoting no particular saying of God, but the substance of all God's sayings, "awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light!"
III. A SPECIAL APPLICATION OF THE SCENE AND ACTION. "Young man, I say unto thee, Arise!" This is the key-note of sermons and addresses to young men. Brother, too often asleep to the higher meanings of thine own existence—asleep and unconscious of the presence of him who loves thee, self-indulgent, dead in the death of the self-seeking worldly mind, the Lord is touching thy bier; the Lord is calling," Arise!" start from thy sad indifference. Give those who love thee the joy of the morning without clouds, the new, better life in God. Hear the voice of the Son of God, and thou too shalt live.
The message of John Baptist, and the discourse occasioned by it.
Various answers, not now to be discussed, have been given to the question—Why did John send the two followers with the message recorded? The message does seem to imply that the confidence of the Baptist had become overcast by the sorrow of the passing hour. Would it have been strange if, hearing of Jesus in the flood-tide of popular enthusiasm, working and speaking in the power of the Lord, a moment's feeling of weariness stole over the ardent spirit? "He there, and I here, within the dismal walls of the prison! He, thinking of all else, and no thought apparently of me! He increasing more and more, like the sun advancing to the perfect day; I decreasing more and more, my sun setting in the thick darkness! Can it be all a reality? Has my witness been wholly true? What if—? what if—? Jesus of Nazareth, say, 'Art thou really he? Tell me, so soon to pass from this earthly scene, that I have followed no illusion—that verily there is none else to be looked for.'" Other thoughts may have filled the mind, other motives for the mission may have influenced; but it brings the passage very near to us when we trace in it the faltering of faith. For there are moments of faltering in the history of faith. The sky of our spiritual life is not always cloudless. All the while the soul may be thirsting for the living God, but it cannot see him; from within there come voices demanding, "Where is thy God?" If a tormenting scepticism visited the honest heart of John, we can understand it, and feel the more our kinship with him. The wonderful thing would have been if misgiving had never ruffled the face of his heart; if no such film had gathered over his eye as that signified in the question, "Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?"
I. THE QUESTION HAS NOT YET RUN ITS COURSE. It expresses the attitude of the piety of the people, in the roll of whose greatest stands the Baptist's name. It is sad that so much of the culture of Israel has separated from Israel's hope, has declared its contentment with a mere barren pantheism; that so much of its piety is busied with the effort to explain away the obvious meaning of the old prophecies, or to deny their reference to the Anointed One. But the Jew still lives, and the land of the Jew still waits. Pray for the conversion and restoration of Israel, when the people that sit in darkness shall see the problem solved which has for so long been the stumbling-stone and rock of offence, "Jesus of Nazareth, art thou he who was promised to come, or must we continue to look for another?"
II. NOW, OBSERVE THE LORD'S ANSWER. It is:
1. A word to John. The reply to the inquiry is given "in that hour." The messengers are charged to return and tell (verses 22, 23) what things they saw and heard. The works of Christ are the credentials of his mission, not because they are miraculous, but because they are the kind of works appropriate to the Sent of God. Recognizing the supernatural efficacy of Christ's kingdom, the witness for him is chiefly what he does, what Christianity effects wherever it is truly received. We see it breathing a new life, inspiring with a new hope, awaking new powers, putting to flight the armies of the aliens—a power of God to salvation. E.g. Lady Barker, in her charming letters from South Africa, says, "I feel it incumbent on me to bear testimony, not only in this instance and in this colony, to the enormous amount of real, tangible, common-sense good accomplished among the black races all over the world by Wesleyan, Methodist, and Baptist missionaries." So, universally, it is the kind of life which Christ's teaching produces; it is the wondrous changes in man himself, and therefore in man's world, which the spirit of his life accomplishes, which, to all earnest inquirers, settles the issue, "Art thou he that should come?" "Blessed"—with gentle authority the Master adds—"blessed is he whosoever shall find none occasion of stumbling in me."
2. A word concerning John after the messengers have departed. "A word," says Farrar, "of rhythmic and perfect loveliness" (verses 24-28). Mark the conclusion, however—Greater prophet than he now immured in Herod's gloomy prison never was born of woman. Yet this must be added, he who is real]y within the kingdom, who has really received the kingdom in receiving Jesus as the King, however inferior to him in gifts and force, is a partaker of fuller blessing and privilege than he. "With all my imperfections," said Bunsen, on his dying bed, "I have ever striven after the best. But the best and noblest is to have known Jesus Christ."
3. A word to the unsympathetic and opposing Pharisees and lawyers. The people endorse the eulogy passed on John; but the Pharisees and lawyers frown. It is with reference to their unreasonable petulance that the sentences verses 31-35 are spoken. What could satisfy such carpers? Verily, their successors are to be found in our day. The mind that is enmity against God will make faults, will twist any evidence, will imitate the children who will not be pleased, no matter what is done to evoke their response. Poor pedants! "they must stay in the dark until they are tired of it." Very different from such are the children of the true wisdom. They recognize and honour her under different types and forms. Wherever they see the prints of her shoes, there they love to put their feet also. "Wisdom is justified of all her children."
The woman who was a sinner.
It is a truly lovely story which the evangelist tells—one of those passages in the life of Christ which we are never tired of reading, and as full of meaning as it is full of beauty. We may regard it from many points, and present its didactic force in many ways. Perhaps we shall best ensure the reception of its various lights by studying the portraiture of character which it gives.
I. THERE IS SIMON THE PHARISEE—Jesus' host on the afternoon of the day whose earlier part had been signalized by the mighty work at Nain. The notable thing about this Simon is that he meets our view as the type of that anonymous, yet most powerful, influence which we call society. He is one of the priests of that goddess which society, everywhere and in every time, worships—Respectability. A Pharisee! that is as it should be. The Herodians were a base, courtly party, fawning on the Herodian dynasty, and therefore outside religious society. The Sadducees were latitudinarians. Some of them were clever, and had much to do with the intellectual life of the nation; but, on the whole, they were a cold-blooded sect which could not command the vote of society. The correct course was to be the Pharisee. That secured the social place, put one right with the Church and the world, for this life and the next. The odour of sanctity clung to the profession; it intimated a certain aristocratic position—a position among the elect of the heavenly kingdom. Simon the Pharisee is in society. And the desire that Jesus should eat with him, the entertainment which he offered Jesus, is in behalf of society. That must have its lion. It takes up one to-day and dismisses him to-morrow, but a lion it must have. Sometimes the lion is a religious person; a great preacher or a great author becomes, for the time, the fashion. Jesus of Nazareth was the hero of the hour. Everybody spoke of him, of what he did, said, was. This priest of society must give him a dinner. We need not suppose secret hostility. Simon seems to have been willing to know more of Jesus than he did know, to study him as a phenomenon with at least a measure of interest. But he is the patron. The courtesies which would have been extended to the privileged few are omitted. Is not this Jesus only a Peasant-Preacher? Further still, the conduct of the Pharisee is representative of the separatist side of society, not only toward Jesus, but toward the sinner. It is without generosity of feeling; it is narrow, bitter when its canons are broken. That horrid creature to come to his table and touch his guest!—is it not monstrous? He a Prophet? That he should let her go near him, that she should bestow her caresses on him—this is sufficient to dispose of the claim. He could not imagine any purpose of the visit except an evil one; and such a visit was a disgrace to his house. For Respectability, hard in its judgment, is always selfish, always thinking how a thing will look, what is becoming or proper, how it can be protected and preserved. Holiness seeks the sinner; it will give itself for him. Respectability bids the sinner away. Ah! this Simon is a figure most conspicuous in our life! Respectability is the Juggernaut-car which rolls through our midst; and, as it rolls, multitudes rush forward and lay themselves prostrate before it. It has a place for Jesus; it will patronize him. Jesus has a word for it, a terribly scathing word. "Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee."
II. THERE IS THE WOMAN. Who she was we know not. There is really nothing to confirm the old tradition which identifies her with that Mary called Magdalene, referred to in the following chapter, out of whom seven devils were cast. Whoever she was, she is known by only one feature—she was a sinner, an abandoned woman of the city. Perhaps she had heard some word of the gentle Prophet as he passed through the street. In some way "the Dayspring from on high" had visited her. And—not so difficult a matter in an Eastern house—she forced her way to his presence. Poor, weary one, for whom, for many and many a day there had been no sunshine—a mere plaything of coarse and wicked men! Observe her action as recorded in Luke 7:37, Luke 7:38. It is to her that the Lord turns; he has glances and words for her which he has not for the priests of Respectability. From her heart proceed the welcomes which the Pharisee had denied him (Luke 7:44-46): Yes, in the social outcast there is often a preparation for Christ, a power of self-abandoning, simple trust, which is wanting in the Pharisees of society, with their forms and phylacteries, the pomp and pride and circumstance of the be-worshipped Respectability.
III. THE DEALING OF JESUS is "a precious history, the sweet kernel of which poor sinners will never exhaust." Consider his words about the woman, and his words to the woman.
1. The word in the forty-seventh verse—let us see that we rightly apprehend it. The meaning is not, as might hastily be gathered, "forgiven because of her much love," as if the love were the reason of the forgiveness. That would be equal to putting the rill before the spring. There are two kinds of "for "—the "for" causal and the "for" inferential. It is the for inferential which we find in Jesus' saying. "From the love which moved this sinner to me, which constrained her to lavish on me the signs of respect which thou, Simon, didst omit, thou canst infer that her sins, which are many, are forgiven. Even as the tree is known by its fruit, so her forgiveness is proved by the presence of its appropriate fruit—love." This is the view borne out by the short parable which was the something that Jesus had to say to Simon (Luke 7:41-43). Suppose that we insist on an interpretation of this parable which the terms employed in it might warrant, we are met by serious difficulties. For instance, it might seem to teach that the more, in amount, the debt remitted, the more will be the love realized; that the more of a sinner one has been, the more of a saint, after conversion, one will be. But we know that this could not be the meaning of Christ; and it was not. It is not the quantity of sins, but the conscience of sin, the sense of its sinfulness and bitterness and tyranny, which determines the question of the larger or smaller debtor. In the case before us, one steeped in iniquity represents the larger, the Pharisee the smaller. But, to prove that the consciousness of owing a great debt—the being, in one's own judgment, the five-hundred-pence debtor, yea, the chief of sinners—does not involve a wicked course of life, recollect the Apostle Paul, who had been zealous towards God above his equals. When he thinks of his "exceeding madness" against Jesus, he confesses, "I have nothing to pay. No debt could have been greater than mine, wretched man that I am." The much love is measured by the sense of there having been much forgiven. The love is as the knowledge of sin. If you think there is little to forgive, you will love only little.
2. There are two words to the woman herself (Luke 7:50). "He said to her, Thy sins are forgiven." An absolution, accepted by all who heard it, as full and authoritative. They are amazed: "Who is this that even forgives the sins?" Oh! who is he? Hartley Coleridge finely says—
"All the blame
And the poor malice of the worldly shame
To her were past, extinct, and out of date;
Only the sin remained, the leprous state."
It was to this leprous state that the word went down. With the voice of a declared pardon, there was felt the power of a new purity. "Daughter, thy sins are sent away from between thy God and thee. They are blotted out, no more to be remembered. And lo! as thou art justified, thou art washed throughly from thine iniquity, and cleansed from thy sin. Thy faith hath saved thee" (Luke 7:50). The Lord gave no heed to the murmurs of those reclining at table. He answers these murmurs by not answering, or rather, by this additional word to the woman. The salvation was the entrance of forgiving love; and it was the trust in him that drew her to the Pharisee's house, which had opened her soul to his healing power. The power is only, is wholly, in him, but the faith is the condition and the means of the deliverance. "Saved, rejoicing sinner, go in peace." Wondrous, glorious gospel! his, hers, who wills to have it as the poor woman willed! Sinners of modern Christendom, you must be stripped of all the soft complacencies of Pharisaic righteousness; consciously poor and needy—sinners, and nothing else, you must get to the Christ of God. Until thus you have reached him, there is only a "something to say to you." The frank forgiveness, the fulness of the eternal life, is when he looks into the clinging soul, when he says, "Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace."
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Faith in its fulness.
The greatness of the centurion's faith is attested by our Lord himself; he declared that it was superior to anything he had "found in Israel." We see evidence of its fulness in that—
I. IT TRIUMPHED OVER NATIONAL PREJUDICE. Here is a Roman exercising the most perfect confidence in a Jew—putting one in whom he was closely and deeply interested into the hands of an Israelite. We must remember all the pride of the Romans as such, and all their hatred as well as contempt of the Jews, to realize the fulness of this triumph.
II. IT WAS BASED ON COMPARATIVELY SLENDER EVIDENCE. "When he heard of Jesus, he sent." Clearly, then, he had not seen him, had not witnessed his works, had not listened to his wisdom; he was without the larger part of the evidence which was before the people of that neighbourhood. He had but "heard of" him, and yet he believed in him.
III. IT WAS CHERISHED IN SPITE OF CONSCIOUS UNWORTHINESS. He took a very humble view of himself. This we gather from his action in sending the elders of the Jews to intercede on his behalf (verse 3), and from his language in stating that he was not worthy that Christ should "enter under his roof" (verse 6). Yet had he such an assurance of our Lord's kindness of heart that he was persuaded he would pity and help him, notwithstanding this undeservedness on his part.
IV. IT ASSUMED THAT CHRIST WOULD RESPOND TO A RESPECTFUL AND EARNEST PLEA.
V. IT SHOWED A WONDERFUL CONFIDENCE IN HIS ABILITY TO HEAL. The sending of the deputation, in the first instance, showed the confidence of the centurion in the power of Christ. But the fulness of his faith in this direction was manifested in the sending of the second deputation—in charging them with that most striking message (verses 6-8). It is interesting to notice how the soldierly profession, which might well seem to be most unlikely to help a man to discipleship to the Prince of peace, did, in fact, serve him in good stead. It enabled him to grasp fully the idea of Divine authority. He was, he said, a man who knew well what was meant by command and obedience. He was accustomed to obey implicitly those who were over him in position, and he was also in the habit of receiving the full and immediate obedience of those who were under him. To them he said, "Come," and they came; "Go," and they went. Whatever forces of nature this Divine Healer might wish to employ, he had only to do the like; he had but to command, and they would instantly obey. Thus his military training helped him to a faith in the authority and power of Christ which distinguished him above others, and which brought down the blessing he sought (verse 10). We learn:
1. That unbelief in Jesus Christ is wholly inexcusable in us Consider how, in contrast with this centurion, we have no prejudice to overcome, but have been baptized into (or brought up in) the faith of Jesus Christ. Consider also how, in contrast with this man, we have had constant access to the Saviour, and are the children of privilege in the fullest sense of the word. And consider also what evidence we have had before us of Christ's willingness and power to save in all that we have heard, read, and seen.
2. The validity of any sincere belief, weak or strong. It may be that something in our spiritual constitution or in our religious training may make us incapable, at the beginning, of exercising so strong a faith as that here illus trated. This need not, and must not, keep us from making an appeal to the Saviour. Not all that sought his aid had faith like this; yet he healed them also. We must come as we are and as we can. He is One that "does not break the bruised reed." A faith that is feeble, but sincere, will not go home unblessed.—C.
Patriotism and piety.
The mutual respect shown here by Jew and Roman is very pleasing, and the more so that it was so rare. Disdain rather than regard, hatred rather than affection, characterized both peoples; and it is a very agreeable change to find so different a state of mind. Here the Roman loves the Jewish nation, and the elders of the Jews come out to serve the Roman. The plea which they present to Christ, that out of attachment to their nation he had built them a synagogue, was very forcible, and it did not fail. The conjunction of the two clauses of the text suggests the close connection between piety and patriotism.
I. OUR INDEBTEDNESS TO THE RELIGION OF OUR NATIVE LAND, The centurion loved the nation, and why? The Jew had one thing to give the Roman, and that was a very great thing. Civilization, military science, and law, were of the Roman; but "salvation was of the Jews" (John 4:22). This Roman, who probably saw many things in Galilee that he pitied, found something that first surprised, then convinced, then satisfied and ennobled him—he found a true theology and a pure morality. With this he found rest of soul, domestic purity, health and sweetness of life; he became another man, and lived another life. He was indebted to the religion of this country of his adoption. What do we owe to the religion of the land in which we were born? How much more do we owe to the Christianity we have learned in England than the centurion (of the text) owed to the Judaism he learned in Galilee! Our holy faith, taught us in childhood and impressed upon us through all our days, has brought into our view a heavenly Father, a Divine Saviour and Friend, a Holy Spirit and Comforter, a blessed service, a godly brotherhood, a noble life, a glorious hope of immortal blessedness. What shall we render to the country of our birth which has trained us in such truths as these?
II. OUR BEST ACKNOWLEDGMENT. This man "loved the nation and built them a synagogue." What better thing could he do than this? What kindlier or truer service could he render them? Those synogogues had been the homes of devotion and the sources of sacred instruction for four hundred years, and they had rendered inestimable service to the nation. The influences which radiated from them had kept the people loyal to their faith, and had preserved in them all the better qualities they possessed. And what can we do to serve the country which has nourished us in the faith of Christ? We can do all that lies in our power to promote its material prosperity, to secure its freedom, to extend its knowledge and intelligence. But, these not being left undone, there is one thing more which is greater than these—we can promote its piety. By so doing we shall serve it in the highest sphere; we shall be doing that which will gain for it the favour of Almighty God; we shall be indirectly serving it in all other ways, for the children of God will be the best citizens of their country in any and every department of human action. And how shall we best promote the piety of our land?
1. By living a devout and upright life in our own humble sphere.
2. By making known, in all open ways, the distinctive truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
3. By supporting the institutions which are closely connected with it—its edifices, its societies, its homes.—C.
Christ visiting and abiding.
We cannot wonder that the people exclaimed as they did, "God hath visited his people," when they witnessed such a miracle as this. It was clear enough that One from the heavenly world was with them, manifesting Divine power and pity. We have here—
I. A TOUCHING PICTURE OF THE EXTREMES OF HUMAN JOY AND SORROW. The great darkness of death had overshadowed a human home; death had come to a young man, one who had passed through the perils of early life, and had qualified himself for the larger duties and weightier obligations of manhood; one, therefore, to whom life was peculiarly dear and precious. This young man was an only son, in whom all his mother's love had centred, on whom she leaned as her one support; and she was a widow, most needing the solace of affection, least able to dispense with the prop that was left her. A supreme sorrow was hers. Then came a sudden revulsion of feeling. Just at the very hour when grief was at its very depth, as the young man was being carried to his grave, he is restored to her. The inanimate form is quickened to a new life; there is "a light upon the brows" which is not "the daylight only," but the light of consciousness; the stilled tongue speaks again; the pallor of death gives place to the hue of health. Her son is hers again; her home is home again; she takes back her life with his. A more complete rebound from uttermost sorrow to intensest peace and joy can never have been known.
II. CHRIST'S CROWNING ACT OF AUTHENTICATION. When our Lord sent back his reply to John we are not surprised that he mentions, as the crowning instance of his power, that "the dead are raised" (verse 22). Much as it was to give sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf and activity to the lame, much as it was to cleanse the lepers of their foul and terrible disease, it was very much more to restore the dead to life. That was the supreme and sovereign act, proving that Jesus did come forth from God, and was what he claimed to be. That was a power beyond all the skill of human science, beyond all the arts of necromancy; it bespoke the near presence of the Divine. Surely God was visiting his people.
III. A PROPHECY OF THE PRESENT AND THE LASTING MISSION OF THE DIVINE RESTORER. What Jesus Christ visited this world to do for the bodies of men he now lives and reigns to do for their souls—to restore them to newness of life. He is with us always, here on earth, "not to sojourn, but to abide" with us, exercising a far more glorious power than that he put forth at the gates of the city of Nain. That young man had another lease of life; to the days that he had spent on earth there were added a certain number more. Then he sickened again, and died; and death and the grave claimed their own. But when Jesus Christ, our Divine Saviour, now confers spiritual life, he awakens us to an existence
1. The death to which this man succumbed was the type of the spiritual death which is the sad consequence of sin.
2. To those thus lost to God and man he speaks with sovereign voice, "Arise!" he bids them realize their guilt and danger; he summons them to repentance; he invites them to a whole-hearted trust in himself, the Almighty Saviour; he bids them walk thenceforth in the way of his commandments.
3. He restores them to their friends as those who, under his gracious hand, will be henceforth what they have never been before.
4. He calls forth deepest gratitude and reverence from all that witness the exercise of his power and grace.—C.
Human goodness and the permanency of the gospel.
We have here—
I. A CONSTANT CHARACTERISTIC OF HUMAN GOODNESS. HOW came John to send this message? Was he really doubtful—he who had prepared the way of the Lord, who had baptized him, who had recognized in him the Lamb of God? Even so. Many ingenious theories account for it in some other way, but they do not satisfy. After all, was it surprising that John should begin to doubt? He had been lying in that lonely fortress by the Red Sea for some months; constitutionally active and energetic, he had been doomed to enforced idleness, and had had nothing to do but to form judgments of other people—a very perilous position; what he heard about Jesus may very well have seemed strange and unsatisfactory to him. Our Lord's method was very different from his own. He was living, as John had not done, in the very midst of the people; he was not drawing great crowds whom he excited to tempestuous feeling, but acting, with calm and deep wisdom, on smaller numbers; he was not living an ascetic life; he was not making any very great way according to ordinary human measurement; and John, writhing in captivity, and longing to be out and about in active work, allowed his mind to be affected, his belief to be disturbed, by what he heard and by what he did not hear. Nothing could be more natural, more human. This is human goodness all the world over. Nobility of spirit, self-sacrifice, devoutness, zeal, and infirmity, the partial subsidence of his faith. Who that knows the history of human goodness can be surprised at this? We must take this into the account in our estimate of good men. Infirmity is a constant element of human character. Perfection among the angels of God; perfection for ourselves further on among the glorified; meantime we may bestow our heartiest affection and our unstinted admiration upon those who are aspiring and endeavouring after the highest, but who sometimes fail to be all that they and we could wish that they were.
II. THE BEST PROOFS OF THE DIVINE POWER AND VIRTUE. Christ adduced two powerful proofs that he was indeed the "One that should come."
1. The exercise of benignant power. In that same hour he healed many that came to be cured, and he said to John's disciples, "Go and show your master what benignant power I am exercising; not smiting my enemies with blindness, but making the blind to see; not punishing the liar with leprosy, but pitying the poor leper and making him clean; not raining down fire from heaven on the obdurate, but calling back to life those who had entered the dark region of the dead; visiting the homes of men with health and life and joy."
2. Love for the lowly. "Go and tell John that I am caring much for those for whom men have not cared at all, instructing in heavenly wisdom those whom other teachers have left untaught, lifting up those whom other reformers have been content to leave upon the ground, making heirs of the outcast, making rich for ever the penniless and hopeless—say that 'the blind receive their sight, and the deaf hear,' etc., and forget not to add that 'to the poor the gospel is preached.'"
As these disciples came to our Master, so do some approach us now: they come with serious, earnest questioning. "Is the Christian system which we preach the system for our age? is it still the word we want? Or is not the world awaiting another doctrine, another method, another kingdom? Is Jesus Christ the Teacher for us, or do we look for another?" What is our reply?
1. Look at the benignant power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Follow the broad, deep river of beneficence which took its rise at Bethlehem; see what it has been effecting through all these ages; consider what it has done, not only for the physical sufferer—for the blind, for the lame, for the leper, for the lunatic—but what it has done for the poor, for the slave, for the prisoner, for the savage, for the ignorant, for the little child, for woman; consider what it has done for the sorrowful, and for those laden and crushed with a sense of guilt; what it has done for the dying; consider how it has been enlightening and uplifting and transforming the minds and the lives of men; what a blessed beneficent power it has been exerting and is as capable as ever of exerting.
2. Look at the care which the gospel takes of the lowly. Consider the fact that wherever the truth of Christ has been preached in its purity and its integrity, man as man has been approached; all human souls have been treated as of equal and incalculable worth, the poor as well as the rich, the slave as well as his master, the illiterate as well as the learned, the unknown and untitled as well as the illustrious. The gospel has gone among the people, it has made its appeal to the multitude; it is "the common salvation; "it does not content itself with imposing a faith and a cultus upon the nation; it does not rest until it has permeated the entire people with the knowledge and the love of God, and wrought in them the practice of its own pure and lofty principles. Surely this is not a system for Galilee or Syria; this is not a doctrine for one age of the world; it is the ever-living truth of God. Christ is our Teacher, our Saviour, our Lord; we do not look for another.—C.
The leprosy of sin.
Why specify the fact that the lepers were cleansed? Why single out this disease from others that might have been named? Because it was peculiarly desirable that, when the Messiah came and gave credentials of his heavenly origin, he should exercise his power in this direction. For leprosy was the chosen type of sin. All disease is pictorial of sin; it is to our bodily frame what sin is to the soul—it is inward disorder showing itself in outward manifestation. But leprosy was that peculiar form of sickness which the Divine Lawgiver selected as the type of sin. And surely it was perfectly fitted to be so regarded. We look at—
I. ITS LOATHSOMENESS. Why was the leper so rigidly excluded from society? We have no convincing evidence that this was a dangerous, contagious disorder. But the extreme loathsomeness of the leper's appearance fully accounted for the decree. It was not fitting that anything so terribly repulsive and shocking should be seen in the homes and in the streets. Sin is the most odious of all things; it is "that abominable thing which God hates." God "cannot look" upon it. In its fouler forms it is infinitely offensive to the pure of heart.
II. ITS DIFFUSIVENESS. Leprosy was eminently diffusive. It was communicated from parent to child; it spread from limb to limb, from organ to organ, until it covered the entire body. Sin is a thing which spreads. It, too, is communicable by heredity, and it also spreads from faculty to faculty. Sin leads to sin. "There's not a crime but takes its change out still in crime." Theft leads to violence, drunkenness to falsehood, impurity to deceit. Sin also spreads from man to man, from child to child, from friend to friend. You cannot circumscribe it; it passes all bounds that may be set up.
III. ITS PITIFULNESS. Who could regard the leper, doomed to a long, perhaps a lifelong separation from his family and his business and all favourite pursuits, without heartfelt pity? Life was worth nothing to him. Sin is condemnable enough; but it is pitiable also. Blame the erring, reproach the faulty, remonstrate with the foolish, but do not fail to pity those whom sin is shutting out from all that is best below, and from all that is bright above. Pity these with a profound compassion, and help them with an uplifting hand.
IV. ITS SEPARATING INFLUENCE. As the leper was exiled from mankind and banished to a severe isolation, so does sin come in as a separating power.
1. It separates a man from God, opening the wide, deep gulf of conscious guilt.
2. It separates man from man. It is not high walls, or broad acres, or unmeasured seas, that divide man from man: it is folly, hatred, malice, jealousy, sin.
V. ITS DEATHFULNESS. In the leper the springs of health were poisoned; there was a process of dissolution going on; it was death in life. Sin is death. "She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth," wrote Paul. And our Lord's words imply the same: "Whoso believeth on me, though he were dead, yet shall he live." A man living apart from God and. in rebellion against him is so far from answering the end of human life that he may be rightly regarded as dead while he lives.
VI. ITS INCURABLENESS BY MAN. The Jews did not bring the leper to the physician; they regarded him as incurable by the art of man. Sin is incurable by human methods. Regulations for conduct, vows of abstinence, parliamentary statutes, legal penalties, do not cure. They may be very valuable as accessories, but they will not heal. Only the Divine hand can accomplish that for the human heart. One there is who offers himself as the Divine Physician; he who sent back to John in prison the convincing message, "The lepers are cleansed." In him is all-forgiving grace and all-cleansing power. A living faith in him will lead to pardon and to purity. Instead of loathsomeness, there will be spiritual beauty; instead of isolation, communion; instead of a living death, eternal life.—C.
Christ as an offence.
"Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me." It was simply inevitable that our Lord, if he laid himself out to do the very best and greatest that could be done, should be an offence to many. "Not to send peace, but a sword," was a purely incidental, but it was a necessary result of such faithfulness as he showed.
I. THE OFFENCE TO BE FOUND IN CHRIST.
1. The offence of the Messiahship. Our Lord offended John the Baptist (see preceding homily) by the quietness of his method and the slowness of his results. He offended Peter by foretelling the sorrows and the shame to which he was moving on (Matthew 16:22). He offended Nicodemus by the profundity of his teaching (John 3:1-36.). He offended the leaders of religion of his time by denouncing their formality and insincerity. He offended the people by preaching a doctrine too broad for their narrow-mindedness (Luke 4:28), too deep for their shallow-mindedness (John 6:52-66), too elevated for their earthly mindedness.
2. The offence of the cross.
3. The offence of the kingdom. In one sense, "the offence of the cross" has ceased. It has become the symbol of all that is beautiful in art, refined in culture, strong in civilization. Yet is there everywhere, yet will there always be, something in Christ that will offend the human soul. For he requires of us that
II. THE BLESSEDNESS or THOSE WHO DO NOT FIND IT; who come to learn of him in all docility of spirit; who cheerfully part with all that he condemns that they may follow him; who offer to him their undivided heart; who accept his service that they may receive a spiritual and a heavenly recompense. Blessed, indeed, are they; for:
1. Their hearts will be the home of a heavenly peace, and a joy which no man taketh from them.
2. Their life will rise to a noble height of sanctity, of beauty, of usefulness.
3. On their checkered course will fall the sunshine of their Master's blessing—his consecration of their joy, his overruling of their sorrow.
4. Their life will end in a calm and peaceful hope, which will pass into glorious fruition. Blessed, indeed, is he whosoever is not offended in Christ, but cordially accepts him as the Saviour of his spirit and the rightful Lord of his life.—C.
Christ's estimate of John; character and privilege.
It is pleasant to think that, immediately after John had intimated his doubt respecting the Christ, our Lord spoke in terms of unmeasured confidence concerning John. His language is strong and somewhat paradoxical, but it admits of a simple explanation. His-first reference to John affirms—
I. HIS SUPERIORITY IN RESPECT OF CHARACTER. The nobility of John's character has already been illustrated (see John 3:1-36.). Its most marked features were:
1. His cheerful acceptance of privation; living on in the wilderness with nothing to gratify taste, and barely sufficient to sustain life, though his popularity as a teacher and prophet would have enabled him to make a very different provision for himself,
2. His incorruptible fidelity to the work committed to his charge (Luke 3:15, Luke 3:16)
3. His fearless, holy courage—a courage which was based on a sense of God's nearness to him and his Divine faithfulness toward him; a courage manifested in public (Luke 3:7-9), and, what is more and what is worthier, shown in private also in an interview with one strong man who held his earthly destiny in his hand (Luke 3:19).
4. His rare magnanimity. Not merely accepting without resentment the fact that he was to be supplanted by another, but going beyond that point in spiritual excellence, and positively rejoicing in the elevation of that other Teacher; stepping down and giving place gladly to one younger but greater than himself (John 3:29). We are not surprised that he "who knew what was in man," who knew the strength and the weakness of our human nature, said concerning John, "Among those that are born of women," etc. (verse 28).
II. HIS INFERIORITY IN RESPECT OF PRIVILEGE. "But he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." We must take the word "greater" as signifying more privileged: it will not bear any other meaning. Most assuredly Jesus did not mean to say that the man who, being within his kingdom, was lowest in moral worth, stood higher in the favour of God than John. Such a sentiment is quite inconceivable, perfectly incredible. But our Lord may very well have meant that any one, however humble his position in the kingdom of grace, who yet stands within that kingdom, of which John stood outside, has a distinct advantage over the great prophet. To know what we, with all our obscurity and incapacity, do know; to understand and enter into, as we may do, the glorious purpose of God in Jesus Christ; to comprehend that, by that death of shame upon the cross, the Redeemer of the world is drawing all men unto him; and not only to understand all this, but to enter into it by a personal, living sympathy and co-operation ;—this is to stand on a height to which even John, though he came in sight of it (John 1:36), did not attain.
1. We are the children of privilege; we are "the heirs of all the ages" of thought, of revealed truth. If we will read reverently, and inquire diligently and devoutly, we may know the mind of God concerning us as the greatest of all the prophets did not know it.
2. Let us take care that we are the children of God; returned from the far country of estrangement and indifference; dwelling in the home of the Father's favour; walking with God daily; finding a filial joy in doing and bearing his holy will; entering by sympathy and effort into his holy purpose.—C.
Christian abstinence and participation.
These "children sitting in the market-place" very well illustrate the perverse and contradictory of all generations. Many are they, here and everywhere, who will neither dance at the wedding nor mourn at the funeral, who will work neither along one line nor yet along its opposite, to whom all ways are objectionable because their own spirit is out of tune with everything. But the special folly which these children are brought forward to condemn is that of objecting to John because he was abstemious, and to Jesus because he participated in the good gifts of God. The right course to take is not that of objecting to both, but rather that of accepting and honouring both. We shall find, if we care to look for it—
I. CHRISTIAN ABSTEMIOUSNESS. John came "neither eating nor drinking." He acted, no doubt, under Divine direction in so doing. But John was not our exemplar. We are not called to follow John, but Christ; and Christ came eating and drinking. Is abstinence, then, a Christian course? It is so; it is justified by the language of our Lord and by that of his apostles. He said that there were some celibates "for the kingdom of heaven's sake" (Matthew 19:12). And he urged upon men that they should pluck out their right eye, or cut off their right hand, rather than perish in iniquity (Matthew 5:29, Matthew 5:30). His apostle wrote that men should neither eat meat nor drink wine, if by so doing they put a stumbling-block in the way of another (Romans 14:21). And it is certain that we are acting in a strictly and, indeed, an emphatically Christian spirit when we:
1. Abstain because indulgence would be perilous to ourselves. This may relate to food or drink, or to any kind of amusement or occupation, to anything of any kind in which we find ourselves under a strong temptation to excess if we once begin.
2. Abstain because our abstinence will make the path of virtue or piety more accessible to others. Anything we can do, any privation we may accept, any habit we may form, by which we help men upwards and Godwards, must be an essentially and radically Christian thing.
II. CHRISTIAN PARTICIPATION. "The Son of man came eating and drinking." He was no ascetic; he was present at the festivity; he accepted the invitation to the rich man's board; he did not choose the coarser garment because it was coarser, or the severer lodging because it was severer; he did not habitually and conscientiously decline the gifts of God in nature. He knew how to decline them when occasion called for it (see Luke 6:12; Luke 9:58), but he did not do so regularly and as a sacred duty. Surely it was well for the world that he acted thus; for, had he sanctioned asceticism, we should have been continually oscillating, or everywhere divided, between an unamiable severity on the one hand and a degrading self-indulgence on the other hand. The wise and the true course is that of a Christian participation; this is a partaking of the gifts of God and of the sweets and enjoyments of earth, which is:
1. Sanctified by devout gratitude; by a continual and wholesome mindfulness that every good gilt is from above, and calls for a grateful and reverent spirit.
2. Controlled by a wise moderation; so that nothing is indulged in which is in the smallest degree excessive; so that no injury of any kind is done to the spiritual nature.
3. Beautified by benevolence; the participation by ourselves being very closely and constantly accompanied by the remembrance of the wants of others. "Eat the fat and drink the sweet," but be careful to "send portions to them for whom nothing is prepared."—C.
Our treatment of wisdom.
Whatever might have been expected to be the case, the fact is that wisdom has received but poor and sad treatment from the children of men. We perceive, without any search for it—
I. ITS REJECTION BY THE WORLD.
1. Up to the time of the coming of our Lord. The Eternal Wisdom uttered its voice by the constitution and course of nature, by the human reason and conscience, by occasional revelation. But that voice was unheard or unheeded. Few, indeed, in every age and land recognized and obeyed it in comparison with the vast multitudes that remained in ignorance and folly. The heavens declared the glory of God, but men knew not the hand Divine that moved the stars in their course. "The candle of the Lord" was kindled, and it shone within the soul, but men hid it under the bushel of their unholy habits and their perverting prejudices. Through those long, dark ages Wisdom spake, and (it might be almost said that) "no man regarded."
2. The coming of Christ. He who was the very "Wisdom of God" himself, he who was "the Truth," dwelt amongst us; and "he was despised and rejected of men." Those who should have been the first to appreciate and to welcome him were the first to dislike and to denounce him. "He came unto his own, and his own received him not."
3. From that time to our own day. Divine Wisdom, speaking in the gospel of Christ, has been summoning men to reconciliation with God, to peace, to virtue, to sacred joy, to immortal blessedness; and the world, upon the whole, has turned to it a deaf ear, has gone on its own way of folly, has refused to walk in its light, and to receive its benediction. If.
ITS RECOGNITION BY ITS OWN SONS.
1. There were some in the dark days before Christ who heard and heeded the voice of God. These may have been more numerous than we have supposed. "In every nation he that feared God and wrought righteousness was accepted of him." There may have been—we may rightly hope that there were—great numbers of the "children of wisdom" who recognized its voice and obeyed its teaching.
2. When our Saviour came there were those who recognized his voice and responded to it. Many of these were women, many of them "little ones," despised by the authorities of their day. They did not think him "possessed," nor charge him with self-indulgence (Luke 7:33 34); they perceived in him a Divine Teacher, a true Friend, a gracious Saviour, and they "rose and followed him;" then, indeed, was "Wisdom justified of all her children."
3. Throughout these Christian ages the same truth has held. The psalmist prays, "Do good unto those that be good, and to them that are upright in their hearts" (Psalms 125:4). And while it is true that men of the most perverse and froward spirit may be so mightily affected by Divine power and grace that the truth of God breaks through the thickest armour of opposition, yet is it generally true that it is only they who have the spirit of wisdom in them—"the children of wisdom"—who enter the kingdom of truth and righteousness. "Only the good discern the good," writes one of our truest poets and deepest thinkers. It is only they who are sincere seekers after the truth who reach the goal. It is "to the upright that there ariseth light in the darkness;" it is to the pure and the upright and the merciful that God shows himself to be such, and by them is seen to be such (Psalms 112:4; Psalms 18:25, Psalms 18:26). We cannot see the wisdom, the faithfulness, the kindness, the mercy of God, while our hearts are wrong with him. But when we ourselves are right with God, and we have so much of the spirit of goodness in us that we may be called the children of wisdom, then God's dealings with our race, with our Church, with our family, with ourselves, are recognized as the just and kind and faithful things they are, and in our experience "Wisdom is justified of all her children."
Loving and forgiving.
The peculiarity of Oriental customs, together with the earnestness and eagerness of this penitent, will account for her effecting an entrance into the house of this Pharisee, and gaining access to the feet of our Lord. The lessons we gain from this most touching incident are—
I. THAT THERE IS FREE AND FULL FORGIVENESS FOR THE WORST. It is somewhat striking that, although Old Testament Scripture abounds in passages which attest the greatness of God's mercy to the repentant, the Jews of our Lord's time had no place for such in their system or their practice. This could not be from unfamiliarity with the sacred record; it rather arose from ignorance of themselves. They did not acknowledge any sin in their own souls, any shortcoming in their own lives. Simon probably thought that Jesus was putting the debt which represented his obligation (fifty pence) at a high figure. And, thus mistaking themselves, it is not to be wondered at that they took a false view of their neighbours; that they looked upon those who were outwardly bad as hopelessly irrecoverable. But not so the Saviour. By action as much as by language he made it clear that the guiltiest of men and the worst of women might come in penitence and be restored. That is the valuable and lasting significance of his attitude on this occasion. His treatment of this woman, together with his gracious words to her (Luke 7:48), are to us, as they ever will be, the strong assurance that those whom we most unsparingly condemn and most scrupulously exclude may find mercy at his feet.
II. THAT NOT HER LOVE BUT HER PENITENCE WAS THE GROUND OF HER FORGIVENESS. When Christ said, "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much," he did not, could not, mean that her love was the ground, but that it was the consequence of her forgiveness. He meant to say, "You can see that she has been forgiven, for you see how she loves, and it is only they who have been forgiven what she has been forgiven that love as she loves. The fulness of her love is therefore the proof (not the ground) of her forgiveness." What led to her forgiveness was her penitence. Those bitter tears she shed (Luke 7:38) were the tears of a true contrition; they meant a holy hatred of her past sin, and a sincere determination to lead another life; and not being repelled, but accepted, by this Holy and Merciful One, deep and strong gratitude arose in her; and penitence, love, and a new and blessed hope surged and strove together in uncontrollable emotion within her heart. When God shows us our fault, we go at once to the merciful Saviour; trusting in him, we are received and restored; then a pure, deep, lasting love arises in our souls; it is the simple, natural, beautiful outgrowth of penitence and faith.
III. THAT THE SENSE OF GOD'S GRACE TO US WILL DETERMINE THE FULNESS OF OUR AFFECTION TOWARD HIM. "To whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little." If we have a very imperfect sense of our guilt, and therefore of God's mercy to us, our response in gratitude and love will be far below what it should be. It is, therefore, of the gravest importance that we should know and feel our own faultiness in the sight of God. For clearly it is not the magnitude of our past sin, but the fulness of our sense of guilt, which determines the measure of our feeling in the matter of gratitude and love.
1. It is for this that we must look. We shall find it as we dwell on the greatness of God's goodness toward us in his providence and his grace; in the poverty and feebleness of our filial return to him for all his love and care and kindness toward us; in the fact that he has been requiring purity of thought and rectitude of soul and sincerity of motive, as well as propriety of word and integrity of deed.
2. For this also we must pray; asking for that enlightening Spirit who will show us our true selves, and fill us with a due sense of our great unworthiness and our manifold transgressions.—C.
Christ and Simon: the correcting word.
There were some good points about Simon.
1. He was an eminently respectable man; he was so in the true sense of the word, for as a virtuous man he could respect himself, and his neighbours could rightly respect him; he conformed his conduct to a high standard of morality.
2. He was an open-handed, hospitable man.
3. He was an open-minded man. It was not every Pharisee that would have invited Jesus Christ to supper, or would have given him such freedom to speak his mind without resentment. But he was a much-mistaken man. He was quite wrong in three important points.
I. HIS ESTIMATE OF JESUS CHRIST. When he found that Jesus did not resent the attention of "this woman," he came to the conclusion that he could not be a prophet, or he would have known that she was a sinner, and, knowing that, he would have repelled her. Here he was wrong in his conclusion; and he was also wrong in his reasoning. His argument was this: a man as holy as a prophet would be certain to repel such guilt as is present here; when the Holy Prophet comes, the Messiah, ha will be more scrupulously separate from sin and from sinners than any other has been. Here he was completely mistaken. The Holy One came to be the Merciful One; to say to guilty men and women, "Your fellows may despair of you and abandon you. I despair of none, I abandon nobody. I see in all the possibilities of recovery; I summon you all to repentance and to life. Touch me, if you will, with the hand of your faith; I will lay my hand of help and healing upon you."
II. HIS VIEW OF THAT WOMAN.. A sinner she had been; but she was more, and indeed other than a sinner now. That word did not faithfully describe her state before God. She was a penitent. And what is a penitent? A penitent soul is one who hates the sin that had been cherished, who has cast out the evil spirit from him, in whom is the living germ of righteousness, who is on the upward line that leads to heavenly wisdom and Divine worth, on whom God is looking down with tender grace and deep satisfaction, in whom Jesus Christ beholds a servant, a friend, an heir of his holy kingdom. This is not one to turn away from in scorn, but to draw nigh unto in kindness and encouragement.
III. HIS ESTIMATE OF HIMSELF.
1. He thought himself a very long way on in the kingdom of God as compared with that poor woman; he did not know that, she being poor in spirit and he being proud in spirit, she was much nearer to its entrance-gates than he.
2. He thought himself in a position to patronize Jesus Christ, and consequently withheld some of the usual courtesies from his Guest; he did not know that it was on himself the distinction was conferred.
3. He supposed himself to be possessed of all the cardinal virtues: he did not know that he lacked that which is the crowning excellence of all—love, the love that can pity, that can stoop to save.
We draw two main lessons.
1. That Christ makes much of love. Dwelling on the various manifestations of this woman's feeling, he declares they are the signs of her love, and he then traces her love to her deep sense of forgiven sin. God wants our love, as we want the love of our children and of our friends, and cannot accept anything, however valuable, in its stead: so Christ wants the pure, deep, lasting affection of our souls. No ceremonies, or services, or even sacrifices, will compensate for its absence (see 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.). And the measure of our love will depend on the depth of our sense of God's forgiving love toward us. Hence it is of the first importance that we
2. That we should be ready to receive Christ's correcting word. Simon was wholly wrong in his estimate of men and of things; but he was not unwilling to hear Christ's correcting word. "Master, say on," he replied, when the great Teacher said, "I have somewhat to say unto thee." Let us see to it that this is our attitude. Our Lord may have something very serious to say to us, as he had to those seven Churches in Asia Minor, which he addressed from his heavenly throne (Revelation 2:1-29., 3.). When, through his Word, his ministry, his providence, he does thus correct us, calling us to a renewed humility, faith, love, zeal, consecration, are we ready to receive his message, to bow our head, to open our heart, and say, "Speak, Lord; thy servants hear! Master, say on"?—C.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
The Saviour of sick and dead.
On returning to Capernaum after the sermon on the mount, the Saviour is confronted with a deputation from a centurion about his sick servant. To the miracle of healing in Luke 7:2-10 we turn first; and then we shall consider the miracle of resurrection (Luke 7:11-17), by which it is followed.
I. THE SAVIOUR OF THE SICK. (Verses1-10.)
1. Let us observe the self-abasement of the centurion. And in this connection we must notice the devotedness he had shown to the Jewish religion. As a proselyte, he had not only espoused Judaism, but built a synagogue to accommodate his fellow-worshippers. Hence he had an excellent reputation with the ecclesiastical authorities. But all this did not lead to any boasting on his part or exaltation of spirit. He remains the humble man before God after all his liberality. Hence he organizes no less than two deputations to Jesus Christ rather than obtrude himself upon him. And
2. Let us notice Christ's admiration of the centurion's faith. We have seen how great humility is accompanied by great faith. The graces grow proportionally. There are no monstrosities in the spiritual world. And we have to notice what an eye Jesus has for faith. It is the most lovely product in this vale of tears. Hence he is wrapt in admiration of it. He recognizes it as greater in this Gentile than it has yet been in any Jew. The house of Israel had given him as yet no such believer as he had now found in the simple soldier. Clearly faith is not always in proportion to opportunity and advantages. How weak the faith of many who have been all their lives long in the enjoyment of the means of grace!
3. Christ responds to strong faith by a word of power. Had he continued to press himself upon the centurion's attention and household, it might have led the humble believer to suspect the power of Jesus to save at a distance, In other words, if Jesus had advanced, it might have hurt the centurion's faith, instead of ministering to him any additional sense of sympathy. Hence he spoke, and the disease of the servant departed instantly. Now, this miracle is designed to show the beauty of Christian sympathy, the power of intercession, and the tender grace of the Saviour as he responds to the appeals of his servants. Let us take a similar interest in those who serve us, or are in anywise related to us; let us bring their case before the Lord, and he will help them for our sake, and for his own Name's sake too! £
II. THE SAVIOUR OF THE DEAD. (Luke 7:11-17.) We next turn to the raising of the widow's son at Nain (Luke 7:11-17). And here let us notice:
1. The terrible sorrow which presented itself to Jesus. (Luke 7:12.) It was the death of a widow's only son. She stood before Jesus in all her loneliness—more lonely through the proximity of the crowd. Now, it is to a social Saviour she has come, One who lay in the bosom of the Father, a member of the "social Trinity," who enjoyed fellowship from all eternity. Hence her case did not appeal to him in vain. He does not need any intercession. His sympathetic heart takes up the case. Hence we have:
2. The consolatory word our Saviour spoke. "Weep not!" Sometimes, as Gerok has remarked, this word is spoken in a well-meant, yet unchristian sense, by many children of the world, as if weeping and mourning ought to be put away as out of place; in other cases, the word is spoken with a good Christian intention, but without much human tenderness; but Jesus shows us here when it ought to be spoken. £ He wants the widow not to weep, for he can put all her sorrow away. Truly it is he who can wipe away the tears from off all faces (Revelation 7:17). If we have such consolation to offer, welt may we say, "Weep not." But if we only repeat the words, without offering any consolation, they are not likely to be of much avail. It is a striking contrast, our Lord's conduct on this occasion, and on the occasion of Lazarus's resurrection, where he wept himself, instead of commanding others not to weep (John 11:35).
3. The mighty word which backed up his consolation. (Luke 7:14.) This was, "Young man, I say unto thee, Arise!" He does so as the Prince of life. The result is that he that was dead first sat up, and then began to speak. Life was thus restored to him, and intercourse with others followed. Jesus thus demonstrated that he was "the Resurrection and the Life."
4. The restoration of the young man to his mother. (Luke 7:15.) The purpose of the resurrection was the restoration of those relationships which death had so rudely severed. The bereaved mother is enabled to rejoice in her son again, and to see her home-circle restored. The great truth of recognition and restoration through resurrection is thus set before us. £
5. The effect of the miracle upon the people. (Luke 7:16, Luke 7:17.) They feared, because the miracle demonstrated that God was awfully near. Yet the fear inspired them to glorify God for the advent of such a Prophet, and the gracious visitation which he brought. They felt that the miracle was eminently worthy of God. An eminent scientific man, who doubts revealed religion, yet accepts spiritualism, has said, "Few, if any, reputed miracles are at all worthy of a God." £ But in face of such a tender and touching work of grace as this at Nain, no such declaration could be made by an impartial mind. It was worthy of God, and tended to his glory.
6. Consider, lastly, the type and promise it affords of what Christ will do in the world at last. For, as a poet has suggested, this earth is the "bier whereon our race is ]aid," and to it will Christ at last come, and, arresting the long procession of the dead, will say, "Arise!" when lo! a race shall wake from clay, "young, deathless, freed from every stain." And the "Weep not I" shall also be heard then, for from his people's faces every tear shall be wiped away. £ The miracle thus throws a clear and steady light upon those last things which perplex so many people now.—R.M.E.
The deputation from John.
Jesus pursued a policy of mercy and of salvation. He healed all who asked for healing or were brought to him; he raised the dead; he was a Philanthropist rather than a Judge. The fame of his miracles was spread abroad, and made its way to the castle and its keep, where John the Baptist was now Herod's prisoner. The result is a deputation of two disciples sent by the illustrious prisoner to Jesus. We are to study the interview and the subsequent panegyric on John.
I. CONSIDER JOHN'S DIFFICULTY. John had preached about a coming One, according to such prophecies as that of Malachi. He had preached that Jesus was coming to judgment. His fan was to be in his hand; he was throughly to purge his floor; he was to gather the wheat into his garner; and he was to burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire (Luke 3:17). And in the spirit of the Old Testament, which was largely a dispensation of judgment, John looked for Messiah to be mainly a Messiah of judgment. The kingdom of Messiah was to be set up, John thought, like all world-kingdoms, by "the thunder of the captains and the shouting," by some remarkable series of judgments; but now that Jesus is devoting himself to philanthropy pure and simple, John thinks that perhaps another messenger is to be looked for, who will make judgment his role. John's difficulty is what we all experience when we imagine that a more impressive and decisive method of advancing God's cause might be adopted. Human nature has great faith in blows!
II. OUR LORD'S RESPONSE. (Verses 21-23.) This consisted of:
1. Miracles of mercy. All that needed healing in the crowd received it in presence of John's disciples. He cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and many blind ones received their sight. The Healer was there; philanthropy was in full swing.
2. He preached the gospel to the poor. He backed up the miracles by a message; he made his mercies to the body the texts from which he preached deliverance to the souls of men.
3. He directed the disciples to report to John what they had seem and heard, with the additional warning, "Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me." His policy was one of love, of disinterestedness; and John was to study it more thoroughly and come to a better conclusion. We thus learn that the best defence of a suspected work is the patient performance of it. It will vindicate itself in due season, if it be good and genuine. Christ came not to wade through seas of blood to a temporal throne, but by persevering love to win men's hearts and rule over their lives from within!
III. HIS PANEGYRIC UPON JOHN. (Verses 24-28.) It was after the deputation had departed that Jesus pronounced John's panegyric. Most people would have pronounced it in their hearing, that they might carry it to John; but Jesus says the good and noble things behind John's back, having given all the warning he needed before, so to speak, his face. It partakes, as Godet remarks, of the nature of a funeral oration. Like Jesus himself, John is anointed with considerate praise before his burial. And here we have to notice the order of the panegyric.
1. Christ describes John negatively. Borrowing his simile from the desert, where the reeds bow before the breeze and do not break, he insists that John was not like one of these. In other words, he was a man of unflinching integrity, who would break rather than bend before the breeze of opposition. He preferred to be Herod's prisoner in the dungeon rather than his fawning sycophant in the palace. Nor, again, was John a courtier gaily and silkenly clad. The Camel's hair garment was a perpetual protest in the castle, before he was thrust down into the dungeon, against the effeminacy of the court. If he had come to be "court preacher" to Herod, he had come to be one in earnest.
2. He describes John positively. He was a "prophet." Great honour was it to be recipients and communicators of revelations. John was charged, like other Old Testament prophets, with messages from God. But he was more—he was the forerunner of Messiah. In applying to John the prophecy in Malachi, Jesus was asserting his own Messiahship and Divinity. £ This was a great honour for John to be the immediate predecessor of the Lord. Still further, our Lord asserts that of woman-born there has not been a greater prophet than the Baptist. This is unstinted praise. And it is just. When we consider all John attempted and the means he had at hand, when we consider that he attempted the regeneration of his country and asked no miraculous power to accomplish it,—then he comes before us in moral grandeur exceeding that of the first Elias.
3. He describes him candidly. The panegyric is judicious. Our Lord declares that, great though John undoubtedly is, he is surpassed by "the least in the kingdom of God." This may mean that the least Christian has greater insight into the nature of the kingdom than John. Or it may, perhaps, rather mean that he who is consciously the least in the kingdom of God, by whom we must understand the most advanced spiritually, is greater than John. The insight of a Paul, for instance, who felt himself to be less than the least of all saints, was greater than that of John, climax though he was of Old Testament prophecy. Or, final]y, may it not mean Jesus himself, who was the meekest and lowliest in the Kingdom of God.
IV. THE CHARACTER OF JOHN'S SUCCESS WAS LIKE THAT OF JESUS. (Verses 29, 30.) The evangelist seems to add the significant words that it was among the common people, the publicans and the poor, not among the Pharisees and lawyers, that he secured his penitents. So that John's revival was really among the humbler classes, where the work of Jesus was being now wisely prosecuted. The self-righteous rejected John's appeal for repentance; the common people and the publicans embraced it, and "justified God" by repenting before him. For we must acknowledge God's perfect justice in condemning us for our sins, before we can appreciate his justice and mercy in forgiving us for his Son's sake. Luke's observation, then, makes Christ's panegyric a perfect picture.
V. THE TWO ASPECTS OF TRUTH, AND THE GENERAL REJECTION OF BOTH, (Verses 31-35.) Jesus, in these verses, contrasts John's ministry with his own. Little children at play sometimes find their fellows utterly intractable. Tried by a funeral, they will not join in the mournful procession; tried by a marriage, they will not join in the bridal party. They are too ill-natured to take part in either. Nothing pleases them. So was it with the Pharisees in their attitude to the preaching of John and to the preaching of Jesus. John presented the truth in its severe and mournful aspects. He was unsocial, to lead men to a sense of sin and to repent of it. But the Pharisees would not believe the self-denying preacher from the desert. Jesus presented the truth in all its winsomeness and attractiveness; but they found as much fault with Jesus as they did with John. John had a devil, and Jesus was a glutton and a wine-bibber. Neither could please these prim, self-satisfied ones. But the vindication of wisdom was on its way. The penitents of John and the joyful disciples of Jesus would yet justify the truth which John and Jesus preached. £ The Pharisees might reject both missions, but the common people who received them justified the truth in both by lives and conversations becoming the gospel. We may in the same way leave our work with confidence to the verdict of the future, if we feel that it is true. Opposition from a self-righteous party is itself a vindication of the truth which we have embodied or declared.—R.M.E.
Love the proof of pardon.
The generation to which Jesus had come with his social gospel thought him too "free and easy" with sinners. The Pharisees thought he had no right to associate with publicans and sinners, although he did so to save them. But the wisdom of his policy would be justified by the conduct of his converts, and here we have a justification ready to hand. One of the Pharisees invited him to eat with him. He accepts the invitation, and is reclining at his table, when, lo! a poor woman "off the streets" comes in behind him, and in her penitence and gratitude prepares to anoint with spikenard his blessed feet. She had heard him preach, she had received pardon for all her sins, she could not resist this exhibition of gratitude for it. But as she is about to anoint his feet, her pent-up grief refuses further restraint, and bathes them with copious tears, and, having no towel with her or offered to her, she unties her flowing hair, content to wipe with it the beautiful feet of him who had brought her glad tidings. Having thus washed and wiped them clean, she proceeds to anoint them with the ointment. To this conduct the Pharisee secretly objects, and takes it as proof positive that Jesus is not the discerning Prophet he professes to be Our Lord's parable soon corrects the error and reveals the truth, and the poor sinner, so penitent and so grateful, is dismissed in peace.
I. GREAT SIN SHOULD NOT HINDER ANY OF US FROM COMING TO JESUS FOR PARDON. This is one of the difficulties which men make for themselves—they fancy that great sin may keep sinners from pardon. Now Jesus made it very plain that great sinners might receive pardon just as well as little sinners. The psalmist once prayed, "Pardon mine iniquity, for it is great" (Psalms 25:7), and some of the most notorious sinners ever seen have become monuments of mercy and joyful through pardon. This case before us is one in point. Jesus had so presented his message of salvation that this woman from the town embraced it and rejoiced in the thought of forgiveness. While, therefore, no one would recommend a sinner to sin in order to intensify his sense of guilt and qualify himself for receiving Christ's salvation, we would recommend every sinner to believe that the very enormity of his sins will move Christ's pity, and, when purged and pardoned, illustrate his saving power. Suppose a patient is brought to a hospital a mass of disease or of wounds and bruises: will not the very magnitude of his distress constitute such an appeal to pity as will secure his immediate admission? In the same way, great sin is an argument with the Saviour in favour of mercy, rather than any obstacle to it. Besides, we should always remember that our sense of sin is always vastly below the reality, and that we in most penitent mood have really a better opinion of ourselves than the circumstances warrant.
II. WE OUGHT COURAGEOUSLY TO PROFESS CHRIST BEFORE MEN. This poor woman needed courage to profess Christ in Simon's house. Simon and his guests belonging to the Pharisaic party loathed her. It was a place where she was certain to be scorned and perhaps expelled. But her sense of obligation to Jesus and her love for his Person were so great that she could not forego her desire to make her way to his feet. And so she steals in and gets behind her Master, and proceeds to lavish her attention on his feet. So courageous is she, that she leisurely and most carefully washes his feet and wipes them with her hair and anoints them with the ointment; so that she actually, as Godet remarks, did the honours of the house, which Simon had neglected. £ We need similarly to add to our faith courage (2 Peter 1:4). We ought to give our hearts free play in their loyalty to Jesus. We must profess him before men, at whatever cost.
III. JESUS WILL ALWAYS TAKE OUR PART AGAINST THOSE WHO MISTAKE OUR MOTIVES OR DESPISE US. Jesus will acknowledge our profession of him in the next world, and even in this. In the case before us we see him taking the Pharisee to task for his mistake about the woman. Simon made several mistakes.
1. About the woman being unpardonable and unpardoned: she was neither.
2. About Jesus as being undiscerning and so ignorant of the woman's state: he was more thoroughly acquainted with her than she or Simon could be.
3. About himself, as nearer God's kingdom than she was: he was really further from Christ than she. £ And Jesus consequently takes up the woman's cause and vindicates her character as a changed woman now and pardoned. This he does in parabolic language. The two debtors who are both forgiven have not the same sense of gratitude. Their gratitude is in proportion to their forgiveness. Hence the poor woman, feeling how much she has been forgiven, is proportionately grateful. The defence was triumphant. And in the same way will Jesus defend us if we are courageous in following him.
IV. LOVE IS THE PROOF OF PARDON. We are not pardoned because we love our Saviour, but we love him because he has pardoned us. Hence the stronger the love, the stronger must be our sense of the amount of sin we have been forgiven. Our love will grow just in proportion to our appreciation of our pardon, £ Hence the man who comes to believe, with Paul, that he is "the chief of sinners," will love the Lord accordingly. He will feel constrained through his sense of obligation to love God with all his being.
V. CHRIST'S ASSURANCE OF PARDON SECURES PEACE. The poor sinner's peace was threatened through the contempt of the Pharisees. But Jesus gives her special assurance, and sends her off in peace. So will it be in our own experience if we sincerely trust him.—R.M.E.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Luke 7". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany