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And he began to speak unto them in parables. This particular parable which follows was specially directed against the scribes and Pharisees; but it was uttered in the presence of a multitude of the people. "He began to speak … in parables." He had not used this form of instruction till now in Jerusalem. A man planted a vineyard. The imagery of the parable would be familiar to them from Isaiah (Isaiah 5:1). But Palestine was eminently a land of "vineyards," as well as of "oil olives." The man who planted the vineyard is no other than God himself. "Thou hast brought a vine" out of Egypt; thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it." The imagery is specially appropriate. No property was considered to yield so rich a return as the vineyard, and none required such unceasing care and attention. The vine represents the kingdom of God in its idea and conception; not the Jewish Church in particular. The owner of this vineyard had himself made it. He had "planted it." This planting took place in the establishment of the Jewish polity in the land of Canaan, when the heathen were cast out. He set a hedge about it. This and the following descriptions are not mere ornaments of the parable. The "hedge" was an important protection to the vineyard. It might be a wall or a "quick hedge," a living fence. The vineyards in the East may now be seen often with a strong hedge planted round them. Such hedges, made of the prickly cactus, are to be seen at this day in the neighborhood of Joppa. Figuratively, this hedge would represent the middle wall of partition which then existed between the Jew and the Gentile; and in this, their separation from the idolatrous nations around them, lay the security of the Jews that they should enjoy the continued protection of God. It is well remarked by Archbishop Trench that the geographical position of Judaea was figurative of this, the spiritual separation of the people—guarded as Judaea was eastward by the river Jordan and its chain of lakes, northward by Antilibanus, southward by the desert and Idumaea, and westward by the Mediterranean Sea. Digged a place for the winepress (ληνός torcular); the words are literally, digged a pit for the winepress (ὤρυξεν ὑπολήνιον); the digging could only apply to the pit, a place hollowed out and then fitted with masonry. Sometimes these pits were formed out of the solid rock. Examples of these are frequent in Palestine. There were usually two pits hollowed out of the rock, one sloping to the other, and with openings between them. The grapes were placed in the upper pit; and the juice, crushed out by the feet of men, flowed into the lower pit, from whence it was taken out and put into wine-skins. "I have trodden the winepress alone." And built a tower. The tower (πύργον) was probably the watch-tower, where a watchman was placed to guard the vineyard from plunderers. Particular directions are given in the rabbinical writings (see Lightfoot) for the dimensions both of the winepress and of the tower. The tower was to be ten cubits high and four cubits square. It is described as "a high place, where the vine-dresser stands to overlook the vineyard." Such towers are still to be seen in Palestine, especially in the neighborhood of Bethlehem, of Hebron, and in the vine-growing districts of Lebanon. And let it out to husbandmen. The husbandmen would be the ordinary stated teachers of the people, though not excluding the people themselves. The Jewish nation in fact, both the teachers and the taught, represented the husbandmen, each member of the Church, then as now, being required to seek the welfare of the whole, body. And went into a far country (καὶ ἀπεδήμηδε); literally, and went into another country. St. Luke (Luke 20:9) adds (χρόνους ἱκανούς), "for a long time."
And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruits of the vineyard. St. Matthew (Matthew 21:34) says he sent "his servants." St. Mark mentions them in detail. These servants were the prophets, as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others, whom the Jews persecuted and slew in different ways, as the reprovers of their vices. But the mercy of God was long-suffering, and still triumphed over their wickedness. In his account of this parable St. Mark is very minute. The first servant that was sent received no fruit, and was beaten. The second received much worse usage. According to the Authorized Version the words are, At him they cast stones, and wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully handled (κἀκεῖνον λιθοβολήσαντες ἐκεφαλαίωσαν καὶ ἀπέστειλαν ἠτιμωμένον). The word λιθοβολήσαντες is, however, not to be found in the best authorities; and the right reading of the next word is apparently ἐκεφαλίωσαν a very unusual word; but the context makes it plain that it expresses some injury done to the head. The other form of the word is usual enough; but it ordinarily signifies "a summing up," "a gathering up into a head." And handled shamefully ἠτιμωμένον); literally, dishonored. The third messenger they killed outright. The words run. And him they killed; and many others; beating some, and killing some. The construction here is incomplete, although the meaning is plain. The complete sentence would be, "And him they killed; and they did violence to many others, beating some and killing some."
Having yet therefore one son, his well-beloved. There is strong evidence in favor of a different reading here: namely (ἔτι ἕνα εἰχεν υἱὸν ἀγαπητὸν), he had yet one, a beloved son. There is something very touching in this form of expression. Many messages had been sent; many means had been tried. But one other resource remained. "There is one, a beloved on. I will send him; they will, surely reverence him (ἐντραπήσονται τὸν υἰόν μου). They will reflect, and reflection will bring shame and submission and reverence." This was the last effort of Divine mercy—the sending of the Incarnate God, whom the Jews put to death without the city. St. Mark's words seem rather to imply that they killed him within the vineyard, and cast out the dead body. But it is possible that in his narrative he mentions the climax first—they killed him, and then returns to a detail of the dreadful tragedy; they cast him out of the vineyard, and there slew him (See Matthew 21:39.)
What therefore will the lord of the vineyard do? In St. Matthew's narrative the scribes answer this question. St. Luke, as St. Mark here, assigns the answer to our Lord. It would seem probable that the scribes first answered him, and that then he himself repeated their answer, and confirmed it by his looks and gesture; so that from thence, as well as from what followed, they might sufficiently understand that he spake these things of them. Then, according to St. Luke (Luke 20:16), they subjoined the words, "God forbid!" an expression wrung from their consciences, which accused them and told them that the parable applied to them. Here, then, we have a distinct prediction of the rejection of the Jews and the call of the Gentiles.
Mark 12:10, Mark 12:11
This quotation is from Psalms 118:22, where David prophesies of Christ. The meaning is plainly this, that the chief priests and scribes, as the builders of the Jewish Church, rejected Christ from the building as a useless stone; yea, more—they condemned and crucified him. They rejected him (ἀπεδοκίμασαν). The verb in the Greek implies that the stone was first examined and then deliberately refused. But this stone, thus disallowed and set at nought by the builders, was made the head of the corner. The image here is different from that used in the Epistles, where Christ is spoken of as the chief Corner-stone in the foundation. Here he is represented as the Corner-stone in the cornice. In real truth he is both. He is the tried Foundation-stone. But he is also the Head of the corner. In the great spiritual building he is "all and in all," uniting and binding together all in one. This was the Lord's doing (παρὰ Κυρίου ἐγένετο αὕτη); literally, this was from the Lord. The feminine (αὔτη) refers apparently to κεφαλή. This lifting up of the despised and rejected stone to be the Corner-stone of the cornice was God's work; and was a fitting object for wonder and praise.
The scribes and Pharisees knew, partly from the words of this psalm, and partly from the looks of Christ, that they were spoken against them. So they sought in their rage and malice to lay hold on him; but they feared the people, with whom he was still popular. Thus, however, by his rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees, he prepared the way for that death which, within three days, they brought upon him. And the counsel of God was fulfilled for the redemption of men by the blood of Christ.
Mark 12:13, Mark 12:14
St. Matthew (Matthew 22:15) tells us that "the Pharisees took counsel how they might ensnare him (ὅπως αὐτὸν παγιδεύσωσιν) in his talk;" namely, by proposing to him captious and insidious questions, which, in whatever way he might answer them, might expose him to danger. On this occasion they enlisted the Heredians to join them in their attack upon him. These Herodians were a sect of the Jews who supported the house of Herod, and were in favor of giving tribute to the Roman Caesar. They were so called at first from Herod the Great, who was a great supporter of Caesar. Tertullian, St. Jerome, and others say that these Herodiaus thought that Herod was the promised Messiah, because they saw that in him the scepter had departed from Judah (Genesis 49:10). Herod encouraged these flatterers, and so put to death the infants at Bethlehem, that he might thus get rid of Christ, lest any other than himself might be regarded as Christ. They said at it was on this account that he rebuilt the temple with so much magnificence. The Pharisees took, of course, altogether the other side, and stood forward as the supporters of the Law of Moses and of their national freedom. So, in order that they might ensnare him, they sent to him their disciples with the Herodians, and in the most artful manner proposed to him, apparently in good faith, a question which answer it how he might, would, as they hoped, throw him upon the horns of a dilemma. If he said that tribute ought to be given to Caesar, he would expose himself to the malice of the Jewish people, who prided themselves upon their freedom. If, on the other hand, he said that tribute ought not to be given to Caesar, he would incur the wrath of Caesar and of the Roman power.
Mark 12:15, Mark 12:16
St. Matthew (Matthew 22:18) says, "But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?' You pretend that you are approaching me with a good conscience, sincerely desirous to know how you ought to act in this matter; when at the same time you are enemies alike of me and of God, and are thirsting for my blood, and are doing all in your power to torment me, and to entangle me by fraud. "The first virtue," says St. Jerome, "of the respondent is to know the mind of the questioner, and to adapt his answer accordingly." These Pharisees and Heredians flatter Christ that they may destroy him; but he rebukes them, that, if possible, be might save them. Bring me a penny, that I may see it. The Roman denarius was equal to about eight-pence halfpenny. This was the coin in which the tribute money was to be paid. It had stamped upon it the image of Tiberius Caesar, the then reigning Roman emperor. The cognomen of Caesar was first given to Julius Caesar, from whom it was devolved to his successors. The current coin of the country proved the subjection of the country to him whose image was upon it. Maimonides, quoted by Dr. John Lightfoot, says, "Wheresoever the money of any king is current, there the inhabitants acknowledge that king for their lord."
Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's. It is as though our Lord said, "Since you Jews are now subject to Caesar—and there is here this evidence of it, that his coin is current amongst you; you would not use it were you not obliged, because all Gentile rites and symbols are an abhorrence to you;—but since Caesar demands nothing of you but his tribute—the coin stamped with his own image and name—it is your duty to render to him his own denarius for tribute. But spiritual things, such as worship and obedience, give these to God; for these he demands from you as his right, and by so doing you will offend neither God nor yet Caesar." Our Lord, in his infinite wisdom, avoids the question altogether whether the Jews were rightly in subjection to the Romans. This was a doubtful question. But there could be no doubt as to the fact that they were tributary. This was made plain by the evidence of the current coin. Now, this being so, it was manifestly the duty of the Jewish people to give to Caesar the tribute money which he demanded of them for the expenses of government, and especially of supporting an army to defend them from their enemies. And it was no less their duty to give their tribute to God, which he in his own right demanded of them as his creatures and faithful subjects. The rights of Caesar are one thing, and those of God are another; and there is nothing that need clash between them. State polity is not opposed to religion, nor religion to state. Tertullian says, "'Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's;' that is, give to Caesar his image stamped upon his coin, and give to God his own image stamped upon you; so that while you render to Caesar the coin which is his due, you may render your own self to God." This wonderful answer of our Lord teaches us that we ought to try to speak so wisely, and so to moderato our speech amongst those who are captious, that we may, if possible, offend neither side, but steer safely between Scylla and Charybdis. And they marvelled at him. The true Greek reading of the verb here is not ἐθαύμασαν, but ἐξεθαύμαζον, they marvelled greatly at him; they stood marvelling greatly at him. They marvelled at his wisdom and skill in extricating himself so readily out of this net in which they had hoped to entangle him. Indeed, the words of the psalmist (Psalms 9:15) were verified in them: "The wicked is snared in the work of his own hands." He vaulted over the trap set for him, leaving them entangled in it. He lifted up the question far above the petty controversy of the hour, and affirmed a great principle of natural and religious obligation which belongs alike to all times and persons and places.
And there come unto him Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection. Josephus states that in the time of Judas Maceabaeus there were three sects of the Jews, differing amongst themselves, namely, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. The Hebrew word Zadoc, from which the Sadducees derive their name, means "just." or" righteous." These Sadducees accepted the Pentateuch, and probably more than the Pentateuch; but they rejected any oral tradition. They were known in the time of our Lord as denying those doctrines which connect us more immediately with another world, such as the existence of spirits and of angels, and the resurrection of the body. They altogether denied fate, affirming that all things are in our own power. They heard Christ preach the resurrection, and by means of it persuade men to repentance and a holy life. They therefore proposed to him a question which appeared to them to be fatal to the doctrine of a future state and a resurrection. The case supposed is that of seven brethren, who, in compliance with the Law of Moses, one after another, as each died in succession, took the same woman to wife. It is probable that such a case may actually have occurred; at any rate, it was a possible case. And the question founded upon it by the Sadducees was this—Whose wife would she be of them in the resurrection? Here, then, they hoped to entangle him, and to show that the doctrine of the resurrection was absurd. For if our Lord should say that in the resurrection she would be the wife of one only, the other brethren would have been excited to envy and continual strife. Nor could he have said that she would be common to the seven brothers. Such were the absurdities which, as they intimated, would flow out of his doctrine of the resurrection, if it could be proved. But our Lord scatters to the winds all this foolish reasoning, by adding one clause omitted by them, and overlooked by men of mere earthly minds, namely, that in the world to come this widow would be the wife of none of the seven brethren.
These Sadducees erred in two ways:
(1) They did not know or remember the Scriptures, such as that in Job (Job 21:25), "I know that my Redeemer liveth," etc., or in Isaiah (Isaiah 26:19), "Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise;" or in Daniel (Daniel 12:2), "Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake," etc.
(2) They did not know the power of God, namely, that he can raise the bodies of the dead again to life, even as at first he created them out of nothing; for a greater power is required to make that to be which was not, than to make that again to be which once was. But then the resurrection life will be a new life, spiritual, glorious, eternal, like that of the angels.
So in these words our Lord struck at the double root of the error of the Sadducees:
(1) ignorance of the Scriptures, which plainly teach the resurrection; and
(2) ignorance of the power of God, which led them to interpret these Scriptures, which speak of the resurrection, to mean only a mystical resurrection from vice to virtue.
But are as angels in heaven—not "the angels;" the οἱ is omitted. The blessed, after the resurrection, will be like angels as to purity, as to a spiritual life, as to immortality, as to happiness and glory. There will be no necessity for marriages in heaven. Here, on earth, the father dies, but he lives on in his children after death. In heaven there is no death, but every one will live and be blessed for ever; and therefore it is that St. Luke adds here, "Neither can they die any more." St. Augustine says, "Marriages are on account of children; children on account of succession; succession on account of death. But in heaven, as there is no death, neither is there any marriage."
St. Mark is here careful to state that what St. Matthew describes as "the word spoken by God" was to be found in the book of Moses (Exodus 3:5), in the place concerning the Bush (ἐπὶ τῆς βάτου), as it is correctly rendered in the Revised Version. Our Lord might have brought yet clearer proofs out of Job, Daniel, Ezekiel, etc.; but in his wisdom he preferred to allege this out of Moses and the Pentateuch, because, whatever the views of the Sadducees may have been as to other parts of the Old Testament, these books of Moses they readily acknowledged. I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. The force of the argument is this, that "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." Their souls are still alive; and if these patriarchs are still alive, there will be a resurrection. If men are to live for ever, they will, sooner or later, live again in the completeness of their being, namely, of body and soul and spirit. Our Lord would, therefore, say this: "In a few days you will put me to death; but in three days I shall rise again from the dead. And after that, in due time I shall raise them from the dead at the last day, and bring them in triumph with me into heaven." The Sadducees and the Epicureans denied the resurrection, because they denied the immortality of the soul; for these two doctrines hang together. For if the soul is immortal, then, since it naturally depends upon the body, it is necessary that the body should rise. Otherwise the soul would continue to exist in a dislocated state, and would only obtain a divided life and an imperfect existence. Hence our Lord here distinctly proves the resurrection of the body from the immortality of the soul. When he speaks of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, he does not speak of their souls only, but of their whole being. Therefore, though they are for a time dead to us, yet they live to God, and sleep, as it were, because ere long God will raise them from death, as from a sleep, to a blessed and endless life. For all, though they have passed out of our sight, still live to him.
Ye therefore do greatly err. The Greek is, omitting the οὖν, simply ὑμεῖς πολὺ πλανᾶσθε, Ye greatly err. The omission is more consistent with St. Mark's usual style. The Sadducees entirely misunderstood the meaning of their own Scriptures.
St. Matthew (Matthew 22:34) says here that the Pharisees, when they heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, gathered themselves together, and that then one of them, who was a lawyer (νομίνος), that is, "a scribe," asked him this question, What commandment is the first of all? It appears here from St. Mark that this scribe had been present at the discussion with the Sadducees, and he had probably informed the others of what had taken place, and of the wisdom and power of our Lord's answer; so he was naturally put forward to try our Lord with another crucial question. It does not necessarily appear that he had an evil intention in putting this question. He may, in his own mind (seeing the wisdom and skill of our Lord), have desired to hear what Christ had to say to a very difficult question on a matter deeply interesting to all true Hebrews. The question was one much mooted amongst the Jews in the time of our Lord. "For many," says Beds, "thought that the first commandment in the Law related to offerings and sacrifices, with regard to which so much is said in Leviticus, and that the right worship of God consisted in the due offering of these." On this account the Pharisees encouraged children to say "Corban" to their parents; and hence this candid and truth-loving scribe, when he heard our Lord's answer about the love of God and of our neighbor, said that such obedience was worth "more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." With regard to the love of God, St. Bernard says, "The measure of our love to God is to love him without measure; for the immense goodness of God deserves all the love that we can possibly give to him."
Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. God is to be loved above everything—above all angels, or men, or any created thing. But after God, amongst created things, our neighbor is above all to be loved. And we are to extend to our neighbor that kind of love with which we love ourselves. Our love of ourselves is not a frigid love, but a sincere and ardent love. In like manner we should love our neighbour, and desire for him all those good things both for the body and for the soul that we desire for ourselves. This is what our Lord himself teaches us. "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, even so do unto them." There is none other commandment greater than these. St. Matthew (Matthew 22:40) says, "On these two commandments hang the whole Law and the prophets." There is no commandment greater than these, because all the precepts of the Divine Law are included in them. So that our Lord here teaches us that we ought continually to have these two precepts in our minds and before our eyes, and direct all our thoughts and words and actions by them, and regulate our whole life according to them.
The first words of this verse should be rendered thus: Of a truth, Master, thou hast well said that he is one. In the remainder of the scribe's answer we find a different word used in the Greek for" mind," or "understanding," from that just used by our Lord. In our Lord's answer the word is διάνοια. Here it is σύνεσις. Both words are well rendered by "understanding." It is an act of understanding. It is the thought associating itself with the object, and "standing under" it so as to support it.
Is more (περισσότερόν)—according to the most approved reading, more—than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. This scribe was evidently emerging out of the bondage of ceremonial things, and perceiving the supremacy of the moral law.
And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly (νουνεχῶς), he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. It would appear from this answer that our Lord regarded him as one who approached him with the sincere desire to know the truth, and so he encouraged him. This shows how powerful an influence our Lord's teaching had already exercised amongst all classes of the Jews. This scribe, notwithstanding the prejudices of his class, had reached the border-land of the kingdom. He had learnt that the true way to the kingdom was by the love of God and of our neighbor. He was not far from the kingdom—not far from "the Church militant here on earth," by which is the way to the Church triumphant in heaven. He was not far from the kingdom, but still he wanted that which in the true pathway to the kingdom—faith in Christ as the Savior of the world. And no man after that durst ask him any question. St. Matthew (Matthew 22:46) places these words after the next occurrence. But there is no inconsistency in the two narratives, because in this next incident our Lord puts the question to them; and this silenced both their questioning and their answering. All felt that there was such a vast reach of wisdom and knowledge in all that he said, that it was in vain to contend with him.
Our Lord was now in the temple, and he took the opportunity for instructing the scribes and Pharisees concerning his person and his dignity. Thus, as ever, he returned good for evil. He here taught them that the Messiah was not a mere man, as they supposed, but that he was i both God and man, and that therefore they ought not to wonder or to be offended because he called himself the Son of God. St. Matthew (Matthew 22:42) more fully gives their answer first, namely, that "Christ is the Son of David." They should have said that, as God, he was the Son of God, according to those words, "Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee;" but that, as man, he was the Son of David. Their answer was very different from that of Peter: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." But they wanted the Divine knowledge which the disciples had gained.
The Lord said unto my Lord. From this verse (Psalms 110:1-7.) our Lord shows that the Messiah, such as he was, was not a mere man, as the Pharisees thought, but that he was God, and therefore David's Lord. The meaning, therefore, is this, "The Lord God said to my Lord," that is, Christ, "Sit thou at my right hand," that is, when, after his cross, his death, and his resurrection, he will exalt him far above all principality and power, and place him next to him in heaven, that he may reign with supreme happiness and power and glory over all creatures. These words show that this is a Divine decree, fixed and irrevocable. Till I make thine enemies thy footstool (ὑποπόδιον τῶν ποδῶν σου); literally, the footstool of thy feet; that is, reign with me in glory until the day of judgment, when I will make the wicked, all opposing powers, subject to thee. The word "till" does not imply that Christ will then cease to reign. "Of his kingdom there shall be no end." But he will then formally deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father, only that he may receive it again as the second Person of the Godhead.
Mark 12:38, Mark 12:39
These verses are a condensation of the woes recorded at length by St. Matthew (Matthew 23:1-39.). And he said unto them in his doctrine (ἐν τῇ διδαχῇ αὑτοῦ)—literally, in his teaching—Beware of the scribes which desire (τῶν θελόντων) to walk in long robes (ἐν στολαῖς). The στόλη was a rich robe which reached down to the ankles, and was adorned with fringes. The scribes took pleasure in this kind of display. The salient points in their character were ostentation, avarice, and religious hypocrisy.
There is a change in the construction here, which is not marked in the Authorized Version. The sentence in this fortieth verse should stand alone, and be read thus: They which devour (οἱ κατεσθίοντες) widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers; these shall receive greater condemnation. The sentence thus read is far more graphic. The statement thus becomes indeed more general, but the reference is still to the scribes who through their avarice swallowed up the property of helpless widows, and through their hypocrisy, in the hope of thus more effectually imposing upon their victims, lengthened out their prayers. Greater condemnation. The word in the Greek is κρίμα, that is, "judgment." A severer sentence would fall upon them in the day of judgment and a heavier condemnation, because, under the semblance of piety, they practiced iniquity, and indulged their avarice under the mask of religion.
He sat down over against the treasury (γαζοφυλάκιον, from γάζα, a Persian word meaning "treasure," and φυλάττειν, to guard). This was the receptacle into which the offerings of the people were east, for the uses of the temple and for the benefit of the priests and of the poor. Hence that part of the temple in which these gifts were kept was called the treasury. He beheld (ἐθεώρει)—literally, he was beholding; he was observing—how the multitude πῶς ὁ ὄχλος—that is, in what manner, with what motives (for he was the heart-searcher) the crowd of givers—cast money (βάλλει χαλκόν); literally, is casting· St. Luke uses the term (τὰ δῶρα) "their gifts." Many that were rich cast in much (πολλά), that is, "many pieces." There were several apertures in the treasury, which from their shape were called trumpets. Some of these had special inscriptions, marking the destination of the offerings.
A poor widow (μία χήρα πτωχὴ); literally, one poor widow; one specially singled out for notice. St. Luke says, εἷδε δὲ καί τινα χήραν πενιχρὰν: literally, a widow who supported herself by her own little labor. And she cast in two mites (λεπτὰ), which make a farthing. The farthing was the fourth part of an as, and ten of these made a denarius. The Greek word (λεπτὰ) means literally "thin pieces."
Mark 12:43, Mark 12:44
This poor widow hath cast in more. The right reading of the verb here is ἔβαλε, not βέβληκε; this aoristic rendering has very good authority—this poor widow cast in more. Her act is completed, and has gone up for a memorial before God. She "gave" more than all the others who are casting (τῶν βαλλόντων), not "have cast in (τῶν βαλόντων)." She gave more, when she threw in those two mites, than all the others were giving—more, that is, in the estimation of him who sees not as man sees. God does not weigh the gift so much as the mind of the giver. That gift is really the greater in his sight, not which is actually of greater value, but which is greater in respect of the giver. Therefore this poor widow, when she gave her farthing, gave more than they all, because she gave all her living—all, that is, that she had beforehand for that day, trusting that the Lord would give her her bread for that day. And so she carried off the palm for liberality, Christ himself proudly present, but what you offer with being the Judge. St. Ambrose says, "That humility and devotion." which God esteems is not that which you proudly present, but what you offer with humility and devotion.
By this time there was no further prospect or possibility that the fate of Jesus might be averted. His entry into Jerusalem in state, and his cleansing of the temple, were acts that the priests, scribes, and Pharisees could not pardon, for they were a claim to authority altogether incompatible with their own. And the words of Jesus were as bold as his acts; their justice and severity enraged the rulers beyond all degree. The enemies of truth and righteousness were by this time fully resolved to strike down him whose character and ministry were the living embodiment of what they most hated. It was only a question of time and manner and instrumentalities. All this Jesus knew, and he knew that "his hour was come." There was no occasion now for reticence, and there was no longer any end to be subserved by it. His speech was always plain and faithful, but now his denunciations were unsparing, and his warnings terrible. On this Tuesday morning of his last week, our Lord summed up in this parable of "the wicked husbandmen," "the rebel vine-dressers," the rebellious history of Israel in the past, and the approaching doom of Israel in the future. It was in the temple precincts, and in the presence both of the people and of the chief priests, that the great Teacher so boldly aserted his own special mission and authority, and so emphatically foretold his own fate and the judgment which should overtake the guilty nation. The immediate application of the parable is clear enough. Israel was the vineyard planted in the election of Abraham, and hedged about and provided with all things needful, in the giving of the Law by Moses and in the settlement in Canaan under Joshua. The Eternal, who had so favored the chosen people, had sent prophets in three periods—that of Samuel, that of Elijah and Elisha, and that of Isaiah and Jeremiah—to summon Israel to a life of spirituality and obedience corresponding with their privileges. The Jews had not fulfilled the Law of God, or rendered to Heaven the fruits meet for repentance. And now he, the Son of God, was among them, the final Embassy from the throne of the great King. It was but too plain to all eyes that the unfruitfulness and rebellion of Israel reached the most awful height just when their advantages were the greatest, and the mercy of the Eternal was most conspicuous. They, who had rejected and slain the prophets, were now plotting against the very Son of God. They were about to put him to death, because he told them the truth and urged the rightful claims and demands of his Father. They might think, and did think, that this would be the end; but such an expectation was delusive: it was incompatible with the righteous government of God. And the Lord plainly foretold them that, as surely as God reigned in heaven and on earth, so surely should the rebellion of Israel be awfully and signally chastised, their special privileges come to a perpetual end, and the blessings which they were rejecting be conferred by God's sovereign favor upon others, who should render the fruits in their seasons. Forty years afterwards Jerusalem was destroyed, the Jews were scattered, and their national life came to an end; and the kingdom of God was established among the Gentiles. The parable has lessons, not only for Israel, but for us; it embodies truth spiritual, practical, and impressive.
I. OUR EARTHLY OCCUPATION: TO TILL THE VINEYARD OF GOD. The figure sets forth our vocation and responsibility. It represents our life as one of privilege. It is not a wilderness, but a vineyard, which we are called to cultivate. God has done much for us, in appointing for us the circumstances and opportunities of our existence. Our life is one of work. The most favorable situation and the most fruitful soil avail little if the plot be neglected; only faithful and diligent labor on our part can secure that the purposes of the Divine Lord shall be fulfilled. It is for us to "give diligence to make our calling and election sure." The greater our privileges, the more need that we should be diligent, laborious, and prayerful. Opportunities must be used, and not neglected or abused.
II. GOD'S RIGHTEOUS EXPECTATION: THAT WE SHALL YIELD HIM FRUIT. What is the crop, the produce, he desires to see? Holiness and obedience, love and praise, as far as he is concerned; and, as far as regards our fellow-men, justice and gentleness, benevolence and helpfulness. He looks for repentance from the sinner, for faith from the hearer of the gospel, for improvement in character and for usefulness in service from the Christian. Why he does this is obvious enough. He has given us the means of knowledge and the opportunities of devotion, and looks for a return. "What more," he says, "could I have done than I have done?" And this expectation is for our sake as well as for his own. Our fruitfulness is our welfare and our happiness; it brings its own reward.
III. GOD'S REQUIREMENT AND DEMAND UPON MEN, BY HIS MESSENGERS AND BY HIS SON. Our Lord appeals to us both by the Law and by the gospel. The teaching of his Word brings before us his rightful claims, and shows us how much it is for our highest advantage that we should not be unmindful of them. He summons us by the lessons of his providence, and by the counsels of our Christian friends, to a religious life. Yet there is no appeal so powerful, so persuasive, as that which God makes to us by his own "dear Son." Christ comes to us with authority; he comes to us with grace. He comes from the Father, and he comes with the deepest interest in our condition, anxious to overcome our rebelliousness, and to lead us to a holy and grateful obedience. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the one great, Divine appeal to the hearts of men. It is the method which infinite Wisdom and Mercy have devised of winning our confidence and love, and securing our ready obedience and loyal service. Those who have rejected other messengers of Heaven may justly be enjoined to receive with reverence the Son of God.
IV. THE PENALTIES OF FRUITLESSNESS AND REBELLION. These are described in this passage in the most affecting terms. Privileges are removed from the unfaithful. The negligent and rebellious are punished and cast out. The advantages which they have spurned are transferred to others.
V. THE REWARD OF FRUITFULNESS AND LOYALTY. 1. Christ is glorified, even though there may be those who reject and contemn him. Christ himself quotes a passage of Scripture, in which this great truth is set forth, though by a change of figure. "The stone which the builders rejected is become the Head of the corner." The purposes of God are accomplished, and cannot be frustrated by the guilt of man. 2. Other husbandmen are found who will deal more faithfully with the sacred trust. These shall offer the fruits of obedience, which shall be acceptable to the Lord of the vineyard. They shall be confirmed in their occupation, shall be blessed in their work, shall enjoy the Master's favor, and shall live in the light of their Master's glory.
There could not have been a more decisive proof of the duplicity and hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders than that furnished by this incident. It is certain that they were opposed to the Roman sway, that they nursed in their hearts hopes of Jewish independence, that they would have eagerly welcomed such a Messiah as they looked for—one who should deliver them from the yoke of foreign bondage. Yet, in their malignity, they were ready to denounce Jesus to the Roman governor should he express an opinion adverse to the paying of tribute, just as they were ready to deliver him up to the fury of the populace should he formally approve and sanction the rights of the empire over the Jewish people. Thus—
I. A JUST BUT INSINCERE COMPLIMENT VEILS A MALIGNANT DESIGN. It is an astounding instance of duplicity, this method of approaching the Lord Jesus. These Pharisees and Herodians make admissions which they would never have made except as the means to an evil end. They address the Master with the acknowledgment that he is "true"—in this a striking contrast to themselves; that he is impartial, caring not for any one, nor regarding the person of men; that he taught the way of God. This was not empty, complimentary language; it was just. Whether in their hearts they believed it to be so, we cannot say; but Christ's enemies were often unintentional witnesses, both to his virtues and to his Divine authority and mission. Their only aim was to conciliate him, so that, in an unguarded moment, he might, with natural frankness, commit himself to some judgment which they might use to his harm.
II. A CRAFTY ALTERNATIVE, AN INSIDIOUS SNARE, IS WISELY ELUDED. "IS it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?" A categorical answer either way would have been immediately and effectively used to his injury; he could not, after so answering, both stand well with his countrymen and remain free from the imputation of disloyalty to the then supreme power of Rome. The alternative was fairly evaded, and the snare was escaped, by the method in which Jesus dealt with the question propounded. There was something picturesque and impressive to the popular mind in his asking for the denarius, and pointing to the emperor's image and superscription. There was manifest reasonableness in yielding to Caesar what was so obviously his own; yet it was pointed out that this might be loyally done without detriment to the higher obligations of religion.
III. A PRINCIPLE OF ACTION IN THE SEVERAL DEPARTMENTS OF HUMAN LIFE IS ONCE FOR ALL ASSERTED.
1. We have here a recognition that civil government is of Divine authority. It does not follow from this that every government deserves approval, or even that under no circumstances is it lawful to resist constituted authority. But our Lord teaches, and his apostles teach, as a general principle, that civil governors are to be obeyed, that "the powers that be are ordained of God."
2. An implication that there is a province into which civil governors may not intrude, that there are obligations which take precedence even of the duties we owe to the earthly sovereign. There are claims which the Divine Lord himself prefers, and which he regards as supreme. The apostles clearly grasped this principle, and put it into practice when the rulers interfered with their discharge of what they held to be their religious duties. When a conflict occurs between the allegiance due to the civil ruler and that due to the supreme King, our Lord's words warrant the preference of the Divine to the human law. In times of persecution especially, the principle of our Lord's words has often guided the wavering and sustained the feeble. "Whether it be right to obey God rather than man, judge ye!" We may say that the modern privilege of religious liberty has grown out of this incident in our Lord's ministry, these words from our Lord's lips. And to the same source we may attribute the growing tendency on the part of secular powers to withdraw from the province of religion, and to allow free scope to the action of conscience and full liberty for the profession and for the rites of religion. There is a province into which no earthly authority may intrude, and where the Creator reigns supreme and alone.
Of all the subjects which awaken the speculative curiosity and inquiry of men, none approaches, in dignity and importance, the future life. The nobler spirits, in every civilized and cultured community, have either held as an article of faith, or have cherished with fondest hope, the prospect of immortality. Annihilation is a prospect which none but the degraded and sinful can consent to accept without shuddering horror. It has often been observed as very remarkable, though not inexplicable, that the Pentateuch contains no express, explicit statement regarding a future life. It appears that the revelation of immortality was progressive; for expectations regarding a conscious existence of happiness after death are certainly found with growing frequency in the later books of the Old Testament. The psalmists and prophets rejoiced in the hope of a heavenly rest and an imperishable fellowship with the Father of spirits. At the time of our Lord's ministry there was a division among the religious authorities of the Jewish people upon this all-important subject; the Pharisees holding to the doctrines of immortality and resurrection, and the Sadducees denying and apparently ridiculing both. Amongst the Sadducees were many of the most intellectual of the upper classes of society. They also retained in their own leading families the office of high priest. Both our Lord Christ and his apostle Paul took a very decided stand against the Sadducaic doctrine and party. During the last week of our Lord's ministry, when the conflict with his enemies was reaching its height, many assaults were made from various quarters against Jesus and his claims and teaching. This passage records the attack of the rationalistic party upon the Divine Master, and his original and conclusive repulse of that attack.
I. THE REASONING OF THE SADDUCEES AGAINST THE TEACHING OF OUR LORD UPON IMMORTALITY AND RESURRECTION.
1. It was indirect reasoning. Instead of attacking the doctrine, they simply attacked a supposed inference from it, viz. the continuance of physical human relations in another life.
2. It was frivolous reasoning. They must have found it hard to state with serious faces a case so absurd. It would have been childish had they supposed the woman to have married twice; the suppesition that she should confront in the resurrection life the rival claims of seven husbands was ridiculous. This is not the temper in which great problems regarding human destiny should be discussed.
3. It was inconclusive; for no one of the alternative solutions of the difficulty proposed would have been incompatible with a future life.
II. THE GENERAL REPLY OF THE LORD JESUS TO THIS REASONING.
1. He refutes the argument, if it can be so called, which they had adduced. Marriage is an earthly institution, and is especially adapted to a mortal race, providing that generation shall succeed generation. Love is indeed imperishable, and shall be perfected in heaven; but marriage shall no longer be necessary when men shall be equal to the angels, and shall sin and die no more. Therefore no reasoning founded upon the continuance of this physical relationship has place with reference to the life beyond the grave.
2. He bases the doctrine of the future life upon the power of God, which they strangely overlooked. It is the reasoning which was repeated by St. Paul, "Why should it be thought a thing impossible with you that God should raise the dead?" The omnipotence which first called human nature into being is surely able to revive the spirit and perpetuate its consciousness and activity. This is an unanswerable argument still against all dogmatic denial of the future life. It does not in itself establish the doctrine, but it is conclusive against those who deny it. It removes the presumption from the opponents to the upholders of immortality.
3. He refers to the Scriptures for grounds for belief in a future life. Those who admitted their authority would find it hard to reconcile such admission with disbelief in the resurrection.
III. THE SPECIAL ARGUMENT BY WHICH THE LORD JESUS ESTABLISHES FAITH IN IMMORTALITY AND A FUTURE LIFE.
1. Jesus refers to an authority which the Sadducees professed emphatically to revere—the Pentateuch. "The Law" was their especial pride, and they may have justified their scepticism by the absence of explicit teaching upon this great doctrine from the books of Moses.
2. Jesus quotes a familiar passage, in which he reads, or from which he deduces, a new and striking and convincing argument. It is upon record that God declared himself to Moses as "the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob." Now, what did this imply? That God had been their God, but that, they having ceased to exist, he was no longer? Or, that he was the God of their mouldering or dispersed dust, which, upon the theory of annihilation, was all that remained of them? Either those who had been wont to read this passage must have passed it over without reflection, or they must have been satisfied with an interpretation crude and empty. Or else they must have drawn the inference which the great Master now drew: "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." Once he declares himself his people's God, he remains such for ever; and they remain his,—conscious recipients of his favor, and responsive partakers of his Divine and Fatherly love. He is a covenant God; his promises are never broken, and his declarations never fail. An immortal God involves the immortality of those whom he has created in his image, redeemed by his grace, renewed by his Spirit. If he is what he has revealed himself as being, if his people are what he has declared them to be, then death has no power over them; they are destined to "glory, honor, and immortality." For "all live in him."
The great commandments.
This passage of the Gospel affords common ground, upon which those who lay the greatest stress upon Christian doctrine may meet with conciliation and harmony those who are wont to insist most upon Christian morality. Here is a statement, upon the highest authority, as to what God requires of man, as to what man owes to God and to his fellow-men. "Do this, and thou shalt live!" It is a sublime view of the great purposes of our spiritual being. Beyond this religion cannot go; for this is the end for which our nature was framed, for which revelation was vouchsafed. Yet who can read these requirements of a holy and benevolent Creator and Ruler without feeling that by himself they have not been fulfilled? The man must be besotted by self-conceit, or must have silenced conscience, who claims to have loved God with all his powers, or to have uniformly loved his neighbor as himself. The purer, the more stringent the Law, the deeper the humiliation and contrition of the transgressor. What, then, more fitted to induce sinners to receive the gospel with faith and gratitude than these words of Jesus? What can make so welcome the tidings of Divine forgiveness secured through the redemption wrought by the Savior on the cross? And, further, as we meditate upon this ideal of a beautiful and acceptable moral life, how profoundly are we impressed with a sense of our own weakness! And surely this must lead us to seek and to accept the aid of the Spirit of God, who is the Spirit at once of power and of love! Thus the inculcation of Christian morality naturally suggests the doctrines upon which we build our hopes for time and for eternity. On the other hand, in the presence of these inspiriting words of the Master, how is it possible for the candid and the faithful to rest in that view of the gospel which represents religion as merely securing the forgiveness of sin, and immunity from wrath and punishment? Here is a summons to a spiritual, a self-denying, and a benevolent life.
I. THE QUESTION PROPOSED TO JESUS.
1. In itself it was a worthy, a noble question. Unlike the trifling and ridiculous riddle propounded by the Pharisees, it was an inquiry becoming on the part of the scribe who urged it, and fit for the consideration and judgment of the holy Master himself. It respected commandments, and thus acknowledged the rule of a just God, and the duty of man's obedience and submission. It concerned morality—the highest of all human interests. It evinced an evident desire to do what was right, and to give precedence to what should be acknowledged best. There can be no nobler inquiry than this—What is the will of God? What is the duty of man? What shall I do?
2. In its spirit and purport, the question was commendable. The questioner observed that Jesus had answered well; that he had solved with marvellous wisdom the difficult question of the Pharisees; that he had dealt skilfully and conclusively with the cavilling of the Sadducees. The limits of civil submission are an interesting branch of study; the future life is of all speculative questions the most engrossing to the thoughtful; but of even wider interest are the foundation, the character, the means, of human goodness. The inquiry as to the first of commandments was put as a testing question, but in no captious spirit; it was the expression of a desire to learn—to learn from the highest authority, to learn the most sacred principles of moral life. And not to learn only, but doubtless to practice the lesson acquired.
II. THE ANSWER OF JESUS TO THE SCRIBE. There was no hesitation in the Master's reply to the question proposed; the challenge was at once taken up. And consummate wisdom was shown in the reference to the Mosaic Law, the very words of which were quoted. Thus the right-minded were conciliated, yet at no expense, but rather by the manifestation, of truth. And the hostile were silenced; for who of the Jewish rabbis could call in question the authority of their own sacred books? When we look into the substance of the response, several remarkable facts become apparent.
1. Love is represented as the sum of the Divine commandments. The Pentateuch contained the injunctions our Lord repeated, but they were included in a vast body of precepts and prohibitions. It could scarcely be said with justice that love was the most prominent of the Mosaic commandments. Christ's independence, discernment, and legislative authority were shown in his fixing upon the two requirements which occur in different books and in different connections, and in bringing them out into the light of day, and exhibiting them as in his view of surpassing importance, and so promulgating them as the laws of his spiritual kingdom through all time. God himself is love; Christ is the expression and proof of the Divine love; and it is therefore natural and reasonable that love should be the law of the Divine kingdom, the badge of the spiritual family.
2. The Object of supreme love is God himself. The personality of God is assumed, for we cannot love an abstraction, a power; only a living being, who thinks, feels, and purposes. The unity of God is asserted; for although, when Jesus lived on earth, the Jews were no longer subject to the temptation to idolatry, such temptation had beset them when the Law was originally given, and for a long period subsequently. The relationship between God and man is presumed—"thy God;" for he is ours and we are his. The claims of God are implied; his character, his treatment of men, his redeeming love in Christ. "We love him, because he first loved us."
3. The description and degree of love demanded are very fully stated in the text. The expression is a very strong one: "With all thy heart, soul, mind, and strength." Attempts have been made accurately to discriminate among these. But it seems sufficient to say that the love required in such language is cordial and fervent; cordial, as distinguished from mere profession, and fervent, as distinguished from lukewarmness and indifference. The whole of our nature is expected to combine, so to speak, in this exercise. Not only so, but God is to be regarded as the supreme Object of affection and devotion. He demands the first place in our heart; and those who see his grace in Christ cannot find it hard to offer what he demands.
4. Love to man follows upon love to God. It may, indeed, in order of time, in some measure precede and prepare for it. But in the moral order, in the order of obligation, love to God comes first, and, indeed, furnishes the one sound and safe basis for human love. The designation of the objects of this love deserves notice; they are our "neighbors." We must interpret this term in the light of our Lord's answer to an earlier question put to him by a certain lawyer: "Who is my neighbor?" In the parable of the good Samaritan Jesus then laid a broad foundation for human charity. Not our own family, or Church, or nation, but all mankind, are to be regarded with good will, and treated, not only with justice, but with kindness. Practically, those have a claim upon our kindly feeling and good offices whom Providence brings into any contact with us in human society. Remark the measure of this love: "As thyself." It is, then, right to love self; but in subordination to Divine love, and in accordance with love to neighbors. The test is an effective one, and can always be applied; the Law is parallel with the golden rule, "Do unto others as ye would they should do unto you." The dependence of this law upon the preceding is obvious. Christianity bases morality upon religion; we love our fellow-men as the children of God, because he loves them and for his sake.
5. Love, to be acceptable, must display itself in practical forms. The love we cherish toward God should lead to worship and to obedience—in a word, to a religious life. The love we entertain to our fellow-men will reveal itself in the demeanour, the language, and still more in the conduct. Helpfulness, self-denial, liberality, forbearance, are all fruits of love; which is destructive of discord, malice, and envy, of jealousy, hatred, and persecution. Here is the power to banish the vices, and the remedy to heal the spiritual maladies which afflict mankind!
III. THE SCRIBE'S APPROVING CONSENT TO CHRIST'S REPLY.
1. He thus proved his independence of judgment. Others, when answered and silenced by Jesus, retired discomfited, but unconvinced. This rabbi, with a mind candid and open to the truth, receives the Lord's saying as sufficient and decisive, and renders his own consent and approbation in the words, "Thou hast well said."
2. He shows his pleasure in the grand utterances of inspiration by repeating the language which Jesus had quoted—language evidently both familiar to him and congenial to his character.
3. His boldness and spirituality are apparent in his stating, what Jesus had implied, the superiority of the heart's affection to all service of the hands.
IV. THE COMMENDATION EXPRESSED BY JESUS.
1. The position of the lawyer was very different from that of others. There were many who were "far" from God's kingdom. The Pharisees for the most part by their formality, the Sadducees by their scepticism and arrogance, the publicans and sinners by their vices, the multitude by their ignorance,—these were far from the kingdom. Amongst those who may justly be so described are always some who are outwardly numbered among the religious, as well as multitudes who are without God, and manifestly have no hope.
2. There were several respects in which this scribe approached the spiritual kingdom of the Savior.
(1) He was acquainted with God's Word, and was interested in it; he explored and studied it. He appreciated the grandeur and beauty of the Divine Law, and he was bold and earnest in speaking of it. In all this he displayed sympathy with him who came to magnify and to fulfill the Law, and who bade the people search the Scriptures.
(2) He thoroughly agreed with the dictum of the great Master, with regard to the first and most binding and comprehensive ordinances of the inspired Word. Whether or not he was prepared with this answer to the question he proposed, it is evident that the answer commended itself to his judgment and conscience, and that the Divine Respondent was regarded by him with reverential admiration. It is well to find the truth; but it is also well, when others have found it, to recognize and to accept it.
(3) Grand indeed was this scribe's confession, that love "is much more than whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." All religions—the true as well as the false—are corrupted by a tendency in human nature to substitute the sacrificial, the ceremonial, the verbal, for the real, the spiritual. Men think that to comply with directions, instructive and profitable in themselves, but having reference only to symbolical actions, is all important, and they give diligent attention to these, and neglect the weightier matters of the Law. It is presumed that bodily service is sufficient, in forgetfulness of the fact that God is the Searcher of hearts, and that he will be worshipped in spirit and in truth. This is a lesson which still needs to be inculcated, even in days of Christian light and evangelical fervor. Never be it forgotten that character and conduct are of supreme importance, and that the only sufficient, conclusive evidence that a man has received the benefits of redemption, and has felt the renewing power of the Spirit of God, is to be found in the reign of love within his soul, and the manifestation of love in his whole character and life.
V. THE RESERVATION AND QUALIFICATION IN OUR LORD'S APPROVAL. If there was so much that was admirable in the spirit and the language of this student and expositor of the Law, what was lacking? If he was near the kingdom, what separated him from it, and prevented him from entering in? This question we cannot answer with certainty; we can only surmise. There may have been an inadequate sense of sin; his admiration of Jesus may have come short of true faith in him; and he may have been unready to make a complete surrender of himself to the Lord Jesus. At all events, we have no difficulty in enumerating various hindrances which, as a matter of fact, do keep outside of the kingdom those who are very near its confines. Christ's dominion is one which cannot be entered except through the door of repentance and of faith. True subjects come in sincere and childlike humility, and receive the welcome promised; by the new birth they enter the new life of the kingdom. The laws of the kingdom are spiritual, and demand spiritual conformity. And the King is enthroned in the heart as well as in society. You must become as little children in order that you may enter the kingdom of God.
1. Let faith work by love in Christian natures; and let those who love Christ prove by their spirit and their actions the sincerity of their love.
2. Let those who are near the kingdom, instead of resting in their nearness, regard this as a reason why they should, without delay, enter the gates before which they stand.
"Not far from the kingdom."
That this scribe should have shown so deep an admiration for the Divine Law, so clear a perception of the superiority of the spiritual to the ceremonial, so discerning an appreciation of the Divine Master,—all this was to his credit, and awakened the approval and elicited the commendation of our Lord. In the language Jesus addressed to him, a description is given of not a few hearers of the gospel, who present in their character much that is admirable, but who come short of true consecration to Christ, who are "not far from the kingdom of God." Of this class we may ask—
I. HOW NEAR HAVE THEY COME TO THE KINGDOM?
1. They have been, in many cases, brought near by the action of others. A Christian education and Christian influence have moulded their habits and improved a naturally well-inclined disposition.
2. They are well acquainted with the truths of religion, have studied the Scriptures, and have mastered the doctrines as well as the facts they contain.
3. They assent to the revelation contained in the Bible, either unreflectingly or after inquiry and doubt.
4. They admire Christ's moral character and beneficent life, his pure teaching, and his purposes of compassion towards mankind.
5. They conform to the practices of Christian worship, and even make use of the language of praise and prayer.
6. They obey many of the laws of Christ, either from habit or from a conviction of their justice and expediency.
7. They have had many desires, and may even have formed resolutions, to go further than this—to yield all to the Savior. Of such it may indeed be said, they are "not far from the kingdom of God."
II. HOW FAR ARE THEY STILL FROM THE KINGDOM? Men may travel a long distance in the right direction, and yet may leave untraversed the last and most important stage of the journey. So is it with many hearers of the gospel.
1. They may yet have to receive the gospel of Christ with their whole nature. The assent of the understanding must be followed by the consent of the will.
2. They may yet have to surrender themselves and their all to Jesus. Men may give much, but withhold more. The test which our Lord proposes is a readiness to offer the heart, and with it all powers and possessions, unto himself. Less is not acceptable to him who claims, and has a right to, all.
3. They may need to overcome much self-righteousness, self-confidence, self-seeking, before their state of mind is such as to enable them to accept the terms of Heaven: "Except ye become as little children," etc.
III. HOW SHOULD THOSE SO SITUATED NOW ACT?
1. They should reflect how vain is past progress except it lead to future consecration.
2. They should rejoice at the thought that their approach to the kingdom makes it easier for them to enter in. All their knowledge, good feelings, and partial obedience are so many steps upon the road, leaving the fewer to be taken in order to salvation.
3. They should remind themselves how unwise and dangerous and sinful it is to pause where they are. "It is the first step which costs;" and it is the last step which pays! Why should not that last step be taken at once? True repentance, sincere faith, cordial surrender, the new birth,—such are the descriptions given of the change yet to pass over those who are not far from the kingdom, in order that they may enter it. Illustrations: The builder rears the arch of a bridge; the keystone has yet to be placed; if that be left undone a storm may rise, the river may swell, his work may be swept away, and all that has been done may count for nothing. The traveler exploring a continent may endure many hardships and perils, may come within a day's march of the vast lake of which he hopes to be the discoverer: shall he turn back? The manslayer, pursued by the avenger of blood, may be within sight of the city of refuge: to pause is to be slain; to summon up all his strength and to bound forward is to find himself safely within the protecting walls. The captain, the adventurous explorer, after a long voyage over unknown seas, sights the land of which he has dreamed: shall he give orders to put about the ship, and abandon the glorious discovery within its reach, and all the honor, wealth, and fame which now at length await him?
Mark 12:34, Mark 12:37
Various effects of Christ's ministry.
There was a vigor and directness, an unsparing boldness and fidelity, peculiar to the ministry of our Lord in Jerusalem during the last week of his life. This no doubt precipitated the crisis, enraging his enemies at the same time that it silenced their reasonings. Two remarks are made by the evangelist which show us what was the effect of Christ's discourses and conversations both upon his foes and upon the multitude.
I. HIS ENEMIES WERE SILENCED. These included most of the members of the more prominent classes, who occupied positions of influence and authority in Jerusalem.
1. Their varied efforts to entrap Christ in his speech are recorded at length. The Pharisees, the Herodians, the Sadducees, and the scribes, all questioned Jesus and reasoned with him, largely with the hope of either weakening his influence or taking some advantage of his replies. There was much craft in the way in which they sought thus to injure him and his work.
2. Their uniform confutation by his wisdom and moral authority. All their efforts, from whatever quarter, and however conducted, proved in vain. None were able to withstand him. He either put them to shame, or convinced them by the wisdom of his answers. The evangelist sums up the impression produced by our Lord's demeanour and language in these several interviews in the words, "And no man after that durst ask him any question." Christ's wisdom is flawless; Christ's authority is irresistible. Now, as then, it is true that none can dispute with him except to be discomfited. "Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?"
II. THE MULTITUDE WERE ATTRACTED AND DELIGHTED. Whilst the self-confident and the self-righteous were put to shame and confusion, the common people, or rather the multitude, "the people" (as we say), heard him gladly. There were several sufficient reasons for this.
1. He spoke to them as one of themselves. Not from a height of official distance and superiority, but in their own language, with illustrations drawn from their own daily life, and as one who knew them and their ways.
2. His personal interest and sympathy were very marked. He did not break the bruised reed. Often brought into contact with the suffering, he pitied and healed them. Often meeting with sinners contrite and penitent, he pardoned and cheered them.
3. His fearless exposure and denunciation of the wickedness of the religious leaders of the Jews. The selfishness and hypocrisy of Pharisees and lawyers were well known; but such was the mental bondage of the people, that they dared not speak of the iniquities of the rulers save with bated breath. Jesus, however, who regarded not the person of any man, boldly upbraided the iniquitous rulers for their misdeeds. And those who suffered from the extortion and oppression which they endured, rejoiced in the Lord Jesus as in a Champion of the down-trodden, and an Upholder of the right.
4. His direct appeal to the conscience and heart of the people. It is thus, indeed, that masses of men are ever to be moved. Whilst in the preaching of Jesus statement of Divine truth and exhibitions of Divine love formed the substance of his addresses, he so spoke as to reach the moral nature of his hearers. No raving, no exaggeration, no vulgarity; but simplicity, vigor, earnestness, moral authority, were manifest in all his utterances.
5. He brought the fatherly grace of God home to the erring and helpless. This was what the religious leaders of the time did not. The hearts of men responded to the revelation of the heart of God. How could the people do otherwise than hear him gladly, when he said, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest"?
The profession of scribes, which had existed among the Jews ever since the Captivity, was in itself an honorable and useful profession. And there were members of this learned body who came into contact with the Lord Jesus who showed a candid disposition, a love of the truth, and who evinced respect and admiration for the great Rabbi. Yet some of the most bitter and virulent of our Lord's enemies were of this class. Their superiority to the people was a snare as well as an advantage. Many of them hid beneath the cloak of learning an evil heart, selfishness, arrogance, and unspirituality. In the discourse of Jesus here recorded, we find a protest against the general teaching, and a protest against the too common character, of these adversaries of his ministry and doctrine.
I. CHRIST'S CORRECTION OF THE SCRIBES' TEACHING REGARDING THE MESSIAH.
1. What was this teaching? It was the simple statement, that the Messiah should be a descendant of David. This was Scriptural truth, and the Gospels exhibit its application to Jesus. But it was only part of the truth.
2. In what respects did Jesus add to this conception of the Messiah? He quoted from the Scriptures, and he attributed their declarations to the inspiration of the Holy! Spirit. And thus he transmuted the bald doctrine of the scribes into a doctrine full of spiritual significance and dignity. These points especially are brought out:
(1) Preeminence is assigned to the Messiah over even his illustrious ancestor, David.
(2) The Messiah is represented as the Assessor of the Most High himself.
(3) The Messiah is depicted as the Conqueror of his foes. In all these respects the truly Scriptural representation of the Christ is an immense advance upon the customary teaching of the Jewish scribes. Thus Christ teaches concerning himself.
II. CHRIST'S DENUNCIATION OF THE CHARACTER AND CONDUCT OF THE SCRIBES.
1. Their loud professions of sanctity, and their ostentatious devotions, are censured. Long prayers may sometimes be the outcome of deep feeling and many needs; they may, as in the case of these scribes, be a cloak for sin. Long robes, like long prayers, may be a profession with which nothing spiritual corresponds. Hypocrisy was a crying evil of the times. There is no vice that is more hateful to God; and it may be questioned whether it often imposes upon men.
2. Their love of pre-eminence is blamed. Both in "Church and State" they loved to be supreme, and in all social relations they sought the honor which cometh from man. In the synagogues, in the market, places, and at festive gatherings the scribes would fain be first.
3. Their cruel rapacity is held up to obloquy. The bereaved and the defenceless were their victims. On some pretext or other they gained possession or management of the property of widows, and were not satisfied until they appropriated the whole. There are those in our own days, and in Christian lands, who grow rich by similar practices, and who incur by such infamous cruelty "the wrath of the Lamb."
4. Christ predicts the condemnation of such sinners, and at the same time puts the people on their guard against them. His threat of condemnation was authoritative; and his warning was one which was needed and timely. Against the wrongs and cruelties, the assumptions and the errors of such pretenders, the Good Shepherd would fain protect his feeble and defenceless sheep.
The widow's mite.
The presence of this poor widow, among unspiritual and ostentatious worshippers and offerers, is as a sunbeam amidst the gloom, a rose in the wilderness. It is a touching picture, this of the lonely woman, who had lost her husband, and whose heart was sad, whose means were scanty, and whose life was obscure and cheerless. But she had found strength and consolation in waiting upon God. And the temple, the appointed place for worship, with its services, so helpful to devotion, and associated with holy gatherings, and with opportunities for Divine communion, was dear to her heart. She could not be absent when the sacred services were proceeding, nor could she withhold her little gift in passing the treasury, as she left the scene of worship and of fellowship. And thus she was noticed by the Master, and her memory was immortalized, and her action has become a model and an inspiration to Christ's people through all time. We may learn from this incident,—
I. WHAT IN GIFTS AND ALMS IS, IN GOD'S SIGHT, INCONSIDERABLE. The view taken by men is different. But we are, as Christians, bound by the judgment of our Lord, who here teaches us that:
1. The actual amount is in itself of little moment. With reference to the material ends to be obtained by money, this is of course not the case. When a spacious, durable, and handsome church is to be built, when an expensive missionary expedition to some distant land is to be undertaken, there is need of large pecuniary contributions; and it is only where there is large wealth that such enterprises are possible. But as far as the spiritual value and acceptableness of alms and benefactions are concerned, the mere pecuniary amount is unimportant. The mite of the widow is as much approved by God as the gold of the wealthy.
2. The comparative amount which is contributed is in this regard unimportant. The offering which is less than that presented by a neighbor is not, therefore, necessarily bad; not is the offering which exceeds that of a neighbor, therefore, necessarily good. It is too common among givers to ask—What is customary? What is the amount contributed by others? The relative sum is disregarded by the Observer of all donations and the Searcher of all hearts. If one gives largely from his superfluity, he may nevertheless give less than his neighbor, who out of his poverty gives what seems a trifling sum.
II. WHAT IN GIFTS AND ALMS IS VALUABLE IN GOD'S SIGHT.
1. The relation they bear to the giver's means. This is brought out very effectively in this narrative. The poor widow "of her want" gave "all that she had," even "all her living," i.e. perhaps what she had in hand for that day's sustenance. It has often been remarked that God has regard, not merely to what a man gives, but to what he keeps. The gifts of the opulent are acceptable, but "dearer to God are the gifts of the poor."
2. The purpose and intent for which they are given. Money, which is bestowed merely with a view to secure the good opinion of men, to attain a certain position socially or in the religious community, is not regarded by the Omniscient as given to his cause. If the motive be the relief of human suffering, the enlightenment of human ignorance, the diffusion of religious knowledge and privileges, then doubtless gifts are acceptable, even though there may be some deficiency in the worldly wisdom according to which the means are directed to the ends in view.
3. The spirit in which they are given. An unostentatious act of charity, an ungrudging devotion of property, a disposition to forego some luxury, some personal comfort or pleasure, in order to do good, a pious reference of the act of giving to him who gives alike the means and the inclination for liberality,—these are qualities which render beneficence acceptable to the Lord and Judge of all. "The Lord loveth a cheerful giver. He who thus bestows his charity shall indeed receive again from him who acknowledges all true service. A gift is accepted according to what a man hath, and not according to what he hath not.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
The parable of the vineyard.
The imagery adopted would at once address itself to the understanding of the hearers. Palestine pre-eminently a land of the grape. The prophetic writings are full of symbols and figures from the vine. This was spoken in continuation of his dispute with the Sanhedrim, and in the presence of all the people in the temple. The historical allusions to the prophets and the personal one to himself must have been only too clear. It was a detailed and crescent indictment of the most solemn and awful character.
I. GOD'S LOVING PROVISION FOR THE SPIRITUAL INTERESTS OF HIS PEOPLE INVOLVED CORRESPONDING OBLIGATION.
II. INSTEAD OF SERVING GOD, THE RELIGIOUS LEADERS OF ISRAEL SOUGHT THEIR OWN ADVANTAGE.
III. SELFISHNESS AND UNBELIEF LED TO THE REJECTION OF THE PROPHETS, AND EVEN OF THE SON OF GOD HIMSELF.
IV. SUCH CONDUCT ENTAILS A JUDGMENT, WHICH, ALTHOUGH DELAYED, IS NEVERTHELESS SURE AND TERRIBLE.
V. THE LOVING PURPOSE OF GOD, ALTHOUGH HINDERED BY SUCH MEANS, WILL HE ULTIMATELY AND GLORIOUSLY FULFILLED.—M.
The politics of Christianity.
Christ, in his visits to the temple, met with the various representatives of religious, ecclesiastical, and political opinion in Palestine. He is the center and touchstone of all. Their very attacks and dishonest questions were so many confessions of his moral and intellectual supremacy. To Christ do the different schools of thought and life amongst men still come, and the problems they raise can never be satisfactorily settled until he solves them.
I. A TRAP LAID FOR CHRIST.
1. By whom? Ultimately and originally by the Pharisees, the leaders of ultra-Judaism and advocates of a restored theocracy and national independence. But that this view, having its root at first in profound spirituality of aim and motive, had been subsidized by baser considerations, is only too evident. Their hatred for Christ on the present occasion led them to throw away all scruples they might have felt, and to assume a disingenuous position of inquiry. But they could do this the more effectively in concert with others, with whom, although somewhat disagreeing on the solution to be accepted of the theory of national independence, they yet agreed upon the general question itself. The Herodians were a recent party, attached to the fortunes and politics of the Herods, and accepting their rule as a satisfactory compromise of the difficulty arising from the theocratic views of the Jews and the actual supremacy of the Roman empire. They are supposed to have originated with the Pharisees, with whom they still retained general relations, and with whom they for the most part co-operated. Menahem the Essene, who was a Pharisee, being captivated, it is said, by the predicted ascendency of the house of Herod, attached himself to Herod the Great, and brought over many of his co-religionists. They believed that in the monarchy of Herod the national aspirations of the Jews were reasonably met, and at the same time the demands of Rome, whose creature he was. They were as a party, as might be expected, less scrupulous than the original Pharisees. The latter imagined, as many like them have done since, that by suborning others to do a dishonorable action they avoided the disgrace of it themselves.
2. In what did the snare consist? In an attempt to get Christ to commit himself to the tenets of one or other of the political parties of the day. This was not with the view of strengthening the influence of either, but simply to compromise him, according to his answer, either with the Roman government on the one hand, or with the national party of Judaism on the other.
3. How was it halted? With flattery: yet flattery which unwillingly witnessed to the "openness" and uprightness of Christ's character, his Divine impartiality, his fearless truthfulness.
II. THE TRAP EVADED. The simplicity of Christ, upon which they had calculated for the success of their scheme, was the very cause of its failure. "Wise as serpents, but harmless as doves," is a principle which has its root in the nature of the Divine life. The inquiry is answered:
1. By an appeal to matter of fact. "Show me a penny," etc. The existence of such a coin (the denarius, which was the standard silver coin of the Romans, value about eightpence or ninepence), with its "image and superscription," proved beyond question the subject condition of Palestine. The actual situation being, therefore, what it was, and, so far as they could do anything, irreversible, it was not right for them to ignore it. If the privileges attending it were freely made use of, the duties involved should also be discharged.
2. By enunciating a dealer and wider principle than they recognized. As things were, the practice of their own religion was freely permitted to the Jews, toleration being a principle of imperial policy. There was, therefore, no really spiritual difficulty involved. The political nostrums of Pharisee and Herodian alike were, therefore, party cries and nothing more. They were thus convicted of unreality, of hypocrisy, or acting a part. It was not religion they cared for, but their own personal or party ends. Yet at the same time, for such as then or at any future time might have their religious scruples affected by political conditions, Christ laid down a general principle of action. When human government is not opposed to Divine, submission may be conscientiously made to both. Only where they differ is there any room for doubt; but even such a doubt will be satisfactorily dealt with by beginning from the Divine side of obligation. This principle, which stands good for all times, is essentially a spiritual one. Under all circumstances, therefore, the duty of the Christian, or conscientious religionist, is shown to be fundamentally a moral one. Actually existent authority imposes obligations which have to be recognized in the spirit of submission and piety, when not conflicting with Divine prerogatives. Christianity has only indirectly a bearing on politics; its direct and immediate concern is with morals.—M.
"Bring me a penny."
I. CHRIST WILL HAVE ACCOUNT OF THE SMALLEST THINGS. The denarius was a small coin in common use. The spirit of Christ, sun-like, discovers even the "motes." In all things there is duty. Christ's attitude to the Law not only general but particular. "Not one jot or tittle" was to pass away unfulfilled because of the influence of Christianity. "Ye are my disciples, if ye do whatsoever I have commanded you." We shall have to give account of smallest things at last—idle words, false shame, "the cup of cold water," etc. The parable of the pounds has for its moral, "He that is faithful in that which is least," etc. There is no slurring over of little things because of a general disposition and amiable intention.
II. SMALL THINGS OFTEN REPRESENT GREAT PRINCIPLES, AND BECOME THE VEHICLES OF GREAT DUTIES. Coins are often of value, apart from their intrinsic worth, in witnessing to conquests, political influences, the progress of civilization, etc.; and numismatists have made many important contributions to history through their testimony. In this case the witness was even more pregnant and precious. It proved what actually existed, and represented the claim of earthly powers. The duty to God was shown thereby to be something quite distinct, and the general relation of the human and the Divine in human obligations was thereby permanently settled and set forth. It is equally so in regard to other things. "A straw will show which way the wind blows, or the water flows." Illustrated in such instances as the Massacre of St. Bartholomew; watchwords and flag of truce in time of war; the potty dealings of common life; the "minor moralities" of the Christian, etc.
III. WE ARE ENCOURAGED AND COMMANDED TO BRING SMALL THINGS TO CHRIST Do not say he has no interest in them. See how he looks at that widow with her two mites. Hear how he calls the little children. We need a more thorough Christianity, and if we follow this rule of bringing our daily concerns, our griefs, our moral difficulties, our sins, to the throne of grace, we shall become "Israelites indeed, in whom is no guile." He will interpret the minutest uncertainty or perplexity, and show us the great in the little. Erasmus Darwin wrote: "I have just heard that there are muzzles or gags made at Birmingham for the slaves in our islands. If this be true, and such an instrument could be exhibited by a speaker in the House of Commons, it might have a great effect. Could not one of their long whips or wire-tails be also procured and exhibited? But an instrument of torture of our own manufacture would have a greater effect, I dare say".—M.
The puzzle of the Sadducees.
I. THE CASE STATED. An extreme one; and probably a locus classicus in the works of the rabbins. It was supposed to be a reductio ad absurdum of all theories of resurrection or immortality. "In the resurrection" is used apparently in a pregnant sense, as including the judgment, when all questions would be decided, and the conditions of the future state settled. The case as stated referred only to legal and external conditions, questions of sentiment or spiritual attachment being ignored. The only case in Scripture of Christ coming into direct collision with the Sadducees. That the questioners were not maliciously disposed in presenting these difficulties may be inferred from the manner in which they are answered: not indignantly, or with an epithet expressing moral condemnation; but in a straightforward, matter-of-fact way, although censure is also expressed—a kind of censure peculiarly distasteful to such men, who generally pretend to grit originality and critical acumen. They are accused of ignorance and spiritual inexperience.
II. How CHRIST DISPOSED OF IT.
1. By reference to the possibilities of Divine power. "In the resurrection state there will not be a repetition, pure and simple, of present conditions; there will be advance of inward and outward development. Love will continue; but in the case of the holy it will be sublimed. 'The power of God' is adequate, not only to the re-formative, but also to the transformative changes that may be requisite; and his wisdom will see to it that they be in harmony with the perfectibility of individual personality and the general procession of the ages. Even on earth there are loftier loves than those that are merely marital" (Morison). "They neither marry, nor are given in marriage." "His words teach absolutely the absence from the resurrection life of the definite relations on which marriage rests in this, and they suggest an answer to the yearning questions which rise up in our minds as we ponder the things behind the veil … The old relations may subsist under new conditions. Things that are incompatible here may there be found to coexist. The saintly wife of two saintly husbands may love both with an angelic, and therefore a pure and unimpaired, affection. The contrast between our Lord's teaching and the sensual paradise of Mahomet, or Swedenberg's dream of the marriage state perpetuated under its earthly conditions, is so obvious as hardly to call for notice" (Plumptre). "The present life is but a partial revelation of the Divine power. All the relations of earthly families do not continue in heaven" (Godwin)."
2. By interpretation of Scripture. Not the letter of Scripture is appealed to, but the underlying truth involved in the statement of Scripture, "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living." The copula connecting the first clause of the quotation is not in the original, so that no argument can be founded upon it. Professor Plumptre's explanation—"The principle implied in the reasoning is, that the union of the Divine Name with that of a man, as in "I am the God of Abraham,' involved a relation existing, not in the past only, but when the words were uttered. They meant something more than "I am the God whom Abraham worshipped in the past"—is, therefore, manifestly inadequate. That of Dr. Morison is more explicit and profound: "It amounted to this: If there was at all a patriarchal dispensation, embracing a Messianic, or redemptive scheme, and thus involving a Divinely commissioned Messiah or Redeemer, who was to be in due time incarnated, then there must be a life to come. But there was such a dispensation, if it be the case that God became ' the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,' in any distinctive sense whatever. And then, moreover, as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob took personal advantage of the Messianic covenant into which God entered with them, they 'live' They have 'life,' 'everlasting life,' in the intense acceptation of the term" (in loc.). Cf. Hebrews 11:13, Hebrews 11:14, Hebrews 11:16. A more direct proof might have been obtained in other portions of the Old Testament, but the skill of this argument lay in the reference to a book received by the Sadducees, and in the unexpected interpretation of familiar words. Thus their liberalism and narrowness were rebuked, and the popular longing of the Jews confirmed. The line of evidence led by Christ not only meets the objection to resurrection, but includes the proof of that of which resurrection is only a portion, viz. immortality. If such depth of meaning lay in the words of an old pre-Christian revelation, what may not the gospel itself unfold, when spiritually interpretated in the light of new conditions and experiences
Sorces of heresy.
I. PRINCIPAL CAUSES OF RELIGIOUS ERROR.
1. Ignorance of Holy Scripture.
(1) Unaided human nature is prone to error. Bather might it be said that of itself human nature cannot possibly know the truth. We have but to remember the idola of which philosophy warns us, to perceive how much there is in the circumstances and very constitution of the human mind to interfere with the attainment of intellectual truth. Difficulties of this nature, however, may be practically overcome by diligence, candour, and careful study; and the phenomena of the senses will yield up the secret of their working to the educated thinker. But there are things beyond sense concerning which the methods of intellectual research can give us no information. The agnosticism of science concerning these things is therefore, as a whole, to be accepted as real. Were it not that there are moral as well as purely intellectual and constitutional causes for this ignorance, no fault need be found with it. But any view of mental error which omitted consideration of the fact of human depravity could not be considered adequate. The natural mind "loves darkness rather than light."
(2) Scripture is intended to correct human error. "The entrance of thy words giveth light" (Psalms 119:130). They reveal the existence, works, character, and purpose of God. By so doing they solve the mysteries attaching to human life and duty. They are the Word of God, anticipating and transcending the findings of the world's experience. This is done, not only by communicating what is above sensible perception, but by affording a discipline to the spiritual nature. "For the Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). "Every Scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work" (2 Timothy in. 16). "Ye search the Scriptures, because ye think that in them ye have eternal life; and these are they which bear witness of me" (John 5:39).
2. Lack of spiritual experience. "Nor the power of God." This ignorance may consist partly in ignorance of the facts of the Divine history of mankind as recorded in Scripture; but it is chiefly due to absence of personal, experimental consciousness of God in the spiritual nature. It is the "darkness of the heart" which exaggerates and intensifies the effects of general ignorance. "The power of God" works its miracles in the inward as well as the outward life; in conversion, sanctification, communion, and providential grace.
II. IN WHOM THESE MAY EXIST. The Sadducees were, according to the standards of their day, educated men. With the letter of the books of Moses they were familiar (Mark 12:26); and they were most careful to preserve them from addition or intermixture.
1. Highly educated men may err in Divine things. "Thou didst hide these things from the wise and understanding, and didst reveal them unto babes" (Matthew 11:25). Secular culture has not furnished an atom of the transcendental knowledge upon which religion is based; the Bible is not its product, nor can it be interpreted by it. Yet is not literature, art, or science to be discarded as a secondary aid to the interpretation of Scripture. If God does not require our knowledge, neither does he, as it has been finely said, require our ignorance.
2. There are many who know the letter of God's Word without knowing its spirit. Religious training may bestow an acquaintance with Scriptural history and doctrine and the chief outlines of moral duty, but it cannot ensure the inward knowledge of the heart. The interpretation of Scripture is only possible to those who are spiritually enlightened. Knowing the Bible externally may actually prove a hindrance to an inward knowledge of it, if it be made too much of, or imagined sufficient in itself. Superficial acquaintance with Biblical literature, doctrine, etc., "puffeth up;" and it requires the sternest and most frequent assaults ere its true character is exposed to itself.
III. HOW THEY ARE TO BE REMOVED.
1. The teaching of Christ; awakening a sense of inward need and repentance, and revealing the correspondence of the Word of God to the expanding and maturing spiritual consciousness.
2. The gift of the Holy Spirit; which takes of the things of God and reveals them to us. "Things which eye saw not, and ear heard not, and which entered not into the heart of man, whatsoever things God prepared for them that love him. But unto us God revealed them through the Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God" (1 Corinthians 2:9). Not least of the enlightening influence of the Holy Ghost is due to the purification of the heart.—M.
The Law akin to the gospel, but inferior to it.
I. True RELIGIOUS INQUIRY IS ENCOURAGED BY CANDOUR AND SPIRITUAL INSIGHT ON THE PART OF RELIGIOUS TEACHERS. Matthew tells us that the Pharisees came together top the same place." when they saw the disscomfiture of the Sadducees; and "then one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying." Mark introduces him as one of the scribes. In the one Gospel the motive and encouragement are represented as experienced by the Pharisaic party in general; in the other they are represented as individually felt and acted upon. There were, therefore, elements of earnestness and spirituality amongst the Pharisees, and these were called forth by our Saviours teaching. They were now in a more favorable attitude for receiving the truth than they had ever been before. As to the idea expressed by "tempting," it need not be understood in a sinister sense, but generally as proving, testing, etc. Our Lord did not crush the spirit of inquiry, but courted it. They felt that there was more in him than they could explain, and that his knowledge of Scripture was spiritual and profound, and therefore they wished to discover what he could possibly have to tell them that was not already taught by Moses or his prophetic exponents. He had all but converted his enemies and critics into his disciples. He had infected them with his own spirit of religious earnestness. Of this mood the "lawyer" was the mouthpiece. He pushes inquiry to its highest point, and desires to know the chief duties of religion.
II. THE BEST MODE OF ANSWERING SUCH INQUIRY IS THAT WHICH PRESENTS THE SPIRIT AND SUBSTANCE OF DUTY, OR TRUE RELIGION IN ITS UNITY AND UNIVERSALITY. "Deuteronomy 6:4. This is not given as a part of the Law of Moses, but as the principle of all service. Le Deuteronomy 19:18 contains a similar principle for all social duties" (Godwin). Passing over all matters of mere ceremonial, and questions of less or more, he lays hold of the spirit of the Law and presents it to his inquirer. It is out of the very heart of the hook of ceremonies (Leviticus) that the duty to neighbors is extracted. He declares "the three unities of religion:
(1) the one God;
(2) the one faith;
(3) the one commandment" (Lunge);
and compels the agreement and admiration of his questioner. "Note also the real reverence shown in the form of address, 'Master,' i.e. 'Teacher, Rabbi.' He recognized the speaker as one of his own order" (Plumptre). All religion is summed up by him in a "great commandment," viz. the love of God, and that is shown in its earthward aspect to involve loving our neighbor as ourselves. That true religion is not ceremonial but spiritual is thus demonstrated; and in quoting the highest utterances of the prophets, the scribe but endorses and restates the same doctrine. Teacher and inquirer are therefore theoretically one. But more is needed; and towards the attainment of this the stimulus is given, "Thou art not far from the kingdom of God." This meant that—
III. SUCH INQUIRY CAN ONLY BE SATISFIED AND CROWNED BY ACTING UPON ITS HIGHEST SPIRITUAL CONVICTIONS. "The words are significant as showing the unity of our Lord's teaching. Now, as when he spoke the sermon on the mount, the righteousness which fulfils the Law is the condition of the entrance into the kingdom of God (Matthew 5:19, Matthew 5:20). Even the recognition of that righteousness as consisting in the fulfillment of the two commandments that were exceeding broad, brought a man as to the very threshold of the kingdom. It is instructive to compare our Lord's different method of dealing, in Luke 10:25-37, with one who had the same theoretical knowledge, but who obviously, consciously or unconsciously, minimized the force of the commandments by his narrowing definitions" (Plumptre). "The kingdom of heaven is, for the moment, pictorially represented as localized, like the ordinary kingdoms of the world. The scribe, walking in the way of conscientious inquiry, and thus making religious pilgrimage, had nearly reached its borderland. He was bordering on the great reality of true religion, subjection of spirit to the sovereign will of God" (Morison). This state can only be attained to by conversion, the identification of the sinner through faith with the righteousness of the Savior, and the indwelling of the Spirit of God. It is thus scientific conviction becomes moral, and we are able to carry into effect what we know to be true and right.—M.
"Not far from the kingdom of God "
I. THE HIGHEST INTERPRETATION OF HUMAN DUTY APPROACHES THE GOSPEL, BUT FALLS SHORT OF IT.
II. THE CONDITIONS OF ENTRANCE INTO CHRIST'S KINGDOM ARE MORAL, AND NOT MERELY INTELLECTUAL. Faith; obedience; love. The heart, or central being.
III. NO MAN OUGHT TO BE SATISFIED WITH MERELY BEING "NOT FAR" FROM THE KINGDOM.
1. To stop there is to stultify our highest spiritual instincts and tendencies.
2. To stop there is to fail of salvation.
3. To stop there is to aggravate our misery and sin.—M.
Great David's greater Son,
I. UNSPIRITUAL INTERPRETERS OF SCRIPTURE ARE INVOLVED IN INCONSISTENCY AND SELF-CONTRADICTION,
1. In the present instance they proved to be so with respect to the most important truths. It is only the spiritual mind that can harmonize the apparent discrepancies of revelation (1 Corinthians 2:14; cf. Hebrews 5:12, seq.).
2. This results in their cure loss and injury (1 Peter 3:16). They failed to recognize the Messiah when he did come, because of their false conceptions of what he was.
II. THE GLORY OF THE MESSIAH IS SEEK FROM PROPHETIC SCRIPTURE TO BE MORE THAN ROYAL—TO BE, IN FACT, DIVINE. The hundred and tenth psalm is rightly called "a psalm of David." Merely to apply it to David is to destroy its Messianic character. "The psalm is not only quoted by our Lord as Messianic in the passages already referred to (viz. this and Mat 22:1-46 : 41-46); it is more frequently cited by the New Testament writers than any other single portion of the ancient Scriptures. (Comp., besides these passages in the Gospels, Acts 2:34, Act 2:35; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Hebrews 1:13; Hebrews 5:6; Hebrews 7:17, Hebrews 7:21; Hebrews 10:13.) In later Jewish writings, in the Talmud and the rabbis, nearly every verse of the psalm is quoted as referring to the Messiah" (Perowne). The majority of ancient Jewish intereters apply the psalm to the Messiah. If, then, it is David's own composition, and is Messianic, the language used with respect to the Royal One who is to come is only to be explained as involving divinity: "Jehovah said to my Lord."
III. IN APPLYING THE PSALM TO HIMSELF, CHRIST SUGGESTED THE TRUE SOLUTION OF THE APPARENT CONTRADICTION. The psalm is deliberately and by implication adopted by Christ. He testifies to the Divine inspiration of its author. His own person and work are the key to its meaning. As he was Son of David on the human side, so was he David's Lord by virtue of his Divine Sonship.—M.
"The common people heard him gladly."
I. THE PERSONS THUS AFFECTED The reference of the words common people misunderstood Literally the expression is, "the great multitude" It was in temple, and must have comprehended all classes, especially the middle and upper; the very lowest being but sparsely represented. It was also nationally homogeneous—Jewish.
II. REASONS FOR THEIR BEING SO. Not on account of eloquence, or So-called popularity" of address. That the highest qualities were exhibited "goes without saying." The full splendour and majesty of Messianic teaching were exhibited. The Man himself was more, and felt to be more, than his words. Two circumstances lent a passing interest to his teaching: he exposed and defeated the religious pretenders of the day, Pharisees, Sadducees, lawyers, whose true character the people's instinct felt had been revealed; and he appealed to the national religious spirit, in setting forth the true doctrine of the Messiah.
III. THE MORAL VALUE OF THIS RECEPTION OF CHRIST.
1. It showed that the deepest instincts of humanity are on the side of religion and Divine truth.
2. But it did not involve discipleship. Admiration, intellectual assent, even some wonder at what was truly Divine; but no moral conviction. There are many to whom the gospel is a thing gladly heard, but soon dismissed from the thoughts. It is in obedience and faith that the "glad tidings" are practically and permanently experienced by the human heart.—M.
The widow's two mites.
The treasury, "in front of the sanctuary," consisted of thirteen brazen chests, called "trumpets" from their peculiar, shape, "swelling out beneath, and tapering upward into a narrow mouth or opening, into which the contributions were put." The contributions given were towards the sacrifice fund, and they were voluntary. This incident has a deep, permanent interest for all Christians.
I. CHRIST'S OBSERVATION OF RELIGIOUS GIVING. He "sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury." This has been felt to be typical of his eternal attitude: he still sits "over against the treasury" of his Church.
1. It was deliberate. He did it as one who had purposed to do it; and he was not in any hurry. The position was chosen, and was well suited to carry out his intention.
2. It was careful and discriminating. The different classes of people were noted—rich and poor, ostentatious and retiring, mean and generous. He beheld how the people cast in.
3. It was comprehensive. No individual seems to have escaped his attention. Even the poor widow is observed.
4. It was his last act ere quitting the temple for ever.
II. HIS KNOWLEDGE OF ITS MOTIVES AND CIRCUMSTANCES.
1. How penetrating! The outward actions and bearing of the donors would doubtless reveal to his eye, who "knew what was in man," their real characters. Now he looks directly upon our secret thoughts and feelings, and is acquainted with all the conditions of mind and heart through which we pass. Be knows the history of the gift, as well as its actual bestowal.
2. How complete! The domestic circumstances of the widow were well known to him. No tax-surveyor could have reckoned the income of the people more accurately.
3. How minute! The exact nature and number of the widow's coins are noted.
III. His judgment AS TO ITS WORTH. His attitude now, as on the day when "he looked round about upon all things," was authoritative and judicial He sat as one who had a right to be there. It is from a supreme elevation of moral sentiment that he looks, for already clearly visible to his spirit is his own great gift—of himself.
1. Given from a spiritual point of view. Not the objective amount, but the motives and feelings of the givers. The spirit of sacrifice, the religious enthusiasm of each, is measured and declared.
2. The standard indicated is not how much is given, but from how much it is given. They all cast in "of their abundance." What they gave was, therefore, a mere superfluity. Their comforts were not decreased, their luxuries still abounded. The need—the absolute poverty—of the widow rendered her gift a sacrifice, and a heroic act of faith. It was prophetic of the Divine charities that were to be awakened in the breasts of regenerate men, when his own great sacrifice should have borne its fruit. The Macedonian Churches (and many a one since) gave not only to their power, but beyond it, their deep poverty abounding to the fiches of their liberality (2 Corinthians 8:1, 2 Corinthians 8:2). "Now, many would have been ready to censure this poor widow, and to think she did ill. Why should she give to others when she had little enough for herself?… It is so rare a thing to find any that would not blame this widow, that we cannot expect to find any that will imitate her! And yet our Savior commends her, and therefore we are sure that she did very well and wisely" (Matthew Henry).—M.
HOMILIES BY A. ROWLAND
Jesus lingering in the temple.
This is one of the best-known incidents in the life of our Lord. It is strange that it should be so. If we consider the greatness of his work, we should hardly expect that room would be found in a brief record of it for so trivial an event. It was an every-day occurrence for the worshippers who entered the temple to cast their offerings into the treasury, and not a few widows would be found among them. Yet an evangelist, who was inspired of God to select or reject any of the multitudinous facts of Christ's ministry, did not leave untold the story of the widow's mite; and it is repeated with equal emphasis by Luke. Evidently God judges not as man does. We think much of a philanthropic scheme which loudly asserts itself; but he probably estimates more highly the scheme of some obscure Christian worker, who gathers together the poor and wretched, telling them of a nobler, purer life, and lifting them up towards the light of God's love. In trivial incidents great principles are found, and we should dig in them as for hid treasure. Our Lord Jesus Christ is naturally the Centre of this scene, and we will see what we may of his characteristics as exhibited in it.
I. THE GENTLENESS OF CHRIST. For the last time our Lord had appeared in the temple as a public Teacher. Before crowds of people he had once more strongly denounced the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. They were convicted by their own consciences, and incapable of reply, so "they answered not a word;" but, in their desperation and malignity, they resolved the more speedily to put him to death. Be knew it perfectly welt. Yet, after speaking as the righteous Rebuker of sin, he gladly turns aside to discover and commend a hidden act of goodness. Indeed, he seemed eager to see something which would redeem his Father's house from the wickedness which dishonored it. Hence "he sat over against the treasury," and watched tilt he saw one worshipper whose sacrifice he could rejoice over—that of a poor widow, who cast in all the living that she had. That act of hers came to him like a streak of sunshine through the clouds. How tenderly and patiently does he still watch for any glimmer of faith and love in human hearts!
II. THE SERENITY OF CHRIST. His calmness was like the blue of the heavens, unruffled and unchanged by storms that stir the lower atmosphere. An ordinary man, after uttering a rebuke which enraged his foes to madness, would put himself out of reach. He would not linger in their stronghold, which was full of perils to him. But in patience Jesus Christ possessed his soul. He knew his hour had not yet come. He would not hasten away. It might be that some of his hearers would repent, and come to him, confessing and forsaking their sins. So, while many passed him whose beetling brows were black with hatred, he in the court of the women quietly sat and waited. Such serenity was habitual with him. When there was haste and agony and terror in Bethany, Jesus abode throe days in the same place where he was. When the warning came, "Depart hence, for Herod will kill thee," he calmly continued his works of mercy. When the armed band followed him into Gethsemane, he confronted them with a calmness that paralyzed them. When he conquered death and rose from the grave, there was no sign of haste—the linen clothes were laid orderly, and the napkin was folded in a place by itself. Too often our hearts are perturbed. We are fussy, anxious, fretful; but. if we will but receive it, this is his legacy: "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."
III. THE CONDESCENSION OF CHRIST. Our Lord was full of great thoughts, not only respecting this world, but that other world from which he came, with its vivid realities and awful mysteries. He looked on to the future of the work he had begun, and which in a few days would be consummated on the cross—a work which would, not only stir Jerusalem, but shake the Roman empire, and go onward through distant ages with growing force, till all nations would call him blessed. Yet here he was, watching a few Jewish worshippers go into their temple; and he notices each one. He sees even this poor widow, whom others brush past with haste or contempt. He knows her struggle and sacrifice and single-heartedness, as she brings that tiny offering, with a blush of shame that it is so little, and secretly lets it fall into the treasury of her God. His condescension is still displayed to the meanest and the humblest worshippers, and broken words, paltry gifts, and feeble efforts will not be without his notice and recompense. May he see, in all Christian assemblies, not the outward formalism which he must rebuke, but prayer and praise, gift and work, which loyal hearts are offering to the Lord their God!—A.R.
The widow's mite.
If we get a single ray of light, decompose and analyze it, we may argue from it to all the light that floods the world; to its nature, its source, and its effects. So this act of generosity and devotion, simple and slight though it is in itself, contains in it elements of truth which are world-wide in application. Amongst the many lessons it teaches, we select the following:—
I. THAT GOD'S PEOPLE ARE EXPECTED TO BE GIVERS. Many have a singular objection to insistence upon that. They willingly listen to words of solace; they rejoice in descriptions of heaven; they are not reluctant to hear the errors of their theological antagonists exposed and rebuked: but the duty of Christian giving is scarcely so popular with them However. "It is enough for the servant that he be as his Master;" and we find that he who taught in the temple also "beheld how the people cast money into the treasury." That treasury was a Divine institution. In spite of abuses, it was for many generations a witness of what God expects; as a recognition of his claims, and of the claims of others, on the part of rich and poor. If God is our Creator and Preserver, if every day we live and every power we have is his gift, we must honor him "with our substance, and with the first-fruits of all our increase." If he has redeemed us by his Son, if "we are not our own, but bought with a price," any sacrifice we make in gift or work should be a source of joy. If we be members of one brotherhood, we are bound to have the same care one for another. We are to do this, not in the way which is easiest to ourselves, most accordant with our tastes, or most likely to bring us credit; but as those who are seeking to become like him, who is kind to the unthankful and to the unworthy.
II. THAT SOME KINDS OF GIVING ARE OF HIGHER WORTH THAN OTHERS. Our Lord did not blame or despise the gifts which the rich made when they cast in much. They were doing what was right. Whether their offerings went to support the temple, or as a substitute for sacrifices, or for distribution to the poor, they were given towards what was regarded as the work of God. But there was nothing in the offering of the rich which called for the special praise bestowed on the widow.
1. It is to be observed here that Christ commended what most people would blame. You would probably argue thus: "Two mites were of little importance to the treasury, but of great importance to her. If she had given one and kept the ether, she would have showed not only piety, but good sense. As it was her gift was insignificant, and at the same time it was rash and needless." Yet, in the eyes of our Lord, the gift was right; and it was commended for this very reason—that she had cast in all the living that she had. We cannot but be reminded here of an incident in the house of Simon. When Mary broke the alabaster box, and poured the spikenard on her Savior's head, the disciples said that it was a foolish impulse—that if sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor, it would have been of real utility; now a waste of the ointment had been made. In reply, Jesus taught them that nothing given to God was wasted; that the aroma of such an offering went beyond the world of sense. On both occasions our Lord commended what others blamed.
2. Further, the reason for his commendation was not what many would expect. It was not the value of the gift; for two mites was a smaller sum than we could give if we tried to find our smallest coin. Nor was it the object to which the money was given which Christ approved. He knew how much there was of what was false under the glitter of the ceremonial worship of the temple. He had just rebuked the very men who would manipulate these funds. He looked on to the day when the temple would perish, and a nobler Church would arise on its ruins. Hence, in commending the widow's gift, which supported this ritual, he condemned those who withhold their help till an organization is exactly what they wish—who refuse to support what does not accord precisely with their tastes and views. Those who habitually do this crush in their hearts the germ from which gift and sacrifice spring.
3. The widow's gift was approved because it was the offering of a simple heart, full of love to God. She wished to show gratitude, and to give a deliberate expression of her confidence in God; and therefore she gave up her living, and threw herself on him who feeds the birds, and never forgets his children.
4. Most of all the gift was valued because it represented self-sacrifice. They gave of their abundance she gave all her living; in other words, herself. Too often we lose the highest blessedness because we do not cross the border-line which lies between self-indulgence and Christ-likeness. When we begin to feel that some service is a burden, and demands a strain, we give it up to some one else to whom the effort would be less! Let us seek the spirit of the poor widow, who knew that God could do without her gift, but felt that her love could not be satisfied without her sacrifice.
III. THAT OUR LORD QUIETLY WATCHES OUR GIFTS AND SERVICES. We may put into the treasury wealth, talents, prayers, tears, etc. None are unnoticed by him. And he looks in order to approve, not to condemn. His disciples might have said, "She is imprudent to give her all; she is priest-ridden; she is supporting a formal worship which is a barrier to the kingdom of Christ." But the Lord looked beneath the surface. He saw the pious intention, the pure purpose, and out of all the chaff on that threshing-floor he found one grain of purity and reality, and rejoiced over it as one finding great spoil.
IV. THAT OUR LORD APPROVES ALL THAT IS DONE IN A RIGHT SPIRIT. He did not praise her to her face, nor in her hearing. When the delicate flower of devotion is taken in the hot hand of popular applause, it withers; but, left in the cool shadow of secrecy, it lives. Hence the widow heard no flattery or approval, though she went home with inward satisfaction because she had done what she could. It is a pleasure to make a sacrifice for one we love. The young girl gives up her money, her position, her future, herself, to the man she loves, and rejoices in doing it. The father will not begrudge it when he looks at his children's faces, though for their sakes he goes off in a shabby coat to his daily duty. Love longs for sacrifice, and glories in making it. Now, it is a sacrifice so inspired which our God approves and commends. In the day when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, when nothing will be overlooked, services which the doer had forgotten, which the Church thought trivial and the world laughs to scorn, will be recompensed, and even "a cup of cold water, given in the name of a disciple, will not lose its reward"—A.R.
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
The parable of the vineyard; or, unfaithfulness and its reward.
A rude demand upon Jesus for his authority led him to ask in reply "one question" which awakened the consciences of his interrogators and threw them into confusion and difficulty. They were hurrying him on to his final hour, and he must needs take advantage of every opportunity of finishing the work given him to do. Therefore "in parables" he spake both "unto them" and "against them," which but roused their ire, and sent them away to plot and plan for his destruction. No word was needed to' declare who was represented by the vineyard. "For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel." And the details of the parable were minutely historic. How often had "a servant" been sent "that he might receive of the fruits of the vineyard"! How often had he been "handled shamefully"! Now a last chance is offered. "He had yet one, a beloved son: he sent him last unto them." The rest is prophecy ready to be fulfilled, and so soon to become history also. But the appeal, "What therefore will the lord of the vineyard do?" he does not leave them to answer, but supplies it in simple words and in such manner as to make the reply an admonitory warning. Alas! our eyes behold the precise fulfillment. And the rejected stone is now the Foundation-stone, "the Head of the corner." The parable reveals—
I. A GRACIOUS EXAMPLE OF THE DIVINE GOODNESS AND PATIENCE. It was a direct dealing with Israel, but it was an indirect dealing with all men. The comment is found in the historic development of the history of Israel.
II. A PAINFUL INSTANCE OF HUMAN UNFAITHFULNESS. This, as in all instances of a want of fidelity to important trusts, was sadly disastrous. But not only to them to whom the trust was committed, for all men expiate the sins of every unfaithful one. The condition of society is lowered; good fruits are blighted and cannot be gathered; pains and penalties are incurred which fall heavily upon all. Had every man been faithful to his trust, what a paradise this hard earth would have presented! But the world walks on a lower plane for every unholy life passed upon it. Had that vineyard brought forth its due fruits, all nations would have been made partakers. Of the few small patches which bore, the world has the fruit in those holy records which are as the salt of the earth. But how much of the corn and the oil and the wine is wanting! On this account is presented—
III. A SAD ILLUSTRATION OF THE DIVINE JUDGMENT. Israel is deposed. The sacred trust is withdrawn. The vineyard is in other hands. The unfaithful husbandmen, as such, are destroyed. Alas for Israel! Her crown is in the dust, her harps upon the willows. She does not with her voice sing the pleasant songs of Zion. She is not the great spiritual power in the earth for which she was designed. Her calling and election she did not make sure. True, for the fathers' sakes she remains a testimony in the earth. But it is as a broken-off branch. The world gains nothing by Israel's rejection. The Gentiles are wise to weep and mourn on her behalf; and, knowing that "God is able to graft them in again, they are wise to pray earnestly for their recovery. "The receiving of them" would be "life from the dead." So let every Gentile believer pitifully behold the nation sitting in the dust, having become the uncircumcision in the spirit: and at this time, alas! "separate from Christ" and really "alienated from the commonwealth of" the true "Israel, strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope." Nor can it be otherwise till they who now are "far off are made nigh in the blood of Christ."—G.
The tribute money.
Unable to take him with their wicked hands, because they dared not, they send selected men from the Pharisees and the Herodians. They have instructions to lay a trap with a view "to catch him in talk." "In vain is the net spread in the sight of any bird." But these blind catchers thought him to be blind also. In specious words they ply him with a question relating to an oppressive tax. "If he held that payment should be refused, he would compromise himself with the Romans; if he sanctioned it, he would embitter himself both with the Herodians and the ultra-national party," But he who "knew what was in man" knew their hypocrisy, and in a word, and doubtless with a look, exposed it. "Why tempt ye me?" Then with the coin before their eyes, which was at once the symbol of their unfaithfulness to God and their subjection to man, he threw back upon them the onus of answering themselves in their own conscience and by their own deeds. Ah! "in the net which they hid is their own foot taken." But Jesus does not only evade the dilemma on which they had cast him; nor does he merely utter a word of condemnation to them who had failed to "render unto God the things that are God's," and who would be only too glad to escape rendering "to Caesar the things that" were "Caesar's." But he, in high wisdom, teaches the great truth for all time, that fidelity to the demands of God and fidelity to the constituted powers of earth need not clash. The loyalty of the subject and the obedience of the saint are on the same plane. So a just distribution is made of things pertaining to Caesar and of things pertaining to God, and yet the true unity of the service rendered to both is declared; and, moreover, as God is above all, the duty to him includes the duty to Caesar. For our learning we may see—
I. THAT CHRIST BEARS HIS TESTIMONY TO THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE CLAIMS OF EARTHLY AUTHORITY. The Christian need be under no apprehension of following this principle out to its extremest limits. For if the earthly government be oppressive and unjust, he knows full well that the King of kings has his own methods of deposing; for he believes that "he putteth down one and setteth up another." He has learned to submit even to oppression for conscience' sake. But these questions respect the extreme, the occasional, the exceptional conditions of political life. Fidelity to the constituted head of authority would, according to Christian principles, secure the divinely appointed Head.
II. CHRIST UTTERS HIS EVER-REITERATED DEMAND FOR FIDELITY TO THE INALIENABLE CLAIMS OF GOD. "Render unto God the things that are God's." Is anything not God's? If in truth all is first rendered to him in an honest consecration to his will, then may that which he ordains for the neighbor be given to the neighbor; that which is for the poor to the poor; or that for the family, or for self even, so given; and therefore that which is for "the king, as supreme," to the king may be rendered.
III. LET THE MAN' HIMSELF, WHO TRULY IS GOD'S, BE RENDERED UNTO GOD. One has beautifully taught thus: "That which bears Caesar's image is, as belonging to Caesar, to be given to him; but that which has God's image belongs to God." Had Israel been faithful to "render" themselves "to God" they would not in those late days have been given up to the Romans, as in earlier days fidelity to God would have kept back the armies of Nebuchadnezzar. The great principle to guide nations and individuals alike is truly to be the Lord's. Then, when he is the God of the nation, all other service and all other obligations fall into their proper order and degree of importance. And he who serves his God in humility will serve his king in fidelity. He who is obedient to the Lord's claims will know how to render the claims of masters, and lords, and rulers, and sovereigns. Not more truly is the Law one," Thou shalt love the Lord thy God," and "Thou shalt love thy neighbor," than is "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."—G.
The resurrection from the dead.
A new class of antagonists now assail the great "Master" with a case of casuistry, designed evidently to bring the doctrine of the resurrection into contempt. "In the resurrection whose wife shall she be of them?" Was this one of the flimsy, difficulties on which they relied for a defense of their position, as so often men screen their scepticism behind a mere veil of difficulty? And did they depend in any real degree upon an imaginary inconsistency to warrant them in denying the grandest hopes of the human heart? Be it so or not, they gave opportunity for the most precious defense of the common faith. The Church to-day is rich in an inheritance of defensive writing drawn from the pens of holy apostles and righteous men. But though it is of unspeakable value to her to read the inestimable words of the great Apostle to the Gentiles, yet to them who have wholly committed themselves to Jesus, who truly own him as "Master," and no other, it is most comforting to find him entering the lists against all Sadducean unbelief for all ages. It is enough: Jesus is the defender of the faith. We want no more. In one sentence we read both an answer to the difficulty and a confirmation of the truth: "For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as angels in heaven." Thus is clearly revealed—
(1) The fact of the resurrection; and
(2) the conditions of the resurrection life.
I. The first clear teaching is, THE DEAD LIVE. "That the dead are raised even Moses showed;" so little had these sons of Moses understood his words. And now Jesus shows it more clearly, and points to the life as an immortal life: "Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection." True, this is affirmed of them "that are accounted worthy to attain to that world, and the resurrection from the dead." But that "the dead"—that is, all the dead—"are raised Moses showed, as touching the dead that they are raised." Oh, precious words! Thanks be to God, life does not end in a tomb I Abraham and Isaac and Jacob live; yea, "all live unto him," if unto us they die. Jesus points to the source of all error on this as on so many subjects: "Ye know not the Scriptures, nor the power of God." On these two hang all the true faith of men. No one can read "the Scriptures" and deny the resurrection. In Jesus' view the old Scriptures sufficiently affirmed the great truth. And he who in these days would defend himself against the assaults of unbelief must sit at the feet of Jesus. No one can doubt his belief in the resurrection. "And why is it judged incredible?" All difficulties vanish in presence of "the power of God." If the question of the "foolish one" be urged, "How?—How are the dead raised?" the only answer faith should vouchsafe is, "The power of God." And if the further demand is pressed, but "with what manner of body do they come?" it must still be replied, "God giveth it a body." Let the true believer stand by the Word of God. The resurrection rests not for its certainty on a foundation of human ratiocination or scientific deduction, neither is it by them to be overturned. The one impregnable wall of defense for this most precious article of human faith and this most precious condition of human life is in the combined words, "The Scriptures: the power of God."
II. As to the CONDITION OF THE RESURRECTION LIFE. We wait to know this. One only truth is enough to carry with us, an earnest of all—"as angels in heaven." The truths are almost antiphonal: "Neither can they die any more; as angels in heaven."—G.
The great command.
One more question ere it could be said, "No man after that durst ask him any question." Alas! on the human side it, like the others, is a mere quibble, or based on one. But though man asks in his folly Jesus never answers according to it, but always according to his supreme wisdom, in a manner so high, so far-reaching, so seriously. He trifled not with the perplexities of men. He knew nations and tribes of men would feed on his words to the end of time, and he gladly bore witness to all those truths against which the human errors in that erring age stood out in humiliating contrast. The Christian teaching grows up out of the Mosaic. The later development of the one system does not set aside a single moral principle of the earlier. The solution of the difficulty which beset a few amidst the many commandments for which priority was urged laid down a permanent principle for all time, and took up into Christianity the essential teaching of Mosaism. We read—
I. THE SIMPLICITY OF THE CHRISTIAN TEACHING. One word embodies it—the word "love." To this Christ gave the utmost prominence and the most beautiful illustration. This simple rule engages the devotion of the central energy of the entire life. It describes the first effort of feeble infancy and the ripest experience of the mature Christian age. It is at once the point from which all pure and active obedience takes its departure, and it is the end towards which all spiritual growth and culture tends. It is the alpha and the omega of the Christian spirit. To love, to love God first and supremely, and in that love to love the neighbor, is so complete a dedication of the entire inner man to the service of the Most High, that all commands requiring the details of that service are anticipated. From these branches hang all the rich, ripe clusters of fruitful obedience.
II. THE ELEVATING TENDENCY OF THAT TEACHING, WHICH SETS FORTH THE LOVE OF THE INFINITE EXCELLENCE AS THE HIGHEST AND MOST OBLIGATORY OF ALL ITS REQUIREMENTS. That holy system of spiritual morality first called Mosaism, or Judaism, and now called Christianity, is for ever raised to the highest pitch of excellence and worthiness by making this its central, its almost solitary, command. All that is good in morals, all that is pure in aspiration, all that is beneficent in action, flows from this fountain. Theperpetual aim to reach to the most entire love of the most exalted Object of human thought must insensibly raise the moral and spiritual character of every one who is controlled by so worthy an endeavor. It ensures the recognition of the soul's subjection to the authority of God; it makes the Divine excellences objects of ceaseless contemplation; it subordinates all the aims and activities of life to the holiest purposes; and, while withdrawing the life from the degradations of low and unworthy motives and pursuits, it regulates the whole by an ever-present, powerful, and satisfying principle of life, at the same time preserving the simplicity and moral cohesion—the unity—of the character. Never was a holier law uttered; never were the feet of men directed to a purer, safer path; never was a firmer, truer basis laid on which to found a kingdom of truth, of peace, and of well-being.
III. THE PRACTICAL CHARACTER OF THE CHRISTIAN TEACHING—"Thou shalt love thy neighbor." To present rules for the government of every hour and the regulation of every transaction of life would be far less effective than to seize upon a principle like this, which underlies all conduct. It may be entrusted with the guidance of the life in the absence of controlling regulations and minute details of obligatory observance. It leaves the spirit free to act according to its own generous impulses or prudent caution. Such a rule prevents the necessity for "Thou shalt not steal;" "Thou shalt not kill." Love embraces all virtues; it fulfils all righteousness. The regulating principle, "as thyself," points to the due estimate of one's own life; such a love for it as would prevent its exposure to evil, and such a discernment of the true interests of life, and the common participation in those interests, as would lead to right adjustment of the relative claims of self and the apparently conflicting claims of others. Truly, "there is none other commandment greater than these." This, indeed, is "much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." And he who has come to appreciate the truth and beauty of this is "not far from the kingdom of God;" while be who keeps this commandment already dwells within the security and shares the blessedness of that kingdom.—G.
The widow's gift.
How many lessons cluster around this unique incident! The watchful eye which is ever over the treasury of the Lord's temple; the discernment between the gifts that come of "superfluity" large turbans in themselves but small in comparison with the abundance left untouched; and the gifts that betoken the penury of the giver, but at the same time declare the entireness with which all his living is devoted to the service of God; and the great Master's principle of judgment. "Many that were rich cast in much;" one that was "poor" cast in little; yet the one "cast in more than all." Let not our thoughts leave the Lord's treasury, and let that treasury denote to us whatever 'is employed for the right ordering of the Lord's worship in his own holy house; all that is expended in charitable works for the benefit of men, whether in ministering to their spiritual or temporal necessities. The good Lord has himself chosen to represent works of benevolence shown to the suffering and poor to be works done unto himself. All that is thrown into their treasury is thrown into his. "Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me." So it comes to pass that both the Lord and the poor—the Lord in heaven and the suffering and needy on earth—make their appeal to our charity for such help as we may be able to render. In responding to this double appeal let us measure our gifts:
1. By the claims of our Lord upon us.
2. By the necessities of our neighbor.
3. By the measure of our sympathy with him and them.
I. IF THE CLAIMS OF OUR LORD guide us, what limit shall we put upon our "gifts"? To him we owe more than our all. To him we are indebted for life and breath, and all things; for the bright light of the morn and the cooling shades of eventide; for reason and affection and friendship. The good and perfect gifts of righteousness, of holy hope, of calm faith, of heavenly love, come down from him. All that is beauteous and bright in life; all that raises us from degradation and need. Ah! the sands on the sea-shore are as little likely to be numbered as the gifts of the Lord's bounty, which lay us under tribute from sheer thankfulness to him.
II. But our NEIGHBOUR'S NEED presents little less impressive claims upon us. How multiplied! How various! How imperative! Christian charity needs little labor to find out the suitable channels of its activity. How greatly has that charity grown and multiplied since the Lord cast the first handful of seed into the warm heart of man! Many ages have been characterized by large gifts for the comfort, the physical need, the spiritual help of man. This present age is not a whir behind the chief in the largeness and variety of its gifts and efforts. To the Lord be praise!
III. But the true spring of all charity and the true quality of it is to be found in a PERFECT UNITY OF INTEREST WITH MEN, AND A PERFECT SYMPATHY WITH THE LORD. True charity is the outflow of the love of God and love of man. It is one of the highest reaches of wisdom to discern the perfect community of interest which every man has with every other. This the Lord saw: this, alas! is but little seen by us. tie who can once become possessed of the belief that he has no true and permanent interest which is not identical with the highest interests of his race, has taken the first step towards the attainment of a pure, a boundless, a Divine charity. And he who would sustain this lofty sentiment must learn to see that all he has he holds by the will and for the good pleasure of the Lord on high. He will learn that concerning himself his utmost wisdom is, with St. Bernard, to say, "Lord, I have but two mites, a body a soul; I give them both to thee."—G.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
The evil husbandmen.
I. FAITHLESS TO GOD; UNJUST TO MEN. If men do not know God, neither can they know those who are sent of him. The Pharisees were set against Jesus because he was the only living presentment of their own neglected duties to God.
II. VIOLENCE FALLACIOUS TO THOSE WHO EMPLOY IT. The wicked husbandmen Blindly slay the emissary. It is of no avail. The Erinys, the fury, the avenging spirit of the dead man, will come back. The violence against Jesus brought about the removal of his murderers from their place.
III. ABUSE OF GOOD MEANS ITS LOSS. "The vineyard given to others." So do great inheritances melt away from their possessors; and the industrious servant comes to the seat of the dissipated lord. The very intelligence that is misused decays; and the loss of influence means loss of moral life.
IV. THE SCALES OF DIVINE AND OF HUMAN ESTIMATION OFTEN DIFFER. A lesson often suggested by Christ. "Men are not what they seem." In science, in literature, in politics, the greatest men often rise up, untrained in the schools, to confute the conventional judgment of the time about education. So in religion. It is difficult to realize that the Savior was once scoffed at as a rustic, illiterate teacher from Nazareth. Yet so it was. There is a profound wonder in the turns of human life; and so long as we have eyes for the hand and working of God, miracles in the truest sense will never cease.—J.
The dialectic of Jesus.
I. DISHONEST SUBTLETY MATCHED BY CLEARSIGHTED WISDOM. We must be, if possible, "wise as serpents," but, above all, honest in purpose. It is the false tongue that stammers, and the fox-like cunning that entraps itself.
II. VERBAL TRUTH MAY CONCEAL HEART FALSEHOOD. They spoke most truly to Jesus about himself, and yet most untruly. So of all words designed to flatter and deceive. There may be a divorce between the tongue and the heart.
III. CONDENSED ARGUMENT. In the use he made of the coin, Jesus suggested a whole train of argument. The coin with its image was a symbol of earthly rule. The kingdom of Jesus is ideal, and independent of the forms of this world (John 18:36). The loyalty of the Christian to the kingdom which is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, teaches him how to act in relation to worldly governments. But Christianity is not to be confounded with politics. "No earthly governments can prevent the spiritual service of God. That should not be rendered to them which is due to God only" (Godwin).—J.
I. DIFFICULTIES OF RELIEF ARE OFTEN IDLE LUXURIES OF THE MIND. One cannot suppose that these men were really troubled by such a question as they raised. It was sheer idleness, bred of useless school life. And so with many theoretical questions pretended to be of serious importance: pressing into what is inaccessible and kept in reserve by God. They are "solved by walking." Act—act rightly here and now, and the question will solve itself, or cease to interest.
II. DISINGENUOUS REASONING FALLS INTO STUPIDITY. What else but childish is this confusion of earthly relations with the spiritual kingdom? Marriage, birth, and death are time-changes; belong to the idea of earth and time, not to eternity. And the least instructed mind feels that this is so. There are enough mysteries in the present life to engage our attention without prying into those beyond.
III. THE RAY OF TRUTH. The one great historic Word, the basis of the national consciousness, sheds its sufficient light upon the question. God does not claim dead objects for his own. Souls that he calls his, "do of his own dear life partake," and "never will he them forsake." It was a mystical interpretation of the ancient Word; and often there are times when we may take refuge in the mystical interpretation, and feel that it is the deepest and the best. "Those who are now dead to men still live in God."—J.
The essence of religion.
I. THE LEADING IDEA FOR THE INTELLIGENCE. The unity of God, his personality, his supreme lovableness. "All love is lost save upon God alone."
II. The leading maxim for the will. To love one's neighbor as one's self. Kant said, trying to translate the gospel into his own dialect, "Act so that the maxim of thy will may be the principle of an universal legislation."
III. The moral surpasses the ritual in religion. Surpasses it by including it with itself. Nothing can be offered to God dearer than a just and a loving life. Love, in fact, is the measure of life's worth. And he who believes and acts upon these principles is recognized by Christ as being a Christian.—J.
I. David's prophetic spirit. "He was moved by the spirit of truth when he foretold that his son would rule over all, and when he owned him as Lord." The psalm had originally another bearing. But as all true poesy "smacks of something greater than it seems," and has deeper meanings than meet the eye, so did the words of the psalmist reach forth into remoter times and higher relations.
II. Christ's identification. "He declared that he was the Son of David, and that his priesthood and kingdom were universal and everlasting."—J.
Traits of the scribe.
I. THE SEEMING GOOD OFTEN THRIVE AND ARE HONORED. Insight into character is rare; men are judged by the outside, and are taken largely at their own valuation.
II. Pretension ever hides emptiness, and often guilt. Fixed for ever for our repugnance, hatred, and contempt is the character of the religious pretender in the Gospel. Men need to be warned that there is more danger to the soul in pretending to a piety we have not got, than in merely having none at all.—J.
The gift of poverty.
I. THE MOTIVE MAKES THE ACTION SPIRITUAL. It is mechanical, conventional, without relation to the spiritual sphere, otherwise.
II. LOVE MAGNIFIES THE VALUE OF THE SMALLEST GIFT. The flower to the sick person, the penny in the plate, may be worth much. The condition of the world would be indictable without the multitude of such little deeds.
III. THE TRUE STANDARD OF WORTH IN LIFE SHOULD BE CLEARLY KEPT IN MIND. We confuse mere giving and doing with that which springs from love too much. Let us not despise little thugs: seeds of love which become great in their result of blessing.—J.
HOMILIES BY J.J. GIVEN
Parallel passages: Matthew 21:33-46; Luke 20:9-19.—
Parable of the vineyard.
I. THE LORD'S VINEYARD. A vineyard is often used in Scripture as an object of comparison. The heart is probably represented under this pleasing and beautiful image in the Song of Solomon, where it is written, "My mother's children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept." God's ancient people are set forth under the same figure in the eightieth psalm, to denote his care for and kindness to them. "Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it." And a few verses afterward we have the touching prayer, "Return, we beseech thee, O God of Hosts: look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine, and the vineyard which thy right hand hath planted, and the branch which thou madest strong for thyself." In the fifth chapter of Isaiah we have the parable of a vineyard and its explanation, where we are expressly told that the house of Israel is God's vineyard; the men of Judah his pleasant plants; the grapes which he looked for, judgment and righteousness; the wild grapes produced, wickedness and oppression; so that instead of honesty in the dealings of the people there was the cruelty of the oppressor, and instead of the strict administration of justice on the part of the magistrates there was the cry of the oppressed. Every reader of the New Testament is familiar with our Lord's representation of himself as the true Vine, of disciples as the branches, of his Father as the Husbandman, and union with himself as the secret of fruitfulness. The parable in the passage before us is recorded, with slight variation, by St. Matthew and St. Luke. This threefold occurrence of the same parable proves its importance, shows its instructiveness, claims our attention to it, and commands our interest in it.
II. GOD'S CARE OF HIS CHURCH.
1. The culture of the vitae laborious. The care necessary for the proper culture of a vineyard is surprising, and to those unacquainted with it almost incredible. It is so in the vineyards of the Rhine, for example, at the present day. As you pass along the "wide and winding" river, many a vine-clad hill presents itself to view. Vineyard rises above vineyard, and terrace above terrace, from the bottom to the top of the hill, in some instances to the height of a thousand feet. How beautiful they look! How pleasant to work among them and keep them! you are apt to suppose. If, however, you visit them and talk with the vine-dressers, you will find your supposition a grave mistake. The duty of the vine-dresser is no sinecure. His work is never over. It is continued throughout the year. Every season brings something for him to do. Planting, propping, pruning, plucking the useless leaves, weeding, hoeing, and gathering the vintage occupy all his time. From year in till year out he knows little or no relaxation; his care ceases not all the year round. How beautifully this illustrates God's care of and attention to his people! It was so also in ancient times. There is a fine didactic poem on husbandry by an old poet who flourished nearly two thousand years ago, and whose works are read at school and college still. He has left us a glowing and life-like description of the continuous toil and laborious industry of the Italian vine-dressers in his day. He there tells us that it was indispensable to plough the soil three or four times a year, to break the clods daily, to unload the branches, and thin the leaves. Even in winter the vine, after being bared of its leaves and fruit, has to be subjected to the pruning-knife, the ground to be dug, the lopped branches burnt, and the props brought into the house. Besides, twice in the year the luxuriant leaves, and twice the weeds and brambles, were to be removed. Further, it remained to cut the reeds and willows that grew on the river's bank, and prickly shrubs in the woods, to bind the vines withal and fence them. In addition to all this, the ripening grapes must needs be protected from hail, and rain, and rust, and accidents of the weather. No wonder, then, he adds, that the husbandman's care ran in a circle, nor ending with the closing year, extended to the coming season. So great is the attention in general needed by vineyards, whether in ancient or modern times; such and so great God's care for the vineyard of the Church. But particular instances are here enumerated.
2. The panting. He planted it. The vineyard soil needed to be the choicest and the best. Soil that would do very well for pasturage, or soil that might be quite suitable for tillage, would not answer for a vineyard. Nothing but soil of rich and generous mould would suit the planting of the vine. The situation required to be carefully selected. A good deal depended on the aspect, and it needed to be sheltered from the wintry wind, screened from the ungenial cold, and exposed as far as possible to the bright beams of a warm Southern sun, like the sunny slopes of Zion, the sides of Lebanon, or the vale of Eshcol Hence the prophet says "My well-beloved hath a vineyard on a very fruitful hill. It naturally followed that vineyards were the most valuable of all property, at least in land. So the Church of God is very precious in his sight. It is very costly, too, for he bought it with his blood; and hence the injunction "to feed the Church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood" It is a place distinguished for fruitfulness and enriched with blessings; a place of precious privelege of numerous ordinances, of heavenly light, where the Sun of Righteousness sheds his brightest beams, and spiritual life is cherished; a place where the Word of truth is possessed, perused, and faithfully preached; where the gospel of his grace is proclaimed: where his Spirit is poured down; where gracious influences are at work and Divine power felt; where the Divine presence is promised and enjoyed, and where every promised blessing is sure to be bestowed and fully realized. The plants, moreover, are the most precious—even the best of their kind. Man, in his original state, was made but a little lower than the angels. God made man upright, and thus, when he proceeded from his hands, he was stamped with the Creator's image, possessed of uprightness, and invested with dominion. And man, even in his fallen state, possesses noble endowments and distinguished faculties. He has understanding capable of studying the works and ways of God, affections to love and prize him, a will that can be moved by motives, tender emotions, and far-reaching sympathies—high powers of head and heart. These powers, it is true, are all weakened and misdirected in consequence of sin. But oh! when they are quickened by the Spirit of God and influenced by his grace; in other words, when the sinner is united to the Savior, when by faith he is engrafted into him and become a living branch of the living Vine, a fruitful branch of the true Vine, he is then a plant of the choicest kind, qualified for yielding spiritual fruit, and capable of showing forth the praises of the Creator. Then does he correspond and come up in some measure to his original condition as God himself describes it: "Yet I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?"
3. The fencing. He set an hedge about it. The people of Israel were hedged in, both politically and physically. The position of Palestine contributed to this separation of its inhabitants. On the north were the slopes of Lebanon, on the south the Idumman desert, on the west the Great Sea, on the east the Jordan with its lakes, and Peraea beyond. But God's spiritual vineyard was his Church, as existing first among the Jewish people and then in Gentile lands. The direct reference is to the Jewish Church as established under Moses, Joshua, the judges, and the theocracy; the great fence that hedged it in was the Law. But we may go back yet further; for God set an hedge about his Church in Old Testament times, from the call of Abraham, by the covenant of circumcision made with that patriarch, and by the whole written Law, moral as well as ceremonial, given to his descendants. In this way he separated the vineyard of the Church from the wide and wild common of the world. The Law was "the middle wall of partition" between Jew and Gentile. But in Christian times, and among Gentile peoples also, the Church is fenced around. There is still a hedge between the communion of saints and the world of the ungodly. Profession of the doctrines which Christ and his apostles taught, and the practice of the duties they enjoined, compose that hedge. Faith in his promises and obedience to his precepts draw the line of demarcation broad and wide between them. The exercise of wholesome discipline keeps the hedge in order. And a Church that does not or cannot exercise this salutary check on its members, saying who are and who are not worthy of its membership, is so far forth powerless for good, or like salt that has lost its savor. The vineyard of which the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 5:5) speaks had a double fence—both a hedge and a wall—as it is written, "I will take away the hedge thereof, .. and break down the wall thereof." We have frequently seen two hedges round a garden—the outer one of thorn, the inner one of beech. Thus it is with the vineyard of the Lord. A visible profession of Church membership is the outer hedge; an interest in Christ is the inner one—and, it must be added, the essential one. All who have embraced the mercy of God in Christ Jesus are within the enclosure of the Church in the true sense; all who have not are aliens to the commonwealth of Israel. "As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believed on his name." These are safe within the hedge. "He that believeth not shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him." All such are outside the hedge.
4. Important practical question. Inside this hedge or outside it? This is the question—the great question. What, then, is our position individually? Out of Christ, we are without God, for "no man cometh to the Father but by him;" and without hope, for the hope of the hypocrite will perish; and without bumpiness, the secret and source of which is to "delight one's self in God, and he gives thee thy heart's desire;" Without life, for "this is life eternal, to know trice the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent;" and without heaven, for Christ is the way thither, as well as the door of entrance. In Christ we are sheltered from the storm of coming wrath. The sunshine of the Divine favor rests on us; the fruit of the Spirit is borne by us. We can then say, "There is now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." There is the hedge of Divine providence about the Church, as we read, "In that day sing ye unto her, A vineyard of red wine. I the Lord do keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day." We are invited to walk about Zion and consider her strong fortifications, counting her towers, contemplating her bulwarks, and considering her palaces, so as to convince ourselves that those defences, unscathed by the assaults of enemies in the past, will remain as impregnable for the future.
"On the Rock of Ages founded,
What can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation's walls surrounded,
Thou may'st smile at all thy foes."
5. Gospel ordinances. The wine-fat, or vat, was a large stone trough deposited in the ground, to receive the juice of the grape squeezed out in the winepress placed over it. The winepress thus consisted of two parts—a receiver for the grapes, and beneath that a receptacle for the expressed juice. The press above, or upper trough, in which the grapes were placed to be trodden out by human feet, amid songs and shouts of joy, was called by the Latins torcular; by the Greeks ληνός the word used by St. Matthew; and by the Hebrews gath. Through a hole in the bottom of this the expressed juice flowed into the vat beneath, or lower trough, which the Romans called lacus; the Greeks ὑπολήνιον, the word used by St. Mark in the passage before us; and the Hebrews yekev, from a root meaning "to hollow out" or "deepen;" while both words occur together in the Prophet Joel (Joel 3:13), "The press (garb) is full, the vats (yekavim) overflow." The winepress and wine-vat were sometimes made out of one block, and communicated by an aperture; sometimes they were distinct stones connected by a tube. If, then, we are to follow out the allegory explaining its particular parts, we may understand by the winepress the ordinances of the gospel, namely, prayer, praise, the Word, and sacraments; though others understand thereby gospel fruits or graces, as charity, thanksgiving, and devotion flowing like wine through it. If, then, we understand by the winepress gospel ordinances, by the wine-vat we may understand the place where the grace conveyed through these ordinances is received and enjoyed. God has appointed certain means for the communication of wisdom, strength, consolation, and every needful gift and grace. These means are the winepress; and the place where these spiritual supplies are obtained and preserved is the wine-vat. Let us take as an example, and in order to illustrate our meaning, the sacrament of the Supper. The Savior, when he made himself a sacrifice for sin, trod the winepress of God's wrath alone, while "of the people there was none with him." The sacrament of the Supper is a feast after and upon that sacrifice; the place where this feast is dispensed, and its benefits to our spiritual nourishment and growth in grace partaken of, is the wine-vat. The bread is a lively emblem of Christ's body, and a striking symbol of the hidden manna; the wine is a true token of his blood, and a sweet foretaste of that wine which we shall drink new in the kingdom of our Father; the table of the Lord, round which the faithful meet and share the feast, is symbolized by the wine-vat. In any case, even if we may not attach a specific meaning to each particular detail, these details imply generally God's care of and provision for his Church.
6. Practical remarks. Mark, then, the connection of the press and vat; they go together. So is it with the ordinances, and the place of their administration; the ordinances, and the benefits they convey; the ordinances, and the blessings God gives us to enjoy through them. If we would glorify God, it must be in the manner he has appointed; if we would enjoy him, it must be in the use of the means he has provided; if we would enjoy not only the communion of saints, but also the communications of Divine grace, we must not forsake the assembling of ourselves with the people of God; if we would promote at once the glory of God and the growth of grace in our own hearts, we must "remember the sabbath day to keep it holy," and the sanctuary to frequent it duly and devoutly. In a word, if we would be truly wise for both worlds, we shall ask wisdom of God, who "giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not," waiting at the posts of wisdom's doors to hear what God the Lord will say to our souls.
7. The tower. This was a place of safety and strength for the watching and guarding of the vineyard, and for the protection of its fruits. The temple in the old economy was the tower, and the priests that lodged around might be regarded as acting the part of the watchmen. More usually, however, the prophets are spoken of as the watchmen. "I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved." The faithful preachers of the gospel and pastors of the Christian Church are watchmen now, who watch as those who must give account; while to both teachers and taught, pastors and people, preachers and hearers, the words of the Lord, as addressed to the Prophet Ezekiel, while he sat by the river of Chebar, are applicable still. In that instructive passage we read, "Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul." In consideration of all these careful arrangements, surely God might well say, as he did by the Prophet Isaiah, "What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?"
III. GOD'S EXPECTATIONS FROM THE VINEYARD OF THE CHURCH.
1. He sends his servants to claim a portion of the fruit. The parable shows in its immediate application the privileges of the Jews, their perversion and abuse of those privileges, and the consequent punishment. If, then, by the husbandmen we understand the ordinary ministers of the Jews' religion, as the priests and Levites; the servants sent were the extraordinary messengers, the prophets raised up on special occasions and for special purposes, and other eminent preachers of righteousness. The householder or owner claimed a portion of the produce. The rent was thus payed in part of the fruit; it was to be in kind, on the well-known metayer principle, long so prevalent and still practiced in parts of Europe; it was to consist of grapes, not gold. The occupiers acknowledged the claim, but failed, or rather refused, to meet it, and were ruined in consequence. God expects fruit; why should he not? Who ever planted a vineyard that did not expect to eat of the fruit of it? Who, then, will venture to gainsay the justness of God's claims? He is no hard Master; he is no rack-rent Proprietor; he does not "reap where he has not sown, nor gather where he has not strawn;" he never requires impossibilities.
2. Correspondence between the fruit of the vineyard and the own expectations. The fruit of the spiritual vineyard should correspond with the expectations of the great proprietor in three respects.
(1) In quality this correspondence should exist. He looks for grapes-good grapes off every vine which he has planted in his spiritual vineyard. There is heart-fruit, consisting of faith, hope, charity, purity, the thoughts being purified by the inspiration of the Spirit; there is the lip-fruit of prayer, praise, holy conversation, edifying discourse, and speech seasoned with salt; life-fruit follows, and is manifested in works of faith, labors of love, patience of hope, devotion of spirit, all holy living, and the necessary sequel in holy dying at the last. In a word, God looks for holiness in all his people. He looks for those blessed and beautiful fruits of which St. Paul. writes to the Philippians, when, summing up the Christian graces, he says, "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on [or take account of] these things." He looks for those excellences of character, conduct, and conversation which St. Peter recommends to the strangers scattered abroad, saying, "Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." God the Father had these fruits in view when he planted the vineyard, for he "predestinated us to be conformed to the image of his Son;" God the Son prepared for them when he gave up the ghost, for it was to "redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works;" God the Holy Spirit provided for them when he renewed us in the spirit of our minds, making us new creatures in Christ Jesus, and so commenced our sanctification. He is waiting and willing to produce them; for "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." The gospel calls us to holiness, and when embraced in sincerity and truth, produces it in increasing measure from day to day, leading us to the higher Christian life; for "the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world."
(2) But the quantity of the fruit borne must be directly proportionate to the grace bestowed. It must be in exact correspondence with the talents God has given us, and the time those talents have been lent us; with the mercies great and manifold which he has conferred upon us; with the privileges with which we have been favored, and the period of their possession; in a word, with all the opportunities of whatever kind and advantages of whatever sort, which we have been permitted to enjoy. With every talent God is pleased to give us he says, "Occupy till I come." Every one of the blessings bestowed—and oh, how great the number!—lays us under an additional obligation; every mercy imposes increased responsibility. Is it health or wealth? is it influence or example? or any other means of receiving good for ourselves, or imparting it to others? Whatever it is, it adds to our accountability, and, if abused, it will be sure to augment our guilt, and in the end aggravate our condemnation.
3. We are reminded, further, that the fruit must be in season; for "at the season," that is, when the season for the fruit arrived, the proprietor sent his servants for the stipulated portion. "When the time of the fruit drew near," says St. Matthew; when sufficient time for growth and for reaching maturity has been allowed, the time of fruit draws nigh. After opportunities of usefulness have been enjoyed, God comes to see how we have employed them. The righteous man yieldeth the right fruit in right quantity, and at the right time. This is his characteristic, as stated in the words of Scripture: "He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season." In the natural world, every season of the year has fruit peculiar to itself. Spring has its flowers, in addition to its buds and blossoms; summer has its plants, and tubers, and waving fields of corn; autumn has its own abundant fruitfulness in golden grain, matured fruits, and ripened grapes. So in the spiritual world and in the vineyard of the Church; in a season of prosperity God expects gratitude as well as gladness; in a season of adversity he expects patient resignation to his will; in a season of depression and consequent privation, he expects dependence on his providence; in provocation he expects meekness; in temptation, resistance by the help of God; in wintry days of darkness, contentment with the Divine allotments; in seasons of sunshine, humility; and in all seasons diligent seeking and faithful serving of God.
IV. GOD'S PUNISHMENT OF UNFAITHFULNESS.
1. Shameful treatment of God's servants. These wicked husbandmen went from bad to worse. They were determined that God should get no fruit from his vineyard; and accordingly they maltreated, in the most scandalous and barbarous manner, the servants sent by the proprietor to demand his due portion of the produce. Their conduct shows a gradation of wickedness ― they beat, they wound, they kill. The word ἐκεφαλαίωσαν, rendered "wounded in the head," is peculiar, and for this, which appears to be its primary sense, there is no classical parallel. Where it occurs, it is generally used in the secondary sense of bringing under one head or sum: hence it has been variously rendered in accordance with this signification, some explaining it to reckon with one in a summary manner, paying with blows instead of fruit; others to deal with one summarily; and others, again, to complete and bring to a head their maltreatment; but the ordinary rendering of "wounding in the head" is confirmed by the Syriac and Vulgate, and is commonly accepted. More important for us is the historical evidence which the Scriptures of the Old Testament afford of this shameful treatment of God's servants. They were threatened with death, thrown into dungeons, actually slain, stoned, fawn asunder, as passages that readily suggest themselves to any careful reader of God's Word abundantly prove. The special honor reserved for the Son marks his superior rank, and distinguishes him from all others, whether designated servants or dignified with the name of sons of God. He is the one Son—the well-beloved—claiming and entitled to peculiar reverence; the rightful Heir, too, of the inheritance. Thus, as we read in the beginning of the Epistle to the Hebrews, "God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners, hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son, whom he appointed Heir of all things." The Son took upon him "the form of a servant" while sojourning in our world.
2. A supplementary parable. The parable of the vineyard and the wicked husbandmen, with all its fullness of details, omitted—necessarily omitted—one or rather two points, which are supplemented by a parabolic statement from the hundred and eighteenth psalm. Whereas the son and heir is left dead outside the vineyard, as Christ suffered, "without the gate," while the lord of the vineyard himself avenges his death, and punishes the husbandmen for their diabolical conduct; it was necessary to complete the picture by his revival and return to the place of dignity and power, as the Foundation and chief Corner-stone, upbearing and binding together the two walls of the sacred edifice. And not only so; it behoved to represent him as revenging in person his wrongs on those who slew him, according to the one parable, or who rejected him according to the other; while this feature is more fully exhibited by the first and third evangelists, who tell us that "whosoever shall fall on this stone"—that is, stumble and fall over this stumbling-stone of his humiliation—"shall be broken"—sorely bruised (συνθλασθήσεται)—and so receive great hurt and grief: "but on whomsoever it shall fall"—in wrath, because of their final impenitence—"it shall grind him to powder;" literally, winnow (λικμήσει) him, just as the stone cut out of the mountains without hands was seen in prophetic vision to smite and shatter the great world-image, and scatter its fragments like chaff before the winds of the winter.
3. Improvement of the subject. The primary reference is to the Jews as a Church and people. Their own conscience made application of it to themselves; hence their indignation, but not their improvement. The transference of the vineyard was not exactly from the Jews to the Gentiles, but to the faithful who should be collected together out of both, and connected by the chief Corner-stone into one.
(1) The first lesson taught us here is of a national character. The Jews had great privileges, but their misuse or abuse of those privileges subjected them at last to fearful retribution. God had shown much forbearance, sending servant after servant to call them to repentance and reformation, and last of all and greatest of all, his own Son; but in vain. They refused to return and repent, crowning their wickedness by crucifying the Son of God. At length the cup of their iniquity was full and overflowing; and, forty years after this climax of their enormities, Jerusalem was laid in ruins, the beautiful house in which their fathers worshipped reduced to ashes, and themselves scattered throughout the world.
(2) We learn God's mode of dealing with Churches or nations that, like the Jews, are highly privileged, and have long enjoyed instructions and ordinances and spiritual benefits. As he continues blessing after blessing, so he sends call after call, and by his servants summons them to the improvement of those blessings. If they refuse compliance—if they neglect to use those blessings in his service and to his glory—ruin, and that without remedy, shall be, must be, the sad but sure result. The destiny of the Jewish Church was repeated to some extent in that of the Oriental Churches, and in that of the African Churches; and by all these cases the Churches of our own land and of every Christian people are solemnly warned against the misuse of mercies, and the abuse of privileges, and the just judgments of God with which apostate Churches and sinful nations are visited.
(3) Individual units make up the aggregate of a nation or the membership of a Church, so in our individual capacity we add our quota to the general guilt on the one hand, or to the purity of a Church and the righteousness of a nation on the other. Therefore are we bound individually to serve God "in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life," and to intercede for the practice and prevalence of that righteousness in all others, which exalts a nation or a people, so that the mercies of God may be improved and his judgments averted.
4. A practical and personal question. Are those fruits which God, as we have seen, expects from us, ours? Are we duly meeting his claims upon us? Are we responding to them gratefully and faithfully? Have we, by the constraining mercies of God, and by the constraining love of Christ, and for the love of the Spirit, presented ourselves, body, soul, and spirit, "a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is our reasonable service"? Do we appreciate as we ought all God's care and kindness, our privileges and means of instruction and improvement? Or, like certain vines in the land of Palestine, which, as we read in Scripture, produced poisonous berries, are we bearing fruit of similar poisonous quality? It may be that, instead of grapes, good grapes and proper fruit, we may be bearing grapes—wild grapes, not only inferior in quality, but poisonous in their nature. Our lips, instead of being instruments of righteousness, may be polluted and polluting with falsehood and deceit and evil-speaking; with corrupt communication, levity, and profanity. Our life, instead of a living epistle, seen and legible to all, may be an exhibition of bitterness and wrath and anger; of envy, pride, injustice, and uncharitableness; of sensuality and sinfulness. Our heart, which is the fountain-head and source of all, may, by remaining unrenewed and unpurified, continue the wellspring of evil thoughts, vile affections, and corrupt desires. If this be the case with any of us—which may Heaven forbid!—how great must be the disappointment of the Lord of the vineyard! how base our ingratitude! how awful the doom! how swiftly and suddenly destruction may come!
5. Fatal error. Delay is not deliverance. Many flatter themselves, as Agag, that the bitterness of death is past, at the very moment that vengeance is on the road and ready to overtake them. Some regard warnings as words of course, and consequently worthless. Others, like the Jews of old, treat shamefully the messengers of Divine mercy; and neglect, or despise and make light of, or speak evil of, the ministers of religion, forgetting the fact that whoso despiseth the messenger despiseth the Master that sent him. Thank God but few reach this bad eminence in their enmity to God, and the things of God, and the servants of God! We may neglect ordinances and abuse privileges, but, in doing so, we treasure up for ourselves "wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;" we may despise the terrors of the Lord, and turn a deaf ear to the voice of warning; we may disappoint the reasonable expectations of ministers and members of the Church; we may defraud the great Proprietor of the fruits which his grace was calculated to produce, and which he had every reason to expect; and God may not take vengeance on our evil works speedily; yet that vengeance will be aggravated by delay, and more fearful when it comes. Those guilty of such sinful neglect and abuse of privileges shall in the day of Divine vengeance be swept as with the besom of destruction, or thrown as into a furnace seven times heated, and that for ever and ever. Let us beware of the progressive nature of sin; for if we forget instruction, that forgetfulness will cause us to neglect it; that neglect, again, will lead us to despise it; that contempt for instruction will beget dislike of our spiritual teachers who impart it; and this dislike will engender hatred of the truth in general; and the end, the fearful end, will be destruction irremediable and terrible from the presence of the Lord and the glory of his power. "And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell."—J.J.G.
Parallel passages: Matthew 22:15-22; Luke 20:20-36.—
Question of the tribute money.
I. A SNARE LAID. This tribute money (κῆνσος)was the poll or capitation tax payable to the Roman Government, from the time Judaea became subject to the Roman power. Judas of Galilee headed a revolt against this tax, but perished with his followers. If our Lord allowed the lawfulness of paying tribute to Caesar, it would have compromised him with the Jewish nationalists, who would not have been slow to charge him with contempt of the Law of Moses for the words of Deuteronomy 17:15, "Thou mayest not set a stranger over thee," were explained by them as forbidding the payment of tribute to a foreign power. If he acknowledged the unlawfulness of such payment, he came into direct collision with the Roman authorities. In the one case, he offended the Judaean patriots and his own Gaiilean followers; in the other, he incensed the Herodian royalists who acquiesced in Roman rule. On the one side, it was treachery to national and patriotic aspirations and Messianic prospects; on the other, it was treason against the Roman Caesar and Pilate his governor. Such was the snare laid for him; such was the trap they set in order to catch him. Thus they thought to entangle him, rather, ensnare (παγιδεύσωσιν) him, in his talk, as a fowler ensnares a bird.
II. THE SUBTLETY WITH WHICH THE SNARE IS LAID.
1. They put the question in such a categorical form as seemed to them to necessitate a simple "yea" or "nay; "thus, "Is it lawful to give tribute, or not? Shall we give, or shall we not give?" The double question is to emphasize their earnestness, and to invite a prompt reply, affirmative or negative; though the first question may refer to the lawfulness of the payment, and the second to its expediency or advisability.
2. The motive which actuated them to interrogate our Lord so peremptorily was most sinister and insidious. The evangelists, viewing their conduct from different standpoints, characterize it differently. This difference, which we discover by comparing the parallel passages, is most instructive. Their conduct in propounding this ensnaring interrogatory was wickedness according to the first evangelist; it was craftiness (πανουργίαν), according to the third; while, according to the second, it was hypocrisy (ὑπόκρισιν). Their question had a close connection with and combined all these three elements; it was conceived in wickedness, cradled in craftiness, and cloaked by hypocrisy. Thus the interrogators acted as spies, or "liers in wait" (ἐγκαθέτους), as St. Luke calls them, while they feigned themselves just men. Our Lord tore off their mask, exposing them in their true colors, and addressing them in their real character, when, according to St. Matthew, he says, "Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?"
3. The object they had in view was to embroil the Savior with the royalists, and so compass his destruction. For this purpose it is plain they desired a negative answer, as appears suggested by the words, "Thou regardest not the person of men," implying such fearlessness as would enable him to reject foreign authority as inconsistent with acknowledging God as their King. Their ulterior object, as stated by St. Luke, was "that they might take hold of his speech, so as to deliver him up to the power and to the authority of the governor;" in other words, to deliver him to the Roman power, rule, or magistracy (ἀρχῇ), and to the lawful authority or jurisdiction (ἐξουσία) of Pilate, the Roman procurator.
4. Necessity brings together strange companions. The Pharisees were as mean as they were unprincipled, and as untruthful as they were unprincipled and mean. They proved their want of principle by the unnatural coalition which they formed with the Herodians—the patriots so called who opposed foreign dominion with the elastic politicians who owned the Roman power; the foes with the friends of Caesar; sticklers for the Law with the supporters of an authority deemed inimical to the Law. Their meanness was manifest in the fulsome flattery with which they addressed our Lord; while in their base untruthfulness they pretended to approach him with a quasi-case of conscience, though in reality they were carrying out the counsel for his destruction.
III. THE SAVIOUR'S REPLY. Had he replied in the affirmative, he would have forfeited his popularity; had he answered in the negative, he would have forfeited his life. The latter was the consummation wished for by the members of this unholy alliance of superstition with political expediency. To give vividness to the transaction, our Lord ordered the production of a Roman penny, or denarius, a small silver coin of the value of sevenpence halfpenny, or eightpence halfpenny at most. On that coin was an image, the head of the then reigning sovereign, Tiberius, while round it ran the usual superscription or inscription, consisting of the name and titles of the emperor. Our Lord, as if in surprise, asks, half in irony and half in indignation, what all this meant, and whose it was? Their unavoidable answer was, "Caesar's;" and this very answer broke the snare, and the bird escaped out of the net of the fowler. Then said our Lord—Give back (ἀπόδοτε) to Caesar what belongs to him; pay back to Caesar what you acknowledge to be his. The coinage proves the king, the currency affords evidence of his property; while, on the other hand, you render to God the things that are his.
IV. IMPORTANT PRINCIPLE. This principle, so important and far-reaching, though plain enough in its general bearing, has been differently understood. Some have regarded the two parts of the answer as entirely distinct, as though belonging to different spheres, or placed on different planes, and so incapable of clashing or even coming in contact; as though he said, "Pay your taxes, and perform your religious duties, but keep the two things apart." More usually they are understood as two separate departments of human duty, coexisting and compatible; or as standing to each other in the relation of the part to the whole. According to the second of these three views, the payment of civil dues and the observance of religious duties stand side by side together, and as equally obligatory: that is, render to Caesar, as civil ruler, the obedience that belongs to him, and to God, as spiritual Sovereign, the homage of the soul stamped with the Divine image, and therefore his due; or, in a more literal and narrow sense, according to some, pay the civil taxes to the government of Caesar, and the didrachma, or temple-tribute, for the support of the sanctuary and service of God. We understand it in the larger sense of obedience to our earthly sovereign and duty to our heavenly King, as co-ordinate and coexistent, perfectly compatible but not competitive; or, according to the third view, the former may be regarded as part of the latter. This great principle, properly understood and acted on, would have prevented many an unseemly collision of Church and State, and many a sinful encroachment of one on the domain of the other. It would have prevented the papal power from trampling the crown of kings in the dust, as in the reign of John, and it would have prevented, on the other hand, the persecution of the Church by the State, as in the days of the Puritans. Our Lord intimated by his reply, that so long as the Jews were allowed to worship God according to his own appointment, and enjoyed the protection of the Roman power therein, they were under obligations to contribute to the taxes that supported that power. But these obligations to civil government were not to suspend, or set aside, or in any way interfere with the higher and holier obligations which they owed to God. Duty to God must be the regulating principle of duty to civil rulers; the latter is then part of, or rather part and parcel with, the former. Thus our Lord clearly indicated the respective provinces of civil rulers and of religious teachers—the relative positions of secular authority and spiritual power. Thus he solved the problem of two kings and two kingdoms in one realm; thus he taught obedience to civil governors in temporal things, while in spiritual their duty to God was paramount. No doubt many nice points may present themselves, and many delicate questions may arise in practically carrying out the principle stated; but we are not without light from other parts of Scripture to guide us in the application of this principle, even in cases of greatest difficulty.—J.J.G.
Parallel passages: Matthew 22:23-33; Luke 20:27-40.—
Question of the Sadducees touching the resurrection.
I. IMPORTANCE OF THE QUESTION. Though the question propounded in this section was proposed for a captious purpose, and in order to entangle, yet, divested of its technicalities, it is a most important one. There is no subject more closely connected with the immortal hopes of man than that to which the above section refers. The doctrine of the resurrection is implied, or directly inculcated, in several passages of the Old Testament. In the New, in which life and immortality are so clearly brought to light, we find many plain statements in regard to it. The whole subject is discussed at large, and fully elaborated in that magnificent chapter, the fifteenth of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, while our Lord, in the Scripture under consideration, puts the argument pithily and pointedly in reply to a question from the Sadducees.
II. AN ASSUMPTION. In clearing away the rubbish, with which they overlaid the difficulty whereby they thought to ensnare him, the Savior charges them with ignoring the mighty power of God, who quickeneth the dead and calleth the things which be not as though they were. He taxes them with resting their reasoning on an unwarrantable assumption, to the effect that the condition of life in heaven would be the same as here on earth, while, on the contrary, the occupants of that spirit-world are as the angels of God. Having, moreover, affirmed their ignorance of those Scriptures which they themselves acknowledged, he proceeds to the proof of the doctrine impugned.
III. IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL. By his quotation from the third chapter of Exodus, he establishes the immortality of the soul. God is the God of the living, for the relationship thus indicated is connected with the bestowal of benefits and blessings, while the dead are beyond the reach of these: but the passage quoted affirms God to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; therefore these patriarchal men, whose earthly tabernacles, long dissolved, had mouldered and mingled with kindred dust, still lived in some sense and state and place. Their souls lived in God's sight and in God's presence and to God's praise. The-immortality of the soul is thus a clear enough conclusion, but the proof is not so plain with regard to the resurrection of the body; and yet this is the very point in dispute. It is a well-known fact that several of the heathen philosophers who believed in the immortality of the soul, seem never to have dreamt of the resurrection of the body. How, then does our Lord's plain proof of the former doctrine serve-the purpose of establishing the latter? This is the difficulty of the passage. The following considerations will resolve it:—
IV. GROUND OF SADDUCEES' DENIAL OF THE RESURRECTION. The chief reason of the Sadducees denying the resurrection of the body was their disbelief in the immortality of the soul. They repudiated the last-named doctrine, and on this very ground rejected the former. They said the soul does not exist apart from, or after, the dissolution of the body. "They gainsay the duration of the soul" is the testimony of Josephus to their opinion on this point. From this they inferred that there is no likelihood of, nor need for, the body to be raised up, as, according to this erroneous opinion of theirs, there was no soul to reanimate, or reinhabit, or be reunited therewith. Our Lord meets inference with inference. Having proved, as we have seen, the immortality of the soul, he thus prepares the way for the corollary, that the body would be raised from the dust of death, and that soul and body would be then and for ever reunited. They insisted on the extinction of the soul at the death of the body, or its non-existence as distinct from that body, and so wished it to be inferred therefrom that the body would not be raised, and no reunion ever take place. The Savior proves the distinct and undying existence of the soul, and leaves the Sadducees to infer the resurrection of the body and its reunion with that soul from which death had for a time separated it. In this way he opposed the inferential part of his argument to the inferential part of their doctrine, inasmuch as they did not, it would seem, employ expanded argument or developed reasoning. Having demolished the main pillar of their system, he left the frail fabric erected thereon to fall of itself. Our Lord's reasoning, though concise, was nevertheless conclusive.
V. CONFIRMATION. This view of the subject derives some confirmation from a custom of the ancient Egyptians. They embalmed the bodies of their dead, and so preserved them for centuries. Their object, as is with strong probability supposed, was that the mummy corpse might be prepared for the reception of the returning soul, and for reoccupancy by that former inhabitant, if such were their belief; it was doubtless a ray of light derived from revelation, but distorted as usual in such cases. While they anticipated the glorious fact of a reunion of soul and body, they added thereto the fancy that the same body, unaltered and unimproved, would be its receptacle. Revelation, however, confirms the one, but corrects the other; for these vile bodies shall be raised spiritual bodies, and fashioned like unto Christ's glorious body.
VI. OTHER EXPLANATIONS. Some, we are aware, understand by resurrection in this passage merely a renewal of life, restricting that life to the soul. In this way they remove to some extent the difficulty involved in the reasoning, but destroy at the same time the proper meaning of the word, as might easily be shown from other Scriptures. Paul, for example, speaks of the resurrection in the ordinary and usual sense when he asks," How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?" Besides, it is to be observed that, in our Lord's quotation, God is not called the God of the souls of the patriarchs, but of their compound being, consisting of both soul and body. The reference to marriage in the verses preceding also points to the resurrection of the body as well as to the life of the soul Life is thus implied in relation to both the constituent parts of man—present life for the soul, future life for the body. Others there are who, understanding the argument to relate exclusively to those who die the death of the righteous, elucidate it in this manner. The Scripture cited by our Lord, in which God declares himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, involves the Father-ship of God and the sonship of believers, as appears from such Scripture statements as "I will be to him a God, and he shall be to me a son;" also, "I will be to you a Father, and ye shall be to me sons and daughters." Again, our adoption as children of God includes the redemption of the body, and consequent recovery from the power of the grave, as may be gathered from Romans 8:23, "We wait for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of the body." Now, though this explanation plausible, yet it appears too restricted, and not quite in harmony with our Lord's own words in John 5:28, John 5:29, "The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation."
VII. Practical Observations.
1. A few practical thoughts connect themselves with this subject. We learn hence the value of an accurate acquaintance with the Scriptures of the Old as well as of the New Testament. Our Lord refuted his adversaries as he repelled Satan, by an appeal to the Law and to the testimony. He took every opportunity of putting honor on, and claiming respect for, the Divine Word. It is our safeguard against error. His quotation is from a portion of that Pentateuch which has in recent times been the object of repeated and insidious attacks.
2. We see how our Master meets his opponents on their own chosen ground, and reasons with them after their own favourite mode. They put their objections inferentially; our Lord, who always adapted his discourse, whether sermon, or parable, or argument, to his audience, adopts the selfsame method. The Sadducees believed, at least, the five books of Moses; he quotes from an early portion of those books. He denounced their error with mildness, and demonstrated it from the very Scriptures to the authority of which they themselves deferred. He took the ground from under their feet by hard arguments, not by hard words. Persuasiveness, not abusiveness, characterizes his reasoning.
8. Let us seek grace that we may appreciate as we ought the comfort of this doctrine. Our very dust is dear to God. The visible sky above us may pass away, but no particle of this dust shall perish. Let us realize the duty of seeking a part in the resurrection of the just. Let the doctrine have a practical effect upon our hves. With this prospect in view, "what manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness"?
"Those bodies that corrupted fall
Shall incorrupted rise,
And mortal forms shall spring to life,
Immortal in the skies."
Having this hope within us, let us purify ourselves, and by grace keep the bodily temple undefiled.—J.J.G.
Parallel passage: Matthew 22:34-40.—
Question about the greatest commandment.
I. PUERILITIES OF THE PHARISEES. The Pharisees busied themselves about the letter of the Law, but had little practical acquaintance with its true spirit. The Jews generally divided the commandments of the Law into the preceptive and prohibitory—the "Do" and the "Do not;" nor was there anything amiss in this. But the Pharisees, we are told, counted the affirmative precepts, and found them as many as the members of the body; they counted the negative, and reckoned them equal in number to the days of the year, viz. three hundred and sixty-five; they then added them together, and found that the total made up the exact number of letters in the Decalogue. They also divided the commandments into great and small—the more important and the less important, or the heavy and the light; those of greater weight being such commandments as related to the sabbath, circumcision, sacrifice, fringes, and phylacteries. They did not stop with puerilities of this sort, but descended to trifling minutiae, which we have neither time nor wish to record. Some of their distinctions were of a more mischievous kind, such as preferring the ceremonial to the moral Law, the oral to the written Law, and the trifles of the scribes to the teachings of the prophets. They also taught that obedience to certain commandments atoned for the neglect of others; in some measure like persons in much more recent times, who
"Compound for sins they are inclined
By damning those they have no mind to."
II. THE WHOLE DUTY OF MAN. Our Lord rebuked by his answer those miserable trivialities of the Pharisees, who seemed disposed to bring him into conflict with one or other of the contending parties, headed respectively by Hillel and Shammai. The subject of the question was one about which the schools of these great Jewish schoolmen differed. If he decided in favor of the one, he necessarily offended and lost in reputation as a public religious Teacher with the other; or perhaps they hoped to bring him into contradiction with an answer to the same question which he had sanctioned with his approval. Our Lord shoved aside their rabbinical quibbles, and passed by their hair-splittings and contendings about such petty trifles, to the neglect at once of the spirit and the really weightier matters of the Law. And as "whosoever shall keep the whole Law, and stumble in one point, he is become guilty of all," our Lord, instead of singling out or specifying any particular commandment of the Law, states two comprehensive precepts which embrace the whole Law; and not only so—he not only reduces the ten commandments of the Decalogue to these two precepts, but underlying these two precepts is one single principle into which they are both capable of being resolved. He thus simplifies the statement of moral duty into a single principle, and that principle itself expressed in the one word "love;" for "love is the fulfilling of the Law."
III. THE SUPREMACY OF LOVE. It has been conjectured that our Lord, when quoting in reply the passage from Deuteronomy 6:4-9, one of the four Scriptures usually inscribed on the parchment slips of the tephillin, or phylacteries, and called Shema, "Hear," from beginning with this word, pointed to the lawyer's tephillin. This would add to the pictorial or graphic nature of the reply; but nothing could be added to the beauty of the words quoted. He cites the preface, teaching the unity of God in opposition to polytheism, and then proclaims the love of God as the source, and love to man as similar and only second thereto. But whence comes this love? Not by nature, for by nature we are "hateful, and hating one another;" only, therefore, by the new birth, when we partake of a new nature; for "if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature, old things having passed away, and all things having become new." Once we love him who first loved us, we are in the proper position for loving our Father in heaven and our fellow-man on earth. The manifestation of this love to man is doing to others as we wish others to do to us, and this exercise of the so-called, and properly so-called, golden rule, is loving our fellow-man as a brother, and son of the same heavenly Father; while our love to that Father is supreme, influencing the affections of the heart, the faculties of the mind, the spiritual powers of the soul or life, and employing the whole strength of all and each of these. God is worthy of all this—worthy of our best affections, worthy of our earliest and strongest love. The practice of this principle would make this earth a paradise, restoring it to all the freshness and happiness of its first and early dawn; rather, would it make a heaven upon earth.—J.J.G.
Parallel passages: Matthew 22:41-46; Luke 20:41-44.—
The counter-question of our Lord.
I. QUESTION OF OUR LORD IN TURN. Our Lord had by this time been asked, and had triumphantly answered, the most perplexing, difficult, and delicate questions that the ingenuity of man could devise. His adversaries had been signally confuted, and covered with shame. These questions were five in all One concerned his authority; another was political, about the tribute money; the third was doctrinal, about the resurrection; the fourth speculative, about the greatest commandment; and the fifth disciplinary, about the adulteress. By his more than masterly reply to the first, he defeated the Sanhedrim: by his reply to the second, he surprised and silenced the Pharisees and Herodians; by his answer to the third, he confuted, if he did not convince, the sceptical Sadducees; by his reply to the fourth, he satisfied the Pharisaic scribe, learned in the Law; by his answer to the fifth, he settled, if not to the satisfaction of scribes and Pharisees, at least to their shame, the question of discipline. It is now time that, having passed this ordeal, he should retaliate.
II. OBJECT OF HIS COUNTER-QUESTION. Our Lord's design was not so much to show them their ignorance, and overwhelm them with confusion, as to instruct them with respect to the true character and person of the Christ. Their low views were to be elevated, their carnal notions were to be spiritualized, their blind eyes were to be enlightened. Their idea of the person of Messiah was that he would be just a man like themselves; of his position, that he would be a powerful temporal king; and of his reign, that it would extend over a great earthly kingdom. By his question he let light in upon their dark minds in reference to all these subjects. With the Scriptures in their hands, and all their trifling about the minute things concerning the letter, they had no right spiritual apprehension of their long-desired and much-respected Messiah. His question proves to them that Messiah was not only human, but Divine; not only David's Son, but David's Lord; that before his exaltation he must suffer humiliation. They expected a triumphant Messiah, but were not prepared for his lowly condition as a sufferer; they overleaped the cross, expecting all at once and from the first the crown. Crucifixion before glorification was what they could not understand; a spiritual kingdom of righteousness and peace and joy they would not understand, "their wish being fat to their thoughts."
III. PRACTICAL USE OF THE QUESTION. "What think ye of Christ?" was his ques as recorded by St. Matthew. We repeat to ourselves and others the same que:—What think we—"What think ye of Christ?" What think ye of his life—that less life, that surprising life, that life which believer and unbeliever alike so admire, and even rival each other in lauding and extolling? What think ye of events of that life—its purity and yet its suffering, its power and yet its sorrows? What think ye of his death—so wonderful in many ways, so singular in all its asp and so efficacious in all respects? What think ye of his resurrection? Are ye risen with him, to seek the things above? Do ye look to him as the firstfruits of a glorious harvest? and are ye seeking a part in the resurrection of the just? What think ye of his ascension? Are ye satisfied that he has ascended up on high, leading captl captive, and having received gifts, even for rebellious men? And have ye shared in t gifts? What think ye of his intercession? Do ye feel that he is interceding for and are ye glad—right glad—of having an Advocate with the Father, even Jesus Christ the righteous? By your answers to such questions ye may judge your state, entertain, we trust, "good hope through grace."—J.J.G.
Parallel passages: Matthew 23:13-39; Luke 20:45-47.—
Warner against the scribes and Pharisees.
He warns his disciples against
(1) their ambitious
(2) against their avaricious greed, and
(3) against their hypocrisy.
We need daily to pray for preservation from all these.—J. J.G.
Parallel passage: Luke 21:1-4.—
The widow's mite.
I. THE VALUE INDICATED. A mite (λεπτόν) was something very small; our word to represent it being from minute, through the French mite. The value of the two was three-fourth of an English farthing. But it was her all, and showed her singular self-denial. Accordingly, our Lord measured the merit of her liberality not by the amount she gave, but by the self-denial which the gift involved.
II. CHRIST SEES ALL THINGS. He saw this poor widow—what she gave and why gave. He sees all we do and all we think, for he knows what is in man. He sees us restrain the evil that we do, overrule it, and punish it; he sees us to approve of the go we do, encourage in the present time and recompense it in the time to come.
III. TRUE STANDARD OF LIBERALITY. Christ on this occasion did not overlook large gifts of the rich; but they could spare these out of their abundance, without stinting themselves or really pitying the poor. He fixed attention on the widow's mite, for it her all; and so she could ill spare it, and could only be considered as giving it from sympathy with and compassion on the poor. Three things are to be taken into account in our estimate of Christian liberality:
(1) the motive of giving—it must be the glory of God and the good of man;
(2) the manner of giving—not by constraint, but of ready mind, and so God loves the cheerful giver; and
(3) the measure, which should just in proportion as God has prospered us.—J.J.G.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Mark 12". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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