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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Matthew 13

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-23

Chapter52

Prayer

Almighty God, our life is in thy right hand, and thou dost care for us with daily care. By the good hand of our God upon us we have been enabled to continue unto this time, and on this holy morning the sacred song is upon our lips, and our hearts are lifted up in hallowed desire, and in our soul is there a goodly expectation. We have brought our morning psalm to sing it together in the courts of thine house, that in many voices thou mayst hear what each voice would say, that in the multitude of our expression thou mayst hear what the individual heart doth feel. We pray thee to take our common song as our personal tribute and to regard our common prayer as the desire of every heart.

Thou hast done great things for us whereof we are glad: all the things thou doest are great, there is nothing small with God, nor trivial, nor of little account: the very hairs of our head are all numbered, our steps are watched, thou dost listen to the beating of the heart, our tears thou dost put into thy bottle, and our names are graven on the palms of thine hands. We will make mention of the lovingkindness of the Lord, and mightily praise him with glowing Song of Solomon , because of his patience and thoughtfulness, and his eternal regard for all that ministers to our soul"s health, and to all that prepares for the soul a glorious destiny.

Every man before thee would praise the Lord: there are no silent hearts in the sanctuary. In every eye is the light of a holy expectancy, in every spirit is the moving of a fervent desire. O thou who dost create in the heart of man those emotions and desires and upward movements of the soul, grant unto us great answers that shall fill our life with gladness and clothe our whole course with the light of heaven.

We are emboldened to say all this, and to tell thee the whole story of our heart, because of what we have been taught by Jesus Christ thy Son. He is our way and only way to the Father, he dwelt in thy bosom through all eternity, he came forth to reveal thee to the sons of men, he gave himself, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us unto God—he was delivered for our offences and raised again for our justification, and he ever liveth to make intercession for us. Me draws our hearts into great supplication and broad and urgent desire, he inspires no little petitions, he creates a great expectancy, and gladdens it with infinite satisfaction. His blood is our hope, his cross is our refuge, his grace is cur strength. Lead us into all the path of Christ, give us the fearlessness of honesty, give us the patience of earnestness, and enable us to wait with all filial diligence until the light shineth upon us in full revelation.

Help us to read thy book with the eyes of the heart, that we may see its inner beauty: help us to listen to thy gospel with the hearing of the soul, that no tone of its tender music may be lost. Comfort us with all helpful solaces, that shall quiet us and yet inspire us with strength. May the time of our sojourning here be passed in the fear of love, in the law of light, and in the delight of thy statutes, which are our songs in the house of our pilgrimage.

Speak to every heart, breathe thy benediction upon every life, let a great comfort give us a glowing love in the soul that shall be satisfied with nothing but the presence of the great God. Pour out thy Holy Spirit upon us. Holy Spirit, dwell with us, sacred guest of humble hearts, abide in the sanctuary of our love, guide and lift up and strengthen with all heavenly energy our whole life, and when the days of our travelling are done, and we come to the last river, give us safe crossing and a broad welcome into the city. Amen.

Matthew 13:1-23

The Picture Gallery of the Church

Jesus Christ shows us how to deal with a great multitude in preaching the gospel of the kingdom. "The same day went Jesus out of the house and sat by the sea side, and great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship and sat, and the whole multitude stood on the shore. And he spake many things unto them in parables." Do not expect great multitudes to follow connected discourses. Crowds must be caught by points rather than by arguments. In speaking to the crowd, I find that the Master spoke many things—many things to many hearers. That is the great law of successful speech to multitudes. Yet the many things were about one thing—the subject never changed. The one thing was the kingdom of heaven, the many things were the many parables. There was unity in variety, and there was variety in unity. The subject was the kingdom of heaven, and the illustrations were brought from every quarter of life and nature.

We enter then upon a new phase of the divine preaching. Hitherto it has been doctrinal and hortatory, now it is imaginative and pictorial. These marvellous parables are the picture-gallery of the Church: the parable shows what is usually called the ideal side of the kingdom. This is the painter"s art. The painter is not a copyist or a literalist: he does not transfer a tree to his paper or his canvas, he puts meanings into his work which grow upon the mind and hold it in new fascinations evermore. The amateur daubs flat paint upon flat canvas, and the canvas is but the heavier for the lifeless load. The true painter makes the paint throb, and fills the canvas with the electricity which burns in his own hand.

We never get all the meaning of the parables: we never get all the meaning of any truth. The parables bear inspection for ever: they have revelations suited to the morning light and to the noontide glory and to the mystery of the solemn gloaming. To all the ages of the fathers they have been uttering their music, yet their music comes today with swells of power and cadences of persuasive pathos which our fathers never heard. Do not suppose that you have read all the parables and have gone through them. There may be men who have littleness of mind sufficient to enable them to get done with the parables once for all; on some of us they grow, and they are bigger and brighter and tenderer every day. The parables sent from heaven are always new, so is the preacher sent from God—he is always new, fresh, dewy, original, vital. His words may be the same, but there is a new colour in them; his is not a monotony of artistic iteration—the actor"s perishable art—it is the marvellous boom and emphasis, or equally marvellous whisper and suppression of vitality.

Never man spake like this man. He never uttered the same word twice in the same tone, therefore he was no actor. The actor repeats, the preacher sent from God creates. His echo is as original as his voice: the fragments fill more baskets than the loaves filled. This is not to be explained in words: it has no other self in the dictionary; it is felt, and the heart, glowing with wordless delight, grips and loves the tender meaning. Herein the sanctuary must always be the first of all places upon the earth for permanence, for durability, for abidingness, for the unwearable substance of truth. Other men come and go like spasms that cannot be reckoned, but the preacher, the parabolist, sent from heaven abides always. The more he is needed, the more he is. This is the secret of living in God.

These words are to be taken as introductory to all that may be given me to say upon these wondrous parables. In the parable before us we have a great advantage over many others, for we have not only the parable but the explanation. Jesus gives both the text and the sermon. We have the same thing put from the inside and from the outside. It will be my business to show that we have here the key of all the parables—in other words, this comment upon one will give a hint as to the right method of commenting upon all others.

This, then, is a solemn moment in the spiritual education of some of us who really care for these matters; it is the day on which the key is handed out. If I can master this parable of the sower, all the parables are mine. Let me show you how all the parables firmly base themselves on great human fads and social parallels, and how true they are to all that is known to be true among ourselves. Let me strip these parables of all ghostliness and other worldliness so far as it might affright the soul, and show you how these parables are all great human truths, lifted up into heavenly lights and bearing upon them interpretations of divine things. You can never get to the top of any ladder the foot of which is not upon earth. Let me show you that these parables are ladders, well fixed upon the earth at the one end, and rising up into all the mystery of heaven upon the other. Can I succeed in this? If Song of Solomon , I shall give you rich gifts, gold and gems, treasures more precious than rubies, and today will be a birthday in the soul of every man. Holy Spirit, writer of all the parables, in light, in colour, in the forest, on the sea, in the heavens, on the green earth, come and Revelation -write them every one, as to their spiritual meaning and force, upon every honest heart!

This representation of the kingdom of heaven is true of all kingdoms that are themselves true. The proof is easy—you need not the divine, technically Song of Solomon -called, to explain and establish this gracious doctrine. The marvellous fact connected with the kingdom of heaven is this, that it takes up all other kingdoms into itself and shows that in so far as they are true, they do but illustrate on incomplete lines what itself would do upon the whole lines of universal thinking and acting. Do not get into the notion of imagining that religion is something separate from life. Avoid the priestly superstition, the soul-damning fanaticism that religion is something separate and isolated from all the courses of thinking and loving and service familiar to us as men. It is the last expression of all that is best and dearest in our own consciousness, experience, and aspiration, like as a father, like as a shepherd, like as a nurse, like as a mother, by such analogues does the kingdom of heaven shine forth its tenderest glowing and meaning upon the eyes that want to see the gracious revelation.

This parable of the sower and the seed belongs to every kingdom that is true. It belongs to the kingdom of knowledge. No man ever yet went forth to teach mankind letters, philosophy, science of any sort, but came home a living exemplification of this very parable. This is not a priest"s conundrum, this is not an ecclesiastical enigma to be answered only by ecclesiastical genius—this is the world"s experience in all its teachers, schools, wise propagations, and healthy progress. Therefore it is true at the other end because it is true at the end with which we ourselves are minutely and practically familiar.

Is there any man here who ever undertook to conduct in his country a great reform? Any man who has been interested in the education of the people, in the conversion of the people from great vices, in the enlightenment and general progress of society—call himself Atheist, or Secularist, or Agnostic, or Non-Theist, or what he please? I will give him his report in the very words of this parable, and he will say, reading the parable as a report, "This exactly represents my own experience as a propagandist of wise ideas, and as an educator of the people." There is nothing therefore magical here: the kingdom of Heaven claims no more than any other kingdom, except in so far as itself is more. All the boats go on the same sea, but some draw more water than others. Herein no ghostly claim is set up, there is no mystery, or magic, or curious wand-waving in this strong human teaching. The fate of the upper kingdom is the fate of every kingdom that is good. It goes forth with risks and experiments and comes back with disappointments and satisfactions.

Read your Bibles in the light of this suggestion, and the old Book will flame with a new glory. The mischief for which I blame the priests of every age is that the Book has been separated from all the literature of the world, and locked up with a death"s head in a closet of its own. Read in the right way, it expresses the experience of the world in the language of Heaven; taken from the right point of view, it combines all that is most precious, tragical, contradictory, noble in human souls and human experience.

This view of human society is true to fact in every age of human history. This classification is universal; the men of this parable are the men of today and the men of every day. These are not waxen figures made eighteen centuries ago, and which have melted in the process of the suns—these are living figures, breathing men and women, sitting in these pews today, and who will sit in the pews of every church till the bell of time announces the day of doom. We have in all ages those who hear the Word and understand it not, those who joyfully receive the Word, and having no root in themselves, endure only for a little while; those who hear the Word, but are overmastered by the world and by the deceitfulness of riches: those who hear the Word and understand it, and grow in great plentifulness of precious fruit. Is this a priestly thing, an ecclesiastical picture, to be seen only on Sundays, when the church door is open? These are the men that are encountered by every one who attempts to instruct his fellow-creatures. Here, for example, is the lecturer upon some department of science. What have you to say, sir? You have fifty pupils or students attending your lectures from time to time—what account do you give of them? These are not religious curiosities, these are not Christian fossils, these are the men that are living and breathing around us all the day. Teacher of manufactures—how is it with you in your great place? What about your apprentices and workmen—do they all take the word with equal ease? Do they instantaneously see your points and receive your instructions? Are not there men in your warehouse, your factory, the dull of mind, those who see a thing for a moment, and say they see it, and go out and forget it in an hour; and those who receive your instructions and are led away the moment they get fifty yards from the premises, and are found with the time-spender and with the drunkard, and with the gambler, or with the lounging idler; and are there not those in your place of business who are honest of heart and quick of mind, and who take up your instructions and reproduce them in honest labour?

This parable is true about the kingdom of heaven because it is true about your school of lecturing and about your place of business. The foot of this ladder is upon the earth; therefore its head may be in heaven. See how by one outputting of his hand Jesus Christ grasps all sorts and conditions of men; not one is missed; they are all here; he lays hold of the whole occasion; there is nothing magical here, nothing ghostly or terrifying—this Man grasps and expresses the reality of things. Never man spake like this Man; therefore he stands today crowned above all others, mightiest in power, tenderest in gentleness—a Shepherd, a King, a Father, a Brother, a Root out of a dry ground, the Flower of Jesse and the Plant of renown. Read his words in the light of these human analogies and parallels, and you will begin a course of proving and testing which will satisfy the commonest or the most cultured mind of the soundness of the foundations upon which the Christian kingdom rests.

What is true of the kingdom and what is true of human society as represented in this parable is true of the results which are here indicated. The results can be tested in every section of the human family. The proof of this is not to be found in the Church only. Why, I find it in your families, as you yourselves do. The family is one, the teaching is one, the seed is the same, the care taken of all the little creatures is the same care—none is esteemed above another; but the same patience and love and light, anxiety, solicitude are expended upon the whole six. Now let me look at them. Would it be possible to find six souls more diverse? One of your sons seems to have had no instruction at all—has he had any? Say you, "Certainly; he had precisely the same instruction that the others received." "Well, but," I say, "look at him—careless, thoughtless, all but mindless." Say you, "That is true, and it is a mystery to me, for I take as much care of him as I take of the others." Take another: you gave him instruction along with the others, and he has forgotten every word you ever said to him. Say you, "Because he no sooner gets out of the house than somebody lures him away from the path upon which he started. If this boy were promised a coin of silver—ay, when he was younger, if any one had tempted him with three marbles—he would have forgotten every instruction his mother gave him as to the day"s duty." And this pride of the family, gem of all, thoughtful, loving, wise, industrious, his mother"s other self, his father"s all but idol—the seed was sown in this case in good ground, and has brought forth an hundredfold.

This is the parable over again. Certainly, and there is no other parable. This is the one report; it was read eighteen hundred years ago, or rather spoken, from the ship; it has been read in all the missionary halls in Christendom year after year ever since, and the last report that will be read in those halls will be this parable modernised. The tone, the music will be the same, the figures only will be changed; there will be no change in the inner and vital substance until, indeed, the time shall come when Christ shall have the heathen for his inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for a possession—when there will be but one sentence in the report; that sentence, "Hallelujah, the Lord God omnipotent reigneth." But until that report be rendered, this parable will continue to be the basis upon which every secretary of every society, the head of every school, the lecturer of every college, the leader of every reform will base his annual report.

I see this, of course, most plainly in the matter of Churches. The sermons are the same, the labour of a lifetime is the same—what is my report about you? Precisely what I find in this parable: I cannot get away from the lines of this parabolical representation of you all. I have uttered common prayer, I have spoken to the congregation, as a whole, year after year, I have done my best to arrest attention and satisfy pious expectation—what is the result today? This parable, and nothing but this. Some seed has fallen by the wayside, and has been picked up; some in the stony places, a joy for a moment or two, great delight whilst the service lasted, but there was no deepness of earth, and it soon withered away. Some has fallen among thorns, and some of the seeds have fallen upon good ground. I need not any learned and ingenious mind to expound this parable to me or prove its underlying truth. It is the picture of every ministry, philanthropic, educational, and religious.

The explanation given in Matthew 13:15 is awful, yet satisfactory. "For this people"s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and should understand with their hearts, and should be converted, and I should heal them." They suffer the consequences of their own acts. Observe the expression, "Their eyes have they closed." It is not "Their eyes have I closed:" the action was their own, and they suffer the results of their own perversity. Be not deceived: God is not mocked: whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

The twelfth verse is fulfilled in every man"s history. "For whosoever hath to him shall be given, and he that hath not from him shall be taken away even that he hath." We lose what we do not use, we forfeit what we do not employ, what we put away falls into desuetude, and is cankered and is lost. To him that hath exercised his muscle more muscle shall be given; from him who hath not exercised his muscle shall be taken away even the muscle which he began to have. We cannot keep things at a standstill: it is always gaining or always losing: a man is not the same at the end of twenty years as he was at the beginning. No man is the same at the end of a sermon as he was at the beginning of the discourse: new responsibility has entered into his life, a new chance has operated in his thinking, a grand opportunity has been presented to him which he has either accepted or neglected.

These laws and principles have been regarded as great mysteries, whereas they are among the common facts of human history. This is the sovereignty of unchangeable law, this is the law of the garden and of the field, it is the law of study, it is the law of action and of prayer. Wherever you find any operation you find this law, wherever you find any capacity you find the reason of it in the man himself, wherever you find stupidity you find it in the action of the man himself. The light would stream over the whole house if we would open the windows: Heaven"s angels would sing to us if we would but listen. But if we close our eyes and stop our ears and fill our hearts with vanities and lies, we cannot wonder that the holiest revelations fall upon us like rains upon the wilderness, or pass unrecognised in the stupor of our sleep or in the absorption of our worldliness.


Verses 1-58

Chapter58

Review of the Thirteenth Chapter

The subject of this chapter is the kingdom of heaven. Connect this circumstance with the fact that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, and ask yourselves what is the connection between a kingdom and salvation. The kingdom of heaven has a great part to play in the work of evangelising the nations. A purpose that goes out to take hold of kingdoms must itself be a kingdom. You cannot lay hold of worlds with a weak hand. You may affect the immediately surrounding by trifling circumstances, but if you are going to lay your grasp upon all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them you must have a force equal to the occasion. Jesus Christ proposes to take hold of all kingdoms and to transform them into his own excellence, and fill them with the glory of his own excellent name. The kingdom of heaven, therefore, is a royal truth; it is a royal power; it is not one among many competitors, it stands alone and must absorb and sanctify all rivalries. Do not lower the occasion; realise its grandeur and rise to its appeal.

In this chapter Jesus Christ gives the word "kingdom" a new meaning and application. Up to this time it was an imperial term only or a geographical expression. Kingdom was a quantity bounded and named by the consent of other powers or held against them by superior force. It was a mere term in geography, in government, in statesmanship; in Jesus Christ"s hands it becomes a heavenly claim, a divine power, a sacred sovereignty of impulses, thoughts, and purposes, so that all that is merely geographical drops off, and all that is heavenly clothes the royal word.

So far I could go well. I am stopped just there by an unusual punctuation, the discrepancy between the speaker and the subject. A peasant talking about a kingdom—the rhyme is broken! A homeless wanderer using the highest terms in human speech—who can account for the discrepancy? I am not troubled by the discrepancy which the critics find in dates and places and small incidents, but a discrepancy like this may well take the rest out of my heart, and fill that heart with a grievous discontent. The world was too big for the speaker: he did not, from a human point of view, look a king until he was looked at the second time, and watched the clock round, and the year round, and not until the spirit was instructed in the mysteries of his truth did this personality take upon it its wondrous visage and colour. Why, really, it is no discrepancy at all: the discrepancy was in me and not in Christ. I find that this is an eternal truth; that evermore the speaker is to be nothing, and the subject is to fill the heavens. Why, herein is the very glory of Christianity—that it absorbs all other little piping eloquence in the infinite redundance of its own thunder, and that our personality as revealers of the kingdom is nothing as compared with the majesty and glory of the thing that is revealed. Unhappily, even Jesus Christ himself, as you see at the end of the chapter, was not able so to control the thinking of the people who heard him as to fix it upon the subject. They, little creatures, could rise no higher than the speaker, and they mocked him because of the discrepancy that was in reality an argument and a vindication.

In reading this chapter as a whole I am struck with four things. First of all, from the nature of the kingdom of heaven you may learn, without a single word being said upon the subject, the nature of the kingdom of darkness. It is not necessary to describe the kingdom of darkness: what you and I, as Christian teachers, have to do, is to describe the kingdom of light. This was Christ"s most wise and subtle method of teaching—not to paint hell—to refer to it in great graphic sentences as if in haste to be done with it, but with great elaboration and pomp of simplicity to reveal the infinite kingdom of God"s truth and light and purity. Every parable that is spoken here admits of being turned in the directly opposite quarter, so as to reveal that about which it says nothing. Thus—the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man who sowed good seed. Then the kingdom of darkness is like unto a man who sowed bad seed, seeds of death, seeds of unhealthiness, seeds of disease, seeds of error. Learn thus from the kingdom of heaven what the opposing kingdom is.

Again—the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure. Then the kingdom of darkness is like unto a bubble in the air: it is just the opposite of the kingdom of heaven: if the kingdom of heaven is treasure, the kingdom of darkness is an empty though gilded bubble, floating on the quiet breeze. Snatched, it is destroyed; there is nothing in it. It is wanting in substance, in positive and applicable value, it does not enrich life, it is weight without gravity, a burden without value, a kingdom truly, but a kingdom of disappointment.

Again—the kingdom of heaven is as leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal. Then the kingdom of darkness is as poison which a man took and secretly injected into the veins of a sleeper until the whole was poisoned. The kingdom of heaven is a great force that secretly and silently works out the soul"s regeneration: the kingdom of darkness is as the sting of the tsetse fly; the tsetse fly seizes the ox, stings the noble brute, and in course of time the flesh swells and discolours, the skin falls off, and the strong one is thrown down in weakness and in death. The kingdom of darkness, therefore, is not a weak power, it is not an ineffective ministry: it also works, often silently and secretly, but it is working out the soul"s destruction.

Or thus—the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net cast into the sea and gathers of every kind. The kingdom of darkness is as a net thrown into the sea and gathers its own kind only—a narrow kingdom, debasing whatever it touches, catching for the purpose of holding in vile captivity, netting and ensnaring that it may slay. Thus the parable is more than it seems to be. It teaches by contrast; it has a far-spreading edge of meaning. In describing truth you need not describe falsehood: in so far as your description of truth is correct, you are really, in the most suggestive and graphic manner, describing that which is false.

This subtle influence of colour was often felt in Christ"s ministry. He used sometimes to speak as if he were addressing an absent congregation. Subtle speaker, wise assailant, he was addressing the absentees, they thought, till they thought again, and then suddenly they said, "He means us." He told them about a man who had a property in the distance, and sent his servant to gather the fruits or the revenues, and the servant was not received well, and another servant was sent, and another, and last of all he sent his son also, and then he said, "What will he do to those husbandmen;" and they, thinking that the husbandmen were a thousand miles away, said, "He will slay them," and suddenly it burst upon their obtuse minds that all the while he was talking about them That is the best use to make of the absentees.

On another occasion he was speaking his great truth, letting it fall where it might be applicable, and a man at the other end of the table said, "Take care: in speaking thus thou revilest us also," and the man having seized the hot iron, had more of it than he covenanted. It was thrust into him, for Christ turned and said, "Woe unto you also, ye lawyers," and in that also he stretched a band and caught another set of offenders within its righteous captivity.

Let us learn from our great Prototype, our divine Master. We shall fall into some kind of dislike and criticism mayhap, still let us diligently and lovingly put our feet into his footsteps, and we shall come to the same desirable ends as to our great spiritual mission and teaching.

The next thing that strikes me in reading this chapter is that the great teacher did good rather by revelation than by criticism. He did not spend his time merely in denunciation. You must have a higher kingdom to offer, if you want to make a profound and permanent impression upon the age. It is not enough to provoke mere antagonism: I do not go out to deny any man"s propositions or contentions, and rest myself in so doing: if I cannot reveal as well as criticise, I am as a bird with one wing. Christianity is a Revelation , a surprise, a great offer. If any man have a gift at argument, and be blest or burdened with the genius of contradiction or debate, and have a keen desire to meet people whom it would be well to avoid, so far as mere social contact is concerned, then let him go out with his denials and contentions and continue his debate night after night. He is a greater teacher who has a kingdom to reveal, a positive and distinct offer of grace to make to men. Wo shall be unjust to the genius of Christianity if we treat Christian doctrine as a mere denial of some other doctrine rather than as a positive and grand doctrine of itself.

As a Church what have we to offer? With what do you seek to lure and satisfy human nature? It is the glory of Christ that he makes the largest offer ever made to the nature of man. His offer goes furthest, addresses more faculties, satisfies more aspirations, promises greater assistance, than any competitive doctrine known to men. Consider the wholeness of his kingdom, how it spreads itself over all the life, leaving no part or day untouched and unblest. He begins with childhood and writes "Kingdom of Heaven" on the fair brow of the little one. He follows the wanderer out, though the night be ever so dark. I never knew darkness keep him at home, or wildness of weather, depth of snow, or keenness of frosty wind. The moment the front door opened, and the prodigal vanished, he says, "I must leave you and go out after that which is lost, till I find it," and when that door opens again, it will open to let in two men, the Seeker and the man who was found.

Christ comes into the house when the sickness is there; be the sickness ever so vile; nothing keeps him away. Though the poor family be all crowded, ten in number, in one room, he comes in to make the eleventh, and though the room be high up on the roof yonder, he finds his way into the solitude and secrecy of poverty. He comes in the market-place and writes codes of laws for merchantmen: he stands behind the counter and writes with that wondrous finger the great laws of the best economy. When it becomes a question of the last wrestle, the challenge to the final conflict, he says, "Fear thou not, for I am with thee."

This is the offer which Christ makes to us all; the largest, most ample, minute, detailed, comprehensive, that ever was made. Other creeds meet me here and there, other kingdoms are partial in their revelations and applications, clever men address my intellect merely, sentimental men address my heart, nearly every teacher has some little thing to offer, a chain of two links to put into my hand, but Jesus Christ alone has undertaken to deal with every part, section, phase, and issue of my being, and I am bound to respect the grandeur of his challenge and to respond to the magnificence of his kingdom, though it be a kingdom at present but in word and in high poetry. Entering it, accepting it, living in it a life of citizenship, I come to understand that it is indeed poetry, because it is truth, without which there can be no poetry.

In the third place, see how with all this enchanting and startling originality of form, Jesus Christ declared eternal truth. These are no hot-house plants; these are not mushrooms a night old. Hear Jesus Christ"s explanation of the parables. He spake unto the multitude in parables that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world. These are no new lights, these are no new inventions: the form is new, the doctrine is old. This is not the favourite of a transient age; it begins with the unbeginning, it covers the infinite spaces, it antedates and postdates all human history, Alpha, Omega, the first, the last, which is and was and is to come, lifting up all time into a burning present. This is the secret and the glory of Christ"s teaching; flowers are grown upon earth under which are the everlasting rocks.

So with every great and true deliverance and revelation of truth: it must be old as well as new. Make as many parables as you please, but do not trifle with the kingdom. The parables reveal the kingdom, the kingdom is older than the parables, and admits of all kinds of pictorial illustration and graphic description, and to the end of the ages the forms under which we present the truth will change, but the truth itself, like its living Lord, is the same yesterday, today, and for ever.

Might I speak a word on behalf of the rising ministry, and of men who do not put the truth in its old forms, and may I ask you to believe that it is possible to change the parable without changing the integrity of the kingdom? We do not preach as Goodwin and Baxter and Bunyan and Owen and Howe preached, as to mere form, but we try, with another accent and with another range of illustration, not better than theirs, but simply other, to set forth the same truth, the same sin, the same cross, the same blood. The ministry is one, the parables are a million in number multiplied by ten, but the kingdom remains, illustrated by the advancing culture and the quickened genius of ages, itself venerable as eternity, its manifestations new, glittering, and gleaming as the dew of the morning. Do not, therefore, be harsh with your young men who are rising to preach the gospel in new forms and in new words that may look to you new-fangled and eccentric. The great fact Isaiah , the kingdom is the same, and the illustrations show not that we are divided about it, but that we are simply bewildered by the infinite fertility of its suggestion.

You know what all this means in the lower walks of progress. The steam-engine was in the world from the very moment of the world"s existing—not mechanically, but elementally—and the elements lay there age after age, until a man combined them and made a parable of them, and that parable was reduced, from an invention and a flash of genius, into a fast-flying locomotive. The iron was in Eden, and the water was in Eden, and the fire was in Eden, but the combination and inter-relation of these had to be realised long ages after Eden was lost. So with the telegraph and the telephone and all your modern and yesterday inventions; elementally they were all there when God laid the foundation of the earth and looked upon the little globe, and said in heaven concerning it, "It is very good." The ages have come and perused the writing, searched into the treasure, found the operation of the leaven, and now the ages are rich; the inventions are new, but the elements which they apply and combine are as old as the ribs of the earth and the central fire of the planet.

So with all your music. You remember that John Stuart Mill was afraid that the time would come by-and-by when there would be no more music in the world, that the seven sisters would have done all they could for the world; but the wondrous seven still go on; there is no end to the permutation of which they are capable as to number and variety. Yet they are but seven; so they might sing with Wordsworth"s little girl—only they never part company, they never die, they suit themselves to all the suggestions of the fertile brain of the musician. They are but seven, yet they stretch themselves around the whole sky, and sing night and day, and will shut themselves up in the prison of any instrument, to be liberated by any Moses sent of God to emancipate them from their silence and secrecy. The tune is new, the notes are very old; they were heard in the plash of the first rain, in the concussion of the first lightning and thunder-storm, and in the song of the first bird that sung. So they come on and on, a gospel infinite and endless in adaptation, and so is the kingdom of heaven typified by all these parables. The kingdom, let me repeat, is eternal, it is the parable only that is changed.

And now, in the fourth place, observe how the most astounding revelation of wisdom and power cannot save the revealer from the sneers of vulgar critics. My friend, there is no protection for thee; no angel can hide himself from the strife of tongues. There is no pavilion upon the earth in which thou canst hide thyself from the vulgarity of those who are determined to misrepresent and abuse you. You cannot fight with prejudice, you cannot answer a whim; no argument can get itself thoroughly round a merely personal dislike. If you have made up your minds not to receive a revelation from a Prayer of Manasseh , if that man be God himself incarnate, it lies within the compass of human malignity to nail him to the cross. If you, therefore, are speaking for human applause, you will be wounded in the house of your friends. If you suppose that the grandeur of your subject will protect you from the meanness of your assailants, you have made a most unwise and unfounded calculation. Is a servant more than a master? If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more they that are of his household? Why, in little and insignificant ways we are ourselves subject to all these misrepresentations, and are the victims of all these unreasoning and cruel prejudices. There cannot be any one of you who has a message and an individuality of his own that is not put to such torture as lies within the power of such critics to inflict. What did Jesus do? He went straight on with his work, he spake not a parable the less, did not a good deed the fewer, patiently went the round of his ministry, taking with him life, light, bread, water, comfort, hope, redemption, making his great grand offer in broad, human, divine language to the sons of men.

I close this chapter with regret; I entered it with great misgiving. I feared these parables, but as I entered into the cloud I heard a voice saying, "Fear not; this is my beloved Song of Solomon , hear ye him." I leave it now as a man might leave good company and high fellowship. It is a gallery of divinely painted pictures, it is a panorama of infinite wonders, it is intellectual as the fifteenth chapter of Luke is moral. I feel as if we were coming down a mountain; and whoever left a mountain-top but with reluctance? "It is good for us to be here; let us build three tabernacles;" but he says, "No, this is not the place to build; if you have caught the oxygen, if it has got into your blood and reddened it, if you feel the mountain air stirring your pulses and lifting up your life to a new vigour, go down into the valleys and use your new life for the good of others."


Verses 24-43

Chapter53

Prayer

Almighty God, the day is thine, the house and the Book are thine, and at thine altar do we now bow down ourselves in homage and in expectation. There is a song in our heart as well as upon our tongue, and in the hidden places of our mind are desires we shall never express in words. But thou knowest us outwardly and inwardly; that which is spoken thou dost hear, and that which is unsaid thou dost understand. Behold we are now before thee as sinners, burdened with guilt, stung through and through with remorse, and yet there is in our hearts an expectation, inspired by thy Spirit, that shall be more than satisfied by the fulness of the meaning of the cross. We will sing of mercy and judgment—surely of mercy more, for thy mercy has been tender and thy kindness has been loving, and thy lovingkindness and thy tender mercy have been with us all the days of our life. We were born in the mystery of thy power, we have been sustained by the mystery of thy providence, and we are saved by the mystery of thy grace. We know not our beginning nor do we know our ending; we know but imperfectly the present, passing, dying moment, and as for our strength it is as a dying flame. Yet how hast thou nourished us even as a nurse nourisheth and cherisheth her children: thou hast gathered the lambs in thine arms, thou hast gently led thy flock up steep places, and thou hast made thy loved ones to lie down at noon in the place and rest of the shadow. Thou hast found for us wells in the wilderness and streams in stony places, and the bitterness thou hast made sweet, and the darkness thou hast filled with stars.

Thou art very gracious unto us, and herein is the rest of our lives. This is the mystery of our peace—when we undertake for ourselves we do bring our whole life into confusion and humiliation: when we obey thy word and rest in thine Almightiness, and yield ourselves with all the unreserve of perfect love to thy purpose and thy plan, then do all things work together for good, then do our souls come into great harvesting, yea they are brought into the Lord"s banqueting house, and thy banner over them is love. We will not intermeddle with the things we do not understand. We understand nothing, therefore will we not intermeddle at all. We are here on thy responsibility, we are thy children, we did not form ourselves nor did we ask to be here or to be anywhere in all thy universe—thou art our Creator, yea our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and in thine Almightiness will we rest, and we will await the unfolding of thy revelation with all the hopefulness of assured confidence, knowing that all things are under thy control, and that the pillars of thy throne are founded upon infinite righteousness.

Thou dost show us strange things, and things that ought to touch us much as we are passing swiftly through this varying life. Thou dost lead us to the grave and show us the place where our bodies shall lie: thou dost point us to the blue heavens and create in our hearts a wonder what can be within those curtainings of azure. Thou dost bring us into strange circumstances which we cannot disentangle, and into combinations which afflict us with perplexity. Thou dost start the tears into our eyes; there they stand, blinding often, and yet giving us another sight, even into the inner beauty of thy movement and the inner sacredness and grandeur of thy purpose. Help us in all things to rest in the Lord and wait patiently for him, and the reward of an inspired patience shall be great.

We give ourselves to thee again and again—a poor gift, but all we have. Take us, we humbly pray thee, as the purchased possession of thy Song of Solomon , the prey taken by the mighty hand that was nailed for a moment to the cross, and receive us, one and all, broken, shattered, stained as we are, into thy family, thy house, glowing with the fire of thy love, thy kingdom, too sacred to be violated by the power of any foe. Rebuke us, but not with judgment; lay thine hand upon us, but not thy rod; when we are foolish, presumptuous, self-confident, defiant, Lord, smite us not with the thunder of thy strength, nor laugh at us with the derisiveness of thine infinite scorn, but lay thine hand upon us gently, turn our faces to the light, and show us how foolish we are and ignorant before thee, point out to us the fewness of our days, the littleness and the perishableness of our strength, and may we, thus chided from heaven, rebuked and instructed by our Father, fall upon our knees, own our folly, and confess our sin, and be received again into the favour we do not comprehend.

Thou art taking the years from us swiftly and silently: we know not that thou art removing them, until behold! the number is one less, and men are old before they have reckoned up their age. So teach us to number our days as to apply our hearts unto wisdom; may we become deeper in our nature, mellower in our feeling, tenderer in our sympathy, larger and broader in our charity, more like Jesus, more like the Son of God in all the beauty of his inimitable perfection, and may men take knowledge of us that we have been with Jesus, and have learned of him, and that we now speak with the accent of his very tongue.

The Lord send the blessing of forgiveness upon us all—we pray in the name of the one Life, the one Death, the one Blood, the one Priesthood, "God be merciful unto us sinners." Amen.

Matthew 13:24-43

The Tares and the Wheat

We found that the parable of the sower has its proofs in human history, and being true in human society, we had no difficulty in understanding its application to the kingdom of heaven. Our test inquiry regarding all these parables, is—How do they fit the circumstances which are now round about us? Are they little pieces of ancient history, graphic enough as bearing upon the time to which they specially refer, or are they parts of all history, running contemporaneously with human development from age to age, always new, always just written, the ink never dry? The first parable which we have just studied fits the circumstances of today perfectly: let us see whether the second fits them equally well. It should be pointed out that in adopting this method of criticism we are keeping strictly within the limits of the parables themselves, because Christ does actually liken the kingdom of heaven to earthly persons and earthly things. We study the parables at the earthly end. The kingdom of heaven is like unto a sower, like unto a merchantman, like unto leaven, like unto a net, like unto a treasure hid in a field—so he gives us the earthly end as well as the heavenly end, and we can thoroughly examine the one and thus enable ourselves wisely to judge the other. Let us follow these same lines of inquiry with regard to the parable of the wheat and the tares.

This parable is an exact picture of all endeavours to do good in the world. We have not got one inch beyond this parable today, with all our improvements and amplifications of service and readjustment of methods. The account which could be given of all educational, philanthropic, patriotic, Christian endeavour is within the four lines, so to say, of this mixed parable. It enters into a good man"s heart to publish good ideas or to assist useful reforms: he lectures in public and in private, he freely spends his time and his money in spreading the views and principles which he holds: he establishes schools and publishes literature, he lays himself out in every way to enlighten and benefit the public. Do you suppose that such a man will be allowed to go on without an enemy following him and sowing tares in the wheat-field of his noble and beneficent endeavour? He will be followed by the enemy, the enemy will awaken suspicions, he will question the man"s motives, he will assail the man"s reputation, he will throw doubt upon the man"s integrity, in a thousand ways open to vicious ingenuity he will endeavour to thwart and baffle the purposes of the good man"s heart. Is this true, or is it not—to-day? Is the good man living and is the enemy dead, buried, gone for ever and forgotten? Do not the light and the shadow always go together? There is no ghostly mystery here: you cannot point to a wheat-field in which no tares are sown.

Take your own education. Your father and your schoolmaster and your friends all have endeavoured to sow the seeds of a good understanding in your mind and heart—yet what do we see in your life? Your very education turned to bad purposes, your very training made to add to your efficiency in doing that which is wrong. How came those tares into the field? Your mother did not sow them, nor your father, nor your teacher, nor your most loving friend—whence came those tares? An enemy hath done this.

Look at your prosperity, man of business: how riches have been showered upon you. When you were poor and little in your own eyes, men liked you because you were then gentle, sympathetic, approachable: you had a heart that could be approached, and that could show itself in all the tenderness of loving sympathy to those who were in circumstances requiring the medicament of your love and patient care—but with your riches there has come what men call presumption, or self-confidence, or haughtiness: you are no longer gentle, simple, tender, sympathetic, accessible. How did these tares come into the field? An enemy hath done this.

It is always the same. No man can preach without having the enemy at his heels; the enemy is as busy as the preacher; the enemy is now preaching to you as certainly as I am endeavouring to preach to you. Some of you are buying and selling, some of you are now wool-gathering, some of you are a thousand miles away, some of you are writing to-morrow"s letters, doing to-morrow"s business and answering to-morrow"s questions, and when all is over you will awake as out of a confused dream that has a kind of religious haze about it. The enemy is working as well as the preacher, he is suggesting all kinds of doubts, difficulties, and suspicions, prompting all kinds of questions that will break in upon an implicit and loving and loyal obedience, directing your attention to little points and to transient accidents—the occasion rather than to its solemn purpose—which is to lift the soul into the light, and to gird it with the very strength of God. The enemy will lure you into considerations of place and colour, of manner and length of service, and into a thousand little petty, frivolous discussions, and will succeed if he lure the mind away from the sovereign purpose of the occasion—which is to make you pray. And at the end of the whole, with broken mind, confused, bewildered head and heart, neither upward nor downward in its look, but halting, we may have to say, "An enemy hath done this." So the parable is not ghostly and magical, but has its base upon the lines of our common consciousness and experience, and as it is awfully true at the one end it may be equally true at the other.

The inquiry which was made by the servants is the inquiry which is made today. The servants of the householder came and said unto him, " Sirach , didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?" We have not got beyond that inquiry; it is the puzzle of every honest mind how the tares came to be mixed up with our thinking and feeling, our motive and our service. It is sometimes a mystery to ourselves; we are puzzled to the point of intellectual and moral distraction by the problem of what we call the origin of evil. You cannot go up and down society without putting the very question which the servants of the householder put to their master. Go into an educated company, listen to the conversation, some parts of it bright, pure, noble, elevated—and then the bitter word, the unkind suggestion, the harsh aspiration, the uncharitable judgment, the biting or venomous criticism. You say, "Were not all these people educated and well brought up?" Yes. From whence then are these tares? Ay, from whence.

The same inquiry has its place in a higher region—we have precisely this experience in the Church. We are puzzled by the tares that are growing in our own hearts. I can see the tares in your life, and you can see the tares in mine—but there are tares in all human life, even of the very best kind, and the perplexing inquiry that brings with it a heart-aching and a burning agony, is—How did those tares come to be here? Sirach , have not these people been to church? Sirach , have not these people been bowing down at the altar? Sirach , have not these people been to the holy sacrament? From whence are these tares—of evil words and unkind deeds and movements and adventures and experiments and tricks of an ungodly kind? The two things do not harmonise. Sirach , was not that man praying on Sunday? "Yes." Then how did he come to be doing knavish tricks within four-and-twenty hours of his own Amen? Was not that man singing in the church? "Yes." Then how does he come to be uttering all those discords, those dissonant, harsh-breaking tones of human speech, whilst yet the cadence of his own hymn is trembling and dying in the distant air?

So this parable might have been written yesternight, and we might be reading it for the first time this morning. The teacher that can throw himself over the arch of nineteen hundred years thus, and talk to us in our own language, must have had at least great intellectual prevision and moral shrewdness and breadth enough of sympathy to be more than any man we have ever known. If Jesus of Nazareth were here today, he could not amend this parable in any of its facts and applications. Though nineteen hundred years old, it is not a day old; judged by the necessity of the occasion it is as new as our last action, it is as appropriate as the very last word of wisdom we ever uttered. In this sense is the Testament always new to me. I am not endeavouring to verify faded ink; I ask no chemist to help me to blacken this yellow fluid—"tis black enough, I can read every jot and tittle of it, and I say, if. this Man is as sound in his higher reasoning which transcends my power to follow him in all the entirety of his sweep as he is in those parts which I do understand, verily he is the Revealer, the Builder, and the Glory of the Kingdom of Heaven amongst men.

So far, then, the parable fits human circumstances with exquisite delicacy and precision. Let us go further. The answer made by the householder is the only answer we have today about all vicious and unhappy results. "An enemy hath done this." That is our one and only reply. It goes to the root of the matter, it touches the difficulty on every side and at every point Every man has his enemies, every man"s work is watched, and every attempt will be made to mar it. There are men who love to do evil; they are not happy except in the work of destruction. It is easy to do evil—they have chosen the light end of the burden. It is easy to suggest doubts and difficulties about human character and purpose and motive: it is easy to sneer, it is easy to tempt. There are men who would spoil your business if they could; the enemy was on your track when you began the business of life; he tried to take away your clients and patrons, he depreciated your goods, he said he would crush you.

Tyndale"s translation of this verse opens a new field of criticism. He reads, "An envious person hath done this." Instead of reading "an enemy," he reads "an envious person," and that seems to bring the text nearer and nearer to us, and to make it appallingly English. An envious person—beware of envy, it is cruel, it is the sister of jealousy, it is relentless, it will plague your life, it will rob every flower of its perfume, it will bar the light out of every window in your house, your dinner today will be no refreshment to you, but will leave your hunger still gnawing you, if you envy some other man"s larger lot. And this is one of the last passions and vices to be overcome; who can fail to envy a fellow-tradesman who is doing better than he is doing? Who can fail to envy the preacher who is succeeding better than he himself is succeeding? And envy eats up its victim; it does not hurt the person who is envied, but it eats like a canker the soul that indulges in it. You have no pleasure in your own house whilst you are envying another man"s dwelling-place; all your gardens and fields and horses and estates and servants are nothing to you until you can get that little corner or patch of vineyard outside there, and the want of that will make you a poor man for ever, though you count your money by millions and speak of your lands in miles.

Thus again the parable becomes quite our own. The inquiry is ours, the reply is ours, the parable is true to circumstances as we ourselves know them; therefore it may be true in any larger application which the parabolist himself may attach to the meaning of his graphic similitude, An enemy hath done this, Here is a young man who has been befooled, tempted, led off into downward paths; both his feet are fastened in cruel snares, the disappointment of a lifetime culminates in him. What do you think about the case? An enemy hath done this. This is not the handiwork of a friend, there is no nobleness here, this is not the spirit that would save the world, this is enmity incarnate. An unsuspecting mind has been poisoned by some deceiver, its faith has been broken, its sweet and trustful prayer has been turned aside, a bar sinister has been drawn upon the escutcheon of its integrity, the old frankness has gone, the open face, the ringing voice that had no wrinkle in it, that was spread out in ingenuous and beauteous simplicity—all is changed. The very eye is altered, the tone is ambiguous, the movement is shuffling, the whole air throbs as if troubled. How do you account for it? In no words more incisive than these—an enemy hath done this; it is bad work—you should know the character of the man who did it by the results he has brought about. It was no angel that gave the look to that eye that is now in it, it was no angel that altered that sweet tone of childhood into the muffled noise of a man who wants to utter a double meaning in every speech he makes. An enemy hath done this.

Let us be frank with ourselves. He may come to us in the guise of a teacher, he may have come visored as a friend, but by his results let his true character be known. He was an enemy, his enmity is incurable—avoid him for the future. A generous soul has been dwarfed and impoverished of its noblest impulses, the soul that always had a frank "yes" broad as an opening day to every appeal made to his charity has become soured, suspicious—he asks questions now which never would have entered into his mind in earlier days; he calculates, he counts, and reckons and estimates and puts down. How do you account for this change?

It is easy to see where the enemy has been working upon a man: the tares cannot be hidden. It is easy to me to know instantaneously whether a man is going down or going up—we feel it. There are some impressions too delicate for speech, but still they have their influence upon the mind. Let us take care. It is a sight to cry over with rivers of tears to see the men we loved and all but worshipped grown all over with tares. They used to be so noble, kind, sympathetic, generous, helpful—the world could never be cold to us so long as they were in it. Day by day the tares grow in number and strength till we know not what the end will be.

So far the parable closely identifies itself with our consciousness and experience. Let us see if it continues this closeness to the very end. The appeal of the householder is the most solemn appeal which any man can make today under similar circumstances. What was the appeal of the householder? The servants said, "Shall we go and gather up the tares?" The householder said, "No—till the harvest." That appeal cannot be altered: it is magnificent in its sublimity, it is grand in its heroic patience. He will have no violence, he will not have the wheat injured. Let both grow together till the harvest. Ay, there is a final day, there is an hour of separation, there is a crisis in which the good are separated from the bad, the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the tares. The confusion is not everlasting: the work will be given up to the holy angels, they cannot mistake the good for the bad, or the bad for the good: the discriminating process shall go on steadily until every tare is out and every grain of wheat shall be saved for heaven"s garner.

Let us remit our case to the harvest. Do not be answering the fool and the enemy now, and thus wasting opportunities which ought to be usefully employed in endeavouring to do good, but wait till the harvest. Then shall all qualities be tested, then shall every man have his proper place and standing before God. It suits impatient men to be going to work now in this matter of discrimination. Our impatience is our littleness. It is the hindrance of every ministry, spiritual, moral, educational, commercial—and there are fussy people who want to be doing something now, as they suppose their activity to be: they want to expel. O thou fool, if I begin the work of expulsion, it will be by throwing thee out from the topmost window of the church. Expel? It is not mine to anathematise or excommunicate, or open the door that any man may go out. My appeal is—till the harvest. I am not a judge or an overseer invested with the responsibility of final criticism, I want to be a teacher, a friend, a helper, to see the very best side of every Prayer of Manasseh , and to encourage that best side in continual and useful growth.

Leaving the parable for a moment, and not attempting to follow all its lines out, lest by mixture of metaphor I should fail of my immediate purpose, let me appeal to myself, and through myself to those who hear me, and who may need the appeal, to cultivate with a more ardent diligence the growth of the wheat. There is wheat in every one of you. Take that road of hope. And every one of you has his enemies that want to sow tares in his soul. What I say unto one I say unto all—Watch. And some of you by the grace of God have been too much for the enemy, too wakeful: you have disappointed him to a degree which inflicts upon him the severest mortification. Some of you are nearly all wheat: I would to God I were myself. Let there be no violence in your education, no forcing, no dragging out with a hand that is unaccustomed to the process, but let there be solemn, quiet waiting, knowing that the harvest will come, and God will do what is right in the end of the age.


Verse 31

Chapter54

Prayer

Almighty God, thou dost take the years from us, one by one, silently but surely, and no man can lay his hand upon that which is gone and bring it back again and set it in its former place. Behold thou dost change our countenances, and send us away: little by little thou dost take the strength out of our bone and sinew; behold men are aged and bowed down before they have fully reckoned their years. So teach us to number our years as to apply our hearts unto wisdom. Are there not twelve hours in the day? and whilst we count them, they fly, and are less in number at the close than at the beginning. We have scarcely breath enough to say the year is born, until lo, it begins to wither away. O that we might buy up the opportunity, and redeem the time with fulness of love that knows no break in its sacred and ardent continuity. Help us to redeem the time, inspire us with the spirit of importunity which beats upon heaven"s gate with the violence of both hands until it be opened and we be admitted into the higher places. Enable us to be amongst those wise servants who shall be found waiting when their Lord cometh, eagerly longing for him, and sometimes bitterly crying in their hearts because of his long delay.

Behold we meet this Christmastide, and Herod still is king. The young Child is fled away to Egypt, and we wonder why he abideth there. Our cry is—Why do the heathen rage and the people imagine a vain thing, and kings and rulers suppose themselves to be a match for the Lord and his anointed? Lord Jesus, come quickly: hear thy sighing Church, listen to thy moaning, wondering bride, hasten thy chariot wheels: we are poor without thee, we are cold without thee, we have no hope in thine absence; and our hearts are as lead within us and they fall down in the bitterness of dejection. Yet the times are in thy hand, thine eye is not slumbering, thine hand is not slack, thou dost move by a compass we cannot measure, thou dost take the circuit, the sweep whereof no figures can represent. A thousand years are in thy sight but as one day, and one day is as a thousand years. We cannot measure thy circle, we have no instruments by which to reckon up thy movements, we can but wait and long and love and serve and hope. O see thou that our oil does not run out, but may it be supplied by a secret hand; may the lamp be trimmed even whilst we sleep, lest our hope perish and we become a gazing stock and a mockery unto men.

Bring in the years as thou wilt: through all violence and tumult, through all uprising and rebellion, severe and uncontrollable discord, thou wilt bring in thy kingdom. Thou makest a road for its passage, thou wilt not fail of thy purpose, it is a purpose of love, it is a design of mercy, it is a plan of love—we therefore wait for thee, and we would regard our impatience as impiety to be repented of, and our prayers wherein we would hasten thee, we would take as expressions of our weakness. O thou who dost rest in eternity, and come up from everlasting and stretch thy thoughts, to everlasting, give us somewhat of thine own quietness, make us calm with thine own peace, fill us with thine own spirit.

Help every good man to work on with a cheerful heart and an undiminished hope: now and again bring thy great encouragements to bear upon him and. they shall prove to be inspirations of strength, and extensions and deepenings of his confidence. The Lord grant unto us some sign of hopefulness: let us see the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear, then the yellowing, goldening harvest, and may we hear the sound of the angel"s sickle as the wheat is gathered into God"s garner.

We bless thee for all the mercies of the year now closing. Thou hast never forsaken us—by land and by sea, by night and by day, in health and in sickness, in high energy and complaining infirmity, thou hast ever been by our side. If the shadows have been great, it is only because the light has been intense: who thou hast given much sorrow thou hast given greater comfort; where thou hast smitten the tree with the axe, thou hast also healed the heart with thy balm. The Lord receive our united praises for all the mercies of the year now dying: continue thy favour unto us in great abundance, establish us in the faith of Christ, who was born for the sins of the world, and who died and rose again for the same, whose great sweet name is linked up for ever with the world"s great sin. Enable us to preach thy word with more fervour, simplicity, tenderness, unction, and determination to take the prey from the mighty: enable us to hear thy word with keener attention, with devouter thankfulness, with larger expectancy of soul. Enable us to love thy word with some hope that our lives may tell what our tongues can never speak.

Say to those whose days are numbered, that ending time is eternity begun, that when the body shall be thrown off, the soul shall be clothed upon with its house from heaven. Gather the young together into thine heart—O throw around them thine infinite and most tender embrace, and by nearness to thee may they find wisdom and the sobriety of heart which is the beginning of joy. The Lord turn the attention of all men to the cross, bind all hearts to the cross, lead all sinners to the cross, unite the Church to fear, love, and trust the cross. O cross of Christ, lift up thyself above our guilt like a star above the darkness, and give us hope in the day of sore distress.

What we pray for ourselves we pray for all the Churches of the Saviour, for all good and earnest souls the world over, for our dear ones across the sea, for our children wandering in the ways of life and endeavouring to gain an honourable livelihood, for the sick and the poor, the friendless and the homeless—good Lord, gather up thyself into some other and greater effort of providential visitation, and show the people again, as thou has continually done, that the Lord reigneth, and that there is rest in faith.

Regard the country: God bless our native land, whether it be this or that, whether it be near or far away—bless with thy favour those who rule over us, direct and lead us, and inspire the sentiment of nations—the Lord"s light be round about them that they stumble not, and the Lord"s spirit be in them that their thoughts may be right and their words may be wise.

The whole earth is thine: thou didst round it, thou didst fill it with waters and cover it with its flowers and its forests, thou didst make the birds to sing above it, and find their nests in its green places. The whole earth is thine, sinful, wandering, prodigal earth—thou hast come after that which was lost, and thou wilt surely find it and set it again in the brotherhood of the stars, to go out no more for ever. Amen.

Matthew 13:31

The Grain of Mustard Seed

Is it true that there is a conquering force in vitality? Do really good things always grow, and in their expansion offer hospitality and defence to others? May what is here said of the kingdom of heaven be said of every other kingdom that is true, grand, pure, and beneficent? If Song of Solomon , then surely it may be said of the kingdom of heaven with infinitely multiplied force, and with infinitely extended meaning. First of all, therefore, let us grapple with the case as an earthly one, and then look forward to its heavenly bearings and applications.

Take, for example, the mustard seed of liberty; would it be wise and right for any great historian or poet to say the kingdom of liberty is like unto mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is a little seed, but it so grows as to throw off all tyrannies and oppressions, and give the poorest man a status and a chance in life? Would that parable outrage any laws of intellectual conception or any laws of intellectual and patriotic expression? It would fit the case precisely, it would illustrate in picture one of the grandest doctrines that ever forced itself upon the attention of mankind. Liberty was the problem of parliaments, it has been the cause of wars; men have fought that other men might be kept in bondage, nations would not relax their grip upon the neck of millions of slaves—but the little mustard seed of liberty was sown, and whatever has in it vitality given it of God must grow. The little seed will take root, the root will expand, and growing roots will split rocks as certainly as they can be sundered by gunpowder. That little root will never rest until it has broken up the huge rock—so the seed of liberty grew and extended itself with beneficent expansion in England, and at the cost of millions of treasure human slavery was abolished as an iniquity and. a curse.

What is true of our country has been also true of other lands. Wars have been fought, intrigues have been entered into, the most desperate courses have been resorted to for the purpose of maintaining human slavery, but the little mustard seed of liberty has kept growing all the time, night and day, never ceasing to grow, and before its spreading roots the great stumbling-blocks have given way, and liberty is growing still, and must grow until the word slavery in all its baser applications is expunged from human speech, and hills and valleys rejoice in the light of universal and beneficent liberty. So far therefore the parable holds its place amongst purely human and political illustrations.

Take the mustard seed of genuine force of character, high quality of manhood—would he be a mere romancist, who said, "The kingdom of noble, pure, heroic character is like a grain of mustard seed, little to begin with, but it will grow and develop and strengthen until the men who despised it shall seek the hospitality of its shadow?" Any man saying these words would be speaking no poetry except the highest, which is fact and logic on fire, the poetry of truth—that that which is divine, simple, useful, beneficent, redeeming, must come to have the heathen for its inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for its possession. If you are a true man you cannot be kept down in the long run; if your character is right, it will in due time assert itself and claim its own. Men may proscribe you, condemn you, try to write you down, try to draw your clients, customers, patrons, and supporters from you, may indulge in every form of interference and unkind suppression known to the most mischievous genius, and yet not a hair of your head shall perish; no weapon formed against you shall prosper. Have we not seen this illustrated in countless instances—is it not the very blossom and glory of human history—is it not the confidence of all men who pray and wonder that the answer is long in coming? So far therefore the parable holds its own in purely human and social conditions; perhaps it may also hold its own in relation to that invisible, impalpable, immeasurable kingdom which we have come to know by the sweet name of heaven. Let us see.

Take the mustard seed of a truly meritorious invention: go even to that purely materialistic and mechanical side of life. Is it possible to keep down anything that is really true in mechanics? I have read the history of English manufactures to little purpose if I have not found that it has always been impossible to keep out of the mill and the factory and the place of mechanical operations any invention that was really good and really useful, and that completely answered the purpose for which it was put forward. If I go back to the north of England some thirty, forty, or fifty years and read the history of manufactures there, I shall find that machinery was burnt, that factories were burnt to the ground, that workmen were proscribed, that masters were slandered, and that opposition of every kind was offered to this or that particular mechanical invention. The working classes would not have it, great combinations of men were established for the purpose of putting it down; but where is it today? It was like a grain of mustard seed; it had mechanical truth, it had commercial reality in it, it was able to bless the very people that cursed it; and Song of Solomon , under the Divine Providence that takes care of all things true and pure and useful, and includes them all in the kingdom of heaven, we have seen that man"s opposition has been turned aside, and that true things have grown to fulfil their purpose; and so it must be to the end of time.

We see, therefore, that there are illustrations enough of the doctrine that truth is mighty and must prevail. You cannot permanently keep down whatever is true in doctrine, in manhood, in science, or in politics. Water cannot drown it, fire cannot burn it, contempt cannot discourage it, and perdition cannot overcome it. This is not the case, you see then, with theology alone. A thing is true to me because it is true to my whole nature, and to the whole outlook and reality of life. If it shall come and separate itself wholly from everything known to my consciousness and my experience, it will bring with it its own difficulty which may prove to be insuperable; but if it connect itself with all that I know best and have established most thoroughly and confidently, then it may lead me on step by step to its own higher self and its own broader claim.

It is thus that God comes to us. He does not strike upon the intellect like a great thunder blast that has no connection, reference, or illustration in any quarter of human consciousness, experience, or observation. He comes to establish himself in my confidence in this way, namely—like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. As a nurse nourisheth and cherisheth her children, so the Lord. If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father, which is in heaven, give the Holy Spirit unto them that ask him. The argument is cumulative; it begins in the human, the known, that which is fully ascertained and established, and then it proceeds to what we know as transcendental and supernatural heights; but we trust by that which we do know, and can test and prove, and we calmly, lovingly wait the broader revelation; and in waiting we are inspired with noble hope, constrained to beneficent service, and are indulged with ineffable rewards.

This doctrine, therefore, is as true of medicine as it is of divinity, of mechanics as of the gospel, of navigation as of theology. Sometimes the full growth is long delayed; some men have to die as the price of their appreciation; some inventions and reforms have to flee into Egypt to escape the wrath of some angry Herod. Still the sovereign law holds good—that truth, in all departments of life, must come uppermost and sit securely on its appointed and inevitable throne. Let this be your confidence, men and brethren. If it be your confidence you can wait without murmuring—you can tarry without complaining; and when he comes who has been more misunderstood than you can possibly be, he will not forget his servant who has endeavoured to represent in speech and life that which he has felt to be true.

In the light of these human, social illustrations, let us see how the parable fulfils all the conditions of things as they are clearly known by us, every one. First of all, the kingdom of heaven is not ashamed of small beginnings. Herein it startles me very much. I should have thought that if the kingdom of heaven were coming amongst men it would have made for itself a great rent in the sky, and with blast of trumpets and rollings of thunder and flashings of lightning, amid the pomp of heaven"s hierarchy and the whole muster of its angel crowd, it would have come down lo the earth and dazzled and confounded men by its infinite blaze of glory. God does not so come: he is not ashamed to illustrate his progress by the development of small and relatively contemptible things. He is as the dawning of the day, he is as the growing of the mustard seed: he begins in a whisper, he challenges one and then another, he works in the individual heart, setting up there a good conviction, kindling an unquenchable enthusiasm, nourishing and cherishing a holy purpose—then another is added and the plural thus begins, and the two go forth together to seek a third; and thus the kingdom grows, friend finding friend, the evangelist finding the prodigal and bringing him home, the hopeful soul speaking the word of cheer to the dejected spirit, and thus the kingdom grows.

Be rebuked then, O impatient Prayer of Manasseh , thou who dost want, with great demonstration and force of arms, to impose the kingdom of heaven upon men. Let it grow according to its own law. Despise not the day of small things. A little one may become a great nation, and a small one an immeasurable people. Believe in the truth, and not in its merely numerical and demonstrative force—have faith in anything that is true and good, because it is true and good, and deliver yourself from the miserable fallacy and most mischievous sophism that a crowd is necessary to success, and that multitudinousness is a proof of truth or of reality. All history condemns such violent reading, and all history confirms the sublime teaching that whatever is true may have a small beginning; but it must overturn, overturn, overturn, until all hindrances are levelled with the dust. Thus and thus God"s kingdom comes and his will is done on earth as it is done in heaven.

In the next place the kingdom of heaven connects itself with the greatest law known amongst us—namely, the law of growth. It grows in the individual mind, it grows in the national mind, it grows from alphabetical forms into broader substances and expressions, and then away again from all that is formal and mechanical up into the purely spiritual regions wherein we are enabled to say, because we are enabled to see, that God is a Spirit.

If the kingdom of heaven is associated with the law of growth, then it must proceed silently. I know of no growths that are noisy; the great oak makes no noise as it strengthens itself with the growing years. So is it with the kingdom of heaven: it grows silently in the heart, yet men take knowledge of the enriched character of the expanded mind, of the nobler tone, of the broader generosity; and they say, "This is growth in grace." If it associates itself with growth, then the progress of the kingdom of heaven will often be invisible in its minuter movements. Whoever saw a flower grow from this point to that whilst waiting and looking on? This flower has nothing to show for any one moment of its existence; the flower or the tree is not to be reckoned up from day to day: leave it for a month, leave the tree for a year, for ten years, and then return and remember that all this accretion has been going on without a single created eye observing the increase. We like to see things grow. Sometimes the child takes a little spade and digs up the seed to see if it has begun to grow. Perhaps we have all done this, and have been proud to see how the little white life, or green life, was coming up out of the seed we sowed, and then we have put it back again; and again we have come back to observe the growing, and yet we have never seen the operation. We have seen the results, but how they came to be results is a mystery to us, and must be a lesson.

Ay, the mysteriousness of growth—who can understand it, who knows how much goes to the making up of it—the earth, the sun, the rain, the dew, the light, the wind—what chemical elements are set in motion, thrown into combination; what ejections, what absorptions, what strange and subtle combinations, and the whole thing moving on to express a purpose in the mind of the Creator? It hath pleased God to say, whilst we are looking upon all the vegetable kingdom, "My heavenly kingdom, my larger kingdom, is just like that—as silent, as invisible, as mysterious, as certain, growing up to the full expression of the purpose which was in my heart when I created this great theatre of the universe and sent man into it to fulfil his destiny."

Another thing is that the kingdom of heaven carries its greatness even when it is in its most minute and microscopic form. The greatness is in the seed itself: if we had instruments fine enough to look really into the seed, we would see the mustard tree in the mustard seed, the oak in the acorn, the great cedar in the seed out of which it grows. The cedar, the oak, any other tree or flower is not something added afterwards, but it is in reality in the root or seed which is in the earth. We are prevented seeing it simply because of our want of natural or instrumental vision. So it is with the kingdom of heaven. Men do not take on other selves and other manhoods as they advance in life, but they fulfil a writing and a destiny in themselves not only from the moment of their birth, but through eternity. Nothing happens as a surprise, nothing is written on the margin of the divine programme as an afterthought; everything is fore-appointed, fore-ordained, elect, standing fast in the counsel of God, and is a surprise only to our weakness. So the kingdom of heaven is always great: great when you are teaching it in the Sunday-school to a little child, when you are writing about it on the blackboard, when you are endeavouring to put its mysteries into words of one syllable, so as to lodge the truth in the little mind of the little hearer; it is the kingdom of heaven still, compressed, condensed, simplified, made easy, but carrying in it all the force that shall conquer creation, all the mystery that shall spread itself out before the admiring and grateful gaze of men as the revelation of God"s mercy and love and grace in Christ Jesus. The planet is in the molecule; tell me the creation was made out of the molecule, and I find but the broader confirmation of the truth of my text in that statement. A molecule will do to begin with, but what a molecule, that has grown and split itself off into constellations and suns and universes, and which astronomy has no tape long enough to throw round to take the measure of the circumference thereof. What a mustard seed it must have been!

So with God"s kingdom; it will grow until Christ shall have the heathen for his inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession, and the handful of corn upon the top of the mountain shall grow until the harvest, waving in the south wind, goldened by all the suns of the universe, shall proclaim the fulfilment of the divine purpose, and angels shall gather it and sing the harvest home.

The last confirmatory point is that the kingdom of heaven is available for other uses than those which are sometimes thought to be distinctively religious—as with the mustard seed grown into a tree, the birds come and lodge in the branches of it; did the tree grow for the sake of the birds, or did the birds avail themselves of the hospitality of the tree? It is even so with the kingdom of heaven; whatever is true has a right to be in the Church, all art and science, all commerce and literature, all recreation and joy—do not banish these sacred birds from the branches of the Church tree, for they all are God"s, and if they do not receive hospitality in the Church, they will find it elsewhere, and the Church will be the loser in the long run.

Take the broadest view of the Church; it should offer hospitality to all the birds of the air, to all creatures that need lodgment and help, defence, education, strength—it should throw itself out in loving and mighty appeal in every direction and offer the hospitality of heaven to all the children of earth. Open your churches for music, open your pulpits for lectures, open your schoolrooms for amusements, open all your premises that you may spread a meal for the hungry and offer rest to the weary, and by-and-by men and women will say, "Where are we? This is a wondrous Song of Solomon , this is inspiring music, this is bread truly useful for us in the hunger of life—where are we? What is this building? there is something strange about it. What is that in which the man stands and from which he speaks—and what are those seats, and those books lying here and there?" and it may come to dawn upon them that they are in their Father"s house, and they who came to hear the entertainment, or be fascinated for a moment by some transient enjoyment, may remain to pray. Do not drive the birds away, do not starve the birds: the Church was not distinctively built for any of these outward or collateral purposes, but as the birds of the air came and lodged in the full-grown mustard tree, so may many birds, and men, and women, and little children, and outcasts, hopeless and heartless ones, come and find it warm in the Church and be drawn by its glow of charity still further, until at last they enter the sanctuary of its truth.

I am thankful for this suggestion of growth: it does not affright me, it gives me the true law of judgment; night and day the kingdom grows, it makes no noise, it resorts to no violence, but quietly and sublimely and solemnly it comes to the perfectness and grandeur of God"s purpose. Sometimes when we awake to an appreciation of summer growth we say, "The flowers, the trees, seem to have come out in the night time: what a change! how sudden!" Mayhap it will be thus with Messiah"s kingdom. To-day Herod is on the throne, today the sword is slaying the innocent, today he who is born Christ the King is taken away to Egypt, the upper hand seems to have been given to those who devise evil purposes and carry out mischievous intentions—but still the kingdom moves, still the seed develops, still the growth expands; some day it may appear to us as if quite suddenly the consummation had been realised, and we shall say to one another, "This is none other than God"s kingdom come, and the earth has been warmed by the summer of heaven."

To that end let us work, and let us, from that purpose, gather courage to speak the broader, bolder prayer at the throne of the heavenly grace.


Verse 33

Chapter56

A Double Aspect of the Kingdom

Matthew 13:33, Matthew 13:47-50

Let me try to reveal the kingdom of heaven today under two aspects. It has already come before us under the image of the sower, the parable of the tares, the grain of mustard seed, the treasure hid in a field, the pearl of great price—by this time surely we ought to be well acquainted with this kingdom of heaven, yet it is the eternal mystery as surely as it is the eternal revelation. Jesus Christ now gives us two more opportunities of knowing still more clearly what his great kingdom is. He condescends to paint two more pictures, a woman hiding leaven in three measures of meal, and a man casting a net into the sea.

"The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened." It follows then that the kingdom of heaven, like all other truth, is penetrating in its influence. It goes forward to its work little by little: it never rests—it cannot rest until it has covered the whole space of its opportunity. It can never give in—all things must go down before it, not violently, but certainly. No great or true idea can be in the human mind without penetrating that mind through and through, and passing on to other minds and completing the same subduing process there.

Not only is it penetrating, but it is gradual in its process and advancement. Great ideas do not seize the mind all at once and rule it with undisputed domination. One by one, little by little, a man here and a man there—such is the rule of this gradualness. But it never goes back, though appearances may seem sometimes to indicate the contrary. The movement of truth is always forward. The truth was never so fully, broadly, and benignly established in the human mind as it is this day. You can quote a thousand instances to indicate the badness of the race, its love of error and its pursuit of corruption, and every instance that is quoted may be perfectly right, within its own limits. Nevertheless the kingdom moves, the penetrating influence gradually asserts itself. How long will it continue to assert itself? Till the whole is leavened. The time is fixed in the parable, the date is here marked down in plain figures, if we have eyes to read it. This is a dated promise, and the date is "till the whole is leavened."

Have we any parallels in our own life that will enable us to seize, more completely, the gracious and generous meaning of this parable? We have a parallel, certainly, in the education of the mind. No mind is educated in one day: education is not something thrust upon a man which he can seize in a moment and make his own without a long transaction. You cannot tell how you were educated: there is no specific day in our human life upon which we can say we were then educated, in any complete or final sense of the term. We may have vivid memories of certain days, but education is not a day"s work, it is not a time work, it is an eternal process. How the light came upon the mind, how the new idea seemed to strike us with instancy and startling suddenness—yet when we came carefully to look into it we found that it was the culminating point of a long process, and that but for the process the culmination never could have supervened. Watch your child"s progress in letters, and it will be impossible for you to indicate any time at which he became a scholar. Jesus Christ says, "Just the same in my kingdom: it is not one sermon, one book, one act of prayer, but the repetition of many a process through the whole space of the lifetime. It is not one shower that makes the summer, it is shower upon shower, baptism following baptism in gracious intermission and yet in gracious persistency." It is thus we grow.

We have a parallel not only in education, but in the deepening and ripening of all great convictions. If you will search into the history of your mind, you will find that some of your convictions have taken a long time to form: there were prejudices to be overcome, there were defects to be made up, there was information to be gained, there were experiments to be conducted—for a long time you wondered and hesitated, you oscillated between two opposite points, you knew not to which point you would at last gravitate and where you would "finally" settle, and yet there did come a point in your thinking and deliberation at which you said, "This is right, I see it at length, and for ever I will take my stand here."

It was so in your appreciation of character, it was so in your decisions of a literary and commercial kind, it was so in the election of your companionships, it was so in the change of your most profound and solemn opinions; it was Song of Solomon , too, in that grandest act of life for which there is no better term than the old word conversion. You remember your being converted, turned round, set in a homeward direction, taken from the wrong road, and placed in the right one: without cant or whine or mocking pretence, you are not ashamed to say that you were converted.

You have a parallel also in the formation of character. No man makes a character in a day. He may destroy a character in a moment, but it takes a lifetime to build one. Many of you are in the time of blossom and of promise, but not of character. Many who now hear me are young, and they, as we say, shape well, but we do not pronounce anything like a final judgment upon them at this time. No young man can have such a character as is possible to old age if that old age has been reached by the right processes. It would be impertinence for thirty to compare itself with sixty or with seventy, if on the part of the elder there has been a lifelong endeavour after truth and purity and perfectness.

"Till the whole was leavened." Do not say that the right leaven is not in us because the end has not been reached. Judge nothing before the time. You complain of the unripeness and unmellowness, the superficiality of many a young character, and the incompleteness and imperfectness of many a young career. Consider and see how foolish you are in pronouncing such judgment. The leaven may just have been hid in the three measures of meal: the leaven has not yet had time to work: the leaven has been in you for half a century, but it has only been in your son for half a month or half a year—it would therefore be unwise on your part to condemn the young because of their imperfectness, incompleteness, immaturity. It is right for youth to be imperfect, but for you at your ripe seventy to be as childish, foolish, worldly as the youth of twenty, that would be double crime, redoubled, multiplied by many an aggravation, and carried up to a point of black blasphemy against every law of growth and right and divinity.

Whilst I thus speak a word on your behalf, young hearers and young Christians, understand that you owe my defensive advocacy wholly to the fact that you are young. That which applies to you today will have no application whatever in twenty years. Then some other preacher must defend some other generation. Do not interrupt the working of this good ministry in your hearts: do not imagine that that ministry has completed itself in your life; you will expose yourself to just and bitter taunting if you give your elders the idea that the leaven of the gospel has worked out its whole influence in your spirit and career at a time when it has just begun to move in penetrating and subduing influence.

The kingdom of heaven is not only penetrating and gradual, it is silent in its ministry. The leaven makes no noise, it works quietly. Do not measure progress by violence: the kingdom of heaven cometh not with observation. There is a subtle as well as an ostentatious working. You have got to learn the full scope and value of this most simple fact. A vulgar age talks as if aggressiveness had but one form and one method only as we are making a noise, organising great bodies and forces, publishing programmes in blood-red ink and beating a thousand drums; it is thought that we are making no announcement. My symbol of progress is neither a hammer nor a sword, it is the shining light, the growing seed, the coming summer: no crash of wheels, no blare of trumpets, no fluttering of banners driven by the wind, but silent, solemn, irresistible day, spreading its conquering light over all the spaces of darkness, awaking all living things to labour and to Song of Solomon , and leaving behind it a benediction that shall be no burden. Fussy, fussing little Prayer of Manasseh , trumpeter and drummer, and gifted with making nothing but noises, learn from thy great parabolical Master this day that the kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened—a penetrating, gradual, secret, silent process, but a process that never ended till the work was done.

On the other hand, let no man mistake the parable, and by a mischievous perversion of its teaching cover his own indifference and neglect. Do not say that you are silent because there is no virtue in silence itself; you must not be silent only, but penetrating, progressive. Not only is the figure negative, it is positive; quietness may be taken as the negative side, but penetration is the active and positive aspect.

What about your kingdom of heaven—is it a thing locked up in a safe, well shut in, deposited within an inner door, on which you turn twenty cunningly-formed keys? It is a kingdom, mayhap, but it is not the kingdom of heaven, it is not the divine thought, it is not the life that cometh down from heaven; that life is not demonstrative, ostentatious, aggressive in any offensive sense of the term, but it is penetrating, subtle in its influence, always moving, always conquering, never resting till the whole is leavened. Be such influence yours and mine.

Take the next parable for one moment: "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a net that was cast into the sea and gathered of every kind." There was nothing discriminating in the net itself. The Church is a net that holds all sorts of people. Have we no parallels to this idea in our own courses of imperial, civil, and social action? Truly we have a thousand parallels. The kingdom of patriotism is like unto a net that was cast into the sea and gathered of every kind. Do you suppose that all who have gathered themselves together in the people"s House of Parliament are patriots of the divine sort, men who have no ulterior object of a selfish kind, men who have spent thousands upon thousands of pounds to go into Parliament, that they might die as pure martyrs on the altar of their country? Are you no further advanced in your study of human nature than to believe such to be the case? The House of Commons is as a net cast into the sea that has gathered of every kind. There are in all Houses of Parliament, all over the world, noble men, high-spirited patriots, incorruptible spirits that devote themselves to the noblest interests of their country; there are others who, perhaps, were never moved by a noble impulse in any direction, and to whom the country is nothing but a gigantic money-producing machine. Shall we, therefore, revile patriotism, and run down great national institutions, and hurl indiscriminating epithets against forms of civilisation to which we owe so much? It would be not only unwise and rash, but unjust and inexcusable.

The kingdom of philanthropy is also like a net cast into the sea, and which gathered of every kind. Do you suppose that all persons who wear the name of philanthropists are philanthropic in heart? There are men who make a trade of philanthropy; there are those who live upon the charitable dispositions of others; there are men who coin the tears of sympathy into wealth for their own using. On the other hand, there are philanthropists without whom the world would be poor, who have great, broad, soft hands that lay upon the world"s weakness a grip that helps it, and that give to the world"s poverty donations which make it forget its destitution. But because there are all sorts of persons in the kingdom of philanthropy shall we say that there is no philanthropy of a pure and noble sort? He would be a foolish and an unjust man who would bring any such wild accusation against the philanthropic spirit of the age.

Then, again, the kingdom of general society is like a net cast into the sea, which gathered of every kind. When your house-parties gather, do you suppose that every man in the little crowd is a friend of yours, sincere, true, genuine, disinterested? You are not so weak. Do you judge men wholly by their clothes—because they have respectable coats, have they therefore respectable characters? Because they have had good schooling in the head, have they had a thorough education in the heart? You know the answer to these searching inquiries. Shall we, therefore; go round and condemn society, and regard all fellowship and communion as an organised lie? We shall stoop to no such folly.

It was inevitable that the kingdom of heaven should draw within itself every kind. The Church has its bad members as well as its good ones. I do not wonder—the Church is an excellent lodging. To be in the Church is to look well; to have a pew in church is to begin on the right list; to make a profession of the most popular religion Isaiah , at all events, to have a card of introduction to very large sections of honourable society. Shall we, therefore, say there is no kingdom of heaven because of the insincere, the unworthy, and the hypocritical? You would not allow me to say so about patriotism, philanthropy, and social institutions, and therefore, faithful to your own wise reasoning, I must protest against any man"s arising to bring a wild and indiscriminating accusation against what is known as the Christian Church.

Observe, Christ does not hide the fact of a mixture. Christ never hides any ugly facts; Christ makes more of his own failures than any other man could make of them. He cries over them, he drenches them with tears, he lifts up his voice and fills the whole space of the firmament with his moan. He acknowledges that he would, but the cities would not. You will observe, also, that the bad is a testimony and compliment to the good. The children of this world are not unwise in their generation. They know where to cross the stream, they know the best form and attitude to assume in order to attract the friendly attention of the world; they are learned men in their own policies and methods, and if some of them have counterfeited the metal, it was because it was the metal of heaven that it was counterfeited.

And observe that the bad do not succeed in hiding themselves. There is no impenetrable secrecy in character. Every bad fish was found in the net and cast out. We may be in the visible church and not in the invisible. The Church is a mystical body. Not who was baptized with water, but who has been baptized with fire, is the deciding question. Not who preached with infinite eloquence, but who lived with blameless consistency, is the determining, penetrating question. Not who professed, but who carried out, will be the rule of judgment. But observe—and here with a sharp knife I cut off the pleasures of a thousand clitics—it was the angels that had to perform the work of discrimination and separation, and not the fellow-members of the Church. It was not the good fish that expelled the bad; the angels came forth and severed the wicked from among the just. So shall it be at the end of the age, so shall it be with the tares and the wheat. The question was, "Shall we go and root out the tares?" and the answer was, "No, lest in pulling up the tares ye pull up the wheat also." It is not my business to find out your badness; it is not your business to find out my corruption. When one or the other becomes so exposed and evident and mischievous as to admit of no dispute and no palliation, I say not that action may not be taken under such conclusive circumstances; but when the question is one of difficulty the decision should be one of charity. I would expel no man unless driven to it by evidence that not only convinced me, but that blinded me by its dazzling light. And why not expel any human soul? Because the good may be larger than the bad in that very soul. It would be easy for me to condemn any man who practises a sin for which I have no liking—but what of my own sin? Who are we that we shall judge one another, except nobly and hopefully? We shall be much deceived and disappointed in so doing; still it may be better to be disappointed and deceived in large applications of charitable criticism than to be confirmed, and to have our judgment approved, by some narrow, selfish, unworthy judgment.


Verses 44-46

Chapter55

Prayer

Almighty God, thou dost send the years upon us as thou wilt—sometimes in darkness and in storm, sometimes with bitter cold, oftentimes with many a patch of blue in the winter sky, to tell us of the days that are about to brighten, and the summer that is preparing to come. Send the years of our life upon us as thou wilt, only come thou with every one of them, and make each as a step nearer thy sweet home.

We bless thee for all the lovingkindness and tender mercy of the year now for ever gone. We take this new year from thine hand as a page unwritten upon, yet without line, or blot, or stain. Help us to write our life story upon it with a steady hand, and may the whole inscription bring glory and praise to thy name as the Inspirer and the Director of our lives, to whom we owe all we are and all we have, and in whose power and wisdom alone can we hope to stand. We know not what is coming, we cannot tell what shall be done this year: it strikes another bell in the air—O that we may hear the warning tone and answer it with a deeper love and a steadier industry, a completer consecration and a nobler and more ardent hope. The days of our years are threescore years and ten; behold while we are reckoning them they fly away, and whilst we sigh for the smallness of the number it dwindles as we mourn. Are there not twelve hours in the day? Help us to work steadily every one of them, may we know the blessedness of that servant who shall be found waiting or watching or working when his Lord comes—then shall his Lord bring heaven with him and toil shall become rest. Teach us so to number our days as to apply our hearts unto wisdom; may we be good reckoners of time, may we buy up the opportunity with the urgency of men who have but a little time to stay and much work to do within the dying period.

Bless us all at home, make our houses resting-places of security, spread our table, and when our afflictions come upon us, make thou our bed; send the light to awaken us, cause the darkness to be as a curtain round about us, in our outgoing and in our incoming be thou our light and our defence.

Thou hast done great things for us whereof we are glad. Continue to multiply thy miracles in our life, and may new mercies elicit new songs. Be with us in the market-place, in the whole strife and battle and contest of life, give us honourable purpose, pure motive, noble design—may we all lay up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust do corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. Prepare us for life, and thus prepare us for death: enable us to do our work well, then shall our rest be well earned and our peace shall be complete. Amid all the tumult and violence, the pain and the distress, the illusion and the ambition and disappointment and gratification of life, lift thou up above us, and above all that is round about us, the great cross of the dying Lamb of God: may it be the badge of our trust and of our love, the source of cur hope and the spring of our inspiration, the answer to our dreadful guilt, the complete deliverance of our soul from its worst captivity. May the power of the precious blood of Jesus Christ reveal itself in the innermost places of our heart and mind.

Regard us one and all as we are now bowing before thee, heads of houses, husbands and wives, fathers, mothers, children, masters, servants, employers, employed, rich, poor, those who have many joys, and those whose last candle is dying out—the Lord look upon us all as one in the Son of Prayer of Manasseh , united by indissoluble and indestructible bonds to one another by the Son of God. Spare not the bestowal of thy blessing, but let every one have a portion of meat in due season, let every head be lifted up in new exaltation and in new hope.

Go out with every honest man who endeavours to speak thy word and extend thy kingdom, who prays by the bedside of the sick, who carries light into dark houses, and stealthily leaves bread for the hunger of those who are destitute; bless the hand that works invisibly, that is always open to give, and that never willingly receives except to return in new benedictions, and the Lord comfort such and multiply their joys and their comforts, and be round about them as a great Presence.

Look upon those who have new songs to sing this morning because of household joy: the Lord grant a blessing unto those who sing such Song of Solomon , that their whole life may be musical with thy praise. Regard those whose last association has been with the grave, whose feet are yet wet because of their standing by the open tomb, hearts in which there is sorrow, eyes in which the tears are standing thick and hot—the Lord speak comfortably unto such of the Resurrection and of the Life. Hear the mother"s sigh for her erring boy, her prodigal wandering one, whom she received from thee with delight and whose life is now to her the very mystery of pain.

The Lord look upon all to whom this will be an eventful year; prepare us all to receive thy blessing, may we hold our joys with a trembling hand, may we yield our fears to thy keeping, thou mighty Saviour of the race. Help us to forgive one another; may this day be a day of forgiveness and amnesty; if any man have a quarrel against any, may that contest cease on this holy day.

May we now, humbly, modestly, lovingly give ourselves again into thine hand, to be defended, instructed, directed as thou wilt, and so may thy will be done on earth, as it is done in heaven. Amen.

Matthew 13:44-46

Treasure and Pearls

These parables may be taken together, as expressing two sides of the same truth. "The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field." There were no banks in ancient times, such as we have now, and therefore persons possessed of property of a valuable kind were wont to hide it in fields and in out-of-the-way places. The figure is that of a man who comes upon joy unexpectedly. He was not looking for treasure, but in digging his field he came upon it without anticipation, and therefore his joy was the greater. How far and in what sense do these parables correspond with what we know of life generally? Can we not confirm the doctrine that the joys of surprise are amongst the keenest of our delights? The joys that we anticipate are often dulled by the fact that we have discounted them: we knew that they were coming, we had often talked about them, imagination had set them in false lights and in preposterous relations, so that when they really did come they were less than our expectancy, and so they became disappointments rather than pleasures.

Understand, then, the place of surprise in the divine economy. We are to come upon things unexpectedly, we are not to wear them out before we handle them, their presence and their use and their value come to us instantaneously, and because we knew nothing about them our joy is the greater. If you expect your friend to leave you a large estate, and he leaves you something less than you had anticipated, the property actually brings dissatisfaction with it; but if you expected nothing, and he left you one green field, the bequest would occasion great joy in your heart, nor altogether because of the value of the bequest, but because it came upon you without the slightest hint or expectation.

Now the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field: it is a continual surprise. God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. Herein is our expectation itself foiled. We cannot raise our expectancy to the height of this heaven, but expectation is not forbidden herein in consequence of that solemn and glad fact. We dream of heaven, and talk of it, and set our poets to work to strike their harps to sweeter and higher strains and tones, because, when we have formed our own heaven in the innermost and highest places of our fancy, it falls, short of the reality only by infinity.

This is the testimony of every student of the Bible. Every page is a field in which there is hidden treasure—so say the men who have toiled longest in those holy fields. They are the men who are entitled to testify: such men are filled with amazement, new light startles them, unheard music holds their soul in glad enthralment, presences rise before them and angels wrestle with them in power that is meant not to destroy but to save and to bless, so that the old man in closing his Bible says, "The last vision was the brightest, the last song was the sweetest;" says Hebrews , "I never knew what this Bible was until now. All the old passages glow with a new meaning, all the sweet and sacred promises come with a deeper significance and a more ineffable sweetness."

Are we able to follow this testimony, or is the Bible to us an exhausted book? It is an exhausted book only to the man who has never begun it. I desire to add my humble testimony to the deeper and bolder witness of men who are more qualified to attest, that every time I open the Bible it is as a field in which I find hidden treasure, and every time I conclude my exposition of any portion of holy Scripture I find I have not even begun to touch its infinite meaning. So far, therefore, I feel no difficulty whatever in accepting the doctrine that the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field.

Now, in the next place, can we confirm the doctrine that life is a search for goodly pearls? Every man is at home in this truth. Examine yourselves, and you will find that your innermost motive is to find the goodliest pearl. In business, in thinking, in literature, in preaching, in art, in music, everywhere—this is the innermost truth, that we are seeking for pearls of the greatest worth. "Who will show us any good?" is the cry of the anxious human heart. Song of Solomon , get what pearls you may upon the earth, there is always another Pearl beyond, larger, of a richer hue, of a higher value, and it is towards that that you stretch out your desire and your hand. Now this is the very motive, purpose, and ambition that the kingdom of heaven came to satisfy. Without this desire it would not have anything to lay hold upon. Here is the secret, mighty hold which Christian truth gets upon mankind: it addresses itself immediately and profoundly to the supreme desire of the heart. As light is adapted to the eye, as sound is adapted to the ear, as substance appeals to the touch, so this kingdom of heaven appeals to our highest sense, our spiritual necessity and receptivity. The kingdom of heaven is not something let down out of the skies, that has to be carried as a weight upon our head, for which we can give no reason, and of which we have no explanation; it is an appeal to something that is in us, it answers an interior voice, it offers to meet a felt necessity. Again examine yourselves and tell me if you are not seeking for goodly pearls. You want it in money, another man wants it in love; another man seeks for it in some larger definition of the term life; a fourth man seeks for it in books, a fifth in painting or in music, but every man here on this opening Sabbath of the year is seeking goodly pearls.

So I have no difficulty in accepting the parable when it says that the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchantman seeking goodly pearls, not inferior ones, but the very best that could be found. This merchantman goes out over sea and land to find goodly pearls. It is recorded that the great Csar was drawn to the shores of Britain because of the pearls that were cast upon them by the flowing tide. We too, little Csars, soldiers, explorers, conquerors, have our eyes upon those seas that cast out of their depths the richest treasures. The kingdom of heaven comes to us, and says, "In me you will find the goodliest pearls."

In the third place, can we not confirm the doctrine that there are prizes for which one would sacrifice all secondary enjoyments? The merchantman, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it: has that any correspondence in our lives? Here is a student who has fixed his ambition upon certain honours; he gives up all ease, indulgence, quietness, and as much sleep as possible that he may lay his hand upon the supreme honour and be its happy owner evermore. You have talked to book collectors who have pointed out some one book for which they have given fifty other books. Being poor men in the matter of mere money, they gathered together books of inferior value, at least of inferior value in their own estimation, and they said to the possessor of the coveted treasure, "You shall have all the fifty for that one." We all have known men who have coveted some particular picture, and they have taken down all the other pictures on their walls and have said, "They shall all go if I can only get that piece of painting." So that we have experiences of this kind in our lives, and this is the very spring and force of life by which we always aim at that which is beyond. It is the beyond that allures us; it is the unattained that draws us by mighty spell and fascination onward and onward in our life course.

It is so with the kingdom of heaven. "Yea, doubtless," saith Paul, "and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord. What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ." So he would have sold his ancestry, his pedigree, all that made him proud of the past, and would count it but as dung that he might win Christ. What is this but giving the very highest application to a principle which you have already affirmed in study, in the collection of books, and in the collection of works of art? And other men have sold all they had for the kingdom of heaven. They subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword; others had trials of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment; they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—for what object? That they might win Christ, that they might have the pearl of great price as their supreme treasure. In doing so they are not acting the part of foolish men. The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchantman. You believe in the common-sense, in the energy, the prudence and the shrewdness of merchantmen; you glory in the strength of character and the sagacity of mind developed by business; this kingdom of heaven is not ashamed to say that it is like the best business man you have amongst you, with an eye as keen, with an ardour as intense, with a shrewdness as far-seeing as his, and having exhausted him, it multiplies itself by infinity.

This testimony, therefore, ought to come to you men of business with great force. The kingdom of heaven is not like unto a dreamer only, like unto a crazy poet, who makes jingling rhymes—the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchantman who keeps his books, and lays his plans, and awakens his wit, and belabours his energy, and inspires his enthusiasm by daily conquest in daily toil. Wondrous kingdom: it will join any man in his daily toil, and say to him, in so far as he is a wise and honest workman, "I am just like you." It does not merely go into the studies of the artist, into the sanctum of the recluse, into the hermitage of the monk, into the high nest of the poet who loves to dwell in solitude, and say, "I am just like you, great men of imagination and of artistic sensibility and power," but it also comes down to the day labourer, and says, "This is what I do: I dig." It goes to the navigator, and says, "This is what I do: I have countless ships, and my meaning is to touch the uttermost parts of the earth with my beneficence and my light." It goes to the carpenter at the bench, and says, "I am just like you, I work all day and I work for a reward, a great prize." So here is a kingdom called the kingdom of heaven, that identifies itself with the business life of the land, and that reveals one shape of its supreme beauty through business, through merchandise.

While the kingdom of heaven so inspires a man as to lead him to throw off every fascination and inducement of a worldly kind, and to give himself wholly and absolutely to its worship and further pursuit, it may be said that all religions have this effect upon the human mind, which is only a proof that the strongest force which operates upon human intelligence, human inspiration, and human ambition is the religious force. Wherein, then, is the difference between the Christian kingdom and those other kingdoms of a religious kind which are not acknowledged by Christian theology? All religions compel devotion, all religions compel more or less of sacrifice—wherein, then, is the difference between them and this Christian kingdom of heaven? I will tell you. Jesus Christ came into competition with all the sovereign religions of the world; no religion of a sovereign and absolutely original kind has ventured to show its head since Jesus Christ was born. Let me give you time to lay hold of that suggestion; no great religion of this kind has been set up in the world since the birth of Jesus Christ Judaism is a great religion, but it has not come into existence during the last eighteen hundred and eighty years. Buddhism, Confucianism, are great religions, but each of them is more than eighteen hundred and eighty years of age, a fact which throws into infinite significance the comparison which Christianity institutes, by which it claims to be "the pearl of great price," the one pearl which lowers the value of every other, and which trusts to its intrinsic value to save it from all competition, and to ensure its ultimate and universal appreciation.

It is something to remember that since the child was born in Bethlehem no great or sovereign religion (with the doubtful exception of Mohammedanism) has established itself upon the earth. Here we come upon historical ground, and are able to fight with the invincible weapon of fact. What independent religion, right or wrong, has arisen since the birth of Jesus Christ? What man has arisen of such boldness of conception, grandeur of character, purity and sublimity of purpose and originality of mind as to rival or eclipse the man of Nazareth? Negative religions enough, if they might be called religions, denials and criticisms in abundance, which owe their temporary life to the very character which they assail—but no man can worship in the temple of doubt, no man can broadly, deeply, and permanently influence the world who has nothing to suggest but a negation; negatives can never ascend the highest seat and rule with dominating and beneficent supremacy. Where is the majestic personality, the profound philosophy, the heroic sacrifice, and the valiant propagandism of a new faith that claims the sovereignty of the world? I do not include perversions and corruptions so foul and obvious as are found in Mohammedanism; I ask for an independent, original, and sovereign competitor. The kingdom of heaven is like unto a pearl of great price; it holds itself up as such, and asks for all the other pearls to be brought that they may be contrasted with its ineffable preciousness. No competing faith has been suggested with such breadth of suggestion as to get more than a moment"s life in the estimation of mankind, and no such faith has embodied itself in any leader that the world has cared to arrest and crucify.

A great argument takes its inception here. Men have looked for another than Christ, and no other has come with a single tittle of claim that could bear one moment"s examination. Negations have no missions, no adventures, no audacities of a beneficent kind; they only live spasmodically and temporarily, they do not live in themselves and by themselves, of their own divinely created force. This faith of Jesus Christ knocks at every door, it thunders upon the door of India and China, and sends its ship in full sail to the islands of the sea, and the cry Isaiah , "I am a merchantman who has found a pearl of great price; examine it, test it, receive it—but in doing so all other pearls must be given up. If any man will be my disciple, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. Go, sell all thou hast and give to the poor, and come and follow me. Strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life." What are all these quotations and references but so many expansions of the great doctrine of this text that the kingdom of heaven is as a merchantman, who having seen a pearl more valuable and precious than all others, surrenders the life-gathered store that he may possess himself of this most precious of all pearls?

Where is your competing pearl, where is your competing Christ, where is your nobler love or your grander purpose? The air is troubled with doubts, the night is thick with scepticism, the Church is annoyed now and again with the arrow and the pestilence of ardent foes, but since the star glittered on Bethlehem no man has arisen to claim the heathen for an inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for a possession. Christianity makes this supreme claim to us every one this morning; it asks us to lay our little pearls beside it, that it may show by self-revelation how little they are and poor compared with its magnitude, its quality, and its lustre. Christianity is a comparative religion, a competitive faith; it asks to be looked at in the light of all that has gone before it, and a religion which comes before me with a claim so broad, so substantial, so manifestly profound in its common sense arrests my thoughts and demands my confidence.


Verses 47-50

Chapter56

A Double Aspect of the Kingdom

Matthew 13:33, Matthew 13:47-50

Let me try to reveal the kingdom of heaven today under two aspects. It has already come before us under the image of the sower, the parable of the tares, the grain of mustard seed, the treasure hid in a field, the pearl of great price—by this time surely we ought to be well acquainted with this kingdom of heaven, yet it is the eternal mystery as surely as it is the eternal revelation. Jesus Christ now gives us two more opportunities of knowing still more clearly what his great kingdom is. He condescends to paint two more pictures, a woman hiding leaven in three measures of meal, and a man casting a net into the sea.

"The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened." It follows then that the kingdom of heaven, like all other truth, is penetrating in its influence. It goes forward to its work little by little: it never rests—it cannot rest until it has covered the whole space of its opportunity. It can never give in—all things must go down before it, not violently, but certainly. No great or true idea can be in the human mind without penetrating that mind through and through, and passing on to other minds and completing the same subduing process there.

Not only is it penetrating, but it is gradual in its process and advancement. Great ideas do not seize the mind all at once and rule it with undisputed domination. One by one, little by little, a man here and a man there—such is the rule of this gradualness. But it never goes back, though appearances may seem sometimes to indicate the contrary. The movement of truth is always forward. The truth was never so fully, broadly, and benignly established in the human mind as it is this day. You can quote a thousand instances to indicate the badness of the race, its love of error and its pursuit of corruption, and every instance that is quoted may be perfectly right, within its own limits. Nevertheless the kingdom moves, the penetrating influence gradually asserts itself. How long will it continue to assert itself? Till the whole is leavened. The time is fixed in the parable, the date is here marked down in plain figures, if we have eyes to read it. This is a dated promise, and the date is "till the whole is leavened."

Have we any parallels in our own life that will enable us to seize, more completely, the gracious and generous meaning of this parable? We have a parallel, certainly, in the education of the mind. No mind is educated in one day: education is not something thrust upon a man which he can seize in a moment and make his own without a long transaction. You cannot tell how you were educated: there is no specific day in our human life upon which we can say we were then educated, in any complete or final sense of the term. We may have vivid memories of certain days, but education is not a day"s work, it is not a time work, it is an eternal process. How the light came upon the mind, how the new idea seemed to strike us with instancy and startling suddenness—yet when we came carefully to look into it we found that it was the culminating point of a long process, and that but for the process the culmination never could have supervened. Watch your child"s progress in letters, and it will be impossible for you to indicate any time at which he became a scholar. Jesus Christ says, "Just the same in my kingdom: it is not one sermon, one book, one act of prayer, but the repetition of many a process through the whole space of the lifetime. It is not one shower that makes the summer, it is shower upon shower, baptism following baptism in gracious intermission and yet in gracious persistency." It is thus we grow.

We have a parallel not only in education, but in the deepening and ripening of all great convictions. If you will search into the history of your mind, you will find that some of your convictions have taken a long time to form: there were prejudices to be overcome, there were defects to be made up, there was information to be gained, there were experiments to be conducted—for a long time you wondered and hesitated, you oscillated between two opposite points, you knew not to which point you would at last gravitate and where you would "finally" settle, and yet there did come a point in your thinking and deliberation at which you said, "This is right, I see it at length, and for ever I will take my stand here."

It was so in your appreciation of character, it was so in your decisions of a literary and commercial kind, it was so in the election of your companionships, it was so in the change of your most profound and solemn opinions; it was Song of Solomon , too, in that grandest act of life for which there is no better term than the old word conversion. You remember your being converted, turned round, set in a homeward direction, taken from the wrong road, and placed in the right one: without cant or whine or mocking pretence, you are not ashamed to say that you were converted.

You have a parallel also in the formation of character. No man makes a character in a day. He may destroy a character in a moment, but it takes a lifetime to build one. Many of you are in the time of blossom and of promise, but not of character. Many who now hear me are young, and they, as we say, shape well, but we do not pronounce anything like a final judgment upon them at this time. No young man can have such a character as is possible to old age if that old age has been reached by the right processes. It would be impertinence for thirty to compare itself with sixty or with seventy, if on the part of the elder there has been a lifelong endeavour after truth and purity and perfectness.

"Till the whole was leavened." Do not say that the right leaven is not in us because the end has not been reached. Judge nothing before the time. You complain of the unripeness and unmellowness, the superficiality of many a young character, and the incompleteness and imperfectness of many a young career. Consider and see how foolish you are in pronouncing such judgment. The leaven may just have been hid in the three measures of meal: the leaven has not yet had time to work: the leaven has been in you for half a century, but it has only been in your son for half a month or half a year—it would therefore be unwise on your part to condemn the young because of their imperfectness, incompleteness, immaturity. It is right for youth to be imperfect, but for you at your ripe seventy to be as childish, foolish, worldly as the youth of twenty, that would be double crime, redoubled, multiplied by many an aggravation, and carried up to a point of black blasphemy against every law of growth and right and divinity.

Whilst I thus speak a word on your behalf, young hearers and young Christians, understand that you owe my defensive advocacy wholly to the fact that you are young. That which applies to you today will have no application whatever in twenty years. Then some other preacher must defend some other generation. Do not interrupt the working of this good ministry in your hearts: do not imagine that that ministry has completed itself in your life; you will expose yourself to just and bitter taunting if you give your elders the idea that the leaven of the gospel has worked out its whole influence in your spirit and career at a time when it has just begun to move in penetrating and subduing influence.

The kingdom of heaven is not only penetrating and gradual, it is silent in its ministry. The leaven makes no noise, it works quietly. Do not measure progress by violence: the kingdom of heaven cometh not with observation. There is a subtle as well as an ostentatious working. You have got to learn the full scope and value of this most simple fact. A vulgar age talks as if aggressiveness had but one form and one method only as we are making a noise, organising great bodies and forces, publishing programmes in blood-red ink and beating a thousand drums; it is thought that we are making no announcement. My symbol of progress is neither a hammer nor a sword, it is the shining light, the growing seed, the coming summer: no crash of wheels, no blare of trumpets, no fluttering of banners driven by the wind, but silent, solemn, irresistible day, spreading its conquering light over all the spaces of darkness, awaking all living things to labour and to Song of Solomon , and leaving behind it a benediction that shall be no burden. Fussy, fussing little Prayer of Manasseh , trumpeter and drummer, and gifted with making nothing but noises, learn from thy great parabolical Master this day that the kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened—a penetrating, gradual, secret, silent process, but a process that never ended till the work was done.

On the other hand, let no man mistake the parable, and by a mischievous perversion of its teaching cover his own indifference and neglect. Do not say that you are silent because there is no virtue in silence itself; you must not be silent only, but penetrating, progressive. Not only is the figure negative, it is positive; quietness may be taken as the negative side, but penetration is the active and positive aspect.

What about your kingdom of heaven—is it a thing locked up in a safe, well shut in, deposited within an inner door, on which you turn twenty cunningly-formed keys? It is a kingdom, mayhap, but it is not the kingdom of heaven, it is not the divine thought, it is not the life that cometh down from heaven; that life is not demonstrative, ostentatious, aggressive in any offensive sense of the term, but it is penetrating, subtle in its influence, always moving, always conquering, never resting till the whole is leavened. Be such influence yours and mine.

Take the next parable for one moment: "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a net that was cast into the sea and gathered of every kind." There was nothing discriminating in the net itself. The Church is a net that holds all sorts of people. Have we no parallels to this idea in our own courses of imperial, civil, and social action? Truly we have a thousand parallels. The kingdom of patriotism is like unto a net that was cast into the sea and gathered of every kind. Do you suppose that all who have gathered themselves together in the people"s House of Parliament are patriots of the divine sort, men who have no ulterior object of a selfish kind, men who have spent thousands upon thousands of pounds to go into Parliament, that they might die as pure martyrs on the altar of their country? Are you no further advanced in your study of human nature than to believe such to be the case? The House of Commons is as a net cast into the sea that has gathered of every kind. There are in all Houses of Parliament, all over the world, noble men, high-spirited patriots, incorruptible spirits that devote themselves to the noblest interests of their country; there are others who, perhaps, were never moved by a noble impulse in any direction, and to whom the country is nothing but a gigantic money-producing machine. Shall we, therefore, revile patriotism, and run down great national institutions, and hurl indiscriminating epithets against forms of civilisation to which we owe so much? It would be not only unwise and rash, but unjust and inexcusable.

The kingdom of philanthropy is also like a net cast into the sea, and which gathered of every kind. Do you suppose that all persons who wear the name of philanthropists are philanthropic in heart? There are men who make a trade of philanthropy; there are those who live upon the charitable dispositions of others; there are men who coin the tears of sympathy into wealth for their own using. On the other hand, there are philanthropists without whom the world would be poor, who have great, broad, soft hands that lay upon the world"s weakness a grip that helps it, and that give to the world"s poverty donations which make it forget its destitution. But because there are all sorts of persons in the kingdom of philanthropy shall we say that there is no philanthropy of a pure and noble sort? He would be a foolish and an unjust man who would bring any such wild accusation against the philanthropic spirit of the age.

Then, again, the kingdom of general society is like a net cast into the sea, which gathered of every kind. When your house-parties gather, do you suppose that every man in the little crowd is a friend of yours, sincere, true, genuine, disinterested? You are not so weak. Do you judge men wholly by their clothes—because they have respectable coats, have they therefore respectable characters? Because they have had good schooling in the head, have they had a thorough education in the heart? You know the answer to these searching inquiries. Shall we, therefore; go round and condemn society, and regard all fellowship and communion as an organised lie? We shall stoop to no such folly.

It was inevitable that the kingdom of heaven should draw within itself every kind. The Church has its bad members as well as its good ones. I do not wonder—the Church is an excellent lodging. To be in the Church is to look well; to have a pew in church is to begin on the right list; to make a profession of the most popular religion Isaiah , at all events, to have a card of introduction to very large sections of honourable society. Shall we, therefore, say there is no kingdom of heaven because of the insincere, the unworthy, and the hypocritical? You would not allow me to say so about patriotism, philanthropy, and social institutions, and therefore, faithful to your own wise reasoning, I must protest against any man"s arising to bring a wild and indiscriminating accusation against what is known as the Christian Church.

Observe, Christ does not hide the fact of a mixture. Christ never hides any ugly facts; Christ makes more of his own failures than any other man could make of them. He cries over them, he drenches them with tears, he lifts up his voice and fills the whole space of the firmament with his moan. He acknowledges that he would, but the cities would not. You will observe, also, that the bad is a testimony and compliment to the good. The children of this world are not unwise in their generation. They know where to cross the stream, they know the best form and attitude to assume in order to attract the friendly attention of the world; they are learned men in their own policies and methods, and if some of them have counterfeited the metal, it was because it was the metal of heaven that it was counterfeited.

And observe that the bad do not succeed in hiding themselves. There is no impenetrable secrecy in character. Every bad fish was found in the net and cast out. We may be in the visible church and not in the invisible. The Church is a mystical body. Not who was baptized with water, but who has been baptized with fire, is the deciding question. Not who preached with infinite eloquence, but who lived with blameless consistency, is the determining, penetrating question. Not who professed, but who carried out, will be the rule of judgment. But observe—and here with a sharp knife I cut off the pleasures of a thousand clitics—it was the angels that had to perform the work of discrimination and separation, and not the fellow-members of the Church. It was not the good fish that expelled the bad; the angels came forth and severed the wicked from among the just. So shall it be at the end of the age, so shall it be with the tares and the wheat. The question was, "Shall we go and root out the tares?" and the answer was, "No, lest in pulling up the tares ye pull up the wheat also." It is not my business to find out your badness; it is not your business to find out my corruption. When one or the other becomes so exposed and evident and mischievous as to admit of no dispute and no palliation, I say not that action may not be taken under such conclusive circumstances; but when the question is one of difficulty the decision should be one of charity. I would expel no man unless driven to it by evidence that not only convinced me, but that blinded me by its dazzling light. And why not expel any human soul? Because the good may be larger than the bad in that very soul. It would be easy for me to condemn any man who practises a sin for which I have no liking—but what of my own sin? Who are we that we shall judge one another, except nobly and hopefully? We shall be much deceived and disappointed in so doing; still it may be better to be disappointed and deceived in large applications of charitable criticism than to be confirmed, and to have our judgment approved, by some narrow, selfish, unworthy judgment.


Verses 51-58

Chapter57

Parables Turned to Account

Matthew 13:51-58.

Jesus Christ uttered a gospel which was meant to be understood. Do not create more mysteries than he himself created. Jesus Christ took his disciples, so to say, into co-partnery in divine teaching: this circumstance is never to be forgotten in estimating the value and force of the Christian argument. There is to be no needless mystery. Mystery comes as a necessity, and is not to be introduced by clever persons as a merely intellectual puzzle. This kingdom of heaven was meant to be understood, to be grasped by the human mind, and to be reproduced in human speech and in human life.

Observe, the disciples did not understand the parables until they went to Jesus Christ himself for an explanation. They followed him into the house, and said, "What did that parable mean?" The Parabolist became the Expositor. He is the same yesterday, today, and for ever. In reading these parables, turn up the expectant heart after every one of them, and say, "Lord, what is the meaning?" and he will withhold from your understanding nothing that is needful to the thorough illumination of every word he has spoken and that was intended for reduction to practical life.

Keep within the truth you do understand, if you would be mighty as speakers. That is the secret of impression and of consequences of the best and most enduring kind. It is not given to every man to understand equally the whole revealed word: one man hath a gift of tongues and can speak all languages in the sanctuary; another man hath a parable, in the interpretation of which he is almost a genius; a third is a speaker of consolations, his face was meant to represent them, and his voice, itself a mystery, was intended to convey solaces to the heart with all the witchery of celestial music.

This is the rule in all life, pulpit life, market-place life, theological, commercial, literary, artistic, musical—keep within the limits of your understanding; do not let the sparrow try to fly as high as the eagle, and do not let the child"s little paper-boat go far out upon the sea, if ever it is meant to be brought home again. There are portions of this Bible which none of us understand: there are whole pages and books here that I can make nothing of. To some, perhaps, it may have been given—but I have not had time to inquire into their credentials—to expound the mysterious prophecies of the word; to others it may have been given to follow its typology with such intelligence as to be able to write under every type exactly what it signifies. I have not been conducted into those remote schools, I cannot tell you anything about prophecies and dates, and the interpretation of beasts and vials and trumpetings and apocalyptic signs—but this one thing I know, that Jesus Christ is the Saviour and Teacher and Hope of the world. Within that limit do we range here, and if we have gone in and out and found pasture abundant, the praise be his who made the pasture so luxuriant and bade us to the enjoyment of his hospitality.

Having understood these mysteries so far, what was to be done? No sooner did the disciples answer, "Yea, Lord," than he said unto them, "Therefore------." This man"s words come one after the other in most gracious and logical continuity. They no sooner admitted their understanding than out of that admission he struck the spark of a final parable. He was the Life, to touch him anywhere was to extract virtue from his being. The intellect that had conceived these parables, so varied, so resplendent, so exact in all their adaptations to circumstances, was not tired. Omnipotence cannot be tired, omniscience cannot be exhausted. So when the disciples said, "Yea, Lord," their very admission was turned into another parable. "Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder," a parable after the parables, a sermon after the sermons, There was no ending to this man"s teaching, the word was not its measure: after every word there followed an infinite ghostliness of possibility and suggestion. Let us look at this final parable.

"Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old." A householder who has treasure: Jesus Christ claims for all the scribes of his following substantial truth. They do not utter mere phrases of their own making or utter sentiments which are the measure of their own sighing and desire only. In the Church of God there is a positive quantity, a subjective truth, a content that, so to say, can be seen, handled, felt, known, as a personal possession, an individual inheritance. Look at this circumstance most carefully, those of you who are anxious to know what Christianity really comprehends and purports to be. It is not a sigh, it is not a sentiment, it is not a rhapsody—there is nothing of the nature of mere fantasy in it. It has solid doctrines, grand conceptions of the divine being, broad and luminous revelations respecting human nature, great, solid, massive gospels as to the redemption of the race from the presence, power, tyranny, and torment of sin, and infinite hope which it can only indicate by words not earthly, but which fall infinitely short of the reality as God himself understands it. But a word has been given us which overpasses earth, time, death, tomb, shadow, and shines yonder as heaven.

So there is range enough in this divine revelation. If viewed poetically only, it is a grand and complete conception. It is not a broken arc, it is not a segment that mourns a loss which it can neither define nor fill up—it is a great complete circle, equally strong, and equally luminous at every point of its infinite circumference. So the Word of God is called bread: it is known amongst men as the water of life, of which, if a man drink, he shall thirst no more. The result of the appropriation of Christian truth and blessing is rest—rest in the soul, peace in the mind, calm in the heart, and no man within my knowledge has ever tasted the value of this treasure, and entered with conscious joy into its proprietorship, that has owned to one pang of disappointment. Hosea , every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and as for your hunger, let your soul delight itself in fatness.

Not only is the scribe like unto a man that is a householder, with treasure in his possession, but he is a householder who dispenses his treasure. He brings forth out of his treasure things new and old. The wise man holds nothing for himself alone: we are trustees, we are stewards, who act on behalf and in the interest of others. Every idea which I may have is yours, every idea which you may have is mine. We help one another by the friction of mind, the communion of heart, the mutual reciprocation of life, idea, thought, and purpose. The Church is a commonwealth—no one man is lord or king in it, except by natural rights and proofs which no other would for a moment dispute; but the humblest has a right to the ideas of the wisest.

This is the difficulty of the Christian Church throughout the world today. The door of the church is open, the front door and the back door and the side door, and above every open door is written "Welcome" to the humblest, poorest, meanest of the population. If any Church is acting upon other lines than these, that Church seems to me to fall below its high vocation in Christ Jesus. I know nothing of your narrow exclusiveness, I know nothing of what is known as your close communion; I would not be a party to any communion that is close, I believe in the infinite breadth, height, depth of these divine gospels and all their practical meaning. This is my Father"s house, and no man has a right to label it, or number it, so that it shall exclude the very poorest human creature that crawls upon the earth this day.

Understand that you cannot grasp the whole measure. It is not within your power to consume the whole banquet, that is no reason why you should not satisfy your hunger at this table. To one man is given five talents, to another two, and to another one—to every man according to his several ability, and every man has it in his power to lay hold of Christ somewhere. Know where your fingers were meant to lay their loving grip, and hold fast according to the divine purpose.

As for those of you who have the divine treasure, do not keep it to yourselves. Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. In proportion as power is given unto you go ye and teach all nations. That is the only true and most beneficent use of power. How is this to be done? Why, this householder showed genius in the distribution of his treasure—he brought forth out of his treasure things new and old. Surely this was a proof of his instruction. I would not listen to one sermon that was all new; in every discourse concerning the gospel which I hear there must be the boom, the infinite sounding of eternity; then may come the new parable, the bright suggestion, the flash of immediate wit, the kindling of sudden lights and the inbreaking of subtle and surprising music. But underneath every flower of human genius I must find the rocks of divine wisdom.

This is the true method, as it is also the true purpose of all teaching. In the school, in the nursery, at the fireside, in the church—to give everybody to feel the venerableness, the indestructibleness of truth, and to lure them to its study and love and appropriation, by new hints, by novel adaptations, it may be sometimes even by eccentric uses of facts and thoughts—things new and old—old time—new summers—old light—new mornings; old eternities—new-born time; everlasting duration—transient days. So must things be intermingled and allied in any utterance that is philosophical, profound, sympathetic, and immediately useful in this kingdom of heaven.

Now Jesus seems to come down from the mountain once more, as he did after his great sermon. In its own way this sermon is as great as the first: the sermon so strong in doctrine was followed by the sermon so brilliant in imagination. Over the wheat-field is spread the glory of a gleaming and many-coloured sky: out of that sky indeed the wheat-field came, and without it the wheat-field could neither be sown nor reaped. We must not exclude Imagination from the treasure of the Church: it is the highest faculty which can be used, it is the inner eye, it is that divine vision which sees more than is penetrable by scholarship. This is the difference between one man and another. One man knows the letter, is absolutely faultless in all the uses of grammar, yet there may never come one syllable of fire or one drop of dew from his philological lips. People listen, but are never thrilled with glad responses. Another man holds the divine secret and breathes it over our life at his will, and makes the heart leap with sudden joy and cry out because of glad surprise.

Some do not know what imagination is: they think if they are good at description they are strong in imagination: this is the absurdity, this the mischievous sophism—when you have mentioned all the seven colours you have painted nothing: if you were to paint a tree exactly as it Isaiah , you would not have painted it at all. That is a mystery and a fact; the trunk is the same height, the branches are the same in number, and all the dimensions are exact, all the leaves have been counted, and you tell me that the tree upon the canvas is not the same as the tree in the wood? Certainly, they have no connection with one another; you had not the eye that saw the inner tree—that is not the tree standing in the wood, that is the body; the spiritual tree is inside that, and you must get it out and translate it, idealize it. So the man standing there is not the man: that is his house of clay, his tabernacle of dust—the man is inside; you must see that inner light and describe that mysterious man. So the letter of the gospel is before me, and it may be a letter only unless I have that vision and faculty divine which can penetrate the inner sanctuary of the thought and bring forth things new and old with the honesty of a steward and the energy of a genius.

Have ye understood these things? Not—have ye heard the letter? Not—can you recite the parables one by one? Not—have they fallen upon your outer ear and made a noise there? Have ye understood these things, have they entered into the very tissue and substance of your brain, do they fall into musical accord with all the springs and issues of your purest and noblest thinking? When you relate them, will you recite them as lessons which you have learned, or will you breathe them as part of the very life that is in you? When we can answer "Yes" to Jesus Christ"s questions, he will follow our admission with a pungent and practical exhortation.

Now comes the inevitable criticism, the mean and low-minded attack which even the Son of God could not escape. "Whence hath this man this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter"s Son? Is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren James and Joses and Simon and Judas? and his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?" The inevitable criticism, the inevitable sneer, the inevitable profanation of every sanctuary God has built upon the earth! How is this? how can it be that men can say these things, acknowledging their reality, power, and splendour, and can in the same breath say "This Prayer of Manasseh ," with a covert sneer? This impossibility we are performing ourselves every day! Instead of fixing our attention upon these mighty works and all this Wisdom of Solomon , and availing ourselves of the substantial Revelation , we fall foul upon the poor instrument through whom the revelation was granted, we hurl at him every reminiscence we can gather up, and we disparage his personality that we may blunt the force of his appeal. Do not mourn such ingratitude and baseness, as if it were the Jewish property only: Jesus Christ was not hated and crucified by the Jews, he was despised and rejected of men.

I was recently rebuked upon this point with a rare piquancy and most pathetic simplicity. A learned man followed me after the discourse, and, speaking with a strong German accent, he assured himself and me in the same breath that what he was about to say was well intended. Then said Hebrews , "I was with you on the occasion of your five hundredth noonday service. I am the preacher in such and such London synagogue, and," said Hebrews , "if you will excuse me, there was one line in the carol which gave me pain." Bringing the carol under my eyes, he said, "See—"the wicked Jews"—why did you sing that in your church about the wicked Jews?" Within the lines of a narrow history the carol was right, but within the true boundary the carol was wrong. They were not the Jews that killed him, mocked him, spurned him, threw his earthly ancestry in his face; it was— Prayer of Manasseh , every man. We crucified the Son of God, we Gentiles had our share in that foul tragedy. Do not teach your children in the school and at the fireside that some wicked people called Jews did this to Jesus Christ, and express yourselves in horror about the Jews as if you had nothing to do with it. The truth is this—we were all there, we all cut the accursed tree out of the forest and planted it and nailed to it the Son of God, and as he hangs there tell all the world that this was not a geographical incident or a mere point in passing history—that this crucifixion was the work of the whole race, and that every eye must look upon it and every heart mourn it as its own cruel deed.

This is the worst they can say about the Son of God. Let us read it again. "Whence hath this man"—covert sneer—"this wisdom and these mighty works? We cannot deny either the one or the other, but is not this the carpenter"s son?" What an awful accusation. "Is not his mother called Mary?" What a distressing indictment against any man! "And his brethren, James and Joses and Simon and Judas? and his sisters, are they not all with us?" Well, suppose we say, "Yes, they are";—now what then? I am glad they say this; there was nothing more to be said, they would have said it if they could, yea, they would have dreamed a lie and imagined it true if they could.

Christian Prayer of Manasseh , Christian inquirer, hear me. This is the indictment brought against him in whose name you were baptized—does it alarm, does it frighten you, does it bring with it any sense of oppressive humiliation? He was the carpenter"s Song of Solomon , he was the carpenter, his mother"s name was Mary, such and such were his social surroundings—now, when the little tale has been told, what remains? Hear the great thunder-burst of music and eloquence rolling down the mountain, and then listen to this little piping scorn, and tell me on which side do you stand? I would stand with Christ, the carpenter"s Song of Solomon , the Son of Mary.


Verse 58

Chapter5

Christ"s Failure As a Preacher

Sympathy Necessary in Hearing—The Perils of Literalism—Christ Declined Applause—Spirituality the Supreme Text.

Text: "Because of their unbelief."Matthew 13:58

One would have thought that no difficulties would have stood in the way of such a preacher as Jesus Christ. The Man who could work miracles could surely clear all obstacles out of his path. So it would seem to our ignorance; but so it was not in reality. Jesus Christ complained of difficulties, and confessed his inability to remove them. Those difficulties assume a peculiar significance when we remember that Jesus Christ seemed to have all the elements that both deserve and command success. His miracles were confessed and admired on every hand. He was beyond all question the most popular speaker of his day, characterised by marvellous graciousness and completeness and wisdom of address; so much so that the most learned wondered and the most illiterate understood, and those who were most ignorant felt the coming upon them of a new and very welcome light. Still, this Prayer of Manasseh , worker of miracles and speaker of beautiful speeches, failed, in a sense which I shall presently explain, in his ministry. He did not numerically fail: great multitudes thronged him on the hill-side, and along by the sea-shore; the popularity of numbers was triumphant—it was never so seen in Israel. Yet every heart was a difficulty, every man was a stumbling-block, and in many cases the doctrine was wasted like rain upon the barren sand. At one place even his miracles were powerless; at that place he could do but few mighty works—their unbelief was greater, so to speak, than his faith, and he did not there many mighty works because of their unbelief.

Have we any consciousness or experience on our own part which answers to this in any degree, and helps us to understand it? You preachers have, for you know that there are some towns in which you cannot preach. Personally I know that right well. There are some towns in which I find it utterly impossible to say what I have prepared to say. I may, indeed, utter the words, but they come back upon me, and bring no blessing or answer of human heart along with them. They have struck a wall and rebounded and come home, and I cannot get rid of them as gospels and as benedictions. You singers know it. There are some rooms in which you cannot sing: you are choked, suffocated—nothing in the construction of the room answers to your voice; you have no co-operation in the walls, in the ceiling, in the floor—everything is dead against you, and you who can in other places, under kindlier circumstances, sing to the delight of your friends, and even to the satisfaction of critics, are not at all yourselves under circumstances which seem to depress and disable you. We all know it. There are some men to whom we cannot talk. Conversation is still-born when they are present. I want to say something, but I can not; I have propositions to make, but I cannot make propositions to dead walls or to gravestones. I have sorrows to tell, I have griefs for which I want some human sympathy, but I cannot unburden myself to the men who are round about me on this occasion or on that. We all know the meaning of this temporary disability and disennoblement, so that we who have power under other circumstances are unable to do any mighty works there because of some want, some antipathy, some occult and unnameable cause that shuts us up and makes us barren alike of intellectual conception and verbal expression and force.

Well, it was much the same with Jesus Christ upon another plane, that is to say, upon a much higher level. He was not the same Christ always. The conditions being prepared and equal, how his speech rolled like a river—the people welcoming him, eager to hear him, giving him heart-room. Why, he seemed to talk himself up into heaven, and thence to distribute the very bread of life and water from the river of God. Such is he power of sympathy; so true is it that faith works miracles, that good hearing creates good speaking, that social sympathy elicits the whole fulness of the heart, all its secret and mystery and blessedness of love.

How was it that Jesus Christ failed in his ministry? Some reasons are given in the sacred narrative. First of all, the people said, "We know this man. We do not know whence he gets his wisdom. Is not this the carpenter"s son—is not his mother called Mary, and his brethren James and Joses, Simon and Judas; and his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?" And they were offended in him. There was a kind of wild logic in their reasoning, a kind of maniac intelligence about their grim philosophy—they said: "The cause is not equal to the effect. We can measure this man. We know almost his birthday. We know his father and his mother and his business and his training, and all about him, and there is not in him, so far as we know his antecedents, anything to account for a wisdom that overlaps our rabbinical theology and our doctrinal philosophy. There is not in him enough to account for the wonders which he flings from his fingers and breathes from his lips."

Do not let us altogether despise these people, because we repeat their error to-day. My brethren, we repeat all the old errors; there is no originality in folly. Our fathers killed the prophets, and we build the sepulchres of the dead men and kill other living men, that our posterity may have grave-digging and tomb-building to attend to in their time. Do not believe all the nonsense you hear talked about heroic lives and splendid boys, who have triumphed over this and that and the other, and do not join the mob when they clap their untrained hands in clamorous and thoughtless applause about those boys now dead. Ask them how they treat the boys that are living in their own streets, and who are trying heroically and quietly to repeat the miracles which they have paid a shilling entrance-fee to clap in the great hall. Let us see what we do ourselves, and not be gloriously heroic over dead people.

Jesus Christ therefore shared the common fate. "There is his father, there is his mother, there are his kinsfolk—from whence hath this Man this wisdom? It is guessing, it is conjecture, it is audacity, it is blasphemy: it cannot be accounted for," and there is nothing people get so angry with as mystery of a supernatural kind. They feel as if they ought to know it; they are intelligent people, they are upon boards of direction, they are ministers of churches, they are office-bearers in high institutions, and they ought to be able to understand everything of the kind. Here is a case in which the spiritual power is in excess of the social antecedency and the social surroundings: therefore ignore it, deny it, contradict it, offend it, disable it, put it down. Rude reasoning, with just as much logic about it as you have seen occasional light in a lunatic"s eye.

Well, there is another reason of failure—the utter bondage to the letter. The people to whom Christ spoke were literalists. I do not despise the letter, only I do consider that it is not all. The kingdom of heaven is as a grain of mustard seed, the least among seeds, but when it is sown and fully developed, it becomes a very great tree. So with the letter. It is necessary; we cannot do without it; but it is not to be held in the hand, but is to be planted as a seed, and is to bring forth all the poetry of bad and blossom and fruit, and is to afford lodgment for singing-birds, ay, room enough to give habitations to God"s birds, not one of which he overlooks or neglects. When Jesus Christ said, "Beware of the leaven," "O," they said, "that is because we have not brought any bread with us;" and it distressed the Saviour to think that after all his teaching, they could give no higher interpretation to his figures—nay, they ceased to be figures before such unimaginative minds. When he said, "Except a man eat my flesh, he cannot live," they said, "How can a man give his flesh to eat?" and it distressed God"s Christ to hear such literalistic criticism. You cannot interpret religious truth without the religious imagination—that wondrous power which keeps the literal and yet comes out into apocalyptic visions and interpretations, and glorifies the letter until its raiments shine and its face glistens with a light brighter than the sun. When Jesus Christ said "bread," the people thought he meant bread. When he said, "I could give thee water to drink, which, having drunk, would cause thee never to thirst again," the woman said, "Then let me have it," not knowing that he spake of his heart"s life and the Holy Ghost, the inner baptism, the satisfaction of the soul"s thirst. Wherever this literalism Isaiah , in any congregation, the ministry will be a failure, unless, indeed, the ministry itself is a piece of literalism, and then it will be a double failure.

The third cause of the non-success of our Lord"s preaching was the spirituality of the man and of the doctrine. This was the greatest difficulty of all. The Jews sought the more to kill him because he had not only broken the Sabbath, but said also that God was his Father. "The words that I speak unto you they are spirit and they are life.—The Son of Prayer of Manasseh , which is in heaven." There was a strange ghostliness about the doctrine of Christ. It had earthly aspects of extreme and indestructible beauty, but the people were afraid to acknowledge the fascination, lest, by their admissions, they should be hurried to conclusions that would make them Christians. Jesus had always something beyond. He never said, "This is the point at which I want you to stand still." His plan of educating his church is God"s plan of educating the world. The promise come, the promise realised, a higher promise still is spoken. The prize seized, a grander prize is offered, and thus God "allures to brighter worlds and leads the way."

The people having seen this to be part of his method were very careful how they conceded anything or made any admissions without looking well around the circle of consequences. They learned caution by experience. At first they were clamorous in their applause, but by-and-by they came to understand that applause was not enough. Then they came to hostility. They found it was one of two things then, and it is one of two things now—either worship or hatred. There are men about whom you have no strong opinion; they are what are called nice, pleasant men, very agreeable persons, individuals whom you might pass by the thousand in the street, and take no notice of—altogether without specialty or accent. But when Christ comes, it is one of two things; it Isaiah , worship him, love him, give him all; or it Isaiah , crucify him, crucify him. So the people were going to give applause. "Well done," said they; "repeat that miracle, show us another sign, renew the testimony of tokens;" and Jesus said, "You have had enough of this; I have wrought miracles enough to save the world if miracles ever would save it; now you must think, love, trust, repent, believe." At that point the great division was set up. The people said, in effect, "His parables are intellectual gems, his voice is full of varied and thrilling music, his language is nothing short of a Divine election of words, his retorts are keen and final, his miracles are mighty and beneficent, he is indeed the supreme wonder of our land." Jesus Christ said, "That will not do; so far, so good, if good; so far, so bad, if the rest be not added." There was partial faith, no doubt. Many of the Jews believed on him, and said, "When Christ cometh will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done?" That reasoning would seem to point to this man as the Messiah. Many of the people, when they heard these sayings, said, "Of a truth this is that prophet." All the people were amazed, and said, "Is not this the Son of David?"

So there was an acknowledgment of peculiar influence and special powers. Was Christ satisfied? A very beautiful trait of his character comes out here. An impostor would have been intoxicated with the applause; Christ declined it. The people said, "Never man spake like this man." The people would have taken him by force to make him a king, the people delighted in his miracles, and made him famous concerning them. Was this enough? Alas! it brought the expression of an infinite distress into Christ"s face. There is some applause that damns a Prayer of Manasseh , there is a liking for a ministry which crushes the minister. What did Christ want? To see of the travail of his soul! To applaud his miracles was to annoy him, to speak about what he had done was to give him offence. He said, "Do not speak about it; miracles spoken about lose their meaning. Tell no man; go home to thy friends and think." He was afraid that the people"s applause would end in itself, in mere admiration, and in merely spreading for him a high-sounding name as a kind of consecrated juggler. He knew human nature, and he said, "Be quiet about the miracles; go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel." When the miracle was wrought, he said, "Go home and say nothing about it." We cannot be trusted with too many miracles, they unsettle our intelligence, they were not meant as other than alphabetic and indicative. If we make more of them we invert and spoil the purpose of Christ. Christ spoke of his soul—the travail of his soul, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful even unto death." Please his soul, and you give him sincere and pure delight.

But surely Jesus Christ kept in hand all whom he did succeed in getting to hear him and like him? No. Many escaped from his grasp. "From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him." He was a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel. That is a marvellous circumstance in our Lord"s life. He had difficulty in getting any: he did not keep all whom he did get. He was despised and rejected of men. Can we wonder that we hear in our own day of ministers who have to complain of similar non-success? Do you know how ministers of Christ are now spoken of in this matter of failure and success? I will tell you, but do not repeat what I tell you. The common inquiry Isaiah , "How is he getting on?" and the frequent reply Isaiah , "They are not filling—they are not filling. He does not fill the place. He does not keep up his congregation. The place was not so full as I have seen it. I think there is a falling away." Why I have even heard some lunatics say that the collection was not quite so large as it used to be! Ah, me! my Christ, my God"s Christ, it is the old criticism over again, and it will be the old crucifixion. God grant that it may be the old resurrection! We are wrong in our standards, false in our reckoning. I do not complain of the criticism. I thank God that for five-and-twenty years I have been standing in the midst of a crowd as a Christian minister, and therefore I make no personal references in the matter, but there are higher standards than Numbers , money, patronage, gifts, or anything that is outside and secondary. Do not let us despise these; they are most useful and necessary, and if any man here has the gift of speech and can eulogise these things soberly and fully, I will accept his statement and will replace my own with his description. Only let us know that Jesus Christ had to suffer from exactly this same cause. "From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him." Did he then cease to walk? He hardened his face and went to the Jerusalem of his destiny. Keep steadily on thy purpose, and never mind who comes or who goes, be thy face towards God"s will, and God will see that no stone can keep thee in the grave.

A falling-off of physical power there may be in your minister: alas! he cannot always be young. Time makes insidious advances upon us all. As there came a time in our boyhood when words suddenly revealed their full meaning to us, so there are special moments in our after life when a man says, "Why, I am no longer young." Who cares for the aged minister—who cares for the minister whose vigour is gone! Even a decline of intellectual force is possible: the man is not so ready and strong as he used to be. Once he answered the occasion as powder answers fire—now he is more torpid, he has farther to come, his sleep is of another kind, and steals more fatally over his brain. Who cares for him in that withering time? Always some—thank God.

But this physical decline, or intellectual falling away, is not the cause; the real reason may be deeper, and may actually be the supreme honour of the minister, as it was in the case of Christ. When did the disciples fall away and walk no more with Christ—when his power of working miracles was gone, when his power of inventing and delivering beauteous parables had declined? The cause lay deeper: do not let us hasten over it, but rather let us consider it deeply. From what time was it, then, when many of his disciples went back? It was when Jesus was most spiritual in his teaching. Hear the testimony. He began to say, "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and as I live by the Father, so he that eateth me even he shall live by me." It was THEN that the disciples said, "This is a hard saying: who can hear it?" Jesus hearing that objection went further, and said, plainly, "No man can come unto me except it were given unto him of my Father." From THAT TIME many of his disciples went back and walked no more with him. Why? Because the miracles were less glittering and notable? No. Because the parables fell off in intellectual beauty and force? No—but because the ministry became more spiritual. Just so now. When and why do the people love the minister? Which are the sermons which are little liked? I know. What are the sermons that will empty any church in London? O, my friends, belonging to this place or to that, for we gather here from many religious centres, how is it with you? Are you still hungering for little stories, striking anecdotes, pretty parables—are you still delighted with small rhetorical toys cut with a jack-knife and painted red and blue, or do you want the inner truth, Christ"s flesh to eat, Christ"s blood to drink, a baptism of the Holy Ghost, keen, piercing insight into the inner mysteries of God"s invisible kingdom? From that time, from the moment he became intensely spiritual, his disciples walked no more with him.

I heard a great organist play. He played from Handel, and the people answered with feeble enthusiasm of hand and foot. He played from Mendelssohn and Beethoven, and there was the same acquiescence in fate—it was to be Song of Solomon , and was taken as such. He played a piece full of scenic representation, the village dance, the storm brewing, rolling, shattering the heavens—then the quiet, gentle hymn: it was most pictorial, most vivid and graphic, and the people answered as with a roar. The organist said to me afterwards, on being complimented on the reception of the piece in question, "Well, it was somewhat ad captandum." He was not pleased with the compliment. It was a beautiful piece, a rare and wonderful piece—but Handel and Beethoven, these were masters, so to speak, who opened the infinite. Alas! who cares?

Now this review of Christ"s failure destroys two sophisms. First, that earnestness is always successful. O, the cant that is talked about earnestness! Was Christ earnest?

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 13:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/matthew-13.html. 1885-95.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, September 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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