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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Luke 12

 

 

Verse 1

Luke 12:1

The leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy

Hypocrisy

I.
THE HYPOCRITE’S CHARACTER.

1. A hypocrite may be known by the fact that his speech and his actions are contrary to one another. As Jesus says, “They say and they do not.” Talk is easy, but walk is hard; speech any man may attain unto, but act is difficult. We must have grace within to make our life holy; but lip-piety needs no grace.

2. The next mark of a hypocrite is, that whenever he does right it is that he may be seen of men. To him virtue in the dark is almost a vice; he can never detect any beauty in virtue, unless she has a thousand eyes to look upon her, and then she is something indeed. The true Christian, like the nightingale, sings in the night; but the hypocrite has all his songs in the day, when he can be seen and heard of men.

3. Hypocrite, love titles, and honours, and respect from men. There was another evidence of an hypocrite which was equally good, namely, that he strained at a gnat and swallowed a camel. Always suspect yourself when you are more careful about little than about great things.

4. These people neglected all the inward part of religion, and only observed the outward. As our Saviour said, they “made clean the outside of the cup and platter, but within they were full of extortion and excess.” There are many books which are excellently bound, but there is nothing within them; and there are many persona that have a very fine spiritual exterior, but there is nothing whatever in the heart.

5. You may know a hypocrite by another sign. His religion depends upon the place, or upon the time of day. He rises at seven o’clock perhaps, and you will find him religious for a quarter of an hour; for he is, as the boy said, “saying his prayers to himself” in the first part of the morning. Well, then you find him pretty pious for another half-hour, for there is family prayer; but when the business begins, and he is talking to his men, I won’t guarantee that you will be able to admire him. If one of his servants has been doing something a little amiss, you will find him perhaps using angry and unworthy language. You will find him, too, if he gets a customer whom he thinks to be rather green, not quite pious, for he will be taking him in.

6. There is another sign of the hypocrite, and now the lash will fall on my own back, and on most of us too. Hypocrites, and other people besides hypocrites, are generally severe with others, and very lenient with themselves. Have you ever heard a hypocrite describe himself? I describe him thus--“You are a mean, beggarly fellow.” “No,” says he, “I am not; I am economical.” I say to him, “You are dishonest, you are a thief.” “No,” says he, “I am only cute and sharp for the times.” “Well, but,” I say to him, “you are proud and conceited.” “Oh!” says he, “I have only a proper and manly respect.” “Ay, but you are a fawning, cringing fellow.” “No,” says he, “I am all things to all men.” Somehow or other he will make vice look like a virtue in himself, but he will deal by the reverse rule with others. Show him a Christian who is really humble, and he says, “I hate his fawning ways.” Tell him there is one who is very courageous for Christ; “Oh! he is impudent,” says he. Show him one who is liberal, doing what he can for his Master’s service, spending, and being spent for Him; “Rash and imprudent,” says he, “extravagant; the man does not know what he is about.” You may point out a virtue, and the hypocrite shall at once say it is a vice.

II. And now we are going to CAST UP THE HYPOCRITE’S ACCOUNT FOR HIM. Now, sir, bring us your ledger, and let us have a look at it. You are a hypocrite. Well, what is on the profit side? A good deal, I must confess. Here is, first of all, credit and honour. The next advantage is the ease which you enjoy. And, besides that, there are the honours you have received. That is the profit side of your account. Now turn to the other, and take note of what there is against you. In the first place, I see a black item down here. Home of the people of the world do not think quite as much of you as you imagine. The poor widow does not give you much of a character. You will have to be very careful, sir, or your base deeds will come out. The very first item I see down here is a fear that your hypocrisy will be discovered. It would take you only half as much trouble to be an honest man as it does to be a deceiver. A man who is in the habit of speaking truth need not mind how he opens his mouth, nor where; but a man who lies should be very careful, and have a very good memory, and recollect all he has ever said before, lest he should trip himself. But I see something worse than this; here is constant disquietude of conscience; hypocrites may seem as if they were at ease, but they cannot really be. The Christian who is true to God, and is really His child, can sometimes say, “I know that Jesus has taken away my sin.” Assurance, vouchsafed to him by the Spirit, calms his fears, and he can rest in Christ. But the highest presumption to which the hypocrite can attain brings no such calm as that which is breathed upon the Christian by the lips of assurance. He can go to his bed, nay, he can go to his tomb in peace, but the hypocrite is afraid of a shadow, and fleeth when no man pursueth. And last of all, Mr. Hypocrite, I see an item here which you usually forget; it is this--that, despite of your profession, God abhors you, and if there is one man more than another who stinks in the nostrils of Jehovah, it is such as thou art--thou miserable pretender. Death shall find thee out, and hell shall be thy doom, for the hope of the hypocrite is as the spider’s web, soon swept away; and where is he when God taketh away his hope? This, then, is the casting up of the hypocrite’s account, and there is a deficit of an infinite amount.

III. Now for the matter of the CURE OF THE HYPOCRITE. The thought of a present Deity, if it were fully realized, would preserve us from sin; always looking on me, ever regarding me. We think we are doing many things in secret, but there is nothing concealed from Him with whom we have to do. And the day is coming when all the sins that we have committed shall be read and published. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

How is hypocrisy discoverable and curable?

The words naturally yield you this doctrine: Hypocrisy is a dangerous leaven, which ministers and people are chiefly and especially to beware of, and acquit themselves from. Hence you have a chapter of woes against it (Matthew 23:1-39.). And it is represented as that which renders odious to the Lord, and defiles, His choicest ordinances, and our best duties, if it cleave to them (Isaiah 1:11-12; Isa_66:3); and puts God to sad complaints and exprobations of such a people (Hosea 6:4).

I. WHAT HYPOCRISY IS. Much of the nature of a thing is many times discovered in its name; the name is a brief description. The word “ hypocrite” properly signifies an actor or stage-player, a personator of other men in their speech, habit, and action. The Hebrew word signifieth both “a wicked man” and a “deceiver.” And it is observed that those whom David, the devoutest man, called “wicked,” Solomon, the wisest man, calls “fools,” and Job, the most upright man, calls “hypocrites”: all is but one and the same thing under divers names. Hypocrisy, then, is but a feigning of virtue and piety, which it seems to put on, and vice and impiety, which it conceals and would seem to put off. It is indeed vice in a vizor; the face is vice, but virtue is the vizor. The form and nature of it is imitation: the ends are vainglory, to be seen of men, or some gain or carnal respects.

II. How IS HYPOCRIST RESEMBLED BY LEAVEN? Briefly thus:

1. Leaven is hardly discerned from good dough by the sight. And as hardly is hypocrisy distinguished from piety.

2. Leaven is very spreading. And so hypocrisy does a great deal of mischief; it spreads over all the man, and all his duties, parts, performances: and leavens all.

3. Leaven is of a sour taste and ungrateful smell. So is hypocrisy to God’s man.

4. Leaven is of a swelling nature: it extends and puffs up the dough. So hypocrisy is all for the praise of men.

III. WHY IS IT CALLED “THE LEAVEN OF THE PHARISEES”? Because they were leavened with it to purpose; they were exact and super-eminent in this devilish art of personating and counterfeiting to the life.

IV. WHEREIN IS THIS LEAVEN OF HYPOCRISY SO DANGEROUS THAT MINISTERS AND PEOPLE OUGHT FIRSTLY, CHIEFLY, TO BEWARE OF IT? There is great danger of it, and great danger by it.

1. There is great danger of it.

2. And there is great danger by it.”

The leaven of hypocrisy

I. SOME WAYS IN WHICH THIS HYPOCRISY WORKS AND IS SHOWN.

1. Hypocrisy works in the bias of the mind. There is a secret end and aim with those in whom it works, apart from the glory of God. Self is always uppermost, even in religious acts and outward worship.

2. Hypocrisy shows itself in a resting in duties. Those in whom it thus works are satisfied to please self and others in them; they do not seek Christ in them; they go on in duties, but it is a bondage to them; their duties leave no savour on them; they are strict to a fault whilst engaged in them, and shame some gracious souls, who have not the self-command they show; but out of their duties they are light and frothy; there is nothing resting upon their spirits. View them at home, you see little or no difference between them and those who make no profession.

3. Hypocrisy shows itself in Weariness of religion. Many, with all their outward zeal, are secretly weary of religious duties; they get nothing in them; they go away as they came, unwatered and unrefreshed; their inward spring seems dried up; Christ’s yoke is often grievous to them. This is a far gone stage of the disease; it is the heart departing from the Lord. They slave and drudge on at duties, but are nothing bettered by them; they rather grow worse; their spiritual appetite seems departing. But for shame, many would give in at this stage, and walk no more as the open followers of Jesus.

4. Once more: hypocrisy works much in prayer, open and private. It regards choice of expression and fitting words mere than the workings of desires in the heart, though the utterances are unconnected and broken. It depends on mental help more than spiritual assistance,

II. THE KINDS OF CHRISTIANS WHO ARE MOST PRONE TO THIS SIN, AND WHO OUGHT, THEREFORE, TO BE MOST ON THEIR GUARD AGAINST IT.

1. Christians whose avocations bring them much into the world should guard against this sin.

2. Persons that are naturally crafty and subtle have great reason to watch against hypocrisy in their religious acts.

3. Those have great reason to guard against this sin who have been brought comfortably and calmly into peace with God, who have not been under great terrors of conscience, nor laid long, if at all, under a broken law--those who have come to Christ on the first motions of godly sorrow, and found peace with God. It too often happens that those who have been so gently dealt with do not value the blessing aright; they do not see what it cost the Son of God to procure.

4. Those who are naturally superstitious have need to be on the watch. It is a great advantage to Satan to meet with a superstitious person under the power of religion; he will improve his advantage, and try to work upon their superstition, to bring them into bondage, and to make them hypocrites in numberless ways. He will try to give them too high an esteem for externals, to deaden, if possible, the power of religion in their souls. He will give them needless torment about little matters which in themselves are of no consequence or value, but he will try and magnify them in their eyes, and seek to persuade them to believe that much depends on them. They will be often led to believe that a scrupulous conscience is a tender one, whereas the two things are totally different; and a man may have a very scrupulous conscience in religious matters that yet never hated sin or loved God.

III. THE DANGER OF GIVING WAY TO THIS SIN, AND LETTING IT GAIN GROUND. This will also lead me to say a few words by way of caution how to prevent this.

1. It is a hateful sin in the sight of God. All hypocrisy is deception; and God is a God of truth, and loves truth, and will have those who worship Him “ worship Him in spirit and in truth.”

2. Hypocrisy is a very deceiving sin. Hypocrites go on in duties, because the most of their religion lies in duties. Thus their duties deceive them. They judge well of themselves, because of their duties: but God judges of them by the state of their hearts.

3. Hypocrisy is a very dangerous sin. It works, as the Saviour says, like leaven; it spreads over and taints, if unresisted and unchecked, all the healthy actings of the soul. It will, in the end, wear out all the sincere principles from which a professor once acted, and make him a confirmed hypocrite. There is danger of God giving up any who go on in this sin to a “reprobate mind”; not all at once, but little by little, their spiritual strength will wax less and less, till it dries up altogether. They may be given up secretly to some corruption which will eat as a canker. Their souls will wither, because by their sin they cut themselves off from Christ.

4. But now, not to discourage any, it is good to have hypocrisy discovered; the honest soul will be glad to know the worst, and never rest till he does. It is a bad sign to rest satisfied under uneasy feelings, hoping for a change, but without being stirred up to seek it. It is good to be severe with oneself, to sound our own hearts to the bottom, to beg of God and men to search and try us. It is only in this way--and that not now and then, or when pressed in conscience, but habitually--that hypocrisy will be kept under. (H. M. Baker.)

Different kinds of hypocrites

1. The worldly hypocrite, who professes godliness from worldly motives.

2. The legal hypocrite, who resigns his vicious practices to win heaven, but has no love to God.

3. The evangelical hypocrite, whose religion is an acknowledgment of sin, but with no desire to lead a godly life.

4. The enthusiastic hypocrite, who has an imaginary notion of the Saviour, and relies on impulses and feelings, and yet clings to vicious deeds. (Van Doren.)

Hypocrites in all ages

Cain in the first age; Canaan in the second; Ishmael in the third; Esau in the fourth; Saul among the prophets; Judas among the apostles; Nicholas among the deacons; Ananias among the early Christians. (Van Doren.)

Profession without possession

To profess a faith which you have net is to make yourself a deceptive trader, who pretends to be carrying on a very large business, while he has no stock, no capital, and is only obtaining credit on false pretences, and so is a thief. To make a profession, without having a possession, is to be a cloud without rain--a river-bed choked up with dry stones, but utterly without water; it is to be a mere play-actor, strutting about for an hour with the name and garments of a king, to be exchanged, behind the scenes, for the garb of poverty, and the character of shame; it is to be a rotten tree, green on the outside, but inwardly, as John Bunyan pithily puts it, “only fit to be tinder for the devil’s tinder box.” Be ye warned against fair pretensions where there is nothing to back them up. Above all things, eschew hypocrisy; stand aside from all mere pretence. Profess not to be what you are not, lest in that day when God comes to search the secrets of all hearts, you shall be condemned as reprobate silver, and consumed like dross. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Hypocrisy a common danger

An old English writer says:--“The Emperor Frederick III., when one said unto him he would go and find some place where no hypocrite inhabited, told him he must travel, then, far enough beyond the Sauromatae or the frozen ocean; for yet, when he came there, he should find a hypocrite if he found himself there. And it is true that every man is a hypocrite. Hypocrisy is lesson that every man readily takes in. All are not fit for the wars; learning must have the picked and choicest wits; arts must have leisure and pains; but all sorts are apt enough, and thrive in the mystery of dissimulation.

Pharisaic hypocrisy

That which was the disease of the Pharisee was the disease of the time. Our Lord calls that disease “hypocrisy.” We have a reasonable horror of the name. We consider that it is applicable only to the worst men in the worst times. There is good excuse for that opinion; yet it may rob us of the force of our Lord’s warning--we may put it at a dangerous distance from ourselves. The hypocrite is the man who acts a part; there is no more evil significance in the word than that. And oh! how easy it is to be a hypocrite if that is his characteristic; how difficult it is not to be one! Do you not know with what terrible quickness a child becomes an actor or actress? Do you not know what we do to cultivate the acting talent, the acting habit in them? Do you not know what a number of social influences and contrivances are at work to convince men and women that it is their business to be masquers, that their skill is to be shown in the devising of masks? To strike at the root of this hypocrisy, to point out the remedy, this is the work which we ask from the King of men, from Him who knows what is in man. Jesus struck at the root of all social hypocrisy, of all personal hypocrisy, in Palestine, when He traced it to the religion which prevailed there. Then He pointed out the remedy in this sentence of everlasting might: “For there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed, neither Lid that shall not be known.” The religion of the Pharisees consisted in a series of attempts to please, flatter, and bribe the Ruler of the earth. If He could be persuaded not to look too curiously into the acts of His servants, not to probe the secrets of their hearts; if He could be induced to accept a compensation for this evil, on certain conditions to tolerate that; if His commandments could be shown to bear different constructions for different persons; if cases might be imagined to which they did not apply, or applied with various qualifications and mitigations; if the creature could succeed in keeping the Creator at a distance from him, so that his secrets should not be brought to the light; their religion had realized its highest objects. Such a religion was leavening the chosen people, as it was under other aspects, with the most dissimilar professions under heathen forms of worship, leavening the old Roman Empire. The priests and lawyers in Jerusalem, the Pontifiex and the Augur in Rome, were alike acting a part. They rehearsed their parts in private; they performed them in public. The Pharisees were at once the consummate practisers of the art and the most systematic instructors in it. But what if the Ruler of the earth could not be flattered or bribed? What if everything that is covered must be revealed, if everything that is hidden must be known? What if the very act of the Creator is to reveal, if He is bringing all things to light, if He hates darkness? There is the whole question. Is it a God of light you serve, or a God of darkness? Acting hypocrisy is an impossible kind of service with the first, the only suitable one with the second. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)

Hypocrisy

Grace is the Christian’s new nature, and hypocrisy is the art that counterfeits it. The hypocrite affects the innocence of the dove to hide the cunning of the serpent. By the hypocrite good men are oft deceived, for “Goodness thinks no ill where no ill seems.” The hypocrite, like Judas, may salute Christ, but it is to betray Him. The hypocrite’s life is a falsehood to heaven and to earth. The hypocrite gives his tongue to virtue, but his heart to vice. If there be “the head of gold,” there are also “the feet of miry clay.” Hypocrisy is the homage which vice pays to virtue. The more plausible hypocrisy is before men, the more detestable it is to God. The

hypocrite serves Satan, and from Satan receives his reward. The religious hypocrite is at best a man of dark deeds, though clad in garments of light. He may approach the portals of heaven, but he does not enter. A hypocrite was discovered at a royal supper, but the king rejected him from the banquet. Man esteems him hateful, because he seems not what he is; and God hates him, because he is not what he seems. The Christian’s heart oft speaks without the tongue, but the hypocrite’s tongue always speaks without the heart. The hypocrite, like a bird of prey, although his course be towards heaven, yet is always looking and longing for something upon earth. The Christian gives to God the fruit of his labours; the hypocrite gives to God the fruit of his lips. The hypocrite is led by ostentation, and not by a sanctified conscience. Hypocrites may be “Christians in the skin, but they are demons in the core”; “their rhetoric may be pretty, their logic witty, but their practice is naughty.” Hypocrisy is insulting to the virtuous, and cruel to the poor and afflicted. For he who hides his vices by hypocrisy, suspects the virtues of others to be hypocrisy. And the poor and afflicted remain poor and afflicted, because the sin of the hypocrite closed the hand of charity, and in consequence thereof genuine sorrow is oft suspected in place of being relieved. An impostor who asks for alms is a hypocrite in the lower grade. Hypocrisy may prevail in morals as well as in creed. Some men are hypocritical in both. Hypocrisy shall be detected, as in the case of Saul (1 Samuel 15:14), Gehazi (2 Kings 5:26), Judas Matthew 26:50), Ananias (Acts 5:3), Simon Magus (Acts 8:20-21). Hypocrisy may be seen in the history of Jacob (Genesis 27:20), Pharaoh (Exodus 8:28-29), Balaam (Numbers 23:10), Absalom 2 Samuel 15:7), Hazael (2 Kings 8:12-13). Samaritans (Ezra 4:2), Herod (Matthew 2:8), High Priest (Matthew 26:65), Pilate Matthew 27:24). Let the hypocrite tremble lest he perish by his own hypocrisy, for God is the God of Truth, Christ is the Word of Truth, and the Holy Ghost is the Spirit of Truth. “The hope of the hypocrite shall be as the spider’s web” (Job 8:13-14). He is unwise who decries religion because some professing to be religious are hypocrites. None would take the pains to counterfeit pearls, if true ones were not of value. Men would not personate piety were it not of itself a noble quality. We best show our abhorrence of hypocrisy by holding the truth free from hypocrisy. (Van Doren.)


Verse 2-3

Luke 12:2-3

Nothing covered, that shall not be revealed

The revealing process

There is a tendency in things everywhere to manifest their natures, and make themselves known.
Seeds that are buried, seek the light; shells deep in the sea grope their way to the shore; the processes of nature are to bring things to the surface. What is true in matter has certainly its counterpart in mind. Human character, notwithstanding all efforts to keep itself back, also tends to development; what is not seen at once is found out in a lifetime. The strong passions of the soul, like smothered fires or hidden springs, at last burst their way through, and become known. There is certainly going on around us in the operations of nature, and in the unfolding of events, a revealing process, as if creation and Providence had determined to let light into all dark places, and at last uncover human hearts. This, we suppose, is the general idea taught in the text.

I. THERE ARE REVEALING PROCESSES GOING ON IN THE WORLD AROUND US, AND UNDER CIRCUMSTANCES WHICH MAKE IT EXCEEDINGLY PROBABLE THAT, IN THE WORLD TO COME, THEY WILL CONTINUE TO GO ON WITH ACCELERATED AND OVERWHELMING POWER. One fact often discloses a great deal, when brought into connection with another fact, which, when it stood by itself, told nothing. The ancient kings of the East were aware of this, when they sent messages from one to another on business which they wished to be kept secret from all but themselves. The message was written upon a piece of parchment, but so written that it could not be deciphered unless first bound upon a staff, which contained a counterpart and key to that which was sent, and each king kept one of these staffs; hence, if the messenger should lose the scrip, the secret would not be divulged, because not intelligible, unless wrapped round the wood: the one was read by the help of the other, though each spoke nothing by itself. So with events in human life; they throw light on each other when brought together.

II. ALL THE HINDRANCES WHICH PREVENTED A PERFECT REVELATION OF THE CHARACTER IN THIS WORLD, WILL, IN THE NEXT, BE REMOVED. If even in such a world as this, where the body, and old associations, and friends, and forgetfulness, and ignorance of the consequences, contribute to quiet the goadings of conscience, men are still driven by remorse to give a detailed and minute account of the evil they have done, what may not be expected when, with conscience all alive, and memory quickened, the soul dismantled of its clay, stung by its sins, bereft of friends, and hindered by nothing, meets the eye of its Maker without a veil? Surely there is a provision in our nature, by reason of which every one shall give an account of himself unto God.

III. MUCH OF THE BIBLE IS WRITTEN, AND ALL PROBATION ARRANGED, WITH REFERENCE TO A JUDGMENT IN THE MIDST OF MINUTE AND AMAZING REVELATIONS. There is a foretokening all along our earthly way. If the wicked hear a “dreadful sound,” what does he hear? If he sees a hand others do not see, what is it that he sees? The fear of God is not before his eyes, and yet he is afraid. There was a sound, a rustle of a leaf, yet to him a sound that spoke of discovery--a whisper of betrayal and development; he sees things around him working to the surface. Even a stain upon his robe, a paler hue upon his cheek, may have a voice to some one; many things have come out in ways most unexpected and who shall say, after all, he may not have been observed! Perhaps the words of the aged preacher peal again upon his soul--“Every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil.” “For every idle word which men shall speak, shall they give account”; “Whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light”; and “The sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and the grave the dead which were in them, and they were judged, every man according to his works,” out of the things that were written in the books.

IV. IF THERE WERE NO BOOKS WITH MAN’S NEEDS RECORDED IN THEM, NO CONSCIENCE IN THE SOUL TO URGE THEM FORTH, NO WITNESSES TO TESTIFY, AND NO FORMAL SENTENCE TO BE PRONOUNCED AND VINDICATED, STILL THE FUTURE CONDITION OF THE SOUL WILL ITSELF POINT BACK TO SPECIFIC ACTS OF SIN OR UNRIGHTEOUSNESS ON EARTH, AS THE GROUND OF ITS PECULIAR DESTINY. (W. Neill.)

The inner world

I. Now, we believe that God has dealt with man according to his temperament. He knows us far better than we know ourselves; and He would therefore work upon us in a manner most likely to produce a good effect. It may be, indeed, that the abstract idea of the Lord’s coming to judgment, would have been in itself too lofty for a man fully to appreciate; so that in order to make man realize it, and thus to let it have a practical bearing upon our conduct, it has been necessary to enter into the detail, and describe one of the scenes connected with it. Or, to regard the subject in another light, it is noticeable that man feels no shame of God’s knowledge of sin. This may be proved from the fact that we are guilty, all of us, of many secret sins, which we should blush to own to our dearest friend, but which we are ready enough to acknowledge to God. On the other hand, we are not often content that our good deeds should be known to God alone, but the majority of persons would seem to wish that men should regard them also. These considerations may lead us to understand, that it was from a complete knowledge of human nature that Christ warned His disciples by the announcement of the truth--that all secrets would eventually be brought to light. “Beware,” He says, “of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known.

II. By laying as de a 1 further reference to God’s perfect knowledge of human nature implied in the text, we would lead your minds to the doctrine which the text conveys--and, indeed, it is a most important one. Christ here speaks of the revealing at the last day, of all that we now hide in the closest secrecy. He tells us that there is nothing, hide it as we now may from the knowledge of others, which He will not reveal before the masses of the universe. The actions of a single day, who can number them? Go, examine your own hearts. Each man for himself must go down to the region of his own soul, and find out what is there going on. Thoughts and passions, motives and wishes, hopes and fears, hatred, lusts and affections, intentions of good, and designs of evil; these are the shadowy dwellers of that weed within, whose name is legion, for indeed they are many. At one time they prompt us to external deeds; at another time, our external deeds are only the cloak beneath which they disguise themselves, so that men perceive them not. Oh, who can turn the mental eye inwards, and not marvel at, and fear the secret world which toils and burns in the heart? Yet we see it not all. He knows all things now, and there shall come a day when they shall be known no longer to God alone, but they shall be all declared to the gathered masses of the universe; for Christ has told us, that “there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed.”

III. And if this be true, does it not especially behove us constantly to regard the state of that heart which God so closely inspects?

IV. And here we may notice a remarkable distinction between the judgment passed on our conduct by man on the one side, and by God on the other. Man takes into account our wicked actions only, while God often discerns matter of condemnation, long before the wicked action is committed. As viewed by an earthly tribunal, it is of little account what designs we may have had, if those designs have never been put into execution. If we are placed in positions where unavoidable circumstances really debar us often from those privileges which the gospel of Christ affords to man, we may safely commit ourselves to the hands of God; He knows our hearts; and the day will come when it will be proved that, although debarred from many privileges, it was not really our own fault; our inclinations were good, and these inclinations shall be openly declared; for “there is nothing covered,” no secret wish, no concealed desire, “that shall not be revealed; there is nothing hid that shall not be known.” (H. Palmer.)

Christians weighed in the balance

If we had eyes adapted to the sight, we should see, on looking into the smallest seed, the future flower or tree enclosed in it. God will look into our feelings and motives as into seeds; by those embryos of action He will infallibly determine what we are, and will show what we should have been, had there been scope and stage for their development and maturity. Nothing will be made light of. The very dust of the balances shall be taken into account. It is in the moral world as it is in the natural, where every substance weighs something; though we speak of imponderable bodies, yet nature knows nothing of positive levity: and were men possessed of the necessary scales, the requisite instrument, we should find the same holds true in the moral world. Nothing is insignificant on which sin has breathed the breath of hell: everything is important in which holiness has impressed itself in the painted characters. And accordingly “There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed; and hid that shall not be known.” However unimportant now, in the estimation of man, yet, when placed in the light of the Divine countenance, like the atom in the sun’s rays, it shall be deserving attention; and as the minutest molecule of matter contains all the primordial elements of a world, so the least atom of that mind shall be found to include in it the essential elements of heaven. (W. Harris.)

No secrecy for sin

A man broke into a small church in Scotland, with the sacrilegious intention of stealing the communion plate. Hearing steps outside the building, and expecting that he should be discovered, he hurried to the end of the church, where, seeing a long rope depending to the ground, he laid hold of it for the purpose of climbing out of sight. But it proved to be the bell rope, and his weight rang the bell, which attracted his pursuers immediately to the spot. The man, of course, was caught; and thus wittily addressed the unconscious cause of his detection:--“If it had not been for thy long tongue and empty head I should not have been in my present predicament.” This is the story as we get it from Mr. Gatty’s book “upon the Bell”; but it has its lesson. Those who sin are pretty sure, sooner or later, to turn king’s-evidence against themselves. There is a voice in wrong-doing; its long tongue will not always be quiet. All unaware, the offender puts out his hand and pulls the bell which tells against himself and summons vengeance to overtake him. Let no man dream that he can secure secrecy for his wickedness. Every timber in floor or roof is really to cry out against him, and before he is aware of it, he will himself be ringing out his own infamy. What will be his dismay when he stands self-convicted before the assembled universe! (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Guilt strangely revealed

Once, in a certain part of Germany, a box of treasure that was being sent by railway was found to have been opened and emptied of its contents, and filled with stones and rubbish. The question was, Who was the robber? Some sand was found sticking to the box, and a clever mineralogist, having looked at the grains of sand through his microscope, said that there was only one station on the railway where there was that kind of sand. Then they knew that the box must have been taken out at that station, and so they found out who was the robber. The dust under his feet, where he had set down the box to open it, was a witness against him. (Clerical Library.)

The quickening of conscience

Just as the manipulations of the photographer in his dark chamber bring forth a picture which has been burnt into the plate by rays of light before, that when completed it may be brought to light again, and set before men that they may see what manner of persons they were; so, in the dark chambers of the dead, in the hidden spirit-world, there shall be a quickening of conscience. Many a dull picture, burnt into the mind amid the brightness of life shall be made terribly clear, the whole to be exposed as a finished view in the light of the judgment throne, and of Him who sits thereon. We are taught that we had better cultivate this photography of life ourselves. God has given to us the dark chambers of the night, no chambers of horror, but chambers in which, away from busy life, we may still be workers for Him, bringing forth the pictures of the day that are imprinted on conscience, and that may all be lost, unless we thus draw them forth.

Everything is recorded

It is related that, some time since, a gentleman visiting England called upon a gentleman there living in princely grandeur. After being passed from one liveried servant to another, with almost as much ceremony as if he were about to be brought into the presence of the Queen, he was shown into a large and elegantly furnished drawing-room, where he was received by the gentleman whom he sought. He saw that there were two other persons seated at a table in the room, but not being introduced to them, proceeded with his business. At the close of the interview, as he was about to leave, the gentleman remarked, “I am accustomed to have conversations with me recorded, and, that there may be no misunderstanding, these my amanuenses will read to you what you have said.” The visitor was thunderstruck. He little thought, while sitting there, that two pairs of ears were catching up every word he uttered, and two pairs of hands were putting it into a permanent record. So with many in this world. They seem not to know that there is a Being about their path who hears every syllable they utter, and who, “when the books are opened,” will bring everything to view. In a late work of fiction the Recording Angel is represented as dropping a tear, just as he enters the celestial gates, upon an oath uttered in haste by a favourite character, and blotting it out for ever. But that is fiction, and not truth. A greater than man declares that “whatsoever is spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light,” and that “every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.” (W. H. Baxendale.)

Eastern proclamations

Our Lord spent most of His life in villages; and, accordingly, the reference here is to a custom observed only in such places, never in cities. At the present day, writes Thompson, local governors in country districts cause their commands thus to be published. Their proclamations are generally made in the evening, after the people have returned from their labours in the field. The public crier ascends the highest roof at hand, and lifts up his voice in a long-drawn call upon all faithful subjects to give ear and obey. He then proceeds to announce, in a set form, the will of their master, and demands obedience thereto.


Verse 4-5

Luke 12:4-5

Be not afraid of them that kill the body

The fear of God

I.
WHAT IS THAT FEAR OF GOD WHICH THE FRIENDS AND DISCIPLES OF CHRIST ARE EXPECTED TO CHERISH?

1. We are sure that this fear is not, as some would have us believe, inconsistent with the enjoyment of the hopes and consolations of the gospel.

2. This fear blends itself with the other emotions of our mind, and gives a chastened character to them all.

II. WHAT CONSIDERATIONS TEND TO PROMOTE THIS FEAR.

1. The greatness of His power.

2. The immaculateness of His purity and justice.

3. The constancy and greatness, of His love. (Anon.)

Religious fear

I. CONSIDER ON WHAT THE FEAR OF GOD. AS IT IS A DUTY AND A GOOD DISPOSITION, IS FOUNDED.

1. On a due sense of out own imperfections.

2. On a due sense of the perfections of God. God is most holy, and abhors iniquity as entirely opposite to His pure and undefiled nature. He is everywhere present, and from Him nothing can be hid. He is all-wise, and cannot be deceived. He is the just governor of the world, and as such He cannot but observe the actions of men, and will certainly render to every one according to his works. He is almighty, and can punish the rebellious many ways, by turning them out of being, or by making that being a pain to them for as long a time as He sees proper. He is also supremely good; and though this of all His perfections may seem the least suited to make us dread Him, yet whosoever judgeth so is much mistaken; for indeed there is not any one quality of the Divine nature so adapted to strike us with an ingenuous fear, with the fear of a child towards a parent, as this, and of such efficacy to deter us from sin, and to make us avoid incurring His just displeasure. Sin against God, as He is almighty, is the excess of madness and folly; but, as He is most kind and merciful, it is the basest ingratitude.

II. THE SEVERAL DEGREES OF THIS RELIGIOUS FEAR. A person is sensible that his practice is not at all suitable to his knowledge and judgment; that he deliberately and continually offends God; that he is not in His favour; that, according to the doctrine of the gospel, he shall be condemned at the last day, unless he amend; and yet he goes on in his evil ways. One who is in this situation and disposition, and who seriously reflects upon it, cannot help fearing God. He fears Him as his worst enemy; he fears Him as a righteous and inflexible judge who will not spare the guilty. This fear is indeed well-grounded and rational and natural; yet, producing no good effects, it hath no virtue in it, it is no act of religion. But, if it deter him from sin, it is then to him the beginning of wisdom, and it becomes another kind of fear, and truly religious, as will appear from a second instance. A wicked person becomes sensible of his dangerous state, resolves to deliver himself from it without delay, and begins a new course. He knows that this repentance, these good resolutions, and this change for the better, are things which God requires, which He approves, and which He hath promised to accept when they bring forth the fruits of a regular obedience. He hath, therefore, hopes of pardon, without which it is not possible for any one to amend: but these hopes are mixed with many and great fears lest he should relapse into his former vices, lest he should not accomplish all that is necessary for his salvation, lest he should be called out of this world before he has finished his important and difficult task. This is a religious fear, because it is mixed with hope, and honourable notions of God, and because it produces good actions. There is, further, a religious fear, which, bringing forth a regular obedience, and not being accompanied with so much dread and terror as that last mentioned, shows that the mind in which it is lodged is advanced to a higher degree of goodness. The fear of God, therefore, is a disposition of mind, different in degree, according as our state is with relation to God and to religion. There is a fear that God is offended at us, and will punish us; which is the fear of a wicked person. There is a fear arising from a sense of our guilt, mixed and allayed with hopes that God will accept our amendment. This is the fear of a penitent sinner. There is a fear lest we ever should forfeit the favour of God, and fall short of that future reward which at present we may reasonably expect. This is the fear of a good man, and it is capable of increase or of diminution according to his behaviour. There is an awe and reverence which a due sense of God’s perfections, and of the infinite distance between Him and His creatures, would excite in our minds, though we were secure of His favour, and had no fear of losing it. This is the happy state of those who have arrived as near to perfection as a good person can whilst he is on this side of heaven, and who are sensible that their course is nearly ended, and the time of their departure is at hand. (J. Jortin, D. D.)

The reasonableness of fearing God mare than man

I. CONSIDER THE POWER OF MAN, AND WHAT IS HE CAN DO.

1. He can kill the body, and take away our lives, which includes a power of doing whatever is less.

2. He can do not even this, however, without the Divine permission.

3. If permitted to do his worst, he can do but this. “After that they have no more that they can do.”

II. CONSIDER HOW MUCH THE POWER OF GOD EXCEEDS THE POWER OF MAN which our Saviour declares in these words, “Who, after He hath killed, hath power to cast into hell.” Which in general signifies, that His power is infinite and unlimited.

1. God’s power is absolute, and independent upon any other.

2. His power reaches to the soul as well as the body.

3. In the other world He can raise our bodies again, and reunite them to our souls, and cast them into hell, and torment them there.

4. God can punish for ever. I proceed now to apply this serious and weighty argument, and to draw some useful inferences from it.

I. That religion doth not design to annihilate and to root out our passions, but regulate and govern them; it does not wholly forbid and condemn them, but determines them to their proper objects, and appoints them their measures and proportions; it does not intend to extirpate our affections, but to exercise and employ them aright, and to keep them within bounds.

II. We may infer likewise from hence, that it is not against the genius of true religion, to urge men with arguments of fear. No man can imagine there would have been so many fearful threatenings in Scripture, and especially in the gospel, if it had not been intended they should have some effect and influence upon us. Fear is deeply rooted in our nature, and immediately flows from that principle of self-preservation which is planted in every man; it is the most wakeful passion in the soul of man, and so soon as anything that is dreadful and terrible is presented to us, it alarms us to flee from it; and this passion doth naturally spring up in our minds from the apprehension of a Deity, because the notion of a God doth include in it power and justice, both which are terrible to guilty creatures; so that fear is intimate to our being, and God hath hid in every man’s conscience a secret awe and dread of His presence, of His infinite power and eternal justice. Now fear being one of the first things that is imprinted upon us from the apprehension of a Deity, it is that passion, which, above all other, gives the greatest advantage to religion, and is the easiest to be wrought upon.

III. THE FEAR OF GOD IS THE BEST ANTIDOTE AGAINST THE FEAR OF MEN.

IV. IF GOD BE INFINITELY MORE TO BE DREADED THAN MEN, THEN, “WHO IS TO BE OBEYED, GOD OR MEN? JUDGE YE.” I speak not this to diminish our reverence to magistrates and their authority; for by persuading men to fear God, who commands obedience to magistrates, we secure their reverence and authority; but when the commands of men are contrary to God’s, and come in competition with them, shall we not hearken to Him who is supreme, the greatest and most powerful? Shall we not obey Him who hath the most unquestionable authority over us, and right to command us? Shall we not dread Him most who is to be feared above all, who can be the best friend and the sorest enemy, is able to give the greatest rewards to our obedience, and to revenge Himself upon us for our disobedience by the most dreadful and severe punishments?

V. IF GOD BE THE GREAT OBJECT OF OUR FEAR, LET ALL IMPENITENT SINNERS REPRESENT TO THEMSELVES THE TERRORS OF THE LORD AND THE POWER OF HIS ANGER. This consideration, if anything in the world will do it, will awaken them to a sense of the danger of their condition, and of the fatal issue of a wicked life, (Archbishop Tillotson.)

The use of fear in religion

1. In the first place, the emotion of fear ought to enter into the consciousness of the young, because youth is naturally light-hearted. The ordinary cares of this life, which do so much towards moderating our desires and aspirations, have not yet pressed upon the ardent and expectant soul, and therefore it needs, more than others, to fear and to “stand in awe.”

2. Secondly, youth is elastic, and readily recovers from undue depression. There is an elasticity in the earlier periods of human life that prevents long-continued depression. How rare it is to see a young person smitten with insanity! It is not until the pressure of anxiety has been long continued, and the impulsive spring of the soul has been destroyed, that reason is dethroned. The morning of our life may, therefore, be subjected to a subduing and repressing influence, with very great safety. It is well to bear the yoke in youth. The awe produced by a vivid impression from the eternal world may enter into the exuberant and gladsome experience of the young with very little danger of actually extinguishing it and rendering life permanently gloomy and unhappy.

3. Thirdly, youth is exposed to sudden temptations and suprisals into sin. The general traits that have been mentioned as belonging to the early period in human life render it peculiarly liable to solicitations. The whole being of a healthful hilarious youth, who feels life in every limb, thrills to temptation like the lyre to the plectrum. There are moments in the experience of the young when all power of resistance seems to be taken away by the very witchery and blandishment of the object. He has no heart, and no nerve, to resist the beautiful siren. And it is precisely in these emergencies in his experience--in these moments when this world comes up before him clothed in pomp and gold, and the other world is so entirely lost sight of, that it throws in upon him none of its solemn shadows and warnings--it is precisely now, when he is just upon the point of yielding to the mighty yet fascinating pressure, that he needs to feel an impression, bold and startling, from the wrath of God. Nothing but the most active remedies will have any effect in this tumult and uproar of the soul.

4. In the fourth place, the feeling and principle of fear ought to enter into the experience of both youth and manhood, because it relieves from all other fear. He who stands in awe of God can look down from a very great height upon all other perturbation. When we have seen Him from whose sight the heavens and the earth flee away, there is nothing in either the heavens or the earth that can produce a single ripple upon the surface of our souls.

5. The fifth and last reason which we assign for cherishing the feeling and principle of fear applies to youth, to manhood, and to old age, alike; the fear of God conducts to the love of God. Our Lord does not command us to fear “Him who, after He hath killed, hath power to cast into hell” because such a feeling as this is intrinsically desirable, and is an ultimate end in itself; it is in itself undesirable, and it is only a means to an end. By it our torpid souls are to be awakened from their torpor; our numbness and hardness of mind in respect to spiritual objects is to be removed. We are never for a moment to suppose that the fear of perdition is set before us as a model and permanent form of experience to be toiled after-a positive virtue and grace intended to be perpetuated through the whole future history of the soul. It is employed only as an antecedent to a higher and a happier emotion; and when the purpose for which it has been elicited has been answered, it then disappears. “Perfect love casteth out fear; for fear hath torment” (1 John 4:18). But, at the same time, we desire to direct attention to the fact that he who has been exercised with this emotion, thoroughly and deeply, is conducted by it into the higher and happier form of religious experience. Religious fear and anxiety are the prelude to religious peace and joy. These are the discords that prepare for the concords. (W. T. G. Shedd, D. D.)

Lessons

1. An unwarrantable fear condemned, and that is, the sinful, servile, slavish fear of man--“Fear not them that kill the body.”

2. An holy, awful, and prudential fear of the omnipotent God commended--“Fear Him that is able to kill both body and soul.”

3. The persons whom this duty of fear is recommended to, and bound upon; disciples, ministers, and ambassadors, all the friends of Christ; they not only may, but ought to fear Him, not only for His greatness and goodness, but upon the account of His punitive justice, as being able to cast both soul and body into hell. Such a fear is not only awful, but laudable; not only commendable, but commanded, and not misbecoming the friends of Christ. The ministers of God may use arguments from fear of judgments, both to dissuade from sin, and to persuade to duty. It is not unsuitable to the best of saints to keep in heaven’s way for fear of hell; it is good to bid a friend fear when that fear tendeth to his good. (W. Burkitt.)

Warning words

In Luke 12:5 our Lord guards against the error of the soul’s annihilation. Also against the notion that the body will escape the ruin of the soul. Perdition is not the destruction of the being of either, but of the well-being of both. Learn, that to play false with convictions to save life will fail of its end. God can inflict a violent death in some other and more awful way.

1. There is a hell for the body as well as for the soul; consequently sufferings adapted to the one as well as the other.

2. Fear of hell is a divinely authorized and needed motive of action even to Christ’s “friends.”

3. As Christ’s meekness and tenderness were not compromised by this language, those ministers want their Master’s spirit who soften it to please “ears polite.” (Van Doren.)

How far is it to hell?

A young man met the deacon of a church one Sunday morning, and asked him the terrible question, “How far is it to hell?” “Young man,” was the reply, “don’t mock such a serious reality; you may be nearer to hell than you think.” They had only just turned the corner of the road, and ridden a few yards, when his horse threw him, and he was picked up dead.

Sweetness of life

One of the martyrs, when being led to the stake, was urged to recant; and as a motive to induce him to do so it was said, “Life is sweet, and death is bitter.” “True,” said the good man; “life is sweet, and death is bitter; but eternal life is sweeter, and eternal death is more bitter.”

Death cannot destroy the soul

Methinks I hear an accursed spirit in the nether world crying after death, and saying, “O death, pause, turn back and quench my wretched existence; in yonder world I dreaded thee, I struggled hard against thee--I now invoke thy stroke, a stroke that shall annihilate me for ever!” And methinks I hear death, heartless as ever, saying, “I cannot destroy thee; I never had any power over thine existence; I could wither landscapes, breathe destruction into the face of every green field and forest; I could quench animal life, and have reduced all past generations of men to dust; but I could never touch the soul. The soul, secured in her existence, ‘smiled at my dagger and defied the point.’ I cannot paralyze memory, I cannot extinguish the fires of conscience, I cannot destroy a soul.” (The Homilist.)


Verse 6-7

Luke 12:6-7

Not one of them is forgotten before God

God’s universal oversight

You see the Bible will not be limited in the choice of symbols, and there is hardly beast, or bird, or insect which has not been called to illustrate some Divine truth--the ox’s patience, the ant’s industry, the spider’s skill, the hind’s surefootedness, the eagle’s speed, the dove’s gentleness, and even the sparrow’s meanness and insignificance.
In Oriental countries, none but the poorest people buy the sparrow and eat it, so very little meat is there on the bones, and so very poor is it what there is of it. The comfortable population would not think of touching it any more than you would think of eating a bat or a lamprey eel. Now, says Jesus, if God takes care of such a poor bird that is not worth a cent, won’t He care for you, an immortal? We associate God with revolutions. We can see a Divine purpose in the discovery of America, in the invention of the art of printing, in the exposure of the Gunpowder Plot, in the contrivance of the needle-gun, in the ruin of an Austrian or Napoleonic despotism; but how hard it is to see God in the minute personal affairs of our lives. We think of God as making a record of the starry host, but cannot realize the Bible truth that He knows how many hairs there are on your head. It seems a grand thing that God provided food for hundreds of thousands of Israelites in the desert, but we cannot appreciate the truth that when a sparrow is hungry God stoops down and opens its mouth, and puts the seed in. We are struck with the idea that God fills the universe with His presence; but cannot understand how He encamps in the crystal palace of a dewdrop, or finds room to stand, without being crowded, between the alabaster pillars of a pond lily. We can see God in the clouds. Can we see God in these flowers on this platform? We are apt to place God upon some great platform, or try to do it, expecting Him there to act out His stupendous projects; but we forget that the life of a Cromwell, an Alexander, a Washington, or an archangel is no more under Divine inspiration than your life or mine. Pompey thought there must have been a mist over the eyes of God because He so much favoured Caesar; but there is no such mist. He sees everything. We say God’s path is in the great waters. True enough; but no more, certainly, than He is in the water in the glass on this table. We say God guides the stars in their courses--magnificent truth!--but no more certain truth than he decides which ferry-boat you shall take to-morrow morning to New York. God does not sit upon an indifferent and unsympathetic throne, but He sits down beside you to-day, and stands beside me to-day, and no affair of our lives is so insignificant but that it is of importance to God.

1. In the first place, God chooses for us our occupation. I am amazed to see how many people there are dissatisfied with the work they have to do. I think three-fourths wish they were in some other occupation; and they spend a great deal of time in regretting that they got in the wrong trade or profession. I want to tell you that God put into operation all the influences which led you to that particular choice. You know a man having a large estate. He gathers his working hands in the morning, and says to one, “You go and trim that vine”; to another, “You go and weed those flowers”; and to another, “You plough that tough globe”; and each one goes to his particular work. The owner of the estate points the man to what he knows he can do best; and so it is with the Lord. He calls us up, and points to that field for which we are best fitted. So that the first lesson coming from this subject is: Stay cheerfully where God puts you.

2. I remark, farther, that God has arranged the place of our dwelling. What particular city, or town, or street, or house you shall live in seems to be a mere matter of accident. You go out to hunt for a house, and you happen to pass up a certain street, and happen to see a sign, and you select that house. Was it all happening so? Oh, no. God guided you in every step. He foresaw the future. He knew all your circumstances, and He selected just that one house as better for you than any one of the ten thousand habitations in the city.

3. I remark, further, that God arranges all our friendships. You were driven to the wall. You found a man just at that crisis who sympathized with you and helped you. You say: “How lucky I was.” There was no luck about it. God sent that friend just as certain as He sent the ravens to feed Elijah, or the angel to strengthen Christ. Your domestic friends, your business friends: your Christian friends, God sent them to bless you; and if any of them have proved traitorous, it is only to bring out the value of those who remain. If some die, it is only that they may stand on the outpost of heaven to greet you at your coming. You always will have friends--warmhearted friends--magnanimous friends; and, when sickness comes to your dwelling, there will be watchers; when trouble comes to your heart, there will be sympathisers; when death comes, there will be gentle fingers to close the eyes and fold the hands, and consoling lips to tell of a resurrection. Oh! we are compassed by a bodyguard of friends. Every man, if he has behaved himself well, is surrounded by three circles of friends; those on the outer circle wishing him well; those in the next circle willing to help him; while close up to his heart are a few who would die for him. God pity the wretch who has not any friends; he has not behaved well.

4. I remark, again, that God puts down the limit to our temporal prosperity. The world of finance seems to have no God in it. You cannot tell where men will land. The affluent fall; the poor rise. The ingenious fail; the ignorant succeed. An enterprise opening grandly shuts in bankruptcy; while out of the peat dug up from some New England marsh, the millionaire builds his fortune. The poor man thinks it is chance that keeps him down. The rich man thinks it is chance which hoists him, and they are both wrong. It is so hard to realize that God rules the money market, and has a hook in the nose of the stock gambler; and that all the commercial revolutions of the world shall result in the very best for God’s dear children. My brother, don’t kick against, the Divine allotments. God knows just how much money it is best for you to have. You never lose unless it is best for you to lose, and you never gain unless it is best for you to gain. You go up when it is best for you to go up, and go down when it is best for you to go down. Prove it, you say. I will. “All things work together for good to them that love God.” You go into a factory, and you see twenty or thirty wheels, and they are going in different directions. This band is rolling off this way, and another band another way; one down and the other up. You say “What confusion in a factory.” Oh, no, all these different bands are only different parts of the machinery. So I go into your life, and see strange things. Here is one providence pulling one way, and another in another way; but they are different parts of one machinery by which He will advance your present and everlasting well-being. (Dr. Talmage.)

Of the providence of God

I. THERE IS A PROVIDENCE. This appears--

1. From plain Scripture testimonies (see Psalms 103:19; Ephesians 1:11).

2. From the nature of God, who being independent, and the first cause of all things, the creatures must needs depend upon Him in their being and working. He is the end of all things, wise, knowing how to manage all for the best; powerful to effectuate whatever He has purposed, and faithful to accomplish all He has decreed, promised, or threatened.

3. From the harmony and order of the most confused things in the world. Everything appears to a discerning eye to be wisely ordered, notwithstanding the confusions that seem to take place.

4. From the fulfilment of prophecies, which could not possibly be without a providence to bring them to pass.

II. Let us, in the next place, consider THE OBJECT OF PROVIDENCE, or that which it reacheth and extendeth to. And this is all the creatures, and all their actions--“Upholding all things by the word of His power” Hebrews 1:3). “His kingdom ruleth over all” (Psalms 103:19).

III. I proceed to consider THE ACTS OF PROVIDENCE. They are two, preserving and governing the creatures and their actions.

1. God by His providence preserves all the creatures.

2. God does not only preserve the creatures, but governs and manages them, which is the second act of providence; whereby He disposes of all things, persons, and actions, according to His will; “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He Proverbs 21:1). “The lot is cast into the lap: but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33). “A man’s heart deviseth his way; but the Lord directeth his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). And this act of providence is also necessary: for as the creature cannot be or exist without God, so neither can it act without Him (Acts 17:21). God does not make man as the carpenter doth the ship, which afterwards sails without him; but He rules and guides him, sitting at the helm, to direct and order all his motions: so that whatever men do, they do nothing without Him; not only in their good actions, where He gives grace, and excites it, working in them both to will and to do of His good pleasure; but also in their evil actions, wherein they are under the hand of providence, but in a very different manner.

IV. Our next business is to consider THE PROPERTIES OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE.

1. God’s providence is most holy (Psalms 145:17).

2. It is most wise (Isaiah 28:29).

3. Providence is most powerful.

I shall conclude with an use of exhortation.

1. Beware of drawing an excuse for your sin from the providence of God, for it is most holy, and has not the least efficiency in any sin you commit.

2. Beware of murmuring and fretting under any dispensations of providence that ye meet with; remembering that nothing falls out without a wise and holy providence, which knows best what is fit and proper for you. And in all eases, even amidst the most afflicting incidents that befall you, learn submission to the will of God.

3. Beware of anxious cares and diffidence about your through-bearing in the world. (T. Boston, D. D.)

Providence in our occupations

Hugh Miller says, “I will be a stonemason”; God says, “You will be a geologist.” David goes out to tend his father’s sheep; God calls him to govern a nation. Saul goes out to hunt his father’s asses, and before he gets back finds the crown of mighty dominion. (Dr. Talmage.)

Not forgotten by God

We talk about God’s remembering us, as if it were a special effort, a laying hold by His great mind of something outside of Himself, which He determined to remember. But if we could only know how truly we belong to God it would be different. God’s remembrance of us is the natural claiming of our life by Him as a true part of His own. When the spring comes, the oak-tree, with its thousands upon thousands of leaves, is alive all over. The great heart of the oak-tree remembers every remotest tip of every farthest branch, and sends to each the message and the power of new life. It is no harder work for the oak to feed and sustain and remember a million leaves than to feed and remember only one. The thrill of the common life is passed on, without effort, to each. Somewhat in this way we may think of God’s remembrance of His millions of children. We may be no more than far-off leaves upon the great tree of His life. Bat we are remembered just as the heart remembers the finger-tips to which it sends the crimson blood. (Victor Hugo.)

Minuteness of God’s care

It has been said, “God is great in great things, but He is very great in little things.” This was illustrated by an incident which occurred in a room during a Scripture reading. There was a beautiful engraving on the wall of the Matterhorn mountain. It was remarked that the wondrous works of God were not only shown in those lofty, snow-clad mountains, but also the tiny mosses found in their crevices. A friend present said, “Yes, I was with a party at the Matterhorn, and, while we were admiring the sublimity of the scene, a gentleman of the company produced a pocket microscope and, having caught a tiny fly, placed it under the glass. He reminded us that the legs of the household fly in England are naked; then called our attention to the legs of this little fly, which were thickly covered with hair”; thus showing that the same God who made these lofty mountains rise, attended to the comfort of the tiniest of His creatures, even providing socks and mittens for the little flies whose homes these mountains were. (Christian Age.)

God’s care for all creatures

It is interesting to look round the world, and note the various tokens to be seen everywhere of God’s liberal hand in supplying the wants of His creature man. Dr. Livingstone, writing of some plants that grew in Kalahari Desert, mentions a plant called Leroshua, which he says “is a blessing to the inhabitants of the desert. We see a small plant with linear leaves, and a stalk not thicker than a crow’s quill; on digging down a foot or eighteen inches beneath, we come to a tuber, often as large as the head of a young child; when the rind is removed we find it to be a mass of cellular tissue, filled with fluid much like that in a young turnip. Owing to the depth beneath the soil at which it is found, it is generally deliciously cool and refreshing.”

Caring for a little bird

We are at a loss to conceive the infinite range of mind, thought, and heart that embraces alike the inconceivable magnitudes and the microscopic minutiae of the universe. And yet this same phenomenon is witnessed in ourselves--minute images of God. While the great Gustavus Adolphus was in the midst of the dust, smoke, clangour, and excitement of a momentous battle, a little bird, dizzy and bewildered with the noise and wild atmospheric confusion, sank and lighted upon his shoulder. The battle, vast in its proportions, momentous in the interests it involved, still left room in his mind and heart for the distress and peril of that little bird, and he hid it in safety beneath the folds of his dress, and plunged again into the fight. The same trait appears--on a very small scale, it may be--in our own experience, and appearing there, pictures in miniature the all-embracing range of the Divine thought and providential care.

God may be safely trusted

An aged Christian who had long been an invalid, and was dependent on Christian charity for her support, on sending for a new physician who had just come into the place, and united with the same Church of which she was a member, said to him, “Doctor, I wish to put myself under your care, but I cannot do it unless you will trust my Father.” “Well, Ma’am,” replied the physician, “I believe your Father is rich; I may safely trust Him.” (New Cyclolpoedia of Anecdote.)

An ever watchful previdence

A little error of the eye, a misguidance of the hand, a slip of the foot, a starting of a horse, a sudden mist, or a great shower, or a word uncle signedly cast forth in an army, has turned the stream of victory from one side to another, and thereby disposed of empires and whole nations. No prince ever returned safe out of a battle but may well remember how many blows and bullets have gone by him that might easily have gone through him; and by what little odd, unforeseen chances, death has been turned aside which seemed in a full, ready, direct career to have been posting to him. All which passages, if we do not acknowledge to have been guided to their respective ends and effects by the conduct of a superior and a Divine hand, we do, by the same assertion, cashier all providence, strip the Almighty of His noblest prerogative, and make God, not the Governor, but the mere Spectator of the world. (R. South, D. D.)

Providence and individuals

Men talk in a general way about the goodness of God, His benevolence, compassion, and long-suffering; but they think of it as a flood pouring itself out through all the world--as the light of the sun, not as the continually repeated action of an intelligent and living mind contemplating whom it visits and intending what it effects. Accordingly when they come into trouble, they can but say--“It is all for the best--God is good!” and the like, and it all falls as cold comfort upon them, and does not lessen their sorrow, because they have not accustomed their minds to feel that He is a merciful God, regarding them individually, and not a mere Universal Providence, working general laws. And then, perhaps, all of a sudden the new notion breaks upon them, “Thou God seest me!” Some especial providence, amid their infliction, runs right into their hearts; brings it close home to them, in a way they never experienced before, that God sees them. (J. H. Newman)

Man’s fear and the Divine dissuasive

Our Lord, while instructing and preparing His disciples for future work as heralds of the kingdom, warns them that they will meet with many dangers and enemies; “but fear not,” says the Master, “you are watched at every step, and come life, come death, you are safe.”

I. MAN’S FEARS. They are of two kinds--

1. Those which respect this world. Some people go through life much more anxiously than others, though in outward circumstances there seems little difference in their respective lots. A good deal depends upon a man’s temperament as to the way in which he will take things. Those on the lower ground have the least care. As we rise higher in the social scale, then it brings increasing solicitude. Provision has to be made not only for the wants of the day, but for appearances. It is right enough that men should look to appearances. God looks to appearances. He has made this world-house beautiful, and we are but following the Divine example when we try to make our life a thing of variety, largeness, and grace. But in doing so, the gates of anxiety are opened to us, and we are careful and troubled.

2. Fears respecting the world to come and our spiritual state and relation to that. The fullest victory over the cares and fears of this life is to be gained only by living for a higher world. Let us try to see Jesus standing as Lord of both worlds, and saying, “Fear not.”

II. THE DIVINE DISSUASIVE. “Fear not.” This is supported and recommended by several arguments, as the limited power of man and of circumstances. Men may say and do a great deal which may be injurious to you, but you always come to the limit: “After that, there is nothing more they can do. Again, there is unlimited power with God, and if we are true trusting disciples of Christ this is a great dissuasive from fear. God will use all that infinite power to protect and save His trusting children. “He telleth the number of the stars,” and has regard to every sparrow that flies. Why should we fear? Then our Lord teaches us that we are of more value to God than the inferior creatures. He has a higher care about us. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)

Divine providence

I. I SHALL ENDEAVOUR, IN THE FIRST PLACE, TO ILLUSTRATE THE SUBJECT OF A DIVINE PROVIDENCE.

1. Divine providence implies the preservation of all things.

2. Providence also implies the government of the world by its great and almighty Ruler.

II. LESSONS WHICH FLOW FROM THIS REPRESENTATION OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE.

1. We are reminded of the supreme worth and importance of the friendship of God.

2. By this subject we are taught the duty of devout attention to the dispensations of Divine providence.

3. Reverential submission is another lesson that we derive from this important subject.

4. Finally, we derive from this representation of Divine providence a reason for cheerful and implicit confidence in God. This is the practical and consolatory use to which our blessed Lord applies the great truth now before us: “Fear not, therefore.” If you truly fear God, you need fear none beside. (T. Lessey.)

God’s never-failing providence

The little creature mentioned is one of the most insignificant that could be thought of; and the Lord selected it, just for that utter insignificance, to bring out thereby a truth which overwhelms the reason. He took out of His immense universe, an object so poor, so small, that nothing could be less important, to illustrate the doctrine on which the system of Christian morals is built; and the truth is this: that God is in intelligent relation with everything that exists; that there are, practically, no limits to His providence; that in the universe nothing is so minute as to be overlooked or forgotten. “Not one of them is forgotten.” It is a striking phrase. It implies a knowledge which lasts, though the thing known may no longer exist; care, consideration, particulars retained in the faithful memory. And in the ephemeral history of the poor little bird, of which the great God and Saviour deigned to speak, Not one item is forgotten; each tiny creature’s life, in all its extent, is seen, and known, and borne in mind by Him to whom it owes that life. Now here is a truth, which may be called the beginning of the moral law, the foundation of Christian ethics, the Alpha and Omega of Christian practice. The doctrine of the never-failing providence of Almighty God is the sheet-anchor of man’s safety.

1. The doctrine of God’s providence is, at first, as terrible to contemplate as it is hard to realize; no one can bear to think of it, no one willingly admits it, who is leading an evil life. It means that there is nothing about you, or in you, or of you, but God knows and sees it all; the thoughts of your heart, the springs and motives of your acts, the vices of your blood. Then, also, those eyes sweep the entire circumference of the sphere in which you move; they see your friends and your foes, the tempting spirits which allure you, the guardians set for your defence; they mark the rise of the storms, as yet no bigger than a man’s hand, which are coming up against you, and see, beyond, the sunshine which, after many days, may break out once more. You, just as you are, stand now before God, and simply for what you are, since there is no deceiving Him.

2. The truth of God’s never-failing providence is awful indeed to those who know Him not, nor have Him in their thoughts; but to those who are near Him, and love to set Him ever before them as the Father and the Saviour, it is more precious than words can tell. To such it serves three purposes: it gives them guidance; it gives them strength; it gives the sense of safety. It shows them what they ought to do; it assures them of success; it blesses with the blessing of peace. That is the other side of the picture; and it shines in lovely light. If our sins are before Him, so also are our humble attempts to do right, our desires to win His approval, and regrets when we fear that we have failed. He follows us with merciful and tender consideration. When we go forth, the strong Hand is there to sustain us as we walk, and lead us through peril in safety. When we come in, the faithful guardian opens to us, and bids us rest in the quietness of perfect love and trust. We see Him in each event of life, and in the smallest particulars of each day, as the Friend who is near us all the time; we find Him in our rising up and in our lying down, in the home and its pure joys, in the loving faces them; we bless Him as the Author of every innocent pleasure; when the heart is glad We know that what filled it so full is the habitual sense that God is in our happiness, as the Author and Giver: all is of Him, and to Him do we give thanks. When we take up our daily work, it is with a song in the heart, because He worketh with us and will show us how our work should be done; and when we lay it down, it is with quiet satisfaction, because He has seen all, and remembers, and knows that though we may not have been perfect, we did what we could. His Holy Spirit, called the “Paraclete,” the “Comforter,” and the “Loving Spirit,” is ever near us, and even within, since these mortal bodies are His consecrated temples; and the musical sounds often heard in the soul, like songs without words, are the voice of that Spirit, telling our spirit of the love of God for us and the reward of love for Him.

3. Its own reward follows on just and righteous doing; its reward follows surely on faith. It shall come to you along the three lines of warning, help, and comfort: the assurance of the Providence that never faileth, and never forgetteth, shall bring to you as its fruit, these precious results: A sober and awful sense of responsibility; a check and salutary restraint on action; a courage and energy above natural force; a constant sense of the Divine companionship; a transfiguration of your entire life; and, for the future, a settled restfulness and peace, the harbingers of eternal satisfaction in the likeness of Him whom now His children see by faith, but whom they shall know hereafter even as they are known. (Morgan Dix, D. D.)

God’s wonderful care

When we think of the labour required to rear the few that are in our households-the weariness, the anxiety, the burden of life--how wonderful seems God’s work! for He carries heaven and earth, andall realms, in His bosom. Many think that God takes no thought for anything less than a star or a mountain, and is unmindful of the little things of life; but when I go abroad, the first thing which I see is the grass beneath my feet; and, nestling in that, flowers smaller yet; and lower still, the mosses with their inconspicuous blooms, which beneath the microscope glow with beauty:. And if God so cares for “the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven,” shall He not much more care for the minutest things of your life, “O ye of little faith”? (H. W.Beecher.)

The worth of sparrows

It is significant that Christ marked with so much interest the more lowly and homely of the creatures around us. He does not say, “Consider the eagle”--the monarch of the air, the symbol of empire and of victory; or, “Consider the nightingale,” the sweet Eastern bulbul, that floods the Jordan banks and the shores of Gennesaret with its passionate music; but, “Consider the raven”--a fowl of ill-omen and unattractive to the eye, or draws attention to the sparrow, a very Pariah among the feathered tribes. It is like His preference for publicans and sinners over the lordly Pharisee and learned scribe. Who but Jesus would have dreamed of getting poetry and theology out of ravens and sparrows! Who but He would have compared Himself, as He did in the most pathetic utterance of His life, to a hen vainly calling her heedless brood to the shelter of her wings! But this fashion of speech became Him who was “meek and lowly in heart”; and who, moreover, being one with the Author of Nature, interprets best her deepest and simplest lessons. And what a revelation Christ’s saying respecting the sparrows gives us of the working of God’s providence! What an omniscience and omnipresence it implies! He declares that God actually notices and cares for every little feathered thing that flits twittering through the air, or hops from bough to bough in innocent and happy freedom, or pipes its solitary note “alone upon the housetop.” And when the tiny creature falls, struck by stick or shot or stone, “it does not fall on the ground,” He says, “without your Father.”

Nay, even as it hangs in the poulterer’s stall, strung up with fifty others, waiting for the purchaser, poor almost as itself, who can find the farthing needed to buy two of them, still it is not “forgotten before God.” The pitiful little tragedy, from beginning to end, is watched and recorded by the Supreme Mind! If He observes all that, what is there which He overlooks? If He “caters providently for the sparrow,” and interests Himself in its fate, how solicitous His care for all His living creatures I How minute and delicate and sympathetic, as well as far-reaching and omnipotent, the oversight of His providence, which is not less special than general, not less particular than it is universal. Even a large-minded and noble-hearted man is distinguished above others by his freedom from contempt, by his insight into the meaning of little things, and his sense of the sacredness and the value of common life. His mind is superior to the mere bulk and splendour of outward things. And with God this must be so in the most absolute sense, to the most perfect degree. “He hath respect unto the lowly.” And this “respect” extends in due measure to all His creatures. It is only when we believe that His care is thus universal that we can absolutely rely upon it for ourselves. (G. G. Findlay, B. A.)

Confidence in God’s providence

After the battle of Manassas, Captain Imboden called upon General Stonewall Jackson, who was severely wounded, and found him bathing his swollen hand in spring water, and bearing his pain very patiently. In the course of their conversation Imboden said: “How is it, General, you can keep so cool, and appear so utterly insensible to danger, in such a storm of shell and bullets as rained about you when your hand was hit?” He instantly became grave and reverential in his manner, and answered in a low tone of great earnestness: “Captain, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time of my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me.” He added after a pause: “Captain, that is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave.”

Remarkable deliverance

The celebrated author of the “Pilgrim’s Progress” experienced several remarkable providential deliverances. Once he fell into the river Ouse, and at another time into the sea, and narrowly escaped being drowned. When seventeen years of age he became a soldier, and at the siege of Leicester in 1645, being drawn out to stand sentinel, another soldier in the same company desired to take his place. He consented, and his companion was shot in the head by a musket ball, and killed.

The doctrine of providence practically improved

I. To prove that the providence of God extends to all human affairs; and--

II. To point out the practical uses we should make of this doctrine.

I. Let us establish, by reference to the Scriptures, this great and important truth, THAT THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD IS UNIVERSAL that it extends to all creatures and things throughout the whole world; but, as that concerns us most, especially to all human affairs. By the providence of God, we mean His preserving and governing all His creatures, and all their actions.

1. This appears even from the light of nature. It seems necessarily to follow from His being the Creator of the world; for it is reasonable to believe, that He who made all things, governs all things (Romans 1:18-21; Acts 14:17). The existence of God, a Being of infinite power and wisdom and goodness, obliges us to believe that He will take care of His creatures.

2. But we have clearer light and fuller proof of this from the Bible, God’s own revelation of Himself. There we read that God is the great Preserver. What shall I do unto Thee,” said holy Job, “O thou Preserver of men!” Job 7:20). And the psalmist exclaims, “How excellent is Thy loving kindness, O God I therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Thy wings. O Lord, thou preservest man and beast” (Psalms 36:6-7). And in the book of Nehemiah, the good providence of God is celebrated in these exalted strains: “Thou, even Thou, art Lord alone; Thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and Thou preservest them all!” (Nehemiah 9:6). The predictions of future events, and their fulfilment, of both which the Scriptures afford very numerous instances, furnish us with another proof of the reality of a Divine Providence; for if God did not govern the world, He could not foretell what would come to pass. God forewarned Noah of the flood 120 years before it came. He foretold the bondage of Israel in Egypt; how long it should last, and how they should be delivered. The captivity of Judah was foretold long before it happened; how many years it should continue; by whom, and by what means the people should be restored, and the temple rebuilt. All the circumstances relating to the birth, life, sufferings, death, and resurrection of Christ were exactly predicted. God, who preserves all creatures, governs them also. He does not commit the management of the world to deputies, as many of the heathen supposed. “The Lord reigneth.”

“He increaseth the nations, and destroyeth them: He enlargeth the nations, and straiteneth them again. He looseth the bond of kings, and girdeth their loins with a girdle. He leadeth princes away spoiled, and over-throweth the mighty” (Job 12:18-19; Job_12:23). The providence of God is to be owned in the affairs of families (Psalms 68:6; Psa_107:41). Nor are individuals beneath His notice, as the text plainly imports; not even the least of their concerns, “for the very hairs of their head are all numbered”.; consequently all their more important concerns. Even as to those events which we call contingent, or accidental, even they are under the direction and control of the Almighty (Proverbs 16:33). This providence of God, the existence of which we have clearly proved.

II. We now proceed to the second part of the subject; namely, TO POINT OUT THE PRACTICAL USES WE OUGHT TO MAKE OF THE DOCTRINE OF PROVIDENCE. This doctrine is, in truth, connected with the whole of practical religion. Take away providence, and you destroy the whole system of godliness, and leave no room for prayer or praise.

1. Let us stand in awe of the great Ruler of the world. Do His eyes behold, His eyelids try the children of men? Is He in every place, beholding the evil and the good? In His hand is our breath and all our ways? Who, then, shall not fear Him? who shall not tremble at His presence?

2. Let us rejoice that the reins of universal government are in the hands of Jesus Christ, our Saviour and our Lord--of Him who is our Mediator, our Redeemer, our Brother, and our Friend.

3. The doctrine of providence shows the propriety and utility of prayer; it affords the strongest motive, and the best encouragement to that duty.

4. The doctrine of providence shows the propriety of offering to God the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

5. It shows the propriety of submission to the will of God. Does the Lord rule? Submit to His government.

6. Improve the doctrine of Divine Providence, as a remedy against anxiety.

7. Finally: let this subject lead our minds forward towards the future and eternal world. (G. Burder.)

The Father’s love for persons

He is the God of all, and yet He is my God. This view of God we all have a deep interest in impressing on our minds. We must strive to combine, in our conception of Him, the thoughts of a particular and a universal providence. On the one hand, we must not narrow His loving care, as if it were mindful of ourselves alone, nor think of Him only as doing us good. For this would be to rob Him of His infinitude, and darken the splendour of His boundless beneficence. Such a view would make religion the nurse of selfishness, and convert our connection with the Supreme Being into one of self-interest. Never let us try to monopolize God. Never let us imagine that God exists only as administering to our individual wants. Never let us for an instant forget His relation to the universe. But on the other hand, beware lest in thus enlarging your views of the Infinite One, you lose your hold of the correlative truth--that though all beings of all worlds are His care, though His mind thus embraces the universe, He is yet as mindful of you, as if that universe were blotted out, and you alone survived to receive the plenitude of His care. God’s relation to you is not an exclusive one, but it is as close as if it were. Never conceive that your actions are overlooked and forgotten, because of the multiplicity of agents and beings who are to be guided and governed. Never fear that your wants are forgotten, because the boundless Creation sends up a cry to its common Father, and He has an infinite family for whom to provide. Never think that your characters are objects of little interest, because innumerable orders of beings of higher attainments and virtues attract the regards of this munificent King. Were you His only creature alive, He could not think of you more constantly and tenderly, or be more displeased with your resistance to duty, or feel more joy in your fidelity to right, than He does now. The human mind, apt to measure God by itself, has always found a difficulty in reconciling the two views which have just been stated. Through this propensity it fell into Polytheism, or the worship of many gods. Wanting a Deity, who would watch over their particular interests, and fearing that they would be overlooked by the Father of all, men invented inferior divinities--gods for each particular country and nation--and still more household gods, divinities for each particular dwelling, that they might have some superior power beneath which to shelter their weakness.

I. BUT THERE IS NO INCONSISTENCY IN AT ONCE BELIEVING IN GOD’S PARTICULAR PROVIDENCE AND IN HIS UNIVERSAL PROVIDENCE. He may watch over all, and yet watch over each, as if each were all. There is a simple truth, which may help us to understand, that God does not intermit His attention to individuals in consequence of His inspection of the infinite whole. It is this. The individual is a living part of this living whole--vitally connected with it--acting upon it and reacted upon by it--receiving good, and communicating good in return, in proportion to his growth and power. From this constitution of the universe it follows, that the whole is preserved and perfected by the care of its parts. The general good is bound up m the individual good. So that to superintend the one is to superintend the other; and the neglect of either would be the neglect of both. What reason have I for considering myself as overlooked, because God has such an immense family to provide for? I belong to this family. I am bound to it by vital bonds. I am always exerting an influence upon it. I can hardly perform an act that is confined in its consequences to myself. Every new truth that I gain makes me a brighter light to humanity. I ought not then to imagine that God’s interest in me is diminished, because His interest is extended to endless hosts of spirits. On the contrary, God must be more interested in me on this very account, because I influence others as well as myself. I am a living member of the great family of all souls; and I cannot improve or suffer myself, without diffusing good or evil around me through an ever-enlarging sphere. In these remarks we have seen, that from the intimate and vital connection between the individual and the community of spirits, God in taking care of each person is taking care of the whole, and that there is a perfect harmony between the general and the particular superintendence of God. From the same vital connection of beings, I derive another encouraging view, leading to the same result. I learn from it that God’s attention to His whole creation, far from withdrawing His regard from me, is the very method whereby He is advancing my especial good. I am organically connected with the great family of the universal parent. Plainly then it is for my happiness, that this family should be watched over and should prosper. Suppose the Creator to abandon all around me, that He might bless me alone, should I be a gainer by such a monopoly of God’s care? My happiness is manifestly bound up with and flows from the happiness of those around; and thus the Divine kindness to others is essentially kindness to myself. This is no theory; it is the fact confirmed by all experience. Every day we receive perpetual blessings from the progress of our race. We are enlightened, refined, elevated, through the studies, discoveries, and arts of countless persons, whom we have never seen and of whom we have never even heard. Daily we enjoy conveniences, pleasures, and means of health and culture, through advancements in science and art, made in the most distant regions. And in so far as we possess elevated, disinterested, and holy characters, or enlarged intelligence, have not these been cherished and encouraged by the examples, writings, deeds, and lives of far-spread fellow-beings, through all ages and nations? How much would each of us assuredly be advanced in happiness, wisdom, virtue, were the community around us--were all the persons with whom we hold intercourse--more humane and more heavenly! Is God, then, neglecting us in His care of others? How could He bless us more effectually than by carrying forward the great spiritual system to which we belong, and of which we are living parts?

II. Thus having seen how consistent is the doctrine of God’s care for the whole with the doctrine that He watches minutely over every individual, let ME NOW ASK YOU TO LOOK AT THIS DOCTRINE MORE CLOSELY, IN ITS PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS. Consider what affecting ideas it involves! According to this truth, we are, each one of us, present to the mind of God. We are penetrated, each one of us, instant by instant, by His all-seeing eye; we are known, every single person of us, more interiorly by Him than we are known to ourselves. Moment by moment the living God sustains us; and His own life continually flows into us through His omnipotent good-will. In fine, and above all, the Holy One never loses sight of our character and conduct. He witnesses and delights in our virtues. And He too witnesses and condemns every sin. Intimate and tender, beyond our highest conception, is our Heavenly Father’s relationship to us! He is incessantly our creator and renewer, our upholder and benefactor, our witness and judge. The connection of all other beings with us, when compared with this, is foreign and remote. The nearest friend, the most loving parent, is but a stranger to us, when contrasted with God. No words can adequately express this living alliance of the Creator with His creatures. And knowing thus the intensity and the extent of this relationship, how is it possible that I can forget Him? My hearers, I have thus turned your attention to this sublimely affecting subject of our vital connection with God, not for the purpose of awakening temporary fervour, but that we may feel the urgent duty of cherishing these convictions. Were a person, who had lived in ignorance of all beyond mere sensitive existence, suddenly to receive a clear impression of God’s all-embracing presence, he would undergo a greater change of condition, than if he were to awake some morning in a wholly new world, peopled by new beings, clothed in new beauty, and governed by laws such as he had never known by experience. He would be uplifted with the assurance, that at length he had found for his soul an all-sufficing object of veneration, gratitude, trust and love, an unfailing source of strength for every mortal weakness, an exhaustless refreshment of his highest hope, an ever-springing fount of holy emotion, virtuous energy, and heavenly joy, infinitely transcending all modes of good to which he had been wont to look. In a word, he would be utterly transformed. On the other hand, in degree as by faithlessness I lose sight of my intimate relationship with God, I am bereft of inward peace, of the desire for progress, of power to escape from myself. The future grows dim, and hope dies. A change comes over me like that which befals the traveller when clouds overspread the sky, when gathering mists obscure his path, and gloom settles down upon his uncertain way, till he is lost. The light of life is a constant consciousness of Divine fellowship.

III. How THEN CAN WE ATTAIN TO AN ABIDING CONSCIOUSNESS OF LIVING RELATIONSHIP WITH THE LIVING GOD? How can we reach the constant feeling that He is always with us, offering every aid consistent with our freedom, guiding us on to heavenly happiness, welcoming us into the immediate knowledge of His perfection, into a loving fellowship with Himself? I shall confine myself to what seems to be essential, as the first step, in this approach to true communion with the ]Father of spirits. My belief is, that one chief means of acquiring a vivid sense of God’s presence is to resist, instantly and resolutely, whatever we feel to be evil in our hearts and lives, and at once to begin in earnest to obey the Divine will as it speaks in conscience. You say that you desire a new and nearer knowledge of your Creator. Let this thirst for a higher consciousness of the Infinite Being lead you to oppose whatever you feel to be at war with God’s purity, God’s truth, and God’s righteousness. Just in proportion as you gain a victory over the evil of which you have become aware in yourself, will your spiritual eye be purged for a brighter perception of the Holy One. (W. E.Channing.)


Verse 8

Luke 12:8

Whosoever shall confess Me before me

The judgment-seat of Christ

I.
For FINGER-POSTS that may guide our endeavour to come at the spiritual reality here symbolized, such thoughts as these may serve.

1. Evidently Christ here contrasts the seen and the unseen world as respectively small and great; here a petty vicinage, there a grand environment; here ignorant men, there high intelligences--the angels of God; here ourselves as affected by the examples and opinions of sinners, there ourselves as feeling the presence and the criticism of the pure; in dim light here, in dazzling light there.

2. Christ evidently contrasts the seen and the unseen world in their respective objects of honour and dishonour.

3. The next truth of which Christ here makes us certain is, that the future is simply the continuance of present relations to Him under changed conditions. Thus we approach a true and clear conception of what our Lord meant by confessing Him and being confessed by Him, &c. Not by what we say, but by what we are, is our present confession or denial of Christ most tellingly uttered before men. Likewise, by what He is, as compared with what we are, will His future confession or denial of us be most conclusively made known, to our glory or our shame before the heavenly witnesses “the angels of God.”

II. From this look into the spiritual reality of our subject we draw some obvious and practical CONCLUSIONS.

1. Confessing or denying Christ is certainly no mere affair of words. Yet words, though weak, are not worthless. They can make their mark on character--our own and others’ character.

2. Confessing Christ and being confessed by Christ are not to be separated in our thought, like work-day and pay-day, as if the confessing were all here, and the being confessed all there. What comes out there is simply the flash of an awakened consciousness of a judgment of Christ which has been going on here every day under the eyes of the invisible witnesses of many a negligent life.

3. Confessing or denying Christ here is not a question solely as to the totality or average of character, but quite as much a question as to the particulars of character. Point by point, the world compares the professed copy with its model, and recognizes agreements or contradictions in detail. No otherwise can it be in the presence of the angels of God. (J. M. Whiten, Ph. D.)

Confession of Christ

The confession of Christ by the apostles was before the heads of their religion, the chief priests who had crucified Him. It was before rulers and kings, before the philosophers of Athens, the libertines of Corinth. It was the bold, unflinching avowal that the world was saved by the cruel and disgraceful death of a Jew, one of a nation regarded with pretty much the same contempt as they are now. They who made this confession always made it at the risk of their lives. This confession of Christ is yet dangerous to life even in this nineteenth century. No man in a Mahometan country, brought up in the national faith, can embrace the Christian religion except at the risk of his life--at least it was so a very few years ago. In Christian England the confession of Christ has assumed a different form, but it equally requires sincerity and courage to make it; a Christian has now to profess the creating power of God amongst evolutionists, and the all-ruling providence of God in the company of unbelieving scientists. In some companies he has to brave the ridicule attaching to the belief in miracles. In the society of filthy-minded men he has to uphold the purity of Christ, and in the society of worldlings he may be called upon to uphold the rooted antagonism between the world and Christ. These may seem very poor and mild ways of confessing Christ compared to what our forefathers in the faith had to endure; but they all try the metal of the Christian. If he is faithful in confessing Christ in these comparatively little matters, he may have a good hope that God would, if called upon, give him grace to make a bolder and more public and dangerous confession if it was laid upon him so to do. Such is the confession of Christ; and the reward answers to it. “Before the angels of God,” i.e., before the court of God--before His special ministers. Notice the extraordinary reality with which the Lord here invests the unseen world of angels. To be honoured before them and receive their applause, infinitely outweighs the contempt and persecution of a condemned world. (M. F.Sadler.)

Christian courage

I. Consider some of the OCCASIONS WHICH CALL FOR THE EXERCISE OF THIS GRACE.

1. It requires courage to be able to withstand persecution for conscience sake.

2. You will need courage to bear reproach for Christ’s sake.

3. You will need courage to act up to your convictions of duty in your own family and in the world at large.

4. You will need courage to resist temptation.

5. Courage is necessary to confess Christ in the presence of the rich and powerful, and of all who are exalted above you in station and influence. “I will speak of Thy testimonies also before kings,” said David, “and will not be ashamed.” And what noble courage was displayed by Daniel, and by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego!

6. It may be that some of you will need courage to venture your life at the call of duty. You may need it for the right discharge of your business. You may need it to act vigorously in endeavouring to save the lives of others.

7. You will need courage to resist the mere apprehension of evil.

8. You will need courage to bear the evils of life while they are actually pressing on you.

9. You will need courage to meet the last enemy.

II. In order, then, to the attainment of this necessary grace of courage, or, which is the same thing, in order to your preservation from sinful fear, let the following BRIEF DIRECTIONS be considered and followed:

1. Begin with a well-founded hope in God’s mercy, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Without this, though you may be free from fear, you must be exposed to the most awful danger; and, therefore, though you may be foolhardy, you cannot be rationally and scripturally courageous. But, if God be “on your side,” as the Psalmist expresses it, then you need “not fear what man can do unto you.”

2. Endeavour, next, after a very firm trust in God’s providence. Remember that the slightest evil cannot befall you without your heavenly Father, and believe that He causes all things to work together for your good.

3. Reflect on the noble examples of courage which are recorded in Scripture.

4. Vex not yourselves with fears as to the future, but give yourselves to the duties of the present.

5. Consider the exhortations and promises of the Word of God, and have the substance of all, and the very words of many of them, in your memory. They abound to this effect throughout Scripture, especially in Isaiah, and the Psalms.

6. Think of the confession that awaits you from the Lord, and the crown of glory which will be yours, at last, if you be faithful. He assures you that He will confess you before His Father and the holy angels: and He says to each of you, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” Think often of this; and the thought will far more than counterbalance any reproach, or opposition, you may meet with here. And, finally, mindful of your own weakness, and how certainly both your strength and courage would fail if you were left to yourselves, be much in prayer to God for this grace of holy courage. (James Foote, M. A.)

Showing his colours

One day, as I sat in the barrack-room, I was thinking over in my mind the many difficulties with which I had to contend as a professing Christian, and how to overcome them. One thing, I said, I must do; I must confess Christ, and not be ashamed of my colours. I had only recently been led to trust in the Lord Jesus as my Saviour, and had begun to pray and read all the books that were likely to help me to a better knowledge of the Lord Jesus. I had not the Bible to read; that I had given away a few weeks previously to one of my comrades as a thing that I should never require in the future. There was but one thing that I bad, up to the present, shrunk from doing, and that was kneeling down as my bedside, and praying openly before my comrades, before going to bed. I felt dissatisfied with myself for being so cowardly, and had also made up my mind to do so that night. “You want to be seen of men,” whispered Satan in my ear. “It is not for Christ’s sake; you want the praise of man.” I was fairly puzzled for a time, and was afraid of doing wrong. “If I were alone in this room to-night, what would I do before going to bed?” I asked myself. “Certainly, I should kneel down,” I thought. “Then, if I do not do so tonight, it will be because I am ashamed to confess my Master before my fellow-men. Lord help me to do it tonight,” I said, “for Christ’s sake.” The barrack-room in which I sat was a large one, capable of holding about one hundred men, and at night was lighted by four large oil lamps, which hung from the roof by chains. My bed stood right opposite one of these lamps, and there I sat waiting for nine o’clock, the time for all to go to bed. The scene around me was not a pleasant one, the men had but recently come from the canteen, where they had been liberally supplied with arrack (a native drink resembling rum, and which destroys more lives in India than the ravages of war or disease put together). Some of the men sat on their beds smoking, some stood in little groups discussing the topics of the day, others were singing popular comic songs, while a considerable number were quarrelling about something which had occurred at the canteen, and which ended in blows and blasphemy. Confusion and disorder reigned supreme. With the exception of a few who were so drunk that they were being put to bed by their comrades, all were contributing more or less to the general disorder. In a short time the bugles sounded the last post; it was nine o’clock at last. “Lord, help me,” I said, and in the midst of all the confusion around me, I dropped upon my knees. For a few seconds the horrid din around me continued; it then ceased, and I knew that every eye was turned to where I knelt, right under the glare of that large oil lamp. Something strange had happened! Most of these men had been familiar with bloodshed in the Crimea, and in the still more recent and more deadly conflict of the mutiny. Of such things, the men were careless, but for things sacred they had a reverence. Many of them had praying mothers in old Scotland, who still prayed for them, and as I knelt before them now, not a hand was lifted against me, nor did a tongue speak a word! I say this to their credit, and for five years I continued to pray openly before them, without being molested in any way by them. I have had to reprove them for sin, but for this they honoured me, because I was not ashamed to show my colours. More than this, the Lord blessed my testimony, for He brought eight or nine of those men around me to bear witness for His name. Some are now in heaven, while others are preaching the everlasting gospel to their fellow men. (A Soldier’s Diary.)

The reward of confessing Christ

There was a prince of right royal blood, who once upon a time left his father’s palace and journeyed into a distant part of the king’s dominions, where he was little known and cared for. He was a true prince, and he had about his face those princely marks--that strange divinity which doth hedge a king--that might have madethe onlooker know that he was right royal. But when he came into the place, the people said, “This is the heir to the throne; let us insult him, let us hoot him!” Others said, he was no heir at all. And they agreed to set him in the pillory. As he stood there, every man did pelt him with all kinds of filth, and used all manner of hard words towards him; and they said, “Who dare acknowledge him for a prince? who dare stand by him?” There stood up one from the crowd, and said, “I dare!” They set him up in the pillory side ,by side with the prince; and when they threw their filth on the prince it fell on him, and when they spoke hard words of the prince they spoke hard words of him. He stood there, smiling, and received it all. Now and then a tear stole down his cheek; but that was for them, that they should thus ill-treat their sovereign. Years went by, the king came into those dominions and subdued them; and there came a day of triumph over the conquered city: streamers hung from every windows and the streets were strewn with roses. There came the king’s troops dressed in burnished armour of gold, with plumes upon their glittering helmets. The music rang right sweetly, for all the trumpets of glory sounded. It was from heaven they had come. The prince rode through the streets in His glorious chariot; and when He came to the gates of the city, there were the traitors all bound in chains. They stood before Him trembling. He singled out from among the crowd one man only who stood free and unfettered, and He said to the traitors, “Know ye this man? He stood with Me in that day when ye treated Me with scorn and indignation. He shall stand with Me in the day of My glory. Come up hither!” said He. And amidst the sounding of trumpets and the voice of acclamation, the poor, despised, and rejected citizen of that rebellious city rode through the streets in triumph, side by side with his King, who clothed him in purple, and set a crown of pure gold upon his head. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Power of confession

In relating his experience during the Peninsular war, Captain Watson says: “I was nominated to sit on a garrison court-martial. A number of officers of different ranks and regiments were present on the occasion, and before the proceedings commenced, some of them indulged in loose and sceptical observations. ‘Alas,’ thought I, ‘here are many not ashamed to speak openly for their master, and shall I hold my peace and refrain when the honour and cause of Him who has had mercy on me are called in question?’ I looked for wisdom and assistance from on high, and I was enabled to speak for a quarter of an hour in a way that astonished my hearers and myself. The Lord was pleased to give what I said a favourable reception, and not another improper word was uttered by them during my stay in that room.”

Prompt confession

Dilawar Khan, formerly an Afghan robber, being convinced of the truth of the gospel, and having taken service in an English regiment at Peshawar, was, on the outbreak of the mutiny, ordered to Delhi. Separated from the missionaries before he had received baptism, and thrown among Mohammedans whose co-religionist he had been, he was determined to make his change of faith unmistakably known, and so, calling for a loaf of bread, he ate it with a European in presence of all. It was the only symbol of separation which the circumstances allowed. When baptized, he received the name Dilawar Messih--“Bold for Christ.”

Confession of Christ unknown to nominal Christians

A Hindoo of rank was troubled in his conscience on the subject of a future state. He had heard of Christians, and longed to converse with them about their religion, and to know who Christ was. So he visited England, the Christian’s land, supplied with introductions to some leading people. Being asked to a great dinner, he turned to his neighbour in the course of conversation, and said: “Can you tell me something about Christ, the founder of your religion?” “Hush,” replied his new acquaintance, “we do not speak of such things at dinner parties.” Subsequently he was invited to a large ball. Dancing with a young and fashionable lady, he took an opportunity of asking her who the founder of her religion, Jesus Christ, was. And again he was warned that a ball was no place to introduce such subjects. Strange, thought the Hindoo, are these Christians in England. They will not speak of their religion, nor inform me about Christ, its founder.

Confessing Christ

A great many years ago a Roman emperor said to a Greek architect: “Build me a Coliseum, and when it is done I will crown you; and I will make your name famous through all the world, if you will only build me a grand Coliseum.” The work was done. The emperor said: “Now we will crown that architect. We will have a grand celebration.” The Coliseum was crowded with a great host. The emperor was there and the Greek architect, who was to be crowned for putting up this building. And then they brought out some Christians, who were ready to die for the truth, and from the doors underneath were let out the lions, hungry, three-fourths starved. The emperor arose amid the shouting assemblage, and said: “The Coliseum is done, and we have come to celebrate it to-day by the putting to death of Christians at the mouth of these lions, and we have come here to honour the architect who has constructed this wonderful building. The time has come for me to honour him, and we further celebrate his triumph by the slaying of these Christians.” Whereupon, the Greek architect sprang to his feet, and shouted: “I also am a Christian.” And they flung him to the wild beasts, and his body, bleeding and dead, was tumbled into the dust of the amphitheatre. Could you have done that for Christ? Could you have stood up there in the presence of that great audience, who hated Christ, and hated everything about Him, and have said: “I, too, am a Christian”? (Dr. Talmage.)

Be not ashamed of the religion of Christ

If you go into a Mohammedan country, when the hour for prayer comes at three o’clock, you will see the Mohammedan kneeling down on his knees. He is not ashamed of his false religion. The only religion that gives a man victory over sin and the flesh, the only religion that gives a man spiritual power, is the religion of Jesus Christ, and yet it is the only religion that men are ashamed of. When Mr. Moody was at Salt Lake City he did not meet even one that was not proud of being a Mormon. Everywhere the fact was announced over their shops and places of business. If you meet a man who is possessed of an error he will publish it. Why should we, who have the truth, not publish it also?

Confession of Christ before men

If people are loud in the praise of the physician who has cured them of some deadly malady--recommending others to trust and seek his skill, why should not Christ’s people crown Him with equal honours, commend Him to a dying world, and proclaim what He has done for them? Let them say with David, “Come, all ye that fear the Lord, and I will declare what He hath done for my soul”; and tread in the steps of the Samaritan who threw away her pitcher, and running to the city, brought them all out--crying, “Come, see a man who hath told me all things that I have ever done.” It is a bad thing ostentatiously to parade religion; but it is a base thing for a Christian man to be ashamed of it: not to stand by his colours; by his silence, if not his speech, to deny his Master; to sneak away, like a coward, out of the fight. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)

Boldness in confessing Christ

I have no notion of a timid, disingenuous profession of Christ. Such preachers and professors are like a rat playing at hide-and-seek behind a wainscot, who puts his head through a hole to see if the coast is clear, and ventures out if nobody is in the way; but slinks back again when danger appears. We cannot be honest to Christ except we are bold for Him. He is either worth all we can lose for Him, or He is worth nothing. (H. G. Salter.)

The right kind of Christian

Not long ago an officer was accosted by a brother officer thus: “You’re the right kind of Christian, not bothering people about their souls this way.” The speaker himself made no pretensions to serious godliness; and the allusion was to certain officers who had a way of speaking out very intelligibly for Christ. Our friend had himself been converted; but, up to that time, he had been too timid to utter any articulate testimony. As his visitor left him that day, he began to reason with himself: “Well, if that man thinks I am the right kind of Christian, it is time I was looking about me and considering my ways.” It was a somewhat novel point of departure; but from that hour, our friend has been another man, boldly confessing Christ and labouring to win souls. (P. B. Power, M. A.)

Speak for Christ

Brother--was considered a consistent and by no means inefficient member of the Church. His seat was seldom vacant during divine service; and his place in the business meeting of the congregation, in Sunday-School and the prayer-meeting was seldom unoccupied. In short, his duties, public and private, as a member of the Church, were promptly, well, and faithfully performed. Yet on his deathbed he had his regrets. “I have,” said he, “been a man of few words, and of a still tongue. Oh, if I had my life to live over again, I would speak for Jesus as I have never been accustomed to do.”

Speaking for Christ

In a prayer-meeting at Boston I once attended, most of those who took part were old men, but a little tow-headed Norwegian boy, who could only speak broken English, got up and said: “ If I tell the world about Christ, He will tell the Father about me.” That wrote itself upon my heart, and I have never forgotten what that little boy said. (D. L. Moody.)

Confessing Christ

Jesus Christ expects that those who believe on Him should confess Him.

I. WHAT IS MEANT BY THE WORDS “CONFESS CHRIST”? There is no great obscurity about them; still, a few words of explanation may bring out their meaning more clearly. Confessing Christ is an avowal of what He is in our esteem, of what He is to us. It assumes, of course, that there is an inward conviction that He is the Son of God, and the Saviour of the world. To confess Him is to let that conviction be outwardly expressed in some form or other, i.e., it is a taking care that we do not stifle our convictions by keeping them to ourselves; but that we utter them, by letting it be known that we believe Christ, that we receive Him, that we worship Him, that we follow Him, as Teacher, &c. In a word, it is to say, “I am a Christian. I am Christ’s man; ‘for me to live is Christ!’”

II. WHAT IS INVOLVED IN THE ACT OF MAKING THIS CONFESSION? It denies. It affirms. It opposes. Let us note each of these points. This confession denies that man is his own master. It is a practical declaration that we are under the authority of another, and it denies every other authority for man than that of the Lord Jesus Christ. Hence this confession affirms as well as denies. It avows the infinite right of Christ to rule over men because of His work for them! It is an avowal of His glory. Thus, this confession must needs oppose very much loose and wrong thinking of the present day. It is in opposition to the worldliness which would treat all religion and worship with supreme indifference. It opposes formalism, &c. And, by the terms of the expression, confessing Christ is as really exclusive as inclusive. It refuses to be cumbered with a host of commandments, and doctrines of men. It declines to own any priestly intrusion between a man’s conscience and the Lord Jesus, and hence is as much a confession of Christ only, as of Christ.

III. IN WHAT WAY SHOULD THE CONFESSION BE MADE?

1. By letting it be seen that we are Christ’s, by our light shining before men. The sun has no need to have the words, “I am a light,” blazoned above or beneath him. Nor have even dim, artificial lights any need for this. They give light by shining. Now, though the parallel does not hold in every respect, yet in one point it indicates what we mean. Are you Christ’s men, heart and soul? Then show it by being Christ-like. Not indeed that this is enough, but without it, nothing else can be enough. The importance of our unconscious influence can scarcely be overrated. So ought we to live that men can see that we are Christians by what we are, whether our conversation for the time being be on religious matters or no.

2. But the apostle Paul says: “With the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” There is a saying, I am the Lord’s, and this is a part of the confession--“speaking for Christ”--in the society in which you move.

3. Then, by acting for Christ we may confess Him. We may seek to spread His name among those who know Him not, and may make it a business of our lives to teach and train men for Him.

4. But let us not only passively endure, let us also take up the positive attitude of attack. We must not be content simply to receive rebuffs, we must give them, going forth without the camp, exposing error and rebuking sin. We can do this better in company than we can singly. I may go forth to work and witness alone, and succeed, but if a brother comes and stands by my side, and says, I am one with you, he makes me twice the man I was before. And out of this law of reciprocal influence, out of this power of combination--as being so much greater than that of isolation--there comes another means of making this confession, viz., joining the militant host of the people of God, or, to use a common phrase, joining the Church.

IV. WHY SHOULD CHRIST BE THUS CONFESSED? For many reasons, each of which has some weight: but it is rather to the cumulative force of all of them that we desire to point attention.

1. Jesus Christ has definitely and expressly commanded it (Luke 12:8-9).

2. It is manifestly reasonable that we should avow our relation to such a Saviour, and His relation to us. For what are we, but sinful, dying men, owing our immortal life and eternal hopes to Jesus and His saving love? When the names of men whom a country loves to honour are often on our lips, as if we felt honoured by knowing something about them, shall it be that we keep silence only concerning the Man of Sorrows, as if it were aught but an honour to speak His name? God forbid.

3. It is assumed in the New Testament that Christ’s men act as a corporate body. The institution that Christ intended to build up, He called “a Church”; and after He went to heaven, a group of one hundred and twenty were found meeting in an upper room, &c.

4. To avow your convictions, will help to give them definiteness and precision. So long as a conviction remains snugly lodged within, unexpressed, it need not be very sharply defined; but bring it out, put it into shape, set it in words, draw it forth to living action, and lo! it is at once a fuller and clearer conviction, owing to the very effort required to avow it! Yea, more, conviction unavowed becomes feebler.

5. Christ and the world are such opposites, that if a man has any adequate conception of the difference between them, he cannot help seeing the incongruity of a believer in Christ refusing to confess Him. When so many are opposed, or indifferent, does it not behove the friends of Christ to stand up for Him?

6. Jesus Christ confessed us.

7. Christ lives on earth in those who confess Him. By His Church He manifests Himself in living form to the world. His confessing ones are His mouthpiece by which He speaks to a dying world I And we want your voice and tongue, and hands and feet, and brain and heart, to be employed for Him in ringing out the grand testimony that the Father sent the Son, the Saviour of the world!

8. In confessing Christ we join such a blessed line of confessors.

9. The confession itself is such a glorious one.

10. The true confessors will be so blessedly confessed (Matthew 10:32-33). “But,” says one, “is there no medium between confessing and denying?” We reply, Christ puts none, therefore we cannot. Nor would we if we could. We would bid you turn away your eyes from all goals but the very highest of all! And suffer me to ask, Has not the promise of being confessed by Christ any charm for you?

V. MANY DO NOT THUS CONFESS CHRIST. WHY IS THIS?

1. There is reason to fear that there are some who do not confess Christ because they know that if they were to do so, as things are now, they could but profess a regard for His name, which goes no further than outside reverence. They are not living in obedience to Christ; so that, even if they were to call Him “Lord, Lord,” though there might be there a form of godliness, there would not be its power!

2. “That is not my reason,” says one; “but it seems to me that in the Church you hedge round the open confession of Christ, which is involved in ‘joining the Church,’ with such difficulties, that many are thereby kept back.” As might be expected, we find that the “difficulties,” which Churches are supposed to put in the way, vanish in the course of friendly conversation with those who are kind enough and frank enough to state them.

3. Some do not confess Christ, on account of not seeing the importance of making such confession. But if Christ has commanded it, ought we not to obey orders without debating the question of its importance?

4. Some do not confess Christ owing to the feebleness of their personal conviction. When the heart beats feebly the whole frame languishes, and when brain nerve-power is lacking the heart beats feebly. Herein is one of the many parables of physiology. A lack of strength in the convictions of the soul is often a cause of holding back from avowing Christ. And this feebleness of conviction is often owing to confusion of thought, or to a lack of clear understanding with regard to the contents and mutual relation of religious truth.

5. Some are kept back from avowing their convictions through the fear of John 12:42-43, and others).

6. Others are kept back from confessing Christ, by a cause which is far less objectionable, because more reasonable, viz., a fear of themselves. Confession of Christ seems to them to involve so much, that they fear they can never come up to the high standard which is before their eye. They see, too, that there are some who, having confessed Christ, settle down at their ease, and they fear lest it should be so with them.

7. Some are deterred from confessing Christ by the warning of the apostle, “Whosoever shall eat this bread,” &c. Whosoever is kept back by these words, should read the whole of the section of the chapter in which they stand; he will then find that the persons there addressed were turning the Lord’s Supper into a common meal, mistaking its nature and design. Hence they tarried not for one another; some came hungry and feasted, and others were drunken.

8. “But look at the inconsistency of professors!” Yes, we do look at it, and grieve over it, but how that should be a reason for not confessing Christ, it is not easy to see.

9. “Well, but I can be saved without making this confession.” Do not be so sure of that. If you see it to be a duty which you owe to Christ, and then can leave a known duty unfulfilled, you are not a saved man! None who continue in known disobedience to Christ are saved. Besides, look at the selfishness of the plea. It is as if all that a man had to think about was--being saved! This may, indeed, be the first thing, but most assuredly it is not everything! We would put another question: Suppose you refuse to confess Christ, can you do as much to save others as if you avowed Him as your Lord? And to this we most decidedly answer, No!

VI. KEEPING BACK FROM THE CONFESSION OF CHRIST IS IN MANY RESPECTS A GREAT EVIL. Whether the reasons for keeping back be those which we have named or not, the non-confession of Christ is evil, though the kind and degree thereof may be varied according to the motives which lead to a secret rather than an open discipleship.

1. It is unworthy. Such a Saviour as we have ought to be confessed willingly, yea, joyfully. To keep silent on our tongues the name that angels love to sound forth through the realms of heaven, and for the one who thus keeps the name so still to be the one who owes to it all his hopes of eternal life, that is no worthy return for the suffering of the cross. Much reason had He to be ashamed of us, but why, oh! why, should we be ashamed of Him?

2. If any refuse to confess Christ they voluntarily lessen their own possibilities of usefulness.

3. For we have only to suppose this isolated working to be universally carried out, and then it is clear we should never hear of a visible Church at all! The Church might remain, but her visibility would be gone.

4. Inactive convictions will be injurious. To have them and not act on them would be to our condemnation.

5. Another evil is, that not to confess Christ is to be disobedient to His direct command.

6. And still another evil in the non confession of Christ on the part of those who are His, is that it may throw the balance of their personal influence on the wrong side.

VII. WHAT SENTIMENTS AND FEELINGS SHOULD MOVE US TO THE CONFESSION OF CHRIST?

1. Gratitude.

2. Love. When once it is clear that He has commanded it, and that He is infinitely worthy of being so confessed, then love to Him for His infinite worthiness should leave us without hesitation as to the course to pursue. And there is this distinction between being moved by gratitude and being inspired by love. Love is the higher affection of the two, Gratitude is the desire to recompense, or at least to acknowledge, a favour received. Love is the passion which cleaves to One who is in Himself surpassingly glorious.

3. Loyalty. Gratitude has respect to what Christ has done for us; love to what He is in Himself; loyalty, to His relation to us as Leader and Commander.

4. The feeling of brotherhood should impel to the confession of Christ.

5. Compassion for men who are out of Christ should lead us to confess Christ.

VIII. IN WHAT SPIRIT SHOULD THE CONFESSION BE MADE? This we may gather from the notice already given of the feelings which move us to make it. Evidently it should not be made without much thought, care, and prayer. The essential qualifications for such a confession are--sincerity and truth; without these there must be an unreality about the confession, which would not only render it null and void, but would bring greater guilt on the individual making a merely hollow confession. This, of course, must be the prime matter. When any one says, I am Christ’s man, he should say it because it is true, for to say it cannot make it true, if it is not so otherwise. But this being the case, any one contemplating a step so important will be anxious to put into it all the meaning that he can do. To help such in so doing, let us observe--

1. The step should be taken humbly; not in a spirit of boastfulness or self-sufficiency, nor yet with the notion uppermost of “becoming a professor.”

2. The confession should be made with fear and trembling.

3. At the same time that fear should not be so disproportionate, as to prevent a hallowed joy in confessing Christ.

4. We should always bring with us to the confession, a sense of the great and undeserved honour put on us in having such a Christ to avow. If a king should have pity on a pauper, and should translate him from a workhouse to a palace, and clothe him with royal robes, and make him partner of his throne, and should then educate him up to his dignity, and all out of pure regard to that pauper, without his having done aught to deserve it, might he not in his elevated position glory in the honour put upon him, and with a sense of the honour might he not well proclaim his deliverer and friend?

5. Making the confession of Christ should be attended with a spirit of entire devotion to the interests of the kingdom.

6. There should be the desire to gain such an amount of Christian intelligence as shall give him the right kind of influence in the Church of God.

7. But, if possible, even more eagerly intent should the individual confessing Christ be on “adorning the doctrine of God” his “Saviour in all things,” by pureness, lowliness, meekness, and long-suffering.

8. To all this, let us add--There should be a reliance on Divine aid and on the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. These, the Saviour whom we confess has received for us, and will impart them to us. And no one who has an approximately adequate sense of the grand destiny of the Christian life will ever dream of attaining it by his own unaided power.

IX. THERE ARE SPECIAL REASONS JUST NOW FOR SUCH A CONFESSION OF CHRIST AMONG THE INDIVIDUALS COMPOSING OUR PROTESTANT CONGREGATIONS. Certain features in the several epochs of time may furnish reasons which would make a specially urgent duty of what would be a duty at any time. Such features show themselves now in the ecclesiastical movements and theological conflicts of the day, This may appear more clearly as we proceed.

1. A special reason for this confession is found in the fact, that only by banding together as Christian people can we give practical effect to Christ’s own law, that those who love Him should uphold His cause.

2. It is important to hold up to the view of men another principle: viz., that Christian men, when associated together in their corporate capacity, are empowered by Christ with authority to carry on His work.

3. It is important, at a time when so many are denying and disobeying Christ, that hearts which are loyal to Him should cheer on each other in their witness-bearing for Him.

4. It is important that each Christian man should bear a testimony for the doctrine and polity which he believes to be most in accordance with Christ’s will, and most effective for Christ’s service.

5. Whatever we can do to leaven public sentiments with the truth of Christian doctrine, and to show the relation of that doctrine to the wellbeing of a nation, it is our bounden duty to do, and towards this, it is no unimportant contribution for us to band together with those who uphold the cause of our Lord. (C. Clemance, D. D.)


Verse 9

Luke 12:9

He that denieth Me before men

On denying Christ

I.
HOW MANY WAYS CHRIST AND HIS TRUTHS MAY BE DENIED AND WHAT IS THE DENIAL HERE CHIEFLY INTENDED. Here, first, in general I assert that we may deny Him in all those acts that are capable of being morally good or evil; those are the proper scene in which we act our confessions or denials of Him. Accordingly, therefore, all ways of denying Christ I shall comprise under these three.

1. We may deny Him and His truths by an erroneous, heretical judgment.

2. We may deny Christ verbally and by oral expressions. Now our words are the interpreters of our hearts, the transcripts of the judgment, with some farther addition of good or evil. He that interprets, usually enlarges.

3. We may deny Christ in our actions and practice; and these speak much louder than our tongues. To have an orthodox belief and a true profession, concurring with a bad life, is only to deny Christ with a greater solemnity. Belief and profession will speak thee a Christian but very faintly, when thy conversation proclaims thee an infidel. Many, while they have preached Christ in their sermons, have read a lecture of atheism in their practice. As for the manner of our denying the deity of Christ here prohibited, I conceive it was by words and oral expressions verbally to deny and disacknowledge it. This I ground upon these reasons--

1. Because it was such a denial as was “ before men,” and therefore consisted in open profession; for a denial in judgment and practice, as such, is not always before men.

2. Because it was such a denial or confession of Him as would appear in preaching; but this is managed in words and verbal profession. But now, if we take the words as they are, a general precept equally relating to all times and to all persons, though delivered only upon a particular occasion to the apostles (as I suppose they are to be understood), so I think they comprehend all the three ways mentioned of confessing or denying Christ, but principally in respect of practice, and that--

II. WHAT ARE THE CAUSES INDUCING MEN TO DENY CHRIST IN HIS TRUTHS. I shall propose three.

1. The seeming supposed absurdity of many truths. Upon this heresy always builds. The seeming paradoxes attending gospel truths cause men of weak, prejudiced intellectuals to deny them, and in them, Christ; being ashamed to own faith so much, as they think, to the disparagement of their reason.

2. The second thing causing men to deny the truths of Christ is their unprofitableness. And no wonder if here men forsake the truth and assert interest. To be pious is the way to be poor. Truth still gives its followers its own badge and livery, a despised nakedness.

3. Their apparent danger. To be resolute in a good cause is to bring upon ourselves the punishments due to a bad.

III. We proceed now to the third thing, which is to show HOW FAR A MAN MAY CONSULT HIS SAFETY IN TIME OF PERSECUTION WITHOUT DENYING CHRIST. This he may do two ways.

1. By withdrawing his person. Martyrdom is an heroic act of faith; an achievement beyond an ordinary pitch of it; “to you,” says the Spirit, “it is given to suffer” (Philippians 1:29). It is a peculiar additional “gift;” it is a distinguishing excellency of degree, not an essential consequent of its nature. “Be ye harmless as doves, says Christ; and it is as natural to them to take flight upon danger, as to be innocent. Let every man thoroughly consult the temper of his faith, and weigh his courage with his fears, his weakness, and his resolutions together, and take the measure of both, and see which preponderates; and, if his spirit faints, if his heart misgives and melts at the very thoughts of the fire, let him fly, and secure his own soul, and Christ’s honour.

2. By concealing his judgment. A man sometimes is no more bound to speak than to destroy himself; and as nature abhors this, so religion does not command that. In the times of the primitive Church, when the Christians dwelt amongst heathens, it is reported of a certain maid, how she came from her father’s house to one of the tribunals of the Gentiles, and declared herself a Christian, spit in the judge’s face, and so provoked him to cause her to be executed. But will any say that this was to confess Christ or die a martyr? He that, uncalled for, uncompelled, comes and proclaims a persecuted truth for which he is surely to die, only dies a confessor to his own folly, and a sacrifice to his own rashness. Martyrdom is stamped such only by God’s command; and he that ventures upon it without a call must endure it without a reward. Christ will say, “Who required this at your hands?” His gospel does not dictate imprudence; no evangelical precept justles out that of a lawful self-preservation. He, therefore, that thus throws himself upon the sword, runs to heaven before he is sent for; where, though perhaps Christ may in mercy receive the man, yet He will be sure to disown the martyr.

IV. Having thus despatched the third thing, I proceed to show WHAT IT IS FOR CHRIST TO DENY US BEFORE HIS FATHER IN HEAVEN. Hitherto we have treated of men’s carriage to Christ in this world; now we will describe His carriage to them in the other. These words clearly relate to the last judgment: and they are a summary description of His proceeding with men at that day. And here we will consider--

1. The action itself--“He will deny them.”

2. The circumstance of the action--“He will deny them before His Father and the holy angels.” (R. South, D. D.)

Some ways of denying Christ

1. We deny Christ when we advocate opinions which tend to lessen the authority of His religious teachings.

2. It is denying Christ to represent Him as a mere man. He Himself said, “I and My Father are one. He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father.” And He commended Thomas for addressing Him as “ my Lord and my God.” How can any one affirm that He was only a man without the guilt of denying Him?

3. We may often deny Christ by silence. No doubt some well-meaning people at times do harm by introducing religion into conversation under unsuitable circumstances, or by harsh polemical replies to what some unbeliever has said. But most of us are in far greater danger of a culpable silence when Christ’s truth ought to be vindicated, and Christ’s own claim to reverence and trust ought to be earnestly and lovingly declared.

4. We may deny Christ by appearing at places and engaging in pursuits which irreligious people themselves recognize as unsuitable for an earnest Christian.

5. We deny Christ by neglecting efforts to spread the saving knowledge of Him at home and abroad. The Confederate general, Albert Sidney Johnston, in the last letter he wrote before he fell at Shiloh, said, “The popular test of a military man’s merit is success. It is a hard test, but it is the true one.” We do not believe that success is always the true test of merit, but beyond question it is the popular test. Now, many irreligious people consider that Christianity is upon the whole a comparative failure. Large portions of the world it has never even nominally conquered. Some countries in which it once existed, including the Holy Land, have long been Mohammedan. And in the countries called Christian, a large proportion of the people are not really the subjects of Christ’s spiritual reign, The hasty observer is wrong in concluding that Christ’s work in the world is a failure; but must we not feel grief and shame at the thought that he has right plausible ground for such a conclusion? Just in proportion as we fail of any effort to spread Christ’s spiritual reign, we give men an excuse for rejecting His authority and neglecting His salvation. And thus to act is in a distressing manner to deny Christ.

6. In fact, a Christian is always and everywhere either confessing Christ or denying Him. Every wrong act performed, every duty disregarded or imperfectly discharged, every indication of a character not conformed to His will and likened to His image, is, by the very necessity of the case, a denial of our Lord and Saviour. (J. A. Broadus, D. D.)

Denial of Christ

Note here--

1. That not to confess Christ is, in His account, to deny Him and to be ashamed of Him.

2. That whosoever shall deny or be ashamed of Christ, either in His person, in His gospel, or in His members, for any fear or favour of man, shall with shame be disowned and eternally rejected by Him at the dreadful judgment of the great day. Christ may be denied three ways--doctrinally, by an erroneous and heretical judgment; verbally, by oral expressions; vitally, by a wicked and unholy life--but woe to the soul that denies Christ any of these ways. (W. Burkitt.)

David Straiton, the Scottish martyr

In the seventeenth century, David Straiton, a Scotchman, was one day in a solitary place Where the New Testament was being read. When the words of this verse sounded in his ears, he threw himself on his knees and said, “For Thy mercy’s sake, Lord, let me never deny Thee or Thy truth for fear of death or corporeal pains.” At his trial he firmly defended the truth, and not only died for it himself, but greatly cheered his fellow-martyr, Norman Gourlay.

Ashamed of Christ

What would the Queen think of her soldiers, if they should swear they were loyal and true, and were to say, “Your Majesty, we prefer not to wear these regimentals, let us wear the dress of civilians! We are right honest men and upright, but do not care to stand in your ranks, acknowledged as your soldiers; we had rather slink into the enemy’s camp, and into your camps too, and not wear anything that would mark us as being your soldiers.” Ah! some of you do the same with Christ. You are going to be secret Christians, are you, and slink into the devil’s camp and into Christ’s camp, but acknowledged by none? (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verse 10

Luke 12:10

Blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost--

Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost

I.
First, the OCCASION on which this declaration was made requires our particular attention; for it does not appear that it was ever repeated or applied to any other subject.

II. Let us, then, inquire into THE NAME AND NATURE OF THE CRIME TO WHICH OUR SAVIOUR SO SOLEMNLY REFERS.

1. It is necessary to attend to the name, for it is often applied erroneously. Thus we often hear of the sin against the Holy Ghost; whereas it is called in Scripture by no name except blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. This distinction, however, is highly important; for there may be other sins against the Holy Ghost, though less criminal than blasphemy, and therefore not liable to the same terrible punishment. Thus the Apostle Paul said to the Thessalonians, “Quench not the Spirit,” and to the Ephesians, “Grieve not the Holy Spirit.”

2. We must, therefore, next consider the application of the word blasphemy here. In the original language of the New Testament it signifies detraction, or calumny, or slander, and is frequently mentioned as a crime committed against man. Thus, in the Acts of the Apostles, the Jews accused Stephen, saying, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” But, in our language, blasphemy is never used in a general sense, or is said to be committed against man; it always denotes a crime committed against God.

3. Another observation deserves particular attention. The word blasphemy is never applied by our Saviour or His apostles to opinions formed in the mind, or to mere errors of judgment.

4. To prevent mistake it is necessary that we should define the nature of this crime with the utmost correctness and precision.

III. We come now to a very important question, WHY IS BLASPHEMY AGAINST THE HOLY GHOST DECLARED TO BE UNPARDONABLE?

1. It was not a crime to which the Pharisees were led by unforeseen accident, by sudden surprise, by laudable or even excusable feelings. On the contrary, it was deliberate, it was the result of reflection, it was a plan cautiously formed; for it was the consequence of a consultation among the scribes and Pharisees; and it formed the ground of a conspiracy against Jesus.

2. It showed, in this particular case, a total disregard of truth, It indicated a high degree of depravity, a complete want of principle, no fear of God, and a contempt for supernatural evidence, though of the strongest kind. In fine, it proved that their minds were closed against conviction; and that no proof, however powerful, nor means of improvement, however perfect, would be effectual.

3. But the strongest reason which can be given for declaring blasphemy against the Holy Ghost to be unpardonable, is, that it seems to be a crime for which there is no repentance. There are cases in which repentance becomes impossible. For repentance presupposes the existence of some good principles; it presupposes a disposition to discover truth, to examine evidence, to see our faults, and to be ready to acknowledge them, to feel shame, regret, and remorse for offending God. But there is nothing that we know which could produce repentance in men who have, for a long life, wilfully, stubbornly, and habitually rejected the most powerful means of conviction. Repentance supposes a sense of guilt capable of being roused on account of faults which we have discovered. But this cannot be when the understanding is perverted, and the conscience seared, and when the evil passions have expelled the pious and benevolent affections. It is true that the dread of future misery may still remain; but when the mind is reduced to so deplorable a state, the fear of future misery plunges men into despair. Now, where there is no repentance, we are not taught to expect pardon. Hence we may see why blasphemy is unpardonable. (J. Thomson, D. D.)

Of the sin against the Holy Ghost

First: What this sin against the Holy Ghost is, for people are very ignorant of it. Secondly: How and in what respect this sin against the Holy Ghost is above all other sins the unpardonable sin.

I. IF YOU ASK, WHAT THIS SIN IS? I answer both negatively and affirmatively. Negatively.

1. It is not that sin, whereby men do barely deny the personality, or the deity of the Holy Ghost. Possibly a man may deny the personality or the deity of the Holy Ghost, and yet not sin the sin against the Holy Ghost. For as Chrysostom observes, in his time there were divers heretics that did deny the personality and the deity of the Holy Ghost, and yet afterwards repented, and were received into the bosom of the Church. As it doth not consist therein, so neither cloth it consist in every opposition, or in a bare opposition unto the work of the Holy Ghost, as distinct from the Father and the Son. Unto God the Father belongs power; unto the Son, wisdom; unto the Spirit, holiness. The work of the Father is to create; the work of the Son, to redeem; the work of the Spirit, or the Holy Ghost, to sanctify. And hereupon some have thought that opposition unto holiness is the sin against the Holy Ghost. But you find here it is a blasphemy, therefore not every opposition. As it doth not consist therein, so it is not necessary that every man that sins the sin against the Holy Ghost, should be an universal apostate, backsliding from the profession of the gospel, and the power thereof. I know it is ordinarily thought so; but I say, it is not necessary that whosoever doth sin the sin against the Holy Ghost, should be a gospel apostate, backsliding from the gospel, and the power thereof, once professed: for these Pharisees, who sinned against the Holy Ghost, never professed the gospel, neither do we read of any backsliding in them, from the power of the gospel once professed; and yet they sinned against the Holy Ghost. Surely, therefore, such a gospel apostasy is not of the essence of the sin against the Holy Ghost. Some think that this sin doth consist in final unbelief and impenitency; but final impenitency and unbelief is not the sin against the Holy Ghost, for by final unbelief and impenitency, they either understand that impenitency and unbelief which a man lives and dies in, or that which he purposeth to continue in to the last. The latter cannot be the sin against the Holy Ghost, for many have purposed to continue in their unbelief to their death, and yet have been converted and pardoned. And the first cannot be the sin against the Holy Ghost, for--

1. The Jews whom Christ spake unto did then commit this sin, and yet they had not continued in it to their death.

2. Final unbelief is rather a sin against the Son; but the sin against the Holy Ghost is distinguished from that.

3. Our Saviour saith, “Those that commit this sin shall not be forgiven in this world, nor in the world to come.” Not in this world. If, therefore, final unbelief or impenitency be this sin, then Christ should threaten that he that dies in his sin shall not be forgiven whilst he lives.

4. If a man sin against the Father or Son, and die impenitently in that sin, he shall not be forgiven either in this life or in the life to come: but herein the sin against the Holy Ghost is worse than the sins against the Father or the Son, and therefore it cannot consist therein.

5. The apostle saith, “There is a sin unto death, I say not that you pray for 1 John 5:16). Doth he say that we must not pray for a man, and for the forgiveness of his sin when he is dead?

6. It is that sin for which there lies no remission, but a man may sin such a sin whilst he lives: for if any man sin wilfully, there remaineth no sacrifice for sin, and wilfully a man may sin before his death.

7. It is such a sin as a man may know another man is guilty of whilst he lives, for saith the apostle, “There is a sin unto death, I say not that you pray for it”: but final unbelief and impeniteney is not known till death.

8. Our Saviour saith, “He that speaketh a word against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven.” But a word may be spoken against the Spirit long before a man dies, and therefore surely this sin against the Holy Ghost doth not consist in final impenitency and unbelief; final unbelief and impenitency is not this sin against the Holy Ghost.

9. For then all wicked men living under the gospel, and dying impenitently, should sin the sin against the Holy Ghost, which is false. You will say, then, What is this sin against the Holy Ghost, and wherein doth it consist? Affirmatively. It is that wilful sinning against God, whereby a man doth maliciously oppose and blaspheme the proper and peculiar work of the Holy Ghost, and that after he hath been convinced thereof by the Holy Ghost. I say, It is a wilful sinning against God; and so the apostle speaks, saying, “If any man sin wilfully, after he hath received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sin” (Hebrews 10:26). So that the sin for which there is no sacrifice, and of which there is no remission, is a wilful sin. Now a man is said to sin wittingly, willingly, and wilfully:wittingly, in opposition to ignorance; willingly, in opposition to force and constraint; wilfully, in opposition to light, knowledge, and reason; and so he that sins against the Holy Ghost doth sin; for says the apostle, “If any man sin wilfully, after he hath received the knowledge of the truth,” &c. He that commits this sin doth also oppose and blaspheme the proper and peculiar work of the Holy Ghost; for it is called here, a blasphemy, and a blaspheming of the Spirit, as distinct from the Father and the Son. Suppose that some ignorance in the understanding be the remote cause of the sin, yet malice may be the next and chief cause. As for example: suppose that a man hath taken up some prejudice against another, through a mistake and error; yet now he hates him, and out of hatred kills him; shall not this murderer be said to kill him out of malice, because the malice was founded upon a mistake or error? Yes, surely. But why is he said to kill him out of malice? Because malice was the next cause of this murder. So that though ignorance be the remote cause of a sin, yet malice may be the next cause thereof; and being so, he shall be said truly to sin ex malitia, though with some precedent ignorance, as the remote cause thereof. Yet if you ask, how it can be that the will should be always carried out upon what is good, and yet a man sin maliciously? Plainly thus: from what hath been said, the will of man is an universal appetite, willing that which is naturally good, as well as that which is honestly good. If it be carried out upon that which is naturally good, it will hate all that spiritual good which is contrary to the obtainment of it, and the man will oppose and blaspheme what the will hates. Now because the hatred and malice of the will is the cause of that blasphemy and opposition, the man is truly said to oppose and blaspheme out of malice, though the will be carried on upon that which is naturally good at the same time; which was the case of these Pharisees: for they sought their own honour and greatness; Christ and the truth opposing, they did hate Him and the truth; and because they hated Him, the truth, and that light which reproved their sins, they did oppose and blaspheme, and that out of malice, and so the sin against the Holy Ghost is a malicious sin, or that sin whereby a man doth oppose and blaspheme the proper and peculiar work of the Spirit out of malice. Yet this is not all. But, it is that sin against God, whereby a man cloth maliciously oppose and blaspheme the peculiar work of the Holy Ghost, after he hath been convinced thereof by the Holy Ghost; for possibly a man may oppose and blaspheme, even maliciously, the work of the Holy Ghost, and yet not be convinced of it by the Holy Ghost, but otherwise; but these that sin this sin, are such as are enlightened, and made partakers of the Holy Ghost in the gifts and common graces of it (Hebrews 6:1-20.). And so these Pharisees were convinced by the Spirit which did work that great work before them; and yet after such a convincement wrought by the Spirit, they did maliciously oppose and blaspheme this work of the Spirit. So that I say, the sin against the Holy Ghost is that wilful sinning against God, whereby a man doth maliciously oppose and blaspheme the proper and peculiar work of the Holy Ghost, and that after he hath been convinced thereof by the Holy Ghost.

II. BUT WHY IS THIS SIN, ABOVE ALL OTHER SINS, UNPARDONABLE? Not in regard of difficulty only, or because it is hardly pardoned, as some would; for many sins are hardly pardoned, and yet are not the sins against the Holy Ghost; for, as Zanchy doth well observe, if this sin were only unpardonable, because it is hardly pardoned, then a man might pray for those that sin this sin: but the apostle saith, “There is a sin unto death, I do not say that ye shall pray for it” (1 John 5:16). Therefore, the unpardonableness of it doth not lie here. Neither is it unpardonable only in regard of event, because in event it shall never be pardoned, for there are many sins which in event shall never be pardoned, which yet are not the sins against the Holy Ghost. There is many a wicked man that goes to hell, whose sins in event are not pardoned, and yet he did never sin against the Holy Ghost. Neither is it unpardonable because it is so great as doth exceed the power and mercy of God; for God’s mercy and power, in forgiving sins, is like Himself, infinite. Neither is it unpardonable because it is against the means of pardon; for then the sin against the free love of the Father, and the sin against the Son, should be unpardonable. Neither is it unpardonable because a man doth not repent thereof; for then all sins unrepented of should be sins against the Holy Ghost. It is true, that those who commit this sin cannot repent, as the apostle speaks--It is impossible that they should be renewed to repentance (Hebrews 6:1-20.), because God doth give them up to impenitency: but we do not find in Scripture that their not repenting is made the reason of the unpardonableness of this sin. But the sin is unpardonable because there is no sacrifice laid out by God’s appointment for it “If any man sin wilfully, there remaineth no more sacrifice” (Hebrews 10:1-39.), and without blood and sacrifice there is no remission. And thus now ye have seen what the sin against the Holy Ghost is; in what respects it is not, and in what respects it is unpardonable; and so the doctrine cleared and proved, That the sin against the Holy Ghost is the unpardonable sin, which shall never be forgiven, neither in this world, nor in the world to come. The application follows: If the sin against the Holy Ghost be the unpardonable sin, then surely the Holy Ghost is God, very God, true God, as the Father is: for can it be a greater evil, or more dangerous, to sin against a creature, than against God the Father? It is God that is sinned against, now the Holy Ghost is sinned against; yea, the unpardonable sin is against the Holy Ghost. But I am afraid I have sinned this sin, and the truth is I have often feared it: and my reason was and is, because my sins are so great, so exceeding great. Great, say ye; how great, man? I have sinned against my light, I have sinned against my knowledge, I have sinned against my conviction; and therefore I fear I have sinned the unpardonable sin. But I pray, for answer, did not Adam sin against light, when he ate the forbidden fruit? Did he not sin against his knowledge, and against conscience? Yet he sinned not against the Holy Ghost, though he brought all the world under condemnation by his sin; for the Lord Himself came and preached mercy to him, “The seed of the woman shall break the serpent’s head.” And I pray did not Jonah, when he run away from God, sin against his light; and did he not sin against his conviction, and against his knowledge? yet he did not sin against the Holy Ghost, for the Lord pardoned him and wonderfully delivered him. Possibly this therefore may be, and yet not a sin against the Holy Ghost. It is true indeed, that those who sin against the Holy Ghost do sin against their light, knowledge, and conscience; but whoever sins against light and knowledge, though he sins greatly, doth not sin against the Holy Ghost. Oh, but I fear that I have sinned this sin, for I have fallen foully into gross sins. That is ill. But I pray did not David sin so; were they not great and gross and foul sins that David fell into, such as one of your civil, moral men would abhor, yet he did not sin against the Holy Ghost, for the Lord pardoned him, and Nathan said from the Lord, “The Lord hath forgiven thee.” Oh, but yet I fear that I have sinned this great sin, for I am much declined, I have lost my former acquaintance and communion with God; I have lost my former heat and affections to good, and in duty; and I fear upon this account that I have sinned this great sin. Be it so: yet did not the Church of Ephesus lose her first love? yet this Church of Ephesus did not sin the sin against the Holy Ghost: why? for the Lord saith unto her, “Repent and do thy first works.” She could not have repented thus if she had sinned this sin. Oh, but yet I fear that I have sinned this great sin, because that I have sinned directly against the Spirit; I have quenched, I have grieved, I have resisted the Spirit: the Spirit of the Lord hath come and fallen upon my heart in preaching, and I resisted and grieved it; the Spirit of the Lord hath fallen upon my heart in prayer, and I have grieved that; therefore I fear I have sinned this great sin that shall never be pardoned. This is ill too; but those that you read of in Acts 7:1-60., resisted the Holy Ghost, yet they did not sin the sin against the Holy Ghost, for then Stephen would not have prayed for them. But I am afraid that I have sinned this great sin, the sin against the Holy Ghost, because I have not owned, but denied the truth. The work of the Spirit is to enlighten and to lead into truth, and I have not owned, but denied the truth rather, therefore I fear that I have sinned this great sin against the Holy Ghost. This is evil, very evil. I remember a speech of Godteschalehus, worthy to be written in letters of gold: I am afraid, said he, to deny the truth, lest I should be for ever denied by the truth, that is, Christ. But I pray, did not Peter deny the truth when he denied Christ; and did he not do it again and again, and did he not do it openly, with scandal; and did he not do it after admonition; and did he not do it with cursing and swearing? and yet he did not sin against the Holy Ghost, for the Lord pardoned, and took him into His bosom, and made him a blessed instrument in the Church. Thus far yet a man may go possibly, and yet not sin this sin. Oh, but I am afraid yet that I have sinned it, for I have been an opposer of goodness, I have been an opposer of the people of God, and I have been a blasphemer; therefore I fear I have sinned this sin. This is ill indeed. But, I pray, tell me, was not Paul an opposer and blasphemer of the saints and ways of God; and yet he did not sin against the Holy Ghost; for I did it ignorantly, saith he: “I was a blasphemer and a persecutor, but I obtained mercy, for I did it ignorantly.” Oh, but yet I fear I have sinned this great sin, for I have forsaken God, and God hath forsaken me; God is gone, Christ is gone, and mercy is gone. Oh, what freedom once I had, but now God is departed from me, God hath forsaken me: and I fear it is upon this account, because I have sinned this great sin. But doth not David say, “How long, O Lord, wilt Thou forget me, forsake me? “ and our Saviour Himself saith, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” There is a gradual forsaking, and there is a total. As with a man that goes from his house; possibly he goes a voyage, or is from home a quarter, half year, or a year; but he doth not leave his house; for his wife, his children, and goods are there still: but another man goes from his house, the house is let, and he carries away all his goods: this is a total departure, the other gradual. So now it is with the Lord: He doth sometimes forsake His own children for a time; but He doth not pull down His hangings, or carry away His goods; He doth not go away, but returns again; this is gradual. But there is a total forsaking of a man, and then He gives him up to his sin. Now this is not the burden that you lie under; for if God had thus forsaken you, you would be given up to your sins, and you would give up yourselves unto all uncleanness. Oh, but I am afraid, yet, that I am under the worst forsaking, and that therefore I have sinned this great sin; for I do lie despairing, saying, God is gone, and mercy gone; I am in the dark. Oh, I despair, I despair, and upon this account I fear I have sinned this great sin, the sin against the Holy Ghost. But, now, whosoever you are that have laboured under this fear, as indeed this fear I know hath oppressed many, give me leave to ask you four or five short questions. The first is, Whether canst thou not find in thy heart to forgive men that do trespass against thee? Do not you find a disposition in your own heart to forgive others? Yes, I praise the Lord that I do. Now if you can find in your heart to forgive others, I am sure God can find in His heart to forgive you, and therefore you have not sinned this great sin, which is unpardonable. Secondly, Whether, aye or no, have you ever opposed the ways of God, the people of God, and that out of malice? No: I confess I have opposed them, but the Lord knows I did it ignorantly, it was not out of malice; then remember the description of this sin. Thirdly, Whether, aye or no, do not you desire to be humbled for every sin, though it be never so small? Yes, for though I know that my greatest humiliation cannot make an atonement for my sin; yet I know that the least humiliation in truth doth please God, and it is my duty to be humbled for every sin; for the least sin is a great evil; and He that commands humiliation for the one, commands it for the other also; and through grace I desire to be humbled for every sin. Why, then, you cannot have sinned against the Holy Ghost, for it is impossible that they that sin this sin should be renewed to repentance. Fourthly, Whether, aye or no, do not you desire above all things the breathings of the Spirit of God upon your heart? Yes: oh that God would come and breathe upon my poor soul in duty. But those that sin against the Holy Ghost do despite to the Spirit of grace (Hebrews 10:1-39.). Fifthly, Where do you find in all the Bible that those that sin this sin against the Holy Ghost are afraid that they have sinned it? Those that sin against the Holy Ghost are never afraid that they have sinned against the Holy Ghost. But again, If the sin against the Holy Ghost be indeed the unpardonable sin, what cause have we all to look to our steps, to our words, to our actions? Beloved, this sin against the Holy Ghost is the professor’s sin; a man less than a professor cannot sin this sin against the Holy Ghost; this sin against the Holy Ghost is the knowing man’s sin, a man less than a knowing man cannot sin the sin against the Holy Ghost: and, as I said before, a man may possibly go very far in sin, and yet not commit this great unpardonable sin: so now, on the other side, I say, possibly a man may go very far in religion, and yet he may sin this sin. These Pharisees that committed it had the key of knowledge: knowing they were, and very knowing in the Scriptures; as for zeal, they travelled sea and land to make a proselyte; for their practice, they fasted twice a week, exceeding strict in observing the Sabbath day; the lights of the Church, and the eyes of all the people were upon them for their guides; and yet these men sinned this sin against the Holy Ghost. Oh, what care should there be in all our souls; how had we all need to look to our ways! The more truth revealed, the more danger of sinning this sin, the more great works of God are done by the very Spirit and finger of God; if men do oppose and blaspheme, the more danger of sinning this great sin. But you will say, We grant indeed that this sin against the Holy Ghost is the unpardonable sin, and woe be to them that do fall into it, and it cannot be committed but by a knowing man; but what shall we do that we may be kept from this great transgression; that whatsoever sin we do fall into, yet we may be kept from this great evil, and this unpardonable sin? I would that you would mind and consider the description which you have heard, and think of it. But I will tell you what David did. Saith David, “0 Lord, keep back Thy servant from presumptuous sins, so shall I be free from the great transgression.” It seems then that presumptuous sinning makes way to this great transgression. Again: Be always humbled for lesser sins. He shall never fall into the greatest, that is always humbled for the least; he shall never fall into the worst that is always humbled for the smallest. Besides, fear is the keeper of innocency; fear is the guard of innocency. If you always fear to commit it, you shall never commit the same. In case that you do at any time fall into sin, say, Well, but through the grace of God, though I commit what is evil, I will never oppose what is good; by the grace of God I will carry this rule along with me: Though I commit what is evil, I will never oppose what is good. In case any great work be done before you that lies beyond your reach and beyond your fathom, say, Though I do not understand this work, I will admire; and though I cannot reach it, yet I will not blaspheme and speak against it. And if heretofore, Christian, thou hast found God breathing upon thy heart in any ordinance, public or private, or in any way of God, take heed, as for thy life, that thou dost never speak evil or blaspheme that way of God wherein thou hast found the Spirit of God breathing. And if, indeed, you would be kept from this great transgression, then take heed of all declinings, and the steps thereof. (W. Bridge, M. A.)

Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost

I. First, then, let us see what the text does not mean. We may, I think, feel quite sure that it does not mean that there is some particular form of words of the kind generally known as “ blasphemous,” which, once uttered, leave him who has spoken without hope. “By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” But the intervening context shows us that He is speaking of words as the expressions of the heart, and as indications of its fixed habit and its settled attitude. They were the symptoms of disease, not the disease itself. They marked, not merely local affection, but constitutional derangement. The same principle applies to our good words, which I am apt to think may in the end prove more condemning than our bad ones. That we shall go to heaven for pious ejaculations which are unreal, or go to hell for impious ejaculations equally unreal, is altogether contrary to the tenour of Scripture and to its revelations, and our own ideas or the character and attributes of Him whose judgment is according to truth.

2. Again, the sin spoken of in the text cannot be a sin of which men have ever repented. Because wherever there is repentance there is pardon through the Saviour. This, if I understand anything about the gospel, is its great message. Let us go on to Manasseh, king of Judah (2 Kings 21:1-26.). It is not easy to imagine anything worse than we are told about him. “He undid the work of Hezekiah, his father. And now, as I get near to saying what seems to me the meaning of the text, I am sorry that I must set aside the opinion of some great and good men; of Wesley amongst them. He thought, and others thought also, that this sin is neither more nor less than “the ascribing those miracles to the power of the devil which Christ did by the power of the Holy Ghost”--in short, that it was only possible during the Saviour’s ministry. I cannot think a warning so solemn anal striking, recorded in three of the four Gospels, should relate wholly to a past kind of sin. No: the outward part of sin perpetually shifts and changes: its principle and essence remain the same. Nor should we escape the terror of the text by adopting what I may call the “obsolete” interpretation as regards the sin. There are other passages, not quite so well known perhaps, but as awful when we think of them. “There is,” says St. John, “a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.” St. Jude writes of some who “were before of old ordained to this condemnation”--“twice dead”--“plucked up by the roots”--“to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.” In the Epistle to the Hebrews we are told of some for whom “remained no more sacrifice for sin,” and of some whom “it was impossible to renew unto repentance.” St. Paul, writing to Timothy, mentions some who “should proceed no further,” who “resisted the truth as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses.” All these passages remain, even though we succeed in removing the text to the region of the past. All these, as well as the text, must, I think, be read in the same light; and all must be thought of in connection with what I said at the outset--that what can never be forgiven must be something of which men have never repented. What can this be? It can scarcely be anything less than deliberate, conscious resistance to acknowledged truth; persistent choosing of darkness rather than light. You will say, perhaps, that there cannot be such a thing. Are you so sure? Think for one moment. Do you not see something like it--apart from religion altogether--every day? Does not the drunkard, or the spendthrift, or the gambler know his end--I mean in this world--as well as you do? And still he goes on. What can you do for him? Nothing. At least nothing except in the way of “hoping against hope.” You do your very best: and you are right; but while you cannot prove it, you feel that there is failure before you. Come to the Bible. Take that wonderful case of Ahab and Micaiah. Ahab did not believe that there was no God. Nor did he doubt the mission of Micaiah. Nor did he once hint that he thought him untruthful. He had one objection, and only one: “I hate him because he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil.” Micaiah exposes to him the deceitfulness of the other prophets: and he still has nothing to say but to repeat his old objection. After which he goes on deliberately to death. Take two instances from the New Testament. What effect was produced by the raising of Lazarus? Some of the Jews “sought to put Lazarus also to death.” When Peter and John performed what the Jewish rulers admitted to be a “notable miracle, which they could not deny,” they did what? Threatened them, and tried to hinder the further spread of the gospel thus attested. All these, surely, are cases which--if we merely reflected, without reading the Bible at all--we should be obliged to own were verging on and tending to something unforgivable. This view will be confirmed if a well-supported reading of St. Mark’s account be the true one. It makes him say--not is in danger of eternal damnation or judgment; but is in danger of eternal sin. The depth of condemnation is only for the depth of sin; and by resisting grace, shutting the eyes to light, we are surely sinking into that depth. It is not that God arbitrarily marks out a sin or even a course of sin, which He will not pardon. But He warns us that we may bring ourselves to a state in which we will not have pardon, and reach the Satanic condition of consummated sin, and seem to say, as he alone can say, “Evil, be thou my good.” (J. C. Coghlan, D. D.)

The sin that shall not be forgiven

Taking this sentence with the rest of the passage, I cannot doubt that it tells us what the sin of the Pharisees and of the nation was; why they were cast out of their stewardship in that age; why the sentence upon them remains still. We say, “They rejected Jesus; they would not believe all the evidence which He brought from prophecies and miracles to attest His divine mission.” He says, “All words spoken against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but there is a blasphemy against the Spirit of God--there is a confusion of good with evil, of light with darkness--which goes down far deeper than this. When a nation has lost the faculty of distinguishing hatred from love, the spirit of hypocrisy and falsehood from the spirit of truth, God from the devil, then its doom is pronounced--then the decree must go forth against it. I believe that is the natural sense of these awful words here and elsewhere; if we give them that sense we are delivered from imaginations which have darkened the gospel to a number of souls, and the warning to ourselves becomes much more tremendous. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)

The unpardonable sin

Aretius, a godly and eminent author, speaking of the sin of the Holy Ghost, “I saw,” saith he, “and knew the man myself, and it is no feigned story. There was a merchant in Strasburg whose whole life was abominable for whoredom, usury, drunkenness, contempt of God’s Word; he spent his life in gaming and whoring to his old age. At last he came to reflect on himself, and be sensible of the dreadful judgments of God hanging over his head. Then did his conscience so affright, and the devil accuse and terrify him, that he fell into open and downright desperation. He confessed and yielded himself to the devil as being his. He said the mercy and grace of God could not be so great as to pardon sins so great as his. Then what horror was upon him, gnashing of teeth, weeping, wailing; yea, he would challenge Satan, and wish the devil would fetch him away to his destined torments. He threw himself all along upon the ground: refused both meat and drink. Had you seen him, you would never have forgot him while you had lived; you had seen the fullest pattern of a despairing person. Yet, after the many pains of godly and learned men who came to him, watched with him, reasoned with him, laid open the word and will of God, and after many prayers, public and private, put up for him, at length he recovered and became truly penitent; and having lived piously for certain years after, he died peaceably.” Wherefore, he concluded, it is not an easy matter to determine of any man sinning against the Holy Ghost, and incapable of mercy so long as he live.

Delivered from despair

The Puritans were wont to quote the remarkable experience of Mrs. Honeywood as an instance of the singular way in which the Lord delivers His chosen. She for year after year was in bondage to melancholy and despair, but she was set at liberty by the gracious providence of God in an almost miraculous way. She took up a slender Venice glass, and saying, “ I am as surely damned as that glass is dashed to pieces,” she hurled it down upon the floor, when, to her surprise, and the surprise of all, I know not by what means, the glass was not so much as chipped or cracked. That circumstance first gave her a ray of light, and she afterwards cast herself upon the Lord Jesus. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verses 10-21

Verse 11-12

Luke 12:11-12

The Holy Ghost shall teach you

Divine help for ministers in discharging their duties

The advice and promise contained in these verses were very suitable to the disciples, many of whom were soon to be called before Jewish and Roman courts of various kinds for the sake of Christ.
Plain and illiterate as the disciples generally were, they would be ready to be much alarmed at the thought of appearing before civil and ecclesiastical rulers and judges, not only from the apprehension that they might be condemned if they did not plead their cause aright, but still more from the apprehension that from some failure in
judgment, or memory, or eloquence, on their part, the cause of the gospel might suffer--which was dearer to them than their life. Their Lord, therefore, wisely and graciously counselled and encouraged them in that prospect. “Take ye no thought,” said He; not that prudent thought was unbecoming, or that they were to be rash, and speak unadvisedly with their lips: but they were forbidden to take anxious, perplexing, and disquieting thought, as the word might be rendered, and as He said on another occasion, “Take no thought for the morrow.” Such thought as that, at the time they were speaking, would have argued distrust in God, and would have thrown them into such confusion as would have incapacitated them from speaking as they ought. They were not to be studious of making a fine appearance; nor were they to be apprehensive that the Lord would allow either them to be put to shame, or His own cause to suffer. Nay, as spoken to those who were under the influence of plenary inspiration, these words forbade them to spend time in premeditation on their defence of themselves, or on their declaration of the gospel, for it is thus expressed in Mark, “Take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate.” “Take ye no thought,” as it is in Luke, “how, or what thing,” that is, either as to the manner or matter of what “ye shall answer,” or say in defence of yourselves; “or what ye shall say,” that is, what ye shall say in declaring the truth before your accusers and audience, be they what they may. And to encourage them to this, He assures them that the Holy Spirit would suggest to them at the time whatever was proper to be said, and would direct and strengthen them to say it in the best manner. Now, all this is often exemplified very strikingly in the Acts of the Apostles, in which we read of several of the disciples being carried before different courts, where they trusted in God, and had this promise so fulfilled to them as to enable them to speak, and in every way to conduct themselves, in the most becoming and noble manner. As to the application of these words to the succeeding ages of the Church; it becomes all Christians, and especially Christian ministers, neither presumptuously to abuse them, nor unbelievingly to neglect the legitimate encouragement which they contain. It would certainly be a gross perversion of this passage, if any preachers were now to imagine that it would countenance them in ordinary eases in coming forward to preach without previous study. Now that miraculous inspiration has ceased, they have to seek their knowledge from the Word of God, and in the way of diligent, persevering, and prayerful application of mind; that they may bring forward abundance of suitable matter, in the best way of which, all their other duties being considered, they are capable. Whatever might be the rule in cases of emergency, even the inspired teachers themselves were required thus to “stir up the gift of God that was in them”; and therefore much more is such diligence necessary in those who have no such inspiration. It is no difficult matter, indeed, for a man who abounds in self-confidence and readiness of expression to speak often and long, in a certain way, of the things of God with little or no preparation, but it is a poor boast to boast of such a habit; it is a poor compliment to the intelligence of his audience to indulge it; there will be no need for him or his admirers to proclaim that his effusions are extemporary, for that will be but too evident. In many cases this is, doubtless, under the guise of zeal, the refuge of indolence; and it would be well for him to consider whether he be not labouring under an error in imagining that there is anything peculiarly spiritual or praiseworthy in offering to God that which costs him nothing. The words which were addressed to inspired Timothy are surely at least as suitable in this view to ordinary teachers: “Give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things, give thyself wholly to them, that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them; for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee.” In a different sense, David “prepared with all his might for the house of his God.” “Because the preacher, too, was wise, he still taught the people knowledge, yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs.” If due diligence be not used, to expect the help of the Spirit is not faith, but presumption. At the same time there is much direction and encouragement here to ministers when they are in the way of duty. The spirit of this passage teaches them not to fail to declare the will of God when they are suddenly called on to do so in the course of providence. They are not to hang back or to hesitate then, but are to discharge the duty in the best way they can under God. On extraordinary occasions they may expect, though not miraculous, yet extraordinary, assistance. They may expect that their strength will be as their day; that their Master’s grace will be sufficient for them, and that His strength will be made perfect in their weakness. Nor need they be afraid to speak, in any circumstances, however trying or dangerous, into which their Lord brings them. (James Foote, M. A.)

Martyrs inspired by the Spirit

You will be struck in reading “Foxe’s Acts and Monuments” to find how many of the humblest men and women acted as if they were of noblest blood. In every age the line of martyrs has been a line of true nobility. When the King of France told Bernard Palissy that, if he did not change his sentiments, he should be compelled to surrender him to the Inquisition, the brave potter said to the king, “You say I shall be compelled, and yet you are a king; but I, though only a poor potter, cannot be compelled to do other than I think to be right,” Surely the potter was more royal than the king. The cases are numberless, and should be as household words among you, in which humble men, feeble women, and little children have shown a heroism which chivalry could not equal. The Spirit of God has taken the wise in their own craftiness, and answered the learned out of the mouths of babes. The answers of uneducated persons among the martyrs were frequently so put to the point, and hit the nail so well on the head, that you might almost suppose they had been composed by an assembly of divines; they came from a better source, for they were given by the Holy Spirit. The bearing of the bleeding witnesses for our Lord has been worthy of their office, and right well have they earned the title of “The noble army of martyrs.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Providential prompting

Some time ago a town missionary had in his district a man who never would suffer any Christian man to come into his house. The missionary was warned by many that he would get a broken head if he ventured on a visit. He therefore kept from the house, though it troubled him to pass it by. He made a matter of prayer of it, as was his wont, and one morning ventured into the lion’s den; when the man said, “What have you come here for? … Well, sir,” he said, “I have been conversing with people in all the houses along here, and I have passed you by because I heard you objected to it; but somehow I thought it looked cowardly to avoid you, and therefore I have called.” “Come in, then,” the man said; “sit down. Now you are going to talk to me about the Bible. Perhaps you do not know much about it yourself. I am going to ask you a question, and if you can answer it, you shall come again; if you do not answer it, I will bundle you downstairs. Now,” he said, “do you take me?” “Yes,” said the other, “I do take you.” “Well, then, this is the question: Where do you find the word ‘girl’ in the Bible, and how many times do you find it?” The city missionary said, The word girl occurs only once in the Bible, and that is in the Book of Joel, the third chapter and the third verse: ‘They sold a girl for wine.’” “You are right; but I would not have believed you knew it, or else I would have asked you some other question. You may come again.” “But,” said the missionary, “I should like you to know how I came to know it. This very morning I was praying for direction from God; and when I was reading my morning chapter, I came upon this passage: ‘There shall be boys and girls playing in the streets of Jerusalem’; and I found that the word ‘girl’ did not occur anywhere else but in Joel.” The result of that story, however odd it seems, was that the missionary was permitted to call; and the man took an interest in his visits, and the whole family were the better, the man and his wife and one of his children becoming members of a Church some time afterwards. Is not God the answerer of prayer?


Verse 13-14

Luke 12:13-14

Who made Me a Judge era divider over you?
--

Christ not a civil judge, but a Redeemer;

At first sight, Christ’s refusal to interfere between these brothers seems astonishing. Is there not a question of justice to be decided? And who is so competent to deal with it as the Holy and Just One?

I. THE REASON OF THIS STRANGE REFUSAL. It is sometimes said that Jesus Christ only seeks the eternal salvation of the soul, and does not concern Himself about other human interests. This explanation is specious, and is eagerly accepted by infidelity. But we cannot leave such a weapon in the hands of unbelief. Our Lord assigns the highest importance to the soul’s redemption from sin, and yet sympathizes with human nature in its entirety. Why, then, does Christ refuse to interfere in this dispute? There are two ways of reforming men--an external one and an internal one. The first method pronounces decisions, formulates laws, changes governments, and thus settles all moral and political questions. The second seeks, before every thing else, to renovate the heart and the will. Jesus Christ chose the latter plan. He remained steadfast to it, and this alone evinces the divinity of His mission and the permanent value of His work. Observe here one or two results. Christ’s refusal determines the relation of Christianity--

1. To political questions. I believe in the profound influence of Christianity on the political destiny of nations--it can help them to become free, great, and prosperous. But on what condition can it elevate them? Like Jesus Christ, it must act in a purely spiritual manner; it must free souls; it must preach justice, holiness, love.

2. To social problems. Christ’s work consists in uniting in common respect and affection those who are divided by their interests. This mission should be ours. Let us oppose selfish pride and levelling envy; let us summon all men to prayer, to humiliation and to mutual pardon and love--to that sanctuary of spiritual equality where rich and poor meet together, remembering that God has made them both.

II. THE PRINCIPLE WHICH CHRIST ENUNCIATED, (E. Bersier, D. D.)

Christian socialism

There is no doubt that the greatest question of the day in Europe and even in America is Socialism. Socialism ought to be carefully distinguished from Communism; but the two words are often indiscriminately used, and this confusion renders Socialism odious to many, for--

“What is a Communist? One who hath yearnings,

For equal divisions of unequal earnings.

Idler or bungler, or both, he is willing

To fork out his penny and pocket your shilling.”

“The magic of property,” says Arthur Young,” turns sand into gold.” It has done more in this country to produce a spirit of self-help than State aid for the whole planet ever could do. In thus teaching the duty and necessity of self-help, the Church proves herself to be the chief friend of the poor. Not so Communism. By destroying the right of personal ownership in the means of production, and by fostering dependence on State-help, it undermines the energy and self-help of all classes, and is the enemy of the poor quite as much as of the rich. But was there not, many ask, a community of goods, and were not all things in common, in the primitive Church at Jerusalem. Certainly, but this community of goods was not compulsory, but purely voluntary. It did not come about by any sort of confiscation. “While it remained, was it not thine own?” were the words addressed to Ananias; “and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?” It was a voluntary act of love rather than a duty. Still less was it a right which the majority might assert against individuals. The estimate of comparative needs recognized when these Jerusalem Christians parted their possessions to all men, as every man had need, shows clearly that property was not alienated beyond control. This, then, was very different from the Communism taught at the present day, which demands an equality enforced by a central authority, and which, so far from inculcating a spirit of self-denial, looks for the self-indulgence of all. Modern Communists affirm that Communism was the natural outcome of the Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity implied in Christ’s teaching. That the principle did not hold its ground is ascribed by them to the ambition and worldliness of the Church as she increased in power, especially after her official recognition as the State religion of the Roman Empire. On the other hand the defenders of the principle of individual property as opposed to Communism (which in their opinion is a “mutiny against society”) deny that the Church ever sanctioned officially, or that her Founder ever recommended, such a custom as that of “having all things in common.” As a matter of fact, we may say with an able Church historian, that the community in Jerusalem growing out of the society of the apostles, who were accustomed already to the common purse system, hit upon the daring plan of establishing a community of goods. And this was fostered by the first outburst of enthusiastic brotherly love, being all the more readily accepted in consequence of the prevailing expectation among the disciples of the approaching subversion of all things. Nowhere out of Jerusalem do we find any other early Christian community of goods. The arrangement at Jerusalem was not intended to be permanent, and perhaps those political economists are not far wrong who assert that it did more harm than good, and produced the chronic state of poverty that existed among “the poor saints at Jerusalem.” The Master Himself had left no definite instructions as to the future social organization of His “little flock.” It had been His plan all along to lay down general principles, leaving them to be worked out in the course of time, rather than to prescribe definite lines of conduct under given circumstances. The ideal of a perfect society was ever held up by Him to His most intimate disciples, he formed no plan, however, for realizing this ideal in a political polity. The working out of His principles was left to the “new leaven” which was to reform character, and thus indirectly society. The “patrimony of the poor” is not to be restored by means of violent social changes, but by moral influences working upon rich and poor alike. Christ’s sympathy was with all classes, and He applied remedies to individuals in preference to propounding revolutionary theories for the construction of society. Happily the rich are beginning to recognize this truth. There is obviously an immense outgrowth in the generous distribution of wealth. But the rich have difficulties as well as the poor, and one of these lies in determining how to expend their money in a way that will prove beneficial to society. The question, “To whom or to what cause shall I contribute money?” must be a very anxious one to conscientious men of wealth. “How are we to measure,” we may suppose rich men to ask, “the relative utility of charities? “The fact is, riches must now be considered by all good men as a distinct profession, with responsibilities no less onerous than those of other professions. And this very difficult profession of wealth ought to be learned by studying social science and otherwise with as much care as the professions of divinity, law, and medicine are learned. When in this way the rich accept and prepare themselves for the duties of their high calling, it will cease to be a cause of complaint that in the nature of things money tends continually to fall into the hands of a few large capitalists. The spirit of brotherly love which underlies Christian Socialism is being more and more understood in the present day.” The great communistic principle, “All for each and each for all,” is practically gaining ground. (E. J. Hardy, M. A.)

Worldliness vitiating spiritual teaching

A camp-meeting incident taught us what manner of spirit was in this man. An honoured preacher was closing a moving sermon; his appeals to sinners were full of spiritual power; his voice was husky with deep feeling; the tears were streaming down his face as he urged sinners to repent and penitents to believe. A slight movement near by attracted our attention. Just outside the railing around the communion-place were two men deeply engaged. A life insurance agent, on one knee, ciphering out his arguments to his victim, who leaned toward him. The scene brought up the man who interrupted the sermon of Jesus. What would people think of a man who should, from his pew, cry out to the preacher in the midst of a mighty discourse, “What is the price of cotton to-day?” “What is gold worth?” He would perhaps be put out. Certainly he would deserve it. Such a man was he who broke in upon the sermon of Jesus with his request for the Master’s intervention in the matter of a contested inheritance. How humiliating a thing it is that a man’s mind could be so filled and saturated with business that the most solemn and awful words of even Jesus were heard as an idle, meaningless voice--heard and not feared. Mark our Lord’s answer. He dismissed the man with one sharp word: “Man, who made Me a judge or a divider over you?” But the lesson must not be lost. This wickedness of utter worldliness is instructive. Turning to His disciples, Jesus “said unto them, Take heed and beware of covetousness.” See what covetousness can do to the heart of man; see what it does in this man! It has consumed him! (Christian Age.)

Missionaries and litigants

Mr. Richards, missionary in India, on his journey to Meerut, halted under the shade of a tree, in the outskirts of a large village, by the roadside. As he sat there two of the Zemindars of the neighbourhood came up, and respectfully saluting him, entreated him to act as an umpire between them, and settle a dispute in which they had been long involved about the boundaries of their respective lands. Mr. Richards declined interfering in the matter, but intimated his readiness to give them information respecting the important concerns of salvation. Having read and explained the Scriptures, they listened with attention and delight. The disputants embraced each other with apparent cordiality, and avowed that they would dispute no more about their lands, but love each other, and strive to seek and serve God. (W. H. Baxendale.)

Christ’s refusal to interfere

It may seem strange that to so natural a request Christ should return so discouraging an answer, and, withal, apply it with such a parable. But there are two things to be considered.

1. That it was not Christ’s mission to reorganize society immediately, nor by a demonstrative act, but that He undertook to reorganize society by implanting those principles which should work in us reorganific wisdom. Certain great influences were to be infused into the heart, which gradually but surely would work out all needed changes, and work them out in the order of their proper succession and growth. It was for Christ to prepare the great influences and principles that the world needed, but for us to carry them out into practical execution. It is for God to bring forth the spring, and all its genial influences, upon the earth; but men must avail themselves of these influences, and by the plough, and by the seed, and by the ready hand of tillage, prepare the harvests that they are to reap. And so, in the New Testament, there are authoritatively established principles of love and justice, which, if practised, would evolve the world’s harmony. And it is our business, each in his own place, and with reference to the age in which he lives, to apply these principles, and to change the face of society, and the administration of affairs in the world. This was the reason why our Saviour did not undertake that which He was asked to do.

2. But, in the case in hand, although there might be a matter of great injustice in the partition of the estate, the elder and stronger and shrewder, perhaps, getting advantage of the younger, and defrauding him; yet it was quite possible that both of these brothers might be alike under the influence of corroding and hateful avarice. A man may demand his dues with a spirit just as selfish as that which withholds them. A man may be just as selfish in seeking his rights as another man is in withholding them from him. Both the despot and his victim--the evil-doer and the evil-sufferer--may be in a like selfishness, in a common bitterness, and in a common guilt. Human life is full of such eases and scenes. Every day, men that are hard, coarse, selfish, avaricious, envious, contentious, are striving together, and in full conflict, each sometimes wronged and sometimes wronging; but either way, and always, actor or recipient, of a worldly spirit, of a corrupt nature, of an intense selfishness, of a despotic pride, unjust and unlovely. While Christ refused, then, to assume the office of civil justice, or to interfere even by advice, He gave to both of these men, and to all upon that occasion, the instruction which the motive of the petitioner seemed to suggest. (H. W. Beecher.)

Christ’s judgment respecting inheritance

I. THE SAVIOUR’S REFUSAL TO INTERFERE.

1. He implied that it was not His part to interfere. “Who made Me a Judge or a Divider?” He stands aloof, sublime and dignified. It was no part of His to take from the oppressor and give to the oppressed, much less to encourage the oppressed to take from the oppresser himself. It was His part to forbid oppression. It was a Judge’s part to decide what oppression was. It was not His office to determine the boundaries of civil right, nor to lay down the rules of the descent of property. Of course there was a spiritual and moral principle involved in this question. But He would not suffer His sublime mission to degenerate into the mere task of deciding casuistry. He asserted principles of love, unselfishness, order, which would decide all questions; but the questions themselves He would not decide. He would lay down the great political principle, “Render unto Caesar the things that be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which are God’s.” But He would not determine whether this particular tax was due to Caesar or not. So, too, He would say, justice, like mercy and truth, is one of the weightier matters of the law; but He would not decide whether in this definite case this or that brother had justice on his side. It was for themselves to determine that, and in that determination lay their responsibility. And thus religion deals with men, not cases; with human hearts, not casuistry.

2. In this refusal, again, it was implied that His kingdom was one founded on spiritual disposition, not one of outward law and jurisprudence. That this lawsuit should have been decided by the brothers themselves, in love, with mutual fairness, would have been much; that it should be determined by authoritative arbitration was, spiritually speaking, nothing. The right disposition of their hearts, and the right division of their property thence resulting, was Christ’s kingdom. The apportionment of their property by another’s division had nothing to do with His kingdom. Suppose that both were wrong--one oppressive, the other covetous. Then, that the oppressor should become generous, and the covetous liberal, were a great gain. But to take from one selfish brother in order to give to another selfish brother, what spiritual gain would there have been in this? Suppose again, that the retainer of the inheritance was in the wrong, and that the petitioner had justice on his side--that he was a humble, meek man, and his petition only one of right. Well, to take the property from the unjust and give it to Christ’s servant, might be, and was, the duty of a judge. But it was not Christ’s part, nor any gain to the cause of Christ. He does not reward His servants with inheritances, with lands, houses, gold. The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Christ triumphs by wrongs meekly borne, even more than by wrongs legally righted.

3. He refused to be the friend of one, because He was the friend of both. He never was the champion of a class, because He was the champion of humanity. We may take for granted that the petitioner was an injured man--one at all events who thought himself injured; and Christ had often taught the spirit which would have made his brother right him; but He refused to take his part against his brother, just because he was his brother--Christ’s servant, and one of God’s family, as well as he. And this wasHis spirit always. The Pharisees thought to commit Him to a side when they asked whether it was lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not. But He would take no side as the Christ--neither the part of the government against the taxpayers, nor the part of the taxpayers against the government,

II. THE SOURCE TO WHICH HE TRACED THIS APPEAL FOR A DIVISION. He went to the very root of the matter. “Take heed and beware of covetousness.” It was covetousness which caused the unjust brother to withhold; it was covetousness which made the defrauded brother indignantly complain to a stranger. It is covetousness which is at the bottom of all lawsuits, all social grievances, all political factions. The true remedy for this covetousness He then proceeds to give. “A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesses.” Now observe the distinction between His view and the world’s view of humanity. To the question, What is a man worth? the world replies by enumerating what he has. In reply to the same question, the Son of Man replies by estimating what he is. Not what he has, but what he is, that, through time and through eternity, is his real and proper life. He declared the presence of the soul; He announced the dignity of the spiritual man; He revealed the being that we are. Not that which is supported by meat and drink, but that whose very life is in truth, integrity, honour, purity. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

The bearing of the gospel on every-day life

The Word of God, my friends, affords men direction in all the circumstances of life, inasmuch, at least, as it contains general rules which may be applied to particular cases.

I. INJUSTICE AND QUARRELS BETWEEN NEAR CONNECTIONS REGARDING THE PROPERTY OF DECEASED RELATIONS ARE VERY UNSEEMLY AND UNCHRISTIAN. It sometimes happens that the head of a family, or a very near relation, is no sooner laid in the grave, than the survivors, who expect to benefit in their substance by his decease, begin to strive about what he leaves behind him. How unbecoming, in the very face of such a memento of the vanity of earthly things, to be carried away by the desire of having, and that in such a way as to overlook the ordinary proprieties of life! Common feeling, not to speak of any higher principle, should at least teach them to keep such disputes to themselves (if they do at all arise), and not to outrage decency by making them public.

II. We may remark, from this passage, that those WHO HAVE ANY PROPERTY TO LEAVE BEHIND THEM SHOULD BE CAREFUL TIMEOUSLY TO SETTLE THEIR AFFAIRS BY A LATTER WILL, SO THAT JUSTICE MAY BE DONE AND DISPUTES PREVENTED AFTER THEY ARE GONE. In some cases the law of the land may be sufficient to divide an inheritance as justice and a man’s own reasonable inclination might desire. In most cases, however, there would be room for litigation; and in many cases, especially where there is much property, something that equity or mercy requires will be neglected if there be no distinct testament. How far a man is at liberty to consult his own particular wishes on such an occasion, independently on the general principles of nearness of kindred, which are usually observed, is a very difficult question. No particular rules can be laid down to meet every case. The Christian should consult conscience, the Word of God, and, perhaps, also a judicious friend or two.

III. THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST DOES NOT INTERFERE WITH CIVIL RIGHTS OR HUMAN LAWS. NO doubt it is intended and fitted to influence them indirectly, for everything ought to be managed in a way consistent with its holy precepts; but it gives no countenance to its adherents to disregard existing institutions or to usurp the places assigned to others. Dominion is not founded on grace. The provinces of civil and ecclesiastical government are quite distinct. Not but that they may, and should, be so managed as mutually to assist each other; but still, their office is distinct, and relates to quite different things.

IV. Once more here, THIS PASSAGE IS UNFAVOURABLE TO MINISTERS ENGAGING IN SECULAR BUSINESS, ANN ESPECIALLY IN PUBLIC CIVIL OFFICES. (Jas. Foote, M.A.)

A warning against worldliness and covetousness

I. A RUDE INTERRUPTION.

1. This suggests a sad but common occurrence. Worldly thoughts obtruding themselves at unseasonable times.

2. This suggests a constantly-needed but oft-neglected duty. To take heed how we hear.

II. A FITTING REBUKE.

1. It rebuked the man for his gross view of our Lord’s mission.

2. It rebuked the man for the worldliness of his spirit.

III. A MORAL LESSON.

1. The subject--covetousness.

(a) For after it has attained its object there is no satisfaction.

(b) It unfits the soul to enjoy spiritual things.

2. The elucidation of the subject.

(a) It shows God’s goodness to the wicked (Luke 12:16).

(b) It shows the inadequacy of worldly prosperity to inspire gratitude (Luke 12:18).

(c) It shows the degrading influence of worldly thoughts:

(d) It shows the shortsightedness of worldliness.

(e) It shows that God’s eye is on all.

(f) It shows the uncertainty of life.

(g) It shows the relation of time to eternity.

3. The Divine application.

Covetousness

I. COVETOUSNESS IN ITS BEARING UPON THE RECEPTION OF TRUTH.

1. Consider for a moment the truths which Jesus had just been uttering.

2. In the midst of utterances such as these, this man, filled with worldly thoughts, interrupted our Lord in His address.

II. COVETOUSNESS IN ITS BEARING UPON THE SOUL’S TRUE JOY. Two things are here stated.

1. That our Lord’s mission was not to interfere in secular affairs.

2. That “a man’s life,” in the sense of true joy, does not arise from wealth or position or fame.

III. COVETOUSNESS IN ITS BEARING ON OUR FINAL DESTINY.

1. The parable shows that the most selfish of men may be prospered in worldly affairs.

2. The parable shows that the most abundant prosperity of the worldly-minded only intensifies their selfishness and blinds their spiritual vision.

3. This parable shows that, however farsighted and shrewd worldly-minded men may be in their business affairs, it is by their spiritual condition that God judges them.

4. This parable shows that the uncertainty of the time of death should have its legitimate weight with them.

Lessons:

1. The sin to which our attention is here called is the crying sin of our age.

2. This is one of the most subtle and unconscious of all classes of sins to which we may be exposed.

3. It is a sin the most difficult to be reached by truth.

4. It is no less heinous and damning, because it is so subtle and unconscious. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)


Verse 15

Luke 12:15

Take heed and beware of covetousness

Business life

I shall try to keep in view the chief risk to the moral and religious nature which are incident to a business life, and my aim will be to show you where the best safeguard against it is to be sought.

I. THE CHIEF DANGERS, WHAT ARE THEY? It is a misfortune in the path of a commercial trader to be kept in perpetual contact with the purely material value of all possible substances. The public sentiment of great business centres is apt to reckon a man’s worth by his business profits. It is always tempted to erect an ignoble or defective ideal of success in life. I do not speak of the vulgar dangers to honesty and truthfulness which indeed beset men in all professions and classes.

II. WHAT ARE THE SAFEGUARDS?

1. Cultivate to the utmost a youthful thirst for truth, and a youthful sympathy with what is ideal, unselfish, grand in conduct.

2. Cultivate a sympathizing contact with men and women in other than mere business relationships. These are safeguards of the secondary order.

3. The only primary and sufficient safeguard for any of us is the religion of Jesus Christ. See how the Christian man is guarded against settling down into a selfish worldling.

On covetousness

1. It is not wrong to amass wealth. It is not wrong to increase it if you have the beginnings of it. Neither is it wrong to make provision for its safety. There is no moral wrong in the ownership and administration, or in the increase of wealth. It is not wealth that ever is a mischief. It is what it does to you that makes it injurious or beneficial. It is what you do with it that makes it injurious or beneficial.

2. It is not wrong, either, to be richer than other men. The essential difference of power in different individuals settles the question as to the Divine economy in this regard. Men are made of different executive forces, of different acquiring powers. And in the fact that men are made relatively weak or strong, that they are in ranks and gradations of inferiority or superiority with respect to natural endowments, there is the most unequivocal evidence that human society was not meant to be one long, fiat prairie-level, but that it was meant to be full of hills and valleys and gradations of every kind. And there is no harm in that. I am not injured by a man that is superior to me, unless he employs his superiority to tread me down. I am benefited by him if he employs it to lift me up. Superiority is as powerful to draw the inferior up as to pull them down, and it is comprised in the Divine plan of beneficence. And the same is true of wealth.

3. All the roads which lead to wealth that are right to anybody are right to Christians. What a Christian has not a right to do nobody has a right to do. Moral obligations rest on grounds which are common to me and to you. If there is any distinction here, the Christian has rights which the infidel has not. As a son of God, and as one who is attempting to carry himself according to the commands of God, the Christian may be supposed to have rights of premium. Therefore, if it is right for you to sail a ship, it is right for me to sail a ship; if it is right for you to traffic, it is right for me to traffic; if it is right for you to loan money on interest, it is right for me to loan money on interest. The circumstance of a man’s being a Christian does not change his relations in any whir, except this, that if possible it gives him higher authority than others have to do whatever it is right for any man to do. All things are yours because you are a son of God.

4. Nay, the gift of acquiring wealth, commercial sagacity, creative industry, financial ability--these are only so many ways by which one may bring his gifts to bear upon the great ends of life and serve God. Some men, who are capable mechanics, capable artists, capable business men, wish to do good, and they say, “Do you not think I had better preach?” I think you had. I think every man ought to preach. If you are a banker, behind the counter is your pulpit, and you can preach sermons there which no man in any other situation can. By practising Christian integrity in a business where others take permissions of selfishness, you can preach more effectually than in any other way. Every man must take his life, and serve God by it. If God has given a man literary capacity, genius for poetry, or the power of eloquence, it is to be consecrated and employed for the glory of God and the good of his fellow-men. He is to serve, not himself alone, but the cause of beneficence with it. If you have the skill of an artist, it is not given to you for your own selfish gratification and delight. These men that are made seers of truth through eyes of beauty are under the most fearful responsibilities and the most sacred obligations. If a man has given to him the skill of achieving results, the skill of conducting business, or pecuniary skill, he can serve God by that, if not as well, yet as really, as by any other consecrated power. Therefore a man is not forbidden either to have riches or to increase riches, or to employ any of the ordinary ways by which it is right to increase riches. If he have a gift in that direction, he is bound as a Christian man to develop it; and it is a talent for which God will hold him accountable.

5. It is the godlessness of selfishness, then, that is so wicked in wealth, in the methods of getting it, in the methods of keeping it, and in the methods of using it. It is selfishness that leads a man to undertake to procure wealth by means that disregard duty; it is selfishness that leads a man to set up wealth as the end of his life, for which he is willing to sacrifice all the sweet affections, all the finer tastes, all the sensibilities of conscience. The curse of wealth consists in the getting of it in a way which emasculates a man, and degrades his moral nature. The curse of wealth-getting is seen where a man amasses wealth only that it may shut him in from life, building himself round and round with his money, until at last he is encaverned with it, and dwells inside of it. Geologists sometimes find toads sealed up in rocks. They crept in during the for nation periods, and deposits closed the orifice through which they entered. There they remain, in long darkness and toad stupidity, till some chance blast or stroke sets them free. And there are many rich men sealed up in mountains of gold in the same way. If, in the midst of some convulsion in the community, one of these mountains is overturned, something crawls out into life which is called a man! This amassing of wealth as only a means of imprisonment in selfishness, is itself the thing that is wicked. The using of wealth only to make our own personal delights more rare, without regard to the welfare of others--this it is that is sinful. The Divine command is, “Beware lest ye be rich and lay up treasure to yourself, and are not rich toward God.” If you have a surplus of one thousand dollars, this command is to you; if you have a surplus of ten thousand, it is to you; if you have a surplus of ten hundred thousand, it is not a what more to you. Now, my Christian brethren, are you rich toward God in the proportion in which you have been increasing your worldly wealth? I can tell you, unless your sympathies increase, unless your charities increase, unless your disposition to benefit your fellow-men increases, in the proportion in which your riches increase, you cannot walk the life you are walking without falling under the condemnation of this teaching of Christ. Your life is one of getting, getting, getting! and there is but one safety-valve to such a life; it is giving, giving, giving! If you are becoming less and less disposed to do good; if you are becoming less and less benevolent; if you are less and less compassionate toward the poor; if you say, “I have worked myself almost to death to get my property, and why can I not be allowed to enjoy it?” if you hug your gold, and say, “This is my money, and my business is to extract as much pleasure from it as I can”--then, my friend, you are in the jaws of destruction; you are sold to the devil; he has bought you! But if, with the increase of your wealth, you have a growing feeling of responsibility; if you have a real, practical consciousness of your stewardship in holding and using the abundance which God is bestowing upon you; if you feel that at the bar of God, and in the day of judgment, you must needs give an account of your wealth--then your money will not hurt you. Riches will not hurt a man that is benevolent, that loves to do good, and that uses his bounties for the glory of God and the welfare of men. But your temptations are in the other direction. I beseech of you, beware. (H. W. Beecher.)

The nature and evil of covetousness

I. THE MANNER OF THE CAUTION.

1. The great danger of this sin.

2. The great care men ought to use to preserve themselves from it.

II. THE MATTER OF THE CAUTION. The vice our Saviour warns His hearers against is covetousness.

1. The nature of this vice. The shortest description that I can give of it is this: that it is an inordinate desire and love of riches; but when this desire and love are inordinate, is not so easy to be determined. And, therefore, that we may the better understand what the sin of covetousness is, which our Saviour doth so earnestly caution against, it will be requisite to consider more particularly wherein the vice and fault of it doth consist; that, whilst we are speaking against covetousness, we may not under that general word condemn anything that is commendable or lawful. To the end, then, that we may the more clearly and distinctly understand wherein the nature of this vice doth consist, I shall--First, Endeavour to show what is not condemned under this name of covetousness, either in Scripture or according to right reason; and--Secondly, What is condemned by either of these, as a plain instance or branch of this sin.

I. WHAT THINGS ARE NOT CONDEMNED UNDER THE NAME OF COVETOUSNESS, either in Scripture or according to right reason, which yet have some appearance of it; namely, these three things:

1. Not a provident care about the things of this present life.

2. Not a regular industry and diligence for the obtaining of them; nor--

3. Every degree of love and affection to them. I mention these three, because they may all seem to be condemned by Scripture, as parts or degrees of this vice, but really are not.

II. I COME NOW TO SHOW WHAT IS CONDEMNED IN SCRIPTURE UNDER THE NAME OF COVETOUSNESS and by this we shall best understand wherein the nature of this sin doth consist. Now covetousness is a word of a large signification, and comprehends in it most of the irregularities of men’s minds, either in desiring, or getting, or in possessing, and using an estate.

2. The evil and unreasonableness of this sin.

III. I come now, in the last place, to make some application of this discourse to ourselves.

1. Let our Saviour’s caution take place with us, let these words of His sink into our minds: “Take heed and beware of covetousness.” Our Saviour doubles the caution, that we may double our care. It is a sin very apt to steal upon us, and slily to insinuate itself into us under the specious pretence of industry in our callings, and a provident care of our families: but however it may be coloured over, it is a great evil dangerous to ourselves, and mischievous to the world. Now to kill this vice in us, besides the considerations before mentioned taken from the evil and unreasonableness of it, I will urge these three more:

2. By way of remedy against this vice of covetousness, it is good for men to be contented with their condition.

3. By way of direction, I would persuade those who are rich to be charitable with what they have. (Archbishop Tillotson.)

The evil and folly of covetousness

I. To EXPLAIN THE ARGUMENT BEFORE US, AND TO JUSTIFY IT, that is, to show the meaning of the assertion, “that a man’s life doth not consist in the abundance of his possessions,” and to show that it is strictly true.

1. That the being and preservation of life doth not consist in nor hath any dependence on these things, every one must be sensible. No man imagineth that riches contributed to his existence, or that they are essential to the human constitution; not one power of nature is either the more or the less perfect for our having or wanting them.

2. As the being and the preservation of a man’s life do not consist in nor depend on the abundance of the things that he possesseth, so neither do the highest and best ends of it.

3. The enjoyment of life doth not consist in riches; and as this is the only end which they have any pretence or appearance of answering, if upon a fair inquiry it shall be found that they come short of it, then it must be owned they are what our Saviour calleth them, deceitful; and His assertion in the text is true, that life doth not in any sense consist in them, which therefore is a strong argument to the purpose He applieth it to, namely, against covetousness. It is necessary to observe here, what every man must be convinced of upon the least reflection, that riches are not the immediate object of any original desire in the human nature. If we examine our whole constitution, with all the primary affections which belong to it, we shall find that this hath no place among them. And yet it is certain that the love of riches is become a very powerful lust in the human nature, at least in some minds, and they are thought of great importance to the comfortable enjoyment of life. Whence doth this arise? How doth happiness consist in them? It is plain that the total amount of their usefulness to the purposes of enjoyment is only this, that when other circumstances concur to render a man capable, they afford the larger means of it in various kinds.

1. Of sensual gratifications.

2. The pleasures of the fancy or imagination.

3. Of doing good to his fellow-creatures, either his own near relations or others, as his disposition inclineth him.

This is, I think, stating the case fairly, and allowing all to riches which can be demanded for them. Let us now consider each of these particulars, that we may see of what importance they are to happiness, so far, I mean, as they are supplied, and the opportunities of them enlarged by riches. And, first, the pleasures of sense are of the very lowest kind, which a man considering as common with us to the brutal species cannot but think far from the chief happiness of a reasonable nature, and that the advantage of furnishing us with great plenty and variety of them is not extremely to be valued or gloried in. Besides, there are certain bounds fixed by nature itself to the appetites, beyond which we cannot pass in the gratification of them without destroying enjoyment and turning it into uneasiness. Another sort of pleasures are those of the imagination, arising from the beauties of nature or art, of which we have an internal sense, yielding delight, as we have the sensations of colours, sounds, and tastes, from external material objects, by our bodily organs which convey them. These, it is certain, afford great entertainment to the human life, though in various degrees, according to the different measure of exquisiteness or perfection in the sense itself, which is improved in some beyond others by instruction, observation, and experience; and according to the knowledge men have of the objects. Yet we must remember that these pleasures are not appropriated to the rich, nor do depend on riches, which are only the means of acquiring the property of them, in which the true enjoyment doth not consist. The beauties of nature are unconfined, and every man who hath a true sense of them may find objects enough to entertain it. The last, and indeed the truest and highest, enjoyment of life, is in doing good, or being useful to mankind. And of this riches affords the largest means, which enjoyeth life in the best manner, maketh the best provision for his own comfort in this world. But as this is not the case of the covetous man, it is perfectly agreeable to the text, which declareth that life, that is, enjoyment, doth not consist in abundant possessions; not that it doth not consist in parting with those possessions for the uses of charity. To set this matter in a just light, let it be observed, that the moderate desire and pursuit of riches is not at all inconsistent with virtue; so far from it, industry is a virtue itself, as being really beneficial to society, as well as to the person who useth it, furnishing him with the conveniences of life, and especially with the means of being useful to his fellow-creatures. But when a man hath used honest industry, so far he hath discharged his duty, and laid a foundation for all the true enjoyment which can arise from riches; for that doth not depend on success, or the actual obtaining of large possessions, but principally on the inward dispositions of the mind.

III. Having thus explained our Saviour’s assertion in the text, and showed the truth of it, let us next consider THE PURPOSE TO WHICH HE APPLIETH IT, NAMELY, AS A DISSUASIVE FROM COVETOUSNESS. All that covetousness aimeth at is, the obtaining of large worldly possessions. Now supposing them to be obtained, which yet is very uncertain, but supposing it, and it is the most favourable supposition for the covetous man, what is he the better? If neither the being and preservation of life, nor the ends, nor the enjoyment of it, dependeth on this.(Bishop Abernethy.)

Christ’s warning against covetousness

I. Covetousness is an INNATE sin. It was a principal part of the first transgression. In this first preference of temporal good to spiritual obedience and the favour of God may be seen, as in a glass, all after covetousness. From that fatal hour to the present, mankind universally have, “by nature,” “worshipped the creature more than the Creator,” proving themselves to be influenced by an innate propensity to grasp at earthly things, and to follow them in the place of God.

II. Covetousness is a DECEPTIVE sin. The same may be said indeed of all sins; but of this more especially, because it is a decent sin. Other sins alarm, because of their interference with the passions and interests of our neighbours; and have, on that account, discredit and shame attached to them. Lying interrupts confidence, and weakens the bonds of society; murder lays its hand on the persons, and theft on the property of men; adultery invades the most sacred rights and breaks the dearest ties; even drunkenness, by its brutality and offensiveness to peace and order, is regarded with general disgust and odium. But where is the disgrace of covetousness? How regular a man may be, how sober, how industrious, how moral, and yet be the slave of this vice!

III. Covetousness is a MULTIPLYING sin. This also may be said of most other sins, but eminently so of covetousness. It leads to prevarication and falsehood. Then comes hardness of heart. He that sets his affections on money, will love it more than he will love his fellow-man. He will have little pity for the sufferings of the poor, or if he have a little he will stifle it, lest his pity should cost him something. Still less will he compassionate the spiritually wretched.

IV. Covetousness is an AGGRAVATED sin. It is not merely an omission of duty, or a transgression of law; but it is an abuse of much mercy. For who gives a man power to get wealth? whence come health, ability, and labour, skill, opportunity, success;--come they not from God?--could any man earn one shilling if God did not enable him?--and if any man have property, not of his own earning, could he have been possessed of it but for the kind providence of God? And we know that He bestows it that it may be employed in His service and for His glory. But covetousness refuses so to employ it.

V. Covetousness is a GREAT sin. It originates in mistrust of God, and unbelief in His word.

VI. Covetousness is a DESTRUCTIVE sin. Other sins slay their thousands, but this slays its ten thousands. Many other sins are confined to the openly ungodly, and have their victims exclusively from among those that are without; but this sin enters into the visible Church, and is the chief instrument in the hands of Satan of destroying the souls of professors. (Essex Remembrancer.)

Warning against covetousness

I. COVETOUSNESS BREEDS DISCONTENT, ANXIETY, ENVY, JEALOUSY. And hence it comes about that covetousness takes all the sweetness and peace out of our life. It makes us dissatisfied with our homes and surroundings. It keeps us for ever anxious as to our relative position. It sets us continually on comparison. It underestimates the pleasures and joys of life, and overvalues and magnifies its troubles. It makes the poor man wretched in his poverty, and hardens his heart against the rich. It energizes the man of competence with new vigour to compass overflowing abundance, and pushes forward the wealthy in the struggle for pre-eminence and power. In the prosperous it naturally develops into greed or reckless extravagance; in the disappointed, into hawking envy or green-eyed jealousy. It invades and spoils our religious life. It embitters us during the week by thoughts of our inferiority. It frets continually at the ordering of Providence. It destroys sweet confidence in God’s wise and loving care. It sees evidences of the Divine partiality in the inequalities of the human lot. The good graciously granted turns to ashes on the lips because another has it in greater abundance. It keeps many a one from the house of God. It follows many another to the sanctuary to spoil the worship, and, through the sight of the eyes, to gangrene the soul more perfectly, and send it home burning with a deeper envy.

II. COVETOUSNESS MISLEADS AND PERVERTS THE JUDGMENT. Covetousness is to the mind what a distorting or coloured medium is to the eye. Just as everything in a landscape seen through such a medium is out of proportion or falsely coloured, so everything in life seen through the medium of covetousness appears under fearful distortion or most deceptive colouring. It breaks up the white light of truth into prismatic hues of falsehood and deceit.

III. IT HARDENS THE HEART AND DESTROYS THE BENEVOLENT AFFECTIONS. A cherished covetousness gradually crystallizes into habit and principle. It narrows and pinches the entire being. It grows strong by indulgence. The more it has the mere it wants. The more it gets the tighter it grasps it. An avaricious millionaire will haggle for a halfpenny as quickly as a day labourer. No meaner or more metallic being can be found than he in whom covetousness has done its legitimate work. And hence comes much of the heart-ache of individuals, the misery of families, and the trouble of society. It leads men to deprive themselves of the comforts of life. It is deaf to the voice of natural affection.

IV. IT TENDS TO AND ENDS IN CRIME. A strong desire to get confuses the judgment as to the proper means of getting, and gradually becomes unscrupulous in the use of means; ultimately all hesitation is overcome, all restraints broken through, all dangers braved. Get, it will at all hazards. Not that every covetous man becomes a criminal; but this is the tendency in every case. And when we remember that all overreaching, all petty deception and cheating, is in reality crime, it will go hard with the covetous man to clear his skirts. There is a vast amount of crime unseen by the law, but perfectly open to the view of heaven. “There’s no shuffling there.” But much of the known crime of the world--some of it the most atrocious and unnatural--springs directly from covetousness. Whence comes the reckless speculation, the stock-jobbing and gambling, which agitate the markets and unsettle trade? Whence the defalcations, breaches of trust, the forgeries which startle us by their frequency and enormity? Whence the highway robberies, burglaries, murders, which have affrighted every age, and still fill our sleeping hours with danger? The answer is plain: From a desire to get, cherished until it would not be denied. Such a desire in time becomes overmastering; it balks at nothing. Out of it spring crimes of every name and form, from the littlest to the most colossal, from the murder of a reputation to the murder of a nation, from the betrayal of a trust to the betrayal of the Son of God.

V. IT RUINS THE SOUL. In aiming to get the world, man loses himself. Every consideration heretofore urged tends to this. The real life is neglected; God and His claims are forgotten. In sensual enjoyment the soul is drowned, and suddenly the end comes. (Henry S. Kelsey.)

Wealth not necessary to an ideal life

“He became poor.” My brethren, what a thought is this! The Lord of heaven, God the Almighty, the All-rich, the All-possessing, chose, when He came among His creatures, to come as a poor man. He who is in the form of God, “took upon Him the form of a servant.” Earthly poverty, in the fullest sense of the word, He accepted as His own. Born more hardly than the very poorest peasant among us, even in a stable, cradled in a manger, brought up in a poor mechanic’s cottage, His food rough barley loaves, His sleeping-place ever uncertain, His disciples poor men like Himself, hard-working fishermen--finally, stripped of His very garments, and left absolutely naked, to die! Surely, if riches and possessions were indeed the highest end of man’s being, He who came to restore man to dignity and happiness would have come among us rich and great. So far as our human minds can fathom, the work of our salvation might have been accomplished by one who was rich in earthly things, as well as by One who was poor. The sacrifice might still have atoned. It is even possible to imagine an aspect under which the contrast of the sacrifice itself would have been heightened, had a rich man rather than a poor man died for his fellow-men. Yet, at a time when riches and the good things which riches procure abounded in the world, He chose, deliberately and willingly chose, the lot of the poor, and is among His own creatures “as He that serveth.” All “the kingdoms of the earth, and the glory of them,” He deliberately cast aside. And since, indeed, He, the typical Man, the Head of the new Creation, the “Firstborn of every creature,” chose thus to be stripped, and bare, and poor, does He not, I pray you, teach this lesson, that the highest condition, the very perfection of man’s nature is even such as this? Nay, more. I hesitate not to say that from the moment Christ came thus among us, poverty--yea, poverty--has its own special blessing. (W. J. Butler, M. A.)

Covetousness

I. THE NATURE AND GENERAL CAUSES OF COVETOUSNESS.

1. It does apt consist in a lawful care about the things of this life, or in a proper regard to the principles of prudence and frugality. But it consists in too eager a desire after the things of this life. Setting our hearts upon them.

2. It may be known by the tenacity with which we hold the things of this life. Treating them as our chief good.

3. The general causes of covetousness are principally these:

II. ITS EVIL AND PERNICIOUS EFFECTS. Consider--

1. Its effects personally. It is the source of many vices. “They who will be rich,” &c. (1 Timothy 6:9). It tempts men to base and unjust means to get money. It hardens the heart, blunts the feedings, and renders the soul callous and sordid. It fills the mind with distraction, and prevents all true and solid enjoyment. It keeps out Christ and salvation.

2. Its effects on society. A covetous man is a misanthrope to his species.

3. Its effects in reference to God.

4. Its effects as exhibited in the examples revelation furnishes. Let us then notice the means necessary.

III. FOR ITS PREVENTION AND CURE.

1. Serious consideration of the shortness and uncertainty of life. How madlike, inordinately to love what must so shortly be taken from us!

2. A reflection on our responsibility to God for all we possess. Stewards. Day of reckoning will arrive, God will judge us. All give an account, and receive according as our works shall be.

3. A renewal of our hearts by the grace and Spirit of God.

4. Imitation of Christ’s blessed example.

5. Repeated and prayerful examination of our hearts before God. (J. Burns, D. D.)

The warning against covetousness

Covetousness is like a dangerous rock in the sea of life, over which we have to sail. Multitudes of wrecks are scattered all around it. The warning of our text is like a light-house, which G d has caused to be built upon this rock, to give us notice of the danger to be found here, in order that we may avoid it.

I. COVETOUSNESS WILL DESTROY OUR HAPPINESS.

II. COVETOUSNESS WILL INJURE OUR USEFULNESS.

III. COVETOUSNESS WILL LESSEN, OR LOSE, OUR REWARD. Two Christian friends called on a wealthy farmer one day, to get some money for a charitable work in which they were engaged. He took them up to the cupola, on the top of his house, and showed them farm after farm, stretching far away, on the right hand, and on the left, and told them that all that land belonged to him. Then he took them to another cupola, and showed them great herds of horses, and sheep, and cattle, saying, as he did so--“Those are all mine too. I came out here a poor boy, and have earned all this property myself.” One of his friends pointed up to heaven, and said--“And how much treasure have you laid up yonder?” After a pause, hesaid, as he heaved a sigh, “I’m afraid I haven’t got anything there.” “And isn’t it a great mistake,” said his friend, “that a man of your ability and judgment should spend all your days in laying up so much treasure on earth, and not laying up any in heaven?” The tears trickled down the farmer’s cheeks as he said--“It does look foolish, don’t it?” Soon after this, that farmer died. He left all his property for others to use, and went into the presence of God only to find that his love of money, and the wrong use he had made of it, had caused him to lose all the reward which he might have had in heaven. Some years ago, near Atlanta, in Georgia, there lived a man who was a member of the Church. He was a person of some influence in that neighbourhood. But he was a covetous man, very fond of money, and always unwilling to pay his debts. He had a little granddaughter, about nine years old, who was living with him. She was a bright, intelligent young Christian. She had heard of her grandpa’s love of money, and his unwillingness to pay his debts, spoken of, and it grieved her very much. One morning, as they were sitting at breakfast, she said--“Grandpa, I had a dream about you, last night.” “Did you? Well, tell me what it was.” “I dreamed that you died last night. I saw the angels come to take you to heaven. They took you in their arms, and began to go up till they were almost out of sight. Then they stopped, and flew round awhile, but without going any higher. Presently they came down with you, and laid you on the ground, when their leader said--‘My friend, you are too heavy for us. We can’t carry you up to heaven. It’s your debts that weigh you down. If you settle with those you owe, we will come for you again before long.’” The old gentleman was very much touched by this. He saw the danger he was in from his covetousness. He resolved to struggle against it. The first thing after breakfast, he went to his room, and in earnest prayer asked God to forgive his sin and to help him to overcome it. Then he went out and paid all his debts; and after that was always prompt and punctual in paying what he owed. So he minded the warning of the text, and was kept from losing his reward. (R. Newton, D. D.)

Covetousness

I. THE NATURE OF COVETOUSNESS. It is the love of money. A passion that grows upon men. We begin by loving it for the advantages it procures, and then we learn insensibly to love it for its own sake, or perhaps for some imaginary uses to which we flatter ourselves we shall apply it at some future time. We avoid certain extremes, and thus escape the imputation of covetousness, but we are not on that account the less influenced by the greediness of filthy lucre--we have given our hearts none the less to it on that account. And this passion grows in a most remarkable manner. Men encourage it in one another, and many a look seems, even without a word, to say, “Taste, and see how good money is.” Thus, by degrees, the love of money manifests and extends itself, making of him who cherishes it, in the words of our Lord, “a servant of mammon.” Verily He was wise who said, “Take head, and beware of covetousness.” Further, this love of money takes different forms and changes its name among men, without however being in any respect changed in the sight of Him who kneweth the heart.

1. One man loves money to keep--this is the covetous man properly so called--the covetous man according to the true meaning of the word. He may possibly succeed in avoiding the odium of the title, but to separate him from his treasure would be to separate him from a part of his existence, and he could willingly say of money what God has said of blood, “Money, it is the life.”

2. Another man loves money to spend it. This is the prodigal. A man may be at the same time covetous and prodigal. These two dispositions, instead of excluding one another, mutually encourage each other. Thus a Roman historian who knew human nature well, mentions this trait among others in the character of the notorious Cataline: “He was covetous of the wealth of ethers, lavish of his own.”

3. A third man loves money for the sake of power. This is the ambitious man. It is not the desire of hoarding that rules him--it is not the love of spending which possesses him, but the delight of his eyes and the pride of his heart is to witness the influence which money gives him. Of these three forms of covetousness, miserly covetousness is especially the vice of old age; prodigal covetousness that of youth; and ambitious covetousness that of manhood. But covetousness belongs to all ages and conditions.

II. THE SIN OF COVETOUSNESS. I imagine we too generally underrate the judgment which God passes upon covetousness. We think that we are at full liberty to enrich ourselves as much as we can, and then to do what we please with the wealth that we have acquired. Thus we give ourselves up to covetousness. We should not act thus with respect to intemperance, to theft, but it seems that covetousness is quite another sort of sin. Whilst these vices disgrace those who are guilty of them--whilst they entail consequences injurious to the peace and tranquility of society, covetousness has something more plausible, more prudent, more respectable about it. It generally lays claim to honest worthy motives, and the world will dignify it by the name of natural ambition, useful industry, praiseworthy economy. I may even go a step further. A covetous man may be in a certain sense a religious man. He may be quite an example in his respectful attention to the worship and ordinances of God. In fact(the love of money is almost the only vice a man can entertain while he preserves the appearance of piety. And there is great reason to fear that of all sins, this one will ruin the greatest number of those who profess to serve God. Instances: Balaam, Achan, Gehazi, Judas, etc. In fact, a man cannot turn to the Lord but covetousness must perpetually oppose him, from the earliest preception of religious impressions, to the most advanced period of his faith. Has he only just been called by the Lord and bidden to the feast? Covetousness persuades two out of three to excuse themselves on the plea: “I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and till it”--or, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I must needs go and prove them.” Has he begun to listen with interest to the truth and received the good seed in his heart? Covetousness plants thorns there also: “soon the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the Word, and it becomes unfruitful.” Has he advanced still further in the way, and gone some time in the paths of piety? Covetousness still despairs not of turning him out of them, and of including him amongst the number of those who, “having coveted money, have erred from the faith.” Happy indeed is he, if, “taking the whole armour of God,” he knows how to “withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand.” Happy if he does not imitate those imprudent travellers, whom Bunyan describes as leaving, on the invitation of Demas, the way to the holy city to visit a silver mine in the hill Lucre. “Whether,” says this truly spiritual writer, “they fell into the pit by looking over the brink thereof; or whether they went down to dig; or whether they were smothered in the bottom by the damps that commonly arise--of these things I am not certain; but this I observed, that they were never seen again in the way.” Ah! dear brethren, “take heed, and beware of covetousness!”

III. We have now, however, to consider THE CONDEMNATION GOD RESERVES FOR COVETOUSNESS. And this condemnation and punishment begins in this life. There is no passion which renders its victims more truly miserable. Solomon tells us that the lover of money cannot satisfy himself with money. His cares increase with his wealth. Every one enjoys it except himself. (J. Jessop, M. A.)

A warning against covetousness

The great point of instruction in this chapter is, dependence on God; that He is all-sufficient for the happiness of the soul, and that He will give what is needful for the body. The particular point of the text is, a warning against covetousness; and never was there a day in which the warning was more needed, when a most inordinate thirst of money-getting is abroad, when speculations of the most extensive kind are afloat, and when money-crimes of the most extravagant kind have shocked the public mind.

I. THE WARNING. Covetousness is like a fire, one of the four things which are never satisfied (Proverbs 30:15). You may heap fresh fuel upon it, but it only burns the higher, and its demands are greater. Let me ask, does your present prosperity lead you to regard the warning of the text more? to believe that there is danger in your present position? If your soul be in a healthy condition you will pay more attention to the text. But you may say, “Oh! my gains as yet are very slight, I have made but little money, I scarcely feel the warning can be applicable to me; when I have made a fortune, then I will consider.” “Take heed, and beware of covetousness,” saith the Lord. But suppose your success in business should continue, that you reach the very point at which you aim, would you then be more likely to accept our Lord’s warning than now? Nay, less likely; for you would then be more confirmed in disregard of what He says than you are now; you would be less a believer in His Word than now. Take heed now.

II. THE REASON FOR THIS WARNING.

1. Because money cannot save the soul, and therefore cannot secure happiness in the next life.

2. Because riches make to themselves wings and fly away, and a man may thus be deprived of what he builds on for happiness.

3. Because of the uncertainty of life. The parable which succeeds the text illustrates this. Although this rich man had ample provision for the body so long as it lasted, yet his goods could not ward off death; still less could they provide for the happiness of the soul when God required it in another state of existence. These considerations are enough to show us that “a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”

You may ask, then, What does a man’s life consist in?

1. In a heart at peace with God through Jesus Christ our Lord; in pardon of sin; in acceptance with God; in the knowledge that this poor dying life is not all, but that there is a life beyond the grave, blessed and everlasting, purchased by the blood of Christ, and to which believers shall be kept by the power of God through faith.

2. In a well-founded hope of eternal life; in the knowledge of what Jesus Christ has done for sinners; in a spiritual understanding of the value of Christ’s obedience unto death, His resurrection and ascension; in the assurance that all the promises of Scripture are “Yea and Amen in Christ,” and will be fulfilled to all who trust Him.

3. In being contented with the station in which God has placed us, and the means which God has given us, feeling assured that if we could have served God better in another station there He would have placed us, and if we could have used more means rightly and for His glory, He would have given them to us; in a heart which recognizes God’s hand in all dispensations, and which is able to say “Amen “ to all He does in the way of submission, and “Alleuia” in the way of praise (Philippians 4:11, and Revelation 19:4).

4. In an earnest desire to serve God and our neighbour. There is no real happiness without a desire and endeavour to do good and to obey God’s Word; and, as I have already said, our usefulness will ever be in proportion to our conformity to the image of the Son of God. This is true happiness: not exemption from trial and discipline, but the assurance of the sympathy of Christ under it, and the belief that “all things shall work together for good to them that love God”--the confidence that my Father, the Father who loves me, rules all. This will be the greatest safeguard against the love of money, and the crimes which spring out of it; this will keep a man humble, moderate, prayerful, holy, and happy, and enable him better to resist temptation in whatever shape it may present itself. (W. Reeve, M. A.)

On covetousness

I. CAUSES OF COVETOUSNESS.

1. A corrupt and perverted judgment. We form a false opinion of the world, and think more highly of it than it merits.

2. Distrust of the providence of God.

3. Involving ourselves too much in the world.

4. Neglecting to look at things unseen and eternal.

II. BAD EFFECTS AND CONSEQUENCES OF COVETOUSNESS,

1. It tempts men to unlawful ways of getting riches.

2. It tempts men to base and sinful ways of keeping what they have thus procured.

3. It fills the soul with disquietude and distraction.

4. It prevents all good, and is an inlet and encouragement to evil. Nothing so soon and so effectually stops the ear and shuts the heart against religious impressions.

5. It excludes from the kingdom of God.

III. CONSIDERATIONS FOR THE PREVENTION AND CURE OF COVETOUSNESS.

1. Endeavour to be convinced of the vanity of all worldly possessions. They are insufficient and uncertain.

2. Seek Divine grace to enable you to set bounds to your desires.

3. Learn to order your affairs with discretion.

4. Cast all your cares upon God. (S. Lavington.)

Our Lord’s warning against covetousness

Here observe--

1. THE MANNER of our Lord’s caution; He doubles it; not saying, “Take heed” alone, or “beware” only; but, “Take heed,” and “beware” both. This argues, that there is a strong inclination in our natures to this sin; the great danger we are in of falling into it, and of what fatal consequence it is to them in whom this sin reigns.

2. THE MATTER of the caution, of the sin of which our Saviour warns his hearers against, and that is covetousness: “Take heed, and beware of covetousness”; where, under the name and notion of covetousness, our Saviour doth not condemn a provident care for the things of this life, nor a regular industry and diligence for obtaining of them, nor every degree of love and affection to them; but by covetousness is to be understood an eager and insatiable desire after the things of this life, or using unjust ways and means to get or increase an estate; seeking the things of this life, with the neglect of things infinitely better, and placing their chief happiness in riches.

3. THE REASON of this caution; “because a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” Human life is sustained by a little; therefore abundance is not necessary, either to the support or comfort of it. It is not a great estate and vast possession that makes a man happy in this world; but a mind suited to our condition, whatever it be. (W. Burkitt.)

Sin masked by wealth

What could be more natural, they would ask, than that he should make arrangements for the accommodation of the vast increase of his wealth? Why should he not make the most of what he had? Why should he not spend time and thought on a matter of so great importance? Alas! this is exactly what our Lord calls “the deceitfulness of riches.” “Some sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment.” Every one admits their sinfulness. It is not so with riches. Neither the possessors of riches nor those about them perceive in them danger, or the possibility of sinning in their use. Often rich men actually know not that they are rich. There is a respectability in being rich which masks a hundred forms of evil. Most of the sins which are admitted to be sins are such as are injurious to society. But the habits which wealth brings are exactly those in which society most delights, and therefore no warning voice, no hand of chastisement, are lifted against the selfishness, unthankfulness, self-satisfaction, vanity, pride, which follow too often in the train of riches. Against drunkenness, dishonesty, falsehood, and the like, we all hold up our bands and eyes, but these may pass. (W. J. Butler, M. A.)

A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance

A man’s life

I. WHAT A MAN’S LIFE IS NOT. “A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” It is a very common mistake to suppose that a true life is a successful life, a prosperous and wealthy man is said to have succeeded in life. But that is not the sort of life to which Jesus refers in the text. He shows us in one place the picture of a man who had been prosperous, one who wore purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day; one whom many had envied. Yet his life was not a success, and there are none of us who would care to change places with him. The gospel also shows us another example of a mistaken life. It shows us a young ruler who had great possessions, and many good qualities, yet his life was not a success: he went away from the true Life, he went away from Jesus. No, a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.

II. WHAT A MAN’S LIFE IS. It matters not whether we are rich or poor, successful or unfortunate, clever or dull; the secret of a true life consists in trying to do our duty towards God and our neighbour in that station of life to which it has pleased God to call us. This is the only true life, the only life worth living, the only life which brings comfort here, and happiness hereafter, since “the path of duty is the way to glory.” Some one has said very truly, “The word duty seems to me the biggest word in the world, and is uppermost in all my serious doings.” When Lord Nelson lay dying, in the hour of his last great victory, at Trafalgar, his last words were, “Thank God, I have done my duty.” Believe me, brethren, his is the only true life who can say at the last, feeling all his failures and mistakes, and humbly conscious of his weakness, “Thank God, I have tried to do my duty.” There is only one path for us to tread in as Christian people, and that is the path of duty marked out for us by God.

1. This life, if truly carried out, will be an earnest life. To do work well, we must be in earnest. If a labourer is set to clear a field of weeds, and if he is in earnest, he takes two hands to his work. So if we are to get rid of the weeds of evil habits and besetting sins, if we are to sweep the house, and search diligently till we find the precious treasure which we have lost, we must put two hands to the work. Every man who wants to live a true life must have a definite object, and be in earnest in reaching it. Those who succeed are those who aim high. The schoolboy who is contented with the second place in his class will never be first. The man who is content to sleep in the valley will never reach the mountain-top of success. A true life is one of duty towards God and our neighbour, done earnestly and with our might; a life which aims at heaven, a life whose ruling principle is the will of God.

2. And again, the true life is not only an earnest life, but also an unselfish life. God will not only have us good ourselves, but will have us make others good. We all influence our fellow-men for good or evil, lust as we ourselves are good or evil. A bad man in a parish or community is like a plague-spot, he is not only bad himself, but he makes others bad. A good man in a similar place is like a sweet flower in a garden, beautiful in himself, and by shedding sweetness around him making the lives of others beautiful. Believe me, the best sermon is the example of a good life. (H. J.Wilmot Buxton, M. A.)

Covetousness

I. WHAT COVETOUSNESS IS. Mainly an inordinate respect and desire for earthly property. Its worst form is the desire for earthly goods at the expense of others.

II. WHERE COVETOUSNESS HAS ITS ROOTS. Love of creature more than Creator. A vice which degrades human nature; and a sin which dishonours God, and violates His law.

III. How COVETOUSNESS SHOWS ITSELF. A grasping habit. Dissatisfaction with present possessions. The covetous man’s sole interest in life lies in his accumulations.

IV. WHITHER COVETOUSNESS IS PRONE TO LEAD. Hardened heart.

V. THE END TO WHICH UNREPENTED COVETOUSNESS BRINGS THE VICTIM AT THE LAST. (J. R. Thomson, M. A.)

Money valued at more than money’s worth

I. THE AILMENT--THE SPIRITUAL CONDITION OF MEN, WHICH DRAWS DOWN THIS REPROOF FROM THE LORD. The precise point with which we are at present concerned is this: An erroneous estimate of wealth pervades this community. Money is valued at more than money’s worth. This lies at the root of the evil. The high esteem in which money is held, gives impetus to the hard race with which it is chased. The aim follows the estimate. Whatever is in a community by common consent accounted most valuable, will be practically followed with the greatest eagerness. A false reckoning has been cast up as to where the chief good of a country lies, and the mass is moving on in a direction many points aside from the course of safety. They give away for it that which is far more precious than it. One of the oldest memories of my mind relates to a case entirely analogous. The event lies far back in childhood--I might even say infancy. The French prisoners in a Government depot (now the general prison at Perth), were allowed to hold a kind of fair, where they sold from within their railings a variety of curious articles of their own manufacture, to visitors whom curiosity had attracted to see the strangers. Thither I was taken one day, with all my money in my pocket, to see the Frenchmen. During a momentary absence of the person in charge, I set my heart upon a rude bit of wood daubed with gaudy colours, and called Napoleon. The man who possessed it, seeing me alone, accosted me, told me in broken English that nothing could be more suitable for me, and offered to sell it: at once I gave him all the money I possessed, and carried off my prize. Search was made for the man who had cheated me, but he had disappeared behind his comrades, and we never saw him more. I was obliged to return home with a sad heart, and an empty hand, destitute of sundry useful articles which I had been led to expect, and which my pence would have purchased, if they had rightly been laid out. I distinctly remember yet the deep melancholy that came over my spirit, as the reality came home to me that the money was gone, and that there was no remedy. It is lawful to obtain a lesson by comparing great things with small Men are like silly children in the marketplace of life. They are taken by the glitter of a worthless toy. They buy it. They give their all for it. If you give your time, your hands, your skill, your heart for wealth, you are taken in. Even the wealth you have obtained cannot be kept. This habit of accounting money the principal thing, a habit caught up in childhood from the prevailing tone of society, and strengthened by the example of those whom the world honours--it is this that lays bare our defences, and makes us an easy prey to the destroyer. Those who have money usually plume themselves upon the possession of it, without reference to any other claim on the respect of mankind. Simply in virtue of their gold, they take a high place, assume an important air, and expect the homage of the multitude. A rich man will despise a poor man, though the poor man inherits a nobler genius and leads a better life. The claim made might expose the folly of a few; but the claim conceded fastens folly down as a general characteristic of the community. How few there are who will measure the man by his soul--who will neither fawn upon wealth, nor envy it--who on account of it will neither set its possessor up nor down--who, in judging of his character, will ignore altogether the accident of his wealth, and award the honour which is due to the man, according as he fears God and does good to his brethren I In the practical estimation of this community, riches cover a multitude of sins. Oh, if men would learn to weigh it in the balance of the sanctuary, to see it in the light of eternity; if we could get now impressed on our minds the estimate of money which we will all have soon, it would not be allowed to exercise so much effect in our lives.

II. THE WARNING WHICH SUCH A MORAL CONDITION DREW FORTH FROM THE LORD, AND THE REASON BY WHICH IT IS ENFORCED: “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” The best method of applying the caution will be to expound the specific ground on which it is here made to rest. There are three different senses in which “a man’s life” may be understood, all of them obvious, and each charged with a distinct practical lesson.

1. Life in its literal and natural sense--the life of the body--does not consist in the “abundance” of the things which one may possess. The life is in no degree dependent on the “surplus “ over and above the supply of nature’s wants. A very small portion of the fruit of the earth suffices to supply a man’s necessities. The main elements are, a little food to appease hunger, and some clothing to ward off the cold. In this matter, God has brought the rich and the poor very near to each other in life, and at death the slight difference that did exist will be altogether done away. As a general rule, it may be safely affirmed that the life of the rich is as much endangered by the luxuries of their abundance, as that of the poor by the meanness of their food. The air and exercise connected with his labour go as far to preserve his health as the shelter and ease which the rich man enjoys. Looking simply to life--mere animal being and wellbeing--we are justified in affirming that abundance, or overplus of goods, is no advantage to it. This is a wise arrangement of our Father in heaven. He is kind to the poor. He has protected them by laws that men cannot touch--laws imbedded in the very constitution of the universe. In this view of the case, it is not consonant with right reason to make the acquisition of wealth the main object of desire and effort.

2. “A man’s life” may be considered as the proper exercise and enjoyment of a rational, spiritual, immortal being--that use of life which the all-wise Creator manifestly contemplated when He arranged the complex constitution of man. Hitherto we have been speaking of animal life merely, common to us with the lower orders of creatures; now we speak of such a life as becomes a creature made in the image of God, and capable of enjoying Him for ever. To this life, how very little is contributed by the surplus of possessions over and above what nature needs! Indeed, that surplus more frequently hinders than helps the highest enjoyment of man’s life. The parable which immediately follows the text bears, and was intended to bear, directly on this subject. Besides the folly of the rich man, in view of death and eternity, he made a capital mistake even in regard to his life in this world, when he said to his soul, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years, take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” The increase of riches does not increase a soul’s enjoyment. In proportion as a rich man is indifferent to his wealth, his enjoyment of life does not spring from it, but from other sources. In proportion as his heart is given to his wealth, his enjoyment of life decreases. It is a law--a law of God which misers feel--that, if a man loves money, then the more money he gets, the less he enjoys it.

3. Life in the highest sense, the life of the soul, obviously does not depend in any degree on the abundance of earthly possessions. The whole world gained cannot prevent the loss of the soul. Consider the first object, a man’s life. It is the life of the dead in sin, the life by regeneration, the life quickened by the Spirit and sustained in Christ, the life which, being hid with Christ in God, shall never die. This is a great thing for a man. Hear the word of the Lord--that abundance is not your life. It is not so needful as your life. If you take it too near your heart, it will quench your life. Ye cannot serve two masters. Expressly, ye cannot serve these two, God and Mammon. Money, like fire, is a good servant, but a bad master. It is this surplus, this superabundance, that is the dangerous thing. When it is sought as if it were life to a soul, it becomes to that soul death. When a man falls into deep water, he could easily preserve his life if he would permit his whole body to lie beneath the surface, except so much of his mouth and nostrils as is necessary for the admission of air. It is the instinctive, but unwise, effort to raise portions of the body above the water, that sinks the whole beneath it. It is the weight of that portion which has been, by a convulsive effort, unnecessarily raised, that presses down the body, and drowns the man. It is by a similar law in the province of morals that avarice destroys the life of the soul. The whole amount of money that a man obtains for the purpose of using, and actually does legitimately use, does no harm to the interests of his soul. It may be great, or it may be small, while it is kept beneath the surface, so to speak--kept as a servant, and used as an instrument for legitimate objects--it is as to spiritual matters indifferent. So far as money is concerned, the man is in equilibrium, and his spiritual character will depend on other influences. But when some portion is raised above the line--when it is taken from a servant’s place, and raised to that of a master--when a surplus is sought, not for use but for its own sake--when the love of money begins--when it is set up by the man above himself, as an object of his affection--then that surplus, whether great or small, presses down the soul, and the man sinks in spiritual death. It is this lust that “drowns men in perdition” (1 Timothy 6:11). (W. Arnot.)

The miser’s misery;

There was once a nobleman living in Scotland who was very rich. But his covetousness, or love of money, was very great. Whenever he received any money, he turned it into gold and silver, and stowed it away in a great chest which he kept in a strong vault, that had been built for this purpose down in the cellar. One day a farmer, who was one of his tenants, came to pay his rent. But when he had counted out the money, he found that it was just one farthing short; yet this rich lord was such a miser that he refused the farmer a receipt for the money, until the other farthing was paid. His home was five miles distant, lie went there, and came back with the farthing. He settled his bill, and got his receipt. Then he said, “My lord, I’ll give you a shilling if you’ll let me go down into your vault and look at your money.” His lordship consented, thinking that was an easy way to make a shilling. So he led the farmer down into the cellar and opened his big chest, and showed him the great piles of gold and silver that were there. The farmer gazed at them for awhile, and then said: “Now, my lord, I am as well off as you are.” “How can that be?” asked his lordship. “Why, sir,” said the farmer, “you never use any of this money. All that you do with it, is to look at it. I have looked at it too, and so I’m just as rich as you are.” That was true. The love of that selfish lord for his money, made him think of it day and night, and the fear lest some robber should steal it, took away all his comfort and happiness, and made him perfectly miserable.

The terrible evil of covetousness

Three men, who were once travelling together, found a large sum of money on the road. To avoid being seen, they went into the woods near by, to count out the money, and divide it among themselves. They were not far from a village, and as they had eaten up all their food, they concluded to send one of their number, the youngest in the company, into the village to buy some more food, while they would wait there till he came back. He started on his journey. While walking to the village, he talked to himself in this way: “How rich my share of this money has made me! But how much richer I should be if I only had it all! And why can’t I have it? It is easy enough to get rid of those other two men. I can get some poison in the village, and put it into their food. On my return I can say that I had my dinner in the village, and don’t want to eat any more. Then they will eat the food, and die, and so I shall have all this money instead of only having one-third of it.” But while he was talking to himself in this way, his two companions were making a different arrangement. They said to each other: “It is not necessary that this young man should be connected with us. If he was out of the way, we could each have the half of this money instead of only a third. Let us kill him as soon as he comes back.” So they got their daggers ready, and as soon as the young man came back they plunged their daggers into him and killed him. They then buried his dead body, and sat down to eat their dinner of the poisoned food which had been brought to them. They had hardly finished their dinner before they were both seized with dreadful pains, which soon ended in their death. And here we see how the happiness and the lives of those three men were destroyed by the love of money.

Covetousness

Two students had been competing at a university for the same prize, and one gained it by a few marks. The defeated candidate had set his heart on the prize, and was bitterly disappointed. In his room that evening, along with two friends, he began to speak of his defeat, and as he spoke such a look of anger and greed came into his face that one of his friends said in an undertone to the other, “See! the wolf! the wolf!” This exclamation did not hit far from the truth. Covetousness brings a man to the level of the beasts. That a man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things he has is well brought out in the classic fable of King Midas, who found from bitter experience how fatal a gift was the touch that converted all things into gold. There is an Arabian story which tells how, at the sack of a city, one of the rulers was shut up in his treasure-chambers, and starved to death among bars of gold and sparkling gems. True as this is of the physical nature, it is more true of the spiritual. The man with the muck-rake in Bunyan saw nothing of the golden crown that was offered him. Many a man, intent on gathering his grain into his barns, forgets therewith to lay hold of the better bread of life! (Sunday School Times.)

Oriental covetousness

To beware of covetousness is a lesson that has always been specially needed in the East. The grasping for more is fearful. It is usually considered the only worthy object in life. The ordinary Oriental simply cannot comprehend how a European can travel for pleasure, or spend money for archaeological investigation, or in any of the pursuits we think higher than that of money. Yet, on the other hand, the declaration that “a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” is one that is taught the great mass of the Orientals by a hard experience. Abundance they cannot know. Conceding that “the things which he possesseth” are necessary for his life in this world, whether higher or lower, the life is not in their superfluity. An Oriental is rich who is not in danger of immediate want, who knows where he can get all his meals for to-morrow. Though the Greek of this clause seems difficult to many, it seems to the writer difficult only in its capability of rendering into English; especially because one who wishes to turn it into good English must choose at the start which of two allowable idiomatic forms he must choose. But Oriental conditions throw upon it a beautiful light: “For not in their superfluity to any one is his life (does his life come) from his possessions”; or, not in having superfluity does a man have his life out of his goods. It may be admitted that the grammatical government of one word is not altogether certain; but there are many cases, nearly or quite parallel, in classic Greek, where the author, for greater piquancy, has purposely left the construction of a word thus in suspense, to be governed by either of two others; the canon of the iron-bound grammarians, that every word in a given sentence has a fixed construction, to the contrary notwithstanding. (Sunday School Times.)

Covetousness

The Rev. R. Gray tells of a certain duke that has a passion for costly diamonds; and what is the consequence? His house resembles a castle rather than a mansion, and is surrounded with a lofty wall, one which no one can climb without giving alarm. His treasure is kept in a safe let in the wall of his bedroom, so that it cannot be reached without first waking or murdering the owner; the safe is so constructed that it cannot be forced without discharging four guns, and setting an alarm-bell a-ringing in every room. His bedroom, like a prisoner’s cell, has but one small window, and the bolt and lock of the massive door are of the stoutest iron. In addition to these precautions, a case, containing twelve loaded revolvers, stands by the side of his bed. Might we not inscribe over it, “Diamonds are my portion; therefore do I fear”?

Possessions do not constitute life

Does a man’s life consist in “the abundance of the things which he possesses?” Does amplitude of possession necessarily confer happiness? and is it such happiness as is sure to last? Nay; try abundance of possessions by this test, and you will find that it miserably fails. Wealth, or large possessions, may bring happiness--this we do not deny; it may confer splendour, of which men are proud; power, which they delight to exercise; comforts, which they cannot but cherish; and luxuries, which they undoubtedly enjoy. But are all these things so necessarily and uniformly the results of affluence, as that they always follow from it?--or, rather, does not splendour sometimes become overpoweringly irksome, and do not men sometimes shrink from the responsibilities of power as a burden almost intolerable? And may there not be other concomitants of wealth or of ample possessions, which tend to make the comforts or the luxuries which affluence confers but a very poor compensation for counter trials to which it exposes? Riches will not ward off pain or disease; the owner of immense property may be racked with pain, or he may languish in sickness, alike with the humblest menial or the poorest peasant. Let us, however, suppose a different case; let there be nothing to disturb the enjoyment of those pleasures which result from affluence; nay, I will even imagine, that, in addition to those already mentioned, the owner of vast possessions has other blessings poured into his lap, such as money alone will not purchase. God has given to him wealth freely to enjoy, and he has around him the costlier and more precious possessions-children by whom he is revered and loved--the esteem and respect of his fellows--and, what no man can afford to despise, the good-will and affection of the humblest and the poorest who live in his neighbourhood. And had we the power of sketching vividly such a case as this--could we delineate to you the owner of some ample property, whom, nevertheless, ancestral honours have not made proud, but who demeans himself alike to all with the gentle courtesy and condescension, which are the true elements of real nobility; who employs what God hath given him, not merely for his own selfish gratification, but finds happiness in diffusing around him what may minister to the comfort of others--could we picture to you that man, around whom his children and his children’s children delight to cluster, with feelings of veneration and affection; or who, when he walks abroad, receives the unbought benediction of the poor, because they respect him for his virtues, and love him for his charities--even in a case like this, there would be no contradiction to the truth that “his life”--his real life--“consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” And supposing Christianity to have exerted its influence on this man’s heart, and brought him as a penitent suppliant to sue for mercy at the feet of the Redeemer, and led him to rejoice in the hope which is laid up for a believer, oh! he will be the very last to deem that his real life could consist in the abundance of his possessions, He might lawfully thank God, who had conferred upon him means of scattering so many blessings around him, and sources of so much comfort to himself; but, above all, he would rather thank God for having taught him to “use this world without abusing it”--to regard himself as no more than the tenant at will, with but a passing interest in the possession confided to his trust; to recollect, and to act upon the recollection, of a coming period, when every earthly possession, be it howsoever costly or large, will have to be forsaken and thus he would be foremost to confess, that “a man’s life consisteth not in the things which he possesseth.” Alas! he might well say, for those who act as though it doth; a thousand causes may arise to embitter the enjoyment which springs from possession; or, if these in God’s providence are warded off, then the more unsullied the temporal happiness, the more confounding is the thought that death will interrupt it. And surely this is enough to vindicate the accuracy of what is declared in our text. (R. Bickersteth, M. A.)

Covetousness a tyranny

The muscles of the arm if you never exert them except in one fashion, will become set, so that you cannot move them, like the Indian Fakir, who held his arm aloft so long that he could not take it down again. Man, continuing in sin, becomes fixed in its habit. Only the other day we read of a great millionaire in New York, who once was weak enough to resolve to give a beggar a penny. He had grown old in covetousness, and he recollected himself just as he was about to bestow the gift, and said, “I should like to give you the penny, but you see I should have to lose the interest of it for ever, and I could not afford that.” Habit grows upon a man. Everybody knows that when he has been making money, if he indulges the propensity to acquire, it will become a perfectly tyrannical master, ruling his own being. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The vice of covetousness

It is a vice that increases in those who harbour it, making them miserable and utterly mean. A very wealthy French banker, worth many hundred thousand francs, would not purchase for himself a little meat when he was almost dying for want of the nourishment. A Russian miser used to go about his house at night barking like a dog, to prevent robbers coming to get any of his great wealth, and because he would not be at the expense of keeping a dog. Are not covetous people punished as the dog in the fable was, which, in snatching at the shadow in the water, lost the meat he had in his mouth? or as Tantalus was, of whom the ancients said he was up to the neck and surrounded with all good things, but he could never get or enjoy one of them? Covetous persons are also like the old man of whom Bunyan tells, who spent his life in raking together dirt, straw, and worthless things; whilst he never heeded the immortal crown an angel offered him. Rowland Hill said, “Covetous persons should be hung up by their heels, that all their money might fall from their pockets, for it would do them good to lose it, and others good to get it.” (Henry R. Burton.)

The danger of covetousness

A shepherd boy, of small experience, was one day leading his little flock near the entrance of a mountain cavern. He had been told that precious stones had often been discovered in such places. He was, therefore, tempted to leave his charge, and turn aside to explore the dark recesses of the cavern. He began to crawl in, but as he proceeded his face took on a veil of cobwebs, and his hands mittens of mud. He had not gone far when he saw two gems of a ruby glow lying near each other. He put forth his eager fingers to seize them, when a serpent bit him. In pain and fear he crawled quickly back to the light of day, and ran home to the chief shepherd to obtain some remedy for the bite. The good man, who was also his elder brother, sucked the poison from the wound, and applied to it a healing balm. Never afterwards did that shepherd covet the treasures which may lie concealed behind mountain rocks. (Hervey’s Manual of Revivals.)

No profit in possessions

What is Alexander now the greater for his power? What is Caesar the higher for his honour? What is Aristotle the wiser for his knowledge? What delight hath Jezebel in her paint? Or Ahab in his vineyard? What is a delicious banquet to Dives in hell? Or, what satisfaction can the remembrance of these transitory delights bring? All the beauty, honour, riches, and knowledge in the world will not purchase one moment’s ease. All the rivers of pleasure, which are now run out and dry, and only flow in our remembrance, will not cool a tongue (Colossians 2:22). (A. Farindon.)

Riches cannot purchase satisfaction

Think you that great and rich persons live more content? Believe it not. If they will deal freely, they can but tell you the contrary; that there is nothing but a show in them, and that great estates and places have great grief and cares attending them, as shadows are proportioned to their bodies (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11). (Abp. Leighton.)

The true standard of riches

No man can tell whether he is rich or poor by turning to his ledger. It is the heart that makes a man rich. He is rich or poor according to what he is, not according to what he has. (H. W.Beecher.)

Avarice, a fearful disease

Cortes was asked by various Mexican States, what commodites or drugs he wanted, and was promised an abundant supply. He and his Spaniards, he answered, had a disease at their hearts, which nothing but gold could cure; and he had received intelligence that Mexico abounded with it. Under the pretence of a friendly conference, he made Montezuma his prisoner, and ordered him to pay tribute to Charles V. Immense sums were paid; but the demand was boundless. Tumults ensued. Cortes displayed amazing generalship; and some millions of the natives were sacrificed to the disease of his heart. (Percy.)

Greed of avarice

We see the most rich worldlings live the most miserably, slaved to that wealth whereof they keep the key under their girdles. Esuriunt in popina, as we say, “they starve in a cook’s shop.” A man would think that, if wealth could do any good, it could surely do this good, keep the owner from want, hunger, sorrow, care. No, even these evils riches do not avoid, but rather force on him. Whereof is a man covetous but of riches? When these riches come, you think he is cured of his covetousness: no, he is more covetous; though the desires of his mind be granted, yet this precludes not the access of new desires to the mind. So a man might strive to extinguish the lamp by putting oil into it; but this makes it burn more. And as it is with some that thirstily drink harsh and ill-brewed drinks, have not their heat allayed, but inflamed; so this worldling’s hot eagerness of riches is not cooled, but fired, by his abundance. (T. Adams.)


Verses 16-21

Luke 12:16-21

The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully

A successful worldly policy

I.
THE PICTURE OF A SUCCESSFUL WORLDLY POLICY.

1. No sin in worldly success.

2. No sin in wise and thoughtful provision for worldly goods.

3. The sin consisted in his regarding the possessions as his own absolute property.

II. THE PICTURE OF A DISASTROUS WORLDLY POLICY.

1. A foolish life because of the narrowness of its aims and purposes. You have seen some little ant-hill with its teeming life, a miniature world of employment and duty; its busy inhabitants absorbed and careless of any world beyond their own. So this man spent his life, and spent it, perhaps, happily enough, getting and spending, and gathering and consuming, and pulling down and building up again; until that other life and that other world thundered in upon him and would not be forgotten. For mark what is the great lesson after all. It is the fatal want in the man’s character and life to which Christ would call our attention. Not what he had, but what he lacked was his undoing. He was rich toward man, but he was not rich toward God, and so while men called him “a success,” God called him “a fool.”

2. Again, this policy is a disastrous one, and this life is called a foolish life, because of its hopes and expectations. The man evidently calculated upon finding happiness some time or other in the future. Like most of us, he had never been exactly at ease, but now that he is to retire from active life--what promises men do make themselves when they have given up business!--when his new barns are built, then he will eat and drink and be merry.How human this is, for “man never is but always to be blessed.”

3. A foolish life because of its false security. The one flaw was there. He calculated on a long life. The door was fastened against poverty, and the time of undue labour and anxiety was past, and the house of feasting was ready; but there was one visitor against whom he could not bar the door. “All men think all men mortal but themselves,” and the danger which haunts us through life is of all things most unreal to us. Years ago among the Swiss mountains there was a village over which an avalanche had hung threateningly for nearly half a century. It was only a question of time, sooner or later it must come down and bury all beneath. Travellers warned the inhabitants of that village, but apathy only grew stronger with familiarity. Grey-headed men who had played as boys underneath the awful crags, now gathered in their harvest contentedly with scarcely a glance at the threatening danger. So all went on until one calm summer day, when, with scarcely a warning sound, down came the overwhelming mass, bringing destruction and death upon all beneath.

III. Lastly, we have here THE PICTURE OF THE END OF A MERELY WORLDLY POLICY. Suddenly, unexpectedly, with no other warning than this of the text, the last hours of life have come. Like that avenging angel who passed over the households of Egypt, so with this man, the death angel is coming amid the shadows and with the darkness. How the hours of that terrible night must have worn on slow as centuries! He began it with pleasant promises, in health, and strength, and hopefulness, a reaper and a gatherer in the harvest fields; and lo! he, too, feels the sharp thrust of the sickle, and that amid the unripe grain which yields no promise of fruitfulness. He ends it, and with this one short, thrilling, awful night, the tragedy of life is over. I have read of one hanging over a fearful precipice who, looking up, saw the rope by which he hung jagged and worn against the sharp rock to a single thread which could hold out but a moment longer. So this man’s spirit must have hung over eternity that night. Consider it! God’s salvation, the teachings of wisdom, were with him as with all. Yet thus it was, that a life of privileges, and great worldly prosperity, and multiplied blessings, ended thus disastrously amid overwhelming confusion. With God so near, and infinite mercy never afar off, life darkened and darkened until the last glimmer of hope was gone, and the man was left to grope his way amid the shadows of an everlasting night. (W. Baxendale.)

Of the deceitfulness of riches

Riches deceive the worldly-minded--

1. In regard to their earthly felicity--for--

2. In regard to true felicity; for--

The rich fool

I. A GOOD CULTIVATOR

1. He was rich. So is God. So were Abraham, Job, David. “The love of money” (not money itself) “is the root of all evil.”

2. His investment was wise. Land cannot be consumed by fire, or removed by foe.

3. His farm was prosperous. He understood his business.

II. A BAD CALCULATOR. He undertakes to solve the problem of life, and proves a wretched bungler in the use of figures.

1. He omits the greatest factor in the problem. God forgotten, the problem works out wrong.

2. He makes a wrong estimate of the soul.

3. A wrong distribution of his goods.

4. Wrong calculation of time. (Anon.)

The rich man--where right and where wrong

I. WHERE RIGHT.

1. It was right that his ground should bring forth plentifully. Industry, &c.

2. It was right that he reflect, “What shall I do?” Common sense.

II. WHERE WRONG.

1. He was wrong when he said, “I have no room.” Not barn-room, but soul-room, life-room. He measured his room by measuring his barn.

2. He was wrong when he said, “My fruits and my goods; my soul.” That was all wrong. He was not his own.

3. He was wrong when he said, “And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years.” He had the goods, but not the years.

4. He was wrong when he said, “I will say to my soul … Take thine case.” Here the man was all animal. The mistake was, that he had left God out of account in his calculations. (Homiletic Review.)

A business man’s mistake

I. Let us in the outset look at some of the ATTRACTIVE CHARACTERISTICS which this man exhibited.

1. For one thing, he was wealthy. Observe the Bible never is found joining in with any wild tirade against riches. Inspiration has not even said, as some quote it, that money is the root of evil. On the whole, it is a good thing to be rich; great usefulness can be attained by silver and gold.

2. This man in the parable was successful in business. That shows well as an evidence of his shrewdness and industry. He is considered a benefactor to the world at large, who makes two spears of grass grow where only one grew before, for he thus augments the general wealth.

3. Furthermore, this was a prudent man. He shows himself in the recorded soliloquy here as being thoughtful concerning the future.

II. But now let us consider some EXTRAORDINARY MISTAKES which this wealthy man made.

1. To begin with, he made a mistake in thinking there was no place for produce except in barns. It is a fool’s question to ask where one can stow away money; it is the part of a wiser man to ask how he can do God service with the use of it. Just that is what this man did not think of doing.

2. So we see another mistake he made: he supposed his riches would be a comfort to him when they were hoarded. Whereas they became then only a care and a burden. Money is our instrument, not our end. When it goes beyond that, it owns us, instead of our owning it. The nearest approach to the old disease of the possession of devils that we have in modern times is exhibited when a man is possessed of the money he think he possesses.

3. The third mistake this man made was worse than any one of the others: he left out of his thoughts all consideration of the infinite God who made and owned him. He says “my” barns, “my” goods, “my” fruits, and even “my” soul. It would seem that he imagined he was the absolute proprietor of all he touched in two worlds. He fell into the radical error of forgetting he was at the best only the steward of God who had sent him his unusual harvests.

4. But this mistake inevitably led to another: he seems to admit that his soul has no higher needs than his body (see Luke 12:19). The word here is “dialogued”; he is pictured as holding a sort of complacent conversation with himself. To us there is an intense impression of sadness in his use of such expressions as are recorded. He talks to his immortal soul in terms of the grossest familiarity, as if that soul ought to be grateful to him for his generous foresight in having made quite sufficient provision for all its future. Do souls need luxurious ease? Are they to be for evermore content with having enough to eat and to drink? Are souls to be congratulated by rich people in this unctuous way just because there is much fodder stored now in the new barns? Is being merry what the image of God in man has been hankering after all these years? Most of us have read the story of the shipwrecked mariner on an inhospitable island perishing with famine. One day a box was suddenly swept ashore, and he rushed eagerly to loosen its fastenings; but he fell back in fainting disappointment and consternation, saying, “Alas, it is only some passenger’s pearls!” When this soul of ours is at last off upon the eternal shore, unready and unfurnished, will its undying hunger be appeased with indigestible jewels of earthly opulence alone? And will it be merry then?

III. We must come back to the parable now once more, in order to consider THE SEVERE REBUKES WHICH THIS RICH MAN RECEIVED.

1. In the first place, God summoned his soul away from him. Opulent men grow old just like other people. Some of them also die young and in middle life just like other people. As life is running on in our great American wear and tear of money-getting, it is coming to be more and more observable that they are apt to die suddenly. The stripe of the street saps the vitalities of many human constitutions. There are vast solicitudes bred by unusual increase of property, and the work often does much, while the worry does more, to shorten life. Death sometimes comes in the night.

2. In the second place, this man’s property was ignominiously scattered. Those new barns were never builded, after all. There is a striking rhetorical power here in the use of the question rather than of the assertion. The vagueness of the certain distribution of hoarded fortunes is what constitutes its worst unwelcomeness to the owner. Oh, what stores of enforced wisdom this reluctant old world has been obliged to acquire on this its most sensitive point! It actually sounds like irony to raise such a question in times like ours. How have we seen wills broken, legacies diverted, fortunes squandered, and all the favourite plans of the year thwarted on the instant, by some unwise and an anticipated heir! (see Ecclesiastes 2:18-19). It was the wisest man in the world that laid that; and his son was a fool--or a knave, which was undoubtedly worse. Mark, then, the conclusion of the whole matter (see verse 21). Will the thousand daily histories never teach men wisdom? Think over Hugh Miller’s words: “The climax is a favourite figure in the book of Providence. God speaks to us in His dispensations; and in the most eloquent terms of His discourse, piles up instance upon instance with sublime and impressive profusion.” (C. S.Robinson, D. D.)

The foolish rich man

I. The folly of this man appears m the fact that HE COMPLETELY IGNORED HIS RESPONSIBILITY TO GOD IN THE MATTER OF HIS POSSESSIONS.

1. He speaks throughout as if he had all the merit of his prosperity, and gives God no praise; while the idea that any portion of the increase of his fields belonged to God seems never to have entered into his mind. But does this man stand alone in this particular? Are we not all too prone to take to ourselves the sole credit for any prosperity we have acquired, or for any eminence we have reached?

2. The destriction to himself of the honour of his success led directly to the complete appropriation by this man of its fruits. He never thought of consulting God about the disposal of his property. And there are multitudes among us, who never pray to God about their business at all. Some may pray that He would send them prosperity; but when the prosperity comes, how few there are, comparatively speaking, who lay their wealth at His feet, and ask Him to direct them in disposing of it!

II. The folly of this man appears in the fact that HE IGNORES THE CLAIMS OF OTHER MEN UPON HIM FOR HIS HELP. He had no idea, apparently, that there was any other possible way of bestowing his goods than by storing them in his barns. As Augustine has replied to his soliloquy: “Thou hast barns, the bosoms of the needy, the houses of widows, the mouths of orphans and of infants”; these are the true storehouses for surplus wealth. It is right to provide for those who are dependent upon us; it is prudent to lay up something in store against a possible evil day; but after that, the storehouse of wealth should be benevolence. I have somewhere read that a lady once went to call upon a friend near the close of autumn, and found her emptying her closets, and exclaiming, “Oh, these moths! these moths! that have consumed almost everything that I laid away in the beginning of the summer.” The visitor expressed her sorrow, but said she did not know what it was to have a garment moth-eaten. Whereupon her friend asked for the specific which she used, and to her surprise received for answer, “I gave away to the poor, months ago, all the garments for which I had no longer use; and there was no difficulty in preserving the remainder from the moths.”

III. The folly of this man is seen in the fact that HE IMAGINED THAT MATERIAL THINGS WERE PROPER FOOD FOR HIS SOUL. True riches--or, in other words, the true food of the soul, by which alone it can be nourished and satisfied--are to be found in God alone. Reconciliation to God, peace with God, likeness to God, and fellowship with God, that alone can fill the heart of man. God for us in the work of His Son, God with us in the orderings of His providence, God in us in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and God before us in the hope of heaven, that is the true food of the spirit of man; and to think of sustaining it with material fruits and goods and possessions, is as absurd as it would be to try to satisfy the hunger of the body with a diamond, or to quench the thirst of the body with a pearl.

IV. The folly of this rich man is apparent from the fact that HE HAD ENTIRELY IGNORED THE TRUTH THAT HIS MATERIAL POSSESSIONS WERE NOT

TO BE HIS FOR EVER. “There are no pockets in a shroud.” “How much did he leave?” asked one man of another, in the street-car, as they were talking of a millionaire whose death had been announced in the morning paper. “All he had,” was the solemn and suggestive reply. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Unsanctified riches

I. THE OCCASION OF THIS PARABLE.

II. THE INCIDENTS IT DESCRIBES.

1. The circumstances in which this person was placed.

2. The anxieties of which he was the subject.

3. The projects upon which he resolved.

4. The spirit by which he was actuated.

(1) Ungodliness.

(2) Earthliness.

5. The fearful doom which awaited him. A person once said on his deathbed, “I have gained thirty thousand pounds.” A very decent sum, many may be disposed to remark; it is not the lot of every adventurer to be so successful. But there was something he lost as well as gained; and, in general, the losses and the gains are placed one against the other. “I have gained,” was his language, “thirty thousand pounds, but I have lost my soul.” These were the two sides of the balance sheet which he was now, at the close of life, making up: thirty thousand pounds on the one side, the soul lost on the other. The separate items on both sides of the sheet might have been numerous. He did not gain the sum specified all at once, nor was the soul lost at once. But the winding up of the whole affair, after adding to this and deducting from that, presented the conclusion which has been given. But was it a good speculation? We should like to put the question to men of judgment, of practical wisdom, of cool and calculating habits, who can turn a matter over, looking first at one side, and then at the other, and ask them, whether it really was? But whatever their opinion might be, we have the verdict of One, whose competency to judge in such a case cannot be questioned. His language is, “What shall it profit a man if he gain”--not thirty thousand pounds, but--“the whole world, and, lose his own soul; or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”

III. THE LESSONS IT INCULCATES. The attainment of heavenly riches should be our great concern.

1. They are durable.

2. Their possession is unattended with any danger.

3. They are accessible to all.

4. They should be sought earnestly, and without delay.

(Expository Outlines.)

Christ’s picture of a worldly life

I. THE PROSPERITY OF A WORLDLY LIFE.

1. This man prospered by means of a legitimate calling.

2. His prosperity was largely the outcome of his industry and good management.

3. To his own industry had been added the blessing of God, without which a man must toil in vain.

II. THE PERPLEXITY OF A WORLDLY LIFE. When the heart is set on material wealth, it will become burdened with care. There is a state of mind in which it is possible to be happy and rich with little.

III. THE SELFISH SCHEMING of a worldly life. “This will I do,” &c. His ruling spirit is selfishness; he lives and moves in the little world of self. “Get all you can and keep all you get,” seems to be the motto of his life. He was a close-fisted man of the world, whose earthly soul had been hardened by the sun of prosperity.

1. He forgets his relation to his fellow-men. He acts as if he had no connection with the race. He has no thought of brotherhood.

2. He does not recognize his obligation to the Divine. No thankoffering for the Giver of all good. He sacrifices only at the shrine of self.

IV. THE MISTAKE OF A WORLDLY LIFE.

1. Forgetfulness of God.

2. The underrating of his spiritual nature, and the overrating of his material possessions.

3. Forgetfulness of death, and presuming on “many years.”

V. THE DIVINE JUDGMENT ON A WORLDLY LIFE.

1. A revelation of character.

2. Startlingly sudden.

3. Upsets all plans.

4. Seals worldling’s doom. (W. Smith.)

A wise fool

I. Let us look at him simply in the light of this world, and try to ESTIMATE HIS CHARACTER ACCORDING TO THOSE PRINCIPLES BY WHICH WE ORDINARILY GAUGE THE WISDOM AND WORTH OF OUR FELLOW-MEN.

1. It is evident that he was an industrious man.

2. It is pretty clear, too, that this was a careful, frugal man. He not only made money, but knew how to save what he made.

3. Then this man was a thoughtful, judicious man.

4. This man was a rich man.

5. It may be taken for granted that this man was highly respected in the neighbourhood in which he lived.

6. It is pretty evident that this man was influential, as well as respected.

II. Let us shift our point of observation, and LOOK AT THIS MAN IN THE LIGHT OF ETERNITY.

1. His folly appears in his total misapprehension of the true end of life.

2. His folly is seen in his total misapprehension of the nature and the necessities of the soul.

3. His folly is seen in the mistaken notion which he has respecting the right use of wealth.

4. His folly is seen in the proposals which he makes to himself in respect to time, without any reference whatever to Him to whom alone time belongs. (W. S.Blackstoek.)

Unsanctified riches

I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES IN WHICH THIS MAN WAS PLACED. He was prosperous, and increasingly so. Just in such circumstances as most people long for. There are several interesting inquiries connected with the acquisition of riches; such as, how far the desire of acquisition may be indulged--where is the point at which it becomes criminal--and what are the consequences of its excess and abuse. It would much assist, did such maxims as the following meet with due acknowledgment.

1. That riches, with their attendant comforts and influence, are to be regarded as the bestowments of Providence.

2. That riches, with their attendant comforts and influence, furnish means for extended usefulness.

3. That riches with their attendant comforts and influence, involve the pressure of a solemn responsibility.

II. THE MEDITATIONS IN WHICH HE INDULGED. Observe the different aspects of imperfection and sin which the recorded meditations comprehend.

1. In the state of his mind as to the source of his possessions. There is no allusion to God, as the giver of the good in which he delighted (Ho Proverbs 30:8-9).

2. In the intended application of property, Ought there not to have been some act of charity to man, or some gift to the temple of God?

3. In the mode of calculating on futurity. “This will I do: I will pull down my barns.” And then--“I will say unto my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years” (Proverbs 27:1; James 4:13; Jam_4:15).

4. In the nature of desired and anticipated enjoyment. “Take thine ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”

(a) There is indicated a fondness for indulgences, in themselves utterly unworthy of the intellectual nature with which man is endowed.

(b) There is a careful and an entire exclusion of all that belongs to the interests and redemption of the soul.

III. THE REPROOF BY WHICH HE WAS ARRESTED.

1. AS to the event announced in the message of God--how momentous? “Thy soul shall be required of thee.” Besides the separation of the individual from worldly riches, the event announced comprehends his appearance before God for judgment (Luke 16:19-26).

2. As to the time when this event was to be fulfilled--how soon it was to come!--“This night!” Ere another sun arose, his destiny would be sealed. (The Preachers’ Treasury.)

The rich fool

A rich man. Look at him. He is what almost all would like to be, and are striving to be. Or, if not striving to be, it is because they despair of success, and not because they would not be rich if they might. A rich man! who would not be glad to stand in his lot? Take heed, and beware. Mark the effect of this man’s wealth upon him.

1. It increased his covetousness.

2. It made him anxious.

3. Selfish.

4. Atheistical.

5. Sensual. (The Preachers’ Treasury.)

The rich fool

I. THE RICH MAN’S POSSESSIONS.

II. HIS ANXIETIES. Riches and cares are inseparably wedded together.

III. His DETERMINATIONS.

1. He resolves on the means of accumulation.

2. He forms his arrangements without any reference to the providence of God.

3. He reckons on his riches as the joy and portion of his soul.

4. He confidently calculates on an extended existence.

IV. His SUDDEN AND FATAL ARRESTMENT.

1. Observe how he is disturbed by the voice of Deity. “God said”--either by some deep, unmistakable impression on his heart and conscience, or by some sudden infliction of disease.

2. Mark the sudden termination of his career.

3. The eternal ruin of his soul. (J. Burns, D. D.)

The rich worldling

I. HIS CIRCUMSTANCES. Rich, prosperous. A state of imminent danger. It is difficult to be prosperous and rich--

1. Without loving riches. The love of money, &c. Whoso loveth the world, etc.

2. Without thinking ourselves the better and greater for these. How they puff up the mind. How men glory in their professions.

3. Without trusting in them, and not in God. There is danger when full, of denying Him.

II. His CHARACTER. God gives it, therefore must be correct. “Thou fool.” Now, his folly is seen in the following particulars:

1. In being anxious amidst profusion.

2. Because he expected his soul to be happy with temporal things. He tried to make an earthworm of his soul. He wished to grovel in the dust.

3. Because he presumptuously calculated on years to come.

III. His END.

1. Sudden and unexpected.

2. Unprepared.

3. Dreadfully momentous. Application:

1. Do not idolize, and trust in riches.

2. Be anxious for your soul’s welfare.

3. Come to Jesus. He will make you wise to eternal life.

4. Do not presume. Do not calculate upon the future. (J. Burns, D. D.)

The character and end of a sensualist

I. THE FOLLY OF THE PERSON MENTIONED. The man’s folly consisted in--

1. His making the things of this life his chief good.

2. His supposing that worldly goods would satisfy his soul. The folly of such conduct will appear, if we consider

3. Presuming on continued, on long life. He said, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years.” How infatuated must that man have been, who could thus calculate! (see Psalms 49:11-13). Do we not see mortals arrested, and borne to their graves, at every stage of life!

II. THE MANNER IN WHICH GOD TREATED THE SUBJECT OF THIS FOLLY.

1. He was called away suddenly.

2. Unexpectedly.

3. Amidst a profusion of worldly goods.

4. By language that strongly expressed the Divine displeasure.

Reflections:

1. Worldly prosperity is so far from being a proof of personal goodness, or of the Divine favour, that the subjects of it may be so wicked as to incur sudden and severe destruction.

2. The proper enjoyment of life does not depend on large possessions (verse 15).

3. Rich men are, on account of their riches, in peculiar danger--of living without God--of indulging in sensual gratifications--of presuming on long life--and of neglecting their souls.

4. Life is uncertain. It is therefore our highest wisdom to be living for eternity. (Theological Sketch-book.)

God and the sensualist

I. THE SENSUALIST’S ADDRESS TO HIS SOUL.

1. Converse with the soul is proper and necessary.

2. Converse with the soul should be adapted to its nature as immortal, and should regard its eternal felicity.

3. Converse with the soul should have a tendency to excite its instant and ardent attention to everlasting happiness. But the rich sensualist in the text converses in a way altogether different.

1. He discovers erroneous ideas of true enjoyment, and represents the uncertain things of this world as capable of conferring happiness on an immortal mind, endeavouring to satisfy that which is spiritual with that which is material, and that which is undying with that which is perishable.

2. He over rates worldly substance by giving it a durable and satisfying quality.

3. He degrades his soul, and endeavours to persuade it to compromise its eternal interests, and to seek that in gluttony, drunkenness, and the allurements of pleasure, which can be found in God only.

II. THE VOICE OF GOD TO THE SENSUALIST.

1. God takes notice of the conduct of sinners in regard to their souls.

2. The Almighty interrupts his schemes, and annihilates his ideas of enjoyment. “But God said unto him.” I will darken thy perspective, and suspend thy enjoyments--thy building, founded in delusion, shall suddenly vanish--thy soul shall depart, and thy goods be the portion of another. And, when thou art spoiled, what wilt thou do?

3. The rich man is charged with folly.

4. He is summoned to surrender his soul. (R. Cope, LL. D.)

On worldly-mindedness

I. The EVIL of this rich man’s conduct. Nothing whatever of a criminal nature is laid to his charge, as to the manner in which his abundant wealth had been acquired. No oppression, no avaricious extortion, no “grinding of the faces of the poor,” nothing unfair or dishonest, nothing even ungenerous, is alleged against him; and what is not so much as insinuated in the narrative, we are not entitled to suppose. Nothing appears in the simple statement, but the blessing of Providence upon lawful industry--the luxuriant productiveness of his fields: “The grounds of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully.” For this, surely, the proprietor was not to blame. What, then, is the grand error, what the leading and predominant sin, of this poor rich man? I answer, in one word, worldliness; or in another, which, though negative in its form, will be found of much the same positive amount, ungodliness. There is a total absence of God. In receiving, calculating, resolving, anticipating, “God is not in all his thoughts.” Let us trace out a little this general observation in a few particulars.

1. There is, then, in the first place, the deliberate choice of the world, and the things of the world, as his portion, not only in preference to God, and the things of God, but without even a thought of the Divine favour and blessing as any essential ingredient in the cup of felicity, or as at all necessary to the legitimate and full enjoyment of his “good things.” This did not enter into his estimate.

2. In the second place, he forgot God as the giver of all that he enjoyed, and the object of his gratitude. He received the gift, and forgot the Giver. He rioted in the unrestrained enjoyment of a profusion of good, and overlooked the hand from which it came. He “gave not God the glory.”

3. In connection with the absence of gratitude for the past and the present, there was, in the third place, no proper sense of dependence on God for the future. This appears, both in regard to his wealth, and in regard to his life. The continuance of both depended every moment on the Divine will. But this is entirely out of mind: “I will say unto my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” While he forgot that God had given, he forgot also that God could take away.

4. In the fourth place, he overlooks the authority of God as his rule, and the glory of God as his end, in the use of his riches. He lives but for himself. Selfishness is his law, selfishness is his aim.

5. He forgets, too, in the last place, the account which he had to render to God of the manner in which he used His bounties.

II. The FOLLY of this rich man’s conduct.

1. His folly consisted, in the first place, in seeking his happiness from unworthy and inadequate sources.

2. The folly consisted, secondly, in depending upon the greatest uncertainties; yes, on known, acknowledged, proverbial uncertainties. We have formerly seen how he reckons on the continuance both of property and of life. This was impious. It was ungodly presumption--practical atheism in one of its various forms. But the folly of it was not less egregious than its impiety. It is the very extreme of infatuation, to calculate and to proceed upon what we know to be in the highest degree precarious. “Be wise to-day.” To-morrow you may never see. Even of to-day, the present moment alone can be called your own; and every moment you delay the preparation for a coming eternity is a moment of folly--folly, of which the unutterable amount will felt, when it is too late to redeem your guilty error, at the judgment-seat of God.

3. This leads me to notice more particularly a third ingredient in the folly--that, namely, of minding time, and forgetting eternity; occupying himselfwith the enjoyment (according to his unworthy conceptions of it) of the life that now is, and making no provision for the life that is to come. How striking, how awakening, how mortifying the question, “ Then, whose shall those things be which thou hast provided? “ He had provided them for himself, but in a few hours they were to cease to be his. He had provided them for many years, storing them up with anxious and self-applauding care, as a portion for a long life; but the years on which he counted he was never to see. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

Covetousness

I. A SOLEMN WARNING AGAINST COVETOUSNESS AS OBSCURING OUR VIEW OF, AND LEADING US TO DISREGARD, THE TRUE PRINCIPLE OF LIVING.

II. THE PROCESS BY WHICH A MAN MAY BECOME COVETOUS. The instance given by our Saviour is not an extreme one. It is one adapted rather for a standard example of a process subtle and gradual, from whose operation no man is exempt. The successive steps of the process, as here delineated, are:

1. Prosperity (Luke 12:16). His prosperity was not culpable. It was a blessing of God. It may have been creditable to the rich man. His good husbandry may have been thus rewarded. No gain could be more legitimate. He was rich in the crop, not through speculation in it, or in an exorbitant price put upon it, as it stood in the field.

2. Calculation (Luke 12:17). To plan, again, is not sinful. It is a duty rather. But, natural and right though the question (“What shall I do?”) is, it is dangerous. One needs to guard vigilantly, lest he make so much of the question, “What shall I do to save?” that he shall make too little of the question infinitely more pressing, “What shall I do to be saved?”

3. The decision to increase his investments (Luke 12:18). In this decision, again, there is no necessary guilt. The purpose formed by the rich man was not of necessity a covetous one. True, he might, as one of the Fathers suggests, have made barns of the houses of the poor, the mouths of orphans and widows. But these are not the only lawful storehouses. Men may accumulate, may increase accumulations. We do right to broaden our plans, to tear down and build greater. All social and material progress would cease if this spirit of enterprise should be quenched. All improvements in our modes of travel, of business, of living, are results of this spirit, which grasps the significance of prosperity, wisely forecasts the future, and at critical junctures says, “I will tear down and build greater.” It is a grand trait in man or nation, this of making large, bold plans for the future. Through it God is subduing the world. Nevertheless, be on your guard against this spirit. It can only be safely exercised under the most vigilant observation, lest we become selfish in our plans, making them centre in ourselves. This was the grand mistake which the rich man actually made, viz.:

4. The appropriation of his goods (Luke 12:19). Before, he had pressed the limit of innoceney; now he passed it. This was more than a dangerous choice; it was a guilty one. It became manifest now that he had long been suffering his sense of accountability to decline; it had died out; and, with atheistic hardihood, he erased the name of God in the deeds and bonds, and substituted his own. Such a process may have with us a similar result.

III. THE FOLLY OF THE COVETOUS MAN AS SEEN IN HIS FATE. He made at least three fatal mistakes:

1. He assumed that what we have is ours. This is not the reasonable or the natural view of property. The parable of the pounds is intelligible to children. The conception it presents, viz., that we hold our property in trust, is agreeable to our natural conviction.

2. That the soul is richer the more goods one has (Luke 12:19). “Soul, thou hast much goods.” We shrink from the coarse suggestion that a man’s life consists in his goods. But may it not consist in the abundance of his goods? No. Possessions are not life; cannot give it, cannot sustain it. It is true for every human being. Young man, or woman, seeking possessions and not life--you who have gained a little of earth’s treasure, and are setting your heart upon it unawares--remember, oh, remember! that possessions are not life. This house, this stock, this land are not your life. Remember that you may make these things your life. They may become you by an unconscious process of transfer. Are your goods you? Consider. Subtract from your thoughts, your imagination, your affections, your purposes, your property, what will be left? Will your very life be gone? Will it make no substantial difference? Will you be rich toward God?

3. The rich man assumed that he could reckon on the future. This was a terrible mistake: God waked him from it. He stands transfixed. He listens to the terrible voice: “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee.” “This night.” Can it be? In the very midst of his hopes and plans, with the barns unbuilt, the fields unreaped,the figs untasted? May he die tonight? Is it fixed? Must he die to-night? Can it be possible that with his fortune secured his life is insecure; not merely that, is doomed? Whether he lies down upon his bed, or sits and watches, with all the house alight, or flees from God, will death come to-night? And to-morrow morning will they be whispering, “He is dead”? Will another master stand here in the dewy field and see the skimming swallow, and hear the droning bee? Will all his wealth be another’s to-morrow? Will another build the barns, another store and spend the harvest? Who was this fool? May it be you? Among the human remains exhumed at Pompeii are those of a woman laden with treasure, hastily seized and still hugged tightly in her arms. She was evidently caught on the very threshold of her own dwelling by the avalanche of ashes. Her sudden fright remains upon her face, indelibly printed there, an awful suggestion of the horrors of the unexampled tragedy. What figure could more fitly illustrate our Saviour’s warning! Well might it be placed in every square of the city, with mutely eloquent dissuasion, to admonish us of the danger of a covetous love of this world. Look upon this ill-fated woman. Look upon the rich fool. Listen to the Saviour’s words. Take heed, and beware of covetousness. (G. R. Leavitt.)

The rich fool

Of this man nothing ill is actually said, nothing bad really appears. If we look at him as he is described, it is hard to say how he was worse than most of us. It is true that he spoke overmuch of my this and my that: “I have no room,” he said, “to bestow my fruits; I will pull down my barns, and build greater, and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.” But do we not all do the same? The crops which have rewarded long toil, the profits yielded to patient enterprize, the little hoard painfully earned and saved, do we not call them ours, and think them ours too? Do we not talk of our corn, of our earnings, of our balance in the bank--and this not merely for convenience of speech, but because we regard ourselves as the actual independent owners of them? Do we not very generally forget that, in truth, all that we have is not ours, but God’s--lent to us by Him, that part may be given back directly for His service, that the rest may be profitably spent to His glory, and that all may be given account of at the last day? It is true, also, that he spoke too rashly of the future, as if that also were his own: “I will pull down my barns, and build greater”; and yet more, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years.” But do not we for the most part do the same? When things have prospered with us, when our returns come in, do not we too make pleasant plans, and promise ourselves so much ease, so much enjoyment for the future? Do we not make promise to ourselves of building this new house or setting up that new carriage, of taking a pleasant journey here, or making a happy home there, and have no thought of God in it all? Yea; and though we should add a D.V. or a “God willing” to it, is it not generally a mere pretence of submission--as much as to say, we are aware that He can prevent it, if He chooses, but we do not at all suppose He will? Again, it is true that the man was profane in addressing such words as he did to his soul: “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; eat, drink, and be merry.” Souls do not eat or drink, neither can they rest and enjoy themselves on the strength of so many hundreds a year, and when he used the word it should have reminded him that the higher part of his nature required other and better provision for the many years to come. But no doubt he spoke ignorantly, meaning only to address himself, and regarding himself on the whole as a being whose chief end was to eat and drink and amuse himself--as an organization mainly capable of enjoying meats and drinks, ofwelcoming cessation from toil, and of delighting in the good things of this world. Have we, as a rule, attained any higher view? Do not we, with far less excuse than he, commonly speak and think of ourselves as if we lived and moved and had our being in the things of this life--as if eating and drinking, ease and merriment, were sufficient to satisfy us? Or, if we rise above these things, do we not seek others equally inappropriate to the true life of the soul--intellectual delights, social pleasures, high positions--gifts of civilization to our modern days, good and noble in their way, but transitory, earthly, and therefore incapable of sustaining those immortal souls, which can only be filled with the love of God, which can be satisfied with nothing less than Him. “Soul,” we say to ourselves, “thou art very well off; the world hath gone well with thee; thou hast enough and to spare; thou hast no cause to envy anybody, while many have reason to envy thee; thou hast done well, and art decidedly to be congratulated.” This is no untrue fancy, as your heart and mind know well: thus does the soul whisper to itself, as it surveys its position; thus does it speak, and thus does God answer it--“Fool, fool that thou art, with all thy silly self-complacency and self-satisfaction; fool, with all thy worldly wisdom and temporal success; fool, with thy well-dressed person and well-filled purse, with thy well-furnished house and well-stored mind; fool, that congratulatest thyself on the possession of these things, and rememberest not that they must perish in an hour, and that thou hast nothing else.” “Fool”--it is God that says it, not I it is His verdict on me, just as much as on you, when I begin to glory in earthly things. He is a fool that takes comfort in a well-fed body while his soul is starving, that regards with satisfaction his veil-dressed person while his soul is still unclad in righteousness, that gazes with complacency upon the length and richness of his rent-roll while his tale of good works remains short and poor, that prides himself on the beauty of his earthly habitation while he is preparing for himself no goodly mansion in the world to come,--a fool, in short, wire suns himself in the momentary warmth and sunshine of to-day, and reeks not of the eternal darkness which must begin for him to-morrow. It may be that we are all fools together, minding earthly things out of all reasonable proportion to the heavenly things. If so, let us endure to be convicted of folly now, that we be not branded as fools before the universe; let us accept the rebuke now, while our souls are our own, lest we meet with it then, when they shall be demanded of us. (R. Winterbotham, M. A.)

The rich fool

1. He was a fool, because he gave not God the glory.

2. He was a fool in God’s account, for the use he intended to make of his possessions.

3. He was a fool, because he confounded body and soul together.

4. He was a fool chiefly in this-that he so confidently and surely reckoned on many years to come. (E. Blencowe, M. A.)

The folly of worldly men

I. Consider THE THINGS WHICH THEY REFUSE.

1. The things which they refuse are of inconceivable value, the very best things of heaven and earth; things did I say? consider what is comprehended in them, viz., God the chief good to be their God, and Jesus Christ; they refuse Him, an interest in Him; they see nothing in Him to desire Him; and now doth not this show them fools? They know not what is good, know not how to choose, they discern not a precious pearl from a worthless pebble.

2. They refuse incorruptible things, such riches that are durable treasure that neither moth nor rust can corrupt.

3. They refuse (though they are ready to perish with hunger) that which is bread, nay, Bread of Life, most rare, sweet, delicious, and soul-nourishing, fattening and satisfying Bread, and all else that is good and proper food for their souls; which except they eat of they must die and perish for ever; and doth not this show they are fools?

4. They count those things not worth one serious thought or regard, which all that were truly wise esteemed above all the treasures, riches, and glory of the whole world; nay, more worth than ten thousand worlds.

Secondly, Let us consider what things they are which worldly men choose, and the nature of them, instead of those things, or before those things which they refuse.

1. They choose things unlawful, or such things that are forbidden, and in their choice inner the wrath and displeasure of God, and are thereby proclaimed enemies and rebels, and such that God’s soul abhors, for by an inordinate love of riches they are idolators: and the covetous God abhorreth.

2. They choose such things that are the portion of reprobates. My brethren, God gives the riches of this world to his enemies, and to such who have their portion in this life, to whom He denies His choicest and chiefest blessings and favours.

3. They are corruptible things, things which perish in the using, things also that are uncertain.

4. They choose the riches, pleasures, and grandeur of this world, which ruin the souls of all trust in them, or set their hearts upon them. The world, in its riches, is a cruel enemy to poor mortals, and such who over-prize them do but hug a viper or serpent in their bosoms, and is not this one article of our faith that the world has well as the flesh and the devil is a mortal enemy to the soul? What, harbour a thief, a treacherous and cruel murderer, in our house, who will soon, if not overcome, lay all the family in their blood, and dead at his foot! what folly greater than this! Ah! how many thousands are now in hell, that the love of this world sent thither, or brought eternal ruin upon.

5. The things wicked rich men choose are but mere vanity or a shadow. “Vanity of vanity, all things are vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2); not vain, but vanity in the abstract, the worst of vanities, and therefore no folly greater than to esteem the riches of this world as a man’s best and chiefest happiness; they weary themselves for very vanity; should you see a man pursue, or run after, and strive to catch or take hold of a shadow, would you not say he was a lunatic, or a natural, or mere fool? Such fools are the rich men of this world. Moreover, empty things that cannot satisfy, gold and silver can satisfy no man: “He that coveteth silver shall not be satisfied with silver, nor he that loveth abundance with increase, this is also vanity” Ecclesiastes 5:10). This shows his folly; he hath abundance, and yet desires more as if he had nothing, and is never content and satisfied with what he hath, and yet counts these things the best of all good; which shows he is a fool.

6. The love of riches is the root of all evil; and such “ that will be rich fall into temptations and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Timothy 6:9). Now if such are the nature and dreadful effects that attend riches, what fools are they that set their hearts upon them! They do but “heap up treasure against the last day” (James 5:3), or treasure up wrath and Divine vengeance. (B. Keach.)

Unsanctified riches

I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES IN WHICH HE WAS PLACED,

1. That riches, with their attendant comforts and influence, are to be regarded as the bestowments of Providence; not to be considered as the recompence of independent human effort, but ever subject to the superintendence and arrangement of Him who is the author of every good and perfect gift.

2. That riches, with their attendant comforts and influence, furnish means for extended usefulness, and place in the hands of the possessor a power which he should employ in promoting the temporal and the spiritual welfare of his fellowmen.

3. That riches, with their attendant comforts and influence, involve the pressure of a solemn responsibility. They are granted, on a principle of stewardship, and with an obligation to account.

II. THE MEDITATIONS IN WHICH HE INDULGED.

1. Imperfection and sin existed in the state of him mind as to the source of his possessions. There is no allusion to God, as the giver of the good in which he delighted; there is no acknowledgment of dependence, there is no aspiration of gratitude. He looks with complacency on the amount of his possessions; and then, in the inflation of vanity, and in the calculating spirit of worldly wisdom, he proceeds to arrange his plans, as if perfectly independent of all obligations and of all responsibility to a superior Being.

2. Imperfection and sin existed in the intended application of property. A portion of his wealth was to be expended in enlarging his accommodations, and then his possessions were to be accumulated in one vast hoard, to remain in the treasure-house untouched, except for the purpose of securing some additional advantage. Ought there not to have been some act of charity to man, or some gift to the temple of God?

3. Imperfection and sin existed in the mode of calculating on futurity. The rich man, you will perceive, assumed, with a strong and an undoubting confidence, that no event would happen, to interfere with the accomplishment of his plans, and that he should possess a long period of existence, and of happiness.

4. Imperfection and sin existed in the nature of desired and anticipated enjoyment. “Take thine ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” The guilt connected with the intention thus expressed as to the pleasure of future life, is twofold. First there is indicated a fondness for indulgences, in themselves utterly unworthy of the intellectual nature with which man is endowed; and secondly, there is a careful and an entire exclusion of all that belongs to the interests and redemption of the soul.

III. THE REPROOF BY WHICH HE WAS ARRESTED.

1. AS to the event announced in the message of God--how momentous! “Thy soul shall be required of thee.” It comprehends his removal from the substance on which he had doated. His toil, his scheming, his rising early, his sitting up late, his eating the bread of carefulness, were now to end, and to be discovered as having been rendered in vain.

2. As to the time when this event was to be fulfilled--how soon it was to come!--“This night!” Almost as soon as he had uttered his grovelling dreamings, was his last change to be undergone. It was a brief space indeed! The poison of death was circulating rapidly within him: the shadows of the evening portended the deeper darkness of the grave; and ere another sun arose, his destiny would be sealed. (J. Parsons.)

The folly of the worldly man

I. THE CHARACTER OF A WORLDLY MAN.

1. He makes the pursuit of the world his chief business.

2. He finds in this world his chief happiness.

3. He sets upon the world his chief affections.

II. EVERY SUCH MAN, CHRIST SAYS, IS A FOOL.

1. He gives up certainty for uncertainty. The world is most uncertain in its

(2) retainment.

2. He prefers his body to his soul. The body is the casket which encloses the precious immortal jewel--the soul which God has given us. Now, suppose any man, having an exceedingly precious jewel enclosed in a casket, bestowed all his care on the casket, watched over it day and night, regularly went to see that it was secure, but allowed the jewel to be a plaything to his children, would he not be a fool indeed?

3. He prefers time to eternity. (John M’Lean.)

The sinner summoned

I. THE FIRST THING TO BE REMARKED IN THE TEXT IS THE EXPRESSION “THOU FOOL” This pattern of a worldly-minded man is called a fool on many accounts.

1. He abused the leisure given him for studying the nature of heavenly wealth.

2. Again, whereas the plentifulness of his stores should have set his heart entirely at rest about all such worldly matters, he was perplexed concerning the manner of bestowing his goods; he vexed his mind about room for his fruits; when he had doubtless many poor neighbours whom he might have fed out of his abundance. He determined to pull down his barns, and build greater, when he should rather have been employed in pulling down the worldly vanity of his heart, in rooting out his sins, and building up the hope of his salvation on the foundation of Jesus Christ. And still more on these accounts he is justly called a fool.

3. But above all other reasons, he is called a fool, because he reckoned, with such unfounded security, on the continuance of a long life.

II. Observe, in the second place, HOW SUDDEN IS THE SUMMONS! HOW IMMEDIATELY: THE FOOLISH LOVER OF THIS WORLD IS REQUIRED TO LEAVE HIS GOODS AND POSSESSIONS, AND TO YIELD UP HIS SOUL TO JUDGMENT. “This night.” The summons does not say to-morrow. That word, with which he had doubtless put off many a good resolution, is not now spoken to himself. What would he give now for one of those many hundreds of days which he once wasted in thoughtless indolence!

III. THE PARTICULAR SEASON OF THE SUMMONS IS NO LESS REMARKABLE THAN ITS SUDDENNESS. “This night.” He is called away, not in the light of day, but in the darkness and gloom of night.

IV. CONSIDER WHAT WAS REQUIRED OF THIS UNHAPPY MAN. Not his goods and fruits, he had better never have hoarded them. Not his spacious barns, he had better never have built them. Not his worldly accomplishments, they are now of no value. All these things in which he once took such delight and pride, all these if he used them not to God’s glory, how glad would he be now, had he never had them. The memorial of their possession must accompany him to judgment; and they are not what willbe there required. No, it is his soul. (C. Girdlestone, M. A.)

The last night

1. This man’s exit from the world was in strong contrast with his life. When visitors came to that house, the master, no doubt, would take them out, and say, “There are twenty acres of grain; ten acres of corn; fifteen acres of grove. See those sheep down in that valley. See those cattle on that hill. All mine! Come and look at those fig-trees. There are some figs ripe. Help yourself. Plenty of them. See how those grape-vines thrive--and these pomegranates!” Abundance of everything. Plenty to eat, plenty to wear, and plenty to congratulate. Yet, amid all that, he dies! How impudent death is!

2. The man of the text made sudden exit. So removal from this world is always sudden. I have heard of rare cases where persons said, “Such a day of such a month will be my last,” and it was so. But the man of the text was not more amazed than most people. Even the most confirmed invalids expect to get well. They expect some new effect of medicines, or a new style of doctor, or a change of climate will help them. It is while men are calculating on long days that that decisive hour comes--while they are expecting an enlargement of business accommodations, or are getting in their crops, or are trying to draught a new barn--suddenly! And why not? Hold that glass of exquisite ware, and let it drop on the pavement. How long does it take to shiver it? Wonder not that the delicate bowl of life was broken at the fountain. Our life is of such delicate mechanism, so finely poised, so hair-strung, that the least collision is fatal. The wonder is that, with such exquisite machinery, the pivots do not oftener slip, and the spring break, and all the works instantly crash. The vast majority of the race go out of this life without a physical pang. They flash away. You cannot calculate the brevity of the time between when the arrow leaves the bow and when it strikes the target. A minister of Scotland, at breakfast, asked for something more to eat, and a child started to get it, but he cried out, “Hold! hold! my Master calleth me. I have breakfasted with you, and shall sup with my Lord Jesus to-night.” And as quick as that he was gone. The rail train rushes along towards Norwalk bridge. The draw is off. Down the train plunges. In Wales, a miner, not aware of the foul air of the mine, strikes a match. Instantly two hundred souls are in eternity.

3. It was night when the man of the text went. So it is night when most of the race depart. A vast majority of the race die between eleven and three o’clock at night. There seems something in the atmosphere at that time to loosen the grasp of body and soul. Nearly all my friends have gone away in the night. The most of those who die by accident die in the night, because then the impediment on the track is not seen. Then it is that the flame gets headway before it is discovered. Then the burglar and the assassin are assisted by the darkness. The first-born of Egypt perished in the night. Sennacherib’s host fell in the night.

4. But the most remarkable thing about the exit was that he was unprepared for it. It was not a lack of brain that kept him in unpreparedness. A man who could make money as fast as he could was not lacking in sharpness. He knew what to plant, and how to culture what he had planted. He was not one of the dead-and-alive men who make no progress. His barns were large enough before, but they are too small now, with crops all the time growing. He was what Americans would call “smart,” and what the English would call “clever.” Now a man who knows enough to do business, knows enough to save his soul. All of the idiots will be saved at last. He was not an idiot. But alas! how many men are wise for time, and foolish for eternity! They know enough, when they sell a thing, to get the worth of it, but they barter away an immortal soul for nothing. They have everything insured but their souls. They are careful to have all their titles good except that for heaven. (Dr. Talmage.)

The rich fool

I. The parable first invites to some remarks upon WORLDLY PROSPERITY, AND SOME OF THE ANXIETIES BY WHICH IT IS NOT UNFREQUENTLY ATTENDED. “The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully,” the parable begins. “The ground”; the man did not owe his wealth to any success in commercial adventures, to a judicious plying of his business in the great waters, or to any of those forms of rising in the world which too often lead men to give their own skill all the praise. Not that in regard of our obligation to the Giver of all good it makes any difference whether our wealth come to us in one way or in another--by the blessing of God upon our industry, or in the gift of God in the sunshine and in the shower--for every way it is true that “the Lord thy God, He it is that giveth thee power to get wealth.” Still, I think, it does lay an added weight upon our gratitude, and should make the sense of debt and dependence to be felt more keenly, when God prospers almost without making use of our own exertions at all. As when we come into possession of a fruitful land, or succeed to a business already made to our hands; in such cases we feel the blessing comes to us so straight and direct from heaven, that the temptation to say, “my power and the might of my hand hath gotten me this wealth,” is utterly taken away. Even the world allows us nothing to be proud of in such instances; we thrive upon the labours of those who have gone before, or perhaps upon a mere accident of the soil. “The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully.” But “a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesses”: the ground that brings forth plentifully is seldom free from some roots of bitterness. In the parable of the sower and the seed, our Lord makes cares and riches go together. And they do very often; for with more wealth, we take more servants, and that is a care. The more treasure we have, the more fear of losing it; and that is a care. The larger the produce of our fields, the more room we want to put it away; and that is a care.

II. Let us proceed to the second view of this parable, or that which sets before us SELFISHNESS AND ITS PROJECTS. The man’s debatings were soon over, for he called to his counsels neither God nor man, seeing that for the glory of the one he had no concern, and with the wants of the other had no sympathy. He was a law unto himself, he had none to think of, and none to obey; his goods were his own, his length of days was his own, his very soul was his own; so at least he reasons, for this is the plan of life to which he tells us his mind is made up--“And he said, ‘This will I do,’” &c. Many things press for notice here. First, his language, “my barns, my fruit, my goods,” although agreeable to the common usage of men, yet taken in connection with what follows, is a plain ignoring of God’s hand in his prosperity, or God’s right in regard to its proper use. One would think he had been beholden to God for nothing; neither for seed nor soil, nor clouds, nor genial suns; so completely is the idea of stewardship lost sight of, and the Creator’s loan viewed as the creature’s right. Then, there is a strange and presumptuous covenant with the future--future harvests, that they shall not fail; future years, that he shall live to enjoy their fruits. They are the most obvious truths which men are most slow to learn--how feeble is our hold on prosperity--a blight, a shipwreck, a credulous trust in some new and fraudulent speculation, a dishonest servant, or a perfidious friend, let any of these befal us, and what becomes of our many goods? And many years--he has made sure of this also; he has entered into a covenant with sickness, and accident, and the marching pestilence, with the waters that they shall not overflow him, and with the flames that they shall not kindle upon him; he had only not made a covenant with God. But, besides all this sinful bargaining for a long series of morrows, we should not fail to observe with what resolute intenseness and determination of purpose his heart is set upon the enjoyment of the world. “Soul, take thine ease. While my wealth was accumulating, and my diligence was needed, and there was a possibility that the tide of success might turn against me, I had my unavoidable anxieties; but I am past all this now, I am beyond the reach of reverses, henceforth I will fling myself upon the soft lap of prosperity, and without an apprehension or a care sleep the rest of life’s hours away.” “Soul, take thine ease”; eat, drink, and be merry too, steep the senses in a blithe forgetfulness, forbid the entrance of every intruding monitor who comes to tell you that you have an eternity to live for, or an offended God to meet. And then, observe that awful stroke of irony with which the Saviour makes the man address language like this to his soul--“Soul, thou hast much goods”--thou, the eternal, the changeless, thou who art sprung from a nobler ancestry than the angels, and fashioned in the mould of God, see here the portion I have provided for thee, meats that debase, drinks that stupefy, luxuries that sensualize--“eat, drink, and be merry.” The world abounds with these epicurean Christians; who, instead of nourishing their souls with proper sustenance, with holy thoughts, with sacred joys, with hopes that centre in God and ambitions which point to heaven, turn God’s image into dust again, and try to satisfy the cravings of an immortal mind with ashes, with wind, with meats, and drinks, and mirth. “Soul, thou hast much goods, take thine ease.”

III. But the parable we have been considering takes its most solemnizing and striking form when we view it as setting forth GOD’S ARREST ON WORLDLY PRESUMPTION AND THE RECOMPENSE THAT SHALL FOLLOW. The man’s plans are formed; he is at agreement with death; he has pledged the seed-time and the harvest, and the couch is laid smooth on which his soul is to have many years of ease, when in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, he finds all this baseless fabric crumbled to the dust. Let me conclude with two applications of our subject. The first, bearing on the duty of securing the true riches; and the other, on the turning of perishable riches to a wise and sanctified account. The first of these duties is set forth in one weighty and emphatic sentence by the Great Teacher Himself; may we all remember it, if we remember nothing else. “So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, but is not rich toward God.” “So is he”; that is, as this man, with the fiat of heaven against him made out, the messengers of wrath half on their way, with just one short night between his soul and a wretched immortality. “So is he”; that is, so is every one who layeth up treasure for himself, comforts for himself, ease, mirth, worldly happiness for himself, while as to the true riches he is a mere beggar, for he is not rich towards God; has not provided himself with bags that wax not old, has no treasure laid up there, where no rust nor moth can corrupt, and where theives do not break through and steal. But the parable also suggests a caution as to the right use of perishable riches; the duty of making them subservient to the highest ends, and the certainty that sooner or later they will be taken from us, if we spend upon self or upon sews fancied wants that which God designed either for advancing His own glory or for mitigating the sufferings of mankind. (D. Moore, M. A.)

Christ’s portrait of folly

I. GODLESSNESS IS FOLLY. The conversation between this man’s soul and himself shows the bent and make of his mind. There was no room for God in his plan of life. His godlessness was very bad in him, for he was a successful Jewish farmer. As a Jew, he had drunk in the name of God with his mother’s milk. His one book was full of the great name, and every one around him believed in God. The Temple, the Sabbath, and a thousand things besides were always speaking to him of God. But though a Jew, he was a perfect heathen at heart. He did not profess to be an atheist, yet he lived the atheist’s life. A thoughtful farmer in Palestine was like the islander who said, “Other people may forget God, but the St. Kilda man never can.” In no other country are the crops so plainly in God’s hands. The wind, the rain, and the locusts every year make them a success or a failure. His plains waving with God’s great bounty should have melted his heart. Strange that to receive a blessing often and regularly makes a man unmindful of God. Every plan of life is folly in which God is not first, midst, and last. Without this, all other wisdom is vain. He only is wise who begins, carries forward, and ends all in and with God.

II. GREED IS FOLLY. This rich farmer was very greedy, and his greed was of the meanest kind, and had no excuse. For he was rich, and growing richer, and embarrassed with riches, and in that genial climate and simple age he needed little money. His was greed without need. He was a mere money-maker, and the clave of the money he possessed. His wealth was like a glacier in midwinter, which feeds no river and gladdens no valley. His soul died of self-love. His in the most perfect and vulgar selfishness, the meanest of all the vices. His greed for money was like the greed of the drunkard, whose drinking puts an end to the drinker, but not to his thirst. Like a wild beast, he will retire into his own corner and gorge himself. All need this warning against greed. But there is a greed which can never grow too great. Every child of the kingdom is a child of boundless desire. “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst.” You may pull down the barns of your knowledge and love, and build greater without blame.

III. TO MISTAKE HAPPINESS IS FOLLY. He thought that bigger and fuller barns would make him happy. His full barns were a paradise for mice, but not for men.

1. Length of life cannot be secured by riches. The farmer could lay up goods enough in his barn for many years, but not years enough for the enjoyment of his goods. A French writer says that most successful merchants die about the time when the paint is drying in the splendid villas in which they were hoping to find their ease. Wealth cannot buy an extra hour. “Millions of money for a minute of time,” was the vain offer of England’s dying Queen. All history shows that men and nations perish from plenty rather than from poverty.

2. A man’s happiness, the life of life, does not consist in the abundance of riches. Bigger barns don’t give fuller life.

3. The eternal life does not consist in plenty of earthly goods, h golden key cannot open the gate of heaven. The treasures of grace are as free to the beggar as to any man under heaven.

IV. TO FORGET THE FUTURE IS FOLLY. The great Greek writers often picture the rich man. His heart grows haughty and he forgets God. He then becomes an eyesore to heaven; he must be abased; and a certain train is laid for his destruction. At last a thunderbolt, without any sign of its coming, leaps out of the blue sky and strikes him down. Such a fate overtook this poor rich man. He forgot the uncertainty of time and the certainty of eternity. The words, “This night,” startle and solemnize us. His soul is required of him as a trust or deposit which he had abused, and it is taken from him by main force. His life was an utter failure. It was like a well-carved stair, “ascending, winding, leading up to nought,” and good for nothing. True wisdom takes in the whole of our life in time and eternity. It chooses the life that lives and fashions the everlasting man and woman. As eternity is greater than time, faith is the highest wisdom. How different from this rich man’s is the death of one whom Christ has made wise unto salvation, even when the death-sickness comes as suddenly as the summons came to him. A little boy was laid down with cholera. The minister visiting him paused at the cottage door, for he heard the voice of prayer. The dying boy repeated the Lord’s Prayer, and then added, “Now I am ready, Lord.” (J. Wells, M. A.)

Self the wrong centre

My fruits, and my goods, and my soul, and my barns. That is all wrong. He has narrowed down things to a point. He has made himself the centre of reckoning; he has constituted his own individuality into the standard of life. But surely a man may say “my soul”? No. Only in a secondary sense, at least, may he say that. “For all souls are Mine,” saith the Lord. The fundamental error in life is that a man should call himself his own. And until that deadly, fatal reasoning is driven out of him, he will never take hold of life by the right end. The discussion is not, “Is what I have in my hand my property or not?” My friend, your hand itself is not your own. Why, then, be wasting your life in some little peddling debate about what you hold in your hand? No man can live wisely, deeply, truly, until he has got out of the notion that he is his own property. Herein is the great mystery of the Christian faith: Ye are not your own; ye are bought, ye belong to another. Glorify God in your body and your spirit, which are God’s. I do not, therefore, follow a man into any debate, when he says, “My barns, my fruits, my goods.” I let him chatter on; but when he says, “My soul,” I arrest him I He may fight all day long about his barns and his fruits and his goods, and no useful result would testify to our wordy debate. But if I can convince a man that his soul is not his own, except in a secondary sense; that it is God’s; that it is a bought soul; and that it must take its law and its way from the utterances of God--I shall have brought the man to the right point from which to start allthe courses and all the discipline of his life. Is not selfishness at the root of all evil? Is not a man little in proportion as he debates everything in the light of his own personality? (J. Parker, D. D.)

“Thou fool”

Why use this expression? The man was very wise, on one side of his nature. So many of us are clever in little points! So many people are prudent and sagacious and wise in one aspect of their nature, and are utter and irredeemable fools in others. If the light that is in us be darkness, how great is that darkness! Few men are foolish altogether. The man in the parable talked wisely up to a given moment, and from that time he went down into the utterest and worst imbecility. What does God say? “This night.” God sometimes gives but short notice to His tenants. (J. Parker, D. D.)

“This night”

The man had forgotten the nights! He talked about years in whole numbers; about the bright spaces called day; but did not think of those black lines called night. Between to-day and to-morrow there rolls the black night river, and we may fall into it, and never step on the shore of the morning. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might.” (J. Parker, D. D.)

Worldly things to be used gratefully

Make your ground bring forth plentifully; be the best farmers in the neighbourhood; be successful in all kinds of business or profession; and, if you possibly can, rise to the very top of the line along which you are working. But all the while hold all these things loosely; hold them in a spirit of stewardship. Then you will hold them rightly, and when God says, “Let go!” it will be but a step into heaven! The only things we can carry out of this world are our thoughts, our feelings, our impulses, our desires--all the elements which make us spiritual men, and invest us with moral character. We take out of this world our moral and spiritual condition, and as the tree falleth, so must it lie! What, then, do I find wanting in the speech of the foolish man? I find no grateful heart in it all. The man never blessed his banquet in the name of God. Not a word do I hear to this effect: “God hath dealt bountifully with me; praise God from whom all blessings flow. He hath put all these things into my care; He hath entrusted me with all this large estate that I may administer it in His name. Lord, teach me how to use it, so that not one crumb be wasted, but that the whole be so ordered and dispensed as to bring honour to Thy name, and satisfaction and gladness to Thy children that are round about me.” He doubles his enjoyment of worldly things, who uses them gratefully; he drinks the best wine, who drinks out of the goblet of thankfulness; he has most who gives most; and he grows most truly, who, for Christ’s sake, expends himself for the good of others most fully. (J. Parker, D. D.)

“To-night I shall want you!”

And we cannot say Him, No. You may say No to your best friend; you can refuse the invitation of your most importunate associate; but when God says, “I shall want you to-night,” you cannot write a note of excuse! When God says, “Thy soul shall be required of thee to-night,” you cannot say, “Lord, let it stand over for a week.” See, then, our weakness, as well as our strength; and know this, oh man, as a matter of dead certainty, whatever our religious faith may be, though we are the vilest, vulgarest, and most stubborn atheists, that we cannot escape the final day--the great deed--the deed of death! (J. Parker, D. D.)

How, then, am I to become prepared for the last great scene?

As a wise man, I think I shall be doing right in turning this over in my mind, and making some reflections upon it; and thus have I resolved, by the strength and grace of God to do, now that the year is closing round me and bidding me farewell: “I will put my confidence in God--in God as revealed in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ; in God as known to me through the Cross, as the one Saviour; God the Son, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I will walk in the way of God’s commandments, and I will diligently study His precepts; I will make His Book the man of my counsel and the light of my way. All that I can do I shall do according to the strength He gives me, and I will praise Him for the power with which He may invest my life. This I will do; and I think it is the right thing.” (J. Parker, D. D.)

Prosperity to be distributed

When God’s goodness was showered upon him in such abundance, he should have opened his treasures and permitted them to flow: for this end his riches had been bestowed upon him. When rain from heaven has filled a basin on the mountain-top, the reservoir overflows, and so sends down a stream to refresh the valley below; it is for similar purposes that God in His providential government fills the cup of those who stand on the high places of the earth--that they may distribute the blessing among those who occupy a lower place in the scale of prosperity. But self was this man’s pole star: he eared for himself, and for none besides. Self was his god; for to please himself was practically the chief end of his existence. (W. Arnot.)

The method of reserving all for self is as unsuccessful as it is unamiable

The man who should hoard in his own granary all the corn of Egypt,could not eat more of it than a poor labourer--probably not so much. It is only a very small portion of their wealth that the rich can spend directly on their own personal comfort and pleasure: the remainder becomes, according to the character of the possessor, either a burden which he is compelled to bear, or a store whence he daily draws the luxury of doing good. (W. Arnot.)

Stewardship not ownership in property

Our stewardship and our dependence on God ought always to be silently, if not verbally, recognized. The captain talks of “my craft,” but he knows that it is only entrusted to him for a season, and he returns it to its owners at the proper time. The soldier speaks of “my gun,” but he knows that it is a government weapon, and is to be used in fighting the government’s battles. So it is right to speak of “my money,” “my possessions,” provided God’s supreme ownership is recognized. That was not how the rich man did in the parable. He grasped everything, recognized no higher ownership. He acted like the child who snatches the toy or the fruit thanklessly from the hand of its parent, and huddles it up in its pinafore lest some other should see and share the enjoyment. When the bubble is gained it bursts. Show the children how that is true, illustrating it from the common stories of Mazzini, Lord Chesterfield, Queen Elizabeth’s death-bed, &c.; and make clear how all too eager seeking, whether for wealth or pleasure or fame, is overshadowed by God’s calm judgment: “Thou fool.” (Sunday School Times.)

Material things cannot feed the soul

Do you suppose that a man can feed his soul in that way? Can a soul be fed with silver or gold? Can a soul be made merry because outward goods increase? How beggarly the conception! How stultified the man appears by this very address to himself! He proposed to feed that which was divine with that which was essentially animal. He had no holy thoughts, no merciful inclinations; he had no chastened and purified aspirations I he had no sweet and loving affections; he had nothing that was glorious in holiness, or beautiful in any wise. But, “O, my soul,” said he, “take thine ease.” How many men there are that try to quiet their souls. How many men there are that say to their uneasiness, “Why art thou disquieted in me, O my soul? Art thou not rich?” A man’s soul rich because his pocket is rich I How many men say, “Oh, soul, what wilt thou? What have I not done for thee? Look abroad and behold the fields. They are all thine. Look upon all these harvests. They are thine. Glance up the mountain side, and measure all the stately trees thereon. All these things are thine, and all these mansions, and all these titles and bonds, and all this silver and gold.” And the poor smothered soul says, “I will have none of them.” The soul--has it a mouth? Can it eat, as a man’s body can? The soul--is it a broker and exchanger of money? Does it love to hear the clink of gold and silver? Is that the soul? (H. W. Beecher.)

Oriental ideas of enjoyment

“Eat, drink, and be merry,” is the sum and substance of true Oriental enjoyment, as it generally appears among the rich. The covetous are not necessarily misers in self-indulgence; but how better does he know how to spend his money who has looked upon gain as the sole end of labour and thought? The poor scholar enjoys literature and grammatical disputes; the moderate people meet every evening at the coffee-houses, and take their finjans of coffee with their long pipes, and discuss politics or listen to the teller of romances; but the rich feast, with hired dancers and much mirth; sometimes even using the appliances of the old Roman glutton to multiply the enjoyments of their appetite and the capacity of their stomach. (Sunday School Times.)

Thou fool

The rich fool

I. THE SINFULNESS OF THE RICH MAN. Notice the remarkable fact that he addressed his soul, when forming his plan for a long course of selfishness. Now, what had the soul to do with the indulgencies and enjoyments which he thought his riches would procure? Is it the soul which eats? Is it the soul which drinks? Is it the soul which luxuriates in voluptuous ease? Had he addressed his body, and thus seemed forgetful or ignorant of its being immortal, we must have wondered at him less, and had thought him less degraded; but to confess that he had a soul, and then to speak to that soul as though it were material, a mere animal thing, with fleshly appetites and passions, this marked him, at the very outset, as the creature of sensuality; as though he knew no higher use of faculties which distinguished him from the brute, than to give a zest to gratifications which he had in common with-the brute I But, nevertheless, there was truth in the address of the sensualist; he was not so mistaken as at first he may appear. He spake, indeed, to the soul as though he had reckoned it a part of the body, and thus seemed strangely to confound the corporeal and the spiritual; but was he actually guilty of an absurdity? With such a speech to make, ought he to have addressed himself exclusively to the body? Nay, he was more candid, rather than more ignorant, than the great mass of sensualists. Our accusation against men in general is, that they have made themselves all body. Through the corruption of human nature, and through the habits and practices of unrighteousness, the soul is so debased, and so surrenders the ascendency to the flesh, that man becomes as literally a mere animal, living only to gratify animal propensities, and looking not beyond the present scene of being, as though the immortal principle were extinguished, in place of dormant, and death were to be annihilation. We want to know whether, with the great body of unconverted men, it would virtually make much perceptible difference if they had no souls. What is there in their conduct which indicates the workings of an inextinguishable principle, or which would necessarily be much altered, if, in place of being inextinguishable, it were declared of this principle, that it should be quenched at death? So that the rich sensualist was not far wrong in speaking to his soul, as though it were his body. True, indeed, the soul could not literally eat, the soul could not literally drink; but the soul might have no taste, no relish, for spiritual things, the whole man might be given up to corporeal indulgencies, and the soul might be in such subjection, such slavery, to the flesh, as to think of nothing but how to multiply its gratifications or to increase their intenseness. And the case is thoroughly the same, when a man is not given up to mere animal pleasures. But now we wish to point out another thing to you--that the very essence of idolatry is discernable in this address of the rich man to his soul. It may justly be said, that the rich man substituted his stores for God, put them in the place of God, or looked to them to do for him what God alone could do. Capital is to this man in the place of Divinity; and he is virtually saying to his soul, not as the Christian ought to say, “Soul, thou hast a neverfailing Guardian, who will be sure to provide for thee through the shifting scenes of life,” but, as a worshipper of his own possessions might say--“Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” But we do not suppose that we have even yet reached the extreme point of this rich man’s offence. He must have greatly provoked God by his materialism, and probably still more by his idolatry, but it was to neither of these that God pointedly referred when He interfered in just judgment, and we therefore conclude that it was in another particular that the chief offence lay. And this particular seems to have been his reckoning on many years of life. If it had been his idolatry which had specially provoked retribution, it would probably have been on the immediate object of idolatry that vengeance would have descended. God might have said, “I will fatally blight thine harvest; I will utterly burn up thy crops: where then will be thy sustenance, where thy boasted security against want?” But the judgment is evidently directed against the insolent expectation of long life. The speech is virtually, “Thou hast assumed, or taken for granted, that thou hast many years to live, utterly forgetful that the times of every man are in My hand, and for this I will instantly visit thee. ‘O fool! this night thy soul shall be required of thee.’“ The rich man is called a fool, and is upbraided as a fool, on the ground of his having supposed himself quite sure of life; so that evidently the reckoning on the distance of death is given as what, more than anything else, had displeased God in his conduct. It is as though God could have borne yet longer with his voluptuousness, though he had actually confounded the material with the spiritual, and debased the soul into a mere slave to the flesh; it is as though God could have borne yet longer with his idolatry, though he had substituted his own storehouses for a presiding Deity, and given to the hoarded corn all the confidence which should have been given to an ever-active providence; but when he presumed to make sure of life, to reckon, not only that his goods would last many years, but that he should have many years in which to enjoy them, then it seems as if the provocation were complete, and vengeance could no longer be deferred. And there is evidently a peculiar invasion, as it were, of the prerogatives of God, whensoever a man calculates that death is yet distant. Life is that of which, even in appearance, no man can have a stock in hand. The life of tomorrow cannot be stored up to-day; though, in a certain sense, the supply of to-morrow’s wants may be, supposing that we live till to-morrow. There is not, therefore, that shadow of an excuse for reckoning on the prolongation of life, which there may be for reckoning on a provision for its wants. The man who has a large stock of corn shows himself indeed unmindful of the sovereignty of God, if he conclude that on that account he cannot live to be needy; but he is infinitely outdone by another, who, because he believes himself in strong health, confidently concludes that he shall not soon die. We want very much to press this on your consideration. Every man who is not labouring earnestly to save the soul is reckoning on long life. We care not whether or not he acknowledge this to others, we care not whether or not he acknowledge it to himself: he may profess a thorough belief in the uncertainty of life, but the fact is that he makes sure of life, and the proof is that he takes no pains to secure his salvation. If he knew that he should die in a-week, if he knew that he should die in a month, he would not keep the next world out of sight, but would labour with all earnestness to prepare for the change which could not be deferred. And what, then, can it be, but a secret persuasion that he shall not die in a week, or that he shall not die in a month, which makes him altogether neglectful of the soul’s interests? He would not be thus neglectful if persuaded that “in the midst of life we are in death,” and it is fair to conclude that he is neglectful because not so persuaded, or rather because persuaded of precisely the reverse. And the fearful thing is, that this very reckoning upon life, which men would hardly perhaps think of classing amongst their sins, may be the most offensive part of their conduct in the eye of the Almighty, and draw upon them the abbreviation of that life, and thus the loss of the expected opportunities of repentance and amendment. A man determines that he will taste a little more pleasure, or accumulate a little more wealth, before attending to the high duties of religion. Now the great provocation may not be, as you might at first sight suppose, in the preference of worldly pleasure or worldly wealth to what is celestial and enduring, but in concluding that he shall have the time in which to eat or to drink or to gather in money. God did not strike down the rich man whose history is before us, so much because he was a sensualist, as because he was a fool--a fool in making sure of life when there was nothing to assure him, and in reckoning on life as a fixed term when it is only held from moment to moment. Oh! how easy to overlook this 1 how easy to keep out of sight the sin of reckoning upon life, whilst we are quite aware of the sin of misspending life! (H. Melvill, B. D.)

A fool in God’s sight

God did not call this man a fool because he looked well after his worldly interest. So far as it appears, he was an honest, industrious, and enterprising man, who did not make his money by speculation or fraud, but in an honest way. I don’t know any occupation that is more honest than that of a farmer. Up in the morning, whilst others lie in bed. Active, persevering, and diligent, I dare say he looked sharply after his cattle and his men too; but God did not find fault with the man for that, on the contrary, I find in this Bible that God applauds our being “diligent in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord,” which means that we can serve the Lord as well in business as in devotion. The Apostle Paul speaks plainly of those who want to eat without doing any work. “If there be any man,” says Paul, “who will not work, he shall starve; and these things command and exhort, &c.” And Jesus always selects His disciples when they are busy. We have a good many instances of Christ calling men to be His disciples; but I challenge any present to point to one who was not busy. One is draining fish; another with his pen over his ear; another making tents. Christ calls men when they are busy; Satan when they are idle. Don’t suppose, then, that God called this man a fool because he was busy in his worldly interests; he who does not do so is worse than an infidel.

I. HE CALLED HIM. A FOOL BECAUSE HE TOOK NO ACCOUNT OF GOD. We are told in this story, what the man thought within himself, and what he said within himself. You will notice there is not a single whisper of God in the whole. God was not in all his thoughts. David describes the fool as the man who says in his heart there is no God; but David does not say, “the fool hath said with his lips.” There are many who say it in their hearts that have not the courage to do it with their lips, and I challenge the Holyoakes and the Bradlaughs, who deny God’s being, to say that their understanding leads them to this conclusion; it is the heart--“the fool hath said in his heart,” not in his brain but in that rotten heart that hates what is holy. And because this man lived as if there was no God, God calls him a fool.

II. BECAUSE HE TOOK NO ACCOUNT OF THE PEOPLE. He never thought of anybody but himself--selfish to the backbone. And the text describes him laying up a treasure for himself. That little word “I,” occurs six times--what I am to do. He had just one idea in his head, and not a very big one--to make himself as rich and as jolly as he could be. He made a god ofhimself, and had not a thought of any living outside of himself. Hoarding up from time to time, and all for number one. Lest it be supposed we speak hardly of this man, let us admit that we all have a touch of this. Some men are better at “raking than pitching,” better at raking in than pitching out to other people. What a fool is that man who does not make good use of his money when living. He is like a hog, that is good for neither draught like the horse, nor for clothing like the sheep, nor for milk as the cow, nor for watch as the dog, but only, after he is dead, to be cut up and parcelled out amongst his friends; and because he was such, God called him a fool.

III. BECAUSE HE TOOK NO ACCOUNT OF HIS OWN SOUL. In one sense he did, for he says, “Soul, thou hast much goods”; but was not that just what showed what an outrageous fool he was; he thought his his immortal soul could subsist upon what money could bring--he was content with a mere brute existence. There is no greater folly than to suppose you can fill the soul with what satisfies the body. Your barns cannot hold what the soul demands any more than you can fill a wooden box with virtue. It was an old custom among the Romans, when at the bar and pleading as an idiot and not responsible (but many plead this, and have their senses), to place upon the table an apple and a nugget of gold--a beautiful tempting apple and a dull heavy golden nugget; if an utter idiot he was sure to seize the apple, if he had his senses he would touch the gold. Now the farmer, judged by this test, was a fool, for he chose the apple--not the imperishable treasure, but the short-lived pleasures of this world. Perhaps, we have some like this here to-day. You can scarce give a thought to the world that is to come. Every day in the week, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, finds you immersed in business, all for this world, all for the poor dying body; and the more you get, the more impatient you are to get more, for prosperity is like salt water, the more you drink the thirstier you become. Some live only to get rich and pamper this poor dying body, but God says to you this afternoon, “Thou fool.”

IV. ONCE MORE, HE WAS A FOOL BECAUSE HE TOOK NO ACCOUNT OF ETERNITY. The idea of death never entered into his mind, only of enjoying what he had laid up. I ask any sensible man if this was not folly. Suppose you are about to go to New York, and you make provision for the distance to Liverpool and no farther; is that not folly? But this man had started on an everlasting journey, and all the preparation he made was for a few steps this side of the grave; he was struck down that night, as thousands have been since, and, doubtless, as some here to-night may be. Jesus never took a brash or painted a picture like this without meaning us to learn a solemn lesson from it. We are all ready to say what a fool that man was to take no account of these things. But, stay, hear what Jesus adds: So many are there “that layeth up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” And this is the question with which I close now. Are you laying up treasure for this world, or are you rich towards God? Have you accepted the riches of God’s grace in Christ Jesus, as a guilty sinner? Have you thrown yourself into the Saviour’s arms, and found pardon and peace for your soul? My message to-night is, that if you have not, you are lost; believe in Him and you are saved. (J. T. Davidson, D. D.)

The rich fool

It is an awful thing to be a fool l When any other calamity befalls a man he is conscious of his misery. But the fool does not know that he is a fool. That one fact makes a lunatic asylum the most saddening place in the whole wide world. To see one in the form of man gathering slicks and stones about him, and believing that he has great possessions; or one in the form of woman bedecking herself with bits of ribbons and faded flowers, as if to attract your admiration, or aimlessly giggling--she knows not at whom; another nursing a doll; another crowned with a mock crown--it is more pitiable than to see them wild or moody, or than it is to visit ahospital. And to be truly wise--wise not in our own opinion, for the fool is that; not in the opinion of others, for “men will praise thee when thou doest well to thyself”; but in the judgment of One who can neither deceive nor be deceived,--can there be any greater blessedness attainable by man? How then shall we know whether we are fools or wise? Can there be a truer standard to test ourselves by than Christ’s? How shall we know what His judgment of us would be? There is no better way of finding out than by looking at the cases with which He came in contact on earth, and seeing how He judged them. Here is one of those cases. In a parable He draws the picture of a man whom we would have called wise, and whom He calls “fool.” How do I know that we would have called him wise? Because of what is not said and because of what is said about him. Nothing is said against him. Had he been an open sinner, Jesus would have told us, for that would have been the ground on which He called him a fool. As nothing is said against him, we are bound to assume that he was a moral, respectable, law-abiding Jew; a man in full communion with the Church of God on earth. And note, on the other hand, how much is positively said in his favour--fairly put down to his credit, to enable us to judge him alight. In the first place, he was rich. Now, there is a natural presumption in a man’s favour when he is rich. If he has made the money himself, it is implied that at least he has been industrious, economical, prudent, capable of sacrificing the present to the future. All these are good qualities. They may not be the highest, but surely, as far as they go, they are good. If he has inherited the money, he has proved that he is able to take care of it, and that implies the possession of qualities good in their way also. Then the rich man in our parable had evidently gotten his riches in a legitimate way--not by cheating others, not even by speculation, or in any way at the expense of others; but from the soil, directly from the bounty of God. No way more honourable than this, all will admit. Again, we see in the man no boasting of his industry or skill; no foolish talking to others about his wealth; no indications of any rash action to be taken. We are simply told that when his great abundance came, through his ground bringing forth plentifully, “he thought within himself.” Admirable! That is just what we would advise our friends to do in like circumstances. Fourthly, this man was not one of those penurious, close-flared creatures, who are too mean to spend anything, even on the permanent improvement of their property. Many a farmer would have been content with the old barns, adding an unsightly addition perhaps, or building one new barn that would hold all his overplus. But this was a spirited, enterprising business man. He saw that the time had come for acting with energy, and he at once decided on doing so. He would pull down these old barns and build others that would hold all that the land was ever likely to yield. Lastly, he was not one of those restless, avaricious mortals who give themselves up to the sole task of increasing their store; who define “enough” as “a little more than what we have.” Had he been one of those human beavers, he would have said, “I am on the high road to be a millionaire; I can buy out my neighbour on the right of me, and next year I shall buy out my neighbour on the left; and who knows but that I may die the owner of the whole county!” Such a thought never entered into this man’s mind. He was satisfied with his portion, and he aimed now at dignified repose and enjoyment. “I will say to myself, ‘Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; eat, drink, be merry.’” Is it possible to avoid thinking well of such a man? How fairly Christ draws His picture! not prejudicing us against him, taking him at His own estimate, describing him in his own language. When such a man is in our community, how anxious we are to get him into our society and our congregation. He is one of your typical, solid, model men. And yet--the one only name that the living God gives to him is “Thou fool! “Why? The narrative supplies reasons enough for one who looks beneath the surface of things. He was a fool because he forgot--as most of us forget--and, in forgetting, he practically denied, the four great facts of life--God, his neighbour, his soul, and death. He forgot God. His language is “my goods,” “my barns,” “all my fruits and my goods.” Very like the language we use, but that only shows that he is not alone in his practical atheism. There is no recognition of the Giver; no gratitude; no longing after Him who never wearies in His loving-kindness towards us. His very gifts hide Him from us. Instead of making us grateful they foster pride. They make us say or feel, “How wise, how strong, how industrious, how deserving we are!” And we--fools and blind--see Him not, who should be the object of all our love. He forgot his neighbour. This folly--common enough though it is--was more surprising than the former. A man who is accustomed to go entirely by his senses may think himself excusable for not seeing Him who is invisible. But how can he help seeing his neighbour? And, seeing him and his needs, what occasion was there to go to the expense of building new barns? Were there not barns enough ready made to his hand? What an honour God put upon him when He gave him the opportunity of taking His own place to those bereaved ones! God had built barns for him. He did not see them, poor man! The chance was given him of being as a god to the poor. He lost it, and he never got another chance. Was he not a fool? And yet what a countless number of followers he has! How many of us use our money, our intellectual power, our time, our education, our opportunities, as under law to God for our brothers, for the country, for the Church, for future generations, for the purifying, sweetening, ennobling of the life of the community? He forgot his soul. This is folly still more inexcusable. A man may say, “I cannot prove that there is a God.” He may also say, “As for my neighbour, am I his keeper? Every man for himself l” But how is it possible to forget his own soul? And yet this forgetting or unbelief springs from the previous forms of unbelief. Deny God, and you will soon deny your neighbour; and then you are not far off from denying yourself. He that knows not God and man knows not himself. I do not wonder that such a man thought that when money was provided all had been provided. Inexcusable as it is, this has always been the common form of infidelity, and the form that brings the most certain nemesis. He forgot death. This was the crowning proof of folly. We have seen that a man may give reasons for forgetting God and his neighbour. And philosophers nowadays rather ridicule the idea of there being a soul or anything but matter in man. But even a philosopher can hardly deny that there is such a thing as death. The reality comes home to all of us. The old and the young are taken; the light of our eyes and the strength of our life. And death forces us to think. No matter how immersed we may be in the affairs of the world, it drags us away to a silent room, and forces us to look beyond the present and the visible. It opens a door, and shows us this little inch of time and sense girdled by the immensities and the eternities--

Now at my back I always hear

Time’s winged chariots, hurrying near,

And yonder all before me lie

Deserts of vast eternity.”

And yet, inexcusable as the folly is, we are all guilty of it. In forgetting death we forget eternity, and what folly can be compared to that? (Principal Grant.)

God’s interruption of the rich fool’s soliloquy

I. THE INTRODUCTORY PREFACE. “But God said unto him.”

1. God interrupts him. He speaks to him while he is speaking to himself. Thus it pleases the Lord to deal with men many times in such cases as these are: He graciously interposes Himself in their sinful courses, and in their vain projects, and in their foolish imaginations; He puts them out of their track; He lays a rub in their way; He will not suffer them to go on; He so sweetly guides and overrules them by the hand of His providence, that He prevents their commission of those sins which their hearts lust after, and in a manner takes them off. And happy were it with us if we would observe His dealings in this kind. God’s interruptions are promotions. The more He hinders us, the more He puts us forward; and so we should make account. There cannot be a greater mercy than to be stopped and interrupted in sin, as there cannot be a greater judgment than not to observe this interruption.

2. God opposes or contradicts him in this his speech.

II. THE DISGRACEFUL APPELLATION. “Thou fool.” With men honesty is folly, and conscience is folly, and plain dealing is folly, and preaching is folly. These are foolishness with men; but they are not so with the Lord. God calls fool, as one that can judge of folly; God calls fool, as one that will punish folly.

1. Fools peremptorily conclude upon that which is uncertain.

2. Fools absolutely neglect that which is necessary.

3. Fools altogether prefer and provide for that which is superfluous.

III. THE THREATENING TIDINGS. “This night thy soul shall be required of thee.”

1. The punishment. Not the loss of his goods, but the loss of his soul.

2. God does not tell him who should do it; but, by a Hebraism, leaves it indefinite--“they.” It is no matter to thee who. It may be these very goods of thine, it may be thy barns, it may be thy servants, it may be thy friends.

3. The manner of the execution. Thou shalt not give up thy soul unto them; they shall snatch it from thee, and take it away by force.

4. The time--“this night.” It is not, as Jeremiah to Hananiah, Thou shalt die this year; nor is it, as Hosea of the revolting Israelites, A month shall devour them; nor is it as the Lord to Adam, Thou shalt die this day. But different from all these, it is this night. This night, in opposition to this day; not at noon, but, for greater horror, at night. This night, in opposition to another night; not to-morrow night, not the next night, nor the night after, but this very night, which follows thine applauding of thyself.

IV. THE EXPOSTULATORY INFERENCE. “Then, whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?”

1. They shall not be thine. A man’s wealth lasts no longer than his life, neither has he longer comfort from it.

2. Thou shalt not know whose they shall be. The wealthiest man that is cannot be sure who shall be his heir. No man when he goes out of the world can tell whose his goods shall be; this is another affliction. For a man might be ready to say, “Though I shall not have the benefit myself, yet I shall leave them to those that shall, my children and my posterities after me”; nay, but, says God, “Thou knowest not whose they shall be”; neither whose, if ye take it numerically, for the particular individual persons; nor whose, if ye take it qualitatively, for the nature and condition of the persons; neither of these persons dost thou know. (Thomas Horton, D. D.)

An unexpected requisition

I. WHAT IS THE SOUL? It is the real life, because--

1. It is the seat of all life’s motives. The soul uses intellect and will as hands and feet. It really does all that we consciously do.

2. It is the seat of all feelings.

3. It is the seat of all responsibility.

4. It is the only enduring part--immortal.

II. THE SOUL REQUIRED.

1. Its motives exposed. No more concealment from others, from ourselves.

2. Its feeling unchecked. Like an exposed nerve.

3. Its accounts audited. Engrossed in eternal records.

4. Its immortal character and destiny fixed.

III. The man A FOOL, because he did not realize that--

1. His soul was his real life.

2. His soul might at any moment be required of him. (Anon.)

The soul required

Not a gracious summons, but by force of an arrest. Painfully rendered up, to God’s inexorable demands. Terrible angels, like pitiless exactors of tribute, shall seize thee. Not as a vessel, when the signal is given, joyfully lifts anchor and departs; but torn by winds and dragged from its moorings. Death to the righteous comes as the dawning of the morning (Amos 5:8), sinking to sleep (Acts 7:60; 1 Thessalonians 4:14); but to the wicked it is the approach of a tempestuous Job 27:20). (Van Doren.)

Whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?

Ah, me! if some of those wealthy men who have gone in recent years from this busy, bustling city into the world beyond, could come back for a moment, and see what fightings there have been over their fortunes; how the details of their own idiosyncrasies have been dragged out into the light, to prove, if possible, that they had not sense enough to make their wills; how the most painful secrets of their lives have been proclaimed upon the housetop; how the skeleton in their closet has been handled and laughed over by the profane and unfeeling crowd; and how their sons and daughters and relations, out to the farthest limit of consanguinity, have wrangled over their portions--I think they would say within themselves, “What consummate fools we were to spend our days on earth in laying up treasures to be squandered thus in the courts, and to be quarrelled over by a hungry crowd, as wolves howl over carrion! “ And if they had to live again, they would try, I think, to be their own executors, and to use their possessions in a way that would bless the world and glorify their God. There has been, as I cannot help thinking, a grim irony in God’s providence in cases like these; and, as I read the reports of the surrogate’s court from time to time, I am reminded of the words, “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the-Lord shall have them in derision.” At all events, they prove conclusively the short-sightedness and folly of those whose sole delight in life was the adding of dollar to dollar. But a deeper thought is here suggested: “Whose shall those things be?” Whose were they all along? They were God’s, and should have been used for God. You remember, in that most glorious scene in David’s glorious reign, when he brought out what he had gathered for the building of the temple, and consecrated it all to God, and his people willingly followed his example, he used these remarkable words, “All things come of Thee, and of Thine own have we given Thee; for we are strangers,” etc. Mark the force of that “for” in this connection. Men come and go, but God is the immortal Owner of all things; and in giving to Him of our possessions, we but give Him of His own. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Presumption punished

A minister, who was visiting from house to house, met on his walk three young men with axes on their shoulders. He stopped and conversed with them. Two appeared somewhat serious; the third, a gay, frank young man, replied, “You see, sir, that splendid white house on that farm yonder?” “Yes.” “Well, sir, that estate has been left to me by my uncle, and we are now going to do chopping in the woodland that belongs to it. There are some heavy debts on the estate which I must settle before the farm can be fully mine, and as soon as I have cleared it of these I mean to become a Christian.” “Ah, young man,” said the pastor. “beware I you may never see that day; while you are gaining the world you may lose your soul!” “I’ll run the risk,” said he, and they parted. The three young men went into the woods, and this daring procrastinator and another commenced felling a tree. A dry, heavy limb hung loosely in the top, and, as the tree was jarred by the successive strokes of the axe, it quitted its hold, and fell crashing through the branches on the head of the young heir, and stretched him on the ground a lifeless corpse!

A sudden call

Mr. Wilcox, in a sermon, mentions the following incident. A young man, in the vigour of health, with the fairest prospect of a long and prosperous life, was thrown from a vehicle, and conveyed to the nearest house in a state that excited instant and universal alarm for his safety. A physician was called. The first question of the wounded youth was, “Sir, must I die? must I die? deceive me not in this thing!” His firm tone and penetrating look demanded an honest reply. He was told he could not live more than an hour. He waked up, as it were, at once to a full sense of the dreadful reality. “Must I, then, go into eternity in an hour? Must I appear before my God and Judge in an hour? God knows that I have made no preparations for this event. I knew that impenitent youth were sometimes cut off thus suddenly, but it never entered my mind that I was to be one of the number. And now, what shall I do to be saved?” He was told that he must repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. “But how shall I repent and believe? there is no time to explain the matter. Death will not wait for explanation. The work must be done. The whole business of an immortal being in this probationary life is now crowded into one short hour, and that is an hour of mental agony and distraction.” Friends were weeping around, and running to and fro in the frenzy of grief. The poor sufferer, with a bosom heaving with emotion, and an eye gleaming with desperation, continued his cry of “What shall I do to be saved?” till, in less than an hour, his voice was hushed in the stillness of death.

Not ready for death

A woman was in the habit of attending the place of worship in which I preached, who occupied a seat on the stairs, and who was very tenacious of her sitting, not allowing any other person to occupy it. She was observed by her friends, who sought occasion to converse with her on the important subject of religion, but she was very shy and evasive. All they could extract from her was this appalling reply: “Oh, I shall only want five minutes’ time when I am dying to cry for mercy; and I have no doubt God Almighty will give it me.” It was in vain to remonstrate with the woman; this was always her reply. Time passed on. One day I was walking down the street, when a young woman ran up to me in a state of great agitation and excitement, exclaiming, “Oh, Mr. East, I have found you; do come to my mother, sir; come this minute, sir; she is dying, she is dying!” I hastened with her to the house, and was astonished to find in the dying sufferer the poor unhappy woman who had attended my place of worship. She was evidently expiring, but, turning her dying eyes towards me, she cried out, “Oh, Mr. East, I am lost, I am lost!” and expired.

The uncertainty of earthly things

I was travelling in the South lately, and a circumstance came to my knowledge, affectingly illustrative of the great uncertainty of the things of time. A gentleman, with great labour and perseverance, had secured for himself and his family a princely fortune, and built a fine house in the country. It was several years in preparing for his reception; and, after having got it finished, he purposed taking his family, and there enjoying himself, saying, as the man before us, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry!” The mansion was prepared; and, no doubt, full of anticipation, with his family he went into it; but scarcely had they occupied it, when his wife was cut off by a stroke, two of his daughters were summoned into eternity, and, when I was there, three of them were confined to their chambers, in a state of entire helplessness, and utterly incapable of enjoying those good things which God in His providence had bestowed upon them! The old gentleman himself, however, had secured the pearl of great price; his heart, having discovered the vanity of the earth, had been raised to the things that are above, where Christ sitteth on God’s right hand. It seemed to me a most striking illustration of the complete vanity and uncertainty of this world, and the consummate folly of any man giving up his interest in religion for the sake of anything which the world can yield. (John M’Lean.)

“And then”

“Oh, if I were lucky enough to call this estate mine, I should be a happy fellow,” said a young man. “And then?” said a friend. “Why, then I’d pull down the old house, and build a palace, have lots of prime fellows round me, keep the best wines, and the finest horses and dogs in the country.” “And then?” “Then I’d hunt, and ride, and smoke, and drink, and dance, and keep open house, and enjoy life gloriously.” “And then?” “Why, then, I suppose, like other people, I should grow old, and not care so much for these things.” “And then?” “Why, then, I suppose, in the course of nature I should leave all these pleasant things--and--well, yes--die!” “And then?” “Oh, bother your ‘thens’! I must be off.” Many years after, the friend was accosted with, “God bless you! I owe my happiness to you!” “How?” “By two words spoken in season long ago--‘And then?’”

Selfishness unsatisfying

Of all that have tried the selfish experiment, let one come forth and say he has succeeded. He that has made gold his idol--has it satisfied him? He that has toiled in the fields of ambition--has hebeen repaid? He that has ransacked every theatre of sensual enjoyment--is he content? Can any answer in the affirmative? Not one. And when his conscience shall ask him, and ask it will, “Where are the hungry, whom you gave meat? The thirsty, whom you gave drink? The stranger, whom you sheltered? The naked, whom you clothed? The prisoned, whom you visited? The sick, whom you ministered unto?” How will he feel when he must answer, “I have done none of these things--I thought only for myself”? (Dr. Johnson.)

Death cannot be evaded

Carlyle, in his “History of the French Revolution,” tells us of a Duke of Orleans who did not believe in death; so that when his secretary stumbled on the words, “The late King of Spain,” he angrily demanded what he meant by it. The obsequious attendant replied, “My lord, it is a title which some of the kings of Spain have taken.” In all this assembly I have not such a lunatic; for you unanimously believe that the entire race of men await alike the inevitable hour. We know that all our paths, wind as they may, will lead to the grave. A certain king of France believed in death, but forbade that it should ever be mentioned in his presence. “And if,” said he, “I at any time look pale, no courtier must dare, on pain of my displeasure, to mention it in my presence”; thus imitating the foolish ostrich, which, when pursued by the hunter, and utterly unable to escape, is said to hide its head in the sand, fancying that it is secure from the enemy which it cannot see. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

An agonizing question

At an early hour in the morning a few of the citizens of the town of G might have been seen hastening towards the depot. A run of twenty minutes brings the dashing train to a bridge, sixty feet below which, as in a channel cut through the rock, runs the now swollen waters of Lee’s Creek. The recent freshet had undermined one of the principal piers. There is a fearful crash, and, as the coaches fall through the awful space, one is heard to exclaim, “My God, where are we going?” Whether these words were uttered by lips devout or profane will probably never be known. A moment longer and the wreck is in flames, and so dreadful is the burning, that of the twelve or fifteen persons fatally involved, the charred remains of but few could be identified even by their friends. My God, where are we going? Reader, where are we going? We are going! Another incident in connection with this same railway disaster--for these are facts, as the writer has occasion to believe. Amid thewreck, some coin was spilled upon the floor of the broken ear. As the fire progressed, one poor sordid soul was seen gathering the pieces of gold in his hand. Whether he escaped, or whether be was overtaken by the flames and perished grasping his treasure in his fist, we know not.

(The United Presbyterian.)

A fool in God’s sight

My text introduces us into a fine farm-house. The occupant ‘has been wonderfully successful. He has not made his money by business dodges. He has never “cornered” anybody in stocks. He never lent money on a mortgage with the understanding that it might lie quiet for several years, and then, as soon as the mortgage was recorded, went down to begin foreclosure. He never got up a bogus company, sold the shares, and then backed out in time to save himself, leaving the widows and orphans in the lurch, wondering why there were no dividends. As far as I can tell, he was an honest, industrious, enterprising man. The crops were coming in. The mow and the granary were full, and the men and oxen tugged away at other loads. The matter was a great perplexity. After you have gone to the trouble to raise a crop, you want some place to put it.

Enlargement is the word. I see him calculating, by the light of a torch, how much extension of room is needed. So many loads of corn, so many of wheat. It must be so many feet front, and so many feet deep. He says, “

When I get the new building done, I shall have everything. Nothing then for me but to enjoy myself.” In anticipation of the barn enlarged, he folds his arms and says, “If anybody in all the world is prosperous and happy, I am that man.” But his ear is stunned with the words, “Thou fool!” “Where did the voice come from?” “Who dares say that to me, the first man in all this country?” It was the voice of God t “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee!” What was the malady that took him immediately away?--whether apoplexy, or some mysterious disease that the doctors could not account for--I know not. But that night he expired. He never built the extension. Before the remaining sheaves had been gathered he was himself reaped. They hauled in no loads of grain on the next day, but a long procession (for successful men always have big funerals) followed him out to burial. If the world expressed its sentiments in regard to him, it would put over his grave, “Here lies interred a successful man, of great enterprise and influence, and he departs mourned by the whole neighbourhood. Peace to his ashes.” God wrote over his grave, and on his barn-door, an epitaph of four letters--“Fool.” That the Divine epitaph was correct, I infer from the fact that this man had lived so many years and made no preparation for the future, and because he was postponing everything until he got larger barns. Additional barn-room could not make him happy. Show me the man made happy by worldly accumulation. He does not exist. (Dr. Talmage.)

A man’s own thought about himself, and God’s

Do you take notice how in the light of imagination are contrasted here a man’s convictions and thoughts respecting himself, and God’s thoughts about him? Was there a single man that lived within a day’s journey of this man that did not praise him? Was this man’s name ever mentioned in all the region round about but that men said, “Ah! one of the richest and most honourable men in the community”? When men wore speaking of prosperity and thrift, was not he spoken of? Were there not pleasing titles addressed to him when men would gain his friendship? Did not the man weave his own title out of these expressions of men’s thoughts respecting him? If you had asked him, What is thy name? he would have said, My name is The rich man. What is thy name? Prince among my fellows. What is thy name? The abounding man; The prosperous man; The eminent man; The great man of the neighbourhood; The much-talked-of man. What is his name, O Lord? Fool. He knew every name but the right one. The probability is that no man had ever addressed him by his true title. He had been called by the name of his childhood; but that was not his name. He had been called by names bred of wealth; but these were not his names. He had been called by names that came from men’s flatteries; but these were not his true names. When God spoke to him out of eternal truth, He said to him, “Thou fool!” and that was his name. It is very strange that a man should live to be forty or fifty years of age and not know his own name. Oh, how many there are in this congregation who have not the slightest conception of their nature and name. If I were to call out, “Fool, come hither,” who of you would stir? But when God comes to call men, by-and-bye, with that irresistible voice, “Fool,” oh, my soul, is it thou that then wilt be obliged to hear and answer? Are there not many of you that walk in honour, and are girded about with praise, who, if God were to launch your title through the air and fix it quivering in you, would be obliged hereafter, by this strange baptism of God, to wear the name “Fool”? What a contrast there was between the apparent and the real position in which this man stood! We read in the Bible of men’s walking in a vain show. We read the exclamation of him of old, “How are they cast down, as in a moment I” Here was a man in the very focus of prosperity, and yet he stood within a hand’s-breadth of his own grave. He seemed to defend himself from the intrusion of misfortune, and yet he was soon to be cast down. He had all that men usually covet. He had wrapped himself round and round with many coverings of wool, and silk, and fine linen, and supplied himself with abundant stores of things pleasant to the eye, and of things pleasant to the palate, and was honoured and respected; and now, having accomplished the purposes of his life, he began to lay himself back, as it were, and say to himself, “Now the toil is over; now the accomplishment is reached; now take thine ease.” And what sort of an ease was it? “Eat, drink, and be merry.” Self-indulgence and lust, which is the end and outcome of very much of the prosperity of this world. Self-indulgent pampering, selfish luxury--this was it. And he seemed to himself, he seemed to men, to have reached the very climax at the very moment the hand of God was extended to smite him down utterly and for ever. (H. W. Beecher.)

A fool brought to his senses

Some time ago, when passing along one of the crowded streets of London, a gentleman was attracted to a corner where, in the midst of some two hundred people, his eye rested upon a man in the dress of a clown, who drew the attention of all the passers-by. Moved with tender pity for the man, whose daily bread was earned in such a way, and lifting up his heart in prayer, he pressed through the crowd, and gave him a carefully selected tract. The clown contemptuously took it, and, to the astonishment and dismay of the giver, held it up and commenced reading it aloud. Word after word he read, with wonderful distinctness, till at length his eye rested on its closing sentence: “Thou fool! this night thy soul shall be required of thee.” His whole frame shook with emotion, and with instant speed he left the crowd. While the people around were looking on in amazement, the gentleman followed, and, finding him, drew him aside, and tried to enter into conversation with him; but the only answer he could obtain was, “I’m lost! I’m lost!” Who can describe the joy that filled his soul when he found that God had by his Holy Spirit brought home to this man’s heart and conscience the truth and power of that word which he had despised hitherto! In love and gentleness was the saving power of Jesus set before him. Every word he drank in as living water; all hardness was gone. He had been led to the foot of the cross as a repentant prodigal, and found forgiveness through a crucified Saviour. “Blessed are they who sow beside all waters.”

The foolish farmer

A rich farmer once said to the Rev. John Cooke, “I don’t like religion, and I told you so.” “You are not the only farmer of the kind,” replied Mr. Cooke. Then referring to this text, he said, “Do you think that this man was a fool?” “I shall not say, sir.” “To me he appears to have been one--

Selfishness

“I have seen a woman,” said a writer in the Christian (American), “professing to love Christ more than the world, clad in a silk dress costing 75 dols.; making up and trimming of same, 40 dols.; bonnet, or apology for one, 35 dols.; velvet mantle, 150 dols.; diamond ring, 500 dols.; watch, chain, pin, and other trappings, 300 dols.; total, 1,100 dols.

all hung upon one frail, dying worm. I have seen her at a meeting inbehalf of homeless wanderers in New York wipe her eyes upon an expensive embroidered handkerchief at the story of their sufferings, and when the contribution box came round, take from a well-filled portemonnaie of costly workmanship twenty-five cents to aid the society formed to promote their welfare.”

A scoffer taken at his word

A Christian man once occupied a desk in the same counting-room on the wharf with a man much older titan himself, who was a coarse, profane atheist, quite disposed to make others like himself. One night, as they were about shutting up, this man took our informant by the jacket, and said, flippantly, that he was surprised “such a clever fellow as he should believe in religion”; using some very blasphemous expression. To a request that he would abstain from such language, he repeated some of his profane slang; and to a remark, that, “if such notions might do to live by, they would not do to die by,” he said, “I’ll venture it!” “I think you would have some fears if it should be said to you, ‘Thou fool I this night thy soul shall be required of thee,’” said the friend. “I am ready,” said the scoffer, pointing and looking upward. They parted. The profane man turned the corner of the street to go one way, and his friend went in the opposite direction. Within one minute after they separated, the scoffer fell dead upon the sidewalk. So is he that layeth up treasure for himself

The insane rich man

My brethren, if the busy stir and activity around us were for a subsistence, it would not be necessary that a preacher should select such a text as this; nor, indeed, would the Saviour have uttered this parable. But, in fact, a very small part of this hum and bustle, this hustling and jostling, is fur a competency. It is the absorbing love of money, it is the insane lust of accumulation, above all--in this country, where everybody is crying out “equality!” and everybody dreading nothing so much as equality--it is the eager strife of social rivalry which is driving on the machinery, and keeping in an eternal whirl all this restless and articulate vitality.

I. “So is HE”; SO INSANE. The conduct marked here is not simply folly; the word translated “fool,” means madman. The case is one of real insanity; the man before us is a confirmed moral lunatic; and if he be not in an asylum, it is simply because the people around him are as infatuated and deranged as himself. The insanity in the text is neither the desire to have nor to enjoy wealth, but it is the absorbing possession of the mind by a single engrossing passion which monopolizes every thought, and shuts out other objects, even the most noble and important. Here are some of the symptoms of this man’s insanity.

1. He forgets that he is immortal--that he has eternal interests to secure.

2. He does not consider the brevity and uncertainty of human life.

3. A third and still more glaring proof of “madness in the heart” of this rich man, is the material estimate, the purely money value, which he puts upon everything, even upon his soul.

4. So mad upon his idol is this man, that he not only misinterprets his own nature, but entirely forgets that there is a God to whom he is accountable. “So is he that layeth up treasure for himself”; treasure for himself. All the aims and purposes of this owner of broad lands centre in himself, nor need we go far to find the original of this portrait. Select any one of the busy throng you see in the world (I had almost said, I blush to own it, in the church); observe his conduct, penetrate his bosom, what are all his thoughts and wishes but a constant repetition of these words, myself, myself? In losing sight of God and his soul, this monomaniac has lost sight of the purpose and end of life, he has missed entirely the object of his creation. What, indeed, is the happiness he promises himself? It is indolence, feasting, mirth, riotous living. “Take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry”--this is all he proposes, all his wealth can secure. And is this all for which he was created? Is man made in the image of God, that he may “take his ease, eat, drink, and be merry”? Is it for this that he is ennobled with those glorious gifts which place him only a “little lower than the angels”? Is this the happiness for which God has formed such a being? Not only his enjoyment. His work, his employment, his ambition, what are these? “I will pull down my barns and build greater.” His hands can find nothing more important to do, his intellect nothing more noble to design, his heart nothing more worthy of its loftiest aspirations.

II. But the folly and madness of this rich man are not the only things which the parable illustrates. His disquietude and trouble are also most strikingly portrayed. So IS HE SO RESTLESS AND UNHAPPY. This is our next topic. “What shall I do?” cries this rich man, and why? What is the matter? What aileth him? “What shall I do, because I have no room to bestow my fruits? … What shall I do?” Well, and what will he do? He is rich, he is prosperous, he “has more than heart could wish,” and his great concern is to know what it is best for him to do. Let us now see what his determination is. What he ought to do is plain; he ought to be grateful to God; he ought not to “trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God”; he ought to abound in deeds of charity” that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute”; he ought to watch and pray lest riches prove a fatal snare, lest, like another rich man, he have “his good things in his lifetime;” he ought to tremble as he thinks “how hardly shall a rich man enter the kingdom of God”; in fine, he ought to be “laying up in store for himself a good foundation against the time to come, that he may lay hold on eternal life”--making to himself “friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when he dies they may receive him into everlasting habitations.” This is what this man ought to do, this is what the Bible charges the rich to do, but the rich seldom consult the Bible on this or any other duty. The Bible apart, however, ought not common sense to instruct the rich? ought not reason to cure a sane man of this restlessness and anxiety? On a certain day, says the historian, Pyrrhus the king, elated by victory, was detailing to Cineas, his prime minister, all his projected triumphs. “I will next conquer Sicily.” “What then?” “Then I will subdue Africa.” “What then?” “Then I will make myself master of Spain.” “And what then?” “Why then,” said the monarch, “we can take our ease and be happy.” “And why,” replied Cineas, “why cannot we do that now?” So with this rich man; what happiness can wealth purchase, which he may not enjoy now? But the admonitions of reason have as little influence as those of conscience upon a man whose heart is debased by covetousness. Look where we will, we see this truth, that men are more intent on possessing than enjoying; and when the desire to accumulate becomes the ruling passion, rest, contentment, all real happiness, are sacrificed to this monopolizing vice. Everybody tells you, indeed, that he wants only a competency; but by a competency, everybody means a little more than he happens to have at present. A few have too much, many too little, but nobody was ever yet found who had just enough.

III. The last admonition which the Saviour designs to convey in this parable has reference to THE FEARFUL PERILS TO WHICH WEALTH EXPOSES THE SOUL. Danger from the absorbing influence over the heart; “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”; the prodigal is soon disgusted with sensual pleasures, but the love of money only becomes more deeply rooted and engrossing as other passions are destroyed by age; it is quickened and invigorated by their ashes. Danger from the insuperable obstacles to conversion; “he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions”--strange cause for sorrow, but never sorrow more reasonable. Danger, because, with the possession of wealth, pride is almost invariably insinuated into the heart; “Charge them that are rich in this world that they be not high-minded”; where can we look without seeing men, once poor and humble, and bidding fair for heaven, but now rich, inflated with self-importance, filled with ambitious thoughts for themselves and their families; an ambition which changes not only their style of living, but their style of worshipping God--changed their Church, changes their preacher, changes their creed; Mammon making a revelation, in the light of which truth is seen to be falsehood, and falsehood truth; and thus Christ, and faith, and salvation are immolated to pamper a contemptible vanity? Danger from that utter selfishness which increasing wealth fosters; “layeth up treasure for himself,” is elated with a feeling of independence; cares nothing for others; is occupied only with his own ease, and pleasure, and aggrandizement. (Richard Fuller, D. D.)

The folly of laying up earthly riches

This man’s folly was toiling for treasures he could not use. He gathered treasures, but lost them, his soul, and God. Enriching himself outwardly, he impoverished himself inwardly. Linking his being with perishable things, he perishes with them. Thus he became poor, blind, naked, in one hour (Revelation 3:17). A wise man desires no more than what he may get justly, use soberly, distribute cheerfully, and leave contentedly. Love and faith of the heart are “the unsearchable riches” (Ephesians 3:8). A believing beggar dying, quits his poverty, and goes to his riches. Millionaires oft in time are beggars in eternity (Luke 16:23). (Van Doren.)

The true riches

When we come to define riches, we find it difficult to give preciseness to the idea attached to the word. The man who has gold enough for all his wants is rich. Money is but a means to an end, that end being the convenient attainment of things requisite for comfortable existence. The soul has wants as well as the body, and the means by which its necessities are to be supplied may be called “riches,” the true riches.

I. WHAT ARE THESE RICHES? He is rich who has a good conscience, a will in unison with God’s, and emotions of happiness in the contemplation of God; God Himself is the true wealth of the soul. We are all originally poor, for we have sinned and wandered from God. But we all, if we will, may become spiritually wealthy through Jesus Christ our Lord.

II. How CAN WE ACQUIRE THESE RICHES? James has given us the answer--“rich in faith.” It is by faith that we become rich toward God.

III. How ARE WE TO KEEP AND INCREASE THESE RICHES? Paul enlightens us here when he bids Timothy charge his hearers to be “rich in good works.” The riches of personal deliverance may be regarded as the one pound which Christ gives to all who will take it; his own good works are the improvement which the believer makes on that original gift. This improvement is both personal and diffusive.

IV. THE EXHORTATION TO “LAY UP FOR YOURSELVES TREASURES IN HEAVEN.”

1. The pursuit of this wealth is attended with no danger to the character.

2. In the search every one may be successful.

3. This spiritual treasure is abiding. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Treasure misplaced

To set the heart on the creature is to set a diamond in lead, or to lock coals in a cabinet and throw jewels into a cellar. (Bishop Reynolds.)

The Christian’s treasure

There is a saying in Plutarch recorded of a rich Roman (Crassus), that he did not think that man rich who knew all that he had.” Truly in this man’s account a Christian is truly rich; he hath laid up more treasure than himself knows of; yet, although a Christian knows not how much he hath, yet he shall lose none; it is safe, being laid up in heaven; every star is as a seal set upon the treasure-door. (Bishop Hopkins.)

Business all absorbing

The captain of a whaling ship said, “I cannot attend to religion. My mind is occupied with other things. If you looked into my heart, I believe you would find a whale there.” (H. R. Burton.)

The heart with the treasure

I was much struck, writes one, the other day, in reading about a nobleman who died a few days since. He had an iron safe, or chest, all locked up, but marked, “To be removed first in case of fire.” When he died, his friends opened the chest, supposing, of course, that some valuable document, or deed of property, rich jewellery, or costly plate would be found in it. But what did they find? They found the toys of his little child, who had gone before him. Richer to him were they than all the world’s wealth, richer than his coronet; brighter than all the jewels that sparkled on his crest. Not his estate, not his jewels, not his equipage, nothing glorious and great in this world; but the dearest objects to him were the toys of his little child.


Verses 16-22

Verses 22-28

Luke 12:22-28

Take no thought for your life

Reasons for banishing vexatious care

1.
It is needless; “your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things”; and will certainly provide for you; and what need you take care, and God too? Cast your care upon Him.

2. It is fruitless; “which of you, by taking care, can add one cubit to his stature?” We may sooner, by our carping care, add a furlong to our grief, than a cubit to our comfort. All our care, without God’s help, will neither feed us when we are hungry, nor nourish us when we are fed.

3. It is heathenish; “after all these things do the Gentiles seek” Matthew 6:32). The ends and objects of a Christian’s thoughts ought to be higher and more sublime than that of heathens.

4. Lastly, it is brutish, nay, worse than brutish. The birds of the air, the beasts of the field, the ravens of the valley, all are fed and sustained by God, without any care of their own, much more His children. Has God a breakfast ready for every little bird that comes chirping out of its nest, and for every beast of the field that comes leaping out of its den, and will He not much more provide for you? Surely, that God that feeds the ravens when they cry will not starve His children when they pray. (W. Burkitt.)

The body of less importance than the soul

The body is but the husk or shell, the soul is the kernel; the body is but the cask, the soul the precious liquor contained in it; the body is but the cabinet, the soul the jewel; the body is but the ship or vessel, the soul the pilot; the body is but the tabernacle, and a poor clay tabernacle or cottage toe, the soul the inhabitant; the body is but the machine or engine, the soul that ἐνδόν τι, that actuates and quickens it; the body is but the dark lanthorn, the soul or spirit is the candle of the Lord, that burns in it. And seeing that there is such difference between the soul and body, in respect of excellency, surely our better part challenges our greatest care and diligence to make provision for it … Some philosophers will not allow the body to be an essential part of man, but only the vessel or vehicle of the soul; Anima cujusque est quisque. The soul is the man. Though I would not be so unequal to it, yet I must needs acknowledge it to be but an inferior part: it is therefore so to be treated, so dieted, and provided, as to render it most calm and compliant with the soul, most tractable and obsequious to the dictates of reason; not so pampered and indulged, as to encourage it to cast its rider, and to take the reins into its own hand, and usurp dominion over the better part, the τὸ ἠγεμονικὸν, to sink and depress it into a sordid compliance with its own lusts, atque a affigere humi Divinae particulara aurae (Luke 15:17; Ecclesiastes 12:7; Galatians 6:7-8; Romans 13:14; 1 Corinthians 9:27). (Ray.)

Vanity in dress

It is enough to make one weep to think of the multitudes who are only living for the frivolities of this life. I read lately that the Emperor of Brazil had given the Queen a dress made of spiders’ webs; it took 17,000 webs to make it. What a curiosity! No doubt the Queen would keep it all her life. Oh, what an amount of time and labour to make this dress! It reminded me of the way we cover oursolves with vanities, wasting a life over it. Oh I give it up, and take the beautiful robe of Christ’s righteousness.

The spirit of content

I once engaged in discourse with a Rosicrucian about the great secret. He talked of it as a spirit that lived in an emerald, and converted everything that was near it to the highest perfection it was capable of. “It gives a lustre,” said he, “ o the sun, and water to the diamond. It irradiates every metal, and enriches lead with all the properties of gold. It heightens smoke into flame, flame into light, and light into glory. He further added that a single ray dissipates pain and care and melancholy from the person on whom it falls. In short,” said he, “its presence naturally changes every place into a kind of heaven.” At length I found that his great secret was nothing else but content. (Addison.)

Do not borrow trouble

There is no one who acts more unwisely than he that “borrows trouble.” He that borrows money may invest it to great advantage. The borrower of a good book may be a great gainer by its study and perusal. But who gains by “borrowing trouble “? Is trouble so joyous and enriching that we shall be happier if we can only enjoy it a few days before it comes? Does it not withdraw the light of joy from our countenance? Does it not withdraw our thoughts from the present, and unfit us for its joys and pleasures? Where, then, is the wisdom of prophesying evil that we may “borrow trouble” from it? (Alliance News.)

The folly of caring more for the body than the soul

The body is to the soul as a barren turf to a mine of gold, as a mud wall about a delicate garden, as a wooden box wherein the jeweller carries his precious gems, as a coarse case to a fair and rich instrument, as a rotten hedge to a paradise, as Pharaoh’s prison to a Joseph, or as a mask to a beautiful face. (T. Adams.)

The soul foremost

I do not approve the sullenness of that soul which wrongs the body; but I worse like to have the body wrong the soul, to have Hagar tricked up in Sarah’s garments and set at upper end of the table. If the painted popinjay that so dotes on her own beauty, had an eye to see how her soul used, she would think her practice more ill-favoured and unhandsome than perfuming a putrefied coffin, or putting mud into a glass of crystal. For shame, let us put the soul foremost again, and not set heaven lowest and earth uppermost. (T. Adams.)

Both body and soul lost

There is a parable of a woman, who, having twin children, and both being presented to her, she falls deeply and fondly in love with the one, but is careless and disrespectful of the other: this she will nurse herself, but that is put forth. Her love grows up with the child she kept herself she decks it fine, she feeds it choicely; but at last, by overmuch pampering of it, the child surfeits, becomes mortally sick, and when it was dying she remembers herself, and sends to look after the other child that was at nurse, so the end she might now cherish it; but when the messenger came she finds it dying and gasping likewise, and examining the truth, she understands that through the mother’s carelessness and neglect to look after it, the poor child was starved; thus was the fond, partial mother, to her great grief, sorrow, and shame, deprived of both her hopeful babes at once. Thus, every Christian is this mother, the children are our body and soul: the former of these it is that men and women fall deeply and fondly in love with, whilst indeed they are careless and neglect the other; this they dress and feed, nothing is too good or too dear for it; but at the last the body surfeits, comes by some means or other to its deathbed, when there is very little or no hope of life; then men begin to remember the soul, and would think of some course to save it: the minister he is sent for in all haste to look after it; but, alas! he finds it in part dead, in part dying; and the very truth is, the owner, through neglect and carelessness, hath starved the soul, and it is ready to go to hell before the body is fit for the grave.

And so the foolish fond Christian, to his eternal shame and sorrow, loseth both his body and soul for ever. (Spencer.)

God is the universal Provider

There is no such thing recognized in Scripture as “laws of nature,” by which the various creatures are sustained. God is here and elsewhere represented to us as feeding them Himself: “He giveth food to all flesh.” He may employ secondary means, but He must Himself be present with these secondary means, or they would not continue in action for a single day. And in this respect the Bible is infinitely more philosophical than modern books of science: for these books represent the present state of things as carried on by laws themselves, whereas a law, being an unconscious rule or limitation, can do nothing of itself. It must be kept in action by a will, i.e., an Intelligence, which, considering the boundless field it has to occupy, we can hold to be nothing less than the Supreme Will. (M. F. Sadler.)

A lesson from the birds

Luther had a quick eye to detect and read the lessons of nature. Thus, on a certain calm summer evening he happened to be standing at a window, when he observed a small bird quietly settle down for the night. “Look how that little fellow preaches faith to us all!” he exclaimed. “He takes hold of his twig, tucks his head under his wing, and goes to sleep, leaving God to think for him.” Add to his stature one cubit

Limitations

It is well for men to think that there are some things which, with all their power, they cannot do. Some of these things are apparently very simple, yet even though simple and easy as in some cases they appear to be, cannot be done, even when men give the whole stress and pith of their minds to the attempt. This is implied in the phraseology of the text: Which of you by taking thought, by anxiously considering, by most perseveringly endcavouring, by straining his wit and strength to the very utmost, by spending his days and nights in the effort, can add one cubit unto his stature? There are some difficult things which we can do by putting out all our strength. There are others which mock the fulness of our power, and the tenacity of our patience. We resolve to do them, and we are beaten back, and taught a lesson of self-impotence which otherwise we never could have learned. Can you add one cubit unto your stature? You may wear high-heeled boots, you may order the tallest hats, but the height of your stature you are utterly unable to increase. God Himself sovereignly draws certain boundary lines. In some instances God allows us to a large extent to draw our own boundaries; in others He presently gives the final and decisive word, “Hitherto--no further.” It is important to know the difference between quantities which are variable and quantities which are fixed. This knowledge may save us a great deal of trouble, and prevent very much pain. Can your teeth bite the rock? However hungry you are, is there strength in your jaw to bite the granite? Can your feet stand upon the flowing river? Can you lay your finger upon the lowest of all the stars that shine in heaven? A thousand such questions show that we are hemmed in by the impassable; we walk upon the edge of a gulf; and our mightiest endeavours show us that after all we are only beating ourselves against the bars of a great cage! A painted cage, but a cage still--a cage lamplit, but a cage still. Now this limitation of our power must have some meaning. Jesus Christ makes use of it in illustrating not only the sovereignty, but the goodness of God. He teaches us to trust the Father, who has determined the height of our stature. He shows that if we cannot do such apparently little things as He has specified in His sermon, it is absurd to suppose we can do things which are infinitely greater; checks our anxiety by showing that our keenest solicitude about earthly concerns boots nothing when it gets beyond trust, and becomes practical atheism. This argument is as beautiful in its simplicity as it is universal in its application. Wherever there is a man, whatever his colour, language, age, he can understand this challenge, “Can you add one cubit unto your stature?” Why are you not taller? There seems to be room enough above you to admit of growth. Why don’t you grow? You would not shut out the light of the sun even if you were half an inch taller! You would not imperil the stars if you did stand half a hair’s breadth higher! Why do you not add to your stature? You can scheme, and arrange, and plot, and suggest. Sir! why not add to your stature? You cannot. Then consider--ask yourself a few plain searching questions. See how God rules in all the things--in your height, in the bounds of your habitation, in all the limits which He has set to your life. This great fact of the Divine limitation of human power is to rule us in the deepest of our studies, and in the profoundest of our worship. If we lay hold of this truth, and have a clear, deep, tender conviction of it, and of all the truths which it represents, three great effects ought to be produced upon our life.

I. IT SHOULD FOSTER THE MOST LOVING AND CONFIDENT TRUST IN THE GOODNESS OF GOD. There is a point where we cannot go one iota further, where we are compelled to one of two things--reverent and intelligent trust, or the ostrich blindness which seems to proceed upon the principle that to shut the eyes is to escape all observation and all control. The course of reasoning in our minds ought to be this: “I cannot add one cubit unto my stature; God has determined my height.” If He has been mindful of such a little thing as that, will he be unmindful of great things?

II. In the next place, this truth should MODERATE OUR TONE RESPECTING OPINIONS WHICH ARE NOT DECISIVELY SETTLED BY REVELATION. If a man can’t increase his stature, how can he increase the volume of God’s truth? If a man can’t increase his stature, who gives him authority to speak where God has been silent?

III. In the last place, THIS TRUTH SHOULD ENCOURAGE US TO CULTIVATE WITH FULLER PATIENCE AND INTENSER ZEAL THE POWERS WHICH WE KNOW TO BE CAPABLE OF EXPANSION. We see some things most sharply by contrast. Here we have a point which challenges contrast of the most practical and instructive kind. For example: You cannot add one cubit unto your stature, yet you can increase the volume and force of your mind. See the truthfulness of the doctrine we have laid down, that in some things God sharply gives the final line, in others He leaves great liberty, and calls men to growth that seems to have no end. See how apparently arbitrary is Divine sovereignty in some of its workings A man can’t increase his height one inch, and yet I find nowhere a limit to intellectual supremacy and to the expansion of intellectual power. Your body has done growing, but your mind may just have began to look at the alphabet of truth. When the animal has reached the utmost limit of its capability, the intellectual, the Divine may go on increasing, expanding, refining, for God constantly says to the faithful servant, “Thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things.” Whatsoever a man’s mind legitimately attains, God still says, “Come up higher.”

IV. Again, though you cannot add one cubit unto your stature, You MAY RELIEVE THE PAIN OF A THOUSAND HEARTS.

V. Again, though you cannot add one cubit unto your stature, You MAY CULTIVATE AN EVER-DEEPENING ACQUAINTANCE WITH THE WILL OF GOD you may know God more perfectly, read His Word with a clearer eye, receive the suggestions and instructions of His Holy Spirit more lovingly, more loyally and trustfully, so that you may be men in understanding. Let us go to them, then, knowing that we are limited in our little sphere; that there are marked and positive limitations in some cases; and that everywhere--excepting when we are growing up into the likeness of God--there is limitation. Let that rebuke human reason--let that curb humanselfishness let that stand by us when we read the Holy Word and try to solve its mysteries. And when we become weary of looking at our littleness, our experiments, and our impotence, and turn round in other directions, we find that we may take wings--strong, great, unwearying pinions--and fly away right up to the very heart and heaven of God! Though we be little we are great. Though we are shut in and confined and mocked in some directions, in other directions we are citizens of the universe, freemen of the whole creation. Blessed are they who know alike the limit and the liberty of human life! (J. Parker, D. D.)


Verse 27

Luke 12:27

Consider the lilies

Lessons from the flowers: to children

There are three virtues which Jesus was endeavouring to teach when He told His disciples to consider the lilies.
They are, contentment, obedience, humility.

I. FLOWERS ARE NOT ONLY BEAUTIFUL, BUT THEY ALWAYS SEEM CONTENTED AND GLAD, Did you ever think how little they have to make them so? They live on other people’s leavings. The air gives them only what finer folks reject and call poison. When the birds and the beasts have taken from the atmosphere all they want, the flowers, like poor Lazarus, desire what is left, the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table. Then, too, if there is any dreadful filth from the sewers or the barnyard, of which men do not know how else to be rid, they give it to the flowers; just as I have seen certain children send ragged clothes and broken toys to the Christmas poor-box. But the flowers are grateful, and though they cannot talk they blush with gratitude, pink or blue or yellow or white, according to the colour of their blood. Then the poor flower-folk, out of these odds and ends which nobody else will have, make for themselves such splendid clothes as King Solomon could not get, though he had first choice of everything, and all the weavers and tailors and jewellers in the world to dress him. So our first lesson from the flowers is to get all the good out of the things you have, before you wish for more things.

II. FLOWERS HAVE NO WINGS AND NO FEET. They must stay in one place. Therefore they never do anything which they cannot do at home. If a boy will stick to that, he will grow up like a flower into a noble and beautiful man. When the Lord Jesus was asked to do wrong, He said: “I and My Father are one.” It was His way of saying, “That is not as they do at home; therefore I cannot do so here.” If boys use their feet to get away from home, they are worse off than the flowers, which have no feet. But if they use them to carry their homes wherever they go, they are far more blessed then the fairest flowers.

III. THE FLOWERS HAVE NO TONGUES. I do not mean that you must not talk. God has given us tongues, and means us to use them. But let the silent beauty of the flowers teach us to do all the good we can and make no fuss about it. Never be in a hurry to tell people you are Christians, but act so that they cannot help finding it out. Did you ever watch beans grow? They come out of the ground as if they had been planted upside down. Each appears carrying the seed on top of his stalk, as if they were afraid folks would not know they were beans unless they immediately told them. But most flowers wait patiently and humbly to be known by their fruits. Sometimes boys get laughed at because they think they must tell everybody that they are Christians. They talk about their piety, and never show it in any other way. But no boy gets laughed at for being a Christian; for being true and brave and kind and humble and pure, like the Lord Jesus. (W. B.Wright.)

God’s care for the lilies

The Lord’s argument requires that these should be the wild lilies, the lilies of the field, as we read in the parallel place in St. Matthew. As they spring up spontaneously, man, by his cultivation, has added nothing to their perfection. They are creations of God on which He has lavished such splendour of form and colour that Solomon’s jewelled robes were not to be compared to them, and yet God has thus gorgeously clothed them for no apparent purpose except to exhibit profuseness of beauty; they last but a day, and the next day their withered stalks are gathered for fuel for the oven. Not one in one million delights the eye even of a child; and yet each particular one serves its purpose in creation. Each one is observed and its beauty noted by God--by Him who numbers the grains of sand and the drops of dew-each particular one, though never to be seen by man, is as perfect of its kind as if it had been destined to adorn the temple of God. (M. F. Sadler.)

Nature set against manufactures

“Consider the lilies how they grow Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” There is nature set against manufactures, and set so as to throw them into pitiable contrast. Solomon was all as to his decorations, manufacture--the decorations were hand made; and the lily is lifted up, and declared to be his superior in tender delicacy of beauty to all the colour that flamed on the shoulders of the king. How are they made? Look at them and you will know. Compare anything which you have made with anything which you find in nature; and you will see that you have either been copying nature or travestying by mean and impotent imitation what nature has done so infinitely well. Can you show me anything so delicate as the bloom upon the cheek of the peach? Touch it. Now put the bloom back again! Look at the meadow in the morning when brightened with dew, and tell me if the hand of man ever made such a scene as that dewy field presents when the sun shines upon it? What gleaming diamonds--what glowing rubles--what glittering emeralds--what a blazing of living and all but speaking colour! How made? “Not made with hands!” Touch one of the jewels. It is goner Restore it t No angel could! (J. Parker, D. D.)

Considering the flowers

Dr. Chalmers luxuriated among the plants and flowers of the season, and delighted to examine minutely the structure and the beauties of some humble production that would have escaped the notice of a less practised eye. He said to a friend one day--after he had been rapt in admiration of nature and nature’s God--“I love to dwell on the properties of one flower at a time; to fix my mind on it exclusively until I feel that it has taken complete hold of my mind. This is a peculiarity of my constitution. I must have concentration of thought on any given thing, and not be diverted from it.” The friend’s attention was arrested in the garden by a sunflower of large dimensions and exquisite culouring. He (Dr. Chalmers) said, with deep emotion., “Oh, that we could so open our hearts to the beams of the Sun of Righteousness!” It was in such scenes that one not only saw but felt that the train of thought was heavenward--that his heart and his treasure were in heaven.

Christ and the lilies

Our Lord reminds us by such words as my text of the profound teaching that lies in the simplest objects strewn before us in the world. As the flowers expand their whole being to the light; as every wave upon the sea reflects the arched heavens above it; as the mountain peaks point ever upward to the skies; as the world of nature leads up to God; so should we be flower, sea, mountain, unfolding our whole nature to the light of God, mirroring back in happy response the glory of heaven encircling everywhere our lives, pointing by our steadfastness and rectitude directly up to Him. Let us listen to nature’s teaching, and from it learn what God would have us learn about our life.

I. LILY-LIFE AND GROWTH TEACH US FREEDOM FROM CARE. The lily builds itself up from within. Like the primrose and crocus, the flower springs directly from the root. The sweet lily of the valley, which is, perhaps, the best known plant that bears the name of lily, pushes its way up step by step from the creeping root-stock. The leaves open out, and from their sheath the slender stalk rises. Tiny knots of pale green fibre form round its head; they droop; the stem arches itself, and the little knots open into white and regularly formed bells, brimming with richest fragrance. The wonder is how so much fragrance can be compressed within so small a thing. Watch how it grew. It made no fuss. It never paused as if in uncertainty. It was never divided in its plant-mind whether it should go on trying to be a lily, or whether it should try to be something else. It just went on as it had started from the root, growing, being itself, without hurry, and presently the bells formed, the sweetness and beauty came. It was that which God intended it to be--a lily. Consider it. Ours is to be the pure lily life. The one thing we have to do is to persevere in being what we are--Christians.

1. We suffer from temptation. It harasses and baffles us, Is not the simple solution for all temptations, great or small, to go back to the very root of our life? “I am Christ’s. I cannot do this thing. My Master gave up ease, comfort, and life also, on the Cross. I can give up my desires and likings for Him. He would not do this thing. He would not argue or parley. ‘Get thee behind me, Satan,’ would be His word. It must be my word also.” Temptations lodge themselves in our fancy. They haunt our imagination. Well, though they do, go on with life’s true work just the same. The lily pauses for no fancy. It goes on growing. So, in spite of fancies and imaginings, go on being, and living, and doing as Christ would were He in your place. Go back to the root. Be Christ’s, in spite of your state of mind, your inclinations and fancies.

2. Disappointments and sorrows hinder us. They lodge in our fancy. They people our brain with vague fears. I think if we went to a lily and plucked off one of its tiny bells, or tore away the leaf that sheathes the stem, the lily would still struggle bravely, and rear its head as proudly as it could. It would strive still to fulfil its life, because it grows from the root, and the root is not gone. Shall we be stripped of something we hold dear--wealth, bodily vigour, the friends we love tenderly--and therefore cease to grow? Christians cannot give up.

II. THE LILY GROWS EVERYWHERE. And so do Christians. God has planted some of us in bare desolate places. We are not happy and contented. We believe we should lead a more useful and a nobler life if our environment were changed. It is impossible to say what any of us might do or become if we were in different positions from those we occupy. Let me remind you, however, of one great fact. For the present you are in one particular spot, and no other; working at this particular calling and no other; possessed of just this particular amount of education and knowledge, and no more. And this being the case, God requires of you to reverence and reveal Him, to witness for Him, in the particular place in which He has at present established you; and to use there the talents, the opportunities and grace He has given you. Try and brighten life where you are. In the norrowest sphere, as a subordinate or a servant, be true to your Christian nature. Perform the lily’s part. Let one little corner of the world, at any rate, be more pleasant and heavenly because you are in it.

III. THE SPECIAL UTILITY OF THE LILY. Many of the larger varieties of the lily can exist where herbage at first cannot. The soil is very dry, and grass would be scanty were it not for the function discharged by the lily. There is no continuous greensward in Palestine, such as is seen in the parks and around the homesteads of our native land. The lily, however, can exist in the dry soil, for it carries in its bulbous root its own store of nourishment. Fixed in the ground, but sustaining itself in large measure from the bulb, it grows into the perfect flower. As vegetation always attracts moisture, the lilies draw from even that dry atmosphere the humid particles it contains. Their broad opaque leaves screen from the sun plants that come to nestle under their shade. The lilies create the conditions under which herbage can exist and thrive. The flocks of the shepherd always wend their way to the spot abounding with lilies. The gazelle and other wild deer are found grazing there, not cropping the slender flowers, but luxuriating in the succulent grass which grows beside them--a scene of which the inspired poet in the Canticles has availed himself: the bride comparing her spouse to a roe or young hart feeding among the lilies. “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine; he feedeth among the lilies.” Consider the lilies!” How useful they are! We are to be like them in this. We are to make it more possible for others, by our influence and example, to live a holy and a spiritual life.

IV. THE LILY IS BEAUTIFUL. Its adornment is most rich and sumptuous. Its colours--white, scarlet, and gold, glow in splendour over the whole landscape. And yet it simply grows; it attends to its life, not to its raiment. Why take thought for raiment? Yet many people are vain enough and unwise enough to perplex and trouble their whole lives simply and mainly about dress and furniture--about the adornment of their persons, the garniture of their houses. The law the Saviour gives us is most plain. Live first. Think most about life. And He means soul-life, the life in God, the life of a child of God, which is the only real and worthy human life. Be earnest about purity, holiness, spirituality of character. (A. J. Griffith.)

The lessons derived from the plant

“Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall He not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” (Matthew 6:30). The inspired writers are in the way of employing all the objects in nature with which we are familiar, in order to illustrate spiritual truths. Solomon sends the slothful man to the ant: “Go to the ant, thou sluggard.” Isaiah makes the ox arid ass rebuke the ingratitude of the professing people of God: “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib, but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.” All this exercised a most beneficent influence on pious men in ancient Israel. Living as they did,” much in the open air, and in perpetual view of the wondrous works of God in earth and sky, nature was seen by them to be full of God. The grass sprang, the flowers bloomed, the wheat and barley yielded their increase, and the vine and the fig and the olive-trees their rich fruit, all in obedience to God’s command; and as they did so they showed forth the glory of God as well as furnished nourishment to His creatures. Would that the example set by Hebrew shepherds and husbandmen as they tended their flocks or pruned their vineyards would induce those who live much among the works of nature to take like elevated views. The plant in particular has been much employed by the inspired writers to convey spiritual lessons. The life of the plant seemed to them like the spiritual life in the soul; the rain and dew that nourished it reminded them of the grace which comes down from heaven; the flowers which adorned it taught them that the soul should be adorned with heavenly graces; and the fruit which it yielded admonished them that they too must bring forth fruit unto God.

I. WE ARE TO CONSIDER THE WORKS OF GOD, AND IN PARTICULAR THE PLANTS, THE LILIES, AND THE GRASS OF THE FIELD. “Consider,” says he, “the lilies of the field.” There are many who do not consider them. Some of these persons are fond of seeing or possessing fine specimens of human workmanship in dress or furniture or houses or paintings, but they “regard not the works of the Lord, nor the operations of His hands.” “And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” We are to mark them; we are to mark how they grow. We need no scientific knowledge, no learned terms, to enable us to do this. All persons who have eyes to see may see it with or without book learning, whether they have or have not been at schools or colleges. They may in particular observe two things.

1. Every part of the plant is made to serve an end. “They toil not, neither do they spin”; yet every organ of the plant has its use. Look at the swelling tree that overshadows us, or at this graceful lily at our feet. Consider it, It has roots which serve a purpose. These roots penetrate into the soil and draw nourishment from it. These spread out downwards as the trunk and branches mount upwards, and enable the tree, the oak for example, to stand the storms of a hundred winters. The form of the bole of a tree, and the manner in which it fixes itself in the ground, is said to have yielded some suggestions to a celebrated engineer in the construction of a famous light-house (Eddystone). You may remark how the tree springs up from the ground as a stem or trunk, on which hang all the branches and flowers and seed and fruit. This trunk, as it mounts upwards, spreads out all around into the air as branches and branchlets. These are covered with leaves rejoicing in the sunshine, and the moisture of dew and rain, and drawing in nourishment from the atmosphere. Upon these, at the proper season, you may look for and find flowers to delight the eye, and seed wherewith to propagate other plants after their kind, and fruit for the sustenance of God’s creatures. It is obvious to every reflecting mind that in this Divine workmanship every part has its use and its end. The architect of a famous palace (Sydenham) confesses that he derived some of the ideas embodied in that structure from observing the wonderful provision made for bearing up the very bread leaf of one of the most beautiful of lilies. But there is another principle to be observed in the plant.

2. There is visible in the plant an order, an ornament, a beauty. Special reference is made to this by Him who made them, and who now uses them to teach us lessons. God is said not only to have made, but to have clothed the grass of the field. While every part of the plant has its use, it has also a clothing; it is clothed with beauty to minister to our delight and manifest the Divine glory. It can be shown that every plant and every organ of the plant is, as it were, constructed upon a model or pattern in the Divine mind. Look at the full-formed tree growing apart from all other trees, and you see at once that it is made to grow up into a particular form, and this form is beautiful to look upon. It can be shown that every tree takes its own peculiar form--a form after its kind; and if not interfered with, that form is lovely. Look, too, at the flower of the lily, or any other plant, and in every part of it--its stalk, its petals, and inner organs, in their forms, and in the way in which they are placed--there are obvious order and ornament to call forth our admiration and our praise. Then, what richness of colouring in the flower. First of all, every colour is beautiful in itself; and then, colours which are accordant are placed alongside of one another in pleasing melody or exciting harmony. It needs science to explain all this, to show how it arises, and point out the causes of it; but it needs no science to enable us to observe it or enjoy it; the eye perceives it spontaneously, and drinks in the beauty, and it needs only piety to enable us to turn all this into an anthem of praise. This clothing of the plant meets us everywhere. Take the commonest plant--the furze that grows on the common, the seaweed that cleaves to the rocks washed by the ocean, or the fern that springs up in the mountain glen--and you may observe in its structure, in its leaves, and all its pendicles, a wonderful correspondence of side to side, and a counterbalancing of one part by another. Let the eye travel over nature, as we walk among the cultivated fields, or on the grassy slopes and valleys of our upland districts, or among the thick woods where the winds have sown the seeds, and bush and tree of every kind spring up, each eager to maintain its place and show its separate form and beauty, and we discover an order and a grace in every branch and blade and leaf and colour. Pluck the leaf and flower and consider it, and observe how one edge has the same number of notches in it as the other edge, and what nice balancings and counterpoises there are, and how nicely the lines and dots and shadings suit one another, and recur each at its proper place, as if all had been done by the most exact measurement and under the most skilful and tasteful eye. Enter the rich arbour or the cultivated garden, and observe how the flowers have been enlarged or improved by the care which has been taken of them; and in this gayer colour and in that fuller expanse and more flowing drapery and richer fragrance mark how God, who rewards us for opening our eyes and looking abroad upon His works, holds out a still greater reward to those who in love to Him, or in love to them, take pains with them and bestow labour upon them. Now, all this fitness and all this order and beauty testify of the wisdom and goodness of God. All these objects point upward to their God and to our God. But these works of God can also serve other religious ends. They may be used as lesson-books; they are thus used by Christ to instruct us in great spiritual truths. Nature may thus be sanctified, and be made to teach us the very same lessons as the inspired Word.

II. SECONDLY, WE ARE TO CONSIDER THE GROUNDS WHICH WE HAVE FOR TRUSTING IN GOD THAT HE WILL PROVIDE FOR OUR TEMPORAL WANTS. “Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, much more shall He clothe you.” This is a specimen of Bible reasoning. The Bible speaks as “unto wise men,” and calls on us to “judge” what “it says.” Its reasonings are all brief, all very conclusive, but at the same time easily followed. Take, as an example, “If God spared not His own Son, but gave Him freely to the death for us,”--here is the premise, and the inference follows--“how will He not with Him also freely give us all things?” The argument is irresistible. The lesson comes home at once to us. Every bird we hear carolling its song, for the very pleasure of it, on the tree or in the air; every flower that we see expanding its petals in the fields or garden, is rebuking our want of faith and confidence in God, and, as it were, saying, “If God take such care of me, will He not much more take care of you?” “Ye are of more value than many sparrows,” of more value than all the grass of the field. Ye have a body that is fearfully and wonderfully made, made with even a more amazing skill than the lilies of the field. The lilies are arrayed in greater splendour than Solomon ever was; and Solomon’s body and every man’s frame is more wondrously made than ,the loveliest plant that ever adorned meadow or mountain. Surely the God who made that goodly frame will also feed and clothe it. We are warned against a spirit of unbelief; we are exhorted to cherish a spirit of confidence. Christ would deliver us from a spirit of anxiety. The fowls of the air gather their food, but they have no feeling of anxiety while they do so.

III. THIRDLY, WE ARE TO CONSIDER THAT IF GOD SO CLOTHE THE GRASS OF THE FIELD, THAT IF HE SO CLOTHE THE BODIES OF HIS PEOPLE, MUCH MORE WILL HE CLOTHE THEIR SOULS. This is not the direct lesson taught in the text, but it arises very directly out of it. If God does thus clothe the bodies of His people, much more will He clothe their souls with heavenly graces. And ah, these souls of ours need to be clothed! The plant once of a graceful form and clothed with the richest hues, but now bent, broken by the wind, bemired in the dust--this is the emblem of the soul, once in the very image of God, and arrayed with a brighter glory than the lily, but now fallen from its first estate, broken and torn and polluted by sin! Ah, how like is that soul to the grass which has been cut down, and which is about to be cast into the oven! That soul has been cut off from its God, the source of all spiritual life; already has the life ceased to circulate in it, and it is ready to be cast into the fire that is not quenched. Can it indeed be that this soul is to grow and to flourish once more upon its stalk? Christ’s work when on earth was a work of salvation. They brought to Him the sick, the maimed, and the blind, and He healed them all. Not only is the soul once dead made alive in this work--it is beautified and adorned. Yes, if you have faith but as a grain of mustard-seed, you will, by the vital power which is imparted, be clothed with graces of many a hue, each lovely in itself, and lovely in the place which it has to occupy: there will be the brighter colours, the blue, the pink, and the orange of faith and confidence and hope, mingling with the darker but not less lovely colours--with the red, the purple, and the olive of penitence, humility, and patience; and the whole lightened and brightened by what is, after all, the pure beam of heaven, by the pure white light of love, coming direct and unbroken from Him who is light and love. Yes, brethren, our souls need to be beautified. They need not only to be renewed, they need to be adorned. There are some Christian men and women who are under the influence of true faith and steady principle, but they are not amiable. They are cross or peevish or violent or stubborn. Such persons need to be clothed, that they become not only good, but lovely--as the lily is lovely. My friends, this world of ours is but a nursery, a place of nurture, where we are to be reared and then transplanted--transplanted into the paradise above. These flowers around us have their beauty but for a day; but it is different with the souls which are being adorned by the spirit of God. They are to bloom for ever in a better land, where are no winds to blight, no storms to destroy. (J. McCosh, D. D.)

Lessons from the lilies

1. The great characteristic of spring plants is the production of their blossoms direct from the root, and not, as in the plants of summer and autumn, from the sides and extremities of leaf-covered shoots. And is not what is thus true in the physical world true also in the world of human nature? All the spring-growths of human life come direct from the root of our being. The blossoms of faith, hope, and love that are fairest and freshest are impulses and intuitions of the heart, and not slow growths elaborated by the foliage of experience. First thoughts, that seem to come like inspirations directly from the Source of all good, are better than second thoughts that result from careful calculations and long processes of balancing of reasons. The summer and the autumn of life teach us caution and reserve, and we produce our blossoms half concealed among the cloud of leaves that have nourished them. But the spring gives confidence and openness, and loves to display its beauties with a charming candour and simplicity. Happy are we if--when the snows of those dreary winter trials that have blighted our life have passed away--our souls have been so restored--made so fresh and young in the new spring life that has come upon us from on high, as that we shall put forth the beauties of holiness and the fruits of righteousness directly from hearts that are rooted and grounded in the love that passeth knowledge.

2. While sitting one day in a musing mood on the summit of a lofty mountain, I noticed growing in the crevices of the rock beside me a few plants, which are usually found only in the thick grassy sward of cultivated fields. In that bare, bleak spot they were removed from the competition and pressure of their fellows, and had to struggle only with the elements for existence. But instead of becoming more luxuriant in consequence, they were dwarfed and stunted, and miserable looking in comparison with their lowland brethren. So is it, I thought, with human beings. We all long at times to escape from the cares and fierce competition of our complicated social life, and to find our happiness in the primitive simplicity of nature. But the evils of the wilderness are in reality worse than those of the crowd. Better far the struggle for existence among our fellows, which helps to make us patient and self-denying, and fruitful in every good word and work, than the struggle with the loneliness and monotony of the hermitage, which makes the mind morbid, and leaves so much of our nature undeveloped.

3. To the plant growing in the dry, parched land, the cloudless sun is a foe that blasts and destroys. But let its thirsty root have access to water in the irrigating channel, and immediately the withering sun is converted into the best of friends. The scorching rays that formerly caused the leaves to droop and languish now fill them with strong and vigorous life. So the fierce rays of the world blight and wither the soul that has no counteracting and restorative principle of faith. But let the root of our being reach the river that maketh glad the city of our God--let it drink from the heavenly wellsprings--and immediately the blighting power of the world is overcome; the afflictions which are not joyous but grievous, help us to bring forth the peaceable fruits of righteousness; and all things minister to our faith and growth in grace.

4. In the midst of the everlasting snows of Mont Blanc--surrounded on every side by glaciers, and elevated many thousands of feet above the valley--there is a solitary projecting rock, where the scanty soil is covered in July with rare Alpine plants. The rays of the sun, reflected by the snow and ice around, shine with double power upon this favoured spot, and create a warm, genial climate, in which the flowers bloom with unexampled beauty and luxuriance; while the frozen peaks shelter them from all the storms as in a kind of natural conservatory. Thus the very inhospitable forces of nature minister to the welfare of these flowers. When first I saw this summer garden in the midst of eternal winter, my heart was touched with the peculiar pathos of the sight. It was an emblem to me of the blessedness to be found even in the midst of a sorrow that blights and chills the whole life. The things that seem to be against us are in reality working together for our good.

5. After the creamy blossoms of the mountain-ash or rowan have passed away, a time succeeds in which the tree has no special beauty or brightness. It lingers during the summer months in dull, cold, uniform greenness. But all through this dormant season it is silently and unmarkedly preparing for the rich crop of scarlet berries with which it is crowned in autumn. So the mind has periods of dullness, which usually occur after periods of much fertility and creative power. It sheds its intellectual blossoms, and sinks into a state of langour and inaction. But this dreary time is the herald of renewed activity and increased brightness to come.

6. Leaves work for the whole tree; no part of it is independent of them, or could exist without them. Blossoms, on the other hand, have a higher and more special function to perform. They elaborate honey, and perfume, and sweet juices not derivable from the leaves, and having special relation to the fruit. So is it with the human tree. Our existence and welfare depend upon those who till the soil and reap the fields. Our whole social economy is based upon the labour of their hands. They produce the food and work for the maintenance of the whole community. But poets and artists have higher functions assigned to them. They are the blossoms of humanity, whose creations impart colour and fragrance, light and sweetness to our life. To them we owe the most precious and enduring fruits of our civilization.

7. The seeds of a begonia taken from the same pod will germinate, some in a few days, some at the end of a year, and some at various intermediate times, even when they are all placed in the same external circumstances and exposed to the same conditions of growth. Similar differences of mental development and moral character are often exhibited by members of the same family, brought up around one mother’s knee, and trained and educated in the same loving school of home.

8. Every one knows the beautiful downy head that succeeds the gaudy yellow of the common dandelion. It is composed of the delicate feather-winged seeds which the wind carries from place to place, so as to spread the plant as widely as possible in situations suitable for its growth. To country children it often serves as a rustic clock. They blow away the little feathery seeds in order to find out the time of day from the number of the ones that remain behind on the cushioned summit of the stem. Let us take heed, lest while we are only amusing ourselves, we should be scattering ignorantly the seed of evil influences, which may take root in other hearts, and lead to their undoing. The idle breath that blows away some airy trifle, merely to mark and pass the time, may have results as wide as the world, and as lasting as eternity.

9. Wet places generally produce fragrant plants. The sweet-gale, or Dutch-myrtle, grows in myriads among the moorland bogs; and the Eucalyptus, or gum-tree of Australia, thrives best in marshy soil. These, and such-like plants, exhale an agreeable balsamic odour, which has a most salubrious effect upon the moist atmosphere, and neutralizes the miasma of the swamps by its antiseptic qualities. When such aromatic plants predominate, the climate becomes healthy, and intermittent fever is unknown. There are similar compensations and counteractives in the moral world. There are Christians whose lives exhale the flagrance of holiness, and neutralize the noxious influence of the ungodly around them.

10. The favourite flower of the late French emperor, the third Napoleon, was the violet. Bouquets of it were always in his private chambers, and wreaths of it decked his bier and tomb. We should have fancied that a man so full of ambition, whose whole public life was one of much pomp and display, would have selected some prouder and gaudier flower. Perhaps it was the sense of contrast that led him to set his affections on a lowly plant, which has always been regarded as the emblem of humility; that made it refreshing for him to turn his eye, wearied with the glare and the loud-asserting grandeur of life, on this meek dweller in the shade, creeping over the mossy ground, and hiding its modest purple head among its own green leaves. Or was it because there was something of the violet-nature in the man’s own character--because something in the heart of the great man corresponded to something in the nature of the lowly flower? Did he find a sympathy in this-mute creature of God for a part of his being which was unknown to his fellow-creatures? The witness of the heart is not always written in the living epistle of the life, known and read of all men. A man is known as a hard, dry, logical writer, in whose works not a trace of sentiment or of feeling is seen; and yet this man in his secret heart has a passion for poetry, and in his private moments it forms his favourite reading. The great metaphysician, Sir William Hamilton, had a special delight in the fairy literature of little children, and returned to it with relief after the loftiest flights into the rare regions of abstruse philosophy, as the lark returns to its nest in the meadow from the blue fields of heaven. Probably more of the real man is told us by Napoleon’s unexpected love of a little lowly flower, than we learn from all the grand successes and mournful reverses of his wonderfully chequered life.

11. In tropical countries the aspect of the vegetation is drooping, hanging down; in temperate countries it is upright, self-supporting. How characteristic of the difference between the inhabitants of the tropics, and those of the northern zones--the langour of the one and the energy of the other!

12. A beautiful little daisy grows by the side of a path in the outskirts of a large city. It follows with its golden eye all day the march of the sun through the heavens. Like a miniature sun it expands its white luminous petals--and revolves in its little orbit on earth--as its great prototype revolves in its magnificent orbit on high. When the sun sets, the daisy closes its little eye and sinks into sleep. That daisy read me a lesson, which it would be my highest happiness to learn and practise. What it does willlessly and unconsciously, I should do willingly and consciously, “Whom have I in the heavens but Thee, O God, and there is none upon the earth whom I desire beside Thee.” God alone is co-natural with my spirit; all influences that own Him not are foreign and uncongenial; they have no true relation to my higher being. The True Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world, is alone the element of life.(H. Macmillan, D. D.)

The lessons of the lilies

The works of God are words of God; they speak to us. The works of God are mirrors, reflectors of God; they show God to us.

1. The lilies of the field, as God’s workmanship, reveal the fountain of life and being. Flowers taken alone cannot make manliest to us the depth and breadth of that fountain, but they may show us its quality. A cup of bright and sparkling water brought to us from a well tells us nothing of the quantity of water in that well, and nothing concerning the force of the spring or springs constituting the well; but even a cup of cold and pure water may demonstrate that the well is pure. In like manner, flowers show nothing of boundless might and of high wisdom, but they do reveal the calm beauteousness of the source whence all living things flow. It is often said that there cannot be gross vice in a man who, delighting in flowers, cultivates them. May we not, in harmony with this remark, observe that there can be nothing harsh or hard or repulsive in the God who has made the lilies of the field?

2. The lilies of the field embody and express Divine conceptions--thoughts and ideas of God. The image of every flower was in the mind of the Creator before creation. He designed the lilies of the field and the glorious company of their kindred. If this be accident, and if so-called accident can produce this, then verily accident is God. Not more certainly have paintings and sculpture been preconceived by the artists, and buildings of renown designed by architects, than flowers have been in the first instance mental creations by God.

3. The lilies of the field are God’s workmanship. In the fine arts the conceiver is the worker. In other departments one designs and plans, and others execute. Flowers are the work of God’s fingers. The first of every kind is a distinct creation, with seed in itself, and the rest the offspring of this seed. The seed is the second cause. God is the first cause. The laws of life and growth are God’s mode of working, but in these laws there is a strong, skilful, living hand. There are rules of working in every handicraft, but no man denies the existence of the craftsman, because his productions are made by the established and recognized laws of his craft, and by tools adapted to the materials upon which he works, and to the object which he has before him.

4. The lilies of the field are God’s care. This is not manifest to the eye of the body. And sometimes things happen which tend to exclude the idea and sense of God’s care. The scythe of the mower cuts down the flowers. The wind passes over the flower and it is gone, and the place thereof knoweth it no more. The flower is consumed by some animal. A careless foot treads it down. Some hand--perhaps a wanton hand--plucks it. The flower has not grown without human culture. And thus, that which has reared the flower, and that which has cut short its day, alike hide the care of God. But care does not involve perpetual existence, or freedom even from that kind of injury which terminates being. In the providential sense there are no wild flowers. There are children without father and mother, or with evil fathers and mothers, who are destitute of human care; but there are no flowers without Divine care. And the proof of Divine care is in their perfection.

5. The lilies of the field exhibit God’s bountifulness. All flowers alike of the field and of the garden render some ordinary service--are of some use. They furnish food, medicine, clothing, shelter, to innumerable living things. And they render in part this service to man. God does not provide for us according to the rigid rule of that which is necessary. He adds to that which is necessary that which is pleasant to the senses and agreeable to the soul. The cup of supply is not only filled, it runs over.

6. The lilies of the field are propagated and developed by the working of various natural laws. There is a tendency in some minds to look only on the hard and rigorous side of law. But law is good. It secures many and great advantages. And we may transfer our remark to moral law. The law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. The morning dawns, the sun shines, spring takes the place of winter, the earth is fruitful, flowers bloom, and the lilies of the field grow, according to law. Some men magnify natural laws into a god, and others degrade moral laws into an irksome and unrighteous yoke. The moral law of God obeyed will bring forth nothing but love. To speak evil of any laws which God has made is to speak evil of God.

7. The lilies of the field are parts of a perfect whole. They sustain a relation with the whole earth, and with all that therein is, and they are in harmony with the entire creation. Their life, their growth, their form, their colour, are all in concord. There is nothing which they contradict, nothing with which they clash. The key-note of creation is in the flowers, a note neither too high nor too low for us men, but adapted to allure into singing the heart of every human child of God who has been reconciled unto his Father.

8. The lilies of the field show us a sense of beauty in the nature of God, and a satisfaction in its expression. To God, objects which are capable of being beautiful would not be “very good” unless they were clad in beauty. This is one reason of sin being so hateful to God. It is moral deformity, spiritual hideousness and ugliness. There is a beauty in holiness which is one of the Divine attractions to it.

9. The lilies of the field are what they are through various affinities and relationships. They are the children of the sun. His beams travel more than ninety millions of miles to cherish and to colour them. They are the children of the earth, and are brought up on her lap, and are nourished at her bosom. They are the children of the rain and of the dew and of the air. The flowers have several subordinate parents, each of which hath its service, and performs its part. In this condition of floral life we see one of the conditions of our own existence. We have a Divine Father, and we have human parents--mother and father. We have intercourse with heaven, and are resident on earth. We have to do with things spiritual and material, temporal and eternal. We are moved from within, and we are influenced from without. Various agencies and influences work together to array the lilies of the field, and several forces are ever working upon our human nature. A true Christian is a pilgrim on earth with citizenship in heaven, a child of God while a son of man, the workmanship of God, though instructed and comforted and helped by his fellows. As sun and earth and rain and dew work together to produce the lilies of the field, so all things work together for good to them that love God.

10. The lilies of the field are supposed to find in the nature of man that which will respond to their attractiveness. They are made, in part at least, for man’s eye and for man’s soul. If we were that which we ought to be, we should need no voice to bid us “consider the lilies.” Discipleship to Jesus Christ does not shut our eyes to the earth, or close our hearts to the material works of God.

11. The lilies of the field may teach us freedom from care, and from morbid self-consciousness. That which God has to do for us He does perfectly, without our thought and care. Let us not direct our mind to that which belongs to God’s thought. Let us not try to touch with our hands that which is the exclusive work of God’s fingers. Anxiety can do nothing that is good, but it may effect much mischief. It cannot produce anything that is good. “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” It cannot beneficially alter anything. “Thou canst not make one hair white or black.” It is not in itself a power of good. It is not power to pray. It is not power to work. It is not power to think. It is not power to judge. It is not power to discriminate and determine. But it is power for much mischief. It blinds the eye, so that there is no seeing of God, nor is there any vision of heaven. It makes the ear deaf, so that the voice of God’s promises, and the voice of the Holy Ghost the Comforter, cannot be heard. It palsies the tongue in the direction of praise. It destroys all taste and relish for the abundant provisions of God’s mercy. It spoils all present blessings. It wastes the passing moment. It encumbers to-day with that which belongs to the morrow. It forms unwise projects, and begets scaring dreams. It is as foolish as though the lilies were to begin to spin. O, ye anxious ones, consider the lilies. (S. Martin.)

The preaching of the lilies

I. Consider, HOW MIRACULOUSLY they grow. How wonderful, is it not? to meditate upon it a little; that wonderful process by which the hard, inorganic soil and rock are absorbed and assimilated, so that they become converted into organic forms; yet the germ was there, otherwise no organization could have been developed. Surely nowhere is God more visible, I say, than in the flower. If the spirit of adoration does not descend upon a man by a bed of flowers, or by a single flower, it will descend nowhere; Why, “Consider the lilies--how they grow.” Is not this a miracle? Is not this a mystery? Consider who originated the beautiful type, and who perpetuates the beautiful race, and who adjusted the root to the soft and to the stem, and who broke open the seed, and bade the imprisoned spirit spring forth.

II. Consider, WITH WHAT BEAUTY AND LOVELINESS they grow. Children of fashion and vanity, “consider how they grow!” They do not seek to deck themselves with gay and gaudy attire from without all their adornment and ornament are from within; this is beauty, not of the silken robe, nor the cataract of the diamond; nor the sparkling jewel; this is beauty, and it resembles that “ whose adornment is not of the plaiting of hair, nor the putting on of apparel; but even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.” That is how they grow; they show the obviousness of inner beauty; they have no fawning fashions; it is all very calm, and sweet, and quiet, and all from within; indeed, we know that all flowers are alike in this; the gaudy tulip and the flaunting hollyhock; their life, too, is from within; they all attract to themselves essences and helps from the whole earth; but they must be in harmony with the proper spirit of the plant. Pride assimilates to itself pride; and chastity, chastity. “Consider how they grow.” “Yes, look to us,” they seem to say, “we are as God clothed us; we are but grass of the field; but God clothed us; He gave us these white bridal vestments, and placed us in this conservatory of vivid green. You, children of men, run to and fro in search of the draperies you call your own; you heap adornment on adornment; until adornment becomes deformity; you are not clothed like the lily, and you never will be until your soul and your clothing shall have the same visible unity; a pure mind is seen even in the pattern and the fashion of its attire, and how can the lily-vestments suit you, whose souls are so soiled? But when you shall be pure within, then shall you be even as the angels, and then shall be given to you the garments pure and white, “which are the righteousness of the saints”; and then the Church, the “King’s daughter, all glorious within,” shall be like unto us; and the graces of the inner nature shall exhibit themselves in a life holy, harmless, and renewed.

III. Consider, BY WHAT IMPROBABLE AUXILIARIES they grow; by what a hidden life they grow. Is it not strange that such purity should spring from the black earth?--strange that such whiteness should shoot up from the soiled ground? It is a mighty miracle, and it is ever going on. Thus God is constantly transforming mineral darkness into floral light; thus He is constantly taking up the very miry clay itself, and moulding it and perfecting it into forms of beauty; and that which He is able to do in nature, shall I dare to think He cannot do in grace?

IV. Consider, HOW YIELDINGLY AND COMPLYINGLY they grow. “Blossoms,” says Pliny, the Latin naturalist, “are the joy of trees”; and wherever these beautiful vegetative creatures are found, they seem to say to us poor care-worn creatures: “Yes, be joyful too. The darkness of thy lot is only the avenue through which thou art passing. God, who is good to the flower and to the blossom of the tree, will not forget thee.”

V. Consider, TO WHAT DIVINE USES they grow. Legible lessons of Almighty wisdom, love, and power. (E. Paxton Hood.)

Consolation from flowers

There is, without a doubt, a profound human truth involved in this direction of our Lord. Biography furnishes us with some lessons, sublime in their simplicity, and consolations won by human suffering, only from the consideration of plants inferior in their beauty to lilies. Who is not acquainted with that memorable passage in the life of the great African traveller, Mungo Park, where, in the wilderness--robbed, stripped naked, five hundred miles from the nearest European settlement--surrounded by savage animals and savage men--in the depths of thehorrible rainy season of Africa--in the very last and lowest extremity of human destitution and misery--he says: “I reflected that I was indeed a stranger in a strange land, yet I was still under the protecting eye of that Providence who has condescended to call Himself ‘the stranger’s friend.’ At this moment, painful as my reflections were, the extraordinary beauty of a small moss irresistibly caught my eye. I mention this,” he says, “to show from what trifling circumstances the mind will sometimes derive consolation; for, though the whole plant was not larger than the top of my finger, I could not contemplate the delicate conformation of its root, leaves, and capsule, without admiration. Can that Being, thought I, who planted, watered, and brought to perfection, in this obscure part of the world, a thing which appears of so small importance, look with unconcern upon the situation and sufferings of creatures formed after His own image? Surely not. Reflections like these would not allow me to despair. I started up, and, disregarding both hunger and fatigue, travelled forwards, assured that relief was at hand; and I was not disappointed. In a short time I came to a small village, where I overtook the two shepherds who had come with me from Kruman.” Thus the little flower was the salvation of the great traveller, and the poor moss became to him what our Lord intended the lily should be to us. The stories of the consolations of the flowers are very numerous. The venerable and the holy Henry Martyn in a wellknown passage, describes the feelings existing in his mind by the discovery of a little flower, growing on the rocky summit of the Table Mountain at the Cape. “The road was steep, but the hope of soon being at the top encouraged me to ascend very lightly. As the Kloop opened, a beautiful flame-coloured flower appeared, in a little green hollow, waving in the breeze. It seemed to me an emblem of the beauty and peacefulness of Heaven, as it shall open upon the weary soul, when the journey of life is finished.” And James Montgomery, in some very sweet verses, has commemorated the joy of Dr. Carey in India, at Serampore. In one of his letters, he says, “I don’t know that I ever enjoyed, since leaving Europe, a pleasure so simple and exquisite as the sight of this English daisy afforded me; not having seen one for upwards of thirty years, and never expecting to see one again.” And I should think there are few of you with whom Picciola, is not a wellknown and household story; you remember the Italian Patriot--confined in an Austrian dungeon in the horrors of Spielberg; when the last torments of the most petty, and disgusting, and loathsome tyranny were harassing the heart--when the cold stone walls, and the cruel bars, and the iron guards shut out all hope from the poor exile--a flower became an angel, and its delicate beauty, creeping through the chinks of the court-yard stones, awoke all grateful considerations, and became a missionary and messenger of peace and rest to the breaking heart. Yes, this is a guide to what our Lord meant, when He directed His disciples to the flowers. (E. Paxton Hood.)

Trust in God taught by the lilies

This is the lesson of the lilies; this is what they are saying to the doubting man. They keep hope, and trust, and faith alive in the world of the human heart. We need to stoop to the things which are beneath us, rather than to soar to things which are above us, to learn confidence in God; and we gain that confidence more by glancing at the infinite expenditure of Divine purpose in the small and evanescent flower, rather than in the majestic and the transcendent mountain or star. Hence it is that they keep the heart fresh and cool from the fever of passion. You carry a flower to a sick room; what a sweet power it sheds over the heavy airs of the chamber; it will keep the heart of the poor invalid meditating the whole day, the primrose or the early spring violet. And I passed the other day by a poor widow, in a close London street, putting out of her window her bough-pot, and tenderly watching and watering it; and methought her poor bereaved heart was drinking blessings beyond all her power to know, from those sweet flower-children bending their heads so meekly to her tending. Thus they are watched, these children of God. “And why art thou east down, oh thou of little faith?” (E. Paxton Hood.)

“Consider the lilies!”

In the English graveyard at Florence stands a broken column entwined by a lily carved in marble. It is erected to “Lily Nye, aged 21,” and bears this inscription:

“There was a lily once, most purely white,

We watched it daily, ‘twas so fair a sight,

For she was purer than a driven flake

Of snow; and in her grace most excellent,

The loveliest flower that death did ever take,

The tale--for tale there is--of this white stone,

Are these fair letters. While she lived she shone.”

May it be ours, like the lily, while we live, to shine and brighten the world with heavenly beauty and heavenly blessing. (A. J. Griffith.)

Grass

No natural object gathers around it so many scriptural associations, and suggests so many spiritual analogies, as the grass of the field. The wailing sibylline voice, borne on every breeze, has never ceased to echo over the earth, “All flesh is grass.” This burden of Nature’s prophecy is true literally as well as metaphorically. It is one example among innumerable others of what has been often observed, that the poet is the real philosopher, and the truest language necessarily what we call figurative. The lesson which the perishable form of the grass teaches, is rendered more impressive still by the enduring part which its structure performs in the economy of nature. It is the first organized agency that extracts, by its living energies, nutritious particles from the hard inorganic soil. In its tissues the dust of the earth first becomes vital. Day and night, season after season, it is unceasingly purveying for the wants of the animal kingdom, gathering the materials of nourishment and strength from the air and earth, reducing the impalpable and evanescent forces of light, heat, and moisture, into solid and enduring forms, which can be eaten and transformed into complicated organisms and vital powers. Man cannot live upon grass, properly so called. He cannot derive a direct subsistence from it. The experiment was once made in notable circumstances, but it turned out a deplorable failure. During the disastrous campaign of Napoleon’s army in Russia, the soldiers, in the absence of all other food, were obliged to boll and eat the common grass of the field, which they dug out from beneath its covering of snow and ice; and in every case where this wretched food was partaken of in sufficient quantity to allay the intolerable cravings of hunger, delirium and racking pains were the results. But, though grass eaten directly would prove injurious to man, inasmuch as his digestive organs are not adapted for its assimilation, it forms the support of domesticated animals, which he rears exclusively for their use as human food. The materials of his structure are first derived from the air, earth, and water, by means of grass; they are still further organized and prepared by the agency of graminivorous animals; and they reach him at last in a proper condition for his nourishment in the shape of animal food. The grass of the field is thus indirectly, but most truly, man’s stay and support. But there is a way in which even directly grass forms human food. The stem and blades, and other inferior parts of the vegetation, are intended for the support of the inferior animals; but the fruitful ear, the more highly-organized seed, the crown and consummation of the plant, the “flower of grass.” into which its vital powers and nourishing qualities are drawn up and concentrated, is reserved for food to man. How strange to think that the most highly-organized of the inhabitants of the earth, created in the image of God, should thus depend for his subsistence directly and indirectly upon the lowest and simplest of all herbs! “He maketh the grass to grow upon the mountains.” The wild grasses are taken, as it were, under the special providence of God. In their perennial verdure in regions above the zone of man’s cultivation, we have a perpetual proof of God’s care of the lower animals that neither sow nor reap. The mountain grasses grow spontaneously; they require no culture but such as the rain and the sunshine of heaven supply. They obtain their nourishment directly from the inorganic soil, and are independent of organic materials. Nowhere is the grass so green and vigorous as on the beautiful slopes of lawn-like pasture high up on the Alps, radiant with the glory of wild flowers, and ever musical with the hum of grasshoppers and the tinkling of cattle-bells. Innumerable cows and goats browse upon them; the peasants spend the summer months in making cheese and hay from them for winter consumption in the valleys. This exhausting system of husbandry has been carried on during untold centuries; no one thinks of manuring the Alpine pastures; and yet no deficiency has been observed in their fertility, though the soil is but a thin covering spread over the naked rocks. It may be regarded as a part of the same wise and gracious arrangement of Providence, that the insects which devour the grasses on the Kuh, and Schaf Alpen, the pasturages of the cows and sheep, are kept in check by a predominance of carnivorous insects. Were the herbivorous insects allowed to multiply to their full extent, in such favourable circumstances as the warmth of the air and the verdure of the earth in Switzerland produce, the rich pastures which now yield abundant food for upwards of a million and a hall of cattle would speedily become bare and leafless deserts. Not only in their power of growing without cultivation, but also in the peculiarities of their structure, the mountain grasses proclaim the band of God. Many of them are viviparous. Instead of producing flowers and seeds, as the grasses in the tranquil valleys do, the young plants spring from them perfectly formed. They cling round the stem and form a kind of blossom. In this state they remain until the patens stalk wishers and falls prostrate on the ground, when they immediately strike root and form independent grasses. This is a remarkable adaptation to circumstances; for it is manifest that, were seeds instead of living plants developed in the ears of the mountain grasses, they would be useless in the stormy regions where they grow. They would be blown away far from the places they were intended to clothe, to spots foreign to their nature and habits, and thus the species would speedily perish. The more we think of it, the more we are struck with the wise foresight which suggested the creative Fiat, “Let the earth bring forth grass.” It is the most abundant and the most generally diffused of all vegetation. It suits almost every soil and climate. It forms pastoral landscapes under the weeping skies of Europe; it forms bamboo forests and cane-brakes under the glowing skies of the tropics. It ministers to the food of man in mild climates; it ministers to the luxuries of man in hot climates. It may, however, be said to cover with a uniform green mantle the whole surface of the globe. And this mantle is not only ornamental, but eminently useful. It protects the roots of trees and flowers from the scorching effects of the summer’s sun and the blight of the winter’s frost. I began this paper with the assertion that man lives, both directly and indirectly, upon grass; I close it with the inevitable antithesis, that grass lives upon man. The melancholy words of Scripture, “All flesh is grass,” are equally true whether we read them backwards or forwards. Strange mysterious circle of relations within which all organized nature is contained, and in which man himself, in common with the beast and herb of the field, has to perform his part and exchange offices and duties l The particles which circulate through his system must be again reduced to the inorganic state, out of which they were first formed, and restored to the tissues of the grass from which he derived them. The debt of nature must be paid; the obligations which for threescore years and ten had been accumulating must be discharged at last. The body, that had been sustained in life by the yearly produce of the fields, must return again to the dust to fertilize and enrich the produce of future fields, and keep the great vortex of life continually in motion. Grass forms the beautiful and appropriate covering of the grave. As it is the earth’s first blessing, so it is her last legacy to man,

“Whose part in all the pomp that fills

The circuit of the summer hills

Is--that his grave is green.”

The body that it fed when living, it reverently covers when dead with a garment richer than the robe of a king. When all other kindness in food, and clothing, and emblematic teaching is over, it takes up its silent Rizpahwatch beside the tombstone, and forsakes not what all else has forsaken. Gently does it wrap up the ashes of the loved and lost, wreathing like a laurel crown the cold damp brow with its interlacing roots, drawing down to the darkness and the solitude the warm bright sunshine and the soft dews of heaven. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)

Christ, the interpreter of Nature

To the filial eye of Jesus Christ the moral world always shone through the natural world and glorified it. He saw all the beauty of Nature; nothing of all its great riches was lost on Him; and in a multitude of parables and other pictorial touches, He has set Nature in her endless operations and aspects before us. But our Lord could never for a moment rest in Nature, or look on her as an end in herself. To him the whole visible universe was eloquent with meanings and lessons, with reminiscences and presages that ennobled and glorified her, because they came through her from a better world out of which she too had sprung, and for the sake of which she was daily sustained and administered. The cornfields, the vine yards, the flowers, the birds of the air, the flocks of sheep in the meadows, the sky, the clouds, the times of ploughing and sowing and reaping, the starry nights, and the all-enriching sun--all the powers, provisions, and aspects of Nature were dear and beautiful to Him; and all the more so, that their beauty and beneficence were not their own, but were all so many manifestations of the wisdom and power and goodness of His Father. The sun that rose on the evil and on the good was “His sun”; the rain fell on the just and the unjust from His windows; His Father fed all the fowls of the air, and clothed all the grasses of the field. Jesus Christ was the only true Minister and Interpreter of Nature she has ever had. He alone fully understood her place and appreciated her plan. He alone could reveal her, and set forth her whole message, because He saw her and rejoiced in her as the manifestation of His Father’s wisdom, and the operation of His Father’s hands. I suppose the beasts of the field see the greenness of the grass and the lustre of the flowers among which they feed their fill and lie down to rest. I suppose the eagle also sees the vast landscape over which he sails; but no one supposes that the brute cattle have any knowledge or enjoyment of the beauty amid which they browse, or that a ravenous bird is at all tamed by being bathed daily in the glorious sunlight. They have no eye wherewith to see the beauty of earth and sea and sky; Nature has no revelation of that kind to make to them. And there are too many men who are as beasts are before the beauty of Nature: they have eyes, but they see not; and ears, but they hear not. There are other men, again, who are entranced and enraptured with the glory of creation, but who are all the time as dead as a stone to the glory of God. But the immediate aim of Christ in this most exquisite passage is to lead us all to trust ourselves and all that concerns us to the Fatherly providence of Almighty God. These cabinet-pictures of animate and inanimate nature are not works of pure art, that is to say, they are not pure art in the sense of being without practical application to the needs and wants of men. They are as beautiful as if they stood here for their beauty alone; and they are as useful, as instructive, and as full of moral ends, as if they were barren of every other quality. We are so limited in our gifts and in our scope, that we have often to shut out all thought of use when we aim at a perfect work of art; just as, on the other hand, we are often compelled to neglect the pursuit of beauty when we are bent on utility. But both Nature and Art, with the language that best exhibits them, are all plastic and harmonious in the hands of Jesus Christ. He is not instructive at the expense of beauty; nor, when most beautiful in His words and works, is He less rich to those who sit at His feet. Pointing in the most perfect words to the fowls of the air as they are fed from the hand of God, and then at the lilies of the field as they outshine Solomon in all his glory, our Lord says to us, “ So, only in better ways, does your Heavenly Father care for, and take all needful thought for you. Leave, then, all your over-thoughtfulness and anxiety to Him; He alone can fulfil all your thoughts and without anxiety make them good. Torture not yourselves with what is above your strength and beyond your scope. Take all thought for that part in your life and in His providence which He has appointed you. Do your daily task with all fervour and fidelity, but after your allotted thought has been taken and your appointed part accomplished, leave the issue with Him who holds all issues in His own hand. Plough your field to its utmost furrow; sow your seed with a liberal hand, and when the harvest comes put in the sickle and store up the hundredfold fruits. Sow your seed with all thoughtfulness in the seedtime, and leave it without more thought till the harvest. With the sowing of the seed your work is, for the time, done. Take your well-earned rest, and thus you will be the more ready for the arduous labours of the harvest. Do not wade about among the sprouting corn as if your restless feet would make the blade fill better, or the shock ripen sooner. The plough, and the seed-basket, and the sickle, and the threshing instrument, and the winnowing fan are all yours to make use of with all due thought and care, each at its proper season; but the former and the latter rains, the filling sun and the mellowing winds, are all in your Father’s hand. ‘I have planted,’ said Paul, ‘and Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.’ Leave, then, your husbandry in His hands also. Take you no thought where He takes all.” But the best thing in this rich and beautiful passage, and the thing to which it all leads up, is yet to come, and it comes in these noble and inspiring words: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness.” Having taught and illustrated in the happiest and wisest way the religious observation and use of Nature, and having by means of Nature risen above Nature and entered the all-embracing economy of Divine Providence, Christ now comes to that for which both Nature and Providence exist and operate, namely, for man, and for his pursuit and possession of righteousness. This is the end, this is the goal, this is the crown of all. He has already warned His disciples in never-to-be-forgotten words that their righteousness must far exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees; must indeed be a righteousness of another kind and quality altogether. Seek first, He would say, the solid righteousness of the ten commandments. “Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” Then seek the yet more spiritual righteousness of this sermon I am now preaching unto you. And if there be any other righteousness yet to be revealed, God will ere long open up and make offer of that also unto you. Sufficient for the Sermon on the Mount is the righteousness thereof. (A. Whyte, D. D.)

The beauty of the grass

To get a good idea of the beauty of the grass, endeavour, in imagination, to form a picture of a world without it. It is precisely to the scenery of Nature what the Bible is to literature. Do you remember that idea of Froude’s, that the Bible had been obliterated, and every other book had thereat lost its value, and literature was at an end? Take away this green ground colour on which Dame Nature works her embroidery patterns, and where would be the picturesque scarlet poppies or white daisies, or the grey of the chalk cliffs, or the golden bloom of a wilderness of buttercups? Its chief service to beauty is as the garment of the earth. It watches night and day, at all seasons of the year, “ in all places that the eye of Heaven visits,” for spots on Which to pitch new tents, to make the desert less hideous, fill up the groundwork of the grandest pictures, and give the promise of plenty on the flowery meadows where it lifts its silvery and purple panicles breast-high, and mocks the sea in its rolling waves of sparkling greenness. (C. Hibberd.)


Verse 29

Luke 12:29

Neither be ye of doubtful mind

A new parable

Our Lord here crushes a whole world of meaning into a single word, which, as we study it, resolves itself into a bright, impressive picture or parable.
The phrase really comes to this: “Do not toss about in the windy offing, when you may ride safely in the sheltered haven.” And if we take it in connection with what goes before and what comes after, we find that the complete parable runs thus: “Do not toss about on the wide dangerous sea of Care, on which so many make shipwreck, but rather take shelter in the safe and tranquil harbour of Trust in God.” Had our Lord paused to expand the parable, and had He thrown it into the form which most of His parables assume, He might have used some such words as these: “ The Kingdom of God is like unto a large and tranquil harbour, into which all who sail across the stormy sea of life may enter and be at rest.” Now the calm and simple ideal of life which Christ here holds up before us is one that has a special claim on us, and a special charm, in days such as these when most men are seeking outward good--seeking wealth and worldly advancement--with a passionate and feverish eagerness. Who does not long, at least at times, to escape

The heavy trouble, the bewildering care

That weighs us down who live and earn our bread?

Who is not weary of the strain, the waste, the ungenerous rivalry, the intense and protracted drudgery which what men call “ success in life” demands? Who does not see that the pursuit of what we call “comfort” is well-nigh taking all comfort out of our days? Who does not admit, in any moment of cool reflection, that the general homage to wealth is becoming a degrading and unmanly idolatry, inducing false estimates of character, and leading men to value the means of living above the true ends of life? What we should admire in our neighbours, what we should chiefly aim at for ourselves, is not a gay and wealthy outside of circumstance, but noble character--virtue, wisdom, piety, inward worth. And this is the aim, the ideal, which the Lord Jesus sets before us. He bids us seek first the Kingdom of God; and the Kingdom of God is within us, not without. He would have us cultivate those graces of spiritual character which fit us both to meet any circumstances and changes of circumstances in this life, and to enter with the joy of a foreseen triumph on the dark and narrow avenue which leads to the life to come. If we take His counsel, He promises us an absolute freedom from care. He assures us that we shall ride safely in a sheltered port instead of tossing on the heaving storm-swept’ sea. Not that He prohibits care and thought. A man must take thought, must study and plan and contrive, if he is to be a wise man. We may make the voyages which the necessities of life demand, and bring home much store of merchandise; but then, we are to have a home, “a city of the soul” to which we may repair; and when we reach it, we are not to cast anchor in the windy offing, but to take refuge in the tranquil haven. That is to say, we are to attend to the duties and labours of life, attend to them with diligence, give our best thought and care to them; but, when these duties and labours are discharged, we are not to vex our souls with an incessant anxiety as to the issue of our toils; we are to leave that with God, and not to be careful because He cares for us. So, again, forethought is no more forbidden than thought. A wise man, a man with “discourse of reason,” i.e., a man in whom reason is not dumb and inert, must “look before and after.” There would be no unity in his life, no continuous development and activity, no linking on of month to month and year to year, if he did not look forward and scheme for the future as well as for the present. What Christ forbids is so looking onward to to-morrow as to cloud to-day, so anticipating the future as to darken the present. And this is the very point at which we commonly fail. To-day may be well enough, we admit; or, at the worst, we could get through its tasks and endure its trials. But what of to-morrow? What of the future? How shall we meet the toils and losses and troubles we foresee? Now it is from this pernicious habit of “borrowing trouble from the future,” as though we had not enough of it in the present, that Christ would save us. “Trust in God for the future,” He says; “Do your duty today, and leave to-morrow with Him. And let this trust be your tranquil haven, your harbour of refuge, whenever the waves of Care run high.” Rest and refit in the harbour to-night; and if, when the morning breaks, you have to sail out into a stormy sea, you will at least be in a better condition to meet it. (S. Cox, D. D.)

Possessions and prospects

Perhaps I am speaking to some child of poverty. I remember a beautiful story applicable to you. The late Lady Huntingdon, passing by a low, mean-looking cottage one day, heard a faint, soft sound inside, and drew up to the door, when she heard a voice uttering these words, “O my God, I thank Thee that I have all this--the Lord Jesus now and heaven at last.” Thought the listener, what can this mean? Curiosity is strong; and giving the door a little touch, she saw an aged one--a poor woman, eighty years of age--with a pitcher of water and a crust, and her hands raised in the attitude of thanksgiving, and her words were, “O Lord, I thank Thee that I have all this, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and heaven at last.” Rest in His word. “My God shall supply all your need.” Oh, sweet the scant supply where there is a confiding, joyous heart! Birds of song sing as merrily just before their breakfast, though they don’t know where it is to come from, as they do when they have got it. And the God who watches over the bird will not neglect you. “Lacked ye anything?” said the Lord to the seventy, who had been sent out without any worldly emoluments; and they answered, “No, Lord.” Many a saint at the close of his pilgrimage can say the same; can say, “Notwithstanding all the vicissitudes and changes and losses that I have endured, God has given me food and raiment, and I have, not wanting much, wanted for nothing.” (J. Denham Smith.)

Confidence in God

“Never did man die of hunger who served God faithfully,” Cuthbert would say, when nightfall found them supperless in the waste. “Look at that eagle overhead! God can feed us through him if He will”--and once, at least, he owed his meal to a fish that the scared bird let fall. A snowstorm drove his boat on the coast of Fife. “The snow closes the road along the shore,” moaned his comrades; “the storm bars our way over sea.” “There is still the way of heaven that lies open,” said Cuthbert. (J. R. Green, “Short History. ”)


Verse 31

Luke 12:31

Seek ye the Kingdom of God

Manner of sanctifying our exertions for daily bread

The Lord gives us continually our daily bread, multiplying for this the grain in the field; yet are we contented with it?
The reason of our discontentedness is, because we are inclined to make our daily pursuits for a livelihood the main point, and the Kingdom of God a secondary one. Perhaps we go so far even as to separate one from the other, although religion, like the leaven, should penetrate all our works and bring God’s blessing upon all we do. This blessing will be given to us if we endeavour to sanctify our solicitude for our daily bread, by performing our employments--

I. IN OBEDIENCE. TO GOD.

1. It is God’s will that I work. By this truth we should be induced--

2. I work for God’s honour. This truth renders labour--

II. IN THE SPIRIT OF PENITENCE. I must work, because I am a sinner.

1. This reflection will reconcile you to your work. As the heart is wounded by undeserved punishment, so a generous mind finds satisfaction in a consciousness of justice being done.

2. It ennobles man: imparting to him--

III. IN ORDER TO FULFIL, A DUTY TOWARDS OTHERS. Only he that has lost all sense of duty can refuse to work. For--

1. Labour is a duty of justice. God’s wrath is challenged by--

(2) Squanderers.

2. Labour is a duty of charity.

The wisdom of attending to God’s business

Your business--you cannot neglect that. Call to mind the story of the rich English merchant to whom Elizabeth gave some commission of importance, and he demurred to undertake it, saying, “Please your Majesty, if I obey your behest, what will become of these affairs of mine? “ And his monarch answered, “Leave those things to me, when you are employed in my service, I will take charge of your business.” So will it be with you. Do but surrender yourself to Christ, and He, of His own free will, takes in hand all your affairs. (C. H.Spurgeon.)

God’s promise to be relied on

I was once crossing the Atlantic, and had come within three days’ sail of the Irish coast. Fog and darkness shut out the sun by day and the stars at night. We had to trust to dead reckoning--that is, to the log, the compass, the chart, and other nice nauticalcomputations. Standing by the captain, I heard him say on the last of these days, “We ought to see Fastnet Light in twelve minutes! “I took out my watch and waited. We saw the welcome light in just eleven!” There, thought I, is a triumph of nautical skill and calculation, to push on so steadily and surely through the darkness day after day to the point aimed at. We justly confide in one who has proved himself trustworthy in human affairs, but the witness of God is greater. Why ever distrust Him? He has not only fixed the movements of the stars and the tides, but His promises of grace are unchangeable. (R. S. Storrs, D. D.)

Seeking God’s Kingdom for children also

“Few things are looked back on by me with less satisfaction than my own conduct in respect to my children, except in one particular, which appears to have been the grand secret; and that is, that I have always sought for them, as well as for myself, in the first place, the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” (T. Scott.)

Admonition addressed to the young

Let us press the seeking God’s kingdom first on those who are yet in the springtime of their days. And we will just tell you what we believe would constitute a thorough submission to the precept of our text, and what, therefore, entitles a man to depend on the fulfilment of the promise. We will suppose that, from his youth upwards, an individual has proposed to himself the salvation of his soul as the prime object to engage his solicitudes and occupy his strivings. We may suppose that, so soon as he could discern the evil and the good, so soon as the will had the power of making an election, he decided in favour of the paths of righteousness, and set out on the heavenward course; and, ever afterward, we may regard him as holding on in one uniform course of faith and obedience; so that, whatever the other objects which may demand and obtain some share of his attention, he keeps ever uppermost, as the great end of his being, that attainment of God’s favour to which he had devoted himself at the outset of life. Of such an individual it may be asserted, in all the extent of which the expression admits--he has “sought first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” He has sought it first, as having begun with this seeking; he has sought it first, as having never permitted another object to take precedence: and to the doing this is what we would earnestly exhort the younger of our hearers. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”: seek ye first this kingdom--first, before ye seek the wealth of the world, which cannot satisfy you, or the honours of the world, which will only mock you, or the pleasures of the world, which like the Dead Sea fruits, wear a bloom to the eye, but are ashes to the taste--first, before the strength has been impaired, and the spirit has beenbroken, and the eye has lost its fire, and the hope is sick with disappointment. “First!Will ye give the bounding pulse, and the soaring thought, and the eager glance, and the rushing purpose, to the slavery of time and created things, and think of bringing the jaded energies, the thin grey hairs, the emaciated limbs, and consecrating them to the service of God? We know that even in old age the kingdom may be sought, the kingdom may be founds; we dare not, therefore, and we thank God that we dare not, regard any individual, be he ever so old, be he ever so hardened, as having outlived the opportunity of being saved. We preach to the man of four-score years; and though, in the expressive language of Solomon--“the daughters of music are brought low, and the grasshopper is a burden, and the silver cord is almost loosed, and the golden bowl broken,” we still say to him, “Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation.” And yet it is impossible not to feel, that where there has been, for forty, or sixty, or seventy years, a determined resistance to all the proffers of the gospel, the case is growing comparatively hopeless. We may go on with our work; but it is impossible to go on with a very light heart. And never does the minister of Christ seem charged with a commission in which success is so doubtful, as when sent to the infirm and worn-out sinner, who, having given the strength of life to Satan and the world, has at last only the dregs with which to make an offering to his God. We say, indeed, it is our duty, ay, and it is our privilege, to say, even to the old person who has been hardening for half a century under faithful sermons--It is not too late to “ seek”; “seek,” therefore; “the Pearl of great price” may even yet be found--even yet, though the last streak of light is fading from the sky, thoughthe film is gathering on the eye, and the cold and rough wind threatens to put out the lamp; we say to him, “Seek!” But now tell me, my brethren, can we do otherwise than feel, that even if he seeks he seeks last. And where is the promise to those who seek last?--last, inasmuch as heaven is not sought until earth is sliding from the grasp? Where is the premise to those that “seek” last “the kingdom of God and his righteousness?” We remember the words which, in the Book of Proverbs, are placed in the mouth of Eternal Wisdom--“I love them that love Me; and those that seek Me early shall find Me.” “Those that seek Me early!” Here is an express promise. It is a promise that does not exclude those who seek late, but certainly it does not include them. We have, however, better hopes of the young. We know, indeed, that you feel tempted to delay and put off the giving heed to the solemn things of eternity. And why so? Because you regard religion as a melancholy thing--as circumscribing your pleasures and curtailing your enjoyments; and you feel that it will interfere with many things in which you delight--the gewgawry of fashion, and the revelry of life. There are certain things which you wish to keep a little longer, and which you perceive that true religion will require you to surrender. So you make the calculation--you shall run but little risk in giving a year or two more to the world; you shall have time enough left for the care of the soul. Ah! thus, to speak the unvarnished truth, you are balancing the chances of destruction against another draught of the intoxicating cup; you loiter round the edge of the pit, to pluck flowers which fade in the gathering. And yet all the while the true pleasure is in religion. Yes, that it is--the elevation of soul--the companionship with beings of the invisible world--the filling up with God the immeasured voids of a human spirit--the beatings of a large philanthropy--the sense that, “all things are ours, for we are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s”--life curtained by lovingkindness--death abolished by the Mediator--eternity studded with the rich and the radiant,--these are ours; we know them, we feel them to be ours. What! then, has religion no pleasures? Nay! “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness.” It is seeking peace; it is seeking comfort; it is seeking happiness. Seek ye this “first,” assured that--oh! for the testimony that might be given from above I oh I for the testimony that might be given from beneath!--assured that, though thousands have wept bitter, scalding tears because they sought late, none have ever found that they began too soon. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

God’s people not forgotten by Him

Many years ago, when in my country charge, I returned one afternoon from a funeral, fatigued with the day’s work. After a long ride, I had accompanied the mourners to the churchyard. As I neared my stable door, I felt a strange prompting to visit a poor widow who, with her invalid daughter, lived in a lonely cottage in an outlying part of the parish. My natural reluctance to make another visit was overcome by a feeling which I could not resist, and I turned my horse’s head towards the cottage. I was thinking only of the poor widow’s spiritual needs; but when I reached her little house, I was struck with its look of unwonted bare: hess and poverty. After putting a little money into her hand, I began to inquire into their circumstances, and found that their supplies had been utterly exhausted since the night before. I asked them what they had done. “I just spread it out before the Lord!” Did you not tell your case to any friend?” “Oh no, sir; naebody kens but Himsel’ and me! I kent He wadna forget, but I didna ken hoe he wad help me till I saw you come riding ower the brae, and then I said, There’s the Lord’s answer!” Many a time has the recollection of this incident encouraged me to trust in the loving care of my heavenly Father. (J. H. Norton.)


Verse 32

Luke 12:32

Fear not, little flock.
--

Christians forbidden to fear

I. AN AGREEABLE RESEMBLANCE. A flock (Psalms 79:13; John 10:27). The flock of Christ is--

1. A purchased flock (1 Corinthians 6:20; 2 Peter 2:1; Acts 20:28).

2. A flock washed in the blood of Jesus (1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5).

3. A chosen flock (Matthew 20:16; Mark 13:20).

4. A marked flock (2 Timothy 2:19; John 13:35).

5. A patient flock--under provocations, and amidst sufferings and delays Job 1:22; Romans 12:12; Luke 21:19; Hebrews 10:36; Heb_12:1-2; Heb_6:12; Romans 2:7). Christ an example (1 Peter 2:21-25).

6. A harmless flock (Matthew 10:16; Philemon 1:2; Phm_1:15).

7. A flock exposed to troubles and enemies (Ephesians 6:11-13).

8. A useful flock.

II. A DISTRESSING TRUTH. A little flock.

1. Small at its commencement.

2. Small at the present day, when compared with the great bulk of mankind.

III. A BENIGNANT ENGAGEMENT. “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

1. The kingdom of His power (Psalms 105:12-13; Daniel 4:3).

2. The kingdom of His grace (2 Corinthians 3:18).

3. The kingdom of glory (1 Corinthians 6:9). This is heaven, and in this view of it conveys--

He is our Father--

1. By right of creation (Malachi 2:10).

2. By right of preservation.

3. By right of redemption (Galatians 3:13; Job 19:25).

4. By right of adoption (Romans 8:15-16). It is His good pleasure to give us the kingdom. It is not a debt but a gift--a free gift.

IV. A PROHIBITION. “Fear not.” What is it that true believers are not to fear?

1. They are not to fear God with a slavish fear (Romans 8:15; 1 John 4:18). A filial fear they must have (Psalms 89:7; Psalms 34:9).

2. They are not to fear man (Isaiah 57:11; Matthew 10:28).

3. They are not to fear the instruments of human cruelty (Isaiah 54:17).

4. They are not to fear suffering under affliction (John 14:33; Job 5:19-22; 2 Corinthians 4:17; Romans 8:10).

5. They are not to fear Satan (Romans 6:20).

6. They are not to fear death (Romans 8:38-39; 2 Corinthians 5:5).

7. They are not to fear hell (John 3:18; Joh_5:36; Isaiah 54:9).The reason why they ought not to fear--

1. It dishonours God.

2. It slanders His power (1 Chronicles 16:24).

3. It slanders His faithfulness (2 Timothy 2:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:24).

4. It slanders His wisdom (1 Timothy 1:17).

5. It slanders His care (1 Peter 5:7; Matthew 7:11; Isaiah 27:3).

6. It slanders their calling--they are called to be saints (Isaiah 51:2).

7. It slanders their cause, viz., religion, the cause of God Deuteronomy 23:22).

8. It is hurtful to them--it distracts their minds (Luke 8:22-25).

9. It produces hypocrisy and dissimulation (Isaiah 57:11; Genesis 20:2-11; Gen_26:19).

10. It enfeebles the soul (Isaiah 7:2).

11. It strengthens the enemy ( 3:2).

12. It discourages the saint (Deuteronomy 20:8).

APPLICATION.

1. Are you comprised in this little flock?

2. Go on with undaunted courage, knowing that God will help you, and afterwards give you the kingdom. (J. Blackmore)

Fear not, little flock

I. THE PERSONS ADDRESSED. “Little flock.”

1. Separated by eternal election.

2. Bought by particular redemption.

3. Effectually called.

The word “flock” denotes--

1. Their patience.

2. Meekness.

3. Humility.

4. Harmlessness.

5. Comparatively few in number.

6. And little in the estimation of the world.

II. THE EXHORTATION. “Fear not.”

1. Fear not the body of sin. “Thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged” (Isaiah 6:7).

2. The oppositions of Satan. “ Through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14).

3. The besetments of the world. “We are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:32).

“Fear not,” for--

1. Temporal mercies.

2. The efficacy of grace.

3. The faithfulness of God.

4. For Christ is all love.

5. The Spirit constant.

6. And heaven sure.

III. THE REASON ASSIGNED. “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you”--

1. The kingdom of grace here.

2. The kingdom of glory hereafter.

It implies that it is--

1. Their Father’s gift.

2. By His sovereign pleasure.

3. Delighting in them.

4. Rejoicing over them.

5. And supplying all things to them. (T. B. Baker.)

The privileges of Christ’s flock

I. WHY THE LORD’S PEOPLE ARE CALLED A LITTLE FLOCK.

1. They are called a “flock,” principally from the peculiar regard shown them by the Lord.

2. They are called a “little flock,” because they are but few in number.

II. WHAT THEY HAVE TO FEAR. They are not exempt from the common calamities of life. In some respects they are more exposed to them than other people. They have reason therefore to fear--

1. Wants. Though man may provide for to-morrow, he cannot secure what he has provided. Hence all are so desirous of placing themselves as far as possible out of the reach of any disastrous contingencies. In making such provision the true Christian labours under many disadvantages. He cannot use those means of acquiring wealth which the generality of the world employ without any scruple. He cannot devote all his time and all his attention to secular engagements. On these accounts he may at times be tempted to indulge excessive care, and to harbour tears of want and embarrassment.

2. Sufferings. The flock of Christ are not only subject to the trials incident to our present state, but are liable to many sufferings peculiar to themselves. They are “as sheep in the midst of wolves.”

III. WhY, NOTWITHSTANDING THEIR DANGERS, THEY SHOULD NOT FEAR. God has “provided for them a kingdom.” God condescends call to Himself their “Father.” And deals with them as His children. He has “prepared for them a kingdom” that is infinitely superior to all the kingdoms of this world. The glory of it cannot be expressed or conceived; nor will the duration of it ever end (Hebrews 12:28). This He has given to them for their inheritance. It is His determination to invest them with it, and His delight to preserve them for it. His almighty power is ever exercised for this purpose (1 Peter 1:4-5). Yea, His whole heart and soul are engaged in accomplishing His gracious intentions (Jeremiah 32:41). This is a very sufficient antidote to all their fears. (Theological Sketchbook.)

The antidote of fear

Each word of the text is full of encouragement and strength for weak and timid hearts.

I. THE CHURCH OF CHRIST, BE ITS MEMBERS MANY OR FEW, IS VERY DEAR TO HIM.

II. THE FUTURE OF THE CHURCH IS NOT TO BE JUDGED BY ITS PRESENT CIRCUMSTANCES AND SURROUNDINGS: THE POSITION IS THAT OF AN HEIR IN EXPECTATION OF HIS INHERITANCE.

III. THE NECESSITY OF BANISHING FEAR FROM A HEART THAT HAS SUCH KINGLY PROSPECTS. (J. Kay.)

Encouragement to Christ’s flock

I. INQUIRE INTO THE REASONS WHY THE DISCIPLES OF CHRIST ARE CALLED “A FLOCK,” AND WHY “A LITTLE FLOCK.” They are called a flock to show the peculiar regard which the Saviour has to them. They are a “ little” flock, as compared with the multitude of the ungodly. Three reasons why it remains “little.”

1. Because the method of admission into this flock is contrary to the enmity of the human heart.

2. The laws of this flock are too holy and self-denying for the generality of mankind. This therefore tends to keep it small.

3. Another reason why the flock of Christ is small, is the opposition and persecution it meets with from a sinful world.

II. POINT OUT THE VARIOUS SOURCES OF FEAR TO THIS, AT PRESENT, LITTLE FLOCK. They are not exempt from the common calamities of life; yea, in many respects, and for wise reasons, they are more exposed to them than other people: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous.”

III. ENDEAVOUR, UNDER THE INFLUENCES OF THE SPIRIT, TO REMOVE ALL NEEDLESS FEARS FROM THE FLOCK OF CHRIST, BY REMINDING THEM OF THE PROPERTIES OF THAT KINGDOM WHICH CHRIST HAS PROMISED.

1. A peaceful kingdom.

2. A holy kingdom.

3. An eternal kingdom. (Essex Remembrancer.)

The little flock comforted by their Shepherd

I. WE REMARK THE DISCIPLES OF CHRIST ARE COMPARED TO A FLOCK OF SHEEP. The property of the ancients consisted for the most part in the number of their cattle, especially in their flocks of sheep. And the Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance. His people are the purchase of a Saviour’s blood, and the called of His grace. He is the great Shepherd, who gave His life for the sheep. Like sheep, moreover, they are meek, and inoffensive, and harmless; they imbibe the Spirit of the Shepherd, which is a Spirit of peace and love; imitative of Him, “who when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, threatened not, but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously.” These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth. In their collective capacity, as a flock, they do not bite and devour one another, like wolves among sheep; but feed and lie down together in green pastures, as the property of the same master, the partakers of the same privileges, and the expectants of the same immortal happiness.

II. THIS FLOCK OF CHRIST IS FOR THE PRESENT COMPARATIVELY SMALL.

III. THE FLOCK OF CHRIST ARE AT TIMES THE SUBJECTS OF DISTRESSING ANXIETIES. They sometimes fear lest their temporal wants should not be supplied. At other times they fear they should not hold out to the end, but make shipwreck of faith and of a good conscience; and that having begun in the spirit they should end in the flesh. They are at times anxious lest they should bring a reproach upon their profession, and cause the good ways of the Lord to be evil spoken of. And never do their fears rise higher than when they witness some professors, who seemed to be pillars, depart from Zion’s ways, and either embrace pernicious errors, or fall into many foolish and hurtful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.

IV. A GLORIOUS KINGDOM AWAITS THE FLOCK OF THE REDEEMER AFTER DEATH.

V. THEIR HEAVENLY FATHER GREATLY DELIGHTS IN HIS FLOCK, AND WILL TAKE A HOLY SATISFACTION IN PUTTING THEM INTO POSSESSION OF HIS ETERNAL KINGDOM AND GLORY.

VI. IT HIGHLY BECOMES THE FLOCK OF CHRIST TO DISMISS THEIR FEARS, AND TO BELIEVE THAT GOD WILL NOT PERMIT THEM TO WANT ANY GOOD THING IN THEIR WAY TO THE KINGDOM. (Essex Remembrancer)

The little flock

I. AN ENDEARING APPELLATION.

II. A SALUTARY CAUTION.

1. Fear not suffering.

2. Fear not affliction.

3. Fear not the temptations of Satan.

4. Fear not death.

III. A CHEERING ASSURANCE. (W. J. Brock, B. A.)

Fear not, little flock

I. Consider HOW CHRIST’S PEOPLE CAME TO BE HIS FLOCK.

1. By the express commandment of God.

2. By the purchase of His atoning death.

3. By actually bringing His people into His fold.

II. Consider THE DESIGNATION HERE GIVEN OF CHRIST’S PEOPLE. “Little flock.” Let it be considered, not as a point of dry arithmetic, or of dogmatical and uncharitable condemnation of others, but as a melancholy fact, that should awaken yourselves. Is it so that Christ’s flock is a little flock? then the way of the multitude of mankind is not the way for you to follow if you would be saved, but you must follow the way of the peculiar people.

III. THE ENCOURAGING EXHORTATION here addressed by Christ to His little flock. “Fear not.”

1. Believers have no reason to fear want. It is one of the offices of the Good Shepherd to feed His flock. They shall, in general, have whatever degree of worldly prosperity may be conducive to God’s glory and their own good.

2. But want is not the only thing which they may be ready to fear: they may fear the various other afflictions and calamities of life; and yet they have no reason to fear them. He will keep them from all troubles that would be injurious to them, and He will assist them, and bear them safe through those through which He has determined that they shall pass.

3. Nor need Christ’s people fear that they shall be overcome by their spiritual enemies, or be left to fall finally from grace. They are, indeed, beset with many spiritual dangers, but they have a mighty and faithful helper.

4. Nor need they fear death.

5. Nor need they fear coming short of heaven. (James Foote, M. A.)

The little flock encouraged

If you were asked, my dear children, what commandment in the Bible comes the most often, do you think you should know? Shall I tell you which commandment God gives most frequently? “Fear not.” He says this more than eighty times--I believe eighty-four times; this is much oftener than any other commandment. “Fear not.” You know if we are afraid, it looks as if we did not trust God. If anybody is afraid in the dark, if anybody is afraid of thunder, if anybody is afraid of going to bed alone, if anybody is afraid of robbers, if anybody is afraid of wild beasts, if anybody is afraid that God will not forgive him (when he asks Him), if anybody is afraid that God will not guide him all along till he gets to heaven--then he does not trust God. Now we must look to see to whom it is that God says, “Fear not.” It is called, what? “Little flock.” Now, why is it called “little”?

1. Perhaps it is because there are so few in it, there are very few. A young man told me the other day that he was seven years at Eton, and he did not believe all the time that there was one real Christian there. Now, he could not tell. Very often religious boys are to be found where you do not think they are, and he might have made a great mistake. Very often God’s people are hidden people. We cannot tell; but I am sure there are very few,--and I never knew a school yet, where there were a great many. There are but few, and so it is a “little flock.” If you turn to Jeremiah, you will see how God makes a “little flock,”--you will not wonder it is “little “when you read that. “I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion” (Jeremiah 3:14). So you see there are only to be “two” or “three.” Nobody naturally tries to love God; and if nobody seeks to love God, or to care about his soul, he must not wonder at “the flock” being so “little.”

2. Do you not think the reason is, not only because so few love God, but because there are so many “little “ lambs in it? there are so many children in Isaiah 40:11). Do you not think they are called “a little flock”because everybody in that “flock” thinks so “little” of himself? Everybody who is a Christian thinks “little” of himself, or ought to do so. If anybody thinks much of himself he is by no means a Christian. “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” What a good God must that great God be in heaven, who made the sky and stars, and who sits upon that beautiful throne in glory, and gives to such poor creatures as we are “the kingdom”! There was once a great Roman emperor going through Rome in grand triumph, surrounded by all his attendants,--his courtiers and his soldiers; he himself was riding in a chariot, accompanied by sound of trumpets,--oh! so grand! The emperor was in the midst of that great procession, when a little child came out of the crowd, ran up to this great man, and of course he was put back,--they cried out, “Go back, little child--go back--go back! He is your emperor!” And the little child said, “Yes, he is your emperor, but he is my father.” Oh! how beautiful it is to say of the Lord, “He is my Father!” “Your Father!” How did He become your Father? (See Jeremiah 3:19.) God has one child; that is, Jesus. Nobody can be God’s child who is not joined to Jesus--a member of Jesus--united to Jesus. Then you become indeed God’s child. When we are joined to Jesus, then He is our Father in a sweeter sense. So that if you wish to be able to say, “Our Father, which art in heaven,” you must love Jesus, follow Jesus, be like Jesus, and be united to Jesus. And oh! what a pleasant thing to have God’s eye upon you. Now we must look at the last thing. What is He going to “give us”? Do you know? He will “give us the kingdom.” Then I suppose He gives us everything--the greater and the less. In Romans 14:17, it is said, “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” Thus we have “the kingdom of heaven” in our hearts when we have “righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” If we have that, then we have good hope, and when we die we shall go to heaven. And, my dear children, do you know you are all trained to be “kings”? I wonder how the Prince of Wales is trained. I should think he must be always thinking, “Oh, I am going to be a king.” And that is what you ought to be thinking. “You should say, “I am going to be a king.” Yes, every child, who is a Christian, is going to be a “king.” “Fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” You have heard of Charlemagne,--he ordered that when he died, there should be a chapel built just like the chapel of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem; and that he should not be buried like other men, but like a king, and so he said, “Do not lay my body down, but set me upon a throne, and bury me like a king.” He was to have a room set apart for him at the side of the chapel, and there was to be a Bible opened and laid by his side when he was dead, and the sword of Charlemagne was to be laid on the other side--and upon his head a crown of gold, and a robe over his shoulders. So he was buried. Years afterwards, the Emperor Otho went to see how Charlemagne looked; the chapel was opened, and he went in to see him,--and what did he see? He was crumbled up into dust. There was the cowl; the crown was not destroyed, but was saved. There was Charlemagne, one of the greatest kings that ever lived--there he was, all dust. Now I will tell you of another man. There was a poor miserable-looking old man, who lived in an almshouse--I will not say where--and the poor old creature had the palsy, and if you bad seen him you would have heard his shoes knocking together with the palsy; and he was sitting in his chair when a gentleman went to see him, and said, “Well, my friend, how do you do?” “Oh! I am waiting-waiting.” “Are you waiting for me?” “No, I am waiting for my Master; for Him to bring me my crown.” “Bring you your crown?” “Yes, I am going to be a king.” “How do you know that?” “Because Christ has said it--‘Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.’” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

The people of Christ exhorted to lay aside their fears

I. THE EXHORTATION: “Fear not, little flock.” If it had not been expressly said by St. Luke, that Jesus spake these words to “His disciples,” we should have had no doubt to whom they were addressed, from the title which He gives them, “little flock.” Let us then represent to ourselves a little flock of sheep travelling through a wide and barren wilderness; and let us suppose that, thus circumstanced, they could be sensible of their situation, and of the wants and perils to which they were exposed. Would they not have many causes of alarm? Would there not be many things which would excite their fears?

1. In the first place, they would be terrified at the thought of the cruel and ravenous enemies with which they were surrounded. Every moment they might be surprised by the roaring lion, or the prowling fox, or the hidden serpent, without any means on their part of escape or defence. Beset by such adversaries, they might reasonably fear that every day would be their last.

2. Again, ignorant of the road by which they must travel through this wilderness, and arrive at those rich and fertile pastures, after which they were seeking, they could not but fear being entangled and lost by the way. Here would be a continual source of anxiety and apprehension.

3. Once more, the apprehension of want and famine would be another fruitful source of uneasiness. Such we may reasonably conclude would be the fears and anxieties of the “little flock,” in the circumstances supposed: and now let us apply these things to the spiritual flock, to the people of Christ, the sheep of His pasture, and the lambs of His fold. And let us see whether they have not like grounds and causes for fear. The world is to them a wilderness; a wilderness through which they are travelling towards a better country, that is, a heavenly; a land of heat and drought, beset with dangers, and filled with their enemies. Another ground of fear to the people of Christ is their ignorance and unaquaintedness with the way in which they should go; their readiness to be discouraged at the difficulties in their road; and their propensity to turn aside, and to wander into other paths. How often do they find themselves in such situations, that they can scarcely discern the path of duty, and see the course which they ought to follow I The failure of provision by the way, of those means and accommodations which are necessary for the support and comfort of the present life, is still another fruitful cause of anxiety and alarm.

II. THE ARGUMENT BY WHICH IT IS ENFORCED: “For it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Surely there is enough in this passage to allay the fears and to comfort the hearts of the most timorous and desponding.

1. In the first place, let the people of Christ call to mind, that God is their Father, Our Lord, speaking to them in the text, says,” your Father.” Being members of Christ, they are children of God.

2. In the second place, let them recollect that this their Heavenly Father has prepared an inheritance for them; and what kind of an inheritance is it? Such an inheritance as the children of such a Father might well expect to receive; a royal inheritance; a “ crown,” a “kingdom.” Suffice it in one word to say, that the inheritance is such as their Heavenly Father, the God of all power and love, has prepared for His dearly-purchased and His dearly beloved children.

3. In the third place, let them reflect, that with respect to this kingdom, great and glorious as it is, beyond all our thoughts and conceptions, yet it is their Father’s “good pleasure to give it them.” He has prepared and provided it for them. He has promised it to them: and it will be His delight and His joy to put them into possession of it. It is His good pleasure that they should have it; and that, not because they have deserved it, not because they have done anything to purchase it, or can ever do anything to make Him an adequate return for it--no; but because He delighteth in mercy, and hath pleasure in the felicity of His chosen. “It is His good pleasure to give them the kingdom.” It is a royal gift. Now, then, my brethren, let us see how the argument, thus opened, applies to the case before us, and enforces the exhortation in the text. “Fear not, little flock”; fear not that you shall be left to wander in the wilderness without protection, guidance, and provision by the way. Have you not in heaven a Father--an Almighty Father, who loves you with the tenderest love; watches over you with the most anxious care; and desires your happiness with even more than a Father’s heart? And will He ever leave you or forsake you? Besides, hath He not provided an inheritance for you? Hath He not designed, hath He not promised, to make you inconceivably blessed with Himself for ever; and is it possible that He will not bring you safely into the possession of this inheritance? Oh! be ashamed of your unbelief. Be ashamed of your fears. (E. Cooper.)

God’s flock

The true followers of Jesus Christ have always been a little flock, compared with the rest of mankind.

I. Then the majority may be on the wrong side.

II. Then weakness does not of necessity involve danger or defeat.

III. Then heaven is God’s gift, and not the reward of works.

IV. Then God does not judge by appearances.

V. Then God, who promises the kingdom, will surely keep His word.

VI. Then the Christian should be hopeful and happy. In life’s fiercest tribulations, we should never forget that God’s promises are worthy of our strongest confidence, and our constant trust. (T. Kelly.)

The Christian’s sense of security

A sense of security seems indispensable to happiness. A habit of foreboding, of thinking something evil is ever about to happen cannot but seriously mar our comfort and satisfaction. This constant dread of impending ill is by no means an uncommon, but a very common thing. We cannot well avoid a natural looking ahead for danger when travelling, but perhaps the less we have of that the more perfect our enjoyment. To be in the presence of one who is continually imagining something ill is near, is very trying to our own peace of mind. For a mind once habituated to foreboding becomes very fertile in its imaginings and will create a great danger from some very trifling occurrence. For such a mind there would seem to be no rest night or day. Constant anxiety is eating up its vitality, which soon becomes exhausted, involving, too, the body in its terrible progress towards dissolution and death. A cure for this harassing temper of mind is the cultivation of a sense of security by a constant looking unto God for guidance and strength. A reliance on Him and a willing obedience to Nature’s laws will do far more for our happiness than ought beside. Even the dearest friends will fail us at times, yea often, and the truest source of joy must be ourselves purified and lifted by a constant looking unto our Heavenly Father. (Christian Age.)

Going to the kingdom

Mrs. G was one day visiting an aged man, a friend of her father, and one who was associated with him in early life. Though differing widely in sentiment, the two old men still felt a deep interest in each other. Mr. S--had been one of those who ran after the world to overtake it. All that it can give, he had obtained. Now he inquired after the state of his friend, whom he knew to be in circumstances of far less external comfort than himself. As he listened to the story of his patience and suffering, and of his cheerfulness with which he could look forward, either to a longer pilgrimage in this world, or to the hour of death, his conscience applied the unexpressed reproach, and he exclaimed, “Yes, yes, you wonder I cannot be as quiet and happy too: but think of the difference; he is going to his treasure, and I--I must leave mine!”


Verse 33

Luke 12:33

Sell that ye have, and give alms

Sell all

Do not hoard it for yourself; do not, like the rich fool, call them your fruits.
Do not consider yourselves proprietors of your goods. Regard them not as yours, but as God’s. Sell them to God, and dispose of them in mercy for the wants of others. This is not a command that no money be kept for our own use, but that righteousness should not be neglected through fear of poverty. They make the best of bargains, who secure eternal life. They obtain the best of treasures who carry them through the grave. Self-righteous, lazy, mendicant friars, a burlesque on the text. Men may part with all, only to be more covetous than before. The command was given in good earnest to the young man. It demands the soul to be unfettered of earth-born weights. It requires a consecration of all our means to God. Mariners save the vessel by throwing the cargo into the sea. Possessions cease to be harmless the moment they acquire the mastery. Esteem it no loss if your all is destroyed for Christ’s sake. No sacrifice of treasure meritorious in purchasing heaven. Some give their all to the poor, and still lose heaven (
1 Corinthians 13:3). (Van Doren.)

Noble self-sacrifice

The present Queen of Sweden, in a spirit of the noblest self-sacrifice, sold her jewels to provide for her people hospitals, orphanages, and convalescent homes, such as we possess in this country. Visiting on one occasion in person a convalescent home of her own founding, a poor bed-ridden woman thanked her for her kindness and her care. As she spoke one or more tears of gratitude fell on the queen’s hand, who was sitting by her side. The queen sweetly said, as she saw the glittering tokens of a thankful heart, “God is sending me my jewels back again.”


Verses 35-40

Luke 12:35-40

Men that wait for their Lord

Of the believer’s readiness for the coming of Christ

This readiness stands in watchfulness and fidelity.

I. WATCHFULNESS.

1. Its nature.

2. Its ground. The servant’s relation of dependence toward his

Lord.

3. The motive to it. The glorious reward.

4. The difficulty of it. The long delay.

5. Its necessity. The uncertainty of the time.

II. FIDELITY.

1. Motives to it.

2. Its nature.

3. Its consequences.

4. Exhortation to fidelity from the mournful consequences of the opposite.

1. Source of faithlessness. Security and unbelief.

2. Nature of faithlessness.

3. Mournful consequences of faithlessness.

Watching for the Master

I. CONSIDER OUR EXPECTATION.

1. We expect Christ’s second advent as King and Judge. Or--

2. We expect our own decease, which will take us into His presence, to give an account of ourselves.

II. OUR PRESENT POSITION.

1. We are His servants. We belong to Him, and are subject to Him; He has given us work to do in His absence--work which should occupy all our time, and engage all our powers. Specifically, there is the work of our own sanctification; and there is the work of Christian beneficence and labour in the world.

2. We are left to ourselves for a season. We have it in our power to refuse doing His work. We may use His property and gifts for our own pleasure or profit. We may be indolent, selfish, and sensual, and lull ourselves to sleep and carelessness.

3. But He will return, and call us to account. We expect a day of reckoning.

III. ITS ISSUES.

1. If found faithful, what joy and honour will be ours! (See Luke 12:37.)

2. If found unfaithful, what discomfiture and ruin! (See Luke 12:45, &c.)

IV. OUR TRUE INTEREST AND DUTY.

1. it is, to live wholly for eternity--for Christ.

2. It is, to be prepared for death and judgment every moment. (See Luke 12:35; Luk_12:40.)

3. It is, to stir up others to the same wakefulness and zeal! (The Congregational Pulpit.)

The nature of Christian watchfulness

1. Alertness.

2. Activity.

3. Circumspection. (Van Oosterzee.)

The motive of Christian watchfulness

1. Certainty.

2. Suddenness.

3. Decisiveness of the coming of the Lord. (Van Oosterzee.)

What does the Lord demand of His faithful servants?

1. An eye that is open for His light.

2. A hand that carries on His work.

3. A foot that is every instant ready to go to meet Him and to open to Him. (Van Oosterzee.)

What does the Lord promise to His faithful servants?

1. Honourable distinction.

2. Perfect contentment.

3. Beseeming elevation. (Van Oosterzee.)

Watchfulness in its true character

1. Its inner essence.

2. Its blessed consequences.

3. Its indispensable universality. (Arndt.)

Irresistible grace

I. THE REPRESENTATION WHICH IS HERE GIVEN OF GOD’S MODE OF DEALING WITH MEN. “He cometh and knocketh.” Where? At the “door” of our hearts. Then the door is by nature closed against God. And this applies equally to all. We allow all that can be asked of us, in regard to a vast difference between man and man; but only with reference to their characters and their conduct as members of society. When we try them by their love to God, by their willingness to submit to Him, by their desire to please Him, we contend that there is no difference whatever, but that all must be equally included under one emphatic description--“Enemies in your minds by wicked works.” This truth it is which we derive from the words of our text--the truth that the heart of every one amongst us is naturally barred against God, so that though it will be readily opened at the touch of friendship, or the call of distress, yet does it obstinately exclude that Creator and that Benefactor, who alone can fill its mighty capacities. And, if the text thus pourtray to you the natural condition of the human heart, it shows you, with equal accuracy, by what kind of manner Christ tries to gain the entrance which is wickedly denied. We speak not yet of the mode, in which it may be said, that Christ “knocks” at the door of the heart. We confine ourselves simply to the representation that no kind of violence is employed; there is nothing like forcing the door; but when Christ has “knocked,” it still rests with man to determine whether he will obey the summons, and let in the guest. You will all admit that there is nothing in the text which looks like what is called IRRESISTIBLE ONCE nothing to favour the opinion that there is any inteference with the free will of man, in order that he may be compelled or induced to renounce what is evil, and embrace what is good. The representation is purely that of such an appeal to man as man is quite at liberty to withstand. There is a “knocking” at the door; perhaps a loud knocking, and a continued knocking, but still it is left with man to decide whether he will hear the voice and throw open the door. It is very clear from this, whatever we may hold as to human corruption and disability, that none of us can be excusable in being still unconverted and at enmity with God. If Christ have only “knocked” (and this can hardly be denied by any who have ever heard the sound of the gospel), the whole blame is chargeable on themselves, if He have not also entered, and taken possession of the heart. And how does Christ knock? We might almost say that He knocks by every object in creation, and by every provision in redemption. Every feature of the landscape, every tree of the forest; every flower of the garden, every joint and every muscle of my frame--all are gifted with the same energy, an energy in proclaiming that there is a Supreme Being, infinite in wisdom and goodness, as well as in might. And through each, therefore, this Being may be justly affirmed to “knock” at the door of the heart, demanding its love and its allegiance. And there are modes yet more personal than these, in which God may be said to “come and knock” at the human heart. Does He not often inflict fatherly chastisements--removing objects of deep love, and startling those who were sunk in lethargy, and living as though they had here an “abiding city” by sudden and distressing dispensations? And if God may be said to knock at the heart by the visitations of His providence, will you not allow the same in regard of all those actings on men, which are especially to be referred to the Second and Third Persons of the Trinity? We are bold to declare of every sermon that you hear, and every chapter which you read, that it knocks at the heart. The written word and the preached word are the exhibitions of what has been done for you by the Lord your Redeemer; and in resisting these, you resist the strongest possible appeal to every charity of the heart, to every susceptibility, to every hope, and to every fear. When Christ is evidently set forth “crucified amongst you,” the throes of His agony and passion; the instruments of shame and torture, the crown, the nail, the cross, the spear, the indignities endured without resentment, the griefs sustained without a murmur; the contumely poured on the Lord of Glory, the death submitted to by the Lord of Life, and all “for us men and for our salvation”;--each of these may emphatically be said to rush against the heart, pleading against its indifference, and worldliness, and pride, and soliciting admission for a Saviour who longs to enter it, only that He may purify and bless and fill it with lasting happiness. And to this must be added what must occur to every one of you, that the suggestions of conscience, and the strivings of the Spirit, are means through which Christ often “knocks” at the heart, and that too, with a violence which will scarcely permit inattention. Who is there of you who will presume to say that he never heard this knocking?

II. THE PROMISE MADE TO THOSE WHO YIELD TO HIS SOLICITATIONS, We will not insist upon that point of the representation which sets before us Christ as actually ministering--ministering as a servant to such as open when He knocks. We must not give too literal an interpretation to such sayings, though we may certainly understand our blessed Lord as affirming that He will graciously condescend to employ all His power and authority in advancing the honour and happiness of those who hearken to His call. Whilst waiving this, let us consider only the representation of “sitting down to meat” in association and company with the Lord our Redeemer. It has often been said, and we suppose with much truth, that heaven would be no scene of enjoyment to the wicked if they could be admitted within its gates without having the heart first changed by Divine grace. There cannot be happiness unless our faculties and desires have their counterpart objects. This is only saying that we must have our faculties rectified and receive a new set of desires ere we can possibly find happiness in the occupation and pleasures of the invisible world. And such a remark is specially in place with regard to the promise made by Christ in our text. It is not a promise which can wear much attractiveness to men who are wholly strangers to vital religion. There is not much in it to excite them, because it addresses itself to feelings which they do not yet possess and presupposes desires of which they are not conscious. They may see that the promise refers to close intimacy and rich communion between Christ and the soul, but they are disposed to resolve all such things into idealism and enthusiasm: they cannot profess to understand how they can be, nor if they be real, how they can also be valuable. But let us all add, that if unconverted men find no relish for the blessing to which the promise refers, this alone is sufficient to make them earnest in obeying Christ’s summons and opening the door. Certainly we do not know a more startling truth if we be impenitent and indifferent, than that heaven would be no heaven to us, even if we could gain entrance within its precincts; and it is going far beyond all ordinary descriptions, whether of mental or corporeal tyranny, to say that there is such a thorough unfitness for every pleasure which has God for its author, such a thorough incapacity for enjoying the blessings which God delighteth to secure to those whom He loves, that they would carry, as it were, hell into heaven, and be unspeakably miserable, even where there is to be “no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.” That man indeed, must have wretchedness woven up with all the elements of his being, so that he must be his own tormentor, his own accuser, his own executioner, who could be translated from hell to heaven, and find the purities of the heavens a burden with the infirmities of earth. We will not, therefore, hear that there is no stirring motive to the unconverted amongst you in these words of the Saviour--“he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them.” That you do not feel their force; that you do not see their beauty; this alone is argument enough why you should labour to fulfil the conditions and “open immediately,” upon hearing the knocking of Christ. To have no relish for what Christ has to bestow, proves such incapacity for happiness as is more formidable than the mere accumulation of misery. Therefore should the unconverted be as much roused by a promise whose worth they do not feel as by one which should actually address itself to their hopes and their wishes. If the “door were to be opened” that wealth might pour in, and that carnal pleasure might abound, what alacrity would there be in obeying the summons and withdrawing the bolt I But if the door is to be opened, that the Mediator may enter, and if this seem in no degree an inducement; why, this very fact ought to furnish the strongest possible inducement! for, unless I can learn to be happy in God’s way, how unspeakably wretched must I ever be in my own! But we may well believe that there are others in this assembly who have appreciated the worth of the promise in our text. To such we need not say that there is a communion and intercourse between Christ and the soul, which if not capable of being described to a stranger, is unspeakably precious to those by whom it is experienced. It is no dream of rye enthusiast; it is the statement of soberness and truth. The Redeemer so manifests Himself to those who believe in His name that He communicates to them such a sense of His presence, and brings them into such intimate companionship, that He may be said to enter in and “make them sit down to meat.” There is what I may venture to call a social and family intercourse; not indeed an intercourse in which the majesty and the dignity of the Mediator are ever forgotten, but nevertheless one which is as cordial and unreserved as it is actual, the soul opening all her capacities that she may be filled with all the fulness of the Saviour, and the Saviour deigning to impart himself in His various offices. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

The kind Master

First let us glance at the form of the parable. A certain Oriental gentleman, or “lord,” has gone to the wedding of a friend. The festivities connected with an Eastern marriage were spread over many days, a week at least, sometimes a month. All the friends of the family were expected to put in an appearance, but only a select few remained to the end. The rest might come and go at any hour, on any day, that suited their convenience or pleasure. So that when this Hebrew gentleman went to his friend’s wedding, his servants could not tell to an hour, or to a watch, or even to a day, when he would return. But, however long he delayed his coming, they kept a keen look-out for him. When night fell, instead of barring up the house and retiring to rest, they girt up their long outer robes, that they might be ready to run out at any instant to greet him; they kindled their lamps, that they might run safely, as well as swiftly, on his errands. They even prepared a table for him; for, though he was coming from a feast, he may have had to ride far and long, and, in any case, a little fruit and a cup of pure water or of generous wine might be very acceptable to him. In this posture, with these preparations, they await his coming. And when he comes, he is so pleased with their fidelity and thoughtfulness that, instead of sitting down to meat or hastening to his couch, he girds up his loins, bids his servants sit down to the very banquet they had prepared for him, and comes forth from his chamber to wait upon them.

I. THE WATCHFULNESS OF THE SERVANTS. As they waited for the coming of their master, so are we to wait for the coming of ours. If we take the great promise of the New Testament--the second advent of Christ--if we divest it of all mere accidents of form and date, and reduce it to its most simple and general terms, what does it come to? It comes at least to this: that, somewhere in the future, there is to be a better world than this--a world more wisely and happily ordered, a world in which all that is now wrong will be righted, a world of perfect beauty and growing righteousness; in a word, a world in which He who once suffered for and with all men will really reign in and over all men, His spirit dwelling in them, and raising them towards the true ideal of manhood. And is not that a reasonable hope? Does it not make a vital difference to us whether or not we entertain it? If in this world only we have hope, we are of all creatures most miserable. If the tragedy of human life be pregnant with no Divine purpose, if there be no better time coming, no golden age of righteousness and peace--if, in short, we can no longer believe in the advent and reign of Christ, then surely every thoughtful spectator of this vast tragedy must say, “It were better for men that they had never been born!” But if we believe in this great promise, if we cherish this great hope, then can we with patience wait for it. And this is the very posture which our Lord here enjoins.

II. THE FRIENDLY AND BOUNTIFUL KINDNESS OF THE MASTER. Whatever we have done for God, He will do for us; when He reckons with us, we shall receive our own again, and receive it with usury. It is but a metaphorical expression of that great law of retribution which pervades the whole Bible, but the happier face of which we are too apt to overlook--that whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap, that, and all that has come of it. The Divine reward will be at once equitable and bountiful. If in this present life we have shown some capacity for serving God in serving our fellows, we may be sure that in the life to come we shall receive the harvest of our service; we may be sure that God will do for us all that we have done for Him, and a great deal more. But what, after all, is the best part of a man’s reward for a faithful and diligent use of any faculty here? It is that his faculty, whatever it may be, is invigorated, developed, refined by use. If, then, I have here used my faculty and opportunity for serving God in serving my fellows, I may hope and believe that hereafter my best reward will be an enlarged faculty of service and ampler opportunities for exercising it. If I love righteousness here, and pursue it, I find all righteous men and influences on my side, and so get my reward; but my best reward is that I myself am ever growing in righteousness, in the power of teaching and serving it. (S. Cox, D. D.)

Preparation for death

I. THE DESCRIPTION OF DEATH WHICH CHRIST HERE GIVES.

1. Death, you perceive, is here represented as the coming of Jesus Christ. In His capacity of Mediator, He comes at death, to terminate that “space for repentance” which He has allotted to each individual; He comes to demand an account of our stewardship.

2. But out text refers, with peculiar emphasis, to the uncertainty in which we are left, as to the time when our Lord will come. That He will come, we are distinctly and impressively assured: and the time, the place, and the manner of His coming, are all foreknown to Him, and appointed by Him. But they are all unknown to us; the year, the day, the hour are unknown; whether it shall be “in the second watch, or in the third watch”; whether it shall be in the morning, or in the evening, or at noonday; “for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh.”

II. THE PREPARATION FOR NEATH WHICH CHRIST ENJOINS.

1. Preparation for death is founded on a belief of the gospel of Christ.

2. It includes a devout anticipation of death, and a reference to it amidst the concerns and engagements of life.

3. Preparation for death includes also a holy and habitual perseverance in the service of Jesus Christ.

III. THE BLESSEDNESS WHICH CHRIST HERE ENSURES TO THOSE WHO DIE IN THIS STATE OF PREPARATION.

1. They are blessed with peace and hops in the prospect and in the act of dying.

2. They are blessed with an entrance into heaven immediately after death. (J. Alexander.)

Waiting for the Lord

Our dear friend, Mr. James Smith, whom some of you remember as preaching the Word at Park Street, and afterwards at Cheltenham, when I saw him, some little while before his departure, described himself thus: “You have seen a passenger that has gone to the station, taken his ticket, all his luggage brought in, all packed up, strapped, directed; and you have seen him sitting with his ticket in his hand, waiting till the train comes up. That,” said he, “is exactly my condition. I am ready to go as soon as my Heavenly Father pleases to come for me.” And is not that how we should always live--waiting for the Lord’s appearing? Mr. Whitefield used to say, of his well-known order and regularity, “I like to go to bed feeling that if I were to die to-night, there is not so much as a pair of my gloves out of their proper place.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Always ready

When war was declared between France and Germany, Count yon Moltke, the strategist, was fully prepared for it. The news was brought to him late one night at Kreisau: he had already gone to bed. “Very well,” he said to the messenger, “the third portfolio on the left,” and went to sleep again until morning. (H. O. Mackay.)

Watching is essential

A general, after gaining a great victory, was encamping with his army for the night. He ordered watch to be kept all around the camp as usual. One of the sentinels, as he went to his station, grumbled to himself, and said, “ Why could not the general let us have a quiet night’s rest for once, after beating the enemy? I’m sure there’s nothing to be afraid of.” The man then went to his station and stood for some time looking about him. It was a bright night, with a harvest moon, but, as he could see no sign of danger anywhere, he said to himself, “I am terribly tired, I shall sleep for just five minutes, out of the moonlight, under the shadow of this tree. So he lay down. Presently he started up, dreaming that some one had pushed a lantern before his eyes, and he found that the moon was shining brightly down on him through the branches of the tree above him. The next minute an arrow whizzed past his ear, and the whole field before him seemed alive with soldiers in dark green coats, who sprang up from the ground, where they had been silently creeping onward, and rushed toward him. Fortunately the arrow had missed him! so he shouted aloud to give the alarm, and ran back to some other sentinels. The army to which he belonged was thus saved, and the soldier said, “I shall never forget, as long as I live, that when one is at war, one must watch.” (Christian Age.)

Preparation for death

The Rev. Dr. Kidd was a Scotch minister of some prominence, and very eccentric, and one who had his own way of doing things. One of his parishioners says: “I was busy in my shop, when, in the midst of my work, in stepped the doctor. ‘Did you expect me?’” was his abrupt inquiry, without even waiting for a salutation. ‘No,’ was my reply. ‘What if I had been Death?’ he asked, when at once he stepped out as abruptly as he came, and was gone almost before I knew it.” What a question! What a thought for every one of us! Does not Death come to most, if not to all, as unexpectedly as this? And does not the inquiry impress the lesson from our Saviour’s lips, “Be ye also ready; for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh.”

“Be ready!”

In the early part of 1875, a young minister, desirous to see the working of the railway signals, points, and telegraph, entered a signal box on a branch line (where the road crossed the metals) for that purpose. The man in charge was most affable, and willing to supplement his limited knowledge of it, by showing him the working of the various branches of trust committed to his charge, as the respective trains came through. Only a few moments elapsed when the sharp ring of the gong attracted both signalman and his visitor to the telegraphic instrument, and the signal “Be ready” was given for a fast through train. The answer returned, the signal lowered, the points righted, and, like the rushing of a mighty wind, on came the ponderous engine and its train of human life. Fast went that train, but the “Be ready “ flew before it from station to station, preparing for it clear metals and a safe journey. A few days elapsed, and the same train was again due; the “Be ready” had been received and forwarded; the signals lowered, the points righted; but one of the gates had somehow got unlocked, and hung across the road. The signalman rushed to the gate hoping to fling it back, but was too late. The train dashed on, and the mangled corpse of the poor man told of his sudden exit from this world to the next. Have you not received the “Be ready” again and again? Look well to your signals, look well to your points, and see that you are ready. The Apostle Paul once got the signal “ Be ready,” and his reply was this: “I am now ready to be offered up, for the time of my departure is at hand.” (Christian Age.)

Waiting and watching

Faith without works has no testifying and authenticating fruit. They are the two extremes of the one tree, viz., the root and the fruit; they are the two halves of the one whole--together they make up the complete Christian. In the text, this completeness is brought out and illustrated in a forcible manner, in the three aspects in which our Lord presents the Christian, viz., a servant, a light-bearer, and a watchman.

I. In the first direction which our Lord gives, “Let your loins be girded about,” we have before us the picture of A SERVANT GIRDED FOR DUTY. I need not tell you what the position and duties of a servant are; how it is expected of him that he should know his place, and humbly and faithfully discharge the duties of his station. He should, if possible, identify himself with his master’s interest, and conduct himself in a manner which will sustain his master’s honour. The servant of Christ has the noblest of all masters--the holiest of all services--the most honourable of all positions. The servant of a king ever bears about him the reflected honour of the king, and the amount of this honour is in proportion to his nearness or remoteness to the throne. So the servant of the King of kings borrows dignity from the Being whom he serves. He wears no outward insignia of that dignity, as earthly courtiers do in stars or ribbons; but it is a glory which reflects itself in his daily life, and evidences his relation to Jesus by the fidelity and zeal which he shows in His service. The fact that what he does, he does for Christ, lifts it out of the plane of menial duty, and places it in the higher region of holy privilege. Such a service ought to call out prompt obedience, loving devotion, unwearied effort, and thorough sympathy with the aim and purpose of God in the work of man’s salvation.

II. But, secondly, the text tells us that the Christian is to BE A LIGHTBEARER as well as a servant. Not only must his loins be girded, but his lights must be burning, The Christian lives in the midst of moral darkness.

Sin is darkness, and he lives in a world of sin; a world in which men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil. Error also is darkness. If Christ is in you His light will shine out through you; and if none shines out through you, it will be because there is none in you. Where the light is, there will be the shining. The absence of light proves the absence of Christ; for you cannot cover up His light or smother His beams. The necessity for these lights being ever burning arises from the personal need of the believer himself; and from the necessity of showing forth to others the light and truth which he has found in Jesus. The personal security of the disciple, then, requires that he should let his lights be burning. His spiritual comfort also depends on this. St. John, after declaring that “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all,” immediately adds, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth; but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another.” The holier the life, the brighter the light. The more the light shines for others, the greater is the inner glow of our own hearts, and the greater the outer glory given to God. The absence of light where we expect to find it, often produces most disastrous results.

III. Lastly, the text tells us that the Christian is to be a WATCHMAN: “and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their Lord,” The watchman-like character of the Christian is to show itself in two ways. First, by watching over himself; and secondly, by waiting for his returning Lord. Over himself he must watch, lest he become careless in duty, remiss in keeping his light burning, and be overtaken with drowsiness and indifference. Self-watchfulness is the necessary pre-requisite to spiritual peace and growth. Only the self-confident and the self-ignorant are unwatchful; and the unwatchful always become an easy prey to the spoiler. All that the great deceiver asks of us is; not that we should openly abandon our religion, but simply ungird our loins--let our light go out and cease to watch. He will finish the work which we thus by carelessness and unwatchfulness begin. In addition to this self-watchfulness there is the other position to be taken, viz., waiting for our returning Lord. This may imply that outlook which all true Christians like to take in reference to the Second Advent of Christ, when He shall come again to judge the world. (Bishop Stevens.)

The lamp of the soul ever burning

I. CONSIDER THE EMPTY, UNTRIMMED LAMP AS THE EMBLEM OF THE NOMINAL PROFESSOR. A lamp is a very serviceable thing, serviceable for lighting our stormy coast, and guarding against shipwrecks; serviceable for lighting our homes; but it is of little service unless it is trimmed, and unless it has oil in it. Now a hollow professor is like a lamp of this kind, a lamp with no oil in it, that cannot be lighted when you want it; as useless, though more dangerous. He lets not the lamp of his profession shine before men with the light of practice, with the light of good works, because the lamp of his profession is destitute of the oil of Divine grace. The oil is the emblem of Divine grace in the Christian profession. And as it is impossible to light a lamp without first putting oil into it; so is it impossible for a hollow professor to shed around on this dark world the beautiful and refreshing light of good works, unless, first, the oil of Divine grace is poured into the empty receptacle of his unconverted heart, by the unseen hand of the Holy Spirit.

II. CONSIDER THE LAMP, WITH OIL IN IT, RUT NOT LIGHTED, AS AN EMBLEM OF THE TRUE CHRISTIAN, BUT NOT EXACTLY SO WELL PREPARED FOR THE SECOND COMING OF THE SON OF MAN AT AN HOUR UNEXPECTED. It is an easy thing for the lamp of the Christian to grow dim, or to go out. If the Christian is not watchful, the slightest blast from the insidious temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, will blow his lamp out. Want of prayer, irregularity in prayer, coldness in prayer, will put the Christian’s lamp out, or make it burn very dull. Neglect of the Scriptures, neglect either in not searching them, or in searching them in a self-righteous and careless spirit, will extinguish the bright light of the lamp. Or irregularity, or formality, in attending the Sacrament, and the other Divinely appointed means of grace, will cause the lamp to emit a dim and unhealthy light. Yielding to the besetting sin will put the lamp out; yielding to any wilful sin will put the lamp out. Remissness in self-examination will put the lamp out. Want of zeal for Christ will put the lamp out. Want of faith in Christ will put the lamp out. Want of hope in Christ will put the lamp out. Want of love for Christ will put the lamp out. Want of an abounding stedfastness in the work of the Lord, will put the lamp out.

III. CONSIDER THE LAMP BURNING, AS AN EMBLEM OF DUE PREPARATION FOR CHRIST’S SUDDEN COMING. Brethren, it is a hard thing in a world like this, and with an old evil nature that clings to the new man, for the Christian to keep his lamp burning. There are few Christians, indeed, whom sudden death has found, or the second advent will find, not only with lamps, and the oil in the lamps, but the lamps themselves burning. “Sudden death, sudden glory,” has been the noble motto of a very distinguished minority, and death has not had power to make them retract. Absent from the body, present with the Lord; so said St. Paul in life, and so he felt in death. Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly, are among the last glorious words on record of St. John. They shed a burning and shining light upon this dark world of sin and woe to the very last. Their whole eventful lives were spent in being good, or doing good. “To them to live is Christ, to die is gain.” When their lamps grow dull, and seem threatening to go out, they immediately brighten them up, and make them burn again, by betaking themselves to the throne of grace.

IV. To each of these three classes of Christians, denoted by the lamp, WE WOULD OFFER A WORD OF EXHORTATION BY WAY OF WARNING OR ENCOURAGEMENT.

1. To the first we would say, yours is a sad case, indeed. You trust in the lamp of a hollow profession to save you in the great, and awful, and searching day of your Lord’s second coming. You trust to a lamp without oil to light it. If you put confidence in any refuge of lies of this description, what a miserable end yours will be when Christ cometh. The God that seeth not as man seeth, the God that searcheth the hearts and trieth the reins, is to be your Judge, and pronounce your final doom.

2. To the second class of Christians we would say, guard against all those things that tend to put the lamp out. Every Christian knows what has the influence of deadening the light of the Spirit in his soul, and such a course ought to be strenuously avoided.

3. To the third class of Christians here designated, let us offer the word of encouragement. Often seated amid nights of terrible darkness, on the rock that is higher than we, on the rock of ages, have you been looking patiently, and in faith, over Time’s troublous sea, for the glad day of Christ’s coming to arrive, watching for the day-star to rise. Let your lamps be thus burning, till He comes. It will not be long before He does come. Yet a little while, and He that shall come, will come, and will not tarry. Then your soul’s vigils will come to an end. (R. Jones, M. 4.)

What do you keep a lantern for?

A blind beggar sat by the side-walk on a dark night with a bright lantern by his side. Whereat a passer-by was so puzzled that he had to turn back with--“What in the world do you keep a lantern burning for? You can’t see!” “So’t folks won’t stumble over me,” was the reply. We should keep our lights brightly burning for others’ sakes, as well as for the good of being “in the light” ourselves.

Christian preparedness

A Christian must stand in a posture to receive every message which God shall send. He must be so prepared as to be like one who is called to set off on a sudden journey, and has nothing to do but to set out at a moment’s notice; or like a merchant who has goods to send abroad, and has them all packed up and in readiness for the first vessel that is to sail. (R. Cecil.)

Ready

We should always stand “with our lamps burning, and our loins girt.” A Christian should always be as a ship that has taken in its lading, and is prepared and furnished with all manner of tackling, ready to sail, only expecting the good winds to carry him out of the haven. So should we be ready to set sail for the ocean of eternity, and stand at heaven’s gate, be in a perpetual exercise of faith and love, and be fittingly prepared to meet our Saviour. (H. G. Salter.)

The expectant servant

I. WHY IS THERE SUCH A CONTRAST IN THE PRESENT STATE OF THE CHURCH AS COMPARED WITH THE CHURCH IN APOSTOLIC TIMES?

1. Christ predicted this apathy.

2. The narrow views prevalent as to the idea of “judgment” have much to do with this indifference. Christ is to establish a rule of equity, to establish righteousness in the earth, let us remember.

3. In saying “It is expedient for you that I go away,” the Lord did not say that it was expedient to stay away. We seem to act as if He said so. But He said, “I will come again.”

II. THE BLESSEDNESS OF WAITING FOR CHRIST.

1. It shows our real affection for Him.

2. It shows that we entertain right views of the work of Christ, and are in sympathy with that work.

3. This expectant attitude testifies to our supreme desire for spiritual blessings: those gifts of His grace which prepare us for His work here, and for the glorious vision of His face at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. (H. G.Weston, D. D.)

Christian watchfulness

Let the duty of watchfulness engage your most careful attention. How vigilant is he who is appointed to keep watch at seal “The watchful mariner,” says one, “is ever on the look out. His eyes and ears are both open. Be the prevailing fear an enemy’s force, or a sunk rock, or concealed bank, or shelving coast, he discerns the smallest symptoms, observes the motion of the waves sounds with the line, and gives the alarm on the most minute alteration. Without such watchfulness, the most precious merchandise, and the lives of men, would be each hour in jeopardy. Much the same is the case in warfare by land. The sentinel on the outpost is heedful of the most inconsiderable object within his station; and in the darkness of the night, his ear listens to every noise, Nothing can divert his attention from fidelity to his charge. Such also is the case with the watchman in the besieged city. From the walls, as far as he has light, he marks each change and alteration in the posture of the enemy, draws a judgment from the nicest circumstances; and, in the night, discerns even the rustling of the leaf moved by the breath of heaven; and at every suspicious noise he gives the alarm to the guards of the city. Without this the cry of havoc would oft be heard in the town, when drowned in heaviness and slumber.” Thus it is that you should watch for your own souls. Be watchful lest ye make shipwreck of faith and a good conscience. Be watchful against your spiritual enemies. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour.” Watch over your words and actions, and your very thoughts. “Keep your hearts with all dilligence, for out of them are the issues of life.” Beware of those things which are contrary to watchfulness, such as sloth, inconsideration, worldliness, and sensuality. And see that you join prayer to watchfulness. (James Foote, M. A.)

Found well employed

Philip Henry, the father of the commentator, called upon a tanner, who was so briskly employed in tanning a hide that he did not notice the minister’s approach, and on looking round he apologized for being found thus employed. Philip Henry replied, “Let Christ, when He comes, find me equally well employed in the duties of my calling.” “Many other ministers have made the same reply to similar excuses.

All watched

“A story that I read when a boy,” says one, “made a great impression on me. At a lonely country house a pedlar asked permission to leave a large pack of goods. Some one looking at it in an out-of-the-way room, thought they saw it move. A man in the house fired at it: a groan was heard, and blood issued. Inside the pack was the accomplice of coming robbers, with food, and a wind-call. Neighbours were got in, guns were loaded, and all watched. In the night they sounded the call; the robbers came, were welcomed with a volley, and fled, taking their dead and wounded with them.”

Waiting for the Lord

Two centuries ago, Andrew Gray, the M’Cheyne of his time, and who, like him, was early called home, once said at a communion season, “Oh, when shall these blue heavens be rent, and we be admitted to the marriage supper of the Lamb? I long for the day when all the language of heaven and earth shall be, ‘Come, come, Lord Jesus.’” But, in a more marked degree still, this was the theme in which Samuel Rutherford ever specially delighted. “All is night that is here,” he said; “therefore sigh and long for the dawning of the morning, and the breaking of that day of the coming of the Son of Man! Persuade yourself the King is coming: read his letter sent before him, ‘Behold, I come quickly.’ Wait with the wearied night watch for the breaking of the eastern sky, and think that ye have not a morrow.” (J. H. Norton.)

The coming of Christ

I. THE PERSONS TO WHOM THE COMMAND WAS ADDRESSED WERE ORIGINALLY THE AUDIENCE TO WHICH OUR SAVIOUR WAS SPEAKING. These, as St. Luke informs us, were an innumerable multitude of people, gathered, as it would seem, to hear him preach the gospel. A part of them were His disciples, a part of them were His enemies, and a part, probably including the greatest number, could scarcely have known anything of Him, unless by report. To all these classes of men the command is addressed in the written gospel. To him who reads it, and to him who hears it, it is addressed alike; and that whether he be a Christian, or a sinner, acquainted with Christ, or unacquainted.

II. IN EXAMINING THE COMMAND ITSELF, I SHALL BRIEFLY MENTION--First, What that is for which we are to be ready; and--Secondly, What is included in being ready. First, We are required to be ready for the coming of Christ. There are several senses in which this phrase may be fairly understood, as used in the Scriptures.

1. Profaners of the Lord’s Day are not ready for the coming of Christ.

2. Prayerless persons are not ready for the coming of Christ.

3. Those who do not profess the religion of Christ, and enter into His covenant, are not not ready for His coming.

4. Those persons also are unprepared for the coming of Christ who prefer the world to Him.

5. All persons are unprepared for the coming of Christ who have hitherto put off their repentance to a future season.

6. All those persons also are unready for the coming of Christ who in their schemes of reformation reserve to themselves the indulgence of some sinful disposition, or the perpetration of some particular sin.

7. Those also are unready for the coming of Christ who do not continually and solemnly converse with death, judgment, and eternity.

8. Careless Christians are also unprepared for the coming of Christ.

III. I WILL NOW PROCEED TO THE CONSIDERATION OF THE REASON BY WHICH THE DUTY OF PREPARING OURSELVES FOR THE COMING OF CHRIST IS ENFORCED IN THE TEXT--“For the Son of Man cometh in an hour when ye think not.” How solemnly ought we to remember that death will not wait for our wishes, that the judgment is now hastening, that eternity is at the door? Disease, unperceived, may now be making progress in our veins, and may be preparing, without a suspicion on our part, to hurry us to the grave. How absurd, how deceitful, how fatal is our procrastination! (T. Dwight, D. D.)

Proper preparation for death

I. THE SOLEMN EVENT FOR WHICH WE ARE EXHORTED TO PREPARE, Death.

II. WHAT CONSTITUTES A PROPER PREPARATION FOR DEATH?

1. The justification of our persons by a true and lively faith in

Christ.

2. The sanctification of our souls by the effectual operation of the Holy Spirit.

III. WHY SUCH A PREPARATION BECOMES IMMEDIATELY NECESSARY.

1. Because the time of his coming, or (what is substantially the same thing to us) the time of our death is awfully uncertain.

2. Because delay may be fatal and irretrievable. (D. Ruell, M. A.)

Signs and preparations of the last judgment

I. REMOTE SIGNS.

1. The coming of Antichrist (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4).

2. The coming of Enoch and Elias, and the spread of faith

Revelation 11:3-12).

II. PROXIMATE SIGNS.

1. Tribulations on earth (Luke 21:9, &c.).

2. Signs in heaven (Matthew 24:29).

3. The standard of the cross of Christ (Matthew 24:30).

It shall appear--

III. IMMEDIATE PREPARATIONS.

1. The bodies of the dead will rise.

2. All men must appear before the tribunal of Christ.

3. The wicked shall be separated from among the just. (J. Marchant.)

Ready, or not ready?

I. JESUS CHRIST WILL COME AGAIN.

1. Not in humble guise, but in His glorious majesty.

2. Not to procure salvation, but to inquire who among men have sought His salvation and accepted His offers, and to pronounce sentence accordingly.

II. CHRIST WILL COME WHEN WE DO NOT EXPECT HIM.

1. The world generally will be unprepared.

2. For each of us, death is the coming of the Son of Man.

III. THE NECESSITY OF BEING PREPARED TO MEET OUR GOD WHEN HE COMES.

1. Are you forgiven?

2. Are you growing in holiness? (A. Bibby.)

Ready!

Anxious thought misdirected only secures misery. Supreme efforts of thought, involving the greatest tension of heart-strings, should be spent on objects worthy of themselves. We were once shown a crossing-sweeper who had received a university training. What a waste! Men who spend their lives in seeking the daintiest food to eat, and the costliest dress to wear, waste time and talent, energy and substance, on the inferior parts of their being. Where, then, should anxious thought be exercised? “But rather seek ye the kingdom of God.” “Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning.” “Be ye therefore ready also.” These are the objects worthy of our anxiety and prayer.

I. BE READY--BE RECONCILED TO GOD THROUGH JESUS CHRIST. IT IS HERE THE PREPARATION BEGINS. No one is ready to die who is not justified by faith and has peace with God. We do not wish to limit the power of God to save, even at the last moment, but we must say that it is a hazardous practice. Life at the longest is but brief to prepare for a world which has no end. For a long journey, and for a long stay from home, more elaborate preparations are made than for a short stay. When one intends to quit his native land for ever to reside in some distant colony, every preparation possible is made for that event. Observe also that the preparation is made with a view to the future. We who are hastening towards the judgment-seat need remember the exhortation--“Prepare, O Israel, to meet thy God.” Our sins must be pardoned, and our hearts cleansed by the blood of Jesus. Without this we shall encounter the frown which will strike an eternal shudder through the soul. “Now, then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.”

II. BE READY--BE ON YOUR GUARD AGAINST THE ALLUREMENTS OF THE WORLD. Let neither prosperity nor adversity steal our opportunities, but let our heart be fixed on heavenly things. The stag is swift of foot, but it is often caught by its own horns in the thicket of the forest. Men who pride themselves on their business capacities are drowned in the pleasures of wealth-getting. This world is full of enticements, and as Calypso would have detained the hero in her beautiful grotto, so these exert an influence prejudicial to the growth of heavenly desires. Let us cultivate the spirit of prayer, and commune often with the opposite shore. Every prayer reminds us that there is a happy land yonder where the saints stand in bright glory.

III. BE READY--BE IN CONSTANT EXPECTATION OF HIS COMING. Of all thoughts this is the sweetest. The Apostolic Church was fired daily with the hope that the Master was at hand. A lieutenant who had been mortally wounded was asked if he had a word he wished to be conveyed to his wife, replied, “Tell my wife that there is not a cloud between me and Jesus.” It was a triumphant death. Be ready to welcome the Saviour when He comes, that no earthly entanglements may detain you one moment. (The Weekly Pulpit.)

Preparation for death and judgment

To die! This is the sure end of earthly life. However long our life may be, it must terminate in death. We may struggle as we will, but the stream of time is carrying us onwards, and we must be swept away; strong swimmers though we be, we cannot contend against the flood, but onward we must go, each day bearing us upon its bosom to the boundless Sea of Eternity. Since then, death is so certain to each of us, what is it to die? To die is to stand in the presence of the King of kings. Is no preparation required to appear before the Majesty of Heaven? And to die is not only to appear before the King, but to stand before a Judge. Moreover, to die is to stamp our lot with eternity. Now if we look at death in this light, as appearing before a King, as standing before a Judge, and as the settling and consolidation of our future existence, what arguments might we draw from these facts that we should be “ready also.” Many men say, “Oh! when I come to die I shall say, ‘Lord, have mercy upon me’; and will then get ready to go to heaven.” Dressing for heaven, my friends, is not done quite so rapidly as that. Besides, how do you know that even five minutes will ever be given to you? I have heard of such a man, who often made it his boast that he would so prepare for heaven; but, alas I coming home one night, drunk, his horse leaped the parapet of a bridge, and he was heard cursing as he descended to his doom. Such may be your lot; sudden death may smite you, and there will be no time for preparation--there will be no time for you to prepare to meet your God. And now what is the preparation that we require to make? If death be what I have said it is, it is needful that we should be prepared for it; but what is- the preparation? My hearers, there are two things necessary before a man can face his God without fear. The first is, that his sins should be pardoned. When an unpardoned sinner shall come into the presence of God, he shall not stand in the Judgment, for the burning wrath of God shall consume him like stubble. “Depart”--says God--“depart, ye cursed; ye have lived in sin against Me; go and reap the harvest ye have sowed; inherit the reward of your own works.” Sin unpardoned clothes a man with rags; and shall a man stand in rags before the King of Heaven? Sin unpardoned defiles a man with filth and loathsomeness; and shall filth and loathsomeness appear before perfection, or blackness stand in the presence of light and purity? Sin unpardoned makes man an enemy of God, and God an enemy of man. Sinners, lay hold of Christ. Ye doves, ye who are timid, and fear the tempest of God, hide yourselves in the cleft of the Rock of Ages, so shall ye be sheltered in the day of the fierce anger of the Lord. Now, as I have said, the first thing necessary for salvation is pardon of sin, and that is to be had through faith in Christ. But, secondly, even if a man’s sins are pardoned, he would not be prepared to die if his nature were not renewed. If you could blot out all your sins in a moment, and if it could be possible for you to go to heaven just as you are, you could not be happy there; because heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people. An unconverted man in heaven would be like a fish out of water--he would be wholly out of his element. Holy Mr. Whitfield used to say, that if an ungodly man could go to heaven as he is, he would be so miserable there that he would ask to be allowed to run to hell for shelter! Ye who find our places of worship dreary prisons, and Sundays dull days, how could you bear everlasting worship? How could you bear to have eternal Sabbaths, and continual songs of praises morning, noon, and night? Why, you would say, “Let me out; Gabriel, let me out; this is not the place for me; let me be gone; I am not happy here.” Verily, verily I say unto you, ye must be born again. Well, cries one, “I will change my nature.” My dear friends, you cannot do it; you may alter your habits, but your nature you cannot; there is only One that can alter nature, and that is the Holy Spirit. Christ blots out sin, and the Holy Spirit renews the heart. You may reform, but that will not take you to heaven. It is not being reformed; it is being reborn; made new creatures in Christ Jesus. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Prepare at once

I was preaching in Essex but a few months ago, and the sermon was scarcely finished, when a Christian woman, who was hearing it, dropped dead in her pew. It was but a little while ago, in Kent, that during a sermon, a poor man who had bent forward, and listened with all his ears, fell forward on his face, and then and there appeared before his God. Sudden deaths are not such common things as perpetually to keep us in alarm, yet they are common enough, I hope, to make both young and old arise and hear the voice of God--“Prepare, prepare, to meet your God.” Oh! my hearers, it is but a short time with the very longest lived amongst us. I see here and there a hoary head. Is that grey hair yonder a crown of glory or a fool’s cap? It is either the one or the other. There are young persons here too, O let them look forward to the longest time that we may live, and how brief the period! Time--how short! Eternity--how long! Well, since die we must, I do beseech and intreat you to think of death. Why should all your time be spent in thinking of the things of this world, when there is another world beyond the present? Why, why, is this short life to have all your thoughts, and the life to come to have none of them? I have heard of a monarch who, having a fool in his court, gave him a walking-stick, with an injunction never to part with it, until he should meet with a bigger fool than himself. He kept it for many a day, until at last, the monarch dying, the fool (who was a wise man, after all) came, and said, “Master, where are you going?” “Well,” said he, “I am going to die.” Said the fool, “How long are you going to be there? Oh!” said the monarch, “for ever and ever.” “And have you not made any preparation for the journey; have you no house to live in when you get there; have you nothing ready?” said the fool. “No,” said the monarch, “I never thought of it.” “There,” said the fool, “take the walkingstick; I play the fool in this world, but you have fooled away the next: you have entirely neglected the world to come, and are a fool in very deed.” And is not that the English after all of what those men are who are so careless of the world to come? (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Death a surprise

1. Death is a surprise in the time of its coming.

2. It is a surprise in the way of its coming.

3. It is a surprise, as it finds the sinner unprepared. He meant to be ready, but death was too quick for him.

OBSERVATIONS:

1. God has wisely hidden from us the day of death, that we may be always ready and watching for His coming.

2. There is never but a step, a breath, a heart-throb, between any man and death! While the citadel is guarded, and the walls and gates are watched day and night with sleepless vigilance, an unseen foe lurks within, and with noiseless tread, at the midnight hour, enters the chamber of the sleeper, and life is extinct. Be ready, O man! The Son of Man may come at any hour, in any place, by any agency, along any one of a thousand unseen avenues. (Homiletic Review.)

Danger of unwatchfulness

A great commander was engaged in besieging a strongly fortified city. After a while he concentrated his forces at a point where the fortifications were stronger than at any other, and at 2 p.m., under a bright sun and a clear sky, ordered an assault. When expostulated with by an under officer, the commander replied, “At this point such a general is in command. At this hour of the day he is invariably accustomed to retire for a long sleep. When informed of our approach he will deny the fact, and send a messenger for information. Before the messenger returns we shall gain possession of the fortress.” The facts turned out exactly as predicted. “Yonder weak point,” said the commander, “is held by General--There is no use in attempting to surprise him; he is never for a moment off his guard.”

A sudden call

The following story is by an Indian officer:--It was the height of summer, and a tropical sun had just set, and a cool, refreshing sea-breeze was blowing, which we were inhaling with delight. A fever peculiar to the climate had prostrated many of all ranks, and proved fatal in some instances; and among the convalescents was a young officer in whom I had taken a great personal interest. His strength, however, not recruiting as rapidly as could be wished, the medical authorities advised his return to England for a short furlough; and just as the mess bugle had sounded, and I was preparing to dress, he came in in high spirits, but with tottering steps, to tell me that, as that very evening a steamer was expected, he had obtained leave to embark, and he heartily wished me good-bye. His last words were: “I am going home to-night, and perhaps the steamer will come in before you leave the mess; if not, see me off.” It was midnight before we left the mess-room; and on walking to my quarters I found a lamp burning in my friend’s room. I looked in and found him sleeping soundly, but breathing very loudly. I went up to him, and found all my efforts to waken him unavailing. I immediately summoned the doctor, and to my horror he pronounced him to be dying. In three hours, and just as the signal-gun was fired to announce the arrival of the steamer in which he had engaged his passage, his spirit passed away. He was gone home. He had lived to Christ on earth, and by his bedside lay the Bible which he had just read before he slept that fatal sleep. “Watch ye, therefore, for ye know not when the Master of the house cometh.”


Verses 42-44

Luke 12:42-44

That faithful and wise steward

Our stewardship

I.
HERE IS REPRESENTED A SITUATION OF WEIGHTY RESPONSIBILITY. A stewardship. All responsibility on the part of man is owing to God.

1. And first, my brethren, let it be remarked that God, on this principle and in this relationship of responsibility, or of stewardship, has endowed us with natural faculties: faculties which impart to us a dominion and empire over the various orders of that material creation by which we are surrounded; faculties which enable us to distinguish between right and wrong, between good and evil; faculties which therefore entitle us to comprehend the purposes for which moral government is formed; and faculties which permit our assimilation to the attributes and image of our Maker, that assimilation by which, most of all, He is dignified and honoured. There are, my brethren, you observe in these cases, entrustments which are committed to all, and the improvement of which is required from all, excepting, indeed, in cases of sad and mysterious affliction, or where it is usurped by madness. And those who, from time to time, have conceived, whether truly or falsely, that they have received an amount of natural faculties greater than the ordinary measure, must always remember, with deep and with prayerful solemnity, that what remains for them is nothing but humility, and seriousness, and diligence, and prayer.

2. Secondly, let it be observed that upon this principle and assimilation of stewardship God has also endowed us with many advantages and blessings. The comforts that men derive from their measure of worldly substance and competency, whatever it may be, and the comforts which they derive from the intimacies of friendship and the sweet and tender endearments of private and domestic life, ought not to escape enumeration, and ought not to be meanly esteemed.

3. God, on this principle of stewardship, has also endowed us with many religious privileges. He has endowed us with many religious privileges: that is to say, those means that are eminently adapted to instruct His creatures in the knowledge of His will, and to prepare them and guide their feet into the ways of quietness and peace.

II. Here is presented AN IMPORTANT CHARACTER BY WHICH THIS SITUATION IS DISTINGUISHED. “The Redeemer, you observe, speaks of the faithful and wise steward’s love to the cause of his master. What we intend now to remark on this is, that these are the attributes which it is desirable that every human being should sustain with respect to that stewardship under which he is placed.

1. To be faithful and wise stewards, men must ascertain the nature of the duty which is imposed.

2. To be faithful and wise stewards, men must love the duty which is imposed.

3. To be faithful and wise stewards, men must practically perform the duty which is imposed.

4. To be faithful and wise stewards, men must habitually contemplate the account to be rendered of the duty which is imposed.

III. THE DELIGHTFUL RESULTS IN WHICH THE MAINTENANCE OF THAT CHARACTER IN THAT SITUATION IS TO TERMINATE.

1. The public approbation of the Divine Master.

2. The introduction to substantial honour, and perfect and eternal happiness. (J. Parsons.)

A faithful steward

The other day! [Rev. F. S. Cook, D.D., in “Altering the Gospel”] received a communication from a lawyer, who says that a very large owner has discovered that a very small piece of property belongs to him, and not to the small proprietor in whose possession it has for a very long time remained. The matter seemed a trifling one. We had a conference, and there came the steward with the lawyers, and he was furnished with maps, and, putting on his spectacles, examined them with great care. Why? It was a small matter to him, but because he was a steward he was expected to be faithful. And when he found that this small piece of ground belonged to his lord he was determined to have it. So let me say--as stewards of the gospel of God-never give up one verse, one doctrine, one word of the truth of God. Let us be faithful to that committed to us, it is not ours to alter. We have but to declare that which we have received.

Christian devotedness

Did you never read Henry Martyn’s life, a polished scholar, a man of learning and repute, giving up all for Christ to go to Persia and there to die without having seen a convert, perhaps, and yet content to live, content to die, in far-off lands for his Master’s sake? Did you never read of Brainerd far away among the Indians, toiling on, and in his old age teaching a poor black child its letters, and thanking God that when he could not preach, he could yet teach the child its letters, and so do something for his dear Lord who had done so much for him? Ay, did you never read and think of even St. Francis Xavier, papist as he was? Yet what a man, how consecrated, how zealous! with all his errors, and all his mistakes, and all his faults, yet passing over sea and land, penetrating forests, and daring death a thousand times, that he might spread abroad the poor misguided doctrines which he believed. As much as I hate his teaching, I admire his all but miraculous zeal. When I think of some such men; when I would fain censure their mistakes, I can only censure myself that I cannot even so much as think, or cannot do more than think of living such a life as they lived. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Blessed is that servant

The blessedness of the well-employed servant

I. WE ARE ARE OF US SERVANTS AND STEWARDS, AND ARE TO BE IN EMPLOYMENT. We must be “doing.” Religion is no idle and lazy thing, it is not sluggish and sleepy, it is not drowsy and lethargic, but it is lively and active, vigorous and operative, and always puts us upon holy endeavours and enterprizes. A Christian is not made to stand still and dig nothing. His soul and all its faculties were given him for some great design, and fitted for some excellent use and work.

II. IT IS NOT ENOUGH TO BE EMPLOYED AND TO BE DOING SOMETHING WE MUST BE “SO DOING”--doing our Master’s work. We had better be doing nothing than not be so doing--“so run, that ye may attain,” saith the apostle. The racer may run, and with full speed, and yet never reach the goal, never obtain the prize, for he may run out of the way, and make haste from the mark. And though he keeps the way, he may not be swift enough. The manner as well as the matter o! religion is to be minded, and the latter of these chiefly. I shall endeavour, then, to explain this duty of a Christian in my text; I will show you what it is to be so doing, and I pray God the several particulars, which are all plain and intelligible, may have influence on our lives and practices, that when our Lord shall come, we may be found employed about these following things.

1. Meditating and examining ourselves, serious consideration and reflection on our ways. The Christian is to be busied within doors; he is to be rifling his own breast, and taking account of the inward frame and disposition of his heart.

2. Watching is another exercise meant here by the “so doing,” as you may see in Luke 12:37-38 of this chapter. You are, then, to watch over your hearts, and to keep them with all diligence. And moreover, you are to watch over your actions and lives; you must avoid the occasions of every vice, and keep a strict guard over your senses, which are the common inlets to sin, and betray you to the commission of the greatest follies. “Behold! I come as a thief” (saith Christ), “blessed is he that wateheth” Revelation 16:15).

3. Praying is another good and laudable posture to be found in when our Lord cometh. “Watch and pray” go hand in hand together, and they are never more seasonable than when we are expecting the coming of our Lord.

4. Lamenting and sorrowing for our sins is to be “so doing”; and is another good work to be found in when we are to depart hence, and appear before the impartial tribunal of heaven. Our sins and failings are very numerous, our slips and offences are many and frequent, and we cannot sufficiently lament and bewail our folly, and implore the Divine pardon, and invoke the assistance of the Holy Spirit, but let us resolve to do it with all our might, and with sincere and upright hearts, that our present sorrows and lamentations may give us an entrance into undisturbed joy and felicity.

5. Whilst we have opportunity, let us reckon it our duty and interest to be constantly attending on God’s holy ordinances, not only that of prayer (before mentioned), but that of reading and hearing God’s Word; also the Holy Communion.

6. Doing of works of charity to the souls and bodies of our brethren is an acceptable employment, and will render our last accounts easy to us.

7. Serving God in the several particular callings and places wherein He hath set you is a work which you should endeavour to be found doing. Let me tell you, you serve God by your secular vocations; you may bring glory to Him even by your worldly employment, though it be never so mean and contemptible. The poorest labourer, by a conscientious discharge of his proper trust, by diligence and honesty, is in a capacity to honour his Maker and the religion which he professes. Every one in the sphere and orb wherein Providence hath fixed him must act, move, and influence. Serve God with constancy both in your general and particular calling. This is Christianity, and this will bring a blessing upon you and yours.

III. OUR LORD WILL COME AND TAKE AN ACCOUNT OF WHAT WE HAVE DONE. The Master will come and visit His servants whom He hath set on work. My brethren, our Lord observes and minds what we do; He takes notice whether we be idle or watchful, whether we busy ourselves about His work or Satan’s. And it will not be long before He comes and reckons with us for all our past demeanour. The days of accounting are these two, death and the last judgment. These are the set times of our Lord’s coming, and none can reverse and escape them. The voluptuous and debauched person must appear before that great tribunal, and give an account of his wild and brutish deportment; the unclean person who shunned the light, and thought to conceal his folly by darkness and retirements, must then appear and stand out in the open view of the world, and be accountable for his lewd and lascivious practices. The profane swearer, who blasphemed the holy name of God and His Son Jesus, must then bow and prostrate himself to Him whom he before profaned. The mighty oppressor, who escaped here the earthly judge, and by his wealth and power made himself too great for human judicature, must stand at that great bar and submit to the fatal sentence. The hypocrite, who thought to deceive God as well as his neighbours, shall appear then in his true shape, which he never did before. The uncharitable man, the fomenter of strife and discord, the man that haled others before the judge, must himself appear before the Judge of heaven and earth, and answer for all his unchristian and unbrotherly behaviour.

IV. THOSE SERVANTS WHOM CHRIST AT HIS COMING SHALL FIND ABOUT HIS WORK AND BUSINESS ARE IN A BLESSED AND HAPPY CONDITION.

1. How comfortable must it needs be to a holy person that he hath not only all his lifetime endeavoured sincerely to serve his God, and to do all the good he could in the world, but that, by God’s grace assisting him, he hath persevered in the same course until death; and now that he is to depart this life he is not employed in the works of darkness, he is not displeasing God, and offending good men, but he is about his Master’s business, and he expires his last breath in the discharge of his duty. Blessedness is entailed on the servant who thus behaves himself. If you consider the nature of the thing itself it cannot be otherwise, for he being made by God to serve Him, and to be wholly at His beck and disposal, it must needs be that his satisfaction and happiness should consist in conforming himself to God’s will, and in acting according to His laws and commands. I may add likewise that God will protect His servants in the discharge of His own work. They are safe whilst they are doing what He sets them about. Come what will, they cannot be miserable. The summary application of all may be that of 2 Peter 3:11. “Seeing, then, that all these things shall be dissolved” (seeing that the day of the Lord approaches, and Christ will come to judge thee speedily, either at death or at the last judgment), “what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness?” how exemplary should your lives and conversations be? how zealous should you show yourselves in all the exercises of religion. Give me leave to direct you (as to this great matter) in these few words:

1. Pray more fervently. Unite all your forces now and wrestle with God, and cry mightily unto Him for yourselves, for this place where you inhabit, and for the whole land of your nativity.

2. Disengage your affections more resolvedly from the world. You are convinced by this time, surely, that the world is vain and uncertain. Dote not on its enjoyments, sink not your souls into earth, plunge them not into the mire, be indifferent as to all things here below, and be ready to part with any of this world’s goods.

3. Oppose vice more vigorously than ever, and the rather because of those many strong temptations you meet with in this degenerate and corrupted age.

4. Breathe after heaven more passionately. Let the ill things which you behold here below be the occasion of raising your thoughts and desires toward those mansions above where nothing inhabits but what is pure and holy.

5. Let your lives and actions acquaint the world how mindful you are of that great account which you are to give at the coming of the Lord. Desire to be found doing your Master’s work, and then be not solicitous about the wages, but assure yourselves that that will be a recompense far beyond your thoughts and wishes. Wherefore comfort one another with these words. (John Edwards, D. D.)

The faithful servant

I. THE FAITHFUL PRINCIPLES OF THE TRUE SERVANT OF GOD.

1. He views God as an ever-present Master.

2. He acknowledges God as the Giver of life and salvation to his perishing soul.

II. THE HONOURABLE OCCUPATIONS OF THE TRUE SERVANT OF GOD. He considers himself to be entrusted with various gifts; not for his own pleasure, but for God’s glory; not for selfish ends, but for the highest good of his fellow-creatures. All that he possesses he considers as being his Lord’s goods; and he does not dare to waste any part of them. He takes an inventory of what is committed to him, and “occupies” or trades therewith. He turns everything to good account; he squanders nothing. To this end, moreover, he often reviews his own proceedings; and these self-examinations are preparatory to that last solemn hour when it shall be said, “Give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.” See how he dedicates his talents to the Most High, and employs all his mind for God! What poor, ignorant sinners, whether at home, or heathen abroad, can I bring to the knowledge of Christ? What afflicted person can I comfort? What tempted servant of Christ can I succour? What neighbour, or friend, or relative, that is unconverted, can I win to Christ? Thus, moreover, he lays out his time; his years, his days, his very hours are engaged for God.

III. THE GENEROUS DISPOSITIONS OF THE TRUE SERVANT OF GOD. In one word--love. Therefore, nothing is irksome, nothing burdensome.

IV. THE REWARD WHICH SHALL BE GIVEN TO THE TRUE SERVANT OF GOD.

1. He is commended.

2. He is promoted.

3. He is admitted to joys inconceivable. (Dr. Jowett, M. A.)

The blessedness of the faithful servant

I. THE HONOURABLE OCCUPATION DESCRIBED IS THAT OF A SERVANT DILIGENTLY EMPLOYED IN HIS MASTER’S WORK.

1. Labour is not necessarily and essentially a curse. Adam in Eden. Labour in itself is invigorating, promoting the welfare of the body and the cheerfulness of the mind, while it tends to keep the heart from the power of those temptations which find in the idle and unoccupied an easy prey. It is idleness in all its forms against which the displeasure of our God is expressed with repeated emphasis in the sacred Scriptures. And labour is honourable, whether in the lowly engagements of those who tread the humbler walks of life, or in the more imposing pursuits of those who occupy the prominent stations of society; whether the miner who labours in the bowels of the earth, or the author who with his pen records the processes and results of laborious thought for the guidance of his fellowmen. God has prescribed labour as one of the lasting arrangements of the social world. Everything is full of labour, from the glowing seraph, who flies through boundless space, the willing agent of Almighty will, down to those mysterious laws which keep the universe in being and secure its destined aims; and man is to be no exception, his varied powers of body and of mind were bestowed, net to evaporate in listless, dreamy idleness, to be prostituted for the needs of selfishness and pleasure, but to be employed in active, healthful toil; hence we say labour is honourable. And if prescribed and honourable in the social world, much more so is its relation to the religion of Jesus. He would have no idlers in His kingdom. The idea of our text is that of a servant diligently engaged with his work. Now this, you know, is not the case with all; by some it is done partially, sluggishly, grudgingly, fitfully; but the character here described is supposed to recognize his obligation, without which no one will prove a faithful servant; to carry out his obligations with perseverance, feeling that every day has its claim, and every hour its demand; and further, seeking his Master’s approbation, and thus making his labour his delight, as will always be the case when the smile of approbation is felt to be a coveted reward and a gratifying recompense. This we have described as an honourable position, and contrast justifies the representation. How unlike the trifler and the profligate is the course of the faithful servant!

2. Such a character is honourable in the unprejudiced estimate of the world. To whom do we look back with reverence and esteem? To the men who lived solely for selfish ends, either that they might amass a fortune or obtain a name? or to those who spent their all in riotous living? Oh no, they have passed into a silence as complete as the destruction they have secured, or are remembered only as warnings to others to avoid their folly and escape their doom. It is the patriot toiling or suffering for his country’s good. A Howard or a Fry risking the infection of disease in their efforts to alleviate the sufferings or restrain the progress of guilt--the humble, devoted instructor of youthful ignorance--the faithful pastor--the sanctified intellect--the self-denying philanthropist--these are they whom the world, with all its evils, yet delights to honour--whose names are embalmed in fragrant recollection, who are looked upon as men who are held up for the admiring imitation of succeeding generations--these, the servants diligently and faithfully engaged in their work, are the lights of the world and the salt of the earth.

3. Such characters are honourable in the approving representations of God’s own Word.

II. CONSIDER THE BLESSEDNESS WITH WHICH SUCH COURSE SHALL BE CROWNED. “Blessed is that servant, whom his Lord when He cometh shall find so doing.”

1. Here we are referred to a solemn event, the coming of the Master.

2. And yet further, the form of our text suggests to us the uncertainty of the mode and the moment of the Master’s arrival. Uncertainty--not with Him, for known unto God are all things from the foundation of the world, but uncertainty as respects ourselves; the moment is hastening on, but we know it not--the mode is arranged and fixed, but it is not revealed. Nor can any careful induction of facts lead us to any reliable conclusion as to what awaits us--under what circumstances, or at what time, the Master will come to us. Sometimes we see the servant left to toil on through the whole extent of the wilderness, like Joshua and Caleb, while others enter the promised land in the springtide of their youth or in the full yet undecayed maturity of advanced years: wearisome sickness sometimes makes the exhausted traveller cry, “ Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly,” while others, spared the struggle and the dying strife, drop the coil of mortality and soar away on more than eagle’s wings, and find themselves at rest. None, none can tell the hour or foresee the mode by which he shall be summoned to the final interview, yet the event with all its details is determined and known to Him in whom we live and move and have our being. The time is settled when, by the slow process of decay, or suddenly without previous notice, amid scenes of pleasure, the occupations of business, or in the solitude of retirement, we shall hear the Master’s voice, and be called to appear before Him. (Henry Madgin.)


Verse 45-46

Luke 12:45-46

My lord delayeth his coming

Emboldened by delay

History says that long ago it had been announced that the world was coming to an end, and there was great excitement in London.
It was said that the world would perish on a certain Friday. On Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday the people were in the cathedral, praying and weeping. It seemed as if the whole English nation was being converted to God, for it was announced as certain by philosophers that on the coming Friday the world would perish. Friday came, and there were no portents, no fires in the air, no earthquakes. The day passed along just like every other day, and when it was past and the night came, it is said that in London there was a scene of riot, and wassail, and drunkenness, and debauchery such as had never been witnessed. They forgot their vow, they forgot their repentance, they forgot their good resolutions. Oh, how much human nature in that! While trials and misfortunes come to us, and we are down deep in darkness and trouble, we make vows. We say: “Oh Lord, do so, and I will do so.” The darkness passes, the peril goes away. We are as we were before, or worse; for oh, how often I have Been men start for the kingdom of God, come up to within arm’s reach of it, and then go back farther from God than they ever were before, dropping from the very moment of their privilege into darkness for ever
. (Dr. Tulmage.)


Verse 47

Luke 12:47

Beaten with many stripes

Many stripes

Our Lord in the context urges His disciples to diligence, watchfulness, and fidelity.
This is important, for we are stewards, servants, and are responsible to Him who will one day say unto us, “Give an account of thy stewardship.”

I. THE CHARACTER SUSTAINED--“That servant.” In many passages of Scripture true believers are called the servants of God. Called so by God--by Christ--by believers themselves (see John 12:26). “Paul a servant of God”; “James, a servant of God,” etc.

1. The servant’s Master. This is Christ. He is the Head of the Church--the Divine Sovereign--Lord of all. He issues His commandments--appoints His ordinances--gives His rewards (John 13:13; Matthew 23:28).

2. The servant’s origin. Once servants of sin, of Satan--the world--pleasure--self. Now enlightened to perceive the superiority of Christ--translated from the kingdom of darkness (Romans 6:16-22).

3. The servant’s character.

II. THE SERVICE REQUIRED--“The will of the Master.” What is the will of our Master?

1. Faith and repentance. These duties are desired in order that they may accomplish the servant’s salvation (John 3:16; Mark 16:15-16).

2. The advancement of His Kingdom. This is to be brought about by the servant’s labour. It is an unspeakable honour to be so employed.

3. Internal sanctification. Humility for failings. The acquisition of holiness. Piety of life. Sanctification of spirit.

4. Zeal in duty. Love is not to wax cold--the voices of prayer and praise are not to be silent--the hands are not to hang down--the voice is not to be silent.

III. THE CONSEQUENCES ATTENDANT. On doing this duty depends reward or punishment. If it is faithfully performed, the servant shall have the approval of his Master; if neglected, His blame.

1. This is natural. It is the way of the world. A bad servant is soon discharged. A dishonest one is disgraced.

2. It is also just Wages would not be given unless they were earned. Slaves were obliged to obey.

3. It is for the good of the just. If careless, ignorant, evil men were admitted to heaven, it would be a place of misery.

IV. THE PUNISHMENT PROPORTIONATE. An ignorant servant may be awkward without intentionally transgressing. But for those who know what is right, and deliberately sin, there will be many stripes. It is those who transgress against light and privilege and mercy, who will have to bear the full brunt of the law. Therefore--

1. How great was the guilt of the Jews. They had God’s oracles. Special revelation. Continuance of guidance.

2. How much greater our guilt if we offend. We have not only the light of the Jews, but the full blaze of Christ’s revelation, and light, and work. All things made plain. All prophecies fulfilled. All directions given. If we neglect our duty, how many will be the stripes we shall receive! (The Preachers’ Analyst.)

Practice in religion necessary in proportion to our knowledge

I. THAT IGNORANCE IS A GREAT EXCUSE OF MEN’S FAULTS, AND WILL LESSEN THEIR PUNISHMENT “but he that knew not, but did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes.”

1. There is an ignorance which doth wholly excuse and clear from all manner of guilt, and that is an absolute and invincible ignorance, when a person is wholly ignorant of the thing, which, if he knew, he should be bound to do, but neither can nor could have helped it, that he is ignorant of it; that is, he either had not the capacity, or wanted the means and opportunity, of knowing it. In this case a person is in no fault, if he did not do what he never knew, nor could know to be his duty. For God measures the faults of men by their wills, and if there be no defect there, there can be no guilt; for no man is guilty, but he that is conscious to himself that he would not do what he knew he ought to do, or would do what he knew he ought not to do.

2. There is likewise another sort of ignorance, which either does not at all, or very little, extenuate the faults of men; when men are not only ignorant, but choose to be so that is, when they wilfully neglect those means and opportunities of knowledge which are afforded to them; such as Job speaks of--“Who say unto God, depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways” (Job 21:14). But out Saviour here speaks of such an ignorance as does in a good degree extenuate the fault, and yet not wholly excuse it; for he says of them, that they knew not their Lord’s will; add yet that this ignorance did not wholly excuse them from blame, nor exempt them from punishment, but they should “be beaten with few stripes.”

3. There is an ignorance which is ,n some degree faulty, and yet does in a great measure excuse the faults which proceed from it; and this is when men are not absolutely ignorant of their duty, but only in comparison of others, who have a far more clear and distinct knowledge of it; and though they do not grossly and wilfully neglect the means of further knowledge, yet, perhaps, they do not make the best use they might of the opportunities they have of knowing their duty better; and therefore, in comparison of others, who have far better means and advantages of knowing their Lord’s will, they may be said not to know it, though they are not simply ignorant of it, but only have a more obscure and uncertain knowledge of it. Now this ignorance does in a great measure excuse such persons, and extenuate their crimes, in comparison of those who had a clearer and more perfect knowledge of their Master s will; and yet it does not free them from all guilt, because they did not live up to that degree of knowledge which they had; and perhaps if they had used more care and industry, they might have known their Lord’s will better.

II. THAT THE GREATER ADVANTAGES AND OPPORTUNITIES ANY MAN HATH OF KNOWING THE WILL OF GOD, AND HIS DUTY, THE GREATER WILL BE HIS CONDEMNATION IF HE DO NOT DO IT. “The servant which knew his Lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to it, shall be beaten with many stripes.” “Which knew his Lord’s will, and prepared not himself”; the preparation of our mind to do the will of God, whenever there is occasion and opportunity for it, is accepted with Him; a will rightly disposed to obey God, though it be not brought into act for want of opportunity, does not lose its reward: but when, notwithstanding we know not our Lord’s will, there are neither of these, neither the act nor the preparation and resolution of doing it, what punishment may we not expect? For, after all the aggravations of sin, there is none that doth more intrinsically heighten the malignity of it, than when it is committed against the clear knowledge of our duty, and that upon these three accounts:

1. Because the knowledge of God’s will is so great an advantage to the doing of it.

2. Because it is a great obligation upon us to the doing of it.

3. Because the neglect of our duty in this case cannot be without a great deal of wilfulness and contempt. (Archbishop Tillotson.)

The enlightened, yet disobedient servant, beaten with many stripes

I. THE LORD JEHOVAH IS OUR JUST AND LAWFUL MASTER, AND LEGITIMATELY CLAIMS OUR SUPREME AFFECTION FOR HIS EXCELLENCIES, AND OUR ENTIRE OBEDIENCE TO HIS LAWS. He makes His claims, and He has a right to them.

1. Has He not a right to our supreme affection, and our entire devotedness to His will, as our Creator?

2. The claim will increase when we consider that He is not merely our Father in giving us existence, so that we derive our being from Him, but that we receive our wellbeing from Him.

3. His claims are still higher, and we may say, resistless, on the ground of redemption.

II. THE LORD JEHOVAH HAS AFFORDED YOU AND ME, AS HIS SERVANTS, THE CLEAREST KNOWLEDGE OF HIMSELF, AND OF HIS RIGHT OVER US, AND OF HIS WILL TOWARDS US, AND OF HIS EXPECTATIONS FROM US.

1. By a letter--a book.

2. By His servants--the persons who bear the letter.

3. By the unction of His Holy Spirit imparted to us.

III. IT IS EVIDENT, FROM THE CHOICE AND CONDUCT OF MANY, THAT, THOUGH THEY MUST AND DO KNOW THEIR MASTER’S WILL, YET THEY DO NOT “PREPARE THEMSELVES NOR DO ACCORDING TO IT.”

IV. THE SIN OF SUCH MEN, THEREFORE, IS STAMPED WITH PECULIAR MALIGNITY, AND, WITHOUT PARDON, WILL BE FOLLOWED BY THE SEVEREST PUNISHMENT. You that know your Master’s will, and do it not--remember, your sin is stamped with peculiar malignity. The malignity of a crime always bears proportion to the known dignity of the character insulted. To insult a constable, in the exercise of his official capacity, is a crime; to insult a magistrate on the bench is a greater; to insult a monarch on his throne is rebellion. Therefore, the gradation of crime always rises in proportion to the known dignity of the character offended. Then what must be--what must be the black aggravation of your crime, who know your Master’s will, and know who that Master is, and yet do not “prepare yourselves nor do according to it”? You sin against God the Father in His laws--and you know Him to be so; you “trample under foot the blood of the Son of God”--and you know Him to be so; you “do despite unto the Spirit of Grace”--and you know who it is that you are doing despite unto. Remember, also, there is an aggravation in the case. It is not one sin committed once; it is the same sin committed again and again, under growing aggravations. Human laws say--for the first offence the penalty shall be light, for the second it shall be doubled, for the third it shall be trebled, and so on, so that punishment always bears proportion to the multitude of the offences. Very well; then, pray what sort of a sinner must you be? You know your Master’s will, and do it not; and that is not in one instance--one sin once committed, or one duty once omitted, or one blessing once neglected--it is the same sin committed again, and again, and again, a thousand times repeated with increasing aggravations. Judge, then, “wicked and slothful servant,” of such a Master! what must be the malignity of your sin. And then, again, it is not one sin committed a thousand times even, but a multitude of sins committed again and again with those magnifying aggravations. (W. Dawson.)

God’s penal law

I. ALL MEN EXIST IN A STATE OF OBLIGATION TO GOD. They are His servants; He, their Master.

II. THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF MEN, CONNECTED WITH THEIR STATE OF OBLIGATION, VARY IN PROPORTION TO THEIR OPPORTUNITIES OF KNOWLEDGE AND OF IMPROVEMENT.

1. There exist in the world very different degrees of opportunity for knowledge and improvement.

2. We are placed in circumstances which afford to us the highest degrees of opportunity for knowledge and for improvement.

3. Possessing as we do such opportunities, we are under a special call to eminent devotedness to the service of God.

III. THE PUNISHMENT OF MEN FOR THE VIOLATION OF THEIR RESPONSIBILITIES, IS REGULATED ACCORDING TO THE VALUE OF THE OPPORTUNITIES WHICH THEY HAVE POSSESSED, AND HAVE ABUSED. There are two remarks under this part of the subject to which your attention will be called.

1. You will observe, first, that punishment is to be inflicted upon all by whom their original obligations have been forgotten and violated. The desert of punishment is presented under the phrase of “committing things worthy of stripes.” A certain period is stated to be appointed by the master, or lord of the household, for the purpose of returning, in order to inflict punishment, or grant rewards, according to the characters of those by whom he has been professedly served.

2. But, what we principally intend to insist on, on this part of the subject, is, that the punishment to be inflicted on those whose opportunities have been many, will be far more grievous than the punishment to be inflicted on those whose opportunities have been few. “ Many stripes,” or larger and heavier inflictions, are to be the portion of him who knew his lord’s will and did it not; but “few stripes,” or minor inflictions, are to be the portion of him who knew not his lord’s will, and did it not. In this infliction of stripes there seems an allusion to the law, which you observe to be contained in Deuteronomy 25:1-3. The deduction of the Saviour, in connection with this law, appears to be this: that those whose opportunities have been few shall receive a certain amount of punishment, limited in some mode analogous to that which is contained in the announcement of the law; but that those whose opportunities have been many, and who yet have abused and slighted them, are to be subjected to a punishment to which no limit and no measure are to be assigned: they are to endure the keenest inflictions which the wrath of an Almighty and Infinite Being can pour upon them. (J. Parsons.)

The penalty of disregarded duty

I had an aged friend who knew Robert Pollock, the celebrated Scotch poet, and he told me that Pollock lost his life through too vivid views of the great future. It seemed as if he walked amid the realities of the eternal world. It was too great for his physical strength, and he died in early life. Robert Pollock one day caught a glimpse of the destiny of those who miss heaven. I can recollect here and there a sentence: “And as I listened I heard these beings curse Almighty God, and curse the Lamb, and curse the earth, the resurrection morn, and seek, and ever vainly seek for utter death. And to the everlasting anguish still the thunders from above, responding, spoke these words which, forlornly echoing through the caverns of perdition, fall on every ear: ‘Ye knew your duty, but ye did it not.’ Then back again recoiled a deeper groan--a deeper groan! O what a groan was that!” (Dr. Talmage.)

Result of sinning against the light

A few weeks ago, a poor woman came to my surgery, and said, “A young woman is lodging in the same house with me, who is wretchedly poor, in great suffering, and, I fear, near her end.” I accompanied the woman home. She led me to the bedside of the dying girl, and left us together. It was a dreadful scene. A girl of three or four and twenty lay on a wretched pallet, with scarcely any covering. A single chair and a broken table was all the furniture the room contained. Near the bed was hanging, on a few pegs, the girl’s finery. Yes, alas l finery. Dresses of gaudy material, and showily made up, were flaunting their gay colours in this chamber of death, looking in that girl’s eyes as she lay dying, as witnesses of her sin and folly, and reminding her that, as soon as she was dead, these things, which had cost her so dear, mould become the property of the landlady, as payment of the debt she had not money to discharge. I leaned over the bedside, and took her hand in mine. I told her that Jesus had sent me to her with an offer of peace and pardon. “No,” she said, hoarsely--“no, I was brought up in a Sunday-school; I knew the right, but I did it not. There is no pardon for me now.” I knelt down, I prayed for her--prayed, as she had not confidence to pray for herself--her sinful self. I besought Him that she might repent and find peace. But, even as I talked with her, she died, uttering the fearful cry, “Too late! too late!” (Dr. Raynor.)

Disregarding the light

It is said that off the coast of New Zealand a sea-captain steered his vessel directly toward the light, and, thinking himself safe, fell asleep. His vessel dashed upon the rocks at the very foot of the lighthouse. The beacon-light shining out upon the deep for protection and guidance furnished no help to the slumbering mariner. Indeed, his culpability was greater because of the abuse of the friendly gift.

Degrees of punishment

The legend of St. Macarius of Alexandria runs thus: “One day as Macarius wandered among those ancient Egyptian tombs, wherein he had made himself a dwelling-place, he found the skull of a mummy, and turning it over with his crutch, he inquired to whom it belonged; and it replied, ‘To a pagan.’ And Macarius, looking into the empty eyes, said, ‘Where, then, is thy soul?’ And the head replied, ‘In hell.’ Macarius asked, ‘Itchy deep?’ And the head replied, ‘The depth is greater than the distance from heaven to earth.’ Then Macarius asked, ‘Are there any deeper than thou art?’ The skull replied, ‘Yes: the Jews are deeper still.’ And Macarius asked, ‘Are there any deeper than the Jews?’ To which the head replied, ‘Yes, in sooth! for the Christians whom Jesus Christ hath redeemed, and who show in their actions that they despise His doctrine, are deeper still.’”


Verse 48

Luke 12:48

For unto whomsoever much is given

The law of accountability

-These words are rendered as a reason why those servants that know their master’s will are beaten with more stripes than those that knew it not, because they did not improve their advantages.
And Christ pleadeth the equity of it from the custom of men, expressed in their common proverbs or sentences, that go from hand to hand among the people. A beneficiary that hath received much from his benefactor is obliged to a greater gratitude. A factor that hath his master’s estate in his hands must make a return according to the degree of the trust. These things being evident by the light of nature, and granted among all men, our Lord accommodateth them to His purpose, which is to show God’s proceedings with men are according to the degree of their advantages--“For unto whomsoever,” etc. In the words observe four things:

1. A double conveyance of benefits to us. Whatever a man receiveth, it is either given as a gift or committed as a talent. For, first, He saith, “To whomsoever much is given”; and presently, “To whomsoever men have committed much.”

2. These things are not given to all in the same measure; there is a difference in the distribution; some have “ much,” others have “little.”

3. Whether men have received much or little, it is all in reference to an account; this is signified in the words, “required,” “asked.”

4. Answerable to their mercies shall their account be; much for much, and little for little. To whom anything is given, of him something shall be required and asked; but to whom “much is given” and “committed,” of him shall they “ask the more”; not more than is committed, but more than is required and asked of another; as where the soil is better and more tilled, we look for the better crop, and we expect that he should come sooner that rideth on horseback than he that goeth on foot. (T. Manton, D. D.)

Privilege the measure of responsibility

The husbandman, the more he improves his ground the greater crop he looks for; the more completely the soldier is armed, the better service is required of him; the scholar that is well instructed must show great fruits of his proficiency. Thus the earthly part of man drinks in the sweet showers of grace that fall upon it. The blessed Spirit of God puts upon us that panoply, the whole armour of God. And the same Spirit teacheth us all things, leads us into all truth, and brings all things to our remembrance which Christ hath spoken for our good. Shall we then, being thus cultivated, thus armed, thus instructed, not bring forth fruits in some measure answerable to so great indulgence? Shall such blessings of God be received in vain? (T. Stapleton.)

Gifts entail responsibility

The husbandman looks for more fruit from some of his fruit-trees than from others; those upon which he bestows most time, cost, and labour, from these he expects most fruit; and is displeased if his expectation be not answered accordingly. This shadows out unto us that God expects greater returns of duty from some persons than from some others, and neglect thereof provokes God against them. In the ceremonial law God required more sacrifices from the rich than from the poor: such as had great store of oxen, sheep, and other things to be offered in sacrifice, should not have been accepted had they offered “a pair of turtle doves, or two young pigeons,” which yet were accepted from the poorer sort of persons. So also under the gospel, “to whom much is given, of them doth He require the more.” God had done great things for Eli and David, and expected (accordingly) greater returns of duty and obedience all their lives after; but they failing in some great particulars, God is sore displeased with them, and reckons up the great benefits and particular engagements they had received, and tells them He expected other returns from them. So also Hezekiah received much, and God looked for answerable returns; but he rendered not according to the benefits received, and God was displeased with him upon that account. God planted a vineyard, and bestowed much care and pains about it, and looked for an answerable return of good fruits, but because it brought forth wild grapes instead of good and pleasant grapes, He laid it waste. Some have received more, and lie under greater engagements from God than others, therefore God looks to receive more. This shows us the great danger such persons lie under who have received much from God, and return but little; having received many talents, and not making an answerable return by improving of them to the honour of God and advantage of His people; nay, who perhaps use all against God and His people. God gives to some many gifts of nature and common graces, much knowledge, learning, wisdom, great riches, honours, offices, places, much time, liberty, great and choice means of grace, special providences and dispensations, and many other talents which others have not: of these God requires more than of those who have fewer and less of these things, and the not making suitable returns provokes God against them. If God spared not His choice servants, Eli, David, Hezekiah, &c., if judgment begin at the house of God, how shall the ungodly and sinner escape? Let every one of us consider what we have received, that so we may make unto God some answerable returns: God looked for more (and received more) from him that had the five talents, than from him that had received but two. No one (not the lowest, or meanest) is freed from making returns of duty to God: though God requires much from those who have received much, yet the mean person, who has but a little, must return of that little. “Let him work with his hands, that he may have something to give to him that needeth”; and it will be “accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.” So, also, of the use and improvements of all other talents, gifts, graces, liberty, power, and the rest. (Austen.)

Duty measured by ability

In Xenophon’s “Memorabilia” it is recorded of Socrates that, “when he offered small sacrifices from his small means, he thought that he was not at all inferior in merit to those who offered numerous and great sacrifices from ample and abundant means; for he said that it would not become the gods to delight in large rather than in small sacrifices; since, if such were the case, the offerings of the bad would oftentimes be more acceptable to them than those of the good; nor would life be of any account in the eyes of men, if oblations from the bad were better received by the gods than oblations from the good; but he thought that the gods had most pleasure in the offerings of the most pious. He used also to quote with approbation the verse, ‘ Perform sacrifices to the gods according to your ability,’ and used to say that it was a good exhortation to men with regard to friends, and guests, and all other relations of life, to perform according to their ability.” (Biblical Things Not Generally Known.)

Responsibility according to knowledge

Richard Knill was one day talking to some military officers in Madras, when one of them asked: “What do you missionaries mean? Do you think that poor black fellow will be damned? I hope not,” replied Knill, “but if he is, I think his punishment will be very light compared with yours if you neglect God.” The words so struck home that the officer lifted up his hands and said: “I believe it; I have long thought so.”


Verse 49

Luke 12:49

I am come to send fire on the earth

The fire of contention; or, the trouble that follows the gospel

1.
There may be dissension betwixt the good and the good; and hereof is the devil the author. It is the enemy that sows those tares. Christ came not to send this fire, yet He wisely tempers it to our good.

2. There may be dissension betwixt the wicked and the wicked; and hereof also is Satan author. He sets his own together by the ears, like cocks of the game, to make him sport. Hereupon he raised these great heathen wars, that in them millions of souls might go down to people his lower kingdom, Hereupon he draws ruffian into the field against ruffian, and then laughs at their vainly spilt blood. All the contentions, quarrels, whereby one evil neighbour vexeth another, all slanders, scoldings, reproaches, calumnies, are his own damned fires.

3. There is a dissension between the wicked and godly; nor yet is Christ the proper and immediate cause of this. For “if it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18).

4. There is an enmity betwixt grace and wickedness, a continual combat between sanctity and sin; and this is the fire Christ came to send.

He is to some a living stone, whereupon they are built to life; to others a stone of offence, whereat they stumble to death.

I. The FIRE is discord, debate, contention, anger, and hatred against the godly.

II. The FUEL whereon this fire works is the good profession of the godly. LESSON

1. That we have need of patience, seeing we know that the law of our profession binds us to a warfare; and it is decreed upon that “all that will live godly in Christ shall suffer persecution.” When fire, which was the god of the Chaldeans, had devoured all the other wooden deities, Canopis set upon him a caldron full of water, whose bottom was full of holes artificially stopped with wax; which, when it felt the heat of that furious idol, melted and gave way to the water to fall down upon it, and quench it. The water of our patience must only extinguish this fire; nothing but our tears, moderation, and sufferance can abate it. But this patience hath no further latitude than our proper respect; for in the cause of the Lord we must be jealous and zealous.

2. That we must not shrink from our profession, though we know it to be the fuel that maintains this fire.

3. That we think not much of the troublous fires that are thus sent to wait upon the gospel.

4. That we esteem not the worse of our profession, but the better. It is no small comfort that God thinks thee worthy to suffer for His name. This was the apostles’ joy, not that they were worthy, but “that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Christ “ (Acts 5:41).

5. Seeing the fuel is our integrity--and this they specially strike at--let us more constantly hold together, confirming the communion of saints, which they would dissolve. (T. Adams.)

The gospel a fire

We must look for a Scriptural use of “fire” which shall have some bearing upon the subject of division and discord as caused by the gospel. We find such a use in the very idea of kindling. If the gospel was a mere tame and spiritless influence, a mere soothing and stroking down of human faults and passions, a mere palliative and balsam for the wounds and sufferings, for the wrongs and woes of fallen nature, it would have differed in many other respects from the thing which Jesus Christ brought us from heaven; but certainly and most evidently in this, that it would have caused no strifes and no contentions, no violences and no discords. It is because the gospel is first and above all else a “fire,” enkindled and sparkling, pervading and transforming the whole body and substance of the being to which it is effectually applied, that it brings with it this irritating, this provoking, this exasperating influence upon every bystanding and surrounding being which repudiate, and “we will have none of it.” It needs but a little reflection to make all hearts echo the statement. There are those in this day who tell us that the real gospel is a mere enforcement or suggestion, or, if you will, revelation of charity. We ask what is meant by “charity,” and we find that it is a sort of easy going tolerance for all creeds and all religions, a good-natured “live and let live” for all the philosophies, and all the philanthropies, and all the superstitions, and all the idolatries which have entered into the heart of man, as the truth and the whole of truth, the duty and the whole of duty, whether toward God or toward man. Now at present we are only concerned to say so much as this, that if the gospel had thus entered the world, if this had been the idea of it as Christ and the apostles preached it, it would have raised no hostility; it could not possibly have had the history which we know Christianity has had, as flinging abroad upon the earth “division” or a “sword”; and for this simple reason that it would not have had in it one single characteristic of “fire.” Men would have been perfectly willing under Nero or Domitian to let Christians alone, if they would only have glided about among their contemporaries as men whispering peace and safety, hinting at a new divinity, one among many, each having some claim, and none having an exclusive claim to the belief and faith of mankind; a new divinity to occupy one niche of a crowded and world-wide pantheon--“Jesus and the resurrection.” Athens would have let this alone; Rome would have let this alone; human nature would have made room for this, because it would have put oil or water in the place of fire; because it would have been a mere religion of negatives and platitudes, stirred by no storm and brightened by no ray. “I came to cast fire upon the earth,” and although fire has many beautiful and many comforting aspects, this is in virtue of a quality which makes it also, and before all else, penetrating and exploring, consuming and purifying, a power, first, formidable and destructive; then, secondly, an influence brightening and warming, cheering and comforting. It is thus with the sign, it is thus, also, with the thing signified.

I. THE GOSPEL A FIRE IN THE HEART. The gospel, entering a heart, begins with kindling. There is much in that heart. We speak not only of hearts which the Lord suddenly opened at Philippi or Corinth to listen to the preaching of a new faith, when all round and all antecedent had been Jewish or Pagan; we speak of hearts to which gospel sounds, whether of word or of worship, are but too familiar, and we say that, even in these, if a new reality is ever by the grace of God given to the gospel, there is much fuel ready for the burning, much as to which the gospel would be nugatory if it did not burn up--probably many known sins, certainly a multitude of frivolities and vanities, which to let alone would be to say “peace” where there is none; which to let alone would be to live the life in the sleep of death, but which to assail is to bring a “ sword” between soul and spirit, to proclaim war to the knife against many inveterate habits, and to cause a revolution in the most cherished tenacities of the being; and it is just in proportion as this first office of fire is faithfully and effectively done that any other can be safe or even true. Thoroughness in yielding ourselves to the purifying, is the condition alike of the illuminating and the warming, and the comforting. It is just where the fire is not allowed to consume that it refuses to burn brightly for companionship or for cheering.

II. THE GOSPEL A FIRE IN THE WORLD. This, which is the real struggle of the gospel in the heart, is also its real struggle in the world. If the gospel would begin and end with comforting, it would be welcomed everywhere; if it would settle down as a mere pleasant guest in the chamber and at the social table, making all easy all round, saying or sounding as if it said, “Live as you list and all shall be peace at the last,” nothing could be more popular; then it would have the promise, in commonest parlance, of two worlds--the life that is and the life that shall be. It is this uncompromising character, this call for decision and for a whole heart, this demand for a life wholly given, in purpose and affections to the Lord who bought it, which makes the gospel a “sword” for such as will not have it for a “fire”; and yet, brethren, it is just this uncompromising character which makes it a power, and which makes it a charm, and which makes it a gospel. Oh, we could any of us construct a religion which should cry “peace” when there is none; we could any of us make a gospel, using a few phrases and elements of the real one, which should be accommodating, and which should be complimentary, and which should be plausible, and which, therefore, should be fashionable; and which, just in the same degree, would leave every sore festering, and every woe desolating, and every vice and crime destroying, of the old Adam and of the fallen and of the sin-spoilt man. But what should we have done, when we had done all this to perfection? We should not have evoked one grand heroism such as lies at the bottom even of the ruined humanity; we should not have evoked one echo from the slumbering temple of the God-made man; we should have done nothing whatever towards the actual want, and the real hunger, and the one despair of the soul, which feels that its true wretchedness is separation from God, and that its true cure would be the getting back home. “I am come to send fire on the earth.” So Jesus speaks; and we, who have one breath of God in us, feel that “fire” is the element wanting. We want the water of cleansing, and we want the wind of scourging, and we want the earthquake of demolishing; and oh, what we want above all, is the “fire” which does all these things, and which yet adds to them all the grace of transforming, and the grace of kindling, and the grace of inspiring, and the grace of enabling, and the grace of the new life. It is the “fire” which has made Christianity great; it is not the mere washing with the water of a new innocence; it is not the light of the lamp of information even as to the mysteries of grace and redemption: it is the enkindling of Christian souls with the fire of love, and the fire of zeal, and the fire of an out-spoken boldness, and the fire of even an impatient and intolerant hatred of misery and wickedness. It is this which has done great things in the earth in the name of Christ and God; it is this which has demolished idols; it is this which has at last toppled down slavery; it is this which has made missionaries strong, and martyrs brave, and churches militant; it is this which has provoked indeed the rage of the world and devil; but it has also shown enemies, open and secret, that “greater is He that is with us than he that is in the world.” “I am come to send fire upon the earth, and what would I, but that it were already kindled?” It is kindled now. Ages and generations have lived in the blaze of that fire, and Christ, who knows what is in man, loves that “fire” better than the tame sluggishness, the lifeless torpor, the false peace which prevails everywhere where that “fire” comes not. “Already kindled!” Is it kindled round us? Is it kindled in us? Are we a stagnant, torpid, lifeless multitude? or, are we of the kindled, inspired, living, and life-breathing few? For few still are they in whom this Spirit of God is, not for selfish comfort, but for inspired power. Let us hazard some little, let us encounter some little, that we may please Him who said--“Oh, that it were already kindled,” because He loved the “fire “ rather than the chill, because He loved the enthusiasm rather than the half-heartedness. (Dean Vaughan.)

The fire which Christ kindles on earth

1. A fire which warms what is cold.

2. Purifies what is impure.

3. Consumes what is evil. (Van Oosterzee.)

The controversy which Christ has brought on earth

1. How we are to wish for it.

2. How we are to fear it.

3. How we are to endure it. (Schenkal.)

Suffering, a baptism

For the Christian a threefold baptism is necessary.

1. The water baptism of sprinkling.

2. The spiritual baptism of renewal.

3. The fire baptism of trial. (Van Oosterzee.)

The discord which Christ has brought upon earth

1. A surprising phenomenon, if we look at--

2. An explicable phenomenon if we direct our eye to

(1) The severity of the gospel.

3. A momentous phenomenon. This strife is a proof of the high significance, and means for the establishment, the purification, and the victory of Christianity. (Van Oosterzee.)

The truth in the Church

I. Let us consider THE DESIGN OF OUR LORD’S ADVENT, AS HERE ANNOUNCED BY HIMSELF. Indeed, each peculiar aspect in which our Lord’s work is viewed by Him is a characteristic variety, which tends both to enlarge and rectify our views on the subject. When He contemplates His work in relation to the fallen condition of our race, His announcement of His design is this--“I am come to seek and to save the lost.” When He views it in relation to the redemption He was to accomplish, He speaks of it as being “a ransom price for many.” When He views it in its relation to God, His exclamation to the Father is “I have come to glorify Thee on the earth.” When He viewed it in regard to Himself, His representation was, that He had come into this far country “to get Himself a kingdom.” And when He viewed it in relation to the world at large, He announced Himself as the Light of the world--as “a light to lighten the Gentiles”--as “the Bread that came down from heaven, of which if a man eat he will never die “--as having living Water to bestow, of which “whosoever drinketh shall never thirst” as Him who had come “not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” In all these representations the same great idea is either expressed or shadowed forth-namely, that the mystery of our Lord’s incarnation and life and passion had no other design, nothing less than the undoing of all that sin had produced in our world--that out of that dark and formless chaos into which the whole spiritual creation here had been thrown, He might produce a new order of things, where for man there should be purity, dignity, and joy; and for God, the re-establishment in glory and in majesty of His full authority over the heart and the conscience of man. The announcement of our Lord’s passion and work given in the passage before us, belongs to the last of the classes above enumerated; those, namely, in which its general bearings on the ignorant, the guilty creatures of our race, is proclaimed. In the Old Testament prophecy, the advent of the Messiah had been described as an event which should result in the purging away from the Church of God of all filth, “by the spirit of burning”; in the utterance of the prophetic voice it had been foretold of the Messiah, that He “should sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, to purify the sons of Levi, and purge them like gold and silver, that they should offer unto God an offering in righteousness.” In these passages the idea of purification and refinement is most distinctly brought before us by the symbolic language in which the design of the Messiah’s mission is described; and it is in reference apparently to the same idea, applying to Himself this description of the Messiah, that our Lord uses the words now before us. By some interpreters, indeed, their application has been restricted to those dissensions and fiery controversies which the religion of Christ has, through the hostility of mankind, been instrumental in producing in our world. And to this they have been led by the allusion our Lord Himself makes to these dissensions in subsequent verses of this chapter. But this interpretation can hardly be admitted, for these dissensions and controversies are not necessary, far less essential, parts of our Lord’s work, but clearly the results springing out of the evil state of man’s heart, and it cannot be to the collateral and accidental results of the circumstances among which He comes, that our Lord alludes “ I am come to send fire on the earth.” It does appear a very weak and impotent interpretation of such an assertion to represent it as meaning nothing more than the quarrels among men, which may be its result. By the fire here spoken of, which our Lord had said He came to send on the earth, is to be understood that purifying, remodelling, renovating power which He came to diffuse through the mass of our race. He came not merely to deliver a message, and to do by it an appointed work, but by means of that message and in consequence of that work, to set the world on fire. He came to revolutionize the world by infusing into it a new element of spiritual life and activity. In short, to melt and fuse the whole fabric of earthly relations, that out of its elemental parts His plastic hand may construct a more perfect form of being, and thereby cover this earth which God has made with a race of beings worthier of Him who made them, and of that fair and fertile world which He has given them to inhabit. This great change which our Lord had come to commence finds its basis in His sacrificial work; and the means by which it is to be carried forward are the promulgation of the mighty truths connected with that work. So long as sin remains, evil, and gloom, and sorrow, must overhang our earth: but let sin be removed, and the removal of the cause will be followed by the cessation of all the evils the presence of that cause has occasioned and perpetuated. Now the only way in which sin can be removed from the conscience of the man by whom it has been committed, is by his being fully forgiven all the guilt of sin, and perfectly cleansed of all the pollution of sin, by God. But will God, can God, thus purify the sinner? The answer comes to us from the cross of Christ. The fire which consumed the sacrifice upon that mystic altar was fiercer than the fire of Tophet; but it was a fire that cleanses, that brings renovation and purity to a world of polluted and perishing sinners. As it was necessary that this fire should be kindled first on the altar of atonement, so it is only as our torch is irradiated on that altar, that we can spread the sacred flame through the world. The only means by which we can hope to ransom and purify our fallen race, is by making known to each individual of it the great facts and doctrines connected with the sacrificial work of Christ. All other means will prove inefficient. Thus is this doctrine adapted to the great objects for which it was designed. The religion of Jesus Christ has been sent forth by its great Author, as a mighty fire, to purify and remodel the world. In accomplishing this great work, Christianity begins with individuals, and by successive conquests over the corruptions and guilt of individual souls, advances to the salvation of multitudes, and the renovation of the race. The “fire” which Christ sent into the world is to enwrap the whole world in its purifying blaze; but then it i§ to do so only by being kindled in heart after heart, and warming and sanctifying home after home. And wherever this sacred fire is experienced, it will stretch forth its lambent flame to fasten on new objects, and accomplish new transformations. It comes not like the lightning, appearing suddenly in the east, and darting instantaneously to the west. It comes with a slow, steady, and advancing flame. At first its light falls amidst the corruptions of some solitary path; but gradually it extends its light, and heat, and purifying influence, until, passing into a mighty conflagration, it encircles whole countries and continents. As she advances to the accomplishment of her purpose, and attainment of her triumph, she must, of necessity, come into collision with much that men have been accustomed to value and to revere. Many of the forms of social life, many of the bulwarks of earthly policy, many of the institutions of human intercourse, are the mere offspring of sensual taste and habits, or, at the best, mere artificial contrivances for the effecting of a compromise between the good and the evil that are strangely mixed up in the tissue of our mortal life. Every advance Christianity makes in our world must be connected with conflict. Not a single bosom is surrendered to her occupancy without a struggle.

II. I have now to direct your attention for a little to OUR KORD’S EXPRESSION OF ARDENT DESIRE FOR THE COMMENCEMENT OF THAT WORK WHICH HE THUS CAME INTO THE WORLD ACCOMPLISH: “I am come to send fire on the earth: I would that it were already kindled!” If you examine the chronology of the gospel history, you will find that the discourses of which my text forms a part were delivered by our Lord within a very short time--three or four weeks, at the very utmost, of His crucifixion. As Heuttered these words, then, He had His sufferings full in view, and was in the immediate prospect of entering upon those scenes of unparalleled agony through which He passed to the accomplishment of His work. With the feelings that then occupied His bosom these words are in full harmony. The considerations which thus induced our Saviour so ardently to desire the accomplishment of His work are to be sought, doubtless, in the consequences that were to result from the accomplishment of that work; and though these can never be present to our minds with the force that occupied His, yet it may be permitted to us without presumption to institute an inquiry into these considerations, and the effect it may be supposed they would have in causing Him thus to long for their realization. Allow me, then, to refer to a few of the consequences of the kindling of that fire the Saviour came to send upon the earth.

1. And first, the diffusion of Christianity stands closely connected with the promotion of the Divine glory in the world. In consequence of the prevalence of sin, the glory of God, as manifested in this portion of His universe, has been fearfully obscured.

2. In the diffusion of Christianity, our Lord traced the fulfilment of His own gracious purpose to men, and the success of His own work in their behalf; and this prospect naturally prompted the desire expressed in the words before us. When our Lord became incarnate, and entered on the work of His humiliation, it was in order that by means of that work He might bring to pass the design and purpose which had eternally occupied the Infinite mind. Is it to succeed, or is it to fail? He anticipated the joy of the angels, as they witnessed sinner after sinner converted unto God. He foretasted--a foretaste peculiar to Himself--the joy of bringing many sons unto glory. And as all these prospects in bright manifestation and in firm assurance pressed on His view, who can wonder that His bosom should have thrilled with ardent desire, and His cry should have been with regard to that fire, by which these results were to be secured--“I would that it were already kindled”?

3. Our Lord saw in the extension of Christianity, a vast increase to the purity and moral goodness of the world; and this filled His mind with delight and intense desire that the work were already begun. To a mind possessing any degree of intellectual vigour, and not altogether destitute of right moral feeling, the state of a thinking, accountable, and immortal being like man, lying under the polluting, degrading, destroying power of sin, cannot fail to raise emotions of the deepest pain. And knowing that in that purifying fire He had come to send on the earth was to be found the only real and effectual remedy for this sad state of things, who can wonder that His sacred bosom should have expanded with an ardent desire which gave itself vent in the exclamation--“I would that it were already kindled!”

4. The bearing of His religion on the happiness of mankind must also have actuated the Saviour in desiring its speedy and steady diffusion. When we cast our eye over the condition of our race, we behold man universally engaged in the eager pursuit of happiness, often baffled in the pursuit, and constrained in disappointment of spirit to exclaim--“Who will show us any good?” But in the gospel of Jesus Christ there is a panacea for man’s ills, and an antidote for man’s sorrows. Wherever it spreads, the people that “sat in darkness see a great light,” and upon them that dwelt in the region of the shadow of death, a light shines.

5. The force of these considerations is greatly enhanced by the fact, that the triumphs of Christianity are progressive, and that her conquests are perpetual. “All nations shall be blessed in Christ, and all nations shall call Him blessed.” Nor shall this continual extension of territory in any degree endanger the stability of the kingdom itself. With many earthly empires the shouts of their victorious arms have passed into the knell of their approaching doom. Rome fell through the vastness of her dominions, and the very multitude of her conquests. Spain fell from her proud preeminence among the nations of Europe, from the time that her chivalry gained for her new empires on the other side of the Atlantic. And Britain, invincible within her own sea-bound shores, has ere now found the same defeat in consequence of the wide extent of her foreign possessions. But no such contingencies threaten the empire of Christ. However vast, or however far it spreads, the eye of Omniscience watches over it, and the arm of Omnipotence secures its safety. It is emphatically and absolutely “an everlasting kingdom.” All things else with which man has to do are destined to decay. Amidst the ruins of earthly kingdoms, amidst the dissolution of the terrestrial system, amidst the wild crash of worlds it shall remain unshaken and unharmed; “the Lord thy God, the Lord thy lawgiver, the Lord thy judge, He will save thee!” How glorious the prospect thus expanded before us! What a gush of exhilarating and triumphant emotion is it calculated to excite in every renewed and holy mind! With what feelings of unutterable delight must it have been associated in the mind of the Redeemer, who could view it in all its vastness, and appreciate it in all its glory! and with what earnestness must He have entertained the desire that the fire by whose sacred flame all this was to be effected were already kindled! Oh, my hearers, let us see to it that the fire burns in our own bosoms, and that there it is carrying forward its salutary work. God forbid that we who are seeking the spread of the gospel throughout the world, should either be destitute of its power, or but slightly influenced by its spirit. The times in which we live, demand that we should be men of earnestness, energy, and perseverance. Those, sirs, are not times for the mere idleness of religious profession, for the more refinements and enjoyments of Christian association. (W. L. Alexander, D. D.)

The fire of contention

Upon a close examination of the text, and a comparison with the following verses, there can be no doubt whatever, that the sending fire upon earth, indicates nothing less than what it at the first glance appears to import, namely, the production of great and violent contention and animosity. When the religion of a crucified Saviour was originally made known to the world, greatly varied: even within a single family circle, was the reception which it met with. Some, when they had heard the word, received it with joy, and cried out, with the Ethiopian, “See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?” While others, only observing of the preacher of Jesus and the Resurrection, “He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods,” persisted in their ancient course, and loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. Placed in such circumstances, it was almost impossible for the Christian members of a household, with whatever circumspection and caution they might walk, to avoid giving offence. Though they kept silence, and refrained even from good words, their conduct was a tacit reproach to their connections. When they refused to offer the drink-offerings of those dumb idols, or to make mention of their name with their lips, they sufficiently declared their opinion of those that did it, as of men labouring under gross delusion. Now we may observe how sensitive to the slightest apparent contempt of their opinions the spiritually ignorant and superstitious are. Again, the Christians could not, on any terms, partake of the pleasures which their unconverted friends chiefly esteemed; many of them were unclean, and many of them were cruel, teeming with all abomination and pollution. They were compelled, therefore, to stand aloof in their festivities, and as children of light, to have no communion with the works of darkness. This must, according to all experience and observation of the characteristics of weak and vicious men, have contributed in no small degree to engender a spirit of bitterness. The slave of vice cannot bear the eye that looks mournfully on his evil indulgences. Finally, Christianity incapacitated the professor from attaining to many worldly honours and emoluments, and hence another struggle while a parent’s ill-judging affection endeavoured to impose upon a child conformity to existing iniquities, that his prospects in this life might not be blighted, and the other as resolutely persisted in the determination to witness a good confession before men, lest his prospects in eternity should suffer a much more fatal blight. How soon such contentions might call into action the most malignant passions of the heart, may be judged from examples nearer to our own times, in which a rational resistance to unreasonable, though originally kind desires, has stirred up the most inveterate hostility. But in all this we only see the natural consequences of a pure and undefiled religion coming in contact with the evil passions of man’s unconverted heart. There was nothing hostile to the peace of the world in Christianity itself, and it became the innocent cause of much disquietude and tumult, merely because man would not suffer man to enjoy liberty of conscience. (W. H. Marriott, M. A.)

The gospel as afire

How often we have found the air on a summer’s day hot, oppressive, and stagnant, Not a breath of wind stirs the leaves which hang parched or weltering in the burning rays of the sun. The very birds are silent, as though unable to breathe. Suddenly the thunder peals, and the great rain-drops patter upon the ground. Then the storm bursts forth in all its fury. Flash succeeds flash with startling rapidity, the thunder rocks the very buildings in which we are sheltered, and the rain descends in a fierce deluge. At length the storm ceases, and then what a change has passed over the scene! Before, there was a peace; but it was the peace of inanimation and death; now there is a peace, but it is the peace of blessed life. The air is cool and fresh, the trees assume their verdant hues, the flowers give forth their sweetest fragrance, the birds make the groves echo again with their glad melody; in a word, all nature is peaceful with a deep exuberant vitality. And so with the gospel; it arouses men from their deadly lethargy, producing sorrow, distress, and anguish; but after this there comes a peace, even “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding.” (O. Spenceley.)

Fire purifies

I remember, some years ago, when I was at Shields, I went into a glass-house; and, standing very attentive, I saw several masses of burning glass of various forms. The workman took a piece of glass and put it into one furnace, then he put it into a second, and then into a third. I said to him, “Why do you put it through so many fires?” He answered, “Oh, sir, the first was not hot enough, nor the second; therefore we put it into a third, and that will make it transparent.” (G. Whitefield.)

An aggressive gospel

Fire is the life and the light of the world, and, as a symbol, deserves to be studied. Its power has never been ascertained. Every effort made to subdue it is attended with the consciousness of its unconquerable nature. It melts iron, burns marble, changes granite into dust, feeds on wood, evaporates water; and yet, when properly used and ministered unto, it is the health and life of the world. Such is the gospel. Receive it into the soul, and it changes the miser into the benefactor, the slothful into the diligent, and the lukewarm into the fiery apostle who, like Jeremiah, finds a fire in his bones which will consume if it finds not vent.

1. The purpose is avowed--“I am come to send fire.” Not to bring, but “send.”

2. This fire is sent. It is here, and is yet to be more manifest.

3. The outlook is one of endeavour. Christ is organizing for victory.

4. The urgent need of the Church to receive this fire.

5. Instead of being alarmed when the gospel produces excitement, we are to look for it.

6. Christ longs to have the fire kindled.

7. Behind every fervent prayer is the unreached desire of Christ.

8. The plan is fixed, the fire is to be kindled in the individual heart. (J. D.Fulton, D. D.)

The question of Christian missions stated and explained

I. THE MISSION OF CHRIST WAS UNDERTAKEN FOR THE MOST IMPORTANT ENDS.

1. To present an atonement to the Divine government for the sin of man.

2. To overthrow the rebellious power which had usurped the dominion of this world.

3. The redemption of innumerable multitudes of our race from the consequences of their apostasy.

4. The formal assumption and complete discharge of His mediatorial characters.

II. THESE ENDS COULD ALONE BE PROSECUTED AT A MOST PAINFUL EXPENSE.

1. We cannot conceal the fact that Christianity may affect political systems.

2. It is further admitted that Christianity must produce a variety of innovations.

3. Very unnatural divisions in society have apparently been fomented by Christianity.

4. Christianity must be viewed in connection with those persecutions which it has experienced.

5. Christianity has drawn forth some acts, on the part of its adversaries, which have more effectually exposed the depravity of human nature than any other occasion could have admitted.

6. The religion of Jesus Christ has very frequently been perverted to designs most estranged from its character, and abhorrent to its spirit.

7. The augmentation of moral responsibility has necessarily attended the establishment of Christianity.

III. THE IMPORTANCE OF THESE ENDS JUSTIFIED THE VAST EXPENSE NECESSARY TO THEIR ACQUISITION.

1. Here, then, we find an apology for our warmest zeal and firmest courage, in extending Christianity. We but imbibe the spirit and follow the steps of our Exemplar.

2. And here, too, we learn that this unconquerable temper, this inexpressible ardour, is of the first importance in every department of missions. Nothing half-hearted should be betrayed in our institutions at home, or efforts abroad.

3. In this spirit of unshrinking courage, and unabating ardour, let us proceed. We carry the commission of Him who “came to send fire on the earth.” We may blow the flame, we may spread the conflagration; what will he, if it be already kindled? All must yield to the gospel of Christ or be consumed by its progress. (R. W. Hamilton, D. D.)

Fire--the want of the tinges

I. CONSIDER THE HISTORY OF THE GOSPEL.

1. It begins with a revelation, contained in the Bible. Bending over the page, we are struck with the extraordinary doctrines herein revealed. As we believe the doctrine of Divine love, we feel it to be a truth which sets the soul on fire with joy, gratitude, and love.

2. I have commenced the history of the gospel with the book; but, remember, the gospel does not long remain a mere writing; it is no sooner thoroughly read and grasped than the reader becomes, according to his ability, a preacher. We will suppose when a preacher whom God has truly called to the work proclaims thin gospel, you will see for a second time that it is a thing of fire. Observe the man! If God hath sent him, he is little regardful of the graces of oratory; he counts it sheer folly that the servants of God should be the apes of Demosthenes and Cicero; he learns in another school how to deliver his Master’s message. He comes forward in all sincerity, not in the wisdom of words, but with great plainness of speech, and tells to the sons of men the great message from the skies. The one thing of all others he abhors, is to deliver that message with bated breath, with measured cadence, and sentences that chill and freeze as they fall from ice-bound lips. I would not utter too sweeping a sentence, but I will venture to say that no man who preaches the gospel without zeal is sent of God to preach at all.

3. In tracing this history of the gospel, I would have you observe the effect of the preaching of such a one as I have described. While he is delivering the truth of a crucified Saviour, and bidding men repent of sin and believe in Christ, while he is pleading and exhorting with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, do you see the fire flakes descend in showers from on high! One of them has dropped just yonder and fallen into a heart that had been cold and hard before; observe how it melts all that was hard and iron-like, and the tears begin to flow from channels long dried up.

4. Opposition is aroused next. There is no good doing if the devil does not howl.

II. Secondly, LET US STUDY MORE CAREFULLY THE QUALITIES OF THE GOSPEL AS FIRE.