BIBLE THOUGHTS & THEMES
by Horatius Bonar (1808—1889)
The gospel of MATTHEW
Jesus the Seed of the Woman
"Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ." Matthew 1:16
"Mary was the mother of Jesus, who is called the Messiah." Matthew 1:16
This is the great event or fact in earth's history; out of which are unfolded the eternal issues of this globe and its inhabitants. This is the little fountain out of which the greatest of rivers flows.
Reading this verse in connection with the whole chapter, we mark such truths as the following:
1. Jesus is the Christ. In Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of the carpenter, himself a carpenter (Mark 6:3), we see the Christ of God. His name is Jesus, Jehovah the Savior (or Joshua), because He saves his people from their sins; and also Christ or Messiah, because He is the anointed One, filled with the Spirit, without measure. The expression, "called Christ," like the words, "you say," means that He is what He is called: "the Christ of God," the Messiah promised to the Fathers.
2. He has a human ancestry. Here we have "the book of the generation of Jesus Christ." His whole ancestry is as thoroughly human as ours can be. Every link of the chain is human; not angelic, not miraculous. It is a long chain, sometimes almost broken or worn through; but thus all the more thoroughly human. He is the seed of the woman; the man Christ Jesus. He is very man, out of the loins of Abraham, and of the substance of the Virgin; son of Mary and son of Adam.
3. He has a Jewish ancestry. He is of the seed of Abraham. Salvation was to be of the Jews, and He is a Jew; it was in the seed of Abraham that all nations were to be blessed, and He is a son of Abraham. He took not the nature of angels, but He took the seed of Abraham. Such was God's purpose, and such was the fulfillment of it in Jesus the Christ. The Savior of the world was to be a Jew, The King of kings now sitting on the throne of heaven is a Jew.
4. He has a Gentile ancestry. That is to say, there are Gentiles among his forefathers, such as Rahab the Canaanite, and Ruth the Moabite, and Bathsheba the Hittite. Though, strictly speaking, his ancestry was Jewish, yet Gentiles mingled with it, to show that all nations were interested in Him, and in his work. Far off and near are connected with this Jesus, who is called Christ. Salvation begins at Jerusalem, but does not end there. "God so loved the world that He gave his Son." In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ is all and in all.
5. He has a royal ancestry. He is son of David and Solomon, the last of a long line of kings. He is the root and offspring of David; the rod from the stem of Jesse, the branch from his roots. All that is regal in a human pedigree is here. In one sense this is but a small thing; yet it was befitting Him who is King of kings to be thus honored, and to have his divine prerogatives symbolized by his human.
6. He has a lowly ancestry. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are not great or mighty men; they are but shepherds, dwelling in tents. So was David a shepherd boy, taken from among the flocks. So was Joseph, and so was Mary—poor in this world; a carpenter and his wife. There is a singular mixture of the high and low, of the rich and poor. For He is the Savior of rich and poor. His gospel is equally for both.
7. He has a holy ancestry. The line through which He comes is the Church, the election of God, the believing men of Israel. In his pedigree, we have Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Boaz, Jesse, David, Solomon, Asa, Hezekiah, Josiah. Thus God has honored Him; thus He has honored these holy men; thus He has put honor upon holiness. He is the Holy One; and He comes of holy men and women.
8. He has an imperfect ancestry. In two ways is this the case. (1.) Even these holy men from whom he sprang were very imperfect, as we see in the sins of David and Solomon; (2.) Among his ancestors are many open sinners and idolaters, kings of Judah such as Rehoboam, Ahaz, and Jehoiakin, &c., of whom it is said that they did evil in the sight of the Lord. Yes; his genealogy is a very mixed one; but all the more on that account indicative of that which He had come to do, and of those whom He had come to save—the ungodly, the chief of sinners, the lost, the unrighteous.
9. He has a mortal ancestry. These all died. Their connection with him did not make them immortal. Whether shepherds, or patriarchs, or kings, or carpenters, they were mortal. For out of the mortal was to come the immortal; life out of death; the everlasting One out of those whose life is a vapor; the resurrection and the life out of those who were dust and who returned to dust. Thus He is linked with our sin, though He is sinless; with our curse, though He is the blessed One.
10. He has an immortal ancestry. This is only alluded to here (in his names Jesus and Christ), not expressly stated. But as Matthew brings out the human and the mortal, so does John the immortal and the divine. He is the only begotten of the Father, the eternally begotten. Thus the "pedigree of the Lord of the hill," as Bunyan calls it, is eternal. It was "the Word" who was made flesh.
Thus is Jesus in all respects fitted for his mighty work of redeeming. He is very man and very God. He is the seed of the woman, the seed of Abraham, the seed of David, the son of Mary, yet God over all, blessed forever. Thus He can bear our sins; He can sympathize with our sorrows; He can fight our battles; He can love as a man, a fellow man, bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh.
Jesus the Troubler of Jerusalem
"When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him."—Matthew 2:3.
So quietly had the Son of God stolen into our world, that his arrival was unknown in Jerusalem until these wise men came from the East. Either the Shepherds had not told their tale of the heavenly vision, or they had been unheeded, perhaps ridiculed as fanatics. As the morning star rises without noise; as the seed shoots up and the flower opens in silence; so was it with the Christ, the rose of Sharon, the bright and morning star. No thunder woke up the hills of Palestine; no trumpet-peal went through its cities; no herald went before him, nor royal salute greeted him.
His mother, and the few of her circle who believed in "the child that was born," made no proclamation of the heavenly wonder; they received all in silent happy faith, and pondered the things in their heart, leaving it to God to bring them forth in his own time and way. They did not get excited; it was too great a thing to excite, and they were too calm and child-like in their faith to be fluttered, or agitated, or elated. They allowed these great things that had happened in their family circle to take their course, assured of their truth and magnitude, and therefore confident that they would before long grow until they could not be hidden, but must inevitably make themselves known. Such is the confidence which faith has in the great things of God! A man who has got hold of something which is great and true, need not be afraid but that it will spread. Let him hold it fast.
These wise men come with a tale, and a vision, and a miracle. They are not of Israel, though more ready of faith than Israel. They are not from Nazareth, or Bethlehem, or any part of Palestine. Their testimony is independent of Israel's; it is a Gentile testimony; from the land of Israel's enemies. They are recognized as "wise men,"—magi, Chaldeans, perhaps; or men from the land of Balaam or Job. Men of the East, the seat of all human science; the wise and far-seeing East; the thoughtful and star-gazing East. They come, not with an uncertainty, or an opinion, or a fable, or a vision of the night, but with actual and personal eyesight—"We have seen"! Yes, it is with "we have seen" that they come—a word like that of John's, "We beheld his glory,"—"That which our eyes have seen." They come to Jerusalem! They come seeking Jerusalem's King; as if Jerusalem were to them the center of hope; as if there were nothing in their own land like what they expected to find in Jerusalem; no king worthy of the name, or to whom they could pay homage, but the King of Jerusalem! This is Gentile faith, fixing its eye upon the star of Jacob.
But Jerusalem has not heard of Him, and is amazed; no, her king does not know where He is to be born until he has consulted the scribes. The visit and errand of these Eastern Gentiles take Israel by surprise. Nor are they roused to take any interest in the matter, save, as we shall see, that of being troubled. He was in the world, yet the world knew Him not; would not recognize Him when pointed out! He came unto his own, and his own received him not!
This is strange. Had the like happened elsewhere—in Babylon, or Rome, or Egypt—it would not have surprised us. Or had these been "troubled," it would have been natural enough. But it is Jerusalem! She is troubled! No, it is "all Jerusalem." Troubled at the news of her King's arrival! Not excited, or agitated, but "troubled." Had it been said, "rejoiced," we could have understood it, but "troubled,"—how strange!
Let us inquire into Jerusalem's trouble and its causes. The simple visible cause was the statement of the wise men that one had been born King of the Jews. And how this could trouble Jerusalem is not easy to see. For—
1. It contained nothing alarming. It was but of a babe that the wise men spoke; only the birth of a babe—no more. They did not come to tell that some Eastern King had espoused the cause of this babe, and was on his way, with an army, to secure a throne for him. Their question simply pertained to a babe whom they desired to worship. It was a religious act entirely that they had come to perform. The name they gave the babe, "King of the Jews," might trouble Herod; but surely there was nothing to alarm Jerusalem. Herod was a tyrant—a foreign tyrant, moreover—only indirectly a Jew; he might be troubled; but it ought not to have awakened fear in any Jew, especially in any citizen of the royal city.
2. It was good news. A king born to Jerusalem; this was a good report, even had it afterwards turned out untrue. The people might have said, it is too good news to be true; but the very mention of it ought to have called forth gladness, not trouble.
3. It was just what they were expecting. Messiah, King of Israel, Redeemer of the nation, son of David, heir of David's throne, He was the great national hope; a hope that had been cherished age after age, and had not died out; no, was now more cherished than ever because of present oppression, and because the time foretold was fast running out. Now wise men came from the far East telling them they had seen the star of their new-born King; now the Gentile came to say that he had heard of the glorious birth. Should they be troubled? Should they not rejoice? Should they not say like Jacob, "I have waited for your salvation," or like Simeon, "Now let your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation." But the announcement that their hope is realized, their great national expectation fulfilled, occasions only trouble!
How is this? Why are they troubled? Some might be troubled because the tidings had come upon them in this strange and unlooked for way; others might be so because they did not know what such tidings foreboded. But the chief trouble, and that of the greatest number, would arise from the consciousness of their not being prepared. The tidings would go through Jerusalem—poor and rich, Priest, Levite, citizen, Scribe and Pharisee—the Messiah has come; and then this would awaken within the immediate question, am I ready for his coming? For every Jew had, more or less, an idea of Messiah, according to the prophets; so that carnal as many of their notions were, they yet knew He was coming on an errand against evil—on a righteous mission—and they could not help asking, in such a case, am I ready for Him? They knew He was to be great, glorious, just—could they then meet Him face to face?
Ah, yes, they are troubled, because they are not ready! The news went to their consciences. They might desire his advent on some accounts, but the thoughts of it troubled them because of others. He was to be the messenger of a holy God. He was to be himself a holy one. He was coming to do holy things and speak holy words. This could not but alarm them. Hateful as was the Roman yoke and Herod's tyranny, these were better to them than the scepter of a holy king.
The news of his coming searched them. It awoke within them thoughts and fears that had lain dormant. They expected Messiah, they wished him to come; but there were so many things connected with his character and reign that made his presence undesirable, that they could not hear of his arrival and not be troubled.
A man's conscience is sometimes more enlightened and better instructed than his mind; and when an appeal is made to it by some solemnizing piece of news, it immediately responds. Some sudden stroke of God's hand upon a man, or his family, or his nation, hits his conscience with special force; and conscience asserts her supremacy. As when the Sareptan widow's son was taken from her, immediately her conscience responded with, "O man of God are you come to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?" A holy man of God enters a worldly man's house, or the house of an inconsistent Christian, and immediately the man is uneasy. His conscience is disturbed. He is troubled as was Jerusalem when the tidings came, He is come!
Yes; Christ came not to send peace, but a sword; and it was the flash of this sword that troubled Jerusalem. There is something in Christ that troubles—alarms. We know that it shall be so when He comes the second time. They shall look on him and mourn; all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him. But his first advent has something about it to trouble, too. It is not all peace. Even apart from the glory, and terror, and judgment of his second, there is something in the announcement of his first that startles the man and rouses the conscience. The very grace that is in it is of an awfully solemnizing kind; and no man can hear of that grace without feeling that there is something in it from which he must of necessity shrink, unless he is prepared to surrender himself unreservedly and believingly to Him whose grace it is.
He comes as an infant, yet He comes as a King. He comes, offering rest, and forgiveness, and life; yet He, at the same time, makes a claim upon us which none will accept save he whose heart has been touched by the Holy Spirit. He speaks to us in grace, he looks at us in grace; yet in doing so He presents us with a cross which we must bear, with a yoke which we must take on. He announces himself as Jesus the Savior, yet, in doing so, He lets us know that He is as a Savior from sin, a deliverer from this present evil world. Therefore it is that He is not always welcomed; no, so often rejected. Therefore it is that his presence in love and lowliness troubles the sons of men. They are disarmed—perhaps attracted, by that love and lowliness; but the demands which these make upon their whole being and life, their allegiance, their obedience, their affection, are such as they will not submit to. So they are troubled, and bid Him depart out of their coasts.
The wise men were not "troubled." They were eager and earnest in pursuit of Israel's King. They saw his star in the East, and they made haste to seek Him out. They saw nothing to alarm them, for they were prepared at once to own Him for what He was revealed to be no, to worship Him. And being thus minded, what had they to fear? "Fear not; I know that you seek Jesus." Being prepared to take Him, at any cost, they had nothing to shrink from. For it is only they who are not disposed to admit his entire claims that can be troubled at the announcement of his advent—either his first or his second. Take Him for what He is; take Him for what He contains and offers; take Him for what the Father testifies of Him—take Him entire, and you have nothing to fear.
It seems strange to say, and yet it is true, that Christ comes to trouble us—"Be troubled you careless ones." Woe to those who have never been troubled by Him; into whose hearts or consciences He has never looked with his solemn eye, as in that day when He troubled Jerusalem. Elijah of old was counted the troubler of Israel, so is Christ the troubler of the world.
He will not let men alone. He is ever and anon announcing himself, coming into the midst of them, now here and now there, and troubling them. He came to Corinth, and it was troubled. He came to Thessalonica, to Philippi, to Derbe, to Lystra, and they were "troubled." He did not come with fire, or sword, or sweeping judgment, yet they were "troubled." Wherever He comes, He troubles. He came to Germany in the 16th century, to Switzerland, to Scotland, to England, and they were troubled. He comes to a town, a city, a village, or a family, and they are "troubled." He comes to a soul lying asleep or dead, and it is "troubled."
What is at the bottom of all the persecutions of various ages? It is Christ troubling the world. If He would let it alone, it would let Him alone. What means the outcry, and alarm, and misrepresentation, and anger, in days of revival? It is Christ troubling the world. What means the resistance to a fully preached gospel? It is Christ troubling the world. A fettered gospel, a circuitous gospel, a conditional gospel—a gospel that does not truly represent Christ—troubles no man; for in such cases it is another Christ that is announced, and not the Christ, the King of the Jews, that troubled Jerusalem. But a large, free, happy, unconditional gospel, that fully represents Jesus and his grace, Jesus and his completeness, does trouble men. It troubles all to whom it comes, in some measure. Some it troubles and then converts; some it only troubles. But its announcement does, more or less, for all who hear it, what it did for Jerusalem in the days of Herod—it troubles.
The world's only hope is to be "troubled" by Christ. If He lets it alone, all is over. Christ's errand just now is to trouble men—to awaken them—to call them to repentance. And the more fully He is preached, the more are men troubled. Has a preached Christ ever troubled you? Has the thought of his coming near you troubled you more? And have you found that the only quieter of such alarms is receiving Him as King and Savior?
But Christ troubles the churches. As He did to Jerusalem, so does He often to his churches. He troubled Ephesus with, "You have left your first love." He troubled Sardis with, "You have a name that you live, and are dead." He troubled Laodicea with, "You are neither cold nor hot." So does He oftentimes trouble his backsliding churches. He speaks, He comes, He acts; and they are alarmed. They feel they are not ready to meet Him. They are troubled.
Yet all this troubling is in love. He sounds his trumpet to awake the sleepers. He comes to us in grace as he came to Jerusalem. Why should we be troubled? We need not, if we be willing to receive Him and to worship Him. He does not wish to terrify or to repel. His desire is to attract: to get entrance for Himself into our hearts. Of course, if the world is there, and you are unwilling to part with it, his coming will trouble you, his knock will alarm you. If your idols refuse to be displaced, if another king reigns within and is resolved to keep his throne, the coming of Messiah must be the cause of unmingled trouble. It cannot be otherwise; for He demands your whole person complete and without reserve. But if, through grace, you are weary of your present occupants, and would sincerely be dispossessed of the world and Satan, then here is the Christ, the Son of God—He needs to come into your city, your house, your heart. Give Him free welcome and glad entrance. Let Him come in and sup with you. Let his grace constrain you to willing obedience. He is your Lord, worship Him.
The Christ has come! The angels announced Him, the shepherds sought Him, the wise men worshiped Him. Unto us a child is born! O glad tidings of great joy! Tidings not meant to terrify or overwhelm, but to gladden and to comfort.
And we can add to this, the Christ has died! No, He has risen! Ah! this is not sorrow, this is joy. It is the silver trumpet sounding out love—the love of God; not the iron trumpet, breathing vengeance in its blast. O men of earth, sons of Adam, hear the proclamation. Seek his face and live. Deal with Him in simple trust; He waits to deal with you in free and boundless love.
The Desert Voice
"And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire."—Matthew 3:10.
This is the voice of one crying in the wilderness; the voice of a second Elijah; the man of the desert; the burning and shining light; the forerunner of Messiah; the prophet of warning. He spoke to Israel; he speaks to us.
It is the voice of warning; a trumpet voice; prelude to the last trumpet; herald of coming wrath and woe. It spoke first to Israel; it speaks to the church; it speaks to Christendom; it speaks to the world; it speaks to each of us.
I. The axe. This is judgment; destruction. The axe is not for planting, or pruning, or dressing, or propping, or protecting, but for cutting down. It is spoken of as used for trees (Deuteronomy 20:19); for the carved work of the temple (Psalm 64:6); for towers (Ezekiel 26:9); for a whole forest (Jeremiah 66:22, 23); for a battle-axe (Jeremiah 51.20). In all cases for overthrow, utter overthrow. The axe against Israel was the Roman host, and many such axes has God wielded, age after age. Every judgment is an axe; pestilence is God's axe; famine God's axe; adversity God's axe. At Christ's second coming will be the uplifting of the axe against antichrist, against Christendom, against every false church. There is a great difference between the axe and the pruning knife. Yet some of God's judgments are both in one. An axe to the ungodly; a pruning knife to the saint. It is God's axe, not man's; its edge is sharp; it is heavy; it will do its work well.
II. The forest. He is speaking, not of a tree, but trees; a forest. He is likening Israel to a forest. It may be an olive-wood or a palm-wood, the oaks of Bashan or the cedars of Lebanon. Israel is the forest, God's forest, planted by God, on God's own hills and valleys. So also is the church; and each member is a tree in that forest. On that forest God has his eye; from its trees God comes seeking fruit. From the forest of Lebanon trees were once cut down for the temple; but this is for destruction, not for building nor ornament.
III. The warning. The axe lies at the root of these trees. He who placed it there placed it for a warning. He saw his trees not prospering, not growing, not bearing fruit, and He resolved to proceed against them. He cannot tolerate fruitlessness, for which there is no excuse. But He is patient; so He contents himself simply with laying down the axe, leaving it to speak its own lesson, to tell its own tale, a tale of coming judgment, which yet may be averted by fruitfulness. It is laid down and left to die; not cast down, as if hastily or at random. It is laid down at the root, for it is not against leaves or branches, but against the root that the vengeance is to be directed.
IV. The execution. The axe lies idle for a time, its sharp edge glittering in the sun. But it is to be lifted up. The forest is to be cut down, not stripped as by the hurricane, nor blasted as by lightning, but cut down at the very root; laid upon the ground; no longer its waving branches and leaves making a goodly show, but "cut down," separated from that soil out of which it was extracting no fruitfulness. "Cut it down" is the command! Why does it pretend to be a fruitful tree with its leaves and branches? Cut it down; why does it thus impose upon the eye? why cumbers it the ground?
V. The doom. Cast into the fire. Not left to wither, but cast out to be consumed. It cumbered the ground when living; it must not do so when dead. Let it be burned! Nothing for it but the fire. Its end is to be burned. And the fire is everlasting; it shall not be quenched; and yet the tree shall never be consumed. Awful doom. Never quenched, never consumed! It's smoke rising up forever and ever. No possibility of restoration! No hope for this tree (as in that of which Job speaks, 14:7); no water to make it bud again. Nothing but the ever-consuming fire.
VI. The cause. Unfruitfulness in good. Not extreme wickedness, but simple unfruitfulness in good! How searching this announcement. O you that count on going to heaven because you have done no harm, look here. If you have done no good, borne no good fruit, that is enough! And the sentence is as sweeping as it is searching, for it is "every tree that brings not forth good fruit." No exception, no sparing, "They shall not escape." This, then, is the process that is now going on; this is the nature of the present dispensation. If it were to be depicted by emblem, it would be an axe lying at the root of a tree!
Christ, at his first coming, laid the axe there; at his second coming He will lift it up and smite! The axe was laid down when Israel least thought of such a thing; when they were boasting of privilege, and calling themselves children of Abraham; so it shall be lifted up to smite, when men are saying "peace and safety;" boasting of progress and reform, and deliverance from the 'bigotry of narrow-minded men'.
Now is the age of trial, of probation. Israel's forest was found barren, and was cut down. Now Christendom is on its trial. Shall it be cut down? It has been long spared. Is it fruitful? You, O man, are on your trial! What is to be the issue when the Lord comes?
Jesus in Season and out of Season
"And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness, and all manner of disease, among the people."—Matthew 4:23.
It is Christ himself that comes before us here; Christ in his life and doings here below; Christ as the God-man, the sent of God, the revealer of the Father; Christ as the sinner's friend and helper. By looking at Him as He was on earth, we learn what He is now in heaven; our faith gets a soil in which to root it self; a foundation on which to rest. We see Him on earth full of grace and truth; in heaven the same; just such an one as a sinner can approach, and trust, and love; just such an one as possesses all that a sinner needs. Mark these three things here (1.) Jesus the teacher; (2.) Jesus the preacher; (3.) Jesus the healer.
I. Jesus the Teacher. He is the great giver of instruction to the sons of men; for He is the word and the wisdom; He is the lesson as well as the teacher. "Who teaches like Him" who says, "Learn of me." They who come to Him He calls "disciples,"—men who enter his school, and come to Him for instruction. As such He receives them and deals with them; for He has "compassion on the ignorant." Not in one thing, but in all things does He teach. He teaches the inner man, for He has access to the spirits of men. He speaks to ear, and heart, and conscience. There is no teaching like his for completeness, for efficacy, and for the molding of the whole man. He speaks, and we hear. We speak, and He hears. He comes to us; we go to Him. And in this blessed interchange between the scholar and the Master, the great work of enlightenment, renovation, expansion, and consolation takes place. Of all teachers, He is the wisest and most learned, as well as the most patient, loving, and painstaking. He opens our ears to hear, and our eyes to see. As He did in Galilee in the days of his flesh, so does He now over all the earth, though at the Father's right hand.
II. Jesus the Preacher. That is, He is the herald, the proclaimer of news from God. He is specially noted here as the herald of one thing, that is, "the gospel of the kingdom,"—the good news about the kingdom. What had He to proclaim in this respect?
(1.) That there was a kingdom. Not merely a state of blessedness or safety; not merely pardon and salvation; but a kingdom; with all its royalty, and glory, and grandeur. "There is a kingdom" is his message.
(2.) That the gate of this kingdom is open. Once closed, now thrown wide open; once fenced with the flaming sword, now unguarded and unfenced.
(3.) That this gate has been thrown open by God. It has not been man that has accomplished it: God has done it, with his own hand and power—and all in love.
(4.) That God has thrown it open in righteousness. It has not been forced open, nor merely opened because of importunity or pity—but righteously. Righteousness closed it, righteousness has opened it. Righteous entrance for unrighteous men! This was his message; this is ours.
(5.) That the entrance is free. No payment of any kind. The poorest, neediest, unfittest, most unqualified may enter at once. It is for such! Not for the good, but for the bad!
(6.) That it is near. The kingdom of God has come near unto you, was his message. Its gate is at our gate. There is but a step from the one to the other.
These were glad tidings! And they came from Him who knew them well; who knew the kingdom; who had a right to speak of it; for He was its King. He has come to earth seeking to fill that kingdom of his; to obtain kings for it; fellow-kings along with himself. This is our proclamation still. A kingdom! A kingdom! Heavenly, holy, glorious, blessed! An open gate! Messengers sent out to entreat and compel men to come in! Oh enter in! Oh become kings; heirs of a throne!
III. Jesus the healer. He has come to a hospital, a city of the plague, a world where all are sick and dying; both in soul and body. Heavenly skill is his; no, divine. Medicine is his; love to the sick is in his heart, and the balm of Gilead in his hand. He healed "all manner of sickness, and all manner of disease among the people." He did so in fulfillment of his divine errand. He did so to manifest his divine fullness and skill. He did so to show his power and willingness to heal worse diseases. He did so to attract and invite the spiritually sick—the blind, the deaf, the lame, the leprous, the palsied—all that are sick, whatever the nature of their disease. He is the great healer still! And we come to Him for health. He is the tree of life, both in leaf and fruit. He beckons us to his shade and healing. Will you be made whole? is his question to each. He needs to be made use of by us. He entreats as a favor that we employ Him as our physician, and that we apply for his medicines. We need not specify them—indeed, we cannot—He knows what they are, as He knows what our sickness is. There is not one sick soul here that He is unwilling to heal. Oh, apply—apply at once!
"He makes his sun to rise."—Matthew 5:45.
Here is the true link between God and "nature" (as men call it), and between us and nature. Here is the divine claim to proprietorship, to lordship over "nature." All things are God's. No created thing is the proprietor of itself or of any other created thing. There is but one proprietor, one universal proprietor, one to whom all things belong in a way in which they cannot belong to any other, one whose proprietorship cannot be dissolved or sold; for it is an everlasting proprietorship resulting from the great truth that God is God, and that no creature is or can be God. He who says, "All souls are mine" (Ezekiel 18:4), says also, All things are mine. Creatures are divine property. Hence the shepherd comes seeking his own lost property (Luke 15:4); the woman searches for her lost property (Luke 15:8). Heaven and earth are God's property; the Sun is "his sun"; far more his than ours. For,
(1.) He made it. May He not then claim it as his own? Is not creatorship the basis of the truest proprietorship? Yes, He made the sun. Is it not then his? Is not every ray of it—morn, and noon, and eve—all his?
(2.) He kindled it. It would appear that it was not lighted up, or at least for our earth, until the fourth day. Then He who made it, kindled it, and charged it to shine for us. Is it not his sun? He commanded it to shine, and it shone.
(3.) He keeps it burning. It is not allowed to burn low or to go out. He supplies it with all that is needful, and says to it, Burn on, burn on. He leads it up each morning, and over the arch of noon, and down into the west. All this rising and setting, this daily shining and shading, this coming and departing, are his. It is his sun emphatically. Were it not for Him it would go out in obscure darkness.
(4.) He makes it do his work. It has done his work in ages past; it has shone in past generations, and is shining still. The same sun that shone on Adam, and Noah, and Abraham, and Paul—no, and on Jesus the Christ of God—shines on us, doing its work for us. Yes; the same sun in Europe as in Asia, in Palestine as in Scotland!
Let us see how it does God's work; how it has been doing this, and is doing so still. In this work we notice, mercy, miracle, type, judgment.
I. Mercy. Yes; God set his sun in the heaven for mercy; He makes it to arise on the evil and the good, to speak of his free love, and lead men to repentance.
(1.) It enlightens. What a world without the light of the sun. Herein is love.
(2.) It heals. There is health in the sunbeam as well as in the fresh air. The sun's rays are healing. Light is medicine.
(3.) It gladdens. Sunshine is joy. It gladdens all earth, poor and rich. It diffuses joy over hill and dale; in the hut and the palace.
(4.) It fructifies. It makes all living things to grow and bring forth fruit. No sunshine, no life; no growth, no fruit. For man and beast, for herb and tree, for flower and leaf, sunshine brings growth and fruitfulness. Such is God's love in sunshine. Ah, yes, it is his sun! It does his work.
II. Miracle. It has been associated with miracle in past ages. We call to mind Joshua, Egypt, Hezekiah, the Crucifixion-darkness. God has used it for miracle; for the display of his power. He kindles or quenches, He sends it on its course, or arrests it, or makes it turn backward, all according to his pleasure. That sun is to us the memorial of the mighty power of God—his miracle-working hand. By it, and in it, He does wonders (Psalms 19:4, 6). Praise Him then O sun and moon, praise Him all you stars of light (Psalms 148:3).
III. Type. God has made use of his sun and its light for types in many ways. It is the type of the inner light; of Him who is the light of the world, of the Sun of righteousness. It does God's work in serving as a type for such things as these. Let it thus do his work to us, and for us each day that it shines. Type of the true light, the light of heaven, the light of the soul, the light of Christ, how glorious are you, O Sun!
IV. Judgment. It spoke of judgment to Egypt when for three days it was blotted out. It spoke of judgment to Judea and to earth, when for three hours it was shrouded, when Jesus was dying. But it specially is connected with judgment in the book of Revelation. It became black as sackcloth of hair (6:1-2); the third part was smitten (8:1-2); the fourth angel's vial was poured out on the sun, and it had power to scorch men with fire (16:8); an angel stood in the sun to summon all beasts and fowls to the great banquet of slaughtered kings and captains. These are some of the ways in which God has connected his sun with judgment.
Yes, it is his sun. Jesus has taught us the expression; let us not lose it. That little word means much.
It is his sun; then is it also ours; ours because his; made by him for us.
His sun; then it speaks to us of Him. It is a bright and golden link between Him and us.
His sun; then let us enjoy it as such; for it shines not by chance or by mere laws of nature. He who made it bids us enjoy it.
His sun; then let us learn his love; his love even in its radiance, much more in that light of which it is the type.
His sun; then let us love as He loves, and shine as He shines. Let us love the unthankful and the evil, doing good to all; and liking to bless and gladden all.
His sun; then it is Himself whom we behold; it is He who shines. We say, "it rains," as if chance or nothing were the author of the rain. So we speak too of sunlight; forgetting that it is God himself that is shining in every ray.
Human Leprosy and its Divine Cure
"When he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him. And, behold, there came a leper, and worshiped him, saying, Lord, if you will, you can make me clean. And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will, be clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed."—Matthew 8:1-3.
The Lord ends speaking and begins working; He comes down from the pulpit and enters the hospital. Such is his whole life: words and deeds intermingled; words of health and deeds of health. His lips breathe fragrance, and in his hand is the balm of Gilead.
Crowds follow him; but it is with one only that we have here to do. Let us mark, (1.) the leper; (2.) his healer.
I. The leper. He is one of the vast multitude; but there is a difference between him and them. They flock to and follow Jesus; but not as men full of needs; only to see and hear some new or curious things. But there is one exception—the leper; one whose whole head was sick and heart faint; one who not merely needs Christ, but knows that he needs Him.
(1.) He comes. All are needy in some way or other; he only so feels his need as to step out from the crowd and draw more closely to the Lord. It is his need, his disease that prompts and brings him. So is it still. Crowds following Jesus, only a few dealing personally with him. Yet what else will do?
(2.) He worships. He kneels before the Lord. What he has heard has given him high thoughts of Christ. Surely He is the Son of God, the Christ of God. It is with high thoughts of Him that we must come; poor thoughts of ourselves.
(3.) He pleads. He has something to say, and he says it briefly and well. It is with no labored or set speech that he comes. He tells his need, and utters his thoughts of Christ: "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." He knows that He can; and he casts himself upon his sovereign will for the exercise of this power in his case. The "if" is not so much an expression of doubt as to his willingness as an appeal to his will. It is not unbelief but faith that speaks the "if." He needs to be made clean, and He casts himself on Christ for this. He is the hyssop, the water, the blood, the ashes, the priest, the physician, all in one. Thus we still come, doubting neither the willingness nor the power, yet casting ourselves on the will of the Lord; not presuming to dictate, yet appealing to his sovereign grace. As the needy, the sick, the unclean, we come; for the whole need not a physician, but those who are sick.
II. The Healer. He is Jesus of Nazareth; the physician of Gilead, with the balm in his hand; He who tells us, "The whole need not a physician, but those who are sick"; who asks, "Will you be made whole?" He carries with him all the health and the skill of heaven. He was known as such when here; He is known as such still. The healer of the world!
(1.) He put forth his hand. He does not shrink from nearness to the leper; he is not afraid of infection. He invites approach; and in token of his sympathy and kindness, He puts forth his hand. That hand now wields the golden scepter; it is the nail-pierced hand; and it is still put forth. It contains as much of health, and power, and blessing, as when he was here.
(2.) He touched him. Not nearness merely, but touch; the one might indicate the willingness, the other brings the cure itself. It is contact with the Healer that we need; nothing short of this! We touch him, He touches us! This is all. A touch draws out the heavenly electricity, and pervades us with its divine energy.
(3.) He spoke. Voice and hand go together. "I will, be clean." He lets him know that the will in him is no obstacle. The leper suspected that the sovereignty might be a barrier. Jesus removes the fear. No. My will is not the hindrance. You will not; not I will not. This was never found to be an obstacle when Jesus was here; nor is it so now. To each coming one his language is still, "I will, be clean." Our will is the hindrance, not his.
(a) It is the voice of love. He pities the leper, and hastens to let him know this. He has compassion on him, and does not keep him in suspense. He has no pleasure in delays.
(b) It is the voice of authority. It reminds us of Genesis 1:2, 3. He speaks as one who knew that he could cure. Not hesitatingly. Nor are the words a prayer, but a command. He speaks, and it is done.
(c) It is the voice of power. He has the power to carry his authority into effect. He speaks, and it is done. He said once, "Let there be light, and there was light" He speaks now, "Be whole," and the leprosy is cleansed. Thus love, authority, and power are all conjoined. It is the voice of Omnipotence.
He is the same Christ still; with the same love, and authority, and power. He is still the Healer, and the worst of diseases fly from his touch and voice. Let us go to Him with all that afflicts us. He can and He will heal us of all.
It is hard to persuade men that this is really the case; that the Son of God has to do with lepers still; that he is the physician for the worst of diseases; and that as He asks no reward for the cure, so He asks no preparation nor qualification in the diseased one. With our whole leprosy we come; He takes our case in hand; He touches and heals. There is no case of evil too hard for Him; no human leprosy too incurable for His skill; no human leper so repulsive as to make Him shrink back. Jordan did not flee from the touch of the Syrian leper, but bade him welcome when he came to its waters; so Jesus turns not away from the most loathsome specimen of diseased humanity that ever presented itself to His gaze or touch.
He needs to heal! Will you not, O man, give Him the opportunity which He seeks of healing you? Your whole head may be sick, and your whole heart faint. But what of that? Is He not able to heal to the uttermost? Be persuaded to present yourself to Him, just as you are. Give this divine Healer your simple confidence. Take Him for what He is, and He will take you for what you are. Thus shall you meet in love; you to be healed, and He to heal; you to have the joy of being healed, and He to have the joy of healing you, and to announce to heaven, in the presence of the angels of God, that another leper has been healed!
Man's Dislike and Dread of Christ
"And, behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they besought him that he would depart out of their coasts."—Matthew 8:34.
"The entire town came out to meet Jesus, but they begged him to go away and leave them alone." Matthew 8:34
I scarcely know a verse of Scripture where there is such a melancholy contrast between the beginning and the close. The first part is so hopeful, the second so disastrous. The first seems to lift us to heaven, the second to cast us down to hell. The whole city flocks to Jesus; but its multitudes have scarcely reached him when they ask Him to leave their coasts; not their city merely, but their region; as if the farther off the better. They do not turn their back on Him, but worse: they ask Him to turn his back on them. Yet the scene was not an uncommon one in our Lord's history. It was much the same as in the synagogue of Nazareth; and in Capernaum after the miracle of the loaves (John 6:24-66); and afterwards at Jerusalem when one day they shouted "hosanna," the next, "crucify." Alas, that it should be still the same in our own day! Let us mark—
I. The coming. "The whole city came out to meet Jesus." Not some—not the city—but the whole city! It was a universal movement; and a most interesting one. A whole city flocking out to meet Jesus! Surely this would make angels glad. It was one of the most marvelous and blessed sights that had been seen. Ah, how seldom had such a thing been seen, or is seen now! They had heard that He had done a miracle, that He had cast out devils, and they flocked to Him. The report of those who kept the swine had moved the city! A swineherd's tale had made all the city turn out to meet Him! O wondrous spectacle!
II. The seeing. It would appear that Jesus was on his way to their city— so they soon met Him—saw Him—heard Him. They did not remain afar off, but came near. So that their feelings towards Him, and treatment of Him, were not founded on mere report. They heard what others had to say; but they also saw for themselves. And it is this seeing that so aggravates their guilt. What they did and said, they said and did in the full knowledge of what He was.
III. The refusing. They besought Him to depart out of their coasts. An awful request, in many ways. They had sick among them, did they not want them to be healed? They had others, perhaps, possessed with devils, did they not want them to be delivered? The sick beseeching the physician not to visit them! The famished city entreating the benevolent storekeeper not to bring them bread! The thirsty traveler filling up with dirt, the one well in the desert! The shipwrecked sailor's requesting the lifeboat to keep away from them! Was there ever a request so sad, so fatal? Why was this? There was something in Jesus that drew them; but there was more that they disliked. What they heard about the devils and the swine made them afraid. If He came, He would drive out their herds of swine; He would not spare their sins. They would like Him as the physician of the body, but not of the soul. His company seemed dangerous and terrible. The destruction of that herd of swine was his doing, no doubt; and He who could send the devils into the swine could send them into themselves. It was dreadful to be near one who had such power over spirits. So they besought Him to depart. And it would appear that He departed. He took ship immediately, and sailed to the other side; and as they saw Him departing, and the white sail vanishing out of sight, they would be relieved as by the retreat of some fearful enemy. The departure of the Son of God was matter of mutual congratulation to these Gadarenes! The scene is a fearful one; the lessons most impressive. Their "depart from us" is a foreboding of his "depart from me" (Matthew 15:41)
(1.) How near salvation they were. It was on its way to them. It would soon have entered their gates. They were going to meet it, and it was coming to meet them. How blessed! Was salvation ever nearer! It seemed now as if nothing could hinder their being blest. Yet it passed away; and they were the cause. They would not have it. Thus near is salvation to us every hour; yet we put it away. "I would," and "you would not" are still the words of solemn truth. No, they themselves at first seemed bent on having it; a whole city bent on being saved—rushing in one multitude to the Savior! But it turned out to not be the kind of salvation which they wanted; and He not the kind of Savior they cared for. So they would have none of Him! Thus we neglect the great salvation though so near, and despise the Savior though coming to meet us; no, standing at our side!
(2.) How they wronged the Savior. "They were taken with great fear" (Luke 8:37). What had He done to alarm them or to create distrust? He had healed their sick, cast out devils, restored the lunatic to his right mind; ought these to have raised hard thoughts of Him? Especially, should not the sight of Him have proved attractive? Yet it was when they saw Him that they besought Him to depart. Or was the destruction of their swine enough to outweigh these miracles of mercy? Yes; He smote their covetousness, and reproved them for their unlawful gains. And this they could not bear. But how grievously did they wrong Him in this, putting false constructions on His works of mercy and of righteousness. They wronged his love, his interest in their welfare, his desire to break the power of hell among them. Do we not thus wrong Him constantly? Is not all unbelief a wronging of Christ, a repetition of the sin of the Gadarenes, and with less excuse than theirs?
(3.) How they wronged themselves. When beseeching Him to depart out of their coasts, they were sending away their one friend and physician, quenching their one light. The word "pleaded" implies that he was bent on remaining; and they desisted not in their entreaties until they had constrained Him to depart. O awful importunity of sin and unbelief! And is not this still the attitude of unbelief? Does it not say, Depart from me? Is not its meaning just—O Jesus I beseech you do not convert me; do not save me, do not cast out Satan—let me alone—what have I to do with you or you with me? And Jesus yields at length. He sails away; and with Him all heaven; with Him salvation, and life, and joy.
The Rest and the Rest-Giver
"Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."—Matthew 11:28.
I. The Speaker here is the Son of God. It is not man speaking to man and sympathizing with man, but it is God himself coming up to us and uttering his divine compassion. He sees our case. He knows exactly what we need. He is able to bless us to the full. It is not helpless love giving vent to kind but unavailing sympathy; it is the love, the pity, the tenderness of Omnipotence. It is heaven that is pouring out its compassionate yearnings over earth, and stretching down to it the helping hand of power. It is the great Creator drawing near to his alienated but sorrowful creature, and presenting him with rest. After the great work of Creation God "rested"; he invites his weary creatures to share his rest. Rest in me and rest with me is his gracious message. It takes omnipotence to give rest to the weary sinner.
II. The people spoken to are the inhabitants of Galilee. That region was reputed the worst in the land; yet it was to those who the Son of God spoke. The crowd that he was speaking to was composed of the inhabitants of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum—the worst in Galilee. They were compared with Tyre and Sidon, Sodom and Gomorrah, and declared worse than these by our Lord himself. They had more advantages than others. They were the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done. They were the least deserving of favor of all the inhabitants of the land; the most deserving of wrath.
III. The character under which they are spoken to is that of toiling, burdened ones. "All you that labor and are heavy laden." They were sinners; but that was not all; they were sinners "toiling" and "borne down with heavy burdens." The word "labor" is frequently used to denote the toiling process itself (Luke 5:5), or the result of it in weariness, as when it is said, "Jesus being wearied with his journey," sat down, thus wearied, to rest by the well (John 4:6). The "burdens" are such as those with which the Pharisees loaded their followers (Luke 11:46). It is no particular kind of labor or burden that is meant here; but any labor, any burden whatever. It may be worldly toil, and vexation, and disappointment; it may be the wretchedness, and weariness, and soreness of spirit which sin brings after it; it may be the feeling of those who are asking, Who will show us any good? what does it matter? It is human wretchedness and weariness from whatever cause—human thirst, human hunger, the emptiness of an aching heart that would sincerely be happy, but knows not how or where to find happiness. They who are spoken to are spending their money for that which is not bread, and their labor for that which satisfies not. The words then are very wide, wide as the wide earth. They are broad and full. They are unconditional and universal. They mean every one. They take in every weary son of Adam. The question is not, "Is your labor of the right kind?" or, "is your weariness a true and spiritual weariness?" but, "are you a weary sinner?" And who is not? Though indeed some are more weary than others.
But now let us mark the substance of the Lord's invitation, as thus given out to the worst and most weary of the sons of men. That which is promised here is rest. This rest is for the weary. This rest is a gift. This gift is from Christ. This gift is obtained by going to this Christ.
(1.) Here is rest. It is what God calls rest; and therefore must be truly such. It is what man needs; and without which he must drag on a weary sorrowful life. You need rest, O man! Here it is for you. Never did you need it more than in this restless, noisy, bustling, pleasure-loving age. Do not reject it. Rest for the weary! This is our message.
(2.) This rest is a gift. It cannot be bought with money, nor found by search, nor obtained by travel. It is a gift. Free rest! This is our gospel. Rest to all who need it. Rest to any one who will take it. O free gift of rest, how are you despised by the sons of men! They are weary, and would buy rest at any price; but they will not take it free!
(3.) This rest is Christ's gift. "I will give you rest." I will refresh you. I will be as the dew unto Israel, refreshing and reviving, after the heat of the day. From the hand of Christ alone it comes. He brought it with him from heaven, and he gives it to us. It is blood-bought rest. It is love-given rest. Jesus stands with this precious blessing in his hand; or rather He goes up to every weary child of Adam and offers him rest—his own rest—the rest of the Father and the Son.
(4.) This rest is for the weary. Simply for those who need it! For all Christ's gifts are suitable. I am the resting-place, He says; weary sinner, sit down here; sit down, just because you are weary. As the thirsty man drinks because he is thirsty, and the hungry eats because he is hungry, so the weary rest, because they are weary! How near is rest to us! How simple is God's way of giving it!
(5.) This rest is gotten by coming to Christ. It is only from Him that we can get it; and there must be a direct dealing with Him concerning it. The knowledge of Him is rest! His words are rest! His cross is rest! All we know concerning him is rest! We try other resting-places; let us try this. We go to others; let us go to Him. Let us transact with Him. It is the weary that He welcomes! It is with the weary that He delights to share his blessed rest! Go to Him for rest, O weary one! He will not deny it.
He invites. Come unto me! Is not that enough? Do you need further warrant? He beckons. It is as if he were stretching out his hands—beckoning you to draw near!
He beseeches. His are earnest words, and He himself is in earnest, thoroughly in earnest. He entreats you to take his rest; as if rest were no rest to Him until you shared it.
He commands. The words before us are imperative. He commands you to come. You cannot lose this rest, but by deliberately disobeying his command! Could rest be brought nearer than this?
The Three Exchanges
"Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and you shall find rest unto your souls."—Matthew 11:29.
The previous verse contains the Lord's promise of rest; free, large, immediate, universal. The present verse is added to show the way in which He carries out that promise.
Three things are implied as producing the unrest of man: the kind of yoke, the kind of burden, and the kind of teaching. He has had a yoke of a most galling kind, a burden intolerably heavy, and teaching which has made these unspeakably worse. From these three sources of weariness the Lord proposes to deliver. Not simply by loosing the yoke, and removing the burden, and condemning the false teaching, but by substituting others in their place; a yoke of his own, a burden of his own, teaching or his own.
The figure of the "yoke" is taken from the agricultural apparatus fastened round the neck and shoulders of the animals used in plowing, which, in the east, is very cumbersome and painful, subjecting them to great restraint, bending them down, and preventing their eating, as well as their free motion, in any direction. Eastern harness is both clumsy and cruel. In Leviticus 26:13 it is used for the bondage of Egypt, "I have broken the band of your yoke, and made you to go upright." In Deuteronomy 28:48 we have reference to the Roman yoke, "He shall put a yoke of iron upon your neck." Other allusions of this kind are frequent, and we may notice that God, in speaking of his love to Israel, says, "I was to them as those who take off the yoke on their jaws, and I laid food before them." In the passage before us we may take the "yoke" as referring to the yoke of sin, and the yoke of the Pharisees, which was more grievous to the spirit and conscience than the yoke of Egypt, or Assyria, or Rome, was to the body or the outward estate.
The word "burden" refers sometimes to the load upon a "beast of burden," and sometimes to the freight of a ship, or the weight upon the shoulders of a carrier. See Isaiah 46:1 where the innumerable idols of Babylon are predicted as being carried off by the conqueror; "Their idols were upon the beasts and upon the cattle; your carriages were heavy laden, they are a burden to the weary beast." It was with heavier burdens that the Pharisees loaded the shoulders of their followers (Matthew 23:4, Luke 11:46).
The expression, "Learn of me," may mean either "take me for your teacher," or "take me for your copy or model." In both these senses the teaching of the Pharisees was fitted only to produce unrest.
Such then are the three sources of a sinner's unrest. Our Lord offers to abolish them. Yet not simply to abolish them, but to give something in exchange, far more blessed. He has a substitute or exchange for each of these respectively—a substitute which will not merely remove the unrest arising from these three causes, but will give in exchange three corresponding things fitted to impart rest at each of the points where formerly the unrest had proceeded.
I. The exchange of yokes. "Take my yoke upon you." As if He said I too have a yoke, but very different from that which has hitherto galled your shoulders; here it is at your side; take it; put it on; it is easy and pleasant: thus you shall find rest for your souls. Yokes are for the purpose of constraining the unwilling and resisting animal to submit to its owner's will, and do its master's work. Christ's yoke is certainly for the purpose of fitting us for doing his will and work; but then it does this by making us thoroughly willing, by making the service pleasant, by removing everything that galls or wounds. It is an "easy yoke," so easy that it makes the work easy and delightful; we would not part with this yoke; it is pleasant to bear, and the work is pleasant to do. We may understand it thus. The yoke is that which He says to us or bids us do; it is also the way in which He says this, so tender and gracious, it is the spirit He infuses, the spirit of love and liberty. It is the yoke of forgiveness and peace. Did not he lay this yoke upon the sinning woman when He said, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more." Did He not lay it on Zaccheus when He said, "Come down, for today I must abide at your house." Did He not lay it on his disciples when first He said, Follow me, and when afterwards He said, "As the Father have loved me, so have I loved you; continue you in my love." It is not the yoke of bondage, or gloom, or penance, or uncertainty, or terror, but the yoke of the "new commandment," which springs from his love to us, and leads us to love and serve in return. Thus we get a new Master, we enter on a new service, with new and blessed laws, of which the beginning and the end is love. Hear Him saying, "Take my yoke upon you; for my yoke is easy."
II. The exchange of burdens. "My burden is light." Your present burden is hard and heavy, it weighs you down, it makes you faint under it; you are like Israel under the burdens of Egypt. Let me take that off, and give you one of my own in exchange. You will find the difference. Mine is light; it not only does not press you down, but it raises you up, it makes you lighter and more buoyant than before. This "burden" is his whole service or the things which he calls us to do or suffer for Him. For in taking his yoke we do not become idlers. We work. But all our work for Him is gladness; every new piece of work raises instead of depressing us. Such is the power of his love shed abroad in our hearts, the love that casts out fear, the love that passes knowledge.
III. The exchange of teaching. "Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart;" not in word or outward demeanor like the Pharisee, but in heart. Take me for your teacher; take me for your model; learn of one who will not be angry at your ignorance and stupidity; imitate one who will show you what it is to be lowly. Learn of me, He says to you. All other teaching is unrest; this is rest and peace. It is the teaching of love; it speaks of love it offers love; it exhibits love; the love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The reception of this teacher and his teaching is liberty, is rest, is deliverance, is gladness. It is this which heals the soul, which binds up all its wounds, which dispels all its clouds.
O man, let Jesus teach you. Give up your intellect, your heart, your whole soul to his teaching. He knows what to teach and how to teach. His teaching is rest! Of no other teaching can this be said; all besides this is unrest and weariness. Of this only it is not true, that increasing knowledge increases sorrow.
Nineveh and Her Testimony
"The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and, behold, a greater than Jonah is here."—Matthew 12:41.
It is sometimes good to compare the present with the past; to mark the likeness or contrast; the progress or the regress. We may thus get a warning, or an encouragement, or a stimulus. Let the past speak to the present. The day is coming when the present shall speak to the future. Each day, each year, each age, has a voice to its successor, no, to all its successors.
Our Lord here interprets the past. He bids it speak to the present. He bids the present listen. He re-animates past scenes; he gives life to the dead. Out of their graves He calls up a voice. Let us hear their message to Israel, and their message to us.
I. Nineveh and its sin. It is of a heathen city that He speaks. He does not overlook heathenism or heathendom. It is a city wholly given to idolatry; immersed in pleasure; elated by its greatness; ambitious of universal dominion; a city of palaces and temples; a city of chariots and horses; a city of princes and warriors; a city of pomp and splendor; a city that knows not Jehovah, that scorns his people, and abhors his city and his land. The cup of its guilt was deep and full (Nahum 3 1-9.) Its character resembles that of our cities. Its sins are ours. Pride, fullness of bread, love of pleasure, intoxication, covetousness, vanity, lust, gaiety—these mark us as they did the men of Nineveh. Our sins are multiplying. Our cup is fast filling.
II. Nineveh and its repentance. It was a heathen city, yet it repented; a proud and lofty city, yet it repented—king and people. It had no knowledge nor wisdom, yet it repented. Jonah was its first prophet, yet it repented. One sermon did the work. One trumpet-blast shook the city. It was not a word of terror, yet they repented like the jailor at the earthquake. It was
(1) immediate repentance.
(2) It was true.
(3) It was deep.
(4.) It was universal.
(5) It was acceptable.
Was the like ever heard! Noah preached one hundred and twenty years in vain, yet Nineveh repented in a day. Two angels went to Sodom in vain, yet Nineveh repented under one sermon of one prophet; and that a very feeble and inconsistent one. How marvelous that such a city should have repented under such a prophet! How marvelous that God should have so honored such a prophet. How sovereign He is in his dealings; how unlike us in his counsels; how unsearchable in his ways. God speaks to us, to our cities, to our villages, and says, Repent! Yet we repent not! With bibles and ministers bringing before us the heavenly messages all our lives, we repent not! O hearts of stone! Harder than the rock!
III. Nineveh and its testimony. That city has two testimonies.
(1.) A past testimony. It speaks to us, and says, Repent. Its sackcloth says, Repent! Its fasting says, Repent! Its cry for mercy says, Repent! Are we better? Do we need no repentance? Has Nineveh's repentance no voice for us?
(2.) A future testimony. Its inhabitants shall rise against us in the day of judgment. Its testimony is not over. It spoke to Israel; it speaks to us; and it shall yet speak to both again in the solemn day of recompense. Nineveh will condemn Israel and us; if we repent not verily we shall be inexcusable. In the presence of the men of Nineveh we shall not be able to utter a word of excuse or extenuation. For we have a greater than Jonah for our prophet—the Son of God himself. We have Moses, and a greater than Moses; we have Elijah, and a greater than Elijah. Yes; Jesus speaks to us; He spoke on earth; he speaks from heaven! He says, Repent! He makes our land re-echo with, Repent! He makes our churches resound with the same voice, Repent. He speaks down through all the ages; he speaks now, and says to us, Repent!
The day approaches, when the men of Nineveh shall rise up against the men of Israel, and when the men of Israel shall rise up against the men of Scotland. That rising up shall be for condemnation! The greater the light rejected, the greater the condemnation incurred. Men of the nineteenth century, look back three thousand years, and see Nineveh on her knees in sackcloth before God, broken down under one sermon of one prophet! Is not that a sight to break you down and make you cry for mercy, while the Lord tarries, and before the last trumpet sounds. Oh seek the Lord while He may be found!
The Two Sowers
"But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way."—Matthew 13:25.
There are two sowers in this parable, yet but one field; two kinds of seed, yet but one field. The one field is this world, called in verse 41, "his kingdom;" the sowers are the Son of man and the devil; the two seeds are the wheat and the tares. The field belongs to the Son of man; the enemy had no part in its proprietorship; he does his mischief by stealth and cunning; he climbs over the wall in the night while men sleep. He is the enemy of the Son of man; and his desire is twofold, (1) to choke the good seed, and (2) to fill the field with tares. He is the same enemy that stole into Paradise, and wrought ruin there. The parable exhibits him as full of (1) enmity, (2) cunning, (3) determination, (4) patience, (5) confidence. All these we find brought out in this simple and apparently very useless expression, "he went his way," or "left the place" Why did he thus go his way?
I. He did not wish to be seen. He came by night, and he went by night. He came while men slept, and he went before they awoke. He did not wish it to be known that he was there. He did not care for the fame of doing the thing; all he cared for was, that it should be done. How different from us! We care more about the honor of doing a thing than the work itself. How single-eyed is Satan in his evil! He does his work unknown. He steals quietly to his work and from his work, without sound of trumpet. Besides, he does not want to excite men's fears, or to alarm the servants of the Master by his visible presence. That would defeat his object. Ah, it is with an invisible devil that we have to do; mighty, but unseen; the ruler of the darkness of this world—himself loving the darkness—dwelling and working in it. Surely we need to watch, whether in keeping our own vineyard or that of others.
II. He had done his work. It might be on a greater or a larger scale, that mattered not. He had done his work. It did not require repetition or re-sowing. The sower had done all that, as a sower, he could do. Sowing is not a process repeated daily; it is done once; he did not come night after night to sow and re-sow. He needed but one sowing-time; and so he went his way.
III. He had confidence in the seed. He knew of what kind it was, its vitality; its indestructibility. It could lie long in the ground before it sprung. It would not fail. It was the true seed of hell. It was sure to spring, sooner or later. So he went his way. Ah, what confidence does this exhibit in the vigor and vitality of error. Have we like confidence in the life and power of truth? Do we speak it as those who trust it?
IV. He had confidence in the soil. The soil had not been meant for error, but the curse was on it, and its fruitfulness had become fruitfulness in evil. In a cursed soil, his seed was sure to be nourished and grow. The seed was evil, and the soil was evil. No one knew these things better than this enemy, this sower of the tares. It was then, with confidence in the soil, that, having done his work, he went his way. The soil would not fail him; it would do its work.
V. He had confidence in the atmosphere. He is the prince of the power of the air; the ruler of the darkness of this world. It is on the air as much as on the soil that the harvest depends. He knows the peculiar elements with which this atmosphere is filled; how it is charged with all that fosters evil; how it will nourish the tares, so that they shall grow without fail, even though the wheat should die. And, accordingly, having done his work, he goes his way; he trusts to the evil air and the evil seed suiting each other.
VI. He had other work to do. He is not omnipresent nor omniscient. He goes up and down in the earth, walking to and fro in it, doing his work here and there. He does not abide in one place; he goes about to do work elsewhere; he visits place after place in succession; he never folds his hands nor shuts his eyes; he knows no night, and he needs no slumber. Incessant work, all round and round the globe; in every kingdom, in every church, in every soul. He has always something on hand; some new error; some new departure from the faith; some new snare; some new vanity; some new delusion to deceive, if it were possible, the very elect! Sometimes the prince of darkness, sometimes the angel of light; always the god of this world, the prince of the power of the air.
His first seed sown was in the ear and heart of our first parents, and what fruit of evil has it borne, what tares has it produced! Since that, he has been sowing constantly the tare-producing seed. So will he continue to do until the Lord comes to bind him.
Oh, what an enemy have we to fight with! What strength, what subtlety, what wiles, what perseverance! How he works! How he sows! Error upon error; a little seed at first, yet producing a vast harvest of error and sin; a race of evil-doers, evil-thinkers, evil-speakers, perverters of the truth, enemies of God; fields of tares —so like the wheat, that man cannot discern the difference.
Resist the devil, work against him, for we are not ignorant of his devices.
"But when Herod's birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod."—Matthew 14:6.
This birthday ball of Herod was held, in all likelihood, at Machaerus, a fortress beyond Jordan, not far from the Dead Sea. It was a high and royal festival. Pomp, splendor, luxury, and lust were all gathered there. In the midst of the song, and the glitter, and the mirth, there was one troubled conscience, that of Herod—one trembling man, Herod. His soul was ill at ease, though surrounded with all that the world could give to banish care. He, Herodias, and John the Baptist, may be said to be the chief personages brought before us in this scene. But let us take up the narrative in another form; (1.) before the ball; (2.) during the ball; (3.) after the ball.
I. Before the ball. The news of Christ's miracles had overspread the land, and reached Herod. He was startled and troubled. Who is this Jesus! Can he be John? Can John be risen? But why these fears on the part of Herod? The answer carries us back to the time before the ball. John had reproved Herod for his wickedness more than a year and a half before; for Herod had taken his brother's wife, and John had proclaimed the unlawfulness of the deed. This had roused the king's anger. He would really liked to have slain him, and was only kept from doing so by fear of the multitude, who reverenced John. But he imprisoned him, and kept him in the castle of Machaerus for eighteen months. The guilt of an unlawful marriage was on his conscience, as well as the guilt of imprisoning a holy man. His course of sin had been begun and persevered in. He was braving out his crimes; and like worldly men in such circumstances, he rushes into gaiety to drown his troubles and terrors. The pleasures of the feast and the ball-room, the song and the dance—these are welcomed to induce forgetfulness, and "minister to a mind diseased." In how many cases do men fly to the ball, the theater, the card-table, the tavern, the riotous party, not simply for pleasure's sake, and to "taste life's glad moments," but to drown care, to smother conscience, to efface convictions, to laugh away the impressions of the last sermon, to soothe an uneasy mind, to relieve the burden or pluck out the sting of conscious guilt! O slaughter-houses of souls! O slaughter-houses, reeking with blood! O "lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revelings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries"; how long shall men "run on in this excess of riot"? O lust of the flesh, lust of the eye, and pride of life, when will you cease to intoxicate, and lead men captive at your will? O God-forgetting gaiety! O dazzling worldliness! O glittering halls of midnight, where "Youth and pleasure meet To chase the glowing hours with flying feet," when, when will you cease to be resorted to by the sons of men to "heal the hurt" of the human soul, to still its throb and heartache, and to medicate the immedicable wound?
II. During the ball. It is a gay scene. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life are there. All that can minister to these are there. Herod is there, feeding on lust, drinking in pleasure, stupifying conscience. The fair daughter is there, in all the splendor of gay wantonness. And the vile mother is there, lascivious and revengeful. And the courtiers are there, in pomp and glitter. Music and mirth are there. The dance and the song are there. No note of gloom, no indication of trouble. What a scene of mirth and revelry! But some are absent—conspicuously absent, we may say. John is not there. A prison holds him. His disciples are not there. They can but weep and lament. And Jesus is not there, nor his disciples. They were at the marriage festival in Cana; but this ball-room is not for them. It is not the place for a follower, either of Jesus or of John. The beauty of "this world" is one thing, and the beauty of "the world to come" is quite another. These scenes of royal vanity are instructive; for they present the world in its most fascinating aspects. All that regal state, and princely beauty, and wealth, and gold, and silver, and gems, and tapestry, and blazing lamps can do, to make this world fair, is in such scenes and haunts. These balls are the most seductive specimens of pure worldliness that can be found. Surely the god of this world knows how to enchant both ear and eye. In an assembly like this, the natural man is at home. Here the unregenerate heart gets scope to the full. It is a place where God is not where the cross is not; where such things as sin and holiness must not be named. It is a hall where the knee is not bent, except in the voluptuous waltz; where the music whose theme is the praise of Jesus is unheard; where the book of God, and the name of God would be out of place; where you may speak of Jupiter, or Venus, or Apollo, but not of Jesus; where you may sing of human love, but not of the love that passes knowledge; where you may celebrate creature-beauty, but not the beauty of Him who is fairer than the children of men. It was during that ball that the murder of John was plotted and consummated that a drunken, lustful king, urged on by two women, perpetrated that foul deed. Such are the haunts of pleasure! Such are the masquerades of time. Lust is let loose; revenge rises up; murder rages; conscience is smothered; the floor of the ball-room is spotted with blood; the dancers may slip their feet in it, but the dance goes on. Such was the coarse worldliness of old days; but is the refined worldliness of modern times less fatal to the soul? The ball is finished, and John lies dead in prison. What a picture of gaiety! What a specimen of ball-room revelry! And this is pleasure! This is the world's joy! "You adulterers and adulteresses, don't you know that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?"
III. After the ball. Of the chief actors in this ball-room murder, nothing more is said. They pass to the judgment-seat, there to receive sentence for lust, rage, revenge, and murder. They have sent John before them to the presence of his Judge to receive his reward. They have got their revenge, and they leave his body to be dealt with in any way. His lips are silenced; that is all they care for. But his disciples find their way into the prison; they gather round their Master's body; they bury it in silence. They can do no more. That ball has robbed them of their master. It has been a costly festival to them! Then they go and tell Jesus, knowing his sympathies, and feeling that they have no one else to whom they can unbosom themselves so confidingly. Jesus hears of the murder, and is silent! Not a word escapes him. He had come to suffer both in himself and in his members; so he is dumb. This is the day of silent endurance and patient suffering. The day of recompense is coming.
O gaieties of earth! Feasts, and revelings, and banquetings, how often have you slain both body and soul! Men call you innocent amusements, harmless pleasures; but can you be harmless, can you be innocent, when you steal away the soul from God, when you nurse the worst lusts of humanity, when you smother conscience, when you shut out Jesus, when the floors on which your votaries dance off their immortal longings, are red with the blood of souls!
Man's Ways and God's Ways
That evening the disciples came to him and said, "This is a desolate place, and it is getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves."
But Jesus replied, "That isn't necessary—you feed them." Matthew 14:15-16
The scene of this great gathering was the desert of Bethsaida, the open and uninhabited region on the north-east of the Sea of Galilee, and evidently close upon the sea, so that Jesus, when He fed the multitude, did not need to create water for them, and also when He was done feeding them, he could at once dispatch his disciples by a boat.
The time is toward evening. All the day Jesus had been teaching and healing. The afternoon drew on; the sun was getting low; the people were weary and hungry; some of them far from home. There was still time enough to provide a meal for them before sending them home; for it would be about three o'clock, but still the day was far spent.
The people in this transaction may be arranged into three classes—the multitude, the disciples, the Lord himself.
As for the multitude, they are merely presented to us (1) as the objects of his compassion; (2) as the objects of his bounty. They come to hear and to be fed; to give Jesus an opportunity of showing his love and fullness; they come not to minister, but to be ministered to, by the Lord. As for the disciples, they were of little service here. The Lord would have used them, but they would not be used. They show coldness, not compassion; littleness and narrowness, not generosity. It is the Lord himself who is shown here, in solitary and unapproachable love and pity.
But it is with the mode or manner of blessing that we have specially to do here. It is this that brings out the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and draws us to him as the great provider for our needs, the great feeder of soul and body; and as is the Son, so is the Father; and he that has thus seen and known the Son, has seen and known the Father.
This mode of blessing will be best seen by contrasting the disciples with the Master, their proposal for supply with his.
Before he does anything himself, he goes to them, for we read in John (6:5.) that the first thing was his question to Philip, "Where shall we buy bread that these may eat"? Thus He gives them the opportunity of providing, before He undertakes it himself. This only draws out their emptiness and inability to do anything in the matter; for the whole twelve now come to Him upon the subject, and it is their proposal that meets us first in this scene, "Send them away, that they may go and buy." It did not occur to them to appeal to the Master and his bounty. They were slow of heart to believe. Had it been a blind man brought for cure, they would have done this. But the feeding of five thousand was such an enormous miracle, that they never thought of this; and, besides, they had not yet exhausted human help, they were not yet at an extremity, for there were villages a few miles off. They do not apply to Him until they can do no better; He is the last, not the first, to whom they go.
Their remedy is quite characteristic, quite like man: "send them away that they may buy." But this brings out the Lord and his mode of meeting human needs all the more wonderfully. "They need not depart; you give them something to eat." Such is the contrast between the disciples and the Lord, between man and God, between the heart, the thoughts, the ways of man, and those of God. "My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways my ways, says the Lord." Man's way of relieving man is, "Send them away that they may buy." God's way is, "They need not depart; you give them something to eat." And this, too, is our way of relieving ourselves; we would go and buy, instead of at once, and on the spot, taking the blessing at the hands of Jesus.
Let us mark then the way in which Christ relieves, in which God deals with us, as the God of grace. The supply He gives is.
(1.) Immediate. It is given upon the spot; it comes to us just as we are, hungry and weary. It does not keep us waiting; it does not send us away to be fed. It is put into our hands, our lips, at once.
(2.) Free. We need no money; all is without price. God is the great giver; we are but receivers. We are only blessed when we learn this. God has respect simply to our needs, not to our qualifications or our means of purchase. He does often indeed make use of others to impart his bounty, "you give them something to eat" ; but whether directly or through a medium, all is free. The water that flows to us through the river's channels, is quite as free as that which descends in showers.
(3.) Suitable. He gives the very thing we need. His eye sees our need, and He supplies it exactly. We are sure that what we get from Him will be suitable.
(4.) Abundant. He gives liberally. His stores are plentiful. It does not matter what the greatness of our need may be, or the number of the needy, He has enough, and He pours out liberally. He fills us; there is enough, and to spare.
(5.) From his own hand. Sometimes more directly than others, but still the supply comes from himself. Take it as either from the Father or the Son, it matters not. It is the Divine hand stretched out to give. We get all from himself, from his fullness, from his love. It is with Him we are to deal, and in dealing let us trust, let our transactions be ever those of simple child-like confidence.
The Helpless One and the Helper
Matthew 14:24-31 Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. About three o'clock in the morning Jesus came to them, walking on the water. When the disciples saw him, they screamed in terror, thinking he was a spirit. But Jesus spoke to them at once. "It's all right," he said. "I am here! Don't be afraid." Then Peter called to him, "Lord, if it's really you, tell me to come to you by walking on water." "All right, come," Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he looked around at the high waves, he was terrified and began to sink. "Save me, Lord!" he shouted. Instantly Jesus reached out his hand and grabbed him. "You don't have much faith," Jesus said. "Why did you doubt me?"
Faith's home is in the future; so is her heritage. At present she has nothing but God himself to live upon—to feed upon; all else is within the veil. It will come in due season; but meanwhile the only real thing is God. Him she knows, she trusts, she walks with, she converses with. But from the visible she is disengaged, and dwells in the invisible—present and future. "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Thus we live by faith.
Yet though thus living by faith, in another atmosphere, and above the level of things seen, we cannot help being affected by matter, and time, and motion, and change, and pain, and death, and fear, and hunger, and thirst, and the various conditions of the body. Sometimes there is brightness, sometimes there is dimness; sometimes we are lifted up and expanded, sometimes we are depressed and straitened. We are too like a revolving beacon-light, with its alternate flash and gloom. Sometimes a word of Scripture warms and brightens wonderfully; sometimes it seems cold and dark. Sometimes we are brave and fervent, ready to confront any danger or trial, because of the peace within; sometimes we turn pale, and shrink from sorrow or peril; so variable is our pulse; so uncertain our spirits; so feeble our spiritual health; so sickly our spiritual frame. It was night upon a stormy sea. The boat was but a fisherman's, unfit to weather wind and wave. The night-blast was right against them. They toiled, but made little progress.
The night wears on. Watch after watch passes by. It is now the fourth; the last, just before the dawn; still dark. In the darkness, a form is dimly seen, the outline of a human figure in the gloom. What is it? Who is it? Is it from beneath or from above? Is it material or spiritual? The disciples are in terror; Peter, no doubt, among the rest.
But it is not with the disciples that the narrative has chiefly to do; it is with Peter—or rather with Peter and the Lord. These two stand out before us here, inviting our attention. Or we might say, we have first the disciples and the storm; then the disciples are lost sight of, and we see only Peter and the Lord; then Peter disappears, and we behold no one "save Jesus only."
I. Christ's words of cheer. He saw their terror, and He knew its cause. The storm and the darkness had alarmed them; but more than these, the figure in the distance. It might be a spirit from beneath let loose upon them; it might be the prince of the power of the air—the ruler of the world's darkness—coming to increase their danger, to accomplish their destruction. Christ corrects their thoughts, and in so doing removes their fears. His words of cheer are brief, but full of power. In our translation they are ten; in the original only five. "Be of good cheer: it is I; do not be afraid." The first of these clauses is but one word, and it is the keynote of the passage. "Be of good cheer," or simply, "Courage"! "Do not be cast down or troubled." Right through the darkness, and over the storm, came this cheering word. But it was not the mere word that thus sounded, it was the well-known voice, the tones of which they would at once recognize. And then it was followed up with the "It is I"; which is again followed up with "do not be afraid,"—"dismiss all your fears." The special cheer of these words was, however, the "It is I," and without this all the rest would have been vain. It is the announcement of his presence that was the specially cheering thing; it would have been enough even had he not (in his love and anxiety to relieve their fears) added, "Be of good cheer: do not be afraid." What was the storm to Him? What was it to them, if He were with them? What were night, and storm, and darkness, with all their perils, if He were there? They needed no more to comfort them than "It is I." It told them of power and love more than sufficient to meet all danger, and to deliver from all evil.
II. Peter's response. "If it be you, bid me come to you on the water." The other disciples were silent. Their fears were quieted, and that sufficed. But Peter must have more. He must have the Master with him; no, he must run to meet Him, even on the water. There does not seem to be any use in Peter's going to meet his Master. The request was prompted simply by affection, and a desire to be where He was. It looks very like one of Peter's hasty utterances—"It is good to be here;"—"Shall we smite with the sword?" But still it is faith that is working. The desire to go was, no doubt, affection, but the feeling which overlooked all the difficulties of the way—the impossibility of walking on the water—was faith. So boundless was his confidence in his Master's power and love. A word, he knew, would be enough! Oh for Peter's faith in Jesus;—even in little things; things which seem to have no large object in view, but merely the exhibition of affection towards him! Here is faith that could remove mountains! Faith that can do miracles—that makes light of impossibilities! Peter saw Jesus only; darkness and storm were nothing! There might be the desire to get out of this sinking vessel, which had for hours been buffeting with the wind; and the feeling that with Jesus he was safer on the bare water than in the ship without Him. In Peter's estimation, security was only at the side of Jesus! Anywhere, anywhere with Him; in the fiery furnace, or in the raging sea. Is this our estimate of Jesus, and of all things, or places, or perils in connection with Him? Safety with Him; but nowhere else, even in the stateliest vessel or the strongest fort.
The form of Peter's request is remarkable, "bid," or "command" me to come to you on the water; not "permit." In a case like this, mere permission would not do. Had it been the highway or the mountainside, permission would have been enough. But it was the sea. To venture there, he must have a command; and in obeying that command, he could count upon omnipotence being placed at his disposal. Jesus commands; shall not all the elements and powers of nature unite in ministering to the fulfillment of the command?
There is here, also, the contrast between the Peter of yesterday and the Peter of today; fitfulness both in faith and feeling. One day it is "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord;" another it is "Lord, bid me come to you." One day he forsakes his Master; another he casts himself into the sea to get at Him, as he stood on the shore. Yet fitful as these were, impulsive as Peter was, all his fitfulness and impulsiveness centered in Jesus. The many currents of his wayward being—sometimes rushing right forward, sometimes going backward, sometimes eddying round—yet all took their motion from Jesus, and their direction from something connected with Him. It might be difficult, at times, to analyze or understand Peter's feelings; but various as they were in their upper or their underflow, this was still uppermost, "Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you."
III. Christ's response to Peter. "Come"! One word; no more. It was all that Peter needed; and he got it. The request was a bold and a great one; but it was granted at once. It was a request made without any previous promise or warrant; yet there was no reluctance nor delay. Peter knew to whom he was speaking. He had seen Him do miracles for others—strangers—why not for himself, a disciple? Thus he casts himself upon the Master, and the Master at once responded. He honored his disciple's confidence. How comfortably must that word "come" have sounded in the midst of the darkness! It was so gracious; and it was so exact an answer; an answer to an apparently useless request. The requests for healing and the like were all for some needful purpose; and we the less wonder at the Master's grace in granting them. But this seems so useless—the mere utterance of warm impulse—that we are struck with the marvelous grace of the Master, who, instead of keeping silence, or rebuking his hasty disciple, grants his request for a miracle—a stupendous miracle—and bids him "come." This is singular condescension, and fitted in many ways to rebuke as well as remove our unworthy suspicions of the Lord. He who so graciously responded to his disciple's request for a needless miracle, will not deny us when petitioning for what is needful. With what power should the promise come to us, "Ask, and you shall receive"; and what an illustration is this of the text, "This is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us."
IV. Peter's venture. He came down out of the ship, and walked on the water. I call it venture; and yet it was not venture, for that implies hazard, whereas here there was no risk. It was rather leaving a leaking, sinking boat to go on board a noble ship. Still to human eyes, though not to angels', it was a venture. Frail as the vessel was, it was to human eyes safer than the sea. Out of this vessel he lets himself down into that raging sea, and began his walk. He was now wholly in the arms of Jesus; nothing between him and the waves but these everlasting arms. What his feelings were in letting go his hold of the ship we do not know; perhaps very peculiar; but with that word "come" sounding over the waves, why should he fear? His was the venture of faith; a faith which showed itself, not in its power to grasp but to let go the vessel's side—the human stay. Yes, we often speak of faith as taking hold; but here it is seen in letting go.
And is not this oftentimes the very point of the difficulty we experience in believing? We cling to the visible, the palpable prop—the human rope which we hold in our hand—unwilling to let go. We speak of our inability to believe; but what is this save our tenacity in holding on to the very things which God asks us to quit? We say that we "cannot lay hold"; should we not rather say that we "cannot let go"? We complain that we have no power to cling and grasp; whereas it should be that we have no will to let go. How much power is needed to let go a rope or to drop into the sea? Never let us forget the thought of Peter quitting the vessel and dropping into the sea; but let us treasure it as one of the best exhibitions of true faith. How many, though they hear the Master's voice saying, "Come," linger in the vessel, cling to it, look over its sides, as if resolved to drop down, and then shrink back into it, afraid to venture from the visible into the invisible, from that which sense and touch can feel, to that which we know nothing of save by the bare word of God.
V. Peter's failure. He had bravely dropped into the sea, and was walking along; but he soon began to be alarmed. The wind did not lull; it blew as violently as ever. His fears awoke, and his faith shook. He began to sink; and in his terror cried out, "Lord, save me." The visible and sensible had reassumed their power; and under their evil influence, faith gave way; the things unseen vanished; the power and presence of Christ seemed now as nothing when compared with the power and presence of the storm. Peter was, in fact, trying to resume his hold of the things he had let go; he was clutching or groping after the visible. Thus unbelief was regaining its power. His eye at first saw nothing but Jesus, now it sees the raging billows. His ear at first heard nothing but the Master's "Come"; now it hears the roar of the blast. It was thus that the evil heart of unbelief was re-displaying itself; the storm was coming between him and Christ; terror came in, and he began to sink. Jesus was for the moment lost sight of, and Peter was in despair. The Master had granted his request; had bid him come; and now he knew not what to do; perhaps he repented his petition, and wished he had never left the vessel. But thus Jesus shows His disciple his weakness, and takes this opportunity for magnifying his own power. What is Peter now, and where, if Jesus does not help? He is like a withered olive-leaf tossed upon the foam. Without Jesus he sinks, he perishes. But though faith has given way, Jesus still remains; and even in spite of unbelief he supports and saves.
VI. Christ's deliverance and rebuke. It is not, like man, first rebuke and then deliverance; but first deliverance and then rebuke. How like Him who came, in love, to bless the unlovable, to save the lost, to bring near those that were afar off! How like the good Shepherd, bent only on laying hold of his strayed one! How like Him who spoke the parable of the prodigal son, and who in it has shown us how God receives back the very worst of his lost ones, without upbraiding, or coldness, or delay!
(1.) Jesus stretched forth his hand immediately. Instantaneous deliverance! He would not have the fears of his disciple last a moment. He supports at once. In that outstretched hand the marks of the nails were not yet seen. These were still to come. But the love was there; the power was there; the security was there. In our day we have the same outstretched hand; only the prints of the nails, the marks of love are now there. The outstretched and the pierced hand are one! To his sinking Peters he stretches the pierced hand. To each sinking, perishing son of Adam, he does the same. Take hold, O man, take hold!
(2.) Jesus caught him. Nothing is said of Peter's laying hold of Jesus; it is Jesus laying hold of Peter that we have here. Jesus caught him; whether by the hand or not, we are not told; nor does it matter. "Jesus caught him," that is enough. How, like this to the apostle's words, "apprehended by Christ"! What now are winds and waves? What matters it whether the boat is at hand or not? Rage on you winds! Rise up you waters! Darken the heavens you clouds! Jesus has caught him—Jesus holds him, is not that sufficient? O man, sinking in the world's stormy sea, let Jesus lay hold of you, as he is most willing to do, and all is well! For what is all salvation but Jesus seizing hold of the sinner! "He sent from above, he took me, he drew me out of many waters."
(3.) Jesus spoke to him. Hitherto he had heard but his own voice, "Lord save me"; now he hears the Master's voice responding. His own cry could not allay his fears; but the words of Jesus do this at once. His first word is rebuke (for it is but one word in the Greek), "O you of little faith"; or as it should simply be, "O little-faith!" This is all. He does not dwell on this, nor continue his upbraiding. What gentleness and tenderness are here! O little-faith! Might he not say to us, "O no-faith"? And then he adds, "Why did you doubt?" or, "For what purpose do you doubt?" "What is the use of your doubting?" Perhaps the words involve such questions as these:
(1.) Where does this doubting come from?
(2.) What means this doubting?
(3.) Of what service will this doubting be?
Thus speaks Jesus still, "It is I, do not be afraid." By his tones and words, no less than by his gestures (his stretching out of the hand), he cheers us, he beckons us, he comforts us. Why then do we doubt? What reason have we for so doing? Why not fling all distrust away?
Such is the attitude of Jesus to his church in her darkest and stormiest nights. He comes to her on the water. He places himself near. He waits to support. O church of God, accept the offered hand, and listen to the gracious voice.
Such is his attitude towards our world. "All the day long (and all the night long too) have I stretched out my hands." Yes; he stretches out his hands. O sinking world do you not heed his hands and his voice? Do you not welcome his interposition? Or will you reject Him utterly?
The Gracious Welcome
"Bring him here to me."—Matthew 17:17.
1. Whose words are these? They are Christ's own. They are authoritative words. He commands. He has just come down from the transfiguration hill, and what a contrast between that mountain glory and this valley of tears and disease; but he returns to his old work of healing and blessing, just as before. The glory has not changed Him. And so with Him now in the midst of that glory. It has not altered his love. He is the same Savior still; as ready to receive sinners as in the days of his flesh.
2. To whom are they spoken. To his unbelieving disciples. Their faith was small indeed, and they are rebuked for it; they are called a "faithless and perverse generation." Yet He does not, on their account, repel the poor possessed lunatic, no, He makes them the instrument of bringing the sick man near. How easily can the love and power of Jesus break through all barriers, and find their way to the sinner through a wall of unbelief!
3. Concerning whom are they spoken? A poor lunatic, possessed with a devil. It is one of the worst cases that has come before Him, "This kind goes not out but by prayer and fasting." But best or worst, what matters it to Him who created the heavens and the earth; who is Lord of principalities and powers; master of Satan and his angels; who has the keys of hell and death. Others had failed; He could not fail. In this confidence He speaks. The worst case is nothing to Him.
4. What do they teach us? Much indeed. (1.) Something as to Christ; (2.) Something as to ourselves.
(1.) Something as to Christ— He is the great healer; the sinner's one physician. His words are health. His touch is health. His look is health. No, his very garments are health; for as many as touch either Him or them are made perfectly whole. Leprosy, lunacy, fever, blindness, death, possession by Satan, are nothing to Him. In Him all fullness dwells; and that fullness is dispensed by love. There was much here to quench that love, much to repel Him, but He will not be repelled, and his love cannot be quenched, even by the waters of unbelief. He is "mighty to save"—"able to save to the uttermost." Omnipotence is in his touch, his look, his word. Let us do justice to his fullness and his grace, lest He have to say of us, O faithless and perverse generation.
(2.) Something as to ourselves. He comes looking for faith, but finds only unbelief; looking for child-like simplicity, and He finds only perversity. Yet He invites us still. He invites us to come ourselves, and He invites us to bring others. What He desires is personal contact with Himself. In one sense distance is nothing to Him, but in another it is. He needs to have us near Him. For He speaks and acts as very man. And, besides, whatever might be His power to heal or to pardon at a distance, He knows that nearness to Him is our blessedness. Contact with Him is health, and life, and warmth. Creeds, doctrines, truths, words, are all good in their way, but they are not the living Jesus, nor can they be substitutes for Him and for His love. But into this close contact He invites us to bring others, "Bring him here to me." He does not say, "Come," neither does He say, "I will go to him;" He says, "Bring him." And was any "brought one" ever sent away? Each coming one gets the blessing, and each brought one too. In the present case this is the more remarkable, because there was little faith (if any) in any of the parties concerned. Yet Jesus must warn and bless, not for our sake, but for His own. In spite of sin and unbelief and perversity He must bless!
Such is the Christ with whom we have to do, full of grace and truth. Let us draw near; let us keep near; let us allow Him to pour out His love on us; let us bring others to Him to be partakers of the same overflowing love.
The Peerage of the Kingdom
About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Which of us is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?" Jesus called a small child over to him and put the child among them. Then he said, "I assure you, unless you turn from your sins and become as little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.—Matthew18:1-4.
It was for a kingdom that Israel was looking; a heavenly kingdom. In spite of many low views, they believed in "the kingdom of heaven"; "the kingdom of God"; and in "the kingdom of Messiah," as the same with these. Being persuaded of their Master's Messiahship, his disciples wanted to know from him something about his kingdom. They took for granted that it was theirs; that they were sure of entrance; and they wished him to tell them who was to have the highest place in it. They were too sure of getting in. Alas, how many now are not sure at all.
Let us mark (1) the question, (2) the answer. In that question we find something right and something wrong. Let us look at it; and then see how exactly the answer meets it.
I. The question. Who is the greatest in the kingdom? Besides the belief in a coming kingdom, there was an appreciation of its glories and honors. It was not wrong to wish for the kingdom; nor to desire a high place in it. We ought to "press forward;" for if it is worth our while to get in at all, it is as much so to get a high place; for all that God gives is to be earnestly sought after by us; we cannot be too greedy of these. "Covet earnestly the best gifts." This was right; but the wrong thing was the spirit and the way in which the question was put.
(1.) It showed ignorance. They had forgotten the words spoken to Nicodemus, "except a man be born again." They were going too fast, and overlooking the question of entrance. They were deficient in their knowledge of the kingdom, and of the way of entrance, and of the principles on which honors were bestowed.
(2.) It showed pride. It was a self-sufficient question; indicating high thoughts of themselves and of their own title to its privileges. "We are the people."
(3.) It showed selfishness. Here was earthly ambition working its way into heavenly things; a spirit of selfish rivalry, each one wanting to get above his fellow—to push up to the highest seat and room.
II. The answer. It goes to the very root of the matter; it deals first of all with the question which they were overlooking, that is, of entrance. Thus it rebukes, it warns, it instructs; answering not merely the one question put, but many others along with it. When man puts a question to God, he does not see the whole bearings of it. When God answers, he takes up all these, and does not answer a fool according to his folly, but lovingly condescends to take up the whole case from the beginning. The Lord here answers partly in a similitude and partly in words. He takes an infant, and holding it up, he asks, how is this babe to get in? They believed that babes belonged to the kingdom; He had told those who "of such was the kingdom of heaven." Well, how did they get in? Had they said or done any good? None. They get in as mere nothings; as those who have no good word or deed to recommend them. Our Lord's two cases of entrance are, the thief on the cross—a man who had done nothing but evil all his days, and an infant who has done no good. These show us the way of entrance. Hence the passage means not, except you become humble, teachable, meek, gentle, &c., as infants (they are not so); but except you turn round, completely change your mind (be converted), and humble yourselves (come down from your high thoughts), you shall not get in at all. Not only, you shall not have a high place—an "abundant entrance," but no entrance at all.
The way, then, of becoming great is to become little—of being the greatest, is to become the least. This was the Master's way; he took the lowest place, and he was exalted to the highest. He made himself of no reputation, therefore he gets the name above every name. Before honor is humility—stooping to the consciousness of having deserved nothing. The Master went far beyond us here, for we truly deserved nothing, and therefore ought to take the lowest place; he deserved everything, yet lived and acted, as if he had deserved only sorrow, and pain, and shame, and the death of the cross. Let us then learn,
(1.) The way of entrance. Go in as an infant, carried in by another—without claim, merit, goodness; owing all to the free love of God; of Him who spared not his own Son. Faith acknowledges this nothingness, and goes in; unbelief refuses to do so, and is kept out. What keeps us in darkness or doubt, but the desire to have some goodness either in life or feeling to secure our entrance and recommend us to the King?
(2.) The principle of recompense. Not merit; not personal worth and greatness. The acknowledgment of unworthiness even to get in at all. Yet we must work for God—suffer for God, deny ourselves for God—and all these (even the cup of cold water) will be remembered and recompensed. Yet in that recompense (even of these whose crown shall be the brightest) there will be the distinct consciousness of undeservedness all the while. "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you?"
How simple! how blessed! Ah surely God's thoughts and ways are not our thoughts and ways.
The Seeker and Savior of the Lost
"For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost."—Matthew 18:2.
"For the son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost."—Luke 19:10
Many of our Lord's words were spoken twice over, if not oftener. He did not think it beneath Him to repeat Himself; and the Holy Spirit did not think it unnecessary or unbefitting to record the repetition.
Here it is in connection with little children that the words occur, "The Son of man is come to save that which was lost." Elsewhere it is in connection with Zaccheus, the publican. In the former case his errand is said simply to be "to save," as if "seeking" were not needed in the case of infants who have not yet plunged into the labyrinths and thickets of earthly wickedness. In the latter his errand is, "to seek and to save," as if search were needed in order to find the lost object.
A very particular and personal message this to our children! The mission of the Son of God has a special bearing on them. The good Shepherd came very specially for them. He singles them out as most prominent objects of his love. So far from their being overlooked or getting salvation in some side way, his errand was particularly to them. And does He not plainly tell us here that they need salvation? They can only get into heaven by being saved. They were as truly lost as others; and they need salvation as truly; and they get it as fully.
But let us put the two passages together and take them as embracing our race. "The Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world." "Preach the gospel to every creature."
I. The Son of man. This means, of course, one who was truly and thoroughly man—very man. Adam was man; but he was not a "son of man," or "the son of man." This name brings out very expressively his true humanity. It is like, and yet unlike, to the ancient words of the first promise, "the seed of the woman," and the expression of Paul, "made of a woman." It is more than these, for "son of man" means "son of humanity;" son both of the man and the woman. He is indeed "the Lord from heaven" (I Corinthians 15:47); yet is He "the second man," the "last Adam." There must have been something in Ezekiel which made him in this respect resemble Messiah, for upwards of ninety times he is addressed as "son of man," and it is in his prophecies that the expression occurs so often. Daniel uses it in reference to Messiah, and David uses it as expressive of complete and true humanity. He whose name is Jesus, Emmanuel, Christ, the Lord, is truly Son of man.
II. The Son of man came. He came! From the beginning He had been known as the coming one; now He is the one who has come. The Son of God has become the Son of man. He has descended to earth. He came to Bethlehem first, and afterwards He might be said to have come to all Judea. For ages the coming was prospective; yet even as such it was replete with gladness; now it is accomplished; He has arrived; how much more of gladness is contained in this fact! "We know that the Son of God is come." "Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord."
III. He came to seek. "I will search my sheep, and seek them out," says He by Ezekiel (34:11). He was the Shepherd who had lost his sheep, and He missed it, valued it, left the rest, went after it, sought for it, all the world over. His was a seeking life, a seeking ministry. His were seeking words and seeking works. He is the great seeker, the heavenly seeker. His days were spent in search. He sought when He was here; He is seeking still. His is the same seeking attitude and earnestness now in heaven as formerly on earth. He seeks in love. Not as the officer seeks out the hiding criminal; but as the mother seeks her lost child. It is the search of love, divine yet human love; love that will not wait until the desired object of search shows symptoms of concern or willingness to return, but love that pursues the flying, the unwilling, the resisting. Many are the places in which He finds and has found his stray ones: one He found upon a cross, one by a well, one in a boat, one in a sycamore tree. It matters not.
IV. He came to save. His name is Savior; his errand is salvation. Nothing less than this. It is salvation that man needs; it is salvation that Christ brings. He is "mighty to save." He is "able to save to the uttermost." He says, look unto me and be saved. He came not simply to make men moral, and raise them from savage coarseness; to give wisdom or teach science; to "elevate the masses;" to make men regular church-goers or obedient citizens. He came to save; and his gospel is the power of God unto salvation. The Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. He "comes in the name of the Lord to save." Salvation is a wide and big word, as used by God. In man's lips it may and often does mean very little. It means sometimes sacramental grace, or ritualistic drapery, or supercilious churchmanship. But, according to the divine use and interpretation of the word, it means much, very much. It means something whose greatness can only be measured by the greatness of the Person who came; by the greatness of the work which He accomplished; by the greatness of his toil and suffering; by the greatness of the price He paid. It is something which apostolic succession and baptismal regeneration cannot give—something far beyond the power of church, or priest, or sacraments, to confer.
V. He came to save the lost. The lost! And who are they? Not simply those whom man describes as lost to shame, lost to decency, lost to all human motives of right, but such as are lost to God; lost to their great Maker and Owner; lost in the sense in which the sheep is lost to the shepherd; the piece of silver to the woman; the son to the father. They are they whom God has lost. The great Father has lost a son; man has lost God, and God has lost man. They are lost in respect of separation from God—distance from God. They are lost in regard to present favor and future hope. They have lost everything; they are lost to everything. Shepherd, and woman, and father, have sustained an awful loss; but what is this to the loss of those who have lost God, and are lost to God. To be lost is to be dead in sin; to be condemned and under wrath; to be banished and shut out; to have unpardoned sin overhanging them, and a deadly disease preying on their whole man. To have the heart empty of God, at war with the Spirit, and in alliance with the evil one; to be reduced to such a state of unholiness that all spiritual life, or relish, or love, is gone—this is to be lost; lost even now: apart from the woes of that hell that is at hand.
O man, you are lost; and that word means something unutterably awful; something which only the Spirit of God can reveal to you. But the Son of man has come to seek and save you. He is bent on this. It is his errand, his mission. No matter how lost you are. He is not willing that you should perish. He has no pleasure in your death. He seeks your life. He desires to save.
The Stone of Salvation or Destruction
"And whoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder."—Matthew 21:44.
What is there about the "stone" or the "rock," that makes God so often point to it, when speaking of Himself and of his Son? Many are the truths which cluster round it, or are wrapped up in it. It is one of these mines out of which one digs some of the most precious thoughts of God—thoughts in which we sinners of earth have the chief share.
He gives us his own name as the "Rock of Israel" (1 Samuel 23:3), and his Son's name, as the "Stone of Israel" (Genesis 59:24). He speaks of Himself as the "Rock of Ages" (Isaiah 26:4), and of his Son as the "tried stone," the "precious cornerstone" (Isaiah 28:16). He calls Himself "the rock that begat us" (Deuteronomy 32:18), and his Son, "the living stone" (1 Peter 2:4).
He taught Israel to say, "Their rock is not as our Rock" (Deuteronomy 32:31); "neither is there any rock like our God" (1 Samuel 2:2). He taught his believing ones to take up this as their song: "Unto you will I cry O Lord, my Rock" (Psalm 28:1); "Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I" (Psalm 60:2); "Be my strong Rock" (Psalm 31:2). "God is the Rock of my heart" (Psalm 73:26, margin); "Make a joyful noise to the Rock of our salvation" (Psalm 95:1).
It is plain, then, that God has much to say of this stone or rock, and it is His desire that we should learn the meaning of what He has said, and enter into his thoughts respecting it. He points us to this stone, and bids us look at it that we may see in it what He sees, and so may, at once, get the manifold benefits which it contains. For such is the nature of that stone, and such its virtues and benefits, that to enter into the mind of God concerning it, is to make these virtues and benefits our own.
One special aspect under which God asks us to look at this stone, is as a foundation-stone; and we need hardly say that it is to his only-begotten Son that he is pointing, when He says, "Behold I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone (Isaiah 28:16, I Peter 2:6).
"On this rock," said the Lord, "will I build my church," pointing to Himself; just as He said at another time, "Destroy this temple, and in three days will I raise it up." Often is the "rock" or "stone" thus referred to in connection with Himself. The passage before us brings out four things in connection with this stone—four aspects or bearings of it. These are as follow:
I. It is the stone of rejection. Probably there was some stone which Solomon's builders or architects set aside at first as unfit, which was afterwards found to be altogether suitable. This is used as a symbol for Messiah's rejection by Israel. He was meant to be the foundation-stone, the cornerstone; but Israel would have none of Him as such. He was not the stone of their choice or approval. He was "disallowed of men" (1 Peter 2:4). He is the rejected stone; the rejected Savior; the rejected king. He is rejected specially by the builders, not only by the common workmen. Everything connected with Him has been rejected; He came unto His own and his own received Him not; He was despised and rejected of men; He was one in whom men saw no beauty. It is at this point that God is standing and presenting Christ to the sons of men. What do you think of Christ? Do you receive Him or reject Him? Decide. This stone is the test or touchstone in the real character and standing of men. Man's estimate of this stone is the ground of God's estimate of Israel or of humanity. On this everything is made to turn. What is this stone to you, O man? What is its value in your eyes? This is about the last test that man thinks of in determining character; but with God it is the first; or rather, it is both the first and the last. He who accepts God's estimate of this stone is saved; he who rejects it, and prefers his own—takes the estimate of the builders—is lost. On our estimate of this stone our eternity turns.
II. The stone of honor. God has made it the head of the corner. God reverses man's estimate of this wonderful stone. He declares it worthy of the highest and most honorable place. This place he has assigned to it. The sign or emblem of man's rejection was the cross; the sign of God's acceptance and honor was the throne of the majesty in the heavens. In the one, we see man's contempt, in the other, God's admiration and approval. It was as a temple-stone that it was rejected; it was as a temple-stone that it was honored. It was the last thing that man would have thought of in building his temple; it is the first thing that God thinks of; he makes it both foundation stone and cornerstone. It was the stone that man could do without in his temple; it was that without which God could not build his temple; no, without which there could not be any temple at all. "God has highly exalted him and given him a name that is above every name." This exaltation to the highest point of the universe, of that which man had tried to cast down to the lowest, is the thing which shows this pre-eminence to be truly divine; altogether superhuman; something which God only could accomplish. "This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes." Surely this is the man whom the Lord delights to honor.
III. The stone of stumbling. It is called by two peculiar and somewhat similar names; "a stone of stumbling," or a stone against which people strike and injure themselves; a rock of offence, or a rock over which people trip. This stone has both of these characteristics. These two things are comprised in our Lord's expression, "shall be broken." These are the two ways in which men are affected by it just now; for these two things refer plainly to the present dispensation—the state of things since Messiah came, which is to continue until He comes again. These are the two ways in which unbelief shows itself; it strikes against, or it stumbles over the stone; it resists and assails it to its own injury; or it makes such mistakes concerning it, that it upsets the man. For all unbelief either denies the cross or makes it void. It is thus that the human race (not Israel only) is brought into contact with this stone; this Messiah; Jesus of Nazareth. How many in the present day are dashing themselves against it, and so perishing by bold rejection? How many are refusing to believe simply what God has told us about it—either adding something of their own to it, or taking something from it?—and so, with the name of Jesus on their lips, missing the pardon, and the life, and the glory which He came to bring. They are not satisfied with Jesus as He is; with the cross as it is; or at least they imagine that Jesus cannot accept them as they are, and that the cross cannot avail them as they are. So they would wait, and work, and pray, and feel, and repent, and add one thing to another, to make the Savior sufficient, and the blood effectual, for them. They shrink from taking Jesus as He is; they shrink from accepting His fullness as they are. Jesus, "the Son of God," the "Savior of the world," the "receiver of sinners," the "seeker of the lost," is not to them what the Father represents Him. There is still, if not a gulf, at least a line between them and Him; there is still something needed to be done and felt by them to effect the junction between them, and to draw out His riches. In other words, "they stumble at this stumbling stone." They will not, just as they are, take Him for just what He is. It is this "stumbling" that is keeping multitudes from peace. God's testimony concerning Jesus does not satisfy them. They, in fact, want another Savior; for they insist that they must be different from what they are before they can expect Him to save them. Alas! "Who has believed our report!"
IV. The stone of destruction. This is when He comes the second time. Just now the first part of his statement is fulfilling, "Whoever falls on this stone shall be broken;" before long the second part shall be fulfilled, "On whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder." This is the falling of the mighty stone upon a Christ-rejecting world! This is the final ruin of unbelievers. This is the "everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and the glory of his power." He comes not only to break his rejectors in pieces, like a potter's vessel; but to grind these pieces into powder. That day of destruction comes! Christendom is preparing for it. The vine of the earth is fast ripening for the treading of the terrible vintage—in the day of the vengeance of the Lord.
The Things Touching the King
"What do you think of Christ?—Matthew 22:42.
The Lord's question here was specially meant for Jews. They were expecting Messiah, the Christ; studying Scripture to know what had been written of Him; and so our Lord asks, What is your opinion of the Christ? Is it according to the Scriptures? Are you of one mind with Moses, with David, with the prophets, with God himself, concerning Him?
This was Christ's question to the Jews; it is his question to us in these last days.
What are your views on the points connected with Jesus of Nazareth? Are they true or false? scriptural or unscriptural?
1. As to his person. Is He God to you? Is he man to you? Son of God and Son of man?—Immanuel? the Word made flesh? God manifest in flesh?
2. As to his work. Is it to you the work of a sin-bearer? Is it finished? And are you enjoying it as finished or only half finished? His blood, his righteousness, his cross, what are they to you?
3. As to his kingdom. Is it a righteous yet also a glorious kingdom to you? Do you understand the mode and the terms of entrance? the new birth, and simple faith in the King?
On these three great points are your views right or wrong? Are you of one mind with God as to each of them? To be of one mind with God is faith; not to be of one mind is unbelief. By nature, we are wrong on these points. The Scripture, through the teaching of the Holy Spirit, sets us right.
1. Is your understanding right as to these things? Do you know them?
2. Is your heart right as to them? Do you feel them? Have you not only got hold of them, but have they got hold of you?
3. Is your life right as to them? Are you a better, truer, holier, and more earnest man because of them? Is your whole life, your whole being, outer and inner, molded by them? Or are there still other influences working more powerfully than these? If your understanding and heart have received these, then your life will show this. There will be fruit unto holiness. The truth, the joy, the light will shine through you, and shine out from you, on all around.
What then do you think of Christ? Is He such as you can love and trust?
1. As a Savior. Is He the Savior that suits you? And do you appreciate his great salvation? Are you glad to have Him for your Savior? Or have you any fault to find with Him as such? Would some change in his person or work have made Him more suitable?
2. As a friend. Is He the friend you need? Is his the friendship, the kind of friendship, that suits your circumstances, your feelings, your temperament? Is his the kind of sympathy, and counsel, and wisdom, which you feel you need from a friend?
3. As an advocate. You need intercession; one to plead for you. Does his advocacy suit you? Can you trust Him with your case? Can you put everything in his hands, that He may manage all your concerns for you? Do you see how successful He has been with every case He has undertaken; not losing one; and can you trust Him with yours—his skill, wisdom, love, argument, eloquence? Is Jesus Christ the righteous, just the kind of advocate you need? and are you just the client for such an advocate?
4. As a King. Is He just such a King as you should like—as suits you—as suits this earth—as suits the universe?
5. And what say you to Him as a Judge? You that shall never come into condemnation, do you enjoy the thought of Him as the Judge? You that are still under condemnation, what do you think of Him as a Judge? What do you say to his being your Judge? What do you think of standing before Him and giving in your account to Him?
What do you think of Christ? Do you say, "I think Him the chief among ten thousand"?—It is well. Do you say, I know not what to think? Ah, take heed, there is something wrong within you, if not all wrong together. Do you give no answer? It matters not. We shall soon find it out. By the company you keep; the books you read; the way in which you lay out your talents and time and money; the way you transact business; your dealings in the market; your conduct at home; your letters and correspondence; your conversation with neighbors—by these we shall find out what you think of Him.
The Chill of Love
"Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold."—Matthew 24:12.
This is to be specially true of the last days, so that, as our Lord elsewhere said, "When the Son of man comes, shall he find faith on the earth?" Here he may be supposed to be asking a similar question, When the Son of man comes, shall he find love on the earth?
But while this is to be fulfilled in the last days, it is not confined to these. Such is the tendency of every age, every church, every saint. In this present evil world the tendencies are all evil; downward, not upward.
Increasing evil and decreasing good; this is the general statement. But our Lord's words are more special. It is of decreasing love that he speaks: "You have left your first love." Let us notice some of the things which decrease when sin increases.
1. As iniquity increases, faith decreases. Unbelief overflows like a deluge. One sin lets loose another. Faith withers down; dies out, like a flower in a desert.
2. As iniquity increases, truth decreases. For error is sin, and sin is error; so that truth and sin cannot co-exist. Sin expels truth, both from the heart and from the world; from the individual saint, and from the church at large. Darkness dispossesses light.
3. As iniquity increases, righteousness and holiness decrease. A man cannot be both holy and unholy; the encroachments of sin can leave no room for holiness at all. Inch by inch, iniquity creeps in and creeps along.
4. As iniquity increases, religion decreases. Sin drives religion out of the heart, out of the church, out of the world. With abounding iniquity prayer dies out, and praise, and zeal. The service of God becomes irksome; the form without the power is the first stage of the declension; and the second is the abandonment of both power and form.
5. As iniquity increases, delight in the things of God decreases. Sin soon shuts the Bible, and takes away all relish or appetite for it, except as a book of poetry or antiquity. Pleasure in sin cannot co-exist with pleasure in the Word of God, or the day of God, or any of the things of God.
But the special thing of which our Lord predicts the decrease is love—love to God, love to Himself love to one another. The atmosphere of sin is poisonous to everything sacred; but the thing which it first especially acts upon is love. It chokes this immediately. Hence the first thing noticed by our Lord in regard to Ephesus, was her leaving her first love. Love is the tenderest of all the plants of heaven, and the most easily affected by the deleterious or cold atmosphere of earth. The first step backward and downward is failure in love. A chill comes over us. Something intervenes between us and Christ, between us and our fellow-saints. We begin to grow cold, and then we freeze. This is specially to be the case in the last days, but the tendency is the same throughout the whole dispensation—increasing sin, decreasing love. The Greek word for iniquity is "lawlessness"; regardlessness of that law of which love is the fulfilling; assimilation to the great Antichrist, who is specially the lawless one; and as the characteristic of this lawless one is hatred of Christ and of his church, so is every step in "iniquity" an advance to this great image of sin, this model of hell, Satan's truest representative.
The evil predicted by our Lord is threefold. It is love (1) frozen out of the world by abounding iniquity; (2) frozen out of the church; (3) frozen out of the saint. A world without love, a church without love, a saint without love! It is not of a few, but of the multitude, "the most," that this is affirmed. Cold-heartedness will be all but universal; and even those who do love will love but little. Theirs will be but cold love—half a heart given to Christ; less than half a heart given to the saints.
Let us watch against sin—all sin; tremble at its increase. Cherish the flame of love; for "if any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ he shall be anathema maranatha."
"Watch therefore; for you know not what hour your Lord does come. Therefore you be also ready: for in such an hour as you do not think the Son of man comes."—Matthew 24:42, 44.
We take this warning as meant for us, as truly as for the early church; we might say more truly, or at least, more forcibly; for eighteen centuries have brought us so much nearer the consummation. It is the Master's own warning. It is very explicit; very practical; very searching. Let us take it in the following order:.
I. Our Lord will come. (1.) His name is Lord; Master; Ruler; the very word applied to Jehovah. (2.) His name is ours, or yours, Lord—"Your Lord." He is thus connected with us and we with Him, as friend, master, teacher, king. Our Lord will come! This is one of the great certainties of the unknown future. He may tarry; but He will come at last. Many obstacles may seem to rise up, but He will come. Men may not desire Him but He will come. The Church may be cold; but He will come. Earth may think she has no need of Him; but He will come! The scoffer may say, Where is the promise of his coming? but He will come. Satan may do his utmost to oppose; but He will come. This is the great future certainty which Christ and his apostles have proclaimed to us. Our Lord will come!
II. We know not at what hour. The Father knows, but we know not; no man nor angel; nor the church, nor any saint; no, it is said, "not the Son." This is one of the great secrets of God. That it should be made so to man is easily accounted for; why it is so to angels, and why it was so to the Son, is not for us to say. It must be an important one, when thus restricted to the Father himself. It must have some peculiar purpose to serve. What that is we know not now, but we shall know hereafter. The hour is, no doubt, fixed in God's purpose, but the knowledge of that time is kept from us. They do wrong, then, who try to fix the hour, thus seeking to extract a secret from God. They do wrong who neglect the whole subject because this secret is connected with it. They do wrong who scoff at the whole subject because of the rash attempts or wretched failures of some pretended interpreters of prophecy. Thus, "we know," and "we know not;" we know that He will come; we know not when.
III. Watch. Like the watchman on his tower; like the soldier with the enemy in view; like the pilot with rocks and straits on every side; like the householder with the dread of the midnight robber—"watch"!
(1.) Do not fall asleep;
(2.) Do not grow slothful;
(3.) Be ever on the outlook.
The reason given, then, is that the Lord is coming, and we do not know the hour. He illustrates the warning thus—If a householder knew that the thief was coming at a particular hour, he would have watched; much more if He did not know the hour, but simply that He was coming sometime. So with us; the simple knowledge that the Lord is to come, is to make us watchful—even if we knew when; how much more when we do not know when. Let us beware of being thrown off our guard by self, or the flesh, or Satan, or the world. Let us not sleep as do others, but let us watch and be sober!
IV. Be ready. We may watch and yet not be ready. Our Lord insists on both. You are my disciples, be ready! You are saints, be ready! What is the readiness? There is
(1.) readiness of standing—"complete in Him,"—"by grace you stand;"
(2.) readiness of clothing—we are to have on the fine linen, clean and white—Christ's righteousness;
(3.) readiness of heart and soul. We must love Him and love his appearing. Our longings must be towards Him; we must have the Spirit dwelling in us and sealing us.
(4.) Readiness of spiritual state—oil not only in our lamps, but in our vessels—even the Holy Spirit himself. Be ready! The Master still cries.
The message here is thus a warning—
(1.) To the slothful saint. Sleep not. Awake! Beware of falling under any influences that would make you indifferent to the Lord's appearing. Beware of worldly arguments; beware of pretended spiritual arguments; beware of confounding death and Christ's coming; beware of the errors and seductions of the age.
(2.) To the undecided. You are anxious, but you are not decided. You would sincerely be a Christian, but not just yet. You wish to be a follower of Jesus, but you wish to compromise—or delay. Do not be deceived; God is not mocked. Be decided at once; lest the Lord come and end your wavering.
(3.) To the careless. The world at large is thoroughly careless—sleeping sound—dreaming its dreams of vanity;—enjoying sin, vanity, luxury, pleasure, gaiety. Christ speaks: Awake; sleep no more! Awake, lest the Master be upon you. Awake, lest the flash of his avenging sword be the first thing that awakens you!
Religion Without the Holy Spirit
"They took no oil with them."—Matthew 25.3
This parable has many sides and aspects. It is prophetical; it is also practical. It suits all ages, but especially the last days. It suits the world, but specially the church of God; "if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear." It is searching and sifting; it is also quickening and comforting. It suits us well in these days of profession and fashionable religion and religiousness.
It divides the church into two classes—the wise and the foolish wise in God's sight, not man's; foolish in God's sight, not man's. Thus it is not a parable for the heathen, as if they only were foolish; nor for the profligate, as if they only were foolish; nor for the infidels, as if they only were foolish. But for the church. It comes in to the inner circle of Christian profession, and sifts it, divides it. Let it sift us and test us. Better to be weighed and found lacking now than hereafter. Better to be undeceived now than when it is too late. Let us notice,
I. The points of likeness between the two classes.
(1.) They get the same name, virgins;
(2.) they wear the same dress;
(3.) they are on the same errand;
(4.) they both have lamps;
(5.) they both have vessels;
(6.) they both slumber and sleep.
They have thus many features in common. Man could not discern the difference, at least for the time. The peril of mere externalism is that which our Lord points out here. No doubt there must be 'externalism'. Religion must have an outside as well as an inside. The lamp must not only have oil, but it must burn: the external must indicate the internal. And we may say that our Lord intimated the necessity of a thorough consistency and completeness in the outward religious life of a man, so that as a fair external is no excuse for internal unsoundness or incompleteness, so a sound internal is no excuse for an inconsistent life.
Our Lord, then, here depicts,
(1.) a complete externalism;
(2.) a beautiful externalism;
(3.) a deceptive externalism;
(4.) a prolonged externalism;
(5.) an unavailing externalism.
Up to a certain point in a man's life, or character, or religion, externalism may avail; but beyond that it gives way; it breaks down; it exhibits its unprofitableness. This externalism may not always be hypocrisy, but it is imitation. It is not the flower in its natural color and growth, but painted, artificial. Let us watch against an artificial life, and an artificial religion. What does it profit now? what will it profit in the day of wrath? The name, the dress, the lamp, the outward show, will all go for nothing in that day of universal discovery and detection.
II. The points of unlikeness. Though in most respects they were all alike, yet there was a difference. It was within; it was imperceptible from without; it could only be discovered when the bridegroom came. Up until then all were completely similar. Only then the deficiency came out in the foolish. Then was it seen who were wise, and who were foolish. That day is the day of certain and unerring detection. It is the day of weighing in the balances! It is the separation of the false from the true.
The difference was confined to a single point—the lack of oil. Some have supposed that the foolish took oil in their lamps, but not in their vessels. It appears, however, that they did neither. The lamps were not required to be lighted until the bridegroom came; and so the oil was not poured in, nor the wick inserted until then. For it was at midnight that the cry was made, and then all the virgins arose and trimmed their lamps, that is, supplied them with the wick and oil, and lighted them. Then it was that the foolish discovered (1) their need of oil; (2) their lack of it. Then they went to the wise to beg for a supply; then they (being wisely refused) went to buy, and returned too late. There was "oil in the dwelling of the wise " (Proverbs 21:20), but the foolish were without it.
The oil is the Holy Spirit. He is likened to oil throughout all Scripture, though in some places to fire, and to water, and to wind or air. There is the oil of consecration (Exodus 30:25); of daily food (1 Kings 17:12); of fragrance (Esther 2:12); of joy (Psalm 47, Isaiah 61:3); of healing (Luke 10:34); of light (Zechariah 4:12). The Holy Spirit is all these. But it is as the light-giving oil that He is specially spoken of here; and the lack of Him as such makes the difference between the foolish and the wise. "Having not the Spirit" (Jude 19).
Thus a man may be very like a Christian, and yet not be one. He may come very near the kingdom, and yet not enter in. He may have all the outward features of a Christian, and yet be lacking in the main one. He may have the complete dress of the saint, and yet not be one. He may have a good life, a sound creed, a strict profession; he may be one who says and does many excellent things; he may be a subscriber to all the religious societies in the land, a member of all their committees, or a speaker at all their meetings, and supporter of all their plans; he may profess to be looking for Christ's coming, and going forth to meet the bridegroom, yet not necessarily a Christian! He may lack the oil, the Holy Spirit.
A religion without the Holy Spirit profits nothing. There is the religion of the intellect, of the sense, of the imagination, of the flesh, of the creed, of the liturgy, of the catechism, of nature, of poetry, of sentiment, of mysticism, of humanity. But what are these without the Spirit? Christianity without Christ, what would that be? Worship without God, what would that be? So religion without the Holy Spirit, what would that be?
Yet is there not much of this among us? Is there not much of dry formalism, lifeless doctrine, sapless routine? I do not call it hypocrisy; I simply call it unreal religion.
And what can unreal religion do for a man? Will it not prove irksome and vain? Will it make him happy and free, or liberal, or zealous, or holy? No. It can do none of these things. It is bondage, and darkness, and weariness.
Yet here is the Holy Spirit in the hands of Christ for you. Go to them who sell, and buy for yourselves. Not to men, or churches, or creeds, or ministers, but to Christ. Go to Him. He is exalted to give it; and He will. Apply to Him before it be too late.
The Great Separation
"When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left."—Matthew 25:31, 33.
Let us enter at once into the practical teaching of this parable, leaving its prophetical aspects untouched, as well as its connection with the two previous parables.
The name Christ takes here is the Son of man. This is always his name in connection with judgment. It is Daniel's name for Him in this connection; and it is as Son of man that He is judge of all. We are to be judged by a man like ourselves. it is before a human judge that we shall stand and plead. God takes no advantage of us.
I. The coming. (1.) The Son of man shall come! Yes, He that shall come will come and will not tarry! These heavens shall rend and He shall appear. (2.) He shall come in his glory. Not in weakness, and poverty, and shame; not as a babe, or a carpenter, or a bearer of the sin and curse. (3.) He shall come with all his holy angels, What a retinue! (a) Angels; (b) holy angels; (c) with Him! As his retinue, his attendants, his executioners; as in Daniel. Often have angels visited earth, but never on so solemn an occasion.
II. The sitting. It is not a momentary appearance. He comes as the lightning flash, but does not, like it, depart. He takes his seat on a throne—the throne of glory, not grace now. It is a great work He comes to do; a work not done in a moment. He took his seat when He went up to the Father, and has been thus sitting for ages, for the work was great and long. So when He comes again He "sits," for the work is great and long. It will be thorough, searching, sifting.
III. The gathering. Who shall gather is not here said. In other places angels are mentioned. But the gathering shall be: (1.) It is a gathering of men, not devils. (2.) It is a gathering of nations; all nations; a universal gathering. It is a gathering "before Him"; before his throne; before his face. No hiding, no escaping, no resisting, no refusing! However reluctant, they shall be gathered. He shall see it fully done. Mountains, rocks, seas, cells, cannot hide men on that solemn day.
IV. The separating. They come as one great multitude, but soon they are divided. (1.) They are divided into two classes, only two; one good and one evil; sheep and goats. (2.) They are divided by Himself. How He does it, we know not. But He shall do it completely, effectually, without mistake—one mistake. The separation shall be perfect and final. (3.) The sheep are set on the right hand, the place of honor, power, acquittal, favor; the goats on the left, for shame and condemnation.
V. The convicting. He gives the reasons for what He does—reasons to both classes; these are all summed up in one great reason, that is, What they did or did not do for Him. The righteous are told that what they did for his brethren they did for Him; the wicked, that what they did not do for his brethren they did not for Him. Thus the one class is made to feel how truly all their works are accepted, and the other left without excuse, not being able to say, You were not here for us to do anything for you. "Ah, but my brethren were here. You did it not to them." This stops their mouth.
VI. The sentencing. This is from the Judge's own lips. Angels may gather them, He must sentence them, for He is Lord and Judge of all. First, He turns to the right, and speaks to the sheep. (1.) Come, have done with all your wanderings and tribulations; come, end your pilgrimage. (2.) You blessed. Oh, precious name. the blessed, the "well spoken of"; among men perhaps only cursed! (3.) Blessed of my Father; not of man, nor of me only, but of my Father; beloved of God and blessed of God; this is the beginning, the foretaste of endless blessedness. (4.) Inherit the kingdom; exile, oppression, weariness, end in a kingdom; they are kings and priests; an everlasting kingdom, long since prepared! This is the recompense of toil, and work, and weariness for me—of every service, however little, done to one of mine.
Secondly, He turns to the left, and speaks to the goats.
(1) Depart, come not near me, nor my kingdom. I once said, Come to me, and you would not; I now say, Depart. (2) You cursed; not blessed, but cursed; not merely under the curse, but with the curse poured down. (3) Into everlasting fire—fire—everlasting—prepared for the devil and his angels. Why? Simply you did me no service! Not that you were drunkards, thieves, liars, Sabbath-breakers; but you did nothing to me!
VII. The executing. These go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal. "So he drove out the man," is the first execution of judgment. "They enter in through the gates in to the city" is the fulfillment of the gracious verdict. God carries out both his love and his vengeance. He falters not. "Judgment lingers not, damnation slumbers not." The day of the carrying out of all God's purposes and sentences will certainly arrive. What shall be the end of those who obey not the gospel! Oh terrible doom! woe, woe, woe, everlasting! What shall be the joy of the saved! Joy unspeakable, the crown of righteousness. These are the two great masses. They are mixed now; they shall be separated soon. The day of sifting is at hand.
The Denying Disciple
But Peter denied it in front of everyone. "I don't know what you are talking about," he said. Matthew 26:70
It takes almightiness to lift up a soul from death; and it needs no less to hold up the soul that has been raised. Hence the need of a divine quickener; hence the preciousness of the blessed Spirit. He only can keep us from falling. Were He to let go, in a moment we fall. In Peter's case we see all this. It was an Almighty voice that called to him, "Follow me;" and it was an Almighty hand that drew him out of his boat, and from his nets. It was an Almighty arm that sustained him. And now for a moment that arm lets him go, to test him and show him his weakness. In a moment he falls. His fall is one of the saddest and most solemn that the Bible records. He denied his Lord. He denied him when he ought most to have confessed Him. He denied Him with oaths and curses.
Let us throw the statement of the evangelist into the following questions: (1.) Who? (2.) Whom? (3.) What? (4.) When? (5.) Where? (6.) How?
I. Who? Judas? No. Nicodemus! No. Thomas, the doubter? No. Philip, the questioner? No. Peter? Yes; Peter. Simon, son of Jonah. Peter, the rock! Peter, the confessor of the Christ of God. Peter, the fervent proclaimer of his fidelity and love. Peter, who took the sword against Malchus. Peter, who had been with the Master on the transfiguration-hill, and in the garden of his agony. Yes; Peter denies. Poor human heart! Lord, what is man! What is even a converted man? What is a disciple? Let him that thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall.
II. Whom? It is his own Master whom he is thus treating; Jesus, whom he had followed; whom he had confessed; and whom he seemed so truly to love. Jesus of Nazareth! Jesus the Christ, the Son of God; the Son of the blessed! It is not a fellow disciple whom he thus treats; it is his blessed Master! O incredible mystery of human evil! O desperate wickedness of the heart of man!
III. What? He denies Him. It is not forsaking Him merely. They had all done that. But it is denying Him. In this he stands alone. No one but Peter had said, I know not the man—he who had so lately said, We know that you are the Christ! What ingratitude, what falsehood, what inconsistency, what cowardice, are here! But would we have done anything else had we been there?
IV. When? Immediately after the supper and the garden scene; after those wondrous words recorded by John as spoken in the upper room; after listening to the solemn cries of Gethsemane! So soon after these! Does it not seem impossible! Yet with all these in remembrance, he denies his Lord.
V. Where? In the High Priest's hall; within sight and hearing of his Lord he does it. In circumstances in which we should have expected him nobly to confess Him. In the hour of danger. Surrounded with enemies. Forsaken by friends. Yes, in the very presence of his Master he denies Him. Untouched with pity for his desolation, and sorrow, and torture, he denies Him.
VI. How? He did it three times! He did it after being warned by the Lord. He did it through fear of a woman. He did it in the most decided way. He did it with oaths and curses. Oh, what a denial! "Woman, I know not Him!" Then, "Man, I know Him not." Then, "Man, I know not what you say." And then the oaths and curses burst forth. O dreadful and incredible wickedness! The old fisherman of Galilee had, it would seem, been a swearer before his conversion. This swearing fisherman had been called by the Lord and become his follower. Three years' communion with Christ had done much for him. But the 'old man' was not dead. The temptation was presented, and the old habit returned, the old blasphemies broke out. The old oaths came forth again; aye, and they came forth to clench his denial of his Master. "May I be cursed forever if I know the man," he says.
Simon, son of Jonah, is it you? Is that your voice? Ah, if your Master heard, what would He say? He heard! Yes, He heard the threefold denial, and the curses with which it was enforced. Yet no anger came from either lip or eye! The curse only drew out the love. Yes, at the sound of the last denial, invoking damnation on himself if he knew the man, the Lord turned and looked. He looked in love, and the love conquered. Peter went out and wept. It was his last denial and his last oath. Satan had sifted him; but the Lord steps in.
The True Confessor and the False
"I have sinned."—Matthew 27:4.
This is confession; so far as words go; we shall see what it amounts to. God lays great stress upon confession in his dealings with sinning man. It is as a confessor of sin that he draws near to God; and it is as such that God receives him. This is the only position, the only character in which God can deal with him. Covering sin will do nothing for us. It doubles the transgression.
Confession is the closest and most personal of all kinds of dealing with God. As praise is the telling out what we see in God, so confession is the telling out what we see in ourselves. It specially comprises matters which can be spoken in no ear but God's. There is, no doubt, public confession; but the largest part of confession is private. Man cannot be trusted with it; man must not even hear it. Hence, the wickedness of any man setting up for a confessor. Hence the sin of a dishonest confession; and the necessity of dealing honestly with God and our own consciences in a matter so entirely private and confidential. The attempt to deceive God, or to hide anything from Him, is as dangerous as it is wicked and inexcusable.
There are two kinds of confession, a false and a true. We have instances of both of these in Scripture. They both make use of the same words, "I have sinned"; yet they do not mean the same thing, nor indicate the same state of feeling. Let us note some of the instances of the false.
(1) Pharaoh. Twice over he says, "I have sinned against the Lord (Exodus 9:27; 10:16).
(2) Israel. After deliberate disobedience, and as a declaration of farther disobedience, "We have sinned" (Numbers 14:40).
(3) Balaam (Numbers 22:34.) He said to the angel of the Lord, "I have sinned."
(4) Achan. (Joshua 7:20), "Indeed, I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel."
(5) Saul. (1 Samuel 15:24), "Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord."
(6) Judas. (Matthew 27:4), "I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood." These are examples of false confession.
And its falsehood consisted in this—
(1). It was constrained. It was extorted by terror and danger. It was not spontaneous or natural. These men would rather not have made it; but they could not help themselves. It was merely the natural heart crying out in trouble.
(2). It was selfish. It was not the dishonor done to God, nor the injury to others, that they thought of; but the consequences to themselves. It was not sin, as sin, that was confessed and hated.
(3). It was superficial. It was not the conscience, the inner man, that was stirred; but the mere external part of man's being. The real nature of sin was unfelt. Self was not abased nor loathed. There was no broken nor contrite heart.
(4). It was impulsive. Some judgment smote, or was to be averted; some affliction overwhelmed them; some sermon roused them. And under the impulse of such feelings they cried out, "I have sinned."
(5). It was temporary. It did not last. It was like the early cloud, it passed away. The words of confession had hardly passed their lips when the feeling was gone.
Let us beware of false confessions. Let us not cheat our souls, nor lull our consciences asleep, by uttering words of confession which are not the expressions of contrition and broken-heartedness. Let us deal honestly, searchingly, solemnly, with God and our own consciences. Godly sorrow is one thing, and the sorrow of the world is quite another. "Do not be deceived; God is not mocked." He needs real words.
But we have some examples of no-confession. We have Adam trying to hide his sin; Cain refusing to confess; and Lamech glorying in his shame. They are specimens of the immoveable and impenetrable; showing the lengths to which a human heart can go.
But we have many notable instances of true confession; proclaiming to us the truth of the promise, "Whoever confesses and forsakes his sins shall have mercy" (Proverbs 28:13); "If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins" (1 John 1:9). David said, "I have sinned," and his confession brought forgiveness. Daniel said, "we have sinned," and he found forgiveness. Yes, true confession brings certain pardon. We have but one Confessor and one Confessional; and both are heavenly, not earthly; we need no more.
In true confession we take our proper place. We take the only place in which God can deal with us; the only place in which it would not dishonor him to pardon us—the sinner's place. And he who is willing to take this place is sure of the acceptance which the forgiving God presents. The Spirit's work in convincing of sin is to bring us to our true place before God. He who takes this but in part gets no pardon. He who tries to occupy a higher or better place must be rejected. He who tries to deal with God as not wholly a sinner, as something better than a mere sinner, shuts himself out from favor. He who goes to God simply as a sinner, shall find favor at the hands of him who receives sinners, who came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. Everything depends on this. If he goes to God with some goodness to recommend him; some good feeling; some softness of heart; some excellence in his own faith or repentance to recommend him, he cannot be received. But he who goes simply as a sinner, will taste that the Lord is gracious.
In true confession we come to see sin somewhat as God sees it; and ourselves somewhat as God sees us. I say somewhat; because we cannot here fully enter into his mind regarding sin and the sinner; we see but in part, and feel but in part. It is but a faint glimpse we get of sin and of ourselves. But it is with this that we go to God, having learned something, though but in the remotest degree of what sin is and deserves, and of what He thinks of it. We take his report of what sin is, and of what we are, whether we feel it or not. We believe what He has said about these things; and accepting His testimony to the evil of sin, even in spite of our own lack of feeling, we confess it before Him, and receive at his hands that forgiveness which, while it pacifies the conscience, makes sin more odious, and our own hearts more sensitive and tender.
We take the prodigal's words, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight." We turn our eye and our feet homewards. We remember the past; we look round us on the desolation of the "far country"; we listen to the good news of our Father's open door and loving heart; we arise and go. And at every step, as we draw near, our view of sin intensifies, our self-abhorrence increases, our sense of ingratitude deepens; and yet the certain knowledge of our Father's profound compassion and unchanged affection sustains us, cheers us; so that we draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith; knowing that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.