The Gospel of MARK
Charles Simeon's Devotional Commentaries
The Scope of Our Lord's Ministry
"Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel."
THOSE Christians who have taken up religion lightly, and have not the root of divine grace within them, will, as soon as persecution threatens them, be ready to renounce their holy profession; while those who have been influenced by a truly Christian principle, will be intimidated by nothing. When Paul was imprisoned at Rome, some were ashamed of his chain and forsook him: but others "waxed confident by his bonds, and were much more bold to speak the word without fear, Philippians 1:14." This is the true spirit of Christianity, and agrees with the example which Christ himself has set for us.
John was cast into prison for his fidelity in executing the ministerial office. But no sooner did our Lord hear of his imprisonment, than he went into Galilee, where John himself had been preaching, and bore testimony to the very truths which John himself had maintained. The scope of John's ministry had been, "Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand, Matthew 3:1-2;" and the instant that this holy man was precluded from any further discharge of his ministry, our blessed Lord insisted on the same awakening topic, saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: Repent, and believe the Gospel."
To elucidate this important subject, we shall show,
I. What is the kingdom here spoken of—
The terms used respecting it in our text, sufficiently show what we are to understand by it:
1. It is the kingdom of God—
Every kingdom may be considered as His, inasmuch as he is the founder of all the empires upon earth: "he pulls down one, and sets up another." But this is his in a more eminent manner. It is an empire which he raises over the souls of men: it is erected, not by means of carnal weapons, but by an invisible and spiritual influence which he exerts over their minds, whereby he "brings them into captivity to the obedience of Christ, 2 Corinthians 10:4-5." It is not an empire determined by any particular boundaries, but spread over the face of the whole earth. His laws are written in the hearts of his subjects, and reach to the thoughts and desires, as much as to their outward actions. "It comes not with observation" and pomp, as other kingdoms: it is seated altogether "within men," and consists in "righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, Romans 14:17."
His subjects have peculiar privileges, such as no other people upon earth can partake of: but these are altogether of a spiritual nature, and invisible to carnal eyes.
Their King is ever with them; every one of them has access to him at all times: and all that he possesses is theirs.
His power is incessantly put forth for the protection and support of every individual among them; he orders everything for their good, and is ever occupied in giving them spiritual blessings; giving them a peace which passes understanding, and a joy which is unspeakable and full of glory.
In short, it is frequently called "the kingdom of Heaven;" as it well may be, seeing that it is an exact counterpart of that which is in Heaven, and differs only from that in its measure and degree. If only we conceive of God reigning among his saints and angels in Heaven, it will help us more than anything else to understand the nature of his kingdom on earth: the laws of both realms, yes, and the privileges too, are the same: holiness is the law both of the upper and the lower realm, Ezekiel 43:10-12; and happiness in God is their one great privilege. The two are allied to each other as the acorn and the oak: grace is glory begun; and glory is grace consummated.
2. It is a kingdom which was at that time to be established—
The prophets had spoken clearly of a kingdom which was to be erected by the Messiah at an appointed period, Daniel 2:44, Daniel 7:13-14; and it was generally understood, not only among the Jews, but among the Gentiles also, that the time was nearly arrived. What the Samaritan woman said, "We know that the Messiah is coming," may be considered as the public voice at that time.
Now our blessed Lord says respecting it, "The time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God is at hand:" and he commanded his disciples to declare the same; and in the event of their message being despised, he bade them declare with increased vehemence to the very people who should reject them, "Be sure of this, that the kingdom of God is come near unto you, Luke 10:9, Luke 10:11."
This then decidedly shows, that the kingdom here spoken of was the Messiah's kingdom, even that which, in name at least, is established among us: in name, I say, because "all are not Israel who are of Israel," "nor is he a Jew who is one outwardly." It has before been observed that this is a spiritual kingdom; and the subjects of it are spiritual subjects.
This leads us to show,
II. What we must do in order to become subjects of it—
We have no need to emigrate from one country to another in order to place ourselves under the dominion of Christ. There is a way appointed for all to have their names enrolled among his people; and that is,
1. To repent—
Every one that has violated the holy laws of God, ought to be deeply humbled for his iniquities. This is an indispensable requisite for our admission into the Redeemer's kingdom. An impenitent sinner, whether his sins have been more or less heinous, cannot possibly be numbered with his subjects. Such a man hates the laws by which they are governed; he will not yield to the authority which they obey: he even despises the privileges which they consider as their most inestimable treasure: whatever therefore he may call himself, he is, in fact, an enemy, a rebel, a traitor; and as such he will be considered by that King to whom he has professed allegiance. In order to become "a fellow-citizen with the saints," he must himself become a saint. Until then, he is accounted "a stranger and a foreigner, Ephesians 2:19."
2. To believe the Gospel—
Repentance is necessary to prepare men for the kingdom; but it is faith which actually introduces them into it. The Gospel sets forth Christ, not merely as "a Prince, but as a Savior also." It represents him as having borne our sins in his own body on the cross, and as having made thereby a full and perfect satisfaction to God for them. It assures us also of a complete reconciliation with him, the very moment that we embrace its glorious truths. On our believing its testimony, we begin to see the Lord Jesus in his true character: we no more account him a hard Master, but one whose service is perfect freedom. We then long to have our very thoughts subjected to his dominion, and our whole souls made obedient to his will. Thus we become enlisted under his banners, and entitled to all the privileges of his subjects. In short, by repentance we cast down the weapons of our rebellion; and by faith we devote ourselves to him as his peculiar people.
This subject furnishes us with abundant matter,
1. Of examination—
Should it not be an object of anxious inquiry with us all to ascertain whose subjects we are? There are but two who divide between them the dominion of the world: Satan is the God of this world, who has usurped a power over all mankind: but of these, Jehovah, the Creator of all things, has a few, whom he has rescued and redeemed from his tyrannical sway. If we belong to Christ, God has brought us "out of the kingdom of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son."
Inquire then whether such a change has taken place? Inquire whether you have deeply repented of your past subjection to Satan, and whether with humble gratitude you have fled for refuge to the hope set before you in the Gospel? Can you appeal to God that you have returned to him as a base rebel, acknowledging your desert of damnation, and imploring mercy solely in the name of Christ? Can you appeal to him, that you yet daily, and hourly as it were, give up yourselves to his service, desiring to live, and, if need be, to die, for him? O consider the importance of these inquiries, and the proneness of your hearts to self-deceit! And pray to God to instruct you by his Holy Spirit, that you may know, before it is too late, whose you are, and whom you serve.
2. Of humiliation—
Be it granted that we are the Lord's: still what cause for shame have the very best among us, when we think how little love we bear to our heavenly King, and how little zeal we have manifested in his service.
The subjects of earthly monarchs will go to the very ends of the earth to preserve and to extend their territories. Life seems of no value to them, in comparison of the honor of their, prince: to die in his cause appears an object of ambition rather than of dread: and the smallest testimony of his favor is deemed an ample recompense for all the dangers and difficulties that can be endured.
Ah! who does not blush at the consideration of these things? If called to preach his Gospel to the heathen, who does not demur, and ask a thousand questions, which show that our own ease is of more importance in our eyes than his honor? Even a contemptuous look, or a reproachful name, or some little sacrifice of worldly interest, are often sufficient to deter us from embracing opportunities of exalting him. Whose conscience does not reproach him as shamefully deficient in duty to the best of Kings, and in gratitude towards the greatest of Benefactors? Truly when we consider what sovereign mercy, what almighty power, and what unbounded grace have been exercised towards us—we may well mourn and weep on the retrospect of every day, and at the review of every hour.
3. Of thankfulness—
We ought not to compare ourselves with others for the purpose of fostering self-preference and pride; yet we may well take occasion from the state of all around us to admire and adore that grace which has caused us to differ from them. For though, in the view of our high attainments, we have need of humiliation; yet, in the view of our high privileges, we have cause for most exalted joy: and if we felt as we ought, our every act would be obedience, and our every word be praise.
Nor is there lacking abundant cause of thankfulness even to those who are yet in rebellion against him. What reason have they to bless his name, that he has not yet said, "Bring hither those my enemies who would not have me reign over them, and slay them before me!" What a blessing should they account it that his Gospel is yet sounding in their ears; and that they may yet, if only they will repent and believe the Gospel, be partakers of his kingdom and glory!
People are apt to think us harsh and severe when we call them to repentance: but we call you to repentance and faith, not as duties, but as privileges. What a privilege would those who are now in Hell account it, if they could have one more such message delivered to them from the Lord! Know you then, beloved, that "this is the accepted time:" I pray God, you may find it also "the day of salvation."
The Leper Healed
"However, he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places; and they came to Him from every direction."
THERE is certainly a great similarity between many of our Lord's miracles: but there are in every one of them some circumstances that distinguish them from others; and these open to us a wide field for appropriate and useful observations.
There are different accounts of lepers healed by the power of Jesus. The text informs us of one whose manner of applying for relief, and of discovering his gratitude towards his benefactor, were very peculiar.
To elucidate the words before us we may inquire,
I. What "the matter was which he so published and blazed abroad"—
A man came to our Lord to be cured of the leprosy—
The leprosy was a disorder which none but God could cure, 2 Kings 5:7. The man who was infected with it believed our Lord's ability to heal him, but he knew not the marvelous extent of his compassion: hence he doubted his willingness to bestow so great a blessing. He submitted himself however to the will of this divine Physician, and with deepest humility implored his sovereign help He came kneeling to him, falling on his face, and beseeching him. Compare Matthew 8:2 with Luke 5:12.
Our Lord with infinite condescension granted his request—
He was not extreme to mark the weakness of the leper's faith; but, "moved with compassion," gave him the desired relief. As a prophet of God he could touch the leper without contracting any defilement: he declared that the disease should vanish at his command, and instantly, by a touch, imparted soundness to the disordered body.
He however accompanied the mercy with a solemn charge—
II. What was the injunction given him respecting it —
Our Lord directed him to go to the priest, and present immediately the accustomed offerings to God—
The priests were appointed judges in all leprous cases. They were authorized to pronounce a man clean or unclean, according to certain marks laid down in the law of Moses, Leviticus 13:1-46. When a man was acknowledged to be clean he was to present his offerings to God, Leviticus 14:2-32. This therefore our Lord enjoined the the leprous man to do. In doing it he would exact from the priest himself "a testimony" to the truth of the miracle that had been wrought, and would give abundant evidence that the person who wrought it was not an enemy to the Mosaic law; yes, he would show that the worker of this miracle was no other than the Messiah himself.
He charged him also not to divulge the matter to anyone until he should have performed this service—
The injunction given our Lord was as solemn and strict as possible, verse 44. Jesus might be actuated in part by desire to avoid all appearance of ostentation. It is possible also that he might wish not to give umbrage to the state by increasing the number of his followers; but chiefly he was solicitous to guard against the malice of the priests. He well knew that they, from their enmity to him, might be induced to deny the cure, and thus they would both cast a reflection upon him, and deprive the man of the liberty to which he was now entitled. Hence with such solemnity and authority did he enjoin the leper to "say nothing to any man."
This charge however the leper did not sufficiently regard—
III. What were the consequences of his disobeying that injunction—
The man could not refrain from "publishing the matter" to all around him—
He felt in his body a consciousness of perfect health; and, as might well be expected, his soul was inflamed with gratitude to his merciful Benefactor: he never thought what reasons there might be for the prohibition. It is probable he thought the injunction proceeded only from modesty, and the more he supposed it to proceed from this principle, the more would he be anxious to spread his Benefactor's fame. To offer his appointed gift he went instantly, and with great gladness; but he knew not how to check the ardor of his love and gratitude; nor can we wonder that he overlooked the command given him. We mean not however to justify his disobedience: for the word of God utterly condemns every deviation from the Divine will, Deuteronomy 27:26; but the leper's disobedience most assuredly sprang from a good principle; nor can we doubt but that the indulgent Savior, who well knew his motives, would readily pardon it.
Though evil consequences ensued, yet were they overruled for good—
Our Lord's fame spread with great rapidity through all the country. Hence he was much inconvenienced by the multitudes who flocked around him; nor "could he any more openly enter into the city by reason of them." He was forced to seek for solitude and retirement "in desert places:" but the multitudes who came were desirous "to hear" his word; and occasion also was afforded by them for the working of many other miracles, Luke 5:15. Thus great benefit accrued to the bodies certainly, and we trust also, to the souls, of many.
1. Are there any here who feel themselves infected with the leprosy of sin?
The corruption of our hearts is often set forth under this figure of leprosy: nor is there one among us who is not infected with it. Indeed so fatally has it spread, that we may well apply to ourselves that loathsome description in Isaiah 1:5-6, "Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness—only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil." And, in reference to this very disorder, exclaim with the prophet in Isaiah 6:5, "Woe is me, I am undone!"
Let not anyone however who feels the infection, hope to heal himself: the disorder bids defiance to every hand but God's. Come then to Jesus, the almighty, the only, physician of souls: come to him, like the leper, with the deepest humility, and reverence; nor doubt his willingness, any more than his power, to heal you.
Ask yourselves why he came from Heaven? Was it not to seek and save the lost? Why was the fountain of his blood opened, but for sin, and for impurity, Zechariah 13:1? Let then the declaration he has made, encourage every one among you, John 6:37. However polluted you are, he will condescend to touch you, and by his sovereign power will remove the guilt and pollution of your sins.
2. Are there, on the other hand, any who hope that they have been healed of their leprosy?
There is no injunction upon you to conceal this matter from the world: you are rather commanded to make it known to all around you. He said to the demoniac, "Go home to your friends, and tell them how great things the Lord has done for you, and has had compassion on you, Mark 5:19." And thus also he says to you. Not that spiritual blessings should be a subject of ostentatious boasting, Proverbs 25:27; Proverbs 27:2;" but it never can be wrong to comply with that ardent exhortation of the Psalmist, Psalm 105:1-3; or to perform that very duty, for the promoting of which the mercy was given, 1 Peter 2:9. Let every one then adopt the language of the blessed virgin Luke 1:46-48.
But let there be also a conscientious regard to the commands of Jesus. Whether we see the reasons for them or not, we must punctually observe them. Thus will Christ eventually be magnified in our contact, and sinners will be most effectually encouraged to flock unto him.
The Paralytic Healed
But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, "Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Arise, take up your bed and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins"—He said to the paralytic, I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house." Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!"
WE cannot wonder that such multitudes attended the ministry of our Lord, or that his occasional retirements from labor were so often interrupted. But it is indeed astonishing that so many should continue hostile to so benevolent a person; and that he should persist in doing good, when his words and actions were so constantly perverted, and made grounds of accusation against him.
Having retired to a house in Capernaum, he was soon encompassed with a crowd: among them were many Scribes and Pharisees who came only to cavil, Luke 5:17. Our Lord, however, neither intimidated nor angered, proceeded in his work; and took occasion even from their cavils to display more eminently his power and glory. Being accused of blasphemy, he confirmed his word by his works, and multiplied his mercies to some as the means of convincing others.
The particular circumstances referred to in the text lead us to consider,
I. The authority he exercised—
Whatever miracles our Lord performed, he wrought them by his own power.
A man was brought to him to be healed of the palsy—
So afflicted was the man, that he was deprived of all use of his limbs. His friends, who bore him on a bed, or couch, could not get access to Jesus, verse 3, 4. They would not however relax their endeavors to obtain a cure. They went by another way to the top of the house, and broke open the lattice, and then let the man down into the midst of the room where Jesus was. Their houses were scarcely ever above one or two stories high. Their roofs were flat, and guarded on every side with a balustrade, Deuteronomy 22:8; thither the inhabitants used to retire for exercise, 2 Samuel 11:2; for conversation, Matthew 10:27; for meditation and prayer, Acts 10:9. There were two ways of access to the top; one from the inside, by a lattice or trap-door, 2 Kings 1:2; the other by steps on the outside, Mark 13:15.
Having easily ascended to the top, they forced open the lattice which was fastened within, and let down the man through the tiling (Luke 5:19) with which the roof was paved on all sides of the lattice.
Nor did Jesus take offence at his intrusion, as though he were an unwelcome guest. He, on the contrary, beheld their solicitude with approbation, and richly recompensed "their faith," which had urged them to such benevolent exertions. We read not indeed of any particular request made by the man or his friends; but the very sight of such misery was sufficient to call forth our Lord's compassion.
Jesus healed not his disorder, but authoritatively forgave his sin—
All that the man thought of was a restoration to bodily health; but the divine Physician in an instant healed his soul. The disorder had probably been sent by God as a punishment for sin; and Jesus removed his sin as incomparably the greater evil. Yes, he spoke to the man in the most affectionate and kind terms, and gave him a comfortable assurance that his iniquities were forgiven. How must the helpless dying man rejoice in such tidings! Surely, after this, he would scarcely wish to have his life prolonged; at least, he would desire it only that he might glorify his Lord and Savior.
But this exercise of divine authority excited the indignation of the Pharisees—
It is possible that they might manifest in their countenances the reasonings of their hearts: but Jesus needed not any external proof of their thoughts. He "knew in his spirit" everything that passed within their minds. They inwardly condemned him as guilty of "blasphemy." Nor was their reasoning defective, if the application of it had been just. Certainly none but God has any authority to forgive sin; and any mere creature that should assume it, would be a blasphemer. But their objection, in this instance, was altogether unfounded.
Jesus, having claimed the power of forgiving sin, immediately stated,
II. His vindication of it—
Our Lord was ever willing to satisfy those who desired information; and, by multiplied proofs, to leave determined infidels without excuse.
He now stated a criterion whereby they might judge of the validity of his claim—
When Jehovah's deity was questioned, his servant Elijah proposed a mean of determining the controversy between him and Baal, 1 Kings 18:21-24. Thus our Lord condescended to submit his pretensions to a trial. He appealed to all whether the healing of the paralytic would not be an evidence of divine power? and whether he, who by his own authority could restore man to health, were not equally able to forgive his sin? This was as just a criterion as could possibly be proposed. If Jesus were not God, he could never by his own power heal the man. Nor, if he were a blasphemer, would God work such a stupendous miracle to confirm his blasphemies. Thus his claims to divine authority were brought to the test; and every person present was made a competent judge of their truth or falsehood.
According to that criterion, he immediately vindicated his divine authority—
He commanded the man to arise, and take up his couch, and go home. Instantly he, who before could not help himself, was restored to health; and, in the presence of all, went forth with his couch upon his shoulders. Thus were the enemies of Jesus effectually put to silence; yet none understood the full extent of the conclusion to be drawn from the miracle. They still viewed Christ only as a "man" acting by a delegated authority, Matthew 9:8; whereas they should have acknowledged him to have been truly God. They all however "glorified God" for the marvelous displays of his power; and confessed that they had never before seen such stupendous works.
Learn from hence,
1. The power and grace of Christ—
When Jesus sojourned on earth as a poor man, he had power to forgive sin, and often exercised that power unsolicited, uncontrolled. He even subjected himself to the charge of blasphemy rather than he would conceal his right. Has he then less power or compassion now that he is enthroned in glory? or, now that he is exalted on purpose to exercise that power, Acts 5:31, will he neglect to exert it? Will he who bestowed mercy unasked, cast out our petitions? Let us then present ourselves before him with all our miseries and needs. Let us try, by all possible means, to get access to him. Let us break through every obstacle that would defeat our endeavors; and let us approach him with an assurance of his power and willingness to save. Sooner shall Heaven and earth fail, than he reject one such a believing suppliant, Matthew 21:22.
2. The benefit of affliction—
If the paralytic had never been disordered, he had never been brought to Jesus. Had he never come to Jesus, his sins would never have been forgiven. Would he not then rejoice, does he not rejoice even to this very hour, that God ever sent him that affliction? Would he not number that affliction among his richest mercies? Thus many of us would never have thought of Jesus if we had not known trouble; but through temporal afflictions we were brought to the enjoyment of spiritual blessings. Let those then, who have experienced this, give thanks to God, Psalm 119:71; Psalm 119:75; and let those who are now in trouble, seek chiefly the remission of their sins, Psalm 25:16-18.
3. The efficacy of intercession—
Many of us, alas! have friends whose souls are dead in trespasses and sins: their faculties are altogether destitute of spiritual motion or sensation; but we may bring them by faith into the presence of the compassionate Jesus. He will be pleased, rather than offended, with our intrusion; nor shall our labors of love be without many good effects. Little do we think how many thousands have been converted in answer to the entreaties of God's praying people; and who can tell but that God may fulfill to us that promise James 5:15. Who can tell but that, as an answer to "our faith," we may see our friends healed of their sins, and triumphing in their blessed Savior! We are sure, at least, that our "prayers shall return into our own bosom." Let us then improve our knowledge of the Redeemer's grace, and exert ourselves, that all around us may participate in his saving benefits.
The Whole and the Sick, the Righteous and Sinners, Described
Those who are whole have no need of the physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
THERE is no action, however benevolent, which cavilers may not censure. Every part of our Lord's conduct was worthy of his divine character; yet was he constantly "enduring the contradiction of sinners," etc. He was now conversing familiarly with tax collectors for their good. This was condemned by the Scribes as unfitting a holy person, if not also as giving countenance to sin. Our Lord vindicated himself on principles acknowledged by them.
His words contain,
I. A generally established maxim—
Persons desire not a physician unless they be sick.
This is true according to its literal import—
A person in health wishes not for any medical assistance: he would refuse it if it were offered to him; he would not submit to any regimen that should be prescribed. But those who are diseased are glad to hear of a skillful physician: they will cheerfully put themselves under his direction; and they will follow his prescriptions that they may obtain a cure.
It is more particularly so in a figurative sense—
There is an analogy between sickness and sin: this is a disorder of the soul as that is of the body. A person unconscious of his sinfulness desires not a Savior; nor will he comply with the self-denying directions given him. But one who feels his lost state longs earnestly for a cure: he delights to hear of Christ, and to make application to him; nor does he esteem any injunction too severe, 1 John 5:3.
This being acknowledged, our Lord proceeds to make,
II. An application of it to his own conduct—
The physician's office leads him to converse with the sick. Just so, our Lord's work required him to maintain an fellowship with sinners.
There are many who conceive themselves to be "righteous"—
None are absolutely and perfectly righteous. None by nature, Job 14:4; Job 15:14. None by practice, Romans 3:10; Romans 3:12; Romans 3:23, but many suppose that their sins are neither great nor numerous. Such were the Scribes and Pharisees whom our Lord addressed, Luke 18:9; Luke 18:11; and there are many of this description in every age, Proverbs 30:12.
Such persons were not so much the objects of our Lord's attention—
He "willed indeed that all should come to repentance, 2 Peter 3:9," but he knew that they would not receive his offers; they saw no need of the salvation which he came to accomplish; their pride and prejudice unfitted them for receiving it. He therefore bestowed less labor in calling them to repentance.
But there are many of a more sincere disposition—
They are not really more heinous "sinners" than others, but they are made sensible of their guilt and danger. Such was the tax collector at whose house our Lord was, and such are to be found in every place.
To call these to repentance was the great object of Christ's ministry—
These were prepared, like thirsty ground for the rain; to them he was a welcome messenger; they rejoiced to hear that repentance could profit them; and our Lord delighted to encourage their hopes Luke 4:18-19.
Thus did his conduct accord with the dictates of reason, and with the great ends of his mission.
1. The danger of self-righteousness—
Men feel of themselves the danger of gross sin; but they cannot be persuaded that they will suffer anything by self-righteousness. But a person who, under dying circumstances, denies his need of help, as effectually destroys himself, as if he drank poison or plunged a dagger to his heart. Deny not then your need of the heavenly Physician; nor think to heal yourselves by any self-righteous methods. You must resemble the tax collector, if ever you would enjoy his lot, Luke 18:13-14.
2. The folly of unbelief—
We are apt to make the depth of our misery a reason for despondency; but the doubting of the Physician's power will be as destructive to the soul, as the denying of our need of him. O behold the remedy!
Are you sick? Jeremiah 8:22.
Are you sinners? 1 Timothy 1:15.
Are you lost? Luke 19:10.
Christ suits his promises to your state; He addresses himself to each, John 5:6; nor shall any suppliant be disappointed, John 6:37.
The Use and Benefit of the Sabbath
"And he said unto them: The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath."
IN nothing is the force of prejudice more strongly seen, than in the blame cast by the world upon the followers of Christ for the most trifling offence, while the greatest enormities of ungodly men are allowed to pass without any censure whatever. Nor is it only for a real deviation from duty that they are condemned, but for the smallest departure from rules, which have their foundation in nothing but human policy or superstition. The disciples of our Lord had been attending the Synagogue on the Sabbath-day, and, being hungry, Matthew 12:1, they plucked some ears of corn as they passed through the corn-fields, and ate it.
This was an act which God himself had particularly specified as lawful, Deuteronomy 23:25; and therefore the Pharisees could not condemn it: but the law forbade men to do any servile work upon the Sabbath-day; and therefore the Pharisees, being determined to find fault, construed the plucking and rubbing a few ears of corn as a reaping and threshing of the corn; and inquired with indignation, Why they presumed to do so on the Sabbath-day; Matthew 12:2 with Luke 6:1-2. But our blessed Lord vindicated their conduct: he showed that works of necessity or mercy might be performed, as well on the Sabbath as on any other day. He reminded them of David's conduct in eating the holy bread, which was forbidden to be eaten by any but the priests and their families: he had never been censured for it either by God or man, because he was impelled to it by unavoidable necessity.
He reminded them also of the priests in the temple, who performed very laborious work in killing, flaying, and consuming the sacrifices, yet incurred no guilt thereby, because they were serving God: and from these precedents he showed them that the disciples were not worthy of blame, since what they had done was in attending upon Him, and from a necessity imposed by the imperious calls of hunger. The sanctity of the Sabbath he acknowledged; but informed them at the same time, that, where the observance of it militated against the welfare of man, its authority was superseded; for that "the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath."
From this declaration of our Lord, we shall take occasion to show,
I. The end for which the Sabbath was instituted—
The appointment of the Sabbath did not take place until the whole work of creation was complete: therefore man, who was created on the sixth day could not be made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath as far as man was concerned, must be made for him. But, without laying any stress on the priority of man's existence, we may confidently affirm, that the Sabbath was instituted for the benefit,
1. Of individuals—
It is no small privilege to men that God has appointed them a day of rest, wherein they are to cease from the cares and labors of this world, and to attend to the concerns of another world, Exodus 23:12, Deuteronomy 5:14. We know by experience how worldly occupations affect the mind; how powerfully they draw us from God, and impede us in the pursuit of heavenly things; and there is reason to fear, that if no such appointment had existed, we should, long before this, have been immersed in heathen darkness: we should have been satisfied with the things of this life, and not thought of inquiring after anything beyond.
But on every return of this sacred rest, we are reminded, that there is a God whom we must serve, and that there is an eternal portion which it behooves us to secure. We are led to take a retrospective view of our past lives, in order to see what we have done for our souls, and what prospect we have of attaining that happiness for which we were created, and for which we were redeemed.
In short, this appointment of a Sabbath affords exactly the same occasion for advancing the welfare of our souls, as the permission to labor on the six other days does for the advancement of our temporal interests. As, on the six days, we devise and execute plans for the acquisition of wealth, so, on the seventh day, we are occupied in attaining higher degrees of faith and holiness. And as, in the one case, we frequently cast up our accounts in order to see what progress we have made, so, in the other case, the periodical leisure that is afforded to us, enables us to ascertain with precision the state of our souls before God.
Who then has not reason to be thankful for an institution which is so replete with benefit to his soul? Well might God number it among the highest obligations which he had ever conferred upon his people, the Jews, Nehemiah 9:13-14, Ezekiel 20:12-20; and well may we number it among our choicest blessings.
2. Of the whole community—
Had no specific time been appointed by God, none could ever have been agreed upon by men: no day would have suited the convenience of all; nor could human authority have prevailed to establish a law that should be universally and irrevocably obeyed. But God having fixed a day, the whole race of mankind is bound to yield obedience to his command: so that all who acknowledge his authority, wake up on the Sabbath with the same views, the same desires, the same purposes; all feeling in themselves an obligation to keep it holy, and all conscious that the same feeling pervades the Lord's people in every quarter of the globe.
In respect to this, there is no difference of rank or station. The rich man sees that he is to lay aside both his cares and pleasures, in order to attend to the concerns of his soul. The poor man also sees, that though he may be, as it were, a slave on other days, on this day he is the Lord's free-man. Indeed the poor have very peculiar cause for thankfulness on account of the Sabbath; for the rate of wages in every country is calculated by the amount that is necessary to support a man and his family; and that is given to a man for six days' work, because God has commanded him to rest the seventh. But, if no such command had been given by God, the poor would have been required to work the seven days without any augmentation of their wages: in this respect, therefore, the poor are peculiarly benefitted.
But indeed the whole community being thus set at liberty for heavenly pursuits, and means of instruction being provided for all, such instruction too as they would not very readily receive in private, all meet, as by common consent, in the house of God, and there offer their united sacrifices of prayer and praise. From thence all return to the bosom of their families, to diffuse a kindred spirit in their domestic circles, and thus to advance the temporal, no less than the eternal happiness of themselves and others.
Doubtless the degree in which these ends are promoted, must depend on the dispositions of the persons themselves; those who have no desire after spiritual blessings, will make no improvement of the opportunities afforded them: but they whose minds are spiritual, and whose situations in life preclude them from devoting much of their time to religion on other days, will now unite in social exercises, and in heavenly converse, with tenfold pleasure; and their hearts will burn within them, while they speak of the things which God has done for their souls.
Nor will these persons he contented with seeking good to themselves; they will endeavor to do good to others: they will think whether there be not some ignorant neighbor whom they can instruct, or some afflicted neighbor whom they can comfort. On this day the poor is on a par with the richest: his time is his own, to spend for God, either in a way of personal improvement, or for the edification of those around him.
Suppose then the Sabbaths to be thus employed, who can calculate the good accruing from them to all ranks and orders of men; to the rich and to the poor; to the man in health, and to the man immured in prison, or languishing on a bed of sickness; to those who are advanced in years, and those who are just entering on the stage of life?
If, from these views of the Sabbath, we are made sensible of its value, let us consider,
II. The manner in which it should be improved—
It is not intended that we should be in bondage, as the Jews were; and much less that we should bear such an intolerable yoke as the Pharisees imposed on their disciples: yet we are bound to venerate the Sabbath, and to keep it holy. God has enjoined that duty with very peculiar solemnity; "Remember that you keep holy the Sabbath-day." In what manner we should keep it holy, the text will inform us: we should keep it,
1. With a grateful sense of our privilege—
God, in infinite love and mercy, has made this day on purpose for us: he knew how much such a periodical season of reflection would conduce to our happiness, and therefore appointed the observance of it even in Paradise. To us, who are so corrupt and sinful, and are immersed in the cares and pleasures of an ensnaring world, this institution is still more important: and therefore, when we wake on a Sabbath morning, our first thoughts should be, "This is the day that the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it! Psalm 118:24." On rising from our beds, we should shut the door of our minds against the intrusion of worldly thoughts, and should set ourselves to the contemplation of heavenly subjects. We should invite our God to come and take possession of our souls, and to banish from thence every imagination that may interfere with his service, or retard our spiritual improvement. We should consider what great objects are to be attained that day; what innumerable sins to be lamented; what great and precious promises to be embraced; what communion with God the Father, and with the Lord Jesus Christ to be enjoyed; what grace, and mercy, and peace to be brought into the soul; what victories to be gained; what glory to be secured.
Methinks, on retiring to our closet, we should say, 'Now, vain world, begone! Let nothing belonging to you interrupt me for a moment. Welcome, precious Bible, you inestimable treasure! Let me now unfold your sacred pages, and obtain an insight into your mysterious truths. And, O my God, "shine into my heart, to give me the light of the knowledge of your glory in the face of Jesus Christ!"
In short, precisely as a carnal man embraces with avidity an occasion of worldly gain, and uses with energy the means of accomplishing his desire, so should we regard every Sabbath with increased joy, and improve it with augmented diligence.
That this is really the proper way of sanctifying the Sabbath, we are sure; since it is the very way prescribed by God himself: nothing of a temporal nature should (any further than is absolutely necessary) be admitted into our minds; but our whole delight should be in the God of our salvation, 2 Corinthians 4:15, Isaiah 58:13-14.
2. With a humble sense of our responsibility—
If God has instituted Sabbaths for our good, they are a talent of which we must give an account to him. And O what a solemn responsibility have we incurred by means of them! A person that is seventy years of age has had no less than ten years of entire Sabbaths! What might not have been done in that time, if they had been properly improved? When therefore the Sabbath arrives, though we should welcome it as a blessing, we should welcome it with fear and trembling: lest, when designed for our good, it should only aggravate our final condemnation.
We should pray to God to raise our minds to the occasion; to spiritualize our affections; to draw near to us in our secret retirement, and to reveal himself to us in the public assembly. We should bear in mind, that without Him we can do nothing: and that it is His presence and His blessing alone that can render any means effectual for our good.
And when we come to the close of the Sabbath, we should inquire diligently, how far the designs of God's love and mercy have been accomplished in us, and how far we have been forwarded in our preparation for the eternal Sabbath. It is this mixture of "joy and trembling" which we ought to cultivate, as the most desirable of all frames; contented to wait for unmixed joy, until all our dangers and responsibility shall be for ever past.
We cannot conclude without adding a word,
1. Of reproof—
As for those who make scarcely any difference between the Sabbath and other days, but follow their business or pleasure in a shameless manner, we shall leave them to the reproof of Nehemiah, Nehemiah 13:15-16, only warning them that their present gains or pleasures will but ill repay them for the loss of their souls.
Our present subject leads us rather to notice those who detain their wives or servants at home, in order to provide them a more delicious meal. How different was the conduct of Christ and his disciples! They had been so occupied in holy exercises, that they had even omitted to make the necessary provision for the calls of nature; and were contented to satisfy their appetite with a little barley rubbed out of the ears which they gathered along the way. It should seem that they were regardless of bodily indulgence, when they were called to attend to the concerns of their souls. O that we would learn of them, and imitate their self-denying piety!
True it is, as we have said before, that works of mercy and necessity may be done; but it is equally true, that an attention to the soul is a work of the greatest mercy, and of indispensable necessity.
2. Of encouragement—
Though the alleged violation of the Sabbath was the pretext for condemning the disciples, the real cause was their adherence to Christ. Thus, if some sacrifice of time or bodily comfort be made in order to serve our God, the proud Pharisees, who hate the light, will inveigh against us as violating some duty either to God or man; when, if we spent our time in any other way, they would find no occasion of offence at all. But, if we be treated thus, let us remember who suffered in like manner before us; and let us comfort ourselves with this reflection, that, though man may condemn our piety, our God will both approve and reward it.
The Man with the Withered Hand
"And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other. Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him. But Jesus withdrew with His disciples to the sea. And a great multitude from Galilee followed Him."
THE exercise of benevolence is, in itself, calculated to excite universal admiration; but it is far from producing that effect on those who are blinded by prejudice or obstinacy. They whose conduct is reproved by it, will rather take occasion from it to vent their spleen the more. This our Lord uniformly experienced from the Pharisees. A remarkable instance of it is recorded in the text. Let us,
I. Consider the circumstances of the miracle—
The Pharisees, observing our Lord's intention to heal a man who had a withered hand, questioned his right to do so on the Sabbath-day—
Wishing to accuse him of inconsistency, or a contempt of the law, they asked him whether it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath-day, Matthew 12:10. Our Lord showed them, that it was lawful, Matthew 12:11-12. He then asked them, whether, while they condemned him for doing so benevolent an action on the Sabbath, they were more justified in indulging murderous purposes against him on the Sabbath, verse 4. This seems the true import of this question. They, unable to answer except to their own confusion, "held their peace." Though convinced of their unreasonableness and impiety, they would not confess it.
Our Lord beheld their obstinacy with indignation and grief—
As meek as our Lord was, he was susceptible of anger; yet that anger was not like the passion that too often agitates us. It was perfectly just and righteous. Sin was the object against which it was directed; and, while he was angry with the sin, he mourned over the sinner. Hereafter indeed his anger will be unmixed with any pity; but now it is, as ours also should ever be, tempered with compassion towards the offending person.
Not intimidated by their malice, he proceeded to heal the withered hand—
He bade the man stand forth in the midst of all. Surely such a pitiable object should have engaged all to interest themselves with Christ in his behalf. He then ordered him to stretch forth his hand. The man, notwithstanding that he knew his inability to do it of himself, attempted to obey, and, in the attempt, received an instantaneous and perfect cure.
Having thus more than ever exasperated his enemies, Jesus withdrew from their rage—
One would have thought that all should have adored the author of such a benefit: but, instead of this, the Pharisees were "filled with madness, Luke 6:11." Alas! what wickedness is there in the human heart! They joined immediately with the Herodians in a conspiracy against his life. The Herodians and Pharisees differed so widely both in their political and religious sentiments, that they hated each other exceedingly. But what enemies will not unite against Jesus? Luke 23:12; but our Lord's hour was not yet come; he withdrew therefore from their power, and thus defeated, for the present at least, their efforts against him.
Having thus touched upon the principal incidents in the miracle, we shall proceed to,
II. Deduce from it some practical observations—
My first observation refers to our blessed Lord who wrought the miracle—
Did our Lord in defiance of the rage of the surrounding Pharisees discharge his office boldly, yet, when he saw their murderous designs, withdraw himself? Then it may be observed, that, though we are never to decline any duty through the fear of man, yet are we at liberty to avoid the storms which we cannot allay.
Nothing is more clear than the duty of dismissing from our hearts altogether the fear of man. "Fear not man who can only kill the body; but fear him who can destroy both body and soul in Hell, Luke 12:4-5, Isaiah 51:7-8, Isaiah 51:12-13. Indeed so obvious is this duty, that it commends itself even to the most prejudiced and embittered mind, Acts 4:19, Acts 5:29. Not life itself is to be of any value in our eyes in comparison of a faithful adherence to this principle: we must be ready to lay down our lives for Christ's sake, if ever we would be approved of him in the day of judgment, Matthew 10:38-39.
But this does not forbid our prudently withdrawing from scenes of danger, provided we can do it without making any compromise of our fidelity to God. The seventy whom our Lord sent out to preach his Gospel, were told, that, "if they were persecuted in one city, they should flee to another, Matthew 10:23." And Paul, when the Jews of Damascus watched the gates night and day in order to destroy him, was let down by the wall in a basket, in order that he might escape their murderous rage, Acts 9:23-25. On many occasions our Lord himself withdrew from those who sought his life. And when Paul would have gone into the theater at Ephesus, the disciples kept him from his purpose, because they knew that he would instantly be put to death by his blood-thirsty enemies, Acts 19:30-31.
The truth is, that life is a talent to be improved for God, and is not to be carelessly thrown away. We must be willing to sacrifice it, if called to do so in the providence of God. Neither a fiery furnace, nor a den of lions must so intimidate us, as to cause any violation of our integrity. But if, consistently with fidelity to God, we may preserve life, our duty is rather to preserve it for God, than to throw it away by a needless exposure of it to dangers which we cannot withstand.
My next observation relates to him in whom the miracle was wrought—
Did the man with the withered hand, in compliance with the Lord's command, stretch out his hand, and in that act experience the healing of it? Then we, however desperate our condition be, should endeavor to execute the commands of God, and in that act expect his blessing on our souls.
Doubtless we are in ourselves as impotent as the man with the withered hand. But are we therefore at liberty to sit still without making any effort to save ourselves? If that man who labored under a natural infirmity had refused to make the effort which our Lord enjoined, he had in all probability lost the cure which, in making the attempt, he obtained.
How much more then shall we be left to rue our folly, if we, whose impotence is only of a moral nature, decline using the means which God has ordained! It is our duty to repent: it is our duty to believe in Christ: it is our duty to surrender up ourselves unreservedly to God. And if, when called to these exertions, we excuse ourselves by saying that we are not able, we shall provoke Almighty God to withhold from us the blessings which we so greatly need, and which he is ever ready to bestow upon us. He has told us, that "his Spirit shall help our infirmities." But how will he help us? Not by moving us without any cooperation on our part, but by taking hold of the opposite end of a burden, and bearing it together with us, Romans 8:26.
Very remarkable is that answer which Jehovah gave to his people of old. The Church prayed, "Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord." The Lord answered, "Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem." "Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion, Isaiah 51:9; Isaiah 51:17; Isaiah 52:1." God does not need our efforts; but he requires them; and when they are put forth in obedience to his commands, and in dependence on his grace, he will "perfect his own strength in our weakness."
I call upon you all then to repent of sin, to flee to Christ for refuge from the guilt and power of it, and to consecrate yourselves unreservedly to him.
I readily acknowledge, that you are not of yourselves sufficient for these things: but "the grace of Christ is, and shall be, sufficient for you," if, in dependence on his promised aid, you will address yourselves to these all-important duties. "Be workers together with God;" and he will never allow you to work in vain. I grant, you are spiritually asleep; I grant, you are spiritually dead: but I say with confidence, "Awake you that sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light, Ephesians 5:14."
My last observation is, that if, like this man, you have experienced the mighty working of Christ's power, you must, throughout the whole remainder of your lives, show yourselves living monuments of his power and grace.
Wherever he went, he was a witness for Christ. And such must you be. You must let it be seen that he both does and will renew the powers of a withered soul, and infuse into it such energies as shall bear the stamp and character of divinity upon them. And one such witness, if he provokes hostility in some, will afford the greatest possible encouragement to others.
The Sabbath-day is now the time that our Lord especially selects for the communication of his blessings to the souls of men. But the generality are content with an attendance on outward ordinances, without expecting any peculiar blessing from them. Let it however be seen in you that "his word is living and powerful," and, that to those who receive it aright, it "is the power of God to their salvation."
Christ's Love to His People
"Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him. And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, "Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You." But He answered them, saying, "Who is My mother, or My brothers?" And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, "Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother."
Another on nearly the same words (Matthew 12:46-50) has occurred before. But on a comparison of the two they are so exceedingly different, that without altering a word in either, they are both presented to the public, in hope that both of them may be profitable, as illustrating different modes of treating the same text.
IT is common for persons to feel an undue degree of solicitude for the bodily welfare of their friends, while they have little anxiety for the spiritual and eternal welfare of mankind at large. Hence, if a minister be in danger of impairing his health by his exertions, they are ready to say to him, "Spare yourself," but, if thousands be perishing all around them for lack of knowledge, they are not so ready to stir him up to increased activity and diligence.
The near relations of our Lord were under the influence of this partial regard, when "they went out to lay hold on him, and said of him, "He is beside himself;" or, as it might rather be translated, "He is out of his mind, verse 20, 21." It should seem that it was with that view that they called for him at this time: they were afraid that he would sink under the weight of his continued labors. But he felt, that both health, and life too, were well sacrificed in such a cause: and therefore he disregarded their message, and turned it into an occasion of expressing the greatness of his regard for his obedient followers.
From this declaration of our Lord, we shall be led to show,
I. The character of those whom Jesus loves—
This is expressed in few, but comprehensive words; "They do the will of God." But what is this will? It includes two things:
1. They believe in Jesus Christ—
This is eminently the will of God, 1 John 3:23, John 6:29; and until this be done, nothing is done to any good purpose: the persons remain, and ever must remain, objects of his wrath, John 3:18, John 3:36. This therefore they do in the first place: And they do it humbly, renouncing utterly every other ground of hope: and thankfully adoring God from their inmost souls for such a refuge.
2. They seek after universal holiness—
This also is the will of God, 1 Thessalonians 4:3; nor are the loudest professions of attachment to Christ of any avail without it, Matthew 7:21. And, this also they do. And they do it unreservedly, accounting "no commandment grievous, 1 John 5:3," and in a progressive manner, never thinking they have attained, while anything remains to be attained, Philippians 3:12-14.
We pass on to consider,
II. The regard Jesus bears towards them—
Our Lord gives them the preference to his nearest relations, as such; and honors them with the most endearing appellations of brother, sister, mother. Now from this we must understand, that,
1. He bears the tenderest affection towards them—
We naturally expect the warmest affection to exist between persons so closely allied to each other. But the love that is found among earthly relatives is but a faint image of that which both Christ and his Father feel towards all their obedient followers, John 14:21.
2. He will give them the most familiar access to him—
His mother and his brethren were all this time without, while Jesus and his attentive followers were within the house: and, though solicited by his own mother, he would not go out to her, because it would deprive them of the instructions which they were anxious to receive. And who can tell what gracious communications Jesus will grant to those who serve him in spirit and in truth? They shall never seek his face in vain: they shall never call for him, but he will answer them, Here I am. Compare John 14:23 with Isaiah 58:9; Isaiah 65:24.
3. He will order everything for their good—
Any man that is not devoid of principle will consult the good of his family, when the management of their affairs is committed to him. And will not Jesus, who is constituted "Head over all things for the express benefit of his Church, Ephesians 1:22," be attentive to the interests of his obedient people? Will he not supply all their needs, mitigate all their sorrows, and overrule all things for their eternal good, Romans 8:28.
4. He will own them as his in the last day—
Suppose him in that day surrounded by the whole assembled universe; and many who were once related to him in the flesh, or who once professed themselves his followers, calling upon him, and saying, 'We want a nearer access to you; "we have eaten and drunk in your presence; we have cast out devils in your name, and in your name done many wonderful works;" we are your brethren, your sisters, your nearest and dearest relatives.' Methinks he will then renew the same gracious declaration that is contained in our text, "Who is my mother, or my brethren?" And then, "stretching out his hand towards his obedient followers, he will say, Behold my mother, and my brethren: for whoever did the will of God, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother."
1. How reasonable are the terms on which Christ proposes to acknowledge us as his disciples!
Some imagine that Jesus requires that all who would be his disciples should apparently cast off all regard for their nearest friends and relatives, Luke 14:26. But nothing is really farther from his intentions, than to encourage, either by this declaration, or by that in the text, any disrespect to our parents: on the contrary, we are commanded to honor our parents; and are told by the Apostle, that "that is the first commandment with promise."
But when our love or obedience to earthly parents stands in competition with our obedience to Christ, then we must resemble Levi; in commendation of whom it is said, "He said unto his father and to his mother, I have not seen him, neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor knew his own children, Deuteronomy 33:9 with Exodus 32:26-28."
And shall this appear harsh or unreasonable? See what Jesus has done for us: He knew not his mother and his brethren in comparison of his believing and obedient people: and shall we prefer our earthly relatives to him? If he has so loved us, who are altogether polluted, and deserve nothing but evil at his hands, how much more should we so love him, who is altogether lovely, and deserves infinitely more love at our hands than eternity will be sufficient to express!
2. What encouragement have we to comply with these terms!
In complying with the terms which Christ has proposed, and adhering to him in opposition to the will of earthly friends, we may possibly incur their displeasure, and feel to the uttermost of their power the effects of their resentment: they may frown upon us, disown us, disinherit us. But "when father and mother forsake us, the Lord will take us up." His express promise is that for one father, mother, brother, sister, house, or estate we lose for his sake, we shall even in this life receive a hundred fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, houses, and estates, Mark 10:29-30. Does any one ask, How shall this be accomplished? We might answer, that it is abundantly verified in the regard shown to us by the Lord's people: but, independent of that, we say, the Lord Jesus will give himself to us, and be to us more than ten thousand relatives, or ten thousand worlds.
Let anyone say, whether the love of Christ, the grace of Christ, and the glory of Christ, do not compensate a hundred-fold for all the creature-love, and all the temporal advantages, that we can lose for him? Let the determination then of Joshua be ours; that whatever course others may follow, and whatever obstacles they may lay in our way, "we, with God's help, will serve the Lord."
3. How unlike Christ are they, to whom a compliance with these terms is odious!
None are so odious in the eyes of the ungodly world as the true, faithful, determined Christian. The generality, instead of loving him in proportion to his advancement in piety, will despise him; and will make his high attainments, not only the occasion, but the measure, of their contempt. They will be ashamed to acknowledge a pious character as a relation, or friend, or even as an acquaintance. They would rather be seen in public with an infidel or debauchee, than with one who was eminent for his love to Christ.
But how unlike to Christ are they; when the very thing which endears them to him, renders them odious in their eyes! Surely it will be well for such persons to consider what Christ's views of them must be? for if the godly are so precious to him because they are godly, surely the haters and despisers of godliness must for that very reason be most hateful in his eyes. Accordingly he has told us, how he will resent the contempt shown to his people; and that "it were better for a man to have a millstone hanged about his neck, and to be cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of his little ones to sin, Matthew 18:6."
The Growing Seed
And He said, "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come."
THERE is a rich variety in the parables delivered by our Lord. Almost everything around him was made a vehicle of divine knowledge. Agriculture in particular afforded him many illustrations of his doctrines. He dwelt on that subject the more, because it was so adapted to his hearers.
In the passage before us he compares the kingdom of God to seed springing up in the field. This comparison is applicable to the erection of his visible Church in the world; but we shall consider it rather in reference to a work of grace in the soul.
There is a resemblance between seed in a field, and grace in the heart,
I. In the manner of their growth—
In the parable of the Sower, our Lord comprehends those characters who receive not the word aright. In this parable he confines himself to those characters that are truly upright. The growth of grace in their hearts resembles that of corn in a field, in that it is,
Seed, when harrowed into the earth, is left wholly to itself. The gardener "sleeps by night," and prosecutes his labors "by day," without attempting to assist the corn in the work of vegetation; whatever solicitude he may feel, he abstains from such fruitless endeavors. "The earth must bring forth the fruit of itself," or not at all. There is a principle of life in the corn which causes it to vegetate; nor is it indebted to anything but the kindly influences of the heavens, 1 Corinthians 15:38.
Just so with divine grace when sown in the heart of man. We do not mean that any man naturally and of his own will, lives to God; this is contradicted by the whole tenor of Scripture Romans 8:7; but grace is a seed which has within it a principle of life, 1 Peter 1:23. Hence Christ, from whose fullness we receive that grace, is said to live in us, and to be our life. Galatians 2:20, Colossians 3:4; it operates by a power inherent in itself, and is dependent only on Him who gave it that power, 1 Corinthians 15:10. The exertions of ministers, however unremitted, cannot make it grow, 1 Corinthians 3:6-7; it must be left to the operation of its own native energy, John 4:14; it will then put forth its virtue, through the invigorating beams of the Sun of Righteousness, and the refreshing showers of the Spirit of God.
Seed does not instantly spring up in a state fit for the sickle. It passes through many different stages before it arrives at maturity.
Thus also, in a work of grace, "the blade, the ear, and the full corn," arise in regular succession. A Christian in his earliest attainments wears a different appearance from what he ever did before; he is not less altered than a grain of wheat when it puts forth "the blade;" he feels himself a sinful, helpless, and undone creature; he cleaves to Christ as a suitable and all-sufficient Savior, and shows by his whole deportment that he has been quickened from the dead. But still he is prone to entertain self-righteous hopes, and too often yields to unbelieving fears. Hence, though sincere at heart, his attainments are but small, Hebrews 5:13.
In process of time he shows himself solid and hopeful as "the ear:" his knowledge of self is more deep, and his views of Christ more precious; his dependence on the power and grace of Christ is more simple and firm. Hence, though his conflicts may be more severe, he is more able to sustain them; nor is there any part of his conduct wherein his profiting does not appear. To this effect is John's description of the young men who are in an intermediate state between children and fathers, 1 John 2:13-14. After much experience, both of good and evil, Hebrews 5:14, he becomes like "full corn in the ear."
Though his views of himself are more humiliating than ever, he is not discouraged by them; he only takes occasion from them to live more entirely by faith in Christ: there is an evident ripeness in all the fruit that he brings forth. Above all, he lives in a nearer expectation of "the harvest." He sits loose to all the concerns of this present life, and longs for the season when he shall be treasured up in the garner, 1 Corinthians 1:7, 2 Corinthians 5:1-4.
The most acute philosopher "knows not how" the grain vegetates. That it should die before it springs up, 1 Corinthians 15:36, and then so change its appearance as to put forth the blade, etc. is a mystery that none can explain.
Just so, the operations of grace in the soul of man are also inexplicable. We know not how the Spirit of God acts on the powers of our mind; we discover that he does so by the effects; but how, we cannot tell.
In this view our Lord compares the Spirit's agency to the wind, the precise point of whose rise or destination we are unable to ascertain, John 3:8; nor is the mysteriousness of these changes, which we see in the natural world, ever made a reason for disbelieving them; neither should the difficulty of comprehending some things in a work of grace render us doubtful of its reality.
This resemblance, already so striking, may be further seen,
II. In the end for which they grow—
The seed grows up in the field in order to the harvest—
The gardener in every part of his labor has the harvest in view; he fertilizes, and ploughs, and sows his ground, in hopes of reaping at last. In every successive state of the corn he looks forward to the crop, James 5:7, and "when the harvest is come," he "immediately puts in the sickle."
In the same way, grace springs up in the souls of men to prepare them for glory—
God, having from the beginning chosen his people to salvation, orders every the minutest incident for the accomplishment of his own purpose, 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14, Romans 8:28. All the dispensations of his providence concur for this end; all the operations of his grace are adjusted with the same view. The first infusion of a principle of life into our souls is in order to our eternal happiness. All the ordinances, whereby that life is preserved, are for the same end: for this, the word distills as the dew, and the clouds drop fatness; for this, the very things which seem for a time to retard its growth, are permitted: the gloomy chilling influences of temptation and desertion, are overruled for its final good.
When the soul is ripe for glory, "immediately will the sickle be put in:" when we are fully fit for the mansion prepared for us, God will receive us to it. Then will Christ, the great gardener, rejoice in the fruit of his labors, Isaiah 53:11; the ministers also, who labored under him, will rejoice together with him, 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20; and that promise which our Lord has given us shall be fulfilled, John 4:36.
This is a rich source of comfort to ministers, and of encouragement to their people—
Ministers, like the gardener, are scattering the seeds of God's words; but, through impatience, are often ready to complain that they have labored in vain. They forget that the seed lies long under the clods before it vegetates, and that much of their seed may spring up, when they have ceased from their labors: they are often discouraged by the drooping aspect of their people: they would wish them to grow up to a state of perfection at once, and to attain to ripeness without the changes of succeeding seasons; but it is by such changes that they are brought to maturity, Romans 5:3-5. Well therefore may ministers prosecute their work with cheerfulness. Leaving events to God, they should follow the direction given them in the word, Ecclesiastes 11:5-6, and expect that the promised success shall in due time attend their labors, Isaiah 55:10-11.
People also, of every description, may receive much encouragement. They often are ready to doubt whether "the root of the matter is indeed in them:" because their progress is not so rapid as they could wish, they are apt to despond. It is right indeed to examine whether we be really endued with life; nor should we rest contented with low degrees of growth. Whatever joy we feel in seeing the blade, we should grieve if it made no progress. Thus we should never be satisfied without going on unto perfection. But let us wait with patience for the former and the latter rain. Let us expect a variety of seasons as well in the spiritual as the natural world: let us commit ourselves to God, that he may perfect us in his own way. Thus in due season shall we be fit for the granary of Heaven, Job 5:26; the sickle shall then separate us from all our earthly connections; and we shall be carried in triumph to our appointed eternal rest!
The Grain of Mustard-seed
Then He said, "To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds1 of the air may nest under its shade."
"VERY excellent things are spoken of you, city of God." There is nothing either in Heaven or earth which may not well serve to shadow forth your excellencies. Our Lord had already illustrated the nature of his kingdom by a great variety of most instructive parables; and now stretches, as it were, his invention, in order to find other similitudes whereby to make it more fully understood. But choosing, as he always did, to bring his illustrations from things most obvious and familiar, he compares his Church and kingdom to a grain of mustard-seed. We shall,
I. Illustrate this comparison—
"The kingdom of God" means, in this as in a multitude of other places, the visible kingdom of Christ established in the world, and his invisible kingdom erected in the hearts of men. We must illustrate the comparison therefore,
1. In reference to the Church of Christ in the world—
The mustard-seed is the smallest of all those seeds which grow to any considerable size: and such was the Church of Christ at its first establishment in the world. It consisted at first of our Lord and his twelve disciples; and even after our Lord's ascension, their number was only one hundred and twenty. Soon however it spread forth its branches. As the mustard-seed, notwithstanding its smallness, grows up (in the eastern countries) into a tree of some magnitude, so did the Church, notwithstanding its unpromising appearances, extend its limits with astonishing rapidity. In the space of but a very few years, it filled, not Judea only, but the whole Roman empire.
Nor is it yet grown to its full dimensions. It will in the latter days overspread the whole earth. All the kingdoms of the world shall become the kingdoms of the Lord and of his Christ. And as Jews and Gentiles have already taken refuge under its shadow, so shall the people of all nations and languages in God's appointed time. This by the spirit of prophecy is beautifully described as passing exciting great astonishment in the church itself. Isaiah 49:18-21.
2. In reference to the grace of God in the heart—
Grace, when first implanted in the soul, is often very small, showing itself only in some glimmering views, slight convictions, good desires, faint purposes, and feeble endeavors. But in process of time it grows in every part; it shoots forth its roots into the soul, and becomes stronger in all its branches. The faith which was weak, is confirmed. The hope that was languishing, is made lively and abundant. The the love that was but cold and selfish, displays itself with purity and fervor. And all who come within the sphere of its influence, receive rest and refreshment from its beneficial shade, Hosea 14:7. Indeed its full growth cannot be seen in this world. For that glorious sight, we must ascend to Heaven, where every tree of righteousness flourishes with unfading beauty, and exhibits in the brightest colors the power and efficacy of the Redeemer's grace!
Such being the import of the comparison, we shall now proceed to,
II. Improve it—
The parts of our improvement must necessarily have respect to the different views in which the parable has been explained.
We shall draw from it therefore some observations;
1. For our encouragement respecting the Church at large—
It is to be lamented that infidelity and profaneness have overrun the world; and that this tree which the Lord has planted, has been greatly "wasted and devoured by the wild beasts of the field, Psalm 80:8-13." But still the stock remains, nor shall it ever be rooted up. It shall yet "shoot forth its roots downward and bring forth fruit upward, 2 Kings 19:30." At various seasons the Church has been contracted within very narrow limits; yet has always been preserved. In the days of Noah and of Abraham, the branches were cut down, and nothing remained but the mere stem; yet it put forth fresh branches, and extended them far and wide. So shall it do yet again, until at last it covers the whole earth. Where there is nothing now but idolatry and every species of wickedness, there shall one day be "holiness to the Lord inscribed upon the very bells of the horses, Zechariah 14:20." Let us then water this tree with our prayers and tears. Let us help forward its growth by every means in our power; and look with confidence to that period when all the nations of the world shall come and sit under its benign shadow.
2. For our consolation under personal doubts and apprehensions—
From the smallness of our spiritual attainments we are sometimes ready to doubt whether the little seed of grace in our hearts will ever grow up to any use or profit. But there is not a saint in Heaven whose grace was not once comparatively weak. All were once "as new-born babes;" nor was it until they had learned many humiliating lessons, that they attained to the age of young men and fathers, 1 John 2:12-13. Thus in the natural world, the largest oak was once an acorn, and the largest mustard-tree was once a little and contemptible seed.
Why then should any despond because of present appearances? Why should not we hope that in process of time our graces shall be strengthened, and our wide-extended branches be filled with fruit? Our God assures us that he does "not despise the day of small things, Zechariah 4:10;" why then should we? Let us trust, and not be afraid. Let us look up to Heaven for the congenial influences of the sun and rain: nor doubt but that God will accomplish the work he has begun, Philippians 1:6; and "fulfill in us all the good pleasure of his goodness."
The Gadarene Demoniac
"And those who saw it told them how it happened to him who had been demon-possessed, and about the swine. Then they began to plead with Him to depart from their region. And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him."
THE miracles of our blessed Lord were certainly intended in the first instance to attest the truth of his divine mission; in which view he himself frequently appeals to them. But they were also intended to shadow forth the benefits which he was to confer on the souls of men. In both these points of view the miracle before us is deserving of the most attentive consideration.
True it is that infidels have attempted to reduce this miracle to a mere curing of a man of an epilepsy or falling sickness. But it is evident that devils were expelled from him by the power of our Lord, since it was by them that the herd of swine were impelled to rush into the sea. A single man, or two men (for Matthew tells us there were two, Matthew 8:28; though Mark notices only one, as being by far the greater monument of our Lord's power,) could not drive twenty swine into the sea, and much less two thousand, of which number this herd consisted, verse 13; and this destruction of the swine consequent upon the expulsion of the devils from the poor demoniac, showed how great a deliverance had been effected for him, and how entirely all the hosts of Hell were subject to the control of our blessed Lord.
To enter into these events aright, we should consider them,
I. As they occurred on that occasion—
1. The miracle wrought—
Satan at that time had great power over the bodies of men: and a whole "legion" of devils had at that time occupied that poor unhappy man, whom they endued with a strength wholly supernatural; insomuch that no chains or fetters could confine him, verse 3–5. But at the command of Jesus they came forth and left their captive at perfect liberty. Fearing that Jesus would send them instantly into the abyss of Hell, which is, and for ever will be, their appropriate abode, the devils requested permission to enter into the herd of swine; and, having gained permission, they instigated the whole herd to rush down into the sea, where they were all destroyed. Probably the devils hoped by this to incense the owners of the swine against the Lord Jesus; and in this they succeeded altogether according to their wish.
2. The effects produced—
The effect upon the Gadarenes, to whom the herd belonged, was, to make them all, even the whole city, Matthew 8:34, anxious that our Lord should leave both the place and neighborhood. One would have supposed indeed that the mercy given to the demoniac should rather make the Gadarenes anxious to retain our Lord, that they might obtain similar mercies at his hands: but a concern for their temporal interests swallowed up every other consideration, and united them all in one request, that Jesus "would depart out of their coasts."
But how different was the effect upon the man whom Jesus had delivered! He followed Jesus to the ship, and entreated that he might be permitted to wait upon him as a constant follower and attendant. And, when Jesus, for wise and gracious reasons, forbade that, and told him rather to go home to his friends and relatives, and tell them what mercy God had given unto him, he went home, and with fidelity and gratitude proclaimed to all around him the benefits he had received from his adorable Benefactor, verse 20.
But, not to dwell on the events which then took place, I wish you more particularly to view them,
II. As renewed yet daily before our eyes—
Of these things we may be well assured:
1. Satan has still a most dreadful power over men—
He no longer, I apprehend, possesses, as he once did, the bodies of men: but he has not one whit less power than he had over their souls. See to what an extent the whole race of mankind are subjected to his control. All men without exception are risen up in rebellion against God. Nor will they submit to any restraint either from reason or conscience. Every one follows his own will and his own way, even to the great injury of all around him, and to the certain destruction of his own soul. Tell men of their fearful responsibility to God, and of the terrors that await them in the eternal world, and "they make light of all," and say, like the devils in this poor demoniac, "What have we to do with these things?" or as Pharaoh, "Who is the Lord, that we should serve him? We know not the Lord, neither will we obey his voice."
Not even this poor demoniac acted a more insane part than the generality around us. He wounded and destroyed his body: but these, in all that they do, wound and destroy their immortal souls. so true is that declaration of Solomon, "The heart of the sons of men is full of evil; madness is in their heart, while they live; and after that they go to the dead, Ecclesiastes 9:3." And all this is by the instigation of the devil, who is "the god of this world," and "works in all the children of disobedience, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Ephesians 2:2."
2. But Jesus still exercises the same sovereign power over him—
Truly the word of the Lord is yet living and powerful, nor can all the powers of Hell withstand it. We see the effect, as visibly as ever the Gadarenes did, of the word going forth in the ministration of the Gospel. Are there not even here present some who have "passed, as it were, from death unto life, 1 John 3:14," and have "been translated from the power of darkness into the kingdom of God's dear Son, Colossians 1:13." The Prodigal Son shows us what a change takes place in the soul when once it is enabled to recover itself out of the snare of the devil, 2 Timothy 2:26, and to assert its liberty. And if in him we behold all the madness of a life passed under the influence of the devil, and all the blessedness of a life consecrated to the service of the Most High God, then may we behold the same in many, I trust, among ourselves, who have, by the preached Gospel, "been turned from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God, Acts 26:18."
3. But still is there the same enmity against the Savior in the hearts of ungodly men—
When the power of divine grace is seen in the deliverance of sinners from the bonds of Satan, we should naturally suppose that all who behold the change should rejoice in it, and desire to become partakers of the same benefits. But the very reverse of this is found true in every place: and, as in the instance before us, an opposition to the Savior is raised, and persons of every description unite in a desire to expel him from their coasts. In this, Herod and Pontius Pilate will unite, Luke 23:12; in this will both Jews and Gentiles concur, Acts 4:27; in this will gentle women be found in league with "lewd fellows of the baser sort Acts 13:50; Acts 16:39; Acts 17:5." The desire of all ranks and orders of ungodly men are in perfect harmony on this subject; they all with one voice exclaim, "Depart from us, we desire not the knowledge of your ways! Job 21:14."
4. Still however on the part of those who have experienced his saving benefits is there the same desire to glorify his name—
To commune with the Savior, to enjoy his presence, to fulfill his will, and to obtain richer communications of his grace, are the leading desires of all who have been delivered by him from the power of the devil. Whatever be their situation in life, they will be "as lights in a dark world, Matthew 5:14, Philippians 2:15," and will so "make their light to shine before men, that all who behold them shall glorify the name of Jesus, Matthew 5:16." They feel themselves bound to stand up as witnesses for him, that he is that "stronger man, who alone can bind the strong man armed, Luke 11:22," and deliver from his bonds the vassals whom "he had led captive at his will."
From a sense of gratitude to his heavenly Benefactor, he will, like this liberated maniac, commend him to all around him, saying with the Psalmist, "Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for my soul, verse 20 with Psalm 66:16."
1. Those who have never yet been dispossessed of the devil—
It is humiliating to reflect on the state of our fallen world, of which "Satan is the god," and we all without exception are his subjects. To all who live in sin of any kind it may be said, "You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do, John 8:42."
"What have we to do with you?" was the one voice of all the devils in the man that was possessed by them: and all of them cried, "Torment us not." And is not a similar apprehension expressed by men at this day, when the Lord Jesus Christ is, as it were, introduced among them, "Speak not to us of him; do not make us melancholy?" Does not the whole tenor of men's lives show, "whose they are, and whom they serve?"
It is not necessary that men should rush headlong into all manner of iniquity. Sin, whether of a more heinous or more specious kind, equally shows under whose influence they live, 1 John 3:8; 1 John 3:10, and that they need to "be turned from idols to serve the living God."
Satisfy not then yourselves, my brethren, with some good feelings and some general acknowledgments. The devils acknowledged Jesus as the "Son of the living God; and they deprecated his wrath; and yet were they devils still! You must go much further than this if you would be partakers of Christ's kingdom and glory. You must be made "new creatures in Christ Jesus," and must evince the reality of this change by a corresponding and visible deportment.
2. Those who have been made monuments of Christ's power and grace—
See what unbounded mercy has been given unto you. See in the fate of that entire herd of swine what is the final destiny of all the vassals of sin and Satan. O bless your God for his distinguishing grace. And now, while you confess your obligations, arise to the duties imposed upon you.
To that liberated man the Lord Jesus said, "Go home to your friends, and tell them how great things the Lord has done for you." And this he says to every one of you. Not that you are to do this in a way of boasting and self-delight. God forbid, but you must do it in order to commend the Savior to all around you, and, if possible, to bring them also to a participation of his saving benefits. And be attentive also to the whole of your life and conduct, that you may "adorn the doctrine" which you profess, and constrain all to glorify Him who has done such great things for you.
Jesus Heals a Woman
"Now a certain woman had a flow of blood for twelve years, and had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment. For she said, "If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well." Immediately the fountain of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of the affliction."
THE miracles of our Lord afford much useful instruction. They were not perhaps always intended as types; but they afford a just occasion for spiritual observations.
To improve the miracle now before us, we observe,
I. Sin has introduced many lamentable evils into the world—
Sickness and pain and death are the effects of sin. If our first parents had not sinned, these things would never have existed. The infirmities of the weaker gender are especially noticed in this view, Genesis 3:16. Deplorable was the condition of the woman mentioned in the text, but incomparably worse effects have proceeded from sin: our souls are altogether diseased in every part. The prophet's description of the Jews is applicable to us, Isaiah 1:5-6. Our own confession is but too just a picture of our state "There is no health in us," and, if we should die in this state, we must surely perish, 1 Corinthians 6:9.
II. We are prone to rest in carnal methods of removing them—
The woman had employed many physicians, and had spent her substance on them without any benefit. We blame her not for using all possible means of relief: but she had looked no higher than to the creature for help. This conduct incensed the Lord against good King Asa, 2 Chronicles 16:12; and in every age it provokes the eyes of his glory.
In spiritual things we generally act the same part. Under slight convictions of sin we rest in purposes of amendment. If guilt lies heavy on our souls, we flee to duties, and hope by them to compensate for past neglects, Micah 6:6-7. Not but that it is right to use the means of salvation: but we should look through the means to the Savior, and expect mercy, not for our diligence, but for his name's sake, Romans 9:31-32. Unless we do this our labor will end in disappointment.
III. However desperate our disorders are, the Lord Jesus is able to heal them—
The woman's disease had baffled all the art of medicine; but she hoped to find relief from the Lord Jesus. Nor was she disappointed in her application to him: there went virtue out of him and healed her instantly.
The same power will he exercise over the diseases of the soul. The most heinous sins may be purged away by his blood; the most inveterate lusts may be subdued by his Spirit, 1 Corinthians 6:11. A whole cloud of witnesses have testified of this truth Manasseh, David, Solomon, Paul, etc. See 1 Timothy 1:16; nor are there lacking many living monuments of his power and grace.
IV. The more we honor Jesus by faith, the more will he bless and honor us—
Greatly did this diseased person honor Jesus by her faith. She had heard of his unbounded power and benevolence towards others: she trusted that he would exercise them towards herself. Nor did she at all stagger through unbelief. Jesus therefore determined to bless and honor her. His inquiries were made, not for his own information, but to bring her into notice, and to propose her as a pattern for the encouragement of others. He not only conveyed, but expressly confirmed, her cure, and dismissed her with the endearing appellation of "daughter."
Thus will he testify his love to all who rely upon him. How gloriously did he reward the confidence of the Hebrew youths, Daniel 3:17; Daniel 3:25; Daniel 3:27. Nor shall any put their trust in him in vain. Their sins, however numerous, shall surely be forgiven, Matthew 12:31; their difficulties, however great, shall surely be overcome, Mark 11:22-23.
1. To those who are unconcerned about their spiritual maladies—
We all are sensible that we are sinful creatures, and profess an intention to seek forgiveness: yet for the most part we defer this necessary work. If our bodies were disordered, we would apply to the physician; we would even spend our substance in procuring his aid, and this, with only an uncertain hope of obtaining relief.
But we account the smallest labor too much for our souls. We will not apply in earnest to our Almighty Physician, notwithstanding we could not fail of success in our application, and should be sure to obtain healing "without money and without price." What strange infatuation possesses impenitent sinners! What extreme folly is it to prefer the transient welfare of a perishable body, before the eternal welfare of an immortal soul! Let the conduct of this woman put such persons to shame, and let them instantly avail themselves of the Savior's presence.
2. To those who desire to have their disorders healed—
Man is ever prone to seek help in the creature first. The Jews of old did this to their own confusion, Hosea 5:13; and God has declared, that all who do so shall fail of success, Jeremiah 17:5-6. Let us then be convinced that the sinner's help is in God alone, and that all others are "physicians of no value." Let us never question the power or willingness of Christ to save. Let us make our way to him through all difficulties and obstructions. Let us stretch out our hands with humble boldness and confidence, nor doubt but that virtue shall proceed from him to heal our souls.0ol
Prevalence of Unbelief
"And He marveled because of their unbelief."
ONE would suppose, that those who had the fullest opportunity of knowing the Lord Jesus from his earliest infancy, would have been the first to embrace his salvation, when once it was openly proclaimed to them. But the very reverse of this was the fact. The circumstance of their knowing his family connections was a ground of offence to them; so that they were more averse to receive him than others were who had never possessed these advantages. We are not to suppose that this excited real surprise in the bosom of our Savior; because he knew, from the beginning, that "a Prophet has no honor in his own country. But, as the inspired writers always speak of him as if he had been affected as other men are, we are told in my text, "He marveled because of their unbelief."
A similar effect is generally produced wherever Christ is preached. His Gospel is but too generally despised by those to whom it is more immediately sent; and it is more sought and valued by those who are somewhat remote from the sphere of its stated ministration. In fact, there are but few, in any place, who embrace it with their whole hearts. In proof of this, I will show you,
I. What unbelief prevails among us—
I grant, that if the name of Christianity alone was sufficient to make us Christians, then we all are Christians. But the slightest observation of what is passing either around us or within us, is sufficient to convince us,
1. How few regard the Lord Jesus Christ with the veneration he deserves—
As to the bowing of the head or knee at the mention of his name, many will do that, who never bow their hearts to his will, or yield obedience to his commands. If from our inmost souls we regarded him as "Emmanuel, God with us," how would we fear before him; admiring his person, adoring his love, and magnifying his grace! See how the Cherubim before the throne conduct themselves, while incessantly they proclaim his praise, Isaiah 6:1-3 with John 12:41. So would it be with us in our daily walk before him, if our faith were such as it ought to be. We would veil our faces as unworthy to behold him; and our feet, as unworthy to serve him; while we would yet strive to serve him with all our faculties, both of soul and body.
2. How few look to him aright for the communication of his saving benefits!
We see how diseased persons pressed around him in the days of his flesh; and were let down through the roofs of their houses, when no other way of access to him was open to them. But where do we find persons thus earnest in their approaches to him in their secret chambers? The diseases of our souls can be healed by him alone. Yet, if we look at our prayers that are offered to him day and night, who has not reason to blush and be ashamed? And whence is this, but from our unbelief, which keeps us from feeling either our need of his mercy, or of his willingness to bestow it.
3. How few surrender up themselves to him as his devoted servants!
Behold how the Apostles left their nets, and Matthew the receipt of custom, to attend upon their Lord! So, in heart and spirit, will all his believing people forsake all for him, Luke 14:33. But say whether this is indeed the habit of your lives? Look back to your early days; and trace your conduct up, through successive years, to the present moment, and then declare, whether you have ever risen thus superior to earthly things, and devoted yourselves unreservedly to your Lord and Savior! This is the proper office and effect of faith, 1 John 5:4; and the total lack of this fruit argues but too plainly the lack of the root from which alone it can proceed.
This state of things may well excite our wonder; as will appear, while I show,
II. What reason there is to marvel at it—
Consider, I pray you,
1. With what abundant evidence Christ is set forth among you—
At Nazareth, he appeared as a poor man, of a poor family, in circumstances of extreme poverty, not having so much as a place where to lay his head. And from his hearers there his future history was veiled, as was also the entire nature of his divine mission. Yet our Lord marveled at their unbelief.
But to you the entire nature of his dispensation is made manifest; and the glory of God, as displayed in it, has been set before your eyes. You see him coming down from Heaven to obey the law which you have broken, and to endure the curse which you have merited; and then rising from the dead, and ascending to Heaven, to perfect the work for you. You have beheld the meridian blaze, as it were, of that light, of which they saw but the early dawn. Nay, more; you have seen "the glory of all the Divine perfections concentrated in him, and shining forth in his face, 2 Corinthians 4:6." If, then, there was cause for marvel at their unbelief, what must there be at your unbelief?
2. With what confidence you profess yourselves to be his—
You would account it a grievous insult, if your right to call yourselves Christians were questioned. Yet, if you will forgive me, I would ask, What are the great mass of you better than baptized heathens? You have been baptized in the name of Christ, it is true; as Simon Magus also was. But how was he changed by his baptism; or, how were you changed? What evidence have you that you are "born of the Spirit," and "made new creatures in Christ Jesus?" And if, in the lack of all proof of conversion, you maintain your title to Heaven, say whether you be not opposing every declaration of God in his word, and whether there be not reason to marvel at your unbelief?
3. What important interests you have at stake—
On your sincere believing in Christ your eternal happiness depends. This, all who receive the Gospel most cordially acknowledge. How comes it, then, that you never take the trouble to examine your state before God, and to try the sincerity of your faith? One would suppose that the thought of eternal happiness in Heaven, or of eternal misery in Hell, would be sufficient to awaken you to some consideration: but, since nothing of this kind can influence you, we may well marvel at your unbelief.
1. That the Lord Jesus Christ at this very instant marvels at you—
As sure as he ever marveled at the Nazarenes in the days of his flesh, so does he now marvel at you. 'These are the persons for whom I went down from Heaven, and for whom I lived and died; yes, and for whose salvation I am yet anxious; as I have shown, by sending to them the invitations of my word, and the offers of my grace. How strange it is that they should yet remain insensible of all this love! For the Nazarenes there is some excuse; but for these, none at all. "O that they were wise, and would consider their latter end!" O that they would turn unto me in this "their day of grace, in this the day of their salvation!" '
2. That you will, before long, marvel at yourselves—
How strange will it appear to you, the very instant you die, that you could ever treat so lightly these overtures of grace! But, alas! the time for remedying that error will be past. If you are in Heaven, methinks you would be filled with indignation against yourselves, if indignation could ever enter those mansions of bliss. But, if you are in Hell, there will be scope in abundance for this painful feeling; since a retrospect upon the mercies you have abused, and the opportunities you have lost, will constitute the bitterest ingredient of your cup to all eternity.
May God so operate on your minds by his grace, that you may now turn to the Lord Jesus with your whole hearts, and become marvelous and stupendous monuments of his mercy for ever and ever!
Christian Gratitude Delineated
"Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled. For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened."
OUR blessed Lord, after feeding five thousand men, besides women and children, with five loaves and two small fishes, sent his disciples over the Lake of Gennesaret, while he dismissed the people: and then he went up into a mountain to pray. The disciples labored, for many hours, to reach the place of their destination; but were unable on account of the violence of the wind. After nine or ten hours' toil, they were still far from land (notwithstanding the lake was not above five or six miles broad;) and, behold, they saw one walking upon the water, whom they supposed to be a spirit; and, filled with terror at such an extraordinary spectacle, they cried out.
Our blessed Lord, however, drew near to them, and, in the most condescending manner, dispelled their fears, and went up to them into the vessel: and instantly the wind ceased; and they were transported in their boat, by miracle, to the very place where they had been enjoined to land.
On many other occasions they were "amazed, Mark 2:12," and "astonished with great astonishment, Mark 5:42," yes, and beyond measure "astonished, Mark 7:37;" but, on the present occasion, it is said they were "greatly amazed within themselves beyond measure, and wondered."
Now, we shall find it by no means an unprofitable subject for our consideration, if I show you,
I. What we are to think of the astonishment here expressed—
I suppose that there are few among us who would not highly approve of it, as exactly suited to the occasion. For our Lord to come to them walking upon the sea, and in an instant to still the winds and waves, and to transport the ship, without any further effort on their part, to the desired haven, was beyond measure wonderful; and therefore we should be ready to commend the sensibility which they manifested, and the amazement which they expressed.
But I am constrained to say that their feelings on the occasion were altogether wrong; and that their astonishment, instead of being commendable, was highly criminal; since it was nothing but a compound of ignorance, and forgetfulness, and obduracy.
1. Of ignorance—
They knew not who our Savior was: they supposed him to be a mere man. Had they known him to be the God of Heaven and earth, they would no more have wondered at his walking on the sea, or stilling the winds, than they would wonder at a man walking on dry land, and stopping a wheel which he himself had set in motion. He had indeed proclaimed himself to be God manifested in the flesh; and, by innumerable miracles, wrought in his own name and by his own power—he had proved himself to be so. But they believed him not, and could not conceive of him in his true and proper character as their incarnate God: and to this ignorance and unbelief our Lord traces the very feelings which they had shown on a similar occasion: "How is it that you have no faith? And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him, Mark 4:40-41." They "thought him to be only such a one as themselves Psalm 50:21;" and to that must be traced the excess of wonder which they expressed on this most interesting occasion.
2. Of forgetfulness—
Within the space of twelve hours from that time, they had seen his miracle of the loaves, in which they themselves had been the instruments of dispensing a few loaves and fish to five thousand men. They themselves had seen the bread increasing in their own hands before their eyes, while they were in the very act of distributing it to the people; and, after having fed to the full the whole multitude, they had taken up in fragments probably ten or a dozen times more in quantity than there was at the beginning verse 41–44.
Now, had they kept this in mind, they could never have been so surprised at his walking on the sea, or his stilling of the winds; which were, in fact, no greater miracles than that which they had so recently witnessed, and in which they themselves had borne such a distinguished part. Hence the Evangelist blames them for their conduct, and ascribes to their forgetfulness of the one miracle, their astonishment at the other: "they were sore amazed, and wondered; for they considered not the miracle of the loaves."
3. Of obduracy—
They had not been duly impressed with the miracle of the loaves. If they had felt as became them on that occasion, they would never have been filled with such overpowering astonishment on this. But they were in an insensible and obdurate state: and therefore the Evangelist says, "they wondered; for their heart was hardened." In like manner, when, in the next chapter, our Lord bade them to "beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the leaven of Herod," and they understood him as giving directions only respecting bread, he said to them, "Have you your heart yet hardened?" And then, calling to their remembrance two different seasons when he had fed immense multitudes with a few loaves, he repeated that just reproof, "How is it that you do not understand, Mark 8:14-21."
Thus, you perceive, if we analyze the Apostles's feelings, instead of admiring them as suited to the occasion, we shall condemn them as altogether unworthy of their Christian character.
For the regulation of our own conduct, let us learn from their astonishment,
II. What lessons it should teach us—
This is a subject which I consider as of very great importance to the Church of God. Were it a mere arbitrary construction of mine, it might be supposed that I carried the matter too far, and dealt too harshly with the Apostles in my censures of them. But the censure is passed by God himself: and by it he instructs us,
1. What is the proper measure of our expectations—
We are apt, in our expectations from God, to take into consideration the difficulties that are to be surmounted, and our unworthiness of the blessing which we implore at his hands: and from these two considerations we are apt to doubt his effectual interposition in our behalf. But, instead of giving weight to such considerations as those, we ought rather to reflect on what God has done; and to make his past mercies the standard by which to regulate our future expectations.
I need his POWER. And what proof has he given of its sufficiency for me? He has created the universe, and by one act of his power called it into existence. Then I take it as an unquestionable truth, that nothing is impossible with him, and that I can be in no state whatever in which he cannot afford me effectual relief, Isaiah 40:28-29.
I need also his GRACE. And what has he done that will give me any just idea of his grace? He has given his only dear Son out of his bosom, to assume my nature, and bear my sins, and, by the sacrifice of himself to restore me to his favor. Shall I then limit the extent of his grace to me in other matters? The Apostle says, "He who spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Romans 8:32." This argument is sound and conclusive; and precisely such as the disciples should have used on the occasion before us: "We have seen within these few hours the stupendous miracle of the loaves; and, having seen that, we shall wonder at no other exercise of his power or grace that he shall be pleased to grant unto us; and least of all, when we consider that the loaves were multiplied for multitudes who had flocked to him from mere curiosity, shall we be astonished at anything which he may do for us, his stated followers, and his chosen disciples."
Yes, brethren, we are to bear in mind what God has done, and from thence to conclude what he will do; and never to entertain a doubt but that his grace, in every possible point of view, whether as acting in us or exercised towards us, shall be sufficient for us.
2. What is the proper expression of our gratitude—
If God have shown mercy to us of any kind, either in a way of providence or of grace, we are not to be enrapt in wonder, as though he had exceeded all that his proper character had taught us to expect. This would be a very unfitting way of showing our gratitude.
Suppose a man of known piety and wealth were to relieve a poor family by bestowing on them a few shillings; and all the neighbors who heard of it were to be astonished beyond measure at this act of kindness; would their astonishment reflect any honor on the person so greatly lauded? Would it not show, either that the persons did not know his character, or that, at least, they were ignorant of what true piety requires? If they knew the man, instead of being filled with wonder at this exercise of his benevolence, they would only say, He has acted like himself, and in a manner worthy of the high character he sustains.
Thus, whatever we may receive from God, we must not be filled with wonder; but regard his mercies as a proof and evidence that He is what he has described himself to be, sovereign in the objects of his choice, and unbounded in the communications of his love.
In admiration of his goodness we may abound as much as we will: indeed it is not possible to have our souls too deeply penetrated with admiring and adoring thoughts of God. The more we resemble the heavenly hosts in this respect, the better: they, both saints and angels, are all prostrate upon their faces before the throne of God, in profoundest adoration, Just so should be our posture at the throne of grace, every day, and all the day long.
In holy activity, too, there can be no excess: we may serve God with every faculty we possess, whether of body or soul.
It is wonder only that must be excluded; because that is no better than a compound of ignorance, forgetfulness, and obduracy, and is therefore altogether unsuitable to express our unbounded obligations to Almighty God.
1. Are any of you involved in trouble and perplexity? See in whom you have help—
You, when proceeding in the path of duty, may meet with storms and tempests, even as the Apostles did, when prosecuting their appointed course; and you may labor both long and painfully in vain. But is therefore your condition hopeless? No! there is One who is both able and willing to save you, if only you call on him. He may appear to be far off: but he is near at hand, though you know him not; and the hour of your extremity shall be the time of his effectual interposition: yes, "He who shall come, will come, and will not tarry."
But perhaps your difficulties appear insurmountable. They may be so to you; but "with Him all things are possible." At His command the winds and waves shall be still; and all your troubles shall vanish in an instant. Be assured, that what he did for his disciples of old, he will do for you at this day; and if only you commit your souls to him, you shall speedily be at the haven where you desire to be.
2. Have any of you been delivered from trouble? Give to the Lord Jesus all the glory—
You see how vain your own labors are; and that you may toil during your whole life in vain, if he comes not to your aid.
What could any of you have done to remove guilt from your consciences, or to mortify sin, and transform yourselves into the Divine image? To all eternity you would have labored in vain to effect any one of these things. But Jesus, by his all-atoning blood, has expiated your guilt; and, by sprinkling that blood upon your consciences, has brought peace into your souls; and, by his all-powerful grace, he has enabled you to overcome your spiritual enemies, and to fulfill the will of God. And, if it were allowed to us to wonder, you might well be amazed at what he has wrought for you.
But in what he has done, he has only fulfilled his own office, and displayed his own proper character as a Savior. Give him, then, the glory of all that he has done; and "be his witnesses" to an ungodly world, that "he is able to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by him."
The Means of Spiritual Defilement
"When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them: Hear Me, everyone, and understand: There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!"
IT is by no means uncommon to see an excessive attachment to human institutions in those who have very little regard for the laws of God. Persons of this description are ever eager to censure a trifling deviation from some foolish custom, while they allow themselves in a constant violation of the most important duties. They strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. Such were the Pharisees of old: they had condemned our Lord's disciples for not complying with their traditions; our Lord therefore first exposed their hypocrisy, and then vindicated his followers by a very appropriate parable—
In illustration of the parable we shall endeavor to show,
I. What it is which defiles the soul—
Our Lord observes, that "whatever enters into a man cannot defile him:" not but that a man is defiled by drunkenness and excess; but it is the disposition which is indulged, and not the mere act of eating or drinking that constitutes that defilement. As the heart is the seat of spiritual defilement, so that alone which proceeds from it or resides in it, can render man unclean in the sight of God. The things therefore which defile a man are,
These proceed out of the abundance of the heart; and alas! what filthiness and overflowings of wickedness do they betray!
What a lack of reverence for the Deity is discovered by profane words! Well does God say, that "He will not hold those guiltless" who utter them.
Angry and passionate expressions manifest a murderous rancor in the heart, 1 John 3:15; and justly subject those who use them to the punishment of hellfire Matthew 5:22.
Lying is held in abhorrence even by those who are most addicted to the practice of it: nor can persons who give way to it have any portion in the kingdom of Heaven, Revelation 22:15.
Who would think well of that heart, which gives vent to slander and calumny?
As pleasing as flattery is to our vain minds, every one is disgusted with it except when it bears the semblance of truth; nor will God fail to punish those who so basely prostitute the powers of speech, Psalm 12:3.
Even an idle word is odious in the sight of God; and a strict account of it shall be rendered in the day of judgment, Matthew 12:36.
There is not anything more sordid and groveling than a worldly and covetous disposition. The object of its desire is always stigmatized by the name of "filthy lucre."
As for envy, it is justly represented as rottenness in the bones Proverbs, 14:30. It even operates as a disorder to reduce our bodily frame, at the same time that it wastes and destroys the soul.
Censoriousness is nearly allied to this; and no less indicates a narrow, selfish, and base mind.
What stronger symptom of internal depravity can there be than a peevish, discontented, murmuring spirit? Even Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of those who should indulge such a temper, that God would execute his judgments upon them, Jude verse 14–16.
Levity is less hateful indeed; but it argues an unmindfulness of the Divine presence, and a state of soul very unfitting those who are on the brink and precipice of eternity.
Nor is sloth by any means a small indication of a corrupt heart: it enervates all our powers, and unfits us for the service either of God or man. In what light our Lord regards this disposition we clearly see by that address of his, "You wicked and slothful servant;" "Cast the unprofitable servant into outer darkness."
The very "thoughts of our hearts are all naked and open before God," and he regards them as infallible marks of the state of our souls. Those thoughts indeed which are rejected instantly with indignation, do not leave any stain upon the soul; but those which are in the least degree harbored and indulged, most assuredly defile us. We are told that "the very thought of foolishness is sin, Proverbs 24:9." And Simon Magus was exhorted to "pray that the thought of his heart might be forgiven him, Acts 8:22."
Indeed it is but a small part of the wickedness of the heart that reveals itself by words and actions. All sin is first conceived in the imagination; and much lies buried there for lack of an opportunity to break forth. Who can number the proud, the impure, the uncharitable, the revengeful, the unbelieving, and the "vain thoughts that often lodge in the soul?" Who can estimate the guilt which we contract by means of them? It is worthy of remark, that these are the very things whereby our Lord himself says that the heart is defiled verse 21–23. And these are the things which, when brought to maturity, fill the world with adulteries, murders, and all manner of abominations, James 4:1.
The very peculiar manner in which this truth is delivered by our Lord, leads us to show,
II. The importance of understanding and knowing this distinction—
Our Lord "called all the people unto him;" he addressed them not only collectively, but, as it were, individually, "every one." He repeated his exhortation, "Hearken, and understand;" and lastly, he confirmed it with a very emphatic admonition, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." Now the reason of all this solemnity will appear, if we consider, that on the clear knowledge of this truth depends our knowledge of everything that is important in religion. Without it we cannot know,
1. The extent of our own depravity—
While we think that our defilement arises principally from outward actions, we shall entertain a good opinion of ourselves. If we have been kept from flagrant transgressions, we shall be, like Paul in his unconverted state, "alive without the law." But if the spirituality of the commandment, and our deviations from the line of duty, are made to appear to us, we like him shall "die," that is, we shall see ourselves dead in trespasses and sins, Romans 7:9.
Knowing the depravity of our own hearts, we shall be willing to humble ourselves before God as undone sinners; we shall cry like Job, "Behold, I am vile; I repent, and abhor myself in dust and ashes. Now until we be thus brought to loath ourselves, we have no genuine repentance. We must therefore learn wherein spiritual defilement consists, if ever we would have the guilt of it removed from our souls; for, except we repent, we must perish.
2. The impossibility of cleansing ourselves—
The lopping off a few branches of sin is no more than what an unregenerate person may do. While therefore he supposes that all his defilement consists in external actions, he will be depending on his own strength. But our disorder is far beyond any remedy of our own prescription: "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint." "Every imagination of the thoughts of our hearts has been only evil continually." We must, therefore, become entire new creatures: "Old things must pass away, and all things must become new."
Is such a change within the power of unassisted man to effect? Let any one strive to put away every evil disposition, and to suppress with indignation every rising thought of sin; let him plant the contrary dispositions in his heart, and nourish with delight the thoughts that are of a contrary tendency; he may as well attempt to build a world as to do this in his own strength, Jeremiah 13:23.
Yet this must be done. We do not say that a person must be absolutely perfect here; but he must pant after perfection, and loath himself for every remaining imperfection, even of thought. Surely this must be the work of that Almighty Agent who spoke the universe into existence, and brought order and beauty out of the shapeless chaos Ephesians 1:19-20; Ephesians 2:10. And when we know the depth of our depravity, then and then only, shall we be willing to seek help from Him who is mighty to save.
3. The suitableness and excellency of the Gospel salvation—
While ignorant of our own depravity, we are unaffected with the tidings of the Gospel. We imagine that others may appear to need a fountain; but we do not, because we have very little pollution. We imagine that others may need a new heart; but we have a very good one by nature. Thus the offers of the Gospel are of no value in our eyes; but when we know the depth of our corruptions, we are thankful to hear of a fountain opened for sin; and the promise of a new heart is precious to our souls, Ezekiel 36:25-27. The Gospel then appears exactly suited to our necessities, and "everything is accounted as dung and dross for the excellency of the knowledge of it."
1. To those who lay a stress on formal services—
We mean not to depreciate an outward conformity to religion; but where there is no more than that, the soul is in a lost and perishing condition. That is only like "the painting of a sepulcher which is full of rottenness and all impurity." Remember then, you must "lay the axe to the root of the tree." "You must be born again." This is the solemn and repeated declaration of Christ himself, "You must be born of the Spirit, or you can never enter into the kingdom of God." Hearken then, and understand this solemn admonition: let every one of you apply it to himself. Cry with David, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." "If any man has ears to hear, let him hear."
2. To those who have experienced vital and spiritual religion—
It is an unspeakable blessing to know anything of your own wicked hearts; nor can you ever be sufficiently thankful to Him who has revealed to you "the mystery of iniquity" within you: but what earnest heed ought you to take lest you be drawn again under the power of your corruptions! You still carry about with you "a body of sin and death!" "The flesh lusts still against the Spirit, as well as the Spirit against the flesh."
Let it then be your daily endeavor to "crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts." Be daily "putting off the old man which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be putting on the new man," etc. It is a solemn admonition which God has given you, "If any man defiles the temple of God, him shall God destroy." "You are now the temple of the Holy Spirit." O guard against every thought or desire that may grieve your Divine guest. You must resist the first risings of sinful inclination, as an evil desire indulged will blind the eyes, and harden the heart, and bring in with it a host of sins.
Above all, commit yourselves to that Almighty Savior, who has promised to preserve you blameless unto his heavenly kingdom. So shall you be washed in his blood from every fresh contracted stain, and be rendered "fit for the inheritance of the saints in light."
The Deaf and Dumb Man Healed
"Then they brought to Him one who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech, and they begged Him to put His hand on him. And He took him aside from the multitude, and put His fingers in his ears, and He spat and touched his tongue. Then, looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." Immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly. Then He commanded them that they should tell no one; but the more He commanded them, the more widely they proclaimed it."
THE astonishing frequency of our Lord's miracles renders them the less noticed; and we are ready to suppose that, after a few of them have been considered, the rest will afford us nothing new. But every distinct miracle was attended with some peculiar circumstances, and ought to excite our admiration as much as if it had been the only one recorded. To improve that which is now before us, we may consider,
I. The manner in which it was wrought—
Many instructive lessons may be learned from an attentive survey of our Lord's conduct in every part of his life. His manner of performing this miracle was peculiarly worthy of notice. It was,
He "took the man aside from the multitude" that surrounded him: not that he was afraid of having his miracles inspected and scrutinized as the greater part of them were wrought publicly before all: but on some occasions he sought rather to conceal his works. He wished not to excite the envy of the priests, or the jealousy of the rulers. He labored also to avoid all appearance of ostentation; he would show us by his example how our acts of beneficence should be performed, Matthew 6:3, and that we should never be actuated by the love of man's applause, John 5:44. Hence he so strictly "charged the people" not to divulge this miracle.
He also "looked up to Heaven" in acknowledgment of his Father's concurrence. Not but that he had in himself all power to do whatever he willed, John 5:21; but, as Mediator, he bore his commission from his heavenly Father, and therefore directed the eyes of men to him as the fountain of all good. Thus did he teach us to look up to Heaven for aid, even in those things for which we might suppose ourselves to be most sufficient, and to consult in everything, not our own glory, but the glory of God.
Touched with pity toward the object before him, "he sighed." He could not view even the present miseries introduced by sin without deep commiseration. Thus he showed how fit he was to be our great high priest, Hebrews 4:15; and how we ought to feel for others, and to bear their burdens, Galatians 6:2. We should never behold the bodily infirmities of others without longing to relieve them: nor, without gratitude to God for the continued use of our own faculties.
Though he looked up to Heaven, he wrought the miracle by his own power. He had only to issue the command, "Be opened!" He who once said, "Let there be light, and there was light," needed only to express his will in order to be obeyed. Instantly the man received the perfect use of his faculties; and, though enjoined silence, became an active instrument of spreading his Benefactor's praise.
Our Lord was pleased to put his finger into the man's ears, and to touch his tongue with his finger, which he had previously moistened with his own spittle. What was the precise intention of these means we cannot determine. Certain it is, that they had no necessary connection with the restoration of the man's faculties: but they are not without their use as they respect us. They show that there are no means, however weak in themselves, and inadequate to the end proposed, which he may not make use of for his own glory, and that it befits us to submit to any means whereby he may be pleased to convey his benefits.
But, besides more minute considerations, there are others which arise from a more general view of the miracle:
II. The improvement we should make of it—
All the miracles were intended to confirm the doctrine delivered by our Lord—
We may very properly therefore consider this as,
1. A proof of his mission—
It had long been foretold that the Messiah should work miracles. The restoring of men to the use of their faculties was among the number of the works which were to be performed by him, Isaiah 35:5-6. Here then the prophecy received a literal accomplishment; nor could prejudice itself find any just reason for questioning any longer our Lord's Messiahship. We indeed enjoy such abundant light and evidence that we need not the support of any single miracle: but, as all the miracles collectively, so should each individually, assure us beyond a doubt, that Jesus is the Christ.
2. A specimen of his greatest work—
Jesus had a much greater work than that of healing bodily disorders, He is the great physician whose office it is to heal men's souls. The miracles which he wrought in the days of his flesh were only as shadows of those which he had undertaken to perform.
He unstops the ears of men so that they may "hear his voice and live" He loosens their tongues so that they may show forth his praise. This he does by the invisible but effectual energy of his Spirit. Let those, who have never yet heard his voice, implore his aid. Let those, who are yet unoccupied with his praises, entreat his favor. Soon shall all natural or acquired infirmities yield to his word, Isaiah 32:3-4, and "Ephphatha" be the commencement of a new and heavenly life!
3. An encouragement for all to call upon him—
The object of Christ's compassion had nothing to recommend him; this deaf man's desire of relief was sufficient to call forth the pity of our Lord. Who then should stay away from our Lord on account of his unworthiness? Should we make our infirmities a reason for continuing far from him? Should we not rather take occasion from them to plead with him more earnestly? And would not he rejoice in manifesting his power and love towards us?
Let every one then apply to him in humility and faith. No disorders, however complicated, shall be able to withstand his will. The believing suppliant shall soon experience the efficacy of his grace, and shall have occasion to add his testimony to theirs of old, "People were overwhelmed with amazement. 'He has done everything well,' they said. 'He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.'" Mark 7:37
The Blind Man Healed
"Then He came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him. So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything. And he looked up and said, "I see men like trees, walking." Then He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly."
THIS miracle has many circumstances common to others. On other occasions our Lord manifested similar condescension and compassion: on other occasions also he both showed his abhorrence of ostentation, and his displeasure at the obstinate unbelief of men, by performing his miracles in private, and forbidding the persons who were cured to make them known. But the gradual manner in which he effected this cure is peculiar to this single miracle; we shall therefore fix our attention more particularly on that, and deduce from it some profitable observations.
I. Persons may be under the hand of Christ, and yet have but very imperfect views of spiritual things—
This man had experienced somewhat of the power and grace of Christ. Yet he could not distinguish men from trees, except by their motion. Thus are many, of whom there is reason to hope well, extremely dark and indistinct in their views. They know very little of their own depravity, or of Christ's excellency, or of the nature of the spiritual warfare. Thus the Apostles themselves saw not the necessity of Christ's death, Matthew 16:22, or the spiritual nature of his kingdom, Luke 9:54. Even after Christ's resurrection they could not conceive for what ends he was risen, Acts 1:6. Nor, for several years after the day of Pentecost, did they understand their entire freedom from the Mosaic law, or the purpose of God to make the Gentiles partakers of his salvation. Peter needed repeated visions to overcome his prejudices; nor did anything but a conviction of God's particular interposition prevent the whole college of Apostles from censuring Peter for preaching to Cornelius and his friends, Acts 10:28 and Acts 11:17-18. We may well expect therefore to find some among ourselves, who, notwithstanding they are dear to Christ, still have "the veil in some measure upon their heart."
Nor should this at all appear strange unto us. For,
II. Though our Lord could heal our blindness in an instant, yet he chooses rather to do it by the repeated use of the same means—
Our Lord, if it had pleased him, could have healed the man without touching him at all; or have cured him instantly by the first touch. He needed not, like Elisha, to repeat the use of the same means, because he had not power in himself to render the first use of them effectual, 2 Kings 4:33-35. But he saw fit to repeat the imposition of his hand in order to exercise the faith and patience of the blind man.
Thus could he instantaneously enlighten our minds. He who commanded light to shine out of darkness, could with the same ease shine into our hearts with meridian splendor, 2 Corinthians 4:6. But this is not his usual mode of proceeding in any part of his works. He perfected not the creation but in six successive days of labor. The vegetable, the animal, and the rational creation rise to maturity by degrees.
Just so, in the new creation of the soul he gradually informs and renews it. He makes use of his preached Gospel to open the eyes of the blind. Inadequate as these means are (even as the mere touch of a finger) he has appointed them for this end. He orders also the means to be continually used, as long as there remains the smallest imperfection in our sight. And he is pleased to render them conducive to the end proposed. He "leads us gradually into all truth, John 16:13," and enables us at last to comprehend the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of his unsearchable love, Ephesians 3:18-19.
However imperfect his work in us now is, it must afford us consolation to consider,
III. Wherever he has begun the good work, there is reason to hope that he will carry it on to perfection—
Never did our Lord leave one of his miracles imperfectly wrought. In the instance before us he presently perfected the cure he had begun. Thus may we hope he will do with respect to the illumination of our minds. If indeed, like Balaam, we be only illuminated, and not really sanctified by the truth, we may justly expect to perish with a more aggravated condemnation, Numbers 24:3-4, Hebrews 6:4-6; but if we walk according to the light we have, that light shall surely be increased, and all saving blessings be communicated with it, 1 John 1:7.
Hence the Christian's path is compared to the sun rising to its meridian height, Proverbs 4:18. We have none of us reason to doubt, but that Christ will thus perfect that which concerns us. He has promised to do so, Psalm 138:8. On this ground Paul expresses his confidence, that he will complete the good work wherever he has begun it, Philippians 1:6. We too may be confident, provided our faith be tempered with a holy fear, Romans 11:20. We may well argue with Manoah's wife, that he would not have revealed such things unto us, if he had intended to destroy us, Judges 13:23. We may regard his smaller gifts as a pledge of greater gifts; and may be assured, that he who has been the Author of our faith will also be the Finisher of it Hebrews 12:2.
Surely this subject may well teach us,
1. Candor in respect to others—
If a person has not very distinct views of divine truth, we are apt to undervalue him, as though the "root of the matter were not in him." But God honored young Abijah because "there was some good thing in him towards the Lord his God." And if God does "not despise the day of small things," should we? Is our brother "a babe? let us feed him with milk." Is he "a lamb? let us carry him in our bosom." Many a babe in divine knowledge stands higher in God's estimation, than those who value themselves as wise and prudent.
2. Jealousy in reference to ourselves—
If we have ever come to Christ aright, he has so far opened our eyes, that we are made to possess some spiritual discernment. Let us ask ourselves therefore, "What do I see, which flesh and blood could never have revealed unto me? And am I desirous that my knowledge of my own heart may be more deep, my views of Christ be more enlarged, and my experience of the divine life in all its diversified operations be more manifested by its transforming efficacy upon my soul?"
Dear brethren, we must "grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ:" and if, "when for the time that we have been in the school of Christ we ought to be teachers of others, we need ourselves to be taught what are the first principles of the oracles of God," we have reason to fear that "the scales have never truly fallen from our eyes," but that a veil of darkness is yet upon our heart
3. Thankfulness to God, if he has given us the smallest insight into divine truth—
I would not disparage worldly knowledge: but the Apostle Paul, who had made attainments in it beyond most, yet "counted it all but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord." Yes indeed, a single ray of spiritual discernment is preferable to the meridian splendor of human science; since that will transform the soul, which earthly knowledge never can; and will save the soul, when the wise of this world shall be found to have sought a mere phantom, and to have wasted their lives in a sad fruitless course of laborious folly. As to human sciences, they are not within the reach of all: but spiritual knowledge is: for God can open the eyes of the poor as well as of the rich; yes rather, "the things which he has hid from the wise and prudent, he reveals to babes," that his power may be the more seen, and his name be the more glorified. If then the day has begun to dawn on any of you, rejoice: and beg of God that "your path may shine brighter and brighter unto the perfect day."
The Guilt and Danger of Being Ashamed of Christ
"Whoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
A SENSE of shame would never have been experienced, if man had abode in innocence. There is no room for shame in Heaven, because there is no sin. But since man has become a guilty and corrupt creature, it is highly requisite that he should blush and be confounded before God. His shame should rise even to self-loathing and self-abhorrence.
But so strangely has Satan blinded the eyes of men, that sin appears to them rather an object of glorying; and religion is regarded as the only thing of which we need to be ashamed. Hence iniquity is applauded, and piety decried. The Gospel, more especially, is made a butt of reproach and ridicule; and every method which the wit of man can devise, is used to bring vital godliness into disrepute and contempt. But our blessed Lord cautions his followers against yielding to the impressions of fear, or disguising their attachment to him through a wish to conciliate the esteem of men.
I. Who they are that are ashamed of Christ—
Though the "generation" among whom our Lord sojourned were distinguished for their wickedness, yet the present generation may with no less propriety be called "adulterous and sinful," because the affections of men are almost universally alienated from God, their proper Lord and Husband, and the world with all its vanities is received to their affectionate embrace. That many among them should be ashamed of Christ and of his words, is the natural consequence of such a state of things. To determine who they are that answer to this character, we shall arrange them under distinct heads:
1. Those who openly disclaim all regard to Christ—
How numerous this class is, a very little observation will suffice to teach us. The generality of men, if it were proved at this moment that there never had existed such a person as Jesus Christ, would have no one thing to alter in their conduct. This is a sure proof that they never have paid any regard to him at all. Indeed, they consider the fear of him as superstition, the love of him as enthusiasm, and all regard to him as a symptom of weakness and folly.
And what is this, but to "be ashamed of him," or, as another Evangelist expresses it, to "deny him." While they represent him as unworthy of any attention from his creatures, they degrade him as an impostor, and hold him up to universal contempt.
2. Those who, while they feel some regard for him, are ashamed to manifest it before men—
Many are persuaded in their minds, that the words of Christ are true, and that those who are obedient to them are the best and happiest of mankind: yet they dare not to unite themselves to this despised people, lest they should share in the calumny that is cast upon them. They are ashamed to be seen conversing with any distinguished servant of Christ, or to be found in a Church where the Gospel is faithfully preached. Or if they venture to go thither at any time, they assume an air of levity and indifference foreign to their real feelings, merely that they may not be thought to be tinctured with enthusiasm, or to have come thither for any other end than curiosity and amusement. They can hear the Gospel defamed, and the professors of it condemned as hypocrites and fanatics, and not dare to open their lips in vindication of either. Yes, they can even join in profane jesting themselves, much sooner than they can utter the real sentiments of their hearts. Though, in a sense, they "believe in Christ, they dare not confess him, John 12:42." And what is this, but to be ashamed of Christ?
3. Those who profess indeed a regard for him, but in circumstances of trial are afraid to maintain a consistent conduct—
Many professors of religion are far from possessing that courage which is necessary to uphold them in times of persecution. Peter himself, though naturally courageous, was tempted to deny his Lord with oaths and curses: nor was he restored to God's favor without many tears and bitter lamentations. And is there not reason to fear that many of us, if brought into similar circumstances, would resemble him? How few are there among us, who, like Daniel, Daniel 6:10, would persist in the path of duty, when all around them had departed from it, and when a cruel death must be the immediate consequence of their fidelity to Christ? Yet the declining to sacrifice our lives in the cause of Christ would mark us out as persons ashamed of Christ, and subject us to his everlasting displeasure. Indeed it is to such characters that our Lord more immediately referred in the words before us, compare verse 35; and therefore we cannot hesitate to class them among those to whom the warning in our text is given.
Respecting all these, our Lord plainly informs us of,
II. The treatment which they must expect at his hands—
There is a day coming, when "the Son of Man," who is now treated with such contempt, will appear in all the brightness of "his Father's glory," surrounded with myriads of "his holy angels," and will summon the universe to his tribunal. "Then will he be ashamed of those who now are ashamed of him."
His faithful servants he will then confess: he will declare, before all, his approbation of them, and his delight in them. He will welcome them as his brethren, and as joint-heirs of his eternal inheritance.
But not one look of love will he grant to those who, through cowardice, or love of sin, have denied him. He will turn away his face from them, as one that is ashamed of them. If they begin to claim an acquaintance with him, and to plead the services they have rendered him, he will frown upon them, and, with a look of indignation and abhorrence, disclaim all knowledge of them, Matthew 7:22-23. He will drive them from his presence, as unworthy of his favor, or of the company of his faithful people.
O! who can conceive the anguish which these contemptuous sinners must endure; when the adorable Savior shall thus retaliate upon them the treatment which he has received at their hands?
This, I say, is the recompense which they must expect from him—
He has plainly forewarned them respecting this; and therefore it shall come to pass. But, that they may see how just this doom will be, let them only consider the folly and wickedness of their conduct.
What folly is it to turn their back on Christ, through fear of a contemptuous look, or a reproachful name! What madness to "fear them who can only kill the body, rather than Him who can destroy both body and soul in Hell!" Does not such conduct render them contemptible, and justly subject them to the sentence with which they are threatened?
What desperate wickedness too is it to be ashamed of him who is the Only-beloved of the Father, and the object of incessant adoration to all the hosts of Heaven! What horrible impiety, to pour contempt on him who left his glory for them; who for their sakes "hid not his face from shame and spitting." Yes, "who, for the joy of saving their souls alive, endured the cross and despised the shame," and "became obedient unto death, even the accursed death of the cross!" Let them only contemplate his kindness towards them, and then consider whether the punishment of their ingratitude exceeds the quality of their offence.
1. How necessary is courage to those who embrace the Gospel!
It is not possible to be faithful unto Christ, and at the same time escape the censures of the world, John 15:18-20. And our only alternative is, to "be faithful unto death," or to relinquish all hope of his favor. The fearful and unbelieving will take their portion together in the lake of fire and brimstone, 2 Timothy 2:12, Revelation 21:8.
O beg of God to endue your souls with courage, that you may "set your faces like a flint" against the whole ungodly world, and maintain your steadfastness even to the end.
2. How desirable is it to be looking forward to the future judgment!
If we attend only to the concerns of this life, we shall be anxious to preserve our reputation in the world. But if we consider how soon an unerring judgment will be passed upon us, we shall not regard the calumnies that are circulated respecting us, or the contempt that is poured upon us. This was Paul's experience in 1 Corinthians 4:3-4; and similar considerations will produce similar benefit to our souls.
3. How important is it to have just views of Christ!
The more enlarged our apprehension is of his excellency and glory, the more shall we be emboldened to confess him before men. Paul endured more for him than any other disciple ever did: yet neither reproach nor suffering could move him. And whence was it that he was thus immoveable? He himself tells us; "I am not ashamed; for I know in whom I have believed, 2 Timothy 1:12."
Thus let us get a full persuasion of his power and faithfulness to support us under our tribulations, and reward us for them, and we shall not fear the face of man. We shall rather rejoice that we are counted worthy to suffer for his sake, and that we are honored to be thus conformed to his image.
A Deaf and Dumb Spirit Cast out
"When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, "Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!" Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as one dead, so that many said, "He is dead." But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose."
VARIOUS, and extremely opposite, were the states which our Lord in the course of his ministry experienced. He was not wholly a stranger to seasons of exalted joy; but he was chiefly conversant with scenes of sorrow and affliction. He had just come down from the mount on which he had been transfigured, and the splendor of his glory was yet visible in his countenance This is not absolutely asserted by the Evangelist, but it is the most probable reason for the "great amazement" which the people discovered at the sight of him, verse 15. This idea is confirmed by the account given us of Moses the Jewish lawgiver, who experienced a similar continuance of glory on his countenance after conversing with God on Mount Sinai, Exodus 34:29-30 with 2 Corinthians 3:7. But he descended only to behold the miseries to which sin had reduced us, and to renew his labors among a scoffing and unbelieving people.
To bring into view the various circumstances of the history before us, we shall consider,
I. The wretched state of the youth who was brought to him—
Imagination can scarcely point out a more distressing scene than that exhibited in the context:
Here was a youth afflicted with an epilepsy, Matthew 17:15. This affliction was greatly increased by his being a lunatic, Matthew 17:15; to complete his misery, he was possessed by an evil spirit, Luke 9:39. This evil spirit took advantage of his natural infirmities, and impelled him, on the returns of his disorder, to rush into the fire, or into the water, verse 22. He moreover tore and rent the youth with most excruciating agonies, verse 18, and deprived him of the powers of speech and hearing, verse 25. Thus had Satan tormented him even from his very childhood, verse 21; so that, in the very bloom of life, the youth pined and languished in the extreme misery, verse 18.
This scene too justly describes the invisible influence of Satan over the souls of men—
We have reason to rejoice that his power over men's bodies is now greatly contracted, if not wholly destroyed. What a miserable world would this be, if the malice of that fiend were not restrained! .ut his power over the souls of men is as extensive as ever, 1 Peter 5:8. He still takes advantage of our constitutional propensities. Some he stimulates to the pursuit of vain amusements, others to the gratification of grosser lusts and pleasures; and impels us to the commission of of the most self-destructive acts, Acts 13:10. Doubtless much of our wickedness must be ascribed to our depraved appetites; but our malicious adversary concurs with them, and actuates us by them. Compare John 12:6 with Luke 22:3-5. While we continue to walk after the course of this world, and of those who are of the same age and station with ourselves, we are altogether his vassals, Ephesians 2:2; and the whole world, if viewed in a spiritual light, exhibits little else than such wretched spectacles as that before us, 2 Timothy 2:26.
With such scenes, however, Jesus was continually conversant—
II. The application made to Jesus on his behalf—
The father of the youth had in vain applied to the disciples for relief—
The disciples had been endued with power to cast out devils, Matthew 10:8; but in this instance they were foiled in their attempt to exercise that power. This disappointment afforded to the unbelieving Scribes much occasion for malicious triumph, verse 14.
Our Lord, being asked afterwards by his disciples in private, assigned the reasons of their failure. They had not made the attempt in the full exercise of faith, Matthew 17:20. Had they truly believed, nothing would have been impossible to them. They had moreover neglected to use extraordinary means on this extraordinary occasion. They should have had recourse to God in fasting and prayer, Matthew 17:21. It seems from hence, that some of the evil spirits have more power and malignity than others. See also Matthew 12:45.
From these circumstances we may gather much useful instruction. Our Lord has promised us the victory over all the powers of darkness, Romans 16:20; but we must have our strength renewed by fasting and prayer, Ephesians 6:18; and must put it forth in a believing dependence on his word, Ephesians 6:16; nor can we hope to succeed but in the use of these appointed means.
He now applied to Jesus himself—
Kneeling with deepest humility, he implored the mercy which he needed, Matthew 17:14; but manifested that the disappointment he had experienced had shaken his faith even in Jesus himself, verse 22. Our Lord gently reproves him for his unbelief, and bids him be more concerned about the increase of his own faith than about the ability of the person to whom he was applying, verse 23. The father instantly with tears confesses the justice of the reproof, verse 24, and entreats the Lord to increase and confirm his faith.
How amiable was this concern for his child, and this zeal for his sad state! And should we be less earnest in interceding for our unconverted relatives? Like him, when human powers have failed, we are ready to question the sufficiency of God himself: but we should be careful never to limit the almighty power of Jesus; and should deeply bewail the sad remains of unbelief that are within us! Let us then labor more to imitate this afflicted parent, and in every application to Jesus offer that suitable petition, verse 24.
Like thousands of other suppliants he soon obtained his request—
III. The miracle which Jesus wrought for him—
Our Lord immediately interposed for the relief of the youth; and Satan labored to the utmost to obstruct his design—
Jesus ordered the young man to be brought unto him. Satan, enraged at the prospect of his own disgrace, assaulted him with greater fury than ever, nor did he leave him until he had made one more effort to destroy his life, verse 26. Satan exerted himself thus to defeat our Lord's purpose. Our Lord permitted him thus to act for the more abundant display of his own power. It is in this very manner that Satan still acts towards us; he cannot endure that any soul should come to Jesus for help; he usually makes his fiercest assaults upon us, when he is fearful of losing his dominion over us. Some he discourages by inward suggestions, (you are not elect, your sins are too great, you have committed the sin against the Holy Spirit, etc.) and some by opposition from without. Yes, not infrequently does he reduce us almost to a despair of life, just before our perfect deliverance is about to be effected.
But in vain were Satan's efforts against the sovereign power of Jesus—
Jesus raised up the youth, who lay, to all appearance dead, and delivered him in perfect health to his astonished father, Luke 9:42.
Thus shall also the grace of Jesus finally prevail in his people's hearts. In vain shall be the renewed attacks of their great adversary: however fiercely they be assaulted, they shall be more than conquerors over every enemy, Romans 8:37; And the malice of Satan shall only render them more distinguished monuments of their Redeemer's power.
Fasting and Prayer
"And when He had come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, "Why could we not cast it out?" So He said to them, "This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting."
THE gift of working miracles was possessed by all the Apostles. Yet it does not appear that the power could be exercised at all times, and at their own option, but only at such times and on such occasions as God saw fit to permit. Had the exercise of this gift been purely optional, we can scarcely conceive that Paul would have "left Trophimus at Miletus sick, 2 Timothy 4:20," when he wanted him much for his companion in travel; or that, when "Epaphroditus was sick near unto death," that same Apostle, who felt so deeply interested in his welfare, would not have interposed to restore him to health, Philippians 2:27. It should seem, that a certain kind and degree of faith was necessary to be exercised by them, when they would put forth their miraculous powers; and that that faith was not always at their command, but needed to be brought down from Heaven, by fresh and more abundant communications, in answer to their prayers.
The Apostles, on having a youth, who was possessed by a mute spirit, brought to them by his father, endeavored to expel the demon from him, but were not able. The youth was then brought to Jesus himself, who, by a word, effected that which all his disciples together could not effect. The disciples then asked Jesus privately, What it was that had occasioned their failure? Our Lord told them, that they had failed through their lack of faith; a more abundant measure of which was necessary, when so malignant a fiend as this was to be expelled: and that faith could be obtained only by a more particular and solemn application to God than they had used on this occasion: "for that kind could come forth by nothing but by fasting and prayer, Compare Matthew 17:19-21 with the text."
Miraculous gifts having ceased in the Church, we shall forbear to speak of them. But the power of Satan over men has not ceased: the only difference is, that formerly he could operate immediately upon the body, by an otherworldly power, without any concurrence on our part; whereas now he can only act on the soul, through the medium of our own corruptions, and in concurrence with our own will.
But, as formerly, it was not in the power of unassisted man to withstand his efforts; so neither at this time can we hope to prevail against him, but by a power received from on high. This is true at all times, and under all circumstances: but there are times and seasons when he appears to have assaulted us with more than ordinary violence, and to have gained a peculiar advantage over us, through the instrumentality of some deep-rooted corruption. To withstand him then, is found more difficult than at other times; and we can do nothing against him, without such a measure of grace and strength as is communicated to those only who, with deliberate and determined purpose of heart, set themselves to seek it in solemn fasting and prayer. In reference, then, to these occasions we may well apply the text: in doing which, I will show,
I. The extraordinary difficulties which some have to encounter—
There is no man who has not much to encounter both from within and from without. But some have far greater difficulties to contend with than others,
1. From the great adversary of souls—
We know but little respecting angels; except that the good angels are "ministering spirits, sent forth to minister unto those who are the heirs of salvation;" and that the evil angels are occupied in constant endeavors to ensnare and ruin the souls of men.
Of the evil angels, as well as of the good, there are different ranks and orders, called "demons and principalities and powers;" and that they act under the guidance of one, even of "Beelzebub, who is the prince of the devils, Matthew 12:24." It should seem, too, that some possess a deeper measure of malignity than others; since one spirit, on being driven out of a man, is said to "take unto himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and to enter into him again, and make his last state worse than the first Matthew 12:45." Sometimes several of them take possession of a man at once: for "out of Mary Magdalen our Lord cast seven devils;" and out of another person a whole "legion of demons." Over Satan's family these bear an undisputed sway, John 8:44; and over the godly themselves they maintain a very considerable influence; insomuch, that, if not restrained by Almighty God, they would "sift" every living man "as wheat," and reduce even an inspired Apostle to chaff! Luke 22:31-32.
On some he acts "by deceit, putting on the semblance of "an angel of light, 2 Corinthians 11:3; 2 Corinthians 11:14;" and so subtle are "his wiles," and so crafty are "his devices," that it is inconceivably difficult to be always on our guard against them, 2 Corinthians 2:11; Ephesians 6:11.
Love to the Savior himself may even be perverted by him into an occasion of evil; and be rendered, through the ignorance and inadvertence of man, subservient to the advancement of Satan's purposes, Matthew 16:21-23.
At other times, Satan comes rather "like a roaring lion, ready to devour us, 1 Peter 5:8;" and, with an overwhelming power, carries men to the commission of the most palpable and damning sins; instigating Judas to betray his Lord, John 13:27, and Ananias and Sapphira to "lied unto the Holy Spirit, Acts 5:3." Well is he called "the God of this world;" for, by blinding some, 2 Corinthians 4:4, and impelling others, he maintains a sway over all "the children of disobedience, Ephesians 2:2."
Now, to contend with these is, more or less, the lot of all God's people, Ephesians 6:12; but some experience his assaults in a more violent degree than others; and would be utterly destroyed by his "fiery darts," if God had not furnished them with "the shield of faith, whereby to quench" or ward them off, Ephesians 6:16.
2. From their own indwelling corruptions—
All have a "heart full of evil, Ecclesiastes 9:3;" but there is a "spiritual and a fleshly filthiness;" and in some a certain sin has the ascendancy; and in others, a different sin has the ascendancy. Some, from their very infancy, are swollen with pride, or corroded with envy, or inflamed with passion, or envenomed with malice. Some betray a very early propensity to deceit, and falsehood, and dishonesty, and selfishness in all its bearings. In some profaneness and impiety are dominant; so that, without any interest to serve, or lust to gratify—they will find pleasure in insulting to his face the Most High God. In others, a disposition to lewdness and intemperance is marked from a very early period of life; and soon acquires such an entire dominion, that it bids defiance to all the efforts that are made to check it; nor can all the calamities which it entails on its unhappy victim induce him to withstand its influence.
In truth, to such a degree are many subjected to some reigning sin, whether of a spiritual or fleshly nature, that one cannot but regard them as under Satanic influence; or, to use the words of Paul, as "taken in the snare of the devil, and as led captive by him at his will, 2 Timothy 2:26."
Now, where men are thus enslaved by any besetting sin, they have difficulties which others have scarcely any idea of: and to them I would declare,
II. The extraordinary means which they should use, in order to surmount them—
Resolutions will be of little avail: they will yield to even the smallest temptation. The passionate man may resolve to restrain his anger; the drunkard to contract a habit of sobriety; the lewd person to mortify his passions—but he resolves in vain, as long as his resolutions are formed in dependence on his own strength. He returns, again and again, "like a dog to his vomit;" nor can all the bitter consequences which he has experienced in this world, nor those more awful terrors which he is taught to expect in the world to come, suffice to keep him steadfast to his purpose.
Even prayer itself has but a slight and transient effect; insomuch that, in some instances, he is even afraid to pray; because it seems as if his very prayers only stirred up his enemy to renew with greater vigor and success his irresistible assaults. But, by the ordinances of our Church, as well as by the Holy Scriptures, we are taught, that "with prayer, fasting" should be joined—
Fasting is a duty enjoined by God himself. Under the law, a day was appointed whereon the whole nation of Israel were to observe an annual fast, Leviticus 23:27-29; and all the most eminent servants of God recorded in the Old Testament combined fasting with prayer, Ezra. 8:21, Nehemiah 1:4, Esther 4:16. Under the New Testament dispensation the same duty is inculcated, and, on proper occasions, was practiced also by the servants of the Lord, Mark 2:20, Matthew 6:17, Luke 2:37, 2 Corinthians 11:27.
For seasons of affliction, fasting is peculiarly suited; and, above all, for such a season as has been before described. It tends to honor God, whom we have offended by our sins. It tends to humble ourselves, as being itself an acknowledgment of our desert of his wrath. It tends to mortify the very corruptions we mourn over. It greatly aids our urgency in prayer.
In these respects it may justly be deemed of great importance: for though in itself it has no kind of merit, yet, as manifesting our sincerity, and approving us both to God and to our own consciences, it is of singular use, especially if accompanied with a corresponding humiliation of our souls before God: for, without that, it will be only an empty ceremony, a hypocritical profession, a senseless mockery.
Though neither of them apart should have prevailed, the two combined will be effectual for the desired end—
In no instance has God ever withheld his blessing from the two combined. Prayer alone, if fervent and believing, will not be allowed to go forth in vain. But, in the extraordinary cases before referred to, a man truly in earnest will address himself to the work of prayer in the more solemn attitude of penitential sorrow, "in weeping, and mourning, and fasting Joel 2:12."
How successful such prayer shall be, may be seen in the case of Nineveh, where the whole city was spared from destruction in consequence of their turning to the Lord in fasting and in prayer Jonah 3:7-10. The example of Daniel is yet more encouraging than this, inasmuch as it brought down upon him not merely a suspension from evil, but the most extraordinary tokens of God's favor. See how his fast was conducted; and with what fervent prayers it was accompanied: and then see what an answer it brought down from Heaven, Daniel 9:3-5; Daniel 9:17-23; and know, assuredly, that such humiliation shall prevail, whatever enemies you have to contend with, whatever corruptions you have to strive against.
1. Those who are yielding to their spiritual enemies—
Many think it sufficient to say, that such or such propensities are naturally inherent in them; and that they are regarded rather as constitutional infirmities, than as any deep grounds for personal humiliation. But, on this ground, there is no sin whatever which may not be cloaked with a suitable apology. That a man will find a greater difficulty in mortifying his besetting sin, is true: and that he will, to his last hour, be more in danger from it, is also true: but it must be put away Hebrews 12:1; and, if not subdued and mortified, it will inevitably plunge the soul into everlasting perdition.
The eye, the hand, the foot, are natural, and dear, and necessary: but, if any one of them stand in competition with our duty, it must not be spared: there is no alternative, but to part with that, or to have both body and soul cast into the flames of Hell, Mark 9:43-48. If a man shall say 'I have grace, but not enough for that particular sin.' I answer, that grace insufficient, is no grace; and that the man who thinks he is a partaker of divine grace, while he is led captive by any constitutional or habitual sin, is only deceiving his own soul, and will find out his error when it is past a remedy, James 1:26.
A life of alternate sinning and repenting, sinning and repenting, (a life, alas! too common among those who profess religion,) will never be approved of God. I will readily allow that a man may have more than ordinary difficulties to contend with; but then he must adopt more than ordinary measures for the surmounting of them; and if he will not do this, he has only himself to blame: for "there is no kind, either of spirit or corruption, that shall not go forth by prayer and fasting."
2. Those who are conflicting with their spiritual enemies—
"Be strong, and of good courage: for no enemy shall be able to stand before you." Only go forth in faith, and all the Goliath sins in the universe shall fall under your hand. God has said, that, "provided you are not under the law, but under grace, sin shall not have dominion over you, Romans 6:14." "The grace of Christ, which was sufficient for" Paul, shall be alike sufficient for all who trust in it, 2 Corinthians 12:9. A very "worm shall thresh the mountains, and reduce them all to dust, Isaiah 41:14-16;" and Satan himself, that great enemy, shall be bruised under the feet of all who will withstand him manfully, 1 Peter 5:8-9, James 4:7, Romans 16:20. The armor provided for us shall not be girt on in vain, Ephesians 6:11. Only go forth in the strength of the Lord Jesus, Ephesians 6:10, and you shall "be more than conquerors through Him that loves you! Romans 8:37."
Christ's Interest in His People
"For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward. "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea."
THOUGH the Lord requires decision of character, where full information exists; and therefore says in one place, "He who is not with me, is against me; and he who gathers not with me, scatters abroad, Matthew 12:30;" yet, in the passage before us, in reference to one who, for lack of fuller information, did not follow with his disciples, he said, "He who is not against us, is on our part."
There may be real integrity, where, from peculiar circumstances, there may be little profession: and where integrity of heart is, there will the Lord make due allowance for defects, which, under different circumstances, would provoke his heavy displeasure. The Apostles were, in this respect, but ill-instructed. They would have disallowed a brother altogether, because he came not up to their standard: but our Lord told them, that, however weak his children were, he would reward every benefit conferred upon them, and resent every injury done to them.
Let us consider,
I. The interest which Christ takes in his believing people—
He completely identifies himself with them, and receives as done to himself whatever is done to them,
1. In a way of good—
Scarcely anything can be less than a cup of water: yet, if given to any one because he belongs to Christ, the donor of it "shall not lose his reward." It is necessary that it be given for Christ's sake; else, though it may be an act of humanity, it is no act of piety: but given for his sake, it is, and shall be, accepted by him, and be richly recompensed in the day of judgment, Matthew 25:40.
2. In a way of evil—
To "offend" one of his little ones, is to cast a stumbling-block before him, by which he may fall. And this may be done either by temptation or persecution: but, in whatever way it be done, whether by allurement or menace—it shall be visited with God's wrathful indignation. To "have a millstone hanged about one's neck, and to be cast into the sea," would be a fearful judgment: but "a far sorer judgment" awaits the man who endeavors to turn from Christ one of the least of his people, or to impede his progress heavenward, Hebrews 10:28-29. Christ considers this also as done to himself, Acts 9:4, and will resent it accordingly.
If we view this aright, we cannot doubt,
II. The return it calls for at our hands—
Surely it calls for,
How wonderful it is, that our adorable Redeemer should so condescend to notice what is done to us, and to regard "the touching of us as the touching of the apple (pupil) of his eye!" It were absolutely incredible, if he had not so minutely and specifically affirmed it.
Is our Lord and Savior so interested in our behalf? What can we ever lack? or what is there which we have to fear? David says, "The Lord is my Shepherd; therefore I shall not lack, Psalm 23:1;" and I am sure that we, under the Christian dispensation, are not a whit less privileged than he.
What shall we not do for Him, who so cares for us? And can we reach him, so to speak, by benefitting his poorer members? Whatever then I would do for Him, if he were personally present with me, that I will do for his redeemed people; accounting nothing too much to do or suffer, if only I may please him, and honor him.
1. Are there here any who have discouraged the saints?
Possibly you may have done it only by sneers and ridicule; but, in whatever way it may have been, remember the warning here given you, and repent of your conduct before it be too late. If you do not choose to go to Heaven yourselves, then beware how you aggravate your guilt, by making yourselves accountable also for the souls of others. It will be a fearful thing to have the blood of others required at your hands.
2. Are there any who have delighted to do them good?
"Be not weary of well-doing; for in due season you shall reap, if you faint not." None are to be excluded from your benevolent exertions, but "the household of faith" have a peculiar claim, Galatians 6:10, as the members of Christ's body, and as the very representatives of Christ himself.
An Offending Member
"If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to Hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched—where 'Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'
And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched—where 'Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into Hell-fire—where 'Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'"
TO oppose and persecute the people of God is to make God himself our enemy; nor can we cast a stumbling-block in their way without aggravating thereby our own condemnation, verse 42.
But it is not only by open profaneness that we endanger our salvation; we are no less obnoxious to the displeasure of God if we retain any secret sin. Hence our Lord gives us the most solemn and repeated admonition to cut off every occasion of sin. In discoursing on his words we shall consider,
I. His injunctions—
There are many things which prove to us an occasion of sin—
We are too ready to be drawn aside by our worldly interests. How often have they led men to engage in unlawful occupations, to practice deceit and falsehood, and in a thousand other ways to violate the dictates of their conscience! How has an undue regard to them deterred many from embracing the Gospel and following the Lord fully, Mark 10:22. And how many have been turned aside by them from the truth of God, even after they had maintained a long and honorable profession, 2 Timothy 4:10. Carnal affections also frequently prove a very fatal snare. How many spiritual people have been led to connect themselves for life with an unconverted person, through an unwillingness to thwart their natural inclinations, and that too, in opposition to the most express commands of God, 2 Corinthians 6:14; 2 Corinthians 6:17. How many through an excess of attachment have idolized the creature while they possessed it, and murmured against God the instant it was removed? Need we add sensual appetites to this black catalogue? Who, that knows the danger of an impure look, Matthew 5:28-29, must not tremble?
These, as soon as ever we discover their baneful tendency, should be cut off—
We are far from condemning these things as bad in themselves. Our carnal appetites and affections were given us to be indulged, and our worldly interests indispensably require a considerable degree of care and attention; but when they become stumbling-blocks to us and betray us into sin, then they become sinful in themselves, and must instantly be cut off. Nor must any consideration whatever induce us to spare them. If they be dear to us as an "eye," or useful and apparently necessary to us as a "hand" or "foot"—then we must sacrifice them without pity or reserve. Different situations indeed call for much prudence and discretion in the execution of this duty. We must not lose sight of meekness and humility when we are exercising a necessary firmness and self-denial. Nevertheless we must not tamper with our consciences, but fulfill our duty, and leave outcome to God.
To aid us in obeying our Lord's injunctions let us consider,
II. The arguments with which he enforced them—
Men in general are averse to hear anything of the terrors of the Lord; but Paul insisted on them in order to persuade men; and our Lord himself frequently urged them on his hearers as inducements to obedience. The arguments with which he enforced his precepts in the text are most solemn and weighty:
1. God will surely deal with men hereafter according to their conduct in this life—
This truth is not merely asserted, but assumed in the text as incontrovertible and undoubted: nor is there any truth whatever, that is more agreeable to reason, or more abundantly confirmed by the sacred oracles, Romans 8:13, Galatians 6:7-8. And can anything be a stronger argument for self-denial? Surely if eternal happiness or misery must be the outcome of our conduct, we should diligently consider our ways, and put away the accursed thing that would ruin our souls. If we had no future account to give of our conduct, we might say, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die," but, if we believe the Scriptures, we shall rather labor to act with a view to the future judgment.
2. Heaven, notwithstanding all the trials we may endure in our way to it, is infinitely better than Hell, whatever we may enjoy in our way thither—
It is certain that the mortification of sin is often painful, like the cutting off a member from the body. But it is no less certain that that pain is followed by much peace and joy. But supposing the road to Heaven were ever so thorny; will not eternal glory be a sufficient recompense for our toil? And supposing the gratifications of sin to be without alloy (though it will be found that the delicious draught is mixed with much gall) will they not be dearly purchased with the loss of the soul? Will not the torments of Hell be greater than the pleasures of sin? The worms that may feed upon the body will die when our flesh is consumed; and the fire that may consume our body will be extinguished at last for lack of fuel. But "the worm that will gnaw our conscience will never die; nor will the fire of God's wrath be ever quenched," because we shall be preserved as food for the one and fuel for the other to all eternity. What can sin offer us that can compensate for such a doom?
Surely then this argument should induce us to mortify our most beloved lusts. Our Lord repeats it thus frequently, that it may the more deeply impress our minds. Let us then weigh it with the attention it deserves; and act as those who feel its force and importance.
1. In what a lamentable state are the world at large!
Men will persuade themselves that they are in the way to Heaven, even while they are willfully neglecting many duties, and committing many actual sins. But can they derive much encouragement from the words of our text? O that they did but credit the declarations of our Lord!
Shall they, who retain only one bosom lust, be in danger of "hell-fire," and they be safe who live in the allowed commission of many sins? Have they no reason to dread the worm that dies not, and the fire that is not quenched? Shall they set up their idols in their heart, and God not answer them according to the multitude of their idols, Ezekiel 14:4. Would to God that we could weep over such poor deluded creatures; that "our head were waters, and our eyes a fountain of tears to run down for them day and night!" May God give them just views of the eternal world! And may they be so persuaded by these terrors of the Lord as to flee immediately from the wrath to come, and to lay hold on eternal life!
2. What need have the professors of religion to watch over their own hearts!
It is no easy thing to know whether we are freed from our besetting sin. We have many pleas to urge in extenuation of its guilt, and many specious names whereby to conceal its malignity. How were even the disciples themselves led captive by ambition and revenge, when they were least aware of their subjection to such evil principles, verse 35, Luke 9:54. Thus it may be with us also.
How then should we search and try our hearts to find out our besetting sins! And how should we cry to God, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life." Let all then who name the name of Christ be jealous of themselves. And, "laying aside every weight, and the sin that does most easily beset them, let them run their race with patience."
3. What reason have we to be thankful for the covenant of grace!
Whatever God requires of us, he has also promised to us in the covenant of grace. Has he commanded us to part with every sin, however precious or profitable it may be? He has also promised, that "sin shall not have dominion over us, Romans 6:14." He has pledged his word not only to forgive the sins of the penitent, but to "cleanse them from all unrighteousness, 1 John 1:9." Let those then who tremble at the injunctions in the text, look up to Jesus for help. Let them plead the promises which he has made. And doubtless they shall find his "grace sufficient for them." "They shall do all things through Christ strengthening them." This is the portion of all who embrace that covenant, which "is ordered in all things and sure, 2 Samuel 23:5." Let every believer then rejoice in that covenant, and "hold fast the beginning of his confidence steadfast unto the end."
Christians to Have Salt in Themselves
"For everyone will be salted with fire, and every sacrifice will be salted with salt. Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another."
TO understand this subject aright, we must take into consideration the whole context. The disciples had disputed among themselves about precedency in their Master's kingdom, which they supposed to be of a temporal nature; every one of them coveting for himself the highest post of dignity and power, verse 33–37. They had also, through jealousy and narrowness of mind, forbidden a person to cast out devils, merely because he did not exercise that power in concert with them, and in subserviency to them, verse 38–41. These evil dispositions our Lord had reproved, by appropriate and weighty observations: and then he proceeded to declare to them, that the exercise of such corrupt feelings would outcome in the everlasting destruction of all who should indulge them, and would plunge them into "that fire of Hell which never should be quenched, verse 42–48." After repeating, no less than five times, that "the fire into which they should be cast should never be quenched," he told them that he expected very different tempers from them.
The terms which he used on this occasion you have just heard: they contain a solemn admonition, and suitable advice; each of which we will consider in its order. Let us notice, then,
I. His solemn admonition—
This is somewhat difficult to be understood. Commentators, supposing that the word "for," with which my text is introduced, is to be taken as connecting the text with the words immediately preceding, explain the first clause of our text thus: 'The fire, into which the persons before spoken of shall be cast, shall never be quenched: neither shall the persons that are cast into it be consumed: for every one of them shall be salted with fire: and, as salt preserves from putrefaction the things that are impregnated with it, so shall the fire preserve from dissolution those who shall be subjected to its power."
This interpretation is far from satisfactory, because it places two perfectly similar expressions, that which I have read, and that which follows it, in direct opposition to each other, (the one as referring to the destruction of the soul, and the other to the preservation of it,) when they are evidently intended to convey the same truth under two different figures.
To get rid of this difficulty, one commentator Macknight, would translate the word thus: "Every one shall be salted for the fire." But anyone, who looks at the original, will see that such a translation is utterly inadmissible.
The translation, as it stands, is right: nor will the sense be difficult, if only the word "for" is taken as connecting the text with the whole subject contained in the context. The whole may be explained thus: 'I expect of you, in future, a different state of mind from that which you have recently indulged. You are offered up as living sacrifices to God; and, as such, must be holy, and without blemish: and as the sacrifices under the law were offered through the instrumentality of fire, and always with the accompaniment of salt, so must you be salted with fire, and salted with salt, in order that your savor may come up with acceptance before God.'
If it be said that the term "salting with fire" is a strange expression; I answer, it is no more strange as applied to the preservation of the soul from sin, than as applied to the preservation of the body from destruction. On the contrary, it is expressly sanctioned by the Holy Scriptures in the sense now put upon it; whereas it is nowhere sanctioned in the sense which I am now controverting. John the Baptist says, "Christ shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire, Luke 3:16." And it is no more strange to be "salted with fire," than to be "baptized with fire." If it be said, that "baptizing with fire" means only the enduing with grace, which shall purify as fire; I answer, this is the precise meaning which I annex to the "salting with fire;" namely, the enduing with grace, which shall purify as fire. The two expressions are precisely parallel, both in terms and import. And, this interpretation brings unity into the subject in the place of discord; and simplicity in the place of inexplicable confusion.
Having, I hope, thrown the true light upon this difficult passage, I now proceed to comment upon it, as an injunction from our blessed Lord.
Under the Mosaic Law, this was God's command: "Every oblation of your meat-offering shall you season with salt; neither shall you allow the salt of the covenant of your God to be lacking from your meat-offering: with all your offerings you shall offer salt, Leviticus 2:13." To that ordinance our Lord refers, when he says, "Every one shall be salted with fire; and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt."
But as salt, however good, may possibly "lose its saltiness," so as to become unfit for the service of God; so may immortal souls lose the divine savor which is pleasing to God: and, as the salt in that case is "fit for nothing, not even for the land, nor yet for the dunghill;" so those professors of religion, who lose the spirituality of their minds, must be regarded as the most unprofitable and contemptible of mankind, Luke 14:34-35.
Now, the allowed indulgence of such base feelings as the Apostles had lately manifested was incompatible with spiritual-mindedness; and therefore our Lord warned them, that, if they would be useful as ministers, or be accepted as men, they must mortify all such corrupt affections, and show themselves to be under the influence of a purer principle.
And the same admonition is proper for us also: for we, it is to be feared, are, for the most part, as worldly and as carnal as they. Look at the state of the Christian world: see how ready men are, yes, even good men, to dispute and quarrel about everything that concerns their interests in the world. See, too, how ready Christians are to decry and to discourage those who move not in their line, and belong not to their party. In a word, let the spirit of Christians, both of individuals and communities, be seen at this day; and it must be acknowledged, that the admonition in my text has in no degree lost its force, or its applicability to the souls of men.
In connection with this solemn admonition, we must consider,
II. His suitable advice—
The advice here given evidently refers to the whole context, and, in this respect, confirms the interpretation which we have given of the preceding clauses of our text. The disciples had given way to very evil tempers and dispositions; and, to counteract such corrupt propensities in the future, our Lord says to them, "Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another." The same counsel is proper for us also:
1. Have salt in yourselves—
We, whether as ministers or as private Christians, are to be "the salt of the earth, Matthew 5:13," not only richly imbued with grace in our own souls, but operating, all of us in our respective spheres, to keep the world around us from corruption. But how can we fulfill our office for the benefit of others, or how can we answer to our proper character as true believers, if there be not a savor of divine grace abiding in us, and diffused around us?
In all our fellowship with God, we must exercise a spirituality of mind: for what is prayer without devotion? or what is praise without fervent love and adoring gratitude? In truth, what are any services whatever, if sin is unmortified, and corruption unsubdued? "If we retain any iniquity in our hearts, the Lord will not hear us, Psalm 66:18." "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord: it is the prayer of the upright only that is his delight, Proverbs 15:8."
The same may be said of all our fellowship with men. God's direction to us is, "Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, Colossians 4:6." It is not necessary that we be always conversing about religion: but it is necessary that there always be found in us a religious frame of mind, and that not a word escape from our lips that is inconsistent with it. "As sons of God, we must be blameless and harmless, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, shining among them as lights in the world, Philippians 2:15;" and if we attain not to this character, "all the labor that has been bestowed upon us will be in vain, Philippians 2:16."
But, that we may come more directly to the point which our Lord had chiefly in view, I add,
2. Have peace one with another—
Love ought to be the one habit of the Christian's mind, and the very element in which he moves. It is a shame to him to betray ambitious, envious, contentious dispositions; or to value his brother less on account of some minor differences, when he is evidently, in his own sphere, doing the Lord's work. These, and such like dispositions, are the fruitful sources of contention and hatred, as James has said: "From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts which war in your members, James 4:1."
Now the Christian world need exceedingly to be instructed on this point. All will admit that they need to "have salt in themselves;" while yet they imagine that that will consist with bigotry and contention. But I must say to all such characters, "If you have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, boast not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descends not from above; but is earthly, sensual, devilish! James 3:14-15."
If we would approve ourselves upright before God, we must "walk worthy the calling with which we are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, Ephesians 4:1-3."
This is necessary to the enjoyment of God's presence here: for then only, "when we are of one mind, and live in peace, will the God of love and peace be with us, 2 Corinthians 13:11."
It is necessary, also, for our acceptance with him in the eternal world; according as it is written, "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord, Hebrews 12:14."
Remember, brethren, this is essential to your character, as "living sacrifices, Romans 12:1;" and without this you will in vain hope to be "acceptable offerings before God, Romans 15:16." What then God has joined together, let no man put asunder;" but seek first to "have salt in yourselves, and then to live in peace and love one with another."
Jesus Blesses Little Children
[Editor's note: In the following section, we certainly do not agree with the author's premise of "covenant children". We neither see covenant child baptism, or covenant child salvation, nor any covenant child blessings in these verses.]
"Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it." And He took them up in His arms, put His hands on them, and blessed them."
IT is common with men to show partiality to the failings of their friends, at the time that they are leaning rather to the side of severity in their judgment of others. But our blessed Lord showed no favor to his disciples in that respect; but was as observant of smaller errors in them, as of the more flagrant transgressions of his enemies. He ever proceeded upon that principle, "You alone have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for your iniquities."
His disciples had interposed to prevent him from being troubled with a multitude of children, whom their fond parents foolishly, as the disciples thought, were bringing to him: but he was very angry with them, and gave them a severe rebuke: for however they might take credit to themselves for meaning well, their conduct in this matter was highly reprehensible.
The text presents two things to our view:
I. His rebuke to them—
Some parents were bringing their children to Christ—
To this they had probably been induced by the discourse which had recently passed between our Lord and his disciples. On their inquiring, Who should be the greatest in his kingdom? he had set a little child before them, and declared that a conformity to it in humility constituted the most exalted character of his subjects; and that whoever should receive one such little child in his name, would receive him; while those who should offend one, would involve themselves in the most tremendous guilt and misery, Matthew 18:1-6. Hence it would naturally be supposed that Jesus had a peculiar love for little children; and that as he required others to receive them, he himself would certainly receive, and bless them too. Hence many believing parents sought to avail themselves of the opportunity of obtaining a blessing for their children; and brought them to him, that he might "put his hands upon them and bless them." It was not bodily, but spiritual, health, which the parents sought for their children: and we cannot but highly applaud their zeal in such a cause.
But the disciples interposed to prevent it—
They doubtless thought that they were doing right, in not suffering their Lord to be so troubled. His time, they thought, was too precious to be so occupied; his work too important to be so interrupted; his engagements too numerous to admit of such intrusions; his fatigues too great to be so needlessly increased. Besides, to the children, they supposed, it could be of little use: and to the parents, only a momentary gratification: and if the precedent were once admitted, it would be followed to an unknown extent. Hence they would not allow their Lord to be so distracted.
But, while they imagined that their conduct was precisely such as it ought to be, they were really acting a very unfitting part. It is not every one who means well, who acts well. There is "a zeal that is not according to knowledge;" and such was theirs on the present occasion. Their conduct was indeed very criminal in many respects. It argued low thoughts of their Divine Master, whose condescension they limited; while, in truth, it is infinite. It argued an ignorance of his office, which is peculiarly designated by the prophet, as that of "a Shepherd, who carries the lambs in his bosom, Isaiah 40:11." It argued an unmindfulness of the Father's grace, who had promised, in a peculiar manner, to pour out his Spirit upon his people's seed, and his blessing upon their offspring, Isaiah 44:3-4 compared with Acts 2:39." It argued unkindness to the parents, whose feelings they should have more affectionately consulted; and indifference to the children, whose benefit they should have been studious to promote. It argued also an unbelief of its efficacy: they had often seen people obtaining health to their bodies by a mere touch of their Master's garment, and yet they could not conceive that any benefit should accrue to the children's souls by an authoritative imposition of his hands, and an immediate communication of his blessing. All this was exceedingly sinful. But they erred also in the manner as well as in the matter, of their conduct; for they "rebuked" these pious women. Alas! even good men, if unreasonably interrupted, are but too apt to show an unhallowed temper, instead of exercising that meekness and gentleness which become their profession.
Our Lord, however, deservedly and severely rebuked them—
In Matthew's account there is a little change in the collocation of the words, which makes his address to them more emphatic, Matthew 19:14; "Let the little children alone, and hinder them not from coming to me." But our Lord assigns as the reason of this reproof, (for he never would administer reproof without evincing the justice of it,) that "of such persons was the kingdom of God;" of such in age, and of such in character. Some confine this expression to the character of the persons who compose his kingdom: but, in so doing, they destroy all the force of his reasoning. If our Lord had meant only to say, that children were fit emblems of his subjects, it would have been no reason for his reproof; since they would be neither more so by being brought to him, nor less so by being kept away. But, if we understand that children are still, as under the Jewish dispensation, to be regarded as in covenant with God, and subjects of his kingdom, then the reason is clear and strong: for to keep children from him, would be to deprive them of privileges to which they were as much entitled as adults. Our Church lays peculiar stress upon this point in her baptismal service. See the Address to the parents, after the passage recording Mark's words in the Baptismal service; and shows with great clearness, that it is a complete justification of those who maintain the propriety of infant baptism: for, if infants are capable of receiving Christ's blessing, are we not to bring them to him that they may obtain it? If they are capable of receiving the thing signified, are they not fit subjects to receive the sign? And if Christ was so angry with his disciples for keeping them from him, can he be pleased with us, if we keep them from him? In a word, Christ has shown us, by this act, that children are as much the subjects of his kingdom now, as ever they were under the Jewish dispensation; and every member of our Church has reason to rejoice, that the sentiments of our Reformers on this disputed subject were in such perfect unison with the word of God.
If it be objected, that Christ did not baptize the children; we answer, His baptism was not yet instituted: the only baptism that was now observed, was that of John. The question is, Are children to be regarded as subjects of Christ's kingdom? and are they entitled to the privileges of that kingdom? Christ expressly says they are: and so say we: and therefore according to his command we bring them to him, that they may be admitted to a participation of those blessings, precisely as the Jews by God's command brought their children to be admitted into covenant with him.
In perfect agreement with these sentiments is,
II. His instruction to us—
Our Lord uniformly engrafted some general instruction on the passing occurrences of every day. He here instructs us,
1. By precept—
Children are to be regarded also as emblems of those moral qualities, which all the subjects of his kingdom must possess. There is in children:
a simplicity of mind,
a teachableness of spirit,
a consciousness of weakness,
a dependence on their parents' care,
an obedience to their commands,
and a submission to their will.
Now these must be the dispositions of all who would be numbered with Christ's people here, or be partakers with them in the eternal world: nor can anything but a resemblance to children in these respects warrant any person to believe himself in a state of favor with God. The declaration in our text is as strong and clear as words can make it. The very entrance into Christ's kingdom is by this door: it is low, and we must stoop; it is narrow, and we must be little in in our own estimation, before we can by any means find admission within it. There is no space allowed for the cumbrous ornaments of worldly wisdom, of moral goodness, of human power. We must enter naked and divested of them all—divested, I mean, in our own apprehension and conceit; and must be willing to take "Christ as our wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification, and redemption."
This is humiliating, it is true; but it must be done; and, if we will not submit to it, we can never enter into the kingdom of Heaven: "the wise must become fools, 1 Corinthians 4:10," the pure must see their moral pollution before God, Job 9:20-21; Job 9:30-31, the righteous must see their guilt before God, Romans 3:19, in their own estimation—before Christ can be valued, or his salvation desired.
We say not that a person must commit wickedness in order to fit himself for Christ's kingdom; God forbid: but he must renounce every degree of self-conceit, self-dependence, self-seeking, and self-applause; and, "whatever he had which once he accounted gain, must now be considered by him as loss for Christ."
O that all were thus divested of self, and made willing to seek their all in Christ! Let parents condescend to learn from their little children what dispositions they themselves should cultivate towards their heavenly Father; and bear in mind, that their highest perfection is to be brought to a willing and habitual resemblance to that instructive emblem.
2. By example—
"He took the little children up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them." What amazing condescension! How amiable in itself, so to notice those who could be so little conscious of his love. How conciliatory to the parents, whose hearts were more open to impression from the kindness shown to their offspring, than from any favor that could be conferred upon themselves! How encouraging to the children, whose parents would not fail to remind them often that they had been thus highly honored, to be embraced in the Savior's bosom, and to receive his heavenly blessing! Methinks, this very circumstance would operate upon them through life to devote themselves unto the Lord Jesus Christ, and to "cleave unto him with full purpose of heart." In a word, how edifying to all!
To parents, it showed what their chief desire for their children should be, namely, to bring them to the knowledge of him, and to the enjoyment of his salvation.
To ministers, it spoke with peculiar emphasis, that they should attend to the lambs of their flock, and consider neither the basest nor the weakest of the people as beneath their notice: however laborious their occupations might be, they should reserve some portion of their time for the instruction of babes.
To all his believing people also, whether men or women, it showed how acceptable a service they would perform, if they labored to instruct the rising generation. If he himself did not overlook the existence of little faith, or "despise the day of small things," or disdain to sow what could not be reaped for many years, well may his people cultivate the same benevolence, and exert themselves according to their measure in the same glorious cause.
From this subject we may see,
1. How thankful ought children to be to their instructors.
To you who are instructed from Sabbath to Sabbath it appears, that the teaching of you to read is the great object which your instructors have in view: but this is by no means the case: they desire to perform the same kind office for you which the parents in our text performed for their children; they would bring you to Christ, that you may be received into his bosom, and be made partakers of his blessing. For this end they pray for you in secret, that God may render their labors effectual for your eternal good: and while they are instructing you, they often put up a silent prayer to Him who sees the desire of their hearts; and they actually put you, as it were, into the Savior's hands, saying, 'Lord, give your blessing to this dear child!' Let me then entreat you to have the same end in view, and to seek for yourselves his blessing upon your souls.
2. What reason have they to be ashamed who would keep men from Christ!
The disciples had some reason for discouraging the bringing of infants to Christ; but what reason have those who would deter grown persons from coming to him! Shall it be thought that there are few, if any, who would act so wicked a part? Alas! there are many: for, what is the tendency of that derision with which religion is treated, and of that opposition which is almost universally made to those who are zealous in its cause? Surely, if our Lord was "much displeased" with his disciples, who really meant well, it is no little displeasure that he will manifest against the willful despisers of his Gospel. We commend to their attention a previously cited passage, Matthew 18:6, and pray God that they may never know the force of it by their own experience.
3. What encouragement have we all to apply to Christ for ourselves!
If our blessed Lord was so condescending unto infants, what will he not be to those who come to him with understanding hearts? Will he put any obstacles in their way? Has he not said, that "those who come unto him he will never cast out?" Let not any then dishonor him by doubts and fears, as though he would not be gracious unto them. Let not any sense of their own unworthiness discourage them: but let them rather remember, that the more lowly they are in their own eyes, the more amiable they will be in his; and the more empty they are in themselves, the more certainly shall they be "filled out of his fullness."
The Rich Youth Forsaking Christ
Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me." But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
IT is never known what a man is, until he is tried. Those who most dread a conflict, may approve themselves steadfast when once they are actually engaged in it; and those who are most confident of their own prowess, may betray the greatest timidity. The eagerness of Peter to walk upon the waves, and his vehement protestations of fidelity to his Master, might have gained him a reputation for invincible firmness, had he not been left to prove by actual experiment the weakness and inefficacy of his resolutions. The man who engaged to follow Jesus wherever he might go, began to waver, as soon as he was informed that Jesus had not a place where to lay his head.
Thus the young man in our text might have passed for the most excellent of characters, had he not been brought to the touchstone, and allowed to manifest the real dispositions of his soul. But the command which Jesus gave him, was a trial which he could not stand, and an ordeal which he could not pass.
In elucidating his conduct, we shall consider,
I. The injunction given to him—
We confess that the command was difficult to be obeyed. If we contemplate his youth, his rank (a ruler,) his opulence; if we contemplate the sentiments he must have imbibed, the hopes he must have entertained, the habits he must have formed—the change proposed to him must have been irksome and arduous in the extreme. To exchange wealth for poverty, ease for trouble, honor for contempt—this was hard indeed for flesh and blood; nor could anything but Almighty grace qualify him for such a work.
Yet, though difficult, the command was not unreasonable. From whom had he received his wealth; or, who but God, had made him to differ? And had not God a right to recall what he had only lent? Had he any cause to complain, if God, who for a time had elevated him above his fellow-creatures, should afterwards reduce him to a level with them? Had not God as much right to disperse his wealth among the poor, as he before had to accumulate it upon one single man? Besides, when the sacrifice, which he was called to make, would contribute so much to the comfort of his fellow-creatures; and when it would ultimately return with a rich and abundant recompense into his own bosom; was it to be deemed unreasonable? Is it not what every merchant in the universe is glad to do, to sacrifice the temporary possession of his treasure, in the hope and prospect of far richer treasures in return?
Nor was it singular. This youth gloried in being a descendant of Abraham, who was called out from his country and kindred, to go, he knew not where; to exist, he knew not how. With this fact he was well acquainted; and he knew that Abraham never found reason to repent of his self-denying obedience. Moreover, he had at this moment before his eyes persons who had obeyed a similar call, and who could say, "Lo, we have left all, and followed you."
And, in fact, though we are not all called to precisely the same act of obedience, we are all called to manifest that spirit, which would ensure the performance of that act, if in the course of Providence we were called to it. Thus also, in the latter part of the injunction there was nothing unreasonable, or singular. He came to our Lord for instruction; and our Lord bade him to become a stated attendant on his ministry. He would, doubtless, in the execution of this duty, have a cross to bear: but had not all Jesus' disciples the same cross? and had not Jesus a far heavier cross than any, or than all together? Yes, had he not come from Heaven on purpose to bear it for them? Was it unreasonable then that the disciple should be as the master, and the servant as his lord?
If he was really desirous of obtaining salvation, there was nothing in the injunction given to him, which did not deserve a cheerful and unreserved compliance.
But we shall have still clearer views of this subject, if we consider,
II. The peculiar reasons for that injunction—
Our blessed Lord, in his reply to the young man, designed,
1. To reveal to him the depravity of his own heart—
Because the youth had never been guilty of any notorious breach of the commandments, he was ready to imagine that he had no ground for humiliation and contrition. Our Lord, if he had pleased, might have opened to him the spirituality of the law; and shown him that he was mistaken in supposing that he had "kept all the commandments from his youth up:" but he took a shorter and more convincing method: he gave him a specific charge, to obey which was his indispensable duty: by his reluctance to obey that, our Lord showed him, that his heart was not so much in unison with the law of God as he imagined; yes, that if duty and self-interest should stand in competition with each other, he would prove as great a rebel as more flagrant transgressors.
Thus our Lord sought to counteract his pride and self-delight, by leading him to manifest the worldliness and carnality of his heart.
2. To wean him from self-confidence and self-dependence—
By that question which the young man so confidently asked, "What lack I yet?" we are led to suspect, that, as he saw no defects in his obedience, so he saw no ground to doubt his acceptance with God on account of his obedience. The drift of his original question, "What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" seems to have been to this effect: 'Master, I perceive that you are a teacher sent from God, and that you require of us something different from what I have been accustomed to hear or practice: be so kind therefore as to inform me what it is; for I would not willingly omit anything, whereby I may secure the salvation of my soul.' In this view of his question, he wanted to substantiate more fully, and establish more firmly, his claim to eternal life on the footing of his own obedience. Against this fatal error our Lord's injunction was strongly directed: it was an axe laid to the root of his self-righteousness: and it had a most powerful tendency to convince the youth, that all his hopes were built on a foundation of sand.
3. To lead him to the salvation provided for him in the Gospel—
Our Lord might have preached the Gospel to him more fully, and informed him that salvation was to be obtained only by faith in him, as "the way, the truth, and the life." But the time was not yet arrived for the full disclosure of Gospel truth. It was at present but sparingly promulgated. Besides, if our Lord had thus plainly declared the way of salvation, there is reason to think that the young man would either have rejected the truth without further inquiry, or embraced it without a due preparation of soul for it; in either of which cases he would miss the end which he was solicitous to attain. The best way therefore to lead him to salvation, was to show him his need of it; so that he might enter upon a profession of it with all the zeal and gratitude that would be necessary for his establishment in the faith.
But, while we thus vindicate the injunction given him, we cannot but lament,
III. The effect it produced upon him—
Instead of operating in the manner that our Savior wished,
1. It filled him with grief—
"He was sad at that saying." But what made him "sad?" Was he grieved and ashamed on account of his backwardness to obey it? That would have been a hopeful sign, and would probably have issued in his conversion to God. But alas! he was grieved at the strictness of the precept. "He had great possessions," and could not prevail upon himself to part with them. His riches were his idol; and of more estimation, in his eyes, than any treasure in Heaven. Had he been called to sacrifice a part of his property, he would probably have acquiesced in the appointment: but to bereave himself of all, to reduce himself to a state of poverty—this was a requisition which he could not comply with.
Such is the effect of the Gospel upon many at this time: they would gladly embrace it, and would make some sacrifices to obtain its blessings: but to renounce the world, to mortify their lusts, to turn their backs upon all that is pleasing to flesh and blood, and to bring upon themselves nothing but contempt and persecution from their dearest friends and relatives—appears to them too great a sacrifice, and they hope to get to Heaven upon easier terms. Thus between a sense of their duty, and an aversion to perform it, the only effect of the Gospel is to render them unhappy.
2. It determined him to forsake Christ altogether—
"He went away grieved." Much as he revered the Lord Jesus, and wished to partake of his salvation, he could not continue with him on such terms as these. The price was too great for him to pay; and therefore he turned his back upon him.
Unhappy youth! How much better had it been for him, if he had been born in a low estate! What a curse to him were his riches, which stood between him and the Savior! Who is not ready to weep over him, when he reflects upon the fatal effects of that decision? Who that sees that hopeful character turning his back upon his Divine Instructor, giving up all hopes of Heaven, and determinately preferring a present portion—does not tremble, lest he himself should be left to make the same foolish choice?
1. How dangerous is the state of many, who yet think themselves safe!
If we had seen that youth (regardless of the follies which persons of his age and condition too generally prosecute) coming in so respectful a manner to the despised Nazarene; "kneeling before him" with profoundest reverence; addressing him in such terms, and such an emphatic way, as to intimate that he thought Jesus to be more than human; if we had seen him declaring confidently, that, to the best of his knowledge, he had persevered in an uniform obedience to all the commandments, and was ready to fulfill any duty that could be pointed out to him; above all, if we had seen Jesus himself struck with his amiable deportment, and "loving him" for his excellent qualities; who among us would not have been disposed to envy that youth his prospects of immortality and glory?
Yet, behold, he came short of Heaven! There was "one thing he lacked;" and for that one thing (as far as we are informed) he perished for ever. O that the moral, the sober, the amiable (of both sexes), would consider this, and take warning from his example!
The thing he lacked was a determination to forsake all for Christ. And is not this lacking in many among ourselves? Are there not many, whom, for their amiable qualities, one cannot but love, who yet, if they must part with all, or Christ, would hold fast their present portion? O, beloved, let this matter be duly weighed; and never imagine that you are in the way to Heaven, until you can "count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus."
2. How awful is the condition of those who have no concern for their souls!
Multitudes there are, in this and every other place, whose lives have been far from moral; who, instead of having kept all the commandments from their earliest infancy—have violated them in many flagrant instances; and who never came to Jesus with an sincere desire to receive instruction about the way to Heaven. What then must be their state? We appeal to themselves. If this amiable youth was not saved, how can you imagine that salvation belongs to you, who have not done half so much for it as this perishing youth? Methinks, this one example speaks more forcibly to you than ten thousand arguments. You must be willfully blind, if you do not see how deplorable is your condition, and how certain your ruin, if you continue in your present state. Be persuaded that it is not so easy a matter to get to Heaven. You must have a real concern about your souls: the attainment of Heaven must be paramount to every other consideration. If you will gain Heaven at all, you must "take it by the holy violence" of prayer and faith.
3. How blessed are they whose hearts are right with God!
They may indeed be exercised with great trials: they may be called to relinquish much of their worldly interests; to suffer much reproach; and to bear many a heavy cross. But the "heavenly treasure" will richly repay for all! Yes, the very prospect of it is a sufficient compensation for all that we can endure.
Could we but consult this unhappy youth, and ask him what he now thinks of his past conduct, how would he condemn his conduct, how would he deplore his folly!
If, on the contrary, we could ask of Paul what views he now had of his conduct in "suffering the loss of all things" for Christ's sake; would he not confirm his former declarations? would he not affirm more strongly than ever, that all things were dung and dross in comparison to Christ?
Let us then take joyfully the loss of man's esteem, and the confiscation of our goods: let the views and prospects of glory cheer us when dejected, and animate us when faint. We have reason to expect, that "the more our afflictions abound for Christ's sake, the more our consolations also shall abound through Christ." We are sure, that, "if we suffer with Christ, we shall also be glorified together."
The Danger of Riches
Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!" And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, "Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
IN the perusal of history, it is desirable not merely to treasure up facts in our minds, but to deduce from them such observations as shall increase our stock of practical and useful knowledge. It will be to little purpose to have our memory stored with facts, unless our judgment be matured by suitable reflections upon them. In reference to the sacred history, this remark is still more obvious and important. Very little benefit would accrue to a person from knowing that a rich young man had turned away from Christ, because he disliked the directions which our Lord had given him. If we would derive any material instruction from this event, we should consider what aspect it has upon the lives of men in general: we should, after the example which our Lord himself has set us, contemplate the effects which wealth generally produces on those who possess it, and the obstacles which it lays in our way to the kingdom of Heaven.
In confirmation of our Lord's reflection, we shall endeavor to show, whence it is that "it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."
I. It is difficult for a person to have riches, and not to love them—
Riches almost universally fascinate the minds of men—
Persons of opulence see what respect their wealth procures for them; that they are objects of admiration and envy to all around them; and that, by means of their money, they can obtain all the comforts and luxuries of life. Hence they are ready to conceive that riches are really good, and almost necessarily conducive to the happiness of those who possess them. Under this idea, their affections are easily attracted towards them, and they are ready to congratulate themselves on their own peculiarly favored lot. Hence that caution of the Psalmist's, "If riches increase, set not your heart upon them."
But in proportion as they engage our hearts, they obstruct our way to Heaven—
We are commanded "not to set our affections on things below, but on things above." This prohibition extends to riches, and to everything else that fascinates the carnal mind. The reason of it is moreover assigned by God himself, namely, that the love of this world neither proceeds from him, nor leads to him, but is absolutely incompatible with real love to him, 1 John 2:15-16. Let it only then be acknowledged, that the love of God is necessary to the attainment and enjoyment of Heaven; and then it will follow, that the person, who loves his riches, cannot attain Heaven; nor could he enjoy it, even if he were admitted there: he has in his bosom an object that rivals God: and God is a jealous God, who will never accept a divided heart. "We never can serve God and Mammon." If "our treasure be on earth, our heart will be there also:" and if it be looked to as the source of our happiness, then "Woe unto us; for we have received our consolation."
II. It is difficult for a person to have riches, and not be puffed up by them—
Pride is too generally an attendant on riches—
As great respect is paid to riches, the people who possess them are apt to think that they deserve it. They arrogate it to themselves; they are offended if any persons refuse to gratify them with the homage which they claim. They show in their look, their dress, their manner of speaking, yes, in their very gait, they "think themselves to be somebody." They expect their wishes to be consulted, and their judgment to be followed. They are impatient of contradiction. They do not like, either in public or in private, to be told of their faults. If a minister deals faithfully with their consciences, they rather condemn him for (what they will call) his rudeness or harshness—than themselves for their departure from God. How commonly this disposition springs from riches, we may judge from that direction which is given to ministers; "Charge those who are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded, 1 Timothy 6:17."
And this also, if indulged, will exclude us from Heaven—
"The proud in heart are an abomination to the Lord." Whoever he is, "God will certainly abase him." Not Hezekiah himself shall escape without deep humiliation, 2 Chronicles 32:25-26; nor even then, without severe chastisements, Isaiah 39:4-7. If we be "lifted up with pride, (whatever be the occasion,) we shall fall into the condemnation of the devil." The characteristic mark of every true Christian, and of all that shall be admitted into Heaven, is humility. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven." Worldly poverty is not more opposite to wealth, than spiritual poverty is to pride. The true Christian will "prefer others in honor before himself," and account himself, "less than the least of all saints." But, inasmuch as wealth has a directly opposite tendency, it is hostile to the interests of Christianity, and to the salvation of all who possess it.
III. It is difficult for a person to have riches, and not be corrupted by them—
Whatever a corrupt heart can desire, is attainable through riches—
Wealth opens a way for all manner of sensuality and self-indulgence: and, at the same time that it gives us facilities for gratifying our evil inclinations, it leads us into such habits as greatly dispose us to sin. A luxurious table draws us to intemperance; intemperance inflames our passions; and affluence opens an easy way to the indulgence of them. The rich even think that they are, in a measure, licensed to commit iniquity: and, in their eyes, intemperance and lewdness are, at the most, no more than trivial follies, which they can commit without shame, and look back upon without remorse.
But where riches do not produce this effect, they still exceedingly corrupt the soul.
Riches habituate us to easy indolent habits, that are very contrary to those self-denying exercises in which the Christian should be employed soul.
Riches lead us into the company of those whose minds are least spiritual, and from whose conduct and example we can derive least profit soul.
Riches induce parents to seek connections for their children rather among the opulent than among the godly soul.
Riches not unfrequently draw persons into great speculations, which fill them with anxiety, and encumber them with oppressive cares.
As strange as it may seem, riches often prove incentives to avarice, as well as to prodigality, and to an oppression of others, as well as to the gratifying of ourselves. Hence, whenever the term "lucre" is mentioned in the New Testament, the term "filthy" is invariably associated with it.
And the more our corruptions are indulged, the more certain we are of perishing in final ruin—
We are warned, that "to be carnally-minded is death:" and the final ruin of a very large portion of those who hear the Gospel is ascribed to "the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches, which choke the word that they hear, and render it unfruitful." "The love of money," we are told, "is the root of all evil;" and "those who even desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition!" Inasmuch as riches induce us principally to mind earthly things, they make us enemies of the cross of Christ, and bring us to destruction as our end.
IV. It is difficult to have riches, and not trust in them—
Wealth, while it gains our affections, is apt to become also a ground of our confidence—
"The rich man's wealth," says Solomon, "is his strong city." We are apt to rely upon it, as a source both of present and future happiness. We seem, when possessed of riches, to be out of the reach of harm. When poor, we more habitually and more sensibly feel our dependence on Providence; but, when rich, we think we have no need of religion to make us happy, or of God to provide for us. We are ready to say like the Rich Man in the Gospel, "Soul, you have much goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry." In like manner, we think that we have no reason to fear about the eternal world. We are ready to imagine, that God will pay the same deference to wealth as our fellow-creatures do. We have no conception that a rich man, unless he has been guilty of some peculiarly enormous crimes, can be cast into Hell. It is in vain that we read of "the Rich Man lifting up his eyes in torments:" we take for granted, that a rich man, if he has been tolerably decent in his deportment, must of necessity go to Heaven. A rich man will not endure, for the most part, to have a doubt of his future happiness suggested to him. It is not without reason, therefore, that Paul says, "Charge those who are rich in this world, that they trust not in uncertain riches."
But to place our confidence in anything but God, is certain ruin—
God denounces a "curse on those who make flesh their arm;" and he represents their conduct as "a departure of their hearts from him." And Job informs us, that "saying to the gold, You are my confidence, is an iniquity to be punished by the Judge, and a denial of the God that is above."
V. It is difficult to have riches, and not cleave to them in preference to Christ—
This is the point more especially referred to in the text itself—
The reason assigned for the young man's forsaking Christ was that he had great possessions: and hence our Lord's reflection on the almost insurmountable difficulties which riches interpose in our way to Heaven. The fact is, that though every one is not called to renounce his riches precisely in the same way that this opulent ruler was—every one is required to sit loose to them, and to be willing to renounce them all, whenever they shall stand in competition with his duty to God. And there is no man, who is not called to make some sacrifices for Christ.
Now a rich man's reputation is exceedingly dear to him; and his interests in the world appear to him of almost incalculable importance: and, if he is called to renounce them all, the sacrifice appears too great to be endured. He hopes he shall find out an easier way to Heaven; and chooses rather to risk the salvation of his soul, than to subject himself to such grievous trials in order to obtain it. Even those who have tasted somewhat of the sweetness of religion are sometimes drawn away, like Demas; and forsake their Savior from love to this present world.
But in choosing our portion now, we choose for eternity—
"We must reap according to what we sow. He who sows to the flesh must, of the flesh, reap corruption." We must "part with all, if we would have the pearl of great price." "If we do not forsake all for Christ, we cannot be his disciples." "We must count all things but loss for him." "We must hate father and mother, and houses and lands, yes and our lives also, for his sake." "If we will not lose our lives for him here, we never can enter Heaven in the eternal world."
1. How little true faith is there in the world!
Where is the man, who, if offered great riches, would be afraid to accept them, lest they should impede his way to Heaven? Or, when congratulated on his attainment of wealth, would damp the ardor of his friends by entreating rather an interest in their prayers, that the newly-acquired riches might not corrupt and destroy his soul? Where is the man possessed of riches, who does not think his way to Heaven as easy as that of any other person? In short, where is the person who does not say in his heart, 'Give me riches: I will run the risk of their doing me any harm. I have no doubt I shall get to Heaven with them as easily as without them?'
But would it be thus, if we really believed the words of our blessed Lord? Alas! even the Apostles themselves scarcely knew how to receive so hard a saying: we are told, that they were "astonished out of measure." But it befits us to credit the assertion of Him who could not err, and would not deceive.
2. What reason have the poor to be satisfied with their lot!
If rich men have the advantage over them with respect to this world, the poor have incomparably better prospects with respect to the world to come. These are free and unincumbered, and ready, as it were, to run the race that is set before them; while the others are impeded by their lusts as with flowing garments, and have their "feet laden with thick clay." These in multitudes flock to Heaven, "as doves to their windows," while very few of the others ever attain the heavenly prize, 1 Corinthians 1:26-28, James 2:5.
It must not however be imagined that the poor will be saved, because they are poor; any more than the rich will perish, because they are rich. All must run, if they would obtain the prize. He who regards the salvation of his soul as "the one thing needful," shall be saved, whether rich or poor; and he who does not, will perish. Neither the riches of the one, nor the poverty of the other, will avail him anything. The only inquiry will be, Who among them was "rich towards God?" Their several attainments in real piety will be the only ground of distinction between them.
Yet, inasmuch as a state of poverty renders us less exposed to temptation than wealth, it may well be endured with patience, and improved with gratitude. Even, if we have (through misfortunes of any kind) experienced a transition from wealth to poverty, we may well be reconciled to the change (however painful it may be to flesh and blood); since the loss we sustain may be in fact our greatest advantage. We have only lost perhaps the cargo, which, if allowed to continue on board, would utterly have sunk the ship.
3. How thankful should we be that "help is laid on One that is mighty!"
When the Apostles exclaimed, "Who then can be saved?" they were consoled with the declaration, that "all things were possible with God." Now this is our comfort, that all fullness is treasured up for us in Christ; and that "he is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him." None then need despair: however great our temptations may be, "He knows how to deliver the godly out of them," and to "preserve them blameless unto his heavenly kingdom." He can uphold a Joseph, a David, and a Daniel, amidst all the splendor of courts, as well as under the pressure of the heaviest trials. Let all then put their trust in Jesus, even in that almighty Savior, whose grace is sufficient for them, and through whose strengthening communications they shall be able to do all things. So shall Abraham the rich and prosperous, and Lazarus the poor and indigent, rejoice together in God's kingdom for ever and ever!
The Reward of Those Who Suffer for Christ
"Then Peter began to say to Him, "See, we have left all and followed You." So Jesus answered and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life."
THROUGH the corruption of our nature, the defects of others are apt to raise us in our own estimation, and to afford us occasion for self-applause. This ought not to be: for the faults of others should be lamented, no less than our own, because they are injurious to the souls of men: and, if we ourselves are free from those faults, we have reason to glorify God for his grace, which alone has made us to differ from others.
We have in the context a lamentable instance of human weakness; a young man, of exemplary habits, who, on being required to sell all that he had, and to give it to the poor, and follow Christ, went away sorrowful; grieved to part with Christ, but preferring his wealth before him.
Peter beholding this, began to reflect with delight on the different conduct which he and his fellow-Apostles had pursued: they had left all for Christ: and, as our Lord had told the young man, that he, if he complied with his counsel, should "have treasure in Heaven," Peter asked, what recompense should be made to him and his brethren for the sacrifices which they had made in the cause of Christ; "We have forsaken all, and followed you—what shall we have therefore, See Matthew 19:27."
I. This inquiry is the first thing for our present consideration—
Though the Apostles were poor, their all was as much to them, as it would have been if they had been richer: nor can we doubt, but that the surrender of it was as acceptable to God, as if the sacrifice had been more costly: "it is accepted according to what a man has, and not according to what he has not, 2 Corinthians 8:12." This sacrifice was required of them, and they had offered it without hesitation; they could truly say, they "had left all for Christ;" and they had thereby approved themselves worthy of their descent from Abraham, who, at God's command, had offered his only son Isaac upon the altar.
Nor are we to imagine that the duty was peculiar to them: it is as much our duty, as it was theirs, to leave all for Christ. We are not indeed called, like the Apostles, to forsake our worldly callings in order to wait as stated attendants on our Lord. We are rather to "abide in our callings wherein we are called:" but we must be willing to sacrifice everything for Christ, and must actually sacrifice everything that stands in competition with him. In this respect the whole Christian world are called to the same exercise of faith and self-denial as the Apostles were; everything sinful must be mortified; and even the most innocent and necessary things must be given up, rather than that we should be drawn by them to the commission of any one sin, or to the neglect of any one duty. We must "hate father and mother, and even our own lives also, in comparison to Christ, Luke 14:26."
Under such circumstances Peter's inquiry seems not unreasonable: for if we are to surrender up everything to and for Christ, we may well ask, 'What shall I gain by this? or, What recompense shall I obtain?' It is not to be expected that God will call us to such trials, and not remunerate us for our fidelity to him. It is true, we can never look for a reward of debt; but a reward of grace we may expect, and that too in proportion to the sacrifices we make, the sufferings we endure, and the services we perform.
We are not at liberty to make bargains, as it were, with the Almighty, and to stipulate for so much wages in return for so much service. We must rather enter voluntarily into his service, and cheerfully give up all for him: but after having made the needful sacrifices, we may inquire into the promised recompense of reward. We must, like Abraham, "go out from our country and our kindred, not knowing where we go Hebrews 11:8;" and must trust in God to make all necessary provision for us: and, if he had not specified anything in his word, we should be contented to continue ignorant of the recompense that he will assign to us: but, as he has been pleased to make specific promises to those who trust in him, we cannot do wrong in endeavoring to ascertain their import and extent.
II. The answer of our Lord to this inquiry is the next point to be noticed by us—
Matthew records more of our Lord's answer than either of the other Evangelists. He mentions a part which seems more immediately applicable to the Apostles themselves, who, in the day when "God will make all things new," and "there shall be new heavens and a new earth," and "when our Lord shall come in his glory to judge the world," shall be honored above all other men, being, as it were, assessors with Christ in the Judgment, and having their word as the law by which the whole world, shall be judged, Matthew 19:28. Mark records that only which was of general use; but still he gives all the satisfaction that the most bereaved and destitute person can desire.
There is a present recompense which all who suffer loss for Christ shall receive; and that too exceedingly beyond any loss they can possibly sustain. It is taken for granted that they may lose the affection of all their most endeared relatives for their attachment to the Gospel; and that they may be deprived of all that they possess in the world. But God will often send them such supplies in another way, that they shall in reality sustain no loss at all: but, if he does not recompense them in this way, he will give them "contentment, which with godliness is great gain;" and such an increased enjoyment of their slender pittance, as shall be far sweeter than all the delicacies upon earth. He will "shed abroad his love in their hearts," and, under the loss of earthly parents, and an earthly portion, will enable them to call him, Father, and to view Heaven itself as their inheritance. Let any one who has experienced these consolations, say, whether they be not "a hundred fold" greater than all that they ever derived from the possession of earthly comforts even in their richest abundance?
But, besides this, there is a future recompense, even "eternal life," which shall assuredly be given to all who suffer for Christ in this world. "If we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him," and "be glorified together," and have "a weight of glory proportioned" to the trials we endure, and to the graces which we exercise, in his service. But who can estimate the value of that recompense? Suffice it to say, that the veracity of God is pledged for the bestowment of it, and that the blessedness conferred shall exist as long as God himself exists.
1. Those who hesitate about leaving all for Christ—
Does a moment's hesitation befit you?
Think of your Lord and Savior—did he hesitate, when an offer was made him to redeem your souls? Did he account the conditions hard, when he had your everlasting salvation in view? No! He gladly left the bosom of his Father, and assumed our nature, and bore our curse, that he might redeem our souls from death and Hell, Compare Psalm 40:6-8 with Philippians 2:6-8. Do you then hesitate to make any sacrifice for him?
Look at Paul—was he intimidated? did he account anything too much to do or suffer for his Lord? Compare Acts 20:24; Acts 21:13 with Philippians 2:17; Philippians 3:7-8.
Look at Moses—can you be called to sacrifice more than he? "He esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt! Hebrews 11:24-26."
Think not to have a saving interest in Christ on any lower terms: You must, in heart and affection, forsake all, if you would be his disciples, Luke 14:33.
The Rich Youth in the Gospel would not accede to these terms: but do you commend him? Do you not look upon him with pity? Do you not think he would change his mind now, if the offer were again made to him? O be wise in time! "Buy the truth, and sell it not:" be willing to "sell all that you have for that treasure which is hid in the Gospel, and for that pearl of great price, Matthew 13:44-46."
If, like Amaziah, you reply, "What shall I do for all the talents I shall sacrifice?" I answer with the prophet, "The Lord is able to give you much more, 2 Chronicles 25:9." In fact, your gain will exceed all calculation. If you were a merchant, you would gladly embrace an opportunity of making ten or twenty percent of your money, though the return should not be absolutely certain; but here you are promised ten thousand percent, and it is assured to you by the veracity of God himself. Only "have faith in God," and all the blessings of "the upper and nether springs," of time and of eternity, are yours!
2. Those who, like the Apostles, have left all for him—
Whatever your losses or sufferings may have been, I congratulate you from my heart: yes, God himself congratulates you, Matthew 5:10-12, 1 Peter 4:12-14, James 1:2-4, James 1:12. And I confidently put the question to you, Has any one of you been ever disappointed of his hope? Have you ever been a loser by serving the Lord? Has he not made up to you in spiritual things, what you have sacrificed for him in worldly things? In the pursuit of earthly gratifications you have often paid too dearly for your enjoyments; but have you ever had reason to regret the price you have paid for the maintenance of a good conscience, and for the benefits of the Gospel?
After having counted the cost yourself, have you a friend in the world whom you would dissuade from treading in your steps? You still experience "persecutions;" for they are a part of the Promise, if I may so speak: but do you find them so great a drawback upon your happiness, as you once expected? Is an opprobrious name, or the loss of worldly interests, so great a matter as you once imagined? Show then by your steadfastness, that, "in God's favor is life," and that though "you have nothing else, you really possess all things."
To those who are preparing for the ministry, these thoughts are peculiarly important: for this discipline is often sent, in order to prepare you for the service of the sanctuary. You are to stand in the front of the battle: you are to be examples to the flock: and it is by such exercises that you are to be fitted for your work, and to bring down a blessing on your future labors, Deuteronomy 33:9-11. Still it is not of you only that these sacrifices are required; nor are you alone to receive the rich compensation that will be awarded for them. This duty is the duty of all Christians; this happiness is the happiness of all: to all therefore, without exception, I would say, "Be faithful unto death, and God will give you a crown of life!"
The Ambition of James and John Reproved
"Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, "Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask." And He said to them, "What do you want Me to do for you?" They said to Him, "Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory." But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They said to Him, "We are able." So Jesus said to them, "You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared."
THERE is a fund of instruction in the Scriptures, which the superficial reader entirely overlooks. A thousand little circumstances that are incidentally mentioned in them, serve to confirm each other for the establishment of our faith.
To administer reproof well, is an art exceeding rare and difficult to be attained. When called to attempt it, we in general either pass over the fault so slightly, as to convey no adequate idea of its malignity; or insist upon it so strongly, as to incense, rather than conciliate, the offending person: taking no notice of what we might approve, we are apt to look only at what we disapprove; and to search out occasion for blame, even beyond what the occasion requires.
But, instead of this, we should be forward to applaud what is good in the spirit of any person, when we cannot commend the terms in which he speaks; or to put a favorable construction on the terms he uses, when we are constrained to show our disapprobation of his spirit.
Our Lord has set us an example in this respect, which well deserves our imitation. Two of his disciples, James and John, had come to him with a request, which argued lamentable ignorance and a highly culpable ambition. But how did our Lord correct their folly? Did he expatiate upon their fault, and aggravate it to the uttermost? No, he apparently overlooked it; and annexed to their words a favorable meaning which they were never intended to convey; and then founded on them such instruction as was calculated silently and effectually to counteract the evils of the heart.
In speaking of the request which these disciples offered to him, we shall notice it,
I. As it was intended by them—
Whether the idea originated with them or their mother, we do not know: perhaps the disciples, conscious of the unreasonableness of their desires, had engaged the good offices of their mother, to veil their own ambition: or, possibly, the mother, anxious for the aggrandizement of her family, had urged on her sons to unite in the request: but at all events it is evident, that they hoped by their joint influence certainly to prevail.
Notwithstanding all that our Lord had just said about his sufferings and death, his disciples still expected that he would establish a temporal kingdom. Though he had spoken of his being crucified, yet, as he had talked also of "rising again the third day," they conceived that he spoke only of some transient trials, which would outcome in a complete triumph over all his enemies. They remembered that promise which he had very recently given them, that they should at a future period "sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel, Matthew 19:28;" and they concluded, that it must relate to some temporal dominion. Emboldened by this, they presumed to ask that they might be invested with the two highest places of dignity and power in his kingdom.
Not a thought did they bestow on his sufferings, though described in such awful terms: nothing found any place in their minds, but a hope of speedy elevation to the highest honors upon earth. Nor did they affect only a superiority over the world at large, but even above their own brethren also, even above all the other Apostles; so blind were they to their own incompetency for such a post, and so regardless of their own eternal interests. Consider their request in this view:
1. How unsuitable to their talents!
What qualifications had they for such an office as that which they solicited? They might be experienced enough as fishermen; but what preparation of mind had they for statesmen, and for the government of an extensive empire? Foolish and vain men! Well did our Savior say to them, "You know not what you ask."
2. How repugnant to their best interests!
They had been called from their usual employment, in order that they might be at leisure to acquire spiritual knowledge; and would they go and undertake an employment that would fill them with ten thousand times greater cares, even if they were qualified to engage in it? Will a man about to run a race, load his feet with thick clay? Yet, notwithstanding their Lord had very recently told them, that it was "easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of Heaven, Matthew 19:25-26," they sought after wealth and honor as the summit of their felicity. Alas! how awfully had Satan blinded their eyes, and deluded their hearts!
3. How illustrative of the carnality of the human heart!
Though only two of the disciples offered this request, all the others showed by their indignation that they were under the influence of the same ambition. And indeed what they expressed in words, is more or less the language of all our hearts. We would not perhaps utter the sentiment so plainly as they did; but we will indulge it. We long for some further advancement in life; somewhat more of honor, or power, or wealth. We do not indeed wish to govern kingdoms; because of that we have no prospect: but as soon as any elevation in the world appears to be within our reach, we instantly find a drawing of heart towards it. All, from the prince to the beggar, are thus affected: and even those, who profess themselves to be disciples of Christ, are still infected with this fatal malady, the love of this world. Yes, if the desire of our hearts were as plainly expressed as theirs was, we would be found, with very few exceptions, to resemble those infatuated and misguided men.
Let us now proceed to notice their request,
II. As it was interpreted by our Lord—
He graciously overlooked the true construction of their words, and affixed a sense to them which they were capable of bearing, and which divested them of a great portion of the evil which they contained: and then he formed his answer, as suited to his own construction of them. He supposed the words to relate to that kingdom which he was really come to establish in the world; and as importing a desire after the highest proficiency in grace, and the highest elevation in glory. In conformity with this idea, he speaks to them only of spiritual advancement, and shows them,
1. The way in which it was to be obtained—
It is not by a bare request that any person can arrive at eminence in the divine life. The soul is to be disciplined by conflicts, and to be purified by afflictions. Perfect as the Lord Jesus himself was, "he learned obedience by the things which he suffered," and "was made perfect through sufferings:" and in like manner must all his people be.
Hence he put the question to them, "Can you drink of the cup that I drink of, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" As though he had said, You see what bitter trials I endure, that I am overwhelmed even with a sea of troubles. See 1 Corinthians 10:2, and it is ordained that all who will be distinguished either here, or in Heaven, must arrive at that distinction by the same path: "they must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of Heaven," and "suffer with me here, if they would be glorified with me in the eternal world."
This is a solemn and important truth: it has been verified in every age and corner of the world: from righteous Abel to this very hour, every saint has experienced it; and those whose situations have required them to take the lead, have not only borne the brunt of the battle, but frequently have been called to sacrifice their very lives in the cause of Christ. Persecution is a cup which every saint must drink of, and a baptism which every follower of Christ must expect to be baptized with.
2. The way in which they themselves should obtain it—
In answer to the question put to them by our Lord, the two disciples, without any hesitation, affirmed that they could suffer any extremity for him. But what presumption was this! Still however our blessed Lord would not mark what they said amiss; but, passing over it in silence, told them, that they should all partake of this honor, and be rendered conformable to his image. They had been chosen by him to be his messengers to the world, and to lead others in the way wherein they should go; and therefore it was necessary that they in particular should be patterns of that faith and patience which they were to inculcate upon others.
Accordingly, the very first of the Apostles that was put to death for the sake of Christ, was James, Acts 12:2; and John was soon imprisoned and beaten for the Gospel's sake, Acts 5:40; and, after a life of many trials, was banished to the Isle of Patmos, where he speaks of himself, at the age of a hundred years, as "a companion in tribulation in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, Revelation 1:9. Thus he most effectually counteracted their ambitious views, by showing them, that, instead of honors in this world, they must look for nothing but tribulations and persecutions even unto death.
3. To what persons it should ultimately be given—
Our Lord tells his disciples that the chief places in his kingdom were to be disposed of by him, not according to his own mere arbitrary will, but agreeably to a plan concerted from all eternity between his Father and himself; and that they only would possess the highest place for whom that place had been prepared.
His words however admit of two distinct meanings; they may be understood as declaring, that his gift of eternal life is limited by the decrees of God, or that it is regulated by the attainments of men. In either of these views, they contain important instruction.
God the Father did, from all eternity, enter into covenant with his Son, and give to him a people, whom he would redeem by his blood, and save by his effectual grace; and on whom he should confer everlasting happiness in Heaven. Of these our blessed Lord frequently speaks as of persons given to him by the Father; and he plainly declares elsewhere, that his bestowing of eternal life was limited to them, John 17:2; John 17:24.
But it is equally true, that the degrees of glory which shall be conferred on different persons will be proportioned to their attainments in grace: it is expressly said, that "every man shall receive according to his own labor, 1 Corinthians 3:8." Of course, there are higher degrees of glory prepared for those who labor and suffer much for their Lord, and lower degrees for those who are less diligent. The parables of the pounds and of the talents are decisive upon this point.
In this sense of the words, our Lord's reply appears to be more pertinent than in the other; for then the import of them will be to this effect: 'Do not be looking for earthly honor, but for the honor that comes of God; and be as ambitious for that as you will: only remember that the degrees of it which you shall obtain, depend upon your own exertions for the attainment of it: engage heartily in my service, and expect assuredly at my hands a reward proportioned to your diligence and fidelity.'
This is an encouraging consideration to every one of us: the cup we may have to drink of may be bitter at the time; but it shall soon be exchanged for a far different cup, which we shall drink of to all eternity! Though we go through a sea of troubles now, our augmented weight of glory shall abundantly compensate for all the sorrows we have endured!
Let us learn then from hence,
1. What we are to desire—
If we will hear a Prophet, he says, "Are you seeking great things unto yourself? Seek them not! Jeremiah 45:5." If we will attend to an Apostle, he says, "Set your affections on things above, and not on things on the earth, Colossians 3:2." Let us attend to these instructions, and "count all things but loss, that we may win Christ".
2. What we are to expect—
If we look for honor and acceptance with man, we shall be disappointed. Which of the Prophets, which of the Apostles, was not an object of hatred and persecution to an ungodly world? Who are we then, that we should expect different treatment from them? Let us bear in mind, that "all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution," and let us be content to bear our cross, in order that we may hereafter receive a crown.
3. What we are to do—
God has appointed to every one of us our work: let us be diligent in the performance of it: "whatever our hand finds to do, let us do it with all our might." But let us be especially careful of the rock which these presumptuous disciples split upon. When our Lord asked them whether they could "drink of his cup, and be baptized with his baptism," they confidently answered that they could. And how justly they estimated their own powers, they soon showed, when, upon our Lord's apprehension in the garden, they all forsook him and fled.
Thus will it be with us, if we attempt to do anything in our own strength: we shall soon find that "we have not of ourselves a sufficiency even to think a good thought," much less to do and suffer all the will of God. Our Lord tells us, that "without Him we can do nothing." Let us remember then, that, while we engage in his service, we must derive all our strength from him. If we look to him, we need not fear either men or devils: we may set at nothing all the menaces of our most inveterate enemies: a fiery furnace, or a den of lions, need be no object of terror to us; for "our strength shall be according to our day;" and we shall be "enabled both to do all things," and "to suffer all things, through Christ who strengthened us."
Legitimate Ambition Illustrated
"And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John. But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."
THE corruption of the heart, like fire in flint, generally lies concealed, until, by a collision with some particular circumstances, it is elicited; and then it comes forth with a power capable of producing the most fatal effects.
Until James and John had applied to the Lord Jesus for the two highest places in his kingdom, the other ten disciples appeared content with any lot that should be assigned them: but when they had reason to apprehend that their more aspiring brethren might be placed above them, they were filled with indignation against them, and were ready to dispute and quarrel with them for precedency. Then they showed, that they themselves were as much actuated by ambition as the others; and were quite as averse to yield, as the others were anxious to obtain, the highest place of dignity and power. Unconscious of the evil that existed in themselves, they were soon offended at it in others: and it is observable, that we are never more easily offended, than when we behold in others the evil that is predominant in ourselves; so blind are we in our judgment, and so partial in our decisions.
But our blessed Lord gently corrected the errors of his disciples; he showed them, that they were altogether wrong in indulging such a desire after earthly distinctions; and that, if they would affect superiority at all, the only ambition that became them was to excel in works and labors of love. This, which we may call legitimate ambition, he illustrated in a way,
I. Of contrast—
The men of this world affect and exercise a lordly authority—
Kings are rarely content with the measure of power with which they are invested by the laws, but are for the most part desirous of extending their rule; and not uncommonly they imagine that they themselves are exalted, in proportion to the degree of power that they are able to exert. Nor does it in general suffice them to govern their own subjects: they too often wish to interfere with other potentates, and to control the acts of other sovereigns. The subjugation of other states, is in their eyes a source of enviable aggrandizement: and the greater success they have in prosecuting their ambitious projects, the more restless they become; until at last universal empire is scarcely sufficient to satiate their desires. A fear of losing their own possessions, imposes indeed on many a beneficial restraint: but where no such ground of fear exists, the tyrannical dispositions of men know no bounds.
What the human heart is capable of, may be seen in Nebuchadnezzar; who ordered all the wise men in his dominions to be put to death, because they could not tell him a dream of his, which he himself had forgotten; and again commanded all who would not fall down and worship a golden image which he had set up, to be cast into a fiery furnace: in a word, "all people, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him; whom he would, he slew; and whom he would, he kept alive, Daniel 2:12-13; Daniel 3:2-7; Daniel 5:19."
The same dispositions are observable also in subordinate governors, and in all who are invested with authority: there is in every one a proneness to extend his power, and to make his own will the rule and reason of action to those around him: and the greater measure of despotism any one is able to exercise, the more he conceives himself to be exalted in the scale of being.
But the very reverse of this should be the practice of God's people—
We say not that a Christian may not be a king: (would to God that all the kings upon earth were Christians!) nor do we think it wrong for them to maintain the power assigned them by the laws: for they are invested with power by God himself, in order that they may exercise it for their people's good. Nor do we conceive that Christians of an inferior order should decline all offices of trust and power; or that power should not be exercised over the Church of God: for every society must be governed by laws: and it is desirable that the execution of the laws should be entrusted to those who will most consult the glory of God.
But this we say, that no man should strive for power under an idea that happiness consists in the possession of it, or that he himself is elevated and ennobled by it; nor indeed for any other end, than as it may be instrumental to the advancing of God's honor, and the happiness of mankind.
The Christian's attitude must be the very reverse of that which we have seen to be the habit of the world. What worldly men affect, he must despise: and what they exact of others, he must, of his own mind and will, cheerfully render to all around him. Instead of wishing to enslave others, he must willingly make himself, so to speak, a slave to others; and account it his highest honor to render services even to the least and poorest of mankind: he must be the minister of all, the servant of all imports a servant who was also his master's property.
Our Lord proceeded to illustrate this idea further, in a way,
II. Of comparison—
Our blessed Lord has exhibited a perfect pattern for his people—
He was, in a sense that none other can be, "the Son of Man:" he was, as the Jews themselves understood that name to mean, the Son of God, even God himself, Luke 22:69-70. Yet "he, though being in the form of God, and counting it not robbery to be equal with God, made himself of no reputation, and took upon himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of sinful men:" and, instead of appearing in outward pomp and splendor, and having the great men of the earth in his retinue, he came to minister unto his own rebellious creatures. Yes, he waited upon them continually, "going about through all the towns and villages to do good" to their bodies and their souls. On his own immediate disciples too he waited, condescending even to wash their feet. Nor did he only spend his life in the service of mankind, but at last laid down his life for them, to ransom their souls from death and Hell. No sacrifice was too great for him to make for their welfare, no suffering too heavy for him to endure. He "bore their infirmities and sorrows" by tender sympathy, and "he bore also their sins in his own body on the tree;" enduring in his own person the curse due to them, that they through him might inherit eternal blessedness 2 Corinthians 5:21.
To resemble him should be the summit of our ambition—
As to the ends and purposes of his humiliation and death, he must for ever stand alone: for "no man can redeem his brother, or give to God a ransom for him, Psalm 49:7." But we may "bear one another's burdens;" and we ought to do so; for this is the law imposed on us by Christ himself, Galatians 6:2. We may consider all our faculties, and time, and wealth, and influence as talents committed to our care, to be improved for God and for the benefit of our fellow-creatures: we may value them all, only as means of doing good: we may make the good of others to be the great business and end of our lives, and study by all possible means to promote the comfort of their bodies, and the salvation of their souls. We may cheerfully submit to sacrifice our ease, our reputation, our liberty, yes, our very lives, in their service: yes; we may, and "we ought to, lay down our lives for the brethren," if by such a sacrifice we may promote their eternal interests, 1 John 3:16.
Here, I say, is scope for our ambition: nor can we possibly be too ardent in such a career as that. We must not indeed labor even in such a way for the honor that comes of man: to be aspiring after eminence with a view to man's applause, would vitiate all the actions that we could ever perform, and deprive us of all hope of acceptance with God: but, if we abound in works and labors of love for the honor of God and the good of man, then, the more numerous and self-denying those labors are, the more exalted shall we be in the estimation of God himself; and if we would possess the most distinguished place in his kingdom, this is the legitimate and the only method to obtain it.
We know that the Apostle Paul was "not a whit behind the very chief Apostles:" and the reason was, that "he labored more abundantly than they all," and rendered both to God and man the greatest measure of difficult and self-denying services, 2 Corinthians 11:5; 2 Corinthians 11:22-28. In a word, he most resembled his Divine Master: and in proportion as we also resemble Christ, will be our real dignity and honor.
From this subject we may learn,
1. The true nature of Christian morality—
The generality of Christians have a scheme of morals scarcely elevated beyond the systems which were established by heathen philosophers: their morality is a system of pride; and, however wide its circumference, every line of it centers in self. But the morality of the Gospel is founded in humility, and, in every part of it, has respect to the glory of God. It requires us "not to live unto ourselves, but unto him who died for us and rose again."
Were this more considered among us, we should not hear of persons founding their hopes of acceptance on their morality: for, where is there one who has regulated his life by this standard? If we try our morals by this touchstone, we shall see that the very best of us needs a Savior, as much as the vilest of the human race: Let us remember then what true morality is, and labor to attain its utmost heights.
2. The diversified uses that we are to make of our Savior's death—
Doubtless the first great use that we are to make of it, is, to trust in it for our reconciliation with God. We all have sold ourselves to sin and Satan, and must all look to his blood as the price paid for our redemption. No other ransom ever was, or ever can be, paid for our souls: in that therefore must be all our hope, and trust, and confidence. But in the death of Christ we have also an assemblage of every virtue that suffering humanity can exercise. In that we have a pattern of all that is great and glorious; a patience invincible, a love that passes the comprehension either of men or angels. To that therefore we must look as to the pattern to which we are to be conformed: and though it is not possible that we should ever come near to his perfection, yet we must aspire after it; and, setting him ever before our eyes, must endeavor in all things to "walk as he walked."
3. The criterion whereby we are to judge of our spirit and conduct—
It is often difficult to ascertain the precise quality of our own actions; but here are two things, by which, as by a rule or plummet, we may be enabled to form a correct judgment.
Let us compare our spirit and conduct with that which is discernible in worldly men: and we may be nearly sure, that, if we resemble them, we are wrong.
Let us next turn to the Lord Jesus Christ, and see what his spirit and conduct were on similar occasions: and we may safely conclude, that we are right or wrong, in proportion as we resemble him, or differ from him.
We do not undertake to say, that these tests are infallible in all cases; because a worldly man may sometimes do what is materially right, though from a wrong principle; and because the cases between our Lord and ourselves may not be sufficiently parallel: but the person who will habituate himself to try his spirit by these tests, will have a light which will assist him in the most intricate paths, and preserve him from innumerable errors, into which he would fall, if he had no such clue to guide him. And let not this hint be overlooked; for, "who can understand his errors?"
On many occasions, the Apostles themselves "knew not what spirit they were of." Had they on the present occasion reflected either on the conduct of the world, or on the conduct of their Lord, they would have been kept from proud ambition on the one hand, and from envious indignation on the other. While therefore we pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, let us be thankful for any subordinate means of ascertaining his mind and will: and let us endeavor so to walk, that Christ himself may testify concerning us, "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!"
Blind Bartimaeus Cured
So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be called. Then they called the blind man, saying to him, "Be of good cheer. Rise, He is calling you." And throwing aside his garment, he rose and came to Jesus.
OUR Lord, like the sun in the firmament, pursued without intermission the great ends of his ministry, diffusing innumerable blessings wherever he bent his course. The miracle which he performed at Jericho, though similar in many respects to some others which are recorded, has some circumstances peculiar to itself, which deserve to be attentively considered.
Matthew mentions two persons who were joint-petitioners on this occasion; but Mark confines his narration to Bartimaeus alone, as the more noted of the two, and as the chief speaker. To comprehend the most important incidents in this history, we shall consider,
I. The state of the person whom Jesus called—
Bartimaeus was a distressed and humble suppliant for mercy—
He was both blind, and necessitated to exist on the precarious bounty of those who might pass him on the highway. Who would have thought that God should allow one towards whom he had designs of saving love and mercy, to be reduced to so low a state? Yet such is his sovereign appointment in many instances; his own children are lying at the gate full of sores, while his enemies are faring sumptuously every day.
Hearing that Jesus was passing by, this blind man importuned his aid. He would not lose the opportunity which now occurred; nor cease from his cries until he had obtained his request. His language was expressive of an assured faith in Jesus the promised Messiah, at the very time that the rulers and Pharisees almost unanimously rejected him. Thus it is frequently found, that those things which are hid from the wise and prudent are revealed unto babes.
Afflictive as such a condition is, it affords a pleasant and hopeful prospect—
Distress of any kind cannot but be an object of commiseration; but none is so much to be deprecated as the blindness of the mind. The loss of eye-sight is no more worthy to be compared with this, than the body with the soul, or time with eternity. Miserable beyond description are they, the eyes of whose understanding have never yet been enlightened to behold the wonderful things of God's word. But if we be sensible of our blindness; if we be calling upon Jesus as the appointed and all-sufficient Savior, if we be persevering in prayer notwithstanding all our discouragements, and saying, "I will not let you go unless you bless me," we are surely in a hopeful state; we are not far from the kingdom of God.
In confirmation of this point we proceed to show,
II. The encouragement which the call of Jesus afforded him—
The command which Jesus gave was announced to Bartimaeus with joyful congratulations—
Jesus had declined for some time to notice his cries, but at last commanded him to be brought unto him. What a gleam of hope must instantly have irradiated the mind of this poor suppliant! A few minutes before, he had been rebuked by the multitude, and bidden to be quiet; but, happily for him, their rebukes had operated to quicken, rather than to damp his ardor. Now also the voices of those who had checked him were changed, and their rebukes were turned to encouraging exhortations. The very call was deemed a pledge of the mercy that had been solicited.
And are not the calls of Jesus a ground of encouragement to all who feel their need of mercy?
He does not, it is true, call any of us by name; but the descriptions given of those whom he does invite, are far more satisfactory to the soul, than the most express mention of our names could be: we might doubt whether there were not others of our name; but who can doubt whether he be a sinner, a lost sinner? Yet such are repeatedly declared to be the very persons whom Jesus came to seek and save.
Are we, like the blind man, longing for mercy, and striving to obtain it? It is impossible to doubt whether Jesus has mercy in store for us, since he particularly calls to him "every one that thirsts." Only let his invitations be treasured up in our minds, and we shall never despond, or entertain a doubt of obtaining our desire at last.
Participating in the general joy which this call excited, let us trace,
III. The effect it produced upon him—
He arose and went to Jesus without delay—
Intent upon one point of infinite importance, he disregarded his garment, as the Samaritan woman on another occasion left her water-pot; or perhaps, fearing that it would retard his motion, he cast it away, that he might the more speedily obey the summons. Valuable as it must have been to one so poor, he utterly despised it, when the prospect of a cure had cheered his soul; nor would he retain anything that should for one moment interfere with his expected bliss. Instantly he went, and made known to Jesus the particular mercy which he desired. He asked not any financial aid, but that, of which the value was above rubies. He had come to one who was able to grant whatever he would ask; and, as he was not straitened in his Benefactor, he would not be straitened in his own petitions.
Such should be the effect which the calls of Jesus should produce on us—
We should not hesitate one moment to comply with his gracious invitations, nor should any worldly concerns occupy our thoughts when a prospect of mercy presents itself to our view. We should cast off everything, however dear or even necessary it may be to us, rather than allow it to retard our spiritual progress. "We should lay aside every weight, and the sin that most easily besets us, in order that we may run with perseverance and activity the race that is set before us." Going to Jesus we should spread all our wants before him. If he asks, "What do you want me to do for you?" we should be ready to reply, 'Lord, open my eyes, forgive my sins, renew my soul.' If we thus improve his calls, we shall never be disappointed of our hope.
We shall conclude with recommending to your imitation the conduct of this blind beggar. Imitate,
1. His humility—
It is scarcely possible for words to express deeper humility than that manifested by Bartimaeus. He sought nothing but mercy for mercy's sake. He had no plea but that of his own misery, together with that which was implied in the appellation given to Jesus. The Son of David was to confirm his divine mission by the most benevolent and stupendous miracles. The import of the beggar's petition therefore was, 'Let me, the poorest, basest, and most necessitous of mankind, be made a monument of your power and grace.' Such exactly is to be the spirit and temper with which we must approach the Lord. If we bring any self-righteous plea, or build our hope upon anything besides the work and offices of Christ, we never can find acceptance with him. It is the broken and contrite spirit, and that alone, which God will not despise.
2. His perseverance—
The circumstances under which he persevered in his requests were very discouraging. He was rebuked by the people, and, to appearance, disregarded by Christ; yet, instead of giving up, he redoubled his efforts to obtain mercy. Thus should we pray and not faint. Discouragements we must expect both from without and from within. The world will cry out against us, and God himself may appear to have forsaken us: but we must argue like the lepers, and say, 'If I cease to call upon him, I must perish; and I can but perish if I continue my supplications.'
Thus must we continue in prayer with all perseverance; breaking through every difficulty, casting away every impediment, and determining, if we perish, to perish at the feet of Christ. Would to God that there were within us such a spirit! Sooner would Heaven and earth pass away than such a suppliant be finally rejected.
3. His gratitude—
When healed by Jesus, we find the same contempt for secular interests as he had manifested under his distress. From henceforth his concern was to honor his Benefactor: he instantly became a stated follower of Jesus, a living witness of his mercy and power. How differently did he act from those who seek the Lord in their affliction, but as soon as ever they are relieved, forget all the vows that are upon them!
Let not us be of this base and odious character. Let us rather yield up ourselves as living sacrifices to the Lord, and devote ourselves wholly to his service. Let the remembrance of his kindness be ever engraved on our hearts, and a grateful sense of it be ever legible in our lives. Thus shall we answer the end for which his mercy is imparted, and be numbered among his followers in the eternal world.
The Importance of Faith in Prayer
"Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them."
THERE is no grace more highly commended in the Scriptures, than faith: for though in some respects love may be considered as the greater, inasmuch as it more assimilates us to the Deity, and is of infinitely longer duration 1 Corinthians 13:13; yet faith is the parent of love, and the root of every other grace. Faith, above all other graces, honors God, and benefits the soul; for it gives to him the glory of all his infinite perfections, and brings down from him a supply of all those blessings which he has promised to bestow. Faith's efficacy is particularly seen in prayer: our Lord has assured us, that faith shall secure to us every blessing that we ask for: "Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them."
It is our intention to show,
I. What is that faith which we are to exercise in prayer—
Many distinguish between that faith which works miracles, and that whereby we obtain salvation: but I much doubt the propriety of the distinction as it is usually explained. It is supposed that the faith itself is different: but I apprehend that the difference exists, not in the faith, but in the objects of that faith: the faith is the same; but its operation is different, according to the objects on which it is exercised. I would say of faith, so far as it relates to our present subject, that it is an expectation founded on a promise.
To expect anything which God has not promised, is presumption.
To doubt the fulfillment of what he has promised, is unbelief.
To expect the accomplishment of his word, is faith.
But promises are of different kinds: some are absolute and others conditional. The office of faith is to apprehend them as they are given. If they are given absolutely, we must expect them absolutely. If they are given conditionally, we must expect them conditionally. Our faith in each must be equally assured: we must as fully expect the accomplishment of a conditional promise on the performance of the condition, as of any promises to which no condition is annexed. But we must be careful not to construe the conditional promises as absolute, or the absolute promises as conditional. If we take the absolute promises, and make them to depend on the performance of conditions, we deny to God the exercise of his sovereign grace. If , on the other hand, we make the conditional promises absolute, and expect their accomplishment merely from the circumstance of their fixing themselves strongly on our minds, we shall, on the occurrence of a disappointment, be led to doubt the veracity of God, and to reject all his promises as unworthy of belief.
We will explain ourselves more fully.
There are many promises which we call ABSOLUTE; such as those which relate to Christ as the Author of salvation to a ruined world, Genesis 3:15; Genesis 12:3; such as relate also to the increase and establishment of his Church, Isaiah 2:2; Isaiah 11:6-9; and such also as afford the broad grounds of hope to all who shall believe in Christ, Isaiah 55:7; John 6:37; Acts 13:39; 1 John 1:7. We are to believe these as true and certain, independent of any title to them, or interest in them, possessed by us. As applied to ourselves indeed, they may be considered as conditional; but as received, they may be called absolute.
There are other promises which we call CONDITIONAL; because they are made to persons of certain characters, or upon our performance of certain conditions, Matthew 5:3-10; Matthew 7:7-8; Matthew 11:28-29; Acts 16:31; and these we are to believe as infallibly certain to all who attain the qualifications or perform the conditions. Yet we must not imagine that the qualification or the action forms the proper ground on which God bestows the blessing: the blessing is God's free gift, as well when it is conditionally granted, as when it is unconditional. The bestowment of Canaan on the descendants of Abraham was free, notwithstanding the final possession of it was suspended on their obedience to his commandments. So it is in all cases: the performance of conditions may be appointed of God as means to an end; and the end may be inseparable from the means; but still the end is God's free gift; and from his free grace alone do we derive our title to it: the use of the means is no more than the beggar's stretching out his hand to receive a offered donation.
Among these may be classed all temporal promises, such as those which relate to health, or riches, or honor: for these are no further promised than the bestowment of them shall accord with God's will, and be subservient to his glory. We shall have them in that measure that shall be conducive to our spiritual and eternal welfare.
Promises also which relate to others, are of this kind. God engages to "pour out his Spirit on our seed and his blessing on our offspring," etc. Isaiah 44:3-5. But this cannot be fulfilled, unless the individuals themselves seek his blessing: and therefore it must be understood as subject to that condition.
Such then is the faith which we are to exercise in prayer. We are to lay hold on the promises of God in his word, and are to apprehend them, not as they are applied to our minds—but as they are given by God as either conditional or unconditional. Their striking our minds more or less, forcibly makes no alteration in them: they are not a whit more or less certain on that account: their accomplishment is no otherwise affected by our conduct than as we exercise faith on them, or entertain doubts respecting them. If we do not credit them, they will not be fulfilled to us. If we do credit them, they will be fulfilled absolutely, or on our performance of the conditions, according to the quality of the promises themselves.
Having stated what we apprehend to be the kind of faith that we are to exercise, we proceed to mark,
II. The importance of faith towards the success of our prayers—
Two things are noted in our text, the one expressed, the other implied; and they will serve to show us the importance of faith in the strongest light in which it can be seen:
1. Without faith, no prayer even for the smallest blessing can succeed—
If we go to God without faith, instead of honoring, we insult him; we tell him to his face, that the representations given of him in his word are too good to be true. Unbelief necessarily ascribes to God a defect either of power or of will to accomplish what he has promised: for if we believe him fully able, and fully willing, to accomplish his word, there remains no ground of doubt. It may be said that doubts may arise from a sense of our own unworthiness: but I answer, that all doubts ascribed to that source, have their origin in pride and ignorance. They argue an unwillingness to receive the promises in our proper character, and an ignorance of the freeness and fullness of the promises.
Let us make the case our own. We have invited a person to come and receive some great benefit: and he no sooner comes into our presence, than he betrays a doubt about our sincerity, and a suspicion that we intend to disappoint him. Should we be pleased with such a person? Should we feel disposed to extend our benefits to him in such a state? In what light God regards such persons, he himself has told us. He interprets all doubts of his power, or willingness to supply the necessities of his people, as a high provocation; an insult that kindles his wrath against every person that indulges them, Psalm 78:19-22; Psalm 78:40-41; and he warns us, that every prayer offered in such a spirit shall be disregarded; and that it will be in vain for such a suppliant to expect anything at his hands, James 1:5-7. Hence the command to all who would find acceptance to their prayers, is, to "lift up holy hands without wrath or doubting, 1 Timothy 2:8."
2. With faith, no prayer even for the greatest blessing can fail—
Faith honors every perfection of the Deity: his power, his love, his faithfulness are all acknowledged, when we go to him in a firm expectation that he will fulfill his promises. Hence to such suppliants he gives a liberty to "ask for whatever they will," and assures them, that he will fulfill all their petitions, John 14:13-14; John 15:7; John 16:24.
God never binds himself to any particular time or manner of answering their prayers: he may see fit to defer his answer for a considerable time; but he will not delay beyond the best time, Luke 18:7.
God may also withhold the particular blessing that is asked; but he will give a better blessing in its stead; as when he refused Moses his permission to go into the land of Canaan, but gave him a sight of Canaan, and then took him up to Heaven, Deuteronomy 3:25-26 with 34:4, 5.
God may also continue the affliction which we desire to have removed, but he will give us grace to bear it; and will glorify himself by means of it; which, in the eyes of every real saint, will be incomparably better than the removal of it, 2 Corinthians 12:7-9.
It is possible enough that his people under particular circumstances may think that he has not answered their prayer; as for instance, when they have been praying for spiritual benefits, and he has sent them temporal afflictions: but the truth is, that he makes their "tribulation to work the very blessings they have sought for, namely, patience, and experience, and hope;" and it is not until long afterwards that they see how mysteriously, yet how graciously, he has answered their petitions. There is but one limit to their petitions, namely, the will of God: and if the desire be within that limit, every believer may rest assured, that God either has answered his prayers, or will answer them in due time, 1 John 5:14-15.
Learn then from hence,
1. The true nature of prayer—
Prayer is thought by men in general to be a duty: and a duty it certainly is in some point of view; but it should rather be regarded as a privilege. In what light did Hagar view access to a fountain, when she and her child were perishing with thirst? In what light did the man-slayer view his liberty of running to the city of refuge? Or in what light would any poor person consider the knocking at our door, when he was bidden to come for a supply of all his needs?
O that we viewed aright God's invitations to the throne of grace! We would not come then, as too many do, to perform a task; to offer petitions which we neither expected nor desired to have answered; and which, if God should offer to grant them, we would pray back again with ten times more fervor than was put forth in offering them. No, we should come as children to a father, "delighting ourselves in him as our God," and saying with David, "At morning and evening and at noon-day will I pray;" or with the Apostle, "Truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ."
2. The folly of unbelief—
Unbelief builds a wall, as it were, between God and us. It effectually prevents all access to him, and as effectually prevents the communications of his grace to us. It may be thought, that if God has decreed to give us his blessing, our unbelief shall not prevent it; nor need we be solicitous about praying for it. But are we not told that Jesus "could not do many mighty works at Nazareth because of their unbelief?" Do we not remember that the Apostles failed in their attempts to cast out an unclean spirit "because of their unbelief?" Are we not told, that, "notwithstanding a promise was given to the Israelites that they should enter into Canaan, they entered not in because of unbelief?" When God gave the most absolute promises, he said, "Yet will I be inquired of by the House of Israel to do it for them, Ezekiel 36:37." And, when he declared by his Prophet, that he had "thoughts of peace towards his people to give them an expected end," he particularly added, that "then they should go and pray unto him, and should find him, when they should search for him with their whole heart, Jeremiah 29:11-13." Let us guard then against this most pernicious evil, and go unto our God, saying, "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!"
Yet, in exercising faith, we must guard against presumption; for if our faith be of an unhallowed kind, and goes beyond the promise, it shall not be crowned with success. When Elisha heard that the widow's son was dead, he sent his servant with his staff, conceiving that the touch of that would suffice to restore him: but God had promised no such thing; and therefore the attempt failed, 2 Kings 4:29; 2 Kings 4:31. But in exercising faith, let us exercise it assuredly indeed, but humbly, and in an exact conformity to the command of God.
3. The wisdom of treasuring up the promises of God in our mind—
These are the true ground and measure of our expectations from God. And, if we look into the Holy Scriptures, we shall find that there is not a state or condition in which we can be placed, but there is a promise exactly suited to it. We go with confidence to an honorable man, when we have a promise of anything under his own hand: with what confidence then may we go to God, when we can take his promises along with us!
Look at Jacob, how he pleads with God a promise that had been given him many years before, Genesis 28:15 with 32:12. See David pleading in like manner, 2 Samuel 7:25, Psalm 119:49; and learn from them the true use of the promises; "nor ever stagger at them through unbelief; but be strong in faith, giving glory to God." God's promises are "exceeding great and precious," commensurate with all our necessities. Let us therefore account nothing too great to ask; but "open our mouth wide, that God may fill it:" "nor shall one jot or tittle fail of all the good things that he has promised to us."
The Regard Due to Christ
"They will respect my son."
THERE are many passages of Scripture, wherein God speaks of himself as frustrated and disappointed by the conduct of his creatures. We are not however to suppose that events happened really contrary to the purposes he had fixed or the expectations he had formed: for it is certain that "he does according to his will in the armies of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth;" and that "known unto him are all his works, from the foundation of the world." The truth is, that God speaks after the manner of men, for the sake of accommodating himself to our low and feeble apprehensions; and therefore we must understand his words in a popular sense, without deducing from them all the conclusions which they may appear to warrant.
In the parable before us, he is represented as adopting an expedient, which, humanly speaking, could not fail of success. He had sent many servants to the Jews, in order to obtain from them the fruits of his vineyard: but some of them they had beaten, and others they had killed. "Having therefore One Son, his well-beloved," he determined to send him, judging it impossible, as it were, that they should lift up their hands, or move their tongues against him, "They will reverence my Son." But in the sequel of the parable we are informed, that, notwithstanding the numerous and solid grounds on which this expectation was formed, their hostility to him was more inveterate than it had been to any who had preceded him; and their treatment of him was the more cruel on account of the relation he bore to God, and the interest he claimed in the vineyard.
Conforming ourselves to the mode of speaking which God himself has suggested in the text, it will be proper to consider,
I. The grounds of his expectation—
If we were to confine the subject to Christ's reception among the Jews, we would notice the peculiar circumstances of his incarnation, the spotless purity of his character, the multitude of his benevolent and stupendous miracles, and his perfect correspondence with all that had been predicted concerning him. But, that we may bring the subject home to our own bosoms, we shall omit these general topics which interest us chiefly as proving his Messiahship, and shall notice others which mark more strongly the grounds of a believer's attachment to him.
God then may well expect us to reverence his Son,
1. On account of the dignity of his person—
Jesus, though born of a woman, differed infinitely from any other of the human race. He was, in an exalted and appropriate sense, the Son of God; "his only Son, his well-beloved." He was God as well as man, "God manifest in the flesh." As he was "perfect man—so was he also perfect God, equal with the Father as touching his Godhead, at the same time that he was inferior to the Father as touching his manhood."
Now if God had sent us an angel, or only a worm like ourselves, we ought to reverence him, because the authority of the king is to be acknowledged in his ambassador. But when he sends his co-equal, co-eternal Son, who is "Jehovah's fellow," even "God over all blessed for evermore," ought we not to testify all possible respect for him? Surely when he comes to us in his Gospel, and declares who he is, and whence he came, it befits us to bow the knee before him, and to welcome him from our inmost souls.
2. On account of our extreme need of him—
If we did not need a Savior, we might disregard the Lord Jesus, on the principle that "the whole need not a physician, but they that are sick." But who among us is free from sin? or who can make compensation to God for his iniquities? Who can satisfy Divine justice, or avert the wrath which his sins have merited? If we cannot do these things, and God has sent his only dear Son to do them for us, ought we not to reverence his Son? Ought we not to receive him with the warmest gratitude and affection?
Suppose that having sent his Son into this world, God were now to send him to the regions below, where millions of our fellow-creatures are enduring the punishment due to their transgressions: would the unhappy sufferers disregard his offers of mercy as we do? Would they not throng him on every side, and vie with each other in rending the air with their acclamations and hosannas? Why then should not we do the same? for wherein do we differ from them, except in this, that we are under a sentence of condemnation, but on them the sentence is already executed? Surely God may well expect, that we should be as solicitous to escape the wrath we fear, as others would be to obtain deliverance from the wrath they feel.
3. On account of the benefits he will impart to us—
If we hoped for nothing more than to avoid the miseries of Hell, methinks we could never sufficiently reverence that adorable Savior who came to deliver us from them. But this is a small part only of the blessings which he will bestow upon us. He will introduce us to the presence of his heavenly Father, and give us the most delightful fellowship with him. He will rescue us from the dominion of sin and Satan, and transform us into the image of our God in righteousness and true holiness. He will even exalt us to thrones of glory, and make us partakers of the honor and felicity which he himself enjoys at the right hand of God. And when God was sending us his own Son to impart all these benefits, had he not good reason to say, "They will reverence my Son?" If a doubt had been suggested whether such a Benefactor would be welcomed upon earth, would we not have been ready to inveigh against the person who suggested it, as a calumniator of the human race?
But events have happened widely different from this prediction. God, if we may so speak, has been disappointed in his expectations; and that too in an incredible degree. This will appear by considering,
II. The extent of his disappointment—
How the Lord Jesus was treated among the Jews, it is scarcely needful to mention. Those who are the least instructed among us know, that instead of being reverenced, he was loaded with all manner of indignities, and at last put to death, even the cruel and ignominious death of the cross. Among us, it may be thought, he meets with a more favorable reception: but in truth, God is as much disappointed in our conduct towards him, as in that of the Jews themselves, for,
1. His person is slighted—
We do indeed externally revere the name of Jesus, and profess to call him our Lord and Savior: but do we really reverence him in our hearts? Is he truly precious in our eyes? Is he "fairer than ten thousand, and altogether lovely?" Alas! how many days and months have we passed without so much as one affectionate thought of him! How many years might we spend in different families without hearing any heart-felt commendations of him, or being once exhorted to love and serve him! The excellencies of others are painted in glowing colors; the praises of statesmen and warriors are sounded forth in every place: but in Jesus we "see no beauty, no loveliness, for which he is to be desired:" nor have we any delight in celebrating the wonders of his love.
2. His authority is disregarded—
If we warn any person against such or such a line of conduct from the consideration of its being injurious to his health, his honor, or his interests—every word we utter will be duly weighed, and produce an effect suited to its importance. But if we say to any one, 'Our blessed Lord requires this, or forbids that,' we only excite a smile of contempt; and the person goes on his way without the smallest concern. Nor is this peculiar to some hardened rebels: it is found equally in persons of every age and every rank.
If we call upon the rich to obey his voice, they are too much occupied about the world to attend to our exhortations: they bid us go to the poor, who alone need be subject to such restraints.
When we exhort the poor to serve him, they tell us that they are not scholars; that they have no time to attend to such things; and that the rich alone, who have learning and leisure, can properly be expected to devote themselves to his service.
When we address ourselves to the young, they reply that it will be time enough for them to think of religion some years hence.
And when we speak to the old, and endeavor to bring them into subjection to Christ, they reply with anger, that they have not to learn their religion at this time of day; they do not like such novel notions; they have done to others as they would be done unto; and that they will go to Heaven their own way.
We appeal to the observation and experience of all, whether this be not the way in which men almost universally treat the authority of Christ.
3. His offices are superseded—
Christ has undertaken:
as a Prophet, to teach us,
as a Priest, to make atonement for us,
and, as a King, to rule over us.
But do we seek to be taught by him in all things, conforming our sentiments gladly to his written word, and imploring earnestly the enlightening influences of his Spirit? Do we not rather lean to our own understanding, and adopt the sentiments of an ungodly world?
Do we trust simply in his obedience unto death, renouncing sincerely every other ground of hope, and looking for acceptance solely through his blood and righteousness? Do we not rather substitute some works of our own in the room of his, or at least place some reliance on them instead of relying on him alone?
How we set aside his kingly authority, has been already noticed.
What shall we say then? Can God be pleased with this? Must it not be extremely painful to him to see all the offices which his dear Son undertook to execute for us, thus entirely superseded?
If any be disposed to contradict this statement, let them only look within, and, as in the presence of God, inquire whether they are really living by faith in Christ, and making use of him from day to day as their "wisdom, their righteousness, their sanctification, and redemption?" A candid examination of their own hearts will soon convince them, that their faith in Christ is rather nominal, than real; and that, while they acknowledge him as a Savior, they do not cordially cleave unto him, or unreservedly embrace him.
4. His cause and interests are opposed—
One would imagine that those who do not reverence Christ themselves, would at least permit others to honor and adore him. But "the carnal mind is enmity against him;" and nothing will more effectually call forth that enmity, than a zealous endeavor to glorify his name. Men can see people on every side neglecting and despising Christ, and never once endeavor to reclaim them from their evil ways. But let any person begin to reverence Christ in his heart, and to manifest his regard to him by a suitable conduct, and they will instantly feel a fear and jealousy lest he should love and serve the Savior too much. However excellent his conduct may be, he will become an object of contempt and ridicule, in proportion as his love to Christ is influential on his heart and life.
We appeal to matter of fact: Are not those who were respected and beloved while they were utterly regardless of Christ, considered as weak and contemptible as soon as ever they submit to his authority, and devote themselves to his service? Or, if their weight of character bear down this reproach, are they not lowered at least in the estimation of the world? It is a fact, that they are looked upon as fanatics; and that it is thought a disgrace by many even to be acquainted with them.
How astonishing then must be the disappointment of God the Father, when his only, his beloved Son is not merely rejected by the world whom he came to save, but is made a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence, insomuch that an sincere attachment to him shall be sufficient to call forth their most contemptuous revilings, and, in many instances, their most cruel resentment!
1. Those who are disappointing the expectations of their God—
You doubtless have expectations respecting the manner in which you shall be treated in the day of judgment. You are saying, 'God will surely have mercy upon me, and will save my soul.' But, if you are continually disappointing the expectations of God, shall not you also be disappointed? Shall his hopes be frustrated, and your hopes be realized; more especially when his are founded on such a reasonable basis, and yours are altogether groundless? Ah! be assured of this, that God will have respect to none who do not reverence his dear Son; and that Jesus himself will say at last, "Bring hither those that were my enemies, who would not that I should reign over them, and slay them before me!"
2. Those who are endeavoring to fulfill the will of God—
Thanks be to God! there are some who "honor the Son even as they honor the Father;" and whose delight it is to render him the fruits which he requires. You, beloved, shall be highly favored of your God; for he has said, "Him that honors me, I will honor." But shall you receive honor from men? No, truly; for "the servant neither is, nor can be, above his Lord; if they called the Master of the house Beelzebub, much more will they those of his household." "Marvel not then if the world hates you; but remember, that they hated Christ before they hated you:" and that, "if you are hated for righteousness' sake," you have reason to "glorify God on this behalf." Only seek to express your reverence to Christ, not by needless singularities, but by solid and substantial piety; by bringing forth the fruits of righteousness to his praise and glory.
Duties to Our Earthly and Our Heavenly King
"And Jesus said unto them: Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's. And they marveled at him."
IT is said of Jesus, that "he spoke as never any man spoke." This was true, as to his general instructions: but it was more especially manifest, when, by the malice of his enemies, he was brought into circumstances wherein a merely finite wisdom would have been insufficient for his guidance. Such was the occasion now before us.
He had spoken a parable which had greatly incensed his hearers, the Scribes and Pharisees. Had they dared, they would have seized him and put him to death: but, fearing the people, they determined to accomplish his ruin in a more specious way. They sent persons to ensnare him in his words, so that they might "deliver him up to the power and authority of the governor," and accomplish through him what they dared not to perpetrate by themselves. See Luke 20:19-20. It was in answer to a question put to him by them, that he gave the direction in my text: in considering which, I will point out,
I. The wisdom of it, as a reply to the question proposed—
The persons sent to Jesus were of two widely different views: some were Pharisees, who were adverse to the dominion of the Romans, and encouraged the people to cast off their yoke. The others were Herodians, who were altogether in the interest of the Romans, and sought, by all possible means, to uphold their authority. Just at that time, it is probable that they were called upon to pay a tax levied by the Roman emperor; and much difference of opinion prevailed at Jerusalem about the obligation of the people to pay it. The Pharisees and Herodians were at odds upon the subject: and this afforded the Scribes and priests a good opportunity to ensnare our Lord. They prevailed on some from each of the contending parties, to "feign themselves pious and conscientious men;" and to go to our Lord, and submit their differences to his arbitration, under the idea that his judgment would be satisfactory and final. Accordingly they came, professing their perfect reliance on him; who, being taught of God, must certainly know what was right; and, being commissioned by God, would be equally unmoved by either the favor or the frowns of man. They put the question plainly to him, "Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not? Shall we pay? or shall we not pay, verse 14, 15."
Now this question was very ensnaring: for, if he should determine the point in favor of the Herodians, the Pharisees would stir up the indignation of the people against him, as an enemy to their liberties. If, on the other hand, he should determine it in favor of the Pharisees, the Herodians would accuse him to the Roman governor, as guilty of sedition. If he should decline giving any answer, then they would both of them revoke the sentiments they had expressed respecting his divine mission; and would expose him to all, as either ignorant, or actuated by fear and carnal policy. Thus, humanly speaking, it was impossible he should escape the snare laid for him. Whatever he might either do or not do, they would be sure to find occasion against him.
But Jesus "saw their hypocrisy and their wickedness;" and, with a wisdom truly divine, bade them to bring him a denarius, (a silver coin worth about a day's wages). On its being shown him, he asked, "Whose image and superscription it bore?" They, not at all aware of the drift of his question, answered, "Caesar's;" thereby unwittingly acknowledging that they were under the dominion of Caesar; seeing, that on no other supposition could they acknowledge Caesar's money as the current coin of the kingdom. Thus they were taken in their own snare: for on their answer to him was his reply founded: "Render, therefore, unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's."
Thus, both the parties were disappointed in their malicious endeavors: and they departed from him, greatly wondering at the wisdom that had extricated him from the snare, in which it seemed impossible but that he must be taken. "And they marveled at him."
But, in considering this reply, we must especially notice,
II. The importance of it, as a precept for general observance—
In it we see,
1. The extent of God's requirements—
Towards our earthly governors we have special obligations. They are God's representatives and viceregents upon earth: and the authority which they sustain, is no other than God's own authority delegated to them. What our duty to them is, we may see fully set forth by Paul, in the Epistle to the Romans, Romans 13:1-7. And that duty we must discharge, "not only for wrath, but also for conscience' sake." While we "fear God, we must honor the king."
Towards God himself we are, of course, bound to render all possible obedience. All that we are, and all that we have, is his. We are his by creation, and his in a more especial manner by redemption. "We are bought with a price, even the precious blood of his only dear Son; and we are, therefore, bound to glorify him with our body and our spirit, which are his".
2. The harmony of them—
These duties are by no means opposed the one to the other. The two tables of the law are in perfect harmony with each other. Doubtless God is to be obeyed in the first place: and if man's requirements are contrary to his, the point is determined for us, (indeed every man's own conscience will at once determine it.) "We must obey God rather than man." But we should not without necessity place them in opposition to each other. We should rather place our duty to man in subordination to our duty to God; and so endeavor to perform the commands of both, that both may be honored and both be pleased.
The Pharisees had much to say for themselves against the right claimed by the Romans to govern that people. The Herodians, on the other hand, had much to say in support of the Roman government. But, circumstanced as they all were, our Lord, though afterwards accused of forbidding to pay tribute to Caesar, Luke 23:2, determined it to be their duty to pay to Caesar what belonged to Caesar, no less than unto God what belonged to God. In conformity with which decision,
I would recommend to all of you,
1. Integrity, in the discharge of your duty to man—
There is in many a prevailing disposition to "speak evil of rulers." This attitude should on no account be indulged. Loyalty, even towards a Nero, ought to be a very prominent feature in the Christian character. To defraud the revenue also, by the evasion of taxes, is a conduct of which every Christian should be ashamed.
2. Spirituality, in the discharge of our duty to God—
It is not a mere formal service that God requires, but the service of the heart. This, then, must be rendered unto God, "whose will should be done on earth as it is done in Heaven".
The Resurrection Proved from the Pentateuch
"But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken."
IT is no uncommon thing for persons to conclude a doctrine to be false, because it may be attended with difficulties which they are not able to solve. This is the great source of objection in the minds of infidels, who do not merely ask, "How can these things be?" but reject at once the plainest declarations of Scripture, because they cannot comprehend everything relating to them. In this manner the Free-thinkers among the Jews discarded the greater part of the Scriptures, together with the most fundamental articles of their religion. They denied, for instance, the resurrection of the body, and it is supposed, the immortality of the soul also. And having, as they imagined, insurmountable objections to those doctrines, they came to propose them to our Lord, in full confidence that they should confound him, and overthrow the system which he was endeavoring to establish.
Their great objection was taken from the word of God itself, which appointed, that, if a man died childless, his brother should marry his widow, in order to raise up seed unto the departed person, and to prevent his name from being lost in Israel, Deuteronomy 25:5-10. They, for argument's sake, assumed a case, which certainly was within the sphere of possibility. They stated, that a man with six younger brothers died without children; and that, in compliance with the Divine command, his next brother married her; and he also died childless. In like manner all the brothers in succession married her, and all died without children. Now, as the Sadducees imagined, that, if there were any future world, the same relationship as existed now must of necessity continue; they could not conceive which of the seven brethren would be acknowledged for her husband.
Our blessed Lord informed them, that they were quite mistaken about the nature of the future state; for no matrimonial connections would be formed there; but all would be, like the angels, wholly engrossed with spiritual delights: and, as to their secret thought that the resurrection was a thing impossible, they erred from an ignorance of what the Scripture had said respecting it, and of the power of God to effect it. Our Lord then called to their remembrance the passage of Scripture which we have just read; and which we will now consider,
I. As establishing the point at issue—
The Sadducees acknowledged only the five books of Moses as of divine authority: and therefore our blessed Lord, passing by the many plainer passages which are contained in the prophetic writings, adduced one from the book of Exodus, Exodus 3:6; Exodus 3:16, which, obscurely indeed, but certainly, contained the doctrine in question—
God, when he spoke to Moses in the bush, announced himself to him as "the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob." Now this was two hundred years after the youngest of them was dead: and yet God speaks of the relation to them as still existing. But "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." The very title therefore which God assumed, implied that those persons were yet alive. Nor did it less forcibly imply, that their bodies also should be restored to life: for they, as men, consisted both of body and soul; and God was as much the God of their bodies as of their souls. And therefore if their bodies should never rise again, that relation had ceased with respect to their bodies. If it be said, that death had already terminated that relation; I answer, that their bodies were merely "sleeping in the dust" until the morning of the resurrection, when they shall awake to everlasting life; and that, as God was no less their God when they were asleep on their beds, than he was during the day, so is he their God now that they are sleeping in their graves, as much as he ever was, or ever will be.
In respect of God, with whom all things, past and future, are ever present, and "who calls things that are not, as though they were," they are now alive, seeing that they certainly shall live at the last day This seems to be the true sense of these words, Luke 20:38.
But the terms here used to designate the Deity, imply, that these patriarchs had an interest in him, and were partakers of blessings from him. But if their souls were not alive, they inherited no blessing from God; and if their bodies were not to rise, they would only be partially blessed. But they had served God with their bodies as well as with their souls: and therefore their bodies were entitled to a share of that reward which they had looked forward to, and in the prospect of which they had submitted to many hardships and privations: and that God, who had promised to be "their exceeding great reward, Genesis 15:1," would not deprive them of their expected benefits.
What weight this argument may have with modern infidels, I know not; but it convinced and confounded all the Sadducees; insomuch that "not one of them dared to put any other question to him, Luke 20:39-40."
Let us proceed to consider the quotation,
II. As declaring the believer's privileges—
All that the passage implied in reference to the patriarchs, it implies in reference to believers in every age. It implies,
1. That a relation exists between God and them—
The covenant which God made with Abraham was expressly made also with all his spiritual seed, Genesis 17:7-8. His natural seed, as such, had no part in them: neither Ishmael nor Esau had any share in this covenant. It was confined, in the first instance, to him who was born after the promise; and afterwards to those who, like him, should be born of the Spirit, Galatians 4:22-23; Galatians 4:30-31.
Among these, the true believer is numbered, though he should have no relation to Abraham after the flesh. This is asserted by Paul in the plainest terms, Galatians 3:7-9, and consequently, every believer stands in the very same relation to God that Abraham himself did. Hear this, all you who believe in Christ; every one of you may adopt the words of David, and say, "O God, you are my God!" and, in saying this, you may claim all God's perfections to be exercised for you, as much as ever they were exercised for the patriarchs of old.
2. That covenant-blessings are provided for them—
In the covenant were conveyed all spiritual and eternal blessings to those with whom it was made, Genesis 12:2-3; and if we believe in Christ, they all belong to us Galatians, 3:13-14. In the present life we have a portion infinitely superior to that of the mere worldling: all that he feeds upon is as husks, in comparison of that heavenly manna which the saints partake of; they have "angels' food," "a peace that passes understanding, a joy unspeakable and and full of glory."
But "who can conceive what God has prepared for them" in the eternal world? Were they possessed of no better portion than what they have here, he would be ashamed to call himself their God: but Paul says, "He is not ashamed to be called their God; for he has prepared for them a city, Hebrews 11:16." If then we truly belong to Christ, we may adopt the triumphant language of the Apostle, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ! Ephesians 1:3."
3. That in the last day these blessings shall be fully and eternally enjoyed—
Whatever we possess in this world, it is only transient. The believer's path is not always smooth: he has many trials; and "through much tribulation is his way to the kingdom." But in Heaven he has arrived at a state of unmixed, uninterrupted happiness. There, his soul is at perfect rest. Here, he groans by reason of sin; there, "having awakened up after the perfect likeness of his God, he is satisfied with it, Psalm 17:15." Here, he has many interruptions to his bliss; there, nothing finds admittance that can for a moment cloud his joy, Revelation 21:3-4. Here, he is dependent on others for a good measure of his happiness: but there, no connections can augment his bliss, nor can any operate to the diminution of it. In a word, "he is equal to the angels:" and as the patriarchs are now in the full fruition of that portion, so shall he shortly be, and "sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of his God."
From this subject we may learn,
1. To make a practical use of the Holy Scriptures—
We should not readily have conceived that such important truths were contained in the words of God to Moses, if our blessed Lord had not unfolded them to our view. But, in fact, there is in all the words of Scripture a depth which we cannot fathom. Of this we are not sufficiently aware; and therefore we content ourselves with a superficial view of them, without exploring diligently their contents. But our Lord teaches us to reflect on what we read: 'Have you not read so and so in the Book of Moses?' and ought you not from thence to have learned such and such truths? ought you not to have drawn from it such and such conclusions? We entreat you then, brethren, to "mark, learn, and inwardly digest" what you read in the Holy Scriptures; and to treasure up the truths contained in them for the instruction, and comfort, and sanctification of your souls.
2. To seek a saving interest in the Lord Jesus Christ—
It is in Christ only that we become partakers of the blessings of God's covenant: "If you are Christ's," says the Apostle, "then are you Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise, Galatians 3:29." Until we are united to Christ by faith, we have no part or lot in his salvation. O that all would consider this! O that all would inquire, what evidence they have that they have ever come to Christ aright, and they are really "accepted in the beloved!" Brethren, flee to this adorable Savior, and lay hold upon him, and cleave unto him with full purpose of heart; and then you may with confidence call God your Father, and say, "This God is my God for ever and ever!"
3. To look forward with joy to the eternal world—
There will you meet all the glorified saints from Abel to the present hour. Not one of them is lost: God is still their God as much as ever. Dread not death, then, which shall introduce you to their company! Nor regret too deeply the loss of pious friends. Think that when you are following their bodies to the grave, their souls are in Abraham's bosom, feasting at the marriage supper of the Lamb in Heaven. What kind of knowledge we shall have of each other then, we know not; but it is probable that, as there are no relative connections, so neither are there relative partialities; but all will be like the angels of God, filled with love and joy to the utmost capacity of their souls.
In one respect indeed, the blessedness of the just is not yet complete: because their bodies are not yet raised to a participation of it; but we may look forward to the morning of the resurrection, when all who have fallen asleep in Christ shall awake unto life, and possess both in body and soul the full and everlasting enjoyment of their God! Brethren, "Comfort one another with these words, 1 Thessalonians 4:18."
Love to God, the Great Commandment
"Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, "Which is the first commandment of all?" Jesus answered him, "The first of all the commandments is: 'Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment."
IT is no uncommon thing for those who plainly declare the truth, to be beset by cavilers and objectors. Our blessed Lord, who spoke as never any man spoke, endured continually this contradiction of sinners against himself. He had been captiously interrogated by Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees, and had put them all to silence. But he was again attacked by one of the Scribes, who either was, or thought himself, more subtle than any of those who had preceded him, and had already been confounded. It was a matter of controversy at that time as to which was the greater: the rites of the ceremonial, or the commandments of the moral, law; and he applied to our Lord to give his opinion on the subject. The question being one of primary importance, our Lord referred to Moses, to whom all the disputants were ready to appeal, and by whose judgment they would consider the case as decided, Deuteronomy 6:4-5.
But this point is of as much importance as ever: and therefore I will endeavor to show,
I. What is the first and great commandment of all—
It is that which stands first in the Decalogue, and is marked with a solemnity peculiar to itself.
There is but one God, who is Lord of Heaven and earth—
The heathen worshiped many gods: and even the better informed among them thought that there were two great principles or powers, the one the author of all good, the other the author of all evil. But, in opposition to all such errors, our Lord informed him, that there was One eternally self-existent Being, from whom all other beings emanated and derived their existence: and that, as he was the One source of all, so he was the Lord and Governor of all, inspecting, controlling, ordering all things both in Heaven and earth.
We are not to understand this as militating against the doctrine of a Trinity of Persons in the Godhead. If we so separated these Persons as to make their actions independent of each other, then we would indeed do, what the Jews are ready to impute to us, worship three Gods. But we acknowledge and maintain the unity of the Godhead, as much as they do: yet, as God in many passages of Holy Writ has shown us, that there is in that unity a distinction of persons, one called the Father, the other the Son, and the other the Holy Spirit, and that each of these persons has his own proper office in the economy of redemption; we admit that distinction, and look to each of those Divine Persons to accomplish, in us and for us, his proper office. Still we deny, as strongly as the Jews themselves, a plurality of Gods, and maintain, as Moses has here asserted, "The Lord our God is One Lord."
In fact, as learned Jews thought that in these words some peculiar mystery was contained, so some of the early Christians thought that they saw in them a strong intimation of the doctrine of the Trinity in unity, Deuteronomy 6:4-5. But I am always afraid of indulging the imagination upon topics so sacred and mysterious: and therefore I wave all notice of such doubtful matters; and the rather, because that the doctrine of a Trinity of Persons in the Godhead is so clearly and unquestionably revealed in other parts of Holy Writ. I content myself therefore with affirming, that in this passage (to say the least) there is nothing repugnant to it.
Our duty towards him is, to "love him with all our heart, and mind, and soul, and strength"—
We are to admit no rival into our bosom. The creature indeed may be loved by us, in subserviency to him; but he must possess our supreme regard, and be served on all occasions with the utmost energies of our souls. Nothing is for a moment, or in the slightest possible degree, to alienate our affections from him, or in any respect to divide them with him (he will not receive a divided heart). Whatever we have of understanding, will, or affections, they must all be employed for him without cessation, without abatement, and to the remotest period of our lives.
This is the duty of every living man, whether under the law, or under the Gospel. The heathen themselves are not exempt from it. The law itself was inscribed on the heart of man in his first creation; and, effaced as it has been by the introduction of sin, it must be again written on our hearts before we can ever behold the face of God in peace. Not even God himself can absolve us from this law: it is universally and unchangeably necessary to be observed by every child of man.
Having answered the question thus far, I will proceed to show,
II. Why this is called "the first and great" commandment—
Compare Matthew 22:37-38.
It is justly entitled to this honor,
1. Because obedience to it was the very end for which all our faculties were given us—
We possess faculties far superior to any other creature upon earth.
We have an understanding, whereby we may know God.
We have a will, whereby we may devote ourselves to him.
We have affections, whereby we may enjoy him.
We have bodily powers also, whereby we may serve and glorify him.
These faculties no other creature on earth possesses. Hence man has been called a religious animal; because he alone has those capacities which fit him for religious exercises.
Now for what end were these peculiar faculties conferred upon us? Was it that we might exercise them upon earthly things? On earthly things indeed we may employ them in subserviency to God: but it was in order that we might know him, and serve him, and enjoy him, that they were imparted to us; and, if not so employed, they will ultimately prove a curse to us, rather than a blessing. It were better to have been born idiots or beasts, than to have been endowed with such high faculties, unless we improve them for the honor and glory of our God. Hence then this may well be called "the first and great commandment," because it is that, for the observance of which all our faculties were conferred upon us.
It may also be called the first commandment,
2. Because, until we obey that, it is not possible that we should obey any other commandment—
We are told in Scripture, that whatever knowledge we may possess, whatever faith we may exercise, whatever works we may perform, or whatever sufferings we may endure—it will be all of no account whatever, if it proceed not from a principle of love, 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. This is true, even as far as man is concerned; we must have love to him, if ever we would be accepted of God. But much more must we have love to God; because without a regard for his authority, and a zeal for his glory, everything we do, however good it may be in itself, is a mere selfish act; originating from our own will, and tending to the advancement of our own honor. Love to God is necessary to constitute a religious act; and without it our very best actions are no better than splendid sins.
But further, this may be called the first commandment,
3. Because obedience to it tends to the utmost perfection of our nature—
All our faculties and powers have been deranged by sin, and rendered incapable of those exertions which constitute the duty and felicity of man. But let love to God once pervade them all, and they will all be reduced to order, and enabled to discharge the offices for which they were originally given.
The understanding will have its capacity for the comprehension of divine truth renovated and enlarged.
The will of itself will turn to everything which God requires.
The affections will all fix on God as their proper center, from which neither force nor attraction shall be able to divert them.
Love to God will assimilate us to God himself. By "beholding and contemplating his glory, we shall be changed into his image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord."
Once more: this may be called the first and great commandment,
4. Because by obeying it we shall of necessity be led to obey every other commandment—
From which of the other commandments would any man who loves God desire to be released? There is not so much as one, that he would wish to have relaxed in any degree. They are all written in his heart; and he longs to have them inscribed there more and more clearly every day he lives. Could he have the desire of his soul, he would have "every thought of his heart brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ."
I think we have now seen abundant reason why love to God may well be regarded as "the first and great commandment."
III. And now I beg your attention to that solemn admonitionwith which the command itself, both as published by Moses, and cited by our Lord, is introduced, "Hear, O Israel!" Yes, Hear, all of you, my beloved brethren:
"Hear this," first, for your instruction, that you may know to whom alone your allegiance is due—
As for other gods, there are none that have any claim upon you, or indeed any existence but in the imaginations of ignorant and ungodly men. There are men indeed who claim an authority over you, but their authority is not their own: it is God's: and they are only as God's deputies, to exercise it for him. Between husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants, magistrates and subjects, there is a bond of rule on the one part, and of subjection on the other: but the rule must be for God, and the subjection to God: and then only are the reciprocal obligations duly performed, when respect is had to God's authority and honor in the discharge of them, Acts 4:19-20.
"Hear this," secondly, for your humiliation, that you may see how grievously you have failed in your duty towards him—
In order to form a right estimate of your character before God, you must bring yourselves to this test, and try yourselves by this commandment. But who can abide this test? Who can find any one action in his whole life that came up to the demands of this holy law? The more we bring our lives to this standard, the more we shall see the extreme deficiency of our best deeds, and the absolute need of crying with holy Job, "Behold, I am vile! I repent and abhor myself in dust and ashes."
"Hear this," thirdly, for the elucidating of the Gospel salvation—
It is a matter of offence to many, that they should be required utterly to renounce all dependence on their own righteousness, and to seek acceptance only through the righteousness of another, even the righteousness which is of God through faith in Christ. But who that tries himself by this commandment, will find so much as one righteous act performed by him throughout his whole life? Yet, in order to salvation, we must possess a righteousness fully commensurate with the utmost demands of the whole law. But where will such a righteousness be found? Nowhere but in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Hence then is the necessity for fleeing to him, and laying hold on him, and casting ourselves altogether upon him, and embracing him as all our salvation, and all our desire. Understand this matter well, and the whole Gospel will be as clear as the meridian sun, and as acceptable as it would be to one already in Hell.
"Hear this," lastly, for the regulating of your entire conduct through life—
From the very moment that you turn to God, you must aspire after the attainment here enjoined, and be satisfied with nothing less. And, in order to this attainment, you must contemplate deeply and continually the excellencies of the Divine character, and the innumerable obligations which he has conferred upon you. Above all, you must have impressed upon your minds the wonderful love he has manifested towards you in the gift of his only dear Son to die for you. This will have a constraining influence over your whole man, and will progressively transform you into his blessed image in righteous and true holiness!
Love to Our Neighbor
"And the second, like it, is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
A QUESTION had been put to our Lord, What was the first and great commandment? To this he had answered, "You shall love the Lord your God." But, lest the Scribe should overlook his duties towards his neighbor, and plead perhaps the answer of Jesus as sanctioning such conduct, our Lord reminded him that there was another commandment, similar to that which he had already mentioned; namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
In discoursing upon this commandment, we shall show,
I. What is the meaning of it—
Self-love is generally represented as a base affection of the soul; and doubtless it is so, as it exists in fallen man; because it is always inordinate, and excessive: but, as it existed in the heart of Adam in Paradise, it was a good disposition, and absolutely necessary for his well-being. It has even now its legitimate exercise; and when directed to its proper objects, and confined within its just bounds, it deserves our approbation, and affords a correct standard for our love towards others.
Agreeably to this idea, we should show an affectionate regard to our neighbor,
1. In relation to his temporal welfare—
If we were laboring under any bodily disease, or misfortune of any kind, we would wish our neighbor to sympathize with us, and if possible to relieve us. Such regard then should we show to his person, participating in his joys and sorrows, and, like the good Samaritan, exerting ourselves to the utmost for his good Luke 10:30-35.
Towards his property also we should maintain the same unselfish regard. We would not that another person should "wrong or defraud us in any matter:" we should wish to find in all his dealings the strictest integrity. Such then should be our conduct in all our fellowship with him. We should take a lively interest in whatever relates to him, and rather suffer wrong ourselves, than commit the smallest trespass upon him, 1 Corinthians 6:7.
We should extend our concern also to his character. We are extremely hurt if others take up prejudices against us, and listen to vague reports, and even by true representations lower us needlessly in the estimation of our fellow-creatures. We should therefore be candid in the construction which we put upon his actions; and be ever ready to cast a veil over his infirmities, 1 Peter 4:8; we should "hope and believe all" the good of him that circumstances will admit of, 1 Corinthians 13:7.
We should consult as much as possible his peace and happiness. There are innumerable ways in which others may grieve us without speaking anything false, or doing anything palpably unjust: and there are many ways in which they may promote the comfort of our minds. And there is no one who would not wish to see a benevolent disposition exercised towards him. Such then is the spirit which we should maintain towards others: we should seek our happiness in making others happy; and if necessitated to grieve them for their good, we should feel no rest in our own minds until it was restored to theirs, 2 Corinthians 2:2.
2. In relation to his spiritual welfare—
Men, it is true, have but too little concern about their own souls: and therefore we must speak of the self-love that ought to exist within them, rather than of that which actually does exist. Suppose then a number of persons to be sensible of the value of their souls, and to be earnestly desirous of obtaining mercy; would they not wish that one, whom they thought capable of instructing them, should labor to promote their eternal interests? Would they not wish that he should cheerfully endure reproach, or indeed even risk his own life, in order to effect their everlasting salvation? Such then is the concern we should express for the salvation of others. We should "greatly long after them in the affections of Christ, Philippians 1:8." We should "gladly spend and be spent for them, even though the more we loved them the less we were loved, 2 Corinthians 12:15;" if we had a prospect of being "offered upon the sacrifice and service of their faith, we should consider it rather as a ground of congratulation and joy, Philippians 2:17," than of sorrow and condolence. Yes, we should actually, if called to it, "lay down our lives for the brethren, 1 John 3:16."
It appears indeed, at first sight, that the love here inculcated, is to be confined to those of our own community, Leviticus 19:18; but other passages in the same chapter prove, that it is to be extended even to strangers, Leviticus 19:33-34; and our Lord's illustration of it shows, that it must reach even to our enemies, Luke 10:29; Luke 10:36-37.
Having, though very imperfectly, ascertained its meaning, let us proceed to inquire,
II. Wherein it resembles the foregoing commandment—
It is like the former,
1. In extent—
The duty of loving God comprehends every action, word, and thought that relate to God: and as the first four commandments are contained in that, so everything relating to our neighbor is included in the love which we should bear towards him. Paul enumerates not only the prohibitions of adultery, or murder, or theft, or perjury, as implied in this commandment, but even that prohibition which relates to the inmost emotions of the soul, "You shall not covet, Romans 13:9-10." There is not a disposition of the mind towards our neighbor, which is not either a violation of this commandment, or a positive compliance with it.
2. In excellence—
What can be more excellent than love to God? It is the brightest ornament and perfection of our nature. Such is also the love of our neighbor. View it as it manifested itself in the Apostle Paul; and contrast the exercises of his mind with the selfishness which obtains in the world—how beautiful the one, and how deformed the other! Let us only suppose all persons as studious to advance the interest of others, as they are to promote their own: let us suppose them as kind, as candid, as forbearing, as forgiving towards others, as they would wish others to be towards themselves. What a world would this be! it would be a very Heaven upon earth! Truly, the commendation bestowed upon a compliance with this commandment, James 2:8, amply attests the mind of God respecting it.
3. In importance—
Without the love of God, all that we can possess is of no value. The same also may we say respecting the love of our neighbor. On it, no less than on the former, do the law and the prophets depend, Matthew 22:40; without it, all our pretenses to the love of God are vain, 1 John 4:20. We may have the most eminent gifts, and appear to exercise the most distinguished graces, and after all be "nothing" in the sight of God, if we be not under the influence of this Divine principle, 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. By this we fulfill the law, Galatians 5:14; and therefore the want of it must constitute us transgressors of the deepest die.
We may learn from hence,
1. How much we need a Savior—
Ignorant people not only reject the Gospel, but cut off also one half of the law, omitting what relates to God, and retaining only the duties of the second table. But we will suppose for a moment, that our duty to God is of no consideration; and that our duty to our neighbor comprehends all that we need to regard; yet who will venture to rest his hopes upon this ground, that he has fulfilled his duty? Ah! we must be ignorant indeed, if we do not see that we have violated this commandment every day of our lives, and that "our mouths must be stopped as guilty before God."
Put away then, my beloved brethren, your delusive hopes; and look for mercy through the merits of Him who fulfilled the law for you. It is through his vicarious sufferings that your selfishness must be pardoned, 2 Corinthians 5:21; and through his obedience alone that you must find acceptance with God, Romans 5:19.
2. How we may best approve ourselves to him who has become our Savior—
The fulfilling of this law is that which Christ regards as the most acceptable expression of our regard for Him. He has enforced it by new motives, and exemplified it in a new manner, and has taught us to consider our obedience to it as the best evidence of our sincerity.
Behold, then, you professors of religion, what you have to do: get your self-love mortified, and your love to others strengthened and increased. Get your hearts enlarged towards enemies as well as friends ("for if you love your friends only, what do you do more than others?"), and "let your love to them be sincere." There is indeed a peculiar love due to "the household of faith;" but though it should be superlatively exercised towards them, it should not be confined to them exclusively. Every human being should have an interest in your regards; and towards all, you should do as you would be done unto. Let this be the invariable rule of your conduct; so will you adorn your holy profession, and glorify your Father who is in Heaven!
Excellence of the Moral Law
"So the scribe said to Him, "Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." But after that no one dared question Him."
IT is the Christian's duty to be ready at all times to "render a reason for the hope that is in him, with meekness and fear." But there are some situations wherein this is extremely difficult. If a person obviously comes only to cavil, we cannot but be pained on his account; and we are apt to feel a degree of irritation also on our own. But we ought to be much on our guard against the smallest degree of severity, lest we increase the prejudices which we should labor to subdue. It is true, we have not in such cases much prospect of success: but we learn from the instance before us, that we ought not to despair.
It was a question much agitated among the Jewish doctors, What was the first of all the commandments; whether that relating to circumcision, (whereby they were admitted into covenant with God,) or that which respected sacrifices, (whereby they obtained acceptance with God,) or that about the Sabbath, (whereby they honored God in a more especial manner,) or that respecting their phylacteries, (whereby they kept up the daily and hourly remembrance of God in their minds; for on their phylacteries, or borders of their garments, they wrote passages of the law,) or finally, whether the moral law were not superior to the ceremonial laws altogether?
The Scribe who proposed this question to our Lord, though less captious than those who had preceded him, was under the influence of an improper spirit: yet our Lord returned to him, as he had done to all the others, a plain and incontrovertible answer, and thereby not only convinced his judgment, but in a very considerable degree conciliated his esteem, and disposed him for receiving further information.
The answer which our Lord gave to him has already been considered. That which we are now to attend to, is the Scribe's reply; which naturally suggests to us the following observations:
I. That the great practical duties of the moral law are supremely excellent—
The Scribe, not contented with the commendation bestowed upon the commandments by our Lord, gives them a decided preference to all the most sacred institutions of the Mosaic ritual: and in this he was perfectly correct: for, however excellent they were in their place, the love of God and our neighbor are of infinitely greater value.
1. The great practical duties of the moral law are good for their own sake; whereas the institutions of the ceremonial law were good only as means to an end—
We must by no means depreciate the "burnt-offerings and sacrifices;" because they were the appointed means of reconciliation with God; they directed the attention of men to the great Sacrifice which was in due time to be offered; and they prepared the world for the coming of Christ. But still they had no intrinsic excellence: if separated from the ends of their institution, the blood of bulls and of goats was of no more value than the cutting off a dog's neck, or the offering of swine's blood.
But the love of God and our neighbor is really of inestimable value: it is the appropriate exercise of our faculties; and, if carried to the extent that is enjoined in the commandments, it would be an anticipation of Heaven itself. See 1 Samuel 15:22.
2. The great practical duties of the moral law can be performed only by a renewed heart; whereas the institutions of the ceremonial law may be performed by the most abandoned of mankind—
A wicked Balaam could offer sacrifices in abundance: but who can put forth all his intellectual and active powers in love to God and man? None, but he who has been renewed by the Spirit of God. It is not possible for an unregenerate man to offer such sacrifices as these: they are far too high, too pure, too spiritual: he may easily burn upon an altar the bodies of slain beasts; but he cannot "present his own soul a living sacrifice to God;" he cannot have his heart inflamed with the fire of divine love, unless he be regenerate and created anew in Christ Jesus.
Respecting the practical duties of the moral law, we may farther observe,
II. That they are such as must commend themselves to the conscience of every candid inquirer—
To those who are blinded by prejudice and passion, the words of truth and soberness appear as folly and madness. Our Lord compares the attempting to instruct such persons, to a casting of pearls before swine, who will only turn again and rend us, Matthew 7:6. But, as our Lord's answer constrained the Scribe to confess that he had spoken truth, so must it prevail over every one that has a mind at all open to conviction. Let anyone bring the great practical duties of the law to the test; let him propose as severe a test as he will; and we will venture to affirm, that the more they are scrutinized, the more excellent will they appear.
1. Are they reasonable?—YES.
What can be more reasonable, than that we should love Him who is infinitely lovely, and who has so loved us as even to give his only dear Son to die for us?
2. Are they conducive to our happiness?—YES.
Wherein does the happiness of Heaven consist, but in the exercise of love? Conceive of the whole heart, and mind, and soul, and strength being occupied in love to God; and our neighbor being in all respects loved as ourselves, and treated by us in everything, as in a change of circumstances we would wish him to treat us; must we not be happy? With every evil passion so subdued, and every Divine affection so exercised, we say again, could we fail of being happy?
3. Are they perfective of our nature?—YES.
The lack of love is that which debases us even lower than the beasts that perish. "The ox knows his owner, and the donkey his master's care:" but we, with all our advantages, are . . .
blind to the highest excellency,
insensible of the greatest obligations,
and regardless of our best interests.
No words can describe the full malignity of such a state. But let a principle of love possess our souls, and it instantly refines all our feelings, regulates all our dispositions, and transforms us into the very image of our God. More cannot be said in confirmation of this truth, than what John has said, "God is love: and he who dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him, 1 John 4:16."
4. Are they instrumental to the honoring of God—YES.
We know of no other way in which God can be honored; because these two commandments comprehend the whole of our duty. But by abounding in a regard to these, we may, and do, honor him. This our Lord has plainly declared; "Herein is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit." By the preaching of his word, his name is known; but it is by the practical effects of that word upon the hearts and lives of his people, that his image is reflected, and the efficacy of his grace displayed.
A candid mind, we have said, must acknowledge the excellency of duties which are capable of standing so severe a test: and, for the encouragement of such candor, we observe,
III. That an approbation of the moral law argues a state of mind favorable to the reception of the Gospel—
When there is a readiness to approve the boundless extent of these commandments, there must of necessity be,
1. An openness to be convinced of our lost estate—
It is an ignorance of the spirituality of the law, that causes men to deny their desert of God's wrath and indignation. They think that a very small degree of love to God, and a very partial regard to their fellow-creatures, is the whole of their duty: and, if they have not violated the commandments by some gross and flagrant transgression, they imagine, like the Rich Youth in the Gospel, that they "have kept them all from their youth up." But let a person once acknowledge it his bounden duty to love God with all his heart, and all his understanding, and all his soul, and all his strength; and to love his neighbor in all things as himself, and he can no longer resist the conclusion that his whole life has been one continued act of sin; for there has not been one day, one hour, one moment, wherein the frame of his mind has perfectly corresponded with the demands of the law. It was such a view of the law that made Paul confess himself a lost sinner, under a sentence of eternal condemnation; and was the first thing which overcame his aversion to the Gospel, Romans 7:9.
2. A willingness to embrace the offers of salvation—
This necessarily follows from the former. A man who feels himself perishing, cannot despise an offer of deliverance. One who had not committed homicide, might view a city of refuge with indifference; but one who saw the pursuer of blood close upon him, would flee to it with all his might.
3. A readiness to receive and improve the aids of God's Spirit—
No one can view the "exceeding breadth of these commandments," without feeling the impossibility of keeping them by any strength of his own. While he thinks the law extends no farther than to the outward act, he supposes himself capable of performing all that is required: but when he sees that it reaches to the heart, he is easily persuaded, that he needs the agency of God's Spirit to qualify him for a due discharge of his duty. He therefore will be glad to hear that God has "promised the Holy Spirit to those who ask him." He will think it no indignity to stand indebted to a Divine agency: on the contrary, while his approbation of the commandments inclines him to obey them, he will thankfully accept the offered influences of the Spirit, and rejoice in the prospect of being "able to do all things through Christ who strengthens him."
These things necessarily resulting from a just knowledge of the law, and being the characteristic marks of those who embrace the truth, they must needs be also good preparatives for the reception of the Gospel.
Such was our Lord's judgment in reference to the Scribe, when he had heard his approbation of the moral law. And to every one who manifests such a disposition, we may say with our Lord, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."
We shall now conclude with a word,
1. Of caution—
Surely those who indulge prejudices against the truth, and cavil at the Gospel instead of embracing it, should well consider how awful their condition is: for if one who, like this Scribe, yields to conviction, and acknowledges that conviction before his ungodly companions, and exposes himself thereby to shame and reproach for conscience sake, may yet be only near to the kingdom of God, and not a partaker of it—then what must be the state of cavilers, and of those who reject the truth?
They also who approve of the truth in their hearts, and show a decided regard for those who preach or profess it, should take care not to rest in such a state. For to what purpose is it to be "not far from the kingdom of God," if they be not afterwards brought into that kingdom? To what purpose is it to be "almost Christians," if they do not become altogether Christians? To what purpose is it to have "a name to live," if yet they continue "dead?"
The Wise Virgins only, who had oil in their lamps, were admitted to the wedding-feast; the others who had the lamps without the oil, the appearance but not the reality of grace, were excluded from it. Alas! what a mortification must it be to such in the eternal world, to find that once they were not far from the kingdom, but that, after all, they fell short of a participation of it; that they dropped into Hell, as it were, even from the gate of Heaven! O! I would most earnestly caution you against sleeping in such imminent danger, and against resting in anything short of a thorough conversion.
2. Of encouragement—
We trust there are many who, when they hear the demands of the law, and the declarations of the Gospel, are ready to say, "Well, Master, you have said the truth." To such then we would address ourselves in the most encouraging terms; "you are not far from the kingdom of God." Only go on a little further, and you will be brought effectually into the kingdom. Seek to know the way of God more perfectly. Make your inquiries, if you will, provided you make them in a sincere spirit. But endeavor to improve all opportunities of instruction. The word of God to you is, "Then shall you know, if you follow on to know the Lord." Be thankful for the light you enjoy, and for the smallest disposition to improve it. Take heed, however, that your knowledge leads you to Christ, and produce suitable effects upon your hearts and lives: so will you become members of Christ's kingdom on earth, and finally be partakers of his heavenly kingdom!
Not Far from the Kingdom of God
"And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said unto him: You are not far from the kingdom of God."
OUR blessed Lord has given us this caution: "Give not that which is holy unto dogs, neither cast your pearls before swine, Matthew 7:6." But, in following this suggestion, we must be careful not to judge precipitately, but to give to every one an opportunity, at least, to manifest the real dispositions of his mind. Such was our Lord's conduct, in relation to the different descriptions of persons who conversed with him.
There came to him many who sought only to ensnare him, and "catch him in his words, verse 13." They, however, put on an appearance of sincerity, and addressed him with great respect, verse 14; and therefore, notwithstanding he saw through their deceit, he answered the questions which they proposed to him, verse 15–27.
After he had put both the Herodians and the Sadducees to silence, a Scribe from among the Pharisees, with no better intention than the former, put a question to him, though of a less ensnaring kind. Compare Matthew 22:34-36. This person seems to have been instigated by others, rather than to have followed the bent of his own mind: and the benefit of returning a courteous answer, even to captious inquiries, now strikingly appeared; for he was convinced by the instruction he received; and by showing the teachability of his own mind, he elicited from our Lord that gracious testimony, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."
It shall be my endeavor,
I. To confirm the declaration of our Lord—
The question asked by the Scribe was, "Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law?" Our Lord replied, That it was that which enjoined us to "love God with all our heart, and mind, and soul, and strength: and that the second was like unto it, namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself, verse 28–31." In this answer the Scribe fully acquiesced; and thereby he showed, that "he was not far from the kingdom of God."
Now, observe what his acquiescence implied. It indicated,
This was a knowledge which was by no means common among the Scribes and Pharisees at that day. They laid a very undue stress upon outward rites and ceremonies; and upon circumcision in particular, (as many among ourselves do upon baptism,) as though that were of itself sufficient to secure a man's acceptance with God. The having of Abraham for their father, was, in their estimation, a sure title to Heaven, Matthew 3:9; while an obedience to the moral law was with them only a secondary concern.
This Scribe, however, was better instructed. He saw that the requirements of the moral law were of primary and indispensable obligation; and that, without an obedience to them no person could have a well-grounded hope of God's favor.
Now then I say, that this degree of knowledge, deeply fixed in the mind, and openly avowed, is an excellent preparation for the kingdom which our blessed Lord came to establish upon earth. Where this measure of light exists in the soul, we cannot but hope that it shall be so augmented by the Gospel, as ultimately to guide a man into the way of peace.
Our blessed Lord had silenced the former questioners; but he had not so convinced them, as to elicit any approbation of his sentiments. They were too full of prejudice to make any such acknowledgment; and would have been glad enough to justify their own views, if they had known what reply to make. He, on the contrary, was open to conviction: he would not reject knowledge, because of the person by whom it was imparted; nor would he close his eyes, or shut his ears, because his instructor was a hated and despised man. He would receive truth from whatever quarter it came; and entertain it in his mind without jealousy and without fear.
What if the Gospel which we preach were so heard; and truth were thus freely allowed to make its way to the heart? Truly the kingdom of God would be far more enlarged among us, than ever it has yet been. And the same may be said of every place under Heaven, where the Gospel is faithfully administered.
There was not in this Scribe a mere acquiescence in the truth proposed to him, but a most cordial approbation of it. He dilates upon our Lord's words with evident pleasure; and adds to them, what was not necessarily required, a declaration that those two commandments, of the supreme love to God, and of loving our neighbor as ourselves, were "more than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices."
Now this was in the very teeth of all that the Pharisees maintained. There was among them, and there exists to a vast extent among ourselves, an idea, that if a man were punctually observant of all the rites and ceremonies of religion, he must of necessity be in a good state before God. But this Scribe justly sets down the outward observances of religion as of no account, if the person performing them were not animated by love to God and man. Rites and ceremonies are of no value, but as means to an end: whereas love is of infinite value, for its own sake—it is a conformity to God: it is the image of God upon the soul of man.
Now this the Scribe both saw and felt: and, wherever such a feeling is, truly the man may well be said to be "not far from the kingdom of God."
Taking, then, our Lord's declaration as unquestionably true, I will proceed,
II. To found upon it some beneficial advice—
I will address myself,
1. To those who answer to this character—
There are many, and doubtless many here present, in whom is found a good measure of knowledge, and candor, and piety; while yet the best that can be said of them is, that "they are not far from the kingdom of God."
It will be asked, of course, What are the defects of this character? and what needs to be added to it, in order to bring a man fully into the kingdom of God? I answer, There must be in him these three things:
first, a sense of his undone state, on account of having violated this law;
next, a dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ, as having fulfilled this law for us;
and, lastly, a determination of heart, through grace, to fulfill it ourselves.
Without the first of these, a broken and contrite spirit, whatever be a man's other qualities, he is not yet upon the threshold of God's sanctuary.
Without the next, that is, faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, he has not knocked at the door; for "Christ is the door, through which alone any man can enter in, John 10:9."
And without the last, obedience to God's commands, whatever his profession be, it is clear that he has not entered in at that door: for if he had, his faith would be demonstrated by his works.
Now, then, to my regular and well-disposed hearers, I would affectionately offer this advice: Take it not for granted that you are right before God; but weigh yourselves in the balance of the sanctuary, and search wherein it is that you are found lacking.
True religion does not consist in knowledge nor in candor, nor in what I have ventured to call piety; by which I mean, an approbation of what is good: it consists in a thorough conversion of the soul to God, in a way of deep penitence, and simple faith, and unreserved obedience: and until these are found in you really, deeply, abidingly, you are not really partakers of the kingdom of God. You may be "not far from it;" but you are not in it; nor do the blessings of it belong to you. I pray you, mistake not the appearance of religion for the reality; nor ever rest until you have attained a clear, decisive evidence that you are indeed the Lord's.
2. To those who have not even attained this character—
How many are there that are yet full of ignorance, and prejudice, and aversion to the truth! What, then, must I say of you? Can I administer to you the encouragement which our Lord gave to the inquiring Scribe? Must I not rather say, that you are far from the kingdom of God? If you are far from that kingdom, consider, I pray you, to what kingdom you are near—even to the kingdom of darkness, the kingdom of the wicked one! I grieve to suggest to any of you so painful a thought: but I appeal to you, whether your state be not one of extreme danger: for if, while possessing all that this Scribe possessed, you may yet have no part in the Gospel kingdom, it surely befits you to tremble at your state, and to cry mightily to God, if perhaps you may at last find admission into it, and be saved for ever.
Possibly this counsel may be neglected by you, as that of Christ was by the Pharisees of old. But judge in what light they now view their past obduracy. But their weeping now is of no avail. I pray God that you, my brethren, may now improve the opportunity afforded you, and may seek the Lord while he may be found, and call upon him while he is near.
3. To those who are really admitted into the Redeemer's kingdom—
See how to act towards those who are yet unsaved. "Be always ready to give to every one who asks you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear, 1 Peter 3:15." And be particularly careful to encourage good appearances wherever you may find them. Our blessed Lord, looking upon the Young Man in the Gospel, "loved him;" notwithstanding he knew that, when his professions should be put to the test, they would be found delusive, Mark 10:21-22. And this is to be a pattern for us. What if our Lord, who knew the design of this Scribe, had given him a repulse at first, instead of answering his question? The man would have been hardened in his wickedness; instead of being, as we would fondly hope he was, brought effectually into the kingdom of God. Learn, then, tenderness towards such characters, "Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:25-26."
At the same time, show to all around you what it is to be really partakers of Christ's kingdom. Show by your life and conduct what the character of his subjects is; and seek to be daily growing in a fitness for that kingdom which awaits you at your departure hence. Determine, through grace, that "having a promise of entering into God's rest, nothing shall induce you to come short of it."
Think what a terrible disappointment it must be to any soul to find itself not far from the kingdom of God, and yet not in it; and to fall from the very gates of Heaven into the bottomless abyss of Hell. Determine, I say, that nothing shall divert you from your course, or retard you in it: but that, with God's help, you will "so run as to obtain the prize."
The Widow's Mite
Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a penny. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood."
THE morality of the Gospel is applauded by most: yet there are few who do not, by their explanations and comments, deprive it of half its excellence. The "turning of the left cheek to him who has smitten us on the right;" the "surrendering of our shirt to him who has already taken away our coat;" the "forgiving of an offending brother, not only seventy times, but seventy times seven;" these, and other precepts of a sublime import, are reduced to little more than an abstinence from revenge; so anxious are men to reduce the Scripture to their own practice, rather than to elevate their practice to the standard of God's word.
The same would be done in reference to the great duty of liberality; but happily an example is set before us which cannot possibly be explained away. Had the conduct of this poor widow been merely set forth in a way of precept, instead of being exhibited in actual life, it would have shared the fate of those other precepts, and have been pared down to a general commendation of self-denying charity. But here is no opportunity afforded us for talking about Eastern metaphors and figurative expressions; here is a plain simple fact, decidedly approved by Him who cannot err; and consequently, it may be regarded as an illustrious example, which, as far as we may be in similar circumstances, we shall do well to follow.
Let us consider,
I. Our Lord's commendation of the widow—
In the temple there was a treasury, where all who felt their hearts disposed to make a voluntary offering to the Lord, were enabled to do it: and the money so collected was expended in the service of the sanctuary, either in sacrifices that were to be offered, or in the wood, and salt, and other things necessary for the offering of them. Depraved as that generation was, the custom of contributing freely for these purposes very generally prevailed: it seems, that "the people" in general, and not merely a few liberal individuals, "cast in" their contributions. Many that were rich contributed largely: but a poor widow, who possessed only a single farthing in the world, gave that, even "all her living."
Now it may well be doubted whether there be a man upon earth who would not have disapproved of this act, if our Lord himself had not expressly commended it. They would have blamed it as unnecessary, as useless, as presumptuous:
unnecessary, because God could not require any offering at the hands of one who was so indigent;
useless, because a farthing towards the expenses of the temple was literally no more than a drop in the ocean;
presumptuous, because to cast away her all, was to tempt God, and to expect a further supply from him, when she was throwing away the supply he had already afforded her.
But our blessed Lord took pains, (if we may so speak,) to express his approbation of it. "He called his disciples to him," to inform them of it, and to declare to them his sentiments respecting it. We do not apprehend that he knew the circumstances from any conversation he had had with her: he had no need to be informed by others, because he himself was omniscient: and he declared without hesitation, that this donation of hers, small as it might appear, was indeed both great and good:
it was great, inasmuch that it exceeded all the accumulated presents of the rich who had contributed; since they had only given a part of their property, "out of their abundance;" whereas "she, in her poverty, had given all that she possessed, even all her living:"
it was also good, because she had given it with a single eye to the glory of God; and God, who knew the motive by which she had been actuated, accepted it as "an offering of a sweet-smelling savor."
Let us now turn our attention to,
II. The instruction to be gathered from it—
Among many other lessons we may learn from it,
1. How to estimate charity—
We are apt to estimate it by the amount that is given on any occasion, but this affords no proper criterion for judging of real charity. That must be judged of, first,
by the proportion which the donation bears to the ability of the donor;
and, next, by the disposition and design of him who gives it. Donations that are large in the actual amount, may yet be small, when taken in connection with the donor's opulence. While the smallest gifts, as in the instance before us, may be truly great, on account of the poverty of him that bestows them. This is told us by Paul, who says, that "God accepts them according to what a man has, and not according to what he has not: if only there be a willing mind, 2 Corinthians 8:12." The amount of the gift makes no difference in his eyes. That which gives everything its chief value is, its being done with a sincere desire to please and honor him. Without that we may give all our goods to feed the poor, and yet have not one atom of that charity which will be approved of our God, 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.
2. How to practice it—
Much was there in the conduct of that poor widow that is deserving of imitation. We should dispense our charity secretly. We are well assured, that there was nothing of ostentation in her upon this occasion; else our Lord would not have bestowed such commendation upon her. She wanted none to be spectators of her liberality; it was sufficient for her that God was privy to it. Thus "our left hand should not know what our right hand does." There are occasions indeed, when, for the sake of example, it is necessary that our liberality should be known: but, when that is not the case, we should rather affect privacy, and be satisfied with approving ourselves to God.
We should also dispose of our money cheerfully. She needed not to be urged to it: she was happy in serving God. See 1 Timothy 6:18 and 2 Corinthians 9:7; and doubtless, instead of imagining him indebted to her for any service she could render, she considered herself infinitely indebted to him for the disposition he had given her.
We should also impart liberally of what we possess. If any be disposed to set aside her example as singular, and not intended for our imitation, we appeal to similar conduct in the Churches of Macedonia; where, in the midst of deep poverty, they abounded unto the riches of liberality; and gave, not only according to their ability, but even beyond their power, being willing of themselves, and asking the Apostle with much entreaty to be the distributor of their alms.
We may indeed be foolishly prodigal in giving where the occasion does not require it: but, if we have really an eye to the honor of God, we need fear no excess. Many may proudly talk of giving their mite; but we shall not find many that will really do it: but the more we can deny ourselves for God, the more acceptably shall we serve him.
3. How to act on the present occasion—
It may also be stated, that, if carnal sacrifices were offered to God by means of the contributions in the one case, the spiritual sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving will abound in the other.
It may also be suggested, that the Lord Jesus has his eye upon the treasury, and is observant of every one, to mark, both what he gives, and by what motive he is actuated: and that he will bear testimony to our liberality in the day of judgment, and confer on us a reward proportioned to it. 2 Corinthians 9:6.
The Duty of Watchfulness Enforced
"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in Heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning—lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping."
ON different occasions, but especially at the close of his life, our Lord taught his disciples to look forward to a future period, when he would assuredly come again. He specified two objects for which he would come:
the one was, to destroy Jerusalem;
and the other, to judge the world.
And, inasmuch as the former of these advents was typical of the other, he blended them both together, and thereby raised in them an expectation that they should take place at the same time. The truth is, that though the one was accomplished within forty years, and the other, notwithstanding almost eighteen hundred years have already past, remains yet to be accomplished at some distant and unknown period—they are both equally present in the mind of God, "with whom a thousand years are as one day, and one day as a thousand years."
It is also true, that the day of death is to every man, in effect, as the day of judgment: so that the union of the two periods in their minds, notwithstanding their distance from each other, was strictly just, as it respected God, and highly beneficial as it respected them. Not but that our Lord did make a clear distinction between the two periods: for in verse 30, he says, "This generation shall not pass until all these things (relative to the destruction of Jerusalem) be done. And then, in a way of contrast, he adds, "But of that day and that hour, namely, the Day of Judgment, knows no man." It is in reference to this latter period that he speaks in the words of our text; in discoursing on which we shall consider,
I. The duty inculcated—
Watchfulness and prayer are often united in the Holy Scriptures as duties of the first importance. In themselves they are different; but in their exercise they are inseparable. Neither would be of any avail without the other. Prayer without watchfulness would be hypocritical; and watchfulness without prayer would be presumptuous. We shall therefore combine the duties, as though it had been said, Watch in the exercise of prayer. And that we may yet further simplify the subject, we shall not enter into a detail of particulars, but rather follow the general ideas of our text; and show,
1. What we should watch and pray against—
Here we must include everything which has a tendency to lull us to sleep. We see how intent men are on all the things of time and sense: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, so occupy them, that they find no time nor inclination for spiritual concerns.
Against these then we should "watch and pray." We should watch, to prevent them from gaining an ascendant over our hearts; and cry mightily to God to keep us from yielding to their influence. Seeing how the whole world is led captive by them, we should tremble for ourselves; and day and night entreat God rather to leave us destitute of all earthly things, than to give us over to the love of them, or allow them to deprive us of eternal happiness.
2. What we should watch and pray for—
To be found ready, at whatever moment our Lord shall call for us, should be the one object of our ambition. With this view, we should seek to be found in Christ, not having our own righteousness, but that which is from God through faith in Christ. Not content with a general hope of acceptance through Christ, we should wash our every sin, yes our every duty also, in the fountain of his blood, which must cleanse us from the "iniquity even of our holiest actions."
We should seek also to "be renewed in the spirit of our minds," and to be transformed into "the image of our God in righteousness and true holiness." No present attainments should ever satisfy us: if we were as holy as Paul himself, we should, like him, "forget the things that are behind, and reach forward towards that which is ahead."
With a view to progressive holiness, we should carefully "abide in Christ," "living by faith in him," and receiving daily out of his fullness grace upon grace: assured, that without him we can do nothing, but through him shall be enabled to do all things.
In a word, we should seek to be ever ready to meet our God; yes, to be "looking for, and hastening unto the coming of that day," when we shall be summoned to his tribunal, and receive our eternal destiny.
For the attainment of this happy frame of mind, we should be watching our progress in the Divine life, and praying day and night to God to perfect in us the work that he has begun.
Let us next attend to,
II. The considerations with which it is enforced—
These may be comprehended in the two following:
1. The uncertainty of the time when our Lord shall call us—
The time of the general judgment is unknown to the holy angels; nor was it revealed even to the Messiah himself for the purpose of communicating it to us. As God, one with the Father, he knew all things; but as the Mediator, he received his instructions from the Father, and delivered nothing but what he had before received, John 14:31, Revelation 1:1. And there was good reason why it should be concealed; because if it had been represented as at a great distance of time, men might have become secure; whereas the idea of its uncertain arrival tended to quicken all to holy exertion.
In like manner the uncertainty of the time of our death has a very beneficial effect; since it necessitates us to be always ready. The idea of a man going a long journey, and leaving his servants their appointed work, and ordering them to expect him every moment until they see him, justly illustrates this point. There is not a moment of our lives when we may sit down secure. The night was divided into four watches, which terminated at evening, at midnight, at the cock-crowing, and in the morning. Now at no one of these periods are we sure that we shall not be summoned into the presence of our God.
What a consideration is this to enforce the duty in our text! Who that reflects one moment on the possibility of his being called this night to the judgment-seat of Christ, must not desire to be found in the exercise of watchfulness and prayer?
2. The awfulness of being found in a sleeping state—
In the parable of the Ten Virgins we are informed what we must assuredly expect, if we indulge in careless security; we shall be shut out from the marriage-supper of our Lord, and be "cast into outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth." It will be to no purpose to plead, that we were not engaged in any wicked projects. We were "slothful servants," and therefore are justly regarded as "wicked." We were unprepared, and therefore are justly cut off from all further opportunity to prepare for our great account; we treated Heaven with contempt, and therefore we are consigned to the miseries of Hell.
Who that contemplates these tremendous consequences, must not determine with God's help to watch and pray through the whole remainder of his days?
Our Lord's concluding admonition,"What I say unto you I say unto all, Watch!" will lead us to address some different descriptions of persons:
1. The old—
Is so much of your time gone, and will you not improve the remainder?
2. The young—
What security have you against death, that you should delay so necessary a work?
3. The afflicted—
God sends you afflictions on purpose to awaken you from your slumbers, and to stir you up to heavenly pursuits. What an aggravation will it be of your guilt, if these afflictive dispensations pass away unimproved!
4. The backslidden—
What an awful thing is it, that, instead of having advanced in the Divine life, you have lost in a good measure the life which you once had! Attend to God's admonition to the Church of Sardis, lest he execute upon you the judgment that he threatened to inflict on them! "Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. Revelation 3:2-3"
5. The more steadfast Christian—
Experience proves that the exhortation to "watch" is not less necessary for you than for others. How many who are on the whole pious; grieve, by their unwatchfulness, their Divine Master! Be on your guard against such a slothful way of seeking him as his Bride was found guilty of, Song of Solomon 3:1; nor think to justify your sloth by such frivolous excuses as were urged by her, Song of Solomon 5:2-3. If you act like her, like her you will reap the bitter fruits in the hidings of his face, Song of Solomon 3:1-4; Song of Solomon 5:2-6. To you then no less than to others I would say, "Sleep not as do others, but watch and be sober 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8."
We Should Watch for Our Lord's Second Coming
"What I say unto you I say unto all, Watch!"
GOD is pleased to speak to us, not only in his word, but by the dispensations of his providence. Calamities, whether foreign or domestic, whether public or personal, are sent by him to awaken our drowsy consciences, and to stir us up to a remembrance of our latter end. By all of them, whether menaced only, or actually inflicted, he addresses us, as Jesus did his disciples (whom he had forewarned of the evils coming upon Jerusalem, and hereafter also upon the whole world), "Watch therefore, for you know not when the Master of the house comes."
On a subject like this we should in vain attempt to speak anything new. But though we may do no more than remind you of truths with which you are already well acquainted, it will not be unprofitable for me to suggest to your thoughts,
I. The uncertainty of the time when our Lord will come to judgment—
Our Lord, in illustrating what he had been speaking respecting the day of judgment, compares himself to a master leaving his house, and appointing his servants their work, and commanding his porter to watch, in order to admit him without delay at whatever moment he should return. He represents the precise time of his return to judgment as unknown to men, or angels, or even to himself; (so far at least, that the Holy Spirit, by which he was anointed to his prophetic office, had not communicated it to him as any part of the revelation which he was to make known to men;) and from thence inculcates the necessity of incessant watchfulness.
Now, as the time of death is to us the commencement of our eternal state, and as it is equally unknown to us as the judgment itself, we shall direct our attention more particularly to that.
But what shall we say on such a subject as this? It needs neither proof nor elucidation: nor can any words make the uncertainty of life more evident, than the observation and experience of every man have already made it. We appeal to your observation of what takes place around you: does not our Lord call men to death and judgment at every age, and often when his summons is least expected? We appeal to your experience: can you not recall to your minds many accidents which might have proved fatal? and do you not see, that you are yet liable every day and hour to be taken away by disease or accident?
Instead of dwelling on so obvious a truth, we will endeavor to point out,
II. Our duty arising from this consideration—
Thrice in the space of a few verses does our Lord repeat the same injunction, "Watch! See verse 33." To enforce this, we would say,
1. Expect the second coming of your Lord—
Put not from you, as you are too apt to do, the thoughts of death and judgment, but meditate upon them in your minds, and labor to get them impressed upon your hearts. Reflect upon their uncertainty, as to the precise period of their arrival, their nearness, their awfulness; and keep yourselves, as it were, in the daily and hourly expectation of them.
2. Prepare to meet him—
Two things are indispensable for all who would behold his face in peace, namely, "repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ." These must be experienced by you: neither the one nor the other can be dispensed with. Get a deep repentance therefore, and a living faith: and rest not in any state short of that which the Scriptures require, and the primitive Christians actually attained.
3. Guard against any measure of drowsiness which may interrupt or render your preparation for him doubtful—
It will be a fearful thing if the Master of the house "should find you sleeping." Yet who among us is not apt at times to be "weary in well-doing?" "The Wise Virgins, as well as the Foolish Virgins, slumbered and slept:" yes, even the Apostles slept, when our Lord had bidden them watch. We should therefore "exhort one another daily, and so much the more as we see the day approaching:" and, instead of giving way to sloth, should use all possible means to "strengthen the things which remain that are ready to die."
1. The careless—
How many continue such in spite of all the warnings which they have received from sickness in themselves, or the sudden deaths of others! But what will they think of their conduct, when once they are taken hence? If any one of us knew that a thief would certainly come this very night to break into his house, would he lay himself down to sleep as at other times? Should we not watch, and use our utmost efforts to frustrate his designs, Matthew 24:43.
Why then do we not act thus in reference to our souls? Are our souls of less value than our property, or the concerns of time than those of eternity? Are not the consequences of unwatchfulness sufficiently awful, Matthew 24:48-51? And is not our real danger increased, rather than diminished, in proportion to our security, 1 Thessalonians 5:3, Proverbs 6:9-11. To every one then who is unconcerned about his eternal state, and unprepared to meet his God, we address the reproof which even heathen mariners gave to a prophet of the Lord? "What do you mean, O sleeper? arise and call upon your God, if so be that God will think upon you, and you perish not, Jonah 1:6."
2. The half-awakened—
Pardon the term: it is but too appropriate to the states of many, who, if good wishes would carry them to Heaven, would not come short of it; but, when God calls them to run, and strive, and wrestle, and fight, will not exert themselves in the way that he requires. Nevertheless God's word is true; "The kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force!" "Many shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able:" none shall succeed but those who "strive." Guard then against the fate of the Foolish Virgins, who were not aware of their lack of divine grace, until it was too late to obtain it, Matthew 25:8-13. Let the Apostle's exhortation sink down into your ears, Romans 13:11-14, and adopt instantly the resolution of the prophet, "I will stand upon my watch-tower, and will watch to see what God will say to me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved, Habakkuk 2:1."
3. The professing people of God—
Do not think yourselves to be above the exhortation in our text: "What we say unto some, we must say unto all, Watch!" See what a caution our blessed Lord addressed to his own Apostles, Luke 21:34-36; and then say, whether any caution can be too strong for you. Many who have appeared to run well, have turned back again; and not a few have died without ever returning to the good way from which they have departed. Be then on your guard, "lest, having known the way of righteousness, you turn from the Holy Commandment delivered unto you." Beware of imitating the slothful conduct of the Spouse in Solomon's Song, lest, like her, you provoke your heavenly Friend to depart from you, Song of Solomon 3:1; Song of Solomon 5:2-6. Watch unto prayer with habitual persevering earnestness, Ephesians 6:18.
You know the truths we have insisted on; act therefore agreeably to them, and to your holy profession, 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-8. "Have your loins continually girt, and your lamps trimmed, and yourselves as those who wait for the coming of their Lord.
Commendation of Mary's Love
"She has done what she could."
OCCASIONS sometimes arise, wherein it is difficult to discern the precise line of conduct we should pursue. In a season of public festivity, for instance, or on account of some domestic occurrences, we may be called to unite in feasting, and perhaps to incur considerable expense in providing entertainments for others: and a doubt may well arise in our minds, how far we ought to countenance such proceedings, and whether we ought not rather to save our money for the support of the poor. But we must not expect to have our path so clearly marked, but that there shall be abundant room left for difference of opinion in such things. All that seems practical is, to lay down general principles, and to view the Lord Jesus Christ as an example best fitted to assist us in the application of them.
There certainly are times, when, according to our rank and station in life, we should "be given to hospitality and unite in "rendering honor to whom honor is due." Yet we have need, on the other hand, to guard against the indulgence of an ostentatious or worldly spirit. To lean to the side of moderation is undoubtedly the safer plan: nevertheless, when just occasions present themselves, there is a liberality that well befits the Christian character.
We read in the preceding context that a feast was made for our Lord in the house of Simon the leper; and that Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead, was one of the guests invited to meet him. Our Lord did not refuse to sanction a feast prepared for his sake: nor, when Mary, the sister of Lazarus, manifested her regard for him in a way that had an appearance of extravagance, did he condemn her for it: on the contrary, he judged that it was suited to the occasion; and therefore he vindicated her from the uncharitable censures which his own disciples passed upon her, and declared his decided approbation of what she had done.
We propose to consider,
I. The act commended—
There are two points of view in which this may be considered:
1. As retrospective—
The act itself was this. While Jesus reclined at the table, Mary came with "an alabaster-box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head and on his feet; and then wiped his feet with her hair."
Now in this act she had respect to all the kindness which the Lord Jesus Christ had shown both to her and to her family. He had favored them with a more peculiar intimacy, and had testified on many occasions a pre-eminent regard for them. The opportunities thus offered them for spiritual good had been improved by all of them, but especially by Mary. When Martha had studied chiefly to show respect by external services, Mary had been intent on acquiring good to her soul from his instructive discourses; and, on being blamed by Martha for neglect of duty, she was applauded by her Lord for having "chosen a better part, which would never be taken away from her."
But there was one mercy in particular which she had received from the Lord Jesus, and which had filled her soul with the profoundest gratitude. Her brother Lazarus had been raised by him from the dead. Jesus had not indeed come to them so speedily as they had wished; but this delay gave him an opportunity to display towards them in a more abundant measure the riches of his grace, and the all-sufficiency of his power. He expressed his sympathy with them under their affliction; and taught them to expect from him not only the restoration of their departed brother, but the everlasting salvation of their own souls, John 11:25-26.
How to requite all this kindness she knew not, but what she could do, she most gladly did; and, without any fear of the uncharitable constructions that were likely to be put upon her conduct, as ostentatious, obtrusive, prodigal—she determined to honor him before all to the utmost of her power.
2. As prospective—
We do not apprehend that Mary herself had any idea of confirming our Lord's assertions respecting his approaching death. But as the prophets of old were inspired by the Spirit of God to speak things which they themselves did not understand, 1 Peter 1:11, and as Caiaphas, the high-priest, had very recently foretold (though unintentionally and without the remotest conception of the meaning of his own words) the glorious ends that would be accomplished by the death of Christ, John 11:49-52; so Mary, though unconscious of it herself, predicted by this act the death and resurrection of her beloved Lord.
It was common among the Jews to embalm the bodies of their departed friends: but there would be no time allowed for such tokens of respect from the friends of Jesus: for he would not be taken down from the cross until the Sabbath was nearly arrived; and on the Sabbath no such work could by the Jewish law be performed; and at the earliest dawn of the third day Jesus was to rise. Jesus therefore construed this action of Mary's as a preparation for his funeral, and as a performance of a rite, which could not otherwise have been performed at all. See the words immediately following the text. This, we acknowledge, was not intended by herself; but it was designed and overruled by God; who by this significant emblem foreshowed the very events which in a few days were fully accomplished.
Such was the act; let us next consider,
II. The commendation given it—
The disciples blamed it as an act of extravagance and waste: and thinking lightly of the honor done to their Master, reflected only on the loss sustained by the poor; since if it had been sold and given to them, it would have provided relief for many. It was worth about ten pounds of our money. The person who first raised the objection was Judas, who, being a thief and carrying the bag, would have saved the money to his own use. He being disappointed of his prey, pretended to feel for the poor; (for the worst of men will profess a regard for virtue, when their only object is to condemn and obstruct its exercise;) and the rest of the Apostles too readily adopted his views; so prone are even the best of men to adopt uncharitable sentiments, rather than be at the pains to make a full inquiry into the things which they condemn. But our blessed Lord, who knew the pious dispositions of her heart, proceeded,
1. To vindicate the act—
"She has wrought a good work upon me," says our Lord. If acts of charity are not to be omitted, so neither are acts of piety. "The poor are always with us; and we have opportunities of doing them good at all times:" we may be, and we ought to be, in the daily habit of administering to their needs, and consulting their welfare. But there are occasions that call for particular exertions: occasions which have more especial respect to the glory of God, and the honor of the Lord Jesus; (such as the dispersion of the Holy Scriptures, and the conversion of the lost to the faith of Christ;) and to these we should lend our aid with more than usual liberality, even though we should thereby contract our ability to relieve the temporal needs of men; for though we are certainly to do the latter, yet we must on no account leave the former undone.
It is a very erroneous idea that our fellow-creatures only are to occupy our regard. Is God to have no appropriate token of our love? Are the wonders of redemption so insignificant, that they call for no expressions of gratitude on our part? So far are these considerations from deserving only a subordinate place in our esteem, that they should operate as the leading motive in all our exertions for the poor; and whatever we do, we should do it as "constrained by the love of Christ," and "with a view to his glory."
2. To applaud the agent—
Greater commendation could not be bestowed than that which is contained in our text; "She has done what she could." An angel from Heaven could in that respect have done no more. David's desire to build the temple, and his endeavor to make preparations for it, were as acceptable to God as the actual erection of it by Solomon. And the widow who gave two mites, not only equaled, but far exceeded the liberality of the rich, though it is confessed that "they cast in much into the treasury, Mark 12:42-44." And thus it is with us, whether we possess ten talents, or only one, if only we labor to improve what we have, "it shall be accepted according to what a man has, and not according to what he has not, 2 Corinthians 8:12."
Not content with applauding her at the moment, he ordained that this act of hers should be recorded in his Gospel, and continue to be held up to the admiration of mankind even to the end of the world, verse 9. But was this memorial of her to be recorded solely for her honor? No, as the record of Abraham's faith being counted to him for righteousness, was not made for his sake only, but for ours also, to whom a similar faith would be productive of similar benefits, Romans 4:22-25, so this piety of Mary's was recorded, not for her sake only, but to stimulate and encourage us to an imitation of it.
It should stimulate us.
We should consider that there is one great object which we should ever propose to ourselves through life; and that is, to serve and honor the Lord Jesus Christ. We should consider also that there is one only measure in which we should seek to effect that object; and that is, to the utmost extent of our ability. We should never think of what we have done, but of what we can do; nor account anything done, while anything remains to be done. Our daily and hourly inquiry should be, "What shall I render unto the Lord, for all the benefits that he has done unto me?" We should be as ingenious to devise plans of honoring him, as we should be diligent in the execution of them: and "whatever our hand finds to do, we should do it with all our might."
Moreover, it should encourage us.
We are apt to think, that because we can do but little for the Lord, it is in vain to attempt anything. But we are in this respect all upon a level: the poorest, the weakest, the basest may do what they can; and the greatest of mankind can do no more. What an encouraging thought is this! How justly may it banish all those painful feelings which we are apt to indulge, and call forth into action every energy we possess!
What though I cannot govern kingdoms for him, or go forth with apostolic zeal to preach his Gospel? What though I have no wealth, no talent, no influence to cast into his treasury? I have my mite, and he will graciously accept it. I may give him at least the affections of my soul: and if I pour them forth in his house, or at his table, or in my secret chamber, he will smell as sweet a fragrance, as incense or sacrifice ever yet afforded him. If then we have nothing else to give him, let us spiritually adopt, as Mary did, the resolution of the Spouse in the Song of Solomon; "While the king sits at his table, my spikenard sends forth the smell thereof Song of Solomon 1:12."
We would address a few words,
1. To those who assume this character to themselves—
Nothing is more common than to hear persons assert, that "they do all they can:" nay, many found on this very thing their hopes of acceptance with God. But this is dreadful presumption in any one, and more especially in those who are most forward to arrogate this character to themselves. Indeed the assumption of this character, while we found our eternal hopes upon it, is a contradiction in terms: for to found our hopes upon anything that we can do, is to exclude Christ from his office as a Savior, and to dishonor him to the utmost of our power.
Moreover, if those who look with such delight on their own actions, would inquire what exertions they have made to honor Christ—it is to be feared that a few unmeaning ceremonies, or actions, that required neither self-denial nor zeal, would be found to constitute the whole of their boasted service. Let such persons then remember the caution given us by Paul, that "not he who commends himself is approved of God, but he whom the Lord commends, 2 Corinthians 10:18."
2. To those who are aspiring after it—
Those who will be zealous for their Lord must expect discouragements, and that too, not only from the ungodly, who will be sure to put a bad construction on their actions, but even from many well-meaning, or even pious persons, who will misinterpret their designs. If the very same occurrence were to take place at this very hour, under precisely the same circumstances, there are few of the Lord's disciples who would be able to appreciate it aright: few would have such an exalted view of Christ's dignity and glory, as to see that a concern for that ought to swallow up every other consideration. One would accuse her of extravagance, another of bold obtrusiveness; and the more favorable, who gave her credit for pious intentions, would blame her enthusiastic ardor and needless singularity.
But, beloved, be not discouraged by such things. I would not indeed recommend you to act in a way that should give unnecessary offence either to the world or to the Church of God: but on the other hand, I would not recommend you to have such a respect to the opinions of men, as to moderate your exertions in the cause of Christ, to please them. What though Mary was condemned, not only by vile hypocrites, like Judas, but even by the Apostles themselves; who does not envy her the approbation of her Lord? Who does not see in this memorial of her an ample recompense for the temporary obloquy that she sustained? And who that reflects on the reward that she is now receiving in Heaven, does not see the blessedness of discarding the fear of man, and of living unto God?
Let us then endeavor to approve ourselves to our all-seeing and ever-adorable Savior. Let us guard against entertaining uncharitable thoughts either of those who fall short of us, or those who go beyond us, in acts of love to him. We all have our different views, different tempers, different tastes. Both Martha and Mary sought to honor him; the one in laborious service, the other in pious adoration; and both were accepted in what they did. Let us then "do what we can;" and strive to honor him in the way best suited to our capacities and talents: and, as he has poured out his soul unto death for us," let us be ready at all times to sacrifice for him our name, our property, our life.
The Self-Distrust of the Apostles
In the evening He came with the twelve. Now as they sat and ate, Jesus said, "Assuredly, I say to you, one of you who eats with Me will betray Me." And they began to be sorrowful, and to say to Him one by one, "Is it I?" And another said, "Is it I?"
Nearly every particular relative to the sufferings of our blessed Lord was the subject of prophecy. The Psalmist, in different parts of his inspired compositions, specifies many minute occurrences which should take place at the time of our Savior's death. In some of his expressions, the primary reference is to himself; in others, he refers to the Messiah alone. The passage to which there is an allusion in our text is of the former kind. It evidently is applicable, in the first instance, to David, whose life was sought by his friend Ahithophel, Psalm 41:9 with 2 Samuel 16:23. But, inasmuch as David was an eminent type of Christ, as Ahithophel was of Judas, the passage is declared by our blessed Lord himself, to have been a prediction of the event which was just about to be accomplished in the traitor Judas.
While all the disciples were with their Lord, celebrating the Passover, Jesus declared to them what was about to take place; that one of them, even one of his twelve Apostles, who were with him, would betray him. This declaration filled them all with astonishment and grief. They all looked one upon another, to see whether any one would avow such an intention as that: and when no one seemed conscious of any such purpose, all began to suspect themselves, and to ask, "Lord, is it I? Is it I?"
We shall find it not unprofitable to consider,
I. The self-distrust of the Apostles—
If ever there was an occasion when self-confidence might justly be expressed, methinks it was at that hour, and in reference to that point—
Methinks the Apostles might well have said, 'Lord, how can it be that any one of us should so forget his obligations to you, as to deliver you up into the hands of your blood-thirsty enemies, that they may put you to death? We trust that the principles which we have imbibed from you are too deeply rooted in our hearts to admit of our ever perpetrating such an act of wickedness, unheard-of wickedness, as that. We acknowledge that we are both weak and sinful; but no consideration under Heaven could ever induce us to commit such an abomination as that; and we do hope that, during the years you have known us, you have seen no reason to suspect us of it.'
But among them all there was no feeling but of self-distrust—
No one doubted the truth of our Lord's assertion, or questioned, for a moment, the certainty of the event. Nor did any one give way to unkind and uncharitable suspicions respecting his brethren. It might have been supposed that each, conscious of his own integrity, would begin to think which of the Apostles was the most likely to act so base a part; and to fix the accusation upon one or upon another, as the prejudices of his own mind might lead him. But nothing of this kind appeared in any one of them. Each began to suspect himself, rather than any other: each said, as it were, within his own bosom, 'I know more evil of myself than I do of any one else; and therefore I have more reason to be jealous over myself, than over any other person: Lord, am I the unhappy person of whom you speak? I am not, indeed, conscious of any such intention, but you know what is in man: you know what evils I may yet commit: tell me, Lord, is it I?' Thus, with the deepest grief, and the most painful anxiety, every one of them in succession asked, "Is it I? Is it I?"
At last the traitor Judas himself, fearing lest his very silence should mark him out as the one to whom the guilt must attach, presumed also to put the question, "Master, is it I?" Matthew 26:25. And our Lord told him plainly that it was; and afterwards pointed him out also to the other Apostles, by giving to him a sop in the presence of them all; so that when the act should have been committed, and all the distressing consequences should have ensued, the other Apostles might remember, that the whole had been foretold by the prophets, and foreseen by our Lord himself, John 13:18-19; John 13:25-26.
Let us now attend to,
II. The instruction to be derived from it—
Truly, it must have been a most affecting scene. From it we learn,
1. That there is no evil which fallen man is not capable of committing—
There are some evils against which our nature utterly revolts; and, if we were supposed capable of committing them, we would be ready to say with Hazael, "Is your servant a dog, that he should do such a thing as this?" 2 Kings 8:11-13. But so think all, until the fact is proved upon them. Suppose it had been said, "The God of Heaven and earth will become incarnate, and in his own person display, as far as human eyes are capable of beholding it, all the glory of his perfections, John 1:14." The whole period of his existence upon earth shall be occupied in the exercise of the sublimest virtue, and in acts of the most unbounded beneficence. But he shall be hated, reviled, persecuted even unto death, the accursed death of the cross. But where shall we find men base enough to accomplish it all? Where shall we find rulers impious enough to promote such wickedness, or people base enough to carry it into effect? Where shall we find a favored disciple to betray him? Where soldiers impious enough to seize him? Where a judge either unjust or timid enough to condemn him? Where shall we find a man hardy enough to stretch his sacred limbs upon the cross, and nail them to the accursed tree? Where, in short, shall we find agents capable of acting all the different parts in this bloody tragedy?
If we were to ask of every individual ruler, and judge, and soldier in the universe, 'Will you be the person to execute such an office against your incarnate God, and more especially after you have had all his glory displayed, as it were, before your eyes in every quarter of the land?' you would think that the prophecy must fail, for lack of persons to fulfill it. But it did take place, according to the predictions concerning it: and the Apostles showed a just consciousness of the depravity of our fallen nature, when each, believing that the words of Jesus would be fulfilled, inquired whether he himself were the person destined to fulfill them.
2. That there is no person so eminent, but he has reason to distrust himself—
Had our Lord said, that some heinous person should betray him, it might have been supposed that a person impious enough should be found. But shall such a one be found among his own disciples, who have heard all his public discourses, and been instructed also by him in private, and beheld all his miracles, and been distinguished by him above all others among the sons of men? Yes, even among them shall this traitor be found.
Not all the advantages that ever were enjoyed by mortal man, nor all the grace that was ever given to mortal man, will be sufficient to uphold him, if God, for one moment, withdraws from him his everlasting arms.
A more holy man than David cannot be found: yet, after years of most distinguished piety, he fell, as you well know, into sin of the deepest dye. Who that had seen Solomon, too, at the dedication of the temple, would have supposed it possible that he should abandon himself to such a course as he pursued during the greater part of his life?
And who are we, that we should think ourselves beyond the reach of temptation and sin? "Let him that thinks he stands, take heed lest he falls." To the most devout and holy among you all will I say, "Be not high-minded, but fear!" And when the most hateful picture of human deformity is exhibited to your view in the ministry of the word, with holy jealousy over yourselves, lift up your hearts to God, and say, "Lord, is it I? Lord, is it I?" Then pour out your souls before him; and with fervent supplication cry, "Search me, O Lord, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting, Psalm 139:23-24."
3. That the foreknowledge of God does not at all lessen the criminality of our acts—
The Apostles did not, for a moment, entertain the absurd and impious thought, that the impiety predicted would be less criminal because it was foreseen. The action would be not a whit the less voluntary on this account; and the woe denounced by our Lord against the perpetrator of it was not, in any degree, the less merited or less severe.
Now, who shall say what Almighty God foresees respecting us? The probability is, that were futurity now to be disclosed to our view, it would be said, 'One in that assembly will betray me, and, for the sake of some present gain, will sacrifice my honor and interests in the world. Another will commit such or such an enormity, and afterwards will terminate his own life with suicide.'
Suppose, now, that such a prediction were uttered, shall any one of us presume to say, 'It cannot relate to me: I am not within the reach of such evils as those?' No! Rather let every one, with holy fear, suspect himself; and say, 'Lord, is it I? O that it may not be me! Lord, grant that I may never be left so to dishonor God, and so to ruin my own soul!'
But I will suppose that God foresees such an event in any one of you. Are you the less free agents in all that you do? God has foreseen all that you have hitherto done: but did he ever impose upon you a necessity to do it? or will your conscience acquit you of having contracted guilt by means of it? Learn, then, neither to deny God's foreknowledge on the one hand, nor to make it an occasion of questioning your own responsibility, on the other hand.
God knows, at this moment, who will dwell with him for ever in Heaven; and who will take up his abode in Hell for ever, as much as if our doom had already taken place. But this must not affect our conduct in the least; nor are we at liberty to make his prescience a ground either of presumption or despair. We must look to our ways, and run with holy diligence the race that is set before us. God's final decision will be the result of our conduct, and not of his decrees. He will never save any one purely because he had decreed to save him; nor condemn him because he had decreed to make him "a vessel of his wrath." If He award eternal life to any one, it will be because he had sought it in Christ, and "by a patient continuance in well-doing." And, if any one be made a monument of God's indignation and wrath, it will be altogether on the ground of his evil deeds, and of his having rejected that Gospel whereby alone he could be saved. Romans 2:6-10. Let us rest assured, that in the last day no one will have reason to complain of the divine decrees; but that, both in those who are saved and those who perish, the wisdom and equity of our God will eternally be glorified.
"But he spoke more vehemently, 'If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!' And they all said likewise."
THE influence of example is exceeding powerful, whether it leads to good or evil. This is well known in armies; where courage or timidity beget a kindred feeling speedily, and to a great extent. In moral habits, also, the conduct of one will produce a considerable effect on others.
When our blessed Lord apprised his disciples that one of them would betray him, the self-distrust of one diffused itself through all; yes, extended even to the traitor himself, who, if from no better feeling than shame, joined, at last, in that self-diffident inquiry, "Lord, is it I?" Matthew 26:21-22; Matthew 26:25.
On the other hand, the dissimulation of Peter drew aside the whole Galatian Church, not excepting even Barnabas himself, Galatians 2:13. In like manner, unhappy Peter, by his characteristic self-confidence, betrayed all the other Apostles into the commission of the heinous transgression of protesting an unwavering fidelity to their Lord, without contemplating the weakness of their own purposes, and the treachery of their own hearts.
Our Lord had told them, on the evening before his crucifixion, that they would all deny him that night. Peter, confident in the supposed firmness of his own resolutions, replied, "Although all shall deny you, yet will not I." And, on being more particularly warned that he himself would, that very night, no less than thrice deny his Lord, he, so far from relaxing his confidence, only "spoke the more vehemently, If I should die with you, I will not never deny you." And such was the unhappy effect of his confidence, that every one of the Apostles caught, as it were, the contagion, and expressed themselves in the same vehement language as he: "Likewise, also, thus said they all." Doubtless they all meant well: the resolution itself was good: but it was evil, as being made in dependence on their own strength.
To mark this distinction the more fully, I will show,
I. The wisdom of the resolution, as conceived in their own minds—
It was a resolution worthy of the Apostles, and worthy to be adopted by every one of us.
1. Our blessed Savior deserves it at our hands—
What has He not done for us? And what has he not suffered for us? And should we be afraid to confess him? Should any consideration under Heaven induce us to deny him?
2. He also requires it at our hands—
At the very commencement of his ministry he declared that "those only should be acknowledged as his disciples" who "denied themselves, and took up their cross daily, and followed him." Nay more; that "they only who were willing to lose their life for his sake, should find it unto life eternal, Matthew 10:38-39." And what can be more reasonable than this? If He, the Lord of Heaven and earth, encountered death for us—shall we think it too much to lay down our lives for him? Methinks, if we offer ourselves a sacrifice for him, it is no other than a reasonable service, which is at once our plainest duty, and our highest privilege.
But the conduct of them all too certainly evinced,
II. The folly of the resolution, as announced in their own strength—
Not one of them was able to fulfill his word—
That very night "they all forsook their Lord, and fled," and Peter, who arrogated to himself a greater measure of fidelity than all the others, was the very first to deny his Lord, and denied him with more blasphemous impiety than all the others together.
And who among us would be more firm than they?
"We have not in ourselves a sufficiency even to think a good thought, 2 Corinthians 3:5;" how much less, then, can we think to maintain our fidelity towards our Lord, amidst all the terrors of a most cruel death? Through Christ strengthening us, we may undertake anything, Philippians 4:13; but "of ourselves we can do nothing, John 15:5." In truth, the more self-confident we are, the more "we provoke the Lord to jealousy," and challenge him to leave us to ourselves, Jeremiah 17:5-8. Then only can we hope to stand, when we are "strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might, Ephesians 6:10."
Learn then, Brethren,
1. What your duty is—
Doubtless, this is great and arduous: nor must you, for a moment, wish to lower it. You must see that nothing under Heaven should stand in competition with Christ, Philippians 3:8. The state of every man's mind should accord with that of the holy Apostle, when he said, "I am willing, not only to be bound, but to die for the Lord's sake:" and if we are brought to the trial, no sufferings should move us; nor should we account our lives dear unto us, if only we may finish our course with joy, and finish the work which our blessed Lord has assigned us, Acts 20:24; Acts 21:13.
2. Where alone our strength lies for the performance of it—
"I know, O Lord," says the prophet, "that the way of man is not in himself; and that it is not in man that walks to direct his steps, Jeremiah 10:23." And we are told by the wisest of men, that "he who trusts in his own heart is a fool, Proverbs 28:26." Be convinced of this; and know that the more you resemble a little child in your spirit, the more secure you are. "When you are weak, then is it that you are really strong; for then shall God's strength be perfected in your weakness, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10."
Peter's Denial of His Lord
"But he began to curse and to swear, saying, I know not this man of whom you speak."
THE inspired writers commend themselves and their writings to us, by their faithfulness in recording their own faults. If Mark wrote his Gospel, as many suppose, under the direction of Peter, we are constrained to admire the humility of Peter more especially: since his fall is narrated more strongly, and his repentance touched upon more slightly, by Mark, than by any other of the sacred historians. The aggravated circumstances of his conduct, which are mentioned in the text, serve in a very striking manner to show us,
I. The folly of indulging self-confidence—
Peter had been warned generally, (in common with the other disciples) that he would forsake, and particularly, (in relation to himself,) that he would deny, his Lord. Conceiving it impossible that he should ever be guilty of such treachery, he protested that he would rather die with his Lord, than save his life by such base means. But when he came to the trial, he fulfilled our Lord's predictions. He did not even profit by experience; for, when he had betrayed his cowardice in the first instance, he exposed himself to needless temptations by associating himself with the most inveterate enemies of his Lord. Had he gone to the high-priest's palace, to bear testimony to the character of Jesus, we must have commended his courage: but when he had no better object in view than the gratifying of his curiosity, we cannot but condemn his rashness and presumption. The consequence was such as might be expected: his courage failed him in the hour of trial; and he committed the very sins against which he had been warned.
It is almost uniformly thus with ourselves, when we presume to rush into temptation, under the idea that we are strong enough to withstand its influence. Who among us has not found, that a needless intimacy with the ungodly has led him into an undue conformity to their habits and principles; and proved, in the outcome, injurious to his soul? We have thought perhaps that we could maintain our integrity among them with ease and constancy, notwithstanding we have been expressly warned that "a believer can have no fellowship with an unbeliever," and that "the friendship of the world is enmity with God." But the result of all our experiments has uniformly established that divine aphorism, "He who trusts in his own heart is a fool!"
In the conduct of Peter we may further see,
II. The danger of yielding to the fear of man—
Peter was naturally of a bold intrepid spirit. But he was left on this occasion, that he might know his weakness, and have a convincing evidence that his strength was in God alone. It is common indeed to represent his temptation as light; as though he had been intimidated by the voice of a servant maid. But whoever takes into the account all the circumstances that are related in the different Evangelists, will see, that he had abundant cause for fear; and that, if he had confessed his connection with Jesus, he would most probably have caused his doom; more especially as it would soon be known, that he was the person who, but an hour or two before, had attempted to kill a servant of the high-priest.
But his mind should have been fortified against the danger. He had been told, when first he became a follower of Jesus, that he must "forsake all," and "hate even his own life," in order to be approved as his disciple: and he had very recently professed his readiness to die in his Master's cause: he therefore should have now fulfilled his engagements, and shown, that he had both counted the cost, and was willing to pay it. But his courage failed him; and he purchased a temporary peace at the expense of his honor, his conscience, and his soul.
It is justly said, that "the fear of man brings a snare." Perhaps it is itself one of the greatest snares that lie in our way to the kingdom of Heaven. The profession of Christianity does not indeed expose us now to sufferings as it did in the Apostles' days: but a real love to the Gospel, and conformity to the Savior's image, is as offensive now to an ungodly world, as it ever was. Nor can any one become a sincere and zealous follower of Christ, without incurring much hatred, contempt, and calumny.
Nor is this easy for us to bear. A man who could face an enemy with undaunted courage, would not be able to face the sneers and ridicule of his pretended friends. And hence it is, that many, like Nicodemus of old, are ashamed and afraid to maintain an open connection with the friends of Christ. Though they know in their hearts that Christ is the only source of spiritual and eternal life; and that those only who follow him in this world will enjoy him in the world to come; they are afraid to avow their principles, and ashamed to associate with the known adherents of Christ. But, if they so deny him in the presence of his enemies, he will surely deny them in the presence of his Father.
We would, lastly, show you from the text,
III. The extent to which we may go, when once we begin to fall—
Peter began with dissembling (mixing with the servants, as if he had been perfectly like-minded with them), and then denied his Lord, and at last confirmed that denial with the most horrid oaths and imprecations; yes, he denied that he even so much as knew the man. Who could ever have thought that Peter could have fallen thus low? But the downward road is very precipitous; and no one knows, when once he yields to sin, where his evil dispositions will carry him. Sin makes a breach in the soul; and if means are not used at first to obstruct its progress, it will soon inundate the whole man.
The example of Peter in the text is a standing memorial to the people of God, and a warning to them to resist the first motions of evil in their bosoms.
Judas began with petty thefts.
Demas began with secret covetings.
David with wanton looks.
If we profit not by their examples, the best that we can hope for will be, to be brought back to God with "broken bones;" and the probability is, that we shall come short of Heaven at last, if not have a foretaste of Hell in our bosoms, even while we are here. If we would maintain our integrity, we must not only flee from gross sin, but "hate even the garment spotted with the flesh."
Christ's Appearance to Mary Magdalene
"Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons."
ON few subjects has the ingenuity of critics been exercised more than in reconciling the accounts which the different Evangelists give respecting the appearances of Christ after his resurrection. It is not to be wondered at, that, when such a great variety of occurrences are related in so small a space, some by one person, and others by another, some in a more concise way, and others in a more detailed way—there should arise a difficulty in adjusting the precise order in which every fact arose. Cavilers indeed, and infidels have made this a matter of triumph; as if the existence of a difficulty in such a particular as this would invalidate the testimony of the inspired writers altogether.
But we do not hesitate to say, that it confirms rather than lessens, the credibility of their testimony; since it proves to a demonstration, that there was no collusion between them, but that they related in the simplicity of their minds what they knew to be true, without inquiring whether, in recording a fact, the omission of a trifling circumstance might occasion some obscurity respecting the order or manner of its accomplishment.
Leaving those smaller matters, we shall fix our attention on points of the first magnitude and importance: we shall,
I. Notice the manifestations which Jesus gave of himself after his resurrection from the dead—
His first appearance only is mentioned in the text: but it was so speedily followed by others, and their united effect is so important in establishing the truth of his Divine mission, that we may well combine them together, and set them before you in a collective view.
It was necessary that our Lord should rise on the third day after his crucifixion. Not only did the period of Jonah's deliverance from the belly of the fish determine the time of Christ's continuance in the grave, Matthew 12:40, but it was expressly declared by David, that "God's Holy One should not see corruption, Psalm 16:10," and consequently that he should rise from the dead before the fourth day, when bodies in that hot climate, usually began to corrupt, John 11:39. Our Lord himself also had said, that, if they should "destroy the temple of his body, he would in three days raise it up again, John 2:19-21." And so frequently had he foretold that he would rise again on the third day, that the prediction was generally known among his enemies, and was indeed the ground of those very precautions which they used to guard the sepulcher, and thereby defeat any conspiracy among his followers, Matthew 27:63-66.
If then he had not risen on the third day, he would have been proved to be a deceiver: and if he had not made his appearance on that day, he would have given such occasion of triumph to his enemies as could scarcely ever have been removed. The absurd report that was circulated by the soldiers respecting his being stolen away while they were sleeping, would have been sanctioned; and the difficulty of removing that first impression would have been greatly increased. The disciples too, who were already disconsolate, and, in their own apprehension, deceived, would have abandoned themselves wholly to despair.
To prevent these evil consequences, our blessed Savior manifested himself to Mary "early" on the morning of his resurrection; yes, at least five times on that very day did he make his appearance to different parties of his disciples; first to Mary, then to the other women, then to Peter, then to two disciples on their way to Emmaus, and then to the eleven who were gathered together. Thus early were his triumphs proclaimed; and thus seasonably were his disciples comforted!
We have already mentioned five appearances on the day of his resurrection. How many were given to his disciples afterwards, we cannot ascertain: for we are sure that they are not all recorded by the Evangelists. Paul mentions that Jesus was seen by James, and by five hundred brethren at once; neither of which appearances are particularly specified in the Gospels. We are told however, that "he was seen of the disciples forty days;" which is a clear intimation that his fellowship with them was both frequent and familiar.
Now in this he graciously condescended to our weakness. Had his manifestations of himself been very few, we might have been ready to fear, that those who testified of his resurrection were either deceivers or deceived. Not even the Apostles themselves credited the appearance of their Master to Mary, or the other females: the very report was considered by them "as an idle tale." Much more therefore may we expect that his avowed enemies would have disbelieved it; and we at this distance of time would have had scarcely any foundation for our faith and hope. But the number of his appearances was such as to preclude a possibility of intentional collusion, or unintentional mistake.
However numerous the appearances had been, if they had been all in dreams or visions, or to separate individuals, or at a distance, there would have been reason to doubt the truth and reality of them. But they were of the most satisfactory kind imaginable. Let it be granted, that Mary Magdalene, and the other women, and Peter, and the disciples going to Emmaus, were deceived; and that the various conversations which they had with him were mere impositions on their eyes and ears; were the eleven deceived, when, notwithstanding the doors were shut, he presented himself in the midst of them, and bade them handle him (to see that he was not a mere spirit, but had flesh and bones, like any other man), and did eat and drink before them?
Was the unbelieving Thomas deceived, when our Lord bade him put his fingers into the print of the nails, and thrust his hand into the wound that had been made in his side; and when, in consequence of the impossibility of resisting conviction any longer, he exclaimed, "My Lord, and my God!"
Were the five hundred brethren, who saw him at once, deceived; or were they all in a conspiracy to deceive others?
Were Peter and the rest deceived, when he told them on which side of the ship to cast their net, and then partook with them of the fish which they had caught?
Were they deceived, when, after conversing with him a long time, his disciples saw him ascend gradually from the midst of them, and taken up into Heaven? Blessed be his name! he has taken care that so important a truth, on which all our hopes depend, should not rest on any doubtful testimony, but that it should be substantiated by proofs which cannot be denied without subverting all kinds of evidence, and all human testimony whatever.
Let us now proceed to,
II. Inquire, Why he appeared first to Mary Magdalene in particular?
It is said of Mary Magdalene, that "he had cast seven devils out of her." And if she was, as she is generally supposed to be, that Mary who anointed the feet of Jesus in the Pharisee's house, Luke 7:36-38, she had been, not like the common demoniacs, a mere object of pity, but a vile, notorious, abandoned sinner. In this view, the mention of Jesus having cast seven devils out of her, gives singular importance to the text; and most forcible reasons may be assigned, why he appeared to her first, in preference to all other persons.
He did so,
1. To display the exceeding riches of his grace—
This was the chief design of God in that plan which he formed for the redemption of mankind, Ephesians 1:6; Ephesians 2:7. The same glorious design also may be seen in a variety of incidents, which, though apparently perhaps of small importance, are deserving of very attentive consideration. The command, for instance, respecting the publishing of the Gospel first in Jerusalem, where all ranks of people had so recently united in crucifying the Lord of glory, Luke 24:47, is a most astonishing display of grace and mercy: one would rather have thought that the Apostles should have been ordered to pass them by for ever, than to make them the first offers of salvation. The instruments employed to propagate the Gospel, yet further illustrate this point. The person chosen to minister the Gospel to the Jews, and to convert thousands of them to the faith, was Peter, who had just before denied his Lord with oaths and curses. Yes, to him was such peculiar attention shown, that he was selected by the angel, as the person to whom, above all others, the knowledge of our Savior's resurrection was to be instantly conveyed, verse 7. And our blessed Lord himself thrice renewed his call to the Apostleship, in the presence of the other disciples, lest his past denial of his Lord should be construed as a renunciation of it, or a dismissal from it, John 21:15-17. In like manner, the person who was commissioned to go unto the Gentiles, was Saul, the persecutor; who was arrested in his murderous career, and made the most honored, and most useful, of all the Apostles.
In the same light we view the preference shown to Mary Magdalene above all others. In manifesting himself first of all to her, our Savior may well be considered as declaring, that "where sin has abounded, grace shall much more abound, Romans 5:20."
2. To reward her pious assiduity—
Mary having purchased ointments and spices for the purpose of embalming our Lord's body, went early, while it was yet dark, to the sepulcher, to perform that last and mournful office. Though her prospects with respect to his establishing a temporal kingdom were altogether blasted, her regard for him was not in the least diminished. She was anxious to testify her respect in the only way that now remained to her: nor did any considerations of expense, or trouble, or danger, operate for a moment to impede her efforts. Such expressions of sincere love could not escape the notice of the omniscient and gracious God. Our adorable Emmanuel would have accounted himself "unrighteous, if he could have overlooked such works and labors of love as she now showed towards his name, Hebrews 6:10." It had long before been announced by him to the world, "he who honors me, I will honor:" and now he fulfilled that word to this highly-favored handmaid: nor will he ever allow even a cup of cold water, given to a person for his sake, to lose its reward.
3. To give encouragement to all future penitents to the end of time—
The various events recorded in the Scriptures are not to be limited to the persons to whom they more immediately refer. Many judgments were inflicted, and many mercies given, for the benefit of the Church in future ages: and "they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world have come."
We read of pardon being revealed to David the very instant that he confessed his heinous crime: and the improvement which he himself makes of that stupendous mercy, is, "For this shall every one that is godly make his prayer unto you, in a time when you may be found, Psalm 32:5-6."
Paul also informs us of the "exceeding abundant grace shown to him;" and then adds, that he had been thus eminently distinguished by God for this reason; "that God might show forth in him all long suffering, for a pattern to those who should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting, 1 Timothy 1:14; 1 Timothy 1:16."
For the same end, it should seem, was Mary Magdalene thus highly favored. Persons, who are conscious of having committed enormous sins, are apt to think that they can never obtain mercy of the Lord: but our blessed Savior would have them know that "though our sins may have been as crimson, they shall be white as snow," and that he is never more willing to feast with us upon the fatted calf, than on our first return from a dissolute and abandoned life.
Behold how effectually every ground of doubt is removed from us! Can we doubt Christ's power and authority to save? He has risen from the dead, and thereby given the most convincing evidence that he is ordained of God to be the Savior of the world. His numerous appearances to his disciples after his resurrection preclude all possibility of deception.
Can we doubt his willingness to save even the chief of sinners? This astonishing exercise of grace to one out of whom he had cast seven devils, forbids us to entertain the thought. Let all then trust in him as both able and willing to save them to the uttermost.
On the Gospel Message
"And He said to them: Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned."
IT is to be lamented that an unhappy prejudice exists in the Christian world against the peculiar and most essential doctrines of our holy religion; and that, while ministers defend with zeal and ability the outworks of Christianity, they are at little pains to lead their hearers within the veil, and to unfold to them those blessed truths whereon their salvation depends.
Under the idea that moral discourses are more accommodated to the comprehensions of men, and more influential on their practice, they wave all mention of the sublime mysteries of the Gospel, and inculcate little more than a system of heathen ethics. They would be ashamed, and almost afraid to make such a passage as this the ground-work of their discourse, lest they should be thought to be contending for some uncertain, unimportant tenets; instead of promoting the interests of piety and virtue.
But can anyone read such a solemn declaration as that in the text, and account it unworthy of his notice? Can anyone consider the circumstances under which it was uttered, or the authoritative manner in which the Apostles were commanded to publish it to the world, and yet think himself at liberty to disregard it? Shall the very recital of it beget suspicion, as though nothing were desired but to establish the Shibboleth of a party?
Let us put away such unfitting jealousies, and enter in a fair and candid manner into the investigation of the words before us: let us consider that they were among the last words of our blessed Lord while he sojourned upon earth; that they contain his final commission to his Apostles, and, in them, to all succeeding pastors of his Church; that they are distinguished by our Lord himself by that honorable appellation, "The Gospel," or glad tidings; and that they were delivered by him not only as the rule of our faith, but as the rule of his procedure in the day of judgment: let us, I say, consider the words in this view, and, with hearts duly impressed and open to conviction, attend to what shall be spoken, while we endeavor to explain the import—vindicate the reasonableness—and display the excellency—of this divine message. May the Lord grant, that, while we are attending to these things, the "word may come, not in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance."
I. In explaining the import of our text, we shall have little more to do than to ascertain the meaning of the different terms; for the sense of them being once fixed, the import of the whole will be clear and obvious—
Salvation can mean nothing less than the everlasting happiness of the soul. To limit the term to any temporal deliverance would be to utterly destroy the truth as well as the importance of our Lord's declaration: for though it is true, that they, who believed his prophecies relative to the destruction of Jerusalem, escaped to Pella, and were rescued from the misery in which the Jewish nation was involved, yet the followers of our Lord in that and every age have been subjected to incessant persecutions and cruel deaths. Nor was that deliverance either of so great or so general concern, that the Apostles needed to go forth "into all the world," or to preach it to "every creature." Our Lord "came to seek and to save those who are lost;" he came to open a way for the recovery of our fallen race, and to restore men to the happiness which they had forfeited by their iniquities: this is the salvation spoken of in the text, and justly termed, a "salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory."
This salvation is to be obtained by faith, "He who believes shall be saved." By the term, "believing" we are not to understand a mere assent given to any particular doctrine; for there is not any particular doctrine to which the most abandoned sinner, or even the devils themselves, may not assent. In this sense of the word, James says, "the devils believe and tremble." The faith intended in the text is far more than an acknowledgment of the truth of the Gospel; it is an approbation of it as excellent, and an acceptance of it as suitable. Assent is an act of the understanding only: but true faith is a consent of the will also, with the full concurrence of our warmest affections. It is called in one place a "believing with the heart;" and in another, a "believing with all the heart."
In few words, faith is a new and living principle, whereby we are enabled to rely upon the Lord Jesus Christ for all the ends and purposes for which he came into the world; a principle, which, at the same time that it takes us off from all self-dependence, leads us to purify our hearts from the love and practice of all sin. To such faith as this our Lord frequently annexes a promise of eternal salvation.
In his discourse with Nicodemus he says, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. He who believes on him is not condemned; but he who believes not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God." And in the close of that chapter it is added, "He who believes on the Son has everlasting life; but he who believes not the Son, shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
Not that there is anything meritorious in this grace of faith, more than in any other; for, as a grace, it is inferior to love; but salvation is annexed to this rather than to any other, because this alone unites us to the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom we are accepted, and by whose merits we are saved.
To the term Salvation is opposed another of a most awful import, namely Damnation: as the former cannot be limited to any temporal deliverance, so neither can this be limited to any temporal judgment. For, not to mention the express and repeated declarations that the punishment of the wicked will be as "a worm that dies not, and a fire that is not quenched," our Lord, in the very words before us, contrasts the consequences of unbelief with the consequences of faith; thereby manifesting, that they were to be considered by us as of equal magnitude and duration: and, in his account of the final sentence which he will pass upon the righteous and the wicked in the day of judgment, he describes the happiness of the one and the misery of the other by the very same epithet, in order to cut off all occasion of doubt respecting the continuance of either: "These shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal."
We are constrained, therefore to acknowledge that the threatening in the text includes nothing less than the everlasting misery of the soul, under the wrath and indignation of God!
This, tremendous as it is, will be the fruit of unbelief, "He who believes not shall be damned." We must not suppose that the unbelief here spoken of characterizes only professed infidels, who openly avow their contempt of Christianity; for then it would by no means afford a sufficient line of distinction between those that shall be saved, and those who shall perish; seeing that there are many who profess to reverence the Christian revelation, while they live in a constant violation of every duty it enjoins.
If the receiving of Christ, as he is offered in the Gospel, is the faith that saves; then the not receiving of Christ in that manner must be the unbelief that condemns. This observation is of great importance: for the generality seem to have no idea that they can be unbelievers, unless they have formally renounced the Christian faith. Their consciences are quite clear on this subject: the guilt of unbelief never caused them one moment's uneasiness.
But can anything be more plain, than that the same faith which is necessary to bring us to salvation, must be also necessary to keep us from condemnation? Indeed it is so self-evident a truth, that the very mention of it appears almost absurd; and yet it will be well if we admit its full force in the point before us. For, however zealous many are to comprehend holy actions and affections in their definitions of saving faith, they are backward enough to acknowledge that a lack of those qualities must evidence them to be in a state of unbelief. Yet, until this truth is felt and acknowledged, there is little hope that the Gospel will ever profit them at all.
There is a qualifying clause in the text which we must not leave unnoticed; and the rather, because it is added in the former, but omitted in the latter part; "He who believes, and is baptized, shall be saved; but he who believes not shall be damned." Our Lord had appointed baptism as that rite whereby his disciples should be introduced into the Christian covenant, as the Jews had been by circumcision into the Mosaic covenant: and men's submission to this rite served as a test of their sincerity, and a public badge of their profession. If any were inwardly convinced that the religion of Christ was indeed of divine authority, and were not prevented by insurmountable obstacles from conforming to this rite, they must cheerfully enlist themselves under his banners, and honor him in his appointed way. They must "follow the Lord fully," if they would be partakers of his benefits. But, on the other hand, if they should submit to this ordinance, and yet be destitute of true faith, their baptism would not save them; they would perish for their unbelief: baptized or unbaptized, they would surely perish.
The parts of the text being thus explained, there remains no difficulty in the meaning of the whole as it stands connected together. No words can be found that can more forcibly express the solemn truth, which our Lord intended to convey: the import of his declaration is so obvious, that we shall not attempt to elucidate it any farther, but will proceed,
II. To vindicate its reasonableness—
That men should be saved for their good works, or condemned for their gross iniquities, would be thought reasonable enough; but that they should be saved by faith, or condemned for unbelief, seems to many to be utterly unreasonable and absurd. But, to a candid inquirer, the equity and reasonableness of both these points may be easily and plainly evinced.
If faith were, as some imagine it to be, a mere assent to certain propositions, it must be confessed, that, to expect salvation by it would be preposterous in the extreme. But it has already been shown that this is not saving faith.
The man who truly believes, invariably comes to Christ in this way:
he confesses with humility and contrition his past offences;
he acknowledges, from his inmost soul, that he deserves the everlasting wrath of God;
he renounces every hope that might arise from his comparative goodness, his penitential sorrows, his future purposes, his actual amendment;
he embraces Christ as a suitable and all-sufficient Savior; and relies simply and entirely upon the promises which God has made to us in the Son of his love.
This, I say, is the believer's experience at the first moment he truly believes in Christ. To this we might add, that, from that moment, he lives in a state of communion with his Savior, and exerts himself to the utmost to adorn his profession by a holy life and conduct. But we intentionally omit all the fruits of faith which he afterwards produces, lest any one should be led to confound faith with its fruits, or to ascribe that to faith and works conjointly, which properly belongs to faith alone.
Consider then a person coming in this penitent manner to Christ, and trusting in the promises of his God; is it unreasonable that such a person should be saved?
Who in all the world should be saved so soon as he, who implores deliverance from his lost estate?
Who should reap the benefits of Christ's death, but he, who makes that his only plea and dependence?
Who may so justly hope to experience God's fidelity, as he who rests upon his promises?
Who, in short, should enjoy all the blessings of redemption, but he who seeks redemption in God's appointed way?
Surely, if it is reasonable that Christ should "see of the travail of his soul," and that God should fulfill his own word, then is it most reasonable that he who believes in Christ should be saved.
With respect to the condemnation of unbelievers, we readily acknowledge that that also would be unreasonable, on a supposition that unbelief were nothing more than a dissent from certain propositions, through a lack of sufficient evidence to establish their divine authority. But unbelief is a sin of the deepest dye; and the person who is under its dominion is in a state as offensive to God as can well be conceived.
For, in the first place, he rejects that which has been established by every kind of evidence which a revelation from Heaven can admit of: and, in rejecting it, he shows that he is lifted up with pride and presumption: for he not only takes upon him to sit in judgment upon God, but denies his own state to be so dangerous and depraved as God has represented it. If he acknowledges himself to be a sinner, he still feels neither his guilt nor his helplessness as he ought, but "goes about to establish a righteousness of his own, instead of submitting to the righteousness of God."
That wonderful method which the infinite wisdom of God has contrived for the restoration of our fallen race, he accounts "foolishness," and substitutes what he esteems a safer and better method of his own. The most stupendous display of divine love and mercy that ever was or can be exhibited, he disregards: and thus, both "tramples under foot the Son of God, and does despite unto the Spirit of grace!" Yes, to use the language of an inspired Apostle, he "makes the only true God a liar;" for whereas God has said, that "there is no other name whereby we can be saved, but the name of Jesus, nor any other foundation than that which he himself has laid," the unbeliever directly contradicts him, and unequivocally declares his expectation that there is and shall be some other way of acceptance with him.
Now is it unreasonable that such a person should be punished? that such a despiser of God should be left without any part in the believer's portion?
Let us only apply the case to ourselves.
If a child should pour contempt upon the wisest counsels of his parents, and question the truth of their most solemn protestations, would we not think him worthy of his parent's displeasure? Would not we ourselves, in such a case, manifest our disapprobation of his conduct?
Who then are we, that we should insult God thus, and do it with impunity? Who are we, I say, that, when we are at liberty to withhold a blessing from an ungrateful fellow-creature, or to inflict a punishment on him adequate to his offence—we should not be in like manner amenable to God?
If any say, "We acknowledge the sinfulness of unbelief, but think the punishment of it too severe."
I answer that God himself is the best judge of the malignity of sin; and he has denounced death, eternal death, as the wages due to every sin: much more therefore may it be inflicted for unbelief; since there is no sin so complicated, nor any that so effectually precludes even a possibility of salvation. We may purge away any other sin by a believing application to the blood of Christ; but by unbelief we reject the only remedy provided for us.
Hoping that the reasonableness of our Savior's declaration has been satisfactorily proved, we come,
III. To display its excellency—
While the Gospel of Christ is misrepresented and opposed by man, the angels, who are incomparably less personally affected by its provisions, are ever contemplating it with admiration and joy. And, if it were better understood among us, it could not but meet with a more favorable reception; for it has innumerable excellencies, which render it worthy of universal acceptance. Let us examine a few of its leading features.
In the first place, it clearly defines the only way of salvation. Take any other way of salvation that ever was devised, by repentance for instance, or by sincere obedience; what inexplicable difficulties occur to our view! for, who can tell what degree of repentance will satisfy God for our breaches of his law, and be a sufficient price for Heaven? Who can mark out the line which shall be drawn between those that shall be saved and those that shall perish? Who can tell what sincere obedience means? It cannot mean the doing what we will, for that would put a murderer on the same footing with an Apostle: and if it mean the doing what we can, where is the man that can be saved by it? Where is the man who has not violated it in ten thousand instances, or who does not violate it every day of his life? Who can truly say that for any one day he has mortified every sinful habit as much as he could, exercised every holy affection as much as he could, and practiced every species of duty as much as he could? And if we cannot but acknowledge that we might have done more, who shall say what degree of insincerity may be indulged without violating the law of sincere obedience? On all such plans as these we are utterly at a loss; we are lost at sea without a compass.
But take the doctrine laid down in the text, and the way of salvation is so plain, that "he who runs may read it." Let any man ask himself this question:
Do I believe in Christ? Let him pursue the inquiry somewhat farther:
Do I feel myself a guilty, helpless, condemned sinner?
Do I renounce all dependence on my own wisdom, strength, and righteousness?
Do I see that there is in Christ a fullness suited to my necessities?
Do I daily, with humility and earnestness, beg of God that "Christ may be made unto me wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption?"
These questions are easy enough to be resolved; and by the answer which conscience gives to them, we may know assuredly whether we are in the way to Heaven or to Hell. And who does not see how great an excellency this is in the Gospel-salvation? Who does not see how strongly this circumstance recommends the doctrine in our text?
Another excellency in the Gospel is, that it is equally suited to all persons in all conditions.
Had any self-righteous methods of acceptance with God been proposed to the dying thief, what consolation could he have found? How little could he do in his few remaining hours! However he might have admired the goodness of God to others, he must have utterly despaired of mercy himself. But through faith in Christ he was enabled to depart in peace and joy.
As to the murderers of our Lord, how long must it have been before they could have entertained any comfortable hope of acceptance! But the Gospel affords a prospect of salvation to the very chief of sinners, and that, even at the eleventh hour.
Nor is there any situation whatever, in which the Gospel is not calculated to comfort and support the soul. Under first convictions of sin, what is so delightful as to hear of a Savior? Under subsequent trials and temptations, how would our difficulties be increased, if we did not know that "God had laid help upon One that was mighty!"
The people of God, notwithstanding the hope which they have in Christ, feel great and heavy discouragements on account of the power of indwelling corruption: they seem oftentimes to be rolling a stone up the hill, which rushes impetuously down again, and necessitates them to repeat their ineffectual labors. And what would they do if their dependence were not placed on the obedience and sufferings of the Son of God? Surely they would lie down in despair, and say like those of old, "There is no hope; I have loved strangers, and after them I will go."
Under the various calamities of life, also, believers find consolation in the thought that the salvation of their souls is secured by Christ. Hence they are enabled to bear their trials with firmness: they "know how both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need." And shall not this
recommend the Gospel? that there is no situation, no circumstance whatever wherein it is not suited to us? that while every other method of salvation increases our anxiety, and, in many instances, drives us utterly to despair—the Gospel always mitigates our sorrows, and often turns them into joy and triumph.
A farther excellency of the Gospel is that it refers all the glory to the Lord Jesus Christ. Every other plan of salvation leaves room for man to boast: but, on the plan of the Gospel, the most moral person upon earth must subscribe to the declaration of the Apostle, "By grace are you saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." None, who have obtained a saving interest in Christ, will take the glory to themselves. The voice of all without exception is, "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto your name be the praise."
There is not anything that distinguishes true believers more than this, that they desire to glorify Christ as the one source of all their blessings. In this their hearts are in perfect unison with the glorified saints, who sing continually, "To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood, to Him be glory and dominion, for ever and ever."
And is not this another excellency of the Gospel? Is it at all desirable that while some in Heaven are ascribing salvation to God and to the Lamb, that others should ascribe salvation to God and to themselves? Surely the felicity of Heaven is much increased by the obligation which they feel to Jesus, and the consideration that every particle of that bliss was "purchased for them by the blood of God" himself; nor is there so much as one among all the hosts of Heaven who would consent for an instant to rob the Savior of his glory.
The last excellency which I shall mention as belonging to the Gospel, is, that it most of all secures the practice of good works. Here is the chief ground of jealousy with the world: and if the Gospel were indeed liable to the imputations cast on it, if it gave licence to men to continue in sin, we would not hesitate to discard it as a fiction, seeing that it could never be the production of a holy God.
But, as the Apostle says, "The grace of God which brings salvation teaches us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live righteously, soberly, and godly in this present world." If we appeal to antiquity, who was ever so strenuous as Paul in asserting the doctrine of justification by faith alone? And yet, who was ever so abundant in labors of every kind? Or who ever inculcated with greater energy and minuteness the necessity of good works?
If we come to modern times, we must observe that they, who now preach justification by faith, are with the very same breath accused of opening Heaven to all, however they may act, and yet of shutting the door against all by their unnecessary strictness: and those who receive the Gospel are condemned as licentious, while they are at the same time blamed as too rigid and precise. Nor is this by any means a slight proof of the efficacy of the Gospel on the hearts and lives of its professors; for if their sentiments expose them to the former censure, it is their holy conduct that subjects them to the latter censure.
We grant and acknowledge it with sorrow, that there are some who name the name of Christ without departing from iniquity: but must all therefore be represented as of the same stamp, and the Gospel itself be considered as unfavorable to morality?
Is it just, that, while ten thousand glaring sins pass unnoticed in an unbeliever, the misconduct of a few, or perhaps one single fault in "a person professing godliness" should excite a clamor against all the Christian world as hypocrites?
But, thanks be to God! we can appeal to experience, that faith "does work by love," and "overcome the world," and "purify the heart." We are therefore emboldened primarily and principally to recommend the Gospel from this consideration, that while the zealous advocates for self-righteousness are miserably defective in all spiritual duties—the Gospel of Christ invariably stimulates us to a holy, spiritual, and unreserved obedience.
Many more excellencies of the Gospel might be mentioned: but if those that have been stated will not endear it to us, it is in vain to hope that anything which could be added would procure it a favorable reception.
And now, as there are many in this assembly who are already engaged in the service of the sanctuary, and many others who are destined in due time to undertake the sacred office of the ministry, and as the words of my text are in a more especial manner applicable to persons so circumstanced, allow me, with humility, yet with freedom and faithfulness, to address myself in a more especial manner to them; and let me entreat you to bear with me if I "use great boldness of speech."
I would beseech you then, my Brethren, to consider, that as the eternal welfare of our fellow-creatures is suspended on their reception or rejection of the Gospel, so their acquaintance with the Gospel must depend, in a great measure, on those who are authorized to teach it: for "faith comes by hearing; and how shall they hear without a preacher?" Be not offended then if I ask, whether you yourselves have "received the truth in the love of it?" If you have not, how can you properly commend it to others? How can it be expected that you should "contend earnestly for that faith" which you yourselves have never embraced; or that you should labor with befitting zeal to convert your hearers, when you yourselves are unconverted?
O let it be a matter of deep and serious inquiry among us, whether we have felt the force and influence of the Gospel?
Have we ever been convinced of unbelief?
Have we seen the equity and reasonableness of the judgments denounced against us while in that state?
Have we, under a deep conviction of our guilt and helplessness, "fled to Christ for refuge?"
Have we discovered the transcendent excellency of this salvation; and do we feel in our inmost souls its perfect suitableness to our own necessities, and its tendency to promote the interests of holiness?
Can we say with the Apostle, that, what our eyes have seen, our ears have heard, and our hands have handled of the word of life, that, and that only, we declare unto our people?
In short, while we profess that "the ministry of reconciliation has been committed unto us," do we experience this reconciliation ourselves?
The salvation of our own souls, no less than that of our fellow-sinners, depends on this. Indeed we are more interested in the Gospel than any; for if we continue ignorant of it, we perish under the aggravated guilt of rejecting it ourselves, and of betraying the souls of others into irretrievable ruin. We, of all people under Heaven, are most bound to divest ourselves of prejudice, and to labor with our whole hearts, both to enjoy the blessings of the Gospel, and to show ourselves as patterns of its sanctifying influence. Let us then, in compliance with the Divine command, "take heed to ourselves, and to our doctrine, that, in so doing, we may both save ourselves and them that hear us."
But let others also be aware, that though they may have no responsibility attaching to them as ministers, they have as Christians. I must beg leave therefore to say unto all, that the faith which they profess cannot save them, unless it is accompanied with a renovation of heart and life. Do not then be hasty to conclude that you are true believers: "examine yourselves whether you be in the faith; prove your own selves."
Be assured, it is no easy matter to believe. It is by no means pleasing to flesh and blood: there is not anything to which we are naturally more averse. What our Lord said to the Jews of old may be addressed with equal propriety to the greater part of nominal Christians, "You will not come unto me, that you may have life." But let it be remembered, that, however humiliating it may appear to our proud nature to renounce all self-righteousness and self-dependence, and to look for acceptance through the merits of Christ alone, it must be done. It will profit us little to have received the outward seal of his covenant, unless we possess also "the faith of God's elect." Our lofty looks must be humbled, our haughtiness must be brought down, and the Lord alone must be exalted! We must bow before the scepter of his grace, or we shall be "broken in pieces with a rod of iron."
If we truly and cordially "receive Him, we shall have the privilege of becoming the sons of God; and if sons, then heirs; heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ."
But "what shall our end be, if we obey not the Gospel?" What prospect have we, but to be "punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power?" Behold then, life and death are this day set before you.
Bearing, as we do, a commission from the Lord Jesus to preach his Gospel, "we are debtors both to the Greeks and to the Barbarians, both to the wise and to the unwise." In his sacred name, therefore, we deliver our message; we are constrained to deliver it with all faithfulness, "whether you will hear, or whether you will forbear." He, who with a penitent and contrite heart believes in the Son of God, and, by virtue of that faith, is enabled to confess him before men, and to honor him by a holy life, he shall "receive the forgiveness of his sins, and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Christ."
But he who believes not on the Son of God, however moral he may have been in his external conduct, and whatever pleas he may urge in extenuation of his guilt, he, I say, "shall not see life, but the wrath of God shall abide upon him!" He has practically said, "I will not have this man to reign over me;" and the despised Savior will, before long, issue this vindictive sentence, "Bring him hither, and slay him before me." The decree is gone forth, nor shall all the powers of Heaven or Hell reverse it, "He who believes and is baptized, shall be saved; but he who believes not, shall be damned!"