Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
Now when he had ended all his sayings in the audience of the people, he entered into Capernaum.Three Estimates of One Character
Luke 7:4; Luke 7:6; Luke 7:9
I. In the first place, we have the estimate formed of this man by his neighbours, 'Saying that he was worthy'. Now in regard to this testimonial, two or three remarks may be made. (1) For one thing, it must, I think, he conceded that these elders had enjoyed the best opportunities for forming a judgment regarding him. He lived in the midst of them. (2) But these elders had another advantage in coming to a knowledge of this centurion's character. He had been long enough among them to give them opportunity of testing him. (3) Nay, more, they saw that as he dwelt among them, he became an inquirer into their religion, and a student of their Scriptures, so that by and by he gave up his idolatry, and then after a time became a believer in Jehovah. Tell me what those who are closest to a man think of him after their experience of him for a course of years, or how the members of a community regard a man who has been continuously before them for half a generation, and you tell me with approximate accuracy what the man really is.
II. But in the second place let us look at this centurion's estimate of himself. 'I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof.' His was a genuine feeling of unworthiness, just like that which is characteristic in greater or less degree of every truly good man among ourselves. Now it becomes an interesting question, why it is that the good man's estimate of himself should thus differ from that formed of him by his neighbours and friends. And in answer to that two things may be advanced: (1) It is owing, doubtless, in some measure to the fact that he knows more about himself than others do. (2) The discrepancy between the good man's estimate of himself and that formed of him by others may be explained by the fact that the better a man is the loftier does his ideal become. His standard rises with his very excellence. (a) We see this illustrated intellectually in the matter of knowledge. The more a man learns, the more he learns of his own ignorance. (b) But it is quite similar with holiness. The liker I become to Christ, the more I see in Christ that I have yet to imitate.
III. But we come now to the third estimate of this man's character; that, namely, of the Lord Jesus Himself, who said regarding him, 'I have not found so great faith, no! not in Israel'. This testimony to his faith is virtually also a testimony to his character; for faith is not cherished except by a certain character. Faith is thus a moral test. Then again the faith which is thus rooted in character reacts upon character. As a man believes, so he becomes. Such, then, are the three estimates here given of the character of this one man. But the last is the main one after all, carrying all that is valuable in the other two within itself.
References.—VII. 4, 6, 7.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 137. VII. 4-9.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x. No. 600.
The Good Centurion
There are many striking features about the character of this Roman soldier; he is one of the most attractive, noble, and lovable men in the pages of the New Testament. There are mainly three points in his character to be carefully marked.
I. His susceptibility to all that is good. He had come to Capernaum probably without any definite faith, with many a story in his mind about the fanaticism and stubborn pride of the people in whose country he had come to keep order, and he must have set himself at once to study the people and their religion, with the result that he saw the good in both. We could still do with more of the spirit that detects and rejoices in good in others, other nations, other religious communities. The chief feature, however, of this man's susceptibility, is that it is most tender towards that which is highest. I see in this centurion a man who is willing to be led by the Spirit of God and of truth, who dares at the bidding of the Spirit to be original, to do what is unusual and unfashionable, singular and strange, at the call of conscience, and this is the kind of man needed today.
II. His lowliness. 'I am not worthy,' is his estimate of himself. You know the world's idea; you must assert your own worth, and insist on your rights being recognised and your efforts being properly acknowledged. If modesty is at a discount in the markets of the world, it should be at a premium in the Church of Christ. Let a Roman centurion teach us—'I am not worthy,' that is the language for all of us, for some more than others, but for us all. Not lip language, not affectation; there is no more degraded and disgusting character in fiction than Uriah Heap. But the real thing—oh, that we had more of it! Lowliness of mind is the sure sign of saintliness; every true saint is lowly.
III. His faith. A faith which surprises our Lord. It is a part of the susceptibility to the Divine which dwelt in him. It is to be feared that there are many people professing the Christian faith who would be put to shame by the simple and complete confidence in Christ's power displayed by the centurion. Lowliness and faith go together. The proud and self-sufficient temper will make its own power and wisdom the gauge and standard of what God can do, and will probably refuse to believe in anything that it cannot understand. The man who truly sees God will be stricken through with a sense of his own unworthiness; but he will believe at the same time in the illimitable power of God. I do not want to be put to shame by the faith of this Roman soldier. I observe that our Lord acclaimed it and declared that it was the greatest He had found.
—Charles Brown, The Baptist Times and Freeman, vol. li. p. 251.
Patriotism in Religion
There are two great ideas in these few words: patriotism—'He loveth our nation'; and religion—'He hath built us a synagogue'. Because he loves the nation, says the text, he has built a religious house. The implication is that wise patriotism concerns itself with the religious welfare of the nation, and that the maintenance of religious sanctuaries is a proof of the noblest patriotism. Can that strange position be maintained? If we test it we shall find that it can.
I. For the nation is indebted to the sanctuary for the best elements in its life. The differences that make our national civilisation more desirable than the ancient civilisations of Greece and Rome are to be attributed to the quiet but potent influence of the Christian sanctuary, which, unknown in those states, ists in multiplied forms in modern England. The f distinction between those old civilisations and ours lies in the complete absence from them of what we know as humanitarianism.
II. The nation is indebted to the sanctuary for the indispensable conditions of its progress. What is it that actually gives birth to reforms? The moral sentiment of the community. And what inspires the community with an ever-heightening moral sentiment? The spiritual forces of the country. And whence do they proceed but from the sanctuary? (1) It is the Churches that supply ideals; and ideals are far more necessary to national progress than Acts of Parliament. (2) They are supplied, also, by that elevation of character which the sanctuary produces.
III. The nation is indebted to the sanctuary for the supply of its best citizens. Further, it is the purest form of public-spiritedness which the sanctuary fosters. Ancient Sparta was unwalled, and when a visitor wondered at the fact, the king showed him a muster of strong men and said, with a proud wave of his hand, 'These are the walls of Sparta'. And it is not the wooden walls of her ships that protect England, it is not her navy that is Britain's best defence, it is her true citizens, such as are moulded in the sanctuary of God standing in her midst.
—B. J. Gibbon, Visionaries, p. 42.
References.—VII. 6.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 274; VII. 6-8.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv. No. 800.
These words, better than any other, define Bossuet. Above him was God, represented in things spiritual by the Catholic Church, in things temporal by the French monarchy; below him were the faithful committed to his charge, and those who would lead the faithful astray from the path of obedience and tradition.
—Professor Dowden, in A History of French Literature, p. 219.
References.—VII. 8.—H. W. Webb-Peploe, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 200. VII. 8, 9.—Ibid. vol. liii. p. 414.
A colonel in the Royal Artillery wrote thus to Mrs. Kingsley about her husband's influence over the soldiers he met: 'It is not hard to find a creed for a soldier to die with, it seems to me—at least I have seen Mahomet's answer well. A creed to live by is a different thing. The only alternative to the beautiful evangelical Christianity of such happy soldiers as Hedley Vicars (Havelock was a Puritan out of bis age), the extreme evangelical doctrine to which most men are constitutionally averse, was the slavish Roman, or what seemed an unpractical emasculate æsthetic imitation. The average soldier found no rest, no place in modern Christianity until our apostle (your husband) tore off the shreds and patches with which for ages the Divine figure of the God-man had been obscured—He who found no such faith in Israel as that of the centurion.'
References.—VII. 9.—J. Baines, Twenty Sermons, p. 297. S. Cox, Expositions, p. 199. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 322. VII. 10.—J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in a Religious House, vol. i. p. 7. VII. 11-15.—Expository Sermons on the New Testament, p. 72. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 297. VII. 11-17.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxiv. No. 2003. Expositor (6th Series), vol. ii. p. 70. VII. 11, 12.—R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. ii. p. 150. Bishop Forrest-Browne, Christian World Pulpit, vol. Hi. p. 280. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 43. VII. 13-15.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scriptures—St. Luke, p. 146. VII. 14.—W. H. Evans, Sermons for the Church's Year, p. 203. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 450. VII. 14, 15.—J. Budgen, Parochial Sermons, vol. i. p. 175. VII. 16.—S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. ii. p. 133. Expositor (5th Series), vol. x. p. 335. VII. 17.—W. E. Barton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 12. VII. 18-28.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 149. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scriptures—St. Luke, p. 156. VII. 18-30.—Ibid. vol. iii. p. 357.
The Baptist's Message to Jesus
Probably the Baptist himself would judge that we waste too much emotion on his comfortless life, his early selfsacrifice, his magnanimity. The tragic character of his death, the despondent doubt which darkened his spirit while in prison, the severity of his whole life, all tend to make us oblivious of the fact that his life was filled and crowned with a deep and solid and unique joy. And after all, it not being possible to him to be the Christ, it was no small glory to be the friend, the next, to the Christ. Few men see much lasting fruit of what they have spent their life to attain. But John, to whom it was given to stir and awaken men's minds to appreciate their true King, to whom it was given—to use his own figure—to negotiate the marriage between Christ and men, had the perfect satisfaction of seeing men flocking to their true Lord, and of hearing His voice of welcome and of deep satisfaction. No wonder that this should eclipse all the apparent and superficial bareness of his life. No wonder that when he saw that he had been the chief instrument in finding for Christ and for God entrance into men's hearts, when he apprehended that to him had been entrusted the initiation of the greatest movement in the history of man, and possibly in the history of God, he should have been filled with humble and exultant satisfaction, and have said, 'This my joy is fulfilled'. No wonder that Christ should have declared that among those born of women none was greater than the Baptist.
I. In common with all his countrymen John had to rise to new conceptions of the kingdom of God and its King. He had to discard the fancy that a great conqueror would arise to throw off the Roman yoke. Happily he took now as always the straightforward course and appealed to Jesus Himself. The authorities had mistaken the Baptist himself for the Christ; Jesus, he knew, would make no mistake.
Jesus at once apprehended the state of mind of His friend, and anticipates and explodes the idea which He knew the crowd would cherish, that the personal misfortunes of the Baptist were clouding his faith. You hear the pleasure with which Jesus defends and applauds him ringing through His words. It would almost seem as if Jesus were taking revenge on Himself for uttering what might appear to be the harsh saying, 'Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in Me'. He turns on the people as if they had in their hearts been calumniating John, and at once defends his friend. 'Do not,' He says, 'let yourselves for one moment suppose that John has fallen from his high estate. You yourselves, when you saw him in the wilderness independent of public opinion and of criticism, knew that he was no reed bowing to every change of circumstance, moved by every passing breeze, never for two days in one mind. You saw a man untouched by luxurious living, content with a camel's skin and such food as uncultivated nature could afford. Do you suppose that such a man is much disturbed or daunted by prison-fare, or that the gloom of the dungeon has damped his optimism and blotted out the coming kingdom?'
Here Jesus shows in what spirit He meets honest, serious-minded doubt. He knows that beneath that question of John's which so shocked the bystanders, there lay a heart more capable of loyalty to Him than was to be found in any of those who gave their easy assent to claims they scarcely understood. That question, sceptical as it seemed, was of more value to Him than the unreasoning hosannas of thoughtless followers, for through it He saw a man in deadly earnest to whom the answer meant life or despair. It is when a man takes the Messiahship of Jesus seriously; it is when he proposes to make the mind of Christ rule all that he himself is connected with, that he necessarily begins to question whether Christ's claim is well founded and whether His rule is right. It is through such doubt and perplexity that ultimate faith and lasting allegiance are reached.
II. John's doubt hovers over each generation and has to be solved by every man. 'Art Thou He that should come, or look we for another?' Do we find in this person God, righteousness and eternity? And this doubt is nourished and strengthened much as John's was. Men are always tempted to resent Christ's method. His work seems so slow: one is tempted to say, so inefficient, so unmarked by urgency; in so many ways it disappoints the expectations of practical men—fitted rather for some other world than for this actual order of things.
It is precisely John's difficulty which is today preventing many earnest men in the working classes from believing in Christ. His methods bring no immediate relief, no revolution, no upturning of the social order, no instant setting right of all that is wrong. He claims to be King, and to have a special regard for the oppressed, yet generation after generation of the oppressed pass away and He gives no sign. It is this which prompts so many to turn from Him in disappointment and bitterness and to look for 'another,' generally some hasty demagogue who offers a panacea which is to cure all the world's ills in a fortnight.
III. The answer Jesus sends to John is, 'Go and tell John what I am doing'. Virtually that was to say, 'I have deliberately chosen My method, and I do not mean to change it. My kingdom is spiritual. Hence I must work through the individual. Only by regenerating the individual do I expect to regenerate the world.'
Jesus never answers the question thus put to Him with a categorical 'Yes, I am the Christ'. He may for the present leave doubts and difficulties in the inquiring mind, because He will win no man by compulsion. It must be by the free movement of our own intelligence, by the home-grown convictions reached by the individual that He wins His way to universal empire. As one of our greatest statesmen once said, 'No more in the inner world than in the outer has Christ come among us as a conqueror, making his appeal by force'.
IV. 'Wisdom,' says our Lord, 'is justified of all her children.' We need men of the type of John and also men of the type of Jesus. We need men like John, trained to endure hardness, independent of all that society can offer, living a free life according to conscience, tied by no social or professional bonds, neither prophets nor the sons of prophets, owning no allegiance to tradition or conventions of any kind, men resolute to see iniquities suppressed and righteousness everywhere reigning.
Even more do we need men of the type of Jesus, for though among those that are born of women there is not a greater than John, the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he. For Jesus knows and uses a power John never knew, the power of God's Fatherly love.
—Marcus Dods, Christ and Man, p. 85.
The Coming Man
There is a phrase we hear today. It is 'the coming man'. We say of some genius in literature, or some orator in politics, or some successful man in business, 'He is a coming man'. He is likely to come to great things in his own line. He will be very distinguished. And when, after the years, we find our prophecy fulfilled, we say, 'Yes, he has come to his own at last. For a while, perhaps, he seemed slow in doing it, but now there is no doubt whatever. He has arrived.'
I. What are the qualities that go to make the world's 'coming man'. I dare say if you were to ask a sufficiently large number of intelligent judges, they would generally unite on the word originality as the secret of the 'coming man'. The world is crying out for freshness. It is very old. There is nothing very new under the sun. Therefore, when a man strikes out a new and fresh note the world always listens. We have not heard this before, it says, and straightway it falls down to worship its 'coming man'.
But if you were to dig deeper and ask what are the things that go to make 'originality,' I dare say you would not find such a consensus of opinion. Some of you, I daresay, would be surprised and inclined to ridicule my judgment, were I to tell you that I believe one of the strongest ingredients in originality is just hard work.
Then another secret of 'originality' is courage, courage of action, and, what is less common, courage of thinking. Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was once asked the secret of success in politics. With a flash in his eye, he replied: 'The open sesame of politics is courage.' The courageous man is the pioneer, the man of enterprise. He can take his life in his hands. And a man who has never taken his life in his hands will never take the world by the heart.
II. God has a 'coming man' as well as the world. He takes longer in coming perhaps. But when He comes, He comes securely. He comes into a kingdom 'that shall never be moved'.
See one of these—the greatest of all—in our text. 'Art Thou He,' says John to Jesus, 'that should come, or look we for another?' The words 'that should come' form one word in the Greek. They mean 'the coming One'.
Jesus was the true coming One; though His coming seemed at first sight a wild dream of a poor enthusiast. 'We trusted it would have been He that should have redeemed Israel, and behold—this is the third day since all these things were done!' It is all over. The tragedy is closed. Christ and His hopes have come to naught. He is already a thing of the past. 'This is the third day since these things were done!' And, lo! all the time He was coming, coming in the Cross, coming in the grave, coming in loyal hearts and true; until in Pentecost He burst forth on an astonished world to begin that grand triumphal march as the world's true 'coming man'!
There is a striking Italian picture which I once saw. It is entitled, 'The Passing of the Obscure'. It represents the great mixed multitude—life's 'common men'—as they are driven remorselessly forward by the hand of death into the dark flood of annihilation, in which they are to perish for ever. You can see them as they drift upward to the shore. The old, the middle-aged, the young are there; but they have all one common expression on their faces. It is the expression of disappointment. Life has been so poor, so unsatisfactory. They had hoped to do great things in it. And now it is ended, and they have come to nothing. As you look at the picture you think not of 'the coming man 'but of 'the going man'. 'The passage of the obscure'—yes, it is a touching thought; and yet, as I looked into the picture, I felt that if the artist had been a Christian artist, he would have given a different horizon to his canvas. Instead of that grey sea of annihilation ending in a dull, cheerless, darkening sky, he would have painted a distant gleam of light in the horizon, and that light would have spread a pathway of gold across the dark waters and lit up, at least, some of the faces in that crowd with hope and triumph.
For that is the lesson which Christ as 'the Coming Man' would leave with you and me. 'Because I live, ye shall live also.' Christ came to His own through the dark waters of death, and so is it with God's 'coming men'. They may not come to their own here; but they shall come hereafter. They shall come in God's glorious kingdom of immortality, when all that was noble and promising in their life here shall reach its fruition yonder in the land of the truly 'coming man'.
—W. Mackintosh Mackay, Bible Types of Modern Men, p. 314.
References.—VII. 19.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 3. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons (2nd Series), p. 48. VII. 19-23.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 298. VII. 20.—E. Cornwall Jones, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 148. Expositor (6th Series), vol. v. p. 248.
He would appear to me to have adopted the best as well as the most benevolent mode of diffusing truth, who, uniting the zeal of the methodist with the views of the philosopher, should be personally among the poor, and teach them their duties in order that he may render them susceptible of their rights.... 'Go, preach the Gospel to the poor.' By its simplicity it will meet their comprehension, by its benevolence soften their affections, by its precepts it will direct their conduct, by the vastness of its motives ensure their obedience. The situation of the poor is perilous; they are indeed both—
From within and from without
Unarmed to all temptations.
Prudential reasonings will in general be powerless with them. For the incitements of this world are weak in proportion as we are wretched—
The world is not my friend, nor the world's law,
The world has got no law to make me rich.
... In a man so circumstanced the tyranny of the present can be overpowered only by the tenfold mightiness of the future. Religion will cheer his gloom with her promises.
—Coleridge, in The Friend.
References.—VII. 23.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. viii. p. 344 VII. 27.—Ibid. vol. iii. p. 365.
A Great Man
The Bible is a book of biographies. All genuine biography is worthy of our careful study. The life of John the Baptist is specially profitable and specially instructive, perplexing and mysterious though it be Let us consider the practical side of the prophet's life, and let us see how it will help you and me to be better men, and to be truer to our convictions and our God.
I. In the first place, I want you to consider the Baptist as a man. I want you to notice three characteristics of the prophet which seem to me to set him forth as a great man. (1) His spirit was fearless, brave, courageous. It does not require much courage nor much bravery to denounce sin, in general and vague terms, in the congregation or in the assembly, but it does require courage to speak face to face—honestly and truthfully—to those who are in our own position, and above all, to those who are set in authority over us. Now, John the Baptist not only rebuked sin amongst the poor and the degraded, amongst the publicans and the profligates, but he rebuked sin upon the throne itself. (2) But this man was great not only because of his fearless courage, but because of his transparent truthfulness. It is sincerity and truthfulness that give power to all men's works and words and lives. You may be as eloquent as Cicero, as great an orator as Demosthenes, but unless men believe in your sincerity and truthfulness, all that you say to them is of no avail—it is tainted with self, with conceit, with the things of earth, and it is not the truth of God. I once heard a young man say at a public meeting, 'Not by man's preaching, but by my mother's "practising," was I won from atheism to God'. (3) And, then, his moral greatness was not only seen in his bravery and sincerity, but also in his humility. Of his own greatness he was utterly unconscious.
II. In the second place, I want you to look at the preacher. The great theme of his preaching was this; that reality lies at the root of all religion. So he preceded the great Builder and Founder of the Church, that he might hew down with his axe all the rottenness and insincerity of that Jewish Church, and his appeal was, 'Bring forth fruits'—i.e. show that your repentance is genuine. And is there no necessity today for this proclamation? Ah, how men and women will talk in a sentimental way of their sins!
III. Then think of John as a martyr. It is one thing to be brave for the truth when it is popular and pleasant, but it is another thing to be true to your convictions when it means disgrace and death. Your truthfulness is genuine just as far as you are prepared to suffer for it; to suffer for it in this life, that you may attain the life of God hereafter.
—T. J. Madden, Addresses to All Sorts and Conditions of Men, p. 95.
References.—VII. 28.—W. H. Simcox, The Cessation of Prophecy, p. 108. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 161. VII. 30.—Ibid. p. 170. VII. 31-34.—D. Fraser, Metaphors in the Gospels, p. 127.
You will behave just like children, who play now at wrestling, now at being gladiators, now at blowing trumpets, now at acting tragedies, after they have seen and admired such things. You are like that You are now an athlete, now a gladiator, now a philosopher, now a rhetorician. But you are nothing with all your soul.
Reference.—VII. 31-35.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 16.
The doings of grown folk are only interesting as the raw material for play. Not Theophile Gautier, not Flaubert, can look more callously upon life, or rate the reproduction more highly over the reality; and they will parody an execution, a death-bed, or the funeral of the young man of Nain with all the cheerfulness in the world.
—R. L. Stevenson, Child's Play.
References.—VII. 32.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 171. VII. 34.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlii. No. 2484. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 178. Expositor (7th Series), vol. x. p. 90. VII. 35.—W. L. Alexander, Sermons, p. 46. H. P. Liddon, Sermons on Some Words of Christ, p. 147. VII. 36.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. iv. p. 272. VII. 36-50.—Ibid, vol. iii. p. 335. VII. 37.—Ibid. (4th Series), vol. vii. p. 333. W. H. Evans, Sermons for the Church's Year, p. 83. Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. 1. p. 145. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv. No. 801.
The Tears of Love
Luke 7:38I. Here is love built upon pardon. Christian love is no irrational emotion which cannot give an account of itself. (1) It rests upon a distinct fact: the assurance of forgiveness through Christ. (2) For love there must precede the conviction of Christ's love to me. (3) There must also precede it the consciousness of my sin.
II. Here is sorrow blending with love. The consciousness of pardon brings tears; breaks up the fountains of the great deep. The more we grow in Christian character the deeper should be our sorrow for sin.
III. Here is thankful service built on both. Her service was very natural. What was it good for? (1) It was an expression of her love. (2) It meant entire abandonment to Him.
At His Feet
Behold, saith the Holy Ghost, a sinner at His feet! It is a blessed place for the weeping sinner. May we take the same attitude with her, and learn lessons from her.
I. First, it is a place for all who are in distress.
II. But the feet of Jesus is also the place for worship; in fact, it is the only place where true worship is possible. For what is worship? Worship is self-prostration and self-surrender, and you must be at the feet of Jesus for worship. Worship is the realisation of a presence which sinks you to the very dust.
III. And as it is the place for worship, so it must be also the place for service, because worship must show itself in action.
IV. It is the place for learning, for the Christian life consists not merely in active service; there must be also the time when the Christian takes Mary's place, and sits at His feet to hear His Word. It is those who are willing to take the learner's place that will become the learned. In one of the ancient academies they had a three years' course, and the first year the students were called the wise men, and in the second year they were called the philosophers (those who wished to be wise men), and in the third year they were called the disciples (learners). And so the more progress we make in the Christian school, the more shall we be willing to take our place at His feet, and learn of Him.
—E. A. Stuart, The Communion of the Holy Ghost and other Sermons, vol. x. p. 145.
Reference.—VII. 38.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxv. No. 2066.
The Blindness of the Pharisee
Luke 7:39I. We notice here the entire ignorance of what sin is.
II. He has no notion that such a sinful past can be obliterated.
III. He has no notion that the highest purity comes closest to the repentant sinner.
IV. The cynical contempt for religious emotion.
References.—VII. 39.—J. M. Neale, Sermons for Some Feast Days in the Christian Year, p. 348. R. C. Trench, Sermons New and Old, p. 23. Expositor (5th Series), vol. iv. p. 225. VII. 40.—John Watson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. p. 281. VII. 40-43.—A. Ainger, Sermons Preached in the Temple Church, p. 115. VII. 41.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlviii. No. 2768. VII. 41, 42.—Ibid. vol. lii. No. 3015. VII. 41-43. —Ibid. vol. 1. No. 2873. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St Luke, p. 188.
When They Had Nothing to Pay
If any of you have ever known the shame or the misery of debt you will be able to understand the metaphor better. We are debtors to God in this respect, that we are the creatures of God's creation. 'It is He that hath made us and not we ourselves.' Everything we have comes from God—our existence, our friends, our blessings, our pleasures, our faculties and powers, all come from the same hand, and have been poured plenteously upon us by our God.
I. If God has Bestowed all these Things upon us, has He not a Right to expect that they shall be spent in His service? Has not a master a right to the services of his servant; has not our King a right to the services of his subjects? So God, Who undeniably is our Creator and the Author of our life, also the Giver of all we have, has a right to all our services; and if those services are not His, then we are debtors to Him for them all. Our state of indebtedness to God being very great, and since we can make no atonement, since it is impossible to plead any extenuating circumstances, there remains but one thing to do, and that is to cast ourselves on the mercy of God and to cry, 'God be merciful to me the sinner'. 'And when they had nothing to pay, he freely forgave them both.'
II. Till the Sinner Realises his Sinfulness, there can be no Forgiveness.
III. Every Person is either Forgiven or Unforgiven.—It is not easy to repent, but it is thus alone we can be saved. We must repent of our own choice. If conscience tells us that we are living in unrepentant sin, then not health, not happiness, not life itself is of such importance as repentance. May we not see how infinitely more gracious, generous, and compassionate is God than man under like provocation would have been, and yet that man might have the perfect assurance of God's forgiveness He willed that there should hardly be a page in His Word which did not in some way or another proclaim this truth. God is there set forth as the Pardoner of sin, the passer by of transgression. By type, by prophecy, He still declares the blessed truth. Peace comes only with the consciousness of forgiven sin.
References.—VII. 42.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix. No. 1739. VII. 42, 43.—Ibid. vol. xxxvi. No. 2127.
Contrasts in Virtue
What a striking and pathetic little drama this incident presents to us. Consider the three characters and what they stand for. They are thoroughly representative of three great facts in life.
I. We have in the Pharisee loveless virtue, blind both to the elements of hope in those beneath it and to the superior goodness of those above it. What is loveless virtue? It is lifeless virtue; virtue on the one hand which has in it no upward tendency, no Godward movement, no desire to be better, and which, on the other hand, has no downward tendency, no manward movement, no passion to help and redeem. Such a man can neither understand sin nor goodness.
II. We have in the woman nascent virtue. There was in her no acquired good, but the struggle for it had begun, the new life was born. The Pharisee did not see the woman, he only saw the sinner.
III. We have in Christ virtuous love. It was the virtuous love in Christ that had brought into its present activity the goodness of the woman. We have a right to generalise from this, since Christ showed us the Father, and to say that this is God's attitude towards the sinner.
—J. Wright, The Guarded Gate, p. 21.
References.—VII. 44-50.—A. Ainger, Sermons Preached in the Temple Church, p. 130. VII. 45.—R. Higinbotham, Sermons, p. 178. VII. 46.—W. P. Balfern, Glimpses of Jesus, p. 161.
I. Is penitence unreal? When we look at it, and ask on what true penitence is founded, we find that so far from it being connected with unreality, the whole object of penitence is to grasp facts. The man who thinks that his life is perfectly smooth, perfectly complete, the man who thinks that his faults are nothing, he himself is living under the most utter delusion in which a man can live. Penitence is founded on reality.
II. Is it necessary. And there comes back in answer to that question the voice of every spiritual teacher who has ever taught the world. 'Repent,' says John the Baptist, 'for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand'. 'Repent,' says Jesus Christ; 'except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish'. 'Arise, and be baptised, and wash away thy sins,' echo the Apostles.
III. If penitence is necessary, and penitence is real, is it true that penitence is morbid? It is not penitence that creates depression. Want of faith, want of courage, anything you will, but not penitence. Penitence is like a narrow valley that leads the way up to sunlit heights; penitence is the valley of Achor, but it is also the door of hope. Happy is the man—this is the experience of the ages—whose iniquity is forgiven and whose sin is pardoned. Miserable is the man whose iniquity is not forgiven because it is unconfessed, and whose sins still cry to heaven.
IV. What, then—that comes to be the question—are we to do, if penitence is a constituent part of the Christian character? (1) And the first thing is to get alone by ourselves and ask two questions: First, What do I think of God? And, secondly—still more awful question—What does God think of me? (2) At the foot of the Cross I must confess my sin to God. (3) I must do it with restitution and amendment. (4) Then, having confessed with restitution and amendment, go back a forgiven sinner, with the image of Jesus Christ crucified in your heart.
—Bishop Winnington-Ingram, Banners of the Christian Faith, p. 48.
Little Forgiveness, Little Love
That lovely little parable addressed by our Lord to Simon laid down two principles: that forgiveness precedes and is the cause of love; and that the measure of forgiveness is the measure of love.
I. Here we have the acknowledgment of little sins. Our Lord fully recognises the real distinction between the respectable Simon and the profligate woman. There are great and there are little sins. (1) 'Little' here applies not only to the distinction between the magnitude of the transgressions, considered in themselves, but also to the difference between men's estimates of the magnitude of their own transgressions. (2) The measure of a sin is by no means determined by taking its superficial dimensions. (3) There is another thing to be remembered, which limits the distinction in my text, in so far as it is taken to apply to the actual magnitude of the deed in itself. It is that, properly speaking, there are no small sins, inasmuch as nothing which affects wrongly our relation to God can be regarded as a little thing. And so we come to this, that, whilst the distinction between sins as in themselves great and small can only be sustained with much limitation and with many explanations, the fancy that many of us have that our sins are small is utterly incapable of being sustained at all.
II. We have here the principle—if little sin then little forgiveness. Whether we get that pardon, which we all need, in scanty drops or in a full flood depends upon ourselves, and is settled by the measure of our recognition of our own sinfulness and the measure of our true repentance.
III. If little forgiveness then little love. (1) Love comes from pardon, and in its perfection comes from nothing else. (2) The measure of forgiveness experienced is the measure of love returned. Clean, dry sand bears no weeds, but it will not bear any flowers. A bed of fertile soil, untilled and uncultivated, will be abundant in weeds, but it will be abundant in wheat crops, too. Though we must be careful as to how far we push the principle, I think the principle is a true one, that the greatest sinners, judged from the external point of view, often make the most fervent saints. (3) But however we may think that to be questionable, the other aspect of this principle is unquestionable. And that is that the measure of a man's sense of forgiveness is the measure of his love. That is the key to the impotence and tepidity of all the forms of Christianity which make light of sin and do not give a prominent place to Christ's work of redemption. Here, too, you get the explanation of the coldness of many nominal Christians. Enthusiasm should be the work of every Christian soul. And the only way to get it is to realise my own guilt, and Christ's great redemption.
—A. Maclaren, Triumphant Certainties, p. 210.
'Mary's sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much,' and her sins were many, first because she loved much—too much. It is usually the same gift which damns or saves us, according as it is ill or well used.
—Father Tyrrell, Nova et Vetera, p. 95.
References.—VII. 47.—Bishop Bethell, Sermons, vol. i. p. 404. A. B. Bruce, The Galilean Gospel, p. 91. W. P. S. Bingham, Sermons on Easter Subjects, p. 162. H. M. Butler, Harrow School Sermons (2nd Series), p. 190. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon Sketches (2nd Series), p. 275. Bishop Winnington-Ingram, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 140. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 198. VII. 47-50.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. iv. p. 286. VII. 48.—J. W. Houchin, The Vision of God, p. 99. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons (2nd Series), p. 151. J. Bolton, Selected Sermons (2nd Series), p. 264. W. J. Knox-Little, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. p. 200. VII. 48-50.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. iv. p. 449. VII. 50.—A. B. Bruce, The Galilean Gospel, p. 146. F. B. Cowl, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xvii. p. 189. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx. No. 1162; vol. xxxvii. No. 2183, and vol. xlviii. No. 2770. A. Maclaren, After the Resurrection, p. 249. Ibid. Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 210. VIII. 2.—J. Farquhar, The Schools and Schoolmasters of Christ, p. 130. VIII. 2, 3.—G. Clarke, Christian World Pulpit, vol. 1. p. 104. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 217.
And a certain centurion's servant, who was dear unto him, was sick, and ready to die.
And when he heard of Jesus, he sent unto him the elders of the Jews, beseeching him that he would come and heal his servant.
And when they came to Jesus, they besought him instantly, saying, That he was worthy for whom he should do this:
For he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue.
Then Jesus went with them. And when he was now not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying unto him, Lord, trouble not thyself: for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof:
Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed.
For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.
When Jesus heard these things, he marvelled at him, and turned him about, and said unto the people that followed him, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.
And they that were sent, returning to the house, found the servant whole that had been sick.
And it came to pass the day after, that he went into a city called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people.
Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her.
And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not.
And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.
And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother.
And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people.
And this rumour of him went forth throughout all Judaea, and throughout all the region round about.
And the disciples of John shewed him of all these things.
And John calling unto him two of his disciples sent them to Jesus, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?
When the men were come unto him, they said, John Baptist hath sent us unto thee, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?
And in that same hour he cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind he gave sight.
Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached.
And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.
And when the messengers of John were departed, he began to speak unto the people concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness for to see? A reed shaken with the wind?
But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they which are gorgeously apparelled, and live delicately, are in kings' courts.
But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet.
This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.
And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John.
But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.
And the Lord said, Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like?
They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept.
For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil.
The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!
But wisdom is justified of all her children.
And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee's house, and sat down to meat.
And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment,
And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.
Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.
And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on.
There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty.
And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?
Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.
And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head.
Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet.
My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.
Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.
And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.
And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also?
And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.