Great Texts of the Bible
Always at Home
And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be in my Father’s house?—Luke 2:49 (R.V.).
Few passages in the Gospels exhibit more vividly the mysterious combination of the natural and supernatural, the Divine and human, in our Lord, than the brief narrative in St. Luke from which the text is taken, and which tells us all that we know of our Lord from His infancy to the commencement of His ministry. Though this single incident is the only instance in which the veil is lifted by which those thirty years or so of His life are covered, it is sufficient to cast a clear and bright light upon the whole of that period, and to reveal to us the spirit in which He was living; and it will be found also to illustrate the manner in which those who would fain be of service to God and to their fellows should prepare themselves for such tasks.
1. The first point that strikes us in the narrative is the evidence it affords of the perfect naturalness and simplicity by which our Lord’s life at this period is marked. The picture of His tarrying behind in Jerusalem, Joseph and His mother not knowing of it, but going a day’s journey, supposing Him to have been in the company, exhibits Him as living a free and trustful life, like other children, mixing with those of His own age, and in affectionate intercourse with His parents’ kinsfolk and acquaintances. The perfect freedom from anxiety about the child shown by the conduct of Joseph and Mary at the outset implies an absence of any unusual strictness or formality in their relations with Him. It is a piece of child-life such as might have been seen in any other affectionate and pious Jewish household attending the feast at Jerusalem. Perhaps more suggestive still of the absence from our Lord’s character, at this period, of any of those unnatural features which characterize apocryphal accounts of His childhood is the fact of Joseph and His mother seeking for Him, for three days, in every place but that in which He was at last found—in the ordinary homes and haunts of children, as it would seem, and not in circles devoted to learning or pious meditation. His question, indeed, in answer to their remonstrance, implies that they might have known more of His character than this. “Son,” said His mother, “why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I sought thee sorrowing.” And He said unto them, “How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be in my Father’s house?”
That Mary’s thoughts were not at once directed to the Temple is a striking illustration of the absence—if the word may be used for the purpose of contrast—of unusual professions or pretensions in our Lord’s ordinary conduct. His parents seem to have expected Him throughout to do as other children did, and to be found where other children were; and even when He gave them the explanation just quoted “they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.” Nor did He even then pursue any special or unusual way of life. The fascination exercised over Him by His Father’s house, and by this interview with the great teachers of the law, did not divert Him from the ordinary paths of a child’s or a young man’s life; but “he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them”; and He increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.
O happy pair of Nazareth,
Who saw the early light
Of Him who dawned upon the world
As dawns the day on night.
Within their home they saw the Child
That lived the perfect love,
A love like that which rules the heart
Of the great God above.
His childish voice and kindly tone,
His pure and patient face,
His tender mercies shown to all,
With never-ceasing grace;
The way He bore His youthful cross,
The reasons for His tears,
The kind of things which gave Him joy—
Unchanged through growing years,—
At home and in the playground throng,
They saw these heavenly ways,
And grew increasingly to speak
With words of reverent praise.
That simple, lovely, wondrous life
Betrayed itself from heaven;
He was the Child that should be born,
The Son that should be given.
He grew in stature and in praise,
By honest hearts adored,
Till in that home where He was born
His brothers called Him Lord.1 [Note: B. Waugh, in Hymns of Faith and Life, 95.]
2. How is the text to be translated? The Authorized Version is “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” The Revisers have changed this into “Wist ye not that I must be in my Father’s house?” The Greek, taken literally, says, “Wist ye not that I must be in the—of my Father?” The Authorized Version supplies “business”; the Revised, “house.” There is no noun in the Greek, and the article “the” is in the plural. To translate it as literally as it can be translated, making of it an English sentence, the saying stands, “Wist ye not that I must be in the things of my Father?” The plural article implies the English “things”; and the question is then, What things does He mean? The word might mean affairs or business. On the other hand we might translate, “Wist ye not that I must be in my Father’s?” Then, in almost all languages “house” would be understood. We commonly say to one another, “I am going down to my father’s,” or “I shall spend the evening at my brother’s.” Everybody knows that we mean “house,” and that is just how the Greek here runs.
(1) Both translations are linguistically correct, but the Greek phrase is most common in the sense of “in my Father’s house”; and this is the translation of the Syriac, of the Fathers, and of most modern commentators. “My Father’s house” seems also most relevant in this connexion, where the folly of seeking is emphasized—the certainty of His place is more to the point than that of His occupation.
(2) But, as Alford properly enough says, we must not exclude the wider sense which embraces all places and employment of “my Father’s.” The locality carried the occupation with it, for why must He be in the Father’s house but to be about the Father’s business, “to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple”?
At the same time it is not wise to attempt to combine both translations in one exposition. We shall find sufficient material here for two sermons. Then, if we take first the translation of the Revisers, we shall see that Jesus, by His question, “Wist ye not that I must be in my Father’s house?” claimed the freedom of a “child of the law.” But freedom from parental control was at the same moment recognized as a greater obedience and deeper responsibility—the responsibility of a Son to the Divine Father. And so from that moment He is to be found at home, not with earthly parents, but with the Father in heaven, whether in His Temple, where worship is wont to be made, or in the wider universe of His presence.
1. In the question of the text Jesus claimed His full liberty. He could not deny Himself the right to act for Himself, to inquire for Himself, to make good His own independence. The hour has struck for Him when He must break through the limitations and restraints of His childhood, and must choose His own way of going about His Father’s business. He has responsibilities towards that Father which He must fulfil, even though at the cost of some severance from the tender ties of home, yea, even at the cost of some pain to the mother whom He loves so dearly. Remember that, to a Jewish boy, reaching the age of twelve made an epoch, because He then became “a son of the law,” and took upon himself the religious responsibilities which had hitherto devolved upon his parents.
When He had completed His twelfth year, on His thirteenth birthday, Jesus would be recognized as a young man, and called “a son of the law.” For at this time every Hebrew lad had his fate put into his own hands, and became responsible for his own actions. Up to this time his parents were held to be responsible for him: now he had to answer for himself both to man and to God. On the morning of this day he put on for the first time the two phylacteries which every Jew wore when he prayed, one on the head, and the other on the left arm. These phylacteries were small square boxes made of parchment, which were attached to the arm and the forehead by long slender straps; in each box there were four tiny cells; and in each cell there was put a strip of vellum on which was written a passage from the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy (Exodus 12:2-16 : and Deuteronomy 11:13-22; Deuteronomy 6:4-9). On this thirteenth birthday, before morning prayer, the lad put on, first, the phylactery for the left arm, saying: “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who hast sanctified us with Thy commandments, and enjoined us to put on phylacteries.” Then he put on the phylactery for the forehead, and uttered a similar thanksgiving. From this moment he was regarded as “a son of the law,” or “a son of the commandments”; i.e. he was bound to keep all the commandments of God; bound, therefore, to be always about his Father’s business, doing God’s will in whatever he did; bound also to go up to Jerusalem at the annual Feasts, and to sit at the feet of the Temple doctors.1 [Note: Samuel Cox.]
2. Is this freedom which Christ claims the prerogative of His sole Sonship—of His unique relation to the Father? Have we no part or lot in that demand? Surely that Sonship of His has been made ours. Into its prerogatives we are baptized. In Christ, by Christ, we too are endowed with peculiar responsibilities. We are given authority to become the sons of God. We have rights in the Father’s house. In Him, in His body, each individual soul wins a higher value, a fuller freedom. Its freedom of development, its freedom of judgment, its freedom of thought, its freedom of action—these are not lost or diminished; they are intensified, braced, enriched, by those who are born into that Spirit of liberty which bloweth, as the wind, where it listeth.
Mr. Frederic Harrison, with whom, as a fellow-teacher at the Working Men’s College, Ruskin had become acquainted, was often at Denmark Hill in these years, and has thus described the father and the son:—
“John James Ruskin, the father, certainly seemed to me a man of rare force of character; shrewd, practical, generous, with pure ideals both in art and life. With unbounded trust in the genius of his son, he felt deeply how much the son had yet to learn. I heard the father ask an Oxford tutor if he could not ‘put John in the way of some scientific study of Political Economy.’ ‘John! John!’ I have heard him cry out, ‘what nonsense you are talking!’ when John was off on one of his magnificent paradoxes, unintelligible as Pindar to the sober, Scotch merchant.… There were moments when the father seemed the stronger in sense, breadth, and hold on realities. And when John was turned of forty, the father still seemed something of his tutor, his guide, his support. The relations between John Ruskin and his parents were among the most beautiful things that dwell in my memory.… This man, well past middle life, in all the renown of his principal works, who, for a score of years, had been one of the chief forces in the literature of our century, continued to show an almost child-like docility towards his father and his mother, respecting their complaints and remonstrances, and gracefully submitting to be corrected by their worldly wisdom and larger experience. The consciousness of his own public mission and the boundless love and duty that he owed to his parents could not be expressed in a way more beautiful. One could almost imagine it was in the spirit of the youthful Christ when He said to His mother, ‘Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?’ ”1 [Note: E. T. Cook, The Life of Ruskin, i. 482.]
In the world of practical affairs the mother of Phillips Brooks showed herself eminently sane and wise. Her home circle was itself a means of liberal education. Experience had instilled into her a strong respect for the individuality of her children. They must be left free to shape their own lives, to follow their own destiny. She would force no confidence that was not freely and spontaneously given. She studied her opportunities of approach to them. This is how she speaks to an anxious mother who sought her counsel as to the training of her sons: “There is an age when it is not well to follow or question your boys too closely. The period of which I speak appears to be one in which the boy dies and the man is born; his individuality rises up before him and he is dazed and almost overwhelmed by his first consciousness of himself. I have always believed that it was then that the Creator was speaking with my sons, and that it was good for their souls to be left alone with Him, while I, their mother, stood trembling, praying and waiting, knowing that when the man was developed from the boy, I should have my sons again, and there would be a deeper sympathy than ever between us.” And so it came about that in later years the sympathy between Phillips Brooks and his mother became more strong and complete than ever. “The happiest part of my happy life,” said the great preacher, “has been my mother.” When on his visit to England he was commanded to preach before Queen Victoria, some one asked him if he felt at all afraid. “No,” he replied, smiling, “I have preached before my mother.”1 [Note: J. Gregory, Phillips Brooks, 44.]
With the knowledge of His freedom there came also the conviction to Jesus that His first opportunity of obedience to His Father was now before Him, and that it must be instantly attended to, without reference to any other claims upon Him, such, for instance, as returning to Nazareth with His parents. Hitherto, in His quiet Nazareth home, neither such knowledge nor opportunity had presented itself. To do His mother’s will and to please Joseph, His foster-father, was the full extent of His will and duty. That He did these well and truly goes without saying. Since coming to Jerusalem to attend the feast of Passover, a new crisis had come to Him, and He did not suffer that opportunity to recede from His obedient heart, but embraced it at once, and gave Himself up with calm and determined enthusiasm to attend to it.
Both Joseph and Mary were speechless as soon as the Holy Child let them see how full of folly their conduct had been and how much they had misunderstood Him and hurt Him. They had treated Him as if He had taken the Passover much too seriously. They found fault with Him for His devotion to His Father’s business, and they uttered aloud their complaint and grievance with Him before the whole temple. They said it till the astonished doctors heard them, that He should have been home in Nazareth by this time, and back at His proper work, The lamb had been slain, they said, and its blood had been sprinkled on them and on Him for another year,—let Him come away home then, like all His kinsfolk and acquaintances. And if we will only look well, we shall see ourselves in all that as in a glass. For we are Joseph and Mary over again in all that. We also treat our Redeemer as if He had been religious over-much in the dreadful business of our redemption. We treat Him and His redemption of our souls as if He had taken us and our sins far too much to heart; almost as if He had been a martyr by mistake. They did Him the first wrong that week to suppose that He was in that home-hurrying company; and then they still more wronged and wounded Him by the places in which they sought Him; but above all, by their not seeking Him first in His Father’s house and about His Father’s business.1 [Note: A. Whyte, The Walk, Conversation, and Character of Jesus Christ our Lord, 64.]
I should like to speak for a moment to the young, about those feelings of capacity, and that conviction of being called to high duty, by which many are stirred in secret—feelings which too seldom find their justification in the facts of after life. If such thoughts are made known to other people, they are often smiled at as mere childish dreamings, or are chided as the evil fruit and sickly food of vanity, rather than the outcome of a heavenly impulse. But however crude and mixed with idle vanity these musings may be, they are the smoking flax which God will never quench, and which wise men will try to fan into a flame. We cannot possibly be wrong in thinking that we were sent into the world to be nobler and more useful than are most of those we see around. The sad thing is, not that such thoughts are common, but that they are so easily and generally lost. Some of the most degraded people now living, and thousands of miserable seekers after pleasure and pelf, once had these thoughts and feelings, and in sanest moments they know that it is their shame and sin that none of these great thoughts have been transmuted into deeds. Some have lost their aspirations because too indolent to cultivate and use their talents. Some gave themselves to pleasures which developed into vices. Some surrendered their hearts to the love of money, and, because determined to be rich, fell into a snare and became avaricious, deceitful and dishonest; then, ceasing to respect themselves, they sank into deserved contempt. Others in their impatient thirst for distinction wasted their strength in the pursuit of quickly won successes, cheap applause, and instant recognition; instead of resolving to do good work, and show themselves approved to God, content to leave their honours and rewards to Him. This last named cause of failure is probably one of the least contemptible, and therefore one of the most frequent and fatal of the forms under which temptation assails the young and ardent. Just as eager but inexperienced mountain climbers often weary themselves by hastening up the nearest slopes and peaks, and fail to win the true summit because the day is too far spent before the right path is found, so many noble and aspiring souls miss the attainment of true greatness, not through idleness or mean designs, but through headstrong haste to reach the goal without treading all the intermediate steps.1 [Note: T. V. Tymms, The Private Relationships of Christ, 59.]
1. Here, then, is a life which has already found its principle. Every life which has any value or any force finds a ruling principle or purpose which steadily guides it. It may be a principle of enjoyment, or of selfishness, or of ambition, or of usefulness; but whichever it is, it directs the energies. There are, indeed, lives more or less without any such principle at all, but they are feeble things; they drift rather than live, they aim at nothing and accomplish nothing. To take a wrong line strongly and consistently is almost better than such empty weakness.
Of the purpose he set before himself when beginning to study art he once said to me: “From the very first I determined to do the very best possible to me; I did not hope to make a name, or think much about climbing to the top of the tree, I merely set myself to do the utmost I could, and I think I may say I have never relaxed; to this steady endeavour I owe everything. Hard work, and keeping the definite object of my life in view, has given me whatever position I now have. And I may add, what I think is an encouragement to others, that very few have begun life with fewer advantages, either of health, wealth or position, or any exceptional intellect. Any success I may have had is due entirely to steadiness of purpose.”2 [Note: George Frederic Watts, i. 17.]
2. We may call this principle of life a sense of responsibility. The word is perhaps stiff and abstract, and yet I think it helps us to part of the truth. “I must be about my Father’s business,” or, if we take the R.V., “in my Father’s house”; it comes to nearly the same thing. “I must be.” He is not His own. He belongs to His Father. He owes to Him His life and its powers. How it reminds us of what He said afterwards to others—that except a man become as a child he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God; and of what St. John said about Him—that He brought those who believed on Him to become sons of God! Responsibility, then, answerableness to another for His life and His use of it, but that other His Heavenly Father, whom it was the joy of His loving heart to serve—there is the principle and purpose which we find at the heart of Him at twelve years old; it will go with Him through life. It will be there still when with dying lips He will cry, “It is finished!”—finished, the work God gave Him to do; “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”
A few days before the first number of the War Cry was sent out to the world, General Booth gave a remarkable address at Darlington, which is recorded in this issue under the title of “The Baptism of Fire,” and in which he said: “I want to say something this morning that will help you in the personal conflicts of your daily experience, and in the great warfare you are waging with the principles and principalities and devilries around you. You are the soldiers of Salvation, and the responsibilities of the war are all upon your heads. Now there is in English law a curious fiction by which no man who once becomes a clergyman of the Church of England can ever cease to be one. If he goes into the greengrocery line he is still a reverend: if he goes to prison he is still a clergyman: and I suppose, nay, I am sure, he will go up to the judgment-bar to be dealt with in the light of all the solemn responsibilities implied in such a position. Now, although by cowardice, or unfaithfulness, or disobedience, or other infamous action, you may be deemed unworthy of your position and drummed out of God Almighty’s Army—covered with disgrace and infamy—still the memories of your position and the responsibilities of what you might have accomplished in it, will cleave to you, and grow upon you, and haunt you, and harrow you for evermore. How important, then, for you to be faithful.”1 [Note: T. F. G. Coates, The Prophet of the Poor, 107.]
3. In the Son we are made free with the freedom of the Son. And, at certain special hours of our life, this freedom will assert itself. But then, let us be sure of this—that this heightened freedom must heighten also the severe responsibility with which it is exercised. It is this that we are so apt to forget. “Freedom,” “liberty,”—the words sound to us as if they set us loose from responsibilities. Yet, claimed as they are by us, not in our individual capacity, but as children of God, as members of Christ’s Body, they must be held in trust to the Father who gave them; in trust to the Son, “the Head,” in whose name we act.
Boys and girls, and for that matter grown folks too, sometimes have curious notions of liberty. To be free they think is to be able to do just what one pleases. But true freedom is the power to do what we ought to do. A dead leaf falling from a bough has power to do just what it pleases, because it is dead, and no one cares how much it eddies or where it falls. But the big earth in travelling round the sun is very careful not to get outside its appointed path, for if it should wander even a little from the path which God has marked out it would upset all the life upon its surface. The earth is far freer than an autumn leaf. It gets its freedom from the sun. If we were only dead autumn leaves we could drift and eddy hither and thither and do anything we pleased: but being immortal souls, created in God’s image, we have a mighty work to do and should keep the orbit which our Father’s love has traced.1 [Note: C. E. Jefferson, My Fathers Business, 113.]
4. Always to the free man must the concerns of God be paramount. “What doth the Lord require of thee?” is the first and last question. Still it cannot be denied in any thoughtful consideration of the subject that the concerns of men are the concerns of God. Our place is in a human world, and all our palpable relations are human relations. Our conceptions of duty can be framed only by the suggestions which our contact with men affords. But here we encounter the fact of individual responsibility. Life is serious. Each one must decide for himself, acting from the intuitions of his own soul, and in the light which comes from the circumstances by which he is surrounded. The seductive voices of ease or temporal advantage must be unheeded. Not even may public opinion in such exigencies control. The choice must be made under the behest of conscience. The voice of God is the only voice which may bid the soul be still and listen; and when the choice is made the interrogatory may be fearlessly put to all the world: “Wist ye not that I must be in my Father’s house?”
When men begin all their works with the thought of God, acting for His sake and to fulfil His will, when they ask His blessing on themselves and their life, pray to Him for the objects they desire, and see Him in the event, whether it be according to their prayers or not, they will find everything that happens tend to confirm them in the truths about Him which live in their imagination, varied and unearthly as those truths may be. Then they are brought into His presence as a Living Person, and are able to hold converse with Him, and that with a directness and simplicity, with a confidence and intimacy, mutatis mutandis, which we use towards an earthly superior; so that it is doubtful whether we realize the company of our fellow men with greater keenness than these favoured minds are able to contemplate and adore the Unseen Incomprehensible Creator.1 [Note: J. H. Newman, Grammar of Assent.]
Wherever the Son is and whatever He is doing He is at home with the Father, He is in the Father’s house. What did He mean when He spoke of the Father’s house?
1. Did He mean the Temple? “My Father’s house,” He says; these are the very words with which our Lord describes the Temple on another occasion. He rebukes people for turning the Father’s house into a den of thieves. Christ’s name for the Temple; Christ’s name for the great central place of worship of the Jewish people, which had a sacredness that could not belong to any lesser place of worship; Christ’s name for the Temple was “my Father’s house.” This makes the translation “in my Father’s house” the more natural thing for Him to say. For the surprise of His parents was to find Him there; and His surprise was that they should have expected Him to be anywhere else: “Wist ye not that I must be in my Father’s house?” But, further, we feel that the words are more natural, because they are more childlike. It is hardly the saying of a child that He must be about the concerns or affairs or businesses of His Father. And with changing thought, we have come to think of Jesus, the Divine child, as the perfectly human, perfectly natural child. The simple wonder of His heart seems sufficiently and inimitably expressed in the question, “Wist ye not that I must be in my Father’s house?”
“Wist ye not?”—He said in His deep distress at the unreasonable behaviour of Joseph and Mary that passover-week. It was the utter and inexcusable unreasonableness of His mother’s behaviour to Him that so hurt and so humbled Him. A little consideration would surely have directed her steps straight to the Temple to seek for her Son there, and there alone. And having found Him in the Temple, a very little consideration would surely have restrained her from the precipitate words with which she assailed Him. If she had taken a little time to think of it the utter unreasonableness of her conduct could not but have struck her and made her ashamed of herself. To take the very lowest ground, it was not reasonable to think that the youthful Christ should hurry away from the passover ordinances at the earliest possible moment, and should spend His time gadding about up and down the city. It was but common sense and sound reason, as well as ordinary piety, in Him to do as He had done. “The different magnitude of things is their reason to me,” says William Law. And it was because His Father’s business was already beginning to be a matter of such immense magnitude to our Lord that He felt so acutely the unreasonableness and the injustice of His mother’s treatment of that business and of Him that day. And in all that He teaches us also that if our mere reason were only but sound, if we but gave our wholly sane minds to the different magnitudes of things, that of itself would secure the salvation of our souls. Reason itself, He as good as says here, would never let us wander from the way of our salvation, nor would let us stop short of our Father’s house, or ever leave it. Only be reasonable men, He as good as says to us, and you will end in being saved men.1 [Note: A. Whyte, The Walk, Conversation, and Character of Jesus Christ our Lord, 63.]
(1) The Temple was the place of learning. In the Temple there were some schools in which good and learned men taught the Scriptures to anybody who wished to learn. They sat upon a high seat, and any person, old or young, might enter and join the class sitting on the floor around the teachers. Jesus had found this school. He wanted, like all good children, to know more of the Scriptures. He thought He could not serve God in any better way than by learning from these good old men, who welcomed a young child to their school. And here His parents found Him, “sitting in the midst of the doctors (teachers), both hearing them and asking them questions.”
It was in touch with the ancient wisdom, under the schooling of the authoritative voice of His Church, that He set His thoughts to work for themselves. He indeed asked questions. He set free His inquiring spirit, but He did it facing the fulness of the responsibility, bringing His inquiries into the light of the best learning, laying out His mind at the feet of them who sat in Moses’ seat. And not only asking questions, but hearing also. He listened; He heard. Ah! young hearts, aglow with newfound powers, with new-won liberty, is that your case? How often, in the excitement of asking our first questions, have we forgotten that there is any need to hear at all what others are saying! How often, in the sudden discovery of our own independence, we seem to be cut loose from every bond that binds us to others; above all, that binds us to the past! The wonder of thinking for ourselves seems to dismiss, to put out of court, what others have thought. It appears to depose all old authorities. All men before us seem to us to have been dreaming until we arrived on the scene. Now at last the truth is out, and their day is over.1 [Note: H. S. Holland, Pleas and Claims, 185.]
It is observed—so far as inquiry is able to look back at this distance of time—that at his being a schoolboy he was an early questionist, quietly inquisitive, “why this was, and that was not, to be remembered? Why this was granted, and that denied?” This being mixed with a remarkable modesty, and a sweet serene quietness of nature, and with them a quick apprehension of many perplexed parts of learning, imposed then on him as a scholar, made his master and others to believe him to have an inward, blessed, Divine light, and therefore to consider him to be a little wonder. For in that, children were less pregnant, less confident and more malleable, than in this wiser but not better age.2 [Note: Izaak Walton, Life of Richard Hooker.]
(2) The Temple was the place of teaching. Is it improper to say that even then He had something to teach the doctors? He both heard them and asked them questions. There would be no more impropriety in the questionings of a child than there would be in a modern Bible class. It was no doubt unusual for boys of His age to join in the conversation at such times, but it is evident that the doctors were not displeased by His intervention, and were surprised, not by the fact that He addressed them, but by the freshness and force of what He said. We cannot be wrong in thinking that the startling effect of His words would be due, not to any display of precocious learning, but to the simplicity and directness of His questions and answers.
In after years He taught often in the Temple. Many of the lessons Jesus taught during the period to which He referred when He said to those who came to apprehend Him, “I was daily with you in the temple teaching” (Mark 14:49), are probably unrecorded, but there is in the New Testament quite a rich treasury of words that He uttered in the Temple at different periods.1 [Note: H. Thorne, Notable Sayings of the Great Teacher, 63.]
I will say no more of Irving’s boyhood. He must have sat, often enough, in Ecclefechan Meeting-house along with me, but I never noticed or knew; and had not indeed heard of him till I went to Annan School, and Irving, perhaps two years before, had left for College. I must bid adieu also, to that poor Temple of my Childhood; to me more sacred at this moment than perhaps the biggest Cathedral then extant could have been. Rude, rustic, bare, no Temple in the world was more so; but there were sacred lambencies, tongues of authentic flame from Heaven, which kindled what was best in one, what has yet not gone out.2 [Note: Carlyle, Reminiscences, ii. 15.]
All other teachers’ words become feeble by age, as their persons become ghostly, wrapped in thickening folds of oblivion; but the progress of the Church consists in absorbing more and more of Christ, in understanding Him better, and becoming more and more moulded by His influence.3 [Note: A. Maclaren, The Holy of Holies.]
(3) And the Temple was a place of worship. He called it on one memorable occasion a house of prayer. He spoke in one of His parables of two men who went up to the Temple to pray. And after the Ascension, Peter and John went up to the Temple to pray.
But a Christian place of worship is not a temple, it is a Father’s house. That was what our Lord Himself felt about the Temple; He gave it a deeper, richer name—“my Father’s house.” Nothing is more distinctive of New Testament religion than this phrase, nothing distinguishes New Testament from Old Testament conceptions of religion better than the difference that there is in a Father’s house and a Temple. We come to God’s house, if we are Christian men, to worship, not an awful and distant God, but One who is near and intimate and loving as a father. Not only is God’s house a place of reverence, it is also a place of joy and gladness and shouting.
There is a power in public worship, in the utterance of common sorrows, needs, and hopes, in the prayer that is breathed and the praise that is sung in concert, not with the crowd that fills the sanctuary, but with the innumerable company of all lands and ages who have drunk of the same spring and gone strengthened on their way, which they strangely miss who teach that worship is a worn-out superstition, and that only in the clear light of law can men walk and be blest. While man sins and suffers, while there is blood-tinged sweat upon his brow, while there is weeping in his home and anguish in his heart, that voice can never lose its music which brings forth the comfort and inspiration of the gospel, which tells the sin-tormented spirit the tale of the infinite pity, and bids it lay its sobbing wretchedness to rest on the bosom of infinite love.1 [Note: J. Gregory, Phillips Brooks, 18.]
2. But the Temple was not His only place of learning, of teaching, or of prayer. He learned the Scriptures in Nazareth; He taught by the shore of the lake; He prayed on the mountaintop. Where does He find symbols whereby to speak of what goes on in the mind and before the face of His Father in heaven? Not in the Temple; not in its rites; not on its altars; not in its holy of holies; He finds them in the world and its lovely-lowly facts; on the roadside, in the field, in the vineyard, in the garden, in the house; in the family, and the commonest of its affairs—the lighting of the lamp, the leavening of the meal, the neighbour’s borrowing, the losing of the coin, the straying of the sheep. Even in the unlovely facts also of the world which He turns to holy use, such as the unjust judge, the false steward, the faithless labourers, He ignores the Temple. See how He drives the devils from the souls and bodies of men, as we the wolves from our sheepfolds! how before Him the diseases, scaly and spotted, hurry and flee! The world has for Him no chamber of terror. He walks to the door of the sepulchre, the sealed cellar of His Father’s house, and calls forth its four days’ dead. He rebukes the mourners, He stays the funeral, and gives back the departed children to their parents’ arms. The roughest of its servants do not make Him wince; none of them are so arrogant as to disobey His word; He falls asleep in the midst of the storm that threatens to swallow His boat. All His life He was among His Father’s things, either in heaven or in the world—not only then when they found Him in the Temple at Jerusalem. He is still among His Father’s things, everywhere about in the world, everywhere throughout the wide universe.
Among my kinsfolk and my friends
I sought for Christ, but found Him not;
The joy of earth in sadness ends,
The love of hearts is oft forgot.
Each hath his own familiar cares,
And others’ burdens lightly bears!
I sought for Christ, but found Him not:
Sorrowing, O, whither shall I turn?
Lo! Zion’s gates, yon hallowed spot,
Where praise and prayer like incense burn,
Back to Thy temple I’ll repair,
Secure, with joy, to find Thee there.
I seek for Christ, but find Him not
Even there, as yet I hope to find;
This long day’s march, life’s pilgrim lot,
Rolls on, and He seems oft behind.
But I shall find whom here I love
In God’s Jerusalem above.1 [Note: C. L. Ford.]
Always at Home
Holland (H. S.), Pleas and Claims for Christ, 173.
Jerdan (C.), Manna for Young Pilgrims, 308.
McClelland (T. C.), The Mind of Christ, 21.
MacDonald (G.), The Hope of the Gospel, 40.
Maclaren (A.), After the Resurrection, 193.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xxviii. (1882), No.1666.
Talbot (E. S.), Some Aspects of Christian Truth, 208.
Thorne (H.), Notable Sayings of the Great Teacher, 63.
Tymms (T. V.), The Private Relationships of Christ, 55.
Wilberforce (B.), New (?) Theology, 38.
Christian World Pulpit, lvi. 292 (C. S. Horne); Ixxxii. 388 (J. E. Rattenbury).
Church of England Pulpit, xxix. 73.
Church Pulpit Year Book, 1910, p. 18.
Churchman’s Pulpit: First Sunday after the Epiphany, iii. 439 (G. Prevost).
Expositor, 2nd Ser., viii. 17 (R. E. Wallis).
Always at Work
And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?—Luke 2:49 (A.V.).
1. We know how it sometimes happens that a scene which has been for years familiar and beloved suddenly greets us with a new impression. We have caught it from some unexpected angle, or a flying light has shot over it, bringing out some colour or some effect of perspective or of contrast that we never before hit upon. There it is, the old habitual place, which we fancied that we knew by heart, and yet there is a look in it to-day which we had never suspected, which we had always missed. A touch of beauty, a flash of significance, has given it a new consecration. The novelty of the effect is heightened by the very fact that it is brought out of material so intimately known.
Now, is not this often the case with the Four Gospels? Those wonderful books—how well we seem to know them! From our earliest memories the familiar rhythms have sung “the old, old story” in our ears. We turn the pages only to pass the eye along its habitual and anticipated sequences. And then, by a sudden stroke now and again, a fresh gleam of light falls, and some fragment of the gospel story starts into swift and radiant prominence. We had read that bit a thousand times before, yet it lay unmarked; pleasant, indeed, and helpful, one perhaps among many that we liked, yet with no special note. But to-day it stands out as if alone. A peculiar force lies about it. A splendid meaning breaks from it. How is it we can have passed it over so easily? How is it we ever missed its vivid interest?
Some such prominence has fallen in our day on the scene recorded by St. Luke to which the text refers. So strangely alone it is, this tale of the boyhood of Jesus, plucked out of the heart of that silence which broods round the long hours of the Lord’s growth at Nazareth. Ah, how we pine to penetrate within that shrouding silence—the silence during which the blessed Plant sprang up out of the dry ground. Would that we might follow the unrecorded process in the mystery of which He passed from the unconscious impotence of the Babe, passive in the manger, swathed in swaddling-clothes, to that full, ripe, conscious manhood of His ministry—complete, self-mastered, sure-footed; clear in aim, in purpose, in decision; calm, measured, deliberate, and determined. Between the two moments lies the whole story of the upward growth.
2. If the veil of silence has fallen on so much that we cannot but desire to look into, with what an outbreak of relief do we fasten on this solitary story which the diligence of St. Luke has been guided to rescue out of all the hidden mystery of growth, for our loving attention! Here he has been allowed to bring before us, not merely the broad or secret process by which His human nature won its advances, but a most signal moment of its increase, when it arrived at a new level, as it were, at a bound.
Such a moment is never forgotten, the moment at which the boy ceases to see through the eyes of others, ceases to speak, to think, as others do about him; when he sees with his own eyes, and faces his own world, and seeks for his own interpretation of it. Such moments, when they come, are full of a great awe; we are rapt into a solitude of our own, in which we forget our earlier interests, which have become as a very little thing. We are absorbed in the passion of a spiritual discovery; we are caught up, young though we be, into the solemnity of those swift and sudden intuitions which have the
Power to make
Our noisy years seem moments in the being
Of the eternal Silence.
Many a man or woman can recall echoes of such times. Perhaps, long after we have forgotten them, we drop upon some fervid or grave resolution, written with our unformed hand, in a youthful diary, the record of some such momentous awakening. We smile as our eyes fall on that record, yet smile with a sigh of sad regret that, with all wiser intelligence, we have not retained the intense and earnest seriousness which makes sacred that old scrawl.
3. The words of our text, then, are the only words recovered from the childhood of Jesus. All the precious memory that Mary kept in her heart appears to have died with her.
She told it not; or something sealed
The lips of that evangelist.
Legends survive, enough; offspring of crude if devout imaginations, and so obviously spurious that there has never been any serious attempt to include them in sacred writ. In thirty years, one saying, and one only, survives. These are the first recorded words of Jesus, and every syllable is precious. The poet Wordsworth says that the child is father of the man; and surely in these words of Jesus we get a hint of all that the man Jesus is ever to become. As in a mountain lake one sees reflected the mountains and the forests and the procession of the clouds, so in this single sentence of Jesus is mirrored the entire New Testament land and sky.
4. What do these words signify? They claim Sonship—“my Father”; they claim also the necessity of obeying the demands of Sonship—“I must”; and they claim that what the Father demands of the Son is Service—“about my Father’s business.” So we have—
1. In His first words, Jesus claims Divine Paternity, and for Himself Divine Sonship. When His mother said “Thy father and I have sought thee,” she meant Joseph, but when Jesus said “my Father’s business,” He did not mean Joseph, for He was not about Joseph’s business when in the Temple, questioning, and being questioned by the doctors. We can put no other fair interpretation on the phrase “my Father” than that which makes it refer to God, His Divine Father. It was His business that He was about when in The temple, not Joseph’s.
“My Father.” This was Jesus’ name for God. When He spoke to God He always called Him “Father.” When He was successful in His work, He said, “Father, I thank thee.” When He was overcome with grief, He cried, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass.” When He pleaded for His disciples, He said, “Father, keep through thine own name these whom thou hast given me.” On the cross He prayed, “Father, forgive them,” and with His last breath He said, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” This is the word He wanted all men to use.
The first use of the name “Father” by Jesus was to name God, not a man. Our souls first know an earthly father, then climb up as by a beautiful ladder of the soul to the idea of a heavenly Father. Jesus knew first the Father above. He lived under Him, carried Him in the sweetest centre of His being, had His will shaped by Him, and was inspired by hope and love and submission to Him. Little children grow up to call the man in their house, who gave them their life and provides that life with home and food, “father,” “my father.” But Jesus grew up to think of God as all this. From the first He was inspired by the thoughts of the strength and the love of God, His Father, and was a loyal child of the will of God.
I was telling her how sternly children were brought up fifty or sixty years ago; how they bowed to their father’s empty chair, stood when he entered the room, did not dare speak unless they were spoken to, and always called him “sir.” “Did they never say ‘father’? Did they not say it on Sundays for a treat?” A little while later, after profound reflection, she asked—“God is very old; does Jesus call Him Father?” “Yes, dear; He always called Him Father.” It was only earthly fathers after all who did not suffer their babes to come to them.1 [Note: W. Canton, W. V.: Her Book, 122.]
2. Christ’s first saying was not a moral precept, but a solemn declaration concerning His relation to God. He breaks forth on the world at the age of twelve, and claims to be the Son of the Eternal Father. Was it now that the consciousness of this great fact dawned upon Him, or was it present with Him during the whole of His early childhood in Nazareth? The confident calmness with which He utters it suggests that He was previously conscious of the relationship. As a Jewish boy, brought up in a devout religious home, He must have been early instructed in the Law and the Prophets. Before He was born, His mother was visited by an angel, who communicated to her a Divine message of marvellous significance. “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.” Would not His mother tell Him, before He reached the age of twelve, of this angelic visit and of the mysterious message? Could she, as a fond mother, well withhold it? While studying the Law and the Prophets, during the early years of childhood in Nazareth, His eye may have fallen on Isaiah’s significant passage, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Would He not at once interpret the meaning and, applying it to Himself, understand that He was the Immanuel who was to be born of a virgin? Had He read, or had there been read to Him, in the secluded home of Nazareth, the passage in Deuteronomy 18:18-19, “I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him”? Had He a glimpse of Himself when the passage was read? In the Temple, what portions of the Hebrew Scriptures were read in the service? Was it Isaiah 53, or Psalms 2, or Psalms 22, or Psalms 72, or Psalms 110? Were these included in the seven days’ service, or in the discussion among the doctors? Did the child of twelve years hear any inward voice, saying, I am He of whom Psalmists and Prophets speak? Was the grandeur of His mission opening out to Him? Was the spirit of His mission possessing Him? Did He now say to Himself, in the mysterious depth of His own consciousness, “For this cause came I unto this hour,” “and how am I straitened until it be accomplished”? When now He made the great announcement to His mother, that God is His Father and that He is the Son of God, did He not set His seal to the angel’s mysterious words, “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest”?
We are not warranted in affirming that the child meant all that the man afterwards meant by the claim to be the Son of God; nor are we any more warranted in denying that He did. We know too little about the mysteries of His growth to venture on definite statements of either kind. Our sounding lines are not long enough to touch bottom in this great word from the lips of a boy of twelve; but this is clear, that as He grew into self-consciousness, there came with it the growing consciousness of His Sonship to His Father in Heaven.
3. Jesus never speaks of His holding the same relationship as His disciples to God the Father. He never speaks to His disciples of “our God,” or of “our Father,” but of “your Father,” and “my Father”; of “your God,” and “my God”; implying that His relationship as Son is of a higher, diviner order than the relationship of the disciples as children of God. You may reply, that in the Lord’s Prayer He says “Our Father.” Yes, but He had said before, “When ye pray, say, Our Father.” He puts the words into the mouths of His disciples, and does not intimate that He uses them Himself when He prays, or that He uses them conjointly with His disciples. Although known as the Lord’s Prayer, it is a prayer which He could not offer. It contains a petition for forgiveness of sins, which only sinners could offer; and He, being sinless, could not join in the petition.
4. But Jesus said to the disciples “When ye pray, say, Father.” For to us also there is a better life than the life of nature, and the Fatherhood into which Christ introduces us means that through faith in Him, and the entrance into our spirits of the Spirit of adoption, we receive a life derived from, and kindred with, the life of the Giver, and that we are bound not only to Him by the cords of love, but also to our parents by the ties of family affection. Sonship is the deepest thought about the Christian life. It was an entirely new thought when Jesus spoke to His disciples of their Father in heaven. It was a thrilling novelty when Paul bade servile worshippers realize that they were no longer slaves, but sons, and, as such, heirs of God. It was the rapture of pointing to a new star flaming out, as it were, that swelled in John’s exclamation: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God.”
“When ye pray, say, Father.” When you are worried, remember that God is your Father. When you ask God for blessings, remember how willing parents are to give good things to their children. God is both willing and able to give us every good thing, for everything belongs to God. And because everything belongs to God, Jesus treated everything with reverence. He would not allow men to swear by heaven or the earth or Jerusalem or their own head, for all these belonged to His Heavenly Father. He drove the traders from the Temple because they were desecrating the Temple of His Father. He cheered the hearts of His disciples by reminding them that the house of many mansions belongs to the Heavenly Father. All people were dear to Jesus because all of them were the children of God. Beggars and lepers and blind men and bad men, the most loathsome and forsaken of men were dear to His heart because they belonged to His Father in Heaven. To be worthy of His Father was His constant ambition and unfailing delight. “My meat,” He said, “is to do his will and to finish his work.”
The idea that God is a loving, righteous Father, who has created me to be His child, capable of knowing Him and learning to sympathize with Him in love and goodness, and so to be partaker of His blessedness, and who is educating me for this inwardly and outwardly at every moment, is an idea which commends itself to me as light; and I find also that practically it is fruitful and good. There is no proof of this, except in our own human consciousness; but, also, there is no real proof against it, and I am compelled to regard it as eternal truth.1 [Note: Letters of Thomas Erskine of Linlathen, ii. 256.]
God is a kind Father. He sets us all in the places where He wishes us to be employed; and that employment is truly “our Father’s business.” He chooses work for every creature which will be delightful to them, if they do it simply and humbly. He gives us always strength enough, and sense enough, for what He wants us to do; if we either tire ourselves or puzzle ourselves, it is our own fault. And we may always be sure, whatever we are doing, that we cannot be pleasing Him if we are not happy ourselves.2 [Note: Ruskin, Ethics of the Dust (Works, xvii. 290).]
1. All through Christ’s life there runs, and occasionally comes into utterance, the sense of a Divine necessity laid upon Him; and here is the beginning, the very first time that the word occurs on His lips, “I must.”
Mark that great word “must.” It was one of Jesus’ earliest words, and He used it to the end. He was not ashamed to say that there were some things which He was obliged to do. Let no boy ever hesitate to say “I must.” Many a man’s life has been wrecked because he never learned, when a boy, to speak the words “I must.” Jesus early learned the lesson, and so at thirty He could say, “I must preach the gospel.” When men stood amazed at His tireless industry He said, “I must work the works of him that sent me while it is day.”
This great word “must” is used about thirty times in the New Testament in relation to the mission of Christ, His work, His sufferings, His death, His resurrection, His ascension, His mediatorial sovereignty, and His final victory over sin and Satan, and the word proceeds mostly from the lips of Christ Himself; in a few instances, it also proceeds from the sacred writers themselves; but even then, they seem only to echo the word which He had so solemnly used, and which, by frequent repetition, He had deeply impressed on their memory. For example take the following—He showed “unto his disciples how that he must go into Jerusalem, and suffer many things”; “the scripture must be fulfilled”; “the Son of man must suffer many things”; “I must preach the kingdom of God”; “I must walk today, and to-morrow, and the day following”; “But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation”; “the passover must be killed”; “this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors”; “the Son of man must be delivered”; “all things must be fulfilled”; “even so must the Son of man be lifted up”; “he must rise again”; “he must reign.” Sometimes, under the pressure of this awful “must,” although the word itself is not used, He yet employs phrases which are equivalent, and which indicate that He is under solemn necessity. “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished.” The word “must” is not there, but the meaning of it is, and the solemn pressure of it is felt. “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour; but for this cause came I unto this hour.” Again the word “must” is not in this passage, but we hear the echo of it, feel the pressure of it, and the meaning of it is significantly emphasized.
2. There is as Divine and as real a necessity shaping our lives, because it lies upon and moulds our wills, if we have the child’s heart, and stand in the child’s position. In Jesus Christ the “must” was not an external one, but He “must be about His Father’s business” because His whole inclination and will was submitted to the Father’s authority. And that is what will make any life sweet, calm, noble. “The love of Christ constraineth us.” There is a necessity which presses upon men like iron fetters; there is a necessity which wells up within a man a fountain of life, and does not so much drive as sweetly incline the will, so that it is impossible for him to be other than a loving, obedient child.
Some very little children sometimes use the word “must” very naughtily. There is an old saying, you know, “Must is for the king and not for his people.” But “must” is sometimes a very nice little word. “I must do.” Why did Jesus say that? “Oh, I so love My Father that I cannot help it. My love to My Father compels Me to do it.” “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?”1 [Note: J. Vaughan, Children’s Sermons, 150.]
3. The words “I must” on the lips of Jesus suggest that the higher freedom implies the higher necessity. If ever any man was free that man was Jesus. He, indeed, achieved that moral and spiritual freedom after which we toil in vain. The bondage of the world, the flesh and the devil was a bondage from which He was absolutely and utterly emancipated. He at least was no slave to the opinion of society, or merely human authorities. In Herod He saw no king, but only a sinful man whose soul was in peril. In Caiaphas He saw no priest but only a fallible mortal, needing to be enlightened by the Spirit of God. He was free from all unworthy motives and inferior ambitions. He was free from the hesitation and timidities inspired by doubt. He was the free child of truth, righteousness, love. And He, the mighty Conqueror and Master of all wrong and error, was so because He was the perfect Servant of truth and right. The higher freedom was the higher necessity.
The law of His childhood was the law of His manhood. Just as one of your little ones floating a walnut-shell upon a bowl of water calls into operation all, or nearly all, the laws that operate when an ocean-liner is launched, so within the utterance of this child-spirit of Jesus there are contained those majestic spiritual revelations which go far to compose the gospel. He called men to love God more perfectly, that they might be subdued more completely to the obedience of God. He knew that when He taught them to say “Our Father,” He taught them to say “We must obey God rather than man.” Surrender was latent in sonship.
Manhood begins when we have in any way made truce with Necessity; begins even when we have surrendered to Necessity, as the most part only do; but begins joyfully and hopefully only when we have reconciled ourselves to Necessity; and thus, in reality, triumphed over it, and felt that in Necessity we are free.1 [Note: Carlyle, “Essay on Burns” (Miscellanies, ii.3).]
“My Father’s business.”
1. When only twelve Jesus had grasped the great idea that life must be lived for a purpose. There is business to do and the business belongs to God. In the Temple Jesus forgot all about Himself. Some boys study because they are compelled to, or because they want to make a show, or because they expect to use their education in making money later on; but Jesus listened to His teachers and pondered the lessons which they set Him in order to advance the glory of His Father. All kinds of work take on new lustre when we think of it as being given to us by our Father. Men sometimes say, “my business,” “my studies,” “my plans,” forgetting that God has anything to do with them. Everything we do, if we do it rightly, is our Father’s business. It is ours and it is also His. Our life is ours and His, so also is our work. We are interested in our tasks, and so is He. We bead over our studies, and so does He. Everything that touches us also touches Him; and that boys and girls should obey their parents and pay attention to their teachers is not only their business, it is also the business of the Heavenly Father.
Many Christians tell me that they have no vocation to service; that they do not know what to do; that they would be glad to serve God, if only they knew how and where! These are they who were not on the alert, when first they knew the Lord, to set themselves at once about their Father’s business; or who have fallen from their first love and zeal; or have separated service from the consciousness of salvation; and I fear, in many cases, with the abandonment or the neglect of service, have lost the blessed consciousness of sonship. I am more and more satisfied, as I come to know myself and my surroundings better, and those of other Christians as well, that we do not so much need to make opportunities as to embrace them when they are presented to us. The majority of life’s failures, especially in Christian life, grow out of not promptly embracing opportunities for service. Shakespeare tells us that “There is a tide which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” It is equally true that there are spiritual instincts and promptings which, if yielded to, lead on to most blessed and useful Christian life; but which, if neglected, leave the Christian to comparative shipwreck.1 [Note: G. F. Pentecost, Sermons, 103.]
In matters of business take this as a maxim, that it is not enough to give things their beginning, direction, or impulse; we must also follow them up and never slacken our efforts until they are brought to a conclusion.2 [Note: Counsels and Reflections of F. Guicciardini.]
I thought of life, the outer and the inner,
As I was walking by the sea,
How vague, unshapen this, and that, though thinner,
Yet hard and clear in its rigidity.
Then took I up the fragment of a shell,
And saw its accurate loveliness,
And searched its filmy lines, its pearly cell,
And all that keen contention to express
A finite thought. And then I recognized
God’s working in the shell from root to rim,
And said—“He works till He has realized—
Oh Heaven! if I could only work like Him!”3 [Note: T. E. Brown, Old John and other Poems, 128.]
2. “My Father’s business.” What is this business? In one word, it is redemption, to bring lost humanity into a salvable condition; to provide for the restoration of purity, blessedness and immortality, to men who have forfeited all by transgression; to save from sin, its power, pollution, and penalties, all who apply to God for mercy. Or, in other words, to establish in this fallen world a kingdom of grace and salvation, whose gates shall be thrown wide open, and into which all the alienated race of man may enter, on condition of renouncing for ever their allegiance to the Evil One, and consecrating themselves loyally to their Redeeming King.
John Vassar once spoke to a lady about her soul, and the lady told her husband of what he had said. “I should have told him,” said her husband, “to mind his own business.” “If you had been there,” said the lady, “you would have thought it was his business.”1 [Note: H. Thorne, Notable Sayings of the Great Teacher, 65.]
(1) One part of that redemption which was the business of Christ was to offer a perfect example. When He sums up His own life, it is at one time, “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do”; “my meat is to do the will of him that sent me”: at another it is, “I am among you as he that serveth”—as the Servant of men; “the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” And we see why the two go together. The true child shares the true parent’s thoughts and purposes, and feels as he feels. And so the child of God, because he knows that He is the Father of His human creatures, and that He is love, and means nothing but love for them, must himself begin to share that love, that care, begin to feel the zeal to help, the wish to serve.
God had written divers books of example in the lives of the saints. One man was noted for one virtue, and another for another. At last, God determined that He would gather all His works into one volume, and give a condensation of all virtues in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now He determined to unite all the parts into one, to string all the pearls on one necklace, and to make them all apparent around the neck of one single person. The sculptor finds here a leg from some eminent master, and there a hand from another mighty sculptor. Here he finds an eye, and there a head full of majesty. He saith, within himself, “I will compound these glories, I will put them all together; then it shall be the model man. I will make the statue par excellence, which shall stand first in beauty, and shall be noted ever afterwards as the model of manhood.” So said God, “There is Job—he hath patience; there is Moses—he hath meekness; there are those mighty ones who all have eminent virtues. I will take these, I will put them into one; and the man Christ Jesus shall be the perfect model of future imitation.” Now, I say that all Christ’s life He was endeavouring to do His Father’s business in this matter.1 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon.]
It seems as if nothing could be more impossible than to follow our Lord’s example. He was God, and we are but weak and sinful men. How can we follow the Divine example in our small, petty life? How can we follow the Divine example when there is within us so much that is selfish, so much that is hard, so much that is false, and so much that is ungenerous? How can we follow His example? And yet He Himself has told us that even to give a cup of cold water is a thing that He will notice, if it is done in His spirit. In His spirit; and that spirit ought to animate all the actions of every-day life. No doubt it is here, here particularly, that it seems as if our power to obey His precepts must break down. To follow His example—how can it be done? But the Lord Himself, when He calls us to follow His example, knows our weakness and knows what is the nature of the task that is put upon us; He enters into all the folly and all the blindness and all the pains and all the temptations that mark our characters and lower our lives; He enters into it all. Without sin Himself, He nevertheless shared all the troubles of human life, and as if to encourage us these strange and awful words have been written by His direction, that He “learned obedience by the things which he suffered.” He learned obedience because He passed through all that was needed to make obedience perfect. He learned not to obey; but He learned what to obey really meant. His humanity had to pass through what our humanity passes through. He obeyed—He had no need to learn that—but He learned what was the struggle, what was the trouble, that perpetually impeded obedience. He learned to feel it, and still He retains that humanity which felt it, and He sympathizes with every difficulty that besets our endeavours to please Him. He sympathizes, for He knows it all; He sympathizes because He has passed through it all. And if we are to abide in Him, we, too, must learn obedience, not only in the sense in which He learned it; we must not only learn what it is to obey, but we must learn to obey. And the Lord knows us through and through; He sees whether we are following His example, or not, and His loving mercy is with us all the time.1 [Note: Archbishop Temple.]
(2) Another part was to offer Himself a sacrifice. Twenty-one years from this Passover, He Himself must be the slain Lamb, His must be the blood shed. These shadowy typical ceremonials will then be abolished, and will cease for ever; for He Himself will become the one Priest, the one Sacrifice, the one Mediator at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavenly sanctuary. It is said that He increased in wisdom. During these seven days of the Passover, He must have added immensely to His store of knowledge concerning the work He had to do, and the sacrifice He had to make as the world’s Redeemer. That Passover was an object-lesson, whose typical meaning He would not fail to understand and to apply.
It was His Father’s business made Him sweat great drops of blood; His Father’s business ploughed His back with many gory furrows; His Father’s business pricked His temple with the thorny crown; His Father’s business made Him mocked and spit upon; His Father’s business made Him go about bearing His cross; His Father’s business made Him despise the shame when, naked, He hung upon the tree; His Father’s business made Him yield Himself to death, though He needed not to die if so He had not pleased; His Father’s business made Him tread the gloomy shades of Gehenna, and descend into the abodes of death; His Father’s business made Him preach to the spirits in prison; and His Father’s business took Him up to heaven, where He sitteth on the right hand of God, doing His Father’s business still!2 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon.]
3. This is the necessity that lies upon every one of the sons of God. In other words, the law of life, as illustrated by the example of our Lord and Master, and iterated and reiterated by all the lessons of human experience, is the law of Divine obedience through human service. The love of God is best shown in the love of men. Those souls are the most reverent, and most completely fulfil the Divine will, that yield the most readily and cheerfully to the pressure of human need.
(1) This business may not be regarded as apart from the ordinary, daily duties of life. What one is called upon to perform day by day, however ordinary and monotonous, may lie directly in the line of Divine appointment. It is hardly fair to assume that Joseph and Mary were not about their Father’s business. Nor is there any reason for supposing that Jesus meant to imply that they were not, although asserting for Himself obedience to the higher mandate. By attending simply and unostentatiously to the chosen or appointed task, we may find the angels of God coming forth to meet us as they met Jacob of old on his way from Syria to Palestine.
It is possible that some of you may be secretly wishing that you could spend all your days in public prayer, in the hallowed engagements of the sanctuary, in preaching the gospel or in teaching the young; let me say to you that there is not an errand-boy in the streets of London who cannot be turning his work into the business of God; all business may be made our Father’s, by doing it in our Father’s spirit, and for our Father’s glory. Do not yield yourselves to the fallacy that religion is separate and distinct from all the common engagements of life. The doorkeeper in the poorest commercial establishment in this city may be doing his Father’s business quite as much as the elders and angels that are around the throne. Everything depends upon your spirit. You may make the commonest duty uncommon by coming to it in a sanctified and heavenly spirit.1 [Note: Joseph Parker.]
(2) The business of the Father may be performed in the treatment we give to current questions. Every age has its problems. The heart of the Roman Empire in the time of Tiberius and Nero was stirred by great questions, as is shown by the interrogatories of Pilate and Felix and Herod Agrippa. Our own age is no exception in this respect to the ages that have preceded it. Indeed, it would almost seem as if Christianity, in its fearless challenge of every phase of human thought and of every variety of organized life, had created problems which are, and must be for ever, almost the despair of human wisdom and effort. In whatever direction we turn the light of our faith, we seem not only to expose to observation the deep struggles of the individual soul over the mysteries of being, but to bring into view those actions, habits, institutions and relations of men which must be reformed before the Kingdom of God shall come. We cannot shut our eyes to these things; we cannot push them aside as of no consequence; we cannot even fold our arms in indifference before them. They are here; they demand consideration, and must and will have some intelligent treatment from us.
How to get the idle rich to abandon their idleness and help to carry some of the burdens of those who are now too heavy laden; how to equalize to some extent the favours of fortune and, while discouraging an over-accumulation of riches in a few hands, take away at least some of the sharper stings of poverty; how to avert the arrows of misfortune from those who are exposed to the pitiless assault of circumstances which they have done nothing to create and which they are powerless of themselves to change; how to lighten the work of those who have too much of it and give work to those who, without employment, would yet be glad to earn an honest wage; in short, how to exalt the lowly and bring down the proud, and make the pathway of men blossom with comfort and kindliness and goodwill, and thus give us a foretaste of heavenly peace; these are some of the new tasks of this new time. Those who love their fellow-men are summoned to these undertakings. Those who have leisure and intelligence are without excuse if they let the summons go unheeded. The voice that calls is the voice of God, and they who obey the call may be sure that they are about their Father’s business.
Fawcett’s great principle (which, of course, he shared in general with Mill) was one which would only be disputed in general terms by an Egyptian anchorite or an Indian faquir—Live in camel’s-hair raiment, and you may fairly denounce the rich and regard poverty as a blessing. Fawcett, who preferred broadcloth, held that the master evil of the day was the crushing poverty of great masses of the population. To make men better, you must make them richer—that is, less abjectly poor, less stunted and shackled by the ceaseless pressure of hard, material necessities. Religious, moral, and intellectual reforms are urgently needed, but they cannot become fruitful unless the soil be prepared. Apply all your elevating influences, but also drive the wolf from the door or they will never have fair play. Men ought to desire more, or rather ought to have further-reaching desires. They should be more prudent and thoughtful—oftener at the savings-bank and less often at the public-house. That was the pith of Fawcett’s teaching as an economist, and few who call themselves Christians will admit that it is condemned by Christianity.1 [Note: Leslie Stephen, Life of Henry Fawcett, 140.]
(3) But, however we act and wherever we go, we must not lose sight of the fact that we are all the time in the presence of the living God. We may be dwelling in a world of sense, but we are also in a world of spirit. This universe is God’s universe. His power is manifest in it, and His spirit pervades it. We cannot go where He is not. That is the thought which is given to sober us and to impart steadiness to all our aims. Before it all considerations of the temporal vanish. We are no longer mere denizens of this mortal world. We are spiritual beings, living in a spiritual world, endowed with spiritual attributes, having an immortal destiny, and are indeed the children of the Highest.
When the knowledge of our immortality dawns upon us, how little then our hearts are set upon the pleasant garniture of life, and the riches which it then becomes almost a delight to resign! Our mind is fixed no longer on sweet colours and sounds, because it knows that it is passing through them, and that they are but symbols of the fulness and unity that shall be. Those whom we love are no longer merely those with whom we use delight, and from whom we gather joy, but souls bound to us for ever by a stainless bond, which no lapse of time can hurt or break. And therefore we make haste to cast out of our life all sick and jarring elements, and to agree swiftly while we are in the way together.
The thought of sweet things that must fade is no longer a mere poignant sentiment, but a sign of renewal and freedom. Memories are no longer mere hopeless phantoms, but as the stones of the desolate place out of which the wayfarer piles his pillow. We do not lose the sense that things belong to us, but instead of their being things which we hoard for a little and then reluctantly and pathetically resign, they are ours for ever. The old days of kindness and regret, when we grasped at what seemed so solid, but lapsed like the snow-crystal while we held our breath, are no longer times to muse ruefully over and to forget if we can, but miry ways which led us, how blindly and dully, to the house of life itself; and instead of viewing pain and death as cruel gradations of decay, through which we fall into silence, we know them to be the last high steps of the ascent from which the view of life itself, with all its wide plains and woods, its homesteads and towns, will break upon our delighted eyes.
It may be said, “Can we live life on this level of hope and expectation?” No, we cannot all in a moment. But we can return again and again, in times of grief and pain, to contemplate the truth, and drink fresh draughts of comfort and healing. The one thing that we must determine is not to acquiesce in being entangled in the earthly things that catch and wind, like the grasses and branches of the brake, about our climbing feet. Not to make terms with mortal and material things, not to abide in them, that is our business here and now. To take life as we find it, but never to forget that it is neither the end or the goal, that it is at once the problem and the solution.1 [Note: A. C. Benson, Thy Rod and Thy Staff, 72.]
Guest from a holier world,
Oh, tell me where the peaceful valleys lie!
Down in the ark of life, when thou shalt fly,
Where will thy wings be furled?
Where is thy native nest?
Where the green pastures that the blessed roam?
Impatient dweller in thy clay-built home,
Where is thy heavenly rest?
On some immortal shore,
Some realm away from earth and time, I know;
A land of bloom, where living waters flow,
And grief comes nevermore.
Faith turns my eyes above;
Day fills with floods of light the boundless skies
Night watches calmly with her starry eyes
All tremulous with love.
And, as entranced I gaze,
Sweet music floats to me from distant lyres:
I see a temple, round whose golden spires
Unearthly glory plays!
Beyond those azure deeps
I fix thy home,—a mansion kept for thee
Within the Father’s house, whose noiseless key
Kind Death, the warder, keeps!2 [Note: Albert Laighton.]
Always at Work
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Calthrop (G.), The Lost Sheep Found, 89.
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Wilkinson (J. B.), Mission Sermons, ii. 90.
Children’s Pulpit: First Sunday after the Epiphany, ii. 345.
Christian World Pulpit, x. 126 (B. S. Bird); xlv. 147 (J. A. Beet); lxvii. 22 (T. V. Tymms); lxxxi. 33 (H. M. Burge).
Churchman’s Pulpit: Sermons to the Young, xvi. 78 (A. P. Stanley).
Sunday Magazine, 1876, p. 850 (R. H. Smith); 1885, p. 734 (F. R. Havergal); 1895, p. 136 (B. Waugh).