Great Texts of the Bible
Not Far from the Kingdom
And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.—Mark 12:34.
If these had not been the words of Jesus Christ, there would probably have been some Christians found strongly objecting to them. They would have said—“No one is nearer to the Kingdom of God than another, for all men are alike dead in trespasses and sins. How can there be degrees of nearness when every one is at an infinite distance?” There is a side of truth in this. The difference between Christian and non-Christian is one not of degree but of kind. “Once ye were darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord.” And yet there are different degrees of approximation to the light. Our world is closer to the edge of dawn in one part of its course than another. The blind men who, whether through God’s providence or their own choice, took their seat by the wayside at Jericho, were nearer receiving their sight than they had ever been in their lives before, and nearer still when their ear was caught by the tread of the multitude and they began to call on Jesus of Nazareth as He passed by. And there are circumstances and associations in life that still bring some men closer to the Gospel than others. There are dispositions of mind and attitudes in certain persons towards it which make us very anxious that they should take but one decided step; which cause us to wonder why, when they are so near, they go no farther. They speak so discreetly about religious things, and have so amiable and reverent a spirit, that we feel as if Christ would still single them out, as He did this scribe, and say tenderly, regretfully, may we not add hopefully?—“Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.”1 [Note: John Ker.]
We may divide the subject into four parts—
Not far from the Kingdom\
Not in the Kingdom
1. What is the meaning of this expression, “the kingdom of God,” which was so frequently on the lips of our Lord? It occurs fourteen times in the Gospel of Mark, thirty-two times in that of Luke, while the equivalent phrase, “the kingdom of heaven” (or more properly, the Kingdom of the Heavens) occurs thirty-two times in the Gospel of Matthew. The Kingdom is the rule of God, whether in the human heart or in society. It exists now, but it has its full realisation in eternity. Some have to seek and gain it. Those who have gained it have to labour to retain it, and this retaining may be regarded as winning it.
It is to be noted that Christ Himself never gave any definition of the Kingdom, and perhaps it is not wise for us to attempt to do so. Any definition which we could frame would be almost certain to exclude important elements of truth. He seems to have used more than one phrase to express it, and He places each phrase in a variety of contexts which do not always seem to be quite harmonious. The idea of the Kingdom is planted in the minds of His hearers as a sort of nucleus round which different truths may gather. The Kingdom is sometimes the Way, sometimes the Truth, sometimes the Life. Perhaps most of all it is the Life. It is something living, organic, and inspiring, in which the will of God, through the free and loyal action of those who receive it, prevails. It works inwardly both in individuals and in communities, but it manifests itself outwardly. It wins adherents, and inspires and controls them. And it possesses powers, not merely of growth and improvement, but of recovery and reformation. While it prevails against the opposition and persecution of enemies, it triumphs also in the long-run over the errors and slackness and corruption of its own supporters. We possess it, and yet we have to seek it and win it. It is within us, and yet we have to strive to enter it. The truth about it is so vast that we need to have it stated in all kinds of ways in order to appropriate some of it.
2. The expression shows clearly that there is a “kingdom of God” in this world, and that it has distinct boundary lines. Those boundary lines do not shade off so that either it should be impossible to say whether you are in it or not in it, or that you can be partly in it and partly not in it. The words evidently convey the contrary: you may be “near” it, or you may be “far” from it, but either you are in it, or you are out of it.
3. Observe the negative side. The “kingdom of God” is not the Church. The Church is visible, the Kingdom is not. The Kingdom is the end, complete, perfect, and final; the Church is the means to the end, working towards perfection and striving to realise its ideal. So far as it expresses the will and character of the Messiah, the Church may be called the Kingdom of Christ, but it is not what is set before us in the Gospels as “the kingdom of God” or “the kingdom of the heavens.”1 [Note: A. Plummer.]
1. The office of Scribe.—The scribes combined a scientific and technical knowledge of Hebrew laws, and of Hebrew scriptures generally, with the skill of trained teachers in expounding them to the common people. They were the teachers of their countrymen. Holding the key of knowledge, they were charged with the duty of unlocking the mystery and bringing out the meaning of the written word. Ezra went up from Babylon; and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses. All know how much the restored exiles were indebted to him, how loyal he was to God, and how faithfully he served his generation. The office of scribe was alike useful and honourable, and they who filled it worthily deserved well of their contemporaries. Our Saviour has taught us the value of the labours of a good scribe: “Every scribe who hath been made a disciple to the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a house-holder, who bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.”
But there was a tendency in the profession to narrowness, to exclusiveness, to the traditionary, to the official. They sank into copyists, into mere echoes of human voices, instead of “making the people understand the law of God.” They paid more attention to glosses than to the original text, to commentaries than to the Scriptures themselves, to tradition than to the revelation which God had made of His mind and will. These scribes, in course of time, thought more of the lanterns of human authorities than of the light of heaven; “making void the word of God by their tradition.” For the most part, in the days of our Saviour, the scribes were “blind leaders of the blind.” They no longer helped men into the Kingdom, but hindered those who would enter. It seems that there was even more of moral than of intellectual degeneracy among them. They had not only lost touch of eternal and Divine verities, but they had also substituted men’s devices for God’s commandments; their study of the letter had ceased to profit, while their refinements and rules had killed the spiritual and put into its place the ceremonial. The outcome of all this, its effect upon the scribes themselves, is seen in the statement by our Lord: “Beware of the scribes which desire to walk in long robes, and to have salutations in the marketplaces, and chief seats in the synagogues, and chief places at feasts: they which devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater condemnation.”
2. This Scribe.—The praise which Jesus bestowed upon this lawyer is best understood when we take into account the circumstances, the pressure of assailants with ensnaring questions, the sullen disappointment or palpable exasperation of the party to which the scribe belonged. He had probably sympathised in their hostility; and had come expecting and desiring the discomfiture of Jesus. But if so, he was a candid enemy; and as each new attempt revealed more clearly the spiritual insight, the self-possession and balanced wisdom, of Him who had been represented as a dangerous fanatic, his unfriendly opinion began to waver. For he too was at issue with popular views: he had learned in the Scriptures that God desireth not sacrifice, that incense might be an abomination to Him, and new moons and sabbaths things to do away with. And so, perceiving that He had answered them well, the scribe asked, on his own account, a very different question, not rarely debated in their schools, and often answered with grotesque frivolity, but which he felt to go down to the very root of things. Instead of challenging Christ’s authority, he tried His wisdom. Instead of striving to entangle Him in dangerous politics, or to assail with shallow ridicule the problems of the life to come, he asked, What commandment is the first of all? And if we may accept as complete this abrupt statement of his interrogation, it would seem to have been drawn from him by a sudden impulse, or wrenched by an overmastering desire, despite of reluctance and false shame. The Lord answered him with great solemnity and emphasis. He might have quoted the commandment only. But He at once supported the precept itself and also His own view of its importance by including the majestic prologue, “Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God, the Lord is one: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” The questioner saw all the nobility of this reply; and the disdain, the anger, and perhaps the persecution of his associates could not prevent him from an admiring and reverent repetition of the Saviour’s words, and an avowal that all the ceremonial observances of Judaism were as nothing compared with this.
Not Far from the Kingdom
1. “Jesus saw that he answered discreetly.” While the scribe was judging, he was being judged. As he knew that Jesus had answered well, so Jesus saw that he answered discreetly; and in view of his unprejudiced judgment, his spiritual insight, and his frank approval of One who was then despised and rejected, He said to him, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.”
Under the old Theocracy “the far” are either exiled Jews (Isaiah 57:19) or the Gentiles (Ephesians 2:13); distance from the new Kingdom is measured neither by miles nor by ceremonial standards, but by spiritual conditions. The man was to some extent intellectually qualified for the Kingdom; certainly he had grasped one of its fundamental principles. It would be interesting to work out a comparison between this scribe and the ruler of Mark 10:17. In both cases something was wanting to convert admiration into discipleship. If wealth was the bar in one case, pride of intellect may have been fatal in the other. The mental acumen which detects and approves spiritual truth may, in the tragedy of human life, keep its possessor from entering the Kingdom of God.1 [Note: H. B. Swete.]
Thou strong and loving Son of Man,
Redeemer from the bonds of sin,
’Tis Thou the living spark dost fan
That sets my heart on fire within.
Thou openest heaven once more to men,
The soul’s true home, Thy Kingdom, Lord,
And I can trust and hope again,
And feel myself akin to God.2 [Note: Novalis.]
2. This is one of the many instances in which Jesus took a very kind view; and saw—and was not afraid to say that He saw—the good that was in every one. Many, perhaps, see it, who do not think it well to say that they see it. You need not be afraid. True praise never does any harm. On the contrary, it softens and humbles. This man belonged to a class which had no right to expect any indulgence at Christ’s hand; and there was a good deal of the feeling of superiority or patronage in what he had said. And after all, it was very partial truth, and did not even touch the great truth of all, which Christ came to teach and to be. Nevertheless, Christ sees the good points. If the scribe had not spoken very humbly, he had been intelligent and discriminating,—he had spoken discreetly. And if he did not see the whole truth, or the chief truth, his thoughts were leading on in that direction. And Christ, who likes to see nearness rather than farness,—and who discovers the kindling of the flax even by its smoking,—said, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.”
It would be very well if we copied Christ in our familiar intercourse; and always sought out, not the points of disagreement, but of agreement, on which to dwell in all our conversation; and especially in our conversation upon religious subjects.
But there is a much higher lesson than this contained in the kindliness of our Saviour’s conduct. If any of us are ever inclined to think of God as a fault-finder,—as One who is quick to see what is wrong, and who does not see and appreciate what is good in us,—let us read the accounts of Christ’s intercourse with those among whom He was thrown; and we will unlearn our false estimate of that kind, loving, hopeful heart. Not our own mother likes more to magnify our best traits.1 [Note: J. Vaughan.]
3. What was there in this man, what is there in any man, that makes it possible for Christ to say to him, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God”?
(1) There is a nearness that is brought about by intellectual sincerity. We may believe that this was true of the lawyer in the narrative. He appears to have been an anxious inquirer, from the intellectual standpoint. “And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly,” that is, wisely, thoughtfully, intelligently, “He said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” Sincere, honest thought brings the thinker close to those higher truths which are not contrary to reason, but which unassisted reason does not apprehend.
Dr. Johnson was accustomed to say, “If a man thinks deeply he thinks religiously”; and deeply pondering the problems of nature, life, and duty, men have often found themselves brought to His feet who spake as never man spake. No merely intellectual endeavour can bring us into the enjoyment of saving truth and spiritual satisfaction; it may easily prepare us, however, for the word of Christ, and to receive in Him the fulness of the blessing of reconciliation and peace. In reading the writings of authors known as agnostics, utilitarians, and sceptics, we must often feel that while verbally they seem a long way from the Christian creed, yet actually they come very near it in the doctrines they accredit and the spirit they reveal. They use other language than theologians use, they contend against this or the other position of conventional religion, they suffer from many misconceptions and prejudices, yet are they in fact not unlike this lawyer in the great truths they admit and in the fine spirit they display; and we believe that our Lord says of these, as of the intellectual seeker in the text, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” They are not in the Kingdom, but they are enamoured of its walls of jasper and gates of gold.
John Bright said of a certain freethinker that he was “a Christian without knowing it”; and although we cannot allow that a man can be a Christian without being aware of it, it yet remains possible that sincere reflection may bring a doubting thinker much nearer to the evangelical truth than he apprehends. Let us never discourage reading, reflection, research, as if these necessarily put the thinker farther from Christ. By intellectual processes many are brought to the threshold of the spiritual Kingdom: just as the star guided the wise men of old into His presence who came to guide our feet into the way of peace.1 [Note: W. L. Watkinson.]
(2) There is a nearness to personal godliness that is brought about by moral integrity. As some are brought near to the kingdom by intellectual influences, others approach it from the standpoint of conscience. We cannot fail to detect the genuine ethical ring in this interlocutor: “Which is the first commandment of all?” And when Jesus had indicated the twofold supreme commandment, the scribe said unto Him, “Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.” This is not the expression of a merely curious or polemical temper, there is nothing here captious or controversial, but at once we feel that we are dealing with one who is deeply sincere, and is anxious to understand and possess the very essence of righteousness. And our Lord, who knew what was in man, instantly recognised the scribe’s moral sincerity and enthusiasm. “And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.”
The biographer of Horace Bushnell tells us that the young student for seven years failed to find the power of Christ. There was nothing positively or distinctively Christian about him, and there was in him a growing spirit of doubt and difficulty as to religious doctrine; yet during all this time of grave perplexity and distress he was marked by scrupulous conscientiousness, stern integrity, purity, and honour, and in the end he became the confessor of Christ with the power of Christ.2 [Note: Ibid.]
We need it every hour—
A conscience clear,
That shall be as a tower
Of strength and cheer.
We need it every hour—
A true pure life,
Which failure cannot sour
Or turn to strife.1 [Note: Sara A. Underwood.]
(3) There is a nearness to personal godliness that is brought about by ceremonial faithfulness. A true inclination and susceptibility of soul are developed by a right use of the Divinely appointed means and channels of grace. It seems that the faithfulness of this scribe to the study of the law and the ordinances of worship had brought him hard by the blessing.
“Oh, there are worse things in the world than going to church,” answered Dr. Elliot. “Farquhar preaches a fine discourse, and, joking apart, you’ll get into the way of the thing. I really enjoy it. I remember once when I was a student going home for my Spring holidays and walking through the fields to church with my mother on a fine morning. I’ve never forgotten the look on her face when she turned to me and said—
I joy’d when to the house of God,
Go up, they said to me.
In these days, I thought it was a way mothers had. But now, there’s no saying, I may get to have that inward look on my face too.”
“You’re a good fellow, Elliot! I don’t count this a visit, mind! Come often and see us,” Colonel Morton said; for the doctor had turned to go as he finished the sentence.2 [Note: J. F. Hogg, The Angel Opportunity, 101.]
Not in the Kingdom
1. “Not far from the kingdom of God.” Was that a satisfactory position, or was it not? There is a conventional way of looking at it which is occupied mainly with the unsatisfactoriness of it. “Not far from it: not in it. The man might just as well be miles away.” A very common way that of looking at the position. It is not Christ’s way. He says this of a certain young man with a feeling of genuine respect and admiration for him. For the moment, at any rate, under the quickening influence of the magnetic inwardness of Christ’s teaching, so true, so thorough, so real, the scribe—for he was a scribe—with all his traditions, had been lost in the man, and he had felt a thrill of responsiveness to Christ which he could not suppress. Against all his prejudices he acknowledged the rare spirit of Christ’s reply to the question he addressed to Him, and the feeling was mutual. Christ and this man drew to one another. There was not much difference between them on the matter of the supreme demand of God. And Christ says so. “You are not far from the truth; you are pretty near the mark; there is not very much wrong with your views.” That is what Christ means. Certainly not that he is as hopeless as if he were utterly astray. Christ meant to commend and encourage the man.
2. “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God,” said Christ, and we may be sure as He said the words He accompanied them with a loving smile. And yet if there is tenderness in this word of Christ there is severity too. Not far—no, but not in. And though not far, a man may yet be never in. Just as a ship that has buffeted the oceans of half the globe may be wrecked on the last night, when the passengers are making up their baggage, and perish almost in sight of home, so there are men who come very near Christ, and then drift away, and never have the same holy contiguity again. It is a solemn thing to be not far from the Kingdom. It is a great responsibility. May it be ours to make it also a great reward.
Dante, in speaking of those who lived in dead indifference, without either “infamy or praise,” says that he saw in the other world the shade of him who “with ignoble spirit refused the great offer.” It has been a disputed question who was in the poet’s eye, enduring the eternal shame of declining to take one noble step. Those surely are in the right who find him in that young man who turned away sorrowful when the Lord said, “Come, follow me”; for, as has been observed, nothing that ever happened in the world could be so justly called, as Dante calls it, “the great refusal.” If anything can fill the future world of sin and loss with tormenting regret, it must be that the Kingdom of God was so near, the call to it so free, and that the opportunity was fatally and totally lost. How sadly does the wise man say, “for man knoweth not his time,” and what a sorrow was in the heart of Christ when He said, “If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace.” Not far from the Kingdom of God, and yet this not far may lose it all!1 [Note: John Ker.]
The saying is true as applied to many things, and it is equally true with regard to the soul. The penitence that is not carried through is nothing. You remember Browning’s lines—
Oh the little more, and how much it is!
And the little less and what worlds away!
That is just the picture of the character we have before us. You may, if you like, see him in a thousand walks of life. I once heard a criticism of a preacher—“He has just missed being a great preacher.” I felt it to be true. What was lacking one could not say, for everything seemed so excellent; but the combined result was just as my friend had said. He had just “come short of being a great preacher.”2 [Note: W. Mackintosh Mackay.]
Golfers have a well-understood phrase, “never up, never in.” The aim of the game is to get the little ball into the little hole. And the meaning of the phrase is, if you do not play hard enough to get the length of the hole, you will not get into it. It may be a beautiful putt, “lie on the lip of the hole,” “a picture.” But “it is short”; “never up, never in.” The same is true here.3 [Note: R. J. Drummond.]
3. What is needed to make a man decidedly belong to the Kingdom of God? Christ’s words have shown that with all that is favourable in this man, there is still something wanting. Christ had that Divine insight which let Him see into the hearts of men, as well as into the heart of things, and which enabled Him to range them in their true place. We have neither the power nor the right thus to judge the inward nature of men. It is always right for us, however, to look as far as we can into the heart of things, and to use the principles we learn there for ascertaining our own true position.
(1) He appears to have had no sense of the need of pardon.
In what he says there is no apparent perception of the evil of sin, and no application for pardon and help. He perceives the claim of God’s law, and admits it to be spiritual; but, so far as we can see, there is no conviction of that hopeless violation of it which can be met only by a Divine deliverer like Christ.
“The great mystery of religion,” says Bishop Westcott, “is not the punishment but the forgiveness of sin.” Forgiveness involves repentance; Christ came preaching the Gospel and saying, “The kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye and believe in the gospel.” Repentance, therefore, is an essential condition of entering the “kingdom.” When a man experiences this sense of forgiven sin he becomes eager for something better, desirous of a higher, and, shall we add, a safer life. A change has come over that man, a change both of motive and of power. He longs for and attempts what he never cared about before; he is a new being. But he cannot remain content with merely understanding the Kingdom. It is a necessary sequence that he should enter it, that he should claim its gifts and privileges, that he should enrol himself as one of its citizens; and so the change which takes place in him must be correspondingly marked, and it becomes clear what are the essentials, or in another sense, the conditions of this entrance.1 [Note: J. H. Rogers.]
How they rise before us!—the sweet reproachful faces of those whom we could have loved devotedly if they had been willing to be straightforward with us; whom we have lost, not by our own will, but by that paralysis of feeling which gradually invades the heart at the discovery of small insincerities. Sincerity seems our only security against losing those who love us, the only cup in which those who are worth keeping will pledge us when youth is past.2 [Note: Mary Cholmondeley, Red Pottage.]
(2) He did not recognise in Christ the Divine Teacher.—While he admires Christ’s teaching, he speaks as one might to another on his own level: “Well, Master, thou hast said the truth”; but there is no appearance of his soul bowing before Him as a teacher sent from God, still less of his being ready to follow Him as a spiritual leader, and to cast in his lot with Him, to walk in His steps and to do His will. What was wanted was just the recognition of the King. Christ did not tell him that. He left him to discover it. And it is just the discovery that many a man has to make in order to enter the kingdom. It is the oath of allegiance to Christ, which we commonly call “faith,” that is still wanting. There are many men of fine character, of generous thoughts and noble lives, whom we naturally and properly admire. And yet there is a defect in them of which even they themselves are conscious, although what it is they do not know. It is the want of the deep recognition of the things that are unseen, the solemn sense of the supremacy of the spiritual. Could that arise in them, they would be in the kingdom and recognise that it is the Kingdom of God.
His case reminds us of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17). The Saviour is just “going forth” when one rushes to overtake Him, and kneels down to Him, full of hope of a great discovery. He is so frank, so innocent and earnest, as to win the love of Jesus. And yet he presently goes away, not as he came, but with a gloomy forehead and a heavy heart, and doubtless with slow reluctance. There is indeed a charming frankness in his bearing, so that we admire even his childlike assertion of his own virtues, while the heights of a nobility yet unattained are clearly possible for one so dissatisfied, so anxious for a higher life, so urgent in his questioning, What shall I do? What lack I yet? This inquirer honestly thinks himself not far from the great attainment; he expects to reach it by some transcendent act, some great deed done, and for this he has no doubt of his own prowess, if only he were well directed. What shall I do that I may have eternal life, not of grace, but as a debt—that I may inherit it? His question supplies the clue to that answer of Christ which has perplexed so many. The youth is seeking for himself a purely human merit, indigenous and underived. And the same, too, is what he ascribes to Jesus, to Him who is so far from claiming independent human attainment, or professing to be what this youth would fain become, that He said, “The Son can do nothing of himself.… I can of mine own self do nothing.” The secret of His human perfection is the absolute dependence of His humanity upon God, with whom He is one. No wonder, then, that He repudiates any such goodness as the ruler had in view.1 [Note: G. A. Chadwick.]
There is a legend of St. Peter, that he had always by him a cloth wherewith he wiped his eyes, which were at last red with weeping. And I can well believe it. When he was asked why he wept, he said that “when he recalled that most sweet gentleness of Christ with His apostles,” he could not restrain his tears. Christ must, indeed, have been perfect in kindness and tenderness. And even so, and even such, is He now daily with us; but we perceive it not.2 [Note: Watchwords from Luther.]
Dear sad J. is full of fears, but the vision will presently come, and he will know the Lord as “all things and in all,” and he will be a blessed light. I feel I know his standing well; his utterances want simplicity and spirituality. He knows Jesus as “the Christ,” but not yet as “the Lord,” so it seems to me. Hence he lingers in the letter of the Gospel history; he does not mount up into the heavens with St. Paul, and commune with the Lord of Glory, in communion with whom the earthly history is known in its boundless and blessed significance.1 [Note: R. W. Corbett, Letters from a Mystic of the Present Day, 40.]
(3) It may be that our scribe belonged to that class which it has been customary for some time to speak of as honest doubters. That such exist within the Church in hundreds to-day we all know. Spurgeon has some rather contemptuous words about “honest doubt.” What has “honest doubt” done for the world? What churches has it built? What nations has it founded? What hospitals has it built? What battles has it won? No; “honest doubt” has done none of these things, and perhaps there was need of the bold preacher’s utterance at a time when “honest doubt” was being coddled almost to death. But we should ever remember that if “honest doubt” has done none of these things, it has done one thing, and that the grandest of all. It has made men. The great men of faith were all at one time “honest doubters.” Christ therefore loves the “honest doubter.” He says to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God”; only, remember you are not in. Your honest doubt won’t save you. Men have asked, “Is doubt a sin?” No; doubt is not a sin, but doubt is a disease. And no man was ever saved by a disease. That great doubters have been saved I doubt not, but it was not their doubts that saved them. They were saved by the faith that “lived” in their “honest doubts.”
A newspaper writer recently described a strange habit that seamen have of visiting a famous city without landing. He said: I spoke with the mate of a ship one day at Venice, and asked him how he liked the city. Well, he had not been ashore yet. He was told that he had better go ashore; that the Piazza San Marco was worth seeing. Well, he knew it, he had seen pictures of it; but he thought that he wouldn’t go ashore. Why not, now he was here? Well, he laid out to go ashore the next time he came to Venice. So he lay three weeks with his ship, after a voyage of two months, and sailed away without even setting his foot on that enchanted ground. How many, after crossing troubled seas of doubt and conflict, and finding themselves in the very haven of rest, yet hesitate to take the last step and possess the land. “Glorious things are spoken of thee, thou city of God.” Leave behind you the salt, estranging sea; be no more tossed to and fro; plant your feet on the smiling shore, walk its streets of gold, wear its white raiment, share its beauty and joy.1 [Note: W. L. Watkinson.]
(4) Perhaps he was not willing to profess himself openly a disciple of Christ and accept all that this would involve. He may have lacked the persistence of Nicodemus, who, though afraid of the Jews, yet came “by night” to be instructed in the way of the Kingdom. “Except a man be born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” This was at first a hard saying to Nicodemus, but there is every reason to believe that he did commit himself more and more to Christ in newness of life; but, in so far as we have traces or glimpses of his history in the Gospels up to the time of the resurrection of Christ, he shows the same timid shrinking temper which brought him to Jesus under cover of darkness. The resurrection, being the seal and crown of all our Lord’s earthly work, and the signal for the coming of the illuminating and strengthening Spirit, had a wonderful effect on the disciples generally, and it may have been the occasion of the complete confirmation of Nicodemus in the faith of Christ.
Shall I, for fear of feeble man,
Thy Spirit’s course in me restrain?
Or undismay’d in deed and word,
Be a true witness to my Lord?
Awed by a mortal’s frown, shall I
Conceal the Word of God most high?
How then before Thee shall I dare
To stand, or how Thy anger bear?
No; let man rage! since Thou wilt spread
Thy shadowing wings around my head:
Since in all pain Thy tender love
Will still my sweet refreshment prove.2 [Note: George Whitefield.]
There is a picture in stone which is enshrined in one of our cathedrals. It is the monument of one of England’s noblest bishops, the great and self-sacrificing Selwyn. Above the sarcophagus, which is of white marble, there is a recumbent figure of the great missionary, with a beautiful, placid countenance and the hands folded crosswise upon his breast. But the most beautiful thing of all is a window—a cross-shaped window—which is filled with crimson glass. It is so placed that when the noontide sun falls upon it, it throws the shadow of a blood-stained cross on the breast and face of the noble bishop beneath. It is, one feels, the truest epitaph that could be written of him. His life was made beautiful by the Cross. And so, if we are able to take that farther step which leads us into the Gethsemane of sacrifice, we shall not regret it. We shall come to feel with growing assurance and joy that our lives never truly touch completeness till they touch the Cross.1 [Note: W. Mackintosh Mackay.]
Why wilt thou thus engage thy mind,
My Master said, and fall behind?
What matters it to thee,
Whate’er their whispering be?
Come on and leave their talk alone:
Stand like a tower firm, whose crown
Its summit never vails
For all the whistling gales.2 [Note: Dante, Purg. v. 10–15 (tr. by Paget Toynbee).]
Not Far from the Kingdom
Arnold (T.), Sermons; Christian Life and its Course, 93.
Chadwick (G. A.), The Gospel of St. Mark, 337.
Drummond (R. J.), Faith’s Perplexities, 259.
Ker (J.), Sermons, 1st Ser., 121.
Mackay (W. Mackintosh), Bible Types of Modern Men, 196.
Maclaren (A.), Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Mark ix–xvi., 148.
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Plummer (A.), An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to St. Matthew , 25.
Rogers (J. H.), The ‘Verily, Verilys’ of Christ, 21.
Vaughan (J.), Sermons (Brighton Pulpit), 2nd Ser., v. No. 520.
Watkinson (W. L.), The Bane and the Antidote, 23.
Williams (C), The Evolution of Faith, 52.
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