Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE INFLUENCE OF A DEVOUT EXAMPLE. "As he was praying.., one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray." It was the sight of his Master in the act of prayer which prompted this disciple to make his request. Thus devotion in him begat devotion in them. All actions, good and bad, are contagious. Bad actions entice the evil, and good ones attract and inspire the holy and the pure. An oath is an encouragement to the profane, a prayer is an incentive to the devout. Only infinite wisdom can tell whether we produce the greater effect by the unconscious influence of our life, or by the result of direct, verbal persuasion. But we can all see that they go well together; that persuasion to piety with the drawback of a prayerless life would be of very small account. But to be a man of prayer, to be (without ostentation) known to be such, to be evidently "at home" with God, to be felt to be one that continually seeks Divine guidance in the daily conduct of life, - this is to be influential for good. it is to be saying in the most effective way," It is good for me to draw near to God," and indeed to be saying most forcibly also, "It is good for you to draw near to God." The man of sustained piety, of devout habits which he never lays down, who compels men to feel that in his view God is not to be forgotten or his service relegated to the second place, is a power for good; he is living a truth of vital consequence, he is a blessing to the society in which he moves.
II. THE HIGHEST FUNCTION OF A RELIGIOUS TEACHER. "Lord, teach us to pray."
1. Not to instruct in sacred truth, high as that is, enlightening the mind on the greatest of all subjects.
2. Not even to cause disciples to meditate on their spiritual condition, and to consider how they are themselves affected by the truth they have learned.
3. But to lead to God in direct and immediate devotion: the teacher or religious friend who helps another to unburden his heart in prayer to God, to pour out his spirit in submission or in dedication to the Divine Savior, is rendering the highest possible service one human being can render to another.
III. THE OFFICE OF THE DIVINE TEACHER. This is not only or chiefly to instruct or to cause us to inquire, but rather to lead us to God in direct, spiritual communion. This Jesus does by:
1. Opening the way to God; becoming the one and only Mediator between God and man, through whom we have constant and perfect access to the Holiest One.
2. Showing us the efficacy of prayer; and this he does
(1) by his own most strong and satisfying assertion (vers. 9-13); and
(2) by revealing God to us as a Father who distinguishes each one of his children from all others, earnestly desires the return of each absent child, and purposes to renew and transform every son and daughter into his own likeness. Such a Father could not but listen and respond when his children cry to him.
3. Giving to us a deep sense of the need of prayer; and this he does by his own example, and also by his teaching. In this he so impresses us with the value of each human soul, with the sinfulness of sin, with the possibilities of spiritual worth and sacred usefulness, and with the grand opening for the faithful soul in the higher spheres beyond, that we are impelled to come to God for his redeeming, sanctifying, strengthening grace. - C.
retreat with them, and had himself led the devotions of the little band. Struck by the beauty of his petitions, one of his disciples asked him to teach them to pray, as John had taught his disciples. To this appeal Jesus responds at once, and in doing so gives them first a form, which was also meant to be a model; and secondly, a theory of prayer, in which we shall have little difficulty in finding its true philosophy. Let us look at these two matters in their order.
I. THE FORM AND MODEL OF PRAYER COMMONLY CALLED THE LORD'S PRAYER. (Vers. 2-4.) Jesus is represented here as saying to the disciples, "When ye pray, say," while in Matthew 6:9 it is "After this manner therefore pray ye.' It is evident from this that he meant the words to answer the double purpose - to be a form in constant use, and to be a model constantly imitated. It is consequently most important to look carefully into its contents. And here we have to notice that it sets intercession before petition for personal benefits. Prayer thus becomes a great instrument for rendering us disinterested and unselfish. When modelled on this peerless prayer of Christ, it carries us at once into the wide interests of God's kingdom before we devote any consideration to petty personal interests. The genius of prayer is thus seen to be the subordination of self to the universal interest. The hallowing of the Father's precious Name comes first, then the coming of his kingdom, and then the doing of his will on earth as in heaven. What a statesmanlike view we are thus led to take of the general problem before we even think of the particular and personal problem! The moment we have in our closet entered intelligently and heartily into these three petitions, we have got out of the narrowness of petty cares and troubles into the broad expanse of the Divine love. We are taken to mountain-tops at once, and from the sublime heights of Divine compassion we are led to intercede for the world below us, that it may be as speedily as possible transmuted into something like what heaven happily is. Then for the minor personal petitions, these refer to daily bread, and daily pardon, and daily deliverance from evil - the personal blessings, in fact, which fit the individual for aiding the wider interest and subserving the universal blessing. We are thus warranted in asking for bread to sustain the body, for pardon to relieve the heavy-laden soul, for deliverance amid the further temptations to which we may be exposed. And in the petition for pardon, it is clearly implied that forgiveness can only be realized by a forgiving spirit. The soul which will not forgive a brother who asks for forgiveness shows that forgiveness has not been and cannot be realized. In fact, the unforgiving spirit is, as far as we can judge, the unpardonable sin (cf. Matthew 18:21-35).
II. OUR LORD'S THEORY OF PRAYER. (Vers. 5-13.) When we analyze our Lord's argument here, we find it to be analogical; and the truth is that we are shut up in this matter to analogical reasoning. It can be shown that it is to analogy we owe our knowledge of human beings, of the lower animals, and finally of God above us. In order to ally other than analogical knowledge, we should require to become incarnated, so to speak, in the other being whose condition we desire to know. Seeing that this is impossible, we are shut up to the argument from analogy upon such a subject, Our Lord, then, looked around him, and saw that efficacious prayer was embedded as a fact in the very constitution of society. Petition is the form which conscious need assumes in social intercourse; and a response comes forth with more or less promptitude and grace, and demonstrates that the prayer has proved efficacious. It is further to be noticed that our Lord, in pointing out efficacious prayer as existing in the society of his time, gives us first an example of efficacious intercession, and then an example of efficacious personal petition. His illustrations consequently follow the lines laid down in his prescribed form of prayer. To encourage intercession, he presents the picture of the importunate friend begging successfully a supper for an unexpected and hungry guest; to encourage personal petition, he presents the picture of hungry children crying to their father for food; and he would have us to reason from the efficacious prayer among men to the certainty of prayer being efficacious when presented unto God. Let us look at the illustrations in the order given. A kindly, hospitable man is about to retire to rest with his household, having in the last meal consumed the small stock of food which his humble house contains; when, lo! to his surprise, a friend arrives after a long journey, hungry as well as weary - a most fitting object, therefore, of hospitality. What is to be done? He quickly decides. Having most probably arranged for the washing of the guest's feet, he passes out into the darkness, and seeks the door of a friend who can, he believes, lend him as many loaves as he needs. It is not a personal want he is about to urge, but the need of a hungry and weary friend. He stands before the door, consequently, in the simple majesty of disinterestedness. He begins to knock, but at first receives no encouragement. "Trouble me not," says his friend within: "the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee." Nothing daunted, however, and pocketing all his pride, for he knows well it is no selfish plea he is urging, he resolves to knock on till his beleaguered friend capitulates. At length importunity triumphs; the friend in bed sees plainly that the only chance of rest that night for himself and his children is to give in as soon as possible, and let the importunate petitioner have his way; and so he rises and gives him as many loaves as he needs. Here, then, according to our Lord, is a case of efficacious intercessory prayer as between men. It may not receive an immediate answer, but importunity secures an ultimate answer. We are warranted, therefore, in rising from efficacious intercessory prayer among men to the assurance that intercessory prayer will prove efficacious with God. God may keep us waiting, not certainly from any selfish consideration, but for our own good, but ultimately he will respond to every unselfish intercession. Hence our Lord reaches the assurance, "And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you," etc. The second case brought before us by Christ is efficacious prayer in the family circle. Hungry children present prayers to parents for food, for bread, for fish, for eggs, as among the humbler classes in Palestine; and the fathers who are asked for such things never think of mocking the hungry ones with a stone, a serpent, or a scorpion. The earthly parent hears and answers the children's prayer; the prayer is efficacious. So will it be, argues our Lord, as we appeal for the needful blessings to our Father in heaven. "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?" It is surely instructive to think that earthly parents, in the midst of a "reign of law," which they only partially understand, can yet know how to give good things to their children. Be the times ever so hard, they can generally manage to give the little ones bread and keep them off the parish. Is it not reasonable to argue that the heavenly Father, who knows all "the reign of law," because its Author and Lord, can give the Holy Spirit, or any minor and needful blessing his children crave, unto the prayerful? We have only, in conclusion, to emphasize the fact that the Holy Spirit is the great need of human souls. Let us ask him as God's supreme Gift, and we shall assuredly receive him even in Pentecostal power. It is this Gift which individuals and Churches need to make them truly useful! - R.M.E.
strain and spirit of the "prayer." The true service to be gained from "the Lord's Prayer" is to gather from it the way in which to draw nigh to God, not only in the worship of the sanctuary, but in the quiet, unseen fellowship of the chamber. What Christ would say to us is this, that in our prayer to God -
I. WE SHOULD GIVE A PROMINENT PLACE TO THE PROGRESS OF HIS SPIRITUAL KINGDOM. Out of six petitions the first three are devoted to the growth of the glory and the kingdom of God. This is surely a very significant fact. It rebukes all selfishness and short-sightedness in the presence of God. It invites us, and indeed it summons us, to make the object of our first and deepest solicitude the cause of Jesus Christ, the exaltation of our Divine Father in the minds and in the lives of men. It suggests to us the consideration whether we are as much concerned as our Master would have us be for this great issue. How much do we care that God's Name is profaned as it is, his will left undone and violated as it is, his claims disregarded as they are, by the irreverent, by the disloyal, by the disobedient children of men? In prayer our mind should turn readily and frequently to this theme.
II. THAT WE SHOULD ASK FOR GOD'S HELP IN THE CONDUCT OF OUR TEMPORAL AFFAIRS. "Give us day by day our daily bread" is a petition that not only warrants, but requires, that we make our bodily necessities and all matters pertaining to our world-life the subject of prayer. It is right to ask for strength and skill, for wisdom and guidance, that we may discharge our daily duties and earn our livelihood honestly in the sight of all men. It is wrong to leave this out of our daily devotion. Jesus Christ would have us look to God for the supply of temporal needs, and ask his blessing and aid in securing it. We shall work all the more worthily, honourably, uprightly, through the day for asking God's guidance at its commencement; we shall make a better use of what we earn it' we continually seek strength of God to earn it.
III. THAT WE SHOULD SEEK EARNESTLY FOR THE DIVINE FAVOUR. "Forgive us our sins," etc. It should be a matter of vital interest to us that we are walking in the light of God's loving favor, our sins forgiven, and ourselves regarded as his beloved children, reconciled to him in Jesus Christ. God's abiding favor should be the very sunshine of our soul, the presence of which makes all things bright, the absence of which throws everything into dark shadow.
IV. THAT WE SHOULD PRAY FOR DIVINE HELP IN OUR SPIRITUAL STRUGGLE. "Lead us not," etc. We should be daily recognizing the fact that our condition here is that of men that are fighting a hard battle against powerful enemies; that we need continual deliverance from evils which beset us; that the worst foes that assail us are those which would lead us into sin and down to shame and death. In this supreme struggle we need the arm of the Almighty on our side. If he be on our side, we shall conquer; if not, we shall be defeated. Therefore let us seek daily help from our heavenly Father for the daily conflict through which we pass on our way homeward.
V. THAT THERE ARE TWO SPIRITUAL CONDITIONS under which alone we can expect to find favor with God.
1. That we breathe a forgiving spirit in our relations with our fellow-men (ver. 4).
2. That we shun the path where perilous temptation lurks; for how can we ask God to "lead us not" thither, when we deliberately walk into it? - C.
I. WOULD MEAN TO OUR RACE. It would mean very much more than the triumph of the Strong One.
1. It would mean the rule of the absolutely Holy One - of that One who only wills that which is pure, just, good, in every possible relation. It would mean, therefore, the abolition of all wrongs of every kind, and the establishment of the right and the true in every scene and sphere.
2. Also the guidance of the perfectly Wise One - of that One who chooses the very best means to secure the right ends. It would bring about the adoption of the wisest course in the pursuit of every worthy aim.
3. Also the supremacy of the altogether Benevolent One - of him who desires the 'perfect welfare of all his creatures, of all his children - their temporal prosperity, their spiritual well-being.
II. WOULD MEAN TO OURSELVES. The light in which it would present itself to our minds would, perhaps, be this - that our Divine Father was exalted to the throne of humanity; that he whom we worship and whom we love and obey had become the object of the reverence, the affection, the obedience, of all mankind; that he who, in our heart's deepest convictions, is alone worthy to receive the homage of the race, was receiving it; and in that crowning triumph we should find our victory and our joy.
III. DEMANDS OF US THAT IT MAY BE REALIZED.
1. And the first demand is that we ourselves become subject to his holy will. And to do this we must
(2) live in daily obedience to his will as revealed in his Word;
(3) bow in meekness of spirit to his will, whatever he may ordain for us.
2. And the second is that we seek, in prayer for his transforming influence, that the will of evil men may be overthrown, and his holy will be done; that he would send forth noble workers into the great harvest-field (Luke 10:2); that he would greatly bless the labors of those who are sowing the seed of the kingdom, and cause it to multiply a hundredfold.
3. And that by our lives and by our lips we commend the truth of his Word, the gospel of his grace, to the understanding and the conscience of all whom we can affect. - C.
1 Kings 18.). Rather should we think of him as of a Divine Father who, for our sake, delays his answer to our prayer, in order that we may be disciplined in devotion, and in order that he may give us what we ask, with a fuller blessing in the bestowal.
I. THE FACT OF UNANSWERED PRAYER. It is a fact attested by the common, if not the universal, experience of the devout, that prayer is often presented to God without any answer being presently and consciously received. And this is not only true of prayer that is not worthy of the name - of mere sacred formalities which proceed only from the sense and not from the soul; it is true of genuine, spiritual devotion. Men honestly and earnestly pray God to give them blessings, and he withholds them. The sickness is not removed, the life not spared, the burden not lightened, the son not reclaimed, the friend not reconciled, the cause not blessed, the wrong not stayed, the faithful not delivered; and the hearts of the people of God are filled with sorrow and dismay; the question that rises to their lips is, "How long, O Lord, how long dost thou not respond?"
II. THE MEANING OF GOD'S SILENCE.
1. It may mean that we ask for the wrong thing - for that which we think will help us, but which God knows will harm us; which (he knows) will do us much more of lasting, spiritual harm than confer on us present bodily or temporal relief.
2. It may mean that we are expecting the answer in the wrong way. Like Naaman, we may have laid down, in our own thought, the precise way in which God is to help or heal us, and it may be with us, as it was with him, that God is purposing to respond in another way altogether - perhaps by some simple means (as in his case), which we are disposed to consider unworthy of the occasion; perhaps by some way in which we shall be taught a lesson in humility or in some other grace.
3. It may mean that we are expecting the answer at the wrong time, much sooner than it would be wise for God to give it, or well for us to receive it.
III. THE REWARD OF CONTINUANCE IN PRAYER. We find, as our Lord teaches us in the parable, that while our friend wilt not always give us our request at once, yet he will grant it if we do but persevere (ver. 8). And so with our Divine Friend; he may not answer our prayer at once; he may delay long to respond to us. He may know that if we received immediately everything we desired of him, we should become unduly confident or be otherwise injuriously affected. He may know and may wish us to learn by disciplinary experience that
"His help is always sure,
1. Conscious and joyous acceptance with God through faith in Jesus Christ.
2. Our spiritual growth.
3. Our usefulness in that especial sphere in which we are engaged for him. - C.
to men, and he revealed him as the Father of men. He taught us to address him as such (ver. 2), and to feel toward him.as such. He would have us realize that God sustains to us a relationship very closely indeed corresponding to that which a human father sustains to his child. In the text he teaches us that this analogy is so close and so real that we may draw practical inferences from the lower to the higher one. The particular conclusion which our Lord draws is -
I. FROM OUR GIVING TO HIS. No human father would give his son a stone when appeal was made to him for bread, etc.; would put him off with a response which would only be a bitter disappointment. Such a one would be not only an exception to his kind, but would be guilty of an act that would be simply monstrous in general regard. If, then, we, "being evil," cannot withhold "good gifts" from our children, how much less will the heavenly Father deny his blessings to us, his sons and daughters! What we, with our finite and limited love, could not refuse, it is certain that he, in his infinite goodness and boundless pity, will readily bestow. There are two blessings which we particularly want of God our heavenly Father. - provision for our temporal well-being, and succor for our soul. We cannot live without these. Our bodily nature craves the one, our spiritual nature needs the other. Bread we must have, and all that "bread" stands for, that we may live happily and serviceably as those that tread the path of mortal life. But "man cannot live on bread alone;" he needs those higher and holier gifts which nourish the soul, which feed the flame of piety and zeal, which strengthen him for spiritual conflict, and give him the victory over his worst enemies. For these two great blessings we may confidently ask God, and he will assuredly grant them. It is much more certain that God our Father will provide for our real necessities, and will strengthen our souls with all needful Divine influences, than it is certain that the kindest human father will not mock his beloved children when they appeal for his bounty. With holy boldness, then, may we go to the throne of grace, and pray for all those things that are requisite alike for the body as for the soul. But we may carry this argument with which our Lord has supplied us into other spheres, and may thus "assure our hearts" concerning him.
II. FROM OUR FORGING TO HIS. We may have a difficulty in realizing the great truth that God is willing to forgive us all our sin and to reinstate us fully in his favor. But if as sons we have been forgiven by our parents, or if as parents we have forgiven our children and taken them back into the fullness of our favor, we may argue safely from the human fatherhood to the Divine. If we, "being evil," with such small and scanty magnanimity as we possess, can forgive freely, how much more can he - he whose ways of mercy are as much higher than ours as the heaven is higher than the earth!
III. FROM OUR GUIDANCE TO HIS. How impossible it is for any of us that is a father to refuse guidance to one of our children when he comes to ask it of us! Only the most heartless, the most unfatherly, could think of declining it. And since that is so with us, in all our human imperfection, how positive it is that the Divine Father will guide us by the shaping of his providence, or by the prompting of his Spirit, when we see not our way, but make known our request unto him to "lead us all our journey through"!
IV. FROM OUR SOLICITUDE TO HIS. One of the very greatest questions we propose to ourselves is this - Does God care enough for each one of us to renew our life in another realm when we leave this world? Jesus Christ's declaration is the answer to this question (John 5:24-29). But we find strong, reassuring help here. How much do we care for the continuance of the life of our children? How much do we not care? What words will express our parental solicitude that death should not strike them down, that they should live, and that their life should be large, free, blessed? If that is our concern for them, what will not God our Father desire for us? What will he not care that we do not perish in the arms of death, but have everlasting life in the embrace of his own heavenly love? - C.
diabolical inspirations with this. Unless we notice the artistic treatment by the accomplished author of the Third Gospel, we shall miss much of his meaning. The circumstance which led to the question of infernal inspiration was the healing of a man who was possessed by a dumb devil. Here was a case, then, where a demon, entering into and possessing a human being, had sealed his lips so that he could not speak. Our Savior expelled the demon, and the man immediately recovered the power of speech. At this the people wondered. But the wise men among his enemies had a theory to meet the case; they insisted that it was because Beelzebub, the chief of the devils, dwelt in Christ that he was able to expel the inferior demon. Others insisted on a sign from heaven to supplement these "signs" on earth. To both classes he gives due answer. Let us look at the two theories, and the interlude which separates Christ's treatment of them, in their order.
I. THE THEORY THAT JESUS WAS POSSESSED BY BEELZEBUB. There was something plausible in this. Assuming that demons are subject to their superiors, the hostile spirits insinuated that Jesus had got the chief of the devils in him, and so was able to order the inferior demons. In the theory there was the admission that the devil, who had made the poor possessed one dumb, had obeyed Christ's command and left his victim. But so far from this demonstrating Christ's goodness to their suspicious souls, it only demonstrated his league with the chief of the devils. It is truly wonderful how unholy hearts can twist the clearest demonstrations into the foulest suspicions and insinuations. The question of infernal inspirations is thus raised, as a set-off and contrast to the Divine inspirations which Jesus showed his disciples were possible for them, and which he illustrated in perfection himself. Let us see how our Lord meets the Insinuation of his enemies.
1. Christ shows that in expelling the dumb devil he had been so far breaking up Satan's kingdom. Although, therefore, it must be acknowledged that Satan and his emissaries do often take suicidal courses, and by fancied wisdom really undermine their kingdom, yet it could not be supposed that the chief of the devils would deliberately restore a man to sanity and the power of speech. This would be too insane a course for the arch-fiend to take. When souls are rendered sane and social, we may conclude at once that it is not Satan's work. Hence in the fact that the kingdom of Satan was being broken up by the philanthropic policy of Jesus, there was proof positive that their theory was false.
2. Christ reminds them of Jewish exorcism, and asks if they have considered the suspicion their theory casts on their own exorcists. [By certain incantations and tedious processes the Jews had been accustomed to expel the demons and cure the demented ones. The difference between the Jewish exorcisms and this one of Jesus was that his was simpler and speedier. Hence if it was Beelzebub that enabled him to exorcise the demon, it must be some other form of diabolic inspiration which enabled their own exorcists to succeed. Our Lord thus used a crushing argumentum ad hominem, which they could not resist.
3. Jesus insists on the victorious character of the spiritual inspiration of which he was at once an Embodiment and the Source. It was by" the finger of God" he expelled the demons, and in his Person the triumphant kingdom of God had come nigh to them. For, as he here shows, there is a contention between two opposing parties for the palace of the human heart. The devil may for a time usurp possession. There is peace throughout the palace; there may even be silence, as in the present case, when the devil had made the possessed one dumb. But the Stronger One comes, the Spirit of Christ enters, overcomes the devil, robs him of his armor in which he trusted, and divides the spoil. Thus graphically does our Lord represent the conquest of the soul and the glorious result of the victory. It is the Mightiest overcoming the strong, and claiming his rights in the palace of the soul. Thus does God's kingdom come within us!
4. Jesus shows the dangers of a vacant soul. Referring possibly to the Jewish exorcisms, wherein the demons were expelled, but no stronger occupant introduced to the palace of the soul, our Lord shows how the vacant soul becomes a prey to demons once more. And the result of reoccupation is generally worse than the first occupancy. How often is it seen that superficial reform is followed by a backsliding worse than any previous sin! The last state of the man is worse than the first. It is essential, therefore, that when a soul is freed from one spirit, it should be tenanted by another and a better. Only the radical change which the indwelling of the Divine Spirit secures can make the soul safe amid the temptations of Satan and his hosts.
II. THE INTERLUDE UPON THE BLESSEDNESS OF OBEDIENCE. (Vers. 27, 28.) As Jesus spake these wise words about inspiration, a woman in the crowd, touched by their beauty and faithfulness, exclaimed, "Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked!" Her idea was that it must have been a great privilege to be related to such a Person, especially to have been his mother. And the blood-relationship, of course, could have no wide radius; only a select few could stand around him in actual relationship. But Jesus interposes at once to show that there is a blessedness which all may realize, a blessedness which his mother or brethren could not monopolize, and this is the blessedness of obedience to God's Word. Motherhood involved many trials in the case of Mary, as well as many privileges; but obedience is an open door into which all may enter. In the keeping of God's commandments there is a great reward. Thus he forbade all discontent and all envy, and put the woman and the audience generally upon the true track in which to realize blessedness. Receiving God's Word in humble faith, trying to keep it in dependence upon God's grace, - this is the secret of true blessedness. Such spiritual relationship is better than blood-relationship. At it all of us should aim.
III. THE THEORY OF INSUFFICIENT SIGNS. (Vers. 16, 29-36.) The miracles of healing, it would seem, were insufficient to convince Christ's enemies that he was from God. They demanded more a sign from heaven; something, that is, which would connect him with the heavenly world.
1. Now, the way our Lord meets this unreasonable demand is by denying their right to such a sign. It was most unreasonable, and to unreasonable clamor our Lord never yielded. His miracles were of such a character, were so numerous, and so instructive, that nothing but wilful blindness could prevent the demonstration from being final and conclusive.
2. Jesus declares that in the history of Jonah they would have a sign. (Vers. 29, 30, 32.) Now, in what respect was Jonah a sign to the Ninevites? Accepting as historic the narrative of his flight, his imprisonment in the fish, his release from it, and his subsequent preaching to the Ninevites, we see a striking parallel between it and the history of Christ. As Jonah was buried in the fish, and so the endangered seamen were saved, so Jesus was buried in the tomb, and through his death saved endangered sinners. Again, as Jonah was cast forth from his imprisonment to land and life again, so Jesus by resurrection passed from the imprisonment of the tomb into the newness of immortal life. And as Jonah became a witness to the Ninevites of the truth of God's threatenings and God's mercy, so Jesus, in the persons of his apostles, and in Pentecostal power, became a witness to his generation. Moreover, the Ninevites repented at the preaching of Jonah, and in so doing they would be a standing rebuke and condemnation to Christ's contemporaries, who resisted his preaching and would not repent of their sins. In the light of Christ's subsequent fate, the sign of the Prophet Jonah must have proved striking in the extreme.
3. Jesus declares that the Queen of Sheba would condemn his contemporaries, as she was attracted by the wisdom of Solomon, while a greater than Solomon was here. (Ver. 31.) The wisdom of Solomon was not associated with any miracle. It stood alone. It was rendered impressive by a halo of worldly glory; but this was all. Yet it commanded the queen of the south, who came from her distant land and learned wisdom at Solomon's feet. The worth of wisdom is the lesson of her long journey. [But Christ's contemporaries, who have more wisdom by far in his discourses, and who have the miracles backing up the whole, are refusing the matchless testimony. Their condemnation shall be all the greater considering the noble conduct of the queen. How prone we are to despise the present opportunity, and to imagine that the former days were better than these, when the truth may be that now the most magnificent opportunity of all the ages is lying to our hands!
4. The great necessity he shows is singleness of eye. (Vers. 33-36.) This is the practical lesson with which our Lord closes his answer to his enemies. There is a light in the world, and it is not hidden. As the Light of the world, he was himself occupying a sufficiently elevated candlestick, and illumining all within the house. But if his hearers and interviewers had duplicity and not singleness of aim, they would miss the illumination and be filled with darkness. This was their danger. Hence he urges singleness of eye. If they but gazed on him with the proper motive, they would find their whole lives illumined, and glory waiting upon their work. He was anxious for this result - hence his warning. We learn, then, the necessity of singleness and simplicity of aim. In such a case we shall need no theories to account for Christ's power, but acknowledge its Divine and gracious character at once. Then shall our whole heart go forth in sympathy to him, and we shall be with him in co-operation and in success. - R.M.E.
power shows solid worth. The corrupt empire falls; the false system is exploded; the demoralizing custom is discarded. That which, under all changes, shows itself strong and enduring, is proved to be sound and good. But add the element of benignity. Jesus Christ adduces his beneficent power in the expulsion of evil spirits from the bodies of men as a convincing evidence of the Divine presence; that being done, "no doubt the kingdom of God is come." Power for good, for healing, for restoring, for transforming, such power continuing for many generations and acting under all skies, - "no doubt" that is from above; it is of God. If we find that Christianity has proved itself to be the one great benignant power in the world, exerting a gracious, redeeming, elevating influence on humanity, then "no doubt the kingdom of God is come" upon us. We shall see that this is so if we consider -
I. THE STATE OF SOCIETY WHEN JESUS CAME. And we have to take into our account the parental tyranny; the position of woman in her state of inferiority and even degradation; the universal sentiment toward the stranger or the foreigner, spoken of and treated as a "barbarian" and an enemy; the prevalence of war, and its conduct with every imaginable cruelty and the most shocking recklessness of life; the prevalence of slavery under a system in which the slaves were regarded and treated as absolutely without any rights or claims whatsoever; the existence of gladiatorial shows, in which the lives of hundreds of strong men in the midst of life were sacrificed for sport to men and even to women; the common usage of infanticide; the abundance of pauperism, existing to such an extent that in the time of Caesar "nearly three-fourths of the whole population of the city of Rome were on the roll of public succor;" the institution of torture; the practice of licentious shows, and of unnatural and unnameable vices. We have here no more than a bare outline of the evils which existed in the world when "Jesus was born at Bethlehem."
II. WHAT AMELIORATION CHRISTIANITY HAS WROUGHT AND IS WORKING. Three things have to be mentioned - one to be admitted, and the other two to be maintained.
1. That there have been one or two auxiliary forces in the field, which have contributed towards the elevation of mankind; but theirs has been very much indeed the smaller share.
2. That Christianity was prevented from doing all it would have done by being bitterly opposed.
3. That its action has been most pitifully weakened by its truth having been so greatly corrupted. But what, notwithstanding, has it accomplished .9
(1) It has cast out the demon of parental tyranny, and made the child to be the object of respect and kindness.
(2) It has raised woman, and made her the helpmeet, in every way, of her husband, causing her to be treated with deference and consideration.
(3) It has mitigated the terrible severities of war, carrying its red cross of succor into the very midst of the battle-field, and, to a large extent, removing its hideous savagery.
(4) It has gone far towards exorcising the demon of slavery.
(5) It has abolished the shameful scenes of the old Roman arena.
(6) It has extinguished infanticide and torture wherever it has authority to legislate.
(7) It is carrying on a stern and victorious campaign against impurity and intemperance.
(8) It has built hospitals, lunatic asylums, reformatories, orphanages, almshouses, by the hundred, by the thousand.
(9) It has opened the school-door in which youth everywhere is prepared for the duties, the joys, and the conflicts of life.
(10) It has sent forth its many hundreds of heralds to carry light, peace, love, purity, wisdom, into the haunts of superstition, violence, and vice.
(11) It is penetrating the worst slums of our great cities, seeking out the prod, me, the abandoned, the criminal; and with its touch of holy pity, which surely proceeds from "the finger of God," it is casting out the demons of sin and shame. At the present rate of progress, another half-century will see a most wonderful and glorious change in the aspect of the human world.
III. THE CONCLUSION THAT WE DRAW. If Christianity has done, is doing, will do, all this, then "no doubt "in its advent we have the coming of the "kingdom of God." No doubt Christ has that to say to us which it is infinitely worth our while to know; that to do for us it is our highest privilege to have done on our behalf; that to be to us which it is immeasurably desirable he should be. Let us learn of him; be led by him into paths of sacred service; and invite him to become our personal Lord and Savior. - C.
I. THE JEWISH CHURCH. Delivered of the demon of idolatry, and having a house "swept and garnished," perfected with all external religious proprieties, it became possessed of the worse demon of hypocrisy - worse in that it was more hopeless. For the idolater may be and often is convicted of his folly and is led into wisdom and piety; but the formalist and hypocrite is scarcely ever, if ever, won from his unreality and spiritual pride.
II. MANY A CHRISTIAN CHURCH. Delivered from worldliness, from vanity, from vice, in the first instance, many a Church has cherished the cruel demon of persecution, or the evil demon of pride, or the dangerous demon of formality. And it proves to be harder to awaken the sinful Church, living under its Lord's condemnation, to a new repentance and a revival of religious earnestness, than it was at first to conduct it into his kingdom. Its last state is less hopeful than the first.
III. MANY A HUMAN SOUL.
1. Men go a very long way in the direction of heavenly wisdom. They listen, they understand, they feel, they purpose, they pray, they profess, they preach or teach Divine truth to others, they conform their conduct to the requirements of the Word of God.
2. In this good course they are arrested, and they return on their way. Their devotedness slackens; their habits of worship become less regular; their habits of life become less scrupulous; the "spirit of their mind" grows secular, and indeed profane; they fall out of the ranks of the earnest, and, at last, even of the reverent; perhaps they descend to the unworthy, and even to the criminal. Not literally, but metaphorically speaking, there are "evil sprats" in them. They "are gone away backward."
3. Thus returning, they have almost hopelessly separated themselves from Christ; the "last state of that man is worse than the first" (see Hebrews 6:4-6). Not that renewal is absolutely impossible, but it is so spiritually difficult and so exceedingly rare that it may be said to be morally impossible. You cannot restore elasticity to the spring that has been overbent. You cannot make pungent again the salt that has lost its savor. You cannot infuse new force into truths which an emasculating familiarity has deprived of their virtue and their interest. Far more hopeless is the condition of the human soul that has drifted away from Christ than the one that has never heard of his Name or never been impressed with his claims. Therefore what?
(1) Let the Christian teacher see that his work is deep as well as broad; that the roots of sacred conviction are well planted in the soil; let him not be satisfied with his "converts" when they only manifest feeling; let him be assiduous in his attention, earnest in his prayer, until he is well assured that the soul for whom he is watching (Hebrews 13:17) has yielded himself, fully and whole-heartedly, to the Lord his Savior.
(2) Let the Christian disciple be on his guard; let him "watch and pray" lest he come under the power of some insidious temptation, lest he "lose that which he has wrought," lest the powers and principles that are from God and that have entered and touched his soul should depart from him, lest evil influences that are from beneath should take possession of him; for in that sad event he will be in a far worse spiritual state, more hopeless and pitiable, than if he had never heard the voice of Christ, and never risen at his call. - C.
Matthew 11:29), and which saved him from the charge of immodesty, yet was there in him a wonderful and wholly exceptional consciousness of greatness. On appealing to his own consciousness, he found himself anterior in existence to Abraham (John 8:58); greater (of more consequence to the nation) than the very temple itself, that object of boundless veneration (Matthew 12:6); living in heaven even while dwelling on the earth (John 3:13); associated in the most intimate way possible and (to us) inconceivable with the Divine Father (John 5:19; John 6:46; John 10:30); wiser and worthier than the "wise man" himself (text). It may not be surprising that One claiming to be a Prophet should believe himself to be superior in worth and work to Jonah; for there was nothing remarkably great either in the moral character or in the professional course of that erratic prophet. But in respect to Solomon? It may be said that only One who could claim to be highest among the highest was entitled to say, "I am greater than he." But the actual superiority of Christ to Solomon is apparent enough if we consider -
I. THE DIGNITY OF HIS PERSON. The Son of David was great, as such; but nothing in comparison with the Son of God. The King of Israel was great, as such; but nothing when compared with the Prince of peace, with him "who sitteth on the throne" of heaven.
II. THE CHARACTER OF THE WISDOM. Solomon was very learned in the knowledge of his age (1 Kings 4:29-34); he was also very skilled in the intellectual conflicts of his time (1 Kings 10.); he had, moreover, a very keen discernment of the ways and wants and weaknesses of human nature (Proverbs). And he had (what Jesus Christ had not) an acquaintance, gained by his own experience, of the hollowness of earthly greatness, of the pitiful consequences of human folly. But the wisdom of Christ was the wisdom of God. For such he had, and such indeed he was. He was "the Truth" (John 14:6); he was "the Wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:24, 30). He knew and taught mankind, as Solomon could not do, the nature and the will of God (Luke 10:22); the capacities and the possibilities of man (John 2:25); the way home to God (John 14:6); the secret of spiritual triumph (Matthew 10:39); the glory and the shame awaiting the faithful and the unfaithful in the future (Matthew 25.).
III. THE BEAUTY AND EXCELLENCY OF HIS LIFE. Beginning admirably (1 Kings 3:5), and continuing well for a season, Solomon gave way to dangerous luxury, to selfish and exacting legislation, and at last to moral corruption (1 Kings 11:1-10). The surpassing beauty of the character of Jesus Christ became more manifest as his life continued, and it culminated in a supreme act of self-sacrifice which is the crowning glory of his life.
IV. THE GLORY OF HIS CAREER. Solomon's career began in brilliance, it remained bright for many years; but its light waned as his character declined, and it was concluded in sombre shadows. The career of Jesus Christ began in lowliest obscurity, it continued in struggle and in sorrow for a while; but it has risen into the light, it becomes ever more blessed as his influence grows ever wider and deeper; it will not be complete until all the kingdoms of the earth are in subjection to his holy will.
1. Are we wise in the wisdom of Christ?
2. Are we the subjects of his benignant rule? - C.
I. MAN'S MORAL FREEDOM. However much character may be affected by circumstance, it remains true that man is a free agent. When we condemn ourselves or others, as we continually do; when we distinguish between misfortune and sin, between calamity and crime; whenever we apply the word "ought" to our own or to another's behavior; - we practically assent to the doctrine that man is spiritually free; otherwise such action on our part is unjust or illogical, such language improper. But, in truth, a sense of our moral freedom is inwrought in our deepest convictions; we cannot extricate it from our nature, however much we try.
II. OUR ACCOUNTABLENESS TO GOD FOR OUR CHARACTER AND LIFE.
1. God is requiring great things of us - thought, reverence, affection, submission, obedience.
2. He is marking at every moment the life we are living, the character we are forming; he is looking upon us and into us.
3. He is recording all our actions, including among these the thoughts of our mind, the feelings of our heart, the purposes of our will.
4. He will one day call us to give an account of "all the things done in the flesh."
III. A REVEALED PRINCIPLE OF DIVINE JUDGMENT. The men of Nineveh, the great Teacher tells us, will be a source of condemnation to those of Judaea, for with slighter privilege they repented, while the contemporaries of our Lord remained impenitent at the preaching of Christ himself.
1. There is to be punishment in the future.
2. This will be comparative - some guilty servants will be "beaten with few stripes," others with" many."
3. This, again, will depend on the degree of condemnation, whether it will be less or more severe.
4. And on what, then, will God's condemnation hang? Surely on two things.
(1) On the guiltiness of the character and life; for of the condemned there will be those in whom there was the "some good thing," or even many good things; and there will be those in whom there was no good thing toward God, but in whom were shameful things of many kinds.
(2) On the character of God's requirement; for God will require much less of some men than he will of others. What he will require of us depends on the measure of spiritual capacity he has conferred upon us, and also (and very largely) on the measure of the privilege he has granted to us. From those to whom Christ had preached he would require far more than from those to whom Jonah had delivered his brief warning message. And if we reject the gospel of the grace of God, how guilty shall we be in comparison with the men of our Master's own time! Surely we shall be at least as guilty as they. For though, indeed, we do not actually behold the countenance of the Son of man, nor hear the tones of his voice, yet we do "sit at his feet;" we are his disciples; we know the thoughts of his mind; we understand his will; we are familiar with his overtures of love. Indeed, we have certain great advantages which those to whom our Lord was speaking did not possess.
(a) We have the light that shines not only from the whole of his completed life, but also from his death and resurrection.
(b) We have Christ's own commentary, through the writings of his inspired apostles, upon his life and death.
(c) We have freedom from the national prepossessions which misguided those, his hearers.
(d) We have the accumulated experience of the Christian Church through eighteen centuries. If we heed not his Word, and range not ourselves on his side, if, "gathering not" with him the sheaves of righteousness, we scatter abroad the seeds of sin and death, who will there not be "to rise up in the judgment" and condemn us! - C.
i.e. the eye is the organ through which light enters so that the mind perceives; and if our eye is "single," if it is sound, and does not give a double or distorted or coloured impression, then the "whole body is full of light," then the man knows exactly what is about him and how to use his hands and direct his feet; but if the eye be diseased, if it be "evil," giving false impressions, then all is confusion in the mind, and it is as if "the whole body were full of darkness," no member of the body can take its proper part - the hands do not know how to handle, nor the feet to walk. Here we have a parable, very easily understood. "The spirit of man is the candle [lamp] of the Lord." God has given truth to the mind as he has prepared light for the body; he has also given us a spiritual eye, an organ through which Divine truth enters the mind. We may call it mind, conscience, reason, the soul; it is of no consequence what we call it; it is that in us which distinguishes between right and wrong, righteousness and unrighteousness, truth and falsehood, nobility and baseness; it is that which gives us the place we occupy in God's creation. If the light we receive into us is sound, pure, healthy, then our whole soul is full of light, then we "see light in God's light." But if this inward light be confused, disordered, discoloured, our whole spirit is "full of darkness;" that is to say, if our understanding be darkened, if we are habitually judging unrighteous judgment, if our conscience be condemning what is good and be approving what is evil, if our reason be misconceiving and misinterpreting, how hopeless IS our condition! When that which should lead is misleading, when that which should be guiding us into wisdom is betraying us into deadly error, when the light that is in us is darkness, "how great is that darkness" (Matthew 6:23)! But if, on the other hand, our reason is directing us to right conclusions, and our conscience is "approving things that are excellent," then our whole soul is walking and rejoicing in the light of the Lord, our spirit is full of light, it is a house wherein the bright shining of the lamp of truth does give us light. What, then, brings about bad spiritual sight? What are the diseases of the inward eye?
I. PREJUDICE. How that warps the judgment and blinds the eyes of men! Determined to recognize one object only, men can see no other, however it may stand before them in bold relief. It was prejudice that made the men of Christ's time fail to perceive that the kingdom of God had come among them. His wisdom, his worth, his power, everything was distorted and misconceived by them; their inward eye was diseased, and how great was the darkness that resulted!
II. PRIDE. How many men there are walking, strutting, across the stage of life, confident, complacent, contemptuous, that have been too proud to learn! Pride has bent their judgment, has affected for evil the inward eye; the truth has become distorted; there is darkness in the soul. Well does the apostle say, "If a man think himself to be wise, let him become a fool ['in his own opinion], that he may be wise." Pride blocks the path, while humility opens the gates of the kingdom of truth. "The meek will he guide in judgment, the meek will he teach his way."
III. SELFISHNESS. The worst of all diseases spoiling the spiritual sight. The man who lives under its evil dominion "sees double," is mentally confused, wanders in bewildering error. The slave-owner could not see the iniquity of slavery when his temporal interests covered the eyes of his mind with a thick film of falsity. Present prospects, worldly advantages, fleshly indulgences, - do these not form thick scales which cover the eyes of the children of men, leaving them in the darkness of error and of sin? Who can understand his errors? Who of us can be sure that he is not allowing some folly, some unworthy habit of the body or the mind, to intervene between the pure truth of Christ and his own spiritual understanding? The thought of Jesus Christ calls upon us to be humble, vigilant, prayerful, that "the thoughts of our hearts may be cleansed by the inspiration of his Spirit," so that instead of great darkness, or even an imperfect and ineffectual light within us, the whole house of the soul may be illumined with purest heavenly wisdom, "as when the bright shining of a candle dons give us light." - C.
I. OBJECTS OF GROSS EXAGGERATION. Our Lord pointed out the exaggerated importance which they attached to the outward, to the bodily, to the minute. They made everything of religious observances and customs. To wash the hands after coming from market, before eating bread, was to them quite a serious obligation, which they would on no account neglect; to tithe the small herbs that grew in their garden was to them a sacred duty, which they took pains to observe; to make the outside of their culinary vessels clean was a rule by no means to be forgotten; to carry no smallest stick on the sabbath day was a very sacred law, etc. These things, and such things as these, were made the staple of their religion; their piety was composed of small observances, of conformity to prescriptions and proscriptions which only touched the Outside and not the inner sanctuary, which only affected the body and not the soul; they made everything of that which was only of very slight importance; they exaggerated the minute until these became misleading and practically false.
II. OTHER OBJECTS FATALLY OVERLOOKED OR SLIGHTED. These were:
1. Inward purity. What did it matter if some cups were not quite clean? Something certainly, but very little comparatively; it was a matter of infinitesimal consequence. But it mattered much that their "inward part," their soul, was "full of ravening and wickedness." If they were themselves corrupt, no ceremonial cleanness would avail them. It is of infinite consequence to any man that he should be "all glorious within;" that there should be truth and purity "in the inward parts," in the deep recesses of the soul. It is the pure in heart alone that can see God and that can enter his kingdom.
2. Charity; a kind heart showing itself in a generous hand. Whoso has this disposition to pity, to heal, to help; whoso spends himself in endeavors to do good, to lighten the burdens of the afflicted, to brighten the path that lies in shadow; - this man is one to whom "all things are clean." He who is earnestly concerned to mitigate the sorrow of some bleeding heart, or to extricate some fallen spirit from the cruel toils of vice, or to lead some weary wanderer from the desert of doubt into the bright and happy home of faith and love, - he is not the man to be "greatly moved" because he carries a speck of dust upon his hands, or because a utensil has not been washed the proper number of times in a day.
3. Rectitude. The Pharisees passed over "judgment;" but they should have given to this a front place. To recognize the righteous claims of men on our regard, on our considerateness, on our fidelity, on our truthfulness, - is not this a very large part of any piety that is of God, commended by him and commending us to him?
4. The love of God. This also the Pharisees slighted. But it was of the very first importance. Their Law laid stress upon it (Deuteronomy 6:4, 5). It is the heritage and glory of manhood (see homily on Luke 10:27). To make little of this was so to misrepresent as to lead into ruinous error. Purity, charity, rectitude, the love of God, - these are the precious things which make man great, worthy, dear to God his Father. - C.
I. CHRIST'S EXPOSITION OF PHARISAIC HYPOCRISY. (Vers. 37-44.) Pharisaism was a supreme regard for appearances. Long garments, phylacteries, multiplied ablutions, long prayers in public places, ostentatious tithing of little things, combined to make up Pharisaism, a reputation based upon externals. One who looked upon the heart, like our Lord, could easily see that all this outward decorum was quite compatible with wickedness of heart. And so he told his host deliberately, "Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening ['extortion,' Revised Version] and wickedness." The cure is suggested when he leads him to think of God as alike the Author and Observer of what is without and within. "Ye fools ['foolish ones,' Revised Version], did not he that made that which is without ['the outside,' Revised Version] make that which is within ['the inside'] also? But rather give alms of such things as ye have ['Howbeit give for alms those things which are within,' Revised Version]; and, behold, all things are clean unto you." In this way he tries to lead his Pharisaic host to spirituality of life, to the expenditure of sympathy, of love, of brotherly kindness upon others, instead of indulging in outward acts behind which there was no real heart, but only a desire for personal reputation. Following up this line, he charges them with tithing potherbs, "the mint, anise, and cummin," while the weightier matters, "judgment and the love of God," matters that were within and spiritual, were left undone. Their preference for appearances, for the uppermost seats in the synagogues, for greetings in the markets, and all that goes to form a reputation, showed that they had not weighed aright the matters of the heart. No wonder that he concludes by comparing them to graves - "tombs," Revised Version - that appear not, over which men unwittingly tread. Whited sepulchres they were, beautiful outwardly, but within were dead men's bones and all uncleanness. It was a manly and terrible indictment for our Lord to make against them. And in doing so he exposed the principle of hypocrisy. It rests on appearances, on superficial judgments, on a forgetfulness that God searcheth the heart. It can be got rid of only by our getting down to first principles, and remembering that God "searcheth the hearts and trieth the reins of the children of men, even to give to every one according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings" (Jeremiah 17:9, 10).
II. CHRIST'S EXPOSURE OF LEGALIZED IMPOSITIONS. (Vers. 45-54.) A lawyer in the company, seeing his Pharisaic friends so severely handled by Christ, complains that his special department was involved also in the reproach. This leads our Lord to handle the lawyers more severely still. Their position was one of monopoly of the Late. To sustain their profession they had to make a great mystery of the meaning of the Law. Though it was largely plain enough for a runner to read and understand, it would have swept away all their privileges and profits to have left such an impression on the common people. Hence they took the Law into their own especial keeping, and interpreted it for the people as they pleased. The result of this was the imposition of heavy burdens upon the ignorant people. This has been the temptation of legal experts always; they increase the burdens of the common people - burdens which they leave the people to carry alone. Not only so, but the lawyers were manufacturing reputations out of the shortcomings of their fathers. Their fathers had murdered the prophets; the sons were now busy building their sepulchres, and so far pretending to dissent from their fathers' murderous spirit. But our Lord shows that this policy is a simple hypocrisy, for, in seeking the life of Jesus, they were demonstrating that the old spirit was still within them. It is easier to serve on a building committee than to entertain kindly feelings towards the Savior. All this hypocrisy, however, will receive judgment in due season. Upon the generation that murdered Christ will descend the judgment which the murderous spirit of so many generations deserved. Our Lord in this way brings out how we may, by our conduct in the present, become involved in the responsibilities of the past. We cannot isolate ourselves from the past; we are not only heirs of all the ages, but share the responsibilities of all the ages by reason of our attitude towards them. History is thus brought into the field of responsibility, and we are either for or against the good in the olden time. It would be well for us to treat history inn sympathetic fashion, and have our hearts in proper training as we review the past. We may sin by hating an old martyr's memory just as really as by despising his counterpart to-day. Our Lord concludes by denouncing the dog-in-the-manger policy of the lawyers, pretending to knowledge, while at once they had lost the key and kept others effectually from finding it. No wonder that, when our Lord came out from the banquet, he found himself violently beset on every side by those he had so exposed, in hope that some such statement would form the basis of his accusation. But they found themselves baffled by his limitless knowledge of human nature. Instead of contending with him, it will be better for us all to submit to his superior judgment and gracious pleasure. - R.M.E.