Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THAT SUFFERING IS ALWAYS SIGNIFICANT OF SIN. Whenever we see any kind of suffering, whether it be ordinary sickness and pain, or whether it be of such an extraordinary character as that referred to here (vers. 1-4), we safely conclude that there has been sin. And this for two reasons.
1. That all sin tends toward suffering; it has the seeds of weakness, of decline, of dissolution, in it. Give time enough, and sin is certain, "when it is finished, to bring forth death." It carries an appropriate penalty in its own nature, and, except there be some merciful and mighty interposition to prevent it, the consequences will be felt in due time.
2. That it is certain there would have been no suffering had there been no sin. A good and holy man may be experiencing the results of other men's iniquity, and his troubles not be directly traceable to any wrong or even any imprudence in himself. Yet were he not a sinful man, to whom some penalty for some guilt is due, he would not have been allowed to be the victim of the wrong-doing of others. We bear the burden of one another's penalty; and there is no injustice in this, because, though we all suffer on account of other men's actions, we suffer no more than is due to our own delinquency. The fact that a man is suffering some evil thing is therefore a proof that, whether or not he brought this particular trial on himself, he has offended, he has broken Divine law, he has come under righteous condemnation.
II. THAT GREAT CALAMITY IS SUGGESTIVE OF GREAT GUILT. There are two considerations which suggest this conclusion.
1. One is a logical inference. We argue that if sinners suffer on account of their guilt, the greater sinners will be the greater sufferers.
2. The other is the result of observation. We do often see that men who have been guilty of flagitious crimes are compelled to endure signal sorrows; the tempest of human indignation bursts upon them, or the fires of a terrible remorse consume them, or the retribution of a righteous Providence overtakes and overwhelms them.
III. THAT WE ARE BOUND TO TAKE CARE LEST WE DO OUR NEIGHBOUR WRONG in this conclusion of ours.
1. For the heinousness of individual guilt and the measurable magnitude of present punishment do not always correspond with one another. We do not always know how much men are suffering; they may be experiencing inward miseries we know not of; and it is most likely that they are undergoing inward and spiritual deterioration which we cannot estimate - a consequence of sin which is immeasurably more pitiful than any loss of property or of health.
2. And the calamities that have overtaken a man may be due to the fault of others, and they may be disciplinary rather than punitive in their bearing upon him. They may rather indicate that God is cleansing his heart and preparing his spirit for higher work, than that God is visiting him with penalty for past iniquity. We must therefore be slow to act on the principle on which the Jews based the conclusion of the text. There is one thing which it is always right to do. We may be sure -
IV. THAT THE WISE THING IS TO MAKE HONEST INQUIRY ABOUT OURSELVES. What about our own sin? It is certain that we have sinned. Biblical statements, our own consciences, the testimony of our neighbours, - all affirm this. We have sinned against the Lord, and deserve his condemnation and retribution. Is it certain that we have repented? Have we turned away from the attitude and the actions of selfishness, of ungodliness, of insubmissiveness, of disobedience? And are we resting and rejoicing in the mercy of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord? If not, we shall perish; for impenitence means death. - C.
I. JUDGMENT EXECUTED UPON OTHERS IS A CALL TO REPENTANCE ADDRESSED TO US. (Vers. 1-5.) There was a disposition then, as there is still, to set down special judgment as the consequence of some special sin. Job's comforters simply expressed the fallacy to be found in every heart. When Christ's attention was, therefore, directed to the Galilaean emeute, and to the bloody way in which Pilate had put it down, he directed his hearers to discern in it a providential warning and call to repentance. The accident at the tower of Siloam had the same significance. It was a call to survivors to repent lest a judgment as severe should overtake them. The fate of the dead was no proof of special sin, but it was a clear call to repentance addressed to the survivors, The warning was singularly appropriate. The cruelty of Pilate and the overturning of the tower of Siloam had their counterparts in the siege of Jerusalem forty years after, when the people had demonstrated their impenitence. Hence we should learn the practical lesson from every judgment of the imperative necessity of personal repentance. These terrible calamities are allowed to occur, not that we may uncharitably criticize the conduct of the dead, but that we may carefully review the conduct of ourselves who survive, and repent before God.
II. BEFORE MEN BECOME FINALLY IMPENITENT AND INCORRIGIBLE THEY GET A LAST CHANCE OF AMENDMENT AND REFORM, (Vers. 6-9.) The siege of Jerusalem has been before the prophetic eye of Christ, and, to impress the necessity of personal amendment and reform upon the people, he tells the parable of the fig tree. It is a history of care without any return. Orientals dig about their fruit-trees, and manure the roots, and encourage fruitfulness in every way. Fruitless trees they burn, after a three-years' probation. Now, the Jews were as a nation represented by this fig tree. Through long years the heavenly Husbandman had given it every chance of bearing fruit. His long-suffering is nearly exhausted, and but for the dresser of the vineyard - by whom Jesus means himself - it would have been cut down as a cumberer of the ground. His intercessions saved the nation for other forty years. And what tender care was expended on it in the closing ministry of Christ, and in the ministry of the apostles! Truly the tears of our Lord over Jerusalem, the self-sacrificing zeal of Paul and Peter and the rest for the conversion of their own countrymen, and the series of significant providences with which the forty years were filled, unite to show that the national annihilation was deserved. A fruitless nation must make way for others. Let this last chance of the Jewish nation, the forty years of respite between Christ's death and Jerusalem's doom, admonish sinners of their solemn responsibility amid similar respites still. The Lord's long-suffering, though great, is not infinite; upon it sinners need not eternally presume; a day comes round in every case, when he who will be filthy and unholy is allowed to be so still (Revelation 22:11).
III. THE SABBATH SHOULD BE THE SEASON OF SPECIAL UPLIFTING TO INFIRM SOULS. (Vers. 10-17.) How should a Divine day be spent? This was the controversy Christ had with the chief priests and Jewish rulers. The rabbinical idea was that it should be a day of purely physical rest, and that even healing should be postponed to the succeeding and secular days. Our Lord, on the contrary, held that the sabbath was a day for special philanthropies, a day of opportunities such as the other days, with their secular routine, cannot afford. Hence the sabbaths were days of special miracle. Meeting a poor woman whose infirmities had been of eighteen years' standing, he took her, laid his hands upon her, and healed her. It was a glorious uplifting which the poor bent woman received. But the ruler of the synagogue, where this happened, indignantly objected to such a work being done on the sabbath day; only to draw upon him, however, the rebuke of Jesus, "Ye hypocrites, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman," etc.? (Revised Version). His argument is unanswerable. They were accustomed to deal mercifully with their own beasts, but were ready most inconsistently to deal unmercifully with human beings, who should have been more valued, but are often, alas! less cared for than dumb animals. Such hypocrisy found in Jesus a constant foe. His adversaries were thus put to shame, and the common people rejoiced and praised God for the glorious sabbath services which Jesus rendered to the poor and needy. Ought we not, then, to look for special upliftings of our infirm souls on the holy days? Jesus is waiting to heal us, and to raise us up to spiritual power. As Gerok daintily puts it, we should expect to pass from work-day worry to sabbath rest; from earthly grief to heavenly joy; from the yoke of sin to the service of the Lord. We do not utilize our Lord's days aright, if such experiences are not enjoyed.
IV. THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS A WIDENING PHILANTHROPY. (Vers. 18, 19.) After the philanthropy extended to the infirm woman, it was natural for our Lord to pass to the parable of the mustard seed. This represents an insignificant beginning, followed by growth to such an extent, that under the branches of the mustard tree the birds of heaven find fitting shelter. In the same way the kingdom of God began around Jesus, apparently an insignificant Person, and eventually passed on to afford shade to many. In a word, the kingdom of God is an extending philanthropy. It widens its arms and embraces more and more in its shadow. In the same way, we may be sure that it has no true lodgment within us, unless it is making our philanthropy a growing and extending power. We are not Christ's unless we have his beautiful and philanthropic spirit.
V. THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS A THOROUGHLY TRANSFORMING POWER. (Vers. 20, 21.) From mustard seed and its growth, Christ proceeds to speak of leaven. It is hid in the three measures of meal, and works its way onwards until the whole mass is leavened. There is thus indicated how thorough and gradual the work of Christianity is. We are not true Christians unless every portion of our nature feels its transforming power; nor will Christianity pause until it has penetrated to the utmost extent the population of the world. The great idea of the parable is thoroughness. Let this characterize us always in our connection with the kingdom. - R.M.E.
I. THE PRIMARY SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PARABLE. What did the great Teacher intend his hearers to understand by his words? It was this (as I read it):
1. The vineyard is the kingdom of God - that realm of truth and righteousness which he has been, from the beginning, establishing on the earth.
2. Israel is the fig tree which God planted in his vineyard - a fig tree in a vineyard; there not by any natural right, but at the option and discretion of the Divine Owner; there "only so long as it served the purpose of him who planted it."
3. Sufficient time was given to Israel to show whether it would prove fruitful or fruitless, the "three years standing for its day of probation, perhaps for the three periods represented by the judges, the kings, and the high priests.
4. Israel is found to be barren; to be without true loyalty, real piety, solid worth.
5. Thus fruitless, it is only in the way; it is failing to render the service which another people of God," another Church, would render; it is thwarting the holy and beneficent purpose of its Creator. Not only is it useless, therefore; it is positively noxious and hurtful to the world; it is a tree that must be cut down, for it cumbers the ground.
6. Jesus Christ, the Vinedresser, intercedes for it and obtains a merciful reprieve; he will expend upon it the faithful toil of a gracious ministry.
7. But he recognizes the fact that persistent barrenness must meet its appropriate fate - banishment from the kingdom of God.
II. ITS APPLICATION TO OURSELVES.
1. God is founding a broad and blessed kingdom here - a kingdom wherein dwelleth righteousness and peace; a spiritual, universal, benignant empire.
2. In it he places us, as the children and heirs of the most precious privileges, seeing and hearing (as we do) what kings and prophets saw not, nor heard; enlightened as to some most valuable points, in regard to which the disciples themselves were necessarily in the dark (see homily on Luke 10:23, 24).
3. From us, thus advantaged, the Divine Husbandman demands good fruit. He may well expect that we should "yield much fruit" (John 15:8), much reverence, purity, love, joy, service, usefulness. He as correspondingly disappointed and grieved when he finds but little, or even none at all.
4. The unfruitful are not only the guilty, but they are the intolerably wasteful; they receive without returning, whilst others in their place would receive and return.
(1) As those who are wrought upon by Christian truth and influence, they remain unblessed, where others in their place would hearken and heed, would obey and live.
(2) As those who are professing to work on and for others, they are holding some post uselessly, where others would be scattering benefit and blessing on every hand. They cause a deplorable and unendurable waste in the kingdom of God.
5. Christ offers us a merciful reprieve. Under his patient rule we are allowed another year, another period for repentance, for reformation, for renewal of heart and life. It is a sacred and a solemn time, an opportunity which we must not by any means neglect. For if we do, the word of Divine condemnation will be spoken, and we shall lose our place in the kingdom of our Lord. - C,
I. OUR LORD'S OPPORTUNITY, and the use he made of it.
1. He found this in the presence of human infirmity. There he saw a woman who had been afflicted in body for eighteen years; she was "bowed together," etc. Not only was she subject to very considerable privation, but, as one whose figure was uncomely, she was exposed to the ridicule of the flippant and the heartless; and this without break for a very large proportion of human life. Here was a most fitting object of tender pity and, if the way were clear, of Divine help.
2. We mark the ready manifestation of his sympathy. lie instantly spoke to her words of cheer and kindliness, awakening such hopes as she had not cherished for many a long year; and then he laid upon her a healing touch: "he laid his hands on her." It means much when God "lays his hand upon us." It meant everything to this woman with the new hope in her heart, that this kind, strong Prophet laid his hand of love and power upon her person; then she felt how near he had come to her, how close at hand was the delivering hour.
3. Then came the exercise of his benignant power. A great as well as a good work was wrought.
(1) The injury by long disease was undone in a single moment; the rigidity of eighteen years was "immediately" relaxed (see Acts 4:22).
(2) The great Healer raised to the full stature and to the dignity and capacity of perfect womanhood one who had been helplessly and hopelessly disfigured and crippled.
(3) And he called forth from her, and from all who witnessed his work, reverent and grateful joy; she and they rejoiced and glorified God.
II. OUR OWN OPPORTUNITY.
1. The presence of human wrong, and its manifold consequences. Around us are ignorance, unbelief, vice, crime, sin; around us, therefore, are poverty, want, suffering, shame, degradation, death. No man who has an open eye for the condition of his kind can fail to see, day by day, some pitiful object that may well excite his deepest and tenderest compassion - men and women, all too many, whom sin has "bowed down," and who can "in no wise lift themselves up."
2. The manifestation of our sympathy. And how shall we show our feeling of regret and of desire?
(1) By our voice; by speaking the kind, true, enlightening, hope-giving word.
(2) By our touch; we shall not succeed without this. To take a man by the hand, or to lay a brotherly hand upon his shoulder, is to come into healing contact with him. It is to "come near" to the one we are seeking to bless; it is to give him the sense that, instead of "standing aloof," we feel and own and claim our brotherhood with him; it is to stand on the same level with him - the level of our common humanity, our erring, striving, suffering, aspiring humanity; it is to be where the healing and restoring power can be exercised and received.
3. The result of our healing touch. We exert the influence that elevates. The first result is enlightenment concerning himself; then faith in a Divine Saviour; then uprightness of character and erectness of spirit. The man is "made straight." He is no longer bowed down in spiritual bondage, with eyes directed to the earth; he stands erect in spiritual freedom, in purity of heart, in a large and blessed hopefulness; he has attained, through the influence of Christian love, a noble elevation; henceforth he will walk in the way of life, with all true dignity, in all gladness of soul, giving glory to the great Healer. - C.
I. THAT EARNEST SEEKERS AT THE SANCTUARY MAY FIND MORE THAN THEY SEEK. We may class this woman amongst the earnest seekers; for the fact that, with such a bodily infirmity as hers, she was found in her place in the house of God is evidence of her devotion. She went there, we may assume, to seek the ordinary spiritual refreshment and strength which are to be found in worship, in drawing near to God and in learning his will. She found this as usual, and a great deal more; she found immediate and complete restoration from her old complaint; she found a new life before her; she found a new Teacher, a Lord of love and power, in whose Person and in whose ministry God was most graciously manifesting himself to her. If we go to the sanctuary in an entirely unspiritual mood, with no hunger of soul in us, we shall probably come empty away; but if we go there to worship God and to inquire of his will, desirous of offering to him the service he can accept, and to gain from him the blessing he is willing to impart, then is it not only possible, but likely, that we may secure more than we seek. God will manifest himself to us in ways we did not anticipate; will show us the path we had never seen before; will take away the burden we thought we should bring home on our heart; will fill us with the peace or the hope that passes all our understanding; will open to us gates of wisdom or joy we never thought to enter.
II. THAT NOTHING BETTER BEFITS THE DAY OF THE LORD than doing the distinctive work of the Lord. Jesus Christ completely disposed of the carping and censorious criticism of the ruler. If it was right, on the sabbath day, to discharge a kindly office of no very great value and at some considerable trouble to a brute beast, how much more must it be right to render an invaluable service, by the momentary exercise of a strong will, to a poor suffering sister-woman who was one of the children of Abraham, and one of the people of God? And how can we better spend the hours which are sacred, not only to bodily rest, but to spiritual advancement, than by doing work which is peculiarly and emphatically Divine - by helping the helpless; by relieving the suffering; by enriching the poor; by enlightening those who are in darkness; by extricating those who are in trouble; by lifting up them that are bowed down? When, on the sabbath day, we forget our own exertions in our earnest desire to comfort, or to relieve, or to deliver, we may be quite sure that the Lord of the sabbath will not remember them against us, but only to say to us, "Well done."
III. THAT A FORMAL PIETY WILL NOT PRESERVE US FROM THE SADDEST SINS. This ruler was probably regarded as a very devout man, because his ceremonialism was complete. But his routine observances did not save him from making a cowardly, because indirect, attack upon a beneficent Healer; nor from committing an act of gross inhumanity - assailing the woman he should have been the first to rejoice with; nor from falling into an utter misconception of the mind of God, thinking that evil which was divinely good. We may hold high positions in the Church of Christ, may habitually take very sacred words into our lips, may flash out into great indignation against supposed religious enormities, and yet may be obnoxious to the severe rebuke of the final Judge, and may stand quite outside and even far off the kingdom of heaven. Let us be sure of our own position before we undertake the office of the accuser; let us beware lest over our outward righteousness Divine Truth will at last inscribe that terrible word "hypocrisy." Formal piety proves nothing; the only thing we can he sure about is the love of God in the heart manifesting itself in the love of men. - C.
I. THE UTTER INSIGNIFICANCE of "the kingdom" at its commencement. At first it was represented by one Jewish Carpenter, a young Man born of very humble parents, unlearned and untravelled, without any pecuniary resources whatever, regarded with disfavour by the social and the ecclesiastical authorities of his time, teaching doctrines that were either above popular apprehension or that ran counter to popular prejudices, unable to find a single man who thoroughly sympathized with him in his great design, moving steadily and fearlessly on toward persecution, betrayal, an ignominious and early death. Here was a grain indeed, something which, to the eye of man, was utterly insignificant and destined to perish in a very short time. Had we lived then and exercised our judgment upon the prospects of the nascent faith called by its Founder "the kingdom of God," we should certainly have concluded that in fifty years at the utmost it would have disappeared as a living power, and would only have remained, if it survived in any form at all, as a tradition of the past. But let us glance at -
II. ITS MARVELLOUS GROWTH. Truly the least of all seeds has become the greatest of all herbs; the grain has grown and become a "great tree." In spite of
(1) the determined opposition of other faiths, which resented and resisted its claim to supplant them;
(2) the sanguinary violence of the civil power, which almost everywhere strove to drown it in the blood of its adherents;
(3) the hostility of the human heart, which has opposed itself continually to its purity, its spirituality, its unselfishness;
(4) the deadly injury done to it by the inconsistency, the unfaithfulness, the dissensions of its own disciples; - it spread with wonderful rapidity. In three centuries it triumphed over the paganism of the known world; it has become the accepted faith of Europe and of (the greater part of) America, and of many "islands of the sea;" it has gained a firm foothold in the other continents, in the midst of the most venerable systems of religious error. Since the purification of its creed and the awakening of its members to their high privileges, it has made an immense advance toward the goal of a complete triumph; it has proved itself to be a benign and elevating power wherever it has been planted; it is the refuge, the strength, the hope, of the human world. What are -
III. ITS PROSPECTS?
1. It has numerous enemies who predict that it will decline and die. They regard it as a spent force that must give place to other powers. But this prediction has been often made before, and it has been falsified by the event.
2. Its friends are more numerous, and they are more intelligent, and they are more energetic and self-denying than they ever were at any former period in its history.
3. It holds truth which ministers to the wants of the human world - its sorrows, its sins, its aspirations - such as no other doctrine can pretend to. There is but one Jesus Christ in the history of the human race; but one Saviour from sin, one unfailing Refuge and Friend in life and in death.
4. God is with us in our work of faith and our labour of love. The crucified Lord will "draw all men unto him," and his salvation shall cover the earth, because the power which prevails against all finite forces is on its side. "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations," etc. (Matthew 28:18, 19). - C.
I. THE QUIET PEACEABLENESS OF THE CHRISTIAN METHOD. The starting and the spreading of "the kingdom of God" is like a woman taking and hiding leaven in some meal. How impossible to imagine any of the founders of the kingdoms or empires of this world thus describing the course of their procedure! The forces they employed were forces that shone, dazzled, smote, shattered; that excited wonder and struck terror; that crushed and clanged and conquered. Those which the Son of man employed were such as fittingly reminded of a woman hiding leaven in some meal - silently but effectually penetrating to the depth; quietly, peaceably spreading on every hand. He did not "strive nor cry," etc.; his gospel "came not with observation," with beat of drum, with dramatic display; shunning rather than seeking celebrity, he lived, taught, suffered, witnessed, died, leaving behind a penetrating power for good that should renew and regenerate the race. There may be occasion, now and then, to say and do that which astonishes or alarms or otherwise arouses; but that is not the Christian method. The influence which steals into the soul, which insinuates itself into the whole body, which noiselessly communicates a right spirit and diffuses itself without ostentation or pretence from centre to circumference, - that is the method of the Master.
IX. THE DIFFUSIVENESS OF DIVINE TRUTH FROM WITHIN OUTWARDS. "Leaven, which a woman... hid;" not spread over the surface, but put into, placed in the heart of it, there to spread, to permeate, working from the centre towards the surface. This is the method of the gospel as distinguished from that of the Law. The Law exerts its power in the opposite direction - from without inwards; it acts directly on behaviour, leaving behaviour to become habit and habit to become principle.
1. Jesus Christ places the leaven of Divine truth in the mind, in the understanding, teaching us how to think of God and of ourselves, of sin and of righteousness, of the present and the future.
2. Then Divine truth affects our feelings, producing awe, reverence, fear, hope, trust, love.
3. Thence it determines the desires and convictions, leading to choice, decision, full and final determination.
4. And thence, moving towards the surface, it decides behaviour and ends in rectitude of action, excellency of life; so "the whole man," the complete nature, is leavened. Similarly, Divine truth is placed in the heart of the community, and, once there, it communicates itself from man to man, from home to home, from circle to circle, until "the whole" nation is leavened. But a man may ask, How is my entire nature to be thoroughly leavened with Christian principle - perfectly sweetened, purified, renovated, as it is not now? Have we enough of the sacred leaven hidden within us? It is true that "a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump," but there is a quantity, less than which is insufficient for the work. Have we enough of the truth of Christ lodged in our minds for this great and high purpose? Are we thinking, as Christ meant us to think, of our Divine Father, of our human spirit, of our human life, of the needs and claims of our neighbour, about giving and about forgiving, and about eternal life? Is our Master's thought on these great, decisive, determining themes hidden in our hearts, doing its sweetening and renewing work within us? Christ says, "Come to me;" he also says, "Learn of me. Are we diligently, meekly, devoutly learning of Christ, receiving more and more of his hallowing and transforming truth into our mind, to stir our feeling, to regulate our choice, to beautify and to ennoble our life? - C.
I. THOSE WHO SPECULATE ABOUT NUMBERS ARE USUALLY PEOPLE WHO PLUME THEMSELVES UPON THEIR PRIVILEGES, (Ver. 26.) It is wonderful how men deceive themselves. Here we find our Saviour asserting that at the last people shall come maintaining that because they have eaten and drunk in his presence, and because he has taught in their streets, they should be accepted and saved. We should naturally imagine that these privileges should lead souls to inquire anxiously and how they have profited by them, whereas they are made the ground of claim and the hope of salvation. The Jews thought that, because they were possessed of privileges beyond other nations, they should be accepted before God; and self-righteous people to-day think that, because they have regularly gone to church and sacrament, and the various privileges of the sanctuary, they should for this reason be accepted and saved at last. So far from privileges constituting a ground of salvation, they are certain to prove a ground of increasing condemnation, if not faithfully used. People may be sinners all the time that they are associating with saints, They may be sitting at groaning tables provided by God, they may be listening to the lessons which he has furnished in his holy gospel, and yet their hearts may be homes of vanity, waywardness, and sin.
II. OUR LORD DIRECTS THEM TO STRIVE TO ENTER IN AT THE STRAIT GATE INSTEAD OF SPECULATING ABOUT NUMBERS. (Ver. 24.) Many are more addicted to speculation and religious controversy than to decision of character. They would rather argue a point than make sure of their personal salvation. Now, what was the strait gate in our Lord's time? It was attachment to himself as the humiliated Messiah, just as the wide gate and broad way were the expectation of a glorious and worldly Messiah (cf. Godet, in loc.). It is easy to attach one's self to a winning, worldly cause; it needs no spiritual preparation. But it was not easy, but took an effort of self-denial, to stick to the despised Saviour through all his sad and humiliating experience. And the same struggle is still needed, The cause of Christ is not a winning, worldly cause. You might do better in a worldly sense without identifying yourself with Jesus. But no man will ever have reason to regret identifying himself with the Saviour. No matter what self-denial it entails, it is worth all the struggle.
III. THE LAST JUDGMENT SHALL BE A REVERSAL OF HUMAN JUDGMENTS. (Vers. 25-30.) The current notions of Christ's time accorded to the Pharisees and religious formalists the chief seats in the new order of things which Messiah was to introduce. But Christ showed plainly that the Pharisaism and formalism of sinners will not save them or their sins in the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God. The first shall then be last; while the last in the world's estimation shall be the first in God's. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would have received scanty recognition from the Pharisees of Christ's time; the patriarchs were men of a meek and quiet spirit, who did not seek to exalt themselves. Hence our Lord represents the despised ones getting to their bosom at the last, while the bustling Pharisees shall find themselves cast out.
IV. WE HAVE NEXT TO NOTICE CHRIST'S CONTEMPT FOR HEROD, (Vers. 31, 32.) It was thought by some of the poor spirits in the crowd that Christ would quail before the murderous king Herod, and that the sooner he got out of his jurisdiction the better. But no sooner do they suggest this to Christ, than he bursts into contemptuous terms about the cunning king. He calls him fox, and tells them to tell him, if they like, "Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to-day and to-morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected." The perfection of which he speaks is that which is reached through experience. Christ was sinless, but he had to go through the whole gamut of human trial, including death itself. He had to experience all the" undertones" of human experience before he could be perfect. Hence he was "made perfect through suffering." Contempt of others may be the very finest proof of our healthy moral state. It is the antipodes of that despicable flattery which is generally extended to kings.
V. LASTLY, WE MUST NOTICE HIS LAMENT OVER JERUSALEM, BECAUSE THE MURDERER OF THE PROPHETS. (Vers. 33-35.) Our Lord was going to perish at Jerusalem. The reason was that there the policy of the nation was carried out, and all the prophets had found there their fate, and yet Christ had offered his protection to the doomed city. As easily as ever hen gathered her tiny brood beneath her wings could he gather the whole cityful under his wings. It is a beautiful and indirect proof of his Divinity. No mere man would have expressed himself thus. But Jerusalem would not accept his protection. Instead thereof, it resolved to murder him, as the last in the line of the prophets. No wonder, therefore, that their house was left desolate, and that the murdered Messiah would withdraw himself until better times! He takes his "adieu of the theocracy," to use the words of Godet, and speaks of a welcome being his when the new views of a better time shall prevail. How important that we all should accept the proffered protection of the Saviour, and not imitate Jerusalem in her obstinacy and her doom! - R.M.E.
A great many unspiritual people show no small concern respecting matters that pertain to religion. It may be that they are curious, or that they are imaginative, or that they are visionary, and that religion provides a wide field for investigation, or for romance, or for mysticism. This speculative and unpractical piety may be:
1. A vain and unrewarded curiosity. It was so in this instance; the applicant was moved by nothing more than a mere passing whim and he received no gratification from Christ (see Luke 23:8, 9; John 21:21, 22)] It will be found that, on the one hand, Jesus always answered the questions of those who were in earnest, however humble might be the applicant; and, on the other hand, that he never answered the questions of the irreverent, however distinguished the inquirer might be. And it is found now by us that if we go to his Word or to his sanctuary to inquire his will, we shall not go away unblessed; but that if we go to either for mere gratification, we shall be unrewarded.
2. The retreat of irreligion and unworthiness (see John 4:18-20). It is convenient to pass from personal and practical considerations to those of theological controversy.
3. The act of mistaken religiousness (see John 14:8). We act thus when we want to see the Divine side of God's dealings with us, or are anxious to know "the times and seasons which the Father hath put in his own power." Our Lord's reply suggests -
I. THE SUPREME IMPORTANCE OF PERSONAL RELIGION. "Are there few that be saved?... Strive to enter in," etc.; i.e. the question for you to be concerned to answer is, whether you yourself are in the kingdom of God; that is preliminary to all others; that is the thing of primary importance; that is worth your caring for, your seeking after, your diligent searching, your strenuous pursuit. Surely the most inconsistent, self-condemning, contradictory thing of all is for men to be thinking, planning, discussing, expending, in order to put other people into the right way when they themselves are taking the downward road. Shall we not say to such, "Go and learn what this meaneth, 'Let every man prove his own work, then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another; for every man shall bear his own burden' of responsibility to God"? The first duty a man owes to God and to his neighbour is the duty he owes to himself - to become right with the living God by faith in Jesus Christ his Saviour.
II. The fact that ENTRANCE INTO THE KINGDOM OF GOD DEMANDS GREAT STRENUOUSNESS OF SOUL.
1. It is the great crisis of a man's career, and may well be attended with much spiritual disturbance. When a human soul first hears and heeds his Father's call and rises to return to his true spiritual home, he may well be affected with profound spiritual solicitude, and may well count that the goal he is seeking is worth all the labour and all the patience he expends to reach it.
2. There are occasions when special strenuousness of soul is demanded. Such are these:
(1) When a man by long neglect has lost nearly all his sensibility.
(2) When the earnest seeker cannot find the consciousness of acceptance which he yearns to attain.
(3) When a man finds himself opposed by adverse forces; when "a man's foes are they of his own household;" when he has to act as if he positively" hated" father and mother, in order to be loyal to his Lord; when downright earnestness and unflinching fidelity bring him into serious conflict with the prejudices and the practices of the home, or the mart, or the social circle; and when to follow the lead of his convictions means to suffer, to lose, to endure much at the hands of man. Then comes the message of the Master - Strive, wrestle, agonize to enter in; put forth the effort, however arduous; make the sacrifice, however great; go through the struggle, however severe it may prove to be. Strive to enter in; it will not be long before you will have your reward in a pure and priceless peace, in a profound and abiding joy, in a heritage which no man and no time can take from you. - C.
I. THE JEW AND THE GENTILE. The Jew, who prided himself on being the first favourite of Heaven, was to become the very last in God's esteem; he was to bear the penalty due to the guilty race that "knew not the day of its visitation," but imbrued its hands in the blood of its own Messiah. The scenes witnessed in the destruction of Jerusalem are commentary enough on these words of Christ. But this truth has a far wider meaning; it is continually receiving illumination and illustration. It applies to -
II. THE OUTWARDLY CORRECT AND THE ILL-BEHAVED. The Pharisee of every age and land is first in his own esteem, but he stands, in sullen refusal, far off the kingdom, while "the publican and the sinner" are found at the feet of Christ, asking for the way of life, for the waters of cleansing, for the mercy of God,
III. THE LEARNED AND THE IGNORANT; the astute and the simple-minded. Still we ask, "Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world?" Still may we, after the Master himself, give God thanks that he has "hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them unto babes." Human learning, in its unholy and foolish pride, still closes its ear to the voice that speaks from heaven. Lowly minded simplicity still listens to the truth and enters the open gate of the kingdom of God.
IV. THE PRIVILEGED AND THE UNPRIVILEGED. The children of privilege may be said to be among "the first." We congratulate them sincerely and rightly enough; yet are they too often found among the last to serve and to shine. For they build upon their privileges, or they reckon confidently on turning them some day to account, and they fail to use them as they should; and the end of their presumption is indifference, hardness of heart, insensibility, death. The first has become the last, On the other hand, the ear that never before heard "the music of the gospel" is ravished by the sound of it; the heart that never knew of the grace of God in Jesus Christ is touched by the sweet story of a Saviour's dying love, and is won to penitence and faith and purity; the last is first. Let presumption everywhere tremble; it stands on perilous ground. Again and again is it made to humble itself in the dust, while simplicity of spirit is lifted up by the hand of God. - C.
I. DIVINE EMOTION. They are charged with sacred feeling, The heart of Jesus Christ was evidently filled with a profound and tender regret as he contemplated the guilt and the doom of the sacred city. Strong emotion breathes in every word of this pathetic and powerful lament, And manifesting to us the Divine Father as Jesus did, we gather therefrom that our God is not one who is unaffected by what he witnesses in his universe, by what he sees in his human children. The infinite Spirit is one in whom is not only that which answers to our intelligence, but that also which answers to our emotion; and this, of course, in a manner answering to his Divinity. He rejoices in our return to his side and his service; he is gladdened by our spiritual growth, by our obedience and activity; he is pleased with our silence and submissiveness when we do not understand his way but bow to his holy will; and he is pained by our spiritual distance from him, is grieved by our slackness and our lukewarmness and our withdrawal, is saddened by our sin. He looks with a deep, Divine regret on a Church or on a child of his that is rejecting his grace as Jerusalem did, and over whom, as over it, there impends a lamentable doom.
II. DIVINE PERSISTENCY. "How often would I have gathered," etc.! The Saviour desired and endeavoured to gather the children of Jerusalem under his gracious guardianship, not once, nor twice, nor thrice; his effort was a frequent act of mercy; it was repeated and prolonged. God "bears long" with us, forbearing to strike though the stroke be due and overdue; he is "slow to anger and of great mercy." But he does more than that, and is more than that; he continues to seek us that he may save us. He follows us, in his Divine patience, through childhood, through youth, through early manhood, through the days of prime, or unto declining years, with his teaching and his influence. He speaks to us by his Word, by his ministry, by his providence, by his Spirit. He seeks to win us, to warn us, to alarm us, to humble, and thus to save us. At how many times and in how many ways does our Saviour seek us! How often does he endeavour to gather us under the shadow of his love!
III. HUMAN FREEDOM. "How often would I!" "Ye would not!" It is quite vain for us to attempt to reconcile God's omnipotence with our freedom, his right and power over us with our power to act according to our own will. The subject is beyond our comprehension, and it is true wisdom to leave it alone, as an inaccessible mountain peak which we cannot climb; there is danger, if not death, in the attempt. But the facts are before us, visible as the mountain itself. God has power over us, and exercises that power benignantly and patiently. But he does not interfere with our freedom; that, indeed, would be to unman us, to put us down from the level of children into that of irresponsible creaturedom. He leaves us free; and we are free to oppose his sovereign will, to resist his Divine grace, to be deaf to his pleading voice, to shake off his arresting hand. He "would" that we should be reclaimed, be raised, be enlarged, be ennobled; and too often we "will not." A solemn, awful thing it is to share a human heritage, to live a human life, to incur human responsibility.
IV. HUMAN OBDURACY. Jerusalem "often" refused to be drawn to its Redeemer. Not only can we and do we resist the grace of God; we can continue to do so; and we do continue. We can spend our life in a long contest with redeeming love; we can repel the overtures of mercy and go on rejecting our Father's offer of eternal life through all the years and periods of a long life of privilege. Men do this, and to them the words of Jesus are applicable in all their force; over them, also, his lament has to be uttered.
1. It is well for those to whom it may apply to awake and to return before he says to them, "Your house is left unto you desolate."
2. It is better, for it is safer for us all to heed his inviting voice and place ourselves under the wings of his blessed friendship long before such words as those of our text are anywise applicable to us. - C.