Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. OUR NEED OF THE POWER OF SPIRITUAL RESISTANCE. "It is impossible but that offences will come." Knowing the human world as Christ knew it, he perceived that his disciples would, through many generations, be subjected to continual and severe trial of their faith. With such error, such selfishness, such despotism, such heartlessness, such iniquity in the world, it was inevitable that temptations should abound. The path of Christian life must lie through a country beset with moral evil; the journey home must be attended by the most serious perils.
1. The aim of the enemy. This would be, as it is still, to lead the disciples of Christ into
(1) doubt, disbelief, denial, apostasy;
(2) indecision and irreligion;
(3) half-heartedness in worship, in sacred service, in domestic and individual devotion;
(4) worldliness of tone and spirit;
(5) unworthy and (ultimately) injurious and even fatal methods of presenting the truth and advocating the cause of Christ;
(6) laxity of speech and of behaviour, leading down to positive and destructive sin.
2. The weapons of his attack. These are
(1) evil suggestion;
(2) bad example;
(3) specious argumentation;
(4) commandment and constraint.
3. Our resources of resistance. These are
(1) a simple sagacity; such a knowledge of the evil that is in men as will ensure vigilance, a wise carefulness, a hesitation to commit ourselves to every plausible spokesman, to every inviting and well-sounding doctrine (1 John 4:1).
(2) A spirit of fidelity; a steadfastness of purpose and earnestness of spirit that is born of pure devotedness to a Divine Saviour, and that is sustained by intimacy of fellowship with him.
(3) Strength in God - that strength which comes from God's own indwelling in the soul and direct action upon it (Isaiah 40:29-31).
II. OUR LORD'S REGARD FOR HIS DISCIPLES OF HUMBLER RANK. "Woe unto him" through whom it results that the stumbling-block is in the way and the weak disciple falls! "It were better for him" that the worst disaster should befall him than that he should contract such guilt as that and be open to such condemnation. Nothing could more strongly mark the deep interest our Lord takes in his humbler disciples than the severity of this his indignation against those who wrong them. The intensity of his wrath is the measure of the depth and tenderness of his love. Among his followers are those who occupy high places - in ecclesiastical position, in social honour, in mental equipments, in constitutional strength. But there are also those who take the lower place; not the children only - the "little ones" in years and size - but the inexperienced, the unsophisticated and unsuspecting, the mentally weak, the spiritually feeble; those who are much at the mercy of the strong; those who, for some cause and in some one respect, are unendowed and unequipped with the ordinary means of defence. These "little ones" are often:
1. The object of disregard. Many pass them by as unworthy of consideration; they will not repay attention; they will not contribute anything considerable to the cause in hand.
2. The mark at which iniquity aims. For it is one that can be easily hit; it is a victim ready for the blow.
3. But it is for us to remember that they are always the object of our Lord's peculiar interest and affection, he cares for them the more that men care for them so little, lie remembers them in "their low estate;" and as a mother lets her heart go most freely to her weakest child, so does he bestow upon these members of his Church all the fulness and all the tenderness of his Divine love. He indicates to us here how he feels toward those that do them harm; and, conversely, it is safe for us to infer that he is peculiarly pleased with those who, entering into his own spirit, love and guard and guide these disciples of lowlier rank.
III. CHRIST'S ESTIMATE OF SIN AND SUFFERING. "It were better," etc. We have sometimes to choose between sinning and suffering; e.g. the martyr in time of persecution; the son or servant commanded to do that which to him would be sin because "not of faith." This word of our Lord reminds us that any physical suffering, any bodily evil, any temporal misfortune, of whatever magnitude it be, is much to be preferred to any serious sin. Be sunk in the sea, be utterly extinguished, let the worse come to the worst, but do not descend to anything which is mean, which is unholy or impure, which would stain your own conscience or injure and perhaps slay a brother's or a sister's character, which would grieve the Father and Saviour of us all. - C.
I. THE GREAT DANGER OF CAUSING A LITTLE ONE TO STUMBLE. (Vers. 1, 2.) In this way he urges his disciples to watchfulness. He plainly implies that defenceless individuals who fall through stumbling-blocks placed in their path shall have in God a most terrible Avenger. Better the most fearful physical death than the fate of those who cause them to stumble. Of Judas it was expressly stated it would have been better if he had never been born; and the same might be said of every one who, like him, throws stumbling-blocks in his brother's way. The ruin of the innocent, through exposing them to temptation, will be visited by God's most terrible indignation.
II. THE DISCIPLES OF CHRIST MUST GUARD AGAINST AN UNRELENTING AND UNFOR GIVING TEMPER. (Vers. 3, 4.) The disciples are to take heed to themselves. They are not to be avengers. They have not the solidity of judgment or of character to exercise vengeance. It is to be left to God. If, therefore, a brother trespass against us, we are to pursue such a path as will result in forgiveness and reconciliation. We are to rebuke him courageously; then, if he repents, if he shows signs of sorrow and confesses his fault, even though it should be repeated seven times a day, we are to forgive him. Now, this forgiving spirit is Divine. It is God-like. It is the spirit God has manifested in Christ, and which we should cultivate most diligently.
III. OUR LORD'S EXHORTATIONS LED THE DISCIPLES TO SEEK AN INCREASE OF FAITH. (Vers. 5-10.) When we have discovered how small our forgiving spirit is, we then begin to see how small other graces are, and to cry, "Lord, Increase our faith." It is most instructive to notice how our Lord responds to the disciples' desire. And:
1. He shows them how very small their faith is. His statement implies that it was less than a grain of mustard seed, for, if they had even so little a measure of genuine faith, they could remove any difficulty out of their path. Even a sycamine tree might be plucked up by the roots, or any difficulty which such an obstacle would represent, and be cast by faith into the sea. The first lesson we have got to learn is how small our faith is, and then it will soon increase.
2. tire impresses on them the cultivation of a sense of their own unprofitableness to God. He likens them to a farm-servant who, when he has finished in the field, comes home and is then put to wait at table on his lord. His work is never done. He turns from one occupation to another; and only laments at the close that he could not do more and better. Now, this sense of unprofitableness really arises out of the magnificence of the Christian ideal. The Christian system sets before us such incomparable excellency, that we are always coming short of it. All Christian progress is just conditioned upon this sense of unprofitableness. Our faith will grow exceedingly when this sense of unprofitableness has been secured and is maintained. Of course, this teaching of our Lord is quite consistent with the reward promised in his grace, of "Well done, good and faithful servant." The servant looks at his labours in the light of strict justice, and acknowledges his shortcoming. The Master looks at them in the light of grace and love, and rewards them with overflowing bounty. Even when receiving the reward at last, it will be with surprise, and with the consciousness that we have been but unprofitable servants.
IV. THE DISCIPLES ARE INSTRUCTED AT THE SAME TIME REGARDING HUMAN INGRATITUDE. (Vers. 11-19.) It so happened that ten lepers cross the Saviour's path, and their cry for mercy meets with immediate response. But their cure is given on their way to the priests, who could only give them a certificate of cure. The sense of cure came upon the ten, we may believe, at the same time. But only one, and he a Samaritan, returned to express his gratitude. The other nine, all Jews, passed on to the priest with a joyful sense of cure, but little sense of gratitude. It was such ingratitude as called for the animadversion of Jesus, while the Samaritan's gratitude led our Lord to say his faith hath made him whole. It seems clear that he became attached to Jesus in a way the others did not. The expression of his gratitude led to an assurance of faith. Now, this was a wholesome lesson for the disciples, as it is also for us. How many blessings have we all got from the hands of Christ, for which we have returned no thanks at all! And, if we have been ungrateful to our Lord, should we not put up with a good deal of ingratitude? It is a sense of personal ingratitude which will stimulate the grace within us, and make us less surprised when we are the objects of ingratitude on the part of others we have befriended. In this plain and practical fashion our Lord stimulated and strengthened the graces of his disciples, and indicates how our graces may be stimulated likewise. - R.M.E.
is a difficult lesson to learn well; and our Master does make much, as other passages show, of this particular grace.
I. OUR OPENNESS TO INJURY.
1. We come into the world with a strong sense of what is due to us. We all feel that there is due to us a certain measure of respect as human beings, as those made in the image of God; also that we can claim just and equitable treatment. Men may not withhold or remove from us that which we consider to belong to us. If they do we are aggrieved; we have a sense, more or less deep, of having been wronged - our sense of injury rising and falling with the sensitiveness of our nature and the character of the offence. There is neither virtue nor vice, honour nor shame, in this. It is an instinct of our nature which we have in common with our kind.
2. There are many possibilities of offence. In our present condition we touch one another at so many points that there is great likelihood of offence being given and taken. At home; in all the complications of our business life; in all our social relations; in the Church of Christ and the worship of God; in the field of philanthropy;-in all these domains we e, have to do" with one another; and it is improbable in a very high degree, it is almost impossible, that we should always comport ourselves as our neighbours would expect; it is inevitable that we should occasionally differ as to what is due from one to another.
II. OUR DANGER UNDER A SENSE OF INJURY.
1. The mistake we are likely to fall into when we have a sense of injury is that of instantly concluding that we have been wronged; we are apt to hurry to the conclusion that some one has slighted or injured us. But before we give way even to a strong feeling, we should make quite sure that things are as they seem to be. There are many possibilities of mistake in this world of error and misunderstanding.
2. The sin into which we are tempted to tall is that of giving way to unbecoming anger and unchristian retaliation - a feeling of bitter resentment, vindictive, passionate, such as does not become the children of God; and action which is intended to result in suffering on the part of the wrong-doer; we proceed to "avenge ourselves."
III. OUR DUTY WHEN WRONGED.
1. Direct communication, and, where it is necessary, friendly remonstrance. Matthew tells us that Christ enjoined upon us that, under a sense of injury, we should "go and tell our brother his fault between ourselves and him alone." This is surely most wise. Instead of dwelling upon it and magnifying it in our own mind; instead of talking about it and causing it to be spread abroad and discoloured and misrepresented, - the one right thing to do is to go at once to our offending neighbour and tell him our grievance. It is very likely he will explain everything, and there will be no need of any overlooking on our part; or, if wrong has been done, it is very likely he will appreciate our fairness and friendliness in coming straight to him, and will make the apology that is due on his part. Then must come:
2. Free and full forgiveness. "If he repent, forgive him." If he should refuse to repent, we must pity him and pray for him, that his eyes may be opened and his action amended, and himself raised by doing the right and honourable thing. But if he repent, then it is our high and Christian duty to forgive. And how shall we forgive? Even as God, for Christ's sake, forgives us (Ephesians 4:32).
(2) Frankly and heartily; reinstating the one who has wronged us in the place he occupied before in our confidence, affection, kindness.
(3) Uncalculatingly. "Seven times in a day." However often our child, our servant, our neighbour, may offend, if there be sincere penitence on his part, and therefore an honest effort to amend, we do well to forgive. The more of this grace we have in our heart and life, the closer is our resemblance and the fuller is our obedience to our forgiving Saviour. - C.
I. THE DISCIPLES' DISSATISFACTION WITH THEMSELVES. Evidently the apostles of our Lord felt that there was something lacking in their souls which they would gladly possess. The doctrine of the great Teacher, perhaps, was not so clear to them as they could have wished; or perhaps they felt themselves a painfully long distance behind their Leader in their spirit and bearing; or it may be that they found themselves unable to do such works as they judged they ought to be able to do, in and through the Name of the great Healer. But whencesoever their source of dissatisfaction, they agreed that they were in spiritual want.
II. THEIR CONCLUSION AS TO THE REMEDY THEY NEEDED. They agreed that what was wanted was an increase of faith. And they were perfectly right in their judgment.
1. They wanted to believe in Christ in a way not then open to them. They became "greater in the kingdom of heaven" afterwards, more enlightened, more spiritual, more devoted, more useful, because afterwards they had a deep and a firm faith in Jesus Christ as their almighty Saviour, as their Divine Lord. But they did not know him yet as such; for as such he had only begun to reveal himself to them.
2. But they needed a fuller faith in him as they did then know him. A more complete and implicit confidence in him
(1) would have led them to eject from their minds all their own oh! prejudices and prepossessions, and so have made way for the reception of his truth in its fulness and in its power;
(2) would have evoked a profounder reverence and a more fervent affection, and thus have led to a nearer likeness to him in spirit and in character;
(3) would have given them power over the forces of evil outside them, and made them equal to the emergencies to which they were unequal (see Matthew 17:19, 20), They did well, therefore, to make of their Lord the request they made, "Increase our faith,"
III. THE TRUTH CONTAINED IN OUR LORD'S REPLY. "If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed," etc. This truth is surely not that the possession of a faith as slight as the mustard seed is small will suffice, but that the faith which is full as is the mustard seed of life and power of appropriation will avail for all occasions. For it is not true that a slight and feeble faith does suffice. It failed the apostles on one memorable day (Luke 9:40). It has been failing ever since. Only a faith which is a living and a growing power, like the mustard seed in the soil, will triumph over the difficulties to be met and mastered. The fact is that:
1. A formal faith is worth nothing at all; indeed, less than nothing, for it deludes and misleads.
2. A feeble faith will accomplish little. It sinks in the hour of trial (Matthew 14:30); it shrinks from open avowal, and makes feeble fight in the hour of battle (John 3:1; John 7:50; John 19:38); it enters upon, but abandons, the goodly enterprise (Acts 13:13).
3. A living, appropriating faith is the only effective power. A faith that, like the mustard seed in the soil, puts forth the power of life, and appropriates to itself the riches that are around it in order that, further on, it may bear fruit - this is a power that will be felt. It will accomplish great and even wonderful things; it will surprise the unbelieving as much as if it actually did the very thing which the Master speaks of in his illustrative language.
(1) It will uproot great evils in God's Name and strength.
(2) It will upraise noble structures of good, when inspired at the same source.
1. Is there anything seriously lacking in our spirit, character, life, work?
2. May it not be traced to the absence or to the feebleness of our faith? If we believed more truly in Jesus Christ, if we realized more thoroughly what we accept, should we not be more to God and do more for him?
3. Shall we not come to our Saviour, unhesitatingly, earnestly, perseveringly, with this prayer of the apostles? - C.
did not for a moment intend to convey this impression of his Father and ours.
1. It is inconsistent with the revelation of God which Christ gave us both in his doctrine and in his own Person and life. For in both of these God is revealed to us as a Father who gives rather than receives. Jesus Christ himself was "amongst us as he that serveth;" he "came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give his life;" it is not from him that we can receive the impression that God is one that exacts everything and makes no response.
2. Christ's method of teaching does not require us to interpret the parable in this sense, He argued not only from comparison, but from contrast; not only from the less to the more worthy, but also from the unworthy to the excellent. He said, "If an unjust judge for a bad reason will do right, how certainly will the just Judge for a high one!" He said, "If an ungracious neighbour, prompted by a selfish consideration, will listen and comply, how much more surely will the gracious God, from beneficent considerations!" So here. The slave, when he returns from his day's laborious duties, prepares, unthanked, for his master's comfort before he thinks of his own necessities; and he does this unquestioningly, uncomplainingly. How much more ready, more eager, should we be to serve our God! - we who are not slaves, but children; to serve him, who is no unresponsive and inconsiderate taskmaster, but who is Considerateness itself, who is Responsiveness itself, who is Encouragement itself. We should be ready and eager to serve him to the uttermost, and when we have done everything we can do, be prepared to say, "It is nothing of all that we should do and would do for thee." Now, there are certain occasions to which this more particularly applies; and here we have a touch of resemblance in the parable. As the master there requires of his slave something over and above his day's work in the field, so does our Lord sometimes ask of us more than we thought he would when he first said to us, "Follow me," and we said, "Lord, I will." This may be in the way -
I. OF ACTIVE SERVICE; e.g. when parents have clothed and fed, taught and trained their own children, they may be directed, in God's providence, to take charge of the children of others; or when the minister, superintendent, missioner, teacher, finds that the duty he has undertaken involves a great deal more of costly work than he had counted upon - more time, trouble, patience, self-mastery, self-sacrifice.
II. OF SACRIFICE; e.g. when the young man leaves home or college for work in the foreign field, he finds that the privations he has to endure, the scenes he has to witness, the discouragements he has to bear, the parting with his children he has to go through, are a great deal more than he realized when he started on his way.
III. OF SUBMISSION. When life seems to have been lived through, its strength spent and its work done, the weary human spirit craves rest, the rest of the heavenly home; but God may allot many months or even years of patient waiting before the summons is sent to "come up higher." And in whatever way, or to whatever degree, the heavenly Father may ask of his children the service which they did not look for, such should be and may be their spirit of
(1) perfect trustfulness, and of
(2) fervent love, that they will gladly and faithfully respond; doing with alacrity and bearing with cheerfulness all his holy will, and quite disposed at the end to say, "All is not half enough to give unto the 'Lamb that was slain,' who is worthy to receive the riches of our hearts and of our lives." - C.
I. THE COMMONNESS OF INGRATITUDE. Only one of these ten men had a sufficient sense of indebtedness to return to Christ to offer thanks. The ingratitude of the remaining nine touched, smote, wounded our Lord, and he used the reproachful words of the text (ver. 17). This ingratitude was not a remarkably exceptional illustration of our nature; it is one of those things in respect of which "he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow." For that which youth refuses to believe, experience obliges us to acknowledge, viz. that to accept a great boon from the hand of love, and to show no proper sense of gratitude, is not a rare but a common thing. It is likely enough that we may go much out of our way to do a man a kindness, and that when we look for his response we shall be disappointed. What then? Shall we be diverted from the path of beneficence by this unlovely fact? Shall we say, "Since it is very likely that my services will not be appreciated, they shall not be rendered"? Certainly not. For:
1. There is gratitude to be gained and to be enjoyed. This proportion is not representative. It is not the case that nine men out of ten are insensible to kindnesses shown them. It is as likely as not, perhaps more likely than not, that if we do help out brother in his hour of need, if we do sustain him in sorrow, succour him in distress, stand by him in temptation, lead him into the kingdom of God, we shall win his gratitude, and we may secure the profound, prayerful, lifelong affection of a human heart. And what better reward, short of the favour and friendship of God, can we gain than that?
2. If we fail to obtain this, we shall stand by the side of our Divine Master; we shall share his experience; we shall have "fellowship with the sufferings of Christ." He knew well what it was to serve and be unappreciated, to serve and be disparaged. To be where he stood, to
"Tread the path our Master trod, 3. If man our brother does not bless us, Christ our Saviour will. The most heroic deed of love may go, has gone, unrewarded of man. But the smallest act of kindness rendered to the humblest child will not go unrewarded of him. "Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only... shall in no wise lose his reward." II. THE UNCOUNTED DEBT DUE TO JESUS CHRIST. These nine men having received the greatest good one man could receive from another - deliverance from a living death - failed to recognize their obligation, did not stop to consider it. They were not the last to be guilty in this respect. 1. How much more do many owe to Christ than they think they do! They say, "We do not choose to range ourselves under him and call him 'Master;' we can construct our own character, can build up rectitude and purity and benevolence of spirit apart from his truths or his will; we can do without Christ." But suppose we subtract from the elevating and purifying influences which have made these men what they are all those elements which are due to Christ, how much is left? How little is left? The influences that come from him are in the air these men are breathing, in the laws under which they are living, in the literature they are reading, in the lives they are witnessing; they touch and tell upon them at every point, they act silently and subtly but mightily upon them; they owe to Jesus Christ the best they are and have; they ought to come into direct, living, personal relations with the Lord himself. 2. How much more do some men owe to Christ than they stay to consider! These nine men would not have disputed their obligation had they been challenged, but they were so anxious to get home to their friends and back to their business that they did not stay to consider it. Have we stayed to consider what we owe to him who, though he has not indeed cured us of leprosy, has at infinite cost to himself prepared for us a way of recovery from that which is immeasurably worse - from sin and death? to him who, "though he was rich, for our sakes became poor, that we through his poverty might be rich?" III. THE PERIL OF EARLY PRIVILEGE. It is significant enough that the tenth leper who did return to give glory to God was a Samaritan - was "this stranger." Taking this fact with that concerning the Roman soldier whose faith surprised our Lord, and that of the Syro-Phoenician woman whose importunity prevailed over every obstacle, we may conclude that the Hebrew mind was so familiarized with "signs and wonders," that those outside the sacred circle were far more impressed by what they witnessed than the people of God themselves. It is well to he the children of privilege; but there is one grave peril connected with it. We may become so familiar with the greatest of all facts as to become insensible to their greatness. The Swiss peasant who lives on the Alpine slopes sees no grandeur in those snow-clad summits on which his eyes are always resting; the sailor who lives by the sea hears no music in "old ocean's roar." We may become so familiar even with the story of the cross that our minds are unaffected by its moral grandeur, by its surpassing grace. It behoves us to take earnest heed that we fall not into this fatal snare; lest many should come "from the north, and the south, and the east, and the west, and sit down in the kingdom of God," and we, the children of the kingdom, be excluded. We must do our utmost to realize the great truths which have so long been uttered in our hearing. - C.
3. If man our brother does not bless us, Christ our Saviour will. The most heroic deed of love may go, has gone, unrewarded of man. But the smallest act of kindness rendered to the humblest child will not go unrewarded of him. "Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only... shall in no wise lose his reward."
II. THE UNCOUNTED DEBT DUE TO JESUS CHRIST. These nine men having received the greatest good one man could receive from another - deliverance from a living death - failed to recognize their obligation, did not stop to consider it. They were not the last to be guilty in this respect.
1. How much more do many owe to Christ than they think they do! They say, "We do not choose to range ourselves under him and call him 'Master;' we can construct our own character, can build up rectitude and purity and benevolence of spirit apart from his truths or his will; we can do without Christ." But suppose we subtract from the elevating and purifying influences which have made these men what they are all those elements which are due to Christ, how much is left? How little is left? The influences that come from him are in the air these men are breathing, in the laws under which they are living, in the literature they are reading, in the lives they are witnessing; they touch and tell upon them at every point, they act silently and subtly but mightily upon them; they owe to Jesus Christ the best they are and have; they ought to come into direct, living, personal relations with the Lord himself.
2. How much more do some men owe to Christ than they stay to consider! These nine men would not have disputed their obligation had they been challenged, but they were so anxious to get home to their friends and back to their business that they did not stay to consider it. Have we stayed to consider what we owe to him who, though he has not indeed cured us of leprosy, has at infinite cost to himself prepared for us a way of recovery from that which is immeasurably worse - from sin and death? to him who, "though he was rich, for our sakes became poor, that we through his poverty might be rich?"
III. THE PERIL OF EARLY PRIVILEGE. It is significant enough that the tenth leper who did return to give glory to God was a Samaritan - was "this stranger." Taking this fact with that concerning the Roman soldier whose faith surprised our Lord, and that of the Syro-Phoenician woman whose importunity prevailed over every obstacle, we may conclude that the Hebrew mind was so familiarized with "signs and wonders," that those outside the sacred circle were far more impressed by what they witnessed than the people of God themselves. It is well to he the children of privilege; but there is one grave peril connected with it. We may become so familiar with the greatest of all facts as to become insensible to their greatness. The Swiss peasant who lives on the Alpine slopes sees no grandeur in those snow-clad summits on which his eyes are always resting; the sailor who lives by the sea hears no music in "old ocean's roar." We may become so familiar even with the story of the cross that our minds are unaffected by its moral grandeur, by its surpassing grace. It behoves us to take earnest heed that we fall not into this fatal snare; lest many should come "from the north, and the south, and the east, and the west, and sit down in the kingdom of God," and we, the children of the kingdom, be excluded. We must do our utmost to realize the great truths which have so long been uttered in our hearing. - C.
I. THE MISTAKES WHICH PHARISAISM MADE.
1. As to the character of the coming kingdom. It thought it was to be outward, earthly, political, temporal; it was looking and longing for the time when another David, another Judas Maccabaeus, should come, should liberate the Holy Land from the grasp of the pagan power, and make Jerusalem the metropolis, the centre and glory of the earth.
2. As to the evidences and signs of its coming. It looked for a grand display of power, for overwhelming evidences that would strike every eye and startle and convince every mind that One was at hand who should assume the sovereignty awaiting him. And so it came to pass that when Jesus was born at Bethlehem, a Babe cradled in a manger; when he grew up to be a Carpenter at Nazareth; when he gathered no army, and struck no blow for national deliverance; when there was no ostentation about his method; when he lived to bless and teach individual men and women, and wrought his work quietly and unpretendingly; - Pharisaism decided that he was not the Coming One, and that his reign was not to prove the kingdom of God. Pharisaism entirely mistook God's purpose, and fatally misinterpreted his procedure.
II. THE MISTAKES INTO WHICH WE ARE LIABLE TO FALL. Not, of course, the same but similar, and equally disastrous.
1. When we look for blessedness in out ward circumstances instead of in inward peace. We say, "If I could but win that prize, gain that post, secure that friendship, earn that income, how bright would be my lot, how glad my heart, how radiant my life I" But we are wrong. Gladness of heart and excellency of life are not to be found in sunny circumstances, but in a pure heart, a heart that is at rest, a heart at home with God. "Out of the heart are the issues of life;" the fountain of lasting joy rises from our own breast; the kingdom of God is within us.
2. When we look for blessedness in the time that is beyond. "Man never is, but always to be blessed." There is even an unchristian longing for the heavenly future. When" to abide in the flesh" is more needful for those for whose welfare we are largely responsible, then the "kingdom of God" for us is not in the distance; it is in the present sphere of duty; it is in present peace, present joy, present service, in the blessedness which Christ gives to his servants "Before they reach the heavenly fields, Or walk the golden streets," in those "heavenly places" of holy service and happy fellowship in which he "has made them to sit" (Ephesians 2:6).
3. When we wait for heavenly influences to fall upon us instead of availing ourselves of those we have. Not only is there no need for any soul to wait for some remarkable and overwhelming influences before entering the kingdom, not only is it wholly unnecessary, but it is positively wrong to do so. It is in those quiet influences which are now working within your heart that God comes to you. He will never be nearer to a human soul than when his Spirit fills it with a holy longing, and makes it eager to know what it must do to enter into life. Wait not for anything that is coming: act on the promptings that are within you, and your feet shall then surely stand within the kingdom of God. - C.
I. HIS KINGDOM COMES IN THE HEARTS OF MEN. (Vers. 20, 21.) The characteristic of worldly kingdoms has always been ostentation. They try to impress the senses by noisy advents, brag, advertisement, the blare of bugle and roll of drum. And some think that there is nothing worth talking about which can come in any milder way. The Jews expected a kingdom of God to supersede the Roman, and that its advent would be seen in the defeat and expulsion of the conquerors of Canaan. But, no; the kingdom was coming in men's hearts; it was there it had its sphere and home.
1. How superficial is the sovereignty which is not founded in the heart I This is the world's experience daily. The outward sovereignty is a name and based on fear.
2. How noble is the sovereignty which is based upon people's hearts! It is here Jesus reigns. We love him. We would die for him. Thus his kingdom progresses wherever a heart is touched by Christ's love. His triumph is over the selfishness of mankind. He conquers them by self-sacrificing love.
II. THE KING HIMSELF IS TO COME AS SUDDENLY AS THE LIGHTNING-FLASH. (Vers. 22-24.) He is not to give warning of his approach. There will be no need to go here or there under the impression that he has come quietly and privately, to prepare for his public manifestation; but suddenly like the lightning-flash, and publicly like its heaven-enlightening beam, is he to come for judgment. Hence the awful suddenness of his advent is distinctly implied. He will give no premonitory warnings, but overwhelmingly sudden and awful will be his approach. No wonder in such circumstances that many shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, one of those seasons of quiet philanthropy such as the Saviour was now leading among men. The Pharisees were mistaking altogether the significance of his present mission.
III. THE RESULTS OF THE PRESENT MISAPPREHENSIONS. (Vers. 25-30.)
1. The first sad result will be the rejection and martyrdom of Jesus (ver. 25). Misapprehending the significance of his meek and lowly philanthropic life, his generation united in rejecting him, and secured his crucifixion on the tree. They would not have the King when actually among them in flesh and blood.
2. Men will act like the antediluvians and Sodomites up to the very time of our Lord's advent. A sense of carnal security characterized these sinners. They thought in Noah's day that no harm would overtake them. There was no sign of the Deluge except Noah's precautions against it, and they would not act upon such signs. In Sodom it was the same. The inhabitants thought no change would come over their selfish, sensual dream. But the Deluge came, and the fire and brimstone descended, notwithstanding. So will it be with the advent of Christ - it will come as a sudden, unexpected judgment upon many. And this carnal security is a present danger with many. They fancy they are safe, that nothing will interfere with their security; but the Saviour makes his advent suddenly, and they are overwhelmed.
IV. THE REALITIES OF THE ADVENT. (Vers. 31-37.) Now, the truth is clearly brought out that some shall be saved and others lost at the advent.
1. Let us look at the lost. They are brought under our notice here in several ways. Thus Lot's wife is taken as a type of the lost. Now, we know that she was lost through looking longingly back to her worldly things. God, by his angels, had set the family's faces towards the mountains and himself. Were they prepared to take him and his favour as their portion, and give up all their property in Sodom? If they looked longingly behind them, it would show that the world was still more to them than God. The poor wife could not resist the temptation, and so she was changed into a pillar of salt. She is, then, the type of those who are almost saved, but worldliness gets the better of them, and they are lost. Again, the lost ones are represented as food for eagles (ver. 37) This brings out the corruption characterizing them. They have become moral carrion which only the eagles can consume. There is, doubtless, a reference to the Roman invasion under Titus, and to the destruction of corrupt Jerusalem. The Roman armies were God's scavengers to destroy a corrupt people. This was one way in which Christ made an advent to judgment. Lastly, we have the lost described as those who are continually seeking to save themselves (ver. 33). Those whose one aim in life is self-preservation, the saving of themselves at every turn, who think of self as the supreme concern, are only losing themselves. The curious paradox is that those who save themselves at every turn lose themselves; while those who do not count their lives dear, but Christ's concern as supreme, find themselves safe at last. Let us see to it, therefore, that we are neither worldly minded, nor corrupt, nor given up to selfishness, else we are among the lost.
2. But let us look at the saved ones. These are those who have kept Christ before them as their Lord and Master, whose interests should be supreme (ver. 33). They value him more than life, and so he saves them. The nature of salvation is thus plainly unfolded. The saved ones are those with whom Christ is all in all. They prefer him to everything else. The instinct of self-preservation has in them given place to an instinct to preserve the honour and promote the kingdom of the Master. And those who have trusted him and honoured him so thoroughly shall find that he will not disappoint them. Let us wait for his appearing, then, and love it; and when it flashes across the world, we shall be allowed to escape the judgments that come upon the earth, and to stand before the Son of man. - R.M.E.
is the kingdom. It is present in the Present One. But," he says to his disciples, "he is present in a very strict sense. The time will soon be here when you will greatly long for his fellowship, and you will not be able to possess it. Do not believe those who will tell you that the Son of man is still on earth; it will not be true. His life below will be of the very briefest; it will be but as a lightning-flash which passes through the darkened heavens in a moment, and is gone again; so brief will be his stay, so soon will he be gone. But before he goes he must suffer many things; much must be done, for much must be endured, before his short day is done."
I. THE BRIEF DAY OF OUR LORD'S OPPORTUNITY. When we think of the long centuries that preceded, and of those that have already succeeded, the day of Christ, we may well regard his short visit to our world as a mere flash of light for transitoriness. What were those few months of his short stay among men compared with all those dark ages, and to all those that have been illumined by the light which his truth has shed upon them! But, transient as it was, it sufficed. It does not take long to utter or to illustrate the most Divine and the most vital truths; it did not take long to undergo the most mysterious and the most availing sorrows - it took but a few agonizing hours to die the death of atonement. Into that short day of opportunity our Divine Redeemer compressed:
1. The utterance of all needful truth - all the truth we need for our guidance into the kingdom of God, and for our passage through life and death into the kingdom of glory.
2. The illustration of every human grace; the living of a human life in all its perfect loveliness and grandeur.
3. The endurance of sorrow such as constituted him for ever the Man of sorrows, and the High Priest of human nature, touched with the feeling of our infirmities (Hebrews 4:15).
4. The dying of that death which is the all-sufficient sacrifice for sin. A few months of time sufficed to complete his work and make him the Divine Teacher, Leader, Friend, Saviour, of the whole race of man for all time to come.
II. OUR BRIEF DAY.
1. Measured by hours, our day is very brief. Human life is abort at the longest. We are "but of yesterday,' and to-morrow we shall not be. The rocks and even the trees look down on many generations. And in all the bustle and battle, in all the pursuits and pleasures of our lira, the little time we have hastens away and is gone far sooner than we thought it would go. It is not only our poetry that sings, but our experience that testifies of the swiftness of our course beneath the sun.
2. Yet it holds manifold and precious opportunities of regaining our position as the children and heirs of God; of doing "many things" that shall tell even in future years for truth and God; of "suffering many things" after Christ our Lord, and in holy and noble fellowship with him (Philippians 3:10).
3. Its transiency is an urgent reason for
(1) immediate decision, and
(2) constant and earnest action in the cause of righteousness,
Whilst we have the light that shines, let us walk and let us work in the light. - C.
I. SPIRITUAL TRIFLING. The men of the time of Noah were living in a state of utter worldliness and impiety. They were not without remonstrance and rebuke; Noah was himself "a preacher of righteousness" unto them. But they hearkened not, nor heeded; they made light of his admonitions and his warnings. They found some pretext under which they could easily hide the truth he reminded them of, and they went on their way of materialism and enjoyment. The same with the people of Sodom, and the character and instruction of Lot. And so with us.
1. Men are living in sinful selfishness and worldliness - many in crime, many more in vice; but a very large multitude in practical godlessness. God is not in all, he is not in many if in any of their thoughts. His will is not the object of their inquiry, is not the rule of their life.
2. The religious teacher comes and admonishes; he says, "Man cannot live by bread alone;" the claims of the Divine Father, of the holy Saviour, are the supreme claims, etc.
3. But still the same course is pursued; the better thoughts that are momentarily stirred in the heart are silenced; sacred truths are extinguished; the truth of God is treated lightly; the world and the things that are in the world are uppermost and are victorious.
II. THE PALPABLE FOLLY OF SUCH TRIFLING AS THIS.
1. It is attended with immediate and certain injury. For it is impossible for a human soul to reject the truth or to quench the Spirit of God, and not be seriously the worse for such an act.
2. There is the grave peril of a great disaster. The generation is eating and drinking and marrying, and behold! the Flood sweeps them away. The cities are trading and feasting, and lo! the fires of heaven come down and consume them. They who trifle with the most sacred things are sure to find that, suddenly, in such an hour as they think not, the end arrives. The business plans are all broken off; the brilliant career is concluded; the flow of pleasures is arrested. Death suddenly appears, and deals his fatal blow. These sacred opportunities which have been so little prized, so much disparaged, recede with terrible rapidity and disappear. Opportunity that waited by the side, and waited all in vain, melts and vanishes in a moment. The soul awakes from its long lethargy to see that its powers have been wasted and that its chance is gone!
III. THE ELUSIVENESS OH THIS SOLEMN LESSON. Men have always known this, and they have always acted as if they were ignorant of it. "As it was... so shall it be." So is it to-day. By spiritual trifling men fritter away the golden chance that Divine love puts into their hands. Be wise in time. Realize what you are doing, what injury you are working, what risk you are running. - C.
I. THE LARGE AMOUNT OF ACCIDENT which enters into the fabric of human life. Take, for example, a bad railway accident. How accidental it seems that one man should just miss that train and be saved, and that another should just catch it and be killed; that one should take a seat in the carriage which is crushed, and another in the carriage which is left whole; that one should be sitting exactly where the bent and twisted timber pierced him, and another exactly where no injury was dealt, etc.! It is the same with the battle-field, with the thunderstorm, with the falling house. One is taken, and another left; and the taking of the one and the leaving of the other seems to be pure accident - not the result of reason or forethought, but entirely fortuitous.
II. OUR CORRECTED THOUGHT CONCERNING IT.
1. Of accident in the sense of chance we know there is nothing. Everything is "under law;" and even where there is no law apparent, we are assured, by the exercise of our reason, that there must be the operation of law, though it is out of our sight. In this world of God's, pure chance has not an inch of ground to work upon.
2. There is usually much more play of reason and habit in "accidental events" than seems at first sight. Things result as they do because habit is stronger than judgment, or because foolish men disregard the counsel of the wise; because thoughtful men take the precautions which result in their safety, and because thoughtless men take the action which issues in their suffering or death.
3. The providence of God covers the entire field of human life. May we venture to believe that the hand of God is in the events and issues of life? I think we may.
(1) It is clearly within the range of the activities of an Infinite Being to whom nothing is small as nothing is great.
(2) His Fatherhood would lead him to follow the course of every one of his children with parental interest, and to interpose his hand wherever he saw it was wise to do so.
(3) Scripture warrants the conclusion: "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints;" "The way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps;" "Not a sparrow falleth to the ground without your Father: ye are of more value than many sparrows."
III. THE LARGE MEASURE OF UNCERTAINTY THAT REMAINS AND MUST REMAIN. Human science has introduced many safeguards, but it has also introduced new perils. The "chapter of accidents" is as long as it ever was in the contemporary history of mankind. God is supreme, but he lets many things happen we should antecedently have supposed he would step in to prevent; he lets good men take the consequence of their mistakes; he permits the very holy and the very useful to be overtaken by sad misfortunes and even by fatal calamities. We cannot guarantee the future; we cannot ensure prosperity, health, friends, reputation, long life. To one that seems to be heir to all these good things they will fall; to another who seems equally likely to inherit them they will be denied: one is taken, the other left. Therefore let us turn to -
IV. THE ONE GOOD THING ON WHICH WE CAN ABSOLUTELY COUNT. There is "a good part which shall not be taken away." This is a Christian character; its foundations are laid in repentance and faith; it is built up of reverent study, of worship, of the obedience of love. Its glory is in resemblance to Jesus Christ himself. This is within every man's reach, and it cannot be taken; it must be left. He who secures that is safe for ever. No accident can rob him of his heritage. His treasure and himself are immovable; for "he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." - C.