Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. IT TRIUMPHED OVER NATIONAL PREJUDICE. Here is a Roman exercising the most perfect confidence in a Jew - putting one in whom he was closely and deeply interested into the hands of an Israelite. We must remember all the pride of the Romans as such, and all their hatred as well as contempt of the Jews, to realize the fulness of this triumph.
II. IT WAS BASED ON COMPARATIVELY SLENDER EVIDENCE. "When he heard of Jesus, he sent." Clearly, then, he had not seen him, had not witnessed his works, had not listened to his wisdom; he was without the larger part of the evidence which was before the people of that neighbourhood. He had but "heard of" him, and yet he believed in him.
III. IT WAS CHERISHED IN SPITE OF CONSCIOUS UNWORTHINESS. He took a very humble view of himself. This we gather from his action in sending the elders of the Jews to intercede on his behalf (ver. 3), and from his language in stating that he was not worthy that Christ should "enter under his roof" (ver. 6). Yet had he such an assurance of our Lord's kindness of heart that he was persuaded he would pity and help him, notwithstanding this undeservedness on his part.
IV. IT ASSUMED THAT CHRIST WOULD RESPOND TO A RESPECTFUL AND EARNEST PLEA.
V. IT SHOWED A WONDERFUL CONFIDENCE IN HIS ABILITY TO HEAL. The sending of the deputation, in the first instance, showed the confidence of the centurion in the power of Christ. But the fulness of his faith in this direction was manifested in the sending of the second deputation - in charging them with that most striking message (vers. 6-8). It is interesting to notice how the soldierly profession, which might well seem to be most unlikely to help a man to discipleship to the Prince of peace, did, in fact, serve him in good stead. It enabled him to grasp fully the idea of Divine authority. He was, he said, a man who knew well what was meant by command and obedience. He was accustomed to obey implicitly those who were over him in position, and he was also in the habit of receiving the full and immediate obedience of those who were under him. To them he said, "Come," and they came; "Go," and they went. Whatever forces of nature this Divine Healer might wish to employ, he had only to do the like; he had but to command, and they would instantly obey. Thus his military training helped him to a faith in the authority and power of Christ which distinguished him above others, and which brought down the blessing he sought (ver. 10). We learn:
1. That unbelief in Jesus Christ is wholly inexcusable in us Consider how, in contrast with this centurion, we have no prejudice to overcome, but have been baptized into (or brought up in) the faith of Jesus Christ. Consider also how, in contrast with this man, we have had constant access to the Saviour, and are the children of privilege in the fullest sense of the word. And consider also what evidence we have had before us of Christ's willingness and power to save in all that we have heard, read, and seen.
2. The validity of any sincere belief, weak or strong. It may be that something in our spiritual constitution or in our religious training may make us incapable, at the beginning, of exercising so strong a faith as that here illus trated. This need not, and must not, keep us from making an appeal to the Saviour. Not all that sought his aid had faith like this; yet he healed them also. We must come as we are and as we can. He is One that "does not break the bruised reed." A faith that is feeble, but sincere, will not go home unblessed. - C.
healing in vers. 2-10 we turn first; and then we shall consider the miracle of resurrection (vers. 11-17), by which it is followed.
I. THE SAVIOUR OF THE SICK. (Vers. 1-10.)
1. Let us observe the self-abasement of the centurion. And in this connection we must notice the devotedness he had shown to the Jewish religion. As a proselyte, he had not only espoused Judaism, but built a synagogue to accommodate his fellow-worshippers. Hence he had an excellent reputation with the ecclesiastical authorities. But all this did not lead to any boasting on his part or exaltation of spirit. He remains the humble man before God after all his liberality. Hence he organizes no less than two deputations to Jesus Christ rather than obtrude himself upon him. And
(1) he sends a deputation of Jewish elders, to ask from Jesus the cure of his sick servant. He esteems these ecclesiastical rulers as better than himself; he values them as highly almost as they do themselves! In reality he was spiritually far ahead of them; but he was unconscious of this, and conscious only of his great personal unworthiness. The elders come, and in their self-righteous spirit speak of his worthiness to Jesus. He was worthy, they declared, and had proved his worthiness by building the synagogue. They thought more of the centurion, and more of themselves, than the centurion did. Yet Jesus recognizes the humility which dictated the sending of the deputation, and responds to their entreaty by going with them towards the centurion's house.
(2) He sends a second deputation of friends to entreat Jesus not to give himself so much trouble in the matter, seeing he was utterly unworthy of a visit from Jesus. His idea was that, as Christ could heal his servant without the trouble of coming to see him, could heal at any distance, then he ought to take things as easy as he could. So strong is his conviction on this subject, that he gives a military illustration in proof of it. "Evidently," says Robertson, "he looked upon this universe with a soldier's eye; he could not look otherwise. To him this world was a mighty camp of living forces, in which authority was paramount. Trained in obedience to military law, accustomed to render prompt submission to those above him, and to exact it from those below him, he read law everywhere; and law to him meant nothing unless it meant the expression of a personal will. It was this training through which faith took its form. Christ was, therefore, to the soldier's eye, the centurion of all diseases, and they obeyed him, so that he might have sent the disease of the servant away by a simple word of command, and so have saved himself all the trouble. Now, it is important to remember that our Lord did not take the easiest way always. He preferred to show his sympathy and thorough devotedness by taking sometimes the most irksome way. His idea was not to save himself trouble; he spared not himself." He will not use his power to save himself trouble.
2. Let us notice Christ's admiration of the centurion's faith. We have seen how great humility is accompanied by great faith. The graces grow proportionally. There are no monstrosities in the spiritual world. And we have to notice what an eye Jesus has for faith. It is the most lovely product in this vale of tears. Hence he is wrapt in admiration of it. He recognizes it as greater in this Gentile than it has yet been in any Jew. The house of Israel had given him as yet no such believer as he had now found in the simple soldier. Clearly faith is not always in proportion to opportunity and advantages. How weak the faith of many who have been all their lives long in the enjoyment of the means of grace!
3. Christ responds to strong faith by a word of power. Had he continued to press himself upon the centurion's attention and household, it might have led the humble believer to suspect the power of Jesus to save at a distance, In other words, if Jesus had advanced, it might have hurt the centurion's faith, instead of ministering to him any additional sense of sympathy. Hence he spoke, and the disease of the servant departed instantly. Now, this miracle is designed to show the beauty of Christian sympathy, the power of intercession, and the tender grace of the Saviour as he responds to the appeals of his servants. Let us take a similar interest in those who serve us, or are in anywise related to us; let us bring their case before the Lord, and he will help them for our sake, and for his own Name's sake too!
II. THE SAVIOUR OF THE DEAD. (Vers. 11-17.) We next turn to the raising of the widow's son at Nain (vers. 11-17). And here let us notice:
1. The terrible sorrow which presented itself to Jesus. (Ver. 12.) It was the death of a widow's only son. She stood before Jesus in all her loneliness - more lonely through the proximity of the crowd. Now, it is to a social Saviour she has come, One who lay in the bosom of the Father, a member of the "social Trinity," who enjoyed fellowship from all eternity. Hence her case did not appeal to him in vain. He does not need any intercession. His sympathetic heart takes up the case. Hence we have:
2. The consolatory word our Saviour spoke. "Weep not!" Sometimes, as Gerok has remarked, this word is spoken in a well-meant, yet unchristian sense, by many children of the world, as if weeping and mourning ought to be put away as out of place; in other cases, the word is spoken with a good Christian intention, but without much human tenderness; but Jesus shows us here when it ought to be spoken. He wants the widow not to weep, for he can put all her sorrow away. Truly it is he who can wipe away the tears from off all faces (Revelation 7:17). If we have such consolation to offer, welt may we say, "Weep not." But if we only repeat the words, without offering any consolation, they are not likely to be of much avail. It is a striking contrast, our Lord's conduct on this occasion, and on the occasion of Lazarus's resurrection, where he wept himself, instead of commanding others not to weep (John 11:35).
3. The mighty word which backed up his consolation. (Ver. 14.) This was, "Young man, I say unto thee, Arise!" He does so as the Prince of life. The result is that he that was dead first sat up, and then began to speak. Life was thus restored to him, and intercourse with others followed. Jesus thus demonstrated that he was "the Resurrection and the Life."
4. The restoration of the young man to his mother. (Ver. 15.) The purpose of the resurrection was the restoration of those relationships which death had so rudely severed. The bereaved mother is enabled to rejoice in her son again, and to see her home-circle restored. The great truth of recognition and restoration through resurrection is thus set before us.
5. The effect of the miracle upon the people. (Vers. 16, 17.) They feared, because the miracle demonstrated that God was awfully near. Yet the fear inspired them to glorify God for the advent of such a Prophet, and the gracious visitation which he brought. They felt that the miracle was eminently worthy of God. An eminent scientific man, who doubts revealed religion, yet accepts spiritualism, has said, "Few, if any, reputed miracles are at all worthy of a God." But in face of such a tender and touching work of grace as this at Nain, no such declaration could be made by an impartial mind. It was worthy of God, and tended to his glory.
6. Consider, lastly, the type and promise it affords of what Christ will do in the world at last. For, as a poet has suggested, this earth is the "bier whereon our race is ]aid," and to it will Christ at last come, and, arresting the long procession of the dead, will say, "Arise!" when lo! a race shall wake from clay, "young, deathless, freed from every stain." And the "Weep not I" shall also be heard then, for from his people's faces every tear shall be wiped away. The miracle thus throws a clear and steady light upon those last things which perplex so many people now. - R.M.E.
I. OUR INDEBTEDNESS TO THE RELIGION OF OUR NATIVE LAND, The centurion loved the nation, and why? The Jew had one thing to give the Roman, and that was a very great thing. Civilization, military science, and law, were of the Roman; but "salvation was of the Jews" (John 4:22). This Roman, who probably saw many things in Galilee that he pitied, found something that first surprised, then convinced, then satisfied and ennobled him - he found a true theology and a pure morality. With this he found rest of soul, domestic purity, health and sweetness of life; he became another man, and lived another life. He was indebted to the religion of this country of his adoption. What do we owe to the religion of the land in which we were born? How much more do we owe to the Christianity we have learned in England than the centurion (of the text) owed to the Judaism he learned in Galilee! Our holy faith, taught us in childhood and impressed upon us through all our days, has brought into our view a heavenly Father, a Divine Saviour and Friend, a Holy Spirit and Comforter, a blessed service, a godly brotherhood, a noble life, a glorious hope of immortal blessedness. What shall we render to the country of our birth which has trained us in such truths as these?
II. OUR BEST ACKNOWLEDGMENT. This man "loved the nation and built them a synagogue." What better thing could he do than this? What kindlier or truer service could he render them? Those synogogues had been the homes of devotion and the sources of sacred instruction for four hundred years, and they had rendered inestimable service to the nation. The influences which radiated from them had kept the people loyal to their faith, and had preserved in them all the better qualities they possessed. And what can we do to serve the country which has nourished us in the faith of Christ? We can do all that lies in our power to promote its material prosperity, to secure its freedom, to extend its knowledge and intelligence. But, these not being left undone, there is one thing more which is greater than these - we can promote its piety. By so doing we shall serve it in the highest sphere; we shall be doing that which will gain for it the favour of Almighty God; we shall be indirectly serving it in all other ways, for the children of God will be the best citizens of their country in any and every department of human action. And how shall we best promote the piety of our land?
1. By living a devout and upright life in our own humble sphere.
2. By making known, in all open ways, the distinctive truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
3. By supporting the institutions which are closely connected with it - its edifices, its societies, its homes. - C.
I. A TOUCHING PICTURE OF THE EXTREMES OF HUMAN JOY AND SORROW. The great darkness of death had overshadowed a human home; death had come to a young man, one who had passed through the perils of early life, and had qualified himself for the larger duties and weightier obligations of manhood; one, therefore, to whom life was peculiarly dear and precious. This young man was an only son, in whom all his mother's love had centred, on whom she leaned as her one support; and she was a widow, most needing the solace of affection, least able to dispense with the prop that was left her. A supreme sorrow was hers. Then came a sudden revulsion of feeling. Just at the very hour when grief was at its very depth, as the young man was being carried to his grave, he is restored to her. The inanimate form is quickened to a new life; there is "a light upon the brows" which is not "the daylight only," but the light of consciousness; the stilled tongue speaks again; the pallor of death gives place to the hue of health. Her son is hers again; her home is home again; she takes back her life with his. A more complete rebound from uttermost sorrow to intensest peace and joy can never have been known.
II. CHRIST'S CROWNING ACT OF AUTHENTICATION. When our Lord sent back his reply to John we are not surprised that he mentions, as the crowning instance of his power, that "the dead are raised" (ver. 22). Much as it was to give sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf and activity to the lame, much as it was to cleanse the lepers of their foul and terrible disease, it was very much more to restore the dead to life. That was the supreme and sovereign act, proving that Jesus did come forth from God, and was what he claimed to be. That was a power beyond all the skill of human science, beyond all the arts of necromancy; it bespoke the near presence of the Divine. Surely God was visiting his people.
III. A PROPHECY OF THE PRESENT AND THE LASTING MISSION OF THE DIVINE RESTORER. What Jesus Christ visited this world to do for the bodies of men he now lives and reigns to do for their souls - to restore them to newness of life. He is with us always, here on earth, "not to sojourn, but to abide" with us, exercising a far more glorious power than that he put forth at the gates of the city of Nain. That young man had another lease of life; to the days that he had spent on earth there were added a certain number more. Then he sickened again, and died; and death and the grave claimed their own. But when Jesus Christ, our Divine Saviour, now confers spiritual life, he awakens us to an existence
(1) which is far higher than the mortal life we are living here, and
(2) which is not limited by a few years. The great work of restoration which the risen Saviour is now accomplishing is that of which his work below was but the preparation and the promise.
1. The death to which this man succumbed was the type of the spiritual death which is the sad consequence of sin.
2. To those thus lost to God and man he speaks with sovereign voice, "Arise!" he bids them realize their guilt and danger; he summons them to repentance; he invites them to a whole-hearted trust in himself, the Almighty Saviour; he bids them walk thenceforth in the way of his commandments.
3. He restores them to their friends as those who, under his gracious hand, will be henceforth what they have never been before.
4. He calls forth deepest gratitude and reverence from all that witness the exercise of his power and grace. - C.
I. CONSIDER JOHN'S DIFFICULTY. John had preached about a coming One, according to such prophecies as that of Malachi. He had preached that Jesus was coming to judgment. His fan was to be in his hand; he was throughly to purge his floor; he was to gather the wheat into his garner; and he was to burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire (Luke 3:17). And in the spirit of the Old Testament, which was largely a dispensation of judgment, John looked for Messiah to be mainly a Messiah of judgment. The kingdom of Messiah was to be set up, John thought, like all world-kingdoms, by "the thunder of the captains and the shouting," by some remarkable series of judgments; but now that Jesus is devoting himself to philanthropy pure and simple, John thinks that perhaps another messenger is to be looked for, who will make judgment his role. John's difficulty is what we all experience when we imagine that a more impressive and decisive method of advancing God's cause might be adopted. Human nature has great faith in blows!
II. OUR LORD'S RESPONSE. (Vers. 21-23.) This consisted of:
1. Miracles of mercy. All that needed healing in the crowd received it in presence of John's disciples. He cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and many blind ones received their sight. The Healer was there; philanthropy was in full swing.
2. He preached the gospel to the poor. He backed up the miracles by a message; he made his mercies to the body the texts from which he preached deliverance to the souls of men.
3. He directed the disciples to report to John what they had seem and heard, with the additional warning, "Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me." His policy was one of love, of disinterestedness; and John was to study it more thoroughly and come to a better conclusion. We thus learn that the best defence of a suspected work is the patient performance of it. It will vindicate itself in due season, if it be good and genuine. Christ came not to wade through seas of blood to a temporal throne, but by persevering love to win men's hearts and rule over their lives from within!
III. HIS PANEGYRIC UPON JOHN. (Vers. 24-28.) It was after the deputation had departed that Jesus pronounced John's panegyric. Most people would have pronounced it in their hearing, that they might carry it to John; but Jesus says the good and noble things behind John's back, having given all the warning he needed before, so to speak, his face. It partakes, as Godet remarks, of the nature of a funeral oration. Like Jesus himself, John is anointed with considerate praise before his burial. And here we have to notice the order of the panegyric.
1. Christ describes John negatively. Borrowing his simile from the desert, where the reeds bow before the breeze and do not break, he insists that John was not like one of these. In other words, he was a man of unflinching integrity, who would break rather than bend before the breeze of opposition. He preferred to be Herod's prisoner in the dungeon rather than his fawning sycophant in the palace. Nor, again, was John a courtier gaily and silkenly clad. The Camel's hair garment was a perpetual protest in the castle, before he was thrust down into the dungeon, against the effeminacy of the court. If he had come to be "court preacher" to Herod, he had come to be one in earnest.
2. He describes John positively. He was a "prophet." Great honour was it to be recipients and communicators of revelations. John was charged, like other Old Testament prophets, with messages from God. But he was more - he was the forerunner of Messiah. In applying to John the prophecy in Malachi, Jesus was asserting his own Messiahship and Divinity. This was a great honour for John to be the immediate predecessor of the Lord. Still further, our Lord asserts that of woman-born there has not been a greater prophet than the Baptist. This is unstinted praise. And it is just. When we consider all John attempted and the means he had at hand, when we consider that he attempted the regeneration of his country and asked no miraculous power to accomplish it, - then he comes before us in moral grandeur exceeding that of the first Elias.
3. He describes him candidly. The panegyric is judicious. Our Lord declares that, great though John undoubtedly is, he is surpassed by "the least in the kingdom of God." This may mean that the least Christian has greater insight into the nature of the kingdom than John. Or it may, perhaps, rather mean that he who is consciously the least in the kingdom of God, by whom we must understand the most advanced spiritually, is greater than John. The insight of a Paul, for instance, who felt himself to be less than the least of all saints, was greater than that of John, climax though he was of Old Testament prophecy. Or, final]y, may it not mean Jesus himself, who was the meekest and lowliest in the Kingdom of God.
IV. THE CHARACTER OF JOHN'S SUCCESS WAS LIKE THAT OF JESUS. (Vers. 29, 30.) The evangelist seems to add the significant words that it was among the common people, the publicans and the poor, not among the Pharisees and lawyers, that he secured his penitents. So that John's revival was really among the humbler classes, where the work of Jesus was being now wisely prosecuted. The self-righteous rejected John's appeal for repentance; the common people and the publicans embraced it, and "justified God" by repenting before him. For we must acknowledge God's perfect justice in condemning us for our sins, before we can appreciate his justice and mercy in forgiving us for his Son's sake. Luke's observation, then, makes Christ's panegyric a perfect picture.
V. THE TWO ASPECTS OF TRUTH, AND THE GENERAL REJECTION OF BOTH, (Vers. 31-35.) Jesus, in these verses, contrasts John's ministry with his own. Little children at play sometimes find their fellows utterly intractable. Tried by a funeral, they will not join in the mournful procession; tried by a marriage, they will not join in the bridal party. They are too ill-natured to take part in either. Nothing pleases them. So was it with the Pharisees in their attitude to the preaching of John and to the preaching of Jesus. John presented the truth in its severe and mournful aspects. He was unsocial, to lead men to a sense of sin and to repent of it. But the Pharisees would not believe the self-denying preacher from the desert. Jesus presented the truth in all its winsomeness and attractiveness; but they found as much fault with Jesus as they did with John. John had a devil, and Jesus was a glutton and a wine-bibber. Neither could please these prim, self-satisfied ones. But the vindication of wisdom was on its way. The penitents of John and the joyful disciples of Jesus would yet justify the truth which John and Jesus preached. The Pharisees might reject both missions, but the common people who received them justified the truth in both by lives and conversations becoming the gospel. We may in the same way leave our work with confidence to the verdict of the future, if we feel that it is true. Opposition from a self-righteous party is itself a vindication of the truth which we have embodied or declared. - R.M.E.
I. A CONSTANT CHARACTERISTIC OF HUMAN GOODNESS. HOW came John to send this message? Was he really doubtful - he who had prepared the way of the Lord, who had baptized him, who had recognized in him the Lamb of God? Even so. Many ingenious theories account for it in some other way, but they do not satisfy. After all, was it surprising that John should begin to doubt? He had been lying in that lonely fortress by the Red Sea for some months; constitutionally active and energetic, he had been doomed to enforced idleness, and had had nothing to do but to form judgments of other people - a very perilous position; what he heard about Jesus may very well have seemed strange and unsatisfactory to him. Our Lord's method was very different from his own. He was living, as John had not done, in the very midst of the people; he was not drawing great crowds whom he excited to tempestuous feeling, but acting, with calm and deep wisdom, on smaller numbers; he was not living an ascetic life; he was not making any very great way according to ordinary human measurement; and John, writhing in captivity, and longing to be out and about in active work, allowed his mind to be affected, his belief to be disturbed, by what he heard and by what he did not hear. Nothing could be more natural, more human. This is human goodness all the world over. Nobility of spirit, self-sacrifice, devoutness, zeal, and infirmity, the partial subsidence of his faith. Who that knows the history of human goodness can be surprised at this? We must take this into the account in our estimate of good men. Infirmity is a constant element of human character. Perfection among the angels of God; perfection for ourselves further on among the glorified; meantime we may bestow our heartiest affection and our unstinted admiration upon those who are aspiring and endeavouring after the highest, but who sometimes fail to be all that they and we could wish that they were.
II. THE BEST PROOFS OF THE DIVINE POWER AND VIRTUE. Christ adduced two powerful proofs that he was indeed the "One that should come."
1. The exercise of benignant power. In that same hour he healed many that came to be cured, and he said to John's disciples, "Go and show your master what benignant power I am exercising; not smiting my enemies with blindness, but making the blind to see; not punishing the liar with leprosy, but pitying the poor leper and making him clean; not raining down fire from heaven on the obdurate, but calling back to life those who had entered the dark region of the dead; visiting the homes of men with health and life and joy."
2. Love for the lowly. "Go and tell John that I am caring much for those for whom men have not cared at all, instructing in heavenly wisdom those whom other teachers have left untaught, lifting up those whom other reformers have been content to leave upon the ground, making heirs of the outcast, making rich for ever the penniless and hopeless - say that 'the blind receive their sight, and the deaf hear,' etc., and forget not to add that 'to the poor the gospel is preached.'" As these disciples came to our Master, so do some approach us now: they come with serious, earnest questioning. "Is the Christian system which we preach the system for our age? is it still the word we want? Or is not the world awaiting another doctrine, another method, another kingdom? Is Jesus Christ the Teacher for us, or do we look for another?" What is our reply?
1. Look at the benignant power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Follow the broad, deep river of beneficence which took its rise at Bethlehem; see what it has been effecting through all these ages; consider what it has done, not only for the physical sufferer - for the blind, for the lame, for the leper, for the lunatic - but what it has done for the poor, for the slave, for the prisoner, for the savage, for the ignorant, for the little child, for woman; consider what it has done for the sorrowful, and for those laden and crushed with a sense of guilt; what it has done for the dying; consider how it has been enlightening and uplifting and transforming the minds and the lives of men; what a blessed beneficent power it has been exerting and is as capable as ever of exerting.
2. Look at the care which the gospel takes of the lowly. Consider the fact that wherever the truth of Christ has been preached in its purity and its integrity, man as man has been approached; all human souls have been treated as of equal and incalculable worth, the poor as well as the rich, the slave as well as his master, the illiterate as well as the learned, the unknown and untitled as well as the illustrious. The gospel has gone among the people, it has made its appeal to the multitude; it is "the common salvation; "it does not content itself with imposing a faith and a cultus upon the nation; it does not rest until it has permeated the entire people with the knowledge and the love of God, and wrought in them the practice of its own pure and lofty principles. Surely this is not a system for Galilee or Syria; this is not a doctrine for one age of the world; it is the ever-living truth of God. Christ is our Teacher, our Saviour, our Lord; we do not look for another. - C.
the chosen type of sin. All disease is pictorial of sin; it is to our bodily frame what sin is to the soul - it is inward disorder showing itself in outward manifestation. But leprosy was that peculiar form of sickness which the Divine Lawgiver selected as the type of sin. And surely it was perfectly fitted to be so regarded. We look at -
I. ITS LOATHSOMENESS. Why was the leper so rigidly excluded from society? We have no convincing evidence that this was a dangerous, contagious disorder. But the extreme loathsomeness of the leper's appearance fully accounted for the decree. It was not fitting that anything so terribly repulsive and shocking should be seen in the homes and in the streets. Sin is the most odious of all things; it is "that abominable thing which God hates." God "cannot look" upon it. In its fouler forms it is infinitely offensive to the pure of heart.
II. ITS DIFFUSIVENESS. Leprosy was eminently diffusive. It was communicated from parent to child; it spread from limb to limb, from organ to organ, until it covered the entire body. Sin is a thing which spreads. It, too, is communicable by heredity, and it also spreads from faculty to faculty. Sin leads to sin. "There's not a crime but takes its change out still in crime." Theft leads to violence, drunkenness to falsehood, impurity to deceit. Sin also spreads from man to man, from child to child, from friend to friend. You cannot circumscribe it; it passes all bounds that may be set up.
III. ITS PITIFULNESS. Who could regard the leper, doomed to a long, perhaps a lifelong separation from his family and his business and all favourite pursuits, without heartfelt pity? Life was worth nothing to him. Sin is condemnable enough; but it is pitiable also. Blame the erring, reproach the faulty, remonstrate with the foolish, but do not fail to pity those whom sin is shutting out from all that is best below, and from all that is bright above. Pity these with a profound compassion, and help them with an uplifting hand.
IV. ITS SEPARATING INFLUENCE. As the leper was exiled from mankind and banished to a severe isolation, so does sin come in as a separating power.
1. It separates a man from God, opening the wide, deep gulf of conscious guilt.
2. It separates man from man. It is not high walls, or broad acres, or unmeasured seas, that divide man from man: it is folly, hatred, malice, jealousy, sin.
V. ITS DEATHFULNESS. In the leper the springs of health were poisoned; there was a process of dissolution going on; it was death in life. Sin is death. "She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth," wrote Paul. And our Lord's words imply the same: "Whoso believeth on me, though he were dead, yet shall he live." A man living apart from God and. in rebellion against him is so far from answering the end of human life that he may be rightly regarded as dead while he lives.
VI. ITS INCURABLENESS BY MAN. The Jews did not bring the leper to the physician; they regarded him as incurable by the art of man. Sin is incurable by human methods. Regulations for conduct, vows of abstinence, parliamentary statutes, legal penalties, do not cure. They may be very valuable as accessories, but they will not heal. Only the Divine hand can accomplish that for the human heart. One there is who offers himself as the Divine Physician; he who sent back to John in prison the convincing message, "The lepers are cleansed." In him is all-forgiving grace and all-cleansing power. A living faith in him will lead to pardon and to purity. Instead of loathsomeness, there will be spiritual beauty; instead of isolation, communion; instead of a living death, eternal life. - C.
I. THE OFFENCE TO BE FOUND IN CHRIST.
1. The offence of the Messiahship. Our Lord offended John the Baptist (see preceding homily) by the quietness of his method and the slowness of his results. He offended Peter by foretelling the sorrows and the shame to which he was moving on (Matthew 16:22). He offended Nicodemus by the profundity of his teaching (John 3.). He offended the leaders of religion of his time by denouncing their formality and insincerity. He offended the people by preaching a doctrine too broad for their narrow-mindedness (Luke 4:28), too deep for their shallow-mindedness (John 6:52-66), too elevated for their earthly mindedness.
2. The offence of the cross.
(1) The memory of a crucified Nazarene was a stumbling-block to the Jew, who expected something very different from this dishonour (1 Corinthians 1:23).
(2) The story of a crucified Jew was foolishness to the Greek. With his venerable mythology, his honoured philosophy, his pride of patriotism, he was not prepared to put his trust in a malefactor executed in Judaea.
3. The offence of the kingdom. In one sense, "the offence of the cross" has ceased. It has become the symbol of all that is beautiful in art, refined in culture, strong in civilization. Yet is there everywhere, yet will there always be, something in Christ that will offend the human soul. For he requires of us that
(1) we empty our minds of preconceived ideas, and approach him with the docility of children (Matthew 18:3);
(2) we surrender every evil habit, however dear or valuable it may seem to us (Matthew 5:29);
(3) we give the first place in our thought and our affections to himself, making even our nearest and dearest human kindred occupy the second place (Luke 14:26);
(4) we find our recompense for faithful service in the spiritual and the eternal, rather than in the material and the temporal;
(5) we accept his Divine favour and enter his service as those who claim nothing and accept everything at his hand. Many are they who live in our land, who read our Christian literature, who sit in our sanctuaries, and who, for one of these reasons, are offended in Christ.
II. THE BLESSEDNESS or THOSE WHO DO NOT FIND IT; who come to learn of him in all docility of spirit; who cheerfully part with all that he condemns that they may follow him; who offer to him their undivided heart; who accept his service that they may receive a spiritual and a heavenly recompense. Blessed, indeed, are they; for:
1. Their hearts will be the home of a heavenly peace, and a joy which no man taketh from them.
2. Their life will rise to a noble height of sanctity, of beauty, of usefulness.
3. On their checkered course will fall the sunshine of their Master's blessing - his consecration of their joy, his overruling of their sorrow.
4. Their life will end in a calm and peaceful hope, which will pass into glorious fruition. Blessed, indeed, is he whosoever is not offended in Christ, but cordially accepts him as the Saviour of his spirit and the rightful Lord of his life. - C.
I. HIS SUPERIORITY IN RESPECT OF CHARACTER. The nobility of John's character has already been illustrated (see ch. 3.). Its most marked features were:
1. His cheerful acceptance of privation; living on in the wilderness with nothing to gratify taste, and barely sufficient to sustain life, though his popularity as a teacher and prophet would have enabled him to make a very different provision for himself,
2. His incorruptible fidelity to the work committed to his charge (Luke 3:15, 16)
3. His fearless, holy courage - a courage which was based on a sense of God's nearness to him and his Divine faithfulness toward him; a courage manifested in public (Luke 3:7-9), and, what is more and what is worthier, shown in private also in an interview with one strong man who held his earthly destiny in his hand (Luke 3:19).
4. His rare magnanimity. Not merely accepting without resentment the fact that he was to be supplanted by another, but going beyond that point in spiritual excellence, and positively rejoicing in the elevation of that other Teacher; stepping down and giving place gladly to one younger but greater than himself (John 3:29). We are not surprised that he "who knew what was in man," who knew the strength and the weakness of our human nature, said concerning John, "Among those that are born of women," etc. (ver. 28).
II. HIS INFERIORITY IN RESPECT OF PRIVILEGE. "But he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." We must take the word "greater" as signifying more privileged: it will not bear any other meaning. Most assuredly Jesus did not mean to say that the man who, being within his kingdom, was lowest in moral worth, stood higher in the favour of God than John. Such a sentiment is quite inconceivable, perfectly incredible. But our Lord may very well have meant that any one, however humble his position in the kingdom of grace, who yet stands within that kingdom, of which John stood outside, has a distinct advantage over the great prophet. To know what we, with all our obscurity and incapacity, do know; to understand and enter into, as we may do, the glorious purpose of God in Jesus Christ; to comprehend that, by that death of shame upon the cross, the Redeemer of the world is drawing all men unto him; and not only to understand all this, but to enter into it by a personal, living sympathy and co-operation ; - this is to stand on a height to which even John, though he came in sight of it (John 1:36), did not attain.
1. We are the children of privilege; we are "the heirs of all the ages" of thought, of revealed truth. If we will read reverently, and inquire diligently and devoutly, we may know the mind of God concerning us as the greatest of all the prophets did not know it.
2. Let us take care that we are the children of God; returned from the far country of estrangement and indifference; dwelling in the home of the Father's favour; walking with God daily; finding a filial joy in doing and bearing his holy will; entering by sympathy and effort into his holy purpose. - C.
I. CHRISTIAN ABSTEMIOUSNESS. John came "neither eating nor drinking." He acted, no doubt, under Divine direction in so doing. But John was not our exemplar. We are not called to follow John, but Christ; and Christ came eating and drinking. Is abstinence, then, a Christian course? It is so; it is justified by the language of our Lord and by that of his apostles. He said that there were some celibates "for the kingdom of heaven's sake" (Matthew 19:12). And he urged upon men that they should pluck out their right eye, or cut off their right hand, rather than perish in iniquity (Matthew 5:29, 30). His apostle wrote that men should neither eat meat nor drink wine, if by so doing they put a stumbling-block in the way of another (Romans 14:21). And it is certain that we are acting in a strictly and, indeed, an emphatically Christian spirit when we:
1. Abstain because indulgence would be perilous to ourselves. This may relate to food or drink, or to any kind of amusement or occupation, to anything of any kind in which we find ourselves under a strong temptation to excess if we once begin.
2. Abstain because our abstinence will make the path of virtue or piety more accessible to others. Anything we can do, any privation we may accept, any habit we may form, by which we help men upwards and Godwards, must be an essentially and radically Christian thing.
II. CHRISTIAN PARTICIPATION. "The Son of man came eating and drinking." He was no ascetic; he was present at the festivity; he accepted the invitation to the rich man's board; he did not choose the coarser garment because it was coarser, or the severer lodging because it was severer; he did not habitually and conscientiously decline the gifts of God in nature. He knew how to decline them when occasion called for it (see Luke 6:12; Luke 9:58), but he did not do so regularly and as a sacred duty. Surely it was well for the world that he acted thus; for, had he sanctioned asceticism, we should have been continually oscillating, or everywhere divided, between an unamiable severity on the one hand and a degrading self-indulgence on the other hand. The wise and the true course is that of a Christian participation; this is a partaking of the gifts of God and of the sweets and enjoyments of earth, which is:
1. Sanctified by devout gratitude; by a continual and wholesome mindfulness that every good gilt is from above, and calls for a grateful and reverent spirit.
2. Controlled by a wise moderation; so that nothing is indulged in which is in the smallest degree excessive; so that no injury of any kind is done to the spiritual nature.
3. Beautified by benevolence; the participation by ourselves being very closely and constantly accompanied by the remembrance of the wants of others. "Eat the fat and drink the sweet," but be careful to "send portions to them for whom nothing is prepared." - C.
I. ITS REJECTION BY THE WORLD.
1. Up to the time of the coming of our Lord. The Eternal Wisdom uttered its voice by the constitution and course of nature, by the human reason and conscience, by occasional revelation. But that voice was unheard or unheeded. Few, indeed, in every age and land recognized and obeyed it in comparison with the vast multitudes that remained in ignorance and folly. The heavens declared the glory of God, but men knew not the hand Divine that moved the stars in their course. "The candle of the Lord" was kindled, and it shone within the soul, but men hid it under the bushel of their unholy habits and their perverting prejudices. Through those long, dark ages Wisdom spake, and (it might be almost said that) "no man regarded."
2. The coming of Christ. He who was the very "Wisdom of God" himself, he who was "the Truth," dwelt amongst us; and "he was despised and rejected of men." Those who should have been the first to appreciate and to welcome him were the first to dislike and to denounce him. "He came unto his own, and his own received him not."
3. From that time to our own day. Divine Wisdom, speaking in the gospel of Christ, has been summoning men to reconciliation with God, to peace, to virtue, to sacred joy, to immortal blessedness; and the world, upon the whole, has turned to it a deaf ear, has gone on its own way of folly, has refused to walk in its light, and to receive its benediction. If. ITS RECOGNITION BY ITS OWN SONS.
1. There were some in the dark days before Christ who heard and heeded the voice of God. These may have been more numerous than we have supposed. "In every nation he that feared God and wrought righteousness was accepted of him." There may have been - we may rightly hope that there were - great numbers of the "children of wisdom" who recognized its voice and obeyed its teaching.
2. When our Saviour came there were those who recognized his voice and responded to it. Many of these were women, many of them "little ones," despised by the authorities of their day. They did not think him "possessed," nor charge him with self-indulgence (vers 33 34); they perceived in him a Divine Teacher, a true Friend, a gracious Saviour, and they "rose and followed him;" then, indeed, was "Wisdom justified of all her children."
3. Throughout these Christian ages the same truth has held. The psalmist prays, "Do good unto those that be good, and to them that are upright in their hearts" (Psalm 125:4). And while it is true that men of the most perverse and froward spirit may be so mightily affected by Divine power and grace that the truth of God breaks through the thickest armour of opposition, yet is it generally true that it is only they who have the spirit of wisdom in them - "the children of wisdom" - who enter the kingdom of truth and righteousness. "Only the good discern the good," writes one of our truest poets and deepest thinkers. It is only they who are sincere seekers after the truth who reach the goal. It is "to the upright that there ariseth light in the darkness;" it is to the pure and the upright and the merciful that God shows himself to be such, and by them is seen to be such (Psalm 112:4; Psalm 18:25, 26). We cannot see the wisdom, the faithfulness, the kindness, the mercy of God, while our hearts are wrong with him. But when we ourselves are right with God, and we have so much of the spirit of goodness in us that we may be called the children of wisdom, then God's dealings with our race, with our Church, with our family, with ourselves, are recognized as the just and kind and faithful things they are, and in our experience "Wisdom is justified of all her children."
(1) We need not be surprised if God's manifestations of himself in his Son or in his providence are misinterpreted. That is to be expected in the case of the children of error.
(2) If we are pining and complaining under the hand of God, and are supposing ourselves ill treated, we may be sure that what is needed by us is not something done for us, but a change wrought within us. For that we must seek in humility and in prayer. - C.
I. THAT THERE IS FREE AND FULL FORGIVENESS FOR THE WORST. It is somewhat striking that, although Old Testament Scripture abounds in passages which attest the greatness of God's mercy to the repentant, the Jews of our Lord's time had no place for such in their system or their practice. This could not be from unfamiliarity with the sacred record; it rather arose from ignorance of themselves. They did not acknowledge any sin in their own souls, any shortcoming in their own lives. Simon probably thought that Jesus was putting the debt which represented his obligation (fifty pence) at a high figure. And, thus mistaking themselves, it is not to be wondered at that they took a false view of their neighbours; that they looked upon those who were outwardly bad as hopelessly irrecoverable. But not so the Saviour. By action as much as by language he made it clear that the guiltiest of men and the worst of women might come in penitence and be restored. That is the valuable and lasting significance of his attitude on this occasion. His treatment of this woman, together with his gracious words to her (ver. 48), are to us, as they ever will be, the strong assurance that those whom we most unsparingly condemn and most scrupulously exclude may find mercy at his feet.
II. THAT NOT HER LOVE BUT HER PENITENCE WAS THE GROUND OF HER FORGIVENESS. When Christ said, "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much," he did not, could not, mean that her love was the ground, but that it was the consequence of her forgiveness. He meant to say, "You can see that she has been forgiven, for you see how she loves, and it is only they who have been forgiven what she has been forgiven that love as she loves. The fulness of her love is therefore the proof (not the ground) of her forgiveness." What led to her forgiveness was her penitence. Those bitter tears she shed (ver. 38) were the tears of a true contrition; they meant a holy hatred of her past sin, and a sincere determination to lead another life; and not being repelled, but accepted, by this Holy and Merciful One, deep and strong gratitude arose in her; and penitence, love, and a new and blessed hope surged and strove together in uncontrollable emotion within her heart. When God shows us our fault, we go at once to the merciful Saviour; trusting in him, we are received and restored; then a pure, deep, lasting love arises in our souls; it is the simple, natural, beautiful outgrowth of penitence and faith.
III. THAT THE SENSE OF GOD'S GRACE TO US WILL DETERMINE THE FULNESS OF OUR AFFECTION TOWARD HIM. "To whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little." If we have a very imperfect sense of our guilt, and therefore of God's mercy to us, our response in gratitude and love will be far below what it should be. It is, therefore, of the gravest importance that we should know and feel our own faultiness in the sight of God. For clearly it is not the magnitude of our past sin, but the fulness of our sense of guilt, which determines the measure of our feeling in the matter of gratitude and love.
1. It is for this that we must look. We shall find it as we dwell on the greatness of God's goodness toward us in his providence and his grace; in the poverty and feebleness of our filial return to him for all his love and care and kindness toward us; in the fact that he has been requiring purity of thought and rectitude of soul and sincerity of motive, as well as propriety of word and integrity of deed.
2. For this also we must pray; asking for that enlightening Spirit who will show us our true selves, and fill us with a due sense of our great unworthiness and our manifold transgressions. - C.
I. GREAT SIN SHOULD NOT HINDER ANY OF US FROM COMING TO JESUS FOR PARDON. This is one of the difficulties which men make for themselves - they fancy that great sin may keep sinners from pardon. Now Jesus made it very plain that great sinners might receive pardon just as well as little sinners. The psalmist once prayed, "Pardon mine iniquity, for it is great" (Psalm 25:7), and some of the most notorious sinners ever seen have become monuments of mercy and joyful through pardon. This case before us is one in point. Jesus had so presented his message of salvation that this woman from the town embraced it and rejoiced in the thought of forgiveness. While, therefore, no one would recommend a sinner to sin in order to intensify his sense of guilt and qualify himself for receiving Christ's salvation, we would recommend every sinner to believe that the very enormity of his sins will move Christ's pity, and, when purged and pardoned, illustrate his saving power. Suppose a patient is brought to a hospital a mass of disease or of wounds and bruises: will not the very magnitude of his distress constitute such an appeal to pity as will secure his immediate admission? In the same way, great sin is an argument with the Saviour in favour of mercy, rather than any obstacle to it. Besides, we should always remember that our sense of sin is always vastly below the reality, and that we in most penitent mood have really a better opinion of ourselves than the circumstances warrant.
II. WE OUGHT COURAGEOUSLY TO PROFESS CHRIST BEFORE MEN. This poor woman needed courage to profess Christ in Simon's house. Simon and his guests belonging to the Pharisaic party loathed her. It was a place where she was certain to be scorned and perhaps expelled. But her sense of obligation to Jesus and her love for his Person were so great that she could not forego her desire to make her way to his feet. And so she steals in and gets behind her Master, and proceeds to lavish her attention on his feet. So courageous is she, that she leisurely and most carefully washes his feet and wipes them with her hair and anoints them with the ointment; so that she actually, as Godet remarks, did the honours of the house, which Simon had neglected. We need similarly to add to our faith courage (2 Peter 1:4). We ought to give our hearts free play in their loyalty to Jesus. We must profess him before men, at whatever cost.
III. JESUS WILL ALWAYS TAKE OUR PART AGAINST THOSE WHO MISTAKE OUR MOTIVES OR DESPISE US. Jesus will acknowledge our profession of him in the next world, and even in this. In the case before us we see him taking the Pharisee to task for his mistake about the woman. Simon made several mistakes.
1. About the woman being unpardonable and unpardoned: she was neither.
2. About Jesus as being undiscerning and so ignorant of the woman's state: he was more thoroughly acquainted with her than she or Simon could be.
3. About himself, as nearer God's kingdom than she was: he was really further from Christ than she. And Jesus consequently takes up the woman's cause and vindicates her character as a changed woman now and pardoned. This he does in parabolic language. The two debtors who are both forgiven have not the same sense of gratitude. Their gratitude is in proportion to their forgiveness. Hence the poor woman, feeling how much she has been forgiven, is proportionately grateful. The defence was triumphant. And in the same way will Jesus defend us if we are courageous in following him.
IV. LOVE IS THE PROOF OF PARDON. We are not pardoned because we love our Saviour, but we love him because he has pardoned us. Hence the stronger the love, the stronger must be our sense of the amount of sin we have been forgiven. Our love will grow just in proportion to our appreciation of our pardon, Hence the man who comes to believe, with Paul, that he is "the chief of sinners," will love the Lord accordingly. He will feel constrained through his sense of obligation to love God with all his being.
V. CHRIST'S ASSURANCE OF PARDON SECURES PEACE. The poor sinner's peace was threatened through the contempt of the Pharisees. But Jesus gives her special assurance, and sends her off in peace. So will it be in our own experience if we sincerely trust him. - R.M.E.
1. He was an eminently respectable man; he was so in the true sense of the word, for as a virtuous man he could respect himself, and his neighbours could rightly respect him; he conformed his conduct to a high standard of morality.
2. He was an open-handed, hospitable man.
3. He was an open-minded man. It was not every Pharisee that would have invited Jesus Christ to supper, or would have given him such freedom to speak his mind without resentment. But he was a much-mistaken man. He was quite wrong in three important points.
I. HIS ESTIMATE OF JESUS CHRIST. When he found that Jesus did not resent the attention of "this woman," he came to the conclusion that he could not be a prophet, or he would have known that she was a sinner, and, knowing that, he would have repelled her. Here he was wrong in his conclusion; and he was also wrong in his reasoning. His argument was this: a man as holy as a prophet would be certain to repel such guilt as is present here; when the Holy Prophet comes, the Messiah, ha will be more scrupulously separate from sin and from sinners than any other has been. Here he was completely mistaken. The Holy One came to be the Merciful One; to say to guilty men and women, "Your fellows may despair of you and abandon you. I despair of none, I abandon nobody. I see in all the possibilities of recovery; I summon you all to repentance and to life. Touch me, if you will, with the hand of your faith; I will lay my hand of help and healing upon you."
II. HIS VIEW OF THAT WOMAN.. A sinner she had been; but she was more, and indeed other than a sinner now. That word did not faithfully describe her state before God. She was a penitent. And what is a penitent? A penitent soul is one who hates the sin that had been cherished, who has cast out the evil spirit from him, in whom is the living germ of righteousness, who is on the upward line that leads to heavenly wisdom and Divine worth, on whom God is looking down with tender grace and deep satisfaction, in whom Jesus Christ beholds a servant, a friend, an heir of his holy kingdom. This is not one to turn away from in scorn, but to draw nigh unto in kindness and encouragement.
III. HIS ESTIMATE OF HIMSELF.
1. He thought himself a very long way on in the kingdom of God as compared with that poor woman; he did not know that, she being poor in spirit and he being proud in spirit, she was much nearer to its entrance-gates than he.
2. He thought himself in a position to patronize Jesus Christ, and consequently withheld some of the usual courtesies from his Guest; he did not know that it was on himself the distinction was conferred.
3. He supposed himself to be possessed of all the cardinal virtues: he did not know that he lacked that which is the crowning excellence of all - love, the love that can pity, that can stoop to save. We draw two main lessons.
1. That Christ makes much of love. Dwelling on the various manifestations of this woman's feeling, he declares they are the signs of her love, and he then traces her love to her deep sense of forgiven sin. God wants our love, as we want the love of our children and of our friends, and cannot accept anything, however valuable, in its stead: so Christ wants the pure, deep, lasting affection of our souls. No ceremonies, or services, or even sacrifices, will compensate for its absence (see 1 Corinthians 13.). And the measure of our love will depend on the depth of our sense of God's forgiving love toward us. Hence it is of the first importance that we
(1) should understand how much God has forgiven us, how great and serious our guilt has been (see preceding homily);
(2) should recognize how great and full is the Divine forgiveness, how much it includes - how much in the sense of overlooking the past, and in the way of granting us present favour and of promising us future blessedness. Our wisdom and our duty, therefore, is to dwell on the greatness of God's mercy to us in Jesus Christ, to rejoice much in it, to let our souls bathe in the thought of it, be filled continually with a sense of it. For they who are (consciously) forgiven much will love much; and they who love much will be much beloved of God (John 14:23).
2. That we should be ready to receive Christ's correcting word. Simon was wholly wrong in his estimate of men and of things; but he was not unwilling to hear Christ's correcting word. "Master, say on," he replied, when the great Teacher said, "I have somewhat to say unto thee." Let us see to it that this is our attitude. Our Lord may have something very serious to say to us, as he had to those seven Churches in Asia Minor, which he addressed from his heavenly throne (Revelation 2., 3.). When, through his Word, his ministry, his providence, he does thus correct us, calling us to a renewed humility, faith, love, zeal, consecration, are we ready to receive his message, to bow our head, to open our heart, and say, "Speak, Lord; thy servants hear! Master, say on"? - C.