Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THAT CHRIST HAS DIVINE RESOURCES FOR SPECIAL NECESSITIES. He gave to the twelve "power and authority over all devils," etc. If he had such resources at his command then, when he was stooping so low and laying aside so much of heavenly rank and authority, of what is he not possessed now - now that he is enthroned, now that "all power is given unto him in heaven and on earth"? His Church may be very bitterly assailed; it may fall very low in consequence of the slackness and unfaithfulness of its own members; it has thus fallen more than once since he ascended: but in his hand are great reserves; his Divine resources are illimitable. He can equip and send forth men endowed with wonderful power, with marvellous faculty of persuasion or of organization; he can send forth those whose influence shall be felt even "where Satan's seat is," in the depths of spiritual evil and moral wrong, and thus he can establish or re-establish his kingdom.
II. THAT WE MAY COMMIT OURSELVES TO WORKS OF USEFULNESS though conscious of much insufficiency. We may be surprised that our Lord should send out the twelve to "preach the kingdom of God" (ver. 2) at a time when they had so very imperfect an idea as they then had of the character of that kingdom. Their views of it were very elementary; they had yet to learn concerning it facts and truths which seem to us of the first importance. But still he sent them; there was something, and something of substantial value, they could teach; and they were (all of them, at that time) genuinely attached to their Divine Master. If we wait until we know everything it would be well to know before we begin our ministry, we shall be postponing the time until our chance is gone. We should begin the work of holy usefulness early, even when there is very much to learn; we shall acquire knowledge, tact, wisdom, power, as we go on our way of service. The one requisite thing is that we shall be thoroughly sincere, and do all that we do out of a true and faithful heart.
III. THAT CHRIST MAY CALL ON US TO CAST OURSELVES ENTIRELY ON HIS PROVIDING AND PROTECTING CARE. This he did with his apostles now (ver. 3). Usually it is our duty to take every precaution for our bodily necessities; not to expose ourselves to needless perils or to injurious privations. But there are times when it becomes our duty - especially that of the Christian minister, or evangelist, or missionary - to cast aside all prudential considerations, to run all risks, to commit himself absolutely to the care of the Divine Father.
IV. THAT THERE IS A LIMIT WHICH EVEN HOLY PERSISTENCY MAY NOT PASS. (Ver. 5.) It is well to work patiently on under discouragement. It is our sacred duty to do this; we are quite unfitted for the nobler spheres of service if we are not prepared to do so. We admire and applaud those who cannot tear themselves away from work which they have set their hearts on accomplishing. Let patient persistency have abundant scope for its exercise, but there is a point where it must stop; to exceed a certain measure is to be disregardful of those who would not reject the Word of life, on whom Christian service would not be spent in vain.
V. THAT PRACTICAL KINDNESS TO BODILY WANTS goes well with earnest attention to spiritual necessities (ver. 6). - C.
I. THE CONDITIONS OF THE MISSION OF. THE TWELVE. (Vers. 1-6.) And here we have to notice:
1. The power delegated was healing and exorcising power. That is to say, their miraculous power was to change the sick and the insane into able-bodied members of society. The aim of our Lord's philanthropy and of theirs was to enable men to become useful workers. When men can help themselves, then are they in the happiest of all conditions. This is infinitely better than spoon-feeding and pauperizing people.
2. The disciples were not to use miracle to make themselves independent of the hospitality of the people. Christ never used miracle to make life easier for himself; nor did he allow his delegates to do so. it would seem to some a wiser arrangement to make them independent of random hospitalities. But it was better for all parties that hospitality should be looked for. Rabbis were hospitably entertained, and so should these disciples be. They were also to accept of hospitality as it came, and not to be choosers of the grand and pretentious houses which might be opened to them. There may be as much magnanimity in accepting hospitality as in extending it.
3. In case of rejection, they were simply to symbolize their separation by shaking off the dust of their feet against them. This was the symbol of hostility and war; but there was no further outward act to be undertaken. The war was spiritual, and the judgment of the rejectors must be left with God. Toleration was thus made consistent with faithfulness to their convictions; and was freed from all laxity.
4. Their career of preaching and of accompanying philanthropy was continued throughout the towns of Galilee. The gospel they brought to men was one of trust in the Saviour who had come and of devotion to him. It was a gospel of work inspired by that faith which operates through love. Hence it carried philanthropy with it, and this philanthropy was of the most useful and stimulating character.
II. HEROD'S FEARS AND CURIOSITY. (Vers. 7-9.) The mission of the twelve had proved sufficiently influential to attract the notice of Herod. It led him to consider his sin and danger in murdering the Baptist. The miracles of which he heard, however, were merciful, and not wrathful; and so, though he was perplexed about the Saviour, he was curious to see him. Most likely he thought he would get Jesus into his power, as he had got John. But John's ideas about the kingdom and its coming were essentially different from those of Jesus. Hence Herod is left in isolation; his curiosity and desire to see Jesus are alike unsatisfied.
III. THE RETIREMENT INTO WHICH JESUS TAKES THE DISCIPLES AFTER THEIR CAREER OF SUCCESS. (Ver. 10.) The disciples, as we learn from the other Gospels, returned with joy, highly elated with their success. It was on this account doubtless that our Lord deemed retirement so needful for them. There is nothing, so wholesome for us when dangerously elated as solitude and prayer. In thin way the true character of success is appreciated, and all undue elation about it overcome.
IV. THE INCONVENIENCES OF POPULARITY. (Ver. 14.) The seasons of retirement so salutary for public men are apt to be invaded, and more work forced upon them than they would themselves desire. The disciples and Jesus had most likely secured some fellowship with God before the popular invasion; for our Lord anticipated both friends and foes, and wrought out his beautiful plan in spite of interruption. So when the people came crowding around him, he was able to receive them with unruffled spirit, and to give them the counsel and the healing they needed. It was the same policy which the disciples had pursued by his directions which he here pursues. Miracle is used to heal and render useful, but not to minister to self-indulgence or render life easier to men. He made the multitude hopeful through his preaching, and healthy through his miraculous power.
V. THE FEEDING AND DISMISSAL OF THE PEOPLE. (Vers. 12-17.) This miracle is narrated by all the evangelists. The sending of the multitude away is urged by the disciples. They have got the healing, and should expect no more. As for hospitality, the five thousand should have entertained Jesus and the disciples, rather than be entertained by them. But our Lord would go beyond his previous limitations, and become the Host instead of the Guest of men. For after all, he is really men's Host, and we all sit at his board, though he condescends to be our Guest and to take of what we provide. Hence he shows by this miracle how all men really depend upon his bounty and are fed from his hand.- The multiplication of the five loaves and two fishes, that is, of cooked food, cannot be assigned to any natural law, and could only have been miraculous. It was not quantitatively so great a miracle as the feeding of the Israelites with the manna for forty years; yet it was a sufficient miracle to show that the Sustainer of the world was among them. Upon him they should depend, and, if they fed by faith on him, they would always be strengthened. It was at the same time sufficiently moderate in its size and duration to show that he was not going to keep lazy men in idleness by spreading a gratuitous feast for them every day. They are dismissed by him that very evening, that they might not be able to go through the selfish ceremony of making him a king. He did not want to be a king over idlers, over men who would like to eat without the trouble of working; and so he defeated their worldly plans. His lesson of frugality also was most significant. He wanted no waste in his kingdom. He would not prostitute miraculous power to minister either to idleness or to wastefulness. Very clear light is thus cast upon the economy of Jesus. He kept miracle in its place. It ministered to usefulness; it was not allowed to minister to idleness or waste. It would be well if all learned the wholesome lesson which Christ thus conveys. - R.M.E.
I. THE TEACHER CAUSING TROUBLE TO THE TETRARCH. Herod "was perplexed" by all that he heard concerning Christ: his own wonderful works and those which he commissioned and enabled his apostles to perform (vers. 1-6) made an impression which entered and disturbed the palace. We have reason to think that in Herod's case the fame of Jesus brought not only mental perplexity, but moral perturbation also (see Matthew 14:2; Mark 6:14). He could not understand who this new, great prophet could be, and he consulted his court respecting him. But it was his own apprehension, if not his conviction, that the man whom he had so guiltily slain "was risen from the dead." His carefully trained judgment told him that he had nothing more to fear from that faithful spokesman of the Lord. But his conscience, that struck deeper than his judgment, compelled him to fear that he had not seen the last of that beheaded prisoner. It is a very easy thing to take a human life, but it is a very difficult thing to escape from responsibility for a human death.
1. Christ's coming to us has caused and will cause a large amount of intellectual perplexity. The world has for eighteen centuries been asking who he is, and what is the true and full account of him. In this mental perplexity there is nothing to be regretted; there is no better subject on which the human intelligence could be employed.
2. Christ's coming to man has occasioned much trouble of soul. The truths he taught, the life he lived, the claims he makes upon us, - these have stirred the human conscience to its depth; they have awakened a sense of sin and ill desert; they have turned a strong light upon the guilty past and the perilous future; they have called forth much self-condemnation and self-reproach. It is well that they have done, it is right that they should do so.
II. THE TETRARCH DESIRING TO SEE THE TEACHER. "He desired to see him," perhaps to have his mental curiosity set at rest; perhaps to have his conscientious fears appeased; perhaps for both these reasons. Certainly not in the hope of hearing heavenly truth, of hearing that Divine wisdom which would enable him to be a better man and to live a nobler life. And his motive being low, it proved, as we might have expected, that when he did see him, the interview gave him no gratification, but only added to his guilt (Luke 23:8-11). It is well, indeed, to wish to come into the presence of Christ, but whether the fulfilment of our desire will end in good or evil depends mainly upon our motive.
1. A selfish spirit is almost sure to be unblessed, is most likely to have its guilt increased thereby.
2. A spirit of mere curiosity will pro].)ably return unrewarded, though it may meet with a gracious benediction.
3. A spirit of devotion and inquiry will certainly gain a blessing from his holy hand. We may look at -
III. THE TEACHER AND THE TETRARCH IN THEIR STRONG CONTRASTS.
1. Of present position.
2. Of moral character and the purpose of their life.
3. Of their destiny. - C.
Every human ear wants to hear those gracious words, "I am the Lord that healeth thee;" every human heart has occasion to plead, "Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed;" every soul is again and again in need of the great beneficent Physician.
I. As THOSE LIABLE TO DISEASE AND PAIN. Considering the extreme intricacy of our bodily structure, and considering also the irregularities and evils of which we are guilty, it is wonderful that there is as much health and as little sickness as we find. But he is an exception to his fellows who goes for many years without ailment and, indeed, without illness. And we have all of us reason to bless the Lord of our lives that he heals us so readily and so often. He heals in two ways.
1. By conferring on us a nature which has recuperative powers, so that without any medical aid the wound is healed, the organ recovers its power and fulfils its functions.
2. By giving us medicinal herbs which our science can discover and apply, the nature of which is to heal and to restore. In both these cases it is the Lord of our human body and of nature who "works" (John 5:17) for our benefit. Our art, where it is exercised, only supplies one condition out of many; it alone would be utterly insufficient. Whenever we are healed of any malady, slight or serious, we should join in the exclamation of the psalmist (Psalm 103:3), and feel that we have one reason more for gratitude and devotion. Let those who have been brought back from the gates of the grave by Christ's pitiful and healing kindness consider whether they are paying him the vows which they made in the hour of suffering and danger (Psalm 66:14).
II. As THE CHILDREN OF SORROW. Possibly we may know nothing of serious sickness - there are those who escape it - but we all know what sorrow means. Trouble is a visitor that knocks at every door, that finds its way to every human heart. It may be some gradually approaching evil, which at length culminates in disaster; or it may be some sudden blow, which badly bruises if it does not break the heart. It may be the heavy, entangling loss; or the grave, oppressive anxiety; or the lamentable failure; or the sore and sad bereavement. How precious, then, beyond all price, the healing of the Divine Healer! In these dark hours our Divine Lord comes to us with ministering hand.
1. He impels all those who are dear to us to grant us their tenderest and most sustaining love; and human kindness is a very healing thing.
2. He grants us his own most gracious sympathy; he is touched with a feeling of our infirmity; we know and feel that he is with us, watching over us, "afflicted in our affliction;" and the sympathy of our Saviour is a precious balm to our wounded spirit.
3. He comes to us in the office and the Person of the Divine Comforter, directly soothing and healing our torn and troubled hearts. Thus he heals us according to the greatness of our need.
III. AS THOSE WHO SUFFER FROM A WOUNDED CHARACTER. A wounded spirit is worse than a bodily infirmity (Proverbs 18:14); but a wounded character is worse than a wounded spirit, for that is a spirit that has injured itself. There are those who present to their friends and neighbours the spectacle of bodily health and material prosperity; but what their Master sees when he regards them is spiritual infirmity. They are weak, sickly, inwardly deranged. Their hearts are very far from being as he would like to see them; instead of ardent love is lukewarmness; instead of reverence is flippancy of spirit; instead of a holy scrupulousness and a wise restraint is laxity if not positive disobedience; instead of zeal is coldness and indifference to his cause and kingdom. Of all men living, these are they who have most "need of healing." And Christ both can and will heal them. To such as these he says, "I will heal thy back-sliding; "Wilt thou be made whole?" And if they will but go to him in a spirit of humility, of faith, of reconsecration, they will receive power from his gracious touch, they will rise renewed; and as they rise from the couch of spiritual langour and indifference to walk, to run in the way of his commandments, to climb the heights of close and holy fellowship with God, a deeper note of joy will sound from the depth of their hearts than ever comes from the lips of bodily convalescence, "I will extol thee, O Lord; for thou hast lifted me up, and hast not made my foes to rejoice over me." - C.
I. OUR HOLY SOLICITUDE FOR THE SPIRITUALLY DESTITUTE. There is a note of true sympathy in the language of the disciples (ver. 12; see Mark 6:35, 36). They were concerned to think of that great number of people, among whom were "women and children" (Matthew 14:21), having gone so long without food, and being "in a desert place" where none could be obtained. How strong and keen should be our sympathy with those who are spiritually destitute; who have received from God a nature with immeasurable capacities, with profound cravings for that which is eternally true and divinely good, and who "have nothing to eat"! No solicitude for hungering human hearts can be extravagant; it is only too common to be guiltily and pitifully unconcerned. And if the stage of spiritual hunger and thirst should have passed into that of spiritual unconsciousness, that is one degree (and a large degree too) more deplorable, for it is one stage nearer to spiritual death. We do well to pity the multitudes at home and abroad who might be and who should be living on Divine and everlasting truth, but who are pining and perishing on miserable husks, - on errors, on superstitions, on morbid fancies, on low ambitions, on unsatisfying and perhaps demoralizing pleasures.
II. THE APPARENT INADEQUACY OF THE DIVINE PROVISION. Well may the disciples, not yet enlightened as to their Master's purpose, regard "five loaves and two fishes" as hopelessly inadequate to the occasion. So to human judgment they seemed. Not less strikingly disproportioned must the Divine provision for man's higher necessities have seemed to those who first regarded it. What was it? It was, in the language of our Lord recorded a few verses on in this chapter (ver. 22), "the Son of man suffering many things, being rejected.., and slain, and being raised the third day." A crucified and restored Messiah was to be offered as the Bread of life to a hungering world! Would this satisfy the needs of all mankind - of Jew and Gentile, of barbarian and cultured, of bond and free, of man and woman? Could One that seemed to fail, whose cause was all but extinguished in obloquy and desertion, be the Redeemer of mankind? It was unlikely in the last degree; speaking after the manner of men, it was impossible! And the machinery, too, the instrumentality by which this strange provision was to be conveyed to all human souls everywhere and through all generations, was that not equally inadequate? A few "unlearned and ignorant men," a few earnest and true but obscure and uninfluential women, - could they establish and perpetuate this new system? could they pass on these scanty provisions to the waiting and perishing multitude? How hopeless! how impossible! Yet see -
III. ITS PROVED SUFFICIENCY. As those five loaves and two fishes, under the multiplying hand of Christ, proved to be far more than enough for the thousands who partook of them, so is the provision in the gospel of Christ for the needs of man found to be all-sufficient. In a once-crucified and now exalted Saviour we have One in whom is found:
1. Pardon for every sin and for every repentant sinner.
2. Admission, instant and full, to the presence and favour of God.
3. A source of purity of heart, and excellency, and even nobility, of life.
4. Comfort in all the sorrows and privations of our earthly course.
5. Peace and hope in death.
6. A glorious immortality.
Well does this great Benefactor say, "I am come that ye might have life, and, have it more abundantly. The provision is more than equal to the necessity; there is a marvellous overflow of truth and grace. - C.
preliminary only. The idea of his being the real Messiah, "the Christ of God," was not entertained by any of the outsiders at all. It is then he asks them what their idea is, when Peter answers unhesitatingly, "The Christ of God." And now we must inquire -
I. THE REASON FOR THIS SECRECY ABOUT THE MESSIAHSHIP. (Vers. 18-22.) Though the disciples believed in his Messiahship, they are directed not to make it known. Now, we must remember how different the Jewish ideas of the Messiahship were from the reality presented by Christ. Even such a noble-minded man as John Baptist had doubted the propriety of the course Jesus took. How much more liable to mistake would the common people be, if it had been blazed abroad that he was Messiah! It was needful, therefore, to wait till the picture was nearer completion before people were asked to look upon it. In fact, it was only his intimates who could at such a stage realize his magnificence at all. To give the people time to form a proper opinion, to prevent them from rising into premature opposition, to allow them no valid excuse if they rejected him at last, was the purpose of his secrecy and patience. He saw clearly that he "must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain," but he would not provoke the crisis by publishing his Messianic claims. His modesty and secrecy in this matter are in striking contrast to the manners and methods of the world.
II. PERSONAL SALVATION THROUGH SELF-SACRIFICE. (Vers. 23-27.) While predicting his death, he also predicts his resurrection. This is salvation through self-sacrifice. He immediately indicates that we are under the same law. The man alone saves himself who dedicates himself even unto death to Jesus. There are two policies pursued.
1. The selfish policy. People think they are so very valuable that they must save themselves at every turn. Hence they give the strength of their time and attention to self-preservation. This is their first law of nature. In doing so, they think that if they can only gain as much of the world and worldly things as possible, the better. They think it wise to win the world. But now Jesus shows that such a course only ends in utter loss of self. What does the self-centred, self-preserving soul become? What is the fate of the grasping, worldly mind? Such a soul shrivels up, becomes a nonentity, a mere derelict or castaway on the sea of existence. Such a life is "not worth living."
2. Notice the self-sacrificing policy. This is the policy pursued by the soul which is devoted to Jesus as supreme. It is no trial to carry the cross; such a soul is ready to die any day for Jesus. He cannot be ashamed or' Jesus, or of his words, but prizes him and them as beyond all price. And what is such a soul's experience? He feels that he is self-possessed and the subject of a grand development. He really has gained himself. His powers of mind and of heart grow into luxuriance, and he feels enriched in all the elements of being as he goes onward. And if perchance he becomes a martyr for the faith and lays down, as these disciples did, his life for Jesus, he finds in an immortal future of further dedication all his best being carried forward. Death may cripple him in working powers here, but promotion awaits him beyond the shadows, and he finds that "he is himself again" after the death-experience is over. Jesus thus presents the case in the proper light - self-sacrifice is real salvation of self if our self-sacrifice is for the sake of Jesus.
III. THE PRIVATE GLIMPSE OF GLORY. (Vers. 28-36.) Eight days after the noble confession of Christ by the disciples, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up to a mountain-top, that he might have another season of prayer. Though so busy, he never became prayerless. A most useful lesson! And here we have to note:
1. That transfiguration came through prayer. (Ver. 29.) There is nothing changes people's appearance so suddenly and so satisfactorily as being on the mountain-top of prayer. Jesus in transfiguration-glory is but a type of his people who come radiant from the secret places too. If there were more prayer on the part of God's people, there would be more transfiguration and less scepticism about its efficacy.
2. Transfigured ones are attractive to the heavenly world. (Vers. 30, 31.) Moses and Elias from their abodes of bliss are but indications of a perpetual interest in transfigured men. A new star is not more attractive to the astronomer than is a transfigured and radiant soul to the inhabitants of heaven. And further, the decease to be accomplished at Jerusalem is the supreme topic with the men from the heavenly city. For to this did the Law and the prophets point, and in the abodes of bliss other interests have not superseded this. If the cherubim were represented as gazing rapturously upon the mercy-seat and its baptism with blood, so may we believe the whole society out of which Moses and Elias came concentrate their interest upon the salvation which comes through the death of Jesus.
3. Transfigured ones attract attention from the inhabitants of earth. (Ver. 32.) The disciples had fallen asleep, but the glory awoke them, as a candle will when brought before a sleeper. They saw the Master's glory, and Moses and Elias at his side, and they regarded the Messianic kingdom as having in this triple glory dawned.
4. There is a natural desire to retain the rapturous vision. (Ver. 33.) As soon as the disciples became watchful witnesses, Moses and Elias appear to have moved away. Their converse has now been interrupted by unspiritual auditors, and so they prepare for their departure. It is in these circumstances that Peter proposes to retain the visitors by making "tabernacles in the mount. With such a reinforcement, he thinks, as Moses and Elias, in radiance bright, the victory of Messiah will be assured. It is thus we dream. We read the history of the heroes who are gone, and we imagine that it' we were only reinforced from the past we should be triumphant all along the line. Their spirit and their history may well inspire us, but they cannot take our burden.
5. The rapture may pass away in cloud, but Jesus abides with us for ever. (Vers. 34-36.) There can be little doubt about this bright cloud being the Shechinah. It came to indicate the true manifestation of God in the incarnate Son, and to withdraw the possible competitors. The disciples feared as they entered the cloud. But a gracious paternal voice assured them, This is my beloved Son: hear him." And when the cloud cleared away, they saw no man, but Jesus only. To the teaching of Jesus, consequently, they would yield intenser attention. Besides, they kept it secret what they had seen. It was one of those glorious visions which could not wisely be yet revealed. Let us enjoy Jesus, no matter how rapturous associations may fade away. - R.M.E.
I. THAT THE VOLUNTARY SURRENDER OF OUR LIFE TO GOD IS OUR ENTRANCE UPON LIFE INDEED, What is it for a man to live? We speak truly but superficially when we say that any one is a living man from whom the breath of life has not yet departed. But there is deep truth in the objection of our English poet, "As though to breathe were life." Human life, as its Divine Author regards it, means very much more than this. And, taught of Christ, we understand that we then attain to our true life when we live unto God, in his holy service, and for the good of those whom he has committed to our care. The thoughts of sinful men concerning life are utterly false; they are the exact contrary of the truth. Men imagine that just as they gain that which will minister to their own enjoyment, and keep that which, if parted with, would benefit other people, they make much of their life. This is not even a caricature of the truth; it is its contradiction. The fact is that just as we lose ourselves in the love of God, and just as we expend our powers and possessions in the cause of mankind, we enter upon and enjoy that which is the "life indeed." For all that is best and highest lives, not to gain, but to give. As we pass from the lowest of the brute creation up an ascending line until we reach the Divine Father himself, we find that the nobler being exists, not to appropriate to himself, but to minister to others; when in our thought we reach the Divine, we see that God himself is receiving the least and is giving the most. He finds his heavenly life in giving freely and constantly of his resources to all beings in his universe. This is the supreme point that we can attain; we surrender ourselves entirely to God, to be possessed and employed by him; we enter upon and we realize the noble, the angelic, the true life. Whosoever will save his life by retaining his own will and withholding his powers from his Redeemer, by that very act loses it; but whosoever will freely surrender his life to God and man will, by that very act, find it. To live is not to get and to keep; it is to love and to lose ourselves in loving service.
II. THAT THE FULL SERVICE OF CHRIST MEANS HABITUAL SELF-DENIAL.
1. It means the abandonment of all that is vicious; i.e. of all that is positively hurtful to ourselves or others, and treat, as such, is condemned of God as sinful.
2. It means the avoidance of that which is not unlawful in itself, but which would be a hindrance to usefulness and the service of love (see Romans 14.). Of the rightness and desirableness of this, every man must be a judge for himself, and no man may "judge his brother." That life must be a narrow one which does not afford scope for the frequent forfeiture of good which might lawfully be taken, but which, for Christ's sake, is declined.
3. It involves struggle and sacrifice at the first, but the sense of personal loss is continually declining, and the consciousness of Divine approval is a counterbalancing gain.
III. THAT TO SECURE ETERNAL BLESSEDNESS IT MAY BE NECESSARY TO LAY DOWN OUR MORTAL LIFE. Many are they who have been called upon to put the most literal interpretation on the twenty-fourth verse; who have had to choose between parting with everything human and earthly on the one hand, and sacrificing their fidelity to Christ and their eternal hopes on the other hand. For that hour of solemn crisis the Lord has granted abounding grace, and from every land and age a noble army of martyrs have made the better choice, and now wear the crown of life in the better land. - C.
I. THE TRANSCENDENT WORTH OF OUR HUMAN NATURE. When he came that was held in very small esteem. Men showed what they thought of human nature by the use they made of it, and of human life by the readiness with which they threw it away. There was no thought of the inviolable sacredness of a human spirit. Jesus Christ has taught us to think of it as precious beyond all price. Man's body is only the vesture of his mind; man, like God, is spirit, but he is spirit clothed in flesh. He is a spirit
(1) accountable to God for all he thinks and feels, as well as for all he says and does;
(2) capable of forming a beautiful and noble character resembling that of the Divine Father himself;
(3) capable of living a life which, in its sphere, is a reproduction of the life God is living in heaven;
(4) coming into close contact and fellowship with God;
(5) intended to share God's own immortality.
II. THE TEMPTATION TO LOSE SIGHT OF THIS GREAT TRUTH. There are two things that often have such a deteriorating effect upon us that it is practically erased from the tablet of our soul.
1. The love of pleasure; whether this be indulgence in unholy pleasure, or the practical surrender of ourselves to mere enjoyment, to the neglect of all that is best and highest.
2. The eager pursuit of gain. Not that there is any radical inconsistency between profitable trading and holy living; not that a Christian man may not exemplify his piety by the way in which he conducts his business; but that there are often found to be terribly strong temptations to untruthfulness, or dishonesty, or hardness, or unjust withholdment, or a culpable and injurious absorption in business. And under the destructive influence of one of these two forces the soul withers or dies.
III. THE CALAMITOUS MISTAKE THAT IS SOMETIMES MADE. It is not only a grievous sin, but a disastrous error to gain worldly wealth, and, in the act of gaining it, to lose the soul. That is the worst of all possible bargains. The man who makes many thousands of pounds, and who loses conscientiousness, truthfulness, spirituality, all care for what God thinks of him and feels about him, sensitiveness of spirit - in fact, himself, is a man over whom Heaven weeps; he has made a supreme mistake. Gold, silver, precious stones, are of limited worth. There are many of the most important services we want which they have no power to render; and the hour is daily drawing near when they will have no value to us whatever. But the soul is of immeasurable worth; no sum of money that can be expressed in figures will indicate its value; that is something which absolutely transcends expression; and time, instead of diminishing, enhances its importance - it becomes of more and more account "as our days go by," as our life draws toward its close. Jesus Christ not only put this thought into words, - the words of the text - he put it into action. He let us see that, in his estimation, the human soul was worth suffering and dying for - worth suffering for as he suffered in Gethsemane, worth dying for as he died at Calvary. Then do we wisely enter into his thought concerning it when we seek salvation at his cross, when, by knowing him as our Divine Redeemer, we enter into eternal life. - C.
I. THE CLOSE RELATION BETWEEN OUR SPIRITUAL AND OUR BODILY NATURE. This manifested glory was not altogether outward; it was more than a radiance thrown around or imposed upon him, which might just as readily have occurred to any Jewish rabbi. It does not correspond with the illumination or' the wall of a building or the face of a cathedral. It was the glory of his Divine nature, usually hidden, now shining through and revealing itself in his form and countenance. We are sure that the appearance of our Lord at all times answered to his character and his spirit. We gather this from the charm which he exerted over his disciples and over little children; from the confidence which he inspired in the social outcasts of his day; in the occasional flashings forth of his Divine sovereignty (John 2:15; Mark 10:32; John 18:6). The Transfiguration was by far the most striking instance of his bodily nature being lighted up and irradiated by his indwelling glory; there was as much of the spiritual as of the material about it; it could not have happened to any other than to our Lord. And this opens the question how far our spiritual experiences may and should glorify our personal appearance. The spirit does act powerfully upon and manifest itself through the body which is its organ. We know how love gleams, how indignation flashes, how scorn and hatred lower, how hope shines, how disappointment pales, how all the passions that breathe and burn in the human breast come forth and make themselves felt in the eye, the lip, the countenance of man. We may and should see a kind or a pure heart in a kind or pure countenance, as we do see avarice or indulgence in a keen or a bloated visage. We bear about in our body the marks of our association with the Lord Jesus, and other marks also which are not derived from such fellowship as that. Holiness has its transfiguring influence, as sin has its debasing effect, upon the human form and figure - the one refines and glorifies, as the other disfigures and degrades. There are two things to be heeded here.
1. We must not draw hasty and unjust inferences; there are those who, so far as appearance goes, are victims of misfortune or are vicarious sufferers.
2. We must endeavour to let a holy character be visible in our bodily persons. Inward excellence is the source of outward beauty. No tailoring or millinery, no cosmetics or perfumery, will make beautiful the face and form behind which is an ugly heart; selfishness and pride and envy will never look anything but unsightly and forbidding. The thoughts that breathe, the feelings that glow, the spirit that animates, the character that shines through - it is this which beautifies, which adorns, which makes attractive, which wins confidence and love. These are the things to care for, to cultivate, to cherish; it is thence that our influence for good will spring.
II. THE CARE WHICH GOD TAKES OF HIS OWN IN THEIR TIME OF SPECIAL NEED. What was the purpose of this wonderful scene? It was to prepare the disciples (and perhaps the Master) for the last scenes of all. Those two celestial visitants spake of "the decease which he should accomplish," etc. A terrible ordeal was that through which he and they would pass. Therefore it seemed well to the Father to give to him and to them the most imposing, the most impressive, the most convincing proof that he was well pleased with his Son, and that he was, indeed, the Messiah of their hopes. We know from Peter's Epistle (2 Peter 1:16, 17) how strong a confirmation of their faith it was and continued to be. Thus God cared for his own, and thus he still cares. Our lives glide on like peaceful rivers; but most human lives prove to be rivers with cataracts in their course. Times of grave trial and peril come, when there is a great strain on our faith and patience; when we have to draw on our last resources; critical trial-hours they are, like those which came to the Master and to his faithful baud. How shall we be assured of calmness, fortitude, fidelity, when we pass through them? If we are loyal to our Lord in the days of sunshine and prosperity, if we "abide in him" now, he will not fail us then. As our day his grace will be. He will prepare us for the trial-hour; he will be with us in its darkest moments; he will lead us oat into the sunshine on the other side. - C.
1. Jesus Christ is addressing us. From his home and throne on high our Saviour stoops to call us, to instruct us, to bless us. He is saying to us, "Come unto me;" "Abide in me;" "Follow me.
2. We need not hear him if we choose not to do so. As in a room where many groups of people are conversing, we only hear the voice of treat company to which we join ourselves and listen, so in the large room of this world there are many voices speaking and it rests with each of us to determine which we will regard. Shall it be the voice of ambition? or that of appetite? or that of human learning? or that of Christ?
3. Our heavenly Father urges us to give our best attention to Jesus Christ. This is my beloved Son: hear him. We shall see, if we consider, how and why God presses on us this act of hearing.
I. BECAUSE OF OUR URGENT NEED OF A VOICE THAT IS DIVINE. There are two things we urgently require, but which, apart from Jesus Christ, we cannot have.
1. One is a knowledge of what is true. We are strangers on the earth," and know but very little. Like the little bird (of the ancient story) that flew from the darkness into the dimly lighted room and out into the darkness on the other side, so from the darkness of the past we enter and stay for a brief time in the dimly lighted present, and forth we pass into the darkness of the future.
2. The other is the power to do what we know to be right. Truly pathetic is the Roman's confession, "I see the better course, and approve; 1 follow the worse." What men everywhere have wanted is the inspiration and the power to be and to do that which they perceive to be good and right. Whence shall we gain this? Only from a Divine Saviour, from One who has lived and died for us, to whom we offer our hearts and our lives, the love of whom will constrain us toward all that is good and pure, and restrain us from all that is bad and wrong.
II. BECAUSE OF HIS INTIMATE RELATION TO HIS DIVINE FATHER. "This is my beloved Son," therefore should we "hear him." For one of the deepest and most practical questions we can ask is - What is God's thought, feeling, purpose, toward us? If there were any human being who sustained toward us a relation which at all approached in intimacy and importance that which God sustains to us, we should be eager indeed to know what was his feeling and intention concerning us. How eagerly, then, should we inquire of him "in whom we live, and move, and have our being," "with whom we have everything to do," on whose will we are absolutely dependent for our future here and hereafter! What does God think about us? On what conditions will he receive and bless us? Christ, "the beloved Son," who came forth from God, and who knows his mind as none other can (Matthew 11:27), can answer this supreme question for us.
III. BECAUSE OF HIS CLOSE AND INTIMATE RELATION TO OURSELVES. We want some one to speak to us who knows us well, who understands us altogether; one about whom we can feel that this is true. To whom, then, should we listen, if not to the Son of God, our Maker; to the Son of man, our Brother? "He knew what was in man," as the evangelist testified, and again and again he showed that he knew his disciples far better than they knew themselves. Such is his knowledge of us. We may think that we know ourselves and what is best for ourselves. But we may be utterly mistaken. We find that our neighbours display lamentable and ruinous ignorance on these great matters. Who are we that we should be full of wisdom where others err? Let us distrust ourselves: "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." Ignorant presumption is a foe that "hath slain its ten thousands." The truly wise will seek the great Teacher's feet, and say, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" - C.
I. THAT FROM THE VERY FANGS OF DEFEAT A GREAT VICTORY MAY BE SECURED. More than once in the history of war there has occurred such an incident as that which is related concerning the great struggle in the United States (1860-1864). A severe and successful attack is made by one army on the other; the enemy is driven back, his guns and his camp captured. As his regiments are in full retreat, the general of the defeated force, who has been unfortunately absent, arrives on the scene; he arrests the tide of retreat, gathers his soldiers about him, stops the pursuing host in their career, leads a triumphant attack upon them, drives them beyond his own camp, recaptures his guns, and chases the once-conquering but now defeated army for miles to the rear of its first position. Such a victory snatched from the jaws of humbling defeat took place on this occasion. The returning Saviour found his disciples driven before the hostile attack of his enemies, but his presence soon availed "to restore the day," and before long transformed humiliating failure into joyous triumph. In the Master's actual, spiritual absence the cause of the Church may be brought very low indeed, and a complete and crushing disaster may impend; but let the Lord return, let his presence and his power be felt, and from the very teeth of threatened calamity there shall be secured a glorious victory. Let no heart despond so long as there is a present Captain; failure is never irretrievable when he is "on the field;" under his leadership even "death is swallowed up in victory."
II. THAT HUMAN AFFECTION IS MEANT TO LEAD TO SPIRITUAL ATTACHMENTS. It was his son's sickness that led this man to seek Jesus; but for that he would not have sought and found him. It was his strong parental love that would not be denied, that led him to urge his plea, that enabled him to overcome his fears and to gain that valuable victory. God employs many instrumentalities to lead his children into his kingdom. We ought to be influenced by our sense of what is right and of what is wise in the matter; but, if not won by these, let the consideration of the deep and tender interests of those who are dear to us convince and determine us. For the sake of those children of ours, whom we love so profoundly, and who have such a vital interest in Christian truth, let us sit at the feet of Christ, and be subject to his sway.
III. THAT THE VERY WORST CASE WILL YIELD TO THE TOUCH OF THE DIVINE HAND. There could not well be a worse case of possession than this (see vers. 39, 42). If the malignant forces could have triumphed over the benevolent Spirit, they would have triumphed here. But everything was accomplished when "Jesus took him by the hand" (Mark 9:27). So is it with the worst spiritual maladies. They may seem so bad as to be incurable; it may be the general opinion that the case is utterly hopeless. But there is a power in reserve against which the most virulent and the most violent evils are not able to stand. For
"...many of whom all men said, IV. THAT THE EARNEST SOUL NEED NOT LET ANYTHING KEEP HIM BACK FROM CHRIST AND HIS SALVATION. This father had much to overcome - the natural reluctance he would have to bring the poor demoniac into such publicity; the failure of the disciples to effect a cure, well calculated as that was to discourage and dishearten him; his own imperfect faith (Mark 9:22, 24). But he overcame all these, and gained his plea. Many may be the obstacles in the way of our salvation; they may be circumstantial, or they may be inward and spiritual; but if there be a thoroughly earnest spirit, they will not prevail over us; we shall triumph over them, and go on our way with our cause gained and our hearts gladdened. - C.
IV. THAT THE EARNEST SOUL NEED NOT LET ANYTHING KEEP HIM BACK FROM CHRIST AND HIS SALVATION. This father had much to overcome - the natural reluctance he would have to bring the poor demoniac into such publicity; the failure of the disciples to effect a cure, well calculated as that was to discourage and dishearten him; his own imperfect faith (Mark 9:22, 24). But he overcame all these, and gained his plea. Many may be the obstacles in the way of our salvation; they may be circumstantial, or they may be inward and spiritual; but if there be a thoroughly earnest spirit, they will not prevail over us; we shall triumph over them, and go on our way with our cause gained and our hearts gladdened. - C.
end of the prayer. This was preparation for further service. The glory is not the end, but only an incidental accompaniment, of devotedness of spirit. It is work for God, further service in his kingdom, which is the aim of all means of grace. And now these verses bring out in different aspects the secret of successful work. Let us notice
I. SUCCESSFUL WORK MUST BE PRAYERFUL. (Vers. 37-42.) We have here a case of failure on the part of the nine disciples, and of success on the part of the descended Christ. The difference between the two cases was that Christ had been praying on the mountain while they had been prayerless in the valley. Prayerlessness and powerlessness go hand-in-hand. Work done in a prayerless spirit cannot succeed as it ought to do. The transfigured ones alone can meet the emergencies of Christian work, and succeed where others fail. Some cases are doubtless more difficult than others, and some demons make a harder fight of it than others; but there are none of them who can stand a prayerful Christian who faithfully follows Jesus in his line of attack.
II. SUCCESSFUL WORK MUST BE IN SPITE OF MALIGNANT OPPOSITION. (Vers. 43-45.) Our Lord, as the crowd are wondering at his success, tells the disciples plainly that he is destined to be delivered into the hands of men. This is a sufficient set-off to his success. Men will take and kill him, notwithstanding all his philanthropy and exorcising power. This crucifixion of Jesus is but the type of the world's recognition of the best work done by human hands. A long line of noble workers have followed Jesus along the path of martyrdom. Let no worker, then, be surprised at the world's malignity.
III. SUCCESSFUL WORK MUST BE DIVESTED OF BASE AMBITIONS. (Vers. 46-48.) Notwithstanding recent failure through want of prayer, the disciples are soon selfishly contending about the first places, and who is to be greatest. It is wonderful how soon we forget our failures and betake ourselves to our ambitions. Now, one characteristic of base ambition is pride about work. Certain lines of work are thought to be beneath our dignity and worth. To correct this in the disciples, our Lord sets a little child before them, and shows that such a child might be received in such a spirit as would be recognized by God himself. The nursing of a little child may be done for the sake of Jesus Christ, and in such a case it is such a work as he will regard, and the Father who sent him also. It is not a great work, therefore, that is needed, but a great heart carried into the smallest work. We think of quantity; Christ thinks of quality. We will not "take our coats off," so to speak, unless it is some work eminently creditable; Christ could throw his great spirit into the fondling of a little child, and do the little one everlasting good. Hence we must do any work clearly laid to our hand with large-heartedness, and we shall find it successful in the best sense. It is the meek ones who are ready to put their hand to anything who are great in the kingdom of God.
IV. SUCCESSFUL WORK DEMANDS, BESIDES, A TOLERANT SPIRIT. (Vers. 49-56.) John and James, after the Transfiguration privileges, seem to have got very excited and ardent in Christ's service. Two cases in particular show how heated and hasty they were. The first was a case of exorcism through Christ's Name. Some Jew had witnessed the exorcisms of Christ, and, abandoning the Jewish methods and traditions, had tried the new plan, and proved the power of "the Name which is above every name." But because he did not join the disciples, and so preserve their monopoly of delegated power, he is forbidden by them to do such work. This was intolerance misplaced. The worker, though not uniting with the disciples, was promoting the Master's glory by showing the power of his Name. He was an ally, though not a disciple of the same set. Hence Jesus instructs them always to act on the tolerant principle that "he that is not against us is for us." The second case in which the sons of Zebedee exhibited unholy zeal was in a certain Samaritan village, during Jesus' journeys to Jerusalem. The last journey has begun (ver. 51), and nothing will keep him flora accomplishing it. The Samaritans would have liked him to linger with them, and avoid his enemies and theirs. But he would not listen to their syren voice, but insisted on going up to Jerusalem. Taking umbrage at this, one Samaritan village denied him the usual hospitalities when his forerunners sought it. Incensed at this, John and James inquire if they should not call down fire from heaven to consume the inhospitable Samaritans, as Elijah had done. Samaria was the scene of that fiery ministry. But Elijah's spirit would not suit the Saviour's times. Had the prophet descended from the Mount of Transfiguration, he would not have insisted on any such policy as this. lie had doubtless got less fiery in the peaceful abodes above! As a destructive force, he had served his generation, but the disciples were to remember that saving men, not destroying them, was to be their mission. From both these cases we learn that the true evangelical spirit must reject all intolerance if it is to secure the highest success.
V. SUCCESSFUL WORK REQUIRES FAITHFUL DEALING WITH INDIVIDUAL CASES. (Vers. 57-62.) As Jesus was moving upwards to the capital, the people perceived that a crisis was at hand. Hence the desire of some on insufficient grounds to cast in their lot with him who is to be the conquering King. Here is a case in point. A man comes and professes his willingness to be a follower of Jesus wheresoever he goeth. But Jesus undeceives him by indicating that he is not going to be sure of any lodging in this world. Perhaps the man was hoping to reach a palace by following him; but Jesus shows that the birds and beasts have more certain lodgings than he. He thus laid bare the man's danger, and prevented a rash decision. The second case is an invitation to the individual by Jesus himself. It is a case of bereavement, and Jesus seizes on it to secure a disciple. He knew that the best thing this broken-heart could do would be to become a herald of his kingdom. The bereaved one naturally enough asks leave to go and bury his father, but Jesus assures him that there are sufficient dead hearts at homo to pay due respect to his father's remains, and the formalities of the funeral may only change his promptitude into delay and neglect; and so he urges him to become a preacher at once. A third case is that of one who is ready to follow Christ, but wishes to bid those at home farewell. Our Lord tells him the danger of looking back. The farewells at home might have resulted in a farewell for ever to Jesus. It is thus Jesus shows the importance of dealing faithfully with individual souls. We have the secret of successful work laid clearly before us. - R.M.E.
Mark 9:36), either turning a reproachful glance on his, disciples, or a look of tenderness upon that little one; the child himself with a trustful but wondering expression in his countenance. The scene is suggestive of the thought - What's the child to the Church? (For homily on the contention between the apostles, see Luke 22:24.) We may consider -
I. WHAT THE CHILD WAS TO THE DISCIPLES. The answer to this question is - not much. They were devout and worthy men; but they were Jews, and they shared the mental habits of their countrymen. To them the little child was of small account - one to be kept carefully out of sight; one to be taken charge of by parent or teacher, but superfluous in society; one too many when a great man was present, when a great prophet was speaking, or a great healer was healing. This we know from their conduct on a memorable occasion (Luke 18:15).
II. WHAT THE CHILD IS TO THE CHURCH. The poor, our Lord said, we have "always with us." So is it with the children. Whoever are absent, they are present; whoever fail, they abound. The child is in the midst of us, and we have to decide what he shall be to us. Taught by our Lord's teaching, led by his example, imbued with his Spirit, we have to take up a very different attitude from that of the disciples. The Christian Church no longer regards the child as one that has to be carefully kept out of the way lest he should be troublesome. It welcomes him cordially; like its Master, it takes him into the embrace of its affection and its care.
1. It regards the children as the Church of the future. It remembers that "death and change are busy ever," that the fathers and mothers are passing on and away, and that others will soon be needed to take their place. When a few more years have come, the place which knows us now will know us no more; who then, but the children about our feet, will bear the flag we bear, will speak the truth we speak, will do the work we do?
2. It regards the children as a present valuable heritage. For the little child
(1) can be a recipient of Divine truth, and not only can he be this, but his natural open-mindedness and trustfulness make him a peculiarly apt learner in Christ's great school;
(2) can be a true follower of the Divine Master - to him also Jesus says, "Follow me," and not only can he "rise and follow" him, but his disposition to trust and love and obey makes him to be a close and a very acceptable follower of his Lord;
(3) can illustrate in his own way the excellences of the Christian life, by the exhibition of those virtues and graces which most become childhood and youth. The Church of Christ should find in the little child its most interesting and its most valuable disciple. And this a great deal the more because of -
III. WHAT THE CHILD IS TO THE SAVIOUR HIMSELF. This is very much indeed. For Christ knows, as we do not, all the possibilities of the little child - the height to which he may rise, or the depth to which he may sink; the good he may live to do, or the evil he may live to work; the blessedness to which he may attain, or the shame and woe which may be his end. He is more deeply interested in the young than we are, and however earnest and eloquent our voice of invitation or of warning may be, more earnest far is the voice of the Lord himself, as he says, "Come unto me, take my yoke upon you,... my yoke is easy, my burden is light." - C.
Luke 11:23. For one is the complement of the other. "He that is not against us is for us;" "He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth." There is not the slightest inconsistency between these two declarations of our Lord. One states one truth, and the other a different one. They teach successively -
I. THAT WE ARE IN DANGER OF COUNTING AMONG OUR OPPONENTS THOSE WHOM WE SHOULD RECKON AS ALLIES. It did not seem to be a service of any particular account that a man should use the name of Jesus to exorcise demons, even though he may have had a measure of success in his attempts. But Christ said he was not to be "forbidden" as an outsider, but rather hailed as a friend and as an ally. What, then, would he not say now of those who go so far towards the fullest declaration of his truth as many thousands do, but who remain outside the particular Church with which we may be connected? Would he have us blame and brand these because they "follow not with us"? The spirit of persecution is cruel, foolish, and emphatically unchristian. Rather let us rejoice that there are found so many who, while not feeling it right to connect themselves with our organization, are yet loving the same Lord and serving the same cause. These are not our enemies; they are our allies.
II. THAT WE CANNOT WITHHOLD OUR EARNEST THOUGHT AND DELIBERATE CHOICE FROM CHRIST without being counted by him as his enemies. "He that is not with me is against me," etc. There is no neutrality in the great campaign now being fought out between sin and righteousness. In great European wars it is customary for generals and correspondents from other countries, not involved in the strife, to attend the movements and watch the operations of the armies; they, of course, are strictly neutral. But in this great spiritual campaign we cannot be mere spectators; we must be soldiers fighting on one side or on the other. For we are all deeply involved; we are implicated in what is past; we are interested in the issue; we have great responsibilities resting on us; we have great things at stake. God is addressing himself to every one of us, and it is not open to any of us to refuse to take up a decisive attitude in regard to the subjects of his address.
1. He speaks to us of himself. He makes himself known to us as our Creator, our Preserver, our generous Benefactor; he makes his appeal to us as our Divine Father, who earnestly desires our return to his home that he may bless us with his parental love. Can we possibly remain unaffected by this? Is not our very silence a most grievous offence and injury? Not to respond to him is to sin grievously against him.
2. He comes to us in the Person of his Son Jesus Christ. And he offers himself to us as the Redeemer who at the greatest possible price has wrought out our redemption, as the Divine Friend in the shelter of whose love and power we may spend our days, as the Source of our eternal life. Can we possibly take up a position toward him in which we are neither one thing nor another - neither enemy nor subject? Can we do other than either accept him or reject him?
3. He summons us to his service, and to the service of our kind. We are to be "living epistles," making known his truth, revealing to men the goodness of God, the grace of Christ, the excellency of his service. We are to bear witness unto him. Either our life is witnessing for him and for his truth, or our influence is thrown into the other scale. Those who know us are either being attracted toward Christ through all they see and know about us, or they are being repelled. We cannot be cyphers, try how we may. Our lives are telling on one side or on the other. Either we gather with Christ or we scatter abroad. We must make our choice. - C.
I. OUR WISDOM IN FRONT OF APPARENT EVIL. At this time our Lord had before him the dark days which would bring his ministry to a close. The contemplation of them had evidently gone down deep into his own mind, but he found none to share the thought or to sympathize with him in the prospect. He asked his disciples to let these things "sink down into their ears" (ver. 44), but they understood him not. He was the sole possessor of the great secret of his coming sorrow, struggle, and death. How did he face it? With an immovable resoluteness of soul. "He steadfastly set his face to go up to Jerusalem." What reason have we to be thankful for that holy and noble tenacity of spirit! Could anything less strong than that have carried him, unscathed, through all that followed? And if there had been any, even the slightest failure, what would have been the consequences to our race? When we have to face a future of pain, or of separation and attendant loneliness and single-handedness of struggle, or of strong and sustained temptation, in what spirit shall we face that? In the temper of calm and devout resoluteness; with a full and fixed determination to go bravely and unfalteringly through, shrinking from no suffering, enduring the worst that man can inflict, yielding nothing to the enemy of our soul. An unflinching resoluteness will do great things for us.
1. It will save us from much suffering; for cowardice and apprehension do not simply add to human wretchedness; they multiply it.
2. It will save us from the chief peril and go far to secure us the victory. The greatest of all perils before us is that of recreancy, uufaithfulness to our own convictions. An unstable mind is only too likely to be guilty of it. A resolute spirit is almost certain to escape it.
3. It will place us by the side of our Divine Leader and of the noblest of his followers. We shall be treading in the footsteps of him who "steadfastly set his face," etc., and who went up to that city of martyrs and gloriously triumphed there.
II. OUR DUTY IN THE PRESENCE OF A PROFESSED PROPHET. "They did not receive him;... They went to another village." How much is contained, in these simple words, of human folly and privation! These villagers were profoundly prejudiced against Christ, and declined absolutely to see what he could do, to hear what he would say. They would not "judge for themselves" on the evidence ready to be furnished. Anti consequently they suffered a great privation. The great Healer and Teacher of mankind went another way; their sick went unhealed, their souls went unenlightened, while Divine tenderness and truth found other hearts and homes. Often since then has Christ gone, in the person of some one of his prophets or spokesmen, to the city, to the village, to the home, to the individual heart, and offered his truth, his grace, his salvation. But deep-seated prejudice, or strong material interests, or keen love of pleasure, has barred the way. He has not been received. And as he does not force an entrance anywhere, he has gone elsewhere; he has passed by, and all the treasure of his truth has been unpossessed, all the blessedness of his salvation unknown. Of what unimaginable good, of what highest heritage, does human folly deprive itself!
III. OUR DANGER OF MISTAKING THE LOWER FOR THE HIGHER FEELING. The apostles, James and John, gave vent to a burst of strong resentment, and proposed to have a severe punishment inflicted. They supposed themselves to be actuated by an honourable and acceptable indignation. But Jesus "turned, and rebuked them;" they were entirely mistaken; their feeling was not that of pure indignation, it was tainted by an unholy irritation against men who would not receive them and their Master; moreover, the desire for immediate punishment was to give place, under Christian teaching, to a determination to win to a better way. Not extinction but reformation, not the infliction of the death which is due but the conferring of the life which is undeserved, not rigorous exaction but patient pity, not the folded fist of law but the open and extended hand of helpfulness, is the Christian thing. When we find ourselves giving way to wrath and proposing punishment, we do well to ask ourselves whether we are sure we know the "spirit we are of," and whether there is not a "more excellent way" for Christian feet to tread. - C.
I. THE MAN OF INDECISION ALONG THE LINE COMMON TO HIMSELF AND THE MAN OF RELIGIOUS EARNESTNESS.
1. They both receive instruction in the common faith; they learn and admit the great fundamental truths of the gospel - the life, death, resurrection, teaching of Jesus Christ.
2. They are both impressed by the surpassing excellence of Christ; for there is in him now, as there was when he lived among men, that which constrains admiration, reverence, attraction.
3. They both feel the desirableness of availing themselves of the blessings of the gospel of grace - of the pardon, peace, joy, worth, hope, immortality, which it offers to the faithful. And when Christ's voice is heard, as it is in many ways, each of these men is prepared to say, "Never man spake, Lord, as thou speakest to me; no one else will give me what thou art offering; evermore give me this living bread, this living water. Lord, I will follow thee."
II. THE MAN OF INDECISION AT THE POINT OF DIVERGENCE. He says not, simply and absolutely, "I will; "he says, "I will follow thee; but," etc. One word more, but how much less in fact and in truth? What is in that qualifying word?
1. But 1 am young, and there is plenty of time. I am a long way off the "three score and ten years;" and all along the road of life there are paths leading into the kingdom; let me go on unburdened by such serious claims as these of thine. "I will," etc., but not yet.
2. But 1 have a bodily as well as a spiritual nature, and I must satisfy its claims. These hungerings and thirstings of the sense are very strong and imperious; let me drink of this cup, let me lay by those treasures first.
3. I am waiting for some decisive intimation from Heaven that my time has come. I do not wish to act precipitately or presumptuously; I am looking for the prompting of the Divine Spirit, the direction of the Divine hand; when the Master says distinctly, "Follow thou me," I will arise at once.
4. I am in embarrassed circumstances, and am waiting until they clear away. The claims of the business or the home are so urgent, so near, so practical, that they consume my time, and I have none to spare for thee; there are bonds I have formed which I do not know how to break, but which must be broken if thy friendship is to be made and kept.
5. But I am old and unable. I have heard thy voice in my ear in earlier days; but I am old and spiritually blind; old and deaf; old and insensitive. I do not expect thee to come this way again; I would follow thee if I felt once more the touch of thy hand upon me.
III. THE GREATNESS AND SADNESS OF HIS MISTAKE. A grievous thing it is for a man to buoy himself up with such false imaginations, to build his house of hope on such shifting sands, to rest the weight of his destiny on such a sapless, strengthless reed.
1. Does death never lay his cold and hard hand on youth? and does not Christ command our strength and our beauty as well as our feebleness and our unsightliness?
2. Does Christ ask us to give up one rightful pleasure? and had we not better sacrifice all wrongful ones? And has he not promised all we need if we do but take the one true step into his kingdom (Matthew 6:33)?
3. No man is waiting for God; but God is waiting for many halting and hesitating human souls. Behold, he stands at the door and knocks!
4. We are not more embarrassed than thousands have been, or more than we shall continue to be. If it is hard to find time, then for a purpose so supreme as this time must be made; if evil friendships are in the way, they must be made to stand out of the way. The voice that speaks from heaven is commanding; the case of our eternal destiny is critical in the very last degree.
5. It is true that long disuse is dangerously disabling, and spiritual capacity wanes with neglect; but men are not too deaf to hear the sovereign voice of Christ, not too blind to find their way to his cross, his table, his kingdom. - C.
I. WHAT CONSCIOUSNESS OF POWER AND OF ULTIMATE SUCCESS the Saviour shows! How eager we are to secure followers, how pleased and proud to add to our ranks! Especially when a cause is yet young are we desirous of making converts and counting new disciples. At this time the cause of Christianity was very far from being an assured success; yet Jesus did not hurry to be successful, to crowd his Church. He said to the scribe - not an ordinary disciple - "Foxes have holes," etc. (Matthew 8:19, 20; ver. 58). He risked the attachment of another (ver. 60); and again of this man (text). How was this? It was that he had such absolute confidence in the rectitude of his cause, in the support of his Divine Father, and therefore in the triumph of his truth and grace. It is never well to hurry even good issues; we should only work with right instruments, content to wait for the result. "He that believeth will not make haste." To the too-anxious workman there needs to come the remembrance of his Master's holy confidence; it says to such a one, "Be still, and know that I am God." We shall better understand our Lord's reply if we consider -
II. WHAT SUPERHUMAN KNOWLEDGE OF INDIVIDUAL HEARTS the Saviour shows! He did not commit himself to men; "for he knew what was in man. This is the key which unlocks the difficulty in many instances. It is this which explains how it was that he encouraged or accepted, how it was that he tested or declined, the services of men. And it is this which explains the differences in his treatment of us now; how it is that to one man he sends so many more trials and sufferings than to another; how it is that he withholds from one man so many bounties or privileges which he gives to another. He knows both perfectly; he knows their nature and their need, and he treats them accordingly.
III. THE FACT THAT CHRIST REQUIRES SPECIAL QUALIFICATIONS FOR SPECIAL WORK, There is a faith that removes mountains" of difficulty; but there is also a faith, much more common, which will do good work, though it will not accomplish such great things. Christ had work for the contemplative John which that man of speech and action, Peter, could not have done; work for the many-sided and devoted Paul which John could not have done. To "follow Christ" as this scribe (of our text) proposed to do was work which meant many and great things - the severance of old and strong ties, the endurance of privation, exposure to hatred and violence, readiness to look death in the face, self-immolation on the altar of a sacred cause. Jesus probably knew that this man had not the spiritual qualifications for such a sacrificial post as this. Even the common labourer must have concentration of mind; he must not have his hand on the plough while his eye is off the field. And the workman in his field of holy service must be a man of unflinching steadfastness, of unwavering resoluteness of soul. No other would be fit for such work as he had on hand. Surely it is far kinder of the Master to keep back, even by strong and apparently hard words, the unfit servant from the sphere in which he would fail miserably, than to let him go on and reap all the bitter fruits of failure; and surely it is wiser far, on our part, to reckon well beforehand, and see whether our mental and spiritual resources will carry us through a proposed service and to retire if we find ourselves unequal to it, than to go blindly forward and to have to come back with something else upon our brows than the crown of honour and success. We may also learn -
IV. WHAT ARE THE PRESENT, CONSTANT REQUIREMENTS which Jesus Christ makes of those who work for him. He is saying to us, "Follow me into the vineyard of holy usefulness." It is in our hearts to say, "Lord, I will follow thee." What must we have in order that he will readily engage us in his active service? We must have that spirit of self-surrender which will make us willing to give up to our Lord all that he asks us to part with; we must be whole-hearted, single-eyed. We must be workmen that have the hand on the plough and the eye on the field. We must be thorough in all that we do for him, contributing all our strength and energy in his cause. And there is every reason why we should be.
1. Our Master is worthy of the very best we can bring to him.
2. The sinful, suffering world around us is crying for our pity and our help.
3. It is well worth our while to do our utmost. In full-hearted service is the present recompense of sacred joy as we warm to our work and spend ourselves in it, while in the future there await us those" many cities," that enlarged sphere of influence which will reward the faithful followers of their Lord. - C.