The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand.Healing the Withered Hand
(1) Christ's detection of human incompleteness. He instantly discovered that there was a man in the synagogue with a withered hand. The musician instantly detects a false note; the painter instantly detects an inartistic line; the complete Christ instantly detects the incomplete man. (2) Jesus Christ's power over partial disease. The man had only a withered hand. In some cases Christ had to heal thoroughly diseased men, in this case the disease was local; yet in both instances his power was the same. (3) Christ's inability to heal the obstinacy of his enemies. Here we come into the moral region, where all power is limited, and where omnipotence itself can work effectually only by the consent of the human will. A series of contrasts may be drawn in connection with this point. Christ could raise dead bodies; but dead souls had first to be willing to be raised. Christ could quell the storm on the sea, but he could not quiet the tumult of rebellious hearts. (4) Christ's moral indignation overcoming all outward obstacles. He was indignant with the men who valued the sacredness of a day above the sacredness of a human life. Herein he showed the intense benevolence of his mission. Everything was to give way to the importunity of the wants of men. An important point is involved in the question which Jesus Christ puts in the fourth verse, viz., not to do good is actually to do evil.
The instance shows Christ's carefulness over individual life. There was only one man, yet Jesus Christ give that solitary sufferer the full benefit of his omnipotence. The Gospel is a revelation of God's love to individual men.
There are special moral deformities as well as special bodily diseases. Some Christians have withered hands, or defective vision, or one-sided sympathies, imperfect tempers, or faulty habits. Christ alone can heal such diseases.
All kinds of sufferers ought to associate the synagogue, the sanctuary, with their best hopes. It should be a place of healing, and of instruction, and of all holy stimulus.
6. And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.
This verse shows the working of three determined and most mischievous powers: (1) The power of prejudice; (2) The power of technicality; (3) The power of ignorance. Prejudice as against Christ; technicality as opposed to humanity; ignorance as forgetful of the fact that in morals as well as in physics the greater includes the less. Sabbath-keeping is less than man-healing.
7. But Jesus withdrew himself with his disciples to the sea; and a great multitude from Galilee followed him, and from Judæa,
8. And from Jerusalem, and from Idumæa, and from beyond Jordan; and they about Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, when they had heard what great things he did, came unto him.
(1) There is a time to withdraw from opponents. (2) Withdrawment is not necessarily the result of cowardice. (3) Withdrawment from one sphere ought to be followed by entrance into another.
Great things draw great multitudes. How did Christ exercise his influence over great throngs? (1) He never lowered the moral tone of his teaching; (2) He was never unequal to the increasing demands made upon his power; (3) He never requested the multitude to help him in any selfish endeavours.
No subject can draw such great multitudes as the Gospel. No subject can so deeply affect great multitudes as the Gospel. No subject can so profoundly and lastingly bless great multitudes as the Gospel.
9. And he spake to his disciples, that a small ship should wait on him because of the multitude, lest they should throng him.
10. For he had healed many: insomuch that they pressed upon him for to touch him, as many as had plagues.
11. And unclean spirits, when they saw him, fell down before him, and cried, saying, Thou art the Son of God.
12. And he straitly charged them that they should not make him known.
(1) Whoever has power to satisfy human necessities will never be in want of applicants. This is most obvious in the case of bodily suffering, but the principle holds good in reference to the deepest wants of human nature. (2) Unclean spirits may pay compliments to the good without changing their own disposition. (3) Unclean spirits are always commanded, as in this case, not to attempt the revelation of Christ. In the instance before us there was of course a special reason for the injunction; but the principle is applicable to the whole subject of teaching and interpreting Christ and his doctrine.
13. And he goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him.
14. And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach,
15. And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils.
16. And Simon he surnamed Peter;
17. And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder:
18. And Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphæus, and Thaddæus, and Simon the Canaanite,
19. And Judas Iscariot, which also betrayed him: and they went into an house.
20. And the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread.
This paragraph may be used as showing the beginnings of the Christian Ministry. (1) The Christian ministry is an organization; (2) the Christian ministry is divinely selected; (a) a warning to pretenders; (b) an encouragement to true servants; (c) a guarantee of adaptation and success. (3) The Christian ministry is invested with special powers. The work of the ministry is to heal and bless mankind. This work can be fully sustained only by close communion with him who gave the power. Jesus Christ does not give even to ministers power for more than the immediate occasion. They must renew their appeals day by day. To them as to all the Church applies the admonition—"Pray without ceasing."
Amongst the general remarks which may be made upon the subject are the following: (1) Some ministers are marked by special characteristics, as, for example, Peter and James and John. (2) Some ministers are more prominent than others. One or two of the names in this list are prominent and illustrious; others are comparatively obscure. (3) The principal fact to determine is not a question of fame, but a question of vocation; whom Christ has called to the ministry he will also award appropriate honour.
On the 19th verse, remark (1) the possibility of debasing a divine position; (2) the impossibility of detaching the stigma of unfaithfulness. The name of Judas will always be associated with the betrayal, and the name of Simon Peter will always bring to memory his denial of his Lord.
21. And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.
The abuses of friendship. (1) Friendship unable to follow the highest moods of the soul. (2) Friendship unable to see the spiritual meaning of outward circumstances. (3) Friendship seeking to interfere with spiritual usefulness. (4) Friendship seeking to reduce life to commonplace order. The sincere servant of Jesus Christ will take his law from the Master, and not from public opinion. The most complete detachment from worldly considerations and pursuits is necessary to sustain the soul when friendship itself becomes an assailant. The misinterpretation of our conduct by friendly critics often occasions the severest pain which is inflicted upon our spiritual life. The hand of enmity may be concealed within the glove of friendship.
22. And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils.
23. And he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan?
24. And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.
25. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.
26. And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end.
Christ now encounters open hostility in addition to friendly, though mischievous, remonstrance. A theory of explanation was proposed by the scribes. Christ's answer to that theory shows (1) that opinions of leading minds may be entirely fallacious; and (2) that common-sense often suggests the best answer to fanciful theories respecting the work of Christ. Christ's whole answer turned upon the common-sense of his position. He does not plead authority; nor does he plead exemption from the ordinary laws of thought and service; he simply puts in the plea of common-sense. This fact supplies the basis for a discourse upon the relations of common-sense to the Gospel. The Gospel may in this respect be likened to Jacob's ladder, the foot of which was upon the earth. The Gospel has its peculiar mysteries, and its light too brilliant for the naked eye; at the same time it has aspects and bearings admitting of the most vivid illustration and defence within the region accessible to all minds. On the other hand the paragraph shows (1) the binding power of religious prejudice; and (2) the utter recklessness of religious bigotry. With regard to the suggestion of the scribes it should be remembered (1) that bold theories are not necessarily true; and (2) that the espousal of untrue theories will end in the confusion and humiliation of the theorists.
27. No man can enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house.
Human life as affected by two different forces. (1) The strong enemy; (2) the strong friend. It is important to recognise the strength of the enemy, because it may be supposed that little or no effort is required to encounter his assaults. It should always be pointed out that Jesus Christ never speaks with hesitation as to the results of his repulse of the enemy. He never represents himself as clothed with more than sufficiency of power. In the text he is set forth as spoiling the strong man. It was prophesied that he should bruise the serpent's head.
Application: (1) Man must be under one or other of these forces,—the enemy or the friend. (2) Those who continue under the devil will share the ruin to which he is doomed. When Satan's head is bruised, all who are in his empire will be crushed.
28. Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme:
29. But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation:
30. Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit.
Tischendorf reads the twenty-ninth verse "in danger of the eternal sin." Two aspects of human probation: (1) the pardonable, (2) the unpardonable. (1) The pardonable, (a) Its great extent, "all sins," etc.; (b) the implied greatness of the divine mercy. (2) The unpardonable: (a) its intense spirituality; (b) its perfect reasonableness. To sin against the Spirit is to cut away the only foundation on which the sinner can stand. Christianity is the appeal of God's Spirit to man's spirit; men may sin against the letter, the form, the dogma, and yet be within the pale of forgiveness; but when they revile and defy the very Spirit of God, they cut themselves off from the current of divine communion.
31. There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him.
32. And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee.
33. And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren?
34. And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren.
35. For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.
(1) The spirituality of Christ's relationships. The kinship of the body is held subordinate to the kinship of the spirit. (2) The true bond of communion with Christ: (a) not merely natural; (b) not merely social. What is the true bond of communion with Christ? Obedience to God's will, (a) There is but one infallible will; (b) that will appeals for universal obedience,—"whosoever." (3) The privileges resulting from communion with Christ. (a) Intimate relationship,—mother, sister, brother; (b) social communion: this is the family idea.
Among the general inferences which may be drawn from this passage are the following: (1) If men are to obey the Divine will, a great change must pass upon their natural dispositions. (2) If our communion with Christ is spiritual, it will be eternal. (3) If all the good are Christ's kindred, they are the kindred of one another, and ought therefore to live in the spirit of brotherhood.
Almighty God, do thou take away the heart of unbelief, and put within us a believing spirit. Lord, we believe; help thou our unbelief. Thou canst do all things with him who believeth; all things are possible to him: but is not faith the gift of God? Lord, increase our faith. Thou knowest how we are beset by the senses, how we are limited and tempted and urged by a thousand influences which only thine own strength can resist: come to our aid, stand by our side. Christ, thou Son of God, thou wast in all points tempted like as we are; thou knowest our frame, thou rememberest that we are dust, and thou wilt not suffer us to be tempted with any temptation that cannot be overcome. Our hope is in God; our confidence is in the Cross; we fly unto the Son of God as unto an eternal refuge. Save us, keep us, protect us, in all the hours cf agony which make our life so deep a trouble. Thou knowest us altogether: the difficulties here and there, in the house, in the church, in the market, in the soul itself—that inner battlefield on which the great contests are urged and waged and finished. Lord, again and again we say, Come from thy Cross and save us; Christ, Thou Son of man, have mercy on us! Lead us into the knowledge of thy truth; give us such a love of thyself and thy purpose that all other influences and impulses shall be shut out from our life, or sanctified and regulated by thy presence. Thou knowest our downsitting and our uprising, our going out and our coming in; there is not a word upon our tongue, there is not a thought in our heart, but lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. This is our joy, and this is our terror; for wherein we would be right how blessed is thy smile; and wherein we would seek to deceive thee or evade thee, how awful is the penetration of thine eye. Regard us in all the relations of life, and make us strong in Christ and in his grace, hopeful because his kingdom is ever coming, and willing to work in the Lord's service, for in his labour there is rest. Help the good man to pray some bolder prayer; help the timid man to put out his soul in one act of faith; disappoint the bad man; when the cruel man is seeking his prey, let sudden darkness fall upon him and rest upon his eyes like a load. The Lord thus undertake for us, guide us, uphold us; give us wisdom, grace, purity, strength, and patience, and all the fruits of the Spirit. Let the Holy Ghost be our life, and light, and joy; quicken our spiritual discernment that we may see things that are not seen; so excite our highest sensibilities as to enable us to respond with instant and grateful love to all the appeals of thy truth. Thou alone canst renew human life, and establish it in everlasting blessedness. Truly thou workest in mystery, yet are the results of thy work beautiful and noble exceedingly. Thou hidest thyself in the chambers of our heart, so that none can see thee, and yet we know that thou art there by the flooding love which overflows our being, by the heavenward desires which stir our nature with blessed unrest, and by the lofty power with which we are enabled to do all the common work of life. Abide with us! When thou goest, our light is put out; when thou returnest, no shadow can be found upon us. In the light of thy mercy we see all our guilt; in the sweetness of thy love we feel the bitterness of our sin. Abide with us! By thy word we see the folly of our own wisdom; by thy Holy Spirit we know the wickedness of the devil. Abide with us! Where our sin abounds let thy grace much more abound. Shame us by the incessancy of thy love, rather than destroy us by thy great power. O loving One, patient, tender, abide with us! And to God who made us, and to God who redeemed us with an infinite price, to the Holy Ghost, the God who sanctifieth us, be the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, world without end. Amen.
But Jesus withdrew himself with his disciples to the sea: and a great multitude from Galilee followed him, and from Judaea,Christ's Relation to Great Multitudes
Why were these multitudes so urgent? Why was there any multitude at all? The man is simple, gracious, tender, sympathetic: why should there have been such a display of public interest in his ministry and action? He called his discourses "sayings," and he said they were his own—"these sayings of mine." Sometimes he spoke sharply, critically, with no mistake as to his moral purposes; the denunciation was explicit and tremendous; the beatitudes were tender, profound healing: why all this multitudinousness? We might have expected a few kindred hearts to follow such a ministry; but all the world went after him. There must be some explanation of this: what is that explanation? There are class preachers. We know the epithets which belong to them as of right; a superficial, transient, partly illegitimate right or claim; they are profound, polished, finished; exquisite, tasteful, brilliant, magnificent: but the world cares nothing about them, as a world—a grand, complete humanity. Those who do care for them care very much. The Gospel can fascinate classes; the Gospel can talk all languages, live in all climates, adapt itself to all circumstances; it can have an academy, it can go where people can neither read nor write; but the Gospel can do more than fascinate classes and sections of human nature. This is the explanation of Christ's ministry, in all its graciousness, in all its power of healing: he touched the universal heart. There was strength in Christ's teaching for everybody, for that everybody which is manhood. He did not speak to representatives, or recognise merely and exclusively aspects and phases of life; he poured his wisdom and his love into the heart of the world, and that heart knew him; if sometimes the testimony was reluctant, yet in the issue it was emphatic, fervent, overwhelming. There is a music which is for classes. We know the epithets which belong to that partial music; we know the illegitimate claims which are put in to understand it; we know the simulated intelligence with which the most consummate ignorance listens to it; it is classic music. Poor music! that it should ever be so debased as to accept an epithet. Music needs no qualifying terms. There is a music that belongs to the world; the moment it is uttered the world's heart answers it; it belongs to the child, the mother, the nurse, the shepherd on the mountains, the merchant in the city; the moment the right notes are uttered the whole world takes up those notes, and everywhere they are heard expressing emotions of the moment, or hinting at emotions deep as life, lasting as duration. So it is with the gospel of Jesus Christ. You can minimise it; you can found an academy with it; you can so speak it that nobody will either understand it or feel it; you can crucify the gospel as you crucified its Author. There is a witchery and influence that cannot be explained. You think you can unravel the mystery, and tell some brother man exactly how it is, and when you have completed your analysis you find you have simply mistaken the origin, and the drift, and the issue of your purpose.
What is, then, the influence that touches great multitudes? It is an influence which often disregards, we need not say despises, classes. Luther said, "I take no notice of the doctors who are present, of whom there may be twelve; I preach to the young men and maidens, and the poor, of whom there are two thousand." That was Christlike. When Jesus did turn to the classes it was with a look of denunciation; if any pity mingled with that denunciation it made but a painful irony. Scribes, Pharisees, rich, proud, selfish people; on all these he turned a face full of displeasure. He would not accept their patronage, he paid no attention either to their commendation or their flattery or their displeasure and repudiation; he was the Son of man,—in that title, in all its music, you have the explanation of these multitudes that followed him, and thronged him, and drew out of him all that he came to give the world. As a preacher you can have—that is to say, it lies within your power—the very selectest congregation that ever gathered. It lies within your power, sanctified by the Holy Ghost, to have the poor, and the young, and all kinds of men round about your pulpit, as thirsty men go where the fountain is, as hungry men flee with what strength is left to the house of bread. These multitudes are arguments. If they were mere mobs no heed need be paid to them. They are not mobs, they are illustrations, expositions; they tell on the human and needy side what Christ is telling on the divine and all-supplying side of this marvellous history. Men are not aware of all they are doing. To see men hastening to the house of prayer is, when properly understood and weighed, to see a new and exquisite aspect of Providence, to see a high and noble view of the human soul. Every man who so flies to the altar, hastes with the eagerness of hunger to God's house, condemns the world, in very deed tramples it under foot, and says by that very act of going into the sanctuary with a right purpose, The world cannot satisfy me: I pant for heaven as the hart panteth after the waterbrooks.
The great multitudes that thronged Christ were not to be regarded only in a statistical way. They are rather to be interpreted as expressing a universal interest because a universal need. No subject can draw and permanently hold such great multitudes as the Gospel. Why? Curiosity has its momentary crowd, but the reason is assignable, and intelligible, and sometimes despicable. Novelty of this kind or that has its transient success, but the Gospel has not only a momentary fascination, but an enduring influence and a growing power over all who come within the mystery of its touch. Look at a congregation gathered to see Christ, as revealed in his Word, and what a spectacle it is! All men are there, in type, in characteristic, in symbolic need, in representative energy; the old man is sure that there will be some word for grey hairs, and leaning on the top of his staff he waits for his portion of meat; and the little child is sure that there will be some bright sentence, some parabolical outline; maybe some pathetic story, briefly told, with the urgency of earnestness, not with the elaborateness of mere artistic gift and passion; the humblest soul says to itself, My word will come presently; this preacher never neglects the humble, untaught, but necessitous soul. Let him talk in his grandest sentences for a while, he will not forget the poor: I wait. Broken hearts come to Christ's congregation, or altar, or Cross, for healing. The sanctuary that ignores broken hearts ignores the Cross whose name it desecrates. The sanctuary was built for the broken heart; not for the strong, mighty, gay, rich, flourishing, domineering, but for the shattered and the contrite, the lonely and the sad, the self-convicted sinner who cries in the very silence of agony, "What must I do to be saved?" So long as men are conscious of sin, and conscious of the need of salvation, the multitude following Christ will be very large, yet it will increase in number, and in expectancy and urgency; its very attitude shall be a prayer, its earnestness shall be a prevailing plea. A marvellous spectacle is any Christian congregation. The difficulty of the preacher is that so few people recognise the diversity of the congregation, and make allowance for a ministry that would follow the scale of Christ's own method of meeting human need. The selfishness of the congregation is seen in that every individual himself wants all the service. He cannot have it. The Christlike preacher must follow the lines of Christ: how high he is now, and anon how low down, walking amidst our very feet, and looking at our footprints as if haply he might interpret them into some attitude or direction that would betoken the state of our spirit; how profound in simplicity, how generous in concession, how condescending in taking up a little child and hugging the dear creature, and how tremendous in rebuking the men who have the patronage of the dead ex cathedrâ.
Christ had the multitudes because he spoke to the multitudes. No subject can so deeply affect great multitudes as the Gospel. It develops our humanity; it reaches and strengthens the point of fellowship. This Gospel handles the matter of individuality very delicately, but very fully. For a time the man, individual, singular, is everything; he is talked to as if there were nobody else in the universe but himself and God; yet immediately he is put down, and made of the multitudes that constitute humanity; and then he feels himself in totally other and new and enlarging relations; his vanity is reproved, his self-sufficiency is rebuked, he feels that he needs a friend on the right hand, and the left, behind, before, and round about him: he realises God's conception of humanity. Out of that we have the Church, we have fellowship, the commonwealth, the interchange of relations, sympathies, and interests—that marvellous interaction which makes up society in its highest aspects. Hence we have had occasion to say in rebuke to some, that men cannot pray altogether and exclusively alone. Solitary prayer we must have. Secret communion is essential to the full development of the spiritual life; but there is a larger prayer, call it the common prayer, in which I may hear what my brother needs, and my brother may catch from my tones some hint of my sorrow and my necessity; and thus by commingling of supplication, and the common expression of desire, we realise the larger conception of prayer, and create an atmosphere favourable to the cultivation and the progress of our noblest life; "forsake not the assembling of yourselves together." Hence, too, we have had occasion to say that no man can read the Bible alone. The Bible is a public book. Whatever was meant for the world must be read by the world in one grand multitudinous voice, if all its music is to be elicited, if all its emphasis is to be delivered with the thunder that is worthy of such eloquence. Here is a verse for one soul, and there is an appeal addressed to the solitary heart, and if some other man were present to hear it part of the message would be lost. The Bible has its corners and sanctuaries and places into which individual souls can repair for special perusal of heaven's will; but taking the book as a whole it realises God's idea when it seizes the whole world, and makes every man hear in the tongue in which he was born the wonderful works of God. Every man has a tongue of his own—to speak of the English tongue is to speak vulgarly. The English tongue has to accommodate itself to every lip over which it falls; has to catch its accent from every tongue that uses it, and has to have suggestions which can only be imported into it by the unutterable meaning of the heart.
The Gospel thus affects great multitudes by dealing with fundamental questions. If we looked to the Gospel for aught else we should be mistaken and disappointed. The Gospel is not a riddle book; the Gospel is not a series of conundrums which nobody can answer but priests and preachers, ministers and officebearers: the Bible is the people's book, it belongs to the common humanity; men who can barely spell can draw out of it living water. If this Gospel were a mere exercise in grammar, then only grammarians could be saved. When we rebuke grammarians they do not understand us; but what did a grammarian ever understand? He says, We must have grammar. Certainly; we must have vessels to hold the water; but it is the water that quenches the thirst. The meaning is beyond the letter, not in any sense of despising the letter, but in the sense of having a meaning to convey which the most significant symbols fail adequately to typify. Hence Christ's need of the hereafter. The present time was too small for him; it caged and barred him; so he must needs often say:—Hereafter ye shall see: hereafter ye shall know: what thou knowest not now thou shalt know hereafter. Time would be a very small cage to live in if it had not a door somewhere in it that opened on eternity: thus we get content and rest and assurance of hope; we say, This time-day is not long enough for us, but it opens upon a day that never darkens into night. So the Gospel affects great multitudes variously and profoundly; teaching patience to some, giving hope to all, and blessing the soul with an assurance that by-and-by we shall know as we are known; see as we are seen, and have access into the wider spaces, yea, into the infinite liberties of God's eternal revelation, as a man might reveal himself face to face with a friend he loved.
No subject can so lastingly bless the multitude as the Gospel. It is not a sensation, an impression, it is in no sense a merely momentary feeling; it is a conviction, a persuasion, a regeneration, a new life. There are theories that are cheerful, vivacious almost to impertinence and insolence, when everything is quiet and bright and prosperous; but they have an ungrateful way of dropping off from the pilgrims' side when the road is very steep and the valley is very dark, or the wind is very cold. There are a thousand such theories lying dead at the mouth of the valley yonder; go and pick them up if you have peculiar taste for gathering things that are dead and never can be revived. They were lovely for a time, quite blooming little impertinences, with a smart way of talking, and a glib way of criticising the universe, and a haughty way of pronouncing upon all things, from trinities down to insects. They are lying yonder, dead, a thousand thick; go and make what you can of them. This Christ of God never leaves, never forsakes, the souls that put their trust in him; he is most when we need him most, tenderest when we are sick; and if a lamb is shorn he goes out to feel the wind before he lets the shorn lamb go out to full exposure. Gentle Jesus, gentle Shepherd, loving Lord, where we cannot understand the deity we can feel thy motherliness, and such motherliness means deity.
How did Christ exercise his influence? He never lowered his moral tone. He never made the Ten Commandments into nine, or took away three of them to accommodate some rich young ruler that was willing to bestow a very dignified patronage upon the kingdom of God. He never said, You must not strive after academic justice; it is well enough to hear ideal theorists talk about ideal righteousness, but you must do what you can, and above all things never make righteousness a discipline or a burden. No such speech did Christ ever teach to men; he said, Unless a man take up his cross he cannot come; except a man deny—not a habit or a custom, but—himself, he cannot be my disciple. Suicide begins regeneration. We have now an adaptable morality. We are tempted to say to the erring public, Dear friends, what do you want? Jesus Christ never talked so to the multitude. He spake the Commandment, he delivered himself as a king; he commanded, he uttered the decree; yet when he came to deal with men how gracious he was, and meek and gentle, but always making his gentleness the conductor of his righteousness. His pity never conducted men past the law in any evasive sense; rather did that pity mysteriously fulfil the law, and show that where there is no mercy there can be no justice. Never did Jesus Christ use his influence with the multitudes to promote selfish objects. He came to bless men, to save men, to do men good on every hand; he did "great things" according to this chapter,—"A great multitude, when they had heard what great things he did, came unto him." Whatever he did was great. The great man makes great occasions. Even the simplest sayings of Christ root themselves in his deity. There are sentences we think we can understand, but when we come into close quarters with them we find they go back syllable by syllable, up, up to the eternal throne. There is no simplicity in Christ that can be interpreted as meaning mere shallowness. Never did Jesus Christ do anything that was not in the heart of it great; when he did it, it might look easy enough, but it was the King that did it. The heavens look well shaped, but it was not man's clumsy hand that rounded the sky; the stars are all peaceable as if they were filled with a spirit of content. How serene they are in their brightness! It looks quite easy to make these stars; yet it was God that made them, and Omnipotence makes all things easy; but who, God only excepted, has omnipotence? When his popularity rolled through the land, and when the people came to be healed, and pressed upon him to be touched; when men afflicted with plagues and unclean spirits came before him, and cried out, "Thou art the Son of God," he said, I do not want you to preach my doctrine. For reasons we cannot understand, Christ might forbid even the saintliest men to anticipate some of his revelations; but by an accommodation that could well vindicate itself we may learn from such prohibitions as are given in this chapter that Christ will not be revealed by unclean spirits. He says in effect, Do not talk about my divine sonship, do not reveal my deity; it is not for your lips to use holy words. The bad man cannot reveal the Son of God; the hollow-hearted, self-seeking preacher cannot preach Christ's Gospel; he may preach about it, but he cannot deliver the message that whosoever will may come and be saved, and the chief of sinners is the chief guest at Christ's love-table, at Christ's redeeming Cross.
A message of this kind should be uttered with the tears of the heart, with the very agony of love, with a self-prostration which men cannot understand, but which adds ineffable value to every message that is delivered. If we would reveal the deity of Christ we must ourselves be divine men, in the sense of being pure of heart, lofty and incorruptible in purpose, unselfish in spirit, marked through and through, all over, not with the image, but with the meaning of the Cross. Do I speak to some man who has no multitude to talk to? I would not discourage him. Sometimes one man is a multitude. Do not be victimised by merely statistical lines and numbers. If Christ will come where there are two or three gathered together in his name we ought not to be ashamed to make such a convocation a great occasion. What Christ accepts surely it does not lie within our right to despise or reject. On the other hand, let us be careful lest we make the Gospel a message to a class, lest we be damned by respectability. Our message is to the whole world, and wherever there is a multitude that multitude belongs to the humblest minister amongst us. The preacher does not rule, so to say, morally and influentially over his own numerable congregation; the humblest preacher that preaches Christ is in a sense the preacher to the greatest multitude that ever assembled. Let us hold not only the unity of the faith, but consequently the unity of the Church.