The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat.Chapter 49
Almighty God, thou hast made all things good for us, and thou hast issued to our hearts a great welcome, broad as all thy love. Thou hast called to those who are hungry and thirsty, thou dost give them chief places in thine house that they may eat and drink abundantly and forget all their pain and weariness. Great voices of hospitality fall from the heavens upon our weary life: when there is no door into which we can enter upon the earth, thou dost call us upward to thyself and offer us wide liberty and continual joy. Thou hast made all things beautiful for man: for him thou dost enkindle the fires and light the flames of glory, and for him thou dost make the earth bring forth abundantly everything that could nourish his strength and delight his taste. What is man that thou art mindful of him, or the son of man that thou dost visit him? Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, thou crownest him with glory and honour, thou hast put all things under his feet, thou dost live thine own life over again in this mystery of human pain.
We are now in thy chosen house, where thy book is read in our mother-tongue, and where is the holy altar sprinkled with the blood of the heart of Christ, even the great cross itself, whose root is in the earth and whose head is in thy heavens. Whilst we are here we will bless thee with loud psalm and sweet hymn and anthems of rapturous joy, because it is here that thy broadest revelations brighten before us and thy tenderest grace heals our heart with infinite comfort. This is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven: here the angels come lo speak of the risen one, and here our tears are dried as we hear the voice from heaven saying, "He is not here, he is risen." May we all rise in Christ, may we know not only the fellowship of his sufferings, but also the power of his resurrection; may we live in his life, endure throughout his eternity, and at all times enjoy the light of his countenance, which is life, and the spirit of his benediction, which is peace.
We thank thee for the language of prayer, which once we could not utter: it was a foreign tongue, we knew not the mystery of the sacred speech: when we endeavoured to speak it, the words fell dead from our unwilling lips, but today we have returned to the shepherd and bishop of our souls, and our heart's desire, expressing itself in many words, rises up to heaven in prayer, supplication, thanksgiving, and adoration, because in the Lord we have all we need.
Thou dost lead us to thine house by various ways, Some have come from the dark chamber that they may refresh their eyes with light from heaven, the light of the morning, the light of the better land, that being so refreshed, they may return to the house of affliction and mourning with messages delivered to them from heaven by God's own angels. Some have come from homes of wealth, and delight and every comfort, and still they are here to confess that in thine house is a blessing not to be found otherwhere: they have come for the child's portion, they have come to claim their inheritance in Christ, to make common prayer and join in common song and enjoy the hospitality provided for the commonwealth of the Church. Some are old and withered—they can see now the end, and turning round they can measure the whole span of life, and see what shape it bears and what accent it carries and what is the meaning of it all, as they say, "Few and evil have been the days of thy servant." Lord, whilst yet the light lingers in the western sky, speak some new message, comfort them with some unheard-of solace, reveal to them some hidden beauty of the infinite Christ, and give them joy: may their last utterance be a song of heaven!
Regard the young, the inexperienced and speculative, the hopeful and those who are in danger from their great sanguineness, not knowing how thickly the ground is sown with danger, and how skilfully the trap and gin and snare is laid by hands that are skilled and cruel. The Lord give guidance unto such, keenness of vision, that sympathy with the right which is as a new conscience, a high and gracious sympathy, which is as insight which shall save the young from many a danger.
As for those who are hard of heart, do thou break them with thine own hammer. Thou wilt not grind them to powder, but thou wilt take out of them the heart of stone and put within them the heart of flesh.
Help us to live more and more in Christ, that we may live more and more for Christ. Give us deeper understanding of the mysteries of his kingdom; give us clearer insight into his wonderful words, which stretch themselves across all ages, and utter the speech and the accent of every man. The Lord help us to live out the little remainder of our days with a gracious purpose; help us to illustrate the nobleness of Christian heroism; enable us in all things, in body and in soul, to glorify Christ, lo whom we owe our life, and at the last may our sin be forgotten in thine infinite grace. Amen.
1. At that time Jesus went on the Sabbath day (the first after the Passover) through the corn; and his disciples were an hungered, and began to pluck the ears of corn (allowed in Deuteronomy 23:25), and to eat.
2. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the Sabbath day.
3. But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungered, and they that were with him;
4. How he entered into the house of God (the tabernacle at Nob), and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?
5. Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the Sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? ("There is no Sabbath in the temple:" Rabbinical maxim).
6. But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple (a greater thing than the temple is here).
7. But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.
8. For the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath day.
9. And when he was departed thence, he went into their synagogue:
10. And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath days? that they might accuse him.
11. And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the Sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?
12. How much, then, is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the Sabbath days.
13. Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth: and it was restored whole, like as the other.
Jesus Christ treated the Jewish Sabbath in what the Pharisees thought was a rough manner. In their sense of the term he never kept the Sabbath at all. This was a continual subject of controversy between them: perhaps no subject of a special kind occupies in its treatment so large a space as this subject of Sabbath observance, as between the Pharisees and Jesus Christ. The fact was that Jesus Christ was going to establish a Sabbath of his own, and he began to indicate its character by putting the new wine into the old Sabbath bottle and thus breaking it. In due time he would prepare a new bottle for the new wine, and thus both would be preserved.
We learn from the incidents reported in this chapter how Jesus Christ wished to have the Sabbath regarded. In the first place, that which was necessary was to override that which was ceremonial. This was shown in the case of David. Hunger has no ceremonial law: where life is in danger ceremony must go away. There was a kind of bread, as we have just seen, which the priests only got to eat. It was called the shewbread. The law distinctly said that it was for the priests alone. Yet when David and his followers were seized with the pains of hunger he broke the law in the letter, and yet kept the law in the spirit. Always be sure what law it is you are talking about: whether it is the little law, the incidental and temporary law, the law ceremonial, or the all-including law of which these are but parts or transient phases. In the case of David and the people who followed him, you have a necessity of a severe kind.
In the next place there was a necessity of a ceremonial sort by which the priests in the Temple profaned the Sabbath and were blameless. Fires were to be lighted, sacrifices were to be slain, the whole Temple service was to be set in order and carried out. Without such labour the service would have been impossible, yet the priests performed the labour and were blameless. They broke the Sabbath in the letter, they kept it in the spirit: they did that which was forbidden to be done, and yet, because it was necessary to be accomplished, there was no blameworthiness in their profanation of the day.
Thus, again, you must distinguish between laws. Always remember that one law belongs to another, and the highest law of life known amongst us is the law that man must be preserved. Man's highest interests must be consulted and secured. The law of necessity is above all laws of ceremony: the law of life determines the law of arrangement. Well, this simplifies the whole Sabbath question, if rightly accepted and applied. There are certain necessities which settle everything: what these necessities are must be left to the individual conscience to settle: do not attempt to draw time bills and regulation rules and schedules of observance—all that is mechanical, and possibly all that is nothing but silly childishness. Life cannot be codified, inspiration is better than regulation: if we have the right spirit, we can easily decide the right action. You will never determine a question of this kind by approaching it mechanically, with weights and scales and tapes and standards and measures of various kinds. It is a question which belongs to the spirit, to the inner sanctuary, to the noblest consciousness of humanity.
This is the whole pith and burden of Christ's meaning. The Pharisees broke the Sabbath in the very act of keeping it, so others may keep the Sabbath in the very act of breaking it. Again and again I would say, do not attempt to settle this question by little rules; you can only settle it in so far as you have the spirit of the Lord. I want to know how Christ treated the day; I will draw the whole of my inferences from this spirit, words and conduct. As a Christian preacher and student I have not to consider whether I will have a Sabbath or not, I am bound in this, as in all other things, to study Christ, and by that study I will abide.
Jesus Christ lays down the sovereign law, "I will have mercy and not sacrifice; I will have the substance, not the shadow; I will have the heart's love, and not the hands' reluctant service. This spirit would settle everything in the broadest and divinest manner, and would so operate as to commend itself to both master and servant, to both leader and follower. In this spirit we should never have to see how much would be done on the Sabbath day, but how little. Something must be done; David's hunger falls upon us, and the priests' necessities follow the Temple throughout the whole history of time. All work cannot be suspended: God suspends none of his own operations on Sunday; the sun shines, the river flows, the bird sings, the fruit ripens on Sunday as on Saturday, and yet he rested on the seventh day and blessed it. This is not a reading of the letter, but a reading of the spirit: the rest is in the soul; I can do all my labour of the week in one sense, where necessity compels it, and yet I can do it as if I were not doing it. It is another work when I do it under different conditions. I have to pursue much of my daily home-life just on Sunday as on Saturday, and yet I do it in no Saturday spirit, but with a new inspiration, broader meaning, tenderer love, and I lift up the action into a new atmosphere, and upon all the breadth of its face there shines the light of a new intent. The work done is not labour, it is done in the spirit of the day, and therefore the work itself becomes real and sacred rest.
Do not consult the mechanician as to how the Sabbath is to be kept, nor the precisian, nor the purist, nor the man who lives in the mere letter, and within the space, four square, of an arithmetical table. On the Sabbath day the blind must be lifted, the bed must be made, the table must be spread, the fire must be lighted, as on every other day, and yet quite differently. When I open my shutter on the Sunday I open it to take in a stranger with a known face, a visitor from heaven, a messenger with gospels on his lips. When I light my Sunday fire it does not crackle and smoke like a Saturday flame; it preaches to me—there is a sacred glow upon my face as I light it, and my heart is full of a new ardour, and I forget the toil in the sacrifice.
You cannot keep the Sabbath by precisian rules. If I am ill I must have the doctor; if he is in church he must come out. Life rules your little laws. One greater than the Temple is in it; the Temple is but the shadow, robe, type, symbol, and he represents all the higher laws that gather up within their operation all human necessities and conditions, and determine everything. The ships must go on Sundays; and yet there is Sunday on the sea, the spirit of rest gets hold of the great ship in the middle of the waves; and it is possible, with the splash of the waters around you, and the throb of the great fire-power stunning your ear, to be in church, nearly in heaven—a little speck upon the foam, and yet throwing out some little tendrils or fingers, to lay hold of the upper and better side of things. The city must be kept on Sunday, it must be watched; the law must be abroad, all your institutions that are to be healthy and lasting must be based upon broad foundations, and not upon a point here and an incident yonder.
What this means you will know better in your heart than can ever be explained in words. The kitchen must be opened on the Sunday as well as the parlour, and all necessary things must be done by horse and dog and man, and yet they may be so done as to have in them all the divine music. This is not to be set forth in sentences that cannot be taken to pieces by critics, but those sentences may help to teach the deeper meanings which lie far down in the honest heart. When men combine to secularise the Sabbath and to make it of set purpose as common as any other day in the week, they become as great ceremonialists as the old Pharisees were; they are secular Pharisees, and they meet their old brethren at the other end of the line. There is a ceremonialism of destruction as well as a ceremonialism of preservation. In both cases the divine meaning may be lost. In pretending to do good the anti-Sabbatarians really do harm: they operate upon a onesided view of the case, and all infidelity and non-Christianity does the same thing. I never met a non-Christian argument that did not treat life as if it were a straight line; it failed in perspective, in comprehensiveness, in that wholeness, that entirety of grasp and view, which alone can deal with the comic-tragedy and tragic-comedy of this mixed and self-colliding life.
Our human education does not lie upon any one side of our nature: it is a complex process, and I have met with no religion that goes round and round the whole case with amplitude of seizure and sympathy but the religion of Jesus Christ. Those who would secularise the Sunday degrade the day as a certainty from a religious point of view, but there is no certainty that having degraded it at one end they can elevate it at the other, namely, on the side of the people for whom they have degraded the institution. There is a certain degradation at the one end, and not a certain elevation at the other; therefore the ways of the secularists in this matter are not equal. In my opinion they should begin at the other end by elevating the people and enlarging and purifying their conceptions of sacred and noble institutions. The Sabbath is an older institution than any picture-gallery or museum that I know anything about, and if any men are anxious that the working classes should have an opportunity of seeing pictures, monuments, and curiosities, let them cut a day out of their own time, and not steal a day which has another seal upon it. If you are in awful agonies of desire that your working men should see pictures, shut up your warehouse half a day, and let them see them at your expense. If it really takes away your sleep that somebody cannot see a museum, then do you arrange for their seeing it without any loss on their part. There is a cheap generosity: the generosity of those who would secularise the day on these grounds degrades the day without certainly elevating the people. It is as if men should say: "Let us put an end to poverty by altering the law of property. That is a short and easy method of dealing with the pauperism and the whole necessity of the country. Here we have certain persons called merchants, capitalists, millionaires, and here are certain other persons without possessions of any kind: let us abolish the law of property, and raise the pauper and thriftless class by dividing the money of the wealthy, and thus making all men equal." One wonders that such an idea never struck anybody before, it is so clear, so simple, and so admirable—for those who have nothing. Let us make every day alike, you know. Why are you not faithful, to your own logic? Why are you not consistent with your own principles?
Now God, who gave us all our time, has laid his hand upon one day and called it his. On that day we are asked to think of him, commune with him, and rest in him. We must not steal the day; we ought not to deface it. Works of necessity must be done, and, so done, are blameless; if we want to give men more time for recreation or sight-seeing let us give them some of our own time, and do not let us rob God. I believe that great improvements are possible in the way of rearrangement of our times of labour; I believe that all men who labour should have equal rest and recreation and enjoyment. I am not addressing myself to that side of the question now; I am only seeking to point out that even things desirable in themselves may sometimes be secured at too great a cost, and may sometimes besought in a wrong light and under the inspiration of a false principle.
But Christ says the Sabbath was made for man. Precisely; and therefore man should take care of it. A false argument is often set up on this expression, as if man could do what he pleased with the Sabbath. The Sabbath was made for man, but was not made for man to destroy. The earth was made for man, but not for him to neglect or desecrate. The very expression itself is a proof of the sacredness of the day. It is not said that Monday was made for man. A special meaning attaches to this gift of time; it is holy, it is a piece cut out, it is a sanctuary, it is a resting-place on the journey of life, it was made for man, it was set apart for man, it is God's gift to man, it is a hint and type of heaven. I should therefore be very careful how I touched its sacredness.
There may be special cases in which the Sabbath may be profaned and the profaners may be blameless. If any man should stand up here and say, "I can get nearer heaven when I muse alone in the field or in the forest than when I attend any Church," I am not going to call that man of necessity a Sabbath-breaker or a profane person: I do not believe in his reasoning purely as logic, I do not believe in the facts of the case as entitling me to generalise so as to include the whole population of the land: I would make special arrangements for such special cases, I would judge individual cases with the largest charity; but my own feeling is this, that no man who uses the Church as the Church ought to be used can find anywhere an influence that ought to admit of a competitive position for one moment, when the Church services are rightly conducted, in their music, in their devotion, in their pulpit instruction: when the revelation of God is treated in all its firmamental breadth and all its solar lustrousness there will be no place on all the green earth so attractive and so grand as the house of God.
We may have to begin by enlarging our definitions of that very name. It is possible that we may have to rearrange our whole method of observing the Sabbath within the sacred walls. I am not set upon any form of observing it in any Church: I hold myself open to inspiration from heaven, to guidance and suggestion from good men and experience: and it does appear to me perfectly possible that we may have to enlarge our conception of the divine service in the divine house. But if there is any meaning in the words, "Day of God, House of God, service Divine," the Church ought to be able to look down upon all competition with a dignity that need not be contemptuous because of its superlative and unquestionable grandeur.
I do not wonder at people running away from certain kinds of service; I do not wonder at any patch of green being a more favourite spot than the places where certain methods prevail of conducting the service in the sanctuary. I have attended services which have done me great harm, and if the service was limited to what this or that man has done or said I would never enter the place again with any hope of being edified or blessed. I have had to exclude the external and shut myself up with God himself, or I should have been lowered and narrowed and vitiated by things pronounced without the spirit of the Sabbath animating their utterance or lifting them up into the region of music.
On both sides of the subject there are great difficulties and great differences, and when it is said the Sabbath was made for man it was meant for man to keep and not for man to throw away. Professor Tyndall says, in a really beautiful document, written in the most tuneful English, that he would like to see tramways from slums and back places of the city out into the green fields on Sundays. Very good, Professor Tyndall, we will lay tramways, and you shall drive the cars. So many persons propose these grand arrangements who also propose to be passengers themselves. I have never known any article-writers propose to be drivers.
The Professor says that a rigid Sabbatarianism has been tested and has resulted in ghastly failure. I do not propose a rigid Sabbatarianism: I know nothing of mechanical rigidities in God's house and God's service. When a man talks about a rigid Sabbatarianism he changes the ground of controversy and changes the issue of the argument. I am speaking of a day of rest, a day of joy, a day of fellowship with God. But the Professor must be just, and allow us to say, on the other hand, that we have seen a lax Sabbatarianism tested, and the results have appeared to us to be hideous failures. I know of no sight abroad that has distressed me more than a week without a Sabbath. I would avoid narrow-mindedness as I would avoid offence against God and against man, but speaking with my present information and under the influence of what I believe to be a good feeling, I would pray God that England might be saved from what is known as a Continental Sunday.
The people who quote the expression "The Sabbath was made for man" forget the further expression, "The Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath day." The servant, then, should consult the Lord if he would know how the Lord's gifts are to be enjoyed. What would Christ have us do on this day? What value does Christ set upon the day? When it is called the Lord's Day, what is the meaning of the expression? If any man find it hard to spend one day with Christ let him eke out his day with green fields and silvery streams, and tuneful woodlands, and all the other enjoyments of nature. To me the day is too short: I would the sanctuary could be opened with the dawn and closed with the midnight bell. What is the day meant to be? A day of joy. This is the day the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. It is resurrection day; its morning opens with visions of angels, with empty tombs, with risen lives and sweet comfortings of peace. It is the day on which the seed brings forth sixty and a hundredfold; the heart sees widening heavens, and hears supernal music, and responds to new calls of duty, and hears a voice ruling the tumult of time and hushing the wild uproar of all passion. To-day the heart drinks wine with Christ, today the banqueting-hall is open and the hungry are called to great feasting. Never was this intended to be a day of gloom, of long faces, of dejected aspect and afflictive memories. Yes, some so-called Sabbatarians have injured the day, have degraded its meaning; they have narrowed its benevolent purpose, they have assumed a solemnity they did not feel, and they have lost the naturalness of their voice in a whining cant as offensive to God as it is objectionable to man, To me the day is full of joy, a great golden day, wanting only in one thing, and that is in duration—so short, a flash and gone. If ever we may be glad even to passionateness of joy it is on this day, with its resurrection light and its triumphant Lord.
We are sometimes asked if it is not better to go to a picture-gallery than to a public-house. There is no meaning or pith in the question; we are not shut up to that alternative. The question does not narrow itself into picture-gallery or public-house; if it did so we could settle it in a moment. Certainly to the picture-gallery and remain there all day. Beware of the sophistical inquiry whether it is not better to do this than to do that; no greater argument rests upon such narrow alternatives. It is better to steal wheat than to steal nettles, it is better to steal oil-paintings than to steal photographs, it is better to tell lies for a thousand a year than to tell lies for a hundred a year—but this is not the question, this is a sophist's inquiry. The question is, What is right? what is good? what is God's law? what is best for the human family at large? The question can have no difficulty as to the true value and purpose of the Sabbath. Christ gave the Church his laws, and I should wish to keep my Sabbath just as Jesus kept his. My distinct view is that instead of having too much time for religious service and instruction we have too little. Rather than destroy one Sabbath I would create two. The rest is always profitable. You do not rest half enough, you men of business. Napoleon truly said that no man could long work for seven days in the week. Religious rest is indispensable. He is the true benefactor of England who holds to the sanctity of the Sabbath, and makes that sanctity not a miserable gloom, but a radiant and grateful joy.
Notes on the Sabbath
1. I do not believe that the Jewish Sabbath is binding on Christians but believe that the Creational idea of the Sabbath is unchangeable.
2. By the Creational Sabbath I mean the seventh-day rest. When, in this discourse, I speak of stealing God's time I mean stealing the seventh day of rest, be it Sunday or Saturday, Monday or Thursday.
3. Christians can have no doubt as to choice of day. That is determined for them. They want no other. It is Resurrection day. They would as soon change a birthday as change the Lord's Day.
4. The Sabbath controversy can never be settled by references to Judaism, or by references to anything of the nature of mere usage, apostolic or patristic. It is the heart that remembers the elect day, and it is the heart alone that can "keep" it. Christian obedience is a sacrifice of love and joy, without one particle of mere legalism, or one link of bondage. We cannot keep the Sabbath because we are commanded to do it, but because we long for it with all the eager expectancy of love.
5. What wonder if Christians are unwilling even to appear to de-sanctify the day? I do not use the strong word "desecrate," for it is not the intention of many free-Sabbatarians to do anything so violent. Christians have what to them are the tenderest reasons for preserving and hallowing the day of Christ; not only have they an argument, they have also an emotion to direct their policy. Even if their logic could be answered, their sentiment would be indestructible.
6. I believe it would be perfectly possible to open museums and galleries of art on Sunday without doing injury of a social kind in thousands of instances. But Christians as such, who really reverence the day because of its distinctively Christian memories, can never promote such opening. As citizens and as reformers of some kinds of social abuses, they may not hinder the introduction of any healthy competition as against taverns and places of dissipation, but as Christians they can never consent to fall below the level of the day's one great meaning—the triumph and the joy of their Lord's Resurrection.
But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.Chapter 50
Almighty God, thou hast set us here a little while, and thou hast required great things at our hands. Is not thy demand upon us a proof of the divinity that is within us, and of the great capacity with which thou hast endowed and blessed our life? Surely thou wouldst not gather grapes of thorns: thou hast planted us a goodly vine, and thou dost look that we should bring forth good grapes. Teach us to find in ourselves what thou wouldst find in us; thus may we answer the divine demand, and with all diligence and faithfulness of industry do those things to which thou hast called us, and act with a loyal spirit in all the engagements and endurances of time. We bless thee that now and again we obtain some glimpses of our true selves, and we trace our ancestry back to thine own hand, thou Mighty One, for there is in us a stirring of divinity, and there is within us a yearning which all thy heavens fail to satisfy and which thyself alone canst bless with sweet content. Enable us at all times to realise our sonship, to claim our inheritance, to walk worthy of our origin and of our destiny. These things we know through Jesus Christ our Saviour: he only hath brought life and immortality to light in the gospel: he called us with a great calling and clothed us with a great power—he is our Priest, and he. will make our prayer prevail; he is our Redeemer, so we will draw our right hand from our own protection; he is our atonement and our sacrifice, so will we hide our sin in his infinite grace.
We bless thee for all the kindness which has made the week rich: thou hast kept our eyes from tears, our feet from falling, and our soul from death. Thou hast watched the return of our hunger, and thou hast anticipated with satisfaction the pain of its demand. Thou hast made our bed in our affliction. Thou hast comforted us with all healing solaces. Thou hast touched our tears, and they have been filled with light, and in all things thou hast been unto us sweeter than honey, yea, sweeter than the honeycomb. So have we come to thine house with a multitude of hymns and many psalms and desires after thee, keen as the passion of love and resolved as the determination of the whole heart. Thou wilt not disappoint us; thou hast no rude answer to those who pray to thee from the shadow of the Cross; thine answers are plentiful in love, and gracious and condescending and all pitiful, and in the look of thine eye is there hope for mankind, as in every tone of thy voice there is a gospel for the trusting and penitent heart. What shall we render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards us? We have nothing of our own to give; the flowers of the field were thine before they were ours; we are not our own, we ourselves are bought with a price, so we have nothing to give thee, on thine altar we can lay no sacrifice that is primarily our own—what then shall we render to the Lord for all his benefits towards us? We can only take of the offered cup, and find in it salvation; standing with it in our hand before thee we must call upon the name of the Lord.
We bless thee for the revelation of thyself which we find in Jesus Christ; though we cannot understand one word of it, yet it is music without words, it is tenderness without expression that we can comprehend. Thou dost tell us in thy Book that God is love, but what love is thou dost not tell us. Behold the explanation is a mystery, and the answer a difficulty. God is light, but we know not what light is, so how can we tell what God is? Behold, to these words there is no explanation, they are not equal words, we are lost in them, and yet we feel borne up by them as by subtle and infinite strength.
Enable us to read thy word again and again in the light of every day, that at last we may come to have somewhat of the music breathing in our souls, and giving us the order and command of life. Wondrous word, never to be explained, always to be as a sun that may not be looked at too closely, and yet always as a sun giving the light in which alone we can safely walk.
Give unto us all we need, we humbly pray thee, especially that pureness of heart, that modesty of mind which can see God and follow him in all the darkness of his way. Strip us of everything that intercepts our view of thy providence, blind us to every fascination but the attraction of thine own wisdom, love, purity, and grace; give us full satisfaction of the presence of Christ in the soul without explanation, an eternal mystery, yet an eternal joy. Thou hast set us in a circle of mysteries: we are mysteries to ourselves, the light is a mystery, and every season of the year, and every outgoing of the heart, the throb of every impulse and the passion of every desire—to these we have no answers, we are smitten with daily amazement, and our amazement brings us into the spirit and posture of prayer. Gladden us for a little while, for the clouds are often thick; help us up the hill, for it is steep beyond the power of our climbing; give us answers to some of the riddles that vex our daily inquiry, lest we be discouraged and fall a prey to impious dejection. Give us lifting up in the day of trouble; when life is narrowed into a point or becomes but one great cloud, then speak to us as we fear to enter into the darkness, and let a voice from heaven call us to hope and confidence and joy. Bless the stranger within our gates today, and give him to feel that he is in his Father's house and therefore is no stranger here. Speak to the desolate heart and bring back some memory that shall be precious as a light of hope. Take up every little child in thine arms, thou lover of children, bless each with the kiss of thine affection and the seal of thy care, and return each to the father and the mother, anointed with the unction from on high.
Speak to our sick ones and they shall be sick no more: though the body itself have written upon it the condemnation of death, there shall be resurrection in the soul and life immortal in the heart. Speak to the wayward one, the hard-hearted, those who are set against thee in cruel obstinacy, breathe thy gospel upon such. O, thou who hast the all-melting fire, do thou bring to tears and to contrition those who have hardened themselves against thee.
Pity our infirmity, and call it a cloud: pity our sin and call it a thick cloud, and cast our sin behind thee as a cloud and our transgression as a thick cloud, thou God of the Cross, of the atoning blood, of the uplifted Lamb, of the eternal, the infinite Sacrifice. Amen.
Mighty Words and Mighty Judgments
"Then the Pharisees went out and held a council against him, how they might destroy him," because he had broken the Sabbath day. The penalty would seem too much, but it is the way with passionate men that they should overleap themselves, and show by the severity of their penalties some sign of the errors of their own supposed piety. You will generally find that a man's condemnation of other people is meant to be a recommendation of himself. Study this law of social penalties, and you will be amazed, I think, to find how constantly it operates in this direction. A man severely condemns this or that offence on the part of his fellow-creatures. Is it a really honest judgment upon the offence or the sin? Is it not oftentimes a backhanded compliment to himself, as who should say, "What a virtuous man I am: how my indignation burns like an oven against such offences. Trust me, I am judge and purist and honourable man?"
The Pharisees sought to destroy Christ because he had broken the Sabbath day. This was the exaggeration of piety—a piety that, by its own exaggeration, broke itself, and became impiety, so that extremes met. But what could you expect from men who actually wrote in plain letters this doctrine, that to eat with unwashen hands was more criminal than homicide? That to eat with unwashen hands, let me explain to the children, was worse than to kill a man. It is thus that good doing falls into Pharisaical impiety when it is left without a divine and living centre; this is what we come to in the absence of a legitimate and adequate authority: our morality becomes offensive; we rearrange it: we put it in new lights, and place it at new angles, and we make experiments of it, and we run it through all the gamut of our own imagination, until at last it becomes the wildest farce, the most consummate and intolerable nuisance. We want a standard authority, a court of appeal, a law that says, "Thou shalt and thou shalt not," and a spirit which interprets that law with all the breadth of poetry, and yet with all the clearness and narrowness of the highest rectitude. This law and this spirit we find in him only who is the Son of man.
"But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence." This was the true courage; it was no use opposing physical force to physical force. The man whose life is founded upon a great plan does not live by mere surprises, nor does he trust to what is called the fool's Bible, namely, the chapter of accidents. He removes the occasion; he will not even lead his enemies into temptation; he can always get out of the way. No man could hide himself so impenetrably as Jesus Christ, no man could look so dumb. He looked at Herod until Herod was glad to call in a score of servants to keep him company. No man could be so silent as Christ, could withdraw himself to such infinite distances as Christ, even whilst he stayed and looked at you. He frightened Pilate like a ghost leering out of the darkness.
This was part of the wisdom of Christ, that he should not bring his enemies into temptation to kill him. He kept back force by that subtlest and mightiest of all forces, true prudence. Force, thou fool, is not in thy fist; that is the meanest of weapons; it is in wisdom, compassion, abstention from violence, in the negativeness that simply withdraws and calmly awaits.
Yet Jesus Christ could not withdraw alone under such circumstances. "Great multitudes followed him." The multitudinous heart knew Christ, the sectarian heart hated him. Which is yours—which is mine—the heart that would slay him because of his violation of a rule, or the heart that would trust him because of the pain of a great necessity?
"But Jesus Christ was so distressed with his official reception, or reception by the official mind, that he paid no heed to the multitudes, fell into a great gloom—his lips were shut up in stubborn silence, and his hand, that had never been put out but to bless, fell in paralysis at his side." The story might well have read so, but it reads wholly different. "He healed them all." But there was a council whispering away yonder in the city, and the meaning of the whisper was the death of this healing Man. He nevertheless kept on with his healing. Let that be your policy and mine; if men hate us, let us heal all who come lovingly within our influence. Beware of the evil influences of mere disgust. Never be disgusted. Look at the work, and not at the difficulties of the way; look at the Master, and not at the provocations given you by many of his servants—have the end in view. Jesus Christ endured the cross, despising the shame, looking onward to the glory that was to come. This is the secret of steady, continuous, and divine work. Little natures fly off on little excuses. Little natures gather up all the provocations that have been launched against them until they become one great agony which the mind can no longer bear. Jesus Christ kept on healing the multitudes, though councils gathered against him, and officers of the Church made it their one business to shed his blood. Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be the fellow of God, but emptied himself and became a servant and obedient—obedient unto the death of the cross.
"And charged them that they should not make him known," that a great prophecy might be fulfilled. Jesus Christ did not want to be made known through his miracles only; it was a poor thing to be known as the chief of magicians, which he might have been mistaken for by those who had not the true reading of the signs and wonders which he came to perform. He knew that they would take the narrow view, they would read the lines upon the surface, they would not hear the inner music nor see the inner light, nor feel the inner pathos; they would talk about miracles and wonders and startling signs, and thus would feed their curiosity, and pay no attention to the deeper hunger of the heart.
Jesus Christ never made much of his miracles, except in an introductory and illuminative sense. He never wished to be known through his miracles. You cannot point to an instance in which he said, "This miracle is enough to astound the world and bring it to a spiritual conviction regarding my Messiahship." If ever he referred to them it was to satisfy vulgar curiosity, and not to satisfy a deep spiritual instinct. Now and again he had to point to his miracles, but it cost him something to stoop to such condescension as to indicate the mere issues of his power. His friends were always tempting him in this direction. They took the low, vulgar, and narrow view, which we are all inclined to take of great souls. We wonder how they do not do more; we could show them how to come more boldly out, and to take the age so as to incite in it a profounder amazement and a keener surprise. We know what to do, though these great souls know it not themselves. So Jesus Christ's friends came round about him once and said, "If thou do these things show thyself to the world." That is the vulgar Christianity of this day, not seeing its spiritual aspect, not feeling its tender unction, not knowing the meaning of the compulsion of pure love. Tell me if the world or the Church has got one inch beyond this programme of the friends and relatives of Jesus Christ, namely, "If thou do these things, show thyself to the world. Make a show of the miracles, publish a list of them, take the greatest place that is at liberty, and repeat these miracles night by night to thronging multitudes. Take thy position at the front." That is the programme which makes a splutter at the first, but that dies like a spark in the river. There is no solidity in it, nothing lasting. The true programme is—Be true, love the truth, move in God, be silent because of the very majesty of thy faith. Less faith would mean noise and crying and great demonstration; completeness means quietness.
Herein are so many mistakes that are made about men and things. I have observed as men grow in education and in wisdom, and in all moral and spiritual refinement, they grow in composure. The last result of education is peace, quietness, rest. The vulgar man looks at the man of deep thought and great learning, and says, "Not very happy looking, is he? His eyes were nearly shut, his mouth was firmly set, and he seemed to be looking at nothing." The man was beyond the appearance of looking, he was absorbing everything all the while, and, as he added feeling to feeling and line to line in the upper progress of his soul, he lost the fuss, the noise, the love of demonstration which belonged to the earlier period of progress than the one which he had attained. Jesus would influence the world on permanent lines and from permanent centres; he was not an acrobat that would fling himself into fantastic attitudes in the air to cause a moment's laugh or shout, and then die away—he takes the ages to grow in, he takes all time for his summer and his harvest, and he reveals himself not to our surprise or curiosity or haste, but to the ages, in all the vastness of their compass and all the profoundness of their solemnity.
By a very beautiful figure is the peacefulness of his disposition indicated. "A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory." What is this bruised reed? Is it as a bulrush, crushed by some great beast as he moves towards the river! Jesus Christ takes it up and rejoints it, or spares it, or makes nature pitiful to it with extra nursing and love—for nature is a great mother, healing every scar and hiding every wound and working a great wizardry of concealment around all the great gashes and bruises of the world. Or is the reed the musical instrument of the primitive kind, on which the shepherd played upon the hills and in the valleys, and had it got out of order so that the tune would no longer come out of it? Jesus Christ says, "Give it to me, and I will repair it, and that bruised reed shall be as musical as ever." He did not come to destroy but to save, and the exquisiteness and the perfectness of his saving purpose are indicated in this analogy, that even the bruised reed, not worthy the saving, is one of the fragments that he will gather up that nothing be lost.
"The smoking flax he will not quench." Is it some poor man's one candle just going out, an inch of wick and no more, and will he take it and shield it, or wave it gently in the air so as to renew its life? Is it the one mean spark on which everything depends, and will he put his arms all round about it like a great defence, or will he breathe upon it so as to save its flickering flame till it burst out and seize the entire substance and consummate the purpose for which it was lighted? Take it in any way, it means this—that the Son of man is not come to destroy but to save. He is mighty to save: he came into the world to save sinners. Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save. This being the purpose of his life, the whole meaning of his incarnation, you will find that everything falls into its proper place in relation to the sovereignty of this aim. Do not read the life of Jesus Christ as if it were a series of unrelated anecdotes; find the central purpose of it, and see how everything sets itself in happy crystallisation around that purpose, and helps to explain and commend it.
Having been engaged with great multitudes and healing them all, the Saviour is next engaged with an individual instance. "Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb." Sometimes the one case is the multitudinous instance, sometimes you find in one case the adding up of a host of cases. Devil, blind, dumb, pronounced incurable, written down amongst the hopeless—it seemed to be a single instance. In reality it was a multitude of cases all in one. Every one of us is a multitude in this sense. Life is not all in little drops of ink or blood, which can be indicated by brief names and summed up in an etcetera. In my heart, in your heart is there a legion of devils, and yet the plural and the singular come together in most suggestive conjunction in the delivery of that fact. "What is thy name?" said Christ. The answer was, "My name is legion." Not our name is legion—my. "I am many in one, I am one in many. I am not broken up into a multitude of incoherences, but I am one." Study human history and get from it what hints you can of the diabolic administration, and they will all help you to understand that the crowning characteristic of the diabolic monarchy is persistent and indestructible unity. You never find Satan divided against himself.
Now the Pharisees come again upon him. They heard of this instance, and they said, "This fellow doth not cast out devils but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils." They have been unable to kill him, but it is still within the compass of their malignity to traduce him. Once your Saviour was called "This fellow," once a reed was taken and with it he was smitten on the head, once that face was spat upon, once that unwrinkled cheek was smitten, and the work was never given up for a moment. He endured the cross, despising the shame, because of the glory that was set before him. Poor hasteful man, thou dost want to be a king all at once, not knowing that any kingdom that is worth having is entered by a strait gate and approached by a narrow path. Enter ye in at the strait gate, for strait is the gate and narrow is the road that leadeth unto life.
This instance, however, gives us a new view of the ministry of Jesus. He seldom condescended merely to argue with his opponents, he simply pursued his work and allowed his work to be his witness. In this case, however, he turns round upon those who traduce him and answers them argumentatively. Let us be present when he answers his enemies—there is always a treat in store then. There was no such replicant as Christ: his answers admitted of no retort; no man, according to this history, ever ventured to reply to his answers. Collect the answers of Christ to his enemies, and tell me if anything can exceed the polish of their wit or the pathos of their feeling. Here is a case in point. Having read the thoughts of the Pharisees and understood the case, he answered them logically. "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand. But if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself—how then shall his kingdom stand?" As if he had said, "See the absurdity of your position from a merely logical point of view. If Satan were to cast out Satan, his kingdom would be overthrown by his own hand, and if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children, or your countrymen, cast them out? You are making a fool of the very devil you seek to credit with this mystery of wonder."
Thus he reduces to absurdity the thought or suggestion of the Pharisees. The devil is one, and he works with all the strength of unity. Do you know what the supreme prayer of the Turk is? You may be surprised to hear it, but it is a wise prayer from the Turk's altar. He prays to his God that the discords of the Christians may never be settled. Wise Turk, cunning Turk, he prays that we as Christians may never settle our controversies, for whilst we are fighting he is safe. It is the devil's prayer, if ever he turn his eyes of smoke and flame to the blue heavens, that the Churches may never settle their grievances, and never bring to a happy harmonious reconciliation the differences which trouble and vex them. He lives upon our discordances; there is joy in the presence of the angels of hell over every fight that divides and enfeebles the Church, Having answered his assailants logically, he proceeds to answer them judicially. Standing and looking at them as a scourging fire, he says, "Wherefore I say unto you, all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men, but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men." So then Christianity is more than an argument; an argument it certainly is, having command of all the forces of logic and wit, swift repartee and complete reply; but Christianity is not a battle of words, it is a judgment upon the spirit, it is an anathema or it is a benediction, it is the savour of life unto life or the savour of death unto death. When you touch this Christianity, you touch something more than a mere competitor for your intellectual appreciation and your intellectual confidence: it is as a stone which, if a man fall upon, he shall be broken to pieces—happy breaking—or if it fall upon the man it will grind him to powder, and there are no hands with skill and strength enough to re-constitute that powder into the solid stone.
Beware of this unpardonable sin: not one of us has yet committed it: it lies within the power of the meanest of us now to do it. Take care how you lie unto the Holy Ghost or deny his ministry or insult his beneficent majesty; take care how you cut yourself off from the currents of life. If a tree could seize itself and drag every fibre of its root out of the earth, what would become of the tree? All nature would fight against it and kill it, its juices would be sucked out, its veins would be dried up with an everlasting desiccation, and never more would the birds of the air tenant themselves in its leafy boughs; it has cut itself out of the grooves along which nature sends her life-currents.
Take care how you uproot yourself and seek isolation; take care how you say you will not have the light, and you will not have the dew, and you will not be dependent upon the earth. If a man could so cut himself out of the ministry of nature, what would become of him? Rottenness and putridity would be his lot, and because of his very noisomeness men would hide them away. It is even so spiritually. A man can put the knife through every filament that binds him to the universe, he can cut down his veneration, his imagination, his impulses towards the morning, and all its blue and tender light, he can snatch himself away from the altar and never pray another prayer, he can thrust his face into his chest and look downward to the dust to find what he can in the mean stones beneath his feet, he can separate himself from all social charities and all happy fellowships, he can rebuke the child that would kiss him and run away from all the influences that would redeem him, and having done so, what has become of him? He is twice dead, plucked up by the roots, he is a cloud without water, he has offended the spirit of the universe, he has sought to live alone, and that is the impossibility of human life.
Hear the gospel then this day, men of business, men of toil, women, children, whole families, masters, servants—here is a man who heals on the Sabbath day, and today is the Sabbath: here are those who object to him and still he proceeds with his gracious work: here are those who carry their objection to black blasphemy, and they are told that one step further and they go into a new gravitation and never can arise again.
Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee.Chapter 51
Almighty God, thou art good to us with exceeding fulness of mercy. Thy compassions fail not, they come up with the light every morning, and they fill the darkness of the night with lights brighter than the stars. Thou art our helper: when we are helpless thou art nearer to us than our own life; thou art round about us like a great defence of fire, and no man can pluck us out of the Father's hand. Thy promises are exceeding great and precious, and as for their number, they have none—the Sands upon the seashore may be counted, but thy mercies are beyond all reckoning, they fill our life, they overflow it, they are our daily inspiration and confidence, and our one hope and final security. Thou dost enrich us—all the promises of thy grace are ours, the unsearchable riches of Christ are our possession, all things are ours. Lord, increase our faith, give us that bold yet loving hand, which seizes the prize in all its fulness and preciousness and applies it to the poverty and the whole necessity of life. We have not, because we ask not, or because we ask amiss, give us the asking spirit and the right spirit of asking, and turn our whole life, not into a cry of distress, but into a prayer of hope—then wilt thou open the windows of heaven, and our life shall know its littleness by reason of the infinity of thy reply.
We come to thee through Jesus Christ, the one way, the way that is living and abundant and as continual as our necessity. We come by the way of the Cross, we tarry at the Cross, our eyes are upon the Cross, our expectation is from the Cross; as for him who hangs upon it, he saved others, himself he cannot save. He is our Saviour not his own, he died for sin once, and he reigneth unto righteousness through all the ages of thine own duration. May we hide our little life in his eternity, may we bring our daily sin to his age-long intercession, to the blood shed before the foundation of the world, and in the presence of that great mystery our sins shall vanish like a driven cloud.
Thou hast set before us a great destiny, thou dost ply our life with many calls, thou dost urge us by many impulses, thou dost turn our ambition into a religious force and lure us by many a promise of larger life and nobler attainment. Help us to obey the call, may we never be disobedient to the heavenly vision. Speak to us out of thy temple of light, and answer our questioning when we desire to know what thou wouldst have us to do. May we fill up the little day of our life with filial industry, with gentle, unmurmuring patience, toiling at any service thou dost impose upon us, and bearing ourselves throughout our whole task as those whose strength is in heaven and whose inspiration is of God.
Thou knowest our whole necessity, our life in all its throbbing pain and pitiful helplessness and wordless desire and mute agony, in all its hope, expectation and vehement desire, in all its solicitudes and wanderings and curious questionings—thou knowest us altogether, thou knowest the burdens we carry, the stings that wound us every day, and the fire which scorches us like the judgment that is infinite. Thou knowest our rest and our hope, and the place we count most secure. According to all our life do thou now come to us and do thou cleanse us by the inspiration of thy Spirit, and make us holy by the application of the blood of the heart of Christ, and passing through all the mystery of thine inward discipline, may we come out of the same godly, strong, pure, tender, large of heart, noble of purpose, marked by entirety and joyousness of consecration, and may our life be an ascending sacrifice unto the heavens.
Pity us in our littleness, help us to bear the rebuffs and scorn of men, enable us to forgive our enemies with large pardons, yea, with multiplied releases of love. Enable us to bear patiently with all who provoke us or try our temper or seek to drag us down in our noblest endeavours. When there is sickness in the house, may the healer from heaven be there, where death comes, steadily, stealthily, nearer, nearer, may the Resurrection and the Life be nearer still, to foil the enemy in his purpose.
Give unto children the spirit of obedience, and unto parents the spirit of wisdom and of love. May the master and the servant live together in Christian amicableness, and may all classes and conditions of men feel themselves united, not in the region of transient distinctions, but in the roots and vitalities of things, and all those relations which survive the wreck of time and pass on to the higher fellowships of the world unseen.
Give us all to feel this day what is meant by the lifting up of the spirit by the shining of the Sun of Righteousness upon the inward heart and life may there be great joy in the sanctuary, may the temple be filled with the shouting and singing of those whose hearts experience great release from the burden and torment of sin and as a man who hath come upon great prey, upon the prizes of heaven. Thus for one day in the weary week may our feet stand in a large place, and our hearts be lifted up in a freeman's song. Amen.
It was always difficult for Christ to say No. Surely he was not born to say that cold word to any human heart that asked a question of him. The negative did not come easily to those beneficent lips—they were shaped rather to say with all tunefulness and sympathy of love, "Yes," to every human desire, to every yearning, loving spirit. Yet in this case Jesus Christ says' "No," and no man can say No with so severe a firmness. In his lips, under such circumstances as are detailed in the text, his No was final. He had an intermediate no, which he never meant to stand as such—the No which he said to the Syro-Phoenician woman—it was an experimental No, there was no hollowness of. final, negative purpose in it, it was one of the trials or temptations addressed to the human heart by him who intends to fill that heart with larger blessing in consequence of its temporary denial. When did Jesus Christ say "No" to the sick, to the weary, to the broken-hearted, the bruised, the helpless, the wounded spirit? When did he say it to any little child that asked the favour of his smile? Yet in this case, standing up in front of an evil and adulterous generation, he said "No." 'Twas unlike him and yet very like him: he would rather have said "Yes" to human prayer, but it is sometimes quite as merciful to say "No" as to say "Yes."
What was it the Scribes and Pharisees wanted from Jesus Christ? They sought a merely intellectual gratification, they wanted a sign, something to estimate, something to speculate upon, another link in a chain of argumentative evidence. Jesus Christ never came to satisfy the mere intellect of man. Therein have all the doctors and sages and leaders of the Church made many a mischievous mistake. They have written evidences, and built up proofs, and conducted a high intellectual argument. The gospel has nothing to say to the intellect merely as such; to the intellect, stiff and blind in its godless conceit, the gospel has nothing to utter but a plain disappointing "No." The wisdom of this world is not the wisdom of God. What are called proofs, in the lower schools of men, are not to be taken as proofs in the higher reasoning and in the diviner culture. With the heart man believeth unto righteousness. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. To this man will I look, to him that is of a broken and contrite heart, who trembleth at my word. The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him. In the sixty-first chapter of Isaiah, in which the mission of Christ is stated in many particulars, I find no reference to the intellect. "The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because he hath sent me"—what to do? to give signs and wonders, to satisfy mere intelligence and carnal curiosity and intellectual ambition? No such line can be found in this loving and beneficent specification of duty and vocation. The meek, the captive, the bound, the tired, the helpless, the mourning, the tearful, the sad—all these are gathered within the enclosure of Christ's purpose, but the merely intellectual and literalistic and argumentative, where are they? Outside, of no consequence in this great strife—they will be brought in by other processes, yea, they shall be found on bent knee, worshipping him who is the King. Meanwhile Jesus Christ keeps his great answers and his great promises and benedictions for the meek, the broken-hearted, the sincere, the child-like, the docile, and those who have no self-confidence.
What does Jesus Christ teach in this broad answer? Jesus Christ teaches that there is already enough in human history to satisfy every healthy and earnest mind if right use be made of it. The great questions of the heart were answered at the beginning; the gospel is in Genesis; God planted every tree from the very first, and the after ages have but developed the roots set in the human heart by the divine hand, or planted in heaven by him who plants only the trees of righteousness. All great answers have been given. Jonah and the queen of the south have their counterparts in all histories and in all cultivated and developed human lives. If you have not lived the story of Jonah the dictionary can never explain it to you. The whale and its mouth, and a thousand mysteries that gather around it—you will never be able to understand it; but if you have been Jonah, and have been in the whale and in the deep, and have been cast out, and have passed through all the tragedy, you will know the meaning of the spirit, without being able to give any satisfaction to those who live in the universe of a zoological garden, and who never penetrate the inward poetry and apocalyptic meaning of the things that are happening around them every day. The earth is full of signs, the heavens shine with tokens, all life is a witness and confirmation. We need no more proof; what we do need is to make better use of the proof we already have.
Let me, therefore, speak with all moral incisiveness and positiveness of meaning, to those who are yet among the Scribes and the Pharisees, saying, with vulgar or ill-concealed conceit of intellect, "Master, we would see a sign from heaven." There shall no more signs be given; what we now have to do is not to add to the evidences but to utilize them. You do not want a new Bible, you want to read the Bible you already have in your hands. There is not a man in a thousand who knows anything about the Bible vitally and really, in all its grasp and meaning. There is no book of such momentous purpose and significance so little read and so little understood. We are outside, and we see only the edges and surfaces of things written in the inner book. We do not want more evidences, evidences have often misled the thinker or have only been food to the pride of his intellect, or have only established him in the confidence of his own conceit, for wherein he has mastered them, he has said, if not in words yet in effect, "See how able I am, and how clever and how masterly is my grasp of things." That man has not come into the kingdom of heaven at all. I will not say he has not come in by the right gate, he has come in by no gate, he is as one who walks round about it and takes observations and makes measurements, but has never been caught in the whirlwind of its music, in the fire and sacrifice of its ineffable passion. You do not want more evidence, you need the understanding heart, the clean heart, the right spirit, the child-like disposition, all prayers in one, "Lord, teach me what thou wouldst have me do."
What think ye? Here is a man who is filling his grate with all kinds of fuel, and a beautiful grate it is, not wanting in capacity. And still he re-arranges the material, again he redistributes the fuel, he takes it all out and puts other fuel in, and calls the attention of men to the size of his grate and to the purpose of his life, and he challenges men to find any better fuel than he has yet secured. What should he be doing? Not playing himself at grate-filling, but setting fire to the material already in his possession, and thus kindling a friendly influence in the house, the fire, that household apocalypse, that household revelation, that chamber of the picture-gallery, the fire—wherein battles are fought and victories won, and temples built and sacrifices offered, and great motions continually are proceeding which are to be caught by the imagination and transformed into all kinds of utility in the life. O, fool, light the fuel you have; other fuel will be wanted and will be ready to come, not for ornament but for use.
Jesus Christ gave a broad answer, we have just said, to this inquiry for a sign. "When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest and finding none: then he saith, I will return." That unclean spirit is curiosity, idle, vain, self-seeking curiosity, and when once it has been satisfied by the great replies of history, and still wants a further satisfaction, and goes out to find it, it will return and become sevenfold greater than it once was. Beware how you keep your curiosity chained. Strengthen the chain every day. Once get into the spirit of sign-seeking and question-asking, and vital piety becomes an impossibility in your case. Never let question-asking get the upper hand of you. In this solemn department of life keep curiosity in its right place, which is outside, mile on mile away from the letter. Consider how easy it is to ask for signs, how poor and feeble an intellectual condition it is merely to be able to ask questions, to propound difficulties, to suggest troubles, and to bewilder and puzzle those who are endeavouring to do great good in the world. Do not mistake question-asking or sign-seeking for intellectual greatness.
The doctrine is not only true intellectually, it is true morally. If once you get over a bad habit you must do something more, or that bad habit will come back to you, and finding the house empty, swept, and garnished, will bring with it seven other habits worse than itself, and the last state of your heart shall be sadder than the first. What is that other thing a man has to do after he has got rid of a bad habit? He has to cultivate a good one. It is not enough to cease to curse, you must learn to pray; it is not enough to throw away from you the evil-spirited book and to say, "I will never read another line of you;" you must replace it by a wise and good book, otherwise the old appetency will wake, and will urge you to its cruel satisfaction.
Herein it is very important that all merely negative reformers should be followed up in their noble and beneficent course by those who have something distinctive and positive to offer to such as have been reclaimed from open and scandalous vices. You have been converted from the sin of drunkenness; it is not enough that you be a mere abstainer from intoxicating drinks, you must be surrounded by the noblest influences, you must be intellectually enlightened and trained, you must betake yourself to some grand moral purpose, you must become deeply interested in some philanthropic and beneficent scheme, and thus must complete in positiveness what has been so happily begun in the region that is merely destructive or negative.
The unclean spirit will come back. No man can remain in the same state from time to time—getting no better, getting no worse—it is not in human nature to be thus stationary. "The last state of that man is worse than the first," said Christ concerning those who had not filled up the house of the heart with good and heavenly spirits. We become worse and worse every day if we are not pursuing the right course; we do not stand still. Nor is the decadence and corruption of our nature a rapid and visible one; the process is silent, subtle, often invisible, and not seldom unfelt in its detailed action. The sapping goes on quietly, the strength is sucked out of a man little by little, so that he shakes himself and says, "I am as strong as ever;" but there comes a time when in shaking himself he reveals himself to himself, and feels that he is no longer the young, blithe, strong, clear-headed man which he was in his earlier life. Sometimes the collapse is sudden; there is nothing in the outward circumstances to betoken what has been proceeding within; but at one critical touch the whole outline gives in and the collapse is complete. I may have illustrated this to you before by the action of the white ant. The white ant will enter into a door and will eat it up; every fibre of the wood will be consumed by the little creature, and the paint will be left untouched. You would say, "The door is there, open it." If you touch it it falls; the whole of the woodwork has been consumed by the little mischief-maker. It is also the same in our life. We appear to be the same; to all outward seeming we are just as we were twenty years ago; but if we have not been growing in the right direction, there will come upon us a touch, and we shall sink and perish, and the tremendous reality will be revealed.
"While he yet talked to the people." We must not forget the circumstances under which the next event occurred. Jesus Christ was in the excitement of speech; when he spoke, everything in him spoke; the whole life was an utterance; in no cold blood did this mighty publisher of eternal truths declare his testimony; his quietness was power suppressed, his whisper was a thunder-burst in the azure, when he spoke he trembled, thrilled, vibrated through and through to some influence within and above. "While he talked to the people, behold his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. Then one said, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee." His mind was moving forward with the sweep and wholeness of a great river; a man in the crowd sought to turn the urgent river from its channel; Jesus answered out of the inspiration of his human enthusiasm, "Who is my mother, and who are my brethren?" You cannot understand these words in cold blood; there are fingers so icy that they ought never to touch this Book; there are eyes so cold they ought never to look into these immortal pages. You cannot understand the prophets and the apostles in cold critical mood; you can vivisect their words, etymologise them, searching into remote meanings and earlier definitions, and when you have done all that—as I shall endeavour to do in a few instances this evening in this church—there remains a broader interpretation which can only be exercised by those who are aflame with the very fire of God.
We all know what it is to speak out of a holy and sublime excitement. There are sacred hours, when we see the broadest and grandest bearings of the lines of life, and in which we seize the innermost meaning of common or tender terms. Our little self is lifted up into a heroic personality, in which no local relation is destroyed, but rather ennobled and sublimed. You must therefore look at Jesus Christ's words in the light of the fact that they were uttered while he yet talked to the people, his soul aglow, his eye alight, his blood fevered with the fire of God, and his whole individuality lifted up into a broader self-hood than was measurable by the merely human eye even in its keenest observation.
Look at this wonderful speech of Jesus; it recalls his earliest recorded words. Said his mother: "Thy father and I have sought thee, sorrowing." Said he: "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" Already, at twelve years of age, he was another than the son of Mary and the reputed son of the carpenter. Already he had seized the key-word of the universe and realised that relation which makes all other relations fall into their right perspective and assume their proper proportion and colour. We are too local, we are too small, we build ourselves up into families and we enclose ourselves within square huts, and we have terminal points—we begin here and we end there, and so far we know nothing about the spirit of Jesus Christ, the great humanity, the world-feeling—we do not realise our ancestry and our posterity and our whole bearing in the universe: we detach ourselves: we belong to this sect, or to yonder clan, or to the other fraternity; we are English, or American, or Italian, or Colonial; we have these little narrowing dwarfing terms always clinging to us and impoverishing our speech. Use them as mere conveniences and they may be of some utility, but there ought to be times in the consciousness of every Christian heart in which every land is home and every man a brother.
This answer explains Christ's true relation to the human family. "Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother and sister and mother." It is not a question of local pedigree, it is not a claim that can be set up on partial lines. This whosoever is as broad as any whosoever uttered in all the great and inclusive language of the Bible. "Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven." He keeps to the key-word, he involves the centre, he stands on vital terms. Not—whosoever shall be born in my day and age, whosoever shall be born in my country, whosoever shall speak my language with my accent; not—whosoever shall be great or noble, or rich, or mighty—whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven. Then that gives me my chance. I may be a relation of Jesus Christ—poor, obscure, unknown, helpless; even I may enter the household of faith and be permitted to touch at least the hem of his garment. I may be one of his family; I may be a kinsman of the Son of God; I need no longer be a stranger and a foreigner, but may enter into the household and commonwealth of heaven.
I have thus to offer you a grand ancestry; to offer all men new vitalities, new surroundings, new kinsfolk. This shows the uniting power of Christianity. The Christian religion never divides men, never splits up a human family and belittles our human relations. The Christian religion would have us all brought into a common sympathy, united by a common spirit of loyalty to the same Saviour, and would give each of us the same badge, the old, grim, black, accursed cross, which may be turned into the very symbol of the heart of God himself, the greatest Sufferer, the one Sufferer, the only Heart that knows the meaning of infinite woe.
Here, then, is our standing; this very day we are members one of another. Whether one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; whether one member rejoices, all the members should rejoice with it, and have common dance and song and high delight in the holy place. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. Be no longer strangers and foreigners, but of the household of God. We are not isolated individuals; we grasp hands with the ages, the glorious company of the apostles, the holy band of the prophets before them, the noble army of martyrs uniting them both, the holy Church throughout all the world—this is the household of God. Beauteous picture! Tender relationship! it cannot be realised in all its ideal perfection here and now, but we ought always to cling to the inner and vital truth which it typifies, that the Church is one—indivisible as the heart that bought it with blood.