The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these sayings, he departed from Galilee, and came into the coasts of Judaea beyond Jordan;Chapter 74
Almighty God, how wonderful is thy word, and how dull is our understanding! We come that we may be inspired to read thy word, which is itself inspired, that so we may know its meaning and feel its gentle power. Thy word is truth; but what is truth? Behold, it is higher than the firmament, and brighter than all the stars. Help us to yearn after it in its own spirit, to cry mightily for it in earnest and believing desire; and satisfy us with daily revelation as thou dost feed us with daily bread.
We have come into thine house to find here what we cannot find other where. This is the house of our Father, the place of the shining of his countenance, and in this holy sanctuary is there rest for those that are ill at ease. Here thou dost cause the weary to sit down awhile that they may recover their breath, and here thou dost bind that which was broken down and heal it with heaven's own health. Here thou dost speak to the heart in tenderest music, and here thou withholdest nothing of the gospel that can redeem and liberate from its burden and its torment, and turn every affliction of life into a new and hopeful sacrament. This thou dost in Jesus Christ, in whom, indeed, thou doest all things. Centre of all, Sum and Total of all, Alpha, Omega, Beginning, Ending, Root and Branch, behold it is in him alone that we may find every answer to every question. On his shoulder is the key of the house of David, and in him is all authority and light. We have reconciliation by him, he speaks of forgiveness, from his lips we hear most tenderly and fully of all thy love, and to him we come for every answer to our sorrow, and for deliverance, complete and final, from the pressure of our sin.
How wonderful is thy way! Behold thy Son is God and Man—Emmanuel, God with us. We cannot understand thee nor follow thee, and the poor line of our reason cannot sound the infinite fathoms of thy great wisdom. Thou hast made the dust into man; the crumbled bread into a sacrificial body; the wine left in the cup thou hast reddened into atoning blood; of the Virgin thou hast made the Mother; of Three thou hast made One, and of One Three. So dost thou contradict our reason and abase it with painful humiliation; and yet above all dost thou reign in indivisible unity, Sovereign of the universe and Father of all. Lift up our thought to thyself; give it enlargement and ennoblement; save us from all mean conceptions and unworthy views of thyself and thy universe; give us that bold and quiet and noble view and hold of all things which thou alone canst give, for thou only hast the keys of all power.
We have come to bless thee: one, sweetly, with subdued voice and pensive tone, and others with trumpets and instruments of brass, loud and ringing, because thou hast done great things for them; but for one purpose we have all come: the bruised reed to bless thee for healing, the smoking flax to thank thee that thou hast not extinguished its dying spark; and all of us who have received much at thine hand have a song with which we would fain equal the gift if we could. Hear, then, we humbly ask thee, the. utterance of every heart, the sighing of every spirit, the cry of the weak and the desire of the strong; and according to our varied necessity let thy blessing come from the sanctuary and rest upon every one of us. Give the feeblest strength, give the meanest a standing before thee which we could have no other where, and let the wanderer feel that the great house door is still open, and the great Fatherly heart still yearning, and that even now the prodigal may return and sit down in his Father's house.
Hear all special praises for household mercies, for business prosperity, for deliverance from entanglements and embarrassments, and for such hopes as make the heart young and strong amid life's burden and storms. Sanctify our afflictions, bring us the nearer together for our momentary separations, and may there be in all our hearts glowing love to him who for us bore the Cross.
Thou knowest what we are, how thou hast made us; for we are the work of thine hands, and we are not of our own fashioning. Thou knowest our characteristics; thou knowest our special temptations, peculiar difficulties; and thou wilt deal gently with the creatures of thine hand, for it is not in all thine heart to judge us with destruction. Lord, have mercy upon us; Christ, have mercy upon us; Spirit of the living God, dwell with us; Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, come to our hearts and make them dwellings for the Holy One.
And send sweet messages of love and hope to all for whom we ought to pray. Remember the little sick chamber, curtained and screened because even the light is a pain, and speak to those whose strength is going. When their feet touch the last cold river, may the waters part and stand on heaps, that thy redeemed ones may go through as on dry ground. Pity those who have no pity on themselves—who break their father's and their mother's hearts, who break every commandment and insult every courtesy, and despoil the most sacred associations of life. Only thy gospel, full of redeeming blood and redeeming love, can reach extremities so violent. Go with those who are upon the sea, and give them good voyaging and safe landing. Be with our dear ones who have become our correspondents, who once were our daily companions. The Lord give them favour in the sight of the people by whom they are surrounded, and may their letters to us be letters written with love and filled with light. As for the prisoner and the doomed man and the outcast and the blasphemer, what can we say? Thou knowest what we ought to say: take it, we pray thee, as said in many words and with many tears, and out of the infinite fulness of thy grace do thou send us answers that shall make us glad. Amen.
Jesus Christ shows himself perfectly familiar with subjects which apparently lay at an infinite distance from the purpose which he came to accomplish. The question of divorce and the salvation of the world would seem to have no connection. Does the Master appear to disadvantage in conversing upon this unfamiliar theme? Surely he will decline to enter upon it; he will silently leave it to the scribes, the men of letters, the lawyers, whose business it is to read all the stipulations and arrangements connected with such a subject. He will say, "I do not touch those themes. I have come for quite another purpose, and cannot attend to such questionings as yours." Surely he might have taken that course with some fitness. What does he do? He answers these men as if he had made the question of divorce the study of a lifetime. Is there no argument in that fact? Did he require time to consider the knotty question? Did he say, "I would rather evade the subject; but if you press me to its consideration, I must take time to consult the old black-letter law"? They touched the cloud and they evoked lightning; they asked a tempting question and drew upon themselves, happily for the intelligence and direction of the world, a grand revelation. Let us see how Jesus deports himself under such tempting interrogations regarding subjects which appear to lie at an infinite distance from the cross which he came to lift up into a life-tree and a throne.
Jesus Christ goes back to original facts and laws. You cannot settle anything by mere detail. No man can come wisely into a great controversy or a great study at some intermediate point. Herein it is that we lose so much, and so often stultify and disappoint ourselves, by imagining that we can come into a case in the middle of it—that we can understand a controversy or a dispute by looking at any one solitary point in it. Jesus Christ here shows what we have had occasion to point out, that he is fundamental in his teaching, original in his conceptions—that he stands back at the right point for taking in the whole field; and unless a man shall stand at a proper distance from a picture he cannot rightly view it, and unless he shall stand at the right point in history and in divine purpose, he cannot take in all the firmament of God's light and dignity.
See, then, how Jesus Christ does not ask questions about particular persons and particular circumstances, but how he goes right back to the origin and start of things, and says everything must be judged by the divine purpose and by the divine intent and revelation. How grand he is, therefore, in moral tone! How he shakes off all vexing and petty details, and stands squarely and firmly on an eternal rock! How comes it that we have so much shillyshallying in the Church and various views and little disputes, and narrow and vexing controversies? Simply because we undertake to deal with details instead of going back to the beginning and ascertaining, so far as we may, the clear purpose and intent of God.
Having told them, "Have ye not read that he which made them at the beginning, made them male and female?" they said unto him, "Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?" That would puzzle him: he was but a peasant. He had not gone into such knotty questions or pursued such intricate inquiries as these. Now he will be nonplussed, and stand in humiliating attitude. Look at him: have they smitten him dumb? Is there no more lightning in that cloud? Swiftly he answers, "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives, but from the beginning it was not so." He knew all about the domestic law; he was as familiar with it as if he had been a lawyer for half a century or more; he knew what Moses had written. He answered on the spot. This was not written after three months' consideration: the whole word was in him. Moses drew the word from him, and he who was the Original could best account for the transcript.
Wonderful, too, in point of philosophic grasp and moral sympathy! "Because of the hardness of your hearts, Moses suffered you to put away your wives." We have to do some things expediently; we have to make arrangements to meet peculiar circumstances. The divine law sometimes takes a singular bend, so to say, in order to gather up certain peculiar human circumstances, and otherwise unmanageable eccentricities. Sometimes the divine law stoops to pick us up and give us another chance, for there is mercy always in supreme and complete righteousness.
"But do not mistake," said Christ, "a temporary arrangement for an original purpose. Do not turn the exception into the rule. Do not make the subordinate into the supreme. From the beginning it was not so." How did he know? He was the Beginning! "I am Alpha and Omega!" From the first it was not so. When God made them male and female, no thought of a divorce was in his mind; this was forced upon the universe by the blasphemy of the heart, by the impiety, the recklessness, the violence of that which was almost divine at the beginning. This is the sour wine, this the spoiled milk, this the blackness of unimaginable sin.
No interpretation can be complete or profound which does not go back to the beginning. No man can understand the Apocalypse who has not read the book of Genesis, You cannot come into the Bible about the middle of it, and begin to form an opinion of the divine revelation by reading some of the minor prophets. Revelation is a whole; It has a first word—a beginning; and you must begin with the beginning and go steadily and calmly through the whole unfurlment of the divine thought, if you would have any grasp of it that will stand you in good stead amid the temptations of the Pharisees, and amid the insinuations and malign assaults of the enemy.
Would we know what man is? We must go back to the beginning. I cannot consult the anatomist as to what man is. Human nature is not a modern discovery; the human heart is not a yesterday's trick in mechanism. Man is old, and I must go back to his birthday, and study him from the germ, if I can, that I may know his true meaning in the universe of God. Would I know what the Sabbath is? I must not read some modern tract about it, or some recent attack upon it, nor must I consult the convenience of today about it. If I want to know what the Sabbath is, I must go back to the beginning: and in the beginning it was God's day, God's rest, God's festival, God's rounding off and sphering out of labour and creation and service and sacrifice. So it must ever be, or it ceases to be a sabbath day at all, and becomes a mere ecclesiastical expedient to be twisted thus and so and otherwise, according to the suggestion of the moment. We become confused amidst details and cross-workings, and the only true philosophical way of dealing with Man, with Marriage, with Life, with Law, is to go as far back as we can towards the beginning, that we may take in field enough and set every object of contemplation in its proper perspective, and bring to bear upon it the only light which can reveal its proportions.
So with the idea of Sacrifice. Is it not possible for men to discuss sacrifice by beginning with the epistle to the Hebrews? Do not many persons attempt to settle the question of sacrifice by quoting individual and isolated texts? How then shall I understand this subject of sacrifice? By going back to the beginning. What was there in the beginning? This! A Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. Not an after thought, not an incident in history, not something measurable by our terms representative of time; but the original thought, the heavenly purpose, the atonement before the sin! If the Cross had only come up as an incident in history, then Christ's death might have been a murder; but with the shadow of the Cross flung across the firmament from the beginning, we have the mystery and the sanctity of sacrifice. Do not let us suppose, therefore, as Christian students, that we can settle any question, say even of divorce, or of domestic life or business relationships or church appointments, by coming into it about the middle or the end. We can only get the right grip of it and the right look of it by going back to the beginning, and setting ourselves as far as possible in opposition to the revealed appointments of God. We will return to this after considering the next two incidents.
In the next incident there is a very tender scene. Such a lily is not to be painted. They brought unto "him little children that he should put his hands on them and pray:"—that is, their mothers brought the little children. Observe, they were brought; they did not come of themselves. Some of us are carried to God, some of us are brought in loving arms to Christ. We want to bring all men to Jesus. You have been sinning all these years, and your wife says, "I will take him to Christ today in some great big prayer bolder than I have ever yet ventured to hurl at the very gate and throne of Heaven. I will carry him today." O woman, grand heart! she is going to do it by persuasive violence, by gentle force. You, again, are a black sheep in the family. Your mother says she will carry you to Christ; she says she will believe for you if he will let her: she has so much faith she thinks that she could even include you in the sweep of her trustful belief. O man, young man, man of the black, thankless heart, think of that! She wants to believe for you—to stretch her faith so that it will include both herself and you! That ought to melt you into tears and bring you broken-heartedly, with infinite contrition, to your mother and to your Saviour. Bring your little children to church, but do not make a burden or a punishment of it. Make them happy in the church—make the church the very sunniest place they can go to: bring them, don't force them—draw them by love and by many a promise, and let the mother and the father and the preacher combine as often as possible to make the church its own attraction.
Why was Jesus so fond of these little ones? Did he pick out all the beautiful children, and say, "I would like to touch that one," and "Do let me speak to that sweet child"? No: that is our selfishness. If you were going to make a home for little children, you would take nobody into it, if you could help it, but the pretty ones. That is not philanthropy; that is selfishness with a religious visor on. You gave the child a shilling, a toy, a kiss, because it was comely. Ah, you gave yourself the toy; you kissed yourself in that mean act. What did Jesus do? Sought out the lost, and if he gave one child a sweeter kiss and a tenderer embrace than another, I know, by what else I have seen of him, that it was the ugly child, the shapeless, deformed one, the child that had fewest friends, the little creature that was cared least for. That was love: such love was Christ's.
But why did he gather all these little flowers to him and bind them to his breast? Does he give any reason for this? He does: "For of such is the kingdom of heaven." Oh, how he warmed to that kingdom in every aspect of it! When you are in a foreign land, and you hear any one speaking English, you say, "How sweet! how home-like! I know that mother tongue; I like the tone all the better for hearing it in this dreary country, of the language of which I do not know one word." And if he, the Christ of God, saw down here in this rough climate any flower such as he had seen grow upon the heavenly slopes, what wonder if he bent over it and bestowed upon it tenderest and fondest interest. This was Jesus Christ's reason: whatever represented the kingdom of heaven was precious to him; wherever he saw any trace or hint of it there he was in the fulness of his sympathy and in all the tenderness of his music.
What was it that Jesus Christ loved in these little ones? He loved the life. When shall we come to the proper conception of that boundless term? The little ones lived; that was enough. Society will not allow you to destroy even a child one hour old. The magistrate and the judge will lay severe hands upon you if you take away the life of a child that has just breathed. Why? It knows nothing, it can answer no question, it can make no appeal in words; and yet society rises up in indignation, with flushed face, with clenched hands, if some poor woman should stop the life she feels can only be a tragedy, and may possibly end in hell. If the magistrate is so anxious about life, if society is so protective of its little ones, shall the church take any lower view?
The next case is not out of keeping with the former. Then came one "and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" What does Jesus Christ do? Goes back to the beginning as in the two former cases—God's purpose in the case of divorce, the kingdom of heaven in the case of the little children, and God in the case of this young man. Jesus Christ goes back to the beginning of character,—law; Jesus Christ goes back to the beginning of law,—the commandments. He treats nothing in mere detail. He will not be vexed and distracted by momentary questions; he stands at the fount and origin of things and reads all life in the light of the divine purpose. Understand that all the great questions of human life have been answered from the beginning. The young man proposed the question as if some new answer were about to be given. God has no new answer to give to any man. All great questions of the heart were answered before the heart began to speak. As sacrifice antedated sin, so the law antedated all character. Do not imagine that God has left all the great questions of the heart to be answered until now. All questions have been replied to, all light has been given that is necessary for the beginning of our superior and supreme education.
The young man had kept all the commandments, and yet he had not kept one of them! Is it possible to be so contradictory? It is not only possible, it is actual in every life. We keep things in the letter and we break them in the spirit. A man may possibly be right in letters and syllables beyond all just impeachment, and yet in the spirit he may be breaking every law which he apparently embodies. A man is not necessarily in church when he is merely bodily present there. It is possible to be in church in the body and at the same moment to be a thousand miles away from the altar, transacting business that has but a very questionable relation to the sanctuary.
In all these cases the disciples have something to say; and, as usual, they belittle every occasion. You do not, I repeat, know how grand Christ is as a talker till you hear the piping, whining voice of the disciples. You may listen to Christ so much that you think every other voice is as his own in fulness and music, suggestiveness and colour and sympathy. Not until you hear some other man speak do you know how grand was the voice of God's Christ. Now, let us hear the disciples: their remarks will be instructive by their feebleness.
Having heard the Master speak about divorce, the disciples say unto him, "If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry." "Fools," said Christ, "you do not know what you are talking about." You cannot set aside the great pressures of nature—you cannot set aside the original law and force of things. It is not for man to say, "If that be so, then I think I will do something else." Man is caught within the sweep of a mighty law, and he cannot rid himself of the gravitation which God has brought to bear upon him to keep him in his right place. "It is good for a man not to marry." It is no such little humanity that Jesus Christ came to pamper and build up. Jesus came to make men. God said, "Let us make man;" and, in the doing of that, he must pass through a thousand trials, and fight his way to conquest and tranquillity.
Then the disciples intervene in the case of the little children. The disciples rebuked them, the disciples forbade them, the disciples severally and jointly shook their heads at them. Oh, how these disciples do belittle whatever they touch! How they throw discord into the music that was sweeping like a heaven-filling wind from the mouth of Christ, the great Revealer and Teacher! We do too much forbidding work. There we commit many grave errors, and set up many hindrances in the way of honest and noble men. We think that if we put our veto upon something we have exercised a very noble function. The church should not love to forbid so much as to encourage. If the disciples could have said, "Behold, little children are being brought to our King; make way, stand back for the army of the little and the beautiful," they would have risen to something like the grandeur of the occasion. But they were afraid of noise; they did not like children to cry in church. As if Jesus Christ had committed to memory some very beautiful literary piece as a recitation which he was about to pronounce to the people, and he might be hampered, and forget where he was, and the whole thing would be lost! But he was the Life. He would have turned the cry into a prayer; he would have founded upon the child's unconscious laughter some grand hope. When shall we speak the Master's language with the Master's accent?
The disciples intervene in the third instance. And Peter said, "Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?" How this man drags the stars out of heaven and tramples upon them! How he debases the ideality of life, the prophecy and the apocalypse of human being and education! "We have forsaken all;" and an all it was to forsake—a few nets that required mending, an old boat that was not seaworthy: they had forsaken ALL!
Have you left all, and done it with the right motive and with a right, strong, healthy heart? Then I promise you, in Christ's name, kingdom and honour enough, in so far as the cause was just and the motive good.
How Jesus answered the man! Read the twenty-eighth and the twenty-ninth verses, and you will find a cataract of promise and pledge and gift in reply to a man who had left his broken nets and his poor ship. Yet the thirtieth verse says, "Remember, there are many that are first that may be last, and the last may be first." Do not count upon all this property you are going to have until you have lived worthy of your great vocation. At the last you may fall, and he who left all at the first with a wrong motive may get nothing at the last, and so may be a pauper at both ends.
Christ is equally great, whether in answering his enemies or his friends. Bold, complete, dignified, he answers, not as if struggling with a problem, but as if granting a revelation!
Matthew 19:7.—The sphere of Law is not the same with that of Duty. Many things are right, which are not to be sought by force; and many things are wrong, which are not to be thus prevented. Law may permit a wrong, lest by prohibiting it a greater wrong should be produced. The text of the law was interpreted differently by the Jewish lawyers. To the question proposed, the school of Hillel said, Yes! and the school of Schammai, No! Deuteronomy 24:1.
Matthew 19:10.—This section is peculiar to St. Matthew. The same term is used both literally and figuratively. There were some who might serve men and God better in the unmarried state; but only some.
Matthew 19:13.—Christ did not baptize the children, and he never baptized grown persons. He declared that children shared with adults the holy instruction and influence, the safety and blessedness, of the kingdom of Heaven. He taught that they were to be received and recognised by his disciples, as those to whom the kingdom of Heaven belonged. And he showed that symbolical services and prayers were proper and profitable for them.
From the arrangement of the three Evangelists it appears that this conversation took place in the last journey to Jerusalem.
Matthew 19:16.—The contents of this division are closely connected, and the first three sections are common to the three Evangelists, the last being peculiar to St. Matthew. In reply to the question proposed, our Lord first exposes a fundamental error: all good is to be received from God, who only is independently good. He then refers to the rule, which rightly applied would lead to the right cause. And finally he points to his own example, which all disciples were to follow in principle, and some in voluntary poverty.
Matthew 19:23.—The disciples supposed that riches would be aids to, and rewards in, the kingdom of Christ, as in earthly kingdoms; and they were surprised to learn that they were hindrances, to be surrendered, not sought for.
Matthew 19:28.—There would be great rewards; but not of the kind expected, nor according to the supposed rule. The new creation is in the future. Acts 3:21; Romans 8:19; 2Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1. A similar promise to the Apostles is found, Luke 22:30.