The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples,Chapter 77
Almighty God, who can follow the way which thou dost take, or understand the writing of thy books, or hear all the music of thy voice? We are always left behind: we cannot keep pace with thy going; we are tired, and if thou didst not gather the lambs in thy bosom and carry them in thine arms, behold thy whole flock would be left in stony places. But thou art mindful of us with tender care: when we are weak then are we strong, because thou dost draw us still nearer to thine own almightiness. We have heard of thee from Jesus Christ, and he calls thee our Father: he hath revealed the Father, he told us that he himself came from the bosom of the Father—his speech about thee has made us glad with true joy.
Thou hast numbered the very hairs of our head, thou hast given unto us all thy heart's love, yea thou didst so love us as to give thine only-begotten Son to live, to die, to rise again, to pray all his breath in Heaven. He is our Priest and Intercessor and great King, as he was our Saviour when he died upon the cross and poured out his precious blood for the ransom and redemption of the world. Why do we not believe thee? Behold some of us now in thine house are dumb and deaf and blind, and our hearts are as the nether millstone. Some of us have never wept at the cross, some of us have never felt the cleansing blood. Why are some altars left unlighted, why are some lives left among the beasts that perish? We cannot understand this: it is too high for us and too deep and altogether out of our scope and reach. We mourn it.
Thou art kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Thou dost not pour thy rain upon the gardens of righteous men alone, nor dost thou confine the shining of the sun to the windows of those that are open towards the heavens in loving expectation and desire, but thou pourest thy rain upon good and bad, just and unjust, and the shining of the sun is an impartial glory. So surely is thy love in Christ: did he not die for the whole world, is he not sent into every country, has he not a gospel for every heart, did he not cry over the cities that rejected him, is not his heart filled with compassion towards all the children of men? Why this hardness, why this unanswering rebellion of spirit? May we pray that now the mighty change may be accomplished—may we desire in loving prayer that now may be the day of salvation to all who have not yet uttered the oath of love or received the seal of pardon? Come suddenly to thy people: now that we are all in one place may we be of one accord—when we are of one accord thou wilt not withhold the pentecostal benediction and revelation.
Spirit of the living God, come now—Spirit of fire, answer us from the high Heavens—Spirit of life, let thine answer be unto us great and tender and full of satisfaction. Dry the tears of our sorrow, staunch our bleeding wounds, lift up those that are cast down, speak comfortably unto Jerusalem, let tender solaces recover our strength and messages from Heaven rekindle the lamp of our hope. O save us, Mighty One—draw us to thyself, and set not the foot of thy power upon any one of us, or we shall be crushed and destroyed, but open thine heart and bid us welcome to thy love, and show us the meaning of the cross of Christ, and at the close of this, our waiting upon thee together, with one consent, may we have seen the King in his beauty and heard voices from Heaven. Amen.
1. And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Beth-phage (on the road from Jericho, and to the east of Bethany) unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples,
2. Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her; loose them, and bring them unto me.
3. And if any man say aught unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them.
4. All this was done (has come to pass) that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying,
5. Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.
6. And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them,
7. And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon.
8. And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way.
9. And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David: blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.
10. And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved (filled with pilgrims at the beginning of Passover week), saying, Who is this?
11. And the multitude said. This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.
12. And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers (Syrian, Egyptian, Greek, the money might be), and the seats of them that sold doves.
13. And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves (Palestine was then swarming with brigands).
14. And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them.
15. And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the son of David, they were sore displeased,
16. And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?
The Entry Into the City
How did he know where the ass was, and the colt, and in what condition they would be found? This seems to be a little thing in the reading, but if you will think yourselves back into the exact details of the situation, even in this little bush you may find a fire that burns, but does not consume. How did Jesus know all the little things of which he spake in the course of his ministry upon earth? How did he see Nathanael under the fig-tree, how did he read and picture his character and state it in words that startled the man himself? How did he know who it was in the tree looking down upon him in a spirit of curiosity? How knew he the man's name and the man's circumstances, and how did he dare say that he would be the man's guest that day? And by what power of vision does he see the place where the ass is, and the colt, the place where two ways meet, and the possibility of the owners being there? How does he charge the disciples to explain their errand to any one who should interrogate them upon it? We take these things too much as a matter of course, but diligently consider them, and weigh them, and bring them up to their proper and complete totality, and tell me if the upgathering of these fragments does not fill many baskets, and does not awaken all the wonder, of a religious kind, of which man is capable.
Yet, with all this, he uses a word which seems to set it in singular and all but painful contrast. He speaks as a man of need; he who could see all things and foretell all things confesses to his personal necessity. The head that carried all knowledge had not where to sleep, of its own right and title. And again in that very selfsame sentence he used a word which throws the term "need" into striking contrast—Lord. Such strange mixture do we find in the talk of this Man. Lord and need in the same sentence! He does not give up his royalty because of his necessity, nor does his royalty and Lordship save him from need. And yet what need could he have who had but to express the wish and it was instantly complied with? It was a sweet necessity, it was the pain of that hunger which had wherewith to satisfy itself. Is not hunger a delightful sensation when the smoking feast is before you? What hunger is that which betakes itself into a banqueting hall loaded with all that can delight the senses and satisfy the appetite? What need could he have who had but to wish and it was done, to command and it stood fast, to express a desire and it hastened on eager feet and with passionate love to satisfy it even to overflow?
A wondrous reality you will find in all the life and speech of Jesus. He hides nothing. He is Lord and yet he has need; he is Master, and yet he hath not where to lay his head: he commands with all the breadth and emphasis of one who would rule worlds, and yet the foxes are better housed and the birds have nests to themselves, while he is exile and wanderer, solitary as a homeless one. Nothing is painted here, nothing veneered, nothing kept back: the stern, simple, absolute reality faces the reader and compels him, if he be a man of candid mind, to acknowledge that nothing is set down here by way of false allurement, but everything is real, strong, simple, and open, to be tested by all the organs and instruments of reason.
He is now about to fulfil a scripture. "All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet." He did nothing extemporaneously, his most sudden act was a flash from a volcano which it had taken an eternity to gather. There was all the appearance of freshness about everything he did, as if it had never been thought about before, and yet just as he planned this journey did he plan the whole scheme of things of which we form a more or less insignificant part. He foresaw the occasion, knew where to find the colt on which he would ride, sent for it, gave an answer by anticipation to any man who asked the disciples what they were doing. See in the little event before you, with all its exquisite shaping and adaptation, on a small scale what he has been doing on the scale of the universe. The very hairs of your head are all numbered, the inventory of the universe is in heaven, the Writer of the books that cannot be burned is in the skies, all things are set down there in imperishable ink, and when the Son of Man is come in his glory and all the holy angels with him, then will he read all over the earth's long story, so bloody, tragic, terrible, and yet, in his reading, they will fall into strange weird resonance and rhythm, and we shall find that even the storms have been caught up within the embrace of a law inspired of God, and tending to the blessedness and perfecting of the human race.
Are there not many of us who would send Jesus Christ the colt from the stable, the horse from the field, the cattle from the pasture, the gold from the bank, and yet would not send him—ourself? We might be proud to give him anything we have—he wants us, as we are. He seeks not yours, but you, and having you, he has yours. Therein is a solemn truth, deep as life. It is not enough to give him out of the hand, we must give him the hand itself. Ye are not your own, ye are bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are Christ's. We are not to subscribe, we are to sacrifice: We are not to send something, we are to take ourself. We beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present yourselves as living sacrifices, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
"And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way: others cut down branches from the trees and strawed them in the way, and the multitudes that went before and that followed cried." They might do all that, and do nothing! The men sent the colt: the great multitude spread their garments, others cut down branches, and all cried with a loud voice, as if the King had come, and must be hailed in shouts of loyal delight. All that might mean nothing, and yet, if it meant the right thing, it was itself necessary. What is there under it? If the life be under it, then the enthusiasm is not only contagious, it is necessary, and it is most beautiful. Christ awakens enthusiasm: the loyalty which is paid to Christ is a loyalty of passionate and uncontrollable love, it keeps back nothing, it considers that nothing has been done while anything remains to be attempted. Such love holds that nothing has been given whilst anything has been withheld.
Where is passion today? Who now is excited in a godly and healthy sense about Jesus Christ? Yet he is the Man of the day, books written about him are still read and asked for, and are greatly multiplied. Still he is the puzzle of the times: he overlooks every shoulder, breathes upon every honest labourer, speaks comfortably to every suffering heart, divides the burden and multiplies the joy of every life. Are we not too cold about him? Are we not too respectable, in the merely conventional sense of that term, in the arrangement and expression of our piety? Are we not as successors, the unnamed but real posterity of the Scribes and the Pharisees who were appalled by the enthusiasm which Jesus Christ evoked? Consider this well. I do not want any of you to spread your garments in the way and cut down branches from the trees, and to join the great cry, unless these things express a real and healthy condition of the heart. Yet it must not be left unsaid, that where there is absolute, unreserved consecration of the soul, there will be corresponding expression in the whole demeanor of the life.
"And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved,"—but Luke puts in an incident which Matthew omits: going towards the city, unable to see it because of a shoulder of the hill, he turns suddenly round, and there was beauteous queenly Jerusalem, great light shining upon it and covering it as with a robe of purest snow. And yonder were the marble pinnacles, and yonder the gilded roof of the temple—such a sight in form of a city never flashed on human eyes. Yet the Evangelist says, "And when he came near the city he wept over it." He never wept for himself: when he told the disciples that he was going up to Jerusalem to be betrayed into the hands of men who should mock him and scourge him and crucify him, no tear stood in his eye—but when he was come near the city, he wept over it, and said. "Hadst thou known, even thou, in this thy day the things that belong unto thy peace! But now they are hidden from thee." When he stood in the judgment hall, when he was smitten with the reed, when men spat upon his face, when they plucked the hair from his cheek, he wept not—but when he was come near the city, he wept over it, and said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thee, but thou wouldst not! It is now too late."
He weeps over you, hard hearts; he weeps over you, disobedient and self-pleasing will and purpose of life. No scourge could make him cry for himself, no nails driven into his hands ever caused him to weep weakly for the pain's sake; but when he was come nigh unto the city he wept over it. Those tears were the prelusive drops of a thunder shower that destroyed the queen of cities: they went before the great black thunder drops that fell on the hot streets—and as he cries over us to-night his tears have the same meaning—he will rain fire and brimstone from heaven upon those that continue their sin beyond the reach of his patience. It is one of two things, it is falling upon that stone and being broken, or having the stone falling upon us and being ground to powder.
"And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this?" Cities are moved by various causes. Let news of a great war be reported in London, and, great as the city is, it will be moved from centre to circumference. Let a great man die, even in a green old age, and the city, the country, the civilised world feels that the cedar has fallen. It is a great thing indeed to have such responsibility attached to power and to life, that when the man dies the world shall feel itself poorer because of his withdrawment. The death that eclipses the gaiety of nations, that stops the mad dance half through, that makes the winebibber set down his goblet half drained, that interferes with the business of the day,—marvellous indeed is such a fact. We cannot hope to attain that influence, but we can obtain a better. You may so live as to be missed by your family for your good deeds, you may so live that the house will be empty without you, and those who loved you will have no more joy under that roof because you have gone away.
The whole city was moved. Here was a Man who could move a city and could satisfy every emotion he excited. Some men cannot control the excitement which they raise—others raise it only to mock it by grievous disappointment. Here is a Man who moves the city to the uttermost depths of its feeling and expectation, and having stirred the city life into one vehement prayer, has the Amen upon his lips which can satisfy its every petition. Would that whole cities would cry unto him! That will never be done until individuals as such approach him in the right spirit. Do not therefore let us yearn for the movement of whole cities, but begin where we can, by every individual heart calling him "Lord," and crying unto him as Saviour and King. Speak you the holy word just now; poor broken bleeding heart—call him Saviour: strong man without a tremor of weakness, a pang of pain, or an emotion of fear or distress, go over to his side and bless him for your strength, and offer it as a sacrifice upon his altar. And you, little children, may also join this act of loyal worship.
"And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple,"—those children were boys: it is a masculine noun—but, little girls, you may join the hymn. Boys and girls of every condition in life, rich and poor, well instructed and ignorant, you may bring your tribute of praise. You may be rebuked: the priests and scribes when they heard the boys crying in the temple and saying, "Hosanna to the son of David," were sore displeased. The boys were choristers in the temple: they were paid to sing, and they did not receive their money for the purpose of crying "Hosanna" to a foreigner, especially this Jesus of Nazareth and Galilee, and they thought that Christ himself ought to interfere and rebuke such enthusiasm. They said unto him, "Hearest thou what these say?" as if he did not hear everything. We are told that the great musician hears every instrument in the whole band. We have heard of one great conductor throwing up his baton because one instrument was not doing its duty in the great musical fray. He stopped, saying "Flageolet." The burst of music in all its swing, and fulness, and grandeur, and expressiveness, was not pleasing him because one small flageolet was missing its duty. As if Jesus did not hear who was singing in the congregation and who is not singing, as well, and it pains him to see some who ought to be singing who are not uniting their voices in the common praise. Yet singing is not a question of the voice only; do not say a man is not worshipping God in the song because he is not singing: one sings sympathetically as well as vocally. You sing with the spirit and with the understanding as well as with the voice. It is an error of a very mischievous kind to suppose that a man is not singing or praising God simply because he is not doing so vocally. I sing best with the greatest singer: when I hear one who can sing I sing with the singer. It carries my soul aloft: every heart-throb of mine heightens the great song.
Jesus Christ answered these men from their own standpoint. Observe, they were persons whose business it was to read the law and understand it, and again and again in his life Jesus Christ turned round upon these men and said, "Have ye never read?" They were spending a lifetime in reading the letter, and they seldom touched the vital spirit. These children were not singing extemporaneously; it was not a piece of haphazard work in the temple; this utterance of the boys was a fulfilment of prophecy. "Have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise"? He had read everything. How did he come—he was not a man of letters—to have read everything? Because he had written everything. He was not the reader only, but the writer: he inspired Moses. "If ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me, for he wrote of me." And beginning at Moses and all the prophets and the psalms, he expounded unto his disciples, in all the scriptures, the things concerning himself.
Jesus Christ always said a kind word about the children. The disciples rebuked them, and he protected the dear little creatures. The priests and the scribes were sore distressed because of the children's voices, and Jesus said, "They are fulfilling prophecy." When did he turn any one away who would offer praise to his name or express gratitude for his goodness? What I want to do myself is not to send him my colt or gold or flowers or branches or clothes, and not to join only in some loud loyal cry of delight, but to offer him my poor, wounded, guilty SELF. If he will accept me, cleanse me, make me without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, purify me by the washing and cleansing of his own blood, then the house is his, and the garden, and the business, and the bank. Having secured the heart, he has secured all.
And he left them, and went out of the city into Bethany; and he lodged there.Chapter 78
Almighty God, if we put our trust in thee, our souls shall know no unrest or pain, for thou wilt bring forth our righteousness as the light and our judgment as the noonday. Thou dost carry all government, and none can rule but by thy permission—behold, every sovereignty is part of thine own: thou art the reigning One and there is none higher than the Father. Help us to put our whole trust in this sacred doctrine, that our souls may not be driven about and tossed with every wind that blows, but may enjoy a sense of security, and enter into the mystery of the peace of God. Thou dost hide us in thy pavilion, thou dost surround us with inviolable security, thine eye is upon us for good, thine hand is laid upon us that we may be defended. Help us to read the miracles of thy providence, to understand them as signs given to the sons of men from Heaven, and may we so read thy wonderful works as to enlarge in happy continuation the word which thou hast written in thy Book for our daily instruction.
Thy law is one through all the ages: it is broken only to our senses by sleep and wakefulness, by surprises which reveal our ignorance, but from thy throne, ever continued, ever consistent, full of love, shining with beneficence, the purpose of God, the election and decree of Heaven. That we may rest on the rocks is our prayer, that our feet may stand upon the eternal granite of thy righteousness is our heart's desire—then we shall have peace and sweet content and bright hope, and our heart shall be as the church of the angels.
We have come to sing our united hymn in thy hearing, to make common prayer at the foot of thy throne, to lift up the voice of our thanksgiving without restraint, and to plead with thee that as our day, so our strength may be, and that according to the burden we have to carry may be thy sustaining grace. We come by the appointed way: Jesus said, "I am the door"—we enter by that living door, we come by the cross of Christ, upon us and upon every syllable of our prayer is the sacred blood of the atoning sacrifice; so shall we prevail with thee, and our hymn and our prayer shall have audience in Heaven.
Pity us, for we are here but a little while, and whilst we are here we are digging our grave. Shed thy tears upon us, but withhold the glances of thy judgment, for we are as a vapour that cometh for a little time and then vanisheth away; yet hast thou given unto us wondrous capacities—of sin, of knowledge, of service, of homage to thy throne, and of complete identification with every purpose that stirred the heart of the Redeemer of the world. May those capacities be sanctified, may fire from Heaven take away from them everything that is impure, and may the Holy Ghost, the fire of the universe, the flame of light and of glory, dwell within us, subduing our will, enlightening our mind, leading our purified heart into higher rapture and more loving service.
Thou knowest all the purposes of our life; the plans we have laid out for tomorrow thou hast read in every line and shape; all the secret things in our heart are written with sunbeams on the walls of Heaven—thou knowest us altogether, our purposed journeyings and voyagings, our breakings up of immediate relations that they may be renewed in still tenderer embraces, our commercial enterprises, our family designs, every trouble that depresses, every light that brings us joy—all is known unto thee: thou art ruling and directing all. We pray for the spirit of resignation and trust and complete love, that we may rest in the Lord and commit our way unto the Father.
Take away from us the delight of our eyes, the pride of our life, the joy of our home, and the staff of our pilgrimage if thou wilt, but take not thy Holy Spirit from us. We yield ourselves into thine hand: they are well kept whom thou dost keep. Make our bed in our affliction: when the enemy is strongest, be thou mightier than he, and when he would come in as a flood, lift up thy Spirit as a standard against him.
Send messages from thy table to ail the guests who would have been here but cannot, because of suffering, in mind, body, or estate. Speak comfortably to such in their solitude, turn their tears into blessings, and may their weakness become the point of their strength. Comfort all that mourn, visit those whom others avoid, let the helplessness of the weak be the reason of thy coming to. them in the almightiness of thy grace. Watch all the seas of the globe, search all the lands where our loved ones are, find out where they be that messages of love may reach them—and as for those for whom we dare hardly pray, so much in hell, do thou search for them, and seek them, and bring them back—thou, the loving Shepherd, the wounded Man, the sacrificed Priest, the Son of God. Amen.
The Condemnation of Uselessness
From the city to the village—it seems to be but a short journey; in point of mileage indeed it was nothing but an easy walk. From the city into Bethany—how far was that? Do not tell me the distance in miles, statute or geographical—such journeys have not to be measured by arithmetical instruments. From the city to Bethany was from a battlefield to a home—how far is that? From the city to Bethany was a journey from strangeness to friendship—who can lay a line upon that immeasurable distance? From the city to Bethany, a journey from tumult and riot and murder to love and rest and tender ministry—who can lay a line upon that diameter and announce its length in miles? None.
It was worth while making that little change for one night—one quiet look upward, one brief solemn pause in the rush of life, that the head might turn towards the stars and the firmament and the serenities of the upper places. The house at Bethany was not grand, but the home was lined with the gold of love. We want such a home when the stress is heavy upon us—tears could be shed there without being misunderstood, and the heart could tell its whole tale or remain in total silence, just as the mood determined, and there would be no misconstruction. It was a church in the rocks, it was a sweet sanctuary, just out of the great high road of life's business and sacrifice. Can you retire to such a nest? Happy is your lot! He who can find a Bethany, a home, a rest-place, a Sabbath in the midst of the week, can bear his burdens with equanimity, and grace and hope.
But we must return. In the seventeenth verse we read, "And he left them and went out of the city," and in the eighteenth verse we read, "As he returned into the city." The village must not detain us long—the village for rest, the city for toil. Once the disciples said unto him by the mouth of their spokesman, "Lord, it is good to be here: let us build." He himself could have said that morning in Bethany, "It is good to be here: warm is this home, the walls are like arms round about me. Why not tarry here and rest till the storm blow away, and all God's great sky shine again in translucent blue above my head?" But he returned.
And as he returned, he hungered. See the wonderful naturalness of this story: it lives in the very words which tell it. Truly this Jesus was human: he never was at pains to conceal his humanity, he drew no screen around his weakness, saying, "My followers must not see me in this low condition." At Sychar he told a woman that he thirsted; on the road from Bethany he hungered; on the sea he fell asleep. About the humanity of Christ there can be no doubt: his deity is the greater to me because of his humanity. The foot of this ladder is upon the earth: I can begin at certain points in this history and find my way upward to other and remoter points.
The circumstance of the fig-tree must be treated in this particular connection as illustrative of the inner life of Christ. His treatment of that tree was a revelation of himself as he was at that moment. Jesus Christ never did other than reproduce his real self at the time: whatever he did is the counterpart and outer sign of his own mental and spiritual condition at the time of revelation. In the action find the spirit. Read the life of Christ in the light of this suggestion, and it will be its own commentary and broadest and clearest exposition. Every act was a translation of the Man. See how true this is in the case before us. Christ always looked for the fulfilment of the Divine idea in everything. The divine idea of the fig-tree was not leaves, but fruit. There was no fruit, and therefore the word of destruction was spoken. Consider how near he was to the fulfilment of the divine idea which he himself represented, and a man so burningly in earnest could brook no disappointment then. His own life was too hot to stand the mockery of any disappointment. He came to the fig-tree searching for fruit; he found nothing but leaves, and he spoke the word that withered it away.
What have we here but a great law, namely, that the earnestness of the living man determines his view of everything round about him? Jesus Christ was always earnest, but even his earnestness acquired a new accent and intensity as the baptism of blood came nearer. "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished." That was the mood of the Man: he could not brook any irony of a practical kind then. We know what this is in our own life, when high pressure is put upon us, when all life is centred in one effort, when all the energies of our nature are wakened up and are bearing upon one object which we consider worthy of them—how impatient we then are with mockery and disappointment and trifling of every kind! We who under other circumstances could pause and wait and wonder and excuse and suggest mitigations of the case, can brook no delay or mockery when the blood is at its supreme heat.
Jesus Christ showed this in his cleansing of the temple for the second time. We wondered how the men consented to have themselves driven out of the place. You should have seen the driver, thai would have explained all: you should have seen the royalty of his look and heard the sovereignty of his tone, and felt the fervour of his prayer. There are times when vice owns the supremacy of virtue: Jesus Christ now realised one of those times when he heard in the temple the voices of the brigands who haunted the limestone caverns of Judea: the calling of their merchandise and the clamour of their selfishness roused his indignation, and he scourged the ruffians out of the house they had polluted.
This was the temper of his mind just then, when he wanted the ass, and the colt, the foal of the ass—"Say the Lord hath need of him, and he will be given up." In that temper he came into the temple and cleansed it, in that temper he looked upon the disappointing fig-tree and withered it. All this is but a transcript of himself. Everything, in the judgment of Christ must be real, useful, and satisfying according to its nature. His very hunger was a judgment at that time. He did not wither away the poor Samaritan woman who parleyed with him about a draught of water: he had more time on his hands—the cross was farther off, it was a time of revelation rather than of judgment, and he spoke kindly true words to her and held a mirror up to her in which she saw herself in all the length and mystery of her lifetime. He who so communed with the woman at the well withered up the tree that did not supply him with food at the moment of his necessity. It was the same Christ, but the same Christ under different circumstances. At Sychar he was Revealer, Interpreter of the universe, Messiah, the Revealed One of God—on the road from Bethany, wanting almost his last breakfast upon earth before the great tragedy, he was burning, heated sevenfold, the stress was terrible—every look was then a judgment!
Jesus Christ here shows what he will do with all useless things. This is not a surprise in the revelation of Christ Do not let us lift up our eyes from the page and say how wonderful that he should have done this. In very deed, if we have rightly read the story, this is the very thing he has been doing as he has been coming along the whole line of his life, only we see some things now and then more sharply than at other times. There are occasions upon which whole revelations are condensed in an incident, and we give way to a pitiful wonder which does but betray our ignorance of what has already passed before us. This circumstance was foretold in the great sermon on the mount, when Jesus said, "If the salt have lost its savour it is henceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men." In that sentence you have the withered fig-tree as to all its law, and inner meaning, and certain judgment, and, when Christ antedated the day of final criticism, and brought before him the man who had buried his talent in a napkin and brought it out and shook it down, saying, "There thou hast that is thine," he said, "Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness." That was but the divine and highest view of this very fig-tree scene—the condemnation of uselessness, the outcasting and final burning of unprofitableness. Do not let us therefore consider that we have come upon an exceptional instance, as though nothing of this kind had been so much as hinted at before. Here we find the accentuation, in a most visible and palpable instance of a law which has guided the Saviour in all his previous ministry.
Will this be the law of his procedure always? Most certainly it will. If so, what will happen in society, in politics, in the church? This will occur: he will come up to our institutions seeking fruit, and if he find none, he will wither the institutions away. See there the difference between him and us. We keep up institutions because they are a hundred years old—Jesus Christ keeps them up because they bear fruit. We preserve our institutions and our organisations and machinery, because of their venerableness; we think it a pity to touch them. True, they are not so useful as they were wont to be: true, they are effete, they are self-exhausted, but seeing that they have been standing there a thousand years, let them stand a thousand longer! So talks an unreal sentimentalism. Jesus Christ says, "If they do not satisfy the hunger of the age, let them be withered and cut down and removed, and new ones put in their places." He judges of your institutions by their power of satisfying the hunger that immediately applies to them. So shall it fare with the church, with the pulpit, with all that we hold traditionally dear. Jesus Christ will attend our services, and he will draw nigh unto the pulpit and say, "I hunger, give me food," and the pulpit that does not satisfy the healthy and natural hunger of the soul, he will wither away. No matter how old, how costly, how traditionally grand, how adorned with faded splendours of the past, if it do not contain food and water for the immediate hunger of the age, he curses it and it must wither away. How real he is, how stern in his healthiness, how utterly and grandly robust in all his demands. He will cut down, he will wither away, he will destroy, he will overturn, overturn, overturn, until the right kingdom come in and be set up on foundations that cannot be moved.
How swiftly the decree executed itself. "And presently the fig-tree withered away." When was his miracle ever done other than presently? How suggestive is this reflection. Early in the sacred book we read, "And God said, Let there be—" there was! The be hardly died out of the startled air till the thing spoken of stood fast. So here and everywhere throughout the whole story of the miracles, we have immediateness, instancy, obedience without reluctance, reply without hesitation. A man is withered away in a moment; a great man disobedient, disloyal, untrue to God, unfaithful to oath and covenant, is touched by the invisible finger—is gone! He calls it loss of memory, he speaks of it as premature old age, he rubs his eyes as if to make them new and young again, and says there is a mist before them. What is he? A tree without fruit, a cumberer of the ground, man without manhood, a living irony, a mocker of realities, a hypocrite, a palpable and mischievous sarcasm!
And so at the end we have just the selfsame thing as at the beginning and at the middle. So subtle and complete is the consistency of the divine government. "Let there be—" and there was. "Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward forever,"—and presently the fig-tree withered away. And at the last he will say to some "Depart," and these shall go away I My soul, come not thou into that secret.
It is in the power of almightiness to wither us, to turn our brain upside down, to confuse the memory, to cause reason to lose her way in the troubled brain and to be groping there in everlasting night. He interrupts the currents of vitality, he isolates the mocking life, he will not have uselessness in his church—his is a withering word, nor does he spare it even on his way to save the world. He could have withered his betrayers and judges by one glance, he could have burned up the mob which was led by the gentility and culture of the age, and left them as white ashes on the ground they had dishonoured; but the Son of Man came not to destroy men's lives, but to save them, and whilst there is one drop of sap in the bruised reed he will not break it, whilst there is one spark in the smoking flax he will not quench it. But he says, as he only can say, "My Spirit shall not always strive. O that thou hadst known, even thou, in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace. Now they are hidden from thee."
When the disciples saw it, they once more fell down from the dignity of the occasion, and showed, as we have so often seen, littleness and meanness of soul. Would we could put them all out of the way when we read this story: we should then feel as if walking on mountain tops—but ever and anon we are plunged right down into deep valleys by those mocking foolish men. They marvelled, saying, "How soon is the fig-tree withered away," struck by the incident, not impressed by the law—marvelling at something that was comparatively of no consequence, and forgetting the grand and universal doctrine that was conveyed. They are like ourselves. Instead of hearing the sermon, we hear how it was delivered: instead of listening for the eternal tone, and the eternal truth, we look at some mean transient incident of the occasion. What wonder if we are lean in soul, poor and empty in mind, and tossed about because of unfaith and every mischievous doubt? We should be on the outlook for the everlasting, our eyes should be shut so that they might not be tempted or led away by little or unmeaning incidents, and that our heart might have intensity of concentration in reference to the great things spoken by Christ See how these men have not grown one solitary whit from the beginning until now, and in a page or two they will run away: they must run away—such wonderers, such puerilities, could not stay: they must run, they will forsake him and flee, and thus complete the poetic circle and bring to its proper issue the ideal consistency of such characters. They who had seen a thousand miracles, the dead raised, the blind restored, the deaf made to hear, the sea quieted by a command, wondered with puerile amazement because the fig-tree shrunk in a moment and was withered up for ever. Such hearers would have degraded any preacher but the Son of God, such hearers would have stripped even him of every feature of heroism and dragged him down to their own mean dust, if he had been other than God himself. Any man-lighted candle they would have blown out—because the light was solar and fed from eternity they could not extinguish its splendour.
Now Jesus returns and lifts up the occasion again to the right level. Said he, "If ye have faith and doubt not." Not only so, he made the occasion an opportunity of laying down the great law of prayer: so does he turn our wonder to great uses and make our ignorance the starting-point of his own revelation. "And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." Believing, not hoping for, not selfishly expecting, not transiently wishing, but believing: and a man cannot believe in the right sense who is asking for anything which his reason condemns as improper, unjust, or mischievous. This word "believing" guards this promise like a flaming sword. I cannot ask for riches or strength or honour or fame: I cannot ask that one may sit on the right hand and another on the left: I cannot ask that the laws of nature be suspended and the universe be afflicted with a thousand troubles, whilst I am in the mood described as "believing." How much is involved in that word: resignation, childlike trust, asking for what God will give, and rounding off every prayer with this sweet Amen, "Nevertheless not my will, but Thine, be done."
Thus Jesus Christ would make us believe that we answer our own prayers just as he told the people that they had wrought their own miracles. So great grace was never seen before. He told the poor woman who went straightened and invigorated from his feet, that she had made herself whole—"Daughter," said he, "go in peace, thy faith hath made thee whole. Not my almightiness but thy faith." So he told all the people upon whom the miracles were wrought, "According to your faith be it unto you." "Canst thou believe? All things are possible to him that believeth." And now in prayer, when I fall down before God, and with united heart and clenched hands, the whole man symbolical of homage, resignation, faith, and ask for what I need, when God hands it to me from his hospitable heavens, he says, "Take it: thy Faith hath prevailed."
And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?Chapter 79
Almighty God, thou dost see all things at once: there is nothing hidden from thine eyes: our hearts give up their secrets to thee as thou dost look upon us. All things are naked and open unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. Thou art not searching for our faults, thou art looking for the return of our hearts to their harmony with thyself. Thy look has no fire of destruction in it, but is filled with the tears of tenderness, and often brightened by the expectation of loving hope. We have come to thine house to-day—it is a step in the upward road, may we take the next, and all the rest following, and by steadfast perseverance be brought at last into the great eternal life.
We have come with hymns in our hearts and upon our lips because of thy care and love, thy pity and protection, and because our lives have been lived in thy goodness and have been held up by both thine hands, so that until this hour we have not fallen into the great darkness. We come to thee as the God of the Jew and of the Gentile, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, and the Father of them that know thee not, and the Redeemer of the ends of the earth. We know thee by Jesus Christ thy Son: he spoke to us concerning thee, he called thee Father, he spake of thy love, he told us that he himself came to express it in daily humiliation, in the revelation of eternal truth, in living, in dying, in sacrifice, in resurrection, and in priesthood, so that we come to thee by the living way and the only path, and we find access to "thy throne of grace because of thy Son who died and rose again for us.
Thou hast led us by a way that we knew not, and by paths we had not known or understood. Thou hast found for us bread in the wilderness and water in desert places. From our youth upward thou hast been our security, a Light that none could extinguish and a Defence that none could violate. We live and move and have our being in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We bless thee that through innumerable faults and sins, through manifold infirmities and transgressions, thou dost still lead the struggling soul onward towards complete sonship and final deliverance from the power of sin. Thou art mindful of us in the darkness as well as in the light. When the devil falls upon us with all his power, thou dost not permit him to deal upon us the fatal stroke. We are living to praise thee: our days are a continuance of thy favour, and before our eyes thou hast held forth the enchantment of a heavenly prospect. Wherein thou hast left us for a moment, gather us with everlasting kindness, Return, O Lord, to the many thousands of Israel; come back again, thou whose absence is an infinite loss, and fill with light the space thou hast thyself created.
We can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth us. We love his name, we are bound to his cross, his life is our hope, his death our sacrifice. He is to us the First and the Last, who was and is and is to come, Head over all, pre-eminent in Heaven, reigning over the universe as over a very little thing. Fill us with the fulness of his grace, inspire us with a sacred ambition to penetrate still more deeply into the tender mysteries of his truth, and may the sweet gospel of his cross be our consolation in every hour of life, and our hope and our triumph in the hour and article of death.
We give ourselves to thee again, and we pray for one another in all tender words, that according to each man's pain and need, some gift may be given from above. Send none away unblest, put in every man's heart a new hope, inspire every soul with unusual gladness, may thy Holy Spirit be the light of our understanding, the fire of our love and the inspiration of our will and purpose. Sanctify all affliction, infirmity, pain, trouble, and all the manifold discipline of this weary life. May we be the stronger for our weakness, may the hours we spend in darkness give us greater appreciation of thy light. Be with our friends who are with us from a distance. Be with the stranger within our gates, may he find that this is none other than his Father's house. Take away from him all sense of solitude, loneliness, and want of friendship, and seizing the idea of the universality of thy church, may he, by the power of sympathy and the divination of love, find in this house the fellowship of the saints.
Be with those who have gone away from us for a time, who are on the great sea, who are in far away lands, who think of us now and mentally unite their hymns with ours. The Lord's benediction make the sea quiet, and the Lord's smile make foreign lands as beautiful as home. Be with all little children: water thou the tender plants in thy garden, visit every nursery and speak some little word to little hearers, and be all through the house, in its uppermost places and in its lowest tenements, and from the highest to the lowest may there be a spirit of godly content and willing submission to thy purpose, and glad expectation of ultimate deliverance and coronation.
Speak with special graciousness to our sick ones, who can scarcely bear upon their cheek the breath of human love. Thou knowest the way to the sinking heart, thou canst speak to the closing ear; whilst life endures thy hold upon it is certain, and even when it passes away from our appeal, it stands but the freer and gladder in the inner light. Comfort those that mourn, may they be the richer for their tears, the stronger for their infirmities, and out of the buffeting of the wind, may they bring some solid and lasting strength.
This our prayer we pray in the one name, the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom we took and with wicked hands hanged upon a tree, and slew. Amen.
23. And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority (always conferred by the scribes) dost thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?
24. And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things.
25. The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say. From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him?
26. But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet.
27. And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell (a virtual abdication of their office). And he said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.
28. But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work today in my vineyard.
29. He answered and said, I will not: but afterwards he repented, and went.
30. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not.
31. Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily, I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.
32. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward (did not even repent afterward), that ye might believe him.
33. Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country:
34. And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it.
35. And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another.
36. Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise.
37. But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son.
38. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance,
39. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him.
40. When the lord thereof of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen?
41. They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked (miserable) men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons.
42. Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures (Psalm 118:22), The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?
43. Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.
44. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken (Isaiah 8:14-15): but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.
45. And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them.
46. But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet.
The Application of Parables
Observe that the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Jesus as he was teaching. They interfered with his work, and punctuated that work with a question with which they intended to destroy the effect of the doctrine. It is so that our best work is often interrupted and vilely punctuated by those who wish to hinder its deepest and most holy success. An ancient writer has told us that the wolf does not fly at a painted sheep. The wolf understands his purpose, though it be cruel, much better. So the Scribes and Pharisees and the elders of the people did not fly at a Christ who was doing nothing—they laid wait for him, and according to their own estimate of their opportunity did they summon their savage energy to work out its malign purpose. But when otherwise or otherwhere could they have come upon him at all? He was always working, he was always teaching, he did but lift up his head for one moment, and then his face glowed as if he had been looking into a furnace when he said, "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" so that if evil-minded men had to come upon him at all, with any purpose of interrupting or destroying his work, they must of necessity come upon him in the intensity of a toil that seemed never to avail itself of relaxation.
How will he answer those men? First he will hear what they have to say to him. What is their question? The same question they have always been asking. They have but one question to ask who come thus to Christ. They may indeed devise for it a thousandfold variety of words, but centrally and substantially there is but one question which the enemy can ask for Christ—"Who art thou, or by what authority dost thou work, or who gave thee this authority, or who is thy Father, or whence dost thou come?" He was the mystery of his time: he is the mystery of all time. He is there, and yet he seems to have no right to be there: his credentials are not written in official ink, or signed by the official hand, and yet there he stands, speaking revelations, working miracles, his smile a heaven, his frown a judgment, and people round about him in great thick files, asking who is he, whence came he, by what authority, quo warranto, who is this Man, and why does he speak these great thunder-blasts of judgment, or utter these quiet benedictions of light?
Observe how narrow is the question put to Christ. It is a question about authority. Men who ask narrow questions can never be in earnest upon great subjects. I venture thus to condense into one sentence what I might speak to you in words of many volumes. Coming to the Bible, coming to Christ, with any little, narrow, pedantic question, you never can grapple with the magnificent occasion or extract from the Book or the Man the vital secret.
Jesus will answer you according to your question. You yourself determine the speech of the Son of God; whenever you are prepared to begin he will begin with you. How he can tantalise, how he can test the inquirer, how he can spoil the spoiler, how he can hold up to suppressed ridicule the man who would come to him with taunting questions! If you have received no great broad gleaming answer of love and redemption from the Bible, it is because you have come to it with some little narrow question. Ask if the Book will submit itself to some theory of inspiration, and it may possibly mock you. Say to the Book, "I have a theory by which I would test thee," and the Book will be dumb with silence you cannot break. But come frankly, with the nakedness of absolute moral destitution, without excuse or plea or self-defence, and knock with bruised fingers upon the door of your Father's house, and angels will open it, and all the store of the house will be yours, and your very hunger will be turned into the supreme blessing of your life. Ye have not because ye ask not, or because ye ask amiss. Had these men of the text set themselves down like so many docile children saying, "O Peasant of Galilee, Man of Nazareth, Mystery of the time, yet gentle, wise, true, beneficent, tell us what is in thine heart," he would have answered them as he answered Nicodemus. Nicodemus came to him in the dark, and Christ showed him all the wealth of the stars, and made the heaven so bright that it was no longer a nocturnal interview, but a conversation held in a light above the brightness of the sun. You would have more revelation if you had treated the Bible properly: you would have ampler entrance into the upper courts if you had gone to God with some bold prayer of penitence and high inspiration of expectant and contrite love.
Let us see how far Jesus Christ is true to the development through which we have watched him in all these studies. How will he answer men now? His teaching was always determined by the time and circumstances surrounding him. Look how true he is to himself. He is still going to make parables, but the parables represent him in a new light. When we studied the thirteenth chapter of this gospel, we thought we had passed through the picture-gallery of the church, and seen all its most beauteous representations of light and shade and hue and tone. We were charmed with the infinite suggestiveness and fertility of the Man's invention and power of utterance. So when we closed the thirteenth chapter, we were as men who descended from a great gallery of divinely painted pictures, and behold in this very twenty-first chapter we have parables again. But observe how the Speaker of them has changed. In these parables you catch the tone of judgment: here prejudicial parables as well as parables illustrative of great historical and moral truth. Never can you catch this Man off his guard; his word is always true to his feeling. Nearer the cross now than ever he was before, his word is accentuated by sharper emphasis, and through all the beauty of his parable there gleams some forelight of the great judgment fire.
In these facts find the proof of the Lord's deity. In such subtle consistency as this find at least the beginning of an argument which will land you in the conviction that, whilst never man spake like this Man, the unusualness of his speech came out of the unusualness of his nature. He was the Son of God, the only Revealer of the Father, his companion through all eternity, the Angel of the Covenant in one age, the Wisdom of another, the Coming One of all time—God the Son.
Observe how he speaks to these men judicially, and how all the while he proceeds along the safe and obvious basis of reason and justice. These two parables, as well as the answer about John, are illustrations of the rational justice upon which God's kingdom amongst men is based. "A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work today in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, the first!" He put a case before them which was apparently not religious. Here we find our right and title oftentimes, to occupy secular or outside ground, in illustrating and defending the gospel of Christ. In such parables as these, we find the range of the great Teacher's tether. He is not bound within a few inches: he may take his stand on the uttermost point of the horizon, and finding an admission there he may apply it to the whole course and tenor of human life within the ample circle, until it creates a judgment-seat before which to try the sons of men.
Here is hope for some of us. The narrow technical mind can never repent. This comes out of the very necessity of the case. Narrowness and technicality never can get into the region of emotion. Find a man who is a stickler for a form of words, merely because it is venerable, and you find a man who is incapable of enthusiasm, and incapability of enthusiasm is only another form of the solemn truth that some men are incapable of repentance. Beware how you become the slaves of merely literal forms and special places and peculiar ceremonies: do not become men of the letter, after this narrow sense of the term. Here you find men who are anxious about mere authority—they never can be other than purists and pedants. You may be correct and yet incorrect at the same time. You may be right and may be wrong in the very same breath. If a man should say that the earth stands still, he is right within given limits, and yet he totally misrepresents the condition of the earth when he puts it before his mind, and before the observation of others as a stationary body. Consider it well: the earth stands still and I can build upon it. So far you are literally correct, and yet it is not correct to represent the earth as standing still for one solitary moment. So a man may be a purist and a pedant in the letter, and may know nothing about the infinite beauty and suggestiveness and redeemingness of the inner gospel of Christ.
Do not look at the literal authority, look at the things that are done, and if the things are done, acknowledge them, and do not say that you pay more respect to the authority than to the accomplishment of the fact. If a man is converted in his inner thinking, in his moral purpose, in the whole set and tone of his mind, I will not inquire into the authority of the man through whose instrumentality that grand fact was accomplished. He may have the right to say to me in all justice, "Believe me for the work's sake." That was Jesus Christ's own appeal. When a man comes before you with nothing but authority, and no issues follow to attest and complete it, then set light by what he terms his credentials.
Now these men were men of authority, the victims of tradition, the creatures of conventionality, and therefore it was impossible for them ever to change their minds. Take care how you join that company: you will be clever but not great, you will have skill within a limited scope, but to your ability there will be no range, no mystery of distance, no suggestiveness of perspective—you will be simply strategic, clever, skilful, acrobatic, but wanting in the infinite genius that lays hold of God at unexpected places, and finds tabernacles for Him where others had suspected but the wastes of the wilderness.
On the other hand the impulsive man is always repenting. He said at first, "I will not." That was impulsive. I knew by the very urgency of his tone that he was a better man than he represented himself to be. If he had uttered that sentence slowly but with deliberate, lingering emphasis, I should have had but little confidence in his change—but no sooner was the proposition made to him that he should go and work in the vineyard, than flashingly, with the instancy of lightning, he said, "I will not." I knew by his tone that he would go! There are some men that misrepresent themselves—that cannot be understood as to their furthest and deepest meaning. Have faith in some kinds of bad men. Have no faith in some kinds of so-called good men. Understand the character in its inner essence and substance, and then, though there be a thousand infirmities and manifold positive sins, as in the case of Abraham and David and Peter, and all the great princes and leaders of the Church, there will be such an ultimate attestation that the divine seed was in the heart as no true witness can dispute or contravene.
Do I speak to any man who has wildly told God that he would not be good? I have faith in that man. Let us cheer him: I like him in many aspects of his character: he did not mean the rudeness or the violence or the blasphemy—he will think better of it and come to better terms. Do I speak to some who are always falling down, who begin to pray and forget midway what they intended to say? Do I speak to any poor bruised, broken heart, that is always bringing itself right into collision with some cruel obstacle or hindrance? I would speak comfortably to such. I have known such among the very best people in the world. Do not be discouraged or cast down. You ask no little peddling questions about authority, you do not go into the question of official ink and prescriptive signature—you are real, and you want reality, and when you have done your worst, no man condemns you so much as you condemn yourself. I shall find you one day with your eyes melted into great hot tears, standing a little way outside the door, asking if after all you may not come in—and come in you shall, come in you will! If men were turned out because of errors and sins like yours, heaven itself would be but a wooden place filled with wooden saints. No, in you and through you Christ shall come into his great broad human inheritance. Is the seed in you, is the right purpose in you, when you sin do you judge yourself and send yourself to hell? When you have got wrong do you sentence your soul to a lake of fire and brimstone where the devils are and the hot chains and the eternal burnings? If so, Christ shall yet have hold of you—none shall pluck you out of his hand. Out upon those who cry for mere authority and stand upon official conventionalism in the things pertaining to this inner kingdom; and a welcome, broad as the firmament, bright as the sun, to every prodigal heart that comes in and says, "I said I would not go, but I want to come, after all. Open the door and let me in." He will work well because he means it well.
"Hear another parable," said Christ, which was inviting the men into a second thunderstorm. Hear another parable—it was asking them to bind themselves again to the whipping-post till he scourged them with thongs of scorpions. He calls it a parable—it burns like a judgment. He says it is a picture, but as they look, the fire bursts out of it, and scorches their beholding faces. In every Gospel there is a judgment, as in every offer of mercy there is the possibility of a development of obstinacy that will end in penalty. Hear another parable. If he had said so to us in the thirteenth chapter of the gospel, we should have said, "Yes, and gladly—ten thousand more, for they are like new stars hung up on the background of night's gloom," but now we hesitate. Another parable? Another fire, another judgment, another revelation of ourselves to ourselves!
Then comes the parable of the householder who planted the vineyard, claimed the fruit, sent his servants for it, last of all despatched his son to bring the fruit of the husbandmen, who acted rudely, violently, and with fatal cruelty. Then said Jesus, "What shall be done to these men?" It was another secular instance, it was another instance of his extra-ecclesiastical or theological reasoning, and these men, who were sharp in the marketplace, clever in following the lines of an analogy, and a jagged kind of rude justice towards ill-behaving servants, admitted that if the case were as the Speaker put it, there was nothing for those miserable husbandmen but to be destroyed. Jesus said, "Have ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes"? The rejection was but for the moment, but God's elections will come up in the outgo and expenditure of the ages. He works by centuries, he breathes aeons and epochs of a thousand years apiece, but he surely brings his purpose to its culmination.
He did not himself apply the matter further. When they began to think of it, they said, "He means us. Kill him. We dare not, or the people would kill us." Sometimes in judging a case of human justice, we award the penalty to ourselves, and inflict the judgment upon our own hearts. Let us take care lest we bring upon ourselves the double damnation of admitting the logic in a secular case and endeavouring to elude its application in spiritual instances.
Still he is judge then; and yet I could not leave these parables with any hope, if I did not search further into them to see if the dear, sweet-souled, loving-hearted Christ were not in them somewhere—not in the authority, not in the son that would go and did not, not in the wicked husbandmen—yet he must be here somewhere, I know he must even yet speak some sweet gospel word. Here it is: "The publicans and the harlots believed him: the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you: the kingdom of God shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof." There is the same Christ, the Christ that cast out devils, the Christ that gave a new chance in life to the woman taken in adultery, the Christ that expelled from the heart of Mary Magdalene the tenants that diabolised her. This is the Christ of hope—this is the Man that dined with publicans and sinners. Fearful as coming from his lips at that time this utterance to the priests, the chief-priests, the elders of the people, as who should say, "Gentlemen, so-called in your own esteem, you who hold the keys of the church and the writings of the sanctuary, ye shall never go into the secret, sacred place, but shall be driven out, and publicans, sinners, harlots; bruised, wounded prodigals, naked, shoeless, coatless, penniless—all tears, all sorrow—with such outcasts shall God fill his house, and ye proud mockers shall be damned."
Matthew 21:27—"And they answered, that they could not tell whence it was." "They answered." Wicked regard not a lie, serving their purpose. "Could not tell." Gr. they did not know.
He compelled them to pronounce their own sentence, as incompetent to fill Moses' seat.
If they cannot answer one here, can they a thousand? Job 9:3. Caught in a hard alternative; extricated by an act of desperation.
They were thus convicted by all of gross hypocrisy.
Elements of their future vengeance were slowly gathering.
Before the Lord, all the world must keep silence. Habakkuk 2:20.
These "great knowers" who have always their "we know" at hand, for once, after their arrogant question, say with shame, in the presence of the people, "We know not."
Many a so-called "honest doubter," against his own conviction, resembles them, i.e., they know it well, but "will not say it."
Thousands will say anything, rather than "we are wrong."
Gehazi, Ananias, and Sapphira have more imitators than Peter or Paul.
The unrenewed often feel more than they confess.
Knowing the Gospel true, they want courage to confess it.
They know Christianity is right, but are too proud to say it.
They pretend to judge Christ's mission, and cannot tell even that of John.
Those who imprison the truth stifle conviction.
This declaration made them cease to be a Sanhedrim.
After this they were to Jesus only as usurpers.
The people could have answered without hesitation.
Rulers' refusal showed a want of courage and honesty.
Jesus and John were not their kind of prophets.