The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:Chapter 15
Christ's Missionary Example—Multitudes and Disciples—Christ's Picture of Blessedness—a Gate for Every Man
Almighty God, we thank thee that we have not come to the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, and unto darkness and tempest and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, a sight so terrible that Moses said, "I exceedingly fear and quake"; but we have come to Mount Zion, the city of the Heavenly Jerusalem, the place made sacred by the presence of our Saviour. We are now about to sit at his feet, that from his gracious lips we may hear the new and larger law. We bless thee that he, too, went up into a mountain, and that his voice was low, tender, gentle, because of our weakness; yea, falling in tender whispers upon the agony of our conscious guilt, and shedding upon us not a lightning to dazzle, but a gentle summer morning, quiet as light and almighty as love.
We bless thee for the enthroned Christ, seated upon the mountain, teaching, lifted up upon the Cross, dying in atoning sacrifice, exalted far above all principalities and powers and names and dominions and ministries at the right hand of God, ruling all things, giving centre and vitality and hope to the great universe. We gather around him this day, with loyal hearts and true, with undivided love, with thankfulness loud and sweet in its utterance, and to him we give the unbroken psalm of adoration and gratitude. O, that we might this day pass away from the earth in all our higher feelings and seize the promised joys, the inmost love, the divine love. Liberate us from the enthralment of time and sense and all things measurable, and give us liberty in heaven to enjoy, by exquisite foretaste, all the banquet thou hast provided for our eternal nourishment. We bless thee for this stairway up to heaven, this lower sanctuary, this outer porch and court of the great temple. Whilst we are here may we learn much of thy law, and study to the enlightenment of our mind and the comforting of our heart such of thy doctrines and thy promises as our life most needs to know.
We come with the week's hymn of love; for all the six days gone thou hast been with us—the brightness of our morning, the star of our night. Thou hast protected our roof, and our door and our windows; thou hast made our bed, and enkindled our fire and spread our table, and thy rod is an unbroken staff in our hand. Behold us, then, grateful; full of high desire to bless and praise thee, and worthily magnify thy name. Let our weakness become strength, let our infirmity add pathos to the sacrifice which is thereby made incomplete; may our very sin endear thee to us by reason of our contrition and repentance. The old man and the young man, the mother and the child, the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak, are all here for one sacred purpose, with hearts beating steadily to one offering of ardent love. Surely when thou passest through the heavens and lookest down upon the earth, thou wilt not forget the places where thy people meet to pray. Send a special blessing upon every congregated host assembled to sing thy praise and wait upon thy footstool, and give us this day a baptism gentle as dew, ardent as fire, bright as light, and let us henceforward be thine by a deeper consecration.
Hear the voice of those who to-day are uttering good words for the future. They would live better than ever, they would begin anew, they would sin no more; their hearts are in high mood of expectation; they hate the past wherein it was guilty, and they would give thee the future unstained by sin. Hear their vow, and whilst they utter it in all sincerity, minister unto them the grace which will enable them to fulfil it. The Lord knows how impossible it is for us whilst on earth to be in heaven, yet thou wilt count our holy purposes as holy deeds, and what we would be we shall be in the writing of thy book.
The Lord direct us in all business engagements, in all commercial perplexities, in all honest endeavours to make a livelihood in the sight of society. Prosper our schemes and plans wherein they are inspired by thine own spirit, and give unto us the prosperity which will itself be sanctified as a gift from heaven, and spare us those humiliations which would drive us into hopelessness and despair. May we give our strength to thee, nor withhold our weakness from thine altar. May our whole life be given to thee, an entire gift, unbegrudged, yielded with the whole love of the heart, because of what thou hast done for us.
The Lord be kind unto all for whom we ought to pray—to the old man our father at home, to the sick send messages of consolation, to the poor speak such words as their poverty can understand, to the baffled and afflicted, the bewildered and the panic-stricken, thou knowest what to say, for we are dumb. To the soldier and the sailor, and the stranger far from home, and the prodigal, the unthankful and the evil, the murderer of father and of mother by daily and aggravated sin—send messages from thy house in heaven, thou gentle Father, thou almost Mother. The Lord be kind unto us this day, and set a flame in his house that shall give us illumination not of earth, and grant unto us revelations of truth which will make us glad with holy and grateful surprise. Amen.
1. And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:
2. And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,
3. Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
5. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
6. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall toe filled.
7. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
8. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
9. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
10. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
12. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
"And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain." He has already been in the river, and walking by the seaside: to-day he goes up into a mountain, and presently we shall have to accompany him in his journeys through cities and towns and villages. Thus, little by little, a place at a time, he will claim and sanctify the whole earth. He was baptized in the river, walking by the seaside he called men to service: this morning he walks up the hill as up a stairway his own hands have fashioned; presently he will go further and spread his own gospel typically over all the face of the earth. Thus he will do in symbol what he will tell us to do literally, for what other places are there upon the whole globe besides the river, the sea, the mountain, the city, the town, the village, the house? Thus the kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed. In the doing and work of our own Saviour he will give us the germ of the missionary idea; we shall see the people of one town getting round him and saying, "Don't leave us," and he will rise above them and say, "I must preach the gospel in other cities also." Thus, when he comes to wind all up, in the most beneficent climax that ever crowned the eloquence of a lifetime, he will only tell us to expand what he himself began.
He went up into a mountain, into a pulpit not made with hands. I like these weird beginnings. He did not go in conventional methods; we wait till the church is built: he said the church was not made with hands: wherever there is a sky there is a roof, wherever there is a floor there is a platform, wherever there is a man there is a congregation, wherever there is a human heart there is an opportunity of preaching the kingdom of heaven.
"And when he was set." Did the carpenter's son do what the Rabbis did? They gathered their robes about them when they sat down in Moses' seat, for the Jewish Rabbi always sat whilst he talked. It was even so that Jesus did on a larger and grander scale. He begins royally: there is a subtle claim of dominion in this very attitude of his; he does not beg to be heard; he does not say, "If you please, I shall be glad to mention to you a suggestion or two which have been stirring in mine own heart." He sits, and the mountain gives him hospitality. He fills the mountain, it beseems him like a king's throne. Close your eyes and open the vision of your hearts, and look at him. We go into small buildings, we ask permission to speak in limited synagogues; why, in the motion of his limbs there is a subtle, strange royalty of mien. When he sits he sits as one who has a right to the mountain, and when he speaks it is as one whose gentle voice fills the spaces like a healing breeze.
"He opened his mouth." The ages had been waiting for the opening of those lips. When some great men amongst us and all over the world open their lips in high places they seem to have the power of making history. Other nations are listening, wondering, hoping, fearing; when this Man opened his mouth he uttered words which would fill creation, which would be a gospel set" in every language ever spoken by mankind, and easily set in every language. There are tongues into which you cannot drive Milton. Shakespeare must, in many of his utterances, be a stranger for ever to those who have but one tongue, and that not rich in its capacity of utterance. But the words of Jesus Christ go everywhere, and fall into all languages with infinite ease. He speaks of light, love, life, truth, peace, God, home. There cannot be a language without these words having some distinct share in it. He sits down upon every mountain and breathes through every language his most ineffable gospel.
"He taught them." This is a new word; we have not met with this word before in our reading. When we listened to Jesus Christ before, he was preaching, now he is teaching. The preacher was a herald, a crying voice: "Repent," said he. The air was startled by the cry. Now he changes the tone: he sits down and teaches, explains, simplifies, draws the listeners into confidence and sympathy with himself, and makes them co-partners of the infinite secret of the divine truth and love.
Do we run after preachers or teachers? Unquestionably after preachers. The teachers of London to-day are talking to half-dozens, the preachers are thronged. Who cares to be taught? How many of us bring our Bible to church and follow the preacher page by page, checking every reference, testing every doctrine, asking for explanations by eager eyes and burning faces? By the trick of an anecdote I will engage to seduce from the wisest teacher in London nine-tenths of his hearers. We are in the anecdotal age: some child's story would tickle us, while the philosopher's doctrine would muddle the heads that are nearly lunatic because of the mean and vulgar noises of a mean and vulgar world.
"Saying, Blessed." That is a new word also. I have not met that word aforetime. What was it that he said when we first heard him? "Repent." And now he says "Blessed." There is a high logic in this sequence. Preaching first, then teaching. Repentance first, then inspiration—these are the coherences and minute consistencies, the moral unities which you find all through and through this Christian revelation, which make it not a chaos, but a living world with a living centre.
In this verse I find two classes referred to—multitudes and disciples Are they not co-ordinate terms? Far from it. How well it would have read, how noble would have been the music, complete as a sphere, had it said—"When he beheld the multitudes he hailed them as disciples and taught them." Already there begins the division—that terrible distinction which separates man from man, the hearer from the scholar, the onlooker from the inlooker, the particle of a mob from the particle of a family To which class do we belong? Are we part of the anonymous multitudes, or part of the registered household? We may all be disciples; why should we not be scholars of the one Teacher? Come, let him lure thee—give up all other teachers and hear this teacher sent from God. Lord, open mine ears that I may hear the whole music of thy heaven-unfolding voice.
This discourse was not delivered to the multitudes, it was delivered to the disciples. Some preparation is needed for hearing Christ. Presently he will stand right out in the busy marketplace and speak common words to the common heart, but on this mountain he is speaking to a few chosen ones who have a measure, very inadequate, of understanding and appreciation. Why, it requires a little preparation to go into a picture-gallery; how much more to go into a church? When the uninstructed visitor goes into a picture-gallery, he is seized by subjects, not by art. A pleasing face, a sweet child, a loving home, some little pathetic incident touches him. An idealized tree, a landscape made into poetry, he would not see: he does not look for art, he looks for subjects. You require some little preparation for going into a music-hall; how much more for going into God's sanctuary? What pieces are applauded? Listen. Pieces that are subjects again, that mingle easily with the unthinking—the sparkling, the rattling, or the pathetic: pieces that require to be read with the inner eye are lost upon the uninitiated, and it is certain to me, therefore, and it is no wonder, that some preparation should be needed for listening to Jesus Christ.
His very first sentence is a secret which can have no meaning to the vast majority of hearers. What is that first sentence? "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." What said the preacher you heard this morning? Nothing. Quote me one sentence that he uttered. He began by saying, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Commonplace talk like that; sparkle, brilliance, there was none; he is not worth listening to; he seemed rather weak in his way of speaking, his voice was low, and yet well heard; I expected another kind of voice altogether, and another type of subject, and he began, after all this weary waiting of the listening ages, by saying, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." He began by healing broken hearts, he began by comforting those that we want to write off the register, for we are sick of puling and whining and groaning and sighing. He stooped to pick up a broken reed when we thought he would have mounted the stars and passed before us with the wondrous velocity and splendour of the lightning.
The heart needs some preparations to know the meaning of this expression, "the poor in spirit." The expression sounds as if it were simple, and so it is, but it is the simplicity which is a last result. We may have to spend a weary and baffled lifetime before we come into the mystery of this eloquence, "the poor in spirit."
I propose to look at the beatitudes as a whole, and not just now to look at them in detail. The time may come when we shall be able to look at each verse as a single gem: meanwhile my inquiry is, "What was Christ's idea of a blessed life?"
In Christ's idea of a blessed life I find a marvellous union of the divine and the human. Some of the beatitudes look up right away into heaven, others of them look down into all the relations of earth and time. In other words some of the beatitudes are intensely theological, and others are intensely moral and social. Thus in the beatitudes we have a complete representation of the religion which Jesus Christ came to establish and expound, a religion combining the theological with the moral, the doctrinal with the practical, the God and the neighbour: thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbour as thyself.
What is our religion? Theological only, or moral? Have we magnificent doctrine and do we pay our debts? Have we splendid intellectual conceptions of the metaphysical constitution of the universe, and do we forgive our enemies? Are we orthodox in all spiritual conception, and do we feed the hungry and clothe the naked? In Christ's religion earth and heaven go together, and there is not a flower that blooms on the green earth that does not owe its beauty to the sun.
In Christ's conception of the blessed life I find many persons mentioned that I did not expect to find referred to, and I find many persons omitted that I expected would have been first spoken of. Let me take the beatitudes as a picture of heaven. Who is in heaven? Blessed are the mighty, for they are in heaven; blessed are the rich, for theirs is the kingdom of glory; blessed are the famous, for theirs are the trumpets of eternity; blessed are the noble, tor the angels are their servants. Why. that is not the text. Who is in heaven? The poor in spirit, they that mourn, the meek, they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers. Then, then, perhaps we may be there. Not many mighty, not many noble, not many learned, not many brilliant are called. Then perhaps we may be there. Woman, mother, sister, obscure person, unknown life—you may be there. Who cares to seek such flowers as these? Give me the flowers that flame like fir, and I will call these a worthy garland. Who cares to turn their heads to look back to seek such modest beauty? God does. A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
In Christ's conception of the blessed life I find that goodness and reward always go together. Goodness is indeed its own reward. The flower brings its own odour, the light brings its own revelations. The goodness is the reward, the prayer is the answer. There are persons who say, "You have prayed the prayer, have you got the reply?" Certainly, while we are yet speaking. You do not understand this mystery, you thought there would be a telegram or a man with a four square letter at your door, saying, "Here is the answer." Whatsoever things ye pray for, believe that ye have them, and have them you certainly will. This blessedness, therefore, comes with the condition specified. The poor in spirit have the kingdom of heaven already, have it of divine gift and divine right. Sometimes we enter into this high experience right fully, we know what it means without any preacher telling us in so many words. There are times when the heart is just alive with heaven. There are seasons when we could crowns despise rather than give up the high rapture or the sweet tenderness of soul which ennobles us. You have been in those occasional moods, and, therefore, I need not further explain or refer to them. If you have not been caught up into that third heaven, I might speak until the night turn into the morning, and you would not catch a tone of this sacred truth.
In Christ's conception of the blessed life I find that even the enemy himself is made a contributor. "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." Why, he shows us how flowers grow in the night-time, how the wilderness may rejoice and blossom as the rose, how the black devil with sharp teeth and eyes of fire is the servant of the good man, and waits upon him and ministers to his joy. O that we might enter into this meaning, then all things would be ours, life, death, height, depth—our servants would be a multitude, and in that multitude would be found the angels of God.
Now into which verse can I come? Let each man ask for himself. I am not all these eight—which is my little wicket-gate, through which I pass into God's reward? Let me see what choice of gates there is—the poor in spirit, they that mourn, the meek, they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted. Let each scholar ask, "Which is my gate?" There is only one gate that I see here that I ever have any hope of getting in at. I think, perhaps, through that gate I might go. "Blessed are they that hunger." If I cannot get through that gate, I fear all the others are shut.
But there is a gate for all of us—which is yours, my brother? Seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you, for he that seeketh findeth, and to every one that knocketh it shall be opened. And yet methinks that all the gates somehow interfold, and that if we get through one we shall seem to have gone through all. This is a mystery known only to the heart of the elect.
Concerning these beatitudes two things may be said: first, they can be tested. These are not metaphysical abstractions that no man can lay his hand upon, these are practical truths that every man can test for himself. And the next thing that can be said about them is that the blessings here promised are already in possession. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." We do not wait for immortality, we begin it now. We shall not perhaps be the sons of God in ages yet unborn and untold, we are the sons of God. We are not to be in heaven a long time after, we are now in heaven—with limitations, but with a deep assurance the world can never shake. Not yet completed there is infinitely more to come and to shine upon us, but whilst we pray we enter heaven by prayer. Whilst we love, we enter heaven by love. When we forgive, we are in heaven.
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.Chapter 16
The Character of the Disciples—The Effect of Encouragement—influence May Be Lost—the Need of Caution
Almighty God, thy way concerning us we do not understand: it is enough for us to know that it is thy way. Help us to walk in it step by step, with all patience and hopefulness, knowing that thou wilt bring us at last into a large and quiet place. Thou dost astonish the upright and turn the innocent pale by thy judgments and mysteries, so that we cannot tell what thou doest in the heavens or upon the earth, and when men question us about thee there is no reply upon our lips: we can but say, This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes. He setteth the mighty upon their heads, and turneth their mansions upside down; yea, he changeth the channels of the sea and turneth the rivers into a wilderness; he taketh up the isles as a very little thing, and from his seat upon the circle of the earth the populations are as grasshoppers. This is the Lord's rule; yea, it is our Father's reign and sovereignty, and we rest in that, and find ourselves at peace.
We are of yesterday, and know nothing; we close our eyelids and behold we are blind in a moment, we cannot stretch beyond the length of our arms, we are barred and caged in like lives that are watched; tomorrow we die, and the third day are we forgotten as if we had never been. It well becometh us, therefore, to hold our peace, to look on in silence, and with religious wonder, and to wait hopefully for the grand last revelation. Make of us what thou wilt. We would be busier, but that comes from our impatience; we would be more famous and influential, but that is the mischief of our ambition; so we will withdraw wholly our own counsel and purpose, and we will wait as slaves wait upon their masters, asking thee to give us the liberty of thine own love, and to bind us fast with the loyalty of a love created in our hearts by thyself.
The days flee away ere we can count them one by one; they cease to be days, they are like flashes in the darkness and are gone instantly. O that we might number them as best we may, with some view of finding the way in wisdom, and making the reckoning as becometh men of understanding. Help us to know the measure of our life, how little it is, a child's tiny span, and our time is as a flying shuttle, as a post hastening on its way, as a shadow that continueth not. So teach us, therefore, in our joys to remember how speedily they fall. May the young be wise as the aged, and the aged be as those who have obtained the venerableness of great experience.
The Lord help us to do our work with both hands, and with our whole head and heart, as if everything depended upon us, and then to leave it as if we did nothing at all. Feed us with thy grace, enrich and nourish us with thy most gracious word; may thy doctrine distil as the dew, and thy gospel sing to us as an angel, and charm us out of ourselves into thy great service. May thy promises become exhortations, and in the midst of thine exhortations may we hear the voice of benediction.
Let the Lord's pity be poured out upon us as from the very fountain of his heart, and may we know that our life is the object of thy compassion, that thou dost not revile us in the heavens or laugh at us in the distant skies; but with all mercifulness and pitifulness of heart dost look upon us as those whose days are as a shadow fast fleeing away; yea, thou hast set up for us the cross—the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, our one Priest, our only Saviour, our infinite, our atoning sacrifice; in him we. see how great we are in thy purpose. Help us to behold his priesthood and to avail ourselves of his loving ministry; in all our sin and sorrow, in all our daily vexation and passing trouble, may we enter into his heart as men enter into a sanctuary which cannot be violated.
The Lord hear the prayers we cannot speak, the uprisings and motionings of our dumb hearts; multiply our few words into a great intercession, and let all our utterances be repronounced by our Priest in heaven.
The Lord send messages from his great house to the dwelling-places of those who are ailing, sick, dying, wearying to die, waiting for the angel, longing for some sound of the coming chariot wheels. The Lord send messages to those who are sitting in the gloom of despair, who say they have tried every key upon their girdle and none will fit, who sit down beside barred gates and walls too high to be scaled. The Lord speak his own comforting word to hearts to whom the darkness is a burden, and to whom the night has no star. Preserver of the strangers, take away the loneliness of the stranger's heart, give him to feel in thine house that he is at his Father's table and under his Father's blessing. And grant unto the widow and the orphan, the poor, the lonely, the comfortless, and them that have no helper, some message and assurance that shall recover their heart's hope, and re-establish them in a wise confidence.
The Lord hold us all as if we belonged to him, and draw us nearer his heart the more the tempter assails. Amen.
13. Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
14. Ye are the light of he world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.
15. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
16. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
There are two ways of looking at this portion of the Lord's address He is speaking to the disciples—that may be inferred from the first verse of the chapter, wherein it says, "When he was set, his disciples came unto him, and he opened his mouth and taught them." Are we to suppose that these disciples referred to were the salt of the earth and the light of the world, and a city set upon a high hill? Surely not in their merely personal capacity, and in their then condition. Let us take the first view, therefore; namely, that Jesus Christ is speaking of the Jews, and speaking of them he hesitates not to describe them as the salt of the earth, the light of the world, the city set upon a hill. And yet in a very gentle way, but so broad as to admit of no misapprehension, he intimates that the salt has lost its savour, the light has been put under a bushel, and the conspicuousness of the city has become but the greater shame. The effect of this teaching is to remind men of great calling and election, and of great and appalling declension, and to prepare the way for such remedial and reclaiming measures as were in the purpose and counsel of the Eternal. This was not dust that had become drier, it was not clay that had become harder, it was salt that had lost its savour, light that was in danger of being wholly extinguished. Jesus Christ, therefore, recognising the greatness and the grandeur of the call in which the Jews stood, proceeded in this most gracious and gentle manner to indicate the declension into which they had fallen. That is one view.
Take the other view. Jesus Christ sees in those disciples what his church is to be. Not addressing them in their then intellectual and spiritual condition, but looking forward as men look from the germ to the full fruition, he regarded them as the beginning of his own divine kingdom, and addressing them as such, he described them as the salt of the earth, the light of the world, and a city set upon a hill. Both views are, in my opinion, correct. There is enough in each of them to awaken the most solemn reflection, to affect the soul with all the pain of the bitterest humiliation, and to inspire it with all that is most animating in the sacred word. I will take the second view and set it with some breadth before you.
Christ sees the greatest side of our nature, and he addresses that side, because we are more easily and effectually moved by encouragement than by any other influence. Tell a man he is a fool and you cast him into despair. Tell him that he has lost every chance, spoiled every opportunity, neglected all the counsel of heaven, and is no longer worthy of being counted a living creature in God's universe, and possibly you may burden him with all the distress of absolute despair. The effect will be according to the nature of the particular man who is addressed. Jesus Christ never gave us a discouraging view of ourselves whenever he saw us set in any relation to himself, of earnest listening or religious expectation or incipient desire to be wiser and better men. When we stood before him in the full erectness of our own purity, and came before him with a certificate of our own integrity, and requested to be heard upon the basis of our righteousness, he turned upon us the fury of the east wind, and banished us from his presence as men to whom he had nothing to say. Whenever we grouped ourselves around him and said we would listen with reverence and with religious expectation to what he had to say, then he opened the kingdom of heaven, and not until our capacity was surcharged did he withdraw his gracious and redeeming revelations of truth.
This is the great law of human teaching. If you want your boy to be a gentleman, do not begin by treating him as an invincible and incurable boor. I wait until that lesson gets right down into your apprehension. If you want to encourage your scholars in your Sunday-school or your scholastic establishment, begin by treating them as young philosophers. Give them credit for as much as you possibly can—by so doing you will cast them upon themselves in serious reflection, and with some anxiety they will endeavour to respond to the breadth, the sympathy, and the nobleness of your estimation of their capacity and diligence. If you want any man to do his best, trust him with considerable responsibility. Who could do his best if he knew he was watched, suspected, distrusted, and that the object of the vigilant criticism was to entrap him, to find out his defects, and to convince him by multitudinous arguments that he was wholly unfit for his position? Many of us could not work at all under such circumstances; we should simply succumb under their distressing weight if we did not resent them as intolerable humiliations.
Jesus Christ comes to us and says, "Ye are the salt of the earth"—says to a man who thought himself useless in the world, "Thou art as pungent salt in the midst of a putrid age," or, "Thou art as salt cast upon that which is already good, to preserve it from decay." Jesus Christ adds, "Ye are the light of the world"—tells a man who never suspected himself of having any light at all, that it is in him to throw a circle of radiance around his family, his neighbourhood, or it may be his country. Let us learn to follow this example in some degree. We get from men in many cases just what we tell them we expect from them; there is something in. human nature that likes to be trusted with responsibility, something in us that responds to great occasions. Jesus Christ always supplied a grand occasion to his hearers, and he opened the broad and sunny road of hope. He did not point to the low and dank caverns of despair.
Jesus Christ recognises the true influence of good men. He called them salt which is pungent, light which is lustrous, a city set on a hill which is conspicuous, and may be seen afar by travellers and by those who long for home. Some influences are active—salt and light; some influences passive—a city set on a hill. We must not judge one another's influence by our own, and condemn any man's influence in the church because it does not take its tone and range from our own method of doing things. Some clocks do not strike. They have to be looked at if from them we would know the time of day. Some clocks do strike, and they strike in the darkness as well as in the light, and it is pleasant to the weary, sleepless one now and again to catch the tone which tells him that the darkness is going and the light is coming. Do not undervalue me because I am a man of but passive influence. Do not charge me with ambition and madness because I am a man of energetic influence. Let each be what the great, loving, wise Father meant him to be. There is room in his heart for all. The brain makes no noise; the tongue no man can tame—is the tongue, therefore, not a divine creation? Yea, verily, God taught it its trick of speech and its wizardry of music. Is the brain not of divine formation because it makes no noise? Yea, verily, it is as the inmost church of the Lord wherein God shows the fullest of his heavenly and immortal splendour.
George Gilfillan, in his most energetic and inspiriting book called "Bards of the Bible," has some observations upon this matter of silence as contrasted with noise. As a boy I used to be very fond of that rhetorical writer, and as a man I do not renounce him. I have not seen the sentence for twenty years, but I think I can quote it even now in substance. He says, "The greatest objects in nature are the stillest: the ocean has a voice, the sun is dumb in his courts of praise. The forests murmur, the constellations speak not. Aaron spoke; Moses' face but shone. Sweetly might the High Priest discourse, but the Urim and the Thummim, the blazing stones upon his breast, flash forth a meaning deeper and diviner far." Young men, store your memory with such words as these, and you will never want to run away from your own society. The chairs may be vacant, but the air will be full of angels.
Yet whatever our influence may be, we may lose it. The salt may lose its savour, the light may be put under a bushel, and a city set upon a hill may turn its lights out, or build its walls against the sun and turn its windows otherwhere. The foolish discussion has been sometimes raised as to whether salt could lose its pungency—raised by people who wanted to catch the Saviour tripping in his speech. But in proportion to the difficulty is the solemnity. He who made the salt knows more about it than we do, and whatever may become of the salt, taking the mere letter as the limit of our criticism, we all know as the saddest and most tragical fact in life that some of the grandest intellects have lost their glory, and some right hands always lifted in defence of the right have lost their cunning. Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. What I say unto one I say unto all—watch.
Every man sheds a light peculiar to himself. No man has all the light; no one star holds in its little cup all the glory of the universe. One star differeth from another star in glory. Suppose one of the least of the stars should say, "I am going to withdraw from the firmament because I see a great flame, compared with whose splendour I am but as a glowworm in the presence of the sun." Better for that little foolish star to say, "The God that made yonder great flame trims my lamp, gives me my little sparkle of light."
There is a right way of using influence. Observe how Jesus Christ puts the matter when he says, "Let your light SO shine before men"; the word so should be emphasized as indicating the manner of the shining. Light may be so held in the hand as to dazzle the observer; light may be brought too near the eyes, light may be set at a wrong angle, light may be wasted, its beams be displayed so as to be of no use to the man who would read or work. Hence it is not enough to be luminous, but so to use our luminousness as to be of use to other people. There are men who, from my point of view, are luminous enough to light a whole country who do not light their own little house. There are men who need to be focalised, all but immeasurable men, with a kind of infinite capacity for anything, and who yet, for want of right setting and bringing together and focalising, live as splendid nothings and die as bubbles die upon the troubled wave. It is not enough, therefore, for us to have light and to be luminous; we must study the great economic laws by which even a little light may sometimes go a long way, and a great light may throw its timely splendour upon the road of him who is in perplexity and doubt.
Our Saviour further teaches us that our light is so to shine that our good works may be seen. He does not say that the worker may be made visible, but that the works may be observed, admired, imitated, may induce men to give glory to the Father which is in heaven. It is thus that his own sun works daily in the heavens: who dares look at the sun when he so shines as to fill the earth with all the beauty of summer? We turn our eyes up to him and he rebukes us with darts of fire; he says, "Look down, not up; look at the works, not the worker." So we may feast our eyes upon a paradise of flowers, and get much of heaven out of it, but the moment we venture to say, "Who did this—where is he?" "Show me the worker," the sun answers us with a rebuke of intolerable light. So no man hath seen God at any time, but we see his son Jesus Christ. No man hath seen God at any time, yet we count his stars when the great daylight is away; we wonder how they were hung upon nothing, and how they shine without wasting, and what they are—porch lamps of a King's palace, street lamps on a heavenly way—who can tell? None, yet the bare question-asking stirs the mind and the heart with a noble wonder that is almost religious. What wonder, then, if you cannot look at the sun, that you cannot look at the God that made the sun? If he is invisible in himself, he is not invisible in his ministry. We also are his offspring. In every little child I see his work, in the meanest human life I see the infinitude of his wisdom and the beneficence of his purpose. In myself I see the divinity of God.
Thus our lesson stands in the meantime. A kind word of encouragement has been spoken to us: we are hot regarded as little, insignificant, contemptible, not worth gathering up: we are spoken of as salt, light, and a city set on a hill. Let us answer the grandeur of the challenge. We have been told that the best influence may decline and die: salt may lose its savour, the light may be extinguished. Let us hear the solemn exhortation, and exercise a spirit of vigilant caution. We have been called to a certain manner of life; let us take heed unto the call, lest having magnificent powers we waste them as rain would be wasted upon the unanswering and barren sand.
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.Chapter 17
Fulfilling the Law—The Minuteness of the Law—Learn By Doing—a Grand Opportunity
Almighty God, surely thou dost put us into the fire to take out of us all that is bad, and to make us as good as thou art, according to our degree. Thou dost not delight to see our life in pain, thou hast no pleasure in death, and the darkness thou dost abhor. All thy purpose concerning us is love, therefore dost thou try us by many ways, that we may be brought into thy purity and love, and show forth thine infinite holiness. Thou dost smite the pride of our eyes and rob our right hand of its riches, and cause our right foot to tremble and to fall, that thou mayest do some good to our soul, awakening the attention of our love, and charming the trust of our heart that it may give itself wholly to thee and live in none beside. Give us this view of thy way amongst us, and then our fears shall no longer distress us, but upon our smitten life there shall shine a great light as of the very hope of heaven. Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but rather grievous; nevertheless afterwards it worketh the peaceable fruits of righteousness to them that are exercised thereby. We have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin, and our strength has not been utterly crushed in the great warfare. Behold, thou hast purposes of mercy towards us in all these struggles, fears, contests, and subtle temptations. Thou art training us, by a wondrous education, to be like thyself in all pureness and grace. Thou hast chastened us sore, but thou hast not left us utterly in the hands of the tormentor. We are cast down but not destroyed, we are persecuted but not forsaken; thou dost save us with an infinite salvation, and no man can pluck us out of our Father's hand. Undertake for us in all our way, set before us to eat and to drink what thou wilt, grant unto us rest or unrest, send upon us the great storm or the benediction of light; only in the end make us true and good, fit for thy society, and qualified for thy service.
We have to bless thee in long, sweet hymns for thy loving kindness and thy tender mercy: having begun to sing thy praise, our hearts would sing themselves away in grateful song, for thy mercies are without number and thy loving kindness cannot be measured. Through the dark gate of our fear thou sendest angels of light and deliverance; through our sickness thou dost bring healing of the soul; when we are far away in the wilderness where is no sanctuary, thou dost gather us into a house not made with hands, and thou givest unto us songs amongst the rocks.
We put ourselves into thine hands for the few days we have to live—how few! Our days are as a post, speeding on its urgent way; our life is like a weaver's shuttle, flying to and fro, too quickly for the eye to follow it; we are consumed before the moth, and we are digging our own grave every day. Do thou undertake for us in all things, granting us sanctification of every trouble, deliverance out of every perplexity, and where we expect to die may we by thy grace begin to sing.
Work within us all the miracles of thy grace, Thou Holy One. We have read of thy curing of those that were diseased and raising up of those that were dead, and our poor ignorance has been startled into impious wondering as we have beheld the marvels of thy power. Help us now to realise in our own hearts the infinitely grander miracles of thy grace. Wash us with blood, cleanse us by the wondrous sacrifice of thy Son oar one and only Saviour, recover our hearts of their leprosy, and touch our blind eyes that we may see with the vision of the soul. Recover us from all alienation, from all bitter hostility, from all insubordination of heart; bring us one and all, with unanimous and joyous consent, to sit at thy feet, and to know no will but thine.
Pity our littleness, and let our infirmities become sacred unto thee as opportunities for the exercise of thy gracious power. Thou knowest what anger there is yet in our hearts, what pride, what ambition, what self-sufficiency, and what cunning secret trust there is; that after all the key of the kingdom may fall into our hands and be used according to our desire. Lord, cleanse our hearts of these evil spirits, and leave none of them behind, but reign thyself in the chambers thou hast purified.
We think of all for whom wo ought to pray, for the sick, for the sons and daughters of pain, long, wearying, intolerable pain—God pity them, and speak some gospel too sacred and tender for our rough lips. Be thine own minister, Holy Ghost, and speak to the hearts of all who suffer. We think of the poor and the perplexed, the friendless, the wandering, the homeless; we think of the stranger within our gates who is here to join our song and come to join our supplications for all the mercies of heaven upon this wondrous life. The Lord's gospel be multiplied unto them all, and the Lord's grace be upon every heart lifted up in true and simple desire for better life.
Regard the land in which we live, give wisdom unto our counsellors and direction to those who lead our affairs. With the plentiful spirit of thy grace do thou bless and enrich our Sovereign the Queen, continue long her reign, and as her days are many may her blessings be even more. The Lord cause prosperity to return to our trade and commerce, and establish confidence in all our honourable relations with the various empires and nationalities of the earth. The Lord give unto us as individuals, as families, congregations, churches, and a nation what we most need from heaven; bind us one and all with new oaths of loyalty to love and serve the Cross—when we are tempted to put baser devices on our banner may we hear the voice of the tempter, and know it to be the voice of the devil. Amen.
17. Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
18. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
19. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
20. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
"Think not." There is a possibility of having false notions about Christ. Closely observe that the subject may be right, and that our idea concerning it may be wrong. It is not enough to be attached to a good cause, we must worthily represent that cause to those who are looking on or listening. You say, for example, that you believe in Christ, but in having said so you have given me no clear notion of what you really do believe. I must ask you some questions, such as—Who was Christ? What do you believe about him? and why do you believe? The name is excellent, but what is your precise idea about the meaning and influence of that name? So, at the very opening of his ministry, Jesus Christ had to recognise the possibility of mistaken notions concerning himself. We are not at liberty to say that if a thing be true it will so shine upon the mind as to commend its truth to us and to bear down all prejudice and all misconception. Even Jesus Christ himself was not understood by his contemporaries, his disciples, or the friends of his own house. First of all, therefore, he has to do a negative work, he has to call man to the right mental mood and attitude, he has to awaken that latest, and fastest of all sleepers—Attention. He will not be rushed upon, he will not be seized by the extemporaneous genius of mankind, he will not be treated as a feather that any fingers can catch in the wind. There must be thought, consideration—right thought, close consideration; for only as the result of patient and devout reflection, inspired and directed by the Holy Ghost, do we come to have clear, complete, right conceptions of Jesus Christ.
"Think not." That was a legal phrase, it was used by the lawyers and by the interpreters of the law. Literally it means—"Do not get into the habit of thinking," or, "Do not become accustomed to think that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets." He was warning his disciples, and through them all Christian ages, against a mental habit. What is there so difficult to eradicate as unintelligent prejudice? You think, and think, and think, until, by the very processes of your own mind, you come to the conclusion that what you have thought must be true. Christ warns us against intellectual prejudices; mental habits that start from a wrong base, live and grow up into formidable proportions and strength. Christian attention should always be young, Christian attention should always be impressible, Christian attention should stand a long way from old and hoary prejudice; Christian attention should always be ready to take on the phase of the moment, and to hear the note of the passing tune.
"Think not that I am come to destroy." Gentle one, thou didst not come to destroy, thy name is Saviour. And yet he did come to destroy. "For this purpose was I manifested, that I might destroy"—there he takes up the word, takes it up as thunder might take it—"the works of the devil." But no work of God would he destroy; the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. The Son of Man is not come to destroy men's lives but to save them. Think not that I am come to destroy the law—that is, to make a dead letter of it, to treat it as a mistake, to say "Now we will utterly ignore all the ancient law and take a new point of departure, and begin again upon a new foundation." I am not come to destroy but to fulfil. What does that mean? To fulfil—that is what the noonday does to the dawn. The dawn is cold, gray, struggling, the noon is the culmination of its purpose and interest. The noon is not something different from the dawn, the noon is the dawn completed. When the first gray light fell upon the dewy hills, it said, "I mean to be noon, noon is in me, and I will climb the zenith and stand right above the world and flood it with infinite splendour and beauty." The summer fulfils the spring; there is no schism amongst the seasons: the spring comes and does its little elementary and initial work, plants its little crocusses and does all it can for the outside world, does it quietly, sweetly, fragrantly, with wondrous grace and love, then the summer comes and does in infinite grandeur what the spring could only begin. It fulfils the spring.
Manhood fulfils childhood. You say the child is father of the man. I need no better illustration. The law prefigured and anticipated the gospel; statutes, precepts, and commandments began that marvellous process which culminates in principle, grace, truth, inspiration, the divinely recreated and ruled intuitions, which sees a root by the penetration of vision which the literal schoolmaster could never give.
You are merchantmen and traders—tell me how is a promissory note fulfilled. Show it to me: I will fulfil it thus: I tear it into little pieces and throw it into the dust. Have I fulfilled the note? You instantly tell me that I have not fulfilled, I have destroyed. Then show me another and I will fulfil it thus: By thrusting it into the very midst of the fire and letting it go up in flame. Have I fulfilled it? You tell me instantly that I have done in this case as in the former; I have not fulfilled, I have destroyed. Then pass the promissory note at the date of its maturity into the hands of the man who signed it, and he pays you the money pound by pound to the last demand, and, having got the money into your hand, what has been done with the promissory note? It has been destroyed by fulfilment, and that is the only destruction possible to any law that is right.
The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ. I prefer another way of stating that. The modern Greek would not understand that expression if he read it in the original tongue. "What is the meaning of that expression?" I have myself said to a modern Greek; and he said, "You have not caught the idea at all in your English." "Then what is the idea?" "Why," said he, "it is this,—Not the law was our schoolmaster, but the law was our nurse, or guardian, or care-taker, to bring us to our schoolmaster, Christ." We know what that means by daily illustration in our own English life. You send your little child in the care of some one to school. The maid takes the little creature and says, "Come, and I will take you to school," and away they go together to the place of instruction. Now, the law was our care-taker, our companion, to take us to our schoolmaster, Christ; Christ keeps a school, Christ calls those who go to his school his disciples, his scholars; Christ says," Learn of me." Christ is the teacher of the world. The law took us hand in hand to Christ. The law is one—there is no change in the divine education of the world. We are not to suppose that Christ was an afterthought in the divine mind, or that his coming marked a sudden departure from sacred precedents. All that went before him pointed to him. Every man said, "Not I, but there cometh one after me."
The Bible from the very beginning says, "I am going to be a gospel." If the spire of your church is rightly built it will say to the artistic observer on its very first course of stones, "I am going to be a pinnacle." There will be a set in the very first line of stones which the artistic eye can see, which, being interpreted, is—Pinnacle, sharp, finger-like, pointing to the sky. It does not begin to be a spire a long way up, but from the very first, if it has been conceived by a true architect; it begins to be a spire when its very first stone is laid in the depth of the earth. So with this Bible-building. I did not know what it was going to be, but I saw that it was going to be something other than it was in itself just at the particular moment of my observation. Now that I go back upon it with more learning and with a keener power of observation, I see that from the very first verse this Book meant to be a benediction, to have set upon its uppermost points these words, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all." So the law is not broken into unrelated parts, it is from the beginning meant to be a complete and final cosmos.
What wonder then, if Jesus Christ should continue to say, "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." In the seventeenth verse you have the word "fulfil," in the eighteenth verse you have the word "fulfilled," and yet they are not the same word as they were originally written. In the eighteenth verse the word fulfilled means—accomplished, a purpose turned into a reality, a seed fully grown into a great tree, to which nothing could be added in proportion or in beauty.
"One jot or one tittle." Why, then, is there nothing superfluous in the law? There is nothing insignificant in all the works of God. Pluck me a grass-blade, and let me see what I can do with it. How many veins has it which could be done without? How much blood circulates through all this veinous system? How much less might have done? Can you mend it? Can you sharpen its point? Can you accelerate its circulation? Can you pluck out of it one tiny fibre that the little thing could have done without? Take care how you touch it, for it is God's handiwork.
"One jot." One yod, a little thing that is not a letter in itself, so much as the adjunct or the helper of some other letter—a yot, a silent thing. The name of the wife of Abraham was turned from Sarai to Sarah, and it was the yod that did it: it was that little, silent, insignificant adjunct that turned her into Princess. God is careful of His yod, or yot, or jot,—He does not dot his i for nothing, nor cross his t merely for decoration: there is blood in the act. Take care; touch not the Lord's anointed, and do His prophets no harm. The destruction of the law by literalists and meddlers, by mere outside observers and worshippers, such as the Scribes and Pharisees, begins by interfering with the jot and tittle. Who would take a large sharp knife and begin all at once in shocking and impious vulgarity to scratch out the whole law? And yet many a man who would shrink from that coarse blasphemy begins with finer insruments to interfere with the vod, the dot, the tittle. He says, "Nobody will miss that." We do things little by little, insidiously, that we never could do by thunder-like assaults.
All character seems to go down by interfering with the yod, the dot, the jot, the tittle, the iota, the subscript, the accent, the breathing-point. Who jumps right off the temple top into pits of darkness at one grand leap? A man begins by giving up the morning service, by going to church occasionally, by dropping little customs, as he calls them, and comparatively insignificant habits. What is he doing? He has begun a work, the end of which is destruction, ruin, death. It is to me no wonder, therefore, that Jesus Christ should depose and degrade into an inferior position whosoever shall break one of these least commandments and shall teach men so. Observe how these words go, in what perfect and suggestive rhythm they fall upon the ear—break and teach. And in the second member of the sentence observe how the same rhythm is preserved—do and teach. Work begins in the individual relation to the law; when I have broken a commandment I long to get companionship, to bring others into the same condemnation: having broken it, to justify the breach, to show that it was better broken than not, and on the ruins of my own character set up as the seducer of other men.
Then do and teach. Who can teach if he does not first do? If he be a mere hireling the whole words would have been committed to memory and would trip off his reluctant lips without music or force. My teacher must at least try to do what he says. If he fail I will not despise him, if his efforts be sincere. I know that human infirmity will mar men, and diabolic temptation will do its utmost to despoil and pervert the purpose of his heart, but his will shall count as his deed.
Many of us are so anxious to enter into the metaphysics of Christian doctrine that we refrain from doing the little that we understand. Let me speak for a moment to this little child. Little child, lying in your cot, you must walk as soon as you have learned to do so. You will learn to do so by lying just where you are, and by looking at the ceiling of your nursery twelve hours every day. You must think about walking, analyse it, ask what locomotion really means, and where the word came from, get clear definitions, and don't you stir from your feathery cot till you have had a complete analysis of the whole method of locomotion. Hear me? Yes.
What would you think of me as a teacher of walking? I say rather, "Little dear, I am going to lift you out of this, and you are going to walk from this chair to that, eighteen inches apart, and I am going to stretch my arms almost around you all the time, till you get over the ground. Now go." The eighteen inches have been passed, and I feel as if a crisis in that child's existence had also passed. But it is the right way; there is no other way.
Wouldst thou be a sober man, set the glass down there, and turn your back upon it and go in the other direction. Who was it—some shrewd old teacher, certainly—who said to a man who, intending a certain branch* of learning, said that he was going to seek out a private tutor, that he might learn this branch of which he was ignorant, whereupon the old man said: "Engage a tutor? Tut, tut, take a pupil." Do you thus learn. What was the name of that great Cambridge professor of geology?—was it Sedgwick? He came to put in a claim for the chair at Cambridge, and those who were in authority said, "Do you understand geology?" "No," said he, "I do not; but I understand enough to enable me to keep ahead of the young men who come here to learn it, and I will engage to always keep ahead of them." He was appointed, and how he did keep ahead of them history will never fail to tell. If you want to understand a subject, deliver a lecture upon it. The people will never know. They will applaud you and pass a vote of thanks, and all the time you will be saying, "Oh, if they only knew how little I know about this, they would never have had me here, and certainly they would not have proposed this vote of thanks." If you want to oppose the Government of the country, whatever that Government may be, write a five-hundred page essay upon the whole scheme of English Government. Do it with a bold hand, and you will be surprised when you come out of the process how much you have really taught yourself.
Well, what is true with modifications on all those lines of analogy, is pre-eminently, and may I not say infinitely, true of this kingdom of heaven. We learn by doing, we become preachers by being practisers, they that do the will shall know the doctrine. The Lord reveals himself to his industrious servants." It is when we are persevering on the right road, scrubbing and drudging at oftentimes unwelcome duties, that God's angel stands up before us and flings upon our faith a sudden and gracious light. Blessed is that servant who is faithful, he shall have cities in heaven to rule.
Jesus then came to fulfil the law. There was a moral law, the meaning of which was obedience. He became obedient, even unto the death of the cross: he had no will but God's—"Not my will but thine be done." There was the fulfilment of the moral law. There was a sacrificial law, the slaying of animals and outpouring of blood and offering of gifts. This man was both the Priest and the Victim. He built the altar and slew himself upon it with priestly hands. Thus he fulfilled the sacrificial law. There was a national law, a theocracy, a gathering together of the people, a federating of tribes and sections, a grand nationalistic idea. How did he fulfil that? By founding his Church. Upon this rock I build my Church. Empires mean, when rightly translated, Churches; Politics is a word which means, held up to its highest point, Morality; Nationality, too often debased into a geographical term, causing many distractions and controversial definitions, really means, when fructified, the Church, the Redeemed Church, the Theocracy, the God-Government. The kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our God and of his Christ. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God and his Father, having fulfilled the law as a tree fulfils the acorn, and God shall be all in all.
We are in the line of this education, we are helping on this glorious ministry. Would God I could arouse every sleeper and inflame with Heaven's fire every reluctant heart to take this upward progress. Teach no other notion of advancement, move with Moses, the minstrels, the prophets, the Christ—be in that succession, and if thou hast not ten cities to rule, thou shalt have five, or one, or some share in the final and everlasting dominion.
Behold, I set before you the door, wide open, of a grand opportunity. Seize it, and be thankful and glad with the joy of rapture.
For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.Chapter 18
Faithful Unto Death—False Sabbath-keeping—Orthodox and Heterodox
Almighty God, we bless thee for the gift of rest. Enable us to take it as thou dost give it with joyfulness, and may we, as the result of its acceptance, be stronger, and happier, and more useful in the world. Thou dost cause a great sleep to fall upon the life of man, and out of that sleep, as out of a grave, dost thou bring him again, quieted, and rested, and blest. Thou hast also given a rest for the soul, a time of quietness and peace for the mind; may we enjoy it to the full, knowing that tomorrow will bring its toil and its burden, and that soon we shall be in the world again, confused by its manifold tumult. May this be a Sabbath in the soul, a rest in the heart, a benediction pronounced upon the inner life, and under its soothing and healing influence may our best nature rise again to claim thyself, with all the impatience and delight of filial love.
May thy word dwell in our hearts richly; let all the sweetness of its music be heard by the ear of our soul, and may the light, which is above the brightness of the sun, shine upon our entire life and make it beautiful with the beauteousness of heaven. We come to thine house as men flee to a sanctuary, a refuge in the time of peril, a shelter in the great storm, and a place of prospect from which they can see the better time, the brighter morning, the greater land. Disappoint no soul that waits upon thee in trembling, reverent love. Speak large words in reply to our prayer, and while we are yet praying, do thou flood the soul with thy love, and lift us above all that is mean in earth and time.
Thy hand has been put out towards us in great richness of love, thou hast withheld no good thing from us, thou hast spread our table morning, noon, and night, thou hast been round about our dwelling-place as a defence, thou hast kept the storm from destroying us, and thou hast given thine angels charge concerning our life. Therefore do we return to thy holy sanctuary with a new song upon our lips, and a new gladness in our hearts. Meet us, we humbly pray thee, according to the urgency of our need, our pain, and our desire. Where the burden is heavy, thou canst lift it wholly off the trembling and crushed spirit; where it is more needful that it should remain than it should be removed, thou canst give sustaining and comforting grace. Not our will but thine be done, herein. Where the pain is intolerable, sharpening itself into a great fiery agony, the Lord come with heaven's own balm and save those who are in great distress, lest they be swallowed up of sorrow overmuch. Where our desire is towards the heavens and all heavenly things, becoming a solemn and urgent prayer for the indwelling of the kingdom of Christ in the heart, thou wilt not say No; thine answer shall be a great Yes of acquiescence, and in the heart desiring thy Son there shall be a great light and a peculiar joy.
We would put the remainder of our life into thine hands, we would think nothing, be nothing, do nothing but under the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit. Undertake for us, we humbly pray thee, and send us bread, little or much—light, dull or splendid, and do thou make us contented because it is of thy giving and sending, and may our joy be in thyself and not in the passing circumstances of the dying day. Where any heart is set against thee stonily, with obduracy and obstinacy of feeling, in great rebellion and tumult, the Lord break not such a heart to its destruction, but break it to its healing. And bring in those that are afar off, that they may see thy light and be affrighted and saved by thy grace and thy redemption. And where any are in great fear and distress of mind because of their relation to thyself, send forth the spirit of thy Son into their hearts, the spirit of thy redeeming and sanctifying grace, recall all tender memories and all blessed associations, awaken the feelings that are lying dead, and give to such to know the power of the assurance of faith. Help us all to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus. Make us true, honour, able, sincere, before heaven and earth, enable us to enter into the spirit of thy gospel and to exemplify all its beauty and its tenderness. Save us from the poverty of the letter which killed, and lead us into the spirit which giveth life, and may all our conduct be attuned by thy Spirit and lifted up by thy grace, and may it become a great light shining afar to the guidance of any who are in doubt and fear.
The Lord pardon our sins, and delight in doing it, the Lord repeat his miracle of grace in our life every day. We say this in the name of Jesus, our Priest, our Intercessor, the Daysman between thyself and us: thou hearest him always, thy delight is to look upon his face, and to consider what he has done. Behold our shield and look upon the face of thine anointed, and from the inner and hidden sanctuary send us forgiveness and bless us with all spiritual help. Disappoint the bad man in all his evil counsels: cause him to forget himself, and strike him dumb when he would speak forbidden words.
The Lord help every honest and good man to do good whilst his little day lasts, and may we all be found in the end good and faithful servants, inspired by thy spirit, upheld by thy grace, made strong by thy truth, rejoicing in the assurance that the life spent in thy service will be crowned with heaven in thy presence. Amen.
Matthew 5:20. "For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of Heaven."
"For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of Heaven."
For righteousness read rightness. Then the text will read, "For I say unto you, that except your rightness, your notion and idea of what is right, shall exceed the notion and idea entertained by the Scribes and Pharisees as to what is right, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." Given, a ministry which begins in this tone, to know how it will end. It is impossible that it can end otherwise than in crucifixion. The Cross is here. If the Scribes and Pharisees get to know that a man has been speaking so of them, they will never rest until they kill him. The shadow of the Cross is in everything spoken and done by Jesus Christ. He here assails the religion and the respectability, the learning and the influence of his day. This is more than a speech, it is a challenge, it is an impeachment, it is an indictment of high treason—how then can the speaker finish his eloquence but in a peroration of blood? He must die for this, or play the hypocrite further on. A man who talks so, in any age, even including the nineteenth century, must die. The reason we do not die now is that we do not speak the truth. The preacher now follows those whom he appears to lead: if he put himself into a right attitude to his age, its corruption, its infidelities, and its hypocrisies, he would be killed. No preacher is now killed, because no preacher is now faithful.
Consider who these Scribes and Pharisees were. They were the bishops and clergy and ministers of the day. Suppose a reformer should now arise and say concerning the whole machine ecclesiastical and spiritual, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness that is turned out of that machine ye shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven." I do not know that we should nail him to wood with vulgar iron nails, but we would take care to pinch him so in bread and water as to take the life out of him. Christianity is nothing if not an eternal challenge in the direction of honesty, reality, breadth, charity. Has not the whole Church, in all its fragments and communions, become a mere theological grinding machine for turning out certain quantities and colours, of regulation extent and tone?
Religion was polluted at the well-head. It had become a ceremony, a profession, a dead adherence to dead formalities, synagogue-going, word-splitting, hand-washing, and an elaborate system of trifling and refining. Understand who these men were. They knew the law: the Scribes spent their time in copying it, in expounding, or rather in confounding and confusing those who listened to their peculiar expositions of its solemn requirements. They were not illiterate, so far as the law was concerned: they knew every letter, they had a thousand traditions concerning it, they formed themselves into synods and consistories for the purpose of extending, defining, and otherwise treating the requirements of the law. They were so familiar with it as to miss its music, as we have become so familiar with the sunlight as not to heed its beauty. A rattle, a sputter in the air, will excite more attention than the great, broad, calm shining of the. king of day. The Scribes were the men who professed to have the keys of the kingdom of heaven upon their girdles, and yet Jesus Christ, the reputed son of the carpenter, arises and says to them, "Ye are not in the kingdom of heaven at all; actors, mimics, pretenders, painted ones, ye are not in the spirit and the genius of the heavenly kingdom?" No man dares this day say a word against a bishop or a minister—I speak of all churches, and not of one in particular—without being publicly and severely reprimanded for his impious audacity. Jesus gathered himself up into one strain of power, and hurled his energy in one blighting condemnation against the whole of the Scribe and Pharisee system of his day. Beware! He was killed! He did not talk against disreputable persons, as the world accounts repute; the Scribes and the Pharisees were the most respectable people of their generation, they were looked up to as leaders and guides by those amongst whom they lived. They were the saints, the pillars of the Church, the lights of the synagogue, the very cream of respectable society: yet this Galilean peasant beards them all, lays his soft but sinewy fingers upon their throats, and says, "Stand back, ye defile and pervert the kingdom ye profess to serve." Do not, therefore, let us be too bold and too faithful. The cost of integrity everywhere in a corrupt age is—death.
I infer from Christ's treatment of the Scribes and Pharisees that it is possible for men to deceive themselves on religious methods—to suppose that they are in the kingdom of God when they are thousands of miles away from it. Is it possible that any of us can have fallen under the power of that delusion? I fear it may be so. What is your Christianity? A letter, a written creed, a small placard that can be published, containing a few so-called fundamental points and lines? Is it an affair of words and phrases and sentences following one another in regulated and approved succession? If so, and only so, there is not one drop of Christ's blood in it: it is not Christianity, it is a little intellectual conceit, a small moral prejudice. Christianity is life, love, charity, nobleness—it is sympathy with God.
My belief is that if Jesus Christ were to come into England to-day, the first thing he would do would be to condemn all places of so-called worship. What he would do with other buildings I cannot tell, but it is plain that he would shut up all churches and chapels. They are too narrow; they worship the letter; they are the idolaters of details; they are given up to the exaggeration of mint, rue, anise, cummin, herbs and weeds of the garden and the field; but charity, nobleness, honour, all-hopefulness, infinite patience with evil—where are they? If judgment begins at the house of God, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? In disputing about the letter, the danger is that we neglect and despise the spirit; we quarrel about trifles; we are founders of sects and parties, and the champions of our own inventions; we pay tithe of mint and anise, and neglect the weightier matters of the law. The Christianity of this day, so far as I have been enabled to examine it, has no common meeting ground. If Jesus Christ came amongst us now he would have to call upon the leaders of the various denominations, and if he did not happen to begin at the right quarter he would have but scant hospitality. If he called upon the Independents first, the Plymouth Brethren would decline to see him; and if he called upon the Primitive Methodists in the first instance the Independents would urge the claims of an earlier ancestry. He would find us in pugilistic attitude, separated by cobwebs, or bickering and chaffering with one another over high walls, and pinning sheets of paper over little crevices in those walls lest any of the saintly air should get through to the other side. Is this the Church Christ died to redeem? Is this the blood-bought host? Where is our common meeting ground?
Let me now show you what religion had been brought to by the Scribes and Pharisees in their time. I called attention to some of these points in a discourse not long ago. I cannot do better than ask your attention again to those very points. Take the instance of Sabbath-keeping. To what pass do you suppose the Scribes and Pharisees had brought this matter of the fourth commandment? Recent writers upon the life of Christ have been at great pains in reading the Talmud (or doctrine), the Mishna (or repetition), and the Gemara (or supplement); and it would be amusing, if it were not distressing, to find how these theological carpenters have whittled away the broad, grand, solemn commandments of our Father in heaven. With regard to the Sabbatic observance, recent authorities tell us that the Scribes and their allies laid it down that a knot which could be untied with one hand might be untied on the Sabbath day, but not one that required both hands. A man might carry a burden upon his shoulder, but if that burden were slung between two, or even slung between the shoulders, the carrying of it would be a breach of the sanctity of the Sabbath day. It was unlawful to carry a loaf in the public streets on the Sabbath, but if two people carried the same loaf the act was good. It was so written in the Mishna and the Gemara. Understand this. If a man carried a loaf in the public streets, it was breaking the Sabbath Day; but if he got some other man to take hold of another end, they two could be carrying it without a breach of the commandment! This was the state of things when that carpenter's Son came into the world. The law forbade any visiting upon the Sabbath day—when I say the law, I mean the traditional law—yet the Scribes must visit; how then was this difficulty to be overcome? They fixed a chain at one end of the street, and another chain at the other end of the street, and they called the enclosure one house, and thus the painted hypocrites went backward and forward, dining and drinking, and feasting and revelling, and yet keeping the Sabbath day! Two thousand cubits was a Sabbath day's journey, but two thousand cubits was too short a walk for some of these traditionalists. What did they do? On the Friday they went two thousand cubits and deposited a loaf, and where a man deposited a loaf he was entitled to call the place his home for the time being. So the literalist walked his two thousand cubits to his loaf, and then began his Sabbath day's journey of two thousand cubits further on. Do you wonder that when a man whose soul was aflame with righteousness came into such corruption, he damned the society of his day, and said it was not in the kingdom of heaven? This is the way to try Christ, this will show you what he was—no trimmer, no oscillating theological pendulum, now here, now there—but a fire, a judgment, a stern word, a living critic of the corrupt heart. It is in such instances as these that I see the shining of his real personality, and it is in such denunciations as are in the text that I see the beginning of his crucifixion.
When the Pharisee invited him to dine, he went in and sat down to meat without washing his hands, and the Pharisee marvelled that he should eat with hands unwashed. His marvelling was audible in all probability, and Jesus Christ answered it with the severest denunciation. We cannot understand the importance which was attached by the Pharisees and others to the washing of hands before eating. Not to wash the hands before a meal was, we are told by competent annotators, equal to homicide. Dwell upon that fact for one moment. Not to wash the hands before eating was, in the estimation of the Pharisees, an act equal to the killing of a man. Jesus Christ, knowing this, went into the house of the Pharisee, and sat down to eat without hand-washing. Did it take no courage so to act upon personal conviction? Was this a weak-minded man, was this an effeminate Redeemer? Does it cost nothing to rise up in daily, manly protest against the most settled and cherished usages of the time? Give him the honour due to his energy, consider the circumstances by which he was surrounded, and then tell me if he was the carpenter's son or the Son of God.
So far was this matter carried by the Pharisees that no man, but themselves probably, could touch the parchment or skin upon which the law was written without being pronounced unclean. So we learn from those who take an interest in such studies that the question was asked of them, "How is it that a man can touch the pages of Homer and be clean, and yet he cannot touch the parchment or skin on which the law is written without being defiled?" The answer was, "Because of the peculiar sacredness of the law." Thus extremes meet. It was because the law was so holy, that no man might touch the parchment on which it was written without being pronounced ceremonially defiled. And one commentator tells us that there was something like an ironical and sarcastic joke among the people of the time, who said to those high authorities in the law, "How is it that we can touch the bones of a dead ass without contracting pollution, and yet cannot touch the bones of John Hyrcanus, the most saintly of the High Priests, without being unclean?" And the casuistic answer was, "Because Hyrcanus was a holy man, and his very holiness caused those who touched his bones to be unclean."
It was to this pass that religion had been brought by the Scribes and Pharisees, the traditionalists and the literalists of the time before Christ. There were hundreds of refinements, colourings, degrees of violation of the law and breaches of requirements of the letter, and it required a man a lifetime to read all that had been written as to the violation of the law, so that by the time he had become acquainted with all the traditional exactions and requirements of the literalists he was an old man. Can you wonder that when an earnest soul came to take charge of the kingdom of heaven upon earth, he sent a fire on such paper palaces and devoured the walls of such sectarian and monstrous restrictions? Jesus Christ came to give liberty. "If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." With the besom of destruction he swept these things into the sea. He said, "Away with them, the kingdom of heaven is purity, peace, love, charity."
What say you to following this new Leader? I like his tone, it sounds like the tone of an honest heart. But for him we should have fallen in the wake of these men, in all probability; and our religion would have consisted of innumerable lines of exact requirements, punctual observance, ceremonial cleanness, until our souls would have been vexed within us, and life would have been reduced to one daily chafe and fret. Jesus Christ came and said, "The kingdom of heaven is within you. What doth the Lord thy God require of thee, O man, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God?" "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise."
This question arises, and I would put it with the sharpest emphasis of which the human voice is capable, were it in my power to do so—What is our religion? I dare not ask what mine is. It is church-going, it is ceremony, it is going to a particular church, it is singing out of a particular hymn-book, it is being set within a certain regular surrounding of circumstances. I am so afraid of my religion—I speak of mine that I may not reproach others—becoming a question of routine and regulation. I now ask a man to put down on paper what he believes, then I take it up and I examine it, and I say, "You are orthodox." To another man I say, "Put down on paper what you believe." The man writes it. I examine it, and say, "Heterodox." The orthodox man has gone out of the church. I ask him to bring in his week's report of work done, and he says, "I bound your certificate upon my forehead, I went amongst men as orthodox, and I have sent at least two hundred people to hell for not believing what I believe. I got them to put down on paper what they believed, and I found they did not know what they did believe, and so I sent them all to perdition, and I have waked up the church; and I will do the same next week." Heterodox man, bring in your report. How does it read? "Visited ten poor families, gave each of them five shillings and a word of encouragement, and told them to send for me if I could be of any help to them at any time. Saw a poor woman sitting on a doorstep, without a friend or a home in the world—
Made an appointment with her, gave her something to be going on with, and I intend to see this woman as often as possible, until I get her established in life." Who is the Christian?
What, then, is Christianity? A broken heart on account of sin—going to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, the Son of God, the wounded One, the Priest, and saying—
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:Chapter 19
Divine Education—Christian Spirituality—Self-denial Inevitable—Christ's Teaching Is Spiritual
Almighty God, surely thy word is sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the dividing asunder of the joints and marrow. Thine eye of judgment is as a great fire, from the light of which nothing can be hidden. Thou triest the reins and searchest the hearts of the children of men. Thou wilt not be satisfied by the offering of the hand, thou dost demand the loyalty of our undivided love. Thou dost make great charges upon us—who can answer thy call, for thou demandest the whole heart? Surely we are surrounded by infinite temptations, the earth claims us, sense and time urge their importunate appeals, the necessity of the passing hour claims to be answered instantly—yet thou dost thunder down from thy heavens upon us the demand for our united heart. Surely thou dost also send grace, so that thou supportest the soul on which thou dost lay this great obligation; thou givest more grace, thy commands are equalled by thy mercy; if thou dost call for much, thou dost give the needful strength; if the burden be heavy, thou dost give us power to sustain it every whit. Enable us to look into our hearts and to see the condition of our spirit, and awaken within us the cry, Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew within me a right spirit.
Save us from imagining that by fulfilling the letter we have fulfilled the law, and that by our outward observances we prove that we have entered into the inner sanctuary of thy kingdom. Show us how possible it is to read thy Book in the letter without understanding it in the spirit, and how easy it is to wash the hands, and how all but impossible to cleanse the heart. Herein is thy gospel sweet to us, the very word we need, the one voice that touches with its sacred music, our wonder and our desire. The blood of Jesus Christ thy Son cleanseth from all sin: thou hast made provision for the cleansing of every heart; we bless thee for its fulness, we thank thee that every one of us can avail himself of thy grace; we bless thee that there is no guilt too great for thy cleansing. Thou canst come over the mountain of our transgression though it be high as the heaven, and thou canst melt it so that it fall away, and thou canst meet us in reconciliation, and in all the warmth and joy of eternal affection.
We praise thee that we may read thy word to our understanding, to the profit of our heart, to the sanctification and obedience of our will, and so as to realize all the comfort and strength which thou dost design to give unto the life of men. Let a light shine upon thy word whilst we read it, so that we may see its inner beauty, its heavenly grace, and let thy Spirit work in our heart that we may give great and glad welcome to all the messages of Heaven.
We have done the things we ought not to have done, there is not a finger upon our hands that has not sinned against thee, and thou knowest, in numbering the hairs of our head, that our sins are more in number than they. Our way has been broadened out for the society of the evil, and our souls have been shut up so as to exclude the light of the good. We will not seek for words in self-defence, nor shall we try to build up a high wall to shut out the judgments of God. We will fall down before thee, and, in tearfulness and contrition and penitence, each will say, "God be merciful to me a sinner, and repeat thy miracle in my cleansing and redemption."
Help us to live the remainder of our days before thee in all reverence, quietness, love, and usefulness. Enable us to remember the brevity of the day, the sudden coming of the night, and to be obedient with all diligence and ardour whilst we can. Wherein thou has prospered us in basket and in store, let these goodnesses lead us to repentance, let all these proofs of thy outward regard for our life lead us to consider how much thou hast done for our redemption and sanctification, and thus may we grope our way little by little from that which is outward and perishable to that which is internal and indestructible.
According to our necessity do thou now come to us. Touch every one of us with a beam of light from heaven, speak a word especially to each heart; whilst the great general truth is being proclaimed in universal terms, may a tender accent fall upon every ear, as a special token of thy peculiar care and love. May the old forget their age in the gladness of high communion with heaven, may the youthful imagination be touched into a religious wonder whilst the great truths of heaven are being proclaimed with fulness and unction. May the slave of time and the serf of the earth pause in his toil to hear of the kingdom wherein the service is rest. Heal us wherein we are sick, give us light wherein the darkness is too thick to be penetrated by our own vision, and lead us evermore, one step at a time, not where we want to go, but where it is best for us to be.
The Lord's angels be our servants, the Lord's light be our morning, and the infinite gospel of the blood of Christ be our hope and joy in the time of torment and despair. Amen.
21. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time (after the return from Babylon, when synagogues began to be established), Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill, shall be in danger of (liable to) the judgment:
22. But I (the personal pronoun is emphatic) say unto you, that whosoevor is angry with his brother without a cause, shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca (any term of personal contempt), shall be in danger of the council; but whosoever shall say, Thou fool! shall be in danger of hell fire.
23. Therefore, if thou bring thy gift to the altar (if thou shouldst be offering), and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee;
24. Leave there thy gift before the altar (reconciliation is better than liturgical propriety), and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
25. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whilst thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.
26. Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.
27. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery.
28. But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
29. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee; for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
30. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
31. It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement;
32. But I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery; and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.
This shows us the principle upon which the education of the world was being conducted by the Divine Teacher. Perhaps the education could not have begun otherwise than very roughly. The mind is not prepared for the higher form of truths, and the more spiritual application of them at the beginning. We all need to be trained. In our higher training we must go, as in our lower tuition, a step at a time. Do not be too hasty in your movement. Easy come, easy go, is a proverb which applies in many directions. Always read over again the last lesson before you begin the next, if you wish to be really accurate and profound scholars. You know how you train your child. First you lay down some broad and general commandment. He is not to break things, he is not to endanger himself, he is not to touch fire, he is to keep away from the water, he is not to use his little fists, and so in some broad and general way you indicate what the child is not to do. If you spoke to the child in any other terms and in any other tone, your education might be of a very superior order, but it would be utterly lost, so far as the child's appreciation and obedience are concerned. You must begin where the child can begin, you must humble yourself and take upon you the form of a servant, and become obedient unto death, the death of your intellectual pride, even the death of the cross, and must break up your words into very little tones and syllables in order to suit your youthful auditor. It would become you, perhaps, by reason of the elevation and range of your own intellectual acquirements, to adopt a very high tone to the child: but you must come down out of your intellectual sky and talk the plain and common language of the earth if you would make any good impression upon the child's mind and heart.
So at the beginning it was, perhaps, enough to say, "Thou shalt not kill." But there came a time in the training and advancement of the world when a keener tone was to enter into the divine teaching. That keener tone we hear in the words that are now before us. Christ has brought us a long way from the broad and rough commandment, Thou shalt not kill. He asks us to pass a line and enter into a kingdom in which we are not to think unkindly or unjustly of one another. He discovers for us that the principle is the same in evil speaking as in murder. With those sharp eyes of his, to which the darkness and the light are both alike, he says that in the unjust thought is the principle of manslaughter. It would, therefore, have been but poor work on his part to come down and repeat the old broad general morality; he must bring in a new standard, he must set up a new kingdom, he must flood the world with a purer light. Herein he sets up his throne of judgment amongst us to-day, and he calls us up one by one to be measured and weighed. Let us hasten to obey his call.
What have you to say? He will ply the charge of slaying men—what is your answer? An instantaneous, frank, unreserved denial. So far, so good. Have you ever thought one unjust thought respecting your neighbour? Where your glibness now? If you have, then you are still in the old school, and you have not entered into the Christian kingdom at all. Where then are the Christians? Judged by that high and pure standard, my mournful answer to the inquiry is, I cannot tell. There are no Christians. Jesus says to us, in effect, "If you come to me, simply saving that your hands are clear of human blood, you belong to the old school, you are faithful scholars of them of old time; but the first condition of entrance into my school, or the first proof of being in that school, is that a man be not angry with his brother without a cause. There must be no evil thinking, evil speaking, evil judgment, uncharitable criticism." Who then can stand the test of that fire? "What do ye more than others? You do not kill, you do not steal, you do not commit adultery, you do not make yourselves amenable to the law of the land—what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans the same? "So he definitely chides us, and we have no answer.
Still he would lead us on little by little; he would not deny us a place in his kingdom if we can honestly say, "Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief. I am still in the body, and I feel all the passion and urgency of my lower nature. Sometimes a cruel thought does arise in my heart, and sometimes I give too generous a welcome to uncharitable criticism of my brother, but afterwards I hate myself for having entertained so vile a guest. God be merciful to me a sinner." If such be our speech, then it pleaseth the great Christ, the Man of the shepherdly heart, to give us a position in his school and teaching.
Let us beware of these vain distinctions of ours. A man does not kill, and therefore he claims to be a Christian. Jesus Christ says to him, "That is an insufficient and untenable claim altogether. A thousand men who never go to church can say the same thing. You must adopt a higher tone, or you know nothing of the spirit of the Cross and the love of God." Thus our preachers must urge upon us the ideal side of things, and we must not pardon them if they do other. They must not come down to us and tell us that not killing is equal to loving. Though they condemn themselves with every breath they breathe, and thrust sharp swords into their own hearts with every syllable they utter, yet this must be done, the ideal must be lifted up and magnified that we may see how far short we fall or come of being true Christ-ones. We call ourselves respectable persons; so we are, with the publicans' respectability. There is not a man here to-day, probably, who cannot walk up and down the thoroughfares of the city and defy the magistrate to touch him. That is not Christianity, that is respectable paganism—that is not the religion of the sanctuary of Christ, that is ceremonialism, high paganism, outward cleanliness. Christianity is a condition of the heart.
How is it with us when that question, keen as a sting of fire, is put to us, namely, What about your inner life, your heart? You do not kill, but you think evil of your neighbour; you do not slay a man with the sword, but you whisper unkind words about your friend. You do not violate the open laws of decency, but yours is an uncharitable judgment; you have not passed a counterfeit coin, but you would take away a reputation and wound a heart. You would not openly tell a lie, you say you scorn to tell a lie; yet if two constructions can be put upon any human action, you elect the worse of the two. If that is true of you or me, by so much we are not in the kingdom of Christ at all. We may be expositors and critics and respectable pagans, but we are not in the Christian kingdom at all.
Terrible is the talk of Christ's as a great burning judgment, and it keeps us at bay like a fire. What wonder if sometimes our hearts are so dejected as to think that no progress is being made with Christian civilization at all. When a man seventy years of age-can talk just as he did at thirty, as uncharitably and unfeelingly and hopelessly about his kind; when the very first thought that occurs to his mind is one of ungenerous criticism, how can he have been in the school of Christ? Charity thinketh no evil, charity suffereth long and is kind, charity believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things, charity never faileth, and without charity no man can be a follower of Christ.
Jesus Christ is very urgent about these human relations of ours; therefore he says, "If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift." We are not to remember whether we have anything against our brother; that would be easily done, our memory needs no spur on that side, we so soon forget our own delinquencies. Where did my last word of fire drop? What heart did I wound in my last speech? On what right did I trample in my last transaction? Whom did I strike down in order to accomplish my last purpose? Let me examine myself thus, and I shall be a long time in getting to the altar. At the altar, whited, painted hypocrite? Leave the altar and go away to discharge your plain human duties, bind up hearts you have broken, comfort those you have thrown into dejection, and apologise on both knees to the woman, the child, the man you have injured, and then come and take up your hymn-book and lay your offering on the altar purer than snow.
I do not wonder that Jesus Christ does not make much progress in the world, and I do not wonder that any old trickster in words and conjurer in doctrines can get more followers than Christ. He keeps men away from him by these judgments of fire. His doctrine is a continual rebuke, the very holiness of his speech creates a torment in the heart that is not equal to obedience. But wherein he is severe he makes good work; he builds slowly, but he means that no wind shall ever throw down the towers which he rears. He collects his members very gradually, and by a gate most narrow and strait does he bring men to him, but they never leave him. He is not building a beautiful house of smoke which the wind will blow away; he is building a Church, and he has calculated the strength of the swing of the gates of hell, and having built his masonry up with a slow hand, he says, "There—the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
He now passes on to give directions concerning the crucifixion of the flesh and the senses, and he lays down this great principle—and I include the whole teaching under it—namely, that under the stress of fierce temptation either the body has to be denied or the soul has to be injured. He says in effect, "I put the case before you thus: temptation will come, and one or other must fall, the body or the soul." The body says, "I will have my way, I will enjoy myself, I will throw off restraint, I will do what I please, every appetite shall be gratified." And the soul sits as far back as it can, in the foul house, and mourns like an exile. I see it, I see its drooping countenance, its eyelids heavy and red, I hear its great sob, I see its infinite dejection. The great principle is that denial has to come into your life somewhere. You deny the body or you deny the soul. Deny the body and the soul comes to the front and floods your life with sacred light, with heaven's pure splendour. Gratify the body, and the soul retires, and its hot tears fall in the hearing of God. Self-slaughter takes place somewhere; it is for us to say where it shall take place. It can take place in the cutting off of a hand, or in the thrusting of a dagger into the very fountain of life, and it lies within the power of the human will to say where the wound shall be inflicted.
There is a bloated man who never said "No" to an appetite. You see it in his face. That is not the face of his childhood developed into noble age, that is another face: he is made now in the image and likeness of the devil. His very eye has a twist in it, his very speech has lost its music. He does not want to come into a pure home, he does not want to look upon the unsullied flowers, he does not care to listen to the birds singing their sweet song in the spring light. His affections are otherwhere. All the urgency of his life moves amid other directions, he is less a man than he ever was, unhappily.
Here is a man who has crucified the flesh, the affections, and the lusts thereof; he has cut off his right hand, plucked out his right eye, struck himself everywhere with heavy blows, but his soul throws over his maimed condition a sacred light, a beautiful expression. The form is rugged, the countenance is marred, but through it there is a soft shining light which tells that the soul is growing angelward and Godward, and every day sweetens his nature and prepares it for higher society.
In looking at all these injunctions, let me urge you to beware of nibbling criticism and exposition. It would be easily possible for us to spend many mornings over the discussion of the paragraph which is now before us. I question whether it would be profitable to do so. In reading Holy Scripture seize the principle, get hold of the genius, the divine meaning, and in proportion as you are critical about the mere letter are you in danger of losing the divine inspiration. Suppose, to make the meaning clearer, I should undertake to explain to you the meaning of the word sky. I begin by telling you that it is a word of one syllable, I point out that that one syllable consists of three letters, I call your attention to the fact that it opens with the nineteenth letter of the English alphabet, and that it closes with the last letter but one in that alphabet. What do you know about the meaning of the word sky? You know nothing of it. Let me tell you that the word sky is not to be looked at or spelled or taken to pieces by rough vivisection of mere letters, but lift up your eyes when the morning is spreading itself above you in all its beauty and freshness, and one look into the great arch will do more for your understanding of the term sky than all the mere conjuring with the three letters that the most skilful literalist could ever do.
So it is possible for you to take to pieces every one of those words in this long paragraph, and yet to know at the end nothing about the meaning of Christ's doctrine. His doctrine is one of inward purity, of spiritual rectitude, of absolute and loving sympathy with God. There be those, no doubt, who are most anxious to know what was meant by Raca, and Fool, and Hell-fire. To take these words to pieces might appear instructive, but so far as the doctrine of Christ is concerned it might easily be destructive. Raca, for example, is a forgotten word. Words come and go. To us it means nothing, but as used by those in the olden time it meant insolence, contempt—the man who called another "Raca," despised him, spat upon him, humbled the manhood made in the image and likeness of God. We have no such word amongst us now, but we have the contemptuous feeling, we have the upgathering of our conventional respectability and our drawing aside from the unworthy, the meanly dressed, the unfavoured, the great unwashed. The great teaching of Christ is that contempt of humanity is punished by being thrown into Gehenna, the valley given up to fire.
In discussing the temptation of our Lord, we inferred the character of the tempter from the kind of temptations which he urged. We might apply the same principle to the teaching of Christ, and infer the character of Christ from the kind of teaching which he submitted to the world. Mark the undivided responsibility which he assumes—"I say unto you." The personal pronoun is there emphatic, it takes into itself all the meaning. In the first instance you have a plural term, "It hath been said by them of old time, but"—now comes the singular term—"I say unto you." There is no division of responsibility, there is no hiding of himself behind multitudinous precedents, there is no mere focalization of the wisdom of the dead ages. Here is personal responsibility, clear, definite, undivided, incommunicable. It required some courage on the part of a mere peasant to stand up and say to a great multitude of people, "I put myself above all that ever taught you in the ages gone." Yet mark how what he said was in fulfilment of truth and not in destruction of the ancient law. Christ did not say, "You may kill if you please," he accepted the teaching, "Thou shalt not kill," and he carried it on a step further. He said, "Out of the heart killing comes; make the tree good and the fruit will be good. It is no use for the hand to be able to uplift itself and show that it is without one drop of blood upon it—the question is, How many murders has the heart committed?" This is the true doctrine of development, this is the true fulfilment of the law.
Mark the intense spirituality of all Christ's teaching. He says, "How is it with the heart, how is it with the spirit, what would you do if you could, how far is your respectability a mere deference to the clay god of custom, how far is your outward cleanliness a mere expression of deference to the usages of the time?" A man is what his heart is, "A man is no stronger than his weakest point," says the strategist, and the moralist adds, "A man is no better than in his feeblest morality." We are to be judged by the heart and not by the hand. Many will say to me in that day, "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name done many wonderful works?" Then will I profess unto them, "I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity." If we are humble in heart, contrite, penitential, self-renouncing, always wishing and desiring to be better, Christ will accept this purpose as an accomplished fact, and astound us by the revelation of his rewards.
Understand what kind of teacher we have now come upon. This is terrible preaching which we read in our text to day. It is a judgment upon the preacher if it be not a vindication. He must keep up to his own standard. Having challenged the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, he must show a better Having demanded purity of heart, he must show it, or endeavour to show it. Having scorned as a final consummation all the moralities that every one before him taught, he must be faithful to the new and larger doctrine. If not, he opens his heart to all the assaults of even the least ingenious of his foes. He did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth, his robe was seamless, no man could charge him with violating his own doctrine—he was the only preacher that lived his sermons, in him alone was perfect, absolute consistency. What he looks for from us is a humble, daily, loving endeavour to follow him. That is all we can claim, and we claim it with most bated breath.
Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:Chapter 20
The Beatitudes In Practical Form—On Taking Oaths—the Personal Resistance of Evil—on Borrowing and Lending
Almighty God, we cannot mistake thy word, it is as fire and it is as music, it is as the sound of a mighty wind from heaven—there is none like it; our hearts know thy voice, and when we follow thy word thy blessing upon us is like a great wave. Thou hast written for us thy book", thou hast given unto us thy Holy Spirit for its interpretation and for the enlightenment of our mind; enable us to receive thy book, not as the word of man, but as the express deliverance and message of heaven. Save us from all the reading of the letter, that does not see into the meaning of the infinite Spirit, bring us into sympathy with thine own purpose whilst we read thy wondrous words. We long to hear thy voice; it will soothe us, it will give us courage, it will answer every rising inquiry and repel every urgent temptation. Let thy voice fill the hearing of our soul to-day and make us glad with the music of heaven.
Give us release from the anxieties and torments of a worldly life; lift us above the cares and distresses incident to an earthly pilgrimage, and bring us into thine inner chamber, where our hearts shall see the radiance of thy face, and our life shall be lifted up into a new and immortal hope. Thou hast been with us in the valley of the week, and even in the darkness we have seen where the flowers were, and our hands have" been filled with their beauty. Thou hast caused us to pass over stony places, yet even in the rock hast thou found a river of water, so that we have not died in the wilderness by reason of thirst. Where the water has been bitter thou hast given us a plant to heal its bitterness, thou hast turned upon us an eye brighter than the morning, and upon our enemies thou hast turned a cloud darker than the night. Because of thy great goodness we are here this day, living, with hearts uplifted heavenward, with a great desire going out after thyself that our souls may be completed in perfection and soothed with peace.
Hear us whilst we confess our sin, and whilst we mourn our iniquity. Let thy forgiveness, through Jesus Christ our one Priest and only Saviour, be greater than all our guilt. When we sin most we most need him, for he is the Saviour of the world and the Redeemer of those that are in bondage. Bring us all round his cross, and high above all the writing of those who slew him may we see the superscription traced by thine own hand, "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost."
We put ourselves into thine hands for guidance, direction, sustenance, and all things needful. We shall die tomorrow, but to die is to live, if so be we die unto the Lord. Our days are thinning down, so much so that we see through the remainder of them and behold the tomb at the other end. Yet, though our days be few, we would live them as industrious servants, being found diligent and faithful, stooping down to our work with a hearty good will, and doing it in all the strength and fear and hope of God.
We commend one another with mutual love to thy gentle care. Garry our sick ones in thy great arms, press our little ones to thine infinite heart, kiss the tears of our sorrow from our reddened cheek, and give us a time of sunshine, when the storm has spent itself upon our poor life. Help every man who wishes to do better to realize this solemn hope; to every man who would lift himself up by thy grace and strength so as to catch the full shining of thy light, give grace, strength, comfort, and renewal of confidence every day. If any heart be set upon evil and any hand be trying to find what mischief it can work, the Lord confound the counsel of those who are wrong and overturn the purpose of those who know not and fear not thy name.
Thy word awaits us, may we await its deliverance, may it come to us with great power and breadth, great simplicity and unction—may every heart throw open its gates to give right loving welcome to the kingdom of Christ. The Lord direct us in everything, individually, congregation ally, socially, and nationally. Give righteousness and a spirit of mercy and judgment to all who are in high places. God save the Queen, and add many unto the days of her life; the Lord himself rule the nation and make us glad under his sovereignty. Send light and truth, purity and peace all over the world, and make the whole earth thy sanctuary, thou who didst redeem it with blood.
Hear us in these our uttered prayers, and as for the desires we may not and cannot speak, read them every one, as they lie unuttered in the heart. Wherein they point towards truth and better life and penitence and nobler purpose, thou wilt give them infinite answers "of satisfaction and peace. Amen.
33. Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:
34. But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne:
35. Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of. the great King.
36. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.
37. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.
38. Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
39. But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
40. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.
41. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
42. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.
43. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
44. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
45. That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
46. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?
48. Be ye therefore perfect, even as your father which is in heaven is perfect.
We had some difficulty in understanding the beatitudes, the music seemed to be too exquisite and refined for the rough instruments at our disposal. We hastened over them, rather than deliberately read them As your teacher, I had a purpose in this; I knew that the beatitudes would all come up again in practical form. Who can understand abstract and purely spiritual truth? But that which is impossible from one point of view may be rendered comparatively easy from another. Jesus Christ now proceeds to give examples upon what we might call the black board. When he said, looking it whilst he did say it, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God," we did not understand the meaning of the unfathomable doctrine. When he said, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth," we thought he was speaking of himself, or of strangers, for we had never come within the sacred lines described by that simple yet immeasurable word, meekness. Now he is proceeding from doctrine to exhortation, and you will find under his exhortations the whole set of the beatitudes: he is giving you now to drink out of the wells he dug when he laid down the doctrine.
I cannot tell what he means by purity of heart, so he approaches my dull understanding with this practical direction—Do not be angry with your brother without a cause, do not call your brother by contemptuous names, do not describe any man wilfully and maliciously as a fool. I think these are easy exhortations, and when I begin to give them incarnation in my life I find they are supreme difficulties; I have not motive force in me enough to carry this tremendous engine along. Now I take him aside and say privately in the house, "I know now something of what you meant when you said, Blessed are the pure in heart." "Yes," he replies, "that was my purpose, and if your heart be not right you will never be able to do the apparently simple duties which I have now indicated. Unless there be pureness of heart there will be pollution of lips, unless there be rightness of heart there will be hidden and baleful fire in the spirit, and it will express itself in contempt and malice, and harshness and cruelty." So now that he comes into practical particulars, I find that they balance the spiritual doctrine which I could not understand. But I will try to do the duty—I shall be led back into the doctrine, and be made to feel that I cannot work with the hand except it expresses the inspiration of a cleansed heart So when he says to me, "If a man smite thee on the one cheek, turn to him the other also;" when I ask, "How is this to be done?" he says, "Recall the beatitudes." I then endeavour to remember what he said in the spiritual part of his discourse, and this sweet word returns to my memory—"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." When I heard that sentence the first time I dismissed it as a very beautiful conception, a high and beautiful theory, written in clouds and illustrated with sunset colours; but now that it comes down to me in a practical form, I find it was no cloudy revelation, no mere touch of intellectual beauty, no flash of the moral imagination, but something sound, honest, vital, divine. So it is no use telling a man to turn the other cheek to the man who has smitten him if he has not first turned his heart towards meekness. You cannot put on meekness except as you put on paint that can be washed off. If you have not the meek heart, you cannot do the meek deed. Do not play at meekness, do not simulate meekness; let us hide ourselves with Christ, who is meek and lowly in heart, then we shall be exactly what he meant when he told us that when we were smitten on one cheek we had to turn the other also. Throughout the whole of these practical exhortations you will find that he is reducing the beatitudes or spiritual doctrines to spiritual form and expression.
Let us now go a little into detail to establish this with some breadth of illustration. "Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths." That is, you have heard it laid down broadly that you are not to commit perjury: having taken a vow, you must be faithful to it; having uttered your oath, you must carefully and deliberately reduce it to practice. It must not be made a dead letter, it must net be evaded, it must not be inverted, there must be no perjury or false-swearing or foregoing of the most sacred oaths of life; but I say unto you, that that is a very poor advancement in the right direction. So far as it goes it is right enough, but go forward, follow me, so as to relieve yourself from the necessity of ever swearing at all. That is to say, let your heart be so sincere that your speech must be simple; cultivate that state of heart in the sight of God which naturally and necessarily, by virtue of the divine compulsion, expresses itself in simple, transparent, and beauteous sincerity and simplicity.
I do not understand the Saviour as forbidding what is known as judicial oath-taking or swearing. He always recognised certain necessities of the time, and he adapted his revelation from the beginning to the hardness of the hearts of those whom he had to instruct. But he was bound to point to the ultimate line he set up of ideal conversation. It is his purpose to make us so like himself that we cannot but speak exactly what is true. Consider the monstrousness of any man speaking only what is true because he has sworn to do it. That man is a liar. In his very nature and blood he is false, if he will only speak that which is true simply on the ground that he has taken an oath to do it. There can be no formal truthfulness: sincerity is a condition of heart; it is not the result of a mechanical contrivance coming out of the kissing a certain book under a certain adjuration. Jesus Christ therefore educates the race up to the point of not needing to swear or affirm or declare, with unusual emphasis. He would have our very breathing to be the expression of our hearts' condition, so that if a man said Yea, he meant that, and that only: if he said Nay, there was no mental reservation, no subtle and unexpressed equivocation of meaning, no intention, deep down in the heart, to take advantage of a certain set of terms under a certain set of circumstances—that is the deep and glorious meaning of the Son of God. Be so right within as to be incapable of uttering one word that is not pure as light and as fire. It is to that high result he would bring us. We are dull scholars, and the teacher has yet an infinite work before him.
Jesus Christ then addressed himself to certain little trickeries that were in custom amongst the people. He told them not to swear by heaven, nor by earth, nor by Jerusalem, nor by the head. Why did he go into this detail? Because such was the corruption of his age, that there were great and learned men who laid it down as right to break any oath in which you could not find, in so many letters, the name Jehovah. There was one great man in history who openly avowed that he felt himself to be at liberty to break any oath in which he did not expressly use the word God. If the word God had passed his lips he felt himself bound in honour to fulfil his oath, but if he sware by heaven, by the altar, by the queen, by his hair, by his palace, he did but gather so much straw as he could cast into the fire of his passion and burn when he pleased. Jesus Christ, with that marvellous comprehensiveness of teaching which is characteristic of his school, proceeds to show that, though you may not have the name of God in your oath, whatever you touch is sacred and has God in it. "Swear not by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is his city; nor by thine head, for he fashioned it and clothed it, and thou canst not make one hair white or black." So he delivered the term God from its consisting of so many letters and syllables, and showed that the whole universe was alive with God, and that to swear by a stone was to invoke the Creator that formed it. To be under such a Teacher is an inspiration, to hear such a man is to expose yourself to the mountain breeze or a whiff of ocean air full of life and giving life.
Take the next particular. "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, but I say unto you that ye resist not evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on the one cheek turn to him the other also, and if any man shall sue thee at the law and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And if any man compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain." We all know to what absurdities and iniquities a merely literal acceptance of these words would lead. You nibble at the meaning of Christ when you begin to think that you see it all in these bare words, as they would be understood by the unenlightened and unspiritual mind. What is Jesus Christ teaching here? He is teaching the great principle of forbearance or long-suffering. He quells all human passion, and sets upon human revenge the seal of his displeasure. Revenge is not to enter into our thoughts. As to self-protection it is written in our nature; it is not a debased instinct, it was in the original Adam, the divinely-shaped and divinely-inspired man, and the very first word spoken to the man constituted an appeal to this instinct, "Take care; in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. Protect thyself." It cannot be taken out of our manhood, this instinct of self-preservation; it can be sanctified, moderated, ennobled, and this is what Christ meant it to be. I may smite in judgment or I may smite in revenge, but the individual man who is injured cannot smite in judgment. I smite in temper—that is the very thing forbidden. We caution a man against taking the law into his own hands—that is exactly what Jesus Christ means in this direction. You ought not to have taken the law into your own hands—Why? Because you were only an individual and the individual is incomplete. What, then, should I have done? You should have referred it to the complete man. What is his name? Society. Society will lay its terrific hand upon the man that smote you. When will you learn that you are only a part and not a whole, a fraction and not an integer? The judge, when he sits upon the bench and condemns a fellow-creature to penal servitude for life, is not an individual, he is the embodiment of Society, the representative of the latest civilization of his time and land. If you, being smitten on one cheek, turn round and smite the man who smote you, you may both be taken before the judge. Rather than that, turn to him the other also. Leave your defence and his punishment in the hands of the social man, the aggregate humanity, the judge.
This is exactly what Christ did himself. Christ did not personally resist evil. He exemplified the very doctrine now being explained. Personally, when he was reviled, he reviled not again, when he suffered he threatened not; he gave his back to the smiters and his cheeks to them that pluck off the hair. But as Judge, not the Jesus of Nazareth, but the Son of Man, he shall come in his glory and all the holy angels with him he shall divide the nations and open hell under the feet of those that despised him. We believe that thou wilt come to be our Judge. Every eye shall see him, they that pierced him shall mourn because of him, those whose hands are wettest and reddest with human blood shall seek mercy of the rocks and pity of the mountains, for the wrath of his face shall scourge them like the fire that awaits their coming. Resist not evil, do not take the law into your own hands; personally be meek, forbearing, long-suffering, show that the spirit of revenge has no place in you, show that you would rather suffer wrong than do wrong, take the larger view, be gentle, hopeful, noble, and as to your sufferings, there is an organised anger that shall burn the adversary, there is a judicial scourge that shall cut to his bone. "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath, for it is written, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord," and he repays through organised society, through enlightened and established civilization, and by a thousand ministries which we can neither name nor measure.
"And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain." This refers to the system of forced courierships. In ancient times and oriental lands, messages were delivered by couriers, persons were required to show the way to strangers. If you were lost upon a mountain or in a valley, it was part of your right to insist upon any person who was in the neighbourhood to go with you part of the road; to help you out of your difficulty. Persons could be compelled to bear messages and letters. One Simon, a Cyrenian, was compelled to bear the cross. Who would not carry that every mile he has yet to walk? The Saviour said, "If a man compel you to go a mile with him to show him the road, go two rather than not go at all. Show a cheerful disposition under the pressure, let your philanthropy absorb your convenience."
"Give to him that asketh of thee, and from him that would borrow of thee, turn not thou away." We all know that society would be wrecked in a very short time if this rule were to be literally applied. In fact it bears upon its face the proof that it does not admit of application in the way which the mere literalist would expect. It is too broad to mean anything as a mere letter; it is, as the lawyers say, void by generality. It means so much as to mean nothing. And yet it must have some profound signification? Certainly. Where shall we find that signification? In God's own government, just as we find the explanation of non-resistance in Christ's own conduct. God does not do this himself, as the literalist would interpret it. He does it in the nobler and larger way which is of no use to the mere devotee of the letter. Let me explain. I ask God to give me what I mention to him, yet he turns away. Then he tells me to give to the man that asketh of me. I must find the meaning of these words in the course of his own action. I would borrow of God, and yet he turns away from my cry. He judges what is best for me, what is good for me: He Says "No" to many a prayer: many a desire of mine that I have sent out towards the heavens has fallen back upon the door-sill like a wounded bird. I know now what Christ means: he teaches me clemency, sympathy, he developes in me an interest in human affairs, he saves me from absurdity and folly and recklessness and from putting myself into the very position in which I should have gone to repeat the doctrine he lays down, and thus keep up a system and action of absurd borrowing, now one man having it and now another, and so passing it between themselves through every hour of the day.
If you want to find the meaning of these sweet words, you can easily find them. Do not try to discover it in the letter. Whenever you are clement, sympathetic, large-hearted, kind-handed, you are going in the direction of the meaning of this passage. Jesus is not laying down little laws and small maxims, he is developing infinite principles which can be applied in every climate, and which can embody themselves under all the various circumstances which make up all the changefulness of human life.
That I am right in seeking the explanation of the whole doctrine in myself and in God is proved by what Jesus Christ immediately adds, "That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven," that you may do in your degree as he does upon an infinite scale. He does not answer every petition, he turns away from some requests, he knows that difficulty has a place in the discipline and sanctification of life, and he uses the rod as sometimes the only admissible lesson. I would be taught by him, I would be like him, I would err, as we sometimes say, on the liberal side rather than on the ungenerous. I would rather be taken in than take in any human creature, I would rather try to find the means of healing a man than sourly turn away from his distressed face and his faltering voice. If that be my disposition of heart, I am in the school of Christ.
But take these exhortations as you like, you cannot give their application, without you have help from heaven. It is not in man that liveth to work out this sublime morality, it is not in the human heart as at present existing to find room for these divinities. He who made the heart must disinfect it, cleanse it, enlarge it to give hospitality to such guests.