The Summons - to Repent!
Matthew 4:17
From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

It would appear that while first John the Baptist uttered the summons, "Repent ye," when announcing the advent of "the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 3:1), and while now Jesus himself does the same, the charge to utter it was not committed to "the twelve" (Matthew 10:7), nor to "the seventy" (Luke 10:9). The reason, perhaps, is this, that the work of these disciples was intentionally didactic rather than dogmatic for the present, while all the weight of the solemn responsibility of appealing to men's souls and awakening them would strictly attach to the prophet John the Baptist, and to that "greater Prophet" "like unto him," Jesus. The text informs us, now at all events, that Jesus does not only teach but preach, does not only work mighty works, but demand a hearing for mighty appeals of a direct and personal nature, and practical results from them. Remark -

I. THE UNIQUE NOVELTY ONCE OF THIS SHORT, SHARP SUMMONS FROM THE SPEAKER'S STANDPOINT. The world knew many a "cry " before this - perhaps never before one like this, except in the case of the older prophet-appeals, and those almost exclusively addressed to their own people. Nevertheless, Noah's preaching to the old world, and Jonah's preaching to Nineveh, are fair samples of the real summons to men, on the rights of things, on eternal rights, to "repent." However, the present appeals of John the Baptist and of Jesus began the sound that was to travel the world round, to penetrate the densest Gentile masses, and never cease its reverberatings in human ear. We may remark distinctly

(1) upon the peculiar attitude of the man who thus addresses a fellow-man;

(2) upon the ground and warrant that he must claim for holding this attitude, if he does so rightly;

(3) upon the very serious responsibility that he ought to feel, and the "constraint laid upon him" lest he but usurp what does not belong to him;

(4) upon the unfeigned and deep dependence on unseen force he should feel and acknowledge. For in regard of all of these points it may be said that there is no assumption so great as that which is manifested when one man, facing his fellow-men, speaking into their ear, presumes to penetrate to all that is highest, deepest, most solemn, most enduring, in them and their soul, and commands them to "repent."

II. THE STRANGE SURPRISE OF IT ON THE EAR OF THE HEARER. The command itself is to altered thought, altered love, altered life and works. For:

1. It is the typical, the grandest interference with the individual's love, nature's instinct, habit's easy and determined leaning, and the universal world's pronounced preference, manifested all unequivocally in favour of the doctrine of laissez-faire.

2. It is all this, where it must needs be felt

(1) most penetratingly, - for each individual man is called on to set his own house in order;

(2) most sensitively, - for the house is that wherein his innermost self has its haunt;

(3) most comprehensively, - for outside and inside, what is most seen and most withdrawn from sight, have to be set in order; nay, diligent search and inquisition of self have to be made with pain, smart, sacrifice, self's denying, if the contemplated alteration, reformation, repentance, are really wrought.

3. It is all this, from a personal presence unambitious in its outer appearance, unimposing, untempting, and certainly unwinning.

III. A CERTAIN OSTENSIBLE GROUND UPON WHICH THE SUMMONS IS URGED. The ground may be called ostensible, but only for one reason - that by the vast majority it would be counted more ostensible than real. The eye that should see furthest, the thought that should pierce deepest and comprehend most, would well understand the genuineness, force, tellingness, of the plea, "For the kingdom of heaven is at hand." This announcement purported to describe in brief the more light, the purer light of knowledge now coming to earth; the clearer and the much more catholic revealing of the Father and his love to men, now to dawn on earth; and the more spiritual and inner methods by which justice, holiness, goodness, were to become the familiar study and search and possessions of humanity. The plea, therefore, is of the nature of inducement, The inducement is that which comes

(1) of new opportunity;

(2) of great encouragement in the fresh suggestions of the almighty Father's persevering watchfulness over his children on earth;

(3) of splendid prospect, when the methods that now should be were compared with past methods;

(4) of the suggestion of solemn added responsibilities, if vast increase of privilege were not responded to by increase of effort. - B.

Parallel Verses
KJV: From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

WEB: From that time, Jesus began to preach, and to say, "Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."

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