After the master of the house gets up and shuts the door, you will stand outside knocking and saying, 'Lord, open the door for us.' But he will reply, 'I do not know where you are from.'
A great many unspiritual people show no small concern respecting matters that pertain to religion. It may be that they are curious, or that they are imaginative, or that they are visionary, and that religion provides a wide field for investigation, or for romance, or for mysticism. This speculative and unpractical piety may be:
1. A vain and unrewarded curiosity. It was so in this instance; the applicant was moved by nothing more than a mere passing whim and he received no gratification from Christ (see Luke 23:8, 9; John 21:21, 22)] It will be found that, on the one hand, Jesus always answered the questions of those who were in earnest, however humble might be the applicant; and, on the other hand, that he never answered the questions of the irreverent, however distinguished the inquirer might be. And it is found now by us that if we go to his Word or to his sanctuary to inquire his will, we shall not go away unblessed; but that if we go to either for mere gratification, we shall be unrewarded.
2. The retreat of irreligion and unworthiness (see John 4:18-20). It is convenient to pass from personal and practical considerations to those of theological controversy.
3. The act of mistaken religiousness (see John 14:8). We act thus when we want to see the Divine side of God's dealings with us, or are anxious to know "the times and seasons which the Father hath put in his own power." Our Lord's reply suggests -
I. THE SUPREME IMPORTANCE OF PERSONAL RELIGION. "Are there few that be saved?... Strive to enter in," etc.; i.e. the question for you to be concerned to answer is, whether you yourself are in the kingdom of God; that is preliminary to all others; that is the thing of primary importance; that is worth your caring for, your seeking after, your diligent searching, your strenuous pursuit. Surely the most inconsistent, self-condemning, contradictory thing of all is for men to be thinking, planning, discussing, expending, in order to put other people into the right way when they themselves are taking the downward road. Shall we not say to such, "Go and learn what this meaneth, 'Let every man prove his own work, then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another; for every man shall bear his own burden' of responsibility to God"? The first duty a man owes to God and to his neighbour is the duty he owes to himself - to become right with the living God by faith in Jesus Christ his Saviour.
II. The fact that ENTRANCE INTO THE KINGDOM OF GOD DEMANDS GREAT STRENUOUSNESS OF SOUL.
1. It is the great crisis of a man's career, and may well be attended with much spiritual disturbance. When a human soul first hears and heeds his Father's call and rises to return to his true spiritual home, he may well be affected with profound spiritual solicitude, and may well count that the goal he is seeking is worth all the labour and all the patience he expends to reach it.
2. There are occasions when special strenuousness of soul is demanded. Such are these:
(1) When a man by long neglect has lost nearly all his sensibility.
(2) When the earnest seeker cannot find the consciousness of acceptance which he yearns to attain.
(3) When a man finds himself opposed by adverse forces; when "a man's foes are they of his own household;" when he has to act as if he positively" hated" father and mother, in order to be loyal to his Lord; when downright earnestness and unflinching fidelity bring him into serious conflict with the prejudices and the practices of the home, or the mart, or the social circle; and when to follow the lead of his convictions means to suffer, to lose, to endure much at the hands of man. Then comes the message of the Master - Strive, wrestle, agonize to enter in; put forth the effort, however arduous; make the sacrifice, however great; go through the struggle, however severe it may prove to be. Strive to enter in; it will not be long before you will have your reward in a pure and priceless peace, in a profound and abiding joy, in a heritage which no man and no time can take from you. - C.
When once the Master of the house hath risen up.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
(H. Melvill, B. D. .)
Depart from Me.
I. THERE IS A SENSE IN WHICH GOD CANNOT BE SAID TO BE ABSENT FROM ANY PART OF HIS DOMINIONS. A being may be termed present in a place either by inclusion of person or by manifestation of his face. Now as God cannot be confined personally in any single locality, so therefore must He be present personally everywhere; there can be no spot from which He is essentially shut out. This is what is expressed by the Psalmist, "If I ascend up into heaven Thou art there; if I go down to hell Thou art there also." He speaks, you observe, of a presence of God even in hell. Yet does the text make the doom of the impenitent a doom of exile from God. Depart from Me!: what a banishment is this I It tells of a land where the heavens are as brass, and the earth as iron; where the prospect is bound in on every side by adamantine rocks, which allow no sight of better things beyond, no voices from holier shores to penetrate; where, never for one single moment, may the spirits of the inhabitants escape beyond the barriers of what they see and touch and hear, to the imagination of beings more pure and gentle and powerful than themselves; where the idea of good can never arise; but within and without, above and around, evil continually shall be the one overwhelming vision. Depart from Me! Who can picture the loneliness and desolation of the soul thus cut off from God? We have heard how prolonged solitary confinement issues in the overthrow of reason, in the prostration of all mental and bodily powers. But if the absence of man, and the voice of man, and the companion. ship of man, be so disastrous to his fellow-man, who shall measure the consequences of the entire withdrawal of God from His creature, who delineate the terrific desolation of that prison-house where God is not?
II. We have reasoned that the absence of God from the future world of the lost will be a source of infinite sorrow, as being the immediate destruction of religion; AND TO WITHDRAW RELIGION FROM A WORLD IS TO WITHDRAW A MAIN ELEMENT OF HAPPINESS. We would add that in departing from God we shall leave behind all that is beautiful in art or ennobling in knowledge. Now it is very observable in the history of mankind how the arts and sciences have been connected in their origin and growth with religion. Astronomy was early mixed up with the worship of the sun and stars. The colossal remains of ancient days are, in almost all cases, those of fabrics designed for purposes of religion. Similarly, since the Incarnation of Christ, it has been the Church of Christ which has been the mother and fosterer of learning. Poetry, music, sculpture, painting, architecture, have been inspired in their loftiest efforts by religion. Again, the history of civilization is the history of Christianity; where. ever true religion prevails, wherever the Church of Christ is planted, there do you find human life in its most secure and refined state. We owe whatever is noble in literature, or beautiful in painting, or sublime in science, not to the natural development of our secret powers unassisted by Divine grace, but all these things are the result of a working of the Spirit of God in the spirit of man. It is not unaided human intellect which has produced those glorious works which are the heirlooms of the world, but human intellect, warmed, quickened, supported — in a word, inspired by the great God Himself. Thus God is to man's mind what the sun is to the physical world. It is the bright shining of the sun which draws out the vegetation of the ground, which ripens the fruit, and paints the flower. The more potent the rays of the sun, as in tropical climates, the more gigantic are the products of the soil, the more luscious the fruit, the more gorgeous the plumage. Even so with the world of mind. The more clear the vision of God, the more exalted is the development of the creature. Hence the angels are more excellent than man, because they see more of God. Hence the purer our religion, the less clouded our knowledge of God, the more rapid will be the growth of our own mental powers. It is the presence of God which educates the soul of man, ennobles its conceptions, enlightens its understanding, inflames its imagination, directs its judgment. You may call it the religious sentiment. But what is a religious feeling but the presence of God felt sensibly in the depths of our nature? And, if so, you will at once perceive another dread result of man's banishment from God. To command the wicked to depart from God is to command all the powers of man's mind to stand still for ever. Away from God men will be able neither to think or to do ought that is excellent or attractive. To send him away from God is to freeze all the currents of man's soul. No goodly invention, no sound of melody, no line of beauty can ever be known in that world where God is not. Who has not felt how a cloud passing athwart the sun upon a summer day takes all the loveliness from the landscape, all radiance from the sky, all sparkling from the waters, all balm from the air, and causes a chill to run through the limbs, which a moment before exulted in the sensation of life? And even such a coldness is that which will pervade the whole moral being of those from whose world God shall in His wrath withdraw Himself. Conclusion: The doctrine which we would enforce is, that religion is to be looked at and represented as a joy and solace, not as a yoke of bondage. Our great fault is that we do not sufficiently strive to render our most holy faith attractive. Surely it has in it the capacity to vanquish opposition by its very sympathies with our common requirement. Let us then, one and all, cast away the idea of religion as a yoke, a bondage, a work, and take it to ourselves as (what God intended it) a foretaste of the pleasures at His own right hand.
(Bishop Woodford.)I. THE SINNER WILL BE ENCOMPASSED BY THE MULTITUDE OF HIS SINS. If, during this earthly life, an evil conscience is the most cruel tormentor, a two-edged sword for the sinner, he will feel its stings the most —
1. At his departure from this life.(I) All self-delusions will vanish when the fragile body breaks down, the world with its possessions disappears, and time will be no more.(2) All terrors attack the soul of the sinner — his sinful past, his helpless present, and an inevitable and hopeless eternity.
2. At the approach of judgment, when the sinner's conscience will be —(1) Its own witness, because in the presence of Divine omniscience it will understand how useless it is to tell a false. hood, or to bring forth excuses, and how utterly impossible to conceal anything.(2) Its own accuser, as it will be obliged to make a sincere self-accusation concerning many faults and heinous crimes which were concealed in life.(3) Its own judge, as it will condemn the folly of its aberrations, the vanity of worldly attachment, the perversity of delaying conversion, &c., and it will itself approve the sentence pronounced by God.
II. THE SINNER WILL BE STRAITENED BY THE SEVERITY OF JUDGMENT.
1. Jesus Christ, to whom the Father has committed all judgment, will, as God, avenge the insulted Divine dignity because of contempt and ingratitude, and His grieved humanity, because the sinner refused to give alms, and committed so many unjust actions against his neighbour.
2. As Man. He who was before the mild Mediator and Intercessor in behalf of the sinner will be now the inexorable Judge.
3. As Redeemer He will demand an account, because the sinner has scorned His precious blood, and has slighted the graces offered to him; and because he has been the cause of the ruin of other souls.
4. As Model of a virtuous life, He will convict and confound the sinner.
III. THE SINNER WILL RE UTTERLY CONFOUNDED BY THE SENTENCE PRONOUNCED AGAINST HIM.
1. This sentence will be as dreadful as hell itself.(1) Deprived for ever of the Beatific Vision.(2) Condemned the creature by its Creator, man by his God, the Christian by his Redeemer.(3) Cursed — the soul, the body, all the senses and faculties.
2. This sentence will be perfectly just, for the punishment will be —(1) Proportionate to the multitude of sins, and to the wickedness, knowledge, and position of the sinner.(2) The portion of the infidel and reprobate sinner only, who, as he was not willing to believe and repent in time, ought to suffer in eternity.
3. The sentence is irrevocable.
4. It will be forthwith executed.
(De la Rue.)I. SOME OF THE HUMAN RACE WILL BE SHUT OUT OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD WHO HAVE CONFIDENTLY EXPECTED ADMISSION.
1. Of this number will be all those who, leave the world relying upon their own righteousness.
2. Of this number are all those persons who place their reliance on external religious services.
3. Of the same number is the enthusiast. Enthusiasm is a reliance for religious knowledge, dispositions, and duties on immediate and supernatural communications from God. No such communications exist in fact. Those which are mistaken for them are only the suggestions of a wild and heated imagination.
4. Of the same number also are those persons who rely upon a decent and amiable behaviour.
5. Of the same number also are they who rely upon what are called the moral duties of life.
6. Another class of men who will be exceedingly disappointed hereafter, will consist of those who rely on what may be called a religious character.
7. Persons who believe themselves to be religious because others believe them to be of this character constitute another class of those who will experience this dreadful disappointment.
8. Another class of these persons is composed of those who place their religion in the knowledge, and not in the obedience of Divine truth.
9. Another class of the same persons is formed of those who place their reliance upon their zeal. "It is good," saith the Apostle Paul, "to be zealously affected always in a good thing" (Galatians 4:18). A cold, stupid, heartless professor of religion, absorbed in the concerns of this world, gives little evidence that his profession is sincere; and, if he be a Christian, is a disgrace to the name, and a spot upon the character of religion. Yet there is a zeal which is not according to knowledge.
10. Another class of the persons under consideration is formed of those who place their hope in a faith which is without works.
II. OTHER PERSONS, WHOM THESE EXPECTED TO SEE SHUT OUT, WILL BE ACCEPTED.
1. Of this number there will be a multitude of such as, in this world, have lived in humble and despised circumstances.
2. In this number will be found great multitudes who have been our own friends, companions, and equals in the present world.
3. In this number will be included also a multitude of persons who, in this world, appear to be religious, and are, on that account, despised by others.
4. Of this number also will be found those whose acknowledged characters and opinions have, in many respects, been different from ours.
III. THAT THE DISTRESS OCCASIONED BY THIS DISAPPOINTMENT WILL BE VERY GREAT. Weeping and gnashing of teeth are glowing images of extreme anguish; and this anguish is, by our Saviour, attributed to the two-fold disappointment mentioned in the text. What less can be believed from the nature of the subject? The disappointment will follow strong and high-raised expectations, and, in many instances, undoubting confidence. It will be a final disappointment. It will be a disappointment of every object for which we can hope, of every good which we are capable of enjoying. Concluding remarks: From these solemn and affecting considerations we can hardly fail to derive many, and those most important, practical lessons.
1. We are strongly urged by them to the most watchful care in determining what the genuine religion required by the gospel is.
2. With these solemn considerations in view, let me also urge every member of this assembly to examine the ground of his own hope of salvation.
3. These considerations strongly urge us to entertain very humble apprehensions of our own character.
4. These considerations powerfully compel us to exercise charitable thoughts towards others.
(T. Dwight, D. D.)I. THE CHARACTERS SPOKEN OF. SELF-DECEIVERS.
II. THEIR CONDITION. Thrust out of the kingdom.
III. THE SIGHT THEY WILT, WITNESS. The joy of the redeemed.
IV. THE SORROW WITH WHICH THEY WILL BE OVERWHELMED, "Weeping and gnashing of teeth."
(A. F. Barfield.)
There are last which shall be first.—I. SOME WHO ARE FIRST IN NATURAL GIFTS ARE LAST IN SPIRITUAL GIFTS.
II. SOME WHO ARE FIRST IN OPPORTUNITY ARE LAST IN IMPROVEMENT.
III. SOME WHO ARE FIRST TO START IN THE RACE ARE LAST AT THE GOAL.
IV. SOME WHO ARE FIRST IN PRIVILEGE AT ONE TIME ARE LAST IN IT AT ANOTHER,
1. The fall of the race itself is a case in point.
2. The casting away of the Jews and the calling of the Gentiles is another case.
3. The extinction of the Christian Church in many Eastern lands is a fact of the same kind.Concluding remarks:
1. These spiritual transpositions are the exception, not the rule. Other things being equal, the first will remain first. First in means, first in results; first in asking, first in receiving; first in faith, first in righteousness; first in self-culture, first in self-conquest; first in well-doing, first in well-being. When it is otherwise, something is wrong. The first place is not lost till it is abused.
2. Whilst this action of God is sovereign, it is never arbitrary. Men reap what they sow, and as they sow.
(J. E. Henry,M. A.)1. Let us mark the authority of this passage in favour of strictness in religion. There is, indeed a spurious strictness about trifles which neglects the weightier matters of the law, and which is worthless; but there is a proper and commendable strictness in adhering faithfully to all the duties of religion, which is required by the command to enter in by the strait gate. Let who may call it preciseness, but let us be steady to our principles and to our duty.
2. Let us neither over-rate nor under-rate the difficulties which lie in our way to heaven. But let us view them exactly as they are, that we may neither be inactive nor disheartened.
3. Let us remember, that whatever these difficulties may be, they must be overcome, else we are undone. Necessity will make the sluggard toil, and the coward fight; but what necessity is equal to this?
4. Let us carefully improve the present season. If we knock now, it shall be opened unto us; but we shall knock too late after the door is finally shut.
5. Let us not trust in Church privileges. Let us not say, "The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are we"; but let us so improve the means of grace here, that we may be prepared for glory hereafter.
6. Let us realize to our minds the separation which will take place when men shall either be admitted into heaven, or cast off for ever; and, in doing so, let us follow the one party in the path of faith and holiness to glory; and let us sedulously avoid the course of the other, saying, each of us, "O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united."
7. As we are among the very first in point of privileges, let us not be the last in point of improvement. Much having been given to us, much will be required of us.
8. Finally, while we give ourselves diligently to the business of salvation, let us look for success in the way of dependence on Divine grace implored by prayer. This alone can enable us to overcome the difficulties which lie in our way; and this will enable us to do so effectually.
(James Foote, M. A.)
1. We forget that the sources or roots of holiness and of sin are often the same in great measure. Vices are often virtues run to seed. Prudence in its old age often turns into miserliness. Virtues, by their exuberant and luxuriant growth, men dig their own graves. "Be not righteous over-much: why shouldest thou destroy thyself?" seems often a very needful warning. And it very commonly happens that decayed virtues appear worse than born vices. Corruptio optimi est pessimum. For instance, scarcely any misanthropy is in a way so savage as that of disappointed faith in mankind. Misanthropy, if it be chiefly discontent with the actual condition of men, and hopeless yearning for their improvement, is not altogether far from the kingdom of God. As it surveys the meanness and the paltriness of mankind, it may well exclaim in the language of Jesus, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken us?" In general it is perfectly plain that the sources of sanctity and sinfulness are often in great measure the same. This is the grain of truth in the common saying, " The greater the sinner, the greater the saint." Force of character tells in either direction. A very vivid nature is the source of both good and evil. Depth of feeling gives a man a great tendency to go wrong in this bewildering world, and also a great recuperative power when he has gone wrong. At the final judgment we can well understand that there must be a great reversal of ordinary human judgments. God will look to the roots of character in us; and we shall then see that the foundations of heroic virtues have been laid is many a forlorn soul which we thought overpowered and slain by evil in this life. And perhaps they will rank higher in the celestial kingdom, who have thus in grief and shame laid the foundations of a glorious temple of God, than those who have, with but little trouble, built for God a poor, common, little meeting-house of decent respectability. "Many that are first shall be last, and the last first." Perhaps the truest of the elect may be saved the last in point of time, the last to leave the wrecked ship of a storm-beaten humanity.
2. Further, we must remember that some sins which from an external point of view seem equally great, are in reality very different in their importance and significance. Of some sins we may say that they express the real and true nature of the man committing them. He is, as it were, terns in illis, wrapped up in them. They are the outcome of his truest and most permanent self; whereas, in other cases, like that of David, sins often seem quite transient phenomena, as it were eclipses of a man's real nature, hardly so much a man's own doing as that of some alien or hostile spirit which has seized him; instances of demoniacal possession, and not of natural or innate wickedness. Such assuredly was the sin of the minister, Arthur Dimmesdale, in Hawthorne's "Scarlet Letter." Such sinful actions form an exception to the general rule; they do not help to form a persistent habit of sinning. On the contrary, they are like the exacerbations and paroxysms which often precede recovery in the case of bodily maladies; they are the work of the evil spirit tearing the soul with especial fury just before it is cast out. Thus it sometimes happens that a man's whole after life is the better for a fall, which has shown him the hatefulness of sin, and also his own weakness.
3. Again, sins which admit of high aspirations are in reality far less dangerous than less gross Pharisaic sins, which are not clearly recognized as sins, and which in consequence do not seem to call for repentance. Publicans and harlots are more likely to repent and change than those Pharisees whose sins are so intensely respectable that they seem almost virtues. Baptized or consecrated selfishness is the greatest hindrance to true goodness.
4. Again, in trying to forecast the future judgment of God, we must take account of the terrible mystery of inherited evil tendencies — tendencies which are often much increased by bad education. Many people are born blind spiritually, because their parents have sinned. Just as Nature often produces bodily abortions, so no doubt does it often produce spiritual abortions. There are myriads of hapless souls which never had any real probation at all in this life.
5. Lastly, in the case of the more strictly religious virtues our judgments are often glaringly false — e.g., concerning reverence and the merits of faith. Much that passes for reverence is merely irreligious indifference. Men do not wish to be troubled by religion in their daily life, so they erect for it a shrine far remote from all the feelings and actions of ordinary life. And this banishment of their Creator they call reverence for Him. To talk of God as if He were an unmeaning abstraction is often considered reverent; to talk of God as if He were our Father, our Guide, and our unfailing Friend, is often considered irreverent. Moreover, some men are so entirely reverent in heart, so utterly filled with an abiding sense of the reality of religion, that they are comparatively careless of their manner. Pierced through and through by a sense of God's presence, it never strikes such men that they need prove their reverence. And so reverence itself sometimes causes apparent irreverence. Probably Elijah would be reproved for irreverence if he were to worship in a ritualistic church; for the true altar of the Eternal was deep down in the prophet's awe-struck heart, and he would probably care but little for any external altar. Again, we err greatly in our ordinary judgments of doubters in religion. Doubt is often a really hopeful sign, just as pain of body is often a sign that paralysis is passing away. Doubt is often only a sort of moulting in the spiritual world, the moulting of the soaring eagle wings of faith. Hence it often has a very real value.
(A. H. Craufurd, M. A.)
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