"Where, Lord?" they asked. Jesus answered, "Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather."
I. THE LARGE AMOUNT OF ACCIDENT which enters into the fabric of human life. Take, for example, a bad railway accident. How accidental it seems that one man should just miss that train and be saved, and that another should just catch it and be killed; that one should take a seat in the carriage which is crushed, and another in the carriage which is left whole; that one should be sitting exactly where the bent and twisted timber pierced him, and another exactly where no injury was dealt, etc.! It is the same with the battle-field, with the thunderstorm, with the falling house. One is taken, and another left; and the taking of the one and the leaving of the other seems to be pure accident - not the result of reason or forethought, but entirely fortuitous.
II. OUR CORRECTED THOUGHT CONCERNING IT.
1. Of accident in the sense of chance we know there is nothing. Everything is "under law;" and even where there is no law apparent, we are assured, by the exercise of our reason, that there must be the operation of law, though it is out of our sight. In this world of God's, pure chance has not an inch of ground to work upon.
2. There is usually much more play of reason and habit in "accidental events" than seems at first sight. Things result as they do because habit is stronger than judgment, or because foolish men disregard the counsel of the wise; because thoughtful men take the precautions which result in their safety, and because thoughtless men take the action which issues in their suffering or death.
3. The providence of God covers the entire field of human life. May we venture to believe that the hand of God is in the events and issues of life? I think we may.
(1) It is clearly within the range of the activities of an Infinite Being to whom nothing is small as nothing is great.
(2) His Fatherhood would lead him to follow the course of every one of his children with parental interest, and to interpose his hand wherever he saw it was wise to do so.
(3) Scripture warrants the conclusion: "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints;" "The way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps;" "Not a sparrow falleth to the ground without your Father: ye are of more value than many sparrows."
III. THE LARGE MEASURE OF UNCERTAINTY THAT REMAINS AND MUST REMAIN. Human science has introduced many safeguards, but it has also introduced new perils. The "chapter of accidents" is as long as it ever was in the contemporary history of mankind. God is supreme, but he lets many things happen we should antecedently have supposed he would step in to prevent; he lets good men take the consequence of their mistakes; he permits the very holy and the very useful to be overtaken by sad misfortunes and even by fatal calamities. We cannot guarantee the future; we cannot ensure prosperity, health, friends, reputation, long life. To one that seems to be heir to all these good things they will fall; to another who seems equally likely to inherit them they will be denied: one is taken, the other left. Therefore let us turn to -
IV. THE ONE GOOD THING ON WHICH WE CAN ABSOLUTELY COUNT. There is "a good part which shall not be taken away." This is a Christian character; its foundations are laid in repentance and faith; it is built up of reverent study, of worship, of the obedience of love. Its glory is in resemblance to Jesus Christ himself. This is within every man's reach, and it cannot be taken; it must be left. He who secures that is safe for ever. No accident can rob him of his heritage. His treasure and himself are immovable; for "he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." - C.
Wheresoever the body is.
I. Observe how in A VERY REAL SENSE HE DOES ANSWER THE QUESTIONS. The answer in effect is this: My judgment shall come upon the earth as come the vultures upon the dead by an unerring and terrible instinct. So truly then as there is ripeness for judgment, and wherever there is that ripeness, there shall come the judgment of the day of the Lord.
II. MARK WHAT THESE WORDS TELL US CONCERNING THE GREAT LAWS OF GOD'S JUDGMENT. These judgments are not arbitrary judgments, but are joined to the offence by a natural and necessary law. Where there is ripeness for them there is no escape from them; but they only fall where there is that ripeness. We learn also, that before the last and crowning judgment there must be many lesser and preliminary days of judgment.
III. WHERE ARE WE TO LOOK FOR SIGNS OF OUR LORD'S COMING? Not to the heavens far off, but at the dead thing which lies, it may be, at your very feet. Can we discern here and there the corpse that calls and the eagles of judgment that come at its calling. In the case of individuals it is not wise to judge; but with families, churches, nations, there is no judgment sound but a present judgment. The practical lesson is, "Judge therefore, yourselves, brethren, that ye be not judged by the Lord."
(J. Service, D. D.)
1. The generally received modern interpretation sees here the great law of Divine judgment condensed into one terrible image. The "carcass," according to this, is the putrid carrion; the "eagles" are, strictly speaking, vultures. Thus, to the modern mind, we have here the condensed image of the continuous judgment of God. In hot countries God has so moulded the instincts of the winged scavengers of cliff and peak, that far away, as they wheel and circle over the awful depths into which the traveller looks with reeling brain, they scent the slain in battle, or the bodies that taint the air. So, wherever there is a body of moral and spiritual death — something rotten in Church or State — the vultures of judgment, the punishers and avengers that belong to it in the very nature of things, come mysteriously from their places, and with boding voices, deepening upon the breezes, gather round the spoil. So with Jerusalem falling to pieces in its last decomposition and self-dissolution. The flap of avenging wings was heard overhead by prophetic ears. The vultures were wheeling on the steaming air, under the vault of the Syrian sky, barking in the far mountain glens, and collecting together to gorge themselves upon the "glittering rottenness." This view is not only rhetorically powerful, but something more and higher.
2. Notwithstanding this, the ancient interpretation represents more truly the Divine thought in the symbol of the eagles and their food. And so this image of the eagle belongs to the glorious Lord and to His Christ. And His people are as His eaglets — nay, themselves eagles of God. Is it not written — "Ye have seen how I bare you on eagles' wings"? And more fully — "As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did bear him." Is not the Church the woman to whom were given "the wings of the eagle, that great eagle," which is Christ? Even here and now, wherever the corpse is, wherever Jesus is evidently set forth crucified, there, mysteriously raised above earthly things, made lofty and royal in their graces, Christ's eagles "gather round" Him who is the spiritual food and the life eternal of all such eagles. The meaning, then, on the whole, according to this interpretation, is as follows: The "carcass" — the corpse of Jesus Christ as crucified — that is the meeting-point of human souls, the centre of attraction in the world of spirits. The Lord of nature, in the Book of Job, says of the eagle, His creature — "she abideth upon the rock from thence she seeketh the prey; her eyes behold afar off... where the slain are, there is she." The Lord of grace adds His application — as the eaglets gather round the corpse, so the souls of men, and especially of the elect, gather round Jesus. Ay, and round Jesus, not always as the eternal Word, not always as in His glory, but in the pathetic beauty of His weakness, staggering under the weight of His cross. Nay more, dying, with the red drops of the Passion upon His brow; dead — nay, fallen in His sacred helplessness. There are mysterious instincts in every heart that turn to Jesus crucified. Keen and swift as eagles for the prey are Christians for the Lord who died. It is the same underlying thought with that noble utterance in the twelfth chapter of St. John. There the few Greeks are to that prophetic eye the first shoreward ripple of the great springtide of humanity which is to break in thunder at His feet. The lifting up a few feet above the soil of Golgotha becomes, by a majestic irony, the elevation above the earth, the centre of attraction for uncounted souls. "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me." So He seems to promise — "I, if I be fallen upon the earth, the helpless, lifeless, ruined thing which men call a corpse, will yet gather round Me every eagle that clasps the crag, or soars upward with the sunlight in his glorious eye."
(Bp. Wm. Alexander.)1. These words have many meanings for us. First we may think of them as referring to the fall of Jerusalem. There indeed was the body, the dead corrupt body of the Jews, who had refused to hear the message of salvation, and had taken and slain the Son of God outside the wall of their fated city. And where the body was, there were the eagles gathered together. That enemy, of which the prophets had spoken long ago, had come, and encompassed Jerusalem in on every side. The Roman eagles glittered upon their helmets, and flashed upon their standards. They set up their banners for tokens, even within the sacred courts of the temple, and so was fulfilled the prophecy of the "abomination of desolation standing in the holy place."
2. Again, we take the words of the text as applying to the hour of death, and first of the death of the body. Whoever has stood at a good man's death-bed must feel that the dying man is not alone, nor allowed in that last hour for any pains of death to fall from God. Where that poor worn-out body lies, there are the eagles of God's host gathered together, strengthening, comforting the dying man, ready to bear his soul as swift as on eagles' wings to Paradise. There is a beautiful fancy of the East which makes Azrael, the angel of death, speak thus to a dying saint: —
"'Thou blessed one,' the angel said, 'I bring thy time of peace,
When I have touched thee on the eyes, life's latest ache will cease;
God bade me come as I am seen amid the heavenly host, —
No enemy of awful mould, but he who loveth most.'"So looks the Christian on death, as being a fair and gracious messenger from God, bringing to the captive liberty, and to the weary rest. "Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together."
3. These words are terribly true of the death of the godless and impenitent. Julian, the apostate emperor, took for his crest an eagle pierced through the heart by an arrow feathered from his own wing, and as a motto the words, "Our death flies to us with our own feather." So every sinner who dies impenitent knows that the arrow of remorse which pierces him is of his own making, that the dark spectres, which are gathered like eagles around him, are of his own inviting.
4. Once more, and in another and brighter sense, we will take the text as applying to the Blessed Sacrament of the altar; so it has always been understood by the old writers of the Church. One of them says —
"Where the sacred body lieth, eagle souls together speed;
There the saints and there the angels find refreshment in their need.
And the sons of earth and heaven on that one Bread ever feed."When we kneel at that altar and receive the Body of our Lord, we are not alone. The very word "Communion" teaches us that we are encompassed by a great cloud of witnesses. Not only are we in that Sacrament made one with Christ, and with all true members of His Church, but we join in the work of saints and angels, and they take part with us. Thus we say, "With angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Thy glorious name." "Wheresover the body is," wheresoever the Body of Jesus Christ is present in the Sacrament, there will the faithful worshippers be gathered together like eagles, and there too will be high and holy ones present, although unseen by us, making the altar a ladder between earth and heaven, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon it.
(H. J. Wilmot Buxton, M. A.).
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