Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
And it came to pass, when Jesus had made an end of commanding his twelve disciples, he departed thence to teach and to preach in their cities.Impatience
I. It was not by want of faith that the Baptist erred, but by Impatience, which is a different thing, except in so far as it may be said to imply distrust in the Divine wisdom. It is impatience when we would go faster than God, when we would force His hand either to destroy what is evil or to advance what is good, when we complain that He does nothing and hide3 Himself, because He does not ripen the grain and reap the harvest directly after seed-time. The cause of it is not so much want of faith, as overestimate of our own insight and power; it arises not so much from lack of devotion as from that most subtle and dangerous temptation, excess of zeal. It is the fault of the too ardent soldier who chafes at the restraints imposed by experience, and starts before his commander gives the word.
It is the fault not of bad men only but of the good, even of the best.
There is another kind of impatience against which we are warned in the Gospel. 'Tell us,' the disciples! asked Jesus, 'what is the sign of Thy coming? If Thou wilt not now take Thy power and reign, if Thou wilt not now strike down the wicked, when wilt Thou come and avenge Thy people?'
You will remember the answer. First there will come false Christs, false prophets—not one but many, Who will they be? Will they not be the Christs of the impatient? And who will they be? Will they not be men who promise to save men, not from themselves, but from suffering: and to do it by short, and easy, and violent methods. Our Lord says, Go not after them; believe them not. First the Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations. He does not say that if shall prevail in all the world: only that it shall be preached, and be a witness.
II. At all times impatience has been a fruitful source of mischief. It has prompted every persecution there has ever been in pagan ages and in Christian. In our own day there are not a few who have abandoned the Gospel altogether, not because they want to live vicious lives, but because the Gospel is not swift enough and not drastic enough for them, because the kingdom seems too far off, while an earthly millennium can be set up at once by the law without the Gospel.
But there are two axioms that ought never to be forgotten. The first is that the good is always the enemy of the better. Men cling to the lower blessings which they know, and shrink from the higher, which they do not know and therefore fear.
The second is that the best is often the enemy of the better. The vision of the best may be given in a moment, but its realization is a long and arduous process, marked by stages which follow one another in a, definite order. It was said by a great soldier that all generals alike desire victory; but that a good general differs from a bad one in that he does not take the second step before he has secured the first. To do otherwise is to court defeat. The rule is of universal application.
III. The best remedy for impatience is to be found in the intelligent study of Scripture. It is necessary that the study should be intelligent because only by the scholarly use of the Bible can we discern the patience and long-suffering of God, the slow certainty with which His mills grind, the vast and orderly changes which His spirit has wrought. And the next best is history which, though it may make little mention of God, yet describes accurately His method in the education of the world.
Now what is the teaching of history so far as it throws light upon our present purpose?
1. That, from the remotest past to which our knowledge extends, there has always been progress, slow, intermittent, not always in a direct line, involving much that strikes us as waste, yet progress.
2. That the slowness of the onward march has an explanation, which applies in a degree to Nature, but is more easily discernible in the realm of thought.
IV. May we say that the order of progress in the education of mankind exhibits an alternation of two very different factors? First we have the idea, then the testing, dissemination, assimilation of the idea, then again a new idea, and so on. First the prophet, or revealer, or man of genius; then the patient teacher. It is the second of these—it is the work of the teacher—that takes so much time.
Every teacher, like John the Baptist, prepares the way of the Lord. Not all can be great discoverers, there is perhaps no school of the prophets, nor is it possible to manufacture genius. But all can show what makes the great scholar, the love of truth—patience, humility, reverence. Add to these knowledge of character and sympathy, and you have the great teacher, whose beneficent office it is to 'turn the hearts of the children to the fathers,' to enable the children to grasp and to prize the rich heritage of the wisdom of the past.
And for the learner. Good teaching will greatly expedite your progress, but it will not enable you to fly; you must still go by the road; you will still have need of diligence and self-discipline. Avoid impatience, avoid sloth. Without haste, without rest. Chain up the beast; and seek wisdom before all things. At every step resolutely practise all the truth that you know, and ever, as you go on, be ready to correct the old truths by the new.
These are cardinal rules for all learners. But Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. All truth is His, all discipline is His, all power is His. Absorb Him by growing faith, hope, and love. Let Him be your ideal, and your method, and your zeal.
—C. Bigg, The Spirit of Christ in Common Life, p. 153.
Looking for the Coming One
The first thing we remark in reading the Gospel for Today is that—
I. John the Baptist was Looking for the Coming One.—It is taken for granted that One should come (Psalm 118:26; Isaiah 59:20). But why should John ask such a question? He knew Jesus to be the Saviour. He had declared Him to be sent of God (John 3:34), the Lamb of God (John 1:29; John 1:36), the Son of God (John 1:34), the Baptizer with the Holy Ghost (John 1:33). Perhaps, now that he was in prison (v. 2), his faith had begun to waver (v. 6). It is so with many (Matthew 13:21; 2 Timothy 1:15; 2 Timothy 4:16). At all events he was looking for Christ, and would have his faith increased (Hebrews 12:2; Mark 9:24; Luke 17:5). But I think it is more probable that he wished his disciples to know who Christ was (Luke 22:32), and would lead them from himself to look for the coming One (John 3:30-31). We know his one word with regard to Christ had been 'Behold!' (John 1:29). So all who are looking to Christ and for Christ will teach others to do the same (John 1:41-42). Christ is to be known as the Saviour by His works (vv. 4, 5; John 5:36). There can be no doubt in looking to Scripture (Isaiah 61:1-2).
The next thing we have to dwell upon is—
II. The Character of John the Baptist as Looking for the Coming One.—There must be some decided marks of holiness in the character of one who is looking for a coming Lord. The faithful servant will be doing his Master's will (Matthew 24:45-46). The soul full of hope becomes full of purity (1 John 3:3). The true convert turns from the service of idols to that of the living God (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). Mark how it was with the Baptist. He was a man of firm resolution. Not like a reed blown about by every wind (Ephesians 4:14). He was firm before the priesthood (John 1:20), firm before Herod (Mark 6:18), firm before all (Luke 3:7). He was a man of great self-denial. There was no luxury in him (v. 8; 1 Peter 2:11). He stood out as one separate (Matthew 19:21; Luke 4:23; Romans 13:14). He was a man of faithfulness in telling of Christ (vv. 9, 10). Never do we find him hesitating boldly and fully to declare the coming One (John 1:7). And in this we have a proof of his faith (2 Corinthians 4:13).
To make this personal, let us see that we know Christ from what He has done for us (Hosea 6:3), and then let us see that we are looking for Him (Psalm 123:1-2).
References.—XI. 3,—J. A. Bain, Questions Answered by Christ, p. 15. H. Harris, Short Sermons, p. 118. J. Denney, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. 1893, p. 250. J. Stalker, ibid. vol. liv. 1898, p. 100. A. G. Mortimer, Studies in Holy Scripture, p. 207. Benson, Hulsean Lecture (1820), p. 55. Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. ii. p. 162, and Christian World Pulpit, vol. xix. p. 8. Raleigh, Little Sanctuary, p. 110. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiv. p. 19. Bruce, Expositor (1st Series), vol. v. p. 11; and see Expositor, vol. ix. p. 122. Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii. p. 404. J. O. Davies, Sunrise on the Soul, p. 169. James Denney, Gospel Questions and Answers, p. 19. XI. 3, 4.—W. Ross Taylor, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxvii. 1890, p. 341. XI. 3-6. (R.V.).—T. B. Strong, Christian Ethics, p. 47.
It is an excellent observation which hath been made upon the answers of our Saviour Christ to many of the questions which were propounded to Him, how that they are impertinent to the state of the question demanded; the reason whereof is, because not being like man, which knows man's thoughts by his words, but knowing man's thought immediately, He never answered their words but their thoughts.
—Bacon, Advancement of Learning, xxv. 16.
References.—XI. 4, 5.—E. M. Goulburn, Occasional Sermons, p. 191. S. D. McConnell, A Year's Sermons, p. 181. XI. 5.—B. F. Westcott, The Incarnation and Common Life, p. 295; see also Christian World Pulpit, vol. xl. 1891, p. 401. J. Guinness Rogers, ibid. vol. xlii. 1892, p. 255. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii. No. 114. XI. 5, 6.—W. C. Magee, Penny Pulpit, vol. xiv. No. 845, p. 437; see also The Gospel and the Age, p. 205. XI. 6.—W. J. Knox-Little, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. 1897, p. 270. J. Denney, ibid. vol. li. 1897, p. 140. A. F. A. Hanbury Tracy, Church Times, vol. xliv. 1900, p. 729. F. E. Paget, Sermons on Duties of Daily Life, p. 83. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiv. No. 1398. XI. 7.—F. E. Paget, Sermons for Special Occasions, p. 41; see also The Preacher in the Wilderness, A Sermon. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. i. p. 29. H. P. Liddon, Church Troubles, p. 21; see also Expository Sermons on the New Testament, p. 12.
Izaak Walton, describing Hooker's parsonage at Bourne, tells how that scholar had not been settled a year before 'his books, and the innocency and sanctity of his life became so remarkable, that many turned out of the road, and others—scholars especially—went purposely to see the man, whose life and learning were so much admired: and, alas! as our Saviour said of St. John Baptist, "What went they out to see? a man clothed in purple and fine linen?" No, indeed: but an obscure, harmless man; a man in poor clothes, his loins usually girt in a coarse gown, or canonical coat; of a mean stature, and stooping, and yet more lowly in the thought of his soul.'
Compare also Newman's description of John Davison, who was 'an instance of the secrecy and solitude in which great minds move, as if they were calling on the world, if it thought it worth while, to "go out into the wilderness after them ". In the preface to these Remains it is observed of their author that "perhaps his character might be cast in a mould of severer goodness than this age could easily endure ".'
Sincerity in Religion (for St. John the Baptist's Day)
Few figures in the Bible stand out so impressively as that of St. John the Baptist. Everything we read about him commands our attention. He was a great man in every sense of the word. Above all men, St. John the Baptist stands out as a conspicuous instance of the all too rare virtue of sincerity. I should say that a deep sincerity is the first characteristic of a great man.
I. Every Life to be Sincere must be Animated by a Great Principle, and it is because St. John the Baptist knew a great principle and dedicated himself to it that he gives to us so conspicuous an example of sincerity. Let us ask ourselves, have we any guiding, dominant motive in life, any principle to which we can give ourselves, and which we can recognize as the fact in existence? The principle of the Christian life, the dominant controlling force in all our experience, should be the coming of the kingdom of God,
II. But the Baptist's Sincerity did not save him from Doubt.—There are few more pathetic incidents recorded in the whole of history than that of St. John the Baptist, the model of sincerity, the man who was ready to forfeit life in order to do the work to which God had called him, now that he is languishing in prison losing confidence in the message of Christ. But again, the doubt of the Baptist was the doubt of a sincere man. He goes at once to the source at which his doubt may be resolved. He is not the man who has difficulties and is rather pleased to have them. As a sincere doubter he goes straight to the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is very strange that this virtue of sincerity is so rare when it might be so common. Some of the graces, indeed, seem to be so hard to obtain, but no one can say that he is not called upon to practise the grace of sincerity. Here is a challenge to every one in every sphere of life. And yet we feel how hard it is.
III. Sincerity is not merely Truthfulness, not merely Common Honesty.—It is purity of motive which comes from having one dominant principle in life. How simple it is!—so simple that in its moral grandeur it stands like some great mountain reaching up to heaven above all the virtues for which saints are canonized. Sincerity is the motive force of all true action in politics, social life, commerce, and in our own apprehension of God.
IV. Sincerity does not always Ensure Success.— In the Baptist's case it meant failure. Nothing could seem more incongruous than that this life of absolute sincerity should be ended to please a cruel and licentious woman. You are never told in the New Testament to be successful. You are told to be sincere. Let us resolve that we will so act that when life's tasks are over we shall at any rate be able to feel that they have been faced with a sincere desire to do our duty.
References.—XI. 10.—H. P. Liddon, Advent in St. Paul's, p. 26. R. D. B. Rawnsley, Village Sermons (1st Series), p. 19. R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. ii. p. 334. Hemming Robeson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. 1900, p. 135. XI. 11.—F. D. Maurice, Sermons, p. 129; see also Lincoln's Inn Sermons, vol. vi. p. 110. John Watson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. 1899, p. 152. J. Farquhar, The Schools and Schoolmasters of Christ, p. 101. Henry Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. v. p. 32. W. Leighton Grane, Hard Sayings of Jesus Christ, p. 37. XI. 11-14.—R. E. Hutton, The Crown of Christ, vol. i. p. 53.
Sudden conversions, with the ecstatic warmth of feeling which follows upon them, are derided, but only by those who know, even as regards natural things, little of the secret powers, the reserved forces of the human spirit, and are unaware that in the depths of ignorant and hardened and weary and distracted souls, there is still a Strength, blind and fettered like that of Samson, needing a shock to set it free. 'The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.' Methodism has entered into the heart of this saying.
References.—XI. 12.—C. Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. 1899, p. 156; see also vol. lxiii. 1903, p. 177. J. Morris Whiton, ibid. vol. xl. 1891, p. 147. J. Addison Alexander, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, p. 319. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v. No. 252. XI. 12-19.—C. Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. 1897, p. 200. XI. 13.—F. W. Farrar, ibid. vol. xxxviii. 1890, p. 153. A. Barry, The Doctrine of the Cross, p. 35. XI. 15.—J. Stalker, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. 1895, p. 402. XI. 16, 17.—C. Silvester Horne, ibid. vol. xlvi. 1894, p. 40. XI. 16-19.—D. Fraser, Metaphors in the Gospels, p. 127. Stopford A. Brooke, The Fight of Faith, p. 19. George Salmon, Sermons Preached in Trinity College Dublin, p. 249. XI. 19.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Matthew IX.-XVII. p. 131. W. C. Wheeler, Sermons and Addresses, p. 22. J. G. Adderley, Church Times, vol. 1. 1903, p. 200. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x. No. 556.
The Homeliness of Jesus
This was a strange thing for the Lord to say of Himself. His enemies found in these words an opportunity of vile abuse—'a man gluttonous,' 'a friend of publicans and sinners'. For good or harm, few things are more powerful than a name: a good epithet has determined the fate of many a great effort.
This was how He came, 'eating and drinking,'—the homely, brotherly Jesus interested in the common business of our life. This homeliness meets us everywhere.
I. See this Purpose in the Circumstances of His Birth.—Here in the manger was the Brother of the poorest, the gift of God's love to the whole world, to Whom whosoever will may come—no door to keep back, no attendant to whisper a forbidding word.
II. In His Coming as a Public Teacher.—Wherever Jesus went the people felt the welcome of that great brotherliness. Little children, sinful women, trembling lepers were at home with Jesus.
III. In the Choice of His Disciples.—Men with broad Galilean brogue and simple ways and peasant's dress.
IV. In the Teachings of the Lord.— He told simple exquisite stories which children and the poorest understood.
V. In His Miracles.—Power would only amaze men: He sought to win them. This real Saviour understands us, is at home with us, knowing all the worst, and yet loving, and willing to help.
—Mark Guy Pearse, The Sermon Year Book, 1891, p. 375.
Matthew 11:20; Matthew 11:29
The man of true humility will not spare the vices and errors of his fellow-creatures, any more than he would his own; he will exercise manfully and without fear or favour, those judicial functions which God has committed in some greater or less degree to every member of the human community... but, whilst exercising that judgment in no spirit of compromise or evasion, he will feel that to judge his brother is a duty and not a privilege; and he will judge him in sorrow.
—Sir Henry Taylor, Notes from Life.
References.—XI. 20.—C. Vince, The Unchanging Saviour, p. 75. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Matthew IX.-XVII. p. 138. XI. 20-30.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvi. No. 2704. XI. 24.—H. Hensley Henson, Christ and the Nation, p. 147.
The Obviousness of the Essential in Questions of Faith
I. Whilst the spiritual rulers of the nation rejected our Lord, the unlearned and childlike people understood and accepted Him. The notion must not be allowed to possess us that it is only through scholarship and subtlety that men reach the secret of revelation. In California in the old days deep-level gold-mining was the fashion; it seemed reasonable to suppose that the gold must lie deep, and be difficult to acquire; yet, in the end, deep-level mining proved an expensive failure. A more careful exploration nearer the surface was then tried, and in almost every instance bodies of ore were found that had been overlooked in the eagerness to penetrate to unknown depths—the searchers missed the gold by getting below it. It is easy to fall into a similar mistake in our treatment of Holy Scripture The history of theology shows how the truth may be missed through yielding to the temptation of a pretentious profundity. The childlike vision and expression are truest. Theology is a science, yet for the profoundest science simplest words suffice. The obscure may justly be regarded as the mark of the non-essential. The obviousness of revelation must to the utmost be repeated in theology. The river of the water of life is as clear as crystal.
II. This obviousness of the saving truth is a fact to be remembered in evangelization. The gracious truths of Christ appeal to the man in the street, and he may at once discern them to the saving of the soul; the dustman may as readily apprehend them as the duke, the illiterate as the scholar, the outcast as the honourable. Salvation does not filter through the upper strata of rank, genius, and opulence, down to the lower strata of illiteracy and labour; rather, as in Nature, the living water finds its way from the depth to the eminence. The essential truth is on the surface, immediately available for the unsophisticated, whether rich or poor.
III. It is no doubt deeply interesting to get under the earth with the miner, to grope about the roots of things with the geologist; but when all is said, the surface of the earth is the main matter to the million The mere surface expresses the sum total of all that lies beneath it, as the spirit of man expresses itself in the sparkle of the eye and the bloom of his skin.
—W. L. Watkinson, Themes for Hours of Meditation, p. 58.
References.—XI. 25.—J. B. Mozley, Sermons Parochial and Occasional, p. 330. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Matthew IX.-XVII. p. 148. XI. 25, 26.—J. Leckie, Sermons Preached at Ibrox, p. 1. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii. No. 399. XI. 25-27.—G. Macdonald, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlii. 1892, p. 102. XI. 25-30.—H. Ward Beecher, Sermons (2nd Series), p. 25. J. J. S. Perowne, Expository Sermons on the New Testament, p. 23. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlviii. No. 2781.
This is the text inscribed in the churchyard of Zermatt, on the tombstone of Mr. Hadow, who perished, at the age of nineteen, in the terrible Matterhorn accident of 1865. Signor Guido Rey, in his book The Matterhorn, says: 'On the tomb of Hadow, the youthful victim, his parents, with admirable resignation, wrote this verse from the Gospel: 'Ita, Pater, quoniam sic fuit placitum ante te'.
The Secret of the Son
I. The Loneliness of Christ.
Blade of grass stands close to blade of grass, but peak is sundered from peak by miles of intervening valley; and here was One who towered above all the rest, and was solitary accordingly.
'No one knoweth the Son—' Yes, One, but no finite mind: God knew Him, and only the Father could know the Son. From the coldness, and unresponsiveness, even the well-meaning dullness of workaday humanity, Jesus was always able to retreat into the solitude which for Him was filled with the beatific Presence of that One by whom He knew Himself understood.
Loneliness is the lot of greatness, but it comes to others besides the great. We all need to set our minds more than we do upon gaining this sense of the presence of God, to be communed with—a Presence which we do not summon, but which we may enter at will, if we have learned the way.
II. Who Knows the Father?—For now we approach the real centre, and what many may feel to be the real difficulty, of our saying. 'Neither doth any know the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal Him.'
Now that consciousness which enabled Jesus to strike this note, to interpret Godhead as Fatherhood, not in a formal sense, but as the symbol of deepest love—that consciousness was something new, which Jesus brought into the world; it was unique, for only He who knew Himself as Son could know God as Father. And only as we become sons can we know that Fatherhood.
III. Next to Jesus Himself, only those know the Father to whom He reveals Him. How does He do so? In the first place, it is He who has in His own Person and character so shown forth the character of God as to assure us of His paternal love beyond all uncertainty; it is just Christ's perfect Sonship that guarantees to us God's perfect Fatherhood.
But there is more than this; we are to exert ourselves, we are to do something, to live a certain kind of life, to acquire a certain spirit ere we can know—really know—the Father. 'Be sons,' Jesus says,' and you shall know God as Father.' Live the life, do the will, and you shall know of the doctrine; treat God as though He was indeed a parent, and the fact of His being even so will grow more and more clear to you.
—J. Warschauer, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxii. 1907, p. 169.
References.—XI. 27.—W. M. Sinclair, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. 1894, p. 88. R. F. Horton, ibid. vol. lix. 1901, p. 128. C. A. Briggs, The Incarnation of the Lord, p. 3. H. J. Martyn, For Christ and the Truth, p. 53. R. W. Dale, Fellowship With Christ, p. 171. A. L. Lewington, The Completeness and the Unity of the Catholic Faith, Sermons, 1818-1883. XI. 27, 28, 29, 30.—E. M. Goulburn, Three Counsels of the Divine Master, vol. i. p. 59.
Natural and Supernatural Religion
A very important contrast is presented in these passages; it is a contrast between natural and supernatural religion. We may take the Bible as the textbook of our study and the standard of our morals, and yet our religion may never rise above the natural. We arrive at the supernatural when the truth which we have in the letter of the Holy Scriptures becomes a revelation of the Word. Natural religion is based upon a man's effort to come to the knowledge of God; supernatural religion has its foundation in the fact that God has come down to man, and revealed Himself to the soul in the person of Jesus Christ. No river can rise higher than its source! The source of all natural religion is its mental effort and moral sagacity; but the source of all supernatural religion is God by His Spirit revealing Himself in the person of His Son to the souls of men. Revelation means God coming down; natural religion means men seeking to climb up.
There are two or three things which you may learn from the passage chosen.
I. God's Method of Bringing Man to Himself is by Revelation.—We do not at first take in the meaning of that word: we do not grasp its meaning. What is it to reveal? It means to unveil. Two thoughts are involved in the word 'unveil'. First there is the unveiling itself; then there is the object from which the veil is to be removed. We think of some beautiful work of sculpture which is finished and now a veil is over it. You are close to it, but do not see it! Now the day comes for the unveiling; the veil is taken away and you behold the beautiful object beneath. So it is in religion! God has sent His Son, and has fulfilled His word. God is there in all the fullness of His glory, the richness of His grace, the greatness of His love. There can be no addition to His character, but there is the veil. Men do not see that glory; they try to imagine God, they make efforts to follow after Him; that is natural religion. 'No man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him.' Now that is the truth that we have running all through the whole of God's Word. This saving knowledge of the Word of God comes by spiritual unveiling. God has given His Son, redemption is there, yet men do not see it! Does this not strike you as something very cold and repellent? Not if you read the next verse: 'Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest'.
II. Natural Religion cannot really meet Man's Need.—Do you remember that prayer in the Psalms—'Lead me to the rock that is higher than I'? That is the cry of the supernatural! Nothing on the same level, however intellectual it may be, can satisfy the needs of my soul, so you see that salvation does not come to us as a human attainment. What can I do, how can I find my way up to God? Can man by searching find his way to God? He has revealed Himself to the world, but the world does not see it. It is necessary for us to notice that all things have been delivered into the hands of Jesus Christ.
III. The Secret of Seeking and Finding God is not an Effort of the Intellect, but is a Submission of the Will, and the possession of faith. If you would know God you must believe, and you must come to Christ. Your submission must come through Him; it is the way to grace. He calls us—'Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest'.
Rest for the Workers
In these words our Divine Master asserts His Divinity. No human being—of such a character as Jesus of Nazareth, 'the Truth'—would venture to offer to every age, and to the dwellers in every land, rest: rest to the weary body and to the troubled soul.
I. How then does the Lord Jesus Christ give rest to the workers? By the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ has gone up on high, and has sat down at His Father's right hand. His work in man's heart, and in the Church at large, is carried on through the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit By the Holy Spirit Jesus Christ conveys rest to all who are called to labour.
Here let us be very careful not to narrow the words to what is technically called religious work. It applies, of course, to all who are working for Jesus Christ in a more direct manner. But the application is universal. 'Come unto Me, all ye that labour'—in parliament, in business, in the home, in the farm, in the counting-house, in the street, sweeping a crossing.
II. How does He give this rest?
1. By enlightening our understanding. All emotion that is not built upon knowledge must sooner or later perish. Religion based merely upon emotion is like a house founded on the sand. Therefore the Lord Jesus Christ, by means of that Blessed Spirit Who is emphatically given to be our Teacher, first enlightens our understanding.
He shows us, first of all, that our work is part of a Divine plan. He shows us that, whether the work in which we are engaged is what men call noble or commonplace, it is part of a great plan by which Almighty God is establishing on earth the kingdom of Jesus Christ. He teaches us that He, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, very God and very Man, is guiding all this complex machinery; that we are under the direction of a living Head, all-wise, all-loving; with infinite and unfailing resources upon which He can draw. The sense of a crushing weight resting upon us, the sense of everything depending upon our own miserable effort, is removed when the eyes are opened and we see Jesus Christ.
2. He teaches us another great principle, which may be expressed by some such words as 'the law of limitation'. In other words, He shows us that Almighty God is pleased, for reasons known to Himself, to allow every human being in this world to be limited; limited by health and strength, limited by the want of full mental power, limited by the shortness of the period in which he has to work. The Lord Jesus shows us that as long as we live on earth we shall never fully carry out our ideal; we shall be hindered by the devil, hindered by other people, hindered by our own miserable imperfections.
And then, when we have laid hold of that law, the failure in our own special department ceases to perplex and distress and crush us. The mere knowledge that we are only suffering that which is the lot of all humanity, that the particular failure which depresses is only one of the thousand failures which God and the angels are seeing every day, even among the most earnest, gives a calm.
III. Once more. The Lord Jesus Christ, by the Holy Ghost, unveiling to us the meaning of the Bible, lifts us up to see that the victory is certain; that what we consider important may be found afterwards utterly unimportant; that we may have failed in certain departments; that there may have been times of utter crushing discomfiture; but that, in the long run, the victory is certain.
—G. H. Wilkinson, The Invisible Glory, p. 23.
Rest for the Sufferers
All the troubles of body and heart and mind and spirit are included in these words: everything that depresses—the weather, poverty, failure, disappointment. There is not a phase in human life which is not liable to a secret trial; and those who have the power of self-restraint know well that the hardest trials are those which we would not allow any human being to share. Everything, great and small, everything which commands human sympathy, and everything which is so commonplace that we should be despised if we were to acknowledge how it affected our happiness—all is known to our God and Father.
I. And how is this promise fulfilled? Through the agency of God the Holy Ghost. Our Lord Jesus Christ, in those wonderful chapters which record His last conversation with His disciples, brings forward perpetually this thought; that it would be by the personal comforting, the personal tender leading and guiding of the Holy Ghost, that He would strengthen them amid all the troubles which were coming on them.
II. The New Testament gives us a distinct teaching on the subject in the book of the Revelation of St John.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the glory of His Ascension life, takes a man like unto ourselves, our 'brother and companion in tribulation,' and places him on a lonely island. And then, before He begins to instruct him, He says, in His tender compassion for you and for me, 'Write these things'; let them be written in a book, that they may be handed on to each succeeding age of sufferers.
And how does our Lord give rest to the mind of St. John? He first teaches His Apostle that there is a secret necessity for suffering. He lifts up the veil, and explains to him, by a number of striking pictures, that there must be, for a certain time, war, famine, pestilence, death, perplexing events, triumph of evil; the devil apparently conquering; the world-power beguiling even God's own people; heresy, divisions, misery of every kind. He teaches him that all this does not come from God, but that it is, for a mysterious purpose which cannot be explained, permitted.
Now do you see the force of all this? We conquer nature by obeying her. We can guide and direct when we find out any of her laws. And so, when once it is understood that suffering is a condition of our humanity, every intelligent man will submit.
III. Our Lord teaches St. John this second principle: that suffering is limited by God.
IV. In that same book He reveals the ultimate triumph of good. He teaches St. John that this suffering, though a necessity, is limited, not only in amount, but in length of endurance: in other words, that a day is coming—and may dawn tomorrow—when the thin veil shall be lifted up, and this dispensation of trial and disappointment shall be over, and the Christ shall appear.
—G. H. Wilkinson, The Invisible Glory, p. 31.
Rest for Weary Feet
The world is always full of weary feet, and the days of the Nazarene were no exception. The souls that gathered about Him numbered a great many weary ones, tired self-nauseated, faint. He looked upon them, and saw their weariness, and was moved with infinite pity, and thus appealed to them: 'Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest'.
Let us look at one or two types of weary feet to which this Saviour will, with infinite gladness, bring the gift of rest.
I. There is no weariness like the weariness which gathers round about a selfish heart. I am inclined to believe that a great deal of the tiredness and weariness of the world, perhaps more than we commonly think, is only the sickly loathing and self-disgust arising from a morbid selfishness, however much we may strive to attribute it to something else.
Listen to the Master: 'Come unto Me ye weary, selfish ones, and I will give you rest'. And how will He do it? By taking us away from ourselves, by giving us leisure from ourselves, by making us unselfish. Jesus will give you rest by giving you His yoke, He will add to your burden, and so make your burden light. He will enlarge your thought to take in others, and so give you leisure from yourselves. He will take away your jadedness, and give you His own rest.
II. The anxious soul moves with weary feet, and would fain meet with one who had the gift of rest The Master saw how many souls there were who were troubled and anxious about the unknown. And He knew the great secret which, if accepted, would set all their hearts at rest. What did He know? Ha knew God! If everybody knew God, nobody would be anxious. And so He seeks to turn weariness into rest by the unveiling of the Father. And in what strangely beautiful ways He made the Father known! He told them that to Providence there were no trifles, that God did not merely control great things, and allow smaller things to go by chance. 'The very hairs of your head are all numbered.' Nothing is overlooked; all is full of thought and purpose. To. come to Jesus is to take His revelation of the Father, and to live in the inspiration of it, and such inspiration would turn fear into confidence, and confidence into peace. Come unto Me, all ye weary, anxious ones, and I will reveal to you your Father, and in the beauty of the revelation ye shall discover the gift of rest.
—J. H. Jowett, Apostolic Optimism, p. 87.
In Cicero and Plato and other such authors I find many an acute saying, many a word that kindles the emotions; but in none do I find these words, Come unto Me, and I will give you rest.
References.—XI. 28.—B. F. Westcott, The Historic Faith, p. 219. Henry Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iii. p. 100. R. H. McKim, The Gospel in the Christian Year, p. 309. B. D. Johns, Pulpit Notes, p. 43. Henry Wace, Some Central Points of Our Lord's Ministry, p. 335. J. Jarvie, Discourses, p. 86. W. Henderson, The Dundee Pulpit, 1872, p. 217. Canon Reiner, Sermons, p. 22. F. B. Paget, Helps and Hindrances to the Christian Life, vol. ii. p. 93. J. W. Shepard, Light and Life, p. 267. T. Gasquoine, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxvii. 1890, p. 83. T. R. Stevenson, ibid. vol. xli. 1892, p. 156. J. Hirst Hollowell, ibid. vol. xlv. 1894, p. 252. C. Gore, ibid. vol. 1. 1896, p. 129. H. D. M. Spence, Voices and Silences, p. 223. St. Vincent Beechey, The Excuses of Non-Communicants, p. 18. R. Flint, Sermons and Addresses, p. 155. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii. No. 1691; vol. xxxix. No. 2298; vol. xlviii. No. 2781; vol. xlvii. No. 2708. F. B. Cowl, Straight Tracks (Addresses to Children), p. 112. J. M. Neale, Readings for the Aged (3rd Series), p. 31. Phillips Brooks, The Law of Growth, p. 133. XI. 28, 29.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Matthew IX.-XVII. p. 153; see also Creed and Conduct, p. 321. F. D. Maurice, The Prayer Book and the Lord's Prayer, p. 238. J. H. Jowett, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxv. 1904, p. 305. XI. 28-30.—H. Ross, ibid. vol. xl. 1891, p. 396. George Macdonald, ibid. vol. xlii. 1892, p. 102. B. S. Snell, ibid. vol. xlii. 1892, p. 102. A. B. Bruce, ibid. vol. 1. 1896, p. 205. H. Price Hughes, ibid. vol. lxii. 1902, p. 198. E. Rees, ibid. vol. lxviii. 1905, p. 183. A. F. Winnington Ingram, ibid. vol. lxix. 1906, p. 81. W. O. Burrows, The Mystery of the Cross, p. 139. S. Cox, The Book of Ruth, p. 149. T. T. Munger, Character Through Inspiration, p. 24. E. M. Goulburn, Three Counsels of the Divine Master, vol. i. p. 72. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v. No. 265; vol. xvii. No. 969; vol. xxii. No. 1322.
After meeting Dr. Chalmers in the autumn of 1818, Erskine of Linlathen wrote to him: 'I hope I have benefited by my visit to you. Certainly I was much struck with some circumstances in your conduct, and I will tell you what these are. You have been much followed, by great and small, by learned and ignorant, and yet you listened, with the meek candour of a learner, to one whom you could not but consider as your inferior by far. If you had opened to me all mysteries and all knowledge, you could not have brought to my conscience the strong conviction of the necessity and the reality of Christianity with half the force that this deportment of yours impressed upon me.'
Quoting verses 21-30 in his essay on The Incarnation and Principles of Evidence, Mr. R. H. Hutton observes that these, 'to me the most touching and satisfying words that have ever been uttered by human lips, no mere man could ever have uttered without jarring every chord in the human conscience'.
References.—XI. 29.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xix. No. 1105. C. E. Jefferson, The Character of Jesus, p. 257. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. i. p. 171. F. E. Paget, Faculties and Difficulties for Belief and Unbelief, p. 113. B. J. Snell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxvii. 1890, p. 375. W. Boyd Carpenter, ibid. vol. lxiv. 1903, p. 289. C. Silvester Horne, ibid. vol. lxvii. 1905, p. 246. A. W. Hutton, ibid. vol. lxxiv. 1908, p. 332. Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. ii. p. 183. Perowne, Expository Sermons in New Testament ('Clerical Library'), p. 23. Westcott, Historic Faith, p. 229. F. Temple, Rugby Sermons (1st Series), p. 37. Beecher, Sermons (10th Series), p. 141. A. K. H. B., The Graver Thoughts of a Country Parson (3rd Series), p. 203. J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (6th Series), p. 126. G. Campbell Morgan, The Missionary Manifesto, p. 143. G. Matheson, Expositor (1st Series), vol. xi. p. 101. A. B. Bruce, ibid. (1st Series), vol. vi. p. 142. Perowne, ibid. (1st Series), vol. vii. p. 348. H. Platten, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxi. No. 809 (4 May, 1887).
The Yoke of Christ
How beautiful are these words of Christ! It is one thing, however, to know and to admire, and another thing to feel the power, to acknowledge the authority of them, and to feel their blessedness as a matter of personal experience.
I. The Yoke of Christ is the Discipline of Christ. —You have seen a young horse being broken in for his work. The youth and spirit of the animal resists the process; but if they are ever to be any good they have got sooner or later to submit. If the animal proves obstinate and obdurate, and firmly refuses the yoke, why it is useless, and there is nothing left but the owner must get rid of it as best he may. That is a parable. Jesus Christ is our Master; He gives each one of us a yoke to bear and a burden to carry. But He is no cruel despot, He is a wise and kind and considerate Master; He knows full well what we, each one of us, can bear; His aim is to discipline not to tyrannize over us, to use not to crush. He has a yoke and a burden for each, but not the same for each; 'every man must bear his own burden,' that is, the burden which is apportioned to him of all the separate spirits of the universe; never an ounce too heavy is the yoke He puts on each one of us. If we look at it in the right way it will prove to be just exactly what we can rightly deal with; for His word is true, 'My yoke is easy, My burden light'.
II. The Yoke of Christ is the Cross of Christ.—What is a cross? Two pieces of wood put one athwart the other. But what is the spiritual cross? Your pride and selfish will checked, disciplined, crossed by God's good and perfect will. That is what the cross is which Christ says His followers, each one of them, must bear. That is the yoke He puts upon our neck, the will of God to be done, to be suffered, whether it falls in with our inclination or not. Yes, there is the yoke, and its edges are sometimes sharp and rough as we bear it upon our shoulders. And yet for all that His yoke is easy, and His burden is light How and why, the reason? Because of love. The service may be hard, but the Master is good; the trial may be bitter, but the hand which sends it is kind; the task may be difficult, but He Who imposes it is faithful and wise. Love makes all the difference when you feel sure, as feel we may, that the Lord Who orders all truly cares for you and considers you and seeks alone your good, and that He makes no mistakes, and He spares every atom of pain which He can spare consistently with His good purpose for you; then you feel that you have got courage to bear and patience to endure. Faith and love make all the difference; where love shines on you the yoke that might have been grievous becomes easy; the burden which might have been crushing becomes light.
III. The Yoke of Christ Lifts up to God.—Listen to this parable: There was a time, so says the tale, when the birds had no wings, and they were the most miserable creatures on the face of the earth, they were so piteously helpless. One day, so says the tale, when they got up in the morning they observed that the ground around them was strewn with coarse brown objects such as they had never seen before. They looked at them with curiosity and apprehension, and as they were looking, lo! a shining one, an angel, came down from heaven and bade each one of them take up two of those brown objects and carry them on their backs. Then they broke out in loud lamentations. What! were they not wretched enough already! Already had they not trials more than any others, and must they now bear this new burden! The shining one insisted, however, and so there was nothing for it but they had to submit. So each bird took up two of those brown objects and began to carry them. And now a strange thing happened; after a day their new burdens seemed to grow into their backs and to become part of themselves, and they found that they could move and wave them about; and then some of them began to flutter in quite a new way, and even to rise a little from the ground; and as they fluttered and rose they began to sing. Up they rose, more and more, higher and higher, and as they rose, louder and louder did they sing; for their burdens, instead of being carried by them, were carrying them. Burdens, yes; but also wings; wings to lift them up to freedom and joy. Up they rose, higher and higher, and as they rose they sang. A yoke is a yoke, and a burden is a burden; but if it is the yoke of Christ and the burden of Christ, it can prove so easy and so light that it can, if borne and looked at aright, lift you to Him, lift you too up to your God.
References.—XI. 29, 30.—J. W. Shepard, Light and Life, p. 279. A. G. Mortimer, One Hundred Miniature Sermons, vol. ii. p. 186. 'Plain Sermons' by contributors to the Tracts for the Times, vol. v. p. 67.
The Yoke of Christ
Christ has a yoke and a burden. The yoke is laid on the shoulder to harness the draught animal, the ox. It is the common and natural image of submission, and it is employed here. Christ demands absolute submission. He controls all life. Then the yoke is put on for the sake of fitting for work. It exists for the burden, the practical duties which prove and exercise obedience.
I. Christ's Yoke and Burden are Hard and Heavy.—The yoke and the burden of Christianity are very real, and very severe. Christ's precepts are ideal perfection. 'Be ye perfect.' And that is why men accept them. No system ever lasts long which condones imperfection, and pitches the standard low. Bad as men are, they still desire that their law should be good.
II. Still they are Light and Easy.—A yoke is something easy, soft, padded, fitting comfortably, so that it may even suggest the idea of being pleasant and good to wear—a joy and a delight to obey, and of being a mark of His love. Then while the yoke expresses the thought of the blessedness of submission, the burden light speaks of the ease of service. The yoke and burden are light (1) by reason of the motive that impels them: Love which makes submission a joy, and all distasteful deeds sweet. (2) By reason of the strength that is given: There are two ways to lighten a load, one diminishes the burden, one invigorates the back. (3) By reason of their harmony with all nature. People fancy they like to do as they like, but they really like and need an authority to which to submit. (4) By reason of the joy and peace that flow from obedience.
III. Christ bears our burdens before He bids us bear His. There are burdens heavier than any He lays which each man has to carry—Sin, Self, the World, are harder masters than He, and none but He can take away the burden of sin, of self-will, of isolated effort after goodness. His commandments are not grievous. It is not a Gospel of an easy life. It does not seek to draw by looking at the statuesque purity of the ideal, but by giving us grace to do. He bears us and our troubles. All things are possible to him that believeth. Love fulfilling the law.
References.—XI. 30.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlix. No. 2832. XI. 41.—H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Sermonettes for a Year, p. 26. XII. 1-14.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Matthew IX.-XVII. p. 163. XII. 3, 4.—Phillips Brooks, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlii. 1892, p. 13. XII. 3-7.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxv. No. 1503. XII. 6.—R. E. Hutton, The Crown of Christ, vol. i. p. 535; see also Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. 1895, p. 71. A. MacLeod, Days of Heaven Upon Earth, p. 140. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii. No. 1275. XII. 9-13.—W. M. Taylor, The Miracles of Our Saviour, p. 148. Archbishop Trench, Notes on the Miracles of Our Lord, p. 257. XII. 9-14.—John Laidlaw, The Miracles of Our Lord, p. 189. XII. 10-13.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxv. No. 1485. XII. 12.—Henry Van Dyke, Sermons to Young Men, p. 3. S. D. McConnell, A Year's Sermons, p. 246. C. F. Aked, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxviii. 1890, p. 182. W. G. Rutherford, The Key of Knowledge, p. 75. J. Martineau, Hours of Thought, vol. ii. p. 286. XII. 18-21.—S. Chadwick, Humanity and God, p. 91.
Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples,
And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?
Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see:
The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.
And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.
And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind?
But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses.
But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet.
For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.
For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.
And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.
He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows,
And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil.
The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.
Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not:
Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you.
And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.
At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.
Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight.
All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.