Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven.Spiritual Discernment
Jesus Christ found that He was in the midst of a number of weather-wise people; they were quite experts in the reading of the cloudy signs, they knew what the weather would be Today and perhaps tomorrow, and they published their forecasts of the weather; but when it came to higher reading, reading on another level, they were as moles and bats from whom the genius of daylight penetration had been withheld. Do we make one another up? do we hold varied trusteeships? and are they brought under one grand obligation, so that we may, thus supplementing one another, constitute a great social unit? Are there not really readers of the clouds and readers of the unseen? could they not meet now and then in common counsel to see how things stand and what the general outlook is? They must not despise one another; for one man can do this, and another man can do that, and neither man can do both. So that we are mutual trustees, we supplement each other; if we could enter into the spirit of this arrangement, we should have brotherhood, free, frank interchange of opinion, and work together in a great and beneficent association. I. But whilst we recognize these great common gifts, we recognize also a partition of ability, so that one man is an expert along line A, and another man is an expert along line B, and each must work out his own vocation. As there are great commonwealth blessings of nature, so there are great republican blessings in moral and spiritual regions. God did not intend any man to be born a slave. Liberty belongs to every responsible creature; his responsibility will limit and define his liberty, and thus give him the very best of it Liberty that wantons itself into licence really conducts itself into the worst bondage. Regulated liberty is freedom. God means every soul in this sense to be free. There are common instincts, common privileges. And yet singular to say, and yet necessary to say, there are limitations which are round about the individual, so that he has his talent, his two talents, his five talents, himself not to be numbered with other men in certain great generalities. The individuality of the soul is never lost; it is never drowned in the river of mean compromises; it should stand forth individual and yet associated; a great personality, yet part of a greater humanity. To combine the whole and the part, the great universal gift and the special endowment: this is the problem, and Christianity alone sufficiently and finally solves it.
II. By the text we are entitled to enlarge what we can see into what we cannot see except by the vision of the soul. Here is a great lesson in inductive reasoning. Because such and such is the direction of the wind and such and such are the indications of the clouds, therefore we shall have such and such weather. Quite right; I do not oppose your forecasts; but why not carry up the idea, and endeavour to reason concerning the things you see with the eyes of the heart in the spiritual realm, and draw your inductions according to the great basis of fact, phenomena, and experience available to every student who faithfully and humbly and lovingly endeavours to discover the will of God? There is a spiritual barometer, there is a spiritual thermometer; there are many ways appointed and therefore approved of God by which we can put this and that together and draw wide inferences from great spiritual premises. If we had eyes to see we should know that from the beginning God has a certain purpose and will surely accomplish it. That purpose is a purpose of beneficence.
III. We must recognize the fact that there is a difference in sight. We recognize this in the sight of the bodily eyes; why not recognize it in the inner and truer sight of the soul? Can you read a placard fifty yards off? Your answer is, I certainly cannot do so. Are you entitled from that consciousness to declare that there is not a man in the world that can read it? You have to admit that there is sight longer than yours. Can you read the Bible without lenses, glasses, or mechanical aids of any kind? You may possibly reply, Certainly I cannot do so. Does it therefore follow that no other man can read it without such aids? In a moment you say that to make any such contention would be simply absurd. That is right: why not apply that fact to a higher level, and find for it a broader and deeper interpretation? We must listen to the higher voices. We are at liberty to test the spirits whether they are of God; that may often be a bounden duty which we cannot shirk under any plea or pretext. Yet there remains the great fact that we have a book which is filled with holy messages from the holy God, and these have been so often confirmed that their very confirmation becomes not only an argument but a starting-point of the most profound and elaborate reasoning. If any man has read the book of Genesis aright he knows that there is a book coming that shall be full of anthem, song, and triumph; for the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of our God and of His Christ. He read that in the very first verse of the Bible if he was a prophet when he read that opening verse. There is a great philosophy of implication; one thing means another, points to another, and gives assurance of another.
—Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. iii. p. 175.
Carlyle opens his Latter-day Pamphlets with this paragraph: 'The Present Time, youngest-born of Eternity, child and heir of all the Past Times with their good and evil, and parent of all the Future, is ever a "New Era" to the thinking man; and comes with new questions and significance, however commonplace it look: to know it, and what it bids us do, is ever the sum of knowledge for all of us. This new Day, sent us out of Heaven, this also has its heavenly omens;—amid the bustling trivialities and loud, empty noises, its silent monitions, which, if we cannot read and obey, it will not be well with us! No;—nor is there any sin more fearfully avenged on men and Nations than that same, which indeed includes and presupposes all manner of sins: the sin which our old pious fathers called "judicial blindness";—which we with our light habits, may still call misinterpretation of the Time that now is; disloyalty to its real meanings and monitions, stupid disregard of these, stupid adherence, active or passive, to the counterfeits and mere current semblances of these. This is true of all times and days.'
'French revolutions teach nobody!... So with the Jews of old,' wrote F. W. Robertson in one of his letters. 'They were very weather-wise, but could not read the signs of the times. Jewish ladies were a good deal surprised when they found themselves sold as slaves to Romish voluptuaries; and Parisian ladies were equally astonished when, after having spent such enormous sums on their coiffures and ribbons, they one fine day found their head-dress arranged for them at the national expense, à la guillotine.'
In his Life of Gibbon (pp. 48, 78), Mr. Cotter Morison notes how in the latter half of the eighteenth century, 'scholars, men of the world, men of business passed through this wonderland [of Parisian society] with eyes blindfolded. They are free to enter, they go, they come, without a sign that they have realized the marvellous scene that they were permitted to traverse. One does not wonder that they did not perceive that in those graceful drawing-rooms, filled with stately company of elaborate manners, ideas and sentiments were discussed and evolved which would soon be more explosive than gunpowder. One does not wonder that they did not see ahead of them—men never do. One does rather wonder that they did not see what was before their eyes.' Even as a member of Parliament, he adds, Gibbon failed to read the signs of his age. 'He lived at one of the most exciting periods of our history; he assisted at debates in which constitutional and imperial questions of the highest moment were discussed by masters of eloquence and state policy, and he hardly appears to have been aware of the fact.'
In the second volume of his Cromwell, Carlyle also writes: 'Human crimes are many; but the crime of being deaf to the God's voice, of being blind to all but parchments and antiquarian rubrics when the Divine Handwriting is abroad on the sky—certainly there is no crime which the Supreme Powers do more terribly avenge!'
References.—XVI. 3.—H. Hensley Henson, Christ and the Nation, p. 193. H. S. Lunn, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxix. p. 69. A. T. Pierson, ibid. vol. xli. 1892, p. 273. J. Guinness Rogers, ibid. vol. lv. 1899, p. 6. C. M. Sheldon, ibid. vol. lviii. 1900, p. 1.
The sign was that quality in the preaching of Jonah itself which is represented as producing repentance in his hearers. The appeal of Jesus to His race must, Hebrews 6 aid, be judged by itself. It accepted no testimonial from any external result, even when such external result was present.
References.—XVI. 4.—R. T. Talbot, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxx. 1906, p. 107. E. Aldom French, God's Message Through Modern Doubt, p. 43. XVI. 4-12.—J. Laidlaw, The Miracles of Our Lord, p. 105. XVI. 6.—J. Stalker, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. 1898, p. 259. XVI. 6, 12.—D. Fraser, Metaphors in the Gospels, p. 135. XVI. 12.—R. Scott, Oxford University Sermons, p. 151.
I. Two truths lie upon the surface of this narrative. The first is the importance attached by our Lord to the faith in Himself, and the other the supernatural character of such faith as the gift of God.
1. The importance attached by our Lord to faith in Himself—for here there comes to the surface the end for which He had separated and was training the twelve. It was that they might gain a firm and unqualified faith in Himself—that they might know how to confess and profess His name.
2. 'Whom do ye say that I am?' St. Peter it is who obeys the promptings of the Spirit which all were secretly acknowledging. 'Thou art the Christ,' he cries, 'the Son of the living God.' This is what our Lord had wanted. This is what He was waiting for. 'Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona; blessed art thou, for faith in Jesus Christ is the one necessity of man's redemption. Blessed art thou, because this fundamental act of faith is not of thyself, or of anything visible or tangible, or merely human. Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee; but My Father which is in heaven.' He means that humanity of itself can never discover God or find Him out The recognition of God must always be God's own disclosure of Himself in the heart of man.
3. We pass a stage downwards in Church history. St. Paul, like his Master, asserts the necessity of faith and also its supernatural character. 'No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost'
II. These old lessons are what we again and again must learn and relearn, and lay to heart. Faith is necessary—that first—if we would share the Christian hope and life.
And, again, faith is supernatural. That means it is the gift of God, not the result of the mere action of our own faculties. It is only by an act of faith of our own that we can set to our seal that God's offer in Christ is true, and this act of faith, this giving out of ourselves in loving venture of surrender, is always a motion which we know, even in the making of it, to have its origin far beyond ourselves. It comes upon us as a movement from above, a movement in us of the Divine Spirit.
III. There are two sorts of faith. There is the faith by which we come to believe, and there is the faith in which we Christians are meant to live. Both are supernatural—both, that is to say, are the work of God in us, though they correspond to different states of the Holy Spirit's activity, for He works upon men to make them Christians, and He dwells, as in a temple, in the hearts of them who are already Christians. Always we need to remember that, as the creation, so also the sustaining, of the life of faith is a Divine gift, and demands on our part a reverent waiting for the gift of the Divine Spirit.
—Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxviii. 1890, p. 1.
References.—XVI. 13.—J. Parker, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. 1895, p. 282. J. D. Jones, The Elims of Life, p. 43. XVI. 13-15.—J. Clifford, The Secret of Jesus, p. 3. C. J. Ridgeway, Is Not This the Christ? p. 1. XVI. 13-16.—H. C. Beeching, The Grace of Episcopacy, p. 34. J. Marshall Lang, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxvii. 1890, p. 168. A. W. Potts, School Sermons, p. 47. G. Critchley, The Penny Pulpit, vol. xii. No. 694, p. 221. XVI. 13-17.—B. D. Jones, Pulpit Notes, p. 173. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxiv. No. 2041. XVI. 13-18.—A. G. Mortimer, One Hundred Miniature Sermons, vol. ii. p. 229. J. H. Rigg, Scenes and Studies in the Ministry of Our Lord, p. 116. XVI. 13-19.—J. Laidlaw, Studies in the Parables, p. 283. XVI. 13-28.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Matthew IX.-XVII. p. 322.
Elijah Or Jeremiah
It is of the deepest interest to discover what was the common impression about Jesus, and in this report conveyed by the disciples we get a hint of the utmost value. Did you ever think of the vast difference there was between the characters of Elijah and Jeremiah? Yet some said about Christ, 'This is Elijah,' and others said, 'No, it is Jeremiah'. The one is ardent, enthusiastic, fierce sometimes. The other is the prophet of the tender heart and tears. And the remarkable thing is that the common people should have taken these types, which are so wide apart, and should have found in them both the character of Christ. In other words, the impression which Jesus made was that of a complex, inclusive personality. And I want to try to bring before you some of these qualities of different natures, which harmonize so perfectly and wonderfully in the human nature of our Lord.
I. I am arrested in Christ's character by the perfect union of mastery and charm. It is one of the rarest things in the world to find the masterful man possessed of the indefinable quality of charm. Some men are born to be obeyed, some to be loved; but Jesus preeminently was born for both. That is why people said, 'Lo, here is Elijah,' and others, 'No, it is Jeremiah'. All that had marked the noblest of the prophets was harmonized and reconciled in Him.
II. I am arrested in Christ's character by the union of remoteness and accessibility. There is something in Christ that always suggests distance. There is much in Christ that tells us He is near. Now there are many people who convey the impression of remoteness, though none in the same way as Jesus did. What you feel is, when men are so remote, that you must not trouble them with your small matters. You must not look to them for the sweet word of sympathy. You must not expect them to bother about you. The strange thing is that though Christ stood thus remote, men should have come to Him with every worry.
III. I am arrested in Christ's character by the union of enthusiasm and tranquillity. His feelings were often powerfully stirred, yet the whole impression is one of profound peace. It is very easy to be cold, yet calm; to be uninterested, unimpassioned, and so tranquil. It is very easy to deaden down the feelings, till a man has made a solitude and called it peace. But the abiding wonder about Christ is this, that He had an ardent, eager, enthusiastic heart; yet breathed such a deep, such a superb, tranquillity, that men instinctively felt He was at rest.
IV. There is the union of abnegation and appreciation. What is the last word in the ideal of Jesus—is it asceticism, or is it joy?
The wonder of Jesus is not this or that; the wonder of Jesus is this and that together. In the deepest of all senses Christ renounced the world and trampled all its glory underfoot. The first condition of following in His train was that one should lead the life of self-denial. Yet he who so followed Him was never deadened to the call of lovely or delightful things; he was led into a world where birds were singing, and which was beautiful with the lilies of the field.
—G. H. Morrison, The Wings of the Morning, p. 76.
References.—XVI. 14.—A. Ramsay, Studies in Jeremiah, p. 281. XVI. 15.—Marcus Dods, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxii. 1902, p. 116; see also vol. lxix. 1906, p. 149. G. Jackson, ibid. vol. lxiv. 1903, p. 171. XVI. 15, 16.—J. D. Jones, ibid. vol. lxv. 1904, p. 276. E. W. Moore, Life Transfigured, p. 177. XVI. 15-17.—E. B. Pusey, Parochial Sermons, vol. ii. p. 283. XVI. 15-18.—R. M. Benson, The Life Beyond the Grave, p. 606. XVI. 15-17, 21.—C. W. Furse, Sermons Preached at Richmond, p. 22. XVI. 16.—Hastings Rashdale, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxiv. 1903, p. 5. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for Saints' Days, p. 141.
I Will Build My Church
Matthew 16:16; Matthew 16:18
The words were drawn from Christ by the confession of Peter. The disciple said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,' and the Saviour answered, 'Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it'.
I. In many lives, by no means in all, the purpose for which life was given, for the fulfilment of which life is to be spent, disengages itself in one lustrous moment. The clouds are scattered, and the meaning of life is written as with a pencil of lightning. This does not mean that all is new. A man may, in the depths of his feeling and thought be aware of his place and work, and yet things change when the significance of his destiny crystallizes itself in a sentence. As Browning makes Childe Roland say—
Burningly it came on me all at once, This was the place!
So men have said to themselves in one of these moments that count as years in a lifetime, these moments when mists lift off—I will make this discovery—I will write this book—I will love this woman—I will serve this cause—I will extend this Empire. It is as if they had suddenly turned and seen the revealing angel. So our Lord, Who from the beginning knew His work, put everything into the words—'I will build My Church'.
II. Let us ask how Christ builds his Church. I shall borrow from Ruskin's famous book, The Seven Lamps of Architecture. As Ruskin himself says: 'We know not how soon all architecture will be vain, except that which is not made with hands'. I take three of his seven lamps to help us in expounding how Christ builds His Church, how we must build it, if we are to be labourers together with Him.
1. In the first place, there is the Lamp of Sacrifice. The Church is built on sacrifice, and by sacrifice. It is built on the one Sacrifice offered for sins for ever, and built by the continual sacrifice of the members, on the sacrifice which will make up at last that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ.
2. In the second place, there is the Lamp of Power. We see it shining in these calm words, 'I will build My Church'. Says the French aphorist: 'Attempt difficult things as though they were easy, and easy things as though they were difficult'. Christ addressed Himself to His long and terrible task with a certain repose of mind and temper. He was filled with the Spirit. He had the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
3. Once more, there must be the Lamp of Beauty. He will present it to Himself a glorious Church, for if the Church is to be fair with the beauty of the Lord, love and joy must go into the building. 'We are not sent into the world to do anything into which we cannot put our hearts.' Unless we put our hearts into our building we cannot put our intellects. And it may be true, as the great critic has said, that 'objects are noble and ignoble in proportion to the amount of the energy of the mind which has visibly been employed upon them'. We know what heart Christ put into the building of His Church. The zeal of God's House consumed Him. It was His meat to do the will of the Father, and to finish His work. In the old days men and women put their souls into church building. A French writer describes the rebuilding of Chartres Cathedral after its destruction by fire. All the country over, every one grieved and wept. Whole populations stopped their regular work, left their homes to help, the rich bringing money and jewels, and the poor putting in their barrows everything that could serve to feed labour and men, or help in the work. It was a constant stream of emigration, the spontaneous exodus of a people. Every road was crowded with pilgrims, all, men and women alike, dragging whole trees, pushing loads of sawn beams. What seems more incredible and is nevertheless attested by every chronicle of the time, is that this horde of old folks and children, of men and women, was at once amenable to discipline. And yet they belonged to every class of society, for there were among them knights and ladies of high degree. But Divine love was so powerful that it annihilated distinctions and abolished caste. The nobles harnessed themselves with the labourers to drag the trucks. Patrician dames helped the peasant woman to stir the mortar and to cook the food. The old Durham Cathedral was completed in a similar way. The entire population of the district, from the Coquet to the Tees, headed by the Earl of the Northumbrians, readily rendered all the help they could. Christ has built His Church with joy unspeakable, and we can build it worthily with Him. He does not need us for the building. He said Himself, 'I will build My Church'. He will carry His banner on to victory, though the hands of all of us relax their hold. Perhaps our work may be nothing more than a discipline for our souls, and in itself useless. But, as Ruskin nobly says, 'Since our life must at the best be but a vapour that appeal's for a little time and then vanishes away, let it at least appear as a cloud in the height of heaven, not as the thick darkness that broods over the blast of the furnace, and rolling of the wheel'. It needs all—sacrifice, power, joy.
—W. Robertson Nicoll, The Lamp of Sacrifice, p. 113.
Any acknowledgment of Him that rests on merely outward evidence must necessarily fall far short of that good confession for the utterance of which St. Peter's Master pronounced him blessed. This, on that Master's own testimony, was the expression of a deep, inward conviction wrought by God Himself upon the soul; and it was not because Christ had been manifested to St. Peter in the flesh, but because He had been revealed to him in the spirit, that he was able to answer our Lord's question, 'Whom sayest thou that I am?' in the words which drew forth this comment.
References.—XVI. 17.—C. Gore, Church Times, vol. xxviii. 1890, p. 665. H. J. Martyn, For Christ and the Truth, p. 147. XVI. 17, 18.—H. C. Beeching, Inns of Court Sermons, p. 155.
Matthew 16:17; Matthew 16:23
Think what change has passed on Peter's mood before the second of these words could be addressed to him to whom the first had just been spoken. The Lord had praised him. Peter grew self-sufficient, even to the rebuking of him whose praise had so uplifted him. But it is ever so. A man will gain a great moral victory: glad first, then uplifted, he will fall before a paltry temptation.
—G. Macdonald in The Seaboard Parish, chap. xviii.
The Unshakeable Church
I. What was the Rock?—First, then, what was this rock on which the Saviour said He would build His Church? Was it Peter, as the word seems to imply, and even directly to state? Sometimes Protestants have vehemently denied it, because they were afraid that by admitting so much they would be conceding all the claims of Rome. I have no such fear. I think in a sense it was Peter, and the company of Apostles of whom he was the acknowledged leader; for it was indeed upon their rocklike witness, against which all the powers of the world could not prevail, that the Church of all the ages grew. It was built, as we read in another place, upon 'the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner-stone'. But if the rock was Peter, it was Peter made a new man by the mighty truth which he had just confessed—this truth, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God'. The Apostles, after all, were only the upper stratum of the rock, if we might so speak, the part which jutted above the surface, while underneath was the solid bed-layer, deeper than the earth, deep as the universe, this solid bed-layer of truth that Christ their Master was Divine, that the words which He spoke were true as heaven, and that His life and power were eternal and indestructible. And we are all rocks if we believe that, from Peter down to the humblest person of the present day. The veriest human feebleness becomes as solid and immovable as the ground under your feet as soon as there enters into it the conviction that Christ is God, that His word cannot be broken, and that you are held fast by Him and His promises in changeless power and everlasting love.
There is room in the Church for the weakest faith. We read that hay, and wood, and stubble even, get in, to be purified by fire; but the strength of the building is in its rocklike souls. Upon rock does Christ build His Church, and He wants rock for the building up of any Church—rocklike members, rocklike deacons, rocklike teachers in the Bible classes and Sunday schools, rocklike preachers, men that know in whom they have believed and what they have believed, and speak out with clear, unfaltering certainty the things which they have seen and felt and heard of God.
II. Shifting Sands.—I think there never was a time when that was more needed than it is Today, there never was a more urgent demand made for it. We live in an age of almost general unsettlement. You can hardly think of a department in which there are not doubtful minds, and divided opinions; all questions seem to be in a state of solution, nothing fixed and determined.
We want rock; and the real deep hearts of men everywhere, whether they know it or not, are always saying, Away from us, ye who preach negations and doubts and darkness, who come and sit upon the threshold of our hearts like some poet's raving croaking out a dismal 'Nevermore'; away with you; and come ye, John and Paul, and all such clear-voiced witnesses, with the glow of hope on your faces and the music of conviction in your tones. That is the message we need; that is the message which this age needs, and which Christ would have His representatives give. He builds His Church upon rock.
III. What is Christ's Church?—The Church is the company, now indeed quite innumerable, of disciple-like souls who are for ever and ever learning of Him, some of them, the greater number, beholding His face, and serving Him day and night in His temple; and the rest not seeing Him yet, but rejoicing in Him with joy unspeakable and full of glory. In a word, the Church is the faithful souls of every place and name known and unknown to whom His name is unutterably dear, His words more precious than fine gold, who love Him with a love that is more than human, who trust Him with a trust that is stronger than life or death, whose eager desire is to obey Him and serve Him, and whose fervent prayer for ever and ever is to get His truth made known, His salvation proved, and His name lifted above every name, until at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow. Upon all these, wherever they are, the Saviour looks down as with the joy of one who looks upon a noble possession, and He says, 'They are My Church, My Church; and there is no other, no other'.
IV. The Church's Indestructibility.—Lastly, this Church of living and loving souls was to be and will for ever be indestructible. From the first He gave this solemn pledge about it, staking His truthfulness upon the word, and His very existence, indeed, upon the word, 'Upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of hell'—and He meant by that all possible forces that could come out of hell—'shall not prevail against it'. The Church is indestructible. That which He called My Church, which was to Him as the apple of His eye, His dear and peculiar possession—the Church of living souls cemented together, and bound to Him by an infinite and immortal love—that will never know change or decay. There will always be upon this earth a never-diminishing and ever-increasing number of souls, men and women to whom He is more than all things else in the world, who serve Him with the perfect liberty of a joyful self-surrender, who would rather die than deny Him because He died for them, and to whom the hope of seeing His face and enjoying Him for ever is the main strength, consolation, and ecstasy of living.
—J. G. Greenhough, The Cross in Modern Life, p. 105.
St. Peter's Confession
The story of St. Peter's confession is a story of the utmost significance in the life of our Lord. As He scanned the faces of the disciples He seems to have hesitated to put the question upon which everything turned, because He does not ask them point-blank, 'Who do you think I am?' but asks first, 'Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?' And in reply they tell Him of the rumours they have heard. And then we can imagine the pause, and at last the question of questions, 'But whom say ye that I am?' And Simon Peter answered and said, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God '.
I. Well, then, this is the root faith of Christendom according to its Founder—the faith that He is Divine. And I would suggest to you in passing that with us, as with St. Peter, this faith must express itself in a confession. People nowadays are a little shy of creeds. They have got a habit of calling their creeds 'dogmas' and 'formularies,' which they consider bad names. But I would ask you whether this very modern and common dislike of formularies and dogmas ought to be pressed so far as to exclude an answer to our Lord's own question, 'Whom say ye that I am?' A Christian must be now, as always, a man who, as he reads the record of Christ's life in the Gospels, is drawn to love and reverence and worship Him as the Messiah of the invisible God, and to accept His commandments as the guide of life; and if this is our faith, why should we hesitate to put it into words and say, 'I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God'? It is on this rock of confessed faith that the Church is built.
II. We are all what we are, and we all achieve in life what weachieve, by virtue of the religious faith that is personally ours, by what we believe; and secondly, I would say that we are what we are, and we achieve what we achieve, by the intensity of what we do believe, and not by our denials. Of these denials very likely we think more and talk more, and perhaps even teach and preach more, but the important things for us are our active positive beliefs. Let me apply a familiar instance. In an essay upon George Eliot, written by one of our most accomplished critics, the author describes a conversation between himself and that gifted novelist on the subject of religion. 'I remember,' he says, 'how, at Cambridge, I walked with her once in the Fellows' Garden of Trinity on an afternoon of rainy May, and she, stirred somewhat beyond her wont, and taking as her text the three words which have been used so often as inspiring trumpet-calls to men—the words "God," "Immortality," "Duty,"—pronounced with terrible earnestness how inconceivable was the first, "God"; how unbelievable was the second, "Immortality"; and yet how peremptory and how absolute the third, "Duty ".'
Every Christian must regret that George Eliot's faith in God and immortality should have given way, but her power in the world was given her by what she did believe, and not by her denials of what other people believed. What gave her her great force over men's consciences was her strong faith in duty. Let us take account of our faith; let us ask ourselves what article of our creed is so solid, is such a rock as this; what religious conviction have we so firm and sure, because based upon evidence so convincing to us that we would hold it if need be against the world?
You can see how different it would have been with George Eliot if she had held the Christian faith with the same intensity as she held her own. It does matter what we believe, but it also matters how we believe—whether we believe with our heart and mind and soul and strength; because right belief is not, in itself, faith. And this is, perhaps what people sometimes have in mind when they protest against dogmas or call themselves Christians without dogma, as though dogmas were antagonistic to faith. They cannot be antagonistic to faith, because the faith of a rational being must be capable of expression in rational speech, and that is dogma. But it is true that assent to a dogma about Christ is not necessarily unclouded faith in Him. Assent to a doctrine implies the action of only a part of a man's being; and it does not follow that, because the mind assents to the Divinity of Christ, the heart must, as a consequence, admire and trust and worship Him, and the will compel the action into conformity with His commandments. Right opinions are most valuable, but we may hold right opinions without the personal relation of love and trust between the soul and God, which is faith and the essence of religion.
'Lord, to Whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life,' and we believe that' Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God'. To be able to say that to Christ is to have faith in Him; and that is the faith that saves the soul.
We understand ourselves to be risking no new assertion, but simply reporting what is already the conviction of the greatest of our age, when we say—that cheerfully recognizing, gratefully appropriating whatever Voltaire has proved, or any other man has proved, or shall prove, the Christian religion, once here, cannot again pass away; that in one or the other form, it will endure through all time; that as in Scripture, so also in the heart of man, is written, 'The gates of Hell shall not prevail against it'.
—Carlyle on Voltaire.
'Tis said with ease, but never can be proved,
The Church her old foundations has removed,
And built new doctrines on unstable sands:
Judge that, ye winds and rains! you proved her, yet she stands.
Man against Hell, without the help of God, is as a rabbit against the Russian Empire.
References.—XVI. 18.—T. Hanley Ball, Persuasions, p. 314. G. Tyrrell, Oil and Wine, p. 139. D. Fraser, Metaphors in The Gospels, p. 144. C. J. Ridgeway, Is Not This the Christ, p. 76. J. G. Greenhough, The Cross in Modern Life, p. 105; see also Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. 1896, p. 237. R. F. Horton, ibid. vol. 1. 1896, p. 33. J. A. Brink-water, ibid. vol. lviii. 1900, p. 243. G. Gladstone, ibid. vol. lxiv. 1903, p. 53. 'Plain Sermons' by contributors to the Tracts for the Times, vol. v. p. 148. R. E. Hutton, The Crown of Christ, vol. ii. p. 195. XVI. 18, 19.—S. Chadwick, Humanity and God, p. 269. J. Fraser, Parochial and Other Sermons, p. 302. XVI. 19.—C. S. Robinson, Simon Peter, p. 253. D. Fraser, Metaphors in the Gospels, p. 152.
The Love of the Trinity in the Resurrection
The words used by our Lord in the text clearly seem the solemn rehearsal of a previous plan made long before by the Holy Trinity; 'The Son of man must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day'.
The Atonement, again, was clearly another wonderful conception of the Holy Three in One. But what we have to face is what would have been the position of the human race if the Love of the Trinity had stopped at the Atonement, for to do so will enable us to appreciate more fully the joy of Easter Day.
I. We should have had no certainty that death was not the end. We might have guessed that it was not; we should, no doubt, have made the best of the instinct of immortality which we all possess; we should have got what comfort we could from the teachings of science about the persistence of force, but how should we have looked the dying or the mourner in the face unless Jesus had said, 'I am the Resurrection and the Life; though he were dead yet shall he live, and he that believeth in Me shall never die,' and unless He had proved the truth of that promise by being raised Himself on the third day. With misty aspirations, and vague hopes, and stumbling guesses we should have followed our dear ones to the grave; and it was because the Trinity in Their love knew this that They planned to Themselves, 'Not only must the Son of Man be knit to the human race, "closer than breathing and nearer than hands and feet," not only must He suffer many things of the elders, the chief priests and scribes, but He must be raised up the third day'.
II. The sinner would have been left 'unhouseled, disappointed, unaneled'. The Atonement must not only be made, but it must be ministered; the Blood must not only be shed, but it must be sprinkled on the sinner; the Sacrifice must not only be offered, it must be pleaded; and for this the death must not only be endured, but be transfigured.
III. We can scarcely realize the blow to every effort for the uplifting of the human race if the Love of the Trinity had stopped short of the Resurrection.
It makes no difference whether we say, 'God raised Him from the dead,' or 'the Spirit raised Him from the dead,' or 'He rose Himself from the dead'—all expressions are used—the fact was that the Holy Trinity were at work, and when the Holy Trinity are at work nothing can stop that work.
—Bishop A. F. Winnington Ingram, The Guardian, 22 April, 1908, p. 649.
Sympathy and Sacrifice
Simon Peter had discerned and declared the great secret that his Master was the Messiah, the Christ of God. No sooner had the confession been made than the Master set Himself to prepare His disciples for the consequences, the hardships which loyalty to that discovered truth would involve. For such a sudden reversal of their expectations the disciples were not prepared. Peter's impulsive kind-heartedness broke out in protest. 'This be far from Thee.' The rebuke that fell from the Master's lips sounds even now as we read it in the pages of the New Testament startling and unexpected, 'Get thee behind Me, Satan: for thou art an offence unto Me'. The refusal to accept stress, struggle, and hardship as the conditions of loyalty to truth the Master saw to be the very mind of the world, the very spirit of its prince. The disciples from the first must be taught to steed their hearts and minds against it. Then saith Jesus unto His disciples, 'If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me'.
I. The Cross of Jesus Christ.—To the Christian the Cross of Jesus Christ is the centre of his deepest hopes, memories, associations. It speaks to him of the revelation of the deepest truth, the love of God manifested in fullness of self-sacrifice. It speaks to him of the satisfaction of his deepest need, the forgiveness of his sins. It speaks to him of strength and stay in the midst of his sufferings and trials. But more simply, and, alas! less acceptably, it is meant to speak to him of the inevitable fate of all high ideals in the world. They are crucified; they are realized only through struggle and suffering. It is sometimes worth while to remember that there was nothing, so to say, supernatural in the circumstances of the Passion of the Saviour. They were the mere consequences of the antagonism of the spirit of the world to truth; and our Lord accepted them with loyal obedience. The disciple is not above his Master, and the Cross remains the symbol of combat quite as truly as the symbol of consolation.
II. The Gospel of Comfort.—Is there not need at this present time of reasserting these first principles of the Christian life? It is of all things the most futile to rail at the times in which we are called to live. For us, because they are ours, they are the best; they are the times in which the Providence of God has seen that we individually have the best chance of fulfilling the purpose for which we exist, and of rendering Him the service which is His due. Yet the true spirit of service in our own day and generation is to see in its characteristic dangers the appointed opportunities of Christian witness. I think we should all agree that one of the characteristics of the present day is its shrinking from the Cross, from the truth that high ideals mean exacting demands, that loyalty to them does not bring ease but struggle, and that their consequence is hardship rather than comfort. This danger comes indeed from one of the very merits of the time. It is the result of the excess of one of its special virtues. There never was a time when kindness of heart was more real, eager, and widespread. There is scarcely any class or any individual who is not filled with the desire to remove hardships, who is not sensitive to hard cases of human suffering, perplexity, and difficulty. Everywhere the one point upon which all sorts and conditions of men are united is in the ambition to spread around us the comforts of life. This diffusion of kindness of heart is indeed a thing for which to thank God and take courage. It is full of hope; it is a most cheering indication of the soundness of the heart of the people. Yet it brings its dangers with it It is apt to spread around us a certain softness and weakness, to loosen the moral fibre, to sap the foundations of resolute endurance and strenuous effort. Instead of speaking of the right to be comfortable, the Christian has rather to dwell upon the duty to be noble, to be self-respecting, strenuous, and ready to accept the law of stress and struggle in the moral life. The gospel of comfort which is being so sedulously preached at the present time becomes a danger unless it is checked, disciplined, and deepened by the Gospel of the Cross.
Men shrink, like St. Peter, from the approach of the Cross. It is just here that the Church of Jesus Christ must restore the balance. It must, in St. Paul's vigorous metaphor, openly placard the Cross before the eyes of men. Assuredly let it make wide its appeal, and attract men to itself and its cause by popular services and social recreation. Even more assuredly let it take its proper place in the van of all movements of charity, of all efforts to alleviate the lot of the poor, or increase and spread the opportunities of worthy human life. But when it has gained a hearing and won a place in the world let it never hesitate to set forth the Cross, to make it plain that Christianity means still a moral demand, stern and exciting. No greater service can be rendered at the present time to the nation by the Church than the service of strengthening its moral force by giving witness in its midst to the reality of moral discipline and by spreading through it the saving salt of sacrifice.
—Archbishop Gordon Lang, The Guardian, 10 June, 1910.
References.—XVI. 21.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Matthew IX.-XVII. p. 333. Newman Smyth, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. 1896, p. 221. XVI. 21-23.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvii. No. 2733. XVI. 21-24.—S. Chadwick, Humanity and God, p. 113. XVI. 21-26.—J. Parker, Hidden Springs, p. 61. XVI. 23.—F. E. Paget, Sermons for the Saints, p. 239. C. B. Jefferson, The Character of Jesus, p. 189. W. H. Murray, The Fruits of the Spirit, p. 346.
The Mark of the Disciple
The mark of the disciple, the characteristic which Jesus Himself looks for, is that we, like Him, deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him.
I. In the Scripture there are three words which express, with perfect insight, the darker and the more difficult experiences of a religious life. The three words are 'burden,' 'thorn,' and 'cross'.
1. By the word burden both the Old Testament and the New means all the inevitable care and strain of earthly life.
2. By the thorn we mean the experience of a keener anguish. It always points to some one singular trial. It describes some humbling infirmity, some mortifying disability, some weakness which makes us miserable, because it unfits us for our task.
3. The cross. Every man must bear his own burden. Every man has his thorn in the flesh. But the cross is not universal, and the cross can be escaped. Many men and women never bear a cross at all. Many can refuse if they will, and many do refuse. The whole spiritual tragedy of many who are not disciples of Christ will be found to lie here, that when the cross lay before them they refused it.
II. This truth is clear in the experience of Christ.
1. Jesus had His burden. The Gospels tell us a part of the story. His subjection to His parents, the toil of the carpenter's shop, the poverty of the home, His weariness and pain, the hunger and thirst, His enduring of the scorn and contempt of the rich and well-placed and successful—these were the burdens He shared with men.
2. Jesus had His thorn. I do not know, and no one knows, what Christ's thorn was. The thorn that Jesus could not escape, until released by death, may have been the hunger and the thirst of a heart famished for the sight of God's face.
3. But Jesus had His cross. He took it up. He might have laid it down. He faced His cross all through His ministry. At His baptism He laid it on His shoulders. In His temptation He bound it to Him with cords. As He passed on through life it was the invisible weight He carried. In the garden of Gethsemane He might have flung it down and gone out to make His peace with Caiaphas, to sit at Herod's table and talk enchantingly to him, and to find Himself an honoured guest in the house of Pilate. His cross was that life and death for sin which came to its consummation in His dying hour.
III. When we follow the suggestion of our text, we find—
1. That cross-bearing begins with a definite act. It begins in the hour when, in the depths of our will, we resolve to follow Christ.
2. Cross-bearing continues in a daily experience. There are two reasons for this. The first is that life does not stand still. We are continually passing into new circumstances, facing changed situations, meeting new problems and fresh temptations. And the second reason is that we ourselves change in character and in ideal. We grow into the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
3. Our cross can be borne only as we follow Christ. 'Let him deny himself,' said Jesus, declaring the first definite act. 'Take up his cross,' He adds, indicating the daily experience. 'Follow me,' He continues with a deeper note of appeal, giving us the secret of continuance.
What is the issue of this bearing of the cross? The issue of our cross is in our measure the same as the issue of Christ's cross. He bore His cross that He might save men, and we bear our cross that we may also be the saviours of our fellows. Whenever in the simplest and humblest way we bear our cross after Him, we save some life from sorrow and pain, some tempted one from his fall, some soul from death. And it is the men who have borne the burden and accepted the thorn who have also carried the cross.
— W. M. Clow, The Cross in Christian Experience, p. 231.
Illustrations.—1. Woe to him who seeks his own ease! Woe to him who shuns the Cross! because he will find others so weighty that they will overwhelm him.
—S. Vincent de Paul. 2.
Life is a burden; bear it.
Life is a duty; dare it.
Life is a thorn crown; wear it.
Though it break your heart in twain,
Though the burden crush you down;
Close your lips, and hide your pain:
First the cross, and then the crown. 3. Let us go on full of cheerfulness, and be sure that all our crosses will bear Christ with them, and that His help, which will never be wanting, will be more powerful than the combined efforts of all our enemies.
—S. Ignatius de Loyola.
Why a Young Man Is Not a Christian (Because He Does Not Understand What Christianity Is)
It may be a bold thing to say, but it is perfectly true, that a great many men are not Christians because they do not know the conditions of Christianity. The Christian Church is such an elaborate institution, with her buildings and her services, her sacraments and her ministers; and the Christian theology is so profound and complicated, with its doctrines about God and man, sin and salvation; and the Christian life has become so conventional, with its rules and customs,—that not one man out of twenty has ever got through the forms to the spirit or has ever looked at Christ in the Gospels with his own eyes and heard Him speak with his own ears. It does not matter that Christ spoke with the utmost clearness upon all occasions and was never plainer than in laying down the conditions of discipleship. If a hundred were placed at a table with a pencil and a sheet of paper before them, one wonders how many could write down what Christ demanded of His followers. One hazards the guess that there would be twenty different answers, and half of them at least would be beside the mark. This is a misfortune. Many more men would be Christians if they distinctly grasped the necessary elements of Christianity, but they have heard so much about Christianity that they really do not know what it is. In fact they cannot see the wood for the trees.
For instance, there is the man—and that is my point now—who is unable to call himself by the name of our Master upon intellectual grounds, either because he thinks he understands the doctrines of Christianity and cannot accept them, or because he thinks he is not fit to understand them, and so of course gives them up in despair. One is too honest, and the other is too modest to be a Christian; and the barrier in both cases is, say the Doctrine of the Trinity, or the Deity of Christ, or Election, or Future Punishment. This religion they feel is too theoretical and too learned, too much taken up with things which cannot be proved and which have no bearing on our present life. If Christianity were only stripped of her doctrines, and there never had been such a thing as the Nicene Creed; if Christianity had been only simply a practical principle of life, they also might have been Christians. And they give pledges of sincerity in this desire by listening to any voice that will speak plainly to the heart and conscience, and by openly admiring any Christian who lives the Sermon on the Mount. Here they say is something intelligible, and here is something excellent.
I. The theory of Christianity has nothing whatever to do with its practice. People use the telephone every day without understanding in the slightest degree how sound is conveyed by the electric wire, and we walk beneath the light of the stars without even knowing their names. Jesus left it to others, to St. Paul and to the theologians, to argue out Christianity; but He Himself brought Christianity near and made Christianity plain. From the beginning of His ministry to the end He asked no one to accept any creed, except to believe in Him; and there must be something wrong in the man who does not believe in Jesus Christ. What ails him in regard to Christ? What is wanting in Christ? Where did he ever see one better? Can he imagine any master greater? Christ indulged in no speculations, however fascinating, and however fruitful, from the day He met His first disciples on to the night He bade them good-bye. He always called to action, and was much more concerned about what a man did and what a man was than what he thought and said. Jesus did not make His plea with arguments about the origin of things and the nature of things, but with invitations to abandon that which was evil and to cleave to that which was good. A New Testament has been published in which our Lord's words throughout the whole book are printed in red, and it were worth while that a man should purchase that red-letter Testament in order to see what Christ really said. He will find that the words of the Lord are flung into relief not merely by the coloured type, but by their simplicity and beauty, by their reality and attractiveness.
II. What then does Jesus lay upon His disciples as the condition of Christianity if He does not lay doctrine? Two things; and both of them are most reasonable. He must be prepared to deny himself. And that does not mean that he should torture his body, or refuse the joy of life, or fetter himself by conventional habits, or be an ascetic in any shape or fashion; but it does mean that he should watch and curb his lower self. There are the remains of the beast in every one of us; and Christ expects a man to keep his passions in order, to live cleanly, to regulate his temper, to beat down envy, to overcome avarice. And the other demand is that he cultivate his higher self, for there is the prophecy of a saint in every one of us as well as the trace of a beast. Most of us indeed are half-way, and neither one nor the other. 'You must carry the Cross,' said Christ; and by this He meant that we must live for other people and not for ourselves, that we must make sacrifices to fulfil great ends, that we must accept heavy burdens to lighten weak shoulders, and that we must not be afraid of a little suffering. 'If any man would be My disciple,' Christ says, 'he must pledge himself to a great effort in his soul and life to kill the bad and feed the good.' Is not this intelligible, is not this reasonable, is not this admirable? Well, the man who is doing this with purpose of heart is a Christian.
—John Watson, Respectable Sins, p. 83.
References.—XVI. 24.—R. Winterbotham, Sermons and Expositions, p. 360. R. Higinbotham, Sermons, p. 162. H. P. Liddon, Sermons on Some Words of Christ, p. 78. C. Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. 1900, p. 219. J. H. Odell, ibid. vol. lviii. 1900, p. 324. S. D. McConnell, A Year's Sermons, p. 239.
I. Woven into the very texture of life, giving to it its sternness and its pathos, making it ofttimes a marvel or a tragedy, fixed by a mysterious law as the condition of fuller life of fruitful work and of assured glory, is the principle of sacrifice.
II. Sacrifice is the highest and the noblest act of a loving soul. There is a royalty in it that wins our instinctive homage. In it a man's or woman's true self—the Godlike regenerate self—that is so generally hidden and cramped by selfishness and conventionality is shown in its beauty and majesty: too loving to be selfish, too great to be conventional, splendid in its scorn of falsehood and wrong, it is a power of God which accomplishes an eternal work.
But we look away from this idealized manhood and womanhood, and we learn the secret of this transfiguring power of sacrifice.
Upon a Cross, uplifted between earth and heaven, pouring out His life in shame and agony, in darkness and dereliction, hangs the Son of Man, conquering the world and the devil, sin and death, by the uttermost sacrifice, and winning the victory and glory and crown of sacrifice for all humanity, consecrating pain and sorrow, and throwing upon the dread mystery of evil the light of the eternal purpose there fulfilled in love. 'It is finished.'
III. The disciples of the Crucified should be as their Master. Sharers of His life, they must follow Him in sacrifice.
Consider first some of the things that concern chiefly the outward life:—
1. Time is to be offered as a perpetual offering. First, by withdrawing, saving it from selfish uses. Secondly, by the watchful seizure and use of opportunities.
2. Work is an acceptible offering as we do it for God, and not as only for man.
3. Speech is a faculty to be used in God's service. So, too, in the things that belong to the inward life, sacrifice should find scope and material, as the human will is merged in the Divine will.
1. Thought should be so directed in prayer and watchfulness, so taught by meditation on holy things, that it may be won from the folly and evil, the malice and the passion, the foolish imaginations and the sentimentality that so often hold it, and that it may be surrendered, held as a little kingdom in which God only shall reign, a place in which He shall ever speak and be always heard, the voice of eternal Truth.
2. The affections, too, must be sincerely offered, ruled in the spirit of sacrifice that they may be both centred and satisfied in God.
Our inclinations, too, often conflict with the call of God, with the duties and claims of life, with Christian principles as we have been made to understand them. These also must be yielded lovingly and patiently.
IV. And there is another form of sacrifice. What is the particular sorrow, suffering, loss, that is the trial of life? It is a matter in which the will may be offered to God. As Christ completed the offering of His life upon the cross, so our spiritual troubles are a cross on which we, too, may truly offer ourselves as a complete and consummated sacrifice, which will effect to the full all that love can ask or desire.
—G. Brett, Fellowship With God, p. 33.
References.—XVI. 24, 25.—J. Vickery, Ideals of Life, p. 295. XVI. 24-26.—W. Hay M. H. Aitken, Mission Sermons (2nd Series), p. 125. XVI. 24-28.—F. D. Maurice, Sermons, p. 127; see also Lincoln's Inn Sermons, vol. iv. p. 110. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvii. No. 2729.
Losing the Soul to Save It
I. The sense of the passage turns upon one prominent word—what is meant by the soul or the life of man? The soul is the living principle.
And obviously the health or the sickness, the saving or the losing, the life or the death of this soul must be a matter of infinite moment to a man, both in time and in eternity, for it guides his actions, it regulates his affections, it influences his feeling; it is to his whole being what the mainspring is to a watch. It is in health when it works in harmony with purity and truth, and righteousness and love, which are the expression of God's own will, and when in the language of Scripture it is guided by the mind of the Spirit. It is diseased, it is dying, and is lost when it abandons itself to the jarring, jangling, lacerating, corrupting forces of a lower world, whose order is disorder—when, in fact it is given over to the mind of the flesh.
II. But how save the soul? The text gives the response: 'Save your soul by losing it, for you will never lose it by saving it'. So far as concerns the primary application of the words to the contrast between the earthly life and the heavenly, between God and the world, the meaning is obvious and easy. Whosoever prefers self, where truth, or honour, or love, or purity, or reverence, demands self-abegnation, self-abandonment, that man loses his soul, loses his life by saving it. But though the man who saves his soul is sure to lose it, yet it does not follow conversely that he who loses his soul will as certainly save it. In this latter case an important proviso is added, 'for My sake'.
'For My sake.' We dare not limit the words as if they applied only to sacrifices made consciously and directly in the cause of Christianity. If Christ be the very eternal word of God, the very expression of the Father's truth, of the Father's righteousness, of the Father's purity, of the Father's love, then the sacrifice of self to any one of these things is a saving of the soul by losing it.
III. Within the sphere of religion itself the same contrast and the same alternative may exist. It is possible to be anxious about saving the soul, to be extremely religious in a certain sense, but yet to risk the losing of it in the very desire of saving it. There are two ways of pursuing salvation, the true and the false. The false view takes a valetudinarian view of the soul and the functions of the spiritual being; it confines the soul to the sick chamber, withholding it from all healthy and vigorous exercise, and the soul pines and sickens and dies under the treatment. It is ruined by inconsiderate care; it is lost by being saved. The true method treats the soul as an active, healthy, living vitality, exposes it, adventures it, abandons it The soul must brace itself by vigorous exercise; and that it may drink in the free air and genial sunshine it must commit itself to the struggles and vicissitudes of life, must spend and be spent, must lose itself that it may be saved. The true method of salvation is a great venture of self, a forgetfulness of self, a going out of self.
—J. B. Lightfoot, Penny Pulpit vol. xii. No. 672, p. 43.
Reference.—XVI. 25.—A. H. Moncur Sime, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. 1898, p. 388.
The Soul: Its Meaning and Value
The word 'soul' is a great word; it is a religious word; it is made sometimes too narrowly a religious word.
I. Put the word 'soul' out until we need it. Let us read, 'What is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his sight?' That is a term you can comprehend. 'Soul' is metaphysical, spiritual, transcendental; but you know what you mean by your own eyes. What is a man profited, if he shall gain the world, and lose his eyes? What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his hearing? Not a man amongst you would give his sight for the world, would give his hearing for the world, and yet the man will give his soul for nothing. Such fools are men. You would not expect it to be so, but this is the miracle that is performed every day, that a man who would not give his sight for a mountain of gold, will sell his soul for one hour's forbidden pleasure Where is the wisdom? Here is impudent prudence, here the sagacity that quickly turns in upon itself and slays the soul that is proud of it.
II. Now we come back to the other point, and say that when you have given your soul you have given your sight. It is the soul that sees. For you have no pictures if you cannot see them; and you cannot see them if you have no soul. You can have acres of canvas, but no pictures. When you have paid your soul for your pleasures you have paid your hearing. It is the soul that hears. Oh, see the great master there, the one musician out of whom all other musicians seem to have been cut; you say, 'He is deaf,' but not in the soul, only in the flesh: it is his soul that hears; it is the soul that was Beethoven.
Take care of your soul—yourself. He that would save his life shall lose it. You will save your soul—yourself—best by giving yourself away in the spirit of Christ, under the inspiration and benediction of His Cross.
The soul is the secret and value of all things that are called practical.
The one thing that men forget, who boast of their being practical at the expense of their being religious, is the soul being required of them; they omit the element of responsibility, they omit the element of having to face God; their very calculation is absurd in its first line, and vicious in its mocking result. He is practical who works from the soul-centre.
III. Jesus came to save the soul. He did not come to save the body only. There was nothing so easy as healing sick bodies; Christ's difficulty was in saving the soul. He said, 'Nothing is worth doing but saving men'; and when He said men He meant souls, spirits, immortalities, the entity within that outlives the wreck of matter and the crash of worlds; that mysterious thing that will not die, that upper fruit that death's black hand cannot wrench from the living tree.
—Joseph Parker, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, p. 172.
The Nothingness of This World
We still crave for something, we do not well know what; but we are sure it is something which the world has not given us. And then its changes are so many, so sudden, so silent, so continual. It never leaves changing; it goes on to change, till we are quite sick at heart: then it is that our reliance on it is broken. It is plain we cannot continue to depend upon it, unless we keep pace with it, and go on changing too; but this we cannot do. We feel that, while it changes, we are one and the same; and thus, under God's blessing, we come to have some glimpse of the meaning of our independence of things temporal, and our immortality. And should it so happen that misfortunes come upon us (as they often do), then still more are we led to understand the nothingness of this world; then still more are we led to distrust it, and are weaned from the love of it, till at length it floats before our eyes merely as some idle veil, which, notwithstanding its many tints, cannot hide the view of what is beyond it; and we begin, by degrees, to perceive that there are but two beings in the whole universe, our own soul, and the God who made it.
—J. H. Newman.
References.—XVI. 26.—S. D. McConnell, A Year's Sermons, p. 24. R. W. Dale, Fellowship with Christ, p. 147. W. J. Knox-Little, The Journey of Life, p. 41. J. L. Muir-head, Pulpit Discourses, Berwick Presbytery, p. 50. J. W. King, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xli. 1892, p. 161. D. M. Ross, ibid. vol. li. 1897, p. 122. H. P. Liddon, Sermons Preached on Special Occasions, p. 75. M. R. Vincent, God and Bread, p. 21. J. Fraser, Parochial and other Sermons, p. 23. J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, p. 15.
From Thence He Shall Come to Judge the Quick and the Dead
I. Consider exactly what we mean and what we do not mean by judgement Most of us admit that there is need of some readjustment of things if the Ruler of the world is to deserve the name of just. Apart from revelation there would seem a probability amounting to a certainty that a day of rectification must be in store for a world now such a confusion and chance medley. Our holy Faith meets the human craving, and the Church presents a picture none can see unmoved of a last great and terrible day, with the Judge standing between the saved and the lost, and bidding one company enter heaven and the other depart to hell.
Men rehearsed the solemn words in which Christ describes the last judgment all through the ages of faith. The grandest music described the bliss of the saved, and the terrors of the lost. Painters like Michael Angelo and Tintoretto painted both in colours glowing with splendour.
II. How is it now? The reality which these images represented has been clouded and sicklied over by doubt owing to two mistakes. (1) Men have vulgarized the judgment side of the picture; (2) men have made free with the attributes of pardon and grace.
So we require the final judgment—to confirm some verdicts and to reverse others. The question of the method of the Advent Assize of the universe is left in darkness. But that a process like that which the Bible represents must conclude the world drama we may confidently believe.
III. Do not think of the final judgment as a grand pageant invented by theologians and embodied in colour and music by painters and musicians. It will be as real as life itself. And if you ask, what shall I do now? this minute I say, 'Judge therefore yourselves that ye be not judged of the Lord'. There is a saying of Christ which shows very clearly how we are being judged now, and by what we are judged. 'He that rejecteth Me and receiveth not My words hath One that judgeth him; the word that I have spoken the same shall judge him in the last day.' We shall be judged by the standard Christ set up.
At that last judgment there will be not only a scrutiny but a readjustment. After the scrutiny there will be a reversal of man's judgments in many cases. Those who are now considered saints and heroes may prove to be pretenders; the humble and neglected will meet recognition and reward. In the great day the judge will be our Lord, who is all-knowing, so we may be as sure of His charity as of His wisdom, for charity is the daughter of knowledge.
—C. H. Butcher, The Sound of a Voice that is Still, p. 87.
References.—XVI. 27.—W. Garrett Horder, The Other World, p. 71. B. F. Westcott, The Historic Faith, p. 87. George Salmon, Gnosticism and Agnosticism, p. 272. XVI. 28.—H. C. Mabie, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxviii. 1905, p. 374. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x. No. 594. XVII. 1.—J. D. Jones, The Gospel of Grace, p. 189. XVII. 1, 2.—Reuen Thomas, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. 1898, p. 182. H. Scott Holland, ibid, vol. lv. 1899, p. 33. 'Plain Sermons' by contributors to the Tracts for the Times, vol. iii. p. 223. XVII. 1-5.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvi. No. 2658. XVII. 1-7.—R. Bickerdike, Penny Pulpit, vol. xiv. No. 820, p. 241. XVII. 1-8.—A. B. Davidson, Waiting upon God, p. 139. W. A. Gray, The Shadow of the Hand, p. 217. XVII. 1-13.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvii. No. 2729. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Matthew IX.-XVII. p. 343. XVII. 2.—G. Campbell Morgan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. 1901, p. 364. W. G. Davies, ibid. vol. lxiv. 1903, p. 411. W. Alexander, The Great Question, p. 213. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvii. No. 2729. XVII. 3.—W. Howell Evans, Sermons for the Church's Year, p. 163.
He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red.
And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?
A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed.
And when his disciples were come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread.
Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.
And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have taken no bread.
Which when Jesus perceived, he said unto them, O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread?
Do ye not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets ye took up?
Neither the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets ye took up?
How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees?
Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.
When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?
And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.
He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.
From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.
Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.
But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.
For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.