Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?Spiritual Sins
I. Spiritual Envy.—Our text relates to the first occasion. Our Lord has just taken St. Peter, St. James and St. John away from the other disciples into the Mount of Transfiguration. The other disciples had doubtless plied them with questions, but they could get no information from them as to what had happened. We can understand their thought—how on the part of the nine disciples there may have been envy at this time, envy of the other three because of the greater privilege which they enjoyed. There is, I am afraid, a disposition on the part of very many to envy those to whom Heaven has given blessings it has withheld from ourselves. We imagine that others are the favourites of Heaven. How does our Lord rebuke this spirit in the disciples? He takes a little child and sets that little child in the midst of them, as much as to say, 'God has no favourites. God loves all, even this little child.' You must receive this little child, and you must not imagine for a single moment that though God gives certain privileges to certain men which He denies to other men, these men therefore are the special favourites of Heaven. He has denied them to you because for your work they are not necessary. So it seemed good to the Father for the working out of His own great purposes in the world.' On the other hand there may have been on the part of the other three a creeping in of pride that they had been thus singled out by the Master, that they had been admitted, as it were, into a great secret, and there was a temptation, it may be, to be proud towards the others. If there is anything of that kind, how the great Master scorns it. He tells these very men, that if there is one thing they are to beware of it is of this pride. Christ would teach both those who envy others and those who may be tempted to be proud of their gifts. He wants them to remember that these gifts are given for the building up of the Church, and not on account of their own merit.
II. Spiritual Ambition.—In St. Matthew 20:20 the circumstances are quite different. Our Lord has just foretold His coming death, and St. James and St. John are able to look through this announcement of the coming Cross and see the Kingdom beyond, and so they came to him and asked Him that they might sit one on His right hand and the other on His left in His kingdom. The other disciples are moved with envy of these two, and so our Lord speaks to the other ten. 'Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister.' There is an ambition which our Lord Jesus Christ does not blame. He does not blame this ambition of St. James and St. John. It was splendid faith, which was able to believe that even though there was to be the Cross there was certain to be the Crown. It was splendid faith which, just at that moment, when He foretold His Cross, was able to keep its eye fixed upon the Throne; and there was courage which enabled them to endure everything for the sake of that Throne. And Jesus Christ tells us how it is to be obtained. God helping, it is to be obtained by resignation, by submission, by drinking of the cup, by being ready to be baptized with the death. There must be a perfect submission of your life to God. The only man who really commands the homage of other men is the man who is willing to serve.
III. Spiritual Pride.—The third occasion upon which there is this strife as to who shall be the greatest is in St. Luke 22:24. They have now entered the upper chamber, and our Lord has told them, 'One of you shall betray Me'. And we read in the twenty-fourth verse, 'There was also a strife amongst them, which of them should be accounted the greatest'. Now it is more difficult to see exactly what led to strife on this third occasion, but I think, putting all the verses together, this strife, seems to have arisen after our Lord said, 'One of you shall betray Me'. They seem to have looked one upon the other, doubting to whom He spoke. No doubt afterwards they began to ask, 'Lord, is it I?' I do not think they asked that question first. At first they began to think it must be one of the others who was going to betray Him. I fancy then one and the other began to think, 'At any rate I will never betray Him'; and I fancy that this strife as to who was the greatest may be accounted for by that attitude at that moment. Our Lord rises from supper, takes a towel and girds Himself, and then goes round and washes all their feet, and then He comes and takes His garments and sits down again. Then they had learnt the lesson, and I venture to think that this third is an occasion of spiritual pride, looking down upon others because of some fancied superiority in spiritual things. How does our Lord deal with it? He teaches them that all need cleansing—St. Peter as well as all the rest—and He will go round and wash all their feet; and then they learn the lesson. Then, instead, of looking one upon another, doubting of whom He speaks, they begin to ask, crestfallen, 'Lord, is it I?' They begin to imagine there are signs of sin in themselves which could produce even such a dastardly deed as that.
References.—XVIII. 1.—J. A. Bain, Questions Answered by Christ, p. 40. James Denney, Gospel Questions and Answers, p. 98. XVIII. 1-3.—H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxii. 1907, p. 267. J. H. Thom, A Spiritual Faith, p. 199. J. Martineau, Hours of Thought, vol. ii. p. 304. XVIII. 1-4.—H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. 1894, p. 161. XVIII. 1-6—Stopford A. Brooke, ibid. vol. xli. 1892, p. 393. XVIII. 1-6, 10-14.—D. Fraser, Metaphors in the Gospels, p. 158. XVIII. 1-14.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Matthew XVIII.-XXVIII. p. 1.
A Child in the Midst (christmas)
I. At Christmas time, especially, we bethink ourselves of those words of His. Whatever other meanings this sacred festival may have, this perhaps is the most prominent thought of it. Once a year a Divine child is set in the midst of us. Incarnate God and yet a little child. One who grew up to a perfect man and to possess all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, yet never left behind, as we do, the things which make childhood attractive. One who was called by His disciples to the last, 'Thy holy child Jesus'.
II. All grown-up people at some time or other have longed for or dreamed of a return to childhood, and sighed as they realized the impossibility of it. Truly the lessons which we most need to learn are just those which are breathed forth from the artless lips and shouted in the innocent delights of a happy, hopeful child. And so at Christmas time, the child Jesus seats Himself in the midst and speaks to us. He bids the doctors depart, and the sages be silent, and the world's science hold its lips, and the din of politics hush itself, and the clamours of prejudice and passion be still, that we may take in His heavenly teaching of faith, and innocence, and joy.
III. There are times when we get a little weary of all the grand talk about knowledge, and genius, and brilliant statesmanship, and the march of science and invention, and the cleverness of human foresight, and the omniscience of intellect, and the victories won over material forces, and the triumphs of civilization, and the cunning of worldly men. We have a suspicion that it is not doing for us all that the boasters say, that civilization does not quite mean paradise, and that grasp of mind is not the same thing as rest of soul. And therefore we will sit down at the feet of the child Jesus, and pray together that science may learn His humility, that intellect may have His reverence, that commerce may drink from His wells of purity and justice, that riches may clothe themselves with His simplicity and be filled with His self-denying spirit, that education and enlightenment may have their cold, freezing light made warm and gentle with His love, and that the nations as they ring the bells in honour of His nativity may bethink themselves of the spirit of the Divine child whom they worship, and gather from His simple innocence lessons of sublimest wisdom.
—J. G. Greenhough, Christian Festivals and Anniversaries, p. 220.
The Child in the Midst (For Holy Innocents' Day)
Today's festival reminds us of the majesty with which childhood is invested in the Gospel.
I. Characteristics of Little Children.—Fresh from the waters of baptism they are worthy to be companions to the holy angels. Theirs is the life spiritual, unsullied as yet by the life natural. Then, as intelligence begins to dawn, we notice their guilelessness and simplicity; their trustfulness and confiding faith; their truthfulness. They forgive most readily and forget right soon. They are ever hopeful. The memory of past sorrow passes from them with incredible swiftness; and straightway the mirror is as bright as ever. Is it fanciful to note the very slender hold they have on the things of earth? Their hold upon the things of earth is, at all events, speedily relaxed; while possessions, infancy has none.
II. There seems to be much Tender Beauty and fine catholic instinct and Gospel grace in this Feast of the Holy Innocents—this day kept in honour of the babes of Bethlehem, whereby God caused infants to glorify Him by their deaths.
III. There was the Further Design of administering a yearly word of consolation, in this way, to parents. Scarcely a family is there in which some blossoms of hope have not been snatched away before they opened into flowers of promise, or ripened into fruits of joy. A balm has been provided in this day's commemoration for the heart of many a parent whose child has been taken home. The Lord Jesus has called the child and set him in the midst, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.
References.—XVIII. 2.—E. A. Draper, The Gift of Strength, p. 60. E. Fowle, Plain Preaching to Poor People (7th Series), p. 49. T. E. Ruth, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiv. 1908, p. 97. XVIII. 2, 3.—H. Jones, ibid. vol. xxxvii. 1890, p. 86. W. H. Brookfield, Sermons, p. 47.
What is there about little children which must also be found in those of a ripe age who would be citizens of the kingdom of God?
I. Pure Affection.—In childhood, affection is spring-water. It just bubbles up most naturally, and is pure and delicious. In manhood, affection is too often tap-water. It has flowed through pipes of expediency, prudence, and calculation, and it has lost its sparkle and limpidity. 'Master, who shall be greatest in the kingdom of heaven?' There you have affection which is losing its purity, affection with a selfish aim, affection yoked to personal ambition. The Lord wants us to have the pure, uncalculating love of little children. He wants us to live so much with Him that to love Him shall be our highest bliss.
II. Fine Sensitiveness—A child's spirit is like a photographer's sensitive plate, exceedingly impressionable, responding to the daintiest touch of the softest light. The joys and sorrows of the world find in children a most ready and sympathetic response. This fine sensitiveness is apt to be lost as childhood is left behind. Our impressionableness is prone to lose its delicacy. The grief and happiness of the world do not move us with the same facility as of old. Our character is inclined to harden in one of two directions—towards a gloomy pessimism or towards a glaring worldliness. The child disposition may be symbolized by the month of April. April weather easily breaks into sunshine, and quite as easily melts into rain. We pass either into the dull heavy, pessimistic gloom of November, and it is difficult to move us into smiles, or into the hard, worldly glare of June, when it is difficult to melt us into tears.
III. Open-Mindedness.—Childhood is an age of eager questionings, and not of dogmatic conclusions. It is a season of keen receptiveness, of intense love of the sweet light. Now that open-mindedness is apt to be lost with the growth of our years. Revelation is regarded as closed; the volume as ended; all light as given; so that our knowledge can now be arranged in final forms. That was certainly the condition of the people among whom Christ's earthly ministry was passed. Their minds were closed, shut up tight against the reception of any new revelation from God. There were two forces actively at work closing their minds, and they are quite as active Today, the forces of pride and prejudice. When these abound in a life, every door and window is closed, and the 'Light of the World' will seek admission in vain.
—J. H. Jowett, Meditations for Quiet Moments, p. 35.
The call to be children is Christ's supreme call. Failure to meet it was the cardinal sin of the respectable religious people of that day.
I. We must repent, and be like children. How easy and simple it is for a child to repent—how bitter for us! The truth is we are afraid—afraid to repent lest love and faith should carry us we know not where. We cover ourselves with many wrappings of position, calling, philosophy, just because we are cowards, and dare not face ourselves. Half the problems we think so dark, half the difficulties we multiply so proudly, take their origin in this. We dare not be alone. 'I was afraid and hid myself, because I was naked.'
And yet the natural line is that of Christ—to feel sorry like a child, humble like a small schoolboy who knows he is at the bottom. This is all we can do, when the facts stream in upon us. This, above all else, divides us from the world. We do, they do not, think repentance and humility a duty. Our enemies tell us that we are not better than they are, and often worse. Alas! we know it. It is because we are bad that we want to touch the hem of His garment, not because we are good.
II. But though it begins with humbled grief, repentance does not end there. The child who says he is sorry always adds, I'll try and never do it again. That faith in the future, even more than the grief, is the note of the Christian. He believes, the world does not believe, that with God's help he may become better.
III. For the child's repentance, and the child's amendment we need the inexhaustible faith of childhood, its infinite and inalienable romance. That which springs up naturally in human childhood is for us the supreme gift, a grace to be sought with prayer—this faith, that is at the root of the careless gladness of children, and of the ease and buoyancy of saints like St. Francis—this faith so uplifting, so hard to win, yet so essential. For without it where are we? Whether we look at the prospects of the Church or our own life, probability, rational calculation, common sense are all ranged on the cynic's side.
People talk of the Church in danger—the Church is always in danger; the miracle is not in her weakness, but in her existence. It is only as we throw ourselves on God that we shall certainly conquer—for 'of ourselves we have no power to help ourselves'. Yet with that aid victory is not merely likely, but certain.
—J. Neville Figgis, The Gospel and Human Needs, p. 155.
Becoming As Little Children
What did our Lord mean by bidding us become as little children? Let us recall the circumstances in which our Lord spoke about the children; and we shall at once see.
I. The most striking of His references to children comes in that very solemn warning against despising them. 'Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones, for I say unto you that their angels in heaven do always behold the face of My Father in heaven.' The imagery is drawn from the court of a king. Those who see the king's face are they who stand immediately in his presence and are especially in his confidence. It is the privilege of innocent children to be very sure of God, to speak to Him familiarly in prayer, to rest in the assurance of His protection.
II. A second childlike quality which if we lose we must recover before we can be of the kingdom, is sincerity. The prayer, 'I thank Thee, O Father,' etc., was uttered after the rejection of His Gospel by the elders of the Jews and its acceptance by the band of Apostles; and to that it must refer. And, I would ask you, is not one of the most characteristic qualities of children this habit of theirs of looking straight at things and people and judging them to the best of their power without either prejudice or fear of consequences? This is the characteristic recognized in Hans Andersen's delightful story of the Emperor's Robe, which everybody pretended to see and admire, until a child cried out that there was no robe at all to see. Plainly it was this childlike sincerity in the Apostles—what our Lord called 'the single eye'—that distinguished them from the Pharisees and enabled them to receive a new revelation.
III. There is a third childlike quality to which our Lord calls attention, which also, if we have unhappily lost, we must labour to win back again—un-pretentiousness, the absence of self-importance.
How can this temper be recovered? Clearly we cannot recover the unconscious unpretentiousness of childhood. But there are two or three things we can do. (1) We can aim at taking a real and unaffected interest in others, looking for their good qualities and valuing them. (2) We can make ourselves give exact reasons for any dislikes we feel. (3) We can at anyrate apply the check at the point where the unchristian feeling passes into word or deed.
—H. C. Beeching, Church Family Newspaper, 3 April, 1908, p. 302.
You have the child's character in these four things—Humility, Faith, Charity, and Cheerfulness. That's what you have got to be converted to. 'Except ye be converted, and become as little children.' You hear much of conversion nowadays; but people always seem to think they have got to be made wretched by conversion, to be converted to long faces. No, friends, you have got to be converted to short ones; you have to repent into childhood, to repent into delight and delightsomeness.
—Ruskin, Crown of Wild Olive.
Wordsworth has told us the law of his own mind, the fulfilment of which has enabled him to reveal a new world of poetry: Wisdom is ofttimes nearer when we stoop, Than when we soar. That it is so likewise in religion, we are assured by those most comfortable words, Except ye become as little children, ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. The same truth is well expressed in the aphorism, which Charles the First, when he entered his name on the books at Oxford, in 1616, subjoined to it: Si vis omnia subjicere, subjice te rationi. Happy would it have been for him, if that which flowed thus readily from his pen had also been graven upon his heart. He would not then have had to write it on the history of his country with characters more glaring and terrible than those of ink.
References.—XVIII. 3.—M. Dods, Christ and Man, p. 226. Henry Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iii. pp. 67, 116. F. B. Woodward, Sermons (2nd Series), p. 1; see also Selected Sermons, p. 58. XVIII. 3, 4.—S. H. Kellogg, The Past a Prophecy of the Future, p. 157. XVIII. 4.—Stopford A. Brooke, Short Sermons, pp. 152, 158. XVIII. 4, 5.—A. Murray, The Children for Christ, p. 233. XVIII. 5.—J. B. Mozley, Sermons Parochial and Occasional, p. 297. XVIII. 6, 7.—H. Ward Beecher, Sermons (1st Series), p. 511.
Causing Others to Sin
These is a sin which very many people think little about, the sin of making others sin. It is a real sin, a common sin, and a very dreadful sin. It was the first sin committed in the world, for it was the sin of the tempter who tempted the woman to disobey God; and it was the first fruit of the Fall of man, for the first thing which the woman did when she had sinned herself was to make the man sin also. It has ever been the great means of keeping sin alive and strong in the world; one generation has taught the next, and handed on its fatal tradition of evil.
I. Besides all sins, then, that we may commit ourselves for our own pleasure or advantage, out of the wickedness and folly of our own hearts, there is yet this burden, the sin of making others sin. And this may be in two ways. It may be in the way of direct temptation. I am not speaking of those who tempt others, as the devil tempts men, for the sake of making them do wrong. I am speaking of people who, when they are doing wrong themselves, do not care about, or see the additional harm and sin, of dragging others into it with them.
II. But the sin of making others sin comes in yet another way than that of direct temptation to others. It comes more subtly and secretly, and in a sense more awfully, because less under our direct control, in the example which others see in us and follow. We forget what we are doing merely by our example. We forget what wrong things we are sanctioning, not by trying to make others do them, but by letting them see that we do them without check or fear. We forget that the sins which we thus, often from mere thoughtlessness, encourage, are apt to increase tenfold in those who quote us for their warrant and pattern.
III. And is this a sin to think little about—the sin of making others to sin? Surely it is one which we ought to take account of when we are trying to realize to ourselves what will be the strict and just judgment of God on our heart and life.
—R. W. Church, Village Sermons (2nd Series), p. 255.
References.—XVIII. 7.—J. B. Lightfoot, Cambridge Sermons, p. 248. W. G. Rutherford, The Key of Knowledge, p. 134. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, part iii. p. 178.
Self-mutilation for Self-preservation
We mark these three points. First, the case supposed, 'If thy hand or thy foot cause thee to stumble'. Then the sharp, prompt remedy enjoined, 'cut them off and cast them from thee'. Then the solemn motive by which it is enforced, 'It is better for thee to enter into life maimed than, being a whole man, to be cast into hell-fire '. I. 'The case supposed.'
1. Hand and foot and eye are, of course, regarded as organs of the inward self, and symbols of its tastes and capacities. Our Lord takes an extreme case. If members of the body are to be amputated and plucked out should they cause us to stumble, much more are associations to be abandoned and occupations to be relinquished and pleasures to be forsaken if they draw us away. But it is to be noticed that the whole stringency of the commandment rests upon that if. 'If they cause thee to stumble,' then, and not else, amputate. The powers are natural, the operation of them is perfectly innocent, but a man may be ruined by innocent things. And, says Christ, if that process is begun, then, and only then, does My exhortation come into force.
2. Then there is another point to be observed in this case supposed, and that is that the whole matter is left to the determination of personal experience. Nobody else has a right to decide for you what it is safe and wise for you to do in regard of things which are not in themselves wrong. Do not let your Christian liberty be interfered with by other people's dictation in regard of this matter.
3. But, on the other hand, do not you be led away into things that damage you because some other man does them, as he supposes, without injury. There are some Christian people who are simply very unscrupulous and think themselves very strong; and whose consciences are not more enlightened, but less sensitive than the 'narrow-minded brethren' upon whom they look.
4. It does not mean that we are to abandon all things that are susceptible of abuse, for everything is so; and if we are to regulate our conduct by such a rule, it is not the amputation of a hand that will be sufficient.
5. Nor does the injunction mean that unconditionally we are to abandon all occupations in which there is danger. It can never be a duty to shirk a duty because it is dangerous.
II. 'Cut it off and cast it from thee.'
Entire excision is the only safety. I myself am to be the agent of that. That is to say, we are to suppress capacities, to abandon pursuits, to break with associates when we find that they are damaging our spiritual life and hindering our likeness to Jesus Christ. We have to empty our hands of earth's trivialities if we would grasp Christ with them. We have to turn away our eyes from earth if we would behold the Master; and rigidly to apply this principle of excision in order that we may advance in the Divine life.
Then it is not to be forgotten that this commandment, stringent and necessary as it is, is second best. The man is maimed, although it was for Christ's sake that he cut off his hand, or put out his eye. His hand was given him that with it he might serve God, and the highest thing would have been that in hand and foot and eye he should have been anointed, like the priests of old, for the service of His Master. But until he is strong enough to use the faculty for God, the wisest thing is not to use it at all.
III. Christ rests His command of self-denial and self-mutilation upon the highest ground of self-interest. 'It is better for thee.'
The maimed man may enter into life, and the complete man may perish. The maimed man may touch Christ with his stump, and so receive life, and the complete man may lay hold of the world and the flesh and the devil with his hands, and so share in their destruction.
—A. Maclaren, Christ in the Heart, p. 293.
References.—XVIII. 8.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Matthew XVIII.-XXVIII. p. 9. F. B. Woodward, Sermons (1st Series), p. 47; see also Selected Sermons, p. 9. XVIII. 8, 9.—P. N. Waggett, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiii. 1908, p. 205.
Dying to Live
There is and there can be (according to our Lord) for all men but one supreme end and aim—to 'enter into life'. To 'enter into life' means (if we may attempt to define the expression) to enter into conscious and purposeful fellowship with God: first, here; and then, hereafter. This is the supreme aim; and all that interferes with it—even though it be good in itself, as it often is—must be ruthlessly sacrificed.
I. It is clear that this conception of our Lord's is opposed to two widely contrasted ideals.
1. It is opposed to asceticism, in the more common use of that word. For it is evident that while our Lord regards the possession of 'two eyes' or 'two feet' as good in itself, and only counsels their sacrifice for the sake of something better, asceticism regards the sacrifice as in itself desirable and praiseworthy. Our Lord would prefer that we should use and enjoy all our faculties; that the world should be full of men with keen eyes and strong arms; asceticism would regard the one-eyed or the one-armed man as superior to normal and healthy human beings; it would exult in a maimed and mutilated humanity.
2. It is equally opposed to what is sometimes called æstheticism. Æstheticism proclaims that the main object of man is to see and to feel. It declares that art is free, and must be free, from all moral considerations. It professes to worship the beautiful—the eye must see, both eyes must see, all that is to be seen, whether they 'offend,' 'cause one to stumble,' or no. Its aim—preserved at all costs—was to have two eyes and two hands—to enjoy what it would call a 'full and complete life'.
II. Now let us be quite sure that the religion of Christ is no enemy to art or culture. But while the religion of Christ finds full scope—in its teaching and in its practice: in architecture, in stained-glass windows, in the music of the Church—for the love of beauty to find its expression even in worship, it has never been forgetful of the awful danger which may beset, and often has beset, those who make the pleasure of the senses, even in their most refined forms, the great end of life.
This, at any rate, is what the Christian religion says. It says that a full life is a good thing, but a sound life is a better; and that to have a sound life—a healthy life—to 'see salvation'—we must, if necessary, be prepared to sacrifice some of the fullness.
III. It is better 'to enter into life'. For notice that whatever the sacrifice required in the present, the end is to be a fuller, not an emptier existence. If the lower is to go, it is only that the higher may be preserved. 'Whosoever will lose his life shall save it.'
—H. R. Gamble, Christianity and Common Life, p. 105.
Illustration.—All parts of our nature were made by God. The best thing is that we should be able fully to exercise all our faculties; but we must be safe at the centre before we can be free at the circumference. Whatever exposes us to temptation that is too strong for us must at any cost be abandoned.
What is Contempt, George Meredith asks in his Essay on Comedy, 'but an excuse to be idly minded, or personally lofty, or comfortably narrow, not perfectly humane?... Anger is not much less foolish than disdain.'
He who despises mankind will never get the best out of either others or himself.'
References.—XVIII. 10.—G. H. Morrison, Sunrise, p. 62. Morgan Dix, Sermons Doctrinal and Practical, p. 40. H. Varley, Spiritual Light and Life, p. 161. H. P. Liddon, Penny Pulpit, No. 467. F. E. Paget, Sermons for the Saints' Days, p. 89. W. Boyd Carpenter, The Burning Bush, p. 21. J. S. Maver, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxii. 1902, p. 438. A. J. Forson, ibid. vol. lxxii. 1907, p. 313. XVIII. 10, 11.—J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. ii. p. 315; see also Readings for the Aged (3rd Series), p. 227. XVIII. 11.—R. Davidson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. 1898, p. 26. Horace Bushnell, Christ and His Salvation, p. 57. XVIII. 12.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Matthew XVIII.-XXVIII. p. 19. XVIII. 12, 13.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxv. No. 2083. XVIII. 12, 14.—Cosmo Gordon Lang, Thoughts on Some of the Parables of Jesus, p. 263. XVIII. 13.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Matthew XVIII.-XXVIII. p. 29. XVIII. 14.—C. Vince, The Unchanging Saviour, p. 103. H. Montagu Butler, Harrow School Sermons, p. 230. Henry Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iv. p. 257.
With a little more patience and a little less temper, a gentler and wiser method might be found in almost every case; and the knot that we cut by some fine heady quarrel-scene in private life, or, in public affairs, by some denunciatory act against what we are pleased to call our neighbour's vices, might yet have been unwoven by the hand of sympathy.—R. L. Stevenson, Across the Plains, p. 314.
When a man is to be amended, it becomes the office of a friend to urge his faults and vices with all the energy of enlightened affection, to paint them in their most vivid colours, and to bring the moral patient to a better habit.
You reprove me like a friend, and nothing comes so welcome to me as to be told of my faults.
—Walpole to Mason.
Professor York Powell describes Richard Shute, the Oxford scholar, as a man 'who had devotion enough for his friends to tell them when he thought they had got on the wrong path, and he would manage this with singular tact, so that a man, however young and vain, could hardly feel his raw self-respect hurt, even though Shute spoke plainly enough to show him his full folly. Not many men of his years have courage to help their friends in spite of themselves.'
References.—XVIII. 15-17.—E. Griffith Jones, The Cross and the Dice-Box, pp. 53, 69. Lyman Abbott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 156. XVIII. 15-27.—G. Jackson, ibid. vol. lviii. 1900, p. 284. XVIII. 17.—W. Binnie, Sermons, p. 202. W. Farquhar Hook, Hear the Church, p. 3. XVIII. 18.—C. Silvester Home, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. 1893, p. 35. XVIII. 18-20.—J. Laidlaw, Studies in the Parables, p. 283. XVIII. 19.—R. W. Church, Village Sermons (2nd Series), p. 274. K. Lahusen, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiii. 1908, p. 363. XVIII. 19, 20.—'Plain Sermons' by contributors to the Tracts for the Times, vol. ii. p. 206.
This text has no special reference to meetings for worship, but includes these as well as all others. Christ's own definition of a Church is independence of all times and places.
I. Social Worship—its Grounds.
(1) The necessity of worship as the expression of religion. (2) The necessity of private worship from the individuality of man and the tensely individual character of the acts of religion. (3) Necessity of social worship from the equally obvious destination of man for society.
II. Social Worship—its Nature.
(1) 'In My name.' That is, He, Christ, is the bond of union. It must be in conscious obedience to Him, as opposed to a mere formal meeting. (2) It should be as far as possible the engagement of the whole man. (3) It should be common prayer involving the participation of all, possibly formal. (4) It should have the two parts, speaking to God and to man.
III. The Blessings of Social Worship.
(1) The help to deeper devotion in the outward associations of fixed times and places. These material helps are like reservoirs which hold supplies that feed a town. (2) The expression and help to highest unity. A counterbalance to personal cares and peculiarities. Our prayers are apt to take one special form; selfish wishes, personal peculiarities. (3) Revelation of the oneness beneath all social and intellectual distinctions. (4) That the Gospel alone has preaching thus embedded in its services. The living voice will always be the most potent instrument for the conversion of men.
The devout meditation of the isolated man, which flitted through his soul, like a transient tone of Love and Awe from unknown lands, acquires certainty, continuance, when it is shared by his brother men. Where two or three are gathered together in the name of the Highest, then first does the Highest, as it is written, appear among them to bless them; then first does an Altar and act of united Worship open a way from Earth to Heaven; whereas, were it but a single Jacob's ladder, the heavenly Messengers will travel, with glad tidings and unspeakable gifts for men.
References.—XVIII. 20.—A. A. Bonar, British Weekly Pulpit, vol. ii. p. 237. B. F. Westcott, The Historic Faith, p. 115. C. C. Collins, Public Worship in the City Churches, Sermons, 1895-99. F. S. Webster, In Remembrance of Me, p. 11. J. Wright, The Guarded Gate, p. 171. Lyman Abbott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxix. 1891, p. 156. H. Scott Holland, ibid. vol. xlvii. 1895, p. 385; see also vol. lvii. 1900, p. 393. F. Temple, ibid. vol. lii. 1897, p. 216. J. G. Stevenson, ibid. vol. lxv. 1904, p. 17. E. Cornwall-Jones, ibid. vol. lxxi. 1907, p. 245. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx. No. 1761. XVIII. 21.—J. A. Bain, Questions Answered by Christ, p. 46. C. Parsons Reichel, Sermons, p. 362. XVIII. 21, 22.—G. Jackson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxiv. 1903, p. 38.
When thou turn'st away from ill,
Christ is this side of thy hill.
When thy heart says, 'Father, pardon,'
Then the Lord is in thy garden.
When to love is all thy wit,
Christ doth at thy table sit.—
'If you are exchanging measurable maxims for immeasurable principles,' wrote F. W. Robertson in a letter, 'you are surely rising from the mason to the architect. "Seven times?"—no—no—no—Seventy times seven. No maxim—a heart principle. I wonder whether St. Peter wholly understood that, or got a very clear conception from it.'
References.—XVIII. 22.—C. S. Robinson, Simon Peter, p. 310. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Matthew XVIII.-XXVIII. p. 37. XVIII. 23-25.—A. Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xli. 1892, p. 68. R. Winterbotham, The Kingdom of Heaven, p. 111. T. Guthrie, Parables of Our Lord, p. 242. XVIII. 25.—S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. ii. p. 184. XVIII. 27-34, 35.—J. H. Jellett, The Elder Son, p. 55. XVIII. 28.—A. R. Buckland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. 1893, p. 316. XVIII. 32, 33.—W. H. Hutchings, Sermon-Sketches (2nd Series), p. 221. A. G. Mortimer, Life and Its Problems, p. 71.
The correcting, hallowing, consoling rush of pity.
'Nothing,' says Charlotte Brontë, of her sister Emily, 'nothing moved her more than any insinuation that the faithfulness and clemency, the long-suffering and loving-kindness which are esteemed virtues in the daughters of Eve become foibles in the sons of Adam. She held that mercy and forgiveness are the Divinest attributes of the Great Being who made both man and woman, and that what clothes the Godhead in glory can disgrace no form of feeble humanity.'
References.—XVIII. 33.—F. E. Paget, Faculties and Difficulties for Belief and Unbelief, p. 201. Henry Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. v. p. 184. A. MacLeod, Days of Heaven Upon Earth, p. 100.
The Unjust Steward
This parable does not deal with the limits of human mercifulness, but with its ground and pattern. If we understand these, we shall not need to ask, as St. Peter asked, 'How often?' for the question will answer itself.
I take the whole parable for consideration, and I think we shall find that it yields us great thoughts about our relations to God and men.
I. The King and his Debtor.—The analogy between sin and debt is imperfect, and we are not to look for correspondence between the details of the parable and the realities of men's relation to God.
The one point is the immense sum owing. The debt is stated in talents—each talent represents a large sum. So each sin against God is great.
II. The Debtor's Prayer.—Here again the imperfect analogy, for no future righteousness can wipe out past sin. 'I will pay thee all.' How long would it take a penniless bankrupt to amass 10,000 talents?
III. The King's Mercy.—This is as great as his severity had been. He is moved with compassion. He goes far beyond the debtor's petition. What seems all but incredible in men and rarely found in them represents God's mercy.
IV. The Contrast between the Treatment Shown to the Forgiven Debtor and his Treatment to his Debtor.—He had just been the object of mercy which should have made his heart glow. He had come through the agonies of an experience which should have made him very tender and very ready to do as he had been done by. The hands which were wrung in agony and entreaty are now throttling his 'fellow-servant'. Such inconsistency excites the notice of his fellow-servants, who tell it to the Lord. The world will be quick to notice if Christians show malice and unmercifulness. Note that 'wrath' comes in here for the first time. Unmercifulness in a recipient of God's mercy is a worse sin than many which are more recognized. The cancelled debt is revived. It is a solemn thought that if we cherish any feelings but those of merciful readiness to forgive, our possession of the sense of God's pardon is dimmed. No man can at the same moment feel God's mercy lapping him in its warm folds, and give way to the emotions which are naturally excited by another man's faults to us. Observe that the parable lays down the principle that the personal reception of God's mercy in Christ precedes our showing mercy to others. And, with equal clearness, that showing mercy is the proper result of having received that Divine mercy, and the condition of retaining it.
So the two lessons are: (1) Recognize your debt to God and seek forgiveness by Christ. (2) See that you imitate what you hope in, and keep the grace received by letting it shape your lives and characters.
In a letter to James Boswell, Dr. Johnson observes: 'I had great pleasure in hearing that you are at last on good terms with your father. Cultivate his kindness by all honest and manly means. Life is but short; no time can be afforded but for the indulgence of real sorrow or contests upon questions seriously momentous. Let us not throw away any of our days upon useless resentment, or contend who shall hold out longest in stubborn malignity. It is best not to be angry; and best, in the next place, to be quickly reconciled.'
References.—XVIII. 35.—G. W. Herbert, Notes of Sermons, p. 195. Canon Wilberforce, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. 1894, p. 280. W. R. Huntington, ibid. vol. lxxiii. 1908, p. 141. XIX. 4-6.—E. W. Langmore, The Divine Law in Relation to Marriage with a Deceased Wife's Sister, Sermons, 1818-83. XIX. 5.—Canon R. E. Sanderson, Church Times, vol. xxxvi. 1896, p. 110. D. M. Ross, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxviii. 1890, p. 301.
And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them,
And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.
But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!
Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.
And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.
Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.
For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.
How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?
And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.
Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.
And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.
But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.
The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.
But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.
And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.
So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.
Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:
Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?
And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.
So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.