Great Texts of the Bible
A Model Sermon
Now after that John was delivered up, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe in the gospel.—Mark 1:14-15.
Here are the notes of a model sermon. We call the Lord’s Prayer the model prayer. This may with equal justice be called the model sermon. It is a sermon that was preached even by our Lord on more occasions than one. It is an example for all the sermons that have been or will be preached thereafter. And although it is only the shortest possible notes of such a sermon, there is much material in it.
Let us take—
Its General Topic
Its Particular Contents
“Now after that John was delivered up.”
The Baptism of our Lord was immediately followed by an ecstatic condition of fasting in the wilderness, at the conclusion of which He endured the great Temptation. Returning from the wilderness, He went, under the power of the Spirit, to undertake His ministry in Galilee.
Swete considers that this journey to Galilee was in fact a withdrawal from Judæa, where the tidings of John’s imprisonment (Matt.), and still more the growing jealousy of the Pharisees towards the new Teacher (John 4:1), rendered a longer stay dangerous or unprofitable. Though Galilee was under the jurisdiction of Antipas, His mission there would not expose Him at first to the tetrarch’s interference (cf. Mark 6:14; Luke 13:3 f., Luke 23:8). It was Jerusalem, not Galilee, that shed the blood of the prophets; in any case it was clear that Jerusalem would not tolerate His teaching; Galilee offered a better field (cf. John 4:45).
The season was the Spring, with its bright heaven, its fresh sweet earth, its gladsome, soft, yet strengthening air, its limpid living water. And within as without all was spring-time, the season of millionfold forces gladly and grandly creative, of sunlight now clear and blithesome, and now veiled with clouds that came only to break into fruitful showers. “Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee,” and Galilee felt and owned the Spirit and the power. In the homes of its peasantry and the hamlets of its fishermen, on the shores of its beautiful sea, in the towns and villages that stood on its banks and were mirrored in its waves, He preached His Gospel.1 [Note: A. M. Fairbairn, Studies in the Life of Christ, 99.]
“Jesus came into Galilee.”
Where would you have thought Jesus would have gone to found His Kingdom, to begin His ministry? Why, up there, of course, if He had been an astute man of the world, at Jerusalem. There was the great temple of His people, there the ornate and ancient priesthood, there the extended and venerated worship, there the historical associations of His race and of its King. Was ever city so loved by men as was Jerusalem? Poets praised it, beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth was Mount Zion. The people had loved it; there Solomon had planted his temple; and there, amid poverty, pain, and war, a few returned exiles had built another and still more gracious; there the people of God had known the siege of the heathen, there they had known the deliverance of the Most High. The great prophet of exile had broken into immortal poetry in praise of that city where God dwelt, and towards which all nations should come. Athens may be the eye of Greece, illustrious in wisdom; Rome may be the synonym of Imperial and ecclesiastical power; Mecca may speak of a prophet that conquered by the sword, and Benares of caste that rules as with a rod of iron millions of our race; but Jerusalem is pre-eminent as the city of faith, the birthplace of a religion, whose very stones were dear to those that loved her. There, then, it might have seemed, Jesus would begin to exercise His ministry. There were rabbis to listen to Him, there were priests to support Him, there were scribes to report Him; all round it seemed the fit soil for His work.
But nay, though He knew that a prophet must perish in Jerusalem, the ministry that was to be fruitful for all time must be exercised elsewhere. He would not throw His ministry, His soul, into the midst of conflict, while conflict would have soiled the serenity of His soul. He would not seek the men bound to fashion and form and place; He would seek those that would gather round Him, ready to be made by His work. He did not need to nurse human sin; left to itself it would breed passion, create jealousy, make the awful hour of His agony, the awful majesty of His cross. But He had to seek love, nurse it, and cultivate it, and gather it to His bosom, and bear it there. He wanted the silence that was nurture, He wanted the obscurity that was growth, He wanted the cloistered security of Nature, as it were, where His own loved people would learn to know and would learn to love Him, and be made fit to be preachers to all ages and models for all time. Though of humble birth, scorned by the proud of blood and culture, He had the supernal wisdom, and saw in the quiet of His own province the ministry that could be a well of truth and grace.
Its General Topic
“Preaching the gospel of God.”
“The gospel of God”—this is the theme of all Christian preaching. The particular function for which St. Paul says he is set apart is to preach the gospel of God—“separated,” he says, in the beginning of the Epistle to the Romans, “unto the gospel of God.”
1. The Gospel.—“The fundamental passage for the use of this word (εὐαγγέλιον),” say Sanday and Headlam in their edition of the Epistle to the Romans, “appears to be Mark 1:14-15.” They do not doubt that our Lord Himself described by this term (or its Aramaic equivalent) His announcement of the arrival of the Messianic time. They do not think that the word is borrowed directly from the Septuagint, where it occurs in all only two, or at most three, times, although there may have been some influence from the use of the verb, which is especially frequent in second Isaiah and the Psalms in connection with the news of the Great Deliverance or Restoration from the Captivity. The word evidently took a strong hold on the imagination of St. Paul in connection with his own call to missionary labours. He uses the noun sixty times in his Epistles, while it is used only twice in the rest of the New Testament apart from the Gospels and Acts.
2. The Gospel of God.—The Gospel is called the Gospel of Christ in Mark 1:1. Here it is the Gospel of God. The “of,” says Swete, probably denotes the source: the Gospel which comes from God, the Gospel of which God (the Father) is the Author and Sender. Every account of the work of Christ, therefore, is false which places the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ in contrast to the justice of Almighty God. Christ comes with news, and good news, but He is sent from God with this good news. In this respect, as in every other, He and the Father are one.
Its Particular Contents
Its particular contents are the fulness of the time, the nearness of the Kingdom, and the conditions of entrance into it—repentance and faith.
i. The Fulness of the Time
“The time is fulfilled.”
What is fulfilment? The fruit is the fulfilment of the bloom, the meridian day is the fulfilment of the dawn. What we mean by the word as it is applied to Christ is, that there was something foreshadowed, and in Him that something was revealed; that on the lip of time there was a whisper and a suggestion, of which Christ was the uttered word; in the fulness of time “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”1 [Note: W. J. Dawson, The Divine Challenge, 78.]
1. There was a threefold work of preparation for the coming of the Son of God carried forward in what was then called the civilised world, and each portion of it required the lapse of a certain time.
(1) First, the world was to be prepared politically for His work. In order to spread an idea or a creed, two instruments, if not strictly necessary, are at least desirable. Of these one is a common language, such as the French language was in Europe half a century ago, a language of civilisation, which shall be a means for expressing new thoughts and convictions without subjecting them to misrepresentation by the process of translation. Another is a common social system, common laws, a common government.
(2) There was a second preparation in the convictions of mankind. The heathen nations were not without some religion, which contained, in various degrees, elements of truth, however mingled with or overlaid by errors. But from the first the ancient religions tended to bury God in the visible world which witnessed to Him. The Greeks never knew, in their best days, of a literally Almighty God, still less of a God of love; but it was necessary that their incapacity to retain in their knowledge the little they did know of Him should be proved by experience. Certainly wise men tried to spiritualise the popular language and ideas about God. But the old paganism would not bear such handling; it went to pieces when it was discussed; while philosophy, having no facts to appeal to, but consisting only of “views,” could never become a religion and take its place. The consequence was the simultaneous growth of gross superstition and blank unbelief, down to the time of the Incarnation.
(3) There was also a preparation in the moral experience of mankind. There was at times much moral earnestness in the old pagan world. But men were content with being good citizens, which is not necessarily the same thing as being good men. In the eyes of Socrates, for instance, all obligations were discharged if a man obeyed the laws of Athens. “No man,” St. Augustine has said, “approached Christianity more nearly than did Plato.” Yet Plato tolerated popular vices of the gravest description, and drew a picture of a model state in which there was to be a community of wives. And yet enough survived of moral truth in the human conscience to condemn average pagan practice. Pagans still had, however obscurely, some parts of the Law of God written in their hearts.
2. In the Jewish people, too, a threefold preparation, ending also in a “fulness of time,” is certainly not less observable. (1) Politically, the Jews were expecting change; they retained the feelings while they had lost the privileges of a free people; their aspirations looked to a better future, though they mistook its character. The sceptre had departed from Judah: Shiloh would come, they believed, immediately. (2) Their purely religious conviction pointed in the same direction. Prophecy had, in the course of ages, completed its picture of the coming Deliverer. Beginning with the indefinite promise of a deliverance, it had gradually narrowed the fulfilment to a particular race, a particular tribe, a particular family; the birth, the work, the humiliation, the death, the triumph, of the Deliverer had been described by anticipation. There was, consequently, an “expectation of Israel” for which all good men were waiting. (3) But, above all, the Jews underwent a moral preparation for the Son of God. God had given them a Law; in itself “holy, just, and good.” But this Law itself pronounced a curse on all who did not keep it. Did the Jews keep it? They had had the experience of centuries; had they ever kept it? were they not as far as ever from keeping it, in any sense which conscience would sanction? They had, no doubt, made a certain number of technical extracts from it, and these they could obey mechanically. But the moral principles which it contained did not govern their lives. And they knew it. The Law, then, was to them a revelation of weakness and a revelation of sin. It showed them what, in their natural strength, they could not do. Like a lantern carried into a dark chamber of horrors, which was unlighted before, it showed them what they had done. Thus the Law was, in St. Paul’s eyes, a confidential servant to whom God had entrusted the education of Israel to bring him to Christ; and this process had just reached completion.1 [Note: H. P. Liddon, Advent in St. Paul’s, 118.]
Christ is the centre of the history of the world, and there could be no error in the date of His appearance. The race had proved its inability to restore itself to lost truth, purity, and happiness. Through the discipline of the Mosaic law, and of natural law, Jew and Gentile were prepared for a spiritual, redeeming religion. And the state of the political world corresponded with the exigencies of a universal faith. “When the fulness of the time came, God sent forth his Son.” Nothing in nature is more wonderful than the way in which complementary things and creatures arrive together; and in history the same phenomenon is repeated. “God’s trains never keep one another waiting.” Events synchronise and harmonise. The Incarnation is the crowning example of the dramatic unities of history.2 [Note: W. L. Watkinson, Ashes of Roses, 268.]
ii. The Nearness of the Kingdom
“The kingdom of God is at hand.”
1. The Kingdom of God.—The “kingdom of God,” as used by our Lord, signified the whole sphere in which the will of God, as an ethical power, is recognised and obeyed. It was the reign of righteousness. The idea was so far traditional; in it the theocracy of Israel, the ideal of the prophets, was still further purified and enlarged. In our Lord’s use of it, a certain elasticity is apparent, which is, however, never vagueness. The “kingdom” may be in germ, in process of being realised, or ideally perfect and complete. It has two sides—the intensive, the qualities which distinguish it; and the extensive, the moral beings whom it includes, and so far as they are under its influence. It is, however, the former much more, and more frequently, than the latter. It is inward, spiritual, invisible, but ever struggling, as it were, towards outward expression and realisation; hence it sometimes appears to be identified with such expression, however inadequate this may yet be. In the future, however, the outward and inward shall correspond. Perhaps what Jesus meant by the “kingdom of God” is best seen from the position He gives it in the Lord’s Prayer. God’s Kingdom begins when His “name is hallowed,” with the turning of the heart in loyalty and devotion towards Him; and is perfected when His “will is done, as in heaven so in earth.”1 [Note: A. Stewart, in Expository Times, iv. 467.]
The Kingdom of God or of Heaven was a religious conception which our Lord found in possession of the religious mind of Israel. We are just beginning to learn from a study of the Jewish apocalyptic literature of the first pre-Christian century how entirely our Lord accepted for His teaching the framework of religious ideas current among His own people in His own day. He is distinguished hardly at all from His contemporaries by the form of His teaching. But into the current forms He put a largeness and intensity of meaning which they had not known, which was destined in time to break through and transcend them. It was so exactly with this idea of the Kingdom of Heaven. For the mind of our Lord’s contemporaries it was a somewhat confused medley of at least two conceptions which are really distinct. On the one hand it stood for the completion of the Divine purpose in the world of creation. The final destiny of man and of all created things was seen athwart a great cataclysmic judgment. An ultimate redemptive change would pass upon all things that grow here slowly towards their end, and transform them into the changeless reality which God had always meant for them, which God had always seen in them. The new heavens and the new earth would spring suddenly out of that great fire of judgment by which God would sift and try the world. And confusedly mingled with this conception was that of a slower and more gradual process by which this great change would be prepared. During this process, men, or at least an elect of mankind, would be conscious of a nearer presence of God, of a closer presence of God’s redemptive purpose in their affairs. This stage would be already an initiation of the Kingdom of God. It would be marked throughout by an experience of the constant urgency of His judgment, by a growing assurance of the working of His redemptive leaven in the human lump.
Now even here our Lord did not change the forms which He found. He did not seek to disentangle ideas which are at least logically distinct. He, too, sometimes spoke of that completion of human destiny, to be wrought through the sudden whirlwind of a final judgment, as near at hand, as already at the door, as coming within the lifetime of that generation. And again, He spoke of the Kingdom as growing slowly and secretly, as involving a kind of judgment which would leave it to life itself gradually to reveal the evil and the good, which would demand the greatest patience and tolerance lest the good be hindered or even destroyed by a too zealous haste to separate it from the evil. But whichever form He used He made it the vehicle of the definitive and perfect teaching about the nature of God’s judgment. Rather, perhaps, if we may dare to speculate, He may have used both these contemporary religious conceptions because they insisted upon different aspects of the Divine judgment which are vitally united in its reality, though we can only think of them or realise them apart—its uncompromisingness and its patience, its absolute character and its gradual process.1 [Note: A. L. Lilley.]
The memory of this great idea is kept alive in Christendom by the Lord’s Prayer, which has passed into universal use; but the three Creeds, which are supposed to embody the essential features of the Christian religion, take no notice of it. The teaching of the Master appears to be the last thing that occurs to the minds of many Christians; and if they can only pronounce some formula descriptive of His nature and person, they think it superfluous to dwell with loving reverence on the principles which He taught.2 [Note: James Drummond, Via, Veritas, Vita, 123.]
2. The Kingdom of God is at hand.—This may mean either that the Kingdom is imminent in the sense that it will soon be realised, or it may mean that the Kingdom has drawn near to men, is now in the midst of men, whether or no they recognise the fact of its present realisation.
The near approach of the Kingdom was what Jesus preached as His “good tidings” to the people, and veritable good tidings it would be to those who believed Him. It was like proclaiming the dawn of “the millennium.” John the Baptist had already announced the nearness of God’s Kingdom; but it was in its judgment aspect that he proclaimed it; Jesus emphasised its gracious aspect as the coming of salvation. We have no need to go to the later Apocalyptic conceptions for the foundation of this Gospel; we find it in the Old Testament. The prophets had foretold the coming of this Kingdom in “the latter days.” Isaiah had pictured it as a time of release to the captive, of justice and consolation to the poor and oppressed, a Jubilee year of “Divine acceptance”; and Jesus declared that it had dawned upon them. “Daniel” had foretold how “the God of Heaven should set up a kingdom” which should never be destroyed, and had seen in vision the government committed to one who “came with the clouds of heaven, like unto a son of man”; he had even given indications of the time when it should appear; Jesus announced that “the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand.”
But although the Kingdom was approaching, it was not immediately at hand. All Christ’s teaching implies this, though there is nothing in it that requires the thought of long delay. More than once He gave a distinct negative to the expectation that the Kingdom “should immediately appear.” He preached repentance and righteousness as its preparation, and He pointed to the powers He was endowed with, through the indwelling Spirit, as a proof of His commission, and, indeed, as an evidence that the Kingdom had “come upon them.” Although in its form it might be outward, in its essence it was spiritual. While it was something to be entered in the future, men really entered it now as they accepted Jesus and His teaching—that is, they became members of it, having “their names written in Heaven,” and would be recognised as such by the Son of Man when He came in His glory. He could thus say that the Kingdom of God was within men.1 [Note: W. L. Walker,]
It is at hand; within one step of us—within one step of earnest purpose and resolute endeavour! It is here in the common things about us, here, in life’s capacity for beauty, kindness, joy; here in home, friends, and even in the associations of the workaday world, which all are rich in the possibilities of kind and happy life! Yes, everywhere the Kingdom of God is “at hand” to every one of us. Only learn the meaning of this, and it will lead you into the blessed secret of that still deeper word—“the kingdom of God is within you.”1 [Note: B. Herford.]
People are always looking for their Kingdoms of God far away. There is always a visionary kingdom glowing in some dim distance of hope or fancy. Your schoolboy reads Robinson Crusoe, or Mayne Reid’s stories of wonderful adventure, till it seems stupid and dull to be living at home, with regular meals and beds to sleep in, and he muses about some possible desert island or far-off wilderness where life might be passed, chiefly in going about with a gun. Men laugh at that—yet are they so much better? Their kingdoms are more prosaic and substantial, but men are just as liable to miss those that are close to them in looking for those which are far away and utterly problematical. This man has a longing to be at the head of his profession. He is just in the rank and file of it, and he wants to make a name. If he could do this, he could sing “nunc dimittis!” Thus another’ man, again, likes power—has a faculty for organisation:—to him it seems as if it would be the very “kingdom of God” to become the leader of his party, or to attain some high position in the country. This man has a craving to make some striking discovery in science; that, to write a successful book; the other, to paint the best picture of the year.2 [Note: Ibid.]
(1) The Kingdom of God is at hand individually. Every religion has lived and grown in proportion to the number of those that it has helped to strain beyond the vision of the day, to rise above the standard of the hour. It has lived in the measure of the souls it has made. And souls are never made by conformity. They are made by faith. We are not helped to be our true selves by seeing clearly and at once all that we ought to believe and do. We are helped to the real possession of ourselves by a deeper instinct that can be strengthened into a resolute and courageous purpose because God is behind it—an instinct which will at all costs pluck the good from the very heart of evil. No religion has ever been given in a system, It grew originally out of the heart, the strength, the soul of a living man. The greatest and truest religion grew out of the life of the greatest and truest Man. There God wrought and strove towards the making of an eternal Spirit, human and Divine, which might work and strive in other hearts for ever.
(2) The Kingdom of God is at hand socially. The result of all human living is social. The social will always grows out of the individual, and always in turn inspires it. The social will can healthily restrain the individual will only because it has first inspired it, and exactly in the measure in which it has inspired it. It restrains us aright when it stirs into life our responsibility towards it, when it makes us feel what we might be and do for it, when it makes us feel what we must not be and do to its hurt. Its restraint is unhealthy only when it would enslave us to its will as if that will were a thing apart from us. And then its will in turn becomes a dead thing, a thing which the living will of man must rebel against and overcome. The truth is that the individual man and human society are so related that the fullest individuality must make the richest and most fruitful society, that society inevitably perishes as individuality becomes meagre and shrunken. The man who is most himself is the man who gives most to society. The man who is a mere reflection of social convention is the man who is helping to make that convention more empty and barren every hour.1 [Note: A. L. Lilley,]
iii. The Conditions of Entering the Kingdom
“Repent ye, and believe in the gospel.”
Our Lord here commands the two things which are required for salvation. “Except ye repent,” He says elsewhere, “ye shall all perish.” And St. Paul declares that without faith it is impossible to please God. Repentance is that which makes us look within ourselves; faith is that which makes us look out from ourselves. And not only must both faith and repentance be there, but they must also be there in proportion. A balance must be maintained between them. If repentance is strong while faith is weak the result is restlessness and dissatisfaction. There is the sense of sin, but there is no assurance of the mercy of God in Christ. Again, if faith is strong, or seems to be strong, while there has been no true repentance, there may be a false confidence that all is well, a blind trust, a blind security.
Those who have a faith which allows them to think lightly of past sin, have the faith of devils, and not the faith of God’s elect. Those who say, “Oh, as for the past, that is nothing; Jesus Christ has washed all that away”; and can talk about all the crimes of their youth, and the iniquities of their riper years, as if they were mere trifles, and never think of shedding a tear, never feel their souls ready to burst because they should have been such great offenders—such men who can trifle with the past, and even fight their battles o’er again when their passions are too cold for new rebellions—I say that such who think sin a trifle, and have never sorrowed on account of it, may know that their faith is not genuine. Men who have a faith which allows them to live carelessly in the present, who say, “Well, I am saved by a simple faith,” and then sit on the ale-bench with the drunkard, or stand at the bar with the spirit-drinker, or go into worldly company and enjoy the carnal pleasures and the lusts of the flesh, such men are liars; they have not the faith which will save the soul. They have a deceitful hypocrisy; they have not the faith which will bring them to heaven.1 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon.]
1. Repentance.—“Repent ye.” With these words Christ commenced His Galilean ministry. The first demand He made on men was the demand for repentance. When He sent out the Twelve on their missionary journey through the country towns and villages, it was to preach “that men should repent.” When He gave His last instructions to His disciples before He was taken up, He explained to them that it was in accordance with the Scriptures that “repentance … should be preached in his name unto all the nations.”
In the present day we do not sufficiently realise the necessity for repentance. To some extent we have even forgotten what repentance means. We read the great classical outpourings of the contrite soul—the Psalms, or the Confessions of St. Augustine, or the Imitation of A Kempis, or John Bunyan’s Grace Abounding—and they appear to us almost hysterical. The language of the broken spirit stirs in us no response. We cannot bring ourselves to pray, as Lancelot Andrewes used in agony to pray, “O Lord, help Thou mine impenitence; and more and more bruise, and wound, and pierce, and strike my heart!”1 [Note: F. Homes Dudden.]
What is Repentance?
1. The first element in penitence, St. Bernard has declared, is “regret for what is past.” And this is the characteristic, perhaps, that first and most strikingly arrests attention. The whole literature of penitence is blotted with tears of sorrow. Its pages are red with the shame of the saints. Its great word is Peccavi. “O my God, my transgressions are very great, very great my sins.” “I acknowledge my faults, and my sin is ever before me.” “O my God! O God infinitely good! How canst Thou bear with a sinner like me?” This ache, this grief, this self-accusing sorrow seems inseparable from repentance. Even on those who know themselves forgiven, even on those who have “washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,” there falls the dark shadow of a wasted past, the sadness of knowing that they are not what they might have been.
Yes, Thou forgivest, but with all forgiving
Canst not renew mine innocence again:
Make Thou, O Christ, a dying of my living,
Purge from the sin but never from the pain!
A well-known preacher once began his sermon by saying that he should that day choose seven texts, but pledged himself that all the seven should contain only three words. Those three words were, “I have sinned.” And, unless we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, those words in their most solemn and crushing force ought often to be on the lips of every one of us. But the Bible shows us how often they may be used and yet not mean repentance. Pharaoh said, “I have sinned,” in mere terror, and hardened his heart the moment the judgment was removed. Achan said, “I have sinned,” like some criminal on the scaffold who confesses only when the consequences of his iniquity stare him horribly in the face. Balaam said, “I have sinned,” but still went on in spite of the drawn sword of the angel, dazzled by the disastrous gleam of Balak’s gold. Judas said, “I have sinned,” but in him it was only despair and remorse as he flung down in the temple the accursed pittance for which he had sold his soul. Saul said, “I have sinned,” but only to return to his demoniac envy. But, ah! thank God His true penitents have uttered that cry in very different tones. Job said, “I have sinned,” and humbled himself under the mighty hand of God, and God exalted him. David said, “I have sinned,” and in a voice broken by sobs sang the dirges of his De profundis and the wailing of his heart, and went forth to find the dark spirits of incest and fratricide walking in his house, but also to find that God restores to godly sorrow a clean heart and a free spirit. The prodigal said, “Father, I have sinned,” and rose, poor boy, from the husks and swine and the far country to fling himself, weeping as if his heart would break, into his loving father’s arms.1 [Note: F. W. Farrar.]
There was once at Westminster School a singularly innocent boy whose name was Philip Henry. Though he was a Nonconformist the stern royalist headmaster, Dr. Busby, loved him, and severe as he was he never chastised him but once, and then with the words, “And thou, too, my child.” A holier boy, a holier man, never lived. A contemporary said of him, “Should angels come from heaven it is my sense they would not be heard with greater reverence. We praise all virtues in admiring him.” Yet when Philip Henry was far advanced in years a young man said to him, “Mr. Henry, how long do you mean to go on repenting?” “Sir,” he meekly answered, “I hope to carry my repentance to the very gates of heaven.”2 [Note: Ibid.]
Towards the end of his life, than which none has been seen more perfect outside the Gospels, St. Francis of Assisi wept so much over his sins that he injured his eyesight; but he would listen to no remonstrance. “I would rather choose to lose the sight of the body than to repress those tears by which the interior eyes are purified that they may see God.” As George Herbert lay a-dying he said, “I am sorry that I have nothing to present to my merciful God except sin and misery, but the first is pardoned, and a few hours will put a period to the latter.” Francis Quarles, the author of the Emblems, expressed great sorrow for his sins, and when it was told him that he did thereby much harm to himself, he answered, They were not his friends that would not give him leave to repent. And Bunyan learned “that none could enter into life but those who were in downright earnest, and unless they left the wicked world behind them, for here (in the narrow road) was only room for body and soul, but not for body and soul and sin.” One of the ablest men of his time used to say of Erskine of Linlathen that he never thought of God but the thought of Mr. Erskine was not far away; yet Principal Shairp informs us that, in this holy man’s last years, all who conversed intimately with him were struck with “his ever deepening sense of sin, and the personal way in which he took this home to himself.” Penitence is one of the signs of true religion in every age.1 [Note: John Watson.]
The following curious dream was related to me by the woman who had the strange experience. She dreamed that she entered a large room where many people were on their knees in prayer. An old man with flowing beard was walking about; a man like one of the old prophets. She asked him where she was, to which he replied, “What, do you live in Bristol, and not know where you are?” “No,” she answered. Then he told her that the kneeling people were inquiring how far they were from heaven. She said that she too would like to know. “Follow me,” said the old man, and he led her towards an instrument like a telephone with a serpent-like pipe attached. He worked the apparatus and inquired, while the woman stood trembling for the answer. The reply came, “You are not on the road at all.” Very sorrowful and shedding bitter tears she turned to leave the room. Just as she reached the door a voice, kind but firm, commanded her to stop. It was the old man’s voice. When she turned round he said, “You’re all right now.” “How?” she asked; “I thought you told me I was not on the road at all.” “Yes,” he replied, “I did, but you are on the road now. You have just turned the corner and got on the right way. Those tears of yours are the tears of repentance, and now you are all right.”2 [Note: William Forbes.]
2. But repentance is more than sorrow. Sorrow for sin is one element of repentance, but you can be sorry without repentance. There is a kind of sentimental sorrow, a sorrow at the thought of coming retribution and exposure, which is mean, selfish, devilish, and is not healthy and life-giving. There is a sorrow that weeps at funerals and sentimental plays. There are multitudes of people who think they are not far from the Kingdom because their tears come easily; they whisper all sorts of sweet messages to themselves because they can weep. They tell themselves that they are not hard, and therefore there must be hope for them, and all the while they are holding on to forbidden things and walking in forbidden paths.3 [Note: Gipsy Smith.]
(1) It is an act of will.—Repentance is not primarily a species of feeling, but an act of will. I want again and again to say that a man can repent with dry eyes. There may be much weeping and no repentance; there may be real penitence where there are no tears. The tears may come in the later day; at the moment of the turning the eyes may be undimmed. Some day I shall come to know how deeply I wounded my Saviour, and the thought may unseal the fountain of tears. Some day I shall know how terrible was my waste of the years, and I shall weep in the irreparable loss. But the first act of all penitence is to turn the back on sin and the face to the Lord. The beginning of all fulness is to be found in a sense of want. The perception of unlikeness to the Lord is the beginning of assimilation. And if I lack this sense of want let me turn to the Word of God. Let me take the commandments, and lay my soul against their measures. And then let me turn to the beatitudes, and estimate my life by their exalted demands. And let me turn to the life of the Master Himself, and accompany Him through His days; and at every turning let me put my soul beside His, and I shall be unlike all others if at the end of the journey I do not feel myself a child of spiritual poverty, craving for the grace and fulness of Christ. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
(2) It is a movement of the whole being.—The late Dr. Bright defined repentance as “a thorough-going movement of the whole being away from sin and towards the love and service of God.” And I ask you to note these words—“a thorough-going movement of the whole being.” Repentance knows no half-measures. It is not the correction of this little failing or that little failing. It is not patch-work. It is renovation of the whole state, and the whole nature, and the whole personality—renovation through and through, and out and out. That is what Bishop Wilson meant when he wrote, “There is no repentance where there is no change of heart.” That is what Martin Luther meant when he spoke of repentance as “a real bettering and change of the entire life.” That is what St. Paul meant in his doctrine of the “new creature.” This is what the Saviour meant when He said to men, “Change your mind”—not merely change your actions or your habits, but your mind, your thoughts, your aims, your inner attitude, your very self. “Look to thy repentance,” writes Richard Baxter. “that it be deep and absolute, and free from hypocritical exceptions and reserves.”1 [Note: F. Homes Dudden.]
I know some very excellent brethren—would God there were more like them in zeal and love—who, in their zeal to preach up simple faith in Christ, have felt a little difficulty about the matter of repentance; and I have known some of them who have tried to get over the difficulty by softening down the apparent hardness of the word repentance, by expounding it according to its more usual Greek equivalent, a word which occurs in the original of the text, and signifies “to change one’s mind.” Apparently they interpret repentance to be a somewhat slighter thing than we usually conceive it to be, a mere change of mind, in fact. Now, allow me to suggest to those dear brethren, that the Holy Ghost never preaches repentance as a trifle; and the change of mind or understanding of which the gospel speaks is a very deep and solemn work, and must not on any account be depreciated. Moreover, there is another word which is also used in the original Greek for repentance,—not so often, I admit, but still it is used,—which signifies “an after-care,” a word which has in it something more of sorrow and anxiety than that which signifies changing one’s mind. There must be sorrow for sin and hatred of it in true repentance, or else I have read my Bible to little purpose. In very truth, I think, there is no necessity for any other definition than that of the children’s hymn—
Repentance is to leave
The sins we loved before,
And show that we in earnest grieve,
By doing so no more.
To repent does mean a change of mind; but then it is a thorough change of the understanding and all that is in the mind, so that it includes an illumination, an illumination of the Holy Spirit; and I think it includes a discovery of iniquity and a hatred of it, without which there can hardly be a genuine repentance.2 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon.]
2. Belief.—“Believe in the gospel.” What is this? I suppose it to be assent to the truth as true, and then a personal trust in the influence and result of this truth. It is to turn from sin and to trust the promises of God in Christ for present and eternal salvation. He who thus trusts, honours God’s truth, magnifies God’s Son, and is saved. And yet people come to me almost every day, saying, “I am trying to trust.” Suppose I should go to one of my friends who is the teller of a bank, with a cheque in my hand, and as I stood before the window I should hold the cheque, and say, “I want money for this.” “Give me the cheque and I will bring you the money.” “No; I cannot trust you that far.” “Yes; but I will go right to the counter and bring you the money.” “No; I will try to trust you” (and still I hold on to the cheque). “But my good man,” my friend says, “I cannot get you the money without the cheque.” “I cannot give you the cheque; that is the only evidence of value I have, and when I give you that it is all gone. I will try to trust you; bring me the money.” I am turning the tables on the teller; I am asking him to trust me, instead of trusting him. The act of trust is to give instantly all that we have that is imperilled into the hands of the One from whom the redemption and the provision are to come. And so when the sinner, believing the Word of Jesus Christ, just gives himself in prayer to Christ, and leaves himself, so far as his present safety and his eternal salvation are concerned, that man trusts and believes the gospel.
With penitence, then, there must come belief. And it must be belief, in the sense of trust. And it must be trust in a person who is trustworthy. I am to enthrone the Saviour in my soul. Deliberately, definitely, and decisively, I am to proclaim Him King. I am to bow to His will, and trust His power and grace. I am to commit my way to Him, and stake my all upon Him, to venture life and death, the present and the future, upon His fidelity and holy covenant. Then is the Kingdom founded, and gradually rioting will change into order, rebellion will pass into harmony, and some day I shall be able to say with the Psalmist, “All that is within me, bless his holy name.”1 [Note: J. H. Jowett.]
In this, His first sermon, Jesus added a new word to the Baptist’s message, and the substance of the things to be received had now gained from His life the title, which ever since it has held, “Believe the gospel.” These three words were the love tokens with which He came to seek and save the lost. In the repetition of these three words He fulfils the embassage of peace upon which He came from the Father.2 [Note: S. H. Tyng.]
One of our visitors went to a poor home of suffering not long since, and in a dark chamber of the tenement lay stretched on a pallet of straw a poor woman, whom God had strangely afflicted by the loss of sight, and then by paralysis of one side—a poor, helpless creature, so far as the offices of this world are concerned. He ministered to her in the necessities of her body, and then asked her how her soul was related to God; and, as Joshua with the children of Israel, he did it in the way of rebuke, at first: “Are you truly saved?” (for she had already professed that she was a Christian). The voice answered with meekness, “Why not?” “But what good thing have you done, to pretend to be saved?” And the only answer from the pallet of suffering was, “Why not?” “Yes; but perhaps you are presuming. How do you know you are saved?” The answer of faith came, “Jesus Christ came to seek and to save sinners, and I am a lost sinner; why am I not saved?” Ah! there was wealth there which no possessions of this earth can gain, for a sinner had taken God at His word. She propounded a question to which all the wise men of this age can give no answer. If a sinner, why not saved? This is the gospel, and this it is to believe the gospel.1 [Note: S. H. Tyng.]
The phrase, “believe in the gospel” is unique. Nor do we elsewhere hear of believing the gospel. Faith is always regarded as due to the Person of whom the gospel speaks. Yet faith in the message was the first step. “A creed of some kind,” says Swete, “lies at the basis of confidence in the Person of Christ.”
A poor woman once came to Dr. Barnardo with a broken heart, telling a sad story of the wandering life of an only daughter in the great metropolis, and implored his help. After considering the situation for a moment Dr. Barnardo said: “Yes, I can help you. Get your photograph taken, frame a good many copies, write under the picture, ‘Come Home,’ and send them to me.” The pictures were soon in his hands, and were placed by him in the places frequented by such friendless outcasts. One night the unhappy girl saw the picture, and was greatly startled to see her mother’s handwriting welcoming her home. That very night she returned repentant and forgiven to her mother’s arms. It is this turning from a life of sin to a life of love that Jesus enables us to accomplish in response to His good news of proferred love and forgiveness.2 [Note: Hugh T. Kerr.]
Love saith to me, “Repent”;
Love saith to me, “Believe”;
Love sayeth ofttimes, “Grieve
That thou hast little lent,
That thou hast little given,
To Him, thy Lord in heaven,
And when He cometh what wilt thou receive?”
Love sayeth to me, “Pray
That thou mayst meet that day
Desired yet feared”; and ofttimes Love again
Repeats these words, and oh! my spirit then,
What sayest thou? “I say
To all Love sayeth, Yea,
Yea, evermore, and evermore Amen!”
A Model Sermon
Burton (H.), Gleanings in the Gospels, 141.
Church (R. C), Advent Sermons, 29, 58.
Colenso (J. W.), Natal Sermons, 1st Ser., 279.
Drysdale (A. H.), Christ Invisible our Gain, 151.
Dudden (F. Homes), Christ and Christ’s Religion, 171.
Harcourt (W. V.), Sermons, 78.
Herford (B.), Anchors of the Soul, 136.
How (W. W.), Plain Words, i. 113.
Kelley (A. R.), Intent on Pleasing Thee, 13.
Lilley (A. L.), Adventus Regni, 115, 123, 130, 138.
Little (W. J. Knox), Light of Life, 65.
Melvill (H.), The Golden Lectures, 2nd Ser., No. 2514.
Smith (Gipsy), As Jesus Passed By, 19.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, viii., No. 460.
Tyng (S. H.), The People’s Pulpit, New Ser., ii. 221.
Walker (W. L.), The True Christ, 68.
British Congregationalist, July–December 1908, 406 (Jowett).
Christian World Pulpit, xxviii. 385, 401 (Church); xlvii. 305 (Fairbairn); lx. 121 (Brook); lxxi. 348 (Bevan).
Church of England Pulpit, xxvii. 85 (Rawstorne).
Expositor, 1st Ser., iv. 430 (Fairbairn).
Expository Times, xiv. 538 (Briggs).
Homiletic Review, xliv. 74 (Hoyt).