Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Jerusalem, and he is anxious that the places he is to visit for the last time, and some possibly for the first as well as last, should be ready to receive him. On this account he organizes the mission of the seventy in addition to that of the twelve already noticed. They are to be forerunners, going to announce his advent in the different cities and villages. Let us study the mission as here presented to us. And -
I. THEY ARE TO GO FORTH IN A SPIRIT OF PRAYER FOR ADDITIONAL LABOURERS. (Ver. 2.) The desire in the world to limit and regulate the number of laborers, to keep up wages, is to have no counterpart in the Church of Christ. The needs of men are so great, the harvest of souls is so enormous, that as many reapers as can possibly be equipped are needed and should be prayed for. Narrow-mindedness and jealousy are, therefore, out of place in Christian work. Those already laboring for God are to be the chief intercessors for more workers, and it is the inspiration of God which can alone fit men for such work.
II. THEY ARE TO GO FORTH PREPARED FOR OPPOSITION EVEN UNTO DEATH. (Ver. 3.) It seems at first a foolish policy to send lambs among wolves. Will they not be torn to pieces instantly? Is it not to court defeat and failure? But it so happens that it is the manifestation of a meek and lamblike spirit among ravenous and wolfish men which wins the battle for Christ and conquers the world. Were it not for such exhibitions of meekness the world would never be won. Hence the martyr-spirit is the safety of the Church.
III. THEY ARE TO DEPEND UPON THE PEOPLE FOR SUPPORT. (Vers. 4-8.) Some of the seventy, like some of the twelve, might have taken some provision or money with them. They were not all absolutely poor. The Lord himself might have brought from heaven or furnished miraculously all that he needed during his ministry on earth, but he preferred to depend upon his Father in heaven, and to accept of the loving ministrations of his friends on earth. The same rule he prescribes for his servants. They are to receive their support from those among whom they labor. And in the reception of support, they are to be content with whatever hospitality comes first. Peacefully are they to dwell in the house of their host, and they are not to be choosing some better hospitality and showing a mean and worldly spirit.
IV. THEY ARE TO GIVE THEMSELVES UNRESERVEDLY TO THE KING'S BUSINESS. (Vet. 4.) The instruction, "Salute no man by the way," does not advise any discourtesy, but as the Eastern salaams are protracted pieces of etiquette, they are to show so clearly that their "King's business requireth haste," that such cumbrous formalities must be dispensed with. It is a great thing gained if the Lord's servants are so concentrated upon their work that nothing is allowed in the least degree to interfere with it. God's work must be paramount.
V. THEY ARE TO HEAL THE SICK AND ANNOUNCE THE KINGDOM. (Ver. 9.) It is the advent of salvation to these cities and villages of Palestine; hence the healing of the sick is performed as a sign of the higher salvation which is included in the coming of the kingdom. Physical miracles are spiritual signs. The health of the soul is to follow that of the body, if the people will only trust the King. The delegated miraculous power is the sign and announcement of coming spiritual power and salvation.
VI. THE PENALTIES ATTACHED TO THE REJECTION OF THESE AMBASSADORS. (Vers. 10-16.) The Lord directs them, as in the case of the twelve, to simply shake off the dust of their feet against them. This was the sign of separation complete and final. But he indicates that in the judgment it shall be more tolerable for such cities as Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon, than for the cities which reject them. Now, the doom of Sodom and of Tyre was terrible. In the one case God destroyed the cities of the plain by fire; in the other case by siege and bombardment. But for Sodom and for Tyre - meaning, of course, for their inhabitants - there yet remains a judgment in the great day. Yet their sin, though heinous, was not so great as that of rejecting Jesus and his ambassadors. Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum will experience a deeper doom than even Tyre and Sodom, because they repented not. The solemn position of an ambassador of Christ cannot be over-estimated. To speak for Christ, in his Name, in some way worthy of him, is surely a great commission. What an altitude in ministration should we reach before we can conscientiously adopt the attitude of the apostles!
VII. THE JOY OF THE SEVENTY AT THEIR SUCCESS. (Ver. 17.) They delighted in the thought that the devils had become subject unto them through the Name of Jesus. How natural it is to rejoice in the success the Lord grants! But as Jesus here shows, it is dangerous. While assuring them of triumph over Satan and all the power of the enemy, he also would have them to rejoice rather in this, that their names are written in heaven. The meaning of this seems to be that they should rejoice in what the Lord has done for them rather than what they have done for the Lord. In the one case, they are liable to be puffed up and to think highly of themselves; in the other case, they are kept in wholesome humility. Let the Lord's work and the Lord's part of the works, rather than ours, be the source of our spiritual joy.
VIII. THE JOY OF JESUS ABOUT THE ARRANGEMENTS OF HIS KINGDOM. (Vers. 21-24.) While Jesus advised them to rejoice in God's salvation of them, he himself proceeds to rejoice in their successful work. His reason for this was:
1. That it put to confusion the wise and prudent, through the revelation being made to babes. Those who are proud and self-confident miss the meaning of the gospel and the kingdom, while those who are babelike in their docility get an apprehension of both.
2. It is in virtue of his mediatorial commission. The Father has committed all things to Jesus, and he proceeds, as Son, to reveal the Father to whomsoever he will. Without such a revelation we should never know the Father.
3. Christ's joy is also because of the distinguished privileges enjoyed by the disciples. Many prophets and kings desired to see such things as they saw, but the prophets and kings had been passed by, and these weak ones selected. Hence it is that Jesus rejoices in such God-glorifying arrangements. The more humble we are in heart, the fuller shall be the revelation which God will make to us through Jesus Christ - R.M.E.
I. THE LARGENESS OF THE FIELD. "The harvest truly is great." It is not a few human families, or a few small populations; it is not one large nation; it is not even one great continent; it is the entire human race, which Jesus Christ proposed and which he still purposes to redeem - this great human race, with all its nationalities, with all its creeds and all its doubts and denials, with all its pride and all its degradation, with all its profound estrangement from Divine truth and the living God. The harvest is great indeed; the task is tremendous; the victory, if it be gained, will make all other victories sink into utter insignificance; they will be but the small dust in the balance, There is encouragement in the thought of -
II. THE CHARACTER OF THE SEED WHICH IS SOWN. That seed was in course of preparation as Jesus Christ was speaking and working and suffering. It was his whole life; it was, indeed, himself in all his relations with men, in all the aspects in which he could be regarded, whether as Teacher, or Friend, or Exemplar, or Divine Sufferer. This was the seed which should be sown, the fruits of which would be the great harvest of God. "I, if I be lifted up," etc. But, on the other hand, there has to be taken into account -
III. THE CHARACTER OF THE AGENTS at work in the broad field of the world.
1. Their infirmity. They are men; good men, but "the best of men are but men at the best;" all (they should be) renewed by the Spirit of God and fired with the love of Christ and of human souls; but all (they are) "compassed about with infirmity," all bound with limitations of understanding, of character, of wisdom.
2. Their paucity. "The laborers are few" - few in comparison with the agents of evil and the sources of error; few, regarded in their proportion to the multitude on whom they are to act. in this light they are lamentably insufficient. There are great breadths of the field scarcely worked and other vast districts positively untouched. What, then, is -
IV. THE HOPE OF THE FAITHFUL? When we survey the greatness of the harvest and the fewness of the laborers in the field, where does our hope lie? In the providing power of the great Lord of the harvest. He who moves the stars in their spheres can create human souls, can endow them with noble faculties, can inspire them with generous aims, can send them forth on glorious and triumphant missions. We cannot tell the possibilities which are hidden in one great human soul whose heart God has touched, whose hand God has strengthened. One such man may be instrumental in turning a whole tract of barrenness into fertility: what, then, may not a number of such souls accomplish? When the Lord of the harvest speaks the word, great will be the company of the preachers, the number of the laborers. Wherefore let us pray the Father of spirits to put forth his creative power and send mighty workers into his waiting fields. - C.
I. OUR UNWORTHINESS OF ANYTHING. If God were to give to us exactly what we deserve, everything of every kind being taken into account, we should receive nothing more. For, weighing in one scale all that we owe to him for everything he has been to us and wrought for us and bestowed upon us, and in the other scale what response we have made to him in gratitude, love, service, we should "be found wanting," and could claim nothing. We are not worthy the least of all his mercies. All that he gives us is so much beyond our desert.
II. OUR OBLIGATIONS TO ONE ANOTHER. It is well that we do not make these a "matter of account," as tradesmen do with the articles they supply to one another, only paying the balance now and then. For who would decide on which side that balance lay? And of how much beauty and excellence would our daily life be divested! The true and wise course is to make acknowledgment of every kindness received, the warmer gratitude for the greater favor, but some thanks for the least indebtedness, not waiting to consider who is the greater debtor of the two. We are to "owe no man anything" only in the sense that we are to be ever paying and therefore ever cancelling our debts. But we are to be constantly indebted to one another. Poor and small indeed would that human life be which did not owe much to the service of others. What we are to seek after is not a life without obligation, but a life in which we are very freely placing our neighbors in our debt by the kindness we show them, and in which we are making very free acknowledgment of all that we owe to the love and the service we receive. Every laborer should receive his hire, his duo reward, and among others the Christian workman should be rightly recompensed.
1. It is a matter of righteousness, as between man and man; faithful service should have its meet reward; and this reward should be in
(1) affectionate honor, and
(2) substantial, material support.
2. When rightly rendered, the reward received will be an incentive to fuller labor and more energetic service.
3. The payment of the reward will react beneficially on him that pays it - he will appreciate more highly the ministry he receives.
III. GOD'S GRACIOUS AND GENEROUS OFFER. Though (as said) we can claim nothing from God as our right, yet he is pleased to offer us much. Our Lord has told us
(1) that the humblest service, done in a true and loyal spirit, shall certainly be rewarded (Matthew 10:41, 42); and
(2) that the reward we shall hereafter receive will be in proportion to the fidelity of our service here (Luke 19:16-19). Our tone and spirit will be that of men who are not conscious of deserving anything (Matthew 25:37). But his spirit and action will be that of a magnanimous Master, and he will make the most of all that we have done (Matthew 25:40), and count us worthy of a large reward. - C.
I. THAT GREAT INIQUITY MAY LOOK FOR SIGNAL PUNISHMENT AT THE HAND OF GOD. Jesus does not intimate that Tyre and Sidon suffered any more than they deserved, that Sodom had a retribution which was in the smallest degree out of proportion to its guilt. These cities deserved their doom; they sowed the wind, and reaped the whirlwind. That which happened to them was exactly what they might have expected; and it is just what such cities as they were may always look for. It does not require a desolating army or a miraculous storm to bring disastrous evil upon the head of shameful wrong. Without such particular instruments as these, the blow which slays and buries will certainly descend. If destruction comes not on the wings of one wind, it will come on those of another; whether we think of the vicious city or the profligate man, we may be sure that great guilt will, sooner or later, work out the downfall and extinction of the evil-doer. By human history and the record of the lives of men, as well as by the sacred page, "the wrath of God is revealed against all unrighteousness of men;" they cannot and will not "escape the judgment of God."
II. THAT NEITHER SWIFTNESS NOR APPARENT SEVERITY IN PUNISHMENT IS A SURE CRITERION OF THE MAGNITUDE OF THE CRIME. Destruction had come down suddenly and terribly on Sodom; Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida were still existing, and were still rejoicing in outward prosperity. Was the ancient city so much guiltier in God's sight than the (then) modern towns of Galilee? No, replied the great Teacher. Had these ruined cities of a former age enjoyed such privileges as the citizens of his own time were possessing but neglecting, they would have repented and would have been spared. We must take care how we argue from sudden and severe evils to the relative guiltiness of the sufferers. These evils may clearly indicate wrong; they may (though in some cases they do not) indicate very great wrong-doing; but they do not prove that those on whom they descend are more guilty than others who are spared.
1. God may think well, in one case, to manifest his holiness by severe visitation, and in another case to illustrate his patience by delaying long the stroke of justice.
2. God may punish one city (or man) by physical and visible inflictions; he may chastise another by letting his moral laws do their appointed work, and bring down the men themselves to that low spiritual estate which is the saddest and direst consequence of sin.
III. THAT PRIVILEGE IS VERY PRECIOUS, BUT IT IS ALSO VERY PERILOUS. Capernaum was "exalted to heaven," raised very high indeed in privilege. There the Son of God abode; there he wrought his mightiest works; there he lived his holy, patient, loving life; there he spake his deep, broad, ever-living truths; there God was manifested in power and grace. It was favored above all cities in the height of its spiritual privileges. But it knew not the day of its visitation; it drew not nigh in reverence to its Lord; it rejected his doctrine; it remained afar off from God and heavenly wisdom. And it incurred thereby the Savior's strong condemnation; it accumulated guilt, and laid up for itself wrath against the day of wrath; it was "thrust down to hell" in reproach and retribution. We learn, more particularly:
1. That humility of spirit, rather than reproachfulness of tone, becomes us.
2. That the children of special privilege have great reason for devout heart-searching, lest they should find themselves the heirs of Divine condemnation. - C.
them, - they would be entertaining him; but those who rejected them would do more and worse than repulsing them, - they would be despising him, nay, even the Father himself. That there is more in our acts, and so in our lives, than appears on the surface was a frequent doctrine of our Lord. In his first sermon he intimated that those who cherished a causeless anger or spoke a contemptuous word against their brethren were guilty of a very serious offense in the sight of God; and so also they who imagined themselves chargeable with nothing more than a hasty word (see Matthew 5:22, 34-36). He told his disciples that that "poor widow" was making a very much larger offering than the rest - a much greater one, we may be sure, than she herself suspected (Luke 21:1-4; see also Luke 23:34). Christ saw more in men's actions, both for good and evil, than they saw themselves at the time. It is the wisdom of the wise to recognize much in words and deeds, in decisions and in actions, which seem small to those that do them. Our human life is larger than we think as we live it; its several actions have more seriousness in the sight of God, and from our life greater issues will proceed than any we can estimate. This main underlying principle will apply to -
I. THE MESSENGERS AND THE MESSAGES THAT COME TO US FROM JESUS CHRIST. There may come to speak to us concerning the habits or the purpose of our life, or the character we are forming, or the good we are doing or leaving undone, or the prospects that are before us, some messenger that appears in very humble form, not delegated by any high authority, not sustained by any learning, not armed with any eloquence; there may be nothing more about the outward spokesman than a plain or even a blunt man, nothing better about the form of the message than a periodical which has no worth in the market at all; and yet the message which comes through that very common, through that vulgar medium, may come from above, may come from Christ himself, to warn or to arrest us, to lead us out of the dark shadows we were entering, into the path of life. And in repelling that message we should be rejecting the very truth of God; in accepting and heeding it we should be welcoming our Lord himself, and taking his Divine influences into our soul. This principle of the greater value and seriousness of our life finds an illustration in -
II. THE STUDIES OF YOUNGER DAYS. They who have to go through the daily task in the school or home see nothing more in their work than the laborious gratification of their teacher. But there is much more in it than that. There is obedience to parents; there is the consequent pleasing of God, and the reward of filial behavior; there is the serving and honoring of Jesus Christ by diligence and dutifulness, by doing the right thing as in his presence and as unto him; there is the mental and moral growth which prepares for an honorable and useful manhood. Life at home or at school, in our earlier days, is really a larger thing, with larger and greater issues, than it seems to be at the time. The same is true of - .
III. STRUGGLES FOR HONOURABLE MAINTENANCE. The Christian man who thinks he is doing nothing more than "paying his way," is or may be doing a very great deal more than that. He is illustrating in his sphere the very principles which the Lord himself taught and lived when he was here; he is translating godliness, Christliness, into busy human life; he is preparing for some broader sphere in that higher kingdom where, if not before, he that has been found faithful in that which is least will be proved to be faithful in much. We not only speak in the spirit and strain of our Lord's words, but we pursue the same subject when we refer to -
IV. ENDEAVOURS TO SERVE OUR FELLOW-MEN; and this, whether in the way of common philanthropy, or of distinctively religious service. Do we ask of those whom we find in the school, or the mission-room, or the church, "What are you doing here?" And do they reply, "We are only teaching some children, only feeding some poor people, only trying to gather some wanderers into the fold"? Then shall we reply to them, and say, "Nay, but you are doing much more than that: you are serving them; and you are rendering the very highest service you can to yourselves, for you are sowing seed of which you shall one day reap a glorious harvest of joy and power; and you are also serving your Savior, and that in a way in which he most delights to be served. He is saying to you, 'If you had eyes to see, you would recognize me in those pinched faces and ill-clad forms; if you had ears to hear, you would recognize my voice in those plaintive tones; it is my need that you are supplying, it is my heart that you are gladdening: inasmuch as you are carrying succor, strength, hope, life, to one of the least of these, you are doing it unto me." - C.
I. THAT IT IS BETTER TO BUILD ON CHARACTER THAN ON CIRCUMSTANCE. This was a very pleasing incident in the life of the seventy; they would always look back to it with pleasure, and speak of it with interest to themselves and others. But it was only an incident. It was decisive of nothing. It did not determine their future course, their final destiny. They might, have done what they did and yet have gone downward and reached an evil end. To have "their names written in heaven" meant to be right at heart, to be reconciled to God, to be loyal citizens of the spiritual and heavenly kingdom, to be sound and true within. It is this which is to be desired and to be sought and to be built upon. Life may have a large number of interesting episodes, of gratifying circumstances, and may yet be a miserable failure, may have to be looked back upon with pain and shame. To be right with God, to have "truth in the inward parts," to be such a one on earth as that those who live in heaven will recognize us as their kindred, - that is the thing to be concerned about, that is the goal to be gained at all costs, the true source of human joy.
II. THAT IT IS BETTER TO ENJOY THE ABIDING FAVOUR OF GOD THAN THE SHORT-LIVED THANKS OF MAN. Doubtless one part of the satisfaction which the seventy enjoyed was the gratitude they received from those whom they relieved; but better than human gratitude is the favor of the living God. The thankfulness of a sensitive and responsive human soul is by no means to be despised or disregarded, but it is a very precarious basis of human happiness. It is sometimes denied where it is most due; it is sometimes very slight and transient when it should be deep and lasting. But God's favor abides. "Having loved his own, he loves them to the end;" "In his favor is life." If we are upheld in our integrity, and God sets us before his face for ever (Psalm 41:12), we can afford to part with other things.
"Better to walk the realm unseen III. THAT IT IS BETTER TO EXERT A LASTING INFLUENCE FOR GOOD UPON THE SOUL THAN TO CONFER A TEMPORARY GOOD UPON THE BODY. The bodily service rendered by the seventy was great as far as it went and so long as it lasted. But the eyes then and by their means opened, and the ears then unstopped, were soon closed again in death; and the feet then made to walk were soon motionless in the grave. But to have their names written in heaven, and to be thus prepared to enlighten the minds and to quicken the souls of men, was to be in a position to render lasting, even everlasting good; that was to confer immeasurable benefit on those whom they sought to bless. 1. Are our names written in that book of life? 2. Are we appreciating its inestimable value? 3. Are we making use of the qualifications it implies to serve our fellow-men in the highest ways? - C.
III. THAT IT IS BETTER TO EXERT A LASTING INFLUENCE FOR GOOD UPON THE SOUL THAN TO CONFER A TEMPORARY GOOD UPON THE BODY. The bodily service rendered by the seventy was great as far as it went and so long as it lasted. But the eyes then and by their means opened, and the ears then unstopped, were soon closed again in death; and the feet then made to walk were soon motionless in the grave. But to have their names written in heaven, and to be thus prepared to enlighten the minds and to quicken the souls of men, was to be in a position to render lasting, even everlasting good; that was to confer immeasurable benefit on those whom they sought to bless.
1. Are our names written in that book of life?
2. Are we appreciating its inestimable value?
3. Are we making use of the qualifications it implies to serve our fellow-men in the highest ways? - C.
I. THE GLADNESS OF GRATITUDE. "Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father." Joy and thankfulness are here united, as indeed they are everywhere. It is gratitude that holds the key to happiness of heart and life. Who are the miserable? Not the poor; they are often the most contented. Not the afflicted; they are often very cheerful under great privation. Not the lonely; they are found happy in their solitude, conversing with the departed great or communing with the Highest. It is the ungrateful who are the unhappy; it is they who take every kindness shown them by their fellow-men in a spirit of surliness, as if they deserved more than they have received; it is they who accept innumerable mercies and the "unspeakable Gift" at the hand of God without response, unmindful of the one, unappreciative of and ungrateful for the other. Who are the happy? Not the rich because they are rich; not the strong because they are strong; not those who have many friends because they have them. These may be burdened, wearied, wretched, and their life be darkly shadowed. It is the grateful who are the happy souls; it is they who receive with appreciation and thankfulness whatever man may give them, whether of love, of confidence, of sympathy, of practical help; it is they who have a deep sense of the kindness of the heavenly Father, and of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. The heart that is full of gratitude is the heart that is full of joy; and such joy is both pure and lasting.
II. THE HERITAGE OF THE HUMBLE-HEARTED. "Thou hast hid these things from the wise,... and revealed them unto babes."
1. In our Lord's time the scribes and lawyers "rejected the counsel of God;" they refused the wisdom of the Wisest; and the supercilious Sadducees stood aloof from the kingdom of Divine truth, from the kingdom of God. The "wise and prudent" were too haughty of heart to part with their beloved prejudices and to welcome the new truth which the great Teacher brought them. But the "common people heard him gladly;" all "the people" were "very attentive to hear him." The fishermen of Galilee left their nets and their ships to follow him.
2. In the time of the apostles the same results were found (see 1 Corinthians 1:26-28).
3. In our own time we find that they who have gathered together a little human learning are apt to think that they are competent to solve, unaided, all the great problems of their being and their destiny, and they close the gates of their mind against the great verities of the Christian faith. But they who know how little they have grasped of all that is to be acquired, and who stand as "babes," as very little children, before the Divine Father, are ready to welcome to their souls all that he is ready to reveal to them, and theirs is the blessed heritage of spiritual truth, of heavenly wisdom, of eternal life.
III. THE REFUGE OF THE PERPLEXED. "Even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight." We have our perplexities now, and they, may weigh upon our spirit with crushing power. We cannot understand God's doings or his inaction in the wide human world, or in the Church of Christ, or in the more limited sphere where our own interests and efforts lie. The more we think the more we are assured that we are baffled and beaten. The various solutions proposed do not reach the heart of the difficulty. What, then, can we do? Just retreat to that safe refuge - the strong, immovable assurance that all things are in the hands, and are subject to the guidance, of a holy, wise, loving Father. - C.
I. As RELATED TO DISTINGUISHED MEN BEFORE THE ADVENT.
1. It was one of some disadvantage; they were men in a very much humbler position than many of the great in past days. Great kings had lived in a social state and with pleasant surroundings to which they could lay no claim; in society they were nowhere; of this world's luxuries and trappings they had nothing. Moreover, they were in a much less powerful position than some of the great men that had gone. Prophets had made or unmade kings; or they had delivered laws or changed customs, materially affecting the civil, social, moral, and religious life of the nation; witness Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Nehemiah, John. The apostles of our Lord were not doing anything of this kind when he spoke to them; they had done very little of a public character thus far; their influence had not been felt in the life of their countrymen.
2. It was one of glorious advantage in one respect. They had the most distinguished honor of being the personal attendants upon the Messiah himself. They not only saw his face and heard his words, but they ministered to his wants; they rendered him service; and, by rendering him service, they contributed largely and importantly to the well-being of all later generations.
3. It was one of greater honor than they themselves supposed; for he at whose feet they sat and of whose truth they drank was One very much higher than they imagined even their Messiah would be; and he wrought a greater good for a larger world than they conceived it possible even for the Anointed of God to work.
II. AS RELATED TO OURSELVES.
1. Their position was one of supreme privilege in one great particular - they attended upon and they served Jesus Christ himself, in his own Person. That was an honor which stands by itself; it is unique; of its kind it is unapproachable. Let any disciple of the later time reach any imaginable position; he must feel that in actually ministering to our Lord, supplying his necessities, being sympathetically as well as bodily present "with him in his trials," helping him in his supreme and critical work, the apostles of our Lord stand pre-eminent.
2. And in being the first to publish the gospel after our Lord's ascension they also stand in the very front rank.
3. It was also a very distinct advantage to receive Christian truth direct, without intervening media, with nothing to subtract from it or to add to it; they had truth at the fountain source, uncorrupted by the channels through which it passed.
4. But they were subject to some disadvantage also.
(1) Jesus Christ was not, in his Divine Person, so fully revealed to them as he has been to us; that would have made free and full fellowship utterly impossible.
(2) His doctrine was not as complete at the time of our text as it afterwards became; for his death, resurrection, and ascension constitute a very large part of Christian truth.
(3) They had not the advantage of Christian experience we possess. All the thoughts of wise Christian thinkers during many centuries; all the recorded experience of multitudes of Christian lives; all the moral and spiritual workings and triumphs of Christian truth and principle under many skies and through many ages; - these are ours as they were not theirs. Our privilege, even as compared with theirs, is very great indeed. Perchance our Lord would tell us, if he spake to us to-day, that it is as great as theirs, and that our responsibility answers to our privilege. - C.
1. If to those Greeks who came to see Jesus (John 12:20), he had said that the greatest obligation, or, as they would have put it, the most fitting thing, was for man to love God, they would have been amazed. They would have been prepared to render services and sacrifices to their deities, but to love God with all the heart was beyond their most active imagination.
2. If Christ had uttered this truth to the Roman procurator before whom he appeared, he would have been equally astonished.
3. This truth was far in advance of the Jew, as well as of the Greek and the Roman. It is true that it was to be found in his Law (see Deuteronomy 6:4, 5; Deuteronomy 10:12; Deuteronomy 30:20). But it was not in his mind, in his heart, in his cherished convictions, in his life. He "tithed mint and rue and all manner of herbs, but passed over... the love of God" (Luke 11:42). Even the worthies of Old Testament times were men who were more constantly and profoundly affected by the sentiment of holy fear than fervent love. "I fear God," rather than "I love God," was the summary of their religious character. How do we account for this?
I. THE JEW HAD REVERENCE ENOUGH FOR GOD TO BE ABLE TO LOVE HIM. The Roman, the Greek, had not. We must respect those whom we love, and the beings they worshipped could not be respected; they were unworthy of regard. Not so he whom the Jew worshipped. He was the Just, the Righteous, the Faithful, the Holy One. The Jew honored, he revered, God enough to be able to love him.
II. HE HAD A VERY CONSIDERABLE KNOWLEDGE OF THE GRACE AND MERCY OF GOD. For we find in Old Testament Scripture passages affirming the kindness, the pity, the patience, the mercy, of God, well worthy to be placed by the side of any we find in the New (Exodus 34:6, 7; Psalm 103:8-14; Psalm 145:8, 9; Micah 7:18, etc.). It was surely possible for him to let reverence ascend to love.
III. TO SOME EXTENT THE JEW DID LOVE GOD. Abraham was "his friend." David could exclaim, "Oh, love the Lord, all ye his saints!" "I love the Lord, because," etc. Yet it was not love but fear that was the central, commanding, regulating element of his inner life. This need not surprise us when we consider -
IV. THE JEW DID NOT KNOW GOD AS REVEALED IN JESUS CHRIST.
1. He had not heard Jesus speaking of the Divine Father hating sin but pitying and yearning over the sinner, determining at his own great cost to redeem him, as we have done.
2. He had not witnessed the Savior's life as we have followed it; had not seen the Father's character and spirit reflected in that of the Son, with his tender affection, his inexhaustible patience, his matchless condescension, his generous forgiveness.
3. He did not know the story and the meaning of his death; had not had, like us, a vision of the love of God paying that great price for our redemption, bearing that burden on our behalf, pouring itself out in pain and shame and sorrow for our sake. It is at Calvary, far more than elsewhere, that we learn the blessed secret of the love of God - his love for us, our love for him. We learn:
(1) That to love God is the highest heritage of our manhood. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he;" as we think, we are; a man is great or small, noble or ignoble, according as he thinks and feels; the height of our love is the stature of our soul, is the measure of ourselves. God invites us to love him, the Highest One, and by so doing he immeasurably enriches and ennobles us. If he filled our house with gold he would only give us something pleasant to have; but in inviting us to love him he confers on us that which is blessed and noble to be.
(2) That not to have loved God is the most condemning fact of our lives. Do we say," All these [prohibitions] have we kept from our youth up: what commandment have we broken?" We reply, "The first and great commandment. Have you loved God with all your heart?" We may well bow our head in shame as we realize the poor and pitiful response we have made to the Fatherly love of God.
(3) That the fact that we can at once return to God, in filial devotion, is the best of all glad tidings. Our return to him begins in humility, goes on in faith, is completed and perfected in love.
(4) That the fact that we shall continue to love God is the brightest of all good prospects. Other things will fail us sooner or later, but "the love of God which is in Jesus Christ" in our hearts will take us everywhere, will be our refuge and defense in all emergencies, will sanctify our joy and our prosperity, will be with us at the last scenes, will cross the river with us and will be with us and in us on the other side, will be our passport to and our qualification for the brightest and broadest spheres in the heavenly kingdom. - C.
etc. Jesus then drives home the arrow of conviction by saying, "Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live." The lawyer, if he will only analyze his life fairly, must admit that he has failed to fulfill the Law. This suggests -
I. THE EXPERIENCE OF CHRIST IN FULFILLING THE LAW. When our Lord said to 'the lawyer, "This do, and thou shalt live," he was giving forth his own experience. He was himself loving God with all his heart, and all his soul, and all his strength, and all his mind; he was also loving his neighbor as himself; and he found and felt that this was life, and life everlasting too. Doubtless he might have to die, but beyond death there was the compensation of resurrection. He was entitled to life on the ground of law, since he had kept it in every particular. What the lawyer imagined he could do, Jesus had actually done. He had acquired the right, not on his own behalf merely, but also on behalf of all who trust in him, to the life everlasting. The obedience of Jesus to Law was the perfect obedience required.
II. THE ATTEMPT AT SELF-JUSTIFICATION ON THE LAWYER'S PART. He seems to have thought that his attitude to God was unimpeachable; but he was not so clear about having fulfilled his duty by his neighbor. Hence he asked Jesus to define "neighborhood." The Jew had the notion that, because he belonged to the chosen people, he had to show neighbourliness only to those of his own nation; all the rest were "dogs." And this lawyer had been as proud and as contemptuous as any of his tribe. Hence he wants from Jesus some definition of who his neighbor is, that he may estimate his own duty and the patriotism of Christ. The excuses in which selfish men indulge are marvellous. They are ready on any pretext to defend their selfishness.
III. JESUS DEFINES "NEIGHBOURHOOD" BY THE PRECIOUS PARABLE OF THE GOOD SAMARITAN, And here we have four characters brought before us. Let us look at them in order.
1. The half-murdered traveler. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho has been from time immemorial infested by robbers. It is so still. This poor traveler has met the cruel fate of many before and since Christ's time. The highwaymen have robbed him of all he had, and almost of his life too. It is a case of unmistakable need. There is no possibility of deception in the circumstances.
2. The heartless priest. Coming down from the holy services at the temple, he so far forgets himself as to ignore the half-murdered man's wants, and pass by on the other side. The aristocratism of office has steeled his heart against those charitable impulses which the case should have evoked.
3. The heartless Levite. The sole difference between these two officials was that the Levite seems to have crossed the road, to have looked upon him, and then, judging it a hopeless case, or one in which he could render no help, passed by, like the priest, on the other side.
4. The good Samaritan. This man might have said, "This poor fellow is one of those Jews, who wilt have no dealings with us Samaritans; he has often, most likely, called us dogs; he deserves no care." But instead of looking for excuses for neglecting the sufferer, he gives his heart free play, and owns the poor man as a brother in distress. The result is he dismounts, and pours into his wounds oil and wine - the best remedies, the one to keep down inflammation, and the other to heal; and, having carefully bound up his wounds, he sets him on his own beast and brings him to the nearest inn and has him comfortably lodged. The next day he pays the bill, and becomes the innkeeper's security for anything more the patient may require until he is sound and well. Here is neighbourliness. Our neighbor is whoever is laid in our path by Providence and really needs our help. If we look carefully into the case, as the Samaritan here did, and conclude that it is a case of real need, then we should recognize in the needy one our neighbor, and have mercy on him. As Jesus dismisses the lawyer with this ideal neighbourliness before him, the self-justification must have passed completely away. Now, we have here the cosmopolitan spirit which Christianity fosters, and which is above and beyond the fellow-citizenship and patriotism which alone earlier civilizations fostered. Christ taught his people to be "citizens of the world," and to recognize in every needy human being a" man and a brother." It was in this spirit our Lord himself lived, and so he was able to inculcate it powerfully upon his people.
IV. THE GOOD PART AS DEFINED AT BETHANY. (Vers. 35-42.) And here we have to notice the two types of character presented to the Lord.
1. Martha, to whom life is a perpetual worry and weariness. She was a Christian in the real sense, for she loved her Lord; but she was a Christian who had not escaped from the fuss and weariness which make up the life of so many. Besides, all her bustle was really under a false impression, that the greatest compliment she could pay her Master was to give him a good physical feast. She never fancied that a good listener like Mary complimented the Master more than any repast could. Hence Martha's fret and weariness.
2. Mary, to whom life is a calm fulfillment of her Master's will. The good part Mary chose was that of a scholar at Christ's feet, whose word is deemed Mary's law. This one idea made life simple and supremely blessed. Let us make sure of it, and the fret and worry of life shall cease, and an orderly and blessed procession of duties will make us experience a foretaste of heaven. The following poem expresses as beautifully as possible the thought of this passage; it is entitled "Cumbered about much Serving:" -
"Christ never asks of us such busy labor "He sometimes wants our ear - our rapt attention, "We sometimes wonder why our Lord doth place us "Well. God loves patience! Souls that dwell in stillness, "As they who grapple with some giant evil, "And yet he does love service, where 'tis given "Then seek to please him, whatsoe'er he bids thee!
"He sometimes wants our ear - our rapt attention, "We sometimes wonder why our Lord doth place us "Well. God loves patience! Souls that dwell in stillness, "As they who grapple with some giant evil, "And yet he does love service, where 'tis given "Then seek to please him, whatsoe'er he bids thee!
"We sometimes wonder why our Lord doth place us "Well. God loves patience! Souls that dwell in stillness, "As they who grapple with some giant evil, "And yet he does love service, where 'tis given "Then seek to please him, whatsoe'er he bids thee!
our neighbor?" - in our thought, in our feeling and practice? Who are those we feel bound to love and help? Our kindred, those of our fellow-citizens from whom we want the interchange of civilities, our countrymen, - do we draw the line there? If so, we "have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ" in this matter; we are falling out of rank as his disciples. There is nothing especially Christian about the affection we feel or the kindness we show to these. Going thus far, we go no further than pagans have gone before us. We must transcend this if we are to be worthy of the name we bear. In order to be that, we must find our neighbor everywhere and in every one, but more especially in the man who has need of us. The Christian conception of "our neighbor" -
I. OVERSTEPS THE LIMIT OF RACE. It is painful to think that men have been taught to look upon those who inhabit other lands with positive enmity, so much so that even Cicero could say that the natural relation of neighboring nations was that of enmity; that whole peoples (like the Greeks and the Chinese) should treat the outer world as "barbarians" to be despised and avoided. It is foolish and illogical enough, but it has been all too common. Nothing but the prevalence of Christian principle and the permeating force of the Christian spirit will avail to lead us to love those beyond our borders, without the pale of our own civilization.
II. REMOVES THE LIMIT OF SPACE. The simple and common notion of a neighbor is that of one locally near to us. But that idea, under Christ, has been very greatly enlarged. But is true that, since he spoke, we have seemed to be further off, in space, from one another. For those to whom he spoke had no notion of the width of the world, no idea that there were fellow-men living twelve thousand miles away from them.
2. But it is also true that, since he spoke, we have been brought near to one another.
(1) Christian civilization has given us an intimate knowledge of one another, so that we know more of what is happening in India than the "dwellers in Jerusalem" knew then of the events occurring in Nazareth; and
(2) Christian zeal has made possible to us a genuine sympathy and a practical kindness. We can, by rutting a coin in a plate, help to send the light of Divine truth to men of every color, in every latitude and longitude of the habitable globe. Who is our neighbor? All men beneath all skies, and it is open to us all to do something to help the wounded pilgrim on life's highway, even in remotest lands, to health and joy and life.
III. TRANSCENDS THE LIMIT OF CHARACTER. If that lawyer had answered his own question, it is certain that he would have given a reply which would have excluded the ungodly and the immoral. But in Christ's view the neighbor we should commiserate and rescue is not only the poor traveler who has fallen among thieves, but the erring soul who has lost his way in the search of truth, and that pitiable one who has fallen into the mire of guilt and shame; those who have been smitten by the worst of all strokes, and have descended into the darkest of all shadows. Our neighbor, in the view of our Lord, is not the man who is up and who can assist us on our way, but he that is down and whom we can help to rise; he is the man who is most in need of our sympathy and our succor; he is the man who has a bruised and bleeding heart that patient, sacrificial love alone can heal. If we will go to him and help and bless him, and make ourselves "neighbor unto" him, we shall thus "fulfill the law of Christ;" and we shall thus be not only "keeping his commandment," but living his life. - C.
I. THE COMPARISON WHICH OUR LORD WAS MAKING. (Ver. 42.) For it was comparison, not a contrast - a comparison between the choice that was good but was not the best, and the choice that was the good one. It was not a contrast between the absolutely bad and the positively good; it was a comparison between the good that was insufficient and the good that sufficed. There are those who choose the positively bad - pleasures which are unlawful, profits which are dishonest, a life that is ungodly. Christ condemns this elsewhere; but here (in the text) he is condemning another thing. He condemns the too-absorbing pursuit of that which is not supreme, which is good only up to a certain point, and beyond that is powerless. Christ was comparing the woman who was absorbed in doing a right but an inferior thing with her sister who was intent on the highest and best of all.
II. THE INFERENCE HE WAS DRAWING. That many good things, however many they may be, do not constitute the good thing, and that they will disappear and disappoint. Health, home comforts, worldly position, literary delights, art, - these are good in their measure; but they will not together make up our human requirement; they are not "the bread of life" and "the water of life;" they do not satisty, and they will not last; sooner or later they break down and leave us portionless and hopeless.
III. THE POINT WHICH HE WAS PRESSING. There is one thing which is so surpassingly excellent that it may be considered the one good thing - that good part which shall not be taken away." To Mary this was Divine truth as it came to her in the Person and in the words of Jesus Christ. And to us it is also heavenly wisdom, as we gain it direct from our Divine Lord. She drank in that immortal truth as she "sat at his fact, and heard his word." We also receive it into our hearts as we "go unto him" and "learn of him," as we follow him, and as we abide in him. Of him we learn the way to God, the way to the light and the peace and the life which are in him. From him we gain forgiveness, friendship, purity, usefulness, a hope that does not make ashamed. This is the "good part," the intrinsically precious, the invaluable thing, of which no figures can indicate the worth; it is the good part which can never be lost. For there is no power on earth that can touch it to harm it. Disease will not waste it, fire will not consume it, force will not crush it, fraud will not steal it, time will not enfeeble it, death will not destroy it, the grave will not hold it. It lives ever and outlives everything which the eyes can see, on which the hand can rest. This is the one thing which is above high-water mark; all other, all earthly good things will be washed away by the incoming tide; but this portion, this heritage, no wave will reach in the mightiest storm. This is the "part" to choose.
1. We all can choose it. God is opening his hand to offer it; we can open ours to take it if we will; our destiny is in our choice.
2. We must choose it. If we fail to do so, we shall not only shut ourselves out from all that is most worth having and being, but we shall shut ourselves in to loss, to shame, to death. - C.