Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE CURE FOR HYPOCRISY. (Vers. 1-3.) Our Lord brings this out in a distinct revelation that everything is yet to be dragged into the light of day. These are his words: "There is nothing covered ['covered up,' Revised Version'], that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known." There is nothing in nature which would lead us to such a wonderful truth; it is a matter of distinct revelation. Everything, it appears, is constructed on the public principle. We are all living public lives if we only knew it. All attempts at secrecy are destined to prove failures; consequently, hypocrisy is a mistake. It can impose only for a time; sooner or later it will be exposed and despised. Hence our Lord recommends the people to speak, if they have to do so, in the darkness only what they are willing should be heard in the light, and to whisper in closets only such things as may be proclaimed on the housetops. By God's arrangement secrecy is impossible, and publicity the inevitable destiny of all and of everything. It is consequently this persuasion of ultimate publicity which constitutes the Divine remedy for hypocrisy. All hypocrisy proceeds from forgetfulness or disbelief of this.
II. THE EXPULSIVE POWER OF GODLY FEAR. (Vers. 4, 5.) Our Lord wishes to guard the people from the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy, and also from cowardly fear of Pharisaic opposition. Accordingly, he points out that the Pharisees could at the very most kill the body; they have, after that, "no more that they can do." But there is another One who can cast into "Gehenna" after he hath killed, and him they should fear. We discard the idea suggested by Stier and others that this is the devil; especially as courage is not likely to be created by substituting, for fear of diabolical men, the fear of the devil himself. This would be a poor basis for the martyr-spirit. We believe that the fear of man is to be expelled and supplanted by the fear of God, who can consign the soul to Gehenna after death. And our Lord shows here that the fear of God begins in dread of his infinite power. No soul, we suppose, ever turns to God without passing through this stage, however brier' may be the sojourn in it. God's vaster power makes the hostile power of mere men appear trifling, and we wisely resolve to have men for our enemies rather than God. But once this sense of God's great power has overcome our craven fear of man, we begin to realize that we may have all his power on our side. He will pardon us and take us under his protection, and enable us to fear no evil. Godly fear, consequently, gets modified in our experience, and passes from slavish fear and dread into reverential and filial/bar of God as an almighty Father.
III. GOD'S MICROSCOPIC AND PRESENT PROVIDENCE. (Vers. 6, 7.) The sparrows may be cheap in man's estimation - five for two farthings - but "not one of them is forgotten before God." He caters for them. His providence is minute enough to take them under his wings. Men ought, therefore, to take courage from the assurance that, in God's sight, they "are of more value than many sparrows." And God's oversight is so microscopic that he counts the very hairs of our head. Hence the contest with their Pharisaic and worldly foes is to be conducted under the sweet assurance that greater is he who is for them than all who are against them, and that his care is so minute as to extend to the numbering of the hairs of their head. A great Being on our side, so minute and careful in his interest, is fit to inspire with dauntless courage every one who realizes his presence by faith and trusts him.
IV. THE IMPORTANCE OF CONFESSING CHRIST. (Vers. 8, 9.) Our Lord further shows how important it is to confess him; but in the other life there is to be another confession - the confession before the angels of the courageous souls who have confessed Christ here. On the other hand, there is to be a denial of the cowards who denied Christ here. Out of the publicity of the future life, therefore, our Lord draws such considerations as are fitted to rally souls around him in courageous confession. And there can be no doubt that this great publicity which our Lord locates in the future life is a fountain-head of courage for souls struggling with opposition. The highest type of courage can undoubtedly be produced through the doctrine of a future life with its rewards and punishments.
V. THE DANGER OF BLASPHEMY AGAINST THE HOLY GHOST. (Ver. 10.) The introduction of the Holy Ghost in connection with the Pharisaic opposition seems to have been suggested in this way: the Pharisees, not content with libelling and defaming Christ, professed to trace his power over demons to its source. This, they asserted, was not the Holy Ghost, but Beelzebub within him. That is to say, they attributed spiritual results to a diabolic origin. In this way they blasphemed the Holy Ghost. Now, our Lord, in his meekness and lowliness of mind, declares that there is forgiveness for unfair words against him, but warns those who are misinterpreting the Spirit's work, that blasphemy against him if continued cannot be forgiven. Now, this subject of the unpardonable sin has given rise to much discussion, but, perhaps, the best view is that adopted by such men as Stier, Tholuck, Olshausen, Hahn, Julius Muller, and Hoffmann - "an internal state of the highest sinfulness which cannot be changed, and shows itself in speech or action, resisting or deliberately setting the soul against the influences of the Holy Ghost." Its practical value is immense. It should lead every thoughtful soul to guard against all trifling with or grieving of the good Spirit whose agency within us alone secures the victory over evil. The Pharisees were treading on the confines of the terrible sin in their denunciation of Christ, and the multitude Christ was addressing and all who have the offer of spiritual help should guard against all offense offered to the all-important Spirit.
VI. THE INSPIRATIONS TO BE EXPECTED FROM THE GOOD SPIRIT, (Vers. 11, 12.) The calumniated Spirit would sustain the confessors of Christ before their enemies, so that all the tried men had got to do was to rely on his inspirations, and they would never fail them. The Holy Ghost would prompt such words and thoughts as would secure on their part a good confession. And a similar aid is to be expected by all Christ's witnesses as they confront the world. If we but rely on his help, he will never fail us. Of course, this does not encourage idleness and want of preparation for the emergencies of life. The Spirit is more likely to inspire a studious, careful, prayerful man than a self-reliant idler. But reliance on the Spirit's inspirations must never be rendered needless or doubtful by any prudent forethought we entertain. We are to be organs of the Spirit, and ought to act worthy of our high calling. - R.M.E.
ask - Does God hide? And the answer is - Yes, truly, "thou art a God that hidest thyself." He hides his own glory, that we may not be dazzled thereby; he hides the bliss of the beatified, that we may not be discontented thereby. Like as a father hides from his children many things which they will better learn a little later on, or had better make out for themselves, so God hides many things from us for the very same reasons. But he has so hidden treasures of truth and wisdom from us, that we have every possible inducement to search for them, and fall capacity to find them.
I. THE PROVISION MADE FOR OUR TEMPORAL WELFARE. Did he not hide the coal, the copper, the iron, the lead, the silver, the gold, that we might discover, might raise, might refine, might shape them to our use? And the corn which he gives us to eat, the raiment to wear, the music to enjoy, - these are only to be had by searching, by inquiry, by study, by endeavor. The powers of steam, of electricity, were long hidden from the knowledge of mankind, but they, with the other secrets of the world, are being known.
II. HIS SAVING AND SANCTIFYING TRUTH. Paul speaks much of "the mystery hidden from the generations," i.e. God's great purpose to redeem, not a nation from political bondage, but the whole human race from spiritual servitude and degradation; his purpose to accomplish this by coming to the world in the Person of his Son Jesus Christ. This was hidden in Old Testament promises, and in the Law given by Moses; it was there, undiscovered by any but a few discerning souls; and it was "not revealed unto the sons of men" until, enlightened by the Spirit of God, the apostles made known the riches of his grace. There are still some things in connection with Christian doctrine which may be said to be hidden, but which sooner or later will be revealed and known.
III. HUMAN CHARACTER AND HUMAN LIFE. There are depths of secrecy in these human hearts of ours. Evil thoughts may hide there unknown to any but to those that entertain them; nay, may lurk and work within the soul unsuspected even by that soul itself. For men are both better and worse than they know themselves to be. What purity and gentleness and self-sacrificing love may steal silently through life, and may pass and be forgotten! what deeds of truest heroism may be wrought which no pen records and no tongue recites] Yet the wrong shall be exposed, and the right be understood and honored; human character shall be read in the light of truth; the guilty shall be humbled and the upright be exalted "in that day."
1. Our duty. It is that of:
(1) Exposure. Tear the mask from the hypocrite; let the covering be torn off the false man, the charlatan, the betrayer of the soul, with a firm and fearless hand; make him stand out before his fellows stripped of his pretences; make it true that "there is nothing covered," etc.
(2) Disclosure. Live to teach, to enlighten, to enlarge. Let the secret of health, of wisdom, of usefulness, be published on every hand. Tell all you can reach - the children in the school, the sick by the bedside, the loiterers by the wayside, the congregation in the cottage, or the hall, or the church - the secret of pure and lasting joy, of real and true success.
2. Our danger. Since God will cause the hidden things to be known, since he will "bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of all hearts," since he "will judge the secrets of men," well may the guilty shudder, well may we all ask - Who shall abide that solemn hour? But there is an alternative. "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin." True penitence and genuine faith will secure for us such a covering that nothing shall be revealed. There is a Divine forgiveness which swallows up and hides for ever the wrong that we have done.
3. Our hope. "And then" - at that day - "shall every man have praise of God;" i.e. every man who is, in the true sense, praiseworthy; every man to whom Christ will be free to say, "I was hungry, and ye gave me meat; for inasmuch," etc. He who does good "to be seen of men" has his reward now; his recompense is exhausted here. But he who works for Christ and for men in the spirit of his Master has not his reward now; he has only a foretaste of it. The best of it has yet to come. And it will come; for there is nothing hidden that shall not be revealed. Blessed is the quiet, humble life of unpretending goodness, which is like the silent spring that makes the meadows green; from such lives as these come deeds of loveliness and usefulness to be made mention of by the lips of the Lord himself, when the things that are covered now shall be revealed, and the things which man overlooks God will own and honor. - C.
I. THE POWER WHICH MAN HAS TO HURT US.
1. He can wound our body. He can smite, can wound, can slay us. The sad story of human persecution contains only too many illustrations of this fact.
2. He can wound our spirit. This is a course he can, and still does very often take; he can mock, can sneer, can indulge in heartless ribaldry, can hold up our most sacred convictions to ridicule, and thus he can inflict on us a very deep wound. For words, though they may be the slightest, are yet the keenest of weapons, and "a wounded spirit who can bear?"
3. He can tempt us to evil. This is the worst thing he can do; he can make the evil suggestion, can give the perilous invitation, can make the guilty overture, which leads down to sin and to spiritual failure. There is no measure of pain he can inflict, or loss he can cause us to suffer, which equals in shamefulness this act of dark temptation. That is the deadly thing to do.
II. THE LIMITATION OF HIS POWER. Beyond these lines our worst enemies cannot go.
1. No man can follow us into the unseen realm. Beyond the veil we are safe from the questions of the inquisitor, the blows of the tyrant, the suggestions of the tempter. These may hunt us to very death, but "after that have no more that they can do." Truly, if this life were the sum of our existence, that would be much indeed - it would be everything. But since we know that it is not so, but only its first short term, only its initial stage, only its brief introduction, we may console our hearts with the thought that it is no great harm that the strongest potentate, with the sharpest sword, can do us.
2. No man can compel us to sin. A sinful deed includes the consent of the agent; and all the forces of iniquity and error can never compel a true and brave soul to assent to an evil act. The only great harm that can be done us is that which we do ourselves when we "consent to sin" when men tempt us to sin, - after that there is no more that they can do; if more is done, it' the line is crossed, it is of our own accord; the tempting is theirs, the sinning is ours.
III. THE ONLY ONE OF WHOM WE HAVE TO BE AFRAID. "Fear him," etc.; i.e. shrink from the disfavour of that Divine Lord of the human spirit who can punish according to our desert. To shrink from the condemnation of God is not an unworthy act on our part. It is both right and wise; for his condemnation is that of the Righteous One, and of the Mighty One also. It is only the guilty that are lost to all sense of obligation, and the foolish that are dead to all sense of prudence, who will be indifferent to the anger of God. Fear God's solemn displeasure, for if he rebukes it is certain that you are grievously in the wrong; fear it, for if he inflicts penalty there is none to deliver out of his hand, and, what is more, even death, that does deliver from the hand of man, is no shield from his power. Beyond the veil we are as much within his reach as we are on this side of it. There is every reason why we should seek and find his Divine favor, and live in the light of his countenance. We may go on in our thought, and be reminded by our Lord's words of -
IV. THE ONE WHOSE FRIENDSHIP WE SHOULD SEEN. "I say unto you, my friends. We do not simply want to escape the wrath of an offended Judge; we aspire to his favor and his love. Jesus Christ is offering us his friendship (see John 15:14, 15). If we will cordially accept him for all that he desires to be to us, we shall find in him the Friend in whom we shall implicitly confide, whom we shall gladly and happily love, by whose side and in the shelter of whose guardian care we shall walk all the way till the gates of home are reached. - C.
I. THAT CHRISTIANITY CENTRES IN THE PERSON OF JESUS CHRIST. Our Lord taught us much concerning ourselves - the inestimable value of our spiritual nature; the real source and spring of evil in our own souls; the true excellency of a human life; whom we should regard as our neighbor, etc. But he taught us still more of himself - of his relations with the Divine Father; of his essential superiority even to the greatest among mankind; of his sorrow and his death on behalf of the human race; of his mission to enlighten, to redeem, to satisfy the souls of men. And he not only affirmed, but frequently and emphatically urged, the doctrine that, if we would enter into life, we must come into the very closest personal relation with himself - trusting in him, loving him, abiding in him, following him, making him Refuge of the heart, Sovereign of the soul, Lord of the life. Not his truth, but himself, is the Source of our strength and our hope.
II. THAT JESUS CHRIST DEMANDS AN OPEN CONFESSION OF OUR FAITH IN HIM. More than once (see Mark 8:38) he insisted upon a clear recognition of his authority and regal position. He will have us "confess him before men." How shall we do that?
1. In a heathen country, by avowing the Christian faith, renouncing Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, etc., and declaring before all that Jesus Christ is the one Teacher of truth and Lord of man.
2. In a Christian country, by making it clear that we have accepted him as the Lord whom we are living to serve. We shall probably think it right to do this by attaching ourselves to some particular Christian community; also by regular, public worship of Christ; but certainly, in all cases,
(1) by paying honor to his Name;
(2) by upholding against his enemies the truth and worth of his religion;
(3) by translating his will into active human life in all its departments - domestic, social, commercial, political, ecclesiastical.
III. THAT COMPLIANCE WITH HIS DEMAND WILL SOON PROVE TO BE AN ACT OF THE FIRST IMPORTANCE. The day draws on when we shall meet our Master: then will he tell us what he thinks of us. Then, if we have failed to honor him, he will refuse to honor us "before the angels of God." What is involved in that denial? The worst of all exclusions - exclusion from the favor, from the home, of God. And then, if we have honored him, he will acknowledge us as his own. And what will that include?
1. Acceptance with the Judge of all.
2. The expression of his Divine approval - the "well done" of the Lord.
3. Admission to the heavenly kingdom, with all its advancing glory, its deepening joy, its extending influence, its enlarging life. - C.
I. A MAN CAN FEVER BE SATISFIED WITH THINGS. (Ver. 15.) This is the great mistake men are making. They imagine that things can satisfy their hearts; whereas we are so constituted, with our affections and emotions, that fellowship with persons is indispensable to any measure of satisfaction, and to full satisfaction with no less a Being than God himself. All the effort, consequently, to be satisfied with things, with gifts, when the Giver is left out, proves vain. No abundance can satisfy the craving of the heart. And the feverish desire for more and more wealth on the part of worldly men demonstrates simply that they are on the wrong track altogether, and that satisfaction can never be found in things. Covetousness, consequently, as the idolatry of things, is a total mistake. It misinterprets human nature, and is doomed to terrible disappointment.
II. SUCCESS MAY DOOM MEN TO LIFELONG WRONG. (Vers. 16-18.) The rich fool, as the man in the parable has been generally called, is overwhelmed by success. It outgrows his calculations. His barns are too small; they must be pulled down to allow of bigger barns being built, so that years of anxious labor are provided out of his inordinate success. He gets steeped to the lips in care. His life becomes a ceaseless worry. His grasping only secures his misery. It is truly lamentable to witness the self-inflicted wrong which worldly minds experience as they try to garner more and more of this world's goods to the neglect of better things. How well our great dramatist understood this! In his poems Shakespeare says -
"The profit of excess III. IN THE CAREER OF SUCCESS THERE IS ONLY A VAIN DESIRE FOR REST. (Ver. 19.) The soliloquy betrays the utter weariness of the man. After his bigger barns are built, away down the fretful years he will reach, he hopes, a time when he will be in a position to say to his soul, "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry." He longs for rest, but it will be years yet before he can think of it. All the worry and the fret of the interval must be passed before rest can come. His idea is to win rest by wealth; to buy it up by a certain measure of success. And the experience of all men is that rest is never got on this line at all. It is something that cannot be purchased, but must be God-given. How often do we see men who have retired with a competency at a loss how to kill time, and as weary and restless as ever! IV. DEATH CUTS THE SOUL OFF AT ONCE FROM HIS WORLDLY POSSESSIONS. (Vers. 20, 21.) We never hear of millionaires carrying their money-bags with them. A moment after death Croesus is no richer than the beggar. The things which were so anxiously amassed remain to be divided among the heirs, while the owner goes out into another world absolutely penniless. The state to which death reduces him is pitiful indeed. Having forgotten God the Giver through occupation with his gifts, he faces his Judge without a single feeling or aspiration which, in God's sight, is valuable at all. A miserable and wretched soul receives dismissal from the gracious God whose bounty was ignored and whose Being was despised. V. HOW ALL-IMPORTANT IN THESE CIRCUMSTANCES TO ACCEPT OF CONTENTMENT AND REST AS THE SAVIOUR'S OFFERED GIFT. If the young man had accepted of contentment in place of cherishing covetousness, he would have been at ease at once. Rest of spirit and growth of spirit would thus have been secured, and he would have been on not only equal terms with, but most probably superior terms to, his more grasping brother. It is thus that Jesus deals with us. He can give us a present rest from sin, from worry, from care of all kinds, and make us rich in the sight of God. With the riches of the soul in graces and gifts, we may hope to pass into the Divine presence and enjoy the Divine society and escape being castaways. - R.M.E.
III. IN THE CAREER OF SUCCESS THERE IS ONLY A VAIN DESIRE FOR REST. (Ver. 19.) The soliloquy betrays the utter weariness of the man. After his bigger barns are built, away down the fretful years he will reach, he hopes, a time when he will be in a position to say to his soul, "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry." He longs for rest, but it will be years yet before he can think of it. All the worry and the fret of the interval must be passed before rest can come. His idea is to win rest by wealth; to buy it up by a certain measure of success. And the experience of all men is that rest is never got on this line at all. It is something that cannot be purchased, but must be God-given. How often do we see men who have retired with a competency at a loss how to kill time, and as weary and restless as ever!
IV. DEATH CUTS THE SOUL OFF AT ONCE FROM HIS WORLDLY POSSESSIONS. (Vers. 20, 21.) We never hear of millionaires carrying their money-bags with them. A moment after death Croesus is no richer than the beggar. The things which were so anxiously amassed remain to be divided among the heirs, while the owner goes out into another world absolutely penniless. The state to which death reduces him is pitiful indeed. Having forgotten God the Giver through occupation with his gifts, he faces his Judge without a single feeling or aspiration which, in God's sight, is valuable at all. A miserable and wretched soul receives dismissal from the gracious God whose bounty was ignored and whose Being was despised.
V. HOW ALL-IMPORTANT IN THESE CIRCUMSTANCES TO ACCEPT OF CONTENTMENT AND REST AS THE SAVIOUR'S OFFERED GIFT. If the young man had accepted of contentment in place of cherishing covetousness, he would have been at ease at once. Rest of spirit and growth of spirit would thus have been secured, and he would have been on not only equal terms with, but most probably superior terms to, his more grasping brother. It is thus that Jesus deals with us. He can give us a present rest from sin, from worry, from care of all kinds, and make us rich in the sight of God. With the riches of the soul in graces and gifts, we may hope to pass into the Divine presence and enjoy the Divine society and escape being castaways. - R.M.E.
duration. For while to the insect the term of seventy years would seem a most noble expanse, on the other hand, compared with the age of a mountain or the duration of a star, it is an insignificant span. The truth is that the value of human life depends on what is done within its boundaries. Here quality is of the chief account. To the insensible stone all the ages are as nothing; to the dormant animal time is of no measurable value. To a thinking, sensitive spirit, with a great capacity for joy and sorrow, one half-hour may hold an inestimable measure of blessedness or of woe. There are three things it may include; we take them in the order of value, beginning at the least.
I. HAVING WHAT IS GOOD. "The things which a man possesseth" are of value to him. "Money is a defense," and it is also an acquisition, for it stands for all those necessaries and comforts, all those physical, social and intellectual advantages which it will buy. But it is a miserable delusion - a delusion which has slain the peace and prospects of many a thousand souls - that the one way to secure the excellency of life is to gain amplitude of material resources.
1. Muchness of money does not even ensure human happiness. The wealth that lives in fine houses and sits down to sumptuous tables and moves in "good circles" is very often indeed carrying with it a heavy heart, a burdened spirit, an unsatisfied soul. This is not the imagination of envy; it is the confession of sorrowful experience, uttered by many voices, witnessed by many lives.
2. Muchness of money does not constitute the excellency of human life. In a country where "business" means as much as it does in England, we are under a strong temptation to think that to have grown very rich is, by so doing, to have succeeded. That is a part of some men's success; but it does not constitute success in any man's life. A man may be enormously rich, and yet he may be an utter and pitiable failure. "In every society, and especially in a country like our own, there are those who derive their chief characteristics from what they have; who are always spoken of in terms of revenue, and of whom you would not be likely to think much but for the large account that stands in the ledger in their name So completely do they paint the idea of their life on the imagination of all who knew them, that, when they die, it is the fate of the money, not of the man, of which we are apt to think. Having put vast prizes in the funds, but only unprofitable blanks in our affections, they leave behind nothing but their property, or, as it is expressly termed, their effects. Their human personality hangs as a mere label upon a mass of treasure" (Dr. Martineau). A man's life should rise higher than that.
II. DOING WHAT IS JUST AND KIND. Far better is it to do the just and kind action than to have that which is pleasant and desirable. Life rises into real worth when it is spent in honorable and fruitful action. In sustaining right and useful relationships in the great world of business, carrying out our work on principles of righteousness and equity; in ruling the home firmly and kindly; in espousing the cause of the weak, the ignorant, the perishing; in striking some blows for national integrity and advancement - in such a healthful, honorable, elevating action as this "a man's life" is found. But this, in its turn, must rest on -
III. BEING WHAT IS RIGHT. For "out of the heart are the issues of life." Men may do a large number of good things, and yet be "nothing "in the sight of heavenly wisdom (see 1 Corinthians 13:1-3). The one true mainspring of a worthy human life is "the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." To love God, and therefore to love all that is good; to love God, and therefore to interest ourselves in and try to help all those who are so nearly related to him; to love God, and therefore to be moving on and up in an ever-ascending line toward Divine wisdom and worth; - this is the one victorious and successful thing. Without this, "a man's life" is a defeat and a failure, hold what it may; with it, it has the beginnings of a true success - it is already, and will be more than it now is, eternal life. - C.
I. THAT SUDDEN DEATH IS AN EVENT WHICH MAY OCCUR TO ANY ONE OF US. Human science has done much for us; and much in the direction of preserving and prolonging life. It has given to us a considerable knowledge of disease, and therefore an increased sense of danger. But it has not materially diminished the fact of a sudden and unanticipated end of our mortal life. It is probable that with the advance of civilization and the growing intricacies, complications, and obligations of human life, diseases of the heart have increased, and it is quite open to doubt whether sudden death is less frequent than it was. Certainly it is an ordinary rather than an extraordinary event. It is probable that these two words will be found at the head of at least one paragraph in any newspaper we may chance to be reading. Little as we realize it, it is a stern fact that it is quite possible that any man, enjoying the most robust health and in the midst of the most pressing and weighty duties, may be dead within the day on which we speak to him; that to this possibility there is absolutely no exception. Just now life may be to us and to those related to us of the greatest value; there may be a thousand reasons why, as it seems to us and to them, our life should be spared; and yet it may be of us that the word is passed in that realm where there is none to hinder, "This night thy soul shall be required of thee." It may be very trite, but it is most seriously true, that sudden death may come to any one of us.
II. THAT SOME SUDDENNESS IN DEATH IS AN EXPERIENCE WE ARE ALL LIKELY TO SHARE. Few remarks are more often made than that death was "sudden at the last." Even the sick man thinks that he will live; that there are months, or at least weeks, before him. They who are clearly and even loudly admonished, either by serious illness or by advanced age, that their end is drawing on will think and talk of the days that are coming, of the things they will accomplish. It is usually with a start of surprise that the patient learns from his attendant that he must die. Such is our human nature that, even when death comes gradually and kindly, the Master's words are applicable: "In such an hour as ye think not, the Son of man cometh."
III. THAT AMIDST HUMAN UNCERTAINTIES WE MAY HOLD FAST SOME DIVINE AND EVER-LIVING TRUTHS.
1. That it matters little whether our life be long or short, if only it be given to the service of Christ. Our Lord died a young man, and the term of his active public life is counted by months rather than by years; but what did he achieve!
2. That temporal success is not the true or the wise aim to set before the soul. There are far higher things we can do, and therefore should do; besides, our material achievements and possessions may be taken from our grasp at any hour.
3. That the right and wise course to take is to be ready for death whenever it may come. Readiness for death will secure us a true peace when the hour of trial arrives; it will also give us calmness of spirit, and therefore capacity for service and for pure enjoyment in the midst of life. - C.
(1) that material wealth is not of God, for it is he who gives us "power to get wealth" (Deuteronomy 8:18); or
(2) that the spiritual treasure a man secures is not "for himself," - indeed, that is the only treasure he can make permanently his own; he that is wise is wise for himself (Proverbs 9:12), and he has "rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another." But Christ would have us regard material acquisitions as of very small account indeed in comparison with the enrichment of the soul in God, with spiritual wealth. To be rich toward God may include -
I. A WEALTH OF RIGHT FEELING TOWARD GOD. There are certain thoughts and feelings which every intelligent being ought to cherish toward his Creator, in the absence of which he himself is poor, and in the presence of which he is rich. The more we have in our hearts of reverence for God; of trust in his Word of promise; of gratitude for his goodness and faithfulness; of love for him, our Father and our Savior; of filial submission to his holy will; of consecration to his cause and interest in the advancement of his kingdom, - the more "rich we are toward" him.
II. WEALTH IN QUALITIES WHICH ARE DIVINE, or being rich in the direction in which God himself is rich. We cannot, indeed, hope to be rich in some of his attributes in majesty, in power, in wisdom. But there are qualities in him in which we may have a real and a valuable share. As God is rich in righteousness, in truth and faithfulness, in goodness and kindness, in mercy and magnanimity, so may we hope, and so should we strive and pray, that we may be "partakers of the Divine nature" in these things also. Illumined by his truth, guided by his example, and inspired by his Spirit, we may have a goodly share in these great and noble qualities.
III. WEALTH IN GOD HIMSELF; in the enjoyment of his Divine favor and friendship; in the indwelling of his Holy Spirit in our souls, being thus enriched with his abiding presence and his gracious influence; in the enlarging and elevating contemplation of his character and worship of himself.
1. Have we any treasure at all in God.? As the Church at Laodicea imagined itself to be spiritually rich when it was miserably poor (Revelation 3:17), so may any Christian society of our own time; so may any individual member of a Church of Christ. If, in a searching and devout examination, we find that we are poor, there is nothing for us but to go to Jesus Christ anew, in humblest penitence and simplest faith and whole-hearted surrender.
2. Are we rich toward God? There are many degrees between beggary and wealth. We may not be absolutely destitute, and yet we may be far from rich toward God. We should aspire to "abound," to "be enlarged," to have a good measure of those qualities which constitute spiritual wealth. We must "buy of Christ" (Revelation 3:18), that we "may be rich;" we must abide in him, and so "bring forth much fruit" (John 15:5).
3. If we are rich toward God we may thankfully rejoice. The man who is "laying up treasure for himself" may be essentially and radically poor; he may be securing that which will give him no happiness, but only be a burden and a bane to him; he must part with it all soon. But he who is "rich toward God" has that which is wealth indeed; has a treasure which will gladden his heart and brighten his life; has a joy and an inheritance which are his for ever. - C.
and rest; believe in God, and be at peace; recognize the power and the love of your heavenly Father, and do not be 'greatly moved' by temporal necessities." And he reasons with us on the subject; he desires to prove to us the needlessness of anxiety in the presence of such a God and Father as is he whom we worship. He argues this-
1. FROM GOD'S GREATER KINDNESS TO OURSELVES. (Ver. 23.) Any one of our friends who would do us a very great kindness would certainly be prepared to render us a very small favor. To one who has done us a valuable service we should look with perfect confidence to do some slight office for us. The love which is equal to the one will be more than equal to the other. Now, God has given us life, and has been sustaining us in being by his constant visitation; he has given us our wonderfully constituted body, and he has been preserving it in health and strength for years. Will he who has conferred these great boons upon us withhold from us blessings so simple and so slight as food and raiment? "Is not the life more than meat [food], and the body than raiment?" Will he who grants the greater refuse the less?
II. FROM GOD'S CARE OF THINGS THAT ARE OF LESS ACCOUNT THAN WE ARE. (Vers. 24, 27, 28.) "Consider the ravens" - birds of the air, creatures that are interesting in their degree, but unintelligent, unaccountable, perishable: God feeds them. "Consider the lilies, how they grow;" they do nothing for their clothing; and not only are they unintelligent and irresponsible like the birds, but they are unconscious, insentient things; yet they are exquisitely fair: God clothes them. If he takes thought for such creatures and for such things as these; if he concerns himself with that which is so much lower in the scale than are we, his own beloved children, created in his image and formed to share his own immortality, how certain it is that he will provide for us! The Divine wisdom that expends so much upon the lower will not neglect the higher.
III. THE COMPLETENESS OF OUR DEPENDENCE ON GOD. (Ver. 25.) So completely are we in the hands of our Creator that we cannot, by any amount of thinking, "add one cubit to our stature." Do what we may, try what we can, we are still absolutely dependent on God. It rests with him to decide what shall be the length of our days, what shadow or sunshine shall fall on our path, whether our cup shall be sweet or bitter. We are in his Divine hands; let us be his servants; let us ask his guidance and blessing; and then let us trust ourselves to his power and his love. And this the more that we should remember -
IV. THE UNWORTHINESS OF GREAT CONCERN FOR SUCH TEMPORALITIES. To be greatly troubled about what we shall eat, or what we shall wear, or in what house we shall live, - this is pagan, but it is not Christian; leave that to "the nations of the world" (ver. 30).
V. THE RELATION IN WHICH GOD STANDS TO US. (Ver. 30.) This is that of an all-wise Father. "Our Father knows." We are in the power of One who is perfectly acquainted with our circumstances and with ourselves; he will not deny us anything are need because he is ignorant of our necessity.; he will not give us anything that would be hurtful, for his fatherly love will constrain him to withhold it. We are immeasurably safer in his hands than we should be in those of the kindest of our human friends, or than we should be if it rested with our own will to shape our path, to fill our cup. - C.
I. CONSIDER HOW POOR THE LIFE IS. WHICH LAKES EATING AND DRESSING THE CHIEF THOUGHT. (Vers. 22, 23.) A man's life is intended to be much more assuredly than this; and yet are there not some who have no thought beyond this? The weight of anxiety is purely secular and physical. The devotees of the table and of the fashions make eating and dressing all. Now, the idea of the passage is that no one is so circumstanced as to be compelled to think only or chiefly of food and raiment. There is not a poor man but may feel that he was born for higher thoughts and things than to "keep the pot boiling" and to have something seemly to wear! He can think of the government of the world, and gain insight into it. He can rise into the thought of the government of God's kingdom, and the noble ideas it embodies. He can make ends meet without being the slave of circumstances and the creature of a day. He can walk among the eternities like others of his kind· Hence we must be on our guard against such a low view of life as this purely secular and temporal one.
II. CONSIDER THE LESSON ABOUT FOOD FURNISHED BY THE FOWLS· (Vers. 24-26.) The fowls of the air are not "gentlemen at large," but most patient gatherers of their food. Life is not a sinecure with them, but a season of continual work. True, they do not become anxious farmers, sowing seed or reaping harvests, or building and stocking barns. They are spared a world of anxiety, but they accept the world of provision as God gives it to them· That which he gives they on unwearied wing gather. "God feedeth them" in the wisest way, and they accept it as he sends it. Moreover, the feeding of themselves is not their whole labor. There is much more in the bird's day than the quest of food. Whether they appreciate the beauty about them or no; whether their thoughts are like ours as from dizzy heights we see magnificent landscapes or stretches of sea, we cannot of course tell; but one thing seems certain, that the birds realize something more in the make-up of life than the mere satisfaction of their appetites. Their lesson is, therefore, one about a busy life, a thoughtful life, not always occupied with the satisfaction of the flesh. Let us trust God more in temporal matters, and think more of eternal things; and then life will be more thoughtful and more happy. No amount of thinking will add a cubit to our stature; and no amount of anxiety will deliver us from life's burdens. It is better to let God reign, and accept the conditions which in his wisdom he assigns.
III. CONSIDER THE LESSON ABOUT RAIMENT FROM THE LILIES. (Vers. 27. 28 Here again we are face to face with nature The purple lilies which deck the spring field are gorgeously apparelled. Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of them. So that when God is allowed to work, he weaves a more splendid texture in his loom than ever was produced by man. The lilies are evidences of his microscopic care of the flower of the grass, how worthy he regards it of beautiful raiment. But then he values his children more than his plants. Men may go the length of lavishing more attention upon their exotics and their flowers than upon their children. But this is not God's order. He has taken more thought for his human children than for all his gardens and their magnificent contents. He loves a family more than a conservatory; a school more than a forest; a population more than a deer-park or prairie. Hence we may trust him about raiment; it will come in due season and order. He will not give it to us like paupers clothing, for we should hardly like it in that way; but to honest work there will come substantial reward.
IV. CONSIDER THE NOTORIOUS SECULARITY OF THE NATIONS. (Vers. 29-32.) Now, the analysis of heathenism will show that at heart heathen are secular. There is no better way of seeing this than by looking into their prayers. As one has said, "Idolatrous nations have in all places and in all ages prayed with unanimous voice that their god would give them health and physical force, riches, honor, pleasure, success; for it is indeed for these the pagans pray." This is what composed the life of paganism for the most part, and does so still. There is all the more reason why the Lord's little flock should trust him about the kingdom he has promised, and give themselves fearlessly to the bringing in of the kingdom from above. If we seek God's kingdom and glory first, we shall find a sufficient amount of food and raiment stored for us by no niggard and no pauperizing hand.
V. CONSIDER THE BENEFIT OF ALMSGIVING. (Ver. 33, 34.) Now, by almsgiving we are to understand enlightened and not lackadaisical charity. It is the investment of love, the expenditure of money for God's sake and for his kingdom. It is truly wonderful how all may become almsgivers. Is this not proof positive that God is a bountiful Provider? How is it that there is hardly one in this hard world but could give if he only tried? And what a transference of the heart's affections this will secure! The heart no longer grovels amid the secular and temporal, but passes outward to the spiritual and eternal. Then the people whom we have tried to help, on the principle of giving "the greatest amount of needful help with the smallest encouragement to undue reliance on it," will form for us a bright and wholesome field for thought and hope, and the building up of God's kingdom shall be the result.
VI. CONSIDER THE DUTY or WAITING FOR THE ADVENT. (VERS. 35-40.) From almsgiving our Lord proceeds to the duty of diligence in expectation of his advent. He has gone to attend a wedding, and will return when the marriage is complete, This has surely an instructive bearing upon the advent as subsequent to the completed plan about the bride, the Church. But what we have to notice is his readiness to serve the servants who are found faithful and diligent in his work. He has had a sufficiency at the wedding-feast; he can consequently wait at the supper-table of the servants. And what an honor it will be to receive such attention from the Lord himself! Let us, then, be semper paratus, and then, whether his advent be soon or late, we shall be overtaken by no surprise! - R.M.E.
is the Sovereign of the world, and a great deal more than that; God is the Father of men, and a great deal beside. He is a royal Father, or a fatherly King. The Lord's Prayer might have taught us this: "Our Father... thy kingdom come." God is to us all and much more than all both these human relationships represent, only that one presents him in one aspect and the other in another. Here Christ invites us to think of him as a Sovereign; and we look at -
I. THE KINGDOM OF GOD, of which we may become citizens. "Seek ye [the citizenship of] the kingdom of God." Jesus Christ launched a perfectly new idea when he spoke of this kingdom. In his mind that was nothing less than a universal spiritual empire; a kingdom of peace, righteousness, and joy, wide as the world and lasting as time; a kingdom to be established without forming a regiment, or shaping a sword, or fashioning crown; a kingdom of God, in which all men of every land and tongue should own him as their rightful Sovereign, should cheerfully obey his righteous laws, should dwell together in holiness and in love.
II. THE ALLEGIANCE WHICH IS OUR SACRED DUTY. Christ summons us to citizenship. He says imperatively, "Seek ye the kingdom;" and he bids us seek entrance into it "rather" than pursue any earthly objects, rather than be anxiously concerning ourselves about temporal supplies. He indicates that this is something which has the first claim on our thought and on our endeavor. And so, indeed, it has. For God is that King
(1) without the exercise of whose sovereign power there would be no other kingdom, no subjects, no liberties, no riches, no honors, in fact, no being;
(2) to be disloyal to whom is the lowest depth of ingratitude, is the deliberate abandonment of the most bounden duty, the guilty severance of the most sacred tie. Being what he is to all men, and having done what he has wrought for all men, he rightly demands of us, through Jesus Christ, our fealty, our loyal service. To respond to this summons of the Savior and to become citizens of the kingdom of God, we must offer him something more than the honor of the bended knee, or the tribute of the acclaiming voice, or the service of the dutiful hand; we must bring the homage of the reverent spirit, the affection of the loving heart, the submission of the acquiescent will. And out of this inward and spiritual loyalty will proceed the praises of the tongue and the obedience of the life. Seeking the kingdom means a real returning of soul unto God and a consequent devoting of the rest of our life to his service.
III. CHRIST'S PROMISE OF SUFFICIENCY to all loyal subjects. "All these things shall be added unto you." It is well for the world that there is not attached to the service of Christ any very valuable and attractive treasures which are of this earth. If there were, we should have the Church choked with insincere and worldly minded members, paying as little devotion as they thought necessary for as much enjoyment and prosperity as they could reap. Christ has mercifully saved us from this calamity; but he has not found it needful to leave us without a provision for our need.
1. He has made present happiness an attendant upon virtue, and virtue is an appanage of piety.
2. But he has given us a promise and a pledge in our text. He assures to those who enter his holy kingdom not, indeed, luxury, not a large measure of prosperity and enjoyment on an earthly ground, but sufficiency. They who yield themselves to him and who live in his service may be well assured that they will want "no good thing;" nothing that would really make for their well-being will he withhold. All resources are at his disposal, and he will see that his children are supplied.
(1) Let none be kept out of the kingdom because they dread social or pecuniary evils; God will shield and save them.
(2) Let none who are in the kingdom despond, though circumstances are against them; at the right moment God will appear on their behalf; "goodness and mercy will follow them all the days of their life," and attend them right up to the gates of the heavenly city. - C.
I. DEATH AS A DIVINE VISITATION.
1. At death God comes to us all in judgment. Death is the appointed penalty of sin. It is true that the burden of that penalty is spiritual rather than material, and that God grants us a kind reprieve before he executes it; but still, in conformity with it, the accidents of death have to occur to us; that ancient sentence has to be fulfilled; the shadows of the last hour must fall around us; and whenever and however that may happen, with whatever mitigations, God will come to us then in solemn penalty, saying, "My child, thou hast sinned, and thou must die."
2. At death God comes to us in providence.
(1) God has given to us a perishable frame, one that is only constructed to last for a term of years, that after a certain point begins to waste and wane
(2) He suffers, if he does not send, the special circumstances which lead up to death; at the least, he withholds the interposing act or suggestion which would prolong the life that is taken· Man never "goes to his long home" but we may say, "Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men." On each such occasion the Son of man comes and says, "Put off thy tabernacle, and come within the veil."
3. At death Christ comes to us in sacred summons· In life God's voice should be daily heard saying, "Put out those powers; use those opportunities; cultivate that spiritual nature I have entrusted to thee; serve thy brethren; glorify my Name." But at death Christ comes to us and summons us to his presence; then we hear him say, "Give account of thy stewardship;" "Reap what thou hast sown."
II. READINESS FOR DEATH A PART OF HUMAN WISDOM. "Let your loins be girded about... be like men that wait for their Lord... the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not."
1. It is true that there is usually less suddenness than there seems in cases of sudden death; on inquiry, it is nearly always found that there were premonitory signs of danger, kindly warnings from the Author of our nature, that the end was not far off it. But it is also and equally true that death is unexpected when it does arrive·
(1) So do we cling to life, that we are not willing to acknowledge concerning ourselves the fact which is obvious to every one else respecting us.
(2) It is our mental habit to expect continuance where we ought to look for severance and cessation. The oftener we have crossed the decaying and breaking bridge, the more confidently we do cross it, though we know well that it is nearer than ever to its fall. We may be almost sure that, in whatever form and at whatever hour the Son of man comes to us, we shall be surprised at his appearance.
3. It will be a terrible thing to be unready; to have to do, if we can, in a few brief hours that for which a long life is not a day too long.
4. It will be a blessed thing to be ready for this vision of our Lord; not merely, nor chiefly, because we shall thus be enabled to cross, with calm hopefulness, into the other country, but because we shall then be ready for those high services and celestial honors which our gracious and generous Master intends to confer upon us (ver. 37). - C.
I. IT IS CHRIST'S WILL THERE SHOULD BE STEWARDS IN HIS CHURCH, WHOSE DUTY IT IS TO GIVE HIS PEOPLE MEAT IN DUE SEASON. (Ver. 42-44.) This is the great design of the ministry - to feed the flock of God. All other duties are subsidiary to this.. For souls need to be as regularly fed with truth as the body with food. To this end the Christian ministry should, therefore, direct all its effects, that the people may be fed. And need it be said that the truth which nourishes men's souls is the truth as it is in Jesus? When Jesus is presented in the glory of his Person and offices, then the famished souls are saved and satisfied. Now, our Lord declares that the ministry will continue for such a purpose until his advent. The household of God will always need the food furnished by the ministry. No time will come when the ministry shall be superseded. And the ministers who are diligently employed at their teaching and feeding of souls when our Lord comes will find themselves blessed
(1) in their own experience, and
(2) in the magnificent promotion awaiting them,
Christ promises the faithful minister no less than universal influence. He is to be ruler over all he has. Others may have some influence, but a faithful minister will, in the world made new, have universal sovereignty. Ministerial influence is often incomparably the grandest and widest exercised among men in this life: how much more in the life and order which will be ushered in by the advent!
II. OUR LORD AT HIS ADVENT WILL MAKE SHORT WORK OF SPIRITUAL DESPOTS. (Ver. 45, 46.) Some in the ministry, it would seem, instead of living in expectation of the advent, will live as if the long-delayed advent would never come. In such a case selfish tyranny over the people committed to them will soon manifest itself; and upon the self-indulgent despot our Lord shall come suddenly, to appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. A ministry that is not earnest, but self indulgent and tyrannical, has before it a terrible doom.
III. HE ALSO SHOWS THAT JUDGMENT IN THE WORLD TO COME SHALT, BE GRADUATED ACCORDING TO DESERT. (Vers. 47, 48.) The difficulties about the Divine judgment have been partly owing to the forgetfulness of the fact that sinners are not to be cast indiscriminately into some common receptacle, but subjected to a series of graduated punishments of the most carefully adjusted character. The rhapsodies which are so plentiful against any thoroughness in punishing the impenitent are based mainly upon the false assumption of indiscriminating punishment. According to a person's opportunities will be his doom.
IV. OUR LORD DECLARES THAT HIS PRESENT ADVENT MUST GENERATE OPPOSITION. (Vers. 49-53.) The fire which our Lord came to kindle is that of spiritual enthusiasm; such a fire as burned in the disciples' hearts as he spoke to them on the way to Emmaus; such a fire as was promised in the baptism with the Holy Ghost. Such incendiarism is just the blessed commotion the world needs. But in the kindling of the holy flame our Lord will have to pass through a bloody baptism. He sees how inevitable this dread experience is, and yet he pants for the cross which is to crown his work and revolutionize the world. The cross of Christ is really the great divider of mankind; by its instrumentality families are divided into different camps, and the battle of the truth begun. But the division Christ creates is infinitely better than the unity without him. Better far that we should have to fight for truth than that we should live, like lotus-eaters, through indifference towards or ignorance of it. The battle for Christ is wholesome exercise, and the victory at last is assured.
V. HE CHARGES THEM WITH MISUNDERSTANDING THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES, WHILE THEY CAN APPRECIATE THE SIGNS OF THE WEATHER. (Vers. 54-56.) He is now speaking to the people, and not to the apostles. He points out how they can anticipate shower and heat by certain signs on the face of nature. People become "weather-wise," and can often show wonderful predictive power. And yet the times were providentially more significant than the weather. And before their eyes were hung the signs of a great contest between good and evil, between Christ and the world; and yet their hypocritical hearts would not allow them to appreciate the signs or take the proper side. It is a curious fact that many will study the laws of physical nature with intense interest and success, and yet neglect utterly those laws of the Divine government which involve the mightiest of revolutions. The hypocrisy of the heart is, our Savior here says, the secret of such inconsistent apathy.
VI. HE DECLARES THE URGENCY OF RECONCILIATION WITH GOD. (Vers. 57-59.) The adversary, magistrate, and officer, are three individuals needful for the initiation and execution of human judgment. But the context shows that Jesus here refers to the Divine judgment which these hypocrites are courting. In this case - as Godet, in loco, observes - the adversary, judge, and officer are united in the Person of God. He is the Adversary to charge us with our defaults; he is the Judge to decide our guilt; he is the Officer to execute due vengeance on us in case we incur it. Christ consequently urges reconciliation with God without delay upon these hypocrites. To secure this he appeals to their conscience. They can surely come to this conclusion themselves, that, in opposing and persecuting him, they are not doing right. Their own inward monitor must witness to the guilt of their present course. Let them see to it, then, that they are delivered from their doom. Only one way is open, and that is by throwing themselves upon his mercy manifested in Christ. In this appointed way our Lord leaves them without excuse. There is surely a hopeless air about the terms of this judgment. The payment of the last mite is surely impossible in the prison-house of eternity, and current remedial programmes about the future life are but "will-o'-the-wisps" to lure thoughtless minds onwards towards doom! May we calculate upon no post-mortem reformation, but enter upon the pardon and spiritual progress God offers to us now! - R.M.E.
I. IN VIEW OF OUR LORD'S PERSONAL EXPERIENCE. In these two verses we find him passing through some moments of very intense feeling; he was powerfully affected by two considerations.
1. A compassionate desire on behalf of the world. He came to the world to kindle a great fire which should be a light to illumine, a heat to cleanse, a flame to consume. Such would be the Divine truth of which he came to be the Author, especially as it was made operative by the Divine Spirit whose coming should be so intimately associated with and should immediately follow his life work (see Luke 3:16; Acts 2:3). As he looked upon the gross and sad darkness which that light was so much needed to dissipate, upon the errors that heat was so much required to purify, upon the corruption that flame was so essential to extinguish, his holy and loving spirit yearned with a profound and vehement desire for the hour to come when these heavenly forces should be prepared and be freed to do their sacred and blessed work.
2. A human lounging to pass through the trial that awaited him. "But" - there was not only an interval of time to elapse, there was a period of solemn struggle to be gone through, before that fire would be kindled. There was a baptism of sorrow and of conflict for himself to undergo, and how was he "straitened" in spirit until that was accomplished! Here was the feeling of a son of man, but it was the feeling of the noblest of the children of men. He did not desire that it should be postponed; he longed for it to come that it might be passed through, that the battle might be fought, that the anguish might be borne. Truly this is none other than a holy human spirit with whom we have to do; one like unto ourselves, in the depth of whose nature were these very hopes and fears, these same longings and yearnings which, in the face of a dread future, stir our own souls with strongest agitations. How solemn, how great, how fearful, must that future have been which so profoundly and powerfully affected his calm and reverent spirit!
II. IN VIEW OF OUR OWN SPIRITUAL STRUGGLES. We cannot do anything of very great account unless we know something of that spiritual strenuousness of which our Lord knew so much.
1. We should show this in our concern for the condition of the world. How much are we affected by the savagery, by the barbarism, by the idolatry, by the vice, by the godlessness, by the selfishness, which prevail on the right hand and on the left? How eagerly and earnestly do we desire that the enlightenment and the purification of Christian truth should be carried into the midst of it? Does our desire rise to a holy, Christ-like ardor? Does it manifest itself in becoming generosity, in appropriate service and sacrifice?
2. We may show this in our anxiety to pass through the trial-hour that awaits us. Whether it be the hour of approaching service, or sorrow, or persecution, or death, we may, like our Master, be straitened until it be come and gone. Let us see that, like him, we
(1) await it in calm trustfulness of spirit; and
(2) prepare for it by faithful witness and close communion with God in the hours that lead up to it. - C.
I. THAT WE MAY NOT DEVOLVE OUR ACCOUNTABILITY FOR HOLDING THE TRUTH on any one or any body of men. It has not been merely "the right of private judgment" which has been in question, which some have striven so hard to withhold, and which others have suffered so much to obtain or to preserve. It has been the sacred duty of determining for ourselves what is the mind and the will of God, the solemn obligation to put into use the talents he has committed to our care. We are to discharge this duty under all circumstances and whoever may propose to relieve us of it. We may not delegate it:
1. To the State. The State may prescribe Islamism in one region, Confucianism in another, Catholicism in a third; but we are not at liberty to make our religious creed depend on the latitude and longitude where we reside.
2. To the Church; or Jesus Christ himself would have been criminal, for he entirely disregarded the decision of the "council," and the Christian Church has, in its collective capacity, spoken differently in different times and places.
3. To society; that is frequently at fault.
4. To the parent. For a time this is necessary, right, becoming, praiseworthy; but the time comes when the son must no longer shield himself behind his filial obedience, he must think and must decide for himself. If we are possessed of ordinary human powers and privileges we must "of ourselves judge what is fight." It is a solemn burden, a sacred duty, which our Creator has laid on each human spirit he has called into being.
II. THAT GOD HAS GIFTED US WITH A SPIRITUAL NATURE for this very purpose. He has endowed us with reason, or with that faculty which intuitively perceives the great and deep truths which are presented to it; with conscience, the faculty which commends and condemns, filling with inward joy or inward pain; with judgment, the faculty that compares and concludes, and arrives at just decisions as to the thing that should be done, the way that should be taken. It is, indeed, only too true that a long course of sin will warp and degrade this spiritual nature of ours; but where there is as much enlightenment as the Jews of our Lord's time had, and as we ourselves possess, we ought to be able by its means "to judge what is right."
III. THAT THE HEALTHFUL ACTION OF OUR SPIRITUAL NATURE IS ONE LARGE PART OF OUR PROBATION. If "the light that is in us be darkness," if our conscience is misdirecting us, it is because we have been wrong, it is because we have not been true to ourselves. Sin has weakened or even distorted our faculty of spiritual discernment. But if we are true to ourselves, if we
(1) honestly seek to know what the will of God is concerning ourselves and others;
(2) faithfully endeavor to do what we believe to be his will;
(3) earnestly ask for Divine guidance in our pursuit of wisdom; - we shall be "led into the truth." We may not see everything in the light in which other truehearted people see it, but we shall recognize those great leading truths which bring us into right relation to God, which constrain us to take a right attitude toward our brethren, which light up our earthly path and conduct us to our home.
1. We may not refuse our responsibility under any plea, not even that of humility. It would be pleasant to say, "We will leave to others who can do it better the work of deciding what is true, which message is from God, which path leads heavenwards." But we may not say this without declining the sacred duty our heavenly Father devolves on each one of his children.
2. Accepting our post as truth-seekers, we must do our work conscientiously, thoroughly, without prejudice.
3. We may be sure that Christ will grant us all the Divine aid we need if we honestly endeavor and devoutly pray. - C.
law is a rigorous thing, a broken law a terribly exacting thing; that, if we are in any danger of coming under its power, we should refrain from so doing with the greatest carefulness; that, if we do not act thus prudently, we must be prepared to pay a very heavy penalty a little way on. The principle applies to -
I. A BREACH OF THE LAW OF PEACE. We are here in this world to sustain toward one another interesting and important relationships. It is the will of God that, in all of these, we should be actuated by the spirit and be ruled by the law of love, of kindness, of charity, of peace. But in this world of sin the Divine Law is continually broken, and the broken Law exacts a terrible penalty. What wretched homes it makes! what lamentable feuds in families! what miserable ruptures of friendship! what deplorable contentions even in Christian Churches! what social dissensions! what national and international strife! The violated law of love exacts "the uttermost farthing" from those who break it. Christ's word of wisdom is this - Look to it at once; do not lose a day; fill up that little crack; tear up that small root; let everything, even devotion itself (Matthew 5:24), give place to the sacred work of reconciliation; do your best, your quickest, your utmost, to heal the breach before it widens into a gulf, or the slight difference, the small suspicion, the trivial offense will grow and deepen, and hearts that once were the home of trust and love will become the haunts of doubt and enmity. Therefore agree with thine adversary quickly. The same principle applies to -
II. A BREACH OF THE LAW OF VIRTUE. We owe it to ourselves to be temperate, truthful, pure, industrious; we owe it to others to be just, fair, kind, considerate; we are under law to be all this - the sacred Law of God. This Law we break, and it becomes our "adversary;" it arraigns us as its debtors, and it makes us pay the penalty that is due. And what a penalty! In the body - disease, pain, weakness, shattered nerves, death; in circumstances - loss, poverty, beggary; in reputation - humiliation and disgrace; in heart - compunction, agony of soul; in character - deterioration, baseness, ruin. Christ says, "Beware of the first step; if tempted to violate any law of virtue of any kind, consider what you will have to pay a little further on; think how that broken law will rise against you and condemn you, and you will not escape until the last farthing has been paid." If there should be any breach, however minute it may be, hasten to repair it.
III. A BREACH OF THE LAW OF PRIVILEGE. Privilege and peril, opportunity and obligation go together, like substance and shadow; they cannot be dissociated. From those to whom much is given will much be required (see vers. 47, 48). It is a constant law, and its violation will be rigorously attended with penalty. If we neglect our privilege, if we abuse our opportunity, we must expect "many stripes," the uttermost farthing of condemnation and retribution. We are the firstborn children of privilege; ours is the dispensation, the period, the land, the home of privilege. Ill will it fare with us if we pass on to the last tribunal and stand before the great Judge, not having repaired this breach, not having sought and found forgiveness for this great transgression. - C.