Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
fasting. He showed his disciples a more excellent way. Fasting is not an end, but only a means to an end, and this is the restoration of the soul to fellowship with its Saviour. In this way should Christians use fasting. And now we pass on to notice how on sabbath-keeping tradition again intruded itself and made cumbrous additions to the Mosaic commandment. Our Lord once more, as we shall see, set at nought the tradition, while he held firmly by the Mosaic Law. The evangelist groups two sabbath-scenes for us in the history here - the first in the corn-fields, the second in the synagogue, but both illustrating our Lord's sabbatic principle and practice. As the most interesting method of considering the subject, let us notice -
I. THE PHARISAIC PRINCIPLE ABOUT SABBATH-KEEPING WAS THAT MAN WAS MADE FOR THE DAY, NOT THE DAY FOR THE MAN. (Vers. 2, 7.) These reputedly religious men had a certain idea about the day. They must have a holy day, and so it must be so sacred that all work shall be deemed unlawful, lest it should be secularized. What they objected to in the first case was not the plucking of the ears of corn, but the rubbing of them in the hands. This was a violation of their tradition. In the second case they objected to work on the sabbath day, even though it took the form of healing. Their ideal was, therefore, a day of such physical inactivity as would refuse to minister to man's hunger or to man's healing. The fallacy underlying this idea was that work is in its essence a secular thing, and that idleness is somehow sacred. To declare this emphatically, they were ready to rebuke hungry men for satisfying themselves in the corn-fields, and to deny healing to the man with the withered arm because he presented himself for it on the sabbath day. The day above the man, then, was the Pharisees' notion. Hunger and helplessness must be endured in order that a day of pretentious idleness may be presented to mankind. Healthy desire must he stifled, longing for power and self-help must be denied, that a sufficiently idle sabbath may be secured. The apotheosis of idleness, the vindication of indifference, man this and more is involved in the Pharisaic criticism of Christ and of his disciples. Now, it is important to bring out clearly how contrary to God's idea all this is. Work is not secularizing in itself. The infinite Father never ceases working, but his work is sacred all through the year. Of course, men may secularize themselves by the selfishness of their work, but they may secularize themselves as really by the selfishness of their idleness. An idle day is not likely to be a holy one; a busy day may be most holy if the glory of God and the good of souls be kept steadily in view.
II. CHRIST'S BETTER PRINCIPLE OF SABBATH-KEEPING IS THAT THE DAY IS MADE FOR MAN. (Vers. 3-5, 9.) Hence necessity must be recognized as a law for the sabbath. Even the ceremonial rite should give way before the needs of human nature, as the case of David's hungry men being saved from famishing by a meal of shewbread indicates. Hence the hungry disciples, in rubbing the corn in their hands, were vindicated by that sublime necessity which recognizes no higher law. Again, in the case of the helpless fellow-man whose right hand was withered, our Lord is clear that the sabbath should be a day for saving life, and not for allowing it to perish. In other words, Christ would devote the day to man's salvation, while the Pharisees were prepared to sacrifice the man to the peculiar sacredness which they thought 'belonged to an idle day. But if the day is thus a means towards man's good, is he to employ it as he pleases? Is every man to be lord of the sabbath by doing as he likes upon it? This would be a dangerous prerogative to give to men. Not every one is fit to exercise it. The Pharisees, in fact, had taken the sabbath under their control and spoiled it altogether. Hence the sovereignty of the sabbath must be left in the hands of him who is called the Son of man. Christ is the Lord who can so order the sabbath that it shall be truly sanctified. It is, consequently, from Christ's sabbath-keeping that we learn what it ought to be. And we see from his life that he made the sabbaths his special opportunities for philanthropic effort. Most of his miracles were sabbath-day performances. He seems to have been busier on the sabbath than on any day of the week. We are safe in following along the lines of his most intelligent philanthropy. The sabbath is made for man. It Christ would have the hungry fed and the helpless healed, he would also have the souls fed with the bread of life and all spiritual helplessness removed. This is the purpose, therefore, of those means of grace which are presented with special earnestness on the Lord's day!
III. CHRIST DEMONSTRATED THE TRUTH OF HIS PRINCIPLE BY THE MIRACLE. (Ver. 10.) Now, this miracle, like the healing of the paralytic, was the test of a principle. In the former case Christ claimed the prerogative of absolution, and he demonstrated that he possessed the prerogative by telling the paralytic to rise and walk, and healing him. In the present case he has taken issue with the Pharisees as to the sabbath being a day for philanthropy. Healing is to be performed on it, if it is required. And now he singles out the patient with the withered hand, and by a word cures him. Thus he put their ideas on sabbath-observance to confusion. Instead, however, of rejoicing in the poor man's cure, they are filled with madness at their own discomfiture. Misanthropy in them is the contrast to the philanthropy of Jesus. But is not the miracle a sign of those miracles which are performed from sabbath to sabbath? Man comes in his weakness, his hand is withered, he can do nothing; but through the power of God he is enabled to stretch forth his hand, and enter into the sphere of spiritual power.
IV. THE SELECTION OF THE TWELVE WAS MADE BY CHRIST A MATTER OF VERY SPECIAL PRAYER. (Ver. 12-16.) We are told that he spent a whole night in prayer to God. This showed how important in his view the selection of the disciples was, and the establishment of his kingdom among men. He chose them in the morning after the prayerful view of the whole case before the Father. If Jesus realized the need of long-continued prayer before selecting them, how prayerfully should we go about our work for him! It is no easy matter to act wisely in our dealings with men and in our use of them. The persons selected were such as only Divine wisdom, as distinguished from worldly prudence, would have chosen. There was not an "influential" person among them; and it was not till after the Pentecost that any of them became what we should now call reliable. Into the analysis of the persons selected we do not enter. They have been divided into three groups: the first, containing the names of Peter and Andrew, James and John, gives us the chiefs of the apostolic band, the men of insight; the second, containing the names of Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, and Matthew, are reflective, and, at first, sceptical, men; and the third and last contains the names of James the son of Alphaeus, Jude, Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, all practical men. Our Lord has thus use in his Church for all grades of men, and can even make use of traitors to serve his purpose.
V. THE HEALER IN THE MIDST OF THE MULTITUDE. (Vers. 17-19.) From the mountain-top of prayer he descends to the valley of opportunity, and there finds a vast multitude from the heathen parts of Tyre and Sidon, as well as from the Jewish districts of Judaea and Jerusalem, who have come to hear and to be healed of their diseases. Here were the two spheres - the sphere of mind, to which the ear is the great entrance; and the sphere of body, where disease may be checked and healing given. The mission of Jesus was to save men. Miracles were part of his message to mankind. The healing of the diseases of men was to tell how he can heal their souls and save them everlastingly. Moreover, they connected the cure with his Person. From him virtue or healing power radiated. His Person is the centre of healing influence. And for salvation this also holds good. It is to the Person of the Saviour we must come if we are to get really healed, It is surely well to have the source of all healing defined - it is the Person of our Saviour. To him, therefore, let us all come! - R.M.E.
I. THAT SIN DISABLES US. This man came into the synagogue with a withered hand. That which was the natural instrument of power - his right hand - was powerless. Gradually its strength had been disappearing until it had completely gone; and that with which God meant him to do his work, to greet his fellows, to make his mark in the world around him, had become an inefficient and useless member. The disease from which he was suffering, whatever it may have been, had by slow degrees wasted and worn away its vital power, and it could do nothing of all that it was created to do. Just such is the action of sin. It is a disabling spiritual disease. Its effect is to reduce and finally to remove those spiritual powers with which our Creator endowed us, and in the exercise of which our true life is found. Our human power, as we came forth from God, was that of worship, of contemplation, of recognizing and rejoicing in the truth, of delighting in God, of obedience to his commandments, of acquiescence in his will, of living in our sphere the life he lives in his, of reflecting his own likeness in our character and our deeds. But sin has been taking this away from us; away from our race, away from the individual who allows it to reign over his soul. More and more it disables us from taking the part we were intended to take, and doing the work we were intended to do. It is the great and sad disabling force in the spiritual sphere.
II. THAT CHRIST COMES TO RESTORE US. He comes to say to us, "Stretch forth thy hand; " resume thy power; have again and use. again those precious spiritual faculties which, under tile grievous injury of sin, have lain dormant within thee. And even as he wrought a cure in this afflicted man which was radical and thorough, making the life-blood to course through all his veins and nourish every nerve and muscle which had shrunk and withered, so does he heal our hearts by a process which is not superficial, which does not merely affect the extremities, but which goes to and proceeds from the heart. He shows us our true selves - whence we came; what we were created to be; how far we have fallen from our right heritage and condition; what is our unworthiness and guilt; what we may yet become. And he reveals himself to us - the Divine Mediator, Saviour, Lord, through whom we have access to God, in whom we are restored to God's favour, unto whom we dedicate, joyfully and unreservedly, all the faculties of our nature. In Christ Jesus we enter on a new life; all the springs of our soul are touched and renewed; we regain our lost possession; we stretch forth the right hand of our spiritual power; we do our work in his world.
III. THAT CHRIST DEMANDS OF US AN IMMEDIATE, PRACTICAL RESPONSE. That he may heal us, he summons us to act. He said, "Stretch forth thy hand!" and in the act of obedience the cure was wrought. To us he says, "Come unto me!" "Abide in me!" and as we endeavour to comply we begin to be restored.
IV. THAT PRACTICAL KINDNESS IS A PRINCIPAL MANIFESTATION OF RENEWED POWER. The great Restorer was at the same time the great Teacher. By the whole incident, and especially by his healing act, our Lord was making known to us for all time that, whatever may be the worth of religious observances - and they have their own great value - they are distinctly second in his sight to those acts of human pity and beneficence by which we lift a load from a brother's heart, and brighten the rest of his life on earth. - C.
I. THEIR LIKENESS TO ONE ANOTHER, and the consequent bond of union between one another. This consisted in:
1. A common nationality, with all that meant to an intensely patriotic people.
2. A common faith, including a common hope that a new prophet would arise and accomplish all that was looked for from the expected Messiah.
3. Similar circumstances, education and social position; not the same, indeed, but of the same class.
4. A common attachment to Jesus Christ; in the case of most of them a trust and an affection that were to deepen every day, in the case of one of them a faith that was to slacken and to depart.
II. THEIR DIVERGENCES FROM ONE ANOTHER.
1. In the habits of mind and life formed by different occupations.
2. In mental constitution and moral disposition. How different Peter from John, and both from Thomas, and all three from James, etc.!
3. In reputation. Of some of them we know nothing but their names; we do not know where they laboured or what was the kind or measure of their service. Tradition has been busy with their names, but history tells us nothing. Of others we have a considerable knowledge, and their reputation is great indeed and will be ever growing.
4. In their career: one ending in shame and gloom; the others in honour and in glory.
III. THEIR FUNCTIONS. These, according to Mark (Mark 3:14, 15), were threefold.
1. Being with Christ, and witnessing his life; thus qualifying themselves to attest his purity, his power, his love.
2. Preaching the gospel; making known to their countrymen that the Promised One for whom they had so long been looking had come at last, and had come with the most gracious words on his lips that man had ever spoken.
3. Verifying the truth by acts of beneficent power - they were to exercise "power to heal." And it is in no small or mean sense that our Lord summons us all to do these same things.
(1) To be with him; sitting at his feet and learning of him his heavenly truth; following him along his course, and becoming filled with a deep sense of his stainless purity and surpassing love; kneeling at his cross, and receiving all the benefit and blessing of his great salvation.
(2) Declaring to others all that we have thus learned of Christ, our Lord and Saviour; making known to the sad, the suffering, the sinful, what a Friend and Refuge they will find in him.
(3) Verifying the truth of our attestations by comforting stricken hearts, by enlightening darkened minds, by transforming evil lives, by lifting men up, God helping us, from the depths of wrong and of despair to the noble and blessed heights of holiness and joy and hope. - C.
poor in spirit,' etc.; and thus taking it, we conclude -
I. THAT NARROWNESS OF MEANS IS NOT A DESIRABLE THING. Our Lord could not have intended to teach that the poor (in outward circumstances) were necessarily blessed, for poverty itself means privation, inability to command the various bounties and treasures our Creator has provided for our enjoyment and enrichment. Moreover, it by no means constantly or certainly leads to anything which can be called "the kingdom of God;" on the contrary, it frequently conducts to dishonesty, servility, demoralization (see Proverbs 30:8, 9). Neither, therefore, in the present nor in the future can such poverty be pronounced blessed (see, however, homily on Luke 4:18, "to preach the gospel to the poor").
II. THAT POOR-SPIRITEDNESS IS A DECIDEDLY UNWORTHY THING. A "poor-spirited" man, according to the common usage of the term, is a man no one can esteem, and he is a man who cannot respect himself. Christ could not have intended to commend him as the heir of the kingdom of God. He did indeed say much in praise of the meek, the enduring, the merciful, the forgiving; he did say much in deprecation of violence and retaliation. But meekness is a vastly different thing from meanness or cowardice; and a man may be nobly superior to mere violence who fights bravest battles for truth and righteousness. All struggle is not soldiership; and he who has most of what Christ meant when he blessed the poor in spirit may be very valiant and very aggressive at his post as the champion of all that is true and pure.
III. THAT HUMILITY OF HEART IS THE DESIRABLE THING FOR SINFUL MEN. Blessed are the men who have in their hearts a deep sense of their own unworthiness. And they are so because this is:
1. The true and therefore the right thing. Truth is always and under all circumstances to be preferred to error. It would make a man much more comfortable in his mind to persuade him that he is everything that is good, and that he had done everything that was required of him. But what a hollow and rotten thing such a satisfaction would be, if the man were wrong and guilty! How much better for him to know that he was guilty, in need of cleansing and of mercy! How pitiable (not enviable) the Church or the nation that supposes itself to be rich and strong when it is utterly poor and weak! How enviable (not pitiable) the man who has come to understand that he is in urgent need of those resources which he may have if he will seek them, and which - now that he knows his necessity - he will not fail to seek! To have a deep sense of our unworthiness before God is to know ourselves as we are; it is to recognize our lives as they have been. It is to perceive how far we have failed to be that which we should have been to our Divine Father; it is to realize how much there has been in our lives which God's Law condemns, how much there has been absent from them which his Word demands. It is to hold the truth in our hearts; it is, so far, to be in the right. It is a blessed estate as compared with its opposite - that of error and delusion. But it is also:
2. The receptive and therefore the hopeful thing. When a man imagines himself to be safe he admits no Saviour to his heart; when he knows and feels himself to be in danger and in difficulty he opens his door wide to one that will befriend him. The man in whose heart is a true humility, who finds himself to be wrong with God, who sees how far he is from perfect rectitude, is the very man who will welcome Jesus Christ in all his gracious offices.
(1) Conscious ignorance will welcome the Divine Teacher.
(2) Conscious guilt will rejoice in an all-sufficient Saviour.
(3) Conscious weakness will lean on Almighty Power, and be ever seeking the upholding grace of a mighty Spirit.
(4) Conscious error and insufficiency will yield itself to the guidance and direction of a Divine Lord and Leader. And surrendering ourselves to Christ, we enter the kingdom of God. - C.
organized his kingdom. And now, having healed all who needed healing, and had been brought or had come to him, he has the ground cleared for legislative work. From this mountain-top in Galilee he publishes the laws of the kingdom, and thus gives to the world such a high-toned morality as has not been surpassed or superseded by any ethical speculations since. It may be safely said that all the Christless ethics which have been offered to the world in lieu of the Christian, contain nothing valuable which Christ's system has not in better form, and that they err by defect in many places. Christ is still, in the department of ethics, "the Light of the world." The audience to whom the sermon on the mount was delivered was almost entirely Jewish, and they doubtless entertained the usual ideas about the kingdom of Messiah. This kingdom was, they hoped, to be one where they would enjoy immunity from trouble, and be in flourishing worldly circumstances. Theirs was a worldly dream. They wanted a golden age of wealth and worldly power. It was needful for our Lord, consequently, to correct these superficial notions, and to create a kingdom which could flourish in spite of the world's opposition and of all possible disadvantages. Accordingly, we find the Divine Legislator first quietly describing the members of his kingdom and distinguishing them from the worldly minded outside; secondly, laying down the policy his people should pursue; thirdly, pointing out the secret of true leadership among men; and lastly, the stability of the obedient. To these points let us devote ourselves for a little in their order.
I. CHRIST DIFFERENTIATES HIS SUBJECTS FROM THE WORLDLY MINDED OUTSIDE. (Vers. 20-26.) For the simple statement of the Beatitudes, and of the woes that constitute their contrast, really draws the line between his kingdom and the world. Matthew, in his fuller version of this sermon on the mount, gives eight Beatitudes and no woes; Luke balances the four Beatitudes by four contrasted woes. The teaching in both versions is, however, practically identical. And when we look into our Lord's declarations, we find, in the first place, that, in his kingdom, the poor, the hungry, the tearful, and the persecuted are enabled to realize blessedness. This is the paradox of Christian experience, that, in spite of poverty, and of hunger, and of sorrow, and of opposition, Christ enables his people to maintain a blessed spirit. The poor are "rich in faith;" the hungry, especially those whose appetite is keen for righteousness (el. Matthew 5:6), are certain to be filled; the tearful have the assurance that God will wipe away all tears from their eyes, if not on earth, at all events in heaven (cf. Revelation 7:17); and the persecuted for Christ's sake are enabled to rejoice in view of that great reward in heaven which awaits all Christ's faithful martyrs. This blessedness is maintained in all these cases in spite of everything which militates against it. On the other hand, our Lord shows the rich, and the satiated, and the laughter-indulging, and the popularity-hunting people that, having received their consolation in this life, there is nothing in the next life for them but disappointment, lamentation, and woe. This may easily be verified. Those who "trust in uncertain riches" - and it is to these our Lord refers, as parallel passages show - must be woefully disappointed when they have to cross the Stygian river without their gold. All that they trusted in shall then have failed them for evermore. Those, again, who are satiated with this world's pleasures, and who have contracted no higher appetite, will be terribly empty when this world and all its pleasures shall have passed away like a dream. Those, again, who lived for laughter - the sportsmen of the world - shall find no provision made in another life for such profitless people, and shall mourn and weep over the lost opportunities of life. And, lastly, the popularity-hunters, who made the good opinion of the populace their great ambition, and were satisfied when all men spoke well of them, will find, like the popular false prophets of the past, that the other life is constructed upon such lines as will assign to each his due, and to popularity-hunting the doom of those who love applause rather than principle. Upon the worldly minded and successful, so far as this life is concerned, there is cast, by the great Lawgiver, the shadow of doom. For such people there is no reserve fund in a future life; they have eaten up both capital and interest.
II. CHRIST LAYS DOWN THE POLICY HIS PEOPLE SHOULD PURSUE, (Vers. 27-38.) Now, one of the cardinal principles of worldly policy is to "give nothing for nothing." ]PGBR> The world insists on a quid pro quo. Hence the worldly minded will always ask the question about the course a person pursues, "What does he expect to gain by it?" To act without hope of recompense is what the world cannot understand. And in strict conformity with this, the world is prompted to "give as much as it gets" in the way of injury. Curse for curse, hatred for hatred, a blow for a blow, a counterplot for a plot. This is the gamut of the world's revenge. The great Legislator, on the other hand, sets his face against all this worldly policy. He ridicules doing good for the sake of getting good. Such speculative philanthropy is pure worldliness. He must have a better system within his kingdom. He can dispense with revenge and the quid. pro quo, and work his kingdom upon purely philanthropic lines. God the Father is the great Philanthropist, and men, by entertaining love for its own sake, may become "children of the Highest" and the elements of a new kingdom. Hence our Lord directs his people to love their enemies, to do good to those that hate them, to bless those that curse them, to pray for their persecutors, to give a kiss for a blow, to suffer violence a second time rather than practise it revengefully; to give to the utmost of their power to all who ask. In short, they are to love and do good and lend, hoping for nothing again; they are to be merciful, like their Father in heaven; they are to be free from censoriousness, and forgiving; and they may rest assured that in another life they shall get a great reward. What Christ proposes, therefore, is a policy of patient phitanthropy - a policy of consideration, doing always to others what we would like to receive were we in their circumstances. And it is this new policy of love which is sure to overcome the world. III. CHRIST SHOWS THE SECRET OF TRUE LEADERSHIP AMONG MEN. (Vers. 39-45.) But if love is to regulate all our conduct, may not others suffer through the proverbial "blindness" of love? There is little danger from the blindness of real love, only from the blindness induced by selfishness. Our danger, as the Lord here shows, is always from exaggerated self-love; we are blind to our own faults; we see motes in a brother's eye, and forget the beam in our own. Hence he recommends here severe self-criticism, such self-criticism as will prevent all hypocrisy, and secure that our eyes be truly purged. When this is the ease, then we can see the little faults in others, and deal with them after we have dealt honestly with the great ones of our own. And so heart-purity is the great secret of successful leadership among men. If our hearts are set right with God, if we are washed and cleansed from secret faults, if we are purged from an evil conscience and dead works, - then are we in a fit state to deal tenderly with erring brothers and lead them to a better way. And so our Saviour shows, by this part of his legislation, that only the purified in heart can become successful leaders of their fellows. It is he who knows his own heart's plagues that can tenderly and skilfully deal with the plagues of others, and put them, by God's blessing, on a better way. IV. CHRIST FINALLY BRINGS OUT THE STABILITY OF THE OBEDIENT. (Vers. 46 19.) Now, it is important to recognize the position taken up here by the great Lawgiver. He claims absolute sovereignty. His word is to be law. Once we know his will, we have only got to do it. But the claim is not unreasonable, nor is it excessive. He understands the strain and stress of human temptations thoroughly. He not only understand these speculatively, but experimentally; for he "was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). He can consequently give to us the best advice, advice infallible. If we would stand like a rock amid the temptations of life, then we have got simply and cordially to obey Christ. He is the Rock of ages; nothing can shake him; and nothing can disturb those who have learned to trust him. But those who hear his advice and do it not, shall be swept away by the torrent of temptation and involved in a ruin that is great. Obedience is the secret, therefore, of stability. May it be our experience continually! - R.M.E.
III. CHRIST SHOWS THE SECRET OF TRUE LEADERSHIP AMONG MEN. (Vers. 39-45.) But if love is to regulate all our conduct, may not others suffer through the proverbial "blindness" of love? There is little danger from the blindness of real love, only from the blindness induced by selfishness. Our danger, as the Lord here shows, is always from exaggerated self-love; we are blind to our own faults; we see motes in a brother's eye, and forget the beam in our own. Hence he recommends here severe self-criticism, such self-criticism as will prevent all hypocrisy, and secure that our eyes be truly purged. When this is the ease, then we can see the little faults in others, and deal with them after we have dealt honestly with the great ones of our own. And so heart-purity is the great secret of successful leadership among men. If our hearts are set right with God, if we are washed and cleansed from secret faults, if we are purged from an evil conscience and dead works, - then are we in a fit state to deal tenderly with erring brothers and lead them to a better way. And so our Saviour shows, by this part of his legislation, that only the purified in heart can become successful leaders of their fellows. It is he who knows his own heart's plagues that can tenderly and skilfully deal with the plagues of others, and put them, by God's blessing, on a better way.
IV. CHRIST FINALLY BRINGS OUT THE STABILITY OF THE OBEDIENT. (Vers. 46 19.) Now, it is important to recognize the position taken up here by the great Lawgiver. He claims absolute sovereignty. His word is to be law. Once we know his will, we have only got to do it. But the claim is not unreasonable, nor is it excessive. He understands the strain and stress of human temptations thoroughly. He not only understand these speculatively, but experimentally; for he "was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). He can consequently give to us the best advice, advice infallible. If we would stand like a rock amid the temptations of life, then we have got simply and cordially to obey Christ. He is the Rock of ages; nothing can shake him; and nothing can disturb those who have learned to trust him. But those who hear his advice and do it not, shall be swept away by the torrent of temptation and involved in a ruin that is great. Obedience is the secret, therefore, of stability. May it be our experience continually! - R.M.E.
after righteousness, who are affected by a keen spiritual appetite. These are in a state of earnest religious inquiry; they are like the young man who ran eagerly and anxiously to "know what he must do to inherit eternal life" (Luke 18:18). In other words, they are earnestly desirous of gaining the favour and also the likeness of God; of being such that God will not condemn them as guilty, but count them as righteous; such also that they will in a very serious sense be righteous even as he is righteous, be "partakers of his holiness." Now, wherein consists the blessedness of this spiritual condition?
I. SEEKING GOD IS THE ONLY HONEST AND RIGHT THING TO DO. Those who believe of God what most men do believe - that he is the Author of their being and the Source of all their blessings, that he is more nearly and importantly related to them than any human being can be, that they owe everything they are and have to him - are most strongly and sacredly bound to seek his favour. To be blind when he is beckoning, deaf when he is calling, insensible when he lays his hand upon them, - this is to be wholly, sadly, shamefully in the wrong.
II. SEEKING GOD IS THE LOFTY AND NOBLE THING. To seek God, to hunger and thirst after him and his righteousness, is the true heritage of our manhood; it is that which, incalculably more than anything else, lifts us up to a high and noble level. Not to be a-hungred and athirst after the living God is to be forfeiting the very best portion for which our Creator called us into existence.
III. SEEKING GOD IS THE ONE SATISFYING THING. 'Blessed are ye that hunger: for ye shall be filled;' and those who hunger after that which is lesser and lower are not filled. No earthly joy fills the soul; it leaves it still craving.
1. Not even the purer joys of earth fill the soul; not even beholding the beauties and glories of creation; "the eye is not satisfied with seeing" these. Not even listening to the sweetest melodies that can be heard; "the ear is not satisfied with hearing" them.
2. Much less with the grosser delights - making money, wielding power, receiving homage, indulging in bodily gratifications; certainly the tongue is not satisfied with tasting, and "he that loveth silver is not satisfied with silver" (Ecclesiastes 5:10). But:
3. The love of God, the possession of the friendship of Jesus Christ, the spending of our days and our powers in the holy, elevating service of a Divine Redeemer, - this is that which fills the heart with a restful and abiding joy, and which brightens the life with a light that does not fade.
"These are the joys which satisfy
I. THAT THE ENMITY OF OTHERS IS A SORE TRIAL TO OUR SPIRIT. Other things bruise us beside bludgeons, and other things cut us beside whipcord. The manifest hatred of other hearts, the cruel reproaches of unsparing lips, banishment from the society of our fellow-men as being unworthy to remain, blighting a fair fame with unjust aspersions, - these things cut deep into the human soul, they bruise almost to breaking tender and sensitive spirits. Some, indeed, are so constituted that the roughest treatment on the part of others will not hurt them; they can throw it off, can cast it aside with indifference; it is to them "as the idle wind which they regard not." But these are the exception, and not the rule among men. God meant us to be affected by the judgment of our brethren and sisters, to be encouraged and sustained by their approval, to be discouraged and checked by their censure. It is a part of our humanity that, upon the whole, works for righteousness. But only too often its effect is evil; only too often the pure are pelted with reproaches, the faithful are condemned for their fidelity, the holy are exposed to the hatred and ribaldry of the profane. Then there is suffering which God never intended his children to endure, - that of the faithful witness to the truth, that of the brave, unyielding martyr to the cause of Jesus Christ. And many are they who would more readily welcome and more easily endure blows or imprisonment than bitter malignity of heart and cold severity of speech. But then it is also true -
II. THAT CHRISTIAN CONSIDERATIONS TRIUMPH OVER ALL. Our Master and Teacher would have our hearts to be so filled with the other and opposite aspect of the case, that our natural inclination to be saddened and stricken in spirit will be completely overborne, and that, instead of sorrow, there will be joy. "Our reward is great in heaven;" so great that we who are reproached for Christ's sake are "blessed; ' we are, indeed, to "leap for joy." What, then, are these balancing, these overbalancing considerations?
1. That we are taking rank with the very noblest men: "In like manner... unto the prophets." We stand, then, on the same level with Moses, with Samuel, with Elijah, with Isaiah, with Jeremiah; with a noble company of men and women who, long since their day and their dispensation, have "gone without the camp, bearing his reproach;" men and women were these "of whom the world was not worthy," to be classed with whom is the highest honour we can enjoy.
2. That we take rank with One who was nobler than all; for did not he, our Lord himself, bear shame and obloquy? was not he crowned with the crown of thorns, because he was here "bearing witness unto the truth" (John 18:37)?
3. That we are serving our self-sacrificing Saviour. A modern missionary relates that when he and another were assaulted by a Chinese crowd, and when, putting his hand to his head where he had been hit, he found it moist with his blood, he felt a strange thrill of exceeding joy as he realized that he had been permitted to shed his blood for that Divine Saviour who had poured out his life for him.
4. That we are truly serving our race; for the truth to which we bear a rejected testimony to-day will, and partly as the result of our suffering witness, be accepted further on, and become the nourishment of the people.
5. That we are on our way to the highest heavenly honour. They who suffer shame "for the Son of man's sake" now shall one day be exalted in the presence of the holy angels. Great will be their reward in the heavenly kingdom. - C.
I. THE HIGHEST CONCEIVABLE MORAL EXCELLENCE. There are four gradations by which we may ascend from the devilish to the Divine, in spirit and in character.
1. We may hate those who love us. There are bad men bad enough, like enough to the evil one himself, to positively hate those who are trying to redeem them, who repay the devoted efforts of their truest friends with sneers and revilings.
2. We may hate those who hate us. Not only may we do this, we do it. As sin has perverted it, it is in the human heart to return hatred for hatred, blow for blow.
3. We may love those who love us. Most men are equal to that: "Sinners also love those that love them."
4. We may love those who hate us. "I say unto you, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you," etc. Let us understand whom Christ would have us consider our enemies, and whom, as such, he would have us love. These are not only our national enemies; but they are certainly included. To allow ourselves to be carried into the current of bitter animosity against those with whom our country is at strife, so as to rejoice in their suffering and their death, - this is here rebuked by our Master. But our "enemies" are more often found at home. They include all those whose relation to ourselves is likely to provoke ill feeling; e.g. those effectively opposing us in counsel or debate; those successfully contending with us in business; those engaged in vindicating their "rights" (as they seem to them) against us; those whose material interests clash with ours; those who have spoken against us or have taken any active steps to injure us. We must also understand what Christ meant by our loving these. Clearly he could not have intended that we should cherish toward them that full and complete friendship which is the very precious fruit of gratitude and esteem, and which can only be felt toward those to whom we owe great things, or for whom we have a real veneration. That is impossible in the nature of things. But it is not impossible, it is quite open to us, to extract from our heart every root of bitterness toward our enemies, to exclude all desire for their ill fortune; and, going much further than that, to nourish in our souls a positively kind feeling toward them, a readiness to serve them; nay, more, to form the habit of praying for them, and of looking out for an opportunity to show them kindness. Surely this is the supreme thing in human morality. No teacher has summoned us to climb higher than this; no learner has reached a loftier summit. And Christ asks us to do this -
II. FROM THE HIGHEST CONCEIVABLE MOTIVE. We might endeavour after this true nobility because:
2. It is the noblest victory over ourself. "He that ruleth his spirit is greater than he that taketh a city."
3. It is the greatest victory over others. "In so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his' head." But there is an incentive higher than these - the highest of all; it is that which our Lord gives us in the text; because:
4. By so doing we resemble God himself. "Ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil." Here is the loftiest aspiration cherished for the loftiest reason. Think kindly of those who are judging harshly of you; feel friendly toward those who are feeling bitterly about you; speak generously of those who are talking disparagingly of you; do deeds of kindness to those who are acting unhandsomely toward you; bend the knee in prayer on behalf of those who are persecuting you; - do this because then you will be breathing the very atmosphere of magnanimity which God breathes in heaven, because you will then be animated by the very spirit by which he is prompted in all he is doing there, because you will then be ruling your humble life by the very principles on which he is ruling his broad and boundless empire. "Love ye your enemies... and your reward shall be great;" indeed, you shall be "the children of the Highest;" the mind that is in him shall be in you, you shall then be perfected (Matthew 5:48), crowning every other virtue and grace of your character, even as God crowns all his other attributes, with the glorious, regal, transcendent excellency of an unquenchable, victorious love. - C.
I. ITS SURPASSING EXCELLENCY,
1. It is within all men's apprehension. It is no learned, erudite definition, requiring much culture to comprehend. The most simpleminded can understand it.
2. It commends itself to all men's conscience. It is not one of those commandments which require much thought and much practice to appreciate. It is obviously just and fair. It hardly admits of dispute. Every one can see, every one must feel - if "the light that is in him be not darkness" - that it is the right thing for him to do.
3. It excludes all evasions. No man can shield himself under any misrepresentation of the rule. He must know whether or not he is trying to act toward his neighbour as he would that his neighbour should act toward him.
4. It covers the entire range of human life, so far as our relations to one another are concerned. It covers:
(1) Action, and also inaction; including in its sweep not only those things we do, but those we leave undone - the attention, the kindness, the consideration, the return we should render but may be withholding.
(2) The judgment we form of others; the right they have to our patient, impartial, intelligent, charitable judgment; the claim they may fairly make that we should attribute the worthy rather than the unworthy, the pure rather than the impure, the generous rather than the mean motive.
(3) Our speech; the utterance of the kind and true word of our neigh-hour, and also to him.
(4) Conduct-all our dealings and doings, of all kinds whatsoever, in all the varied relations in which we stand to our fellow-men. This one rule of Christ is a powerful test and solvent of all other prescriptions. If they can be carried out and yet leave us short, in our practice, of doing to others as they would like us to act toward them, these rules are imperfect. They leave something to be desired and to be attained.
II. THE INSPIRATION WE NEED TO FULFIL IT. This great precept of Christ is not to be translated into action like any ordinary military or municipal regulation. We must gain some inspiration from our Lord himself if we are to keep this great commandment. And we must be prompted by three things.
1. An earnest desire to follow Christ's own example.
2. A strong purpose of heart to do his holy will, that we may please and honour him.
3. A kind and Christian interest in our neighbours; a gracious pity for those whom he pitied, and for whom he suffered and died; a warm interest in their welfare; a firm faith that they can be raised and renewed and refined; a holy love for all those who love him. - C.
I. THE TRUTH WHICH LIES OUTSIDE THE THOUGHT OF CHRIST. Our Lord could not possibly have meant to condemn the exercise of the individual judgment on men or things. By so doing, indeed, he would have condemned himself; for did he not say, "Why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right"? And almost in the same breath he intimates that men are to be judged by their actions as is a tree by its fruit (ver. 44). We are commanded by the Apostle Paul to "prove all things, and to hold fast that which is good;" and John exhorts us to "try the spirits whether they are of God." Things must be judged by us; new doctrines, new institutions, new methods of worship and of work, come up for our support or our condemnation, and we must judge them, by reason, by conscience, by Scripture, that we rosy know what course we are to pursue. Men must be judged by us also. We have to decide whether we will give them our confidence, our friendship; whether we will admit them into the family circle, into the society, into the Church. To decline to judge men is to neglect one of the most serious duties and most weighty obligations of our life. And knowing all that we do know from Jesus Christ what men and things should be, having learned of him the essential value of reverence, of purity, of rectitude, of charity, we are in a position to "judge righteous judgment," as he has desired us to do.
II. THE SINFUL ERROR WHICH CHRIST CONDEMNS. The judging and the condemning which our Lord here forbids are those of a wrong and guilty order. They are, at least, threefold.
1. Hasty judgment; coming to unfavourable conclusions on slight and insufficient evidence; not giving to the inculpated neighbour any fair opportunity of explaining the occurrence; not waiting to think or to learn what has to be taken into account on the other side.
2. Uncharitable judgment, and therefore unjust judgment; for we are never so unjust as when we are uncharitable - as when we ascribe the lower motive, the ignobler purpose, the impure desire, to our neighbour. All uncharitableness is sin in the sight of Jesus Christ; and when the want of a kindly charity leads us to misjudge and so to wrong our brother, we fall under the condemnation of this his word, and under his own personal displeasure.
3. Harsh condemnation; taking a tone and using a language which are unnecessarily severe, which tend to crush rather than to reform, which daunt the spirit instead of inciting it to better things; condemnation which is not after the manner of him who "hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities," who "will not always chide, neither doth he keep his anger for ever;" condemnation which would be disallowed by him who rebuked his disciples when they rebuked those mothers who were bringing their children to his feet, and who forbade these disciples to forbid any one doing good in his name, even though he "followed not" with them.
III. THE PENALTY WE PAY FOR OUR TRANSGRESSION. If we wrongly judge and wrongly condemn, we shall suffer for our mistake, for our sin.
1. God will condemn us for our injustice, or our undue and inconsiderate severity.
2. We shall have, some day, to reproach ourselves. But the most marked penalty will be found elsewhere.
3. Our fellow-men will treat us with the severity we impose on them. It is the universal habit among men to take up the attitude toward any neighbour which he assumes toward them. Toward the merciful we are merciful, even as our Father is; toward the severe we are severe. Again and again does the fact present itself to our observation that the men who have been relentless in their punishment of others have been held fast to the letter of the bond in the day of their own shortcoming; they who show no mercy will find none when they need it for their own soul. But if we judge leniently and condemn sparingly, we shall find for ourselves that men are just unto the just and generous unto the generous. - C.
I. WHAT WE HAVE TO GIVE. We have much that we can draw from if we desire to benefit and to bless our fellow-men.
1. Our possessions - our money, our time, our books, our clothes, etc.
2. Ourselves - our thought, our affection, our sympathy.
II. WHO SHOULD BE OUR RECIPIENTS. These should be:
1. Our kindred according to the flesh.
2. Our kindred according to the spirit - our fellow-Christians, our fellow-members.
3. Our neighbours, those who, as the nearest and most within reach, should receive our kind thoughtfulness.
4. The children of want, of sorrow, of spiritual destitution, both at home and abroad. There is a sense, and that a truly Christian one, in which those who are in the saddest need and in the darkest error, aye, and even in the most deplorable iniquity, have the greatest claim on our pity and our help.
III. WHAT MAY BE OUR INCENTIVES.
1. That giving is that act which is most emphatically Divine. God lives to give - to bestow life, and health, and beauty, and joy on his creatures. Christ Jesus came to give himself for man.
2. That it is truly angelic.
3. That it is the heroic thing to do. Men have been true heroes in proportion as they have spent themselves and their powers on behalf of their kind.
4. That it is most elevating in its influence on ourselves and, when wisely directed, on those for whom it is expended.
IV. WHAT WILL BE OUR RECOMPENSE.
1. The Divine approval. "For God loveth a cheerful giver."
2. The unconscious and uncalculated reaction that will be received by ourselves, enlarging our heart and lifting us toward the level of the supreme Giver.
3. The response we shall receive from those we serve. This is the recompense which is promised in the text. "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure... shall men give into your bosom." There is far too much ingratitude in this world; more, perhaps, than we are willing to believe, until sad experience has convinced us. Nevertheless, there is also a very large measure of human responsiveness on which we may safely reckon. If we give to others, men will give to us; if we love them, they will love us. Do not even the publicans so? (Matthew 5:46). Even those whose hearts have been unchanged by the truth and grace of Christ will respond to genuine kindness. Patronage they will recognize and resent; officialism they will distinguish and may endure. But the help which comes straight from the heart they will appreciate, and to him who gives it they will give a free and gladdening response. To the really generous man, as distinguished from the formal "benefactor" or the professional philanthropist, there will flow a stream of warm-hearted gratitude and affection which will far more than repay all the time and treasure, and even all the sympathy and service, that have been expended. The generous giver will be the recipient of
(1) the regard,
(2) the gratitude,
(3) the affection, and,
(4) when it may be needed,
the substantial kindness of those whom he has tried to serve, and of many others outside that circle. And to these may be added that which, if its worth be less calculable, yet may be even more valuable and more acceptable than any or all of these - the prayers of the good. Selfishness often misses its own poor mark, and it always fails to bless its author with an inward blessing; but beneficence is always blessed. God rains down his large benedictions from above, and below men offer their glad and free contribution. "Give, and it shall be given unto you... for with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again." - C.
I. THAT THE WISDOM OF THE WORLD DEPENDS VERY LARGELY ON THAT OF ITS RELIGIOUS TEACHERS. The multitude have never yet been able to think great theological questions through; they have not attempted the settlement of them by their own examination. They have left that very largely indeed to their religious leaders. It is so in other departments of human knowledge, and so it has been and will be in the realm of 'religion. What our teachers teach the people will believe concerning the great and supreme questions affecting our relation to God, to our neighbours, to the future.
II. THAT BLINDNESS ON THE PART OF THE TEACHER MEANS DISASTROUS ERROR TO THE PEOPLE. "Both will fall into the ditch." Religious truth is the most elevating of all knowledge; but error in religion is the most injurious of all errors. Men can make mistakes in the realms of literature, of physical science, of philosophy, and even of political economy, without fatal consequences. But serious errors in religion are nothing short of calamities. Teacher and taught fall into a deep ditch, from which they do not escape without much injury, both done and suffered. These evil consequences include:
1. Departure and distance of the mind from the thought of God, from truth and wisdom.
2. Superstitions which degrade and demoralize; or, on the other hand, unbelief which robs the soul of its true heritage, and leaves life without nobility and death without hope.
3. Morbid fancies which prey upon the mind, or shocking cruelties practised on the victim of error himself or on others.
4. Spiritual death.
III. THAT THE TEACHER OF TRUTH IS LIMITED IN HIS INFLUENCE BY HIS OWN ATTAINMENTS. "The disciple is not above his master." It is indeed true that a teacher may bring a disciple into connection with Jesus Christ; and from him and from his followers and his institutions he may gain help which his first teacher could not have imparted; but this is not derived from the teacher himself. This man, as teacher, can only render to his disciples the good which he has in himself - the knowledge he has in his own mind, the worth he has in his own character, the wisdom contained in the principles on which he is fashioning his own life. Let every teacher be impressed with the serious truth of this limitation. He cannot give what he has not gained. He has to say, "Follow me so far as I am following Christ," - not a step further. If he ceases to acquire, if his path of progress in the knowledge or the likeness of God is arrested, there is stopped at the same hour his power of leading his disciples on and up those sacred and glorious heights. Therefore let him be always acquiring, always attaining.
IV. THAT THE FAITHFUL TEACHER HAS A VERY NOBLE OPPORTUNITY. Every one that has been fully instructed "shall be as his master." If he is a" true philanthropist who makes two blades of grass to grow where only one grew before," what shall we not think of him who plants in the hearts of men true thoughts of God, of the human soul, of human life, of the future? This is the teacher's lofty function. And he can go beyond this. By the power of language, especially when that is illuminated by deep conviction and intense earnestness of spirit, he can pass on to his disciples so much of Divine truth, and he can communicate so much of heavenly wisdom, that they who "have been fully instructed," who are his mature or "perfect" disciples, will have in them the mind and temper which are in him. So that they will be "as he is," will think as he thinks, will feel what he feels, will live for the same objects for which he is living. Surely there is no nobler work that any man can do than this; it is well worth while the teacher's
(1) most careful preparation,
(2) most energetic effort,
(3) most earnest prayer. - C.
I. THE KEENNESS OF SPIRITUAL VISION some men exhibit. They have the nicest discernment of faults and failings in their brethren. There is nothing too minute to escape their notice and their condemnation. Censoriousness is a very great mistake in every light. Those who are guilty of "beholding the mote in their brother's eye" are wrong in four respects.
1. They do substantial injustice in their judgment and by their action; for they lay stress on the one small infirmity while they leave unregarded and unacknowledged many honourable acquisitions, many valuable virtues.
2. They are inconsiderate of the difficulties which the victims of their severity have had to contend with, and in doing battle with which they may have put forth the most commendable exertion.
3. They forget that every one of us is and will be subject to the judgment and (where it is due) the condemnation of God (see Romans 14:4, 10).
4. They show a perverted ingenuity. It would be a most excellent quality to cultivate if they would only exert the same subtlety and patient observation in descrying the virtues and the beauties of those in whom they detect so many failures. This keenness of spiritual vision is a mistake in two other ways.
(1) It is usually unprofitable; for it is more irritating than advantageous to those on whom it is expended.
(2) It is odious to man, and it is unpleasing in the sight of God. Both in the human and in the Divine estimate, severity is the unattractive and charity is the becoming thing.
II. THE DULNESS OF SPIRITUAL VISION other men manifest. They do "not perceive the beam that is in their own eye." This fact in human experience is only too palpable. We see men whose souls are painfully charged with selfishness, or pride, or frivolity, or cruelty, or irreverence, or impurity, who have no conception that they are in grave spiritual delinquency and danger. There is not a mote but a beam in their eye, and they are blind to it altogether. They are not entitled to offer a judgment on the defects or transgressions of others, so far are they themselves from the straight line of truth. And any note of censure from their lips is utterly and even ludicrously misplaced.
III. OUR WISDOM IN VIEW OF THESE MISTAKES. It is to be far more concerned to be right and pure in our own hearts than to be keen in the detection and exposure of other people's shortcoming. Since men do so seriously and so fatally mistake their own spirit and condition, it behoves us to do these three things:
1. To examine our own. hearts with impartial and anxious eye.
2. To welcome any friendly counsel or warning that may be offered us; and "it is lawful to learn even from an enemy.
3. To be often and earnestly asking God to show us what is wrong within, that we may see ourselves as he sees us. Who can understand his errors .9 Cleanse thou me from secret faults!" (Psalm 19:12, 13; and see Psalm 139:23, 24). - C.
doeth righteousness is righteous." We have here -
I. THE FOUNDATION-TRUTH on which our Lord's word is built, viz. that life is the outcome of character; that as men are so they will live. "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good," etc. Granted that a man is sound at heart, it is certain that he will spend a good life, that he will shrink from the evil and pursue and practise the holy thing. Granted that a man is radically corrupt, it is certain that his life will be unworthy and sinful. Character must come forth into conduct; behaviour is the manifestation of the secret spring which is within the soul. "A good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit," etc.
II. THE APPARENT EXCEPTIONS, which are only apparent, and not real. If this be true, we want to know how it is, on the one hand,
(1) that men we feel sure are bad at heart are found living lives that are blameless and even devout; and how it is, on the other hand, (2)that men we feel sure are sound at heart deviate so often from the straight line of propriety. The answer to this question is manifold.
1. It must be remembered that much of that which seems goodness of life, and which seems as if it must have come from a true heart, is not real goodness - it is only pretence. Hypocrisy, the affectation of piety and virtue, is not a good fruit, though it may look very much like it; it is no more "good fruit" in the garden of the Lord than poisonous berries are good fruit on the trees or shrubs of our visible garden.
2. And it must also be taken into account that much of that which seems like departure from moral excellence, and which seems as if it cannot have proceeded from the good heart, is not really "evil;" it is either mannerism that is only skin-deep, to be regretted indeed, but not to be confounded with essential moral evil; or it is undeveloped, struggling righteousness, the crude and imperfect attempt of a soul that is moving upwards from below; there is many a slip and many a false step, but then there is much honourable effort and much spiritual earnestness recognized and owned by the patient Father of spirits.
III. THE PRACTICAL CONCLUSION for which we must be prepared. "Every tree is known by his own fruit." "By their fruits ye shall know them." Men must form their judgment about us; and they must judge us by the lives they witness. If, therefore, we do not manifest a Christian temper and a loving spirit, if righteous principles are not visible in our daily dealings, if we do not give evidence of caring more for truth and for God and for the establishment of his holy kingdom on the earth than we care for our own temporal prosperity or present enjoyment, - we must not complain if men count us among the ungodly. Our godliness, our spirituality, our rectitude, ought to shine forth clearly and unmistakably from our daily life.
IV. THE PRACTICAL TRUTH which we must apply to ourselves - that, if we would live a life of uprightness in the sight of God, we must be right at heart in his esteem. It must be out of the fulness of our soul that we do right actions; it must be out of "the abundance of the heart that our mouth must speak" his praise and his truth; or our proprieties of behaviour and our suitableness of language will weigh nothing whatever in his balances. The first thing for every man to do is to become right in his own heart with God; to return in spirit unto him; to go to him in humility and in faith; to find mercy of him in Jesus Christ, and, having thus entered into sonship, to live the life of filial obedience to his Word; then and thus will the good tree bring forth good fruit. - C.
building We are all builders; we are all planning, preparing, laying our foundation, erecting our walls, putting on our topstone.
I. THE FABRIC OF ENJOYMENT OR OF SUCCESS. That of enjoyment, of the gratification of indulgence, is indeed hardly worthy of the name of building; yet are there those who spend upon it a very large amount of thought and labour. To pursue this as the object of life is unworthy of our manhood, is to dishonour ourselves, is to degrade our lives; it is to expend our strength on putting up a miserable hovel when we might use it in the erection of a noble mansion; it is, also, to be laboriously constructing a heap of sand which the first strong wave will wash away. Worthier than this, though quite unsatisfying and unsatisfactory, is the pursuit of temporal prosperity, the building up of a fortune, or of a great name, or of personal authority and command. Not that such aims and efforts are wrong in themselves. On the other hand, they are necessary, honourable, and even creditable. But they are not sufficient; they are wholly inadequate as the aspiration of a human soul and the achievement of a human life. They do not fill the heart of man; they do not give it rest; they leave a large void unfilled, a craving and a yearning unsatisfied. Moreover, they do not stand the test of time; they are buildings that will soon be washed away, The tide of time will soon advance and sweep away the strongest of such edifices as those. Do not be content with building for twenty, or forty, or sixty years; build for eternity. "The world passeth away... but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever."
II. THE FORTRESS OF CHARACTER. It is of this that our Lord is speaking in the text; and he says concerning it - Dig deep, build on the rock, erect that which the most violent storm cannot shake to its fall. What is that character which answers to this counsel?
1. Not that which is founded on ceremony and rite. Reason, Scripture, and experience all prove that this is a character built upon the sand.
2. Not that which is founded upon sentiment or occasional emotion. Many are they who like and who demand to be acted upon by powerful influences, and to be thus excited to strong feelings. In these moments of aroused sensibility they cry, "Lord! Lord!" with apparent earnestness. But if piety ends in sensibility" it is nothing;" it is worthless; it will be washed away by the first storm that breaks.
3. It is that which is established in sacred conviction and fixed determination. This is the rock to which we must dig down - sacred conviction passing into real consecration; the conviction that we owe everything to our God and Saviour, and the determination, in the sight and by the grace of God, to yield our hearts and lives to him. A character thus built, sustained by Christian services and ceremonies, will be strong against all assault. The subtlest influences will not undermine it, the mightiest earthly forces will not overturn it; let the storms come, and it will stand.
III. THE EDIFICE OF CHRISTIAN USEFULNESS. Paul, in his first letter to the Church at Corinth, speaks of the wood, hay, and stubble, and also of gold, silver, and precious stones, i.e. of the combustible and the inflammable materials with which men construct their building in the field of holy service. And he says the fire will try every man's work; so that we have apostolic warning also to take heed how we build. Let the Christian workman see to it that he too builds on the rock, that he effects that which will stand the waters and the fires that will try his work. Let him depend little on ceremonialism, little on excitement; let him strive to produce deep, sacred convictions in the soul; let him endeavour to lead men on to a whole-hearted dedication of themselves to Jesus Christ; let him persuade men to the formation of wise habits of devotion and sell-government; so shall he be building that which the waters of time will not remove, and which the last fires will purify but not destroy. - C.
(1) a great human reputation; or of
(2) a great human hope.
With the fall of either of these there is bitter sorrow, keen humiliation, a dark shadow cast, not on one heart and home only, but on many. For we stand, in human society, not like detached houses in large grounds, but like houses that are close together, and when one falls it brings harm and injury to many that are connected with it. But the ruin, which is great indeed, compared with which all others are but small, is the ruin of a human soul.
I. THE SOUL IS ITSELF A BUILDING; it is the main, the chief building which we are rearing. Whatever else we may be erecting - material, social, political - the one thing we do with which other things will not compare in seriousness and in consequence is to "build up ourselves (see Jude 1:20). It is a daily, an hourly process; it proceeds with every thought we admit into our mind, with every feeling we cherish in our heart, with every purpose we form in our soul. That which we are to-day in the sight of God is the whole result of all that we have been doing, of all our visible and invisible acts, up to the present hour.
II. IT IS A BUILDING WHICH MAY BE OVERTHROWN, We all know the man who is the wreck and ruin of himself. What he once was he is no more. Instead of devotion is impiety; instead of purity is laxity; instead of the beauty of holiness is the unsightliness of sin; instead of honour is shame. The fair house of moral and spiritual integrity is down; there is nothing left but the foundations; and the ruin of that house is great indeed.
III. THIS OVERTHROW IS SAD BEYOND EXPRESSION. For consider:
1. What it cost to build. We do not mind if a hut or shanty is blown down; that represents no great loss. But if a mansion or cathedral is destroyed, we grieve; for the result of incalculable skill and toil is laid waste. And when a human soul is lost, what labour is thrown away, what experiences, what patience, what suffering, what discipline, what prayers and tears, both on the part of the man himself and of those who have loved him and watched over him and striven for him!
2. How intrinsically precious a thing it is. We do not know the absolute value of a human spirit; our language will not utter it; our minds cannot estimate it. God alone knows that, and the Son of God has told us that it is worth more than all the material world (Mark 8:36).
3. How it drags down others with it. As one large house" in a great city drags down others in its fall, so does the house of a human spirit. What is it to the family when the father or the mother is morally lost '? for the neighbourhood when the minister or the magistrate sinks and perishes? We do not fall alone; we draw others down with us, and often those whom we are most sacredly bound to uplift or to sustain.
IV. THERE IS A WAY OF RECOVERY, "It is not the will of our heavenly Father that one... should perish." "God so loved the world... that whosoever believeth... should not perish." The fallen house may be down beyond recovery; not so the human soul. In the gospel of Jesus Christ the way of restoration is revealed. By the power of the Holy Spirit the soul that has fallen the furthest may be raised up again, and be restored to the favour and the likeness and the service of God. By true penitence and genuine faith we may lay hold on eternal life; and when the heart heeds the voice of its merciful Father summoning it to return, and when it hastens to the feet of Jesus Christ and seeks in him a Refuge and a Saviour, and when it lives a new life of faith and love and hope in him, it is restored to all that it once was; and the restoration of that soul is great. - C.