Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
his own use of the sabbath day for works of mercy originates more than once the similar sharp criticism of his shallow enemies. The conduct in question of the disciples, natural enough on the very face of it, might have been more easily open to exception if the sabbath day had been habitually found to confer some exemption from the experience of hunger. By the very dictate of nature we should be content to justify it, which proclaims everywhere so much universal love, free hospitality. But beside this, the permission was specially accorded to the Jew (Deuteronomy 23:25), and something more also, viz. the free appropriation for the occasion of the clusters of grapes. The objection of the captious critics now, however, concerned the point that the disciples took of these ears of corn on the sabbath, which still removes their inconsistency only one step further. For was there any qualifying addendum to the permissions quoted above, such e.g. that men should not walk through the fields at all on the sabbath, or if they did that they must beware of the corn-field and vineyard, and though they hungered, must on that day bear their hunger? No, but "this and many other like things they had put in their traditions." It was equally a sign of their presumption and of the alienation of their heart from the true Word of God. Christ, therefore, not arguing in any detail, but instancing two well-known precedents (1 Samuel 21:1-7; 1 Samuel 22:22), concludes the matter by the clearest statement of the true principle on which the observance of the sabbath was ever to proceed - it "is made for man, and not man for" it. Any man and every man is to use that sabbath that certainly was "made for him," and he is to use it intelligently and to the best of his light, and he is so far in one sense only appointed to be lord over it, while none the less he stands or falls to his Lord on the question how he uses it. Much more, therefore, must "the Son of man be Lord also of the sabbath day." Notice -
I. A GREAT HISTORIC CHANGE. Few enough men now come near the edge of the snare of supposing that they "were made for the sabbath." They triumph too loudly and too self-confidently in the help they themselves, perhaps, have given to the explosion of that heresy. May we not easily and truthfully imagine that if the moral majesty of Christ's presence were again amongst us, his gaze and his emphatic accents would all go to say, "The sabbath was made for man; have you forgotten that? Divinely suggested for man, divinely exampled for man; have you forgotten this? Man is not its lord and sovereign disposer in the sense you are practically interpreting it"? How does the world in its sad history pitch from one extreme of error to the opposite!
II. THE PRIOR GREAT HISTORIC FACT. That the "sabbath was made for man" is not, indeed, a revelation of things to come, but it is the pronounced and authoritative revelation of a great reality in this world's creation and design. Consider it by the aid of the light of a few contrasts and comparisons. What things are made for man! How divinely made! What wealth of possession, of beauty, of thought! What powers of body, the mere shadows and servants of richer and more wonderful faculties of mind! What lamps are hung up in the heavens; what seasons are made for man, and months, and days, and nights! Amidst them all, Christ says another thing, less evident, very likely, to sense, but not less real, "was made for man" - the sabbath? Strange, indeed, would it be that Christ should use so emphatic a sentence, without one hint of any waning importance of the day, if he and the force of his truth were about to assign it a lower standard, or to put altogether an end to it! The very first mention of it, as the day on which God ended his creative work - how striking it is] "On the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which he had created and made." That majestic history is unaccompanied by any precept or command that it should be observed by men. Nor is it wonderful, when it is remembered that it is descriptive of a time when there was but one man in the world. But from that time forward, for many a century, there is not to be found one distinct and explicit reference to the "sabbath day" till the reference to it as placed in the ten commandments. Thence its checkered history for ages varied much with that of the one nation to whom it was expressly appointed, and it may safely be said about it that it was not most faithfully kept, or most profitably and in the spirit, when it was most scrupulously talked about. Once, then, "God hallowed and sanctified it," surely not for himself; then when it appears again on the surface of the sacred page it is emphatically introduced as a day to be "remembered," and not as though it were now new and unknown hitherto; and now in the bold and most authoritative language of the text, so universal in its scope and idea, it is said, "The sabbath was made for man." In another brief but solemn spell of time the day became the first day of the week instead of the seventh, when Christ's resurrection gave the signal. And in due time the first converted Roman emperor, Constantine, made it the legalized day for his wide dominions; and all the world has followed suit - an amazing, overwhelming indication that it was not he alone who did it! The day is one of those gifts specially entitled to the language of St. Paul, "a gift of God without repentance. It came with the sacred voice of God; it was revived to the favoured people to whom belonged the oracles; it rose from a long oppressed and discredited state with the appearance of the most intense new motives of religious feeling and principle and devotion; it still holds its own in the very whirlpool of worldliness, and amid the most constant and subtle undermining of the unbelieving; and it vindicates in deed what Jesus here says of it by word, it was made for man.
III. THE GRAND HISTORIC SWEEP SO CONFESSED TO OF ITS PRICELESS USEFULNESS. With such an Author, and with such nativity, it was well to be supposed that the use of the sabbath would be very comprehensive, and that it would win its way with the low on lower grounds even, with the high on the highest.
1. Of the millions careless to use it to highest gain, can there be found one willing or anxious to spare it for himself and for his own particular private purpose? All want what they think the gain of it! Who can count the advantage to man of even the inferior ends of the sabbath? For one day's rest out of seven the tool does not rust, nor does its edge grow blunt; but he who uses it does renew his strength, does repair his lost energies, does refresh his spirit. Macaulay wrote of it, That day is not lost while industry is suspended, while the plough lies in the furrow, while the Exchange is silent, while no smoke ascends from the factory. A process is going on quite as important to the wealth of the nation as any process that is performing on more busy days. Man, the machine of machines, the machine compared with which the contrivances of the Wattses and the Arkwrights and the Bessemers are worthless, is repairing and winding up so that he returns to his labour on Monday with clearer intellect, with livelier spirit, and with renewed bodily vigour." It is not to be believed that the sabbath is a day out of which a growing world will grow, but one into which it will grow more and more, in this one direction to begin with only.
2. Its wide sweep of nobler use for the highest glory of man - in the exercise of his faculty of worship; in meditation, faith in the Unseen, prayer, praise, and in the natural conditions of the growth of Christian love and brotherhood on earth. Few things can strike the devout as more really beautiful, impressive, or cheering than the vision of the faithful in church, as they present a sight so grandly distinct from any other. Every day of the week finds every one of us in different place, in different thought, in different work, in different attitude, different aspiration, and with all the varieties of character, age, position, and necessity - pressing heavily on us, and sundering us even, however unwillingly; but this day the opposite! One place holds all, irrespective of every one of these differences. One God attracts us all. One Saviour's love meets us all. One Holy Spirit's energy draws, enlightens, cheers us all. We all have one thought, one hope, seek one heaven, sing one song, bow down together before the Unseen with one penitent confession. And however slowly, and therefore betimes discouragingly, the Church of Christ is restoring even now, and immensely by aid of the sabbath day, the unity of God's great family of man so long, so sadly astray!
3. The sabbath day is mighty, indeed, in its very highest sweep of influence, when it is intelligently and devoutly used as the solemn and most grateful memorial of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, with all else that flows therefrom in strict relation to it - the sacrament of his body anti blood, and the holy communion which comes of it. The coronal fact of Christianity is the resurrection fact. It shows no longer man's hope sowed in the ground like a "corn of wheat," but appeared above ground, grown up some way, radiant with light and colour, full of promise, and the undoubted earnest of joy beyond all thought. For all such as are thus minded the day is stamped with highest and most reviving joy. It is "Morn of morns and day of days." It says, "Christ the Light of lights hath risen." The Church sings with one heart and tone, "Welcome, sweet day of rest!" And it deliberately says, while it muses with burning heart -
"Blest day of God, most calm, most bright, "My Saviour's face did make thee shine,
"My Saviour's face did make thee shine,
1. The first of these principles underlies all rational religion. It was not a new idea. Our Lord finds adequate expression of it in the Old Testament words, "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice." In other words, God is not pleased by our payment of dues to him, but by our growing in likeness to him and learning to love our brother. The worship that does not feed character is nought.
2. But the second principle has a special reference to the sabbath. It is little more than an inference from the first. "The Sou of man," he says, "is Lord even of the sabbath;" or, as he more plainly puts it in another Gospel, "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath." It is a day given to us by God, who has so arranged things that the world's work can be done completely by giving six-sevenths of our time to it. The tendency of much of our civilization is to make men think that work or business is the whole of life. Such a tendency is checked and rebuked by this day. Every seventh day says to us, "You are not merely a merchant; you are a man. You are not in this world to manufacture material articles and accumulate money; you are here to cultivate friendships, to educate yourself in all that is good, to know God, and become meet for the inheritance of the saints in light." All this was explicitly taught when the sabbath was first promulgated to Israel. The remarkable words were uttered to them, "For that the Lord hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days." This weekly rest was a new sensation to the over-driven slaves; it was a new idea to them to have one day all their own - a day in which they were loosed from all the cares of earth, and taught to know themselves God's children. This fourth commandment, which both our Lord and the Pharisees accepted, was interpreted by them to quite opposite meanings. The Pharisees took the letter of the law, regardless of its spirit and intention. The letter ran, "Thou shalt do no work;" and with the most perfect verbal logic the Pharisee maintained that he kept the law best who did least work. Our Lord, on the other hand, sought to find and satisfy the spirit of the law; and he said, "The day was made to promote men's good; to be a pleasure and a boon, not a vexation and a burden." Whatever best promotes man's good best satisfies the sabbath law. Whatever most effectually sets him free from the grinding toil and feverish cares of this life best satisfies the law. Starting, then, with this idea, that the day is meant to promote the good of man, we see why the one point insisted on in the commandment is that men should cease from their ordinary works. There is not a word about worship, no hint regarding the observance of the day further than this, that it is to be an exceptional day, a day of rest. But, the rest being provided by God, it follows that we must be in cordial and frank fellowship with him in availing ourselves of it. When a father brings his boy home for a holiday, he feels grieved anti disappointed if the boy obviously prefers the company of low and coarse lads to the company he finds in his father's house. And how can a man be directed to the right observance of the seventh day who is at discord with his heavenly Father on the fundamental point of what constitutes true happiness and well-being? Two instances are cited by our Lord to illustrate his meaning.
I. David did not scruple, in an extraordinary emergency, to fall back on the great principle that he himself, God's living servant, was more precious than an ordinance made for his good. From this we derive two hints:
1. We see that the sabbath is not an idol to which man's life or health is to be sacrificed. In all large cities there are thousands who from Monday morning till Saturday night breathe nothing but the most polluted atmosphere, and for such persons to confine themselves to their little room through the whole Sunday as well, seems to lean rather to the Pharisaic observance of the day.
2. But this instance carries with it no sanction of the conduct of any who use it habitually for their mere bodily comfort and worldly gain. David ate the shewbread under pressure. He did it once in his lifetime. And so our Lord admits that resting was the ordinary, normal way to observe the day, and that whosoever dispenses with that must be able to show good cause.
II. The second illustration is equally instructive. The ordinary work of the priests prevents them from keeping the command in the letter. They must care for the public worship. There are circumstances in which you may fairly be expected to give tap your day of rest out of deference to the necessities of society, of your employers, or of one another. Your business is to see that these necessities are real, and not fanciful. But we are no longer under the Jewish Law; do any of the ideas expressed in it directly concern us? No doubt Paul sometimes speaks as if we were done with all distinctions of days, and had no need any longer of the Law, but could live entirely by the direction and impulse of the Spirit. But he sets before us the ideal of the Christian and Christianity; practically the attempt to live without the aids of sabbath observance commonly ends not in elevating all our days to the level of a well-spent sabbath, but in bringing down to a merely worldly level both our sabbaths and our week-days. If, then, we assert for ourselves our Lord's liberty regarding this day, let us be sure we do so from his point of view. Let us not hesitate to prefer the real welfare of men to the claims of the sabbath. But let us be quite sure that we are at one with God in our judgment of what does constitute the welfare of ourselves and others. Seven weeks of leisure out of every year should surely leave behind some very visible traces of our willingness to be helpful in this world, where there is such room for wise and honest helpfulness. To spend such a day in formal attendance at church, in yawning idleness, in gossiping levity, is a scandal to our common humanity; and to spend it even in the pursuit of science, or in reading good secular literature, is to prove we do not yet know what are the capacities and contents of our nature. Make a duty of seriously considering your ways, your habits, your disposition; let your mind rest on the great gospel facts, seek your Lord's presence and address him with the words your thoughts of him suggest, and you will learn how reasonable and fruitful an appointment it is that from all your ordinary works you should rest every seventh day. - D.
I. THAT RITUAL IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR MORALS.
1. The Pharisees were stringent ritualists.
(1) Their formality was seen in their dress. In their observance of ceremonies. In their scrupulous tithing of mint and anise and cummin.
(2) The ritual of sabbath observance in like manner they zealously respected. So far did they carry this, that they refused to defend themselves in the wars with Antiochus Epiphanes and the Romans on the sabbath. It was through this superstition that Pompey was enabled to take Jerusalem.
(3) The ritual of sabbath observance with them was intensified by the interpretations of the elders. Thus reaping was admitted to be a servile work; and so was threshing. But according to the rabbins plucking ears of corn was "a kind of reaping," and rubbing them in their hands was "a kind of threshing."
2. But they were lax in morals.
(1) It is common for men of corrupt minds to attempt to atone for the looseness of their morals by zeal for the outward services of religion. So the Pharisees "made void the commandment of God through their traditions." While they scrupulously paid tithe upon trifles, they "neglected the weightier matters of the Law - judgment, mercy, and truth."
(2) So in their zeal for the externals of sabbath observance they missed its spirit of worship. They failed to see that the sabbath is truly observed in its spirit, which is the spirit of heaven, mercy and love, justice and truth.
(3) This spirit they violated in the harshness of their judgment. In condemning the action of the hungry disciples they would sacrifice mercy to ceremony.
3. They inverted the order of God.
(1) The cud of the Law is love.
(2) Ritual is instituted as a means to that end.
(3) When ritual interferes with love it must give place. Hence when the law of commandments contained in ordinances ceased to point men to Christ the Saviour of sinners, it was abrogated as a useless burden.
II. THAT RITUAL MAY GIVE WAY TO NECESSITY.
2. This principle was sanctioned by David.
(2) Note: This action of David was parabolic. The shewbread is admitted to have been a type of Christ, who appears in the presence of God for the nourishment and life of the spiritual priesthood. Since part of the frankincense put in the bread was burnt on the altar for a memorial, the merit of the sacrifice of Christ is represented. The hunger of David and his men constituted their particular claim to set forth the verity that those who hunger after righteousness are the persons to be satisfied with the goodness of God's house (cf. 1 Peter 2:5; Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10; Revelation 20:6).
2. This principle was sanctioned by Moses.
(1) For his Law requires the profaning of the sabbath by the priests in the temple. They were required to prepare the sacrifices, offer them, and attend to the other services of the temple on the sabbath as on common days (see Exodus 29:38; Numbers 28:9).
(2) This legislation interprets the words, "Thou shalt not do any work," in the fourth commandment, to mean secular work, or work for personal pleasure or temporal advantage. The works done about the holy things in the temple were scarcely "service;" for they were done unto the Lord.
(3) The argument from the temple was conclusive against the Pharisees, whose traditions invested the sabbath law with excessive stringency.
3. This principle was sanctioned by the prophets.
(1) In their practice. For they set aside the Levitical rule that all sacrifices should be offered at the door of the tabernacle or temple, as when Elijah offered his sacrifice upon Carmel. In this he had the high sanction of Heaven.
4. This principle is sanctioned by Christ.
(1) The hungry disciples had the sanction of Christ for plucking, the corn and rubbing it in their hands upon the sabbath day. He did not reprove them. On the contrary, he defended them.
(2) He defended them not only upon the authority of David, of Moses, and the prophets; but upon his own authority, which he asserted to be Divine. This was the meaning of his declaration, "I say unto you, That in this place is One greater than the temple." For the rabbins acknowledged none but God to be greater than the temple (cf. Galatians 3:1; Mark 14:58-64; Hebrews 3:3). He asserted his Divinity in claiming to be the Lord of the sabbath (see Gem 2:3). As the sabbath yielded to the temple, and the temple to Christ, so must the sabbath also yield to Christ (see John 7:21-23).
(3) Jesus, who claims to be "Lord of the sabbath day," appears to have exercised his prerogative in changing it from the seventh to the first day, and hence the first day is now distinguished as "the Lord's day" (see Revelation 1:10).
(4) The Lordship of the Son of man is the Lordship of mercy. Those who are engaged in the service of Jesus Christ enjoy greater liberty than those who were engaged in the service of the temple. The gospel is in all things superior to the Law.
III. THAT NECESSITY CANNOT BE PLEADED AGAINST MORALS.
1. There is no good precedent to sanction it.
(1) When our Lord sanctioned the plucking of the ears of corn in the field, he did not sanction theft under the plea of necessity. The Law sanctioned this liberty (see Deuteronomy 23:24, 25). The permission was intended to teach humanity and kindness.
(2) Our Lord's defence of his disciples in relation to the question of the sabbath did not touch the moral obligation of the institution, which is the devotion of our time to the worship and service of God. The spirit of the sabbath should be in the week.
(3) The change of the day brings into it the motives of the resurrection and the ascension of the Lord, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, by which we are in spirit brought nearer to the rest of heaven.
2. Morals are themselves the highest necessity.
(1) They are a spiritual necessity. As the spirit is superior to the body, so is a spiritual necessity more important than a bodily necessity.
(2) They are a universal necessity. The needs of an individual must give way to those of a community. The interests of all the worlds cannot be sacrificed or compromised to suit individual urgency.
(3) They are an eternal necessity. They are founded in the nature of the everlasting God. They belong to the immortal soul. The law of the ages cannot be set aside to meet the necessity of a moment.
(4) A man is not forsaken of God because he is in want. The disciples may suffer hunger in the very presence of Jesus. It is more honourable to want in fellowship with Christ than to abound in fellowship with the world. Jesus knows how to lead his hungry disciples through the corn-fields. - J.A.M.
doing work on the sabbath day. Divine laws can gain adjustments and adaptations to fit to various conditions and circumstances; there is elasticity in their applications. Man-made laws are stiff and rigid; they scarcely permit exceptions; and require that men shall always adjust to them, and never expect law to adjust to meet their need. The Divine sabbath law is large, comprehensive, spiritual, and therefore searching. But it is elastic, and adjusts to man's varying conditions; it does not expect men to force themselves to fit to it. Human sabbath rules were, in our Lord's time, and are still, most vexations things - yokes that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear. They required a woman to have no bow on her dress, unless it was sewn on, and so a part of the dress; for otherwise she would be carrying a bow. And these strange rules to-day permit a woman to use a pin on the Sunday, but refuse to allow her to use a needle. Sabbath never can be really kept on man-made rules. "In their bigoted reverence for the sabbath some of the Jews asserted that the day was first of all kept in heaven, and that the Jewish nation had been chosen for no other end than to preserve it holy upon earth." The extent to which they carried their scruples excites one's ridicule and contempt.
I. THE SABBATH AS A PRINCIPLE. It is well, in dealing with the sabbath, always to show first that it is a Divine arrangement for humanity, as such, and is not, in the first place, distinctively religious. For healthy life God provided the rest of night; for healthy work God provided the rest of the sabbath. But there is this important difference between them. The rest of night is compulsory; the seventh-day rest is voluntary. This at once brings in the element of principle and of religion. If a man is in the fear and love of God, as he should be, he will readily and cheerfully do what God suggests as well as what God commands.
II. THE SABBATH AS A RULE. Voluntary things may not be done; then if God will not make certain things compulsory, men think they can do God service by fixing rules for their fellows, and so make them keep sabbath. And even good men cannot see that thus they take all the glory of the sabbath away. - R.T.
I. CHRIST IS SUPREME OVER ALL ORDINANCES.
1. By reason off, is Divinity. Here he speaks out of the calm consciousness of his Divine authority.
2. Through his human brotherhood. Christ speaks as the Son of man. He teaches us that the sabbath was made for man (Mark 2:27). His rule is wise and beneficent because of his large human knowledge and sympathy. Our business is not to follow narrow laws like the Galatian Judaizers, but to follow our Lord and Master.
II. OUR LORD GREATLY SHOCKED THE RELIGIOUS CLASSES BY HIS DARING INNOVATIONS. He did not take pleasure in paining any one, nor did he wish to offend religious prejudices merely for the sake of producing a sensation, merely to astonish people with novel practices. He was far too kind and earnest for any such conduct. But he said. and did what he felt to be right quite regardless of the fact that it would stir up a hornet's nest of prejudices. It must be painful to a sensitive, devout mind to be accused of irreligion. Yet our Lord knowingly provoked this accusation. Truth is higher than any respected religions observance. It is more important to please God than to please the most worthy religious people. It may be a duty to offend good people in upsetting injurious customs. Men are not always the worse for having their cherished notions rudely shaken.
III. GOD EXPECTS US TO BE HUMAN IN OUR RELIGION. St. James has shown us that the highest religious ritual consists in deeds of charity (James 1:27). We can best serve God by doing kind deeds to our brother-men. St. John reminds us that if we do not love our brother whom we have seen, we cannot love God whom we have not seen (1 John 4:20). From these principles it follows, a fortiori, that any religious observances that involve unkindness to other people must be very displeasing to God. We only mock him when we offer him the formal rites he cares nothing about, and for the very sake of doing so restrain the charity that he really loves, or even perform directly unkind actions.
IV. WE CAN ONLY KEEP THE SABBATH ARIGHT WHEN WE DO SO IN THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST.
1. Negatively. It is not to be kept for its own sake, as an ordinance valuable in itself; it is not to be kept in the letter to the neglect of its spirit; it is not to be so kept that it interferes with higher duties.
2. Positively. It is to be kept as Christ, kept it. It is not left to our caprice to decide how we shall use the privilege of the sabbath day's rest. Although we are not under the letter of the Jewish Law, the eternal principles of it are binding on us. Leisure from toil and an opportunity to "lift up our eyes" we all need. Only they who follow Christ can use the sabbath in the best way. We best keep it when we help our brother-men on that day. - W.F.A.
I. CHRIST WAS LORD OF HIS SABBATHS. It is familiar thought that he was Lord because he was Divine - he was the Son of God; "all power was given unto him in heaven and in earth." But that is not his own ground of claim here. He was "Lord of the sabbath" because he was "the Son of man;" first of men - model Man. His manhood gave him his rights. Had he been a man of wavering disposition, uncertain in his ideas of the right, ruled by self-pleasing, or with a poor sense of loyalty to God, he could not have managed his sabbaths. But, being the perfectly controlled, pious, cultured Man he was, we all feel at once that we could have no hesitation whatever in fully committing to him the management of his sabbaths, for himself, for his household, for his disciples. The perfect Divine Man can be "Lord of the sabbath;" he will do no wrong himself; he will let no wrong be done by those about him. If he permits his disciples to satisfy their hunger by plucking the ears of corn on the sabbath, those disciples do no wrong. Character, sanctified character, is the lord of the sabbath; and this is perfectly shown in the claims of Jesus, the ideal Man.
II. CHRISTIANS ARE LORDS OF THEIR SABBATHS. Just in the degree in which they are Christians indeed, swayed by Christian principles, toned by the Christian spirit, moulded to the Christian model. We observe that we do, without thinking about it, fully permit established Christians to arrange their sabbaths how they please - we easily let them be lords of the sabbath. Our anxiety concerns the ways in which the inexperienced Christians, the mere professors, and the worldly, keep the sabbath. It is only for their sakes that we ever think of making sabbath rules. If all men were such men as the Lord Jesus, we could banish every sabbath rule, and let them be "lords of their sabbaths;" and so it comes to view that what the world wants is the Divine life in souls, the Divine culture in life, the perfecting of manhood so that every man may become lord of his sabbath. - R.T.
same sabbath as the incident preceding in our Gospel, of the blame laid ostensibly on the disciples of Christ, really on himself, on account of their plucking the ears of corn on the sabbath day, did really belong, as we learn from the account or' St. Luke, to the following sabbath. The present passage, it may also be observed, is one of those which most fully illustrate the advantage of comparing with one another the accounts of the three synoptic evangelists. There is double or tenfold advantage in doing this when the first comparison seems simply to show variations, but the task does not come to its end before those very variations are shown to corroborate and to complete the account. Thus, e.g., the narratives of St. Mark and St. Luke would at the beginning of them actually seem to proceed on the very showing for part of their efficacy that the enemies of Christ had not asked Christ in the first instance the question of shallow cleverness only, "Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day?" But the words at the close of St. Luke's account, that Jesus said, "I will ask you one thing," make all plain and certain. Again, the mention on the part of St. Mark of the righteous "anger" of Christ adds an important touch to the scene, and fills the gap in St. Luke following the words, "And looking round about upon them all;" and find their place in St. Matthew after the word "then" in ver. 13. Notice -
I. THE BARE SHIFTS TO WHICH THE DISPOSITION AND THE WICKED WISH "TO ACCUSE" TEMPT MEN TO RESORT.
II. HOW THE SIMPLEST SUBSTITUTION OF A PLAIN WORD FOR AN AMBIGUOUS WILL BE SUFFICIENT TO CONFOUND ALIKE THE CASE AND THE FACE OF MEN WITH THIS SORT OF EVIL IN THEIR HEART. FOR THE WORD "TO HEAL," JESUS OFFERS THE ALTERNATIVE'S "TO DO GOOD" AND "TO SAVE LIFE," AND THEY HAVE TO BE ACCEPTED. FOR THE SUPPRESSED "NOT TO HEAL" JESUS OFFERS THE ALTERNATIVES "TO DO EVIL" AND "TO KILL." AND THE TRIUMPHANT VICTORY IS HIS, WITHOUT ANOTHER SENTENCE.
III. HOW ALL ENMITY, ALL MALIGNITY, ALL SMALLEST PASSIONS RAGING ROUND ABOUT, AND DEEP JUST ANGER KINDLED IN THE HEART AND LOOK AND WORD OF JESUS, NONE THE LESS LEAVE UNHURT, UNPOISONED, UNTOUCHED, EVEN UNDELAYED, THE FLOWING FORTH OF HIS PITY, MERCY, POWER, AS SAVIOUR, - FOR THE SUFFERER HIMSELF. - B.
necessity are lawful on the sabbath day. In the paragraph before us we see that works of mercy also are lawful. If under the Law the spirit of the sabbath was binding rather than the letter, how much more so under the gospel! The subject teaches us that Christ came amongst men -
I. TO VANQUISH MALIGNITY.
1. Malignity was embodied in the Pharisees.
(1) They sought to accuse the Son of God of profanity. This was to convert the highest virtue into the deepest vice, and to confound all moral order. Note: Matthew says, "And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day? that they might accuse him." According to Luke (Luke 6:8), Jesus read the question in their thoughts. Learn that in the Lord's sight speech and thought are one.
(2) They sought to murder the Saviour of the world. This was, as far as in them lay, to destroy God and man at a stroke. This was the expression of their vexation, because the doctrine of Christ mortified their pride, exposed their hypocrisy, and crossed their worldly interests, and their honour was eclipsed by his life and miracles.
(3) Their malignity was deliberate. It was not the sudden ebullition of unthinking passion. They evidently agreed, in the first instance, to tempt him. Then, certainly, they "took counsel against him, how they might destroy him."
(4) This was all done under the mask of religion. The pretext was zeal for the sanctity of the sabbath. The wicked have no objection to the holiness of things; it is the holiness of persons that offends them. If they could convict Jesus of blasphemy in his saying that he was greater than the temple, or of profanity in breaking the sabbath, death would be the penalty (see Exodus 35:2). Note: There is a religion of Satan as well as a religion of God. The religion of Satan is a parody upon the religion of God. As love is the essence of the religion of God, malignity is the spirit of the religion of Satan.
2. Malignity is vanquished by exposure.
(1) The case of the sheep was a home-thrust. The ritualists allowed the exception, not out of mercy to the animal, but from selfishness. "Take tender care of the goods of an Israelite" was with the Jews a cherished canon. Self-interest is a casuist first consulted, decisive in the removal of scruples, and readily obeyed.
(2) Ritualism had no mercy for the withered hand in which the Pharisee had no property. Our Lord invaded a heartless superstition when he established the principle that it is lawful to do good on the sabbath day.
(3) But the question returns, "How much is a man of more value than a sheep?" Yet are there many called Christians who do more for the beast of burden or pleasure than they will for a man. They spend that upon hunters, coursers, spaniels, and hounds of which many followers of Christ are destitute.
(4) The spiritual nature of man - his faculties for knowing, loving, and serving God - invest him with his vast superiority. How much better, then, is the philanthropy which blesses the soul even than that which terminates in the body!
3. Malignity is left to its own punishment.
(1) "The Pharisees went out," viz. from the presence of Christ. Evil shuns the goodness that rebukes it. Falsehood shuns the truth that exposes it.
(2) They went out, not like Peter to weep bitter tears of repentance, but to take evil counsel.
(3) Jesus "withdrew" when they "went out." He "perceived" their purpose by his Divine faculty of reading hearts. He left them in the desperation of their obstinacy. They were abandoned to themselves - murderers to murderers, human and infernal.
(4) The withdrawal of Jesus is the presage of vengeance. So it was when he left the temple and the city of Jerusalem. At his second coming be will send forth judgment unto victory.
II. TO MAGNIFY MERCY.
1. He vindicates the spirit of the Law.
(1) The spirit of the Law is love. The Law was given in love to man. Its end is to foster in him grateful and obedient love to God. The spirit of the Law is another name for the gospel.
(2) Through excessive zeal for the letter, the Jewish ritualists lost sight of this. The Law was in consequence converted into an intolerable burden.
(3) Jesus came not to destroy but to fulfil the Law, which he did by bringing out its spirit. In order to this he assailed the traditions which the ritualists had confounded with the Law.
2. He sets a high value upon man.
(1) "How much is a man better than a sheep?" Under the Law sheep were offered in sacrifice for the sin of man; but they could not take it away. Hence they appeared again and again upon the altar. The utmost they could do was to call sin to remembrance, and point to a more worthy sacrifice.
(2) Jesus himself became that more worthy Sacrifice. "He hath put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." So completely did he effect this "once for all," that there is now "no more remembrance of sin." The price he paid was the precious blood of the Son of God.
(3) He freely dispenses healing power. He "restored whole as the other" the withered hand with a word. He did not even give the pretext of the touch to those who would accuse him of breaking the sabbath law. So did he heal "all" that followed him when he withdrew from the Pharisees.
(4) But he required the faith of the suppliant. "Stretch forth thine hand." The poor man had often tried to do this in his own strength, and failed. The effort to believe is often that faith by which the soul is healed.
3. He shows compassion to the Gentiles.
(1) His question is not, "How much is the Jew better than a sheep?" He took hold of the "seed of Abraham," but in doing so he was "made in the likeness of men," without limitation.
(2) His action in withdrawing from the unbelieving Pharisees was parabolic as well as prudential; for it is noteworthy that in his following now we find many of the Gentiles (see Mark 3:6-8). The portent was that when the nation of the Jews should reject the gospel, then the gospel would leave them and offer its blessings to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 13:46; Acts 18:6; Acts 28:28).
(3) The justness of this remark appears in the citation from Isaiah in which Messiah is predicted as coming to declare judgment to the Gentiles, and to give them "hope" in his Name (vers. 18, 22). For this prediction is here mentioned as now fulfilled. "He charged" those he healed "that they should not make him known," viz. as their Healer, to the unbelievers, "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah.
4. He is gentle with the frail.
(1) Gentleness is natural to him. His voice is not heard in clamour. The Jews looked for a Messiah wielding the sword. Matthew shows how Jesus fulfils the prophecies in his non-resistance to evil and injury.
(2) The timid may hope in his mercy. A bruised reed" is a remarkable emblem of extreme frailty and weakness (see Ezekiel 29:6, 7). One bruised by the weight of sin "he will not break." He will not terrify the penitent by a frown. "A smoking flax shall he not quench." Rather will he cherish the feeblest fire of holy desire.
(3) "Till he send forth judgment unto victory." For "mercy rejoices upon judgment." - J.A.M.
ought to do. He who tries to obey will surely find himself able to obey. This man was bidden to do precisely what, to all appearance, he could not do. He did it, in obedience to a Divine command, and, to his own surprise, and every one else's surprise, he found he could do it. In a similar way our Lord said to the paralytic, "Rise, take up thy bed, and walk." How a paralyzed man was to do this did not appear. But the man tried to obey, and found that power came with the obedience. Had he waited for consciousness of strength he might have waited, helpless, for ever. Prompt obedience proved the possession of faith; that is the arranged channel of Divine blessing. "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it," and you will find that you can do it.
I. MAN'S OBEDIENCE IS THE SIGN OF HIS FAITH. Therein lies the virtue of it. The act reveals the spirit of the man. He who believes in Christ will, without question or hesitancy, do whatever Christ tells him to do. Illustrate from such cases as that of Abraham offering up his son. We can see the obedience, but behind the obedience, and inspiring the obedience, we may see the faith. And this the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews brings out: "By faith Abraham offered up Isaac... accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure." Mere obedience has no special virtue in it. It is no more than our duty. But when obedience becomes the expression of faith, then it becomes supremely interesting, it is a high moral and spiritual power. St. James points out that "faith without works [obediences] is dead;" but it is equally true that "works [obediences] without faith are dead." This man stretched out his hand because he believed in Christ's power to heal.
II. GOD'S POWER IN RESPONSE TO A MAN'S FAITH. It should be clearly seen that Christ rewarded the faith. It is that honours God. We may even illustrate from the relations of our home-life. We love to be obeyed, and we do much for the children who are good. But we, in a far higher sense, love to be trusted, and we do our best, unfold our richest, for those who lean on us with loving confidence. It is the sweet mystery of the Fatherhood of God that he loves to be trusted, and gives his best to those who trust. "Only believe; all things are possible to him that believeth." - R.T.
I. THE FOES OF FAITHFUL JESUS. "These Pharisees passed for the best persons in the country, the conservators of respectability and orthodoxy. They cannot be accused of having neglected Jesus. They turned their attention to him from the first. They followed him step by step. They discussed his doctrines and his claims, and made up their minds. Their decision was adverse, and they followed it up with acts, never becoming remiss in their activity for an hour. This is, perhaps, the most solemn and appalling circumstance in the whole tragedy of the life of Christ, that the men who rejected, hunted down, and murdered him, were those reputed best in the nation, its teachers and examples, the zealous conservators of the Bible, and the traditions of the past." But this is always the supreme bitterness of the lot of faithful men; their worst foes are the good people whom they would die to serve, if they could, with supreme loyalty to God.
II. THE SCHEMES OF THE FOES OF FAITHFUL JESUS. They began with trying arguments; but as they did not succeed at that, they attempted to silence Jesus; and even were led on to scheme his death. They represent the gradual embittering and blinding which always follow on cherished religious prejudice. - R.T.
1. The silent force of sanctified personal character.
2. The silent force of unconscious influence.
3. The silent force of ever-ready and ever-cheerful helpfulness.
4. The silent force of cultured self-denial.
5. The silent force of full convictions of truth.
The man of strong faith never needs to use strong assertion. Quietness is his strength. There is need for the noisy forces; and God is properly called by the poet "Lord of the strong things and the gentle." But our faith in the manifestly strong things, needs no buttressing. Our faith in the seemingly weak things needs much buttressing. Jesus neither "strives nor cries," but he puts forces into the world which will work, as the leaven works, until they have secured the world's redemption. - R.T.
I. CHRIST BRINGS GOOD TIDINGS TO THE FEEBLE AND FAILING. He comes as the Physician for the sick. He is the good Shepherd who leaves the safe flock of ninety and nine to seek the one lost sheep. He has little for the righteous, but much for the sinful. He was not the Friend of Pharisees, but the Friend of publicans and sinners.
1. This is contrary to the common customs of men. With us too often religion is for the religious. The good have more goodness offered to them, but the bad are left in their badness. This was the case with the old-world religions, which fed the devotion of the devout, but neglected the ruin of the impious. Christ and all who follow Christ bring the gospel to the lost.
2. This counteracts the stern processes of nature. In nature we witness the survival of the fittest. There the strong succeed and the weak fail, and the race is to the swift and the battle to the strong. Christ brings a more merciful principle to work upon men. The bruised and crushed and hopeless are the especial objects of his care.
II. THE SOURCE OF CHRIST'S ACTION IS PURE COMPASSION. There is no obligation to deal out mercy to the worthless. They who fail do not deserve to be helped merely on account of their failure. The bruised reed cannot entertain us with sweet music; it' it can emit any sounds at all, these must be of a rather painful character. The smoking wick has ceased to illumine the room; it is now an offensive object. Would it not be better to throw both of them away? No reason could be given for tenderness to those who have ceased to be of any use. to the community excepting pure compassion. But this was the very motive of our Lord's most frequent miracles. Again and again we read that "he was moved with compassion. The same wonderful love and sympathy prompted his whole life-work. It is now the great motive of the gospel. Therefore the work of Christ is characterized by tenderness. He does not drive; he leads. He does not merely command; he helps, uplifting, strengthening.
III. THE COMPASSIONATE MINISTRY OF CHRIST IS JUSTIFIED BY ITS RESULTS. A hard man of the world may be inclined to criticize our Lord's method as uneconomical. He may say that the same amount of energy spent on the young, the strong, the hopeful, would produce larger results. In reply it may be urged that Compassion does not weigh and measure and calculate, or she would cease to be Compassion; she gives freely, asking for no return. Nevertheless, there is a return. Christ's compassion is powerful. He mends the bruised reed and rekindles the smoking flax. Then the first result is the salvation of the helpless. But the process does not stay here. They who are thus redeemed are bound to their Saviour by the closest ties of gratitude. There is no love so tender and devoted as that of the Magdalene. The redeemed are living witnesses to the grace of Christ, and they are the most zealous in proclaiming it to others. - W.F.A.
Isaiah 42:1-3. It was not among the least wonders of Christ's earthly life that while his untiring step paced the flinty path of duty often so anguished, and always so hard. with reality, that step made the plants of a date earlier by far reappear and blossom, and yield their sweet fragrance at his feet. The Old Testament may be said to be continually flowering and fruiting in the New. St. Matthew here tells us where Christ now was, and how it came to pass that he was where he was - what he was doing, and why he did it. He had turned aside from the place where he had been because they conspired for his life. Two sabbath days in succession they were offended in him, who never had gone one single step to offend them. They courted each day the decisive defeat which they sustained. However angry they were with him, it was the worse because they were angry with themselves. And because Jesus knew that his hour was "net yet come," he would not meet their enraged human nature. He rather turned aside and avoided those whom then to have encountered would indeed have been in no wise to bring fear of destruction to himself, but certain destruction to them. In avoiding them, his enemies, until his appointed time should be come, we must ever view Christ, not as betraying fear or wish to get out of harm's way, but as illustrating the grand truth that he came not to destroy life, but to save it. Out of the synagogue, then, and out of Capernaum did Jesus come this sabbath day. His followers, whether of the closer or the larger circle, he kept, in the full career of all his mighty works, unwontedly quiet. At one and the same time he hushed their pains and their praises, their loud complaints or louder thanks. All are bade to observe awhile what seems even an unnatural silence. It is not yet quite the hour that the Shepherd should lay down his life and give it a ransom for the flock. And now, says the divinely inspired St. Matthew, this healing, salvation, and silence, hard to maintain, are the flowering of old prophecy, "Behold my Servant, whom I have chosen; my Beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased He shall not strive, nor cry, neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench." This incident was recorded in the life of our Saviour to bring very forcibly before us some phases of his character and work. It shows manifestly very differently from the character of men, and from the general intense craving of human nature for praise and for early manifestation, specially where the law that obtains is to prefer the praise of men to that of God. It rebukes passion as distinguished from patience; boastingness as compared with humility; and ostentation as compared with retiringness. But it does something much more. It presents Christ as the Embodiment of a series of very remarkable contrasts, or of what would generally be held to be such. God's chosen Servant, his ineffable delight, the residence of the fulness of the Spirit, is nevertheless meekness, silence, and tenderness itself. The crowd of sufferers gather round one Deliverer; the crowd of sinners round one Saviour; the crowd of grateful worshippers round the one Object of their worship, "God manifest in the flesh." But this one Deliverer, this only Saviour, this loving and true God incarnate, appears not here dressed in authority. His look, his garb, his commands, are unlike those of one who would clothe himself with authority, other than that which his actual deeds and sleeping strength might shadow forth. The text fixes one of those characteristics, gentleness. He is so gentle that he will not break a bruised reed, nor quench smoking flax. What others would tread upon or cast into the fire, he will stoop and pick up and save; what others would crush, and quench its dying smoke, as the remnant of a taper, he will not quench; but while there is life will give light, while there is light will sustain it. The bruised stem for the by-passer he will stay to hind up, reed only though it be; and will rekindle, not quench, life's spent taper. Uncommonly and sublimely simple, even for Scripture, as is the double figure of Isaiah, here quoted by St. Matthew, and in so unexpected a connection, it is intended to speak
(1) an unknown tenderness of heart;
(2) an unknown gentleness of touch; and
(3) an unknown patience of forbearance - all unknown at least till he of whom they are now spoken made them known.
This verse, then, one of the golden links of connection between the Old and the New Testament, what the prophet of old foretold of him, what the evangelist echoes and re-echoes, speaks of Christ and claims for him -
I. AN UNKNOWN TENDERNESS OF HEART. Even the perfect simplicity and the fresh charming naturalness of a child's affection would scarcely dictate the carefulness not to break a bruised reed, or the regretful watching of the last curling rings of some taper's departing life. Yet the figure here used is no exaggeration, for it tells and helps us to get some approach to a correcter notion of Christ's tender love to the bruised reed, called one's self; and to the smoking flax, which is another name for the inner life and inner light which God put within, but which we have gone so near to put out. While the Divine One was here there was not a bruised limb nor a damaged sense which he did not repair and renew; not an inner spring, or power, or flickering flame of life to which he did not give its own vigour and native energy in place of its own degenerate smouldering and smoke. Reason's flickering rushlight and the soul's just dying lamp of life did he rekindle, and fed them both from the sources of the eternal light. "Infinite pity touched the heart of God's almighty Son." It considered not difficulty nor expenditure, nor the shame and anguish of the cross; but one thing only - that object on which it had set itself. This is the tenderness of the immortal love of the strong Son of God - man's matchless Friend and man's enemy's overmastering Foe; and thus is it written of him, "He will not break a bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax." Infinite power achieves the immortal victory over Satan, and the conquest of sin and death; but infinite tenderness achieves the counterpart victory, to take for ever captive our loving soul.
II. AN UNKNOWN GENTLENESS OF TOUCH. Given the former, it may seem that all is given, and that all the rest must follow as matter of course. But it is not exactly so; it is not necessarily so. Often, indeed, the will surpasses the deed, and often indeed, with confessed kindness and tenderness of heart, there may fail to be found a happy or a tender way of expressing it. Innumerable, in fact, are the instances of those who would be very surprised and hurt if they were plainly told that there was no one yet suspected them of having the one very thing they never suspected themselves of not having - a truly kind heart; but whose deeds, or want of deeds, or way of showing forth their deeds, have long, loudly, irresistibly, told it to all others, though not to themselves. If a bruised reed is to be handled at all, it must be handled very carefully; and if the flickering, flaxen taper is not to be utterly extinguished, it must, whether lifted or only approached, be very cautiously approached, and be lifted very gently. A breath may put it out. But oh! how undeniably gentle has the touch of Jesus been! and how soft have his breathings been! Breathings of hope, breathings of forgiveness, breathings of peace, breathings of holiness, breathings of heaven itself - till what was going out revives, what was waning waxes, what was so fitful burns steady and serener far than vestal fire, and the earthly light has brightened into the heavenly!
III. AN UNKNOWN FORBEARANCE OF PATIENCE. For the unknown tenderness of heart and the unknown gentleness of touch which belong to Christ to gain their object and win their souls, what forbearance in the forbearingness of his patience has been needed, and times innumerable has been shown by him! Among men this is one of the very rarest of virtues and graces. What is owed to Christ, that he has shown it, and ever is showing it to such perfection. And how we all need to remember that, if tried too long, it brings us to the verge of that "judgment," of which our following verse speaks, "Until he shall bring forth judgment in his victory." Judgment begun must be the offer of mercy foreclosed for those who still so long refused it. And for these the far different words of Isaiah's prophecy also must become true, "Then shall the strong man be as tow, and his work as a spark; and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them. - B.
this treatment at any rate; and demands most reverential handling quite as really as it commands the awed meditating of the true student of the words of Christ. Treating the passage in the simplest manner, the likelier to lead to a better appreciation of the central difficulty, notice -
I. THE SIGNIFICANT RISE OF THE OCCASION, WHICH TOOK SO WIDE A RANGE AFTERWARDS.
1. The prompt, manifest, and undisputed healing of a man who suffered from the deprivation (presumably) of three out of the five senses which belonged to his nature.
2. The modus of this healing, to wit, the relieving the man of the tyrannous incubus of an evil spirit. This dispossessed, the man's dispossession vanished; the devil's possession challenged, disturbed, dislodged, and evicted, the man's rightful possession and possessions came to him, like some dawn of day.
3. Inspiration's presentation of this event and transaction to the uncounted millions of its readers. That is, not in its personal aspects, without one word of rehearsal of the circumstances of the faith and inner desire and subsequent conduct of the man healed. He is here; be is healed - possibly he joins the amazed multitude, possibly he goes his way, and gratefully so; but the mighty work of Christ is left, and this becomes the sole absorbing subject.
4. The world of observers wended different ways - the way of the "people," and the way of the "Pharisees."
II. THE DARING IMPUTATION, SUICIDAL SLANDER, AND PRONOUNCED BLASPHEMY THEREUPON, OF THE PHARISEES. A type to infernal perfection of that vice that has discredited so often in less degree fallen human nature, the detracting from the goodness of the good and their good deeds, and from the greatness of the great and their great deeds, is before us here. What are the facts? They are:
1. A great work done, a good work done, an absolutely merciful work done, the same being done not on the sabbath day," and the same, all in one, done manifestly and to absolute undenied certainty; done, not merely alleged, not even offered the charge of simulation.
2. An evil work undone, a devil's work undone, with the devil who had done that, work turned out; and an exceeding bitter calamity and deprivation to an integral, individual part of God's creation graciously undone.
3. The Doer of the work answering to the above description - he is present, and his prerequisites for such work are, and (by the confession and in the words of one of that very body from whom the blasphemy proceeds) are known to be," that he be come from God," and that "God be with him" (John 3:2). It must be added that the credentials of this accused but wonderful Personage are already multiplied, and of the most pronounced character, alike in deed and in word. The blasphemy is that his detractors say that his work is not of that God whose working he does, but of the devil whose working he undoes!
III. THE EXPOSURE AND REBUKE OF THIS BLASPHEMY. The Pharisees spoke their blasphemy as an aside; or perhaps from a little distance off, whence they come, and now draw near enough to Christ for him to address them and "their thoughts" personally, though "their thoughts" had not been openly and with any "courage of conviction" addressed in language to him.
1. Universal reason expressed in universal proverb exposes and rebukes the blasphemy. Satan won't divide against himself, says Christ; and they all know it.
2. A practical alternative question storms the position and abashes the blasphemy. "If," says Christ, "I by Beelzebub cast out devils," dare to put it in words," by whom your children cast them out?" "but if I by the finger of God," which is "the Spirit of God, cast them out, then that kingdom of God ' which you are refusing to enter, and which you are striving to prevent, is veritably "come to yon." What about your neglect of it, and your malignant opposition to him who brings it? Strong and armed as confessedly Satan is, and his "palace" long time "kept," now it is before your eyes, though you may not, will not, confess it with the tongue, that a Stronger has "come upon him," has "overcome him," has "bound him," has "taken from him all his armour, wherein he trusted, and has divided his spoils." It is upon the ruins of that house, that palace, that kingdom which your blasphemy says is already divided against itself, that "the kingdom of God is come unto you." And now henceforth, he that does not know me, know to be "with me," and to gather with and for me, "is against me," and dooms himself to "scatter," and be scattered.
IV. THE TERRIBLE WARNING IN THE MATTER OF BLASPHEMY, VIZ. THAT "AGAINST THE HOLY GHOST," NOW PRONOUNCED BY CHRIST. The language of Christ on this subject offers itself for the simplest acceptance, and humble and awed faith of all. Notwithstanding its brevity, its exceedingly simple diction, and the apparently designed wording of it, so that it shall not fail to reach its aim, it remains, after all the centuries, a passage that finds no absolutely satisfactory exposition, and that can command not one really just parallel by aid of which to determine and define it. To generalize upon it is easy, and to say continuous resistance of the Holy Spirit is likely, only too likely, to lead to final resistance of him, and that to the fatal doom here pronounced, is safe enough, and at the same time safely far enough from the exactness of the language and the point of its warning, here found. The apostle warns not to "quench" the Holy Spirit of God, after warning not to "grieve" him. But at what point long and repeated grieving may avail to quench we cannot fix, nor, if we could, would this enable us any more certainly to decipher what is here written, not of some prolonged rebellion against the Holy Spirit, but apparently of some such state of heart as may in a moment precipitate the unforgivable sin. We believe that it must be a "mercifiul and wise obscurity" that lies upon this passage; none the less solemn, but perhaps more so; none the less useful, but perhaps more so. The comment of St. Mark (Mark 3:30), "Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit," seems to bring us nearest of all to the exact description of the sin, already adjudicated on by Christ, both for the time before the full gospel day, and thence to the end. And we believe that the dread testimony and warning goes to this - that there is a blasphemy of the tongue against the Holy Ghost, which speaks a blasphemy of the heart against him, such and of such sort, that though not to be pronounced upon (while wheat and tares grow together), the all-seeing One knows, and declares of it, that it cannot know the grace of repentance, and cannot have the infinite boon of forgiveness extended to it.
V. CHRIST'S EMPHATIC DENIAL OF ANY FORM OF CONVENTIONAL AND ARTIFICIAL DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE HEART AND INNER QUALITY AND INGRAVEN CHARACTER OF MEN, AND THEIR WORDS AND ACTIONS. It is as true of the highest as of the lowest; and it is also as true of them both, and of all others whomsoever, as of the tree and its fruit. So literally and precisely true is this, that though it were possible that a "word," for instance, were so "idle," so light, so useless, so inactive, devoid of energy, inoperative, that it inferred no danger to any one in all the world outside, it should not the less be true that it inferred danger to the speaker of it. What witness must it needs bear about him, and against him! These concluding verses are, without mistake, a summing up of most practical and forcible application to the "generation of vipers" in the first instance, and also a reminder of widespread and deeply significant importance to all of us. - B.
1. It is absurd to suppose that any prince would counterwork his own agents. Argument addressed to common sense.
2. Introduces more serious difficulties. "If I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children," etc.? Exorcism not uncommon in our Lord's day. Necessary to notice unusually formidable assault made on gospel narrative. It has been urged that the age and nation were extremely credulous, that accurate observation and exact reporting are very rare, tendency to misstate and exaggerate much increased by religious excitement. Jews believed in power of many subordinate spirits in causing maladies and misfortunes. Therefore little credit due to their reports. Reply, in first place, modern critics also guilty of exaggeration in collecting all evidences of this taste for marvels to the exclusion of all other features of the age, as if no countervailing sense or knowledge of men. But granting all the credulity and superstition, the fact cuts both ways. If marvels were so common, what gave our Lord's miracles so decisive an influence on the world's history? Why did this imagination of the Christians alone prove so solid a basis for life? But the whole force of our Lord's reference to exorcism by the Jews is not exhausted by saying it was a form of quackery, sometimes benefiting feeble, nervous patients, but otherwise an imagination. One cannot but be struck by the contrast between the Jews' method - charlatanry too silly to be quoted - and our Lord's sober, simple word of command. How is it that he stands absolutely clear of all professional methods? It is true he believes in a demoniacal possession of which modern science takes no account - now called epilepsy, lunacy, etc. Argument that our Lord might be ignorant of the nature of the diseases he cured. Not necessary to suppose that he knew and anticipated all discoveries of modern science. This were to deny to him a true and proper humanity, and so fall into one of the most dangerous of heresies. His miracles displayed his power and his love, not his medical skill. But our knowledge on these very points still too limited to admit of pronouncing positively. And to reason thus does not remove the difficulty, for the Lord's idea of actual devils is verified in the recorded facts - they not only obeyed him, but on one occasion passed into the swine, indicating separate personalities. Alternative between veracity of Gospels and existence of devils.
3. Third reply most significant for us. Blasphemy against the Spirit, a sin of quite unique enormity. Pharisees had often judged and found fault with his conduct as man; but these were works admittedly Divine, yet they ascribed them to Satanic agency. The distinction broad and important. In the one case it might be a mistake, though a blamable one; in the other, an evasion of evidence and resistance to light which must result in utter darkness. Jesus ever seeks to be judged by his works. If the fruit is good, must not the tree be good? If he gives us what is best, shall we not own him, and give him our best? From attitude of Pharisees two important warnings:
(1) "He that is not with me," etc. After abundant evidence neutrality impossible. Difficulty of being entirely honest in inquiry; danger of state in which not reason, but pride, indifference, reluctance, find difficulties. Make sure that you are allowing due weight to all that God says to your conscience.
(2) "Every idle word," etc. Judged by words, because "out of abundance of heart," etc. Every such word an index of heart. Evading conviction or decision by foolish or ill-natured words. Whenever good is done, heartily welcome it. Meanest of all occupations to stand idle and criticize. - D.
I. THE NATURE OF THE BLASPHEMY MAY BE GATHERED FROM THE STORY.
1. Our Lord had wrought a notable miracle.
(1) The subject was both blind and dumb. The case of Laura Bridgman, and another, seem to be the only examples of this double affliction which have occurred in modern times. But this wretched man was, moreover, a demoniac.
(2) What a type of the sinner is here! Blind to spiritual truth. Having no voice for God's praise. "Carried captive by the devil at his will."
(3) But Jesus "healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw." The devil also owned the presence of a Superior. So can Jesus open the blind eye of the soul. He also can put a new song into the praiseless mouth. And he can deliver our hearts from infernal domination.
2. The people were convinced of his Messiahship.
(1) They cried out, "Is not this the Son of David?" The prophecies authorized the expectation of Messiah in the lineage of David. That Jesus was in that lineage could not be denied.
(2) "Is not this" Miracle-worker the Messiah? The prophecies authorized the expectation of Messiah as a Worker of miracles (see Isaiah 35:5).
(3) Is not this Vanquisher of demons the illustrious Personage destined to appear as the Seed of the woman and crush the serpent's head (Genesis 3:15)?
(4) Who can now dispute that with Jesus is the Spirit of God, that he is the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ of God?
3. But the -Pharisees blasphemed.
(1) Against the clearest evidence, through pride, envy, and malignity, they refused to recognize the Messiah. None are so blind as those who will not see (cf. John 9:39-41).
(2) To defend their unbelief and to retain their credit with the people they invented the libel that Jesus had cast out devils through the prince of the devils. Thus the work of the Spirit of God was blasphemously attributed to diabolical agency. Thus the blessed Spirit of God was blasphemously confounded with the very devil.
(3) This horrible libel was whispered. They did not speak it openly in the hearing of Jesus. They feared to encounter his convincing words. But Jesus "knew their thoughts." There is no evading the scrutiny of that eye.
(4) "This [fellow]," viz. a sabbath-breaker and blasphemer! What venom can be condensed into a single word!
4. The Heart-searcher exposed ]PGBR> their malignity. (1) He confounded their logic, reasoning first from the general to the particular. Factions will ruin any kingdom. Are devils so foolish as by promoting factions to ruin their kingdom? Note: If devils are more wicked than men they are not so foolish. (2) He proceeds to use the argumentum ad hominera, retorting, "If I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges." They will at least convict you of partial and unjust judgment. (a) Some of the disciples of the Pharisees pretended to exorcise devils. Whether they did so in reality is open to question. Josephus (see 'Ant.,' 7:6. 3; 8:2. 5), Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origen, Tertullian, and other early Fathers are quoted to show that such exorcisms were successfully practised. The sons of Sceva attempted it to their cost (see Acts 19:16). If they only pretended to do it, then our Lord's words here are ironical, but the argument is equally good. (b) The disciples of the Pharisees professed not to cast out devils by the aid of devils. They did it, or attempted to do it, by the invocation of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (3) He applies the reasoning to the confusion of the unbeliever. "If I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you." It were blasphemy to charge the Spirit of God with working to confirm a falsehood. The disciples of the Pharisees did not claim to be the Messiah. (4) He emphasizes the proof of his Messiahship in that superiority to devils which he had evinced in the miracle. The strong man's house can only be entered by the stronger than he; and who but Messiah is stronger than Satan? (5) In this war between Christ and Belial there is no neuter. We obstruct if we do not promote the kingdom of God (see Luke 9:49, 50). "He that gathereth not with me scattereth." The sense is, says Stier, "He that gathereth, but not with me, his gathering is itself a scattering." (6) Then he marks the dreadful character of their blasphemy, "Wherefore I say unto you," etc. II. THE DIFFICULTIES OF THE SUBJECT MAY NOW BE CONSIDERED. 1. Is not the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost the final rejection of Jesus as the Christ? (2) That there is no forgiveness for such a state, viz. while the sinner remains in It, is obvious. The one sin to which damnation is appended is persevering unbelief. (3) To speak against the Son of man is to resist the testimony of Christ coming without the demonstration of miracles. To speak against the Holy Ghost is to resist that testimony when confirmed by miracles (cf. Exodus 8:19; Luke 11:20; John 10:47, 48). (4) "The sin denounced is, probably, the rejection of the last and greatest evidence of the Messiahship of Christ - the dispensation of the Spirit" (Harris). in this view, with respect to the Pharisees, our Lord's words are admonitory, "If you persist in this temper you will place yourselves beyond the reach of mercy." The nation of Israel was not destroyed until after the evidence of the Spirit proved unavailing. (5) There is absolutely no sin that may not be repented and forgiven through the mercy of the gospel. Impenitence - wilful unbelief - is the one unpardonable crime. 2. Yet are there degrees of difficulty in respect to repentance. (3) Yet for presumptuous sins there was forgiveness from the Lord upon repentance in anticipation of the mercy of the gospel. The pardon of high-handed sins belongs properly to the age of Messiah (cf. Psalm 51.; Acts 2:36, 38; Acts 3:17; Acts 5:31). The converting grace of Christ masters the strong man in the heart. Once the devil could make the sinner swear, get drunk, neglect his soul; but now things are changed, and he has no such power. (4) When sin becomes desperately malignant, as in the case of these Pharisees, repentance becomes extremely difficult. The spirit of the words of Christ is that all manner of sis and blasphemy is more easily forgiven than the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. Thus when our Lord says, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away" (Mark 13:31), the meaning is that heaven and earth will more easily pass away than that his words should fail of accomplishment. For so it is expressed in Luke (Luke 16:17). 3. Is there here any countenance to the doctrine of purgatory? (1) The words "world to come" (עולם הבא) "age to come," are commonly used in Jewish writers to express the age of Messiah. The age to come, then, is the gospel age, which did not set in fully until the great Sacrifice was offered upon Calvary and the Spirit poured out on the Day of Pentecost, and which was contrasted with the Levitical age then current. (2) The Jews expected a freer forgiveness of sins in the age of Messiah than they enjoyed under the Levitical dispensation. (3) The import of our Lord's words, then, simply is that the difficulty is extreme in bringing to repentance a malignant and unreasonable blasphemer. (4) And if he pass the age of Messiah unforgiven, then he will have to encounter the horrors of "eternal damnation" (Mark 3:29), or, as the New Version puts it, "is guilty of an eternal sin." - J.A.M.
(1) He confounded their logic, reasoning first from the general to the particular. Factions will ruin any kingdom. Are devils so foolish as by promoting factions to ruin their kingdom? Note: If devils are more wicked than men they are not so foolish.
(2) He proceeds to use the argumentum ad hominera, retorting, "If I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges." They will at least convict you of partial and unjust judgment.
(a) Some of the disciples of the Pharisees pretended to exorcise devils. Whether they did so in reality is open to question. Josephus (see 'Ant.,' 7:6. 3; 8:2. 5), Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origen, Tertullian, and other early Fathers are quoted to show that such exorcisms were successfully practised. The sons of Sceva attempted it to their cost (see Acts 19:16). If they only pretended to do it, then our Lord's words here are ironical, but the argument is equally good.
(b) The disciples of the Pharisees professed not to cast out devils by the aid of devils. They did it, or attempted to do it, by the invocation of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
(3) He applies the reasoning to the confusion of the unbeliever. "If I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you." It were blasphemy to charge the Spirit of God with working to confirm a falsehood. The disciples of the Pharisees did not claim to be the Messiah.
(4) He emphasizes the proof of his Messiahship in that superiority to devils which he had evinced in the miracle. The strong man's house can only be entered by the stronger than he; and who but Messiah is stronger than Satan?
(5) In this war between Christ and Belial there is no neuter. We obstruct if we do not promote the kingdom of God (see Luke 9:49, 50). "He that gathereth not with me scattereth." The sense is, says Stier, "He that gathereth, but not with me, his gathering is itself a scattering."
(6) Then he marks the dreadful character of their blasphemy, "Wherefore I say unto you," etc.
II. THE DIFFICULTIES OF THE SUBJECT MAY NOW BE CONSIDERED.
1. Is not the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost the final rejection of Jesus as the Christ?
(2) That there is no forgiveness for such a state, viz. while the sinner remains in It, is obvious. The one sin to which damnation is appended is persevering unbelief.
(3) To speak against the Son of man is to resist the testimony of Christ coming without the demonstration of miracles. To speak against the Holy Ghost is to resist that testimony when confirmed by miracles (cf. Exodus 8:19; Luke 11:20; John 10:47, 48).
(4) "The sin denounced is, probably, the rejection of the last and greatest evidence of the Messiahship of Christ - the dispensation of the Spirit" (Harris). in this view, with respect to the Pharisees, our Lord's words are admonitory, "If you persist in this temper you will place yourselves beyond the reach of mercy." The nation of Israel was not destroyed until after the evidence of the Spirit proved unavailing.
(5) There is absolutely no sin that may not be repented and forgiven through the mercy of the gospel. Impenitence - wilful unbelief - is the one unpardonable crime.
2. Yet are there degrees of difficulty in respect to repentance.
(3) Yet for presumptuous sins there was forgiveness from the Lord upon repentance in anticipation of the mercy of the gospel. The pardon of high-handed sins belongs properly to the age of Messiah (cf. Psalm 51.; Acts 2:36, 38; Acts 3:17; Acts 5:31). The converting grace of Christ masters the strong man in the heart. Once the devil could make the sinner swear, get drunk, neglect his soul; but now things are changed, and he has no such power.
(4) When sin becomes desperately malignant, as in the case of these Pharisees, repentance becomes extremely difficult. The spirit of the words of Christ is that all manner of sis and blasphemy is more easily forgiven than the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. Thus when our Lord says, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away" (Mark 13:31), the meaning is that heaven and earth will more easily pass away than that his words should fail of accomplishment. For so it is expressed in Luke (Luke 16:17).
3. Is there here any countenance to the doctrine of purgatory?
(1) The words "world to come" (עולם הבא) "age to come," are commonly used in Jewish writers to express the age of Messiah. The age to come, then, is the gospel age, which did not set in fully until the great Sacrifice was offered upon Calvary and the Spirit poured out on the Day of Pentecost, and which was contrasted with the Levitical age then current.
(2) The Jews expected a freer forgiveness of sins in the age of Messiah than they enjoyed under the Levitical dispensation.
(3) The import of our Lord's words, then, simply is that the difficulty is extreme in bringing to repentance a malignant and unreasonable blasphemer.
(4) And if he pass the age of Messiah unforgiven, then he will have to encounter the horrors of "eternal damnation" (Mark 3:29), or, as the New Version puts it, "is guilty of an eternal sin." - J.A.M.
1. Masters do not spoil the characteristic work of their servants; a prince of devils was not likely to prevent devils doing devils' work.
2. Jewish exorcists claimed power to cast out devils; these Pharisees claimed such power; then their argument was readily turned round on themselves - they too must be possessed by Beelzebub the prince of the devils. "According to the Book of Henoch, the demons are the souls of the giants who corrupted themselves with the daughters of men; but Josephus regarded them as the spirits of dead men. They were so numerous that every man has ten thousand on his right hand, and one thousand on his left. The chief of the diabolical empire was Beelzebub." "The rabbis, scribes, and doctors of the Law undertook the casting out demons, and some of them were considered very skilful in the art. The healing art was simply exorcism." Dean Plumptre ventures to remind us that "we need not assume that such power was always a pretence, or rested only on spells and incantations. Earnestness, prayer, fasting, faith, - these are always mighty in intensifying the power of will, before which the frenzied soul bows in submission or yields in confidence; and these may well have been found among the better and truer Pharisees."
I. AN EXPLANATION MAY BE GOOD IF IT IS OFFERED IN A MALICIOUS SPIRIT. Its value, as an explanation, should be fairly weighed, without prejudice. We may often learn most valuable things from the bitter words of our enemies. They reveal to us what otherwise we might never have discovered.
II. AN EXPLANATION IS LIKELY TO BE BAD WHEN IT IS OFFERED IN A MALICIOUS SPIRIT. It is better to suspect it; better not to make too much of it. Malice spoils eyesight, and certainly spoils judgment. These Pharisees fashioned a bad argument just because they felt angry with Jesus. - R.T.
Spirit of God. They declared that he worked the miracles in the power of the chief of the evil spirits. To say that was to offer open insult to the Holy Spirit in Jesus. And that is a hopeless kind of sin, because only in the power of the Spirit can men be saved. He who calls the Spirit Beelzebub will never seek his saving help, and so he never will be forgiven or regenerated. Forgiveness only comes to the penitent and humble. It is quite clear that they are neither penitent nor humble who think the Holy Spirit in Jesus is Beelzebub.
I. TWO POSSIBLE EXPLANATIONS OF OUR LORD'S CASTING OUT DEVILS.
1. He may do it with the help of the prince of the devils. Is that a reasonable explanation? If it were merely directing the movements of devils from one sphere of work to another, it might be reasonable; but the case before us is distinctly one of stopping the devils work. Jesus "cast out" the devils. It is not reasonable to think of princes of devils stopping their subordinates' work. Then see that these Pharisees were shut up to, and obliged to accept, the other possible explanation. Jesus cast out devils by the Spirit of God; that is every way reasonable, according to their own showing, for the good God must be opposed to the work of evil spirits.
II. THE CONSEQUENCES OF ADMITTING THE ONLY REASONABLE EXPLANATION. These Pharisees came under the gravest responsibility. If Jesus wrought in the power of the Spirit, they were bound to believe him, and come into discipleship with him. This they would not do. Then Christ presses home the consequences of their wilfulness. They sinned against light; they resisted inward convictions; they grieved the Spirit; they blasphemed the Spirit; they put themselves into such moral attitudes that they could not be forgiven; forgiveness is of no value to those who are not humble. - R.T.
I. SATAN IS LIKE A STRONG MAN. Some men speak lightly of temptation, and boast of their strength to resist it. These may be its earliest victims. Christ knew the powers of evil, and he did not despise their magnitude. He had met the tempter in the wilderness, and though he had come off completely victorious, he had seen the awful might of the great enemy of souls. Satan is so strong that no human being can master him alone. Only a stronger can bind him.
II. THE SIX-POSSESSED WORLD IS A HOUSE OF SATAN. The miserable demoniac was like a house of Satan, in the power of the prince of evil. But the whole world is described as under the spirit of evil. He is the prince of this world.
III. EVIL INFLUENCES ARE THE WEAPONS AND TOOLS OF SATAN. We might render the word "goods" as "instruments." The demon in the poor possessed man was one of Satan's instruments. In a secondary sense we may now say that evil passions and corrupt habits are Satan's weapons, because it is through them that the power of evil works in the world and inflicts his cruel tortures on his victims.
IV. IT IS THE PURPOSE OF CHRIST TO DELIVER THE WORLD FROM EVIL INFLUENCES. His principal miracle-working is described as the casting out of demons. Doubtless this was intended to be suggestive of his great spiritual work in liberating souls from the bad influences, the sinful habits and passions with which they are possessed. Thus he is a robber, breaking into the house of Satan to take away his detestable instruments. When he has done this the house itself will no longer be in the power of the evil one.
V. THE HOUSE OF SATAN CANNOT BE ROBBED TILL ITS MASTER IS OVERMASTERED. The strong man will keep his house and will permit no weak intruder to rob it.
1. The first work in the salvation of the world must be the binding of Satan. Something more must be done than to bring gracious influences to bear on individual men. An awful conflict must go on till the power of evil itself is restrained.
2. It is impossible to raise the fallen till the sin that has ruined them is conquered. The problem of rescuing the degraded inhabitants of great cities must be faced on its moral side. Drunkenness, gambling, and profligacy must be fought and conquered before the wretched condition of these people can be effectually overcome.
3. Evil must be east out by conquering temptation. The tempter must be bound. It is a Christian work to restrain or remove the influences that tempt to vice.
VI. CHRIST REDEEMS THE WORLD BY MASTERING THE POWER OF EVIL.
1. He worsted Satan in his temptation.
2. He effectually vanquished the spirit of evil in his work, and beheld him fall like lightning from heaven.
3. He completely mastered the evil one at Calvary and in the resurrection.
4. He now hinds Satan in individual hearts, conquering the ruling powers of evil within. - W.F.A.
I. CONDUCT IS THE FRUIT OF LIFE.
1. It is not possible without life. Growth in the tree is only produced when the sap is flowing and the cells are active. Animal activity depends on vitality; the dead animal is stiff and stark; lowered vitality results m torpor. Mental work springs from a living mind. Spiritual movements are only possible when there is spiritual life.
2. It is determined by the character of the life. No manoeuvres can make a fig tree bring forth anything but figs. If the fruit is poor we cannot improve it by doctoring it. Here is a law of necessity. We are constantly finding in practice that our wills and energies and capacities are limited by our nature. Free-will is not enjoyed without many checks. Not only do our natures determine what we can accomplish; our habits very largely decide it.
II. LIFE MAY BE ESTIMATED BY CONDUCT. We judge of the tree by the fruit it bears, and we judge of the man by the conduct he displays.
1. Other estimates are delusive.
(1) Profession. This may be hypocritically false; or, if not so bad, it may still be enormously enlarged by self-flattery.
(2) Promises. These may be well meant; yet there may not be energy to keep them, or they may be forgotten or neglected when they are due. The leaves may be green and yet the fruit may be bitter.
2. Conduct is a sure test. This is real. It requires energy, employs faculty, and produces a tangible result. Still, it needs to be fairly judged.
(1) At the right time. The tree is not barren just because it is bare in winter. We must wait for a harvest.
(2) By the true standard. The most beautiful fruit is not always the sweetest. There is a flashy conduct which arrests the attention anti claims the admiration of all beholders, and yet which is hollow and useless.
3. Slight actions are tests of serious conditions of character. We shall be judged by our words. Even thoughtless, light words will be taken account of, because they too spring from the tone and temper of the mind. They are the straws that show which way the stream is flowing. Sometimes they are better tests than more important actions, because they are unpremeditated, and therefore true to our characters. We reveal ourselves when we are off our guard.
III. THE REFORMATION OF CONDUCT DEPENDS ON THE, REGENERATION OF LIFE. This practical conclusion necessarily follows on the principles which determine the growth of conduct. Manners may be improved by a superficial polish. But the really moral character of our actions cannot be transformed by any external process. Do what we will, the fruit must come according to the nature and character of the stock on which it grows. Therefore Christian work must be directed to the deep inner needs of the soul. This is not unpractical, as some assert. Lectures on ethics are not the best means of improving the morals of a people. Evangelical teaching is the source of moral improvement. We cannot imitate Christ until we have the life of Christ in our hearts. - W.F.A.
I. THAT THE LICENCE OF THE TONGUE IS A PREGNANT EVIL.
1. It is fruitful in robbery.
(1) Slander filches the reputation of the innocent. A man's character is his reputation with his Maker, whatever may be his reputation with his fellows. Reputation is a man's character as estimated by his fellows. Next to the favour of God men esteem that of their fellows. It is a moral power the loss of which is serious injury.
(2) Slander robs a man of his friends. We are constituted for society. Solitary confinement is intolerable. No man can afford to be deserted of his friends. But who would be the friend of a blasted reputation?
(3) Slander deprives a man of property. The robber may not be enriched, but the robbery is real. A man without a character is shut out of the markets.
2. It is prolific in murder.
(1) Murder is held among men of all crimes the most heinous, and is therefore visited by the extreme penalty or' law. But hatred is incipient murder (cf. Matthew 5:21, 22; 1 John 3:15). Slander is the hatred of the cowardly knave. The Pharisees who first maligned Christ then took counsel to destroy him (see ver. 14).
(2) If slander does not aim at the life of the body, it stabs the life of character. Character is moral life. It is a more sacred thing than the life of the animal. A virtuous man would part with the life of the flesh rather than sacrifice his character.
(3) The poison of the nettle or of the sting of an insect is not the less real because it may elude the tests of chemistry. The murder is not the less real because it is not overtaken by the civil law.
3. It is emphatically diabolical.
(1) Calumny is the favourite weapon of the "father of lies." This is expressed in his very name. "Devil" means traducer. Satan slandered God to Eve (see Genesis 3:1, 4, 5). Satan slandered Job to God (Job 1:11; Job 2:4).
(2) Therefore the blasphemy of the Pharisees is here fittingly compared to the venom of the serpent. "Ye offspring of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things?" (see also Matthew 3:7).
(3) The malignity of the slanderer is devilish. Its wickedness is as gratuitous as it is cruel. A burglar may benefit by his plunder; but this species of robbery benefits nobody. A man whose reputation is preserved may replace his property; but filched of his "good name" he is "poor indeed."
II. THAT THE CONQUEST OF THE TONGUE IS A WORTHY AMBITION.
1. Words are the vehicles of thought.
(1) They are the instruments of thought. We think in words. We cannot think without them. Try. Clear ideas are shaped in appropriate language. The vocabulary of the savage is too rude for him to be capable of profound or philosophic thought.
(2) They are the conveyancers of thought. Perceptive ideas may be conveyed by other signs, as gesture, or facial expression; but profound thoughts and delicate distinctions require the more perfect instrument of speech.
2. By words thought stirs worlds.
(1) The world of commerce. Educated hands and inventive minds are linked by words. Words guide the transport of the products from the factory to the market. In the market they preside in all exchanges.
(2) The world of politics. The speech of an orator may shape the destinies of an empire. By a word the peace of a continent may be settled or disturbed. Words have created revolutions.
(3) The world of morals. Witness the connection between the preaching of Peter the Hermit and the Crusades; the relation of the preaching of Luther to the Protestant Reformation.
3. What an engine for good or evil is here!
(1) Skilfully used, steam will set a factory in motion. Mismanaged, it will wreck it. So words.
(2) Eternal happiness or misery turns upon the quality of a word. A good word may awaken memories and start trains of thought to issue in a regenerated life. A malignant word, at a moment of indecision, may so determine the will as to damn an immortal destiny.
(3) The value of words will be seen in the day of judgment. For by their words will they be judged (vers. 36, 37).
(a) Wicked words will pass in review. The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. The word against the Son of man.
(b) Idle words - words wanting in seriousness and caution; discourse that does not tend to the glory of God; the desecration of the solemn language of Scripture in garnishing idle talk (cf. Proverbs 10:9; Ephesians 4:29; Ephesians 5:4; 1 Timothy 5:13).
(c) Of these we shall have to give an account. Picture the Pharisee explaining his blasphemy in the very presence of the Blessed One whom he had attempted to identify with the devil!
III. THAT THE TONGUE IS CONQUERED IN THE HEART.
1. Speech is the natural vent of the heart.
(1) The heart will have expression or it will break. The growing tree will displace rocks. The overflowing fountain will carry away obstructions. Pent-up feeling is like steam in a close vessel.
(2) The heart will have adequate expression. This it can only find in speech. It is ready. ":Nearest tile heart, nearest the mouth." The idea most forcibly impressed on the mind wilt naturally claim first utterance. The tongue also is flexible and mobile, and words are versatile and apt.
2. Language is the sure index to character.
(1) This follows, for the heart is the character. Jesus is the good tree whose fruit is good. The Pharisee is the evil tree whose fruit is evil.
(2) As the tree is known by its fruit, so is the heart by the conversation. "The kind of speech in a man betokens the kind of action you will get from him" (Carlyle).
(3) The tree after its kind is folded up in the seed, and can be evolved from it again; so from our words the Judge of all will evolve again our character in the great day or' doom.
(4) Every word has its moral history.
(5) Though Jacob may simulate the raiment of Esau, he cannot simulate his voice.
3. Therefore the tongue must be cured in the heart.
(1) They begin at the wrong end who would reform the heart by reforming the tongue. "A man may beat down the bitter fruit from an evil tree until he is weary; but whilst the root abides in strength and vigour, the beating down of the present fruit will not hinder it from bringing forth more" (Dr. Owen).
(2) Resolution can only transiently cure, viz. while the matter is present to the mind. But thought cannot evermore remain upon any single subject. The most vigilant sentinel must sometimes sleep, and the truant heart will out.
(3) But let the heart be full of love to God and man, and its malice may be trusted anywhere.
bad speech of the Pharisees. It was the natural expression of bad minds, minds full of prejudice and malice. How could they, "being evil, speak good things"? But a great principle is involved in our Lord's appeal.
I. WORDS MAY BE MERE WORDS. Our Lord calls them "idle words." Much that we say we have not really thought. We often speak first and think last. And such idle words, though they do not express our real selves, often make sad mischief. Words glibly pass our tongues, and we forget them the moment after they are uttered, but they are as scorpion-stings to those who hear; they light up fires like the fires of hell. Therefore Christ warns so severely against words that have no thought and no heart behind them, and yet do their fatal work, saying, "For every idle word that man shall speak, he shall give account in the day of judgment." The first law of good speech is - think before you speak.
II. WORDS MAY UTTER A BAD HEART. The skill of life is keeping bad thoughts from gaining utterance. At the most, they only injure one person if they are kept from utterance. There is no knowing how many they may injure if they get expressed. These Pharisees had bad enough thoughts concerning Christ. If they had kept them to themselves, they would only have ruined themselves. Speaking their thought out, they started evil in other minds; words were agencies for communicating thought to thought; so the mischief ran, other souls were blocked against Christ, and his redeeming work was hindered in men.
III. WORDS MAY UTTER A GOOD HEART. Think pure things, and you need not restrain utterance; you will find pure words. Think kind things, trustful things, God-honouring things, and then, out of the abundance of the heart, the lips may freely speak. What you say will not be "idle things" with nothing behind them; nor will they be evil things with malice behind them. Let God make the soul-fountains of thought and heart fresh and sweet by his Holy Spirit's regenerating and sanctifying, and there need be no fear - our speech will be good speech, "seasoned with salt." - R.T.
First, because (see Luke 11:16) perhaps they asked a "sign from heaven," marking in their wish a craving of curiosity for the novel and the more striking, regardless of the quantum of instruction that the sign might be charged with, at any rate, for others. Secondly, whether it were a sign from heaven or not, in asking they asked without the higher wish, without any wish, probably, for the higher object of a sign, when it is granted. Thirdly, without asking, they had already had many a sign of the most effective and incontestable kind, and they were signs "nigh at hand, and not afar off;" and yet these signs had not been used, not improved - had been seen, but resisted; and these men are the worst of all, who had "seen and yet believed not. And once more, fourthly, because if this passage finds its correct place immediately on the narrative that here precedes, as seems certainly to be the case, they had just seen a sign, and had listened to what followed from the lips of Christ, and had been in the position to survey the entire scene, and to take awful warning from it. Note, further, that, true though it was that these doubters and unbelievers and disbelievers had had, and were still sure to have, numerous signs of the kind just given, yet Christ takes their meaning when he adds, No sign shall be given but the sign of the Prophet Jonas;" and, alluding to this, he contrasts the practical conduct, the faith and repentance of Nineveh, on the preaching of Jonas, and the faith and zeal of the Queen of Sheba, when she heard the wisdom of Solomon, with the wilful unrepentingness of his hearers, and the cold deadness of their mind and heart. Note once more, from the closing portion of these verses, the link which holds them to the beginning of the passage. Their text is the "evil and adulterous generation;" and these last sentences forecast the" worse" state, to which they ever sink who, with all added light, gift, opportunity, shut, not eye and ear so much as mind and heart to them, while these are flung wide open for the evil spirits, who most ruthlessly victimize them. In the whole passage, select for special development the instance of the judgment and condemnation which the Queen of Sheba shall contribute, by the contrast of her example with that of the men to whom Jesus Christ was preaching, and manifesting forth his glory, his wisdom, and his mighty works. And learn that this example -
I. REMINDS OF THE CREDIT THAT IT IS TO HUMAN NATURE TO SEEK. It is one of the certain signs that its life and reality are not yet dried up and exhausted. We honour and admire the individual who seeks. Our admiration and honour grow when we see the seeking converted into thorough, earnest, persevering search. This, the onward, upward determination of our nature, constitutes one of the moral evidences of its immortality. Yet at the same time we cannot leave out of the question what it is which is the object of its search. Endeavour, labour, decision, and enthusiasm directed to a really worthy object - when any one labours for the thing he knows to his best light to be the highest - raise the whole scale of our admiration. Still, the man who exhibits these qualities may be wrong in not knowing a higher. It may be his fault, it may be even his sin, that he does not know a higher. Of how much of both our darkness and ignorance are we ourselves not unfrequently the guilty causes! Not, then, does any arrive at the best till he has made sure that what he and his heart and soul go in quest of is the truly highest that human mind may reach after, and human heart love. Though the visitor of Solomon was a queen, she journeyed far; and not for money nor for presents, though with both did she journey, but in quest of wisdom; this fired her soul's desire, on this her imagination went to work, this her ears tingled to hear, this determined her journey. In her deed she was blessed - blessed for her time of day. She acted up to an elevated and generous impulse, and she was not disappointed. And it is she, says Christ himself, who will rise up in judgment with those who, so far from being athirst for wisdom, and for the highest type attainable, refuse that infinitely greater wisdom, so near, so graciously pressed on them, of him who is greater beyond all count than Solomon. Search long, toilsome, and honourable for inferior blessings often reproves our wasteful heedlessness of that which is the greater; but never a millionth time so much as when it is "all the world" on the one hand, but Christ and his wisdom on the other hand, which are offered so freely, which plead for our regard so graciously, and which nevertheless are sought so feebly.
II. REMINDS OF THE SUPREME OBJECT WHICH IS INCONTESTABLY THE ONE WORTHY TO BE SOUGHT. It is, indeed, in itself a most interesting thing, as the barest fact of history, the history of the time of the Queen of Sheba, that she longed to hear the wisdom of Solomon. To be anxious to see all his wealth and magnificence and state would have been a usual enough anxiety. Nor can there be any doubt, from what we afterwards read, that she did think of these, and was satisfied and rejoiced with the satisfaction and rejoicing that these could give. None the less is it to be noticed that the record is that she craved to hear his wisdom. Now, this wisdom was great in certain relations and comparisons, and it was very unusual; but what at the furthest was its compass and its range? Great memory, great knowledge, great gift of observation, great force of discernment - all such Solomon confessedly had. How many proverbs did he write, and then repeat from memory! how much poetry did he compose and sing! what a natural historian he was, though science "in those days was very precious," and microscope there was none! "He spake three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five. He spake of trees also, from the cedar that is in Lebanon even to the hyssop that springeth out of the wall of Jerusalem. He spake of beasts also, and of fowls, of creeping things, and of fishes." But all this - was it not knowledge of a very restrained sort? It was curious and entertaining and instructive, and capable certainly of leading from nature to nature's God; but what was it in comparison of the antitype! Now for the reverse of the grand medal.
1. The "Greater than Solomon" brings his wisdom, and brings it from heaven's highest heights. Thence brought, it descends to all of our various, deepest need. Thence brought, it spreads over all the wide compass of the various want of our life. Christ knows all that is.
2. The wisdom of Christ antedates all the present. All the past he knows, who" was in the beginning with God, and was God." So his wisdom was "from everlasting."
3. He knows all the future. Where our vision cannot reach, and where (could we glance) we should tremble to glance, which way soever our glance turned, there does his reaching, searching, steady gaze anticipate the direction, and swift as a morning ray travel to the end. How should men cleave for his wisdom's sake to him who sees, who only sees, all that awaits them!
"No eye but his might ever bear 4. The wisdom of Christ is so kind. It is not confessedly grand and awful things which can be depended upon to draw human hearts the most. But Christ's wisdom is what we of all created things should most rejoice to call wisdom. It is so kind, so deep, so gentle, so quiet, that condescends to search all our needs, to stoop to view all our trials and sorrows, to come in contact with all that is most infinitely repulsive to him, our sin, and then to find the one perfect remedy for it. What justice even to our apprehension in that sentence of St. Paul, "Christ the Wisdom of God"! To "hear" the wisdom of Solomon did the Queen of Sheba travel from the uttermost parts of the earth, though there might not be one single word in it all for her self, for her life, heart, soul. But all the wisdom of Christ, so far as it is as yet revealed to us, gazes full on us; it has us for the objects of its expenditure. He has come to us. From the uttermost heavens has he descended to us. "How swift and joyful was his flight,
4. The wisdom of Christ is so kind. It is not confessedly grand and awful things which can be depended upon to draw human hearts the most. But Christ's wisdom is what we of all created things should most rejoice to call wisdom. It is so kind, so deep, so gentle, so quiet, that condescends to search all our needs, to stoop to view all our trials and sorrows, to come in contact with all that is most infinitely repulsive to him, our sin, and then to find the one perfect remedy for it. What justice even to our apprehension in that sentence of St. Paul, "Christ the Wisdom of God"! To "hear" the wisdom of Solomon did the Queen of Sheba travel from the uttermost parts of the earth, though there might not be one single word in it all for her self, for her life, heart, soul. But all the wisdom of Christ, so far as it is as yet revealed to us, gazes full on us; it has us for the objects of its expenditure. He has come to us. From the uttermost heavens has he descended to us.
"How swift and joyful was his flight,
the Greatest and Holiest and most Sacrificing, could not be in the world without changing its course for ever. And each of us may read our own indi vidual future as here directed by our Lord, for it is impossible he should join himself to any one of us individually without bringing into our life an otherwise unattainable hope. Certain natural signs never deceive, because there is a rigid natural connection between the cause and the consequence. As rigid is the connection in the moral world; you cannot belong to Christ without receiving the utmost of human blessing. It means untold good to you; it is the spring of your life that promises endless harvest. All that is unworthy, weak, and wicked will be displaced, and you will be changed into his like ness. It is as certain as the shower that you see coming down the wind to the spot you stand on. But while our Lord refused any sign as a mere wonder proving his power, he assured them a sign should be given of the most astonishing kind. As if he said, "I will do no miracle of the kind you require; it would not convince you; you are not seeking conviction, but a plausible pretext against me. You think I am endangering the ship, and you will treat me as Jonah was treated; but as Jonah's mission was expedited by what seemed to terminate it, so shall my mission, by your final action against me, receive its most convincing authentication." This sign of the resurrection of Christ is that which seals the truth of all he asserted regarding himself, but especially does it give us assurance that our Lord is now alive. Only when we believe in this do we attain to faith in our own immortality. In the little parable with which this passage closes, our Lord points out that, though they had cast out the devil of idolatry, the heart not being filled with love of God and holiness, the empty apartment of their soul was straightway filled with self-conceit, contempt for gross sinners, hatred of any light that made them suspicious of their state. Probably he pointed specially to the deterioration of "this generation." There had been a revival of religion under John, but John himself warned them that he could not baptize with the Holy Spirit. He saw that merely to cast out one or two devils of misconduct, and to leave the heart empty, was to place men in a perilous position. To the individual this little parable is full of significance. There are diseases in which there are periods of relief from pain, followed by severe relapse. So in the case here spoken of, the downward career is not steadily progressive, but is checked for a while, only to be resumed with sevenfold violence. The principle pointed at is that wherever an evil thing is not expelled by the invasion of good that enters and dispossesses it, the expulsion is ineffectual. Nature dictates and observes this law. If you wish to clear a room of bad air, you do not get an air-pump and exhaust it, but by opening the window you let the rush of pure air drive out the impure; were you to exhaust the air, you might produce a suction which would burst your gas-pipes and draw up foul air from your sewers. So in the moral world evil is to be ejected by soul-possessing love of good. Christ is set before us that we may learn to love him, and so have no room for any unworthy affection. To use religion only as a repressive and expulsive influence is fatal. There are persons whose hearts are emptied rather than filled by religion. There is a death of their old bad life, but there is no strong impelling power, no new and abundant life. Is there anything in you that would make it a pleasure to you to take your place by the side of Christ in his humble ministering to the poor and wretched? How can you relish the prospect of eternal life, if you have in you no hearty love for the style of life that will then prevail? The result of using religion merely as an instrument for repression is that the soul becomes possessed of greater iniquities than ever. The new sins may be sins, as our Lord expresses it, that find their suitable dwelling in a house that is swept and garnished, yet they are worse than the original iniquity. These sins are vanity; contempt of men; hatred of persons differing from them in doctrine and outward forms of religion, though having more love to Christ than they; hypocrisy and coldness of feeling. These new tenants are prim, decorous, church-going devils, that adapt themselves to the ways of respectable society. But none the less will they one day overwhelm the house in disaster. The history of the man whose religious experience is here given is this - he has rid himself of some form of iniquity out of regard for self rather than for Christ; he plumes himself on the improvement instead of humbly thanking Christ, cultivates self rather than fellowship with Christ. Is your heart so filled and satisfied with the love of Christ that all that offends him is banished from it? - D.
I. THAT THE SINNERS ARE REBUKED IN MERCY.
1. They sought a sign, viz., from heaven.
(2) In this clamour former miracles are ignored. He who is unconvinced by proofs so stupendous as those on which Christianity rests is an unbeliever, not from want of evidence, but from an evil bias upon his judgment and will which no additional demonstration can remedy.
2. But this sign was not for that generation.
(1) They were "evil." The Pharisees and scribes were eminently so. Speaking against the Son of man. Blaspheming against the Holy Ghost. A "generation of vipers."
(2) They were adulterous. Literally so. They were guilty of polygamy, frequent divorces, and other sensualities, which they covered by hypocrisy or defended by Immoral casuistry. About this time the Rabbi Joachim ben Zacchai abrogated the trial by the bitter waters of jealousy, because so many were found to be thus criminated.
(3) Figuratively. The Hebrews were by the Sinai covenant married to their Maker, as Christians become the spouse of Christ by the covenant from Zion. Idolatry and worldliness, which is a form of idolatry, are spiritual adultery (see James 4:4).
(4) The clamourers did not consider that the sign from heaven is the signal for judgment. Had they faithfully read the Prophet Daniel they would have seen that the judgment precedes the visible kingdom. It is in his mercy that God does not answer the prayers of wicked men.
3. He gave them the sign from the earth.
(1) Jonah was a type of Christ in his burial. Jonah spoke of his position in the belly of the fish as that of one buried in the grave. He calls it "the belly of hell," Sheol, or the grave; and "the pit" (see Jonah 2:2, 6, margin). The type was all the more remarkable in the miraculous preservation of his life. For the Holy One must not see corruption. He cannot be holden of death.
(2) Jonah was a type of Christ in his resurrection.
(a) As to the fact.
(b) As to the time (vide Exposition; see also Hosea 6:2).
(3) Jonah preached to the Ninevites after his return from his burial in the sea-monster. The true preaching of the gospel followed upon the resurrection of Jesus.
(4) The miracle in the case of Jonah was a sign that he was a divinely commissioned prophet; and it authenticated his words to the Ninevites. So is the resurrection of Jesus the authentication of his mission and words (see Luke 11:30). Those who will not accept this sign are in no condition to accept any sign, though it should be even "from heaven."
(5) In God's order the sign of the Prophet Jonah must anticipate the sign of the Prophet Daniel. Messiah must first come in humiliation, in suffering and death and burial, before he can come in power and great glory.
II. THAT THE SINNERS ARE ADMONISHED OF JUDGMENT.
1. The men of Nineveh will confront them there.
(1) The Ninevites repented at the preaching of Jonah. They credited the sign. Their faith saved them from vengeance. Note: God's threatenings, as well as his promises, are conditional. No one goes to perdition by arbitrary predestination.
(2) How will the scribes and Pharisees appear in the judgment when confronted with the men of Nineveh? They repented not at the preaching of Jesus, who came to them authenticated by miracles and prophecies innumerable.
(3) Jesus is a "greater than Jonah." The Ninevites repented at the preaching of the lesser prophet. The scribes and Pharisees resisted the preaching of the greater. Note: Responsibilities are heavier as privileges and opportunities are greater.
2. The queen of the south will confront them there.
(1) She came to hear the wisdom of Solomon. Solomon was but a type of Jesus. He is Wisdom itself - the Eternal Word of God. The Wisdom of God himself" came to his own" privileged people, "but they received him not."
(2) She came "from the uttermost parts of the earth." She came up out of a dark heathen land, far away from the light of the oracles of God. How strongly did her case contrast with that of the very doctors of the Law, who, in the "Valley of Vision," were visited by the God of glory!
(3) Gentile believers in general will come into judgment with the Jewish rejecters of the gospel. So will those who amongst the Gentiles improved inferior light rise up to confound those who have neglected or abused the superior. The rising up alludes to the custom of witnesses rising from their seats and standing in court to give their testimony.
(4) Opportunity and privilege will have their value in the judgment in determining the measure of the rewards and punishments.
III. THAT THE SINNERS ARE WARNED OF DOOM.
1. The sentence is the sequel of the trial.
(1) The certainty of the trial cannot be disputed. It is certified in the sign of the resurrection of Christ. This is the very gist of the reference to the sign of the Prophet Jonah. In this sense also Paul cites the sign: "He hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath gives assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead (Acts 17:31).
(2) Not only is the resurrection of Christ given for a sign of the judgment; it is, moreover, given to evince the certainty of the particular doctrine, viz. that men shall be then judged by their words, and by them justified or condemned. Let this great truth influence all our conversation.
(3) As certainly as there will be a judgment, so certainly will the destiny of the judged be determined. The judgment will be no mere parade. The doom of the wicked is portrayed in the parable of the unclean spirit.
2. Communities are punished in this world.
(1) This is obvious from the nature of the case. They belong exclusively to it, and exist in it. So the parable sets forth the doom of the "generation" or race of unbelieving Jews.
(2) Their "first" state was melancholy, viz. when they were visited by the gospel. It is described under the similitude of a demoniac. The prevalence of demoniacal possession at that time was a consequence, and therefore fittingly a figure, of the wickedness of the nation.
(3) They had a season of merciful visitation in the preaching of John and of Jesus. There was a partial reformation through the preaching of John. Jesus, in consequence, appeared, and expelled devils to evince his power to drive them away from the hearts of the people.
(4) The reformation, however, was but partial. The people relapsed; and now their condition had become worse than ever. Instead of being the victim of one, they now became the victim of seven devils, and these more wicked than the former. Note: There are degrees of wickedness in devils. Hence the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. Hence also their filling up the measure of their iniquity in crucifying the Just One; and hence the consequent "days of vengeance" in the destruction of Jerusalem.
3. Individuals also are punished for sin.
(1) Sinners, as individuals, do not wholly go unpunished in this world. The wrath upon communities is felt by individuals. The condition of the backslider is itself a punishment.
(2) Satan finds his soul inviting. For out of humanity he is restless. He is uneasy when he can do no mischief. Hell is the devil's heaven. There is nothing to keep him out.
(a) He finds it "empty" of God, of Christ, of his Holy Spirit.
(b) It is "swept" from love, lowliness, meekness, and all the fruits of the Spirit.
(c) It is "garnished" with levity and security.
The lodgings are furnished. "Servants make the house trim and handsome against their master comes home, especially when he brings guests with him, as here the devil brings seven more'" (Gurnall).
(3) The last state of the backslider is worse than the first.
(a) His powers were expanded under the heavenly influences of the gospel, and he is the more capable now of refinement in iniquity. He can now entertain "seven" devils, whereas formerly he had accommodation for one only.
(b) Evil habits are formed and strengthened by relapses. The condition induced by multiplied relapses is therefore the more incurable.
(4) The final doom of the sinner is at the judgment of the last day. Then balances are struck and arrears paid up. Then the severity of the tyranny of the "seven devils" is felt. - J.A.M.
I. THE SIGN THEY SOUGHT. Some miracle, wrought under conditions which they would appoint, anti submitted to tests which they would provide. Illustrate by the recent demand of the scientific man to have the question of "answer to prayer" submitted to what he called "adequate scientific tests." For them to seek a sign at all was to show that the miracles Christ had wrought had not produced their proper moral effect upon them. And anything like a demand for a sign showed that they did not realize their proper relations to a Jehovah-prophet, and to this Jehovah-prophet, who was the Messiah.
II. THE SIGN THEY OBTAINED. Not at all the kind of thing they asked for. Something stated in such a paradoxical way as compelled them to think. The reference to Jonah's being in the sea-monster's belly is not the thing our Lord is using as a sign; that only introduces the sign of Jonah's preaching repentance to the men of Nineveh. That was a sign, or illustration, of our Lord's preaching to the Pharisees; and the sign became a solemn warning; for, while the Ninevites obeyed Jonah, they were resolutely setting themselves against all obedience to Christ; and as Christ was greater than Jonah, so their judgment for rejecting him would be proportionately severe. It is as if our Lord had said, "I will not give you a sign, but I will give you an illustration; and I will take it from the Old Testament history, which you pride yourselves on knowing so well; and from the conduct of a heathen people, whom you sublimely despise. 'They repented at the preaching of Jonah;' 'A Greater than Jonah is here.' How are-you treating him and his message? Verily the men of Nineveh will rise and condemn you, you men of the superior privilege, in the day of judgment." They wanted a sign that they might use to condemn Christ; he gave them a sign which condemned them. - R.T.
I. THE EVICTION. The house was inhabited by a most undesirable tenant, who kept it in an ill condition, neglected, and filthy. So the landlord turned him out, and had the house cleaned down and garnished ready for a better occupier. This is analogous to a partial reformation - one that is only negative. We may compare it with the work of John the Baptist when that is not followed up by the gospel of Christ. The old state of sin has become unendurable; a desperate effort has been made to break off the bad habits. The drunkard has given up his drink; the profligate has left his vice; the worldly person has turned aside from his old follies. The evil spirit has been expelled. More has been done. Not only has there been an expulsion; there has been a cleansing, there has been a re-decoration. The empty house is swept and garnished. An improvement of manners has taken place. Some attempt has been made to add grace and beauty to the once wrecked and degraded soul.
II. THE EMPTINESS. An empty house is a dreary sight. Gaunt and silent in a street full of life, it seems to be the abode of ghostly shadows that flit to and fro am[ peep out of the windows at twilight. If we enter it, it strikes us with a dismal sense of desertion. Its wails echo to every footfall; the stairs creak painfully under our tread; a gust of wind sighs through the vacant passages; suddenly we are startled by the slamming of a door somewhere up in the garret. It is an eerie place. An empty mind is equally desolate; and a heart from which the old affections have been torn is a dreary vacancy. Such things cannot be endured, and they do not last.
III. THE RETURN. The empty house invites stray guests. It cannot remain perfectly deserted, if it has nothing better than rats and mice to scamper over the ceilings and chase one another behind the wainscoting. The poor empty soul will soon be infested with a brood of "tenants-at-will." 'If there is nothing to keep them out, the old habits will return and reassert themselves. The disappointment of the hope of reformation is likely to give rise to an utter abandonment of despair. When the reformed drunkard breaks out with his old vice again he plunges deeper than ever in the mire.
IV. THE REMEDY. How can this terrible end be prevented? The evil arises from the emptiness of the heart. This vacuum must be filled. If the old evil is not to return, a new good must take its place. The only way to keep the old tenant out is to put a new tenant in possession. -Negative morality is of little value. "Thou shalt not" is a poor substitute for a gospel of redemption. The heart needs to be filled with a new passion in order that it may leave no room for the old passions to return. Now, this remedy is found in Christ. The love of sin is only perfectly banished when the love of Christ has filled the heart. But when Christ is in possession sin cannot reassert its insolent claims. - W.F.A.
"May the bad demons depart! I. IT PICTURES THE HISTORICAL FACT CONCERNING. ISRAEL. The nation had, once for all and resolutely, turned out the demon of idolatry when they returned from Babylon to repossess their land. For a long time the land was clean from that sin, empty of that bad spirit; but as Jesus read the bad hearts of those Pharisees, and the mischievous influence of their teachings, it seemed clear to him that the old demon of idolatry had come back in disguise, and brought with him seven other spirits, worse than himself. That generation was more utterly corrupt than even the old ages of violent idolatry. Hypocrisy, self-will, hard-heartedness, pride, malice, were devils morally worse than idolatry. II. IT REVEALS AN EVER-RECURRING FACT CONCERNING ALL MEN. They are easily satisfied with reforms that merely mean putting aside some evil indulgence. They give up certain habits, and so are clean; but they only turn out the evil and leave his place empty. A soul must be occupied, and if its interest in evil is removed, it must be interested in good. Religion should fill up all empty places, and leave no room for returning evil. The man who relapses into sin after being delivered from its power, almost always goes greater lengths in sin than he went in the early stages. Every relapse is more dangerous than the disease. "It is quite possible that a man who has conquered some old vice or besetting sin may, as a reformed man, pass under the dominion of spirits who are far more plausible and no less evil than the one he has subdued. Instead of one coarse spirit, think of eight subtle intellects crowding into a man's soul." - R.T.
I. IT PICTURES THE HISTORICAL FACT CONCERNING. ISRAEL. The nation had, once for all and resolutely, turned out the demon of idolatry when they returned from Babylon to repossess their land. For a long time the land was clean from that sin, empty of that bad spirit; but as Jesus read the bad hearts of those Pharisees, and the mischievous influence of their teachings, it seemed clear to him that the old demon of idolatry had come back in disguise, and brought with him seven other spirits, worse than himself. That generation was more utterly corrupt than even the old ages of violent idolatry. Hypocrisy, self-will, hard-heartedness, pride, malice, were devils morally worse than idolatry.
II. IT REVEALS AN EVER-RECURRING FACT CONCERNING ALL MEN. They are easily satisfied with reforms that merely mean putting aside some evil indulgence. They give up certain habits, and so are clean; but they only turn out the evil and leave his place empty. A soul must be occupied, and if its interest in evil is removed, it must be interested in good. Religion should fill up all empty places, and leave no room for returning evil. The man who relapses into sin after being delivered from its power, almost always goes greater lengths in sin than he went in the early stages. Every relapse is more dangerous than the disease. "It is quite possible that a man who has conquered some old vice or besetting sin may, as a reformed man, pass under the dominion of spirits who are far more plausible and no less evil than the one he has subdued. Instead of one coarse spirit, think of eight subtle intellects crowding into a man's soul." - R.T.
I. THE CONDITIONS OF BROTHERHOOD WITH CHRIST.
1. It is not merely natural, but spiritual. Jesus did not deny the claims of nature. In the agony of death he thought of his mother, and committed her to the charge of the beloved disciple. But it was the pain of his life that the happy family union which is the source of earth's deepest joy was broken by the unique destiny he was following. Christ has kinship with men in their higher natures.
2. It is determined, not by opinions, but by conduct. They are not Christ's brethren who understand most; but the deeds of life determine relationship with Christ. It is possible to be very orthodox and yet not be owned by Christ; the poor heretic, hounded to death by pious persecutors, may be owned as our Lord's brother - not because he is a heretic, as some people seem to think, but because in spite of his heresy his conduct pleases Christ.
3. It is not conditioned by religious observances, but by the doing of God's will The condition is wide, and it may embrace many sects and creeds. Yet in another sense it is narrow. While Christ is good to all, he only owns brotherhood with those who are obedient to God. Obedience is the tie of kinship. It marks men as of the family of God, of which Jesus is the elder Brother, the type of obedience, and its inspiring influence.
II. THE PRIVILEGES OF BROTHERHOOD WITH CHRIST.
1. It is a joy to Christ. The sympathy he could not find among his own kindred he met in the larger family of God's obedient sons and daughters. Thus it is possible to contribute to the joy of Christ. This cannot but be a privilege to those who are his true brethren.
2. It secures his full sympathy. He is not like those selfish sufferers who demand unlimited sympathy with their own woes, but offer no sympathy with others in return. His life is utterly unselfish, a perpetual expenditure of himself for his brethren.
3. It brings the confidence of family union. One of the happiest features of home-life is the complete mutual confidence of the members of the family. This Christ permits between himself and his people. He does not stand off from them in kingly isolation. "He is not ashamed to call them brethren" (Hebrews 2:11).
4. It secures a lasting heritage. Christ's brethren are his fellow-heirs. Kings' families may come to sad endings. It is better to be a Christian than a Stuart or a Bourbon. - W.F.A.
multitude in St. Mark. How these took up the message, and tried to pass it on, pictures itself readily to our familiar knowledge of the ready tongue of a multitude." No one of the evangelists' accounts tell us, however, of what might have been the object of the desire on the part of the mother and brethren of Jesus to "see" or to "speak with" him. It may have been to bring him refreshment for the body; it may have been to warn him of apprehended danger; it may have been to share with nearer position the manifested power and glory and manifestation of the Mighty One whom they had known, as they thought, so well. The significance of the silence on the point may lead us, not uncharitably, to the theory that it was for some reason personal rather to them than to him. The incident described in the passage before us, and which so naturally has arrested our attention and our deep sympathetic feelings so often -
I. SUGGESTS THE DIFFERENCE WHICH CHRIST HIMSELF MARKED BETWEEN PERSONAL LOVE TO HIM AND A MERE LOVE TO HIS PERSON. It is not by this to be understood for a moment that his mother's love to him was a mere love to his Person. But broad and deep is the line which Jesus does himself draw, as though for the help of all whomsoever who should be, between these two things. There is a vast gulf of separation between our natural and our saintly desires. How hard it might seem sometimes to allow for this separating gulf, however! When our agonized meditative thought has led us betimes to say to our inmost self what we would give for a moment's vision of that Holy One in the garb of his human flesh alone; to see that form, to hear that voice, to know what his eye literally looked, to watch the expression of his countenance, to ask him one question personally, to walk across the field by his adorable side, to plant one's step literally in the footprint of his own; and when one has been impelled to think how many millions for that one aged Simeon would now be ready, for such a boon granted, to say, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace," and welcomely to close the eyes on earth, and all it ever could have else to show, the words of Jesus here
(1) warn us against a snare, manifest though it may be held to be; and
(2) point us the better, the more excellent way, to learn "to hear and to do the will of God " - of "my Father which is in heaven." Such desires on our part may even take rank among unearthly desires, among saintly desires even; but they are not the saintly desire for a moment to stand in comparison of what Christ here places before us. Though we be not competent to say certainly now that it was any such mere superficial motive on the part of mother and brethren to see Jesus, and to share some reflected glory from his Person, it is competent to us to say that Christ seized the opportunity, at whatever other risk, to say that all personal relationship dwindles in the presence of that living, intrinsic, eternally abiding relationship that constitutes one the mother, another the sister, and millions the brethren of the now invisible One, the Lord Jesus Christ.
II. SUGGESTS THE POSSIBILITY OF REALIZING A CERTAIN FULNESS AND A CERTAIN TENDERNESS IN SUCH RELATIONSHIPS AS CHRIST IS WILLING TO SUSTAIN TOWARD US, AND STATES FORCIBLY THE CONDITIONS NECESSARY THERETO. What is most sacred, what is most tender, what is absolutely most real of earthly and human relationship, is employed to set forth the fulness, the tenderness, the absolute sympathy, that bear witness of not a mere acquaintance with Christ, but of such an acquaintance as is all-pervading, knows no discord, is inspired by no jarring want of harmony, and already bears the stamp of eternity on it, almost fit already to merge into spiritual shape. What reproach the thought gives to all half-heartedness, to all mere interested profession of Christian faith and hope and love! How it repudiates the thought of a mere question of gain to be gotten from Christ, and tramples with just scorn and indignation upon the blasphemy in practice of patronizing Christ! Jesus would have us understand and believe how much it draws his heart towards any one who begins to "hear," as he never heard before, "the Word of God, and to do his Father's will." For want of this the family was once broken up, and only by the restoring of this can its unity be regained. Now, the love which Christ has toward us as sinners, whom he came to seek and to save, when he looked down on us as sinners, and far from "God's Word," is one love. It is the love of commiseration, of God-like compassion, of heavenly mercy. But the love which he condescends to liken to that of mother, sister, brother, and to that to be shown to these, is something else. It is the oneness, the heartfelt sympathy, the fellowship and communion of delight, which they know, yet can never describe, who, happy themselves, know the bliss of resting in the unruffled security and harmony of the family in which they were born, which surrounded them with their first consciousness of life, and in which they have as yet ever lived without a fear, without a want. Jesus Christ wished loudly to declare it in the press, the motley group, the harassed multitude that were around him, that this rule, "to hear the Word of God and do it," was not only the rectifying of everything that could be wrong in the family of man, but also the perfecting of joy in every one who should observe to do it. A crown will make a king or queen; ancestry and accident will make princes and princesses; wealth will make position, however ticklish and uncertain; knowledge and learning will make that wisdom and power which are at any rate somewhat less uncertain; but hearing the Word of God and doing it will make what is immeasurably superior to all these. It will fill up the family of God on earth, will deepen and diffuse pure joy here, and will help fill all heaven above with joy and praise. - B.
I. HIS RELATIONSHIP TO THE WOULD.
1. He is its Redeemer.
(1) To accomplish our redemption he assumed our nature. In our nature he assumed our sin. Not, however, by his incarnation, but by imputation. He redeemed us from suffering by suffering in our stead.
(2) He is the Redeemer of all men. To all men, therefore, the conditions of salvation are to be proclaimed. Those who accept the conditions experience the benefit.
(3) The redemption saves us from sin to righteousness. It saves us from death - spiritual - everlasting.
2. He is its Teacher.
(1) He came to release the Jew from the traditions of the elders. To bring out the spirit of the Law, which has the essence of the gospel in it (see 2 Corinthians 3:12-18). To illustrate life and immortality.
(2) He came to release the Gentile from ignorance, superstition, and vice. To reconcile him to God. To reconcile him to the Jew. For the children of the promise, whether Jew or Gentile, are the children of Abraham's faith (Galatians 3:29).
(3) Here we find him "speaking to the multitudes." His discourse was not to the Pharisees, but to the crowd. From the "wise and understanding" he turns away; that he may reveal the mysteries of wisdom "unto babes." Those multitudes were representative. To the vaster multitudes in all climes, in a million echoes, he still speaks loving words.
II. HIS RELATIONSHIP TO HIS FAMILY.
1. The family claim was asserted.
(1) "His mother and his brethren." There is difference of opinion as to the identity of these "brethren." Some think they were his cousins - children of Mary, his mother's sister, and of Cleophas, or Alphaeus. Some believe them to have been children of Joseph and Mary. There is no sufficient reason to doubt this; for the perpetual virginity of Mary is a figment.
(2) They" stood without, seeking to speak with him." Note: Mary made no effort to "command her Son," as the Mariolatrists speak. Yet there was an assertion of family claim in the desire for a private audience with Jesus.
(3) Had the family claim been properly asserted, it would doubtless receive a recognition. From his cross Jesus was solicitous for the temporal maintenance and protection of his mother (see John 19:25-27).
2. It was offensively asserted.
(1) "His mother and his brethren stood without," when they should have stood within, listening to the discourse. Those who are nearest the means of grace are often the most negligent of them. So the proverb, "The nearer the church the further from God."
(2) Yet they had the presumption to desire that Jesus should come out to them. This was, moreover, an unseemly interruption of a heavenly discourse. It was also an unwarrantable distraction to the hearers. Family influence is misplaced in interrupting the blessed work of God (see Luke 11:27, 28).
(3) Their purpose was to stop his preaching; for his brethren were unbelieving, and thought him beside himself (cf. Mark 3:21, 31; John 7:5). His mother was with them. Perhaps her motive may have been to caution him against offending the Pharisees.
3. The intrusion was reproved.
(1) "He answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?" And what follows suggests that upon this occasion, at least, they were not doing the will of his Father which is in heaven.
(2) He proceeded with his discourse. His earthly mother's claims must not compete with the will and work of his heavenly Father. The opposition we may meet with even from our relatives must not drive us from the work of God.
III. HIS RELATIONSHIP TO THE CHURCH.
1. Christ's nearest relations are his true disciples.
(2) His true disciples are preferred before his natural relatives. There is no saving relationship to Jesus according to the flesh. Spiritual relationship to him is saving.
2. Endearments of natural relationship are heightened in them.
(1) "He is my brother." Jesus is more than a, Friend to his true disciple. He will cleave to him when he is forsaken of all others. He is that Friend that sticketh closer than a brother.
(2) "And sister." He extends to his disciple that loving protection which a true brother extends to his sister. He delights in the happiness of the disciple as the brother delights in the happiness of his sister.
(3) "And mother." As a good son gives the support of a strong arm to his mother in her failing strength, so does Jesus strengthen his disciples in the seasons of their weakness.
(4) As the disciples who are worthy of Christ forsake for him all natural relationships, so does he forsake all natural relationships for them (cf. Matthew 4:22; Matthew 10:37; Luke 14:26). Thus do they receive in him both the hundredfold and the eternal life (see Matthew 19:29).
3. Spiritual relationships are enduring.
(1) Not so the natural These are invaded by death. Saints in the resurrection are like the angels of God.
(2) The family named after Christ is at once in heaven and earth. We are already come to the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn enrolled in heaven.
(3) Christ will not be ashamed of his poor relations. He will confess them before assembled worlds. - J.A.M.
I. FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS LIE ON A LOW PLANE. Only low comparatively. Until compared with spiritual relationships, it seems to be a very high plane. We regard as morally most valuable the influence and mutual service of family relationships. It is not possible to think of Christ as falling to recognize family ties. They altogether fail in imagination, insight, and spiritual sensitiveness who think our Lord's answer was rude, harsh, and unfeeling. Pulsford says, very suggestively, "A man's relations are as distinct as are his own flesh and spirit. His blood-relatives are often not his spirit-relatives. Blood-relations are of time and for time; kindred spirits are of eternity and for eternity. Natural life has its own associations, and Divine life its own. When the Divine life is quickened in a man he enters into a new world of relationships. And in proportion to the reality and fervour of his new life will be his attachment to his new kindred, and his power of attaching them to him."
II. SPIRITUAL RELATIONSHIPS LIE IN THE HIGHER PLANE, BUT ARE WELL REPRESENTED BY THOSE IN THE LOWER PLANE. "It was as if he had said, 'Truly she is my mother, and they are my brethren; but in the higher life, not alone the one who reared me, but every one who is like her is mine. Not alone the gentler companions of my childhood are brothers and sisters, but all who have pure and large hearts. For all true relationship springs from moral states, and not from the mechanical arrangements of society. God is the one Father, and all men become intimately related to each other in proportion as they are intimately related to God'" (Beecher). It is a happy thing indeed when one's near relatives in the flesh are also real relatives, kindred souls, one with us in the love and service of the risen and living Lord. - R.T.
2. But Christ here indirectly presents himself as the Centre of this new spiritual family. This is so
(1) because he is the actual, visible embodiment of God's will, in whom men can best see what that wilt is. And
(2) because it is through him they become able to do God's will. Only by becoming brethren of Christ can we become children of God. From this truth flow several inferences.
I. IT IS NOT YOUR BIRTH, BUT YOUR CHOICE, WHICH DETERMINES YOUR ETERNAL RELATIONSHIPS AND SURROUNDINGS. Every man passes judgment on himself by his affinities. You cannot judge a man by his family, his origin; but you can judge him, or he can judge himself, by the profession he chooses, the friendships he forms, the course of life he freely adopts. But the great test of men is Christ. He is set for the fall and rising of many, and by him are the thoughts of many hearts revealed. By the treatment men give him they reveal what is in them, and whether their talk about virtue is merely talk, or if they have hearty love for it when presented in actual life.
II. THE FAMILY IS NOT AN ETERNAL INSTITUTION, Those affections which are developed in the family must be fed. from a more enduring root if they are to abide. They are like the bindings which join the graft to the tree; they keep us together until the vital sap knits us into one. There is no guarantee for the endurance of love but that it goes down to and roots itself in the deepest springs of our life. In family life the pain of want of sympathy is only the keener for the superficial affection. It is thus that Christ brings sometimes, not peace, but division. It is the magnet passing through the heap of dust and iron filings; the superior attraction at once produces separation. It is not that we must buy his favour by perfect submission, or propitiate his jealousy by disliking others, but that he is worthy of and can command a deeper. holier, more devoted love than any other; and the further we ourselves advance in all that is good, the more we see the necessary truth of his saying, "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me." Let parents try to win their children to that permanent and eternal family in which the relationship lies not in the flesh, but in the deepest recesses of the spirit, and from which there are no banishments, no deaths, no separations. Death then loses the greater part of its terrors - is, indeed, recognized as the apparently necessary means of purifying and deepening our natural affections.
III. FROM THIS STATEMENT WE UNDERSTAND BETTER OUR OWN POSITION, IF WE BE DOING THE WILL OF GOD.
1. We have claims on Christ superior to those which can be asserted even by his relatives. He wants to be trusted, confided in, counted on. ]f you would have counted it happy to be born in the same family, and would have expected from him, your own Brother, all the help he could give, you may still count on that help and with greater assurance.
2. Christ takes pleasure in us, if we are doing God's wilt, such as he finds in nothing else. We cannot understand his longing for human love and acceptance, but we know that even as God he loved human fellowship, and when he became man we find him the same. To be closer to Christ than to father or mother, to be more truly at one with him than with any one besides, this is salvation. In his own day he could point to some anti say, "Behold my mother and my Brethren!" Surely there are among ourselves those who long above all things to be truly the brethren of the Lord Jesus Christ. - D.