Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE SPECIAL SIGN WHICH THE PHARISEES SOUGHT.
1. They sought a sign from heaven.
(1) This was dearly the sign of the Prophet Daniel (see Daniel 7:9-14). The Pharisees then desired Jesus then and there to prove his Messiahship to them by appearing in the heavens as the Son of man in glory, and to establish a visible kingdom.
(2) This is a true sign of the Messiah. Not only is it a favourite sign with the Jews, but one also which Jesus acknowledged. He commonly spoke of himself, in manifest allusion to that very sign, as "the Son of man." But why, then, did he not gratify their expectations? The answer is:
2. They sought that sign too soon.
(1) It is a sign of a second advent of Messiah. A second advent there must needs be, for Messiah is described in prophecy in two distinct characters, which he could not fulfil at one and the same time. He is to come in the character of a Priest, to make atonement for sin, in humiliation, suffering, and death. He is also to come in the character of a King, in glory and immortality.
(2) In the first of these characters Jesus had then appeared. He must first suffer before he can enter into his glory, and therefore, also, before he can be revealed in his glory (cf. Genesis 3:15; Deuteronomy 18:15-19; Psalm 16:8-10; Psalm 22.; Isaiah 50:5, 6; Isaiah 53; Daniel 9:24; Luke 24:26).
(3) In the second character he promises in due time to appear (cf. Matthew 24:29-35; Matthew 26:64-68; Revelation 1:7; Revelation 14:14). And in this character accordingly he is expected by his disciples (cf. Acts 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).
II. THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES TO WHICH JESUS APPEALED.
1. Those connected with his personal advent.
(1) At the period of his birth there was a general expectation. The weeks of Daniel were fast running out within which Messiah was to be cut off (see Daniel 9:23-27). He must be born a considerable time before the date of his Passion. Gentiles then shared in the expectation of the Jews.
(2) His birth was itself a miracle. He was born of a virgin, and m the house and lineage of David. This was according to the requirement of the first promise in Eden, that he should be the "Seed of the woman," and of that remarkable place in Isaiah where a virgin of the house of David was to bring forth a son, who was to be distinguished as Immannel (see Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23).
(3) That birth was also attended by miracles. The annunciation to the Virgin by Gabriel corresponded to that made to Manoah's wife concerning the birth of Samson, who was a type of Christ (cf. Judges 13:2-5; Luke 1:26-35). The wonderful birth was then celebrated by angels, who appeared to the shepherds; and by a star seen by the Wise Men in the East (cf. Numbers 24:17; Matthew 2:2; Revelation 22:16; Luke 2:9-14).
2. Those connected with ills public ministry.
(1) Foremost amongst these was the miracle at his baptism, when he was about to enter upon that public ministry (Matthew 3:16, 17).
(2) This was followed up by the testimony of the Baptist. That testimony could not be impeached. The Baptist was authenticated as a prophet of God by the miracles connected with his birth (see Luke 1:5-22). In that character he was acknowledged by his nation. He announced himself, as the angel had designated him to be, the harbinger of Messiah. In that capacity he pointed out Jesus to his disciples as the "Lamb of God that beareth away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).
(3) This wonderful character Jesus was able to sustain. He wrought the miracles which the prophets said Messiah was to work. He did everything and suffered everything which the prophets said Messiah was to do and suffer in his advent as a Priest.
(4) The very wickedness of the generation that "tempted him, and proved him, and saw his works," was a sign of the times (cf. Isaiah 6:9-12; Matthew 13:14, 15). And to all but themselves is their obstinacy in rejecting Jesus, together with their long continued sufferings, a proof that Jesus is the Christ; for these things he foretold (cf. Matthew 23:34-39; Luke 21:22-24).
III. THE SPECIAL SIGN WHICH JESUS GAVE.
1. He gave them a sign from the earth.
(1) They sought a sign from heaven. The sign they sought, as we have seen, was that of the Prophet Daniel. That he gave them was the sign of the Prophet Jonah (cf. Matthew 12:39).
(2) They sought the sign of the kingdom of glory. He gave them the sign of the priesthood and suffering. The burial presupposes the death, and the death the suffering, of Messiah. These things he afterwards plainly showed to his disciples (see ver. 21).
2. This sign best suited a wicked generation.
(1) It fulfilled the sacrifices of the Law. Those sacrifices were ostensibly to make atonement for sin. But in what sense? Ceremonially and typically. Morally they could not remove sin. To suppose so would be to outrage common sense. "It is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins." Their inability to do this was acknowledged, for it was necessary to repeat the sacrifices. In the light of the great sin sacrifice of Calvary, all is plain.
(2) It fulfilled the sacrifice of Isaac. In the daily prayers read in the synagogue we have this: "אנא מלד, O most merciful and gracious King! we beseech thee to remember and to look back on the covenant made between the divided offerings, and let the recollection of the sacrificial binding of the only son appear before thee, in favour of Israel." But what sense is there in this unless the "sacrificial binding" of Isaac be accepted as typical of the only Son of God, the Seed of Isaac, in whom all the families of the earth are blessed?
(3) The sign of a sufficient sacrifice for the expiation of sin is, of all others, to be desired by a wicked generation. But were the Lord to have answered their foolish prayer, and to have appeared without a sin sacrifice, as their King in judgment, they would be the first to be destroyed in the fires of his anger.
3. Jesus rested his claims upon this sign.
(1) He predicted that he "must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed." Within a year this was literally fulfilled.
(2) But now comes the testing point. He added, "and the third day be raised up" (see ver. 21). So about a year earlier he explained this sign of the Prophet Jonah to certain scribes and Pharisees. "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the seamonster; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (see Matthew 12:40).
(3) This also was fulfilled to the letter. No event of history is better authenticated than the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And if the evidence that Jesus is the Christ will not convince the Jews, they cannot be convinced by evidence; they can only be convinced by judgment. The sign from heaven will convince them. - J.A.M.
I. MEN DESIRE A CONVINCING SIGN OF THE TRUTH OF CHRISTIANITY. This desire is not in itself wrong or unreasonable. To believe without sufficient evidence is a symptom of weakness, and such a faith is only a superstition. It is not a mark of pride, but a simple consequence of loyalty to truth, that we should seek for good grounds on which to establish our convictions. If this were all that the people demanded, our Lord could not have met the cry for a sign with the auger which we see he displayed against it. But it is evident that the Jews were not satisfied with the signs Christ offered. They wanted a "sign from heaven" - some flaring portent that would compel conviction. Is there not a tendency in the present day to look away from the only sources of truth that are available, and to demand impossible grounds of conviction?
II. THE DEMAND FOR A SIGN MAY SPRING FROM AN UNWORTHY CHARACTER. It is most unjust to accuse doubters of exceptional wickedness. Many people have no doubts simply because they dare not face truth. They would be sceptics if they were not cowards. On the other hand, it cannot be maintained that scepticism is in itself an indication of sanctity. Now, Jesus tells us that the pure in heart are they who shall see God. But all men - doubters included - have lost the vision of God by their sin. Thus the whole faculty of discerning the spiritual has become dim. Further, an age of self-indulgence must be an age of aggravated spiritual blindness.
III. CHRIST WILL NOT SATISFY THE UNWORTHY DEMAND FOR A SIGN,
1. He cannot. With all reverence this must be affirmed. No portent can prove a spiritual truth to one who has not spiritual sight. You might as well expect the blare of a trumpet to reveal the beauty of a landscape to a blind man.
2. He would not if he could. Forced faith has no moral worth. Truth revealed to unprepared hearts is but as pearls cast before swine. Abraham refuses the prayer of Dives that Lazarus, risen from the dead, should be sent to his brothers, telling the miserable man that no good would come of such an errand.
IV. CHRIST GIVES THE SIGN THAT IS REALLY NEEDED. He never disappoints the honest seeker after truth, although he does not always lead to truth by the expected path. The only truth of value is that which touches our hearts and consciences, and this is not thrust upon us by sheer authority, with threats of punishment if we will not accept it blindfold. That insolent and tyrannic ecclesiastical method is quite abhorrent to "the sweet reasonableness" of Jesus. His way is to bring a genuine proof to the awakened soul, and he compares this to the sign of Jonah. The preaching of Jonah convinced by reaching the consciences of the Ninevites. Christ's teaching, his life - above all, his death and resurrection - speak to our consciences. When these are responsive, they can perceive the weight of his claims. - W.F.A.
1 Samuel 12:18), or bring fire from heaven, as Elijah did (1 Kings 18:38). Of course, they intended the people to hear them put this test, and they would make use of his refusal as proof of his inability. Our Lord did refuse. He understood the temper and needs of his time far better than they did; and if they wanted manifest signs from heaven, the people did not; or if they did, such signs were not really best for them. What would most help to awaken men was the mystery of his death and resurrection. That was the true sign of his spiritual being and mission. These Pharisees might take that sign. It was foreshadowed in the story of Jonah. It was all they would get. They must do the best they could with it.
1. THE SIGN OF JONAS WAS INTENDED TO PUZZLE. Those who knew nothing of the spiritual nature of Christ, or of his redemption by suffering and sacrifice, could make nothing of this sign. It is a good way in which to treat malicious questioners, to answer them by giving them something to puzzle over, a "hard nut to crack." Can we imagine how these Pharisees, who were so clever at "splitting hairs" in argument, discussed this "sign of Jonas"? The people must have smiled when they saw them so answered and so discomfited.
II. THE SIGN OF JONAS WAS INTENDED TO SUGGEST. For us it suggests what was then the special burden on the mind of Christ. He was anticipating the time of his suffering and death. For them the sign seemed to say, "Your prejudiced opposition to me will grow until it consummates in securing my death. You will throw me overboard, as Jonas was thrown over. But you will be baffled even then. Like Jonas, I shall rise again."
III. THE SIGN OF JONAS WAS INTENDED TO TEACH. Only one point in the story is recalled by Christ. The only likeness between Jonas and Christ is that "rising again." The sign of the Divine origin, Divine mission, and Divine nature of Christ is his resurrection from the dead. - R.T.
Luke 12:1). Every age has its Pharisees and Sadducees, and it becomes us to note -
I. THE ERRORS AGAINST WHICH WE ARE WARNED.
1. Those which distinguish the Pharisee.
(1) He plumes himself upon his orthodoxy and superior sanctity. The ancient Pharisee was scrupulous in observing the ritual of the elders, and refused to eat with sinners. Hence his name, from the Hebrew word פדש, "to separate." But the reputation of orthodoxy is no security against error. The apostate Greek Church is called "orthodox;" and her Romish sister claims infallibility. These and their kindred are the Pharisees of our times.
(2) He is zealous for Church traditions. The ancient Pharisee pretended that his traditions came to Moses on Mount Sinai together with the Law, immediately from God, and concluded that they were of equal authority. Several of these traditions are mentioned in the Gospels; but a vast number more may be seen in the Talmud. Corresponding to these are the "apostolical traditions" and papal "decretals" of the Romanists.
(3) Such authority is worthless, to say the least. For any simple story passing through half a dozen hands will be found to receive so many new complexions and additions, and to suffer so many distortions and omissions, that the original narrator could scarcely recognize it. Church traditions are in this respect no better than others. Perversion and distortion could only be prevented by plenary inspiration continued throughout all the links of transmission.
(4) But it is worse than worthless. The ancient Pharisee set his tradition above the Law of God by making it the interpreter of the Law, and thus by it the Law was made void (cf. Matthew 15:1-9; Luke 11:39-42). The vicious effects of the traditions of our modern Pharisee upon the Gospel corresponds. What single truth of God is there that has not been distorted by this process?
2. Those which distinguish the Sadducee.
(1) The Sadducee of old derived from Sadoc, a disciple of Antigonus Sochaeus, who lived about three hundred years B.C. Antigonus, in his lectures, taught the duty of serving God from filial love and fear rather than in a servile manner, whence Sadoc concluded that there are no rewards after this life. His followers proceeded to deny the existence of a spiritual world, the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body, and the providence of God (see Matthew 22:23; Acts 23:8). They differed little from the ancient Epicureans.
(2) Sadduceeism is not limited to ancient times. We have it still under the names atheism, deism, agnosticism, positivism, rationalism, erastianism. They are, in many respects, the opposite of Phariseeism. The one is the reaction of the other. Hence they are associated evermore.
(3) As the Pharisee boasts superior piety, so does the Sadducee affect superior intelligence. Sadduceeism is fashionable through the concessions of ignorance to this affectation. Herod was the head of the Sadducees in Galilee. The "leaven of the Sadducees" is otherwise described as the "leaven of Herod" (cf. Mark 8:15). Herod's courtiers, of course, were Sadducees. The conceited amongst the vulgar would sympathize with boasted intelligence, that they might, in turn, be credited with an intelligence which they did not possess.
3. Those common to both.
(1) Failure to discern the signs of the times. The prophecies of Scripture were lost upon them. The events of providence were to them without significance. Their intelligence went no further than discerning the face of the sky. With all their boasted piety and affectation of sagacity, Pharisees and Sadducees were alike in this condemnation. Note: The neglect of the study of prophecy is neither creditable nor innocent.
(2) Opposition to the truth of God. As Pilate and Herod became friends in their hostility to Christ, so did the Pharisees and Sadducees sink their differences to oppose him. However fiercely errors may wrangle together, they will evermore combine against the truth of God.
(3) Herein the Sadducee is open to the same impeachment of hypocrisy as the Pharisee. Pretence in devotion is the hypocrisy of the Pharisee; yet he opposes Christ, who is the impersonation of goodness. Pretence of a free and impartial search after truth is the hypocrisy of the Sadducee; yet he also opposes Christ, who is the impersonation of truth.
II. THE NECESSITY FOR THE ADMONITION.
1. Error is like leaven, subtle in its influence.
(1) As the "kingdom of heaven," in the parable, "is like unto leaven," so is the kingdom of hell. Many interpret the parable to describe the subtle working of error in the lump of the Church, rather than the secret working of the truth in the lump of the world (cf. Matthew 13:33; 1 Corinthians 5:6; Galatians 5:9).
(2) Its subtlety lies in its hypocrisy. "Think not that false doctrine will meet you face to face, saying, 'I am false doctrine, and I want to come into your heart.' Satan does not go to work in that way. He dresses up false doctrine like Jezebel. He paints her face, and tires her head, and tries to make her like truth" (Anon.).
(3) Christians are not proof against this subtlety. They are often such as have no great forecast for this world. Here the disciples "forgot to take bread." Mark says they had only one loaf in the ship (Mark 8:14). In nothing is the veracity of the sacred writers more plainly seen than in the unsparing fidelity with which they record the proofs of their own infirmity. Their very simplicity would expose them to the subtlety of error. It was therefore needful to warn them.
(4) In the false concern of the disciples concerning the bread, we see already a Pharisaic care for externals, and a Sadducean forgetfulness of the supernatural. "It is because we took no bread." Men blame themselves most for carelessness in externals, which is just that in which God blames them least. We may blame ourselves for a forgetfulness for which God does not blame us, while he blames us for a forgetfulness for which we blame not ourselves. They did not remember the miracle of the loaves. If through thoughtlessness we come into straits, even then we may trust Christ to bring us out of them. The experience of the disciple is an aggravation to the sin of his distrust.
(5) For lack of faith it is easy to fall into errors of doctrine. "Why reason ye among yourselves? We waste much precious time in profitless reasonings. Reasonings are profitless when they are apart from Christ. "O ye of little faith." There are degrees of faith. Little faith may be the germ of great faith. Want of faith is accompanied by want of quick spiritual discernment.
2. The influence of error is demoralizing.
(1) It makes the Pharisee a hypocrite. The ancient Pharisee, with all his affectation of sanctity, was but self-righteous; he was proud, unjust, selfish, and worldly. The semblance of piety was the mark of wickedness. The modern Pharisee is like him.
(2) As superstition demoralizes the Pharisee, so does scepticism demoralize his complement. When the restraints of belief are removed, the rein is thrown over the neck of appetite and passion and every propensity of the evil heart. Extremes meet.
(3) Creed has greater influence upon temper and conduct than men are commonly aware of. Doctrines act in the soul like leaven; they assimilate the whole spirit to their own nature. False doctrine is like evil leaven souring the temper, and swelling and inflating with pride. Unsound faith will never beget sound practice. Zeal for purity of doctrine is essential to godliness.
(4) Error tends to blasphemy. "It is because we have brought no bread." The disciples here judged unworthily of Christ, viewing him through their own low medium of unbelief. Men are prone to make themselves their standard for Christ rather than making him their standard. As we can view Christ only in our thoughts, the spiritual alone can think justly of him.
3. The issues of error are disastrous.
(1) Christ cannot abide with perversity. After suitably replying to the Pharisees and Sadducees at Magadan, "he left them, and departed" (ver. 4). A sinner abandoned by the only Saviour is in a melancholy case. Thereupon he warned his disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees, viz. lest it should land them in a similar state of abandonment.
(2) Christ separated himself from them by crossing the sea. Was not this action parabolic? Did it not suggest that "great gulf fixed" by which the righteous are forever separated from the wicked (see Luke 16:26)?
(3) The caution to "take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees" suggests that their doctrine is especially pernicious, like poisoned leaven. The disciples should beware of any doctrine coming through such hands. "Come forth, my people, out of her, that ye have no fellowship with her sins, and. that ye receive not of her plagues" (see Revelation 18:4). - J.AM.
I. THE CHURCH IS INFECTED WITH DANGEROUS LEAVEN.
1. Evil influences in her midst. The leaven is plunged into the meal; it cannot produce any effect until it is thus mixed up with what it is to influence. We have to beware, not only of entirely external dangers, but of such as are found in the very teaching and practices of Christian people.
2. Subtle influences. The leaven is almost invisible. There is at first but "a little leaven." Obscure, unobserved influences may be the causes of much serious harm.
3. Spreading influences. The growing power of the leaven, its marvellous capacity for propagating itself, makes it a serious thing to admit but a little. Sinful ideas tend to spread and permeate Christian society when once they are permitted to exist unchecked.
II. THE LEAVEN OF EVIL MAY COME FROM RESPECTED AUTHORITIES, The Pharisees were the professed saints of their day; the Sadducces were the party of the priesthood and of the national council. Yet both of these were spoken of by our Lord as sources of evil influence. We can with difficulty picture to ourselves the immense significance of his words. It is as though the mediaeval Church were warned against the influence of the monks and priests; as though the Church of today were told that there was danger for her in the presence of the most pious looking of her communicants and the most respected of her ministers. Surely here is a warning against being misled by appearances in religion.
III. THE LEAVEN MAY ASSUME VARIOUS FORMS. It is startling to meet this conjunction of Pharisees and Sadducees, because we know that the two parties were bitterly opposed to one another; but then we also know that they were brought into a sort o partnership in their common enmity to Jesus Christ. Now, both of them are represented as constiuting the dangerous leaven.
1. Pretentious piety. This is one of the most dangerous of evil influences, because
(1) it ensnares with a show of religion, and
(2) it denies the true essence of religion. It is hypocrisy (Luke 12:1).
2. Worldly scepticism. The doubt of the typical Sadducee was not the perplexity of the serious student of truth; it was the scoffing indifference of the man of the world who did not believe in the spiritual because his whole life was absorbed in the earthly.
IV. THE DANGER OF THE LEAVEN NECESSITATES A WATCHFUL ATTITUDE. "Take heed and beware." It is not enough to cultivate Christian graces. The servant of Christ must be a soldier as well as a husbandman. He must stand as a sentry challenging all suspicious thoughts and influences. He must exercise the policeman's office in arresting the dangerous disturbers of the peace and purity of his soul. - W.F.A.
I. PHARISAIC DOCTRINE AS AN EVIL FORCE. It was the notion that a good creed will excuse an evil life; that a man may do evil that good may come; that religion is formality; that subtlety is more important than sincerity; that blind prejudice can make honest judgments. The "leaven" will go into the term "hypocrisy," or "religious insincerity;" "the unreality of a life respectable, rigid, outwardly religions, even earnest in its zeal, and yet wanting in the humility and love which are the essence of true holiness." Such hypocrisy and insincerity is a ruinous influence in character. A man cannot be noble who allows any shams. Religion a mere garb is worthless to man and dishonouring to God. Nothing roused our Lord's indignation like the leaven of insincerity.
II. PHARISAIC DOCTRINE AS AN ACTIVE FORCE. Here we find the reason for calling it leaven, which is a thing which will not keep quiet, and remain where it is and as it is. Leaven will act; it will grow; it will push through; it will pervade. Leaven consists of plant cells, which multiply with extraordinary rapidity under favourable circumstances. A doctrine which allows licence to man's evil passions, and hides it under a show of superior piety, is a doctrine that readily finds a sphere in man's corrupt nature, and there it acts vigorously. A little of such leaven leaveneth the whole lump. We need to see clearly that all error is active; but all error that tends to give moral licence is, for fallen man, especially active. You can never hope to keep such error still.
III. PHARISAIC DOCTRINE AS A DANGEROUS FORCE. Therefore our Lord warned his disciples against letting the Pharisaic spirit get into them unawares. It works such havoc in character. Any evil is possible to a man who once permits himself to excuse insincerity. Piety is nourished upon absolute truth and righteousness. Guile, formality, and outward show never can support it. - R.T.
I. THE MOMENTOUS QUESTION. This was preceded by a less important inquiry - as to the various opinions of the world about Christ. Then the disciples were brought face to face with the question for themselves, "Whom say ye that I am?" We must be able to furnish an answer to this question. The whole weight and worth of the gospel hangs upon it. The special character of the gospel is that it is immediately concerned with its Founder. The Christian ethic and the Christian theory of the universe will neither of them redeem the world. Beneath and before all else comes the Person of Christ. To know him is to know the gospel. If he is not what he claims to be, all our faith rests on a delusion. But if his claims are true, all else is of secondary importance.
II. THE DIFFICULTY OF ANSWERING THIS QUESTION. The Jews were much perplexed. They could not but be impressed with the greatness of Christ, yet they failed to recognize his high claims. It would not have been surprising if the disciples also had been perplexed; indeed, many were troubled, and many forsook the great Teacher (John 6:66). Jesus had not fulfilled the hopes of the people; the religious leaders of the nation had definitely rejected him; be was now in voluntary exile, deserted by the crowds that had once followed him with enthusiasm. If some of us find it difficult to believe in him today after his great work has been completed, and we see the fruits of it in history, is it wonderful that many felt the difficulty in his lifetime?
III. THE TRUTH CONFESSED. St. Peter does not hesitate or doubt for one moment. He knows that his Master is the Christ, the Son of God. His confession contains two ideas.
1. The office of Christ. The apostle saw that Jesus was the long expected Messiah. This truth means to us that he is the Saviour of the world.
2. The nature of Christ. The apostle also saw that Jesus was "the Son of the living God." How lab these words expressed a faith in the essential Divinity of Christ we cannot say. The Church was not very slow in perceiving that tremendous truth, for we find that the earliest heresy was not a denier of the Divinity, but a denial of the humanity, of our Lord.
IV. THE SECRET OF THE CONFESSION. How did the apostle come to see this great, truth under the most unpropitious circumstances? Jesus says it was a revelation. We need not understand by that term any direct heavenly voice. The revelation was inward. Some such revelation is always needed. Until the eyes of our hearts are opened, we cannot perceive the true character and nature of Christ. In the spiritual world this is parallel to the fact of daily life that we can only understand a man when we are in sympathy with him. - W.F.A.
God calls, and who are distinguished from all others by their attachment to what is Divine, and by their being recipients of a Divine teaching. The significance, therefore, of this moment cannot be exaggerated, though it has been misunderstood. When our Lord says, "On this rock will I build my Church," he introduces to the minds of his hearers a new idea. They see their future associates in the faith forming together an edifice or spiritual temple in which God will dwell. And they are assured that amidst the wreck of other societies this shall stand. The power of "Hades," "the unseen," that mysterious region into which all human things pass, is to have no power over the Church. This is the fact: while empires moulder into a mere memory, the Church renews herself from age to age, and is as living now as ever before. But that Christ should have predicted this, and at the very time when all seemed over with his hope of being received by Israel, seems almost as wonderful as the continuance of the Church itself. "I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven" - this certainly involves that Peter should have a position of the highest authority in the Church. And in point of fact, it was Peter who opened the gates of the kingdom to the Gentiles. This power is further explained in a form of speech common among the Jews, and which bore a perfectly definite meaning. The power to bind and loose was what we speak of as legislative power, power to introduce new laws and to repeal old ones. Such is the overwhelming return which our Lord makes to Peter for his confession. No confession can rival the first, or can bring the comfort, the relief, the hope which Peter's brought to the overburdened spirit of his Lord - no confession now made can seem to our Lord as the firm rock on which the Church may rise. And yet every acknowledgment must bring gratification to his spirit, and must be responded to by some recognition more or less distinct. Perhaps it is not easier for us than it was for Peter to come to a clear decision regarding the Person of Christ. Certainly there was a great weight of authority against Peter, but our own judgment is not free from the disturbing effect of similar influences. The verdict of the leaders of thought in our own day is almost unanimously against the distinctive claims of Christ. Christians, too, betray a consciousness that they are in a less secure and certain position than formerly, and are too careful to let it be seen they appreciate the difficulties of belief. There is all the louder call upon us to make our confession of Christ full, clear, hearty, and steadfast; to form an opinion for ourselves; so that we come to Christ with what he can accept as a fresh tribute, and not as a mere echo of some other people's confession. We see here that the difference between acknowledging him as a Prophet and acknowledging him as the Son of God is just the difference between faith and unbelief. In answer to Peter's "Thou art Christ," comes our Lord's "Thou art Peter." It is an instance of the fulfilment of his promise, "He that confesseth me before men, him will I confess before my Father;" but it is more than this. In recognizing who Jesus was Peter learned what his own character and his own prospects were. Now, for the first time, he saw the significance of his own name. It is so with every one. It is in the vision of Christ's true nature and purpose that a man awakens to a sense of his own worth and of the possibilities that lie before him. For you as for Peter he will mark out the proper work; he will give you a place as a living stone; he will impart to you every quality you need in the difficult circumstances of life and in the actual career that lies before you. - D.
I. THAT THE FAITH WHICH IS HUMAN IS UNCERTAIN.
1. It may take colour from the distraction of guilt.
(1) "Some say John the Baptist." So said Herod. He has murdered the Baptist (cf. Matthew 4:1-12). Herod's courtiers would say as Herod said.
(2) Herod had not heard of Christ before. Some men never concern themselves with the claims of Jesus until conscience alarms them.
(3) Such alarms will come. They come in visitations of judgment - death bed experiences.
(4) The faith so excited is too often uncertain.
2. It may be influenced by the spirit of the world.
(1) "Some say Elijah." For Elijah was promised as the forerunner of Christ (see Malachi 4:5, 6). And the time for the advent of Messiah had arrived (see Genesis 49:10; Daniel 9:25).
(2) But why say "Elijah" rather than "Messiah"? The spirit of the world blinded them. They expected a secular king. They were too materialistic to see that John Baptist had come "in the spirit and power of Elijah." They now confounded Christ with an Elijah of their own devising, and missed him. in the mists of the world the spiritual Jesus is still fatally missed.
(3) They confounded the advents. They are two. Messiah was to come in humiliation. He was also to come in glory. They looked for the glorious appearing to be heralded by Elijah in person. They failed to discern the Christ in his suffering. Yet the advents are intimately related. Those only who confess him in his sufferings can share in his glory.
3. It may be distorted by the vanity of reason.
(1) "Some say Jeremiah, or one of the prophets." The doctrine of metempsychosis, transmigration, or passing of the soul from one body into another, was accepted among the Jews (cf. ver. 14; Matthew 14:2; John 9:2).
(2) This doctrine largely entered into the Pharisees' notion of the resurrection. To them the question of the Sadducees would be a real puzzle, which Jesus answered to the astonishment of both (see Matthew 22:23-33).
(3) Herod, though a Sadducee, yet favoured this Pharisaic notion. In this he was inconsistent. But what of that? Unbelief is inconsistent evermore under the excitements of conscience.
II. THAT THE TRUE FAITH OF CHRIST IS A REVELATION FROM GOD.
1. In its doctrine.
(1) "But whom say ye that I am?" The disciples of Jesus should have it. They had the best opportunity of judging.
(2) What, then, was their confession? "Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Here Jesus was identified as the Messiah of the nation's hope. His Divinity also was recognized.
(3) But this confession had been made before. After the stilling of the storm, "they that were in the boat worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God" (Matthew 14:33). Nathanael's confession was still earlier (see John 1:49). And still later we have another remarkable confession (see John 6:69).
(4) The disciples of Jesus were, several of them, disciples of John; and from John they had this testimony concerning Jesus (see John 1:35-42).
2. In its experience.
(1) In this confession of Peter there is a new element, and an element too of great importance; for it had a special commendation. The earlier confessions were more speculative. This was experimental; from the very heart.
(2) Miracles cannot carry conviction to the heart. No effort of reason can give it. "Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee."
(3) It is immediately from God. "No man can say Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Spirit."
III. THAT HAPPY IS HE THAT CONFESSES CHRIST FROM THE HEART.
1. He is a living stone in the living temple.
(1) Simon, at his call, received this patronymic (see John 1:42). Literally, Peter is a "stone;" metaphorically it is stability, strength. The change of name suggests change of nature, or conversion (cf. Genesis 32:28).
(2) The firmness of the rock belonged not to Peter in respect to his mental temper (see Matthew 26:69; Galatians 2:11).
(3) It belonged to him in connection with his faith. He had the patronymic in anticipation of his confession; for when he made it Jesus said, "Thou art Peter," q.d. now thou hast merited thy name. Heart faith is the principle of Christian firmness.
(4) Whoever has the faith of Peter thereby becomes himself a Peter - a living stone. Peter himself witnesses to this (see 1 Peter 2:4, 5). Translate this figure, and what does it import?
2. He is founded on the Rock of Ages.
(1) This Rock is not Peter. Petros does not signify "a rock" otherwise than as a stone is a rock. Stone, not rock, is the proper meaning of that term. Petra is the name for the living rock. On the petra the Church is built.
(2) Peter is accordingly found amongst the other apostles, and together with them also the prophets, as one of the many foundationstones resting upon the Rock (see Ephesians 2:20; Revelation 21:14).
(3) Christ, who is the Foundation (see Acts 4:11, 12; 1 Corinthians 3:11), is also the Builder of his Church. In his hand every stone has its proper place and fitting.
3. His salvation is secured.
(1) "The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." In ancient times the gates of fortified cities were used to hold councils in, and they were usually strong places. This expression means that neither the counsels nor strength of Satan can prevail against the truth of this confession, nor against the Church that is founded on it.
(2) Hades is the abode of disembodied spirits, and death is the gate or entrance into that abode. But death does not prevail against the living Church. Its members die, but others take their places.
(3) Neither does death prevail against any living member of the Church to remove him out of it. For death does but translate him from that part of the Church which is militant to that other part which is triumphant. For the one true Church of Christ is catholic to the universe and to the ages. "Hell hath no power against faith; faith hath power for heaven."
IV. SIGNALLY BLESSED IS HE THAT IS FOREMOST IN THIS CONFESSION.
1. Peter had the honour of the keys.
(1) Keys were anciently a common symbol of authority; and presenting the keys was a form of investing with authority; and these were afterwards worn as a badge of office (see Isaiah 22:22). Peter's authority was to open the gate of faith to the world.
(2) He accordingly first preached the gospel to the Jew, on the memorable Day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:41). He first preached the gospel to the Gentiles also (see Acts 10:44-47; Acts 15:7).
(3) In this honour Peter stood alone. In the nature of the case he could have no successor. In the preaching of the gospel to Jew and Gentile his successors are counted by millions; but in being the first to preach it he has no successor.
2. He had the power of binding and loosing.
(1) "The term of loosing and binding was customarily applied by Jews to a decision about doctrines or rites, establishing which were lawful and unlawful. Thus of many articles, it is said, 'The school of Shammai, which was the stricter, bindeth it; the school or followers of Hillel looseth it'" (Lightfoot).
(2) This Peter was to do authoritatively, by plenary inspiration, and therefore so as to be ratified and confirmed in heaven. And in this accordingly Peter took the initiative, declaring the terms of salvation when he first used his keys.
(3) But beyond this he had no distinction from the other apostles, who were also inspired authoritatively to set forth these terms. The question which Peter answered was addressed to the whole company of the apostles, "Whom do ye say that I am?" and Peter answered it in their name, or as their representative (cf. John 20:21-23).
(4) In this the apostles have no successors. Plenary inspiration has ceased with them. The fruits of that inspiration come down to us in the New Testament canon. To this we have our one and sole appeal.
3. Every foremost confessor has his honour.
(1) The martyr has his crown. He has his conspicuous place in the better resurrection (see Revelation 2:10; Revelation 20:4 6).
(2) Superior goodness will be signally recognized (see Daniel 12:3; 1 Corinthians 15:41, 42). - J.A.M.
1. These disciples mixed more freely with the people than Jesus could, and were more likely to know the common talk. So they could give him information which would materially help his work.
2. Our Lord's question may only have been meant to introduce a conversation, through which he might teach those disciples the higher truth concerning himself. Jesus removed into the district of Caesarea Philippi for the sake of retirement and safety. His work in Galilee was virtually finished, and something in the nature of a review of that work, and estimate of its results, was befitting. Our Lord's work, in its higher aspect, was a self-revelation. What he said, and what he did, were intended to show what he was. The mystery of the Person of Christ is the subject of the gospel. So our Lord, in asking, "Whom do men say that I am?" really proposed to test the results of his self-manifestation in mighty deeds and gracious words and holy example.
I. A POOR OPINION CONCERNING JESUS. "Some say that thou art John the Baptist." This was a poor opinion. There was no personal thought or consideration in it. In a time serving sort of way, some folk had taken up the excited exclamation of Herod, "It is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead." It was foolish, for there was no real likeness between the two men, or their two missions. Jesus could never have even suggested rough, half-clad John. Beware of taking up something somebody else is pleased to say about Jesus. Only very poor opinions of him can be gained in that way.
II. A BETTER OPINION CONCERNING JESUS. "Some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets." Elijah was a bad guess; for Jesus was in no way like him, Elisha would have been better. Jeremias was not a bad guess. And it was an advance to liken Christ to one of the spiritual, teaching prophets. It should be borne in mind that there was an almost universal expectation of the return of Elijah, and that this had grown to be a national mania, so that every unusual man was suspected to be Elijah.
III. A BEST OPINION CONCERNING JESUS. Peter may have been actually in advance of the other disciples in discerning the mystery of Christ; or he may only have been spokesman of a general apprehension. The disciples saw two things; but they involved more than they then saw.
1. Jesus was Messiah; but not the kind of Messiah anticipated.
2. Jesus was Son of the living God; and this involved that Jesus was doing his Father's moral work in the souls of men. - R.T.
himself had been borne in daily, for long months, upon those disciples, and so they had gained visions of his mystery. What is that mystery?
I. IT IS HIS DIVINITY. Because the word "divinity" has been applied to created beings, many persons prefer to speak of the Deity of Christ. The opened vision of the disciples found God in a man; they discerned the "Divine-human being, man with God for the soul of his humanity." It is hardly in place to inquire what notions of incarnations of deity prevailed among pagan nations, because such notions could not have reached or influenced these simple disciples. It is to the point to inquire how the Old Testament records and associations would help them. There were "theophanies" of various forms, which must have been helpful and suggestive. St. John the apostle, in his Gospel, finely represents the process which had gone on in his own mind, by the help of which he had grasped the mystery of Christ's Deity. It was the humanity that did it. John gives a series of narratives, and one after another they make on the reader a twofold impression.
1. He says - How manifestly Jesus was a real brother-Man!
2. But then he says - How manifestly Jesus was more than man, a Divine Man! No true notion of Christ's Divinity can ever be attained save in the disciples' way, by actual, constant, living contact with Christ's humanity. It is that extraordinary humanity which convinces of the Divinity.
II. IT IS HIS SONSHIP. A previous homily has dealt with this point. The impression on which we now dwell is that the Divinity of Christ is to be conceived as "equality with God," not subordination or creation. The contrast to son is servant. A servant is told the will; a son shares the will. A servant is at the footstool; the son is on the throne. "I and my Father are one." - R.T.
I. ST. PETER'S CONFESSION IS THE ROCK ON WHICH THE CHURCH IS BUILT. Accepting this idea as the most probable outcome of a fair exegesis of the passage, let us see what its real significance is.
1. The Church is built on Christ. He is its Author, its original Foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11), and its chief Cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). When we abandon faith in Christ we forsake the grounds of our faith.
2. The Messiahship and Divinity of Christ are essential to the stability of the Church. These two facts were the contents of St. Peter's confession. The Church cannot rest on vague sentiments concerning Christ. Exact philosophical definitions may not be attainable; the history of theology shows that the effort to form them nearly wrecked the Church. But the great central truths themselves are essential.
3. The confession of these truths is requisite in order that the Church may be firmly planted. It looks as though our Lord spoke of the confession as being itself the foundation. We must have faith in Christ before we can profit by him, and we must have courage to confess him if we would possess a robust Christian life.
II. THE CHURCH ON THIS ROCK WILL BE SECURE.
1. It is built by Christ. Therefore the superstructure will be sound as well as the foundation. Our Lord is ever at work on his Church. He can do nothing with those who will neither believe him nor confess him. But wherever he finds the faith and confession, he himself builds up the strong structure of a Christian character.
2. It is assailed by evil. The powers of hell attack the Church because she is their enemy; therefore the question of a sure foundation is of vital importance. The floods are sure to come and try the house.
3. It cannot be overthrown. This is a positive prediction of Christ's, and it ought to dispel our fear and confirm our faith. Of all he has predicted nothing has failed. He promised that the grain of mustard seed should become a great tree; and his promise has come true. His assurance that nothing shall overthrow the Church built on the true confession of faith in him has proved to be correct for nearly twenty centuries.
4. Its security is shared by those who confess the faith it embodies. St. Peter's name is justified by his rock like confession. The Christian character is confirmed by a loyal faith and a bold confession. The spirit of St. Peter's confession is typical of the Christian heroism that can withstand all attacks of doubt or opposition. - W.F.A.
(1) Peter himself; or
(2) Peter's faith; or
(3) Peter's confession; or
(4) Christ himself, the Son of the living God?
Without entering into that discussion, we may simply say that this is true - the confession which Peter made expresses the foundation, the rock truth of Christianity, every doctrine of which rests secure on the Divine-human Sonship of our Lord. Peter is taken as representing this rock truth, because he was the first distinctly to give it expression. The figure of rock foundation needs explanation in the light of Eastern modes of building, and ideas of building. Still, we know the importance of sound foundations, though there is no longer more than a poetical interest in foundation stones.
I. THIS CONFESSION WAS THE ROCK FOUNDATION OF CHRIST'S REVELATION. For Jesus brought a revelation from God, which was a revelation of God. Search down to the foundation on which all Christ taught of God rests; refuse to be satisfied until you have discovered its primary truth, its absolutely first and essential principle, and you will find it to be the Fatherhood of God - the permission to think of God. through the associations of our human fatherhood. But direct revelations of the Divine Fatherhood cannot be made to men; they come as the correlative of Fatherhood, as Sonship. Christ the Son primarily does this - reveal the Father-God.
II. THIS CONFESSION WAS THE ROCK FOUNDATION OF CHRIST'S MISSION. That mission was, to bring men to God. It included and involved much. Bearing penalty, setting example, teaching truth, offering a self-sacrifice, etc.; but get to the very foundation of it, and we see it was to recover for men their sonship and their proper son relations with God. Then we see how the Divine and perfect Sonship of Christ is the "rock truth" of his mission. Only the Son could hope to undertake and carry through the work of recovering sons.
III. THIS CONFESSION IS THE ROCK FOUNDATION ON WHICH CHRIST'S MISSION IS CONTINUED. Thoughtful readers will be struck by the constancy with which Christ used the term "Father," and the apostles use the term "Son." Those apostles clearly apprehended that the gospel they had to preach was the good news of the Divine Fatherhood; and that whoever received their gospel became sons again, linked in obedience, lure, and faith with Jesus, the "Son of the living God." - R.T.
bound men when it declared this or that act to be a transgression of the sabbath law. The school of Hillel loosed when it set men free from the obligations thus imposed." It should be borne in mind that this passage is a part of Christ's private teaching of the apostles. He was feeling that his own active work was nearly done, and very soon the work of saving men would rest on them. He would prepare them to understand their coming responsibilities; and he would assure them of their competent endowment to meet those responsibilities.
I. THEY WOULD HAVE SERIOUS AND AUTHORITATIVE WORK TO DO. It is remarkable that Jesus never attempted any organization of those who professed to believe in him. But he contemplated that his apostles would have to organize the converts they made. They could not help occupying a position of authority. They would be consulted on doctrines; on the application of doctrines to practical life and conduct; they would have to deal with inconsistent disciples. What they would have to do was illustrated in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, and in the admission of Cornelius. Their Lord would prepare them for undertaking those responsibilities.
II. THEY WOULD HAVE SPECIAL ENDOWMENTS FOR THEIR SPECIAL WORK. That is God's law. He makes the gift fit the service that is called for. Among the gifts in the early Church one is named "governments." That is the gift with which they were endowed. And this distinction needs to be made clear. Their gift came, not because they were apostles, but because this particular work was entrusted to them. Gifts are not possessions or rights; they are trusts; and all the honour of them lies in being thus trusted.
III. THEY WOULD HAVE SPECIAL DIVINE RECOGNITION IN THEIR WORK. What they did, in the loyal and faithful use of their gifts of government, would be owned and sealed by God. Illustrate by the Divine judgment on Ananias, following on Peter's condemnation of him; and the Spirit following Cornelius' admission. - R.T.
himself, must renounce self as an object in life, must give himself up as the enthusiastic physician gives himself up, regardless of all consequences to self, to the relief of his patients or to the advancement of science. You may say that the physician who does so does not deny himself, but gives expression to his highest and best self, and that is what our Lord means when he adds as his first proof of the truth of his law, "For whosoever wilt save his life shall lose it: and whosoever wilt lose his life for my sake shall find it." So long as you make self your object, your end, and your centre, you are losing your life and your self; but when you are enabled to abandon self and to live for righteousness, for God, for Christ, for the community, you emerge into life eternal, you find your truest self. "And what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" This is one of those truths that need no demonstration, and yet are very difficult to act upon. To gain even a very small part of the world is so appreciable a gain, whereas the loss of the soul is so inappreciable often in the process, and it seems so easy to regain it, that we are tempted to act as if it were a very small matter. A third ground on which our Lord rests his injunction to follow him is laid down in the twenty-seventh verse. All permanent happiness is so bound up with character that he can only make men happy in proportion to their growth. The reward chiefly desired by every one who loves him is an increase of that love and a truer likeness to himself, and in eternity, as on earth, Christ and all who are like him, will find their glory in works of self-sacrificing compassion and helpful mercy. Vers. 27, 28: As far as can be gathered from the abbreviated form we have in the text, our Lord meant to say that the man who spent his life on self, and so lost his truest life, would find his mistake in the day when at Christ's second coming things are forever arranged according to the principles he himself laid down and lived on in his first coming, and then, as if to answer the doubt whether such a day of true judgment should ever come, he goes on to say that the kingdom of heaven would, even in the lifetime of some standing there, be sufficiently manifested to make his Divine power clear to them. - D.
I. THE SAD ANNOUNCEMENT. Jesus now for the first time distinctly declares his approaching rejection by the rulers, his death, and his subsequent resurrection.
1. The facts predicted.
(1) Rejection. This looked like utter failure, for Christ came to be the King and Deliverer of Israel.
(2) Death. This would put the crowning stroke on the. apparent. . failure. It would also add, a new horror, for "all that a man hath will he give for his life."
(3) Resurrection. This should completely transform the prospect. But the final announcement does not seem to have been understood or at all taken in by the disciples.
2. The foresight. Jesus saw what lay before him, yet he set his face steadfastly to go up to Jerusalem. His foresight meant much to him.
(1) Additional distress. God mercifully veils the future from us. If we saw the coming evil with certainty it would be very difficult to face it. But Jesus walked with the shadow of the cross on his path.
3. The prediction. Why did Jesus tell his disciples of this awful future?
(1) To prepare them for it, and prevent the disappointment of false hopes.
(2) To claim their sympathy.
II. THE FOOLISH REBUKE. St. Peter's conduct is culpably officious. He lays hold of Christ with undue familiarity, and even ventures to rebuke his Master. His action, however, is true to the well known impetuosity of his character, and it reveals very natural traits.
1. Intense affection. The apostle loves his Master unwisely but greatly, with a love that is not sufficiently submissive, yet with one that is most intense. It is easy for cold-hearted people to blame the apostle. But they who do not approach his love for Christ are not the men to sit in judgment upon the devoted disciple.
2. Elated self-confidence. Jesus had just greatly commended St. Peter. It looks as though he were one of those unhappy people who lose their balance when they are too much praised. Such people have many a sad fall from glorious self complacency to deepest humiliation.
3. Sudden surprise. The apostle did not speak deliberately. The astounding words of Christ started an ill-considered remark. Hasty words are not often weighty words.
III. THE STERN REPLY.
1. Rebuffing a temptation. The quick answer of Jesus shows how keenly he had felt the well meant dissuasion of his friend, which had just chimed in with the cravings of his human nature. Here was a real temptation of the devil which must be faced and conquered! Jesus recognized it as a stumbling block laid on his path.
2. Unmasking an illusion. The words were from St. Peter, but the spirit of them was Satan's, and the keen conscience of Jesus at once assigned them to their true source. In an unguarded moment the apostle had let the tempter into his heart, had become but a tool of Satan. The character of the words reveal their origin, they have a savour of men about them. The common principles of men of the world are many of them directly counter to the will of God. Then, for all their innocent appearance, they are of a Satanic character. - W.F.A.
I. SELF-DENIAL IS REQUIRED BY OUR RELATION TO GOD.
1. The will of God is the creature's law.
(1) Ether expands, flame ascends, water finds its level, the blade of grass pushes sunward. Theories may be hazarded to explain these things, but the theories will need explanation. Sooner or later we come back upon the principle that the will of God is the creature's law.
(2) Man is no exception. His intellect, conscience, affections, will, are as truly creatures of God as the instincts of animals, the habits of plants, or the properties of matter.
(3) God does not coerce the human will, but he gives us a law with sanctions. The very superiority of our endowments should influence our heart to love and serve him to the limit of our ability.
2. Yet our inclinations cross the will of God.
(1) Originally this was not so. We were created in innocency and uprightness. Our senses let in the evidences of the power, wisdom, and goodness of our Creator. Our intellects were filled with admiration of his perfections; our hearts glowed with love to him; our obedience was loyal and delightful.
(2) But in an evil hour this Eden was blighted, and we became earthly, sensual, devilish.
3. Therefore now the necessity for self-denial.
(1) Without, it we cannot regain the forfeited favour of God. Worldliness must be fought and conquered. The flesh with its affections and lusts must be crucified. Waywardness must be resisted.
(2) Without self-denial that favour cannot be retained. Let the duty of reproving sin be neglected because it is unpleasant, and the relish for the worship of God will go, and his service will degenerate into formality. Let the duty of giving bountifully to the cause of God and humanity be restrained because the love of gain is pleasant, and the life of God will languish and expire.
II. SELF-DENIAL IS REQUIRED BY OUR RELATION TO MAN.
1. The human race is one great family.
(1) Polygenists should consider the striking differences in persons confessedly of the same nation and race, and how they might be aggravated by the influence of climate, diet, and habits of life extended over many generations. The same class of dog that in the tropics will grow a thin covering of hair will in the arctic regions grow a thick coat of wool.
(2) Developmentarians who trace the American Indian to the broad-nosed simian of the New World, the African to the Troglodytic stock, and the Mongolian to the orang, should consider that no two tribes of men differ as the orang and chimpanzee.
(3) Moses ought to know what he was writing about, living as he did within a few generations of the origin of our race. If the accepted chronology may be taken as correct, he was contemporary with men who were contemporary with Abraham, and Abraham was contemporary with men who remembered Noah, and Methuselah was at once contemporary with Noah and Adam. Could Moses have imposed on the men of his generation a fanciful account of the origin of their race which the traditions of every family might be presumed to contradict?
(4) Sin, not science, is the true origin of polygenism. Sin is dissocializing. It expels brotherly love, generates hatred, variance, emulation, strife, sedition. It originates wars and tyrannies.
2. The necessities of the family call for self-denial.
(1) Some of these are physical. Should not our luxuries minister to the necessities of the hungry and naked and homeless (see James 2:15, 16; 1 John 3:17)?
(2) Some are spiritual. What is done for the headmen abroad and at home? For the street Arab? For the inhabitant of the mansion who habitually neglects the means of grace? Do we give money? Do we give personal service to Church work, which is more valuable than money?
(3) The temper of the world will tax our self-denial. Meet a hypocondriac, and he will weary you; but you may release yourself by asking after the health of his soul. The subject is unpalatable to the impenitent, but without encountering resentments we cannot clear our consciences of the blood of souls.
III. SELF-DENIAL IS REQUIRED BY THE EXAMPLE OF CHRIST.
1. He stooped to the form of a servant.
(1) Born in a stable; cradled in a manger; associated with poverty.
(2) But who is this? The King of glory!
(3) Can the sticklers for precedence be the servants of this great Exemplar? How small in his great presence are the artifices (of pride! How contemptible is borrowed greatness!
2. He exercised himself with fasting.
(1) At the entrance upon his ministry he fasted in the wilderness as our Exemplar. If we would be successful in our spiritual conflicts we should in our measure follow him here.
(2) In this age of wisdom men see no reason in fasting, and vet here is a kind of devil that will not depart without faith; and here is a kind of unbelief that will not go out but by prayer and fasting.
3. He took up his own cross.
(1) He went to Jerusalem to suffer. There he "suffered many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes." The false accusation, the shame, the spitting, the scourge.
(2) There, at Jerusalem, he literally carried his cross. On it he was "killed."
(3) And every man has his cross to lift and carry, and perhaps on it to be killed for Christ's sake. It is not his place to rebuke Jesus for bringing him to it, but, when he finds it, to lift it and shame the devil. - J.A.M.
spiritual nature of Christ's mission, they would not have felt so much his earth failure. If they still held their material hopes, the very mention of failure and a cross would be to them an offence indeed. Compare the record, in John 6, of Christ's testing his disciples by declaring high mystical truths. "Many went back, and walked no more with him." He even appealed unto the twelve, saying, "Will ye also go away?"
I. HIGHER BELIEFS MAY BE IMPULSIVE SENTIMENTS. A sort of vision a man may gain. Something that is a hope rather than an opinion; a sentiment rather than a judgment. Perhaps every man has some sublime but unworkable ideas. There are things we dream, wish they were true, and wonder whether they are. Perhaps the apostolic grip of the Divine Sonship was one of these things that are held convulsively for a moment. Perhaps St. Peter really spoke beyond himself, and no quiet, clear conviction lay behind his impulsive speech. And very probably he was, for the moment, quite beyond the reach of the rest. Our working beliefs and. our visions of truth often differ.
II. HIGHER BELIEFS MUST BE MADE WORKABLE PRINCIPLES. No truth is really worth anything to us that will not come as a vital force into our actual life, duty, and relation. Christ will not keep his apostles up in the high realms of mystical truths. "If you believe me to be the Son of God, we had better recognize some filets and truths, and see how the belief will affect them. This Son of God is going to suffer, to rid a prey to his foes, and to be killed. Will you still believe that he is the Son of the living God when you see him on a cross?" This is the point of our Lord's reference, just here, to his sufferings. All our advanced beliefs must be tested. No matter how beautiful they may seem to us, they are of no real value, they are vain dreams, unless they wilt stand the test of being actually fitted to fact, circumstance, and duty. - R.T.
I. OUR LORD'S PURPOSE TO ENDURE SUFFERINGS. It should be clearly seen that our Lord knew beforehand all that was to happen to him; and he might have avoided all the pain and distress. Instead, he voluntarily determined to go steadily along the path, bearing and enduring all, because that was the Father's will for him. Explain in this way: Our Lord had to present to God the living sacrifice of a perfectly obedient Son. But he could not be a perfectly obedient Son if his obedience had not been adequately tested. The series of sufferings through which our Lord passed are the various testings of his Sonship. And because Christ was resolved to make the great redeeming sacrifice, he resolved to bear and endure every way in which the Father might be pleased to test his Sonship. A violent and shameful death was the final test.
II. OUR LORD'S OFFENCE AT THOSE WHO WOULD HINDER HIM FROM ENDURING HIS SUFFERINGS. They did the work of the flesh, which shrinks from suffering; they did not help the sanctified will to gain free expression. St. Peter became a tempter, a worker of evil; one who did the work of an adversary, of man's great adversary. Our Lord here uses the word "Satan" as a figure, without reference to the personal devil. Any adversary, any one who works against our best interests, is a Satan. To withdraw Christ from his sufferings was to withdraw Christ from his mission; since he could only be made "perfect," as a Bringer on of souls, by the experience and testing of suffering. Olshausen thinks that St. Peter forgot himself, and presumed upon the praise which Christ had given him for his noble confession. But it is better, in each case, to treat St. Peter as a mere representative, a mere spokesman, and to see how very imperfect an apprehension of Christ's deeper truth his words involve. - R.T.
I. CHRISTIANITY IS FOLLOWING CHRIST. It is not merely receiving certain blessings from him. If we think we are to enjoy the fruits of his work while we remain just as we were, we are profoundly mistaken. He does give us grace, the result of his life work and atoning death. But the object of this grace is just that we may have strength to follow him. It is all wasted upon us and received quite in vain if we do not put it to this use. Now, the following of Christ implies three things.
1. Imitating him.
2. Seeing him.
3. Obeying him. He whose experience comprises these three things is a Christian; no one else is one.
II. FOLLOWING CHRIST IS CONDITIONED BY SELF-SURRENDER TO HIM. This is what be means by self-denial. He was not an ascetic, and he never required asceticism in his disciples; those who did not understand him accused him of encouraging an opposite mode of life. There is no merit in putting ourselves to pain for the mere sake of enduring the suffering. Christ will not be pleased if we approach him in agony because we have affixed a thumb screw to our own person. It is possible to be very hard on one's body and yet to remain terribly self-willed. What Jesus requires is the surrender of our will to him - that we may not seek to have our own will, but submit to his will.
III. SELF-SURRENDER TO CHRIST LEANS TO BEARING THE CROSS FOR HIM. It is impossible to give ourselves up to Christ without suffering some loss or trouble. In early days the consequence might be martyrdom; in our own day it always involves some sacrifice. Now, the cross which the Christian has to bear is not inevitable trouble, such as poverty, sickness, or the loss of friends by death. These things would have been in our lot if we had not been Christians. They are our burdens, our thorns in the flesh. They are sent to us, not taken by us. But the cross is something additional. This is taken up voluntarily; it is in our power to refuse to touch it. We bear it, not because we cannot escape, but because it is a consequence of our following Christ; and the good of bearing it is that we cannot otherwise closely follow him. He, then, is the true Christian who will bear any cross and endure any hardship that is involved in loyally following his Lord and Master. - W.F.A.
I. SELF-SEEKING IS SELF-LOSING. Jesus is warning his disciples of the dangers and hardships of his service. Many will be tempted to shrink from the cross in order to save their lives. They are told that a cowardly unfaithfulness under persecution is not the way to save their lives. It is true a violent death may be thus avoided. But what is the use of a life preserved at the cost of honour and fidelity? It is not really saved, for it is so degraded that it has become a worthless thing. Thus it is a wasted life, a lost life. The same is true today under other circumstances. The man who denies Christ for his own convenience lowers himself to the level of worthlessness. He who greedily grasps at his own pleasure to the neglect of higher interests so impoverishes his nature by his mean and narrow way of living that his life is really ruined. This is the case on earth. It will be more apparent in the next world, when Christ comes to "render unto every man according to his deeds" (ver. 27). Even in spiritual things, if a man's religion is purely selfish it will be of no use to him. If he thinks only of his own salvation, and nothing of the service of Christ and the benefit of his fellow men, he will be lost. It is not the teaching of Christ that our great business is to save ourselves. Religious teachers are greatly to blame for inculcating this most unchristian notion. Christ comes to save us from ourselves; but this will not be effected by the cultivating of a habit of supreme self-seeking in religion. Such a habit is ruinous to all that is worthy in a man. Therefore ver. 26, which is often quoted in favour of a self-seeking religion, should be read in the light of ver. 25.
II. SELF-LOSING IS SELF-FINDING. This is the opposite to the principle just considered; it has a positive importance of its own that demands careful consideration. 'How is the paradox verified in experience? We must first of all call to mind the immediate circumstances our Lord had in view. His disciples were being warned of coming persecutions. Some of them would lose their lives in martyrdom. Yet then they would most truly find them, for they would be the heirs of life eternal, and would live on in the bright future. That is the first lesson of the words. But they go much further. What is true under persecution is true at all times. The martyr temper is the Christian spirit. We gain the only life worth living on earth when we deny ourselves and embark on a career of unselfish service. The abandonment of selfish aims is the acquisition of heavenly treasures. There is a blessedness in the life of obedience and self-surrender that the selfish can never know. Happiness is not attained by directly aiming at it; it comes in as a surprise to him who is not seeking it when he is busy in unselfish service. Now, these lessons are driven home and clenched by the obvious truth of the following verse (ver. 26). What is the use of a world of wealth to a man who loses his life in acquiring it? The pearl seeker who is drowned in the moment of clutching his gem is a supreme loser even while he is a gainer. Nothing will compensate a man for making shipwreck of his life by self-seeking. - W.F.A.
I. WHAT IS THE GAIN? THE WORLD.
1. Not the empire of the universe.
(1) "The whole world," in the largest sense, includes not only this globe, but the sun, the planets, and the moons of this solar system; and, moreover, all the firmaments of such systems within the searching power of telescopes and beyond into immensity.
(2) The proprietorship of the world in this large sense belongs to God alone. Such a sceptre could be wielded only by the Infnite.
2. Not the empire of this earth.
(1) Alexander the Great is said to have "conquered the world," and then to have "wept because he had not another world to conquer." Yet was that empire of Alexander but a small portion of the globe after all. And instead of conquering the other world of his own mind, his evil passions conquered him.
(2) The Romans were said to be "masters of the world," but there were barbarians beyond they could never subdue. There were vast continents they never knew.
(3) The British empire is the most extensive that the sun has seen. Yet are we far from possessing the monopoly of the globe. Universal empire, in this sense, is still reserved for the proper Man.
3. All the pleasures of the worldling.
(1) In his enjoyment of all natural endowments. Health of body; symmetry of proportions; vigour of mind; hilarity of spirits.
(2) All accidental advantages. The inheritance of wealth, of title, of position.
(3) All opportunities of animal indulgence. Luxuries of the table - choice wines, rare fruits - all in profusion. Every conceivable gratification for the appetite and passion.
(4) All opportunities for intellectual gratification. A taste cultivated to appreciate the finest poetry, the most exquisite music, the noblest eloquence, consummate painting and sculpture, and refinements of art, together with all these things.
4. But hold, the colouring is too high!
(1) Who can have all this with religion? Can it be all indulged if the claims of religion are respected?
(2) But who can have all this without religion? For are there not punitive sequences bound up with indulgence?
(a) Health will not abide it.
(b) Capacity is limited, and to surcharge is to produce revulsion and disgust.
(c) Conscience will have its reckoning.
(d) Fear will intrude with thoughts of the coming of the "Son of man in the glory of his Father with his angels" to "reward to every man according to his deeds." It will bring alarmingly near the judgment in the doom of death.
II. WHAT IS THE LOSS? THE SOUL.
1. Its greatness is seen in its achievements.
(1) Those of the astronomer. The calculation of the Nautical Almanac. The discovery of the planet Neptune. Light thrown upon chronology.
(2) Those of the chemist and electrician.
(3) Those of the engineers
(4) What a loss when such great rowers are prostituted, wasted, blighted, damned!
2. It is evident in its capability of God.
(1) Powers to contemplate his being and attributes; his government and his claims.
(2) Enjoying his friendship. Reciprocating his love. Working out his purposes.
(3) Hoping in his promises of heaven.
(4) But all this capability is capability also of suffering. Awful to the sinner is the very justice of his judgment. Thoughts of the being and attributes of an infinite Enemy. How terrible are the fires of his wrath!
3. It is seen in God's estimate.
(1) He framed the creation for man (see Psalm 8.).
(2) He gave himself for man. Became incarnate in our nature. In that nature suffered and died for us.
(3) Carried our nature into heaven. There it is exalted above all principality.
(4) In it he will come forth "in the glory of his Father with his angels."
(5) The distance between heaven's rapturous height and hell's horrible depth is the measure of God's estimate of man.
III. WHAT IS THE PROFIT?
1. For what do you barter your soul?
(1) "All that is in the world" is soon summed up. "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the vain glory of life, is not of the Father" (1 John 2:16).
(2) But what have we here?
(a) Sensuality. Wine. Women.
(b) Covetousness. Gain by meanness. Gain by trend. Gain by oppression.
The esteem of the deceived. Or the esteem of the vain. What does it profit?
2. What is the profit when life is spent?
(1) What would a damned soul give for the opportunity to retrace his steps?
(2) But life is spent before a man is dead. What does the world profit when a man outlives its pleasures - when his energy is spent?
3. What must we sacrifice for the soul?
(1) Not the world, in its use.
(2) We must sacrifice the world in its abuse. All sin must go.
(3) Life must be sacrificed if necessary. But then "to die is gain." - J.A.M.
life. For on life depends enjoyment of possessions. Illustrate by the parable of the rich farmer who boasted of what he possessed, and lost it all when he died in the night. Compare our Lord's advice to "lay up treasure in heaven."
I. THE GREAT GAIN IS EARTHLY THINGS. Look over the whole world. Examine the pursuits of every class. Read the story of the long ages. This is clearly men's opinion everywhere. They live to get, to win, to grasp, to hold what they call wealth, earthly valuables - houses, laud, jewels, money, fame. Is that really great gain? Test it by one thing - How does it stand related to man's real soul life? Then it is seen to belong only to the body, which man has for a while; and in no way to the being that he is, and will be forever. All a man acquires of a merely earthly character belongs to his body, and goes with his body when his body goes; then it is his no more. Treasure on earth is but falsely and unworthily called "great gain."
II. THE GREATER LOSS IS SPIRITUAL CHARACTER. For character is a man's true wealth; it belongs to the being he is, and is forever. And one application of our Lord's teaching here comes out in a very striking way. Gaining earthly things is only too likely to involve the destruction of spiritual character, because it is so sure to hinder that "self-denial" which is the absolutely essential foundation of noble and enduring spiritual character. A man gains the heavenly treasure by what he gives up, and not by what he holds fast to (see ver. 24). The sublime illustration is presented in the case of our Lord himself, who acquired nothing earthly, who gave up everything he had that men are wont to esteem as gain, but who gained the eternal treasure of tested spiritual character, perfected Sonship. In conclusion, meet the difficulty of the apparently unpractical character of such teaching. Show that it is really a question of relativity. Which is to be first, possessions or character? - R.T.
I. CHRIST CAME IN HIS KINGDOM AT THE TRANSFIGURATION. This meaning is suggested by the fact that the narrative of the Transfiguration immediately succeeds, and the evangelist appears designedly to set them in close connection. That was a very sublime manifestation of his glory, but it is difficult to understand how it could be called a "coming of the kingdom." Moreover, there is no point in saying that some would be spared to the coming of the kingdom, when all were to be spared over the Transfiguration. That explanation cannot be regarded as satisfactory.
II. CHRIST CAME IN HIS KINGDOM AT THE DAY OF PENTECOST. That is properly regarded as the actual starting of Christ's new and spiritual kingdom. In part it may fulfil the reference of our Lord. But here again the difficulty occurs that the apostolic band was intact at the Day of Pentecost, with the exception of the traitor Judas, who had "gone to his own place." It is hardly possible to rest satisfied with this explanation.
III. CHRIST CAME IN HIS KINGDOM AT THE FALL OF JERUSALEM. "This was a judicial coming, a signal and visible event, and one that would happen in the lifetime of some, but not of all, of those present." John certainly lived beyond this event. "In a sense which was real, though partial, the judgment which felt upon the Jewish Church, the destruction of the holy city and the temple, the onward march of the Church of Christ, was as the coming of the Son of man in his kingdom." This is altogether the most satisfactory suggestion; and we need only suppose that Christ was carried away in his thoughts beyond the present, and was helped in thinking of the sufferings that were immediately before him, by comforting visions of the success and glory which would follow his suffering and his sacrifice in the world's by and by. - R.T.
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