The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.Notes of Christ's Sermons
Luke undertook to be very minute and exhaustive in his statement of Gospel facts. He was going to do better than many other writers had done. He said so with cool frankness: "Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eye-witnesses, and ministers of the word; it seemed good to me also"—that is a curious expression. We expected him to say: Forasmuch as many have done this work there is no need for me to do it. But he makes the very fact that there were other writers a reason why there should be one more. That was good reasoning; it should prevail in all the lines and departments of Christian life and action. The contrary policy often supersedes it, and brings ministers and churches into great discomfort and enfeeblement. Men will say, You have so many helpers, you have no need of me. They are always more or less dishonest men,—not intentionally so; intentional dishonesty is perfectly vulgar and wholly detestable, and nobody lays claim to it; but when men say, "There are so many preachers I need not be one; so many deacons I need not be another; so many helpers there is no need of me," they are not conducting a Christian argument, they are, with all their graciousness, unconsciously jealous and spiteful,—but not sufficiently so to prevent them conducting family prayer in the evening as if they were as good as their neighbours. Luke reasoned in the right way; he said, Many men are taking up this subject, I will do what I can in it; I think I can beat some of them: "It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order." Will the book be as good as the preface? I fancy not—when the subject is Jesus Christ. The first sentence is often the best. Why? Because the subject grows. No man can ever prepare his imagination for the glory of that theme. The young preacher feels this; he buckles to with a brave heart, and says he will work honestly all day, and pray most of the night, and produce such discourses as will satisfy his best ambition. He empties his inkhorn, does all he can, and then puts his young hand upon his mouth and says, Unprofitable! I have failed! I had an ambition high as heaven, bright as the unclouded noon; but I have failed! He does not do justice to himself. The Lord does not pronounce that judgment upon him; he says, Thou hast not failed: industry never fails; conscience always succeeds; thou hast won a right bright crown. Cheer thee! It is not the man who has failed, it is the God who has exceeded all ever thought of in prayer, ever dreamed of in poetry.
Still we expected more from Luke than from the others, and we get more. He does not see some things as Mark saw them. It is fashionable—shall we say, with due mental reservation, pedantic?—to point out that Luke was the observing writer. Mark observed a great many things that Luke never saw, or at least never recorded. Matthew also had his own way of looking at things: and as for John, what was he looking at? Apparently at nothing, his inner eyes were fastened on the soul of Christ. If Luke had sharp eyes, what ears John had! he heard whisperings of the heart, throbbings and beatings and sighings. And what a gift of expression! he turned all that he heard into noble sweet music for the soul's comforting in all the cloudy days of the Church. But Luke says he will set down things "in order"; the others have been good historians, but a little wanting in the power of grouping and classifying; good historians, but poor editors. Luke will break things up into chapters, and verses, and paragraphs, and sections, and he will attend to chronological sequence. We need mechanical men in the Church, people that know when to begin a new paragraph, and to codify laws, and to do a good many useful little things. But when Luke comes to his thirteenth chapter he is obliged to condense. He cannot overtake Christ except by condensation,—a note, a line, a catchword, a significant phrase, and he thinks he can find all the rest when he goes home to write it out. He cannot. Even Luke says he must put things together in a somewhat hurried and condensed fashion. Blessed be God! It would seem as if God himself must condense, because he cannot overtake himself; so he must put here a syllable, and there a sign, and otherwhere some hint of meaning, in burning bush, in. sacred wine, in bread blessed—so blessed that it becomes flesh; he will condense, he will bring things to a sharp issue; he will put in a memorable word, and that word shall stand for a whole library.
This is the way with his book. As we have often said, all other good books are in the Bible. They are variations of it; they are never improvements upon it; they do nothing outside its lines, but they wisely turn to highest advantage what is to be found within its limits. The Bible is the condensed wisdom of God. There are commentators who find sequence in this chapter; there are men bold enough to say that the parable concerning the fig tree follows admirably after the short discourse about what occurred to the Galilæans and those eighteen upon whom the tower of Siloam fell. Without seeing the sequence literally we may feel it spiritually. Let us, then, regard this chapter as a series of notes of Christ's sermons. They were sermons that bore reporting. Sometimes the most humiliating thing you can do to a preacher is to try to quote something he has said. He never recognises it; he is perfectly sure he never said it, he has a latent conviction that you made it up: but as you get good from it he is content that you should assign it to his authorship, if you please. But Jesus Christ had a sermon in every sentence, so that if you could not quote in detail you could quote the whole in condensation and suggestion. His were little sentences, but the little sentences were focalised infinities of thought. Luke, therefore, gathers a good deal even in this condensed chapter, and gives us a many-sided view of Jesus Christ. What would we give for a handful of notes used by the Saviour? He never wrote a word. He never preached what is called—with blasphemy—a "finished sermon." We now have "finished" preachers. There is a sense in which that is true. This man so talked that little children opened their eyes in amazement, and women wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his lips, and old age said, "Never man spake like this man." He himself was the discourse; he was in very deed the Gospel—"I am the truth"; he therefore never did anything but preach, because he preached as he breathed; it was a continual forthgiving of deity to humanity. He remarked upon the anecdotes and stories of the times most tersely and instructively. In nearly all ages men have loved startling anecdotes. There were men who told him of the Galilæans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices, and they thought they were giving him some information. He said, Pay next to no attention to the anecdotes of the day; do not ground upon the incidents of the time generalisations which cannot be sustained. You suppose that these Galilæans were the supreme sinners because they suffered such things: you are wrong. God is not fantastic in his action. You say that if they had not done so much that was wrong they never could have suffered as they did at the hands of Pilate: nothing of the kind: by so talking you despoil history of its genius and providence of its purpose. I tell you, except ye repent ye shall all perish: attend to yourselves: do not live upon the anecdotes which relate to other people, but enter into self-judgment. The "likewise" does not refer to a literal vengeance or method of punishment, but it refers to the inevitable, unchangeable gracious law, that whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap. Jesus Christ was not so much interested in the anecdotes as the people were. They had heard of eighteen people being killed by a tower that had fallen down, and Jesus said, "Suppose ye that these Galilæans were sinners above all the Galilæans, because they suffered such things?"
Here we have a doctrine capable of broad application. How foolishly we judge the Almighty! We say that certain men sought their own pleasure on the Lord's Day, and they were drowned. Nothing of the sort. Do not degrade the universe. We say that certain persons having done certain things were struck down dead, and this was a sign of the divine wrath. Such is not the God, the Father, in whom we believe. Are the people therefore wrong in their inferences? They are wrong because they are too narrow. They might avail themselves of the same great truth, and do it on the right lines, and thus save themselves from contempt and their doctrine from repudiation. From eternity, it is necessary that whoso does wrong should go to perdition. He cannot go anywhere else. That is the law. It was not made by the New Testament; it is not a dogma invented by Christian thinkers: it is the necessity of the universe. Creation casts out of her motherly heart those that will plague and destroy the purpose and intent of God. The son of perdition can only go to hell. Then we are so very apt to be liberal in awarding divine judgments, under some peculiar and inexplicable semi-consciousness that by so doing we are almost equal to the divine Being himself. There is a great comfort to some hearts in judging other people; in this, as in other respects, we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Jesus Christ will have no false interpretations of events; he will have no false morals drawn from accidents and anecdotes. We are bound every man to consider his own life, his own conscience, his own duty; let him learn from history to apply history to himself. How prone we are to look upon history as a riddle which we have to guess if we can! Now why did that tower fall upon those eighteen people? Then we have a series of conjectures, and these we call exposition. One minister asks with solemnity too awful to be sincere, "Why is not the name of Job's wife given?" Then he answers himself with a wit too profound to be genuine, "Why should it have been given?" And this we call exposition! Jesus Christ sweeps away all this rubbish; he will have none of it. He says, You are despoiling the meaning of God's providence: you do not comprehend what God is doing: he means all death to teach life; all punishment to teach caution; all judgment to indicate the solemnity, the grandeur, the all but divinity of his universe. Luke takes down enough of this to make it perfectly clear that it was useless to go to Jesus Christ to tell him the last anecdote. He was an awful man to talk to if you wished to fritter away his time or to turn trifles into events of importance.
Why can we not get the Church to be serious, real, fundamental,—to get at the philosophy of things? Ministers have no encouragement to search into these matters, because there is hardly a congregation in the world that would endure a prolonged and exhaustive study of the Scriptures. Now Jesus Christ, according to some commentators, speaks a parable upon this very subject. The anecdote of the newsmongers suggested a parable to the divine genius. Some people mistake an anecdote for a parable, and a parable for an anecdote. A parable has infinite colour, throb, suggestion, wisdom. Jesus now began to tell what happened. Did it happen literally? Perhaps not. But literal happening is nothing. What we want is the truth, the necessity of life. Truth is larger than fact. Fiction is the largest truth, when rightly managed, when properly interpreted. So Jesus Christ relates a parable:—"A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard." He lays down the doctrine in this parable that he will have nothing to do with uselessness. He makes nothing of ornament; he will not listen to the plea that the fig tree looks well, is an ornament in the place which it occupies, and although there is no fruit, there is an abundance of leafage, and an artist would be very pleased to take a sketch of the tree. The meaning of the whole universe is utility. Utility is a word which has been abused by being narrowed, depleted of its force and meaning. Utility is a wide word. He is useful who grasps a hand in silence; but it is a masonic grip and a masonic sign. He is useful who gives a little child a red and blue and yellow picture—oh, so crude in colour that the trained eye could not look upon it: but the child's eyes round into bigness and delight when they see such vividness. He is useful who gives a shoot of ivy to some poor man to plant in his inch of garden that it may climb round his windows and talk spring and summer to him. He is useful who suggests ideas, excites noblest thought; he most useful who having the gift of prayer lifts men right up to heaven's gate. It is in this sense that Jesus Christ will have nothing but that which is useful, fruitful, real:—"Herein is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit."
But is there not something higher than usefulness in this wondrous parable? Yes. When did Jesus Christ speak without telling all he knew, in suggestion? Every sentence of his contains every other sentence. We have to search for it, to grow its meaning, and for that we want summers warmer than any that have shone upon earth and time. The first verse of the Bible is the whole Bible. There is nothing more in the Bible than there is in the first chapter cf Genesis, and there is nothing more in the first chapter of Genesis than is in the first verse. How it grows! How it reveals itself! How it looks at us, and withdraws; broadens upon us and contracts! How it tantalises, and yet gratifies! How it fills the imagination, how it thrills the heart! So in this very parable we have the great doctrine of intercession. We cannot explain it; but it having been revealed to us as a doctrine we acknowledge it. We have been told that there is one who prays our prayers over again, and makes them by his spirit and addition his own prayers—"He ever liveth to make intercession for us,"—to translate our meaning, to keep back our ignorance and selfishness, and as it were to offer the wine of our realest love and need to God. This is our comfort in prayer. When the prayer has fled away from us like a liberated bird the Lord Jesus undertakes the next office, a sacred, self-imposed duty; and when we hear of our prayers again we hear of them through the same medium, in answers of quietness, rich peace, contentment, ineffable restful-ness. This is how the Lord's intercession is granted to us in gracious answers. We cannot tell how, but we know it. We make mistakes in our ignorance. We are mocked because we pray for a fine day that the children may enjoy their summer excursion. There be long-headed philosophers, too courteous to laugh outright, but too human not to smile, who tell us that we want to rearrange the solar system. These unbaptised brethren are always anxious about the solar system. It is a wonderful thing to them, because they have never seen anything else. If they had once seen God, they never would have mentioned the solar system any more. But when man's great idea of space, and weight, magnitude, force, and velocity, is all concentrated in the solar system, it is exceedingly desirable that Sunday school teachers should not disturb the comfort and the peacefulness of that sublime mechanism. They may be right; but whether they are or not, their view has nothing to do with the energy and the success of prayer. I can pray for a fine day for the excursion, for fine weather that the harvest may be got in; I can pray God to send the haymakers a whole heavenful of sunshine because we want food in for the beasts that perish; and having said my prayer I shall have an answer. I have prayed for that dear little wasting child, now almost skin and bone, and he will live—even the doctors cannot kill him. He will live. But the word "live" may have to be enlarged; I may have to pass from one lexicon to another to get broader, deeper, truer definition; and when the little child, in the language of earth, dies, I shall see him in every glittering star and every blooming flower, and hear his little chatter in every babbling brook, and he will seem to fill all nature with his little blessed presence.
We must not narrow terms and rob them of their meaning because every word we have does not end in itself, if it be a vital and important and necessary word. Bread does not end at the baker's shop. It is not in the power of any baker to limit the meaning of the word bread. Water is not limited by channels and torrents and pouring clouds: water there is for the soul's drinking—cool, refreshing, pure water. "Live" does not mean some action of the body, some attitude of the anatomy: live means something, we cannot yet tell altogether what, in reference to love, thought, development, service, pureness, worship. Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord: for they do but enlarge their sphere of service and get nearer to their Maker. The intercession of the text was answered. The intercession of Christ is answered. The answers which are received to our prayers are greater than the prayers themselves; otherwise man would be equal to God; man would say, I prayed for so much and got it. But the Lord gives exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.
What do you suppose the people did after all this? A parable like this ought to have saved a man from all criticism, and given him the very highest place in his time. Any man who spoke that parable ought to have had, according to material measure, the very finest house in the land, the noblest position in the whole country. The creator of a parable like that might have created all the stars, and the doing of it would not have been equal to the creation of the parable. What became of him?
"And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself. And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity. And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day" (Luke 13:10-14).
The Jews had their own way of doing things. It it was a case of life and death the doctor might prescribe on the Sabbath day, but the doctor was not to pay the slightest attention to chronic cases of any kind; they were there on Saturday and they would be there on Monday, and they would be there the next week, and they would be there the next month, and therefore no particular heed was to be paid to them. Here again we find the narrowing spirit. All ailment is the same to Jesus Christ. Transient as men call transient, or chronic as men call chronic, the great fact is that the man wanted healing, and he was there to heal; if he had done anything else he would have thwarted his own election, and stultified his own sovereignty. This was the necessity of his very make, build, constitution,—he came not to destroy men's lives, but to save them. Having spoken as he only could speak, "all his adversaries were ashamed." He made them hold down their heads that the redness of their blush might not be seen. Whoever encountered him and stood upright after an interview, when the purpose was a purpose of hostility? We have seen how many men came up to him in fine attitude, in studied posture, thinking they had a case that would constrain his attention and secure his approbation. How often we have seen them coming up young men, going away about a hundred years old, so blanched and withered and humiliated, and so ashamed that they dare not speak to one another, or if they did speak they wanted to say, "It was you that would go—I did not want to go, but you made me—I will never go again." "And all the people"—Bless God tor the people. What would the kings do without the people? They would die of loneliness. "And all the people "—Yes, it is true oftentimes that the voice of the people is the voice of God. There may be mysterious variations of this, and yet there is a central truth in it. "And all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him." Yes, let judgment be upon the "things," and we have no fear. We must not be word-mongers, logic-choppers; we must take our stand upon the facts, the conversions, the changes of heart and disposition and character and tone and temper, and Christ asks no other standard of judgment See what Christianity has done for the world, and by the glorious things it has done let the whole Christian argument stand or fall. We are not all called upon to argue. Many are called upon to suffer, and suffering may be borne with such gracious heroism as to constitute itself into an argument. The great talker proceeded. He gave philosophic symbols of the invisible and infinite kingdom; he said, The kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed: like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened; and thus he started imagination on a wondrous course of inquiry, and to this day the poets are finding new symbols. When a man arises who can construct a new parable, true to the purpose of the kingdom of heaven, the people acknowledge him to be a true servant of Christ.
But did the matter end there? No. There was an application to this sermon as there ought to be to every sermon. He said unto them, "Strive to enter in at the strait gate." What is the meaning of this "strive"? Literally, wrestle; throw your arms around the adversary, and throw him; struggle; say you will begin. He is a giant with whom you have to grapple, but it is God who tells you to enter into the encounter. "Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able." They shall only seek: but that is not the whole meaning. We must dislodge the narrow-minded theologian from this passage. Have not some good men said, Many will seek to enter in and shall not be able because of the decree of God? Who says so tell lies. When will they seek to enter in and not be able? The Lord gives the time:—"When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are" (Luke 13:25). The time is when the Lord himself has risen, has closed the dispensation, has terminated the economy of grace, has gone to some other department, so to say, of his universal empire. But, blessed be his name, he has not risen yet; he has not shut to the door yet Now men may come. In this holy moment those who are outside may strive to enter in; may wrestle, struggle, determine in God's strength to enter in. If you fail to do this you fail altogether, no matter what admiration you may have of Christianity as a theological system; no matter what knowledge you may have of Christianity as a theological argument; no matter how liberal you may be in the support of Christian institutions. If you do not strive to enter in, determine to enter in, if you do not struggle and agonise; if you do not make it the supreme object of your life to get in, all else is failure. "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters!" Sweet word! How sweet to those whose throats are burning with thirst! "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." What I "abundantly"? Yes. What does that mean? Wave upon wave, billow upon billow of love; he will multiply pardons; give them a thousand thick; so give them that conscience and memory and imagination shall have no more record of sin.
The same day there came certain of the Pharisees, saying unto him, Get thee out, and depart hence: for Herod will kill thee.Pictures of Jesus Christ
Here, then, is a picture of a threatened man. Jesus Christ was continually being threatened. There seemed every day to be but a hair's-breadth between him and death. He was despised and rejected of men; there was no beauty in him that man should desire his presence. Yet there was something about him which excited the passion, the most terrible vengeance of mankind. He held his life in his hand, in a special and peculiar way. Who was there that did not lift up a hand against him? Who was there not too mean to pucker up his face into a sneer when he saw the Son of God? And who was there not too feeble to suppose that even he could do some damage to the name of the Messiah? What was there, then, to induce Jesus Christ to live upon the earth? The foxes had holes and the birds of the air had nests, but the Son of man had not where to lay his head. Why, then, should he not have made short work of it; have turned right round and said, "I leave the dust of my feet behind me as a testimony against you; I have made you an offer of truth and of life and of love, and you have rejected that offer. I leave you now to all the consequences of your obstinacy"? Yet he came to be upon the earth in this very position in which we find him. He knew the kind of hospitality that awaited him; he knew how homeless he would be; how hard would be the pillow on which his weary head was to rest; how unkind the looks that would be waiting for him here and there, on the right hand and on the left. Yet, for our sakes, he became poor, that we through his poverty might be made rich. There was nothing strange in the revelation of this lot which met the Saviour—that is to say, there was nothing strange to his mind; he was not startled by the mode of reception that was accorded to him. From the height of heaven he foresaw it; before coming to the earth at all he knew all the courses through which he must of necessity pass. Still, in the face of it all, he came to seek and to save that which was lost. Behold, then, in this text, a picture of a threatened man. There is a sword against thy life; there is a king against thee! Thirty years before Herod the Great had sought the young Child to destroy him; and now, after the lapse of a generation, Herod the Tetrarch sends messages by the Pharisees, that his hand was against him. What a threatened life! What a position of discomfort, of misinterpretation, of utter friendlessness, of sore distress! I want you to look at Jesus Christ in this aspect, and to keep your eyes steadily upon him whilst such messages are being delivered; because it is under such circumstances that we may get some hint of the real quality of his character.
Why did Herod threaten Jesus? Why was the life of Christ a threatened life from the beginning to the end? Because good is always unpalatable to evil. That which is good always torments that which is bad. But had not Herod far greater influence in the world than Jesus Christ? No. But Herod could strike! True, but in doing so his arm would rot Wherein, then, is the superiority of the influence of this threatened man? It is in its goodness. Good men have everything to hope from time; bad men have everything to fear from the lapse of days. Beauty can stand the wear and the tear of life—the inward and imperishable beauty of consummate goodness and divine truth. Goodness is a perpetual quantity, all penetrating, all searching, impartial, noble, a comfort in distress, a refuge to the weak, a tower and a defence to all men who wish to be right and to do right. Had it been a case of man against man, position against position, hand against hand, truly Herod would have made short work of this controversy; he would have thrown down his antagonist, set his foot upon him, and with a loud "Ha, ha!" would have declared his triumph. But it was a question of light on the part of Jesus Christ,—light against darkness, truth against falsehood, God against the devil. No wonder, therefore, that when the controversy was so vital and so keen Jesus Christ should have been surrounded, if I may so express myself, by an atmosphere of menace, of threatening, of ill-will, and of latent determination to shed his blood. I am anxious to know how Jesus Christ will conduct himself under such circumstances. Herod has pronounced the authoritative word. Kings ought not to be forced to the humiliation of eating up their own messages. When the Tetrarch speaks he ought to have meaning in his speech. It will tell to the disadvantage of Herod if, after all this, he come to humiliation and shame. Some men think they have only to threaten and the earth will quake at once. It would appear that some persons are under the delusion that they have but to shake their finger in the face of the sun, and it will be night presently. Herod sent word to Christ to get out of his jurisdiction, or he would kill him. I am anxious to know how Jesus Christ, without home or friend, will conduct himself under such circumstances. Let us read how he answered the message of Herod the Tetrarch:—
"And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to-day and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected" (Luke 13:32).
Here you have a picture of impotent rage on the part of Herod the Tetrarch. He thought that Jesus Christ would tremble under the message. He instantly treats it with disdain, with noble haughtiness of conscious superiority to the shaft that is levelled against him; and he describes Herod according to the moral traits of his character. He does not hesitate to call Herod a fox; a mere cunning, designing man, only courageous when there is no danger at hand; scheming and plotting in his den, but having no true bravery of heart; an evil-minded person, whose whole character is summed up in the word "fox." What—did Jesus Christ, then, call men names? Not in the usual sense of that expression. Did he call Herod a fox out of mere defiance or spite? He was incapable of doing anything of the kind. When Jesus Christ spoke a severe word, the severity came out of the truth of its application. Is it not a harsh thing to call a man a liar? Not if he be false. Is it not very unsocial to describe any man as a hypocrite? Not if he be untrue. Wherein, then, is this wickedness of calling men names? In the misapplication of the epithets. It is wicked to call a man true if we know him to be untrue. There is an immoral courtesy; there is a righteous reproach. We do not use harsh words when we tell men what they really are. On the other hand, it is a matter of infinite delicacy to tell a man what he really is, because, at best, we seldom see more than one aspect of a man's character. If we could see more of the man, probably we should change our opinion of his spirit. In the case of Jesus Christ, however, he saw the inner heart, the real and true quality of the Tetrarch; and, therefore, when he described Herod as a fox, he spoke the word of righteousness and of truth. It was not an epithet; it was a character in a word; it was a man summed up in a syllable. Let us, therefore, be very careful how we follow this example, because we ought to have equal knowledge, before we take an equal position in this respect. On the other hand, let us beware of that simulation of courtesy, which is profoundly untrue, which is despicably immoral—the kind of thing which sets itself to catch the favour and the flattery of the passing moment. As men in Christ, we ought to be true with our speech; we ought to study morality of language, and never to say anything merely for the purpose of pleasing or passing through the temporary occasion with something like self-satisfaction. Then Herod's message produced no effect upon the work of the Son of God? Not the slightest in the world. But Herod was a man in authority, "brief authority"! Jesus Christ was the sovereign, and Herod was but the servant of a servant. What then did Jesus Christ profess in the jurisdiction of Herod? To cast out devils and to do cures. It was a moral work upon which he was set. Preachers of the gospel are not to be turned aside by the threatening hand of any man. If any one should, indeed, be doing aught to unsettle the minds of the people in relation to these political things which we hardly understand, he ought to be brought to law and called to order. But whoso is casting out devils and doing cures, here or there, under this form of government or that, let him not heed the king's words, but proceed in the strength of God, and in the sufficiency of divine grace, to do his beneficent work!
We thought that Jesus Christ's labour would be cut short by this message from Herod. Jesus Christ must finish what he has begun. But is it not in the power of the great and the mighty to say to Christ, "You must stop at this point"? It is in their power, truly, to say it, and when they have said it they may have relieved their own feelings; but the great, the beneficent, the redeeming work of the Son of God proceeds as if not a word to the contrary had been said. The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers took counsel together against the Lord, and against his anointed; and behold, their rage came to nothing, and their fury recoiled upon themselves! "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Holy One shall have them in derision." Are we opposing Jesus Christ? Are we in any way setting ourselves against the advancement of his kingdom? It will be an impotent rage. Go and strike the rocks with your fist,—perhaps you may batter down the granite with your poor bones. Try! Go and tell the sea that it shall not come beyond a certain line, and perhaps the hoary billows will hear you, and run away and say that they be afraid of such mighty men. Try. You have nothing else to do, you may as well try. But as for keeping back this kingdom of God, this holy and beneficent kingdom of truth, no man can keep it back, and even the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Men may rage; men do rage. Other men adopt another policy; instead of rage and fury and great excitement, they set themselves against the kingdom of God, in an indirect and remote way. But both policies come to the same thing. The raging man who pulls down the wooden Cross and tramples it underfoot, and the man who offers a passive resistance to the progress of the kingdom of heaven, come to the same fate. The light shines on, noontide comes, and God gets his own way in his own universe. Behold, then, this is our glory and our strength and our hope, that none can hinder. In a secondary sense they may retard, they may put stumbling-blocks on the road, and for a moment they may be seeming to succeed; but, in the long run, this kingdom goes on until it has covered the earth with its lustre, and set a universal throne amidst mankind!
"Nevertheless I must walk to-day, and tomorrow, and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem" (Luke 13:33).
Here is a picture of perfect reliance in the divine protection. On the one hand, Herod threatens; on the other, Jesus says, "I must walk to-day, and tomorrow, and the day following." Every man is immortal until his work is done. You cannot injure a hair of a man's head until the work that he is entrusted with be so far fulfilled as to ensure its entire completion. Men should not be soured by the opposition of their enemies. Some of us are prone to be so. When our lives are threatened, when our peace is jeopardised, we are disposed to say, "Then we shall have no more to do with this thing; we shall utterly abandon it; we shall settle down into peace and tranquillity, for we have had enough of vexation and disappointment." It is feeble to say so; it shows the poverty of our nature, if we talk in that way. I know not whose example we may be copying, but I know we are not transcribing the example of the Son of God. He did not resign his functions, he did not decline to go on with his work. He said, "I work in the name of God and for the good of mankind, and I must not be stopped." If we had more of that spirit, we should do more work in the world; we should have fewer resignations of Christian positions, less slinking away from the road of difficulty, and the path of bewilderment, and the course of pain. We should have more steadiness and consistency, not arising from pride and a sense of self-sufficiency, but coming out of the consciousness of a divine call, and an assurance that divine grace is more than sufficient for every occasion. What is the cure for all this willingness to run away from difficulty? The cure is in looking to the Master and not to the servant. We are the servants of God, and therefore the servants of one another. Tell me that I have received my ministry from man, and I shall take one view of the difficulties which may beset it. But tell me that that ministry has been imposed upon me from heaven, and that I am called and elect of God to do a certain work; and whatever may be the impediments round about me, there shall be sunshine in my heart, there shall be deep inexplicable peace in my soul; I shall regard the difficulties of the present occasion as but momentary, and the strength upon which I rest shall be nothing less than the omnipotence of God, Whose servants are we, then? Who has called us to this Christian work? We are called of God, we are not called of man; and we must take our orders from heaven, and not from earth. But Herod threatens. Herod's threatening is but impotent breath! The king shakes his hand. His hand will drop off in the shaking! But our work must go on because we are called of God to do it. What rest this gives a man; what dignity in the midst of vexation and difficulty! What an assurance that all tumult and opposition can be but for a moment! How it assures us that in the long run the kingdom of heaven shall suffer nothing at the hands of mere violence! It is established upon a rock, and it is guaranteed of God. Jesus Christ saw the end from the beginning. In proportion as we have a wide outlook upon things, shall we have peace in our work and assurance of the blessedness of its end. Let us look at nothing in itself alone, or we may be discouraged by it exceedingly. But let us, following the example of Jesus Christ, think of to-day and tomorrow and the day following, and then we shall see how things bear upon one another, how they modify one another, and how what is difficult in detail becomes solved and harmonised in the great result. The Church would be quieter if the Church could see further. How far ought the Church to see? To this law, namely, God is on the throne. Christ has promise of the world, and whatsoever may be the difficulties and perplexities in the meantime, there will be worked out this great result. Are you threatened? Have you difficulty? Is the road very thorny, steep, hazardous? You have nothing to do with these things, except in a very temporary and secondary sense. God has promised to-day and tomorrow, and he has promised that on the third day things shall be perfected. Take him at his word, rest in his love, and as for the resources that are required, they are hidden in God's power!
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!" (Luke 13:34.)
Here is a picture of rejected and wounded love. We have had a picture of a threatened man; we have had a picture of impotent rage; we have had a picture of perfect reliance on the protection of Almighty God. And behold, we have now the most pathetic of the pictures—a picture of rejected and wounded love. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together, and ye would not!" Jesus Christ's ministry, then, in this sense, was a failure. There are men amongst us who would not hesitate to say, that Jesus Christ's endeavours to save men had ended in a disastrous disappointment. This indeed is a wail, a cry of failure, an utterance of disappointment—it is love in agony! Viewed within a certain limit of time, no ministry has been less successful than was the ministry of the Son of God. No man amongst us ever uttered a cry so heartbreaking as this over the apparent failure of his ministry. Jesus Christ went, with all his power, into some districts, and could not do many mighty works there because of the unbelief of the people. Was his ministry then a failure? Jesus wept over Jerusalem and said, he would have gathered the children of the city together, but the children would not be gathered by his love. Was the ministry of Jesus Christ then an ignominious failure? We must not look at things within these limitations. "Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die." You have striven for the better life of your child, and no good result seems to have blessed your ministry. Do not suppose that you have failed altogether in your efforts. You have been sowing seed; you have been laying up memories; and the time may come when the child will get a right view of all you have done for his welfare. Despair not; hope on. No man can speak a loving word or deliver a wise message, even to a child, without in some sort having his reward either in the approbation of a good conscience, or in seeing the work of the Lord so far prospering in his hand, that his child shall be twice born to him. We speak ignorantly oftentimes when we speak of failures. We only see parts of the case. We want to see everything within the compass of one day. We cannot wait until the day following, and the third day. Oftentimes our impatience betrays us, and we mourn a failure where we ought to see but an ebb in the tide. A man's heart-waves will come again, by-and-by, with still greater force and fuller volume!
The offer of salvation had been made, and the offer of salvation had been rejected. This appears to me to be one of the most astonishing facts' in human life. Given this state of affairs: An assembly of men, and a declaration from heaven that God is willing to save every man in the assembly, and that most of them should refuse to believe the message. Is there any anomaly so great? Is there a state of affairs less likely to secure our belief than that? And yet this is the condition of things. No man is so little believed as is the Word of God. Sometimes we feel wounded because our messages do not produce proper effect. But the heart of Almighty God is continually grieved, because of the rejection of the gospel. Jesus Christ here puts himself into an attitude most pathetic and touching. He says, "I would have gathered you. Why are you not gathered? Not because of any want of opportunity; not because of any deficiency of love on my part, but because of the stubbornness of your own will." After all, whatever metaphysical mysteries there may be about this view of the case, it satisfies the heart and the deepest love of mankind more than any other view. Christ entreating—men rejecting; the gospel offered—the gospel despised; and the blame coming down in judgment and condemnation upon those who have rejected the truth. I know not of any view of the case which goes so far to satisfy one's present intelligence and sense of right, and consciousness of religious concern for the children of men.
It is so with ourselves. The gospel is offered to us. Jesus Christ comes to every man, comes to us, and says, "I would gather up your life; I have redeemed you. Will you believe it? I have bought you with a price; may I not claim you as my own? I have an answer to your sin, a solution of your difficulty, a comfort for your whole being—will you believe it?" It is possible for us to turn round and say to him, No! Then what is the end of all this? The end is that God himself is exhausted. Mercy is the culmination of justice, and when mercy is despised the whole government of God is exhausted, so far as the possibility of human salvation is concerned. What is it that is offered to us then? Is it some great and hard thing that God requires at our hands? Verily not. It is that we, consciously sinful, consciously needy, shall listen to the appeals of his love, and say, We believe those appeals with our whole heart, and we will live by them! That is the true meaning of faith. Not a mere assent of the mind, not a mere indisposition to controvert any statement which is made, but this,—I live by; I believe. Reverse the word "believe," and it is live by. It is the rendering up of the life to a certain truth, a governing of the whole being by the spirit of a certain statement. What is that statement? "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners." "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." When a man can, with all the love and energy of his heart, lay hold upon this statement, he is a saved man. He is not a learned man, he is not a skilful controversialist, he is not what is generally known as a theologian. But he is a saved man; he has a germ in his heart that means pardon, purity, peace, heaven, rest, service!
Then there is a possibility of saying, as Jerusalem said, "I will not be gathered." What is the consequence of our availing ourselves of that possibility? This:
"Behold your house is left unto you desolate" (Luke 13:35).
Are we to understand, then, from these words, that there is to be a limit to the period of trial which is allotted to mankind in this matter of salvation? Is there but a day of grace? Verily. A day! Then it has an end? Yes. "The sun of grace once set, will rise no more." When is that period of trial? Now. How long will the period of trial last? No man can tell. Shall I be spared another year? No man can promise thee that. Shall I hear another offer of salvation? I dare not say thou wilt. May this be the last time the call of heaven resounds in my ears? Yes. What then? "Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." But I am old?
Yet even here is mercy. Even perdition itself is an aspect of the divine mercy. Indiscrimination, as to character, would be unjust. God is merciful in the "depart," as he is merciful in the "come." We shall see it one day. May we never see it from the lower aspect, but from the higher. What then have I to offer to men? This: A present Saviour, a sufficient Redeemer, Jesus Christ, God the Son, willing to gather men. It is a tender word, "The Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them." "As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked." No,—and we can never tell how much it costs the heart of God to say to any man, "Your house is left unto you desolate."