The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,Exciting Sermons
Are there any such perorations in connection with the pulpit eloquence of this day? The preacher retires amid thunders of applause, or amid tepid compliments, or without recognition, or with more or less of well-calculated or ill-calculated criticism. But when does a congregation ever rise up, and, filled with wrath, seize the minister, lead him to the brow of the hill, and threaten to cast him headlong from the eminences of the city? Never! We have fallen upon other times. Hear the trumpery criticism of this day:—The sermon was so quiet, so delightfully quiet; the preacher was so pleasant, so tranquil, so composed; he never betrayed the faintest excitement. Or, hear it again in another form:—The sermon was so comforting, soothing, healing; there was balm in it; the preacher was a son of consolation: how richly he dwelt upon the divine promises! how aptly and happily he applied them to human necessity! There is room for all that kind of preaching. It is not a kind of preaching in either case to be despised or held in light esteem. Sometimes we need quietness, oftentimes we need healing. The brokenhearted are the majority in every congregation, if they knew themselves. We need the balm that is in Gilead, and we need no other physician but the One that is there. All that is true; create space for such ministry, for we need it all.
But where is the other kind of eloquence? It must be the right kind in some instances, at least, because it is associated in this text with the name of Jesus Christ. This was not some wandering speaker who had gone forth without licence or authority, or without adequate cause, and had aroused popular passions, or excited religious hatred. The speaker was the Son of God, he who spake as never man spake: and yet when he had uttered a few words, to us apparently so simple and so inoffensive, the whole congregation rose up in a mass, being filled with wrath, and led him forth to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.
There should be room for that ministry as well as the other. We do not like it. Therefore, perhaps, we need it the more. We would rather not be disturbed. We have disturbance enough in business and in politics. When we go to the sanctuary we want to hear something to soothe us, and lull us, and comfort us. That is bad reasoning. When we go to the sanctuary we should go for truth. Sometimes truth will be like a child-angel, so sweet, so tender, so familiar, so domestic, so necessary to the completeness of the household; sometimes it will be as the voice of the lute, just what we need; and sometimes it will rage and storm and judge the world and thunder against its iniquities and corruptions: we need it all. Christ's was the perfect ministry, and in Christ we find all this kind of preaching. And only that ministry is right, four-square to the edge, that can be both tender and judicial, comforting and critical, sympathetic and damnatory.
Nor must the preacher be afraid of the people or of his own income. That is the great curse of every age of the pulpit, that a man should think whether he is diminishing his own resources when he declares this or that part of the counsel of God. Those who do not like it must go, and take their gold with them. It will buy them nothing. For such metal there is no exchange with God. It will be a mistake to upbraid the ministry of the time for self-consideration to that degree. The preaching of this day is as fearless as it has been in any other day. Not, perhaps, so fearless in every church; but wherever there is fearless preaching there is a congregation rising to thrust the preacher out of existence. The fearless, all-truth-speaking preacher is hated everywhere. He is not and cannot be a popular man. He can have no sympathy with the majority of his race. He must be prepared for consequences.
What a wondrous ministry was Christ's! In verse twenty-two we read, in the same chapter, "And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth." A few verses after, the whole of the people in the synagogue "rose up," "being filled with wrath." What a change he wrought! What a wizard he was! Now look at the people. How beaming, how radiant, how benignant! they say. Did charmer ever charm like this? Hear that music, and say, was the like ever heard in Israel? In five minutes more, by historical allusions which the people alone could understand, the same people rose up, being filled with wrath, and would have killed the very charmer whose entrancing power they had just acknowledged.
Was there ever any exciting preaching in the Church? Read: "And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, being grieved that they taught the people, and they laid hands on them, and put them in hold." They do the same to-day. If you were to preach apostolically you would be put in prison. The magistrate before whom you would be tried would not understand the case. What case is there that a magistrate really and thoroughly understands all round and round where the gospel is concerned, where high moral impulses are involved, and where the real good of the people is the question of the hour? The magistrates have never been on the side of apostolical preachers. The magistrates have always suggested prison as the best treatment for men who preach the gospel. It looks energetic; if a magistrate were to sympathise with the preacher it would look sentimental. A magistrate seems to be doing something for his dignity when he puts somebody in prison. Read the life of George Fox; read the Life and Journals of John Wesley; study the biography of George Whitefield; read the present-day records of the Salvation Army, and say when were apostolical preachers otherwise treated than Christ himself was treated in the very instance before us.
Understand that we are not saying a word against this same popular quiet preaching, in which a man speaks for an hour, and says nothing that can at all offend or exasperate his audience. We are not undervaluing healing preaching. God forbid. For we all need it; if not to-day, yesterday; it not yesterday, tomorrow we shall need it. But we want to point out that the counsel of God is full-orbed, now soft as when Zephyrus on Flora breathes, and now a wind that silences Euroclydon.
But the times have changed! Have they? Who changed them? Is the devil changed? Has that miracle at last been wrought? Has evil washed its hands and come out of the process pure and stainless? What has changed? Is the thief honest? Why, that is a paradox, a contradiction in terms. Are there no thieves to-day? Is the miser generous? When did he convert himself? If he is generous he is not a miser; if he is a miser he is not generous. The times have changed! When? Services may have changed, transient relations may have been transformed and modified, but the times have not changed in the sense of making sin less sinful, dishonesty less thievish, miserliness less avaricious. We find these great radical principles and policies abiding now in the deepest sense. What if we should be the real thieves? That is a harrowing suggestion. But what if the magistrate should be the real thief, and the little boy who took the pocket-handkerchief should be honest in his soul and only thievish in his fingers, because of some impulsion or compulsion not easily understood by those who are outside the circle and atmosphere within which he lives? What if the man with the fine clothing and the gold ring and the high position be the real thief?—not a vulgar, common, street thief, that is the very poorest kind of felon; but a calculating, long-headed, nimble-fingered gentleman, who writes well and reads much, and talks fluently, and has his turns of piety—what if he in the soul of him and in the whole trick of his policy be the real thief?
Have the times changed? In that direction they may have changed. Refined sin may have displaced rough criminality, but the devil is inconvertible, and will be the same when the hour of doom has struck. Do not misunderstand things, and do not be such wonderful optimists and poets as to see improvements where there really are none at all. If there are improvements prove them, recognise them, be thankful for them; but understand that the devil cannot change. If he is dead the times may have changed. If we have any reason to believe that he is still hidden in some corner of God's universe, he is as fruitful of poison and iniquity as he ever was. What if we be the misers? That is an exasperating suggestion. The man who makes it ought to be led out, and cast down from the top of the highest hill that is accessible. What if we be the misers? Ay, that! You who gave a hundred pounds all at once may be the miser. Why did you give it? In what atmosphere did you act? What was your regnant motive? Go into your soul, and ask your soul torturing questions until you get at the truth. If you gave it honestly, lovingly, gratefully, you will be blessed; you shall have it tenfold back again. The question is, Did you, or did you not? and that question I must force back upon myself until I bleed. Is not every man more or less miserly? Who gives what he ought to give? Who gives to the point of dividing his last crust with Christ? Does he give anything who withholds anything? Does he answer God's appeal who has his meals regularly and fully, and who sleeps through all the night of the world's darkness and sorrow? These are questions which I must put to myself and hold a long inquest with my own life. And it may turn out that I am the thief, the miser, the felon, the self-indulgent, the wrong-doer. If judgment thus begins at the house of God, what wonder that everybody in the synagogue should rise up inflamed with wrath, mad with resentment? Yet so curiously are we constituted, so wondrously made, that we have a positive delight in hearing the sins of other people denounced. Thus we eke out our own virtue. We do like the man in the next pew to have the truth told plainly to him. We love to hear drunkenness denounced, whereas we may be the real drunkards. The man who drinks his potass may be the real winebibber. That is no paradox; it is a plain, literal possibility in life. Men are what they are in the soul of them. Less the habit, more the spirit, must be taken as the judge and estimate of the man's spiritual quality.
Speaking thus, how different an aspect is put upon everything. The first shall be last, and the last shall be first; and many shall come from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south, and shall sit down in God's kingdom of light, and we ourselves, pretentious, ostentatious, pharisaic professors, shall be cast out because we nodded our heads at certain dogmas, but gave no heed to the commandments. We sought to suck the honey of the beatitudes, but never attempted to obey the law.
Great mistakes may thus be made about any ministry. You hear a man once, and judge him altogether. How foolish and unreasonable, how wholly unjust as well as unwise is this course! If you had heard Jesus Christ in the twenty-second verse, so to say, you would have gone away with this report: "So gracious in his speech, so musical, tuneful, tender, comforting." If you had gone away at the twenty-eighth verse you would have said, "Exasperating, maddening his congregation. Instead of taking that people into his hand, and playing upon them as a skilful man would play upon an instrument, he roused them to madness; yea, so vehement and terrible was he in style that all the people rose up and seized him, and led him out, and would have killed him on the spot." Neither report would have given a fair idea of the ministry of Christ.
Yet this is just how ministries are treated to-day. A man who never heard a minister before falls upon some occasion when the minister is very tender and sympathetic, and thinks he is always so; or falls upon another occasion when the minister is denunciatory, and goes away and reports him in terms that are full of all evil suggestion. You never know any ministry that has anything in it until you have heard it seven years long, in all its moods, tenses, variations, aspects, colours, in the whole gamut of its strength. What is true of a ministry is true of God's Book. We must read it all if we would judge it fairly. It is true of the gospel; we must hear it all if we would pronounce upon it with wisdom and ripeness of judgment.
So with Christ our Lord. Hear him: Blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the meek, blessed are the peacemakers. Oh, how the beatitudes flow from his sacred lips! Hear him: Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; woe unto you, ye lawyers; woe unto thee, Chorazin; woe unto thee, Bethsaida. Where are your beatitudes now? It is the same man, in the same brief three years' ministry. Behold, you must take in the evening and the morning to make the day. God's great sky has in it four directions, and every one must be estimated and set in its proper relation to the other if you would understand the geometry of God's canopy. Blessed be God, the severity is always against the sin. It is sin that is predestinated to go to hell. It is sin that is foreordained to be damned. Some persons do not like these words, "hell" and "damned "; yet how wondrously men change in their estimate even of such terms and of the doctrine and preaching with which they are associated. I know a remarkable artist who came to a church with which I am very familiar, and heard a sermon on the damnation of wickedness, and fled away in horror because she did not believe in hell and in damnation. Years have come and years have gone, and she is now in the Roman Catholic Church, where there is a real hell, where there is no want of literal fire. So curiously are we made, and so mysterious is the reaction which is the possibility of our lives.
We must have the whole counsel of God. We must hear of the night as well as of the day, and we must not as ministers and churches allow ourselves to be cozened out of half the truth because there are people who will come in thousands to hear our musical utterances about Christ, who would be exasperated and offended if we held up the law in its terror. We must lose them; we must bear our lot as bravely as we can. Better the pews be empty to the point of desolation; better that the minister should starve than that we should never hear that God is Judge as well as Saviour. All the gentleness is for the sinner. God never turns against the prodigal; he is always against the self-righteous. The self-righteous is, of course, the greatest sinner, but God has no pity upon him, because he cannot have pity where there is no pity for himself, that is to say, fox the sinner, the man himself. The man is self-righteous, self-satisfied; he has enough, he wants no more; he is a perfect man and an upright, yea, he is the temple of the living God, and other men are the filth and the off-scouring of the race. God can have no pity for that man. He can only encounter him with sternness and judgment, and visit him with the final penalty. But where there is a broken heart, where there is a contrite spirit, where there is a desire to come home again, all the angels are sent down to make the way easy, and great welcomes await the returning prodigal. God is gentle and good towards any soul that can weep over its own guilt and its own sorrow. Let us, therefore, take heart and come before him with tears. He will dwell with the contrite in spirit.
This is my conclusion: It ought to be the greatest blessing of society to have within it a pulpit that can be both gentle and terrible. When you lose that pulpit you lose a saving element from your social constitution. It ought to be the supremest educational force in morals to have a pulpit that is afraid of no face of clay; to have a pulpit that will speak all the counsel of God, come weal, come woe. Do not let us misunderstand this. He is the great preacher who preaches to himself. Yea, he is the man to be trusted who first takes up the law and smites himself with it, and tells you across the ruins of a broken law that he is criminal as well as preacher. I would listen to that man. It is an infinite impertinence on the part of any man to preach the law as if he kept it. It is an infinite help to us to hear any man preach the law who says he has broken it all through and through, yet by the mercy of God, as shown in the Cross of Christ, he has crawled home again, and has begun to taste the sweets of divine forgiveness.
[From the Speaker's Commentary.]
Luke 4:28. Filled with wrath.—They were indignant at his rejection of his countrymen which he points by citing the examples of the two great prophets. They may also have understood him to hint that he had a mission even to the heathen.
Luke 4:29. Thrust him out.—Drove him out with violence.
The brow.—Or a brow, according to a great preponderance of authority. Two natural features, in the neighbourhood of Nazareth, may still be identified.... "The second is indicated in the Gospel history by one of those slight touches which serve as a testimony to the truth of the description, by nearly approaching, but yet not crossing, the verge of inaccuracy. 'They rose,' it is said of the infuriated inhabitants, and cast him out of the city, and brought him to a brow of the mountain.... on which the city was built, so as to cast him down the cliff.'... Most readers probably from these words imagine a town built on the summit of a mountain, from which summit the intended precipitation was to take place. This, as I have said, is not the situation of Nazareth. Yet its position is still in accordance with the narrative. It is built 'upon,' that is, on the side of, 'a mountain,' but the 'brow' is not beneath, but over the town, and such a cliff... as is here implied is to be found, as all modern travellers describe, in the abrupt face of the limestone rock, about thirty or forty feet high, overhanging the Maronite convent at the south-west corner of the town, and another at a little further distance." (Stanley, "Sinai and Palestine," ch. 10.) One such cliff, about two miles from Nazareth, is shown as the "Mount of Precipitation."
That they might cast, etc.—Read, so as to cast.
Blessed Jesus, thou knowest all things; thou readest every heart; thou needest not that any should testify of man, for thou knowest what is in man. Truly we bear the image and likeness of God, and thou, being in the bosom of the Father, knowest all things that are in our nature. We can hide nothing from thee; but, blessed be thy name, thine eyes are not eyes of justice only, they are eyes of love, compassion, tenderness; they see us as we are, they see us as we might be, they see us in the purpose of God. Behold, we come to thee; to thee all men must come; thou canst find the piece we have lost; thou canst bring back our whole being, our highest quality, our truest character; thou canst restore us to our standing in the household of God. Blessed One, we love thee; we do not only revere thee and admire thee, and offer the homage due to great power; but we love thee, we yearn towards thee, we struggle after thee, we struggle after thee in the crowd, knowing that if we can but touch the hem of thy garment we shall lose all our disease. O thou Great Speaker, Great Healer, Friend of the broken heart, and Helper of the helpless, come to us day by day, bringing the daily bread we need for the body, and the bread of life we need for the soul. We have read thy life—we have sat down with thee, we have looked at thee; we have been with thee when we thought no eye could see us, when hardly thine own vision could detect us, so deep was the darkness and so complete our concealment; and after all we have heard and seen and known and felt of thee we love thee all the more. Lord, abide with us, for it is towards evening, and the day is far spent with many: break bread to us with thine own dear hands, and when we begin to touch what thou hast blessed we shall see thee, a vanishing glory, but a light to come again. Amen.