The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And it came to pass, when Jesus had made an end of commanding his twelve disciples, he departed thence to teach and to preach in their cities.Chapter 46
Almighty God, art thou not known unto us as a strong tower? We run unto thee and are safe: thou dost shut the door and no hand can open it. Thou dost shed upon our life a warm blessing and it is not in the power of the enemy to cast a shadow upon it. All the houses thou hast built have praised thee, yea they have resounded with song: the house of Moses, the house of Aaron, the house of David, and our house, and all the houses which thine hand hath built will praise thee, because thy mercy endureth for ever. Thy law makes us afraid, it is as a burning fire amongst us, and oftentimes it scorches us by its fierce heat: we dare not touch it, we stand back and are afraid, for it is as the mountain that might not be touched under pain of death—but thy mercy is the light that is round about us, the life that is in our very heart, the spring and security of our best desires and our holiest love, the answer to our affrightening sin, and the lifter up of the burden which bruises us under its infinite weight. We come to thy mercy, we look to thy love, we call upon thy pity, we say it is because thy compassions fail not, that we are not consumed. Our song shall be of mercy and judgment. Thou hast done tenderly by us, and all thy way has been as a path of gentleness. Thou hast lifted us up when we were cast down, and when the darkness was great and cold, without relief or hope, thou didst shoot into it thy beams, and behold it fell away before the gracious assault.
Our life thou hast created, our life thou hast redeemed, our life thou hast blessed: thou hast sent thy Son Jesus Christ, our Saviour, to redeem our soul from destruction and to set up within us the kingdom of heaven. We have come with our household song, with our family recollections, with our personal thanksgivings, and blessings: we have said we would make a joyful noise unto the rock of our salvation. Thou hast done great things for us, whereof we are glad: thou hast beaten down the mountain that was too high for our feet to climb, thou hast found a bridge across the gulf we were afraid to look upon, thou hast brought together extremities that had no relationship within the compass of our power, and thou hast given us wells in the wilderness and flowers and fruits in sandy places. We bless thee, we magnify thee, we call for all instruments that can assist our soul to raise its loud laudation, that we may worthily praise and laud thy holy name. May our hearts henceforth glow with true love to God, may our soul be a living sacrifice to him who is our one priest and only atonement.
Thou hast given life and thou hast spared life in the house. Thou hast blessed us in basket and in store, thou hast given us the ready answer in the time of difficulty and peril, thou hast given us favour in the sight of those who opposed us", thou hast plucked the sword from the hand of the enemy, and the tooth from the wolf that pursued. We will therefore sing of thy mercy and will daily magnify thy tender grace.
Thou hast caused us to see the valley of the shadow of death. Some are today sitting by the side of their dead and wondering concerning the mysteries of this universe of thine, so dark, so troublous, so alarming. Do thou come out of the cloud, and speak comfortably to the hearts that trust thee, find companionship for the souls of those that are lonely, grant unto those whose lot today is bitterness, to feel that thou art reigning over all things, and hastening all tumults to final peace, and bringing the great darkness of things to a complete and happy end.
Help thy servants who are in the world all the week, fighting its battles, enduring its cross-winds, its vexations and disappointments, who see their schemes torn to pieces and their purposes cast down to the ground. Regard those to whom their children are an affliction by reason of their evil spirit and conduct. Save those who are given over to sighing for which there is no speech. The Lord look upon every one of us with a tender eye, touch every one of us with a healing hand. Bless these dear little children who are in the house, the house which to them is a mystery and for the time a burden, and in due course may they grow to have within them Christ, revealed in all his beauty and tender lustre.
The Lord forgive us wherein we have done wrong: our very breathing has been sinful: many a thought has been an offence to thee: our iniquities have abounded over our prayers: whilst the tears of contrition were in our eyes our hands have sought to repeat the evil deed. God be merciful unto us sinners, and wash us in the holy blood, which alone can cleanse from all sin. Wherein we have begrudged one another prosperity, wherein we have been envious, jealous, or filled with dishonourable and unworthy motive and purpose, the Lord come to us in all the fulness of his pardoning love. Wherein we have given way to fear and have served the devil, and have forgotten all thy deliverances, though they may be written in thy book, the Lord have mercy upon us, pity us and forgive us. From this day forward may we live the better life, may our prayer be richer and nobler, may our service be healthier and truer, may our hand be put out to every good work with an earnest desire for its accomplishment.
Bless all whose purposes are healthy, honest, and true: lift up that which is bowed down, break not the bruised reed, speak comfortably unto Jerusalem, and say with thine own voice that her iniquity is pardoned. Thus may the heavens come down to the earth, and the earth be lifted up to the warm pure heavens, and thus may we see face to face, God and Christ, and those who have gone before. Amen.
1. And it came to pass, when Jesus had made an end of commanding his twelve disciples, he departed thence to teach and to preach in their cities.
2. Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ (the only instance in Matthew in which this name occurs by itself), he sent two of his disciples,
3. And said unto him, Art thou he that should come (the Coming One), or do we look for another?
4. Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see:
5. The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them (are evangelised).
6. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended (scandalised) in me.
7. And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind?
8. But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses.
9. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet.
10. For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
11. Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
12. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force (seize upon it)
13. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.
14. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.
15. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
16. But whereunto shall I liken this generation (of Jews)? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows,
17. And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.
18. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil.
19. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children (recognised in all forms).
Christ's Estimate of John the Baptist
"And it came to pass when Jesus had made an end of commanding his twelve disciples, he departed thence to teach and to preach in their cities." He sent out his disciples two and two. He himself goes out alone. Who could have gone with him? The two and two went out on terms of equality: there can be no equality with God! He gave the commandment, but he did not receive it: he delivered the charge, it was not delivered to him. He is always fountain and origin, source, beginning and spring—he was always alone; he longed that others might have been one with him, but it took his own prayer to bridge over the infinite discrepancy between himself and every other man.
He went forth to preach and to teach, and did not sit at home for the purpose of receiving reports from those whom he had sent out himself. He did not say, "I have delegated the kingdom of heaven to twelve men, and I will take my ease until they return to tell me with what success it meets in the world." He had been the Master giving commandment and charge, and now he was himself the slave of slaves. He made himself of no reputation, he took upon him the form of a servant, and he went out to preach the gospel which he himself had been putting in charge of others. I would rather have heard the Master than the servant, I would have rather had one glance of him than have spent a lifetime in the sight of the twelve.
But this is not his way: he was with us visibly for a little while, and as a cloud received him out of our sight he said, "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." The Almighty did not allow himself long incarnation amongst us: this was his infinite wisdom; it would never have done to have looked upon the fleshly form longer than men were permitted to do. These revelations are timed: God turns over the pages lovingly, not arbitrarily—he knows precisely when to take us out of one school and send us to another, and he who gives himself up lovingly to the guidance of God will remain in one Church until he is fit for the revelations and exhortations of some broader and nobler teacher. Yield yourselves to divine inspiration: keep down your impatience as you would keep down a wild beast, and rest peacefully, waitingly, patiently upon God.
There was a servant in prison: he had been in prison all the winter, he had heard the revels of the not distant court, and as the weary months dragged themselves over his life he began to wonder. The devil always takes advantage of us in our lower circumstances. He gets a man into a wilderness and tries to stab him, he drags him into a prison and tries to impoverish him of his faith. There is a good deal in places, there is a subtle mystery about atmospheric influences, there are points in space at which we can receive no temptation, and there are other points that seem to be fitted as the very battlefield of hell.
When John heard in the prison the works of Christ, he began to wonder. Consider John's position. He had actually pointed out the Messiah, he had said, "Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world." Now he had been month after month in prison. Who can see far in a prison light—who can see much with dungeon walls for a horizon? What poetry is there in Herod's pit? What wonder if the dungeon were diapered with strange cross-lights and shadows, and if the place itself were vocal with unholy suggestion? Some persons want to make out that the doubting wonder began in the disciples of John, and not in John himself. I cannot read the text with that meaning. Possibly they may all have doubted, but the message was sent from John, the answer was returned to John, and the after discourse about John has a wondrous suggestiveness of love and tender shielding and ample defence which we must presently study.
Observe that John sent directly to Christ He might have sent to the Scribes and Pharisees, he might have discussed the question at large with such disciples as were about him. It is in this way that we. repeat our most mischievous errors. Men will not go to Christ himself and have out their doubts, suspicions, and wonders, as it were, face to face with him. That is where you have been getting wrong. It may be that you have been reading commentaries and annotations and dissertations about Christ—go to him immediately without interposition or mediatory influence of any kind, shut yourselves up with the four gospels, and with an honest heart study the Man. That is what you have to do. You have not done your duty when you have read a few verses or an occasional incident—you have done nothing until you have read the four gospels clear through, and have wrought their narrative and precepts into the very tissue of your mind. I never knew a man do that honestly, and reverently, who did not come out at the other end with a great love in his heart, with great tears in his eyes; and if he did not fall down and worship, he stood still and wondered, religiously. History records the case of men who sat down to disprove the Scriptures, and who, in order to qualify themselves for their disproof, honestly read them through, and then dipped their pens to write a vindication of the holy records. Go then immediately to Christ, make yourselves perfectly familiar with every* word and title in the four gospels; do not dimly and vaguely refer to portions, parts, and aspects of those gospels, but have them in you as a living word, easy of allusion, literal in your quotations, perfect in your recollections, and then say what you think of this Man. Come back with your answer, and let us know the sum total of your reasonings.
See how Jesus Christ treated this inquirer. He called attention to his works. "Go," said he, "and show John again those things which ye do hear and see. The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor are evangelised." That was Christ's graphic answer; not metaphysical, not doctrinal, not a matter of opinion elaborately stated and eloquently discussed, but facts, palpable results, active and noble beneficence. A man's work should praise him; a man's life should be his vindication. You may be ruined by complimentary testimonials; you must be your own testimonial if you would vindicate your claim to any degree of authority and sacred influence in society. It is not what men say about you, but what you do yourselves, that must speak for you. Many men have come to me with testimonials which have nearly blinded me: they have been such great men that I could do nothing for them, and yet there they stood in form of paupers, seeking for something to be done. But the testimonials said they were so learned and so eloquent and so capable and so excellent, that I have thought they must have been testimonials meant to be presented at heaven's gate for admission into some higher sphere than this. Do not be overweighted with the complimentary testimonials of your flattering friends, but by your own energy, force, wisdom, love, sanctified and inspired from heaven, make such a mark that the doubter himself shall be asked to consider it and decide as to its value.
This is what the Church must do. The Church cannot live in its books of mere divinity. The Church can make no impression upon the age so long as it indulges in merely wordy controversy. What is the Church doing? Are the lepers being cleansed and the blind receiving their sight, are the deaf hearing, are the dumb speaking? This is the only proof the Church need supply for its divine inspiration and its divine authority. All this can be done today. We narrow Christ's meaning and evacuate it of all high significance when we imagine that to open the eyes of the blind is a merely physical operation, or to cleanse the leper a ministry that begins and ends in the flesh. Those miracles were introductory, symbolic, wholly preparatory and suggestive. Christ says, "I am looking for greater works than these, which ye shall be called upon to do," and which he promised they should do when he went to the Father. The bad man is a leper, the man who is in intellectual error is the blind man, the man whose mouth is open to utter forbidden words is practically the dumb man in God's high sense of speech and music. When the Church works these miracles she need not defend her credentials, and write a great deal about her ancestry and her literature. Her answer is not in the library only, it is on the public thoroughfares, it is in the homes, lives, and businesses of men.
Why will you not bear witness for your Master in these matters? Why will you receive blessings in Church and be dumb about them? It is not so in any other Church than Christ's. If I go for a moment amongst those who are studying music, I hear no other subject referred to from the time of opening the conversation to the time of closing it. It is delightful to witness the enthusiasm of the student and the devotee. Is there any shame about them? Not a particle. They speak of their difficulties and their intricacies, their pleasures, their high enjoyments, their disappointments, their raptures, the time they spend over it, with delight—the Christian professor, a dumb dog that dare not name his Master. Christ is wounded in the house of his friends.
If I go into the company of painters, they talk all the time about painting: where they have been, what they have seen, what they have on hand, what intercourse they have had with fellow artists, and they glow over the subject, their hearts warm, their eyes dilate, their cheeks flush with noble pride. Whoever hears Jesus Christ referred to? I seldom do, and the answer is that it is too sacred a subject to be talked about. O, but the devil is cunning: he says, "Do not mention God, the subject is too sacred: do not refer to Christian experience and Christian service, because the subject is too holy." You have only to make a subject grand enough to have it utterly ignored! I love to hear you young people talk about your artistic studies, your musical studies, your literary studies, and to speak of your teachers and masters and helpers: it is inspiring, it is like breathing a sea-breeze to hear you talk; I would the Christian professors could learn something from you! If their master were less, they would say more about him—so they seem to suggest. Two musical people will not be five minutes together before they are in the very midst of their subject; we shall all disperse after public worship and probably not a soul refer to the exercises in which we have been engaged.
How will Christ treat the doubter or the inquirer? He will be harsh with him? I never knew him harsh except with the persons who claimed infallibility, ancestral righteousness, and authority in things of which they knew nothing. He will rebuke John? I never knew him send a rebuke to a prison in which lay any poor soul suffering for Christ's sake. He will send a blessing? Yes, that would be like him, wholly, so he says, "And blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me." He might have said, "Cursed is he who doubts about me, blameable is he who asks a question that suggests a wonder or a difficulty." Christ knew what we call the art of putting things. You may send a cruel message or a kind one, all by turning the sentence and setting it in its right relation—"And blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me, who shall wait for the revelation, who shall submit himself to the training and discipline of God, who shall accept God's way of doing things, how mysterious soever it be; for that man there is reserved a whole summer of benediction and affluence redundant, after the pattern of God's love in all his universe." Sometimes we must show our Christian confidence by patiently waiting, and at all times we must show our Christian confidence in trusting a man where we cannot explain the process of his action.
Jesus proceeds to speak about John. One wonders how so great a Speaker as Jesus will speak about any human creature. He speaks about John in noble terms, his eulogium seems to fill the sky, there is no word too good to be spent upon the character of this modern Elias. First of all he proceeds to correct the notions of his time concerning John. "What went ye out for to see? A reed shaken with the wind, a man clothed in soft raiment, a prophet?" This is the transition through which every honest man passes when he comes into new social conditions. No minister can arise today who should be enabled by the Lord to do anything, who would not pass through precisely these three periods of criticism, unless he died under one of the first two, and never came to his due recognition. Thus, a reed shaken with the wind, a nine days' wonder, a little fluttering thing in the air, here and gone—that is the first criticism that is passed on any great reformer or noble teacher or self-sacrificing soul. A man clothed in softs, literally, that is the next criticism; he is working for himself, he is doing it all with a purpose, he is trying to make his bed soft, his house rich, his position strong: he has an aim in all this. Time rolls on, and they begin reluctantly to say, "He is a prophet." They can turn round as completely as that. The newspapers can—the French newspapers did so about Napoleon: he was a thief, he was a Corsican, he was a pretender—and the next day he was the emperor. That is a very small miracle in the way of a newspaper, for men sometimes grow rapidly under journalistic influences. Walk on, persevere, hold the plough-handle with all thy force; keep at it, John the Baptist, and thou wilt pass the period of being a reed, a man clothed in soft clothing—thou shalt be a prophet, and a voice shall say, "Yea, and more than a prophet, a flower with a fragrance, a sun with a halo, a prophet plus." That is so with every one of you, great and small, speakers and hearers, public men and private men; in proportion as you are honest and true, real and reformative in your spirit, you must be a reed, a self-seeker, a prophet.
Dr. Arnold, of Rugby, is, happily for himself, dead. In his day he was a* heretic and a latitudinarian and a dangerous person. He speaks bitterly in his letters and in his sermons, and today he is worshipped and loved and honoured, and men call their firstborn sons Arnold, after the king of Rugby. A prophet? Yea, I Say unto you and more than a prophet. It is a long tunnel, but at the other end of it is the warm, genial, hospitable summer. God give thee strength, patience, and courage!
Jesus Christ, in indicating the greatness of John the Baptist, shows that the revelation with which he was entrusted culminated and died in his personal ministry. "Notwithstanding," Christ adds, "he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." Life is a series of kingdoms; in my Father's house are many mansions; all things move in circles, there are no straight lines except within given and compassable points—even straight lines themselves are running on into circles; if we could project the vision far enough, we should see where the straight line begins to take the form of the globe whereon it is drawn. So John completes his revelation, and those who are in the kingdom of heaven in the higher revelation are, even the very least of them, greater than he. A little blade is greater than the seed out of which it came, the tiniest child born yesterday is greater than the grandest sculpture ever chiselled by Phidias or his successors, the smallest flower that blows is greater than the finest artificial plant that ever was fashioned by the most cunning fingers. He that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he that is greatest in the kingdom below. So we grow. If we are greater than John the Baptist, let us prove our greatness by our beneficence, our nobleness, our heroic self-sacrifice, our splendid service, our uncomplaining industry.
Then Jesus Christ takes an opportunity of discoursing upon himself and upon John. He said, "John came neither eating nor drinking, and the people say, He hath a devil. The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners." Every ministry has been rejected, the ascetic ministry, the genial ministry—each has in turn been despised and rejected of men, You cannot please men who are determined not to be pleased. Men will not look over the fogwall of their prejudices. Here is a minister who will please you; he neither eats nor drinks—what is your judgment? "He hath a devil." Here is a genial man, he comes eating and drinking—what say you? "A gluttonous man and a winebibber." The truth is, you do not want the minister. I speak now to those whose hearts are of stone, whose will is marked by invincible obduracy. Will they stick at anything in their road? Not they. He has a devil—take away his character. He is a gluttonous man and a winebibber—take away his character. There is nothing too bad for the bad man to do. He would uncrown the monarch and set fire to the throne, he would assault the reputation of angels rather than fail of his malignant purpose.
Blessed Saviour, this is thy defence of thy servant. O what shielding! O what gentle protection, what ample security, what noble eulogium! He is the same yesterday, today, and for ever. If we try to serve him, though our dispensation be brief and small, he will recognise our efforts, and no eulogy shall be so sweet and so full of satisfaction as his will be. Is he your Master, is he mine? do I love his name? do I abide by his cross? do I imbibe his spirit? do I display his love? Then, though some may say we have a devil and are mad, he will come with the explanation, he will vindicate every servant of his, and their enemies will he clothe with shame, and upon themselves shall the crown of his favour flourish.
To this Master I call you. You are not ashamed of any other Master you have, why be ashamed of this King? You speak of those who taught you to paint, to sing, to draw, to speak, to write,—do you ever mention his name, who loved you and gave himself for you?
Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not:Chapter 47
Almighty God, do thou be pleased, through Jesus Christ our Saviour, to come to every one of us with some new revelation of thyself. Thou hast poured out thine heart upon us, and behold we have not been contrite: thou hast urged us, by every appeal known to thy tender love, and behold some of us are still far away from thee, as if we had forgotten our father's house. May we ask thee now for some light to fall upon our heart which has not yet fallen, for some tender strain to seek the heart which has sought it in vain through years gone by! All things are possible unto thee. We know not what more thou canst do: thou hast thyself inquired, What can I do to my vineyard more than I have done? If thou canst not answer the question, behold there is no reply in us. Thou hast gathered the clouds into the heavens, and poured them down upon us in a plentiful rain, thou hast made all thy heaven quick with light, thou hast filled the air with angels, thou hast sent thy son to die for us, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us unto God, thou hast granted to strive with men the Holy Spirit—what thou canst do more we know not, but if thou canst do anything, now save us, every one.
We are weary of the world; we have sounded the hollowness of time and space and sense—there is nothing in them to satisfy our inward hunger, there is in them no water for our soul's thirst. Thou hast opened in the house of David a fountain for sin and for uncleanness: the blood of Jesus Christ thy Son cleanseth from all sin: at thy table is satisfaction, in thy truth is rest for the soul—may we take upon ourselves Christ's yoke and Christ's burden, and be the glad slaves of the Son of God!
We thank thee for every man whose heart is attuned to thy praise, and whose life is a daily sacrifice offered upon the altar of the sanctuary; we bless thee for every man who can move us to prayer, to holy tears, to noble endeavours, to sacred heroisms—encourage all such men, yea, do thou give them a plentiful reward, and every day renew their inspiration, that they weary not nor fail in their great mission.
Here are worn lives, tired, bruised, and weary men, travellers that long for the time of lying down and to be at final rest, men who have seen great things which have not moved them in the right direction, lives that have made shipwreck of faith and of a good conscience, men in whom there is hardly any good thing left. Make to-night the gospel of Christ heard by them to the rekindling of their hope and the re-animation of their best desires and purposes. Here are silent sufferers, carrying their burden wearily, whose grief is too sacred for speech, whose wounds are all in the heart. A wounded spirit who can bear? O Healer of mankind, Gentle One, Physician of souls, Redeemer of the whole human race, come thou in all thy tender power, in all thy healing gentleness, and speak a word in season to him that is ill at ease. Amen.
20. Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works (unrecorded miracles) were done, because they repented not:
21. Woe unto thee, Chorazin (or town of Galilee, two miles from Capernaum), woe unto thee, Bethsaida (the birthplace of Peter, Andrew, and Philip): for if the mighty works which were done in you (chastised by Nebuchadnezzar and Alexander) had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
22. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you.
23. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven (as the frequent residence of Christ), shalt be brought down to hell: for if the works which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
24. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.
Seeking Fruit and Finding None
This is a new tone in the voice of Jesus Christ. All that has yet come out of him has been an utterance of love and hope and hospitality, great offers of healing and peace and joy. Now comes the tone of reproach. It must come sooner or later in all human training. Every man who is deeply interested in the race has had occasion to utter a keen voice of reproach at some period of his generous toil. It is important to observe that in this instance the reproach is founded upon absolute reasonableness. It is not petulance; it is the result of labour not misapplied, but unworthily received. And we are accustomed amongst ourselves to utter reproach under precisely the same circumstances. Sometimes there is a whining and unreasonable reproach among men, but, as a general rule, in the deeper experience of life our upbraidings and reproaches are founded upon reason.
How do you address the boy upon whom you have lavished all your care; upon whom you have spent a fortune, little or great; whose well-being has been the one object of your desire; for whom you would gladly have suffered the loss of all things that he might be wise and good and useful; and who, when everything has been done for him human love could devise and human sacrifice provide, has turned out ungrateful, unfilial, a disappointment, a wreck? Is it possible for you to look on with complacency? Do you feel no pang of the heart as you look upon the result of all your prayer and toil and care? What if there break from the tongue of the most patient some bitter cry of regret, some tone of parental disappointment—would it be unreasonable? Its pathos would be in its reasonableness.
You speak of the land you toil upon, and on which you bestow money and labour and care, and which does not reward your industry, in almost anger and contempt. You look for results; you have a right to do so; you have laboured, and you say where is the produce? Yet the land will drink up all you pour upon it, eat it, and be as lean as ever; and if you visit that land with a judgment of condemnation you are acting reasonably in so doing.
These illustrations may help us to understand in some degree the pathos of this reproach, the bitterness of this cry, and the more so because the object of Jesus Christ in all his labour is distinctly laid down here. The reason given is, Because they repented not. It was not petulance on the part of Christ; there was no tone of merely personal disappointment; it seemed as if he had made the cities worse rather than better; it seemed as if they would have been better if they had never seen him, for having seen him, they rejected him with despite and contempt. Surely it would have been better for some of us if we had never heard of Christ. No man can hear of Christ and be just the same after hearing concerning him and his gospel as before hearing the revelation of his person and ministry. The gospel makes a man better or it makes him worse; it is a savour of life unto life or of death unto death. No man is the same after church as he was before church; the prayer is an event in his history; any offer of divine mercy, any display of divine love, is a crisis in the man's personal history, and if he accept not the offer that was made, it were better for him that the offer had never been presented to his attention.
We may no longer then doubt the one purpose of Christ in working his miracles. The object which Christ had in view in working miracles was to bring men to repentance. He upbraided the cities that had seen his mighty works because they repented not, the argument being that the miracles were wrought for the purpose of bringing the people to repentance, and that object having failed, the whole purpose of Christ came to nothing. They were not wrought to startle, to please, to amuse, or to gratify curiosity, but to bring the heart to contrition; they were assaults upon unbelief, they were appeals to obduracy, they were so many forms and methods of gospel preaching.
The miracles will be a continual stumbling-block to us if we do not seize this view of them. Regarded by themselves, they stun the mind and excite many eager questions, but placed in their right atmosphere and read in the high light of their generous purpose, the miracles are but the emphasis with which divine messages were delivered. No miracle is to be torn out of its setting, Wrenched away from its proper atmosphere, and judged as a thing complete in itself. Every miracle belongs to something else, and if you do not bring that something else within your purview, and add that in the consummation of your argument, you will miss the whole purpose and meaning of Christ's miracles. Yet this is how the miracles have been treated. They have been taken out one by one, brought away from their natural atmosphere and proper surroundings, and each has been judged as a thing that had no relation to anything else. Now Jesus Christ adds, in one utterance of reproach, the miracles to a grand moral purpose. He upbraided the cities, and cried in terms of bitter reproach because the miracles had not produced repentance. They might have excited the cities to applause, roused the cities to admiration and delight, as mere feats of power; Christ would not have found, in such external enthusiasm, the result of his purpose.
Understand therefore, in reading the miracles, that every one of them has a moral issue in view in the scheme and providence of God, and we must not detach the miracle from the moral and beneficent purpose which God had in view in working that wonder in the sight of Man. Take the Incarnation of our Lord himself. As a mere incident in human history, it is incredible. But the Incarnation of our Lord is never set before us as a mere incident in human history. It is not an anecdote complete in itself, it brings up the ages with it, it sums infinite processes into one grand manifestation. As a divine method of coming into the race, it was from the point of reason the only method of approaching the solemn work which was to be done. Given, God's purpose to manifest himself unto the world in visible form, and the gospel method of incarnation was not only the best possible, but the only possible method. I wish we had the opportunity of working out that theorem to its fullest issues. It needs to be stated over and over again until men become perfectly familiar with its terms. Not only was the Incarnation of our Lord the best possible method of coming into the human race, but the only method of doing so. And this I undertake to show on the ground of natural reason itself.
God could not come into any common man as he came into Christ without first destroying that man's identity, altering the centre and the weight of that man's responsibility, and placing that man in a totally false relation to every other member of the human race. The Incarnation of God in Christ exactly as it is stated in the gospel alone fills my imagination and satisfies my reason in its sternest mood. It would have amounted, had God come into any common man as he came into Christ, to an invidiousness which would have insulted every intelligent creature, and would have set up a perpetual irritation in every process of moral reasoning. He chose one of ourselves, and out of the lips of that elect man he rebuked every one of us. Why did he not choose every one of us, why did he not come a million strong, why not incarnate himself in every creature that bore his image? He incarnated himself in one common man, picked up one of ourselves, dwelt in all the fulness of his deity in him bodily. Why did he not repeat the miracle according to the number of millions of human creatures upon the earth, and then the whole work would have been done? But to tell me that he incarnated himself in a creature precisely of my own kind and standing precisely on a level with myself, and then left me out and spoke to me through the man whom he had thus made his own tabernacle, insults my reason, annoys my sense of justice, fills me with contempt. But take the gospel method, coming as Christ came into the world, begotten by the Holy Ghost, conceived of the Virgin Mary, made like unto us yet without sin, and it becomes a mystery indeed, but a mystery before which our reason uncovers its head and bows down in lowly wonder and worship. As it is, I can say, Great is the mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh, but upon any other theory I should say, Great is the injustice of godliness; a common man is chosen and purified as a vessel of God, whilst other men are left to be touched and moved by his inferior ministry.
Do not detach the miracles from their atmosphere, above all things do not create any space between the miracle and its moral purpose; the moral purpose of every miracle was to bring men to consideration, to spiritual softening, to individual repentance, and it is through that moral purpose that the whole scheme of the miracles must be viewed and estimated.
Jesus Christ tells us that judgment is to be in proportion to opportunities. Tyre and Sidon will not have to answer for more than their own advantages. But this law, so simple and so just, adds to the gravity of living now. If we grow in responsibility as we grow in age, what arithmetician in all this house shall add up the sum of our obligation? He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses; of how much sorer punishment suppose ye shall he be thought worthy who hath trodden under foot the Son of God and hath counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the spirit of grace? It is an awful thing to live now. We live longer than Methusaleh lived; we are astounded by patriarchal statistics as to human age, but there is not a child living who has not lived longer than Methusaleh lived. We live longer in a week than Methusaleh lived in a century; his age was but a span to ours; everything is made ready to our hands, the whole world is now a grand machine for the instantaneous doing of things; there is nothing more possible in our case. If I were called upon to say what more could be done I should be at an utter loss to reply.
What more could be done in your case? Let me for a moment ask, individualising any one of you. Tell me wherein you have been neglected. Have you heard every variety of human voice, have you heard the son of thunder and the son of consolation, have you the open Scripture in your house, written in your mother tongue, is not the air full of sacred ministry, in every street is there not a sanctuary throwing open its hospitable doors and inviting you to its hospitable refreshment? Have you not been reared in a Christian home, taught the prayers that Jesus breathed, have you not been prayed over, cared for, watched, written to in many a tender motherly epistle, spoken to, and had the advantage of much fatherly counsel? Have not your friends gathered round you and bidden you welcome to some higher life and nobler purpose—what more can be done? What if the next voice shall rend the air and a bitter wail of reproach shall fall upon your ear, God's own upbraiding, because you have returned to him the prophets and minstrels, the holy books, the cross, his son, the Holy Ghost, as unequal to the breaking up of the obduracy of your selfishness and the fortification of your selfish will. If you were to ask me what more could be done I should be, I repeat, at a loss to reply; you have heard the thunder, seen the light, listened to the music, had an opportunity of entering the open door of hope—a thousand new chances have come to you and offered you new light, to every one of these appeals and opportunities you have returned a sullen No, a selfish denial, and God has nothing else. He said, "I will send my Son, they will reverence my Son, they will see me in my Son," and we have taken his Son and stoned him and slain him and have bound our oaths with his sacred name. O the tragedy, O the awfulness beyond all human speech! It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for us, if we have refused the gracious offers of God.
To me there is a glowing and final proof of the eternal truthfulness of Christ in the fact that he never concealed his own failures. No impostor can afford to make the worst of his case. Impostors magnify their successes; through one success impostors try to force their way to others. Impostors live in grand reports, they publish their statistics to an admiring world—they never tell you of their failures. Truth alone loves truth. Jesus Christ never gave us a coloured picture of the successes of his ministry. He did not hide his disappointment, he did not tell the disciples round about him that Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum were much better than they looked, and there were instances of encouragement and germs of promise, and he did not tell three of the disciples that they themselves came out of the very Bethsaida on which they were looking. No, he was true, he spoke the truth, he confessed the terrific tragedy of his soul's disappointment. "And when he came near the city he wept over it, and said, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thee as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not. Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life." "We will not have this man to reign over us," say you. He upbraided the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not.
You will always find Christ consistent with his own truthfulness. He has nothing to colour, pervert, distort, tinge with glowing tints, in order that he may win further support. He says, "I have laboured and I have reaped nothing. I have toiled and my labour has been my only reward. I came unto my own, and my own received me not." There is a ring of solemn truthfulness in all these declarations. Impostors would have seen the glitter and called it gold. Christ saw the failure, and upbraided those who had caused his ministry to return to himself as a bitter disappointment.
But this question arises: Is it possible for Jesus Christ to have come into any city and to have preached the gospel, and to have shown his mighty works, and yet for that city not to repent? Let me tell you that we have too many analogies in our own common life to allow us to doubt of that possibility for one moment. Some of us have sinned away the very highest advantages of secular life. Here is a man of the highest education; he has passed through a university career and brought out after him all the prizes the university could offer. He is adorned at every point, the very ripest specimen of the most modern culture, so far as his intelligence is concerned. It would be impossible for that man to do the dishonourable deed, to speak the dishonourable word, to play falsely, to be guilty of malfeasance; he will be true, upright, noble, pure, beautiful as a beam of light. Not necessarily so. We have known such men use their intelligence as an increased facility for doing mischief.
Here is a man surrounded by all that art can do for the adornment and the enlivenment of his home, every panel a picture, every window a, hint of beauty, the whole surrounding a triumph of the highest art. As the man sits there, his thoughts will correspond with his surroundings. He will say, "It will be impossible in this sanctuary of beauty to be other than beautiful myself; my soul sings in this palace of colour, and my heart is at ease amid all this harmony of architectural and artistic relationships. There can be no unrest here; all the lines fall into one another; all the colours hold sweet fellowship; the whole house is all but alive; it will be a sacred place." Not necessarily. In that palace of beauty plots of iniquity may be hatched; under that fair ceiling sin may perpetrate its most cunning victory; amid all that beauty there may be a moral hideousness which may make the angels weep. The life of that man may be a daily insult to every soft colour, to all the blended lights and shadows, and to the very genius of the sanctuary of art and loveliness. In many a humble cot, in many a lowly home, with hardly a little engraving in it, you will find a moral loveliness which would turn that debased palace into a scene of ghastliest hideousness.
Yes, it is possible to sin away music, beauty, love, life, light; possible to sin away all the ministry of wife, child, friend, picture, and all that makes life deep, solemn, lovely. If it be so, then it is but a step to the other possibility of sinning Christ out of the life, urging him away, rebuking him and bidding him depart out of the region of our thought and love. My friend, I know of no ghastlier sight than grand external exaltation associated with moral perversity and putridity. Men would be shocked if they found under royal purple and regalia a skeleton propped up at the feast, with a foaming glass fastened in its bony and icy fingers. That would drive them mad; that would be intolerable irony; yet that is a commonplace in the moral world. If you could go into the banqueting-house, and sit down next the royal purple, and feel your face flushing with pride because of the association, and could then turn round and see that under the purple there was a dead carcass, you would never forget the sight, and you would refer to it as the most tragic of your experiences. You would shudder in horror every time you recalled the instance. My friends, 'tis nothing—a gibe, a joke, a thing to laugh at, compared with the moral skeletons that are around the table of the world every day. Fine coats do not make fine characters; fine houses do not always mean splendid tenants; the basest metal may have a covering of gold. I wonder not that Jesus Christ, looking upon some men, said, "Whited sepulchres, full of dead men's bones, and men walk over them, and are not aware of them." It required his eye, the eye in which is the light that shall make the glory of the resurrection morning, to see those whited sepulchres, and count those dead men's bones.
He sees us as we are; he conceals nothing of the ghastly reality; he prophesies no smooth things to sinners that are living lies. Thank God for the truthfulness of Christ. If you want to know what you are, go to him; he makes no false reading of character; he makes no miscalculation of human force and value; he is the one character that tests every other living man. O that upbraiding face, may we never see it! O that upbraiding voice, may we never hear it! Every eye shall see him, and they also that pierced him shall look upon him and mourn, and shall call to the rocks and to the mountains, saying, "Fall on us, and hide us from the face and the wrath of the Lamb."
I have seen faces so laden with sorrow that to look upon them was to feel an intolerable burden of self-accusation resting upon and distressing the soul, without a word spoken, just as your mother looked when, after a thousand prayers, you came home—a wreck. She said, "Speech is useless; I have spoken, and my throat is sore." But O the look, the reddened eyes, the wet eyelids, the swollen face, the trembling lips, the whole look! It said, "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is, to have a thankless child." And the old man, as he looked up off his book, and saw you, said nothing; but his eyes were judgment, his glance was hell.
O that upbraiding face, O that upbraiding voice—may they never come within our experience!
At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.Chapter 48
Almighty God, we would hold thee in long speech today, because our hearts are full of love, and thou has set a great song to sing in our life of mercy and of judgment, and there is a lifting up of our soul towards all thy heavens, and a spirit within us which claims the liberty of thy kingdom. We bless thee for all seasons of rapture and uplifting, when the horizon widens and the clouds die away before the all-conquering light, and the whole soul is filled with the beauty of thy presence. Sometimes thou dost lead us by dark ways, and show us deep and gloomy places, and we fall back in terror from the sight: then dost thou take us into high mountains, yea thou dost lift us beyond the line, even towards the stars are we carried, and thou dost show us kingdoms which fall not within the range of the eyes of those upon the earth. Then have we great joy; in that glad hour do we understand somewhat of thine eternity, in that holy ecstasy are we filled with an infinity that may be felt.
We thank thee for all religious experiences which give us enlargement of mind, freedom of spirit, nobility of purpose, purity of temper, and great range of love and hope. Herein dost thou redeem our soul from selfishness, and set us within thy kingdom as children chosen by an election that cannot be revoked. Do thou now give unto us this baptism in answer to which our soul shall shake off everything that is mean and vile, and shall enter into sweet fellowship with thine own heart. The way to thyself is broader than our life, greater in its width than all our aggravated sin.
Where sin abounds grace doth much more abound. Jesus Christ is the way to the Father, he is the gate through which we pass, the road along which we travel, the name which opens the whole heavens with gladness, and his the blood which never touches but to cleanse. Fill us with the hope that we may rest in Christ, and have all our sin taken away. We come without excuse, defence, or plea in words; we will not mention our weakness nor set up our infirmity as an argument; we will cast ourselves without words or pleas upon the infinite sacrifice of the Son of God, and ask thee for his sake to give unto us an assured pardon. Great joy have they whom thou dost forgive, they are born again, once more they begin their life. Thou dost set before them an opportunity; may they be wise enough to seize it and carry out thy purpose to its gracious perfection.
We are here this day to magnify thee in a common song. There is here no silent tongue, we make melody in our hearts unto the Lord, and our understanding glows with the consciousness of favours unnumbered and undeserved. Therefore do we lift up our hearts in common praise and in unanimous supplication and thanksgiving and we know that further answers and manifestations will not be denied those who thus humbly tarry at the cross.
Every heart has its own prayer as every life has its own burden: do thou interpret unto thyself all that we cannot say unto thee. Read our innermost hearts and see what we most require. Thou knowest how much discipline is requisite to subdue and mellow us and bring us into perfect fellowship and tone with thy mind. Heavy indeed is the rod that is needed: many are the afflictions which thou dost pour upon us like drenching rains upon our little fire—spare not the affliction, but spare not also thy presence. Let thy grace preside over the fire and the flood and the great chastisement, and do thou at last cause thyself to be magnified in us whether by life or by death.
We bless thee for all thy gifts to us in this daily life. Our table has never wanted bread, our front door thou hast locked and guarded, our window thou hast enriched with light, thou hast sent the angel of sleep to guard our bed, thou hast continued unto us our reasoning faculties, we are here in health and strength this day to answer thy mercy with a new vow of love and service. Visit us according to our necessity, individually, at home, in business, in the church—the whole world. Let nothing escape the eye of thy love as nothing can escape the eye of thy wisdom. Put out thine hand towards us when our own hand is useless, guide us where the paths mix much and we cannot see the road we want to take, and when the night comes down suddenly upon us and shuts us up in the presence of darkness, then do thou light a lamp and lead us on the road to thyself.
Comfort the old by turning their memories into prophecies, comfort the young by an assurance that thou art carrying forward the world to greater manhood and nobler development, even until it shall become the kingdom of thy Son our Saviour.
Direct all our affairs, save us from presumption, save us from despair, save us from ourselves, yea, through Jesus Christ, our one Priest and Mediator, magnify thy salvation in all our life. Amen.
25. At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee ("I recognise the justice of thy doings")—O Father (the first public mention of his Father), Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast (in the far past) hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.
26. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight.
27. All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.
28. Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
30. For my yoke is easy (not exacting) and my burden is light.
In Luke we read, tenth chapter and twenty-first verse, "In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit." There is no mention of the joy in the gospel of Matthew. A great gladness filled his heart, and whilst the fire burned he spake with his tongue. Why did he rejoice? Had riches been left him? Had he escaped the cross? Had great men fawned upon him? Did his age understand and appreciate him? Nothing of the kind. The scope of divine revelation had been indicated. He saw where the light was always to fall first; and when he saw babes become chosen angels of God, his soul was lifted up in holy rapture. There is no movement worth anything that does not begin with the babes; no solid and permanent kingdom can be set up in the ages that does not begin upon the babe-line. From that line you move upward through all classes, and take them all as you move in your comprehensive ascension and progress. Jesus Christ saw this, and when he saw it he rejoiced and thanked God.
We see how clearly he estimated the intellectual character of those who were called his disciples. He never supposed them to be great men intellectually; he knew what was in men; he did not suppose himself to be surrounded by the philosophy and the culture of his age. When he called twelve fishermen and men of other business around him to occupy the name and discharge the functions of disciples, he knew how humble were their intellectual capacities, how small and contemptible their mental culture. To his eyes they were little children, babes that knew nothing, persons whose eyes were filled with wonder and mystery and expectation, and who could give no full reply to any question that was put to them, but could turn their eyes of expectancy to their Master and Lord.
Jesus Christ was consistent in his appreciation of the child mind. "Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven." He took a child and set him in the midst of them, and said, "He that is most like this little child is greatest in the divine house. Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones, for I say unto you, their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven." Was there ever a great nature in this world that did not go out towards the children redeemingly and gladly, with all hopefulness and most religious admiration, and find in every child a germ of something that had not entered into the imagination of man to conceive, as to its possibility of grandeur and magnificence of destiny? Was there ever a great nature that was not more than half womanly? O ye who have been making foolish calculations upon your slates as to greatness and grandeur and nobleness, know ye that the child is the best hope of the angel, and the woman nearer God than the man.
What is this child-heart? I would have it; tell me what it is. You must take the ideality of the case and not torment yourselves with accidental incidents. You must not point to this child as petulant and to that child as stubborn; you must—putting away all the incidences of the case—look at the ideal child-spirit. It is teachable; it does not come with propositions, suggestions, plans of its own. Assuming the unconscious dignity and attitude of teachableness and expectation, it says in its religious silence, "Lord, teach me; show me what thou wouldst have me to do. Command me, do not consult me, but teach me what is right, good, true, wise, beautiful. Explain it all with that explanation which itself is the surest guarantee of its practical fulfilment in life."
Have we that spirit? Then God hides nothing from us of all his light. There is no secret which we could bear to know that he would keep from us if we were thus docile. Our prudence he disappoints; our wisdom he blinds with light; he rebukes it with darts of fire; but our childlikeness, littleness, nothingness, humbleness, why there is nothing which his great hands can hold, and which we could possibly receive, that he would keep back from us.
What is this child-spirit? It is obedient. To know is to do. To receive the word is to go out and carry it into practice—joyfully. Many of us know and fail to do; hence that sharp and fatal judgment, "To him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin." But who can obey? We get the instructions in the inner sanctuary, and the devil always meets us at the threshold and says, "Are you quite sure you heard the right voice? Are you perfectly clear that you understand what you have to do? Do you really appreciate all the complications and difficulties of the case? Do you fully realise to your own mind the fact that conditions change with ages, and that what might be suitable centuries ago is no longer suitable today? May there not have been some mistake in the interpretation?" And we who have gotten the staff in the hand and the sandals on the feet, and were going right out not knowing whither we went, begin to hesitate and wonder and calculate and consult a thousand interests. Then the devil leaveth us, and owns that his side of the battle is won. Hesitation is the ruin of obedience. To falter is to perish; to read over again the instructions is to lose the very vision which first beheld them, and the insight which first penetrated their sacred beauty.
The child's spirit is trustful: it nestles, it hugs, it clings to, it depends upon, it is wholly simple in its confidence. How then is it with our hearts—are we wise and prudent, or are we babes? God's best things are hidden from our mere cleverness: revelation is not the result of an intellectual process, it is the reward of a moral condition. We must be so far humbled as to accept the doctrine that we never conquer spiritual truth by intellectual cleverness. It is the lowly heart that reaps the harvest of this sunny field. With the heart man believeth unto righteousness. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart. Cleverness troubles itself with definitions, controversies, verbal consistencies and subtle distinctions—the heart knows nothing of all this mischief. We are not saved by the head, we are saved by the heart; the heart waits upon God, the heart waits for God, the heart asks only vital questions, the heart utters only vital prayers. God will spare no revelation from love. "If any man love me," said Christ, "I will manifest myself to him. If any man love me, God will love him." Love is answered by love, cleverness is confounded by omniscience. If we will be clever in God's sight, he blinds us with the wisdom we would foolishly imitate. "To this man will look, the man that is of a humble and contrite heart, and who trembleth at my word."
Why then are we not further advanced in the divine life? Simply because we are not further advanced in the divine spirit of love. We are orthodox in the head, we are heterodox in the heart. We speak the right word, but we always speak it in the wrong tone. We are unimpeachable in verbal statement, and the whole heavens of God impeach us in every emotion and outgoing of the spirit. That is the lesson which needs to be forced upon every man in every age. What he has written upon paper may be right, may be beyond just impeachment on Biblical or ecclesiastical grounds, and yet it is possible to read the Bible in an unbiblical tone, possible to say, "God is love" in a tone which spoils the beauty of the revelation. Are you orthodox in voice, orthodox in spirit, orthodox in temper, orthodox in desire? Then is there a happy and lasting harmony between the music of the heart and the music of the intelligence.
These reflections lead me to say that you must never look to any order of men who, by virtue of intellectual capacity and by culture alone, are authenticated as the teachers of Christ's religion. Get rid of the deadly sophism that there is a class of clever men called ministers or priests to whom alone God has committed his revelation. That, I repeat, is a deadly sophism, an utter, blank, black falsehood. Many a poor suffering woman knows more about the inner meaning of the Bible than any of its learned annotators have ever been able to reveal. No great preacher ever lived that was not great because of his littleness, modesty, teachableness, trustfulness of heart before the Cross. There is no great preaching in the letter. The letter has its place, and a place that must be gratefully recognised and justly honoured; but if ever I would penetrate into the inner and hidden meaning of any passage, I must shut myself up with God and look towards his holy habitation through my blinding tears, and listen as if for life to the still small voice. Only the afflicted man can expound the promises of God, only the man who has been torn down, the roof pulled off that sheltered him, the fire put out that warmed him, the bread snatched out of his hand that fed him, and who has been scourged into the wilderness for forty days together and more, can expound me the deep, rich things of God's heart.
There are great messages to declare which young persons inexperienced may well speak, for in the delivery of all the messages of this kingdom we want young voices, silver trumpets, grand outbursts, jubilant cries, herald-like clearness and precision of delivery; but when we come to ask our deeper questions, and confront the more solemn problems of life, we must go near to the bent old man whose once thunder voice is now shrivelled into a croaking whisper, and learn from him what the deep messages of God to the human heart really and for ever mean.
Thus we all come upon one level. There are no ministers that are classified and set in rows, and specially authenticated with the key and with the authority of heaven except those ministers—men, women, and children, rich and poor—who have the child-heart, the child eye, the child-life, and who utter music, and do not know themselves to be more than instruments of God. The greatest revealers of the divine message are men who hardly know that they are revealing it. They speak light, and they wonder that everybody else does not speak in the same way. The man of the keenest insight into Biblical revelation that has lived in this age, so far as I am aware—the man of the eagle eye, the eagle-visioned heart—is Frederick William Robertson, of Brighton. He seemed to know all God's heart. When people wrote to him with puzzles and mysteries of a religious kind, he sat down like a little child on the roadside, and said, "I will tell you how that is," as if he wondered that they did not already know; and his sentences are lights, his pages are luminous. When we have read him, we say, "What fools we were not to have seen it before." Yet was he persecuted unto the death, utterly killed and slain by men who have yet to face the judgment of God on his account.
Read your Bibles for yourselves; read them in your mother tongue. It is possible not to know in what language the Bible was originally written, and yet to know all its deeper meanings through the translation that is in our hands today. Say, "Open thou mine eyes, and I shall behold wondrous things out of thy law; open my understanding that I may understand the Scriptures. Make me a little child in thy school, thou gentle Christ, and let every word come to my heart in its simplest and directest meaning and force." Then shall we be all Bible scholars, learned men in the school of Christ. Come with your grammars, your dictionaries, your culture, your cleverness, your controversial powers, your faculties all awake, questioning and cross-questioning and examining point by point, and consistency with consistency; and the Bible can make itself very haughty; like its central figure, it can draw itself up into fatal silence, and look at you as if it heard not a word uttered by your clamorous tongue. I will hasten to my Master, knowing nothing, and asking for knowledge from him, and I will take with me no part of my schooling and cleverness, and sharpness, and shrewdness, and sagacity. I will leave all these things right away behind me, and I will say, "Lord, what wouldst thou have me to do? What is thy will? Show me the meaning of this. If thou canst not say it in letters on an example board, show it in life, ay, though it come to tears and all the agony of lifelong tragedy—yet in me magnify thyself. Whether by life or by death, show me thy meaning, and let my heart be the first to see it."
Jesus Christ sets himself up as an example of the child-mind in Matthew 11:27. "All things are delivered unto me of my Father, and no man knoweth the Son but the Father, neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him." Observe how the words are paternal and filial—the Father, the Son, the Father knowing the Son, the Son knowing the Father, and the Son revealing the Father to other sons, for to as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God. It is therefore to the child's spirit always that the revelation is made. Have we the child's spirit? We must be born again.
There is another indication of the spirit which Christ will bless—the new born spirit desiring the sincere milk of the word—little children knowing nothing, but laying their ear on their father's heart to catch the music of its beating. Let us from this moment renounce ourselves, our cleverness, our ability, our so-called genius and talent, and let us know that the only genius that has any power in the sanctuary is the genius of love. Sorrow hears more than strength and fulness can ever hear, and when we are weakest then are we strongest; when we are most like little children then are we most like the angels of God.
The next words do not break the thread of the sacred discourse; they rather give it a practical and beneficent aspect. "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." How sweet can be his tone, how near the heart he can come, with what delicate expressions he can indicate the bitterest experiences of the world. How he knows us, in and out, through and through altogether. "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden with your controversies, misunderstandings, ceremonial observances, burden-bearing of every kind. It is a mistake, it is needless—come unto me and I will give you rest." This message I deliver in the name of Christ, to you who have been vexing your intelligence with a thousand questions and problems which you can never answer. My message thus takes upon itself great breadth of application, for I question whether there are many here who have not at times troubled themselves with a thousand outside inquiries which do not relate to the vital essence of this faith, and have nothing to do with the secret of this sanctuary. I question whether there are many here who have not tried to wash their hands when they ought to have known that it was their heart that needed cleansing. To-day bring to me your diaries, your vow-books, your plans, your programmes, your habits, your beginnings and your endings, your fire-lightings, your bullock-offerings,—bring them to me and we will burn them in one common blaze and begin again by being nothing at all but little children in God's house. You want rest, and you can never secure that prize by your own effort. There is not a soul here that does not sigh for rest. There is no rest to be had except through Jesus Christ. The restful alone can give rest, peace alone can give peace. He will self-poise us, set our nature in its proper balance, bring all our faculties into harmonious relation and interplay, and thus he will establish us in the comfort and quietness of his own peace. We have seen this done in countless cases: in every instance we have seen apathy, deadness, surly reluctance sometimes mistaken for resignation, but only in the Christian sanctuary have we seen death accepted as life and the utterest sorrow drunk as a sacrament of blood.
I have just perused the memorials of Catharine and Crawfurd Tait, the wife and the son of the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury. I will risk any argument upon the divinity of Christianity upon the experiences recorded in that volume. Your child died: but have you had two children dying, and as soon as the second died the third sickening for death, and as soon as the third died the fourth getting ready for heaven, and no sooner the fourth taken up than the fifth withers and dies—week after week till the whole five go, and all the little graves are green together, and the stranger unable to tell which of the five was cut first? And then have you been able to say, "Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight?" Then truly have you found rest unto your soul! Have you for years watched over your only son, and just when he was coming into the full fruition of his power and beginning life, buried him when he was but nine-and-twenty—the only son, the son that was to bear on the family name, the great and honoured patronymic—and have you in the midst of all this yourself fallen down once and again all but dead on the floor, and lain in the sick-chamber for six and eight and ten weeks at a time, hardly able to breathe, much less to speak; and have you at the end of it all said, "Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight?" Then truly have you found rest unto your souls!
These are the triumphs which no hand can spoil, these the miracles that have an everlasting force in the calculations and reasonings of the soul. Jesus Christ is therefore not without witness in the families of the earth of his power to give quietness and rest and expectancy of a high kind in the time of flood and fire and sore distress.
Little children, let me tell you something before I sit down, bearing upon this same subject. A gentleman visited a deaf and dumb asylum, and having looked upon all the silent inmates, he was requested to ask some of them a question by writing it on the blackboard. He did not know what question to ask, but at last he ventured to write this inquiry in chalk upon the board, "Why did God make you deaf and dumb, and make me so that I could hear and speak?" The eyes of the silent ones were filled with tears: it was a great mystery. Their cleverness had no answer, but their piety made eloquent reply. One of the little fellows went up to the board, and, taking the chalk, wrote under the question this answer—"Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight." That lily we cannot paint!