The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And Jesus answered and spake unto them again by parables, and said,Chapter 80
Almighty God, thou hast today spread a great feast for men: may we all come to it and sit down in the places thou hast set apart for us, and eat and drink abundantly, according to thine invitation. We have spent our strength for naught and our money for that which satisfieth not, and our hunger is fierce within us, and our desire is still crying for satisfaction. Thou hast now called us to thine own table, spread with thine own hands, made rich with all the needful things which thou hast found in the universe: may we sit down and be glad in the Lord, and drink the wine of his grace abundantly, and enjoy the security and the light of his dwelling-place. Thou hast opened the door, which is Jesus Christ the Son of God, God the Son: thou hast given unto us of the rich things of creation, of which he, the Saviour, is the one Head: in him we have all things, through him and by him, and alone through him and by him do we enjoy this table of thine, spread with all that can satisfy our hunger and delight our soul. We said in the far-away land, "How many hired servants of my Father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger: I will arise and go to my Father." Lord, see us at thy door, hear our voices, broken by the sobs of oar penitence, and give us welcome into thy sanctuary and into thy banqueting house. We have been out in the cold wind, and in the desolate world, and behold the wilderness is full of graves, and in the rocks there is no resting-place. We have not found bread in stony places, nor water on the hill-tops, so bleak and cold, but now we are at thy door thou wilt give us large and instant admission: thou wilt not withhold any good thing from us whilst we cry for thy pity in the name of Jesus.
We are glad that the tabernacle of God is with men upon the earth, that the walls of thine house are a support of the walls of our dwelling-place that we cannot move about without seeing the church of the living God set in divers places. We open the door of righteousness and the gate of salvation, and we enter in and we find in thine house sweetness, repose, light, and inspiration.
We have come to tell thee of our sin and our sorrow, to repent of our iniquities and to ask for thy forgiveness, and to pour out all the tale of our sorrow at the feet of the all-healing Christ. Thou canst read in our heart what we cannot speak with our lips, thou understandest our necessity and there is nothing in all the agony of our pain which thou hast not felt. We have a High Priest that can be touched with the feeling of our infirmity: he knoweth our frame, he remembereth that we are dust, he accounteth our life as a wind that cometh for a little time and then passeth away, or as a vapour which dies as it ascends. He will not remember wrath in the time that he remembers mercy, but in all pitifulness, compassion, tender patience, and long-suffering hopefulness, he will mightily redeem our soul from despair, and bring light instead of darkness.
We remember the years of the right hand of the Most High. We hide our little transient duration in the sanctuary of thine eternity. Behold we all do fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. We are likened unto the grass which today is and tomorrow is cast into the oven, unto a flower which flourisheth for a little time and then dies away. Behold thou hast not mocked us, but thou hast told us of the littleness of our time upon the earth, thou hast pointed out to us our already opened grave, thou hast called upon us to buy up the opportunity, and eagerly to avail ourselves of the occasion whilst it endures. Thy way is simple, and thy testimony is true and easy to be understood. If we are mocked, we have mocked ourselves, we have not been mocked from on high. What misreckoning there is in our calculation is due to our own ignorance and unskilfulness, for thou hast set down our time of threescore years and ten, and thou hast called upon us to redeem the time and to consider the days how few they are and short. We bless thee that though the shortness of the time is present to us, we see death swallowed, up in victory, and the great eternity of heaven opening itself before our desire and our hope, and there we hear the voices of welcome and the call to a feast which never ends. May none of us fall short of thy purpose herein—may none of us by unbelief be disappointed at the last, but may every one of us and all near and dear unto us, sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of light and the house of eternity, to go out no more for ever. To this end may we read thy word diligently, consider it deeply, and carry it out continually, and to this end do thou grant unto us the daily ministry of the Holy Ghost—may he dwell in us, enlighten us, rule and guide us in everything, and undertake the administration of our whole life in its innermost thought and purpose and motive.
We give thee thanks for every hope that lights our life, we bless thee for everything that floats down the air from Heaven upon our silent souls, to charm them into grateful repose. For all the sainted dead we bless thee, for our fathers in the church who have gone to the upper assembly, for our loved ones who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb—may we be followers of their faith, and be ultimate sharers of their joy. Comfort those who now mourn their dead and look round to see faces that can be seen on earth no more. Grant unto such the tender solaces of thy gospels, the sweet and lasting inspiration and comfort of thy grace.
Let thy word be amongst us this morning as a summer light, touching every point of our life, and lighting it all up with a tender and celestial illumination. May there be great joy in the church, the sound of song and high delight within the sanctuary of the Lord, and when men ask us the reason of this rapture, may we find it in the closeness of our fellowship with the very heart of the Son of God. Deliver every man from bondage, and every soul from mean and unworthy fear. Dispel all dejection and gloom and hopelessness, and in our hearts do thou cause us to hear a new and gladsome song.
Give laughter to the young, high delight and brilliant hopefulness to those who are in the morning of life, and give chastening and mellowness to those who are farther on, so that without moroseness or sourness of disposition or of heart, they may speak with all sobriety of the mysteriousness and grandeur of life. And to the aged and the dying, who have gone upstairs to come down of themselves no more, speak gentle words, breathe benedictions, send messages from Heaven, make the heart young whilst the body dies, and give hope that the soul shall, through Jesus Christ, Saviour and Mediator, enjoy the summer of Heaven, the rest, the peace of the upper places of thy kingdom. Amen.
1. And Jesus answered and spake unto them again by parables, and said,
2. The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son.
3. And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come.
4. Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed (Isaiah 25:6), and all things are ready: come unto the marriage.
5. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise:
6. And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them.
7. But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.
8. Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy.
9. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage.
10. So these servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests.
11. And when the king came in to see (not merely to look at, but to inspect) the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment.
12. And he saith unto him, Friend, how earnest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless (gagged).
13. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
14. For many are called, but few are chosen.
God's Welcomes and Man's Refusals
Notice the change in the tone of the parables. The parables are not all of one class, though they all seem to be of one meaning and intent. Compare the parables in the thirteenth chapter of this gospel with the parables that are now before us, and see what a wonderful change has taken place in the tone of the Speaker. Whilst he was uttering his doctrine, delineating and exemplifying his gospel and offering it to all mankind, it was like a grain of mustard-seed, it was like a sower going forth to sow seed in various places, or like a leaven hidden in three measures of meal, or like a net cast into the sea which gathered of every kind. Now the parables are judgments: something has taken place between the thirteenth chapter of Matthew and the later chapters. The kingdom of heaven assumes another colour, speaks in another accent, exhibits itself in another phase. So wonderful is this kingdom—it is to you what you are to it: you determine the attitude of the kingdom of heaven towards yourselves. Be needy, be docile, be expectant of heavenly blessings, and the kingdom of heaven is like a great warm heaven shining upon all your life and offering you all its contents. Be rebellious, frivolous, contemptuous, self-sufficient, and the kingdom of heaven is dark with unspeakable tempests, ready to burst upon your life with overpowering destructiveness.
How if Jesus Christ saw the kingdom of heaven vary to his imagination and high fancy as the time bore him onward to the cross? How if he closed his eyes and compared the outward with the inward, as if he should say, "Now I see the kingdom of heaven like a man going forth to sow seed, and now I see it like a great judgment. Now it is like leaven hid in three measures of meal, and now it is like a king taking account of his servants"? He would be the great reader, the very seer which the times need; the eloquent soul clothed with prophetic mantle and speaking in the thousand tones of apocalyptic language, who could see what the kingdom of heaven is like by correctly penetrating the spirit of his age and rightly reading all the meaning of the times passing over him. It is open to us to make parables according to the suggestion of events. Jesus Christ only begins the parables. He ended the miracles, he only began the parables, and it is for us to carry out those parables and multiply them according to the ever-varying colour and tone of the times in which we live. If so, the kingdom of heaven will be like a summer day, like a winter night, like an angel of hopefulness, blowing a silver trumpet and calling to a high banquet, or like a spirit, black, grim, fierce, vengeful, going forth to execute divine judgment upon stony hearts and rebellious lives.
Think not that the parables are ended. Truth has no conclusions, truth stops only to begin again: the miracle rounds itself up, or floats away like a gilded bubble and dies, but truth is a planet that belongs to the very centre of the system of things: it shines in the almightiness of God, and is re-fed, re-invigorated, from age to age, and grows younger with the time, and is more blooming after millenniums than when it first began to discover itself to the expectant mind. Make your awn parables: do not read the weather only, read the signs of the times. Be not learned in the clouds, but learned in bodies celestial and in signs terrestrial, and in all your reading see some hint and outline of the divine kingdom.
Mark through the changes that the parables pass, the king is never less than king, and the heaven never other than a kingdom. He will take the kingdom of heaven, will this Jesus Christ, our Teacher, through all similitudes, but the king is never less than royal, and the thing spoken of is never less than kingly. Is it a sower going forth to sow? He represents the kingdom of heaven. Is it a net cast into the midst of the sea, so humble and poor a thing as that? Yes, but it bears upon it the similitude of a divine kingdom. The subject never lowers its dignity, the thing spoken of never falls below the royal mark. Observe that, for it is full of suggestion. Whether the king is coming to reign or coming to judge, whether he be mocked by his servants or kept standing outside the door knocking till his hair be wet with the dews of the night, he is still the King, and the thing he brings is still the heavenly kingdom. Where there is humiliation there is no disgrace: the stoop is a royal one, and however humble and simple the similitude, it is like a dewdrop that throws back the image of the whole sun.
So in our simplicity we may have dignity, in the very humblest form through which we may pass our religious conceptions, they need never lose the grandeur of kingship or the splendour of royalty. In the simplest hymn sung to the simplest tune there may be the beginning of all heaven's harmony. In the quiet, silent stoop of the head, bending down in the attitude of prayer, without pomp or ceremony, there may be the beginning of the homage that makes heaven sacred. See that you do not find in simplicity any degradation of the thing signified—sowing seed, casting a net into the sea, permeating meal with leaven, finding pearls or treasures,—whatever you are doing, remember that the thing signified gives to the thing spoken and the thing done their natural measure of grandeur and sublimity. See in the church more than the stones and iron, the wood and glass. These things do not make the church; the kingdom of heaven is like unto them, but if you seize the right idea of the edifice it will burn and glow and shine with infinite suggestion of comfort and meaning and hope. Let us not be wooden in God's house, literal and finite, mechanical and measurable, but pray for that inward vision that sees in every stone a son of Abraham, and hears in all the building of the church the resonance of infinite music. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
What have we then in this parable? The strangest, sharpest contrasts. But first of all we have God's conception and God's purpose of grace and love towards the children of men. How does he put the case? He will have a wedding, a feast, a great banquet: a thousand messengers going forth to call those that were bidden to the wedding. He will have trumpets and cymbals, and dances and high delight. Such is the conception of God always: he never makes less than a feast, no poor mean crust is it ever his to offer. If there be nothing else in the wilderness, he will make even that into a feast of fat things, and there shall be more at the end than there was at the beginning; but in his original purpose, when his heart speaks out of heaven, before the worlds are made, he says, "I will prepare for all coming ages and coming men an eternal wedding feast, banners, trumpetings, delights, raptures, satisfactions infinite." So he speaks in the background of his own eternity.
When did he ever do less? We can hardly turn over two pages of the inspired Bible story without finding offers of milk and wine and honey and banquets and great feasts and sacred pleasures and unutterable delights. God's heart will heave right up through all the detail of our sin, torment, and pain, and will still speak hospitable things to the hungry life of human creatures. God wants us to eat and drink abundantly, God calls us to a feast—Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters. That is the great cry, crashing, breathing, through the ages, with infinite energy of love: that is God's meaning about us all, to give us satisfaction, to take away the pain of hunger, the fire of thirst, and all that makes life a burden and a trouble. Give him credit for his purpose. God has to be forced into judgment: he comes of himself into love. You have to scourge him into a judicial attitude, mock him, taunt him, break every law he ever made, and spit in the face of his heavens, before he will put out his hand for the sword or the rod. But in himself, in all his heart, there is the one purpose of love, feasting, banqueting, enjoyment, eternal nourishment, and inward and spiritual delight and growth. Never miss this thought from your thinking, namely, God's original purpose, God's desire towards the children of men is one of mercy, pity, love, care, supply, answering prayer before the prayer is half spoken, and with a grand Amen realizing every petition uttered by the suppliant's pleading lips.
So we are sent forth this day with the call to a great banquet. In so far as a man is a true preacher of Christ he will call his people away from the land of hunger and thirst and want into a land of plenty flowing with milk and honey, and every field a vineyard and every rock a house of security. Shall I fall short of my mission? I pray God I may answer its call, for he who is the King bids me tell every one who hears me and to speak the same message deeply to my own soul and with infinite unction to all, that God's purpose today and every day is that we should know no more the barrenness of desolation, the pain of hunger, the deprivations of thirst and the agony of weakness, but that we should all come unto his house and have the abundance of his grace and the infinite satisfaction of his truth.
My hospitable message is to every one that thirsteth, to every soul that feels pain, to every aching heart, to every life that says, "I have an aching void which only God can fill." The gospel therefore is an answer to our hunger: the gospel is not a merely high intellectual delight, a system of spiritual metaphysics, having more or less ulterior moral aims and purposes: the gospel is an appeal to our sin, want, hunger, pain, helplessness—therefore do I always insist that credit should be given to the original purpose and design of the gospel, however much the gospel may have failed through false misrepresentation or through an unequal utterance of its hospitable purposes and welcomes.
We have also in this parable an instance of human frivolousness. The guests who were first invited, having heard the invitation, made light of it and went their ways, one to his farm and another to his merchandise. So may great invitations become mere commonplaces, so may the great gospel become but as the sound of a noise in the air. Familiarity deprives us of much of the sublimity of the thing we look at. Could we think ourselves back, so as to feel in all its reality and intensity the fact that God was now inviting our souls to a great feast, surely there would be nothing light or frivolous in our whole temper. But the air is full of these invitations, and therefore our familiarity receives them without any sensation of surprise, much more, without any inspiration of gratitude. We know the word of the gospel so well that in hearing it we miss its spirit. Are we not ruined by our very familiarity with the letter? I ask the question with timidity, because of self-contempt herein, knowing how easy it is to speak syllables which enshrine the Deity without feeling their music in the very heart.
Frivolousness will ruin any life. No frivolousness succeeds in any great enterprise. No frivolous man succeeds in business of a commercial kind. Business is not a trick or an amusement, it is hard work, hard study, daily consideration, incessant planning, wakefulness that ought never to sleep. If so for a corruptible crown, what for an incorruptible? The danger is that we make light of the gospel because of our disregard for the manner in which it is spoken. Were we anxious about the vital matter we should not care how it was uttered. All mere study of manner, and way of putting familiar truth, is an accommodation to the frivolity of the age. When we are told to make our services more interesting, our music more lively, our preaching more animated, we are but told to stoop to the frivolity of the time, that we may entrap a truant attention and arrest a wandering mind. Given, an anxious people, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, knocking at the church door, saying, "Open to me the gates of righteousness, I will enter in and be glad: this is the day the Lord hath made," we need not study any mechanical arrangements, or urge ourselves to any unusual animation of manner: the urgency of our desire, the purity and nobleness of our sympathy would supply all the conditions required by the God of the feast, for the pouring out of heaven's best wine and the preparation of all the fatlings of the heavens for the satisfaction of our hunger. God makes all the universe contribute to the soul's growth. "My oxen and my fatlings are killed and ready, therefore come to the marriage." He keeps back nothing from the soul, he plucks the highest grapes in the vineyards of heaven for the soul, he seeks out the goodliest and choicest of his possessions and treasures that the soul may be satisfied: he has kept back nothing: last of all he sent his Son, saying, "They will reverence my Son." In that fact see the symbol of all that can be crowded into the suggestion that God withholds no good thing that can minister to the soul's development, and the soul's growth in truth and love and grace.
Nor does the human condition in relation to the divine offer conclude itself under the limitation of mere frivolities. You cannot stop at frivolity. Light-mindedness in this matter does not complete itself. "The remnant took his servants and entreated them spitefully and slew them." This is true frivolity. Frivolity is followed by rebellion, blasphemy, high crime and misdemeanour before the eye of heaven. You who laugh today may slay tomorrow, we who do make but gibes and sneers in relation to the gospel offers now, will by-and-by sit with the scornful and in deliberate blasphemy mock the King of the feast. Easy is the descent towards this deep pit of rebellion, hard-heartedness, and utter defiance of divine goodness. To defy the good—there might be some courage of a wild kind in defying power, in setting oneself in defiant attitude against thunderbolts, but to defy goodness, to mock an offer of hospitality, to scorn the call to a divine delight—let a man once become frivolous in that direction, and the whole substance of his character will be depleted of everything that can be ennobled, and it will speedily sink in irremediable viciousness and baseness. Call it not a light thing to laugh at sacred words and religious opportunities and engagements: it may seem at the time to be of small account, but it is an indication of character, it is the beginning of a descent which multiplies its own momentum, and he who but laughs fluently and lightly today at the preacher's earnestness may in an immeasurably short space of time be reckoned with the scorners, and be the chief companion of fools.
And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment, and he asked him how this came to be, and the man was speechless, and the king ordered him out into punishment. We must not go into the feast according to our own way: there is an appointed road and an appointed method and scheme, and we must not attempt rudeness as an originality, we must not offend the fitness of things. We ourselves know the meaning of this in the lower ranges of architecture, painting, and music. A crooked pillar would instantly attract every eye and awaken every attention, and might probably arouse a suspicion of danger in many minds. Who could bear to look upon a crooked pillar supporting a roof? Who would not run away from it? A pillar has no right to be crooked, so to say: its usefulness is in its uprightness: in any other form it might suggest weakness and danger. So there are eyes that are trained to the instantaneous criticism of colour, that would be pained if they saw aught of discord or disharmony in the relation of hues, others could look on without surprise or trouble or conscious discord. If it be so in such little affairs as these, why not in the higher relations and the broader kingdoms? When the king's eye rests upon the whole feast, he instantly detects aught of disharmony, want of obedience to the fitness of things and the genius of the place. The Oriental prince was accounted rich and noble in proportion as he piled up in his wardrobes it may be thousands of robes for wedding feasts and gala occasions. It was his business to supply the guests with garments. So with regard to this great feast in his kingdom; he who finds the feast, finds the robe, and if we go in to his banquet we must go in clothed with his garments; there must be nothing of our own in that gorgeous and grand delight. Herein we are all to blame; man must have part of himself in it: he will do something towards contributing to the completion of God's purpose. Know ye, sons of men, that the feast is ready and the robe is ready, and neither is yours, both are the gifts of God, and we are asked to accept them now.
Many are called, but few are chosen. Many are named, but few are real. Of what avail, asks a Puritan writer, that you call your ship Invincible if the tiniest gun that ever was levelled against it smote its sides and crumbled it into small dust? It is called but not chosen, named but not real, called a guest, but not a guest in heart. Your names are nothing, though given by your ancestors, though named at the baptismal font or in the river of baptismal water, though changed to indicate promotion and ascent in the social scale. Of what avail is it to call a man rich if he be poor in heart—magnificent in station if he be base in purpose and disposition? Do not be frightened by this text as if God called a thousand men to him, then took out a certain number of the thousand and sent all the rest away. This is not the teaching of the divine gospel: read it thus:—Many are called, but few choose; many are invited, but few come; many are named, but few are real. Of what account is it to call a base metal silver? Any acid dropped upon it will at once reveal the baseness of the compound. The face is silver, the coating is real, but skin deep lies the pewter, the mean lead, the comparatively worthless iron. Many are called, but few are real; many are in the building, few in the church; many read the Book, few peruse the revelation.
Adam Clarke says: "Among the Mohammedans, refusal to come to a marriage feast, when invited, is considered a breach of the law of God. Any one that shall be invited to a dinner, and does not accept the invitation, disobeys God and his messenger: and any one who comes uninvited, you may say is a thief and returns a plunderer."
"By the oxen understand the fathers of the Old Testament, by the fatlings understand the fathers of the New Testament; for they did smite with the horn their enemies, and these mounted up aloft by the wings of heavenly contemplation."—(Gregory.) "Oxen are strong, and fatlings are sweet and pleasant; hereby are set forth the oracles of God, which do both strengthen and delight those that feed upon them."—(Origen.) "They that excuse themselves by the occupying of a farm are the common people of the Jews, the other the priests and ministers about the temple."—(Chrysostom.)
Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.Chapter 81
Almighty God, do thou write thy law upon, our heart, and give us a disposition towards obedience, so that every word which thou hast spoken may become the rule of our conduct. To this end do thou grant us, through Jesus Christ our Lord and Priest, the continual ministry of the Holy Ghost, to enlighten the mind, to sanctify the will, to subdue and control the whole heart, so that there may be no disobedience or rebellion in us, but a quiet and loving delight in thy sacred word. We thank thee that thou hast addressed a speech to every heart: thou has left none out of the number to which thou hast spoken: may each hear the word thou hast sent to it in particular, and answer it with a readiness of joy and thankfulness—then shall our life spread itself out in beauty before thee, and shall receive the showers of thy blessing and answer them with growing fruitfulness.
Thy Son Jesus Christ hath revealed thee unto us: he is our Lord and Saviour, he made atonement for our sins, and his blood is the answer to thy law. We rejoice in the revelation of thy person which he has made unto us, now we pray for the healthful influences of thy Spirit, that we may read that revelation deeply and truly, and receive it into our hearts with all joyfulness, and manifest it unto the world according to our opportunity and power. We have come up to thine house that we may make mention of thy lovingkindness: surely thy mercies shall not lie forgotten in unthankfulness—we will preserve the memory of them, and in the rehearsal of all thou hast done for us in the years that are now gone, will we find the inspiration and the comfort we need for the days that are yet to come. We live in thy presence, thy goodness towards us is the sanctuary in which our souls dwell with the quietness of infinite security. Thou didst deliver us from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear: thou didst enable us to overcome the uncircumcised Philistine in the valley, and on the hill thy light has been round about us like a promise, and in all the winds that have blown around our life, we have heard the sound of thine own going. Therefore do we look onward to the unknown time, with the inspiration of gratitude, and the confidence of tender love. Thou wilt not bring down the grey hairs of thy servants with sorrow to the grave, thou wilt yet interpose in every crisis and difficulty, out of darkness thou wilt bring light, and thou wilt write songs for the night season. Give us confidence in these truths and hopes, yea establish us and build us upon them as upon rocks that cannot be shaken. May our whole life rise upon thee like a temple towards the Heavens, complete and beautiful and resonant with thy praise.
Thou hast been mindful of us: we should be witnesses against ourselves if we denied thy care or questioned thy providence. Every day uttereth speech to us concerning thy love. Wherein we have done wrong thou wilt come to us with infinite forgiveness. Where sin abounds grace shall, through Christ Jesus the Lord, much more abound, so that the littleness of the one shall not be thought of because of the greatness of the other. By grace are we saved, by blood are we cleansed, by the precious blood of Christ are we redeemed. We know our ransom price, and we know thou hast not paid it in vain—thou wilt surely redeem us utterly, and bring us with completeness out of the snare of him who would entangle us, and out of the wilderness of despair and loneliness. Our hope is in Christ, our confidence is in God, our inspiration is from the Holy Ghost Thou knowest our life in its entireness: how few its days, how small its strength, how easily blown out its best hopes, and how soon blighted its noblest ambitions. Thou hast dug a grave in the garden, thou hast hidden a pit under the hearthstone, there is poison in the cup out of which we drink our life, and our whole course lies through thorns and thickets and most difficult places. Yet surely our extremity will be the opportunity of God, and because of the supreme difficulty of the road shall be the fulness and the tenderness of the ministry which waits upon us.
We now lovingly put ourselves into thine hands, to be conducted as thou wilt through all difficulties and snares. Disappoint us if it be for our souls' health that we should be stung and wounded and have sudden night descending upon our brightest days. Do thou hunger us and impoverish us and give us pain continually if it can be only through this process that we may be saved. Not our will but thine be done, only take not thy Holy Spirit from us.
Regard us in our special relationships, and according to our necessity let the blessing of the Most High God come to us this day. Preserve the little one that he may become a strong man, speak to the aged that he may renew his youth in the immortal hope of fellowship with the angels and with the spirits of the just made perfect. Address the busy man who is seeking his fortune in the dust, and excite in his soul a hunger which the bread of life alone can satisfy. Tell the afflicted that the time of weakness is but for a moment, and the time of immortal health is as the duration of God. Regard all who rule over us in the kingdom, preserve the wise and the strong for many years, that they may surpass themselves in the nobleness of their patriotism and their trust in the God of nations.
Be with all for whom we ought to pray and for whom it is our loving delight to intercede. For the absent, for the travelling, for those who are in danger, in weakness, in peculiar sorrow, in sharp agony. Be with those who are going through their highest joys, and with those who are far out in the deep waters of peculiar trouble. Sanctify all varieties of discipline and training through which we pass, and at last, washed in the blood of the everlasting covenant, sanctified and inspired by God the Holy Ghost, may we take our place in the city whose hills are light, whose walls are jasper, whose streets are gold. Amen.
15. Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle (ensnare) him in his talk.
16. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians (advocates of national submission to the emperor), saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.
17. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Cæsar, or not?
18. But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?
19. Shew me the tribute money (the denarius, which was in common circulation). And they brought unto him a penny.
20. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?
21. They say unto him, Cæsar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar's; and unto God the things that are God's.
22. When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.
23. The same day came to him the Sadducees (largely the upper classes of the priesthood), which say that there is no resurrection, and asked him.
24. Saying, Master, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.
25. Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and having no issue, left his wife unto his brother:
26. Likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh.
27. And last of all the woman died also.
28. Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for all had her.
29. Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err (a less stern tone than that in which the Pharisees were accosted), not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.
30. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.
31. But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying,
32. I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.
33. And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at his doctrine (teaching).
34. But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together.
35. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,
36. Master, which (what kind) is the great commandment in the law? (The meaning of this question was, whether anything were more perfect than the law, because he taught a new kind of doctrine, whereby the expounders of the law held themselves to be disgraced).
37. Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38. This is the first and great commandment.
39. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
41. While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them,
42. Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The son of David.
43. He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying,
44. The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool?
45. If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?
46. And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.
Tempting Questions and Divine Answers
You will notice that the attacks which were made upon the Saviour were prepared. There is evidence everywhere of premeditation, arrangement, concert, so that there might be no weakness on the part of those who were about to approach the great and marvellous Teacher. No notice was sent of the questions: the preparation was complete on the side of the interrogators without Jesus Christ having any intimation that an attack was about to be made upon him. So far the advantage was upon the side of the questioners. They talked the whole matter over, they proposed and re-arranged and amended, and then settled the terms: having done so, they went with unanimous purpose to ensnare the Speaker.
Not only so, the questions were subtly adapted to the then state of the Speaker's mind. We have just seen that he was uttering parables of judgment in place of parables of illustration. His parabolical tone had changed completely. In the thirteenth chapter of this gospel, he spoke, as we have repeatedly said, a whole picture gallery of beauties into existence. Since the time of his revelation of his personality to his disciples, he has been speaking parables of fire, judgment, anathema, fraught with most searching and terrible penal criticism. The people round about him, therefore, had supposed that he was excited, and knowing what they themselves were when under excitement, they supposed they would catch this marvellous Speaker at a great disadvantage; he had lost his balance, he was off his guard, he was goaded into an unusual strain of adjuration, and now in this changed temper of his mind, they would very likely be able to ensnare him in his speech, and so to accomplish their own malign purpose.
Still further, the attacks were not inspired by love of truth or by anxiety to know God's mind upon this or that subject, but by hatred of the Man. Hence we have the most unusual combinations of parties, hence we have the horse and the ass yoked together in one team, hence we have colours that ought never to have been brought into juxtaposition, stitched together, hence we have contrasts which under other circumstances would be accounted anomalies and would evoke destructive criticism,—but any union will do where such a Man's life is to be taken!
In the gospel by Luke, we read that these persons approached Christ feigning themselves to be just men, painting their faces with the colours of justness, borrowing clothes of righteousness and respectability, assuming with fatal skill the very tone of earnestness. Yet under all this feigning and similitude and hypocrisy, their aim was not to inquire about truth, its foundations and responsibilities and issues, but to strike with a dart the life of an excited Man.
This point is the one which brings its severe lesson to us. Herein we find the reality of the inspiration of the attacks which are made upon Christianity today. When men go forward to assail the Book, why do they exhibit so much anxiety to dispute its claim and invalidate its integrity and enfeeble its hold upon the attention of mankind? Judging by history, it is no whit uncharitable to suggest that they are not so anxious about its literary discrepancies and incoherencies and difficulties, as that they hate its moralities. It would be worth the while of any number of men to pay ten thousand pounds down today on any counter, if they could buy themselves off from the moral discipline of the Scriptures. Such an investment would be the beginning of their fortune from a merely secular point of view. The rope would be broken, the tether would be snapped, the chain that binds them would give way at its strongest link, and men would be free to do what they pleased. What wonder then if oftentimes they should shape themselves into little deputations and go in twos and threes for the purpose of asking questions about the literary part of the Bible, when the real heart and core of their purpose is to rid themselves of its moral rule?
How can I be charged with uncharitableness in making such a suggestion, when I have before me Pharisees and Herodians feigning themselves to be just persons, who go to ask a question about the tribute money, not that they care either for the Cæsar or the Jew in this or that particular, but that they want to ensnare an excited Man in his fluent and vehement eloquence? Let every man search himself in this matter. What if we go to the Bible for the purpose of propounding difficulties and asking religious questions, and take upon us the air of injured critics and anxious pilgrims, having but one supreme purpose, and that to find out the literal word and meaning of God, and in reality we want to rid ourselves of the humiliations of the Book? The Book takes no note of king or peasant, gentle or simple, rich or poor, but judges every man on the broad basis of manhood and sinfulness and dishonoured obligation, and commands every man to his knees, to put his mouth in the dust and to say, "Unclean, unclean." What if we want to escape its humiliations, under the mean pretence of wanting to rearrange its translation, and revise its literature, and throw into new arrangements that which is historical, chronological, and of antiquarian interest? Search your heart in this matter, say why you do go to the Book or to Christ. Do you feign to be just men when in reality you want to put your knife through the Bible's morality and to rid yourselves of the daily discipline of its abasements and humiliations? Be severe with yourself on this matter; do not play the fool to yourself, and never lose the dignity and the restfulness of your self-respect.
So much for the attacks which were made upon Jesus Christ. Now let us turn and look at the answers which he made to the onslaughts. Note in the first place that Jesus Christ's answers were extemporaneous, and herein they stand in contrast to the first point made, that the attacks of the enemy were premeditated and arranged. Speaking from a purely human point of view, the assailants knew by heart every word they were going to say, but Jesus Christ had no knowledge or intimation of the questions that were about to be put to him. His answers therefore were not prepared, studied, arranged, and calculated as to the force and value of words. Herein an argument begins. It surely cannot be an easy thing to answer the supreme intellects of the age, instantaneously, when they put knotty questions, yet this is the very thing Jesus Christ does. He never says, "The question is a novel one, I must consider it." We have seen old judges upon the English bench posed by novel suggestions or constructions of the law, and the hoary and learned men have had to ask to be permitted to consult some brother judge because of the novelty of the situation. This is wise on the part of all merely human critics, because no man is all men, and no man knows or can know so much as all men know. Consultation, therefore, and comparison of men's thoughts is not only desirable but just and right in all merely human consultations and inquiries. But here is a man who consults nobody, who asks for no time to think, who answers with the suddenness and the brilliance of lightning. Touch him, and you are healed, if the touch be that of faith. Speak to him, and you evoke a revelation; pray to him, and the whole firmament widens into a great answer to your request, wherein it is just and proper. But never was he to be allowed to consult the authorities or to take into his confidence the learned men of his day. He drew from the quiver of his own heart every arrow that he required. From the fulness of his grace he drew every gospel adapted to his age,—from the infiniteness of his own sufficiency he satisfied the hunger of the world.
But an answer may be extemporaneous and nothing more. It may be as instant as lightning, and yet there may be nothing in it but words. But in this case we have the answers before us, and with those answers open to our criticism we may surely pronounce them to be intellectually acute. Sit down in your quietest leisure, when your head is coolest and your mind is steadiest, and try to amend any answer that is here given. Take paper and pen and ink, and in the mood of mind at which you are at your very best, write out a thousand possible answers to the attacks of the Pharisees and Herodians, the Sadducees and the Lawyers. Rearrange your replies, pick out the choicest English in which to express them, and when you have done, you will find that you cannot amend in one line or tone or hue the answers which are here given, perfect in wit, covering the whole case, silencing with gags—for that is the true rendering of the speechlessness of the assailants—those who made the attack. He put gags in their mouths, and forced them into silence. The dumbness was reluctant, but it was not to be broken through.
Sometimes we think only of Jesus Christ as a good man, kind-hearted, full of love, always trying to make the world better, yea even to save the world. All that is right, but we ought sometimes to consider the simple intellectual force and majesty of this unique mind. Christ had a great heart—true—but do not therefore disparage his mind. It suits the purpose of some persons to regard Jesus Christ as morally noble, but intellectually feeble. Wherein is the intellectual feebleness shown? Certainly not in this instance. The answer about the tribute money was an answer surprising and conclusive as a revelation from heaven. There was nothing else to be said; no man could add a word to it without spoiling its infinite simplicity, no mind can suggest a new turn to the phrase without trying to bend the sky into a completer circle.
Not only so—for in that he might simply have been the greater wit of the two—his answers were profoundly Scriptural. Take the instance of the resurrection of the dead. What was his reply? Was there any shuffling here, or any disposition to evade the difficulty? He said, in effect, "Sadducees, you are perfectly right from your point of view. The anecdote is exactly as you have related it; I myself knew all the circumstances of the case—a very surprising instance indeed, rarely to be met with, and from your point of view it must really shape itself into something like a fatal argument. But, gentlemen, where you get wrong is in your foundation. You have nothing to stand upon but a handful of sand: I take it away and down you drop—the whole fabric, anecdote, historians, and critics, and all. Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures and the power of God. You omit from your calculation the two great factors, you are perplexed by details, you rest upon no infinite rock." And they all were gagged. When the multitude heard this, they were astonished at his doctrine, or astonished at his teaching. Not so much at the substance as in the new way in which he put old truths and avowed revelations, and under his setting these old things shone with a new light. Herein is the greatness of all true teaching—not to be inventing new theories and hypotheses, but so to set the old truth as to give it modern force, so to interpret the eternal as to make it a gospel to the dying time.
Poor Sadducees! I pity the Pharisees about their penny, and the Sadducees about their one little anecdote. Both parties seem to have been deprived of their one ewe lamb. It is sad to see how these little critics who suppose they had a case against Christ, have the case taken right out of their hands and turned to the advantage of the other side. I never knew a critic go away from Christ otherwise than with a slouching gait and with a kind of unconfessed wish that he had never made such a fool of himself as to go and touch that burning mountain.
Do not let us be misled by little cases that occur, by parochial anecdotes and by local circumstances that appear to contravene the infinite revelation of God. Let your circumstances go down and accommodate themselves to the eternal. Woe to the peace of any man who lives in mere details.
How did Jesus know all these Scriptures? He himself wrote them. The Scriptures were quoted from him, he did not quote from the Scriptures. He only quotes himself, and quotes himself with the emphasis which the writer of any deep literature alone can give to his own words.
I must add that the answers were complete. From our point of view we cannot suggest a solitary deficiency in the replies. He does not evade the question, but addresses himself honestly, morally, to the difficulty that was put before him. A lawyer thought he could put a case that might puzzle this singular Teacher. "Which is the great commandment of the law?" Jesus answered, "Thou shalt love." That must have been a surprise to any man who was nothing but a lawyer—thou shalt love. It does not read like a legal phrase—thou shalt love. And yet Jesus Says, "I did not invent that expression: you will find it in the law"—and he goes to the very chapter with which he himself seems to have been peculiarly familiar, for in the Temptation in the wilderness, two of his quotations were out of that very selfsame chapter. And now when the lawyer comes to him, probably an emissary of an old tempter, he answers him out of the same chapter. Wonderful things you will find in any chapter of the Bible if you dig for them as for hidden treasure, and search it as for surprises of incalculable value. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. What can be a completer answer to the inquiry of the lawyer than "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart"? and to accommodate himself still further to the lawyer's possible condition, he says, "There is another commandment very nearly as great," and looking at him like a judgment, searching him through and through like a fire, he said, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." If a lawyer can do that, I know not what he cannot do.
We too send deputations to Christ, send our Criticism to him, and we say in effect, "Jesus, son of David, behold the document: we find that the date in this place does not accord with the date in that place; we find that one Evangelist relates a circumstance in one way, and another evangelist relates the same circumstance in another way. Now what are we to do?" And instantly he says, "You are not saved by the literary coherencies of the Book, but by its moral consistency. Look for its consistency in its consistent demands for righteousness and truth and purity and honour." Then our Criticism coming away from him, we send up our Curiosity, and curiosity, feigning itself to be very reverent and profoundly inquisitive in a right spirit, says, "Jesus, why not tell us more about heaven and hell, about the invisible world generally?" and instantly he answers, "I have told you enough for life, conduct, discipline, sanctification: use what you do know, and he that is faithful in little, shall afterwards be appointed ruler over many cities." Then we send up to him our Vulgarity, and the vulgarity says to him broadly, "Why is there so much mystery about this Book, why not make things much plainer?" and he answers, "The mystery is in yourself: there is no mystery in the Book that has not its counterpart in the mystery of your own psychology: you are the mystery, and until you recognise that fact, you will never rise to the occasion demanded of you as true students of the Book, which is not an invention apart from mankind, but a revelation to human nature as it is now constituted."
The questions are over, the assailants are quiet. "Now," says Jesus, "if you do want to ask a question that is a real difficulty from your point of view, I will put it into your possession: you shall have a really hard and deep question. Now, what think ye of the Christ?" Not—"What think ye of me as the Christ?" but—"What think ye of the Christ that is promised in your books? Whose son is he?" And they instantly answer like a number of children who had learned the Catechism, "The son of David." "Now how then doth David in spirit call him Lord? If David call him Lord, how is he his son?" A difficulty indeed to the literal intellect, a difficulty to those who live in pen and ink, a difficulty to those who suppose there is no multiplication beyond what is literally given in the multiplication table,—yet no difficulty at all to the reverent imagination, that higher and sublimer life that embraces the whole revelation of God in its noblest suggestiveness. If the Christ were only the son of David, he could never be David's Lord: the fact that David sets lordship above sonship suggests that this Man is Wonderful, Emmanuel, God with us, a ladder with the foot on the earth, with the head bathed in the glad heavens. Great is the mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh. "Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees, Lawyers," said he, "do not trouble yourselves about the tribute money, and questions of succession in family relationships: do not trouble yourselves with the merely numerical relationships of the points of the law, but do ask deep questions, grand questions, massive, noble questions, get up into the higher region of thinking, and there learn how possible it is for reason to blossom into faith, and for the hard, literal intellect to bow down in tender homage before the infinite God."
Such are the infinite retorts of Christ. Be sure, when you go to him with a question, that it is neither little nor irreverent.
Matthew 22:21.—"And he said unto them, Render therefore unto Cæsar the things which be Cæsar's, and unto God the things which be God's."
Render.—A clear acknowledgment of the divine authority of human government.
1. Though they went to pay Cæsar's tribute, they were not to adopt Cæsar's religion.
The paying earthly tribute does not defraud the Lord's service.
"Fear God, honour the king." 1Peter 2:17.
"Curse not the king, no not in thy thought." Ecclesiastes 10:20.
"Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people." Acts 23:5.
"The wicked are not afraid to speak evil of dignities." 2Peter 2:10.
2. Obedience to the laws. "Let every soul be subject to the higher powers." Romans 13:1.
"Use not your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness." 1Peter 2:16.
"License they mean, when liberty they cry." Milton.