Expositions of Holy Scripture
Part 3 out of 12
ministry. It was of mingled good and evil, and there is a tone of
sadness perceptible in the ambiguous words. John had aroused great
popular excitement, and had stirred multitudes to seek to enter the
Kingdom. So far was good. But had all the crowds understood what sort
of kingdom it was? Had they not too often dragged down the lofty
conception to their own vulgar level, and, with their dream of an
outward sovereignty, thought to gain it for their own by violence
instead of meekness, by arms and worldly force rather than by
submission? The earnestness was good, but Christ's sad insight saw
how much strange fire had mingled in the blaze, as if some earth-born
smoky flame should seek to blend with the pure sunlight. Such seems
the most natural interpretation of the words, but they are ambiguous,
and may possibly mean by 'the violent' those who had been roused to
genuine earnestness by the clarion voice which rang in the ears of
that slumbering generation.
Then follows the explanation of this new interest in the kingdom.
'All the prophets and the law prophesied until John.' The whole
period till his coming was one of preparation, and it all converged
on the epoch of the forerunner. The eagerness to flock into the
Kingdom which characterised his time would have been impossible in
the earlier days. He closes that order of things, standing, as it
were, on the isthmus between prophecy and fulfilment, belonging
properly to neither, but having affinities with both, and being the
transition from the one to the other. Then our Lord closes His words
concerning John with the distinct statement, which He expects His
hearers to have difficulty in receiving, probably from the
contradiction to it which John's present condition seemed to give,
that in him was fulfilled Malachi's prophecy of the sending of
'Elijah the prophet before ... day of the Lord.' The fiery Tishbite,
gaunt and grim, ascetic and solitary, who bearded Ahab, and flamed
across a corrupt age with a stern message of repentance or
destruction, was repeated in the lonely ascetic who had his Ahab in
Herod, and his Jezebel in Herodias, and like his prototype, knew no
fear, but flashed out the lightnings of his words on every sin. The
two men were brothers, and their voices answer each other across the
centuries. Christ crowns His witness to John while thus quoting the
last swansong of ancient prophecy, and thereby at once sets John on
a pinnacle of greatness, and advances a claim concerning Himself all
the more weighty, because He leaves it to be inferred. 'He that hath
ears to hear, let him hear'--this eulogium on the forerunner needs
to be reflected on ere all its bearings are seen. If John was Elias,
the day of the Lord was at hand, and 'the Sun of Righteousness' was
already above the horizon. Jesus' witness concerning John ends in
witness concerning Himself.
THE FRIEND OF PUBLICANS AND SINNERS
'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,'--MATT. xi. 19.
Jesus very seldom took notice of His enemies' slanders. 'When He was
reviled He reviled not again.' If ever He did, it was for the sake
of those whom it harmed to distort His beauty. Thus, here He speaks,
without the slightest trace of irritation, of the capricious
inconsistency of condemning Himself and John on precisely opposite
grounds. John will not suit them because he neither eats nor drinks.
Well, one would think that Jesus would be hailed since He does both.
But He pleases them just as little. What was at the root of this
contrary working dislike? It was the dislike for the truths they
both preached, the rejection of the wisdom of which they were the
messengers. When men do not like the message, nothing that the
messengers do, or are, is right. Never mind consistency, but object
to this form of Christian teaching that it is too harsh, and to
that, that it is too soft; to this man that he is always thundering
condemnation, to that, that he is always preaching mercy; to one,
that he has too much to say about duty, to another, that he dwells
too much on grace; to this presentation of the gospel, that it is
too learned and doctrinal, to that, that it is too sentimental and
emotional, and so on, and so on. The generation of children who
neither like piping nor lamenting, lives still.
But my purpose now is not to dwell on the conduct with which our
Lord is dealing, but on this caricature of Him which His own lips
repeat without a sign of anger. It is the only calumny of
antagonists reported by Himself. We owe our knowledge of its
currency to this saying. Like other words of His enemies, this
saying is a distorted refraction of His glory. The facts it embodies
are facts; the conclusions it draws are false. If Jesus had not come
eating and drinking, He could not have been called gluttonous and a
wine-bibber. If He had not drawn publicans and sinners to Him in a
conspicuous manner and degree, He could not have been called their
friend. The charge, like all others, is a tribute. Let us try to see
what was the blessed truth that it caricatured. We may take the two
points separately, for though closely connected they are distinct,
and cover different ground.
I. His enemies' witness to Christ's participation in common life.
(_a_) That participation witnesses to His true manhood.
Significant use of 'Son of Man' in context.
Because He is so, He must pass into all human circumstances.
Looked at in the light of incarnation, the simple fact that He
shared our common lot in all things assumes proportions of majestic
Extend to all physical necessities, and to simple material
What a witness this hostile criticism is to Christ's genial
identification of Himself with homely feasters!
(_b_) It sets forth the highest type of manhood.
John could be ascetic, but the Pattern Man could not.
The true perfecting of humanity is not the extirpation, but the
control, of the flesh by the spirit. And in accordance with this
thought, we may see in the eating and drinking Christ, the pattern
for the religious life. Asceticism is not the noblest form of
sanctity. There is nothing more striking in Old Testament than the
way in which its heroes and saints mingle in all ordinary duties.
They are warriors, statesmen, shepherds, they buy, they sell.
Asceticism came later, along with formalisms of other sorts. When
devotion cools, it is crusted with superstition and external marks
of godliness. Propriety in posturing in worship, casuistry in the
interpretation of law, and abstinence from common enjoyments, came
in Pharisaic times. And into such a world Jesus came, eating and
But His bearing in these matters is example for us. They were
rigidly kept in subordination. They were all done in communion with
So He has hallowed all by taking part in them.
Christ should be present in all our material enjoyments. If you
cannot think that He is with you, if you cannot conceive of His
being there, that is no place for you. If you cannot feel that He
approves, that is no fit enjoyment for you.
The tendency of this day is to take a wider view of the liberty
allowed to Christians in regard to partaking in material enjoyment,
and I dare say that many of you who have thought that I spoke well
in insisting on all things belonging to the Christian, will think
that I am dropping back into the old narrow groove in my next
remark, that all such thoughts need guarding.
One has heard the example of Christ invoked to justify unchristian
laxity and excess. Therefore I wish to say that the liberty
permitted to Christians in these matters is to be limited within the
limits within which Christ's was confined.
The excessive use of innocent things is not justified by His
example, nor is the use of things innocent in themselves, which are
mixed up with harmful things.
Christ's example does not warrant the importance attached to luxury,
the waste on mere eating and drinking. It is sometimes quoted as
against total abstinence. It has no bearing on the question. But if
He gave up heaven for His brethren, I think that they who give up an
indulgence for the sake of theirs are in the line of His action. I
venture to think that if Jesus Christ lived in England to-day, He
would be a total abstinence fanatic.
'If thy hand offend thee, cut it off.' Asceticism is not the
highest, but it is sometimes necessary. If my indulgence in innocent
things hurts me, or if my abstinence from them would help others, or
increase my power for good, or if innocent things are intertwisted
with things not innocent, then it is vain to try to shelter under
Christ's example, and the only right course for His disciple is to
abridge his liberty. He came eating and drinking, therefore His
followers may use all innocent earthly blessings and bodily
pleasures, subject to this one law: 'Whether ye eat or drink, or
whatever ye do, do all to the glory of God,' and to this solemn
warning: 'He that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap
II. His enemies' witness to Jesus as the friend of the outcasts.
The fact was that He drew them to Himself and evidently was glad to
have them round Him. The inference natural to low natures was
_noscitur a sociis_ and that the bond between Him and them was
common evil tendencies and ways. His censors could not conceive of
any one's seeking the outcasts from pity and for their good.
(_a_) Christ's consorting with these was the revelation of His
love to them.
It meant no complicity with, nor minimising of, sinfulness.
His sternness is as conspicuous as His love.
He warned, rebuked, tried to win back.
The highest purity is not repellent to sinners.
So in Jesus is the combination of tenderest love and intense moral
How difficult for anything but actual sight of such a life to have
painted it! Where did the evangelists get such an embodiment of two
attitudes so unlike each other, and which we so seldom see united in
fact? I venture to think that the combination in perfect harmony and
proportion of these, is a strong presumption in favour of the
historical truth of the Christ of the gospels.
But remember that if we take His own statement ('He that hath seen
Me hath seen the Father'), we are to see in this kindly consorting
with sinners not only the love of a perfectly pure manhood, but a
revelation of the heart of God. And that adds wonderfulness and awe
to the fact. This man to whom sinners were drawn by strange
attraction, in whom they found the highest purity and yet softest
tenderness, therein revealed God.
(_b_) It witnesses to His boundless hope.
No outcasts were hopeless in His view. To man's eyes there are
hopeless classes, but He sees deeper. 'Perhaps a spark lies hid.'
There are dormant possibilities in all souls.
None are so hard as that they cannot be melted by the high
temperature of love, just as there are no metals that cannot be
volatilised if exposed to intense heat.
Carry the most thick-ribbed ice into the sun and it will thaw.
So the Christian view of mankind is much more hopeful than that of
mere educationists or moralists.
None of them paint human nature so black as it does, but none of
them have such boundless confidence in the possibility of making it
Urge, then, that none are beyond the power of Christ's gospel. His
divine Spirit can change any man. There are no incurables in the
judgment of the great Physician.
(_c_) It witnesses to the truth that gross sin does not shut
out from Him so much as does self-complacent ignorance of our own
'They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.'
Where should the physician be but at the sick man's bedside?
The one impassable barrier between us and Christ is fancying that we
are not sinners and do not need Him.
This boundless hopefulness and seeking after the outcasts is the
unique glory of Christianity. What has been the mainspring of all
movements for their elevation? What broke the chains of slavery?
What has sent men to the ends of the earth for the elevation of
savage races? What is the motive power in the benevolent works of
this day? Is it philosophical altruism or is it Christian faith? No
doubt, there are some sporadic movements among people who do not
accept the gospel. At present, I do not ask how far these are due to
the underground influence of Christianity filtering to men who stand
apart from it. But I gravely doubt whether you will ever get any
large, continuous, self-sacrificing efforts for the outcasts, unless
they are the direct result of the spirit of Christ moving on men who
owe their own deliverance to Him. We have not yet seen agnostic
missionary societies or the like.
This spirit must mark all living Christianity. If ever churches
forget their obligations to the publicans and sinners, they will
cease to grow. It will be a sign that they have lost their hold of
Christ. They will soon die, and no mourners will attend their
funerals. It is a good sign to-day that all Christian churches are
waking up to feel more their obligations to the outcasts. Only, we
must take heed that we go to them as Christ did, making no
compromise with sin, speaking no false flatteries, and bent on one
thing, their emancipation from the evil which is slaying them.
Let us all take the blessed thought for ourselves, that Jesus Christ
is our friend because He is the friend of sinners, and we are
sinners. Degrees of sinfulness vary, but the fact is invariable. The
universality of sinfulness makes the universality of Christ's love
the more wonderful and blessed. If He did not love sinners, there
would be none for Him to love. We may be His enemies, or may neglect
all His beseechings; but He is still our friend, wishing us well,
and desiring to bless us. But He cannot give us His deepest
friendship unless we are willing to recognise our sin. We must come
to Him on the footing of transgressors if we are to come to Him at
He will deliver us from our sins.
Appeal to give hearts to Him.
How has He shown His friendship? 'Greater love hath no man than
this,' that 'while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.'
To be friends of Christ is the highest honour and blessing.
'Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you.'
'He was called the friend of God.' Abraham's name in Mohammedan
lands is still El Khalil, the companion or friend. That is our
highest title. Christ's friends will not continue sinners.
SODOM, CAPERNAUM, MANCHESTER
'Then began He to upbraid the cities wherein most of
His mighty works were done, because they repented not.'
--MATT. xi. 20.
These words, and the woes which they introduce, are found in another
connection in Luke's Gospel. He attaches them to his report of the
mission of the seventy disciples. Matthew here introduces them in an
order which seems not to depend upon time, but upon identity of
subject. It is his method in his Gospel to group together similar
events, as we have it exemplified, for instance, in the Sermon on
the Mount, and in the long procession of miracles which immediately
follows it, as well as in other parts of the Gospel. In this chapter
it is not difficult to discover the common idea which binds its
parts into a whole. We have a number of instances strung together,
illustrating the different effects of Christ's appearance and work
on different classes of persons. There pass before us, John the
Baptist with his doubts, the excitable multitude ready to take the
Kingdom of Heaven by storm, the critics who cavilled with impartial
inconsistency alike at John's asceticism and at Christ's freedom.
Then follow the woes pronounced by Him upon the indifference of
those who knew Him best, and these are succeeded by His rejoicing in
spirit over the babes who accepted Him; and the whole is crowned by
great words of invitation which extend equally over those and over
all other varieties of disposition, and, since all 'labour and are
heavy laden,' summon all, be they what they may, to come and find
rest in Him. Obviously, then, the order in this chapter is not that
of time, but that of subject.
Notice that of all these different classes and types of character
that pass in review before us, the one that is singled out for the
solemn denunciation of heavy judgment is that of the people who
stood in a blaze of light, and simply paid no attention to it. These
are the worst sort. I wonder how many of them are in my audience
Let me try, then, to bring before you the thoughts naturally
suggested by these introductory words, and the solemn, sorrowful
forebodings of retribution which follow them. I ask you to look at
three things,--the blaze of light; the neglect of the light; the
rebuke for the neglected light. 'Jesus began to upbraid the cities
wherein most of His mighty works were done.'
I. First, then, consider the blaze of light.
According to the words of my text, the larger number of the miracles
of our Lord were wrought in these three places. 'Cities,' our Bible
calls them; two of them were little fishing villages, the third a
somewhat considerable town. Where are these miracles recorded? Not
in our gospels. As for Chorazin, we never hear its name except in
this verse, and in the parallel in Luke's Gospel; and all that He
did there is swallowed up in oblivion. As for Bethsaida, there are a
couple of miracles, probably, recorded as having been wrought there,
though there is some obscurity in reference to the locality of at
least one of them. As for Capernaum, there are several miracles
recorded as having been performed in that place, and several others
referred to as having been done there. But there is nothing in the
four gospels that would suggest the statement of the text.
Now the inference (which has nothing to do with my present subject,
but which I just note in passing) is,--how extremely fragmentary and
incomplete these four gospels avowedly are! They harvest for us a
few ears plucked in the great waving cornfield,--and all the others
withered and died where they grew. The light falls upon one or two
groups in the crowd of miserables whom He helped, the rest lie in
dim shadow. You have to think of dozens, I suppose I should not be
exaggerating if I were to say hundreds, of miracles unrecorded but
known, lying behind the specimens that we have in the gospels. 'Many
other things truly did Jesus, which are not written in this book.'
Our Lord takes these two little fishing villages, and He parallels
and contrasts them with the two great maritime cities of Tyre and
Sidon, and says that these insignificant places have far more light
than those had. Then He isolates Capernaum, a place of more
importance, and His own usual settled residence; and, in like
manner, He contrasts it with the long-buried Sodom, and proclaims
the superiority of the illumination which fell on the more modern
three. Why were they so superior? Because they had Moses? because
they had the prophets, the law, the temple, the priesthood? By no
means. Because they had _Him_. So He sets Himself forth as
being the highest and clearest of all the revelations that God has
made to the world, and asserts that in Him, in His character, in His
deeds, men ought to find motives that should bow them in penitence
before God; motives sweeter, tenderer, stronger than any that the
world knows besides. There is no such light of the knowledge of the
glory of God anywhere else as there is in the face of Jesus Christ.
And oh! brother; no thoughts of the nobleness of rectitude, and the
imperfection of one's own life, no thoughts of a divine justice and
a divine punishment, will bow a man in penitence like having once
caught a glimpse of the perfect sweetness and perfect beauty of the
perfect Humanity that is revealed to us in Jesus Christ.
But now, mark;--as Capernaum is to Sodom, so is Manchester to
Capernaum! I wonder if Jesus Christ were to come amongst us now,
whether He would not repeat in spirit the same lesson that is in my
text, and bid us contrast our greater illumination with the morning
twilight that dawned upon these men, and yet was light enough to
bring condemnation? Think,--these people of whom our Lord is
speaking here, and setting them high above Tyre and Sidon and Sodom,
knew nothing about His cross, death, resurrection, ascension. They
knew Him only as 'a dubious Name,' as a possible Divine Messenger
and a Miracle-worker; but all the sweetest and the deepest thoughts
about Him lay unrevealed. Whilst they stood but in the morning
twilight, you and I stand in the noonday blaze. _They_ might be
pardoned for doubting whether the light that shone from Him was
sunshine or candle, but men of this twentieth century, who have the
whole story of Christ, which is the gospel for the world, wrought
out through all the tragedy and pathos of His death, and triumph and
power of His resurrection, and who have, besides, the history of the
world and of the Church for nineteen centuries, are more
unpardonable unless they listen to Him with penitence and faith,
than were any of His contemporaries.
My brother, we stand in the very focus and fountain, as it were, of
the heavenly radiance. A whole Christ, a crucified Christ, a risen
Christ, an ascended Christ, a Christ who is the Lord of the Spirit,
a Christ who through the centuries is saving and blessing men, a
Christ who can point to nineteen hundred years and say, 'That is My
work, in so far as it is good and noble,'--this Christ shines with a
clearer evidence than the Miracle-worker of Capernaum and Bethsaida.
And to you the word comes, 'If the mighty works which have been done
in _thee_, had been done in Bethsaida and Chorazin, they would
have remained until this day.'
There are many of you here saturated with the knowledge of the
gospel, who from childhood have heard it and heard it and heard it.
You have lived in the light all your days. Alas! 'If the light that
is' round 'thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!'
II. That brings me in the next place to notice the negligent
indifference to the Light in all its blaze.
The men of these three little fishing towns were not sinners above
all the Galileans of their day. Their crime was that they did
nothing. No persecution is recorded as having been raised against
Him by them; there were no angry antagonisms, no scornful words, no
violent opposition. They simply stolidly stood like some black rock
in the sunshine, and let the sunshine pour down upon them, and
remained grim and black as ever. That was all.
That is to say, the thing that brings down the severest rebuke is not
the angry antagonism of the men who are contending in half-darkness,
with a misunderstood and therefore disliked Christ, but the sleek,
passive apathy that is never touched deeper than its ears by the
message of God's word. It is not a difficult thing to incur this
condemnation. You have simply to do what some of you are doing, and
have been doing all your lives, as to Christianity, and that is--nothing!
You have simply to acquiesce politely and respectfully, as many of you
do, and say you are Christians; and there an end. You have simply to
take my words (as I fear so many of those that listen to them do) as
matters of course, the proper things to be said on a Sunday, and for me
to say, which may be very true in some vague, general way, but which
have no felt application to _you_. That is all you have to do.
It is quite enough. Negative vices will ruin a man, in mind, body, and
estate; and the negative sin of simple indifference avails to put a
barrier between you and Jesus Christ, through which none of His blessing
can filter. If a sailor does _not_ lash himself to something fixed,
the next sea that comes across the deck will do the rest. If a sick man
does _not_ take the medicine, by doing nothing he has committed
suicide. And simple passivity, that is to say (to translate it out
of Latin into good, honest English), doing nothing, is all that is
needed in order to part you from Christ and Christ from you. He
'upbraided the cities because they repented _not_.'
One can fancy some well-to-do and thoroughly respectable and
clean-living native of Capernaum saying, 'What! those foul beasts in
Sodom better off than I? Impossible!' Well, Jesus Christ says so
upon very intelligible grounds. The measure of light is the measure
of responsibility. That is one ground. And the not preferring Him is
the preferring of self and the world, and that is the sin of sins.
He will 'convince the world of sin because they believe not on Me.'
Now, one more point, viz. this gelatinous kind of indifference, as
of a disposition not stiff enough to take any impression, is found
most deeply seated, and hopeless, amongst--shall I venture?--amongst
people like _you_, who have been listening, listening, listening, until
your systems have become so habituated to this Christian preaching
that it does not produce the least effect. It all runs off you like
rain off waterproof. You have waterproofed your consciences and your
spiritual susceptibilities by long habit of listening and doing nothing.
And some of you have come to this point, that you positively rather
like the titillation and excitement, slight though it may be, which
is produced by coming in contact now and then with a good, wholesome,
rousing Christian appeal. Not that you ever intend to do anything,
but it is pleasant to see a man in earnest, and preaching as if he
believed what he was saying. And so perhaps some of you are feeling
Ah! my dear friends, it is possible for a man to live by the side of
Niagara until he cannot hear the cataract; and it is an awful thing
for men and women to live under the sound of Christian teaching
until it produces no more effect upon their wills and natures than
the ringing of the church bells, to which they pay no attention.
You do not know the despair that comes over us preachers time after
time, as we look down upon the faces of our congregations, and feel,
'What _shall_ I do to put a sharp enough point upon this truth
to get it into the heart of some man that has been sitting there as
long as I have been standing here, and is never a bit the better for
it?' Our most earnest preaching is like putting a red-hot iron into
a pond: the cold water puts it out and closes above it, and there is
no more heard nor seen of it. Our old Puritan forefathers used to
talk about 'gospel-hardened hearers.' I believe that there are
people listening to me now who have become so inured to Christian
preaching that, like artillery horses, they will not move a muscle
or quiver if a whole battery of cannon is fired off under their
noses. God knows I despair sometimes, many a time, when I think of
the hundreds of people to whom I speak, year after year, and how
there seems next to nothing in the world to come of it all.
III. Now lastly, notice here the rebuke of this negligence of the
'He began to upbraid the cities.' But oh! we shall misunderstand Him
and His purpose if we think that that upbraiding was anything but
the sorrowful expression of His own loving heart, which warned of
what was coming in order that He might never need to send it.
'_Woe_ unto you; _woe_ unto you,' and His own lips quivered and His own
heart felt the woe, as He laid bare the sin and foreannounced the
I do not feel that I dare dwell upon, or that it beseems me to say
much about, this solemn thought. Only, dear friends, I do desire, if
I could, to wake some of you to look realities for once in the face,
and to be sure of this, that retribution is proportioned to light,
and that the sin of sins is the rejection of Jesus Christ. Beneath
the broad folds of that 'more tolerable' there lie infinite degrees
of retribution. The same deed done by a group of men may be
indefinitely varied in its culpability, according to the motives and
the clearness of knowledge which accompany or prompt the doing of
it. And so, just because the life beyond is the accurate outcome and
issue of the whole character and conduct, estimated according to
motive and knowledge, therefore there must be differences infinitely
wide between the fate of the servant that knew his Lord's will, and
the servant that knew not.
Where do you think we gospel-drenched English men and women will
stand in that allocation of culpability? I do not presume to say
more, but I beseech you,--let no present controversies about the
duration and the possible termination of retribution in another
state, or the possible prolongation of a probation into another
state, blind you to the fact that however these questions be
settled, this is a truth, independent of them, but being forgotten
amidst the dust of controversy, that the next life is a life of
retribution, and that there you and I will give account of our
deeds, and chiefly of our attitude to Jesus.
And now let me say, in one word,--hoisting the danger-signal is the
work of kindness, and Jesus Christ was never more loving than when
from His lips there came these words, heavy with His own sorrow, and
stern with the prophecy of retribution. I know that Christian
teachers have often spoken of the solemn things beyond, in tones
much to be deplored, and which weaken the force of their message.
But surely, surely, if we believe in a judgment to come, and if we
believe that some of those that listen to us are in peril of it,
surely, surely, the plainest duty is that with tears in our voice
and pleading tenderness in our tone, seeing the sword coming, we
should give warning, and beseech men to flee for refuge to the hope
of the Gospel. The solemn words that we have been looking at now,
lead up to, and are intended to make more impressive and gracious,
the invitation with which this chapter ends: 'Come unto Me, all ye
that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.'
Dear friends, we stand in the blaze of the light. Our familiarity
with Jesus Christ may be our ruin. We are tempted to pay no heed to
His words because we know them so well. Neglect of Christ on your
part will bring deeper woes on your head than the people of
Capernaum pulled down upon theirs. The brighter the sunshine, the
louder the thunder and the fiercer the lightning; the longer the
summer day, the longer the winter night; the closer the comet comes
to the sun, the further away it plunges, at the other extremity of
its orbit, into space and darkness. So I beseech you, listen as if
you had never heard it before, and listen as if your lives depended
upon it (as indeed they do) to that merciful invitation, 'Come unto
Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden,' and then you will get
rest for your souls here, and at that day when Sodom and Capernaum
and Manchester--they and we--shall stand before His throne, you may
lift up your eyes, and be glad to see who it is that sits on the
tribunal, and that you learned to know and love the face of your
Saviour, before you saw Him enthroned as your Judge.
CHRIST'S STRANGE THANKSGIVING
'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.'
--MATT. xi. 25.
When Jesus was about to cure one dumb man, He lifted up His eyes to
heaven and sighed. Sorrow filled His soul in the act of working
deliverance. The thought of the depth of the miseries He had come to
heal, and of the ocean of them which He was then diminishing but by
one poor drop, saddened Him. When Jesus thought of the woes that had
fallen on the impenitent Sodom, and of the worse that still remained
to be revealed at the day of judgment, He rejoiced in spirit.
Strange! and yet all in harmony with His depth of love. This once,
and this once only, do we read that His heart filled with joy. Did
He lift up His solemn thanksgiving to God, for the woes that had
fallen on Chorazin? Oh no! For the blinding of the wise and prudent?
Oh no! For the revelation to babes? Yes, and not only for that, but
for that full and universal offer and possibility of salvation,
which forms the reason for both the revelation to babes and the
hiding from the wise. If we attend to the connection of this passage
we get light on its force. It begins with a clear prophecy of
endless woe and sorrow upon the rejecters. Then comes my text,
alleviating the terror of that thought of destruction by showing the
principles on which the reception and rejection are especially
based, the sort of people who receive and who reject. Then follows
the reason why the wise are shut out and the babes let in. That
reason is not only God's inscrutable decree, but something in the
very nature of the Gospel. God is hidden from all human sight. There
is one divine Revealer apart from whom all is darkness. 'Neither
doth any man know the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the
Son willeth to reveal Him.' That is the characteristic which shuts
out the wise and lets in the simple.
Then follows the great call to all to come to Him. The practical
issue of all these solemn thoughts is that the Gospel is a Gospel
for all the world, and that the one qualification for coming within
the terms of its offer is to be 'weary and heavy laden.' Thus all
ends in the broad universality of the message, in its adaptation to
all, in its offer to all; and thus it is shown that every apparent
exclusion of any is but the result of its free offer to all, and
that to say 'Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent'
is but to say, 'Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the
waters.' Well then might joy fill the heart of the Man of Sorrows.
Well might He lift up His solemn thanksgiving to God and say, 'I
thank Thee, Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth.'
I. The Great Characteristics of the Gospel.
We shall only understand the ground of the revealing and of the
hiding if we understand what it is which is offered. It is of such a
nature as necessarily to involve a twofold effect, caused by a
twofold attitude towards it.
1. The Gospel addresses itself to all men--man as man--not to what
is sectional or accidental, not to classes, not to schools, not to
the _elite_. It is broad and universal. It speaks no dialect of
a province, but the universal language. It is addressed to Man as
Man. 'We have all of us one human heart.' It appeals to the noble
and the peasant, to the beggar on the dunghill and to the prince on
his throne, in precisely the same fashion. It is equal as the
providence of God, impartial as the light, universal as the air
which reddens equally the blood that flows in long-descended veins
and that of the foundling on the streets. In its sublime
universality there are no distinctions. Death and the Gospel know no
ranks. In both, 'the rich and the poor meet together, the Lord is
the Maker of them all.' 'In Christ Jesus there is neither
circumcision nor uncircumcision.' The blue sky which bends above all
alike is like that great word.
2. It treats all as utterly helpless.
3. It offers to all Redemption as their most pressing want.
Consequently, in substance it is the gift not of culture, but
deliverance, and in form it is not a theory but a fact, not a system
of _credenda_ but an action, not an _-ology_ but a power.
4. It demands from all submission and trust.
These being the characteristics, consider--
II. The qualifications for reception as necessarily resulting from
The persons who receive must be those who consent to take the
station which the Gospel assigns. They must be babes, by which is
meant not such as are innocent, but such as are reliant on a higher
Power, self-distrustful, willing to obey.
These qualifications are all moral. The organ for reception of the
Gospel is the heart, not the head. To receive it by faith is a
spiritual, not an intellectual process. Ignorance is no
qualification nor no disqualification. Ignorance or knowledge is
immaterial. The one condition is to be willing to accept.
III. The disqualification of the wise as necessarily resulting from
The organ for the reception is not the head but the heart.
Therefore, wisdom is a barrier only in this way, that it has nothing
to do in the matter. Its presence or its absence is quite
indifferent here as in many other spheres of experience. The joys of
the affections, the joys of common emotions, the joys of bodily
life--all these are utterly independent of the culture of the
Hence 'wisdom' becomes a barrier, because its possessors are
accustomed to think it the master key. Not intellect, but the pride
of intellect, trusting in it, glorying in wisdom is the
It is not true that there is any discord between religion and
cultivated thought. The loftier the soul, the loftier all its
attributes, the nobler should be, may be, its religion. It is not
true that there is any natural affinity between ignorance and
religion, between narrow understandings and deep faith. That is not
the Bible truth. The religion of Christ is not like owls that love
the twilight, but like eagles that 'purge their sight at the very
fountain itself of heavenly radiance.'
Take history: the great names--an Augustine and a Luther, a Dante
and a Milton, a Bacon and a Pascal--are enough to show that there is
no antagonism. On the other hand, names enough rise to show that
there is no alliance. The inference is that the intellect has little
to do with a man's attitude towards the Revelation of God in Christ,
but that the moral is all.
Let me close with the repetition of the thought that the apparent
exclusion is the result of the universality, and that 'Come unto Me'
is Christ's commentary on my text. Well then may we rejoice when we
think of a gospel for the world. Whatever you are, it is for you if
you are a man. However foolish, though you cannot read a letter and
know nothing, it is for you. If you be enriched with all knowledge,
you must come on the same terms as that beggar at your side. That is
a healthy discipline. You are more than a student, than a scholar,
than a thinker; you are a man, you are a sinful man. There is a
deeper chamber in your heart than any into which knowledge can
penetrate. Christ brings a gospel for all. When we think of it, with
its sublime disregard of all peculiarities, we may well rejoice with
him who said, 'Ye see your calling, brethren,' and with Him, the
loftiest, the incarnate, Wisdom who said, 'I thank Thee, Father.'
For if you rightly grasp the bearing of this text, and mark what
follows it in our Lord's heart and thoughts, you will see these deep
eyes of solemn joy turned from the heaven to you, filmy with
compassion, and those hands, then lifted in rapt devotion, stretched
out to beckon you and all the world to His breast, and hear the
voice that rose in that burst of thanksgiving melting into
tenderness as it woos you, be you wise or ignorant, to come to Him
THE REST GIVER
'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.'--MATT. xi. 28, 29.
One does not know whether tenderness or majesty is predominant in
these wonderful words. A divine penetration into man's true
condition, and a divine pity, are expressed in them. Jesus looks
with clearsighted compassion into the inmost history of all hearts,
and sees the toil and the sorrow which weigh on every soul. And no
less remarkable is the divine consciousness of power, to succour and
to help, which speaks in them. Think of a Jewish peasant of thirty
years old, opening his arms to embrace the world, and saying to all
men, 'Come and rest on My breast.' Think of a man supposing himself
to be possessed of a charm which could soothe all sorrow and lift
the weight from every heart.
A great sculptor has composed a group where there diverge from the
central figure on either side, in two long lines, types of all the
cruel varieties of human pains and pangs; and in the midst stands,
calm, pure, with the consciousness of power and love in His looks,
and with outstretched hands, as if beckoning invitation and dropping
benediction, Christ the Consoler. The artist has but embodied the
claim which the Master makes for Himself here. No less remarkable is
His own picture of Himself, as 'meek and lowly in heart.' Did ever
anybody before say, 'I am humble,' without provoking the comment,
'He that says he is humble proves that he is not'? But Jesus Christ
said it, and the world has allowed the claim; and has answered,
'Though Thou bearest record of Thyself, Thy record is true.'
But my object now is not so much to deal with the revelation of our
Lord contained in these marvellous words, as to try, as well as I
can, to re-echo, however faintly, the invitation that sounds in
them. There is a very striking reduplication running through them
which is often passed unnoticed. I shall shape my remarks so as to
bring out that feature of the text, asking you to look first with me
at the twofold designation of the persons addressed; next at the
twofold invitation; and last at the twofold promise of rest.
I. Consider then the twofold designation here of the persons
addressed, 'Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden.'
The one word expresses effort and toil, the other a burden and
endurance. The one speaks of the active, the other of the passive,
side of human misery and evil. Toil is work which is distasteful in
itself, or which is beyond our faculties. Such toil, sometime or
other, more or less, sooner or later, is the lot of every man. All
work becomes labour, and all labour, sometime or other, becomes
toil. The text is, first of all, and in its most simple and surface
meaning, an invitation to all the men who know how ceaseless, how
wearying, how empty the effort and energy of life is, to come to
this Master and rest.
You remember those bitter words of the Book of Ecclesiastes, where
the preacher sets forth a circle of labour that only comes back to
the point where it began, as being the law for nature and the law
for man. And truly much of our work seems to be no better than that.
We are like squirrels in a cage, putting forth immense muscular
effort, and nothing to show for it after all. 'All is vanity, and
striving after wind.'
Toil is a curse; work is a blessing. But all our work darkens into
toil; and the invitation, 'Come unto Me, all ye that labour,'
reaches to the very utmost verge of the world and includes every
And then, in like manner, the other side of human experience is set
forth in that other word. For most men have not only to work, but to
bear; not only to toil, but to sorrow. There are efforts that need
to be put forth, which task all our energy, and leave the muscles
flaccid and feeble. And many of us have, at one and the same moment,
to work and to weep, to toil whilst our hearts are beating like a
forge-hammer; to labour whilst memories and thoughts that might
enfeeble any worker, are busy with us. A burden of sorrow, as well
as effort and toil, is, sooner or later, the lot of all men.
But that is only surface. The twofold designation here before us
goes a great deal deeper than that. It points to two relationships
to God and to God's law of righteousness. Men labour with vague and
yet with noble effort, sometimes, to do the thing that is right, and
after all efforts there is left a burden of conscious defect. In the
purest and the highest lives there come both of these things. And
Jesus Christ, in this merciful invitation of His, speaks to all the
men that have tried, and tried in vain, to satisfy their consciences
and to obey the law of God, and says to them, 'Cease your efforts,
and no longer carry that burden of failure and of sin upon your
shoulders. Come unto Me, and I will give you rest.'
I should be sorry to think that I was speaking to any man or woman
who had not, more or less, tried to do what is right. You have
laboured at that effort with more or less of consistency, with more
or less of earnestness. Have you not found that you could not
I am sure that I am speaking to no man or woman who has not upon his
or her conscience a great weight of neglected duties, of actual
transgressions, of mean thoughts, of foul words and passions, of
deeds that they would be ashamed that any should see; ashamed that
their dearest should catch a glimpse of. My friend, universal
sinfulness is no mere black dogma of a narrow Calvinism; it is no
uncharitable indictment against the race; it is simply putting into
definite words the consciousness that is in every one of your
hearts. You know that, whether you like to think about it or not,
you have broken God's law, and are a sinful man. You carry a burden
on your back whether you realise the fact or no, a burden that clogs
all your efforts, and that will sink you deeper into the darkness
and the mire. 'Come unto Me, all ye that labour,' and with noble,
but, at bottom, vain, efforts have striven after right and truth.
'Come unto Me all ye that are burdened,' and bear, sometimes
forgetting it, but often reminded of its pressure by galled
shoulders and wearied limbs, the burden of sin on your bent backs.
This invitation includes the whole race. In it, as in a blank form,
you may each insert your name. Jesus Christ speaks to thee, John,
Thomas, Mary, Peter, whatever thy name may be, as distinctly as if
you saw your name written on the pages of your New Testament, when
He says to you, 'Come unto Me, _all_ ye that labour and are
heavy laden.' For the 'all' is but the sum of the units; and I, and
thou, and thou, have our place within the word.
II. Now, secondly, look at the twofold invitation that is here.
'Come unto Me ... Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me.' These two
things are not the same. 'Coming unto Me,' as is quite plain to the
most superficial observation, is the first step in the approach to a
companionship, which companionship is afterwards perfected and kept
up by obedience and imitation. The 'coming' is an initial act which
makes a man Christ's companion. And the 'Take My yoke upon you, and
learn of Me,' is the continuous act by which that companionship is
manifested and preserved. So that in these words, which come so
familiarly to most of our memories that they have almost ceased to
present a sharp meaning, there is not only a merciful summons to the
initial act, but a description of the continual life of which that
act is the introduction.
And now, to put that into simpler words, when Jesus Christ says
'Come unto Me,' He Himself has taught us what is His inmost meaning
in that invitation, by another word of His: 'He that cometh unto Me
shall never hunger, and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst';
where the parallelism of the clauses teaches us that to come to
Christ is simply to put our trust in Him. There is in faith a true
movement of the whole soul towards the Master. I think that this
metaphor teaches us a great deal more about that faith that we are
always talking about in the pulpit, and which, I am afraid, many of
our congregations do not very distinctly understand, than many a
book of theology does. To 'come to Him' implies, distinctly, that
He, and no mere theological dogma, however precious and clear, is
the Object on which faith rests.
And, therefore, if Christ, and not merely a doctrinal truth about
Christ, be the Object of our faith, then it is very clear that
faith, which grasps a Person, must be something more than the mere
act of the understanding which assents to a truth. And what more is
it? How is it possible for one person to lay hold of and to come to
another? By trust and love, and by these alone. These be the bonds
that bind men together. Mere intellectual consent may be sufficient
to fasten a man to a dogma, but there must be will and heart at work
to bind a man to a person; and if it be Christ and not a theology,
to which we come by our faith, then it must be with something more
than our brains that we grasp Him and draw near to Him. That is to
say, your will is engaged in your confidence. Trust Him as you trust
one another, only with the difference befitting a trust directed to
an absolute and perfect object of trust, and not to a poor, variable
human heart. Trust Him as you trust one another. Then, just as
husband and wife, parent and child, friend and friend, pass through
all intervening hindrances and come together when they trust and
love, so you come closer to Christ as the very soul of your soul by
an inward real union, than you do even to your dear ones, if you
grapple Him to your heart with the hoops of steel, which, by simple
trust in Him, the Divine Redeemer forges for us. 'Come unto Me,'
being translated out of metaphor into fact, is simply 'Believe on
the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.'
And still further, we have here, not only the initial act by which
companionship and union with Jesus Christ is brought about, but the
continual course by which it is kept up, and by which it is
manifested. The faith which saves a man's soul is not all which is
required for a Christian life. 'Take My yoke upon you, and _learn
of Me_.' The yoke is that which, laid on the broad forehead or
the thick neck of the ox, has attached to it the cords which are
bound to the burden that the animal draws. The burden, then, which
Christ gives to His servants to pull, is a metaphor for the specific
duties which He enjoins upon them to perform; and the yoke by which
they are fastened to their burdens, 'obliged' to their duties, is
His authority, So to 'take His yoke' upon us is to submit our wills
to His authority. Therefore this further call is addressed to all
those who have come to Him, feeling their weakness and their need
and their sinfulness, and have found in Him a Saviour who has made
them restful and glad; and it bids them live in the deepest
submission of will to Him, in joyful obedience, in constant service;
and, above all, in the daily imitation of the Master.
You must put both these commandments together before you get
Christ's will for His children completely expressed. There are some
of you who think that Christianity is only a means by which you may
escape the penalty of your sins; and you are ready enough, or fancy
yourselves so, to listen when He says, 'Come to Me that you may be
pardoned,' but you are not so ready to listen to what He says
afterwards, when He calls upon you to take His yoke upon you, to
obey Him, to serve Him, and above all to copy Him. And I beseech you
to remember that if you go and part these two halves from one
another, as many people do, some of them bearing away the one half
and some the other, you have got a maimed Gospel; in the one case a
foundation without a building, and in the other case a building
without a foundation. The people who say that Christ's call to the
world is 'Come unto Me,' and whose Christianity and whose Gospel is
only a proclamation of indulgence and pardon for past sin, have laid
hold of half of the truth. The people who say that Christ's call is
'Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me,' and that Christianity is a
proclamation of the duty of pure living after the pattern of Jesus
Christ our great Example, have laid hold of the other half of the
truth. And both halves bleed themselves away and die, being torn
asunder; put them together, and each has power.
That separation is one reason why so many Christian men and women
are such poor Christians as they are--having so little real
religion, and consequently so little real joy. I could lay my
fingers upon many men, professing Christians--I do not say whether
in this church or in other churches--whose whole life shows that
they do not understand that Jesus Christ has a twofold summons to
His servants; and that it is of no avail once, long ago, to have
come, or to think that you have come, to Him to get pardon, unless
day by day you are keeping beside Him, doing His commandments, and
copying His sweet and blessed example.
III. And now, lastly, look at the twofold promise which is here.
I do not know if there is any importance to be attached to the
slight diversity of language in the two verses, so as that in the
one case the promise runs, 'I will _give_ you rest,' and in the
other, 'Ye shall _find_ rest.' That sounds as if the rest that
was contingent upon the first of the invitations was in a certain
and more direct and exclusive fashion Christ's gift than the rest
which was contingent upon the second. It may be so, but I attach no
importance to that criticism; only I would have you observe that our
Lord distinctly separates here between the rest of 'coming,' and the
rest of wearing His 'yoke.' These two, howsoever they may be like
each other, are still not the same. The one is the perfecting and
the prolongation, no doubt, of the other, but has likewise in it
some other, I say not more blessed, elements. Dear brethren, here
are two precious things held out and offered to us all. There is
rest in coming to Christ; the rest of a quiet conscience which gnaws
no more; the rest of a conscious friendship and union with God, in
whom alone are our soul's home, harbour, and repose; the rest of
fears dispelled; the rest of forgiveness received into the heart. Do
you want that? Go to Christ, and as soon as you go to Him you will
get that rest.
There is rest in faith. The very act of confidence is repose. Look
how that little child goes to sleep in its mother's lap, secure from
harm because it trusts. And, oh! if there steal over our hearts such
a sweet relaxation of the tension of anxiety when there is some dear
one on whom we can cast all responsibility, how much more may we be
delivered from all disquieting fears by the exercise of quiet
confidence in the infinite love and power of our Brother Redeemer,
Christ! He will be 'a covert from the storm, and a refuge from the
tempest'; as 'rivers of water in a dry place, and the shadow of a
great rock in a weary land.' If we come to Him, the very act of
coming brings repose.
But, brethren, that is not enough, and, blessed be God! that is not
all. There is a further, deeper rest in obedience, and emphatically
and most blessedly there is a rest in Christ-likeness. 'Take My yoke
upon you.' There is repose in saying 'Thou art my Master, and to
Thee I bow.' You are delivered from the unrest of self-will, from
the unrest of contending desires, you get rid of the weight of too
much liberty. There is peace in submission; peace in abdicating the
control of my own being; peace in saying, 'Take Thou the reins, and
do Thou rule and guide me.' There is peace in surrender and in
taking His yoke upon us.
And most especially the path of rest for men is in treading in
Christ's footsteps. 'Learn of Me,' it is the secret of tranquillity.
We have done with passionate hot desires,--and it is these that
breed all the disquiet in our lives--when we take the meekness and
the lowliness of the Master for our pattern. The river will no
longer roll, broken by many a boulder, and chafed into foam over
many a fall, but will flow with even foot, and broad, smooth bosom,
to the parent sea.
There is quietness in self-sacrifice, there is tranquillity in
ceasing from mine own works and growing like the Master.
'The Cross is strength; the solemn Cross is gain.
The Cross is Jesus' breast,
Here giveth He the rest,
That to His best beloved doth still remain.'
'Take up thy cross daily,' and thou enterest into His rest.
My brother, 'the wicked is like the troubled sea that cannot rest,
whose waters cast up mire and dirt.' But you, if you come to Christ,
and if you cleave to Christ, may be like that 'sea of glass, mingled
with fire,' that lies pure, transparent, waveless before the Throne
of God, over which no tempests rave, and which, in its deepest
depths, mirrors the majesty of 'Him that sitteth upon the Throne,
and of the Lamb.'
THE PHARISEES' SABBATH AND CHRIST'S
'At that time Jesus went on the Sabbath day through the
corn; and His disciples were an hungred, and began to
pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. 2. But when the
Pharisees saw it they said unto Him, Behold, Thy
disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the
Sabbath day. 3. But he said unto them, Have ye not read
what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that
were with him; 4. How he entered into the house of God,
and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him
to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only
for the priests! 5. Or have ye not read in the law, how
that on the Sabbath days the priests in the temple
profane the Sabbath, and are blameless! 6. But I say
unto you, That in this place is one greater than the
temple. 7. But if ye had known what this meaneth, I
will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have
condemned the guiltless. 8. For the Son of Man is Lord
even of the Sabbath day 9. And when he was departed
thence, He went into their synagogue: 10. And, behold,
there was a man which had his hand withered. And they
asked Him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath
days? that they might accuse Him. 11. And He said unto
them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have
one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the Sabbath day,
will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? 12. How
much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is
lawful to do well on the Sabbath days. 13. Then saith
He to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he
stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as
the other. 14. Then the Pharisees went out, and held a
counsel against Him, how they might destroy Him.'
--MATT. xii. 1-14.
We have had frequent occasion to point out that this Gospel is
constructed, not on chronological, but on logical lines. It groups
together incidents related in subject, though separated in time.
Thus we have the collection of Christ's sayings in the Sermon on the
Mount, followed by the collection of doings in chapters viii. and
ix., the collected charge to His ambassadors in chapter x., the
collection of instances illustrative of the relations of different
classes to the message of the Kingdom and its King in chapter xi.,
and now in this chapter a series of incidents setting forth the
growing bitterness of antagonism on the part of the guardians of
traditional and ceremonial religion. This is followed, in the next
chapter, with a series of parables.
The present lesson includes two Sabbath incidents, in the first of
which the disciples are the transgressors of the sabbatic tradition;
in the second, Christ's own action is brought into question. The
scene of the first is in the fields, that of the second is in the
synagogue. In the one, Sabbath observance is set aside at the call
of personal needs; in the other, at the call of another's calamity.
So the two correspond to the old Puritan principle that the Sabbath
law allowed of 'works of necessity and of mercy.'
I. The Sabbath and personal needs. This is a strange sort of King
who cannot even feed His servants. What a glimpse into the penury of
their usual condition the quiet statement that the disciples were
hungry gives us, especially if we remember that it is not likely
that the Master had fared better than they! Indeed, His reference to
David and his band of hungry heroes suggests that 'He was an
hungred' as well as 'they that were with Him.' As they traversed
some field path through the tall yellowing corn, they gathered a few
ears, as the merciful provision of the law allowed, and hastily
began to eat the rubbed-out grains. As soon as they 'began,' the
eager Pharisees, who seem to have been at their heels, call Him to
'behold' this dreadful crime, which, they think, requires His
immediate remonstrance. If they had had as sharp eyes for men's
necessities as for their faults, they might have given them food
which it was 'lawful' to eat, and so obviated this frightful
iniquity. But that is not the way of Pharisees. Moses had not
forbidden such gleaning, but the casuistry which had spun its
multitudinous webs over the law, hiding the gold beneath their dirty
films, had decided that plucking the ears was of the nature of
reaping, and reaping was work, and work was forbidden, which being
settled, of course the inferential prohibition became more important
than the law from which it was deduced. That is always the case with
human conclusions from revelation; and the more questionable these
are, the more they are loved by their authors, as the sickly child
of a family is the dearest.
Our Lord does not question the authority of the tradition, nor ask
where Moses had forbidden what His disciples were doing. Still less
does He touch the sanctity of the Jewish Sabbath. He accepts His
questioners' position, for the time, and gives them a perfect answer
on their own ground. Perhaps there may be just a hint in the double
'Have ye not read?' that they could not produce Scripture for their
prohibition, as He would do for the liberty which He allowed. He
quotes two instances in which ceremonial obligations gave way before
higher law. The first, that of David and his followers eating the
shew-bread, which was tabooed to all but priests, is perhaps chosen
with some reference to the parallel between Himself, the true King,
now unrecognised and hunted with His humble followers, and the
fugitive outlaw with his band. It is but a veiled allusion at most;
but, if it fell on good soil, it might have led some one to ask, 'If
this is David, where is Saul, and where is Doeg, watching him to
accuse him?' This example serves our Lord's purpose of showing that
even a divine prohibition, if it relates to mere ceremonial matter,
melts, like wax, before even bodily necessities. What a thrill of
holy horror would meet the enunciation of the doctrine that such a
carnal thing as hunger rightfully abrogated a sacred ritual
proscription! The law of right is rigid; that of external ceremonies
is flexible. Better that a man should die than that the one should
be broken; better that the other should be flung to the winds than
that a hungry man should go unfed. It may reasonably be doubted
whether all Christian communities have learned the sweep of that
principle yet, or so judge of the relative importance of keeping up
their appointed forms of worship, and of feeding their hungry
brother. The brave Ahimelech, 'the son of Ahitub,' was ahead of a
good many people of to-day.
The second example comes still closer to the question in hand, and
supplies the reference to the Sabbath law, which the former had not.
There was much hard work done in the temple on the Sabbath--sacrifices
to be slain, fires and lamps to be kindled, and so on. That was not
Sabbath desecration. Why? Because it was done in the temple, and as a
part of divine service. The sanctity of the place, and the consequent
sanctity of the service, exempted it from the operation of the law.
The question, no doubt, was springing to the lips of some scowling
Pharisee, 'And what has that to do with our charge against your
disciples?' when it was answered by the wonderful next words, 'In
this place'--here among the growing corn, beneath the free heaven, far
away from Jerusalem--'is one greater than the temple.' Profound words,
which could only sound as blasphemy or nonsense to the hearers, but
which touch the deepest truths concerning His person and His relations
to men, and which involve the destruction of all temples and rituals.
He is all that the temple symbolised. In Him the Godhead really dwells;
He is the meeting-place of God and man, the place of the oracle, the
place of sacrifice. Then, where He stands is holy ground, and all work
done with reference to Him is worship. These poor followers of His are
priests; and if, for His sake, they had broken a hundred Sabbath
regulations, they were guiltless.
So far our Lord has been answering His opponents; now He attacks.
The quotation from Hosea is often on His lips. Here He uses it to
unmask the real motives of His assailants. Their murmuring came not
from more religion, but from less love. If they had had a little
more milk of human kindness in them, it would have died on their
lips; if they had grasped the real meaning of the religion they
professed, they would have learned that its soul was 'mercy'--that
is, of course, man's gentleness to man--and that sacrifice and
ceremony were but the body, the help, and sometimes the hindrance,
of that soul. They would have understood the relative importance of
disposition and of external worship, as end and means, and not have
visited a mere breach of external order with a heat of disapprobation
only warranted by a sin against the former. Their judgment would have
been liker God's if they had looked at those poor hungry men with
merciful eyes and with merciful hearts, rather than with eager scrutiny
that delighted to find them tripping in a triviality of outward
observance. What mountains of harsh judgment by Christ's own followers
on each other would have been removed into the sea if the spirit of
these great words had played upon them!
The 'for' at the beginning of verse 8 seems to connect with the last
words of the preceding verse, 'I call them guiltless, for,' etc. It
states more plainly still the claim already put forward in verse 6.
'The Son of Man,' no doubt, is equivalent to 'Messiah'; but it is
more, as revealing at once Christ's true manhood and His unique and
complete manhood, in which the very ideal of man is personally
realised. It can never be detached from His other name, the 'Son of
God.' They are the obverse and reverse of the same golden coin. He
asserts His power over the Sabbath, as enjoined upon Israel. His is
the authority which imposed it. It is plastic in His hands. The
whole order of which it is part has its highest purpose in
witnessing of Him. He brings the true 'rest.'
II. The Sabbath, and works of beneficence. Matthew appears to have
brought together here two incidents which, according to Luke, were
separated in time. The scene changes to a synagogue, perhaps that of
Capernaum. Among the worshippers is a man with 'a withered hand,'
who seems to have been brought there by the Pharisees as a bait to
try to draw out Christ's compassion. What a curious state of mind
that was,--to believe that Christ could work miracles, and to want
Him to do one, not for pity's sake, nor for confirmation of faith,
but to have material for accusing Him! And how heartlessly careless
of the poor sufferer they are, when they use him thus! He for his
part stands silent. Desire and faith have no part in evoking this
miracle. Deadly hatred and calculating malignity ask for it, and for
once they get their wish. Having baited their hook, and set the man
with his shrunken hand full in view, they get into their corners and
wait the event. Matthew tells us that they ask our Lord the question
which Luke represents Him as asking them. Perhaps we may say that He
gave voice to the question which they were asking in their hearts.
Their motive is distinctly given here. They wanted material for a
legal process before a local tribunal. The whole thing was an
attempt to get Jesus within the meshes of the law. Again, as in the
former case, it is the traditional, not the written, law, which
healing would have broken. The question evidently implies that, in
the judgment of the askers, healing was unlawful. Talmudical
scholars tell us that in later days the rabbis differed on the
point, but that the prevalent opinion was, that only sicknesses
threatening immediate danger to life could lawfully be treated on
the Sabbath. The more rigid doctrine was obviously held by Christ's
questioners. It is a significant instance of the absurdity and
cruelty which are possible when once religion has been made a matter
of outward observance. Nothing more surely and completely ossifies
the heart and blinds common sense.
In His former answer Jesus had appealed to Scripture to bear out His
teaching that Sabbath observance must bend to personal necessities.
Here He appeals to the natural sense of compassion to confirm the
principle that it must give way to the duty of relieving others. His
question is as confident of an answer as the Pharisees' had been.
But though He takes it for granted that His hearers could only
answer it in one way, the microscopic and cold-blooded ingenuity of
the rabbis, since His day, answers it in another. They say, 'Don't
lift the poor brute out, but throw in a handful of fodder, and
something for him to lie upon, and let him be till next day.' A
remarkable way of making 'thine ox and thine ass' keep the Sabbath!
There is a delicacy of expression in the question; the owner of 'one
sheep' would be more solicitous about it than if he had a hundred;
and our Shepherd looks on all the millions of His flock with a heart
as much touched by their sorrow and needs as if each were His only
possession. The question waits for no answer; but Christ goes on (as
if there could be but one reply) to His conclusion, which He binds
to His first question by another, equally easy to answer. Man's
superiority to animals makes his claim for help more imperative.
'You would not do less for one another than for a sheep in a hole,
surely.' But the form in which our Lord put His conclusive answer to
the Pharisees gives an unexpected turn to the reply. He does not
say, 'It is lawful to heal,' but, 'It is lawful to do well,' thus at
once showing the true justification of healing, namely, that it was
a beneficent act, and widening the scope of His answer to cover a
whole class of cases. 'To do well' here means, not to do right, but
to do good, to benefit men. The principle is a wide one: the
charitable succour of men's needs, of whatever kind, is congruous
with the true design of that day of rest. Have the churches laid
that lesson to heart? On the whole, it is to be observed that our
Lord here distinctly recognises the obligation of the Sabbath, that
He claims power over it, that He permits the pressure of one's own
necessities and of others' need of help, to modify the manner of its
observance, and that He leaves the application of these principles
to the spiritual insight of His followers.
The cure which follows is done in a singular fashion. Without a
whisper of request from the sufferer or any one else, He heals him
by a word. His command has a promise in it, and He gives the power
to do what He bids the man do. 'Give what Thou commandest,' says St.
Augustine, 'and command what Thou wilt.' We get strength to obey in
the act of obedience. But beyond the possible symbolical
significance of the mode of cure, and beyond the revelation of
Christ's power to heal by a word, the manner of healing had a
special reason in the very cavils of the Pharisees. Not even they
could accuse Him of breaking any Sabbath law by such a cure. What
had He done? Told the man to put out his hand. Surely that was not
unlawful. What had the man done? Stretched it forth. Surely that
broke no subtle rabbinical precept. So they were foiled at every
turn, driven off the field of argument, and baffled in their attempt
to find ground for laying an information against Him. But neither
His gentle wisdom nor His healing power could reach these hearts,
made stony by conceit and pedantic formalism; and all that their
contact with Jesus did was to drive them to intenser hostility, and
to send them away to plot His death. That is what comes of making
religion a round of outward observances. The Pharisee is always
blind as an owl to the light of God and true goodness; keen-sighted
as a hawk for trivial breaches of his cobweb regulations, and cruel
as a vulture to tear with beak and claw. The race is not extinct. We
all carry one inside us, and need God's help to cast him out.
AN ATTEMPT TO ACCOUNT FOR JESUS
'But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This man
doth not cast out demons, but by Beelzebub, the prince
of the demons.'--MATT. xii. 24.
Mark's Gospel tells us that this astonishing explanation of Christ
and His work was due to the ingenious malice of an ecclesiastical
deputation, sent down from Jerusalem to prevent the simple folk in
Galilee from being led away by this new Teacher. They must have been
very hard put to it to explain undeniable but unwelcome facts, when
they hazarded such a preposterous theory.
Formal religionists never know what to make of a man who is in
manifest touch with the unseen. These scribes, like Christ's other
critics, judged themselves in judging Him, and bore witness to the
very truths that they were eager to deny. For this ridiculous
explanation admits the miraculous, recognises the impossibility of
accounting for Christ on any naturalistic hypothesis, and by its
very outrageous absurdity indicates that the only reasonable
explanation of the facts is the admission of His divine message and
authority. So we may learn, even from such words as these, how the
glory of Jesus Christ shines, though distorted and blurred, through
the fogs of prejudice and malice.
I. Note, then, first, the unwelcome and undeniable facts that insist
I have said that these hostile critics attest the reality of the
miracles. I know that it is not fashionable at present to attach
much weight to the fact that none of all the enemies that saw them
ever had a doubt about the reality of Christ's miracles. I know
quite well that in an age that believed in the possibility of the
supernatural, as this age does not, credence would be more easy, and
that such testimony is less valuable than if it had come from a jury
of scientific twentieth century sceptics. But I know, on the other
hand, that for long generations the expectation of the miraculous
had died out before Christ came; that His predecessor, John the
Baptist, made no such claims; and that, at first, at all events,
there was no expectation of Jesus working miracles, to lead to any
initial ease of acceptance of His claims. And I know that there were
never sharper and more hostile eyes brought to bear upon any man and
his work than the eyes of these ecclesiastical 'triers.' It would
have been so easy and so triumphant a way of ending the whole
business if they could have shown, what they were anxious to be able
to show, that the miracle was a trick. And so I venture to think
that not without some weight is the attestation from the camp of the
enemy, 'This man casteth out demons.'
But you have to remember that amongst the facts to be explained is
not only this one of Christ's works having passed muster with His
enemies, but the other of His own reiterated and solemn claim to
have the power of working what we call miracles. Now, I wish to
dwell on that for one moment, because it is fashionable to put one's
thumb upon it nowadays. It is not unusual to eliminate from the
Gospel narrative all that side of it, and then to run over in
eulogiums about the rest. But what we have to deal with is this
fact, that the Man whom the world admits to be the consummate flower
of humanity, meek, sane, humble, who has given all generations
lessons in self-abnegation and devotion, claimed to be able to raise
the dead, to cast out demons, and to do many wonderful works. And
though we should be misrepresenting the facts if we said that He did
what His followers have too often been inclined to do, _i.e._
rested the stress of evidence upon that side of His work, yet it is
an equal exaggeration in the other direction to do, as so many are
inclined to do to-day, _i.e._ disparage the miraculous evidence
as no evidence at all. 'Go and tell John the things that ye see and
hear,'--that is His own answer to the question, 'Art Thou He that
should come?' And though I rejoice to believe that there are far
loftier and more blessed answers to it than these outward signs and
tokens, they _are_ signs and tokens; and they are part of the
whole facts that have to be accounted for.
I would venture to widen the reference of my text for a moment, and
include not only the actual miracles of our Lord's earthly life, but
all the beneficent, hallowing, elevating, ennobling, refining
results which have followed upon the proclamation of His truth in
the world ever since. I believe, as I think Scripture teaches me to
believe, that in the world today Christ is working; and that it is a
mistake to talk about the results of 'Christianity,' meaning thereby
some abstract system divorced from Him. It is the working of Jesus
Christ in the world that has brought 'nobler manners, purer laws';
that has given a new impulse and elevation to art and literature;
that has lifted the whole tone of society; that has suppressed
ancient evils; that has barred the doors of old temples of devildom,
of lust, and cruelty, and vice; and that is still working in the
world for the elevation and the deifying of humanity. And I claim
the whole difference between 'B.C. and A.D.'--the whole difference
between Christendom and Heathendom--as being the measure of the
continuous power with which Jesus Christ has grappled with and
throttled the snakes that have fastened on men. That continuous
operation of His in delivering from the powers of evil has, indeed,
not yielded such results as might have been expected. But just as on
earth He was hindered in the exercise of His supernatural power by
men's unbelief, so that 'He could do no mighty works, save that He
laid His hands on a few sick folk' here and there, 'and healed
them,' so He has been thwarted by His Church, and hindered in the
world, from manifesting the fulness of His power. But yet,
sorrowfully admitting that, and taking as deserved the scoffs of the
men that say, 'Your Christianity does not seem to do so very much
after all,' I still venture to allege that its record is unique; and
that these are facts which wise men ought to take into account, and
have some fairly plausible way of explaining.
II. Secondly, note the preposterous explanation. 'This man doth not
cast out demons, but by Beelzebub, the prince of the demons.' That
is the last resort of prejudice so deep that it will father an
absurdity rather than yield to evidence. And Christ has no
difficulty in putting it aside, as you may remember, by a piece of
common sense: 'If Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against
himself, and his kingdom cannot stand.' There is an old play which
has for its title, _The Devil as an Ass._ He is not such an ass
as that, to build up with one hand and cast down with the other. As
the proverb has it, 'Hawks do not pick out hawks' eyes.' But this
plainly hopeless attempt to account for Christ and His work may be
turned into a witness for both, and yield not unimportant lessons.
This explanation witnesses to the insufficiency of all explanations
which omit the supernatural. These men felt that they had to do with
a Man who was in touch with a whole world of unseen powers; and that
they had here to deal with something to which ordinary measuring
lines were palpably inapplicable. And so they fell back upon 'by
Beelzebub'; and they thereby admitted that humanity without
something more at the back of it never made such a man as that. And
I beg you to lay that to heart. It is very easy to solve an
insoluble problem if you begin by taking all the insoluble elements
out of it. And that is how a great deal of modern thinking does with
Christianity. Knock out all the miracles; pooh-pooh all Christ's
claims; say nothing about Incarnation; declare Resurrection to be
entirely unhistorical, and you will not have much difficulty in
accounting for the rest; and it will not be worth the accounting
for. But here is the thing to be dealt with, that _whole_ life,
the Christ of the Gospels. And I venture to say that any explanation
professing to account for Him which leaves out His coming from an
unseen world, and His possession of powers above this world of sense
and nature, is ludicrously inadequate. Suppose you had a chain which
for thousands of years had been winding on to a drum, and link after
link had been rough iron, and all at once there comes one of pure
gold, would it be reasonable to say that it had been dug from the
same mine, and forged in the same fires, as its black and ponderous
companions? Generation after generation has passed across the earth,
each begetting sons after its own likeness; and lo! in the midst of
them starts up one sinless Man. Is it reasonable to say that He is
the product of the same causes which have produced all the millions,
and never another like Him? Surely to account for Jesus without the
supernatural is hopeless.
Further, this explanation may be taken as an instance showing the
inadequacy of all theories and explanations of Christ and
Christianity from an unbelieving point of view. It was the first
attempt of unbelievers to explain where Christ's power came from.
Like all first attempts, it was crude, and it has been amended and
refined since. Earlier generations did not hesitate to call the
Apostles liars, and Christ's contemporaries did not hesitate to call
Him 'this deceiver.' We have got beyond that; but we still are met
by explanations of the power of the Gospel and of Christ, its
subject and Author, which trace these to ignoble elements, and do
not shrink from asserting that a blunder or a hallucination lies at
Now, I am not going to enter upon these matters at any length, but I
would just recall to you our Lord's broad, simple principle: 'A
corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit, neither doth a good tree
bring forth evil fruit.' And I would apply that all round. Christian
teachers have often made great mistakes, as it seems to me, by
tracing the prevalence of the power of some heathen religions to
their vices and lies. No system has ever had great moral power in
this world but by reason of its excellences and truths. Mohammedanism,
for instance, swept away, and rightly, a mere formal superstition which
called itself Christianity, because it grasped the one truth: 'There is
no God but God'; and it had faith of a sort. Monasticism held the
field in Europe, with all its faults, for centuries, because it enshrined
the great Christian truth of self-sacrifice and absolute obedience.
And you may take it as a fixed rule, that howsoever some 'mixture of
falsehood doth ever please,' as Bacon says, in his cynical way, the
reason for the power of any great movement has been the truth that was
in it and not the lie; and the reason why great men have exercised
influence has been their greatness and their goodness, and not their
smallnesses and their vices.
I apply that all round, and I ask you to apply it to Christianity;
and in the light of such plain principles to answer the question:
'Where did this Man, so fair, so radiant, so human and yet so
superhuman, so universal and yet so individual--where did He come
from? and where did the Gospel, which flows from Him, and which has
done such things in the world as it has done--where did it come
from? 'Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?' If it
is true that Jesus Christ is either mistakenly represented in the
Gospels, or that He made enthusiastic claims which cannot be
verified; and if it is true that the faith in a Resurrection on
which Christianity is suspended, and which has produced such fruits
as we know have been produced, is a delusion; then all I can say is
that the noblest lives that ever were lived in the world have found
their impulse in a falsehood or a dream; and that the richest
clusters that ever have yielded wine for the cup have grown upon a
thorn. If like produces like, you cannot account for Christ and
Christianity by anything short of the belief in His Divine mission.
Serpents' eggs do not hatch out into doves. This Man, when He
claimed to be God's Son and the world's Saviour, was no brain-sick
enthusiast; and the results show that the Gospel which His followers
proclaim rests upon no lie.
Again, this explanation is an instance of the credulity of unbelief.
Think of the mental condition which could swallow such an
explanation of such a Worker and such work. It is more difficult to
believe the explanation than the alternative which it is framed to
escape. So it is always. The difficulties of faith are small by
comparison with those of unbelief, gnats beside camels, and that
that is so is plain from the short duration of each unbelieving
explanation of Jesus. One can remember in the compass of one's own
life more than one assailant taking the field with much trumpeting
and flag-waving, whose attack failed and is forgotten. The child's
story tells of a giant who determined to slay his enemy, and
belaboured an empty bed with his club all night, and found his foe
untouched and fresh in the morning. The Gospel is here; what has
become of its assailants? They are gone, and the limbo into which
the scribes' theory has passed will receive all the others. So we
may be quite patient, and sure that the sieve of time, which is
slowly and constantly working, will riddle out all the rubbish, and
cast it on the dunghill where so many exploded theories rot
III. And now, one word about the last point; and that is--the true
Now, at this stage of my sermon, I must not be tempted to say a word
about the light which our Lord throws, in these declarations in the
context, into that dim unseen world. His words seem to me to be too
solemn and didactic to be taken as accommodations to popular
prejudice, and a great deal too grave to be taken as mere metaphor.
And I, for my part, am not so sure that, apart from Him, I know all
things in heaven and earth, as to venture to put aside these solemn
words of His--which lift a corner of the veil which hides the
unseen--and to dismiss them as unworthy of notice. Is it not a
strange thing that a world which is so ready to believe in spiritual
communications when they are vouched for by a newspaper editor, is
so unwilling to believe them when they are in the Bible? And is it
not a strange thing that scientists, who are always taunting
Christians with the importance they attach to man in the plan of the
universe, and ask if all these starry orbs were built for him,
should be so incredulous of teachings which fill the waste places
with loftier beings? But that is by the way.
What does Christ say in the context? He tells the secret of His power.
'I, by the Spirit of God, cast out demons.' And then He goes on to
speak about a conflict that He wages with a strong man; and about His
binding the strong man, and spoiling his house. All which, being
turned into modern language, is just this, that the Lord, by His
incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and government at
the right hand of God, has broken the powers of evil in their central
hold. He has crushed the serpent's head; and though He may still, as
Milton puts it, 'swinge the scaly horror of his folded tail,' it is
but the flurries of the dying brute. The conquering heel is firm on
his head. So, brethren, evil is conquered, and Christ is the Conqueror;
and by His work in life and death He has delivered them that were held
captive of the devil. And you and I may, if we will, pass into 'the
liberty wherewith Christ has made us free.'
That is the only explanation of Him--in His person, in His character,
in His work, and in the effects of that work in the world--that
covers all the facts, and will hold water. All others fail, and they
mostly fail by boldly eliminating the very facts that need to be
accounted for. Let us rather look to Him, thankful that our Brother
has conquered; and let us put our trust in that Saviour. For, if His
explanation is true, then a very solemn personal consideration arises
for each of us, 'If I, by the Spirit of God, cast out demons, then
the Kingdom of God is come unto you,' it stands beside us; it calls
for our obedience. Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ alone, can cast the
evils out of our natures. It is the Incarnate Christ, the Divine
Christ, the crucified Christ, the ascended Christ, the indwelling
Christ, who will so fill our hearts that there shall be no aching
voids there to invite the return of the expelled tyrants. If any
other reformation pass upon us than the thorough one of receiving Him
by faith into our hearts, then, though they may be swept and garnished,
they will be empty; and the demons will come back. With Jesus
inside--they will be outside.
'MAKE THE TREE GOOD'
'... Make the tree good, and his fruit good....'
--MATT. xii. 33.
In this Gospel we find that our Lord twice uses this image of a tree
and its fruit. In the Sermon on the Mount He applies it as a test to
false teachers, who hide, beneath the wool of the sheep's clothing,
the fangs and paws of ravening wolves. He says, 'By their deeds ye
shall know them; for as is the tree so is its fruit.' That is a
rough and ready test, which applies rather to the teacher than to
his doctrine, but it applies, to some extent, to the doctrine too,
on the hypothesis that the teacher's life fairly represents it. Of
course, it is not the only thing that we have to take into account;
but it may prick many a bladder, and unmask many an error, and it is
the way by which the masses generally judge of systems and of their
apostles. A saintly life has more power than dusty volumes of
But in our text Christ applies the same thoughts in rather a deeper
fashion. Here the lesson that He would have us draw is of the
connection between character and conduct; how what we do is
determined by what we are, and how, not of course with the same
absolute regularity and constancy, but still somewhat in the same
fashion as the fruit is true to the tree, so, after all allowance
made for ups and downs, for the irregular play of will and
conscience, for the strife that is waged within a man, for the
temptations of external circumstances, and the like--still, in
general, as is the inner man, so is the outward manifestation. The
facts of a life are important mainly as registering and making
visible the inner condition of the doer. Now, that seems very
elementary. Everybody believes that 'out of the heart are the issues
of life,' as a wise man said long ago, but it is one of the truths
that, if grasped and worked into our consciousness, and out in our
lives, would do much to revolutionise them. And so, though it is a
very old story, and though we all admit it, I wish now to come face
to face with the consequences of this thought, that behind action
lies character, and that Doing is the second step, and Being is the
I. I would ask you to notice how here we are confronted with the
great problem for every man.
'Make the tree good.' It takes a good man to do good things. So how
shallow is all that talk, 'do, do, do,' this, that, and the other
thing. All right, but _be_; that is the first thing; or, as
Christ said, 'Make the tree good, and the fruit' will take care of
itself. So do you not see how, if that is true about us, we are each
brought full front up to this, 'Am I trying to make my tree good?
And what kind of success am I having in the attempt?' The water that
rises from some spring will bring up with it, in solution, a trace
of a bed of salt through which it has come, and of all the minerals
in the soil through which it has passed. And as its sparkling waters
come out into the light, if one could analyse them completely, one
might register a geological section of the strata through which it
has risen. So, our acts bear in them a revelation of all the hidden
beds through which they have risen; and sometimes they are bitter
and salt, but they are always true to the self whose apocalypse they
are to the world, or at all events to God.
Therefore, brethren, I have to urge this, that we shall not be doing
our true work as men and women, if we are simply trying to better our
actions, important as these are. By this saying the centre of gravity
is shifted, and in one aspect, the deeds are made less important. The
condition of the hidden man of the heart is the all-important thing.
Christ's word comes to each of us as the briefest statement of all
that it is our highest duty and truest wisdom to aim at in life--'Make
the tree good.'
If you have ever tried it honestly, and have not been contented with
the superficial cleaning up of outsides, which consists in shifting
the dirt into another place only, not in getting rid of it, I know
what met you almost as soon as you began, like some great black rock
that rises in a mountain-pass, and forbids all farther advance--the
consciousness that you were _not_ good met you. I am not going
to talk theological technicalities. Never mind about phrases--they
have been the ruin of a great deal of earnest preaching--call it what
you like, here is a fact, that whenever a man sets himself, with
anything like resolute determination and rigid self-examination, to
the task of getting himself right, he finds that he is wrong. That
being the case, each of us has to deal with a tremendous problem; and
the more earnestly and honestly we try to deal with it, the more we
shall feel how grave it is. You can cure a great deal, I know. God
forbid that I should say one word that seems to deny a man's power to
do much in the direction of self-improvement, but after all that is
done, again you are brought short up on this fact, the testimony of
conscience. And so I see men labouring at a task as vain as that of
those who would twist the sands into ropes, according to the old
fable. I see men seeking after higher perfection of purity than they
will ever attain. That is the condition of us all, of course, for our
ideal must always outrun our realisation, else we may as well lie down
and die. But there is a difference between the imperfect approximation,
which we feel to be imperfect, and yet feel to be approximation, and
the despairing consciousness, that I am sure a great many of my
audience have had, more or less, that I have a task set for me that is
far beyond my strength. 'Talk about making the tree good! I cannot do
it.' So men fold their hands, and the foiled endeavour begets despair.
Or, as is the case with some of you, it begets indifference, and you
do not care to try any more, because you have tried so often, and have
made nothing of it.
There is the problem, how 'make the tree good,' the tree being bad,
or, at all events, if you do not like that broad statement, the tree
having an element of badness, if I may so say, in and amongst any
goodness that it has. I do not care which of the two forms of
statement you take, the fact remains the same.
II. Note the universal failure to solve the problem.
'Make the tree good.'
Yes. And there are a whole set of would-be arboriculturists who tell
you they will do it if you will trust to them. Let us look at them.
First comes one venerable personage. He says, 'I am Law, and I
prescribe this, and I forbid that, and I show reward and punishment,
and I tell you--be a good man.' Well! what then? It is not for want of
telling that men are bad. The worst man in the world knows his duty a
great deal more than the best man in the world does it. And whether it
is the law of the land, or whether it is the law of society, or the
law written in Scripture, or the law written in a man's own heart,
they all come under the same fatal disability. They tell us what to
do, and they do not put out a finger to help us to do it. A lame man
does not get to the city because he sees a guide-post at the turning
which tells him which road to take. The people who do not believe in
certain modern agitations about the restrictions of the liquor traffic
say, 'You cannot make people sober by Act of Parliament,' which is
absolutely true, although it does not bear, I think, the inference that
they would draw from it, and it just puts into a rough form the fatal
weakness of this would-be gardener and improver of the nature of the
trees. He tells us our duty, and there an end.
Do you remember how the Apostle put the weakness of law in words,
the antique theological terminology of which should not prevent us
from seeing the large truth in them? 'If there had been a law given
which could have given life, then righteousness should have been by
the law,' which being translated into modern English is just this,
If Law could impart a power to obey its behests, then it is all that
we want to make us right. But until it can do that it fails in two
points. It deals with conduct, and we need to have character dealt
with; and it does not lift the burden that it lays on me with one of
its fingers. So we may rule Law out of court.
And then comes another, and he says, 'I am Culture, and intellectual
acquirement; or my name is Education, and I am going to make the
tree good in the most scientific fashion, because what makes men bad
is that they do not know, and if they only knew they would do the
right.' Now, I thoroughly believe that education diminishes crime. I
believe it weans from certain forms of evil. I believe that, other
things being equal, an educated man, with his larger interests and
his cultivated tastes, has a certain fastidiousness developed which
keeps him from being so much tempted by the grosser forms of
transgression. I believe that very largely you will empty your gaols
in proportion as you fill your schools. And let no man say that I am
an obscurantist, or that I am indifferent to the value of education
and the benefits of intellectual culture, when I declare that all
these may be attained, and the nature of the tree remain exactly
what it was. You may prune, you may train along the wall, you may
get bigger fruit, you will not get better fruit. Did you ever hear
the exaggerated line that describes one of the pundits of science as
'the greatest, wisest, meanest of mankind'? The plain fact is that
the cultivation of the understanding has little to do with the
purifying of the depths of the heart.
And then comes another, and says, 'I am the genius of Beauty and Art.
And my recipe is pictures and statues, and all that will refine the
mind, and lift the taste.' That is the popular gospel of this day, in
a great many quarters. Yes, and have we never heard of a period in
European history which was, as they call it, 'the Renaissance' of art
and the death of morality? Do we not know that side by side there have
been cultivated in all ages, and are being cultivated to-day, the most
exclusive devotion to the beauty that can be expressed by art, and the
most intense indifference to the beauty of holiness? Ah! brethren, it
wants something far deeper-going than pictures to purge the souls of
men. And whilst, as before, I thankfully acknowledge the refining
influence of this new cult, I would protest against the absurdity of
putting it upon a pedestal as the guide and elevator of corrupted
And then come others, and they say, 'Environment is the thing that
is to blame for it all. How can you get decent lives in the slums?'
No, I know you cannot; and God bless every effort made to get the
people out of the slums, I say. Only do not let us exaggerate. You
cannot change a man, as deeply as we need to be changed, by any
change of his circumstances. 'Take the bitter tree,' as I remember
an old Jewish saying has it, 'take the bitter tree and plant it in
Eden, and water it with the rivers there; and let the angel Gabriel
be the gardener, and the tree will still bear bitter fruit.' Are all
the people who live in good houses good? Will a 'living wage'--eight
shillings a day and eight hours' play--will these change a man's
character? Will these go deep enough down to touch the springs of
evil? You cannot alter the nature of a set of objects by arranging
them in different shapes, parallelograms, or squares, or circles, or
any others. As long as you have the elements that are in human
nature to deal with, you may do as you like about the distribution
of wealth, and the relation of Capital to Labour, and the various
cognate questions which are all included in the vague word Socialism;
and human nature will be too strong for you, and you will have the
old mischiefs cropping out again. Brethren, you cannot put out
Vesuvius by bringing to bear on it the squirts of all the fire
engines in creation. The water will go up in steam, and do little or
nothing to extinguish the fire. And whilst I would thankfully help
in all these other movements, and look for certain limited results
of good from them, I, for my part, believe, and therefore I am bound
to declare, that neither singly, nor all of them in combination,
will they ever effect the change on human nature which Jesus Christ
regarded as the only possible means for securing that human nature
should bear good fruit.
For, if there were no other reason, there are two plain ones which I
only touch. God is the source of all good, of all creatural purity
as well as all creatural blessedness. And if a life has a blank wall
turned to Him, and has cut itself off from Him, I do not care how
you educate it, fill it full of science, plunge it into an
atmosphere of art, make the most perfect arrangements for social and
economical and political circumstances, that soul is cut off from
the possibility of good, because it is cut off from the fontal
source of all good. And there is another reason which is closely
connected with this, and that is that the true bitter tang in us all
is self-centring regard. That is the mother-tincture that, variously
coloured and compounded, makes in all the poisonous element that we
call sin, and until you get something that will cast that evil out
of a man's heart, you may teach and refine and raise him and arrange
things for him as you like, and you will not master the source of
all wrong and corrupt fruit.
III. Lastly, let me say a word about the triumphant solution.
Law says, 'Make the tree good,' and does not try to do it. Christ
said, 'Make the tree good,' and proceeds to do it. And how does He
He does it by coming to us; to every soul of man on the earth, and
offering, first, forgiveness for all the past. I do not know that
amongst all the bonds by which evil holds a poor soul that struggles
to get away from it, there is one more adamantine and unyielding
than the consciousness that the past is irrevocable, and that 'what
I have written I have written,' and never can blot out. But Jesus
Christ deals with that consciousness. It is true that 'whatsoever a
man soweth that shall he also reap,' and the Christian doctrine of
forgiveness does not contradict that solemn truth, but it assures us
that God's heart is not turned away from us, notwithstanding the
past, and that we can write the future better, and break altogether
the fatal bond that decrees, apart from Him, that 'to-morrow shall
be as this day, and much more abundant,' and that past sin shall
beget a progeny of future sins. That fruitfulness of sin is at an
end, if we take Christ for our Saviour.
He makes the tree good in another fashion still; for the very
centre, as it seems to me, of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that
into our spirits He will breathe a new life kindred with His own, a
new nature which is free from the law and bonds of past sin, and of
present and future death. The tree is made good because He makes
those who believe in Him 'new creatures in Christ Jesus.' Now, do
not turn away and say that that is mysticism. Be it mysticism or
not, it is God's truth. It is the truth of the Christian Revelation,
that faith in Jesus Christ puts a new nature into any man, however
sinful he may have been, and however deep the marks of the fetters
may have been upon his limbs.
Christ makes the tree good in yet another fashion, because He brings to
the reinforcement of the new life which He imparts the mightiest
motives, and sways by love, which leads to the imitation of the Beloved,
which leads to obedience to the Beloved, which leads to shunning as the
worst of evils anything that would break the communion with the Beloved,
and which is in itself the decentralising of the sinful soul from its
old centre, and the making of Christ the Beloved the centre round which
it moves, and from which it draws radiance and light and motion. By all
these methods, and many more that I cannot dwell upon now, the problem
is triumphantly solved by Christianity. The tree is made good, and
'instead of the briar shall come up the myrtle tree.'
You may say, 'That is all very well in theory. What about the
practice? I do not see such a mighty difference between you
Christians and us.' Well, for myself and my brethren, I accept the
rebuke. There is not such a difference as there ought to be. But do
you know why? Not because our great Gardener cannot change the
nature of the plant, but because we do not submit ourselves to His
power as we ought to do. Debit us with as many imperfections and
inconsistencies as you like, do not lay them to the charge of
And yet we are willing to accept the test of Christianity which lies
in its power to change men. I point to the persecutor on the road to
Damascus. I point to the Bedfordshire tinker, to him that wrote
_Pilgrim's Progress_. I point to the history of the Christian
Church all down through the ages. I point to our mission fields to-day.
I point to every mission hall, where earnest, honest men are working,
and where, if you go and ask them, they will let you see people
lifted from the very depths of degradation and sin, and made honest,
sober, respectable, hard-working, though not very intelligent or
refined, Christian people. I suppose that there is no man in an
official position like mine who cannot look back over his ministry
and remember, some of them dozens, some of them scores, some of them
hundreds, of cases in which the change was made on the most hopeless
people, by the simple acceptance of the simple gospel, 'Christ died
for me, and Christ lives in me.' I know that I can recall such, and
I am sure that my brethren can.
People who are not Christians talk glibly about the failure of
Christianity to transform men. They have never seen the
transformations because they have never put themselves in the way of
seeing them. They are being worked to-day; they might be worked here
Try the power of the Gospel for yourselves. You cannot make the tree
good, but you can let Jesus Christ do it. The Ethiopian cannot
change his skin, nor the leopard his spots, but Jesus can do both.
'The lion shall eat straw like the ox.' It is weary work to be
tinkering at your acts. Take the comprehensive way, and let Him
change your character. I believe that in some processes of dyeing, a
piece of cloth, prepared with a certain liquid, is plunged into a
vat full of dye-stuffs of one colour, and is taken out tinged of
another. The soul, wet with the waters of repentance, and plunged
into the 'Fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness,' the crimson
fountain of the blood of Christ, emerges 'whiter than snow.' Let Him
'make the tree good and fruit will be good,' for if not we shall be
'hewn down and cast into the fire,' because we cannot bear any fruit
unto holiness, nor can the end be everlasting life.
'A GREATER THAN JONAS'
'A greater than Jonas is here.'--MATT. xii. 41.
There never was any man in his right mind, still more of influence
on his fellows, who made such claims as to himself in such
unmistakable language as Jesus Christ does. To say such things of
oneself as come from His lips is a sign of a weak, foolish nature.
It is fatal to all influence, to all beauty of character. It is not
only that He claims official attributes as a fanatical or dishonest
pretender to inspiration may do. He does that, but He does more--He
declares Himself possessed of virtues which, if a man said he had
them, it would be the best proof that he did not possess them and
did not know himself. 'I am the way and the truth and the life.' 'I
am the light of the world'--a 'greater than the temple,' a greater
than Jonah, a 'greater than Solomon,' and then withal 'I am meek and
lowly of heart.' And the world believes Him, and says, Yes! it is
These three comparisons of Jesus with Temple, Jonas, and Solomon,
carry great claims and great lessons. By the first Jesus asserts
that He is in reality all that the Temple was in shadowy symbol, and
sets Himself above ritual, sacrifices, and priests. By the second he
asserts His superiority not only to one prophet but to them all. By
the third He asserts His superiority to Solomon, whom the Jews
reverenced as the bright, consummate flower of kinghood.
Now we may take this comparison as giving us positive thoughts about
our Lord. The points of comparison may be taken to be three, with
Jonah as one of an order, with Jonah in his personal character as a
servant of God, with Jonah as a prophet charged with a special work.
I. The prophets and the Son.
The whole prophetic order may fairly be taken as included here. And
over against all these august and venerable names, the teachers of
wisdom, the speakers of the oracles of God, this Nazarene peasant
stands there before Pharisees and Scribes, and asserts His superiority.
It is either the most insane arrogance of self-assertion, or it is a
sober truth. If it be true that self-consciousness is ever the disease
of the soul, and that the religious teacher who begins to think of
himself is lost, how marvellous is this assertion!
Compare it with Paul's, 'Unto me who am less than the least of all
saints'--'I am not a whit behind the chief of the Apostles'--'though
I be nothing'--'Not I, but Christ in me.' And yet this is meekness,
for it is infinite condescension in Him to compare Himself with any
son of man.
(_a_) The contrast is suggested between the prophets and the
theme of the prophets.
'The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.' Though undoubtedly
the prophet order had other work than prediction to do, yet the soul
of their whole work was the announcement of the Messiah.
In testimony whereof, Elijah, who was traditionally the chief of the
prophets, stood beside Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, and
passed away as lost in His light.
(_b_) The contrast is suggested between the recipients of the
word of God and the Word of God.
The relation of the prophets to their message is contrasted with His
who was the Truth, who not merely received, but was, the Word of
There is nothing in Christ's teaching to show that He was conscious
of standing in a human relation to the truths which He spoke. His
own personality is ever present in His teaching instead of being
suppressed--as in all the prophets. His own personality is His
teaching, for His revelation is by being as much as by saying.
Similarly, His miracles are done by His own power.
(_c_) The contrast is suggested between the partial teacher of
God's Name and the complete revealer of it.
The foundation was laid by the prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being
the chief corner stone (Hebrews i. 1).
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