Expositions of Holy Scripture
Alexander Maclaren

Part 7 out of 12

it would not be lowliness. The desire to be foremost must be cast
out, in order that it may be fulfilled.

II. The question has been answered, and our Lord passes to other
thoughts rising out of His answer. Verses 5 and 6 set forth
antithetically our duties to His little ones. He is not now speaking
of the child who served as a living parable to answer the question,
but of men who have made themselves like the child, as is plain from
the emphatic 'one _such_ child,' and from verse 6 ('which
_believe_ on Me').

The subject, then, of these verses is the blessedness of recognising
and welcoming Christlike lowly believers, and the fatal effect of
the opposite conduct. To 'receive one such little child in My name'
is just to have a sympathetic appreciation of, and to be ready to
welcome to heart and home, those who are lowly in their own and in
the world's estimate, but princes of Christ's court and kingdom.
Such welcome and furtherance will only be given by one who himself
has the same type of character in some degree. He who honours and
admires a certain kind of excellence has the roots of it in himself.
A possible artist lies in him who thrills at the sight or hearing of
fair things painted or sung. Our admiration is an index of our
aspiration, and our aspiration is a prophecy of our attainment. So
it will be a little one's heart which will welcome the little ones,
and a lover of Christ who receives them in His name. The reception
includes all forms of sympathy and aid. 'In My name' is equivalent
to 'for the sake of My revealed character,' and refers both to the
receiver and to the received. The blessedness of such reception, so
far as the receiver is concerned, is not merely that he thereby
comes into happy relations with Christ's foremost servants, but that
he gets Christ Himself into his heart. If with true appreciation of
the beauty of such a childlike disposition, I open my heart or my
hand to its possessor, I do thereby enlarge my capacity for my own
possession of Christ, who dwells in His child, and who comes with
him where He is welcomed. There is no surer way of securing Him for
our own than the loving reception of His children. Whoso lodges the
King's favourites will not be left unvisited by the King. To
recognise and reverence the greatest in the kingdom is to be oneself
a member of their company, and a sharer in their prerogatives.

On the other hand, the antithesis of 'receiving' is 'causing to
stumble,' by which is meant giving occasion for moral fall. That
would be done by contests about pre-eminence, by arrogance, by
non-recognition. The atmosphere of carnality and selfishness in
which the disciples were moving, as their question showed, would
stifle the tender life of any lowly believer who found himself in
it; and they were not only injuring themselves, but becoming
stumbling-blocks to others, by their ambition. How much of the
present life of average Christians is condemned on the same
ground! It is a good test of our Christian character to ask--would
it help or hinder a lowly believer to live beside us? How many
professing Christians are really, though unconsciously, doing
their utmost to pull down their more Christlike brethren to their
own low level! The worldliness and selfish ambitions of the Church
are responsible for the stumbling of many who would else have been
of Christ's 'little ones.' But perhaps we are rather to think of
deliberate and consciously laid stumbling-blocks. Knowingly to try
to make a good man fall, or to stain a more than usually pure
Christian character, is surely the very height of malice, and
presupposes such a deadly hatred of goodness and of Christ that no
fate can be worse than the possession of such a temper. To be
flung into the sea, like a dog, with a stone round his neck, would
be better for a man than to live to do such a thing. The deed
itself, apart from any other future retribution, is its own
punishment; yet our Lord's solemn words not only point to such a
future retribution, which is infinitely more terrible than the
miserable fate described would be for the body, but to the
consequences of the act, as so bad in its blind hatred of the
highest type of character, and in its conscious preference of evil,
as well as so fatal in its consequences, that it were better to die
drowned than to live so.

III. Verses 10-14 set forth the honour and dignity of Christ's
'little ones.' Clearly the application of the designation in these
closing verses is exclusively to His lowly followers. The warning
not to despise them is needed at all times, and, perhaps, seldom
more, even by Christians, than now, when so many causes induce a far
too high estimate of the world's great ones, and modest, humble
godliness looks as dull and sober as some russet-coated little bird
among gorgeous cockatoos and birds of paradise. The world's standard
is only too current in the Church; and it needs a spirit kept in
harmony with Christ's spirit, and some degree of the child-nature in
ourselves, to preserve us from overlooking the delicate hidden
beauties and unworldly greatness of His truest disciples.

The exhortation is enforced by two considerations,--a glimpse into
heaven, and a parable. Fair interpretation can scarcely deny that
Christ here teaches that His children are under angel-guardianship.
We should neither busy ourselves in curious inferences from His
reticent words, nor try to blink their plain meaning, but rather
mark their connection and purpose here. He has been teaching that
pre-eminence belongs to the childlike spirit. He here opens a door
into the court of the heavenly King, and shows us that, as the
little ones are foremost in the kingdom of heaven, so the angels who
watch over them are nearest the throne in heaven itself. The
representation is moulded on the usages of Eastern courts, and
similar language in the Old Testament describes the principal
courtiers as 'the men who see the King's face continually.' So high
is the honour in which the little ones are held, that the highest
angels are set to guard them, and whatever may be thought of them on
earth, the loftiest of creatures are glad to serve and keep them.

Following the Revised Version we omit verse 11. If it were genuine,
the connection would be that such despising contradicted the purpose
of Christ's mission; and the 'for' would refer back to the
injunction, not to the glimpse into heaven which enforced it.

The exhortation is further confirmed by the parable of the ninety
and nine, which is found, slightly modified in form and in another
connection, in Luke xv. Its point here is to show the importance of
the little ones as the objects of the seeking love of God, and as so
precious to Him that their recovery rejoices His heart. Of course,
if verse 11 be genuine, the Shepherd is Christ; but, if we omit it,
the application of the parable in verse 14 as illustrating the
loving will of God becomes more direct. In that case God is the
owner of the sheep. Christ does not emphasise His own love or share
in the work, reference to which was not relevant to His purpose,
but, leaving that in shadow, casts all the light on the loving
divine will, which counts the little ones as so precious that, if
even one of them wanders, all heaven's powers are sent forth to find
and recover it. The reference does not seem to be so much to the one
great act by which, in Christ's incarnation and sacrifice, a sinful
world has been sought and redeemed, as to the numberless acts by
which God, in His providence and grace, restores the souls of those
humble ones if ever they go astray. For the connection requires that
the wandering sheep here should, when it wanders, be 'one of these
little ones'; and the parable is introduced to illustrate the truth
that, because they belong to that number, the least of them is too
precious to God to be allowed to wander away and be lost. They have
for their keepers the angels of the presence; they have God Himself,
in His yearning love and manifold methods of restoration, to look
for them, if ever they are lost, and to bring them back to the fold.
Therefore, 'see that ye despise not one of these little ones,' each
of whom is held by the divine will in the grasp of an individualising
love which nothing can loosen.


'If thy hand or thy foot causeth thee to stumble, cut
it off, and cast it from thee.'-MATT. xviii. 8, R.V.

No person or thing can do our characters as much harm as we
ourselves can do. Indeed, none can do them any harm but ourselves.
For men may put stumbling-blocks in our way, but it is we who make
them stumbling-blocks. The obstacle in the path would do us no hurt
if it were not for the erring foot, nor the attractive prize if it
were not for the hand that itched to lay hold of it, nor the
glittering bauble if it were not for the eye that kindled at the
sight of it. So our Lord here, having been speaking of the men that
put stumbling-blocks in the way of His little ones, draws the net
closer and bids us look at home. A solemn woe of divine judgment is
denounced on those who cause His followers to stumble; let us leave
God to execute that, and be sure that we have no share in their
guilt, but let us ourselves be the executioners of the judgment upon
the things in ourselves which alone give the stumbling-blocks, which
others put before us, their fatal power.

There is extraordinary energy in these words. Solemnly they are
repeated twice here, verbatim; solemnly they are repeated verbatim
three times in Mark's edition. The urgent stringency of the command,
the terrible plainness of the alternative put forth by the lips that
could say nothing harsh, and the fact that the very same injunction
appears in a wholly different connection in the Sermon on the Mount,
show us how profoundly important our Lord felt the principle to be
which He was here laying down.

We mark these three points. First, the case supposed, 'If thy hand
or thy foot cause thee to stumble.' Then the sharp, prompt remedy
enjoined, 'Cut them off and cast them from thee.' Then the solemn
motive by which it is enforced, 'It is better for thee to enter into
life maimed than, being a whole man, to be cast into hell-fire.'

I. First, then, as to the case supposed.

Hand and foot and eye are, of course, regarded as organs of the
inward self, and symbols of its tastes and capacities. We may
perhaps see in them the familiar distinction between the practical
and the theoretical:--hand and foot being instruments of action, and
the eye the organ of perception. Our Lord takes an extreme case. If
members of the body are to be amputated and plucked out should they
cause us to stumble, much more are associations to be abandoned and
occupations to be relinquished and pleasures to be forsaken, if
these draw us away. But it is to be noticed that the whole stringency
of the commandment rests upon that _if_. '_If_ they cause thee
to stumble,' then, and not else, amputate. The powers are natural,
the operation of them is perfectly innocent, but a man may be ruined
by innocent things. And, says Christ, if that process is begun, then,
and only then, does My exhortation come into force.

Now, all that solemn thought of a possible injurious issue of
innocent occupations, rests upon the principles that our nature has
an ideal order, so as that some parts of it are to be suppressed and
some are to rule, and that there are degrees of importance in men's
pursuits, and that where the lower interfere and clog the operations
of the higher, there they are harmful. And so the only wisdom is to
excise and cut them off.

We see illustrations in abundance every day. There are many people
who are being ruined in regard to the highest purposes of their
lives, simply by an over-indulgence in lower occupations which in
themselves may be perfectly right. Here is a young woman that spends
so much of her day in reading novels that she has no time to look
after the house and help her mother. Here is a young man so given to
athletics that his studies are neglected--and so you may go all
round the circle, and find instances of the way in which innocent
things, and the excessive or unwise exercise of natural faculties,
are destroying men. And much more is that the case in regard to
religion, which is the highest object of pursuit, and in regard to
those capacities and powers by which we lay hold of God. These are
to be ministered to by the rest, and if there be in my nature or in
the order of my life something which is drawing away to itself the
energy that ought to go in that other direction, then, howsoever
innocent it may be, _per se_, it is harming me. It is a wen
that is sucking all the vital force into itself, and turning it into
poison. And there is only one cure for it, and that is the knife.

Then there is another point to be observed in this case supposed,
and that is that the whole matter is left to the determination of
personal experience. No one else has the right to decide for you
what it is safe and wise for you to do in regard to things which are
not in themselves wrong. If they are wrong in themselves, of course
the consideration of consequences is out of place altogether; but if
they be not wrong in themselves, then it is you that must settle
whether they are legitimate for you or not. Do not let your
Christian liberty be interfered with by other people's dictation in
regard to this matter. How often you hear people say, _'I_
could not do it'; meaning thereby, 'therefore _he_ ought not to
do it!' But that inference is altogether illegitimate. True, there
are limitations of our Christian liberty in regard to things
indifferent and innocent. Paul lays down the most important of these
in three sentences. 'All things are lawful for me, but all things
are not expedient.' 'All things are lawful for me, but all things
edify not';--you must think of your brethren as well as of yourself.
'All things are lawful for me, yet will I not be brought under the
power of any'; keep master of them, and rather abstain altogether
than become their slave. But these three limitations being observed,
then, in regard to all such matters, nobody else can prescribe for
you or me. 'To his own Master he standeth or falleth.'

But, on the other hand, do not you be led away into things that
damage you, because some other man does them, as he supposes,
without injury. 'Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that
thing which he alloweth.' There are some Christian people who are
simply very unscrupulous and think themselves very strong; and whose
consciences are not more enlightened, but less sensitive, than those
of the 'narrow-minded brethren' upon whom they look askance.

And so, dear friend, you ought to take the world--to inhale it, if I
may so say, as patients do chloroform; only you must be your own
doctor and keep your own fingers on your pulse, and watch the first
sign of failure there, and take no more. When the safety lamps begin
to burn blue you may be quite sure there is choke-damp about; and
when Christian men and women begin to find prayer wearisome, and
religious thoughts dull, and the remembrance of God an effort or a
pain, then, whatever anybody else may do, it is time for them to
pull up. 'If thy hand offend thee,' never mind though your brother's
hand is not offending him, do the necessary thing for your health,
'cut it off and cast it from you.'

But of course there must be caution and common-sense in the
application of such a principle. It does not mean that we are to
abandon all things that are susceptible of abuse, for everything is
so; and if we are to regulate our conduct by such a rule, it is not
the amputation of a hand that will be sufficient. We may as well cut
off our heads at once, and go out of the world altogether; for
everything is capable of being thus abused.

Nor does the injunction mean that unconditionally we are to abandon
all occupations in which there is danger. It can never be a duty to
shirk a duty because it is dangerous. And sometimes it is as much a
Christian man's duty to go into, and to stand in, positions that are
full of temptation and danger, as it is a fireman's business to go
into a burning house at the risk of suffocation. There were saints
in Caesar's household, flowers that grew on a dunghill, and they
were not bidden to abandon their place because it was full of
possible danger to their souls. Sometimes Christ sets His sentinels
in places where the bullets fly very thick; and if we are posted in
such a place--and we all are so some time or other in our lives--the
only course for us is to stand our ground until the relieving guard
comes, and to trust that He said a truth that was always to be true,
when He sent out His servants to their dangerous work, with the
assurance that if they drank any deadly thing it should not hurt

II. So much, then, for the first of the points here. Now a word, in
the second place, as to the sharp remedy enjoined.

'Cut it off and cast it from thee.' Entire excision is the only
safety. I myself am to be the operator in that surgery. I am to lay
my hand upon the block, and with the other hand to grasp the axe and
strike. That is to say, we are to suppress capacities, to abandon
pursuits, to break with associates, when we find that they are
damaging our spiritual life and hindering our likeness to Jesus

That is plain common-sense. In regard to physical intoxication, it
is a great deal easier to abstain altogether than to take a very
little and then stop. The very fumes of alcohol will sometimes drive
a reclaimed drunkard into a bout of dissipation that will last for
weeks; therefore, the only safety is in entire abstinence. The rule
holds in regard to everyday life. Every man has to give up a great
many things if he means to succeed in one, and has to be a man of
one pursuit if anything worth doing is to be done. Christian men
especially have to adopt that principle, and shear off a great deal
that is perfectly legitimate, in order that they may keep a reserve
of strength for the highest things.

True, all forms of life are capable of being made Christian service
and Christian discipline, but in practice we shall find that if we
are earnestly seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness, not
only shall we lose our taste for a great deal that is innocent, but
we shall have, whether we lose our taste for them or not--and more
imperatively if we have not lost our taste for them than if we have--to
give up allowable things in order that with all our heart, and soul,
and strength, and mind, we may love and serve our Master. There are no
half-measures to be kept; the only thing to do with the viper is to
shake it off into the fire and let it burn there. We have to empty our
hands of earth's trivialities if we would grasp Christ with them. We
have to turn away our eyes from earth if we would behold the Master,
and rigidly to apply this principle of excision in order that we may
advance in the divine life. It is the only way to ensure progress.
There is no such certain method of securing an adequate flow of sap
up the trunk as to cut off all the suckers. If you wish to have a
current going down the main bed of the stream, sufficient to keep it
clear, you must dam up all the side channels.

But it is not to be forgotten that this commandment, stringent and
necessary as it is, is second best. The man is maimed, although it
was for Christ's sake that he cut off his hand, or put out his eye.
His hand was given him that with it he might serve God, and the
highest thing would have been that in hand and foot and eye he
should have been anointed, like the priests of old, for the service
of his Master. But until he is strong enough to use the faculty for
God, the wisest thing is not to use it at all. Abandon the outworks
to keep the citadel. And just as men pull down the pretty houses on
the outskirts of a fortified city when a siege is impending, in order
that they may afford no cover to the enemy, so we have to sweep away
a great deal in our lives that is innocent and fair, in order that
the foes of our spirit may find no lodgment there. It is second best,
but for all that it is absolutely needful. We must lay 'aside every
_weight_,' as well as 'the _sin_ which so easily besets us.' We
must run lightly if we would run well. We must cast aside all burdens,
even though they be burdens of treasure and delights, if we would 'run
with patience the race that is set before us.' 'If thy foot offend
thee,' do not hesitate, do not adopt half-measures, do not try
moderation, do not seek to sanctify the use of the peccant member;
all these may be possible and right in time, but for the present there
is only one thing to do--down with it on the block, and off with it!
'Cut it off and cast it from thee.'

III. And now, lastly, a word as to the solemn exhortation by which
this injunction is enforced.

Christ rests His command of self-denial and self-mutilation upon the
highest ground of self-interest. 'It is better for thee.' We are
told nowadays that this is a very low motive to appeal to, that
Christianity is a religion of selfishness, because it says to men,
'Your life or your death depends upon your faith and your conduct.'
Well, I think it will be time for us to listen to fantastic
objections of this sort when the men that urge them refuse to turn
down another street, if they are warned that in the road on which
they are going they will meet their death. As long as they admit
that it is a wise and a kind thing to say to a man, 'Do not go that
way or your life will be endangered,' I think we may listen to our
Master saying to us, 'Do not do that lest thou perish; do this, that
thou may'st enter into life.'

And then, notice that a maimed man may enter into life, and a
complete man may perish. The first may be a very poor creature, very
ignorant, with a limited nature, undeveloped capacities, intellect
and the like all but dormant in him, artistic sensibilities quite
atrophied, and yet he may have got hold of Jesus Christ and His
love, and be trying to love Him back again and serve Him, and so be
entering into life even here, and be sure of a life more perfect
yonder. And the complete man, cultured all round, with all his
faculties polished and exercised to the full, may have one side of
his nature undeveloped--that which connects him with God in Christ.
And so he may be like some fair tree that stands out there in the
open, on all sides extending its equal beauty, with its stem
symmetrical, cylindrical, perfect in its green cloud of foliage, yet
there may be a worm at the root of it, and it may be given up to
rottenness and destruction. Cultivated men may perish, and
uncultured men may have the life. The maimed man may touch Christ
with his stump, and so receive life, and the complete man may lay
hold of the world and the flesh and the devil with his hands, and so
share in their destruction.

Ay! and in that case the maimed man has the best of it. It is a very
plain axiom of the rudest common-sense, this of my text: 'It is
better for thee to enter into life maimed, than to go into hell-fire
with both thy hands.' That is to say, it is better to live maimed
than to die whole. A man comes into a hospital with gangrene in his
leg; the doctor says it must come off; the man says, 'It shall not,'
and he is dead to-morrow. Who is the fool--the man that says, 'Here,
then, cut away; better life than limb,' or the man that says, 'I
will keep it and I will die'?

'Better to enter into life maimed,' because you will not always be
maimed. The life will overcome the maiming. There is a wonderful
restoration of capacities and powers that have been sacrificed for
Christ's sake, a restoration even here. As crustaceans will develop
a new claw in place of one that they have thrown off in their peril
to save their lives, so we, if we have for Christ's sake maimed
ourselves, will find that in a large measure the suppression will be
recompensed even here on earth.

And hereafter, as the Rabbis used to say, 'No man will rise from the
grave a cripple.' All the limitations which we have imposed upon
ourselves, for Christ's sake, will be removed then. 'Then shall the
eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf be unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb
shall sing.' 'Verily I say unto thee, there is no man that hath left
any' of his possessions, affections, tastes, capacities, 'for My
sake but he shall receive a hundredfold more in this life, and in
the world to come, life everlasting.' No man is a loser by giving up
anything for Jesus Christ.

And, on the other hand, the complete man, complete in everything
except his spiritual nature, is a fragment in all his completeness;
and yonder, there will for him be a solemn process of stripping.
'Take it from him, and give it to him that hath ten talents.' Ah!
how much of that for which some of you are flinging away Jesus
Christ will fade from you when you go yonder. 'His glory shall not
descend after him'; 'as he came, so shall he go.' 'Tongues, they
shall cease; knowledge, it shall vanish away'; gifts will fail,
capacities will disappear when the opportunities for the exercise of
them in a material world are at an end, and there will be little
left to the man who _would_ carry hands and feet and eyes all
into the fire and forgot the 'one thing needful,' but a thin thread,
if I may so say, of personality quivering with the sense of
responsibility, and preyed upon by the gnawing worm of a too-late

My brother, the lips of Incarnate Love spoke those solemn words of
my text, which it becomes not me to repeat to you as if they were
mine; but I ask you to weigh this, His urgent commandment, and to
listen to His solemn assurance, by which He enforces the wisdom of
the self-suppression: 'It is better for thee to enter into life
maimed, than having two hands, to be cast into hell-fire.'

Give your hearts to Jesus Christ, and set the following in His
footsteps and the keeping of His commandments high above all other
aims. You will have to suppress much and give up much, but such
suppression is the shortest road to becoming perfect men, complete
in Him, and such surrender is the surest way to possess all things.
'He that loseth his life'--which is more than hand or eye--for
Christ's sake,' the same shall find it.'


If a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone
astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and
goeth Into the mountains, and seeketh that which is
gone astray!--MATT. xviii. 12.

We find this simple parable, or germ of a parable, in a somewhat more
expanded form, as the first of the incomparable three in the fifteenth
chapter of Luke's Gospel. Perhaps our Lord repeated the parable more
than once. It is an unveiling of His inmost heart, and therein a
revelation of the very heart of God. It touches the deepest things in
His relation to men, and sets forth thoughts of Him, such as man never
dared to dream. It does all this by the homeliest image and by an
appeal to the simplest instincts. The most prosaic shepherd looks for
lost sheep, and everybody has peculiar joy over lost things found.
They may not be nearly so valuable as things that were not lost. The
unstrayed may he many, and the strayed be but one. Still there is a
keener joy in the recovery of the one than in the unbroken possession
of the ninety-and-nine. That feeling in a man may be only selfishness,
but homely as it is--when the loser is God, and the lost are men, it
becomes the means of uttering and illustrating that truth concerning
God which no religion but that of the Cross has ever been bold enough
to proclaim, that He cares most for the wanderers, and rejoices over the
return of the one that went astray more than over the ninety-and-nine
who never wandered.

There are some significant differences between this edition of the
parable and the form which it assumes in the Gospel according to
Luke. There it is spoken in vindication of Christ's consorting with
publicans and sinners; here it is spoken in order to point the
lesson of not despising the least and most insignificant of the sons
of men. There the seeking Shepherd is obviously Christ; here the
seeking Shepherd is rather the Divine Father; as appears by the
words of the next verse: 'For it is not the will of your Father
which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.'
There the sheep is lost; here the sheep goes astray. There the
Shepherd seeks till He find, here the Shepherd, perhaps, fails to
find; for our Lord says, '_If so be_ that he find it.'

But I am not about to venture on all the thoughts which this parable
suggests, nor even to deal with the main lesson which it teaches. I
wish merely to look at the two figures--the wanderer and the seeker.

I. First, then, let us look at that figure of the one wanderer.

Of course I need scarcely remind you that in the immediate
application of the parable in Luke's Gospel, the ninety-and-nine
were the respectable people who thought the publicans and harlots
altogether too dirty to touch, and regarded it as very doubtful
conduct on the part of this young Rabbi from Nazareth to be mixed up
with persons whom no one with a proper regard for whited sepulchres
would have anything to do with. To them He answers, in effect--I am
a shepherd; that is my vindication. Of course a shepherd goes after
and cares for the lost sheep. He does not ask about its worth, or
anything else. He simply follows the lost because it is lost. It may
be a poor little creature after all, but it is lost, and that is
enough. And so He vindicates Himself to the ninety-and-nine: 'You do
not need Me, you are found. I take you on your own estimation of
yourselves, and tell you that My mission is to the wanderers.'

I do not suppose, however, that any of us have need to be reminded
that upon a closer and deeper examination of the facts of the case,
every hoof of the ninety-and-nine belonged to a stray sheep too; and
that in the wider application of the parable _all_ men are
wanderers. Remembering, then, this universal application, I would
point out two or three things about the condition of these strayed
sheep, which include the whole race. The ninety-and-nine may shadow
for us a number of beings, in unfallen worlds, immensely greater
than even the multitudes of wandering souls that have lived here
through weary ages of sin and tears, but that does not concern us

The first thought I gather from the parable is that all men are
Christ's sheep. That sounds a strange thing to say. What? all these
men and women who, having run away from Him, are plunged in sin,
like sheep mired in a black bog, the scoundrels and the profligates,
the scum and the outcasts of great cities; people with narrow
foreheads, and blighted, blasted lives, the despair of our modern
civilisation--are they all His? And in those great wide-lying
heathen lands where men know nothing of His name and of His love,
are they all His too? Let Him answer, 'Other sheep I have'--though
they look like goats to-day--'which are not of this fold, them also
must I bring, and they shall hear My voice.' All men are Christ's,
because He has been the Agent of divine creation, and the grand
words of the hundredth Psalm are true about Him. 'It is He that hath
made us, and we are His. We are His people and the sheep of His
pasture.' They are His, because His sacrifice has bought them for
His. Erring, straying, lost, they still belong to the Shepherd.

Notice next, the picture of the sheep as wandering. The word is,
literally, 'which _goeth_ astray,' not 'which is gone astray.'
It pictures the process of wandering, not the result as accomplished.
We see the sheep, poor, silly creature, not going anywhere in
particular, only there is a sweet tuft of grass here, and it crops
that; and here is a bit of ground where there is soft walking, and it
goes there; and so, step by step, not meaning anything, not knowing
where it is going, or that it _is_ going anywhere; it goes, and
goes, and goes, and at last it finds out that it is away from its
beat on the hillside--for sheep keep to one bit of hillside generally,
as any shepherd will tell you--and then it begins to bleat, and most
helpless of creatures, fluttering and excited, rushes about amongst
the thorns and brambles, or gets mired in some quag or other, and it
will never find its way back of itself until some one comes for it.

'So,' says Christ to us, 'there are a great many of you who do not
mean to go wrong; you are not going anywhere in particular, you do
not start on your course with any intentions either way, of doing
right or wrong, of keeping near God, or going away from Him, but you
simply go where the grass is sweetest, or the walking easiest. But
look at the end of it; where you have got to. You have got away from

Now, if you take that series of parables in Luke xv., and note the
metaphors there, you will see three different sides given of the
process by which men's hearts stray away from God. There is the
sheep that wanders. That is partly conscious, and voluntary, but in
a large measure simply yielding to inclination and temptation. Then
there is the coin that trundles away under some piece of furniture,
and is lost--that is a picture of the manner in which a man, without
volition, almost mechanically sometimes, slides into sins and
disappears as it were, and gets covered over with the dust of evil.
And then there is the worst of all, the lad that had full knowledge
of what he was doing. 'I am going into a far-off country; I cannot
stand this any longer--all restraint and no liberty, and no power of
doing what I like with my own; and always obliged to obey and be
dependent on my father for my pocket-money! Give me what belongs to
me, for good and all, and let me go!' That is the picture of the
worst kind of wandering, when a man knows what he is about, and
looks at the merciful restraint of the law of God, and says: 'No! I
had rather be far away; and my own master, and not always be
"cribbed, cabined, and confined" with these limitations.'

The straying of the half-conscious sheep may seem more innocent, but
it carries the poor creature away from the shepherd as completely as
if it had been wholly intelligent and voluntary. Let us learn the
lesson. In a world like this, if a man does not know very clearly
where he is going, he is sure to go wrong. If you do not exercise a
distinct determination to do God's will, and to follow in His
footsteps who has set us an example; and if your main purpose is to
get succulent grass to eat and soft places to walk in, you are
certain before long to wander tragically from all that is right and
noble and pure. It is no excuse for you to say: 'I never meant it';
'I did not intend any harm, I only followed my own inclinations.'
'More mischief is wrought'--to the man himself, as well as to other
people--'from want of thought than is wrought by' an evil will. And
the sheep has strayed as effectually, though, when it set out on its
journey, it never thought of straying. Young men and women beginning
life, remember! and take this lesson.

But then there is another point that I must touch for a moment. In
the Revised Version you will find a very tiny alteration in the
words of my text, which, yet, makes a large difference in the sense.
The last clause of my text, as it stands in our Bible, is, 'And
seeketh that which is _gone_ astray'; the Revised Version more
correctly reads, 'And seeketh that which _is going_ astray.'
Now, look at the difference in these two renderings. In the former
the process is represented as finished, in the correct rendering it
is represented as going on. And that is what I would press on you,
the awful, solemn, necessarily progressive character of our
wanderings from God. A man never gets to the end of the distance
that separates between him and the Father, if his face is turned
away from God. Every moment the separation is increasing. Two lines
start from each other at the acutest angle and diverge more the
further they are produced, until at last the one may be away up by
the side of God's throne, and the other away down in the deepest
depths of hell. So accordingly my text carries with solemn pathos,
in a syllable, the tremendous lesson: 'The sheep is not gone, but
_going_ astray.' Ah! there are some of my hearers who are daily
and hourly increasing the distance between themselves and their
merciful Father.

Now the last thing here in this picture is the contrast between the
description given of the wandering sheep in our text, and that in
St. Luke. Here it is represented as wandering, there it is
represented as lost. That is very beautiful and has a meaning often
not noticed by hasty readers. Who is it that has lost it? We talk
about the lost soul and the lost man, as if it were the man that had
lost _himself_, and that is true, and a dreadful truth it is.
But that is not the truth that is taught in this parable, and meant
by us to be gathered from it. Who is it that has lost it? He to whom
it belonged.

That is to say, wherever a heart gets ensnared and entangled with
the love of the treasures and pleasures of this life, and so departs
in allegiance and confidence and friendship from the living God,
there God the Father regards Himself as the poorer by the loss of
one of His children, by the loss of one of His sheep. He does not
care to possess you by the hold of mere creation and supremacy and
rule. He desires you to love Him, and then He deems that He has you.
And if you do not love Him, He deems that He has lost you. There is
something in the divine heart that goes out after His lost property.
We touch here upon deep things that we cannot speak of intelligently;
only remember this, that what looks like self-regard in man is the
purest love in God, and that there is nothing in the whole revelation
which Christianity makes of the character of God more wonderful than
this, that He judges that He has lost His child when His child has
forgotten to love Him.

II. So much, then, for one of the great pictures in this text. I can
spare but a sentence or two for the other--the picture of the

I said that in the one form of the parable it was more distinctly
the Father, and in the other more distinctly the Son, who is
represented as seeking the sheep. But these two do still coincide in
substance, inasmuch as God's chief way of seeking us poor wandering
sheep is through the work of His dear Son Jesus, and the coming of
Christ is the Father's searching for His sheep in the 'cloudy and
dark day.'

According to my text God leaves the ninety-and-nine and goes into
the mountains where the wanderer is, and seeks him. And this,
couched in veiled form, is the great mystery of the divine love, the
incarnation and sacrifice of Jesus Christ our Lord. Here is the
answer by anticipation to the sarcasm that is often levelled at
evangelical Christianity: 'You must think a good deal of human
nature, and must have a very arrogant notion of the inhabitant of
this little speck that floats in the great sea of the heavens, if
you suppose that with all these millions of orbs he is so important
that the divine Nature came down upon this little tiny molehill, and
took his nature and died.'

'Yes!' says Christ, 'not because man was so great, not because man
was so valuable in comparison with the rest of creation--he was but
one amongst ninety-nine unfallen and unsinful--but because he was so
wretched, because he was so small, because he had gone so far away
from God; _therefore_, the seeking love came after him, and
would draw him to itself.' That, I think, is answer enough to the

And then, there is a difference between these two versions of the
Parable in respect to their representation of the end of the seeking.
The one says 'seeks until He finds.' Oh! the patient, incredible
inexhaustibleness of the divine love. God's long-suffering, if I may
take such a metaphor, like a sleuth-hound, will follow the object
of its search through all its windings and doublings, until it comes
up to it. So that great seeking Shepherd follows us through all the
devious courses of our wayward, wandering footsteps doubling back
upon themselves, until He finds us. Though the sheep may increase its
distance, the Shepherd follows. The further away we get the more
tender His appeal; the more we stop our ears the louder the voice
with which He calls. You cannot wear out Jesus Christ, you cannot
exhaust the resources of His bounteousness, of His tenderness.
However we may have been going wrong, however far we may have
been wandering, however vehemently we may be increasing, at every
moment, our distance from Him, He is coming after us, serene, loving,
long-suffering, and will not be put away.

Dear friend! would you only believe that a loving, living Person is
really seeking you, seeking you by my poor words now, seeking you by
many a providence, seeking you by His Gospel, by His Spirit; and
will never be satisfied till He has found you in your finding Him
and turning your soul to Him!

But, I beseech you, do not forget the solemn lesson drawn from the
other form of the parable which is given in my text: _If so be
that He find it_. There is a possibility of failure. What an
awful power you have of burying yourself in the sepulchre, as it
were, of your own self-will, and hiding yourself in the darkness of
your own unbelief! You can frustrate the seeking love of God. Some
of you have done so--some of you have done so all your lives. Some
of you, perhaps at this moment, are trying to do so, and consciously
endeavouring to steel your hearts against some softening that may
have been creeping over them whilst I have been speaking. Are you
yielding to His seeking love, or wandering further and further from
Him? He has come to find you. Let Him not seek in vain, but let the
Good Shepherd draw you to Himself, where, lifted on the Cross, He
'giveth His life for the sheep.' He will restore your soul and carry
you back on His strong shoulder, or in His bosom near His loving
heart, to the green pastures and the safe fold. There will be joy in
His heart, more than over those who have never wandered; and there
will be joy in the heart of the returning wanderer, such as they who
had not strayed and learned the misery could never know, for, as the
profound Jewish saying has it, 'In the place where the penitents
stand, the perfectly righteous cannot stand.'


'If so be that he find it.'--MATT. xviii. 13.

'Until he find it.'--LUKE xv. 4.

Like other teachers, Jesus seems to have had favourite points of
view and utterances which came naturally to His lips. There are
several instances in the gospels of His repeating the same sayings
in entirely different connections and with different applications.
One of these habitual points of view seems to have been the thought
of men as wandering sheep, and of Himself as the Shepherd. The
metaphor has become so familiar that we need a moment's reflection
to grasp the mingled tenderness, sadness, and majesty of it. He
thought habitually of all humanity as a flock of lost sheep, and of
Himself as high above them, unparticipant of their evil, and having
one errand--to bring them back.

And not only does He frequently refer to this symbol, but we have
the two editions, from which my texts are respectively taken, of the
Parable of the Lost Sheep. I say two editions, because it seems to
me a great deal more probable that Jesus should have repeated
Himself than that either of the Evangelists should have ventured to
take this gem and set it in an alien setting. The two versions
differ slightly in some unimportant expressions, and Matthew's is
the more condensed of the two. But the most important variation is
the one which is brought to light by the two fragments which I have
ventured to isolate as texts. '_If_ He find' implies the
possible failure of the Shepherd's search; '_till_ He find'
implies His unwearied persistence in the teeth of all failure. And,
taken in conjunction, they suggest some very blessed and solemn
considerations, which I pray for strength to lay upon your minds and
hearts now.

I. But first let me say a word or two upon the more general thought
brought out in both these clauses--of the Shepherd's search.

Now, beautiful and heart-touching as that picture is, of the
Shepherd away amongst the barren mountains searching minutely in
every ravine and thicket, it wants a little explanation in order to
be brought into correspondence with the fact which it expresses. For
His search for His lost property is not in ignorance of where it is,
and His finding of it is not His discovery of His sheep, but its
discovery of its Shepherd. We have to remember wherein consists the
loss before we can understand wherein consists the search.

Now, if we ask ourselves that question first, we get a flood of
light on the whole matter. The great hundredth Psalm, according to
its true rendering, says, 'It is He that hath made us, _and we are
His_; ... we are ... the sheep of His pasture.' But God's true
possession of man is not simply the possession inherent in the act
of creation. For there is only one way in which spirit can own
spirit, or heart can possess heart, and that is through the
voluntary yielding and love of the one to the other. So Jesus
Christ, who, in all His seeking after us men, is the voice and hand
of Almighty Love, does not count that He has found a man until the
man has learned to love Him. For He loses us when we are alienated
from Him, when we cease to trust Him, when we refuse to obey Him,
when we will not yield to Him, but put Him far away from us.
Therefore the search which, as being Christ's is God's in Christ, is
for our love, our trust, our obedience; and in reality it consists
of all the energies by which Jesus Christ, as God's embodiment and
representative, seeks to woo and win you and me back to Himself,
that He may truly possess us.

If the Shepherd's seeking is but a tender metaphor for the whole
aggregate of the ways by which the love that is divine and human in
Jesus Christ moves round about our closed hearts, as water may feel
round some hermetically sealed vessel, seeking for an entrance, then
surely the first and chiefest of them, which makes its appeal to each
of us as directly as to any man that ever lived, is that great mystery
that Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God, left the ninety-and-nine
that were safe on the high pastures of the mountains of God, and came
down among us, out into the wilderness, 'to seek and to save that
which was lost.'

And, brother, that method of winning--I was going to say, of
_earning_--our love comes straight in its appeal to every
single soul on the face of the earth. Do not say that thou wert not
in Christ's heart and mind when He willed to be born and willed to
die. Thou, and thou, and thou, and every single unit of humanity
were there clear before Him in their individuality; and He died for
thee, and for me, and for _every_ man. And, in one aspect, that
is more than to say that He died for _all_ men. There was a
specific intention in regard to each of us in the mission of Jesus
Christ; and when He went to the Cross the Shepherd was not giving
His life for a confused flock of which He knew not the units, but
for sheep the face of each of whom He knows, and each of whom He
loves. There was His first seeking; there is His chief seeking.
There is the seeking which ought to appeal to every soul of man, and
which, ever since you were children, has been making its appeal to
you. Has it done so in vain? Dear friend, let not your heart still
be hard.

He seeks us by every record of that mighty love that died for us,
even when it is being spoken as poorly, and with as many limitations
and imperfections, as I am speaking it now. 'As though God did
beseech you by us, pray you in Christ's stead.' It is not arrogance,
God forbid! it is simple truth when I say, Never mind about me; but
my word, in so far as it is true and tender, is Christ's word to
you. And here, in our midst, that unseen Form is passing along these
pews and speaking to these hearts, and the Shepherd is seeking His

He seeks each of us by the inner voices and emotions in our hearts
and minds, by those strange whisperings which sometimes we hear, by
the suddenly upstarting convictions of duty and truth which sometimes,
without manifest occasion, flash across our hearts. These voices are
Christ's voice, for, in a far deeper sense than most men superficially
believe, 'He is the true Light that lighteth every man coming into
the world.'

He is seeking us by our unrest, by our yearnings after we know not
what, by our dim dissatisfaction which insists upon making itself
felt in the midst of joys and delights, and which the world fails to
satisfy as much as it fails to interpret. There is a cry in every
heart, little as the bearer of the heart translates it into its true
meaning--a cry after God, even the living God. And by all your
unrests, your disappointments, your hopes unfulfilled, your hopes
fulfilled and blasted in the fulfilment, your desires that perish
unfruited; by all the mystic movements of the spirit that yearns for
something beyond the material and the visible, Jesus Christ is
seeking His sheep.

He seeks us by the discipline of life, for I believe that Christ is
the active Providence of God, and that the hands that were pierced
on the Cross do move the wheels of the history of the world, and
mould the destinies of individual spirits.

The deepest meaning of all life is that we should be won to seek Him
who in it all is seeking us, and led to venture our hopes, and fling
the anchor of our faith beyond the bounds of the visible, that it
may fasten in the Eternal, even in Christ Himself, 'the same
yesterday and to-day and for ever' when earth and its training are
done with. Brethren, it is a blessed thing to live, when we
interpret life's smallnesses aright as the voice of the Master, who,
by them all--our sadness and our gladness, the unrest of our hearts
and the yearnings and longings of our spirits, by the ministry of
His word, by the record of His sufferings--is echoing the invitation
of the Cross itself, 'Come unto Me, all ye ... and I will give you
rest!' So much for the Shepherd's search.

II. And now, in the second place, a word as to the possible
thwarting of the search.

'If so be that He find.' That is an awful _if_, when we think
of what lies below it. The thing seems an absurdity when it is
spoken, and yet it is a grim fact in many a life--viz. that Christ's
effort can fail and be thwarted. Not that His search is perfunctory
or careless, but that we shroud ourselves in darkness through which
that love can find no way. It is we, not He, that are at fault when
He fails to find that which He seeks. There is nothing more certain
than that God, and Christ the image of God, desire the rescue of
every man, woman, and child of the human race. Let no teaching blur
that sunlight fact. There is nothing more certain than that Jesus
Christ has done, and is doing, all that He can do to secure that
purpose. If He could make every man love Him, and so find every man,
be sure that He would do it. But He cannot. For here is the central
mystery of creation, which if we could solve there would be few
knots that would resist our fingers, that a finite will like yours
or mine can lift itself up against God, and that, having the
capacity, it has the desire. He says, 'Come!' We say, 'I will not.'
That door of the heart opens from within, and He never breaks it
open. He stands at the door and knocks. And then the same solemn
_if_ comes--'If any man opens, I will come in'; if any man
keeps it shut, and holds on to prevent its being opened, I will stop

Brethren, I seek to press upon you now the one plain truth, that if
you are not saved men and women, there is no person in heaven or
earth or hell that has any blame in the matter but yourself alone.
God appeals to us, and says, 'What more _could_ have been done
to My vineyard that I have not done unto it?' His hands are clean,
and the infinite love of Christ is free from all blame, and all the
blame lies at our own doors.

I must not dwell upon the various reasons which lead so many men
among us--as, alas! the utmost charity cannot but see that there
are--to turn away from Christ's appeals, and to be unwilling to
'have this Man' either 'to reign over' them or to save them. There
are many such, I am sure, in my audience now; and I would fain, if I
could, draw them to that Lord in whom alone they have life, and
rest, and holiness, and heaven.

One great reason is because you do not believe that you need Him.
There is an awful inadequacy in most men's conceptions--and still
more in their feelings--as to their sin. Oh dear friends, if you
would only submit your consciences for one meditative half-hour to
the light of God's highest law, I think you would find out something
more than many of you know, as to what you are and what your sin is.
Many of us do not much believe that we are in any danger. I have
seen a sheep comfortably cropping the short grass on a down over the
sea, with one foot out in the air, and a precipice of five hundred
feet below it, and at the bottom the crawling water. It did not know
that there was any danger of going over. That is like some of us. If
you believed what is true--that 'sin when it is finished, bringeth
forth death,' and understood what 'death' meant, you would feel the
mercy of the Shepherd seeking you. Some of us think we are in the
flock when we are not. Some of us do not like submission. Some of us
have no inclination for the sweet pastures that He provides, and
would rather stay where we are, and have the fare that is going

We do not need to _do_ anything to put Him away. I have no
doubt that some of us, as soon as my voice ceases, will plunge again
into worldly talk and thoughts before they are down the chapel
steps, and so blot out, as well as they can, any vagrant and
superficial impression that may have been made. Dear brethren, it is
a very easy matter to turn away from the Shepherd's voice. 'I
called, and ye refused. I stretched out My hands, and _no man
regarded_.' That is all! That is what you do, and that is enough.

III. So, lastly, the thwarted search prolonged.

'Till He find'--that is a wonderful and a merciful word. It
indicates the infinitude of Christ's patient forgiveness and
perseverance. _We_ tire of searching. 'Can a mother forget' or
abandon her seeking after a lost child? Yes! if it has gone on for
so long as to show that further search is hopeless, she will go home
and nurse her sorrow in her heart. Or, perhaps, like some poor
mothers and wives, it will turn her brain, and one sign of her
madness will be that, long years after grief should have been calm
because hope was dead, she will still be looking for the little one
so long lost. But Jesus Christ stands at the closed door, as a great
modern picture shows, though it has been so long undisturbedly
closed that the hinges are brown with rust, and weeds grow high
against it. He stands there in the night, with the dew on His hair,
unheeded or repelled, like some stranger in a hostile village
seeking for a night's shelter. He will not be put away; but, after
all refusals, still with gracious finger, knocks upon the door, and
speaks into the heart. Some of you have refused Him all your lives,
and perhaps you have grey hairs upon you now. And He is speaking to
you still. He 'suffereth long, is not easily provoked, is not soon
angry; hopeth all things,' even of the obstinate rejecters.

For that is another truth that this word 'till' preaches to us--viz.
the possibility of bringing back those that have gone furthest away
and have been longest away. The world has a great deal to say about
incurable cases of moral obliquity and deformity. Christ knows
nothing about 'incurable cases.' If there is a worst man in the
world--and perhaps there is--there is nothing but his own
disinclination to prevent his being brought back, and made as pure
as an angel.

But do not let us deal with generalities; let us bring the truths to
ourselves. Dear brethren, I know nothing about the most of you. I
should not know you again if I met you five minutes after we part
now. I have never spoken to many of you, and probably never shall,
except in this public way; but I know that _you_ need Christ,
and that Christ wants _you_. And I know that, however far you
have gone, you have not gone so far but that His love feels out
through the remoteness to grasp you, and would fain draw you to

I dare say you have seen upon some dreary moor, or at the foot of
some 'scaur' on the hillside, the bleached bones of a sheep, lying
white and grim among the purple heather. It strayed, unthinking of
danger, tempted by the sweet herbage; it fell; it vainly bleated; it
died. But what if it had heard the shepherd's call, and had
preferred to lie where it fell, and to die where it lay? We talk
about 'silly sheep.' Are there any of them so foolish as men and
women listening to me now, who will not answer the Shepherd's voice
when they hear it, with, 'Lord, here am I, come and help me out of
this miry clay, and bring me back.' He is saying to each of you,
'Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die?' May He not have to say at last
of any of us, 'Ye would not come to Me, that ye might have life!'


'Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until
seven times; but, Until seventy times seven.'
--MATT. xviii. 22.

The disciples had been squabbling about pre-eminence in the kingdom
which they thought was presently to appear. They had ventured to
refer their selfish and ambitious dispute to Christ's arbitrament.
He answered by telling them the qualifications of 'the greatest in
the kingdom'--that they are to be humble like little children; that
they are to be placable; that they are to use all means to reclaim
offenders; and that, even if the offence is against themselves, they
are to ignore the personal element, and to regard the offender, not
so much as having done them harm, as having harmed himself by his

Peter evidently feels that that is a very hard commandment for a man
of his temperament, and so he goes to Jesus Christ for a little
further direction, and proposes a question as to the limits of this
disposition: 'How often shall my brother sin?' The very question
betrays that he does not understand what forgiveness means; for it
is not real, if the 'forgiven' sin is stowed away safely in the
memory. 'I can forgive, but I cannot forget,' generally means, 'I do
not _quite_ forgive.' We are not to take the pardoned offence,
and carry it to a kind of 'suspense account,' to be revived if
another is committed, but we are to blot it out altogether. Peter
thought that he had given a very wide allowance when he said 'seven
times.' Christ's answer lifts the whole subject out of the realm of
hard and fast lines and limits, for He takes the two perfect numbers
'ten' and 'seven,' and multiplies them together, and then He
multiplies that by 'seven' once more; and the product is _not_
four hundred and ninety, but is innumerableness. He does not mean
that the four hundred and ninety-first offence is outside the pale,
but He suggests indefiniteness, endlessness. So, as I say, He lifts
the question out of the region in which Peter was keeping it,
thereby betraying that he did not understand what he was talking
about, and tells us that there are no limits to the obligation.

The parable which follows, and follows with a 'therefore,' does not
deal so much with Peter's question as to the limits of the
disposition, but sets forth its grounds and the nature of its
manifestations. If we understand why we ought to forgive, and what
forgiveness is, we shall not say, 'How often?' The question will
have answered itself.

I turn to the parable rather than the words which I have read as our
starting-point, to seek to bring out the lessons which it contains
in regard to our relations to God, and to one another. There are
three sections in it: the king and his debtor; the forgiven debtor
and _his_ debtor; and the forgiven debtor unforgiven because
unforgiving. And if we look at these three points I think we shall
get the lessons intended.

I. The king and his debtor.

A certain king has servants, whom he gathers together to give in
their reckoning. And one of them is brought that owes him ten
thousand talents. Now, it is to be noticed at the very outset that
the analogy between debt and sin, though real, is extremely
imperfect. No metaphor of that sort goes on all fours, and there has
been a great deal of harm done to theology and to evangelical
religion by carrying out too completely the analogy between money
debts and our sins against God. But although the analogy is
imperfect, it is very real. The first point that is to be brought
out in this first part of the parable is the immense magnitude of
every man's transgressions against God. Numismatists and
arithmeticians may jangle about the precise amount represented by
the thousand talents. It differs according to the talent which is
taken as the basis of the calculation. There were several talents in
use in the currency of ancient days. But the very point of the
expression is not the specification of an exact amount, but the use
of a round number which is to suggest an undefined magnitude. 'Ten
thousand talents,' according to one estimate, is some two millions
and a quarter of pounds sterling.

But I would point out that the amount is stated in terms of talents,
and _any_ talent is a large sum; and there are ten thousand of
these; and the reason why the account is made out in terms of
talents, the largest denomination in the currency of the period, is
because every sin against God is a great sin. He being what He is,
and we being what we are, and sin being what it is, every sin is
large, although the deed which embodies it may be, when measured by
the world's foot-rule, very small. For the essence of sin is
rebellion against God and the enthroning of self as His victorious
rival; and all rebellion is rebellion, whether it is found in arms
in the field, or whether it is simply sulkily refusing obedience and
cherishing thoughts of treason. We are always apt to go wrong in our
estimate of the great and small in human actions, and, although the
terms of magnitude do not apply properly to moral questions at all,
there is no more conspicuous misuse of language than when we speak
of anything which has in it the virus of rebellion against God, and
the breach of His law, as being a small sin. It may be a small act;
it is a great sin. Little rattlesnakes are snakes; they have rattles
and poison fangs as really as the most monstrous of the brood that
coils and hisses in some cave. So the account is made out in terms
of talents, because every sin is a great one. I need not dwell upon
the numerousness that is suggested. 'Ten thousand' is the natural
current expression for a number that is not innumerable, but is only
known to be very great. The psalmist says: 'They are more than the
hairs of my head.' How many hairs had you in your head, David? Do
you know? 'No!' And how many sins have you committed? Do you know?
'No!' The number is beyond count by us, though it may be counted by
Him against whom they are done. Do you believe that about yourself,
my friend, that the debit side of your account has filled all the
page and has to be carried forward on to another? Do we any of us
realise, as we all of us ought to do, the infinite number, and the
transcendent greatness, of our transgressions against the Father?

But the next point to be noticed is the stern legal right of the
creditor. It sounds harsh, cruel, almost brutal, that the man and
his wife and his children should be sold into slavery, and all that
he had should be taken from him, in order to go some little way
towards the reduction of the enormous debt that he owed. Christ puts
in that harsh and apparently cruel conduct in the story, not to
suggest that it was harsh and cruel, but because it was according to
the law of the time. A recognised legal right was exercised by the
creditor when he said, 'Take him; sell him for a slave, and bring me
what he fetches in the open markets.' So that we have here suggested
the solemn thought of the right that divine justice, acting
according to strict retributive law, has over each of us. Our own
consciences attest it as perfectly within the scope of the divine
retributive justice that our enormous sin should bring down a
tremendous punishment.

I said that the analogy between sin and debt was a very imperfect
one. It is imperfect in regard to one point--viz. the implication of
other people in the consequences of the man's evil; for although it
is quite true that 'the evil that men do lives after them, and
spreads far beyond their sight, and involves many people, no other
is amenable to divine justice for the sinner's debt. It is quite
true that, when we do an evil action, we never can tell how far its
wind-borne seeds may be carried, or where they may alight, or what
sort of unwholesome fruit they may bear, or who may be poisoned by
them; but, on the other hand, we, and we only, are responsible for
our individual transgressions against God. 'If thou be wise, thou
shalt be wise for thyself; and if thou scornest, thou alone shalt
bear it.'

The same imperfection in the analogy applies to the next point in the
parable--viz. the bankrupt debtor's prayer, 'Have patience with me,
and I will pay thee all.' Easy to promise! I wonder how long it would
have taken a penniless bankrupt to scrape together two and a quarter
millions of pounds? He said a great deal more than he could make good.
But the language of his prayer is by no means the language that
becomes a penitent at God's throne. We have not to offer to make
future satisfaction. No! that is impossible. 'What I have written I
have written,' and the page, with all its smudges and blots and
misshapen letters, cannot be made other than it is by any future
pages fairly written. No future righteousness has any power to affect
the guilt of past sin. There is one thing that does _discharge_ the
writing from the page. Do you remember Paul's words, 'blotting out
the handwriting that was against us--nailing it to His Cross'? You
sometimes dip your pens into red ink, and run a couple of lines
across the page of an account that is done with. Jesus Christ does
the same across our account, and the debt is non-existent, because
He has died.

But the prayer is the expression, if not of penitence yet of
petition, and all the stern rigour of the law's requirement at once
melts away, and the king who, in the former words, seemed so harsh,
now is almost incredibly merciful. For he not only cancels the debt,
but sets the man free. 'Thy ways are not as our ways; ... as the
heavens are higher than the earth, so great is His mercy toward' the
sinful soul.

II. So much, then, for the first part of this parable. Now a word as
to the second, the forgiven debtor and his debt.

Our Lord uses in the 27th and 28th verses of our text the same
expression very significantly and emphatically. 'The lord of _that
servant_ was moved with compassion.' And then again, in the 28th
verse, 'But that _servant_ went out and found one of his
fellow-servants.' The repetition of the same phrase hooks the two
halves together, emphasises the identity of the man, and the
difference of his demeanour, on the two occasions.

The conduct described is almost impossibly disgusting and truculent.
'He found his fellow-servant, who owed him a hundred pence'--some
three pounds, ten shillings--and with the hands that a minute before
had been wrung in agony, and extended in entreaty, he throttled him;
and with the voice that had been plaintively pleading for mercy a
minute before, he gruffly growled, 'Pay me that thou owest.' He had
just come through an agony of experience that might have made him
tender. He had just received a blessing that might have made his
heart glow. But even the repetition of his own petition does not
touch him, and when the poor fellow-servant, with his paltry debt,
says, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all,' it avails
nothing. He durst not sell his fellow-servant. God's rights over a
man are more than any man's over another. But he does what he can.
He will not do much towards recouping himself of his loan by
flinging the poor debtor into prison, but if he cannot get his
ducats he will gloat over his 'pound of flesh.' So he hurries him
off to gaol.

Could a man have done like that? Ah! brethren, the things that would
be monstrous in our relations to one another are common in our
relations to God. Every day we see, and, alas! do, the very same
thing, in our measure and degree. Do you never treasure up somebody's
slights? Do you never put away in a pigeon-hole for safe-keeping,
endorsed with the doer's name on the back of it, the record of some
trivial offence against you? It is but as a penny against a talent,
for the worst that any of us can do to another is nothing as compared
with what many of us have been doing all our lives toward God. I dare
say that some of us will go out from this place, and the next man that
we meet that 'rubs us the wrong way,' or does us any harm, we shall
score down his act against him with as implacable and unmerciful an
unforgivingness as that of this servant in the parable. Do not believe
that he was a monster of iniquity. He was just like us. We all of us
have one human heart, and this man's crime is but too natural to us
all. The essence of it was that having been forgiven, he did not

So, then, our Lord here implies the principle that God's mercy to us
is to set the example to which our dealings with others is to be
conformed. 'Even as I had mercy on thee' plainly proposes that
miracle of divine forgiveness as our pattern as well as our hope.
The world's morality recognises the duty of forgiveness. Christ
shows us God's forgiveness as at once the model which is the perfect
realisation of the idea in its completeness and inexhaustibleness,
and also the motive which, brought into our experience, inclines and
enables us to forgive.

III. And now I come to the last point of the text--the debtor who
had been forgiven falling back into the ranks of the unforgiven,
because he does not forgive.

The fellow-servants were very much disgusted, no doubt. Our
consciences work a great deal more rapidly, and rigidly, about other
people's faults than they do about our own. And nine out of ten of
these fellow-servants that were very sorry, and ran and told the
king, would have done exactly the same thing themselves. The king,
for the first time, is wroth. We do not read that he was so before,
when the debt only was in question; but such unforgiving harshness,
after the experience of such merciful forgiveness, rouses his
righteous indignation. The unmercifulness of Christian people is a
worse sin than many a deed that goes by very ugly names amongst men.
And so the judgment that falls upon this evil-doer, who, by his
truculence to his fellow-servant, had betrayed the baseness of his
nature and the ingratitude of his heart, is, 'Put him back where he
was! Tie the two and a quarter millions round his neck again! Let us
see what he will do by way of discharging it now!'

Now, do not let any theological systems prevent you from recognising
the solemn truth that underlies that representation, that there may
be things in the hearts and conduct of forgiven Christians which may
cancel the cancelling of their debt, and bring it all back again. No
man can cherish the malicious disposition that treasures up offences
against himself, and at the same moment feel that the divine love is
wrapping him round in its warm folds. If we are to retain our
consciousness of having been forgiven by God, and received into the
amplitude of His heart, we must, in our measure and degree, imitate
that on which we trust, and be mirrors of the divine mercy which we
say has saved us.

Our parable lays equal stress on two things. First, that the
foundation of all real mercifulness in men is the reception of
forgiving mercy from God. We must have experienced it before we can
exercise it. And, second, we must exercise it, if we desire to
continue to experience it. 'Blessed are the merciful, for they shall
obtain mercy.' That applies to Christian people. But behind that
there lies the other truth, that in order to be merciful we must
first of all have received the initial mercy of cancelled

So, dear friends, here are the two lessons for every one of us.
First, to recognise our debt, and go to Him in whom God is well
pleased, for its abolishment and forgiveness; and then to go out
into the world, and live like Him, and show to others love kindled
by and kindred to that to which we trust for our own salvation. 'Be
ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in
love, as God also hath loved us.'


'And, behold, one came and said unto Him, Good Master,
what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal
life? 17. And He said unto him, Why callest thou Me
good? there is none good but One, that is, God: but
if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
18. He saith unto Him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt
do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou
shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,
19. Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt
love thy neighbour as thyself. 20. The young man saith
unto Him, All these things have I kept from my youth
up: what lack I yet? 21. Jesus said unto him, If thou
wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give
to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven:
and come and follow Me. 22. But when the young man
heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had
great possessions. 23. Then said Jesus unto His
disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall
hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. 24. And again
I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through
the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into
the kingdom of God. 25. When His disciples heard it,
they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be
saved? 26. But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them,
With men this is impossible; but with God all things
are possible.'--MATT. xix. 16-26.

We have here one of the saddest stories in the gospels. It is a true
soul's tragedy. The young man is in earnest, but his earnestness has
not volume and force enough to float him over the bar. He wishes to
have some great thing bidden him to do, but he recoils from the
sharp test which Christ imposes. He truly wants the prize, but the
cost is too great; and yet he wishes it so much that he goes away
without it in deep sorrow, which perhaps, at another day, ripened
into the resolve which then was too high for him. There is a certain
severity in our Lord's tone, an absence of recognition of the much
good in the young man, and a naked stringency in His demand from
him, which sound almost harsh, but which are set in their true light
by Mark's note, that Jesus 'loved him,' and therefore treated him
thus. The truest way to draw ingenuous souls is not to flatter, nor
to make entrance easy by dropping the standard or hiding the
requirements, but to call out all their energy by setting before
them the lofty ideal. Easy-going disciples are easily made--and
lost. Thorough-going ones are most surely won by calling for entire

I. We may gather together the earlier part of the conversation, as
introductory to the Lord's requirement (vs. 16-20), in which we have
the picture of a real though imperfect moral earnestness, and may
note how Christ deals with it. Matthew tells us that the questioner
was young and rich. Luke adds that he was a 'ruler'--a synagogue
official, that is--which was unusual for a young man, and indicates
that his legal blamelessness was recognised. Mark adds one of his
touches, which are not only picturesque, but character-revealing, by
the information that he came 'running' to Jesus in the way, so eager
was he, and fell at His feet, so reverential was he. His first
question is singularly compacted of good and error. The fact that he
came to Christ for a purely religious purpose, not seeking personal
advantage for himself or for others, like the crowds who followed
for loaves and cures, nor laying traps for Him with puzzles which
might entangle Him with the authorities, nor asking theological
questions for curiosity, but honestly and earnestly desiring to be
helped to lay hold of eternal life, is to be put down to his credit.
He is right in counting it the highest blessing.

Where had he got hold of the thought of 'eternal life'? It was miles
above the dusty speculations and casuistries of the rabbis. Probably
from Christ Himself. He was right in recognising that the conditions
of possessing it were moral, but his conception of 'good' was
superficial, and he thought more of doing good than of being good,
and of the desired life as payment for meritorious actions. In a
word, he stood at the point of view of the old dispensation. 'This
do, and thou shalt live,' was his belief; and what he wished was
further instruction as to what 'this' was. He was to be praised in
that he docilely brought his question to Jesus, even though, as
Christ's answer shows, there was error mingling in his docility.
Such is the character--a young man, rich, influential, touched with
real longings for the highest life, ready, so far as he knows
himself, to do whatever he is bidden, in order to secure it.

We might have expected Christ, who opened His arms wide for
publicans and harlots, to have welcomed this fair, ingenuous seeker
with some kindly word. But He has none for him. We adopt the reading
of the Revised Version, in which our Lord's first word is repellent.
It is in effect--'There is no need for your question, which answers
itself. There is one good Being, the source and type of every good
thing, and therefore the good, which you ask about, can only be
conformity to His will. You need not come to Me to know what you are
to do.' He relegates the questioner, not to his own conscience, but
to the authoritative revealed will of God in the law. Modern views
of Christ's work, which put all its stress on the perfection of His
moral character, and His office as a pattern of righteousness, may
well be rebuked by the fact that He expressly disclaimed this
character, and declared that, if He was only to be regarded as
republishing the law of human conduct, His work was needless. Men
have enough knowledge of what they must do to enter into life,
without Jesus Christ. No doubt, Christ's moral teaching transcends
that given of old; but His special work was not to tell men what to
do, but to make it possible for them to do it; to give, not the law,
but the power, both the motive and the impulse, which will fulfil
the law. On another occasion He answered a similar question in a
different manner. When the Jews asked Him, 'What must we do, that we
may work the works of God?' He replied by the plain evangelical
statement: 'This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He
hath sent.' Why did He not answer the young ruler thus? Only because
He knew that he needed to be led to that thought by having his own
self-complacency shattered, and the clinging of his soul to earth
laid bare. The whole treatment of him here is meant to bring him to
the apprehension of faith as preceding all truly good work.

The young man's second question says a great deal in its one word.
It indicates astonishment at being remanded to these old, well-worn
precepts, and might be rendered, 'What sort of commandments?' as if
taking it for granted that they must be new and peculiar. It is the
same spirit as that which in all ages has led men who with partial
insight longed after eternal life, to seek it by fantastic and
unusual roads of extraordinary sacrifices or services--the spirit
which filled monasteries, and invented hair shirts, and fastings,
and swinging with hooks in your back at Hindoo festivals. The
craving for more than ordinary 'good works' shows a profound mistake
in the estimate of the ordinary, and a fatal blunder as to the
relation between 'goodness' and 'eternal life.'

So Christ answers the question by quoting the second half of the
Decalogue, which deals with the homeliest duties, and appending to
it the summary of the law, which requires love to our neighbour as
to ourselves. Why does He omit the earlier half? Probably because He
would meet the error of the question, by presenting only the
plainest, most familiar commandments, and because He desired to
excite the consciousness of deficiency, which could be most easily
done in connection with these.

There is a touch of impatience in the rejoinder, 'All these have I
kept,' and more than a touch of self-satisfaction. The law has
failed to accomplish one of its chief purposes in the young man, in
that it has not taught him his sinfulness. No doubt he had a right
to say that his outward life had been free from breaches of such
very elementary morality which any old woman could have taught him.
He had never gone below the surface of the commandments, nor below
the surface of his acts, or he would not have answered so jauntily.
He had yet to learn that the height of 'goodness' is reached, not by
adding some strange new performances to the threadbare precepts of
everyday duty, but by digging deep into these, and bottoming the
fabric of our lives on their inmost spirit. He had yet to learn that
whoever says, 'All these have I kept,' thereby convicts himself of
understanding neither them nor himself.

Still he was not at rest, although he had, as he fancied, kept them
all. His last question is a plaintive, honest acknowledgment of the
hungry void within, which no round of outward obediences can ever
fill. He knows that he has not the inner fountain springing up into
eternal life. He is dimly aware of something wanting, whether in his
obedience or no, at all events in his peace; and he is right in
believing that the reason for that conscious void is something
wanting in his conduct. But he will not learn what Christ has been
trying to teach him, that he needs no new commandment, but a deeper
understanding and keeping of the old. Hence his question, half a
wail of a hungry heart, half petulant impatience with Christ's
reiteration of obvious duties. There are multitudes of this kind in
all ages, honestly wishing to lay hold of eternal life, able to
point to virtuous conduct, anxious to know and do anything lacking,
and yet painfully certain that something is wanting somewhere.

II. Now comes the sharp-pointed test, which pricks the brilliant
bubble. Mark tells us that Jesus accompanied His word with one of
those looks which searched a soul, and bore His love into it. 'If
thou wouldest be perfect,' takes up the confession of something
'lacking,' and shows what that is. It is unnecessary to remark that
this commandment to sell all and give to the poor is intended only
for the individual case. No other would-be disciple was called upon
to do so. It cannot be meant for others; for, if all were sellers,
where would the buyers be? Nor need we do more than point out that
the command of renunciation is only half of Christ's answer, the
other being, 'Come, follow Me.' But we are not to slide easily over
the precept with the comfortable thought that it was special
treatment for a special case. The principle involved in it is
medicine for all, and the only way of healing for any. This man was
tied to earth by the cords of his wealth. They did not hinder him
from keeping the commandments, for he had no temptations to murder,
or adultery, or theft, or neglect of parents. But they did hinder
him from giving his whole self up, and from regarding eternal life
as the most precious of all things. Therefore for him there was no
safety short of entire outward denuding himself of them; and, if he
was in earnest out and out in his questions, here was a new thing
for him to do. Others are hindered by other things, and they are
called to abandon these. The one thing needful for entrance into
life is at bottom self-surrender, and the casting away of all else
for its sovereign sake. 'I do count them but dung' must be the
language of every one who will win Christ. The hands must be emptied
of treasures, and the heart swept clear of lesser loves, if He is to
be grasped by our hands, and to dwell in our hearts. More of us than
we are willing to believe are kept from entire surrender to Jesus
Christ, by money and worldly possessions; and many professing
Christians are kept shrivelled and weak and joyless because they
love their wealth more than their Lord, and would think it madness
to do as this man was bidden to do. When ballast is thrown out, the
balloon shoots up. A general unlading of the 'thick clay' which
weighs down the Christian life of England, would let thousands soar
to heights which they will never reach as long as they love money
and what it buys as much as they do. The letter of this commandment
may be only applicable in a special case (though, perhaps, this one
young man was not the only human being that ever needed this
treatment), but the spirit is of universal application. No man
enters into life who does not count all things but loss, and does
not die to them all, that he may follow Christ.

III. Then comes the collapse of all the enthusiasm. The questioner's
earnestness chills at the touch of the test. What has become of the
eagerness which brought him running to Jesus, and of the willingness
to do any hard task to which he was set? It was real, but shallow.
It deceived himself. But Christ's words cut down to the inner man,
and laid bare for his own inspection the hard core of selfish
worldliness which lay beneath. How many radiant enthusiasms, which
cheat their subjects quite as much as their beholders, disappear
like tinted mist when the hard facts of self-sacrifice strike
against them! How much sheer worldliness disguises itself from
itself and from others in glistering garments of noble sentiments,
which fall at a touch when real giving up is called for, and show
the ugly thing below! How much 'religion' goes about the world, and
gets made 'a ruler' of the synagogue in recognition of its
excellence, which needs but this Ithuriel's spear to start up in its
own shape! The completeness and immediateness of the collapse are
noticeable. The young man seems to speak no word, and to take no
time for reflection. He stands for a moment as if stunned, and then
silently turns away. What a moment! his fate hung on it. Once more
we see the awful mystery enacted before our eyes, of a soul
gathering up its power to put away life. Who will say that the
decision of a moment, which is the outcome of all the past, may not
fix the whole future? This man had never before been consciously
brought to the fork in the road; but now the two ways are before
him, and, knowingly, he chooses the worse. Christ did not desire him
to do so; but He did desire that he should choose, and should know
that he did. It was the truest kindness to tear away the veil of
surface goodness which hid him from himself, and to force him to a
conscious decision.

One sign of grace he does give, in that he went away 'sorrowful.' He
is not angry nor careless. He cannot see the fair prospect of the
eternal life, which he had in some real fashion desired, fade away,
without a pang. If he goes back to the world, he goes back feeling
more acutely than ever that it cannot satisfy him. He loves it too
well to give it up, but not enough to feel that it is enough.
Surely, in coming days, that godly sorrow would work a change of the
foolish choice, and we may hope that he found no rest till he cast
away all else to make Christ his own. A soul which has travelled as
far on the road to life eternal as this man had done, can scarcely
thereafter walk the broad road of selfishness and death with entire

IV. The section closes with Christ's comment on the sad incident. He
speaks no word of condemnation, but passes at once from the
individual to the general lesson of the difficulty which rich men
(or, as He explains it in Mark, men who 'trust in riches') have in
entering the kingdom. The reflection breathes a tone of pity, and is
not so much blame as a merciful recognition of special temptations
which affect His judgment, and should modify ours. A camel with its
great body, long neck, and hump, struggling to get through a
needle's eye, is their emblem. It is a new thing to pity rich men,
or to think of their wealth as disqualifying them for anything. The
disciples, with childish _naivete_, wonder. We may wonder that
they wondered. They could not understand what sort of a kingdom it
was into which capitalists would find entrance difficult. All doors
fly open for them to-day, as then. They do not find much difficulty
in getting into the church, however hard it may be to get into the
kingdom. But it still remains true that the man who has wealth has a
hindrance to his religious character, which, like all hindrances,
may be made a help by the use he makes of it; and that the man who
trusts in riches, which he who possesses them is wofully likely to
do, has made the hindrance into a barrier which he cannot pass.

That is a lesson which commercial nations, like England, have need
to lay to heart, not as a worn-out saying of the Bible, which means
very little for us, but as heavy with significance, and pointing to
the special dangers which beset Christian perfection.

So real is the peril of riches, that Christ would have His disciples
regard the victory over it as beyond our human power, and beckons us
away from the effort to overcome the love of the world in our
strength, pointing us to God, in whose mighty grace, breathed into
our feeble wills and treacherous hearts, is the only force which can
overcome the attraction of perishable riches, and make any of us
willing or able to renounce them all that we may win Christ. The
young ruler had just shown that 'with men this is impossible.'
Perhaps he still lingered near enough to catch the assurance that
the surrender, which had been too much for him to achieve, might yet
be joyfully made, since 'with God all things are possible.'


'To sit on My right hand, and on My left, is not Mine
to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is
prepared of My Father.'--MATT. xx. 23.

You will observe that an unusually long supplement is inserted by
our translators in this verse. That supplement is quite unnecessary,
and, as is sometimes the case, is even worse than unnecessary. It
positively obscures the true meaning of the words before us.

As they stand in our Bibles, the impression that they leave upon
one's mind is that Christ in them abjures the power of giving to His
disciples their places in the kingdom of heaven, and declares that
it belongs not to His function, but relegates it, to His own
exclusion, to the Father; whereas what He says is the very opposite
of this. He does not put aside the granting of places at His right
hand or His left as not being within His province, but He states the
principles and conditions on which He does make such a grant, and so
is really claiming it as in His province. All that would have been a
great deal clearer if our translators had been contented to render
the words that they found before them in the Book, without addition,
and to read, 'To sit on My right hand, and on My left, is not Mine
to give, but to them for whom it is prepared of My Father.'

Another introductory remark may be made, to the effect that our Lord
does not put aside this prayer of His apostles as if they were
seeking an impossible thing. It is never safe, I know, to argue from
the silence of Scripture. There may be many reasons for that silence
beyond our ken in any given case; but still it does strike one as
noteworthy that, when this fond mother and her ambitious sons came
with their prayer for pre-eminence in His kingdom, our Lord did not
answer what would have been so obvious to answer if it had been
true, 'You are asking a thing which cannot be granted to anybody,
for they are all upon one level in that kingdom of the heavens.' He
says by implication the very opposite. Not only does His silence
confirm their belief that when He came in His glory, some would be
closer to His side than others; but the plain statement of the text
is that, in the depth of the eternal counsels, and by the
preparation of divine grace, there were thrones nearest to His own
which some men should fill. He does _not_ say, 'You are asking
what cannot be.' He does say, 'There are men for whom it is prepared
of My Father.'

And then, still further, Jesus does not condemn the prayer as
indicating a wrong state of mind on the part of James and John,
though good and bad were strangely mingled in it. We are told
nowadays that it is a very selfish thing, far below the lofty height
to which our transcendental teachers have attained, to be heartened
and encouraged, strengthened and quickened, by the prospect of the
crown and the rest that remain for the people of God. If so, Christ
ought to have turned round to these men, and have rebuked the
passion for reward, which, according to this new light, is so
unworthy and so low. But, instead of that, He confines Himself to
explaining the conditions on which the fulfilment of the desire is
possible, and by implication permits and approves the desire. 'You
want to sit on My right hand and on My left, do you? Then be it so.
You may do so if you like. Are you ready to accept the conditions?
It is well that you should want it,--not for the sake of being above
your brethren, but for the sake of being nearest to Me. Hearken! Are
ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of?' They say unto
Him (and I do not know that there are anywhere grander words than
the calm, swift, unhesitating, modest, and yet confident answer of
these two men), 'We are able.' 'You shall have your desire if you
fulfil the conditions. It is given to them for whom it is prepared
of My Father.'

I. So, then, if we rightly understand these words, and take them
without the unfortunate comment which our translators have inserted,
they contain, first, the principle that some will be nearer Christ
than others in that heavenly kingdom.

As I have said, the words of our Lord do not merely imply, by the
absence of all hint that these disciples' petition was impossible,
the existence of degrees among the subjects of His heavenly kingdom,
but articulately affirm that such variety is provided for by the
preparation of the Father. Probably the two brothers thought that
they were only asking for preeminence in an earthly kingdom, and had
no idea that their prayer pointed beyond the grave; but that
confusion of thought could not be cured in their then stage of
growth, and our Lord therefore leaves it untouched. But the other
error, if it were an error, was of a different kind, and might, for
aught that one sees, have been set right in a moment. Instead of
which the answer adopts it, and seems to set Christ's own
confirmation on it, as being no Jewish dream, but a truth.

They were asking for earth. He answers--for heaven. He leaves them
to learn in after days--when the one was slain with the sword, first
martyr among the apostles, and the other lived to see them all pass
to their thrones, while he remained the 'companion in tribulation'
of the second generation of the Church--how far off was the
fulfilment which they fancied so near.

We need not he surprised that so large a truth should be spoken by
Christ so quietly, and as it were incidentally. For that is in
keeping with His whole tone when speaking of the unseen world. One
knows not whether to wonder more at the decisive authority with
which He tells us of that mysterious region, or at the small space
which such revelations occupy in His words. There is an air of
simplicity and unconsciousness, and withal of authority, and withal
of divine reticence about them all, which are in full harmony with
the belief that Christ speaking of heaven speaks of that He knows,
and testifies that He hath seen.

That truth to which, as we think, our Lord's words here inevitably
lead, is distinctly taught in many other places of Scripture. We
should have had less difficulty about it, and should have felt more
what a solemn and stimulating thought it is, if we had tried a
little more than most of us do to keep clear before us what really
is the essential of that future life, what is the lustre of its
light, the heaven of heaven, the glory of the glory. Men talk about
physical theories of another life. I suppose they are possible. They
seem to me infinitely unimportant. Warm imaginations, working by
sense, write books about a future state which wonderfully succeed in
making it real by making it earthly. Some of them read more like a
book of travels in this world than forecastings of the next. They
may be true or not. It does not matter one whit. I believe that
heaven is a place. I believe that the corporeity of our future life
is essential to the perfection of it. I believe that Christ wears,
and will wear for ever, a glorified human body. I believe that that
involves locality, circumstance, external occupations; and I say,
all that being so, and in its own place very important, yet if we
stop there, we have no vision of the real light that makes the
lustre, no true idea of the glory that makes the blessedness.

For what is heaven? Likeness to God, love, purity, fellowship with
Him; the condition of the spirit and the relation of the soul to
Him. The noblest truth about the future world flows from the words
of our Master--'This is life eternal, to know Thee, the only true
God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.' Not 'this brings'; not
'this will lead up to'; not 'this will draw after it'; but 'this
is'; and whosoever possesses that eternal life hath already in him
the germ of all the glories that are round the throne, and the
blessedness that fills the hearts of perfected spirits.

If so, if already eternal life in the bud standeth in the knowledge
of God in Christ, what makes its fruitage and completeness? Surely,
not physical changes or the circumstances of heaven, at least not
these primarily, however much such changes and circumstances may
subserve our blessedness there, and the anticipation of them may
help our sense-bound hopes here. But the completeness of heaven is
the completion of our knowledge of God and Christ, with all the
perfecting of spirit which that implies and produces. The faith, and
love, and happy obedience, and consecration which is calm, that
partially occupied and ruled the soul here, are to be thought of as
enlarged, perfected, delivered from the interruption of opposing
thoughts, of sensuous desires, of selfish purposes, of earthly and
sinful occupations. And that perfect knowledge and perfect union and
perfect likeness are perfect bliss. And that bliss is heaven. And
if, whilst heaven is a place, the heaven of heaven be a state, then
no more words are needed to show that, then, heaven can be no dead
level, nor can all stand at the same stage of attainments, though
all be perfect; but that in that solemn company of the blessed, 'the
spirits of just men made perfect,' there are indefinitely numerous
degrees of approximation to the unattainable Perfection, which
stretches above them all, and draws them all to itself. We have not
to think of that future life as oppressed, if I may so say, with the
unbroken monotony of perfect identity in character and attainments.
All indeed are like one another, because all are like Jesus, but
that basis of similarity does not exclude infinite variety. The same
glory belongs to each, but it is reflected at differing angles and
received in divers measures. Perfect blessedness will belong to
each, but the capacity to receive it will differ. There will be the
same crown on each head, the same song on each lip, the same fulness
of joy filling each heart; but star differeth from star, and the
great condition of happy intercourse on earth will not be wanting in
heaven--a deep-seated similarity and a superficial diversity.

Does not the very idea of an endless progress in that kingdom involve
such variety? We do not think of men passing into the heavens, and
being perfected by a bound so as that there shall be no growth. We
think of them indeed as being perfected up to the height of their
then capacity, from the beginning of that celestial life, so as that
there shall be no sin, nor any conscious incompleteness, but not so
as that there shall be no progress. And, if they each grow through
all the ages, and are ever coming nearer and nearer to Christ, that
seems necessarily to lead to the thought that this endless progress,
carried on in every spirit, will place them at different points of
approximation to the one centre. As in the heavens there are planets
that roll nearer the central sun, and others that circle farther out
from its rays, yet each keeps its course, and makes music as it moves,
as well as planets whose broader disc can receive and reflect more
of the light than smaller sister spheres, and yet each blazes over
its whole surface and is full to its very rim with white light; so
round that throne the spirits of the just made perfect shall move in
order and peace--every one blessed, every one perfect, every one
like Christ at first, and becoming liker through every moment of
the eternities. Each perfected soul looking on his brother shall
see there another phase of the one perfectness that blesses and
adorns him too, and all taken together shall make up, in so far as
finite creatures can make up, the reflection and manifestation of
the fulness of Christ. 'Having then gifts differing according to
the grace that is given to us' is the law for the incompleteness
of earth. 'Having then gifts differing according to the glory that
is given to us' will be the law for the perfection of the heavens.
There are those for whom it is prepared of His Father, that they
shall sit in special nearness to Him.

II. Still further, these words rightly understood assert that truth
which, at first sight, our Authorised Version's rendering seems to
make them contradict, viz. that Christ is the giver to each of these
various degrees of glory and blessedness. 'It is not Mine to give,
save to them for whom it is prepared.' Then it is Thine to give it
to them. To deny or to doubt that Christ is the giver of the
blessedness, whatsoever the blessedness may be, that fills the
hearts and souls of the redeemed, is to destroy His whole work, to
destroy all the relations upon which our hopes rest, and to
introduce confusion and contradiction into the whole matter.

For Scripture teaches us that He is God's unspeakable gift; that in
Him is given to us everything; that He is the bestower of all which
we need; that 'out of His fulness,' as one of those two disciples
long afterwards said, 'all we have received, and grace for grace.'
There is nothing within the compass of God's love to bestow of which
Christ is not the giver. There is nothing divine that is done in the
heavens and the earth, as I believe, of which Christ is not the
doer. The representation of Scripture is uniformly that He is the
medium of the activity of the divine nature; that he is the energy
of the divine will; that He is, to use the metaphor of the Old
Testament, 'the arm of the Lord'--the forthputting of God's power;
that He is, to use the profound expression of the New Testament, the
Word of the Lord, cognate with, and the utterance of, the eternal
nature, the light that streams from the central brightness, the
river that flows from the else sealed fountain. As the arm is to the
body, and as is the word to the soul, so is Christ to God--the
eternal divine utterance and manifestation of the divine nature.
And, therefore, to speak of anything that a man can need and
anything that God can give as not being given by Christ, is to
strike at the very foundation, not only of our hopes, but at the
whole scheme of revealed truth. He is the giver of heaven and
everything else which the soul requires.

And then, again, let me remind you that on this matter we are not
left to such general considerations as those that I have been
suggesting, but that the plain statements of Scripture do confirm
the assertion that Christ is the determiner and the bestower of all
the differing grades of glory and blessedness yonder. For do we not
read of Him that He is the Judge of the whole earth? Do we not read
of Him that His word is acquittal and His frown condemnation--that
to 'be accepted of Him' is the highest aim and end of the Christian
life? Do we not read that it is He who says, 'Come, ye blessed of My
Father, enter into the kingdom prepared for you'? Do we not read
that the apostle, dying, solaced himself with the thought that
'there was laid up for him a crown of glory, which the Lord, the
righteous Judge, would give him at that day'? And do we not read in
the very last book of Scripture, written by one of those two
brothers, and containing almost verbal reference to the words of my
text, the promise seven times spoken from the immortal lips of the
glorified Son of Man, walking in the midst of the candlesticks, 'To
him that overcometh will I give'? The fruit of the tree of life is
plucked by His hands for the wearied conquerors. The crown of life
is set by Him on the faithful witnesses' brows. The hidden manna and
the new name are bestowed by Him on those who hold fast His name. It
is He who gives the victors kingly power over the nations. He
clothes in white garments those who have not defiled their robes.
His hand writes upon the triumphant foreheads the name of God. And
highest of all, beyond which there is no bliss conceivable, 'To him
that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne.'

Christ is the bestower of the royalties of the heavens as of the
redemptions of earth, and it is His to give that which we crave at
His hands, when we ask pardon here and glory hereafter. 'To him that
is athirst will He give of the water of life freely,' and to him
that overcometh will He give the crown of glory.

III. These words lead us, in the third place, to the further
thought, that these glorious places are not given to mere wishing,
nor by mere arbitrary will.

'You would sit on My right hand and on My left? You think of that
pre-eminence as conferred because you chose to ask it--as given by a
piece of favouritism. Not so. I cannot make a man foremost in my
kingdom in that fashion. There are conditions which must precede
such an elevation.'

And there are people who think thus still, as if the mere desire,
without anything more, were enough--or as if the felicities of the
heavenly world were dependent solely on Christ's arbitrary will, and
could be bestowed by an exercise of mere power, as an Eastern prince
may make this man his vizier and that other one his water-carrier.
The same principles which we have already applied to the elucidation
of the idea of varieties and stages of nearness to Christ in His
heavenly kingdom have a bearing on this matter. If we rightly
understand that the essential blessedness of heaven is likeness to
Christ, we shall feel that mere wishing carries no man thither, and
that mere sovereign will and power do not avail to set us there.
There are conditions indispensable, from the very nature of the
case, and unless they are realised it is as impossible for us to
receive, as for Him to give, a place at His side. If, indeed, the
future blessedness consisted in mere external circumstances and
happier conditions of life, it might be so bestowed. But if place
and surroundings, and a more exquisite and ethereal frame, are but
subordinate sources of it, and its real fountain is union with Jesus
and assimilation to Him, then something else than idle desires must
wing the soul that soars thither, and His transforming grace, not
His arbitrary will, must set us at His own right hand 'in the
heavenly places.'

Of all the profitless occupations with which men waste their lives,
none are more utterly useless than wishing without acting. Our
wishes are meant to impel us to the appropriate forms of energy by
which they can be realised. When a pauper becomes a millionaire by
sitting and vehemently wishing that he were rich, when ignorance
becomes learning by standing in a library and wishing that the
contents of all these books were in its head, there will be some
hope that the gates of heaven will fly open to your desire. But till
then, 'many, I say unto you, shall seek to enter in and not be
able.' Many shall _seek_; you must _strive_. For wishing is one thing,
and _willing_ is another, and _doing_ is yet another. And in regard
to entrance into Christ's kingdom, our 'doing' is trusting in Him who
has done all for us. 'This is the work of God, that ye should believe
on Him whom He hath sent.' Does our wish lead us to the acceptance
of the condition? Then it will be fulfilled. If not, it will remain
fruitless, will die into apathy, or will live as a pang and a curse.

You wish, or fancy you wish, to pass into heaven when you die, I
suppose. Some of its characteristics attract you. You believe in
punishment for sin, and you would willingly escape that. You believe
in a place of rest after toil, of happiness after sorrow, where
nipping frosts of disappointment, and wild blasts of calamity, and
slow, gnawing decay no more harm and kill your joys--and you would
like that. But do you wish to be pure and stainless, to have your
hearts fixed on God alone, to have your whole being filled with Him,
and emptied of self and sense and sin? The peace of heaven attracts
you--but its praise repels, does it not? Its happiness draws your
wishes--does its holiness seem inviting? It would be joyful to be
far away from punishment--would it be as joyful to be near Christ?
Ah! no; the wishes lead to no resolve, and therefore to no result,
for this among other reasons, because they are only kindled by a
part of the whole, and are exchanged for positive aversion when the
real heaven of heaven is presented to your thoughts. Many a man who,
by the set of his whole life, is drifting daily nearer and nearer to
that region of outer darkness, is conscious of an idle wish for
peace and joy beyond the grave. In common matters a man may be
devoured by vain desires all his lifetime, because he will not pass
beyond wishing to acting accordingly. 'The desire of the slothful
killeth him; because his hands refused to labour, he coveteth
greedily all the day long.' And with like but infinitely more
tragical issues do these vain wishes for a place in that calm world,
where nothing but holiness enters, gnaw at many a soul. 'Let me die
the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his,' was
the aspiration of that Gentile prophet, whose love of the world
obscured even the prophetic illumination which he possessed--and his
epitaph is a stern comment on the uselessness of such empty wishes,
'Balaam, the son of Beor, they slew with the sword.' It needs more
than a wish to set us at Christ's right hand in His kingdom.

Nor can such a place be given by mere arbitrary will. Christ could
not, if He would, set a man at His right hand whose heart was not
the home of simple trust and thankful love, whose nature and desires
were unprepared for that blessed world. It would be like taking one
of those creatures--if there be such--that live on the planet whose
orbit is farthest from the sun, accustomed to cold, organised for
darkness, and carrying it to that great central blaze, with all its
fierce flames and tongues of fiery gas that shoot up a thousand
miles in a moment. It would crumble and disappear before its
blackness could be seen against the blaze.

His loving will embraces us all, and is the foundation of all our
hopes. But it had to reach its purpose by a bitter road which He did
not shrink from travelling. He desires to save us, and to realise
the desire He had to die. 'It became Him for whom are all things, in
bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their
salvation perfect through suffering.' What He had to do, we have to
accept. Unless we accept the mercy of God in Christ, no wish on our
parts, nor any exercise of power on His, will carry us to the heaven
which He has died to open, and of which He is at once the giver and
the gift.

IV. These glorious places are given as the result of a divine

'To them for whom it is prepared of My Father.' We have seen that
Christ is not to be regarded as abjuring the office, with which His
disciples' confidence led them to invest Him--that of allotting to
His servants their place in His kingdom. He neither refers it to the
Father without Himself, nor claims it for Himself without the
Father. The living unity of will and work which subsists between the
Father and the Son forbids such a separation and distribution of
office. And that unity is set forth on both its sides in His own
deep words, 'The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth
the Father do: for whatsoever things He doeth, these also doeth the
Son likewise.'

So, then, while the gift of thrones at His side is His act and the
Father's, in like manner the preparation of the royal seats for
their occupants, and of the kings for their thrones, is the Father's
act and His.

Our text does not tell us directly what that preparation is, any
more than it tells us directly what the principles are on which
entrance into and pre-eminence in the kingdom are granted. But we
know enough in regard to both, for our practical guidance, for the
vigour of our hope, and the grasp of our faith.

There is a twofold divine preparation of the heavens for men. One is
from of old. The kingdom is 'prepared for you before the foundation
of the world.' That preparation is in the eternal counsel of the
divine love, which calleth the things that are not as though they
were, and before which all that is evolved in the generations of men
and the epochs of time, lies on one plane, equally near to dim from
whose throne diverge far beneath the triple streams of past,
present, and future.

And beside that preparation, the counsel of pardoning mercy and
redeeming grace, there is the other preparation--the realisation of
that eternal purpose in time through the work of Jesus Christ our
Lord. His consolation to His disciples in the parting hour was, 'I
go to prepare a place for you.' How much was included in these words
we shall never know till we, like Him, see of the travail of His
soul, and like Him are satisfied. But we can dimly see that on the
one hand His death, and on the other hand His entrance into that
holiest of all, make ready for us the many mansions of the Father's
house. He was crucified for our offences, He was raised again for
our justification, He is passed through the heavens to stand our
Forerunner in the presence of God--and by all these mighty acts He
prepares the heavenly places for us. As the sun behind a cloud,
which hides it from us, is still pouring out its rays on far-off
lands, so He, veiled in dark, sunset clouds of Calvary, sent the
energy of His passion and cross into the unseen world and made it
possible that we should enter there. 'When Thou didst overcome the
sharpness of death, Thou didst open the gates of the kingdom of


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