Tuesday, June 6th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
The Church Pulpit Commentary Church Pulpit Commentary
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Matthew 8". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ cpc/ matthew-8.html. 1876.
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Matthew 8". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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LAW AND LIFE
‘When He was come down from the mountain great multitudes followed Him.’
The mount from which our Lord descended to work this miracle of healing was the Mount of the Beatitudes.
I. The two mounts.—As the scene of that sermon rises before us, in all its sweet attractiveness, we are reminded, by contrast, of another mountain and another lawgiving; the mount even to approach which was death; the mount on which stood, in solitary, isolated, unseen community with God, the great lawgiver of the Jews, and from which he descended, but not, as Christ, to heal and to bless, but to denounce and punish.
II. Points of difference.—What is it, then, that constitutes the real difference between these two scenes? Not that Christ has proclaimed to us an easier law than that of Moses. On the contrary, His laws are far harder of fulfilment, setting before us a higher ideal of life. Why should the one be pictured as a law of misery and terror, and the other of blessing and attractiveness? Consider the laws (equally Divine) of the kingdom of Nature. Not one of these can be braved or broken with impunity. But there is this difference between these great laws of Nature and the law of righteousness in Christ’s kingdom, that, when we understand the former, we can obey them. But this is just what we cannot do as regards the law of righteousness. Do we not know that we are constantly transgressing and falling short of the perfect law of God?
III. Not law, but life.—What the world needs, and has ever needed, is not law, but life; the grace and power faithfully to fulfil the moral law. And this it was that Christ came to give us (St. John 10:10). He came not merely to give Himself for us, but to give Himself to us; to dwell in us. This it is which makes the essential difference between His law and that of all other law-givers.
IV. We must come down to others.—And ought we not to learn from this scene the great secret of all work for Him?—that it is not enough that His disciples should preach to men—nay, that it is not enough that we should set the example of what we preach, but that we should do as He did, come down to others—as He alone of all teachers came down, and that from the highest place, to mingle with the suffering multitude—that we should strive to seek and save that which is lost.
‘We are told in the Gospel to come to Jesus, to believe on Jesus, to live the life of faith in Jesus; we are encouraged to lean on Him, to cast all our care on Him, to repose all the weight of our souls on Him. We may do so without fear: He can bear all; He is a strong rock; He is Almighty. It was a fine saying of an old saint, “My faith can sleep sound on no other pillow than Christ’s omnipotence.” He can give life to the dead; He can give power to the weak; He can “increase strength to them that have no might.” Let us trust Him and not be afraid. The world is full of snares: our hearts are weak. But with Jesus nothing is impossible.’
THE SIGNIFICANT UNIT
‘And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped Him, saying, Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean.’
I. Alone with the Saviour.—Out of the great multitude there came a leper. Here we have a broad plural—the great multitude, and the significant unit—a leper from out of the midst. Out of the multitude—they always make room for him. There is always room for the leper. He was avoided by everybody, that is the natural tendency; there is a solitariness about him. We are absolutely alone in our own sins, and that is why we should be alone with our own Saviour. So the man forced his way through the multitude, and came to the feet of the Saviour.
II. The leper’s prayer.—There was no difficulty about his prayer. Leprosy sharpens wit; leprosy gives point to prayer. The leper’s prayer, ‘Lord, if Thou wilt,’ is like the Lord’s prayer, Who became sin for us, when he said, ‘Father, if it be possible … Thy Will, not Mine, be done.’ ‘If Thou wilt’: you cannot add one touch of beauty to this short prayer. It is the depth of misery crying to the depth of mercy. Take away the personal petition, and put our own in. Let us fill up the form with our own need. What shall we say? ‘Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me strong … penitent … happy.’
III. Trouble drives to the supernatural.—The great, big, strong, healthy man cannot help the poor leper. No; what we want is the Man of Sorrows acquainted with grief to help us in our trouble. It is not God’s will that there should be sin and sicknesss, and suffering and death. It is not God’s will that there should be a loathsome leper. Sickness and sorrow, repentance and death, are here judicially. They cannot be dispensed with; without them the world would go mad. They are God’s constables, and they cannot be dispensed with. This is the answer to the strange frequent question, Why does God allow leprosy, suffering, and death? We shall see these things when we stand on the steps of eternity.
IV. The Lord touched him.—His healing touch, could it be contaminated? No. Would the Lord Jesus ever say ‘No’ to a leper who asked to be cleansed? He has said ‘No’ to Scribe, Pharisee, Sadducee, and Herodian. But the poor leper came to Him in trust and trouble, and got ‘Yes.’ So we see Him, and so He is always. Go to Him in whatever trouble you have.
The Rev. A. H. Stanton.
‘Our Lord wills in heaven all that is done on earth in His name by His Church, which is His Body; but He, nevertheless, or rather for that very reason, puts forth the hand of His Body upon earth, the ministers and stewards of His mysteries, and by them touches and heals the leprous soul.’
SIN AND ITS CLEANSING
‘And Jesus put forth His hand and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean.’
These words, spoken to a leper, were the very last words that any one, save He Who spake them, would have dreamed of saying. Most men, if they had spoken at all, would have bidden him keep his distance. But the words on the lips of Jesus were words of real authority, and a mysterious virtue went forth simultaneously with them from the Speaker, and made the leper whole—‘Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.’
I. A great example to be followed.—The words of Jesus not only express the tenderest pity for the sufferer, but likewise His abhorrence of the disease which caused his suffering. The mind of Christ is to be the mind of His followers. If it was His mind to wage war upon disease, it is to be the mind of His followers too.
II. Deep spiritual truths which concern every one.—Leprosy was God’s own picture of the soul’s disease which He calls by the name of sin. When then Jesus said, ‘Be thou clean,’ and by His Divine power made the leper clean, it is to us a most blessed revelation of how the cleansing of the soul can be brought about. Now, by the cleansing of the soul we mean—
( a) The removal of the guilt that attaches to every human soul by reason of sin. There is no human power that can release the soul from that guilt. We are meant to learn the stupendous lesson that the Son of God was manifested, and that He lived and died that death upon the cross on purpose that He might say to the leprous soul, ‘Be thou clean.’ And He does say it. He said it again and again on earth; He has said it over and over again through the ages, by the ministry of His Church. That cleansing is conditional upon—
( b) The cleansing of repentance. Repentance means the actual forsaking of sin, and nothing less. Repentance is impossible to a man or woman left to themselves. Jesus was exalted that He might give repentance, and He is ready to give it to the soul that seeks for it, and to say, ‘Be thou clean.’
( c) This cleansing of repentance is the one sure guarantee of the cleansing of pardon. How do you know that God has forgiven you your sins? The voice of Christ still says to us, ‘Be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee’; but He says it upon the one condition which can never be left out of sight, that thou art ready, and willing, and anxious to forsake thy sins; when thy penitence is sincere, and when thou hast placed the sacrifice of thy penitence at the foot of the cross, then the voice comes forth, ‘Be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee.’
Dean P. F. Eliot.
‘Leprosy appears to be a mysterious disease, the cause of which doctors do not know. It is not peculiar to one nation—Norwegians, Italians, Spaniards, Hindoos suffer from it, as well as Syrians.… One curious fact is that townsmen do not suffer from it, though the lepers live close to the towns.… The dreadful plague does not become manifest before the age of twelve, nor later than forty-five. The patients suffer pain at first, and, in later stages, much distress; then physical strength and animal life dies out, and they are, in their own words, “like oxen,” without feeling or intellectual power, scarcely conscious of the outer world; their voice becomes changed to a feeble whine, husky and querulous; their joints and features waste away, and swelling and black discoloration ensue. The flesh decays, until the appearance of an advanced case is ghastly in the extreme; and a raw wound may be burnt with an iron in their bodies, producing only a slightly pleasing sensation. They die finally of leprosy. The lepers at Jerusalem live in huts near the S.W. corner of the town, inside the wall, and marry lepers, and the disease, which reappears in their children, thus becomes hereditary.’
THE LEPER AND THE SAVIOUR
I. The leper.—This man, without a precedent to guide him, was perfectly confident about the competence of Jesus to heal his disease. This is a remarkable fact. It is more remarkable still when we remember that to cure leprosy was rightly regarded as the prerogative of God alone; and so, under the circumstances, the use of the expression ‘Lord’ probably points to a perception, on the part of him who used it, of the Divine character and authority of the Prophet of Galilee.
II. The Saviour.—Our Lord was not at all displeased at the leper’s intrusion into His presence. Unquestionably, it was a liberty; more than this, it was a violation of order. Jesus took in the whole situation at a glance, and the exceptional bodily misery of the man, and his anxiety on account of sin and his sense of personal demerit disposed the heart of the Lord to compassion. He ‘put forth His hand and touched him.’ It was, of course, quite unnecessary for Jesus to do this. The mere utterance of a word would have been enough. And besides, it startled the crowd to see the Prophet of Galilee incurring the risk of ceremonial pollution. Here we see the Saviour’s desire to set before His followers the true nature and method of redemptive work.
III. The touch of Christ.—Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost; and, in order to achieve His purpose, hesitated not to touch the open sores of humanity, by extending the blessings of His loving companionship to the publican and the sinner, to the harlot and the drunkard, to the lowest and most degraded of mankind—if, by such means, He might hope to deliver them. The story of the leper shows us that there is no degradation so profound that Christ cannot lift us up out of it; no guilt of so deep a dye that it cannot be washed out in the precious blood of the Atonement; no pollution so foul, or so ingrained in the soul, that it cannot be counteracted and cast out by the Almighty Spirit of God.
—Prebendary Gordon Calthrop.
‘A sailor, who met with a serious accident, was carried to a London hospital. The poor mother hurried to the building to see her son. She stole softly to his bedside, and gazed at her unconscious boy. She dare not speak, but gently laying her hand on his fevered brow she let it rest there a moment, and then noiselessly crept from the room. The watchful nurse heard the comatose sleeper murmur the words, “ Her touch!” and, rousing himself, he added, “Surely my mother has been here; I knew her touch!” Ah! there was an electric thrill of sympathy in that touch, which told its own tale to the dying man. So the touch of Christ is unlike any other touch.’
THE ONLY TRUE FAITH
‘The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy.… When Jesus heard it, He marvelled, and said … I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.’
In Christ Jesus life is one, and there ought to be no division between things secular and things spiritual, things bodily and things heavenly; they must be one, absolutely one.
I. What is true faith?—This incident brings out a very magnificent truth. It teaches us first of all that here is true faith. Faith is not the glib utterance of any form of words or any principle of doctrine, but faith is the submission of the whole being to the will of the Holy One, Who stands before us as the true representative of authority and government. When our souls, our bodies, and our whole being and property are brought into absolute submission to His will, then, and then only, are we men of faith.
II. Rest for the soul.—If we could only get this principle before us it would set at rest all our present troubled condition of soul. You who are exercised about your duties to society, have you ever thought that if Christ were really in authority, and there were no divided life due to the setting up of two principles, all this quibbling about social duties and pleasures would disappear? If you make yourself one with the world on the plea of raising the world to God, you will have to pay for it in the day of the Lord’s settlement. In these days there is much talk about a longing for power. Learn to obey, and you will soon be in command.
—Prebendary H. W. Webb-Peploe.
‘Not until we have carefully studied the military history of Rome shall we fully understand the mighty force of the words to which this man gives utterance: “I am a man under authority.” This one idea pervaded his entire existence; this one law—the law of obedience—governed his whole life; for the instant a man was called to join the Roman army he gave himself over to one law of life; henceforth he must not know the possession of property or the possession of relatives, he must not know the possession of a will, or even the possession of hope, in one sense; he was simply a vessel, an instrument, taken possession of by the state, to be absolutely, ceaselessly, under the control of that great power which had called him into its service. The Roman imperium over-shadowed the man and absorbed him and all that he had into itself. But while the imperium took him into its power, at the same time it transmitted its power to him; he therefore became not only an instrument of the state, but he also became possessed of the whole power of that state to carry out its will, so far as that will could be carried out in one individual.’
THE GREATNESS OF FAITH
Since, then, what Christ saw and honoured in the centurion was greatness of faith, it is our duty to look carefully at what composed its greatness.
I. The greatness of faith.—What are its characteristics?
( a) The perception of the Truth—the love of the Truth, for the Truth’s sake.
( b) Effort—effort of thought, effort of action.
( c) A simple casting—a case told, the rest left to God; the most eloquent of all beseeching, when you tell a fact.
( d) Abasement—deepening as faith gets victories; and yet the more achieved, the more expected.
( e) Grand views of God—of His hand, of His heart, of His universal reign, of His minute care, the imagery of common life sanctified to the soul’s great health.
( f) An implicit reliance upon a single word—making a word in fact, finding space, distance, human reasoning, physical difficulties, unworthiness, past sin, self, all nothing; the mind of God, the character of God, the will of God, the promise of God, supreme, absolute, alone.
II. How did that faith come?—Just as the answer came: by the ways you cannot see; a thing unfathomable, a grace, a creation. All faith is in Christ. What makes faith grow larger? For answer look into the constitution of faith. Faith is—
( a) A clear understanding of truth.
( b) A converting of the abstract truth that you understand, into a thing real and existent to the mind.
( c) An appropriation—a making your own, a personal apprehension of that understood and realised truth. That is faith—first, to comprehend what is invisible, then to picture what is invisible, then to appropriate what is invisible.
III. All do not travel the same road to faith.—It will be just as God pleases to lead you. All faith, and every increment of faith, is a distinct gift of God—a separate act of creative power. But even the actings of God’s free, omnipotent grace are subject to laws.
( a) Faith lies in the affections, and not in the intellect.
( b) Faith will never co-exist with known and allowed sin.
( c) Faith grows by its own actings.
IV. Christ in the heart.—But, far more than anything else, the greatness of faith is the Christ we have in our hearts. Once to have found and felt Christ a Saviour, that gives faith its best impulse. The more you live with Christ, and the more you live on Christ, and the more you live to Christ, the more and the faster will your faith grow. And there is no limit. The last meltings into sight are faith; and the Christ you love becomes gradually the Christ you see.
—The Rev. James Vaughan.
‘Whether it be in sorrow, or whether it be in joy, he who would enlarge his faith must feed upon promises. To dwell on a promise—to take that promise to God—to pray over it—to wait, and then to see an answer—to do this again and again—sometimes do it about temporal things, and sometimes about spiritual—to go about all the day long picking up the returns of your own petitions everywhere—such promises become histories, and desires become facts. And that makes faith rock-like. If the centurion’s faith was strong when he came to Jesus, how much stronger, think you, was it, when he went home, and found his servant quite well?’
FAITH AND RIGHTEOUSNESS
Faith is a superior property bestowed by God whereby the truth is apprehended without the evidence of experience or argument proved; it belongs partly to the understanding, and partly to the will.
I. Distrust brought sin.—What was it that induced our first parents to eat of that which was forbidden? It was distrust of God, and in that one thought of distrust there lay all the future disobedience of the world.
II. Trust brings righteousness.—Just as in the one thought of distrust there lies every possible sin, so also in the one thought of trust there lies every possible good. Thus we see why the faith of the centurion was accounted unto him for righteousness, because in that one thought of trust there lay all the activity of his service—‘Speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.’ We are not to be saved so much for the accuracy of our theology, or for the correctness by which we take in our dogmas; but we are to be saved by a simple trust which can be common alike to the ignorant and the learned; to the man and to the child.
III. It is the foundation of all spiritual life.—We see in the centurion the great example of this virtue, that simple faith and child-like trust in God is the foundation of all true spiritual life. He had probably never seen Christ before, but he was ready to accept Him as the Son of God. It is quite true that faith is the gift of God, but it is a gift which we can in a large measure increase by our own co-operation.
IV. It needs the discipline of the will.—What is the principal disposing cause of faith? We can learn a lesson from the centurion. In his reply to our Lord there was just one thing brought out, and that is the wonderful state of discipline in which everything connected with him seemed to be. Are we not all in the same position? Are we not so much so that we may say ‘I am a man under authority’—under the authority of God—‘and just in proportion as I have learned to recognise His authority, and to obey His laws, so shall I be able to command my will’?
V. The world to conquer and heaven to win.—We have the world to conquer, and we have heaven to win. St. John tells us the victory which overcometh the world—even our faith. We must lay this foundation first, and then we can go on to learn those other things of hope and love.
—The Rev. L. Verey.
‘True piety is found in very unlikely places, and bears fruit in very unfavourable soil. As in the interior of a desert you may find an oasis of date-palms and verdant herbage, so in the heart of degraded man, long hard and barren, Divine grace produces large clusters of heavenly fruit. At midnight, and amid the stony hills of Luz, a ladder of communication joined earth and heaven; and there is no situation so desolate that man’s mightiest Friend cannot be found. Obadiah kept the flame of his piety aglow in the poisoned atmosphere of Ahab’s house. Amid the depravities of the antediluvian age, “Enoch walked with God.” On the festering dunghill of Egyptian vice, Joseph’s piety was fragrant as a violet. Surrounded by luxury and idolatry in Babylon’s great palace, Daniel’s faith shone out like Arcturus at midnight. And in the Roman camp, where we expect to find the coarse nature of a soldier made coarser by the foul rites of paganism, lo! there blossoms and bears fruit a godly faith, which puts to shame the unbelief of favoured Jews. It was a plant of grace, which has borne fruit from that day to this.’
HOME CITIZENS DEFEATED
‘And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
The force of our Lord’s declaration is hammered into us, day by day. Out there, in what we call ‘the world,’ we encounter, over and over again, such wonderful moral soundness, such high purpose, such fine spiritual insight. And then the reverse of the picture is being made vividly and hideously true to us all. We of the kingdom, in possession of all the privileges, in touch with all the means of grace, fed from our first childhood on the blessed sacramental powers—we after all that has been done for us, do, again and again, fall helplessly below the spiritual standards set us by those others who arrive from without.
I. Our Lord foretold it.—Let us take heart of grace from the mere fact that our Lord knew and foretold this very trouble. Merely to know that it was foreseen relieves the strain for us. Our Lord saw that it would happen, and yet went straight on with His purpose. Evidently, then, the purpose is not defeated. It still stands, and will survive this blow. His whole soul was still set on founding and building the kingdom. This was his mission and most deliberate purpose here on earth, and He never for a moment let that intention waver. Moreover, we may notice another suggestion made to us by His vivid imagery. Those outsiders from afar come to the kingdom themselves at last. They sit down inside, in company with the traditional chiefs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. What does this imply, but that they finally discover that the hidden interpretation of their unaccountable goodness lay within the kingdom itself?
II. What is the kingdom?—It comes down from heaven; it does not rise out of earth. It comes to men. It arrives from elsewhere. That is the whole heart of the matter. That is the Gospel. That is Christianity. That is the secret of Jesus. The New Jerusalem descends from heaven as a bride. ‘My kingdom is not of this world.’ It does not take its origin here. It is not a growth from below. Of course, it comes to meet an upward movement; to respond to it; to carry it higher; to crown it. But there is an inner law of human nature, that it cannot complete itself wholly from within; it cannot achieve its own coronation. It moves towards it; it aspires to it; it suggests it; it prophesies of it; it is for ever nearing it. But it never can attain it. It never can succeed in putting on its own crown with its own hands. That is the inherent story of all developments from our side. And it is only because this conclusion has been finally reached that the significance of Jesus Christ is made manifest. Down from above, in Him, there enters to meet and to rescue this human effort, the force which releases, the act which redeems. To have missed this truth is to have missed everything. That is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And this is what for ever forbids us to believe in a Church which the world develops out of itself, in a growth upward of the world itself, out of its own inner resources, into the kingdom. Christ came in the flesh to proclaim that this is impossible.
III. What this Parable suggests.—What this parable suggests, in picturing those outside heroes and saints of the faith coming at last to take their seats inside the kingdom, must be that, however remote from the visible frontiers of grace they had been in their earthly lives, however unconscious they had been of the secret source of their virtue, now, in the end, with eyes open, they recognise that it had all sprung out of that entry of the Divine deliverance upon the human arena; out of the redemptive action by which and through which humanity won its capacity to attain its consummation. That action reached them by underground channels; but, without it, they could not have done what they did. The entire body of humanity was brought under the one law, received its new value, found its freedom, in the perfect flesh and blood. So the thrill passed everywhere, and, in every place, dry bones came together, and men stood upon their feet, they knew not how, they knew not why. Only, now, at the Judgment Day, when all is clear, they see and know that it was the kingdom, it was the Christ. They bear their witness, now, to it. They sit down with Abraham.
Canon H. Scott Holland.
THE HEAVENLY BANQUET
Our Lord speaks of ‘sitting down with’ Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The imagery is common enough in Scripture, and it suggests one or two ideas which are wanting, perhaps, in some of the other and nobler scriptural representations of the future state.
I. It suggests the idea of rest.—After the labours of the day are over, the toilers, putting off their garments of labour, and putting on their garments of festivity, meet together for the warrantable enjoyment of a well-appointed banquet. In one sense, the true disciple has entered into rest, even whilst living here on earth. But for all that, we cannot hope to be free from conflict, although that conflict does not reach and touch the centre of the soul. The rest is in the future.
II. Another idea is that of social equality.—Here below there are distinctions which divide men from one another: the peasant is not permitted to sit down at table with the prince. It cannot be otherwise now. But hereafter, the barriers which divide man from man, and class from class, will be thrown down. Character—not rank, nor wealth, nor birth, nor even gifts of intellect—will be the key which opens the door of the banqueting hall.
III. A third idea is that of social intercourse.—The persons described by our Lord not merely sit down at the banquet; but they sit down with the magnates, the grandees of the kingdom, with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. What a vista this opens into the depths of the bright hereafter! We shall be brought into company with the greatest minds and noblest hearts of all the successive generations of the human race.
IV. The Centre of all.—Christ is the centre of this enormous system of happiness; the fountain of light from which every ray of joy and brightness flows. The crown of all is His loving presence; and without Him darkness would fall upon the scene, and all would become instantaneously a blank ( Revelation 7:17).
Prebendary Gordon Calthrop.
THE OBLIGATION OF PRIVILEGES
The Jews were quite right in believing that God had chosen them out of the world. ‘We are God’s elect,’ they said, ‘His holy people, we cannot fall, we are His predestined ones—His chosen race.’ Then they found their birthright taken from them and given to those Gentiles whom they had condemned.
The moment we who belong to God’s Holy Catholic Church begin to boast of our corporate Christianity, and say, ‘We only are members of God’s Church,’ we then begin to look down with contempt on those who have been less happily taught than we have, who have not the same means of grace which are ready to our hands.
I. Privilege and responsibility.—Just as God has favoured us with greater privileges and means of grace for our help, so much the greater are our responsibilities. We have been trusted with ten talents; from us ten talents will be demanded. Instead of being lifted up with pride and haughtiness at your advantages, instead of looking with contempt on those who have been less favoured, say, ‘Lord, how can I best discharge this great trust Thou hast given me, how can I best use the talents Thou hast provided me with?’
II. An account required.—Again, we find ourselves trusting in our corporate Christianity, when forgetting that every one of us has to give an account for the things he has done in his own body. You know that when united in large bodies persons will do things they would not attempt individually. National sins against family life, against the will of God, would never have been committed if the persons who voted for or agreed with them had been required to take the responsibility on their own shoulders. We forget that each one of us has to stand before the judgment seat of Christ. There are, without doubt, countless and priceless privileges and blessings gained by belonging to that great body which God has founded and endowed with such marvellous gifts. But they increase, rather than lessen the personal and individual responsibility of its members.
III. The penalty of neglect.—The children of the kingdom shall be cast into outer darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth—because they used not their talents in the service and for the glory of God, but kept them for their own satisfaction and self-indulgent pursuits. As God has given to all, so He will exact. He that knew not his Master’s will and did it not shall be beaten with few stripes; but he that knew it and did it not shall be beaten with many. And those who knew it and did it shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the marriage supper of the Lamb.
—The Rev. Dr. Littledale.
(1) ‘Many a one, especially amongst very young people, gets hold of some Nonconformist, one perhaps much better than himself, more self-denying, more willing to learn, more capable of serving God with devotion after his own fashion; and they begin to argue about the general merits of their different religious systems. In the course of his argument our Churchman shows so much evil temper, pride, lack of true religion, such a hard spirit, such a confined appreciation of everything but the externals of religion, that, instead of making a convert, he hardens the Dissenter in his attachment to his own creed, and inspires him with increased dislike to the system which our Churchman had desired to point out to him as one of exquisite beauty and unspeakable attractiveness.’
(2) ‘Spiritual graces are very much like those india-rubber bands you procure in stationers’ shops for holding papers together. Use them every day, twist them about, pull them, strain them continually, and they are always serviceable; but lock them up in a drawer untouched for some months, and you will find on attempting to use them that they are rotten and will give way and snap directly. That is exactly the way God deals with our souls. If we put our graces by to take them out only on one day of the week, they will just have had time in the six days to get rotten and will snap on Sunday. The more you work them about and bring them into common daily use, the more useful and ready they will be. But put them aside and lay them up and they will break.’
FAITH AND ITS POWER
‘As thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee.’
In some respects this centurion is one of the most interesting figures in the Gospel-history.
I. The characteristics of his faith.—It was:—
( a) Of gradual growth. He must somehow have been led to see that, however superior the Romans were to their Jewish subjects in all the qualities that build up empires and promote material success, the Jews were in possession of a higher truth than any known to their conquerors. Before the centurion made up his mind to apply to our Lord, he must have satisfied himself that he was making application to a superhuman person.
( b) Marked by thoroughness. There were no flaws running through it. The power of our Lord over disease was just as real to him as his own authority as an officer in the Roman army. It was a vigour and a degree of faith most remarkable in a man of heathen antecedents.
( c) Marked by humility. True faith is not insensible to the tenderness of God, but it is always alive to His awful majesty.
II. The power of faith. Here are some reasons of the power of religious faith:—
( a) It involves knowledge. Faith is a telescope which discovers to the beholder a world of facts not visible to the naked eye.
( b) It is a test of the disposition of the soul. Nothing blinds the spiritual eye so surely as a scornful temper. The habit of insincerity, too, is fatal to faith.
( c) It sets the soul in motion. It embodies the element of will.
III. Faith does not create, it only apprehends its object.—Divine facts are wholly independent of our consciousness. They are ‘objective,’ though they must be most assuredly apprehended by our consciousness if they are to be blessings to us.
IV. ‘As thou hast believed.’—These words are true to-day of ( a) Nations; ( b) Churches; ( c) Souls.
THE DIVINE CONSOLER
When the even was come … healed all that were sick.’
It is easy to imagine the scene. Our Lord had healed St. Peter’s mother-in-law of a great fever that very day, and now at eventide they carry the sick ones of Capernaum to His feet. He lays now on one, now on another, His pure and gentle hands, and heals them all. Take up a map of the world, and the vision widens, and from north, south, east, and west the sin-sick sons of Adam come to Him for Divine healing.
I. The guilty.—In the religion of the twentieth century are many hopeful signs, but there seems to be a great absence of the deep conviction of sin our fathers felt. There is only one Saviour.
II. The tempted.—To such this text is a healing word ( Hebrews 2:18).
III. The disappointed.—The sweetest pleasures of the world are like fairy gold that turns to dust and dross! But Christ never disappoints those who trust in Him.
IV. The sorrowful.—‘Christianity is the religion of the sorrowful.’ Not the religion of sorrow, but for sorrow. Human sympathy is sweet, even the sympathy of a little child. How sweet and precious must the sympathy of the Divine and human Saviour be! On all sides there are the lonely and the bereaved, who have lost friends and relations, and whose sorrows are too deep for words or tears. But Christ is the Saviour. Christ is the Teacher. Christ is the Great Consoler too.
—The Rev. F. Harper.
(1) ‘When Principal Tulloch died, Queen Victoria sent his son a letter of condolence, in which she wrote, “No more, never again! These dreadful words I have so often had to repeat make my heart turn sick. God’s will be done. I again have lost a dear and honoured friend. My heart sinks within me when I think I shall not again on earth look on that kindly face. I have lost so many, and I feel so alone.” ’
(2) ‘A woman, broken-hearted by the death of her husband, spoke of being chiefly comforted by the visits of a little girl, who, when asked what she did, replied, “I only put my cheek against hers, and cry when she cries.” ’
(3) ‘If His deeds of power were done, not for Himself, but for others, it was love that prompted them. And what a sympathetic love! “Himself bare”—as though they were His own! Eminently true of the great atoning work, it was His people’s sin that crushed Him, breaking the heart that could no longer bear the load. But true also of every evil of humanity, that “in all their affliction He was afflicted” ( Isaiah 63:9). And consider, in this respect, His individual tenderness: He did not heal en masse, but upon each He laid His hands, to each He spoke words of love, entering thus in detail and minutely into the realisation of His people’s woes. But at what cost! For consider the exhausting effect of true heart-sympathy. “Virtue is gone out of me” (St. Luke 8:46; see also Matthew 6:19). Yes, indeed, His healing work was draining His own vital power. Thus was He proved to be the All-loving One.’
A THREEFOLD FOLLOWING
‘But Jesus said unto him, follow Me; and let the dead bury their dead.’
Whither must we follow Christ?
I. Along the road He trod.—That was the road of self-denial, self-abnegation, of poverty, of homelessness, of the base man’s hatred and the proud man’s scorn.
II. On the road of toil.—It was the first law of Eden, ‘Work’; and though the work was changed to toil by a penal decree, even that toil by faithful obedience has been transformed into an honour and a blessing.
III. In the strength of enthusiasm.—He must be baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire. And herein, too, he must let the dead bury their dead. For the dead of this world hate this fiery spirit. ‘Above all, no zeal,’ said the witty, crafty, successful statesman. ‘Fervent in spirit,’ said St. Paul.
CHRIST IN THE SHIP
‘And when He was entered into a ship, His disciples followed Him. And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea … even the winds and the sea ohey Him.’
I. The peril of the disciples.—The sea of Galilee, like all inland seas, was subject to violent hurricanes of wind. Such a tornado now swept over this sea and lashed it into madness. But, apart from natural causes, who raised this fearful storm? Was it an accident—one of those effects that seem without a cause? No; there was ‘a Divinity’ in it. It was because Christ was with them that this storm arose. What lessons are here for us!
II. The sleep of the Master.—His human nature was exhausted by His God-like acts. Here is a certain proof of His perfect humanity. Because of such proofs, people, ‘in the days of His flesh,’ would not believe in His Divinity. If they were to see Him now, they might not believe in His humanity ( Hebrews 2:9-18).
III. The cry of the disciples.—What fear their cry indicated! But the cry of the disciples betokened great confidence as well as agonising fear. This confidence rested simply and exclusively on Him as their Lord. The ability and willingness of Christ always companion each other, and are always exerted when appealed to.
IV. The chiding of the Saviour.—It was full of tenderness. But why chide at all? Was not the fear of the disciples natural, and also inevitable under the circumstances of their great danger? Yes; but they, in the height of their fear, forgot that their Almighty Saviour was on board, and thought only of the raging tempest. His chiding, therefore, was followed immediately by His action. ‘He arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.’ What a contrast! The wildest tempest hushed by Heaven produces the profoundest calm for the believer.
V. The marvel of the men.—Their exclamation evinces their deep feeling. The Lord of souls and of nature first calmed His disciples, then the sea of Galilee. And is it not so with us when God has done some great thing for us? We are indeed filled with wonder. But is this all? No; gratitude follows wonder, as summer follows spring. Men who are fearful in the storm should be grateful in the calm ( Psalms 107:23-31).
‘ “Rob Roy” Macgregor, as his canoe was passing Wady Fik, heard a “strange, distant, hissing sound ahead, where we could see that a violent storm was raging.… This torrent of heavy cold air was pouring over the mountain crests into the deep cauldron of the lake below, a headlong flood of wind, like a waterfall into the hollow.” He adds, “With my best efforts I could scarcely stem the force of this head wind.” ’
CHRIST’S POWER OVER NATURE
‘The ship was covered with the waves.’
The quieting or peace-making power of Christ overcoming all disorder, is what we feel most in this account of the stilling of the storm.
I. Absolute helplessness.—Most men, at some time in their lives, have known what it is to touch the last limit of strength. The powers that overmatch us, tire us out, and run us down, are various—time, hereditary maladies, sudden sickness, the superior strength of other people serving their own interests against us. Most plainly it is a part of God’s scheme of mercy to lead us, in our self-confidence and self-will, every one of us, to just that point, so that when we are obliged to stop trusting or calculating for ourselves, we shall come willingly to Him.
II. Seeking Christ.—When, at last, the voyager comes sincerely and anxiously to that, and utters the prayer, Christ does not refuse him because he did not call sooner, or because when he prayed his prayer was not the purest and loftiest of prayers. Hardly any heart’s prayer is that, when it is first agitated under the flashing conviction that it is all wrong. While its deep disorder is first discovered it can think only of being delivered. ‘Lord, save us, we perish!’ The Gospel approves and blesses such asking. When they have gone deeper into the real motives of disinterested religion, and have drunk more deeply of the Spirit of Christ Himself, their petitions will rise to loftier ranges of spiritual desire. At present this patient Intercessor and Redeemer accepts the crudest supplication, so only it comes out of a penitent, contrite heart, and is directed to Him. This is enough. He fosters the faintest glow of faith. He cherishes the nascent, half-formed purpose of obedience.
III. God in everything.—The Person of Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, is the actual bond of a living unity between the visible world of nature and the invisible world of God’s spiritual kingdom. Scholars will never explore nature thoroughly, or right wisely, till they see this religious signification of every law, every force, and every particle of matter, and explore it by the light of faith. God is in everything or in nothing—in lumps of common clay, as Ruskin says, and in drops of water, as in the kindling of the day star, and in the lifting of the pillars of heaven. The naturalists of antiquity were quite as original and acute, in the purely intellectual quality, as the moderns. But none of them, of any nation, ever really grasped this doctrine of creation till Christ revealed it. Hence, Christ must be Lord of life and death, of seas and storms, of diseases and demons, of every mystery and might and secret of created things. ‘The winds and the sea obey Him.’
IV. True use of miracles.—The miracle thus discloses to us the true practical use both of the gospel miracles themselves, and of every other gift and blessing of heaven, in leading us up in affectionate gratitude to Him who stands as the central figure among all these visible wonders, and the originator of all the peace-making powers which tranquillise and reconcile the turbulences of the world. The wonders fulfilled their office when they gained men’s ears and hearts for their Redeemer. Feeding on Him, dying with Him, at liberty with His freedom, walking daily in His light, forgiven through His mediation, enriched and sanctified by His intercession—what can the brave and true Christian need more? ‘When He giveth peace, who then can make trouble?’
THE SECRET OF CALM
‘And there was a great calm.’
It is important to know the real secret of a quiet spirit under jarring influences.
I. An act of supernatural power.—The first thing is this: it must be by an act of supernatural power. It is not in man to hush himself to rest. There must be a Divine command, ‘Peace, be still!’ And we must listen for this stilling voice, which the ear of faith can hear even in a hurricane!
II. A secret power.—Akin to this, there is a secret power—pervading and over-ruling all the confusion and all the mystery—which gives everything a purpose, and a preordained limit, which it cannot pass. The wind and storm may rage as forces which appear to own no control; but, nevertheless, they are ‘the winds and storms fulfilling Thy word.’
III. The presence of Christ.—The simple presence of Christ in that ship would have been enough without the miracle! Could anything really hurt that, where He was? We have all felt the calm and peace of the companionship even of a man whom we love and trust. What must it be, if we could only realise it, that Jesus is here, a Brother, a Saviour, a God, at our very side. And nothing can change that.
IV. The discipline of life.—Nevertheless, there will be, and there must be storms; and there will be, and there must be calms; and strangely set, in wonderful order, so long as this world lasts. It does not follow, because smooth to-day, we shall not be tossed again to-morrow. To believe in ‘calm’ when the ‘storm’ is raging is what we all have to learn. To every storm there is a lull; and in God’s equal equipoise, the fury of the tempest will always be balanced by the sweetness of the calm.
The Rev. James Vaughan.
‘St. Augustine says: “We are sailing in this life as through a sea, and the wind rises, and storms of temptation are not wanting. Whence is this, save because Jesus is sleeping in thee? If He were not sleeping in thee, thou wouldst have calm within. But what means this, that Jesus is sleeping in thee, save that thy faith, which is from Jesus, is slumbering in thine heart? What shalt thou do to be delivered? Arouse Him and say, Master, we perish. He will awaken; that is, thy faith will return to thee and abide with thee always. When Christ is awakened, though the tempest beat into yet it will not fill thy ship; thy faith will now command the winds and the waves, and the danger will be over.” ’
A TERRIBLE PRAYER
‘And when they saw Him, they besought Him that He would depart out of their coasts.’
This is the most terrible prayer that ever man uttered to God. There was Christ the Saviour, Christ the Healer, coming to them: coming to them, too, in all the power of His great goodness. He had just shown it in His stilling of the tempest, when even the winds and the sea obeyed Him. He had just shown it in His rescuing the poor man who was tormented by the devils.
I. A warning.—We often find people wishing that they had lived in our Lord’s own days, and fancying that if they had seen Him work His miracles, and heard Him preach His sermons, then these things would have exercised such a power over them that they could not have helped being very much better people than they now are. This incident is meant to stop all such false notions. Christ manifested Himself to these people with some of His very greatest miracles, casting out even a legion of devils—real evil spirits—from a person they all knew; and all that came of it was that they only wished to be well rid of Christ. So it might be with us, and you may be sure that so it would be with all those people who turn away from the Church’s teaching now. Those who will not believe and pray now, would have rejected Christ then, however little they may think it. Nay, if Christ were to come to them, they would find so little in Him to please them that they would do as these people did in the Gospel, and pray Him to depart out of their coasts.
II. The reason why.—What was it that these people clung to so much as to make them wish to get rid of Christ? The answer is very instructive. It was their property. They were afraid for their goods. It was the destruction of the swine that went against them. You know that swine were forbidden creatures by the Law of Moses, so that these people had no right to keep them at all. Our Lord’s permitting the destruction of the swine touched the consciences of those people at once. It was the same thing as letting them feel that He could not come among them without their faults being brought to light, without their having to give up their sins, their ill-gotten gains, and whatever else there was that was wrong.
III. The question for us is—may not many of us be just like these persons who asked Jesus to depart? Could we bear it if we, for conscience sake, were called upon to submit to any real loss. There is hardly a house which would not have to suffer some loss, if Christ were to come and destroy whatever we have got wrongfully, as He destroyed those swine.
IV. The meaning of loss of fortune.—May not the destruction of these swine teach us a great lesson as to the meaning and notion of those losses of fortune, those losses of property or social position, or whatever else men delight in, which so often come upon us? When God suffers some heavy loss to fall upon a man, it is often with the view of rousing his conscience to see the things which stood between him and Christ.