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Chapter 11. The Wicked Husbandmen
"And He began to speak unto them by parables. A certain man planted a vineyard, and set an hedge about it, and digged a place for the winefat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country. And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the vineyard. And they caught him, and beat him, and sent him away empty. And again he sent unto them another servant; and at him they cast stones, and wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully handled. And again he sent another; and him they killed, and many others; beating some, and killing some. Having yet therefore one son, his well-beloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son. But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours. And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? he will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others. And have ye not read this scripture: The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner; This was the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? And they sought to lay hold on Him, but feared the people: for they knew that He had spoken the parable against them: and they left Him, and went their way." Mark 12:1-12.
The Two Sons.
This parable, the parable of the wicked husbandmen, as we call it, is, on the whole, perhaps the saddest and sternest that ever fell from the lips of Christ. Dr. A. B. Bruce classifies it as a parable of judgment. And such undoubtedly it is. And the judgment appears the more severe and stern because judgment is Christ's strange work; and the doom pronounced appears the more awful, because it falls from the lips of Him "Who said of Himself that He had not come into the world to judge the world, but that the world through Him should be saved. Before I begin to discuss this poignant and heartbreaking parable, let me try to place it for you in its right context. After their humiliating experience in the discussion about authority, the priests and the elders would very gladly have withdrawn quietly away. But Jesus did not permit them to do that. He carried the war into the enemy's camp. They had come to challenge Christ's authority. He was not content to expose their spiritual incompetence. By means of the parable of the Two Sons, He roundly charged them with the sin of insincerity. They were like the elder son in that parable, who, when his father bade him go and work in the vineyard, replied, "I go, sir," and went not. Theirs was all profession, without practice. They made a great parade of their reverence for God, and did not obey Him. And so it would come to pass, Jesus said, that the publicans and harlots would go into the Kingdom of God before them. For while by their wild and reckless life the publicans and harlots had seemed to refuse obedience to God, like the younger son, who, when his father bade him go and work, said, "I go not"; yet at the call of John these people had repented of their sin, and returned to God, like the younger son, who afterwards repented and went. This parable Jesus seems to have spoken directly to the priests and elders, and it bit deep; for they themselves must have known how true it was that while they worshipped God with their lips, their hearts were far from Him.
The Wicked Husbandmen.
But even after uttering the parable of the Two Sons, Christ had not done with these unhappy priests and scribes. Turning away from them, He addressed Himself to the crowd that was standing round, and spoke to them this parable of the Wicked Husbandmen. After having spoken to them, He proceeded to speak about them to the crowd. In the parable of the Two Sons He had charged the priests and elders directly with the sin of insincerity. In this parable He speaks to the multitude of the doom that is sure to fall upon these men who professed religion, and did not practise it; upon these religious leaders who were not religious themselves; upon these so-called religious guides who had rejected and persecuted and slain every servant God had sent to them. Their high place was to be forfeited; all their privileges were to be taken away. They were to fall under the holy wrath of God. "He will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others" (Mark 12:9). And the priests and elders recognised the point of the story. They needed no laboured explanations. It carried its terrible meaning on its face. It was of their faithlessness, and their wickedness, and their rejection and doom Christ had spoken. And if the parable of the Two Sons bit deep, this pierced them to the very heart. In their rage and hate, they would have murdered Christ on the spot, had they dared. "And they sought to lay hold on Him; and they feared the multitude; for they perceived that He spake the parable against them" (Mark 12:12).
The Judgment of Faithlessness.
Now let me turn to the parable itself. It is, primarily, as I have already said, a parable of judgment; and it is from that point of view I want in the first place to look at it. The broad drift of the meaning of the parable is sufficiently evident. It was still more evident to those who first listened to it. For in a sense this was not a new parable to the Jews; it was an old and familiar parable. Long before, Isaiah (Isa. v.) had pictured Israel as a vineyard, and had sung a song of what God had done for it how He made a trench about it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also hewed out a winepress therein. But Israel disappointed God, for when He looked that it should bring forth grapes, behold, it brought forth wild grapes. That allegory of Isaiah was familiar enough to every Jewish mind; and what Jesus does here, is to take that old and familiar allegory, and adapt it to His own special purpose. As soon as the first sentence about the man planting a vineyard fell from His lips, His listeners knew it was of Israel, i.e. of themselves, Christ was speaking.
The Story and its Application.
Now in interpreting the parables we must not try to find a specific spiritual equivalent for every little detail in the picture. If we begin to puzzle over what the hedge means, and what the winepress means, and indeed, what exactly the vineyard means, we shall become hopelessly mystified and confused. The analogy between the earthly story and the spiritual truth it is meant to teach, is an analogy in broad outline, and does not extend to minute particulars. Let me in such broad outline set forth the truth this tragic story is meant to teach. The owner of the vineyard in this case is God. The husbandmen to whom He let it out are the Jews, and especially the Jewish leaders the elders and chief priests and scribes about whom we read in the preceding paragraph. The vineyard itself is not quite so easy satisfactorily to interpret. Some say that it stands for the Church; others that it stands for the Kingdom of God. Let us be content to think that the "vineyard" stands for those unique religious privileges and opportunities God bestowed upon Israel. God did for Israel what He did not for any other nation. He made them the recipients of a unique revelation. He made them the depositaries of the true faith. And He did everything that could be done to secure that Israel should keep the deposit, and preserve and diffuse the revelation. But Israel was false to its trust. Again and again the people turned apostate. Instead of keeping and spreading the true faith, Israel again and again forsook the Lord, and turned after strange gods. Israel was indeed a vineyard from which God did not receive the expected fruit.
The Servants and the Husbandmen. The Mission of the Son.
Again and again He sent His servants to this perverse and rebellious people. Prophet after prophet summoned them back to the service of God. But there was scarcely a prophet whom they did not repudiate and persecute. The description in this parable is literally true. Some they beat, and some they wounded in the head, and handled shamefully, and so with many others, beating some, and killing some. Elijah, Micaiah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist they had all suffered. They pleaded and reasoned with Israel in vain. Rejection had been their invariable lot. And the climax of Israel's rebellion and persistent faithlessness came in their treatment of Jesus. When His servants all failed, God sent His only Son. "They will reverence my Son," He said. But when these wicked husbandmen saw the Son they said, "This is the heir; come, let us kill Him" (Mark 12:7). That is to say, Jesus prophesies that as they had treated the prophets, so they would treat the Son. And it all came true. Before the week was out the Jews, incited by their leaders, had nailed the Son Himself to the bitter tree!
Neglected Opportunities and Divine Sentence.
That was the history of Israel a history of opportunities neglected, privileges abused, a great trust betrayed. God got no fruit from this vineyard He had so carefully planted and so jealously guarded. All the labours of prophets and Psalmists had been in vain. Far from spreading the faith, Israel had not even kept it. Far from extending the Kingdom, Israel itself had been rebellious. "What therefore will the lord of the vineyard do?" asked Jesus (Mark 12:9). And the people gave back the answer, "Miserable men! He will come and destroy these husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others" (Luke 20:15-16). And although, according to Luke's account, the priests and rulers broke in with a passionate "God forbid!" Jesus accepts the people's verdict. That is exactly the fate that shall overtake faithless Israel. The vineyard shall be taken away from them. They shall lose their high place. They shall cease to be God's chosen instruments. He will entrust the cause of the Kingdom to other hands.
The Sentence Executed.
It all came true. Faithless Israel was destroyed. Forty years after this parable was spoken the nation was shattered, crushed, and broken. Israel religiously ceased to count. God put the care of His Kingdom into other hands. Like His Apostles, He turned to the Gentiles. He let out the vineyard to others, who were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise. And from them has God's fruit been found.
Privileges and Responsibility.
That is the story, a story of tragic import to the Jews who heard it, and full of the most solemn warning to us as well. I can scarcely do more than point out some of its most obvious lessons. Notice, first of all, how the parable insists upon it that privilege carries with it responsibility. If God lets out a vineyard, He expects fruit. That is to say, gifts and privileges are all for service and use. God expects a return for them. As Dr Glover says, "We have a rent to pay for every privilege." It does not matter what the privilege may be. One man's gift may be wealth, and another's may be learning, and another's may be leisure. It matters not; God expects wealth, learning and leisure to be used for His glory, for the good of men. And especially is this the case in respect of religious privileges. They are given for use. God expects rent for them. And the rent he expects is their employment for the benefit of others. "Necessity is laid upon me, and woe is me if I preach not the Gospel," that is the rent. We have been signally favoured in regard to religious privileges. Is God getting the rent He expects? Are we diffusing the light? Are we spreading the kingdom? Is God's cause profiting by us? Does the Lord get His fruit?
The Progression of Sin.
Then notice, secondly, what an illustration we get here of the progression of sin. These husbandmen begin by beating a servant, they end by killing the Son. They began by being merely perverse and wilful, they ended by being wicked and devilish. That is one of the terrible characteristics of sin. Evil grows. "Is thy servant a dog" (2 Kings 8:13), said Hazael, when the prophet foretold some awful enormity that would be perpetrated by him. He was indignant at the bare suggestion. And yet he did all the atrocious things predicted. Sin dulls the sensibilities, and sears the conscience, and so gradually the sinner becomes capable of crimes from which in his more innocent days he would have shrunk in horror. Thus it came about that Jerusalem, which began by rejecting the messages of the prophets, ended by crucifying Christ between two thieves.
The End of Faithlessness Deprivation.
But, of course, the central lesson of all is this, that faithlessness is punished by deprivation. It is so all through life. Any possession, any power, any gift that is not put to use, is taken away. Atrophy is one of Nature's tragic truths. The condition of the retention of any faculty is its employment. And it is so specially with religious place and privilege. If we lose our first love, and cease to do our first works, the result will be that our candlestick will be removed out of its place. Many candlesticks have been removed. Many transferences of privilege have taken place. The Jew was rejected, and the Gentile put in his place. Early in the story of Christianity, the Eastern Church lost its pride of place, and the Western Church led in its stead. In the sixteenth century the Roman Church failed to shake itself free of its superstitious falsities, and so the leadership fell to the Churches of the Reformation. God has raised us, as a people, high amongst the nations. He has conferred upon us signal honour and privilege. But let us remember that a Britain that ceases to be faithful may be thrust from her high place, and her glory may be given to another. We hold our place only on condition that we bring forth fruit. A faithless Britain may be a cast-away Britain. God may give the vineyard to others. We may become as Nineveh and Tyre. There is need to pray, "Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, lest we forget, lest we forget!"
The Divine Patience.
But this parable is not simply a parable of judgment upon human faithlessness. It is also a parable of the Divine patience, and of the unique and unshared glory of Christ. It is a parable of the Divine patience. Dr A. B. Bruce says that no landlord would ever have acted as this landlord did. The whole story has an air of improbability, not to say impossibility. An ordinary landlord would very speedily have evicted these troublesome and rebellious tenants. Quite so. Jesus had to tell an improbable, almost an impossible, story if He was to convey any notion of the patience and long-suffering of God. For God's patience does pass all the limits possible to us men. As Faber puts it, "His fondness goes far out beyond our dreams." Indeed, in its primary application, this parable is not a parable at all, it is simple, matter-of-fact history. This is how God treated Israel. He sent to them servant after servant, prophet after prophet. And though Israel turned a deaf ear to the appeals of God's prophets, from Amos to John the Baptist, even then God's patience was not exhausted. He had yet one, a beloved Son; He sent Him last unto them, saying, "They will reverence My Son!" What marvellous and subduing patience this is!
A Patience that Still Lasts.
And all this is true of the patience of God still. That is the chief characteristic of the love of God it lasts! It outlasts. "How often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?" asked Peter one day; "until seven times?" And I have no doubt that in suggesting seven times he thought he was making a most generous offer. "I say not unto thee, Until seven times," said Jesus, "but, Until seventy times seven" (Matthew 18:21-22). Seventy times seven, that is the way in which the Divine love forgives. That is the way in which the Divine love pleads and entreats. It does not depart at the first rebuff. It returns until seventy times seven. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock," says the Lord. Or, as the Greek verb might be translated, "I have been standing a long time, and am standing still" (Revelation 3:20). It is not once He knocks. He continues to stand, and continues to knock, until seventy times seven. If there had been no second chance, if the Lord had left us at the first rebuff, it would have gone hard with some of us. But the long-suffering of the Lord, as Peter says, is salvation. We may have rejected His offers again and again and again, but our rejection will not be cast up against us.
The Wicked Husbandmen
"If I ask Him to receive me,
Will He say me nay?
Not till earth, and not till heaven,
The Unshared Glory of Christ; The Glory of the Son.
Again, this is a parable not only of the judgment of faithlessness and the Divine patience, but also a parable of the unshared glory of Christ. Here He tells the people what was the ground of His authority to cleanse the Temple, to forgive sins, to abrogate the law of Moses. It comes out in Mark 12:6. "He had yet one, a beloved Son; He sent Him last unto them, saying, They will reverence My Son." Now in that verse Christ is speaking of Himself. He is the Son whom the Lord of the vineyard sent as His last hope. "The verse is of immense significance," Dr Bruce says, "for the self-consciousness of Jesus." And its significance consists in this. Jesus is here drawing a distinction between Himself and the prophets, between Himself and Isaiah and Jeremiah and Elijah and Moses. What were they? Servants. What was He? A Son. He places Himself in a category quite apart from the greatest and noblest of men. Even Moses was but a slave in God's house. Jesus was a Son over it. That was Christ's answer to the question, "By what authority doest Thou these things? or who gave Thee this authority to do these things?" His right to do these things was that He was God's only and beloved Son. His authority roots itself in His personality.
His Claim to Obedience.
That is where Christ's authority roots itself still. Christ is the Master-light of all our seeing. He is the Lord of our consciences. His veriest word is law. That is too vast and august an authority to entrust to the best and noblest of men. The only justification for it is that Christ is more than man, that He is God's beloved Son, that He is God Himself incarnate in the flesh, and by word and deed declaring His holy will concerning us. That is just what He was. A greater than the greatest of the prophets God's beloved Son. To God's Son we cannot render homage too complete, or obedience too explicit. He has a right to His unquestioned authority. It was God Himself Who, speaking of Jesus, said to the three disciples on the holy mount, and through them to all men and women for all time, "This is My beloved Son; hear Him." Do we hear Him? And obey Him? Do we recognise and bow to His authority? "Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him."
Chapter 12. The Tribute Money
"And they send unto Him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch Him in His words. And when they were come, they Bay unto Him, Master, we know that Thou art true, and carest for no man: for Thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Cæsar, or not? Shall we give, or shall we not give? But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye Me? bring Me a penny, that I may see it. And they brought it. And He saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? And they said unto Him, Cæsar's. And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's, and to God the things that are God's. And they marvelled at Him." Mark 12:13-17.
The Enquirers. Why chosen.
"And they," i.e. the chief priests and elders, "send unto Him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians" (Mark 12:15). The young men who actually submitted the question about tribute to Jesus were not the originators and instigators of this plot. They were only the instruments and tools. Behind the actual questioners, in the back-ground I see the sinister figures of Caiaphas and Annas, the high priests. Their own humiliating defeat in their debate with Christ about authority had only intensified their malice and rage, and hardened their resolve to catch Christ, if possible, in His talk. So this chapter tells us of a series of difficult questions which were submitted to Christ, and the plotters who concocted them all were the chief priests and the elders. To ask this question about tribute they choose certain young disciples of the Pharisees, and along with them certain young men of the Herodian party. Their choice of young men was cunningly made. Their very youth, they argued, would give to the deputation an air of guileless-ness and sincerity, and so would help to throw Jesus off His guard, and induce Him to speak with dangerous freedom. And the combination too of Pharisees and Herodians was a clever move. For as a rule Pharisees and Herodians were at daggers drawn. They stood for different ideals. The Pharisees were the patriotic party, who held that the Jews were God's chosen people, meant not simply for independence, but for supremacy; who accordingly felt the Roman yoke to be a constant and almost unbearable irritation. The Herodians, on the other hand, were the courtly party, attached primarily to the Herodian dynasty, but through them to the Roman empire, to whose favour the Herods owed their thrones. The Pharisees were the irreconciliable opponents of Rome. The Herodians, as Dr Salmond says, accepted Roman rule, and profited by it. They sent these young Pharisees and these Herodians to Jesus. They thought it would look as if these eager young rabbis had been debating the question with the Herodians, and that in their failure to agree they had decided to submit the matter to Christ, and to appeal to Him as arbitrator.
The Manner of their Enquiry.
That is exactly the attitude the deputation assume in their approach. There is all the difference in the world between the manner of this deputation and the manner of the chief priests and elders when they came to Christ with their question about authorities. The chief priests and elders talked down to Christ; they put Him in the dock, so to speak; ordered Him to defend Himself, and undertook themselves to adjudicate on His claims. These young Pharisees and Herodians talk up to Christ, they treat Him as the Master, and salute Him as the Authority Whose word on the subject of debate will settle the quarrel.
Allied Powers of Evil.
"Master," they say, "we know that Thou art true, and carest not for anyone; for Thou regardest not the person of men, but of a truth teachest the way of God. Is it lawful to give tribute unto Cæsar, or not? Shall we give, or shall we not give?" (Mark 12:14-15). First of all, let us notice what an unholy alliance there is here. As I have already said, as a rule Pharisees and Herodians were at daggers drawn. They stood for different national ideals. They were as far apart, shall I say? as the Clerical and the Free-thinker in France. But they hated Jesus more than they hated each other. And in their deeper hate of Him they forgot for the moment their mutual animosities, and became allies and friends. All the varied interests of hypocrisy and sin combine and unite to persecute Jesus. That is a suggestive little sentence in the Gospels "And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day" (Luke 22:12). What day was that? The day when between them they allowed Jesus to be done to death. And many a Pilate and a Herod, at enmity amongst themselves, become friends when it is a case of opposing and persecuting Jesus. Mr Malice, and Mr No Good, and Mr Love Lust and Mr Heady, these brave citizens of Vanity Fair, had no doubt their own private quarrels; but they acted as one man when it came to dealing with Christian and Faithful, who had dared to despise and denounce their fair. A common hate unites all evil principalities and powers against the Lord.
And their Defeat.
Yet these evil alliances are all in vain. As easily as our Lord overthrew these Pharisees and Herodians, with their cunningly concocted question, so easily does He overthrow and break down all evil combinations against Him, to this day. "The Kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against His Anointed.... He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision" (Psalms 2:2, Psalms 2:4). All unholy alliances against Christ, however formidable they may appear, are doomed to defeat. "He that falleth upon this stone shall be broken to pieces; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will scatter him as dust" (Matthew 22:44).
Their Testimony to Jesus.
But what a magnificent testimony these Pharisees and Herodians bear to Jesus! Look at it, "Master," they say, "we know that Thou art true" true, that is, as Dr Morison says, ingenuous, honest, transparent; or, as the Twentieth Century New Testament translates it, "we know that Thou art an honest man"; "and carest not for anyone," that is, absolutely frank and fearless; Jesus was one who would not trim or whittle away the truth out of fear of the great and mighty; "for Thou regardest not the person of man," or, as the Greek might literally be translated, "Thou lookest not into the face of man"; in which phrase, says Dr Morison again, there is a hint of the law-courts. Justice is always represented as blindfold. Who the parties to a suit are, makes no difference to Justice. She never looks upon the faces of the suitors at her bar. But the venal judges of the East were often in the habit of looking into the faces of their suitors; partiality often took the place of justice, and the stronger suitor was favoured at the expense of the weaker. But Jesus never, in this sense, looked into any man's face, He was inexorably and perfectly just, completely and entirely impartial. "Thou payest no regard to a man's position, but teachest the Way of God in truth." It was the "way of God," and not any mere human philosophy that Jesus taught. His word carried upon it the impress of its own Divineness.
Not Flattery but Truth.
Now look at all that these Pharisees and Herodians attribute to Christ: honesty, fearlessness, perfect impartiality, a unique knowledge of the way of God. Of course it may be held that all this was said by way of flattery. Granted readily. But even flattery, if it is not to defeat itself, must proceed on a basis of truth. Flattery consists in the exaggeration of good qualities already existing. If a man attributes to another qualities he does not possess, the man is not flattered, he is insulted. He feels that the other is making a fool of him. Granted, then, that these men were intent on flattering Jesus, and that their reverence was feigned, it nevertheless remains true that they were only able to attribute these various qualities to Jesus because He verily possessed them. The eulogium was well founded, though the motive that prompted them to make it was as false as could be. This then is the involuntary tribute His bitter foes were constrained to pay to Christ. God makes the very wrath of men to praise Him, the Old Book says (Psalms 76:10), and from the lips of His adversaries and foes some of the noblest testimonies to Christ have come.
The Many Hostile Witnesses.
It seems to me that if I had nothing but the witness of Christ's enemies to go upon, I should be constrained to believe He was more than man. "Never man spake like this man" (John 7:46), said the officers who had been sent to seize Him. "I find no fault in Him" (John 19:6), said Pilate. "He saved others, Himself He cannot save" (Matthew 27:42), said mocking priests at the foot of the cross. "Certainly this was the Son of God" (Luke 23:47), said the centurion who had charge of the execution. Unwilling testimony to His unique and unshared greatness is wrung from the lips of men who would gladly have discovered some fleck or flaw in Him. And it is so still, the very men who criticise Christ are constrained to glorify Him. Sceptical men like John Stuart Mill can think of no better rule for life than so to live that Christ would approve the life. Strauss says, "It will never be possible to rise above Him, or to imagine anyone who should even be equal to Him." Kenan declares that between Him and God there is no distinction. Now who was this man, about whom His very critics and foes bear testimony that He was unlike every other man the world has ever seen; that He was greater, wiser, holier than any man the world has ever seen? People talk sometimes about the difficulty of believing that Jesus was the Son of God. My difficulty is in believing anything else. "I say, the acknowledgment of God in Christ," wrote Browning, "accepted by the reason, solves for thee all questions in the earth, and out of it."
The Attempted Dilemma.
Now let me continue the story. It was not because of any genuine difficulty about the matter that these Pharisees and Herodians brought this question about tribute-money to Jesus. Their question was designed as a trick, a plot, a snare. They thought that it would put the Lord on the horns of a dilemma, and that, whichever way He replied, He was bound to deliver Himself into their hands. For if He answered in the Herodian sense, and said, "Yes, it is lawful to pay tribute," the Pharisees would have at once denounced Him as a traitor to His race, and His popularity would have been destroyed on the instant. On the other hand, if He had taken the side of the Pharisees, and said, "No, it is not lawful to pay tribute," the Herodians would have at once denounced Him to Pilate as being guilty of the crime of high treason. Whichever way the Lord answered the question, He seemed bound to come into collision either with the people or with Pilate.
The Dilemma Met.
But it is an ill business trying to lay plots for the Lord. He was not deceived by the plausibility of their question, nor by the flattery of their address. He saw into the wicked and murderous intent behind it all. He read the hearts of these men like an open book. "Why tempt ye me!" He said. And then He cried, "Bring me a denarius, that I may see it." Tribute was paid, not in the Jewish money used for Temple purposes, but in the Roman silver coinage. When a denarius had been handed to Jesus He asked, "Whose is this image and superscription?" He held up to their view the coin, bearing on one of its sides a medallion of the emperor, and on the other the name of the emperor and his title of Pontifex Maximus. They said unto Him, "Cæsar's." And by their answer they had replied to their own question. For it was an accepted principle that when any king's coinage was current, that king's sovereignty was recognised. Their own Rabbis had laid down that law for them. "Render unto Cæsar," said Jesus, "the things that are Cæsar's."
The Snare Avoided.
But that scarcely brings out the exact force of the Greek. The question the Pharisees and Herodians had asked was, "Shall we give?" Jesus's reply is, "Give back, pay unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's." By accepting the advantages of Cæsar's rule, they had also consented to its obligations. They had traded as Roman subjects; they must pay the Roman tribute. The payment of tribute had become a matter of obligation and debt. "Pay back," He said, and perhaps there was a touch of scorn in His voice as He said it, "to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's," and He added, "and to God the things that are God's." He had answered their question; and yet He had avoided their snare. Yes, and He had done more. He had laid down a profound and permanent principle. "And they marvelled greatly at Him," says Mark (Mark 12:17). The word is an exceptionally strong one "they were utterly amazed at Him" not simply at the ease with which He foiled their plot, but with the wisdom of His answer. And who knows but that some of these men may have been constrained to ask in wonder, "Who is this?" and, though they went to ensnare and catch Him, may have stayed to worship and adore Him?
Duties to the State.
Now, as I said just a moment ago, this answer of our Lord's is far more than a happy way of escape out of what looked like an inextricable difficulty, it is a satisfying answer; it lays down great principles which avail for guidance in every similar difficulty. Primarily, the topic in debate was the duty men owe to civil government. The Pharisees thought that they were by their loyalty to God forbidden to pay tribute to Cæsar. In other words, they felt that religion interfered with their civil obedience. The principle Christ lays down here is that those who accept the privileges of the State must discharge the just demands of the State. Christ was no Anarchist. He recognised the necessity and utility of rulers and governments. There was a certain sphere of human life within which they had a right to the exercise of authority. The Apostle was only interpreting Christ's mind when He said, "The powers that be are ordained of God" (Romans 13:1).
Our Obedience to the State.
Everyone who accepts the advantages of the rule of the State is bound to discharge his just obligations to the State; that is the principle here laid down. Take our own case. Our English citizenship confers upon us great privileges. The State, for instance, cares for our safety. By means of its armies and its fleet it has warded off from us the dangers of foreign attack. By means of its system of law it safeguards our persons and property. And, in order to be able to do all this, the State makes certain demands upon us in the way of taxes. Now what our Lord here says is that no man has a right to receive the advantages of membership in this English State unless he is willing to discharge his duties to the English State. It is the same when you come to the narrower sphere of municipal life. Every well-ordered municipality does a multitude of things for our comfort and well-being. It makes and keeps our roads; it lights our streets; it looks after the health of our town; it maintains a staff of police for our protection. Now if we accept the benefit of all this, we must pay for it. If we enjoy the benefits of the municipality, we must discharge our duties to the municipality. In other words, the demand-notes of the Income Tax commissioner and of the rate-collector have a certain Divine authority behind them. People are all too apt to think that if they can cheat the State or the municipality, there is not much harm in it. As a matter of fact, what Jesus teaches here is, that the payment of our rates and taxes is a religious duty. "Render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's."
With its Limitation.
And yet the obedience which Jesus here commands us to render is not unlimited. The State has its own province, and within that province it has a right to obedience. But there is a province in which the king's writ and the corporation's demand note do not run. "Render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's, and unto God the things that are God's." The Pharisees were right in thinking that when the State made demands which clashed with their sense of what was due to God, it might be their duty to disobey the State. But that point had not been reached by this demand for tribute. There the State was well within its rights. But there was this limitation upon State right and the obedience of subject; it was all subject to consideration for the rights of God. "We must obey God rather than men," said Peter to the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:29). In seeking to interfere with their convictions and stifle their witness, the authorities had travelled beyond their province. Scores and hundreds of Christians refused to sacrifice incense to the emperor in the early days; they disobeyed the command of the State, preferring to be loyal to God, even though it cost them their lives. Scores of people here in England refused to turn back to Rome at the bidding of Queen Mary; they disobeyed the command of the State, preferring to be loyal to God, even though it meant dying in the flames of Smithfield. The duty of obedience to the State is not unlimited. It is subject always to our obedience to God. "My authority ends," said Napoleon in a wise and weighty sentence, "where the authority of conscience begins." That is why, when the State travels beyond its province, it may be resisted and disobeyed.
Our Debt to God.
But after all the emphasis of our Lord's saying is not on the negative limitation, but upon the positive duty. These Pharisees, in their excitement about this tribute money, were forgetting the weightier matter of the Law. They would no doubt have defended their objection to Rome, on the ground of their allegiance to God. "And to God the things that are God's," said Jesus to them. All this fret and fume about the Roman tax was not what God really wanted. Their debt to God was far other than they conceived. "What did God want?" "Son," that is the Divine answer, "give Me thine heart." All this fuss about the independence of Israel did not compensate God for the refusal of the heart. "Give back pay to God the things that are God's." For this also is but the discharge of a debt. God has put His image and superscription upon the heart of man, and we are defrauding God of His due if we do not give Him a consecrated and devoted heart.
A Question for Ourselves.
Have we given God His due? Have we given to God the things that are God's? Have we given our hearts to Him? We shall give every one else his due, if first of all we give God His. But the mischief of it is, so many of us fail just here. We give God's things to Cæsar. We give our hearts to money and pleasure and social position, and so God never gets His own from us. "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness," then everything else will be added unto us; everything else will fall into its proper place; everything else will receive its legitimate due. We shall know exactly what to give Cæsar when we have honestly given to God the things that are God's. Life will be balanced, proportionate, orderly and fair, when we are ready to say to God
"Take my heart, my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be,
Ever, only, all for Thee."
Chapter 13. The Life of the World to Come
"Then come unto Him the Sadducees, which say there is no resurrection; and they asked Him, saying, Master, Moses wrote unto us, If a man's brother die, and leave his wife behind him, and leave no children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. Now there were seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and dying left no seed. And the second took her, and died, neither left he any seed: and the third likewise. And the seven had her, and left no seed: last of all the woman died also. In the resurrection therefore, when they shall rise, whose wife shall she be of them? for the seven had her to wife. And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God? For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven. And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err." Mark 12:18-27.
Whenever I read this paragraph I am left wondering at the audacity and conceit of the Sadducees. I should have thought that the way in which Jesus answered first of all the priests and the elders, and then the Pharisees and Herodians, and not only answered them, but covered them with confusion, would have warned off every other plotting questioner. I should have thought that the way, the effortless way, in which Jesus escaped the snares priests and elders and Pharisees and Herodians so cunningly laid for Him, would have been sufficient to teach anyone the lesson that it was a poor and hopeless business to catch Jesus in His words. But apparently it took two more questions and two more answers from the lips of Christ to persuade these people that the man was not born who could entrap Him in His speech.
The Sadducees and their Problem.
There were people who thought that where priests and elders, Pharisees and Herodians have failed, they might succeed. Possibly the failure of the Pharisees spurred them on to make their attempt. They may have relished the discomfiture of the Pharisees; they may have chuckled over the way in which Jesus made them and their question both ridiculous. At any rate, they thought they saw an opportunity of catching Christ, and scoring off their rivals at the same time. They came with an air of insolent confidence. Christ's triumph over His other questioners had not even taught them humility. They pay Him no compliment. There is no deference in their attitude, such as the Pharisees and Herodians had shown. They come in the manner of "superior persons." They submit their precious problem, which was meant to demonstrate the absurdity of the resurrection-belief to Jesus, and the tone they adopt is as if they would say, "There! Answer that, if you can."
The Sadducees and their Tenets.
Let us look at the questioners, and then at their question. These men were Sadducees. They belonged to the party who were the Rationalists of their day. Numerically they were not a large party; they were, indeed, a small minority of the nation. But they were the aristocratic party and the official party, and these things of course gave them influence and importance. In matters of faith they had, if I may so put it, a different Bible from the Pharisees. The Pharisees laid great store by the "traditions of the elders"; the Sadducees repudiated them. It is said that they rejected the Prophets and the Psalms, and accepted only the Books of Moses. At any rate, if they did not wholly reject them, they gave them an entirely inferior and subordinate place. The Pentateuch the Books of the Law was their rule of faith and practice, and to all intents and purposes constituted their Bible. Now the hope of immortality does not shine very brightly in the Books they received. What glimmerings we get of this great truth are found mostly in the prophets and the Psalms. In the Books of the Law, immortality and the resurrection are scarcely referred to. And, taking the Book of the Law as their Bible, the Sadducees denied the resurrection, personal immortality, and retribution in a future life. Wealthy and comfortable themselves, they felt no need, as one writer puts it, for a future life to compensate for the inequalities of the present.
The problem which they submitted to Jesus was meant to show the absurdity of a belief in a resurrection. It was based on a familiar feature in Jewish life. To be childless was almost the greatest calamity a Jew could conceive of. So long as a Jew had descendants, some sort of immortality seemed to be his. To meet this craving for the perpetuation of the name, Moses had laid down the law that in the case of brothers living together, in case the elder should marry, and die without children, instead of allowing a "stranger" to marry the widow, and so letting the elder brother's name perish, the second brother should marry the widow, and any issue of this second marriage should be considered in law to be the son of the dead brother, and should perpetuate his name. This custom is known as the Levirate Law. Starting from this law, the Sadducees state a case which they thought reduced the doctrine of a resurrection to an absurdity. There were seven brothers, they said. The first married, and died childless. The second took the widow to wife, and likewise died childless. She passed in succession to all seven, and all seven died childless. Then the woman died last of all. Now, they ask triumphantly, in the resurrection life, of which you speak, whose wife shall she be?
A Possible. Answer.
Now Jesus might fairly have declined to answer this question. It was asked in levity, and He might have answered it with scorn. This was an imaginary case the Sadducees had submitted to Him. The contingency they pictured could hardly have taken place. Moreover, according to the very Law they quote, the woman was not "married" to the second brother. To quote the exact words of the old ordinance, he would "perform the duty of an husband's brother unto her" (Deuteronomy 25:5). That would probably have been the answer a Pharisee would have given. But Jesus does not repay levity with scorn; He does not brush aside the whole miserable question with contempt. For the sake, not simply of His questioners, but of them that stood by, His own disciples perhaps, who had often been puzzled and perplexed by difficulties like these, He gave it an answer which made faith in the resurrection and the life beyond easier for all who heard it.
The Lord's Reply.
Let us turn to the answer of Christ. Remember the question in dispute is not the marriage law, but the resurrection life. "Ye do err," He said to His questioners, "not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God" (Matthew 22:29). The Sadducees had come up to Jesus quite confident that they were going to expose both Jesus and the Pharisees, as being grotesquely and absurdly mistaken in their belief about a resurrection. Jesus fastens the charge of error upon them. Their whole difficulty about the resurrection arose from mistaken views of what the resurrection meant. Their objection proceeded on the assumption that the resurrection life was simply a continuation of life down here. They took it for granted that all the relationships of earth would be resumed in heaven. They thought of the life beyond in terms of life in the flesh. As Dr Chadwick puts it, "They had no conception that the body can be raised otherwise than as it perished; and consequently they imagined all sorts of unhappy complications as likely to follow such a resurrection."
The Sadducees' Error based on Ignorance. Ignorance of the Power of God.
It was from this initial blunder that all their difficulties arose. Clever men though they thought themselves to be, they were wrong in the very premises from which they started, and their mistake, Jesus goes on to say, was due to two reasons: (1) They were ignorant of the Scriptures, (2) they made no allowance for the power of God. It is with the second mistake that our Lord deals first. The difficulties of the Sadducees about the resurrection life were due to this first of all that they made no allowance for the power of God. They assumed that the new life was simply a reproduction of the life here. They assumed that the body that is is the body that shall be. They made absolutely no allowance for any exercise of the power of God. Clever people though they were, they were the kind of person Paul addresses when he says, "Thou foolish one,... that which thou sowest, thou sowest not the body that shall be, but a bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other kind; but God giveth it a body even as it pleased Him" (1 Corinthians 15:30, 1 Corinthians 15:37). It was God the Sadducees had left out of their calculation in all their thoughts about a future life. Had they known the power of God, they would have known that what is is no measure of what may be. And that is our answer still to all difficulties about the future life. We remember the great power of God. There are difficulties, and we all feel them. There are many questions we cannot answer. But we may rest oar hearts in the remembrance of the "power of God." With God all things are possible.
In Relation to the Resurrection Life. And to Marriage.
And then our Lord proceeds to hint to these Sadducees one of those mighty changes which shall be brought about in the resurrection life by the power of God. The entire conditions of life shall be altered. "For when they shall rise from the dead," He said, "they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as angels in heaven" (Mark 12:25). These words of our Lord have struck a chill into loving and united hearts before to-day. But really there is no threat of the dissolution of any affectionate and enriching relationship, when we rightly understand them. Let us try to see exactly what they mean. We are apt to forget that human life as it is, is not human life as God meant it to be. Death is in the world. Now marriage is the counterpoise of death. Marriage is God's ordinance for the replenishing of the life of this world, which otherwise would be destroyed by the ravages of death. But in the world to come death is swallowed up of life. One feature of the New Jerusalem which John delights to dwell upon is this "there shall be no more death"; and because there is no more death, there is no more need of marriage. Marriage becomes an anachronism. So far as marriage has a physical basis and it is on the physical basis of marriage the question of the Sadducees proceeded it is an earthly thing. It has no place in the heavenly kingdom. But love is not dependent on marriage. And the love is the all-important and essential thing. Husband and wife shall be as dear to one another in the world to come as they are down here. Only the relationship between them shall be sublimed of every suggestion of the earthly; it shall not be "marriage" any more, it shall be something more glorious and beautiful than marriage. It will be love, without a touch of earth about it love, holy, sacred, perfect. "They shall not marry," no, but we shall know each other and love each other, and contribute to each other's gladness there as here.
The Life of the World to Come.
The life beyond has a natural fascination for us. So many of our friends are already in it; we ourselves are hastening towards it. So we are eager to know what it is like. We try to peer through the veil that hides it from us. But it is only "broken glimpses" of the life beyond that the Bible gives us. The Koran gives the Mahommedan a detailed and sensuous account of the joys of his Paradise; the Bible contents itself with hints and suggestions and gleams of the glory. It does not draw back the veil. "Eye saw not, and ear heard not.... Whatsoever things God hath prepared for them that love Him" (1 Corinthians 1:9). About heaven, we have to walk by faith, not by sight. But even the scattered hints and suggestions we get in the Bible are sufficient to fill us with joy unspeakable and full of glory. The life of heaven is not loss, but immeasurable gain.
I am not going to attempt to describe for you a life which the Bible has purposely left obscure and veiled. I content myself with simply saying this, we shall miss nothing in heaven that is really worth having. Heaven will rob us of no real joy, of no genuine delight, of no enriching love. Heaven means joy at its full: happiness in its perfection. Now the holy gift of love is the very gladness of our life. The love of wife for husband, and of husband for wife; the love of parent for child, and child for parent it is love that makes life sunny for us; it is love that constitutes its joy. Without love, life itself would be of nothing worth. And heaven is not going to rob us of such love. "Love is of God," says John, "and everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God" (1 John 4:7). Love is a bit of heaven on earth; it is a bit of the eternal in time. "Love is of God," and therefore love is eternal. For can anything that is "of God" die? That love is the symbol of eternity is not beautiful poetry merely; it is good theology as well. And so this love of ours will abide, only cleansed and purified and glorified. It does not end at the grave. It is not buried in the coffin. You remember the inscription on the gravestone that marks the place where Charles Kingsley and his wife both lie buried: Amavimus, Amamus, Amabimus, "We have loved, we love, we shall love." We shall continue to love, all through the age of eternity. And so I say to any who have loved ones within the veil, Sursum Corda! Lift up your hearts! Love shall abide, only it shall lose its dross.
"They neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as angels in heaven." "As angels." We shall not become angels. The difference between angels and men will still subsist. They are unfallen beings; we are sinners redeemed. But in the new life we shall be as angels, in the sense that we shall be spiritual, not fleshly beings. That word in itself was sufficient to demolish the Sadducean difficulty. They were arguing as if up yonder, just as down here, we should still be fleshly and perishing beings. No, says Jesus; up yonder we shall be "as angels," spiritual and immortal. "As angels," what a prospect! For the angel is a pure and holy being, of a whiteness as unsullied as that of a dove's wing. And you and I shall, in the life of the world to come, be "as angels." And the angel is for ever engaged in the holy service of God. And you and I, whose service is now so broken and fitful, shall then be constant and devoted, for we shall be "as angels." The angels gaze ever upon the glory of God. And you and I, who here catch only fleeting glimpses, and see through a glass darkly, shall then be "as angels." So let us be of good cheer. We do not know everything about the world to come. But we know this: we lose nothing that is worth keeping. Life will be enriched, deepened, glorified for us. We shall be "as angels." Let us leave it there. Let us remember the "great power of God." Let us content ourselves with this, "In Thy presence is fulness of joy; in Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore" (Psalms 16:11).
Chapter 14. The Resurrection
"And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?" Mark 12:26.
Simple Hearts and Simple Faith.
Our Lord's reply to the Sadducees asserts that this time, at any rate, the people at large were right, and they, the Sadducees, the clever people, the superior people, the cultured people, were wrong. As a matter of fact, culture is apt to be more than a little critical of religion. The superior person sometimes looks down with a touch of superciliousness and scorn upon the simple faith of the humble and trusting soul. But when it comes to religious truth, I would far rather trust the simple heart than the merely cultivated mind, the instinct of the Christian commonalty than the judgment of the "superior person." For when it comes to religion, to God and the soul and the eternal life, the intellect is not the sole, or even the chief organ of knowledge. Pectus facit theologium, says the old proverb. "It is the heart that makes the theologian." The man of loving and open heart knows more, and sees further into spiritual truth than the man only of keen and cultivated mind. How does the Beatitude run, "Blessed are the cultivated in mind?" No. "Blessed are the trained in intellect?" No. But "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." The Jewish people at large believed eagerly, passionately in a resurrection and a life beyond the grave. These Sadducees, the clever, cultured people, scoffed at the belief. But it was the Sadducees, and not the people, who were wrong. It was only another illustration of things being hidden from the wise and prudent, and revealed unto babes.
"Not Knowing the Scriptures." A widespread Error.
We have already dealt with one cause of their mistake. There was another; and it was this "Is it not for this cause that ye err," Jesus said to them, "that ye know not the Scriptures?" (Mark 12:24). That was a startling charge to bring against these Sadducees, for no doubt they were well versed in those portions of the Old Testament which they reckoned as Scripture. But it is possible to read the Scriptures without knowing them, it is possible to be letter-perfect in them without understanding them. There is, in literary history, a curious example of reading without understanding. John Milton was one of the best, and most gifted men God ever gave to England. But there is no great man without his foibles, and John Milton had his. Though he had views on education that were far in advance of his time, he did not believe in the education of women. So he would not allow his daughters to learn languages; one tongue, he used to say with a gibe, was enough for a woman. But, when his eyesight failed, it was essential that his daughters should be able to read to him in various languages. So he went to the trouble of teaching them how to pronounce the words, but not what the words meant. Thus they had to read to their father in Latin, Italian and Greek without understanding a single word. But is not there a great deal of Bible-reading of that sort? Men read the words without grasping the truth. "Understandest thou what thou readest?" asked Philip of the Ethiopian eunuch. "How can I," replied that humble soul, "except some one shall guide me"? (Acts 8:31-32). He was reading without understanding. And many beside the Ethiopian were doing the same thing only they had not the humility to confess it. Take that fifty-third chapter of Isaiah which the Eunuch was reading. Had not the whole Jewish nation read it without understanding it? They were familiar with its words; but as far as realising the truth taught by it, the great passage might as well never have been in the Book of the Prophet at all.
How to Understand.
And we do that same thing still. We often read the Scriptures without understanding them, just exactly as we may say our prayers without praying. We have our Scripture-reading leagues; we pledge ourselves to read some portion of this Holy Book every day. So far, so good! But remember, it is possible to have a superficial knowledge of Scripture, and to miss its vital points. You may know its sentences off by heart, and miss its spirit. The letter killeth; it is the Spirit that giveth life. To know your Bible, you want more than ability to read. You want an illumined mind, a mind illumined by the Spirit of God. It is the Spirit who breathes upon the Word, and brings the truth to light. You want also the obedient will. To understand the Word, you must be a doer of it, as well as a reader. "He that doeth the will," said Jesus, "shall know of the teaching." To know the Scriptures, you need, then, more equipment than the schools can supply you need prayer, obedience and the Spirit's light.
The Unobserved Truth.
"Ye know not the Scriptures," said Jesus of these Sadducees. He illustrates and substantiates His charge by quoting them a passage out of the Pentateuch. He does not quote either Psalmist or Prophet. The Sadducees would not have acknowledged their authority. He goes to the Books they themselves acknowledged as authoritative Scripture. And out of their authoritative Scripture He quotes perhaps the most familiar passage of all a passage as familiar to them as, let us say, "Our Father" is to us. The doctrine of immortality which these Sadducees denied was in their Scriptures all the time, if they had eyes to see it, and in the most familiar passages too. "But as touching the dead, that they are raised," said Jesus; "have ye not read in the book of Moses, in the place concerning the Bush, how God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?" (Mark 12:26). Why, yes, they had read the passage scores, hundreds, thousands of times. But immortality and the resurrection are involved and implied in the passage; for "God," said Jesus, "is not the God of the dead, but of the living." They had read without understanding. "Ye do greatly err," said Jesus.
Christ's Argument for Immortality.
Now let us look for a moment at Christ's argument for immortality as He states it here. The Sadducees made quite sure that there was no immortality in the Pentateuch. The doctrine was a later accretion, they said, and had no place in the revelation made to their great Lawgiver. Now it would have been passing strange if the Jews God's chosen and peculiar people had been left without witness of the world beyond. For the instinct for immortality is everywhere. Tennyson's lines,
"Thou madest man he knows not why,
He thinks he was not made to die,"
represent the universal belief. I say, it would have been passing strange, it would have been inexplicable, if the Jews had not shared in the expectation. But, as a matter of fact, Jesus finds the hope, almost the assertion, of immortality embedded in these Scriptures of the Law to which the Sadducees so confidently appealed. He recalls to their minds that familiar passage in which the story of the appearance of God to Moses in the Bush is told, and in the name God gives to Himself there our Lord finds the fact of immortality taken for granted.
Founded on the Character of God.
What is the argument which Christ here propounds? It is the argument for immortality which is based upon the character of God. There is an argument for immortality which is based upon the nature of man. The very fact that man is a moral being, that he cherishes ambitions and hopes which in this life never get realised; the fact that there is so much incompleteness and waste in life; and that there are such serious inequalities that need to be rectified all these things argue a life beyond the grave, unless you are to write down this world as a chaos, and life as a torture and a mockery. But there is a stronger argument for immortality than that which is based upon the nature of man, and that is the argument which grounds itself upon the character of God. It is that mightiest and most irrefragable of arguments that Christ advances here.
The Announcement of Moses. Not one of merely Passing Relationship.
Let us see what this argument amounts to. This was how God announced Himself to Moses at the Bush: "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." Now in that title which God then applied to Himself the doctrine of immortality is involved. For the God who revealed Himself to Moses in the Bush was a God able to enter into covenant relations with men; who admitted men into His friendship and fellowship. He became Abraham's God, Isaac's God, Jacob's God. There was a covenant between these men and Him. They pledged and plighted themselves one to another. It was not a case simply of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob giving themselves to God; God entered into relations with them. But could such relations be merely temporary? Could death rob God of His friends? Did God pledge Himself to Abraham, saying, "I am thy God, and thine exceeding great reward," if the grave were to be the end of it all? You perhaps remember how Omar Khayyam describes the relationship between men and God:
"We are no other than a moving row
Of magic Shadow-shapes that come and go
Round with the Sun-illumined Lantern held
In midnight by the Master of the Show;
But helpless pieces of the game He plays
Upon this chequer-board of Nights and Days;
Hither and thither moves, and checks and slays,
And one by one back in the closet lays."
Of course, if men are no more to God than the pieces on the chess-board are to the player, if they are mere puppets with which He amuses Himself, then we are robbed of our argument for immortality, and we shall conclude, with the old Persian poet; that this life is all, and we had better make the best of it. But that is not the picture of God suggested by our Lord's reference. That is not the God we know by our own personal experience. Men are not with Him mere pieces in the game. They are His friends. And the fact that God makes a friend of man, enters into personal relationships with him, is a pledge of immortality. It is impossible that death should rob God of His friend. The character of God is at stake. For to say otherwise, is to say that death, and not God, is Lord of the world.
A Sure Instinct of the Soul.
This truth you find expressed by Christ Himself. "Father," He said, as He hung adying, "into Thy hands I commend My spirit." You find it on the lips of the Apostles. "I am persuaded," wrote St Paul, "that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39). You find it on the lips of seers and poets.
"For though from out the bourne of time and space
My bark should wander far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face,
When I have crossed the bar."
So wrote Tennyson. "God is love," said Browning. "I build on that," and so he "greets the unseen with a cheer." All this is a sure instinct of the soul. If we can enter into loving fellowship with God, into personal relations with Him and there are thousands and tens of thousands to testify that we can then it is impossible that death should be the end. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the ratification of that instinct. His coming back has told us that that instinct was true. Yonder, as here, we are in our Father's hands. Nothing can separate us from Him. There are many things we do not know about the beyond, but we can say, with Whittier,
"I know not where His islands lift
Their fronded palms in air;
I simply know I cannot drift
Beyond His love and care."
And that is enough. Yonder, as here, we shall be with Him. It is impossible that God's friends should die.
Chapter 15. The Great Commandment
"And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that He had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. And the scribe said unto Him, Well, Master, Thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but He: and to love Him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices. And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, He said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask Him any question." Mark 12:28-34.
Matthew in his account of this incident says that this question, like the questions about authority and tribute and the resurrection, was asked with an evil motive. He says that the lawyer asked him a question, tempting him. Mark gives a kindlier interpretation of his action. It is obvious that the Scribe had been in the group of listeners who had heard Christ's answers first to the priests, and then to the Pharisees and Herodians, and finally to the Sadducees. I believe that at the first he had desired the discomfiture of Christ. For like all his class he was prejudiced against Him, and bitterly hostile to His claims. But as he listened to Christ's wonderful replies, as he recognised not simply their dexterity and ease, but also their reach and depth, his prejudice changed to a great wonder, and his hate became converted into an almost worshipful admiration.
An Honest Enquirer.
This Scribe, in spite of all his prejudices, was a man of candid mind and honest heart. He did not try to explain away Christ's answers, as the Pharisees tried to explain away his works by attributing them to Beelzebub. He recognised that there was Divine wisdom and truth in Christ's answer. He recognised that here was a Teacher of rare and wonderful insight who trod firmly when the best of human teachers only faltered. And recognising that, "knowing," as Mark puts it, "that he had answered them well," he thought he would ask him a question of his own. I think he asked it because he honestly wished to know and because he believed that Jesus could tell him. If you will look at the question you will see it differs entirely from all the others that had been submitted to Christ. The others were every one of them tricky and obviously meant to ensnare Him. This question is plain, direct, straightforward. There is no "catch" about it. The other questions were obviously made up and dealt with paltry and imaginary difficulties, this question equally obviously goes down to root and deals with a vital issue.
It is a great question asked in all seriousness and earnestness. For the Scribe was seriously perplexed about this matter. This question about the first commandment was, indeed, one of the vexed questions of the schools. The Rabbis held that the Law contained six hundred and thirteen precepts, distinguished as "heavy" and "light." Very keen was the disputation betwixt the strict school of Shammai and the more liberal school of Hillel as to the distinction between these precepts. It was commonly agreed that there were "heavy" precepts to which the penalty of death was attached: and these were, in the main, laws regarding circumcision, the eating of unleavened bread, Sabbath observance, sacrifice and purification. Now, I believe that this Scribe had had his doubts for long enough as to whether these ceremonial precepts were really the weighty and serious things of the law; that for a long time he had an uneasy consciousness that these things could not be the principal things in religion. He saw, now, an opportunity of resolving his doubts, of getting guidance upon what was to him an urgent and vital matter. Recognising the Divine Wisdom that spoke through the words of Christ, he braved the astonishment and scorn that revealed themselves in the faces of his companions, and as an "anxious enquirer" brought his difficulty to Christ.
"Of what kind," he asked, "is the first commandment of all"? Our English rendering scarcely reproduces the exact force of the Greek. It was not numerical order he had in mind. "First in this context means principal," or, as John Wesley put it, "the most necessary to be observed." The Rabbis' distinction between the "heavy" and the "light" was in his mind. Were the ceremonial precepts, upon which the Rabbis laid such immense stress, after all, the principal things in the law? Did the Law lay the emphasis upon the ceremonial or the moral obligation? Was ritual in very truth the principal thing in religion? That was the information which his question asked for.
The Lord's Answer.
Jesus answered, "The first is, Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God the Lord is One: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. The second is this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these." When our Lord gave that reply, He answered all that was involved and implied in the Scribe's question. He read this man's heart like an open book. I believe that He saw there the incipient revolt against the deadly formalism and externalism of current Judaism. He saw before Him a soul genuinely anxious to know what was the essential thing in religion. And He gave him his answer. In effect He said, "The principal commandment, the essential thing in religion is love love to God, and love to man. Among the six hundred and thirteen precepts of your law there is none greater than this."
The Answer Desired.
In giving that answer Jesus told the Scribe all he wanted to know. The Rabbis laid emphasis upon circumcision, upon sacrifice, upon Sabbath observance. These were to them the "weighty matters" of the Law. But of these external, mechanical, and merely ceremonial obligations the Lord said not a word. He declared to this Scribe and through him to the wide world and to all time that religion is not ceremonial but moral, that the thing that really matters is not outward rite but the love and consecration of the heart. As compared with the Judaism then practised and taught by the Rabbis this was an altogether new view of religion. The Jews had exalted the ceremonial at the expense of the moral. They had tithed mint and anise and cummin and neglected justice, mercy and truth. Jesus restored the moral obligation to its supreme place and left ceremonialism entirely out of account.
The Scribe's Response.
The Scribe's heart leaped up in joyful response to our Lord's declaration. It met and satisfied the deep instincts of his soul. He set himself by the Lord's side. He adopted the Lord's view. To this extent at any rate he proclaimed himself in sympathy with Jesus. "Teacher," he exclaimed, "Thou hast said truly that He is One and there is none other but He; to love Him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself is much more than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices." And upon this discerning answer of the Scribe's our Lord put the stamp of His approval when He turned and said to him, "Thou art not far from the Kingdom of God."
The Moral and the Ceremonial in Religion.
On the whole, then, this colloquy between Jesus and the Scribe resolves itself into a statement as to the relative place of the moral and the ceremonial in religion. And the teaching of the incident is that the moral demand is everything and that the ceremonial does not count. A certain amount of ceremonial appears to be inseparable from religion. We seem as if we cannot engage in worship without some amount of form. We have an order of service; we stand to sing; we kneel and close our eyes to pray; though these customs are not universal. A certain amount of ceremonialism seems, then, to be inseparable from religion. And at the beginning no doubt every ceremony was adopted as being helpful to worship. Much of such ceremony was, in its inception, symbolic. But the danger of all ceremonialism is that the thing signified should be lost sight of in the symbol itself. That is what happened in Judaism. The Jews thought everything of the visible and external act and nothing of the inward feeling the act was supposed to represent; everything of the offering and nothing of the surrendered will; everything of the lamb and nothing of the penitent heart. And so among the Jews religion was choked and smothered out of existence by ritual, and the prophet could say that amongst them wickedness and worship went hand in hand. It was so in Christ's own day. But it was no new development of Christ's time. It was the besetting peril of Israel all through its history. The people were always confusing ritual with religion. Against that confusion the prophets made ceaseless protest. It was the burden of the prophet's witness that religion was not external but spiritual, not mechanical but moral.
Our Lord's Testimony.
In this respect, Jesus Christ took up the protest of the prophets. He called men back to the true idea of religion. "The essential things," said the Rabbis, "are circumcision and Sabbath keeping and sacrifice." "No," said Jesus, "the essential thing is to have the heart right with God. Religion is not outward but inward; its demands are not ceremonial but moral: it is not a posture of the body but an attitude of the heart." "Thou shalt love the Lord Thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength, and thy neighbour as thyself." No man, in fine, is religious, however scrupulous as to ritual he may be, until he love God and his neighbour thus. And the man who loves God and his neighbour thus is religious though he observe no ceremonial at all.
Its Application To-day. Rites and Rifts.
We have not got beyond the need of this teaching of our Lord's even in these days of ours. I have already said that I believe a certain amount of ceremonialism to be inseparable from religion, especially upon its public side; and further, that to certain natures ceremonialism may be helpful. At the same time we do well to look with a jealous eye upon any tendency to emphasise ceremonial. We know how quickly men lose sight of the spiritual in the mechanical; how easily ritual may come to take the place of religion. At the bottom, it is this emphasis upon rite and ceremony that, more than anything else, sunders the Church and keeps Christ's people apart to-day. Our schisms and divisions spring not so much from differences on questions of faith, as from differences about questions of order, rite and ceremony. These divisions, which are our weakness and shame, could never have arisen if we had really taken to heart Christ's teaching in this place that the essential thing in religion is love love to God and love to one's neighbour. And as this emphasis on ceremonial so largely occasions the divisions of Christendom, so is it also a peril to individual souls. Lay the emphasis on ceremony and is it not fatally easy for people to think that when they have performed the ceremony they have done everything? Here, to a large extent, may be the reason why religion to-day is so formal and barren and cold. The idea many people have of religion is that it means attending at public worship, possibly, also, paying a pew rent, subscribing more or less generously to religious objects, and participating in the Lord's Supper. Unhappily it is possible to do all that and to have no scrap of true religion in the soul. The essence of religion is love to God issuing in love to man. Our Church going, our religious services, our holy sacraments are only means to an end; they are meant to teach and help us to love. When they are exalted into ends in themselves they become the death of religion. God is not satisfied with our outward religious observances. Do we love Him? that is the critical question. Religion is not a ceremonial demand, it is a moral and spiritual demand, and we are not religious until God is enthroned within and we love Him with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength.
"Not far from the Kingdom."
That the Scribe should recognise all this; that he should publicly declare that love was better than all burnt-offerings and sacrifices showed that he had an honest heart; and more, it showed that he was an earnest seeker after truth. This man was no dilettante in religion. He wanted the real thing. And the Lord, when He noted his candour, his earnestness, and his spiritual sympathy, said to him: "Thou art not far from the Kingdom of God." "Not far from the Kingdom": there is scarcely a phrase in the Gospels so pregnant with hope and fear as this little phrase. "Not far" did he actually enter in? "Not far" or was he after all shut out? Both possibilities seem wrapped up in the phrase. I would give a great deal to know the after history of this Scribe; but Scripture leaves him here "not far from the Kingdom."
"Not far from the Kingdom," bow aptly it describes the condition of many in our own midst. They have a wistful desire for the truth, they have an admiration for Christ, they have a keen interest in religion, they come regularly to worship and yet they never take the final step and openly avow their faith in Christ. "Not far from the Kingdom" and yet not in it. For, as Dr Chadwick says, we may know and admire and confess the greatness and goodness of Jesus without forsaking all to follow Him.
A Tragic Position.
There is somethings especially tragic about the case of those who are "so near and yet so far." The case of the young man who went away because he had great possessions has an additional note of tragedy in it because he came so near and yet fell away. "A miss," we say, "is as good as a mile." We may be Church goers, and Church members, we may take an interest in religious matters and yet come short of the Kingdom. To be in the Kingdom we must not only know what religion is, as this Scribe did; we must practise it. We must not only admire Christ and praise Him; we must obey Him and love Him. There is not one of us "far from the Kingdom." But are we in it? Do we love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength? Do we really obey and follow Christ? Is there any one of us who after having come so near will yet fall away? Happy are we if we can say that "we are not of them that shrink back unto perdition; but of them that have faith unto the saving of the soul" (Hebrews 10:39).
Chapter 16. Great David's Greater Son
"And Jesus answered and said, while He taught in the temple, How say the scribes that Christ is the son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit Thou on My right hand, till I make Thine enemies Thy footstool. David therefore himself calleth Him Lord; and whence is He then his son? And the common people heard him gladly." Mark 12:35-37.
The End of Captious Questions. The Blindness of Hate.
"And no man," we read at the close of our Lord's conversation with the discerning Scribe, "after that durst ask Him any question" that is, as Dr Morison remarks, "in a captious or argumentative way." It is necessary to make that differentiation. For it would be giving a totally false impression of our Lord to interpret this sentence as meaning that men who had honest questions to ask no longer felt they dared approach Him. It was to Jesus the man with honest doubts and genuine difficulties naturally appealed. He invited questions and questioners of that type and gave them gracious and satisfying answers. The illuminating character of His answer to the Scribe, and the kindly tone of it, far from frightening the man with real difficulties away, must have made him feel that Jesus was the one Person to whom he could take them with the assurance of getting a helpful answer. But as far as those men were concerned who made it their business to concoct cunning questions and propound dilemmas in order to catch Christ in His words, the series of colloquies of which this chapter tells had taken all the fight out of them. "No man after that durst ask Him any question." We might have looked for some such sentence at the close of chapter eleven. The priests and elders might have recognised their defeat in the debate about authority. But love is not the only thing that makes people blind. Hate makes people blinder still. Hate made Christ's enemies blind to every suggestion of Divine wisdom contained in His speech. To them He was simply the uncultivated teacher from Nazareth. It was absurd to think that they the clever, cultivated people of the capital could not gain a dialectical victory over Him. And so they returned again and again to the attack. Pharisees and Herodians followed the priests and the elders; the Sadducees followed the Pharisees and the Herodians. Priests, Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees had all to be overwhelmed with shame and confusion before they could be persuaded that it was a hopeless enterprise to try to ensnare the Lord.
A Reluctant Conviction.
But the utter hopelessness of it dawned upon them at last. It was not that Jesus avoided the dilemmas they set for Him, but there was such a reach and a depth in the answer He gave. They were full of Divinest wisdom; He laid down great principles which all who heard them recognised as containing the eternal truth. Every question submitted to Him became simply an opportunity for the revelation of some new aspect of His understanding and truth. Here was a Man Whose wisdom was equal to every difficulty! Here was a Master of the mind Who had never to confess Himself puzzled or beaten! At last, I say, Priests, Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees, recognised that they had entered upon a hopeless contest. "No man after that durst ask Him any question."
Who is This?
All this naturally and inevitably suggests a question: Who and what was this man, Who spake as never yet man spake? Read through these colloquies again, note the ease and mastery which Jesus displays, notice above everything else His matchless insight, His grasp of spiritual truth. Whence hath this man this wisdom? Here are the clever and educated men on the one side, and there is Jesus of Nazareth on the other and it is Jesus who shines forth as the Lord of Truth and the Light of men. How do you account for it? I account for it by saying that God was in Christ and therefore that in Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.
Our Lord's Question.
After our Lord's conversation with the Scribe He seems to have resumed His teaching in the Temple. A great multitude was listening to Him, and, as is quite evident from Matthew's account, His foes, though they durst not ask Him any more questions, were still there on the watch for anything that they might be able to pick up and use against Him later on. Jesus saw them there, and in the course of His teaching He turned to them with a question of His own. They had been asking Him questions all the morning; He will now ask them one. They had been testing His wisdom, He will now test theirs. He carries the war, so to speak, into the enemies' camp. For the full account of what happened, we must turn to Matthew's version (Matthew 22:41-45). Mark's account is abbreviated and compressed. The Pharisees were the people to whom Jesus specially addressed the question, and the question itself was this: "What think ye of the Christ? Whose Son is He?" "What do you think about the Messiah"; that is, "whose son is He?" And to these men learned in the law, brought up in the tradition of the elders the question seemed absurdly simple, and they replied glibly, like children repeating their catechism, "David's." "Then," retorted Jesus, "how is it that David, by inspiration, calls Him Lord"? and with that He quoted some familiar verses from Psalm ex.: "The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou on My right hand, till I make Thine enemies the footstool of Thy feet." If, then, David calls Him Lord, how is He his son?
The Psalm and its Authorship. Our Lord's Use of the Psalm.
Now it is necessary to say a word about certain difficulties which have been created by the verdict modern scholarship pronounces upon the Psalm Jesus here quotes. For it holds that David was not its author, and that our Lord's argument therefore falls to the ground. But, everybody of course knows that Psalms by various writers are included in the Psalter. The titles prefixed to the Psalm are by no means to be taken as sure guides to the authorship of them. Yet, even according to the titles, we have, in the Psalter, Psalms by Moses, and Asaph and Solomon, and the sons of Korah and Elhan. The Psalter as a whole, however, was generally spoken of as by "David." The Jews had a dislike of anonymity, and were wont, Dr David Smith says, to bring everything under the shadow of a great name, so they came to ascribe to David the great majority of the songs that gradually got gathered together into their Psalter. Psalm cx. is a case in point. Even so, how could our Lord use this argument? Let us see. Jesus is here disputing with the Pharisees. He meets them on their own ground; He fights them with their own weapons: This Psalm according to Pharisaic belief was of Davidic authorship. It was also of Messianic purport. There were two fixed points in the thought of the Pharisees about this Psalm: David was the writer of it, and the great King Whose invincible prowess is the subject of it was "great David's greater son." Now our Lord is not here discussing the rights or wrongs of that belief. He is dealing with men on their own ground. And in arguing with them of course had to start from some position which they admitted. "You hold," Jesus says in effect to them, "that the Messiah is the Son of David. Now there is a Psalm that you assert David wrote. In this Psalm David calls Messiah 'Lord.' How do you reconcile the two things?" The argument so far as those Pharisees are concerned to whom it was originally addressed depends not upon the fact that David was the author, but upon the fact that they believed he was! And the truth Christ seeks to inculcate by the quotation loses none of its validity even though scholarship should prove beyond cavil or dispute that David could not have written it. That truth is that a merely human conception of Messiah, the conception of Him, for instance, as a Conquering Prince, does not cover the Bible representation of Him. He is more than human, He is Divine. He is more than David's Son, He is David's Lord.
The Pharisees and the Scriptures. Where the Pharisees Erred.
Now turning to the question itself, notice that by means of it Christ does two things, He convicts the Pharisees of a partial and imperfect knowledge of their own Scriptures and He makes an immense claim for Himself. First of all, Jesus convicted the Pharisees of an imperfect acquaintance with their own Scriptures. He turns the tables upon his foes. They had tried to catch Him in His words. They had tried to humiliate Him in the eyes of the people. Now, by means of this brief colloquy, He, in the presence of the people, convicts them of ignorance of these very Scriptures in which they professed themselves to be expert. "What think ye of Christ?" He asked. "Whose Son is He?" And they answered him, like so many parrots, "David's." That is how they had been brought up to think of Messiah. He was to be David's Son. He was to be one of David's royal line. And He was to revive the ancient glories of David. He was to be a great King and to found a great Empire, and to give the Jews the place of supremacy amongst the nations of the earth. That was their notion of Messiah it was materialistic, gross, earthly. The Messiah was to be David's Son. "But," said Jesus to them, "does not David say this of Him: 'The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou on My right hand, till I make Thine enemies the footstool of Thy feet.'" David himself calleth Him Lord. Whence is He his son? "Your Bible," says Jesus to them, "speaks of a Messiah Who is much more than David's son a prince of his royal line; it speaks of a Messiah Who is in some wonderful way David's Lord." Jesus convicts them of a partial reading of the Scriptures. They had come to their Bibles with this preconceived notion in their minds. They were sure that the Messiah was to be a conquering Prince, and every passage that suggested anything different they ignored or passed by: The Jews could never have cherished their materialistic conceptions of Messiah and His work if they had honestly searched the Scriptures. What of this Psalm ex., where He is spoken of as David's Lord? What of Isaiah liii., where He is spoken of as God's suffering servant? Passages like these did not enter into the Jewish calculations. And so it resulted that when Jesus came they refused to acknowledge Him; and not only refused to acknowledge Him, but they crucified the Lord of Glory.
Ourselves and the Scriptures.
It is at our peril we become eclectics in the matter of Bible reading. And yet how prone we are to partial and imperfect reading of the Scriptures. There are multitudes to-day who emphasise every line that speaks of Christ's humanity; but who strike out the passages that speak of Christ's Divinity. They want to see Christ as David's Son; they do not want to see Him as David's Lord. And if we are not guilty of that particular partiality, yet there are many of us who pick and choose in other ways. We pick out the passages, for instance, that speak of God's compassion and neglect the passages that speak of God's holiness and righteousness; we delight in the passages that speak of the infinite love of Christ, but we turn a blind eye to solemn verses like that which speaks of the "wrath of the Lamb." The temper is general. And yet a one-sided and partial reading of the Scriptures may have as disastrous effects in our case as it had in the case of these Pharisees. Indeed, is not the present limp and anaemic condition of our religious life, and especially our loss of the sense of sin, due to a partial reading of the Scriptures? It is the nemesis of our emphasis upon divine love to the exclusion of holiness. Every Scripture is profitable; and, in the interests not simply of truth, but of the religious life, neither ministers nor people must pick and choose, but declare and receive "the whole counsel of God."
David's Son and David's Lord.
Then notice, in the second place, the great claim which Christ here makes for Himself. They were looking for David's Son. Christ was David's Son according to the flesh, though, because He wore none of the trappings of royalty, the Pharisees had failed to recognise Him. But He was something infinitely greater than David's Son. He was David's Lord. The fault with the Pharisees was not that they had thought too highly of Messiah. They had not thought highly enough. The Messiah in their thought of Him was never anything but human. Jesus here declares Him to be Divine so Divine that the great David hails Him as Lord. And in making this stupendous and staggering claim for Messiah, Jesus was making it for Himself. He had already done it this very week by riding in lowly triumph into Jerusalem, and by claiming authority over the Temple. The Pharisees therefore knew all that was implied in this word about David's Lord.
The Great Claim.
Now upon all this, I content myself with making a couple of comments. And, first of all, this in spite of every attempt to whittle away the Gospel narrative, the Jesus Whom the Gospels pourtray is a One Who makes the most amazing claims for Himself. You may leave the fourth Gospel entirely out of account but you cannot reduce Jesus to the dimensions of a simple unsophisticated Galilean teacher. He makes the most astounding claims. He walks through the pages of the Gospels great, majestic, exalted as One Who knew Himself the Son of God. You cannot eliminate these claims, for He and His claims are one. So that the old dilemma confronts us and we cannot escape it; either Jesus was what He claimed to be or He was both a deceiver and deceived. That is to say, you cannot sacrifice Christ's Divinity without sacrificing His goodness at the same time.
And its Justification.
The second is this the character of Jesus justifies His regal claim. This Man Who spake as never man spake: this Man Who wrought such mighty works: this Man Whom death could not hold: this Man Who lived the sinless life: this Person Who occupies this unique and solitary place, Who exercises this unique and solitary power I cannot find room for Him in the ordinary human categories. He is more than David's Son, He is David's Lord. He is more than my brother, He is my God. And because He is the Lord, He will win His triumph. Jesus was on His way to the Cross. The hour of darkness and seemingly utter defeat was close upon Him. But He looked beyond and saw the certain victory. He strengthened His own heart with this great word, "The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou on My right hand [the place of authority and power] until I make Thine enemies the footstool of Thy feet." His enemies were to win no final triumph. Every enemy was to be put beneath His feet. And we may hearten ourselves with the same word. If Jesus were a mere Man an everyday fallible human being His cause might meet with defeat and He Himself might be superseded. But amid discouragements and disappointments and seeming defeats, I remember He is David's Lord. He is the mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. And when I remember that I feel I can trust and not be afraid. "The Lord is my strength and song, and He is become my salvation" (Psalms 118:14).
Chapter 17. The Great Indictment
"And He said unto them in His doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the market-places, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts: which devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation." Mark 12:38-40.
The Scribes and the Lord.
All throughout our Lord's career His Scribes and Pharisees had taken up an attitude of hostility against Him. From the very first they had criticised His actions, disputed His claims, and in every way tried to discredit Him in the eyes of the people. Neither the wisdom of Christ's words, nor the beneficence of His works stirred any feeling of wonder or appreciation in their breasts. Mr Prejudice, with his sixty deaf men, was in possession of every gate that led to the citadel of their souls. How inveterate was the prejudice, and how bitter the hate may be judged by the account they gave of His mighty works. "He hath Beelzebub," they said, "and by the prince of the devils casteth He out devils." It was the Galilean Scribes who in their blind and obstinate prejudice had said that wicked thing against the Lord. But the Jerusalem Scribes were of the same bigoted and bitter temper. They saw no beauty in Christ that they should desire Him. In public, they continually tried to thwart Him in His work and to humiliate Him in the eyes of the people; in secret they constantly plotted His death. This day of questioning and debate had sufficiently displayed the spirit they were of. For Jesus knew, and probably the people knew also, that the questions which had been submitted to Him were prompted not by a genuine desire to know, but were the offspring of a malice and an envy and a hate that were as cruel as the grave.
The Lord and the Scribes.
And now, when the questionings were all over, Jesus turns to the crowd and speaks to them about the character of His questioners. In one of the most terrible and awesome passages, not only in Scripture but in the whole of literature, our Lord tears away the garb of sanctimoniousness and piety these rabbis wore, and revealed them for the hypocrites, the mummers, the playactors they really were. I have wondered sometimes how these Scribes must have felt as Jesus went on with His searching and remorseless exposure of their hypocrisy. In Revelation 6:15-17 we read of certain men who cry to the mountains and to the rocks, "Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb." And I have imagined that these Scribes and Pharisees must have wished they could hide anywhere out of sight of those clear eyes that read their souls like an open book, and out of hearing of those terrible words that fell upon their ears like the stroke of doom. It is the merest resume of the Great Indictment that we get here. For the complete and detailed account of our Lord's denunciation of the Scribes you must turn to Matthew xxiii. From the account Matthew gives we know that our Lord piled up one solemn and terrible "woe" upon another until the indictment became absolutely crushing and overwhelming. It is only the gist of that terrific speech that Mark gives us here, and we must read and interpret what Mark says in the light of Matthew's fuller narrative.
The Wrath of the Lamb.
But before we examine Christ's accusations against the Scribes, let us note that the chief interest and importance of this paragraph consists, not in the exposure it makes of the hypocrisy of the Scribes, but in the light it throws on the character of Jesus Himself. We see our Lord here in a strange aspect! This Man Who cries, "Woe unto you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites," is not like the "gentle Jesus" we sing about. There is something fierce, hot, scorching about the whole of this passage. What we get here is not the gentleness of Christ, but the anger of Christ. No! I withdraw that word anger. It carries with it just a suggestion of personal passion and pique. And there was no trace of personal temper in the whole of this tremendous indictment. The word for the burning, holy indignation of this passage is not anger but wrath. The wrath of Christ! We do not often speak of it. Perhaps in our conceptions of Christ we leave no room for it. And yet, my reading of the Gospels convinces me that Christ's wrath is as real as His love.
The Tenderness of Jesus Christ. And His Sternness.
It is, indeed, impossible to exaggerate the tenderness of Jesus. Nothing could be more gentle and gracious than His treatment, for instance, of Jairus' little daughter; or of that poor timid soul who touched the hem of His garment in the press, and stole healing virtue from Him; nothing could be more exquisitely tender than His treatment of Zacchæus, and indeed the whole publican class; nothing could be more beautifully kind than His treatment of the weak but penitent Peter. But with all His kindness, and gentleness, and tenderness Christ was not soft. There is another and very different aspect to Christ's character. If you want to get the complete view of Christ's character you must read not only the story of how He welcomed publicans and sinners to Him you must read also that other story of how He swept the Temple Courts clean of the mob of traffickers who bought and sold in its courts. If you want the complete view of Christ's character you must not only read the story of how He said to the outcast publican Thou also art a Son of Abraham, you must read also the story of how He cried out against the religious leaders of the day, saying, "Woe unto you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites." The wrath of Christ is as real as His love, and room must be made for it in any conception of the Christ that aspires to be complete.
Its Necessary Place in His Character.
I will go a step further and say that Christ's wrath is an element in the perfection of His character. We conspire to ignore it in these days under the mistaken idea that somehow or other it takes from the glory and perfection of Christ to suppose that He could be wrathful. On the contrary, it is the people who ignore the wrath who sacrifice the perfection of Christ. I will for ever refuse the epithet "good" to the man who is incapable of a holy flame of indignation in the presence of wrong and sin. The man who is never angry is morally anaemic. He is not good; he is weak. The father who can never be wrathful with his child, who weakly smiles at his child's wrongdoing, is not a "good" father, he is about as bad a father as a child could have. It is high time we revised our ideas of what goodness is and ceased to identify it with a weak and soft amiability. Christ's holy wrath is, then, an element in His perfection. He was no soft and weak sentimentalist as a great deal of current religious thought and speech make Him out to have been. He was holy as well as tender, He was entirely good. In His passion for purity He flamed like a refiner's fire, and wicked men could not abide the day of His coming. That is the aspect of Christ we get here.
A Modern Need.
There is scarcely anything we need more in these days than a quickened sense of the holiness of our Lord and His sacred wrath against sin. We have lost the saving and purifying sense of fear. "Nobody," as Dr Dale said to Dr Berry, "is afraid of God now." And as a result, the seriousness and the solemnity and the awe have passed out of our religious life. Religion has degenerated into an amiability into a cheap optimism. There is nothing wrong or if there is, everything and everybody will come all right and (as in the popular novel of the day) we are all going to be happy ever after. It would do us good to read a terrible passage like this upon our knees, that we may learn that the "wrath" of Christ is no figure of speech, and may acquire that godly fear which is the very beginning of wisdom.
Christ as Saviour; but Judge also.
And while this passage reminds us that we must make room for holy wrath as well as for love in our conception of Christ, so it reminds us that He is not simply Saviour He is Judge as well. Am I wrong in saying that this again is an oft neglected aspect of the office and work of Christ? We are constantly talking about Jesus as Saviour. And we cannot talk too much. For the announcement of His Saviour-hood is the very core of the good news we have to proclaim to the world. That is how Christ was first announced in the ears of men. "There is born unto you this day in the city of David a Saviour which is Christ the Lord." But that is not all. No one can read the New Testament without seeing that Christ is more than Saviour, He is also Judge. The Father "hath committed all Judgment unto the Son" (John 5:22). Before Him all nations are to be gathered. By their attitude to Him men's destinies are to be settled. Let us never forget that He Who wants to be our Saviour is certain to be our Judge.
Love on Fire.
I should be giving a wrong impression of this passage if I made out it was all wrath and indignation. There is love in it as well, for the word "woe" which fell time after time from Christ's lips, is an exclamation no less of pity than of condemnation. We speak of a thing as a "woeful pity." And so one of the old Greek Fathers entitles this terrible passage "Christ's Commiseration of the Scribes and Pharisees." Even while pronouncing sentence upon them, He yearned over them with a great compassion. There is love in the very wrath of the Lord. There is a wistful pleading even in His indignation. His wrath, as someone has said, is but His love on fire.
Can Men Speak as Christ Spoke?
This paragraph raises another very interesting and important question, and that is this how far is this terrible indictment of our Lord's to be imitated by modern ministers in their preaching? I will content myself with just two words on this point. First of all, before we speak with the severity and directness of this great sermon, we ought to be able to read the human heart as Jesus did. He had a right to speak like this, for He knew what was in man; He read the hearts of these Scribes like an open book. But for the rest of us, who do not thus know the heart, perhaps we had better recall the word of the Lord where He says, "Judge not, that ye be not judged." And yet, in the second place, we must remember that the Christian preacher is not set in his place to prophesy smooth things. He is set in his place to declare the truth even when the truth is bitter, unpalatable and painful. His duty is not merely to denounce sin in general terms; he must also, when occasion demands, rebuke the sinner; he must dare to say to him, with the plain, remorseless severity of the old Book, "Thou art the man."
The Sins Denounced: Ostentation and Pride. Avarice.
And now let us look at the accusation itself. The Scribes, remember, were the religious teachers of the Jews they were, as we should say, the ministers of that day. Look at the charges Jesus brings against these men who paraded as the ministers of God. He accuses them of ostentation and pride. They walked about, as Dr Salmond says, in stately, flowing robes, like those of kings and priests. They were all eagerness to have salutations in the market-places, i.e. to have sounding titles like Rabbi addressed to them in public. They liked also to have the chief seats in the synagogue the seats or benches, Dr Salmond explains, reserved for the elders, in front of the ark and facing the people. They were sticklers for order of precedence. They insisted upon their dignity. But pride and ostentation were not the chief sins of the Scribes. They were also guilty of avarice. "They devoured widows' houses," says our Lord. For they were lawyers as well as religious teachers. Necessarily they would be used for the making of wills and other legal business. And they used the opportunity their legal position gave them to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor and the defenceless. Dr David Smith reminds us that in pre-reformation times, it was a custom in our own land, when a peasant died, for the priest to visit the stricken dwelling not to comfort the widow and the orphans but to claim the "cors-present" the best cow and the coverlet of the bed or the deceased's outer garment. And the Scribes were guilty of a similar rapacity so that one great Rabbi could say about the impoverishment of a certain widow, "The stroke of the Pharisees has touched you." And our Lord's indignation waxed hot against these false shepherds who, instead of caring for the defenceless sheep of their charge, harried and rent them.
But even avarice was not their blackest and deepest crime. Their wickedness culminated in this, "for a pretence they made long prayers." In other words, although they were the religious teachers of Judaea, their religion was all a sham. Their piety was all a parade and a pretence. They were to use the word, which, according to Matthew's account, Jesus again and again applied to them hypocrites, mummers, make-believes, play-actors. And they adopted this cloak of piety in order that under the shadow of it, they might the more easily practise the wickedness to which they were in their hearts addicted. So we may take this terrible indictment as Christ's condemnation of the religious sham.
Our own Danger.
There are no Scribes or Pharisees in these days of ours, but the sin which called down upon Scribes and Pharisees this stern indictment exists still. The religious pretender, the counterfeit Christian is alive still. Indeed it will profit us all in face of this great indictment to fall on our knees and ask, Is it I? Is it the substance of religion we have or only the shadow of it? Are we good coin or base metal? Do we do the will or do we simply say, "Lord, Lord"? And this is our Lord's condemnation of those who are religious simply to please men. I ought to withdraw that word religious and say those who make a show of religion in order to please men. That is what the Scribes and Pharisees did; they gave their alms and offered their sacrifices and said their prayers to be seen of men. And there is a parade of religion which men and women still adopt in order to be respectable. Society around them may demand a certain amount (not too much) and a certain type of religion. And so they go to Church because it is the correct thing to be seen of men, not to hold fellowship with God. And this terrible sermon is our Lord's condemnation and repudiation of that miserable conventional religion. It is also His stern condemnation of those who make religion a cloak for wrongdoing. "The man who lives for avarice and ambition has his condemnation. But the man who does this under the cover of a loud religious profession has greater condemnation still." These scribes made their long prayers a means of devouring widow's houses the more easily. They turned religion into an instrument of wickedness.
"The Greater Condemnation."
"These shall receive greater condemnation" greater than that of the open, avowed, and notorious sinner. Greater than that of the publicans and harlots and sinners whom these Scribes cast out. It is a singular thing that Christ's sternest words were reserved not for the open and notorious sinners but for the hypocrites, the sinners who wore the mask of goodness. Sham religion, false goodness was, in our Lord's eyes, worse than open badness, and it would receive "greater condemnation." None of us is likely to be reckoned amongst the publicans and sinners! But it is possible some of us may fall under the condemnation of these Scribes.
Is our religion real, genuine, true? There are two or three tests which it will profit us to apply to our religion. Here is one "Let everyone that nameth the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness" (2 Timothy 2:19). Here is another "By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:35). Here is yet a third "Every one that hath this hope set on him purifieth himself, even as He is pure" (1 John 3:3). Here is yet a fourth "Pure religion and undefiled before our God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27). Do we satisfy the tests?
Chapter 18. The Widow's Mites
"And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And He called unto Him His disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: for all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living." Mark 12:41-44.
A Moving Contrast.
The change from the terrific sermon in which our Lord denounced "woe" upon Scribes and Pharisees, to this exquisite story of the widow and her offering, is like the change from the fury of a day of storm to the quiet beauty of a summer evening. When I read through the "Great Indictment" I seem to hear the roar of the thunder and to see the flash of the lightnings of Sinai; when I read Christ's eulogy upon the widow and her humble gift, I seem to be led into the green pastures and by the still waters. It is a welcome change from the judgments to the commendations of the Lord; and to none, perhaps, so welcome as to Christ Himself. I think it was Moody who used to say that no one should preach about hell and the judgment without tears. The man who can talk about the judgment without deep and overpowering emotion has not yet learned of Christ. May we not detect the breaking pain of the Lord's heart in these tremendous woes? It must have cost Him something to utter them. And at the very end of the sermon love broke out in one last despairing cry against judgment. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem," He cried, "how often would I have gathered thy children together as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" For judgment was Christ's "strange work." "I came," He says, "not to judge the world, but to save the world" (John 12:47).
The Loving-Kindness of our Lord.
But if judgment was Christ's "strange" work, He delighted in kind words and loving speech. You remember the antithesis in our familiar hymn, "Slow to chide... swift to bless" that is it exactly. Christ was slow to blame, but quick to praise. Slow to expose and denounce men's sin but quick to see and to praise any good that was in them. I remember that in the obituary notices of the late Mr M'Connell, the presiding magistrate of the London Session, this was said about him, and I thought it was about as fine a thing as could be said about any man holding a position like his. You know that after a prisoner has been convicted, the police bring up all his past history, and if he has been in the hands of the law before, every previous conviction is mentioned to the judge. But Mr M'Connell was never satisfied with hearing merely the evil about a man. When the police had made their report, he used to turn to the prisoner and say, "Now, tell us something good about yourself." And that was the very spirit of Jesus. He had no pleasure in exposing and denouncing men's evil deeds, but He had the keenest delight in discovering something good about them. It was a bit of genuine, unaffected goodness he saw in the poor widow and her gift. And how He delighted in it! For our Lord's was that loving heart that rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth with the truth.
Christ at the Treasury.
Let us now turn to the story itself as Mark tells it. It was in the Court of the Gentiles that Jesus had run the gauntlet of all those cunningly concocted questions and had ended up by pronouncing that tremendous philippic against the Scribes and Pharisees. After that terrific sermon there could of course be no possible reconciliation between Him and them. And so Jesus, leaving the crowd to wrangle about His words and His Person, proceeded to quit the temple for ever. Their house was verily left unto them desolate. But before passing finally out, He made His way into the Court of the Women, and just as in His weariness He had sat down by Jacob's well to rest, so now spent and worn by all the excitement and emotion of the preceding hours, He sat down to rest for a brief space on the steps that led up to the women's court. Now in the Colonnades that surrounded this court there were thirteen boxes called shopheroth or "trumpets" because they were shaped like trumpets, swelling out beneath and tapering upward into a narrow mouth or opening. They were set there to receive the offerings of worshippers for the support of the temple services. And as Jesus sat on the steps leading to the Court He had these offering boxes in full view.
Very soon his attention was drawn to the conduct of the crowd of worshippers as they passed these boxes. "He beheld," or more exactly, "he was beholding," He was deliberately observing, how the crowd of people cast money into the treasury. A man's attitude towards the collecting box is a very fair index of character. Goethe tells a story of Lavater that one day, when it was his business to hold the bag for worshippers to drop in their coins as they left the Church, he resolved that without looking into the faces of the givers he would watch their hands. He thought that the very manner in which people dropped their gifts into the bag would tell him something about the characters of the people, and many was the interesting conclusions he had to communicate to Goethe when it was all over.
And Their Offerings. The Poor Widow.
Our Lord anticipated Lavater. He sat watching how the people cast their gifts into the treasury, watching with interest their manner as they drew near the "trumpets" and made their offerings. He saw that many of the rich kept casting in much, With a certain ostentation they put a handful of coins into the trumpets. But somehow or other these large gifts did not call forth Christ's admiration. Perhaps He saw that they gave their many coins, as they said their long prayers, for to be seen of men. But by and by as He watched, His attention was rivetted as Edersheim puts it, by one solitary figure. Mark's description of her is at once vivid and pathetic. And there came "one pauper widow;" she came, as Edersheim says, "alone," as if ashamed to mingle with the crowd of rich givers, ashamed to have her offering seen, perhaps ashamed to bring it; a "widow," in the garb of a desolate mourner, her condition, appearance, bearing, that of a "pauper." Our Lord's attention was drawn to her, and He watched her. She held in her hands "two Perutahs" two "mites" as our version puts it the smallest of Jewish coins a "perutah" being about an eightieth part of a denarius or shilling. Ten mites would be needed, Dr Salmond says, to make an English penny. She had these coins in her hand. Shyly and timidly she dropped them into one of the "trumpets" and then hurried away as if ashamed of the meagreness of it all.
The World's Judgment Reversed.
But our Lord knew what those two mites meant to that solitary pauper widow, and calling His disciples to Him He said, "Verily I say unto you, this poor widow cast in more than all they which are casting into the treasury, for they all did cast in of their superfluity: but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living." The widow's two mites, said Jesus, formed the greatest gift put into the treasury that day. They outweighed the silver and the gold the rich cast in. It was a complete and total reversal of the world's judgment. "There are last which shall be first," said Jesus, "and there are first which shall be last," and this eulogy upon the widow woman and her gift is an illuminating commentary upon that text.
Christ and the Lowly in Heart.
Now, turning to the lessons the story has to teach, notice first of all, Christ's unerring eye for modest, unobtrusive and humble goodness. His denunciations of the Scribes showed that loud profession could not deceive Him: His commendation of this pauper widow shows that shy and retiring goodness cannot escape Him. And it is this latter quality that endears Christ to us. There is something terrifying in the thought of those clear eyes which pierce through all pretences and excuses. But there is something cheering and comforting in the thought of those eyes that never miss an act of genuine kindness and piety however humble. The Bible makes a great deal of the minuteness of God's care and attention. Not a sparrow falls to the ground without Him. He counts the very hairs of our head. And the minuteness of God's attention and care comes out specially in this, that He has eyes not simply for men of great and outstanding powers and services, but also for those quiet, humble, lowly folk whom the world never notices, and who never get their names into the newspapers. "This poor man cried," says one of the Psalmists, "and the Lord heard him" (Psalms 34:6). "I am poor and needy," cries another, "yet the Lord thinketh upon me" (Psalms 40:17). That is it! Not one is overlooked and forgotten. Cornelius was an officer amongst the troops in Cæsarea a man of no great station or influence. But in his own quiet and humble way he tried to serve God. And God had not overlooked him. "Thy prayers and thine alms," said the angel to him, "are gone up for a memorial before God" (Acts 10:14). Nathaniel was a humble Galilean provincial who waited for the consolation of Israel. Jerusalem knew nothing of him; the chief priests had never heard his name; but God knew all about his piety and his prayer. "When thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee" (John 1:48). And in exactly the same way our Lord was quick to notice the piety and devotion of this poor widow's act. No one else in the Temple recognised it. The attendant priest, and even our Lord's disciples had eyes only for the rich men and their large gifts, but our Lord had respect unto the lowly.
Heaven's Standard of Values.
Another lesson I gather from the story a lesson as to heaven's standard of values. The widow's two mites, from one point of view, was the smallest offering cast into the treasury that day. Indeed this was the very least offering which was allowed by the Rabbinical rules. On the other hand some of the rich men cast in much as we should say, they put silver and gold upon the plate. And yet from our Lord's point of view the widow's mite constituted the biggest gift put into the treasury that day. He picked up the widow's farthing and the rich man's sovereign and He said the farthing was the bigger gift. "She hath given," He said, "more than they all." The disciples for a moment looked bewildered, and then our Lord proceeded to show how a farthing could be better than a sovereign in other words He proceeded to state heaven's measure of values. "Every one else," He said, "put in something from what he had to spare, while she, in her need, put in all she had everything she had to live on." Which being translated into a general principle amounts to this Heaven measures our gifts and our services by the amount of self-sacrifice involved in them.
The rich men cast in their gold; but they never missed what they gave. They had not to deny themselves a single luxury. They had not to give up anything. They had not to dress in cheaper clothes or keep a plainer table. They had not, as a result, to do without anything. But it was otherwise with the poor widow. Her two mites made little difference to the amount of the collection. But it made a vast difference to her. It meant giving up her bite of bread, or drop of milk, or morsel of honey for that day. It was all she had to live upon until she worked for more. And so heading the list of subscriptions for that day there comes not the name of any of the eminent Rabbis, or proud Sadducees, or rich merchants of Jerusalem, but the name of this poor widow who gave a farthing. The amount of sacrifice involved in it decides the value of a gift in heaven's sight.
A Warning Note.
Now I find a double lesson in all this. I find a suggestion of warning in it. I begin to wonder how much our gifts and services are worth in heaven's sight, measured by this standard. How much genuine sacrifice is there in them? Like the disciples, we take a very mechanical and materialistic view of things. We measure gifts by their amount. It is almost inevitably so. And I frankly confess that the gold, and the bank-note and the cheque are exceedingly welcome. But this incident teaches us that Christ not only counts our offering, He weighs it. He weighs it to see what amount of sacrifice is in it. In a way there is no more curious perversion and misuse of a text, than the misuse people make of this Scripture about the widow's mite. People are asked for a gift to some branch of Christian work and they say, "Well, I'll give you my mite." And by that they mean they will give a little. But this widow's mite was not a little. It was everything she had, it was all her living. If only people gave after the pattern of this poor widow our religious treasuries would be full to overflowing. With this story before me, I suggest that we should go honestly over our subscription lists and ask ourselves what our Lord thinks about them? I dare say from the human standpoint they look sufficient, perhaps even generous. But how do they look from heaven's standpoint? Is there real sacrifice in them? Or do we simply give to the Lord that which costs us nothing?
A Note of Encouragement.
The other lesson is one of encouragement our Lord knows exactly the value of even a small gift. It is accepted, Paul says, according as a man hath and not according as he hath not. So long as there is genuine sacrifice in the gift, we need not worry about the amount. And there is often, as in this case, much more sacrifice in the smaller than the larger offerings. We have generous gifts to our Missionary Society for instance. But there is one servant girl who out of hard-earned wages brings me a half-crown for the work of Christ in foreign lands. I have often wondered whether in our Lord's sight hers is not the largest subscription of all. At any rate let us lay this comfort to our heart, that if only we do our best, if there is genuine sacrifice in our gifts, even though the world thinks them meagre and beneath notice, Jesus marks, understands, and estimates aright.
The Gift and the Love behind it.
Another lesson the story suggests to me is this, that the acceptability of a gift depends upon the love that is in it. The poor widow was the only one who made sacrifices that day. Measured by sacrifice it was the largest of all the gifts offered to the treasury. But what prompted the sacrifice? Love. And while the sacrifice made the gift large, love made it acceptable. People cast in their offerings from various motives. Some of the rich men put their gold in to gain credit and glory with men. Others put their offerings in as a matter of usage and convention. But this poor widow gave her two mites "for love," For there was no law compelling her to give. And the Temple treasury was not like so many religious treasuries of to-day in dire and urgent need. This "poor widow" might very well have passed the "trumpets" by. But, as a matter of fact, her heart was overflowing with love to God. Hers was a hard lot and yet she felt God had been inexpressibly good to her. And the best she had to offer was but a poor return for all His goodness to her. So out of sheer gratitude and devotion she gave her all all she had to live upon. And that was what made the gift acceptable and dear to God. "Her heart went with her two mites." And this lesson is one which again we need to lay to heart. It is love God wants and our gifts are only acceptable as love prompts them. We do a lot of giving in various ways. But am I wrong in thinking that sometimes it is more than a trifle grudging? We part with our subscription with a grumble, and sometimes the poor collector has a rather hard time of it. I wonder how much the gift is worth in God's sight? The Lord loveth a cheerful giver. "The gift without the giver is bare."
No Praise but Remembrance.
You will notice that not a word passed between our Lord and this pauper widow. She did not know that Christ's eyes were upon her. She did not know that He had noticed her gift. She never knew of this eulogy that Christ pronounced upon her to His disciples. You may think if you like that there was a great joy in her heart, that there was sunshine in her soul as she left the Temple that day. But of earthly recognition there was none. Even our Lord refused to mar the pure devotion and sacrifice of her gift by a word of praise. "His silence was a tryst for heaven," says Edersheim. But the fragrance of this deed of hers, like the fragrance of Mary's alabaster box, has remained in the Church all down the centuries. And when she reached the Father's house she got her rich reward. These two mites had transmuted themselves into the unfading riches.
The Sure Reward.
The ultimate reward of all loving and sacrificial service is still sure. Though the world may take no notice, the record of all faithful loving service is kept in heaven. Every offering of love is down in the Lamb's Book of Life. Acts as simple and lowly as this widow's gift, acts which had passed clean out of mind and memory, will be recalled to us then, and Christ will say, "Inasmuch as ye did it to the least of one of these, ye did it unto Me."
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Jones, J.D. "Commentary on Mark 12". Jones' Commentary on the Book of Mark. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26