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Christ Under Criticism
The Gospel has a word to crowds as well as individual men. The Gospel is universal in its doctrines, and hence can be preached to all classes at all times and in all places. It is also particular in its application of truth, so that it can be addressed to any single human being. When Jesus Christ saw crowds, his business was to preach the word to them. Christians should endeavour to get Jesus Christ's view of crowds of men. To the Christian heart a crowd is a most exciting scene. The histories, the passions, the purposes, the designs of a great crowd, who can tell but God! Yet the Gospel is adapted to all.
3. And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four.
4. And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay.
5. When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.
6. But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts,
7. Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only?
8. And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts?
9. Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk?
10. But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins (he saith to the sick of the palsy),
11. I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house.
12. And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, We never saw it on this fashion.
(1) The helplessness of some men: all helplessness traceable to sin. (2) The social usefulness of other men; we can all carry sufferers to Christ, even when we cannot heal them ourselves. To point a sinner to Jesus Christ is a good work, to carry a little child to the Saviour is to execute a most blessed mission. (3) The possibilities of earnestness; these men uncovered the roof in their determination to approach the Healer. Some would have gone away, saying they would return on a more favourable occasion; some would have given up the endeavour altogether; these earnest men had an object in view, and were resolved on its accomplishment. All men can get to the Saviour if they so determine, however many be the apparent or real difficulties in their way. (4) The vigilance of Jesus Christ over human action. Notwithstanding the crowds, and his engagement in addressing them, Jesus Christ saw what was being done in this particular instance; he knew the meaning of the extraordinary movement that was taking place, and the reward which he gave to the earnest men was great. (5) The censorious spirits of technical observers. The scribes accused the Saviour of blasphemy; they could not understand his inspiration, and it is always a misfortune to be misunderstood. Whoever determines to live the highest life, determines also to expose himself to the heavy penalties of misinterpretation. Jesus Christ did not deny their inference regarding his claim to the Godhead; he did not instantly disclaim any pretence to be as God; on the contrary, he so asserted his power as to justify the astounding inference of the scribes. Particular notice should be taken of this as an incidental proof of Jesus Christ's Godhead. To have allowed even tacitly the rightness of such inferences as were forced upon the scribes was, apart from his divinity, nothing short of a blasphemous assertion on his part. Jesus Christ works in much the same manner in relation to spiritual diseases. We can get no higher than himself; he is exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour, and he gives according to his sovereign will in response to human faith. The fulness of Jesus Christ's power is shown in the perfect ease with which he works his miracles. He speaks the recreating word, and yet there is within him no sign of exhaustion or insufficiency. Sinners should learn from this incident not to be discouraged because there are technical reasoners in their way, who are fertile in the suggestion of objections; those who bore the sick of the palsy on this occasion did not listen to the reasonings or the objections of those by whom they were surrounded. If any man in going to Jesus Christ can be detained in the way to listen to the criticisms and counsels of those who are opposed to Christ, the probability is that he will never reach the Saviour. It is true that in this instance the scribes were reasoning in their hearts, and not openly so that they could be heard by a crowd; it is also true in our own day that many reason aloud against the possibility of Jesus Christ's saving sinners; those therefore who are conscious of sin ought to be put on their guard against subtle and persistent objectors. Had the man been unconscious of a deep and distressing want, he and his friends might have listened to captious reasoning; but his necessity was so urgent that nothing less than a personal interview with Christ would satisfy him.
It is the same with the deadlier palsy of sin. If it be not to us the most terrible reality in our nature if we do not so comprehend its horribleness as to loathe it unutterably if we do not feel the moral agony which it inflicts until we cry out almost in despair "What shall we do to be saved? " it is almost certain that we shall be turned aside by frivolous critics. The first thing to be done is to feel bitterly and inexpressibly the infinite abomination of sin. No progress in our approach to Jesus Christ can be made until we have come into this experience of the exceeding sinfulness of sin. In proportion as a man's estimate of sin is low will he be indisposed to find Jesus Christ; when his sin fills his heart with sorrow and despair, he will be resolved to surmount all obstacles that would interrupt his course toward the Saviour. The great result of the cure wrought upon the palsied man will be repeated on a broader scale in the consummation of Jesus Christ's ministry. It is said that "The people were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, We never saw it on this fashion." So shall it be in the end of all things; there will be one universal ascription of glory to him who has redeemed the human race from sin, and given it eternal life. Here is contention at the beginning; men see things only in shadow and outline; whilst the process is going on they are victimised by their own impatience, and oftentimes interrupt the Saviour, and show their utter want of self-control; but when the whole work is finished, there will be throughout the universe a sense of thankful and glad amazement.
13. And he went forth again by the seaside; and all the multitude resorted unto him, and he taught them.
14. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphæus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him.
The Saviour was not content with an occasional great effort, as we are apt to be. He is now found teaching the multitudes. Here is an illustration of the twofold ministry of Jesus Christ, namely, doing good to the bodies and also to the minds of men. We are left to infer what is meant by this word taught. It is clear from the whole course of Jesus Christ that he regarded all men as requiring teaching; and it is also clear that he set himself forth as the Teacher who alone could reveal the highest truths of the universe. The Christian minister is to be emphatically a teacher; he can only teach truly and successfully as he repeats the lessons which he finds in the life of the Saviour. Teaching is more difficult than preaching. In teaching there must be inquiry into the special circumstances of the learners, and an encountering of the particular difficulties of those who come to be taught. The preacher has to a large extent to deal with general truths, he has to make bold universal proclamations; whereas the teacher may have to go into special adaptation of the divine truth to the distinctive circumstances of the individual case. The teacher requires to be not only thoroughly intelligent and intensely devoted to his work, but to be long-suffering in his spirit and method of service. Men cannot be taught truth offhandedly; their prejudices must be studied, their capacities must be considered, and there must be such skilful balance in the offering of truth as shall meet different degrees of culture and sensibility.
In the 14th verse we turn once more to the individual case. In the 13th verse we have a multitude receiving instruction; in the 14th verse we have one man specially called; This is the way Christian ministers and teachers must work. We cannot all be like our Master, having equal facility in addressing crowds and persuading individual hearers. Some men have a gift of speaking so as to hold great multitudes under their dominion; others, again, have a most useful talent in speaking to the individual life and conscience. Levi was called from the receipt of custom; the great point is to consider, not what a man is called from, but what he is called to. We are all called from sin; we look not so much to that as to the infinite glory which is set before us as the outcome of Christian faith and love and service.
The same verse might be used as showing what can be done in the way of incidental work for Christ. We learn that Jesus Christ "passed by," as if this circumstance occurred quite casually, and not in the working out of a set purpose. It does not seem to have been part of the plan; yet undoubtedly it was so in the mind of Christ, to whom nothing could happen by chance. There is, however, a lesson to us, that we are to be always on the outlook for the good of men whom we are passing by in the various ways of life. Wherever we see a man we see an opportunity of speaking a word for Christ, and of calling men to a higher life. Courage and prudence are equally required in the discharge of these incidental services. There is a modesty that is immodest, and there is a forwardness which is but the courage of humility.
15. And it came to pass that as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him.
16. And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?
These verses show that Jesus Christ lived under a constant fire of criticism. This was not unnatural. If we have escaped criticism it may be because we have escaped Christianity.
Criticism will always be provoked by an intensely Christian spirit. Men are apt to think that Jesus Christ took upon himself all criticism, and so relieved his followers from the remarks of those who are now opposed to them. This should be shown to be a deadly error. Those who criticised Jesus Christ were men of good outward standing; yet they were destitute of moral purity: such men are always most forward in giving opinions about the conduct of other people. Where there is a high moral character there will be prolonged forbearance of other people's weaknesses; but where the outward habit is in excess of the inward principle there will be no lack of censorious criticism.
In the case of Jesus Christ it is clearly shown that where there is moral purity there is noble independence of public opinion. Jesus went boldly into such houses as he elected as his temporary residences, he sat openly with publicans and sinners; and the reason of what in other men would have been defiant bravado was the intense and incorruptible purity of his own heart. Men can only brave public criticism surely and serenely in proportion as they are right. Righteousness is peace.
17. When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Jesus hears all the objections that are urged against him. He sees all the objections that are in the heart before they are formed into words. Of him it may be said, "Thou knowest my thoughts afar off." Jesus Christ does not look upon one opinion as secret and another as public; to him the whole story of human life is an open page, on which the noonday sun is shining. Jesus Christ has an instant answer to all objections: witness the case in point. From this answer we may see (1) Duty of doing good avowedly not going about it in an indirect manner as if we were making an experiment, but boldly and distinctly, approaching it with a set purpose of spending our best energy upon it. (2) We may see it to be our duty to go to those who are least cared for. We are only working in the line of the Saviour's mission as we begin at the very lowest point in the social scale. We cannot do fundamental and permanent good by beginning at the top or in the middle; we must get down to springs and causes, we must begin at the very deepest point of human apostasy, and work our way steadily upward; there is a temptation even in Christian work to stop short of the lowest depth of human necessity. (3) Jesus Christ shows it to be our duty to associate with those whom we seek to save: he sat with them, he talked to them, he asked them questions, he made himself their personal friend, and so attained over them personal supremacy. This practice levels a deadly blow at the theory of doing good by proxy. It is comparatively easy to send other men on errands of mercy; but we are only working in Christ's spirit in so far as we are prepared to go ourselves, and openly identify our whole influence with the cause of fallen men. Where there is this intense personal consecration, there will, of course, be a disposition to engage as much co-operation as possible; our duty is to see that we do not find in co-operation an excuse for personal negligence. Jesus Christ answered his opponents almost invariably by laying down a great principle. He did not trust to uncommon reasonings, or work according to the special mood of the day. He had intense personal conviction, to which he constantly referred in explanation and defence of his ministry. Ministers are only strong up to the degree in which they know precisely what they have come to do; Jesus Christ said he came for the express purpose of healing the sick and calling sinners to repentance. Unity in this as in all other things is strength. When a man works with divided heart, his work ends in failure.
18. And the disciples of John and of the Pharisees used to fast: and they come and say unto him, Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not?
19. And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? as long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.
20. But the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.
21. No man also seweth a piece of new cloth on an old garment: else the new piece that filled it up taketh away from the old, and the rent is made worse.
22. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles.
(1) There should be difference between Jesus Christ's disciples and the disciples of all other men. It is noticeable how soon those differences were detected by the critics of the day. The differences should be as broadly marked now as they were in the days of Jesus Christ's visible ministry. (2) Those differences should find their explanation in Jesus Christ, not in the expression of the disciples themselves. Jesus Christ takes upon himself the responsibility of determining the public attitude of his disciples. They must be joyful or sad according to the spirit which he puts into them, or the temporary discipline to which he subjects them. There is a time when it is right for the disciples to be glad and triumphant, joyful as men who are at a wedding feast in the presence of the bridegroom; there is also a time in which they must bow down their heads in pensiveness and sad wonder about the future. The difficulty in many cases is for the heart to realise that, alike in joy and in sorrow, it may be working out the beneficent purposes of the Saviour. (3) The illustration about pieces of cloth and the different wines shows the perfect uniqueness of Christianity: there is to be no patching, there is to be no compromising. Christianity is to have a distinctiveness and speciality of its own; the ancient make and the modern variation are not to be put together as part and parcel of Christian truth; Christianity is to stand out alone complete in its indivisible and perfect unity. In this case again we see how Jesus Christ throws himself back upon great principles, and finds in the simplicity of nature and the integrity of truth the surest defence of his Church.
23. And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day, and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn.
24. And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?
25. And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungered, he, and they that were with him?
26. How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat, but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him?
27. And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:
28. Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.
Jesus is still living under the fire of criticism already referred to. In this particular interview it is made clear (1) That all critical inquiries are not to be condemned. This question on the part of the Pharisees was not at all unnatural. Men ought to be called upon to give explanations of habits that are opposed to the public sentiment and usages of their times. Jesus Christ does not resent the inquiry as if it proceeded from a wicked spirit. Let it be inferred from this that there are right questions to be put concerning the Christian religion and the practice of Christians. There are questions that are bad in their spirit and bad in their purpose; there are also questions which come quite naturally out of the extraordinary development of Christian conviction and impulse. Jesus Christ shows by his answers that he considered human life to be above all technical law. The disciples were an hungered as they passed through the corn fields. David was an hungered when he ate the shewbread; there are courses in human life when men are apparently or really lifted above the current of law and usage, and when life becomes to itself a determining law. (2) The perfect and inalienable supremacy of Jesus Christ is asserted in the last verse. He proclaims himself Lord over time, over institutions, and over human affairs. This great claim is not to be overlooked in estimating the dignity of Jesus Christ's personal ministry. Could any mere man have proclaimed his lordship over the Sabbath day? A man cannot be Lord of the Sabbath without being Lord of something beyond. God does not distribute these lordships; the Lord of the Sabbath is also the Lord of hosts.
Jesus, Son of David, have mercy upon us! Our hands are withered, the whole head is sick, the whole heart is faint: come to us in thy healing power, and make us young again. We would be born of water and of the Spirit; we would know in its effects the process of regeneration. Not by works of righteousness which we have done, for we can do none, but according to thy mercy must this washing of regeneration be effected. We know that thy purpose towards us is love; whatsoever the discipline may be, the end is our perfection; thou wilt have us in Christ Jesus, thou eternal Father, perfect, accepted, sanctified: may we, knowing the purpose and the end, even joyfully accept the process in all its painfulness. Thou dost not finish thy work to-day or tomorrow; but on the third day thou dost perfect thy purpose amongst men; then they see the topstone brought on, and hear the song of angels and the benediction of God; then hast thou rest and joy, and all thy people are filled with contentment. Jesus, never leave us, never withdraw from us even for one moment: only in thy presence are we safe; only under thy blessing can we grow in all holy progress; we are too weak to be left alone, the enemy is too strong for us, temptations are thick beyond all counting, and urgent with desperateness. Keep near us, abide with us, break bread to us in our hunger, and in the very manner of the breaking of the bread we shall see thee, and know thee to be the Lord. Help thy servants in the ministry to see thy will, to understand the meaning of thy kingdom, and to reveal what thou hast told them in all simplicity and sincerity, so that men may hear and fear, and turn unto the Lord in great multitudes. Help thy servants to bear all the difficulties, burdens, temptations of the ministry; and grant unto all thy Church in all its sections and departments a plentiful rain from heaven, that it may rejoice in the acknowledgment of thy blessing, in the recognition of thy love, and the bestowal of thine approval. Help us to read thy word aright, to receive it joyfully and gratefully, and to repeat it in consecrated and progressive lives. This our prayer we say at the Cross of Christ, the altar of the universe, the one way into heaven because the one way to pardon for guilty souls. At that Cross we tarry for God's great answer. Amen.
The idea is that if you want to get at Christ you can do so. That is all. If you do not want to get at Christ you can easily escape by excuse. That is true. We all know it: we have been partakers of that shameful trick. If you do not want to go to church you can find pleas enough for not going lions in the way by the thousand: if you want to go the lions may be ten thousand in number, but you will be there. So we come back upon a homely but expressive proverb which says, "Where there's a will there's a way." We can do very much what we want to do. This is true in all things. See if the fault be not in the will. What a weak point is here; what a very fickle constitution is there; what an irrational sensitiveness puts in its plea at another point. How selfishness plays a subtle but decisive part in the tragedy or comedy of life! Whoever knew an earnest man permanently baffled? But how difficult to be earnest about religion! It is invisible, impalpable, imponderable; it is so largely distant, so truly spiritual; it cannot be weighed, measured, looked at; it does not come within the range of observation to any extent which appeals to a competitive selfishness. So men fail, and blame the devil; so men do not go to Christ, and say they were fated to keep away; thus men tell lies until they shut out the light of noonday by their shadow. The men in question could not get easily at Christ: but what is worth having that can be easily got at? When they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they tore off the roof, they broke it up. They meant to succeed, we do not; they did succeed, we fail; they ought to succeed, we ought to be defeated. Shame upon the economy of the universe if the coward ever won a battle, if the lazy man ever came back with a sheaf of corn! Do we really want to get at Christ? Our answer will contain everything that explains our success or our defeat. Is it the heart that wants to see the Saviour? or is it some adventure of the imagination that wants to catch his profile and then vanish, because it is a profile that ought to be seen? Is it the soul that says, "I will"? If so, the battle is half won; Christ himself comes into vision when he hears that poignant cry.
For what purpose do we want to see Christ? Everything will depend upon our reply to that inquiry. Christ himself will not come to some calls. Herod expected to see some great thing done by him, and Christ went into a cold stone, looked at Herod as a corpse might have looked at him, answered him not not by look, or touch, or word, or sign until Herod was afraid. There is a silence more awe-inspiring than speech can ever be. For what purpose, therefore, do we want to see Christ? Is it upon real business? He answers nothing to curiosity; he cannot stop to chaffer with speculation; he will stay all night with an earnest Nicodemus; he will keep the sun from going down or rising up if the soul really wants him to settle questions of guilt and pardon. Are we prepared to take the roof away rather than not see Christ? In other words, are we prepared to take unusual methods, peculiar and eccentric ways, rather than be baffled in our quest after the Son of God? If these men had taken off the roof without first going to the door, Jesus Christ would have rebuked them. We must not be eccentric merely for the sake of eccentricity. There is a defiance of conventional propriety which is itself nothing but a base vulgarity that ought to be frowned down. But the men went to the door, they tried the regular way, and when they could not enter by the door, because the throng was so great, then they must make a door. Everything depends upon our treatment of circumstances. We must not defy conventional propriety merely for the sake of defying it; but when conventional propriety is closing up the door so that we cannot get in, we must find admission by the roof. Conventional propriety is killing the Church. Infidelity is doing the Church no harm at all. It does not lie within the power of a blatant scoffer to touch the Cross of Christ; but its protectors may not be faithful to their responsibility; the professors of Christ have it in their power to crucify him every day, and put him to an open shame.
Let us try to get at Christ, and first try to get in by the door. There are several doors, let us try the first. How crowded it is; how long-bearded the men are who are filling up the opening; and there is intelligence in their eyes, there is earnestness in every wrinkle of their venerable faces; these are men who have sat up all night over many a weary problem; they are not foolish men, they are men of culture, reading, thought, study; they are inquisitive men, they do not read the books of yesterday, they read the records that are a thousand years old. But we cannot pass them, because we have not learned their letters. These are the rabbis of the Church, and unless we can take their language and swing with them over ten centuries, we cannot be allowed to pass that way. Then let us try some other door. Here are other men not wholly dissimilar; they, too, have marks of study upon their faces; these eyes have been tried by many a midnight lamp; but they talk long words, and hard words; we never heard our mother use such language; every word is a word of many syllables that requires a kind of verbal surgeon to take it to pieces. Hear how they talk; though the words be very long, yet they speak them glibly, with a fluency that itself is a mockery, because we feel that we could not even stumble our way across such stony paths. Who are they? They are the philosophers. We cannot get in there; let us try another door. Here are men looking one another in the face, and reasoning in high argument, and proving and then disproving, reaching conclusions only to shatter them; we shall make nothing out at that door. Who are these men, who have weights and scales and measures, and who will not admit anything that does not prove certainties? They are the logicians, the controversialists, the men of open throat, and eye of fire, and tongue like a stormy wind; they will argue. What does it all come to? To blocking the way, to shutting up the door. You and I, poor broken hearts, cannot find access there. Shall we go home?
We came to see Christ, and we mean to remain until we do see him. Then let us try another door. Who are these men robed and certified, and who bear the image and aspect of officers? They are skilled hands here. Evidently they keep no end of keys; mayhap they may have the key we want. They are burning incense, opening doors, ringing bells, performing ceremonies, almost dancing in their strange gesticulations. Who are they? Ceremonialists. You never caught one of them ten minutes late in the morning. They live by ceremony; they like it, it suits them wholly. Who are they? They are ecclesiastics; men who have tailors to themselves. "Clerical tailors" is a word you now see in brass letters on certain audacious windows. We cannot get in there. Shall we go home? No. We came out to find the Son of God, and we will find him. Saviour, Son of David, have mercy upon us! What shall we do? We must resort to unusual ways. They will not allow us to go to church, then let us meet on the seashore; they will not admit us without certain cards and certificates and endorsements: ruin be to all their mechanism! Let us, brother, fall down here on bare knees at an altar consecrated by the incarnation of the Son of God; mayhap he will see us without the piece of official paper; he may hear heart-prayer when we cannot have access to written form, couched in noble language, if anything too dignified for heaven.
Do you want to see Christ? There are men who say they would go in but they cannot find their way through the rabbis, or through the philosophers, or through the logicians, or through the ecclesiastics, and there they are. Shame on them! they are not earnest; they would not allow a friend to escape in that way. They do not want Christ. Nicodemus found a way. It was a long weary day that. He looked often at the clouds and at the sun, to see if he could steal forth. He was determined not to rest until he had spoken to this wondrous man. He waited for the night, and the night like a veiled friend came and took him to the Saviour, and they sat up all night; and that night the heaven trembled with stars, there was hardly room in all the firmament for the stars that wanted to glitter out their infinite secret upon the heart of this inquiring master in Israel; never did a night so starry bend over the earth. To have been there! Zacchæus found a way. He said, I am short, I cannot reach over the shoulders of these men, but I will climb up yonder sycamore tree. He never would have been chief among the publicans, and rich, if he had been afraid of climbing a tree; that explains the man's success in life. To have seen him otherwise you would have just seen a dapper little gentleman that never seemed to have touched anything with his fine fingers; but when he wanted to carry an object, then see how the dapper little gentleman changed into a fiery little furnace that meant to win, and up the tree he went, for Christ was to pass that way. Some men would never have seen the tree; some men certainly would not have climbed the sycamore; others would have said, "Perhaps on another occasion we may see him." But to earnestness there is no "other occasion"; there is only one day, and that is to-day. There be indolent, leisurely, contemplative souls who play with time; they speak of "tomorrow" as if it were theirs; they speak of "another occasion" as if they had compromised with death, and staved the monster off for a settled series of years. Zacchæus has only one time, one opportunity; he lives in a burning now. There was a woman who found a way. They need not have called her a woman; she could not have concealed that fact; they might have told us the incident, and we should have fixed the sex. She said, If I might but touch the hem of his garment; if these poor fingers could but touch the craspedon, I shall be healed. She did it quietly, silently, but Jesus knew that she did it, for he said, "Who hath touched me?" and the vulgar disciples said, "Touched thee! Why, see how they throng thee, and sayest thou who touched thee? Why, we are all touching thee." "No," said Christ, "no; some finger has taken life out of me; whose finger was it? I am conscious that virtue has gone out of me." There is a rude touch that gets nothing; there is a sensitive touch that extracts lightning from God, virtue from the Cross. There is a hearing that gets nothing, because the hearer simply hears the noise, the succession of syllables, words, paragraphs; there is another hearing that catches a sound within the sound, music within the articulation; there is a hearing that only wants one word, it can supply all the rest; give it that one word, and see how it runs to tell its exultant joy. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear; he that hath fingers to touch, let him touch; he that hath eyes to see the invisible, let him look, and all heaven shall be full of angels. Do we want to see Christ? That is the urgent, recurrent, tremendous question.
There is a permissive violence "They uncovered the roof... and when they had broken it up------" There are respectable persons who lock up their churches six days out of seven, lest by some accident some poor blunderer should scratch the paint. They say they are careful of the church. So they are, much too careful. But the church was made for man, not man for the church; the roof was made for man, not man for the roof. Were they going to let fifteen feet of canvas stand between them and the living Healer of the universe? Were they going to balance a dying man against a root that a hand could tear off? They must be at Christ. There is an acceptable violence. When Jesus saw their faith, he said, "Son, thy sins be forgiven thee." That is his constant reply to earnestness. It is not stated that he had any conversation with the man. Some of us are blessed on the road to church; it cost us a great deal to get to church that day, and Jesus joined us on the road and gave us Sabbath before we got inside, so that when we came within the gates of the sanctuary the whole place glowed like a chamber let down from heaven. Jesus knows what it cost some people to get at him; he knows that they have to give up old acquaintances, bad ways of business, habits that had laid themselves with iron grip upon the heart, and before they have time to speak, he says, I know it all; thou shalt have the fatted calf, a ring for thy hand, and shoes for thy feet, and this shall be thy father's house; as for thy sins, they are in the sea, they have gathered themselves together and plunged into the deep. Son, stand up! There is a church-going that amounts to battle and victory in one supreme act. Unusual ways are permitted under certain circumstances; when there is real need they are permitted; where there is no alternative they are allowed.
This is where the Church has got wrong. It has its little methods, and its small plans, and its neat ways of doing things, and the devil never was afraid of neatness. That is an awful blemish anywhere. A "neat" sermon! Could you degrade that loftiest, noblest, grandest speech more than by calling it a neat sermon? We must get rid of a good many people in order to get at reality in all this matter of adaptation to the necessities of the case. We must part with all the cold hearts; they have occupied so much space in the church in what are called for some inscrutable reason "pews," and therefore we shall miss them, because they did weigh and measure so much arithmetically; but they are better gone! Personally I would turn every church to its most multifarious uses, if I could do good in that way which is impossible in any other way. Unusual ways have always been permitted. Once there was a man who was very hungry, and there was nothing to eat but the shewbread, the holy bread, and he took it ravenously and devoured it, and God said, "That is right." Hunger has a right to bread. No man should be punished for taking bread when after honest endeavour and strenuous service he has failed to get it otherwise. He is no thief who, being honest in his soul, has failed to get bread and is dying of hunger, and that openly says, "This is for man, and I solemnly, religiously take it." God never condemned such an action. I know how dangerous it is even to hint at this, because there be some mischievous minds that do not turn water into wine, but wine into water, and water into poison; there is a process of deterioration; if any such man should pervert my words so the blame be his, not mine. Once it was impossible to eat the passover in the regular way; circumstances so combined that a good deal of the prescribed mechanism had to be done away with; and we read in the historical books that they ate the passover, "otherwise than as it was written." Everything goes down under the agony of human need. Once there was a number of persons who assailed the Son of God because he healed a man on the Sabbath day; and he said, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." If we do not find Christ, blame ourselves. Never does Christ blame himself because the people have not found him. That is a remarkable circumstance; consider it well; in no instance does Jesus Christ say, "These people might have been saved if I had shown myself to them. But I kept out of the way purposely, therefore they are not saved." He declares the contrary to be the fact; he says; "I would, but ye would not; ye will not come unto me that ye might have life." "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" He never says, "He would not." He lived to die; he died to live; he ascended to intercede.
It is never easy to get at Christ; it ought not to be easy to get at him. It means battle, pressure, determination. "Strait is the gate, narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." The road is over a place called Calvary, and a voice says to those who attempt that way, "Except a man deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me, he cannot be my disciple." To one man Jesus said, "Sell all that thou hast, and come"; to another he said, "Except a man hate his father and his mother [in comparison] he cannot be my disciple "; another who thought he was going on to riches and honour said he would go, and Jesus said, "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head." But the battle has a great victory. Small efforts end in small consequences. Again, therefore, the question recurs, Do we want to see Christ? Is it our heart that wants him, or our curiosity? Are we only asking the question of imagination, or are we propounding the inquiry of agony? To-day I set open the door of the kingdom of heaven in the name of Jesus. To weary men I would represent him saying, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." "In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst" Lord, we all thirst; our hearts thirst, our souls have drunk rivers of water and still they thirst "if any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink." May we all go? "He, every one that thirsteth, come!" Who says so? The Spirit, the bride, and the Giver of the water, the First, and the Last. It is an awful thing to have heard this discourse. It puts us into a new relation. Cursed be the tempter that led me into this church! some soul may say, for without being here I should have bewildered myself and perplexed myself and excused myself; but this man has torn the roof off the house of my excuses, and laid my bad man's pleas open to the sun of heaven. Others may say, Blessed be God for this word, for we have heard to-day that if any man really desires to see the Son of God, him the Son of God will see.
Almighty God, teach us that all things are naked and open to the eyes of him with whom we have to do. The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole world; there is nothing hidden from the sight thereof. Help each of us to say, Thou God seest me. In this fear and in this hope may we live every day. We thank thee for the Son of God, who reads our hearts, who knows our inward and unspoken reasoning, and who will judge us accordingly. Behold, we stand before him to be judged; but do we not first stand before his Cross to be saved? May we not there plead with God, each saying for himself, God be merciful unto me a sinner? Then we shall not fear the judgment-seat, for there shall we meet our Saviour, and he will know the power and grace of his own priesthood. We would therefore live in Jesus: we would be crucified with Christ, that we may rise with the Son of God: we would know the fellowship of his sufferings, that we might afterwards know the power of his resurrection. Help us to be true in soul, pure in heart; then shall our lives be open, fearless, useful. Holy Spirit, hear us when we humbly say, Dwell with us: continue thy ministry of light and purification in our mind and heart until the sacred process is complete. For all we know of light, for all we care for things divine and eternal, we bless and magnify the grace of God. Once we were blind, now we see; we have returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls: may we go out no more for ever. May we abide in the tabernacle of the Most High, and be sheltered evermore under the wings of the Almighty; may our spirits grow in holy anger against all things wrong and mean, false and selfish. Because thou knowest us altogether we will come to thee with fearless childlike trust. Lord, undertake for us; show us the right way; may we give no heed to our own vain imaginings, but look into the law and to the testimony of wisdom and progress, and abide in the same, diligently obeying the will of our Father in heaven. Pity us wherein we have been wrong, and done wrong in instances countless, each aggravating the other. The Lord shows us that where sin abounds grace doth much more abound; that the Cross of Christ erects itself in welcoming love above all the tumult and uproar of human sin. Keep us until the end, until the day of doom; then, life's little journey done, may we stand, through the power of the everlasting Cross, among those who are arrayed in white garments, never more to be spotted by the world. Amen.
Unspoken Objections to Christ
Then there is an unspoken life. Then silence may be eloquence. This is mysterious, and this is alarming. Here are words found for our silence. We thought our silence was sacred; we said, Our words being spoken belong to us exclusively no more, they are common property, but our silence is our own; that never can become public property; we can have a heart-life quite solitary, and of that life we may be absolute monopolists. All this is broken in upon suddenly and ruthlessly by this new voice. There is now no secrecy; privacy is a term of very limited application. The new voice is very explicit; it says, Whatsoever is spoken in secret shall be proclaimed from the housetop. That which was supposed to have been done under the cover of darkness shall stand forth in the blaze of noonday. It will be well to take this fact into consideration in studying man's history and action. By neglecting this fact, who can tell how much we lose of intellectual reality and spiritual beneficence? By omitting this fact as an element of reality in the government of mind we may soon come to live a fool's poor life. We should be greater men, built on another scale, sustaining new and higher relations, if we realised the fact that there is nothing in our minds or hearts that is not perfectly and absolutely known. It will be difficult for some men to believe this; but it is difficult for some men to believe anything. The difficulty may arise from want of mental capacity and spiritual sensitiveness, or that general faculty which lays hold of things subtle and impalpable. Did you hear the tinkling of that bell? No. I did; that is the difference between you and me. Did you hear that footstep? I did not, but you did; I should have said there was no footstep, but you heard it. Ignorance must not stand in the way of wisdom; speculation about probability and improbability must not stand in the way of realised fact. Here is a piece of soft pensive music; listen: did you ever hear anything quite so exquisite? You say you cannot heal; why can you not hear? Because of the infirmity of deafness. Then is your deafness to be the measure of other people's sensitiveness of hearing, or is the sensitiveness of other people only to show you more clearly the reality and the pitiableness of your infirmity? Christian believers say and you must ruin their character before you can destroy their evidence that they see the unseen, endure as seeing the invisible, fasten their eyes upon things not seen and eternal, realise the nearness of spiritual intelligences and ministries; and you want us in an age of advanced learning and culture to set up ignorance against wisdom, and to oppose insensateness to that sensitivity which hears the footfall of God in the wind. That cannot be done. We are anxious to accommodate every capacity and degree, but we cannot allow boundless ignorance to urge its immensity as an argument for its acceptance.
Every man, then, is really two men. He is, first, viewing him from an external point, a speaker; then he is a thinker. As a man thinketh in his heart so is he. Not a word you have said is worthy of a moment's attention if it has not expressed the reality of your heart. The smile upon your face is a lie if it express not a finer smile on the heart. Here we are a perplexity and a mystery to ourselves. Sometimes we hardly know whether we are on the one side or on the other; so subtle is the whole action of life that there are points in consciousness when it is almost impossible to say whether we are leaning towards the reality or the semblance. There are other times when we want to speak out everything that is in the heart and mind. We are checked by fear. We are disabled for want of language; a hundred considerations instantaneously flash themselves upon the judgment, and want to be umpire over the conflicting processes of our own mind. We carry things in the soul by majority. One man is not one vote in any case of real intellectual and spiritual excitement; nor is one mind one decision regarding many practical outgoings, reasons, and responsibilities of life. In your own soul, the silent parliament of the spirit, you carry things by majorities. You say, On the whole this is better than that; taking a large view of the case, there are seven reasons why I should do it, and I can only discover four why I should not do it; I will obey the indication of the larger number. But whilst we are willing to grant that there are spheres and sections of life in which it is almost impossible to tell whether it is the thinker or the speaker that is about to act; yet there is difference enough amongst the sections of life to excite our spiritual jealousy, lest we should be telling lies to ourselves in the very act of speaking them so loudly as to delude the conscience into a belief in our sincerity. We have employed emphasis to cheat the conscience. Here is the mystery of man: what he thinks is one thing, what he says is another. Christ wants to bring these two hemispheres of mental action into unity, harmony, and identical expressiveness. He would make us so clean of heart that we cannot be foul of lip; he would so exalt the soul in love of truth that it could not speak a lie. Any religion that proposes to work this miracle is a true religion, wherever its Author came from; and its Author has a right to be heard by the moral grandeur of his purpose.
What is Christ's relation to this mysterious dual relation of man? It is a relation of perfect knowledge. The scribes and others round about him were reasoning, saying, "Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only, and immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit...." "He needed not that any should testify of man, for he knew what was in man." How could he do otherwise? He made man, he redeemed man; he sends forth the Paraclete to sanctify man. He knows us therefore creatively, experimentally, sympathetically, and by every process that can possibly be applied to the knowledge of human nature. He hears our heart beat; he knows how the pulse stands; he writes down in his book the history of the day not the history of the deceptive, often self-deceiving, hand, but the history of the heart, the soul, the mind, the spirit, which is the real man. The hand is but the glove of the soul. We must penetrate to inward realities before we can know how much Christ knows. He searches us through and through. This is the prerogative of God: he searches the heart and he tries the reins of the children of men. He knows our thought afar off. We speak of plasm, of things remote, small, microscopical, growing, accumulating upon themselves, ever rising in capacity and expressiveness of life; in talking so we talk according to fact. It is said therefore of God that he knows our thought before it is a thought; he knows the plasm of it, he knows it in its first, its earliest, its invisible conception. Before we know it he knows; before we dare find words for our thought he has written that thought fully down in heaven. Unless we stand in this consciousness let me recur to an early point we shall live a fool's life, quite lineal, superficial, without cubic measurement, depth, value, worth. And are we to live such a life when we can escape it? Are we to live externally when we can live metaphysically, internally, spiritually? Are we to be content with things on the surface when we may penetrate and bring up things from the very depths of the wisdom and grace of God? To this higher life we are called, and God the Holy Ghost is pledged to accomplish our education in this development if we will yield ourselves to his gracious ministry.
Christ sustains a position of fearlessness in regard to the whole internal economy of the human mind and human life generally and particularly. He need not have challenged these men. A false teacher would not have challenged them; he would have said, If they raise no objection I shall suggest none; they look very troubled and doubtful, but I shall not trouble them to express their trouble or their doubt; it is not for me to encourage men to express scepticism or unbelief; I will therefore close this subject, and swiftly turn to another. That is not Christ. Christ said, "Why? " let us have nothing hidden about these mysteries; speak out your objection, give it word that we may consider it openly, and for the advantage of yourselves and others. This fearlessness of the Son of God is no small consideration in estimating the quality of his character. He will have nothing hidden away in the heart that can be brought out of it, and used helpfully in the Christian education of the soul. Preachers are sometimes blamed for raising doubts; whereas in reality they are only answering them. Let us beware of a self-considering and cowardly ministry that says in effect, If the people do not know these things I shall not tell them; if they do not express the doubts I will not answer them; in fact, I may flatter myself with the observation that perhaps I may raise more doubts than I can settle. I may suggest more questions than I can answer; I think, therefore, I will live on the sunny side of my work, and do as little as possible towards encountering the unspoken tumult and conflict of the human soul. It is perfectly true that we may raise more doubts than we can settle, we may ask more questions than we can answer; at the same time every ministry ought to address itself to the realest part of the life. Do not address mere fancy or taste or sentiment, but get at the unspoken heart-thought. The people are quite content in numberless cases that we should address their fancy: How lovely, how bird-like some of the notes of the voice; how fascinating and enchanting altogether in manner! Some are perfectly content that we should address their taste; they say, How polished, how quiet, how very beautiful, how classic; how vividly the speaker recalled the best of days of Attic eloquence! Away with this intolerable and indescribable rubbish! We meet in the house of God to talk reality, to get at life in its inmost thought, to address not the decoration of the face, but the disease of the heart. The Lord send us, if need be, rough prophets, Elijahs and John the Baptists, who will speak out thunderously and boldly, and sweep away from the debased pulpit all attempts to please mere sentiment, and gratify pedantic and therefore perverted taste. When we are revealed to ourselves it may be found that we are altogether inverted, and that we have been making a false impression upon society, if not actually upon ourselves. The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, and therefore it is perfectly possible for a man to be imposed upon by himself, to be, in other words, his own impostor. He wants to look well in his own eyes, and he is willing to overlook a little here and overlook a little there, and may promise himself concessions of divers kinds; upon the whole he will recommend himself to himself. Let us not fear the scathing, searching process, the cruel analysis of Christ. Then the matter may stand thus: For such and such reasons I proceeded in this course. Then the Lord will say, You call them reasons; now let me show you that they are all excuses. You defrauded your own soul by talking euphemistically, by speaking of reasons as if they were points wrought out by logic and fact and a right connection of events properly interpreted; whereas in reality they are all excuses, vain pleas, selfish arguments; you wanted to reach such and such a conclusion, and you laid the stepping-stones accordingly.
There is all the difference in the world between light and darkness, between reasons and excuses. We have degraded our life by processes of self-excusing. We would not go out because then we told a lie in measured language to ourselves. We would have gone out ten times that night if we could have made a thousand pounds; and we know it, and we shall have to face that challenge some day. We were afraid; whereas the fear was a selfish fear and a miserable cravenness, and ought to have been eradicated and blown away as if by contemptuous winds. And thus would the process go on: namely, I endeavoured to be amiable and gentle, and to put a good appearance upon things. And the Lord will say, Amiability is your word insincerity is mine; it was not light that was on your face, but sheen, glamour, a calculated and manufactured thing. Amiability you call it hypocrisy I name it; you ought not to have been amiable; you ought to have been stern, resolute, unbending, judicial; you ought to have insisted on right being acknowledged, even if right was not done. And thus will the process advance, namely: I was tolerant of men's weaknesses, I was charitable in relation to their prejudices and their actions; I endeavoured to take a large and tolerant view. Christ will say, Thou wicked servant! it was not toleration, it was self-defence; you allowed a man to do something wrong that you might do something still more deeply evil; you tolerated vice in others that you might practise it yourself; you call that toleration it was not toleration, it was false judgment, bad character, rottenness of heart and soul. Why did you not speak to yourselves words of fire? Why did you not criticise yourselves with the judgment of God? If you had then spoken out boldly, fearlessly, the very action of so speaking might have lifted you into a higher spiritual manhood, and then you would have displayed a true courage. Do not talk of reasons when they are excuses; do not speak of amiability when it is insincerity; do not set up toleration as a plea for self-indulgence: be true in your hearts that you may be true in your speech.
We are entitled to believe that there is no objection which Christ cannot answer. Personally, I never heard a single objection against Christ that could not be completely answered and satisfied. Let us beware lest we call objections what ought to be called quibbles. The quibbler will do nothing for you in the extremity of your life. He is a very clever wordmonger; he has a great skill in verbal legerdemain; he can twist the words wondrously, he can play with them like so many balls thrown up in the air, and kept there in rhythmic movement; but if he be only a quibbler he will do nothing for you when the rain falls and the wind blows and the earth shakes under your feet. Quibbling cannot cover all the need of life. Let it have its half-day's sunshine and holiday; let it practise its little gambols on some little greensward, but let it know that beyond that it cannot go. When night darkens and the storm roars and the foundations of things are out of course, and death pale, grim, cruel death comes for his dole and tax, the quibbler will not be within earshot in that dark time. If you have objections to Christ, state them, state them in the plainest, simplest, directest terms; and distinguish between an objection and a quibble, and especially distinguish between a reason and an excuse, and still further distinguish between a solid objection to Christianity and a secret love of sin that would get rid of the Cross, that it might get rid of self-accusation. Thus, thou Son of God, thou dost call us to reality, faithfulness, candour. A voice so calling is like a great and mighty wind from heaven. It is not earth-wind, full of dust; it is heaven's gentle tempest, charged with love.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Mark 2". Parker's The People's Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27