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And when they came nigh to Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives.
The triumphal entry
I. The occasion of this homage.
II. The scene of this homage. Scene of-
1. His ministry.
2. His martyrdom.
III. The offerers of this homage.
IV. By what actions this homage was expressed.
V. The language in which this homage was uttered. (J. R. Thomson.)
Christ entering Jerusalem
I. The story presents to view Christ’s sovereignty over all men.
II. This story also exhibits Christ’s foreknowledge of all ordinary events. He tells the disciples, as they set forth to do this errand, just what will happen.
III. Then again, this story discloses Christ’s power over all the brute creation (Luke 19:35). No other instance of Jesus’ riding upon an animal of any sort has been recorded in His history; and of all, this must have been a beast most difficult to employ in a confused pageant.
IV. Once more: this story illustrates Christ’s majesty as the Messiah of God. Two of the evangelists quote at this point the Old Testament prophecy concerning this triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Zechariah 9:8-9). (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Christ entering Jerusalem
What is the meaning of the day? What was the purpose of the demonstration? The suggestions that Jesus lost control of either Himself or of the people, so as to be carried away by their enthusiasm, are unworthy of His former history and of His subsequent teachings.
I. The day is memorable for its surprises and reversals of judgment. Jesus only judged rightly; next to Him the children in the temple. The hopes and visions of the people and disciples were wide of the mark and doomed to disappointment. This day to them promised a throne, but hastened the cross and a tomb. The fears and hates of the Pharisees and rulers were surprised and reversed. Jesus made no attempt at temporal power and offered no resistance.
II. This day emphasizes spirituality as the only key to a right understanding of persons and providences. Christ was revealed as a king, but not of this world. After the gift of the Spirit the apostles clearly perceived the prediction of prophecy, the prediction of providence, in the songs of praise.
III. What the day teaches of the child-like spirit should not escape.
IV. We shall not be too bold in pronouncing this day memorable as a prophecy. The meaning of it was projected into the future. It is prophetic of the entrance into the heavenly Jerusalem, when, indeed, souls shall give Him homage. That triumphal entry into the city of David was followed by crucifixion. This triumphal entry into the city of God shall be consummated in coronation. (J. R. Danford.)
“Who is this?”
I. Let us investigate the different feelings which gave birth to this inquiry.
1. With many it was a feeling of thoughtless wonder.
2. Angry jealousy prompted the question in some.
3. There was yet another class of questioners, whose state of mind may properly be described as that of irresolute doubt.
II. The true answer to the question.
1. Go to the multitude by whom Jesus is surrounded, and ask, “Who is this?”
2. Go to the ancient prophets and ask, “Who is this?” (Zechariah 9:9).
3. Go to the apostles after they were enlightened by the Holy Spirit.
4. Go to the experienced believer. (J. Jowett, M. A.)
I. Consider the meaning of the incident itself, the spirit and truth which it expresses. It was, in fact, an expressive illustration of His claims as the Messiah. It was a spontaneous heart offering. It indicates Christ’s influence on His own age. The truth does get honoured at times, even in its own time. The prophet is not without his reward. A noble life will touch the hearts of the people.
II. Consider some of the lessons which are to be drawn from the conduct of the multitude. The reputation of Christ was great. The multitude was lashed into enthusiasm. But then came disappointment. He assumed no royal dignity. “Crucify Him!” It was the fickle element that helps to constitute public opinion. We should, therefore, consider the grounds and motives from which we honour Christ. He demands more than our fickle, transient homage. He is not truly honoured by mere emotions. Men get glimpses of Christ’s beauty and power. His sacrifice in its incidents moves to tears; but the real spirit and significance of it all are missed. Christ needs more than good resolutions under the influence of emotional excitement. We have to honour Him by our perfect self-surrender and trust; and by our actions amid the mire, and toil, and dust of daily traffic. Real honour must be faithful and persistent, like that of the loving women who, when Peter meanly shrank, stood at the last hour by His cross, and were, on the first dawn of Easter Day, at His sepulchre. There will necessarily be variations in religious moods. But uplifting moments should leave us higher when they pass. Christ asks more than public honours. Professional respectabilities not enough. He wants individual honour and homage. The true heart’s sacrifice more than the hosannas of the thoughtless hollow crowd.
III. Consider the significance of this transaction in its relations to Christ Himself. It reveals His true glory. He despised the earthly crown. Outward glory was not His object. He manifested the internal, spiritual, eternal. The kind of triumph here symbolized. That was one to be reached through sorrow, agony, death; a triumph of self-sacrificing love. It was not the coronation of sorrow, but victory through death. There is no real victory which does not partake of the qualities of the Lord’s. Obedient, submissive, self-sacrificing love is in our appointed path to the upward heights of glory. You may share Christ’s victory. Then honour Him in a kindred spirit of sympathy and self-renunciation. My Lord and my God! Let every heart honour Him! (E. H. Chaplin, D. D.)
Say ye that the Lord hath need of him.
“The Lord hath need of you”
I. He wants you for Himself. Jesus loves you; you are to be the compensation to Him for all He suffered. Christ feels incomplete without you.
II. He wants you for His Church. The Church is a building; you can never tell what stone the Great Master Builder may require next. It is a family-you complete the circle.
III. He wants you for His work.
IV. He wants you for His glory. When the Lord wants anything you will let Him have it.
1. Your money. If He takes it you will know that He had need of it.
2. Death. He has need of those dear to us. There is great comfort in the fact that when Christ sent to appropriate what was indeed His own, He sent also the constraining power of His own grace to overrule that it might consent to the surrender. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
On obeying Christ
The two disciples, without any questioning, proceeded upon their Master’s mission.
I. The principle we have stated applies to all new undertakings in which we engage as servants of our Saviour, acting under His direction. It was a new thing He asked them to do when He sent them to bring to Him the colt. Our Lord often asks us to do unlikely and unexpected things. God told Moses to go to Egypt. God asked Jonah to do a new thing. If God asks us to take a new departure, His hand will guide us.
II. The principle illustrated here applies to undertakings which are difficult and mysterious, to which our Lord calls us. What right had they to the colt? There was a touch of mystery-why such a beast of burden? God often calls His people to difficult and mysterious duties. Try to do it and all is well ordered.
III. The principle here illustrated applies to all undertakings in which Christ’s servants engage directly for His sake. “The Lord hath need of him.” (A. Scott.)
And they spread their garments in the way.
How are we to deal with religious emotions when they are awakened in a more than ordinary degree?
1. We should make them subservient to the promotion of the rectitude of our nature and of our life. With the kindling of our religious emotions there comes strength for action, and our care should be to use that strength for right action.
2. It is not always safe to act under the impulse of strong feelings; therefore we need, at such seasons, to be more than ordinarily prayerful; and at such times conscience ought to be more than ever consulted.
3. If a man, under the influence of religious excitement, does not do what conscience and God’s law clearly require of him, there is little reason to expect that he will do so when the excitement shall have passed away. There are certain lessons taught us by this subject.
(1) That religious excitement has its sphere of usefulness in the development of religious life;
(2) but it is a grievous mistake to regard emotional excitement as the very essence and substance of religion. (F. Wagstaff.)
And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves.
Nothing but leaves
I. There were many trees with leaves only upon them and yet none of these were cursed by the Saviour, save only this fig tree. Here are some of the characters who have leaves but no fruit.
1. Those who follow the sign and know nothing of the substance.
2. Those who have opinion but not faith, creed but not credence.
3. Those who have talk without feeling.
4. Those who have regrets without repentance.
5. Those who have resolves without action.
II. There were other trees with neither leaves nor fruit and none of these were cursed. There are many characters who are destitute of both religion and profession.
III. We have before us a special case begin with the explanation of this special case.
1. In a fig tree fruit comes before leaves.
2. Where we see the leaves we have a right to expect the fruit.
3. Our Lord hungers for fruit.
4. There are some who make unusual profession and yet disappoint the Saviour in His just expectations.
IV. Such a tree might well be withered. Deception is abhorred of God. It is deceptive to man. It committed sacrilege upon Christ. It condemned itself. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Jesus a Judge
As if to show that Jesus the Saviour is also Jesus the Judge, one gleam of justice must dart forth. Where shall mercy direct its fall? The curse, if we may call it a curse at all, did not fall on man or beast, or even the smallest insect; its bolt falls harmlessly upon a fig tree by the wayside. It bore upon itself the signs of barrenness, and perhaps was no one’s property; little, therefore, was the loss which any man sustained by the withering of that verdant mockery, while instruction more precious than a thousand acres of fig trees has been left for the benefit of all ages. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Doctrine without practice
I am sick of those cries of “the truth,” “the truth,” “the truth,” from men of rotten lives and unholy tempers. There is an orthodox as well as a heterodox road to hell, and the devil knows how to handle Calvinists quite as well as Armenians. No pale of any Church can insure salvation, no form of doctrine can guarantee to us eternal life. “Ye must be born again.” “Ye must bring forth fruits meet for repentance.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Leaves without fruit
When Christ came it was not the time of figs. The time for great holiness was after the coming of Christ, and the pouring out of the Spirit. All the other nations were without leaves. Greece, Rome, all these showed no signs of progress; but there was the Jewish nation covered with leaves. You know the curse that fell on Israel. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Profession without possession
Like Jezebel with her paint, which made her all the uglier, they would seem to be what they are not. As old Adam says, “They are candles with big wicks but no tallow, and when they go out they make a foul and nauseous smell,” “and they have summer sweating on their brow, and winter freezing in their hearts.” You would think them the land of Goshen, but prove them the wilderness of sin. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Nothing but leaves
Most readers of the Pilgrim’s Progress will remember that the Interpreter took Christiana and her family into his “significant rooms,” and showed them the wonders he had formerly exhibited to Christian; and then the story runs on thus: “When he had done, he takes them out into his garden again and had them to a tree whose inside was all rotten and gone, and yet it grew and had leaves.” Then said Mercy, “What means this? This tree,” said he, “whose outside is fair, and whose inside is all rotten, is that to which many may be compared that are in the garden of God; who with their mouths speak high in behalf of God, but indeed will do nothing for Him; whose leaves are fair, but their heart good for nothing but to be tinder for the devil’s tinder box.” This was John Bunyan’s way of putting into an allegory what he had preached in his famous sermon on the “Barren Fig tree.” It shows the force with which the narrative now coming under our study fastens itself in the popular imagination.
I. Let us begin with the observation that God cherishes a reasonable expectation of fruitfulness from all His creatures. Christ once told His disciples that He had chosen them and ordained them that they should go and bring forth fruit, and that their fruit should remain (John 15:16).
1. This story teaches that what the Almighty expects is only what is befitting and appropriate to the nature of the being He has made and endowed with a soul.
2. Then, next to this, the story suggests that what God expects is that every individual shall bring forth his own fruit. It is not vineyards that bear clusters, but vines. It is not orchards that produce figs, but trees. The all-wise One does not anticipate that one man or one woman, or that a few women and a few men, shall do the whole work in each community or in each parish. For there is nothing clearer in the Scripture than the declaration that every Christian is held accountable personally, and cannot be lost in a crowd.
3. The story also teaches that God expects a proportionate quantity of fruit from each person. And this would have to be reckoned according to circumstances. Suppose one fig tree is standing a little better in the sunshine than another; suppose one receives somewhat more of refreshing moisture than another; suppose one has deeper soil for its roots than another; the rule will be,-the higher the favour, the richer must be the fruit. The principle of the gospel is all in a single formula: “Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” Superior advantages extend the measure of our responsibility for usefulness.
4. Once more: the story teaches that the Master looks for fruit in the proper time for fruit. In the case of this tree, “the time was not yet.” Figs come before leaves on that kind of tree. So the appearance of leaves assumed the presence of fruit underneath them; but none was there. For some phenomenal reason this fig tree was a hypocrite. Hence, Jesus caught it for a parable with which to teach His disciples, and warn them off from mere profession without performance. God does not in any case come precipitously demanding fruit, as soon as trees are planted; He seems to respect the laws of growth and ripening. He never hurries any creature of His hand. But He gives help to the end He proposes. He certainly puts realities before shows; figs previous to leaves. And He has no patience or complacency for those who are always making ready, and preparing, and getting started, and setting about things, without any accomplishments or successes.
II. This leads to a second observation suggested by an analysis of the narrative: God is sometimes mocked by the proffer of mere professions instead of fruitfulness. He comes for figs, but He finds “leaves only” (Matthew 21:19).
1. It is possible to put all one’s religious experience into mere show. That is to say, it is possible to feign, or to imitate, or to counterfeit, all the common tokens of a genuine Christian life, and yet possess no realities underneath the pretence. Men may be traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof. All this is predicted of these latter times (2 Timothy 3:1-7). Professors of religion may appear to love the Church of the Redeemer, and be nothing but sectarians. They may pray lengthily for a pretence, and devour widows’ houses meanwhile. They may “repent” like King Saul, and “believe” like Simon Magus. They may speak “with the tongues of men and angels,” and be no better in charity than a cymbal that tinkles. They may cry “Lord, Lord,” and yet not do a single thing which the Lord has commanded. And with all this amount of loathsome hypocrisy in the world, the patient God forbears.
2. The sin of fruitlessness is always aggravated by the bold imposture of hypocritical cant. The Scriptures startle a timid student sometimes with their daring demand for clear issues, no matter where they will lead. Christ Himself is represented as saying, “I would thou wert cold or hot” (Revelation 3:15-16). Elijah cries out, “If Baal be God, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). It is the temporizing, compromising spirit of Naaman which destroys the historic picture of him (2 Kings 5:17-18). And the higher up into conspicuous assumption of sainthood one rises, when his heart is bad, the more offensive are his character and public professions in the sight of a truth-loving God.
“For sweetest things turn sourest by their deed;
Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.”
III. Thus we reach our third observation: God will in the end assert Himself and visit on all false professors a fitting retribution (Mark 11:21). At last the retribution is sure to come. The settled, calm, solemn decision is pronounced, from which there is no appeal. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
The fruitless life
The verdict against the tree is, “nothing but leaves.”
1. It is a remarkable description. It is the least offensive way of describing barrenness. Nothing but words, forms, profession.
2. It is an expression of disappointment. Leaves are promises. Christian profession is a promise to God and man.
3. It is a declaration of uselessness. There is
(1) nothing to do credit to anyone-to the garden, owner, soil, root;
(2) nothing to be of use to anyone.
4. It is a sentence of doom. “Nothing but leaves.”
1. Then our creed is vain.
2. Our religion is vain.
3. Our Bible reading is vain.
4. Our churchmanship is vain.
5. Our faith and hope are vain.
6. Our life is vain. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
The barren fig tree
The incident, is full of instruction.
I. As to our Lord’s being. It reminds us of the inseparable union between His humanity and His Divinity.
1. He was hungry, and came looking for something which did not exist; it bespeaks His liability to that which was common to man.
2. He cursed the tree by the fist of an irresistible will, and nature was arrested, and the fountain of life dried up. It marks the possession of a power which is shared by no mortal creature, but is the sole prerogative of Almighty God.
II. As to the Jewish nation. Jesus had often taught by word. Here He arrests attention by a parable in action. It was the sequel of the parable of the barren fig tree (St. Luke 13:6); a rehearsal, as it were, of the execution of the judgment then denounced upon the Jewish nation if they continued to bear no fruit. This tree had been refreshed by the dews of heaven; the sunshine had warmer it with genial rays; the sheltering hill, perhaps, had warded off the chilling blasts, and all the seasonable influences of Providence had ministered to its growth, but only to bring forth an ostentatious show of unproductive leaves. And, as with that hapless tree, so with the nation. All the care and culture of the Great Vine dresser had been bestowed in vain; there was nothing but a deceptive and pretentious display; they were forever giving promise of fruit, but yielding none; there was no return for unremitting attention; they cumbered the soil, their end was to be burned, they were nigh to cursing. (H. M. Luckock, D. D.)
The penalty of barren professions
Yesterday Christ wept over the fate of Israel, today He will warn them of it. And at once accordingly He utters His warning on barrenness. It takes the form of a parabolic action. Deeds speak louder than words, and, therefore, for the sake of a greater impression, Christ places before everyone’s eyes the penalty of barrenness, especially of barrenness concealed by hypocritical profession. He pronounces a curse on the tree, which at once, in all its greenness and glory, begins to wither away.
1. Barrenness is a very common and grievous sin. It is very common, because we think there is no particular harm in it. If we avoid committing actual wrong, we think it no great matter if we neglect the discharge of duty. Accordingly, many who would be shocked at being “sinful” are quite unconcerned at being useless. There may, however, be the greatest guilt in uselessness. “Ye gave Me no meat,” “ye gave Me no drink,” “ye took Me not in,” are words which accuse of nothing but neglect, yet are followed by the doom, “Depart from Me, ye cursed.” Sins of commission slay their thousands, but sins of omission their tens of thousands.
2. The sin of barrenness is often accompanied and greatly aggravated by great professions. Performance and profession are apt to be in the inverse ratio of each other, for performance comes from a high standard, and a high standard never permits complacency or boasting; while a low standard permits poor performance, and sanctions complacency along with it. In human trees the combination is very frequent of pretentious foliage and poor fruitage.
3. All barrenness leads to destruction. Nothing is permitted to exist except on condition that it employs its powers. Unused faculties decay; and unemployed opportunities are withdrawn.
4. The penalty of wilful barrenness is judicial barrenness. The punishment of uselessness which is voluntary, is such withdrawal of grace as makes it fixed and absolute. Wrong is wrong’s penalty. Going further astray is the penal result of going astray. (R. Glover.)
The fruitless fig tree
I. Its symbolic significance.
1. Reasons for regarding it in a symbolic sense.
(1) Neither its fruitlessness nor its leafiness was a thing of its own volition, therefore the tree was not blameworthy.
(2) But as a symbol it was full of instruction.
(a) As a correct representation of the heirarchical party in Jerusalem, adorned with the leaves of a pretentious piety, but utterly barren of the real fruit of a holy life, or reverence for God’s Son.
(b) As a correct representation of all pretension to piety.
II. Reasons for regarding its doom symbolic.
1. There was neither conscience nor heart in the tree to be hurt by its withering.
2. Fall of significance, however, as the type of the doom that awaits all those whom its fruitlessness represented.
III. Reasons for regarding its symbolic doom just.
1. As a fig tree in good situation and covered with leaves, fruit was reasonably expected.
(1) So with the Jewish people, as taught in the parable of the wicked husbandmen.
(2) The fruitlessness of those whom the tree represented was blameworthy, and their guilt enhanced by their pretension. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)
He found nothing but leaves: a fruitless life
Christ’s miracles were unspoken sermons. Here He sees a fig tree growing by the wayside, and full of leaves; He draws near looking for fruit, but finds none-only leaves. It was not indeed the time for figs, but neither was it the time for leaves. The tree was making a false pretence. Jesus cursed the fruitless tree, and it withered away. It was a symbolic act.
I. A lesson for the Jews. They were full of the leaves of profession: proud of their religious ordinances, frequent fasts, long prayers, sacrifices; but they bore no fruit of holiness, meekness, gentleness, love. Nothing but leaves.
II. A lesson for all, warning us of the doom of a fruitless life. Our blessings-what have we done to deserve them? We all remember what we have done for ourselves, how we have made our way in the world; but what have we done for God? Our religious professions-are they sincere, or are they kept for Sunday use only? Our talents-how are we employing them? Our time, intellect, bodily strength, wealth, influence? (H. J. Wilmot Buxton, M. A.)
The time of figs was not yet
Trees have their seasons at certain times of the year, when they bring forth fruit; but a Christian is for all seasons-like the tree of life, which bringeth forth fruit every mouth Christ looked for fruit on the fig tree when the time of fruit was not yet. Why? Did He not know the season for fruit? or, did He it “altogether for our sakes?” For our sakes, no doubt, He did it, to teach us that Christians must always be fruitful; the whole time of our life is the season for fruitfulness. (Bp. Brownrig.)
Warnings of Scripture
Cowper, speaking of his distressing convictions, says, “One moment I thought myself shut out from mercy by one chapter, and the next by another.. The sword of the Spirit seemed to guard the tree of life from my touch, and to flame against me in every avenue by which I attempted to approach it. I particularly remember that the parable of the barren fig tree was to me an inconceivable source of anguish; and I applied it to myself, with a strong persuasion in my mind, that when our Saviour pronounced a curse upon it, He had me in His eye, and pointed that curse directly at me.”
And Jesus went into the Temple, and began to cast out them that sold.
The Temple cleansed: or, Christ the purifier of religion
When we are told that this took place “in the temple” we are not to suppose that the Holiest of all is meant, but the Court of the Gentiles. It was this portion of the sacred enclosure that was converted into a market. It was doubtless a convenient arrangement, and a profitable one; but it was a bold offence, and drew down the severe condemnation of Christ. Men may buy and sell in the temple, so to speak, without the presence of the articles and actual proceedings of commerce. How many of you are busy, in God’s house, with the secularities of everyday life! Many do in spirit what these men did in fact. There is no need to call in the aid of miracle to account for the consequences of Christ’s interference. Holy will is strong, especially when dealing with sinful consciences which are weak. Wrong felt the presence of Divine right, and departed. Strange to say, this action of Christ has been objected to. There are periods when logical arguments and gentle persuasions are out of place, and reason and righteousness assume their right of direct appeal, in word and act, to the inmost sense and conscience of men. Christ was thus severe only with corruption: He had nothing but tenderness for simply evil; He poured His hot displeasure only on the hardened wretches that covered their real sin with seeming sanctity. We see an under meaning in this incident: Christ standing in thy temple of universal humanity, and by His word of power redeeming it from the desecrations of sinful corruption and abuse, rescuing it to the honour of its slighted Lord.
I. The temple of God is desecrated and defiled.
1. Look at the heathen world; behold there the strength of the corruption. The religious sentiment strong amongst them is abused; at least it operates through fear, distrust, and hate, instead of love, hope, and faith; at worst it is the tool of craft and lust. Thus the highest endowments bring about the lowest degradation.
2. Thus has it been with every mode of revealed religion. Thus it was with Judaism. The life-giving spirit had perished; its very form had become corrupt. Does Christianity present an exception to this desecration? What is the religion of many of you but a buying and selling in the temple! Self-interest has its office in religion, but it is not an element of religion itself. Indeed, there is no juster distinction between true and false religion than this: In true religion, self-interest is made the means of what is spiritual; in false religion, what is spiritual is made the means of self-interest. When religion appears as a ladder set up between heaven and earth for all God’s angels to descend and minister to man, but not for aspirations and holy communions to ascend from man to God; when Christianity is contemplated as a scheme of political economy, and the Lord of all is regarded chiefly as the most useful being in existence, we make our hearts the scenes of degrading traffic.
II. This desecration and defilement of the temple of God should create holy and vehement indignation. What is there in the scene we have surveyed to call for holy wrath?
1. It involves the abuse of what is best and highest-“My house,” etc. His Father’s house was polluted. The highest view to take of sin is always that it dishonours God; the man who dishonours God also dishonours himself. When is God more dishonoured than when the many gifts by which He may be felt, known, served, frustrate His purposes and misrepresent His being? As when faculties, whose sphere is spirit, feed and flatter the flesh.
2. It involves the promotion of the worst and lowest things-“A den of thieves.” They who rob God can scarcely be expected to be very scrupulous in their dealings with men. The best things when abused become the worse; there is no devil like a fallen angel. The reasons are not far to seek. The best things are the strongest. The best things when abused have a natural tendency to exceed in evil. Still further, good when it is abused hardens the moral feeling.
III. Jesus Christ appears before us as the cleanser of the temple of God. How does He effect it?
1. He comes into the temple of God as the living representative of Divine things. He appears as the Son of God in His “Father’s house.”
2. He makes an effective appeal to men on the true character and design of Divine things-“Is it not written, My house shall be called,” etc. He draws attention to the nature and object of the sacred place. He forbids what is auxiliary to the condemned abuse. He “would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.” The purification of humanity is slow, but sure. (A. J. Morris.)
Pickpockets in the synagogue
Our Paris correspondent telegraphs:-Complaints having been made to the police that the synagogue of the Rue de la Victoire had become a house of call for pickpockets, several detectives were set there on watch, who last Saturday caught a man in the act of stealing a purse from one of the congregation. Henceforth a couple of inspectors will be on duty during the service and, it is to be hoped, will render personal property secure in the synagogue. The name of the man arrested is Jules Henrilien. He refuses to name his accomplices. (Daily News.)
The expulsion of the money changers from the temple
It would appear from a comparison of the different evangelists, that there were two occasions upon which Christ displayed His indignation at the traffic by which His Father’s house was defiled. Those who yielded to the supernatural power with which our Lord acted, returned to their unlawful practices when that power was withdrawn. It was one thing to drive the wicked from the temple, but quite another to drive wickedness from their heart. This was a miracle upon mind.
I. The place where the market was held. It was not the temple properly so called; the Jews were scrupulous about their temple. Where, then, was the market? We will endeavour to explain this to you. In the time of our Saviour, the temple, properly so called, had three courts, each surrounding one another. These courts, with the building they encompassed, made up what was known under the general name of the temple. In the first of these courts stood the altar of burnt offering, and to this came none but the priests and Levites. The second, surrounding that of the priests, was the great hall which, though the Jews assembled to worship, was also open to those proselytes who had been circumcised, and had thus taken upon themselves the whole ritual of Moses. But the outer court of the three was called the court of the Gentiles, and was appropriated to such proselytes as had renounced idolatry, but who, not having been circumcised, were still accounted unclean by the Jews. The two first of these courts were accounted holy, but no sanctity appears to have been attached to the third; it was considered a part of the temple, but had no share in that sacredness which belonged to all the rest. And in this outer court-the court of the Gentiles-it was, that the sheep, and oxen, and doves were sold, and the money changers had their tables. As the Jews did not regard this court as possessing any legal sanctity, they permitted to be used as a market the temple of those who came thither to worship. If you have followed me in this there is good reason for supposing that it was on purpose to show their contempt for the Gentiles, that the Jews allowed the traffic which Christ interrupted. When Christ entered the court of the Gentiles, and found in place of the solemnity which should have pervaded a scene dedicated to worship, all the noise and tumult of a market, He had before Him the most striking exhibition of that fatal resolve on the part of His countrymen, and which His apostles strove in vain to counteract-the resolve of considering themselves as God’s peculiar people, to the exclusion of all besides; and the refusing to unite themselves with converts from heathenism in the formation of one visible Church. Was not this, then, an occasion upon which to exercise the prophetic office? Was there not here an opportunity of inculcating a truth which, however unpalatable to the Jews, required, of all others, to be set forth with clearness, and maintained with constancy-the truth, that though God for a time had seemed neglectful of the great body of men, and bestowed all His carefulness upon a solitary tribe; yet were the Gentiles watched over by Him in their long alienation, and about to be gathered within the borders of His Church. And this truth we suppose it to have been which Christ set Himself to teach by the significant act of driving from the court of the Gentiles the merchants with their merchandise. He declared, as emphatically as He could have done in words, that the place where the strangers worshipped was to be accounted as sacred as that in which the Israelites assembled, and that what would have been held as a profanation of the one, was to be held a profanation of the other. By thus vindicating the sanctity of the spot appropriated to the Gentiles, as worthy of as much veneration as that appropriated to the Jews, when He expelled the merchants and money changers, He went far towards putting Jew and Gentile on the same level, and announcing the abolition of ceremonial distinctions. The Jews had allowed the desecration of the court of the Gentiles, because they regarded the Gentiles as immeasurably inferior to themselves, and defiled through the want of circumcision; and, therefore, unable to offer to God any acceptable worship. What, then, was meant by the resistance, on Christ’s part, to this desecration of the court of the Gentiles, except that the Jews had fallen into the grossest of errors, in so supposing that the Gentile had been overlooked by God, or excluded from His mercies? The ground on which he stood to pray was as hallowed as that on which the sanctuary rose, and, therefore, he might himself be as much approved and accepted as anyone of that family which seemed for centuries to engross the notice of heaven. And when this has been determined, it is scarcely possible but to feel that the prophecy may glance on to future occurrences. We need not point out to you how little progress has yet been made, notwithstanding the struggles and the advancings of Christianity, towards the announced consummation that God’s “house shall be a house of prayer for all people.” “All people” have not yet flocked to its courts; but, on the contrary, the great mass of the human population bow down in the temple of idols. True, indeed, that the doors of the sanctuary have been thrown open, and the men of every land been invited to enter; but the prophecies in question speak of more than a universal offer of admission; they speak of what shall yet take place-the general acceptance of the offer; the pressing of all nations into the Church of the Redeemer. Consider, then, whether the expulsion of the buyers and sellers, as figuring the first accomplishment of the prophecy, when the Gentiles were admitted into the visible Church, may not also be significative of what shall occur at the close of the dispensation when Christianity shall be diffused throughout the earth. We have succeeded to the place of the Jews; for Christians are now the peculiar people of God, and what the Gentiles were to the Jews, that are the heathen to us-a race divided from us by external privileges, and not admitted into the same covenant with the Almighty. And what is it that Christian nations have done and are doing for the heathen? In our intercourse with lands where idolatry and superstition still hold the ascendency, has it been our main endeavour to introduce the pure gospel of Christ? or have we striven, where there was no room for direct assault upon the fabric of error, to exhibit Christianity in its purity, and beauty, and majesty? Alas, might it not be said, we have planted our markets rather than our churches in the court of the Gentiles; that we have crowded that court with our merchandise, but taken little pains to gain room within its area for the solemnities of truth; that even when the voice of the preacher has been heard, it has been overborne by the din of commerce, or contradicted by the lives of those professing Christianity? Indeed, we much think that putting, as we are bound to do, the Christian into the place of the Jew, there is little or no difference between the present aspect of the court of the Gentiles, and that which it wore when Christ was on earth-the same, at least, in a great degree; for what portion do our efforts bear either to our ability or the urgency of the case? The same inattention to those not born to our privileges; the same persecution; the same neglect or disregard of the interests of religion; the same supercilious notion of superiority in the midst of the non-improvement of our many advantages; and if Christ were now to return to the earth, as we believe He shall at the close of the dispensation, what measure could Christendom expect at His hands but that awarded to the Jews? It is in exact accordance with those delineations of Scripture which relate to the second coming of Christ, that we should consider the expulsion of the traffickers from the temple figurative of what will be done with the great mass of nominal Christians. We could almost think that in this, and other respects, the transaction represented how Christ would proceed in cleansing the temple of the heart. He comes into the courts of this temple-the heart of any amongst ourselves whom He desires to consecrate to Himself; and He finds it occupied by worldly things-carnal passions, ambitious projects, the affections all fastening on the creature, to the exclusion of the Creator. And there must be an expulsion from the temple of whatsoever defiles it, that it may indeed become a sanctuary fit for the indwelling of the Lord of the whole earth. But the purifying process is gradual. Nothing unclean can be suffered to remain; but it is not all at once that what pollutes is removed. The first assault, as it were, is on the oxen, and the sheep, and the tables of the money changers, as the more prominent of the occasions and causes of profanation. And with these He is vehement and forcible. Sensuality, covetousness, pride-these are for the scourge and the indignant expostulation; and no quarter can be allowed, no, not for an instant. But it is not only the oxen, and the sheep, and the tables of the money changers, which desecrate the temple of the heart. There are the doves-the gentler and kindlier affections of our nature; and these-even these-contaminate when God is not their first object, but their fervour and their freshness given to the creature. But it is in gentleness, rather than in harshness, that the Lord of the temple proceeds with us in effecting this part of the purification. It is not with the doves, as with the sheep, and the oxen, and the tables of the money changers-the scourging and the overthrowing, but rather by the mild expostulation-“Take these things hence,” that He attempts the removal of what He cannot suffer to remain. Harshness might injure or destroy the affections themselves, just as the driving out the doves would have caused their being lost; but by continually setting before us the goodness of God, whether as manifested in creation or redemption, by teaching us how much more precious becomes every object of love when we love it not so much for its own sake as for the sake of the Giver-this cleanses the heart, and gradually inclines us to the substituting for affections chained to the finite, affections centering on the infinite; and thus persuades us to take away the dove on whose plumage is the dust of the earth, but only that its place may be occupied by one such as the Psalmist describes-“whose wings are covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.” The cleansing of the heart is not complete till God is supreme in its affections. It is not enough to mortify corrupt passions, and resist imperious lusts: this is but expelling the sheep and the oxen. We must give God the heart, delighting in Him as the “chief good;” ay, my brethren, we must act on the consciousness, and God grant that we all may!-we must act on the consciousness that the gentle dove may profane God’s house, as well as the flocks whose pastures are of the earth; and that if the one-the sheep and the oxen-must be altogether ejected, the other-the dove-must be trained to the soaring upwards, and bathing in the free light of heaven. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Profanation of holy places
Who will venture to deny the exceeding enormity of that offence which a prince deems it right to punish with his own hand? God drove our guilty first parents from the garden; but it was done by the intervention of an angel. He chased the Canaanites from their land; but He did it by an army of hornets. By the hand of an angel He struck down the army of the Assyrians, and brought low the pride of Herod when he assumed Divine honour to himself. Only in the case of those who profane sacred places do I see Christ-Him, that is, who on all other occasions was so mild and gentle-coming forth and taking the rod in His own hand. What a monstrous, what an intolerable crime must this be-the profanation of holy places! (Segneri.)
Desecration of the temple
The circumstances which led to the profanation were these. The Jews who came up to the Feasts from a distance would obviously find it more convenient to purchase their sacrificial victims on the spot, and cattle markets were held in the city; but in lapse of time, when the authorities of the temple began to grow mercenary, they determined to have such a large source of profit in their own hands. The Court of the Gentiles was always held in little respect by the Jews, and it seemed to them quite justifiable to utilize it for their purpose. For about twenty days before the Feast the corridors and arcades and outer walls of the sacred enclosure were commonly occupied by cattle pens; and the solemn stillness of the precincts was broken by the unseemly confusion of the lowing of herds, and the wrangling of drovers and pilgrims bargaining for their price. Besides these there were the money changers. After the captivity the Jews of the dispersion, when they came up to the Feasts, in common with those who dwelt in Palestine, made each their offering for the temple service. There was only one coin in which this offering might be paid into the treasury-the half-shekel piece. It was intended as a safeguard to prevent the Korban being desecrated by the introduction of pieces of money upon which heathen emblems were stamped. Those pilgrims, therefore, who came from countries where non-Jewish money was current, as Babylon, Alexandria, Greece, or Rome, were compelled to procure the half-shekel by exchange. It was not only a fruitful source of gain to the bankers, who demanded an exorbitant discount; their extortion kindled the indignation of our Lord, and His ears were pained by the clinking of money and weights and balances, and the strife of words and angry recriminations, mingling with the prayers and praises of the sanctuary. But this was not all. Even the offerings of poor women, and others, whose very poverty might have exempted them from fraudulent imposition, were included in the market. The whole scene was such as would raise the righteous anger of anyone who was jealous for the honour of God’s house. It was almost a worse profanation than that which made our cathedrals and churches scenes of riot and desecration in the times of Edward VI, when St. Paul’s was turned into a stock exchange for merchants, and its aisles were used as common thoroughfares for both man and beast. (H. M. Luckock, D. D.)
Cleansing of the Temple
I. God has many temples;
(1) Temple of Israel;
(2) Temple of nature;
(3) Christian church;
(4) Saved souls.
II. We are too ready to defile them. We mix self-interest with religion, or trade with religion, for our own profit.
1. Preaching in order to get money.
2. Sale of livings.
3. Going to certain churches because it may be good for business.
III. However the Saviour may seem to ignore such pollution, a time will come when He will resent and purge it away. (R. Glover.)
Thieves in the Temple
Religion must not be exploited for money. The church is not a shop. The kind of spiritual outrage attacked by Christ is one that repeats itself. There was nothing wrong in selling outside the temple, or any other church, things which were necessary for the temple service. We sell hymn books in our vestries; abroad they sell candles and breviaries and crosses at the doors of the cathedrals. It is a question of degree and intention. But I have seen, at the time of a church celebration abroad, the whole street blocked with booths. Noisy sellers of sweetmeats, toys, and provisions, pushing their bargains, and touting even in the church porch, and on the threshold of the sanctuary. There was the den of thieves. Your miracle mongers, who set up their winking statues and healing saints’ bones with the one view of fleecing the people-are thieves. Your idle clergy, especially certain Roman cathedral clergy, who fatten on the sins of the faithful, never preach, seldom hear confessions, never visit the sick; simply do nothing but mumble mass on saints’ days-they are thieves. Your English clergy, who are hale and hearty non-residents on £500 a year, and put in a man at £80 to look after their parishes-are thieves. Wherever or whenever God’s church and service is made the pretext first and foremost for getting money, then and there the spiritual outrage chastised by Christ with whip and expulsion is committed afresh: the house of prayer has been made a den of thieves; and at such an hour as they wet not of, the Lord will suddenly come to His temple and purify it. (H. R. Haweis, M. A.)
Right looking upon wrong
As it is said that ferocious animals are disarmed by the eye of man if he but steadily look at them, so it is when right looks upon wrong. Resist the devil and he will flee from you; offer him a bold front and he runs away. (Dr. Bushnell.)
Have faith in God.
Have faith in God
I. What faith is.
1. Taking God at His word, about things unknown (Hebrews 11:7), unlikely (Hebrews 11:17-19), untried (Hebrews 11:28).
2. Trusting Jesus at His invitation. Trust your soul to His care; your sins to His cleansing; your life to His keeping.
II. Whence faith comes.
1. From God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8; Romans 12:3)
2. From God’s Word (Romans 10:17; 2 Timothy 3:15).
3. From God’s working (1 John 5:1; Colossians 2:12).
4. Out of the heart (Romans 10:10).
III. How faith works.
1. It overcomes the world (1 John 5:4).
2. It purifies the heart (Acts 15:8-9).
3. It works by love (Galatians 5:6). (J. Richardson, M. A.)
Have faith in God-God will not desert those who trust in Him
Many years ago, when in my country charge, I returned one afternoon from a funeral, fatigued with the day’s work. After a long ride, I had accompanied the mourners to the churchyard. As I neared my stable door, I felt a strange prompting to visit a poor widow who, with her invalid daughter, lived in a lonely cottage in an outlying part of the parish. My natural reluctance to make another visit was overcome by a feeling which I could not resist, and I turned my horse’s head towards the cottage. I was thinking only of the widow’s spiritual needs; but, when I reached her little house, I was struck with its look of unwonted bareness and poverty. After putting a little money into her hand, I began to inquire into their circumstances, and found that their supplies had been utterly exhausted since the night before. I asked them what they had done. “I just spread it out before the Lord!” “Did you tell your case to any friend?” “Oh no, sir; nobody knows but Himself and me. I knew He wouldn’t forget, though I didn’t know how He would help me, till I saw you coming riding over the hill, and then I said, ‘There’s the Lord’s answer.’” Many a time has the recollection of this incident encouraged me to trust in the loving care of my heavenly Father. (G. Macdonald, D. D.)
One winter morning, a poor little orphan boy of six or eight years begged a lady to allow him to clean away the snow from her door. “Do you get much to do, my little boy?” said the lady. “Sometimes I do,” he replied, “but often I get very little.” “And are you never afraid that you will not get enough to live on?” The child looked perplexed a moment, and then answered, “Don’t you think God will take care of a boy if he puts his trust in Him, and does the best he can?”
Have faith in God
Gotthold saw several sailors step into a boat to cross a river. Two took the oars, and, as usual, turned their backs upon the shore to which they intended to sail. A third stood and kept his face unaverted on the place where they wished to land, and which they very speedily reached. “See here,” he said, to those about him, “what may well remind us of our condition. Life is a mighty river, rapidly flowing into the ocean of eternity, and returning no more. On this river we are all afloat in the bark of our vocation, which we must urge forward with the oars of industry and toil. Like these sailors, therefore, we ought to turn our back upon the future, put our confidence in God, who stands at the helm, and by His mighty power steers the vessel to where happiness and salvation await us, and diligently labour, unconcerned about anything else. We would smile, were these men to turn round and pretend that they could not row blindfold, but must needs see the place to which their course was directed; and it is no less foolish in us to insist on apprehending, with our anxieties and thoughts, all things, whether future or at hand. Let it be our part to ply the oar and toil and pray; but let us leave it to God to steer and bless and govern. O my God, be with me in my little bark, and bless it according to Thy good pleasure! I will turn my face to Thee, and, as Thou shalt enable me, I will diligently and faithfully labour; for all else Thou wilt provide.”
The orphan’s prayer
A little child, whose father and mother had died, was taken into another family. The first night she asked if she might pray, as she used to do. They said, “Oh, yes.” So she knelt down, and prayed as her mother had taught her; and when that was ended, she added a little prayer of her own: “O God, make these people as kind to me as father and mother were.” Then she paused, and looked up, as if expecting an answer, and then added, “Of course you will.” How sweetly simple was that little one’s faith; she expected God to “do”; and, of course, she got her request.
Have faith in God-Never give up in despair
An industrious tradesman had fallen on bad times; his business would not prosper, and he lost heart. His wife, however, kept cheerful; she went on praying, and tried to hearten up her husband. But it was no use; he kept on saying there was no hope for him, and he might as well go out of life, for there was nothing good to be looked for. One morning the cheery wife came down with a face as sad as her husband’s. “What’s the matter?” said he. “Oh,” she replied, with a shudder, “I’ve had such a dreadful dream. I dreamt God was dead, and all the angels were going to His funeral!” “What nonsense!” said her husband. “How can you be so silly? Don’t you know God can’t die?” She thought a moment, and then brightened up. “That’s true,” she answered. “But, oh, husband! if He can’t die, He can’t change, either. He has taken care of us all our lives: why should we begin to think He has forgotten us now? It’ll only be a passing cloud, may be, that’s hiding the sun, just to try us. Let us trust Him through it all.” “You’re right, wife,” said the man. “Seems to me I’ve believed in God without trusting Him. Let us ask Him to forgive me this sin of mistrust May be my ill luck has been a punishment for that same, sent to open my eyes.” However that may have been, the tide did turn, and neither man nor wife ever mistrusted God again.
Have faith in God-Wonder-working faith
It is not only to faith, as a general spiritual force of boundless potency and value, that our Lord here directs our thoughts; but also, and more particularly, to the faith which sees what things are useless and ready to die, and puts them out of the way; the faith which confronts obstacles as big as solid mountains, and yet is sure that it can remove or surmount them; the faith which faints at no difficulty, no apparent impossibility even, but attacks even the greatest of them with courage and good hope. This is the faith to which Christ here invites us-the faith which He Himself exercised, not only when He banned the fig tree, but also when He set Himself to save and raise the world against its will, and had therefore to face a world in arms. It is the faith which believes truth to be stronger than error, righteousness than unrighteousness, good than evil, even though all the world should have espoused the losing cause. It is the faith which believes not only that spiritual energies are stronger than material forces, but also that the good spiritual forces of the universe are stronger than its evil forces, and are sure to overcome them in the end. Nothing seems more doubtful to us at times than the victory of faith over the world; yet nothing is more certain. The whole history of the world is one long continuous testimony to the fact, that it is by faith in great principles that men are really swayed. What is the history of every great movement by which the world, or any portion of it, has been raised, purified, reformed, and renewed, but just this: Faith in some great truth or principle-faith in justice, faith in freedom, faith in wise laws and deep convictions-has grown to enthusiasm in a few hearts; and in the power of this faith they have spoken and toiled, facing and gradually beating down all opposition, detecting signs of decay in the most venerable and solidly established institutions, customs, statutes, and dooming them to perish; encountering whole mountains of obstacle and difficulty, yet taking them up and at last casting them into the sea. (S. Cox, D. D.)
Faith in God
1. There is Christ’s command itself.
2. God’s own character demands this faith.
3. God’s gifts claim and warrant faith.
4. The way in which we specially honour Him is by having faith in Him.
5. Unbelief profits nothing.
6. Faith has dons wonders in time past, and it can do wonders still. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed.
“This mountain,” which Christ promised His disciples power to remove, and which in after years they did most effectually remove, was the holy mount on which the Hebrew temple once stood, but which is now crowned with churches and a mosque. He saw that even the Jewish religion was waxing old and ready to vanish away. And yet how impossible it seemed that they, a few simple and unlettered men, with no force but their faith in Him, should achieve this mighty task. The whole world, heathen and Hebrew, was against them: the unbroken power of Rome, the unsurpassed wisdom of the Greeks, the ancient philosophies and hereditary customs of the unchanging East, the fierce barbarism of the North, the jealous and tenacious bigotry of the Jews; the lusts of the flesh and of the mind, the pride and splendour of life; all to which men leaned with all the weight of habit, tradition, and inclination. And yet, in a few years, all these mighty forces went down before the power of faith; and, where they still survive, their doom is written on them in characters which it takes no prophet to read. All this the disciples had to believe before, as yet, any jot of it had come to pass. Their faith in God, and in the redeeming purpose of His love, was to be their sole warrant and evidence that the temple, with all which it symbolized, was to pass away; that “this mountain,” with all its pile of sacred fabrics, all its weight of sacred memories, was to be cast into the sea; and that the world, banded in an apparently impregnable unity against them, was nevertheless to be overcome. And in this faith they both destroyed the temple and conquered the world. (S. Cox, D. D.)
This mountain-Difficulties in the Christian’s path
Our Lord here presupposes that believers will be called by God to the undertaking and doing of great and difficult works, such as are above and beyond the power of nature, and as hard and difficult to flesh and blood as the removing of a mountain. Such great and difficult works may a Christian be called by God to perform: yea, every Christian is actually called by God to the performance of such hard and difficult works, so soon as he is called to believe and to be a Christian-e.g., a Christian is called to deny himself, and to take up his cross and follow Christ: which are most difficult works, impossible to nature and contrary to it. A Christian is also called to the practice of repentance, i.e., to die unto sin, to mortify his sinful lusts, etc., a most hard, difficult, and painful work. Again, we are called to obey God in all things which He requires: in all parts of His will, though never so hard and contrary to our nature. We are called to despise the world, and to use it as if we used it not; yea, to be crucified and dead to it; and to forsake all we have for Christ and the gospel. All these are most hard and difficult duties, which every Christian and true believer is called to undertake and perform; and he must indeed perform them, in some measure at least; otherwise, he cannot be a good Christian. If we wish to be good Christians indeed, we must not promise ourselves a life of ease; we must think seriously and often what we are called to; and we must daily pray and labour for supernatural strength and grace. Not of ourselves can we accomplish this arduous task; but God, who calls us to it, will enable us to perform it, if we seek from Him that which we have not in ourselves. (G. Petter.)
When William Carey went to India, many a wise man would have said to him, “You may lust as well walk up to the Himalaya mountains, and order them to be removed and cast into the sea.” I would have said, “That is perfectly true; this Hinduism is as vast and as solid as those mountains; but we have faith-not much, yet we have faith as a grain of mustard seed”; and William Carey said, “I will go up to the mountain.” Lonely and weak he walked up towards the mountain, which in the eye of man seemed verily one of the summits of human things, far above all power to touch or shako it; and with his own feeble voice he began saying, “Be thou removed! be thou removed!” And the world looked on and laughed, a celebrated clergyman, looking down from his high place in the Edinburgh Review, was much amused with the spectacle of that poor man down in Bengal, thinking in his simple heart that he was going to disturb Hinduism; and from his high place he cast down a scalding word, which he meant to fall just as of old boiling lead used to fall upon a poor man from the height of a tower. He called him a “consecrated cobbler.” All the wise world laughed, and said he was treated as he ought to be treated. However, he went on saying to the mountain, “Be thou removed! be thou removed!” And one joined him, and another joined him; the voice grew stronger; it was repeated in more languages than one: “Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the depths of the sea!” and now there is a large company who are uttering that one word, “Be thou removed!” I ask the living representatives of the very men who first smiled at this folly, “What say ye now?” “Well,” they answer, “you have not got into the sea yet.” That is true; but do you say that the mountain during the last forty years has not moved? No man can say that it is in the same position as it was when William Carey first went up to it. It is moving fast; and I call upon you to swell that voice, the voice of God’s Church, which seems to say, “Be thou removed, be thou removed, and be thou east into the depths of the sea!” Cast into those depths it will be; and a day will come when the nations of a regenerated East will write in letters of gold upon the first pages of their Christian history the name of the “consecrated cobbler.” (William Arthur.)
What things soever ye desire when ye pray.
Combined action of prayer and faith
The apostles, when the Lord was taken away from them, would have to commend His doctrine to the world by miracles. To this end it was needful that their faith in God, as the Bestower of all power to do such things, should be raised. For the real doer of every miracle or sign was God, and God only. When the apostles healed suddenly any sick person, or cast out any evil spirit, it was by the combined exercise of prayer and faith. They secretly or openly called upon God, and they implicitly believed that He would accompany their word with His power. Now, being men totally ignorant of science, and so unable to form a conception of the kind or amount of power put forth in the performance of any miracle, they would naturally look upon it as a matter of size, or weight, or extension. They would, as a matter of course, look upon the removal of the Mount of Olives as a far greater thing, demanding far greater power, than the sudden drying up of the life juices of a single fig tree; but it may not really be greater by any means. On the contrary, the sudden touching and arresting the springs of life in the living thing may require far more knowledge of the greatest secret of all-the secret of life, and far more real power in applying that knowledge, than the removal of the most stupendous mass of dead matter. Now the apostles, though they could not understand this, must yet act as if it were so. They must not judge by the sight of their eyes of the difficulty or easiness of anything which they felt moved by the Spirit to perform. They must think of nothing but the almighty power of God, and His pledge to accompany their prayers or words with that power. (M. F. Sadler, M. A.)
The miracle of faith
True prayer is sure power.
I. Look at the text to see the essential qualities necessary to any great success in prayer. There must be-
1. Definite things prayed for. No rambling, or drawing the bow at a venture. Use no mock modesty with God. Be simple and direct in your pleadings. Speak plainly, and make a straight aim at the object of your supplications.
2. Earnest desire. Plead as for your life. There was a beautiful illustration of true prayer addressed to man in the conduct of two noble ladies, whose husbands were condemned to die and were about to be executed, when they came before George I and supplicated for their pardon. The king rudely and cruelly repulsed them. But they pleaded again and again; and could not be got to rise from their knees; and they had actually to be dragged out of court, for they refused to leave till their petition was granted. That is the way we must pray to God. We must have such a desire for the thing we want that we will not rise until we have it,-but in submission to His Divine will, nevertheless.
3. Faith. No questioning whether God can or will grant the prayer. The prayers of God’s people are but God’s promises breathed out of living hearts; and those promises are the decrees only put into another form and fashion. When you can plead His promise, then your will is His will.
4. A realizing expectation. We should be able to count over the mercies before we have got them, believing that they are on the road.
II. Look about you and judge by the tenor of the text.
1. Public meetings for prayer. How often, at these meetings, does this advice of an old preacher need to be remembered: “The Lord will not hear thee because of the arithmetic of thy prayers; He does not count their numbers: nor because of their rhetoric; He does not care for the eloquent language in which they are couched: nor for their geometry; He does not compute them by their length or their breadth: nor yet will He regard thee because of the music of thy prayers; He cares not for sweet voices and harmonious periods. Neither will He look at thee because of the logic of thy prayers-because they are well arranged and excellently comparted. But He will hear thee, and He will measure the amount of the blessing He will give thee, according to the divinity of thy prayers. If thou canst plead the person of Christ, and if the Holy Ghost inspire thee with zeal and earnestness, the blessings thou askest will surely come to thee.”
2. Your private intercessions. There is no place that some of us need to he so ashamed to look at as our closet door. Shame on our hurried devotions, our lip services, our distrust. See to it that an amendment be made, and God make you more mighty and more successful in your prayers than heretofore.
III. Look above and you will see enough to make you-
1. Weep. God has given us a mighty weapon, and we have let it rust. If the universe were as still as we are where should we be? God gives light to the sun, and he shines with it. To the winds He gives force, and they blow. To the air He gives life, and it moves, and men breathe thereof. But to His people He has given a gift that is better far than force, or life, or light, and yet they neglect and despise it! Constantine, when he saw that on the coins of the other emperors their images were in an erect position, triumphing, ordered that his image should be struck kneeling, for, said he, “This is the way in which I have triumphed.” The reason why we have been so often defeated, and why our banners trail in the dust, is because we have not prayed.
2. Rejoice. For, though you have sinned against God, He loves you still. You may not as yet have gone to the fountain, but it still flows as freely as ever.
3. Amend your prayers from this time forth. Look on prayer no longer as a romantic fiction or an arduous duty, but as a true power and a real pleasure. When philosophers discover some latent power they delight to put it in action. Test the bounty of the Eternal. Take to Him all your petitions and wants, and see if He does not honour you. Try whether, if you believe Him, He will not fulfil His promise, and richly bless you with the anointing oil of His Spirit, by which you will be strong in prayer. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Lessons on prayer
I. God hears prayers of any magnitude; much wrong might have been prevented or cured, much good done, if only we had prayed.
II. Success for prayer depends on goodness; without the soul health of trust and love we cannot pray.
III. Let our unanswered prayers be a mirror in which we see our faults. (R. Glover.)
If our doubts do not prevail so far as to make us leave off praying, our prayers will prevail so far as to make us leave off doubting. (H. Hickman.)
Prayer a key
Prayer is a key which, being turned by the hand of faith, unlocks God’s treasures. (Anon.)
The sum and substance of every prayer should be the will of God
The exercise of prayer can only be a blessing to our souls when our own will is entirely merged in the will of our heavenly Father. If we only knew the truth, we should find that prayer is more connected with the discipline of the will than we generally imagine. Our will is not naturally in harmony with God’s. The carrying out of our own will, when bent on some desired object, is what invariably characterises us. It becomes habitual to us. We carry it, more or less, as a habit into the presence of God. It must not be, however. Wilfulness is not a characteristic of one of God’s children. He is but a child, and he must know it. The Father’s will is best; the child must know no will but His. It must be crossed, however painful it may be. To subdue that will, to blend it with His, and to make us perfectly happy under the conviction that our own is not to be carried out, is the only true explanation of many an unanswered prayer, many a bitter cup still unremoved, and many a thorn still left rankling in the flesh. But when the heart has been brought into that state when it can, with happy, confiding trust, look up and say, “Father, not my will, but Thine, be done!” then will relief come. The thorn, indeed, may not be extracted, the cup may not be removed, but there will appear the strengthening angel from heaven enabling us to bear it. (F. Whitfield.)
Scope and limit of prayer
In other places the promise is considerably qualified, We shall receive, not whatever we ask, but the Holy Spirit, i.e., we are to spread out our case, our needs, our desires, before God, for that is the way to come into close relations with Him; He will do the rest. The answer shall be the gift we ask for, and our demand shall be the needful link in the chain of causes which brings us and our heart’s desire together; in other words, the answer shall be the “Holy Spirit,” who shall mould our wills into accord and illuminated acquiescence with His good will. In any case, prayer is seen to be the ways and means of bringing us into communication with One who is above all, and over all, and through all. Direct demands are the most obvious, simple, childlike forms of prayer; but the spiritual value of prayer is, after all, not this-to get exactly what we want, when we want it, like the magic ring in the fairy tale; but this-to bring the human into close relation with the Divine. (H. R. Haweis, M. A.)
The foundation of faithful prayer
I remember asking an old friend of mine, who is now between seventy and eighty years of age, and who, I think, as far as I have been permitted to know Christian men, is mightier with God than almost any man I have met, “Do tell me the secret of your success in prayer.” He said, “I will tell you what it is. I say to myself, Is that which I am asking for promised? Is it according to the mind of God? If it is, I plant my foot upon it as upon a firm rock, and I never allow myself to doubt that my Father will give me according to my petition.” (Bp. Bickersteth.)
The links that unite earth and heaven
Give me these links;
(1) sense of need;
(2) desire to get;
(3) belief that, though He withhold for a while, He loves to be asked;
(4) belief that asking will obtain-give me these links, and the chain will reach from earth to heaven, bringing all heaven down to me, or bearing me up into heaven. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
Faith and prayer
Faith is to prayer as the feather is to the arrow; faith feathers the arrow of prayer, and makes it fly swifter and pierce the throne of grace. Prayer that is faithless is fruitless. (T. Watson.)
Earnestness in prayer
The arrow that is shot from a loose cord drops powerless to the ground, but from the tightly-drawn bowstring it springs forward, soars upward, and reaches the object to which it is directed. So it is not the loose utterance of attempted prayer that is effectual, but the strong earnestness of the heart sending its pointed petition to heaven, that reaches the Divine ear and obtains the desired blessing. (Bowden.)
Perseverance in prayer
I saw the other day a man attempting to split a rock with a sledge hammer. Down came the sledge upon the stone as if it would crush it, but it merely rebounded, leaving the rock as sound as before. Again the ponderous hammer was swung, and again it came down, but with the same result. Nothing was accomplished. The rock was still without a crack. I might have asked (as so many are disposed to ask concerning prayer) what good could result from such a waste of time and strength. But that man had faith. He believed in the power of that sledge. He believed that repeated blows had a tendency to split that rock. And so he kept at it. Blow after blow came down; all apparently in vain. But still he kept on without a thought of discouragement. He believed that a vigorously swung sledge “has great power.” And at last came one more blow and the work was done. That is the way in which we ought to use prayer. God has told us that “the earnest prayer of the righteous man has great power.” We ought to believe it, just as that man believed that his sledge had power. And believing it, we ought to use prayer for the attainment of spiritual results with just such confidence of success as that man used his sledge. We may not secure our answer at once. That rock was not split at the first blow, or the second. But that man believed that if he continued his blows, he was more likely to succeed every blow he struck. So we are to believe that there is a spiritual power in prayer, just as there was a physical power in that sledge; and that, the more perseveringly and earnestly we use it, the more certain are we to accomplish something by it.
Ye shall have them: Divine answers to prayer
Is the direct Divine answer to prayer a reality? Call the witnesses and let them testify. Let the martyrs of the early church answer, from their exile, from the prisons where they were chained, from the amphitheatre whose sands were crimsoned with their blood, from the chariots of flame in which they swept up to glory. Let the Covenanters, kneeling on the heather, or hiding in the grey fastnesses of the crags; let the Pilgrims, with their faces vet with the cold, salt spray, and the gloom of the wilderness overshadowing them; let Christian heroes everywhere-missionaries passing through belts of pestilence, women in army hospitals, philanthropists in jails and lazar houses-let all these testify whether prayer has anything more than a “reflex influence.” Let thousands of death beds answer. Let the myriad homes of sorrow, wrapped in darkness that may be felt, answer. Let every man or woman who has ever really prayed, answer. From each and all comes one and the same testimony: “The Lord is nigh unto all that call upon Him, unto all that call upon Him in truth.” (Ed. S. Attwood.)
Expecting answer to prayer
A few years ago there was a time of much dryness in a certain part of England. No rain had fallen for several weeks, and it seemed as if the crops would all perish for want of moisture. A few pious farmers who believed in the power of prayer asked their minister to make a special supplication on a particular Sunday for the needed blessing of rain. The day came, and was as bright and cloudless as those which had preceded it. Among the congregation the minister noticed a little Sunday scholar, who carried a large old-fashioned umbrella. “Why, Mary,” he exclaimed, “what could have induced you to bring an umbrella on such a lovely morning as this?” “I thought, sir,” answered Mary, “that as we were going to pray for rain I should be sure to want the umbrella.” The minister patted her cheek good naturedly and the service began. Presently the wind rose, the clouds gathered, and at length the long-desired rain fell in torrents. Mary and the minister went home together under the umbrella, while the rest of the congregation reached their dwellings well drenched. Let us follow Mary’s example, and always pray, not only hoping that God may hear, but believing that He does hear, and will send us what we ask if it is good for us.
The most mighty force
Thou hast power in prayer, and thou standest today amongst the most potent ministers in the universe that God has made. Thou hast power over angels, they will fly at thy will. Thou hast power over fire and water, and the elements of earth. Thou hast power to make thy voice heard beyond the stars; where the thunders die out in silence thy voice shall make the echoes of eternity. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Power of prayer
Oh, God, thou hast given us a mighty weapon, and we have permitted it to rust. Would it not be a vile crime if a man had an eye given him which he would not open, or a hand that he would not lift up, or a foot that grew stiff because he would not use it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
It was said of John Bradford that he had a peculiar art in prayer, and when asked for his secret he said: “When I know what I want I always stop on that prayer until I feel that I have pleaded it with God, and until God and I have had dealings with each other upon it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The limit of prayer
I. Prayer’s limit. “All things soever ye desire, believe and ye shall have them.” The boundary line of desire and of faith.
1. The boundary line of faith. Faith is vast, recognizes the covenant of the promises, and whatever comes outside the promises for which she can find anywhere a direct engagement of Almighty God to do. Faith is the turning of an infinite future, into a present real receiving; it can go confidently when it treads on Scripture ground. So the Bible becomes, in a measure, prayer; you must try to bring prayer up to the mind of God in it.
2. Desire has a gracious limit. A man well acquainted with God’s Word lives under the teaching of the Holy Spirit, and his mind is conformed to the mind of God, and his desires gradually blend with the wishes of the Almighty.
II. Prayer’s reach.
III. Prayer’s warrant. The blood of Christ and the worth of this warrant.
1. It is personal.
2. It is present.
3. It is absolute. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
But if ye do not forgive.
Prayer and forgiveness
1. The first lesson here taught is that of a forgiving disposition. God’s full and free forgiveness is to be the rule of ours with men.
2. There is a second and more general lesson. Our daily life in the world is made the test of our intercourse with God in prayer. Life does not consist of so many loose pieces, of which now the one, then the other, can be taken up. My drawing nigh to God is of one piece with my intercourse with men. Failure here will cause failure there.
3. We may gather these thoughts into a third lesson. In our life with men the one thing on which everything depends is love. The spirit of forgiveness is the spirit of love. The right relations to the living God above me, and the living men around me, are the conditions of effectual prayer. (A. Murray.)
I. We should forgive our enemies and all who have injured us, because of the Divine example. Let us learn to act like our Father in heaven, who forgives us without any merit on our part.
II. We should forgive because it is needful for our own peace. Revenge cherished is like a thorn in the flesh.
III. Forgiveness is one of the most important signs and essentials of spiritual growth.
IV. We should forgive one another because it is the condition of our own forgiveness. (Anon.)
He that cannot forgive others breaks down the bridge over which he must pass himself; for everyone has need to be forgiven. As when the sea worm makes a hole in the shell of the mussel, the hole is filled up with a pearl; so, when the heart is pierced by an injury, forgiveness is like a pearl, healing and filling up the wound. (Anon.)
Generous and magnanimous minds are readiest to forgive; and it is a weakness and impotency of mind to be unable to forgive. (Bacon.)
Forgive and forget
Whilst wrongs are remembered, they are not remitted. He forgives not, that forgets not. When an inconsiderate fellow had struck Cato in the bath, and afterwards besought his pardon, he replied, “I remember not that thou didst strike me.” Our Henry VI is said to have been of that happy memory, that he never forgot anything but injuries. (J. Trapp.)
A wealthy planter in Virginia, who had a great number of slaves, found one of them reading the Bible, and reproved him for neglect of his work, saying, there was time enough on Sundays for reading the Bible, and that on other days he ought to be in the tobacco house. On the offence being repeated, he ordered the slave to be whipped. Going near the place of punishment soon after its infliction, curiosity led him to listen to a voice engaged in prayer; and he heard the poor black implore the Almighty to forgive the injustice of his master, to touch his heart with a sense of his sin, and to make him a good Christian. Struck with remorse, he made an immediate change in his life, which had been careless and dissipated, and appears now only to study bow he can render his wealth and talents useful to others.
Forgiveness by those forgiven
A great boy in a school was so abusive to the younger ones, that the teacher took the vote of the school whether he should be expelled. All the small boys voted to expel him, except one, who was scarcely five years old. Yet he knew very well that the bad boy would probably continue to abuse him. “Why, then, did you vote for him to stay?” said the teacher. “Because if he is expelled, perhaps he will not learn any more about God, and so he will be more wicked still.” “Do you forgive him then?” inquired the teacher. “Yes,” said the little fellow; “papa and mamma and you all forgive me when I do wrong; God forgives me too and I must do the same.”
Why prayers sometimes fail
I. Let us, in the first place, enter upon an intelligent exposition of the verses just as they stand. It will be quite as necessary for us to be sure what they do not mean, as what they do mean; for the declaration has been somewhat abused.
1. It is easy to show what our Lord does not teach in His repeated counsels on this point. The new revision gives a very interesting turn to the form of expression by throwing the verb into the past tense: “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” This intensifies the admonition, and enforces the condition that ensures success in our praying; for it demands that our pardon of injuries shall have taken place previous even to our coming to the mercy seat for ourselves. It cannot be that the passage we are studying means that our forgiveness of others is in any sense the ground for our remission of sins from God. It cannot be that the passage means that our forgiveness of others is to furnish the measure of our own pardon from God.
2. What then does our Lord mean when He gives this warning? How is a forgiving spirit connected with our prayers? If our having pardoned those who have injured us be not a ground for our own pardon nor a measure of Divine grace, what is it? For one thing, it may be used as a token. It can be looked upon as a hopeful sign that our transgressions have been removed, and that we are now heirs of the kingdom. “For, if ye forgive men their trespasses your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” Such a token can be employed very easily. If used faithfully, it would set at rest many a doubt concerning religion in one’s heart. For another thing, this passage may serve as an admonition. And it is likely that it will have in this its widest use. The petition of the great universal prayer cannot be pressed without its comment. In this demand for a forgiving spirit, there is nothing less than a permanent reminder that when we come asking for pardon, we must be prepared to exercise it likewise; if not, we are to turn on our track and seek preparation.
II. This being the exposition of the verses, and the conclusion having been inevitably reached that we cannot even pres without the spirit of forgiveness, it is evident that we must move forward to a higher plane of Christian experience in this one particular. So we inquire, in the second place, concerning the reach and the limit of the doctrine of forgiveness.
1. The reach of it is indicated in an incident of Simon Peter’s life (Matthew 18:21-22).
2. But now, with a sober sense of inquiry, and a sincere wish to be reasonable, some of us are ready to ask after the limit as well as the reach of this counsel. (Luke 17:3-4.) Before this question can be plainly answered, we must be careful to see that forgiveness does not imply that we approve, condone, or underrate the injurious acts committed; we forgive the sinner, not the sin-the sin we are to forget. Nor does forgiveness imply that we are to stifle all honest indignation against the wickedness of the injury. Nor is it settled that we are to take the injurious man into constant companionship if we forgive him; Jacob and Esau will do better apart. What, then, are we to do? We are, in our very heart of hearts, to cease forever from the sore sense of a hurt; we are to shut our souls against all suggestions of requital or future revenge; we are to use all means for furthering the interests of those who have done us harm; we are to illustrate the greatness of God’s pardoning love by the quickness of our own. All this before our wrongs have been atoned for; before our honest acts and decent deeds have been shown! It does seem a little difficult; but think over Augustine’s searching question: “Do you who are a Christian desire to be revenged and vindicated, and the death of Jesus Christ has not yet been revenged, nor his innocence vindicated?” It is related of the chivalric leader, the great Sir Tristam, that his stepmother tried twice to poison him. He hurried to the king, who honoured him as he honoured none other, and craved a boon: “I beseech you of your mercy that you will forgive it her! God forgive it her, and I do! For God’s love, I require you to grant me my boon!” (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Forgiveness of injuries
A young Greenlander said to a missionary, “I do love Jesus-I would do anything for Him; how good of Him to die for me!” The missionary said to him, “Are you sure you would do anything for our dear Lord?” “Yes, I would do anything for Him. What can I do?” The missionary, showing him the Bible, said, “This Book says, ‘Thou shalt do no murder.’” “Oh, but that man killed my father.” “Our dear Lord Himself says, ‘If ye love Me, keep My commandments,’ and this is one of them.” “Oh,” exclaimed the Greenlander, “I do love Jesus! but I-I must-” “Wait a little, calm yourself; think it well over and then come and let me know.” He went out, but presently came back, saying, “I cannot decide; one moment I will, the next I will not. Help me to decide.” The missionary answered; “When you say, ‘I will kill him,’ it is the evil spirit trying to gain the victory; when you say, ‘I will not,’ it is the Spirit of God striving within you.” And so speaking, he induced him at length to give up his murderous design. Accordingly the Greenlander sent a message to the murderer of his father, telling him to come and meet him as a friend. He came, with kindness on his lips, but treachery in his heart. For, after he had stayed with him a while, he asked the young man to come and visit him on this side of the river. To this he readily assented, but, on returning to his boat, found that a hole had been pierced in the boat, and cleverly concealed by his enemy, who hoped thereby to destroy him. He stopped the hole, and put off in his boat, which to the surprise and wrath and indignation of the other, who had climbed a high rock on purpose to see him drown, did not sink, but merrily breasted the waves. Then cried the young man to his enemy, “I freely forgive you, for our dear Lord has forgiven me.”
By what authority doest Thou these things?
Christ’s authority and the way to discern it
I. From the side of the questioners and their question. “By what authority doest Thou these things,” etc. Christ’s power was a new power in the world at that time. It was different from the authority of the scribes, priests, elders, and Sanhedrim. They had a right to put this question, but were chargeable with negligence in not having settled it long before. They were Israel’s shepherds, and had a responsibility for the people over whom they were set. Year by year, and we may almost say day by day, there is some power or another growing up in society which in process of time will make itself felt, and which will gradually weaken and uproot all authority which is held in a wrong spirit, and which is exercised in a wrong way. And it has often made great way before its progress is observed. Christianity began by appealing to the hearts of men, to what men felt to be true. It began in Christ’s life and teaching. It pandered to no prejudice. It rested not till it brought every man, with his faults, into the presence of God. To these facts the priests and scribes were blind. There are men who will do nothing but by tradition and rule; they set form above substance. They slumbered whilst new forces were rising all around them. So like Christ there are men who strive to do good, striking, out a course for themselves, who look at what has to be done, if not in the old way, in one which will accomplish the object. These leave it to critics and cavillers to settle as best they can by what authority this work is done.
II. Look at the passage from the side of Christ. It was not His custom to be silent when men wished to learn. He received Nicodemus by night; reasoned with the Samaritan woman; Zaccheus. Christ says, “Neither will I tell you.” These words are not mere resolution on His part to withhold information; but in their being unable to receive what He might tell them. On another occasion the Jews came to Christ and said, “If Thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.” Christ’s answer was, “I have told you before, and ye did not believe.” In like manner the rulers had been virtually told before by what authority Christ had done these things. His words and works were His authority. This want of power to see the truth and to know it is the natural result of a spirit of unfaithfulness to former light and present convictions. Many people overlook this law of their spiritual being; they think that by neglect or carelessness they are at the most missing some advantage for a short season, and that when they please they can regain what has been lost. They forget that the loss is within, in the soul, character, and life, and that it is irreparable. When they wrong their inward convictions, they not merely defile their honour, but destroy the very powers of discerning right and wrong, truth and error. Each time that a man is unfaithful to the light within him he is laying a thicker film upon the spiritual eye. It is marvellous how men with an honest love of the truth are guided into it, and are led out of the labyrinth of darkness and perplexities which surround them. (A. Watson, D. D.)
Christ’s works His authority
His works were His authority, His teaching was His authority. Just as the discovery of a principle in science is the authority for accepting it, as the discovery of a law of nature is the authority for following it, as the invention of a piece of mechanism is the authority for using it, as the healing power of a new medicine is the authority for applying it so, one would think, there was no need to ask for the authority by which the sorrowful were comforted, or the ignorant taught, or the wicked reformed, or the worldly made spiritual. These works themselves showed whose authority they had. If you cannot see authority in an act of mercy or kindness, how can any words show it? If you cannot see the authority of a wise act, or of a true word, or of a good life, how can any assertions prove it? If a man is righteous, you do not ask him his authority for being just; or benevolent, you do not question his authority for kindness of heart: and if a man, by reading the hearts and consciences of men, succeeds in producing in them a purer and better life, in calming the passionate, in changing the idle into the industrious, the intemperate into the sober, the unholy into the chaste and virtuous-these changes themselves are for you the assurance of an authority which no man may deny. (A. Watson, D. D.)
The question of authority
There is something just in the words of Christ’s enemies. The idea of Divine revelation is inseparable from the idea of authority. If God speaks He will speak with authority. That authority will have nothing violent or arbitrary in it; it will be persuasive, it will set free instead of enthralling. Individual illumination becomes a dream if it claims to raise itself above God’s revelation. God, who has given revealed truth to men, has given them at the same time the institutions which preserve it. But we must make a fundamental distinction between the Divine truth and the institutions destined to preserve it. The authority of the first is direct; the authority of the second only derived. What is the aim of religious institutions? To preserve life. If the authority of the institution is put above that of the truth itself, if the form is put above the foundation, it is a perversion of the Divine order. Jesus to the Scribes is a person without authority. For them authority is wholly in the priestly institution. These men would have said to the sun, “By what right dost thou shine at an hour we have not chosen? Prove to us that thou hast permission to give us light.” Therefore they shut their eyes to the light. Let us never put questions of hierarchy and of the church above the truth. I am not indifferent to these things, the form here touches very closely the reality. I distrust a soldier that turns up his nose at his flag. We must, love and defend the church to which we belong. But we must know how to recognize everything outside of it that God makes beautiful, and by means which are not at its direction. We must choose between the pharisaical spirit that says to Christ, “By what authority doest thou these things?” and the spirit of truth which, when it sees the light, comes to the light, and says, “God is here.” (E. Bersier, D. D.)
The official religionist challenges the Prophet on a point of order
The method is always popular-plausible; it appeals to every commonplace instinct, and is flattering even to the lowest intelligence. “By what authority?” Who shall fathom the depth of Divine scorn in the Saviour’s glance ere He replied? In truth, by what authority did Nathan stand in the presence of David, and, after arraigning before him in his tale a black criminal, cry, “Thou art the man”? By what authority did Elijah confront Ahab and denounce him as the “troubler of Israel”? By what authority did Paul, the prisoner at the bar, stand before Felix, and reason with him “concerning righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come”? By what authority in all ages and everywhere does the spiritual man judge the carnal man; the heavenly assert supremacy over the earthly, sensual, and devilish? Before we listen to the question which Jesus in His turn puts to His questioner by way of answer, read the situation between the lines; let us pause to take in the full meaning of His searching, indignant gaze. “You,” it seems to say, “you who question My authority, then, are the religious teachers. It is your business to know about spiritual things; to judge between the things of God and the things of man; to judge spiritual and carnal conduct; to protect religion; to guard the temple; to be the ministers and stewards of the mysteries. Is that so? Well, let Me see if you are fit for such duties-if you in the least understand them. If you do, you will have a right to question My action, not otherwise. Prove to Me your authority, I will prove to you Mine. The baptism of John, was it from heaven or of men?” A silence-dead silence. The eyes of the crowd are on the Pharisees; they notice them whispering together. They are overheard muttering, “If we say, ‘of heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why, then, did you not believe Him?’ if, ‘of men,’ all the people will stone us, for they be persuaded that John was a prophet.” Then at last these teachers, these judges of spiritual action, reply out loud, “We cannot tell.” Cannot tell-great doctors of the law-whether John was a charlatan or not; cannot tell the difference between true and false teaching-real and sham religion! Well, if they cannot tell about John, what is the value of their opinion about Christ? They are not ashamed to dub themselves imbeciles-incapables. Had they expressed an adverse opinion, it would have still been respectable; had they proclaimed John and Christ, fanatics, enthusiasts, or impostors, they would have found supporters, as everyone does who has the courage of his opinions. But no-“We cannot tell.” It was enough; they were answered out of their own mouths. There are some things it is quite useless to tell people who “cannot tell”; there are some things which, if not felt, can never be explained. (H. R. Haweis, M. A.)
Authority and presumption
I. Where the action is unquestionably right, some will censure the agent.
II. They who require reasons should be ready to give reasons.
III. Truth should be the first question with men, not consequences.
IV. Incompetency may be exposed, and assumption resisted, for the sake of truth. (J. H. Godwin.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Mark 11". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany