Tuesday, March 21st, 2023
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Mark 13". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ mark-13.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Mark 13". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
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Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here.
Men admiring doomed things
“What manner of stones, and what buildings are here!” An outburst of admiration this. The stones were indeed beautiful. That sacred building was constructed of prodigious blocks of white marble, some of which seem to have been upwards of thirty feet long, eighteen broad, and sixteen thick. They did not view the temple in the light in which Christ viewed it. It is worthy of note that Christ, in His discourse, speaks in a very different spirit of doomed things to what He does of doomed people. Mind was infinitely more interesting to Him than masonry. When He refers to the temple He says, “As for these things” with an air of comparative indifference; but when He refers to doomed people He weeps, and says, “O Jerusalem,” etc. The language of Christ and His disciples here will apply-
I. To secular interests, which are doomed things. Markets, governments, navies, and armies are doomed.
II. To artistic productions, which are doomed things.
III. To social distinctions, which are doomed things.
IV. To religious systems, which are doomed things.
V. To the world itself, which is a doomed thing. Why set your hearts on doomed things? (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The destruction of Jerusalem
It is interesting to mark the site and trace the history of edifices built for God, some of which have been signally honoured by Him. The temple at Jerusalem was one of these. It stood contemporary with great events, and was the scene, for four hundred years, of the perpetual sacrifices, those august national solemnities, the divinely appointed services that distinguished the worship of the God of Israel. But that which piety erects, sin often lays in ruins. This temple accomplished its service and shared in the national fall, when the people by whom it had been profaned were carried to their seventy years’ captivity. The second temple was designated to still higher distinction, inasmuch as it was that which Messiah’s feet trod, and within whose walls He joined as a worshipper. What have been the bearings of the destruction of Jerusalem, upon Christianity on the one hand, and Judaism on the other?
I. This event furnished a most striking proof of the truth of our Lord’s predictions and consequently of His Divine mission and authority.
II. The destruction of Jerusalem served a most important purpose in reference to Christianity, by liberalising the minds of the believers and particularly by emancipating the Jewish converts from the authority of the Mosaic ritual.
III. The destruction of Jerusalem, by weaning the believing Hebrews from their national attachments, and scattering them abroad in the earth, contributed essentially to the diffusion of the knowledge and influence of the gospel. But what are its bearings upon Judaism?
1. Whether the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jews is not to be regarded as an act of righteous judgment upon the nation, incurred by the dreadful crime of rejecting the promised Messiah?
2. I ask whether the destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple was not a clear intimation of the final abolition of the Mosaic economy? Here only could the sacrifices be offered, so that when it was destroyed, the institution itself was abolished. (H. Gray, D. D.)
The discipline of destruction
“For as a physician, by breaking the cup, prevents his patient from indulging his appetite in a hurtful draught, so God withheld them from their sacrifices by destroying the city itself, and making the place inaccessible to all of them.” (Warburton’s Julian.)
The ruins of the earthly Jerusalem
In the very ruins of the earthly Jerusalem you will find a salutary memorial, not only of the transitory character of all this world’s glory, but of the exchange of the shadow for the substance; of the introduction of that kingdom which is not of this world, and of that temple, built upon everlasting foundations, in which all believers are living stones, fashioned after the model of “the chief cornerstone,” even Jesus Christ. (H. Gray.)
The religious use of archeology
What is the true religious aspect of archaeology? We must all profit by that warning voice which did for a moment check the enthusiasm of the antiquarian disciple. The admiration for stones and buildings, however innocent and useful, is yet not religion. The regard for antiquity and the love of the past, if pushed to excess, have often been the ruin of religion. Christianity is not antiquarianism, and antiquarianism is not Christianity. There must be times and places when antiquity must give way to truth, and the beauty of form to the beauty of holiness, and the charm of poetic and historic recollections to the stern necessities of fact and duty. It is well to remember that there is something more enduring than the stones of the temple. If archaeology is not everything, it is at least something.
I. It awakens that love of the past which is so necessary a counterpoise to the excitement of the present and the future. “I have considered,” says the Psalmist, “the days of old, the years of the ancient time.” They were to him as a cool shade, a calm haven. The study of them carries us back from the days of the man to the days of the child; it opens to us a fresh world; it makes us feel that we do not stand alone in our generation on the earth, but that under God, we are what we are because of the deeds and thoughts of those who have lived before us, and to whom we thus owe a debt which we have constantly to repay to our posterity. How this insight into the past has been increased in our own age. Not only Greeks and Romans, but Egyptians and Assyrians, are familiar to us in this century.
II. The importance of these studies in developing those rarest of God’s gifts to man, a love of truth, and a love of justice-the will and the power to see things as they really are, and in their just proportions to one another.
III. The more thoroughly we can understand these ancient forms, the more eagerly we can restore and beautify ancient buildings, so much the better is the framework prepared for the reception of new thoughts and new ideas. It has been sometimes said that the great periods of building and of admiration for the past have been the precursors of the fall of the religion of the nations which they represented. It has been said, for example, that the burst of splendid architecture under the Herods, immediately preceded the fall of Judaism; that the like display under the Antonii preceded the fall of Paganism; that the like display at the beginning of the sixteenth century preceded the fall of the Church of the middle ages. There is no doubt a truth in this. There is a tendency in an expiring system to develop itself in outward form, when its inward spirit has died away. But this is not at all the whole truth, and the higher truth is something quite different, namely, that these magnificent displays of art, these profound investigations into the past, in those eras of which I have spoken, were part of the same throes, of the same mind and spirit, which accompanied the birth of the new and higher religion, which in each case succeeded. Those Augustan buildings suggested to the apostles’ hearts the imagery by which they expressed the most sublime of spiritual truths. “The chief cornerstone;” the stones joined and compacted together; the pillars which were never to be moved; the whole idea of what the apostles called “edification,”-that most expressive word when we understand it rightly-the architecture, so to speak, of the Christian soul-all these images were drawn from the superb edifices which everywhere rose before the apostles’ eyes. And so in the last great efflorescence of mediaeval architecture, religion, instead of dying out with that effort, took a third start throughout Europe. Oh! may God grant that the glory of the third temple, the glory of the living temple, may as much exceed the glory of the second, as the glory of the second exceeded the glory of the first! Cast not away the old, but see what it means, see what it embraces, see what it indicates, “See what manner of stones and what buildings are here,” and then, as in the case of sacred and of ancient words, so also in the case of sacred and ancient edifices, they will become as Luther said of words, not dead stones but living creatures with hands and feet; living stones which will cry out with a thousand voices; stones which will be full of “sermons;” dry bones which when we prophesy over them, will stand on their feet an exceeding great army; ancient, everlasting gates, which shall turn upon their rusty hinges and lift up their hoary doors that the Lord of Hosts may come in; a heavenly city within the earthly city, a city which hath foundations deeper than any earthly foundations, a city whose builder and maker is God! (Dean Stanley.)
Ruin ever near
Jesus and the disciples of Jesus differ in just this way about the strength and durability of a great many things in this world. The disciples point to the wealth of the millionaire, to the reputation of a man of worldwide fame, to the influence of a popular leader, to the power of a national government, to the strength of some system of wrong; and they say, “Behold what manner of stones and what manner of buildings!” Jesus says, “There shall not be left here one stone upon another.” And the word of Jesus never fails. Wealth is no sure support even for the life that now is. The splendid fabric of a fortune, which a man has toiled a life through to give as an inheritance to his family, crumbles in a night, and the millionaire’s children are beggars, or worse. The man whom all the world honoured has become a by-word of the scoffer and jester. He who swayed multitudes at his will, and who defied the voice of an outraged public sentiment, is a wretched outcast denied help or pity from the very creatures of his influence. A system of iniquity edged in by law, and venerable for ages, is overthrown and swept away as by the breath of Omnipotence. No nation on earth, today, is beyond the possibility of ruin tomorrow. A few pounds of dynamite may scatter the last vestiges of the strongest dynasty. The traditions of the ages, the superstitions of entire races, ignorance, vice, evil in high places, Satan himself, and all his hosts combined, cannot keep one stone on another, when the word of God is spoken for the fabric’s fall. If we only really believed this truth, which is as true as any other truth of God, and which has been verified anew before our own eyes again and again in the present generation, how much more restful we should be, and how much more courage we should have. (Sunday School Times.)
God’s great judgment on Israel
Privilege and responsibility go hand in hand, and the higher the opportunity, the greater the penalty for neglecting to improve it. The occasion of the uttering of this prediction is suggestive. The Saviour had marvelled at the widow’s mite; the disciples marvel at the temple’s magnificence. Forty and six years had the temple been in building, and had not long been completed. Occupying a site which seemed impregnable, its massive structure seemed to defy the destructive arts of war, while the exquisite beauty of its golden roof, of its courts, of its cloisters, of its pillars, of its gates, made it one of the wonders of the world. As today, a visitor to the cathedral of St. Isaac’s, at St. Petersburg, would mark outside the great pillars, made of single stones of granite, and within the marvellous pillars of Malachite and Lapis Lazuli, so the twelve point to stones of vast dimensions and beautiful in their veins and workmanship, and ask His admiration at once for these individual stones, and for the whole temple, which, like a jewel, crowned that hill of Zion, which the Psalmist had thought so beautiful for situation. It was a time of peace, for the horrors of war were being forgotten as a troubled dream. The absorption of Judaea in the Roman Empire seemed to promise a degree of security, which would be not an altogether unsatisfactory compensation for the loss of dignity of freedom. Just as our rule in India prevents wars amongst the various nations peopling that continent, so “The Roman peace,” as it has been termed, prevailed between and blessed the various peoples blended together in the great Roman Empire. The scene was made more impressive by the multitudes from every land who had gathered to the feast, wearing various costumes, speaking various languages. The candid observer would regret the absence of many of the signs of devotion he had hoped to find; but would at the same time indulge the feeling that there must be some vitality in the religion which felt such a mighty attraction to the House of God. A nation so united in what was deepest and holiest could not, he would think, fail to have some future still awaiting it. And whether the cloudless sun gilded the scene of cheerful activity, or the silver light of the passover full moon rested like a benediction on the whole, hope rather than solicitude would fill his heart; and the holiest spot on earth would seem destined to wear an eternal bloom of glory. Unexpected by His hearers, Christ’s words thrill them with horror. We still feel Christ’s sayings hard. We still find, on earnest study, that some hard sayings are yet helpful.
1. Taste is not everything in religion. The temple of Jerusalem was perhaps the most beautiful religious building ever raised by men; yet it was built by Herod the Great, a man as wicked in his life as he was exquisite in his taste. And all this beauty is so valueless in God’s sight that, costly and marvellous as it was, it had no endurance, but like the grass of the housetop, which withereth afore it groweth up, the world had hardly time to marvel at its aspect before they lamented its end. The true beauty of a church is that of hearts: the kindly thought, the gracious prayer, the consecrated life.
2. There is only one thing that can give endurance-righteousness. Where it is absent, nothing can secure man, city, or institution from a grave fate. So the Saviour begins His teaching on the judgment of Jerusalem. Was it any wonder that, sickened with the thought of such calamity, Christ could not enjoy the outward beauty of the temple as others did? (R. Glover.)
Christ’s double prophecy
The difficulty in explaining this discourse of our Lord lies in the appropriateness of its terms to two distinct and distant events,-the end of the world and the destruction of Jerusalem. But whether we assume, with some interpreters, that the one catastrophe was meant to typify the other; or, with another class, that the discourse may be mechanically divided by assuming a transition, at a certain point, from one of these great subjects to the other; or, with a third, that it describes a sequence of events to be repeated more than once, a prediction to be verified, not once for all, nor yet by a continuous progressive series of events, but in stages and at intervals, like repeated flashes of lightning, or the periodical germination of the fig tree, or the reassembling of the birds of prey whenever and wherever a new carcass tempts them; upon any of these various suppositions it is still true that the primary fulfilment of the prophecy was in the downfall of the Jewish state, with the previous or accompanying change of dispensations; and yet that it was so framed as to leave it doubtful until the event, whether a still more terrible catastrophe was not intended. However clear the contrary may now seem to us, there was nothing absurd in the opinion which so many entertained that the end of the world and of the old economy might be coincident. This ambiguity is not accidental, but designed, as in many other prophecies of Scripture. (J. A. Alexander, D. D.)
Beauty of Jerusalem
When I stood that morning on the brow of Olivet, and looked down on the city crowning those battlemented heights, encircled by those deep and dark ravines, I involuntarily exclaimed, “Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth is Mount Zion.” And as I gazed, the red rays of the rising sun shed a halo round the top of the castle of David; then they tipped with gold each tapering minaret, and gilded each dome of mosque and church, and at length bathed in one flood of ruddy light the terraced roofs of the city, and the grass and foliage, the cupolas, pavements, and colossal walls of the Haram. No human being could be disappointed who first saw Jerusalem from Olivet. (Dr. Porter.)
Trouble just ahead
The chapter now coming under our perusal for two Sundays in succession, is not easy of interpretation in a good many of its particulars, because the suggestions of doctrine glide so imperceptibly and fitfully between the predictions of Jerusalem’s downfall and the prophecies of the world’s end that we cannot always fix their exact application. It appears as if it might be as well on the present occasion to occupy ourselves with what is plain and practical, and not lose our time in speculation upon what is not certainly revealed.
I. We learn, in the beginning, that Jerusalem was openly announced as doomed to fall before it fell. Some specific incidents were related beforehand which would test the prophetic power of Jesus Christ there at once, and put within reach of His disciples a confutation or a confirmation of His claims. It hardly needs to be stated, for the whole matter is so familiar, that the predictions of this city’s overthrow showed that our Lord spoke with a perfect knowledge of the events He mentioned as coming on the earth. The site of that old town is a well-known fact; no one thinks of disputing the locality. The historic books of the Jews tell how Jerusalem was overthrown by the Romans. Any one can ask and answer whether the stones are large, whether they are in position or not. The city lies “on heaps.” Mount Zion is “ploughed.” The temple is gone. Those vast walls are scattered. Some few stones of prodigious size yet remain in what were the foundations of the edifices, and in the cavernous substructions underground. No one can pass out of the modern Jaffa gate, and push on around along the declivity of Zion till he enters again the gate of Stephen, without unconsciously saying to himself, “See what manner of stones!”
II. We learn, next, as we continue to read the verses (verses 3, 4), that it is lawful to inquire for the time of fulfilment of scriptural prophecy. It is not right to attempt to set it, but if it can be ascertained, so much the better for our understanding, and in that direction our duty lies. Christ makes no rebuke for what some consider their curiosity. On the contrary, He tells them most important facts concerning the great times coming.
III. We learn also, just here, that there will be one special token of the world’s end which will not fail: “the gospel must first be published among all nations” (verse 10): Very carefully chosen is this phraseology. We are not told that all the nations are to be converted by the gospel before the true Christ shall come again, but that they are all to hear it. It would seem as if it could not be a difficult thing to decide so evident a fact as this assumes, whenever it should occur. Most of us would, no doubt, be surprised to learn how many of the nations on the face of the earth have, really, already heard the tidings of salvation; and it is not impossible that the joyous moment is very nigh. It is time, certainly, to be thoughtful. It is within the memory of almost all of us that the fixed, and with some good old men the stereotyped, prayer for monthly concert, for many a year, was that God would open China to the gospel, and break down the barriers in Japan. Now there is in all the world nothing in the way except the hardness of men’s hearts. Growth has been made in evangelizing effort that startles us when we think of it. Lately, the sudden conversion of nations in a day, as once seemed to be the case in Madagascar, has come to appear less and less strange. Spiritual uprisings of whole peoples at a time have been recorded in our generation.
IV. We learn, also, that when the end of the world draws nigh, it will be heralded and accompanied with most dire convulsions and troubles (verses 19, 20).
VI. So we are ready for our final lesson from the passage: man need to prepare for such a day as this before it shall prove to be too late. It is easy for us to see now the relevancy of what has been given us as the golden text (Proverbs 22:3), “A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself.” There is but one refuge for any human soul: Christ is our “hiding place;” He will “preserve us from trouble” (Psalms 32:7). If we believe in Him, we are safe. It is revealed in the Scriptures that the coming of our Lord to judge the world will find men in a condition of apathy and listlessness. They will be eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, as they were in Noah’s time (Matthew 24:37-39). They will be buying and selling, planting and building, as they were in Lot’s time (Luke 17:28-30). Better for us who are studying to know God’s will this impressive hour to call on the Lord at once, and be secure. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Tell us, when shall these things be?
That’s it! Fix the date of the coming failure, or the coming triumph. All of us are ready to join in that request. How we long to have the veil of the future lifted; and how well it is that the Lord does not gratify our longing in this. There is no greater blessing to us than God’s concealment of our future. There could be no surer curse from God than his opening before our eyes the pathway of our lives, so that we could see it to its very end. What heart breaking that would bring into a myriad homes! What a checking too, on every side, of hope and aspiration and noble endeavour! How it would paralyze loving effort, and check or destroy needed tenderness of love and deed in kindly ministry! We know not what we ask, when we crave an insight into the future. God knows what He does, and why, when He refuses every request of this kind from His loved and loving ones. (Sunday School Times.)
It is quite as important not to be led astray by false religious teachers as by any other class of deceivers or deceived; and there is quite as much danger in this line as in any other. Sincerity on our part is no guard against deception or wandering; nor is sincerity a safeguard to a religious teacher. Those who are themselves both honest and sincere would lead us astray if we followed them in their wrong path. There is danger of our being led astray by the sermons we hear, the papers or the books we read, the counsel or example of those whom we have supposed to be godly, or by the impulses or convictions of our own minds and hearts. There is such a thing as conscientious error teaching and devil serving. The warning of Jesus is, that ye take heed that no man lead you astray in doctrine or morals, through holding up a false standard of conduct, or a false interpretation of God’s Word. (Sunday School Times.)
And when ye shall hear of wars.
I. We are here forewarned to expect trouble, “Ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars”; and it follows, “such things must needs be”; look for no other. Is not our life a warfare?
1. This points immediately at those wars which brought on the final ruin and overthrow of the Jewish church and nation.
2. It looks further, and is intended as an intimation to us all, and to all Christians, to count upon trouble in this world. When ye hear wars (so the word is), when ye hear war at home, the noise of it, for war in a country makes a noise; never more than since the invention of guns, the most noisy way of fighting; yet of old they complained of the noise of war (Nahum 3:2; Exodus 32:17-18). When we hear the rumours of wars, the reports or tidings of wars. We commonly call uncertain reports rumours, and in time of war we often hear such, but the original word signifies intelligences, that of which we hear. Doctrine: That though it be very sad, yet it is not at all strange in this world, to hear of wars and rumours of wars.
There are three sorts of wars:
1. Law wars among neighbours and relations, bad enough, and very common, through too much love of the world, and too little of our brother. There are few of the spirit of Abram (Genesis 13:8).
2. Book wars among scholars and Christians. Different sentiments maintained by each side with great heat, too often greater than the occasion demands.
3. Sword wars among nations and public interests: of these the text speaks. Whence is it that so much mischief should be done in the world by wars? considering
(1) What principles there are in the nature of man. Is there not such a thing as humanity? Man is not born for war, but naked and unarmed; not fierce, as birds and beasts of prey.
(2) What promises there are in the Word of God. It seems hard to reconcile this text with Isaiah 2:4. and with Isaiah 11:6, etc. The Jews object it, Christ Himself has said otherwise (Luke 12:51, and in the text). How shall we reconcile these two? I reply, Those promises are in part fulfilled already. Christ was born at a time of general peace. The gospel has prevailed much to the civilizing of the nations, and as far as it is received, it disposes men to peace. The primitive Christians were of a peaceable disposition. They will have a more full accomplishment in the latter days. Though contrary events come between, that word shall not fall to the ground. Yet the commonness of war in every age takes off the strangeness of it. What do we hear of at this day so much as of wars? Now this we are not to think strange. Because men are so provoking to God, and He does thus in a way of righteous judgment punish them for their sins (Isaiah 34:5). War is one of God’s sore judgments, with which He corrects the people of His wrath (Ezekiel 14:17; Ezekiel 14:21). Sometimes God thus makes wicked men a scourge one to another, as Nebuchadnezzar was to the nations. Sometimes a scourge to His own people (Isaiah 10:6). Because men are so provoking one to another, and they do thus give way to their own lusts (James 4:1-2). No war carried on but there is certainly a great deal of sin on both sides, as 2 Chronicles 28:9.
But as to the cause of war.
1. Sometimes men’s lusts on both sides begin the war, and where there may be a right and colour of reason on both sides, yet not such as on either to justify the taking up of arms, and while there are such follies set in great dignity (Ecclesiastes 10:6), no marvel if we hear much of wars; punctilios of honour, inconsiderable branches of right, to which lives and countries are sacrificed by jealous princes; the mouth justly opened to denounce war, but the ear unjustly deaf to the proposals of peace.
2. Where the war on the one side is just and necessary, it is men’s lusts on the other side that make it so. And if we see it, we need not marvel at the matter. Here is the original of war and bloodshed.
(1) Men’s pride and ambition sometimes make a war just and necessary.
(2) Men’s covetousness and injustice sometimes make a war just and necessary.
(3) Men’s treachery sometimes makes war. No marvel we hear of wars, when all men are liars, and no confidence is to be put in them.
(4) Oppression and persecution sometimes make war just.
II. We are here forearmed against the trouble we are bid to expect. When you are yourselves disturbed with the alarms of war, be not troubled, i.e., be not inordinately dejected and cast down, be not terrified, whatever happens; keep trouble from your heart (John 14:1) if war come to your door. It is both for caution and comfort. You need not be troubled, therefore give not way to it. Doctrine: That the faithful disciples of Jesus Christ ought not to be inordinately troubled, when there are wars and rumours of wars.
1. As for others, they have reason to be troubled. Those that are not the disciples of Jesus Christ, and are not interested in His merit and grace, have cause for trouble when God’s judgments are abroad (see Isaiah 33:14). Terrors belong to them, and as for comforts, they have no part nor lot in the matter (see Luke 21:25-26). Those that have the most cause to be troubled commonly put trouble furthest from them.
2. There is cause for the disciples of Christ themselves, upon some accounts, and in some degree, to be troubled. Christ would not have His followers to be without feeling. God calls to mourning at such a time. This is a doctrine that needs explication and limitation. When you hear of wars be ye troubled after a godly sort. There is a three-fold trouble commendable:
(1) Sympathy with the sufferers.
(2) Sorrow for sin. It is sin that makes all the mischief. Mourn for the sin that is the cause of the war, and the sin that is the effect of it.
(3) Solicitude for the ark of God. For this our hearts should tremble, lest religion in its various interests suffer damage. The desolations of the sanctuary should trouble us more than the desolations of the earth: this is a holy fear.
3. Christians ought not to be inordinately troubled. When ye hear this, be not troubled, i.e.,
(1) Be not disquieted, but make the best of it. It is not our wisdom to aggravate to ourselves the causes of trouble, nor to make them worse than they are.
(2) Be not affrighted, but hope the best from it. When we hear the rumours of war, we must not be of doubtful mind; not as Ahaz (Isaiah 7:2; Isaiah 8:11-12). We must not give up all for lost upon every disaster and disappointment. Courage is an excellent virtue in time of war, and needful at home as well as abroad.
(3) Be not amazed, but prepare for worse after it. There seems to be this also intended in the caution; compare Mark 5:8, “These are the beginnings of sorrows.” Weep not for this, but get ready for the next (Luke 23:28-29.) Faint not in these lesser conflicts, for then what will you do when greater come (see Jeremiah 12:5). Several considerations will be of use to keep trouble from the heart of good Christians, when we hear of wars.
(a) The righteous God sits in the throne judging right, therefore be not troubled. God is King of nations, and presides in the affairs of nations. Men talk of the fortune of war, but it is not a blind fortune; the issue is determined by a wise God.
(b) The church is built upon a rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, therefore be not troubled.
(c) Christ is His people’s peace, therefore be not troubled. The remnant of those that fear God, find rest in Christ, even in troublous times (see Micah 5:5; John 16:33).
(d) The name of the Lord is a strong tower, therefore be not troubled. Into this citadel the vanquished may retire and find shelter, and a refuge that they cannot be beaten out of (Proverbs 18:10). This is a stronghold, inaccessible, insuperable, and which cannot be taken. The power and providence of God are fortifications which cannot be scaled, nor battered, nor undermined. What need good people fear? (Psalms 46:1-2) They have always a God to whom they may go.
(e) Men are God’s hand, therefore be not troubled. God is doing their own work by them all this while, and they are accomplishing His purpose, though they mean not so (Isaiah 10:5; Isaiah 10:7; Isaiah 10:15; Psalms 17:13-14).
(f) There will come a reckoning day, when all these things shall be reviewed; therefore be not troubled. Behold, the Judge standeth before the door and the mighty men shall shortly stand at His bar (Isaiah 26:21; Revelation 6:10).
(g) The wars of the nations perhaps may end in the peace of the church. God can bring light out of darkness and meat out of the eater.
(h) However, we are sure in heaven there are no wars nor rumours of wars, therefore be not troubled. All will be well there. To conclude:
1. Let us thankfully own God’s great goodness to us in this nation-that we have peace at home, a happy government, peaceable habitations, a defence on our glory (Isaiah 33:20).
2. Let us not complain of the inconveniences that attend our being interested in the present war; the expense of it, or the abridging and exposing of our trade and property.
3. Let rumours of wars drive us to our knees. Pray, pray, and do not prophesy. Spread the matter before God, and you may greatly help the cause by your supplications.
4. Patiently wait the issue with a humble submission to the will of God. Do not limit Him, nor prescribe to Him. Let Him do His own work in His own way and time. (Matthew Henry.)
The sorrow of war
The conqueror of Bonaparte at Waterloo wrote, on the day after the 19th of June, to the Duke of Beaufort:-“The losses we have sustained have quite broken me down, and I have no feeling for the advantages we have acquired.” On the same day, too, he wrote to Lord Aberdeen:-“I cannot express to you the regret and sorrow with which I look round me and contemplate the loss which I have sustained, particularly in your brother. The glory resulting from such actions, so dearly bought, is no consolation to me, and I cannot suggest it as any to you and his friends; but I hope that it may be expected that this last one has been so decisive as that no doubt remains that our exertions and our individual losses will be rewarded by the early attainment of our just object. It is then that the glory of the actions in which our friends and relations have fallen will be some consolation for their loss.” He who could write thus had already attained a greater victory than that of Waterloo; and the less naturally follows the greater. (Julius C. Hare.)
These are the beginnings of sorrows.
The beginnings of sorrows
I. The value of these facts in relation to the life and character of the Lord. He is the prophet of the church. He was a revealer of secrets. His word was verified to the letter. The church lives in evil times on the word of her unseen Lord.
II. There is also a suggestion of the connection of sorrows and sins. Jerusalem’s fate is a series of such sorrows. They arise out of religious unfaithfulness and moral deterioration. Nations are doomed by their own acts.
III. If we do not and will not learn the Divine uses of adversity, then the things we regret, and which are most painful to us, will only prove to be the beginnings of sorrows. If lesser Divine chastisements do not raise us to higher moods of being, there must be held in reserve some hotter fire of discipline. We should immediately yield to the disciplines of God. (The Preacher’s Monthly.)
The Christian’s support in troublous times
Whatever happens, we must calm ourselves by remembering that the great Christ is still in heaven, ruling by the changeless laws of righteousness. In presence of extraordinary events, the ordinary methods of God’s grace and providence will seem too slow, and the common gospel too calm; but it is exactly at such times that we most need to maintain our faith in them. (R. Glover.)
Horrors of famine at the siege of Jerusalem
During this dreadful time, the extremity of the famine was such, that a Jewess of noble family, urged by the cravings of hunger, slew her infant child, and prepared it for a meal. She had actually eaten one-half of it, when the soldiers, attracted by the smell of food, threatened her with instant death if she refused to show them where she had hidden it. Intimidated by this menace, she immediately produced the remains of her son; but, instead of sitting down to eat, they were utterly horror struck; and the whole city stood aghast, when they heard the horrible tale, congratulating those whom death had hurried away from such heartrending scenes. Indeed, humanity at once shudders and sickens at the narration; nor can any one of the least sensibility reflect upon the pitiable condition to which the female part of the inhabitants must at this time have been reduced, without experiencing the tenderest emotion of sympathy, or refraining from tears, when he reads our Saviour’s pathetic address to the women who bewailed Him as He was led to Calvary; for in that address He evidently refers to these very horrors and calamities.
And the gospel must first be published among all nations.
Extent of apostolic missionary labours
Doubtless this prediction will only receive its complete accomplishment in the secondary application of the prophesy, but we hardly realize how near it was to fulfilment before the destruction of Jerusalem. “The Acts of the Apostles” fill us with amazement at the rapid progress of Christianity in Europe and Asia, under the teaching of two of them. What should we not learn if the whole Twelve had found chroniclers to record their labours? Scattered traditions, with more or less of certainty, show at least this, that missionary work was carried on throughout the then known world. There is little doubt that St. Thomas established the church in Parthia and on the shores of India; that St. Andrew penetrated far into Russia; that Bartholomew preached in Arabia and among the fire worshippers of Persia; and it has been said that even Central Africa, which the present generation burns to win back to Christ, was the scene of St. Matthew’s labours eighteen centuries ago. St. Paul’s appeal to “the hope of the gospel which was preached to every creature which is under heaven” (Colossians 1:23), though doubtless written with Oriental exaggeration, testifies to a widespread diffusion of the truth. (H. M. Luckock, D. D.)
Progress of the gospel
I remember hearing a story in connection with our battlefields. One weary, dreary night, while our army was on the eve of a great and important battle, a soldier paced up and down before the tent of his general. Wearied with his work, he began to sing half to himself, “When I can read my title clear.” After a little his voice grew louder, and he sang the hymn as though it were a song of victory. His tones rang out on the still night air. After a little another soldier, off yonder, hearing the music, and fascinated by it, joined in. There was a duet. A little longer, and another voice, farther off, joined, and there was a chorus, and it was not long before the whole army, as far as the mind could reach on either side, were joining in that wondrous chorus, and singing in the presence of the enemy,
“When I can read my title clear,
To mansions in the sky.”
Well, brethren, when I heard the story, it seemed to me that I could see in the far-off distance that wondrous carpenter’s Son of Nazareth, standing alone and singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill to men.” After a little twelve disciples took up the refrain, and joined in the chorus. After a little longer, in the next century, a still larger company gathered and sang it with all their hearts. In the next century a still larger number added their voices, and now, after eighteen hundred years have gone by, the music of that wondrous song, which began with Him who stood in His father’s workshop, is sung, and echoed, and re-echoed the whole wide world over. It is our revelation from God, and it is the impulse that lifts us all up to God. (Christian Mirror.)
But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up.
The disciples led, delivered, and taught
Our Lord is here foretelling the persecutions which the disciples would be called upon to suffer for the gospel’s sake, and is arming them against the errors, the deceits, and the cruelties of those times. He is also enjoining upon them how they are to conduct themselves under the subtlety and fury of the oppressor, and is giving them directions which, if they rightly follow, will not only determine the excellence of their discipleship, but the certainty of their triumph over the jeopardy and envy of circumstances and foes. (See Mark 13:9-13.) Dealing directly with the eleventh verse, we see-
I. That when suffering persecution the disciples were to be led, and not driven. “But when they shall lead you.” It is always better to be led than forced; more is to be gained from obedience than coercion. We are led, or we lose that obedience which constitutes the soul of godliness. We follow, or we are not led as Christ was and would have us to be. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, etc. Stephen, the martyr, was led; so Paul the apostle. So also was Ridley and Latimer, each ending their earthly lives in the very track and spirit of their Lord and Master. But observe again-
II. The disciples were to be delivered in opposition to becoming resistful and violently taken sacrifices. “But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up.” Both led and delivered. Not to be led, and then to take a final stand of opposition. The deliverance must not be less loyal and true than the leading has been. The sacrifice must be complete. Begun in being led, in true following, it must not end in rebellious resistance and forsaking. No; we are to be delivered up, not thrust up-self-offered and complying rather than conflicting with our foes. (See Isaiah 50:6; 1 Peter 2:21-23). Then further, the text teaches-
III. That in times of persecution the disciples were not to prepare and to rely upon mechanical defences. “Take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate; but whatsoever,” etc. The reasons for this are evident. Self-thought, self-prepared plans of defence, would-
1. Disturb and disorder their minds. Scheming for words of reply and methods of escape would result in mental distraction. They would be confused. And, moreover, trusting to means of self-defence would-
2. Deny and neutralize the proper office and power of the Holy Spirit. “Whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye; for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.” Thus, then, acting as true believers should-serving Christ fearlessly, all our self-reserve given up to His guidance and power-we shall find the Holy Spirit (in all those cases morally correspondent to the circumstances of our text) to-
(a) Sufficiently enlighten our minds.
(b) To be timely and powerful in the exercise of His help. Either the help of deliverance, or that of loyal resignation; complete escape, or patient endurance.
In illustration and proof of these, see Exodus 4:10-12; Jeremiah 1:7-9; Luke 21:14-15; 1 Corinthians 2:13. In this aspect of heaven’s cause the answer and the help must be from heaven, and not from the earth. “A man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven” (John 3:27). Here alone is the true light and the power that prevails. It is therefore plain-
IV. That where the Holy Spirit thus operates all human self-assertion is suppressed. “For it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.” And this takes place-
1. For our sake as Christ’s true disciples. This is the victory He gives, and without which we could not overcome the world.
2. To prevent self-glorying. In these crises the tongue of the learned and the pen of a ready writer come from God. Human sagacity can claim no credit. This wisdom is not of man, lest he should boast. And-
3. To secure the Divine victory and praise. To Him who directs and speaks belongs the glory. “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” Thine, therefore is the victory, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen. (Thomas Colclough.)
Now the brother shall betray the brother to death.
Christianity causing division
As Christianity gives birth to and cherishes the most perfect love, so it calls forth the most bitter hatred. It calls forth a love which is above nature, because it makes men love their enemies. Contrariwise it calls forth a hatred which is unnatural, for it made, and yet makes, men hate and betray, and, if they can, destroy their own flesh and blood. Thus we read that the Emperor Domitian, in his hatred of the Christian name, slew Flavius Clemens and his niece, or near relation Flavia Domitilla; the Emperor Maximin martyred Artemis, his own sister; and Diocletian slew his own wife, and other relatives. St. Barbara also was killed by her own father; and if we had a full martyrology of obscure Christians, we should find multitudes of others similarly betrayed by their own flesh and blood. We are told by Indian missionaries, that as soon as converts are baptized, they become objects of hatred to their nearest relatives; even their wives often desert them. Now, if this be so in a country where Christianity is the religion of the rulers, what would it be if heathenism were unchecked in its power of persecution? (M. F. Sadler, M. A.)
But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.
Of letting go and giving up
The tower of a lofty Christian character and life is not going to push itself up in a night like Jonah’s gourd. You cannot wake up some fine morning, in glad surprise, to find it finished to the turret stone. To build that tower costs. It costs sacrifice. It costs skill. It costs patience. It costs resolution. As gravitation pulls stones downward and glues them to the earth, and as, if they go into the tower at all, they must be lifted there with wrench and strain, so this tower of a noble Christian life must be builded in the face of opposition, and at the cost of fight with it. But history has borne out the words of Christ. In other times it has come to that. The Inquisition made it come to that. The massacre of St. Bartholomew, for which Rome sang Te Deums, made it come to that. Philip the Second of Spain made it come to that. The Duke of Alva, during his government of the Netherlands, made it come to that. Thank God, Torquemada cannot torture now! Thank God, there is no fuel for Smithfield fires now! But still now, in our time, in this worldly world, no man can give himself in utter consecration to the unworldly Christ, and put his feet squarely in His exemplifying footprints, and go on in resolute practice after Him, and not meet various opposition. It is well worth noting how constant is the insistence of the Scripture on, not simply foundation laying, but also on turret stone lifting, on finishing. “I have inclined mine heart to perform Thy statutes always, even unto the end,” sings David. “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober and hope unto the end,” urges the Apostle Peter. “For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end,” declares the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. And the Epistles to the Seven Churches in the Revelation are full of this doctrine of the importance of the end. “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” This, I am certain, is one of the commonest assaults of evil; this toward discouragement, toward despondency in the practice of the true life; this toward letting go and giving up. “Well, you have laid the foundation,” Satan says; “you have accepted Christ and been baptized and joined the church, and professed yourself a Christian. You have started, but think how long it is before you can come to that turret stone. You are a fool to try. Give up. Have done with it. Anyway, you are a fool to try in your circumstances; or certainly you are a fool to try with your disposition. What may under more favourable circumstances, or with another sort of inherited disposition, be possible for others, is surely impossible for you. Why strain and struggle and wrench at the impossible? Don’t! Quit!” Who has not felt the subtle acid of this temptation eating out the substance of his high endeavour? Some time since, I was talking with a young Christian business man in another city. He was troubled with the very problem which tormented the Psalmist long ago: “For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” That is precisely what he was saying: “Here am
I. I have determined to be straight and true, and Christian in my business; and I have been. But look at that man; he isn’t, but see how he gets on. What’s the use of my toiling at this tower of a Christian business integrity, when it is work so hard and slow? Why wouldn’t it be better for me to stop toiling at this Christian tower, and go on with one which men would call-well, at least measurably decent, like that man’s, but which mounts into the sky of success in such swift and easy fashion?” It was only a momentary temptation. But I am sure he is not the only Christian business man, be he young or old, who has felt the force of it. Or, here again, is a young Christian. He has laid the foundation of this Christian tower well and thoroughly in prayer and penitence and faith in Christ. He is full of the beautiful enthusiasm of the new life. He has confessed his Lord and is going on in the rejoicing purpose of building a life his Lord can smile on. And then, as sometimes in the early summer the flowers come upon a frost that bites and draggles them, the chill of the inconsistencies of some older Christians smites all his beautiful enthusiasm down. Why am I under obligations to be any better than they, the older, more experienced, more prominent Christians? Why cannot I at least loosen the tug of my endeavour, if I do not altogether give up and let go?”
Or, here is a Christian wife and mother. To be the sole source and centre of religious influence in the home is very hard; to seek to breathe about the home a Christian atmosphere, when the husband, if he do no more, does meet and chill it by the icy air of his indifference; to have to train the children away from, instead of towards, the example of the father in the topmost and most important thing, the matter of religion; to have to meet this objection, falling from the lips of her own child: “Father never prays; why should I? Father never cares much for Sunday; why should I? Father never says he loves the Saviour; why should I try to?”-well, I do not wonder that she feels sometimes like letting go and giving up. I do not wonder that sometimes her cross seems too rugged and too heavy. And now that we may arm ourselves against this so common temptation of letting go and giving up, let us attend together to certain principles opposed to it.
I. Let us get cheer for ourselves by remembering that the world’s best work has been done and the noblest lives have been lived by men and women who, like ourselves, have sometimes felt like letting go and giving up. There is a verse of Scripture which many a time has been to me both a comfort and a girding. It is written in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, in the tenth chapter and at the thirteenth verse: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” “So I am not,” I have said to myself, in darker and more despairing moments, “one singled out for unusual and separate trial; others have been wrapped in clouds similar, others have stood in ways as thorny.” That is a twisted and bubble-blown and distorting glass, which trial so often bids us look through, out upon the landscape of our lives-that nobody else has ever had to meet such chastening discipline as our own. Why, there was Moses; he had just this very feeling toward letting go and giving up. It was immensely hard to satisfy those Israelites. There was David, hunted and hounded; turned against and betrayed by his trusted counsellor, Ahithophel. “Fearfulness and trembling have come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me. And I said, Oh! that I had wings like a dove, for then would I fly away and be at rest. I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest.” There was Elijah under the juniper tree, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life.” What failing feeling toward letting go and giving up in him! And if you leave the Scripture and turn to the record of great lives anywhere, you shall find that in them, too, feeling faltered, and suggestion came to cease from their great tower building this side the turret stone. I suppose a sermon scarcely ever did more, both for the man himself and the great cause it advocated, than Dr. Wayland’s sermon on the Moral Dignity of the Missionary Enterprise. But the evening of its preaching was chill and rainy, and possibly fifty persons made up the audience, and the church was so cold that the preacher had to wear his great coat throughout the service, and nobody seemed to listen, nor anybody to care; and the next day the discouraged preacher, throwing himself on the lounge in the house of one of his parishioners, in one of his most despairing moods, exclaimed: “It was a complete failure; it fell perfectly dead!” I am sure he felt like letting go and giving up, when he remembered that he had rewritten that sermon eleven times that he might make it more worthy, and that such was the outcome of it. But that sermon, published, made him, and, more than any other influence in those beginning days of the Foreign Missionary enterprise, made the cause. The Duke of Wellington, when a subaltern, was anxious to retire from the army, where he despaired of advancement, and actually applied to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland for the poor post of a commissioner of customs. And his great antagonist, the great Napoleon, was in early life tempted to commit suicide because he could do nothing and could get no chance, and was only saved from it by a cheerful word from somebody. Oh! friend of mine, you are not the only person in the world who has been assaulted by this suggestion of letting go and giving up. There has never been a noble or achieving life anywhere that has not had to push its tower up in spite of it.
II. Let us remember that this failing to endure to the end, this giving up and letting go, must necessary carry with itself a complete forfeiture of the past. If our Past has been true and noble, we may be helped by it in the Present. But we cannot live upon the Past. The tower is unfinished if we stop this side of the turret stone. It is but an unturning and useless wheel if we do not take advantage of the present water. All its previous turning helps it not. There at Muckross Abbey I saw a yew tree hundreds of years old, as old as the crumbling abbey rising round it, yet still growing bravely on. It was growing, because, standing on the Past of gnarled trunk and spreading branches, it was using the Present, forming its leaf buds every season, and drinking in the dew and light. But the abbey in whose court it stood was only a disintegrating pile of crumbling stone, because it had ceased relation with the Present. It had no use for the Present, nor the Present for it; no longer were busy hands of inmates putting it to function, keeping it in repair. It was a Past thing, so the severe Present was treading it under foot. To give up and let go is to forfeit what we have done and have been. The Past is useful only as a preparation for the Present; and if in the Present we will not steadily push on toward the finishing, we lose the value and meaning of the Past. Resist, therefore, the temptation of letting go and giving up.
III. Let us resist the temptation of letting go and giving up, by holding ourselves to the short view of life, by doing the next thing. Each day’s stone laid in each day’s time; the short view method, the next thing method, that is the only method of strong endurance and shining achievement. Wise words those which George Macdonald puts into the mouth of Hugh Sutherland in his story of David Elginbrod; they are words worthy the careful heeding of every one of us: “Now, what am I to do next?” asks Hugh, and he goes on thinking with himself: “It is a happy thing for us that this is really all we have to concern ourselves about, what to do next. No man can do the second thing. He can do the first. If he omits it, the wheels of the social Juggernaut roll over him, and leave him more or less crushed behind. If he does it, he keeps in front and finds room to do the next again; and so he is sure to arrive at something, for the onward march will carry him with it. There is no saying to what perfection of success a man may come who begins with what he can do, and uses the means at hand; he makes a vortex of action, however slight, toward which all the means instantly begin to gravitate.” True words, the very gospel of achievement, these. So against this temptation toward letting go and giving up, let me take the short view, let me seize the next thing, and not trouble myself about the fortieth thing, sure that God’s grace will give the strength for the coming day to which the fortieth thing belongs; but that, if I want God’s strengthening grace for that, I must use God’s strengthening grace which offers itself today, and for this next thing, which belongs to no other day in all time’s awful calendar but this.
IV. Let us remember that refusing to yield to the temptation of letting go and giving up is the constant fixing ourselves but the more firmly in the habit of going on in righteousness. Dark law that, which through and because of momentary decisions against righteousness, ends in the awful doom, “Let him that is filthy be filthy still.” But that same law has a sunward side bright as the light that flashes from God’s throne, viz., that momentary and constant decisions towards righteousness end at last in that celestial turret stone, piercing the far radiances of Heaven-“Let him that is righteous be righteous still.”
V. Let us remember that for us, keeping hold and refusing to let go, there is the constant help of Christ toward triumphing. That is a sweet legend hanging about an old church in England, and it tells the great truth well; how centuries ago, when the monks were rearing it, a new temple for the worship of their God, there came among the workers a strange monk, unasked, who always took on himself the heaviest tasks; and how at last, when a particularly gigantic beam was needed for a position as important as that of the keystone of an arch, and how when, with sweating strain and united effort, it was lifted to its place, it was strangely found to be some feet too short. No device of the builders could remedy it; they had tried their best with it, they had used the most careful measurement they knew, but how sadly they had failed! There it was, too short, and their utmost skill could not find remedy. The night shut down upon the tired workers, and they went to their rest with sore hearts, leaving only this unknown monk, who would go working on. But when the morning came, and the workers came forth again, they saw the sunlight falling on the beam exactly in its place, lengthened to the precise dimensions needed, and resting accurately on its supports. But the unknown monk had disappeared. Yet the workers knew Him now, and were certain they could carry the temple onward to its topmost turret. For He who had been working with them and supplying their lack of perfect work, they came now to know, was none other than the Lord Himself. They were not unhelped toilers. Nor are we. “Lo! I am with you always,” declares our Lord! It is our privilege to answer with the apostle, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengtheneth me.”
VI. And now for the last word. Let us determine that as we hope to carry the tower of a Christian life and service onward to its finishing ourselves, we will be very careful not to discourage anyone beside us, toiling like ourselves at the same achievement. Once a building was wrapped in flame; at a high window, a little child was seen vainly endeavouring to escape; a brave fireman started up a ladder to try to rescue it. He went up, and still further up: he had almost gained the window, but the flames darted at him and the flames smote him, and he began to falter; he hesitated, looked upward at the raging fire; he shook his head; he was just about to turn back. Just then someone in the throng below cried: “Cheer him! Cheer him!” From a thousand throats a loud heart-helping cheer went up. He did not turn back. He went on toward the finishing, and in a minute he was seen through the thick drifts of smoke, with the little child safe in his arms. So let us, everyone, see to it that we cheer on all we can who, like ourselves, are struggling upward toward any nobleness. (W. Hoyt, D. D.)
I have read of that noble servant of God, Marcus Arethusius, minister of a church in the time of Constantine, who in Constantine’s time had been the cause of overthrowing an idol’s temple; afterwards, when Julian came to be emperor, he would force the people of that place to build it up again. They were ready to do it, but he refused; whereupon those that were his own people, to whom he preached, took him, and stripped him of all his clothes, and abused his naked body, and gave it up to the children, to lance it with their pen knives, and then caused him to be put in a basket, and anoint his naked body with honey, and set him in the sun, to be stung with wasps. And all this cruelty they showed because he would not do anything towards the building up of this idol temple; nay, they came to this, that if he would do but the least towards it, if he would give but a half-penny to it, they would save him. But he refused all, though the giving of a half-penny might have saved his life: and in doing this, he did but live up to that principle that most Christians talk of, and all profess, but few come up to, viz., that we must choose rather to suffer the worst of torments that men and devils can invent and inflict, than to commit the least sin, whereby God should be dishonoured, our consciences wounded, religion reproached, and our own souls endangered. (Brooks.)
Enduring to the end
Under this revival of the persecuting spirit, in a few days nineteen Christians, conspicuous for their character and zeal, were apprehended, and it was resolved to make a severe example. All were condemned to die; the four nobles (one of them a lady) were ordered to be burned alive; fifteen others were to be thrown over a precipice. At one o’clock the night before their execution, a large gathering of their companions secretly took place, not to break prison or attempt a rescue, but to commend the sufferers specially to God in prayer. “At one at night, we met together and prayed.” With the early dawn the whole city was astir: it had been whispered that the Christians were to die, and an immense multitude gathered to witness the sight. On the west side of Antananarivo, is a steep precipice of granite, a hundred and fifty feet high; the terrace above which has long been used as a place of execution. Above the terrace the ground rises rapidly to the crest of the ridge, on which the city is built, and on which the palace enclosure, with its lofty dwellings, stands conspicuous. Beneath the precipice the ground is a mass of jagged rocks and boulders, upon which the unhappy criminal would fall headlong, when rolled or thrown over the ledge. The refined cruelty which invented this terrible punishment has, in the modern world, been repeated in but one country and among one people, the half-savage population of Mexico. Through the thousands that had crowded every point of the sloping hill the condemned brethren were carried, wrapped in mats and slung on poles. But they prayed and sang as they passed along the roadway; “and some who beheld them, said that their faces were like the faces of angels.” One by one they were thrown over the precipice, the rest looking on. “Will you cease to pray?” was the only question. “No,” was the firm answer in every case. And in a moment the faithful martyr lay bleeding, and mangled, and dead, among the rocks below.
(Trophies of Grace in Madagascar.)
The finally saved
I. It is a fair subject of inquiry: where and from whence do we expect these trials?
1. From our own heart.
2. The wiles and the machinations of Satan.
3. The world will assault you.
4. Sin in all its phases, its fascinating aspects, will seek to seduce you.
5. Error will assail you.
II. Those forms of religion, those shades and systems of belief, which will not endure, but must collapse in the ordeals to which they will be subjected in a world which tests the real every day and rejects all that is pretentious. Nothing will endure but vital, scriptural Christianity.
1. The religion of mere impulse. Excitement is not conviction.
2. The religion of sentiment, not the religion of conviction nor of the adoption of the heart, but purely of the imagination.
3. The religion of intellect. A very striking and, so far, commendable form. The understanding is convinced that Christianity is true. It is orthodoxy, not regeneration; it is light in the head without love in the heart.
4. The religion of the conscience.
5. The religion of the natural affections, than which nothing is more amiable, beautiful, or lovely; and yet it is a religion that will not endure.
6. The religion of tradition.
7. The religion of form. There is no endurance in it; it collapses the moment it is exposed to trouble. (J. Cumming, D. D.)
The leopard doth not run after his prey like other beasts, but pursues it by leaping; and if at three or four jumps he cannot seize it, for very indignation he gives over the chase. There be some who, if they cannot leap into heaven by a few good works, will even let it alone; as if it were to be ascended by leaping, not by climbing. But they are more unwise who, having got up many rounds of Jacob’s ladder, and finding difficulties in some of the uppermost-whether wrestling with assaults and troubles, or looking down upon their old allurements-even fairly descend with Demas and allow others to take heaven. (T. Adams.)
Some dyes cannot bear the weather, but alter colour presently; but there are others that, having something that gives a deeper tincture, will hold. The graces of a true Christian hold out in all sorts of weather, in winter and summer, prosperity and adversity, when superficial counterfeit holiness will give out. (R. Sibbes.)
Incentives to perseverance
Here are some grounds or motives to the patient suffering of persecution and troubles for the profession of Christ and of the gospel.
1. Of all afflictions and troubles, those are the most comfortable to suffer and endure, which are suffered for Christ.
2. By these kinds of sufferings we glorify God, and bring honour to the name of Christ, and credit to the gospel, more than by any other sufferings.
3. It is a most honourable thing unto us, yea, the greatest glory that may be in this world, to suffer anything for Christ.
4. Consider how much Christ has suffered for us, and for our salvation; how great reproach and shame; what bitter pain and torment of soul and body; and let this move us, patiently and willingly to suffer any persecution and trouble for His sake.
5. Consider how much wicked men suffer in the practice of sin, and to satisfy their wicked lusts, and let this move us to suffer any persecution for Christ.
6. Consider the great and excellent reward promised to those who endure for Christ’s sake. (George Petter.)
This is another word for constancy or perseverance. Suppose, now, the case of individuals desirous of realizing, as a matter of experience, the great vital truths of the gospel in the heart. They have great doubts about the correctness and safety of their former mode of life, and consequently feel in some measure attracted towards the hopes, and aspirations, and privileges of the Christian. But they have to stand up against many oppositions; they have to withdraw from the society of the giddy and thoughtless, and from habits of dissipation and worldliness. They have to contend with disinclinations for public and private religious duties, for prayer and Scripture reading. They begin to find that it is no easy thing to act the part of self-denial-to wrestle against the warm passions and earnest longings of a corrupt nature. They feel, too, the trial of a wayward and treacherous heart, ever tending downwards, cleaving to the dust. Such persons as these are like the Israelites upon the shores of the Red Sea, with its surging breakers and rolling waves before them, and the Egyptians behind them. And yet God said unto Moses, “Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward.” They must not turn back to Egypt again, but must step onward to brave the sea. And so with those in the state described. Do not turn back. Do you not yield to tempting solicitations to return to former haunts. Be faithful to your convictions. By perseverance in treading the path of duty the victory shall be yours-the path shall be ever brighter and broader as you near your everlasting home. The young eaglet looking up from its nest upon the high floating clouds and the broad expanse of the clear blue sky, may, perhaps, in its first efforts to mount through and above them, sink with discouragement; but the parent bad is close at hand to give help; and so by perseverance, at last the eaglet soars in the path of its mother, and rivals her in distance as well as in rapidity. Even so the weak in faith shall be made strong. (W. D. Horwood.)
Enduring to the end
Among the different games and races at Athens, there was one in which they carried a burning torch in their hand. If they reached the goal without its being extinguished, they obtained the prize. Thus, they only shall be saved, says the Saviour, who endure to the end. It is not the man who makes a splendid profession for a season-it is not the man who appears to carry the torch of truth only a part of the way-that shall be crowned; but he who perseveres, and whose lamp is trimmed, and who holds fast his confidence, and the rejoicing of his hope, unto the end. Yet, alas! how many seem to bid fair for a season, but in time of temptation fall away. Epictetus tells us of a gentleman returning from banishment, who, on his journey homewards, called at his house, told a sad story of an imprudent life; the greater part of which being now spent, he was resolved for the future to live philosophically; to engage in no business, to be candidate for no employment, not to go to court, nor to salute Caesar with ambitious attendances; but to study, and worship the gods, and die willingly when nature or necessity called him. Just, however, as he was entering his door, letters from Caesar, inviting him to court, were delivered to him; and, then, alas; he forgot all his promises, and grew pompous, secular, and ambitious. Thus many form resolutions in their own strength, and make for a season some pretensions to seriousness; but prove like the children of Ephraim, who, though armed and carrying bows, yet turned back in the day of battle.
Enduring to the end
To endure, that is the great point. It does not simply signify that a man should hold on, but that a man should hold on in spite of, and in the face of discouragements, and difficulties, and disappointments. It is more than “dure,” it is “endure.” It is a very great mistake for Christian people to imagine that all will be light and liberty, and peace and joy. There are representations in the Word of God of the Christian course that seem to be contrary, but they are only different aspects of the whole subject. For instance: “Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.” “Your joy no man taketh from you.” “Rejoice in the Lord alway.” Yet, on the other hand, as we had it this morning, “If any man will come after Me, let him take up his cross daily.” Again, we are told, we must “mortify” our evil and corrupt affections; that we must “crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts;” that “the right hand” must be “cut off,” and the “right eye plucked out,” in order that we may follow and obey our Lord and Master. Now all these things are not contrary, but they are reconciled. There is joy, but it is joy in the midst of trouble; there is peace, but it is peace maintained by constant warfare; and there is blessed rest, but it is rest in labour and toil. If we have a battle to fight, if we have a race to run, if we have a building to erect, it must be with toil, and trouble, and effort. We shall have to “endure to the end.” It will not avail to be constant and enduring in the outset, but we must endure to the end. Many will try to prevent our following the Lord fully, they will try to discourage us. And then, too, do we not find very many, from following into different companies, and amongst gay, thoughtless, and worldly companionships, get absorbed in the vortex of life, their holiness is gone, they tumble down in the mire, their hope is withered, and passes away as a dream. Then, again, are there not very many who get into some peculiar state of trial from persecution, or reproach, or something they did not count upon; they are ashamed of Jesus, they are ashamed of the cross, and so they betray the Master with a kiss. Then, again, how many are disheartened and discouraged with the struggle in their own hearts. They set out with much emotion, but feeling too little faith, How many things lead a man to come short of eternal life! It is, perhaps, more beautiful to see a man in little comfort and in darkness, holding on, than one who walks in the full sunshine. Job was able to say, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” Was not that a beautiful instance of enduring to the end? When he was stripped of everything,-without were fightings, and within were fears; clouds, and tribulations, and adversity were about him; yet he says, “though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” We have not full salvation now; it is in progress, it is not complete; it is the man that endures to the end that attains the full recompense, and enters into the joy of the Lord. This is the great purpose and end. We do not set out on a voyage just for the purpose of setting out; we have to seek to reach the haven. We do not cover ourselves in armour simply for the sake of being ready for the battle, but that we may fight and win the victory, and gain the crown; therefore, after all, this is the grand test of our having true faith in Christ, that we continue in Christ, that we abide as branches in the vine, and bear fruit. How much blossom of promise there is that has no measure of fruit? Let us never forget that there may be a good deal of seeming fruit; but if it does not last, if it drops off it is because it is worthless, rotten at the core. You sometimes see under a fruit tree the ground strewn with fallen fruit. Somebody may say, perhaps, some great storm has passed over, or some sudden frost, when probably the truth has been that the fruit itself was unsound at the core, and that, therefore, it rotted and fell off. Brethren, it is so with the fruits that grow in the orchard of God; many are fair and seeming good to the sight, but they are not sound at the core. The proof that they are sound is, that they still cling to the tree and ripen, until, as it is beautifully said, “the righteous shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger.” (Hugh Stowell, M. A.)
Let him that readeth understand.
Need of an attentive mind
Let him strive to understand (this means) by reading with utmost attention, diligence, and devotion, weeping as John did, till the sealed book was opened; digging deep in the mine of the Scriptures for the mind of God, and holding it fast when he hath it, lest at any time he should let it slip. Admirable is that, and applicable to this purpose, which Philostratus relates of the precious stone Pantarbe, of so orient, bright, and sweet a colour, that it both dazzles and refreshes the eyes at once, drawing together heaps of other stones by its secret force (though far distant), as hives of bees, etc. But lest so costly a gift should grow cheap, nature has not only hid it in the innermost bowels of the earth, but also has put a faculty into it, of slipping out of the hands of those who hold it, unless they be very careful to prevent it. (John Trapp.)
Reading the Scriptures
Motives to the diligent reading of the Scriptures in private.
1. Consider the excellency of the Scriptures above all other books and writings of men. They are the books of God Himself; the letter of the Creator to the creature.
2. Consider how much spiritual fruit and profit is to be reaped by the diligent reading of the Scripture: this being an excellent means not only to build us up in the knowledge of those things which concern God’s glory, and our own salvation; but also to confirm and strengthen our faith, and to quicken and stir us up to all conscionable obedience to the will of God, as well in doing, as in suffering what He requires of us.
3. Consider the examples of such as have been most diligent, and taken great pains in reading the Scriptures. Cromwell could say the New Testament without book. Bishop Ridley learned all St. Paul’s Epistles by heart. (George Petter.)
Not go down into the house.
Opportunity to be seized
Opportunity is like a string of stepping stones across a ford. The traveller, coming up to them, may find the river so swollen with the rains that the stones are all but covered. If he delay, though his home be on the opposite bank, and full in sight, it may be too late to cross, and he may have a journey of several miles to reach his home. (Union Magazine.)
Danger of delay
Opportunity is like a narrow passage in the Arctic Seas. Sometimes, in these northern regions, ships get enclosed in a narrow space between ice islands. The floating rocks glide nearer the ship on every side, and the dismayed seamen behold their only chance of escape from the fatal crash lies in a narrow channel, that every moment grows still narrower. How hurriedly they press their vessel through that strip to reach the safety of the open ocean! Even so must we press along the narrow way that leads to eternal Life; for who knows how soon that narrow way may be closed against him. (Union Magazine.)
That your flight be not in the winter.
The difficulty of conversion in old age
There is a winter in human life, as there is a winter in the seasons of the year. Infancy is our spring; and the bud of existence which is then nourished and cherished, opens its flowers during the summer of youth. In riper years, and in the vigour of manhood, the fruit is put forth and this period we call the autumn of our days. But if death spare us a little longer, there will come ice in the blood, and snow on the brow; and all the emblems of a moral winter are thickly strewed over the man. And if there has been no fleeing to the mercy of the Lord, whilst the advance of summer and autumn has warned us that our year would soon draw to a close, it will be a hard thing, and a scarcely possible thing, when the limb has grown rigid, when the blood is congealed, and when the branches hang withered from the stem, to drag ourselves along; and the man, in the winter of his days, when his foot is halting, and his eye is darkening, and his blood is freezing, is so unfitted to brave the difficulties of the rugged path of winter, that no consideration should have more weight with the young and with the impenitent than the recommendation of our text. It will not be supposed, then, that, by any of my statements, I do at all limit the operations of grace, or insinuate that there can be no flight during the winter because there has been none before the winter. On the contrary, the mere fact of its being subject of prayer that our flight may not be in the winter, implies that flight is at the least practicable, though not then easy. First, the difficulty of flight in the winter.
Secondly, the danger that flight, if deferred to the winter, will not then be practicable.
I. The difficulty of flight in the winter; or, to drop the metaphor, the difficulty of conversion in old age. The Spirit doth strive with everyone; and by secret admonitions and suggestions, by working upon hope and exciting fear, it does summon all men to consider their ways, and allows not that any sinner should go on in transgression, and not have its ruinous result set before him. Well, then, if this statement be accurate-if it be true that all men are plied with inducements and threatenings, and that the Divine machinery is brought to bear on their consciences; it follows that the aged sinner must have resisted many godly motions: and now he stands, in the winter of his days, the hero of a succession of victories. But then, they have been victories won by the lust of the flesh, by the lust of the eye, and by the pride of life-over the benevolent strivings of holy angels, and the merciful interpositions of Deity Himself. And I ask whether it will not be necessarily true, that the man who has resisted such impressions will be found correspondently hardened against threatenings. The aged sinner must have been successful in stifling anxiety, and in drowning conscience: and thus he hath closed up, so to speak, the common avenues through which the gospel message finds entrance. Hence, there is less hope of the aged sinner. But not only has the aged sinner resisted much; but it will generally happen that he has invented much. He will have his own scheme of salvation: he will have devised some method of quieting alarm: he will have arranged some system of religion for himself. I cannot but suppose that this is ordinarily the case. I cannot suppose that there are many aged men, who give themselves no concern touching the things of eternity. Sometimes indeed we are presented with that sad spectacle-an old man hunting after money which his trembling hands cannot grasp; or an old woman tottering into the grave with a heap of new fashions hung on her shrivelled body. But I am ready to believe, that very commonly old people have some thought about the future; and, to use the common place phrase, cast up their account with God, and contrive by the most ingenious arithmetic to strike a balance in their own favour. They have sinned in their youth; but, thank God, He has given them time for repentance; and the seriousness of later years has made amends for the frivolities of the earlier. They may have offended a great deal, but then they have suffered a great deal; and the afflictions will be taken as an atonement for the transgression. Their lives have been excellent lives, no man was ever wronged by them: they were in trade for half a century, and kept unsullied the character of honourable dealers. They were engaged in the management of various societies, and received pieces of plate as compliments to their integrity. One old man is comforted because he has been a very moral man; and another, because he has been a very charitable man; and a third, because God is a God of wonderful mercy; and a fourth, because it is too late to alter, and things will probably not turn out so bad as they have been represented. I believe the observations I have thus advanced are grounds for deciding that conversion in the winter of life must be a work of great difficulty. It must be further obvious to you, that, as it would be in natural, so in spiritual things, the infirmities of the old man incapacitate him for flight. I ask you whether the old man, the withered man, the wasted man, is adapted for grappling with so stern a communication? Is his mind calculated to take in what is thus overpowering? Are his apprehensions likely to grasp the tidings in their length and breadth? Is one so timid, the being who is expected to arm for the battle, or to gird himself for the fight? If it be a time of hazard to set out upon a voyage when the vessel has just sprung a leak-and if it be an hour of peril to commence a journey in a foreign land when the sun has faded from the heavens-and it be a moment of danger to sit at the base of the mountain when the avalanche is just loosening from the heights-and it be an instant of imminent risk when the drawbridge is trembling between us and the citadel-then is old age and winter a dangerous season for man to flee from his present condition.
II. We have thus shown you that great difficulties are attendant on flight in the winter. We are next to consider the danger that flight, if deferred to the winter, will not then be practicable; in other words, the grounds for believing, that, if men repent not before old age, they will never repent at all. One reason for praying against postponement is, the possibility that flight, if delayed, may never take place. It is a trite saying, that “tomorrow never comes;” and I may add, that few men practically think themselves a year nearer the grave, because they are a year older. Once more. It is the testimony of experience that men are seldom converted in old age. Who, then, would defer flight, when the Almighty is inviting him to join the ranks of the redeemed? Let us address ourselves to the journey. The days are short, and the sunbeams are watery; the time for repentance may soon be at an end. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Winter useful and beautiful
However disagreeable a very severe winter may be, in some respects, it yet serves most important purposes. The sap retires from the extremities of shrubs and trees, and takes refuge in the roots, thus giving them a time to rest and recuperate. The covering of snow which is spread over the earth protects the grass and the grain, and keeps all things which grow out of the ground snug and warm. Moreover, the nipping frost kills off the myriad hordes of insects; dries up the seeds of infectious and deadly diseases; improves the blood, on which our very existence depends; and gives new vigour to the worn-out and wasted system. Consumptive patients are no longer sent to gasp and faint beneath the orange groves of a debilitating southern clime, but uniform and invigorating cold weather is found much better for them. Winter, besides being an useful season, is certainly a very beautiful one. The earth spread smoothly over with its white coverlid; the icy tracery of the trees; and the fantastic pictures which the frost draws on the window panes-what could be more beautiful than these? The goodness of our heavenly Father is plainly discovered in the provision which He makes for the lower orders of creation, to protect them from the rigours of winter. The more delicate birds are instructed by their instincts to fly off to warmer latitudes. The creatures which are to remain behind, need not go to clothing stores for thick coats! The fur, and hair, and feathers on their bodies, are made abundantly warm to protect them; and the colder the winter which is approaching, the better does their gracious Creator provide for them. (J. N. Norton, D. D.)
Flight in winter
Many of you will remember an instance of such a flight, which was disastrous in the extreme. In the autumn of 1812, Napoleon entered Moscow with 120,000 soldiers, intending to pass the winter there in comfort. On the 13th of October (three weeks earlier than it had ever been known before), snow began to fall. The proud Emperor looked out of his window in dismay, and decided to hasten back at once, and establish his winter quarters in the friendly cities of Poland. It was a march through a dreary and desolate region, of more than a thousand miles; but he put on a bold front, and the troops began to retire in good order. A week later, and the grand army was in full retreat. Bleak, chilly winds howled through the leafless trees; the weary soldiers were blinded by the flakes of snow and sleet; their embittered enemies attacked them in every unguarded point; order and discipline were forgotten; the ranks were broken, and each man struggled on as best he could; the dead and the dying were trodden down; hundreds of horses were slain for food; all ideas of conquest were banished; Napoleon himself left the army to its fate; and each day’s weary march was marked by heaps of broken wagons, and abandoned cannon, and white hillocks of snow, beneath which the frozen bodies of man and beast were buried. With such a dreadful picture of misery before you, it will be easy to understand the tender compassion which prompted the Saviour to say: “Pray ye that your flight be not in the winter.” Especially ought we to remember those who are suffering the sad privations of poverty, and be glad to relieve their wants when we are able. No one can claim to have the love of God abiding in his heart, who is willing to see a fellow mortal destitute of food and clothing, and make no effort to help. The more merciful we are, the better shall we deserve to be called God’s children. (J. N. Norton, D. D.)
A blasphemer’s death in the snow
It was near the close of one of those storms that deposit a great volume of snow upon the earth that a middle-aged man, in one of the southern counties of Vermont, seated himself at a large fire in a log house. He was crossing the Green Mountains from the western to the eastern side; he had stopped at the only dwelling of man in a distance of more than twenty miles, being the width of the parallel ranges of gloomy mountains; he was determined to reach his dwelling on the eastern side that day. In reply to a kind invitation to tarry in the house and not dare the horrors of the increasing storm, he declared that he would go, and that the Almighty was not able to prevent him. His words were heard above the howling of the tempest. He travelled from the mountain valley where he had rested over one ridge, and one more intervened between him and his family. The labour of walking in that deep snow must have been great, as its depth became near the stature of a man; yet he kept on, and arrived within a few yards of the last summit, from whence he could have looked down upon his dwelling. He was near a large tree, partly supported by its trunk; his body bent forward, and his ghastly intent features told the stubbornness of his purpose to overpass that little eminence. But the Almighty had prevented him; the currents of his blood were frozen. For more than thirty years that tree stood by the solitary road, scarred to the branches with names, letters, and hieroglyphics of death, to warn the traveller that he trod over a spot of fearful interest. (Baxendale’s Dictionary of Anecdote.)
For in those days shall be affliction.
Afflictions God’s hired labourers
Afflictions are God’s hired labourers, to break the clods and plough the land. (Anon.)
Trouble a lever
Trouble is often the lever in God’s hand to raise us up to heaven. (Anon.)
Sorrow an instructor
Has it never occurred to us when surrounded by sorrows, that they may be sent to us only for our instruction, as we darken the eyes of birds when we wish to teach them to sing? (Jean Paul.)
The angel troubled the waters, which then cured those who stepped in; it is also Christ’s manner to trouble our souls first, and then to come with healing in His wings. (R. Sibbes.)
Tears often prove the telescope by which men see far into heaven. (H. W. Beecher.)
Tuned by trouble
Men think God is destroying them because He is tuning them. The violinist screws up the key till the tense cord sounds the concert pitch; but it is not to break it, but to use it tunefully, that he stretches the string upon the musical rack. (H. W. Beecher.)
Trouble a test
Men pray to be made ”men in Christ Jesus,” and think in some miraculous way it will be given to them; but God says, “I will try My child, and see if he is sincere;” and so He lays a burden upon him, and says, “Now stand up under it;” and asks, “Where are now thy resources?” If the ambitious ore dreads the furnace, the forge, the anvil, the rasp, and the file, it should never desire to be made a sword. Man is the iron, and God is the smith; and we are always either in the forge or on the anvil. God is shaping us for higher things. (H. W. Beecher.)
are not always the punishment of extraordinary sins, but sometimes the trial of extraordinary graces. Sanctified afflictions are spiritual promotions. (Matthew Henry.)
The fall of Jerusalem a unique calamity
One might explain this language on the principle of that graphic hyperbolism that pervaded, to so large an extent, the speech of all peoples. It is quite common, in many languages at least, if not in all, to say of any very extraordinary affliction, it is the greatest possible. Superlatives are often employed, when there is really no definite intention of asserting a perfectly absolute prominence. It is at the same time, however, worthy of consideration, whether there was not, in this catastrophe of the Jews, a minglement of elements, physical, intellectual, moral, and spiritual, which was so unique as to render the anguish, consequent on the overthrow of Jerusalem, unprecedented, and incapable of repetition. Many peoples have been vanquished. Often have surviving populations been “peeled,” and scattered or led captive. Often have capital cities been stormed and sacked. But the case of the Jews was peculiar. They were convinced that they were the favourites of heaven. They regarded their capital as the “City of the Great King,” and the predestined Mistress of the world. Their Temple was to them the one House of God. It could not be dispensed with in the world. Hence they expected, up to the last moment, that the Lord’s arm must needs conspicuously interpose in the extremity of their necessity, to smite the beleaguering hosts and rescue the beloved place and people. When one mingles the elements of such thoughts and feelings, and their effects, with the effects of the utter social disorganization that prevailed, and consequently with the unutterable physical woes that preceded and succeeded the capture of the Temple, it is easy to see that the tribulation endured may have had an edge of agony which never was before in the history of any people, and which will never be again. (J. Morison, D. D.)
Affliction such as never was and never shall be
At the siege of Jerusalem, Milman says, “Every kind feeling, love, respect, natural affection, were extinct through the all-absorbing want. Wives would snatch the last morsel from husbands, children from parents, mothers from children … If a house was closed, they supposed that eating was going on, and they burst in and squeezed the crumbs from the mouths and throats of those who were swallowing them. Old men were scourged till they surrendered the food to which their hands clung desperately. Children were seized as they hung upon the miserable morsels they had got, whirled round and dashed upon the pavement … The most loathsome and disgusting food was sold at an enormous price. They gnawed their belts and shoes. Chopped hay and shoots of trees sold at high prices.”
Destruction of Jerusalem
It is worth any man’s while to read the story of the destruction of Jerusalem as it is told by Josephus: it is the most harrowing of all records written by human pen; it remains the tragedy of tragedies; there never was and there never will be anything comparable to it: the people died of famine and of pestilence, and fell by thousands beneath the swords of their own countrymen. Women devoured the flesh of their own children, and men raged against each other with the fury of beasts. All ills seemed to meet in that doomed city, it was filled within with horrors and surrounded without by terrors. Portents amazed the sky both day and night. There was no escape, neither would the frenzied people accept of mercy. The city itself was the banqueting hall of death. Josephus says: “All hope of escaping was now cut off from the Jews, together with their liberty of going out of the city. Then did the famine widen its progress, and devour the people by whole houses and families: the upper rooms were full of women and infants that were dying by famine, and the lanes of the city were full of the dead bodies of the aged; the children, also, and the young men wandered about the market places like shadows, all swelled with the famine, and fell down dead wheresoever their misery seized them. For a time the dead were buried; but afterwards, when they could not do that, they had them cast down from the wall into the valleys beneath. When Titus, on going his rounds along these valleys, saw them full of dead bodies, and the thick putrefaction running about them, he gave a groan, and spreading out his hands to heaven, called God to witness this was not his doing.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Shortened those days.
God shortened the siege
Many circumstances combined to secure the primary fulfilment of these words. The incomplete state of the fortifications, the paucity of food, the factious fights within the city, etc., shortened the siege; and Titus himself exclaimed, “God has fought for us: what could human hand or engines do against these towers!” (Stock.)
For false Christs.
David George, e.g., who ultimately settled at Basle, where he died in 1556. He claimed, according to the account of Dr. Henry More, to be the true Christ, the dear Son of God, born not of the flesh, but of the Spirit. He was to restore the house of Israel, and re-erect the tabernacle of God, not by afflictions and death, as the other Messiah, but by that sweetness, love, and grace, which were given him of the Father. He had the power of the remission of sins; and had come to administer the last judgment. He averred that “the Holy Scriptures: the sayings and testimonies of the prophets, of Christ, and of His apostles, do all point, if rightly understood, in their true mystery, to the glorious coming of David George, who is greater than the former Christ, as being born of the Spirit, and not of the flesh.” This David George, says Dr. More, was a man “of notable natural parts, of comely person, and a graceful presence.” And he had many adherents, who believed in him. In our own day there are persons-out of asylums-who put forth corresponding claims. There is lying before the writer a “Tract on the Second Advent fulfilled,” in which it is said that “the enrolling of the saints commenced on the anniversary of the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles of the year 1868, i.e., on the 9th of October, 1868. The following,” it is added, “is the declaration to be made and signed:-I believe Jesus of Nazareth to be the Messiah at His first coming, and the antitypical Paschal Lamb Who died for sin in allegory, and I believe John Cochran of Glasgow to be that Messiah at His second coming, and the antitypical High Priest who has taken away sin in reality.”
Lodowick Muggleton, e.g., who on the title page of his “True Interpretation of the whole Book of the Revelation of St. John,” describes himself as “one of the two last commissioned witnesses and prophets of the only high, immortal, glorious God, Christ Jesus.” Madame Antoinette Bourignon, before him, was a far nobler being, yet she declared to Christian de Cort, “I am sent from God to bring light to the world, and to bear witness to the truth. He has sent me to tell that the last times are come; that the world is judged, and the sentence is irrevocable; that the plagues are begun, and will not cease till all evil be rooted out; and that Jesus Christ will come shortly to the earth to finish this, and then He will continue to reign with ‘men of goodwill,’ who shall enjoy eternal peace. I am sent with a commission to declare all these things to men, to the end that peradventure some of them may be converted and repent, that they may reign with Jesus Christ in His glory.” And again, she says, “I am certainly sent from God to declare the truth of everything.”
False prophets in Spain
There was great excitement in Madrid owing to the announcement that the world would come to an end on the 24th of June, 1886, that day being the conjunction of the festivals of St. John and of the Corpus Christi. The belief had taken such hold among the lower and superstitious classes of Madrid, that the fright was general, the prophecy having been printed and circulated in thousands. During the past two or three weeks many people have spent their days in fasting, prayer, and weeping, and yesterday the churches and confessionals were crowded with women. (Freeman.)
Danger from those coming in the name of Christ
In the frescoes of Signorelli we have “The Teaching of Antichrist”-no repulsive figure, but a grand personage in flowing robes, and with a noble countenance, which at a distance might easily be taken for the Saviour. To him the crowd are eagerly gathering and listening, and it is only when you draw close that you can discover in his harder and cynical expression, and from the evil spirit whispering in his ear, that it is not Christ. (Augustus J. C. Hare.)
Signs and Wonders.
“Lying wonders” (2 Thessalonians 2:9) no doubt-wonders that serve a purpose of imposition, partly, it may be, on the wonder workers themselves, and partly on those whom they wish to attach to themselves. There are wonderful idiosyncrasies among men, that give scope for the performance of such wonders. In some natures-as in Valentine Greatrakes and Gassner (see Howitt’s “History of the Supernatural”), singular therapeutic energies instinctively well up and flow over. In others there is a singular power of something like “second sight,” or “clairvoyance,” turning fitfully its penetrative eye, now upon objects distant in space, and now upon objects distant in time-though in a way far removed from infallibility. This clairvoyant eye often takes cognizance of only frivolous realities, and seems blind to things of moment. Still its peculiarity is fitted-when once a willing and shadow fanaticism tries its hand at understanding it-to be a “lying wonder.” There are other remarkable endowments and instincts, which crop up at times in exceptional idiosyncrasies, and may give occasion either to self-delusion, or to deliberate artifice, or to a minglement of the two perversities. (J. Morison, D. D.)
The Son of Man coming in the clouds.
Christ’s second advent
It has been as much a hope as a fear in all religions of men that there would be a verdict which would on the one hand bring forth men’s righteousness as the light, and on the other change their pride in sin to shame. For a new start the great thing to be longed for is that all men and things might find their proper level; the evil, its rebuke and penalty; the good, its crown and its reward. Therefore there will be a judgment, and Christ will be the Judge. Through Him the worlds were made; through Him salvation wrought; and through Him judgment will be executed. We think too little of that day whose glory pales the sun, and of the fact that many things, now seeming great, will then seem trifling and contemptible, and much obscure faithfulness will be lifted into light and glory. The uses we should make of this truth are various.
1. It should quicken our sense of responsibility. The thought that God ignores our deeds permits good to languish and evil to thrive. The belief that God will bring all into judgment, stimulates good, represses evil.
2. It should give us a more vivid sense of God’s providential presence. On this world He walked; on it He again will stand. He is the living God, and is guiding the course of all events by His loving hand.
3. It should comfort us. Man’s judgment of us is harsh; our judgment of ourselves unwise. But what could we ask for more than to be judged by Christ? (R. Glover.)
The second coming of Christ
Brethren! the earnest belief in and the longing for the coming of Jesus Christ has been too much surrendered to one school of interpreters in unfulfilled prophecy, who have no greater claim to possess it than the rest of us. It belongs, or ought to belong, to us all. And I bring it to you, dear friends, as a sharp test-what do you feel about that coming? Can you say, “More than they that wait for the morning, my soul waiteth for Thee”? Does your heart leap when you think that Christ, who is ever present, is drawing near to us? All the signs of the times, intellectual and social, the rottenness of much of our life, the abounding luxury, the hideous vice that flaunts unblamed and unabashed before us all; the unsettlement of opinion in which it is unbelief that seems to be “removing the mountains” that all men thought stood fast and firm forever; all these things cry out to Him whose ear is not deaf-even if our voice does not join in the cry-and beseech Him to come. And I believe that a “Day of the Lord,” dreadful and radiant with the brightness of destructive power, which is also constructive and merciful love, is hanging over much of the world, and not a little of the Church, at this moment. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Sight of Christ as Judge
Mr. G-was mayor of the town of Maidenhead not many years after the late Rev. J. Cooke settled in it. One Sabbath evening he attended the meeting house, and heard Mr. Cooke preach. The text was, “Behold, He cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see Him” (Revelation 1:7). His attention was powerfully arrested: an arrow of conviction entered his heart; he became speedily a changed man, and regularly attended the means of grace. He had been a jovial companion, a good singer, and a most gay and cheerful member of the corporation. The change was soon perceived. His brethren, at one of their social parties, rallied him upon Methodism. But he stood firm by his principles, and said, “Gentlemen, if you will listen patiently, I will tell you why I go to meeting, and do not attend your card table. I went one Sunday evening to hear Mr. Cooke. He took for his text, ‘Behold, He cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see Him.’ Your eye shall see Him!” In short, he gave them so faithful and powerful an epitome of the sermon, and applied it so closely to them individually, marking the words, “every eye shall see Him,” with such emphasis, and pointing to them, said, “Your eye,” and “your eye,” that they were satisfied with his reasons for going, and never again durst speak to him on the subject. (Biblical Museum.)
Science points to the end of the world
Is it not probable, it may be asked, that the time will come when the globe itself will come to an end? And if it be so, can science detect the provision that is possibly made for this consummation of all things? We have seen that the atmosphere has for long been undergoing a change; that at a very early period it was charged with carbonic acid, the carbon of which now forms part of animal and vegetable structures. We saw, also, that at first it contained no ammonia; but since vegetation and decomposition began, the nitrogen that existed in the nitrates of the earth, and some of the nitrogen of the atmosphere, have been gradually entering into new combinations, and forming ammonia; and the quantity of ammonia, a substance at first non-existent, has gradually increased, and as it is volatile, the atmosphere now always contains some of it. The quantity has now become so great in it that it can always be detected by chemical analysis. There is an evident tendency of it to increase in the atmosphere. Now supposing, it to go on increasing up to a certain point, it forms with air a mixture that, upon the application of fire, is violently explosive. An atmosphere charged with ammonia is liable to explode whenever a flash of lightning passes through it. And such an explosion would doubtless destroy, perhaps without leaving traces of, the present order of things. (Dr. Kemp.)
That summer is near.
A sign of the eternal summer approaching
When Dr. Rees preached last in North Wales a friend said to him-one of those who are always reminding people that they are getting old-“You are whitening fast, Dr. Rees.” The old gentleman did not say anything then; but when he got to the pulpit he referred to it, and said, “There is a wee white flower that comes up through the earth at this season of the year-sometimes it comes up through the snow and frost; but we are all glad to see the snowdrop, because it proclaims that the winter is over and that the summer is at hand. A friend reminded me last night that I was whitening fast. But heed not that, brother; it is to me a proof that my winter will soon be over, that I shall have done presently with the cold east winds and the frosts of earth, and that my summer-my eternal summer-is at hand.” (Heber Evans.)
But My words shall not pass away.
The perpetuity of Christ’s words
Contrast the apparent transitoriness of “words” with the solid earth and the “eternal heavens.” Yet when these shall have faded away the words of Christ will still endure.
I. In a literal sense the text reminds us that the words which Jesus spake while on earth are permanently associated with our whole life.
II. All our literature is enriched by these words.
III. That which is spiritual must always be more permanent than the material.
IV. Yet the material prepares the way for the spiritual application.
1. A lesson of warning, since we are in danger of attaching too much importance to the form, and too little to the truth, which the form embodies.
2. A lesson of encouragement; opinions may change and interpretations differ; but the truth remains always the same. (F. Wagstaff.)
But of that day and that hour knoweth no man.
The day and the hour
I. The practical importance of conceding the day and hour when the Son of Man shall come from the knowledge of the Church and of all mankind.
1. Were the day and the hour of the Saviour’s advent specifically and unmistakably stated, it would contradict constantly those passages scattered throughout the whole Word of God which say He shall come as a thief in the night, etc. After the day of Pentecost the apostles received information upon this subject which they did not previously possess.
2. It would be altogether morally without practical good results, and incompatible with other portions of Scripture, if God were to tell us the precise day and the hour. What would be the practical use of telling us either?
3. Were that day made known to us, it would be gratifying a very worthless curiosity. But if there be one feature in this book more striking than another it is its utter refusal to gratify the curiosity of man.
4. Suppose that this day and hour had been made known, there is no proof that it would be believed by the unconverted masses of mankind. If the unconverted and unsanctified multitude believed it, it would do incalculable mischief.
II. On the other hand, it is most profitable and most improving that we should study the predicted signs; nay, our Lord condemned the men of His day, because, while they could predict wet or fine weather, from the sky at evening and at morn, they were not acquainted with the moral signs of the age in which they lived. The Scripture in every page is most explicit in giving us tokens and signs by which we are to infer either that the time is near, or that it is remote. This leads me to the great sign given here, instead of the day and the hour-the sign of Noah.
1. Notice that there is here a distinct recognition of Noah as a historic person, of the flood as a literal fact.
2. Notice here also that human nature is substantially the same in the days of Napoleon and of Queen Victoria, that it was in the days of Noah and the patriarchs before the flood. The antediluvians, or those that were in the days of Noah, when the flood came, were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. This is not stated as a sin. In the gospel, where our Lord represents the blessings that He purchased under a feast, those that were invited refused; but the ground they assigned was not any one sinful act. Where then was the sin of the antediluvians? “So shall it be when the Son of Man cometh.” This is not a mere history; but also a solemn prophecy. Just as the ark was the only safety in the days of Noah, so the only safety for us this very day is Christ, the living, the glorious, the indestructible ark. Are you trusting to this ark? Are you cleaving to this Saviour? Now there is salvation for the worst and the guiltiest; but at that day, when grace shall depart like a vision, when the last fire shall cover the round globe with its piercing and its searching flames, not one cry will be heard, not one appeal for mercy will be regarded, not one sin will be forgiven. The very glory of the gospel is its simplicity: “Look and live;” “Believe and thou shalt be saved.” (J. Cumming, D. D.)
Uncertainty as to the time demands constant watchfulness
The fact that we cannot know beforehand the time of Christ’s coming, does not relieve us of the duty of being on the watch for it. It is because we do not know the time, that we must watch for the time. If a man wants to see the meteors which flash across the sky in the nights of August and November, he must be all the more watchful because he cannot know beforehand when they are coming. The lookout on the ocean steamer’s masthead must be none the less watchful against icebergs, or headlands, or passing vessels, because be cannot know when they are to show themselves; and the denser the fog, the keener his watch must be. The time of Christ’s second coming is concealed from us. The fact of that coming is foretold to us. The duty of living not only in expectancy of this event, but in prayerful watchfulness for it, is as plainly and as positively enjoined upon us, as is the requirement of any one of the ten commandments.
The solemn day approaching
When it comes we know not. We know simply this-it is a fact in God’s government. Slowly and steadily it is approaching. It encamps every night nearer to the race-to us-to me. We have no human almanacs that can foretell its coming. That it will come seems one of the fundamental thoughts of our mind, admitted everywhere and always. The Egyptians bore decided witness, in their books of the dead, to the coming of that day. Let not that day come upon you sleeping, said Jesus. Duty is ours-that day is God’s. (H. W. Beecher.)
The uncertainty of the Day of Judgment considered and improved
First, our Saviour here declares the uncertainty of the time as to us and all creatures, when the general judgment shall be. And to express this the more emphatically, He tells us-
1. That God only knows it. He excludes from the knowledge of it, those who were most likely to know it, if God had not absolutely reserved it to Himself.
2. That the consideration of the uncertainty of the time should make us very careful to be always prepared for it. First, a general caution, “Take ye heed.” From whence I shall observe, by the way, the great goodness of God to us, and His singular care of us. God hath acquainted us with whatever is necessary to direct and excite us to our duty; but He hath purposely concealed from us those things which might tend to make us slothful and careless, negligent and remiss in it. Besides this, it is always useful to the world to be kept in awe by the continual danger and terror of an approaching judgment.
And it was no inconvenience at all that the apostles and first Christians had this apprehension of the nearness of that time; for no consideration could be more forcible to keep them steadfast in their profession, and to fortify them against sufferings.
1. We should resolve without delay, to put ourselves into that state and condition, in which we may not be afraid judgment should find us. In the secure and negligent posture that most men live, even the better sort of men, if judgment should overtake them, how few could be saved! So that our first care must be to get out of this dangerous state of sin and insecurity, “to break off our sins by repentance,” that we may be capable of the mercy of God, and at peace with Him, before He comes to execute judgment upon the world.
2. After this great work of repentance is over, we should be very careful how we contract any new guilt, by returning to our former sins, or by the gross neglect of any part of our duty.
3. Let us neglect no opportunity of doing good, but always be employing ourselves, either in acts of religion and piety towards God, or of righteousness and charity towards men, or in such acts as are subordinate to religion.
4. We should often review our lives and call ourselves to a strict account of our actions, that, judging ourselves, we may not be judged and condemned by the Lord.
5. Another part of our preparation for the coming of our Lord is a humble trust and confidence in the virtue of His death and passion, as the only meritorious cause of the remission of our sins, and the reward of eternal life.
6. And lastly, to awaken and maintain this vigilancy and care, we should often represent to our minds the judgment of the Great Day, which will certainly come though we know not the time of it. This is the first direction our Saviour gives us: continual vigilancy and watchfulness over ourselves in general. The second direction is more particular, and that is, prayer-“Take ye heed, watch and pray.” And the practice of this duty of prayer will be of great advantage to us upon these two accounts. It is very apt to awaken and excite our care and diligence in the business of religion. Prayer, indeed, supposeth that we stand in need of the Divine help; but it implies, likewise, a resolution on our part to do what we can for ourselves; otherwise we ask in vain.
7. If we use our sincere endeavours for the “effecting of what we pray for, prayer is the most effectual means to engage the Divine blessing, and assistance to second our endeavours, and to secure them from miscarriage. I proceed to the third and last part of the text, which is the reason which our Saviour here adds to enforce our care and diligence in a matter of so great concernment, viz., the uncertainty, as to us, of the particular time when this Day of Judgment will be: “Ye know not when the time is.” (J. Tillotson, D. D.)
Ye know not when the time is
I. The consideration of the uncertainty of life, from which the exhortation is enforced-“Ye know not when the time is.”
II. The exhortation to circumspection, vigilance, and prayer-“Take ye heed, watch and pray.” But we proceed to consider what this watchfulness implies.
1. It implies spiritual life.
2. It implies a sense of danger. (W. Bullevant.)
Life’s uncertainty improved
I. The fact of life’s uncertainty. But before I attempt to fix your thoughts on life’s uncertainty, there are two other kindred facts which merit attention-the certainty of death, and the nearness of it. We know not when the time is. Death is an ambush. Hence the force of “Take ye heed, watch and pray.”
1. Men full of laudable, anxious, active strife of business, have in one moment been called to their higher account, prepared or unprepared.
2. More fearful still is the subject, when we consider that not only are men called away from the midst of worldly business, but are taken in the very act of sin and rebellion against God. “The third day Noah entered into the ark, the flood came and took them all away.”
3. Let it, however, be clearly understood, that no degree of morality, faith, or holiness, can wholly shield us from the stroke of sudden death.
II. The plain practical duty arising out of it-“Take ye heed,” etc. A word in season. Many are heedless and unprepared to die. “Take ye heed,” or you must needs miss heaven. Would we prepare to die-
1. Habitually believe in Christ.
2. Habitually commune with God.
3. Habitually aim at Christian consistency.
1. Address those who are obviously neither watching nor praying. Are there in the Church lukewarm professors?
2. You who are in the way to a blissful immortality. (B. Carvosso.)
Preparation for death
The true significance of death lies not in its physical pain, in its breaking in upon the plans of life, but in the fact that it brings men into final moral relations with God. Now let us consider, as calm and prudent men, the full effect and the true character of deferring the preparation for death until the dying hour.
1. To thus defer this preparation is to deprive life itself of one of its chief steadying elements.
2. Living without conscious preparation for death is a risk which neither prudence nor self-respect should allow. A man guards himself with a wise providence of the future. No man puts his affections as they are involved in the family to such peril. He is perpetually forethinking; working to provide against evils; making preparation today and this year for tomorrow and next year.
3. There is a view which will have weight with men who are just, and who are honestly seeking to guide themselves by principles of honour. It is the ignoring, the dishonouring of God’s love, His will and His commands, all one’s life, and then at death, for fear, or for the sake of interest, rushing into a settlement. A child is reprobate, and breaks away from home, and squanders all he can get, and becomes a wreck and a wretch, and apparently is to be disowned. He hears, at last, after years and years of dissipation, that his father is weakening and drawing near to death; and he scents the opportunity, and rushes home, and professes repentance and reformation, in order that his father may reconstruct his will, and leave him a part of his estate. What would you think of a child that should do that? What would you think of a child that should deliberately calculate upon it, and say in himself, “The old man has oftentimes, with tears in his eyes, warned me against my gambling companions; but there is time enough yet. He is rich, and I want a part of his money, and I know his heart, and I mean to come in for a share by and by. I am going to have my pleasure; I am going to eat, drink, and be merry; I am going to have my royal debauch with my companions; and when I see the old man is about pegging out I will go home and reform; because I do not mean to lose that property; I am going to enjoy myself as I please, and have that too”? What would you think of a child that should say that, and then keep his eye on his father, and calculate his chances and run scuttling home just in time to get his name put in the will right, in order that he might have the property? What name is there in any language that is adequate to express your feelings, toward such baseness as that? And yet, are there not in my hearing men that are living precisely so with respect to their Father who is in heaven?
4. There are prudential considerations of a very solemn nature which one should employ. Those who think that they shall prepare for death in the last hour of life, ought to consider some of their chances. As a matter of fact, more than half that die in this world die without consciousness. Not alone of those that die by accident, by sudden stroke, but of those that die by disease, more than one half die under a cloud, so that they have no use of their reason. (H. W. Beecher.)
It is always a sad day in autumn to me, when I see the change that comes over nature. Along in August, the birds are all still, and you would think that there were not any left; but if you go out into the fields you find them feeding in the trees, and hedges, and everywhere. By and by September comes, and they begin to gather together in groups; and anybody that knows what it means knows that they are getting ready to go. And then comes the later days of October-the sad, the sweet, the melancholy, the deep days of October. And the birds are less and less. And in November, high up, you see the sky streaked with waterfowl going southward; and strange noises in the night, of these pilgrims of the sky, they shall hear whose ears are attuned to natural history. Birds in flocks, one after another, wing their way to the south. Summer is gone; and I am left behind; but they are happy. And I think I can hear them singing in all those States clear down to the Gulf. They have found where the sun is never cold. With us are frosts, but not with the bird that has migrated. Oh, mother! my heart breaks with your heart when your cradle is empty; but shall I call back the child? Nay; sooner pluck a star out of heaven than call back that child to this wintry blast. Shall I call back your young and dear and blooming friend? Nay. You are left in some bitterness for a time; but make not a man out of angel again. Let him rejoice. (H. W. Beecher.)
Watch and pray
I. The activity of the eye earthward.
II. The emotion of the heart Godward. Watchfulness is like the hands of the clock that point; prayer is the weight that keeps the machinery in motion. (T. J. Judkin.)
A believer’s watchfulness like that of a soldier
A sentinel posted on the walls, when he discerns a hostile party advancing, does not attempt to make head against them himself, but informs his commanding officer of the enemy’s approach, and leaves him to take the proper measures against the foe. So the Christian does not attempt to fight temptation in his own strength; his watchfulness lies in observing its approach, and in telling God of it by prayer. (W. Mason.)
Watching and praying
He that prays and watcheth not, is like him that sows a field with precious seed, but leaves the gate open for hogs to come and root it up; or him that takes great pains to get money, but no care to lay it up safely when he hath it. (W. Gurnall.)
“Wickedness,” says Sir Philip Sidney, “is like a bottomless pit, into which it is easier for a man to prevent himself falling than, having fallen, to preserve himself from falling infinitely.”
The watchfulness of prayer
“I often recall,” says an old sailor, “my first night at sea. A storm had come up, and we had put back under a point of land which broke the wind a little, but still the sea had a rake on us, and we were in danger of drifting. I was on the anchor watch, and it was my duty to give warning in case the ship should drag her anchor. It was a long night to me. I was very anxious whether I should know if the ship really did drift. How could I tell? I found that, going forward and placing my hand on the chain, I could tell by the feeling of it whether the anchor was dragging or not; and how often that night I went forward and placed my hand on that chain! And very often since then I have wondered whether I am drifting away from God, and then I go away and pray. Sometimes during that long stormy night I would be startled by a rumbling sound, and I would put my hand on the chain, and find it was not the anchor dragging, but only the chain grating against the rocks on the bottom. The anchor was still firm. And sometimes now, in temptation and trial, I become afraid, and upon praying I find that away down deep in my heart I do love God, and my hope is in His salvation. And I want just to say a word to my fellow Christians: Keep an anchor watch, lest before you are aware you may be upon the rocks.” (Anon.)
And to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch.
I. A certain event referred to. That He should go away was necessary.
1. It was impossible that His state of humiliation should be continued.
2. The work He had to do in heaven required His presence there.
3. His removal was necessary in order that the Holy Spirit might be bestowed.
II. A responsible trust committed.
1. What He left in charge of His servants was His house. The church is frequently set forth under this designation.
2. Those whom He left behind were invested with the powers necessary for the transaction of affairs during His absence.
3. While peculiar authority was granted to some, none of the servants were permitted to remain idle.
III. An important duty enjoined.
1. To no subject is our attention more frequently directed than that of watchfulness.
2. The consideration by which it is enforced. It is the uncertainty as to when the master of the house might return; whether at even, or at midnight, or at the cock crowing, or in the morning.
3. Whatever limits may belong to other obligations, this is universal in its claims. “And what I say unto you, I say unto all, watch.” (Expository Outlines.)
Christ’s second coming
I. The Church’s authority. “He gave authority to His servants.” The more we serve the more authority is given. For, what is authority? Not position, not office; but a certain moral power: the power of truth, the power of affections, the power of virtue over vice, the power of faith over sight. There are degrees of authority in the Church. There is authority which belongs to the Church collectively, essential for her wholesome discipline. But we have to do only with what is personal to ourselves, it is your authority to go to every single man under heaven and tell the glorious things of the gospel. It is your authority to go to the throne of God Himself.
II. The work. Authority is never given in the Church of Christ for any other end but work. The work is specific, “to every man his work.” Each Christian should pray till he finds out the work God has assigned him in this present life. There is work active and passive in the Master’s house; the childlike reception of the grace of God, to evangelise mankind.
III. Watching. There are two ways of watching. There is a watching against a thing we fear; and or a thing we love. Watch for the second advent, and you will be vigilant against sloth and sin. Will you not keep every trespasser out of the Master’s house, when you feel that that Master Himself stands almost at the door? He is worth watching for. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Watching for the Master
In all, therefore, you do, brethren, and in all you suffer, you are to be in the spirit of a man who, expecting a dear friend, has taken his stand at the gate, to meet him when he arrives,-a porter. Oh, it is such a pleasant thing to watch,-pleasant to go up on the high door of prophecy, and turn the telescope of inspiration down the road where He will come: pleasant, in every trouble to feel,-in a moment He may come, and cut this trouble very short: pleasant, in every fear, however deep, to think Christ’s coming may be nearer than we might fear: pleasant, to feel,-when the world knocks at your door, to say, “I am keeping place for Jesus, and I cannot let you in:” pleasant, in some work to have conscience say, “I think my dear Master would like to find me here:” pleasant when all is happy, to double the happiness with the thought, “And He, too, will soon be here:” and pleasant to wake up every morning and think, “What can I do today to prepare the way for my Saviour.” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The Master cometh
I. The house.
II. The householder.
III. The journey.
IV. The servants.
V. The charge.
VI. The individual work.
VII. The command to the porter.
1. Watch against thieves and robbers.
2. Watch for the Master. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
Our absent Lord
The parable in Mark 13:34-36 cannot be discharged of its meaning by a reference to the ordinary risks of human mortality. Its theme is not man’s dying, but Christ’s coming.
I. The Son of Man is represented as a householder away on a journey (Mark 13:34).
1. It is not fair to look upon Jesus as a mere absentee lord of the soil. For. He made this world; He has suffered wonderfully to save souls; and He owns what He has purchased.
2. It must be remembered that He went away for a most gracious purpose. He would send the Comforter (John 16:7). He has gone to prepare a “place” for those whom He died to redeem (John 14:2-3).
3. It is better to urge His coming back with eagerness of prayer. There is fitness in the passionate words of Richard Baxter: “Haste, O my Saviour, the time of Thy return: send forth Thy angels, let the last trumpet sound! Delay not, lest the living give up hope. Oh, hasten that great resurrection day when the seed Thou sowedst corruptible shall come forth incorruptible, and the graves that retain but dust shall return their glorious ones, Thy destined bride!”
II. To everyone “our absent Lord” has given his own work to do (Mark 13:35).
1. There is a work to be wrought on ourselves. Our bodies are to be exercised and skilled for service (Romans 12:1). Our minds are to be developed and embellished for God’s praise. One of our Lord’s parables spoken on this very occasion has actually added to our language the new word “talents,” as signifying intellectual gifts (Matthew 25:15). Our souls are to be sanctified wholly (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
2. There is also a work to be wrought upon others and for others. The poor are to be succoured, the weak to be strengthened, the ignorant to be taught, the sorrowful to be comforted.
3. There is another work to be wrought for God’s glory. “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” Our whole life is to be consecrated to this, even down to the particulars of eating and drinking (1 Corinthians 10:31).
III. “Our absent Lord” is surely coming back again to this world (Mark 13:26).
1. He predicted His second advent (John 14:28). The language Jesus used in this remembered declaration is not at all figurative; it all goes together as a statement of fact. He said, literally, He would send the Comforter, and the Holy Spirit came in person on the Day of Pentecost. And just as literally did He say He would Himself return at the appointed time.
2. He asseverated the certainty and solemnity of His own promise, as if He foresaw some would deny or doubt it (Mark 13:31). This was endorsing the covenant engagement by a new oath; “because He could swear by no greater, He sware by Himself.”
3. He left behind Him vivid descriptions of the momentous day on which He should arrive (Mark 13:24-26). In these, however, He does little more than repeat the vigorous language of the Old Testament prophet (Daniel 7:9-14).
4. He even sent back word from heaven by an angel (Acts 1:11). It should be “this same Jesus” who should come back, and He should come “in like manner” as they had seen Him depart.
IV. The exact hour in which “our absent Lord” will arrive is not announced (Matthew 24:42).
1. Jesus asserted that He did not know it Himself (Mark 13:32). The disciples once asked Him about this (Matthew 24:3). He told them that God the Father had kept this one secret in His own solemn reserve (Acts 1:6-7).
2. But our Saviour declares that His coming might be expected at any moment, morning or midnight, evening or cock crowing (Mark 13:35). It would assuredly be sudden. The figure is employed more than once in the Scriptures of “a thief in the night” (2 Peter 3:10). Peter in his Epistle only quotes our Lord’s own language (Luke 12:39-40).
3. Moreover, Christ told His disciples that there would be tokens of the nearness of this great day, by which it might be recognized when it should be close at hand (Mark 13:28-29). These signs would be as clearly discerned as shoots on fig trees in the opening summer. He mentioned some of them explicitly (Luke 21:25-28). We may admit that “wars and rumours of wars,” earthquakes, famines, falling stars, and pestilences (Matthew 24:6-8), together with “great signs in heaven and earth,” are alarming disclosures; but will any one doubt that such phenomena are conspicuous at least? (Luke 17:24).
4. So Jesus insisted that men were bound to be wise in noting these signs, and be ready (Luke 12:54-56).
V. The greatest peril is that, when “our absent Lord” comes, men will be taken unawares (Mark 13:36).
1. The instinctive tendency of the human heart is to procrastinate in the performance of religious work.
2. Time glides mysteriously on with no reference to daring delay. The grave, like the horseleach’s daughter, cries “Give” (Proverbs 30:15-16), and damnation slumbereth not (2 Peter 2:3), but men sleep clear up to the edge of divine judgment. They did in Noah’s time, and in Lot’s, when a less catastrophe was at hand; and so it will be when the Son of Man is revealed (Luke 18:26-30).
3. Christians ought to hold in memory the repeated admonitions they have received. Walter Scott wrote on his dial plate the two Greek words which mean “the night cometh,” so that he might keep eternity in mind whenever he saw the hours of time flitting by. Evidently the Apostle Paul feels that he has the right to press peculiarly pertinent and solemn appeals upon those who had enjoyed the advantage of such long instruction (1 Thessalonians 5:1-7).
4. There is no second chance offered after the first is lost. When Christ comes, foolish virgins will have no time to run for oil to pour into their lightless lamps. A forfeited life cannot be allowed any opportunity for retrieval. Where the tree falls, north or south, there it must lie, whether the full fruit has been ripened upon its branches or not (Ecclesiastes 11:3).
VI. The final counsel left behind him by “our absent Lord” is for all to watch (Mark 13:37).
1. Christ’s coming would seem to be the highest anticipation for true believers. When He appears, saints will appear with Him in glory (Colossians 3:4). This is the “blessed hope” of the Church along the ages (Titus 2:13).
2. It might clear an inquirer’s experience to think of this coming of Jesus. Does one love to “watch” for Him? In the autobiography of Frances Ridley Havergal we are told of the years during which she sought sadly for peace at the cross. At last one of her teachers put this question to her: “Why cannot you trust yourself to your Saviour at once? Supposing that now, at this moment, Christ were to come in the clouds of heaven, and take up His redeemed, could you not trust Him? Would not His call, His promise, be enough for you? Could you not commit your soul to Him, to your Saviour, Jesus?” This lifted the cloud; she tells the story herself: “Then came a flash of hope across me, which made me feel literally breathless. I remember how my heart beat. ‘I could surely,’ was my response; and I left her suddenly and ran away upstairs to think it out. I flung myself on my knees in my room, and strove to realize the sudden hope. I was very happy at last. I could commit my soul to Jesus. I did not, and need not, fear His coming. I could trust Him with my all for eternity. It was so utterly new to have any bright thoughts about religion that I could hardly believe it could be so, that I had really gained such a step. Then and there, I committed my soul to the Saviour, I do not mean to say without any trembling or fear, but I did-and earth and heaven seemed bright from that moment-I did trust the Lord Jesus.” (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Work for God
The sentence which must have seemed to Adam a curse, “In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread,” has been turned by God into a blessing. The elements of Adam’s doom are the materials of human happiness. Heaven is made out of the ruins of the fall. What a world this would be without work! What a weariness! What a hot bed of every bad passion! What a torment!
I. Every living creature has its own proper work. It matches with each man’s natural endowment and his spiritual attainment. It is what suits him: neither too little nor too much. Enough to engage, and occupy, and draw out all his powers; and yet not so much as to injure or distress them. Take pains to ascertain whether the work you are engaged in is really yours-the work God would have you to do. To settle that satisfactorily, the following conditions must be fulfilled:
1. There must be the vocation of the heart-conscience and spiritual conviction telling you, after prayer and thought, that you are called to it.
2. The vocation of circumstances-your position and means being suited, and your education and habit of mind accommodated to it.
3. The vocation of the Church-the advice and judgment of pious friends who are in a position to offer an unprejudiced opinion on the subject. If these three things unite, you may be sure that, though you are directed to it by human agencies, the work is really allotted to you by God.
II. You are responsible only for doing the work, not for the results. The work is yours, but the issue is God’s. Leave that to Him. Do you work with faith-for faith is confidence, and confidence is calmness, and calmness is power, and power is success, and success is God’s glory. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Unless we work, we shall not keep spiritually awake and lively: unless we are awake, we shall not work. The last thing that would please a master would be the idle curiosity which would make the servants neglect their work to stand outside the door gazing to catch a glimpse of his return. What the Master desires is wakeful work. He desires-
1. Work of mercy.
2. Work of uprightness.
3. Work of struggling against evil within us.
4. Work of witnessing for Christ.
5. Work of helping others in various ways.
6. Work of comforting the sad, of supporting the weak.
7. Work of reclaiming the erring.
8. Work of saving the lost.
II. He wants this to be done wakefully; in that fresh and earnest way which men take
(1) when their faculties are on the alert;
(2) when they are on the watch for opportunities of doing good, and against seductions to neglect it;
(3) when they are wakeful enough to see a living Saviour, and feel His inspiration;
(4) when they watch lest they lose the things they have wrought;
(5) when they are awake to the immense needs and the awful dangers of their fellow men;
(6) when they are awake to the littleness of time and the greatness of eternity the nearness and sufficiency of the Spirit’s help, and the certainty and value of the Saviour’s reward. When there is this working and this watching mutually aiding each other, then the desire of the Master is fulfilled, and whenever He appears we are ready to receive Him with exceeding joy. (R. Glover.)
Work and watching
I. The work of the servants.
1. Work is the common duty of all in Christ’s house. The calm stars are in ceaseless motion, and every leaf is a world, with its busy inhabitants and the sap coursing through its veins as the life blood through our own. It would be strange then if the Christian Church, which was intended to be the beating heart to all this world’s activity, were exempted from a law so universal. Such a thing would be against our highest nature. Work is not only a duty, but a blessing. Every right deed is a step upward. Instead of praying that God would grant us less work, our request should be that he would give us a greater heart and growing strength to meet all its claims.
2. This work is varied to different individuals. In one respect there is something common in the work of all, as there is a common salvation-to believe in Christ and to grow in grace; but even here there may be a variety in the form. There is a different colour of beauty in different stones that are all of them precious. One man may be burnishing to the sparkle of the diamond, while another is deepening to the glow of the ruby; and each is equally useful and necessary. The cornerstone and the cope stone have both their due place in the palace house of Christ. To see how this may be, is to perceive that an end can be put to all jealousies and heart burnings, and may help us even now to take our position calmly and unenviously, working in our department, assured that our labour will be found to contribute to the full proportion of the whole.
3. Each individual has means for ascertaining his own work. Not a special revelation, or an irresistible impression. Still Christ does guide men into their sphere of work by the finger of His providence and by the enlightenment of His Word in the hand of His Spirit. If it be thought it would be simpler and more satisfactory to have our place directly pointed out to us, let us remember the trouble and care necessary to ascertain it are part of our training.
There are these rules to guide us.
1. Our aptitudes.
2. Our opportunities.
3. The opinion of our fellow men when fairly expressed.
II. The watch of the porter. The porter is that one of the servants whose station is at the door to look out for those who approach, and open to them if they have right to enter. It would be wrong, however, to suppose that the body of the servants are exempted from watching, while one takes the duty for them (Mark 13:37). In saying the workmen are many and the watchman one, our Lord indicated that, while the mode of labour in the house may vary, the duty of watchfulness is common to all who are in it. The porter must stand at the door of every heart, while that heart pursues its work. What, then, is this watching? It is to do all our work with the thought of Christ’s eye measuring it, as of a friend who is ever present to our soul, gone from us in outward form, sure to return, and meanwhile near in spirit; to subject our plans and acts to His approval, asking ourselves at every step how this would please Him, shrinking from what would cloud His face, rejoicing with great joy in all that would meet His smile. This is a more difficult task than to have our hands busy with the work of the house. But, if attended to, it will bring its proportionate benefit.
1. It will keep us wakeful.
2. It will preserve purity.
3. It will maintain the soul in calmness.
4. It will rise increasingly to the fervour of prayer-that prayer which is the strength of the soul and the life of all work.
III. The bearing of these two duties upon each other.
1. Work cannot be rightly performed without watching; for then it would be
(1) blind and without a purpose;
(2) discouraging and tedious;
(3) formal and dead.
2. Watching will not suffice without work; or it would be
(2) subject to many temptations, such as empty speculations, vanity, pride;
(3) unready for Christ.
The solitary watcher can have no works of faith nor labours of love to present, no saved souls to offer for the Redeemer’s crown, and no crown of righteousness to receive from Him. He is saved, but alone, as on a board or a broken piece of the ship; not as they who have many voices of blessing around, and many welcomes before, and to whom an entrance is ministered abundantly into the kingdom of heaven. Happy is the man who can combine these two duties in perfect harmony-who has Stephen’s life of labour and Stephen’s vision in the end. In every soul there should be the sisters of Bethany, active effort and quiet thought, and both agreeing in mutual love and help. (John Ker, D. D.)
The discipline of work
Consider what an amount of drudgery must be performed-how much humdrum and prosaic labour goes to any work of the least value. There are so many layers of mere white lime in every shell to that inner one so beautifully tinted. Let not the shellfish think to build his house of that alone; and pray what are its tints to him? Is it not his smooth close-fitting shirt merely, whose tints are not to him, being in the dark, but only when he is gone or dead, and his shell is heaved up to light, a wreck upon the beach, do they appear. With him, too, it is a song of the shirt-“Work-work-work!” And the work is not merely a policy in the gross sense, but, in the higher sense, a discipline. If it is surely the means to the highest end we know, can any work be humble or disgusting? Will it not rather be elevating, as a ladder, the means by which we are translated? (Thoreau.)
Christ’s service delightful
A beautiful incident in reference to Mr. Townsend is mentioned in the life of John Campbell. “Finding him on Tuesday morning, shortly before his last illness, leaning on the balustrade of the staircase that led to the committee room of the Tract Society, and scarcely able to breathe, I remarked, ‘Mr. Townsend, is this you? Why should you come in this state of body to our meetings? You have now attended them for a long time, and you should leave the work to younger men.’ The reply of Mr. Townsend was worthy of his character. Looking at his friend with a countenance brightened and elevated by the thoughts that were struggling for utterance, his words were: ‘Oh! Johnny, Johnny, man, it is hard to give up working in the service of such a Master!’“ (Biblical Treasury.)
Watch ye, therefore.
Watchfulness, a preparation for the coming of Christ
I. What we are to understand by the coming of the master of the house. By “the master of the house” here is meant Christ, as it is also in Luke 13:25. The world in general, and the visible Church in particular, and especially the spiritual part of it, are His house (Ephesians 1:20-23; Hebrews 3:3-6). His coming is represented in Scripture in different lights and for different purposes. In this chapter of Mark, and in the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew, and the twenty-first of Luke, He is represented as coming to judge and punish the Jewish nation, His visible Church of old, or His house, for rejecting Him (Deuteronomy 18:19; comp. with Acts 3:23; Hebrews 12:15). In other places He is represented as coming to judge all mankind at the last day (verses 24-26; 2 Peter 3:3-12). He is said to come when He visits in a peculiar way, whether in judgment or mercy, any nation, or Church, or any particular member of it (Revelation 2:5-16; Revelation 3:3). He comes to each of us at death (Revelation 1:18; Revelation 2:25; Revelation 3:11). It is this last coming of Christ to which I would especially call your attention. For it is of the greatest importance to us, since-
1. It will separate us from all below, from our occupations, enjoyments, possessions, families, relations, and friends, and even from our own bodies.
2. It will finish our state of trial, and determine our condition forever.
3. It will bring us into the unseen and eternal world-a new, untried, unknown state.
4. It will place us in the presence of God, that we may receive His smile or frown, may enjoy the effects of His favour and friendship, and communications of bliss from Him; or feel the effects of His wrath, and find Him to be a consuming fire.
5. It will make a most astonishing change in our circumstances.
6. It often comes suddenly, and gives no warning.
II. What is that watchfulness which is recommended as a preparation for His coming?
1. It implies spiritual life, in opposition to that sleep of death which is mentioned (Ephesians 5:14; Ephesians 2:1).
2. It implies a lively sense of the reality and importance of spiritual and eternal things, such as persons awake have of temporal things, the seeing, feeling, tasting them, so to speak, in opposition to that insensibility about them which is implied in spiritual sleep.
3. It implies a thoughtfulness, care, and concern about them, in opposition to that thoughtlessness and unconcern about them, which is natural to us.
4. It implies a sense of our danger from our enemies, visible and invisible-from the devil, the world, persons, and things, the flesh, our own hearts; and the standing on our guard, in opposition to security of mind and foolish peace.
5. It implies activity, and the vigorous exercise of every grace and virtue, as repentance, faith, hope, love, patience, etc., in opposition to indolence and sloth.
III. The vast importance of this watchfulness as a preparation for every dispensation of Divine Providence and especially for death.
IV. How we may be enabled to take this advice, and to “watch,” and what are the means leading to that end.
1. We must not presume on a long life, which is a most dangerous temptation, and an abundant source of unwatchfulness; but we must set before us, and have always in view, the shortness and uncertainty of the present life, and the certainty and nearness of death.
2. We must remember that unless we were lords of our own lives, and could appoint the time of our death, we can never be exempt from the duty of a wakeful and active attention to our spiritual and eternal interests.
3. Those whose constitutions are peculiarly feeble, or whose circumstances or employments expose them to peculiar danger, or who are arrived at old age, should consider themselves as being under special obligation to be watchful.
4. We must be particularly on our guard against our own nature, and every person and thing around us, which tends to lull us asleep, and against sensuality and worldly cares (Luke 21:34).
5. We must remember that thousands are found sleeping, even thousands of professors, at the coming of their Lord. We must pray much-a duty frequently inculcated in connection with watchfulness (Mark 13:33; Luke 21:36; Ephesians 6:18). (J. Benson.)
And what I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch.
I. In what does this watchfulness consist? Consider it in reference to the coming of Christ, and our solemn appearance before Him. In this respect it implies-
1. Thoughtfulness. Sinners are so intent upon buying and selling that they have neither time nor inclination to think of anything else. It would be an interruption and disturbance to them to be told of Christ’s coming. Every incident of life should bring it to remembrance. When we rise in the morning, it is natural for us to think, “Perhaps before night I may be at the end of my journey.”
2. But watchfulness also implies preparation.
II. On what account this watchfulness is necessary.
1. Because many are called, and few are chosen, In every field there are tares as well as wheat; in every church sinners and saints are blended together. Watch, therefore, commune with your own heart, and let your spirit make diligent search.
2. Because so many about you are slothful.
3. Because you know not the day, nor the hour, when the Son of Man cometh. Watch, therefore, while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you.
4. Because blessed are the dead which die ill the Lord. (S. Lavington.)
Watchfulness a safeguard
A prompt resistance of temptation, or a prompt repentance of sin as soon as committed, will commonly extinguish the flames. A few buckets of water dashed on the fire as soon as it kindled in De Koven Street would have saved Chicago from ruin in 1871. Had David exercised, at the right moment, one half of the grace which afterwards penned the fifty-first Psalm, he would have saved his own character and Uriah’s life. The same rule of safety applies alike to sin and to fire; the first spark must be extinguished. When a man’s whole soul is on fire, and the fabric of his character has been consumed, it is too late for prevention to use its apparatus. The ruined structure may be rebuilt by penitence and prayerful living, but many precious things have perished, never to be restored. A dear friend in St. John writes me that he shall rebuild his house, but the superb library, the pictures, and the keepsakes are gone forever. The reformed inebriate may save the remnant of his life; but the best days of it are in ashes. Wherefore the Omniscient Master has uttered the solemn admonition, “I say unto you all, watch!” (Dr. Cuyler.)
And the words which the German Commentator wrote over his study door in Hanover, “Always to be ready,” become the motto of Christian lives. And this, because the unusual is forever happening. The providences of storm, accident, and disease; of prosperity and loss, life and death-all or any one of them may come in a day. The contingencies of life therefore must needs be reckoned on in all our estimates. The route of our journeying was mapped out, the trunks were packed and the day of our departure fixed; but a child fell sick, or the mail that morning brought a message of death, and our plans were changed. Or, weary with long labour, and with wealth enough and well invested, we plan to spend the afternoon of life in ease and culture; but a panic comes, the bank fails, and debtors default, and unexpectedly we are pushed back again into the treadmill of anxious toil. Or, we counted on the schedule time and a close connection, but the train was a half hour late, and so we missed the boat and lost the holiday. (W. H. Davis.)
Watching in work
For the smith’s apron, the baker’s cap, the labourer’s blue jeans, and the housewife’s gown are all suitable material for ascension robes. And he watches best for his Lord’s coming who does the duty and the service which lie next to him, with fidelity to men and love to God. Be that duty with ploughs or day books, in the office with its briefs, or in the school room with its classes, or busy with railroads and mines, with homes or farms, no matter, if the currents of purpose sweep heavenward and the graces of faith and hope and love are in the heart. As Israel Putnam left the plough in the furrow and mounted a field horse when the bugle sounded for the rallying at Cambridge; as the minute men of Middlesex left workshop and farm at Paul Revere’s call to Lexington, so the Master would have men work and watch. (W. H. Davis.)
I. What is meant by spiritual watchfulness?
1. The mind must be awake, the understanding, the rational powers. In order to this it is essential that the powers should be exercised; in other words, that the man should think. To be mentally awake there must be life, spontaneous action, and coherence in the thoughts. But this is not enough. The mind may be awake in one sense and yet dreaming in another. Some men’s minds operate too fast, and some too slow. Some attempt to discover what has not been revealed of the future; some think too late. The mind must think seasonably. It must also act upon the proper objects, or it might just as well not act at all. The powers of many are in active exercise, but they are spent on trifles, on puzzles in theology. It thinks to no practical purpose.
2. The conscience as well as the intellect must be awake-the moral as well as the purely intellectual faculties. There must be perception not only of what is true, but of what is right. There must be liveliness of affection no less than of intellect. We must not only feel bound, but feel disposed to do the will of God. When the man thinks in earnest, seasonably of right objects and to practical purpose-when he feels his obligations and his failures to discharge them-when he earnestly desires, and sincerely loves, what he admits to be true and binding-then he may be said, in the highest spiritual sense, to be awake.
II. Be on your guard. The importance of the charge committed to our care. Although essential, it is not enough to be awake. The sentry is awake; but he is more, he is upon his guard-his mind is full of his important trust. The sentry may look for danger only in one quarter, and be overtaken by it from another direction. The danger is a complex one. He may even find the enemy within the city while he looks without. The soul may expose itself to ruin, not only by actually falling asleep, but by want of proper caution when awake-by forgetting the danger or by underrating it-by admitting its reality, but losing sight of its proximity, by looking for it from one quarter, but forgetting that it may proceed from others, by looking at a distance when the enemy is near at hand. If asked, “Who is the enemy against which spiritual vigilance is called for,” I reply, “His name is Legion.”
III. How shall we obey this duty? It is natural to ask, Is there not some safeguard, some tried means of spiritual safety, that will at once secure our vigilance and make it efficacious? Yes, there is such a talisman, and its name is prayer, that settled bent of the affections which makes actual devotion not a rare experience, but the normal condition of the soul. (J. A. Alexander, D. D.)
The nature and obligation of watchfulness
I. We must watch that we may prevent evil.
1. We must watch against sin.
2. We must guard against the world.
3. We must watch against the temptations of the devil.
II. We must watch to do good.
1. We have to discharge all the duties we owe to God, and our fellow Christians and neighbours; to improve all our talents wisely and faithfully.
2. We must watch to do all the good that God has commanded us.
3. We must watch to do good in its proper season.
4. We must watch to do good in the appointed manner.
1. How naturally prone we are to become secure and careless.
2. That without watchfulness we shall become an easy prey to our worst enemy.
3. Without this we can perform no duty that will be acceptable to God.
4. Let us join prayer to watchfulness. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
Helping others to watch
I suppose you never heard of a man of the name of Thomas Bilby. He was the man who wrote that beautiful hymn-
“Here we suffer grief and pain,
Here we meet to part again;
In heaven we part no more.
Oh! that will be joyful,
When we meet to part no more!”
He wrote it for me. He wrote it for the first “children’s service” I ever held. That was forty-five years ago, since I held my first “children’s service.” I was at Chelsea. I may be wrong, but I believe that was the first “children’s service” ever held in the Church of England. I had heard of “catechising” before, but I had not heard of “children’s services.” Mr. Bilby wrote that hymn for me, for my first “children’s service.” He was my infant schoolmaster. Before then he had been a private in the Coldstream Guards, but he became a religious man, was converted while in the army. There were several religious men in the same regiment, and they were very much observed by all the other soldiers, who watched them to see if they acted in any wrong way, because they called themselves Christians. So they watched that little society, these few religious men in the army, and if ever any one of the little band should see another going to do anything wrong, get into a bad temper, use a bad word, or going to fight with another soldier, he would go and whisper to that man, “Watch!” No one else could hear it. Mr. Bilby told me that that was the rule among the Christians in the Coldstream Guards. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Found at our post
Oh! there are so many places where we must watch. There was a city in Italy, I daresay you know of it, where, more than a thousand years ago, the lava from Mount Vesuvius came all over the city, and covered it completely with thick lava. I have been there, and seen it. A thousand years after that happened, it was discovered, the city was excavated, and they dug out many of the things that were therein. Amongst other things that were discovered, there was a man, a soldier, a sentinel at his post. A thousand years before, that man had been killed at his post by the lava, and there he was found, a sentinel still at his post! A lesson to us. A great deal more than a thousand years after, he was found still at his post. Let us be found at our post, wherever God has placed us, when He comes; when this world is covered, as it will be, with fire, may we be found faithful at our posts! (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Danger varied and where least expected
Oh! the danger may come in a very different way from the way you expect. Did you ever read AEsop’s Fables? I will tell you one of a doe that was blind of one eye (have you read the story?); this doe was very cunning and clever, for she knew which eye was blind, and down the path which the doe used to go she always kept her blind eye to the sea and her good eye to the land, because it was from the land the doe thought the danger would come. So the doe always kept the blind eye to the sea and the good eye to the land. One day a poacher, who knew all about that, got a boat and went out in the boat on the sea, and from the boat he shot the poor doe; and as the poor doe was dying, she said, so the fable goes, “Unhappy watcher! poor me! My danger came from where I never expected it, and there was no danger where I did expect it!” You may be like that poor blind doe: the danger comes where you don’t expect it! Do you know where to expect the danger? “Watch!” I believe a hare when it lies in the grass always tries to see out of its eyes backwards; he thinks the danger will come from behind, therefore he so fixes his eyes and puts his ears back that he cannot see what is before; he is always looking back. Your danger comes every way. Another thing I want you to watch against is wandering thoughts. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
I. Our conduct.
II. Our temper.
III. Our words.
IV. Our heart. (T. Heath.)
No disappointment to watchers for Christ
Most persons know what watching is. There are few who have not learned it by experience. In nights of sickness or sleeplessness you have watched for the morning. You have watched for the coming of expected friends. If they have been long separated from you, if they have gone to a far country, how anxiously you await the day of their return! It is a work of love to make your home bright and cheerful for them, and sometimes you gather flowers that they may add their greeting to yours. But, alas! how much of this earthly watching ends in disappointment! The ship that is bringing the absent one home goes down, and the longed-for sound of the familiar step and voice is waited for in vain. Ambitious souls lay plans and watch for success. Oftener than otherwise those plans fail and come to nothing. There has been more than one mother of a Sisera, whose son has gone out into the world flushed with the expectation of victory in some field of noble strife. She has looked through the lattice of her humble retirement for the return of his chariot, and for a division of the honour gained, and kept on gazing and expecting, not knowing that he has fallen a captive to temptation, and that his soul was pierced through, nailed to the earth, and dead … Most of our earthly watching is, after all, sad and fruitless. It always is, provided we look only for what this world can bring and preserve in our keeping. But blessed is he that watches for Jesus, and for His coming. That coming will be indeed a blessed morning, the bringing in of an eternal day, one through all of whose sunny hours no more sickness or pain will be felt. It will restore our absent ones to us, in a home better than any here, a mansion bright and fragrant; with flowers fairer than any of earth. It will mark the victorious return of every true soldier of the Cross, and his joyous coronation. It will reveal the multiplied richness and value of every treasure given into the Lord’s hand. (E. E. Johnson, M. A.)
The interval between Christ’s going and coming
The first advent is the pivot on which all turns for the life below; the second advent will be the point round which all will be grouped for the life above. Faith looks back at the Cross, and finds peace. Hope looks forward to the coronation, and gathers strength. Meanwhile the Master’s eye and heart are towards His people, and He gives this motto.
I. There are things which suggest watchfulness.
1. The tendency of the body to induce sleep.
2. The influence of the world to beget sloth.
3. The design of the enemy to rob us while we slumber.
II. Things which promote watchfulness.
III. Things which repay watchfulness.
1. Marry a glorious sight is missed by those who will not watch.
2. The night watches give an insight into depths of space.
3. The morning watches tell of unthought glories in the Sun of Righteousness.
4. The men who watch look out of self.
IV. Things which encourage watchfulness.
1. Time is too precious to waste in sleep.
2. A restless conscience.
3. A longing desire.
4. A burning hope. (J. Richardson.)
I. Against sin. Put on the Christian soldier’s armour to preserve you from the fiery darts of the wicked. Be in earnest. You may be armed from head to foot, and yet false in your Christianity. Some time since I remember walking across the tesselated pavement of a grand hall in the mansion of one of England’s noblest born. In a niche I saw, by the light which streamed through the painted glass of an oriel window, a statue. I thought at first it was a man. I walked across the pavement, and drew near to examine the figure. He had upon his head a helmet of iron; the vizor was drawn down over his face, concealing the features; he held on his arm a long shield that reached to the very ground; in his hand was grasped an iron sword, double edged; he wore on his bosom a strong breastplate; his limbs were covered with greaves and rings; his feet were also shod with iron. I drew near, and began to examine this well-protected figure. Presently, to my surprise, I saw something protruding; it was a piece of straw. On walking round, I saw some more straw sticking out through the greaves of the armour. I soon found this was a man in armour-if you will,-but stuffed with straw. And so, there may be many armed with the spiritual panoply-ready to quote texts, apt with religious arguments, apparently respectable and sincere,-whose religion is false, hollow, and worthless. Unless you are watching against all inroads of the enemy, and pressing onward in the battle, you are none of Christ’s.
II. Against temptation. Satan comes in many guises. Be on the lookout. Don’t let him deceive you with specious arguments and seductions.
III. For souls. Seek to turn others into the right way. Draw them by love and with care. Do not let an opportunity slip, or you will regret it forever. There was one whose hand I held in mine; with whom I trod-the narrow way that leadeth unto life? No-the broad road that leadeth unto hell; and he has departed, he has been removed beyond the reach of my voice. I will tell you how it was. Bred early to a knowledge of God, I became a backslider, and I wandered with him for years in the road that leads to hell. I left this country, and wandered over the shores of Mexico, Texas, the West Indies, and through the Caribbean Seas; and then returned home, after having been a long while away. I went to where my friend lived, and asked, “Where is so and so?” The person hesitated. “Where is he? Is he here, or in another part of the country?” The person turned pale. I said, “Tell me-I must have it-where is he?” “Well,” was the reply, “he is dead.” “Dead!” I felt petrified. Then I demanded, “Where did he die?” The person said, “He went up to London; there he ran a course of dissipation, and then he was suddenly cut off by the hand of God.” Now, do you know, I have never lost the remembrance of that. Sometimes I close my door and go on my knees in prayer, and beseech God to blot out the black mark. And sometimes, when I lie down to sleep, I see staring at me through the gloom a pale face that I know-it is the face of that damned man. Aye, methinks, if he might speak, he would curse me; he would say, “God curse you!” “Why?” “Because you might have preached to me Christ Jesus; and now I am lost.” Let not this reproach be cast upon you.
IV. For Christ. With affection. With patience. With perseverance. (H. G. Guinness.)
Watch for death
There is nothing more certain than death; nothing more uncertain than the time of dying. I will therefore be prepared for that at all times which may come at any time, and must come at one time or another. I shall not hasten my death by being still ready, but sweeten it. It makes me not die the sooner, but the better. (A. Warwick.)
Watch:-Men hear these warnings as general discourses, and let them pass so; they apply them not; or, if they do, it is readily to some other person. But they are addressed to all, that each one may regulate himself by them: and so these Divine truths are like a well-drawn picture, which looks particularly upon everyone, amongst the great multitude, that looks at it. (Archbishop Leighton.)