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And again He entered into Capernaum.
The general ministry of Christ
Christ’s apparent delays are only the maturings of time-the ripenings of opportunity. He will come, not when impatient men think best, but when His wisdom determines: neither too soon nor too late.
I. Where Christ is desired Christ comes. He visits with equal readiness every willing heart. In penitent and submissive natures He finds His favourite haunts.
II. Christ’s presence in the house cannot be concealed. Holy influences emanate from Him, freely as light from the sun.
III. Christ binds together all classes.
IV. Human limits are too narrow for Christ’s kingdom. God’s plans are expansive; let us beware of trying to contract them. We must enlarge our ideas, until they are commensurate with God’s truth; we must enlarge our sympathies until they embrace every human need.
V. Christ improves every occasion. Whatever is needed, He is ready to supply. Each individual in that crowd had some special want, but not one was making special application. But Christ could not be idle. His business was to minister. If they did not want a word of healing, they all wanted a word of instruction. (D. Davies, M. A.)
It was noised that He was in the house
I. Houses where Christ will dwell.
1. The human heart.
2. The Christian family.
3. A spiritual Church.
II. The chief glory of a Christian Church-not the building, nor the form of service, nor the social position of its members, nor the eloquence of the preacher, nor its past history-but the Christ who dwells within it.
III. The self-manifesting nature of true religion. If Christ be within the heart, the family, or the Church-the fact will be known abroad. Though the rose is not seen its fragrance is perceived. Its glitter betrays the presence of gold. Clouds cannot conceal the sun, for the daylight declares its ascendency.
IV. The chief drawing power of Christianity. If we would draw the multitude we must do it, not so much by eccentricities-advertisements, as by obtaining the presence of Jesus Christ. He will draw all men unto Him. Christ within will attract the multitude without. (L. Palmer.)
The king and his Court
Where the king is there is his Court. (Anon.)
A happy town
Happy town in such an inhabitant, and in this respect lifted up to heaven. Indeed, in this, heaven came down to Capernaum. (Trapp.)
Where Shiloh is there shall the gathering of the people be. (M. Henry.)
Christ in the house
I. When Christ may be said to be in the house.
1. When the Bible is there.
2. When a good man enters it and carries with him the savour of Christ.
3. When He dwells in the heart of anyone in the family-parent, child, servant, etc.
4. Into whatever house a Christian family enters, Christ enters with it, etc.
II. Some of the advantages of having Christ in the house.
1. If it be noised that Christ is in the house, good men will be drawn to it and bad men will keep away.
2. There will be a witness for God there.
3. There is a direct communication between it and the house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
4. That house is under the peculiar protection of Divine Providence.
5. The sympathies of good men are drawn towards it. Conclusion: We should seek Christ on our own account; and we should seek Him on account of others. (G. Rogers.)
Jesus in the house: piety at home
How many are longing for grand spheres in which to serve God. They admire heroic men and women who have been bold for the truth, and wish they had some daring opportunity in which to exhibit Christian heroism and endurance. St. Paul says to such persons (1 Timothy 5:4), “I will tell you of a place where you can show forth all that is beautiful and glorious in the Christian character, and that place is the domestic circle; ““Let them first learn to show piety at home.” Indeed, if a man does not serve God on a small scale, he never will serve Him on a large one. (J. N. Natron.)
How Christ enters the house
Christ Jesus gains admission to the house in various ways. Sometimes it is through the sweet influence of a little child, who has heard of Him in the Sunday school. Sometimes Jesus finds His way into the house through the agency of a good book or a tract. Sometimes He leaves the fragrance of His example behind Him, after the visit of a friend. Jesus may only be present in the house in the person of the humblest servant, and yet the influence of that servant will be felt. (J. N. Natron.)
Bishop Coxe, in the preface to his “Covenant Prayer,” gives this interesting narrative. “A few years ago I visited an old feudal castle in England. One of its towers dates from King John’s time; its outer walls bear marks of siege and damage from the guns of Cromwell. The young owner, lately married, was beginning his housekeeping aright, and when I came down into the old hall to breakfast, his servants were all assembled for prayers with the family. Though I was asked to officiate, I reminded my kind host that every man is a priest in his own household, and I begged him to officiate as he was used to do. So he read prayers and Holy Scripture, with due solemnity, and we all kneeled down. Happening to lift my eyes, I observed over his head, upon a massive oaken beam that spanned the hall, an inscription in old English:
“‘That house shall be preserved, and never shall decay,
Where the Almighty God is worshipped, day by day. A.D. 1558.’”
(J. N. Natron.)
Piety in the house proved by virtue in the children
If I am told in general terms of a mother, that she has gone to the studio of a photographic artist to obtain a portrait of herself, and if the question afterwards arise, did she sit alone, or did she group the children round her feet, and hold the infant on her knee? I do not know, for I was not there; but show me the glass which the artist has just taken out from a vessel of liquid in a dark room, and is holding up to the light. What figures are those that are gradually forming upon its surface? In that glass rises the outline of that maternal form; and the forms of the children come gradually in, variously grouped around her. Ah! I know now that this mother sat not alone when the sun in the heavens painted her picture in that glass. The character and condition of children, through all their after life, tell plainly who were closest to her heart, and whose names were oftenest on her lips, when the mother held communion with Jesus in the house. (Arnot.)
Christly influence in the home
Travelling on the Lake Lugano, one morning, we heard the swell of the song of the nightingale, and the oars were stilled on the blue lake as we listened to the silver sounds. We could not see a single bird, nor do I know that we wished to see-we were so content with the sweetness of the music: even so it is with our Lord; we may enter a house where He is loved, and we may hear nothing concerning Christ, and yet we may perceive clearly enough that He is there, a holy influence streaming through their actions pervades the household; so that if Jesus be unseen, it is clear that He is not unknown. Go anywhere where Jesus is, and though you do not actually hear His name, yet the sweet influence which flows from His love will be plainly enough discernible. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Christ in the house
I. That Christ in the house is an attraction-“Many were gathered together.”
II. That Christ in the house is an instruction-“He preached the word unto them.”
III. That Christ in the house is a benediction.
1. A benediction of healing.
2. A benediction of pardon.
1. That Christ is willing to dwell in the homes of men.
2. That when Christ dwells in the home it is visible to the world that He does so.
3. That the home life should be a perpetual but silent sermon. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
And they came unto Him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four.
The charities of the poor
“Borne of four.” The charities of the rich are published far and wide, and all men talk of them. Let us turn from them to think for a little of the charities of the poor. But how do we know that the paralytic in this story belonged to the poor? From St. Mark. When he says (Mark 2:4) “They let down the bed,” he employs a different word for bed from St. Matthew, viz., the Greek form of the Latin grabatus, the pallet or camp bed used by the poor (Cf. John 5:8; Acts 5:15; Acts 9:33). This is one of those graphic touches by which he so often gives additional interest and pictorial vividness to his narrative. (Cf. in the context, “Capernaum,” verse 1, “about the door,” verse 2, “broken it up,” verse 4, “son,” verse 5, and text, “borne of four.”) The story suggests as to the charities of the poor-
I. That they generally spring from neighbourhood-“Four.” Who were they, friends or kinsfolk? Most probably neighbours. There is something sacred in neighbourhood. It is an ordinance of God, and the source of countless kindnesses and sweet humanities.
II. That they are often nameless-“Four.” The deed of love is chronicled, but nothing is said to identify the doers. So of thousands. Their simple, unostentatious charities are unnamed and unhonoured. But their record is on high.
III. That they are called forth in cases of great distress-“Palsy,” Type of many. No place exempt from trouble. Multitudes of the poor suffer grievously.
IV. That they are characterized by much disinterestedness and generosity. Of the charities of the poor it may be said, as Spenser says of the angels, that they are “all for love and nothing for reward.”
V. That they are personally exercised. Most of the rich act by proxy. How different with the poor. They act for themselves.
VI. That they reach their highest form when they are the means of bringing souls to Christ.
VII. That they shall have a great reward. Happy day for this poor man and his friends. (W. Forsyth, M. A.)
“Two,” says Solomon, “are better than one; for if one fall he can help the other, but woe unto him that is alone when he falleth!” The cobbler could not paint the picture, but he could tell Apelles that the shoe latchet was not quite right, and the painter thought it well to take his hint. Two neighbours, one blind and the other lame, were called to a place at a great distance. What was to be done? The blind man could not see, and the lame man could not walk! Why, the blind man carried the lame one; the former assisted by his legs, the other by his eyes. Say to no one, then, “I can do without you;” but be ready to help those who ask your aid, and then, when it is needed, you may ask theirs. (Smith.)
A man with a palsy
I. The blessedness of faithful friends.
II. The power of sin.
III. The result of perseverance.
IV. The philosophy of religion-“Seek ye first,” etc. (Anon.)
The sick man let down through the roof to Christ
I. Those who would be healed by Christ must come to him. Though in exceptional cases our Lord did cure sick people who were at a distance (e.g. Luke 7:1-10)
, His general rule was to heal by look, word, and touch-by the giving out of “virtue” from His living presence (Mark 5:30). Thus in the case before us the man was not cured till he reached Christ.
1. It is not enough to hear much of Christ. It is not enough to hear of a surgeon; a cure can be effected only by personal treatment.
2. It is not enough to seek help of those who are near to Christ. The crowd about the door could not heal the sick man.
II. There are those who will never reach Christ unless they are brought to him by others. The sick man was “borne of four,” and could not have reached Jesus without this help. It is the mission of the Church to bring to Christ those who are too helpless in spiritual indifference to seek Him of their own accord (Luke 14:21-23). Note-
1. The Church cannot cure the world of its sin.
2. Those who cannot do more, may be able to bring others under “the sound of the word,” by inducing them to attend places of worship, etc.
III. The selfishness of some who are enjoying Christian privileges is one of the greatest impediments to the spread of the blessings of the gospel among those who are as yet without them. The selfish crowd would not give place for the sick man.
IV. Earnest perseverance in seeking Christ will overcome the greatest difficulties. The readiness to give up before difficulties is a sure proof of half-heartedness. It is the sluggard who says, “There is a lion in the path.” Christ is always accessible, though not always with ease.
V. Though the way of coming to Christ may be irregular, His healing blessing will be certainly given when once He is truly found. There are cases in which the regular methods of the Church fail, and irregular methods seem to succeed. (W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
Healing the paralytic
I. Forgiveness is the chief blessing.
III. Gladness-“Be of good cheer.”
IV. Faith-“When He saw their faith.” (D. Brotchie.)
Christ’s way of dealing with sin
I. The malady presented to Christ. The malady, apparently, was nothing more than palsy. But not as such did Christ treat it. As with their faith, so it was here. He went deeper than perseverance or ingenuity. He goes deeper than the outward evil; down to the evil, the root of all evil, properly the only evil-sin. Now sin has a twofold set of consequences.
1. The natural. By the natural, we mean those results which come inevitably in the train of wrong-doing, by what we call the laws of nature visiting themselves on the outward condition of a sinner, by which sin and suffering are linked together. Here, apparently, palsy had been the natural result of sin; for otherwise the address of Christ was meaningless. These natural consequences are often invisible as well as inevitable. Probably not one of the four friends, or even the physician, suspected such a connection. But the conscience of the palsied man and the all-seeing eye of Christ traced the connection. Such an experience is true much oftener than we imagine. The irritable temperament, the lost memory, are connected with sins done long ago. For nothing here stands alone and causeless. The Saviour saw in this palsied man the miserable wreck of an ill-spent life.
2. Now quite distinct from these are the moral consequences of guilt: by which I mean those which tell upon the character and inward being of the man who sins. In one sense, no doubt, it is a natural result, inasmuch as it is by a law, regular and unalterable, a man becomes by sin deteriorated in character, or miserable. Now these are twofold, negative and positive-the loss of some blessing: or the accruing of some evil to the heart. Loss-as when by sinning we lose the capacity for all higher enjoyments; for none can sin without blunting his sensibilities. He has lost the zest of a pure life, the freshness and the flood of happiness which come to every soul when it is delicate, and pure, and natural. This is no light loss. If anyone here congratulates himself that sin has brought to him no positive misery, my brother, I pray you to remember that God’s worst curse was pronounced upon the serpent tempter. Apparently it was far less than that pronounced on the woman, but really it was far more terrible. Not pain, not shame-no, these are remedial, and may bring penitence at last-but to sink the angel in the animal-the spirit in the flesh; to be a reptile, and to eat the dust of degradation as if it were natural food. Eternity has no damnation deeper than that. Then, again, a positive result-the dark and dreadful loneliness that comes from doing wrong-a conscious unrest which plunges into business, or pleasure, or society, not for the love of these things, but to hide itself from itself as Adam did in the trees of the garden, because it dare not hear the voice of God, nor believe in His presence.
II. Christ’s treatment of that malady. By the declaration of God’s forgiveness. The forgiveness of God acts upon the moral consequences of sin directly. Remorse passes into penitence and love. There is no more loneliness, for God has token up His abode there. No more self-contempt, for he whom God has forgiven learns to forgive himself. There is no more unrest, for “being justified by faith, we have peace with God.” Upon the natural consequences, not directly, but indirectly and mediately. The forgiveness of Christ did not remove the palsy, that was the result of a separate act of Christ. It is quite conceivable that it might not have been removed at all. Consider too, that without a miracle, they must have remained in this man’s case. It is so in everyday life. If the intemperate man repents he will receive forgiveness, but will that penitence give him back the steady hand of youth? Or if the suicide between the moment of draining the poisoned cup and that of death repent of his deed, will that arrest the operation of the poison? A strong constitution or the physician may possibly save life; but penitence has nothing to do with it. Say that the natural penal consequence of crime is the scaffold:-Did the pardon given to the dying thief unnail his hands? Did Christ’s forgiveness interfere with the natural consequences of his guilt? And thus, we are brought to a very solemn and awful consideration, awful because of its truth and simplicity. The consequences of past deeds remain. They have become part of the chain of the universe-effects which now are causes, and will work and interweave themselves with the history of the world forever. You cannot undo your acts. If you have depraved another’s will, and injured another’s soul, it may be in the grace of God that hereafter you will be personally accepted and the consequences of your guilt inwardly done away, but your penitence cannot undo the evil you have done, and God’s worst punishment may be that you may have to gaze half frantic on the ruin you have caused, on the evil you have done. And yet even here the grace of God’s forgiveness is not in vain; it may transform the natural consequences of sin into blessings. It would give meekness, patience, and change even the character of death itself. A changed heart will change all things around us.
III. The true aim and meaning of miracles. It is the outward manifestation of the power of God, in order that we may believe in the power of God in things that are invisible. Miracles were no concession to that infidel spirit which taints our modern Christianity, and which cannot believe in God’s presence, except it can see Him in the supernatural. Rather, they were to make us feel that all is marvellous, all wonderful, all pervaded with a Divine presence, and that the simplest occurrences of life are miracles. In conclusion. Let me address those who, like this sufferer, are in any degree conscious either of the natural or moral results of sin, working in them. My Christian brethren, if the crowd of difficulties which stand between your soul and God succeed in keeping you away, all is lost. Right into His presence you must force your way, with no concealment. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Body and soul cured
I. Pardon, as such, is not a progressive thing. There is no such thing as half a pardon. There are no processes of forgiveness-“Thy sins are forgiven thee.” The sense of pardon will progress with growing holiness; but not the pardon.
II. We may notice further that the forgiveness of sins took the initiative of all the blessings. It was the first act of grace which led on to all the rest. Remember, we do not work up to our pardon, but from it. We receive it in the free, undeserved, sovereign grace of God.
III. And further, we gather from the story, that any temporal blessings that we receive may, to a devout mind, give evidence of god’s love to the soul and of his tower to bestow further spiritual gifts.
IV. It is strengthening and assuring also to see by what tenures we hold our pardon-“The Son of man,” etc. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The paralytic let down through the roof
The scribes were right in their instinctive reflection; that none can forgive sins but God. As an illustration of the whole covenant of our redemption from guilt, and its penal consequences, Christ first forgives the sins of the paralytic, and then throws health into every fibre of his body. Does it not intimate “that all judgment hath been committed unto the Son.” Does it not cast a new light upon those passages of Holy Writ, in which the prerogative of giving life is attributed to Jesus, as though He were the original source of vitality. Let us regard this as an instance of Divine faith; it will help us to a view of faith as contrasted with reason, and of faith exercised in its proper department; also an example of the moral necessity of faith to the obtaining of blessings from heaven.
I. The consideration of the text will help us to a right view of faith as contrasted with reason. It was clearly faith which brought the men to the city where our Lord was; whereas reason might have kept them at home. Let it be assumed that faith and reason are independent processes of the mind, as being exercised on different things; faith “cometh by hearing,” and simply accepting testimony; reason, on the other hand, looks rather to the lessons of experience. The four friends of the palsied man having heard of the cures wrought by Jesus, determined at all hazards to carry their friend to Him. Now we call the moral temper which so influenced them-it may be in the twinkling of an eye-faith. They accepted the statements of those who had been at Capernaum. They did not argue concerning the supernatural power of our Lord, or inquire whether it was consonant with the usual course of nature; such would have been the exercise of reason. Reason would have contended that no force of words could restore palsied limbs to health. Faith, so far contrasted with reason, was ready to make the journey. To put the contrast in another view. There are many who would contend, that our last remark goes to depreciate faith, and to say that it is a moral quality, lower than reason; dependent, after all, upon it, and content to make its decisions and pursue its conduct upon a less precise and more vague amount of evidence. Nay, more, that it may be confused with reason, and is but a certain form or process of reason. This is practically the view of all those modern thinkers, who, wanting to get rid of the motive powers of the gospel, seek first to depreciate the very principles of which they are constituted. But it may be replied, that reason is not the origin and source of faith, because it sometimes comes in to test and verify its discoveries, any more than the judge at your tribunals is the origin of the innocence of those whom he righteously acquits; or the critic who decides about the structure and the plot of an epic, is to be confounded with the poet, from the depths of whose abounding genius its rich thoughts have welled forth. From what we have said it may be presumed that we claim for faith something not unlike a separate identity in the breast. We think that we hardly disparage conscience-itself not far apart from reason, as exercised in a high and holy manner, and yet, though near, distinct-if we seat faith by her side, in the banquet of the soul’s uppermost chamber: if we claim for faith the prerogatives of a separate instinct and power-a moral temper and standing, apart in the breast; and coming in its brighter forms not merely of ourselves, not as a natural evolution of any ordinary inward powers, but as the special gift of God. Nor is this to confound it with that superstition of fanaticism by which the pretended votaries of faith are sometimes led away, and which renders it so obnoxious to men of the world. But not to continue longer this desultory contrast of faith and reason than the necessity of the times requires, and leaving its development rather to your private meditations, we shall only dwell on one more point, as displayed in the case of the earnest friends of the paralytic. This conduct forms a strong illustration of the truth that faith is a principle of action, as reason of minute investigations. We may, if we will, think that such investigations are of high value; though, in truth, they have a tendency to blunt the practical energy of the mind while they improve its scientific exactness. This remark brings us to the gist of our whole argument. We are surrounded by men who would persuade us that the world is to be regenerated, and all its paralytic prostrations healed, by the careful balancing of certain philosophical truths, by courses of speculative inquiry, by the exercise of the reason alone. Of the height of faith in its higher forms they know nothing. We venture to tell them that whether for the rescue of a pauper or a world their plans and principles are powerless. While reason is speculating and balancing things, and doubts which way to proceed, faith moves rapidly and majestically forward, and sheds blessings at every footstep. While reason inquires whether the waters can possess any healing power, faith steps in, and is made whole. If, then, reason and faith are to stand opposed, let us stand, with the just, by faith. Reason, set up in denial of faith-in morals, gave men the fictions of Rousseau-in religion, of Thomas Paine-in politics, of the French Revolution. Irreverence, captiousness, the spirit of division, the denial of the divinity of our blessed Lord and all sacramental mysteries, the sneers at prayer-these are the genuine products of reason, attired as a harlot, carried as an idol, and set in antagonism to faith. Of extremes, that of the rationalist is the worst. I had rather be superstitions than sceptical. Wherever I am, oh Jesus Christ, give me the spirit of simplicity, learning, and loving; lest Thou shouldest be near, and I knew it not-lest others should be pressing to hear Thy words and seek Thy face, taking, with holy “violence, the kingdom of heaven by force,” and I should linger apart from Thee; lest my soul should be left with its leprous taint of sin uncured, while others came from Thy presence, with souls like that of a little child; lest my spiritual powers should be palsied still, while others, “borne” by the faith of “four,” had their sins forgiven, their maladies healed, and took up their bed, and departed to their house.
II. Without apologising for the length of the discussion just closed-because it seems necessary to meet the rationalist and utilitarian direction of this iron age-we turn with minds relieved and rejoicing to a few practical reflections immediately suggested by the text. It furnishes, first, an example of earnest industry on the part of the friends and attendants of the poor paralytic, such as we shall do well to imitate as well as admire. Brethren, beloved in the Lord, is your substantiation of things hoped for simple and uncompromising like this? Believing, as we trust you do, in the Lord Jesus Christ, do ye use contrivance as earnest, and labour as hard, in fulfilling that best office of friendship, which places the diseased in the presence of their Saviour? Do you send up their case to the house of God, that it may be borne, as it were, not of “four,” but of many, to the throne of heavenly grace? If there be in your families any paralyzed by sin and wickedness, men whose moral principles are deadened, and sensibilities benumbed, by the poison of licentiousness, or infidelity, or worldliness, do you try by importunate application, and kind but constant entreaty, to bring them to the living fountain, open for sin and uncleanness? Christ is in His Church; do you try and persuade them to join you in its holy services? Do you ply them with every kind and tender office, bearing them, as it were, in your arms, that your importunity may be successful? Do you take as much pains for their soul’s health, as they who carried the palsied cripple, and let him down through the roof of the house? And you cannot but remark the reward which our blessed Lord vouchsafes to their exertions. His omniscient eye followed them as they toiled up the staircase to the roof; He perceived their confidence. It is not, we trust, irreverent to suppose that His spirit rejoiced within Him, and felt serene satisfaction at the flow of faith in the hearts of these people. Mysteriously restrained or free, rapid or slow, plenteous, or frugal, in the disbursal of His miraculous blessings, according to the faith of those around Him, grieved as He often was at the hardness of men’s hearts, doing hero and there “not many mighty works, because of their unbelief;” we may suppose the joyous contrast of emotion, as He perceived the paralytic let down in His presence. Similar, beloved brethren, shall be your reward; if you, with the same quiet constancy and steadfastness, seek to bring souls to Him, who is the good Physician. It may be, that your toil will long appear mere unprofitable waste. You will long wonder at the little result which ensues on your earnest effort. The deeper laws of God’s eternal kingdom, the manner in which He subdues minds to Himself, will be entirely hidden from your most searching investigation. Still, with faith, toil on; toil on. Carry your wicked and morally paralysed friends, on the arms of prayer, to Christ; persuade them, if possible, to seek the sacred scenes where the shadows of Christ’s mysterious presence fall; “in due time ye shall reap, if ye faint not.” (T. Jackson.)
They uncovered the roof where He was.
These roofs are substantially built, as they need to be, since the whole family habitually walked and slept upon them. They broke up and uncovered a part of the roof. But one would have thought that even then they were as far off from Jesus as ever. It must have required a daring faith in those four men to conceive and carry out the course they took. They let down their neighbour in a bed, which they had slung to ropes, into the room where Jesus was talking with rabbis of all the schools, but they uttered no request. One would like to know the names of these four good men, good neighbours, good friends. The fact that we know not their names suggests to us that Christ cares for men whose names the world has never heard of, and never will hear; for the lowly and inconspicuous, no less than for the famous and the great. (S. Cox, D. D.)
Doing difficult work
When you cannot do a good thing, then is the very time to do it. If it cannot be done in one way, do it in another. If there is no way of doing it on the ground level, get up on to the roof and do it. “Where there is a will, there is a way.” The best work done in the world has been work that could not be done; and there is rarely a time when you ought not to do something that cannot be done-as it seems to you. (H. C. Trumbull.)
The potency of faith in Christian work
I. True faith is always concerned for the welfare of others. These men manifestly worked disinterestedly. So faith always acts; like the sister grace of charity, she “seeketh not her own.”
II. True faith always looks to Christ as the centre of its operations. Not forms or ceremonies, or ministers, or churches, or even the Bible itself, but Christ is the only Saviour of the lost.
III. True faith is fertile in expedients for overcoming difficulties. Have we exhausted all ingenuity in seeking souls?
IV. True faith meets with its appropriate reward. What a reward for their faith! Here is infinitely more than they ever expected (Ephesians 3:20). Learn-that faith is essentially practical; that religion is promoted by the exertions of believers; that to bring others to Jesus is the noblest achievement of man. (W. W. Smith.)
Faith seen by Christ
On none of these qualities did Christ fix as an explanation of the fact. He went deeper. He traced it to the deepest source of power that exists in the mind of man. “When Jesus saw their faith.” For as love is deepest in the Being of God, so faith is the mightiest principle in the soul of man. Let us distinguish their several essences. Love is the essence of the Deity-that which makes it Deity. Faith is the essence of Humanity, which constitutes it what it is. And, as here, it is the warring principle of this world which wins in life’s battle. No wonder that it is written in Scripture-“This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” No wonder it is said, “All things are possible to him that believeth.” It is that which wrestles with difficulty, removes mountains, tramples upon impossibilities. It is this spirit which in the common affairs of life, known as a “sanguine temperament,” never says “impossible” and never believes in failure, leads the men of the world to their most signal successes, making them believe a thing possible because they hope it; and giving substantial reality to that which before was a shadow and a dream. It was this “substance of things hoped for” that gave America to Columbus, when billows, miles deep, rose between him and the land, and the men he commanded well- nigh rose in rebellion against the obstinacy which believed in “things not yet seen.” It was this that crowned the Mahomedan arms for seven centuries with victory: so long as they believed themselves the champions of the One God with a mission from Him, they were invincible. And it is this which so often obtains for some new system of medicine the honour of a cure, when the real cause of cure is only the patient’s trust in the remedies. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
When Jesus saw their faith.
Faith for others
The perfect concurrence of the paralytic cannot be doubted, and probably he had already poured out his soul in confession; still, we have no right to ignore what the Holy Spirit has here recorded, viz., that it was the sight of his bearers’ faith which drew from Christ’s lips the words of forgiveness. It is a fact full of mystery, but full also of consolation, that not a few of the gifts of healing and restoration-on the centurion’s servant, on Jairus’ child, on the blind man at Bethsaida, on the Syro-Phoenician’s daughter-were obtained through the faith and prayers, not so much of the sick and afflicted themselves, as of their relations and friends. Surely this dependence of man upon his fellow creatures was intended to foreshadow the great mystery of Redemption through Another’s Blood. It may well have been placed on record by the Holy Spirit to teach us that whenever we try to bring others to the feet of Jesus to be healed of their soul’s sickness-be they friends or enemies-whenever we offer up “the prayer of faith,” which we are assured “shall save the sick,” we are associating ourselves in deeds of mercy and acts of intercession with the Great High Priest of the world-the One Mediator between God and Man-the Man Christ Jesus, our Lord. (H. M. Luckock, D. D.)
Faith is sure to be visible to the naked eye. That which never manifests itself in action is not the faith which Jesus sees with approval Faith that cannot be seen is dead faith-dead and buried. (H. C. Trumbull.)
Jesus saw their faith
Here was the explanation of their strange conduct, and the secret motive power of their determined action. The crowd saw their eccentricity, Jesus saw their faith. If there be anything good within us Christ will be sure to see it. Here, then, we see the power of faith.
I. It deepened their sympathy for this sufferer. If they pitied before, they would have a keener sympathy now they believed that a cure was possible.
II. It devised a scheme for bringing him to Christ.
III. It carried out that scheme in the most extraordinary way.
IV. It attracted the admiration of Christ. He saw their faith.
V. It obtained a cure for the sufferer. Their faith. (Anon.)
The faith of a child
An evangelist of today tells that, after one of his meetings, he observed that a little girl kept her seat after all others had left. Thinking that the child was asleep, he stepped forward to awaken her, but found she was praying that God would send her drunken father to that meeting house that very night, there to be converted. The evangelist waited, and soon a man came rushing in from the street, and knelt tremblingly at the child’s side. He had been brought thither by a sudden impulse which he could not resist, and then and there he found Christ. The child’s faith was honoured in the conversion of her father. (The Sunday School Times.)
A paralytic healed on the faith of others
What I would especially remark in these words, is the benefit which this sick man received from the faith of others. He was healed upon the faith of the men who brought him to Jesus. Several instances of the same kind occur in the history of Christ’s miracles. The conduct of the Saviour, in these instances, is agreeable to the general plan of God’s moral government. As He has placed mankind in a state of mutual dependence, so it is an essential part of the constitution of His government, that some shall be benefited by the faith and piety, or shall be liable to suffer by the vice and wickedness of others. The bestowment indeed of future and eternal blessings must depend on personal qualifications. Observation shows us that this is no uncommon case. The virtue and happiness of communities greatly depend on the wisdom and integrity of rulers. The advantages which one enjoys by his connection with the virtuous, and the dangers to which another is exposed by his connection with the vicious, are not always owing merely to himself, but often to the immediate providence of God, who allots to each one such trials and such assistances as His wisdom sees fit. From this part of the Divine constitution we may derive some useful instructions.
I. We see the reasonableness of intercession. If God is pleased to employ some men as visible instruments of general good, we may rationally suppose that He often, in a more secret and invisible manner, connects the happiness of many with the fervent prayers of a few, or even one godly soul. Of the Jews, in a corrupt period, the apostle says, “they were beloved for their fathers’ sake.” Some will ask, perhaps, how is it reasonable that our future happiness should be made to depend on another’s prayers? We have not the command of their hearts, we cannot oblige them to pray for us; why should we be exposed to suffer for their neglect? What if, in His good providence, He brings you in the way of some useful warnings and instructions, and grants you some awakened and convincing influences of His kind spirit, when you have not sought them? And what if He does this in answer to the fervent prayers of others? Will you say that all this is wrong?
II. We see from this subject that the doctrine of Scripture concerning our being involved in the consequences of the primitive apostasy is agreeable to the analogy of providence.
III. That our salvation through the atonement and righteousness of a redeemer appears to correspond with the general constitution of god’s moral government. It is an essential part of the Divine plan that the virtue of some should not only benefit themselves, but extend its kind and salutary influence to others. We see this to be the case among men; and probably it is the case among all moral beings except those who are in a state of punishment. The angels, we are told, are ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to the heirs of salvation.
IV. Our subject removes the principal objection urged against the dedication of infants to god in the ordinance of baptism. For it shows that some may be benefited by the faith of others. It is often asked, “What advantage is baptism to infants? They have no knowledge of the use and design of it. They have not that faith which is required to baptism. If they are baptized, it cannot be on their own faith, it must be on the faith of their parents; and what benefit can they derive from the faith of another?” But this is no more an objection against the baptism of infants than against intercession for infants
V. Our subject teaches us the importance of the station in which we are placed. We are acting not merely for ourselves, but for others, for many others, how many we cannot tell; for we know not how many are connected with us; nor how extensive may be the influence of our good or bad conduct. A holy and religious life is certainly of vast importance to ourselves; for on this depends the happiness of our existence through all the succeeding ages of eternal duration. But when we consider ourselves as standing in a near connection with our fellow probationers; when we realize how much good a sinner may destroy, or a saint promote; how many souls may be corrupted by the example of the one, and how many may be converted by the influence of the other; the importance of our personal religion rises beyond all conception.
VI. We see that benevolence must be an essential part of true religion. If God has placed us in such a connection with those around us that their virtue and happiness will be affected by our conduct, we are evidently bound to act with a regard to their interest. (J. Lathrop, D. D.)
Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.
Power of these words
These words, so it is recorded, saved the life of that zealous minister of God, Donald Cargill. He had been for some time under conviction of sin, and his mind was harassed by Satan’s assaults. Being naturally reserved, he could not prevail upon himself to lay his troubles before others. At last, in a paroxysm of despair, he resolved to bring his life on earth to a close. Again and again did he seek the banks of the Clyde, with a steadfast resolution to drown himself; and repeatedly was he interrupted by meeting persons he knew. Not to be frustrated, he rose one morning and walked to an old coal pit, intending to throw himself into the abyss. At the verge, the words above quoted flashed across his mind; the effect was powerful and instantaneous; he returned to praise God for a free salvation, and to serve Him in a faithful and consistent Christian life.
But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts.
Reasons in reserve
All true religion is located in the heart. Where the human heart goes the human life will go. The New Testament is a revelation addressed to the heart. Our Lord Jesus Christ was “set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign to be spoken against, that the thoughts of many hearts may he revealed.” This story is remarkable for the exhibition it makes:
(1) Of enterprise in bringing a helpless soul to the Saviour: how many ingenuities-there are for reaching men when only the friends around them are in earnest;
(2) of the intimate connection existing between sin and suffering: our Lord’s action in bestowing pardon with the cure was strictly logical;
(3) of the great advantage it is to any man to have Christians for companions to become friends in his need: this palsied creature was healed because of the faith other people had;
(4) of the force of mean motives in driving men to reject Christ: these scribes were moved by arguments which they cherished, but concealed from sight. Upon this last point it seems worth while to dwell for a little while just by itself. Let us group the illustrations of the narrative around two simple propositions in turn.
I. The worst opposition which Christians have to meet in offering the gospel to men is found in the mental reservations of its rejectors, and the sullen silence of their hearts.
1. To begin with, there are unspoken objections which influence, if they do not control, one’s intellectual views. Men insist that there are discrepancies in the records of the Old and New Testaments which vitiate their truth, and, if generally known, would mock their claim to exact inspiration. Other men make great parade in private over difficulties in doctrine, and challenge attention to the fact that theologians differ in relation to almost all the cardinal points of what is called the evangelical system. Still others cavil at the inconsistencies of Church members, and rail out against them for hypocrisy, if only they can manage to secure a safe and credulous audience that dares not contradict them. Hints and innuendoes are the usual signs of this disturbed and unwholesome state of mind. Where do the young men of the present day obtain so much sceptical information? It is thrust in upon them by the public press. Doubts drop down like loose feathers wherever croaking ravens are wont to fly. But why is it that these reasons are so often held in reserve? Why does the man preserve his sullen demeanour without a word?
(1) Because he is not exactly certain he can state them: it is not everybody who can say clearly what he does not believe;
(2) because he feels a misgiving that they may not stand when someone a little more scholarly gets hold of them;
(3) and because he suspects that if he goes so far in his small infidelity, he really would have to go farther or give it up.
2. There are unconscious prejudices which arouse one’s temper. Some persons conceive a violent spite at what they assert is a continuous rebuke whenever Christian life is praised or commended. This is not a new thing in history. Classic annals tell us that an unlettered countryman gave his vote against Aristides at the ostracism because, as he frankly said, he was tired of hearing him called “The Just.” Other persons cherish implacable memories of indiscreet zeal practised upon them by those who supposed they were dutifully obeying the command, “Go, speak to that young man.” They recite the grievance of revival extravagances, which they deemed offensive and never to be forgotten. They rehearse the biographies of preachers who bullied the patient congregations, and then ran into immorality and deplorable scandal. They plead rashness as an excuse for reserve.
3. There are unacknowledged sins which sway one’s career. Come back to the story here in Mark’s narrative. Hear the comments of these scribes accusing Jesus of blasphemy! Violent clamours for moral and theological perfectness are raised by many whose sole aim is to divert attention from some secret indulgences of their own. These people reason in their hearts. Sometimes in modern life a very showy conflict with Satan is kept up before the public in order to conceal the fact of one’s friendship with him. It reminds us of plays in which the actors personate the devil fencing with some good antagonist behind the footlights, a knight, perhaps, the pink of virtue, battling fiercely with the demon clad in robe of fire. No one engaged for his soul could appear more bravely in earnest. But we are struck with a certain kind of wariness, which they both show in their hitting. Sparks fly from the weapons, but blood does not seem to be drawn. And if afterwards we were to go behind the scenes, there we should find those high-tempered combatants in a most surprising state of reconciliation; honourable knight and fiery devil seated in a friendly way at the table.
4. There results an unsubdued will sullenly closing one’s lips. Many men live a double life; they mean to be courteous, but on religious matters they cultivate a cool, proud reserve. It often surprises us to find our Christian endeavours so ineffective with apparently kind, open, intelligent people. What is the real reason? Because the heart is what governs, and logic is not addressed to the heart. Arguments are made and meant for the intellect, and lose weight in the tenuous atmosphere of the feelings. It shows no difference whether we drop down feathers or dollars through the vacuum of an air pump.
II. Thus we reach our second proposition: all these reasons in reserve avail nothing to men the moment the contest is seen to be, as it always is, a contest with god and not man.
1. Look at the facts here; first, see verse 8. Jesus understood those scribes
(1) divinely-He “perceived in His spirit.” He understood them
(2) thoroughly-He saw what was “within themselves.” He understood them
(3) at once; note that old word “immediately.” God knows all our surmises and suspicions.
Jesus peremptorily challenged those scribes in their logic.
(1) He announced His discovery. They were “amazed;” literally, thunderstruck.
(2) He accepted their condition. They looked on while He healed the man by miracle.
(3) He defeated them utterly. We read that “they all glorified God.”
2. Now let us draw a few final inferences from the whole story. This scene is repeated every day in the full sight of a patient God. Human nature is always the same along the ages.
(1) There cannot possibly be any reasoning in one’s heart which our omniscient Judge is not able instantly to perceive and to answer. Once a French soldier fell asleep on his post, and was brought up for trial by court martial. The first witness called was the Emperor Napoleon. “I was visiting the sentinels’ outposts,” he said; “I saw this soldier myself.”
(2) True prudence consists in outspoken candour. “Come, let us reason together.” Sometimes objections vanish with the statement; for they seem so insignificant when expressed. Mere articulation of difficulties often clears them of confusion.
(3) Sullen reserve surely runs to swift ruin. The difference between an ignorant prejudice and a wilful conceit is shown in this: ignorance stands with its back to the sun, and so if it advances moves on in the line of its own shadow only a step deeper; but churlish conceit walks straight away into a forest of doubts, till its own shadow is darkened with other shadows gloomier still. Hence, a confessed ignorance is altogether more hopeful for good because all it has to do is to turn to the light. Sullen obstinacy has to retrace its path, and so journey clear back to where it started. It was considerations of this sort which forced the bright remark that “an ingenuous intellect is often better than an ingenious one.”
(4) Reasons in reserve have really nothing to do with actual life or eternal prospects. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
I. An important aspect of human power. Secrecy and mental reservations.
II. A startling instance of Divine insight. Our silence is as loud as thunder to God! Our heart talk is overheard!
III. A splendid manifestation of Christ’s fearlessness Be need not have answered more than was spoken.
IV. A solemn example of the confusion which will fall upon all Christ’s objectors. Enquiry: What is your unspoken objection? Doctrinal? Disciplinary? Philosophical? Ethical? Grammatical? (J. Parker, D. D.)
Human reasonings about Divine forgiveness
I. That human reasonings are busy with the fact of the Divine forgiveness. “Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God only?”
1. Some men question the ability of Christ to forgive sin.
2. Some men seek to understand the process by which sin is forgiven. They wish to understand the mental philosophy of forgiveness, and because they cannot they deride it as a delusion. Is it to be expected that men shall be able to trace the Divine action in its method of forgiveness upon the human soul? Can men infallibly submit the subtle influences of heaven to their rude and vulgar tests, as they would the thoughts and mental actions of men? No! Who, by searching, can find out God? And certainly in His forgiving influence upon the human soul He is an unsearchable mystery.
3. Some men repudiate the evidences of the Divine forgiveness. They ask, how do we know that a man is forgiven; and what is the difference between him and any unforgiven individual? The evidence of it is in the hatred of sin, and in the purity of life which it inspires. And this witness is true. The world should receive it as such.
II. That Christ refutes the mental reasonings of men in reference to the fiat of Divine forgiveness. The reasonings of these men were refuted:
1. By the test of consciousness. The palsied man knew that his sins were forgiven in response to the Divine voice.
2. By the miracle of healing. Forgiveness heals the life.
1. Not to cavil at the method of the Divine forgiveness.
2. To receive it with adoring gratitude.
3. To attest it by a holy life.
But that ye may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins.
The ease of Divine power
I think it is impossible not to be struck with this narrative. He not only shows His power here, but He shows an unrivalled and infinite ease in the exercise of it. For He lets His enemies themselves, as it were, choose the way in which it should be manifested; signifying that with Him it made no difference. (J. Miller.)
An example of Christ’s supreme power
I. Power to forgive sin.
1. This Christ plainly assumes.
2. This power, without a Mosaic sacrifice, implies that Jesus was already a lamb slain-in the purpose of God.
II. Power to heal disease.
1. This is a legitimate work of Jesus as Saviour, inasmuch as He undertook to bear our infirmities as well as our sins.
2. The resurrection will be the consummation of this power.
III. Power to silence cavillers.
1. These cavillers were conquered.
2. When Jesus sits on His throne of judgment all cavillers will be put to shame. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)
Christ, the Forgiver of sins
A poor cobbler, unable to read, was asked by an Arian how he knew that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. “Sir,” he replied, “you know that when I first became concerned about my soul I called upon you to ask for your advice, and you told me to go into company and spend my time as merrily as I could, but not to join the Christians. Well, I followed your advice for some time, but the more I trifled, the more my misery increased; and at last I was persuaded to hear one of those ministers who came into our neighbourhood and preached Jesus Christ as the Saviour. In the greatest agony of mind I prayed to Him to save me and to forgive my sins; and now I feel that He has freely forgiven them; and by this I know that He is the Son of God!”
Christ and the forgiveness of sin
What is the forgiveness of sins?
1. Two words in the New Testament denote this marvellous work. The meaning of the one is literally “to bestow grace-to grant undeserved favour.” “Dealing out grace one towards another, as God, for Christ’s sake, deals out grace towards you.” The other means literally “to send away, to make to depart, to set out of sight by putting away.” It fixes attention on the last element of the transaction, the release from penalties, the dread sentence of broken law. The other fixes attention on the first element of the transaction, that sovereign goodness in which it has its source. But what do we mean by the consequences of sin? Not outward inflictions. But
(a) Divine deprivations. Loss of spiritual privileges and their resulting benefits.
(b) Moral results of wrong-doing in its subject.
As, for instance, increased disposition to sin; facility in transgression; the imprisonment and torment of evil habit; upbraiding of the guilty conscience; alienation from God; degradation from life; dread. Forgiveness lays an arresting, healing hand on each of these. It is gracious in its beginnings; free in its bestowment; complete in its influence. This fact reminds us-
1. That forgiveness comes to us out of the plenitude of the Divine nature. He is faithful and just to forgive. “I do it for My name’s sake.”
2. That this forgiveness reaches human hearts through the Son of Man. The phrase designates the Redeemer as having taken humanity into association with Divinity. The God-Man is the forgiving God. Coming to Him, and resting on Him, the chains are loosed. The Incarnate life bruises the serpent’s head.
3. Spiritual activity is the manifestation and proof of redemptive forgiveness. Impotence was here visibly changed into strength; helplessness into self-helpful activity. Is the sinner forgiven? Behold he prayeth. Behold he walks. Behold he triumphs.
4. This great boon is freely bestowed. (Preacher’s Monthly.)
Christ’s power to forgive
No wonder Christ’s words made the scribes reason in their hearts, and ask this question. They were astonishing words, and strangely spoken.
I. The surprise of the scribes was natural.
1. Strange that Christ should speak to this man about his sins. He seemed to need bodily healing more than anything else, and it was for that he had been brought to Jesus. None but Christ could see that his need was deeper than this-that his moral powers were palsied, his soul in a state of guilt.
2. Christ’s assumption of power to forgive sins appeared blasphemous. To pronounce another’s sins forgiven, one must have access to his most secret thoughts. Such knowledge only God possesses, and he to whom God may reveal it.
II. The significance of miracles. They signify the special presence of God, and are warranted only as a seal to a most important Divine message. In this case the miracle established before those present the authority of Jesus to forgive sins. The Divine control over nature which He actually exerted testified to the truth of His claim rightfully to exercise another Divine prerogative, the effect of which cannot be discerned by the bodily senses.
III. The evidential value of miracles. Important to remember that Christ was always jealously watched by unfriendly critics, who would certainly have exposed Him had His pretensions to miraculous power failed.
IV. Effect of the miracle. The outcasts were encouraged to come to one so powerful, and yet so merciful and kind.
V. The object of the Saviour’s missions. It is because our wants are so deep, that He has descended so low. (G. F. Wright.)
Power to forgive sins
I. It is evident that Christ considered His chief claim to the reverence of men was His power to forgive sin. There is no want of man so central as his need to be rid of the power and guilt of sin. What costly expedients the world has adopted in the endeavour to free itself from the burden and the torture. That sense of unworthiness and ill-desert can neither be cajoled nor hunted cut of our being. It may not be an ever-present force. There are times when in the engrossments of business and the excitement of pleasure we forget what we really are. But in the depths of our nature the serpent lies coiled, only silent for a while, not destroyed, and in time we feel the old sting. Men exalt Christianity as the great civilizer, but it is the redemptive power of the gospel that sets it above all other agencies.
II. Christ evidences his power to forgive sins by visible miracles. The transforming influence of grace is seen in individual character; also in the history of Christian missions.
III. If Christ has “power on earth to forgive sins,” then Christ is Divine. No man and no wisdom of men can ever effect the pardon and deliverance of the transgressor. Science has no remedies strong enough to expel the poison from the spiritual nature. By doing this Christ makes good His claim to be Divine.
IV. And if Jesus Christ has “power on earth to forgive sins,” then it is our duty to urge men to go to Christ that they may receive the blessing of pardon. (Monday Club Sermons.)
Sin a deep disease beyond the reach of human remedies
One of our modern novelists has written the story of a man who was haunted with remorse for a particular sin, and though sometimes weeks would pass without the thought of it, yet every now and then the ghost of the old transgression would rise before him to his infinite discomfort. It is the story of almost every human life. Sin is not something which a man commits and has done with it. It becomes a part of his being. His moral fibre is changed, his moral stamina is weakened. A traveller soon drives through the malarious air of the Roman Campagna and is out of the poisonous atmosphere; but during his brief transit disease has found its way into his blood, and even though he sits under the cool shadow of the Alps, or on the shore of the blue Mediterranean, the inward fever rages and burns. A man sins, and in sinning introduces disease into his moral nature, and even though he abandons his evil courses the old malady works on. The forgiveness of sin which is so thorough and central that it rids a man of the power and guilt of sin-who is competent to give us that? No specific of man’s devising, no course of moral treatment, can effect that. There is only One, Jesus Christ, who has power on earth to forgive sin in that complete and efficient fashion. And that is His chief glory and constitutes His principal claim upon us. It is to say but little of Him, to say that He is the wisest and purest and best that ever lived; that He is the perfect example; that He is the Teacher who makes no mistakes. I do not know Jesus Christ until I know Him in my experience as the One who has “power on earth to forgive sins.” And that also is the glory and the commendation of the religion of Christ’s gospel. (Monday Club Sermons.)
Pardon develops manhood
Some man who is not only morally corrupt, but also a mere negative quantity in society, experiences the renewing grace of God and comes into the consciousness of redemption and pardon. Vastly more than a transformation of moral character is effected. Numberless dormant powers of manhood are developed. Unsuspected strata of capacity are uncovered. Thrift and intelligence and enterprise are born, and the whole nature experiences a transformation akin to that wrought in the physical world by the coming of the springtime. There are numbers of such men in every community. So long as they were fettered with the consciousness of sin, all their powers and faculties were cramped; but when Christ spoke deliverance from guilt, their whole affectional and intellectual being felt the thrill and stir of a new life, and widened out and blossomed in most marvellous fashion. There is an infinite breadth to the assurance: “If therefore the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” What the Scripture calls the “liberty” of the children of God is not the little narrow ecclesiastical matter which so many people think it. It means affluence and opulence of life and possibility, and when one who has long been a mere cipher in the community branches out into all manner of healthy and handsome growths under the quickening of the pardoning love of Christ, the greatest of miracles is wrought before our eyes. We count it a stupendous achievement of genius when under the cunning hand of the artist the rough block of marble grows into the perfect statue; but what is that compared to the transfiguration of the living man which is so often effected by the Divine love manifesting itself in full and free and felt forgiveness? It is quite as marvellous as a new creation. (Monday Club Sermons.)
The Divine Maker of man the only Repairer of man
The legend runs that there once stood in an old baronial castle a musical instrument upon which nobody could play. It was complicated in its mechanism, and during years of disuse the dust had gathered and clogged it, while dampness and variations of temperature had robbed the strings of their tone. Various experts had tried to repair it, but without success, and when the hand of a player swept over the chords it woke only harsh discords and unlovely sounds. But there came one day to the castle a man of another sort. He was the maker of the instrument, and saw what was amiss and what was needed for its repair, and with loving care and skill he freed the wires from the encumbering dust and adjusted those which were awry and brought the jangling strings into tune, and then the hall rang with bursts of exquisite music. And so with these souls of ours, so disordered by sin that everything is in confusion and at cross purposes: it is not until their Divine Maker comes and attempts the task of repair and readjustment that they can be set right and made capable of the harmonies for which they were originally constructed. Men weary themselves in vain with their various expedients for securing peace of mind and riddance from the sense of guilt. Only God can give that, and when Jesus Christ accomplishes that in us we must needs cry out to Him, “My Lord and my God.” (Monday Club Sermons.)
Christ’s prerogative to forgive sins
I. The astounding prerogative that Christ Jesus assumed. The despised and rejected man says, “The Son of Man hath power,” etc., “Who can forgive sins but God only?” In the nature of things, it is only He against whom the crime is committed, it is only He whose majesty is violated, it is only He whose law is broken, that hath power to remit the penalty that He has imposed on the transgression of His law, the infringement of His majesty and the infraction of His authority. Even amongst the children of men this is held as a sacred and inalienable right; insomuch that mercy is the appropriate and inalienable prerogative of the Crown; and no subject, however exalted he may be in place or power, presumes to arrogate to himself-it would be high treason were he to arrogate to himself-the power to remit the sentence of the law. The judge may commend to mercy, the influential may interpose their interest; but it belongs to the sovereign to exercise the prerogative of the Crown, and to remit the sentence that is passed. But if this prerogative even among the children of men be inalienable, how much more must the prerogative of the King of kings and Lord of lords, who “is not a man that He should lie, nor the son of man that He should repent”-how much more must His prerogative be incommunicable, indefeasible, inalienable? “Who can forgive sins, but God only?”
II. The evidence that he gave in demonstration of His claim is clear as the noon-day sun, and as irresistible as the very power of God. Let us, then, see how He could substantiate so stupendous a claim as to forgive sins-all sins; forgive them in His own right, in His own name, of His own authority. The position was laid down, and the argument for its establishment was obvious. It was not intricate and dark, requiring a mighty intellect to grasp it, or a penetrating understanding to enter into its process. It was an appeal to every mall, that had an eye to see and a mind to understand.
III. The connection between the human nature of Christ and this wondrous prerogative that he exercised-“The Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins.” One might have imagined that He would rather have said in this connection, “The Son of God hath power on earth to forgive sins;” for surely it was only as He was “very God of very God,” that He could have wielded the sceptre of the eternal Jehovah. But there is a beautiful propriety, there is a touching and exquisite fitness, in thus designating Himself “the Son of Man.” Therefore it was not simply or so much as the Son of God alone, that the Saviour had this wondrous prerogative, but as the Son of Man, who became the Surety for sinners, who took the manhood into Godhead that He might be the Daysman between His fallen brethren and His unchangeable Father-that He might put His hand on both and so make peace-that He might bring God and man to one, and yet maintain His law inviolate, His majesty unsullied, His truth unimpeached, His justice uncompromised, and all His attributes invested with a new and nobler lustre than the universe had ever before beheld, or could have entered into created mind to conceive. Therefore, brethren, it was not by a simple act of sovereignty that the Saviour forgave sins. As the Centurion said to Paul, “With a great price bought I this freedom,” so with a great price the incarnate God bought the glorious and benign prerogative of forgiving sins. He bought it with His agony and blood. He bought it by His meritorious and spotless obedience-by His glorious resurrection and ascension. By all these He bought this glorious prerogative of forgiving sins. So that “we are not redeemed with corruptible things as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” Perceive you, brethren, the momentousness and meaning of this distinction? Let me by a simple illustration make it more clear to the plainest mind. It is conceivable that when a sovereign had arrived at an age to assume the sceptre of a nation, and wished to grace his accession to the throne by some act of regal munificence and clemency, he might proclaim an universal exemption from all debts contracted by any inhabitants of that land in days gone by. It is conceivable that he might do this; but if he did so, to the wrong and robbery of all the creditors of that land, would his clemency, do you think, add to his glory? would it give any pledge of his justice, integrity, or even common honesty towards his subjects? So far from it, his clemency would be lost sight of in the injury and the wrong he had done. But if that prince, being desirous to grace his accession to the throne by an act of clemency, in which justice should likewise shine, were from his own private resources to liquidate all the debts of all those imprisoned for debt throughout the length and breadth of the land, and then throw open the prison doors, all would applaud the deed; all would admire the exercise of sovereign clemency in perfect harmony with unimpeachable justice. So, if we may venture by low and earthly things to illustrate things sublime and heavenly, the blessed Son of God, the Prince and Saviour of mankind, “exalted to give repentance unto Israel, and the remission of sins,” did not set the sinful debtors free, that owed to their Father an infinite debt which they had no power to pay-which they would throughout eternity have been paying and yet had throughout eternity to pay-He did not set them free by a simple exercise of His own authority, violating the obligations of law, the demands of justice, and the claims of the unfallen portion of the subjects of an everlasting Father. But He paid the debt; He became Surety, and He met the claim; He paid it to the uttermost farthing, till He could say with His expiring breath, “It is finished”-till He had “finished transgression, made an end of sin and brought in everlasting righteousness.” The Father, well pleased in the full expiation accomplished by the Son, delights to forgive through that Saviour’s name-“for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Christian brethren, if the Son of Man had “power on earth to forgive sins,” how much more, if it be possible, hath He power in heaven to forgive sins? (H. Stowell, M. A.)
We never saw it on this fashion.
The new fashion
I. Do not disbelieve the gospel because it surprises you.
1. Nothing stands in the way of real knowledge so much as prejudice.
2. Many things which we know to be true would not have been believed by our fathers if they had been revealed to them.
3. There are many things which are undoubted facts which certain classes of men find it hard to believe.
4. The fact that a gospel statement seems new and astonishing ought not to create unbelief in the mind.
II. There are very singular and surprising things in the gospel.
1. That the gospel should come to people whom it regards as incapable.
2. That the gospel calls upon men to do what they cannot do.
3. That whilst the gospel bids men do what they cannot of themselves do, they actually do it.
4. This paralyzed man was healed-
(a) at once,
(b) without any ceremony,
So is it when the gospel saves the soul.
III. If it be so with you, then go and glorify god. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Prejudice a stumbling block
Theories are the nuisances of science: the rubbish that must be swept away that the precious facts may be made bare. If you go to the study of a subject, saying to yourself, “This is how the matter must shape itself,” having beforehand made up your mind what the facts ought to be, you will have put in your own way a difficulty more severe than the subject itself could place there. Prejudice is the stumbling block of advance. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
New things may be true things
When an observer first discovered that there were spots on the sun he reported it, but he was called before his father confessor and upbraided for having reported anything of the kind. The Jesuit father said that he had read Aristotle through several times and he had found no mention in Aristotle of any spots in the sun, and therefore there could be no such things. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The inconceivable may be true
If our forefathers could have been informed that men would travel at forty or fifty miles an hour, drawn by a steam engine, they would have shaken their heads and laughed the prediction to scorn. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Sense not to limit faith
Some time ago a missionary had told his black congregation that in the winter time the water in England became so hard that a man could walk upon it. Now they believed a good deal that he told them, but they did not believe that. One of them was brought over to England. The frost came at length, and the missionary took his black friend down to it; and although he stood upon the ice himself he could not persuade the Negro to venture. “No,” he said, “but I never saw it so. I have lived fifty years in my own country, and I never saw a man walk on a river before.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God’s power not to be limited by human calculation
If you are longing for a great salvation you must not sit down and calculate the Godhead by inches, and measure out the merit of Christ by ells, and calculate whether He can do this or do that. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The most senseless limit of evidence is the limit of the senses
But there is a great proneness to fix just such limits as these. Said a shrewd pastor in Massachusetts, when a new method of church work was proposed to him by a visiting brother, “No, no, that wouldn’t go down with my people; it’s too novel. There are two objections which my people raise against any fresh thing which I propose to them; one is, We never tried that thing here: the other is, We tried that here once, and it didn’t go. Either of these objections is fatal.” Such people as that don’t all live in Massachusetts, nor in Palestine. (H. C. Trumbull.)
And He went forth again by the seaside.
A walk by the sea
I. It was not a walk of absent reverie.
II. It was not a walk of sentimental admiration.
III. It was a walk hallowed by sacred teaching. We should endeavour to make our walks subservient to the moral good of men, and in this incidental manner we might do much to enhance the welfare of the Redeemer’s cause. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Christian work at the seashore
Can we not do something for Jesus on the sands? If so, let us not miss such a happiness. What situation and surroundings can be better for earnest, loving conversation with our young friends concerning their souls’ best interests? A few words about the sea of eternity and its great deeps, a sentence or two upon the broken shells and our frailty, upon the Rock of Ages and the sands of time, may never be forgotten, especially if they be but few, and those pleasant, solemn, and congruous with the occasion. A good book lent to a lounger may also prove a blessing. A handful of interesting pamphlets scattered discreetly may prove to be fruitful seed. Souls are to be caught by the seashore and in the boat: gospel fisherman, take your net with you. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
And as He passed by, He saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the receipt of custom.
The call of Matthew
The story is placed immediately after a miracle, as if to hint that Matthew’s conversion was a miracle. There are points of similarity between the miracle and the conversion. Matthew was spiritually palsied by his sins and his money making; hence he needed the Divine command, “Arise and walk.” There may be points of likeness also between Matthew’s personal story and our own. These may be profitably considered.
I. His call seemed accidental and unlikely.
1. Jesus had often been at Capernaum, which He had selected to be “His own city;” and yet Matthew remained unsaved. Was it likely he would now be called? Had not his day of grace closed?
2. Jesus was about other business; for we read, “As He passed by.” Would He now be likely to call Matthew?
3. Jesus left many other persons uncalled; was it not highly probable that the tax gatherer would be passed by? Yet Jesus called to Himself, “Levi, the son of Alphaeus,” while many another man had no such special call.
II. His call was altogether unthought of and unsought.
1. He was in a degrading business. None but the lowest of the Jews would care to gather taxes for the Roman conqueror. His discipleship would bring no honour to Christ.
2. He was in an ensnaring business. Money is bird lime to the soul.
3. He would not have dared to follow Jesus even if he had wished to do so. He felt himself to be too unworthy.
4. He would have been repulsed by the other disciples, had he proposed to come without the Lord’s open invitation.
5. He made no sign in the direction of Jesus. No prayer was offered by him, nor wish expressed towards better things.
III. His call was given by the Lord, with full knowledge of him. “He saw Levi,” and called him.
1. He saw all the evil that had been in him and was yet there.
2. He saw his adaptation for holy service, as a recorder and penman.
3. He saw all that He meant to make of him.
4. He saw in him His chosen, His redeemed, His convert, His disciple, His apostle, His biographer. The Lord calls as He pleases, but He sees what He is doing. Sovereignty is not blind; but acts with boundless wisdom.
IV. His call was graciously condescending.
1. The Lord called “Levi, the son of Alphaeus,” or, as he himself says, “a man named Matthew,”-that was his best.
2. He was a publican-that may not have been his worst.
3. He allowed such a sinner to be His personal attendant; yea, called him to that honour, saying, “Follow Me.”
4. He allowed him to do this immediately, without putting him into quarantine.
V. His call was sublimely simple.
1. Few were the words-“Follow Me.” It is very tersely recorded-“He saw … said … and he arose and followed Him.”
2. Clear was the direction.
3. Personal was the address.
4. Royal was the command.
VI. His call was immediately effectual.
1. Matthew followed at once.
2. He followed spiritually as well as literally.
3. He followed wholly.
4. He followed growingly.
5. He followed ever after, never deserted his Leader.
VII. His call was a door of hope for others.
1. His salvation encouraged other publicans to come to Jesus.
2. His open house gave opportunity to his friends to hear Jesus.
3. His personal ministry brought others to the Saviour.
4. His written Gospel has convinced many, and will always do so.
Application: Are you up to your neck in business? Are you “sitting at the receipt of custom”? Yet may a call come to you at once. It does come. Hear it attentively; rise earnestly; respond immediately. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Call of Levi
Such as sit at the receipt of custom are hard to be converted; but Jesus manifests His power by doing it with one word alone. Grace disengages Matthew from the love of money, to make him an apostle; the love of money will separate Judas from Christ, to make him an apostate: thus our Lord makes Himself amends beforehand. St. Matthew’s example had no influence on Judas, though perhaps it was Christ’s design to lay it before his eyes. Let us profit by the one as well as the other; and let us, with feat and trembling, adore the different judgments of God in relation to souls. (Quesnel.)
Calls to duty joyful
When the Saviour calls, follow Him gladly. Never regret a duty, or lament a responsibility, or grieve over a sacrifice required. If we were as wise as Matthew, we should celebrate with festive joy every call to duty. (R. Glover.)
The attraction of the Divine call
We read in classic story, how the lyre of Orpheus enchanted with its music, not only the wild beasts, but the very trees and rocks upon Olympus, so that they moved from their places to follow him; so Christ, our heavenly Orpheus, with the music of His gracious speech, draws after Him those less susceptible to benign influences than beasts, and trees, and stones, even poor, hardened, senseless, sinful souls. Let Him but strike His golden harp, and whisper in thy heart, “Come, follow Me,” and thou, like another Matthew, shalt be won.
The call of Levi
Well might he sit down here; for he had a great weight upon him, the burden of his covetousness, and the desires of gold, bred in him by the often traffic he had with it. Gold is heaviest of all metals; but it is made more heavy by covetousness. For it more oppresses the heart of him that loves it, than the back of him that bears it. And where was he sitting? At the receipt of custom. “If it be more blessed to give than to receive,” certainly to be a receiver of extorted oppression from the grudging people must be no happy nor blessed thing. This customhouse was such. The receiving of custom breeds a custom of receiving; and that, a desire still to receive more; which desire worldly men will ever seek to satisfy, though with the oppression of their poor brethren. This made this place and office hateful to the people. “Publicans and sinners” went ever together in their mouths … Christ found him, as he was Levi, the publican; but looked on him, as he was Matthew, the apostle … He called him to an office much more gainful … where he should still be a receiver, and a gainer too; but not, as here, ten or fifteen per centum; but where one should “bring forth thirty, one sixty, one an hundred-fold.” (Wm. Austin.)
God often calls men in strange places
Not in the house of prayer, not in the preaching of the Word; but when all these things have been absent, and all surrounding circumstances have seemed most adverse to the work of grace, that grace has put forth its power. The tavern, the theatre, the gaming house, the race course, and other similar haunts of worldliness and sin, have sometimes been the scene of God’s converting grace. As an old writer says, “Our calling is uncertain in respect of place, for God calls some from their ships, and some from their shops; some from under the hedges, and others from the market; so that, if a man can but make out unto his own soul that he is certainly called, the time when and the place where matter little.”
The call of Levi, or Christ’s voice to the soul
I. That Christ calls men to follow Him.
1. That the call of Christ is antecedent to any human endeavour after Him.
2. That it is often effectively addressed to the most unlikely men.
3. That it is addressed to men when they are occupied with the secular duties of life.
4. That it takes men from the lower duties and sends them to the higher.
II. That Christ’s call to men must be immediately obeyed-“And he arose and followed Him.”
1. That obedience must be immediate.
(1) Not to be hindered by intellectual perplexities.
(2) Not to be hindered by commercial or domestic anxieties.
2. That obedience must be self-sacrificing.
3. That it must be willing.
4. That it must be continuous.
1. To heed the calls of Christ to the soul.
2. To subordinate the secular to the moral.
3. That true religion consists in following Christ.
4. That it is well to speak to men for their moral good. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Matthew the publican
Alas! that the son of a devout, God-fearing Israelite should have fallen so low. Even the outcasts, the sons of Belial, hesitated long before they thus sold themselves to work iniquity. But he had gone freely and voluntarily into the service of the heathen. A father’s stern commands, a mother’s earnest pleadings, the entreaties of a loving sister and the expostulations of manly and pure-hearted brothers, the fair fame of the family, upon whose proud escutcheon no such blot had ever come since the days of their great ancestor, David-all these were of no avail to turn this wayward young man from the evil course he had chosen, and at length his name had been blotted from their record and; to all outward seeming, he was to them as if he had never lived. The neighbours and friends left out his name when they spoke of the children of Kolas (as in Mark 6:3), and at morning and evening prayer no audible petition went up to heaven for the erring and sinful one. But, hardened as he was, and great as was the distress he had given to his family, Levi was not beyond the free grace of the Redeemer of men. Jesus was his cousin, according to the flesh, and though He knew how the hearts of that dear family at Nazareth were breaking with anguish over him as utterly lost, yet He, the Divine Redeemer, did not despair of his recovery from the depth of his degradation and sin. Having loved him with an everlasting love, He would draw him out of the depths by the power of His loving kindness. And so it came to pass that when Jesus had left Nazareth and the home of His youth for busy, bustling Capernaum, because there He could accomplish a more comprehensive and effective work in establishing the kingdom of God on the earth, His eye more than once rested on poor Levi, and He saw that, in spite of his bravado, his sins were making him wretched. And when on that bright summer morning He went from Peter’s house to His work of teaching and healing at the shore of the lake, as He passed the stall or booth where Levi was receiving the tolls and taxes, He said only, “Follow me;” and the tax gatherer, a few moments ago so hardened and brusque, instantly abandoned his books and accounts, his money and receipts, and, rising from his seat, followed Jesus. Nor did he ever return to the base employment he had left. The change of heart and purpose, though apparently instantaneous, was thorough and permanent. One evidence of its thoroughness was manifested in his desire to bring others who had fallen into the same degradation as himself under the gracious influence of Christ’s teachings. “And Levi made Him” (i.e., Christ)
, says the evangelist Luke, “a great feast in his own house; and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them.” To these sinful souls our blessed Lord spoke words of forgiveness and pardon, and they became, as St. Mark tells, His followers thenceforward. As for Matthew, he undoubtedly grew in grace, and was restored to the loving favour of his family; for it was, at the farthest, but a very few months later that Jesus chose him as one of the twelve, and with him two, and possibly three of his brothers, the devout and exemplary James the Just being one, and gave him his new name “Matthew,” “The gift of God.” Matthew’s remembrance of his early history and sins seems to have kept him humble, and have prevented him from participating in those unseemly wrangles as to who should be the greatest, in which some of the others indulged; but he was a keen observer, and from the day when he abandoned his publican’s stall to his death he must have felt more profoundly than any of the others the certainty that Jesus was the Son of God as well as the Son of Mary. Some practical lessons:
I. Family pride is not a sufficient preservative against deeds of shame.
II. Has dishonour been brought upon your family name by a prodigal? Do not despair of him. You have a great burden of shame and grief to bear; but do not cease to love the prodigal, to pray for him, to hope for him. He, like St. Matthew, may yet hear and obey the voice of Christ.
1. If you did your best to train him in the way in which he should go, be very sure that the healthful influences by which you surrounded him are still with him, fighting mightily against the degrading influence by which he is now encompassed, and they may yet prevail. Not in vain did you do your duty in regard to him.
2. Ah, but it may be that you cannot recall the days of his boyhood without personal shame. You permitted many things to prevent you from training him duly in godliness and true manliness; the example you set before him was not really ennobling. Well, humble yourself before God, and hope in God for your son as well as for yourself. He may yet yield to the persistent drawings of the Divine love.
III. No man should permit his business or his social surroundings to hinder him from following Christ.
IV. One of the very best evidences of a man’s conversion is a real manifestation of care for the spiritual welfare of these of his own class. (Anon.)
The call of Levi
I. The person called, A publican, etc.
II. The manner in which he is called.
1. Externally-by the Word.
2. Internally-by Christ’s power and Spirit.
3. These two must ever be combined.
III. The manner in which Levi treated the call.
1. He did not disregard it, as many.
2. He did not promise a compliance like others.
3. He instantly obeyed, and is thus an example to all who are called.
IV. The call itself. Christ goes before-
1. To prepare Himself for sympathy.
2. To remove doubts as to the way.
3. To free from oppressive responsibility.
4. To show how we are to walk in the way.
5. To remove obstructions.
6. To be a companion. Are you following Christ? (Expository Discourses.)
The feast of Levi, or the festival of a renewed soul
I. It was a festival held to celebrate the most important event in the history of a soul.
1. It was indicative of joy.
2. It was indicative of gratitude.
3. It was indicative of worship. The newly converted soul is characterized by devotion.
II. It was held to introduce to Christ those who were in need of his loving mercy.
1. It was a time for the introduction of sinful companions to Christ.
2. It was a time of leave taking between Levi and his former friends. Not to leave the old life in a hostile spirit.
III. It was a festival too lofty in moral significance to be rightly interpreted by the conventional bigots of the age.
IV. It was a festival beautifully illustrative of Christ’s mission to the world.
1. We see from this festival that Christ came to save the morally sinful.
2. We see from this festival that Christ came to heal the morally diseased.
1. That the life of the renewed soul should be a constant festival of icy.
2. That Christians should endeavour to bring their comrades to the Saviour.
3. That humanity has a Divine Physician. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eat with publicans and sinners.
The curse of bigotry
The sins society winks at are worse than those it censures. The most alarming sin is the self-delusion that we have no sin. The pride of the Pharisees had made them so callous that a sharp lancet was needed to get at the wound.
I. Bigotry bespatters with mire the fairest deed. According to its creed, better that a tree of fruitful goodness should not grow than that it should depart by a hairbreadth from the prescribed shape.
II. Bigotry blindfolds its own eyes. It can only see sin when sin wears a particular hue. It can see avarice or theft, but not insincerity or pride.
III. Bigotry seeks its bad ends by crooked ways. These scribes lacked courage, so instead of attacking Christ openly they tried to undermine His authority with His disciples.
IV. Bigotry cheats itself of largest blessing. Christ would have illuminated and enriched these proud Pharisees if they had allowed Him to. But they were too proud to admit their hunger, and so they starved. He who thinks himself already perfect is past improvement. Like hide-bound animals he cannot grow. (D. Davies, M. A.)
An implied charge set aside
1. That Christ did not associate with publicans and sinners because He entertained too humble an opinion of Himself. He knew that He was intellectually and morally superior to them.
2. That Christ did not associate with publicans and sinners because He was not choice as to His society. “Evil communications corrupt good manners.”
3. That Christ did not associate with publicans and sinners because of His sympathy with them. It was not their wickedness that drew Him to them; morally He had nothing in common with them.
1. That to have refused Levi’s invitation would not have been courteous.
2. That in accepting Levi’s invitation Christ displayed a spirit of condescension.
3. That by eating and drinking with publicans and sinners Christ exhibited a friendly disposition towards them.
4. That attending Levi’s feast gave Christ an excellent opportunity of doing Publicans and sinners good. (G. Cron.)
Christ’s relations with the world
To come, then, to the root of the whole matter; the supreme Lover of the universe, God, is in the tenderest relations to everything that is. Not that we are to make no difference between good and evil. We are to make a difference between them. If we have the spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ our goodness will make us more lenient, more charitable, more patient with bad men and bad things. And remember one thing-that no human heart is ever cured till you can find another heart to brood it; for the cure of the heart is of the heart, and a loving heart cures an unloving heart; and as God lives by His purity to make more pure, by His love to heal men’s selfishness, by His beauty and majesty and power to draw men up out of animal life into spiritual life; so His followers may imitate Him in those respects, and make atonement for those who are ready to perish-the atonement that love is always making-and as far as they carry that out they may redeem men. (H. W. Beecher.)
Christ welcoming sinners
We are told that in stormy weather it is not unusual for small birds to be blown out of sight of land on to the sea. They are often seen by voyagers out of their reckoning and far from the coast, hovering over the masts on weary wings as if they wanted to alight and rest themselves, but fearing to do so. A traveller tells us that on one occasion a little lark, which followed the ship for a considerable distance, was at last compelled through sheer weariness to alight. He was so worn out as to be easily caught. The warmth of the hand was so agreeable to him that he sat down on it, burying his little cold feet in his feathers, and looking about with his bright eye not in the least afraid, and as if feeling assured that he had been cast amongst good kind people whom he had no occasion to be so backward in trusting. A touching picture of the soul who is aroused by the Spirit of God and blown out of its own reckoning by the winds of conviction; and the warm reception which the weary little bird received at the hands of the passengers conveys but a faint idea of that welcome which will greet the worn-out, sin-sick souls who will commit themselves into the hands of the only Saviour. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Christ in company with sinners; or, the law of social intercourse in the Christian life
We have in this narrative a beautiful illustration of the law of social intercourse in the Christian life, given by Christ, and which, therefore, may be regarded as of authority. We observe-
I. That the morally good must associate with the socially depraved. “How is it that He eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?”
1. That the morally good may take part in the social festivals of the depraved, but not for the mere purpose of social enjoyment or intellectual companionship. Christ did not go to the house of Levi merely to enjoy a sumptuous banquet, or to participate in the festivities of unholy men.
2. The morally good may associate with the depraved in the commercial enterprise of life. The good must have dealings with the unholy in the commerce of the world. The tares and the wheat must grow together until the harvest.
3. The morally good are sometimes brought into incidental companionship with the depraved.
II. That the morally good in companionship with the socially depraved must be animated by remedial motives, and must give forth influences ennobling to the soul. “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick.”
1. The Christian must go into the company of the morally depraved with right views of their sad condition, and with an intense desire for their recovery.
2. The Christian can give forth healing influences to the morally depraved by kindly words, by gentle disposition, by judicious teaching, and by unpretentious example.
1. That the morally good must go into the company of the socially depraved.
2. That the morally good are the physicians of the race; they must be careful not to take the infection of sin, and to exercise judiciously their healing art.
3. That society will best be regenerated by individual effort. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
They that are whole have no need of the physician.
For whom is the gospel meant?
I. Even a superficial glance at our Lord’s mission suffices to show that His work was for the sinful. His descent into the world implied that men needed deliverance. The bearing of the gospel covenant is towards guilty men. His mission is described as one of mercy and grace. The gospel turns its face always towards sin. The gospel has always found its greatest trophies amongst the most sinful. To whom else could it look?
II. The more closely we look the more clear this fact becomes. Christ came that He might be a sin bearer. The gifts of the gospel, such as pardon and justification, imply sin. The great deeds of our Lord, such as His death, resurrection, and ascension, all bear upon sinners.
III. It is our wisdom to accept the situation. The very best thing you can do, since the gospel looks towards sinners, is to get where the gospel looks. You will then be in your right place. This is the safest way to obtain the blessing. This is a place into which you can get directly.
IV. This doctrine has a great sanctifying influence. It changes the sinner’s thoughts of God. It inspires, melts, enlivens, and inflames him. It deals a deadly blow at his self-conceit. It produces a sense of gratitude. It makes him ready to forgive others. It becomes the very soul of enthusiasm. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Christ’s treatment of sinners
I. Sinners in their natural state have need of repentance. This duty is often urged in Scripture (Isaiah 55:7; Matthew 3:8; Acts 2:38).
1. Without repentance none can be saved.
2. Let all, therefore, lay held on it without delay.
II. Sinners cannot repent of themselves. They must be called to it by Christ.
III. One main end of Christ’s coming into the world was to call and convert sinners, and bring them to repentance.
1. This should encourage sinners to come to Christ by faith, and by true repentance and humiliation for their sins, in hope of mercy and pardon. Since He came for this purpose, He will not reject any who accept His invitation and hearken to His call.
2. How excellent a work it must he-since Christ Himself came to begin it-to be the means of converting sinners, and drawing them to repentance. This is not merely the duty of ministers: all Christians may take part in it.
3. If Christ came to call sinners to repentance, then He did not come to give liberty to any to live in sin, or to commit sin. Repentance is the beginning of a new life-a life of emancipation from the power as well as the penalty of sin. (G. Petter.)
All the lessons of this word could not be even named here, but these are certainly in it.
I. Sin is sickness of the worst kind.
II. Repentance and forgiveness are the healing of the soul.
III. Christ is the soul’s Physician, skilled to heal all its diseases.
IV. The more grave our case is, the more eager Jesus is to cure it. What should we have done had this not been the ease? Happily He still stoops to closest, tenderest fellowship with sinners. He pities most the guiltiest, and is ever nearest to the neediest. (R. Glover.)
I. Christ came not to call the righteous.
1. Because there were no righteous to call.
2. Because if there had been they would not have needed calling.
II. He came to call sinners.
1. All sinners.
2. Especially those conscious of their sins.
III. He came to call to repentance. His call is not an absolute call to the privileges of the sons of God, but to the fulfilment of a condition-repent, and believe. (Anon.)
Wretchedness a plea for salvation
On entering a ragged school you see a boy who can spell his way through a Bible-once a sealed book to him; he knows now of a Saviour, of whom once he had never heard the name. Clean, sharp, intelligent, bearing an honest air with him, he bespeaks your favour. But were these his passport to the asylum? No. He was adopted not for the sake of these, but notwithstanding the want of them. It was his wretchedness that saved him; the clean hands, and the rosy cheeks, and all that won our favour, are the results of that adoption. (Dr. Guthrie.)
The spirit in which to seek salvation
On one occasion, when the late Duke of Kent expressed some concern about the state of his soul in the prospect of death, his physician endeavoured to soothe his mind by referring to his high respectability and his honourable conduct in the distinguished situation in which Providence had placed him; but he stopped him short, saying, “No; remember, if I am to be saved, it is not as a prince, but as a sinner.”
The sinner’s hope
A Hottentot of immoral character, being under deep conviction of sin, was anxious to know how to pray. He went to his master, a Dutchman, to consult with him; but his master gave him no encouragement. A sense of his wickedness increased, and he had no one near to direct him. Occasionally, however, he was admitted with the family at the time of prayer. The portion of Scripture which was one day read was the parable of the Pharisee and publican. While the prayer of the Pharisee was read, the poor Hottentot thought within himself, “This is a good man; here is nothing for me;” but when his master came to the prayer of the publican-“God, be merciful to me, a sinner”-“This suits me,” he cried; “now I know how to pray.” With this prayer he immediately retired, and prayed night and day for two days, and then found peace. Full of joy and gratitude he went into the fields, and, as he had no one to whom he could speak, he exclaimed, “Ye hills, ye rocks, ye trees, ye rivers, hear what God has done for my soul! He has been merciful to me, a sinner.”
The great Physician and His patients
This was Christ’s apology for mingling with the publicans and sinners when the Pharisees murmured against Him. He triumphantly cleared Himself by showing that, according to the fitness of things, He was perfectly in order. He was acting according to His official character. A physician should be found where there is work for him to do, etc.
I. Mercy graciously regards sin as disease. It is more than disease, but mercy leniently and graciously chooses to view it as such. It is justified in such a view, for almost everything that may be said of deadly maladies may be said of sin.
1. Sin is an hereditary disease. The taint is in our blood, etc.
2. Sin, like sickness, is very disabling. It prevents our serving God. We cannot pray or praise God aright, etc. There is not a single moral power of manhood which sin has not stripped of its strength and glory.
3. Sin also, like certain diseases, is a very loathsome thing.
4. Fearfully polluting. Everything we do and think of grows polluted through our corruption.
5. Contagious. A man cannot be a sinner alone. “One sinner destroyeth much good.”
6. Very painful; and yet, on the other hand, at certain stages it brings on a deadness, a numbness of soul, preventing pain. Most men are unconscious of the misery of the fail. But when sin is really discerned, then it becomes painful indeed. Oh, what wretchedness was mine before I laid hold on Christ.
7. It is deep seated, and has its throne in the heart. The skill of physicians can often extract the roots of disease, but no skill can ever reach this. It is in its own nature wholly incurable. Man cannot cure himself. Jehovah Rophi the healing Lord, must manifest His omnipotent power.
8. It is a mortal disease. It kills not just now, but it will kill ere long.
II. It pleases Divine mercy to give to Christ the character of a Physician. Jesus Christ never came into the world merely to explain what sin is, but to inform us how it can be removed. As a Physician Christ is-
2. Qualified. He is, experimentally as well as by education, qualified in the healing art.
3. Has a wide practice.
4. His cures are speedy, radical, sure. His medicine is Himself. O Blessed Physician for this desperate disease!
III. That need is that alone which moves our gracious Physician to come to our aid. His Saviourship is based upon our sinnership. Need, need alone, is that which quickens the Physician’s footsteps.
IV. It follows therefore, and the text positively asserts it, that the whole-that those who have no great need, no need at all-will be unaided by Christ.
V. It follows, then, that those who are sick shall be helped by Jesus. Are you sick, sinful, etc.? He loves to save. He can save the vilest. Trust Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Healer of souls
It is one of the most remarkable facts in the life of our Lord that He was obliged repeatedly to defend Himself for loving the sinful. It is a fact by which we may measure the usual progress of the world under the influence of Christian civilization. Now, philanthropy is generally practised and held in high esteem. Yet we do Christ’s censors injustice by looking on them as rare monsters of inhumanity. They were simply men whose thoughts and sympathies were dominated by the spirit of their age. For the love of the sinful was a new thing on the earth, whose appearance marked the beginning of a new era, well called the era of grace. Never was apology more felicitous or successful-Christ was a Physician. The defence is simple and irresistible.
I. That Christianity is before all things a religion of redemption. If such be its character, then to be true to itself Christianity cannot afford to be nice, dainty, disdainful, but must lay its healing hand on the most repulsive. Rabbinism may be exclusive, but not the religion of redemption. It is bound to be a religion for the masses. Christ is not merely an ethical Teacher, or Revealer of Divine mysteries; He is, in the first place, a Redeemer, only in the second the Revealer.
II. That Christianity is the religion of hope. It takes a cheerful view of the capabilities and prospects of man even at his worst. It believes that he can be cured. In this hopefulness Christianity stood alone in ancient times. It needed the eye of a more than earthly love, and of a faith that was the evidence of things not seen, to discern possibilities of goodness even in the waste places of society. The Church must have the Physician’s confidence in His healing art; she must be inventive. She must have sympathy with people for their good. She must not frown on the zeal of those who would try new experiments.
III. Christianity is fit and worthy to be the universal religion. (A. B. Bruce, D. D.)
The sickness-the Physician
I. The sickness spoken of.
1. The likeness between the sickness of the body and that of the soul. As sickness is a disordered body, so is sin a precious soul all in disorder. Sickness of body, not healed, will kill the body. Sin, not healed, not pardoned, will kill the never-dying soul. Or, take any of the particular diseases which Christ healed on the earth, and see the likeness in them. He healed madness. Sin is madness-flying in the face of God. He healed fevers. Sin is a lever-consuming, burning the soul. He healed palsies. Sin is a palsy-laying the soul prostrate. He healed leprosy. Sin is a leprosy-very foul and loathsome. He healed deafness, blindness. The sinner is deaf, blind-deaf to the voice of God and of his own conscience-blind to all it most concerns him to see-to himself, God, Christ.
2. Well, sin is like disease; but see the difference: sickness is usually one disease. Sin is all diseases in one-the madness, the fever, the deafness, all in one! Men wish to be free of sickness of body. Alas! they do not wish to be free of sin, the disease of the soul. Sickness is disease; sin is crime-sin.
II. The glorious Physician.
1. Let me say of Him-there is no other. If you are sick in body you have a choice of physicians. But for the terrible sickness of sin none but Christ-“Neither is there salvation in any other,” etc. There needs no other.
2. That He knows our whole case, our whole disease, and so is able to deal with it. Other physicians have often to work in the dark. They are uncertain what the disease is, and, if they know, may be unable to heal.
3. That He is unspeakably tender. What else but love could have brought Him into this leprous world?
4. That He is a mighty, all-skilful Physician.
5. That He is a faithful Physician. He will not skin over your wound and say that it is healed-“A new heart also will I give you.”
6. He is a Physician very near at hand-“A very present help in trouble.” (C. J. Brown, D. D.)
Christ calling sinners to repentance
The call of St. Matthew the occasion of these words.
I. The observations naturally arising from the several particular expressions made use of in the text.
1. That sin is to the soul what disease or sickness is to the body.
2. That repentance is not an original and primary duty of religion, only of secondary intention, and of consequential obligation. The original duty of all rational creatures is to obey the commandments of God, and such as have always lived in obedience are not obliged to the duty of repentance. It applies to those who have sinned. It is a privilege to them to be permitted to perform it (Acts 11:18). There is a repentance to which even the best of men are continually obliged. But this is not that repentance to which our Saviour came to call sinners.
3. The just and sharp reproof contained in this answer to the hypocritical Pharisees.
II. The general doctrine of repentance as here laid down by our Lord. The design of His preaching was to call sinners to repentance. (S. Clarke, D. D.)
For as the natural health of the body consists in this: that every part and organ regularly and duly performs its proper function; and, when any of these are disordered or perverted in their operations, there ensues sickness and diseases: so likewise, with regard to the spiritual or moral state of the mind and soul; when every faculty is employed in its natural and proper manner, and with a just direction to the end it was designed for; when the understanding judges of things according to reason and truth, without partiality and without prejudice; when the will is in its actions directed by this judgment of right, without obstinacy or wilfulness; and when the passions in their due subordinate station, and the appetites under the government of sober intention, serve only to quicken the execution of what reason directs: then is the mind of man sound and whole; fit for all the operations of a rational creature, fit for the employments of a virtuous and religious life. On the contrary, the abuse or misemployment of any of these faculties, is the disease or sickness of the soul. And when they are all of them perverted, totally and habitually, by a general corruption and depravation of manners; then, as the body, by an incapacity of all its organs for the uses of natural life, dies and is dissolved; so the man in his moral capacity, by an habitual neglect and dislike of all virtuous practices, becomes (as the Scripture elegantly expresses it) dead in trespasses and sins. And as, in bodily diseases, some are more dangerous, and more likely to prove mortal, than others; in which sense our Saviour says concerning Lazarus, “This sickness is not unto death” (John 11:4); so, in the spiritual sense, the same apostle St. John, in his First Epistle, speaks of sins, which, according as there be any or no hope of men recovering from them, either are or are not unto death (1 John 5:16). (S. Clarke, D. D.)
Christ came to call the sinner
Christ came to call not the righteous, but sinners to repentance. The schoolmaster does not gather the finest scholars in the country into his school, and try to teach them; he takes those who know little or nothing and educates them. The gardener does not bind up the strong, hardy plants; it is those that are weak and slender, those that have been broken down by the wind, that he trains to the pole or to the wall. It is the sick people, not the well people, who need the physician. No one can be too great a sinner to be beyond the need of Jesus; it was to save sinners that Jesus came. (The Sunday School Times.)
The value and capability of sinful man
By going to the lowest stratum of human nature, Christ gave a new idea of the value of man. He built a kingdom out of the refuse of society. To compare small things with great, it has been pointed out by Lord Macaulay that in an English cathedral there is an exquisite stained window which was made by an apprentice out of the pieces of glass which had been rejected by his master, and it was so far superior to every other in the church, that, according to tradition, the envious artist killed himself with vexation. All the builders of society had rejected the “sinners,” and made the painted window of the “righteous.” A new Builder came; His plan was original, startling, revolutionary; His eye was upon the condemned material; He made the first last, and the last first, and the stone which the builders rejected, He made the headstone of the corner. He always especially cared for the rejected stone. Men had always cared for the great, the beautiful, the “righteous”; it was left for Christ to care for “sinners.” (Dr. Parker.)
Christ an authorised Physician
When a physician presents himself, one of the first inquiries is, “Is he a regular practitioner? Has he a right to practise? Has he a diploma?” Very properly, the law requires that a man shall not be allowed to hack our bodies and poison us with drugs at his own pleasure without having at least a show of knowing what he is at. It has been tartly said that “a doctor is a man who pours drugs, of which he knows little, into a body of which he knows still less.” I fear that is often the case. Still a diploma is the best safeguard mortals have devised. Christ has the best authority for practising as a Physician. He has a Divine diploma. Would you like to see His diploma? I will read you a few words of it: it comes from the highest authority, not from the College of Physicians, but from the God of Physicians. Here are the words of it in the sixty-first chapter of Isaiah - “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek. He hath sent me to bind up the broken hearted.” He has a diploma for binding up broken hearts. I should not like to trust myself to a physician who was a mere self-dubbed doctor, who could not show any authorization; I must have him know as much as a man can know, little as I believe that will probably be. He must have a diploma; it must be signed and sealed too, and be in a regular manner, for few sensible men will risk their lives with ignorant quacks. Now Jesus Christ has His diploma and there it is-God hath sent Him to bind up the broken-hearted. The next thing you want in a physician is education; you want to know that he is thoroughly qualified; he must have walked the hospitals. And certainly our Lord Jesus Christ has done so. What form of disease did He not meet with? When He was here among men it pleased God to let the devil loose, in order that there might be more than usual venom in the veins of poor diseased manhood: and Christ met the devil at his darkest hour and fought with the great enemy when he had full liberty to do his worst with Him. Jesus did, indeed, enter into the woes of men. Walked the hospital! Why the whole world was an infirmary, and Christ the one only Physician, going from couch to couch, healing the sons of men. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Christ a competent Physician
His cures are very speedy-there is life in a look at Him; His cures are radical-He strikes at the very centre of the disease, and hence His cures are very sure and certain. He never fails, and the disease never returns. There is no relapse where Christ heals; no fear that one of His patients should be but patched up for a season, He makes a new man of him; a new heart also does He give him, and a right spirit does He put within him. He is a Physician, one of a thousand, because He is well-skilled in all diseases. Physicians generally have some specialite. They may know a little about almost all our pains and ills, but there is usually one disease which they have studied the most carefully, one part of the human frame whose anatomy is as well-known to them as the rooms and cupboards of their own house. Jesus Christ has made the whole of human nature His specialite. He is as much at home with one sinner as with another sinner and never yet did He meet with an out-of-the-way case that was out of the way to Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
And the disciples of John and of the Pharisees used to fast.
Fasting useful or baneful, according to circumstances
Men of opposing faiths are often united by a common scare. They are more zealous for religious custom than for the interests of truth. Jesus here puts fasting on its true basis.
I. Fasting has no moral value in itself. The appetite may have to be denied from prudential motives, and then fasting becomes a duty. But asceticism, per se, is not a virtue. It is the negation of a vice, but it may be the seed of twenty others, e.g., pride, self-righteousness.
II. Prescribed fasting may be injurious and rob the practice of its real value.
III. Fasting is imposed by sorrowful events. A natural instinct indicates its fitness.
IV. Beneficial fasting comes from heavenly feasting. It is the time for special activities of the soul. The best rule is-so far as fasting helps you in the elevation and improvement of your highest nature, adopt it; so far as it is injurious to this, avoid it. (D. Davies, M. A.)
I. The envious are more busied in censuring the conduct of others, than in rectifying their own. This is one vice belonging to a Pharisee, and which is very common.
II. It is another, to desire that everyone should regulate his piety by ours, and embrace our particular customs and devotions.
III. It is a third, to speak of others, only that we may have an opportunity to speak of and to distinguish ourselves. It is very dangerous for a man to make himself remarkable by such devout practices as are external and singular, when he is not firmly settled and rooted in internal virtues, and, above all, in humility. (Quesnel.)
Fasting is one of the forgotten virtues, from the neglect of which probably we all suffer. The practice grew from a desire to keep down all grossness of nature; to give the soul a better chance in its conflict with the body. The more the appetite is indulged, the less the soul can act with energy, and the more the man shrinks from self-denial. Gluttony spoils sanctity, while self-denial in food and drink aids it. Accordingly, God ordained fasting, and His people have, in most ages, practised it. But in the nature of things it yielded most advantage when it was
(2) voluntary, and
(3) private. (R. Glover.)
Fasting determined by inward sentiment
Christ’s answer to the Pharisees’ objection is one of those clear and unanswerable statements of truth which, like a flash, light up the whole dark confused realm of obligation, where so many stumble sadly and hopelessly. Can you not see that what is within must determine that which is without? The law of appropriateness is supreme in the moral and religious sphere as in the material. (De Witt S. Clark.)
Routine fasting formal
An aroused, loving, penitent nature will express itself; but a set series of motions will not quicken the torpid spirit. They are like empty shells, in which the life has died, or out of which it has crept. They are curiosities. The hermit crab may tenant in them; and thence come the useless prayers, the languishing hosannas, the weary exhortations, while the world rallies the Church as to the reality of the God it worships. (De Witt S. Clark.)
I. Its nature. Fasting in a religious sense is a voluntary abstinence from food for a religious purpose.
II. Its obligations.
III. Benefits of fasting.
1. There is a scriptural, a psychological, a moral and religious ground for fasting.
(1) Each act of self-denial, the refusal to gratify the lusts of the flesh, even when natural and proper, is an assertion of the supremacy of the soul over the body, and tends to strengthen its authority.
(2) It is a general law of our nature that the outward should correspond with the inward. No man can maintain any desired state of mind while his bodily condition and acts are not in accordance. He cannot be sorrowful in the midst of laughter.
2. There is also the further ground of experience and the example of God’s people. All eminently pious persons have been more or less addicted to this mode of spiritual culture.
(1) It must, however, be sincere. The hypocritical fasting of the Pharisees is at once hateful and destructive.
(2) It must be regarded as simply a means and not an end.
(3) It must be left free. (C. Hodge.)
Why the disciples of Christ did not fast
Christ went in the face of many Jewish customs and prejudices.
I. The Jews, as a nation and church, had many fasts.
II. The disciples of John fasted often.
III. The Pharisees and their disciples fasted often-twice in the week, the second and fifth day. Their real state of mind contrasted with this exercise. How reason staggers in the things of God.
IV. These parties naturally complained of the disciples of Christ for not fasting.
1. Fasting seemed so essential.
2. They attributed the conduct of the disciples of Christ to Christ Himself.
3. In this instance, Christ gave His sanction and defence to the conduct of His disciples. His vindication was:-He was with them-they were joyful, fasting not suited, etc. He would leave them-they would be sorrowful, fasting then suitable.
This view enforced by two comparisons.
1. Christ sanctions fasting.
2. The time for fasting should be decided by the fact of Christ’s presence or absence. Beware of attaching too much importance to forms. (Expository Discourses.)
The ceremonial observances of the Christian life
I. That the same ceremonial observances may be advocated by men of strangely different creeds and character, animated by varied motives. “And the disciples of John and of the Pharisees used to fast; and they come and say unto Him, Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Thy disciples fast not?”
1. That weak, but well-meaning, men may be led astray in their estimate of the ceremonial of the Christian life by proud and crafty religionists.
2. That men of varied creed, character, and conduct may be found contending for the same ceremonial of the Christian life.
3. That even good men are often found in open hostility because of their varied opinions in reference to the mere ceremonial of the Christian life.
II. That men may be so mindful of the ceremonial observances of the Christian life as to neglect the greater truths embodied and signified.
1. Men are in danger of neglecting the deeper truths of the Christian ceremonial because they are generally lacking in the habit of penetrating its unseen and hidden meanings.
2. Men are in danger of neglecting the deeper truths of the Christian ceremonial because they are lacking in the pure sympathy needful to such discovery.
3. Men are in danger of neglecting the deeper truths of the Christian ceremonial because they are lacking in that diligence needful to such discovery.
III. That men should regulate the ceremonial observances of the Christian life according to the moral experiences of the soul. “And Jesus said unto them, can the children of the bride chamber fast while the Bridegroom is with them?”
1. That Christ is the Bridegroom of the soul. Christ had just revealed Himself as the Great Physician of the soul. But this is a more endearing and condescending revelation of Himself. He loves the soul of man. He seeks to be wedded to and to endow it with all His moral wealth. This is a close union.
2. That the absence or presence of Christ the Bridegroom determines largely the emotions of the soul.
3. That the emotions of the soul, as occasioned by the absence or presence of the Divine Bridegroom, must determine the ceremonial of the Christian life.
1. That the moral character cannot be infallibly judged by an attention to the outward ceremony of the Christian life.
2. That if we would cultivate true moods of joy, we must seek habitual communion with Chris.
3. That the feeling of the soul must determine the religious ceremony of the hour. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The secret of gladness
I. The Bridegroom. The singular appropriateness in the employment of this name by Christ in the existing circumstances. The Master of these very disciples had said “He that hath the bride is the bridegroom,” etc. Our Lord reminds them of their own Teacher’s words, and so He would say to them, “In your Master’s own conception of what I am, and of the joy that comes from My presence, you have an answer to your question.” We cannot but connect this name with a whole circle of ideas found in the Old Testament; the union between Israel and Jehovah was represented as a marriage. In Christ all this was fulfilled. See here Christ’s self-consciousness; He claims to be the Bridegroom of humanity.
II. The presence of the Bridegroom. Are we in the dreary period when Christ “is taken away”? The time of mourning for an absent Christ was only three days. “Lo, I am with you alway.” We have lost the manifestation of Him to the sense, but have gained the manifestation of Him to the spirit. The presence is of no use unless we daily try to realize it.
III. The joy of the Bridegroom’s presence. What was it that made these rude lives so glad when Christ was with them? The charm of personal character, the charm of contact with one whose lips were bringing to them fresh revelations of truth. There is no joy in the world like that of companionship, in the freedom of perfect love, with one who ever keeps us at our best, and brings the treasure of ever fresh truth to the mind. He is with us as the source of our joy, because He is the Lord of our lives, and the absolute Commander of our wills. To have one present with us whose loving word it is delight to obey, is peace and gladness. He is with us as the ground of perfect joy because He is the adequate object of all our desires, and the whole of the faculties and powers of a man will find a field of glad activity in leaning upon Him, and realizing His presence. Like the apostle whom the old painters loved to represent lying with his happy head on Christ’s heart, and his eyes closed in tranquil rapture of restful satisfaction, so if we have Him with us and feel that He is with us, our spirits may be still, and in the great stillness of fruition of all our wishes and the fulfilment of all our needs, may know a joy that the world can neither give nor take away. He is with us as the source of endless gladness in that He is the defence and protection for our souls. And as men live in a victualled fortress, and care not though the whole surrounding country may be swept bare of all provision, so when we have Christ with us we may feel safe, whatsoever befalls, and “in the days of famine we shall be satisfied.” He is with us as the source of our perfect joy because His presence is the kindling of every hope that fills the future with light and glory. Dark or dim at the best, trodden by uncertain shapes, casting many a deep shadow over the present, that future lies, except we see it illumined by Christ, and have Him by our side. But if we possess His companionship, the present is but the parent of a more blessed time to come; and we can look forward and feel that nothing can touch our gladness, because nothing can touch our union with our Lord. So, dear brethren, from all these thoughts and a thousand more which I have no time to dwell upon, comes this one great consideration, that the joy of the presence of the Bridegroom is the victorious antagonist of all sorrow-“Can the children of the bride chamber mourn,” etc. The Bridegroom limits our grief. Our joy will often be made sweeter by the very presence of the mourning. Why have so many Christian men so little joy in their lives? They look for it in wrong places. It cannot be squeezed out of worldly ambitions. A religion like that of John’s disciples and that of the Pharisees is poor; a religion of laws and restrictions cannot be joyful. There is no way of men being happy except by living near the Master. Joy is a duty. (Dr. McLaren.)
The presence of the Bridegroom a solace in grief
And we have, over and above them, in the measure in which we are Christians, certain special sources of sorrow and trial, peculiar to ourselves alone; and the deeper and truer our Christianity the more of these shall we have. But notwithstanding all that, what will the felt presence of the Bridegroom do for these griefs that will come? Well, it will limit them for one thing; it will prevent them from absorbing the whole of our nature. There will always be a Goshen in which there is light in the dwelling, however murky may be the darkness that wraps the land. There will always be a little bit of soil above the surface, however weltering and wide may be the inundation that drowns our world. There wilt always be a dry and warm place in the midst of the winter; a kind of greenhouse into which we may get from out of the tempest and the fog. The joy of the Bridegroom’s presence will last through the sorrow, like a spring of fresh water welling up in the midst of the sea. We may have the salt and the sweet waters mingling in our lives, not sent forth by one fountain, but flowing in one channel. (Dr. McLaren.)
A cheerful type of religion
There is a cry amongst us for a more cheerful type of religion. I re-echo the cry, but am afraid that I do not mean by it quite the same thing that some of my friends do. A more cheerful type of Christianity means to many of us a type of Christianity that will interfere less with any amusements; a more indulgent doctor that will prescribe a less rigid diet than the old Puritan type used to do. Well, perhaps they went too far; I do not care to deny that. But the only cheerful Christianity is a Christianity that draws its gladness from deep personal experience of communion with Jesus Christ. (Dr. McLaren.)
Liberty and discipline
It is one of the honourable distinctions of Christ’s doctrine that He is never taken, as men are, with a half-truth concerning a subject. If there is, for example, a free element in Christian life and experience, and also a restrictive side, He comprehends both and holds them in a true adjustment of their offices and relations. His answer to John’s disciples amounts to this Liberty and discipline, movement from God’s centre, and movement from our own sanctified inclination and self-compelling will, are the two great factors of Christian life and experience. It is obvious that both these conceptions may be abused, as they always are when taken apart; but let us find now how to hold with Christ the two sides at once. There is then-
I. A ruling conception of the Christian life which is called having the Bridegroom present; a state of right inclination established, in which the soul has immediate consciousness of god and is swayed in liberty by his inspirations. The whole aim of Christianity is fulfilled in this alone. Discipline, self-regulation, carried on by the will, may be wanted, as I shall presently show. But no possible amount of such doings can make up a Christian virtue. Everything in Christianity goes for the free inclination. Here begins the true nobility of God’s sons and daughters-when their inclination is wholly to good and to God. The bridegroom joy is now upon them because their duty is become their festivity with Christ.
II. What then is the place or value of that whole side of self-discipline which Christ himself assumes the need of, when the Bridegroom is to be taken away. There is, I undertake to say, one general purpose or office in all doings of will, on the human side of Christian experience, viz., the ordering of the soul in fit position for God, that He may occupy it, have it in His power, sway it by His inspirations. No matter what the kind of doing to which we are called-self-government, self-renunciation, holy resolve, or steadfast waiting-the end is the same, the getting in position for God’s occupancy. As the navigator of a ship does nothing for the voyage, save what he does by setting the ship to course and her sails to the wind, so our self-compelling discipline is to set us in the way of receiving the actuating impulse of God’s will and character. All that we can do is summed up in self-presentation to God, hence the call to salvation is “Come.” And as it is in conversion, so it is of all Christian doings afterward. If, by reason of a still partial subjection to evil, the nuptial day of a soul’s liberty be succeeded by a void, dry state, the disciple has it given him to prepare himself for God’s help by clearing away his idols, rectifying his misjudgments, staying his resentments and grudges, and mortifying his appetites. There will be a certain violence in the fight of his repentances. Let none object that all such strains of endeavour must he without merit because they are, in one sense, without inclination. Holy Scripture commands us to serve, when we cannot reign. Do we “mortify our members,” “pluck out our right eye,” by inclination? Let us specify some humbler matters in which it must be done.
1. How great a thing for a Christian to keep life, practice, and business in the terms of order.
2. A responsible way has the same kind of value; a soul that stays fast in concern for the Church, for the salvation of men, for the good of the country, is ready for God’s best inspirations.
3. Openness and boldness for God is an absolute requisite for the effective revelation of God in the soul.
4. Honesty, not merely commercial, but honesty engaging to do justice everywhere, every way, every day, and specially to God’s high truth and God. I could speak of yet humbler things, such as dress and society. These are commonly put outside the pale of religious responsibility. And yet there is how much in them to fix the soul’s position towards God! But what of fasting? The very thing about which my text is concerned. Does it belong to Christianity? I think so. Christ declared that His disciples should fast when He was gone, He began His great ministry by a protracted fast, and He discourses of it just as He does of prayer and alms. A certain half-illuminated declamation against asceticism is a great mistake of our time. An asceticism belonging to Christianity is described when an apostle says: “I exercise myself to have a conscience void of offence.” If we cannot find how to bear an enemy, if we recoil from sacrifices laid upon us, we shall emulate the example of Cromwell’s soldiers, who conquered first in the impassive state, by fasting and prayer, and then, sailing into battle as men iron-clad, conquered their enemies; or those martyrs who could sing in the crisp of their bodies because they had trained them to serve. But none should ever go into a fast when he has the Bridegroom consciously with him, and it must never amount to a maceration of the body-never be more frequent than is necessary to maintain, for the long run of time, the clearest, healthiest condition of mind and body. There ought to be a fascination in the severities of this rugged discipline. Our modern piety, we feel, wants depth and richness, and it cannot be otherwise, unless we consent to endure some hardness. To be merely wooed by grace, and tenderly dewed by sentiment, makes a Christian mushroom, not a Christian man. So much meaning has our Master, when charging it upon us, again and again, without our once conceiving possibly what depth of meaning He would have us find in His words. “Deny thyself take up thy cross and follow Me.” (Horace Bushnell, D. D.)
No man also seweth a piece of new cloth on an old garment.
New cloth on an old garment
God’s forces not to be fettered by man. You cannot thrust life into human moulds.
I. Every force has a definite mode of action. Spring does not produce the same results as autumn, nor can young converts yield the same fruits as aged saints.
II. To coerce these forces into human channels is impossible. No one dress will fit all men. If you want to alter men’s habits begin by changing their principles.
III. It is only wise and safe to act with God. Learn the methods of the Spirit’s working and follow them. (D. Davies, M. A.)
The new supplanting the old
A missionary in India writes of a large tree near his home, in whose branches a second top of entirely different species appeared. The old was the “bitter nim,” the other the “sacred fig.” And this, on examination, was found to have thrust its root through the decaying heart of the great trunk to the ground. There, like a young giant in the embrace of some huge monster, each was engaged in a struggle for life. If the old could tighten its grasp, the young tree must die. If the young continued to grow it must at last split open and destroy the old. This it seemed already to be doing. So with the good seed of the gospel dropped into the rotten heart of some ancient system or practice. Thrusting its root downward and its branches upward, it is gradually to supplant all else and stand, bearing twelve manner of fruits, yielding her fruit every month; and the leaves will be for the healing of the nations. (De W. S. Clark.)
New things in Christianity
Christianity sets up a new kingdom-a kingdom within men-a reign over the spiritual in man. “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.” It publishes a “new law,” and gives men “a new commandment.” “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” Christianity introduces us into a “New Jerusalem,” “the Jerusalem which is the mother of us all.” Everything in the city is new. The Temple is new; it is a spiritual temple; spiritual men “are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit.” “What! know ye not that ye are the temple of God?” The Altar is new; “we have an altar whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle.” The Sacrifice is new; it is the “offering up of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” The Incense is new; “the sacrifice of praise, even the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” The Priesthood is new; “we have a great High Priest who is passed into the heavens for us, even Jesus, the Son of God.” The Way into the “Holiest” is new; it is “a new and living way consecrated for us.” The Worship is new; the hour has come when the character, and not the scene of worship, is everything. The song is new; we sing “a new song.” The Ritualism is new; “for in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.” God sustains a new relation to us; He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We come to God and say, “Doubtless Thou art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not.” “Christ is the Mediator of the new covenant.” The days have come when God has made a new covenant with man. The Spirit is new; even the Comforter, proceeding from the Father and the Son. The gospel is new; “God hath spoken unto us by His Son.” The phraseology is new; “we preach Christ crucified.” The symbolism is new; “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Since everything in Christianity is new, we must ourselves be new; we must be “born again.” There must be the passage from death to life. The life we live in the flesh must be a new life. “Old things must pass away; all things must become new.” (H. J. Bevis.)
New things in Christianity
I. That the spirit of Christianity is new. It is “new wine.” Judaism was the body; Christianity is the soul. The one was materialism; the other is spiritualism. The one was “the letter;” the other is “the spirit.” The one was a “ministration of death;” the other a “ministration of life.” “The law came by Moses, but grace and truth by Jesus Christ.” We have got beyond the shadow, we have the substance. “We behold with unveiled face the glory of the Lord.”
II. That the thoughts and words of Christianity are new. New thoughts require new utterances. The people said of Christ, “Never man spake like this Man.” New things want new words. The everlasting Son has taken our nature and become our brother. The gospel calls this “the mystery of godliness.” God hath given His Son, that whosoever believeth on Him might have eternal life. Even the gospel seems to want words here, and can only say, “God so loved.” The gospel takes us by the hand and leads us to the cross; and as we look on the Crucified, it unfolds the record, and bids us read, “God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” We want not old forms. We have truth for the understanding; we have love for the heart. We have new thoughts and new words, the utterances of which are as the divinest music to the soul that is seeking a Saviour. “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, even the chief.”
III. The manifestations of Christianity are new. “There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.” Christianity is from heaven. God’s work is not to be improved by man. Where there is real religion in man, its own manifestations will not be wanting in a Divine life, in all the graces of the Spirit, in godlikeness.
IV. The ritualism of Christianity is new. It has few symbols, but these are most expressive and appropriate. It meets us on the very threshold of life with its washing of water, and water is the universal and undying type of purity. It gives us, as Christians, the memorials of Christ’s death. The ritualism of your spirit must be left to the moods and feelings of your own heart. You may content yourselves with mere outward acts of reformation, but these are manifestly insufficient. This is but a new piece of cloth on an old garment. This is the world’s attempt to mend human nature. Christianity requires “a new heart and a right spirit.” You must be a “partaker of the Divine nature,” “a new creature in Christ Jesus,” to be a Christian. The “inner man” must have its new attire. You must put off the old garment and put on the new. You must “put on Christ Jesus the Lord, and walk in Him.” Do not try to mend the old nature Seek a new one. Old habits will not do for a new spirit, and yet we cling to them, or they cling to us There is often little agreement between our principles and our practice. (H. J. Bevis.)
Legal ceremonies superseded
Paul calls legal ceremonies “beggarly rudiments;” such are the popish-like a beggar’s cloak, full of patches. When the debt is paid, it is unjust to keep back the bond: Christ being come, and having discharged all, it is injurious to retain the bond of ceremonies. In the spring we make much of buds and flowers to delight the eye and cheer the sense of smelling; but in autumn, when we receive the fruits to content our taste and appetite, and to nourish us, the other are nothing worth The affianced virgin esteems every token her lover sends her and solaceth her affections with those earnests of his love in his absence: but when she is married, and enjoys himself, there is no regard of the tokens. It was something to have a ceremony or a sacrifice, representing a Saviour; but this “made nothing perfect” and all the life which those things had was from that Saviour whom now we, have. (T. Adams.)
Old bottles and new wine
Christ gave his replies to John’s disciples and the Pharisees. The first had a temporary application; the other a permanent one.
1. Fasting was a sign of sorrow; but how could these disciples sorrow while Jesus was with them? it was like trying to weep in the midst of a wedding feast. Christians have alternations of experience. Sometimes the Bridegroom is with us; sometimes far away.
2. The other answer sets forth the essential difference between the new dispensation and the impossibility of confining it by the old forms and ceremonies of religion. Now, these bottles represent religious forms, and wine represents religious spirit or life. Consider-
I. The superior energy of Christianity over Judaism. It is new wine. Judaism was wine; but this is newer, and also better. But this is not the point of comparison. The point is, that the gospel has a freshness, expansiveness, and power, beyond what we find in Judaism, so that it is like new, working and fermenting wine as compared with old acetic wine, now cold and still. See it in a few particulars:-
1. Its earnest aggressive spirit and aim. It was meant for the world, to go out to all nations. Judaism was for the Jews, or if for Gentiles, it was by these coming to the Jews as proselytes. Its agency is the same.
2. Its potent and stimulating motives. Christ’s love and death constrain us; and the apocalypse of the eternal world is made more impressive and influential. Compare these with Jewish types, etc.
3. The ardour of affection awakened in the followers of Christ. Their whole nature is elevated and vivified by a new love and a new hope.
4. The accompanying energy of the Holy Ghost.
II. The unsuitableness of old Jewish forms to the new Christian spirit. All are too narrow, cold, and cramping. As fastings, sacrifices, priestly exclusiveness, and even the Sabbath.
III. Yet Christianity has its own forms. The wine is not spilt on the ground, but kept in bottles-the Christian Church in its New Testament simplicity, the ordinances, the Lord’s day, spiritual modes of worship. All these naturally come out of the spirit of the gospel. The life makes its own body. Truly, this law has been tampered with most grievously by men, and the energy of the gospel has suffered; its freedom has been trammelled, and its life deadened. Lessons:
1. Our supreme concern should be to get the life of the gospel into our souls.
2. We should avoid a superstitious stickling for mere forms, however old and elegant, if they are but arbitrary and mechanical.
3. We should be willing to endorse and adopt the simple, natural, and living forms of the New Testament-joining the church, engaging in worship, etc.
4. We should apply it to our whole deportment and life-all must be renewed, and new wine put in new bottles. Let all our habits be determined and controlled by the inner spirit of piety. Things once pleasant to us will now be unpleasant and irksome. Many amusements and pleasures will be instantly abandoned, when we have got the right spirit within us; whereas, otherwise, it would be vain to contend and argue against them. (Congregational Pulpit.)
And it came to pass, that He went through the cornfields on the Sabbath day.
A knowledge of the law without the true spirit of the law
He who has only the knowledge without the spirit of the law, very often opposes when he thinks he is defending it. Pharisaical pride makes men set themselves up for judges of everything, and require an account of everything to be given them. When a man is once full of himself, he decides confidently, especially when it is to condemn others. Those who love to domineer are not content to exercise their authority upon their own disciples, but would fain bring those of others under their dominion. (Quesnel.)
Scrupulosity is considered by some as identical with conscientiousness. It is not so. It is a tare that resembles the wheat, but is not wheat; a disease of the conscience, not a refinement of it. You must not judge an eye by its sensitiveness to light, but by its power of seeing. When light pains the eye it is because there is inflammation, not because the organ is a fine one. So it is with conscience. The health of conscience is not to be measured by its sensitiveness, its protests, and its objections; but by its power to lead a man into all genial activities and self-denying charities. Conscientiousness is a happy child, whose language is-“What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits?” Scrupulosity is a slave, whose language is-“What must I do to avoid God’s rebuke?” Conscientiousness acts on great principles; scrupulosity on little rules. Conscientiousness serves God, blesses man, and protects him who cherishes it; scrupulosity is often useless to everybody. Conscientiousness makes man an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile; but scrupulosity often makes him an Ishmaelite indeed, in whom there is often a good deal. The Pharisees were full of scrupulosity, and it produced in them all uncharitableness. (R. Glover.)
Through the cornfields
Looking out upon the cornfields of wheat we see-
I. Unity in variety. To the unaccustomed eye the wheat seems one, and yet it is various. There is the white wheat, the rod wheat, and beneath these, varieties and sub-varieties in great number. Yet what unity in the variety. Variety, too, meets us as we look out upon the vast field of humanity; yet what unity. One hand has made us all; in Christ “there is neither Greek nor Jew, bond nor free.” In Him “all we are brethren.”
II. Fruitfulness through death is taught us by the fields of wheat. The field of burial shall become the field of resurrection.
III. The permanence of character is suggested to us by the ripening fields of wheat-“Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
IV. The vast productiveness of good is suggested by the fields of wheat-“And bring forth fruit, some an hundredfold.” Christianity, truth, work for God, yield “much fruit.”
V. Human dependence is taught us by the cornfields; God giveth the increase. (G. T. Coster.)
And He said unto them, Have ye never read what David did?
How to read the Bible
I. In order to the true reading of the Scriptures there must be an understanding of them. The mind must be well awake to it. We must meditate upon it. We must pray about it. We must use all means and helps.
II. In reading we ought to seek out the spiritual teaching of the Word. This should be the case in reference to the historical passages, ceremonial precepts, and doctrinal statements.
III. Such a reading of Scripture as implies the understanding of, and the entrance into, its spiritual meaning, and the discovery of the Divine Person, who is the spiritual meaning, is profitable. It often begets spiritual life. It comforts the soul It nourishes the soul. It guides us. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Pedantic Bible readers
The scribes and Pharisees were great readers of the law. They made notes of very little importance, but still very curious notes-as to which was the middle verse of the entire Old Testament, which verse was half-way to the middle, and how many times such a word occurred, and the size of the letter, and its peculiar position. According to Pharisaic interpretation, to rub an ear of corn is a kind of threshing, and, as it is very wrong to thresh on the Sabbath day, therefore it must be very wrong to rub out an ear or two of wheat when you are hungry on the Sabbath morning. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The grace of Bible doctrine
The doctrines of grace are good, but the grace of the doctrines is better. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Living in God’s Word
As I sat, last year, under a wide-spreading beech, I was pleased to mark with prying curiosity the singular habits of that most wonderful of trees, which seems to have an intelligence about it which other trees have not. I wondered at, and admired the beech, but I thought to myself, I do not think half as much of this beech tree as yonder squirrel does. I see him leap from bough to bough, and I feel sure he dearly values the old beech tree, because he has his home somewhere inside it, in a hollow place; these branches are his shelter, and these beech nuts are his food. He lives upon the tree. It is his world, his playground, his granary, his home; indeed it is everything to him, and it is not so to me, for I find my rest and food elsewhere. With God’s Word it is well for us to be like squirrels, living in it, and living on it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Bible glancing not Bible reading
An old preacher used to say: The Word has mighty free course among many nowadays, for it goes in at one of their ears, and out at the other. So it seems to be with some readers-they read a very great deal because they do not read anything. Their eye glances, but the mind never rests. The soul does not light upon the truth and stay there. It flits over the landscape as a bird might do, but it builds no nest therein, and finds no rest for the sole of its foot. Such reading is not reading. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
An interior reading of Scripture
In prayer there is such a thing as praying in prayer-a praying which is the bowels of the prayer. In praise there is a praising in song, an reward fire of intense devotion, which is the life of the hallelujah. It is even so with the reading of the Scriptures. There is an interior reading, a kernel reading; and, if it be not there, the reading is a mechanical exercise, and profits nothing. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Illumination necessary to emotion
When the high priest went into the holy place he always lit the golden candlestick before he kindled the incense upon the brazen altar, as if to show that the mind must have illumination before the affections can rise towards God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Use of the Scriptures
The cause of so many gross and foolish opinions which many amongst us hold and maintain, is nothing else but their ignorance of the Scriptures, either because they read them not duly and diligently, or else because they understand them not aright. How many foolish and absurd opinions are held by ignorant people in many places? Such as these for example: That faith is nothing but a man’s good meaning: That God is served by rehearsing the Ten Commandments and the Creed instead of prayers: That the Sabbath is kept well enough if men and women come to church, and be present at public prayers and at the sermon, though they spend the rest of the day either idly or profanely: That the Sabbath is well enough sanctified by bare reading of prayers, and so much preaching is needless: That it is lawful to swear in common talk to that which is true: That in religion it is best to do as the most do: That a man may make of his own as much as he can: That such as are not book learned need have no knowledge of religion. These, and such-like absurd opinions, proceed from nothing but ignorance of the Scriptures. If we would avoid such errors, and be led into all truth of doctrine necessary to salvation, let us
(1) be frequent and diligent in hearing the Scriptures explained in church;
(2) search them diligently and often in private reading;
(3) pray daily to God to open our understanding, that we may perceive their true meaning;
(4) confer with others touching those things which we read and hear. (G. Petter.)
Mercy better than sacrifice
When the Romans had ravaged the province of Azazane, and seven thousand Persians were brought to Armida, where they suffered extreme want. Acases, the bishop of that city, observed that as God said, “I love mercy better than sacrifice,” He would certainly be better pleased with the relief of His suffering creatures, than with being served with gold and silver in their churches. The clergy were of the same opinion. The consecrated vessels were sold, and with the proceeds, the seven thousand Persians were not only maintained during the war, but sent home at its conclusion with money in their pockets. Varenes, the Persian monarch, was so charmed with this humane action, that he invited the bishop to his capital, where he received him with the utmost reverencer and for his sake conferred many favours on the Christians.
And He said unto them, the Sabbath was made for man.
The Sabbath and its Lord
“The Sabbath was made for man”-not for the Jews only-not a mere ceremonial observance for the time; but of universal obligation; made for man when man was made.
I. “The Sabbath was made for man” as a working man. It is a simple fact in medical science, that the human frame is not made so as to bear up under constant labour without rest. He can no more do it than he can live under water; it is contrary to nature; and the consequence will be premature decay; the frame will break down and wear out before its time. This is a simple fact in science. Besides, labour is God’s appointment, His wholesome and needful law. But did He mean us to bear the drudgery of ceaseless toil? How wretched, how degrading, how brutalizing! And God has not appointed it: “Six days shalt thou labour.” But on this head I need say no more; those admirable Essays by Working Men, which ought to be in everybody’s hands, and which so vividly portray the experience of those who have kept the Sabbath, exhaust this part of the subject.
II. “The Sabbath was made for man,” as a social being. What is God’s great instrument for promoting the temporal good of His creatures? It is the family tie. What is the great stimulant to exertion? What the great safeguard, what the great cordial of life-speaking of mere human things, I mean? It is to be found in the word “home.” My experience as a gaol chaplain convinces me that the great cause of crime arises from the breach of the fourth and fifth commandments. Let but the family tie be rent asunder, and society falls to pieces. And how can this be maintained without a Sabbath? The observation of an omnibus conductor the other day sets this in a striking light: “Sir, I am at work every Sunday, all the day, as well as on week days, and I hardly know the face of my own children.” Then what must become of those children? And why should they be deprived of a father’s care, and he of his children’s love? And how has God provided against such a danger? “The Sabbath was made for man.” Then the various members of the family, scattered through the week, are once more united; the mutual feelings of affection are elicited; they are excited to seek each other’s welfare, and to value each other’s good opinion and esteem; and, short of the power of God’s grace, there is no bond half so strong, no security half so certain, that they will fill up their places as good members of society. I constantly meet with those who are lost to every other feeling of shame but this.
III. “The Sabbath was made for man,” as a spiritual being. Earthly things must not engross all the time and thought of man. God interposes, “The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God.”
IV. But it is not enough to offer man the blessing-it is made imperative; it is confirmed by the sanction which is added, “The Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath.” Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath, the Proprietor of it, the Owner of it, the Master of it. It is His. It was made for man, but never given to man. The six days were given to man-the seventh never was. He is “the Lord” of it. It is at His disposal, not at yours, nor any man’s, nor any body of men, however great or powerful. “Will a man rob God?” Yes. If he apply to his own purposes that which does not belong to him, what is it? Robbery. You have no right over another’s Sabbaths; you have no right over your own. It is the Lord’s day. It is for Him to say how the day shall be spent; and man has no more the right to alienate that day from the service of God to his own service than he has to appropriate his neighbour’s property or despoil him of his honour for his own behoof. The Sabbath is not man’s, but the Lord’s, and you can’t repeal that law, no more than you can change the laws of motion or reverse the force of gravity. You may arrest it for a time, but it will prevail at last; the laws of God execute themselves, you cannot make them inoperative and null.
V. “The Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath”-the judge to punish the breach of it. Nothing is more certain than that this is one of the sins which He especially requires at the hands of men. We know it from His dealings with Israel; Jeremiah is full of such declarations; so are many of the other prophets; to refer only to one, Ezekiel 20:13; Ezekiel 20:16; Ezekiel 20:21; Ezekiel 20:24. He is the Lord-the Judge-to vindicate His own law. And why? First, Sabbath breaking is a deliberate sin. And then Sabbath breaking is (if I may coin such an expression) a fundamental sin. It goes to the root of all godliness; an habitual Sabbath breaker cannot have any true religion. It opens the door of his heart wide to Satan.
VI. “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath”-to direct the mode of its observance. It is the Lord’s day-the Lord who died for us. He claims it, to be devoted to His service and consecrated to His honour.
VII. And is it not the Lord’s day?-the day on which He specially manifests Himself to His people; when He invites them to draw water with joy out of the wells of salvation. (J. Cohen, M. A.)
The Sabbath a necessity
It was “made for man,” as man; as a thing necessary, suited, essential for him. Just as the atmosphere was made for man to breathe, just as the earth was made for him to cultivate, just as the seasons were made for him-just as these and such-like things were taken into account, when man was put upon the earth, as necessary to fit it for man’s abode physically, so the Sabbath was made for man, as a necessary requisite for man morally-and that, when man was unfallen, a holy being, like unto the angels. And if indispensable for man’s moral and spiritual health then, can it be less indispensable now? And in His mercy God spared it to us. It has survived the fall-a remnant of paradise lost, and the best help to paradise regained. (J. Cohen, M. A.)
The working man a self sovereign on the Sabbath
Now, I say to this large class of men, the Sabbath comes as a boon from God. It is like an island in a stormy sea. There is a way in which poor men, for the most part, own themselves. The man whose horse and dray are imperatively at the command of his employer, on whose favour he depends, who says to him on Monday, “Go,” and he goes, and that from daylight to dark-it being the same on Tuesday, on Wednesday, on every day of the week, so that the man cannot go out of Brooklyn without permission of his employer, cannot go to this or that exhibition unless his employer gives his consent-that man has sold out his industry, which carries his person with it, and for six days in the week he is restricted by the will of another; but when the seventh day comes round he says, “Thank God, I have nobody to ask today. I am free to come and go. I can rise up or lie down as I please.” That is the only day that the poor man has out of the seven in which he has absolute ownership of his body and soul in the thronging industries of modern civilized society. And yet it is this very class of men who are being taught to throw stones at the Sabbath day. It is precisely the same thing over again which occurred when Moses appeared as the deliverer of his people against the Egyptians, and sought to reconcile the quarrel which had arisen between the two peoples. They turned against him and said, “Who art thou?” And he had to run for his life. The Sabbath comes to men who are tied hand and foot, and need emancipation; and upon this beneficent day of rest for them they turn and say, “It is the priests’ day; it is the church’s bondage; and we are not going to be tied up to any Sunday.” Tied up! It is the only day on which your hands are untied. It is the only day on which the poor man is sovereign. (H. W. Beecher.)
The Sabbath a poetic gift to the mechanical agent
Well, how is it about the poor man? His brain is not taxed. He is almost a mechanical agent. That part of a man’s brain which has cognisance of the lower functions only is overtaxed, and the rest which is wanted in his case is the transfer of excitement from the lower part of the brain to the higher-to the realm of the moral and spiritual elements. It is needful that a man who is instructed should rise up into the crystal dome of his house. Ordinarily he is working on the ground floor; but there comes a day in which, if he improves the means that are within his reach, a man can cease to be altogether a mechanical agent, can cease to think of physical qualities or things, and rise into the realm of ideas, into the realm of social amenities, into the realm of refined and purified affections, into the great mysterious, poetic realms of the spirit. And is there any class that need that more than poor labouring men? (H. W. Beecher.)
The Sabbath helpful to self-respect
On such a day as this it is no small means of grace for millions of men in this world to have a chance to wash them selves clean. You smile; but washing is one of the most important ordinances of God to this human family. It is said that cleanliness is next to godliness; not to men that are godly, but to men that are on their way toward godliness. When Kaffirs are converted, they are called “shirt men,” because when the grace of God enters their heart a shirt goes over their bodies for the first time. Wellington said he found that in his army the men who had the self-respect which is indicated by carefully clothing themselves, were the best men he had. In a report on labour made to the British Parliament by one of the largest employers of men, it was said that a workman who on Sunday did not wash himself and dress in his best could not be depended upon. (H. W. Beecher.)
Stealing the Lord’s day
If you give six days to worldly success, and then voluntarily take the seventh day, which God demands for His worship and especial service, and give that to worldly amusements, then you are wrong; you are so wrong that you could not be any more wrong. If I say my child is sick: I think by taking it to the beach it could be helped, but I cannot take it except on the Sabbath day, and therefore I will have to let it die, then I make a miserable misinterpretation of the text in one direction. But if you say, “Come, let us go down for some fine sport; let us examine the picturesque bathing dresses; let us have a jolly time with our friends,” then you misinterpret my text in the other direction. The fact is that nine out of ten of you-yes, I will go further than that and say that ninety-nine out of a hundred of you-I think I will go one step farther and say that nine hundred and ninety-nine out of a thousand of you, can go on other days and other nights, instead of the Christian Sabbath. Your work, your business engagement ends at six o’clock; that is true with the most of you. In a flash you get to the seashore: in a flash you get back. You can be in your home at six o’clock and ten o’clock the same evening, and in the interregnum have spent three hours in looking at moonlight on the sea. Now, if God gives you during the week opportunity for recreation, is it not mean for you to take Sunday? If I am a poor man, and I come into your store, and beg some socks for my children, and you say, “Yes, I’ll give you six pairs of socks,” and while you are binding them up in a bundle I steal the seventh pair, you say, “That is mean.” If you, the father, have seven oranges, and you give to your child six of them, and he steals the seventh, that is mean. But that is what everyone does who, after the Lord gives him six days, steals the seventh. (Dr. Talmage.)
The secularization of the Sabbath inimical to the spiritual welfare of mankind
I also oppose this secularization of the Christian Sabbath because it is war on the spiritual warfare of everybody. Have you a body? Yes. A mind? Yes. A soul? Yes. Do you propose to give them a chance? Yes. Do you believe that all these Sunday night concerts will prepare a single man for the song of the one hundred and forty and four thousand? Have you any idea that all the fifty-two Sundays of secular amusements, operatic singing, concerts, and theatres would prepare in a thousand years one man for heaven? Do you not think that the immortal soul is worth at least one-seventh as much as our perishable body? Here is a jeweller who has three gems-a carnelian, an amethyst, a diamond. He has to cut and set them. Upon which does he put the most care? The diamond. Now, the carnelian is the body, the amethyst is the mind, the diamond is the soul. You give opportunity to these other faculties of your nature, but how many of you give no opportunity to that which is worth as much more than all other interests as a thousand million dollars are more than one cent? (Dr. Talmage.)
The Lord’s right in the Sabbath above that of the people
We hear a great deal about the people’s rights in selecting their own amusements on Sunday. I would not invade the people’s rights, but it seems to me that the Lord has some rights. You are at the head of your family; you have a right to govern the family. The Governor is at the head of the State; he governs the State. The President is at the head of the nation; he governs the nation. The Lord God is at the head of the universe, and He has a right to lay down an enactment: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Whether popular or unpopular, I now declare that the people have no rights except those which the Lord God Almighty gives them. (Dr. Talmage.)
The Lord’s Day
I. We must consider the Lord’s day as a gift, rather than a command. So it will come to us in the light of a privilege. No laws are given by Christ or by His apostles concerning the forms of observance. We shall become perplexed if we attempt to rest our case upon simple legal enactment. Our safety in such discussions consists in our fastening attention upon the gracious and benevolent character of the Divine institution. God gives us this one day of the week as His peculiar offering for our bodily and spiritual need; He does not order it nor claim it for any necessities of His own.
II. We must consider the Lord’s day as a freedom, rather than a restriction. So it will seem to us a gracious respite.
III. This leads us on to say that Christians should consider the Lord’s day as a rest rather than a dissipation. So it will become a recuperation to us from its chance of a change. The original idea of the Sabbath was rest; the word signifies rest; the fourth commandment gives as the basis of the law the fact that God rested and so hallowed the rest day. We come up to the end of the week worn and excited. Most of us know what the poet Cowper meant when he wrote to his friend John Newton: “The meshes of that fine network the brain are composed of such mere spiders’ threads in me, that when a long thought finds its way into them, it buzzes, and twangs, and bustles about, at such a rate as seems to threaten the whole structure.” At these times we need tranquil hours for change of occupation, as well as for genial and agreeable entertainment. Dr. Addison Alexander used to say he found his recreation in change of toil. He would go from the study of languages to the study of mathematics. He would turn from writing commentaries to writing sermons. He would discuss theology, and refresh himself after his dry work by composing little poems for children. We all ought to know and recognize this principle. What we need for Sunday rest is not so much sleep as something to do different from what we do during the week; and what we should shun the most is this wear and tear of a crowded excursion. A real rest is found in variety of labour, inside of exhaustion and fatigue. Quiet does not mean stupid slumber on the Lord’s day, or on any other. The best relief from worldly cares is discovered oftenest in the gentle industries of religious work.
IV. We must consider the Lord’s day as a benediction rather than a fret. Thus we shall rebut the charge of bigotry. It is sometimes claimed that Sabbath laws exasperate men who make no claim to religion, and this is a free country. It has to be admitted that there are always some people who grow exasperated whenever the subject of law is mentioned. But liberty is not licence, nor is freedom lawlessness. This one day in seven is no less a blessing because some men do not think so; it is not a fret because they are fretted. Even decent people have some rights. God does not engage to commune with His children, and then expect them to allow the interview to be disturbed by the rollicking riot of a beer garden, or the band of target-shooting parades.
V. We must consider the Lord’s day as a help rather than an institution. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath
Nothing can show the Divine nature of our Lord more clearly than that He is above such a law of God, so that He should modify it, relax it, change it at His pleasure. He exercised but a small part of this authority when He freed His disciples from the yoke of its burdensome pharisaic observance. He exercised His lordship over the day far more royally when He by His Spirit made the day of His resurrection the weekly religious festival of His Church. By this He gave it altogether a new character. Henceforth it is a day, not of mere rest, but of renewed life, the life of His own resurrection; and so its characteristic ordinance is not the slaying of beasts, but the life-giving celebration of the sacrament of His own risen body. (M. F. Sadler.)
The Sabbath was made for man
I. As a periodical reprieve from the curse of labour.
II. As a stated season for attention to religious truths and interests.
III. As a day of holy convocation for the purpose of worship and instruction.
IV. As an emblem and an earnest of the saint’s everlasting rest. (G. Brooks.)
The Son of Man Lord of the Sabbath
I. It was instituted by Him.
II. It is kept on a day which is fixed by His authority.
III. It is intended to commemorate His resurrection.
IV. It ought to be observed with a special regard to His will, and word, and work. (G. Brooks.)
The Sabbath for man as a complex creature
The question has been revived in our own generation: “In what spirit is that day which has superseded the Sabbath to be kept, especially by the working classes?” This, no less than the other, “was made for man.” Now man, it must be remembered, is a complex creature. He has a tripartite nature, consisting of body, soul, and spirit; and it is necessary to provide for him as such, not ignoring either his physical, or his social, or his religious needs. All must be kept in view. It is a manifest duty to furnish the masses with the means of bodily recreation, and to draw them from their squalid homes into the pure air which will invigorate the frame. It is no less a duty to elevate their tastes, to offer them, as far as possible, variety of scene, and that relief from the monotony of labour which the rich man finds in his club or library; but all must be subordinated to the paramount duty of worship. That is due from every creature to the Great Creator. It is that, moreover, in which he may find his highest enjoyment. No scheme, therefore, which ignores this claim can possibly carry out the principle here laid down by Christ. (H. M. Luckock, D. D.)
Man cannot do without the Sabbath
A distinguished merchant, who for twenty years did a vast amount of business, remarked to Dr. Edwards, “Had it not been for the weekly day of rest, I have no doubt I should have been a maniac long ago.” This was mentioned in a company of merchants, when one remarked, “That is the case exactly with a poor friend of mine. He was one of our greatest importers. He used to say Sunday was the best day in the week to plan successful voyages; showing that his mind had no Sabbath. He has been in the insane hospital for years, and will probably die there.” Many men are there, or in the maniac’s grave, because they allowed themselves no Sabbath. They broke a law of nature, and of nature’s God, and found “the way of the transgressor is hard.”
The Sabbath a service to the State
The keeping one day in seven holy, as a time of relaxation and refreshment as well as for public worship, is of admirable service to a state, considered merely as a civil institution. (Sir W. Blackstone.)
The Sabbath for man’s happiness
The usages and ordinances of religion ought to be regulated according to their end, which is the honour of God and the advantage of men. It is the property of the religion of the true God, to contain nothing in it but what is beneficial to man. Hereby God plainly shows that it is neither out of indigence, nor interest, that He requires men to worship and obey Him, but only out of goodness, and on purpose to make them happy. God prohibited work on the Sabbath day, for fear lest servants should be oppressed by the hard-heartedness of their masters, and to the end that men might not be hindered from attending upon God and their own salvation. (Quesnel.)
The Sabbath law fibred in the nature of man
For as the old masters put their colours upon the fresh, damp plaster of the wall until, hardening together, picture and plaster were one in their witness to the future of the glories of the past, so fibred in the need and future of man is the law of the Sabbath. (Monday Club Sermons.)
The Sabbath a physical necessity
The testimony is cumulative, from experience and careful scientific experiment, that in all departments of continuous work-as mines, factories, railroads, mechanic arts, telegraphy, and commercial pursuits-the rest of the night does not restore the vitality lost in the day. The New York Central engineers, who petitioned for their Sundays on the ground that they could do more and better work in six than in seven days, have clearer heads and firmer hands, and that under pressure of constant service age came on prematurely, put on record their own experience. In a paper before the British Association it was stated by an employer of labour that he could work a horse eight miles a day for six days better than he could six miles a day for seven days; so that by not working on Sunday he saved 12 per cent. (Monday Club Sermons.)
Man needs the rest of the Sabbath in addition to the rest of night
In the same line of witness is the testimony of medical and scientific experts, that the rest of the night does not restore the powers of mind and body to the same vitality they had twenty-four hours before, and that the natural forces run steadily lower and lower from Monday morning until Saturday night, until these powers can be lifted back to their normal vitality and place only by the relaxation and rest of the seventh day. It is a curious scientific fact that Proudhon, the great socialistic philosopher of France, attempted to work out mathematically the relative ratio of work to rest, which should secure the greatest efficiency and the largest product. Biased by no religious claim, but rather avowedly hostile to such influence, he found that six days of work and one day of rest was the only right proportion: that is, to shorten the present working week by one day made the rest too much for the labour, while adding a single day to the labouring week made the rest too small for complete recuperation. Humboldt, years before, arrived at the same mathematical conclusion: and when France, loyal to her decimal system, put the tenth day in the place of the seventh, she found that the working man took two holidays instead of one, and thereby entailed a loss upon the industrial production of the empire. Therefore Chevalier rightly said: “Let us observe Sunday in the name of hygiene, if not in the name of religion.” For Sunday is the best friend of the working man-his defence against decay, disease, and premature death. And every railroad corporation, every steamship line, every factory bell which calls to Sunday labour, every lax law and every lax practice-these are the enemies of the working man, aye, every poor man! The rich can rest when they will; but the poor man cannot, save as his day of rest is conserved by the law of the land and of God. (Monday Club Sermons.)
The Sabbath is a social necessity
What are the great working factors of society? Why, we say, the family, the church, and the school-law and order. Put neglect upon any of these great fountains and the stream grows muddy and shallow, and yet no agency is more potent in conserving these social factors than the Sabbath. It acts as a brake upon the rush and roar of traffic and self-interest, which for six days engross the mind and busy the hand. It bids men stop and breathe, think of God and cultivate the social amenities of life, and thereby makes them better neighbours and better citizens. (Monday Club Sermons.)
The Sabbath necessary to the weary man
Wherever mind and body are taxed and exhausted by toil-and it is meant in the laws of our being that they shall everywhere be employed-there the Sabbath is destined to come as a day of rest. The ship, indeed, will glide along at sea, for its course cannot be arrested; and the Sabbath of the mariner may often be different from that of a dweller in a palace or a cottage, and different from that which the seaman feels that he needs. The sun and the stars will hold on their way, and the grass will grow, and the flower open its petals to the light, and the streams will roll to the ocean; for there is need that the laws of nature should be uniform, and the fibres of plants, and suns, and planets, and streams experience no exhaustion, and He who directs them all “fainteth not, nor is weary;” but man is weary and needs rest. (A. Barnes, D. D.)
The Sabbath necessary for the higher being of man
Man, with these relations, and these high powers to cultivate, the Sabbath meets as a day of leisure, that he may show on such a day of rest that he is distinguished from beasts of burden, and creatures governed by instinct, and those incapable of moral feeling, and those destined to no higher being, and those not knowing how to aspire to fellowship with God. The bird, indeed, will build its nest on the Sabbath, and the beaver its dam, and the bee its cell, and the lion will hunt its prey; for they have no higher nature than is indicated by these things. But man has a higher nature than the fowls of the air and the beasts of the forest, and the world would have been sadly disjoined and incomplete, if there had been no arrangements to develop it. The Sabbath is among those arrangements. It is, indeed, a simple thing merely to command a man to rest one day in seven; but most of the great results which we see depend on very simple arrangements. The law which controls the falling pebble is a simple law; but all these worlds are kept by it in their places. The law which you see developed in a prism, bending the different rays in a beam of light, is a simple law; but all the beauty of the green lawn, of variegated flowers, of the clouds at evening, of the lips, the cheek, the eye, and all that we admire on the canvass when the pencil of Rubens or Raphael touches it, is to be traced to these simple laws. It is one of the ways in which nature works to bring out most wonderful results from the operation of the simplest laws. (A. Barnes, D. D.)
Exertion demands rest
This is true, as we all know, of the muscular system, voluntary and involuntary. In breathing, in winking of the eyes, in the beating of the heart, there is a system of alternate action and repose, each brief indeed in their existence, but indispensable to the healthy action of the muscles, and to the continuance of life. Each one of these organs, too, though they seem to be constantly in motion, will have the rest which nature demands, or disease and death will be the result. The same is true of our voluntary muscles. He that should endeavour to labour at the same thing constantly, he that should attempt to run or walk without relaxation, he that should exercise the same class of muscles in writing, in the practice of music, in climbing, or in holding the limb in a fixed position, would soon be sensible that he was violating a law of nature, and would be compelled by a fearful penalty to pay the forfeit. Nay, in doing these very things, in running, or leaping, or climbing, or in the most rapid execution of a piece of music, nature has provided by antagonist muscles that the great law demanding repose shall not be disregarded. A long-continued and uninterrupted tension of any one of the muscles of the frame would soon bring us into conflict with one of the universal laws of our being; and we should be reminded of the existence of those laws in such a way that we should feel that they must be observed. Yet the operation of this law of our nature is not enough. We need other modes of rest than those which can be obtained by the intermitted action of a muscle which is soon to be resumed. We need longer repose; we need an entire relaxation of the system; we need such a condition that every muscle and nerve shall be laid down, shall be relaxed, shall be composed to rest, and shall be left in an undisturbed position for hours together, where there shall be no danger of its being summoned into action. Nature has provided for this too, and this law must be obeyed: for a few hours only can we be employed on our farms, or in our merchandise, and then the sun refuses us light any longer, and night spreads her sable curtains over all things, and the affairs of a busy world come to a pause. Darkness broods on the path of man, comes into his counting house and his dwelling, meets him in his travels, interrupts his busiest employments, wraps the world in silence; and he himself sympathizes with the universal stillness of nature, and sinks down into a state of unconsciousness. The heart continues, indeed, still to beat, but more gently than under the excitements of political strife, of avarice and revenge; the lungs heave, though more gently than in the hurry and excitement of the chase, or in the anxious effort for gold. But the eyelid heavy will not suffer the eye to look out on the world, and even its involuntary action entirely ceases, and it sinks to repose. The ear, as if tired of hearing so many jarring and discordant sounds, hears nothing; the eye, as if wearied with seeing, sees nothing; the agitated bosom is as calm as it was in the slumberings of infancy: the stretched and weary muscle is relaxed, the nerve is released from its office of conveying the intimations of the will to the distant members of the exhausted frame. The storm may howl without, or the ocean roll high its billows, or perhaps even the thunder of battle may be near, but nature will have repose. Napoleon, at Leipsic, exhausted by fatigue, reposed at the foot of a tree even when the destiny of his empire depended on the issue of the battle; and not even the roaring storm at sea can prevent compliance with this necessary law. (A. Barnes, D. D.)
The mighty mind and the vigorous frame of Napoleon once enabled him to pass four days and nights in the exciting scenes of an active campaign without sleep, and then he fell asleep on his horse. The keenest torture which man has ever invented has been a device to drive sleep from the eyes, and to fix the body in such a position that it cannot find repose; and even this must fail, for the sufferer will find repose on the rack or in death. The same law, demanding rest, exists also in relation to the mind, and is as imperious in regard to the intellectual and moral powers, in order to their permanent and healthful action, as to the muscles of the body. No man can long pursue an intellectual effort without repose. He who attempts to hold his mind long to one train of close thinking, he who pursues far an abstruse proposition, and he who is wrought up into a high state of excitement, must have relaxation and repose. If he does not yield to this law, his mind is unstrung, the mental faculties are thrown from their balance, and the frenzied powers, perhaps yet mighty, move with tremendous but irregular force, like an engine without balance wheel or “governor,” and the man of high intellectual rowers, like Lear, becomes a raving maniac. So with our moral feelings. The intensest zeal will not always be on fire, the keenest sorrow will find intermission, and even love does not always glow with the same ardour in the soul. This law, contemplating our welfare, cannot be violated without incurring a fearful penalty. (A. Barnes, D. D.)
The Sabbath breaks the monotony of life
The mind is not in a condition for its best development when it is under an unbroken influence of any kind, however good in itself. It is not made for one thing, but for many things; not for the contemplation of one object, but of many objects. Life is not all one thing; it is broken up into many interests, many hopes, many anxieties, many modifications of sorrow and joy. On the earth it is not all night or all day, all sunshine or all shade, all hill or all vale, all spring or all winter. No man is made exclusively for any one pursuit, or for the exercise of one class of affections or feelings only, or to touch on society, like a globe on a plain, only on one point. Now look one moment, for illustration, at the effect of unbroken and uninterrupted worldliness on a man’s mind. The man referred to may develop, in the highest degree, the powers of mind which constitute the successful merchant; he may have a far-reaching sagacity in business; he may never send out a vessel on an unsuccessful adventure; he may possess the powers of calculation in the highest degree; he may become rich, and build him a palace, and be “clothed in fine linen and purple;” but what is he then? Is he a man in the proper sense of the word man? There is but one single class of his faculties which has ever been developed, and he is not a man: he is but a calculating machine, though the powers of his nature may have been carried as far as possible in that direction. But what is he as a social being? Beyond the circle of the most limited range of topics he has no thoughts, no words. What is he as an intellectual being? Except in one limited department of the intellectual economy, his mind has never been cultivated at all. What is he as a man of sensibility, of refinement, of cultivated tastes? Not one of these things has been cultivated, and in none of them, unless by accident, has he any of the qualities of a man. He is acquainted with the world for commercial purposes only; he knows its geography, its ports of entry, its consuls, its custom house laws; but he knows not the world as an abode of suffering and of wrong, and, I may add, as dressed up in exquisite beauty by its Maker. Man, in the costume of China or India, he knows as a trafficker: man, as made in the image of God, and as a moral being, he knows not in any costume or land. This unbroken influence on the mind the Sabbath is adapted, without perilling anything good, to break up. (A. Barnes, D. D.)
The Sabbath need not be a day of gloom
There is enough to be accomplished in every soul by duties appropriate to the day, to rescue every moment from tedium and ennui. If it were as pleasant to man to cultivate his heart as it is his intellectual powers; if he felt it to be as momentous to prepare for the life to come, as for the present world; if he delighted in the service of his Maker, as he does in the society of his friends below-the difficulty would not be that it would be impossible to fill up the day, but that the hours on the Sabbath had taken a more rapid flight than on other days, and that the shades of the evening came around us when our work was but half done. Let this one thought be borne with you to your homes, if no other, that the appropriate work of the Sabbath is the heart, all about the heart, all that can bear upon it, all that van make it better; and, I am persuaded, you will see no want of appropriate employment for one day in seven. See what there is in your heart permanently abiding there that demands correction. See what an accumulation of bad influences there may be during the toils and turmoils of the week, that may require removal. See how in the business of the world, in domestic cares, in professional studies or duties, the heart may be neglected, and there may arise a sad disproportion between the growth of the intellect and the proper affections of the soul. See how, in the gaieties and vanities of life, the pursuits of pleasure, the love of flattery and applause, there may have been a steady growth of bad propensities through the week, not, for one moment, broken or checked. See how there may have bees a silent but steady growth of avarice, pride, or ambition, all through the week, riveting the fetters of slavery on the soul, and bringing you into perpetual and ignoble bondage. See the tendency of all these things to harden the heart, to chill the affections, to stifle the voice of conscience, and to melee the mind grovelling and worldly. See what an unnatural growth the intellect of man sometimes attains to, while all the finer feelings of his nature, like fragrant shrubs and beautiful flowers under the dense foliage of a far-spreading oak, are overshadowed and stinted. And then see what in nature and in grace is open for the cultivation of the heart-the worship of God adapted to assimilate the soul to the Creator, the Bible full of precepts and promises bearing directly on the heart. (A. Barnes, D. D.)
I. The day designed. “The Sabbath was made for man” by Him who also made man.
II. The day perverted. It is so, and variously, by different people.
1. These Pharisees made it everything, and regarded the day more than man, and his need (to supply which it was first given).
2. Others pervert it by regarding it as a day for mere physical rest and recreation, as if man were a mere animal. Such are secularists and materialists, etc.
3. Others, again, pervert the day who make it a day for study, as if man were a purely intellectual being. Such would open museums.
III. The day changed. Learn-
1. Rightly to understand the Sabbath as meeting a human need.
2. To honour the Lord of the Sabbath by preserving His day from innovation, and by services of religion and mercy. “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath day.”
3. A practical reverence for the Lord of the day is the best way to keep the day from being stolen from us. (C. Gray.)
A world without a Sabbath:-A world without a Sabbath would be like a man without a smile, like a summer without flowers, and like a homestead without a garden. It is the joyous day of the whole week. (H. W. Beecher.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Mark 2". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27