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Expositions of Holy Scripture by Alexander Maclaren

Part 6 out of 12

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Unquestionably, the apostle is the rock on which the Church is
built. The efforts to avoid that conclusion would never have been
heard of, but for the Roman Catholic controversy; but they are as
unnecessary as unsuccessful. Is it credible that in the course of an
address which is wholly occupied with conferring prerogatives on the
apostle, a clause should come in, which is concerned about an
altogether different subject from the 'thou' of the preceding and
the 'thee' of the following clauses, and which yet should take the
very name of the apostle, slightly modified, for that other subject?
We do not interpret other books in that fashion. But it was not the
'flesh and blood' Peter, but Peter as the recipient and faithful
utterer of the divine inspiration in his confession, who received
these privileges. Therefore they are not his exclusive property, but
belong to his faith, which grasped and confessed the divine-human
Lord; and wherever that faith is, there are these gifts, which are
its results. They are the 'natural' consequences of the true faith
in Christ, in that higher region where the supernatural is the
natural. Peter's grasp of Christ's nature wrought upon his
character, as pressure does upon sand, and solidified his shifting
impetuosity into rock-like firmness. So the same faith will tend to
do in any man. It made him the chief instrument in the establishment
of the early Church. On souls steadied and made solid by like faith,
and only on such, can Christ build His Church. Of course, the
metaphor here regards Jesus, not as the foundation, as the Scripture
generally does, but as the founder. The names of the twelve apostles
of the Lamb are on the foundations of the heavenly city; and, in
historical fact, the name of this apostle is graven on the deepest
and first laid. In like subordinate sense, all who share that heroic
faith and proclaim it are used by the Master-builder in the
foundations of His Church; and Peter himself is eager to share his
name among his brethren, when he says 'Ye also, as living stones.'

Built on men who hold by that confession, the Church is immortal;
and the armies who pour out of the gates of the pale kingdoms of the
unseen world shall not be able to destroy it. Peter, as confessor of
his Lord's human-divine nature, wields the keys of the kingdom of
heaven, like a steward of a great house; and that too was fulfilled
in his apostolic activity in his admitting Jews at Pentecost, and
Gentiles in the house of Cornelius. But the same power attends all
who share his faith and avowal, for the preaching of that faith is
the opening of heaven's door to men. He receives the power of
binding and loosing, by which is not meant that of forgiving or
retaining sins, but that of prohibiting or allowing actions, or, in
other words, of laying down the law of Christian conduct. This
meaning of the metaphors is made certain by the common Jewish use of
them. Despotic legislative power is not here committed to the
apostle, but the great principle is taught that the morality of
Christianity flows directly from its theology, and that whosoever,
like Peter, grasps firmly the cardinal truth of Christ's nature, and
all which flows therefrom, will have his insight so cleared that his
judgments on what is permitted or forbidden to a Christian man will
correspond with the decisions of heaven, in the measure of his hold
upon the truth which underlies all religion and all morality,
namely, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.' These are
gifts to Peter indeed, but only as possessor of that faith, and are
much more truly understood as belonging to all who 'possess like
precious faith' (as Peter says), than as the prerogative of any
individual or class.

II. The second section (vs. 21-23) contains the startling new
revelation of the suffering Messiah, and the disciples' repugnance
to it. The Gospel has two parts: Jesus is the Christ, and the Christ
must suffer and enter into His glory. Our Lord has made sure that
the disciples have learned the first before He leads to the second.
The very conviction of His dignity and divine nature made that
second truth the more bewildering, but still the only road to it was
through the first. Verse 21 covers an indefinite time, during which
Jesus gradually taught His sufferings. Ordinarily we exaggerate the
suddenness, and therefore the depth, of Peter's fall, by supposing
that it took place immediately after his confession; but the
narrative discountenances the idea, and merely says that Jesus then
'began' His new teaching. There had been veiled hints of it (such as
John ii. 19, and Matt. ix. 15, xii. 40), but henceforward it assumed
prominence, and was taught without veil. It was no new thought to
Himself, forced on Him by the growing enmity of the nation. The
cross always cast its shadow on His path. He was no enthusiast,
beginning with the dream of winning a world to His side, and slowly
and heroically making up His mind to die a martyr, but His purpose
in being born was to minister and to die, a ransom for the many. We
have not here to do with a growing consciousness, but simply with an
increasing clearness of utterance. Note the detailed accuracy of His
prevision, which points to Jerusalem as the scene, and to the rulers
of the nation as the instruments, and to death as the climax, and to
resurrection as the issue, of His sufferings; the clear setting
forth of the divine necessity which, as it ruled all His life, ruled
here also, and is expressed in that solemn 'must'; and the perfectly
willing acceptance by Him of that necessity, implied in that 'go,'
and certified by many another word of His. The necessity was no
external compulsion, driving Him to an unwelcome sacrifice, but one
imposed alike by filial obedience and by brotherly love. He
_must_ die because He _would_ save.

How vividly the scene of Peter's rash rejection of the teaching is
described! The apostle, full of eager love, still, as of old, swift
to speak, and driven by unexamined impulse, lays his hand on Christ,
and draws Him a little apart, while he 'begins' to pour out words
which show that he has forgotten his confession. 'Rebuke' must not
be softened down into anything less vehement or more respectful. He
knows better than Jesus what will happen. Perhaps his assurance
'that this shall never be' means 'We will fight first.' But he is
not allowed to finish what he began; for the Master, whom he loved
unwisely but well, turns His back on him, as in horror, and shows by
the terrible severity of His rebuke how deeply moved He is. He
repels the hint in almost the same words as He had used to the
tempter in the wilderness, of whom that Peter, who had so lately
been the recipient and proclaimer of a divine illumination, has
become the mouthpiece. So possible is it to fall from sunny heights
to doleful depths! So little can any divine inspiration be
permanent, if the man turn away from it to think man's thoughts, and
set his affections on the things which men desire! So certainly does
minding these degrade to becoming an organ of Satan! The words are
full of restrained emotion, which reveal how real a temptation Peter
had flung in Christ's path. The rock has become a stone of
stumbling; the man Jesus shrank from the cross with a natural and
innocent shrinking, which never made His will tremulous, but was
none the less real; and such words from loving lips did affect him.
Let us note, on the whole, that the complete truth about Jesus
Christ must include these two parts,--His divine nature and
Messiahship, and His death on the cross; and that neither alone is
the gospel, nor is he a disciple, such as Christ desires, who does
not cleave to both with mind and heart.

III. In verses 24-28, the law, which ruled the Master's life, is
extended to the servants. They recoiled from the thought of His
having to suffer. They had to learn that they must suffer too if
they would be His. First, the condition of discipleship is set
before them as being the fellowship of His suffering. 'If any man
will' gives them the option of withdrawal. A new epoch is beginning,
and they will have to enlist again, and to do so with open eyes. He
will have no unwilling soldiers, nor any who have been beguiled into
the ranks. No doubt, some went away, and walked no more with Him.
The terms of service are clear. Discipleship means imitation, and
imitation means self-crucifixion. At that time they would only
partially understand what taking up their cross was, but they would
apprehend that a martyred master must needs have for followers men
ready to be martyrs too. But the requirement goes much deeper than
this. There is no discipleship without self-denial, both in the
easier form of starving passions and desires, and in the harder of
yielding up the will, and letting His will supplant ours. Only so
can we ever come after Him, and of such sacrifice of self the cross
is the eminent example. We cannot think too much of it as the
instrument of our reconciliation and forgiveness, but we may, and
too often do, think too little of it as the pattern of our lives.
When Jesus began to teach His death, He immediately presented it as
His servants' example. Let us not forget that fact.

The ground of the law is next stated in verse 25. The desire to save
life is the loss of life in the highest sense. If that desire guide
us, then farewell to enthusiasm, courage, the martyr spirit, and all
which makes man's life nobler than a beast's. He who is ruled mainly
by the wish to keep a whole skin, loses the best part of what he is
so anxious to keep. In a wider application, regard for self as a
ruling motive is destruction, and selfishness is suicide. On the
other hand, lives hazarded for Christ are therein truly saved, and
if they be not only hazarded, but actually lost, such loss is gain;
and the same law, by which the Master 'must' die and rise again,
will work in the servant. Verse 26 urges the wisdom of such apparent
folly, and enforces the requirement by the plain consideration that
'life' is worth more than anything beside, and that on the two
grounds, that the world itself would be of no use to a dead man, and
that, once lost, 'life' cannot be bought back. Therefore the dictate
of the wisest prudence is that seemingly prodigal flinging away of
the lower 'life' which puts us in possession of the higher. Note
that the appeal is here made to a reasonable regard to personal
advantage, and _that_ in the very act of urging to crucify
self. So little did Christ think, as some people do, that the desire
to save one's soul is selfishness.

Verse 27 confirms all the preceding by the solemn announcement of
the coming of the Son of Man as Judge. Mark the dignity of the
words. He is to come 'in the glory of the Father.' That ineffable
and inaccessible light which rays forth from the Father enwraps the
Son. Their glory is one. The waiting angels are 'His.' He renders to
every man according to his doing (his actions considered as one
whole). Thus He claims for Himself universal sway, and the power of
accurately determining the whole moral character of every life, as
well as that of awarding precisely graduated retribution. They
surely shall then find their lives who have followed Him here.

Verse 28 adds, with His solemn 'verily,' a confirmation of this
announcement of His coming to judge. The question of what event is
referred to may best be answered by noting that it must be one
sufficiently far off from the moment of speaking to allow of the
death of the greater number of His hearers, and sufficiently near to
allow of the survival of some; that it must also be an event, after
which these survivors would go the common road into the grave; that
it is apparently distinguished from His coming 'in the glory of the
Father,' and yet is of such a nature as to afford convincing proof
of the establishment of His kingdom on earth, and to be, in some
sort, a sign of that final act of judgment. All these requirements
(and they are all the fair inferences from the words) meet only in
the destruction of Jerusalem, and of the national life of the chosen
people. That was a crash of which we faintly realise the tremendous
significance. It swept away the last remnant of the hope that Israel
was to be the kingdom of the Messiah; and from out of the dust and
chaos of that fall the Christian Church emerged, manifestly destined
for world-wide extension. It was a 'great and terrible day of the
Lord,' and, as such, was a precursor and a prophecy of the day of
the Lord, when He 'shall come in the glory of the Father,' and
'render unto every man according to his deeds.'


'From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto His
disciples, how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and
suffer many things of the elders and chief priests
and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the
third day.'--MATT. xvi. 21.

The 'time' referred to in the text was probably a little more than
six months before the Crucifixion, when Jesus was just on the point
of finally leaving Galilee, and travelling towards Jerusalem. It was
an epoch in His ministry. The hostility of the priestly party in the
capital had become more pronounced, and simultaneously the fickle
enthusiasm of the Galilean crowds, which had been cooled by His
discouragement, had died down into apathy. He and His followers are
about to leave familiar scenes and faces, and to plunge into
perilous and intrude paths. He is resolved that, if they will
'come after Him,' as He bids them in a subsequent verse, it shall be
with their eyes open, and as knowing that to come after Him now
means to cut themselves loose from old moorings, and to put out into
the storm. They shall be abundantly certified that their journeying
to Jerusalem is not a triumphal procession to a crown, but a march
to a cross.

So, this new epoch in His life is attended with a new development of
His teaching. My text sums up the result of many interviews in
which, by slow degrees, He sought to put the disciples in possession
of this unwelcome truth. It was prepared for, by the previous
conversation in which His question elicited from Peter, as the
mouthpiece of the apostles, the great confession of His Messiahship
and Divinity. Settled in their belief of these truths, however
imperfect their intellectual grasp of them, they might perhaps be
able to receive the mournful mystery of His passion.

I. We have here set forth in the first place our Lord's anticipation
of the Cross.

Mark the tone of the language, the minuteness of the detail, the
absolute certainty of the prevision. That is not the language of a
man who simply is calculating that the course which he is pursuing
is likely to end in his martyrdom; but the thing lies there before
Him, a definite, fixed certainty; every detail known, the scene, the
instruments, the non-participation of these in the final act of His
death, His resurrection, and its date,--all manifested and mapped
out in His sight, and all absolutely certain.

Now this was by no means the first time that the certainty of the
Cross was plain to Christ. It was not even the first time that it
had been announced in His teaching. Veiled hints; allusions, brief
but pregnant, had been scattered through His earlier ministry--such,
for instance, as the enigmatical word at its very beginning,
'Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up'; or as
the profound word to the rabbi that sought Him by night, 'As Moses
lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be
lifted up'; or as the passing hint, dropped to the people, in
symbolical language, about the 'sign of the prophet Jonas'; or as
the grief foreshadowed dimly to the apostles, of the withdrawal of
the Bridegroom, and their 'fasting in those days.' These hints, and
no doubt others unrecorded, had cropped to the surface before; and
what we have to do with here, is neither the dawning of an
expectation in Christ, nor the first utterance of the certainty of
the Cross, but simply the beginning of a continuous and
unenigmatical teaching of it, as an element in His instructions to
His disciples.

So then, we have to recognise the fact that our Lord's prevision of
the end--shone, I was going to say, perhaps it might be truer to
say, darkened,--all the path along which He had to travel.

I think that people dogmatise a great deal too glibly as to what
they know very little about, the interaction of the divine and the
human elements in Christ, and on the one side are far too certain in
their affirmation that His humanity possessed in some reflected
fashion the divine gift of omniscience; and on the other hand, that
His manhood, passing through the process of human development, and
increasing in wisdom, was necessarily in its earlier stages void of
the consciousness of His Messianic mission. I dare not affirm either
'yes' or 'no' about that matter; but this I am sure of, that if ever
there was a time in the development of the Manhood of Jesus Christ
when He began to know Himself as the Messias, at that same time He
began to be certain of the Cross. For His Messianic work required
the Cross, and the divine thing that was in Him was born into the
world for a double purpose, to minister and to die.

So, dear friends, putting aside mere metaphysics, which are
superficial after all, we have to recognise this as the fact, that
all through His career there arose before our Lord the certainty of
that death, and that it did not assume to Him the aspect which such
a prospect might have assumed to others as a possible result of a
mission that failed, but it assumed to Him the aspect of the certain
result of a work that was accomplished. He began His career with no
illusions, such as other teachers, reformers, philanthropists, men
that have moved society, have always begun with. Moses might
'suppose his brethren would have understood how that God by His hand
would deliver them,' but Christ had no such illusion. He knew from
the beginning that He came to be rejected and to die. And so He
'trod life's common way,' with that grim certainty rising ever
before Him. I suppose that He did not, as you and I do, forget the
death that awaits us, and find the non-remembrance of it the
condition of much of our energy, but that it was perpetually in His

Now I do not think that we sufficiently dwell upon that fact as an
element in the human experience of our Lord. What beauty it gives to
His gentleness, to the leisureliness of heart with which He was ready
to make everybody's sorrow His own, and to lay a healing and a loving
finger upon every wound! With this certainty before Him, there was
yet no strain manifest upon His spirit, no self-absorption, no
shutting Himself out from other people's burdens because He had so
heavy ones of His own to carry; but He was ready for every joy, ready
for all sympathy, ready for every help; and if we cannot say that,
'in cheerful godliness,' as I think we may, at least we can say that
with solemn joy and untroubled readiness, He journeyed towards that
Cross. This Isaac was under no illusions as to who the Lamb for the
offering was, but knowing it, He patiently carried the wood and
climbed the hill, ready for the Father's will.

II. That brings me to notice the second point here, our Lord's
recognition of the necessity of His suffering.

Mark that He does not say that He _shall_ suffer. Certainty is
not all that He proclaims here, however absolute that certainty
might be, but it is '_He must_.' He is speaking not only of the
historical fact, but of the need, deep in the nature of things, for
His sufferings that were to follow.

And though these were wrought out by His own willing submission on
the one hand, and by the unfettered play of the evil passions of the
worst of men on the other, yet over all that apparent chaos of
unbridled devildom there ruled the unalterable purpose of God; and
the 'must' was wrought out through the passions of evil-doers and
the voluntary submission of the innocent sufferer; thus setting
before us, in the central fact of the history of humanity, viz. the
Cross and passion of Jesus Christ, the eminent example of that great
mystery how the absolute freedom of the human will, and the
responsibility of the guilt of human wrong-doers, are congruous with
the fixed purpose of an all-determining and all-ruling Providence.

But that is apart from my purpose. Mark then, that our Lord's
recognition of this necessity for His suffering is, on the first and
plainest aspect of it, His recognition that His suffering was
necessary on the ground of filial obedience. All through His life we
hear that 'must' echoing, and His whole spirit bowed to it. As He
says Himself, 'The Son can do nothing of Himself.' As was said for
Him of old: 'Lo, I come. In the volume of the book it is written of
Me, I delight to do Thy will, and Thy law is within My heart.' So
the Father's will is the Son's law; and the Father's 'Thou shalt' is
answered by the Son's 'I must.'

But yet that necessity grounded on filial obedience was no mere
external necessity determined solely by the divine will. God so
willed it, because it must be so; that it must be so was not because
God so willed it. That is to say, the work to which Christ had set
His hand was a work that demanded the Cross, nor could it be
accomplished without it. For it was the work of redeeming the world,
and required more than a beautiful life, more than a divine
gentleness of heart, more than the homely and yet deep wisdom of His
teachings, it required the sacrifice that He offered on the Cross.

So, dear friends, Christ's 'must' is but this: 'My work is not
accomplished except I die.' And remember that the connection between
our Lord's work and our Lord's death is not that which subsists
between the works and the deaths of great teachers, or heroic
martyrs, or philanthropists and benefactors, who will gladly pay the
price of life in order to carry out their loving or their wise
designs. It is no mere appendage to His work, nor the price that He
paid for having done it, but it is His very work in its vital

I pray you to consider if there is any theory of the meaning and power
of the death of Jesus Christ which adequately explains this 'must,'
except the one that He died a sacrifice for the sins of the world. On
any other hypothesis, as it seems to me, of what His death meant, it
is surplusage, over and above His work: not adding much, either to His
teaching or to the beauty of His example, and having no absolute
stringent necessity impressed upon it. There is one doctrine--that
when He died He bare the sins of the whole world--which makes His
death a necessity; and I ask you, Is there any other doctrine which
does? Take care of a Christianity which would not be much impoverished
if the Cross were struck out of it altogether.

There is a deeper question, on which, as I believe, it does not
become us to enter, and that is, What is the necessity for the
necessity? Why must it be that He, who is the Redeemer of the world,
must needs be the Sacrifice for the world? We do not know enough
about the depths of the divine nature and the divine government to
speak very wisely or reverently upon that subject, and I, for one,
abjure the attempt, which seems to me to be presumptuous--the
attempt to explain why there was needed a sacrifice for sin in order
to the forgiveness of sin. If I knew all about God, I could tell
you; and nobody, that does not, can. But we can see, as far as
concerns us, that, as the history of all religions tells us, for the
forgiveness and acceptance of sinful men a pure sacrifice is needed;
and that for teaching us the love of God, the hideousness and wages
of sin, for our emancipation from evil, for the quieting of our
consciences, for a foothold for faith, for an adequate motive of
self-surrender and obedience, his sacrificial death is needful. The
life and death of Jesus Christ, regarded as God's sacrifice for the
world's sin, _does_ all this. The life and death of Jesus
Christ, regarded in any other aspect, does not do this. Historically
speaking, mutilated forms of Christianity, which have not known what
to do with the Cross of Christ, have lost their constraining,
purifying, and aggressive power. For us sinful men, if we are to be
delivered from evil and become sons of God, He _must_ suffer
many things, and be killed, and rise again the third day.

III. Now note further, how we have here also our Lord's willing
acceptance of the necessity.

It is one thing to recognise, and another thing to accept, a needs-be.
This 'must' was no unwelcome obligation laid upon Him against His will,
but one to which His whole nature responded and which He accepted. No
doubt there was in Him the innocent instinctive physical shrinking
from death. No doubt the Cross, in so far, was pain and suffering. No
doubt we are to trace the reality of a temptation in Peter's rash words
which follow, as indicated to us by the severity and almost vehemence
of the action with which Christ puts it away. No doubt there is a
profound meaning in that answer of His, 'Thou art a _stumbling-block_
to Me.' The 'Rock' is turned into a stone of stumbling, and Peter's
suggestion appeals to something in Him which responded to it.

That shrinking might be a shrinking of nature, but it was not a
recoil of will. The ship may toss in dreadful billows, but the
needle points to the pole. The train may rock upon the line, but it
never leaves the rails. Christ felt that the Cross was an evil, but
that feeling never made Him falter in His determination to bear it.
His willing acceptance of the necessity was owing to His full
resolve to save the world. He must die because He would redeem, and
He would redeem because He could not but love. 'He saved others,'
and therefore 'Himself He cannot save.' So the 'must' was not an
iron chain that fastened Him to His Cross. Like some of the heroic
martyrs of old, who refused to be bound to the funeral pile, He
stood there chained to it by nothing but His own will and loving
purpose to save the world.

And, brethren, in that loving purpose, each of us may be sure that
we had an individual and a personal share. Whatever the interaction
between the divinity and the humanity, this at all events is
certain, that every soul of man has his distinct and definite place
in Christ's knowledge and in Christ's love. Each of us all may be
sure that one strand of the cords of love which fastened Him to the
Cross was His love for me; and each of us may say--He must die,
because 'He loved me, and gave Himself for me.'

IV. Lastly, notice here our Lord's teaching the necessity of His

This announcement was preceded, as I remarked, by that conversation
which led to the crystallising of the half-formed convictions of the
apostles in a definite creed, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the
living God.' But that was not all that they needed to know and
believe and trust to. That was the first volume of their lesson-book.
The second volume was this, that 'Christ must suffer.' And so let us
learn the central place which the Cross holds in Christ's teaching.
They tell us that the doctrine of Christ as the Sacrifice for the
world is not in the Gospels. Where are the eyes that read the Gospels
and do not see it? The theory of it is not there; the announcements
of it are. And in this latest section of our Lord's ministry, they
are fuller and more frequent than in the earlier, for the plain
reason which is implied by the preparation through which He passed
these disciples, ere He ventured to communicate the mournful and the
bewildering fact. There must be, first, the grasp of His Messiahship,
and some recognition that He is the Son of God, ere it is possible
to go on to speak of the Cross, the full message concerning which
could not be spoken until after the Resurrection and the Ascension.

But note, you do not understand Christ's Cross unless you bring to
it the faith in Christ's Messiahship and the belief in some measure
that He is the Son of God. Neither the pathos nor the power of His
death is intelligible if it be simply like other deaths--the dying
of a man who is born subject to the law of mortality, and who yields
to it by natural process. Unless you and I take upon our lips,
though with far deeper meaning, the words with which the heathen
centurion gazed upon the dying Christ, and say, 'Truly this was the
Son of God!' His Cross is common and trivial and insignificant; but
if we can thus speak, then it stands before us as the crown of all
God's manifestations in the world,' the wisdom of God and the power
of God.'

And then note, still further, how, without the Cross, these other
truths are not the whole gospel. There were disciples then, as there
have been disciples since, and as there are to-day, who were willing
to accept, 'Thou art the Christ'; and willing in some sense to say
'Thou art the Son of God,' but stumbled when He said, 'The Son of
Man must suffer.' Brethren, I venture to urge that the gospel of the
Incarnation, precious as it is, is not the whole gospel, and that
the full-orbed truth about Jesus Christ is that He is the Christ,
and that He died for our sins, and rose again to live for ever, our
Priest and King.

We need a whole Christ. For our soul's salvation, for the quieting
of our consciences, the forgiveness of our sins, for new life, for
peace, purity, obedience, love, joy, hope, our faith must grasp
'Christ, and Him crucified.' A half Christ is no Christ, and unless
we have as sinful men laid hold of the one Sacrifice for sins for
ever, which He offered, we do not understand even the preciousness
of the half Christ whom we perceive, nor know the full beauty of His
example, the depth of His teaching, nor the tenderness of His heart.

I beseech you, ask yourselves, _What_ Christ can do for me the
things which I need to have done, except 'the Christ that died, yea,
rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God,
who also maketh intercession for us'?


'And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John
his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain
apart, 2. And was transfigured before them: and His
face did shine as the sun, and His raiment was white as
the light. 3. And, behold, there appeared unto them
Moses and Elias talking with Him. 4. Then answered
Peter, and said unto Jesus. Lord, it is good for us
to be here: if Thou wilt, let us make here three
tabernacles; one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one
for Elias. 5. While he yet spake, behold, a bright
cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the
cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am
well pleased; hear ye Him. 6. And when the disciples
heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.
7. And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise,
and be not afraid. 8. And when they had lifted up their
eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only. 9. And as they
came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying,
Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of Man be risen
again from the dead. 10. And His disciples asked Him,
saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first
come? 11. And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias
truly shall first come, and restore all things. 12. But
I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they
knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they
listed. Likewise shall also the Son of Man suffer of
them. 13. Then the disciples understood that He spake
unto them of John the Baptist.'--MATT. xvii. 1-13.

The early guess at Tabor as the scene of the Transfiguration must be
given up as untenable. Some one of the many peaks of Hermon rising
right over Caesarea is a far more likely place. But the silence of
all the accounts as to the locality surely teaches us the
unimportance of knowledge on the point. The dangers of knowing would
more than outweigh the advantages. A similar indefiniteness attaches
to the _when_. Are we to think of it as occurring by night, or
by day? Perhaps the former is slightly the more probable, from the
fact of the descent being made 'the next day' (Luke). Our conception
of the scene will be very different, as we think of that lustre from
His face, and that bright cloud, as outshining the blaze of a Syrian
sun, or as filling the night with glory. But we cannot settle which
view is correct.

There are three distinct parts in the whole incident: the
Transfiguration proper; the appearance of Moses and Elijah; and the
cloud with the voice from it.

I. The Transfiguration proper.

The general statement that Jesus 'was transfigured before them' is
immediately followed out into explanatory details. These are
twofold--the radiance of His face, and the gleaming whiteness of His
raiment, which shone like the snow on Hermon when it is smitten by
the sunshine. Probably we are to think of the whole body as giving
forth the same mysterious light, which made itself visible even
through the white robe He wore. This would give beautiful accuracy and
appropriateness to the distinction drawn in the two metaphors,--that
His face was 'as the sun,' in which the undiluted glory was seen; and
His garments 'as the light,' which is sunshine diffused and weakened.
There is no hint of any external source of the brightness. It does not
seem to have been a reflection from the visible symbol of the divine
presence, as was the fading radiance on the face of Moses. That symbol
does not come into view till the last stage of the incident. We are
then to think of the brightness as rising from within, not cast from
without. We cannot tell whether it was voluntary or involuntary. Luke
gives a pregnant hint, in connecting it with Christ's praying, as if
the calm ecstasy of communion with the Father brought to the surface
the hidden glory of the Son. Can it be that such glory always
accompanied His prayers, and that its presence may have been one
reason for the sedulous privacy of these, except on this one occasion,
when He desired that His faithful three should be 'eye-witnesses of
His majesty'? However that may be, we have probably to regard the
Transfiguration as the transient making visible, in the natural,
symbolic form of light, of the indwelling divine glory, which dwelt
in Him as in a shrine, and then shone through the veil of His flesh.
John explains the event, though His words go far beyond it, when he
says, 'We beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the

What was the purpose of the Transfiguration? Matthew seems to tell
us in that 'before them.' It was for their sakes, not for His, as
indeed follows from the belief that it was the irradiation from
within of the indwelling light. The new epoch of His life, in which
they were to have a share of trial and cross-bearing, needed some
great encouragement poured into their tremulous hearts; and so, for
once, He deigned to let them look on His face shining as the sun,
for a remembrance when they saw it covered with 'shame and spitting'
and His brow bleeding from the thorns. But perhaps we may venture a
step farther, and see here some prophecy of that body of His glory
in which He now reigns. Speculations as to the difference between
the earthly body of our Lord and ours are fascinating but
unsubstantial. It was a true human body, susceptible of hunger,
pain, weariness; but we are not taught that it carried in it the
necessity of death. It may have been more pliable to the spirit's
behests, and more transparent to its light, than ours. There may
have been in that hour of radiance some approximation to the perfect
harmony between the perfect spirit and the body, which is its fit
organ, which we know is His now, and to which we also know that He
will conform the body of our humiliation. Then His face 'shone as
the sun'; when one of these three saw Him in His glory, 'His
countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength'; and His own
promise to us is that we too 'shall shine forth as the sun.' Then
His garments were white as the light; His promise is that they who
are worthy shall 'walk with Him in white.' The Transfiguration was a
revelation and a prophecy.

II. The appearance of Moses and Elijah.

While the three are gazing with dazzled eyes, suddenly, as if shaped
out of air, there stand by Jesus two mighty forms, evidently men,
and yet, according to Luke, encompassed in the white radiance,
walking with the Son of Man in a better furnace. What a stound of
awe and wonder must have touched the gazers as the conviction who
these were filled their minds, and they recognised, we know not how,
the mighty lineaments of the lawgiver and the prophet! Did the three
mortals understand the meaning of the words of the heavenly three?
We cannot tell. Nor does Matthew tell us what was the theme of that
wondrous colloquy. These two might have asked, 'Why hast Thou
disquieted us to bring us up?' What is the answer? Wherefore were
they there? To tell Jesus that He was to die? No, for that lay plain
before Him. To learn from Him the mystery of His passion, that they
might be His heralds, the one in Paradise, the other in the pale
kingdoms of Hades? Perhaps, but, more probably, they came to
minister to Him strength for His conflict, even as women did of
their substance, and an angel did in Gethsemane. Perhaps the
strength came to Jesus from seeing how they yearned for the
fulfilment of the typified redemption; perhaps it came from His
being able to speak to them as He could not to any on earth. At all
events, surely Moses and Elijah were not brought there for their own
sakes alone, nor for the sake of the witnesses, but also for His
sake who was prepared by that converse for His cross.

Further, their appearance set forth Christ's death, which was their
theme, as the climax of revelation. The Law with its requirement and
its sacrifices, and Prophecy with its forward-looking gaze, stand
there, in their representatives, and bear witness that their
converging lines meet in Jesus. The finger that wrote the law, and
the finger that smote and parted Jordan, are each lifted to point to
Him. The stern voices that spoke the commandments and that hurled
threatenings at the unworthy occupants of David's throne, both
proclaim, 'Behold the Lamb of God, the perfect Fulfiller of law, the
true King of Israel.' Their presence and their speech were the
acknowledgment that this was He whom they had seen from afar; their
disappearance proclaims that their work is done when they have
pointed to Him.

Their presence also teaches us that Jesus is the life of all the
living dead. Of course, care must be exercised in drawing dogmatic
conclusions from a manifestly abnormal incident, but some plain
truths do result from it. Of these two, one had died, though mystery
hung round his death and burial; the other had passed into the
heavens by another gate than that of death; and here they both stand
with lives undiminished by their mysterious changes, in fulness of
power and of consciousness, bathed in glory, which was as their
native air now. They are witnesses of an immortal life, and proofs
that His yet unpierced hands held the keys of life and death. He
opened the gate which moves backwards to no hand but His, and
summoned them; and they come, with no napkins about their heads, and
no trailing grave-clothes entangling their feet, and own Him as the
King of life.

They speak too of the eager onward gaze which the Old Testament
believers turned to the coming Deliverer. In silent anticipation,
through all these centuries, good men had lain down to die, saying,
'I wait for Thy salvation,' and after death their spirits had lived
expectant and crying, like the souls under the altar, 'How long, O
Lord, how long?' Now these two are brought from their hopeful
repose, perchance to learn how near their deliverance was; and
behind them we seem to discern a dim crowd of holy men and women,
who had died in faith, not having received the promises, and who
throng the portals of the unseen world, waiting for the near advent
of the better Samson to bear away the gates to the city on the hill,
and lead thither their ransomed train.

Peter's bewildered words need not long detain us. He is half dazed,
but, true to his rash nature, thinks that he must say something, and
that to do something will relieve the tension of his spirit. His
proposal, so ridiculous as it is, shows that he had not really
understood what he saw. It also expresses his feeling that it is
much better to be there than to be travelling to a cross--and so may
stand as an instance of a very real temptation for us all, that of
avoiding unwelcome duties and shrinking from rough work, on the plea
of holding sweet communion with Jesus on the mountain. It was
_not_ 'good' to stay there, and leave demoniacs uncured in the

III. The cloud and the witnessing voice.

Peter's words receive no answer, for, while he is speaking, another
solemn and silencing wonder has place. Suddenly a strange cloud
forms in the cloudless sky. It is 'bright' with no reflection caught
from the sun; it is borne along by no wind; slowly it settles down
upon them, like a roof, and, bright though it is, casts a strange
shadow. According to one reading of Luke's account, Christ and the
two heavenly witnesses pass within its folds, leaving the disciples
without, and that separation seems confirmed by Matthew's saying
that the voice 'came out of the cloud.' Our evangelist points to its
brightness as singular. It was not merely bright, as if smitten by
the sunlight, but its whole substance was luminous. It is almost a
contradiction to speak of a cloud of light, and the anomalous
expression points to something beyond nature. We cannot but remember
the pillar which had a heart of fire, and glowed in the darkness
over the sleeping camp, and the cloud which filled the house, and
drove the priests from the sanctuary by its brightness. Nor should
we forget that at His Ascension Jesus was not lost to sight in the
blue; but while He was yet visible in the act of blessing, 'a cloud
received Him out of their sight.' It is, in fact, the familiar
symbol of the divine presence, which had long been absent from the
temple, and now reappears. We may note the beauty and felicity of
the emblem. It blends light and darkness, so suggesting how the very
same 'attributes' of God are both; and how His revelation of Himself
reveals Him as unrevealable. The manifestation of His power is also
the 'hiding of His power.' The inaccessible light is also thick
darkness. The same characteristics of His nature are light and joy
to some, and blackness and woe to others.

We may note, too, Christ's passage into the cloud. Moses and Elijah,
being purged from mortal weakness, could pass thither. But Jesus,
alone of men, could pass in the flesh into that brightness, and be
hid in its fiery heart, unshrinking and unconsumed. 'Who among us
shall dwell with everlasting burnings? His entrance into it is but
the witness to the purity of His nature, and the absence in Him of
all fuel for fire. That bright cloud was 'His own calm home, His
habitation from eternity,' and where no man, compassed with flesh
and sin, could live, He enters as the Son into the bosom of the

Then comes the articulate witness to the Son. The solemnity and
force of the attestation are increased, if we conceive of the
disciples as outside the cloud, and parted from Jesus. This word is
meant for them only, and so is distinguished from the similar voice
at the baptism, and has added the imperative 'Hear him.' The voice
bears witness to the mystery of our Lord's person. It points to the
contrast between His two attendants and Him. They are servants,
'this is the Son.' It sets forth His supernaturally born humanity,
and, deeper still, His true and proper divinity, which John unfolds,
in his Gospel, as the deepest meaning of the name. It testifies to
the unbroken union of love between the Father and Him, and therein
to the absolute perfection of our Lord's character. He is the
adequate object of the eternal, divine love. As He has been from the
timeless depths of old, He is, in His human life, the object of the
ever-unruffled divine complacency, in whom the Father can glass
Himself as in a pure mirror. It enjoins obedient listening. God's
voice bids us hear Christ's voice. If He is the beloved Son,
listening to Him is listening to God. This is the purpose of the
whole, so far as we are concerned. We are to hear Him, when He
declares God; when He witnesses of Himself, of His love, His work,
His death, His judgeship; when He invites us to come to Him, and
find rest; when He commands and when He promises. Amid the Babel of
this day, let us listen to that voice, low and gentle, pleading and
soft, authoritative, majestic, and sovereign. It will one day shake
'not the earth only, but also the heaven.' But, as yet, it calls us
with strange sweetness, and the music of love in every tone. Well
for us if our hearts answer, 'Speak, Lord; for Thy servant heareth.'

Matthew tells us that this voice from the cloud completely unmanned
the disciples, who fell on their faces, and lay there, we know not
how long, till Jesus came and laid a loving hand on them, bidding
them arise, and not fear. So when they staggered to their feet, and
looked around, they saw nothing but the grey stones of the hillside
and the blue sky. 'That dread voice was past,' and the silence was
broken only by the hum of insects or the twitter of a far-off bird.
The strange guests have gone; the radiance has faded from the
Master's face, and all is as it used to be. 'They saw no one, save
Jesus only.' It is the summing up of revelation; all others vanish,
He abides. It is the summing up of the world's history. Thickening
folds of oblivion wrap the past, and all its mighty names become
forgotten; but His figure stands out, solitary against the
background of the past, as some great mountain, which travellers see
long after the lower summits are sunk beneath the horizon. Let us
make this the summing up of our lives. We can venture to take Him
for our sole helper, pattern, love, and aim, because He, in His
singleness, is enough for our hearts. There are many fragmentary
precious things, but there is only one pearl of great price. And
then this will be a prophecy of our deaths--a brief darkness, a
passing dread, and then His touch and His voice saying, 'Arise, be
not afraid.' So we shall lift up our eyes, and find earth faded, and
its voices fallen dim, and see 'no one any more, save Jesus only.'


'Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why
could not we cast him out? 20. And Jesus said unto them,
Because of your unbelief.'--MATT. xvii. 19, 20.

'And when He had called unto Him His twelve disciples, He gave them
power against unclean spirits to cast them out.' That same power was
bestowed, too, on the wider circle of the seventy who returned again
with joy, saying, 'Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through
Thy name.' The ground of it was laid in the solemn words with which
Christ met their wonder at their own strength, and told how He
'beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.' Therefore had they
triumphed, showing the fruits of their Master's victory; and
therefore had He a right to renew the gift, in the still more
comprehensive promise, 'I give unto you power--over all the power of
the enemy.'

What a commentary on such words this story affords! What has become
of the disciples' supernatural might? Has it ebbed away as suddenly
as it flowed? Is their Lord's endowment a shadow or His assurances
delusion? Has He taken back what He gave? Not so. And yet His
servants are ignominiously beaten. One poor devil-ridden boy brings
all their resources to nothing. He stands before them writhing in
the gripe of his tormentor, but they cannot set him free. The
importunity of the father's prayers is vain, and the tension of
expectancy in his eager face relaxes into the old hopeless languor
as he slowly droops to the conviction that 'they could not cast him
out.' The malicious scorn in the eyes of the Scribes, those hostile
critics who 'knew that it would be so,' helps to produce the failure
which they anticipated. The curious crowd buzz about them, and in
the midst of it all stand the little knot of baffled disciples,
possessors of power which seems to leave them when they need it
most, with the unavailing spells dying half spoken on their lips,
and their faint hearts longing that their Master would come down
from the mount, and cover their weakness with His own great

No wonder that, as soon as Christ and they are alone, they wish to
know how their mortifying defeat has come about. And they get an
answer which they little expected, for the last place where men look
for the explanation of their failures is within; but they will
ascend into the heavens, and descend into the deeps for remote and
recondite reasons, before they listen to the voice which says, 'The
fault is nigh thee, in thy heart.' Christ's reply distinctly implies
that the cause of their impotence lay wholly in themselves, not in
any defect or withdrawal of power, but solely in that in them which
grasped the power. They little expected, too, to be told that they
had failed because they had not been sure they would succeed. They
had thought that they believed in their ability to cast out the
demon. They had tried to do so, with some kind of anticipation that
they could. They had been surprised when they found that they could
not. They had wonderingly asked why. And now Christ tells them that
all along they had had no real faith in Him and in the reality of
His gift. So subtly may unbelief steal into the heart, even while we
fancy that we are working in faith. And a further portion of our
Lord's reply points them to the great means by which this conquering
faith can be maintained--namely, prayer and fasting. If, then, we
put all these things together, we get a series of considerations,
very simple and commonplace indeed, but all the better and truer
therefor, which I venture to submit to you, as having a very
important bearing on all our Christian work, and especially on the
missionary work of the Church. The principles which the text
suggests touch the perpetual possession of the power which conquers;
the condition of its victorious exercise by us, as being our faith;
the subtle danger of unsuspected unbelief to which we are exposed;
and the great means of preserving our faith pure and strong. I ask
your attention to a few considerations on these points in their

But first, let me say very briefly, that I would not be understood
as, by the selection of such a text, desiring to suggest that we
have failed in our work. Thank God! we can point to results far, far
greater than we have deserved, far greater than we have expected,
however they may be beneath our desires, and still further below
what the gospel was meant to accomplish. It may suit observers who
have never done anything themselves, and have not particularly clear
eyes for appreciating spiritual work, to talk of Christian missions
as failures; but it would ill become us to assent to the lie.
Failures indeed! with half a million of converts, with new forms of
Christian life budding in all the wilderness of the peoples, with
the consciousness of coming doom creeping about the heart of every
system of idolatry! Is the green life in the hedges and in the sweet
pastures starred with rathe primroses, and in the hidden copses blue
with hyacinths, a failure, because the east wind bites shrewdly, and
'the tender ash delays to clothe herself with green'? No! no, we
have not failed. Enough has been done to vindicate the enterprise,
more than enough to fill our lips with thanksgiving, enough to
entitle us to say to all would-be critics--Do you the same with your
enchantments. But, on the other hand, we have to confess that the
success has been slow and small, chequered and interrupted, that
often we have been foiled, that we have confronted many a demon whom
we could not cast out, and that at home and abroad the masses of
evil seem to close in around us, and we make but little impression
on their serried ranks. We have had success enough to assure us that
we possess the treasure, and failures enough to make us feel how
weak are the earthen vessels which hold it.

And now let us turn to the principles which flow from this text.

I. We have an unvarying power.

No doubt the explanation of their defeat which most naturally suggested
itself to these disciples would be that somehow or other--perhaps
because of Christ's absence--they had lost the gift which they knew
that they once had. And the same way of accounting for later want of
success lingers among Christian people still. You will sometimes hear
it said: 'God sends forth His Spirit in special fulness at special
times, according to His own sovereign will; and till then we can only
wait and pray.' Or, 'The miraculous powers which dwelt in the early
Church have been withdrawn, and therefore the progress is slow.' The
strong imaginative tendency to make an ideal perfect in the past
leads us to think of the primitive age of the Church as golden, in
opposition to the plain facts of the case. We fancy that because
apostles were its teachers, and the Cross within its memory, the
infant society was stronger, wiser, better than any age since, and had
gifts which we have lost. What had it which we do not possess? The
power of working miracles. What have we which it did not possess? A
completed Bible, and the experience of nineteen centuries to teach us
to understand it, and to confirm by facts our confidence that Christ's
gospel is for all time and every land. What have we in common with it?
The same mission to fulfil, the same wants in our brethren to meet, the
same gospel, the same spirit, the same immortal Lord. All that any age
has possessed to fit it for the task of witnessing for Christ we too
possess. The Church has in it a power which is ever adequate to the
conquest of the world; and that power is constant through all time,
whether we consider it as recorded in an unvarying gospel, or as
energised by an abiding spirit, or as flowing from and centred in an
unchangeable Lord.

We have a gospel which never can grow old. Its adaptation to the
deepest needs of men's souls remains constant with these needs.
These vary not from age to age. No matter what may be the superficial
differences of dress, the same human heart beats beneath every robe.
The great primal wants of men's spirits abide, as the great primal
wants of their bodily life abide. Food and shelter for the one,--a
loving, pardoning God, to know and love, for the other--else they
perish. Wherever men go they carry with them a conscience which needs
cleansing, a sense of separation from God joined with a dim knowledge
that union with Him is life, a will which is burdened with its own
selfhood, an imagination which paints the misty walls of this earthly
prison with awful shapes that terrify and faint hopes that mock, a
heart that hungers for love, and a reason which pines in atrophy
without light. And all these the gospel which is lodged in our hands
meets. It addresses itself to nothing in men that is not in man.
Surface differences of position, culture, clime, age, and the like,
it brushes aside as unimportant, and it goes straight to the universal
wants. People tell us it has done its work, and much confident dogmatism
proclaims that the world has outgrown it. We have a right to be
confident also, with a confidence born of our knowledge, that it has
met and satisfied for us the wants which are ours and every man's, and
to believe that as long as men live by bread, so long will this word
which proceedeth out of the mouth of God be the food of their souls.
Areopagus and Piccadilly, Benares and Oxford, need the same message
and will find the same response to all their wants in the same word.

Many of the institutions in which Christendom has embodied its
conceptions of God's truth will crumble away. Many of the
conceptions will have to be modified, neglected truths will grow, to
the dislocation of much systematic theology, and the Word better
understood will clear away many a portentous error with which the
Church has darkened the Word. Be it so. Let us be glad when 'the
things which can be shaken are removed,' like mean huts built
against the wall of some cathedral, masking and marring the
completeness of its beauty; 'that the things which cannot be shaken
may remain,' and all the clustered shafts, and deep-arched recesses,
and sweet tracery may stand forth freed from the excrescences which
hid them.

'The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away. But the
word of the Lord endureth for ever.'

We have an abiding Spirit, the Giver to us of a power without
variableness or the shadow of turning, 'I will pray the Father, and
He shall give you another Paraclete, that He may abide with you for
ever.' The manner of His operations may vary, but the reality of His
energy abides. The 'works' of wonder which Jesus did on earth may no
more be done, but the greater works than these are still the sign of
_His_ presence, without whom no spiritual life is possible.
Prophecies may fail, tongues may cease, but the more excellent gifts
are poured out now as richly as ever. We are apt to look back to
Pentecost and think that that marked a height to which the tide has
never reached since, and therefore we are stranded amidst the ooze
and mud. But the river which proceeds from the throne of God and of
the Lamb is not like one of our streams on earth, that leaps to the
light and dashes rejoicingly down the hillside, but creeps along
sluggish in its level course, and dies away at last in the sands. It
pours along the ages the same full volume with which it gushed forth
at first. Rather, the source goes with the Church in all ages, and
we drink not of water that came forth long ago in the history of the
world, and has reached us through the centuries, but of that which
wells out fresh every moment from the Rock that follows us. The
Giver of all power is with us.

We have a Lord, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever. 'Lo, I
am with you alway, even to the end of the world.' We have not merely
to look back to the life and death of Christ in history, and
recognise there the work, the efficacy of which shall endure for
ever. But whilst we do this, we have also to think of the Christ
'that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also
maketh intercession for us.' And the one thought, as the other,
should strengthen our confidence in our possession of all the might
that we need for bringing the world back to our Lord.

A work in the past which can never be exhausted or lose its power is
the theme of our message. The mists of gathering ages wrap in slowly
thickening folds of forgetfulness all other men and events in
history, and make them ghostlike and shadowy; but no distance has
yet dimmed or will ever dim that human form divine. Other names are
like those stars that blaze out for a while, and then smoulder down
into almost complete invisibility; but He is the very Light itself,
that burns and is not consumed. Other landmarks sink below the
horizon as the tribes of men pursue their solemn march through the
centuries, but the Cross on Calvary 'shall stand for an ensign of
the people, and to it shall the Gentiles seek.' To proclaim that
accomplished salvation, once for all lodged in the heart of the
world's history, and henceforth for ever valid, is our unalterable
duty. The message carries in itself its own immortal strength.

A living Saviour in the present, who works with us, confirming the
word with signs following, is the source of our power. Not till He is
impotent shall we be weak. The unmeasurable measure of the gift of
Christ defines the degree, and the unending duration of His life who
continueth for ever sets the period, of our possession of the grace
which is given to every one of us. He is ever bestowing. He never
withdraws what He once gives. The fountain sinks not a hairs-breadth,
though nineteen centuries have drawn from it. Modern astronomy begins
to believe that the sun itself by long expense of light will be shorn
of its beams and wander darkling in space, circled no more by its
daughter planets. But this Sun of our souls rays out for ever the
energies of life and light and love, and after all communication
possesses the infinite fulness of them all. 'His name shall be
continued as long as the sun; all nations shall call Him blessed.'

Here then, brethren, are the perpetual elements of our constant
power, an eternal Word, an abiding Spirit, an unchanging Lord.

II. The condition of exercising this power is Faith.

With such a force at our command--a force that could shake the
mountains and break the rocks--how come we ever to fail? So the
disciples asked, and Christ's answer cuts to the very heart of the
matter. Why could you not cast him out? For one reason only, because
you had lost your hold of My strength, and therefore had lost your
confidence in your own derived power, or had forgotten that it was
derived, and essayed to wield it as if it were your own. You did not
trust Me, so you did not believe that you could cast him out; or you
believed that you could by your own might, therefore you failed. He
throws them back decisively on themselves as solely responsible.
Nowhere else, in heaven or in earth or hell, but only in us, does
the reason lie for our breakdown, if we have broken down. Not in
God, who is ever with us, ready to make all grace abound in us,
whose will is that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge
of the truth; not in the gospel which we preach, for 'it is the
power of God unto salvation'; not in the demon might which has
overcome us, for 'greater is He that is in us than he that is in the
world.' We are driven from all other explanations to the bitterest
and yet the most hopeful of all, that we only are to blame.

And what in us is to blame? Some of us will answer--Our modes of
working; they have not been free enough, or not orderly enough, or
in some way or other not wisely adapted to our ends. Some will
answer--Our forms of presenting the truth; they have not been
flexible enough, or not fixed enough; they have been too much a
reproduction of the old; they have been too licentious a departure
from the old. Some will answer--Our ecclesiastical arrangements;
they have been too democratic; they have been too priestly. Some
will answer--Our intellectual culture; it has been too great,
obscuring the simplicity that is in Christ; it has been too small,
sending poorly furnished men into the field to fight with ordered
systems of idolatry which rest upon a philosophical basis, and can
only be overturned by undermining that. It is no part of my present
duty to discuss these varying answers. No doubt there is room for
improvement in all the fields which they indicate. But does not the
spirit of our Lord's words here beckon us away from these purely
secondary subjects to fix our self-examination on the depth and
strength of our faith, as incomparably the most important element in
the conditions which determine our success or our failure? I do not
undervalue the worth of wise methods of action, but the history of
the Church tells us that pretty nearly any methods of action are
fruitful in the right hands, and that without living faith the best
of them become like the heavy armour which half-smothered a feeble
man. I do not pretend to that sublime indifference to dogma which is
the modern form of supreme devotion to truth, but experience has
taught us that wherever the name of Christ, as the Saviour of the
world, has been lovingly proclaimed, there devils have been cast
out, whatever private and sectional doctrines the exerciser has
added to it. I do not disparage organisation, but courage is more
than drill; and there is such a thing as the very perfection of
arrangement without life, like cabinets in a museum, where all the
specimens are duly classified, and dead. I believe, with the old
preacher, that if God does not need our learning, He needs our
ignorance still less, but it is of comparatively little importance
whether the draught of living water be brought to thirsty lips in an
earthen cup or a golden vase.

'The main thing is, does it hold good measure?
Heaven soon sets right all other matters.'

And therefore, while leaving full scope for all improvements in
these subordinate conditions, let me urge upon you that the main
thing which makes us strong for our Christian work is the grasp of
living faith, which holds fast the strength of God. There is no need
to plunge into the jungle of metaphysical theology here. Is it not a
fact that the might with which the power of God has wrought for
men's salvation has corresponded with the strength of the Church's
desire and the purity of its trust in His power? Is it not a truth
plainly spoken in Scripture and confirmed by experience, that we
have the awful prerogative of limiting the Holy One of Israel, and
quenching the Spirit? Was there not a time in Christ's life on earth
when He could do no mighty works because of their unbelief? We
receive all spiritual gifts in proportion to our capacity, and the
chief factor in settling the measure of our capacity is our faith.
Here on the one hand is the boundless ocean of the divine strength,
unfathomable in its depth, full after all draughts, tideless and
calm, in all its movement never troubled, in all its repose never
stagnating; and on the other side is the empty aridity of our poor
weak natures. Faith opens these to the influx of that great sea, and
'according to our faith,' in the exact measure of our receptivity,
does it enter our hearts. In itself the gift is boundless. It has no
limit except the infinite fulness of the power which worketh in us.
But in reference to our possession it is bounded by our capacity,
and though that capacity enlarges by the very fact of being filled,
and so every moment becomes greater through fruition, yet at each
moment it is the measure of our possession, and our faith is the
measure of our capacity. Our power is God's power in us, and our
faith is the power with which we grasp God's power and make it ours.
So then, in regard to God, our faith is the condition of our being
strengthened with might by His Spirit.

Consider, too, how the same faith has a natural operation on ourselves
which tends to fit us for casting out the evil spirits. Given a man
full of faith, you will have a man tenacious in purpose, absorbed in
one grand object, simple in his motives, in whom selfishness has been
driven out by the power of a mightier love, and indolence stirred into
unwearied energy. Such a man will be made wise to devise, gentle to
attract, bold to rebuke, fertile in expedients, and ready to be
anything that may help the aim of his life. Fear will be dead in him,
for faith is the true anaesthesia of the soul; and the knife may cut
into the quivering flesh, and the spirit be scarce conscious of a pang.
Love, ambition, and all the swarm of distracting desires will be
driven from the soul in which the lamp of faith burns bright. Ordinary
human motives will appeal in vain to the ears which have heard the
tones of the heavenly music, and all the pomps of life will show poor
and tawdry to the sight that has gazed on the vision of the great
white throne and the crystal sea. The most ignorant and erroneous
'religious sentiment'--to use a modern phrase--is mightier than all
other forces in the world's history. It is like some of those terrible
compounds of modern chemistry, an inert, innocuous-looking drop of
liquid. Shake it, and it flames heaven high, shattering the rocks and
ploughing up the soil. Put even an adulterated and carnalised faith
into the hearts of a mob of wild Arabs, and in a century they will
stream from their deserts, and blaze from the mountains of Spain to
the plains of Bengal. Put a living faith in Christ and a heroic
confidence in the power of His Gospel to reclaim the worst sinners
into a man's heart, and he will out of weakness be made strong, and
plough his way through obstacles with the compact force and crashing
directness of lightning. There have been men of all sorts who have
been honoured to do much in this world for Christ. Wise and foolish,
learned and ignorant, differing in tone, temper, creed, forms of
thought, and manner of working, in every conceivable degree; but one
thing, and perhaps one thing only, they have all had--a passion of
enthusiastic personal devotion to their Lord, a profound and living
faith in Him and in His salvation. All in which they differed is but
the gay gilding on the soldier's coat. That in which they were alike
is as the strong arm which grasps the sword, and has its muscles
braced by the very clutch. Faith is itself a source of strength, as
well as the condition of drawing might from heaven.

Consider, too, how faith has power over men who see it. The
exhibition of our own personal convictions has more to do in
spreading them than all the arguments which we use. There is a
magnetism and a contagious energy in the sight of a brother's faith
which few men can wholly resist. If you wish me to weep, your own
tears must flow; and if you would have me believe, let me see your
soul heaving under the emotion which you desire me to feel. The
arrow may be keen and true, the shaft rounded and straight, the bow
strong, and the arm sinewy; but unless the steel be winged it will
fall to the ground long before it strikes the butt. Your arrows must
be winged with faith, else orthodoxy, and wise arrangements, and
force and zeal, will avail nothing. No man will believe in, and no
demon will obey, spells which the would-be exorcist only half
believes himself. Even if he speak the name of Christ, unless he
speak it with unfaltering confidence, all the answer he will get
will only be the fierce and taunting question, 'Jesus I know, and
Paul I know, but who are ye?' Brethren, let us give heed to the
solemn rebuke which our Master lovingly reads to us in these words,
and while we aim at the utmost possible perfection in all
subordinate matters, let us remember that they all without faith are
weak, as an empty suit of armour with no life beneath the corselet;
and that faith without them all is strong, like the knight of old,
who rode into the bloody field in simple silken vest, and conquered.
That which determines our success or failure in the work of our Lord
is our faith.

III. Our faith is ever threatened by subtle unbelief.

It would appear that the disciples were ignorant of the unbelief
that had made them weak. They fancied that they had confidence in
their Christ-given power, and they certainly had in some dull kind
of fashion expected to succeed in their attempt. But He who sees the
heart knew that there was no real living confidence in their souls;
and His words are a solemn warning to us all, of how possible it is
for us to have our faith all honeycombed by gnawing doubt while we
suspect it not, like some piece of wood apparently sound, the whole
substance of which has been eaten away by hidden worms. We may be
going on with Christian work, and may even be looking for spiritual
results. We may fancy ourselves faithful stewards of the gospel, and
all the while there may be an utter absence of the one thing which
makes our words more than so much wind whistling through an archway.
The shorn Samson went out 'to shake himself as at other times,' and
knew not that the Spirit of the Lord had departed from him. Who
among us is not exposed to the assaults of that pestilence that
walketh in darkness? and, alas! who among us can say that he has
repelled the contagion? Subtly it creeps over us all, the stealthy
intangible vapour, unfelt till it has quenched the lamp which alone
lights the darkness of the mine, and clogged to suffocation the
labouring lungs.

I will not now speak of the general sources of danger to our faith,
which are always in operation with a retarding force as constant as
friction, as certain as the gravitation which pulls the pendulum to
rest at its lowest point. But I may very briefly particularise two
of the enemies of that faith, which have a special bearing on our
missionary work, and may be illustrated from the narrative before

First, all our activity in spreading the Gospel, whether by personal
effort or by our gifts, like every form of outward action, tends to
become mechanical, and to lose its connection with the motive which
originated it. Of course it is also true, on the other side, that
all outward action also tends to strengthen the motive from which it
flows. But our Christian work will not do so, unless it be carefully
watched, and pains be taken to keep it from slipping off its
original foundation, and so altering its whole character. We may
very easily become so occupied with the mere external occupation as
to be quite unconscious that it has ceased to be faithful work, and
has become routine, dull mechanism, or the result of confidence, not
in Christ, whose power once flowed through us, but in ourselves the
doers. So these disciples may have thought, 'We can cast out this
devil, for we have done the like already,' and have forgotten that
it was not they, but Christ in them, who had done it.

How widely this foe to our faith operates amid the multiplied
activities of this busy age, one trembles to think. We see all
around us a Church toiling with unexampled expenditure of wealth,
and effort, and time. It is difficult to repress the suspicion that
the work is out of proportion to the life. Ah, brethren, how much of
all this energy of effort, so admirable in many respects, will He
whose fan is in His hand accept as true service--how much of it will
be wheat for the garner, how much chaff for the fire? It is not for
us to divide between the two, but it is for us to remember that it
is not impossible to make of our labours the most dangerous enemy to
the depth of our still life hidden with Christ in God, and that
every deed of apparent service which is not the real issue of living
faith is powerless for good to others, and heavy with hurt to
ourselves. Brethren and fathers in the ministry! how many of us know
what it is to talk and toil away our early devotion; and all at once
to discover that for years perhaps we have been preaching and
labouring from mere habit and routine, like corpses galvanised into
some ghastly and transient caricature of life. Christian men and
women, beware lest this great enterprise of missions, which our
fathers began from the holiest motives and in the simplest faith,
should in our hand be wrenched away from its only true basis, and be
done with languid expectation and more languid desires of success,
from no higher motive than that we found it in existence, and have
become accustomed to carry it on. If that be our reason, then we
harm ourselves, and mask from our own sight our own unbelief. If
that be the case the work may go on for a while, like a clock
ticking with fainter and fainter beats for a minute after it has run
down; but it will soon cease, and neither heaven nor earth will be
much the poorer for its ending.

Again, the atmosphere of scornful disbelief which surrounded the
disciples made their faith falter. It was too weak to sustain itself
in the face of the consciousness that not a man in all that crowd
believed in their power; and it melted away before the contempt of
the scribes and the incredulous curiosity of the bystanders, without
any reason except the subtle influence which the opinions and
characters of those around us have on us all.

And, brethren, are not we in danger to-day of losing the firmness of
our grasp on Christ, as our Saviour and the world's, from a
precisely similar cause? We live in an atmosphere of hesitancy and
doubt, of scornful rejection of His claims, of contemptuous
disbelief in anything which a scalpel cannot cut. We cannot but be
conscious that to hold by Jesus Christ as the Incarnate God, the
supernatural Beginning of a new life, the sole Hope of the world, is
to expose ourselves to the contempt of so-called advanced and
liberal thinkers, and to be out of harmony with the prevailing set
of opinions. The current of educated thought runs strongly against
such beliefs, and I suppose that every thoughtful man among us feels
that a great danger to our faith to-day comes from the force with
which that current swings us round, and threatens to make some of us
drag our anchors, and drift, and strike and go to pieces on the
sands. For one man who is led by the sheer force of reason to yield
to the intellectual grounds on which modern unbelief reposes, there
are twenty who simply catch the infection in the atmosphere. They
find that their early convictions have evaporated, they know not
how; only that once the fleece was wet with dew and now it is dry.
For unbelief has a contagious energy wholly independent of reason,
no less than has faith, and affects multitudes who know nothing of
its grounds, as the iceberg chills the summer air for leagues, and
makes the sailors shiver long before they see its barren peaks.

Therefore, brethren, let us all take heed to ourselves, lest we
suffer our grasp of our dear Lord's hand to relax for no better
reason than because so many have left His side. To us all His
pleading love, which knows how much we are moulded by the example of
others, is saying, in view of the fashion of unbelief, 'Will ye also
go away?' Let us answer, with a clasp that clings the tighter for
our danger of being sucked in by the strong current, 'Lord, to whom
shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.' We cannot help
seeing that the creeping paralysis of hesitancy and doubt about even
the power of Christ's name is stealing over portions of the Church,
and stiffening the arm of its activity. Lips that once spoke with
full confidence the words that cast out devils, mutter them now
languidly with half-belief. Hearts that were once full of sympathy
with the great purpose for which Christ died are growing cold to the
work of preaching the Gospel to the heathen, because they are
growing to doubt whether, after all, there is any Gospel at all.
This icy breath, dear brethren, is blowing over our Churches and
over our hearts. And wherever it reaches, there labour for Jesus and
for men languishes, and we recoil baffled with unavailing exorcisms
dying in our throats, and the rod of our power broken in our hands.
'Why could not we cast him out? Because of your unbelief.'

IV. Our faith can only be maintained by constant devotion and rigid

I can touch but very lightly on that solemn thought in which our Lord
sets forth the condition of our faith, and therefore of our power.
This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting. The discipline
then which nurtures faith is mainly moral and spiritual--not as a
substitute for, or to the exclusion of, the intellectual discipline,
which is presupposed, not neglected, in these words.

The first condition of the freshness and energy of faith is constant
devotion. The attrition of the world wears it thin, the distractions
of life draw it from its clinging hold on Christ, the very toil for
Him is apt to entice our thoughts from out of the secret place of
the most High into the busy arena of our strife. Therefore we have
ever need to refresh the drooping flowers of the chaplet by bathing
them in the Fountain of Life, to rise above all the fevered toil of
earth to the calm heights where God dwells, and in still communion
with Him to replenish our emptied vessels and fill our dimly burning
lamps with His golden oil. The sister of the cumbered Martha is the
contemplative Mary, who sits in silence at the Master's feet and
lets His words sink into her soul; the closest friend of Peter the
apostle of action is John the apostle of love. If our work is to be
worthy, it must ever be freshened anew by our gaze into His face; if
our communion with Him is to be deep, it must never be parted from
outward service. Our Master has left us the example, in that, when
the night fell and every man went to his own home, Jesus went to the
Mount of Olives; and thence, after His night of prayer, came very
early in the morning to the temple, and taught. The stream that is
to flow broad and life-giving through many lands must have its
hidden source high among the pure snows that cap the mount of God.
The man that would work for God must live with God. It was from the
height of transfiguration that _He_ came, before whom the demon
that baffled the disciples quailed and slunk away like a whipped
hound. This kind goeth not out but by prayer.

The second condition is rigid self-denial. Fasting is the expression
of the purpose to control the lower life, and to abstain from its
delights in order that the life of the spirit may be strengthened.
As to the outward fact, it is nothing--it may be practised or not.
If it be, it will be valuable only in so far as it flows from and
strengthens that purpose. And such vigorous subordination of all
the lower powers, and abstinence from many an inferior good, both
material and immaterial, is absolutely necessary if we are to have
any wholesome strength of faith in our souls. In the recoil from
the false asceticism of Roman Catholicism and Puritanism, has not
this generation of the Church gone too far in the opposite
direction? and in the true belief that Christianity can sanctify
all joys, and ensure the harmonious development of all our powers,
have we not been forgetting that hand and foot may cause us to
stumble, and that we had better live maimed than die with all our
limbs? There is a true asceticism, a discipline--a 'gymnastic unto
godliness,' as Paul calls it. And if our faith is to grow high and
bear rich clusters on the topmost boughs that look up to the sky,
we must keep the wild lower shoots close nipped. Without rigid
self-control and self-limitation, no vigorous faith.

And without them no effectual work! It is no holiday task to cast
out devils. Self-indulgent men will never do it. Loose-braced, easy
souls, that lie open to all the pleasurable influences of ordinary
life, are no more fit for God's weapons than a reed for a lance, or
a bit of flexible lead for a spear-point. The wood must be tough and
compact, the metal hard and close-grained, out of which God makes
His shafts. The brand that is to guide men through the darkness to
their Father's home must glow with a pallor of consuming flame that
purges its whole substance into light. This kind goeth not out but
by prayer and fasting.

Dear brethren, what solemn rebuke these words have for us all! How
they winnow our works of Christian activity! How they show us the
hollowness of our services, the self-indulgence of our lives, the
coldness of our devotion, the cowardice of our faith! How marvellous
they make the fruits which God's great goodness has permitted us to
see even from our doubting service! Let us turn to Him with fresh
thankfulness that unto us, who are 'less than the least of all
saints, is this grace given, that we should preach among the nations
the unsearchable riches of Christ.' Let us not be driven from our
confidence that we have a gospel to preach for all the world; but
strong in the faith which rests on impregnable historical grounds,
on our own experience of what Christ has done for us, and on
nineteen centuries of growing power and unfolding wisdom, let us
thankfully welcome all that modern thought may supply for the
correction of errors in belief, in organisation, and in life, that
may have gathered round His perfect and eternal gospel--being
assured, as we have a right to be, that all will but lift higher the
Name which is above every name, and set forth more plainly that
Cross which is the true tree of life to all the families of men. Let
us cast ourselves before Him with penitent confession, and say,--O
Lord, our strength! we have not wrought any deliverance on earth; we
have been weak when all Thy power was at our command; we have spoken
Thy word as if it were an experiment and a peradventure whether it
had might; we have let go Thy hand and lost Thy garment's hem from
our slack grasp; we have been prayerless and self-indulgent.
Therefore Thou hast put us to shame before our foes, and 'our
enemies laugh among themselves. Thou that dwellest between the
cherubim, shine forth; stir up Thy strength and come and save us!'
Then will the last words that He spoke on earth ring out again from
the throne: 'All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go
ye therefore and teach all nations; and lo, I am with you alway,
even unto the end of the world.'


'And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented
him, saying, What thinkest them, Simon? of whom do the
kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own
children, or of strangers? 26. Peter saith unto Him, Of
strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children
free.'--MATT. xvii. 25, 26.

All our Lord's miracles are 'signs' as well as 'wonders.' They have
a meaning. They not only authenticate His teaching, but they are
themselves no inconsiderable portion of the teaching. They are not
only 'the great bell before His sermon,' but they are also a portion
of the sermon.

That doctrinal or dogmatic purpose characterises all the miracles in
varying degrees. It is the only purpose of the one before us. This
singular miracle of finding the coin in the fish's mouth and giving
it for the tribute-money is unlike our Lord's other works in several
particulars. It is the only miracle--with the exception of the
cursing of the barren fig-tree, and the episode of the unclean
spirits entering into the swine--in which there is no message of
love or blessing for man's sorrow and pain. It is the only miracle
in which our Lord uses His power for His own service or help, and it
is like the whole brood of legendary miracles, and unlike all the
rest of Christ's in that, at first sight, it seems done for a very
trivial end--the providing of some three shillings of our money.

Now, if we put all these things together, the absence of any
alleviation of man's sorrow, the presence of a personal end, and the
apparent triviality of the result secured, I think we shall see that
the only explanation of the miracle is given by regarding it as
being what I may call a teaching one, full of instruction with
regard to our Lord's character, person, and work. It is a parable as
well as a miracle, and it is in that aspect that I wish to look at
it now, and try to bring out its lessons.

I. We have here, first, the freedom of the Son.

The whole point of the story depends upon the fact that this
tribute-money was not a civil, but an ecclesiastical impost. It had
originally been levied in the Wilderness, at the time of the
numbering of the people, and was enjoined to be repeated at each
census, when every male Israelite was to pay half a shekel for 'a
ransom for his soul,' an acknowledgment that his life was forfeited
by sin. In later years it came to be levied as an annual payment for
the support of the temple and its ceremonial. It was never
compulsory, there was no power to exact it. The question of the
collectors, 'Doth not your Master pay tribute?' does not sound like
the imperative demand which a 'publican' would have made for payment
of an impost due to the Roman Government. It was an 'optional
church-rate,' and the very fact that it was so, would make Jews who
were, or wished to be considered, patriotic or religious, the more
punctilious in paying it.

The question put to Peter possibly implies a doubt whether this
Rabbi, who held lax views on so many points of Pharisaical
righteousness, would be likely to recognise the obligation of the
tax. Peter's quick answer seems to be prompted by zeal for his
Master's honour, on which the question appears to him to cast a
slur. It was perhaps too quick, but the apostle has been too much
blamed for his answer, which was in fact correct, and for which our
Lord does not blame him. When he comes to Christ to tell what has
happened, before he can speak, Christ puts to him this little
parable which I have taken as part of my text: 'How thinkest thou?
Do kings of this world take custom?'--meaning thereby not imports or
exports, but taxes of all kinds of things,--'or tribute,'--meaning
thereby taxes on persons--'from their own children, or from subjects
who are not their children?' The answer, of course, is, 'From the
latter.' So the answer comes, 'Then are the children free.'

Christ then here claims in some sense, Sonship to Him to whom the
tribute is paid, that is, to God, and therefore freedom from the
obligation to pay the tribute. But notice, for this is an important
point in the explanation of the words, that the plural in our Lord's
words, 'Then are the children free,' is not intended to include
Peter and the others in the same category as Himself. The only
question in hand is as to His obligation to pay a certain tax; and
to include any one else would have been irrelevant, as well as
erroneous. The plural belongs to the illustration, not to its
application, and corresponds with the plural in the question, 'Of
whom do the _kings_ of the earth take custom?' The kings of the
earth are contrasted with the one King of the heavens, the supreme
and sole Sovereign; and the children of the kings of the earth are
contrasted with the only begotten Son of the only King of kings and
Lord of lords.

So that here there is no mixing up of Himself with others, or of
others with Himself, but the claiming of an unique position,
singular and sole, belonging to Him only, in which He stands as the
Son of the mighty Monarch to whom the tribute is paid. He claims to
have the divine nature, the divine prerogatives, to bear a specific
relationship to God Himself, and to be, as other words in Scripture
put it, 'the brightness of the Father's glory and the express image
of His person.'

If there is anything certain about Jesus Christ's teaching, this is
certain about it, that He proclaimed Himself to be the Son of God,
in such a sense as no man shared with Him, and in such a sense as
vindicated the attitude which He took up, the demands which He made,
and the gifts which He offered to men.

What a deduction must be made from the wisdom of His teaching, and
from the meekness of His Spirit, if that claim was an illusion! What
shall we say of the sanity of a man who poses himself before the
whole race, claiming to be the Son of God, and whose continual
teaching to them therefore is, _not_, 'Believe in goodness';
'Believe in virtue'; 'Believe in truth'; 'Believe in My word'; but
'Believe in Me'? Was there ever anywhere else a religious teacher,
all of whose words were gracious and wise and sweet, but who--

'Make the important stumble,
Of saying that he, the sage and humble,
Was likewise--one with the Creator'?

But now what is the freedom based on sonship which our Lord here

I have said that this tax was levied with a double meaning; first,
it was an atonement or ransom for the soul; second, it was devoted
to the temple and its worship. And now, mark, that in both these
aspects our Lord alleges His true sonship as the reason why He is
exempt from it.

That is to say, first, Jesus Christ claims to have no need of a
ransom for His soul. Never one word dropped from His lips which
indicated the smallest consciousness of flaw or failure, of defect
or imperfection, still less of actual transgression. He takes His
position outside the circle of sinful men which includes all others.
It is a strange characteristic in a religious teacher, very unlike
the usual tone of devout men. And stranger still is the fact that
the absence of this consciousness of evil has never been felt to be
itself evil and a blot. Think of a David's agony of penitence. Think
of a Paul's, 'Of whom I am chief!' Think of the long wail of an
Augustine's confessions. Think of the stormy self-accusations of a
Luther; and then think that He who inspired them all, never, by word
or deed, betrayed the slightest consciousness that in Himself there
was the smallest deflection from the perfect line of right, the
least speck or stain on the perfect gold of His purity. And
remember, too, that when He challenges the world with, 'Which of you
convinceth Me of sin?' with the exception of half a dozen men, of
whom we can scarcely say whether their want of spiritual insight or
their arrogance of self-importance is the most flagrant, who, in the
course of nineteen centuries, have ventured to fling their little
handfuls of mud at Him, the whole world has answered, 'Thou art
fairer than the children of men; grace is poured into Thy lips.'

The Son needs no 'ransom for His soul,' which, being translated, is
but this: the purity and the innocence of Jesus Christ, which is a
manifest fact in His biography, is only explicable when we believe
that we have before us the Incarnate God, and therefore the Perfect
Man. And the Son needs no temple for His worship. His whole life, as
human, was a life of communion and prayer with His Father in heaven.
And just because He 'dwelt in' God's 'bosom all the year,' for Him
ritual and temple were nought. Sense-bound men needed them; He
needed them not. 'In this place,' said He, 'is one greater than the
temple.' He was all which the temple symbolised. Was it the
dwelling-place of God, the place of sacrifice, the meeting-place of
man with God, the place of divine manifestation? 'The temple of His
body' was in deepest reality all these. In it dwelt the whole
fulness of the Godhead. It was at once sacrifice and place of
sacrifice, even as He is the true everlasting Priest. In Him men see
God, and meet with God. He is greater than the temple because He is
the true temple, and He is the true temple because He is the Son.
And because He is the Son, therefore He is free from all dependence
upon, and connection with, the outward worship of ceremony and
sacrifice and priest and ritual.

Now, dear brethren, let me pause for one moment to press upon you
and upon myself this question: Do I welcome that Christ with the
full conviction that He is the Son of God? It seems to me that, in
this generation, the question of questions, as far as religion is
concerned, is the old one which Christ asked of His disciples by the
fountains and woods of Caesarea Philippi: 'Whom say ye that I, the
Son of Man, am?' Can you lift up your face to meet His clear and
all-searching eye, and say: 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the
living God'? If you can, you are on the way to understanding Him and
His work; if you cannot, His life and work are all wrapped in
darkness for you, His death robbed of its truest power, and your
life deprived of its surest anchor.

II. Now, there is a second lesson that I would gather from this
miracle--the voluntary submission of the Son to the bonds from which
He is free.

He bids His disciple pay the tribute for Him, for a specific reason:
'Lest we should offend them.' That, of course, is simply a piece of
practical wisdom, to prevent any narrow or purblind souls from
stumbling at His teaching, by reason of His neglect of this trivial
matter. The question of how far religious teachers or any others are
at liberty, when they are not actuated by personal motives, to
render compliance with ceremonies which are of no value to them, is
a wide one, which I have no need to dwell upon here. But, turning
from that specific aspect of the incident, I think we may look upon
it as being an illustration, in regard to a very small matter, of
what is really the essence of our Lord's relation to the whole world
and ourselves--His voluntary taking upon Himself of bonds from which
He is free.

Is it not a symbol of the very heart of the meaning of His
Incarnation? 'For as much as the children are partakers of flesh and
blood He also Himself likewise takes part of the same.' 'He is found
in fashion as a man.' He chooses to enter within the limits and the
obligations of humanity. Round the radiant glories of the divinity,
He gathers the folds of the veil of human flesh. He immerses the
pillar of fire in a cloud of smoke. He comes amongst us, taking on
His own wrists the fetters that bind us, suffering Himself to be
'cribbed, cabined, and confined' within the narrow limits of our
manhood, in order that by His voluntary acceptance of it we may be
redeemed from our corruption.

Is it not a parable of His life and lowly obedience? He proclaimed
the same principle as the guide for all His conduct, when, sinless,
He presented Himself to John for the 'baptism of repentance,' and
overcame the baptiser's scruples with the words, 'Thus it becometh
us to fulfil all righteousness.' He comes under the law. Bound to no
such service, He binds Himself to all human duties that He may
hallow the bonds which He has worn, may set us the pattern of
perfect obedience, and may know a servant's heart.

The Prince is free, but King's Son though He be, He goes among His
Father's poor subjects, lives their squalid lives, makes experience
of their poverty, and hardens His hands by labouring like them.
Sympathy He 'learned in huts where poor men lie.'

Is it not the rehearsal in parable of His death? He was free from
the bonds of mortality, and He took upon Him our human flesh. He was
free from the necessity of death, even after He had taken our flesh
upon Him. But, being free from the necessity, He submitted to the
actuality, and laid down His life of Himself, because of His loving
will, to save and help each of us. Oh, dear friends! we never can
understand the meaning and the beauty, either of the life or of the
death of our Master, unless we look at each from this point of view,
that it is His willing acceptance of the bonds that bind us. His own
loving will brought Him here; His own loving will kept Him here; His
own loving will impelled Him along the path of life, though at every
step of it He trod as with naked feet upon burning iron; His own
loving Will brought Him to the Cross; His own loving will, and not
the Roman soldiers' nails, fastened Him to it. Let us look, then, to
Him with thankfulness, and recognise in that death His thorough
identification with all the bonds and miseries of our condition. He
'took part of the same that through death He might deliver them that
by fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.'

III. Then there is another lesson which I think we may fairly gather
from this miracle, viz. that we have here the supernatural glory
which ever accompanies the humiliation of the Son.

The miracle, at first sight, appears to be for a very trivial end.
Men have made merry with it by reason of that very triviality. But
the miracle is vindicated, peculiar as it is, by a deep divine
congruity and decorum. He will submit, Son though He be, to this
complete identification of Himself with us. But He will so submit
as, even in submitting, to assert His divine dignity. As has been
well said, 'In the midst of the act of submission majesty flashes
forth.' A multiform miracle--containing many miracles in one--a
miracle of omniscience, and a miracle of influence over the lower
creatures is wrought. The first fish that rises carries in its mouth
the exact sum needed.

Here, therefore, we have another illustration of that remarkable
blending of humiliation and glory, which is a characteristic of our
Lord's life. These two strands are always twined together, like a
twisted line of gold and black. At each moment of special abasement
there is some special coruscation of the brightness of His glory.
Whensoever He stoops there is something accompanying the stooping,
to tell how great and how merciful He is who bows. Out of the
deepest darkness there flashes some light. So at His cradle, which
seems to be the identifying of Him with humanity in its most
helpless and lowest condition, there shall be angels, and the stars
in their courses shall bow and move to guide wise men from afar with
offerings to His feet. And at His Cross, where He sounds the very
bass string and touches the lowest point of humiliation and defeat,
a clearer vision sees in that humiliation the highest glory.

And thus, here, He will not only identify Himself with sinful men
who need a ransom, and with sense-bound men who need a sacrifice and
a temple, but He will so identify Himself with them as that He shall
send His power into the recesses of the lake, where His knowledge
sees, as clearly as our eyes see the men that stand beside us, and
obedient to an unconscious impulse from Him, the dumb creature that
had swallowed, as it sunk, the shining _stater_ that had
dropped out of the girdle of some fisherman, shall rise first to the
hook; in token that not only in His Father's house does He rule as a
Son over His own house, but that He 'doeth as He hath pleased, in
all deep places,' and that in Him the ancient hope is fulfilled of a
Son of Man who 'hath dominion over the fish of the sea, and
whatsoever passeth through the paths of the sea.' The miracle was
for a trivial end in appearance, but it was a demonstration, though
to one man only at first, yet through him to all the world, that
this Christ, in His lowliness, is the Everlasting Son of the Father.

IV. And so, lastly, we have here also the lesson of the sufficiency
for us all of what He provides.

'That take, and give unto them for Me and for thee. He does not say
'_For us._' He and Peter do not stand on the game level. He has
chosen to submit Himself to the obligations, Peter was necessarily
under them. That which is found by miracle in the fish's mouth is
precisely the amount required for both the one and the other. It is
rendered, as the original has it, _'Instead of_ thee and Me,'
putting emphasis upon the characteristic of the tribute as being
ransom, or payment, for a man's soul.

And so, although this thought is not part of the original purpose of
the miracle, and, therefore, is different from those which I have
already been dwelling on, which are part of that purpose, I think we
may fairly see here this great truth,--that that which Christ brings
to us by supernatural act, far greater than the miracle here, is
enough for all the claims and obligations that God, or man, or law,
or conscience have upon any of us. His perfect obedience and
stainless life discharged for Himself all the obligations to law and
righteousness under which He came as a Man; His perfect life and His
mighty death are for us the full discharge of all that can be
brought against us.

There are many and solemn claims and claimants upon each of us. Law
and duty, that awful 'ought' which should rule our lives and which
we have broken thousands of times, come to each of us in many an
hour of clear vision, and take us by the throat, and say, 'Pay us
what thou owest!' And there is a Judgment Day before all of us;
which is no mere bugbear to frighten children, but will be a fact of
experience in our case. Friend! how are you going to meet your
obligations? You owe God all your love, all your heart, will,
strength, service. What an awful score of unpaid debts, with
accumulated interest, there stands against each of our names! Think
of some bankrupt sitting in his counting-house with a balance-sheet
before him that shows his hopeless insolvency. He sits and broods,
and broods, and does not know what in the world he is going to do.
The door opens--a messenger enters and gives him an envelope. He
tears it open, and there flutters out a cheque that more than pays
it all. The illustration is a very low one; it does not cover the
whole ground of Christ's work for you. It puts a possibly commercial
aspect into it, which we have to take care of lest it become the
exclusive one; but it is true for all that. You are the bankrupt.
What have you to pay? Oh, behold that precious treasure of gold
tried in the fire, which is Christ's righteousness and Christ's
death; and by faith in Him, '_that_ take and give' and all the
debt will be discharged, and you will be set free and made a son by
that Son who has taken upon Himself all our bonds, and so has broken
them; who has taken upon Himself all our debts, and so has cancelled
them every one.




_Chaps. XVIII to XXVIII_





THE PERSISTENCE OF THWARTED LOVE (Matt. xviii. 13; Luke xv. 4)



NEAREST TO CHRIST (Matt. xx. 23)




A NEW KIND OF KING (Matt. xxi. 4, 5)





THE KING'S FAREWELL (Matt. xxiii. 27-39)

TWO FORMS OF ONE SAYING (Matt. xxiv. 13, R.V.; Luke xxi. 19)


WATCHING FOR THE KING (Matt. xxiv. 42-51)

THE WAITING MAIDENS (Matt. xxv. 1-13)

DYING LAMPS (Matt. xxv. 8)

'THEY THAT WERE READY' (Matt. xxv. 10)

TRADERS FOR THE MASTER (Matt. xxv. 14-30)

WHY THE TALENT WAS BURIED (Matt. xxv. 24, 25)



THE NEW PASSOVER (Matt. xxvi. 17-30)

'IS IT I?' (Matt. xxvi. 22, 25; John xiii. 25)

'THIS CUP' (Matt. xxvi. 27, 28)

'UNTIL THAT DAY' (Matt. xxvi. 29)

GETHSEMANE, THE OIL-PRESS (Matt. xxvi. 36-46)




'SEE THOU TO THAT!' (Matt. xxvii. 4, 24)


THE CRUCIFIXION (Matt. xxvii. 33-50)



THE VEIL RENT (Matt. xxvii. 51)

THE PRINCE OF LIFE (Matt. xxviii. 1-15)

THE RISEN LORD'S GREETINGS AND GIFTS (Matt. xxviii. 9; John xx. 19)

ON THE MOUNTAIN (Matt. xxviii, 16, 17; 1 Cor. xv. 6)


'At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus,
saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
2. And Jesus called a little child unto Him, and set
him in the midst of them, 3. And said, Verily I say
unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little
children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
4. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this
little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of
heaven. 5. And whoso shall receive one such little
child in My name receiveth Me. 6. But whoso shall
offend one of these little ones which believe in Me,
it were better for him that a millstone were hanged
about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth
of the sea. 7. Woe unto the world because of offences!
for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to
that man by whom the offence cometh! 8. Wherefore if
thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and
cast them from thee; it is better for thee to enter
into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands
or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. 9. And
if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it
from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life
with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast
into hell fire. 10. Take heed that ye despise not one
of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in
heaven their angels do always behold the face of My
Father which is in heaven. 11. For the Son of Man is
come to save that which was lost. 12. How think ye? if
a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone
astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and
goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is
gone astray? 13. And if so be that he find it, verily
I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than
of the ninety and nine which went not astray. 14. Even
so it is not the will of your Father which is in
heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.'
--MATT. xviii. 1-14.

Mark tells us that the disciples, as they journeyed, had been
squabbling about pre-eminence in the kingdom, and that this
conversation was brought on by our Lord's question as to the subject
of their dispute. It seems at first sight to argue singular
insensibility that the first effect of His reiterated announcement
of His sufferings should have been their quarrelling for the lead;
but their behaviour is intelligible if we suppose that they regarded
the half-understood prophecies of His passion as indicating the
commencement of the short conflict which was to end in His Messianic
reign. So it was time for them to be getting ready and settling
precedence. The form of their question, in Matthew, connects it with
the miracle of the coin in the fish's mouth, in which there was a
very plain assertion of Christ's royal dignity, and a distinguishing
honour given to Peter. Probably the 'then' of the question means,
Since Peter is thus selected, are we to look to him as foremost?
Their conception of the kingdom and of rank in it is frankly and
entirely earthly. There are to be graded dignities, and these are to
depend on His mere will. Our Lord not only answers the letter of
their question, but cuts at the root of the temper which inspired

I. He shows the conditions of entrance into and eminence in His
kingdom by a living example. There were always children at hand
round Him, when He wanted them. Their quick instinct for pure and
loving souls drew them to Him; and this little one was not afraid to
be taken by the hand, and to be afterwards caught up in His arms,
and pressed to His heart. One does not wonder that the legend that
he was Ignatius the martyr should have been current; for surely the
remembrance of that tender clasping arm and gentle breast would not
fade nor be fruitless. The disciples had made very sure that they
were to be in the kingdom, and that the only question concerning
them was how high up in it they were each to be. Christ's answer is
like a dash of cold water to that confidence. It is, in effect,
'Greatest in the kingdom! Make sure that you go in at all, first;
which you will never do, so long as you keep your present ambitious

Verse 3 lays down the condition of entrance into the kingdom, from
which necessarily follows the condition of supremacy in it. What a
child is naturally, and without effort or merit, by reason of age
and position, we must become, if we are to pass the narrow portal
which admits into the large room. That 'becoming' is impossible
without a revolution in us. 'Be converted' is corrected, in the
Revised Version, into 'turn,' and rightly; for there is in the word
a distinct reference to the temper of the disciples as displayed by
their question. As long as they cherished it they could not even get
inside, to say nothing of winning promotion to dignities in the
kingdom. Their very question condemned them as incapable of
entrance. So there must be a radical change, not unaccompanied, of
course, with repentance, but mainly consisting in the substitution
of the child's temper for theirs. What is the temper thus enjoined?
We are to see here neither the entirely modern and shallow
sentimental way of looking at childhood, in which popular writers
indulge, nor the doctrine of its innocence. It is not Christ's
teaching, either that children are innocent, or that men enter the
kingdom by making themselves so. But the child is, by its very
position, lowly and modest, and makes no claims, and lives by
instinctive confidence, and does not care about honours, and has
these qualities which in us are virtues, and is not puffed up by
possessing them. That is the ideal which is realised more generally
in the child than analogous ideals are in mature manhood. Such
simplicity, modesty, humility, must be ours. We must be made small
ere we can enter that door. And as is the requirement for entrance,
so is it for eminence. The child does not humble himself, but is
humble by nature; but we must humble ourselves if we would be great.

Christ implies that there are degrees in the kingdom. It has a
nobility, but of such a kind that there may be many greatest; for
the principle of rank there is lowliness. We rise by sinking. The
deeper our consciousness of our own unworthiness and weakness, the
more capable are we of receiving the divine gifts, and therefore the
more fully shall we receive them. Rivers run in the hollows; the
mountain-tops are dry. God works with broken reeds, and the princes
in His realm are beggars taken from the dunghill. A lowliness which
made itself lowly for the sake of eminence would miss its aim, for

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