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Expositions of Holy Scripture by Alexander Maclaren

Part 8 out of 12

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heaven to all believers.' As one who precedes a mighty host provides
and prepares rest for their weariness, and food for their hunger, in
some city on their line of march, and having made all things ready,
is at the gates to welcome their travel-stained ranks when they
arrive, and guide them to their repose; so He has gone before, our
Forerunner, to order all things for us there. It may be that unless
Christ were in heaven, our brother as well as our Lord, it were no
place for mortals. It may be that we need to have His glorified
bodily presence in order that it should be possible for human
spirits to bear the light, and be at home with God. Be that as it
may, this we know, that the Father prepares a place for us by the
eternal counsel of His love, and by the all-sufficient work of
Christ, by whom we have access to the Father.

And as His work is the Father's preparation of the place for us by
the Son, the issue of His work is the Father's preparation of us for
the place, through the Son, by the Spirit. 'He that hath wrought us
for the self-same thing is God.'

If so, then what follows? This, among other things, that wishes are
vain, for heaven is no gift of arbitrary favouritism, but that faith
in Christ, and faith alone, leads us to His right hand--and the
measure of our faith and growing Christlikeness here, will be the
measure of our glory hereafter, and of our nearness to Him. It is
possible to be 'saved, _yet so as by fire_.' It is possible to
have 'an entrance ministered unto us _abundantly_ into the
everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.' If we
would be near Him then, we must be near Him now. If we would share
His throne, we must bear His cross. If we would be found in the
likeness of His resurrection, we must be 'conformable unto His
death.' Then such desires as these true-hearted, and yet mistaken,
disciples expressed will not be the voice of selfish ambition, but
of dependent love. They will not be vain wishes, but be fulfilled by
Him, who, stooping from amid the royalties of heaven, with love upon
His face and pity in His heart, will give more than we ask. 'Seekest
thou a place at My right hand? Nay, I give thee a more wondrous
dignity. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My


'Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto,
but to minister.'--MATT. xx. 28.

It seems at first sight strangely unsympathetic and irrelevant that
the ambitious request of James and John and their foolish mother,
that they should sit at Christ's right hand and His left in His
kingdom, should have been occasioned by, and have followed
immediately upon, our Lord's solemn and pathetic announcement of His
sufferings. But the connection is not difficult to trace. The
disciples believed that, in some inexplicable way, the sufferings
which our Lord was shadowing forth were to be the immediate
precursors of His assuming His regal dignity. And so they took time
by the forelock, as they thought, and made haste to ensure their
places in the kingdom, which they believed was now ready to burst
upon them. Other occasions in the Gospels in which we find similar
quarrelling among the disciples as to pre-eminence are similarly
associated with references made by our Lord to His approaching
crucifixion. On a former occasion He cured these misplaced ambitions
by setting a child in the midst of them. On this He cures them by a
still more pathetic and wonderful example, His own; and He says, 'I,
in My lowliness and service, am to be your Pattern. In Me see the
basis of all true greatness, and the right use of all influence and
authority. The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to

I. So, then, let us look first at the perfect life of service of the

Now, in order to appreciate the significance of that life of service,
we must take into account the introductory words, 'The Son of Man
came.' They declare His pre-existence, His voluntary entrance into
the conditions of humanity, and His denuding Himself of 'the glory
which He had with the Father before the world was.' We shall never
understand the Servant-Christ until we understand that He is the
Eternal Son of the Father. His service began long before any of His
acts of sympathetic and self-forgetting lowliness rendered help to
the miserable here upon earth. His service began when He laid aside,
not the garments of earth, but the vesture of the heavens, and
girded Himself, not with the cincture woven in man's looms, but with
the flesh of our humanity, 'and being found in fashion as a man,'
bowed Himself to enter into the conditions of earth. This was the
first, the chiefest of all His acts of service, and the sanctity and
awfulness of it run through the list of all His deeds and make them
unspeakably great. It was much that His hands should heal, that His
lips should comfort, that His heart should bleed with sympathy for
sorrow. But, oh! it was more that He _had_ hands to touch, lips to
speak to human hearts, and the heart of a man and a brother to feel
_with_ as well as _for_ us. 'The Son of Man came'--there is
the transcendent example of the true use of greatness; there is the
conspicuous instance of the true basis of authority and rule. For it
was because He was 'found in fashion as a Man' that He has won a 'name
that is above every name,' and that there have accrued to Him the
'many crowns' which He wears at the Father's side.

But then, passing beyond this, we may dwell, though all imperfectly,
upon the features, familiar as they are, of that wonderful life of
self-oblivious and self-sacrificing ministration to others. Think of
the purity of the source from all which these wonders and
blessednesses of service for man flowed. The life of Jesus Christ is
self-forgetting love made visible. Scientists tell us that, by the
arrangement of particles of sand upon plates of glass, there can be
made, as it were, perceptible to the eye, the sweetness of musical
sounds; and each note when struck will fling the particles into
varying forms of beauty. The life of Jesus Christ presents in shapes
of loveliness and symmetry the else invisible music of a divine
love. He lets us see the rhythm of the Father's heart. The source
from which His ministrations have flowed is the pure source of a
perfect love. Ancient legends consolidated the sunbeams into the
bright figure of the far-darting god of light. And so the sunbeams
of the divine love have, as it were, drawn themselves together and
shaped themselves into the human form of the Son of Man who 'came
not to be ministered unto, but to minister.'

No taint of bye-ends was in that service; no sidelong glances at
possible advantages of influence or reputation or the like, which so
often deform men's philanthropies and services to one another. No
more than the sunbeam shines for the sake of collateral issues which
may benefit itself, did Jesus Christ seek His own advantage in
ministering to men. There was no speck of black in that lustrous
white robe, but all was perfectly unselfish love. Like the clear
sea, weedless and stainless, that laves the marble steps of the
palaces of Venice, the deep ocean of Christ's service to man was
pure to the depths throughout.

That perfect ministry of the Servant-Lord was rendered with strange
spontaneity and cheerfulness. One of the evangelists says, in a very
striking and beautiful phrase, that 'He healed them that had need of
healing,' as if the presence of the necessity evoked the supply, by
the instinctive action of a perfect love. There was never in Him one
trace of reluctance to have leisure broken in upon, repose
disturbed, or even communion with God abbreviated. All men could
come always; they never came inopportunely. We often cheerfully take
up a burden of service, but find it very hard to continue bearing
it. But He was willing to come down from the mountain of
Transfiguration because there was a demoniac boy in the plain; and
therefore He put aside the temptation--'Let us build here three
tabernacles.' He was willing to abandon His desert seclusion because
the multitude sought Him. Interrupted in His communion with the
Father by His disciples, He had no impatient word to say, but 'Let
us go into other cities also, for therefore am I sent.' When He
stepped from the fishing-boat on the other side of the lake to which
He had fled for a moment of repose, He was glad when He saw the
multitude who had pertinaciously outrun Him, and were waiting for
Him on the beach. On His Cross He had leisure to turn from His own
physical sufferings and the weight of a world's sin, which lay upon
Him, to look at that penitent by His side, and He ended His life in
the ministry of mercy to a brigand. And thus cheerfully, and always
without a thought of self, 'He came to minister.'

Think, too, of the sweep of His ministrations. They took in all men;
they were equally open to enemies and to friends, to mockers and to
sympathisers. Think of the variety of the gifts which He brought in
His ministry--caring for body and for soul; alleviating sorrow,
binding up wounds, purifying hearts; dealing with sin, the fountain,
and with miseries, its waters, with equal helpfulness and equal

And think of how that ministering was always ministration by 'the
LORD.' For there is nothing to me more remarkable in the Gospel
narrative than the way in which, side by side, there lie in Christ's
life the two elements, so difficult to harmonise in fact, and so
impossible to have been harmonised in a legend, the consciousness of
authority and the humility of a servant. The paradox with which John
introduces his sweet pathetic story of our Lord's washing the
disciples' feet is true of, and is illustrated by, every instance of
more than ordinary lowliness and self-oblivion which the Gospel
contains. 'Jesus, knowing that He had come from God, and went to
God, and that the Father had given all things into His hand'--did
what? 'Laid aside His garments and took a towel and girded Himself.'
The two things ever go together. And thus, in His lowliest
abasement, as in a star entangled in a cloud, there shine out, all
the more broad and conspicuous for the environment which wraps them,
the beams of His uncreated lustre.

That ministration was a service that never shrank from stern rebuke.
His service was no mere soft and pliant, sympathetic helpfulness,
but it could smite and stab, and be severe, and knit its brow, and
speak stern words, as all true service must. For it is not service
but cruelty to sympathise with the sinner, and say nothing in
condemnation of his sin. And yet no sternness is blessed which is
not plainly prompted by desire to help.

Now, I know far better than you do how wretchedly inadequate all
these poor words of mine have been to the great theme that I have
been trying to speak of, but they may at least--like a little water
poured into a pump--have set your minds working upon the theme, and,
I hope, to better purpose. 'The Son of Man came ... to minister.'

II. Now, secondly, note the service that should be modelled on His.

Oh! brethren, if we, however imperfectly, have taken into mind and
heart that picture of Him who was and is amongst us as 'One that
serveth,' how sharp a test, and how stringent, and, as it seems to
us sometimes, impossible, a commandment are involved in the 'even
as' of my text. When we think of our grudging services; when we
think of how much more apt we are to insist upon what men owe to us
than of what we owe to them; how ready we are to demand, how slow we
are to give; how we flame up in what we think is warranted
indignation if we do not get the observance, or the sympathy, or the
attention that we require, and yet how little we give of these, we
may well say, 'Thou hast set a pattern that can only drive us to
despair.' If we would read our Gospels more than we do with the
feeling, as we trace that Master through each of His phases of
sympathy and self-oblivion and self-sacrifice and service, 'that is
what I should be,' what a different book the New Testament would be
to us, and what different people you and I would be!

There is no ground on which we can rest greatness or superiority in
Christ's kingdom except this ground of service. And there is no use
that we can make either of money or of talents, of acquirements or
opportunities, except the use of helping our fellows with them,
which will stand the test of this model and example. 'It is more
blessed to give than to receive.' The servant who serves for love is
highest in the hierarchy of Heaven. God, who is supreme, has stooped
lower than any that are beneath Him, and His true rule follows, not
because He is infinite, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, or any
of those other pompous Latin words which describe what men call His
attributes, but because He loves best, and does most for the most.
And that is what you and I ought to be. We may well take the lesson
to ourselves. I have no space, and, I hope, no need to enlarge upon
it; but be sure of this, that if we are ever to be near the right
and the left of the Master in His kingdom, there is one way, and
only one way, to come thither, and that is to make self abdicate its
authority as the centre of our lives, and to enthrone there Christ,
and for His sake all our brethren. Be ambitious to be first, but
remember, _Noblesse oblige_. He that is first must become last.
He that is Servant of all is Master of all. That is the only mastery
that is worth anything, the devotion of hearts that circle round the
source from which they draw light and warmth. What is it that makes
a mother the queen of her children? Simply that all her life she has
been their servant, and never thought about herself, but always
about them.

Now much might be said as to the application of these threadbare
principles in the Church and in society, but I do not enlarge on
that; only let me say in a word--that here is the one law on which
preeminence in the Church is to be allocated.

What becomes of sacerdotal hierarchies, what becomes of the 'lords
over God's heritage,' if the one ground of pre-eminence is service?
I know, of course, that there may be different forms embodying one
principle, but it seems to me that that form of Church polity is
nearest the mind of Christ in which the only dignity is dignity of
service, and the only use of place is the privilege of stooping and

This fruitful principle will one day shape civil as well as
ecclesiastical societies. For the present, our Lord draws a contrast
between the worldly and the Christian notions of rank and dignity.
'It shall not be so among you,' says He. And the nobler conception
of eminence and service set forth in His disciples, if they are true
to their Lord and their duty, will leaven, and we may hope finally
transform society, sweeping away all vulgar notions of greatness as
depending on birth, or wealth, or ruder forms of powers, and
marshalling men according to Christ's order of precedence, in which
helpfulness is preeminence and service is supremacy, while
conversely pre-eminence is used to help and superiority stoops to

One remark will close my sermon. You have to take the last words of
this verse if you are ever going to put in practice its first words.
'Even as the Son of Man came, not to be ministered unto, but to
minister,'--if Jesus Christ had stopped there He would only have
been one more of the long roll of ineffectual preachers and prophets
who show men the better way, and leave them struggling in the mire.
But He did not stop there: 'Even as the Son of Man came ... to give
His life a ransom for many.'

Ah! the Cross, with its burden of the sacrifice for the world's sin,
is the only power which will supply us with a sufficient motive for
the loftiness of Christlike service. I know that there is plenty of
entirely irreligious and Christless beneficence in the world. And
God forbid that I should say a word to seem to depreciate that. But
sure I am that for the noblest, purest, most widely diffused and
blessedly operative kinds of service of man, there is no motive and
spring anywhere except 'He loved me, and gave Himself for me.' And,
bought by that service and that blood, it will be possible, and it
is obligatory upon all of us, to 'do unto others,' as He Himself
said, 'as I have done to you.' 'The servant is not greater than his


'The Son of Man came... to give His life a ransom for
many.'--Matt. xx. 28.

We hear a great deal at present about going back to 'the Christ of
the Gospels.' In so far as that phrase and the movement of thought
which it describes are a protest against the substitution of
doctrines for the Person whom the doctrines represent, I, for one,
rejoice in it. But I believe that the antithesis suggested by the
phrase, and by some of its advocates avowed, between the Christ of
the Gospels and the Christ of the Epistles, is false. The Christ of
the Gospels is the Christ of the Epistles, as I humbly venture to
believe. And I cannot but see that there is a possibility of a
movement which, carried out legitimately, should command the fullest
sympathy of every Christian heart, degenerating into the rejection
of all the supernatural elements in the nature and work of our Lord,
and leaving us with a meagre human Christ, shrunken and impotent.
The Christ of the Gospels, by all means; but let it be the whole
Christ of all the Gospels, the Christ over whose cradle angels sang,
by whose empty grave angels watched, whose ascending form angels
beheld and proclaimed that He should come again to be our Judge. Go
back to that Christ, and all will be well.

Now it seems to me that one direction in which there is a
possibility of such movement as I have referred to being one-sided
and harmful is in reference to the conception which we form of the
death of Jesus Christ. And therefore I ask you to listen for a few
moments to me at this time whilst I try to bring out what is plain
in the words before us; and is, as I humbly believe, interwoven in
the whole texture of all the Gospels--viz., the conception which
Jesus Christ Himself formed of the meaning of His death.

I. The first thing that I notice is that the Christ of the Gospels
thought and taught that His death was to be His own act.

I do not think that it is an undue or pedantic pressing of the
significance of the words before us, if I ask you to notice two of
the significant expressions in this text. 'The Son of Man
_came_,' and came 'to _give_ His life.' The one word refers to the act
of entrance into, the other to the act of departure from, this earthly
life. They correspond in so far as that both bring into prominence
Christ's own consent, volition, and action in the very two things
about which men are least consulted, their being born and their dying.

'The Son of Man came.' Now if that expression occurred but once it
might be minimised as being only a synonym for birth, having no
special force. But if you will notice that it is our Lord's habitual
word about Himself, only varied occasionally by another one equally
significant when he says that He 'was sent'; and if you will further
notice that all through the Gospels He never but once speaks of
Himself as being 'born,' I think you will admit that I am not making
too much of a word when I say that when Christ, out of the depths of
His consciousness, said 'the Son of Man _came_,' He was teaching
us that He lived before He was born, and that behind the natural fact
of birth there lay the supernatural fact of His choosing to be
incarnated for man's redemption. The one instance in which He does
speak of Himself as 'being born' is most instructive in this
connection. For it was before the Roman governor; and He accompanied
the clause in which He said, 'To this end was I born'--which was
adapted to Pilate's level of intelligence--with another one which
seemed to be inserted to satisfy His own sense of fitness, rather
than for any light that it would give to its first hearer, 'And for
this cause came I into the world.' The two things were not synonymous;
but before the birth there was the coming, and Jesus was born because
the Eternal Word willed to come. So says the Christ of the Gospels;
and the Christ of the Epistles is represented as 'taking upon Him
the form of a servant, and being found in fashion as a man.' Do you
accept that as true of 'the historic Christ'?

With precise correspondence, if we turn to the other end of His
life, we find the equally significant expression in my text which
asserts for it, too, that the other necessity to which men
necessarily and without their own volition bow was to Christ a
matter of choice. 'The Son of Man came to _give_.' 'No man
taketh it from Me,' as He said on another occasion. 'I lay it down
of Myself.' 'The Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep.' 'My
flesh ... I give for the world's life.' Now, brethren, we are not to
regard these words as mere vague expressions for a willing surrender
to the necessity of death, but as expressing what I believe is
taught us all through Scripture, and is fundamental to any real
grasp of the real Christ, that He died because He chose, and chose
because He loved. What meant that 'loud voice' with which He said
'It is finished,' but that there was no physical exhaustion, such as
was usually the immediate occasion of death by crucifixion? What
meant that surprising rapidity with which the last moment came in
His case, to the astonishment of the stolid bystanders? They meant
the same thing as I believe that the Evangelists meant when they,
with one consent, employed expressions to describe Christ's death,
which may indeed be only euphemisms, but are apparently declarations
of its voluntary character. 'He gave up the ghost.' 'He yielded His
Spirit.' He breathed forth His life, and so He died.

As one of the old fathers said, 'Who is this that thus falls asleep
when He wills? To die is weakness, but thus to die is power.' 'The
weakness of God is stronger than man.' The desperate king of Israel
bade his slave kill him, and when the menial shrunk from such
sacrilege he fell upon his own sword. Christ bade His servant Death,
'Do this,' and he did it; and dying, our Lord and Master declared
Himself the Lord and Master of Death. This is a part of the history
of the historic Christ. Do you believe it?

II. Then, secondly, the Christ of the Gospels thought and taught
that His death was one chief aim of His coming.

I have omitted words from my text which intervene between its first
and its last ones; not because I regard them as unimportant, but
because they would lead us into too wide a field to cover in one
sermon. But I would pray you to observe how the re-insertion of them
throws immense light upon the significance of the words which I have
chosen. 'The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to
minister.' That covers the whole ground of His gracious and gentle
dealings here on earth, His tenderness, self-abnegation, sympathy,
healing, and helpfulness. Then, side by side with that, and as the
crowning manifestation of His work of service, without which His
life--gracious, radiant, sweet as it is--would still want something
of its power, He sets His death.

Surely that is an altogether unexampled phenomenon; altogether a
unique and unparalleled thing, that a _man_ should regard that
which for all workers, thinkers, speakers, poets, philanthropists,
is the sad term of their activity, as being a part of His work; and
not only a part, but so conspicuous a part that it was a purpose
which He had in view from the very beginning, and before the
beginning, of His earthly life. So Calvary was to Jesus Christ no
interruption, tragic and premature, of His life's activities. His
death was no mere alternative set before Him, which He chose rather
than be unfaithful or dumb. He did not die because He was hounded by
hostile priests, but He came on purpose that He might so end His

I need not remind you of, and space would not permit me to dwell
upon, other instances in the Gospels in which our Lord speaks the
same language. At the very beginning of His public ministry He told
the inquiring rabbi, who came to Him with the notion that He would
be somewhat flattered by His recognition by one of the authoritative
and wise pundits of the nation, that 'the Son of Man must be lifted
up.' The necessity was before Him, but it was no unwelcome
necessity, for it sprung from His own love. It was the very aim of
His coming, to live a Servant and to die a Ransom.

Dear brethren, let me press upon you this plain truth, that no
conception of Christ's death which looks upon it merely as the
close, by pathetic sufferings, of a life to the activities of which
it adds nothing but pathos, approaches the signification of it which
inheres in the thought that this was the aim and purpose with which
Jesus Christ was incarnate, that He should live indeed the pure and
sweet life which He lived, but equally that He should die the
painful and bitter death which He died. He was not merely a martyr,
though the first of them, but something far more, as we shall see
presently. If to you the death of Jesus Christ is the same in kind,
however superior in degree, as those of patriots and reformers and
witnesses for the truth and martyrs for righteousness, then I humbly
venture to represent that, instead of going back to, you have gone
away from, the Christ of the Gospels, who said, 'The Son of Man came
... to give His life'; and that such a Christ is not a historic but
an imaginary one.

III. So, thirdly, notice that the Christ of the Gospels thought and
taught that His death was a ransom.

A ransom is a price paid in exchange for captives that they may be
liberated; or for culprits that they may be set free. And that was
Christ's thought of what He had to die for. There lay the 'must.'

I do not dwell upon the conception of our condition involved in that
word. We are all bound and held by the chain of our sins. We all
stand guilty before God, and, as I believe, there is a necessity in
that loving divine nature whereby it is impossible that without a
ransom there can be, in the interests of mankind and in the
interests of righteousness, forgiveness of sins. I do not mean that
in the words before us there is a developed theory of atonement, but
I do mean that no man, dealing with them fairly, can strike out of
them the notion of vicarious suffering in exchange for, or instead
of, 'the many.' This is no occasion for theological discussion, nor
am I careful now to set forth a fully developed doctrine; but I am
declaring, as God helps me, what is to me, and I pray may be to you,
the central thought about that Cross of Calvary, that on it there is
made the sacrifice for the world's sins.

And, dear brethren, I beseech you to consider, how can we save the
character of Jesus Christ, accepting these Gospels, which on the
hypothesis about which I am now speaking are valid sources of
knowledge, without recognising that He deliberately led His
disciples to believe that He died for--that is, instead of--them
that put their trust in Him? For remember that not only such words
as these of my text are to be taken into account. Remember that it
was the Christ of the Gospels who established that last rite of the
Lord's Supper, in which the broken bread, and the separation between
the bread and the wine, both indicated a violent death, and who said
about both the one and the other of the double symbols, 'For you.' I
do not understand how any body of professing believers, rejecting
Christ's death as the sacrifice for sin, can find a place in their
beliefs or in their practice for that institution of the Lord's
Supper, or can rightly interpret the sacred words then spoken. This
is why the Cross was Christ's aim. This is why He said, with His
dying breath, 'It is finished.' This truth is the explanation of His
words, 'The Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep.'

And this truth of a ransom-price lies at the basis of all vigorous
Christianity. A Christianity without a dying Christ is a dying
Christianity. And history shows us that the expansiveness and
elevating power of the Gospel depend on the prominence given to the
sacrifice on the Cross. An old fable says that the only thing that
melts adamant is the blood of a lamb. The Gospel reveals the
precious blood of Jesus Christ, His death for us as a ransom, as the
one power which subdues hostility and binds hearts to Him. The
Christ of the Gospels is the Christ who taught that He died for us.

IV. Lastly, the Christ of the Gospels thought and taught that His
death had world-wide power.

He says here, 'A ransom for _many_.' Now that word is not used
in this instance in contradistinction to 'all,' nor in
contradistinction to 'few.' It is distinctly employed as emphasising
the contrast between the single death and the wide extent of its
benefits; and in terms which, rigidly taken, simply express
indefiniteness, it expresses universality. That that is so seems to
me to be plain enough, if we notice other places of Scripture to
which, at this stage of my sermon, I can but allude. For instance,
in Romans v. the two expressions, 'the many' and the 'all,'
alternate in reference to the extent of the power of Christ's
sacrifice for men. And the Apostle in another place, where probably
there may be an allusion to the words of the text, so varies them as
that he declares that Jesus Christ in His death was the ransom
'instead of all.' But I do not need to dwell upon these. 'Many' is a
vague word, and in it we see dim crowds stretching away beyond our
vision, for whom that death was to be the means of salvation. I take
it that the words of our text have an allusion to those in the great
prophecy in the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, in which we read, 'By
His knowledge shall My righteous Servant' (mark the allusion in our
text, 'Who came to _minister_') 'justify many, for He shall
bear their iniquities.'

So, brethren, I believe that I am not guilty of unduly widening out our
Lord's thought when I say that the indefinite 'many' is practically
'all.' And, brother, if 'all,' then _you_; if all, then _me_; if
all, then _each_. Think of a man, nineteen centuries ago, away
in a little insignificant corner of the world, standing up and saying,
'My death is the price paid in exchange for the world!' That is
meekness and lowliness of heart, is it? That is humility, so beautiful
in a teacher, is it? How any man can accept the veracity of these
narratives, believe that Jesus Christ said anything the least like
this, not believe that He was the Divine Son of the Father, the
Sacrifice for the world's sin, and yet profess--and honestly profess,
I doubt not, in many cases--to retain reverence and admiration, all
but adoration, for Him, I confess that I, for my poor part, cannot

But I ask you, what you are going to do with these thoughts and
teachings of the Christ of the Gospels. Are you going to take them
for true? Are, you going to trust your salvation to Him? Are you
going to accept the ransom and say, 'O Lord, truly I am Thy servant;
Thou hast loosed my bonds'? Brethren, the Christ of the Gospels, by
all means; but the Christ that said, 'The Son of Man came to ...
give His life a ransom for many.' My Christ, and your Christ, and
the world's Christ is '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 when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come
to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus
two disciples, 2. Saying unto them, Go into the village
over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass
tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them
unto Me. 3. And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall
say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he
will send them. 4. All this was done, that it might he
fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying,
5. Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King
cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a
colt the foal of an ass. 6. And the disciples went, and
did as Jesus commanded them, 7. And brought the ass,
and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they
set Him thereon. 8. And a very great multitude spread
their garments in the way; others cut down branches
from the trees, and strawed them in the way. 9. And the
multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried,
saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is He that
cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.
10. And when He was come into Jerusalem, all the city
was moved, saying, Who is this? 11. And the multitude
said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.
12. And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out
all them that sold and bought in the temple, and
overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the
seats of them that sold doves, 13. And said unto them,
It is written, My house shall be called the house of
prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. 14. And
the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple; and
He healed them. 15. And when the chief priests and
scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the
children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to
the Son of David, they were sore displeased, 16. And
said unto Him, Hearest Thou what these say? And Jesus
saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the
mouth of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise?'
--MATT. xxi. 1-16.

Jesus spent His last Sabbath in the quiet home at Bethany with
Lazarus and his sisters. Some sense of His approaching death tinged
the modest festivities of that evening with sadness, and spoke in
Mary's 'anointing of His body for the burying.' The pause was brief,
and, with the dawn of Sunday, He set Himself again to tread the road
to the cross. Who can doubt that He felt the relief of that
momentary relaxation of the strain on His spirit, and the
corresponding pressure of its renewed tightening? This passage shows
Him putting out from the quiet haven and facing the storm again. It
is in two main sections, dealing respectively with the royal
procession, and the acts of the King in the temple.

I. The procession of the King. The first noteworthy point is that
our Lord initiates the whole incident, and deliberately sets Himself
to evoke the popular enthusiasm, by a distinct voluntary fulfilment
of a Messianic prophecy. The allusion to the prophecy, in His
sending for the colt and mounting it, may have escaped the disciples
and the crowds of pilgrims; but they rightly caught His intention to
make a solemn triumphal entry into the city, and responded with a
burst of enthusiasm, which He expected and wished. The poor garments
flung hastily on the animals, the travel-stained cloaks cast on the
rocky path, the branches of olive and palm waved in the hands, and
the tumult of acclaim, which shrilly echoed the words of the psalm,
and proclaimed Him to be the Son of David, are all tokens that the
crowds hailed Him as their King, and were all permitted and welcomed
by Him. All this is in absolute opposition to His usual action,
which had been one long effort to damp down inflammable and
unspiritual Messianic hopes, and to avoid the very enthusiasm which
now surges round Him unchecked. Certainly that calm figure, sitting
on the slow-pacing ass, with the noisy multitude pressing round Him,
is strangely unlike Him, who hid Himself among the hills when they
sought to make Him a King. His action is the more remarkable, if it
be remembered that the roads were alive with pilgrims, most of whom
passing through Bethany would be Galileans; that they had seen
Lazarus walking about the village, and knew who had raised him; that
the Passover festival was _the_ time in all the year when
popular tumults were to be expected; and that the crowds going to
Jerusalem were met by a crowd coming from it, bent on seeing the
doer and the subject of the great miracle. Into this heap of
combustibles our Lord puts a light. He must have meant that it
should blaze as it did.

What is the reason for this contrast? The need for the former
reticence no longer existed. There was no fear now of His teaching
and ministry being interrupted by popular outburst. He knew that it
was finished, and that His hour had come. Therefore, the same motive
of filial obedience which had led Him to avoid what would prevent
His discharging His Father's commission, now impelled Him to draw
the attention of the nation and its rulers to the full extent of His
claims, and to put the plain issue of their acceptance or rejection
in the most unmistakable manner. A certain divine decorum, if we may
so call it, required that once He should enter the city as its King.
Some among the shouting crowds might have their enthusiasm purified
and spiritualised, if once it were directed to Him. It was for us,
no less than for them, that this one interruption of His ordinary
method was adopted by Him, that we too might ponder the fact that He
laid His hand on that magnificent prophecy, and said, 'It is mine. I
am the King.'

The royal procession is also a revelation of the character of the
King and the nature of His kingdom. A strange King this, indeed, who
has not even an ass of His own, and for followers, peasants with
palm branches instead of swords! What would a Roman soldier or one
of Herod's men have thought of that rustic procession of a pauper
prince on an ass, and a hundred or two of weaponless, penniless men?
Christ's one moment of royal pomp is as eloquent of His humiliation
as the long stretch of His lowly life is. And yet, as is always the
case, side by side with the lowliness there gleams the veiled
splendour. He had to borrow the colt, and the message in which He
asks for it is a strange paradox. 'The Lord hath need of him'--so
great was the poverty of so great a King. But it spoke, too, of a
more than human knowledge, and of an authority which had only to
require in order to receive. Some farming villager, no doubt, who
was a disciple but secretly, gladly yielded his beasts. The prophecy
which Matthew quotes, with the omission of some words, from
Zechariah, and the addition of the first clause from Isaiah, is
symbolic, and would have been amply fulfilled in the mission and
character of Christ, though this event had never taken place. But
just as it is symbolic, so this external fulfilment, which is
intended to point to the real fulfilment, is also symbolic. The
chariot and the horse are the emblems of conquerors. It is fitting
that the Prince of Peace should make His state entry on a colt,
unridden before, and saddled only with a garment. Zechariah meant
that Zion's King should not reign by the right of the strongest, and
that all His triumphs should be won by lowly meekness. Christ meant
the same by His remarkable act. And has not the picture of Him,
throned thus, stamped for ever on the imagination of the world a
profounder sense of the inmost nature of His kingdom than many words
would have done? Have we learned the lesson of the gentleness which
belongs to His kingdom, and of the unchristian character of war and
violence? Do we understand what the Psalmist meant when he sang, 'In
thy majesty ride on prosperously, because of ... meekness'? Let us
not forget the other picture, 'Behold, a white horse, and He that
sat thereon, called Faithful and True; and in righteousness He doth
judge and make war.'

The entry may remind us also of the worthlessness of mere enthusiastic
feeling in reference to Jesus Christ. The day was the Sunday. How many
of that crowd were shouting as loudly, 'Crucify Him!' and 'Not this
man, but Barabbas!' on the Friday? The palm-branches had not faded,
where they had been tossed, before the fickle crowd had swung round
to the opposite mood. Perhaps the very exuberance of feeling at the
beginning, had something to do with the bitterness of the execrations
at the end, of the week. He had not answered their expectations, but,
instead of heading a revolt, had simply taught in the temple, and
meekly let Himself be laid hold of. Nothing succeeds like success,
and no idol is so quickly forsaken as the idol of a popular rising.
All were eager to disclaim connection with Him, and to efface the
remembrance of their Sunday's hosannas by their groans round His
gibbet. But there is a wider lesson here. No enthusiasm can be too
intense which is based upon a true sense of our need of Christ, and
of His work for us; but it is easy to excite apparently religious
emotion by partial presentations of Him, and such excitement foams
itself away by its very violence, like some Eastern river that in
winter time dashes down the wady with irresistible force, and in
summer is bone dry. Unless we know Christ to be the Saviour of our
souls and the Lamb of God, we shall soon tire of singing hosannas in
His train, and want a king with more pretensions; but if we have
learned who and what He is to us, then let us open our mouths wide,
and not be afraid of letting the world hear our shout of praise.

II. The coming of the King in the temple. The discussion of the
accuracy of Matthew's arrangement of events here is unnecessary. He
has evidently grouped, as usual, incidents which have a common
bearing, and wishes to put these three, of the cleansing, the
healing, and the pleasure in the children's praise, as the
characteristic acts of the King in the temple. We can scarcely avoid
seeing in the first of the three a reference to Malachi's prophecy,
'The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple ... And
He shall purify the sons of Levi.' His first act, when in manhood He
visited the temple, had been to cleanse. His first act when He
enters it as its Lord is the same. The abuse had grown again apace.
Much could be said in its vindication, as convenient and harmless,
and it was too profitable to be lightly abandoned. But the altar of
Mammon so near the altar of God was sacrilege in His eyes, and
though He had passed the traders unmolested many times since that
first driving out, now that He solemnly comes to claim His rights,
He cannot but repeat it. It is perhaps significant that His words
now have both a more sovereign and a more severe tone than before.
Then He had spoken of 'My Father's house,' now it is 'My house,'
which are a part of His quotation indeed, but not therefore
necessarily void of reference to Himself. He is exercising the
authority of a son over His own house, and bears Himself as Lord of
the temple. Before, He charged them with making it a 'house of
merchandise'; now, with turning it into a robber's cave. Evil
rebuked and done again is worse than before. Trafficking in things
pertaining to the altar is even more likely than other trading to
cross the not always very well defined line which separates trade
from trickery and commerce from theft. That lesson needs to be laid
to heart in many quarters now. There is always a fringe of moneyed
interests round Christ's Church, seeking gain out of religious
institutions; and their stands have a wonderful tendency to creep
inwards from the court of the Gentiles to holier places. The
parasite grows very quickly, and Christ had to deal with it more
than once to keep down its growth. The sellers of doves and changers
of money into the sacred shekel were venial offenders compared with
many in the Church, and the race is not extinct. If Christ were to
come to His house to-day, in bodily form, who doubts that He would
begin, as He did before, by driving the traders out of His temple?
How many 'most respectable' usages and people would have to go, if
He did!

The second characteristic, or we might say symbolical, act is the
healing of the blind and lame. Royal state and cleansing severity
are wonderfully blended with tender pity and the gentle hand of
sovereign virtue to heal. The very manifestation of the former drew
the needy to Him; and the blind, though they could not see, and the
lame, though they could not walk, managed to grope and hobble their
way to Him, not afraid of His severity, nor daunted by His royalty.
No doubt they haunted the temple precincts as beggars, with perhaps
as little sense of its sacredness as the money-changers; but their
misery kindled a flicker of confidence and desire, to which He who
tends the dimmest wick till it breaks into clear flame could not but
respond. Though in His house He casts out the traders, He will heal
the cripples and the blind, who know their need, and faintly trust
His heart and power. Such a trait could not be wanting in this
typical representation of the acts of the King.

Finally, He encourages and casts the shield of His approval round
the children's praises. How natural it is that the children, pleased
with the stir and not yet drilled into conventionalism, should have
kept up their glad shouts, even inside the temple enclosure! How
their fresh treble voices ring yet through all these centuries! The
priests had, no doubt, been nursing their wrath at all that had been
going on, but they had not dared to interfere with the cleansing,
nor, for very shame, with the healings; but now they see their
opportunity. This is a clear breach of all propriety, and that is
the crime of crimes in the eyes of such people. They had kept quite
cool and serenely contemptuous, amid the stir of the glad
procession, and they did not much care though He healed some
beggars; but to have this unseemly noise, though it was praise, was
more than they could stand. Ecclesiastical martinets, and men whose
religion is mostly ceremony, are, of course, more 'moved with
indignation' at any breach of ceremonial regulations than at holes
made in graver laws. Nothing makes men more insensitive to the ring
of real worship than being accustomed to the dull decorum of formal
worship. Christ answers their 'hearest thou?' with a 'did ye never
read?' and shuts their mouths with words so apposite in their
plainest meaning that even they are silenced. To Him these young
ringing hosannas are 'perfect praise,' and worth any quantity of
rabbis' preachments. In their deeper sense, His words declare that
the ears of God and of His Son, the Lord of the temple, are more
gladly filled with the praises of the 'little ones,' who know their
weakness, and hymn His goodness with simple tongue, than with
heartless eloquence of words or pomp of worship. The psalm from
which the words are taken declares man's superiority over the
highest works of God's hands, and the perfecting of the divine
praise from his lips. We are but as the little children of creation,
but because we know sin and redemption, we lead the chorus of
heaven. As St. Bernard says, 'Something is wanting to the praise of
heaven, if those be wanting who can say, "We went through fire and
through water; and Thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place."' In
like manner, those praise Him most acceptably among men who know
their feebleness, and with stammering lips humbly try to breathe
their love, their need, and their trust.


'All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which
was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter
of Zion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and
sitting upon an ass.'--MATT. xxi. 4, 5.

Our Lord's entrance into Jerusalem is one of the comparatively few
events which are recorded in all the four Gospels. Its singular
unlikeness to the rest of His life, and its powerful influence in
bringing about the Crucifixion, may account for its prominence in
the narratives. It took place probably on the Sunday of Passion
Week. Before the palm branches were withered the enthusiasm had died
away, and the shouting crowd had found out that this was not the
sort of king that they wanted. They might have found that out, even
by the very circumstances of the entrance, for they were profoundly
significant; though their meaning, like so much of the rest of
Christ's life, was less clear to the partakers and spectators than
it is to us. 'These things understood not the disciples at the
first,' says John in closing his narrative of the entrance, 'but
when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that they had done
these things unto Him.'

My object in this sermon is not at all to attempt a pictorial
treatment of this narrative, for these Gospels tell it us a great
deal better than any of us can tell it after them; but to seek to
bring out, if it may be, two or three aspects of its significance.

I. First, then, I ask you to consider its significance as an
altogether exceptional fact in Christ's life.

Throughout the whole of the preceding period, He had had two aims
distinctly in view. One was to shun publicity; and the other was to
damp down the heated, vulgar anticipations of the multitude, who
expected a temporal king. And now here He deliberately, and of set
purpose, takes a step which is like flinging a spark into a powder
barrel. The nation was assembled in crowds, full of the unwholesome
excitement which attended their meeting for the annual feast. All
were in a quiver of expectation; and knowing that, Jesus Christ
originates this scene by His act of sending the two disciples into
the village over against them, to 'bring the ass, and the colt the
foal of an ass.' The reasons for a course so entirely opposed to all
the preceding must have been strong. Let us try to see what they

First, He did it in order to precipitate the conflict which was to end
in His death. Now, had He any right to do that? Knowing as He did the
ferment of expectation into which He was thrusting this new element
of disturbance, and foreseeing, as He must have done, that it would
sharpen the hostility of the rulers of the people to a murderous
degree, how can He be acquitted of one of two things--either singular
shortsightedness or rash foolhardiness in taking such a step? Was He
justified, or was He not?

If we are to look at His conduct from ordinary points of view, the
answer must certainly be that He was not. And we can only understand
this, and all the rest of His actions during the fateful three or
four days that followed it, if we recognise in them the fixed
resolve of One who knew that His mission was not only to live and to
teach by word and life, but to die, and by death to deliver the
world. I take it that it is very hard to save the character of Jesus
Christ for our reverence if we refuse to regard His death as for our
redemption. But if He came, and knew that He came, not only 'to
minister' but 'to give His life a ransom for many,' then we can
understand how He hastened to the Cross, and deliberately set a
light to the train which was to end in that great explosion. On any
other hypothesis it seems to me immensely hard to account for His
act here.

Then, still further, looking at this distinctly exceptional fact in
our Lord's life, we see in it a very emphatic claim to very singular
prerogative and position. He not only thereby presented Himself
before the nation in their collective capacity as being the King of
Israel, but He also did a very strange thing. He dressed Himself, so
to speak, in order to fulfil a prophecy. He posed before the world
as being the Person who was meant by sacred old words. And His
Entrance upon the slow-pacing colt was His voluntary and solemn
assertion that He was the Person of whom the whole stream and
current of divinely sent premonitions and forecasts had been
witnessing from the beginning. He claimed thereby to be the King of
Israel and the Fulfiller of the divine promises that were of old.

Now again, I have to ask the question, Was He right, or was He
wrong? If He was right, then He is a great deal more than a wise
Teacher, and a perfect Example of excellence. If He was wrong, He is
a great deal less. There is no escape from that alternative, as it
seems to me, but by the desperate expedient of denying that He ever
did this thing which this narrative tells us that He did. At all
events I beseech you all, dear friends, to take fairly into your
account of the character of Jesus Christ, this fact, that He, the
meek, the gentle, said that He was meek, and everybody has believed
Him; and that once, in the very crisis of His life, and in
circumstances which make the act most conspicuous, He who always
shunned publicity, nor 'caused His voice to be heard in the
streets,' and steadfastly put away from Himself the vulgar homage
that would have degraded Him into a mere temporal monarch, did
assert that He was the King of Israel and the Fulfiller of prophecy.
Ask yourselves, What does that fact mean?

And then, still further, looking at the act as exceptional in our
Lord's life, note that it was done in order to make one final,
solemn appeal and offer to the men who beheld Him. It was the last
bolt in His quiver. All else had failed, perhaps this might succeed.
We know not the depths of the mysteries of that divine foreknowledge
which, even though it foresees failure, ceases not to plead and to
woo obstinate hearts. But this we may thankfully learn, that, just
as with despairing hope, but with unremitting energy, Jesus Christ,
often rejected, offered Himself once more if perchance He might win
men to repentance, so the loving patience and long-suffering of our
God cease not to plead ever with us. 'Last of all He sent unto them
His Son, saying, They will reverence My Son when they see Him'; and
yet the expectation was disappointed, and the Son was slain. We
touch deep mysteries, but the persistence of the pleading and
rejected love and pity of our God shine through this strange fact.

II. And now, secondly, let me ask you to note its significance as a

The prophecy which two out of the four evangelists--viz., Matthew and
John--regard as having been, in some sense, fulfilled by the Entrance
into Jerusalem, would have been fulfilled quite as truly if there had
been no Entrance. For the mere detail of the prophecy is but a
picturesque way of setting forth its central and essential point--viz.,
the meekness of the King. So our Lord's fulfilment is only an external,
altogether subsidiary, accomplishment of the prophecy; and in fact,
like some other of the external correspondences between His life and
the outward details of Old Testament prophecy, is intended for little
more than a picture or a signpost which may direct our thoughts to the
inward correspondence, which is the true fulfilment.

So then, the deed, like the prophecy after which it is moulded, is
wholly and entirely of importance in its symbolical aspect.

The symbolism is clear enough. This is a new kind of King. He comes,
not mounted on a warhorse, or thundering across the battlefield in a
scythe-armed chariot, like the Pharaohs and the Assyrian monarchs,
who have left us their vainglorious monuments, but mounted on the
emblem of meekness, patience, gentleness, and peace. And He is a
pauper King, for He has to borrow the beast on which He rides, and
His throne is draped with the poor, perhaps ragged, robes of a
handful of fishermen. And His attendants are not warriors bearing
spears, but peasants with palm branches. And the salutation of His
royalty is not the blare of trumpets, but the 'Hosanna!' from a
thousand throats. That is not the sort of King that the world calls
a King. The Roman soldiers might well have thought they were
perpetrating an exquisite jest when they thrust the reed into His
unresisting hand, and crushed down the crown of thorns on His
bleeding brows.

But the symbol discloses the very secret of His Kingdom, the
innermost mysteries of His own character and of the forces to which
He intrusts the further progress of His word. Gentleness is royal
and omnipotent; force and violence are feeble. The Lord is in the
still, small voice, not in the earthquake, nor the fire, nor the
mighty wind. The dove's light pinion will fly further than the wings
of Rome's eagles, with their strong talons and blood-dyed beaks. And
the kingdom that is established in meekness, and rules by gentleness
and for gentleness, and has for its only weapons the power of love
and the omnipotence of patience, that is the kingdom which shall be
eternal and universal.

Now all that is a great deal more than pretty sentiment; it has the
closest practical bearing upon our lives. How slow God's Church has
been to believe that the strength of Christ's kingdom is meekness!
Professing Christian men have sought to win the world to their side,
and by wealth or force or persecution, or this, that, or the other
of the weapons out of the world's armoury, to promote the kingdom of
Christ. But it has all been in vain. There is only one power that
conquers hate, and that is meek love. There is only one way by which
Christ's kingdom can stand firm, and that is its unworldly contrast
to all the manner of human dominion. Wheresoever God's Church has
allied itself with secular sovereignties, and trusted in the arm of
flesh, there has the fine gold become dimmed. Endurance wears out
persecution, patient submission paralyses hostile violence, for you
cannot keep on striking down unresisting crowds with the sword. The
Church of Christ is an anvil that has been beaten upon by many
hammers, and it has worn them all out. Meekness is victorious, and
the kingdom of Christ can only be advanced by the faithful
proclamation of His gentle love, from lips that are moved by hearts
which themselves are conformed to His patient image.

Then, still further, let me remind you that this symbol carries in
it, as it seems to me, the lesson of the radical incompatibility of
war with Christ's kingdom and dominion. It has taken the world all
these centuries to begin to learn that lesson. But slowly men are
coming to it, and the day will dawn when all the pomp of warfare,
and the hell of evil passions from which it comes, and which it
stimulates, will be felt to be as utterly incompatible with the
spirit of Christianity as slavery is felt to-day. The prophecy which
underlies our symbol is very significant in this respect.
Immediately upon that vision of the meek King throned on the colt
the foal of an ass, follows this: 'And I will cut off the chariot
from Ephraim, and the horses from Jerusalem; and the battle bow
shall be cut off, and He shall speak peace unto the heathen.'

Let me beseech you, Christian men and women, to lay to heart the
duty of Christ's followers in reference to the influence and
leavening of public opinion upon this matter, and to see to it that,
in so far as we can help, we set ourselves steadfastly against that
devilish spirit which still oppresses with an incubus almost
intolerable, the nations of so-called Christendom. Lift up your
voices be not afraid, but cry, 'We are the followers of the Prince
of Peace, and we war against the war that is blasphemy against His

And so, still further, note the practical force of this symbol as
influencing our own conduct. We are the followers of the meek
Christ. It becomes _us_ to walk in all meekness and gentleness.
'Spirited conduct' is the world's euphemism for unchristian conduct,
in ninety-nine cases out of the hundred. The perspective of virtue
has altered since Jesus Christ taught us how to love. The old
heathen virtues of magnanimity, fortitude, and the like have 'with
shame to take a lower room.' There is something better than these.
The saint has all the virtues of the old heathen hero, and some more
besides, which are higher than these, and those which he has in
common, he has in different proportion. The flaunting tulips and
peonies of the garden of the world seem to outshine the white
snowdrops and the glowing, modest little violets below their leaves,
but the former are vulgar, and they drop very soon, and the latter,
if paler and more delicate, are refined in their celestial beauty.
The slow-pacing steed on which Jesus Christ rides will out-travel
the fiery warhorse, and will pursue its patient, steadfast path till
He 'bring forth righteousness unto judgment,' and 'all the upright
in heart shall follow Him.'

III. Lastly, notice the significance of this fact as a prophecy. It
was, as I have pointed out, the last solemn appeal to the nation,
and in a very real sense it was Christ's coming to judgment. It is
impossible to look at it without seeing, besides all its other
meanings, gleaming dimly through it, the anticipations of that other
coming, when the Lord Himself 'shall descend with a shout, with the
voice of the Archangel, and the trump of God.'

Let me bring into connection with the scene of my text three others,
gathered from various parts of Scripture. In the forty-fifth Psalm
we find, side by side with the great words, 'Ride on prosperously
because of truth and _meekness_ and righteousness,' the others,
'Thine arrows are sharp in the hearts of the king's enemies; the
people shall fall under Thee.' Now, though it is possible that that
later warlike figure may be merely the carrying out of the thought
which is more gently put before us in the former words, still it
looks as if there were two sides to the conquering manifestation of
the king--one being in 'meekness and truth and righteousness,' and
the other in some sense destructive and punitive.

But, however that may be, my second scene is drawn from the last
book of Scripture, where we read that, when the first seal was
opened, there rode forth a Figure, crowned, mounted upon a white
steed, bearing bow and arrow, 'conquering and to conquer.' And,
though that again may be but an image of the victorious progress of
the gentle Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the whole earth, still
it comes as one in a series of judgments, and may rather be taken to
express the punitive effects which follow its proclamation even here
and now.

But there can be no doubt with regard to the third of the scenes
which I connect with the incident of which we are discoursing: 'And
I saw heaven opened, and beheld a white horse; and He that sat upon
Him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness doth He judge
and make war.... And out of His mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with
it He should smite the nations; and He shall rule them with a rod of
iron; and He treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of
Almighty God.' That is the Christ who came into Jerusalem on the colt
the foal of an ass. That is the Christ who is meek and long-suffering.
There is a reserve of punitive and destructive power in the meek King.
And oh I what can be so terrible as the anger of meekness, the wrath
of infinite gentleness? In the triumphal entry, we find that, when
the procession turned the rocky shoulder of Olivet, and the long line
of the white city walls, with the gilding of the Temple glittering in
the sunshine, burst upon their view, the multitude lifted up their
voices in gladness. But Christ sat there, and as He looked across the
valley, and beheld, with His divine prescience, the city, now so
joyous and full of stir, sitting solitary and desolate, He lifted up
His voice in loud wailing. The Christ wept because He must punish,
but He punished though He wept.

Our Judge is the gentle Jesus, therefore we can hope. The gentle
Jesus is our Judge, therefore let us not presume. I beseech you,
brethren, lay, as these poor people did their garments, your lusts
and proud wills in His way, and join the welcoming shout that hails
the King, 'meek and having salvation.' And then, when He comes forth
to judge and to destroy, you will not be amongst the ranks of the
enemies, whom He will ride down and scatter, but amongst 'the armies
that follow Him, ... clothed in fine linen, clean and pure.'

'Kiss the Son lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way when His
wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their
trust in Him.'


'Hear another parable: There was a certain householder,
which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about,
and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and
let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country:
34. And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent
his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive
the fruits of it. 35. And the husbandmen took his
servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned
another. 36. Again, he sent other servants more than
the first: and they did unto them likewise. 37. But
last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They
will reverence my son. 38. But when the husbandmen saw
the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir;
come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his
inheritance. 39. And they caught him, and cast him out
of the vineyard, and slew him. 40. When the lord
therefore of the vineyard cometh what will he do unto
those husbandmen? 41. They say unto him, He will
miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out
his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render
him the fruits in their seasons. 42. Jesus saith unto
them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone
which the builders rejected, the same is become the
head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is
marvellous in our eyes? 43. Therefore say I unto you,
The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given
to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. 44. And
whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but
on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to
powder. 45. And when the chief priests and Pharisees
had heard His parables, they perceived that He spake of
them. 46. But when they sought to lay hands on Him,
they feared the multitude, because they took Him for a
prophet.'--MATT. xxi. 33-46.

This parable was apparently spoken on the Tuesday of the Passion
Week. It was a day of hand-to-hand conflict with the Jewish
authorities and of exhausting toil, as the bare enumeration of its
incidents shows. It included all that Matthew records between verse
20 of this chapter and the end of the twenty-fifth chapter--the
answer to the deputation from the Sanhedrin; the three parables
occasioned by it, namely, those of the two sons, this one, and that
of the marriage of the king's son; the three answers to the traps of
the Pharisees and Herodians about the tribute, of the Sadducees
about the resurrection, and of the ruler about the chief
commandment; Christ's question to His questioners about the Son and
Lord of David; the stern woes hurled at the unmasked hypocrites; to
which must be added, from other gospels, the sweet eulogium on the
widow's mite, and the deep saying to the Greeks about the corn of
wheat, with, possibly, the incident of the woman taken in adultery;
and then, following all these, the solemn prophecies of the end
contained in Matthew xxiv. and xxv., spoken on the way to Bethany,
as the evening shadows were falling. What a day! What a fountain of
wisdom and love which poured out such streams! The pungent severity
of this parable, with its transparent veil of narrative, is only
appreciated by keeping clearly in view the circumstances and the
listeners. They had struck at Jesus with their question as to His
authority, and He parries the blow. Now it is His turn, and the
sharp point goes home.

I. The first stage is the preparation of the vineyard, in which
three steps are marked. It is planted and furnished with all
appliances needful for making wine, which is its great end. The
direct divine origin of the religious ideas and observances of
'Judaism' is thus asserted by Christ. The only explanation of them
is that God enclosed that bit of the wilderness, and with His own
hands set growing there these exotics. Neither the theology nor the
ritual is of man's establishing. We need not seek for special
meanings for wall, wine-press, and tower. They simply express the
completeness of the equipment of the vineyard, as in Isaiah's song,
which lies at the foundation of the parable, and suggest his
question, 'What could have been done more?'

Thus furnished, the vineyard is next handed over to the husbandmen,
who, in Matthew, are exclusively the rulers, while in Luke they are
the people. No doubt it was 'like people, like priest.' The strange
dominion of the Pharisees rested entirely on popular consent, and
their temper accurately indexed that of the nation. The Sanhedrin
was the chief object at which Christ aimed the parable. But it only
gave form and voice to the national spirit, and 'the people loved to
have it so.' National responsibilities are not to be slipped out of
by being shifted on to the broad shoulders of governments or
influential men. Who lets them be governments and influential?

'Guv'ment ain't to answer for it,
God will send the bill to you.'

Christ here teaches both rulers and ruled the ground and purpose of
their privileges. They prided themselves on these as their own, but
they were only tenants. They made their 'boast of the law'; but they
forgot that fruit was the end of the divine planting and equipment.
Holiness and glad obedience were what God sought, and when He found
them, He was refreshed as with 'grapes in the wilderness.'

Having installed the husbandmen, the owner goes into another
country. The cluster of miracles which inaugurate an epoch of
revelation are not continued beyond its beginning. Centuries of
comparative divine silence followed the planting of the vineyard.
Having given us our charge, God, as it were, steps aside to leave us
room to work as we will, and so to display what we are made of. He
is absent in so far as conspicuous oversight and retribution are
concerned. He is present to help, love, and bless. The faithful
husbandman has Him always near, a joy and a strength, else no fruit
would grow; but the sin and misery of the unfaithful are that they
think of Him as far off.

II. Then comes the habitual ill-treatment of the messengers. These
are, of course, the prophets, whose office was not only to foretell,
but to plead for obedience and trust, the fruits sought by God. The
whole history of the nation is summed up in this dark picture.
Generation after generation of princes, priests, and people had done
the same thing. There is no more remarkable historical fact than
that of the uniform hostility of the Jews to the prophets. That a
nation of such a sort as always to hate and generally to murder them
should have had them in long succession, throughout its history, is
surely inexplicable on any naturalistic hypothesis. Such men were
not the natural product of the race, nor of its circumstances, as
their fate shows. How did they spring up? No 'philosophy of Jewish
history' explains the anomaly except the one stated here,--'He sent
His servants.' We are told nowadays that the Jews had a natural
genius for religion, just as the Greeks for art and thought, and the
Romans for law and order, and that that explains the origin of the
prophets. Does it explain their treatment?

The hostility of the husbandmen grows with indulgence. From beating
they go on to killing, and stoning is a specially savage form of
killing. The opposition which began, as the former parable tells us,
with polite hypocrisy and lip obedience, changed, under the stimulus
of prophetic appeals, to honest refusal, and from that to violence
which did not hesitate to slay. The more God pleads with men, the
more self-conscious and bitter becomes their hatred; and the more
bitter their hatred, the more does He plead, sending other
messengers, more perhaps in number, or possibly of more weight, with
larger commission and clearer light. Thus both the antagonistic
forces grow, and the worse men become, the louder and more
beseeching is the call of God to them. That is always true; and it
is also ever true that he who begins with 'I go, sir, and goes not,
is in a fair way to end with stoning the prophets.

Christ treats the whole long series of violent rejections as the
acts of the same set of husbandmen. The class or nation was one, as
a stream is one, though all its particles are different; and the
Pharisees and scribes, who stood with frowning hatred before Him as
He spoke, were the living embodiment of the spirit which had
animated all the past. In so far as they inherited their taint, and
repeated their conduct, the guilt of all the former generations was
laid at their door. They declared themselves their predecessors'
heirs; and as they reproduced their actions, they would have to bear
the accumulated weight of the consequences.

III. Verses 37-39 tell of the mission of the Son and of its fatal
issue. Three points are prominent in them. The first is the unique
position which Christ here claims, with unwonted openness and
decisiveness, as apart from and far above all the prophets. They
constitute one order, but He stands alone, sustaining a closer
relation to God. They were faithful 'as servants,' but He 'as a
Son,' or, as Mark has it, 'the only and beloved Son.' The listeners
understood Him well enough. The assertion, which seemed audacious
blasphemy to them, fitted in with all His acts in that last week,
which was not only the crisis of His life, but of the nation's fate.
Rulers and people must decide whether they will own or reject their
King, and they must do it with their eyes open. Jesus claimed to
fill a unique position. Was He right or wrong in His claim? If He
was wrong, what becomes of His wisdom, His meekness, His religion?
Is a religious teacher, who made the mistake of thinking that He was
the Son of God in a sense in which no other man is so, worthy of
admiration? If He was right, what becomes of a Christianity which
sees in Him only the foremost of the prophets?

The next point marked is the owner's vain hope, in sending his Son. He
thought that He would be welcomed, and He was disappointed. It was His
last attempt. Christ knew Himself to be God's last appeal, as He is to
all men, as well as to that generation. He is the last arrow in God's
quiver. When it has shot that bolt, the resources even of divine love
are exhausted, and no more can be done for the vineyard than He has
done for it. We need not wonder at unfulfilled hopes being here
ascribed to God. The startling thought only puts into language the
great mystery which besets all His pleadings with men, which are
carried on, though they often fail, and which must, therefore, in view
of His foreknowledge, be regarded as carried on with the knowledge that
they will fail. That is the long-suffering patience of God. The
difficulty is common to the words of the parable and to the facts of
God's unwearied pleading with impenitent men. Its surface is a
difficulty, its heart is an abyss of all-hoping charity.

The last point is the vain calculation of the husbandmen. Christ
puts hidden motives into plain words, and reveals to these rulers
what they scarcely knew of their own hearts. Did they, in their
secret conclaves, look each other in the face, and confess that He
was the Heir? Did He not Himself ground His prayer for their pardon
on their ignorance? But their ignorance was not entire, else they
had had no sin; neither was their knowledge complete, else they had
had no pardon. Beneath many an obstinate denial of Him lies a secret
confession, or misgiving, which more truly speaks the man than does
the loud negation. And such strange contradictions are men, that the
secret conviction is often the very thing which gives bitterness and
eagerness to the hostility. So it was with some of those whose
hidden suspicions are here set in the light. How was the rulers' or
the people's wish to 'seize on His inheritance' their motive for
killing Jesus? Their great sin was their desire to have their
national prerogatives, and yet to give no true obedience. The ruling
class clung to their privileges and forgot their responsibilities,
while the people were proud of their standing as Jews, and careless
of God's service. Neither wished to be reminded of their debt to the
Lord of the vineyard, and their hostility to Jesus was mainly
because He would call on them for fruits. If they could get this
unwelcome and persistent voice silenced, they could go on in the
comfortable old fashion of lip-service and real selfishness. It is
an account, in vividly parabolic language, not only of _their_
hostility, but of that of many men who are against Him. They wish to
possess life and its good, without being for ever pestered with
reminders of the terms on which they hold it, and of God's desire
for their love and obedience. They have a secret feeling that Christ
has the right to ask for their hearts, and so they often turn from
Him angrily, and sometimes hate Him.

With what sad calmness does Jesus tell the fate of the son, so
certain that it is already as good as done! It _was_ done in
their counsels, and yet He does not cease to plead, if perchance
some hearts may be touched and withdraw themselves from the
confederacy of murder.

IV. We have next the self-condemnation from unwilling lips. Our Lord
turns to the rulers with startling and dramatic suddenness, which
may have thrown them off their guard, so that their answer leaped
out before they had time to think whom it hit. His solemn
earnestness laid a spell on them, which drew their own condemnation
from them, though they had penetrated the thin veil of the parable,
and knew full well who the husbandmen were. Nor could they refuse to
answer a question about legal punishments for dishonesty, which was
put to them, the fountains of law, without incurring a second time
the humiliation just inflicted when He had forced them to
acknowledge that they, the fountains of knowledge, did not know
where John came from. So from all these motives, and perhaps from a
mingling of audacity, which would brazen it out and pretend not to
see the bearing of the question, they answer. Like Caiaphas in his
counsel, and Pilate with his writing on the Cross, and many another,
they spoke deeper things than they knew, and confessed beforehand
how just the judgments were, which followed the very lines marked
out by their own words.

V. Then come the solemn application and naked truth of the parable.
We have no need to dwell on the cycle of prophecies concerning the
corner-stone, nor on the original application of the psalm. We must
be content with remarking that our Lord, in this last portion of His
address, throws away even the thin veil of parable, and speaks the
sternest truth in the nakedest words. He puts His own claim in the
plainest fashion, as the corner-stone on which the true kingdom of
God was to be built. He brands the men who stood before Him as
incompetent builders, who did not know the stone needed for their
edifice when they saw it. He declares, with triumphant confidence,
the futility of opposition to Himself--even though it kill Him. He
is sure that God will build on Him, and that His place in the
building, which shall rise through the ages, will be, to even
careless eyes, the crown of the manifest wonders of God's hand.
Strange words from a Man who knew that in three days He would be
crucified! Stranger still that they have come true! He is the
foundation of the best part of the best men; the basis of thought,
the motive for action, the pattern of life, the ground of hope, for
countless individuals; and on Him stands firm the society of His
Church, and is hung all the glory of His Father's house.

Christ confirms the sentence just spoken by the rulers on
themselves, but with the inversion of its clauses. All disguise is
at an end. The fatal 'you' is pronounced. The husbandmen's
calculation had been that killing the heir would make them lords of
the vineyard; the grim fact was that they cast themselves out when
they cast him out. He is the heir. If we desire the inheritance, we
must get it through Him, and not kill or reject, but trust and obey
Him. The sentence declares the two truths, that possession of the
vineyard depends on honouring the Son, and on bringing forth the
fruits. The kingdom has been taken from the churches of Asia Minor,
Africa, and Syria, because they bore no fruit. It is not held by us
on other conditions. Who can venture to speak of the awful doom set
forth in the last words here? It has two stages: one a lesser
misery, which is the lot of him who stumbles against the stone,
while it lies passive to be built on; one more dreadful, when it has
acquired motion and comes down with irresistible impetus. To stumble
at Christ, or to refuse His grace, and not to base our lives and
hopes on Him is maiming and damage, in many ways, here and now. But
suppose the stone endowed with motion, what can stand against it?
And suppose that the Christ, who is now offered for the rock on
which we may pile our hopes and never be confounded, comes to judge,
will He not crush the mightiest opponent as the dust of the summer


'Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken:
but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to
powder.'--MATT. xxi. 44.

As Christ's ministry drew to its close, its severity and its
gentleness both increased; its severity to the class to whom it was
always severe, and its gentleness to the class from whom it never
turned away. Side by side, through all His manifestation of Himself,
there were the two aspects: 'He showed Himself _froward_' (if I
may quote the word) to the self-righteous and the Pharisee; and He
bent with more than a woman's tenderness of yearning love over the
darkness and sinfulness, which in its great darkness dimly knew
itself blind, and in its sinfulness stretched out a lame hand of
faith, and groped after a divine deliverer. Here, in my text, there
are only words of severity and awful foreboding. Christ has been
telling those Pharisees and priests that the kingdom is to be taken
from them, and given to a nation that brings forth the fruits
thereof. He interprets for them an Old Testament figure, often
recurring, which we read in the 118th Psalm (and I may just say, in
passing, that we get here His interpretation of that psalm, and the
vindication of our application of it, and other similar ones, to Him
and His office); 'The stone which the builders rejected,' said He,
'is become the head of the corner'; and then, falling back on other
Old Testament uses of the same figure, He weaves into one the whole
of them--that in Isaiah about the 'sure foundation,' and that in
Daniel about 'the stone cut out without hands, which became a great
mountain,' crushing down all opposition,--and centres them all in
Himself; as fulfilled in Himself, in His person and His work.

The two clauses of my text figuratively point to two different
classes of operation on the rejecters of the Gospel. What are these
two classes? 'Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken:
but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.' In
the one case, the stone is represented as passive, lying quiet; in
the other, it has acquired motion. In the one case, the man stumbles
and hurts himself; a remediable injury, a self-inflicted injury, a
natural injury, without the active operation of Christ to produce it
at all; in the other case the injury is worse than remediable, it is
utter, absolute, grinding destruction, and it comes from the active
operation of the 'stone of stumbling.' That is to say, the one class
represents the present hurts and harms which, by the natural
operation of things, without the action of Christ judicially at all,
every man receives in the very act of rejecting the Gospel; and the
other represents the ultimate issue of that rejection, which
rejection is darkened into opposition and fixed hostility, when the
stone that was laid 'for a foundation' has got wings (if I may so
say), and comes down in judgment, crushing and destroying the
antagonist utterly. 'Whosoever falls on this stone is broken,' here
and now; and 'on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to
powder,' hereafter and yonder.

Taking, then, into account the weaving together in this passage of
the three figures from the Old Testament to which I have already
referred,--the rejected stone, the foundation, and the mountain-stone
of Daniel, and looking in the light of these, at the twofold issues,
one present and one future, which the text distinctly brings before
us,--we have just three points to which I ask your attention now.
First, Every man has some kind of contact with Christ. Secondly,
Rejection of Him, here and now, is harm and maiming. And, lastly,
Rejection of Him, hereafter and yonder, is hopeless, endless, utter

I. In the first place, every man has some kind of connection with

I am not going to enter at all now upon any question about the
condition of the 'dark places of the earth' where the Gospel has not
come as a well-known preached message; we have nothing to do with
that; the principles on which _they_ are judged is not the
question before us now. I am speaking exclusively about persons who
have heard the word of salvation, and are dwelling in the midst of
what we call a Christian land. Christ is offered to each of us, in
good faith on God's part, as a means of salvation, a foundation on
which we may build. A man is free to accept or to reject that offer.
If he reject it, he has not thereby cut himself off from all contact
and connection with that rejected Saviour, but he still sustains a
relation to Him; and the message that he has refused to believe, is
exercising an influence upon his character and his destiny.

Christ comes, I say, offered to us all in good faith on the part of
God, as a foundation upon which we may build. And then comes in that
strange mystery, that a man, consciously free, turns away from the
offered mercy, and makes Him that was intended to be the basis of
his life, the foundation of his hope, the rock on which, steadfast
and serene, he should build up a temple-home for his soul to dwell
in,--makes Him a stumbling-stone against which, by rejection and
unbelief, he breaks himself!

My friend, will you let me lay this one thing upon your heart,--you
cannot hinder the Gospel from influencing you somehow. Taking it in
its lowest aspects, it is one of the forces of modern society, an
element in our present civilisation. It is everywhere, it obtrudes
itself on you at every turn, the air is saturated with its
influence. To be unaffected by such an all-pervading phenomenon is
impossible. To no individual member of the great whole of a nation
is it given to isolate himself utterly from the community. Whether
he oppose or whether he acquiesce in current opinions, to denude
himself of the possessions which belong in common to his age and
state of society is in either case impracticable. 'That which cometh
into your mind,' said one of the prophets to the Jews who were
trying to cut themselves loose from their national faith and their
ancestral prerogatives, 'That which cometh into your mind shall not
be at all, that ye say, We will be as the heathen, as the families
of the countries to serve wood and stone.' Vain dream! You can no
more say, I will pass the Gospel by, and it shall be nothing to me,
I will simply let it alone, than you can say, I will shut myself up
from other influences proper to my time and nation. You cannot go
back to the old naked barbarism, and you cannot reduce the influence
of Christianity, even considered merely as one of the characteristics
of the times, to zero. You may fancy you are letting it alone, but
it does not let you alone; it is here, and you cannot shut yourself
off from it.

But it is not merely as a subtle and diffused influence that the
Gospel exercises a permanent effect upon us. It is presented to each
of us here individually, in the definite form of an actual offer of
salvation for each, and of an actual demand of trust from each. The
words pass into our souls, and thenceforward we can never be the
same as if they had not been there. The smallest ray of light
falling on a sensitive plate produces a chemical change that can
never be undone again, and the light of Christ's love, once brought
to the knowledge and presented for the acceptance of a soul, stamps
on it an ineffaceable sign of its having been there. The Gospel once
heard, is always the Gospel which has been heard. Nothing can alter
that. Once heard, it is henceforward a perpetual element in the
whole condition, character, and destiny of the hearer.

Christ does something to every one of us. His Gospel will tell upon
you, it _is_ telling upon you. If you disbelieve it, you are
not the same as if you had never heard it. Never is the box of
ointment opened without some savour from it abiding in every nostril
to which its odour is wafted. Only the alternative, the awful
'either, or,' is open for each--the 'savour of life unto life,
_or_ the savour of death unto death.' To come back to the
illustration of the text, Christ is something, and does something to
every one of us. He is either the rock on which I build, poor, weak,
sinful creature as I am, getting security, and sanctity, and
strength from Him, I being a living stone' built upon 'the living
stone,' and partaking of the vitality of the foundation; or else He
is the other thing, 'a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence to
them which stumble at the word.' Christ stands for ever in some kind
of relation to, and exercises for ever some kind of influence on,
every man who has heard the Gospel.

II. The immediate issue of rejection of Him is loss and maiming.

'Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken.' Just think for
a moment, by way of illustrating this principle, first of all, of
the _positive_ harm which you do to yourself in the act of
turning away from the mercy offered you in Christ; and then think
for a moment of the _negative_ loss which you sustain by the
same act.

Note the _positive_ harm. Am I uncharitable when I say that no
man ever yet _passively neglected_ the message of love in God's
Son; but that always _this_ is the rude outline of the experience
of people who know what it is to have a Saviour offered to them, and
know what it is to put Him away,--that there is a feeble and transitory
movement of heart and will; that Conscience says, 'Thou oughtest'; that
Will says, 'I would'; that the heart is touched by some sense of that
great and gentle vision of light and love which passes before the eye;
that the man, as it were, like some fever-ridden patient, lifts himself
up for an instant from the bed on which he is lying, and puts out a
hand, and then falls back again, the vacillating, fevered, paralysed
will recoiling from the resolution, and the conscience having power to
say, 'Thou oughtest,' but no power to enforce the execution of its
decrees, and the heart turning away from the salvation that it would
have found in the love of love, to the loss that it finds in the love
of self and earth? Or in other words, is it not true that every man
who rejects Christ does in simple verity _reject_ Him, and not
merely neglect Him; that there is always an effort, that there is a
struggle, feeble, perhaps, but real, which ends in the turning away? It
is not that you stand there, and simply let Him go past. That were bad
enough; but the fact is worse than that. It is that you turn your back
upon Him. It is not that His hand is laid on yours, and yours remains
dead and cold, and does not open to clasp it; but it is that His hand
being laid on yours, you clench yours the tighter, and _will not_
have it. And so every man (I believe) who rejects Christ does these
things thereby--wounds his own conscience, hardens his own heart,
makes himself a worse man, just because he has had a glimpse, and
has willingly, and almost consciously, 'loved darkness rather than
light.' Oh, brethren, the message of love can never come into a
human soul, and pass away from it unreceived, without leaving that
spirit worse, with all its lowest characteristics strengthened, and
all its best ones depressed, by the fact of rejection. I have nothing
to do now with pursuing that process to its end; but the natural
result--if there were no future Judgment at all, if there were no
movement ever given to the stone that you ought to build on--the
natural result of the simple rejection of the Gospel is that, bit by
bit, all the lingering remains of nobleness that hover about the man,
like scent about a broken vase, pass away; and that, step by step,
through the simple process of saying, 'I will not have Christ to rule
over me,' the whole being degenerates, until manhood becomes
devil-hood, and the soul is lost by its own want of faith. Unbelief
is its own judgment; unbelief is its own condemnation; unbelief, as
sin, is punished, like all other sins, by the perpetuation of deeper
and darker forms of itself. Every time that you stifle a conviction,
fight down a conviction, or drive away a conviction; and every time
that you feebly move towards the decision, 'I _will_ trust Him, and
love Him, and be His,' yet fail to realise it, you have harmed your
soul, you have made yourself a worse man, you have lowered the tone
of your conscience, you have enfeebled your will, you have made your
heart harder against love, you have drawn another horny scale over
the eye, that will prevent you from seeing the light that is yonder;
you have, as much as in you is, withdrawn from God, and approximated
to the other pole of the universe (if I may say that), to the dark
and deadly antagonist of mercy, and goodness, and truth, and grace.
'Whosoever falls on this stone,' by the natural result of his
unbelief, 'shall be broken' and maimed, and shall mar his own nature.

I need not dwell on the _negative_ evil results of unbelief;
the loss of that which is the only guide for a man, the taking away,
or rather the failing to possess, that great love above us, that
divine Spirit in us, by which only we are ever made what we ought to
be. This only I would leave with you, in this part of my subject,
Whoever is not in Christ is maimed. Only he that is 'a man in Christ'
has come 'to the measure of the stature of a perfect man.' There,
and there alone, do we get the power which will make us full-grown.
There alone is the soul planted in that good soil in which, growing,
it becomes as a rounded, perfect tree, with leaves and fruits in
their season. All other men are half-men, quarter-men, fragments of
men, parts of humanity exaggerated and contorted and distorted from
the reconciling whole which the Christian ought to be, and in
proportion to his Christianity is on the road to be, and one day will
assuredly and actually be, a 'complete and entire man, wanting
nothing'; nothing maimed, nothing broken, the realisation of the
ideal of humanity, the renewed copy 'of the second Adam, the Lord
from heaven.'

There is another consideration closely connected with this second
part of my subject, that I just mention and pass on. Not only by the
act of rejection of Christ do we harm and maim ourselves, but also
all attempts at opposition--formal opposition--to the Gospel as a
system, stand self-convicted and self-condemned to speedy decay.
What a commentary upon that word, 'Whosoever falls on this stone
shall be broken,' is the whole history of the heresies of the Church
and the assaults of unbelief! Man after man, rich in gifts, endowed
often with far larger and nobler faculties than the people who
oppose him, with indomitable perseverance, a martyr to his error,
sets himself up against the truth that is sphered in Jesus Christ;
and the great divine message simply goes on its way, and all the
babblement and noise are like so many bats flying against a light,
or like the sea-birds that come sweeping up in the tempest and the
night, to the hospitable Pharos that is upon the rock, and smite
themselves dead against it. Sceptics well known in their generation,
who made people's hearts tremble for the ark of God, what has become
of them? Their books lie dusty and undisturbed on the top shelf of
libraries; whilst there the Bible stands, with all the scribblings
wiped off the page, as though they had never been! Opponents fire
their small shot against the great Rock of Ages, and the little
pellets fall flattened, and only scale off a bit of the moss that
has gathered there! My brother, let the history of the past teach
you and me, with other deeper thoughts, a very calm and triumphant
confidence about all that opponents say nowadays; for all the modern
opposition to this Gospel will go as all the past has done, and the
newest systems which cut and carve at Christianity, will go to the
tomb where all the rest have gone; and dead old infidelities will
rise up from their thrones, and say to the bran-new ones of this
generation, when their day is worked out, 'Are ye also become weak
as we? art thou also become like one of us?' 'Whosoever shall fall
on this stone shall be broken': personally, he will be harmed; and
his opinions, and his books, and his talk, and all his
argumentation, will come to nothing, like the waves that break into
impotent foam against the rocky cliffs.

III. Last of all, the issue, the ultimate issue, of unbelief is
irremediable destruction when Christ begins to move.

The former clause has spoken about the harm that naturally follows
unbelief whilst the Gospel is being preached; the latter clause speaks
about the active agency of Christ when the end shall have come, and
the preaching of the Gospel shall have merged into the act of judgment.
I do not mean to dwell, brethren, upon that thought; it seems to me
far too awful a one to be handled by my hands, at any rate. Let us
leave it in the vagueness and dreadfulness of the words of Him who
never spoke exaggerated words, and who, when He said, 'It shall grind
him to powder,' meant (as it seems to me) nothing less than a
destruction which, contrasted with the former remediable wounding and
breaking, was a destruction utter, and hopeless, and everlasting, and
without remedy. Ground--ground to powder! Any life left in that? any
gathering up of that, and making a man of it again? All the humanity
battered out of it, and the life clean gone from it! Does not that
sound very much like 'everlasting destruction from the presence of God
and from the glory of His power'? Christ, silent now, will begin to
speak; passive now, will begin to act. The stone comes down, and the
fall of it will be awful. I remember, away up in a lonely Highland
valley, where beneath a tall black cliff, all weather-worn, and cracked,
and seamed, there lies at the foot, resting on the greensward that
creeps round its base, a huge rock, that has fallen from the face of
the precipice. A shepherd was passing beneath it; and suddenly, when
the finger of God's will touched it, and rent it from its ancient bed
in the everlasting rock, it came down, leaping and bounding from pinnacle
to pinnacle--and it fell; and the man that was beneath it is there now!
'Ground to powder.' Ah, my brethren, that is not _my_ illustration--that
is Christ's. Therefore I say to you, since all that stand against Him
shall become 'as the chaff of the summer threshing-floor,' and be swept
utterly away, make Him the foundation on which you build; and when the
storm sweeps away every 'refuge of lies,' you will be safe and serene,
builded upon the Rock of Ages.


'And Jesus answered and spake unto them again by
parables, and said, 2. The kingdom of heaven is like
unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son,
3. And sent forth his servants to call them that were
bidden to the wedding: and they would not come.
4. Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell
them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my
dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all
things are ready: come unto the marriage. 6. But they
made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm,
another to his merchandise; 6. 'And the remnant took
his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew
them. 7. But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth:
and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those
murderers, and burned up their city. & Then saith he to
his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were
bidden were not worthy. 9. Go ye therefore into the
highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the
marriage. 10. So those servants went out into the
highways, and gathered together all as many as they
found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished
with guests. 11. And when the king came in to see the
guests, he saw there a man which had not on a
wedding-garment: 12. And he saith unto him, Friend, how
earnest thou in hither not having a wedding-garment?
And he was speechless. 13. Then said the king to the
servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away,
and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be
weeping and gnashing of teeth. 14. For many are called,
but few are chosen.'--MATT. xxii. 1-14.

This parable, and the preceding one of the vine-dressers, make a
pair. They are closely connected in time, as well as subject. 'Jesus
answered.' What? Obviously, the unspoken murderous hate, restrained
by fear, which had been raised in the rulers' minds, and flashed in
their eyes, and moved in their gestures. Christ answers it by
repeating His blow; for the present parable is, in outline,
identical with the preceding, though differing in colouring, and
carrying its thoughts farther. That stopped with the transference of
the kingdom to the Gentiles; this passes on to speak also of the
development among the Gentiles, and ends with the law 'many called,
few chosen,' which is exemplified in Jew and Gentile. There are,
then, two parts in it: verses 1-9 covering the same ground as the
former; verses 10-14 adding new matter.

I. The judgment on those who refuse the offered joys of the kingdom.
In the previous parable, the kingdom was presented on the side of
duty and service. The call was to render obedience. The vineyard was
a sphere for toil. The owner had given it indeed, but, having given,
he required. That is only half the truth, and the least joyful half.
So this parable dismisses all ideas of work, duty, service,
requirement, and instead gives the emblem of a marriage feast as the
picture of the kingdom. It therein unites two familiar prophetic
images for the Messianic times--those of a festival and of a
marriage. As Luther says, 'He calls it a marriage feast, not a time
of toil or a time of sorrow, but a time of holiday and a time of
joy; in which we make ourselves fine, sing, play, dance, eat, drink,
are glad, and have a good time; else it would not be a wedding
feast, if people were to be working, mourning, or crying. Therefore,
Christ calls His Christianity and gospel by the name of the highest
joy on earth; namely, by the name of a marriage feast.' How pathetic
this designation of His kingdom is on Christ's lips, when we
remember how near His bitter agony He stood, and that He tasted its
bitterness already! It is not the whole truth any more than the
vineyard emblem is. Both must be united in our idea of the kingdom,
as both may be in experience. It is possible to be at once toiling
among the vines in the hot sunshine, and feasting at the table. The
Christian life is not all grinding at heavy tasks, nor all enjoyment
of spiritual refreshment; but our work may be so done as to be our
'meat'--as it was His--and our glad repose may be unbroken even in
the midst of toil. We are, at one and the same time, labourers in
the king's vineyard, and guests at the king's table; and the same
duality will, in some unknown fashion, continue in the perfect
kingdom, where there will be both work and feasting, and all the
life shall be both in one.

The second point to be noticed is the invitations of the king. There
had been an invitation before the point at which the parable begins,
for the servants are sent to summon those who had already been
'called.' That calling, which lies beyond the horizon of our
parable, is the whole series of agencies in Old Testament times. So
this parable begins almost where the former leaves off. They only
slightly overlap. The first servants here are Christ Himself, and
His followers in their ministry during His life; and the second set
are the apostles and preachers of the gospel during the period
between the completion of the preparation of the feast (that is, the
death of Christ) and the destruction of Jerusalem. The characteristic
difference of their message from that of the servants in the former
parable, embodies the whole difference between the preaching of the
prophets, as messengers demanding the fruit of righteousness, and the
glad tidings of a gospel of free grace which does not demand, but
offers, and does not say 'obey' until it has said 'eat, and be glad.'
The reiterated invitations not only correspond to the actual facts,
but, like the facts, set the miracle of God's patience in a still
brighter light than the former story did; for while it is wonderful
that the lord of the vineyard should stoop to ask so often for fruit,
it is far more wonderful that the founder of the feast, who is king
too, should stoop to offer over and over again the refused abundance
of his table.

Mark, further, the refusal of the invitations: 'They would not (or
"did not wish to") come.' That is Christ's gentle way of describing
the unbelief of His generation. It is the second set of refusers who
are painted in darker colours. We are accustomed to think that the
sin of His contemporaries was great beyond parallel, but he seems
here to hint that the sin of those who reject Him after the Cross
and the Resurrection, is blacker than theirs. At any rate, it
clearly is so. But note that the parable speaks as if the refusers
were the same persons throughout, thus taking the same point of view
as the former one did, and regarding the generations of the Jews as
one whole. There is a real unity, though the individuals be
different, if the spirit actuating successive generations be the

Note the two classes of rejecters. The first simply pay no
attention, because their heads are full of business. They do not
even speak more or less lame excuses, as the refusers in Luke's
similar parable had the decency to do. The king's messenger
addresses a group, who pause on their road for a moment, to listen
listlessly to what he has to say, and, when he has done, disperse
without a word, each man going on his road, as if nothing had
happened. The ground of their indifference lies in their absorption
with this world's good, and their belief that it is best. 'His own
farm,' as the original puts it emphatically, holds one man by the
solid delight of possessing acres that he can walk over and till;
his merchandise draws another, by the excitement of speculation and
the lust of acquiring. It is not only the hurry and fever of a great
commercial city, but the quiet and leisure of country life, which
shut out taste for God's feast. Strange preference of toil and risk
of loss to abundance, repose, and joy! Savages barter gold for glass
beads. We choose lives of weary work and hunting after uncertain
riches, rather than listen to His call, despising the open-handed
housekeeping of our Father's house, and trying to fill our hunger
with the swine's husks. The suicidal madness of refusing the kingdom
is set in a vivid light in these quiet words.

But stranger still is the conduct of the rest. Why should they kill
men whose only fault was bringing them a hospitable invitation? The
incongruity of the representation has given offence to some
interpreters, who are not slow to point out how Christ could have
improved His parable. But the reality is more incongruous still, and
the unmotived outburst of wrath against the innocent bearers of a
kindly invitation is only too true to life. Mark the distinction
drawn by our Lord between the bulk of the people who simply
neglected, and the few who violently opposed. He does not charge the
guilt on all. The murderers of Him and of His first followers were
not the mass of the nation, who, left to themselves, would not have
so acted, but the few who stirred up the many. But, though He does
not lay the guilt at the doors of all, yet the punishment falls on
all, and, when the city is burned, the houses of the negligent and
of the slayers are equally consumed; for simple refusal of the
message and slaying the messengers were but the positive and
superlative degrees of the same crime--rebellion against the king,
whose invitation was a command.

The fatal issue is presented, as in the former parable, in two
parts: the destruction of the rebels, and the passing over of the
kingdom to others. But the differences are noteworthy. Here we read
that 'the king was wroth.' Insult to a king is worse than dishonesty
to a landlord. The refusal of God's proffered grace is even more
certain to awake that awful reality, the wrath of God, than the
failure to render the fruits of the good possessed. Love repelled
and thrown back on itself cannot but become wrath. That refusal,
which is rebellion, is fittingly described as punished by force of
arms and the burning of the city. We can scarcely help seeing that
our Lord here, in a very striking and unusual way, mingles prose
prediction with parabolic imagery. Some commentators object to this,
and take the armies and the burning to be only part of the imagery,
but it is difficult to believe that. Note the forcible pronouns,
'His armies,' and 'their city.' The terrible Roman legions were His
soldiers for the time being, the axe which He laid to the root of
the tree. The city had ceased to be His, just as the temple ceased
to be 'My house,' and became, by their sin, 'your house.' The legend
told that, before their destruction, a mighty voice was heard
saying, 'Let us depart,' and, with the sound of rushing wings, His
presence left sanctuary and city. When He was no longer 'the glory
in the midst,' He was no longer 'a wall of fire round about,' and
the Roman torches worked their will on the city which was no longer
'the city of our God.'

The command to gather in others to fill the vacant places follows on
the destruction of the city. This may seem to be opposed to the
facts of the transference of the kingdom to the Gentiles, which
certainly was begun long before Jerusalem fell. But its fall was the
final and complete severance of Christianity from Judaism, and not
till then had the messengers to give up the summons to Israel as
hopeless. Perhaps Paul had this parable floating in his memory when
he said to the howling blasphemers at Antioch in Pisidia, 'Seeing ye
... judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, lo, we turn to the
Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us.' 'They which were
bidden were not worthy,' and their unworthiness consisted not in any
other moral demerit, but solely in this, that they had refused the
proffered blessings. That is the only thing which makes any of us
unworthy. And that will make the best of us unworthy.

II. Verses 10-14 carry us beyond the preceding parable, and show us
the judgment on the unworthy accepters of the invitation. There are
two ways of sinning against God's merciful gift: the one is refusing
to accept it; the other is taking it in outward seeming, but
continuing in sin. The former was the sin of the Jews; the latter is
the sin of nominal Christians. We may briefly note the points of
this appendix to the parable. The first is the indiscriminate
invitation, which is more emphatically marked as being so, by the
mention of the 'bad' before the good among the guests. God's offer
is for all, and, in a very real sense, is specially sent to the
worst, just as the doctor goes first to the most severely wounded.
So the motley crew, without the least attempt at discrimination, are
seated at the table. If the Church understands its business, it will
have nothing to do in its message with distinctions of character any
more than of class, but, if it makes any difference, will give the
outcast and disreputable the first place in its efforts. Is that
what it does?

The next point is the king's inspection. The word rendered 'behold'
implies a fixed and minute observation. When does that scrutiny take
place? Obviously, from the sequel, the final judgment is referred
to, and it is remarkable that here there is no mention of the king's
son as the judge. No parable can shadow forth all truth, and though
the Father 'has committed all judgment to the Son,' the Son's
judgment is the Father's, and the exigencies of the parable required
that the son as bridegroom should not be brought into view as judge.
Note that there is only one guest without the dress needed. That may
be an instance of the lenity of Christ's charity, which hopeth all
things; or it may rather be intended to suggest the keenness of the
king's glance, which, in all the crowded tables, picks out the one
ragged losel who had found his way there--so individual is his
knowledge, so impossible for us to hide in the crowd.

Mark that the feast has not begun, though the guests are seated. The
judgment stands at the threshold of the heavenly kingdom. The king
speaks with a certain coldness, very unlike the welcome fit for a
guest; and his question is one of astonishment at the rude boldness
of the man who came there, knowing that he had not the proper dress.
(That knowledge is implied in the form of the sentence in the
Greek.) What, then, is the wedding garment? It can be nothing else
than righteousness, moral purity, which fits for sitting at His
table in His kingdom. And the man who has it not, is the nominal
Christian, who says that he has accepted God's invitation, and lives
in sin, not putting off 'the old man with his deeds,' nor putting on
'the new man, which is created in righteousness.' How that garment
was to be obtained is no part of this parable. We know that it is
only to be received by faith in Jesus Christ, and that if we are to
pass the scrutiny of the king, it must be as 'not having our own
righteousness,' but His made ours by faith which makes us righteous,
and then by all holy effort, and toil in His strength, we must
clothe our souls in the dress which befits the banqueting hall; for
only they who are washed and clothed in fine linen, clean and white,
shall sit there. But Christ's purpose here was not to explain how
the robe was to be procured, but to insist that it must be worn.

'He was speechless,'--or, as the word means, 'muzzled.' The man is
self-condemned, and, having nothing to say in extenuation, the
solemn promise is pronounced of ejection from the lighted hall, with
limbs bound so that he cannot struggle, and consignment to the
blackness outside, of which our Lord adds, in words not put into the
king's mouth, but which we have heard from Him before, 'There shall
be the [well-known and terrible] weeping and gnashing of teeth--awful
though figurative expressions for despair and passion.

Both parts of the parable come under one law, and exemplify one
principle of the kingdom, that its invitations extend more widely
than the real possession of its gifts. The unbelieving Jew, in one
direction, and the unrighteous Christian in another, are instances
of this.

This is not the place to discuss that wide and well-worn question of
the ground of God's choice. That does not enter into the scope of
the parable. For it, the choice is proved by the actual
participation in the feast. They who do not choose to receive the
invitation, or to put on the wedding garment, do, in different ways,
show that they are not 'chosen' though 'called.' The lesson is, not
of interminable and insoluble questionings about God's secrets, but
of earnest heed to His gracious call, and earnest, believing effort
to make the fair garment our very own, 'if so be that being clothed
we shall not be found naked.'


'But when the Pharisees had heard that He had put the
Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together.
35. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked Him a
question, tempting Him, and saying, 36. Master, which
is the great commandment in the law? 37. Jesus said
unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy
heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38. This is the first and great commandment. 39. And
the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy
neighbour as thyself. 40. On these two commandments

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