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Expositions of Holy Scripture by Alexander Maclaren

Part 9 out of 12

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hang all the law and the prophets. 41. While the
Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them,
42. Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose Son is He?
They say unto Him, The son of David. 43. He saith unto
them, How then doth David in spirit call Him Lord,
saying, 44. The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou on My
right hand, till I make Thine enemies Thy footstool?
45. If David then call Him Lord, how is He his son?
46. And no man was able to answer Him a word; neither
durst any man, from that day forth, ask Him any more

Herodians, Sadducees, Pharisees, who were at daggers drawn with each
other, patched up an alliance against Jesus, whom they all hated.
Their questions were cunningly contrived to entangle Him in the
cobwebs of casuistry and theological hair-splitting, but He walked
through the fine-spun snares as a lion might stalk away with the
nooses set for him dangling behind him. The last of the three
questions put to Jesus, and the one question with which He turned
the tables and silenced His questioners, are our subject. In the
former, Jesus declares the essence of the law or of religion; in the
latter, He brings to light the essential loftiness of the Messiah.

I. The two preceding questions are represented to have been asked by
deputations; this is specially noted as emanating from an
individual. The 'lawyer' seems to have anticipated his colleagues,
and possibly his question was not that which they had meant to put.
His motive in asking it was that of 'tempting' Jesus, but we must
not give that word too hostile a sense, for it may mean no more than
'testing' or trying. The legal expert wished to find out the
attainments and standpoint of this would-be teacher, and so he
proposed a question which would bring out the whereabouts of Jesus,
and give opportunity for a theological wrangle. He did not ask the
question for guidance, but as an inquisitor cross-examining a
suspected heretic. Probably the question was a stereotyped one, and
there are traces in the Gospels that the answer recognised as
orthodox was that which Jesus gave (Luke x. 27). The two
commandments are quoted from Deuteronomy vi. 5 and Leviticus xix. 18
respectively. The lawyer probably only desired to raise a discussion
as to the relative worth of isolated precepts. Jesus goes deep down
below isolated precepts, and unifies, as well as transforms, the
law. Supreme and undivided love to God is not only the great, but
also the first, commandment. In more modern phrase, it is the sum of
man's duty and the germ of all goodness. Note that Jesus shifts the
centre from conduct to character, from deeds to affections. 'As a
man _thinketh_ in his heart, so is he,' said the sage of old;
Christ says, 'As a man loves, so is he.' Two loves we have,--either
the dark love of self and sense, or the white love of God, and all
character and conduct are determined by which of these sways us.
Note, further, that love to God must needs be undivided. God is one
and all; man is one and finite. To love such an object with half a
heart is not to love. True, our weakness leads astray, but the only
real love corresponding to the natures of the lover and the loved is
whole-hearted, whole-souled, whole-minded. It must be 'all in all,
or not at all.'

'A second is like unto it,'--love to man is the under side, as it
were, of love to God. The two commandments are alike, for both call
for love, and the second is second because it is a consequence of
the first. Each sets up a lofty standard; 'with all thy heart' and
'as thyself' sound equally impossible, but both result necessarily
from the nature of the case. Religion is the parent of all morality,
and especially of benevolent love to men. Innate self-regard will
yield to no force but that of love to God. It is vain to try to
create brotherhood among men unless the sense of God's fatherhood is
its foundation. Love of neighbours is the second commandment, and to
make it the first, as some do now, is to end all hope of fulfilling
it. Still further, Jesus hangs law and prophets on these two
precepts, which, at bottom, are one. Not only will all other duties
be done in doing these, since 'love is the fulfilling of the law,'
but all other precepts, and all the prophets' appeals and
exhortations, are but deductions from, or helps to the attainment
of, these. All our forms of worship, creeds, and the like, are of
worth in so far as they are outcomes of love to God, or aid us in
loving Him and our neighbours. Without love, they are 'as sounding
brass, or a tinkling cymbal.'

II. The Pharisees remained 'gathered together,' and may have been
preparing another question, but Jesus had been long enough
interrogated. It was not fitting that He should be catechised only.
His questions teach. He does not seek to 'entangle' the Pharisees
'in their speech,' nor to make them contradict themselves, but
brings them full up against a difficulty, that they may open their
eyes to the great truth which is its only solution. His first
question, 'What think ye of the Christ?' is simply preparatory to
the second. The answer which He anticipated was given,--as, of
course, it would be, for the Davidic descent of the Messiah was a
commonplace universally accepted. One can fancy that the Pharisees
smiled complacently at the attempt to puzzle them with such an
elementary question, but the smile vanished when the next one came.
They interpreted Psalm 110 as Messianic, and David in it called
Messiah 'my Lord.' How can He be both? Jesus' question is in two
forms,--'If He is son, how does David call Him Lord?' or, if He is
Lord, 'how then is He his son?' Take either designation, and the
other lands you in inextricable difficulties.

Now what was our Lord's purpose in thus driving the Pharisees into a
corner? Not merely to 'muzzle' them, as the word in verse 34,
rendered 'put to silence,' literally means, but to bring to light
the inadequate conceptions of the Messiah and of the nature of His
kingdom, to which exclusive recognition of his Davidic descent
necessarily led. David's son would be but a king after the type of
the Herods and Casars, and his kingdom as 'carnal' as the wildest
zealot expected, but David's Lord, sitting at God's right hand, and
having His foes made His footstool by Jehovah Himself,--what sort of
a Messiah King would that be? The majestic image, that shapes itself
dimly here, was a revelation that took the Pharisees' breath away,
and made them dumb. Nor are the words without a half-disclosed claim
on Christ's part to be that which He was so soon to avow Himself
before the high priest as being. The first hearers of them probably
caught that meaning partly, and were horrified; we hear it clearly
in the words, and answer, 'Thou art the King of glory, O Christ!
Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.'

Jesus here says that Psalm 110 is Messianic, that David was the
author, and that he wrote it by divine inspiration. The present
writer cannot see how our Lord's argument can be saved from collapse
if the psalm is not David's.


'Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for
ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear
beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's
bones, and of all uncleanness. 28. Even so ye also
outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are
full of hypocrisy and iniquity. 29. Woe unto you,
scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the
tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of
the righteous, 30. And say, If we had been in the days
of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with
them in the blood of the prophets. 31. Wherefore ye be
witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of
them which killed the prophets. 32. Fill ye up then the
measure of your fathers. 33. Ye serpents, ye generation
of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell!
34. Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and
wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill
and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your
synagogues, and persecute them from city to city;
35. That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed
upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto
the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew
between the temple and the altar. 36. Verily I say unto
you, All these things shall come upon this generation.
37. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the
prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee,
how often would I have gathered thy children together,
even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings,
and ye would not! 38. Behold, your house is left unto
you desolate. 39. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see
Me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is He that
cometh in the name of the Lord.'--MATT. xxiii. 27-39.

If, with the majority of authorities, we exclude verse 14 from the
text, there are, in this chapter, seven woes, like seven thunders,
launched against the rulers. They are scathing exposures, but, as
the very word implies, full of sorrow as well as severity. They are
not denunciations, but prophecies warning that the end of such
tempers must be mournful. The wailing of an infinite compassion,
rather than the accents of anger, sounds in them; and it alone is
heard in the outburst of lamenting in which Christ's heart runs
over, as in a passion of tears, at the close. The blending of
sternness and pity, each perfect, is the characteristic of this
wonderful climax of our Lord's appeals to His nation. Could such
tones of love and righteous anger joined have been sent echoing
through the ages in this Gospel, if they had not been heard?

I. The woe of the 'whited sepulchres.' The first four woes are
directed mainly to the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees; the
last three to their characters. The two first of these fasten on the
same sin, of hypocritical holiness. There is, however, a difference
between the representation of hypocrites under the metaphor of the
clean outside of the cup and platter, and that of the whited
sepulchre. In the former, the hidden sin is 'extortion and excess';
that is, sensual enjoyment wrongly procured, of which the emblems of
cup and plate suggest that good eating and drinking are a chief
part. In the latter, it is 'iniquity'--a more general and darker
name for sin. In the former, the Pharisee is 'blind,' self-deceived
in part or altogether; in the latter, stress is rather laid on his
'appearance unto men.' The repetition of the same charge in the two
woes teaches us Christ's estimate of the gravity and frequency of
the sin.

The whitened tombs of Mohammedan saints still gleam in the strong
sunlight on many a knoll in Palestine. If the Talmudical practice is
as old as our Lord's time, the annual whitewashing was lately over.
Its purpose was not to adorn the tombs, but to make them
conspicuous, so that they might be avoided for fear of defilement.
So He would say, with terrible irony, that the apparent holiness of
the rulers was really a sign of corruption, and a warning to keep
away from them. What a blow at their self-complacency! And how
profoundly true it is that the more punctiliously white the
hypocrite's outside, the more foul is he within, and the wider berth
will all discerning people give him! The terrible force of the
figure needs no dwelling on. In Christ's estimate, such a soul was
the very dwelling-place of death; and foul odours and worms and
corruption filled its sickening recesses. Terrible words to come
from His lips into which grace was poured, and bold words to be
flashed at listeners who held the life of the Speaker in their
hands! There are two sorts of hypocrites, the conscious and the
unconscious; and there are ten of the latter for one of the former,
and each ten times more dangerous. Established religion breeds them,
and they are specially likely to be found among those whose business
is to study the documents in which it is embodied. These woes are
not like thunder-peals rolling above our heads, while the lightning
strikes the earth miles away. A religion which is mostly whitewash
is as common among us as ever it was in Jerusalem; and its foul
accompaniments of corruption becoming more rotten every year, as the
whitewash is laid on thicker, may be smelt among us, and its fatal
end is as sure.

II. The woe of the sepulchre builders (vs. 29-36). In these verses
we have, first, the specification of another form of hypocrisy,
consisting in building the prophets' tombs, and disavowing the
fathers' murder of them. Honouring dead prophets was right; but
honouring dead ones and killing living ones was conscious or
unconscious hypocrisy. The temper of mind which leads to glorifying
the dead witnesses, also leads to supposing that all truth was given
by them; and hence that the living teachers, who carry their message
farther, are false prophets. A generation which was ready to kill
Jesus in honour of Moses, would have killed Moses in honour of
Abraham, and would not have had the faintest apprehension of the
message of either.

It is a great deal easier to build tombs than to accept teachings,
and a good deal of the posthumous honour paid to God's messengers
means, 'It's a good thing they are dead, and that we have nothing to
do but to put up a monument.' Bi-centenaries and ter-centenaries and
jubilees do not always imply either the understanding or the
acceptance of the principles supposed to be glorified thereby. But
the magnifiers of the past are often quite unconscious of the
hollowness of their admiration, and honest in their horror of their
fathers' acts; and we all need the probe of such words as Christ's
to pierce the skin of our lazy reverence for our fathers' prophets,
and let out the foul matter below--namely, our own blindness to
God's messengers of to-day.

The statement of the hypocrisy is followed, in verses 31-33, with
its unmasking and condemnation. The words glow with righteous wrath
at white heat, and end in a burst of indignation, most unfamiliar to
His lips. Three sentences, like triple lightning flash from His
pained heart. With almost scornful subtlety He lays hold of the
words which He puts into the Pharisees' mouths, to convict them of
kindred with those whose deeds they would disown. 'Our fathers, say
you? Then you do belong to the same family, after all. You confess
that you have their blood in your veins; and, in the very act of
denying sympathy with their conduct, you own kindred. And, for all
your protestations, spiritual kindred goes with bodily descent.'
Christ here recognises that children probably 'take after their
parents,' or, in modern scientific terms, that 'heredity' is the
law, and that it works more surely in the transmission of evil than
of good.

Then come the awful words bidding that generation 'fill up the
measure of the fathers.' They are like the other command to Judas to
do his work quickly. They are more than permission, they are
command; but such a command as, by its laying bare of the true
character of the deed in view, is love's last effort at prevention.
Mark the growing emotion of the language. Mark the conception of a
nation's sins as one through successive generations, and the other,
of these as having a definite measure, which being filled, judgment
can no longer tarry. Generation after generation pours its
contributions into the vessel, and when the last black drop which it
can hold has been added, then comes the catastrophe. Mark the fatal
necessity by which inherited sin becomes darker sin. The fathers'
crimes are less than the sons'. This inheritance increases by each
transmission. The cloak strikes one more at each revolution of the

It is hard to recognise Christ in the terrible words that follow. We
have heard part of them from John the Baptist; and it sounded
natural for him to call men serpents and the children of serpents,
but it is somewhat of a shock to hear Jesus hurling such names at
even the most sinful. But let us remember that He who sees hearts,
has a right to tell harsh truths, and that it is truest kindness to
strip off masks which hide from men their own real character, and
that the revelation of the divine love in Jesus would be a partial
and impotent revelation if it did not show us the righteous love
which is wrath. There is nothing so terrible as the anger of gentle
compassion, and the fiercest and most destructive wrath is 'the
wrath of the Lamb.' Seldom, indeed, did He show that side of His
character; but it is there, and the other side would not be so
blessed as it is, unless that were there too.

The woe ends with the double prophecy that that generation would
repeat and surpass the fathers' guilt, and that on it would fall the
accumulated penalties of past bloodshed. Note that solemn
'therefore,' which looks back to the whole preceding context, and
forward to the whole subsequent. Because the rulers professed
abhorrence of their fathers' deeds, and yet inherited their spirit,
they too would have their prophets, and would slay them. God goes on
sending His messengers, because we reject them; and the more deaf
men are, the more does He peal His words into their ears. That is
mercy and compassion, that all men may be saved and come to the
knowledge of the truth; but it is judgment too, and its foreseen
effect must be regarded as part of the divine purpose in it.
Christ's desire is one thing, His purpose another. His desire is
that all should find in His gospel 'the savour of life'; but His
purpose is that, if it be not that to any, it shall be to them the
savour of death. Mark, too, the authority with which He, in the face
of these scowling Pharisees, assumes the distinct divine prerogative
of sending forth inspired men, who, as His messengers, shall stand
on a level with the prophets of old. Mark His silence as to His own
fate, which is only obscurely hinted at in the command to fill up
the measure of the fathers. Observe the detailed enumeration of His
messengers' gifts,--'prophets' under direct inspiration, like those
of old, which may especially refer to the apostles; 'wise men,' like
a Stephen or an Apollos; 'scribes,' such as Mark and Luke and many a
faithful servant since, whose pen has loved to write the name above
every name. Note the detailed prophecy of their treatment, which
begins with _slaying_ and goes down to the less severe _scourging_,
and thence to the milder _persecution_. Do the three punishments
belong to the three classes of messengers, the severest falling to
the lot of the most highly endowed, and even the quiet penman being
hunted from city to city?

We need not wriggle and twist to try to avoid admitting that the
calling of the martyred Zacharias, 'the son of Barachias,' is an
error of some one who confused the author of the prophetic book with
the person whose murder is narrated in 2 Chronicles xxiv. We do not
know who made the mistake, or how it appears in our text, but it is
not honest to try to slur it over. The punishment of long ages of
sin, carried on from father to son, does in the course of that
history of the world, which is a part of the judgment of the world,
fall upon one generation. It takes long for the mass of heaped-up
sin to become top-heavy; but when it is so, it buries one generation
of those who have worked at piling it up, beneath its down-rushing

'The mills of God grind slowly,
But they grind exceeding small.'

The catastrophes of national histories are prepared for by continuous
centuries. The generation that laid the first powder-hornful of the
train is dead and buried, long before the explosion which sends
constituted order and institutions sky-high. The misery is that often
the generation which has to pay the penalty has begun to awake to the
sin, and would be glad to mend it, if it could. England in the
seventeenth century, France in the eighteenth, America in the
nineteenth, had to reap harvests from sins sown long before. Such is
the law of the judgment wrought out by God's providence in history.
But there is another judgment, begun here and perfected hereafter, in
which fathers and sons shall each bear their own burden, and reap
accurately the fruit of what they have sown. 'The soul that sinneth,
it shall die.'

III. The parting wail of rejected love. The lightning flashes of the
sevenfold woes end in a rain of pity and tears. His full heart
overflows in that sad cry of lamentation over the long-continued
foiling of the efforts of a love that would fain have fondled and
defended. What intensity of feeling is in the redoubled naming of
the city! How yearningly and wistfully He calls, as if He might still
win the faithless one, and how lingeringly unwilling He is to give up
hope! How mournfully, rather than accusingly, He reiterates the acts
which had run through the whole history, using a form of the verbs
which suggests continuance. Mark, too, the matter-of-course way in
which Christ assumes that He sent all the prophets whom, through
the generations, Jerusalem had stoned.

So the lament passes into the solemn final leave-taking, with which
our Lord closes His ministry among the Jews, and departs from the
temple. As, in the parable of the marriage-feast, the city was
emphatically called 'their city,' so here the Temple, in whose
courts He was standing, and which in a moment He was to quit for
ever, is called 'your house,' because His departure is the
withdrawing of the true Shechinah. It had been the house of God: now
He casts it off, and leaves it to them to do as they will with it.
The saddest punishment of long-continued rejection of His pleading
love, is that it ceases at last to plead. The bitterest woe for
those who refuse to render to Him the fruits of the vineyard, is to
get the vineyard for their own, undisturbed. Christ's utmost
retribution for obstinate blindness is to withdraw from our sight.
All the woes that were yet to fall, in long, dreary succession on
that nation, so long continued in its sin, so long continued in its
misery, were hidden in that solemn departure of Christ from the
henceforward empty temple. Let us fear lest our unfaithfulness meet
the like penalty! But even the departure does not end His yearnings,
nor close the long story of the conflict between God's beseeching
love and their unbelief. The time shall come when the nation shall
once more lift up, with deeper, truer adoration, the hosannas of the
triumphal entry. And then a believing Israel shall see their King,
and serve Him. Christ never takes final leave of any man in this
world. It is ever possible that dumb lips may be opened to welcome
Him, though long rejected; and His withdrawals are His efforts to
bring about that opening. When it takes place, how gladly does He
return to the heart which is now His temple, and unveil His beauty
to the long-darkened eyes!


'He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.'
--Matt. xxiv. 13, R.V.

'In your patience possess ye your souls.'--Luke xxi. 19.

These two sayings, different as they sound in our Version, are
probably divergent representations of one original. The reasons for
so supposing are manifold and obvious on a little consideration. In
the first place, the two sayings occur in the Evangelists' reports
of the same prophecy and at the same point therein. In the second
place, the verbal resemblance is much greater than appears in our
Authorised Version, because the word rendered 'patience' in Luke is
derived from that translated 'endureth' in Matthew; and the true
connection between the two versions of the saying would have been
more obvious if we had had a similar word in both, reading in the
one 'he that endureth,' and in the other 'in your endurance.' In the
third place, the difference between these two sayings presented in
our Version, in that the one is a promise and the other a command,
is due to an incorrect reading of St. Luke's words. The Revised
Version substitutes for the imperative 'possess' the promise 'ye
shall possess,' and with that variation the two sayings are brought
a good deal nearer each other. In both endurance is laid down as the
condition, which in both is followed by a promise. Then, finally,
there need be no difficulty in seeing that 'possessing,' or, more
literally, 'gaining your souls,' is an exact equivalent of the other
expression, 'ye shall be saved.' One cannot but remember our Lord's
solemn antithetical phrase about a man 'losing his own soul.' To
'win one's soul' is to be saved; to be saved is to win one's soul.

So I think I have made out my thesis that the two sayings are
substantially one. They carry a great weight of warning, of
exhortation, and of encouragement to us all. Let us try now to reap
some of that harvest.

I. First, then, notice the view of our condition which underlies
these sayings.

It is a sad and a somewhat stern one, but it is one to which, I
think, most men's hearts will respond, if they give themselves
leisure to think; and if they 'see life steadily, and see it whole.'
For howsoever many days are bright, and howsoever all days are good,
yet, on the whole, 'man is a soldier, and life is a fight.' For some
of us it is simple endurance; for all of us it has sometimes been
agony; for all of us, always, it presents resistance to every kind of
high and noble career, and especially to the Christian one. Easy-going
optimists try to skim over these facts, but they are not to be so
lightly set aside. You have only to look at the faces that you
meet in the street to be very sure that it is always a grave and
sometimes a bitter thing to live. And so our two texts presuppose
that life on the whole demands endurance, whatever may be included
in that great word.

Think of the inward resistance and outward hindrances to every lofty
life. The scholar, the man of culture, the philanthropist--all who
would live for anything else than the present, the low, and the
sensual--find that there is a banded conspiracy, as it were, against
them, and that they have to fight their way by continual antagonism,
by continual persistence, as well as by continual endurance. Within,
weakness, torpor, weariness, levity, inconstant wills, bright
purposes clouding over, and all the cowardice and animalism of our
nature war continually against the better, higher self. And without,
there is a down-dragging, as persistent as the force of gravity,
coming from the whole assemblage of external things that solicit,
and would fain seduce us. The old legends used to tell us how,
whensoever a knight set out upon any great and lofty quest, his path
was beset on either side by voices, sometimes whispering seductions,
and sometimes shrieking maledictions, but always seeking to withdraw
him from his resolute march onwards to his goal. And every one of
us, if we have taken on us the orders of any lofty chivalry, and
especially if we have sworn ourselves knights of the Cross, have to
meet the same antagonism. Then, too, there are golden apples rolled
upon our path, seeking to draw us away from our steadfast endurance.

Besides the hindrances in every noble path, the hindrances within
and the hindrances without, the weight of self and the drawing of
earth, there come to us all--in various degrees no doubt, and in
various shapes--but to all of us there come the burdens of sorrows
and cares, and anxieties and trials. Wherever two or three are
gathered together, even if they gather for a feast, there will be
some of them who carry a sorrow which they know well will never be
lifted off their shoulders and their hearts, until they lay down all
their burdens at the grave's mouth; and it is weary work to plod on
the path of life with a weight that cannot be shifted, with a wound
that can never be stanched.

Oh, brethren, rosy-coloured optimism is all a dream. The recognition
of the good that is in the evil is the devout man's talisman, but
there is always need for the resistance and endurance which my texts
prescribe. And the youngest of us, the gladdest of us, the least
experienced of us, the most frivolous of us, if we will question our
own hearts, will hear their Amen to the stern, sad view of the facts
of earthly life which underlies this text.

Though it has many other aspects, the world seems to me sometimes to
be like that pool at Jerusalem in the five porches of which lay,
groaning under various diseases, but none of them without an ache, a
great multitude of impotent folk, halt and blind. Astronomers tell
us that one, at any rate, of the planets rolls on its orbit swathed
in clouds and moisture. The world moves wrapped in a mist of tears.
God only knows them all, but each heart knows its own bitterness and
responds to the words, 'Ye have need of patience.'

II. Now, secondly, mark the victorious temper.

That is referred to in the one saying by 'he that endureth,' and in
the other 'in your endurance.' Now, it is very necessary for the
understanding of many places in Scripture to remember that the
notion either of patience or of endurance by no means exhausts the
power of this noble Christian word. For these are passive virtues,
and however excellent and needful they may be, they by no means sum
up our duty in regard to the hindrances and sorrows, the burdens and
weights, of which I have been trying to speak. For you know it is
only 'what cannot be cured' that 'must be endured,' and even
incurable things are not merely to be endured, but they ought to be
utilised. It is not enough that we should build up a dam to keep the
floods of sorrow and trial from overflowing our fields; we must turn
the turbid waters into our sluices, and get them to drive our mills.
It is not enough that we should screw ourselves up to lie
unresistingly under the surgeon's knife; though God knows that it is
as much as we can manage sometimes, and we have to do as convicts
under the lash do, get a bit of lead or a bullet into our mouths,
and bite at it to keep ourselves from crying out. But that is not
all our duty in regard to our trials and difficulties. There is
required something more than passive endurance.

This noble word of my texts does mean a great deal more than that. It
means active persistence as well as patient submission. It is not
enough that we should stand and bear the pelting of the pitiless storm,
unmurmuring and unbowed by it; but we are bound to go on our course,
bearing up and steering right onwards. Persistent perseverance in the
path that is marked out for us is especially the virtue that our Lord
here enjoins. It is well to sit still unmurmuring; it is better to
march on undiverted and unchecked. And when we are able to keep
straight on in the path which is marked out for us, and especially in
the path that leads us to God, notwithstanding all opposing voices, and
all inward hindrances and reluctances; when we are able to go to our
tasks of whatever sort they are and to do them, though our hearts are
beating like sledge-hammers; when we say to ourselves, 'It does not
matter a bit whether I am sad or glad, fresh or wearied, helped or
hindered by circumstances, this one thing I do,' then we have come to
understand and to practise the grace that our Master here enjoins. The
endurance which wins the soul, and leads to salvation, is no mere
passive submission, excellent and hard to attain as that often is;
but it is brave perseverance in the face of all difficulties, and in
spite of all enemies.

Mark how emphatically our Lord here makes the space within which
that virtue has to be exercised conterminous with the whole duration
of our lives. I need not discuss what 'the end' was in the original
application of the words; that would take us too far afield. But
this I desire to insist upon, that right on to the very close of
life we are to expect the necessity of putting forth the exercise of
the very same persistence by which the earlier stages of any noble
career must necessarily be marked. In other departments of life
there may be relaxation, as a man goes on through the years; but in
the culture of our characters, and in the deepening of our faith,
and in the drawing near to our God, there must be no cessation or
diminution of earnestness and of effort right up to the close.

There are plenty of people, and I dare say that I address some of
them now, who began their Christian career full of vigour and with a
heat that was too hot to last. But, alas, in a year or two all the
fervency was past, and they settled down into the average, easygoing,
unprogressive Christian, who is a wet blanket to the devotion and
work of a Christian church. I wonder how many of us would scarcely
know our own former selves if we could see them. Christian people,
to how many of us should the word be rung in our ears: 'Ye did run
well; _what_ did hinder you'? The answer is--Myself.

But may I say that this emphatic 'to the end' has a special lesson
for us older people, who, as natural strength abates and enthusiasm
cools down, are apt to be but the shadows of our old selves in many
things? But there should be fire within the mountain, though there
may be snow on its crest. Many a ship has been lost on the harbour
bar; and there is no excuse for the captain leaving the bridge, or
the engineer coming up from the engine-room, stormy as the one
position and stifling as the other may be, until the anchor is down,
and the vessel is moored and quiet in the desired haven. The desert,
with its wild beasts and its Bedouin, reaches right up to the city
gates, and until we are within these we need to keep our hands on
our sword-hilts and be ready for conflict. 'He that endureth to the
end, the same shall be saved.'

III. Lastly, note the crown which endurance wins.

Now, I need not spend or waste your time in mere verbal criticism,
but I wish to point out that that word 'soul' in one of our two
texts means both the soul and the life of which it is the seat; and
also to remark that the being saved and the winning of the life or
the soul has distinct application, in our Lord's words, primarily to
corporeal safety and preservation in the midst of dangers; and,
still further, to note the emphatic '_in_ your patience,' as
suggesting not only a future but a present acquisition of one's own
soul, or life, as the result of such persevering endurance and
enduring perseverance. All which things being kept in view, I may
expand the great promise that lies in my text, as follows:--

First, by such persevering persistence in the Christian path, we gain
ourselves. Self-surrender is self-possession. We never own ourselves
till we have given up owning ourselves, and yielded ourselves to that
Lord who gives us back saints to ourselves. Self-control is
self-possession. We do not own ourselves as long as it is possible
for any weakness in flesh, sense, or spirit to gain dominion over us
and hinder us from doing what we know to be right. We are not our own
masters then. 'Whilst they promise them liberty, they themselves are
the bond-slaves of corruption.' It is only when we have the bit well
into the jaws of the brutes, and the reins tight in our hands, so
that a finger-touch can check or divert the course, that we are truly
lords of the chariot in which we ride and of the animals that impel it.

And such self-control which is the winning of ourselves is, as I
believe, thoroughly realised only when, by self-surrender of
ourselves to Jesus Christ, we get His help to govern ourselves and
so become lords of ourselves. Some little petty Rajah, up in the
hills, in a quasi-independent State in India, is troubled by
mutineers whom he cannot subdue; what does he do? He sends a message
down to Lahore or Calcutta, and up come English troops that
consolidate his dominion, and he rules securely, when he has
consented to become a feudatory, and recognise his overlord. And so
you and I, by continual repetition, in the face of self and sin, of
our acts of self-surrender, bring Christ into the field; and then,
when we have said, 'Lord, take me; I live, yet not I, but Christ
liveth in me'; and when we daily, in spite of hindrances, stand to
the surrender and repeat the consecration, then 'in our perseverance
we acquire our souls.'

Again, such persistence wins even the bodily life, whether it
preserves it or loses it. I have said that the words of our texts
have an application to bodily preservation in the midst of the
dreadful dangers of the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. But so
regarded they are a paradox. For hear how the Master introduces
them: 'Some of you shall they cause to be put to death, but there
shall not a hair of your heads perish. In your perseverance ye shall
win your lives.' 'Some of you they will put to death,' but ye 'shall
win your lives,'--a paradox which can only be solved by experience.
Whether this bodily life be preserved or lost, it is gained when it
is used as a means of attaining the higher life of union with God.
Many a martyr had the promise, 'Not a hair of your head shall
perish,' fulfilled at the very moment when the falling axe shore his
locks in twain, and severed his head from his body.

Finally, full salvation, the true possession of himself, and the
acquisition of the life which really is life, comes to a man who
perseveres to the end, and thus passes to the land where he will
receive the recompense of the reward. The one moment the runner,
with flushed cheek and forward swaying body, hot, with panting
breath, and every muscle strained, is straining to the winning-post;
and the next moment, in utter calm, he is wearing the crown.

'To the end,' and what a contrast the next moment will be! Brethren,
may it be true of you and of me that 'we are not of them that draw
back unto perdition, but of them that believe to the winning of
their souls!'


'Wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be
gathered together.'--MATT. xxiv. 28.

This grim parable has, of course, a strong Eastern colouring. It is
best appreciated by dwellers in those lands. They tell us that no
sooner is some sickly animal dead, or some piece of carrion thrown
out by the way, than the vultures--for the eagle does not prey upon
carrion--appear. There may not have been one visible a moment before
in the hot blue sky, but, taught by scent or by sight that their
banquet is prepared, they come flocking from all corners of the
heavens, a hideous crowd round their hideous meal, fighting with
flapping wings and tearing it with their strong talons. And so, says
Christ, wherever there is a rotting, dead society, a carcase
hopelessly corrupt and evil, down upon it, as if drawn by some
unerring attraction, will come the angels, the vultures of the
divine judgment.

The words of my text were spoken, according to the version of them
in Luke's Gospel, in answer to a question from the disciples. Our
Lord had been discoursing, in very solemn words, which, starting
from the historical event of the impending fall of Jerusalem, had
gradually passed into a description of the greater event of His
second coming. And all these solemn warnings had stirred nothing
deeper in the bosoms of the disciples than a tepid and idle
curiosity which expressed itself in the one almost irrelevant
question, 'Where, Lord?' He answers--Not here, not there, but
everywhere where there is a carcase. The great event which is
referred to in our Lord's solemn words is a future judgment, which
is to be universal. But the words are not exhausted in their
reference to that event. There have been many 'comings of the Lord,'
many 'days of the Lord,' which on a smaller scale have embodied the
same principles as are to be displayed in world-wide splendour and
awfulness at the last.

I. The first thing, then, in these most true and solemn words is
this, that they are to us a revelation of a law which operates with
unerring certainty through all the course of the world's history.

We cannot tell, but God can, when evil has become incurable; or
when, in the language of my text, the mass of any community has
become a carcase. There may be flickerings of life, all unseen by
our eyes, or there may be death, all unsuspected by our shallow
vision. So long as there is a possibility of amendment, 'sentence
against an evil work is not executed speedily'; and God dams back,
as it were, the flow of His retributive judgment, 'not willing that
any should perish, but that all should come to the knowledge of the
truth.' But when He sees that all is vain, that no longer is
restoration or recovery possible, then He lets loose the flood; or,
in the language of my text, when the thing has become a carcase,
then the vultures, God's scavengers, come and clear it away from off
the face of the earth.

Now that is the law that has been working from the beginning,
working as well in regard to the long delays as in regard to the
swift execution. There is another metaphor, in the Old Testament,
that puts the same idea in a very striking form. It speaks about
God's 'awakening,' as if His judgment slumbered. All round that dial
the hand goes creeping, creeping, creeping slowly, but when it comes
to the appointed line, then the bell strikes. And so years and
centuries go by, all chance of recovery departs, and then the crash!
The ice palace, built upon the frozen blocks, stands for a while,
but when the spring thaws come, it breaks up.

Let me remind you of some instances and illustrations. Take that
story which people stumble over in the early part of the Old
Testament revelation--the sweeping away of those Canaanitish nations
whose hideous immoralities had turned the land into a perfect sty of
abominations. There they had been wallowing, and God's Spirit, which
strives with men ever and always, had been striving with them, we
know not for how long, but when the time came at which, according to
the grim metaphor of the Old Testament, 'the measure of their
iniquity was full,' then He hurled upon them the fierce hosts out of
the desert, and in a whirlwind of fire and sword swept them off the
face of the earth.

Take another illustration. These very people, who had been the
executioners of divine judgment, settled in the land, fell into the
snare--and you know the story. The captivities of Israel and Judah
were other illustrations of the same thing. The fall of Jerusalem,
to which our Lord pointed in the solemn context of these words, was
another. For millenniums God had been pleading with them, sending
His prophets, rising early and sending, saying, 'Oh, do not do this
abominable thing which I hate!' 'And last of all He sent His Son.'
Christ being rejected, God had shot His last bolt. He had no more
that He could do. Christ being refused, the nation's doom was fixed
and sealed, and down came the eagles of Rome, again God's scavengers,
to sweep away the nation on which had been lavished such wealth of
divine love, but which had now come to be a rotting abomination,
and to this day remains in a living death, a miraculously preserved
monument of God's Judgments.

Take another illustration how, once more, the executants of the law
fall under its power. That nation which crushed the feeble resources
of Judaea, as a giant might crush a mosquito in his grasp, in its
turn became honeycombed with abominations and immoralities; and then
down from the frozen north came the fierce Gothic tribes over the
Roman territory. One of their captains called himself the 'Scourge
of God,' and he was right. Another swooping down of the vultures
flashed from the blue heavens, and the carrion was torn to fragments
by their strong beaks.

Take one more illustration--that French Revolution at the end of the
eighteenth century. The fathers sowed the wind, and the children
reaped the whirlwind. Generations of heartless luxury, selfishness,
carelessness of the cry of the poor, immoral separation of class
from class, and all the sins which a ruling caste could commit
against a subject people, had prepared for the convulsion. Then, in
a carnival of blood and deluges of fire and sulphur, the rotten
thing was swept off the face of the earth, and the world breathed
more freely for its destruction.

Take another illustration, through which many of us have lived. The
bitter legacy of negro slavery that England gave to her giant son
across the Atlantic, which blasted and sucked the strength out of
that great republic, went down amidst universal execration. It took
centuries for the corpse to be ready, but when the vultures came
they made quick work of it.

And so, as I say, all over the world, and from the beginning of
time, with delays according to the possibilities of restoration and
recovery which the divine eye discerns, this law is working. Verily
there is a God that judgeth in the earth. 'The wheels of God grind
slowly, but they grind exceeding small.' 'Wheresoever the carcase
is, there will the eagles be gathered together.'

And has the law exhausted its force? Are there going to be no more
applications of it? Are there no European societies at this day that
in their godlessness and social iniquities are hurrying fast to the
condition of carrion? Look around us--drunkenness, sensual
immorality, commercial dishonesty, senseless luxury amongst the
rich, heartless indifference to the wail of the poor, godlessness
over all classes and ranks of the community. Surely, surely, if the
body politic be not dead, it is sick nigh unto death. And I, for my
part, have little hesitation in saying that as far as one can see,
European society is driving as fast as it can, with its godlessness
and immorality, to such another 'day of the Lord' as these words of
my text suggest. Let us see to it that we do our little part to be
the 'salt of the earth' which shall keep it from rotting, and so
drive away the vultures of judgment.

II. But let me turn to another point. We have here a law which is to
have a far more tremendous accomplishment in the future.

There have been many comings of the Lord, many days of the Lord,
when, as Isaiah says in his magnificent vision of one such, 'the
loftiness of man has been bowed down, and the haughtiness of man
made low, and the Lord alone exalted in that day when He arises to
shake terribly the earth. And all these 'days of the Lord' are
prophecies, and distinctly point to a future 'day' when the same
principles which have been disclosed as working on a small scale in
them, shall be manifested in full embodiment. These 'days of the
Lord' proclaim '_the_ day of the Lord.' In the prophecies both
of the Old and New Testaments that universal future judgment is seen
glimmering through the descriptions of the nearer partial judgments.
So interpreters are puzzled to say at what point in a prophecy the
transition is made from the smaller to the greater. The prophecies
are like the diagrams in treatises on perspective, in which
diverging lines are drawn from the eye, enclosing a square or other
figure, and which, as they recede further from the point of view,
enclose a figure, the same in shape but of greater dimensions. There
is a historical event foretold, the fall of Jerusalem. It is close
up to the eyes of the disciples, and is comparatively small. Carry
out the lines that touch its corners and define its shape, and upon
the far distant curtain of the dim future there is thrown a like
figure immensely larger, the coming of Jesus Christ to judge the
world. All these little premonitions and foretastes and anticipatory
specimens point onwards to the assured termination of the world's
history in that great and solemn day, when all men shall be gathered
before Christ's throne, and He shall judge all nations--judge you
and me amongst the rest. That future judgment is distinctly a part
of the Christian revelation. Jesus Christ is to come in bodily form
as He went away. All men are to be judged by Him. That judgment is
to be the destruction of opposing forces, the sweeping away of the
carrion of moral evil.

It is therefore distinctly a part of the message that is to be
preached by us, under penalty of the awful condemnation pronounced
on the watchman who seeth the sword coming and gives no warning. It
is not becoming to make such a solemn message the opportunity for
pictorial rhetoric, which vulgarises its greatness and weakens its
power. But it is worse than an offence against taste; it is
unfaithfulness to the preaching which God bids us, treason to our
King, and cruelty to our hearers, to suppress the warning--'The day
of the Lord cometh.' There are many temptations to put it in the
background. Many of you do not want that kind of preaching. You want
the gentle side of divine revelation. You say to us in fact, though
not in words. 'Prophesy to us smooth things. Tell us about the
infinite love which wraps all mankind in its embrace. Speak to us of
the Father God, who "hateth nothing that He hath made." Magnify the
mercy and gentleness and tenderness of Christ. Do not say anything
about that other side. It is not in accordance with the tendencies
of modern thought.'

So much the worse, then, for the tendencies of modern thought. I
yield to no man in the ardour of my belief that the centre of all
revelation is the revelation of a God of infinite love, but I cannot
forget that there is such a thing as 'the terror of the Lord,' and I
dare not disguise my conviction that no preaching sounds every
string in the manifold harp of God's truth, which does not strike
that solemn note of warning of judgment to come.

Such suppression is unfaithfulness. Surely, if we preachers believe
that tremendous truth, we are bound to speak. It is cruel kindness
to be silent. If a traveller is about to plunge into some gloomy
jungle infested by wild beasts, he is a friend who sits by the
wayside to warn him of his danger. Surely you would not call a
signalman unfeeling because he held out a red lamp when he knew that
just round the curve beyond his cabin the rails were up, and that
any train that reached the place would go over in horrid ruin.
Surely that preaching is not justly charged with harshness which
rings out the wholesome proclamation of a day of judgment, when we
shall each give account of ourselves to the divine-human Judge.

Such suppression weakens the power of the Gospel, which is the
proclamation of deliverance, not only from the power, but also from
the future retribution of sin. In such a maimed gospel there is but
an enfeebled meaning given to that idea of deliverance. And though
the thing that breaks the heart and draws men to God is not terror,
but love, the terror must often be evoked in order to lead to love.
It is only 'judgment to come' which will make Felix tremble, and
though his trembling may pass away, and he be none the nearer the
kingdom, there will never any good be done to him unless he does
tremble. So, for all these reasons, all faithful preaching of
Christ's Gospel must include the proclamation of Christ as Judge.

But, if I should be unfaithful, if I did not preach this truth, what
shall we call you if you turn away from it? You would not think it a
wise thing of the engine-driver to shut his eyes if the red lamp
were shown, and to go along at full speed and to pay no heed to
that? Do you think it would be right for a Christian minister to
lock his lips and never say, 'There is a judgment to come'? And do
you think it is wise of you not to think of that, and to shape your
conduct accordingly?

Oh, dear friends! I do not doubt that the centre of all divine
revelation is the love of God, nor do I doubt that incomparably the
highest representation of the power of Christ's Gospel is that it
draws men away from the love and the practice of evil, and makes
them pure and holy. But that is not all. There is not only the
practice and the power of sin to be fought against, but there is the
penalty of sin to be taken into account; and as sure as you are
living, and as sure as there is a God above us, so sure is it that
there is a Day of Judgment, when 'He will judge the world in
righteousness by the Man whom He hath ordained.' The believing of
that is not salvation, but the belief of that seems to me to be
indispensable for any vigorous grasp of the delivering love of God
in Jesus Christ our Lord.

III. And so the last thing that I have to say is that this is a law
which need never touch you, nor you know anything about but by the
hearing of the ear.

It is told us that we may escape it. When Paul reasoned of
righteousness, and temperance, and judgment to come, his hearer
trembled as he listened, but there was an end. But the true effect
of this message is the effect that Paul himself attached to it when
he said in the hearing of Athenian wisdom, 'God hath commanded all
men everywhere _to repent_, because He hath appointed a day in
the which He will judge the world in righteousness.' Judgment
faithfully preached is the preparation for preaching that 'there is
no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.' If we trust in
that great Saviour, we shall be quickened from the death of sin, and
so shall not be food for the vultures of judgment. Can these corpses
live? Can this eating putrescence, which burrows its foul way
through our souls, be sweetened? Is there any antiseptic for it?
Yes, blessed be God, and the hand whose touch healed the leper will
heal us, and 'our flesh will come again as the flesh of a little
child.' Christ has bared His breast to the divine judgments against
sin, and if by faith we shelter ourselves in Him, we shall never
know the terrors of that awful day.

Be sure that judgment to come is no mere figure dressed up to
frighten children, nor the product of blind superstition, but that
it is the inevitable issue of the righteousness of the All-ruling
God. You and I and all the sons of men have to face it. 'Herein is
our love made perfect, that we may have boldness before Him in the
Day of Judgment.' Betake yourselves, as poor sinful creatures who
know something of the corruption of your own hearts, to that dear
Christ who has died on the Cross for you, and all that is obnoxious
to the divine judgments will, by His transforming life breathed into
you, be taken out of your hearts; and when that 'day of the Lord'
shall dawn, you, trusting in the sacrifice of Him who is your Judge,
will 'have a song as when a holy solemnity is kept.' Take Christ for
your Saviour, and then, when the vultures of judgment, with their
mighty black pinions, are wheeling and circling in the sky, ready to
pounce upon their prey, He will gather you 'as a hen gathereth her
chickens under her wings,' and beneath their shadow you will be


'Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord
doth come. 43. But know this, that if the goodman of
the house had known in what watch the thief would come,
he would have watched, and would not have suffered his
house to be broken up. 44. Therefore be ye also ready:
for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man
cometh. 45. Who then is a faithful and wise servant,
whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to
give them meat in due season! 46. Blessed is that
servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so
doing. 47. Verily I say unto you, That he shall make
him ruler over all his goods. 48. But and if that evil
servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his
coming; 49. And shall begin to smite his fellow-
servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken;
50. The lord of that servant shall come in a day when
he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not
aware of, 51. And shall out him asunder, and appoint
him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be
weeping and gnashing of teeth.'--MATT. xxiv. 42-51.

The long day's work was nearly done. Christ had left the temple,
never to return. He took His way across the Mount of Olives to
Bethany, and was stayed by the disciples' question as to the date of
the destruction of the temple, which He had foretold, and of the
'end of the world,' which they attached to it. They could not fancy
the world lasting without the temple! We often make a like mistake.
So there, on the hillside, looking across to the city lying in the
sad, fading evening light, He spoke the prophecies of this chapter,
which begin with the destruction of Jerusalem, and insensibly merge
into the final coming of the Son of Man, of which that was a prelude
and a type. The difficulty of accurately apportioning the details of
this prophecy to the future events which fulfil them is common to it
with all prophecy, of which it is a characteristic to blend events
which, in the fulfilment, are far apart. From the mountain top, the
eye travels over great stretches of country, but does not see the
gorges, separating points which seem close together, foreshortened
by distance.

There are many comings of the Son of Man before His final coming for
final judgment, and the nearer and smaller ones are themselves
prophecies. So, we do not need to settle the chronology of
unfulfilled prophecy in order to get the full benefit of Christ's
teachings here. In its moral and spiritual effect on us, the
uncertainty of the time of our going to Christ is nearly identical
with the uncertainty of the time of His coming to us.

I. The command of watchfulness enforced by our ignorance of the time
of His coming (vs. 42-44). The two commands at the beginning and end
of the paragraph are not quite the same. 'Be ye ready' is the
consequence of watchfulness. Nor are the two appended reasons the
same; for the first command is grounded on His coming at a day when
'ye _know_ not,' and the second on His coming 'in an hour that
ye _think_ not,' that is to say, it not only is uncertain, but
unexpected and surprising. There may also be a difference worth
noting in the different designations of Christ as 'your Lord,'
standing in a special relation to you, and as 'the Son of Man,' of
kindred with all men, and their Judge. What is this 'watchfulness'?
It is literally wakefulness. We are beset by perpetual temptations
to sleep, to spiritual drowsiness and torpor. 'An opium sky rains
down soporifics.' And without continual effort, our perception of
the unseen realities and our alertness for service will be lulled to
sleep. The religion of multitudes is a sleepy religion. Further, it
is a vivid and ever-present conviction of His certain coming, and
consequently a habitual realising of the transience of the existing
order of things, and of the fast-approaching realities of the
future. Further, it is the keeping of our minds in an attitude of
expectation and desire, our eyes ever travelling to the dim distance
to mark the far-off shining of His coming. What a miserable contrast
to this is the temper of professing Christendom as a whole! It is
swallowed up in the present, wide awake to interests and hopes
belonging to this 'bank and shoal of time,' but sunk in slumber as
to that great future, or, if ever the thought of it intrudes,
shrinking, rather than desire, accompanies it, and it is soon
hustled out of mind.

Christ bases His command on our ignorance of the time of His coming.
It was no part of His purpose in this prophecy to remove that
ignorance, and no calculations of the chronology of unfulfilled
predictions have pierced the darkness. It was His purpose that from
generation to generation His servants should be kept in the attitude
of expectation, as of an event that may come at any time and must
come at some time. The parallel uncertainty of the time of death,
though not what is meant here, serves the same moral end if rightly
used, and the fact of death is exposed to the same danger of being
neglected because of the very uncertainty, which ought to be one
chief reason for keeping it ever in view. Any future event, which
combines these two things, absolute certainty that it will happen,
and utter uncertainty when it will happen, ought to have power to
insist on being remembered, at least, till it was prepared for, and
would have it, if men were not such fools. Christ's coming would be
oftener contemplated if it were more welcome. But what sort of a
servant is he, who has no glow of gladness at the thought of meeting
his lord? True Christians are 'all them that have loved His

The illustrative example which separates these two commands is
remarkable. The householder's ignorance of the time when the thief
would come is the reason why he does not watch. He cannot keep awake
all night, and every night, to be ready for him; so he has to go to
sleep, and is robbed. But our ignorance is a reason for wakefulness,
because we can keep awake all the night of life. The householder
watches to prevent, but we to share in, that for which the watch is
kept. The figure of the thief is chosen to illustrate the one point
of the unexpected stealthy approach. But is there not deep truth in
it, to the effect that Christ's coming is like that of a robber to
those who are asleep, depriving them of earthly treasures? The word
rendered 'broken up' means literally 'dug through,' and points to a
clay or mud house, common in the East, which is entered, not by
bursting open doors or windows, but by digging through the wall.
Death comes to men sunk in spiritual slumber, to strip them of good
which they would fain keep, and makes his entrance by a breach in
the earthly house of this tabernacle. So St. Paul, in his earliest
Epistle, refers to this saying (a proof of the early diffusion of
the gospel narrative), and says, 'Ye, brethren, are not in darkness,
that that day should overtake you as a thief.'

II. The picture and reward of watchfulness. The general exhortation
to watch is followed by a pair of contrasted parable portraits,
primarily applicable to the apostles and to those 'set over His
household.' But if we remember what Christ taught as the condition
of pre-eminence in His kingdom, we shall not confine their
application to an order.

'The least flower with a brimming cup may stand,
And share its dew-drop with another near,'

and the most slenderly endowed Christian has some crumb of the bread
of life intrusted to him to dispense. It is to be observed that
watchfulness is not mentioned in this portraiture of the faithful
servant. It is presupposed as the basis and motive of his service.
So we learn the double lesson that the attitude of continual outlook
for the Lord is needed, if we are to discharge the tasks which He
has set us, and that the true effect of watchfulness is to harness
us to the car of duty. Many other motives actuate Christian
faithfulness, but all are reinforced by this, and where it is feeble
they are more or less inoperative. We cannot afford to lose its
influence. A Church or a soul which has ceased to be looking for Him
will have let all its tasks drop from its drowsy hands, and will
feel the power of other constraining motives of Christian service
but faintly, as in a half-dream.

On the other hand, true waiting for Him is best expressed in the
quiet discharge of accustomed and appointed tasks. The right place
for the servant to be found, when the Lord comes, is 'so doing' as
He commands, however secular the task may be. That was a wise judge
who, when sudden darkness came on, and people thought the end of the
world was at hand, said, 'Bring lights, and let us go on with the
case. We cannot be better employed, if the end has come, than in
doing our duty.' Flighty impatience of common tasks is not watching
for the King, as Paul had to teach the Thessalonians, who were
'shaken' in mind by the thought of the day of the Lord; but the
proper attitude of the watchers is 'that ye study to be quiet, and
to do your own business.'

Observe, further, the interrogative form of the parable. The
question is the sharp point which gives penetrating power, and
suggests Christ's high estimate of the worth and difficulty of such
conduct, and sets us to ask for ourselves, 'Lord, is it I?' The
servant is 'faithful' inasmuch as he does his Lord's will, and
rightly uses the goods intrusted to him, and 'wise' inasmuch as he
is 'faithful.' For a single-hearted devotion to Christ is the parent
of insight into duty, and the best guide to conduct; and whoever
seeks only to be true to his Lord in the use of his gifts and
possessions, will not lack prudence to guide him in giving to each
his food, and that in due season. The two characteristics are
connected in another way also; for, if the outcome of faithfulness
be taken into account, its wisdom is plain, and he who has been
faithful even unto death will be seen to have been wise though he
gave up all, when the crown of eternal life sparkles on his
forehead. Such faithfulness and wisdom (which are at bottom but two
names for one course of conduct) find their motive in that
watchfulness, which works as ever in the great Taskmaster's eye, and
as ever keeping in view His coming, and the rendering of account to

The reward of the faithful servant is stated in language similar to
that of the parable of the talents. Faithfulness in a narrower
sphere leads to a wider. The reward for true work is more work, of
nobler sort and on a grander scale. That is true for earth and for
heaven. If we do His will here, we shall one day exchange the
subordinate place of the steward for the authority of the ruler, and
the toil of the servant for the 'joy of the Lord.' The soul that is
joined to Christ and is one in will with Him has all things for its
servants; and he who uses all things for his own and his brethren's
highest good is lord of them all, while he walks amid the shadows of
time, and will be lifted to loftier dominion over a grander world
when he passes hence.

III. The picture and doom of the unwatchful servant. This portrait
presupposes that a long period will elapse before Christ comes. The
secret thought of the evil servant is the thought of a time far down
the ages from the moment of our Lord's speaking. It would take
centuries for such a temper to be developed in the Church. What is
the temper? A secret dismissal of the anticipation of the Lord's
return, and that not merely because He has been long in coming, but
as thinking that He has broken His word, and has not come when He
said that He would. This unspoken dimming over of the expectation
and unconfessed doubt of the firmness of the promise, is the natural
product of the long time of apparent delay which the Church has had
to encounter. It will cloud and depress the religion of later ages,
unless there be constant effort to resist the tendency and to keep
awake. The first generations were all aflame with the glad hope
'Maranatha'--'The Lord is at hand.' Their successors gradually lost
that keenness of expectation, and at most cried, 'Will not He come
soon?' Their successors saw the starry hope through thickening mists
of years; and now it scarcely shines for many, or at least is but a
dim point, when it should blaze as a sun.

He was an 'evil' servant who said so in his heart. He was evil
because he said it, and he said it because he was evil; for the
yielding to sin and the withdrawal of love from Jesus dim the desire
for His coming, and make the whisper that He delays, a hope; while,
on the other hand, the hope that He delays helps to open the
sluices, and let sin flood the life. So an outburst of cruel
masterfulness and of riotous sensuality is the consequence of the
dimmed expectation. There would have been no usurpation of authority
over Christ's heritage by priest or pope, or any other, if that hope
had not become faint. If professing Christians lived with the great
white throne and the heavens and earth fleeing away before Him that
sits on it, ever burning before their inward eye, how could they
wallow amid the mire of animal indulgence? The corruptions of the
Church, especially of its official members, are traced with sad and
prescient hand in these foreboding words, which are none the less a
prophecy because cast by His forbearing gentleness into the milder
form of a supposition.

The dreadful doom of the unwatchful servant is couched in terms of
awful severity. The cruel punishment of sawing asunder, which,
tradition says, was suffered by Isaiah and was not unfamiliar in old
times, is his. What concealed terror of retribution it signifies we
do not know. Perhaps it points to a fate in which a man shall be, as
it were, parted into two, each at enmity with the other. Perhaps it
implies a retribution in kind for his sin, which consisted, as the
next clause implies, in hypocrisy, which is the sundering in twain
of inward conviction and practice, and is to be avenged by a like
but worse rending apart of conscience and will. At all events, it
shadows a fearful retribution, which is not extinction, inasmuch as,
in the next clause, we read that his portion--his lot, or that
condition which belongs to him by virtue of his character--is with
'the hypocrites.' He was one of them, because, while he said 'my
lord,' he had ceased to love and obey, having ceased to desire and
expect; and therefore whatever is their fate shall be his, even to
the 'dividing asunder of soul and spirit,' and setting eternal
discord among the thoughts and intents of the heart. That is not the
punishment of unwatchfulness, but of what unwatchfulness leads to,
if unawakened. Let these words of the King ring an alarum for us
all, and rouse our sleepy souls to watch, as becomes the children of
the day.


'Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten
virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet
the bridegroom. 2. And five of them were wise, and five
were foolish. 3. They that were foolish took their
lamps, and took no oil with them: 4. But the wise took
oil in their vessels with their lamps. 5. While the
bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. 6. And
at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom
cometh; go ye out to meet him. 7. Then all those virgins
arose, and trimmed their lamps. 8. And the foolish said
unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are
gone out. 9. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest
there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to
them that sell, and buy for yourselves. 10. And while
they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that
were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the
door was shut. 11 Afterward came also the other virgins,
saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. 12. But he answered and
said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. 13. Watch
therefore; for ye know neither the day nor the hour
wherein the Son of Man cometh.'--MATT. xxv. 1-13.

We shall best understand this beautiful but difficult parable if we
look on to its close. Our Lord appends to it the refrain of all this
context, the exhortation to watch, based upon our ignorance of the
time of His coming. But as in the former little parable of the wise
servant it was his faithful, wise dispensing of his lord's goods,
and not his watchfulness, which was the point of the eulogium passed
on him, so here it is the readiness of the wise virgins to take
their places in the wedding march which is commended. That readiness
consists in their having their lamps burning and their oil in store.
This, then, is the main thing in the parable. It is an exhibition,
under another aspect, of what constitutes fitness for entrance into
the festal chamber of the bridegroom, which had just been set forth
as consisting in faithful stewardship. Here it is presented as being
the possession of lamp and oil.

I. The first consideration, then, must be, What is the meaning of
these emblems? A great deal of fine-spun ingenuity has been expended
on subordinate points in the parable, such as the significance of
the number of maidens, the conclusions from the equal division into
wise and foolish, the place from which they came to meet the
bridegroom, the point in the marriage procession where they are
supposed to join it, whether it was at going to fetch the bride, or
at coming back with her; whether the feast is held in her house, or
in his, and so on. But all these are unimportant questions, and as
Christ has left them in the background, we only destroy the
perspective by dragging them into the front. In no parable is it
more important than in this to restrain the temptation to run out
analogies into their last results. The remembrance that the virgins,
as the emblem of the whole body of the visible Church, are the same
as the bride, who does not appear in the parable, might warn against
such an error. They were ten, as being the usual number for such a
company, or as being the round number naturally employed when
definiteness was not sought. They were divided equally, not because
our Lord desired to tell, but because He wished to leave unnoticed,
the numerical proportion of the two classes. One set are 'wise' and
the other 'foolish,' because He wishes to show not only the sin, but
the absurdity, of unreadiness, and to teach us that true wisdom is
not of the head only, but far more of the heart. The conduct of the
two groups of maidens is looked at from the prudent and common-sense
standpoint, and the provident action of the one sets in relief the
reckless stupidity of the other.

There have been many opinions as to the meaning of the lamps and the
oil, which it is needless to repeat. Surely the analogy of
scriptural symbolism is our best guide. If we follow it, we get a
meaning which perfectly suits the emblems and the whole parable. In
the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord uses the same figure of the lamp,
and explains it: 'Let your light shine before men, that they may see
your good works.'

II. Note the sleep of all the virgins. No blame is hinted on account
of it. It is not inconsistent with the wisdom of the wise, nor does
it interfere with their readiness to meet the bridegroom. It is,
then, such a sleep as is compatible with watching. Our Lord's
introduction of this point is an example of His merciful allowance
for our weakness. There must be a certain slackening of the tension
of expectation when the bridegroom tarries. Centuries of delay
cannot but modify the attitude of the waiting Church, and Jesus here
implies that there will be a long stretch of time before His advent,
during which all His people will feel the natural effect of the
deferring of hope. But the sleep which He permits, unblamed, is
light, and such as one takes by snatches when waiting to be called.
He does not ask us always to be on tiptoe of expectation, nor to
refuse the teaching of experience; but counts that we have watched
aright, if we wake from our light slumbers when the cry is heard,
and have our lamps lit, ready for the procession.

III. Then comes the midnight cry and the waking of the maidens. The
hour, 'of night's black arch the keystone,' suggests the unexpectedness
of His coming; the loudness of the cry, its all-awaking effect; the
broken words of the true reading, 'Behold the bridegroom!' the
closeness on the heels of the heralds with which the procession
flashes through the darkness. The virgins had 'gone forth to meet him'
at the beginning of the parable, but the going forth to which they are
now summoned is not the same. The Christian soul goes forth once when,
at the beginning of its Christian life, it forsakes the world to wait
for and on Christ, and again, when it leaves the world to pass with
Him into the banquet. Life is the slumber from which some are awaked
by the voice of death, and some who 'remain' shall be awaked by the
trumpet of judgment. There is no interval between the cry and the
appearance of the bridegroom; only a moment to rouse themselves, to
look to their lamps, and to speak the hurried words of the foolish
and the answer of the wise, and then the procession is upon them. It
is all done as in a flash, 'in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.'
This impression of swiftness, which leaves no time for delayed
preparation, is the uniform impression conveyed by all the Scripture
references to the coming of the Lord. The swoop of the eagle, the
fierce blaze of lightning from one side of the sky to the other, the
bursting of the flood, that morning's work at Sodom, not begun till
dawn and finished before the 'sun was risen on the earth,' are its
types. Foolish indeed to postpone preparation till that moment when
cry and coming are simultaneous, like lightning and thunder right

The foolish virgins' imploring request and its answer are not to be
pressed, as if they meant more than to set forth the hopelessness of
then attempting to procure the wanting oil, and especially the
hopelessness of attempting to get it from one's fellows. There is a
world of suppressed terror and surprise in that cry, 'Our lamps are
going out.' Note that they burned till the bridegroom came, and
then, like the magic lamps in old legends, at his approach shivered
into darkness. Is not that true of the formal, outward religion,
which survives everything but contact with His all-seeing eye and
perfect judgment? These foolish maidens were as much astonished as
alarmed at seeing their lights flicker down to extinction; and it is
possible for professing Christians to live a lifetime, and never to
be found out either by themselves or by anybody else. But if there
has been no oil in the lamp, it will be quenched when He appears.
The atmosphere that surrounds His throne acts like oxygen on the
oil-fed flame, and like carbonic acid gas on the other.

The answer of the wise is not selfishness. It is not from our
fellows, however bright their lamps, that we can ever get that
inward grace. None of them has more than suffices for his own needs,
nor can any give it to another. It may be bought, on the same terms
as the pearl of great price was bought, 'without money'; but the
market is closed, as on a holiday, on the day of the king's son's
marriage. That is not touched upon here, except in so far as it is
hinted at in the absence of the foolish when he enters the
banqueting chamber, and in their fruitless prayer. They had no time
to get the oil before he came, and they had not got it when they
returned. The lesson is plain. We can only get the new life of the
Spirit, which will make our lives a light, from God; and we can get
it now, not then.

IV. We see the wise virgins within and the foolish without. They
are, indeed, no longer designated by these adjectives, but as
'ready' and 'the others'; for preparedness is fitness, and they who
are found of Him in possession of the outward righteousness and of
its inward source, His own divine life in them, are prepared. To
such the gates of the festal chamber fly open. In that day, place is
the outcome of character, and it is equally impossible for the
'ready' to be shut out, and for 'the others' to go in.

'When the bridegroom with his feastful friends passes to bliss at
the mid hour of night,' they who have 'filled their odorous lamps
with deeds of light' have surely 'gained their entrance.' There is
silence as to the unspeakable joys of the wedding feast. Some faint
sounds of music and dancing, some gleams from the lighted windows,
find their way out; but the closed door keeps its secret, and only
the guests know the gladness.

That closed door means security, perpetuity, untold blessedness, but
it means exclusion too. The piteous reiterated call of the shut-out
maidens, roused too late, and so suddenly, from songs and laughter
to vain cries, evokes a stern answer, through which shines the awful
reality veiled in the parable. We do not need to regard the prayer
for entrance, and its refusal, as conveying more than the
fruitlessness of wishes for entrance then, when unaccompanied with
fitness to enter. Such desire as is expressed in this passionate
beating at the closed door, with hoarse entreaties, is not fitness.
If it were, the door would open; and the reason why it does not lies
in the bridegroom's awful answer, 'I know you not.' The absence of
the qualification prevents his recognising them as his. Surely the
unalleviated darkness of a hopeless exclusion settles down on these
sad five, standing, huddled together, at the door, with the
extinguished lamps hanging in their despairing hands. 'Too late, too
late, ye cannot enter now.' The wedding bell has become a funeral
knell. They were not the enemies of the bridegroom, they thought
themselves his friends. They let life ebb without securing the one
thing needful, and the neglect was irremediable. There is a tragedy
underlying many a life of outward religiousness and inward
emptiness, and a dreadful discovery will flare in upon such, when
they have to say to themselves,

'This might have been once,
And we missed it, lost it for ever.'


'Our lamps are gone out.'--MATT. xxv. 8.

This is one of the many cases in which the Revised Version, by
accuracy of rendering the tense of a verb, gives a much more
striking as well as correct reproduction of the original than the
Authorised Version does. The former reads 'going out,' instead of
'gone out,' a rendering which the Old Version has, unfortunately,
relegated to the margin. It is clearly to be preferred, not only
because it more correctly represents the Greek, but because it sets
before us a more solemn and impressive picture of the precise time
at which the terrible discovery was made by the foolish five. They
woke from their sleep, and hastily trimmed their lamps. These burned
brightly for a moment, and then began to flicker and die down. The
extinction of their light was not the act of a moment, but was a
gradual process, which had advanced in some degree before it
attracted the attention of the bearers of the lamps. At last it
roused the half-sleeping five into startled, wide-awake
consciousness. There is a tone of alarm and fear in their sudden
exclamation, 'Our lamps are going out.' They see now the catastrophe
that threatens, and understand that the only means of averting it is
to replenish the empty oil-vessels before the flame has quite
expired. But their knowledge and their dread were alike too late,
and, as they went on their hopeless search for some one to give them
what they once might have had in abundance, the last faint flicker
ceased, and they had to grope their way in the dark, with their
lightless lamps hanging useless in their slack hands, while far off
the torches of the bridal procession, in which they might have had a
part, flashed through the night. We have nothing to do with the
tragical issue of the process of extinction; but solemn lessons of
universal application gather round the picture of that process, as
represented in our text, and to these we turn now.

I. We must settle the meaning of the oil and the lamps.

The Old Testament symbolism is our best guide as to the significance
of the oil. Throughout it, oil symbolises the divine influences that
come down on men appointed by God to their several functions, and
which are there traced to the Spirit of the Lord. So the priests
were set apart by unction with the holy oil; so Samuel poured oil on
the black locks of Saul. So, too, the very name Messiah means
'anointed,' and the great prophecy, which Jesus claimed for His own
in His first sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth, put into the
Messiah's lips the declaration, 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
because He hath anointed Me.' But there are Old Testament symbols
which bear still more closely on the emblems of our text. Zechariah
saw in vision a golden lamp-stand with seven lamps, and on either
side of it an olive tree, from which oil flowed through golden pipes
to feed the flame. The interpretation of the vision was given by the
'angel that talked with' the prophet as being, 'not by might nor by
power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord.'

So, then, we follow the plainly marked road and Scripture use of a
symbol when we take the oil in this parable to be that which every
listener to Jesus, who was instructed in the old things which he was
bringing forth with new emphasis from the ancient treasure-house of
the word of God, would take it to be--namely, the sum of the
influences from Heaven which were bestowed through the Spirit of the

Such being the meaning of the oil, what was meant by the lamp? We
have no intention of discussing here the many varying interpretations
which have been given to the symbol. To do so would lead us too far
afield. We can only say that the interpretation of the oil as the
influence of the Holy Spirit necessarily involves the explanation of
the lamp which is fed by it, as being the spiritual life of the
individual, which is nourished and made visible to the world as light,
by the continual communication from God of these hallowing influences.
Turning again to the Old Testament, I need only remind you of the
great seven-branched lamp which stood in the Tabernacle, and afterwards
in the Temple. It was the symbol of the collective Israel, as recipient
of divine influences, and thereby made the light of a dark world. Its
rays streamed out over the desert first, and afterwards shone from
the mountain of the Lord's house, beaming illumination and invitation
to those who sat in darkness to behold the great light, and to walk
in the light of the Lord. Zechariah's emblem was based on the Temple
lamp. In accordance with the greater prominence given by the Old
Testament to national than to individual religion, both of these
represented the people as a whole. In accordance with the more
advanced individualism of the New Testament, our text so far varies
the application of the emblem, that each of the ten virgins who, as
a whole, stand for the collective professing Church, has her own
lamp. But that is the only difference between the Old and the New
Testament uses of the symbol.

I need not remind you how the same metaphor recurs frequently in the
teachings of our Lord and of the Apostles. Sometimes the Old
Testament collective point of view is maintained, as in our Lord's
saying in the Sermon on the Mount, 'Ye are the light of the world,'
but more frequently, the characteristic individualising of the
figure prevails, and we read of Christians shining 'as lights in the
world,' and each holding forth, as a lamp does its light, 'the word
of life.' Nor must we forget the climax of the uses of this emblem,
in the vision of the Apocalypse, where John once more saw the Lord,
on whose bosom his head had so often peacefully lain, 'walking in
the midst of the seven golden candlesticks.' There, again, the
collective rather than the individual bearing of the figure is
prominent, but with significant differences from the older use of
it. In Judaism there was a formal, outward unity, represented by the
one lamp with its manifold lights, all welded together on the golden
stem; but the churches of Asia Minor were distinct organisations,
and their oneness came, not from outward union of a mechanical kind,
but from the presence in their midst of the Son of God.

The sum of all this course of thought is that the lamp is the
Christian life of the individual sustained by the communication of
the influences of God's Holy Spirit.

II. We note next the gradual dying out of the light. 'Our lamps are
going out.'

All spiritual emotions and vitality, like every other kind of
emotion and vitality, die unless nourished. Let no theological
difficulties about 'the final perseverance of the saints,' or 'the
indefeasibleness of grace,' and the impossibility of slaying the
divine life that has once been given to a man, come in the way of
letting this parable have its full, solemn weight. These foolish
virgins had oil and had light, the oil failed by their fault, and so
the light went out, and they were startled, when they awoke from
their slumber, to see how, instead of brilliant flame, there was
smoking wick.

Dear brethren, let us take the lesson. There is nothing in our
religious emotions which has any guarantee of perpetuity in it,
except upon certain conditions. We may live, and our life may ebb. We
may trust, and our trust may tremble into unbelief. We may obey, and
our obedience may be broken by the mutinous risings of self-will. We
may walk in the 'paths of righteousness,' and our feet may falter
and turn aside. There is certainty of the dying out of all communicated
life, unless the channel of communication with the life from which it
was first kindled, be kept constantly clear. The lamp may be 'a burning
and a shining light,' or, more accurately translating the phrase of
our Lord, 'a light kindled and' (therefore) 'shining,' but it will be
light 'for a season' only, unless it is fed from that from which it
was first set alight; and that is from God Himself.

'Our lamps are going out,'--a slow process that! The flame does not
all die into darkness in a minute. There are stages in its death.
The white portion of the flame becomes smaller and the blue part
extends; then the flame flickers, and finally shudders itself, as it
were, off the wick; then nothing remains but a charred red line
along the top; then that line breaks up into little points, and one
after another these twinkle out, and then all is black, and the lamp
is gone out. And so, slowly, like the ebbing away of the tide, like
the reluctant, long-protracted dying of summer days, like the
dropping of the blood from some fatal wound, by degrees the process
of extinction creeps, creeps, creeps on, and the lamp that was going
is finally gone out.

III. Again, we note that extinction is brought about simply by doing

These five foolish virgins did not stray away into any forbidden
paths. No positive sin is alleged against them. They were simply
asleep. The other five were asleep too. I do not need to enter, here
and now, into the whole interpretation of the parable, or there
might be much to say about the difference between these two kinds of
sleep. But what I wish to notice is that it was nothing except
negligence darkening into drowsiness, which caused the dying out of
the light.

It was not of set purpose that the foolish five took no oil with
them. They merely neglected to do so, not having the wit to look
ahead and provide against the contingency of a long time of waiting
for the bridegroom. Their negligence was the result, not of
deliberate wish to let their lights go out, but of their
heedlessness; and because of that negligence they earned the name of
'foolish.' If we do not look forward, and prepare for possible
drains on our powers, we shall deserve the same adjective. If we do
not lay in stores for future use, we may be sent to school to the
harvesting ant and the bee. That lesson applies to all departments
of life; but it is eminently applicable to the spiritual life, which
is sustained only by communications from the Spirit of God. For
these communications will be imperceptibly lessened, and may be
altogether intercepted, unless diligent attention is given to keep
open the channels by which they enter the spirit. If the pipes are
not looked to, they will be choked by masses of matted trifles,
through which the 'rivers of living water,' which Christ took as a
symbol of the Spirit's influences, cannot force a way.

The thing that makes shipwreck of the faith of most professing
Christians that do come to grief is no positive wickedness, no
conduct which would be branded as sin by the Christian conscience or
even by ordinary people, but simply torpor. If the water in a pond
is never stirred, it is sure to stagnate, and green scum to spread
over it, and a foul smell to rise from it. A Christian man has only
to do what I am afraid a good many of us are in great danger of
doing--that is, nothing--in order to ensure that his lamp shall go

Do you try to keep yours alight? There is only one way to do it--that
is to go to Christ and get Him to pour His sweetness and His power
into our open hearts. When one of the old patriarchs had committed a
great sin, and had unbelievingly twitched his hand out of God's hand,
and gone away down into Egypt to help himself instead of trusting to
God, he was commanded, on his return to Palestine, to go to the place
where he dwelt at the first, and begin again, at the point where he
began when he first entered the land. Which being translated is just
this--the only way to keep our spirits vital and quick is by having
recourse, again and again, to the same power which first imparted
life to them, and this is done by the first means, the means of simple
reliance upon Christ in the consciousness of our own deep need, and
of believingly waiting upon Him for the repeated communication of the
gifts which we, alas! have so often misimproved. Negligence is enough
to slay. Doing nothing is the sure way to quench the Holy Spirit.

And, on the other hand, keeping close to Him is the sure way to
secure that He will never leave us. You can choke a lamp with oil,
but you cannot have in your hearts too much of that divine grace.
And you receive all that you need if you choose to go and ask it
from Him. Remember the old story about Elisha and the poor woman.
The cruse of oil began to run. She brought all the vessels that she
could rake together, big and little, pots and cups, of all shapes
and sizes, and set them, one after the other, under the jet of oil.
They were all filled; and when she brought no more vessels the oil
stayed. If you do not take your empty hearts to God, and say, 'Here,
Lord, fill this cup too; poor as it is, fill it with Thine own
gracious influences,' be very sure that no such influences will come
to you. But if you do go, be as sure of this, that so long as you
hold out your emptiness to Him, He will flood it with His fulness,
and the light that seemed to be sputtering to its death will flame
up again. He will not quench the smoking wick, if only we carry it
to Him; but as the priests in the Temple walked all through the
night to trim the golden lamps, so He who walks amidst the seven
candlesticks will see to each.

IV. And now one last word. That process of gradual extinction may be
going on, and may have been going on for a long while, and the
virgin that carries the lamp be quite unaware of it.

How could a sleeping woman know whether her lamp was burning or not?
How can a drowsy Christian tell whether his spiritual life is bright
or not? To be unconscious of our approximation to this condition is,
I am afraid, one of the surest signs that we are in it. I suppose
that a paralysed limb is quite comfortable. At any rate, paralysis
of the spirit may be going on without our knowing anything about it.
So, dear friends, do not put these poor words of mine away from you
and say, 'Oh! they do not apply to me.'

I am quite sure that the people to whom they do apply will be the
last people to take them to themselves. And while I quite believe,
thank God! that there are many of us who may feel and know that our
lamps are not going out, sure I am that there are some of us whom
everybody but themselves knows to be carrying a lamp that is so far
gone out that it is smoking and stinking in the eyes and noses of
the people that stand by. Be sure that nobody was more surprised
than were the five foolish women when they opened their witless,
sleepy eyes, and saw the state of things. So, dear friends, 'let
your loins be girt about, and your lamps burning; and ye yourselves
like unto men that wait for their Lord.'


'They that were ready went in with him to the marriage.'
--MATT. xxv. 10.

It is interesting to notice the variety of aspects in which, in this
long discourse, Jesus sets forth His Second Coming. It is like the
flood that swept away a world. It is like a thief stealing through
the dark, and breaking up a house. It is like a master reckoning
with his servants. These three metaphors suggest solemn, one might
almost say alarming, images. But then this parable comes in and
tells how that coming is like that of a bridegroom to the bride's
house, with joy and music. I am afraid that the average Christian,
when he thinks at all of Christ's coming, takes these three first
aspects rather than the last one, and so loses what is meant to be a
bright hope and a great stimulus. It is not in human nature to think
much about a terrible future. It is not in human nature to avoid
thinking a great deal about a blessed future. And although one does
not wish to preach carelessness, or the ignoring of the solemn side
of that coming, sure I am that our Christian lives would be stronger
and purer, brighter and better able to front the solemn side, if the
blessed side of it were more often the object of our contemplation.

Turning to the words of my text, which seem to me to be the very
centre and heart of this parable, I ask:--

I. What makes readiness?

There have been many answers given to that question. One has been
that to be ready means to be perpetually having before us the
thought of the coming of the Lord, and that has been taken to be the
meaning of the watchfulness which is enjoined in the context. But
the parable itself points in an altogether different direction. Who,
according to it, were ready? The five who had lamps and oil. To have
these was readiness.

It is beautiful to notice how these five who _were_ ready when
the Master came had 'slumbered and slept' like the other five. Ah!
that touch in the picture shows that 'He knoweth our frame; He
remembereth that we are dust.' It is not in human nature to keep up
permanently a tension of expectation for a far-off good; and in
profound knowledge of the weakness of humanity, our Lord, in this
parable, says: 'While the Bridegroom tarried they _all_ slumbered'--and
yet the five were ready when the Bridegroom came. In like manner,
Christian men and women who have no expectation at all that the
Second Coming of the Lord will occur during their lifetimes, may
nevertheless be ready, if they have the burning lamps and the store
of oil. The question then comes to be, What is meant by these?

Perhaps harm has been done by insisting upon too minute and specific
interpretation. But, at the same time, we must not forget that, from
the very beginning of the Jewish Revelation, from the time when the
seven-branched candlestick was appointed for the Tabernacle, right
down to the day when the Apocalyptic Seer saw in Patmos the Son of
Man walking in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, the
metaphor has had one meaning. The aggregate of God's people are
intended to be, as Jesus told us immediately after He had drawn the
character of a true disciple, in the wonderful outlines of the
Beatitudes, 'the light of the world,' and they will be so in the
measure in which the gentle radiance of that character shines
through their lives, as the light of a lamp through frosted glass.
But the aggregate is made up of units, and individual Christians are
to shine 'as lights in the world,' and their separate brightnesses
are to coalesce in the clustered light of the whole Church. What
makes an individual Christian a light is a Christ-like life, derived
from that Life which was 'the Light of men.' The lamp which the five
wise virgins bear is the same as the light which the consistent
Christian is. The inner self illuminated from Christ, the source of
all our illumination, lights up the outward life, which each of us
may be conceived as carrying in our hands. It is not ourselves, and
yet it is ourselves made visible. It is not ourselves, but Christ in
us; and so we shine as lights in the world, only by 'holding forth
the word of life.'

That modification of the figure by Paul is profoundly true and
important, for after all we are not so much lights as candelabra,
and only as we bear aloft the flashing light of Christ shall we
shine 'in a naughty world.' Our lamps, then, are Christ-like
characters derived from Christ, and to have and bear these is the
first element in being ready for the Bridegroom.

Dear friends, remember that this whole parable is spoken to
professing Christians and real members of Christ's Church; and that
there is no meaning in it unless it is possible to quench the light
of the lamp. Remember that our Lord said once, 'Let your loins be
girt,' and put that as the necessary condition of lamps burning.
'Let your loins be girt' with resolved effort of faith and
dependence, and make sure that you have the provision for the
continuance of the light. So, and only so, shall any man be of the
happy company of them that were ready.

II. Note that this readiness is the condition of entrance.

'They that were ready went in with Him to the marriage.' Now faith
alone unites a man to Jesus Christ, and makes him an heir of
salvation. But faith alone, if that were possible, would not admit a
man to the marriage-feast. Of course the supposed case is an
impossible case, for as James has taught us in his plain moral way,
faith which is alone dies, or perhaps never lived. But what our Lord
tells us here is that moral character, which is of such a sort as to
shine in the world's darkness, is the condition of entrance. People
say that salvation is by faith. Yes, that is true; but salvation is
by works also, only that the works are made possible through faith.
In the very necessity and nature of things nothing but the readiness
which consists in continued Christ-like character will ever allow a
man to pass the threshold. Now do you believe that? Or are you
saying, 'I trust to Jesus Christ, and so I am sure I shall go to
Heaven.' No, you will not, unless your faith is making you heavenly,
in your temper and conduct. For to talk about the next world as a
place of retribution is but an imperfect statement of the case. It
is not a place of retribution so much as of outcome, and the apostle
gives a completer view when he says, 'Whatsoever a man soweth, that
shall he also reap.' That future life is not the reward of goodness
so much as the necessary consequence of holiness. Holiness and
blessedness are, in some measure, separated here; there they are two
names for the one condition. 'No man shall see the Lord,' without
that holiness. 'They that were ready went in.' Of course they did.
Am I ready? That question means, Am I, by my faith in Jesus Christ,
receiving into my heart the anointing which that great anointed One
gives us? Am I living a life that is a light in the world? If so,
and not else, my entrance is sure.

We have seen what this readiness consists in, and how it is the
condition of entrance. There is one last thought--

III. To delay preparation is madness.

There is nothing in all Christ's parables more tragical, more
pathetic, than this picture of the hapless five when they woke up
to find their lamps going out. They heard the procession coming,
the sound of feet drawing nearer, and the music borne every moment
more loudly on the midnight air. And there were they, with dying
lamps and empty oil-cans. Their shock, their alarm, their
bewilderment, are all expressed in that preposterous request of
theirs, Give us of your oil.'

The answer of the wise virgins has been said to be cold and
unfeeling. It is not that; it is simply a plain statement of facts.
The oil that belongs to me cannot be given to you. That is the first
lesson taught us by the request of the foolish and the answer of the
wise. 'If thou be wise, thou shalt be wise for thyself; and if thou
scornest, thou alone shalt bear it.' 'Every man shall bear his own
burden.' There is no possible transference of moral character or
spiritual gifts in that fashion. The awful individuality of each
soul, and its unshareable personal responsibility, come solemnly to
view in the words which superficial readers pass by: 'Not so, lest
there be not enough for us and you.' You cannot share your brother's
oil. You may share many of his possessions; not this.

'Go to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.' The question of
whether there was time to buy was not for the five wise to answer.
There was not much chance that the would-be buyers would find a shop
open and anybody waiting to sell them oil at twelve o'clock at
night. But they risked it; and when they came back they were too

Now, dear friends, all the lessons of this parable may be taken by
us, though we do not believe, and think we have good reason for not
believing, that the literal return of Jesus Christ is to take place
in our time. It does not matter very much, in so far as the teaching
of this parable is concerned, whether the Bridegroom comes to us, or
whether we go to the Bridegroom. I do not for a moment say that
there is no such thing as coming to Jesus Christ in the last hours
of life, and becoming ready to enter even then, but I do say that it
is a very rare case, and that there is a terrible risk in delaying
till then. But I pray you to remember that our parable is addressed
to, and contemplates the case of, not people who are away from Jesus
Christ, but Christians, and that it is to them that its message is
chiefly brought. It is they whom it warns not to put off making sure
that they have provision for the continuance of the Christ-life. We
have, day by day, to go to Him that sells and 'buy for ourselves.'
And we know, what it did not fall within our Lord's purpose to say
in this parable, that the price of the oil is the surrender of
ourselves, and the opening of our hearts to the entrance of that
divine Spirit. Then there will be no fear but that the lamp will
hold out to burn, and no fear but that 'when the Bridegroom, with
His feastful friends, passes to bliss, at the mid-hour of night,' we
shall gain our entrance.


'For the kingdom of heaven la as a man travelling into a
far country, who called his own servants, and delivered
unto them his goods. 15. And unto one he gave five
talents, to another two, and to another one; to every
man according to his several ability; and straightway
took his journey. 16. Then he that had received the five
talents went and traded with the same, and made them
other five talents. 17. And likewise he that had received
two, he also gained other two. 18. But he that had
received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his
lord's money. 19. After a long time the lord of those
servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. 20. And so he
that had received five talents came and brought other
five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me
five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five
talents more. 21. His lord said unto him, Well done,
thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful
over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many
things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. 22. He also
that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou
deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained
two other talents beside them. 23. His lord said unto
him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast
been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler
over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
24. Then to which had received the one talent came and
said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man,
reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where
thou hast not strawed: 25. And I was afraid, and went
and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast
that is thine. 26. His lord answered and said unto him,
Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I
reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not
strawed: 27. Thou oughtest therefore to have put my
money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should
have received mine own with usury. 28. Take therefore
the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten
talents. 29. For unto every one that hath shall be given,
and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not
shall be taken away even that which he hath. 30. And
cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness:
there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'
--MATT. xxv. 14-30.

The parable of the Ten Virgins said nothing about their working
whilst they waited. This one sets forth that side of the duties of
the servants in their master's absence, and so completes the former.
It is clearly in its true historical connection here, and is closely
knit to both the preceding and following context. It is a strange
instance of superficial reading that it should ever have been
supposed to be but another version of Luke's parable of the pounds.
The very resemblances of the two are meant to give force to their
differences, which are fundamental. They are the converse of each
other. That of the pounds teaches that men who have the same gifts
intrusted to them may make a widely different use of these, and will
be rewarded differently, in strictly graduated proportion to their
unlike diligence. The lesson of the parable before us, on the other
hand, is that men with dissimilar gifts may employ them with equal
diligence; and that, if they do, their reward shall be the same,
however great the endowments of one, and slender those of another. A
reader who has missed that distinction must be very shortsighted, or
sworn to make out a case against the Gospels.

I. We may consider the lent capital and the business done with it.

Masters nowadays do not give servants their money to trade with,
when they leave home; but the incident is true to the old-world
relations of master and slave. Our Lord's consciousness of His near
departure, which throbs in all this context, comes out emphatically
here. He is preparing His disciples for the time when they will have
to work without Him, like the managers of some branch house of
business whose principal has gone abroad. What are the 'talents'
with which He will start them on their own account? We have taken
the word into common language, however little we remember the
teaching of the parable as to the hand that gives 'men of talent'
their endowments. But the natural powers usually called by the name
are not what Christ means here, though the principles of the parable
may be extended to include them. For these powers are the 'ability'
according to which the talents are given. But the talents themselves
are the spiritual knowledge and endowments which are properly the
gifts of the ascended Lord to His Church. Two important lessons as
to these are conveyed. First, that they are distributed in varying
measure, and that not arbitrarily, by the mere will of the giver,
but according to his discernment of what each servant can profitably
administer. The 'ability' which settles their amount is not more
closely defined. It may include natural faculty, for Christ's gifts
usually follow the line of that; and the larger the nature, the more
of Him it can contain. But it also includes spiritual receptiveness
and faithfulness, which increase the absorbing power. The capacity
to receive will also be the capacity to administer, and it will be
fully filled.

The second lesson taught is that spiritual gifts are given for
trading with. In other words, they are here considered not so much
as blessings to the possessor as his stock-in-trade, which he can
employ for the Master's enrichment. We are all tempted to think of
them mostly as given us for our own blessing and joy; and the
reminder is never unseasonable that a Christian receives nothing for
himself alone. God hath shined into our hearts, that we may give to
others the light of the knowledge which has flashed glad day into
our darkness. The Master intrusts us with a portion of His wealth,
not for expending on ourselves, but for trading with.

A third principle here is that the right use of His gifts increases
them in our hands. 'Money makes money.' The five talents grow to
ten, the two to four. The surest way to increase our possession of
Christ's grace is to try to impart it. There is no better way of
strengthening our own faith than to seek to make others share in it.
Christian convictions, spoken, are confirmed, but muffled in silence
are weakened. 'There is that scattereth and yet increaseth.' Seed
heaped and locked up in a granary breeds weevils and moths; flung
broadcast over the furrows, it multiplies into seed that can be sown
again, and bread that feeds the sower. So we have in this part of
the parable almost the complete summary of the principles on which,
the purposes for which, and the results to faithful use with which,
Christ gives His gifts.

The conduct of the slenderly endowed servant who hides his talent
will be considered farther on.

II. We note the faithful servants' balance-sheet and reward.

Our Lord again sounds the note of delay--'After a long time'--an
indefinite phrase which we know carries centuries in its folds, how
many more we know not nor are intended to know. The two faithful
servants present their balance-sheet in identical words, and receive
the same commendation and reward. Their speech is in sharp contrast
with the idle one's excuse, inasmuch as it puts a glad acknowledgment
of the lord's giving in the forefront, as if to teach that the
thankful recognition of his liberality underlies all joyful and
successful service, and deepens while it makes glad the sense of
responsibility. The cords of love are silken; and he who begins with
setting before himself the largeness of Christ's gifts to him, will
not fail in using these so as to increase them. In the light of that
day, the servant sees more clearly than when he was at work the
results of his work. We do not know what the year's profits have
been till stock-taking and balancing-time comes. Here we often say,
'I have laboured in vain.' There we shall say, 'I have gained five

The verbatim repetition of the same words to both servants teaches
the great lesson of this parable as contrasted with that of the
pounds, that where there has been the same faithful work, with
different amounts of capital, there will be the same reward. Our
Master does not care about quantity, but about quality and motive.
The slave with a few shillings, enough to stock meagrely a little
stall, may show as much business capacity, diligence, and fidelity,
as if he had millions to work with. Christ rewards not actions, but
the graces which are made visible in actions; and these can be as
well seen in the tiniest as in the largest deeds. The light that
streams through a pin-prick is the same that pours through the
widest window. The crystals of a salt present the same facets,
flashing back the sun at the same angles, whether they be large or
microscopically small. Therefore the judgment of Christ, which is
simply the utterance of fact, takes no heed of the extent but only

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