Part 7 out of 10
Jesus looked round about and saith unto His disciples, How hardly
shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! 24. And the
disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answereth again, and
saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in
riches to enter into the kingdom of God! 25. It is easier for a camel
to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into
the kingdom of God. 26. And they were astonished out of measure,
saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? 27. And Jesus looking
upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with
God all things are possible.'--Mark x. 17-27.
There were courage, earnestness, and humility in this young ruler's
impulsive casting of himself at Christ's feet in the way, with such a
question. He was not afraid to recognise a teacher in Him whom his
class scorned and hated; he was deeply sincere in his wish to possess
eternal life, and in his belief that he was ready to do whatever was
necessary for that end; he bowed himself as truly as he bent his knees
before Jesus, and the noble enthusiasm of youth breathed in his
desires, his words, and his gesture.
But his question betrayed the defect which poisoned the much that was
right and lovable in him. He had but a shallow notion of what was
'good,' as is indicated by his careless ascription of goodness to one
of whom he knew so little as he did of Jesus, and by his conception
that it was a matter of deeds. He is too sure of himself; for he
thinks that he is ready and able to do all good deeds, if only they
are pointed out to him.
How little he understood the resistance of 'the mind of the flesh' to
discerned duty! Probably he had had no very strong inclinations to
contend against, in living the respectable life that had been his. It
is only when we row against the stream that we find out how fast it
runs. He was wrong about the connection of good deeds and eternal
life, for he thought of them as done by himself, and so of buying it
by his own efforts. Fatal errors could not have been condensed in
briefer compass, or presented in conjunction with more that is
admirable, than in his eager question, asked so modestly and yet so
Our Lord answers with a coldness which startles; but it was meant to
rouse, like a dash of icy water flung in the face. 'Why callest thou
Me good?' is more than a waving aside of a compliment, or a lesson in
accuracy of speech. It rebukes the young man's shallow conception of
goodness, as shown by the facility with which he bestowed the epithet.
'None is good save one, even God,' cuts up by the roots his notion of
the possibility of self-achieved goodness, since it traces all human
goodness to its source in God. If He is the only good, then we cannot
perform good acts by our own power, but must receive power from Him.
How, then, can any man 'inherit eternal life' by good deeds, which he
is only able to do because God has poured some of His own goodness
into him? Jesus shatters the young man's whole theory, as expressed in
his question, at one stroke.
But while His reply bears directly on the errors in the question, it
has a wider significance. Either Jesus is here repudiating the notion
of His own sinlessness, and acknowledging, in contradiction to every
other disclosure of His self-consciousness, that He too was not
through and through good, or else He is claiming to be filled with
God, the source of all goodness, in a wholly unique manner. It is a
tremendous alternative, but one which has to be faced. While one is
thankful if men even imperfectly apprehend the character and nature of
Jesus, one cannot but feel that the question may fairly be put to the
many who extol the beauty of His life, and deny His divinity, 'Why
callest thou Me good?' Either He is 'God manifest in the flesh,' or He
is not 'good.'
The remainder of Christ's answer tends to deepen the dawning
conviction of the impossibility of meriting eternal life by acts of
goodness, apart from dependence on God. He refers to the second half
of the Decalogue only, not as if the first were less important, but
because the breaches of the second are more easily brought to
consciousness. In thus answering, Jesus takes the standpoint of the
law, but for the purpose of bringing to the very opposite conviction
from that which the young ruler expresses in reply. He declares that
he has kept them all from his youth. Jesus would have had him confess
that in them was a code too high to be fully obeyed. 'By the law is
the knowledge of sin,' but it had not done its work in this young man.
His shallow notion of goodness besets and blinds him still. He is
evidently thinking about external deeds, and is an utter stranger to
the depths of his own heart. It was an answer betraying great
shallowness in his conception of duty and in his self-knowledge.
It is one which is often repeated still. How many of us are there who,
if ever we cast a careless glance over our lives, are quite satisfied
with their external respectability! As long as the chambers that look
to the street are fairly clean, many think that all is right. But what
is there rotting and festering down in the cellars? Do we ever go down
there with the 'candle of the Lord' in our hands? If we do, the
ruler's boast, 'All these have I kept,' will falter into 'All these
have I broken.'
But let us be thankful for the love that shone in Christ's eyes as He
looked on him. We may blame; He loved. Jesus saw the fault, but He saw
the longing to be better. The dim sense of insufficiency which had
driven this questioner to Him was clear to that all-knowing and
all-loving heart. Do not let us harshly judge the mistakes of those
who would fain be taught, nor regard the professions of innocence,
which come from defective perception, as if they were the proud
utterances of a Pharisee.
But Christ's love is firm, and can be severe. It never pares down His
requirements to make discipleship easier. Rather it attracts by
heightening them, and insisting most strenuously on the most difficult
surrender. That is the explanation of the stringent demand next made
by Him. He touched the poisonous swelling as with a sharp lancet when
He called for surrender of wealth. We may be sure that it was this
man's money which stood between him and eternal life. If something
else had been his chief temptation, that something would have been
signalised as needful to be given up. There is no general principle of
conduct laid down here, but a specific injunction determined by the
individual's character. All diseases are not treated with the same
medicines. The command is but Christ's application of His broad
requirement, 'If thine eye causeth thee to stumble, pluck it out.' The
principle involved is, surrender what hinders entire following of
Jesus. When that sacrifice is made, we shall be in contact with the
fountain of goodness, and have eternal life, not as payment, but as a
'His countenance fell,' or, according to Mark's picturesque word,
'became lowering,' like a summer sky when thunder-clouds gather. The
hope went out of his heart, and the light faded from his eager face.
The prick of the sharp spear had burst the bubble of his superficial
earnestness. He had probably never had anything like so repugnant a
duty forced upon him, and he cannot bring himself to yield. Like so
many of us, he says, 'I desire eternal life,' but when it comes to
giving up the dearest thing he recoils. 'Anything else, Lord, thou
shalt have, and welcome, but not that.' And Christ says, 'That, and
nothing else, I must have, if thou art to have Me.' So this man 'went
away sorrowful.' His earnestness evaporated; he kept his possessions,
and he lost Christ. A prudent bargain! But we may hope that, since 'he
went away sorrowful,' he felt the ache of something lacking, that the
old longings came back, and that he screwed up his resolution to make
'the great surrender,' and counted his wealth 'but dung, that he might
What a world of sad and disappointed love there would be in that look
of Jesus to the disciples, as the young ruler went away with bowed
head! How graciously He anticipates their probable censure, and turns
their thoughts rather on themselves, by the acknowledgment that the
failure was intelligible, since the condition was hard! How pityingly
His thoughts go after the retreating figure! How universal the
application of His words! Riches may become a hindrance to entering
the kingdom. They do so when they take the first place in the
affections and in the estimates of good. That danger besets those who
have them and those who have them not. Many a poor man is as much
caught in the toils of the love of money as the rich are. Jesus
modifies the form of His saying when He repeats it in the shape of
'How hardly shall they that trust in riches,' etc. It is difficult to
have, and not to trust in them. Rich men's disadvantages as to living
a self-sacrificing Christian life are great. To Christ's eyes, their
position was one to be dreaded rather than to be envied.
So opposed to current ideas was such a thought, that the disciples,
accustomed to think that wealth meant happiness, were amazed. If the
same doctrine were proclaimed in any great commercial centre to-day,
it would excite no less astonishment. At least, many Christians and
others live as if the opposite were true. Wealth possessed, and not
trusted in, but used aright, may become a help towards eternal life;
but wealth as commonly regarded and employed by its possessors, and as
looked longingly after by others, is a real, and in many cases an
insuperable, obstacle to entering the strait gate. As soon drive a
camel, humps and load and all, through 'a needle's eye,' as get a man
who trusts in the uncertainty of riches squeezed through that portal.
No communities need this lesson more than our great cities.
No wonder that the disciples thought that, if the road was so
difficult for rich men, it must be hard indeed. Christ goes even
farther. He declares that it is not only hard, but 'impossible,' for a
man by his own power to tread it. That was exactly what the young man
had thought that he could do, if only he were directed.
So our Lord's closing words in this context apply, not only to the
immediately preceding question by the disciples, but may be taken as
the great truth conveyed by the whole incident, Man's efforts can
never put him in possession of eternal life. He must have God's power
flowing into him if he is to be such as can enter the kingdom. It is
the germ of the subsequent teaching of Paul; 'The gift of God is
eternal life.' What we cannot do, Christ has done for us, and does in
us. We must yield ourselves to Him, and surrender ourselves, and
abandon what stands between us and Him, and then eternal life will
enter into us here, and we shall enter into its perfect possession
CHRIST ON THE ROAD TO THE CROSS
'And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before
them: and they were amazed; and as they followed they were afraid.'
--Mark x. 32.
We learn from John's Gospel that the resurrection of Lazarus
precipitated the determination of the Jewish authorities to put Christ
to death; and that immediately thereafter there was held the council
at which, by the advice of Caiaphas, the formal decision was come to.
Thereupon our Lord withdrew Himself into the wilderness which
stretches south and east of Jerusalem; and remained there for an
unknown period, preparing Himself for the Cross. Then, full of calm
resolve, He came forth to die. This is the crisis in our Lord's
history to which my text refers. The graphic narrative of this
Evangelist sets before us the little company on the steep rocky
mountain road that leads up from Jericho to Jerusalem; our Lord, far
in advance of His followers, with a fixed purpose stamped upon His
face, and something of haste in His stride, and that in His whole
demeanour which shed a strange astonishment and awe over the group of
silent and uncomprehending disciples.
That picture has not attracted the attention that it deserves. I think
if we ponder it with sympathetic imagination helping us, we may get
from it some very great lessons and glimpses of our Lord's inmost
heart in the prospect of His Cross. And I desire simply to set forth
two or three of the aspects of Christ's character which these words
seem to me to suggest.
I. We have here, then, first, what, for want of a better name, I would
call the heroic Christ.
I use the word to express simply strength of will brought to bear in
the resistance to antagonism; and although that is a side of the
Lord's character which is not often made prominent, it is there, and
ought to have its due importance.
We speak of Him, and delight to think of Him, as the embodiment of all
loving, gracious, gentle virtues, but Jesus Christ as the ideal man
unites in Himself what men are in the habit, somewhat superciliously,
of calling the masculine virtues, as well as those which they somewhat
contemptuously designate the feminine. I doubt very much whether that
is a correct distinction. I think that the heroism of endurance, at
all events, is far more an attribute of a woman than of a man. But be
that as it may, we are to look to Jesus Christ as presenting before us
the very type of all which men call heroism in the sense that I have
explained, of an iron will, incapable of deflection by any antagonism,
and which coerces the whole nature to obedience to its behests.
There is nothing to be done in life without such a will. 'To be weak
is to be miserable, doing or suffering.' And our Master has set us the
example of this; that unless there run through a man's life, like the
iron framework on the top of the spire of Antwerp Cathedral, on which
graceful fancies are strung in stone, the rigid bar of an iron purpose
that nothing can bend, the life will be nought and the man will be a
failure. Christ is the pattern of heroic endurance, and reads to us
the lesson to resist and persist, whatever stands between us and our
So here, the Cross before Him flung out no repelling influence towards
Him, but rather drew Him to itself. There is no reason that I can find
for believing the modern theory of the rationalists' school that our
Lord, in the course of His mission, altered His plan, or gradually had
dawning upon His mind the conviction that to carry out His purposes He
must be a martyr. That seems to me to be an entire misreading of the
Gospel narrative which sets before us much rather this, that from the
beginning of our Lord's public career there stood unmistakably before
Him the Cross as the goal. He entertained no illusions as to His
reception. He did not come to do certain work, and, finding that He
could not do it, accepted the martyr's _role_; but He came for the
twofold purpose of serving by His life, and of redeeming by His death.
'He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His
life a ransom for the many.' And this purpose stood clear before Him,
drawing Him to itself all through His career.
But, further, Christ's character teaches us what is the highest form
of such strength and tenacity, viz., gentleness. There is no need to
be brusque, obstinate, angular, self-absorbed, harsh, because we are
fixed and determined in our course. These things are the caricatures
and the diminutions, not the true forms nor the increase, of strength.
The most tenacious steel is the most flexible, and he that has the
most fixed and definite resolve may be the man that has his heart most
open to all human sympathies, and is strong with the almightiness of
gentleness, and not with the less close-knit strength of roughness and
of hardness. Christ, because He is perfect love, is perfect power, and
His will is fixed because it is love that fixes it. So let us take the
lesson that the highest type of strength is strength in meekness, and
that the Master who, I was going to say, kept His strength of will
under, but I more correctly say, manifested His strength of will
through, His gentleness, is the pattern for us.
II. Then again, we see here not only the heroic, but what I may call
the self-sacrificing Christ.
We have not only to consider the fixed will which this incident
reveals, but to remember the purpose on which it was fixed, and that
He was hastening to His Cross. The very fact of our Lord's going back
to Jerusalem, with that decree of the Sanhedrim still in force, was
tantamount to His surrender of Himself to death. It was as if, in the
old days, some excommunicated man with the decree of the Inquisition
pronounced against him had gone into Rome and planted himself in the
front of the piazza before the buildings of the Holy Office, and
lifted up his testimony there. So Christ, knowing that this council
has been held, that this decree stands, goes back, investing of set
purpose His return with all the publicity that He can bring to bear
upon it. For this once He seems to determine that He will 'cause His
voice to be heard in the streets'; He makes as much of a demonstration
as the circumstances will allow, and so acts in a manner opposite to
all the rest of His life. Why? Because He had determined to bring the
controversy to an end. Why? Was He flinging away His life in mere
despair? Was He sinfully neglecting precautions? Was the same
fanaticism of martyrdom which has often told upon men, acting upon
Him? Were these His reasons? No, but He recognised that now that
'hour' of which He spoke so much had come, and of His own loving will
offered Himself as our Sacrifice.
It is all-important to keep in view that Christ's death was His own
voluntary act. Whatever external forces were brought to bear in the
accomplishment of it, He died because He chose to die. The 'cords'
which bound this sacrifice to the horns of the altar were cords woven
So I point to the incident of my text, as linking in along with the
whole series of incidents marking the last days of our Lord's life, in
order to stamp upon His death unmistakably this signature, that it was
His own act. Therefore the publicity that was given to His entry;
therefore His appearance in the Temple; therefore the increased
sharpness and unmistakableness of His denunciations of the ruling
classes, the Pharisees and the scribes. Therefore the whole history of
the Passion, all culminating in leaving this one conviction, that He
had 'power to lay down His life,' that neither Caiaphas nor Annas, nor
Judas, nor the band, nor priests, nor the Council, nor Pilate, nor
Herod, nor soldiers, nor nails, nor cross, nor all together, killed
Jesus, but that Jesus died because He would. The self-sacrifice of the
Lord was not the flinging away of the life that He ought to have
preserved, nor carelessness, nor the fanaticism of a martyr, nor the
enthusiasm of a hero and a champion, but it was the voluntary death of
Him who of His own will became in His death the 'oblation and
satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.' Love to us, and
obedience to the Father whose will He made His own, were the cords
that bound Christ to the Cross on which He died. His sacrifice was
voluntary; witness this fact that when He saw the Cross at hand He
strode before His followers to reach that, the goal of His mission.
III. I venture to regard the incident as giving us a little glimpse of
what I may call the shrinking Christ.
Do we not see here a trace of something that we all know? May not part
of the reason for Christ's haste have been that desire which we all
have, when some inevitable grief or pain lies before us, to get it
over soon, and to abbreviate the moments that lie between us and it?
Was there not something of that feeling in our Lord's sensitive nature
when He said, for instance, 'I have a baptism to be baptized with, and
how am I straitened until it be accomplished'? 'I am come to send fire
upon the earth, and O! how I wish that it were already kindled!' Was
there not something of the same feeling, which we cannot call
impatient, but which we may call shrinking from the Cross, and
therefore seeking to draw the Cross nearer, and have done with it, in
the words which He addressed to the betrayer, 'That thou doest, do
quickly,' as if He were making a last appeal to the man's humanity,
and in effect saying to him, 'If you have a heart at all, shorten
these painful hours, and let us have it over'?
And may we not see, in that swift advance in front of the lagging
disciples, some trace of the same feeling which we recognise to be so
Christ _did_ shrink from His Cross. Let us never forget that He
recoiled from it, with the simple, instinctive, human shrinking from
pain and death which is a matter of the physical nervous system, and
has nothing to do with the will at all. If there had been no shrinking
from it there had been no fixed will. If there had been no natural
instinctive drawing back of the physical nature and its connections
from the prospect of pain and death, there had been none of the
heroism of which I am speaking. Though it does not become us to
dogmatise about matters of which we know so little, I think we may
fairly say that that shrinking never rose up into the regions of
Christ's will; never became a desire; never became a purpose.
Howsoever the ship might be tossed by the waves, the will always kept
its level equilibrium. Howsoever the physical nature might incline to
this side or to that, the will always kept parallel with the great
underlying divine will, the Father's purpose which He had come to
effect. There was shrinking which was instinctive and human, but it
never disturbed the fixed purpose to die. It had so much power over
Him as to make Him march a little faster to the Cross, but it never
made Him turn from it. And so He stands before us as the Conqueror in
a real conflict, as having yielded Himself up by a real surrender, as
having overcome a real difficulty, 'for the joy that was set before
Him, having endured the Cross, despising the shame.'
IV. So, lastly, I would see here the lonely Christ.
In front of His followers, absorbed in the thought of what was drawing
so near, gathering together His powers in order to be ready for the
struggle, with His heart full of the love and the pity which impelled
Him, He is surrounded as with a cloud which shuts Him 'out from their
sight,' as afterwards the cloud of glory 'received Him.'
What a gulf there was between them and Him, between their thoughts and
His, as He passed up that rocky way! What were they thinking about?
'By the way they had disputed amongst themselves which of them should
be the greatest.' So far did they sympathise with the Master! So far
did they understand Him! Talk about men with unappreciated aims,
heroes that have lived through a lifetime of misunderstanding and
never have had any one to sympathise with them! There never was such a
lonely man in the world as Jesus Christ. Never was there one that
carried so deep In His heart so great a purpose and so great a love,
which none cared a rush about. And those that were nearest Him, and
loved Him best, loved Him so blunderingly and so blindly that their
love must often have been quite as much of a pain as of a joy.
In His Passion that solitude reached the point of agony. How touching
in its unconscious pathos is His pleading request, 'Tarry ye here, and
watch with Me!' How touching in their revelation of a subsidiary but
yet very real addition to His pains are His words, 'All ye shall be
offended because of Me this night.' Oh, dear brethren! every human
soul has to go down into the darkness alone, however close may be the
clasping love which accompanies us to the portal; but the loneliness
of death was realised by Jesus Christ in a very unique and solemn
manner. For round Him there gathered the clouds of a mysterious agony,
only faintly typified by the darkness of eclipse which hid the
material sun in the universe, what time He died.
And all this solitude, the solitude of unappreciated aims, and
unshared purposes, and misunderstood sorrow during life, and the
solitude of death with its elements ineffable of atonement;--all this
solitude was borne that no human soul, living or dying, might ever be
lonely any more. 'Lo! I,' whom you all left alone, 'am with you,' who
left Me alone, 'even till the end of the world.'
So, dear brethren, ponder that picture that I have been trying very
feebly to set before you, of the heroic, self-sacrificing, shrinking,
solitary Saviour. Take Him as your Saviour, your Sacrifice, your
Pattern; and hear Him saying, 'If any man serve Me, let him follow Me,
and where I am there shall also My servant be.'
An old ecclesiastical legend conies into my mind at the moment, which
tells how an emperor won the true Cross in battle from a pagan king,
and brought it back, with great pomp, to Jerusalem; but found the gate
walled up, and an angel standing before it, who said, 'Thou bringest
back the Cross with pomp and splendour. He that died upon it had shame
for His companion; and carried it on His back, barefooted, to
Calvary.' Then, says the chronicler, the emperor dismounted from his
steed, cast off his robes, lifted the sacred Rood on his shoulders,
and with bare feet advanced to the gate, which opened of itself, and
he entered in.
_We_ have to go up the steep rocky road that leads from the plain
where the Dead Sea is, to Jerusalem. Let us follow the Master, as He
strides before us, the Forerunner and the Captain of our salvation.
DIGNITY AND SERVICE
'And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto Him, saying,
Master, we would that Thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall
desire. 36. And He said unto them, What would ye that I should do for
you? 37. They said unto Him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on Thy
right hand, and the other on Thy left hand, in Thy glory. 38. But
Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup
that I drink of! and he baptized with the baptism that I am baptized
with! 39. And they said unto Him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye
shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism
that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: 40. But to sit on My
right hand and on My left hand is not Mine to give; but it shall be
given to them for whom it its prepared. 41. And when the Ten heard it,
they began to be much displeased with James and John. 42. But Jesus
called them to Him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are
accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and
their great ones exercise authority upon them. 43. But so shall it not
be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your
minister: 44. And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be
servant of all. 45. For even the Son of Man came not to be ministered
unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.'--Mark
How lonely Jesus was! While He strode before the Twelve, absorbed in
thoughts of the Cross to which He was pressing, they, as they
followed, 'amazed' and 'afraid,' were thinking not of what He would
suffer, but of what they might gain. He saw the Cross. They understood
little of it, but supposed that somehow it would bring in the kingdom,
and they dimly saw thrones for themselves. Hence James and John try to
secure the foremost places, and hence the others' anger at what they
thought an unfair attempt to push in front of them. What a contrast
between Jesus, striding on ahead with 'set' face, and the Twelve
unsympathetic and self-seeking, lagging behind to squabble about
pre-eminence! We have in this incident two parts: the request and its
answer, the indignation of the Ten and its rebuke. The one sets forth
the qualifications for the highest place in the kingdom; the other,
the paradox that pre-eminence there is service.
James and John were members of the group of original disciples who
stood nearest to Jesus, and of the group of three whom He kept
specially at His side. Their present place might well lead them to
expect pre-eminence in the kingdom, but their trick was mean, as being
an underhand attempt to forestall Peter, the remaining one of the
three, as putting forward their mother as spokeswoman, and as
endeavouring to entrap Jesus into promising before the disclosure of
what was desired. Matthew tells that the mother was brought in order
to make the request, and that Jesus brushed her aside by directing His
answer to her sons ('Ye know not what _ye_ ask'). The attempt to get
Jesus' promise without telling what was desired betrayed the
consciousness that the wish was wrong. His guarded counter-question
would chill them and make their disclosure somewhat hesitating.
Note the strangely blended good and evil of the request. The gold was
mingled with clay; selfishness and love delighting in being near Him
had both place in it. We may well recognise our own likenesses in
these two with their love spotted with self-regard, and be grateful
for the gentle answer which did not blame the desire for pre-eminence,
but sought to test the love. It was not only to teach them, that He
brought them back to think of the Cross which must precede the glory,
but because His own mind was so filled with it that He saw that glory
only as through the darkness which had to be traversed to reach it.
But for us all the question is solemn and heart-searching.
Was not the answer, 'We are able,' too bold? They knew neither what
they asked nor what they promised; but just as their ignorant question
was partly redeemed by its love, their ignorant vow was ennobled by
its very rashness, as well as by the unfaltering love in it. They did
not know what they were promising, but they knew that they loved Him
so well that to share anything with Him would be blessed. So it was
not in their own strength that the swift answer rushed to their lips,
but in the strength of a love that makes heroes out of cowards. And
they nobly redeemed their pledge. We, too, if we are Christ's, have
the same question put to us, and, weak and timid as we are, may
venture to give the same answer, trusting to His strength.
The full declaration of what had been only implied in the previous
question follows. Jesus tells the two, and us all, that there are
degrees in nearness to Him and in dignity in that future, but that the
highest places are not given by favouritism, but attained by fitness.
He does not deny that He gives, but only that He gives without regard
to qualification. Paul expected the crown from 'the righteous Judge,'
and one of these two brethren was chosen to record His promise of
giving a seat on His throne to all that overcome. 'Those for whom it
is prepared' are those who are prepared for it, and the preparation
lies in 'being made conformable to His death,' and being so joined to
Him that in spirit and mind we are partakers of His sufferings,
whether we are called to partake of them in outward form or not.
The two had had their lesson, and next the Ten were to have theirs.
The conversation with the former had been private, for it was hearing
of it that made the others so angry. We can imagine the hot words
among them as they marched behind Jesus, and how they felt ashamed
already when 'He called them.' What they were to be now taught was not
so much the qualifications for pre-eminence in the kingdom, whether
here or hereafter, as the meaning of preeminence and the service to
which it binds. In the world, the higher men are, the more they are
served; in Christ's kingdom, both in its imperfect earthly and in its
perfect heavenly form, the higher men are, the more they serve.
So-called 'Christian' nations are organised on the former un-Christian
basis still. But wherever pre-eminence is not used for the general
good, there authority rests on slippery foundations, and there will
never be social wellbeing or national tranquillity until Christ's law
of dignity for service and dignity by service shapes and sweetens
society. 'But it is not so among you' laid down the constitution for
earth, and not only for some remote heaven; and every infraction of
it, sooner or later, brings a Nemesis.
The highest is to be the lowest; for He who is 'higher than the
highest' has shown that such is the law which He obeys. The point in
the heaven that is highest above our heads is in twelve hours deepest
beneath our feet. Fellowship in Christ's sufferings was declared to be
the qualification for our sharing in His dignity. His lowly service
and sacrificial death are now declared to be the pattern for our use
of dignity. Still the thought of the Cross looms large before Jesus,
and He is not content with presenting Himself as the pattern of
service only, but calls on His disciples to take Him as the pattern of
utter self-surrender also. We cannot enter on the great teaching of
these words, but can only beseech all who hear them to note how Jesus
sets forth His death as the climax of His work, without which even
that life of ministering were incomplete; how He ascribes to it the
power of ransoming men from bondage and buying them back to God; and
of how He presents even these unparalleled sufferings, which bear or
need no repetition as long as the world lasts, as yet being the
example to which our lives must be conformed. So His lesson to the
angry Ten merges into that to the self-seeking two, and declares to
each of us that, if we are ever to win a place at His right hand in
His glory, we must here take a place with Him in imitating His life of
service and His death of self-surrender for men's good. 'If we endure,
we shall also reign with Him.'
Blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the highway side
begging.'--Mark x. 46.
The narrative of this miracle is contained in all the Synoptical
Gospels, but the accounts differ in two respects--as to the number of
men restored to sight, and as to the scene of the miracle. Matthew
tells us that there were two men healed, and agrees with Mark in
placing the miracle as Jesus was leaving Jericho. Mark says that there
was one, and that the place was outside the gate in departing. Luke,
on the other hand, agrees with Matthew as to the number, and differs
from him and Mark as to the place, which he sets at the entrance into
the city. The first of these two discrepancies may very easily be put
aside. The greater includes the less; silence is not contradiction. To
say that there was one does not deny that there were two. And if
Bartimaeus was a Christian, and known to Mark's readers, as is
probable from the mention of his name, it is easily intelligible how
he, being also the chief actor and spokesman, should have had Mark's
attention concentrated on him. As to the other discrepancy, many
attempts have been made to remove it. None of them are altogether
satisfactory. But what does it matter? The apparent contradiction may
affect theories as to the characteristics of inspired books, but it
has nothing to do with the credibility of the narratives, or with
their value for us.
Mark's account is evidently that of an eye-witness. It is full of
little particulars which testify thereto. Whether Bartimaeus had a
companion or not, he was obviously the chief actor and spokesman. And
the whole story seems to me to lend itself to the enforcement of some
very important lessons, which I will try to draw from it.
I. Notice the beggar's petition and the attempts to silence it.
Remember that Jesus was now on His last journey to Jerusalem. That
night He would sleep at Bethany; Calvary was but a week off. He had
paused to win Zacchaeus, and now He has resumed His march to His
Cross. Popular enthusiasm is surging round Him, and for the first time
He does not try to repress it. A shouting multitude are escorting Him
out of the city. They have just passed the gates, and are in the act
of turning towards the mountain gorge through which runs the Jerusalem
road. A long file of beggars is sitting, as beggars do still in
Eastern cities, outside the gate, well accustomed to lift their
monotonous wail at the sound of passing footsteps. Bartimaeus is
amongst them. He asks, according to Luke, what is the cause of the
bustle, and is told that 'Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.' The name
wakes strange hopes in him, which can only be accounted for by his
knowledge of Christ's miracles done elsewhere. It is a witness to
their notoriety that they had filtered down to be the talk of beggars
at city gates. And so, true to his trade, he cries, 'Jesus ... have
mercy upon me!'
Now, note two or three things about that cry. The first is the clear
insight into Christ's place and dignity. The multitude said to him,
'Jesus of _Nazareth_ passeth by.' That was all they cared for or knew.
He cried, 'Jesus, thou _Son of David_,' distinctly recognising our
Lord's Messianic character, His power and authority, and on that power
and authority he built a confidence; for he says not as some other
suppliants had done, either 'If Thou wilt Thou canst,' or 'If Thou
canst do anything, have compassion on us.' He is sure of both the
power and the will.
Now, it is interesting to notice that this same clear insight other
blind men in the Evangelist's story are also represented as having
had. Blindness has its compensations. It leads to a certain steadfast
brooding upon thoughts, free from disturbing influences. Seeing Jesus
did not produce faith; not seeing Him seems to have helped it. It left
imagination to work undisturbed, and He was all the loftier to these
blind men, because the conceptions of their minds were not limited by
the vision of their eyes. At all events, here is a distinct piece of
insight into Christ's dignity, power, and will, to which the seeing
multitudes were blind.
Note, further, how in the cry there throbs the sense of need, deep and
urgent. And note how in it there is also the realisation of the
possibility that the widely-flowing blessings of which Bartimaeus had
heard might be concentrated and poured, in their full flood, upon
himself. He individualises himself, _his_ need, Christ's power and
willingness to help _him_. And because he has heard of so many who
have, in like manner, received His healing touch, he comes with the
cry, 'Have mercy upon me.'
All this is upon the low level of physical blessings needed and
desired. But let us lift it higher. It is a mirror in which we may see
ourselves, our necessities, and the example of what our desire ought
to be. Ah! brethren, the deep consciousness of impotence, need,
emptiness, blindness, lies at the bottom of all true crying to Jesus
Christ. If you have never gone to Him, knowing yourself to be a sinful
man, in peril, present and future, from your sin, and stained and
marred by reason of it, you never have gone to Him in any deep and
adequate sense at all. Only when I thus know myself am I driven to
cry, 'Jesus! have mercy on me.' And I ask you not to answer to me, but
to press the question on your own consciences--'Have I any experience
of such a sense of need; or am I groping in the darkness and saying, I
see? am I weak as water, and saying I am strong?' 'Thou knowest not
that thou art poor, and naked, and blind'; and so that Jesus of
Nazareth should be passing by has never moved thy tongue to call, 'Son
of David, have mercy upon me!'
Again, this man's cry expressed a clear insight into something at
least of our Lord's unique character and power. Brethren, unless we
know Him to be all that is involved in that august title, 'the Son of
David,' I do not think our cries to Him will ever be very earnest. It
seems to me that they will only be so when, on the one hand, we
recognise our need of a Saviour, and, on the other hand, behold in Him
the Saviour whom we need. I can quite understand--and we may see
plenty of illustrations of it all round us--a kind of Christianity
real as far as it goes, but in my judgment very superficial, which has
no adequate conception of what sin means, in its depth, in its power
upon the victim of it, or in its consequences here and hereafter; and,
that sense being lacking, the whole scale of Christianity, as it were,
is lowered, and Christ comes to be, not, as I think the New Testament
tells us that He is, the Incarnate Word of God, who for us men and for
our salvation 'bare our sins in His own body on the tree,' and 'was
made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in
Him,' but an Example, a Teacher, or a pure Model, or a social
Reformer, or the like. If men think of Him only as such, they will
never cry to Him, 'Have mercy upon me!'
Dear friends, I pray you, whether you begin with looking into your own
hearts and recognising the crawling evils that have made their home
there, and thence pass to the thought of the sort of Redeemer that you
need and find in Christ--or whether you begin at the other side, and,
looking upon the revealed Christ in all the fulness in which He is
represented to us in the Gospels, from thence go back to ask
yourselves the question, 'What sort of man must I be, if that is the
kind of Saviour that I need?'--I pray you ever to blend these two
things together, the consciousness of your own need of redemption in
His blood and the assurance that by His death we are redeemed, and
then to cry, 'Lord! have mercy upon _me_,' and claim your individual
share in the wide-flowing blessing. Turn all the generalities of His
grace into the particularity of your own possession of it. We have to
go one by one to His cross, and one by one to pass through the wicket
gate. We have not cried to Him as we ought, if our cry is only
'Christ, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ, have
mercy upon us.' We must be alone with Him, that into our own hearts we
may receive all the fulness of His blessing; and our petition must be
'Thou Son of David! have mercy upon _me_.' Have you cried that?
Notice, further, the attempts to stifle the cry. No doubt it was in
defence of the Master's dignity, as they construed it, that the people
sought to silence the persistent, strident voice piercing through
their hosannas. Ah! they did not know that the cry of wretchedness was
far sweeter to Him than their shallow hallelujahs. Christian people of
all churches, and of some stiffened churches very especially, have
been a great deal more careful of Christ's dignity than He is, and
have felt that their formal worship was indecorously disturbed when by
chance some earnest voice forced its way through it with the cry of
need and desire. But this man had been accustomed for many a day,
sitting outside the gate, to reiterate his petition when it was
unattended to, and to make it heard amidst the noise of passers-by. So
he was persistently bold and importunate and shameless, as the shallow
critics thought, in his crying. The more they silenced him, the more a
great deal he cried. Would God that we had more crying like that; and
that Christ's servants did not so often seek to suppress it, as some
of them do! If there are any of you who, by reason of companions, or
cares, or habits, or sorrows, or a feeble conception of your own need
or a doubtful recognition of Christ's power and mercy, have been
tempted to stop your supplications, do like Bartimaeus, and the more
these, your enemies, seek to silence the deepest voice that is in you,
the more let it speak.
II. So, notice Christ's call and the suppliant's response.
'He stood still, and commanded him to be called.' Remember that He was
on His road to His Cross, and that the tension of spirit which the
Evangelists notice as attaching to Him then, and which filled the
disciples with awe as they followed Him, absorbed Him, no doubt, at
that hour, so that He heard but little of the people's shouts. But He
did hear the blind beggar's cry, and He arrested His march in order to
attend to it.
Now, dear friends, I am not merely twisting a Biblical incident round
to an interpretation which it does not bear, but am stating a plain
un-rhetorical truth when I say that it is so still. Jesus Christ is no
dead Christ who is to be remembered only. He is a living Christ who,
at this moment, is all that He ever was, and is doing in loftier
fashion all the gracious things that He did upon earth. That pause of
the King is repeated now, and the quick ear which discerned the
difference between the unreal shouts of the crowd, and the agony of
sincerity in the cry of the beggar, is still open. He is in the
heavens, surrounded by its glories, and, as I think Scripture teaches
us, wielding providence and administering the affairs of the universe.
He does not need to pause in order to hear you and me. If He did, He
would--if I may venture upon such an impossible supposition--bid the
hallelujahs of heaven hush themselves, and suspend the operations of
His providence if need were, rather than that you or I, or any poor
man who cries to Him, should be unheard and unhelped. The living
Christ is as tender a friend, has as quick an ear, is as ready to help
at once, to-day, as He was when outside the gate of Jericho; and every
one of us may lift his or her poor, thin voice, and it will go
straight up to the throne, and not be lost in the clamour of the
hallelujahs that echo round His seat. Christ still hears and answers
the cry of need. Send you it up, and you will find that true.
Notice the suppliant's response. That is a very characteristic
right-about-face of the crowd, who one moment were saying, 'Hold your
tongue and do not disturb Him,' and the next moment were all eager to
encumber him with help, and to say, 'Rise up, be of good cheer; He
calleth thee.' No thanks to them that He did. And what did the man do?
Sprang to his feet--as the word rightly rendered would be--and flung
away the frowsy rags that he had wrapped round him for warmth and
softness of seat, as he waited at the gate; 'and he came to Jesus.'
Brethren, 'casting aside every weight and the sin that doth so easily
beset us, let us run' to the same Refuge. You have to abandon
something if you are to go to Christ to be healed. I dare say you know
well enough what it is. I do not; but certainly there is something
that entangles your legs and keeps you from finding your way to Him.
If there is nothing else, there is yourself and your trust in self,
and that is to be put away. Cast away the 'garment spotted with the
flesh' and go to Christ, and you will receive succour.
III. Notice the question of all-granting love, and the answer of
'What wilt Thou that I should do unto thee?' A very few hours before
He had put the same question with an entirely different significance,
when the sons of Zebedee came to Him, and tried to get Him to walk
blindfold into a promise. He upset their scheme with the simple
question, 'What is it that you want?' which meant, 'I must know and
judge before I commit Myself,' But when He said the same thing to
Bartimaeus He meant exactly the opposite. It was putting the key of
the treasure-house into the beggar's hand. It was the implicit pledge
that whatever he desired he should receive. He knew that the thing
this man wanted was the thing that He delighted to give.
But the tenderness of these words, and the gracious promise that is
hived in them, must not make us forget the singular authority that
speaks in them. Think of a man doing as Jesus Christ did--standing
before another and saying, 'I will give you anything that you want.'
He must be either a madman or a blasphemer, or 'God manifest in the
flesh'; Almighty power guided by infinite love.
And what said the man? He had no doubt what he wanted most--the
opening of these blind eyes of his. And, dear brother, if we knew
ourselves as well as Bartimaeus knew his blindness, we should have as
little doubt what it is that we need most. Suppose you had this
wishing-cap that Christ put on Bartimaeus's head put on yours: what
would you ask? It is a penetrating question if men will answer it
honestly. Think what you consider to be your chief need. Suppose Jesus
Christ stood where I stand, and spoke to you: 'What wilt thou that I
should do for you?' If you are a wise man, if you know yourself and
Him, your answer will come as swiftly as the beggar's--'Lord! heal me
of my blindness, and take away my sin, and give me Thy salvation.'
There is no doubt about what it is that every one of us needs most.
And there should be no doubt as to what each of us would ask first.
The supposition that I have been making is realised. That gracious
Lord is here, and is ready to give you the satisfaction of your
deepest need, if you know what it is, and will go to Him for it. 'Ask!
and ye shall receive.'
IV. Lastly, notice, sight given, and the Giver followed.
Bartimaeus had scarcely ended speaking when Christ began. He was blind
at the beginning of Christ's little sentence; he saw at the end of it.
'Go thy way; thy faith hath saved thee.' The answer came instantly,
and the cure was as immediate as the movement of Christ's heart in
I am here to proclaim the possibility of an immediate passage from
darkness to light. Some folk look askance at us when we talk about
sudden conversions, but these are perfectly reasonable; and the
experience of thousands asserts that they are actual. As soon as we
desire, we have, and as soon as we have, we see. Whenever the lungs
are opened the air rushes in; sometimes the air opens the lungs that
it may. The desire is all but contemporaneous with the fulfilment, in
Christ's dealing with men. The message is flashed along the wire from
earth to heaven, in an incalculably brief space of time, and the
answer comes, swift as thought and swifter than light. So, dear
friends, there is no reason whatever why a similar instantaneous
change should not pass over any man who hears the Good News. He may be
unsaved when his hearing of it begins, and saved when his hearing of
it ends. It is for himself to settle whether it shall be so or not.
Here we have a clear statement of the path by which Christ's mercy
rushes into a man's soul. 'Thy faith hath saved thee.' But it was
Christ's power that saved him. Yes, it was; but it was faith that made
it possible for Christ's power to make him whole. Physical miracles
indeed did not always require trust in Christ, as a preceding
condition, but the possession of Christ's salvation does, and cannot
but do so. There must be trust in Him, in order that we may partake of
the salvation which is owing solely to His power, His love, His work
upon the Cross. The condition is for us; the power comes from Him. My
faith is the hand that grasps His; it is His hand, not mine, that
holds me up. My faith lays hold of the rope; it is the rope and the
Person above who holds it, that lift me out of the 'horrible pit and
the miry clay.' My faith flees for refuge to the city; it is the city
that keeps me safe from the avenger of blood. Brother! exercise that
faith, and you will receive a better sight than was poured into
Now, all this story should be the story of each one of us. One
modification we have to make upon it, for we do not need to cry
persistently for mercy, but to trust in, and to take, the mercy that
is offered. One other difference there is between Bartimaeus and many
of my hearers. He knew what he needed, and some of you do not. But
Christ is calling us all, and my business now is to say to each of you
what the crowd said to the beggar, 'Rise! be of good cheer; He calleth
thee.' If you will fling away your hindrances, and grope your path to
His feet, and fall down before Him, knowing your deep necessity, and
trusting to Him to supply it, He will save you. Your new sight will
gaze upon your Redeemer, and you will follow Him in the way of loving
trust and glad obedience.
Jesus Christ was passing by. He was never to be in Jericho any more.
If Bartimaeus did not get His sight then, he would be blind all his
days. Christ and His salvation are offered to thee, my brother, now.
Perhaps if you let Him pass, you will never hear Him call again, and
may abide in the darkness for ever. Do not run the risk of such a
AN EAGER COMING
'And he, casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus.'--Mark x.
Mark's vivid picture--long wail of the man, crowd silencing him, but
wheeling round when Christ calls him--and the quick energy of the
beggar, flinging away his cloak, springing to his feet--and blind as
he was, groping his way.
I. What we mean by coming to Jesus:--faith, communion, occupation of
mind, heart, and will.
II. How eagerly we shall come when we are conscious of need. This man
wanted his eyesight: do we not want too?
III. We must throw off our hindrances if we would come to Him.
Impediments of various kinds. 'Lay aside every weight'--not only sins,
but even right things that hinder. Occupations, pursuits, affections,
possessions, sometimes have to be put away altogether; sometimes but
to be minimised and kept in restraint. There is no virtue in
self-denial except as it helps us to come nearer Him.
IV. We must do it with quick, glad energy. Bartimaeus springs to his
feet at once with a bound. So we should leap to meet Jesus, our
sight-giver. How slothful and languid we often are. We do not put half
as much heart into our Christian life as people do into common things.
Far more pains are taken by a ballet-dancer to learn her posturing
than by most Christians to keep near Christ.
'What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?'--Mark x. 51.
'What wilt Thou have me to do!'--Acts ix. 6.
Christ asks the first question of a petitioner, and the answer is a
prayer for sight. Saul asks the second question of Jesus, and the
answer is a command. Different as they are, we may bring them
together. The one is the voice of love, desiring to be besought in
order that it may bestow; the other is the voice of love, desiring to
be commanded in order that it may obey.
Love delights in knowing, expressing, and fulfilling the beloved's
I. The communion of Love delights on both sides in knowing the
beloved's wishes. Christ delights in knowing ours. He encourages us to
speak though He knows, because it is pleasant to Him to hear, and good
for us to tell. His children delight in knowing His will.
II. It delights in expressing wishes--His commandments are the
utterance of His Love: His Providences are His loving ways of telling
us what He desires of us, and if we love Him as we ought, both
commandments and providences will be received by us as lovers do gifts
that have 'with my love' written on them.
On the other hand, our love will delight in telling Him what we wish,
and to speak all our hearts to Jesus will be our instinct in the
measure of our love to Him.
III. It delights in fulfilling wishes--puts key of treasure-house into
our hands. He refused John and James. Be sure that He does still
delight to give us our desires, and so be sure that when any of these
are not granted there must be some loving reason for refusal.
Our delight should be in obedience, and only when our wills are
submitted to His does He say to us, 'What wilt thou?' 'If ye abide in
Me and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will and it shall
be done unto you.'
A ROYAL PROGRESS
'... Go your way into the village over against you: and as soon as ye
be entered into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon never man sat;
loose him, and bring him.'--Mark xi. 2.
Two considerations help us to appreciate this remarkable incident of
our Lord's triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The first of these is its
date. It apparently occurred on the Sunday of the Passion Week. The
Friday saw the crosses on Calvary. The night before, Jesus had sat at
the modest feast that was prepared in Bethany, where Lazarus was one
of the guests, Martha was the busy servant, and Mary poured out the
lavish treasures of her love upon His feet. The resurrection of
Lazarus had created great popular excitement; and that excitement is
the second consideration which throws light upon this incident. The
people had rallied round Christ, and, consequently, the hatred of the
official and ecclesiastical class had been raised to boiling-point. It
was at that time that our Lord deliberately presented Himself before
the nation as the Messiah, and stirred up still more this popular
enthusiasm. Now, if we keep these two things in view, I think we shall
be at the right point from which to consider the whole incident. To
it, and not merely to the words which I have chosen as our
starting-point, I wish to draw attention now. I am mistaken if there
are not in it very important and practical lessons for ourselves.
I. First, note that deliberate assumption by Christ of royal
I shall have a good deal to say presently about the main fact which
bears upon that, but in the meantime I would note, in passing, a
subsidiary illustration of it, in the errand on which He sent these
messengers to the little 'village over against' them; and in the words
which He put into their mouths. They were to go, and, without a word,
to loose and bring away the colt fastened at a door, where it was
evidently waiting the convenience of its owner to mount it. If, as was
natural, any objection or question was raised, they were to answer
exactly as servants of a king would do, if he sent them to make
requisition on the property of his subjects, 'The Lord hath need of
I do not dwell on our Lord's supernatural knowledge as coming out
here; nor on the fact that the owner of the colt was probably a
partial disciple, perhaps a secret one--ready to recognise the claim
that was made. But I ask you to notice here the assertion, in act and
word, of absolute authority, to which all private convenience and
rights of possession are to give way unconditionally. The Sovereign's
need is a sovereign reason. What He requires He has a right to take.
Well for us, brethren, if we yield as glad, as swift, and as
unquestioning obedience to His claims upon us, and upon our
possessions, as that poor peasant of Bethphage gave in the incident
But there is not only the assertion, here, of absolute authority, but
note how, side by side with this royal style, there goes the
acknowledgment of poverty. Here is a pauper King, who having nothing
yet possesses all things. 'The Lord'--that is a great title--'hath
need of him'--that is a strange verb to go with such a nominative. But
this little sentence, in its two halves of authority and of
dependence, puts into four words the whole blessed paradox of the life
of Jesus Christ upon earth. 'Though He was rich, yet for our sakes He
became poor'; and being Lord and Owner of all things, yet owed His
daily bread to ministering women, borrowed a boat to preach from, a
house wherein to lay His head, a shroud and a winding-sheet to enfold
His corpse, a grave in which to lie, and from which to rise, 'the Lord
of the dead and of the living.'
Not only so, but there is another thought suggested by these words.
The accurate, or, at least, the probable reading, of one part of the
third verse is given in the Revised Version, 'Say ye that the Lord
hath need of him, and straightway he will send him _back_ hither.'
That is to say, these last words are not Christ's assurance to His two
messengers that their embassy would succeed, but part of the message
which He sends by them to the owner of the colt, telling him that it
was only a loan which was to be returned. Jesus Christ is debtor to no
man. Anything given to Him comes back again. Possessions yielded to
that Lord are recompensed a hundredfold in this life, if in nothing
else in that there is a far greater sweetness in that which still
remains. 'What I gave I have,' said the wise old epitaph. It is always
true. Do you not think that the owner of the patient beast, on which
Christ placidly paced into Jerusalem on His peaceful triumph, would be
proud all his days of the use to which his animal had been put, and
would count it as a treasure for the rest of its life? If you and I
will yield our gifts to Him, and lay them upon His altar, be sure of
this, that the altar will ennoble and will sanctify all that is laid
upon it. All that we have rendered to Him gains fragrance from His
touch, and comes back to us tenfold more precious because He has
condescended to use it.
So, brethren, He still moves amongst us, asking for our surrender of
ourselves and of our possessions to Him, and pledging Himself that we
shall lose nothing by what we give to Him, but shall be infinitely
gainers by our surrender. He still needs us. Ah! if He is ever to
march in triumph through the world, and be hailed by the hosannas of
all the tribes of the earth, it is requisite for that triumph that His
children should surrender first themselves, and then all that they
are, and all that they have, to Him. To us there comes the message,
'The Lord hath need of you.' Let us see that we answer as becomes us.
But then, more important is the other instance here of this assertion
of royal authority. I have already said that we shall not rightly
understand it unless we take into full account the state of popular
feeling at the time. We find in John's Gospel great stress laid on the
movement of curiosity and half-belief which followed on the
resurrection of Lazarus. He tells us that crowds came out from
Jerusalem the night before to gaze upon the Lifebringer and the
quickened man. He also tells us that another enthusiastic crowd
flocked out of Jerusalem before Jesus sent for the colt to the
neighbouring village. We are to keep in mind, therefore, that what He
did here was done in the midst of a great outburst of popular
enthusiasm. We are to keep in mind, too, the season of Passover, when
religion and patriotism, which were so closely intertwined in the life
of the Jews, were in full vigorous exercise. It was always a time of
anxiety to the Roman authorities, lest this fiery people should break
out into insurrection. Jerusalem at the Passover was like a great
magazine of combustibles, and into it Jesus flung a lighted brand
amongst the inflammable substances that were gathered there. We have
to remember, too, that all His life long He had gone exactly on the
opposite tack. Remember how He betook Himself to the mountain
solitudes when they wanted to make Him a king. Remember how He was
always damping down Messianic enthusiasm. But here, all at once, He
reverses His whole conduct, and deliberately sets Himself to make the
most public and the most exciting possible demonstration that He was
'King of Israel.'
For what was it that He did? Our Evangelist here does not quote the
prophecy from Zechariah, but two other Evangelists do. Our Lord then
deliberately dressed Himself by the mirror of prophecy, and assumed
the very characteristics which the prophet had given long ago as the
mark of the coming King of Zion. If He had wanted to excite a popular
commotion, that is what He would have done.
Why did He act thus? He was under no illusion as to what would follow.
For the night before He had said: 'She hath come beforehand to anoint
My body for the burial.' He knew what was close before Him in the
future. And, because He knew that the end was at hand, He felt that,
once at least, it was needful that He should present Himself solemnly,
publicly, I may almost say ostentatiously, before the gathered nation,
as being of a truth the Fulfiller and the fulfilment of all the
prophecies and the hopes built upon them that had burned in Israel,
with a smoky flame indeed, but for so many ages. He also wanted to
bring the rulers to a point. I dare not say that He precipitated His
death, or provoked a conflict, but I do say that deliberately, and
with a clear understanding of what He was doing, He took a step which
forced them to show their hand. For after such a public avowal of who
He was, and such public hosannas surging round His meek feet as He
rode into the city, there were but two courses open for the official
class: either to acknowledge Him, or to murder Him. Therefore He
reversed His usual action, and deliberately posed, by His own act, as
claiming to be the Messiah long prophesied and long expected.
Now, what do you think of the man that did that? _If_ He did it, then
either He is what the rulers called Him, a 'deceiver,' swollen with
inordinate vanity and unfit to be a teacher, or else we must fall at
His feet and say 'Rabbi! Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of
Israel.' I venture to believe that to extol Him and to deny the
validity of His claims is in flagrant contradiction to the facts of
His life, and is an unreasonable and untenable position.
II. Notice the revelation of a new kind of King and Kingdom.
Our Evangelist, from whom my text is taken, has nothing to say about
Zechariah's prophecy which our Lord set Himself to fulfil. He only
dwells on the pathetic poverty of the pomp of the procession. But
other Evangelists bring into view the deeper meaning of the incident.
The centre-point of the prophecy, and of Christ's intentional
fulfilment of it, lies in the symbol of the meek and patient animal
which He bestrode. The ass was, indeed, used sometimes in old days by
rulers and judges in Israel, but the symbol was chosen by the prophet
simply to bring out the peacefulness and the gentleness inherent in
the Kingdom, and the King who thus advanced into His city. If you want
to understand the meaning of the prophet's emblem, you have only to
remember the sculptured slabs of Assyria and Babylon, or the paintings
on the walls of Egyptian temples and tombs, where Sennacherib or
Rameses ride hurtling in triumph in their chariots, over the bodies of
prostrate foes; and then to set by the side of these, 'Rejoice! O
daughter of Zion; thy King cometh unto thee riding upon an ass, and
upon a colt the foal of an ass.' If we want to understand the
significance of this sweet emblem, we need only, further, remember the
psalm that, with poetic fervour, invokes the King: 'Gird Thy sword
upon Thy thigh, O Most Mighty, and in Thy majesty ride prosperously
... and Thy right hand shall teach thee terrible things. Thine arrows
are sharp in the heart of the King's enemies; the people fall under
Thee.' That is all that that ancient singer could conceive of the
triumphant King of the world, the Messiah; a conqueror, enthroned in
His chariot, and the twanging bowstring, drawn by His strong hand,
impelling the arrow that lodged in the heart of His foes. And here is
the fulfilment. 'Go ye into the village over against you, and ye shall
find a colt tied ... And they set Him thereon.' Christ's kingdom, like
its King, has no power but gentleness and the omnipotence of patient
If 'Christian' nations, as they are called, and Churches had kept the
significance of that emblem in mind, do you think that their hosannas
would have gone up so often for conquerors on the battlefields; or
that Christian communities would have been in complicity with war and
the glorifying thereof, as they have been? And, if Christian churches
had remembered and laid to heart the meaning of this triumphal entry,
and its demonstration of where the power of the Master lay, would they
have struck up such alliances with worldly powers and forms of force
as, alas! have weakened and corrupted the Church for hundreds of
years? Surely, surely, there is no more manifest condemnation of war
and the warlike spirit, and of the spirit which finds the strength of
Christ's Church in anything material and violent, than is that
solitary instance of His assumption of royal state when thus He
entered into His city. I need not say a word, brethren, about the
nature of Christ's kingdom as embodied in His subjects, as represented
in that shouting multitude that marched around Him. How Caesar in his
golden house in Rome would have sneered and smiled at the Jewish
peasant, on the colt, and surrounded by poor men, who had no banners
but the leafy branches from the trees, and no pomp to strew in his way
but their own worn garments! And yet these were stronger in their
devotion, in their enthusiastic conviction that He was the King of
Israel and of the whole earth, than Caesar, with all his treasures and
with all his legions and their sharp swords. Christ accepts poor
homage because He looks for hearts; and whatever the heart renders is
sweet to Him. He passes on through the world, hailed by the
acclamations of grateful hearts, needing no bodyguard but those that
love Him; and they need to bear no weapons in their hands, but their
mission is to proclaim with glad hearts hosannas to the King that
'cometh in the name of the Lord.'
There is one more point that I may note. Another of the Evangelists
tells us that it was when the humble cortege swept round the shoulder
of Olivet, and caught sight of the city gleaming in the sunshine,
across the Kedron valley, that they broke into the most rapturous of
their hosannas, as if they would call to the city that came in view to
rejoice and welcome its King. And what was the King doing when that
sight burst upon Him, and while the acclamations eddied round Him? His
thoughts were far away. His eyes with divine prescience looked on to
the impending end, and then they dimmed, and filled with tears; and He
wept over the city.
That is our King; a pauper King, a meek and patient King, a King that
delights in the reverent love of hearts, a King whose armies have no
swords, a King whose eyes fill with tears as He thinks of men's woes
and cries. Blessed be such a King!
III. Lastly, we have the Royal visitation of the Temple.
Our Evangelist has no word to speak about the march of the procession
down into the valley, and up on the other side, and through the gate,
and into the narrow streets of the city that was 'moved' as they
passed through it. His language sounds as if he considered that our
Lord's object in entering Jerusalem at all was principally to enter
the Temple. He 'looked round on all things' that were there. Can we
fancy the keen observance, the recognition of the hidden bad and good,
the blazing indignation, and yet dewy pity, in those eyes? His
visitation of the Temple was its inspection by its Lord. And it was an
inspection in order to cleanse. To-day He looked; to-morrow He wielded
the whip of small cords. His chastisement is never precipitate.
Perfect knowledge wields His scourge, and pronounces condemnation.
Brethren, Jesus Christ comes to us as a congregation, to the church to
which we belong, and to us individually, with the same inspection. He
whose eyes are a flame of fire, says to His churches to-day, 'I know
thy works.' What would He think if He came to us and tested us?
In the incident of my text He was fulfilling another ancient prophecy,
which says, 'The Lord shall suddenly come to His Temple, and ... sit
as a refiner of silver ... like a refiner's fire and as fuller's soap
... and He shall purify the sons of Levi.... Then shall the offering
of Jerusalem be pleasant, as in the days of old.'
We need nothing more, we should desire nothing more earnestly, than
that He would come to us: 'Search me, O Christ, and know me. And see
if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.'
Jesus Christ is the King of England as truly as of Zion; and He is
your King and mine. He comes to each of us, patient, meek, loving;
ready to bless and to cleanse. Dear brother, do you open your heart to
Him? Do you acknowledge Him as your King? Do you count it your highest
honour if He will use you and your possessions, and condescend to say
that He has need of such poor creatures as we are? Do you cast your
garments in the way, and say: 'Ride on, great Prince'? Do you submit
yourself to His inspection, to His cleansing?
Remember, He came once on 'a colt, the foal of an ass, meek, and
having salvation.' He will come 'on the white horse, in righteousness
to judge and to make war' and with power to destroy.
Oh! I beseech you, welcome Him as He comes in gentle love, that when
He comes in judicial majesty you may be among the 'armies of heaven
that follow after,' and from immortal tongues utter rapturous and
CHRIST'S NEED OF US AND OURS
'... Say ye that the Lord hath need of him; and straightway he will
send him hither.'--Mark xi. 3.
You will remember that Jesus Christ sent two of His disciples into the
village that looked down on the road from Bethany to Jerusalem, with
minute instructions and information as to what they were to do and
find there. The instructions may have one of two explanations--they
suggest either superhuman knowledge or a previous arrangement.
Perhaps, although it is less familiar to our thoughts, the latter is
the explanation. There is a remarkable resemblance, in that respect,
to another incident which lies close beside this one in time, when our
Lord again sent two disciples to make preparation for the Passover,
and, with similar minuteness, told them that they would find, at a
certain point, a man bearing a pitcher of water. Him they were to
accost, and he would take them to the room that had been prepared. Now
the old explanation of both these incidents is that Jesus Christ knew
what was going to happen. Another possible explanation, and in my view
more probable and quite as instructive, is, that Jesus Christ had
settled with the two owners what was to happen. Clearly, the owner of
the colt was a disciple, because at once he gave up his property when
the message was repeated, 'the _Lord_ hath need of him.' Probably he
had been one of the guests at the modest festival that had been held
the night before, in the village close by, in Simon's house, and had
seen how Mary had expended her most precious possession on the Lord,
and, under the influence of the resurrection of Lazarus, he, too,
perhaps, was touched, and was glad to arrange with Jesus Christ to
have his colt waiting there at the cross-road for his Master's
convenience. But, be that as it may, it seems to me that this
incident, and especially these words that I have read for a text,
carry very striking and important lessons for us, whether we look at
them in connection with the incident itself, or whether we venture to
give them a somewhat wider application. Let me take these two points
I. Now, what strikes one about our Lord's requisitioning the colt is
this, that here is a piece of conduct on His part singularly unlike
all the rest of His life. All through it, up to this last moment, His
one care was to damp down popular enthusiasm, to put on the drag
whenever there came to be the least symptom of it, to discourage any
reference to Him as the Messiah-King of Israel, to shrink back from
the coarse adulation of the crowd, and to glide quietly through the
world, blessing and doing good. But now, at the end, He flings off all
disguise. He deliberately sets Himself, at a time when popular
enthusiasm ran highest and was most turbid and difficult to manage, at
the gathering of the nation for the Passover in Jerusalem, to cast an
effervescing element into the caldron. If He had planned to create a
popular rising, He could not have done anything more certain to bring
it about than what He did that morning when He made arrangements for a
triumphal procession into the city, amidst the excited crowds gathered
from every quarter of the land. Why did He do that? What was the
meaning of it?
Then there is another point in this requisitioning of the colt. He not
only deliberately set Himself to stir up popular excitement, but He
consciously did what would be an outward fulfilment of a great
Messianic prophecy. I hope you are wiser than to fancy that
Zechariah's prophecy of the peaceful monarch who was to come to Zion,
meek and victorious, and riding upon a 'colt the foal of an ass,' was
fulfilled by the outward fact of Christ being mounted on this colt
'whereon never man sat.' That is only the shell, and if there had been
no such triumphal entry, our Lord would as completely have fulfilled
Zechariah's prophecy. The fulfilment of it did not depend on the petty
detail of the animal upon which He sat when He entered the city, nor
even on that entrance. The meaning of the prophecy was that to Zion,
wherever and whatever it is, there should come that Messianic King,
whose reign owed nothing to chariots and horses and weapons of war for
its establishment, but who, meek and patient, pacing upon the humble
animal used only for peaceful services, and not mounted on the
prancing steed of the warrior, should inaugurate the reign of majesty
and of meekness. Our Lord uses the external fact just as the prophet
had used it, as of no value in itself, but as a picturesque emblem of
the very spirit of His kingdom. The literal fulfilment was a kind of
finger-post for inattentive onlookers, which might induce them to look
more closely, and so see that He was indeed the King Messiah, because
of more important correspondences with prophecy than His once riding
on an ass. Do not so degrade these Old Testament prophecies as to
fancy that their literal fulfilment is of chief importance. That is
the shell: the kernel is the all-important thing, and Jesus Christ
would have fulfilled the _role,_ that was sketched for Him by the
prophets of old, just as completely if there never had been this
entrance into Jerusalem.
But, further, the fact that He had to borrow the colt was as
significant as the choice of it. For so we see blended two things, the
blending of which makes the unique peculiarity and sublimity of
Christ's life: absolute authority, and meekness of poverty and
lowliness. A King, and yet a pauper-King! A King claiming His
dominion, and yet obliged to borrow another man's colt in order that
He might do it! A strange kind of monarch!--and yet that remarkable
combination runs through all His life. He had to be obliged to a
couple of fishermen for a boat, but He sat in it, to speak words of
divine wisdom. He had to be obliged to a lad in the crowd for barley
loaves and fishes, but when He took them into His hands they were
multiplied. He had to be obliged for a grave, and yet He rose from the
borrowed grave the Lord of life and death. And so when He would pose
as a King, He has to borrow the regalia, and to be obliged to this
anonymous friend for the colt which made the emphasis of His claim.
'Who, though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we
through His poverty might be rich.'
II. And now turn for a moment to the wider application of these words.
'The Lord hath need of him.' That opens the door to thoughts, that I
cannot crowd into the few minutes that I have at my disposal, as to
that great and wonderful truth that Christ cannot assume His kingdom
in this world without your help, and that of the other people whose
hearts are touched by His love. 'The Lord hath need' of them. Though
upon that Cross of Calvary He did all that was necessary for the
redemption of the world and the salvation of humanity as a whole, yet
for the bearing of that blessing into individual hearts, and for the
application of the full powers that are stored in the Gospel and in
Jesus, to their work in the world, the missing link is man. We 'are
fellow-labourers with God.' We are Christ's tools. The instruments by
which He builds His kingdom are the souls that have already accepted
His authority. 'The Lord hath need of him,' though, as the psalmist
sings, 'If I were hungry I would not tell thee, for all the beasts of
the forest are Mine.' Yes, and when the Word was made flesh, He had
need of one of the humblest of the beasts. The Christ that redeemed
the world needs us, to carry out and to bring into effect His
redemption. 'God mend all,' said one, and the answer was, 'We must
help Him to mend it.'
Notice again the authoritative demand, which does not contemplate the
possibility of reluctance or refusal. 'The Lord hath need of him.'
That is all. There is no explanation or motive alleged to induce
surrender to the demand. This is a royal style of speech. It is the
way in which, in despotic countries, kings lay their demands upon a
poor man's whole plenishing and possession, and sweep away all.
Jesus Christ comes to us in like fashion, and brushes aside all our
convenience and everything else, and says, 'I want you, and that is
enough.' Is it not enough? Should it not be enough? If He demands, He
has the right to demand. For we are His, 'bought with a price.' All
the slave's possessions are his owner's property. The slave is given a
little patch of garden ground, and perhaps allowed to keep a fowl or
two, but the master can come and say, 'Now _I_ want them,' and the
slave has nothing for it but to give them up.
'The Lord hath need of him' is in the autocratic tone of One who has
absolute power over us and ours. And that power, where does it come
from? It comes from His absolute surrender of Himself to us, and
because He has wholly given Himself for us. He does not expect us to
say one contrary word when He sends and says, 'I have need of you, or
Here, again, we have an instance of glad surrender. The last words of
my text are susceptible of a double meaning. 'Straightway he will send
him hither'--who is 'he'? It is usually understood to be the owner of
the colt, and the clause is supposed to be Christ's assurance to the
two messengers of the success of their errand. So understood, the
words suggest the great truth that Love loosens the hand that grasps
possessions, and unlocks our treasure-houses. There is nothing more
blessed than to give in response to the requirement of love. And so,
to Christ's authoritative demand, the only proper answer is obedience
swift and glad, because it is loving. Many possibilities of joy and
blessing are lost by us through not yielding on the instant to
Christ's demands. Hesitation and delay are dangerous. In 'straightway'
complying are security and joy. If the owner had begun to say to
himself that he very much needed the colt, or that he saw no reason
why some one else's beast should not have been taken, or that he would
send the animal very soon, but must have the use of him for an hour or
two first, he would probably never have sent him at all, and so would
have missed the greatest honour of his life. As soon as I know what
Christ wants from me, without delay let me do it; for if I begin with
delaying I shall probably end with declining. The Psalmist was wise
when he laid emphasis on the swiftness of his obedience, and said, 'I
made haste and delayed not, but made haste to keep Thy commandments.'
But another view of the words makes them part of the message to the
owner of the colt, and not of the assurance to the disciples. 'Say ye
that the Lord hath need of him, and that straightway (when He has done
with him) He will send him back again.' That is a possible rendering,
and I am disposed to think it is the proper one. By it the owner is
told that he is not parting with his property for good and all, that
Jesus only wishes to borrow the animal for the morning, and that it
will be returned in the afternoon. What does that view of the words
suggest to us? Do you not think that that colt, when it did come
back--for of course it came back some time or other,--was a great deal
more precious to its owner than it ever had been before, or ever could
have been if it had not been lent to Christ, and Christ had not made
His royal entry upon it? Can you not fancy that the man, if he was, as
he evidently was, a disciple and lover of the Lord, would look at it,
especially after the Crucifixion and the Ascension, and think, 'What
an honour to me, that I provided the mount for that triumphal entry!'?
It is always so. If you wish anything to become precious, lend it to
Jesus Christ, and when it comes back again, as it will come back,
there will be a fragrance about it, a touch of His fingers will be
left upon it, a memory that He has used it. If you desire to own
yourselves, and to make yourselves worth owning, give yourselves to
Christ. If you wish to get the greatest possible blessing and good out
of possessions, lay them at His feet. If you wish love to be hallowed,
joy to be calmed, perpetuated, and deepened, carry it to Him. 'If the
house be worthy, your peace shall rest upon it; if not,' like the dove
to the ark when it could find no footing in the turbid and drowned
world, 'it shall come back to you again. Straightway He will 'send him
back again,' and that which I give to Jesus He will return enhanced,
and it will be more truly and more blessedly mine, because I have laid
it in His hands. This 'altar' sanctifies the giver and the gift.
NOTHING BUT LEAVES
'And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, He came, if haply He
might find any thing thereon: and when He came to it, He found nothing
but leaves; ... 14. And Jesus ... said unto it, No man eat fruit of
thee hereafter for ever.'--Mark xi. 13, 14.
The date of this miracle has an important bearing on its meaning and
purpose. It occurred on the Monday morning of the last week of
Christ's ministry. That week saw His last coming to Israel, 'if haply
He might find any thing thereon.' And if you remember the foot-to-foot
duel with the rulers and representatives of the nation, and the words,
weighty with coming doom, which He spoke in the Temple on the
subsequent days, you will not doubt that the explanation of this
strange and anomalous miracle is that it is an acted parable, a symbol
of Israel in its fruitlessness and in its consequent barrenness to all
This is the only point of view, as it seems to me, from which the
peculiarities of the miracle can either be warranted or explained. It
is our Lord's only destructive act. The fig-tree grew by the wayside;
probably, therefore, it belonged to nobody, and there was no right of
property affected by its loss. He saw it from afar, 'having leaves,'
and that was why, three months before the time, He went to look if
there were figs on it. For experts tell us that in the fig-tree the
leaves accompany, and do not precede, the fruit. And so this one tree,
brave in its show of foliage amidst leafless companions, was a
hypocrite unless there were figs below the leaves. Therefore Jesus
came, if haply He might find anything thereon, and finding nothing,
perpetuated the condition which He found, and made the sin its own
Now all that is plain symbol, and so I ask you to look with me, for a
few moments, at these three things--(1) What Christ sought and seeks;
(2) What He found and often finds; (3) What He did when He found it.
I. What Christ sought and seeks.
He came 'seeking fruit.' Now I may just notice, in passing, how
pathetically and beautifully this incident suggests to us the true,
dependent, weak manhood of that great Lord. In all probability He had
just come from the home of Mary and Martha, and it is strange that
having left their hospitable abode He should be 'an hungered.' But so
it was. And even with all the weight of the coming crisis pressing
upon His soul, He was conscious of physical necessities, as one of us
might have been, and perhaps felt the more need for sustenance because
so terrible a conflict was waiting Him. Nor, I think, need we shrink
from recognising another of the characteristics of humanity here, in
the limitations of His knowledge and in the real expectation, which
was disappointed, that He might find fruit where there were leaves. I
do not want to plunge into depths far too deep for any man to find
sure footing in, nor seek to define the undefinable, nor to explain
how the divine inosculates with the human, but sure I am that Jesus
Christ was not getting up a scene in order to make a parable out of
His miracle; and that the hunger and the expectancy and the
disappointment were all real, however they afterwards may have been
turned by Him to a symbolical purpose. And so here we may see the weak
Christ, the limited Christ, the true human Christ. But side by side,
as is ever the case, with this manifestation of weakness, there comes
an apocalypse of power. Wherever you have, in the history of our Lord,
some signal exemplification of human infirmity, you have flashed out
through 'the veil, that is, His flesh,' some beam of His glory. Thus
this hungry Man could say, 'No fruit grow on thee henceforward for
ever'; and His bare word, the mere forth-putting and manifestation of
His will, had power on material things. That is the sign and impress
But I pass from that, which is not my special point now. What did
Christ seek? 'Fruit.' And what is fruit in contradistinction to
leaves? Character and conduct like His. That is our fruit. All else is
leafage. As the Apostle says, 'Love, joy, hope, peace, righteousness
in the Holy Ghost'; or, to put it into one word, Christ-likeness in
our inmost heart and nature, and Christ-likeness, so far as it may be
possible for us, in our daily life, that is the one thing that our
Lord seeks from us.
O brethren! we do not realise enough for ourselves, day by day, that
it was for this end that Jesus Christ came. The cradle in Bethlehem,
the weary life, the gracious words, the mighty deeds, the Cross on
Calvary, the open grave, Olivet with His last footprints; His place on
the throne, Pentecost, they were all meant for this, to make you and
me good men, righteous people, bearing the fruits of holy living and
conduct corresponding to His own pattern. Emotions of the selectest
kind, religious experience of the profoundest and truest nature, these
are blessed and good. They are the blossom which sets into fruit. And
they come for this end, that by the help of them we may be made like
Jesus Christ. He has yet to learn what is the purpose and the meaning
of the Gospel who fixes upon anything else as its ultimate design than
the production in us, as the results of the life of Christ dwelling in
our hearts, of character and conduct like to His.
I suppose I ought to apologise for talking such commonplace platitudes
as these, but, brethren, the most commonplace truths are usually the
most important and the most impotent. And no 'platitude' is a
platitude until you have brought it so completely into your lives that
there is no room for a fuller working of it out. So I come to you,
Christian men and women, real and nominal, now with this for my
message, that Jesus Christ seeks from you this first and foremost,
that you shall be good men and women 'according to the pattern that
has been showed us in the Mount,' according to the likeness of His own
And do not forget that Jesus Christ hungers for that goodness. That is
a strange, and infinitely touching, and absolutely true thing. He is
only 'satisfied,' and the hunger of His heart appeased, when 'He sees
of the travail of His soul' in the righteousness of His servants. I
passed a day or two ago, in a country place, a great field on which
there was stuck up a board that said, '----'s trial ground for seeds.'
This world is _Christ's_ trial ground for seeds, where He is testing
you and me to see whether it is worth while cultivating us any more,
and whether we can bring forth any 'fruit to perfection' fit for the
lips and the refreshment of the Owner and Lord of the vineyard Christ
longs for fruit from us. And--strange and wonderful, and yet true--the
'bread' that He eats is the service of His servants. That, amongst
other things, is what is meant by the ancient institution of
sacrifice, 'the food of the gods.' Christ's food is the holiness and
obedience of His children. He comes to us, as He came to that
fig-tree, seeking from _us_ this fruit which He delights in receiving.
Brethren, we cannot think too much of Christ's unspeakable gift in
itself and in its consequences; but we may easily think too little,
and I am sure that a great many of us do think too little, of Christ's
demands. He is not an austere man, 'reaping where He did not sow'; but
having sowed so much, He does look for the harvest. He comes to us
with the heart-moving appeal, 'I have given all to thee; what givest
thou to Me?' 'My well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill;
and he fenced it and planted it, and built a tower and a wine-press in
it'--and what then?--'and he looked that it should bring forth
grapes.' Christ comes to each of you professing Christians, and asks,
'What fruit hast thou borne after all My sedulous husbandry?'
II. Now note, in the next place, what Christ found.
'Nothing but leaves.' I have already said that we are told that the
habit of growth of these trees is that the fruit accompanies, and
sometimes precedes, the leaves. Whether it is so or no, let me remind
you that leaves are an outcome of the life as well as fruit, and that
they benefit the tree, and assist in the production of the fruit which
it ought to bear. And so the symbol suggests things that are good in
themselves, ancillary and subsidiary to the production of fruit, but
which sometimes tend to such disproportionate exuberance of growth as
that all the life of the tree runs to leaf, and there is riot a berry
to be found on it.
And if you want to know what such things are, remember the condition
of the rulers of Israel at that time. They prided themselves upon
their nominal, external, hereditary connection with a system of
revelation, they trusted in mere ritualisms, they had ossified
religion into theology, and degraded morality into casuistry. They
thought that because they had been born Jews, and circumcised, and
because there was a daily sacrifice going on in the Temple, and
because they had Rabbis who could split hairs _ad infinitum_,
therefore they were the 'temple of the Lord,' and God's chosen.
And that is exactly what hosts of pagans, masquerading as Christians,
are doing in all our so-called Christian lands, and in all our
so-called Christian congregations. In any community of so-called
Christian people there is a little nucleus of real, earnest,
God-fearing folk, and a great fringe of people whose Christianity is
mostly from the teeth outward, who have a nominal and external
connection with religion, who have been 'baptized' and are
'communicants,' who think that religion lies mainly in coming on a
Sunday, and with more or less toleration and interest listening to a
preacher's words and joining in external worship, and all the while
the 'weightier matters of the law'--righteousness, justice, and the
love of God--they leave untouched. What describes such a type of
religion with more piercing accuracy than 'nothing but leaves'?
External connection with God's Church is a good thing. It is meant to
make us better men and women. If it does not, it is a bad thing. Acts
of worship, more or less elaborate--for it is not the elaboration of
ceremonial, but the mistaken view of it, that does the harm--acts of
worship may be helpful, or may be absolute barriers to real religious
life. They are becoming so largely to-day. The drift and trend of
opinion in some parts of so-called Christendom is in the direction of
outward ceremonial. And I, for one, believe that there are few things
doing more harm to the Christian character of England to-day than the
preposterous recurrence to a reliance on the mere externals of
worship. Of course we Dissenters pride ourselves on having no
complicity with the sacramentarian errors which underlie these. But
there may be quite as much of a barrier between the soul and Christ,
reared by the bare worship of Nonconformists, or by the no-worship of
the Society of Friends. If the absence of form be converted into a
form, as it often is, there may be as lofty and wide a barrier raised
by these as by the most elaborate ritual of the highest ceremonial
that exists in Christendom. And so I say to you, dear brethren, seeing
that we are all in danger of cleaving to externals and substituting
these which are intended to be helps to the production of godly life
and character, it becomes us all to listen to the solemn word of
exhortation that comes out of my text, and to beware lest our religion
runs to leaf instead of setting into fruit.
It does so with many of us; that is a certainty. I am thinking about
no individual, about no individuals, but I am only speaking common
sense when I say that amongst as many people as I am now addressing
there will be an appreciable proportion who have no notion of religion
as anything beyond a more or less imperative and more or less
unwelcome set of external observances.
III. And so, lastly, let me ask you to notice what Christ did.
I do not need to trouble myself nor you with vindicating the morality
of this miracle against the fantastic objections that often have been
made against it; nor need I say a word more than I have already said
about its symbolical meaning. Israel was in that week being asked for
the last time to 'bring forth fruit' to the Lord of the vineyard. The
refusal bound barrenness on the synagogue and on the nation, if not
absolutely for ever, at all events until 'it shall turn to the Lord,'
and partake again of 'the root and fatness' from which it has been
broken off. What thirsty lips since that week have ever got any good
out of Rabbinism and Judaism? No 'figs' have grown on that 'thistle.'
The world has passed it by, and left all its subtle casuistries and
painfully microscopic studies of the letter of Scripture--with utter
oblivion of its spirit--left them all severely and wisely alone.
Judaism is a dead tree.
And is there nothing else in this incident? 'No man eat fruit of thee
hereafter for ever'; the punishment of that fruitlessness was
confirmed and eternal barrenness. _There_ is the lesson that the
punishment of any Bin is to bind the sin upon the doer of it.
But, further, the church or the individual whose religion runs to leaf
is useless to the world. What does the world care about the
ceremonials and the externals of worship, and a painful orthodoxy, and
the study of the letter of Scripture? Nothing. A useless church or a
Christian, from whom no man gets any fruit to cool a thirsty, parched
lip, is only fit for what comes after the barrenness, and that is,
that every tree that bringeth 'not forth good fruit is hewn down and
cast into the fire.' The churches of England, and we, as integral
parts of these, have solemn duties lying upon us to-day; and if we
cannot help our brethren, and feed and nourish the hungry and thirsty
hearts and souls of mankind, then--then! the sooner we are plucked up
and pitched over the vineyard wall, which is the fate of the barren
vine, the better for the world and the better for the vineyard.
The fate of Judaism teaches, to all of us professing Christians, very
solemn lessons. 'If God spared not the natural branches, take heed
lest He also spare not thee.' What has become of the seven churches of
Asia Minor? They hardened into chattering theological 'orthodoxy,' and
all the blood of them went to the surface, so to speak. And so down
came the Mohammedan power--which was strong then because it did
believe in a God, and not in its own belief about a God--and wiped
them off the face of the earth. And so, brethren, we have, in this
miracle, a warning and a prophecy which it becomes all the Christian
communities of this day, and the individual members of such, to lay
very earnestly to heart.
But do not let us forget that the Evangelist who does not tell us the
story of the blasted fig-tree does tell us its analogue, the parable
of the barren fig-tree, and that in it we read that when the fiat of
destruction had gone forth, there was one who said, 'Let it alone this
year also that I may dig about it, ... and if it bear fruit, well! If
not, after that thou shalt cut it down.' So the barren tree may become
a fruitful tree, though it has hitherto borne nothing but leaves. Your
religion may have been all on the surface and in form, but you can
come into touch with Him in whom is our life and from whom comes our
fruitfulness. He has said to each of us, 'As the branch cannot bear
fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except
ye abide in Me.'
'And He began to speak unto them by parables. A certain man planted a
vineyard, and set an hedge about it, and digged a place for the
winefat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went
into a far country. 2. And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a
servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the
vineyard. 3. And they caught him, and beat him, and sent him away
empty. 4. And again he sent unto them another servant; and at him they
cast stones, and wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully
handled. 5. And again he sent another; and him they killed, and many
others; beating some, and killing some 6. Having yet therefore one
son, his well beloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They
will reverence my son. 7. But those husbandmen said among themselves,
This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be
ours. 8. And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the
vineyard. 9. What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? He will
come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto
others. 10. And have ye not read this scripture: The stone which the
builders rejected is become the head of the corner: 11. This was the
Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? 12. And they sought to
lay hold on Him, but feared the people: for they knew that He had
spoken the parable against them; and they left Him, and went their
way.'--Mark xii. 1-12.
The ecclesiastical rulers had just been questioning Jesus as to the
authority by which He acted. His answer, a counter-question as to
John's authority, was not an evasion. If they decided whence John
came, they would not be at any loss as to whence Jesus came. If they
steeled themselves against acknowledging the Forerunner, they would
not be receptive of Christ's message. That keen-edged retort plainly
indicates Christ's conviction of the rulers' insincerity, and in this
parable He charges home on these solemn hypocrites their share in the
hereditary rejection of messengers whose authority was unquestionable.
Much they cared for even divine authority, as they and their
predecessors had shown through centuries! The veil of parable is
transparent here. Jesus increased in severity and bold attack as the
end drew near.
I. The parable begins with a tender description of the preparation and
allotment of the vineyard. The picture is based upon Isaiah's lovely
apologue (Isaiah v. 1), which was, no doubt, familiar to the learned
officials. But there is a slight difference in the application of the
metaphor which in Isaiah means the nation, and in the parable is
rather the theocracy as an institution, or, as we may put it roughly,
the aggregate of divine revelations and appointments which constituted
the religious prerogatives of Israel.
Our Lord follows the original passage in the description of the
preparation of the vineyard, but it would probably be going too far to
press special meanings on the wall, the wine-press, and the watchman's
tower. The fence was to keep off marauders, whether passers-by or 'the
boar out of the wood' (Psalm lxxx. 12,13); the wine-press, for which
Mark uses the word which means rather the vat into which the juice
from the press proper flowed, was to extract and collect the precious
liquid; the tower was for the watchman.
A vineyard with all these fittings was ready for profitable
occupation. Thus abundantly had God furnished Israel with all that was
needed for fruitful, happy service. What was true of the ancient
Church is still more true of us who have received every requisite for
holy living. Isaiah's solemn appeal has a still sharper edge for
Christians: 'Judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could
have been done more to my vineyard that I have not done in it?'
The 'letting of the vineyard to husbandmen' means the committal to
Israel and its rulers of these divine institutions, and the holding
them responsible for their fruitfulness. It may be a question whether
the tenants are to be understood as only the official persons, or
whether, while these are primarily addressed, they represent the whole
people. The usual interpretation limits the meaning to the rulers,
but, if so, it is difficult to carry out the application, as the
vineyard would then have to be regarded as being the nation, which
confuses all. The language of Matthew (which threatens the taking of
the vineyard and giving it to another nation) obliges us to regard the
nation as included in the husbandmen, though primarily the expression
is addressed to the rulers.
But more important is it to note the strong expressions for man's
quasi-independence and responsibility. The Jew was invested with full
possession of the vineyard. We all, in like manner, have intrusted to
us, to do as we will with, the various gifts and powers of Christ's
gospel. God, as it were, draws somewhat apart from man, that he may
have free play for his choice, and bear the burden of responsibility.
The divine action was conspicuous at the time of founding the polity
of Judaism, and then came long years in which there were no miracles,
but all things continued as they were. God was as near as before, but
He seemed far off. Thus Jesus has, in like manner, gone 'into a far
country to receive a kingdom and to return'; and we, the tenants of a
richer vineyard than Israel's, have to administer what He has
intrusted to us, and to bring near by faith Him who is to sense far
II. The next scenes paint the conduct of the dishonest vine-dressers.
We mark the stern, dark picture drawn of the continued and brutal
violence, as well as the flagrant unfaithfulness, of the tenants.
Matthew's version gives emphasis to the increasing harshness of
treatment of the owner's messengers, as does Mark's. First comes
beating, then wounding, then murder. The interpretation is
self-evident. The 'servants' are the prophets, mostly men inferior in
rank to the hierarchy, shepherds, fig-gatherers, and the like. They
came to rouse Israel to a sense of the purpose for which they had
received their distinguishing prerogatives, and their reward had been
contempt and maltreatment. They 'had trial of mockings and scourgings,
of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder,
they were slain with the sword.'
The indictment is the same as that by which Stephen wrought the
Sanhedrim into a paroxysm of fury. To make such a charge as Jesus did,
in the very Temple courts, and with the already hostile priests
glaring at Him while He spoke, was a deliberate assault on them and
their predecessors, whose true successors they showed themselves to
be. They had just been solemnly questioning Him as to His authority.
He answers by thus passing in review the uniform treatment meted by
them and their like to those who came with God's manifest authority.
If a mere man had spoken this parable, we might admire the magnificent
audacity of such an accusation. But the Speaker is more than man, and
we have to recognise the judicial calmness and severity of His tone.
Israel's history, as it shaped itself before His 'pure eyes and
perfect judgment,' was one long series of divine favours and of human
ingratitude, of ample preparations for righteous living and of no
result, of messengers sent and their contumelious rejection. We wonder
at the sad monotony of such requital. Are we doing otherwise?
III. Then comes the last effort of the Owner, the last arrow in the
quiver of Almighty Love. Two things are to be pondered in this part of
the parable. First, that wonderful glimpse into the depths of God's
heart, in the hope expressed by the Owner of the vineyard, brings out
very clearly Christ's claim, made there before all these hostile, keen
critics, to stand in an altogether singular relation to God. He
asserts His Sonship as separating Him from the class of prophets who
are servants only, and as constituting a relationship with the Father
prior to His coming to earth. His Sonship is no mere synonym for His
Messiahship, but was a fact long before Bethlehem; and its assertion
lifts for us a corner of the veil of cloud and darkness round the
throne of God. Not less striking is the expression of a frustrated
hope in 'they will reverence My Son.' Men can thwart God's purpose.
His divine charity 'hopeth all things.' The mystery thus sharply put
here is but that which is presented everywhere in the co-existence of
God's purposes and man's freedom.
The other noteworthy point is the corresponding casting of the
vine-dressers' thoughts into words. Both representations are due to
the graphic character of parable; both crystallise into speech motives
which were not actually spoken. It is unnecessary to suppose that even
the rulers of Israel had gone the awful length of clear recognition of
Christ's Messiahship, and of looking each other in the face and
whispering such a fiendish resolve. Jesus is here dragging to light
unconscious motives. The masses did wish to have their national
privileges and to avoid their national duties. The rulers did wish to
have their sway over minds and consciences undisturbed. They did
resent Jesus' interference, chiefly because they instinctively felt
that it threatened their position. They wanted to get Him out of the
way, that they might lord it at will. They could have known that He
was the Son, and they suppressed dawning suspicions that He was. Alas!
they have descendants still in many of us who put away His claims,
even while we secretly recognise them, in order that we may do as we
like without His meddling with us!
The rulers' calculation was a blunder. As Augustine says, 'They slew
Him that they might possess, and, because they slew, they lost.' So is
it always. Whoever tries to secure any desired end by putting away his
responsibility to render to God the fruit of his thankful service,
loses the good which he would fain clutch at for his own. All sin is a
The parable passes from thinly veiled history to equally transparent
prediction. How sadly and how unshrinkingly does the meek yet mighty
Victim disclose to the conspirators His perfect knowledge of the
murder which they were even now hatching in their minds! He foresees
all, and will not lift a finger to prevent it. Mark puts the 'killing'
before the 'casting out of the vineyard,' while Matthew and Luke
invert the order of the two things. The slaughtered corpse was, as a
further indignity, thrown over the wall, by which is symbolically
expressed His exclusion from Israel, and the vine-dressers' delusion
that they now had secured undisturbed possession.
IV. The last point is the authoritative sentence on the evil-doers.
Mark's condensed account makes Christ Himself answer His own question.
Probably we are to suppose that, with hypocritical readiness, some of
the rulers replied, as the other Evangelists represent, and that Jesus
then solemnly took up their words. If anything could have enraged the
rulers more than the parable itself, the distinct declaration of the
transference of Israel's prerogatives to more worthy tenants would do
so. The words are heavy with doom. They carry a lesson for us.
Stewardship implies responsibility, and faithlessness, sooner or
later, involves deprivation. The only way to keep God's gifts is to
use them for His glory. 'The grace of God,' says Luther somewhere, 'is
like a flying summer shower.' Where are Ephesus and the other
apocalyptic churches? Let us 'take heed lest, if God spared not the
natural branches, He also spare not us.'
Jesus leaves the hearers with the old psalm ringing in their ears,
which proclaimed that 'the stone which the builders rejected becomes
the head stone of the corner.' Other words of the same psalm had been
chanted by the crowd in the procession on entering the city. Their
fervour was cooling, but the prophecy would still be fulfilled. The
builders are the same as the vine-dressers; their rejection of the
stone is parallel with slaying the Son.
But though Jesus foretells His death, He also foretells His triumph
after death. How could He have spoken, almost in one breath, the
prophecy of His being slain and 'cast out of the vineyard,' and that
of His being exalted to be the very apex and shining summit of the
true Temple, unless He had been conscious that His death was indeed
not the end, but the centre, of His work, and His elevation to
universal and unchanging dominion?
GOD'S LAST ARROW
'Having yet therefore one son, his well-beloved, he sent him also last
unto them.'--Mark xii. 6.
Reference to Isaiah v. There are differences in detail here which need
not trouble us.
Isaiah's parable is a review of the theocratic history of Israel, and
clearly the messengers are the prophets; here Christ speaks of Himself
and His own mission to Israel, and goes on to tell of His death as
I. The Son who follows and surpasses the servants.
(a) Our Lord here places Himself in the line of the prophets as coming
for a similar purpose. The mission _to Israel_ was the same. The
mission _of His life_ was the same.
The last words of the lawgiver certainly point to a person (Deut.
xviii. 18): 'A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you like
unto me. Him shall ye hear.' How ridiculous the cool superciliousness
with which modern historical criticism 'pooh-poohs' that
interpretation! But the contrast is quite as prominent as the
resemblance. This saying is one which occurs in all the Synoptics, and
is as full a declaration of Sonship as any in John's Gospel. It
reposes on the scene at the baptism (Matt, iii.): 'This is My beloved
Son!' Such a saying was well enough understood by the Jews to mean
more than the 'Messiah.' It clearly involves kindred to the divine in
a far other and higher sense than any prophet ever had it. It involves
pre-existence. It asserts that He was the special object of the divine
love, the 'heir.'
You cannot relieve the New Testament Christ of the responsibility of
having made such assertions. There they are! He did deliberately
declare that He was, in a unique sense, '_the_ Son' on whom the love
and complacency of the Father rested continually.
II. The aggravation of men's sins as tending to the enhancement of the
The terrible Nemesis of evil is that it ever tends to reproduce itself
in aggravated forms. Think of the influence of habit; the searing of
conscience, so that we become able to do things that we would have
shrunk from at an earlier stage. Remember how impunity leads to
greater sin. So here the first servant is merely sent away empty, the
second is wounded and disgraced, the third is killed. All evil is an
inclined plane, a steady, downward progress. How beautifully the
opposite principle of the divine love and patience is represented as
striving with the increasing hate and resistance! According to
Matthew, the householder sent other servants '_more than_ the first,'
and the climax was that he sent his son. Mightier forces are brought
to bear. This attraction _increases_ as the square of the distance.
The blacker the cloud, the brighter the sun; the thicker the ice, the
hotter the flame; the harder the soil, the stronger the ploughshare.
Note, too, the undertone of sacrifice and of yearning for the son
which may be discerned in the 'householder's' words. The son is his
'dearest treasure,' his mightiest gift, than which is nothing higher.
The mission of Christ is the ultimate appeal of God to men.
In the primary sense of the parable Jesus does close the history of
the divine strivings with Israel. After Christ, the last of the
prophets, the divine voice ceases; after the blaze of that light all
is dark. There is nothing more remarkable in the whole history of the
world than that cessation in an instant, as it were, of the long,
august series of divine efforts for Israel. Henceforward there is an
awful silence. 'Forsaken Israel wanders lone.'