Produced by Anne Folland, Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
EXPOSITIONS OF HOLY SCRIPTURE
ALEXANDER MACLAREN, D. D., Litt. D.
_Chaps. IX to XXVIII_
EXPOSITIONS OF HOLY SCRIPTURE
ALEXANDER MACLAREN, D. D., Litt. D.
_Chaps. IX to XVII_
CHRIST’S ENCOURAGEMENTS (Matt. ix. 2)
SOUL-HEALING FIRST: BODY-HEALING SECOND (Matt. ix. 6)
THE CALL OF MATTHEW (Matt. ix. 9-17)
THE TOUCH OF FAITH AND THE TOUCH OF CHRIST (Matt. ix. 18-31)
A CHRISTLIKE JUDGMENT OF MEN (MATT. ix. 36)
THE OBSCURE APOSTLES (Matt. x. 5)
CHRIST’S CHARGE TO HIS HERALDS (Matt. x. 5-16)
THE WIDENED MISSION, ITS PERILS AND DEFENCES (Matt. x. 16-31)
LIKE TEACHER, LIKE SCHOLAR (Matt x. 24, 25)
THE KING’S CHARGE TO HIS AMBASSADORS (Matt. x. 32-42)
A LIFE LOST AND FOUND (Matt. x. 39)
THE GREATEST IN THE KINGDOM, AND THEIR REWARD (Matt. x. 41, 42)
JOHN’S DOUBTS OF JESUS, AND JESUS’ PRAISE OF JOHN (Matt. xi. 2-15)
THE FRIEND OF PUBLICANS AND SINNERS (Matt. xi. 19)
SODOM, CAPERNAUM, MANCHESTER (Matt. xi. 20)
CHRIST’S STRANGE THANKSGIVING (Matt. xi. 25)
THE REST GIVER (Matt. xi. 28, 29)
THE PHARISEES’ SABBATH AND CHRIST’S (Matt. xii. 1-14)
AN ATTEMPT TO ACCOUNT FOR JESUS (Matt. xii. 24)
‘MAKE THE TREE GOOD’ (Matt. xii. 33)
‘A GREATER THAN JONAS’ (Matt. xii. 41)
‘A GREATER THAN SOLOMON’ (Matt. xii. 42)
FOUR SOWINGS AND ONE RIPENING (Matt. xiii. 1-9)
EARS AND NO EARS (Matt. xiii. 9)
‘TO HIM THAT HATH SHALL BE GIVEN’ (Matt. xiii. 12)
SEEING AND BLIND (Matt. xiii. 13)
MINGLED IN GROWTH, SEPARATED IN MATURITY (Matt. xiii. 24-30)
LEAVEN (Matt. xiii. 33)
TREASURE AND PEARL (Matt. xiii. 44-46)
THE MARTYRDOM OF JOHN (Matt. xiv. 1-12)
THE GRAVE OF THE DEAD JOHN AND THE GRAVE OF THE LIVING JESUS (Matt. xiv. 12; xxviii. 8)
THE FOOD OF THE WORLD (Matt. xiv. 19, 20)
THE KING’S HIGHWAY (Matt. xiv. 22-36)
PETER ON THE WAVES (Matt. xiv. 28)
THB CRUMBS AND THE BREAD (Matt. xv. 21-31)
THE DIVINE CHRIST CONFESSED, THE SUFFERING CHRIST DENIED (Matt. xvi. 13-28)
CHRIST FORESEEING THE CROSS (Matt. xvi. 21)
THE KING IN HIS BEAUTY (Matt. xvii, 1-13)
THE SECRET OF POWER. (Matt. xvii. 19, 20)
THE COIN IN THE FISH’S MOUTH (Matt. xvii. 25, 26)
‘Son, be of good cheer.’–MATT. ix. 2.
This word of encouragement, which exhorts to both cheerfulness and courage, is often upon Christ’s lips. It is only once employed in the Gospels by any other than He. If we throw together the various instances in which He thus speaks, we may get a somewhat striking view of the hindrances to such a temper of bold, buoyant cheerfulness which the world presents, and of the means for securing it which Christ provides.
But before I consider these individually, let me point you to this thought, that such a disposition, facing the inevitable sorrows, evils, and toilsome tasks of life with glad and courageous buoyancy, is a Christian duty, and is a temper not merely to be longed for, but consciously and definitely to be striven after.
We have a great deal more in our power, in the regulation of moods and tempers and dispositions, than we often are willing to acknowledge to ourselves. Our ‘low’ times–when we fret and are dull, and all things seem wrapped in gloom, and we are ready to sit down and bewail ourselves, like Job on his dunghill–are often quite as much the results of our own imperfect Christianity as the response of our feelings to external circumstances. It is by no means an unnecessary reminder for us, who have heavy tasks set us, which often seem too heavy, and are surrounded, as we all are, with crowding temptations to be bitter and melancholy and sad, that Christ commands us to be, and therefore we ought to be, ‘of good cheer.’
Another observation may be made as preliminary, and that is that Jesus Christ never tells people to cheer up without giving them reason to do so. We shall see presently that in all cases where the words occur they are immediately followed by words or deeds of His which hold forth something on which, if the hearer’s faith lay hold, darkness and gloom will fly like morning mists before the rising sun. The world comes to us and says, in the midst of our sorrows and our difficulties, ‘Be of good cheer,’ and says it in vain, and generally only rubs salt into the sore by saying it. Jesus Christ never thus vainly preaches the duty of encouraging ourselves without giving us ample reasons for the cheerfulness which He enjoins.
With these two remarks to begin with–that we ought to make it a part of our Christian discipline of ourselves to seek to cultivate a continuous and equable temperament of calm, courageous good cheer; and that Jesus Christ never commands such a temper without showing cause for our obedience–let us turn for a few moments to the various instances in which this expression falls from His lips.
I. Now the first of them is this of my text, and from it we learn this truth, that Christ’s first contribution to our temper of equable, courageous cheerfulness is the assurance that all our sins are forgiven.
‘Son, be of good cheer,’ said He to that poor palsied sufferer lying there upon the little light bed in front of Him. He had been brought to Christ to be cured of his palsy. Our Lord seems to offer him a very irrelevant blessing when, instead of the healing of his limbs, He offers him the forgiveness of his sins. That was possibly not what he wanted most, certainly it was not what the friends who had brought him wanted for him, but Jesus knew better than they what the man suffered most from and most needed to have cured. They would have said ‘Palsy.’ He said, ‘Yes! but palsy that comes from sin.’ For, no doubt, the sick man’s disease was ‘a sin of flesh avenged in kind,’ and so Christ went to the fountain-head when He said, ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee.’ He therein implied, not only that the man was longing for something more than his four kindly but ignorant bearers there knew, but also that the root of his disease was extirpated when his sins were forgiven.
And so, in like manner, ‘thus conscience doth make cowards of us all.’ There is nothing that so drapes a soul with darkness as either the consciousness of unforgiven sin or the want of consciousness of forgiven sin. There may be plenty of superficial cheerfulness. I know that; and I know what the bitter wise man called it, ‘the crackling of thorns under the pot,’ which, the more they crackle, the faster they turn into powdery ash and lose all their warmth. For stable, deep, lifelong, reliable courage and cheerfulness, there must be thorough work made with the black spot in the heart, and the black lines in the history. And unless our comforters can come to us and say, ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee,’ they are only chattering nonsense, and singing songs to a heavy heart which will make an effervescence ‘like vinegar on nitre,’ when they say to us, ‘Be of good cheer.’ How can I be glad if there lie coiled in my heart that consciousness of alienation and disorder in my relations to God, which all men carry with them, though they overlay it and try to forget it? There is no basis for a peaceful gladness worthy of a man except that which digs deep down into the very secrets of the heart, and lays the first course of the building in the consciousness of pardoned sin. ‘Son, be of good cheer!’ Lift up thy head. Face smaller evils without discomposure, and with quietly throbbing pulses, for the fountain of possible terrors and calamities is stanched and stayed with, ‘Thy sins are forgiven thee.’
Side by side with this first instance, illustrating the same general thought, though from a somewhat different point of view, I may put another of the instances in which the same phrase was soothingly on our Lord’s lips. ‘Daughter,’ said He to the poor woman with the issue of blood, ‘be of good cheer. Thy faith hath saved thee.’ The consciousness of a living union with God through Christ by faith, which results in the present possession of a real, though it may be a partial, salvation, is indispensable to the temper of equable cheerfulness of which I have been speaking. Apart from that consciousness, you may have plenty of excitement, but no lasting calm. The contrast between the drugged and effervescent potion which the world gives as a cup of gladness, and the pure tonic which Jesus Christ administers for the same purpose, is infinite. He says to us, ‘I forgive thy sins; by thy faith I save thee; go in peace.’ Then the burdened heart is freed from its oppression, and the downcast face is lifted up, and all things around change, as when the sunshine comes out on the wintry landscape, and the very snow sparkles into diamonds. So much, then, for the first of the instances of the use of this phrase.
II. We now take a second. Jesus Christ ministers to us cheerful courage because He manifests Himself to us as a Companion in the storm (Matt. xiv. 27).
The narrative is very familiar to us, so that I need not enlarge upon it. You remember the scene–our Lord alone on the mountain in prayer, the darkness coming down upon the little boat, the storm rising as the darkness fell, the wind howling down the gorges of the mountains round the landlocked lake, the crew ‘toiling in rowing, for the wind was contrary.’ And then, all at once, out of the mysterious obscurity beneath the shadow of the hills, Something is seen moving, and it comes nearer; and the waves become solid beneath that light and noiseless foot, as steadily nearer He comes. Jesus Christ uses the billows as the pavement over which He approaches His servants, and the storms which beat on us are His occasion for drawing very near. Then they think Him a spirit, and cry out with voices that were heard amidst the howling of the tempest, and struck upon the ear of whomsoever told the Evangelist the story. They cry out with a shriek of terror–because Jesus Christ is coming to them in so strange a fashion! Have _we_ never shrieked and groaned, and passionately wept aloud for the same reason; and mistaken the Lord of love and consolation for some grisly spectre? When He comes it is with the old word on His lips, ‘Be of good cheer.’
‘Tell us not to be frightened when we see something stalking across the waves in the darkness!’ ‘It is I’; surely that is enough. The Companion in the storm is the Calmer of the terror. He who recognises Jesus Christ as drawing near to his heart over wild billows may well ‘be of good cheer,’ since the storm but brings his truest treasure to him.
‘Well roars the storm to those who hear A deeper Voice across the storm.’
And He who, with unwetted foot, can tread on the wave, and with quiet voice heard above the shriek of the blast can say, ‘It is I,’ has the right to say, ‘Be of good cheer,’ and never says it in vain to such as take Him into their lives however tempest-tossed, and into their hearts however tremulous.
III. A third instance of the occurrence of this word of cheer presents Jesus as ministering cheerful courage to us by reason of His being victor in the strife with the world (John xvi. 33).
‘In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.’
Of course ‘the world’ which He overcame is the whole aggregate of things and persons considered as separated from God, and as being the great Antagonist and counter power to a holy life of obedience and filial devotion. At that last moment when, according to all outward seeming and the estimate of things which sense would make, He was utterly and hopelessly and all but ignominiously beaten, He says, ‘I have overcome the world.’ What! Thou! within four-and-twenty hours of Thy Cross? Is that victory? Yes! For he conquers the world who uses all its opposition as well as its real good to help him, absolutely and utterly, to do the will of God. And he is conquered by the world who lets it, by its glozing sweetnesses and flatteries, or by its knitted brows and frowning eyes and threatening hand, hinder him from the path of perfect consecration and entire conformity to the Father’s will.
Christ has conquered. What does that matter to us? Why, it matters this, that we may have the Spirit of Jesus Christ in our hearts to make us also victorious in the same fight. And whosoever will lay his weakness on that strong arm, and open his emptiness to receive the fulness of that victorious Spirit for the very spirit of his life, will be ‘more than conqueror through Him that loved us,’ and can front all the evils, dangers, threatenings, temptations of the world, its heaped sweets and its frowning antagonisms, with the calm confidence that none of them are able to daunt him; and that the Victor Lord will cover his head in the day of battle and deliver him from every evil work. ‘Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world, and play your parts like men in the good fight of faith; for I am at your back, and will help you with Mine own strength.’
IV. The last instance that I point to of the use of this phrase is one in which it was spoken by Christ’s voice from heaven (Acts xxiii. 11). It was the voice which was heard by the Apostle Paul after he had been almost torn in pieces by the crowd in the Temple, and had been bestowed for security, by the half-contemptuous protection of the Roman governor, in the castle, and was looking onward into a very doubtful future, not knowing how many hours’ purchase his life might be worth. That same night the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘Be of good cheer, Paul, for as thou hast testified of Me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.’ That is to say, ‘No man can touch you until I let him, and nobody shall touch you until you have done your work and spoken out your testimony. Jerusalem is a little sphere; Rome is a great one. The tools to the hand that can use them. The reward for work is more work, and work in a larger sphere. So cheer up! for I have much for you to do yet.’
And the spirit of that encouragement may go with us all, breeding in us the quiet confidence that no matter who may thwart or hinder, no matter what dangers or evils may seem to ring us round, the Master who bids us ‘Be of good cheer’ will give us a charmed life, and nothing shall by any means hurt us until He says to us, ‘Be of good courage; for you have done your work; and now come and rest.’ ‘Wait on the Lord. Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart; wait, I say, on the Lord.’
SOUL-HEALING FIRST: BODY-HEALING SECOND
‘That ye may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins (then saith He to the sick of the palsy), Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.’–MATT. ix. 6.
The great example of our Lord’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is followed, in this and the preceding chapter, by a similar collection of His works of healing. These are divided into three groups, each consisting of three members. This miracle is the last of the second triad, of which the other two members are the miraculous stilling of the tempest and the casting out of the demons from the men in the country of the Gergesenes.
One may discern a certain analogy in these three members of this central group. In all of them our Lord appears as the peace-bringer. But the spheres are different. The calm which was breathed over the stormy lake is peace of a lower kind than that which filled the soul of the demoniacs when the power that made discord within had been cast out. Even that peace was lower in kind than that which brought sweet repose in the assurance of pardon to this poor paralytic. Forgiveness speaks of a loftier blessing than even the casting out of demons. The manifestation of power and love steadily rises to a climax.
The most important part of this story, then, is not the mere healing of the disease, but the forgiveness of sins which accompanies it. And the large teaching which our Lord gives as to the relation between His miracles and His standing work, His ordinary work which He has been doing all through the ages, which He is doing to-day, which He is ready to do for you and me if we will let Him, towers high above the mere miracle, which is honoured by being the signal attestation of that work.
Therefore I would turn to this story now, not for the sake of dealing with the mere miraculous event, but in order to draw the important lessons from it which lie upon its very surface.
I. The first thought that is suggested here is that our deepest need is forgiveness.
How strangely irrelevant and beside the mark, at first sight, seems the answer which Christ gives to the eager zeal and earnestness of the man and his bearers. Christ’s word is ‘Son,’ or as the original might more literally and even more tenderly be rendered, ‘Child–be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.’ That seemed far away from their want. It _was_ far from their wish, but yet it was the shortest road to its accomplishment. Christ here goes straight to the heart of the necessity, when, passing by the disease for the moment, He speaks the great word of pardon. The palsy was probably the result of the sufferer’s vice, and probably, too, he felt, whatever may have been his friends’ wishes for him, that he needed forgiveness most. Such a conclusion as to his state of mind seems a fair inference from our Lord’s words to him, for Christ would never have offered forgiveness to an impenitent or indifferent heart.
So we may learn that our chief and prime need is forgiveness. Amid all our clamours and hungry needs, that is our deepest. Is not a man’s chief relation in this world his relation to God? Is not that the most important thing about all of us? If that be wrong, will not everything be wrong? If that be right, will not everything come right? And is it not true that for you and me, and for all our fellows, whatever be the surface diversities of character, civilisation, culture, taste and the like, there is one deep experience common to every human spirit, and that is the fact, and in some sense more or less acutely the consciousness of the fact, that ‘we have sinned, and come short of the glory of God’?
There is the fontal source of all sorrow, for even to the most superficial observation ninety per cent., at any rate, of man’s misery comes either from his own or from others’ wrongdoing, and for the rest, it is regarded in the eye of faith as being sorrow that is needful because of sin, in order to discipline and to purify. But here stands the fact, that king and clown, philosopher and fool, men of culture and men of ignorance, all of us, through all the ages, manifest the unity of our nature in this–I was going to say most chiefly–that lapses from the path of rectitude, and indulgence in habits, thoughts, feelings, and actions, which even our consciences tell us are wrong, characterise us all.
Hence the profound wisdom of Christ and of His Gospel in that, when it begins the task of healing, it does not peddle and potter on the surface, but goes straight to the heart, with true instinct flies at the head, like a wise physician pays little heed to secondary and unimportant symptoms, but grapples with the disease, makes the tree good, and leaves the good tree to make, as it will, the fruit good.
The first thing to do to heal men’s misery, is to make them pure; and the first step in the great method by which a man can be made pure, is to assure him of a divine forgiveness for the past. So the sneers that we often hear about Christian ‘philanthropists taking tracts to people when they want soup,’ and the like, are excessively shallow sneers, and indicate nothing more than this, that the critic has superficially diagnosed the disease, and is wofully wrong about the remedy. God forbid that I should say one word that would seem to depreciate the value of other forms of beneficence, or to cast doubt upon the purity of motives, or even to be lacking in admiration for the enthusiasm that fills and guides many an earnest man and woman, working amongst the squalid vice of our great cities and of our complex and barbarous civilisation to-day. I would recognise all their work as good and blessed; but, oh! dear brethren, it deals with the surface, and you will have to go a great deal deeper down than asthetic, or intellectual, or economical, or political reformation and changes reach, before you touch the real reason why men and women are miserable in this world. And you will only effectually cure the misery, but you certainly then will do it, when you begin where the misery begins, and deal first with sin. The true ‘saviour of society’ is the man that can go to his brother, and as a minister declaratory of the divine heart can say–‘Brother, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.’ And then, after that, the palsy will go out of his limbs, and a new nervous energy will come into them, and he will rise, take up his bed, and walk.
II. Now, in the next place, notice, as coming out of this incident before us, the thought that forgiveness is an exclusively divine act.
There was, sitting by, with their jealous and therefore blind eyes, a whole crowd of wise men and religious formalists of the first water, collected together as a kind of ecclesiastical inquisition and board of triers, as one of the other evangelists tells us, out of every corner of the land. They had no care for the dewy pity that was in Christ’s looks, or for the nascent hope that began to swim up into the poor, dim eye of the paralytic. But they had keen scent for heresy, and so they fastened with true feline instinct upon the one thing, ‘This man speaketh blasphemies. Who can forgive sins but God alone?’
Ah! if you want to get people blind as bats to the radiant beauty of some lofty character, and insensible as rocks to the wants of a sad humanity, commend me to your religious formalists, whose religion is mainly a bundle of red tape tied round men’s limbs to keep them from getting at things that they would like. These are the people who will be as hard as the nether millstones, and utterly blind to all enthusiasm and to all goodness.
But yet these Pharisees are right; perfectly right. Forgiveness _is_ an exclusively divine act. Of course. For sin has to do with God only; vice has to do with the laws of morality; crime has to do with the laws of the land. The same act may be vice, crime, and sin. In the one aspect it has to do with myself, in the other with my fellows, in the last with God. And so evil considered as sin comes under God’s control only, and only He against whom it has been committed can forgive.
What is forgiveness? The sweeping aside of penalties? the shutting up of some more or less material hell? By no means: penalties are often left; when sins are crimes they are generally left; when sins are vices they are always left, thank God! But in so far as sin is sin, considered as being the perversion and setting wrong of my relation to Him, its consequences, which are its penalties, are swept away by forgiveness; for forgiveness, in its essence and deepest meaning, is neither more nor less than that the love of the person against whom the wrong has been done shall flow out, notwithstanding the wrong. Pardon is love rising above the ice-dam which we have piled in its course, and pouring into our hearts.
When you fathers and mothers forgive your children, what does it mean? Does it not mean that your love is neither deflected nor embittered any more, by reason of their wrongdoing, but pours upon them as of old? So God’s forgiveness is at bottom–‘Child! there is nothing in my heart to thee, but pure and perfect love.’ We fill the sky with mists, through which the sun itself has to look like a red ball of lurid fire. But it shines on the upper side of the mists all the same, and all the time, and thins them away and scatters them utterly, and shines forth in its own brightness on the rejoicing heart. Pardon is God’s love, unchecked and unembittered, granted to the wrongdoer. And that is a divine act, and a divine act alone. Pharisees and Scribes were perfectly right. No man can forgive sins but God only.
And I might add, though it is somewhat aside from my direct purpose, God _can_ forgive sin; which some people nowadays say is impossible. The apparent impossibility arises only from shallow and erroneous notions of what forgiveness is. God does not–it might be too bold to say God cannot, if we believe in miracles–but as a matter of fact, God does not, usually interfere to hinder men from reaping, as regards this life, what they have sown. But as I say, that is not forgiveness; and is there any reason conceivable why it should be impossible for the divine love to pour down upon a sinful man who has forsaken his sin, and is trusting in God’s mercy in Christ, just as if his sin was non-existent, in so far as it could condition or interfere with the flow of the divine mercy?
And I may say, further, we need a definite divine assurance of pardon. Ah! if you have ever been down into the cellars of your own hearts, and seen the ugly things that coil there, you will know that a vague trust in a vague God and a vague mercy is not enough to still the conscience that has once been stung into action. My brothers, you want neither priests nor ceremonies on the one hand, nor a mere peradventure of ‘Oh! God is merciful!’ on the other, in order to deal with that deepest need of your heart. Nothing but the King’s own sign-manual on the pardon makes it valid; and unless you and I can, somehow or other, come to close grips with God, and get into actual contact with Him, and hear, somehow, with infallible certitude, as from His own lips, the assurance of forgiveness, there is not enough for our needs.
III. So I come to say, in the next place, that the incident before us teaches us that Jesus Christ claims and exercises this divine prerogative of forgiveness.
Mark His answer to these cavillers. He admits their promises absolutely. They said, ‘No man can forgive sins but God only.’ If Christ was only a man, like us, standing in the same relation to the divine pardon that other teachers, saints, and prophets have stood, and had nothing more to do with it than simply, as I might do, to say to a troubled heart, ‘My brother, be quite sure that God has forgiven you’; if Christ’s relation to the divine forgiveness was nothing more than ministerial and declaratory, why, in the name, not of common sense only, but of veracity, did He not turn round to these men and say so? He was bound, by all the obligations of a religious teacher, to disclaim, as you or I would have done under similar circumstances, the misapprehension of His words: ‘I use blasphemies? No! I am not speaking blasphemies. I know that God only can forgive sins, and I am doing no more than telling my poor brother here that his sins are forgiven by God.’ But that is not His answer at all. What He says in effect is–‘Yes; you are quite right. No man can forgive sins, but God only. _I_ forgive sins. Whom think ye, then, that I, the Son of Man am? It is easy to say “Thy sins be forgiven thee”–far easier to say that than to say “Take up thy bed and walk,” because one can verify and check the accomplishment of the saying in the one case, and one cannot in the other. The sentences are equally easy to pronounce, the things are equally difficult for a _man_ to do, but the difference is that one of them can be verified and the other of them cannot. I will do the visible impossibility, and then I leave you to judge whether I can do the invisible one or not.’
Now, dear brethren, I have only one word to say about that, and it is this. We are here brought sharp up to a fork in the road. I know that it is not always a satisfactory way of arguing to compel a man to take one horn or other of an alternative, but it is quite fair to do go in the present case; and I would press it upon some of you who, I think, urgently need to consider the dilemma. Either the Pharisees were quite right, and Jesus Christ, the meek, the humble, the Pattern of all lowly gentleness, the Teacher whom nineteen centuries confess that they have not exhausted, was an audacious blasphemer, or He was God manifest in the flesh. The whole context forbids us to take these words, ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee,’ as anything less than the voice of divine love wiping out the man’s transgressions; and if Jesus Christ pretended or presumed to do that, there is no hypothesis that I know of which can save His character for the reverence of man, but that which sees in Him God revealed in manhood; the world’s Judge, from whom the world may receive divine forgiveness.
IV. Jesus Christ here brings visible facts into the witness-box as the attesters of His invisible powers.
Of course the miracle was such a witness in a special way, inasmuch as it and forgiveness were equally divine prerogatives and acts. I need not dwell now upon what I have already observed in my introductory remarks, that our Lord here teaches us the relative importance of the attesting miracle and the thing attested, and regards the miracle as subordinate to the higher and spiritual work of bringing pardon.
But we may widen out this into the thought that the subsidiary effects of Christian faith in individuals, and of the less complete Christian faith which is diffused over society, do stand as very strong evidences of the reality of Christ’s professions and claims to exercise this invisible power of pardon. Or, to put it into a concrete form, and to take an illustration which may need large deductions.–Go into a Salvation Army meeting. Admit the extravagance, the coarseness, and all the rest which we educated and superfine Christians cannot stand. But when you have blown away the froth, is there not something left in the cup which looks uncommonly like the wine of the Kingdom? Are there not visible results of that, as of every earnest effort to carry the message of forgiveness to men, which create an immense presumption in favour of its reality and divine origin? Men reclaimed, passions tamed, homes that were pandemoniums made Bethels, houses of God. Wherever Christ’s forgiving power really comes into a heart, life is beautified, is purified, is ennobled; and secondary and material benefits follow in the train.
I claim all the difference between Christendom and Heathendom as attestation of the reality of Christ’s divine and atoning work. I say, and I believe it to be a valid and a good argument as against much of the doubt of this day, ‘If you seek His monument, look around.’ His own answer to the question, ‘Art thou He that should come?’ is valid still: ‘Go and tell John the things that ye see and hear’; the dead are raised, the deaf ears are opened; faculties that lie dormant are quickened, and in a thousand ways the swift spirit of life flows from Him and vitalises the dead masses of humanity.
Let any system of belief or of no belief do the like if it can. This rod has budded at any rate, let the magicians do the same with their enchantments.
Now, Christian men and women, ‘ye are My witnesses,’ saith the Lord. The world takes its notions of Christianity, and its belief in the power of Christianity, a great deal more from you than it does from preachers and apologists. _You_ are the Bibles that most men read. See to it that your lives represent worthily the redeeming and the ennobling power of your Master.
And as for the rest of you, do not waste your time trying to purify the stream twenty miles down from the fountainhead, but go to the source. Do not believe, brother, that your palsy, or your fever, your paralysis of will towards good, or the unwholesome ardour with which you are impelled to wrong, and the consequent misery and restlessness, can ever be healed until you go to Christ–the forgiving Christ–and let Him lay His hand upon you; and from His own sweet and infallible lips hear the word that shall come as a charm through all your nature: ‘Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.’ ‘Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened; then shall the lame man leap as an hart’;–then limitations, sorrows, miseries, will pass away, and forgiveness will bear fruit in joy and power, in holiness, health and peace.
THE CALL OF MATTHEW
‘And as Jesus passed forth from thence, He saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and He saith unto him, Follow Me. And he arose, and followed Him. 10. And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. 11. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto His disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? 12. But when Jesus heard that, He said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. 13. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. 14. Then came to Him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but Thy disciples fast not? 15. And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast. 16. No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse. 17. Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.’–MATT. ix. 9-17.
All three evangelists connect the call of Matthew immediately with the cure of the paralytic, and follow it with an account of Christ’s answers to sundry cavils from Pharisees and John’s disciples. No doubt, the spectacle of this new Teacher taking a publican into His circle of disciples, and, not content with such an outrage on all proper patriotic feeling, following it up with scandalous companionship with the sort of people that a publican could get to accept his hospitality, sharpened hatred and made suspicion prick its ears. Mark and Luke call the publican Levi, he calls himself Matthew, the former being probably his name before his discipleship, the latter, that by which he was known thereafter. Possibly Jesus gave it him, as in the cases of Simon, and perhaps Bartholomew. But, however acquired, it superseded the old one, as the fact that it appears in the lists of the apostles in both the other evangelists and in Acts, shows. Its use here may be a trace of a touching desire to make sure that readers, who only knew him as Matthew, should understand who this publican was. It is like the little likenesses of themselves, in some corner of a background, that early painters used to slip into a picture of Madonna and angels. There was no vanity in the wish, for he says nothing about his sacrifices, leaving it to Luke to tell that ‘he left all,’ but he _does_ crave that his brethren, who read, should know that it was he whom Jesus honoured by His call.
The condensed narrative emphasises three things, (1) his occupation with his ordinary business when that wonderful summons thrilled his soul; (2) the curt authoritative command, and (3) the swift obedience. As to the first, Capernaum was on a great trade route, and the custom-house officers there would have their hands full. This one was busy at his work, hateful and shameful as it was in Jewish eyes, and into that sordid atmosphere, like a flash of light into a mephitic cavern full of unclean creatures, came the transcendent mercy of Jesus’ summons. There is no region of life so foul, so mean, so despicable in men’s eyes, but that the quickening Voice will enter there. We do not need to be in temples or about sacred tasks in order to hear it. It summons us in, and sometimes from, our daily work. Well for those who know whose Voice it is, and do not mistake it for some Eli’s!
No doubt this was not the first of Matthew’s knowledge of Jesus. Living in Capernaum, he would have had many opportunities of hearing Him or of Him, and his heart and conscience may have been stirred. As he sat in his ‘tolbooth,’ feeling contempt and hatred poured on him, he, no doubt, had had longings to get nearer to the One whose voice was gentle, and His looks, love. So the call would come to him as the fulfilment of a dim hope, and it would be a joyful surprise to know that Jesus wished to have him for a disciple as much as he wished to have Jesus for a Teacher. The ring of fire and hate within which he had been imprisoned was broken, and there was One who cared to have him, and who would not shrink from his touch. In the light of that assurance, the call became, not a summons to give anything up, but an invitation to receive a better possession than all with which he was called to part. And if we saw things as they are, would it not always be so to us? ‘Follow Me’ does mean, Forsake earth and self, but it means still more: Take what is more than all. It parts from these because it unites to Jesus. Therefore it means gain, not deprivation. And it condenses all rules for life into one, for to follow Him is the sum of all duty, and yields the perfect pattern of conduct and character, while it is also the secret of all blessedness, and the talisman that assures a man of continual progress. They who follow are near, and will reach, Him. Of course, if His servants follow Him, it stands to reason that one day, ‘where I am there shall also My servants be.’ So in that command lie a sufficient guide for earth, and a sure guarantee for heaven.
‘And he arose and followed Him.’ That is the only thing that we are told of Matthew. We hear no more of him, except that he made a feast in his house on the occasion. No doubt he did his work as an apostle, but oblivion has swallowed up all that. A happy fate to be known to all the world for all time, only by this one thing, that he unconditionally, immediately and joyfully obeyed Christ’s call! He might have said: ‘How can I leave my work? I must make up my accounts, hand over my papers, do a hundred things in order to wind up matters, and I must postpone following till then.’ But he sprang up at once. He would have abundant opportunities to settle all details afterwards, but if he let this opportunity of taking his place as a disciple pass, he might never have another. There are some things that are best done gradually and slowly, but obedience to Christ’s call is not one of them. Prompt obedience is the only safety. The psalmist knew the danger of delay when he said: ‘I made haste and delayed not, but made haste to keep Thy commandments.’
Matthew does not tell us that _he_ made the feast, but Luke does. It was the natural expression of his thankfulness and joy for the new bond. His knowledge was small, but his love was great. How could he honour Jesus enough? But he was a pariah in Capernaum, and the only guests he could assemble were, like himself, outcasts from ‘respectable society.’ In popular estimation all publicans were regarded without any more ado as ‘sinners,’ but probably that designation is here applied to disreputable folks of various kinds and degrees of shadiness, who gravitated to Matthew and his class, because, like him, they were repulsed by every one else. Even outcasts hunger for society, and manage to get a community of their own, in which they find some glow of comradeship, and some defence from hatred and contempt. Even lepers herd together and have their own rules of intercourse.
But what a scandal in the eyes not only of Pharisees, but of all the proper people in Capernaum, Jesus’ going to such a gathering of disreputables would be, we may estimate if we remember that they did not know His reason, but thought that He went because He liked the atmosphere and the company. ‘Like draws to like’ was the conclusion suggested, in the absence of His own explanation. The Pharisee conceived that his duty in regard to publicans and sinners was to keep as far from them as he could, and his strait-laced self-righteousness had never dreamed of going to them with an open heart, and trying to win them to a better life. Many so-called followers of Jesus still take that attitude. They gather up their skirts round them daintily, and never think that it would be liker their Lord to sweep away the mud than to pick their steps through it, caring mainly to keep their own shoes clean.
The feast was probably spread in some courtyard or open space, to which, as is the Eastern custom, uninvited spectators could have access. It is quite in accordance with the usage of the times and land that the Pharisees should have been onlookers, and should have been able to talk to the disciples. No doubt their colloquy became animated, and perhaps loud, so that it could easily attract Christ’s attention. He answered for Himself, and the tone of His reply is friendly and explanatory, as if He recognised that the questioners genuinely wished to know ‘why’ He was sitting in such company.
It discloses His motive, and thereby sweeps away all insinuations that He consorted with sinners because their company was congenial. It was precisely for the opposite reason, because He was so unlike them. He came among these sinners as a physician; and who wonders at _his_ being beside the sick? He does not spend his days by their bedsides because he likes the atmosphere, but because it is his business to make them well. Now, in that comparison, Jesus pronounces no opinion on the correctness of the Pharisees’ estimate of themselves as ‘righteous,’ or of publicans as sinners, but simply takes them on their own ground. But He does make a great claim for Himself, and speaks out of His consciousness of power to heal men’s worst disease, sin. It is a tremendous assertion to make of oneself, and its greatness is enhanced by the quiet way in which it is stated as a thought familiar to Himself. What right had He to pose as the physician for humanity, and how can such a claim be reconciled with His being ‘meek and lowly in heart’? If He Himself was one of the sick and needed healing, how can He be the healer of the rest? If being a sinful man, as we all are, He made such a claim, what becomes of the reverence which is paid to Him as a great religious Teacher, and where has His ‘sweet reasonableness’ vanished?
Jesus passes from explanation of His personal relation to the publicans to adduce the broad principle which should shape the Pharisees’ relation to them, as it had shaped His. Hosea had said long ago that God delighted more in ‘mercy’ than in ‘sacrifice.’ Kindly helpfulness to men is better worship than exact performance of any ritual. Sacrifice propitiates God, but mercy imitates Him, and imitation is the perfection of divine service. Jesus here speaks as all the prophets had spoken, and smites with a deadly stroke the mechanical formalism which in every age stiffens religion into ceremonies and neglects love towards God, expressed in mercy to men. He lays bare the secret of His own life, and He thereby lays on His followers the obligation of making it the moving impulse of theirs.
The great general truth is followed, as it has been preceded, by a plain statement of Jesus’ own conception of His mission in the world. ‘I came,’ says He, hinting at the fact that He was before He was born, and that His Incarnation was His voluntary act. True, He was sent, and we speak of His mission, but also He ‘came,’ and we speak of His advent. ‘To repentance’ is omitted by the best editors as being brought over from Luke, where it is genuine. But it is a correct gloss on the simple word ‘call,’ though ‘repentance’ is but a small part of that to which He summons. He calls us to repent; He calls us to Himself; He calls us to self-surrender; He calls us to Eternal Life; He calls us to a better feast than Matthew had spread. But we must recognise that we are sinners, or we shall never realise that His invitation is for us, nor ever feel that we need a physician, and have in Him, and in Him alone, the Physician whom we need.
The Pharisees objected to Jesus’ feasting, and could scarcely in the same breath find fault with Him for not fasting, but they put forward some of John’s disciples to bring that fresh objection. Common hatred is a strong cement, and often holds opposites together for a while. It was bad for John’s followers that they should be willing to say, ‘We and the Pharisees.’ They had travelled far from the days when their master had called the same class a ‘generation of vipers’! Their keen desire to uphold the honour of their teacher, whose light they saw paling before the younger Jesus, made them hostile to Him, and, as is usually the case, the followers were more partisan than the leader. Religious antagonism sometimes stoops to very strange alliances. The two questions brought together in this context are noticeably alike, and noticeably different. Both ask for the reason of conduct which they do not go the length of impugning. They seem to be desirous of enlightenment, they are really eager to condemn. Both avoid seeming to call in question the acts of the persons addressed, for the Pharisees interrogate the _disciples_ as to the reason for _Jesus’_ conduct, while John’s disciples ask from _Jesus_ the reason of His disciples’ conduct. In both, mock respectfulness covers lively hatred.
Our Lord’s first answer is as profound as it is beautiful, and veils, while it reveals, a lofty claim for Himself and a solemn foresight of His death, and lays down a great and fruitful principle as to the relations between spiritual moods and outward acts of religion. His speaking of Himself as ‘the Bridegroom’ would recall to some of His questioners, and that with a touch of shame, John’s nobly humble acceptance of the subordinate place of the bridegroom’s friend and elevation of Jesus to that of the bridegroom. But it was not merely a rebuking quotation from John’s witness, but the expression of His own unclouded and continual consciousness of what He was to humanity, and of what humanity could find in Him, as well as a sovereign appropriating to Himself of many prophetic strains. What depth of love, what mysterious blending of spirit, what adoring, lowly obedience, what perfection of protecting care, what rapture of possession, what rest of heart in trust, what dower of riches are dimly shadowed in that wonderful emblem, will never be known till the hour of the marriage-supper of the Lamb, when ‘His bride hath made herself ready.’ But across the light there flits a shadow. It is but for a moment, and it meant little to the hearers, but it meant much to Him. For He could not look forward to winning His bride without seeing the grim Cross, and even athwart the brightness of the days of companionship with His humble friends, came the darkness on His soul, though not on theirs, of the violent end when He ‘shall be taken from them.’ The hint fell apparently on deaf ears, but it witnesses to the continual presence in the mind of Jesus of His sufferings and death. The certainty that He must die was not forced on Him by the failure of His efforts as His career unfolded itself. It was no disappointment of bright earlier hopes, as is the case with many a disillusionised reformer, who thought at the outset that he had only to speak and all men would listen. It was the clearly discerned goal from the first. ‘The Son of Man came … to give His life a ransom.’
But our Lord here lays down a broad principle, which, if applied as it was meant to be, would lift a heavy burden of outward observance off the Christian consciousness. Fast when you are sad; feast when you are glad. Let the disposition, the mood, the moment’s circumstance, mould your action. There is no virtue or sanctity in observances which do not correspond to the inner self. What a charter of liberty is proclaimed in these quiet words! What mountains of ceremonial unreality, oppressive to the spirit, are cast into the sea by them! How different Christendom would have been and would be to-day, if Christians had learned the lesson of these words!
The two condensed parables or extended metaphors, which follow the vindication of the disciples, carry the matter further, and lay down a principle which is intended to cover not only the question in hand, their non-observance of Jewish regulations as to fasting, but the whole subject of the relations of the new word, which Jesus felt that He brought, to the old system. The same consciousness of His unique mission which prompted His use of the term ‘bridegroom,’ shines through the two metaphors of the new cloth and the new wine. He knows that He is about to bring a new garb to men, and to give them new wine to drink, and He knows that what He brings is no mere patch on a worn-out system, but a new fermenting force, which demands fresh vehicles and modes of expression. The two metaphors take up different aspects of one thought. To try to mend an old coat with a bit of unshrunk cloth would only make a worse dissolution of continuity, for as soon as a shower fell on it the patch would shrink, and, in shrinking, pull the thin pieces of the old garment adjoining it to itself. Judaism was already ‘rent’ and worn too thin to be capable of repair. The only thing to be done was ‘as a vesture’ to ‘fold it up’ and shape a new garment out of new cloth. What was true as to the supremely new thing which He brought into the world remains true, in less eminent degree, of the less acute differences between the Old and the New, within Christianity itself. There do come times when its externals become antiquated, worn thin and torn, and when patching is useless. Christian men, like others, constitutionally incline to conservatism or to progress, and the one temperament needs to be warned against obstinately preserving old clothes, and the other against eagerly insisting that they are past mending.
But a patch and a worn garment do not wholly describe the relations of the old and the new. Freshly made wine, still fermenting, and old, stiff wine-skins which have lost their elasticity suggest further thoughts. Now we have to do with containing vessel _versus_ contents, with a fermenting force _versus_ stiffened forms. To put that into these will destroy both. For example, if the struggle of the Judaisers in the early Church had succeeded, and Christianity had become a Jewish sect, it would have dwindled to nothing, as the Jewish-minded Christians did. The wine must have bottles. Every great spiritual renovating force must embody itself in institutions. Spiritual emotions must express themselves in acts of worship, spiritual convictions must speak in a creed. But the containing vessel must be congruous with, and still more, it must be created by, the contained force, as there are creatures who frame their shells to fit the convolutions of their bodies, and build them up from their own substance. Forms are good, as long as they can stretch if need be; when they are too stiff to expand, they restrict rather than contain the wine, and if short-sighted obstinacy insists on keeping _it_ in _them_, there will be a great spill and loss of much that is precious.
THE TOUCH OF FAITH AND THE TOUCH OF CHRIST
‘While He spake these things unto them, behold, there came a certain ruler, and worshipped Him, saying, My daughter is even now dead: but come and lay Thy hand upon her, and she shall live. 19. And Jesus arose, and followed him, and so did His disciples. 20. And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind Him, and touched the hem of His garment: 21. For she said within herself, If I may but touch His garment, I shall be whole. 22. But Jesus turned Him about, and when He saw her, He said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour. 23. And when Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the minstrels and the people making a noise. 24. He said unto them, Give place: for the maid is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed Him to scorn. 25. But when the people were put forth, He went in, and took her by the hand, and the maid arose. 26. And the fame hereof went abroad into all that land. 27. And when Jesus departed thence, two blind men followed Him, crying, and saying, Thou Son of David, have mercy on us. 28. And when He was come into the house, the blind men came to Him: and Jesus saith unto them, Believe ye that I am able to do this? They said unto Him, Yea, Lord. 29. Then touched He their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you. 30. And their eyes were opened; and Jesus straitly charged them, saying, See that no man know it. 31. But they, when they were departed, spread abroad His fame in all that country.’–MATT. ix. 18-31.
The three miracles included in the present section belong to the last group of this series. Those of the second group were all effected by Christ’s word. Those now to be considered are all effected by touch. The first two are intertwined. The narrative of the healing of the woman is embedded in the account of the raising of Jairus’s daughter.
Mark the impression of calm consciousness of power and leisurely dignity produced by Christ’s having time to pause, even on such an errand, in order to heal, by the way, the other sufferer. The father and the disciples would wonder at Him as He stayed His steps, and be apt to feel that priceless moments were being lost; but He knows His own resources, and can afford to let the child die while He heals the woman. The one shall receive no harm by the delay, and the other will be blessed. Our Lord is sitting at the feast which Matthew gave on the occasion of his call, engaged in vindicating His sharing in innocent festivity against the cavils of the Pharisees, when the summons to the death-bed comes to Him from the lips of the father, who breaks in on the banquet with his imploring cry. Matthew gives the story much more summarily than the other evangelists, and does not distinguish, as they do, between Jairus’s first words, ‘at the point of death, and the message of her actual decease, which met them on the way. The call of sorrow always reaches Christ’s ear, and the cry for help is never deemed by Him an interruption. So this ‘man, gluttonous and a wine-bibber,’ as these Pharisees thought Him, willingly and at once leaves the house of feasting for that of mourning. How near together, in this awful life of ours, the two lie, and how thin the partition walls! Well for those whose feasts do not bar them out from hearing the weeping next door.
As the crowd accompanies Jesus, His hasting love is, for a moment, diverted by another sufferer. We never go on an errand of mercy but we pass a hundred other sorrowing hearts, so close packed lie the griefs of men. This woman is a poor shrinking creature, broken down by long illness (which had lasted for the same length of time as the joyous life of Jairus’s child), made more timid by disappointed hopes of cure, and depressed by poverty to which her many doctors had brought her. She does not venture to stop this new Rabbi-physician, as He goes with the church dignitary of the town to heal his daughter, but lets Him pass before she can make up her mind to go near Him; and then she comes creeping up behind the crowd, puts out her wasted, trembling hand to the hem of His garment,–and she is whole.
The other evangelists give us a more extended account, but Matthew throws into prominence, in his condensed narrative, the essential points.
Notice her real but imperfect faith. There was unquestionable confidence in Christ’s power, and very genuine desire for healing. But it was a very ignorant faith. She believes that her touch of the garment will heal without Christ’s will or knowledge, much more His pitying love, having any part in it. She thinks that she may win her desire furtively, and may carry it away, and He be none the wiser nor the poorer for the stolen blessing. What utter, blank ignorance of His character and way of working! What gross superstition! Yes, and withal what a hunger of desire, what absolute assurance of confidence that one finger-tip on His robe was enough! Therefore she had her desire, and her Healer recognised her faith as true, though blended with much ignorance of Him. Her error was very like that which many Christians entertain with less excuse. To attach importance to external means of grace, rites, ordinances, sacraments, outward connection with Christian organisations, is the very same misconception in a slightly different form. Such error is always near us; it is especially rife in countries where there has long been a visible Church. It has received strange new vigour to-day, partly by reaction from extreme rationalism, partly by the growing cultivation of the aesthetic faculties. It is threatening to corrupt the simplicity and spirituality of Christian worship, and needs to be strenuously resisted. But the more we have to fight against it, the more do we need to remember that, along with this clinging to the hem of the garment instead of to the heart of its Wearer, there may be a very real trust, which might shame some of those who profess to hold a less sensuous form of faith. Many a poor soul clasping a crucifix clings to the Cross. Many a devout heart kneeling at mass sees through the incense-smoke the face of Christ.
This woman’s faith was selfish. She wanted health; she did not care much about the Healer. She would have been quite contented to have had no more to do with Him, if she could only have stolen out of the crowd cured. She would have had little gratitude to the unconscious Giver of a stolen good. So, many a Christian life in its earlier stages is more absorbed with its own deep misery and its desire for deliverance, than with Him. Love comes after, born of the experience of His love. But faith precedes love, and the predominant motive impelling to faith at first is distinctly self-regard. That is all as it should be. The most purely self-absorbed wish to escape from the most rudely pictured hell is often the beginning of a true trust in Christ, which, in due time, will be elevated into perfect consecration. Some of our modern teachers, who are shocked at Christianity because it lays the foundation of the most self-denying morality in such ‘selfishness,’ would be none the worse for going to school to this story, and learning from it how a desire for nothing more than to get rid of a painful disease, started a process which turned a life into a peaceful, thankful surrender of the cured self to the love and service of the mighty Healer.
Observe, next, how Christ answers the imperfect faith, and, by answering, corrects and confirms it. Matthew omits Christ’s question as to who touched Him, the disciples’ reply, and His renewed asseveration that He was conscious of power having gone forth from Him. All these belong to the loving method by which our Lord sought to draw forth an open acknowledgment. Womanly diffidence, enfeebled health, her special disease, all made the woman wish to hide herself. She wanted to steal away unnoticed, as she hoped that she had come. But Christ forces her to stand out before all the crowd, and there, with all eyes upon her,–cold, cruel eyes, some of them–to conquer her shame, and tell all the truth. Strange kindness that; strangely contrasted with His ordinary desire to avoid notoriety, and with His ordinary tender consideration for shrinking weakness! He did it for her sake, not for His own. She is changed from timidity to courage. At one moment she stretches out her wasted finger, a tremulous invalid; at the next, she flings herself at His feet, a confessor. He would have us testify for Him, because faith unavowed, like a plant in the dark, is apt to become pale and sickly; but ere He bids us own His name, He pours into our hearts, in answer to our secret appeal, the health of His own life, and the blissful consciousness of that great gift which makes the tongue of the dumb sing.
His words to her are full of tenderness. She receives the name of ‘daughter.’ Gently He encourages her timidity by that ‘Be of good cheer,’ and then He sets right her error: ‘Thy faith’–not thy finger–‘hath made thee whole.’ There was no real connection between the touch of the robe and healing; but the woman thought that there was, and so Christ stooped to her childish thought, and allowed her to prescribe the road which His mercy should take. But He would not leave her with her error. The true means of contact between us and Him is not our outward contact with external means of grace, but the touch of our spirits by faith. Faith is nothing in itself, and heals only because it brings us into union with His power, which is the sole cause of our healing. Faith is the hand which receives the blessing. It may be a wasted and tremulous hand, like that which this woman laid lightly on His robe. But He feels its touch, though a universe presses on Him, and He answers. Not the garment’s hem, but Christ’s love, is the cause of our salvation. Not an outward contact with it or with Him, but faith, is the condition on which His life, which knows no disease, pours into our souls. The hand of my faith lifted to Him will receive into its empty palm and clasping fingers the special blessing for my special wants.
The other evangelists tell us that, at the moment of His words to the woman, the messengers came bearing tidings of the child’s death. How Jairus must have grudged the pause! A word from Christ, like the pressure of His hand, heartened him. Like a river turned from its course for a space, to fill some empty reservoir, His love comes back to its original direction. How abundant the power and mercy, to which such a work as that just done was but a parenthesis! The doleful music and the shrill shrieks of Eastern mourning, which met them as they entered Jairus’s house, disturbed the sanctity of the hour, and were in strong contrast with the majestic calmness of Jesus. Not amid venal lamentations and excited cries will He do His work. He bids the noisy crowd forth with curt, almost stern, command, and therein rebukes all such hollow and tumultuous scenes, in the presence of the stillness of death, still more where faith in Him has robbed it of its terror, in robbing it of its perpetuity. It is strange that believing readers should have thought that our Lord meant to say that the little girl was not really dead, but only in a swoon. The scornful laughter of the flute-players and hired mourners understood Him better. They knew that it was real death, as men count death, and, as has often been the case, the laughter of His foes has served to establish the truth. That was not worthy to be called death from which the child was so soon and easily to be awaked. But, besides this special application to the case in hand, that great saying of our Lord’s carries the blessed truth that, since He has come, death is softened into sleep for all who love Him. The euphemism is not peculiar to Christianity, but has a deeper meaning on Christian lips than when Greeks or Romans spoke of the eternal sleep. Others speak of death by any name rather than its own, because they fear it so much. The Christian does so, because he fears it so little,–and, as a matter of fact, the use of the word death as meaning merely the separation of soul and body by the physical act is exceptional in the New Testament. This name of sleep, sanctioned thus by Christ, is the sweetest of all. It speaks of the cessation of connection with the world of sense, and ‘long disquiet merged in rest.’ It does not imply unconsciousness, for we are not unconscious when we sleep, but only unaware of externals. It holds the promise of waking when the sun comes. So it has driven out the ugly old name. Our tears flow less bitterly when we think of our dear ones as ‘sleeping in Jesus.’ Their bodies, like this little child’s, are dead, but _they_ are not. They rest, conscious of their own blessedness and of Him ‘in whom they live, and have their being,’ whether they ‘move’ or no.
Then comes the great deed. The crowd is shut out. For such a work silence is befitting. The father and mother, with His foremost three disciples, go with Him into the chamber. There is no effort, repeated and gradually successful, as when Elisha raised the dead boy; no praying, as when Peter raised Dorcas; only the touch of the hand in which life throbbed in fulness, and, as the other narratives record, two words, spoken strangely to, and yet more strangely heard by, the dull, cold ear of death. Their echo lingered long with Peter, and Mark gives us them in the original Aramaic. But Matthew passes them by, as he seems here to have desired to emphasise the power of Christ’s touch. But touch or word, the real cause of the miracle was simply His will; and whether He used media to help men’s faith, or said only ‘I will,’ mattered little. He varied His methods as the circumstances of the recipients required, and in order that they and we might learn that He was tied to none. These miracles of raising the dead are three in number. Jairus’s daughter is raised from her bed, just having passed away; the widow’s son at Nain from his bier, having been for a little longer separated from his body; Lazarus from the grave, having been dead four days. A few minutes, or days, or four thousand years, are one to His power. These three are in some sense the first-fruits of the great harvest; the stars that shone out singly before all the heaven is in a blaze. For, though they died again, and so left to Him the precedence in resurrection, as in all besides, they are still prophetic of His power in the hour when they ‘that sleep in the dust’ shall awake at His voice. Blessed they who, like this little maiden, are awakened, not only by His voice, but by His touch, and to find, as she did, their hand in His!
The third of these miracles, which Matthew seems to reckon as the second in the group, because he treats the two former as so closely connected as to be but one in numeration, need not detain us long. It is found only in this Gospel. The first point to be observed in it is the cry of these two blind men. There is something pathetic and exquisitely natural in the two being together, as is also the case in the similar miracle, at a later period, on the outskirts of Jericho. Equal sorrows drive men together for such poor help and solace as they can give each other. They have common experiences which isolate them from others, and they creep close for warmth and companionship. All the blind men in the Gospels have certain resemblances. One is that they are all sturdily persevering, as perhaps was easier for them because they could not see the impatience of the listeners, and possibly because, in most cases, persistent begging was their trade, and they were used to refusals. But a more important trait is their recognition of Jesus as ‘Son of David.’ Blind as they are, they see more than do the seeing. Thrown in upon themselves, they may have been led to ponder the old words, and by their affliction been made more ready to welcome One who, if He were Messiah, was coming with a special blessing for them–‘to open the blind eyes.’ Men who deeply desire a good are quick to listen to the promise of its accomplishment. So these two followed Him along the road, loudly and perseveringly calling out their profession of faith, and their entreaty for sight.
The next point is our Lord’s treatment. He let them cry on, apparently unheeding. Had, then, the two miracles just done exhausted His stock of power or of pity? Certainly His reason was, as it always was, their good. We do not know why it was better for them to have to wait, and continue their entreaty; but we may be quite sure that the reason for all His delays is the same,–the larger blessing which comes with the answer when it comes, and the large blessings which may be gathered while we wait its coming. Christ’s question to them, when at last they have found their way even indoors, holds out more hope than they had yet received. By it, Christ established a close relation with them, and implied to them that He was willing to answer their cry. One can fancy how the poor blind faces would light up with a flush of eager expectation, and how swift would be the answer. The question is not cold or inquisitorial. It is more than half a promise, and a powerful aid to the faith which it requires.
There is something very beautiful and pathetic in the simple brevity of the unhesitating answer, ‘Yea, Lord.’ Sincerity needs few words. Faith can put an infinite deal of meaning into a monosyllable. Their eagerness to reach the goal made their answer brief. But it was enough. Again the hand which had clasped the maiden’s palm is put out and laid gently on the useless eyes, and the great word spoken, ‘According to your faith be it unto you.’ Their blindness made the touch peculiarly fitting in their case, as bringing evidence of sense to those who could not see the gracious pity of His looks. The word spoken was, like that to the centurion, a declaration of the power of faith, which determines the measure, and often the manner, of His gifts to us. The containing vessel not only settles the quantity of, but the shape assumed by, the water which is taken up in it from the sea. Faith, which keeps inside of Christ’s promises (and what goes outside of them is not faith), decides how much of Christ we shall have for our very own. He condescends to run the molten gold of His mercies into the moulds which our faith prepares.
These two men, who had used their tongues so well in their persistent cry for healing, went away to make a worse use of them in telling everywhere of their cure. Jesus desired silence. Possibly He did not wish His reputation as a mere worker of miracles to be spread abroad. In all His earlier ministry He avoided publicity, singularly contrasting therein with the evident desire to make Himself the centre of observation which marks its close. He dreaded the smoky flame of popular excitement. His message was to individuals, not to crowds. It was a natural impulse to tell the benefits these two had received; but truer gratitude and deeper faith would have made them obey His lightest word, and have shut their mouths. We honour Christ most, not by taking our way of honouring Him, but by absolute obedience.
The final miracle of the nine (or ten) marshalled in long procession in chapters viii. and ix. is told with singular brevity. There is nothing individual in our Lord’s treatment of the sufferer, as there was in the previous healing of the two blind men, and no details are given of either the appeal to His pity or the method of His cure. The dumb demoniac could lift no cry, nor exercise any faith, and all the petitions and hopes of his bearers were expressed in the act of bringing the sufferer thither, and silently setting him there before these eyes of universal pity. It was enough. With Jesus, to see was to compassionate, and to compassionate was to help. In the other instances of casting out demons, the method is an authoritative command, addressed not to the possessed, but to the alien personality that has seized on him, and we conclude that such was the method here. Jesus undoubtedly believed in demoniacal possession, if we can at all rely on the Gospel narratives; and it may be humbly suggested that there are dark depths in humanity, which had need to be fathomed more completely, before any one is warranted in dogmatically pronouncing that He was wrong in His diagnosis. There are ugly facts which should give pause to those who are inclined to say–‘There are no demons, and if there were, they could not dominate a human consciousness.’
But the effects of the miracle are emphasised more than itself. They are two, neither of them what might or should have been. The dumb man is not said to have used his recovered speech to thank his deliverer, nor is there any sign that he clung to Him, either for fear of being captured again or in passionate gratitude. It looks as if he selfishly bore away his blessing and cared nothing for its giver. That is very human, and we all are too often guilty of the same sin. Nor was the effect on the multitudes much better, for they were only struck with vulgar wonder, which had no moral quality in it and led to nothing. They saw ‘the miracle,’ that is, the wonderfulness of the act made some dint even on their minds, but these were either too fluid to retain the impression, or too hard to let it be deep, and so it soon filled up again. We have to think of Christ’s deeds as ‘signs,’ not only as ‘wonders,’ or they will do little to draw us to Him. Wonder is a necessarily evanescent emotion, which may indeed set something better stirring in us, but is quite as likely to die barren.
The Pharisees did not wonder, and did look into the phenomenon with sharp eyes; and in so far, they were in advance of the gaping multitudes. They were much too superior persons to be astonished at anything, and they had already settled on a formula which was delightfully easy of application, and had the further advantage of turning the miracles into evidences that the doer of them was a child of the Devil. It appears to have been a well-worked formula too, for it is found again in chap. xii. 24, and in Luke xi. 15, in the account of another cure of a dumb demoniac. It is possible that the incident now before us may be the same as this, but there is nothing improbable in the occurrence of such a case twice, nor in the repetition of what had become the commonplace of the Pharisaic polemic. But what a piercing example that explanation is of the blinding power of prejudice, determined to hold on to a foregone conclusion, and not to see the sun at noon! Jesus in league with ‘the prince of the devils’! And that was gravely said by religious authorities! They saw the loveliness of His perfect life, His gentle goodness, His self-forgetting love, His swift-springing pity, and they set it all down to His commerce with the Evil One. He was so good that He must be more than humanly bad.
A CHRISTLIKE JUDGMENT OF MEN
‘But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.’ –MATT. ix. 36.
In the course of our Lord’s wandering life of teaching and healing, there had naturally gathered around Him a large number of persons who followed Him from place to place, and we have here cast into a symbol the impression produced upon Him by their outward condition. That is to say, He sees them lying there weary, and footsore, and travel-stained. They have flung themselves down by the wayside. There is no leader or guide, no Joshua or director to order their march; they are a worn-out, tired, unregulated mob, and the sight smites upon His eye, and it smites upon His heart. He says to Himself, if I may venture to put words into His lips, ‘There are a worse weariness, and a worse wandering, and a worse anarchy, and a worse disorder afflicting men than that poor mob of tired pedestrians shows.’ Matthew, who was always fond of showing the links and connections between the Old Testament and the New, casts our Lord’s impression of what He then saw into language borrowed from the prophecy of Ezekiel (ch. xxxiv.), which tells of a flock that is scattered in a dark and cloudy day, that is broken, and torn, and driven away. I venture to see in the text three points: (1) Christ teaching us how to look at men; (2) Christ teaching us how to feel at such a sight; and (3) Christ teaching us what to do with the feeling. ‘When He saw the multitude, He was moved with compassion, because they fainted and were scattered abroad.’ ‘Then He said unto His disciples, the harvest is plenteous, the labourers are few, pray ye the Lord of the harvest to send forth labourers unto the harvest.’ And then there follows, ‘And when He had called unto Him His twelve disciples, He gave them power against unclean spirits to cast them out.’ There are, then, these three points;–just a word or two about each of them.
I. Here we have our Lord teaching us how to look at men.
The picture of my text is, of course, in its broad outlines, very clear and intelligible, but there may be a little difficulty as to the precise force of the language. The obscurity of it is in some degree reflected in the margin of our Bibles; so, perhaps, you will permit one word of an expository nature. The description of the flock, ‘Because they fainted and were scattered abroad,’ is couched in the original in a couple of words, one of which means properly ‘torn’ or ‘fainting,’ according as one or other of two readings of the text is adopted, and the other means ‘lying down.’ Now, the former of these gives a very pathetic picture if we apply it to the individuals that made up the flock. We have then the image of the poor sheep that has lost its way, struggling through briars and thorns, getting out of them with its fleece all torn and hanging in strips dangling at its heels, or of it as lacerated by the beasts of the field to whom it is a prey. If we take the metaphor, as seems more probably to be intended, as applying not so much to the individuals as to the flock, then it comes to mean ‘torn asunder,’ ‘thrown apart,’ and gives us the notion of anarchic confusion into which the flock comes if there be no shepherd to lead it. Then the other word, which our Bible translates ‘were scattered abroad,’ seems to mean more properly ‘lying down,’ and it gives the idea of the poor, wearied creature, after all its struggles and wanderings, utterly beaten and dejected, having lost its way, at its wits’ end and resourceless, flinging itself down there in despair, and panting its timid life out anywhere where it finds itself. So it comes to be a picture of the utter weariness and hopelessness of all men’s efforts apart from that Guide and Shepherd, who alone can lead them in the way. And then both of these miserable states, the laceration if you take the one explanation, the disintegration and casting apart if you take the other, the weariness and exhaustion, are traced to their source, they are ‘as sheep having no shepherd.’ He has gone, and so all this comes. With this explanation we may take the points of view that are thus suggested simply as they lie before us.
First of all, notice how here, as always to Jesus Christ, the outward was nothing, except as a symbol and manifestation of the inward; how the thing that He saw in a man was not the external accidents of circumstance or position, for His true, clear gaze and His loving, wise heart went straight to the essence of the matter, and dealt with the man not according to what he might happen to be in the categories of earth, but to what he was in the categories of heaven. All the same to Him whether it was some poor harlot, or a rabbi; all the same to Him whether it was Pilate on the judgment-seat, or the penitent thief hanging at His side. These gauds and shows were nothing; sheer away He cut them all, and went down to the hidden heart of the man, and He allocated and ranged them according to that. Christian men and women, do you try to do the same thing, and to get rid of all these superficial veils and curtains with which we drape ourselves and attitudinise in the world, and to see men as Christ saw them, both in regard to your judgment of them, and in regard to your judgment of yourselves? ‘I am a scholar and a wise man; a great thinker; a rich merchant; a man of rising importance and influence.’ Very well; what does that matter? ‘I am ignorant or a pauper’; be it so. Let us get below all that. The one question worth asking and worth answering is, ‘How am I affected towards Him?’ There are many temporary and local principles of arrangement and order among men; but they will all vanish some day, and there will be one regulating and arranging principle, and it is this: ‘Do I love God in Jesus Christ, or do I not?’ Oh! for myself, for yourself, and for all our outlook towards others, let us not forget that the inmost, deepest, hidden man of the heart is the man, and that all else is naught, and that its whole character is absolutely determined by its relation to Jesus Christ.
But this is somewhat aside from my main purpose, which is rather briefly to expand the various phases which, as I have already suggested, are included in such an emblem. The first of them is this: Try to think for yourselves of the condition of humanity as apart from Christ–shepherdless. That old metaphor of a shepherd which comes out of the Old Testament is there sometimes used to indicate a prophet, and sometimes to indicate a king. I suppose we may put both of these uses together, as far as our present purposes are concerned; and this is what I want to insist upon. I dare say some people here will think it is very old-fashioned, very narrow in these broad and liberal days; but what I would say is this, that unless Jesus Christ is both Guide and Teacher, we have neither guide nor teacher but are shepherdless without Him. There are plenty of rulers. There was no lack of other authority in the days of His flesh. There were crowds of rabbis, guides, and directors. The life of the nation was throttled by the authorities that had planted themselves upon its back, and yet Christ saw that there were none of those who were fit for the work, or afforded the adequate guidance. And so it is, now and always. There have been hosts of men who have sought to impose their authority upon an era. Where is there one that has swayed passion, that has ruled hearts, that has impressed his own image on the will, that has made obedience an honour, and absolute, abject devotion to his command a very patent of nobility? Here, and nowhere beside. Besides that Christ there is no ruler amongst men who can come to them and say to his servant, ‘Go,’ and he goeth, and to this man, ‘Do this,’ and he doeth it. Obedience to any besides is treason against the dignity of our own nature; disobedience to Him is both treason against our nature and blasphemy against God. ‘Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ, Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.’ _There_ is the deepest reason for His rule.
And as for ‘teacher,’ whom are we to put up beside Him? Is it to be these dim figures of religious reformers that are gliding, ghostlike, to their doom, being wrapped round and round about by ever thicker and thicker folds of the inevitable oblivion that swallows all that is human? Brethren, by common consent it is Christ or nobody. Aaron dies upon Hor; Moses dies upon Pisgah; the teachers, the leaders, the guides, the under-shepherds, pass away one by one; and if this Christ be but a Man and a Teacher, He too will pass away. Shall I be thought very blind to the signs of the times if I say that I see no sign of His dominion being exhausted, of His influence being diminished, of His guidance being capable of being dispensed with? You may say, ‘Oh, we do not want any teacher or guide; we do not want a shepherd.’ I am not going to enter upon that question now at all, except just to say this, that the instincts of humanity rise up in contradiction, as it seems to me, of that cold and cheerless creed, and that we have this fact staring us in the face, that men are made capable of a devotion and submission the most passionate, the most absolute, the most mighty force in their lives, to human guides and ensamples, and that it is all wasted unless there be somewhere a Man, our Brother, who shall come to us and say, ‘All that ever went before Me are thieves and robbers; I am the Good Shepherd; follow Me, and ye shall not walk in darkness,’ ‘He saw the multitudes as sheep having no shepherd.’
Still further, take that other phase of the metaphor which, as I suggested, the text includes, namely, the idea of disintegration, the rending apart of social ties and union, unless there be the centre of unity in the shepherd of the flock. ‘I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered,’ says the old prophecy. Of course, for what is there to hold them together unless it be their guide and their director? So we are brought face to face with this plain prosaic rendering of the metaphor–that but for the centre of unity provided for mankind in the person and work of Jesus Christ, there is no satisfaction of the deep hunger for unity and society with which in that case God would have cursed mankind. For whilst there are many other bonds most true, most blessed, God-given, and mighty, such as that of the sacred unity of the family, and that of the nation and many others of which we need not speak, yet all these are constantly being disintegrated by the unresting waves of that gnawing sea of selfishness, if I may so say, which, like the waters upon our eastern coasts, eats and eats for ever at the base of the cliffs, so that society in all its forms, whether it be built upon identity of opinion, which is perhaps the shabbiest bond of all, or whether it be built upon purposes of mutual action, which is a great deal better, or whether it be built upon hatred of other people, which is the modern form of patriotism, or whether it be built upon the domestic affections, which are the purest and highest of all–all the other bonds of society, such as creeds, schools, nations, associations, leagues, families, denominations, all go sooner or later. The base is eaten out of them, because every man that belongs to them has in him that tyrannous, dominant self, which is ever seeking to assert its own supremacy. Here is Babel, with its half-finished tower, built on slime; and there is Pentecost, with its great Spirit; here is the confusion, there is the unifying; here the disintegration, there the power that draws them all together. ‘They were scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd,’ and one looks out over the world and sees great tracts of country and long dismal generations of time, in which the very thought of unity and charity and human bonds knitting men together has faded from the consciousness of the race, and then one turns to blessed, sweet, simple words that say, ‘there shall be one flock and one shepherd,’ and ‘I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me.’ Drawing thus, He will draw them into the eternal, mighty bond of union that shall never be broken, and is all the more precious and all the more true because it is not a unity like the vulgar unities that express themselves in external associations. You know, of course or if you do not know it will be a good thing that you should know, that that verse in John’s Gospel which I have quoted has been terribly mangled by a little slip of our translators. Christ said, ‘Other sheep I must bring which are not of this fold,’ the fold being the external unity of the Jewish church–an enclosure made of hurdles that you can stick in the ground. ‘I shall bring them,’ says He, ‘and there shall be one’–(not, as our Bible says, ‘fold,’–but something far better)–‘there shall be one flock’; which becomes a unity not by wattling round about it on the outside, but by a shepherd standing in the middle. ‘There shall be one flock and one shepherd’–a unity which is neither the destruction of the variety of the churches, nor the crushing of men, nationalities, and types of character all down into one dead level beneath the heel of a conqueror, but the unity which subsists in the many operations of the one Spirit, and is expressed by all the forms of the one inspired grace.
Then passing by altogether the other idea which I said was only doubtfully suggested by the words–namely, that of laceration and wounding–let me say a word about the last of the aspects of humanity when Christless, which is set forth in this text, and that is, the dejected weariness arising from the fruitless wanderings wherewith men are cursed. As a verse in the Book of Proverbs puts it, ‘The labour of the foolish wearieth every one of them, because they know not how to go to the city.’ Putting aside the metaphor, the plain truth which it embodies is just this, that there is in all men’s souls a deep longing after peace and rest, after goodness and beauty and truth, and that all the strenuous efforts to satisfy these longings, either by social reforms or by individual culture and discipline, are pathetically vain and profitless, because there is none to guide them. The sheep go wandering in any direction, and with no goal; and wherever one has jumped, a dozen others will go after him, and so they are wearied out long before the day’s journey is ended, and they never reach the goal. Put that into less vivid, and, therefore, as people generally suppose, more accurate, language, and it is a statement of the universal law of human history that, after any epoch of great aspirations and strong excitement of the noblest parts of human nature, there has always come a reaction of corruption and a collapse from weariness. What did ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ end in? A guillotine. What do all similar epochs end in, when they do not take the Christ to march ahead of them? An utter disgust and disillusion, and a despair of all progress. That is why wild revolutionists in their youth are always obstinate Conservatives in their old age. The wandering sheep are footsore, and they fling themselves down by the wayside. That is why heathenism presents to us the aspect that it does. There is nothing about it that seems to me more tragical than the weary languor that besets it. Do you ever think of the depth of pathetic, tragic meaning that there is in that verse in one of the Psalms, ‘Such as sit in darkness and in the shadow of death’? There they sit, because there is no hope in rising and moving. They would have to grope if they arose, and so with folded hands they sit like the Buddha, which one great section of heathenism has taken as being the true emblem and ideal of the noblest life. Absolute passivity lays hold upon them all–torpor, stagnation, no dream of advance or progress. The sheep are dejected, despairing, anarchic, disintegrated, lacerated, guideless, and shepherdless–away from Christ. So He thought them. God give you and me grace, dear brethren, to see, as Christ saw, the condition of humanity and our own apart from Him.
II. And now let me say a word in the next place as to the second movement of His mind and heart here. He teaches us not only how to think of men, but how that sight should touch us.
‘He was moved with compassion on them when He saw the multitude’–with the eye of a god, I was going to say, and the heart of a man. Pity belongs to the idea of divinity; compassion belongs to the idea of divinity incarnate; and the motion that passed across His heart is the motion that I would seek may pass, with its sweet and healing breath, across yours and mine. The right emotion for a Christian looking on the Christless crowds is pity, not aversion; pity, not anger; pity, not curiosity; pity, not indifference. How many of us walk the streets of the towns in which our lot is cast, and never know one touch of that emotion, when we look at these people here in England torn, and anarchic, and wearied, and shepherdless, within sound of our psalm-singing in our chapels? Why, on any Sunday there are thousands of men and women standing about the streets who, we may be sure, have not seen the inside of a church or a chapel since they were married, and that not one in five hundred of all the good people that are going with their prayer-books and hymn-books to church and chapel ever think anything about them as they pass them by; and some of them, perhaps, if they come to any especially disreputable one, will gather up their skirts and keep on the safe side of the pavement, and there an end of it. But Jesus Christ had no aversions. His white purity was a great deal nearer to the blackness of the woman that was a sinner, than was the leprous whiteness of the whited sepulchre of the self-righteous Pharisee. He had neither aversion, nor anger, nor indifference.
And, if I might venture to touch upon another matter, compassion and not curiosity is an especial lesson for the day to the more thoughtful and cultivated amongst our congregations. I have just said that the appropriate Christian feeling in contemplating the state of the sheep without the Shepherd is compassion, not curiosity. That reminder is particularly needful in view of the prominence to-day of investigations into the new science of Comparative Religion. I speak with most unfeigned respect of it and of its teachers, and gratefully hail the wonderful light that it is casting upon ideas underlying the strange and often savage and obscene rites of heathenism; but it has a side of danger in it against which I would warn you all, especially young, reading men and women. The time has not yet come when we can afford to let such investigations be our principal occupation in the face of heathenism. If idolatry was dead we could afford to do that, but it is alive–the more’s the pity; and it is not only a curious instance of the workings of man’s intelligence, and a great apocalypse of earlier stages of society, but, besides that, it is a lie that is deceiving and damning our brethren, and we have got to kill it first and dissect it afterwards. So I say, do not only think of heathenism in its various forms as a subject for speculation and analysis; as much as you like of that, only do not let it drive out the other thing, and after you have tried to understand it, then come back to my text, ‘He was moved with compassion.’ And so pity, and neither anger, nor aversion, nor curiosity, nor indifference is what I urge as the Christian emotion.
III. Let us take this text as teaching us how Christ would have us act, after such emotion built and based upon such a look.
It is perfectly legitimate, although it is by no means the highest motive, to appeal to feeling as a stimulus to action. We have a right to base our urging of Christian men and women to missionary work either at home or abroad, upon the ground of the condition of the men to whom the Gospel has to be carried. I know that if taken alone it is a very inadequate motive. I believe that any failure that may be manifest in the interest of Christian people in missionary work is largely traceable to the blunder we have made in dwelling on superficial motives more than we ought to have done, in proportion to the degree in which we have dwelt on the deepest. We have been gathering the surface-water instead of going right down to the green sand, to which the artesian well must be sunk if the stream is to come up without pumping or wasting. So I say that a deeper reason than the sorrow and darkness of the heathen is–‘the love of Christ constraineth me’; but yet the first is a legitimate one. Only remember this, that Bishop Butler taught us long ago, that if you excite emotions which are intended to lead to action, and the action does not follow, the excitation of the emotion without its appropriate action makes the heart a great deal harder than it was before. That is why it is playing with edged tools to speak so much to our Christian audiences, as we sometimes hear done, about the condition of the heathen as a stimulus to missionary work. If a man does not respond and do something, some crust of callousness and coldness comes over his own heart. You cannot indulge in the luxury of emotion which you do not use to drive your spindles, without doing yourselves harm. It is never intended to be blown off as waste steam and allowed to vanish into the air. It is meant to be conserved and guided, and to have something done with it. Therefore beware of sentimental contemplation of the sad condition of the shepherdless sheep which does not move you to do anything to help them.
One word more. Take my text as a guide to the form of action into which we are to cast the emotions that should spring from this gaze upon the world. I will only name three points. Christ opened His mouth and spake to them, and taught them many things; Christ said to His disciples, ‘Pray ye the Lord of the harvest’; and Christ sent out His apostles to preach the Kingdom. These three things in their bearing upon us are–personal work, prayer, help to send forth Christ’s messengers. There is nothing like personal work for making a man understand and feel the miseries of his fellows. Christian men and women, it is your first business everywhere to proclaim the name of Jesus Christ, and no prayers and no subscriptions absolve you from that. In this army a man cannot buy himself off and send in a substitute at the cost of an annual guinea. If Christ sent the apostles, do you hold up the hands of the apostles’ successors, and so by God’s grace you and I may help on the coming of that blessed day when there shall be one flock and one Shepherd, and when ‘the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne’–for the Shepherd is Himself a lamb–‘shall feed them and lead them, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.’
THE OBSCURE APOSTLES
‘These twelve Jesus sent forth.’–MATT. x. 5.
And half of ‘these twelve’ are never heard of as doing any work for Christ. Peter and James and John we know; the other James and Judas have possibly left us short letters; Matthew gives us a Gospel; and of all the rest no trace is left. Some of them are never so much as named again, except in the list at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles; and none of them except the three who ‘seemed to be pillars’ appear to have been of much importance in the early diffusion of the Gospel.
There are many instructive and interesting points in reference to the Apostolate. The number of twelve, in obvious allusion to the tribes of Israel, proclaims the eternal certainty of the divine promises to His people, and the dignity of the New Testament Church as their true heir. The ties of relationship which knit so many of the apostles together, the order of the names varying, but within certain limits, in the different catalogues, the uncultivated provincial rudeness of most of them, would all afford material for important reflections. But, perhaps, not the least important fact about the Apostolate is that one to which we have referred, which like the names of countries on the map, escapes notice because it is ‘writ’ so ‘large’–namely, the small place which the apostles as a body fill in the subsequent narrative, and the entire oblivion into which so many of them pass from the moment of their appointment.
It is to that fact that we wish to turn attention now. It may suggest some considerations worth pondering, and among other things, may help to show the exaggeration of the functions of the office by the opposite extremes of priests and rationalists. The one school makes it the depository of exclusive supernatural powers; the other regards it as a master-stroke of organisation, to which the early rapid growth of Christianity was largely due. The facts seem to show that it was neither.
I. The first thought which this peculiar and unexpected silence suggests is of the True Worker in the Church’s progress.
The way in which the New Testament drops these apostles is of a piece with the whole tone of the Bible. Throughout, men are introduced into its narratives and allowed to slip out with well-marked indifference. Nowhere do we get more vivid, penetrating portraiture, but nowhere do we see such carelessness about following the fortunes or completing the biographies even of those who have filled the largest space in its pages.
Recall, for example, the way in which the New Testament deals with ‘the very chiefest’ apostles, the illustrious triad of Peter, James, and John. The first escapes from prison; we see him hammering at Mary’s door in the grey of the morning, and after brief, eager talk with his friends he vanishes to hide in ‘another place,’ and is no more heard of, except for a moment in the great council, held in Jerusalem, about the admission of Gentiles to the Church. The second of the three is killed off in a parenthesis. The third is only seen twice in the Book of the Acts, as a silent companion of Peter at a miracle and before the Sanhedrim. Remember how Paul is left in his own hired house, within sight of trial and sentence, and neither the original writer of the book nor any later hand thought it worth while to add three lines to tell the world what became of him. A strange way to write history, and a most imperfect narrative, surely! Yes, unless there be some peculiarity in the purpose of the book, which explains this cold-blooded, inartistic, and tantalising habit of letting men leap upon the stage as if they had dropped from the clouds, and vanish from it as abruptly as if they had fallen through a trap-door.
Such a peculiarity there is. One of the three to whom we have referred has explained it in the words with which he closes his gospel, words which might stand for the motto of the whole book, ‘These are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Son of God.’ The true purpose is not to speak of men except in so far as they ‘bore witness to that light’ and were illuminated for a moment by contact with Him. From the beginning the true ‘Hero’ of the Bible is God; its theme is His self-revelation culminating for evermore in the Man Jesus. All other men interest the writers only as they are subsidiary or antagonistic to that revelation. As long as that breath blows through them they are music; else they are but common reeds. Men are nothing except as instruments and organs of God. He is all, and His whole fulness is in Jesus Christ. Christ is the sole worker in the progress of His Church. That is the teaching of all the New Testament. The thought is expressed in the deepest, simplest form in His own unapproachable words, unfathomable as they are in their depth of meaning, and inexhaustible in their power to strengthen and to cheer: ‘I am the vine, ye are the branches, without Me ye can do nothing.’ It shapes the whole treatment of the history of the so-called ‘Acts of the Apostles,’ which by its very first sentence proclaims itself to be the Acts of the ascended Jesus, ‘the former treatise’ being declared to have had for its subject ‘all that Jesus _began_ to do and teach while on earth, and this treatise being manifestly the continuance of the same theme, and the record of the heavenly activity of the Lord. So the thought runs through all the book: ‘The help that is done on earth, He does it all Himself.’
_So_ let us think of Him and of His relation to us as well as to that early Church. His continuous energy is pouring down on us if we will accept it. _In_ us, _for_ us, _by_ us He works. ‘My Father worketh hitherto, said He when here, ‘and I work’; and now, exalted on high, He has passed into that divine repose, which is at the same time the most energetic divine activity. He is all in all to His people. He is all their strength, wisdom, and righteousness. They are but the clouds irradiated by the sun and bathed in its brightness; He is the light which flames in their grey mist and turns it to a glory. They are but the belts and cranks and wheels; He is the power. They are but the channel, muddy and dry; He is the flashing life that fills it and makes it a joy. They are the body; He is the soul dwelling in every part to save it from corruption and give movement and warmth.
‘Thou art the organ, whose full breath is thunder; I am the keys, beneath thy fingers pressed.’
If this be true, how it should deliver us from all overestimate of men, to which our human affections and our feeble faith tempt us so sorely! There _is_ One man, and One man only, whose biography is a ‘Gospel, who owes nothing to circumstances, and who originates the power which He wields; One who is a new beginning, and has changed the whole current of human history, One to whom we are right to bring offerings of the gold, and incense, and myrrh of our hearts, and wills, and minds, which it is blasphemy and degradation to lay at the feet of any others. We may utterly love, trust, and obey Jesus Christ. We dare not do so to any other. The inscription written over the whole book, that it may be transcribed on our whole nature, is, ‘No man any more save Jesus only.’
If this thought be true, what confidence it ought to give us as we think of the tasks and fortunes of the Church! If we think only of the difficulties and of the enormous work before us, so disproportioned to our weak powers, we shall be disposed to agree with our enemies, who talk as if Christianity was on the point of perishing, as they have been doing ever since it began. But the outlook is wonderfully different when we take Christ into the account. We are very apt to leave Him out of the reckoning. But one man with Christ to back him is always in the majority. He flings his sword clashing into one scale, and it weighs down all that is in the other. The walls are very lofty and strong, and the besiegers few and weak, badly armed, and quite unfit for the assault; but if we lift our eyes high enough, we, too, shall see a man with a drawn sword over against us, and our hearts may leap up in assured confidence of victory as we recognise in Him the Captain of the Lord’s Host, who has already overcome, and will make us valiant in fight and more than conquerors.
When conscious of our own weakness, and tempted to think of our task as heavy, or when complacent in our own power, and tempted to regard our task as easy, let us think of His ever-present work in and for His people, till it braces us for all duty, and rebukes our easy-going idleness. Surely from that thought of the active, ascended Christ may come to many of His slothful followers the pleading question, as from His own lips, ‘Dost thou not care that thou hast left me to serve alone?’ Surely to us all it should bring inspiration and strength, courage and confidence, deliverance from man, and elevation above the reverence of blind impersonal forces. Surely we may all lay to heart the grand lesson that union with Him is our only strength, and oblivion of ourselves our highest wisdom. Surely he has best learned his true place and the worth of Jesus Christ, who abides with unmoved humility at His feet, and, like the lonely, lowly forerunner, puts away all temptations to self-assertion while joyfully accepting it as the law of his life to
‘Fade in the light of the planet he loves, To fade in his light and to die.’
Blessed is he who is glad to say,’ He must increase, I must decrease!’
II. This same silence of Scripture as to so many of the apostles may be taken as suggesting what the real work of these delegated workers was.
It certainly seems very strange that, if they were the possessors of such extraordinary powers as the theory of Apostolic Succession implies, we should hear so little of these in the narratives. The silence of Scripture about them goes a long way to discredit such ideas, while it is entirely accordant with a more modest view of the apostolic office.
What was an apostle’s function during the life of Christ? One of the evangelists divides it into three portions: to be with Jesus; to preach the kingdom; to cast out devils and to heal. There is nothing in these offices peculiar to them. The seventy had miraculous powers too, and some at least were our Lord’s companions and preachers of His kingdom who were simple disciples. What was an apostle’s function after the resurrection? Peter’s words, on proposing the election of a new apostle, lay down the duty as simply ‘to bear witness’ of that resurrection. They were not supernatural channels of mysterious grace, not lords over God’s heritage, not even leaders of the Church, but bearers of a testimony to the great historical fact, on the acceptance of which all belief in an historical Christ depended then and depends now. Each of the greater of the apostles is penetrated with the same thought. Paul disclaims anything beside in his ‘Not I, but the grace of God in me.’ Peter thrusts the question at the staring crowd, ‘Why look ye on us as though by _our_ power or holiness _we_ had made this man to walk?’ John, in his calm way, tells his children at Ephesus, ‘Ye need not that any man teach you.’
Such an idea of the apostolic office is far more reasonable and accordant with Scripture than a figment about unexampled powers and authority in the Church. It accounts for the qualifications as stated in the same address of Peter’s, which merely secure the validity of their testimony. The one thing that _must_ be found in an apostle was that he should have been in familiar intercourse with Christ during his earthly life, both before and after His resurrection, in order that he might be able to say, ‘I knew Him well; I know that He died; I know that He rose again; I saw Him go up to heaven.’ For such a work there was no need for men of commanding power. Plain, simple, honest men who had the requisite eye-witness were sufficient. The guidance and the missionary work of the Church need not necessarily be in their hands, and, in fact, does not seem to have been. In harmony with this view of the office and its requisites, we find that Paul rests the validity of his apostolate on the fact that ‘He was seen of me also,’ and regards that vision as his true appointment which left him not ‘one whit behind the very chiefest apostles.’ Miraculous gifts indeed they had, and miraculous gifts they imparted; but in both instances others shared these powers with them. It was no apostle who laid his hands on the blinded Saul in that house in Damascus and said, ‘Receive the Holy Ghost.’ An apostle stood by passive and wondering when the Holy Ghost fell on Cornelius and his comrades. In reality apostolic succession is absurd, because there is nothing to succeed to, except what cannot be transmitted, personal knowledge of the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. To establish that fact as indubitable history is to lay the foundation of the Christian Church, and the eleven plain men, who did that, need no superstitious mist around them to magnify their greatness.
In so far as any succession to them or any devolution of their office is possible, all Christian men inherit it, for to bear witness of the living power of the risen Lord is still the office and honour of every believing soul. It is still true that the sharpest weapon which any man can wield for Christ is the simple adducing of his own personal experience. ‘That which we have seen and handled we declare’ is still the best form into which our preaching can be cast. And such a voice every man and woman who has found the sweetness and the power of Christ filling their own souls, is bound–rather let us say, is privileged–to lift up. ‘This honour have all the saints.’ Christ is the true worker, and all our work is but to proclaim Him, and what He has done and is doing for ourselves and for all men.
III. We may gather, too, the lesson of how often faithful work is unrecorded and forgotten.
No doubt those apostles who have no place in the history toiled honestly and did their Lord’s commands, and oblivion has swallowed it all. Bartholomew and ‘Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus,’ and the rest of them, have no place in the record, and their obscure work is faded, faithful and good as certainly it was.
So it will be sooner or later with us all. For most of us, our service has to be unnoticed and unknown, and the memory of our poor work will live perhaps for a year or two in the hearts of some few who loved us, but will fade wholly when they follow us into the silent land. Well, be it so; we shall sleep none the less sweetly, though none be talking about us over our heads. The world has a short memory, and, as the years go on, the list that it has to remember grows so crowded that it is harder and harder to find room to write a new name on it, or to read the old. The letters on the tombstones are soon erased by the feet that tramp across the churchyard. All that matters very little. The notoriety of our work is of no consequence. The earnestness and accuracy with which we strike our blow is all-important; but it matters nothing how far it echoes. It is not the heaven of heavens to be talked about, nor does a man’s life consist in the abundance of newspaper or other paragraphs about him. ‘The love of fame’ is, no doubt, sometimes found in ‘minds’ otherwise ‘noble,’ but in itself is very much the reverse of noble. We shall do our work best, and be saved from much festering anxiety which corrupts our purest service and fevers our serenest thoughts, if we once fairly make up our minds to working unnoticed and unknown, and determine that, whether our post be a conspicuous or an obscure one, we shall fill it to the utmost of our power–careless of praise or censure, because our judgment is with our God; careless whether we are unknown or well known, because we are known altogether to Him.
The magnitude of our work in men’s eyes is as little important as the noise of it. Christ gave all the apostles their tasks–to some of them to found the Gentile churches, to some of them to leave to all generations precious teaching, to some of them none of these things. What then? Were the Peters and the Johns more highly favoured than the others? Was their work greater in His sight? Not so. To Him all service done from the same motive is the same, and