II. And now the next point that I would make is this, following the words before us—the certainty that if we are light we shall shine.
The nature and property of light is to radiate. It cannot choose but shine; and in like manner the little village perched upon a hill there, glittering and twinkling in the sunlight, cannot choose but be seen. So, says Christ, 'If you have Christian character in you, if you have Me in you, such is the nature of the Christian life that it will certainly manifest itself.' Let us dwell upon that for a moment or two. Take two thoughts: All earnest Christian conviction will demand expression; and all deep experience of the purifying power of Christ upon character will show itself in conduct.
All earnest conviction will demand expression. Everything that a man believes has a tendency to convert its believer into its apostle. That is not so in regard to common every-day truths, nor in regard even to truths of science, but it is so in regard to all moral truth. For example, if a man gets a vivid and intense conviction of the evils of intemperance and the blessings of abstinence, look what a fiery vehemence of propagandism is at once set to work. And so all round the horizon of moral truth which is intended to affect conduct; it is of such a sort that a man cannot get it into brain and heart without causing him before long to say—'This thing has mastered me, and turned me into its slave; and I must speak according to my convictions.'
That experience works most mightily in regard to Christian truth, as the highest. What shall we say, then, of the condition of Christian men and women if they have not such an instinctive need of utterance? Do you ever feel this in your heart:—'Thy word shut up in my bones was like a fire. I was weary of forbearing, and I could not stay'? Professing Christians, do you know anything of the longing to speak your deepest convictions, the feeling that the fire within you is burning through all envelopings, and will be out? What shall we say of the men that have it not? God forbid I should say there is no fire, but I do say that if the fountain never rises into the sunlight above the dead level of the pool, there can be very little pressure at the main; that if a man has not the longing to speak his religious convictions, those convictions must be very hesitating and very feeble; that if you never felt 'I must say to somebody I have found the Messias,' you have not found Him in any very deep sense, and that if the light that is in you can be buried under a bushel, it is not much of a light after all, and needs a great deal of feeding and trimming before it can be what it ought to be.
On the other hand, all deep experience of the purifying power of Christ upon character will show itself in conduct. It is all very well for people to profess that they have received the forgiveness of sins and the inner sanctification of God's Spirit. If you have, let us see it, and let us see it in the commonest, pettiest affairs of daily life. The communication between the inmost experience and the outermost conduct is such as that if there be any real revolution deep down, it will manifest itself in the daily life. I make all allowance for the loss of power in transmission, for the loss of power in friction. I am glad to believe that you and I, and all our imperfect brethren, are a great deal better in heart than we ever manage to show ourselves to be in life. Thank God for the consolation that may come out of that thought—but notwithstanding I press on you my point that, making all such allowance, and setting up no impossible standard of absolute identity between duty and conduct in this present life, yet, on the whole, if we are Christian people with any deep central experience of the cleansing power and influence of Christ and His grace, we shall show it in life and in conduct. Or, to put it into the graphic and plain image of my text, If we are light we shall shine.
III. Again, and very briefly, this obligation of giving light is still further enforced by the thought that that was Christ's very purpose in all that He has done with us and for us.
The homely figure here implies that He has not kindled the lamp to put it under the bushel, but that His purpose in lighting it was that it might give light. God has made us partakers of His grace, and has given to us to be light in the Lord, for this among other purposes, that we should impart that light to others. No creature is so small that it has not the right to expect that its happiness and welfare shall be regarded by God as an end in His dealings with it; but no creature is so great that it has the right to expect that its happiness or well-being shall be regarded by God and itself as God's only end in His dealings with it. He gives us His grace, His pardon, His love, the quickening of His Spirit by our union with Jesus Christ; He gives us our knowledge of Him, and our likeness to Him—what for? 'For my own salvation, for my happiness and well-being,' you say. Certainly, blessed be His name for His love and goodness! But is that all His purpose? Paul did not think so when he said, 'God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness hath shined into our hearts that we might give to others the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.' And Christ did not think so when He said, 'Men do not light a candle and put it under a bushel, but that it may give light to all that are in the house.' 'Heaven doth with us as we with torches do: not light them for themselves.' The purpose of God is that we may shine. The lamp is kindled not to illumine itself, but that it may 'give light to all that are in the house.'
Consider again, that whilst all these things are true, there is yet a solemn possibility that men—even good men—may stifle and smother and shroud their light. You can do, and I am afraid a very large number of you do do, this; by two ways. You can bury the light of a holy character under a whole mountain of inconsistencies. If one were to be fanciful, one might say that the bushel or meal-chest meant material well-being, and the bed, indolence and love of ease. I wonder how many of us Christian men and women have buried their light under the flour-bin and the bed, so interpreted? How many of us have drowned our consecration and devotion in foul waters of worldly lusts, and have let the love of earth's goods, of wealth and pleasure and creature love, come like a poisonous atmosphere round the lamp of our Christian character, making it burn dim and blue?
And we can bury the light of the Word under cowardly and sheepish and indifferent silence. I wonder how many of us have done that? Like blue-ribbon men that button their great-coats over their blue ribbons when they go into company where they are afraid to show them, there are many Christian people that are devout Christians at the Communion Table, but would be ashamed to say they were so in the miscellaneous company of a railway carriage or a table d'hote. There are professing Christians who have gone through life in their relationships to their fathers, sisters, wives, children, friends, kindred, their servants and dependants, and have never spoken a loving word for their Master. That is a sinful hiding of your light under the bushel and the bed.
IV. And so the last word, into which all this converges, is the plain duty: If you are light, shine!
'Let your light so shine before men,' nays the text, 'that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.' In the next chapter our Lord says: 'Take heed that ye do not your alms before men to be seen of them. Thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are; for they love to pray standing in the synagogues that they may be seen of men.' What is the difference between the two sets of men and the two kinds of conduct? The motive makes the difference for one thing, and for another thing, 'Let your light so shine' does not mean 'take precautions that your goodness may come out into public,' but it means 'Shine!' You find the light, and the world will find the eyes, no fear of that! You do not need to seek 'to be seen of men,' but you do need to shine that men may see.
The lighthouse keeper takes no pains that the ships tossing away out at sea may behold the beam that shines from his lamp; all that he does is to feed it and tend it. And that is all that you and I have to do—tend the light, and do not, like cowards, cover it up. Modestly, but yet bravely, carry out your Christianity, and men will see it. Do not be as a dark lantern, burning with the slides down and illuminating nothing and nobody. Live your Christianity, and it will be beheld.
And remember, candles are not lit to be looked at. Candles are lit that something else may be seen by them. Men may see God through your words, through your conduct, who never would have beheld Him otherwise, because His beams are too bright for their dim eyes. And it is an awful thing to think that the world always—always—takes its conception of Christianity from the Church, and neither from the Bible nor from Christ; and that it is you and your like, you inconsistent Christians, you people that say your sins are forgiven and yet are doing the old sins day by day which you say are pardoned, you low-toned, unpraying, worldly Christian men, who have no elevation of character and no self-restraint of life and no purity of conduct above the men in your own profession and in your own circumstances all round you—it is you that are hindering the coming of Christ's Kingdom, it is you that are the standing disgraces of the Church, and the weaknesses and diseases of Christendom. I speak strongly, not half as strongly as the facts of the case would warrant; but I lay it upon all your consciences as professing Christian people to see to it that no longer your frivolities, or doubtful commercial practices, or low, unspiritual tone of life, your self-indulgence in household arrangements, and a dozen other things that I might name—that no longer do they mar the clearness of your testimony for your Master, and disturb with envious streaks of darkness the light that shines from His followers.
How effectual such a witness may be none who have not seen its power can suppose. Example does tell. A holy life curbs evil, ashamed to show itself in that pure presence. A good man or woman reveals the ugliness of evil by showing the beauty of holiness. More converts would be made by a Christ-like Church than by many sermons. Oh! if you professing Christians knew your power and would use it, if you would come closer to Christ, and catch more of the light from His face, you might walk among men like very angels, and at your bright presence darkness would flee away, ignorance would grow wise, impurity be abashed, and sorrow comforted.
Be not content, I pray you, till your own hearts are fully illumined by Christ, having no part dark—and then live as remembering that you have been made light that you may shine. 'Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.'
THE NEW FORM OF THE OLD LAW
'Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 18. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. 19. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. 21. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: 22. But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell-fire. 23. Therefore, if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; 24. Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. 25. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. 26. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.'—MATT. v. 17-26.
This passage falls naturally into two parts—the former extending from verse 17 to 20 inclusive; the latter, from verse 21 to the end. In the former, the King of the true kingdom lays down the general principles of the relation between its laws and the earlier revelation of the divine will; in the latter, He exemplifies this relation in one case, which is followed, in the remainder of the chapter, by three other illustrative examples.
I. The King laying down the law of His kingdom in its relation to the older law of God.
The four verses included in this section give a regular sequence of thought: verse 17 declaring our Lord's personal relation to the former revelation as fulfilling it; verse 18 basing that statement of the purpose of His coming on the essential permanence of the old law; verses 19 and 20 deducing thence the relation of His disciples to that law, and that in such a way that verse 19 corresponds to verse 18, and affirms that this permanent law is binding in its minutest details on His subjects, while verse 20 corresponds to verse 17, and requires their deepened righteousness as answering to His fulfilment of the law.
The first thing that strikes one in looking at these verses is their authoritative tone. There may, even thus early in Christ's career, have been some murmurs that He was taking up a position of antagonism to Mosaism, which may account for the 'think not' which introduces the section. But however that may be, the swift transition from the Beatitudes to speak of Himself and of the meaning of His work is all of a piece with His whole manner; for certainly never did religious teacher open his mouth, who spoke so perpetually about Himself as did the meek Jesus. 'I came' declares that He is 'the coming One,' and is really a claim to have voluntarily appeared among men, as well as to be the long-expected Messiah. With absolute decisiveness He states the purpose of His coming. He knows the meaning of His own work, which so few of us do, and it is safe to take His own account of what He intends, as it so seldom is. His opening declaration is singularly composed of blended humility and majesty. Its humility lies in His placing Himself, as it were, in line with previous messengers, and representing Himself as carrying on the sequence of divine revelation. It would not have been humble for anybody but Him to say that, but it was so for Him. Its majesty lies in His claim to 'fulfil' all former utterances from God. His fulfilment of the law properly so called is twofold: first, in His own proper person and life, He completes obedience to it, realises its ideal; second, in His exposition of it, both by lip and life, He deepens and intensifies its meaning, changing it from a letter which regulates the actions, to a spirit which moves the inward man.
So these first words point to the peculiarity of His coming as being His own act, and make two daring assertions, as to His character, which He claims to be sinless, and as to His teaching, which he claims to be an advance upon all the former divine revelation. As to the former, He speaks here as He did to John, 'thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.' No trace of consciousness of sin or defect appears in any words or acts of His. The calmest conviction that He was perfectly righteous is always manifest. How comes it that we are not repelled by such a tone? We do not usually admire self-complacent religious teachers. Why has nobody ever given Christ the lie, or pointed to His unconsciousness of faults as itself the gravest fault? Strange inaugural discourse for a humble sage and saint to assert his own immaculate perfection, stranger still that a listening world has said, 'Amen!' Note, too, the royal style here. In this part of the 'Sermon' our Lord twice uses the phrase, 'I say unto you,' which He once introduces with His characteristic 'verily.' Once He employs it to give solemnity to the asseveration which stretches forward to the end of this solid-seeming world, and once He introduces by it the stringent demand for His followers' loftier righteousness. His unsupported word is given us as our surest light in the dark future, His bare command as the most imperative authority. This style goes kingly; it calls for absolute credence and unhesitating submission. When He speaks, even if we have nothing but His word, it is ours neither 'to make reply' nor 'to reason why,' but simply to believe, and swiftly to do. Rabbis might split hairs and quote other rabbis by the hour; philosophers may argue and base their teachings on elaborate demonstrations; moralists may seek to sway the conscience through reason; legislators to appeal to fear and hope. He speaks, and it is done; He commands, and it stands fast. There is nothing else in the world the least like the superb and mysterious authority with which He fronts the world, and, as Fountain of knowledge and Source of obligation, summons us all to submit and believe, by that 'Verily, I say unto you.'
Verse 18. Next we have to notice the exuberant testimony to the permanence of the law. Not the smallest of its letters, not even the little marks which distinguished some of them, or the flourishes at the top of some of them, should pass,—as we might say, not even the stroke across a written 't,' which shows that it is not 'l.' The law shall last as long as the world. It shall last till it be accomplished. And what then? The righteousness which it requires can never be so realised that we shall not need to realise it any more, and in the new heavens righteousness dwelleth. But in a very real sense law shall cease when fulfilled. There is no law to him who can say, 'Thy law is within my heart.' When law has become both 'law and impulse,' it has ceased to be law, in so far as it no longer stands over against the doer as an external constraint.
Verse 19. On this permanence of the law Christ builds its imperative authority in His kingdom. Obviously, the 'kingdom of heaven' in verse 19 means the earthly form of that kingdom. The King republishes, as it were, the old code, and adopts it as the basis of His law. He thus assumes the absolute right of determining precedence and dignity in that kingdom. The sovereign is the 'fountain of honour,' whose word ennobles. Observe the merciful accuracy of the language. The breach of the commandments either in theory or in practice does not exclude from the kingdom, for it is, while realised on earth, a kingdom of sinful men aiming after holiness; but the smallest deflection from the law of right, in theory or in practice, does lower a man's standing therein, inasmuch as it makes him less capable of that conformity to the King, and consequent nearness to Him, which determines greatness and smallness there. Dignity in the kingdom depends on Christ-likeness, and Christ-likeness depends on fulfilling, as He did, all righteousness. Small flaws are most dangerous because least noticeable. More Christian men lose their chance of promotion in the kingdom by a multitude of little sins than by single great ones.
Verse 20. As the King has Himself by His perfect obedience fulfilled the law, His subjects likewise must, in their obedience, transcend the righteousness of those who best knew and most punctiliously kept it. The scribes and Pharisees are not here regarded as hypocrites, but taken as types of the highest conformity with the law which the old dispensation afforded. The new kingdom demands a higher, namely a more spiritual and inward righteousness, one corresponding to the profounder meaning which the King gives to the old commandment. And this loftier fulfilment is not merely the condition of dignity in, but of entrance at all into, the kingdom. Inward holiness is the essence of the character of all its subjects. How that holiness is to be ours is not here told, except in so far as it is hinted by the fact that it is regarded as the issue of the King's fulfilling the law. These last words would have been terrible and excluding if they had stood alone. When they follow 'I am come to fulfil,' they are a veiled gospel, implying that by His fulfilment the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us.
II. We have an illustrative example in the case of the old commandment against murder. This part of the passage falls into three divisions—each occupying two verses. First we have the deepening and expansion of the commandment. This part begins with the royal style again. 'What was said to them of old' is left in its full authority. 'But I say unto you' represents Jesus as possessing co-ordinate authority with that law, of which the speaker is unnamed, perhaps because the same Word of God which now spoke in Him had spoken it. We need but refer here to the Jewish courts and Sanhedrim, and to that valley of Hinnom, where the offal of Jerusalem and the corpses of criminals were burned, nor need we discuss the precise force of 'Raca' and 'thou fool.' The main points to be observed are, the distinct extension of the conception of 'killing' to embrace malevolent anger, whether it find vent or is kept close in the heart; the clear recognition that, whilst the emotion which is the source of the overt act is of the same nature as the act, and that therefore he who 'hateth his brother is a murderer,' there are degrees in criminality, according as the anger remains unexpressed, or finds utterance in more or less bitter and contemptuous language; that consequently there are degrees in the severity of the punishment which is administered by no earthly tribunal; and that, finally, this stern sentence has hidden in it the possibility of forgiveness, inasmuch as the consequence of the sin is liability to punishment, but not necessarily suffering of it. The old law had no such mitigation of its sentence.
Verses 23, 24. The second part of this illustrative example intensifies the command by putting obedience to it before acts of external worship. The language is vividly picturesque. We see a worshipper standing at the very altar while the priest is offering his sacrifice. In that sacred moment, while he is confessing his sins, a flash across his memory shows him a brother offended,—rightly or wrongly it matters not. The solemn sacrifice is to pause while he seeks the offended one, and, whatever the other man's reception of his advances may be, he cleanses his own bosom of its perilous stuff; then he may come back and go on with the interrupted worship. Nothing could put in a clearer light the prime importance of the command than this setting aside of sacred religious acts for its sake. 'Obedience is better than sacrifice.' And the little word 'therefore,' at the beginning of verse 23, points to the terrible penalties as the reason for this urgency. If such destruction may light on the angry man, nothing should come between him and the conquest of his anger. Such self-conquest, which will often seem like degradation, is more acceptable service to the King, and truer worship, than all words or ceremonial acts. Deep truths as to the relations between worship, strictly so called, and life, lie in these words, which may well be taken to heart by those whose altar is Calvary, and their gift the thank-offering of themselves.
Verses 25, 26. The third part is a further exhortation to the same swiftness in casting out anger from the heart, thrown into a parabolic form. When you quarrel with a man, says Christ in effect, prudence enjoins to make it up as soon as possible, before he sets the law in motion. If once he, as plaintiff, has brought you before the judge, the law will go on mechanically through the stages of trial, condemnation, surrender to the prison authorities, and confinement till the last farthing has been paid. So, if you are conscious that you have an adversary,—and any man that you hate is your adversary, for he will appear against you at that solemn judgment to come,—agree with him, put away the anger out of your heart at once. In the special case in hand, the 'adversary' is the man with whom we are angry. In the general application of the precept to the whole series of offences against the law, the adversary may be regarded as the law itself. In either interpretation, the stages of appearing before the judge and so on up till the shutting up in prison are the stages of the judgment before the tribunal, not of earth, but of the kingdom of heaven. They point to the same dread realities as are presented in the previous verses under the imagery of the Jewish courts and the foul fires of the valley of Hinnom. Christ closes the grave parable with His solemn 'Verily I say unto thee'—as looking on the future judgment, and telling us what His eyes saw. The words have no bearing on the question of the duration of the imprisonment, for He does not tell us whether the last farthing could ever be paid or not; but they do teach this lesson, that, if once we fall under the punishments of the kingdom, there is no end to them until the last tittle of the consequences of our breach of its law has been paid. To delay obedience, and still more to delay abandoning disobedience, is madness, in view of the storm that may at any moment burst on the heads of the rebels.
Thus He deepens and fulfils one precept of the old law by extending the sweep of its prohibition from acts to thoughts, by setting obedience to it above sacrifice and worship, and by picturing in solemn tones of parabolic warning the consequences of having the disobeyed precept as our unreconciled adversary. In this one case we have a specimen of His mode of dealing with the whole law, every jot of which He expanded in His teaching, and perfectly observed in His life.
A gospel is hidden even in these warnings, for it is distinctly taught that the offended law may cease to be our adversary, and that we may be reconciled with it, ere yet it has accused us to the judge. It was not yet time to proclaim that the King 'fulfilled' the law, not only by life, but by death, and that therefore all His believing subjects 'are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law,' as well as endowed with the righteousness by which they fulfil that law in deeper reality, and fairer completeness, than did those 'of old time,' who loved it most.
'SWEAR NOT AT ALL'
'Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: 34. But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: 35. Nor by the earth; for it is His footstool; neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. 36. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. 37. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.'—MATT. v. 33-37.
In His treatment of the sixth and seventh commandments, Jesus deepened them by bringing the inner man of feeling and desire under their control. In His treatment of the old commandments as to oaths, He expands them by extending the prohibitions from one kind of oath to all kinds. The movement in the former case is downwards and inwards; in the latter it is outwards, the compass sweeping a wider circle. Perjury, a false oath, was all that had been forbidden. He forbids all. We may note that the forms of colloquial swearing, which our Lord specifies, are not to be taken as an exhaustive enumeration of what is forbidden. They are in the nature of a parenthesis, and the sentence runs on continuously without them—'Swear not at all ... but let your communication be Yea, yea; Nay, nay.' The reason appended is equally universal, for it suggests the deep thought that 'whatsoever is more than these' that is to say, any form of speech that seeks to strengthen a simple, grave asseveration by such oaths as He has just quoted, 'cometh of evil' inasmuch as it springs from, and reveals, the melancholy fact that his bare word is not felt binding by a man, and is not accepted as conclusive by others. If lies were not so common, oaths would be needless. And oaths increase the evil from which they come, by confirming the notion that there is no sin in a lie unless it is sworn to.
The oaths specified are all colloquial, which were and are continually and offensively mingled with common speech in the East. Nowhere are there such habitual liars, and nowhere are there so many oaths. Every traveller there knows that, and sees how true is Christ's filiation of the custom of swearing from the custom of falsehood. But these poisonous weeds of speech not only tended to degrade plain veracity in the popular mind, but were themselves parents of immoral evasions, for it was the teaching of some Rabbis, at all events, that an oath 'by heaven' or 'by earth' or 'by Jerusalem' or 'by my head' did not bind. That further relaxation of the obligation of truthfulness was grounded on the words quoted in verse 33, for, said the immoral quibblers, 'it is "thine oaths to the Lord" that thou "shalt perform," and for these others you may do as you like' Therefore our Lord insists that every oath, even these mutilated, colloquial ones which avoid His name, is in essence an appeal to God, and has no sense unless it is. To swear such a truncated oath, then, has the still further condemnation that it is certainly an irreverence, and probably a quibble, and meant to be broken. It must be fully admitted that there is little in common between such pieces of senseless profanity as these oaths, or the modern equivalents which pollute so many lips to-day, and the oath administered in a court of justice, and it may further be allowed weight that Jesus does not specifically prohibit the oath 'by the Lord,' but it is difficult to see how the principles on which He condemns are to be kept from touching even judicial oaths. For they, too, are administered on the ground of the false idea that they add to the obligation of veracity, and give a guarantee of truthfulness which a simple affirmation does not give. Nor can any one, who knows the perfunctory formality and indifference with which such oaths are administered and taken, and what a farce 'kissing the book' has become, doubt that even judicial oaths tend to weaken the popular conception of the sin of a lie and the reliance to be placed upon the simple 'Yea, yea; Nay, nay.'
'Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: 39. But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. 41. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. 42. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.'—MATT. v. 38-42.
The old law directed judges to inflict penalties precisely equivalent to offences—'an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth' (Exod. xxi. 24), but that direction was not for the guidance of individuals. It was suited for the stage of civilisation in which it was given, and probably was then a restriction, rather than a sanction, of the wild law of retaliation. Jesus sweeps it away entirely, and goes much further than even its abrogation. For He forbids not only retaliation but even resistance. It is unfortunate that in this, as in so many instances, controversy as to the range of Christ's words has so largely hustled obedience to them out of the field, that the first thought suggested to a modern reader by the command 'Resist not evil' (or, an evil man) is apt to be, Is the Quaker doctrine of uniform non-resistance right or wrong, instead of, Do I obey this precept? If we first try to understand its meaning, we shall be in a position to consider whether it has limits, springing from its own deepest significance, or not. What, then, is it not to resist? Our Lord gives three concrete illustrations of what He enjoins, the first of which refers to insults such as contumelious blows on the cheek, which are perhaps the hardest not to meet with a flash of anger and a returning stroke; the second of which refers to assaults on property, such as an attempt at legal robbery of a man's undergarment; the third of which refers to forced labour, such as impressing a peasant to carry military or official baggage or documents—a form of oppression only too well known under Roman rule in Christ's days. In regard to all three cases, He bids His disciples submit to the indignity, yield the coat, and go the mile. But such yielding without resistance is not to be all. The other cheek is to be given to the smiter; the more costly and ample outer garment is to be yielded up; the load is to be carried for two miles. The disciple is to meet evil with a manifestation, not of anger, hatred, or intent to inflict retribution, but of readiness to submit to more. It is a hard lesson, but clearly here, as always, the chief stress is to be laid, not on the outward action, but on the disposition, and on the action mainly as the outcome and exhibition of that. If the cheek is turned, or the cloak yielded, or the second mile trudged with a lowering brow, and hate or anger boiling in the heart, the commandment is broken. If the inner man rises in hot indignation against the evil and its doer, he is resisting evil more harmfully to himself than is many a man who makes his adversary's cheeks tingle before his own have ceased to be reddened. We have to get down into the depths of the soul, before we understand the meaning of non-resistance. It would have been better if the eager controversy about the breadth of this commandment had oftener become a study of its depth, and if, instead of asking, 'Are we ever warranted in resisting?' men had asked, 'What in its full meaning is non-resistance?' The truest answer is that it is a form of Love,—love in the face of insults, wrongs, and domineering tyranny, such as are illustrated in Christ's examples. This article of Christ's New Law comes last but one in the series of instances in which His transfiguring touch is laid on the Old Law, and the last of the series is that to which He has been steadily advancing from the first—namely, the great Commandment of Love. This precept stands immediately before that, and prepares for it. It is, as suffused with the light of the sun that is all but risen, 'Resist not evil,' for 'Love beareth all things.'
It is but a shallow stream that is worried into foam and made angry and noisy by the stones in its bed; a deep river flows smooth and silent above them. Nothing will enable us to meet 'evil' with a patient yielding love which does not bring the faintest tinge of anger even into the cheek reddened by a rude hand, but the 'love of God shed abroad in the heart,' and when that love fills a man, 'out of him will flow a river of living water,' which will bury evil below its clear, gentle abundance, and, perchance, wash it of its foulness. The 'quality of' this non-resistance 'is twice blessed,' 'it blesseth him that gives and him that takes.' For the disciple who submits in love, there is the gain of freedom from the perturbations of passion, and of steadfast abiding in the peace of a great charity, the deliverance from the temptation of descending to the level of the wrong-doer, and of losing hold of God and all high visions. The tempest-ruffled sea mirrors no stars by night, nor is blued by day. If we are to have real communion with God, we must not flush with indignation at evil, nor pant with desire to shoot the arrow back to him that aimed it at us. And in regard to the evil-doer, the most effectual resistance is, in many cases, not to resist. There is something hid away somewhere in most men's hearts which makes them ashamed of smiting the offered left cheek, and then ashamed of having smitten the right one. 'It is a shame to hit him, since he does not defend himself,' comes into many a ruffian's mind. The safest way to travel in savage countries is to show oneself quite unarmed. He that meets evil with evil is 'overcome of evil'; he that meets it with patient love is likely in most cases to 'overcome evil with good.' And even if he fails, he has, at all events, used the only weapon that has any chance of beating down the evil, and it is better to be defeated when fighting hate with love than to be victorious when fighting it with itself, or demanding an eye for an eye.
But, if we take the right view of this precept, its limitations are in itself. Since it is love confronting, and seeking to transform evil into its own likeness, it may sometimes be obliged by its own self not to yield. If turning the other cheek would but make the assaulter more angry, or if yielding the cloak would but make the legal robber more greedy, or if going the second mile would but make the press-gang more severe and exacting, resistance becomes a form of love and a duty for the sake of the wrong-doer. It may also become a duty for the sake of others, who are also objects of love, such as helpless persons who otherwise would be exposed to evil, or society as a whole. But while clearly that limit is prescribed by the very nature of the precept, the resistance which it permits must have love to the culprit or to others as its motive, and not be tainted by the least suspicion of passion or vengeance. Would that professing Christians would try more to purge their own hearts, and bring this solemn precept into their daily lives, instead of discussing whether there are cases in which it does not apply! There are great tracts in the lives of all of us to which it should apply and is not applied; and we had better seek to bring these under its dominion first, and then it will be time enough to debate as to whether any circumstances are outside its dominion or not.
THE LAW OF LOVE
'Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 45. That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. 46. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? 47. And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others! do not even the publicans so? 48. Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.'—MATT. v. 43-48.
The last of the five instances of our Lord's extending and deepening and spiritualising the old law is also the climax of them. We may either call it the highest or the deepest, according to our point of view. His transfiguring touch invests all the commandments with which He has been dealing with new inwardness, sweep, and spirituality, and finally He proclaims the supreme, all-including commandment of universal love. 'It hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour'—that comes from Lev. xix. 18; but where does 'and hate thine enemy' come from? Not from Scripture, but in the passage in Leviticus 'neighbour' is co-extensive with 'children of thy people,' and the hatred and contempt of all men outside Israel which grew upon the Jews found a foothold there. 'Who is my neighbour?' was apparently a well-discussed question in the schools of the Rabbis, and, whether any of these teachers ever committed themselves to plainly formulating the principle or not, practically the duty of love was restricted to a narrow circle, and the rest of the wide world left out in the cold. But not only was the circumference of love's circle drawn in, but to hate an enemy was elevated almost into a duty. It is the worst form of retaliation. 'An eye for an eye' is bad enough, but hate for hate plunges men far deeper in the devil's mire. To flash back from the mirror of the heart the hostile looks which are flung at us, is our natural impulse; but why should we always leave it to the other man to pitch the keynote of our relations with him? Why should we echo only his tones? Cannot we leave his discord to die into silence and reply to it by something more musical? Two thunder-clouds may cast lightnings at each other, but they waste themselves in the process. Better to shine meekly and victoriously on as the moon does on piled masses of darkness till it silvers them with its quiet light. So Jesus bids us do. We are to suppress the natural inclination to pay back in the enemy's own coin, to 'give him as good as he gave us,' to 'show proper spirit,' and all the other fine phrases with which the world whitewashes hatred and revenge. We are not only to allow no stirring of malice in our feelings, but we are to let kindly emotions bear fruit in words blessing the cursers, and in deeds of goodness, and, highest of all, in prayers for those whose hate is bitterest, being founded on religion, and who are carrying it into action in persecution. We cannot hate a man if we pray for him; we cannot pray for him if we hate him. Our weakness often feels it so hard not to hate our enemies, that our only way to get strength to keep this highest, hardest commandment is to begin by trying to pray for the foe, and then we gradually feel the infernal fires dying down in our temper, and come to be able to meet his evil with good, and his curses with blessings. It is a difficult lesson that Jesus sets us. It is a blessed possibility that Jesus opens for us, that our kindly emotions towards men need not be at the mercy of theirs to us. It is a fair ideal that He paints, which, if Christians deliberately and continuously took it for their aim to realise, would revolutionise society, and make the fellowship of man with man a continual joy. Think of what any community, great or small, would be, if enmity were met by love only and always. Its fire would die for want of fuel. If the hater found no answering hate increasing his hate, he would often come to answer love with love. There is an old legend spread through many lands, which tells how a princess who had been changed by enchantment into a loathly serpent, was set free by being thrice kissed by a knight, who thereby won a fair bride with whom he lived in love and joy. The only way to change the serpent of hate into the fair form of a friend is to kiss it out of its enchantment.
No doubt, partial anticipations of this precept may be found, buried under much ethical rubbish, elsewhere than in the Sermon on the Mount, and more plainly in Old Testament teaching, and in Rabbinical sayings; but Christ's 'originality' as a moral teacher lies not so much in the absolute novelty of His commandments, as in the perspective in which He sets them, and in the motives on which He bases them, and most of all in His being more than a teacher, namely, the Giver of power to fulfil what He enjoins. Christian ethics not merely recognises the duty of love to men, but sets it as the foundation of all other duties. It is root and trunk, all others are but the branches into which it ramifies. Christian ethics not merely recognises the duty, but takes a man by the hand, leads him up to his Father God, and says: There, that is your pattern, and a child who loves his Father will try to copy his ways and be made like Him by his love. So Morality passes into Religion, and through the transition receives power beyond its own. The perfection of worship is imitation, and when men 'call Him Father' whom they adore, imitation becomes the natural action of a child who loves.
A dew-drop and a planet are both spheres, moulded by the same law of gravitation. The tiny round of our little drops of love may be not all unlike the colossal completeness of that Love, which owns the sun as 'His sun,' and rays down light and distils rain over the broad world. God loves all men apart altogether from any regard to character, therefore He gives to all men all the good gifts that they can receive apart from character, and if evil men do not get His best gifts, it is not because He withholds, but because they cannot take. There are human love-gifts which cannot be bestowed on enemies or evil persons. It is not possible, nor fit, that a Christian should feel to such as he does to those who share his faith and sympathies; but it is possible, and therefore incumbent, that he should not only negatively clear his heart of malice and hatred, but that he should positively exercise such active beneficence as they will receive. That is God's way, and it should be His children's.
The thought of the divine pattern naturally brings up the contrast between it and that which goes by the name of love among men. Just because Christians are to take God as their example of love, they must transcend human examples. Here again Jesus strikes the note with which He began His teaching of His disciples' 'righteousness'; but very significantly He does not now point to Pharisees, but to publicans, as those who were to be surpassed. The former, no doubt, were models of 'righteousness' after a rigid, whitewashed-sepulchre sort, but the latter had bigger hearts, and, bad as they were and were reputed to be, they loved better than the others. Jesus is glad to see and point to even imperfect sparks of goodness in a justly condemned class. No doubt, publicans in their own homes, with wife and children round them, let their hearts out, and could be tender and gentle, however gruff and harsh in public. When Jesus says 'even the publicans,' He is not speaking in contempt, but in recognition of the love that did find some soil to grow on, even in that rocky ground. But is not the bringing in of the 'reward' as a motive a woful downcome? and is love that loves for the sake of reward, love at all? The criticism and questions forget that the true motive has just been set forth, and that the thought of 'reward' comes in, only as secondary encouragement to a duty which is based upon another ground. To love because we shall gain something, either in this world or in the next, is not love but long-sighted selfishness; but to be helped in our endeavours to widen our love so as to take in all men, by the vision of the reward, is not selfishness but a legitimate strengthening of our weakness. Especially is that so, in view of the fact that 'the reward' contemplated is nothing else than the growth of likeness to the Father in heaven, and the increase of filial consciousness, and the clearer, deeper cry, 'Abba, Father.' If longing for, and having regard to, that 'recompense of reward' is selfishness, and if the teaching which permits it is immoral, may God send the world more of such selfishness and of teachers of it!
But the reference to the shrunken love-streams that flow among men passes again swiftly to the former thought of likeness to God as the great pattern. Like a bird glancing downwards for a moment to earth, and then up again and away into the blue, our Lord's words re-soar, and settle at last by the throne of God. The command, 'Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,' may be intended to refer only to the immediately preceding section, but one is inclined to regard it rather as the summing up of the whole of the preceding series of commandments from verse 20 onwards. The sum of religion is to imitate the God whom we worship. The ideal which draws us to aim at its realisation must be absolutely perfect, however imperfect may be all our attempts to reproduce it. We sometimes hear it said that to set up perfection as our goal is to smite effort dead and to enthrone despair. But to set up an incomplete ideal is the surest way to take the heart out of effort after it. It is the Christian's prerogative to have ever gleaming before him an unattained aim, to which he is progressively approximating, and which, unreached, beckons, feeds hope of endless approach, and guarantees immortality.
TRUMPETS AND STREET CORNERS
'Take heed that ye do nob your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. 2. Therefore, when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues, and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 3. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth; 4. That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, Himself shall reward thee openly. 5. And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues, and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.'—MATT. vi. 1-5.
Our Lord follows His exposition of the deepened sense which the old law assumes in His kingdom, by a warning against the most subtle foes of true righteousness. He first gives the warning in general terms in verse 1, and then flashes its light into three dark corners, and shows how hankering after men's praise corrupts the beneficence which is our duty to our neighbour, the devotion which is our duty to God, and the abstinence which is our duty to ourselves. We deal now with the two former.
We have first the general warning, given out like the text of a sermon, or the musical phrase which underlies the various harmonies of some concerto. The first word implies that the evil is a subtle and seducing one. 'Take heed' as of something which may steal into and mar the noblest lives. The serpent lies coiled under the leaves, and may sting and poison the unwary hand. The generality of the warning, and the logical propriety of the whole section, require the adoption of the reading of the Revised Version, namely, 'righteousness.' The thing to be taken heed of is not the doing it 'before men,' which will often be obligatory, often necessary, and never in itself wrong, but the doing it 'to be seen of them.' Not the number of spectators, but the furtive glance of our eyes to see if they are looking at us, makes the sin. We are to let our good works shine, that men may glorify our Father. Pious souls are to shine, and yet to be hid,—a paradox which can be easily solved by the obedient. If our motive is to make God's glory more visible, we shall not be seeking to be ourselves admired. The harp-string's swift vibrations, as it gives out its note, make it unseen.
The reason for the warning goes on two principles: one that righteousness is to be rewarded, over and above its own inherent blessedness; another, that the prospect of the reward is a legitimate stimulus, over and above the prime reason for righteousness, namely, that it is righteous. The New Testament morality is not good enough for some very superfine people, who are pleased to call it selfish because it lets a martyr brace himself in the fire by the vision of the crown athwart the smoke. Somehow or other, however, that selfish morality gets itself put in practice, and turns out more unselfish people than its assailants manage to produce. Perhaps the motive which they attack may be part of the reason.
The mingling of regard for man's approbation with apparently righteous acts absolutely disqualifies them for receiving God's reward, for it changes their whole character, and they are no longer what they seem. Charity given from that motive is not charity, nor prayer offered from it devotion.
I. The general warning is applied to three cases, of which we have to deal with two. Our Lord speaks first of ostentatious almsgiving. Note that we are not to take 'blowing the trumpets' as actual fact. Nobody would do that in a synagogue. The meaning of all attempts, however concealed, to draw attention to one's beneficence, is just what the ear-splitting blast would be; and the incongruity of startling the worshippers with the harsh notes is like the incongruity of doing good and trying to attract notice. I think Christ's ear catches the screech of the brazen abomination in a good many of the ways of raising and giving money, which find favour in the Church to-day. This is an advertising age, and flowers that used to blush unseen are forced now under glass for exhibition. No one needs to blow his own trumpet nowadays. We have improved on the ruder methods of the Pharisees, and newspapers and collectors will blow lustily and loud for us, and defend the noise on the ground that a good example stimulates others. Perhaps so, though it may be a question what it stimulates to, and whether B's gift, drawn from him in imitation or emulation of A's, is any liker Christ's idea of gifts than was A's, given that B might hear of it. To a very large extent, the money getting and giving arrangements of the modern Church are neither more nor less than the attempt to draw Christ's chariot with the devil's traces. Christ condemned ostentation. His followers too often try to make use of it. 'They have their reward.' Observe that have means have received in full, and note the emphasis of that their. It is all the reward that they will ever get, and all that they are capable of. The pure and lasting crown, which is a fuller possession of God Himself, has no charms for them, and could not be given. And what a poor thing it is which they seek—the praise of men, a breath, as unsubstantial and short-lived as the blast of the trumpet which they blew before their selfish benevolence. Their charity was no charity, for what they did was not to give, but to buy. Their gift was a speculation. They invested in charity, and looked for a profit of praise. How can they get God's reward? True benevolence will even hide the giving right hand from the idle left, and, as far as may be, will dismiss the deed from the doer's consciousness. Such alms, given wholly out of pity and desire to be like the all-giving Father, can be rewarded, and will be, with that richer acquaintance with Him and more complete victory over self, which is the heaven of heaven and the foretaste of it now.
In its coarsest forms, this ostentation is out and out hypocrisy, which consciously assumes a virtue which it has not. But far more common and dangerous is the subtle, unconscious mingling of it with real charity—the eye wandering from the poor, whom the hand is helping, to the bystanders—and it is this mingling which we have therefore to take most heed to avoid. One drop of this sour stuff will curdle whole gallons of the milk of human kindness. The hypocrisy which hoodwinks ourselves is more common and perilous than that which blinds others.
II. We need not dwell at length on the second application of the general warning—to prayer; as the words are almost, and the thoughts entirely, identical with those of the former verses. If there be any action of the spirit which requires the complete exclusion of thoughts of men, it is prayer, which is the communion of the soul alone with God. It is as impossible to pray, and at the same time to think of men, as to look up and down at once. If we think of prayer, as formalists in all times have done, as so many words, then it will not seem incongruous to choose the places where men are thickest for 'saying our prayers,' and we shall do it with all the more spirit if we have spectators. That accounts for a great deal of the 'devotion' in Mohammedan and Roman Catholic countries which travellers with no love for Protestant Christianity are so fond of praising. But if we think of prayer as Christ did, as being the yearning of the soul to God, we shall feel that the inmost chamber and the closed door are its fitting accompaniments. Of course, our Lord is not forbidding united prayer; for each of the assembled worshippers may be holding communion with God, which is none the less solitary though shared by others, and none the less united though in it each is alone with God.
III. Our Lord passes for a time from the more immediate subject of ostentation to add other teaching about prayer, which still farther unfolds its true conception. Another corruption arising from the error of thinking that prayer is an outward act, is 'vain repetition,' characteristic of all heathen religion, and resting upon a profound disbelief in the loving willingness of God to help. Of course, earnest, reiterated prayer is not vain repetition. Jesus is not here condemning His own agony in Gethsemane when He thrice 'said the same words.' The persistence in prayer, which is the child of faith, is no relation to the parrot-like repetition which is the child of disbelief, nor does the condemnation of the one touch the other. The frenzied priests who yelled, 'O Baal, hear us!' all the long day; the Buddhists who repeat the sacred invocation till they are stupefied; the poor devotee who thinks merit is proportioned to the number of Paternosters and Aves, are all instances of this gross mechanical conception of prayer. Are there no similar superstitions nearer home? Are there no ministers or congregations that we ever heard of, who have a regulation length for their prayers, and would scarcely think they had prayed at all if their devotions were as short as most of the prayers in the Bible? Are we in no danger of believing what Christ here tells us is pure heathenism—that many words may move God?
The only real remedy against such degradation of the very idea of prayer lies in the deeper conceptions of God and of it which Christ here gives. He knows our needs before we ask. Then what is prayer for? Not to inform Him, nor to move Him, unwilling, to have mercy, as if, like some proud prince, He required a certain amount of recognition of His greatness as the price of His favours, but to fit our own hearts by conscious need and true desire and dependence, to receive the gifts which He is ever willing to give, but we are not always fit to receive. As St. Augustine has it, the empty vessel is by prayer carried to the full fountain.
'Enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret,'—MATT. vi. 6.
An old heathen who had come to a certain extent under the influence of Christ, called prayer 'the flight of the solitary to the Solitary.' There is a deep truth in that, though not all the truth.
Prayer is not only the most intensely individual act that a man can perform, but it is also the highest social act. Christ came not to carry solitary souls by a solitary pathway to heaven, but to set the solitary in families and to rear up a church. Of that church the highest function is united worship.
No one is likely to fall into the mistake of supposing that this passage before us condemns praying in the synagogues, or even, if need were, at the street corners. It does not, of course, interdict social public prayer, though it enjoins solitary secret communion with the solitary, secret God.
I. What is the practice here enjoined?
Since 'that they may be seen of men' constitutes the evil, we may fairly say that Christ is not here prescribing the place where, but the spirit in which, we ought to pray; that what He condemns is not the fact of praying where we can be seen, but of picking out the place in order that we may be seen; that, in a word, the contrast here is between ostentation and sincerity. A man that has sidelong looks at the passers-by in his devotions has not much devotion.
But then, as a material help to this, we need solitude and secrecy; they are not indispensable, but almost so. And in that solitude what is to be our occupation? One word answers the question—Communion. We are to be alone that we may more fully and thrillingly feel that we are with God. That communion will have an intellectual element in which we try to rise to perception of the high truths as to God, or in meditation gaze on Him, and a petitionary element in which we ask for the communication of His grace according to our needs.
II. What is the special worth of such a habit?
1. The truths that we profess to believe are in their nature such as can only be vividly realised by such an exercise. They are all matters of faith, not of sense. God is a spirit, and is felt near by none but still and waiting spirits. Our religion has to do with the Unseen, the Solemn, the Profound, the Remote. These are not to be fully felt hastily. They are like mountains that grow on us as we gaze, like a fair scene that we must be alone in, rightly to feel. They must be allowed to saturate the soul. The eye must be slowly accustomed to the light.
2. The pressure of the world can only be resisted by such an exercise.
Our business as Christians is to keep ourselves free from it.
3. The tone and balance of our own minds can only be preserved and restored thus. Solitude is the mother-country of the strong. 'I was left alone, and I saw this great vision.' We get hot and fevered, interested and absorbed, and we need solitude as a counterpoise.
4. What is the connection of this with other kinds of worship and with our life's work? It has a function of its own.
These cannot be substituted for it—public worship, reading Christian books, bring a different class of feelings altogether into play.
They are not to be excluded by it. They find their true foundation in it. A tree's branches stretch to the same circumference as its roots.
5. What is the special need of this precept for this age?
It is neglected in our modern life. The evils of our modern Christianity, the low tone of religion, the small grasp of Christian truth, the irreligious cast of religious work.
The thought of being alone with God will be a joy—or a terror.
THE STRUCTURE OF THE LORD'S PRAYER
'After this manner therefore pray ye.'—MATT. vi. 9.
'After this manner' may or may not imply that Christ meant this prayer to be a form, but He certainly meant it for a model. And they who drink in its spirit, and pray, seeking God's glory before their own satisfaction, and, while trustfully asking from His hand their daily bread, rise quickly to implore the supply of their spiritual hunger, do pray after this manner,' whether they use these words or no.
All begins with the recognition of the Fatherhood of God. The clear and fixed contemplation of God is the beginning of all true prayer, and that contemplation does not fasten on His remote and partially intelligible attributes, nor strive to climb to behold Him as in Himself, but grasps Him as related to us. The Fatherhood of God implies His communication of life, His tenderness, and our kindred. This is the prayer of the children of the kingdom, and can only be truly offered by those who, by faith in the Son, have received the adoption of sons. It gathers all such into a family, so delivering their prayer from selfish absorption in their own joys or needs. As our Father 'in Heaven,' He is lifted clear above earth's limitations, changes, and imperfections. So childlike familiarity is sublimed into reverence, our hearts are drawn upward, and freed from the oppressive and narrowing attachment to earth and sense.
The perfect sevenfold petitions of the prayer fall into two halves, corresponding roughly to the first and second tables of the decalogue. The first half consists of three petitions, which refer to God and His kingdom. They are three, in accordance with the symbolism of numbers which, in the Old Testament, always regards three as the sacred number of completeness and of divinity. The second half consists of four petitions, which refer to ourselves. They are four—the number which symbolises the creature. The lessons taught by the order in which these two halves occur do not need to be dwelt upon. God first and man second, His glory before our wants—that is the true order. For how few of us is it the spontaneous order! Do we first rise to God, and only secondly descend to ourselves?
Note, too, the sequence in each of these halves. In the first we may say that we begin from above and come down, or from within and come outwards. In the second, the process is the opposite. We begin on the lowest level with our external needs, and go upwards and inwards to removal of sin, exemption from temptation, and complete deliverance from evil. The first half gives us the beginning, middle, and end of God's purposes for the world. The recognition of His name is the basis of His kingdom, and His kingdom is the sphere in which alone His will is done. The second half, in like manner, gives us the beginning, middle, and end of His dealings with the individual, the common mercies of daily bread, forgiveness, guidance, protection in conflict, and final deliverance.
The 'name' of God is His revealed character. He hallows it when He so acts as to make His holiness manifest. We hallow it when we regard it as the holy thing which it is. That petition is first, because the knowledge of God as He is self-revealed is the deepest want of men, and the spread of that knowledge and reverence is the way by which His kingdom comes.
God's kingdom is His rule over men's hearts. Christ began His ministry by proclaiming its near approach, and in effect brought it to earth. But it spreads slowly in the individual heart, and in the world. Therefore, this second petition is ever in place, until the consummation. God's rule is established through the hallowing of His name; for it is a rule which works on men through their understandings, and seeks no ignorant submission.
The sum of this first half is, 'Thy will be done, as in Heaven, so on earth.' Obedience to that will is the end of God's self-revelation. It makes all the difference whether we begin with the thought of the name or of the will. In the latter case, religion will be slavish and submission sullen. There is no more horrible and paralysing conception of God than that of mere sovereign will. But if we think of Him as desiring that we should know His name, and as gathering all its syllables into the one perfect 'Word of God'; then we are sure that His will must be intelligible and good. Obedience becomes delight, and the surrender of our wills to His the glad expression of love. He who begins with 'Thy will be done' is a slave, and never really does the will at all; he who begins with 'Our Father, hallowed be Thy name,' is a son, and his will, gladly yielding, is free in surrender, strong in self-abnegation, and restful in putting the reins into God's hands.
The two halves make a whole. The second, which deals with our needs, starts with the cry for bread, and climbs up slowly through the ills of life, from bodily hunger to trespasses and human unkindness and personal weakness, and a world of temptation, and the double evil of sin and of sorrow, and so regains at last the starting-point of the first half, Heaven and God. The probable meaning of the difficult word rendered 'daily' seems to be 'sufficient for our need.' The lessons of the petition are that God's children have a claim for the supply of their wants, since He is bound, as a faithful Creator, not to send mouths without sending meat to fill them, but that our desires should be limited to our actual necessities, and our cravings, as well as our efforts for the bread that perishes, made into prayers. Such a prayer rightly used would put an end to much wicked luxury among Christians, and to many questionable ways of getting wealth. 'Bless my cheating, my sharp practice, my half lies!' If we dare not pray this prayer over what we do in 'earning our living,' we had better ask ourselves whether we are not rather earning our death.
Sin is debt Incurred to God. So Christ taught in the previous chapter by His parable of agreeing with the adversary; and in the other parables of the two debtors (Luke vii. 41) and of the unmerciful servant (Matt. xviii. 23). As universal as the need for bread is the need for pardon. It is the first want of the spiritual nature, but it is a constantly recurring want, as this petition teaches us. Forgiveness is the cancelling of a debt; but we must not forget that it is a Father's forgiveness, and therefore does not merely, or even chiefly, imply the removal of penalty, but much rather the unimpeded flow of the Father's love, and consequently the removal of the miserable consciousness of separation from Him. The appended comparison 'as we have forgiven' does not mean that our forgiveness is the reason for God's forgiveness of us. The ground of our pardon is Christ's work, the condition of it our faith; but, as we saw in considering the Beatitudes, the condition on which the children of the kingdom can retain the blessing of the divine pardon is their imitation of it.
The next petition is the expression of conscious weakness. The forgiven man, though in his deepest soul hating sin, is still surrounded with sparks which may fire the combustibles in his heart. If we ask not to be led into temptation, because we want a smooth and easy road, we are wrong. If we do so from self-distrust and fear lest we fall, then it is allowable. But perhaps we may draw a distinction between being tempted and being led into temptation. The former may mean the presentation of an inducement to do evil which we cannot hope to escape, and which it is not well that we should escape. The latter may mean the further step of embracing or being entangled in it by consenting to it. We do not need to dread the entrance into the Valley of the Shadow of Death, for if the Lord be with us we shall pass through it. Our prayer may mean, lead us, not into, but through, the trial. It is the plaint of conscious weakness, the recognition of God as ordering our path, the cry of a heart which desires holiness most of all, and which trusts in God's upholding hand in the hour of trial.
'Deliver us from evil' is a petition which, in its width, fits the close of the prayer better than does the translation of the Revised Version. There seems an echo of the words in Paul's noble confidence while the headsman's axe was so near, 'The Lord will deliver me from every evil work.' Entire exemption from evil of every sort, whether sin or sorrow, is the true end of our prayers, as it is the crown of God's purpose. Nothing less can satisfy our yearnings; nothing less can fulfil the divine desire for us. Nothing less should be the goal of our faith and hope. To the height of meek assurance, and the reaching out of our souls in desire which is the pledge of its own fulfilment, Christ would have us attain on the wings of prayer. They can have no narrower bonds to the horizon of their hopes, nor any lesser blessing for the satisfaction of their longings, whose prayer begins with 'Our Father which art in heaven'; for where the Father is, the child must wish to be, and some day will be, to go out no more.
'Our Father which art in heaven.'—Matt. vi. 9.
The words of Christ, like the works of God, are inexhaustible. Their depth is concealed beneath an apparent simplicity which the child and the savage can understand. But as we gaze upon them and try to fathom all their meaning, they open as the skies above us do when we look steadily into their blue chambers, or as the sea at our feet does when we bend over to pierce its clear obscure. The poorest and weakest learns from them the lesson of divine love and a mighty helper; the reverent, loving contemplation of the profoundest souls, and the experience of all the ages discern ever new depths in them and feel that much remains unlearned. 'They did all eat and were filled, men, women, and children—and they took up of fragments that were left five baskets full.'
This is especially true about the Lord's Prayer. We teach it to our children, and its divine simplicity becomes their lisping tongues and little folded hands. But the more we ponder it, and try to make it the model of our prayers, the more wonderful does its fulness of meaning appear, the more hard does it become to pray 'after this manner.' There is everything in it: the loftiest revelation of God in His relations to us and in His purposes with the world; the setting forth of all our relations to Him, to His purposes, and to one another; the grandest vision of the future for mankind; the care for the smallest wants of each day.
As a theology, it smites into fragments all false, unworthy human thoughts of God. As an exposition of religion, the man who has drunk in its spirit has ceased from self-will and sin. As a foundation of social morals it lays deep the only basis for true human brotherhood, and he who lives in its atmosphere will live in charity and helpfulness with all mankind. As a guide for personal life, it gives us authoritatively the order and relative worth of all human desires, and with these the order and subordination of our pursuits and life's aims. As a prayer it is all comprehensive and intended to be so, holding within the perfect seven of its petitions, all for which we should come to God, and resting them all on His divine name, and closing them all with a chorus of thanksgiving. As a prophecy it opens the loftiest vision, beyond which none is possible, of the final transformation of this world into the kingdom in which God's will shall be perfectly done, and of the final deliverance from, all evil of the struggling, sinning, sorrowing souls of His children.
I desire to try in a series of sermons to set forth what little I can see of the depth and comprehensiveness of this model of all prayer, and of its ever fresh applicability to the wants and difficulties of our days as of all days. But before dealing with that great invocation of the divine name on which all rests, a word or two must be said touching the introductory clause.
'After this manner pray ye.' The question which is usually made prominent in thinking of these words is really a very subordinate one. Did Christ intend to establish a form, or only to give an example? Churchmen say, a form; Dissenters generally say, an example. But it would be better for both Churchmen and Dissenters to try to realise for themselves what 'this manner' is.
Unquestionably, whether our Lord is giving us a form or not, His chief object was not to prescribe words. To pray is not to repeat petitions, and His commandment has for its chief meaning a much deeper one than that He was giving us either a form which we are to incorporate verbally with our prayers, or an outline according to which our spoken supplications are to be shaped. Whether in addition to this we are to regard the very words as to be used by us, will be determined by each man and church according as he regards the use of set forms in prayer as being the true and noblest manner of prayer. Such use is certainly not inconsistent with the utmost spirituality, but the habitual use of forms, especially their exclusive use, seems to many of us to be dangerous, regard being had to the tendency of human nature to rest in them. And it is not without significance that this very prayer of our Lord's, which was given as the corrective of vain repetitions and idle, heathenish chattering of forms of prayer, has itself come to be the saddest instance in all Christendom of these very faults, while the beads slip through the fingers of the mechanical repeater of muttered Paternosters. Instead of wrangling about this subordinate question, let us try to pray after this manner. We shall find it hard, but blessed. Be sure that every prayer not after this manner is after a wrong manner.
This prayer helps to reverse our foolish desire to make earth foremost. The true end of prayer is to get our wills harmonised with His, not to bend His to ours. Surely if self-denial and submission be the very heart of Christianity, that should be most expressed in prayer which is the very sanctuary of religion. The prayers that are to be offered after this manner will not be passionate, petulant pleadings or prescriptions to God to do this or that, but in them God and His glory will be first, I second, and through Him and as He wills.
Ah, brethren! this is an awful requirement of Christ's. Who dare take such holy words into his lips? It is a hard matter to pray as Christ taught us. The prayer seems to move in a height of unapproachable elevation, and the air there is too thin and pure for our gross lungs. For be it remembered, we are not praying after this manner unless our lives in some sort repeat and confirm our prayers. Do our hearts seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness? Are our energies given to this, as their noblest aim, to hallow God's name; or does the very blood in our hearts throb hot, passionate desires for worldly things, and God's name and kingdom and will seem dreamy and far-off objects which kindle no desire in our souls and rule no effort of our lives, like suns far away which shed little light upon the earth and sway not its rolling tides, that are obedient to the nearer but borrowed light of the changeful moon? If so, no matter whether we use this form or not, we are not praying after this manner.
Look, now, at this first clause, which is the basis of all.
I. The divine Name which is the ground and object of all our prayers. It is not merely a formula of address, like the superscription on a letter, but the reality of His character as revealed before us. There is inseparable from all prayer the effort to conceive worthily of Him to whom we speak; to raise our souls to that height.
How much of our prayer, even while truest, fails here! We may be distinctly conscious of our wants; our wishes may be right, and our confidence may be firm that God will give us what we ask; yet how often there is no vivid thought of Him filling the mind! How often our prayers are offered to a mere name! How seldom through the cloud-wrack beneath His feet do we see His face!
This absorbed contemplation is the necessary preliminary of all real prayer, and there is a truth in the thought that such losing of self in gazing on God is the highest form of prayer. We should feel as some peasant come to court who stands on the threshold of the presence-chamber, and forgetting his grievances and his embassy, gazes entranced on the splendour and benignity of his sovereign.
Look, then, at this Name: what it expresses. It is not new. The Jews dimly had it, and even Greek and other paganisms knew of a 'father of Gods and men.' The name of Father carries with it primarily the idea of the Source of life ('we also are His offspring'), and also, secondarily, that of loving care.
How wonderful, how beautiful, that that earthly relation should find its deepest reality in God! God be thanked that, 'like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him.'
But the true Christian idea of God's fatherhood is more than all this. This is a prayer for disciples, for those who alone can really pray. All men are God's children because all draw their life from Him, were made in His image, and are objects of His love. But there is a fatherhood and a sonship which are not universal, and for which another birth is necessary. Its conditions are plainly laid down by the Evangelist: 'To as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become sons of God,' and by the Apostle, 'Ye are the children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.'
We are made sons through Jesus. We are made sons by faith.
And now, how should this Fatherhood affect our prayers? We shall come with hope and familiar confidence, for 'your heavenly Father knoweth what things ye have need of.' Does a father love to have his children about him? Does a child shrink from telling its wishes to a father? Also we must bend our wills to His—to a Father.
Contrast that conception with the ideas of God which we are all tempted to cherish, the slavish one which dwells upon the gulf between God and man, with the cold deity of 'natural religion,' with the Epicurean notion of Him which divorces Him from all living interest in His creation.
Contrast it with the ghastly image which our consciences and our fears frame, the heathen notion of an avenger and cruel. We do not need to seek to avert His anger. This mighty word shatters all cowering terror and abject prostration.
And it is a vow as well as an Invocation, binding us to supreme love to Him, to obedience to Him, to moral conformity with Him. Be ye perfect as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. The noblest prayer is 'Abba, Father.'
II. The loftiness and perfectness of that divine Name.
'In heaven.' Not fact, but symbol, to express His exaltation above the earth, and so suggesting all ideas of remoteness from creatures, from earth's limitations and conditions, changes and imperfection, and showing the gulf between man and God.
1. The thought that He is in heaven deepens our reverence, love casting out fear, but making us more lowly. It leads to familiar yet awe-stricken approach.
2. It exalts the preciousness of the Fatherhood, as being free from all weakness and all change. It reveals a better Father than we can know here; one not narrow of view, infirm of purpose, weak in tenderness, bounded in power. As the heavens stretch calm and serene above us, far from all our trouble and noise, unvexed, pitying, and dropping rain and dew on earth, so is He.
3. It draws our hearts and hopes to our Father's home.
4. It delivers us from worship of the visible and from worship by means of the visible. So the Name guards against placing stress on externals and secondary forms, places, times of worship.
III. The Community of Brotherhood of the Worshippers.
1. All true enjoyment of blessings depends on our being willing to share them. To keep for ourselves is to lose. We enter by faith into a great community.
2. The effect of this on our prayers: to destroy their selfishness. We bow to Him of whom the whole family is named.
3. Effect on our lives.
Dare we rise from our knees to plan and plot for ourselves? How we are tempted to forget our brotherhood in personal animosities, vanity, and self-interest, competing with others! Our differences of ideas arising from differences of race, training, occupation, country, fling us apart. Our differences of wealth and position alienate us. Our differences of conception of Christianity often separate and embitter us. But do these not crumble when we say 'Our Father'?
Think of the generations who have gone to the grave saying this prayer. What a prophecy of the heaven, where all shall be gathered and each feel his sense of Fatherhood increased by his brethren!
And this is the only possible basis for true fraternity among men.
Opinion? Men are not thinking machines.
Interest? Men are not ruled by calculations, and such union is the destruction of true unity.
Nation or race?—artificial and not capable of universality.
There is no brotherhood but that which rests on God's Fatherhood, Christ's Sonship. For the world Christ has come, therefore we are no more 'strangers and foreigners.'
Therefore, listening to His voice, and trusting in Him who has made us heirs together with Him, let us lift up our voices, 'Our Father,' and therein proclaim that God who loves every soul of man, who knows each man's wants, who bends over him in pitying tenderness, who can neither die nor change, and who will gather into His eternal home all His prodigal children and keep them blessed by His side for evermore.
'HALLOWED BE THY NAME'
'Hallowed be Thy name.'—Matt. vi. 9.
Name is character so far as revealed.
I. What is meaning of Petition?
Hallowed means to make holy; or to show as holy; or to regard as holy. The second of these is God's hallowing of His Name. The third is men's.
The prayer asks that God would so act as to show the holiness of His character, and that men, one and all, may see the holiness of His character.
i.e. Hallowed by divine self-revelation.
Hallowed by human recognition.
Hallowed by human adoration and appropriate sentiments.
Hallowed by human action.
II. On what it rests:
On the Fatherhood of God.
On the confidence that God wills that His Name should be known. In other words, the petition rests on the assurance of God's fatherly love, which cannot but will that His children should know their Father as He is.
On the fact that men need the knowledge of the Name.
On the conviction that men cannot attain it for themselves.
That Christ is the great means of His hallowing His Name.
His finished work does not render this prayer unnecessary.
'I have declared Thy name, and will declare it.'