Further, we have to go in one by one. Two cannot pass the turnstile at the same time. We have to enter singly, as we shall have to pass through the other 'dark gates, across the wild which no man knows,' at the end of life.
Because it is strait, it is a great deal easier to stop outside, as so many of those to whom I speak are doing. For that, you have nothing to do but to drift and let things drift. No decision nor effort is needed; no coming out of yourselves. It is all as easy as it is for a wild animal to enter in between the broadly extending palisades that converge as they come nearer the trap, so that the creature is snared before he knows. The gate is wide: that is the sure condemnation of it. It is always easy to begin bad and unworthy things, of all sorts. And there is nothing easier than to keep in the negative position which so many of my audience, I fear me, are in, of not being a Christian.
But, on the other side, it is not so hard as it looks to go in, and it is not so easy as it seems to stop out. For there are two men in every man—a better and a worse; and what pleases the one disgusts the other. The choice which each of us has to make is whether we shall do the things that are easiest to our worst self, or those that are easiest to our best self. For in either case there will be difficulties; in either case there will be antagonisms.
But it is good for us to make the effort, apart altogether from the end. If there were no life eternal at the far end of the road which at this end has the narrow gate, it would contribute to all that is noblest and best in our characters, and to the repression of all that is ignoble and worst, that we should take that lowly position which Christ requires, and by the heroism of a self-abandoning faith, fling ourselves into His arms.
Remember, too, that the strait gate, by reason of its very straitness, is in the noblest sense wide. If there were anything else required of a man than simply self-distrust and reliance on Jesus Christ, then this great Gospel that I am feebly trying to preach would be a more sectional and narrower thing than it is. But its glory is that it requires nothing which any man is unable to bring, that it has no invitation for sections, classes, grades of culture or intelligence or morality, but that in its great cosmopolitanism and universality it comes to every man; because it treats all as on one level, and requires from each only what all can bring—knowledge of themselves as sinners, and humble trust in Jesus Christ as a Saviour. It is narrow because there is no room for sin or self-righteousness to go in; it is wide as the world, and, like the capacious portals of some vast cathedral, ample enough to receive without hustling, and to accommodate without inconvenience, every soul of man.
II. Notice the contrast of the two roads, which, in like manner, points the exhortation to choose the better.
The one is broad; the other is narrow. Which, being turned into plain English, is just this—that the Christian course has limitations which do not hamper the godless man; and that on the path of godlessness or Christlessness there is a deceptive appearance of freedom and independence which attracts many.
'Narrow is the road.' Yes, if you are to be a Christian, you must have your whole life concentrated on, and consecrated to, one thing; and, just as the vagrant rays of sunshine have to be collected into a focus before they burn, so the wandering manifoldnesses of our aims and purposes have all to be brought to a point, 'This one thing I do,' and whatsoever we do we have to do it as in God, and for God, and by God, and with God. Therefore the road is narrow because, being directed to one aim, it has to exclude great tracts on either side, in which people that have a less absorbing and lofty purpose wander and expatiate at will. As on some narrow path in Eastern lands, with high, prickly-pear hedges on either side, and vineyards stretching beyond them, with luscious grapes in abundance, a traveller has to keep on the road, within the prickly fences, dusty though it may be, and though his thirsty lips may be cracking.
I remember once going to that strange island-fortress off the Normandy coast, which stands on an isolated rock in the midst of a wide bay. One narrow causeway leads across the sands. Does a traveller complain of having to keep it? It is safety and life, for on either side stretches the tremulous sand, on which, if a foot is planted, the pedestrian is engulfed. So the narrow way on which we have to journey is a highway cast up, on which no evil will befall us, while on each hand away out to the horizon lie the treacherous quicksands. Narrowness is sometimes safety. If the road is narrow it is the better guide, and they who travel along it travel safely. Restrictions and limitations are of the essence of all nobleness and virtue. 'So did not I because of the fear of the Lord.'
Set side by side with that the competing path. Wide? Yes! 'Do as you like'—that is sufficiently wide. And even where that gospel of the animal has not become the guide to a man, there are many occupations, pursuits, recreations which men who lack the supreme concentration and consecration that come through over mastering love to Jesus Christ who has redeemed them, may legitimately in their own estimation do, but which no Christian man should do.
But, as I said before about the gates, it is not so easy as it looks to walk the broad road, nor so hard as it seems to tread the narrow one. For 'her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace'; and, on the other hand, licentiousness and liberty are not the same thing, and true freedom is not to do as you like, but to like to do as you ought. Besides, the path which looks attractive, and tempts to the indulgence of many appetites and habits which a Christian man must rigidly subdue, does not continue so attractive. Earthly pleasures have a strange knack of losing their charm, and, at the same time, increasing their hold, with familiarity. Many a man who has plunged into some kind of dissipation because of the titillation of his senses which he found in it, discovers that the titillation diminishes and the tyranny grows; and that when he thought that he had bought a joy, he has sold himself slave to a master.
So, dear friends, and especially you young people, let me beseech you to be suspicious of courses of conduct which come to you with the whisper, 'pleasant, sweet.' If you have two things before you, one of which is easy and the other hard, ninety times out of a hundred it will be safe for you to choose the hard one, and the odd ten times it will be at least as well for you to choose it. 'Thus we travel to the stars.' As one of our poets has it, 'the path of duty is the way of glory,' and those that 'scorn delights and live laborious days,' and listen not to the voices that say 'Come and enjoy this,' but to the sterner voice that says 'Come and bear this'—these will
'Find the stubborn thistles bursting Into glossy purples that outredden All voluptuous garden roses.'
So, because the road is narrow, therefore choose it. Because the other path is wide, I beseech you to avoid it.
III. Note the travellers.
On the one road there are 'few,' on the other, by comparison,'many.' That was true in Christ's time, and although the world is better since, and many feet have trodden the narrow way, and have found that it leads to life, yet I am afraid it is so still.
Now, did you ever think, or do you believe, that the fact of a course of conduct, or of an opinion, being the conduct or the opinion of a majority, is pro tanto against it? 'What everybody says must be true,' says the old proverb, and I do not dispute it. What most people say is, I think, most often false. And that is true about conduct, as well as about opinion. It is very unsafe to take the general sense of a community for your direction. It is unsafe in regard to matters of opinion, it is even more unsafe in regard to matters of conduct. That there are many on a road is no sign that the road is a right one; but it is rather an argument the other way; looking at the gregariousness of human nature, and how much people like to save themselves the trouble of thinking and decision, and to run in ruts; just as a cab-driver will get upon the tram-lines when he can, because his vehicle runs easier there. So the fact that, if you are going to be Christ-like Christians, you will be in the minority, is a reason for being such.
You young men in warehouses, and all of you in your different spheres and circles, do not be afraid of being singular. And remember that Jesus Christ, and one man with Him, though it is Athanasius contra mundum, are always in the majority.
Now that is good, bracing teaching, apart altogether from Christianity. But I wish to bring it to bear especially in that direction. And so I would remind you that after all, the solitude in which a man may have to walk, if he sets Christ before him, and tries to follow Him with His cross upon his shoulders, is only an apparent solitude. For, look, whose footsteps are these on my path, not without spots of blood, where the tender feet have trod upon thorns and briars? There has been Somebody here before me. Who? 'Let him take up his cross and follow Me.' And if we follow Him, the solitude will be like that in which the two sad disciples walked on the Resurrection day, when a third came and joined Himself to them. So a second will come to each of us, if we are alone, and our hearts will burn within us. Nor shall we need to wait till the repose of the evening and the breaking of bread, before we know that 'it is the Lord'; nor, known and recognised, will He vanish from our sides.
Dear brethren, because 'few there be that go in thereat,' and walk thereon, I beseech you to go in through the door of faith, and to walk in the way of Christ, who has left us an ensample that we should follow in His steps. If of thee it can be said, as the great Puritan poet said of one virgin pure, that thou
'—Wisely hast shunned the broad way and the green, And with those few art eminently seen That labour up the hill of heavenly truth,'—
his assurance to her will be applicable to thee, and
'—Thou, when the Bridegroom, with His feastful friends, Passes to bliss at the mid-hour of night, Hast gained thy entrance.'
IV. That leads me to the last point—viz. the contrasted ends of these two paths.
Christ assumes the right to speak decisively and authoritatively with regard to the ultimate issues of human conduct, in a way which, as I believe, marks His divinity, and which no man can venture upon without presumption. Of the one path He declares without hesitation that it leads to life; of the other He affirms uncompromisingly that it 'leads to destruction.' Now, I dare not dwell upon these solemn thoughts with any enfeebling expansion by my own words, but I beseech you to lay them to heart—only take the simple remark, as a commentary and an exposition of the solemn meaning of these issues, that life does not mean mere continuous existence, but, as it generally does upon His lips, means that which alone He recognises as being the true life of such a creature as man—viz. existence in union with Himself, the Source of life; and that, conversely, destruction does not mean merely the cessation of being, or what we call the destruction of consciousness and the annihilation of a soul, but that it means the continued consciousness of a soul rent away from Him in whom alone is life, and which therefore has made shipwreck of everything, and has destroyed itself.
There are the issues, then, before us, and I dare not blur the clear distinction which Jesus Christ draws. I listen to Him, and accept His word, and I press upon you, dear brethren, that the main thing about a road is, after all, where it leads us; and I ask you to remember that your life-path—as I try to remember that mine—is tending to one or other of these two issues. The one path may be, and is, rough and steep though its delights are nobler, more poignant, and more permanent than any that can be found elsewhere. Steadily climbing like some mountain railway, it reaches at last the short tunnel on the summit level, and then dashes out into the blinding blaze of a new sunshine. The other goes merrily enough, at first, downhill, but at last it comes to the edge of the abyss, and there it stops, but the traveller does not. He goes over; and nobody can see the darkness into which he falls.
Dear friends, Christ says, 'I am the Way.' Do you go to Him and cry, 'See if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me into the way everlasting.'
THE TWO HOUSES
'Therefore, whosoever heareth these sayings of Mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock.... 25. And every one that heareth these sayings of Mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand.'—Matt. vii. 24, 25.
Our Lord closes the so-called Sermon on the Mount, which is really the King's proclamation of the law of His Kingdom, with three pairs of contrasts, all meant to sway us to obedience. The first is that of the two ways: one broad, and leading down to abysses of destruction; the other narrow, and leading up to shining heights of life. The second is that of the two trees, one good and one bad, each bearing fruit according to its nature; by which our Lord would teach us that conduct is the outcome and revelation of character, and the test of being a follower of His. The third is that of our text, the two houses on the two foundations, and their fate before the one storm; by which our Lord would teach us that the only foundation on which can be built a life that will stand the blast of final judgment is His sayings and Himself.
Now, there are many very important and profound links of connection and relation between these three contrasted pictures, but I only point to one thing here, and that is that in all of them Jesus Christ most decisively divides all His hearers—for it is about them that He is speaking—into two classes: either on the broad road or on the narrow, not a foot in each; either the good tree or the bad; either the house on the sand or the house on the rock. Such a sharp division is said nowadays to be narrow, and to be contradicted by the facts of life, in which the great mass of men are neither very white nor very black, but a kind of neutral grey. Yes, they are—on the surface. But if you go down to the bottom, and grasp the life in its inmost principles and essential nature, I fancy that Jesus Christ's narrowness is true to fact. At all events, there it is.
Now, following out the imagery of our text, I wish to bring before you the two foundations, the two houses, the one storm, the two endings.
I. The two foundations: Rock, Sand.
Now, to build on the Rock, Jesus Christ Himself explains to us as being the same thing as to hear and do His sayings. The one representation is plain fact, the other is metaphor which points precisely in the same direction. It is scarcely a digression if I pause for a moment, and point you to the singular and unique attitude which this Carpenter's Son of Nazareth takes up here, fronting the whole race with that 'whosoever,' and alleging that His sayings are an infallible law for conduct, and that He has the right absolutely to command every man, woman, and child of the sons and daughters of Adam. And the strange thing is that the best men have admitted His claim, have recognised that He had the right, and have seen that His precepts are the very ideal of human conduct, and, if they have ventured to criticise at all, their criticism has only been that the precepts are too good to be obeyed, and contemplate an ideal that is unreachable in human society. Be that as it may, there stands the fact that this Man, in this Sermon on the Mount, which so many people say has no doctrinal teaching in it, assumes an attitude which nothing can warrant and nothing explain except the full-toned belief that in Him we have God manifest in the flesh.
But what I desire to point to now is the significance of this demand that He makes, that we shall take His sayings as the foundation of our lives. The metaphor is a very plain one, by which the principles that underlie or dominate and mould our conduct are regarded as the foundation upon which we build the structure of our lives. But the Sermon on the Mount is not all of these 'sayings of Mine.' It is fashionable in certain quarters to-day to isolate these precepts, and to regard them as being the part of Christian Revelation by which men who set little store by theological subtleties, and reject the mysteries of the Incarnation and the Atonement, may still abide. But I would have you notice that it is absurd to isolate this Sermon on the Mount, or to deal with it as if it were the very centre of the Christian Revelation. It is nothing of the sort. Beautiful as it is, wonderful as it is as a high ideal of human conduct, it is a law still, though it is a perfect law; and it has all the impotences and all the deficiencies that attach to a law, if you take it and rend it out of its place, and insist upon dealing with it as if it stood alone. There is not a word in it that tells you how to keep its precepts. There is no power in it, or raying from it, to make a man obey any one of its commandments. It comes radiant and beautiful, but imperative, and just because no man keeps it to the full, its very beauty becomes menacing, and it stands there over against us, showing us what we ought to be, and, by consequence, what we are not. And is that all that Jesus Christ came into the world to do? God forbid! If He had only spoken this Sermon on the Mount—which some of you take for the Alpha and the Omega of Christianity as far as you are concerned—He would not have been different in essence from other teachers,—though high above them in degree,—who speak to us of the shining heights of duty that we are to scale, but leave us grovelling in the mire.
The Sermon on the Mount, with its stringent requirements, absolutely demands to be completed by other thoughts and other 'sayings of Mine.' And so I remind you, not only that there are other 'sayings of Mine' to be kept than it, but also that there is no keeping of it without keeping other sayings first. For the highest of Christ's commandments is 'Believe also in Me,' and you have to take Him as your Redeemer and Saviour from death before you will ever thoroughly accept Him as your Guide and Pattern for life. We must first draw near to Him in humble penitence and lowly faith, and then there comes into our hearts a power which makes it possible and delightsome to keep even the loftiest, and in other aspects the hardest, of 'those sayings of Mine.' So, brethren, the obedience of which this text speaks is second, and the building of ourselves on Jesus Christ Himself, by faith in Him, is first. Only when we build on Him as our Saviour shall we build our lives upon Him in obedience to His commands.
'Behold! I lay in Zion for a foundation, a stone, a tried corner-stone, a sure foundation, and he that believeth shall not make haste'; and long after the prophet said that, the Apostle catches up the same thought when he says, 'Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid. Let every man take heed how he buildeth thereon.' Jesus Christ is the foundation of our lives, if we have any true life at all. He ought to be the foundation of all our thinking. His word should be the absolute truth, His life the final all-satisfying, perfect revelation of God, to our hearts. 'In Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.' The facts of His Incarnation, earthly life, Death, Resurrection, Ascension, and present Sovereignty—these facts, with the truths that are deduced from them, and the great glimpses which they afford into the heart of God and the depths of things, are the foundations of all true thinking on moral and social and religious questions, and on not a few other questions besides. Christ in His Revelation gives us the ultimate truth on which we have to build.
He is also the foundation of all our hope, the foundation of all our security, the foundation of all our effort and aspiration. His Cross goes before the nations and leads them, His Cross stands by the individual, and anodynes the sense of guilt, and breaks the bondage and captivity of sin, and stirs to all lofty emotions and holy living, and moves ever in the van like the pillar of cloud and fire, the Pattern of our lives and the Guide of our pilgrimage. It is Christ Himself who is the foundation, and His death and sacrifice which are the sure basis of our hope, safety, and blessedness; and it is only because He Himself is the Foundation, and what He has done for us is the basis of hope and blessedness, that He has the right to come to us and say, 'Take My commandments as the foundation on which you build your lives.'
The Rock of Ages cleft for us, is the Rock on which we build if we are Christians; the other man built his house upon the sand. That is to say, shifting inclinations, short-lived appetites, transitory aims, varying judgments of men, the fashions of the day in morality, the changing judgments of our own consciences—these are the things on which men build, if they are not building upon Jesus Christ. Like a vessel that has a raw hand at the helm, you sometimes head one way, and then the puff of wind that fills your sails dies down, or the sails that were flat as a board belly out a little, or you are caught in some current, and round goes the bowsprit on another tack altogether. How many of us are pursuing the objects which we pursued five-and-twenty years ago, if we have numbered so many years? What has become of aims that were everything to us then? We have won some of them, and they have turned out not half as good as we thought they would be. The hare is never so big when it is in the bag as when it is hurrying across the fields. We have missed some of them, and we scarcely remember that we once wanted them. We have outlived a great many, and they lie away behind us, hull down on the horizon, and we are making for some other point that, in like manner, if we reach it, will be left behind and be lost. There is nothing that lasts but God and Christ, and the people that build their lives upon them.
I press upon all your hearts that one simple thought—what an absurdity it is for us to choose for our life's object anything that is shorter-lived than ourselves!—and how long-lived you are you know. They tell us that sand makes a very good foundation under certain circumstances. I believe it does, but what if the water gets in? What about it then? But in regard to all these transitory aims and short-lived purposes on which some of you are building your lives, there is a certainty that the water will come in some day. So, friend, dig deeper down, even to the Eternal Rock. That is the only foundation on which an immortal man or woman like you is wise to build your life. Are you doing it?
II. Let me say a word, in the next place, about the two houses.
The one is built upon the rock. That just means, of course—and I need not enlarge upon that—a life which is based upon, and shaped after, the commandments of Jesus Christ, His Pattern and Example. And that life will stand. Now, of course, the ideal would be that the whole of His sayings should enter into the whole of our lives, that no commandment of that dear Lord should be left unobeyed, and that no action of ours should be unaffected by His known will. That is the ideal, and for us the task of wisdom is daily to draw nearer and nearer to that ideal, and to bring the whole of our lives more and more under the sway and sanctifying influence of the whole sum of Christ's precepts. Of course, on the other side, the life that is built on the sand is the life which is not thus regulated by Christ's will and known commandments.
But I desire rather to bring out, in a word or two, some of the lessons that may be gathered from this general metaphor of a man's life as a house. And the first that I would suggest is this:—Have you ever thought of your life as being a whole, with a definite moral characteristic stamped upon it? I look upon the men and women that I come across in the world, and I cannot help seeing that a great many of them have never got into their heads the idea that their life is a whole. A house? No. A cartload of bricks, tumbled down at random, would be a better metaphor. A chain? No! A heap of links not linked. Many of you live from hand to mouth. Many of you have such unity in your life as comes from the pressure of the external circumstances of your trade or profession. But for anything like the living consciousness that life is a whole, with a definite moral character for which you are responsible, it has never dawned upon your mind. And so you go on haphazard, never bringing reflection to bear upon the trend and drift of your days; doing what you must do because your occupation is this, that, or the other thing; doing what you incline to do in the matter of recreation; now and then sporadically, and for a minute or two, bringing conscience to bear, and being very uncomfortable sometimes when you do. But as for recognising the mystic solemnity of all these days of yours in that they are welded together, and are all tending to one end, and that each passing moment contributes its infinitesimal share to the awful solemn whole—that has seldom entered your minds, and for a great many of you it has never had any effect in restraining or stimulating or regulating your conduct.
Then there is another consideration which this metaphor suggests—viz. that the house is built up by slow degrees, brick upon brick, course by course, day by day, and moment by moment. It is slow work, but certain work. 'Let every man take heed how he buildeth,' and never despise the little things. Very small bricks make a large house.
Then there is another consideration that I would suggest, and that is, you have to live in the house that you build. Your deeds make the house that Christ is here speaking of. Like the chrysalis that spins out of its own entrails the cocoon in which it lies, so are you spinning, to vary the metaphor, what you lodge in, until you eat your way through it, and pass into the next stage of being. Our deeds seem transient, but although we are building on the sand we are building for Eternity, because, though the deeds are transient in appearance, they abide.
They abide in memory. Some of you know how true that is. Black memories haunt some of us, and there could be for some no worse hell than that God should say, 'Son, remember.' You have to live in the house that you build. The deeds abide in habit. They abide in limiting and determining what we can be and do in the future; and in a hundred other ways that I must not touch upon. Only, I bring to you this question, and I pray God that you may listen to it and answer it: What are you building? A shop? That is a noble ambition, is it not? A pleasure-house? That is worse. A prison? Some of you are rearing for your incarceration a jail where you will be tied and held by the cords of your sins, and whence you will be unable to break out. Or are you building a temple? If you are building on Christ it is all right. Only take heed what you build on that foundation.
III. Now let me say a word, in the next place, about the storm.
I need not dwell upon the picturesque force of our Lord's description, so true to the sudden inundations of Eastern lands, and as true to the sudden floods of Northern countries when the snows melt. The house is attacked on all sides. From above, the rain comes down to beat on the roof, the wind rages round the walls, the flood comes swirling round the eaves from beneath, and if the house stands upon a cliff, the polished rock turns the flood off innocuous, but if it stands upon sand, the furious rush of waters eats a way beneath and undermines the whole.
But you will notice that the description of the storm is repeated in both cases, and is verbatim the same in each. And the lesson from that is just this—let no Christian man fancy that he is not going to be judged according to his works, for he is. The storm that comes, which I take distinctly to mean the final judgment which falls upon all men, beats against the house that is built upon the rock. For every one of us, Christian or not Christian, 'must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ, that we may receive according to the deeds done in the body.' Christian people, do not fancy that the great doctrine of forgiveness of sins and acceptance in the Beloved, means that you have not to stand His judgment according to your works. According to the other metaphor of the Apostle, working out the same idea with some changes in figure, the Christian man who builds 'upon the foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble,' has his 'work tried by fire.' So all of us have to face that prospect, and I beseech you to face it wisely. A sensible builder calculates the strain to which his work will be exposed before he begins to put it up. Or if he does not there will befall it the same fate that years ago befell that unfortunate Tay Bridge, where, by reason of girders too feeble, and piers not solid enough, and rivets left out where they should have been put in, one December night the whole thing went over into the water below. You have to stand the hurtling black storm. Take into account the strain which your building will have to resist, and build accordingly.
IV. And now, lastly, one word about the two endings.
'It stood'; 'it fell'; that is all. A life of obedience to Christ is stable, a life not based on Christ vanishes; and these two statements are true because whatsoever a man does for himself, apart from God in Christ, he is sowing to corruption, and he will reap corruption. As I said, nothing lasts but God, and what is done according to the will of God. And when the storm conies, whether the builder was a Christian man or not, all which was not thus built on Christ will be swept away, as the flimsy habitation of Eastern people, made of bamboos and oiled paper, are whirled away before the typhoon. All that was not built upon Christ—and much of you Christian people's lives is not built on Christ—will have to go.
And what about the builders? 'If any man's work abide he will receive a reward.' 'Their works do follow them.' 'If any man's work is burned, he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.' And if any man has reared a structure of a life ignoring Jesus Christ, and with no connection with Him, then house and builder will perish together.
Jesus Christ does not speak in my text about the righteousness or the unrighteousness of these two courses of conduct. He does not say, 'a good man does so-and-so, or a bad man does the other thing,' but he says: A wise man builds his house on the Rock, and a foolish man builds his on the sand. To live by faith and obedience is supreme wisdom. Every life which is not built upon Christ is the perfection of folly.
THE CHRIST OF THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT
'And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at His doctrine: 29. For He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.'—MATT. vii. 28-29.
It appears, then, from these words, that the first impression made on the masses by the Sermon on the Mount was not so much an appreciation of its high morality, as a feeling of the personal authority with which Christ spoke. Had the scribes, then, no authority? They ruled the whole life of the nation with tyrannical power. They sat in Moses' seat, and claimed all manner of sway and control. And yet when people listened to Jesus, they heard something ringing in His voice that they missed in the rabbis. They only set themselves up, in their highest claims, as being commentators upon, and the expositors of, the Law. Their language was 'Moses commanded'; 'Rabbi this said so-and-so; Rabbi that said such-and-such.' But as even the crowd that listened to Him detected, Jesus Christ, in these great laws of His kingdom, adduced no authority but His own; stood forth as a Legislator, not as a commentator; and commanded, and prohibited, and repealed, and promised, on His own bare word. That is a characteristic of all Christ's teaching; and, as we see from my text, to the apprehension of the first auditors, it was deeply stamped on the Sermon on the Mount.
I purpose to turn to that Sermon now, and try if we can make out the points in it which impressed these people, who first heard it, with the sense that they were in the presence of an autocratic Voice that had a right to speak, and which did speak, with absolute and unexampled authority.
And I do that the more readily because I dare say you have all heard people that said 'Oh! I do not care about the dogmas of Christianity; give me the Sermon on the Mount and its sublime morality; that is Christianity enough for me.' Well, I should be disposed to say so pretty nearly too, if you will take all the Sermon on the Mount, and not go picking and choosing bits out of it. For I am sure that if you will take the whole of its teaching you will find yourself next door to, if not in the very inmost chamber of, the mysticism of the Gospel of John and the theology of Paul.
I. I ask you, then, to note that the Sermon claims for Jesus Christ the authority of supremacy above all former revelation and revealers.
'Think not,' says He, 'that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.' And then He goes on, in five cases, to illustrate, in a very remarkable way, the authority that He claimed over the former Law, moulding it according to His will.
Now I do not propose to do more than suggest, in a sentence, two points that I think of importance. Observe that remarkable form of speech, 'I am come.' May we not fairly say that it implies that He existed before birth, and that His appearance among men was the result of His own act? Does it not imply that He was not merely born, but came, choosing to be born just as He chose to die? In what sense can we understand the Apostle's view that it was an infinite and stupendous act of condescension in Christ to 'be found in fashion as a man,' unless we believe that by His own will and act He came forth from the Father and entered into the world, just as by His own will and act He left the world and went unto the Father?
But I do not dwell upon that, nor upon another very important consideration. Why was it that Jesus Christ, at the very beginning of His mission, felt Himself bound to disclaim any intention of destroying the law or the prophets? Must not the people have begun to feel that there was something revolutionary and novel about His teaching, and that it was threatening to disturb what had been consecrated by ages? So that it was needful that He should begin His career with this disclaimer of the intention of destruction. Strange for a divine messenger, if He simply stood as one in the line and sequence of divine revelation, to begin His work by saying, 'Now, I do not mean to annihilate all that is behind Me!' The question arises how anybody should have supposed that He did, and why it should ever have been needful for Him to say that He did not.
But I pass by all that, and ask you to think how much lies in these words of our Lord: 'I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.' They imply a claim that His life was a complete embodiment of God's law. Here is a man beginning His ministry as a religious teacher, with the assertion, stupendous, and, upon any other lips but His, insane arrogance, that He had come to do everything which God demanded, and to set forth before the world a living Pattern of the whole obedience of a human nature to the whole law of God. Who is He that said that? And how do we account for the fact that nineteen centuries have passed, and, excepting in the case of here and there a bitter foe whose hostility had robbed him of his common sense, no lip has ventured to say that He claimed too much for Himself when He said, 'I am come to fulfil the law'; or that He falsely read the facts of His own experience and consciousness when He declared, 'I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do.'
Still further, here our Lord claims specifically and expressly to fulfil not only law but prophets. That is to say, He sets Himself forth as the Reality which had filled the imaginations and the hearts of a whole nation for centuries; as the living Reality which had been meant by all those lofty words of seers and prophets in the past. He declares that all those rapturous forecastings, all those dim anticipations, all those triumphant promises, were not left to swing in vacuo, or to float about unfulfilled, but that He stood there, the actual Realisation of them all; and in Him, wrapped up as in a seed, the Kingdom of Heaven was among men.
And still further, He claims not only personal purity and completeness, and the fulfilment of all prior and prophetic anticipation, but also He claims to have, and He exercises, the power of moulding, expanding, interpreting, and in some cases brushing aside, laws which He and they alike knew to be the laws of God. I do not need to specify in detail the instances which are contained in this Sermon on the Mount. But I simply ask you to consider the formula with which our Lord introduces each of His references to that subject. 'Ye have heard that it hath been said to them of old time' so-and-so,—and then follows a command of the Mosaic law; but 'I say unto you' so-and-so,—and then follows a deepening or a modification or a repeal, of statutes acknowledged by Him and His hearers to be divine. He certainly claims to speak with the same right and authority as the old Law did. He as certainly claims to speak with incomparably higher authority than Moses did, for the latter never professed to give precepts of his own. He was not the Lawgiver, as he is often called, but only the messenger of the Lawgiver. But Christ is Himself the fountain of the laws of His Kingdom. Nor only so, but He puts Himself without apology or explanation in front of Moses and asserts power to modify, to set aside, or to re-enact with new stringency, the precepts of the divine law.
One supposition alone accounts for Christ's attitude to law and prophets in this Sermon, and that is that the Eternal Wisdom and Personal Word of God, which at sundry times and in 'divers manners' spake to the old world by Moses, itself at last, in human form and personal guise, came here on earth and spake to us men. It is the same Voice that breathed through the prophets of old, and that spake on the lips of the Christ of Nazareth; the same Eternal Word who manifested Himself in a 'fiery law' on Sinai, and in words of no less majesty and of deepened gentleness, when He gathered the people round about Him, and said to them, 'It hath been said to them of old time, ... but I say unto you ...'
Here is the sum and climax of all revelation, the last word of the divine mind and will and heart, to the world. Moses and Elias stand beside Him on the Mount of Transfiguration, witnesses of His superiority and servants at His feet, and they vanish into mist and darkness, and leave there, erect, white-robed, solitary, the unique figure of the One Lawgiver and the perfect Revealer of God to men.
And this is the authority which struck even on the unsusceptible hearts of the listening crowds.
II. Still further, let me ask you to consider how, in this same great Sermon, He claims the authority of One who is unique in His relation to the Father.
You will find that in it there occurs very frequently the expression, 'your Father which is in Heaven'; or sometimes with the variation,'thy Father which is in Heaven,' or, 'which seeth in secret.' But you will also find that whilst our Lord speaks about 'My Father which is in Heaven,' He never says 'our Father'; excepting in the exception which proves the rule when He is putting into the lips of His disciples the great formula of prayer which we call the 'Lord's Prayer'; and there speaking as through their consciousness, and teaching them their lesson, He says 'Our Father,' not as if He Himself were praying, but as if He were telling them how to pray. But when He speaks out of His own consciousness He speaks of 'My Father' and 'your Father,' never of 'our Father.'
And that corresponds with other phenomena in Scripture in our Lord's own language where you find that always He draws this broad distinction. He never associates Himself with us in His Sonship. He ever asserts that He is the Son of God. Even when He wishes to speak with the utmost tenderness, He bids the weeping Mary hear the message, 'I go unto My Father and your Father.' This doctrine is thought by many to be one of those which they get rid of by professing the Christianity of the Sermon on the Mount. But it is there as plainly as in other parts of Scripture. If we accept all which it teaches, we cannot escape from the belief that He is the only begotten and well-beloved Son of the Father; and also that through Him and in Him we, too, may receive the adoption of sons.
Dear friends, I press this upon you as no mere piece of hard theological doctrine, but as containing in it the very essentials of all spiritual life for each of us, that all our spiritual life must come by participation in Christ, and that we enter into an altogether new and blessed relation to God when, laying our humble and penitent hands on the head of that dear Sacrifice that died on the Cross for as, we through Him cease to be children of wrath and become heirs of God. 'To as many as received Him, to them gave He authority to become the children of God, even to them that believe in His name,' but His Sonship stands unique and unapproachable, though it is the foundation from which flows all the sonship of the whole family in heaven and in earth. Moses and the prophets, teachers and guides, Apostles and Helpers, they are all but the servants of the family; this is the Son through whom we receive the adoption of sons.
III. We have in this great discourse the authority of One who is absolute Lord and Master over men.
'Not every one that saith unto me, Lord! Lord! shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, Lord! Lord! have we not prophesied in Thy name, and in Thy name done many wonderful works?' 'Whoso heareth these sayings of Mine, and doeth them, I will liken him to a wise man, which built his house upon a rock.'
Jesus Christ here comes before the whole race, and claims an absolute submission. His word is to control, with authoritative and all-comprehensive scrutiny and power, every aim of our lives, and every action. In His name we may be strong, in His name we may cast out devils, in His name we may do many wonderful works. If we build upon Him we build upon a rock; if we build anywhere else we build upon the sand.
Strange, outrageous claims for a man to make! 'Give me the Sermon on the Mount, and keep your doctrinal theology,' say people. But I want to know what kind of morality it is that is all traceable up to this—'Do as I bid you, My will is your law; My smile is your reward; to obey Me is perfection.' I think that takes you a good long way into 'theology.' I think that the Man who said that—and you all know that He said it—must he either a good deal more or a good deal less than a perfect man. If He is only that He is not that; for if He is only that, He has no business to tell me to obey Him. He has no business to substitute His will for every other law; and you have no business—and it will be at the peril of your manhood if you do—to take any man, the Man Christ or any other, as an absolute example and pattern and master.
My brethren, Christ's claim to absolute obedience rests upon His divine nature and on His redeeming work. He has delivered us from our enemies, and therefore He commands us. He has given Himself for us, and therefore He has a right to say, 'Give yourselves to Me.' He is God manifest in the flesh, and therefore absolute power becomes His lips, and utter submission is our dignity. To say to Him 'Lord, Lord,' carries us whole universes beyond saying to Him, 'Rabbi, Rabbi.'
IV. And now, lastly, we have in this great discourse the authority of our Lord set forth as being the authority of Him who is to be the Judge of the world.
'Then will I profess unto you I never knew you; depart from Me, ye that work iniquity.' He, the meek, the humble, who never claimed for Himself anything except what His consciousness compelled Him to assert, who desired only that men should know Him for what He was, because it was their life so to know Him, here declares that the whole world is to be judged by Him, that He has such knowledge of men as will pierce beneath the surface of professions and will be undazzled by the most stupendous miracles, and beneath the eloquent words of many a preacher and the wonderful works of many a so-called Christian philanthropist, will see the hidden rottenness that they never saw, and, tearing down the veil, will reveal men at the last to themselves.
That is no human function, that is no work that belongs to a mere teacher, pattern, martyr, sage, philosopher, or saint. That is a divine work; and the authority of Him whose final word to each of us will settle beyond appeal our fate, and reveal beyond cavil our character, is a divine authority. He has a right to command because He is going to judge; and the lips that declare the law are the lips that will read the sentence.
So, my brethren, do you take the whole Christ for yours, the Son of God, the crown and end of revelation, the sinless and the perfect, who died on the Cross for our salvation, and loves and pities, and is ready to help every one of us; who, therefore, commands us with an absolute authority, and who one day comes to be our Judge? If you turn to Him and ask Him, 'Art Thou He that should come?' let Him speak for Himself, and He will answer you: 'I that speak unto thee am He.' When He asks each of us, as He does now, 'Whom sayest thou that I am?' oh that we may all answer, with the assent of our understandings, with the love of our hearts, with the submission of our wills, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.'
THE TOUCH THAT CLEANSES
'When He was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. 1. And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped Him, saying, Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean. 3. And Jesus put forth His hand, and touched him, saying, I will; he thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4. And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.'—MATT. viii. 14.
THE great collection of Jesus' sayings, which we call the Sermon on the Mount, is followed by a similar collection of Jesus' doings, which we call miracles. It is significant that Matthew puts the words first and the works second, as if to teach us the relative importance of the two. Some one has said that miracles are 'the bell rung before the sermon,' but Matthew thinks that the sermon comes first. He masses together nine miracles (the raising of Jairus' daughter and the healing of the woman with the bloody issue being so closely connected that they may be regarded as one) which are divided into three groups of three each, and are separated by three sections of more general character, like three landings in a broad flight of stairs, or three breaks in a procession (ch. viii. 18-22; ix. 9-17, 35-38).
The first triplet comprises miracles of bodily healing, and shows Jesus as the great physician, curing leprosy, palsy, and fever, three types of disease which have their analogues in the moral world. The cure of the leper comes first, apparently not from chronological reasons, but because leprosy had been made by the Old Testament legislation the symbol of sin. The story is found in all the Synoptic Gospels, with slight variations, which make more impressive their verbal identity in reporting the leper's appeal and the Lord's answer.
A leper had to keep apart from men and was shunned by them, but this one ventured to mingle with the 'great multitudes' that 'followed' Jesus, till he reached His side. He must have known something of Christ to have approached Him with a flicker of long-absent hope in his heart. No doubt he had heard of some of the earlier miracles; and no doubt the crowd recoiled from him so that he could easily reach Jesus. When he got there he worshipped, or, as Luke puts it, 'fell on his face,' and made his appeal. It would be all the more piteous, because it was spoken in that feeble, hoarse voice characteristic of leprosy, and it was in itself most pathetic. The poor creature has won his way to a surprising confidence, dashed with a yet more surprising diffidence and doubt. He is sure of the power, but not of the willingness, of this wonderful healer. 'Thou canst,' does not make him confident, because it is weakened by 'If Thou wilt.' Faith, desire, humility, and submissiveness are beautifully smelted together in the wistful words, which are all the more prevalent a prayer, because they do not venture to take the form of prayer. To tell Jesus that His will was all that was needed to heal him was, as it were, to throw the responsibility for this continued misery on Him who could so easily deliver, if He only willed to do it. But the hope which gleamed before his poor eyes was only a gleam, obscured by his ignorance of Jesus' disposition towards him. The lowly acquiescence, with which he leaves Jesus to decide whether he is to be freed from his horrible, living death, is very beautiful, and speaks of a patient, disciplined spirit, as well as of a profound insight into our Lord's authority. The leper does cling to the hope that Jesus does will to heal him, but he will not rebel if he is left shut up in his prison-house. Surely in such a blending of trust, yearning, and acceptance of that Will, whatever it involved, there was the germ of discipleship. Surely there was, at least, the beginning of a living union with Jesus, which would heal more than the leprosy of the flesh.
Mark gives the precious addition to the narrative, of a glimpse into the heart of Jesus, when he tells us that, 'moved with compassion,' He 'put forth His hand and touched him.' Swift and, we may almost say, instinctive was the outgoing of pity from the heart, which was so pitiful because it was so pure, and laid on itself every man's sorrow because it carried no burden of its own sin or self-regard. That touch had deep meaning, but it was not done for the sake of a meaning. It was the spontaneous expression of love, and revealed the delicate quickness of perception of another's feelings which flows from love only. The leper had almost forgotten what the touch of a hand felt like. He had lived, ever since his disease was manifest, apart from others, had perhaps lost the embraces of wife and children, had walked alone in crowds, and had a heart-chilling circle cleared round him everywhere. But now this Man stretches His hand across the dreary gulf, and lets him feel once more the sweetness of a warm and gentle touch. It was half the cure; it was the complete clearing away of the last film of the cloud of doubt as to the will of Jesus. It answered the 'if' by something that spoke louder than any word. And, though it was not meant for anything but the silent voice of pity and love, we do not rob it of its beautiful spontaneity when we see, in the touch of that pure hand on the rotting feculence of leprosy, a parable of the Incarnation, in which He lays hold on our flesh of sin and is yet without sin—contracts no defilement by contact, but by touching cleanses the foulness on which He lays His white fingers. By that touch He proclaimed Himself the priest, to whom the Law gave the office of laying his hand on the leper.
But the great word accompanying the touch is majestic in its brevity and absolute claim to absolute power. Jesus accepts the leper's lofty conception of His omnipotent will, as He always accepted the highest conceptions that any formed of His person or authority. The sovereign utterance, 'I will,' claims possession of the divine prerogative of affecting dead matter by the mere outgoing of His volition. Not only is it true of Him that 'He spake and it was done,' but He willed and it was done; and these are the hall-marks of divine power. Neither the touch of His hand nor the word of His lips cleansed the leper, but simply the exercise of His will, of which word and touch were but audible and visible tokens for sense to grasp. The form of the poor husky croak for help determined the form of the answer, and the correspondence is marked by all the evangelists as a striking instance of Christ's loving way of echoing our petitions in His replies, and moulding His gifts to match our desires. Thunder in heaven wakes echoes on earth, but more wonderful is it that the thin voice of our supplications, when we scarcely dare to shape them into prayers, should wake a voice from the throne, which, though it is mighty as 'the voice of many waters' and sweet as that of 'harpers harping with their harps,' deigns to echo our poor cries.
The prohibition to speak of the cure till the priests had pronounced it real and complete is more stringent in Mark, who also tells how utterly it was disregarded. Its reason was obviously the wish to comply with the law, and also the wish to get the official seal to the cure. Jesus did desire the miracle to be known, but not till it was authoritatively certified by the priest whose business it was to pronounce a sufferer clean. It was for the leper's advantage, too, that he should have the official certificate, since he would not be restored to society without it. One does not wonder that the prohibition was disregarded in the uncontrollable delight and wonder at such an experience. The leper was eloquent, as we all can be, when our hearts are engaged, and his blessing refused to be hid. Alas, how many of us, who profess to have been cleansed from a worse defilement, find no such impulse to speak welling up in ourselves! Alas, how superfluous is the injunction to hundreds of Christ's disciples: 'See thou say nothing to any man'!
THE FAITH WHICH CHRIST PRAISES
'The centurion answered and said: Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof, but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. 9. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go! and he goeth; and to another, Come I and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this; and he doeth it.'—MATT. viii. 8-9.
This miracle of the healing of the centurion's servant is the second of the great series which Matthew gives us. It is perhaps not accidental that both the first and the second miracles in his collection point out our Lord's relation to outcasts from Israel. The first of them deals with a leper, the second with the prayer of a heathen. And so they both contribute to the great purpose of Matthew's Gospel, the bringing out of the nature of the kingdom and the glory of the King.
My object now is to deal with the whole of the incident of which I have read the most important part. We have in the story three things: the man and his faith; Christ's eulogium upon the faith, and declaration of its place in His kingdom; and the answer to the faith. Look, then, at these three in succession.
I. We consider, first, the man and his faith.
He was a heathen and a Gentile. The Herod, who then ruled over Galilee, had a little army, officered by Romans, of whom probably this centurion was one; the commander, perhaps, of some small garrison of a hundred men, the sixtieth part of a legion, which was stationed in Capernaum. If we look at all the features of his character which come out in the story, we get a very lovable picture of a much more tender heart than might have been supposed to beat under the armour of a mercenary soldier set to overawe a sullen people. 'He loveth our nation,' say the elders of the Jews,—not certainly because of their amiability, but because of the revelation which they possessed. Like a great many others in that strange, restless era when our Lord came, this man seems to have become tired of the hollowness of heathenism, and to have been groping for the light. His military service brought him into contact with Judaism and its monotheism, and his heart sprang to that as the thing he had been seeking. 'He hath built us a synagogue,' thereby expressing his adhesion to, or at least his lofty estimate of, the worship which was there carried on. Just as, if an English officer in India were, in some little village or other, to repair a ruined temple, he would win the hearts of all the people, because they would think he was coming over to Brahminism; so this soldier was felt to be nearer to the Jews than his official position might have suggested.
Then, there was in him a beautiful human kindliness, which neither the rough military life, nor that carelessness about a slave—which is one of the worst fruits of slavery, had been able to sour or destroy. He was tenderly anxious about his servant, who, according to Luke's expression, was 'dear to him.' Then we get as the crown of all the beauty of his character, the lowliness of spirit which the 'little brief authority' in which he 'was dressed' had not puffed up. 'I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof.' That lowliness is emphasised in Luke's version of the story, which is more detailed and particularly accurate than Matthew's summary account. By it we learn that he did not venture to come himself, but sent His messengers to Jesus. If we take Matthew's version, there is another lovely trait. He does not ask Christ to do anything. He simply spreads the necessity before Him, in the confidence that His pitying love lies so near the surface that it was sure to flow forth, even at that light touch. He will not prescribe, he tells the story, and leaves all to Him. Christ's answer, 'I will come and heal him,' throbs with the consciousness of power, and is gentle with tenderness, quick to interpret unspoken wishes, and not slow to answer, unless it is for the wisher's good to be refused. When He was asked to go, because the asker considered that His presence was necessary for His power to have effect, He refused; when He is not asked to go, He volunteers to do so. He is moved to apparently opposite actions by the same motive, the good of the petitioner, whose weak faith He strengthens by refusal, whose strong faith He confirms by acquiescence. And that is the law of His conduct always, and you and I may trust it absolutely, He may give, or retain ungiven, what we desire; in either case, He will be acting in order that our trust in Him may be deepened.
That brings us to the remarkable and unique conception of our Lord's manner of working and power to which this centurion gives utterance. 'I also' (for the true text of Matthew has that 'also,' as the Revised Version shows), 'I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me, and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; to another, Come, and he cometh; to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. Speak thou with a word only and my servant shall be healed.' A centurion was likely to understand the power of a word of command. His whole training had taught him the omnipotence of the uttered will of the authoritative general, and although he was but an officer over a poor sixtieth part of a legion, yet in some limited measure the same power lay in him, and his word could secure unhesitating submission. One good thing about the devilish trade of war is that it teaches the might of authority and the virtue of absolute obedience. And even his profession, with all its roughness and wickedness, had taught the centurion this precious lesson, a jewel that he had found in a dunghill, the lesson that, given the authoritative lip, a word is omnipotent. The commander speaks and the legion goes, though it be to dash itself to death.
So he turns to Christ. Does he mean to parallel or to contrast his subordination and Christ's position? The 'also,' which, as I remarked, the Revised Version has rightly replaced in the text here, is in favour of the former supposition, that he means to parallel Christ's position with his own. And it is much more natural to suppose that a heathen man, with little knowledge of Christ and of the depths of the divine revelation in the past, should have attained to the conception of Jesus as possessing a real but subordinate and derived authority, than to suppose that he had grasped, at that early stage, the truth which Christ's nearest friends took long years to understand, and which some of them do not understand yet, viz. that Christ possessed as His own the power which He wielded.
But if we take this point of view, and consider that the centurion's conception falls beneath the lofty Christian ideal of Christ's power in the universe, as it is set forth to us in the New Testament, even then His words set forth a truth. For if we believe on the one hand in the divinity of our Lord and Saviour, we also believe that 'the Son is subject to the Father' and listen to His own words when He says, 'All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth.' So that whatever difference there may be between His relation to the power which He wields and that of a prophet or miracle-worker, who derives his power from Him, this is true, that Christ's power, too, is a power given to Him. But the other side is one that I desire to emphasise in a few words, viz. that the centurion's conception falls short of the truth, inasmuch as, if we believe in Christ's witness to Himself, we must believe that the power which acted through His word, dwelt in Him, in an altogether different relation to His person from that in which an analogous power may have dwelt in any other man. 'He spake and it was done, He commanded and it stood fast.' Diseases fled at His word. 'By the breath of His mouth He slew' these enemies of men. He rebuked the storm, and the howling of the wind and the dashing of the waves were less loud than His calm voice. He flung a word into the depths of the grave, strangely speaking to, and yet more strangely heard by, the dull cold ear of death, and Lazarus, dazzled, stumbles out into the light. Who is this, that commandeth the waves, and the seas, and the sicknesses, and they obey Him? My brother, I pray that you and I, in these days of hesitation, when many a truth is clouded by doubt, may be able to answer with the full assent and consent of understanding and heart, 'this is God manifest in the flesh.'
And remember that this prerogative of dealing with physical nature, by the bare forth-putting of His word, is not only a doctrine of Christianity, but that more and more physical investigation is coming to the unifying of all forces in one, and to the resolving of that one into the force of a will, and that all that will, as the Christian scheme teaches us, is lodged in Jesus Christ. His lip speaks, and it is power. He moves in nature, in providence, in history, in grace, because in Him abides now in the form of a man, that same everlasting Word which was with the Father, and by whom all things were made. The centurion bows before the Commander, and the Christ says, 'as Captain of the Lord's host am I now come.' Such, then, is the faith of this soldier taught him by the Legion.
II. Now a word next as to our Lord's eulogium on his faith.
Jesus Christ accepts and endorses the centurion's estimate of Him, as He always accepts the highest place offered Him. No one ever proffered to Jesus Christ honours that He put by. No one ever brought to Him a trust which He said was either excessive or misdirected. 'Speak the word and my servant shall be healed,' said the centurion. Contrast Christ's acceptance of this confidence in his power with Elijah's 'Am I a God, to kill and to make alive, that they send this man to me to recover him of his leprosy?' Or contrast it with Peter's 'Why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk?' Christ takes as His due all the honour, love, and trust, which any man can give Him—either an exorbitant appetite for adulation, or the manifestation of conscious divinity.
'And He marvelled.' Twice we read in Scripture that Christ wondered—once at this heathen's faith, so strongly grown, with so few advantages of culture; once at Jewish unbelief, so feeble and fruitless, after so much expenditure of patience and care. But passing from that, notice how much lies in these sad and yet astonished words of His: 'Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.' Then, He came seeking faith from this people whom God had cared for during centuries. The one fruit that He desired was trust in Him. That is what He is seeking for in us—not lives of profession, not orthodoxy of conception, not even fruits in work, but before all this, and productive of all that is good in any of them, He desires to find in our hearts the child's trust that casts itself wholly on His Omnipotent word, and is sure of an answer. This man's faith was great, great in the rapidity of its growth, great in the difficulties which it had overcome, great in the clearness of its conception, great in the firmness of its affiance, great in the humility with which it was accompanied. Such a faith He seeks as the thirsty traveller seeks grapes in the wilderness, and when He finds it growing in our hearts, then He is satisfied and glad.
Still further, there is brought out the dignity of faith as being not only the great desire of Christ's heart for each of us, but also as being the one means of admission into the kingdom. 'I say unto you, many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, in the Kingdom of Heaven; but the children of the Kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness.' Strange that Matthew's, the Jewish gospel, should record that saying. Strange that Luke's, the universal human gospel, should omit it. But it was relevant to Matthew's great purpose to make very plain this truth—which the nation were forgetting, and which was gall and wormwood to them,—that hereditary descent and outward privileges had no power to open the door of Christ's Kingdom to any man, and that the one thing which had, was the one thing which the centurion possessed and the Jews did not, a simple trust in that divine Lord.
My brethren, there are many of us who attach precisely the same value as these Jews did, in slightly different forms, to external connection with religion and religious institutions. What blunts the sharpest words that come from pulpits, and prevents them from getting to hearts and consciences, is just that pestilent old Jewish error, that because men have always had a kind of outward hold on the Kingdom, therefore they do not need the teaching that the publicans and the harlots want.
My dear friend, nothing binds a man to Christ but trust. Nothing opens the doors of His Kingdom, either here on earth or yonder, but reliance upon Him. And although you were steeped to the eye-brows in religious privileges, and high in place in His church, it would avail nothing. The Kingdom of Christ is a Kingdom into which faith, and faith only, admits a man. Therefore from the furthest corners of the world Christ's sad prescience saw the Gentiles flocking, and the Jews who trusted in externals, cast out.
I need not dwell on the two halves of the picture here, the radiant glow of the one, the tragic darkness of the other. The feast expresses abundance, joy, rest, companionship. 'They shall come' says Christ; then He is there, and sitting at the head of the table; and the Master's welcome makes the feast. On the other hand, that which is without the banqueting hall is dark. That darkness is but the making visible of the nature of the men. Hell comes out of a man before it surrounds him. They 'were sometime darkness,' and now they are in the darkness. I say no more about that, I dare not; but I pray you to remember that the lips which said this 'spake that He did know'; and to take heed lest, speculating and arguing, and sometimes quarrelling, about the nature and the duration of future retribution, we should lose our sense of the awfulness and certainty of the fact.
III. So one word lastly as to the answer that faith brings.
'Go thy way; as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee.' He heals at a distance, and shapes His gift by the man's desire. The form of the vase that is dipped into the sea settles the quantity and the shape of the water that is taken out. There is a wide truth in that, on which I do not now enlarge. The measure of my faith is the measure of my possession of Christ. He puts the key of the treasure-house into our hands and says, 'Go in, and take as much as you like'; and some of us come out with a halfpenny as all that we care to bring away. You are starving, some of you, whilst you are sitting in a granary bursting with plenty. Suppose a proclamation were made, 'There will be given away gold to anybody that likes to come. Let them bring a purse, and it will be filled.' How large a purse do you think you would like to take? A sack, I should think. Christ says that to you; and you bring a tiny thing like what they keep sovereigns in, that will scarcely hold a farthing, with such a narrow throat is it provided, and so small its interior accommodation. 'Ye have not because ye ask not.' 'Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it.'
SWIFT HEALING AND IMMEDIATE SERVICE
'And when Jesus was come into Peter's house, He saw his wife's mother laid, and sick of a fever. 15. And He touched her hand, and the fever left her: and she arose and ministered unto them.'—MATT. viii. 14-15.
Other accounts give a few additional points.
That the house was that of Peter and Andrew.
That Christ went with James and John.
That He was told of the sickness.
That He lifted her up.
Luke, physician-like, diagnoses the fever as 'great.' He also tells us that the sick woman's friends besought Jesus and did not merely 'tell' Him of her. May we infer that to His ear the telling of His servants' woes is a prayer for His help? He does not mention Christ's touch, which Mark here and elsewhere delights to record, and which Matthew also specifies. He fixes attention on the all-powerful word which was the vehicle of Christ's healing might.
Both evangelists put this miracle in its chronological order, from which it appears that it was done on the Sabbath day, which explains our verse 16, 'when the even was come.'
I. The scene of the miracle.
The domestic privacy of the great event seems to have struck the evangelists. It stands between the narrative of Christ's public work in the synagogue, and the story of the eager crowds who came round the doors. So it gives us a glimpse of the uniformity of that life of blessing as being the same in public and in private.
Again, it suggests the characteristic absence of all ostentation in His works. We can scarcely suppose this miracle done for the sake of showing His divinity. It was pure goodness and sympathy which moved Him.
It occurred in a household of His disciples. There, too, sorrow will come. But there, if they tell Him of it, His help will not be far away. This is one of the few miracles wrought on one of His more immediate followers. The Resurrection of Lazarus, so like this in many respects, is the only other.
This scene of the healing Christ in His disciples' household suggests the whole subject of the effect on domestic life of Christianity, or more truly of Christ Himself. It is scarcely too much to say that the home, as many of us blessedly know, is the creation of Christ. Cana of Galilee—The household at Bethany.
II. The time.
After His long day's toil—the unwearied mercy. On the Sabbath—the Lord of the Sabbath.
III. The person.
The woman. How Christianity embodies the true emancipation of women. They are participants in an equal gift, honoured by admission to equal service.
IV. The effect.
'She ministered'; testimony of the completeness of the cure. Which completeness is also real in the spiritual region.
How the basis of all our service must be His healing. Ours second, not first.
How the end of His healing is our service. We are bound to render it: He desires it. How each one's character and circumstances determine his service. How common duties may be sanctified. He accepts our service whatever it be.
The Sabbath. The services of love come before ritual observance, in Jesus and in the cured woman.
THE HEALING CHRIST
'Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.'—MATT. viii. 17.
You will remember, probably, that in our Old Testament translation of these words they are made to refer to man's mental and spiritual evils: 'He bare our griefs and carried our sorrows.' Our evangelist takes them to refer, certainly not exclusively, but in part, to men's corporeal evils—'our infirmities' (bodily weaknesses, that is) 'and our sicknesses.' He was distinctly justified in so doing, both by the meaning of the original words, which are perfectly general and capable of either application, and by the true and deep view of the comprehensiveness of our Lord's mission and purpose. Christ is the antagonist of all the evils that affect man's life, whether his corporeal or his spiritual; and no less true is it that, in His deep sympathy, 'He bare our sicknesses' than that, in the mystery of His atoning death, 'He was wounded for our transgressions.'
It is, therefore, this point of view of Christ, as the Healer, which I desire to bring before you now.
I. First, I ask you to look at the plain facts as to our Lord's ministry which are contained in these words:—'Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.'
Now, there are two points that I desire to emphasise very briefly. One is the prominence in Christ's life which is given to His healing energy. We are accustomed to think of His cures as miracles. We are accustomed to think of them in that aspect as evidences of His mission, or as difficulties and stumbling-blocks, as the case may be. But I ask you to put away all such thoughts for a minute, and think about the miracles simply as being cures. Remember how enormous a proportion of our Lord's time and pains and sympathy and thoughts was directed to that one purpose of healing people of their bodily infirmities. We may almost say that to an outsider He would look a great deal liker a man who, as the Apostle Peter painted Him in one of his earliest addresses, 'went about doing good and healing,' than as a teacher of divine wisdom, to say nothing of an incarnation of the divine nature. His miracles of healing were certainly the most conspicuous part of His life's work.
And then, remember, that whilst the great proportion of our Lord's miracles are miracles of healing, we are sure that the whole of the recorded miraculous works of our Lord are the smallest fraction of what He really did. You remember how there crop up, here and there, in the Gospels, general resumes of our Lord's work, of such a kind as this:—'And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people. And they brought unto Him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and those that had the palsy and He healed them.' Or, again:—'And Jesus departed from thence, and came nigh unto the sea of Galilee, and went up into a mountain, and sat down there. And great multitudes came unto Him, having those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and cast them down at Jesus' feet, and He healed them.' Now these are but specimens of the occasional generalisations which we find in the Gospels, which warrant us in saying that, according to the New Testament record, Christ's works of healing were to be numbered, not by tens, but by hundreds, and perhaps by thousands.
That is the first fact calling for notice. The words of our text suggest a second thought as to the cost at which these cures were wrought. 'Himself took and bare' does not mean only 'took away.' It includes that, as a consequence, but it points to something before the removal of the sicknesses. It points to the fact that Christ in some real sense endured the loads which He removed. Of course, His cross is the highest exemplification of the great law which runs through His whole life, that He identifies Himself with all the evil which He takes away, and is able to take it away only because He identifies Himself with it. But whilst the cross is the highest exemplification of this, every miracle of mercy which He wrought is an illustration of the same principle in its appropriate fashion, and upon a lower level. And although we cannot say that the physical sufferings which He alleviated were physically laid upon Him, yet we can say that He so identified Himself with all sufferers by His swift sympathy as that He bore, and therefore bore away, the diseases as well as the sins of the men for whose healing He lived, and for whose redemption He died.
The proof of this crops up now and then. What did it mean that, when He stood beside one poor sufferer, before He could utter from His authoritative lips the divine word of power, 'Ephphatha, be opened,' the same lips had to shape themselves for the utterance of an altogether human and brotherly sigh? Did it not mean that the condition of His healing power was sympathy, that He must bring Himself to feel the burden that He will roll away? That sigh proves that His cures were the works, not without cost to the doer, of a sympathising heart, and not the mere passionless acts of a miracle-monger.
In like manner, what meant that strange tempest of agitation that swept across the pacific ocean of His nature ere He stood by the grave of Lazarus? Why that being 'troubled in Himself' before He raised him? Wherefore the tears that heralded the restoration of the man to life? They could not be shed for the loss that was so soon to be repaired. They can only have been the emotion and tears of One who saw, as massed in one black whole, the entire sorrows that affected physical humanity, and rose in a holy passion of indignation and of sorrow at the sight of that enemy, Death, with whose beginnings He had wrestled in many a miracle of restoration, and whose sceptre He was now about to pluck from his bony clutch. Therefore I say that Christ the healer bore, and thereby bore away, the sicknesses and the infirmities of men.
Amidst mountains of rubbish and chaff, the Rabbis have a grain of wheat in their legend which tells us that Messias is to come as a leper, and to be found sitting amongst the lepers at the city's gate; which is a picturesque and symbolical way of declaring the same truth that I am now insisting upon, the participation by the Redeemer in all burdens and sorrows of body and of spirit which He takes away.
II. And now with these facts—for I take them to be such—for the basis of our thoughts, let me ask you to turn, in the second place, to some plain practical conclusions that come from them.
The first of these that I would suggest is the lesson as to the proper sweep and sphere of Christian beneficence. As I said in my introductory remarks, we do not rightly measure the whole circumference of Christ's work unless we regard it as covering and including all forms of human evil. He is the antagonist of everything that is antagonistic to man—pain, misery, sickness, death itself. All these are excrescences on the divine design, transient accompaniments of disordered relations between God and man. And this great physician of souls fights the disease and does not neglect the symptoms; deals with the central evil and is not so absorbed with that as to omit from His view or His treatment the merely superficial manifestations of it.
So that if Christian people, individually and as Churches, are justly exposed, in any measure, to the sarcasm which is freely cast upon them, that they neglect the temporal well-being of men in order to attend exclusively to their spiritual wants, they have not learned the example of such partial treatment from their Master; nor have they taken in the significance and the power of His life in its relation to human sorrow. All that makes the heart bleed Christ comes to take away. 'All the ills that flesh is heir to,' as well as those which each spirit, by rebellion, brings upon itself—are the foes with whom Christ has left His Church in the world in order to wage incessant warfare. If we Christians, oppressed with the sense of the depth and central nature of the evil of man's sin, have so devoted ourselves to preaching and evangelising, that we are, in any measure, rightly chargeable with neglecting hospitals and infirmaries and other forms of relief for temporal necessities, just in that proportion have we departed from our Master's spirit. But I do not, for my part, much believe, either in the good faith of the accusers or in the applicability of the charge which men, who never do anything for the religious improvement of their fellows, are apt to bring against us. My little experience, I think, teaches me that the folk who say to us 'Do not waste your money on Bibles and missionaries, give it to hospitals and schools,' are not usually the people that 'waste their money' on either; and that the largest portion of all the work that is done in England to-day, for the temporal well-being of men, comes from the Christians who also do work for their spiritual well-being.
But let us learn the lesson, if we need it, from our enemies and our critics; and see to it that the more we feel the lofty and transcendent importance of carrying Christ's salvation to men's souls, the more we endeavour, likewise, to live amongst them as He did, the embodiment of pity, wide-eyed and comprehensive, for every evil that racks their hearts and every pain that tortures their nerves. As a fact, hospitals are found within the limits of Christianity, and not outside it; and so far, Christendom, though it is largely professing Christendom only, has learned that it follows a Christ who is the Saviour of the body and the Physician of the soul.
In the next place, another practical lesson which I would draw from this is, as to the sole conditions upon which any form of Christian help can be rendered. The condition for the elevation of men is that the lever which lifts them must have its point below them. That is to say, you have to go down if you would heave up. You have to go amongst if you would deliver; you have to make your own, by a sympathy which you have learned of your Master, the sorrows and the sins of humanity, if you would effectually remedy them. A guinea to an hospital is not your contribution to the Christ-like relief of human suffering. It wants, and He wants, your heart, your sympathy. Think for a moment of the universe of anguish that may lie within the narrow limits of one human body—that awful mystery of pain which holds in its red-hot pincers hundreds and thousands of men and women in this city at this moment. Try to imagine the mass of bodily agony, an enormous percentage of which is utterly innocent, and a still larger percentage of it perfectly remediable, which at this hour, whilst we sit here, is torturing mankind. And oh! brethren, do not let any thought of the transcendent importance of Christ's gospel, and what it does to men's hearts, make us careless about these real, though lesser, evils which lie beside us, and which we can remedy and help.
Only, remember the condition of help for them all. The newspapers went into raptures some years since, and wisely, over a Roman Catholic priest who shut himself up in a little island with a colony of lepers. Some Protestant martyrs have done the same before him, without any chorus of newspaper praise. Whoever did it had penetrated to the secret of Christian help—identification with the evil. If we would take away any misery or sin, we must act like that doctor who shut himself up in the wards of an hospital, and kept a diary of the symptoms of his disease, till the pen dropped from his fingers and the film came over his eyes. Are we ready to do anything like that for our brethren? Until we are, we have yet to learn and to practise the pattern which He has set, 'Who, though He was rich, for our sins became poor': and who, 'forasmuch as the children were partakers of flesh and blood, Himself likewise'—in their own fashion of weakness, and weariness, and sorrow, and pain, and ultimately death—'took part of the same.' 'He bore our sicknesses,' therefore He bore them away, and, in so doing, taught us the law of Christian help.
And lastly, let me not pass from this subject without leaving on your hearts, dear friends, the other thought, of the connection and the relative importance of these two hemispheres of Christ's work. The sicknesses are symbols of the sins; the removal of the bodily pain and disease is a prophecy and a visible parable proclaiming the removal of all the harassment and abnormal action that afflict intellect, will, or spirit. Christ Himself has taught us to regard His miracles of healing as the making visible, in the outward sphere, of the analogous miracles of healing in the spiritual realm. And although I have been saying a great deal about the preciousness and the sacredness of the curative influences which flow from Christ, and deal with outward diseases and evils, let us not forget that a sound body is of small worth as compared with a sound mind; that the body is the servant of the spirit, meant mainly to do its behests, bring it knowledge, and express its will; and that high above, and pointed to by, the lower, though precious work of healing men's sicknesses, towers that work which we all of us need, and the robustest of us, perhaps, need most, the healing of our sick souls and their deliverance from death.
Every one of these manifold miracles which the Saviour wrought may be taken as parabolical. You and I grope in darkness as the blind. You and I have ears deaf to hear, and lips dumb to speak, the praises and the love and the word of God. We are lame in the powers of mind and spirit to run in the way of His commandments, and to walk unfainting in the paths of duty. The fever of hot, passionate, foolish desires burns in the veins of us all with its poison. The paralysis of a will that is slothful to good infests and hinders us all. But there comes to us that great hope and promise that Christ has the Spirit of the Lord upon Him to bring liberty to the captive, sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, healing to the fevered, vigour to the palsied, activity to the lame. Only let us set our trust in Him, carry our weaknesses to Him, acknowledge our sins to Him, seek the touch of His healing and quickening hand, and the miracle shall be wrought.
The old-fashioned surgery used to believe in the transfusion of blood from a sound to a diseased person, and the consequent expulsion of disease. That is the fact about our relation to Christ. Put your arm side by side with His by simple faith in Him. Come into contact with Him, and the blood of Jesus Christ, the 'law of the spirit of life that was in Him,' will pass into the veins of your spirits, and make you whole of whatsoever disease you have. 'Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped; then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing.' And so shall you begin that course of healing and purifying, which will know no pause nor natural termination until, redeemed in body, soul, and spirit, you reach the land 'where the inhabitant thereof shall no more say, I am sick,'—'and there shall be no more death, neither shall there be any more pain.'
CHRIST REPRESSING RASH DISCIPLESHIP
'And a certain scribe came, and said unto Him, Master, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest. 20. And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.'—MATT. viii. 19-20.
Our Lord was just on the point of leaving Capernaum for the other side of the lake. His intended departure from the city, in which He had spent so long a time, and wrought so many miracles, produced precisely opposite effects on two of the crowd around Him, both of whom seem to have been, in the loose sense of the word, disciples. One was this scribe, whom the prospect of losing the Master from his side, hurried into a too lightly formed and too confidently expressed undertaking. The other presented exactly the opposite fault. That other man in the crowd, at the prospect of losing sight of the Christ, began to think that there were imperative duties at home which would prevent his following the Master, and said, 'Suffer me first to go and bury my father.' A sacred obligation, and one which Christ would not have desired him to suspend, unless there had been something more behind it!
These two men, then, represent the two opposite poles of weakness, the one too swift, the other too slow, to take a decisive step. And Christ's treatment of them is, in like manner, a representation of the two opposite methods which He adopts for curing opposite diseases, and bringing both back to the same state of health. He stimulates the too sluggish, He represses the too willing (if such a paradox may be allowed). His treatment is at once spur and bridle. To the one man He administers a sobering representation of what he is undertaking with so light a heart; to the other He gives the commandment that sounds so stern: 'Leave the highest duty, if you cannot do it without conflicting with your higher to Me.'
And so I think that Matthew's arrangement of this pair of companion pictures is to be preferred to that which we find in Luke, who localises the incident in a different part of our Lord's ministry, and on a different occasion. I deal now only with the first of these two contrasted pictures, and consider the lightly-made vow, and Christ's sobering treatment of it.