And as for 'teacher,' whom are we to put up beside Him? Is it to be these dim figures of religious reformers that are gliding, ghostlike, to their doom, being wrapped round and round about by ever thicker and thicker folds of the inevitable oblivion that swallows all that is human? Brethren, by common consent it is Christ or nobody. Aaron dies upon Hor; Moses dies upon Pisgah; the teachers, the leaders, the guides, the under-shepherds, pass away one by one; and if this Christ be but a Man and a Teacher, He too will pass away. Shall I be thought very blind to the signs of the times if I say that I see no sign of His dominion being exhausted, of His influence being diminished, of His guidance being capable of being dispensed with? You may say, 'Oh, we do not want any teacher or guide; we do not want a shepherd.' I am not going to enter upon that question now at all, except just to say this, that the instincts of humanity rise up in contradiction, as it seems to me, of that cold and cheerless creed, and that we have this fact staring us in the face, that men are made capable of a devotion and submission the most passionate, the most absolute, the most mighty force in their lives, to human guides and ensamples, and that it is all wasted unless there be somewhere a Man, our Brother, who shall come to us and say, 'All that ever went before Me are thieves and robbers; I am the Good Shepherd; follow Me, and ye shall not walk in darkness,' 'He saw the multitudes as sheep having no shepherd.'
Still further, take that other phase of the metaphor which, as I suggested, the text includes, namely, the idea of disintegration, the rending apart of social ties and union, unless there be the centre of unity in the shepherd of the flock. 'I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered,' says the old prophecy. Of course, for what is there to hold them together unless it be their guide and their director? So we are brought face to face with this plain prosaic rendering of the metaphor—that but for the centre of unity provided for mankind in the person and work of Jesus Christ, there is no satisfaction of the deep hunger for unity and society with which in that case God would have cursed mankind. For whilst there are many other bonds most true, most blessed, God-given, and mighty, such as that of the sacred unity of the family, and that of the nation and many others of which we need not speak, yet all these are constantly being disintegrated by the unresting waves of that gnawing sea of selfishness, if I may so say, which, like the waters upon our eastern coasts, eats and eats for ever at the base of the cliffs, so that society in all its forms, whether it be built upon identity of opinion, which is perhaps the shabbiest bond of all, or whether it be built upon purposes of mutual action, which is a great deal better, or whether it be built upon hatred of other people, which is the modern form of patriotism, or whether it be built upon the domestic affections, which are the purest and highest of all—all the other bonds of society, such as creeds, schools, nations, associations, leagues, families, denominations, all go sooner or later. The base is eaten out of them, because every man that belongs to them has in him that tyrannous, dominant self, which is ever seeking to assert its own supremacy. Here is Babel, with its half-finished tower, built on slime; and there is Pentecost, with its great Spirit; here is the confusion, there is the unifying; here the disintegration, there the power that draws them all together. 'They were scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd,' and one looks out over the world and sees great tracts of country and long dismal generations of time, in which the very thought of unity and charity and human bonds knitting men together has faded from the consciousness of the race, and then one turns to blessed, sweet, simple words that say, 'there shall be one flock and one shepherd,' and 'I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me.' Drawing thus, He will draw them into the eternal, mighty bond of union that shall never be broken, and is all the more precious and all the more true because it is not a unity like the vulgar unities that express themselves in external associations. You know, of course or if you do not know it will be a good thing that you should know, that that verse in John's Gospel which I have quoted has been terribly mangled by a little slip of our translators. Christ said, 'Other sheep I must bring which are not of this fold,' the fold being the external unity of the Jewish church—an enclosure made of hurdles that you can stick in the ground. 'I shall bring them,' says He, 'and there shall be one'—(not, as our Bible says, 'fold,'—but something far better)—'there shall be one flock'; which becomes a unity not by wattling round about it on the outside, but by a shepherd standing in the middle. 'There shall be one flock and one shepherd'—a unity which is neither the destruction of the variety of the churches, nor the crushing of men, nationalities, and types of character all down into one dead level beneath the heel of a conqueror, but the unity which subsists in the many operations of the one Spirit, and is expressed by all the forms of the one inspired grace.
Then passing by altogether the other idea which I said was only doubtfully suggested by the words—namely, that of laceration and wounding—let me say a word about the last of the aspects of humanity when Christless, which is set forth in this text, and that is, the dejected weariness arising from the fruitless wanderings wherewith men are cursed. As a verse in the Book of Proverbs puts it, 'The labour of the foolish wearieth every one of them, because they know not how to go to the city.' Putting aside the metaphor, the plain truth which it embodies is just this, that there is in all men's souls a deep longing after peace and rest, after goodness and beauty and truth, and that all the strenuous efforts to satisfy these longings, either by social reforms or by individual culture and discipline, are pathetically vain and profitless, because there is none to guide them. The sheep go wandering in any direction, and with no goal; and wherever one has jumped, a dozen others will go after him, and so they are wearied out long before the day's journey is ended, and they never reach the goal. Put that into less vivid, and, therefore, as people generally suppose, more accurate, language, and it is a statement of the universal law of human history that, after any epoch of great aspirations and strong excitement of the noblest parts of human nature, there has always come a reaction of corruption and a collapse from weariness. What did 'Liberty, Equality, Fraternity' end in? A guillotine. What do all similar epochs end in, when they do not take the Christ to march ahead of them? An utter disgust and disillusion, and a despair of all progress. That is why wild revolutionists in their youth are always obstinate Conservatives in their old age. The wandering sheep are footsore, and they fling themselves down by the wayside. That is why heathenism presents to us the aspect that it does. There is nothing about it that seems to me more tragical than the weary languor that besets it. Do you ever think of the depth of pathetic, tragic meaning that there is in that verse in one of the Psalms, 'Such as sit in darkness and in the shadow of death'? There they sit, because there is no hope in rising and moving. They would have to grope if they arose, and so with folded hands they sit like the Buddha, which one great section of heathenism has taken as being the true emblem and ideal of the noblest life. Absolute passivity lays hold upon them all—torpor, stagnation, no dream of advance or progress. The sheep are dejected, despairing, anarchic, disintegrated, lacerated, guideless, and shepherdless—away from Christ. So He thought them. God give you and me grace, dear brethren, to see, as Christ saw, the condition of humanity and our own apart from Him.
II. And now let me say a word in the next place as to the second movement of His mind and heart here. He teaches us not only how to think of men, but how that sight should touch us.
'He was moved with compassion on them when He saw the multitude'—with the eye of a god, I was going to say, and the heart of a man. Pity belongs to the idea of divinity; compassion belongs to the idea of divinity incarnate; and the motion that passed across His heart is the motion that I would seek may pass, with its sweet and healing breath, across yours and mine. The right emotion for a Christian looking on the Christless crowds is pity, not aversion; pity, not anger; pity, not curiosity; pity, not indifference. How many of us walk the streets of the towns in which our lot is cast, and never know one touch of that emotion, when we look at these people here in England torn, and anarchic, and wearied, and shepherdless, within sound of our psalm-singing in our chapels? Why, on any Sunday there are thousands of men and women standing about the streets who, we may be sure, have not seen the inside of a church or a chapel since they were married, and that not one in five hundred of all the good people that are going with their prayer-books and hymn-books to church and chapel ever think anything about them as they pass them by; and some of them, perhaps, if they come to any especially disreputable one, will gather up their skirts and keep on the safe side of the pavement, and there an end of it. But Jesus Christ had no aversions. His white purity was a great deal nearer to the blackness of the woman that was a sinner, than was the leprous whiteness of the whited sepulchre of the self-righteous Pharisee. He had neither aversion, nor anger, nor indifference.
And, if I might venture to touch upon another matter, compassion and not curiosity is an especial lesson for the day to the more thoughtful and cultivated amongst our congregations. I have just said that the appropriate Christian feeling in contemplating the state of the sheep without the Shepherd is compassion, not curiosity. That reminder is particularly needful in view of the prominence to-day of investigations into the new science of Comparative Religion. I speak with most unfeigned respect of it and of its teachers, and gratefully hail the wonderful light that it is casting upon ideas underlying the strange and often savage and obscene rites of heathenism; but it has a side of danger in it against which I would warn you all, especially young, reading men and women. The time has not yet come when we can afford to let such investigations be our principal occupation in the face of heathenism. If idolatry was dead we could afford to do that, but it is alive—the more's the pity; and it is not only a curious instance of the workings of man's intelligence, and a great apocalypse of earlier stages of society, but, besides that, it is a lie that is deceiving and damning our brethren, and we have got to kill it first and dissect it afterwards. So I say, do not only think of heathenism in its various forms as a subject for speculation and analysis; as much as you like of that, only do not let it drive out the other thing, and after you have tried to understand it, then come back to my text, 'He was moved with compassion.' And so pity, and neither anger, nor aversion, nor curiosity, nor indifference is what I urge as the Christian emotion.
III. Let us take this text as teaching us how Christ would have us act, after such emotion built and based upon such a look.
It is perfectly legitimate, although it is by no means the highest motive, to appeal to feeling as a stimulus to action. We have a right to base our urging of Christian men and women to missionary work either at home or abroad, upon the ground of the condition of the men to whom the Gospel has to be carried. I know that if taken alone it is a very inadequate motive. I believe that any failure that may be manifest in the interest of Christian people in missionary work is largely traceable to the blunder we have made in dwelling on superficial motives more than we ought to have done, in proportion to the degree in which we have dwelt on the deepest. We have been gathering the surface-water instead of going right down to the green sand, to which the artesian well must be sunk if the stream is to come up without pumping or wasting. So I say that a deeper reason than the sorrow and darkness of the heathen is—'the love of Christ constraineth me'; but yet the first is a legitimate one. Only remember this, that Bishop Butler taught us long ago, that if you excite emotions which are intended to lead to action, and the action does not follow, the excitation of the emotion without its appropriate action makes the heart a great deal harder than it was before. That is why it is playing with edged tools to speak so much to our Christian audiences, as we sometimes hear done, about the condition of the heathen as a stimulus to missionary work. If a man does not respond and do something, some crust of callousness and coldness comes over his own heart. You cannot indulge in the luxury of emotion which you do not use to drive your spindles, without doing yourselves harm. It is never intended to be blown off as waste steam and allowed to vanish into the air. It is meant to be conserved and guided, and to have something done with it. Therefore beware of sentimental contemplation of the sad condition of the shepherdless sheep which does not move you to do anything to help them.
One word more. Take my text as a guide to the form of action into which we are to cast the emotions that should spring from this gaze upon the world. I will only name three points. Christ opened His mouth and spake to them, and taught them many things; Christ said to His disciples, 'Pray ye the Lord of the harvest'; and Christ sent out His apostles to preach the Kingdom. These three things in their bearing upon us are—personal work, prayer, help to send forth Christ's messengers. There is nothing like personal work for making a man understand and feel the miseries of his fellows. Christian men and women, it is your first business everywhere to proclaim the name of Jesus Christ, and no prayers and no subscriptions absolve you from that. In this army a man cannot buy himself off and send in a substitute at the cost of an annual guinea. If Christ sent the apostles, do you hold up the hands of the apostles' successors, and so by God's grace you and I may help on the coming of that blessed day when there shall be one flock and one Shepherd, and when 'the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne'—for the Shepherd is Himself a lamb—'shall feed them and lead them, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.'
THE OBSCURE APOSTLES
'These twelve Jesus sent forth.'—MATT. x. 5.
And half of 'these twelve' are never heard of as doing any work for Christ. Peter and James and John we know; the other James and Judas have possibly left us short letters; Matthew gives us a Gospel; and of all the rest no trace is left. Some of them are never so much as named again, except in the list at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles; and none of them except the three who 'seemed to be pillars' appear to have been of much importance in the early diffusion of the Gospel.
There are many instructive and interesting points in reference to the Apostolate. The number of twelve, in obvious allusion to the tribes of Israel, proclaims the eternal certainty of the divine promises to His people, and the dignity of the New Testament Church as their true heir. The ties of relationship which knit so many of the apostles together, the order of the names varying, but within certain limits, in the different catalogues, the uncultivated provincial rudeness of most of them, would all afford material for important reflections. But, perhaps, not the least important fact about the Apostolate is that one to which we have referred, which like the names of countries on the map, escapes notice because it is 'writ' so 'large'—namely, the small place which the apostles as a body fill in the subsequent narrative, and the entire oblivion into which so many of them pass from the moment of their appointment.
It is to that fact that we wish to turn attention now. It may suggest some considerations worth pondering, and among other things, may help to show the exaggeration of the functions of the office by the opposite extremes of priests and rationalists. The one school makes it the depository of exclusive supernatural powers; the other regards it as a master-stroke of organisation, to which the early rapid growth of Christianity was largely due. The facts seem to show that it was neither.
I. The first thought which this peculiar and unexpected silence suggests is of the True Worker in the Church's progress.
The way in which the New Testament drops these apostles is of a piece with the whole tone of the Bible. Throughout, men are introduced into its narratives and allowed to slip out with well-marked indifference. Nowhere do we get more vivid, penetrating portraiture, but nowhere do we see such carelessness about following the fortunes or completing the biographies even of those who have filled the largest space in its pages.
Recall, for example, the way in which the New Testament deals with 'the very chiefest' apostles, the illustrious triad of Peter, James, and John. The first escapes from prison; we see him hammering at Mary's door in the grey of the morning, and after brief, eager talk with his friends he vanishes to hide in 'another place,' and is no more heard of, except for a moment in the great council, held in Jerusalem, about the admission of Gentiles to the Church. The second of the three is killed off in a parenthesis. The third is only seen twice in the Book of the Acts, as a silent companion of Peter at a miracle and before the Sanhedrim. Remember how Paul is left in his own hired house, within sight of trial and sentence, and neither the original writer of the book nor any later hand thought it worth while to add three lines to tell the world what became of him. A strange way to write history, and a most imperfect narrative, surely! Yes, unless there be some peculiarity in the purpose of the book, which explains this cold-blooded, inartistic, and tantalising habit of letting men leap upon the stage as if they had dropped from the clouds, and vanish from it as abruptly as if they had fallen through a trap-door.
Such a peculiarity there is. One of the three to whom we have referred has explained it in the words with which he closes his gospel, words which might stand for the motto of the whole book, 'These are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Son of God.' The true purpose is not to speak of men except in so far as they 'bore witness to that light' and were illuminated for a moment by contact with Him. From the beginning the true 'Hero' of the Bible is God; its theme is His self-revelation culminating for evermore in the Man Jesus. All other men interest the writers only as they are subsidiary or antagonistic to that revelation. As long as that breath blows through them they are music; else they are but common reeds. Men are nothing except as instruments and organs of God. He is all, and His whole fulness is in Jesus Christ. Christ is the sole worker in the progress of His Church. That is the teaching of all the New Testament. The thought is expressed in the deepest, simplest form in His own unapproachable words, unfathomable as they are in their depth of meaning, and inexhaustible in their power to strengthen and to cheer: 'I am the vine, ye are the branches, without Me ye can do nothing.' It shapes the whole treatment of the history of the so-called 'Acts of the Apostles,' which by its very first sentence proclaims itself to be the Acts of the ascended Jesus, 'the former treatise' being declared to have had for its subject 'all that Jesus began to do and teach while on earth, and this treatise being manifestly the continuance of the same theme, and the record of the heavenly activity of the Lord. So the thought runs through all the book: 'The help that is done on earth, He does it all Himself.'
So let us think of Him and of His relation to us as well as to that early Church. His continuous energy is pouring down on us if we will accept it. In us, for us, by us He works. 'My Father worketh hitherto, said He when here, 'and I work'; and now, exalted on high, He has passed into that divine repose, which is at the same time the most energetic divine activity. He is all in all to His people. He is all their strength, wisdom, and righteousness. They are but the clouds irradiated by the sun and bathed in its brightness; He is the light which flames in their grey mist and turns it to a glory. They are but the belts and cranks and wheels; He is the power. They are but the channel, muddy and dry; He is the flashing life that fills it and makes it a joy. They are the body; He is the soul dwelling in every part to save it from corruption and give movement and warmth.
'Thou art the organ, whose full breath is thunder; I am the keys, beneath thy fingers pressed.'
If this be true, how it should deliver us from all overestimate of men, to which our human affections and our feeble faith tempt us so sorely! There is One man, and One man only, whose biography is a 'Gospel, who owes nothing to circumstances, and who originates the power which He wields; One who is a new beginning, and has changed the whole current of human history, One to whom we are right to bring offerings of the gold, and incense, and myrrh of our hearts, and wills, and minds, which it is blasphemy and degradation to lay at the feet of any others. We may utterly love, trust, and obey Jesus Christ. We dare not do so to any other. The inscription written over the whole book, that it may be transcribed on our whole nature, is, 'No man any more save Jesus only.'
If this thought be true, what confidence it ought to give us as we think of the tasks and fortunes of the Church! If we think only of the difficulties and of the enormous work before us, so disproportioned to our weak powers, we shall be disposed to agree with our enemies, who talk as if Christianity was on the point of perishing, as they have been doing ever since it began. But the outlook is wonderfully different when we take Christ into the account. We are very apt to leave Him out of the reckoning. But one man with Christ to back him is always in the majority. He flings his sword clashing into one scale, and it weighs down all that is in the other. The walls are very lofty and strong, and the besiegers few and weak, badly armed, and quite unfit for the assault; but if we lift our eyes high enough, we, too, shall see a man with a drawn sword over against us, and our hearts may leap up in assured confidence of victory as we recognise in Him the Captain of the Lord's Host, who has already overcome, and will make us valiant in fight and more than conquerors.
When conscious of our own weakness, and tempted to think of our task as heavy, or when complacent in our own power, and tempted to regard our task as easy, let us think of His ever-present work in and for His people, till it braces us for all duty, and rebukes our easy-going idleness. Surely from that thought of the active, ascended Christ may come to many of His slothful followers the pleading question, as from His own lips, 'Dost thou not care that thou hast left me to serve alone?' Surely to us all it should bring inspiration and strength, courage and confidence, deliverance from man, and elevation above the reverence of blind impersonal forces. Surely we may all lay to heart the grand lesson that union with Him is our only strength, and oblivion of ourselves our highest wisdom. Surely he has best learned his true place and the worth of Jesus Christ, who abides with unmoved humility at His feet, and, like the lonely, lowly forerunner, puts away all temptations to self-assertion while joyfully accepting it as the law of his life to
'Fade in the light of the planet he loves, To fade in his light and to die.'
Blessed is he who is glad to say,' He must increase, I must decrease!'
II. This same silence of Scripture as to so many of the apostles may be taken as suggesting what the real work of these delegated workers was.
It certainly seems very strange that, if they were the possessors of such extraordinary powers as the theory of Apostolic Succession implies, we should hear so little of these in the narratives. The silence of Scripture about them goes a long way to discredit such ideas, while it is entirely accordant with a more modest view of the apostolic office.
What was an apostle's function during the life of Christ? One of the evangelists divides it into three portions: to be with Jesus; to preach the kingdom; to cast out devils and to heal. There is nothing in these offices peculiar to them. The seventy had miraculous powers too, and some at least were our Lord's companions and preachers of His kingdom who were simple disciples. What was an apostle's function after the resurrection? Peter's words, on proposing the election of a new apostle, lay down the duty as simply 'to bear witness' of that resurrection. They were not supernatural channels of mysterious grace, not lords over God's heritage, not even leaders of the Church, but bearers of a testimony to the great historical fact, on the acceptance of which all belief in an historical Christ depended then and depends now. Each of the greater of the apostles is penetrated with the same thought. Paul disclaims anything beside in his 'Not I, but the grace of God in me.' Peter thrusts the question at the staring crowd, 'Why look ye on us as though by our power or holiness we had made this man to walk?' John, in his calm way, tells his children at Ephesus, 'Ye need not that any man teach you.'
Such an idea of the apostolic office is far more reasonable and accordant with Scripture than a figment about unexampled powers and authority in the Church. It accounts for the qualifications as stated in the same address of Peter's, which merely secure the validity of their testimony. The one thing that must be found in an apostle was that he should have been in familiar intercourse with Christ during his earthly life, both before and after His resurrection, in order that he might be able to say, 'I knew Him well; I know that He died; I know that He rose again; I saw Him go up to heaven.' For such a work there was no need for men of commanding power. Plain, simple, honest men who had the requisite eye-witness were sufficient. The guidance and the missionary work of the Church need not necessarily be in their hands, and, in fact, does not seem to have been. In harmony with this view of the office and its requisites, we find that Paul rests the validity of his apostolate on the fact that 'He was seen of me also,' and regards that vision as his true appointment which left him not 'one whit behind the very chiefest apostles.' Miraculous gifts indeed they had, and miraculous gifts they imparted; but in both instances others shared these powers with them. It was no apostle who laid his hands on the blinded Saul in that house in Damascus and said, 'Receive the Holy Ghost.' An apostle stood by passive and wondering when the Holy Ghost fell on Cornelius and his comrades. In reality apostolic succession is absurd, because there is nothing to succeed to, except what cannot be transmitted, personal knowledge of the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. To establish that fact as indubitable history is to lay the foundation of the Christian Church, and the eleven plain men, who did that, need no superstitious mist around them to magnify their greatness.
In so far as any succession to them or any devolution of their office is possible, all Christian men inherit it, for to bear witness of the living power of the risen Lord is still the office and honour of every believing soul. It is still true that the sharpest weapon which any man can wield for Christ is the simple adducing of his own personal experience. 'That which we have seen and handled we declare' is still the best form into which our preaching can be cast. And such a voice every man and woman who has found the sweetness and the power of Christ filling their own souls, is bound—rather let us say, is privileged—to lift up. 'This honour have all the saints.' Christ is the true worker, and all our work is but to proclaim Him, and what He has done and is doing for ourselves and for all men.
III. We may gather, too, the lesson of how often faithful work is unrecorded and forgotten.
No doubt those apostles who have no place in the history toiled honestly and did their Lord's commands, and oblivion has swallowed it all. Bartholomew and 'Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus,' and the rest of them, have no place in the record, and their obscure work is faded, faithful and good as certainly it was.
So it will be sooner or later with us all. For most of us, our service has to be unnoticed and unknown, and the memory of our poor work will live perhaps for a year or two in the hearts of some few who loved us, but will fade wholly when they follow us into the silent land. Well, be it so; we shall sleep none the less sweetly, though none be talking about us over our heads. The world has a short memory, and, as the years go on, the list that it has to remember grows so crowded that it is harder and harder to find room to write a new name on it, or to read the old. The letters on the tombstones are soon erased by the feet that tramp across the churchyard. All that matters very little. The notoriety of our work is of no consequence. The earnestness and accuracy with which we strike our blow is all-important; but it matters nothing how far it echoes. It is not the heaven of heavens to be talked about, nor does a man's life consist in the abundance of newspaper or other paragraphs about him. 'The love of fame' is, no doubt, sometimes found in 'minds' otherwise 'noble,' but in itself is very much the reverse of noble. We shall do our work best, and be saved from much festering anxiety which corrupts our purest service and fevers our serenest thoughts, if we once fairly make up our minds to working unnoticed and unknown, and determine that, whether our post be a conspicuous or an obscure one, we shall fill it to the utmost of our power—careless of praise or censure, because our judgment is with our God; careless whether we are unknown or well known, because we are known altogether to Him.
The magnitude of our work in men's eyes is as little important as the noise of it. Christ gave all the apostles their tasks—to some of them to found the Gentile churches, to some of them to leave to all generations precious teaching, to some of them none of these things. What then? Were the Peters and the Johns more highly favoured than the others? Was their work greater in His sight? Not so. To Him all service done from the same motive is the same, and His measure of excellence is the quantity of love and spiritual force in our deeds, not the width of the area over which they spread. An estuary that goes wandering over miles of shallows may have less water in it, and may creep more languidly, than the torrent that thunders through some narrow gorge. The deeds that stand highest on the records in heaven are not those which we vulgarly call great. Many 'a cup of cold water only' will be found to have been rated higher there than jewelled golden chalices brimming with rare wines. God's treasures, where He keeps His children's gifts, will be like many a mother's secret store of relics of her children, full of things of no value, what the world calls 'trash,' but precious in His eyes for the love's sake that was in them.
All service which is done from the same motive and with the same spirit is of the same worth in His eyes. It does not matter whether you have the gospel in a penny Testament printed on thin paper with black ink and done up in cloth, or in an illuminated missal glowing in gold and colour, painted with loving care on fair parchment, and bound in jewelled ivory. And so it matters little about the material or the scale on which we express our devotion and our aspirations; all depends on what we copy, not on the size of the canvas on which, or on the material in which, we copy it. 'Small service is true service while it lasts,' and the unnoticed insignificant servants may do work every whit as good and noble as the most widely known, to whom have been intrusted by Christ tasks that mould the ages.
IV. Finally, we may add that forgotten work is remembered, and unrecorded names are recorded above.
The names of these almost anonymous apostles have no place in the records of the advancement of the Church or of the development of Christian doctrine. They drop out of the narrative after the list in the first chapter of the Acts. But we do hear of them once more. In that last vision of the great city which the seer beheld descending from God, we read that in its 'foundations were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.' All were graven there—the inconspicuous names carved on no record of earth, as well as the familiar ones cut deep in the rock to be seen of all men for ever. At the least that grand image may tell us that when the perfect state of the Church is realised, the work which these men did when their testimony laid its foundation, will be for ever associated with their names. Unrecorded on earth, they are written in heaven.
The forgotten work and its workers are remembered by Christ. His faithful heart and all-seeing eye keep them ever in view. The world, and the Church whom these humble men helped, may forget, yet He will not forget. From whatever muster-roll of benefactors and helpers their names may be absent, they will be in His list. The Apostle Paul, in his Epistle to the Philippians, has a saying in which his delicate courtesy is beautifully conspicuous, where he half apologises for not sending his greetings 'to others my fellow-workers' by name, and reminds them that, however their names may be unwritten in his letter, they have been inscribed by a mightier hand on a better page, and 'are in the Lamb's book of life.' It matters very little from what record ours may be absent so long as they are found there. Let us rejoice that, though we may live obscure and die forgotten, we may have our names written on the breastplate of our High Priest as He stands in the Holy Place, the breastplate which lies close to His heart of love, and is girded to His arm of power.
The forgotten and unrecorded work lives, too, in the great whole. The fruit of our labour may perhaps not be separable from that of others, any more than the sowers can go into the reaped harvest-field and identify the gathered ears which have sprung from the seed that they sowed, but it is there all the same; and whosoever may be unable to pick out each man's share in the blessed total outcome, the Lord of the harvest knows, and His accurate proportionment of individual reward to individual service will not mar the companionship in the general gladness, when 'he that soweth and he that reapeth shall rejoice together.'
The forgotten work will live, too, in blessed results to the doers. Whatever of recognition and honour we may miss here, we cannot be robbed of the blessing to ourselves, in the perpetual influence on our own character, of every piece of faithful even if imperfect service. Habits are formed, emotions deepened, principles confirmed, capacities enlarged by every deed done for Christ, and these make an over-measure of reward here, and in their perfect form hereafter are heaven. Nothing done for Him is ever wasted. 'Thou shalt find it after many days.' We are all writing our lives' histories here, as if with one of these 'manifold writers'—a black blank page beneath the flimsy sheet on which we write, but presently the black page will be taken away, and the writing will stand out plain on the page behind that we did not see. Life is the filmy, unsubstantial page on which our pen rests; the black page is death; and the page beneath is that indelible transcript of our earthly actions, which we shall find waiting for us to read, with shame and confusion of face, or with humble joy, in another world.
Then let us do our work for Christ, not much careful whether it be greater or smaller, obscure or conspicuous; assured that whoever forgets us and it, He will remember, and however our names may be unrecorded on earth, they will be written in heaven, and confessed by Him before His Father and the holy angels.
CHRIST'S CHARGE TO HIS HERALDS
'These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, do not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: 6. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. 8. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. 9. Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, 10. Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat. 11. And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, enquire who in it is worthy: and there abide till ye go thence. 12. And when ye come into an house, salute it. 13. And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. 15. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city. 16. Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.' —Matt. x. 5-16.
The letter of these instructions to the apostles has been abrogated by Christ, both in reference to the scope of, and the equipment for, their mission (Matt. xxviii. 19; Luke xxii. 36). The spirit of them remains as the perpetual obligation of all Christian workers, and every Christian should belong to that class. Some direct evangelistic work ought to be done by every believer, and in doing it he will find no better directory than this charge to the apostles.
I. We have, first, the apostles' mission in its sphere and manner (vs. 5-8). They are told where to go and what to do there. Mark that the negative prohibition precedes the positive injunction, as if the apostles were already so imbued with the spirit of universalism that they would probably have overpassed the bounds which for the present were needful. The restriction was transient. It continued in the line of divine limitation of the sphere of Revelation which confined itself to the Jew, in order that through him it might reach the world. That method could not be abandoned till the Jew himself had destroyed it by rejecting Christ. Jesus still clung to it. Even when the commission was widened to 'all the world,' Paul went 'to the Jew first,' till he too was taught by uniform failure that Israel was fixed in unbelief.
How tenderly our Lord designates the nation as 'the lost sheep of the house of Israel'! He is still influenced by that compassion which the sight of the multitudes had moved in Him (chap. ix. 36). Lost indeed, wandering with torn fleece, and lying panting, in ignorance of their pasture and their Shepherd, they are yet 'sheep,' and they belong to that chosen seed, sprung from so venerable ancestors, and heirs of so glorious promises. Clear sight of, and infinite pity for, men's miseries, must underlie all apostolic effort.
The work to be done is twofold—a glad truth is to be proclaimed, gracious deeds of power are to be done. How blessed must be the kingdom, the forerunners of which are miracles of healing and life-giving! If the heralds can do these, what will not the King be able to do? If such hues attend the dawn, how radiant will be the noontide! Note 'as ye go,' indicating that they were travelling evangelists, and were to speak as they went, and go when they had spoken. The road was to be their pulpit, and each man they met their audience. What a different world it would be if Christians carried their message with them so!
'Freely ye have received'; namely, in the first application of the words, the message of the coming kingdom and the power to work miracles. But the force of the injunction, as applied to us, is even more soul-subduing, as our gift is greater, and the freedom of its bestowal should evoke deeper gratitude. The deepest springs of the heart's love are set flowing by the undeserved, unpurchased gift of God, which contains in itself both the most tender and mighty motive for self-forgetting labour, and the pattern for Christian service. How can one who has received that gift keep it to himself? How can he sell what he got for nothing? 'Freely give'—the precept forbids the seeking of personal profit or advantage from preaching the gospel, and so makes a sharp test of our motives; and it also forbids clogging the gift with non-essential conditions, and so makes a sharp test of our methods.
II. The prohibition to make gain out of the message, serves as a transition to the directions as to equipment. The apostles were to go as they stood; for the command is, 'Get you no gold,' etc. It has been already noted that these prohibitions were abrogated by Jesus in view of His departure, and the world-wide mission of the Church. But the spirit of them is not abrogated. Note that the descending value of the metals named makes an ascending stringency in the prohibition. Not even copper money is to be taken. The 'wallet' was a leather satchel or bag, used by shepherds and others to carry a little food; sustenance, then, was also to be left uncared for. Dress, too, was to be limited to that in wear; no change of inner robe nor a spare pair of shoes was to encumber them, nor even a spare staff. If any of them had one in his hand, he was to take it (Mark vi. 8). The command was meant to lift the apostles above suspicion, to make them manifestly disinterested, to free them from anxiety about earthly things, that their message might absorb their thoughts and efforts, and to give room for the display of Christ's power to provide. It had a promise wrapped in it. He who forbade them to provide for themselves thereby pledged Himself to take care of them. 'The labourer is worthy of his food.' They may be sure of subsistence, and are not to wish for more.
All this has a distinct bearing on modern church arrangements. On the one hand, it vindicates the right of those who preach the gospel to live of the gospel, and sets any payments to them on the right footing, as not being charity or generosity, but the discharge of a debt. On the other hand, it enjoins on preachers and others who are paid for service not to serve for pay, not to be covetous of large remuneration, and to take care that no taint of greed for money shall mar their work, but that their conduct may confirm their words when they say with Paul, 'We seek not yours, but you.'
III. The conduct required from, and the reception met with by, the messengers come next. Christ first enjoins discretion and discrimination of character, so far as possible. The messenger of the kingdom is not to be mixed up with disreputable people, lest the message should suffer. The principle of his choice of a home is to be, not position, comfort, or the like, but 'worthiness'; that is, predisposition to receive the message. However poor the chamber in the house of such, there is the apostle to settle himself. 'If ye have judged me to be faithful, come into my house,' said Lydia. The less Christ's messengers are at home with Christ's neglecters, the calmer their own hearts, and the more potent their message. They give the lie to it, if they voluntarily choose as their associates those to whom their dearest convictions are idle. Christian charity does not blind to distinctions of character. A little common sense in reading these will save many a scandal, and much weakening of influence.
Christian earnestness does not abolish courtesy. The message is not to be blurted out in defiance of even conventional forms. Zeal for the Lord is no excuse for rude abruptness. But the salutation of the true apostle will deepen the meaning of such forms, and make the conventional the real expression of real goodwill. No man should say 'Peace be unto you' so heartily as Christ's servant. The servant's benediction will bring the Master's ratification; for Jesus says, 'Let your peace come upon it,' as if commanding the good which we can only wish. That will be so, if the requisite condition is fulfilled. There must be soil for the seed to root in.
But no true wish for others' good—still more, no effort for it—is ever void of blessed issue. If the peace does not rest on a house into which jarring and sin forbid its entrance, it will not be homeless, but come back, like the dove to the ark, and fold its wings in the heart of the sender. The reflex influence of Christian effort is precious, whatever its direct results are. How the Church has been benefited by its missionary enterprises!
Jesus encouraged no illusions in His servants as to their success. From the beginning they were led to expect that some would receive and some would reject their words. In this rapid preparatory mission, there was no time for long delay anywhere; but for us, it is not wise to conclude that patient effort will fail because first appeals have not succeeded. Much close communion with Jesus, not a little self-suppression, and abundant practical wisdom, are needed to determine the point at which further efforts are vain. No doubt, there is often great waste of strength in trying to impress unimpressible people, or to revive some moribund enterprise; but it is a pardonable weakness to be reluctant to abandon a field. Still it is a weakness, and there come times when the only right thing to do is to 'shake off the dust' of the messenger's feet in token that all connection is ended, and that he is clear from the blood of the rejecters. The awful doom of such is solemnly introduced by 'Verily, I say unto you.' It rests on the plain principle that the measure of light is the measure of criminality, and hence the measure of punishment. The rejecters of Christ among us are as much more guilty than 'that city' as its inhabitants were than the men of Sodom.
The first section of this charge properly ends with verse 15, the following verse being a transition to the second part. The Greek puts strong emphasis on 'I.' It is He who sends among wolves, therefore He will protect. A strange thing for a shepherd to do! A strange encouragement for the apostles on the threshold of their work! But the words would often come back to them when beset by the pack with their white teeth gleaming, and their howls filling the night. They are not promised that they will not be torn, but they are assured that, even if they are, the Shepherd wills it, and will not lose one of His flock.
What is the Christian defence? Prudence like the serpent's, but not the serpent's craft or malice; harmlessness like the dove's, but not without the other safeguard of 'wisdom.' The combination is a rare one, and the surest way to possess it is to live so close to Jesus that we shall be progressively changed into His likeness. Then our prudence will never degenerate into cunning, nor our simplicity become blindness to dangers. The Christian armour and arms are meek, unconquerable patience, and Christ-likeness, To resist is to be beaten; to endure unretaliating is to be victorious. 'Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.'
THE WIDENED MISSION, ITS PERILS AND DEFENCES
'Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves; be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. 17. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; 18. And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for My sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. 19. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. 20. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. 21. And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death. 22. And ye shall be hated of all men for My name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. 23. But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of Man be come. 24. The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. 25. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household? 26. Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known. 27. What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. 28. And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. 29. Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. 30. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.' —MATT. x. 16-31.
We have already had two instances of Matthew's way of bringing together sayings and incidents of a like kind without regard to their original connection. The Sermon on the Mount and the series of miracles in chapters viii. and ix. are groups, the elements of which are for the most part found disconnected in Mark and Luke. This charge to the twelve in chapter x. seems to present a third instance, and to pass over in verse 16 to a wider mission than that of the twelve during our Lord's lifetime, for it forebodes persecution, whereas the preceding verses opened no darker prospect than that of indifference or non-reception. The 'city' which, in that stage of the gospel message, simply would 'not receive you nor hear your words,' in this stage has worsened into one where 'they persecute you,' and the persecutors are now 'kings' and 'Gentiles,' as well as Jewish councils and synagogue-frequenters. The period covered in these verses, too, reaches to the 'end,' the final revelation of all hidden things.
Obviously, then, our Lord is looking down a far future, and giving a charge to the dim crowd of His later disciples, whom His prescient eye saw pressing behind the twelve in days to come. He had no dreams of swift success, but realised the long, hard fight to which He was summoning His disciples. And His frankness in telling them the worst that they had to expect was as suggestive as was His freedom from the rosy, groundless visions of at once capturing a world which enthusiasts are apt to cherish, till hard experience shatters the illusions. He knew the future in store for Himself, for His Gospel, for His disciples. And He knew that dangers and death itself will not appal a soul that is touched into heroic self-forgetfulness by His love. 'Set down my name,' says the man in Pilgrim's Progress, though he knew—may we not say, because he knew?—that the enemies were outside waiting to fall on him.
A further difference between this and the preceding section is, that there the stress was laid on the contents of the disciples' message, but that here it is laid on their sufferings. Not so much by what they say, as by how they endure, are they to testify. 'The noble army of martyrs praise Thee,' and the primitive Church preached Jesus most effectually by dying for Him.
The keynote is struck in verse 16, in which are to be noted the 'Behold,' which introduces something important and strange, and calls for close attention; the majestic 'I send you,' which moves to obedience whatever the issues, and pledges Him to defend the poor men who are going on His errands and the pathetic picture of the little flock huddled together, while the gleaming teeth of the wolves gnash all round them. A strange theme to drape in a metaphor! but does not the very metaphor help to lighten the darkness of the picture, as well as speak of His calmness, while He contemplates it? If the Shepherd sends His sheep into the midst of wolves, surely He will come to their help, and surely any peril is more courageously faced when they can say to themselves, 'He put us here.' The sheep has no claws to wound with nor teeth to tear with, but the defenceless Christian has a defence, and in his very weaponlessness wields the sharpest two-edged sword. 'Force from force must ever flow.' Resistance is a mistake. The victorious antagonist of savage enmity is patient meekness. 'Sufferance is the badge of all' true servants of Jesus. Wherever they have been misguided enough to depart from Christ's law of endurance and to give blow for blow, they have lost their cause in the long run, and have hurt their own Christian life more than their enemies' bodies. Guilelessness and harmlessness are their weapons. But 'be ye wise as serpents' is equally imperative with 'guileless as doves.' Mark the fine sanity of that injunction, which not only permits but enjoins prudent self-preservation, so long as it does not stoop to crooked policy, and is saved from that by dove-like guilelessness. A difficult combination, but a possible one, and when realised, a beautiful one!
The following verses (17-22) expand the preceding, and mingle in a very remarkable way plain predictions of persecution to the death and encouragements to front the worst. Jewish councils and synagogues, Gentile governors and kings, will unite for once in common hatred, than which there is no stronger bond. That is a grim prospect to set before a handful of Galilean peasants, but two little words turn its terror into joy; it is 'for My sake,' and that is enough. Jesus trusted His humble friends, as He trusts all such always, and believed that 'for My sake' was a talisman which would sweeten the bitterest cup and would make cowards into heroes, and send men and women to their deaths triumphant. And history has proved that He did not trust them too much. 'For His sake'—is that a charm for us, which makes the crooked straight and the rough places plain, which nerves for suffering and impels to noble acts, which moulds life and takes the sting and the terror out of death? Nor is that the only encouragement given to the twelve, who might well be appalled at the prospect of standing before Gentile kings. Jesus seems to discern how they shrank as they listened, at the thought of having to bear 'testimony' before exalted personages, and, with beautiful adaptation to their weakness, He interjects a great promise, which, for the first time, presents the divine Spirit as dwelling in the disciples' spirits. The occasion of the dawning of that great Christian thought is very noteworthy, and not less so is the designation of the Spirit as 'of your Father,' with all the implications of paternal care and love which that name carries. Special crises bring special helps, and the martyrologies of all ages and lands, from Stephen outside the city wall to the last Chinese woman, have attested the faithfulness of the Promiser. How often have some calm, simple words from some slave girl in Roman cities, or some ignorant confessor before Inquisitors, been manifestly touched with heavenly light and power, and silenced sophistries and threats!
The solemn foretelling of persecution, broken for a moment, goes on and becomes even more foreboding, for it speaks of dearest ones turned to foes, and the sweet sanctities of family ties dissolved by the solvent of the new Faith. There is no enemy like a brother estranged, and it is tragically significant that it is in connection with the rupture of family bonds that death is first mentioned as the price that Christ's messengers would have to pay for faithfulness to their message. But the prediction springs at a bound, as it were, from the narrow circle of home to the widest range, and does not fear to spread before the eyes of the twelve that they will become the objects of hatred to the whole human race if they are true to Christ's charge. The picture is dark enough, and it has turned out to be a true forecast of facts. It suggests two questions. What right had Jesus to send men out on such an errand, and to bid them gladly die for Him? And what made these men gladly take up the burden which He laid on them? He has the right to dispose of us, because He is the Son of God who has died for us. Otherwise He is not entitled to say to us, Do my bidding, even if it leads you to death. His servants find their inspiration to absolute, unconditional self-surrender in the Love that has died for them. That which gives Him His right to dispose of us in life and death gives us the disposition to yield ourselves wholly to Him, to be His apostles according to our opportunities, and to say, 'Whether I live or die, I am the Lord's.'
That thought of world-wide hatred is soothed by the recurrence of the talisman, 'For My name's sake,' and by a moment's showing of a fair prospect behind the gloom streaked with lightning in the foreground. 'He that endureth to the end shall be saved.' The same saying occurs in chapter xxiv. 13, in connection with the prediction of the fall of Jerusalem, and in the same connection in Mark xiii. 13, in both of which places several other sayings which appear in this charge to the apostles are found. It is impossible to settle which is the original place for these, or whether they were twice spoken. The latter supposition is very unfashionable at present, but has perhaps more to say for itself than modern critics are willing to allow. But Luke (xxi. 19) has a remarkable variation of the saying, for his version of it is, 'In your patience, ye shall win your souls.' His word 'patience' is a noun cognate with the verb rendered in Matthew and Mark 'endureth,' and to 'win one's soul' is obviously synonymous with being 'saved.' The saying cannot be limited, in any of its forms, to a mere securing of earthly life, for in this context it plainly includes those who have been delivered to death by parents and brethren, but who by death have won their lives, and have been, as Paul expected to be, thereby 'saved into His heavenly kingdom.' To the Christian, death is the usher who introduces him into the presence-chamber of the King, and he that loseth his life 'for My name's sake,' finds it glorified in, and into, life eternal.
But willingness to endure the utmost is to be accompanied with willingness to take all worthy means to escape it. There has been a certain unwholesome craving for martyrdom generated in times of persecution, which may appear noble but is very wasteful. The worst use that you can put a man to is to burn him, and a living witness may do more for Christ than a dead martyr. Christian heroism may be shown in not being afraid to flee quite as much as in courting, or passively awaiting, danger. And Christ's Name will be spread when His lovers are hounded from one city to another, just as it was when 'they that were scattered abroad, went everywhere, preaching the word.' When the brands are kicked apart by the heel of violence, they kindle flames where they fall.
But the reason for this command to flee is perplexing. 'Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of Man be come.' Is Jesus here reverting to the narrower immediate mission of the apostles? What 'coming' is referred to? We have seen that the first mission of the twelve was the theme of verses 5-15, and was there pursued to its ultimate consequences of final judgment on rejecters, whilst the wider horizon of a future mission opens out from verse 16 onwards. A renewed contraction of the horizon is extremely unlikely. It would be as if 'a flower should shut and be a bud again.' The recurrence in verse 23 of 'Verily I say unto you,' which has already occurred in verse 15, closing the first section of the charge, makes it probable that here too a section is completed, and that probability is strengthened if it is observed that the same phrase occurs, for a third time, in the last verse of the chapter, where again the discourse soars to the height of contemplating the final reward. The fact that the apostles met with no persecution on their first mission, puts out of court the explanation of the words that refers them to that mission, and takes the 'coming' to be Jesus' own appearances in the places they had preceded Him as His heralds. The difficult question as to what is the terminus ad quem pointed to here seems best solved by taking the 'coming of the Son of Man' to be His judicial manifestation in the destruction of Jerusalem and the consequent desolation of many of 'the cities of Israel,' whilst at the same time, the nearer and smaller catastrophe is a prophecy and symbol of the remoter and greater 'day of the Son of Man' at the end of the days. The recognition of that aspect of the fall of Jerusalem is forced on us by the eschatological parts of the Gospels, which are a bewildering whirl without it. Here, however, it is the crash of the fall itself which is in view, and the thought conveyed is that there would be cities enough to serve for refuges, and scope enough for evangelistic work, till the end of the Jewish possession of the land.
In verses 26-31, 'fear not' is thrice spoken, and at each occurrence is enforced by a reason. The first of these encouragements is the assurance of the certain ultimate world-wide manifestation of hidden things. That same dictum occurs in other connections, and with other applications, but in the present context can only be taken as an assurance that the Gospel message, little known as it thus far was, was destined to fill all ears. Therefore the disciples were to be fearless in doing their part in making it known, and so working in alliance with the divine purpose. It is the same thing that is meant by the 'covered' that 'shall be revealed,' the 'hidden' that 'shall be known,' 'that which is spoken in darkness,' and 'that which is whispered in the ear'; and all four designations refer to the word which every Christian has it in charge to sound out. We note that Jesus foresees a far wider range of publicity for His servants' ministry than for His own, just as He afterwards declared that they would do 'greater works' than His. He spoke to a handful of men in an obscure corner of the world. His teaching was necessarily largely confidential communication to the fit few. But the spark is going to be a blaze, and the whisper to become a shout that fills the world. Surely, then, we who are working in the line of direction of God's working should let no fear make us dumb, but should ever hear and obey the command: 'Lift up thy voice with strength, lift it up, be not afraid.'
A second reason for fearlessness is the limitation of the enemy's power to hurt, reinforced by the thought that, while the penalties that man can inflict for faithfulness are only corporeal, transitory, and incapable of harming the true self, the consequences of unfaithfulness fling the whole man, body and soul, down to utter ruin. There is a fear that makes cowards and apostates; there is a fear which makes heroes and apostles. He who fears God, with the awe that has no torment and is own sister to love, is afraid of nothing and of no man. That holy and blessed fear drives out all other, as fire draws the heat out of a burn. He that serves Christ is lord of the world; he that fears God fronts the world, and is not afraid.
The last reason for fearlessness touches a tender chord, and discloses a gracious thought of God as Father, which softens the tremendous preceding word: 'Who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.' Take both designations together, and let them work together in producing the awe which makes us brave, and the filial trust which makes us braver. A bird does not 'fall to the ground' unless wounded, and if it falls it dies. Jesus had looked pityingly on the great mystery, the woes of the creatures, and had stayed Himself on the thought of the all-embracing working of God. The very dying sparrow, with broken wing, had its place in that universal care. God is 'immanent' in nature. The antithesis often drawn between His universal care and His 'special providence' is misleading. Providence is special because it is universal. That which embraces everything must embrace each thing. But the immanent God is 'your Father,' and because of that sonship, 'ye are of more value than many sparrows.' There is an ascending order, and an increasing closeness and tenderness of relation. 'A man is better than a sheep,' and Christians, being God's children, may count on getting closer into the Father's heart than the poor crippled bird can, or than the godless man can. 'Your Father,' on the one hand, can destroy soul and body, therefore fear Him; but, on the other, He determines whether you shall 'fall to the ground' or soar above dangers, therefore fear none but Him.
LIKE TEACHER, LIKE SCHOLAR
'The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. 26. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord.' —MATT. x. 24, 25.
These words were often on Christ's lips. Like other teachers, He too had His favourite sayings, the light of which He was wont to flash into many dark places. Such a saying, for instance, was, 'To him that hath shall be given.' Such a saying is this of my text; and probably several other of our Lord's utterances, which are repeated more than once in different Gospels, and have too hastily been sometimes assumed to have been introduced erroneously by the evangelists, in varying connections.
This half-proverb occurs four times in the Gospels, and in three very different connections, pointing to three different subjects. Here, and once in John's Gospel, in the fifteenth chapter, it is employed to enforce the lesson of the oneness of Christ and His disciples in their relation to the world; and that His servants cannot expect to be better off than the Master was. 'If they have called Me Beelzebub they will not call you anything else.'
Then in Luke's Gospel (vi. 40) it is employed to illustrate the principle that the scholar cannot expect to be wiser than his master; that a blind teacher will have blind pupils, and that they will both fall into the ditch. Of course, the scholar may get beyond his master, but then he will get up and go away from the school, and will not be his scholar any longer. As long as he is a scholar, the best that can happen to him, and that will not often happen, is to be on the level of his teacher.
Then in another place in John's Gospel (xiii. 16) the saying is employed in reference to a different subject, viz. to teach the meaning of the pathetic, symbolical foot-washing, and to enforce the exhortation to imitate Jesus Christ, as generally in conduct, so specially in His wondrous humility. 'The servant is not greater than his lord.' 'I have left you an example that ye should do as I have done to you.'
So if we put these three instances together we get a threefold illustration of the relation between the disciple and the teacher, in respect to wisdom, conduct, and reception by the world. And these three, with their bearing on the relation between Christians and Jesus Christ, open out large fields of duty and of privilege. The very centre of Christianity is discipleship, and the very highest hope, as well as the most imperative command which the Gospel brings to men is, 'Be like Him whom you profess to have taken as your Master. Be like Him here, and you shall be like Him hereafter.'
I. Likeness to the teacher in wisdom is the disciple's perfection.
'If the blind lead the blind both shall fall into the ditch.' 'The disciple is not greater than his master.' 'It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master.' If that be a true principle, that the best that can happen to the scholar is to tread in his teacher's footsteps, to see with his eyes, to absorb his wisdom, to learn his truth, we may apply it in two opposite directions. First, it teaches us the limitations, and the misery, and the folly of taking men for our masters; and then, on the other hand, it teaches us the large hope, the blessing, freedom, and joy of having Christ for our Master.
Now, first, look at the principle as bearing upon the relation of disciple and human teacher. All such teachers have their limitations. Each man has his little circle of favourite ideas that he is perpetually reiterating. In fact, it seems as if one truth was about as much as one teacher could manage, and as if, whensoever God had any great truth to give to the world, He had to take one man and make him its sole apostle. So that teachers become mere fragments, and to listen to them is to dwarf and narrow oneself.
The chances are that no scholar shall be on his master's level. The eyes that see truth directly and for themselves in this world are very few. Most men have to take truth at second-hand, and few indeed are they who, like a perfect medium, receive even the fragmentary truth that human lips can impart to them, and transmit it as pure as they receive it. Disciples present exaggerations, caricatures, misconceptions, the limitations of the master becoming even more rigid in the pupil. Schools spring up which push the founder's teaching to extremes, and draw conclusions from it which he never dreamed of. Instead of a fresh voice, we have echoes, which, like all echoes, give only a syllable or two out of a sentence. Teachers can tell what they see, but they cannot give their followers eyes, and so the followers can do little more than repeat what their leader said he saw. They are like the little suckers that spring up from the 'stool' of a cut-down tree, or like the kinglets among whose feebler hands the great empire of an Alexander was divided at his death.
It is a dwarfing thing to call any man master upon earth. And yet men will give to a man the credence which they refuse to Christ. The followers of some of the fashionable teachers of to-day—Comte, Spencer, or others—protest, in the name of mental independence, against accepting Christ as the absolute teacher of morals and religion, and then go away and put a man in the very place which they have denied to Him, and swallow down his dicta whole.
Such facts show how heart and mind crave a teacher; how discipleship is ingrained in our nature; how we all long for some one who shall come to us authoritatively and say, 'Here is truth—believe it and live on it.' And yet it is fatal to pin one's faith on any, and it is miserable to have to change guides perpetually and to feel that we have outgrown those whom we reverence, and that we can look down on the height which once seemed to touch the stars—and, if we cut ourselves loose from all men's teaching, the isolation is dreary, and few of us are strong enough of arm, or clear enough of eye, to force or find the path through the tangled jungles of error.
So take this thought, that the highest hope of a disciple is to be like the master in wisdom, in its bearing on the relation between us and Christ, and look how it then flashes up into blessedness and beauty.
Such a teacher as we have in Him has no limitations, and it is safe to follow Him absolutely and Him alone. All others have plainly borne the impress of their age, or their nation, or their idiosyncrasy, in some way or another; Christ Jesus is the only teacher that the world has ever heard of, in whose teaching there is no mark of the age or generation or set of circumstances in which it originated. This water does not taste of any soil through which it has passed, it has come straight down from Heaven, and is pure and uncontaminated as the Heaven from which it has come. This teacher is safe to listen to absolutely: there are no limitations there; you never hear Him arguing; there is no sign about His words as if He had ever dug out for Himself the wisdom that He is proclaiming, or had ever seen it less distinctly than He sees it at the moment. The great peculiarity of His teaching is that He does not reason, but declares that His 'Verily! Verily!' is the confirmation of all His message. His teaching is Himself; other men bring lessons about truth; He says, 'I am the Truth.' Other teachers keep their personality in the background; He clashes His down in the foreground. Other men say, 'Listen to what I tell you, never mind about me.' He says, 'This is life eternal, that ye should believe on Me.' This Teacher has His message level to all minds, high and low, wise and foolish, cultivated and rude. This Teacher does not only impart wisdom by words as from without, though He does that too, but He comes into men's spirits, and communicates Himself, and so makes them wise. Other teachers fumble at the outside, but 'in the hidden parts He makes me to know wisdom.' So it is safe to take this Teacher absolutely, and to say, 'Thou art my Master, Thy word is truth, and the opening of Thy lips to me is wisdom.'
In following Christ as our absolute Teacher, there is no sacrifice of independence or freedom of mind, but listening to Him is the way to secure these in their highest degree. We are set free from men, we are growingly delivered from errors and misconceptions, in the measure in which we keep close to Christ as our Master. The Lord is that Teacher, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there, and there only, is liberty; freedom from self, from the dominion of popular opinion, from the coterie-speech of schools, from the imposing authority of individuals, and from all that makes cowardly men say as other people say, and fall in with the majority; and freedom from our own prejudices and our own errors, which are cleared away when we take Christ for our Master and cleave to Him.
His teaching can never cease until it has accomplished its purpose, and not until we have gathered into our consciousness all the truth that He has to give, and have received all the wisdom that He can impart unto us as to God and Himself, does His teaching cease. Here we may grow indefinitely in the knowledge of Christ, and in the future we shall know even as we are known. His merciful teaching will not come to a close till we have drunk in all His wisdom, and till He has declared to us all which He has heard of the Father. He will pass us from one form to another of His school, but in Heaven we shall still be His scholars; 'Every one shall sit at Thy feet, every one shall receive of Thy words.'
So, then, let us turn away from men, from rabbis and Sanhedrins, from authorities and schools, from doctors and churches. Why resort to cisterns when we may draw from the spring? Why listen to men when we may hear Christ? He is, as Dante called the great Greek thinker, 'the Master of those who know.' Why should we look to the planets when we can see the sun? 'Call no man master upon earth, for One is your Master, and all ye are brethren.' And His merciful teaching will never cease until 'everyone that is perfected shall be as his Master.'
II. Now, turn to the second application of this principle. Likeness to the Master in life is the law of a disciple's conduct.
That pathetic and wonderful story about the foot-washing in John's Gospel is meant for a symbol. It is the presenting, in a picturesque form, of the very heart and essence of Christ's Incarnation in its motive and purpose. The solemn prelude with which the evangelist introduces it lays bare our Lord's heart and His reason for His action. 'Having loved His own, which were in the world, He loved them to the end.' His motive, then, was love. Again, the exalted consciousness which accompanied His self-abasement is made prominent in the words, 'Knowing that the Father had given all things into His hand, and that He was come from God and went to God.' And the majestic deliberation and patient continuance in resolved humility with which He goes down the successive steps of the descent, are wonderfully given in the evangelist's record of how He 'riseth from supper, and laid aside His garments and girded Himself, and poured water into the basin.' It is a parable. Thus, in the consciousness of His divine authority and dignity, and moved by His love to the whole world, He laid aside the garments of His glory, and vested Himself with the towel of His humanity, the servant's garb, and took the water of His cleansing power, and came to wash the feet of all who will let Him cleanse them from their soil. And then, having reassumed His garments, He speaks from His throne to those who have been cleansed by His humiliation and His sacrifice, 'Know ye what I have done to you? The servant is not greater than his lord.'
That is to say, dear brethren, in this one incident, which is the condensation, so to speak, of the whole spirit of His life, is the law for our lives as well. We, too, are bound to that same love as the main motive of all our actions; we, too, are bound to that same stripping off of dignity and lowly equalising of ourselves with those below us whom we would help, and we, too, are bound to make it our main object, in our intercourse with men, not merely that we should please nor enlighten them, nor succour their lower temporal needs, but that we should cleanse them and make them pure with the purity that Christ gives.
A Christian life all moved and animated by self-denuding love, and which came amongst men to make them better and purer, and all the influence of which tended in the direction of helping poor foul hearts to get rid of their filth, how different it would be from our lives! What a grim contrast much of our lives is to the Master's example and command! Did you ever strip yourself of anything, my brother, in order to make some poor, wretched creature a little purer and liker the Saviour? Did you ever drop your dignity and go down to the low levels in order to lift up the people that were there? Do men see anything of that example, as reproduced in your lives, of the Master that lays aside the garments of Heaven for the vesture of earth, and dies upon the Cross in order that He might make our poor hearts purer and liker His own?
But, hard as such imitation is, it is only one case of a general principle. Discipleship is likeness to Jesus Christ in conduct. There is no discipleship worth naming which does not, at least, attempt that likeness. What is the use of a man saying that he is the disciple of Incarnate Love if his whole life is incarnate selfishness? What is the use of your calling yourselves Christians, and saying that you are followers of Jesus Christ, when He came to do God's will and delighted in it, and you come to do your own, and never do God's will at all, or scarcely at all, and then reluctantly and with many a murmur? What kind of a disciple is he, the habitual tenor of whose life contradicts the life of his Master and disobeys His commandments? And I am bound to say that that is the life of an enormously large proportion of the professing disciples in this age of conventional Christianity.
'The disciple shall be as his master.' Do you make it your effort to be like Him? If so, then the saying is not only a law, but a promise, for it assures us that our effort shall not fail but progressively succeed, and lead on at last to our becoming what we behold, and being conformed to Him whom we love, and like the Master to whose wisdom we profess to listen. They whose earthly life is a following of Christ, with faltering steps and afar off, shall have for their heavenly blessedness, that they shall 'follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.'
III. And now, lastly, likeness to the Master in relation to the world is the fate that the disciple must put up with.
'If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?' 'The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord.' Our Lord reiterated the statement in another place in John's Gospel, reminding them that He had said it before.
If we are like Jesus Christ in conduct, and if we have received His Word as the truth upon which we repose, depend upon it, in our measure and in varying fashions, we shall have to bear the same kind of treatment that He received from the world. The days of so-called persecution are over in so-called Christian countries, but if you are a disciple in the sense of believing all that Jesus Christ says, and taking Him for your Teacher, the public opinion of this day will have a great many things to say about you that will not be very pleasant. You will be considered to be 'old-fashioned,' 'narrow,' 'behind the times,' etc. etc. etc. Look at the bitter spirit of antagonism to an earnest and simple Christianity and adoption of Christ as our authoritative Teacher which goes through much of our high-class literature to-day. It is a very small matter as measured with what Christian men used to have to bear; but it indicates the set of things. We may make up our minds that if we are not contented with the pared-down Christianity which the world allows to pass at present, but insist upon coming to the New Testament for our beliefs and practices, and avow—'I believe all that Jesus Christ says, and I believe it because He says it, and I take Him as my model'; we shall find out that the disciple has to be 'as his Master,' and that the Pharisees and the Scribes of to-day stand in the same relation to the followers as their predecessors did to the Leader. If you are like your Master in conduct, you will be no more popular with the world than He was. As long as Christianity will be quiet, and let the world go its own gait, the world is very well contented to let it alone, or even to say polite things to it. Why should the world take the trouble of persecuting the kind of Christianity that so many of us display? What is the difference between our Christianity and their worldliness? The world is quite willing to come to church on Sundays, and to call itself a Christian world, if only it may live as it likes. And many professing Christians have precisely the same idea. They attend to the externals of Christianity, and call themselves Christians, but they bargain for its having very little power over their lives. Why, then, should two sets of people who have the same ideas and practices dislike each other? No reason at all! But let Christian men live up to their profession, and above all let them become aggressive, and try to attack the world's evil, as they are bound to do; let them fight drunkenness, let them go against the lust of great cities, let them preach peace in the face of a nation howling for war, let them apply the golden rules of Christianity to commerce and social relationships and the like, and you will very soon hear a pretty shout that will tell you that the disciple who is a disciple has to share the fate of the Master, notwithstanding nineteen centuries of Christian teaching.
If you do not know what it is to find yourselves out of harmony with the world, I am afraid it is because you have less of the Master's spirit than you have of the world's. The world loves its own. If you are not 'of the world, the world will hate you.' If it does not, it must be because, in spite of your name, you belong to it.
But if we are like Him in our relation to the world, because we are like Him in character, our very share in 'His reproach,' and our sense of being 'aliens' here, bear the promise that we shall be like Him in all worlds. His fortune is ours. 'The disciple shall be as his master.' If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him. No cross, no crown;—if cross, then crown! The end of discipleship is not reached until the Master's image and the Master's lot are repeated in the scholar.
Take Christ for your sacrifice, trust to His blood, listen to His teaching, walk in His footsteps, and you shall share His sovereignty and sit on His throne. 'It is enough,'—ay! more than enough, and nothing less than that is enough,—'for the disciple that he be as'—and with—'his master.' 'I shall be satisfied when I awake in Thy likeness.'
THE KING'S CHARGE TO HIS AMBASSADORS
'Whosoever therefore shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father which is in heaven. 33. But whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father which is in heaven. 34. Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. 35. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. 36. And man's foes shall be they of his own household. 37. He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after Me, is not worthy of Me. 39. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for My sake shall find it 40. He that receiveth you receiveth Me, and he that receiveth Me receiveth Him that sent Me. 41. He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward. 42. And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.' —MATT. x. 32-42.
The first mission of the apostles, important as it was, was but a short flight to try the young birds' wings. The larger portion of this charge to them passes far beyond the immediate occasion, and deals with the permanent relations of Christ's servants to the world in which they live, for the purpose of bringing it into subjection to its true King. These solemn closing words, which make our present subject, contain the duty and blessedness of confessing Him, the vision of the antagonisms which He excites, His demand for all-surrendering following, and the rewards of those who receive Christ's messengers, and therein receive Himself and His Father.
I. The duty and blessedness of confessing Him (vs. 32, 33). The 'therefore' is significant. It attaches the promise which follows to the immediately preceding thoughts of a watchful, fatherly care, extending like a great invisible hand over the true disciple. Because each is thus guarded, each shall be preserved to receive the honour of being confessed by Christ. No matter what may befall His witnesses, the extremest disaster shall not rob them of their reward. They may be flung down from the house-tops where they lift up their bold voices, but He who does not let a sparrow fall to the ground uncared for, will give His angels charge concerning them who are so much more precious, and they shall be borne up on outstretched wings, lest they be dashed on the pavement below. Thus preserved, they shall all attain at last to their guerdon. Nothing can come between Christ's servant and his crown. The tender providence of the Father, whose mercy is over all His works, makes sure of that. The river of the confessor's life may plunge underground, and be lost amid persecutions, but it will emerge again into the brighter sunshine on the other side of the mountains.
The confession which is to be thus rewarded, like the denial opposed to it, is, of course, not merely a single utterance of the lip. So far Judas Iscariot confessed Christ, and Peter denied Him. But it is the habitual acknowledgment by lip and life, unwithdrawn to the end. The context implies that the confession is maintained in the face of opposition, and that the denial is a cowardly attempt to save one's skin at the cost of treason to Jesus. The temptation does not come in that sharpest form to us. Perhaps some cowards would be made brave if it did. It is perhaps easier to face the gibbet and the fire, and screw oneself up for once to a brief endurance, than to resist the more specious blandishments of the world, especially when it has been christened, and calls itself religious. The light laugh of scorn, the silent pressure of the low average of Christian character, the close associations in trade, literature, public and domestic life which Christians have with non-Christians, make many a man's tongue lie silent, to the sore detriment of his own religious life. 'Ye have not yet resisted unto blood,' and find it hard to fulfil the easier conflict to which you are called. The sun has more power than the tempest to make the pilgrim drop his garment. But the duty remains the same for all ages. Every man is bound to make the deepest springs of his life visible, and to stand to his convictions, whatever they be. If he do not, his convictions will disappear like a piece of ice hid in a hot hand, which will melt and trickle away. This obligation lies with infinitely increased weight on Christ's servants; and the consequences of failing to discharge it are more tragic in their cases, in the exact proportion of the greater preciousness of their faith. Corn hoarded is sure to be spoiled by weevils and rust. The bread of life hidden in our sacks will certainly go mouldy.
The reward and punishment of confession and denial come to them not as separate acts, but as each being the revelation of the spiritual condition of the doers. Christ implies that a true disciple cannot but be a confessor, and that therefore the denier must certainly be one whom He has never known. Because, therefore, each act is symptomatic of the doer, each receives the congruous and correspondent reward. The confessor is confessed; the denier is denied. What calm and assured consciousness of His place as Judge underlies these words! His recognition is God's acceptance; His denial is darkness and misery. The correspondence between the work and the reward is beautifully brought out by the use of the same word to express each. And yet what a difference between our confession of Him and His of us! And what a hope is here for all who have tremblingly, and in the consciousness of much unworthiness, ventured to say that they were Christ's subjects, and He their King, brother, and all! Their poor, feeble confession will be endorsed by His. He will say, 'Yes, this man is mine, and I am his.' That will be glory, honour, blessedness, life, heaven.
II. The vision of the discord which follows the coming of the King of peace. It is not enough to interpret these words as meaning that our Lord's purpose indeed was to bring peace, but that the result of His coming was strife. The ultimate purpose is peace; but an immediate purpose is conflict, as the only road to the peace. He is first King of righteousness, and after that also King of peace. But, if His kingdom be righteousness, purity, love, then unrighteousness, filthiness, and selfishness will fight against it for their lives. The ultimate purpose of Christ's coming is to transform the world into the likeness of heaven; and all in the world which hates such likeness is embattled against Him. He saw realities, and knew men's hearts, and was under no illusion, such as many an ardent reformer has cherished, that the fair form of truth need only be shown to men, and they will take her to their hearts. Incessant struggle is the law for the individual and for society till Christ's purpose for both is realised.
That conflict ranges the dearest in opposite ranks. The gospel is the great solvent. As when a substance is brought into contact with some chemical compound, which has greater affinity for one of its elements than the other element has, the old combination is dissolved, and a new and more stable one is formed, so Christianity analyses and destroys in order to synthesis and construction. In verse 21 our Lord had foretold that brother should deliver up brother to death. Here the severance is considered from the opposite side. The persons who are 'set at variance' with their kindred are here Christians. Perhaps it is fanciful to observe that they are all junior members of families, as if the young would be more likely to flock to the new light. But however that may be, the separation is mutual, but the hate is all on one side. The 'man's foes' are of his own household; but he is not their foe, though he be parted from them.