And as Christ teaches us to pray for others, so also does He teach us to pray for ourselves. Two points only in this connection can be noted.
(1) Let us pray when we enter into our Gethsemane; for every life has its Gethsemane. Some there are who have not yet entered it; they are young, and their way thus far has teen among the roses and lilies of life. But for them, too, the path leads to Gethsemane, and some day they also will lie prostrate in an agony, under the darkening olive trees. And some there are to whom life seems but one long Gethsemane. In that dread agony God help us to pray! Nay, what else then can a man do but, as Browning says, catch at God's skirts and pray? But that he can do. Death may build its dividing walls great and high, such as our feet can never scale; it cannot roof them over and shut us out from God. We remember how it was with Enoch Arden, stranded on an isle, "the loneliest in a lonely sea":—
"Had not his poor heart Spoken with That, which being everywhere Lets none, who speaks with Him, seem all alone, Surely the man had died of solitude."
Were it not for the doors opened in heaven what should man that is born of a woman do? But when in our Gethsemane we offer up "prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears," it is after Christ's manner that we must pray. I said just now that there are some to whom life seems one long Gethsemane. Can it be because hitherto they have only prayed, "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass away from me"? Not until with Christ we bow our heads and say, "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt," will the iron gates unfold and the shadows of the Garden lie behind us.
(2) "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation." And if there be some to whom my last word had little or no meaning, here, at least, Christ speaks to all. And this time I have nothing of my own to add by way of comment; but I copy out this passage from Charles Kingsley's Yeast, for every young man who reads these words to lay to heart: "I am no saint," says Colonel Bracebridge, "and God only knows how much less of one I may become; but mark my words—if you are ever tempted by passion, and vanity, and fine ladies, to form liaisons, as the Jezebels call them, snares, and nets and labyrinths of blind ditches, to keep you down through life, stumbling and grovelling, hating yourself and hating the chain to which you cling—in that hour pray—pray as if the devil had you by the throat—to Almighty God, to help you out of that cursed slough! There is nothing else for it!—pray, I tell you!"
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CONCERNING THE FORGIVENESS OF INJURIES
"She, who kept a tender Christian hope, Haunting a holy text, and still to that Returning, as the bird returns, at night, 'Let not the sun go down upon your wrath,' Said, 'Love, forgive him:' but he did not speak; And silenced by that silence lay the wife, Remembering her dear Lord who died for all, And musing on the little lives of men, And how they mar this little by their feuds." TENNYSON.
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CONCERNING THE FORGIVENESS OF INJURIES
"Then came Peter, and said to Him, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? until seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, until seven times; but, until seventy times seven."—MATT, xviii. 21, 22.
This would seem to be plain enough, even though we had nothing more from the lips of Jesus concerning the duty of forgiveness. In point of fact, however, the lesson of these words is repeated a full half-dozen times throughout the Gospels. It may be well, therefore, to begin by bringing together our Lord's sayings on the subject.
We turn first to the Sermon on the Mount: "Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy; but I say unto you, Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you." Then, in the Lord's Prayer we have the familiar petition, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us." And it is surely a fact full of significance that at the close of the prayer our Lord should single out this one petition from the rest with this emphatic comment: "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." The words quoted thus far are taken from the first Gospel. Similar teaching is found in the second and third. Thus, in Mark, we read: "And whensoever ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any one; that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses;" and in Luke: "If thy brother sin, rebuke him, and if he repent, forgive him. And if he sin against thee seven times in the day, and seven times turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him." Again, we have the teaching recorded by Matthew, out of which Peter's question sprang—"If thy brother sin against thee, go, show him his fault between thee and him alone; if he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother"—followed by the parable of the Unforgiving Servant, with its solemn warning of inimitable doom: "So shall also My heavenly Father do unto you, if ye forgive not every one his brother from your hearts." And, finally, all these words are made fast for ever in the minds and consciences of men, by the great act on the Cross when the dying Redeemer prayed for the men who slew Him: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."
The meaning of all this is unmistakable. No child could miss the point of the solemn parable to which I have referred. At the same time, it may not be out of place to point out that there are not a few instances in which people may feel themselves wronged, which, nevertheless, do not come within the scope of Christ's teaching about forgiveness. An illustration will best explain my meaning. It sometimes happens, both in business life and in the Church, that two men, equally honourable and true, but with almost nothing else in common, are often thrown into each other's company. They have to deal with the same facts, but they look upon them with wholly different eyes, they approach them from wholly different points of view. The results are obvious. There are not only widely differing opinions, but occasional misunderstandings, and sometimes sharper words than ought ever to pass between Christian men. Now, to say broadly that one is right and the other wrong, that the one owes confession and the other forgiveness, is simply not true; what is true is that the men are different, different in temperament, different in training, different in their whole habits of thought and life. And what is needed is that each should learn frankly to recognize the fact. This is not a case for rebuking, and repenting, and forgiving, but for mutual forbearance. There are multitudes of good people, people whose goodness no one who knows them would ever question, whom yet we cannot take to our bosoms, and treat as intimate personal friends. Even religion does not all at once straighten out all the twists in human nature, nor rub down all its hard angularities. And, as I say, it is our simple, common-sense duty to recognize the fact; and if sometimes we find even our fellow—Christians "very trying," well, we must learn to bear and forbear, always remembering that others probably find us no less trying than we sometimes find them. But where grave and undeniable injury has been done, immediately Christ's teaching comes into operation. The injured one must banish all thought of revenge. Never must we say, "I will do so to him as he hath done to me; I will render to the man according to his work." Rather must we strive to overcome evil by good, and by the manifestation of a forgiving spirit to win the wrong-doer to repentance and amendment.
When, now, we take these precepts of Jesus and lay them side by side with the life of the world, or even with the life of the Church, as day by day it passes before our eyes, our first thought must be, how little yet do men heed the words of Jesus, how much mightier is the pagan spirit of revenge than the Christian spirit of forgiveness. Indeed, of all the virtues which Christ inculcated, this, perhaps, is the most difficult. True forgiveness—I do not speak of the poor, bloodless phantom which sometimes passes by the name:
"Forgive! How many will say 'forgive,' and find A sort of absolution in the sound To hate a little longer,"
—not of such do I speak, but of true forgiveness, and this, I say, can never for us men be an easy thing. Perhaps a frank consideration of some of the difficulties may contribute to their removal.
(1) One chief reason why Christ's command remains so largely a dead letter is to be found in our unwillingness to acknowledge that we have committed an injury. That another should have wronged us we find no difficulty in believing; that we have wronged another is very hard to believe. Look at the very form of Peter's question: "How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?" "My brother" the wrong-doer, myself the wronged—that is what we are all ready to assume. But what if it is I who have need to be forgiven? But this is what our pride will not suffer us to believe. That "bold villain" Shame, who plucked Faithful by the elbow in the Valley of Humiliation, and sought to persuade him that it is a shame to ask one's neighbour forgiveness for petty faults, or to make restitution where we have taken from any, is always quick to seize his opportunity. And he is especially quick when acknowledgement is due to one who is socially our inferior. If an employee be guilty of some gross discourtesy towards his master, or a servant towards her mistress, the master or mistress may demand a prompt apology on pain of instant dismissal. But when it is the servant or employee who is the injured person he has no such remedy; yet surely, in Christ's eyes, his very dependence makes the duty of confession doubly imperative. "If," Christ said, "thou art offering thy gift at the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee"—note exactly Christ's words; He did not say, "If thou rememberest that thou hast aught against thy brother"; alas, it is very easy for most of us to do that; what He said was, "If thou rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee." Whom did I overreach in business yesterday? Whose good name did I drag through the mire? What heart did I stab with my cruel words? "If thou rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way, first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift."
(2) If the difficulties are great when we have committed the wrong, they are hardly less when we have suffered it. Thomas Fuller tells how once he saw a mother threatening to beat her little child for not rightly pronouncing the petition in the Lord's Prayer, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us." The child tried its best, but could get no nearer than "tepasses," and "trepasses." "Alas!" says Fuller, it is a shibboleth to a child's tongue wherein there is a confluence of hard consonants together; and then he continues, "What the child could not pronounce the parents do not practise. O how lispingly and imperfectly do we perform the close of this petition: As we forgive them that trespass against us." In the old Greek and Roman world, we have been told, people not only did not forgive their enemies, but did not wish to do so, nor think better of themselves for having done so. That man considered himself fortunate who, on his deathbed, could say, on reviewing his past life, that no one had done more good to his friends or more mischief to his enemies. And though we profess and call ourselves Christians, how strong in many of us still is the old heathen desire to be "even with" one who has wronged us, and to make him smart for it. Many of us, as Dr. Dale says, have given a new turn to an old text. In our own private Revised Version of the New Testament we read: "Whosoever speaketh a word or committeth a wrong against God, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever speaketh a word or committeth a wrong against me, it shall not be forgiven him; certainly not in this world, even if it is forgiven in the world to come." Resentment against moral evil every good man must feel; but when with the clear, bright flame of a holy wrath there mingle the dark fumes of personal vindictiveness, we do wrong, we sin against God.
Nowhere in Scripture, perhaps, have we such a lesson on the difficulty of forgiveness as in the reference to Alexander the coppersmith, in St. Paul's last letter to Timothy. Even if we read his words in the modified and undoubtedly accurate form in which they are found in the Revised Version, we still feel how far short they come of the standard of Christ. "Paul," says Dr. Whyte, "was put by Alexander to the last trial and sorest temptation of an apostolic and a sanctified heart." And with all the greatness of our regard for the great apostle, we dare not say that he came out of the trial wholly unscathed. Did ever any man come out of such a fire unhurt—any save One? Yet it is not for me to sit in judgment on St. Paul; only let us remember we have no warrant from God to hate any man and to hand him over to eternal judgment even though, like Alexander, he heap insult and injury, not only upon ourselves, but upon the cause and Church of Christ.
(3) And then to this native, inborn unwillingness to forgive there comes in to strengthen it our knowledge of the fact that forgiveness is sometimes mistaken for, and does, in fact, sometimes degenerate into, the moral weakness which slurs over a fault, and refuses to strike only because it dare not. Nevertheless, though there be counterfeits current, there is a reality; there is a forgiving spirit which has no kinship with cowardice or weakness or mere mushiness of character, but which is the offspring of strength and goodness and mercy, in short, of all in man that is likest God. And it is this not that which God bids us make our own; and not the less so because in the rough ways of the world that so often passes for this.
It would be easy to go on enumerating difficulties, but long as the enumeration might be, Christ's command would still remain in all its explicitness, the Divine obligation would be in no way weakened. We must forgive; we must forgive from our hearts; and there must be no limit to our forgiveness. Nor is this all. The whole law of forgiveness is not fulfilled when one who has done us an injury has come humbly making confession, and we have accepted the confession and agreed to let bygones be bygones. We should be heartless wretches indeed, if, under such circumstances, we were not willing to do as much as that. But we must do more: "If thy brother sin against thee, go, show him his fault between thee and him alone; if he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother." We, we who have been wronged, must take the first step. We must not wait for the wrong-doer to come to us; we must go to him. We must lay aside our vindictiveness, and earnestly, patiently, making our appeal to his better self, by every art and device which love can suggest, we must help him to take sides against the wrong which he has done, until at last forgiving love has led him captive, and our brother is won. This is the teaching of Jesus. Let me suggest, in conclusion, a three-fold reason why we should give heed to it.
Let us forgive for our own sake. A man of an unforgiving spirit is always his own worst enemy. He "that studieth revenge," says Bacon, "keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal and do well." "If thou hast not mercy for others," says Sir Thomas Browne, "yet be not cruel unto thyself; to ruminate upon evils, to make critical notes upon injuries, is to add unto our own tortures, to feather the arrows of our enemies." There is no misery worse than that of a mind which broods continually over its own wrongs, be they real or only fancied. There is no gloom so deep and dark as that which settles on a hard and unrelenting soul. And, on the other hand, there is no joy so pure, there is none so rewarding, as that of one who, from his heart, has learned to say, "I forgive." He has tasted the very joy of God, the joy of Him of whom it is written that He delighteth in mercy. Just as when a sea-worm perforates the shell of an oyster, the oyster straightway closes the wound with a pearl, so does a forgiving spirit heal the hidden hurt of the heart, and win for itself a boon even at the hands of its foe.
Let us forgive for our brother's sake. "What," asks George MacDonald, "am I brother for, but to forgive?" And how much for my brother my forgiveness may do! All love, not Christ's love only, has within it a strange redemptive power. We often profess ourselves puzzled by that hard saying of Jesus concerning the binding and loosing of men's sins. Yet this is just what human love, or the want of it, is doing every day. When we forgive men their sins, we so far loose them from them; we help them to believe in the power and reality of the Divine forgiveness. When we refuse to forgive, we bind their sins to them, we make them doubt the love and mercy of God. Have we forgotten the part which Ananias played in the conversion of Saul of Tarsus? St. Augustine used to say that the Church owed Paul to the prayers of Stephen. Might he not have said, with equal truth, that the Church owed Paul to the forgiveness of Ananias? For three days, without sight, and without food or drink, Saul waited in Damascus, pondering the meaning of the heavenly vision. Then came unto him, sent by God, the man whose life he had meant to take: "Ananias entered into the house; and, laying his hands on him, said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, who appeared unto thee in the way which thou earnest, hath sent me." "Brother Saul"—how his heart must have leapt within him at the sound of the word! It was a voice from without confirming the voice within; it was the love and forgiveness of man sealing and making sure the love and forgiveness of God. Wherefore, let us take heed lest, by our sullen refusal to forgive, we be thrusting some penitent soul back into the miry depths, whence, slowly and painfully, it is winning its way into the light and love of God.
Let us forgive for Christ's sake, because of that which God through Him has done for us. When, day by day, we pray, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us," what we are asking is, that God will deal with us as we are dealing with others. Do we mean what we say? Are we showing a mercy as large as we need? Chrysostom tells us that many people in his day used to omit the words, "As we forgive them that trespass against us." They did not dare to ask God to deal with their sins as they were dealing with the sins of those who had wronged them, lest they brought upon themselves not a blessing but a curse. And would it not go hardly with some of us, if, with the measure we mete, God should measure to us again? Yet there is no mistaking Christ's words: "If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." Therefore, let me think of myself, of my own sin, of the forgiveness even unto seventy times seven which I need; and then let me ask, can I, whose need is so great, dole out my forgiveness with a grudging hand, counting till a poor "seven times" be reached, and then staying my hand? Rather, let me pray, Lord,
"Make my forgiveness downright—such as I Should perish if I did not have from Thee."
"Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and railing, be put away from you, with all malice; and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you."
"O man, forgive thy mortal foe, Nor ever strike him blow for blow; For all the souls on earth that live To be forgiven must forgive, Forgive him seventy times and seven: For all the blessed souls in Heaven Are both forgivers and forgiven."
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"My spirit on Thy care, Blest Saviour, I recline; Thou wilt not leave me in despair, For Thou art Love Divine.
In Thee I place my trust, On Thee I calmly rest; I know Thee good, I know Thee just, And count Thy choice the best.
Whate'er events betide, Thy will they all perform; Safe in Thy breast my head I hide, Nor fear the coming storm.
Let good or ill befall, It must be good for me, Secure of having Thee in all, Of having all in Thee." H.F. LYTH.
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"Be not anxious for your life ... nor yet for your body.... Be not anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? ... Be not anxious for the morrow."—MATT. vi. 25, 31, 34.
"Take no thought for your life" is the more familiar rendering of the Authorized Version. And if the words conveyed the same meaning to us to-day as they did to all English-speaking people in the year 1611, there would have been no need for a change. A great student of words, the late Archbishop Trench, tells us that "thought" was then constantly used as equivalent to anxiety or solicitous care; and he gives three illustrations of this use of the word from writers of the Elizabethan age. Thus Bacon writes: "Harris, an alderman in London, was put in trouble, and died with thought and anxiety before his business came to an end." Again, in one of the Somer's Tracts, we read, "Queen Katharine Parr died of thought"; and in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, "Take thought and die for Caesar," where "to take thought" is to take a matter so seriously to heart that death ensues. In 1611, therefore, the old translation did accurately reproduce Christ's thought. To-day, however, it is altogether inadequate, and sometimes, it is to be feared, positively misleading. For neither in this chapter nor anywhere in Christ's teaching is there one word against what we call forethought, and they who would find in the words of Jesus any encouragement to thriftlessness are but misrepresenting Him and deceiving themselves. Every man, who is not either a rogue or a fool, must take thought for the morrow; at least, if he does not, some one must for him, or the morrow will avenge itself upon him without mercy. What our Lord forbids is not prudent foresight, but worry: "Be ye not anxious!" The word which Christ uses ((Greek: merimnate)) is a very suggestive one; it describes the state of mind of one who is drawn in different directions, torn by internal conflict, "distracted," as we say, where precisely the same figure of speech occurs. A similar counsel is to be found in another and still more striking word which only Luke has recorded, and which is rendered, "Neither be ye of doubtful mind." There is a picture in the word ((Greek: meteorizesthe)) the picture of a vessel vexed by contrary winds, now uplifted on the crest of some huge wave, now labouring in the trough of the sea. "Be ye not thus," Christ says to His disciples, "the sport of your cares, driven by the wind and tossed; but let the peace of God rule in your hearts, and be ye not of doubtful mind."
It cannot surprise us that Jesus should speak thus; rather should we have been surprised if it had been otherwise. How could He speak to men at all and yet be silent about their cares? For how full of care the lives of most men are! One is anxious about his health, and another about his business; one is concerned because for weeks he has been without work, and another because his investments are turning out badly; some are troubled about their children, and some there are who are making a care even of their religion, and instead of letting it carry them are trying to carry it; until, with burdens of one kind or another, we are like a string of Swiss pack-horses, such as one may sometimes see, toiling and straining up some steep Alpine pass under a blazing July sun. Poor Martha, with her sad, tired face, and nervous, fretful ways, "anxious and troubled about many things," is everywhere to-day. Nor is it the poor only whose lives are full of care. It was not a poor man amid his poverty, but a rich man amid his riches, who, in Christ's parable, put to himself the question, "What shall I do?" The birds of care build their nests amid the turrets of a palace as readily as in the thatched roof of a cottage. The cruel thorns—"the cares of this life," as Jesus calls them—which choke the good seed, sometimes spring up more easily within the carefully fenced enclosure of my lord's park than in the little garden plot of the keeper of his lodge. On the whole, perhaps, and in proportion to their number, there is less harassing, wearing anxiety in the homes of the poor than in those of the wealthy. And what harsh taskmasters our cares can be! How they will lord it over us! Give them the saddle and the reins, and they will ride us to death. Seat them on the throne, and they will chastise us not only with whips but with scorpions. It is no wonder that Christ should set Himself to free men from this grinding tyranny. He is no true deliverer for us who cannot break the cruel bondage of our cares.
Let us listen, then, to Christ's gracious argument and wise remonstrances. What, He asks, is the good of our anxiety? What can it do for us? "Which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto his stature? If, then, ye are not able to do that which is least, why are ye anxious concerning the rest?" "But, the morrow! the morrow!" we cry. "Let the morrow," Christ answers, "take care of itself; sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof; learn thou to live a day at a time." "Our earliest duty," says a great writer of our day, "is to cultivate the habit of not looking round the corner;" which is but another version of Christ's simple precept. And the saying, simple and obvious as it may seem, never fails to justify itself. For one thing, the morrow rarely turns out as our fears imagined it. Our very anxiety blurs our vision, and throws our judgment out of focus. We see things through an atmosphere which both magnifies and distorts. We remember how it was with Mr. Fearing: "When he was come to the entrance of the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I thought"—it is Greatheart who tells the story—"I should have lost my man: not for that he had any inclination to go back,—that he always abhorred; but he was ready to die for fear. Oh, the hobgoblins will have me! the hobgoblins will have me! cried he; and I could not beat him out on't." Yet see how matters fell out. "This I took very great notice of," goes on Greatheart, "that this valley was as quiet while he went through it as ever I knew it before or since." And again, when Mr. Fearing "was come at the river where was no bridge, there again he was in a heavy case. Now, now, he said, he should be drowned for ever, and so never see that face with comfort, that he had come so many miles to behold." But once more his fears were put to shame: "Here, also, I took notice of what was very remarkable: the water of that river was lower at this time than ever I saw it in all my life. So he went over at last, not much above wet-shod."
And even though the morrow should prove as bad as our fears, Christ's precept is still justified, for the worst kind of preparation for such a day is worry. Worry, like the undue clatter of machinery, means waste, waste of power. Anxiety, it has been well said, does not empty to-morrow of its sorrows, but it does empty to-day of its strength. Therefore, let us not be anxious. Let us climb our hills when we come to them. God gives each day strength for the day; but when, to the responsibilities of to-day we add the burdens of to-morrow, and try to do the work of two days in the strength of one, we are making straight paths for the feet of failure and disappointment. All the many voices of reason and experience are on Christ's side when He bids us, "Be not anxious."
Yet, true as all this is, how inadequate it is! When the tides of care are at the flood they will overrun and submerge all such counsels as these, as the waves wash away the little sand-hills which children build by the sea-shore. "We know it is no good to worry," people will tell us, half-petulantly, when we remonstrate with them; "but we cannot help ourselves, and if you have no more to say to us than this, you cannot help us either." And they are right. Care is the cancer of the heart, and if our words can go no deeper than they have yet gone, it can never be cured. It is an inward spiritual derangement, which calls for something more than little bits of good advice in order to put it right. And if, again, we turn to the words of Jesus, we shall find the needed something more is given. The care-worn soul, for its cure, must be taken out of itself. "Oh the bliss of waking," says some one, "with all one's thoughts turned outward!" It is the power to do that, to turn, and to keep turned, one's thoughts outwards that the care-ridden need; and Christ will show us how it may be ours.
"Be not anxious," says Jesus; and then side by side with this negative precept He lays this positive one: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God." Christ came to establish a kingdom in which "all men's good" should be "each man's rule," and love the universal law. When, therefore, He bids the anxious seek the kingdom, what He means is that they are to find an escape from self and self-consuming cares in service. "When you find yourself overpowered by melancholy," said John Keble, "the best way is to go out and do something kind to somebody or other." And thousands who are sitting daily in the gloom of a self-created misery, with all the blinds of the spirit drawn, if they would but "go out" and begin to care for others, would speedily cease their miserable care for themselves. "When I dig a man out of trouble," some one quaintly writes, "the hole he leaves behind him is the grave in which I bury my own trouble." This is not the whole cure for care; but if the mind is to be kept from burrowing in the dark of its own fears and anxieties, it must be set resolutely and constantly on those nobler ends to which Christ in His gospel summons us all.
The care-worn, Christ says, must think of others; and, most of all, they must think of God. "Let not your heart be troubled ... believe." This is the great argument into which all other arguments run up. This is the larger truth, within whose wide circumference lie all Christ's words concerning care. We are not to care because we are cared for, cared for by God. There is, Christ teaches us, a distribution of duties between ourselves and God. We, on our part, make it our daily business to get God's will done on earth as it is done in heaven; He, on His, undertakes that we shall not want.
"Make you His service your delight, He'll make your wants His care."
Once more we see how fundamental is Christ's doctrine of the Divine Fatherhood. It is not so much because our anxiety is useless, or because it unfits us for service, but because God is what He is, that our worry is at once a blunder and a sin. It is mistrust of the heavenly love that cares for us. The sovereign cure for care is—God.
But now a difficulty arises. Christ's doctrine of the Divine Fatherhood is, without doubt, fundamental; but is it true? A God who clothes the blowing lilies with their silent beauty, without whom no sparrow falleth to the ground, who numbers the very hairs of our head—it is a glorious faith, if one could but receive it. But can we? It was possible once, we think, in the childhood of the world; but that time has gone, and we are the children of a new day, whose thoughts we cannot choose but think. So long as men thought of our earth as the centre of the universe, it was not difficult to believe that its inhabitants were the peculiar care of their Creator. But astronomy has changed all that; and what once we thought so great, we know now to be but a speck amid infinite systems of worlds. The old question challenges us with a force the Psalmist could not feel: "When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars which Thou hast ordained; what is man that Thou are mindful of him? and the son of man that Thou visitest him?" The infinity of God, the nothingness of man: the poor brain reels before the contrast. Is it thinkable, we ask, that He whose dwelling-place is eternity should care for us even as we care for our children? So the question is often urged upon us to-day. But arguments of this kind, it has been well said, are simply an attempt to terrorize the imagination, and are not to be yielded to. As a recent writer admirably says: "We know little or nothing of the rest of the universe, and it may very well be that in no other planet but this is there intelligent and moral life; and, if that be so, then this world, despite its material insignificance, would remain the real summit of creation. But even if this be not so, still man remains man—a spiritual being, capable of knowing, loving, and glorifying God. Man is that, be there what myriads of worlds there may, and is not less than that, though in other worlds were also beings like him.... No conception of God is less imposing than that which represents Him as a kind of millionaire in worlds, so materialized by the immensity of His possessions as to have lost the sense of the incalculably greater worth of the spiritual interests of even the smallest part of them."
But this is not the only difficulty; for some it is not the chief difficulty. We have no theories of God and the universe which bar the possibility of His intervention in the little lives of men. There is nothing incredible to us in the doctrine of a particular Providence. But where, we ask, is the proof of it? We would fain believe, but the facts of experience seem too strong for us. A hundred thousand Armenians butchered at the will of an inhuman despot, a whole city buried under a volcano's fiery hail, countless multitudes suffering the slow torture of death by famine—can such things be and God really care? Nor is it only great world tragedies like these which challenge our faith. The question is pressed upon us, often with sickening keenness, by the commonplace ills of our own commonplace lives: the cruel wrong of another's sin, the long, wasting pain, the empty cradle, the broken heart. How can we look on these things and yet believe that Eternal Love is on the throne?
Except we believe in Jesus we cannot; if we do, we must. For remember, Jesus was no shallow optimist; He did not go through life seeing only its pleasant things; He was at Cana of Galilee, but He was also at Nain; over all His life there lay a shadow, the shadow of the Cross; He died in the dark, betrayed of man, forsaken of God; surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. And yet through all, His faith in God never wavered. He prayed, and He taught others to pray. When He lifted His eyes towards heaven, it was with the word "Father" upon His lips; and in like manner He bade His disciples, "When ye pray, say 'Father.'" He took the trembling hands of men within His own, and looking into their eyes, filled as they were with a thousand nameless fears, "Fear not," He said, "our heavenly Father knoweth; let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."
"Learn of Me ... and ye shall find rest unto your souls;" herein is the secret of peace. But it is not enough that we give ear to the words of Christ; we must make our own the whole meaning of the fact of Christ. "God's in His heaven," sings Browning; "all's right with the world." But if God is only in His heaven, all is not right with the world. In Christ we learn that God has come from out His heaven to earth; and in the Cross of Christ we find the eternal love which meets and answers all our fears. Fear not,
"Or if you fear, Cast all your cares on God; that anchor holds."
"Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."
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"Now I saw in my dream, that at the further side of that plain was a little hill called Lucre, and in that hill a silver-mine, which some of them that had formerly gone that way, because of the rarity of it, had turned aside to see; but going too near the brink of the pit, the ground being deceitful under them, broke, and they were slain;-some also had been maimed there, and could not to their dying day be their own men again."—JOHN BUNYAN.
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"How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to enter in through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."—LUKE xviii. 24, 25.
The most significant thing in the teaching of Jesus concerning money is the large place which it fills in the records of our Lord's public ministry. How large that place is few of us, perhaps, realize. Even religious writers who take in hand to set forth Christ's teaching in detail, for the most part, pass over this subject in silence. In Hastings' great Dictionary of the Bible we find, under "Money," a most elaborate article, extending to nearly twenty pages, and discussing with great fullness and learning the coinage of various Biblical periods; but when we seek to know what the New Testament has to say concerning the use and perils of wealth, the whole subject is dismissed in some nine lines.
Very different is the impression which we receive from the Gospels themselves. It is not possible here to bring together all Christ's words about money, but we may take the third Gospel (in which the references to the subject are most numerous) and note Christ's more striking sayings in the order in which they occur. In the parable of the sower, in the eighth chapter, the thorns which choke the good seed are the "cares and riches and pleasures of this life." Chapter twelve contains a warning against covetousness, enforced by the parable of the rich fool and its sharp-pointed application, "So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." The fourteenth chapter sheds a new light on the law of hospitality: "When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, nor thy kinsmen, nor rich neighbours ... but when thou makest a feast, bid the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind; and thou shalt be blessed." Chapter fifteen tells how a certain son wasted his substance with riotous living. Chapter sixteen opens with the parable of the unjust steward; then follow weighty words touching the right use of "the mammon of unrighteousness." But the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, when they heard these things, "scoffed at Him." Christ's answer is the parable of Dives and Lazarus, with which the chapter closes. Chapter eighteen tells of a rich young ruler's choice, and of Christ's sorrowful comment thereon: "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God." And then, lastly, in the nineteenth chapter, we hear Zacchaeus, into whose home and heart Christ had entered, resolving on the threshold of his new life that henceforth the half of his goods he would give to the poor, and that where he had wrongfully exacted aught of any man he would restore four-fold. It is indeed a remarkable fact, the full significance of which few Christians have yet realized, that, as John Ruskin says, the subject which we might have expected a Divine Teacher would have been content to leave to others is the very one He singles out on which to speak parables for all men's memory.
The question is sometimes asked how the teaching of Jesus concerning money is related to that strange product of civilization, the modern millionaire. The present writer, at least, cannot hold with those who think that Christ was a communist, or that He regarded the possession of wealth as in itself a sin. Nevertheless, it is impossible not to sympathize with the feeling that the accumulation of huge fortunes in the hands of individuals is not according to the will of Christ. Mr. Andrew Carnegie is reported to have said that a man who dies a millionaire dies disgraced; and few persons who take their New Testament seriously will be disposed to contradict him. But, inasmuch as all millionaires are not prepared like Mr. Carnegie to save themselves from disgrace, the question is beginning to arise in the minds of many, whether society itself should not come to the rescue—its own and the rich man's. No man, it may be pretty confidently affirmed, can possibly earn a million; he may obtain it, he may obtain it by methods which are not technically unjust, but he has not earned it. Be a man's powers what they may, it is impossible that his share of the wealth which he has helped to create can be fairly represented by a sum so vast. If he receives it, others may reasonably complain that there is something wrong in the principle of distribution. And unless, both by a larger justice to his employees, and by generous benefactions to the public, he do something to correct the defects in his title, he must not be surprised if some who feel themselves disinherited are driven to ask ominous and inconvenient questions.
This, however, is a matter which it is impossible now to discuss further. Turning again to Christ's sayings about money, we may summarize them in this fashion: Christ says nothing about the making of money, He says much about the use of it, and still more about its perils and the need there is for a revised estimate of its worth. Following the example of Christ, it is the last point of which I wish more especially to speak. But before coming to that, it may be well briefly to recall some of the things which Christ has said touching the use of wealth. Wealth, He declares, is a trust, for our use of which we must give account unto God. In our relation to others we may be proprietors; before God there are no proprietors, but all are stewards. And in the Gospels there are indicated some of the ways in which our stewardship may be fulfilled. I will mention two of them.
(1) "When thou doest alms"—Christ, you will observe, took for granted that His disciples would give alms, as He took for granted that they would pray. He prescribes no form which our charity must take; we have to exercise our judgment in this, as in other matters. Obedience is left the largest liberty, but not the liberty of disobedience; and they who open their ears greedily to take in all that the political economist and others tell us of the evils of indiscriminate charity, only that they may the more tightly button up their pockets against the claims of the needy, are plainly disregarding the will of Christ. If what we are told is true, the more binding is the obligation to discover some other way in which our alms-giving may become more effective. The duty itself no man can escape who calls Christ Jesus Lord and Master.
(2) But wealth, Christ tells us, may minister not merely to the physical necessities, but to the beauty and happiness of life. When Christ was invited to the marriage-feast at Cana of Galilee, when Matthew the publican made for Him a feast in His own house, He did not churlishly refuse, saying that such expenditure was wasteful and wicked excess. When in the house of Simon the leper Mary "took a pound of ointment of spikenard, very precious, and anointed the feet of Jesus," and they that sat by murmured, saying, "To what purpose is this waste? for this ointment might have been sold for above three hundred pence and given to the poor," Jesus threw His shield about this woman and her deed of love: "Let her alone; why trouble ye her? She hath wrought a good work on Me." These words, it has been well said, are "the charter of all undertakings which propose, in the name of Christ, to feed the mind, to stir the imagination, to quicken the emotions, to make life less meagre, less animal, less dull." Do not let us speak as though the only friends of the poor were those who gave them oatmeal at Christmas, or who secure for them alms-houses in their old age. There is a life which is more than meat, and all heavenly charity is not to be bound up in bags of flour. He who strives to bring into the grey, monotonous lives of the toilers of our great cities the sweet, refining influences of art, and music and literature, he who helps his fellows to see and to love the true and the beautiful and the good, is not one whit less a benefactor of his kind than he who obtains for them better food and better homes. Man shall not live by bread alone, and they who use their wealth to minister to a higher life serve us not less really than they who provide for our physical needs.
Much, however, as Christ has to say concerning the noble uses to which wealth may be put, it is not here, as every reader of the Gospels must feel, that the full emphasis of His words comes. It is when He goes on to speak of the perils of the rich, and of our wrong estimates of the worth of wealth, that His solemn warnings pierce to the quick. Christ did not live, nor does He call us to live, in an unreal world, though perhaps there are few subjects concerning which more unreal words have been spoken than this. The power of wealth is great, the power of consecrated wealth is incalculably great; and this the New Testament freely recognizes; but wealth is not the great, necessary, all-sufficing thing that ninety-nine out of a hundred of us believe it to be. And when we put it first, and make it the standard by which all things else are to be judged, Christ tells us plainly that we are falling into a temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts; we are piercing ourselves through with many sorrows. For once at least, then, let us try to look at money with His eyes and to weigh it in His balances.
Christ was Himself a poor man. His mother was what to-day we should call a working-man's wife, and probably also the mother of a large family. When, as an infant, Jesus was presented in the Temple, the offering which His parents brought was that which the law prescribed in the case of the poor: "a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons." When He came to manhood, and entered on His public ministry, He had no home He could call His own. In His Father's house, He said, were many mansions; but on earth He had not where to lay His head. Women ministered unto Him of their substance. We never read that He had any money at all. When once He wanted to use a coin as an illustration, He borrowed it; when, at another time, He needed one with which to pay a tax, He wrought a miracle in order to procure it. As He was dying, the soldiers, we are told, parted His garments among them—that was all there was to divide. When He was dead, men buried Him in another's tomb. More literally true than perhaps we always realize was the apostle's saying, "He became poor."
Who, then, will deny that a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth? Yet how strangely materialized our thoughts have become! Our very language has been dragged down and made a partner with us in our fall. When, for example, our Authorized Version was written in 1611, the translators could write, without fear of being misunderstood, "Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth" (i Cor. x. 24). But though the nobler meaning of the word still survives in "well" and "weal," "wealth" to-day is rarely used save to indicate abundance of material good. When Thackeray makes "Becky Sharp" say that she could be good if she had L4000 a year, and when. Mr. Keir Hardie asks if it is possible for a man to be a Christian on a pound a week, the thoughts of many hearts are revealed. There is nothing to be done without money, we think; money is the golden key which unlocks all doors; money is the lever which removes all difficulties. This is what many of us are saying, and what most of us in our hearts are thinking. But clean across these spoken and unspoken thoughts of ours, there comes the life of Jesus, the man of Nazareth, to rebuke, and shame, and silence us. Who in His presence dare speak any more of the sovereign might of money?
This is the lesson of the life of the Best. Is it not also the lesson of the lives of the good in all ages? The greatest name in the great world of Greece is Socrates; and Socrates was a poor man. The greatest name in the first century of the Christian era is Paul; and Paul was a working-man and sometimes in want. It was Calvinism, Mark Pattison said, that in the sixteenth century saved Europe, and Calvin's strength, a Pope once declared, lay in this, that money had no charm for him. John Wesley re-created modern England and left behind him "two silver teaspoons and the Methodist Church." The "Poets' Corner" in Westminster Abbey, it has been said, commemorates a glorious company of paupers. And even in America, the land of the millionaire and multi-millionaire, the names that are graven on the nation's heart, and which men delight to honour, are not its Vanderbilts, or its Jay Goulds, but Lincoln, and Grant, and Garfield, and Webster, and Clay.
This is not mere "curb-stone rhetoric"; I speak the words of soberness and truth. Would that they in whose blood the "narrowing lust of gold" has begun to burn might be sobered by them! In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, and of all the noblest of the sons of men, let us deny and defy the sordid traditions of mammon; let us make it plain that we at least do not believe "the wealthiest man among us is the best." "Godliness with contentment," said the apostle, "is great gain;" and though these are not the only worthy ends of human effort, yet he who has made them his has secured for himself a treasure which faileth not, which will endure when the gilded toys for which men strive and sweat are dust and ashes.
It is further worthy of note that it was always the rich rather than the poor whom Christ pitied. He was sorry for Lazarus; He was still more sorry for Dives. "Blessed are ye poor.... Woe unto you that are rich." This two-fold note sounds through all Christ's teaching. And the reason is not far to seek. As Jesus looked on life, He saw how the passionate quest for gold was starving all the higher ideals of life. Men were concentrating their souls on pence till they could think of nothing else. For mammon's sake they were turning away from the kingdom of heaven. The spirit of covetousness was breaking the peace of households, setting brother against brother, making men hard and fierce and relentless. Under its hot breath the fairest growths of the spirit were drooping and ready to die. The familiar "poor but pious" which meets us so often in a certain type of biography could never have found a place on the lips of Jesus. "Rich but pious" would have been far truer to the facts of life as He saw them. "The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully," and after that he could think of nothing but barns: there was no room for God in his life. "The Pharisees who were lovers of money heard these things; and they scoffed at Him;" of course, what could their jaundiced eyes see in Jesus? And even to one of whom it is written that Jesus, "looking upon him loved him," his great possessions proved a magnet stronger than the call of Christ. It was Emerson, I think, who said that the worst thing about money is that it so often costs so much. To take heed that we do not pay too dearly for it, is the warning which comes to us from every page of the life of Jesus. Are there none of us who need the warning? "Ye cannot serve God and mammon;" we know it, and that we may the better serve mammon, we are sacrificing God and conscience on mammon's unholy altars. And to-day, perhaps, we are content that it should be so. But will our satisfaction last? Shall we be as pleased with the bargain to-morrow and the day after as we think we are to-day? And when our last day comes—what? "Forefancy your deathbed," said Samuel Rutherford; and though the counsel ill fits the mood of men in their youth and strength, it is surely well sometimes to look forward and ask how life will bear hereafter the long look back. "This night is thy soul required of thee; and the things which thou hast prepared whose shall they be?"—not his, and he had nothing else. He had laid up treasure for himself, but it was all of this world's coinage; of the currency of the land whither he went he had none. In one of Lowell's most striking poems he pictures the sad retrospect of one who, through fourscore years, had wasted on ignoble ends God's gift of life; his hands had
"plucked the world's coarse gains As erst they plucked the flowers of May;"
but what now, in life's last hours, are gains like these?
"God bends from out the deep and says, 'I gave thee the great gift of life; Wast thou not called in many ways? Are not My earth and heaven at strife? I gave thee of My seed to sow, Bringest thou Me My hundred-fold?' Can I look up with face aglow, And answer, 'Father, here is gold'?"
And the end of the poem is a wail:
"I hear the reapers singing go Into God's harvest; I, that might With them have chosen, here below Grope shuddering at the gates of night."
Wherefore let us set not our minds on the things that are upon earth; let us covet earnestly the best gifts; let us seek first the kingdom of God; and all other things in due season and in due measure shall be added unto us.
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CONCERNING THE SECOND ADVENT
"Lo as some venturer, from his stars receiving Promise and presage of sublime emprise, Wears evermore the seal of his believing Deep in the dark of solitary eyes,
Yea to the end, in palace or in prison, Fashions his fancies of the realm to be, Fallen from the height or from the deeps arisen, Ringed with the rocks and sundered of the sea;—
So even I, and with a heart more burning, So even I, and with a hope more sweet, Groan for the hour, O Christ! of Thy returning, Faint for the flaming of Thine advent feet." F.W.H. MYERS, Saint Paul.
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CONCERNING THE SECOND ADVENT
"They shall see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.... Of that day and hour knoweth no one, not even the angels of heaven, neither the Son, but the Father only."—MATT. xxiv. 30, 36.
The doctrine of our Lord's Second Coming occupies at the present moment a curiously equivocal position in the thought of the Christian Church. On the one hand by many it is wholly ignored. There is no conscious disloyalty on their part to the word of God; but the subject makes no appeal to them, it fails to "find" them. Ours is a sternly practical age, and any truth which does not readily link itself on to the necessities of life is liable speedily to be put on one side and forgotten. This is what has happened with this particular doctrine in the case of multitudes; it is not denied, but it is banished to what Mr. Lecky calls "the land of the unrealized and the inoperative." But if, on the one hand, the doctrine has suffered from neglect, on the other it has suffered hardly less from undue attention. Indeed of late years the whole subject of the "Last Things" has been turned into a kind of happy hunting-ground for little sects, who carry on a ceaseless wordy warfare both with themselves and the rest of the Christian world. Men and women without another theological interest in the world are yet keen to argue about Millenarianism, and to try their 'prentice hands on the interpretation of the imagery of the apocalyptic literature of both the Old Testament and the New. As Spurgeon used to say, they are so taken up with the second coming of our Lord that they forget to preach the first So that one hardly knows which to regret more, the neglect and indifference of the one class, or the unhealthy, feverish absorption of the other.
As very often happens in cases of this kind each extreme is largely responsible for the other. Neglect prepares the way for exaggeration; exaggeration leads to further neglect. Moreover, in the case before us, both tendencies are strengthened by the very difficulty in which the subject is involved. Vagueness, uncertainty, mystery, attract some minds as powerfully as they repel others. And, assuredly, the element of uncertainty is not wanting here. In the first place, this is a subject for all our knowledge of which we are wholly dependent upon revelation. Much that Christ and His apostles have taught us we can bring to the test of experience and verify for ourselves. But this doctrine we must receive, if we receive it at all, wholly on the authority of One whom, on other grounds, we have learned to trust. Verification, in the nature of the case, is impossible. Further, we have gone but a little way when revelation itself becomes silent; and, as I have said, when that guide leaves us, we enter at once the dark forest where instantly the track is lost.
Let us seek to learn, then, what Christ has revealed, and what He has left unrevealed, concerning His coming again.
As to the fact of Christ's coming we are left in no doubt. Our Lord's own declarations are as explicit as language can make them. Thus, in Matthew xvi. 27 we read that "the Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and then shall He render unto every man according to his deeds." In the great discourse on the Last Things, recorded by all the Synoptists, after speaking of the fall of Jerusalem, Christ goes on, "Then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." And again, in the Upper Room, He said to His disciples, "I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I come again, and will receive you unto Myself; that where I am ye may be also." The hope of that return shines on every page of the New Testament: "This Jesus," said the angels to the watching disciples, "which was received up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye beheld Him going into heaven." The early Christians were wont to speak, without further definition, of "that day." St. Paul reminds the Thessalonians how that they had "turned unto God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven." Maran atha—"our Lord cometh"—was the great watchword of the waiting Church. When, at the table of the Lord, they ate the bread and drank the cup, they proclaimed His death "till He come." "Amen; come, Lord Jesus," is the passionate cry with which our English Scriptures close.
For all those, then, to whom the New Testament speaks with authority, the fact of Christ's return is established beyond all controversy. But what will be the nature of His coming? Will it be visible and personal, or spiritual and unseen? Will it be once and never again, or repeated? Will Christ come at the end of history, or is He continually coming in those great crises which mark the world's progress towards its appointed end? These questions have been answered with such admirable simplicity and scriptural truth by Dr. Denney that I cannot do better than quote his words: "It may be frankly admitted," he says, "that the return of Christ to His disciples is capable of different interpretations. He came again, though it were but intermittently, when He appeared to them after His resurrection. He came again, to abide with them permanently, when His Spirit was given to the Church at Pentecost. He came, they would all feel who lived to see it, signally in the destruction of Jerusalem, when God executed judgment historically on the race which had rejected Him, and when the Christian Church was finally and decisively liberated from the very possibility of dependence on the Jewish. He comes still, as His own words to the High Priest suggest—From this time on ye shall see the Son of Man coming—in the great crises of history, when the old order changes, yielding place to the new; when God brings a whole age, as it were, into judgment, and gives the world a fresh start. But all these admissions, giving them the widest possible application, do not enable us to call in question what stands so plainly in the pages of the New Testament,—what filled so exclusively the minds of the first Christians—the idea of a personal return of Christ at the end of the world. We need lay no stress on the scenery of New Testament prophecy, any more than on the similar element of Old Testament prophecy; the voice of the archangel and the trump of God are like the turning of the sun into darkness and the moon into blood; but if we are to retain any relation to the New Testament at all, we must assert the personal return of Christ as Judge of all."
So far I think is clear. It is when we come to speak of the time of our Lord's return that our difficulties begin. It appears to me impossible to doubt that the first Christians were looking for the immediate return of our Lord to the earth. At one time even St. Paul seems to have expected Him within his own life-time. Nor does this fact in itself cause us any serious perplexity. What does perplex us is to find in the Gospels language attributed to Christ which apparently makes Him a supporter of this mistaken view. E.g., we have these three separate sayings, recorded in St. Matthew's Gospel: "But when they persecute you in this city, flee into the next; for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone through the cities of Israel, till the Son of Man be come" (x. 23); "Verily I say unto you, There be some of them that stand here, which shall in no wise taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom" (xvi. 28); "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all these things be accomplished" (xxiv. 34). This seems plain enough; and if we are to take the words as they stand, we seem to be shut up to the conclusion that our Lord was mistaken, that He ventured on a prediction which events have falsified. Let us see if this really be so. I leave, for the moment, the words I have quoted in order to cite other words which point in a quite different direction.
To begin with, we have the emphatic statement: "But of that day and hour knoweth no one, not even the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father only." We remember also Christ's words to His disciples, on the eve of the Ascension, "It is not for you to know times or seasons, which the Father hath set within His own authority." There is, further, a whole class of sayings, exhortations, and parables, which seem plainly to involve a prolonged Christian era, and, consequently, the postponement to a far distant time, of the day of Christ's return. Thus, there are the passages which speak of the preaching of the gospel to the nations beyond: "Wheresoever the gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, that also which this woman hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her" (Mark xiv. 9); "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a testimony unto all the nations; and then shall the end come" (Matt. xxiv. 14). There is the parable which tells of the tarrying of the bridegroom till even the wise virgins slumbered and slept. "After a long time," we read in another parable, "the Lord of those servants cometh and maketh a reckoning with them." What is the significance of the parable of the leaven hid in three measures of meal, and still more, of that group of parables which depict the growth of the kingdom—the parables of the sower, the wheat and tares, the mustard-seed, and the seed growing gradually? Does not all this point not to a great catastrophe nigh at hand, which should bring to an end the existing order of things, but rather to just such a future for the kingdom of God on earth as the actual course of history reveals? And this, and no other, was, I believe, the impression which Christ desired to leave on the minds of His disciples.
What, then, are we to make of those other and apparently contrary words which I have quoted, but meanwhile have left unexplained? They constitute, without doubt, one of the most perplexing problems which the interpreter of the New Testament has to face, and any suggestion for meeting the difficulty must be made with becoming caution. I can but briefly indicate the direction in which the probable solution may be found. Our Lord, as we have already seen, spoke of His coming again, not only at the end of the world, but in the course of it: in the power of His Spirit, at the fall of Jerusalem, in the coming of His kingdom among men. But the minds of the disciples were full of the thought of His final coming, which would establish for ever the glory of His Messianic kingdom; and it would seem that this fact has determined both the form and the setting of some of Christ's sayings which they have preserved for us. Words which He meant to refer to Israel's coming judgment-day they, in the ardour of their expectation, referred to the last great day. In the first Gospel, especially, we may trace some such influence at work. When, e.g., Matthew represents our Lord as saying, "There be some of them that stand here which shall in no wise taste of death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom," it is evident, both from the words themselves and from the context, that he understood them to refer to the final return. Luke, however, speaks only of seeing "the kingdom of God," and Mark of seeing "the kingdom of God come in power." And if these words were our only version of the prophecy they would present no difficulty; we should feel that they had received adequate fulfilment in the events of the great day of Pentecost. We conclude, therefore, that of the three reports before us the second and third, which are practically the same, reproduce more correctly the words actually spoken by Christ; and that the account given in the first Gospel was coloured by the eager hope of the early followers of Christ for their Master's speedy return.
To sum up in a sentence the results of this brief inquiry: Christ's teaching concerning His return leaves us both in a state of certainty and uncertainty. "We believe that Thou shalt come to be our Judge"—that is our certainty; "Of that day and hour knoweth no one"—that is our uncertainty. And each of these carries with it its own lesson.
"Of that day and hour knoweth no one;" and we must be content not to know. There are things that are "revealed"; and they belong to us and to our children. And there are "secret things," which belong neither to us, nor to our children, but to God. Just as a visitor to Holyrood Palace finds some rooms open and free, through which he may wander at will, while from others he is strictly excluded, so in God's world there are locked doors through which it is not lawful for any man to enter. And it is our duty to be faithful to our ignorance as well as to our knowledge. There is a Christian as well as an anti-Christian agnosticism. To pry into the secret things of God is no less a sin than wilfully to remain ignorant of what He has been pleased to make known. The idly inquisitive spirit which is never at rest save when it is poking into forbidden corners, Christ always checks and condemns. "Lord," asked one, "are there few that be saved?" But He would give no answer save this: "Strive to enter in by the narrow door." "Lord, and this man what?" said Peter, curious concerning the unrevealed future of his brother apostle. But again idle curiosity must go unsatisfied: "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou Me." "Lord dost Thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" But once more He will give no answer: "It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father hath set within His own authority." And yet, strangely enough, that which Christ has seen good to leave untold is the one thing concerning His coming on which the minds of multitudes have fastened. It says little, either for our religion or our common-sense, that one of the most widely circulated religious newspapers of our day is one which fills its columns with absurd guesses and forecasts concerning those very "times" and "seasons" of which Christ has told us that it is not for us to know. Christ has given us no detailed map of the future, and when foolish persons pester us with little maps of their own making, let us to see to it that they get no encouragement from us. Let us dare always to be faithful to our ignorance.
But if there is much we do not know, this we do know: the Lord will come. And, alike on the ground of what we know and of what we do not know, our duty is clear: we must "watch," so that whether He come at even, or at midnight, or at cock-crowing, or in the morning, He shall find us ready. Christ's solemn injunction left an indelible mark on the mind of the Early Church. "Yourselves know perfectly," St. Paul writes in the first of his apostolic letters, "that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night ... so then let us not sleep, as do the rest, but let us watch and be sober." As St. Augustine says, "The last day is hidden that every day maybe regarded." But what, exactly, is the meaning of the command to "watch"? It cannot be that we are to be always "on the watch." That would simply end in the feverish excitement and unrest which troubled the peace of the Church of Thessalonica. The true meaning is given us, I think, in the parable of the Ten Virgins. Five were wise, not because they watched all night for the bridegroom, for it is written "they all slumbered and slept," but because they were prepared; and five were foolish, not because they did not watch, but because they were unprepared. "The fisherman's wife who spends her time on the pier-head watching for the boats, cannot be so well prepared to give her husband a comfortable reception as the woman who is busy about her household work, and only now and again turns a longing look seaward." So Christ's command to "watch" means, not "Be ye always on the watch," but, "Be ye always ready."
Spurgeon once said, with characteristic humour and good sense, that there were friends of his to whom he would like to say, "Ye men of Plymouth, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? Go on with your work." He who in a world like ours can sit and gaze with idly folded hands—let not that man think he shall receive anything of the Lord. A lady once asked John Wesley, "Suppose that you knew you were to die at twelve o'clock to-morrow night, how would you spend the intervening time?" "How, Madam?" he replied; "why just as I intend to spend it now. I should preach this night at Gloucester, and again at five to-morrow morning. After that I should ride to Tewkesbury, preach in the afternoon, and meet the societies in the evening. I should then repair to friend Martin's house, who expects to entertain me, converse and pray with the family as usual, retire to my room at ten o'clock, commend myself to my heavenly Father, lie down to rest, and wake up in glory." This is the right attitude for the Christian. The old cry must not fade from our lips, nor the old hope from our heart: Maran atha, "our Lord cometh." But meanwhile He hath given to every man his work; and we may be sure there is no preparation for His coming like the faithful doing of the appointed task. "Blessed is that servant whom His Lord when He cometh shall find so doing."
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CONCERNING THE JUDGMENT
"I often have a kind of waking dream; up one road the image of a man decked and adorned as if for a triumph, carried up by rejoicing and exulting friends, who praise his goodness and achievements; and, on the other road, turned back to back to it, there is the very man himself, in sordid and squalid apparel, surrounded not by friends but by ministers of justice, and going on, while his friends are exulting, to his certain and perhaps awful judgment."—R.W. CHURCH.
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CONCERNING THE JUDGMENT
"When the Son of Man shall come in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then shall He sit on the throne of His glory: and before Him shall be gathered all the nations: and He shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats: and He shall set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left."—MATT. XXV. 31-33.
He, the speaker, will do this. It is the most stupendous claim that ever fell from human lips. A young Jewish carpenter whose brief career, as He Himself well knew, was just about to end in a violent and shameful death, tells the little, fearful band which still clung to Him, that a day is coming when before Him all the nations shall be gathered, and by Him be separated as a shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats. In the world's long history there is nothing like it.
That Jesus did really claim to be the Judge of all men, it is, I believe, impossible to doubt. The passage just quoted is by no means our only evidence. In the Sermon on the Mount, which foolish persons who love to depreciate theology sometimes speak of as though it were the pith and marrow of the Christian gospel, Christ says, "Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by Thy name, and by Thy name cast out devils, and by Thy name do many mighty works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity." Again, He says, "Whosoever shall be ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man also shall be ashamed of Him when He cometh in the glory of His Father with the holy angels;" and again, "The Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and then shall He render unto every man according to His deeds." The fourth Gospel also represents Him as saying, "Neither doth the Father judge any man, but He hath given all judgment to the Son ... and He gave Him authority to execute judgment because He is the Son of Man." And if still further evidence be necessary it would be easy to show both from the Acts and the Epistles that from the very beginning all the disciples of Jesus believed and taught that He would come again to be their Judge.
Consider what this means. Reference has already been made in an earlier chapter to Christ's witness concerning Himself, to His deep and unwavering consciousness of separateness from all others. But more striking, perhaps, than any illustration mentioned there is that furnished by the fact before us now. What must His thoughts about Himself have been who could speak of Himself in relation to all others as Christ does here? When men write about Jesus as though He were merely a gentle, trustful, religious genius, preaching a sweet gospel of the love of God to the multitudes of Galilee, they are but shutting their eyes to one half of the facts which it is their duty to explain. Speaking generally, we do well to distrust the dilemma as a form of argument; but in this case there need be no hesitation in putting the alternative with all possible bluntness: either Christ was God, or He was not good. That Jesus, if He were merely a good man, with a good man's consciousness of and sensitiveness to His own weakness and limitations, could yet have arrogated to Himself the right to be the supreme judge and final arbiter of the destinies of mankind, is simply not thinkable. And the more we ponder the stupendous claim which Christ makes, the more must we feel that it is either superhuman authority which speaks to us here or superhuman arrogance. Either Christ spoke out of the depths of His own Divine consciousness, knowing that the Father had committed all judgment unto the Son; or He made use of words and put forth claims which were, and which He must have known to have been, empty, false, and blasphemous.
Such is the significance of Christ's words in their relation to Himself. It is, however, with their relation to ourselves that we are primarily concerned now. Of the wholly unimaginable circumstances of that day when the Son of Man shall come in His glory and all the nations be gathered before Him I shall not attempt to speak. As Dean Church has well said, no vision framed with the materials of our present experience could adequately represent the truth, and, indeed, it is well that our minds should be diverted from matters which lie wholly beyond our reach, that they may dwell upon the solemn certainties which Christ has revealed. Let us think, first of the fact, and secondly of the issues, of Judgment.
The persistent definiteness with which the fact of judgment is affirmed by the New Testament we have already seen. Nor is the New Testament our only witness. The belief in a higher tribunal before which the judgments of time are to be revised, and in many cases reversed, may be said to be part of the creed of the race. Plato had his vision of judgment as well as Jesus. And in the Old Testament, and especially in the Book of Psalms, the same faith finds repeated and magnificent utterance: "Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence; a fire shall devour before Him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about Him. He shall call to the heavens above, and to the earth, that He may judge His people;" and again, "For He cometh, for He cometh to judge the earth: He shall judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with His truth."
Here, then, is the fact which demands a place in the thoughts of each of us—we are all to be judged. Life is not to be folded up, like a piece of finished work, and then laid aside and forgotten; it is to be gone over again and examined by the hand and eyes of Perfect Wisdom and Perfect Love. Each day we are writing, and often when the leaf is turned that which has been written passes from our mind and is remembered no more; but it is there, and one day the books—the Book of Life, of our life—will be opened, and the true meaning of the record revealed. Life brings to us many gifts of many kinds, and as it lays them in our hands, for our use and for our blessing, it is always, had we but ears to hear, with the warning word, "Know thou, that for all these things, God will bring thee into judgment."
It is, indeed, a tremendous thought. When Daniel Webster was once asked what was the greatest thought that had ever occupied his mind, he answered, "the fact of my personal accountability to God." And no man can give to such a fact its due place without feeling its steadying, sobering influence through all his life. Lament is often made to-day, and not without reason, of our failing sense of the seriousness of life. A plague of frivolity, more deadly than the locusts of Egypt, has fallen upon us, and is smiting all our green places with barrenness. Somehow, and at all costs, we must get back our lost sense of responsibility. If we would remember that God has a right hand and a left hand; if we would put to ourselves Browning's question, "But what will God say?" if sometimes we would pull ourselves up sharp, and ask—this that I am doing, how will it look then, in that day when "Each shall stand full-face with all he did below"? if, I say, we would do this, could life continue to be the thing of shows and make-believe it so often is? It was said of the late Dean Church by one who knew him well: "He seemed to live in the constant recollection of something which is awful, even dreadful to remember—something which bears with searching force on all men's ways and hopes and plans—something before which he knew himself to be as it were continually arraigned—something which it was strange and pathetic to find so little recognized among other men." But, alas! this is how we refuse to live. We thrust the thought of judgment from us; we treat it as an unwelcome intruder, a disturber of our peace; we block up every approach by which it might gain access to our minds. We do not deny that there is a judgment to come; but our habitual disregard of it is verily amazing. "Judge not," said Christ, "that ye be not judged;" yet every day we let fly our random arrows, careless in whose hearts they may lodge. "Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment;" yet with what superb recklessness do we abuse God's great gift of speech! "We shall all stand before the judgment-seat of God;" yes, we know it; but when do we think of it? What difference does it make to us?
What can indifference such as this say for itself? How can it justify itself before the bar of reason? Do we realize that our neglect has Christ to reckon with? These things of which I have spoken are not the gossamer threads of human speculation; they are the strong cords of Divine truth and they cannot be broken. "You seem, sir," said Mrs. Adams to Dr. Johnson, in one of his despondent hours, when the fear of death and judgment lay heavy on him, "to forget the merits of our Redeemer." "Madam," said the honest old man, "I do not forget the merits of my Redeemer; but my Redeemer has said that He will set some on His right hand and some on His left." Yes, it is the words of Christ with which we have to do; and if we are wise, if we know the things which belong unto our peace, we shall find for them a place within our hearts.
The issues of the Judgment may be summed up in a single word—separation: "He shall set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left." Stated thus broadly, the issue of the Judgment satisfies our sense of justice. If there is to be judgment at all, separation must be the outcome. And in that separation is vindicated one of man's most deep-seated convictions. As right is right and wrong is wrong, and right and wrong are not the same, so neither can their issues be the same. "We have a robust common-sense of morality which refuses to believe that it does not matter whether a man has lived like the Apostle Paul or the Emperor Nero." We can never crush out the conviction that there must be one place for St. John, who was Jesus' friend, and another for Judas Iscariot, who was His betrayer." This must be,
"Else earth is darkness at the core, And dust and ashes all that is."
We must be sure that God has a right hand and a left, that good and evil are distinct, and will for ever remain so, that each will go to his own place, the place for which he is prepared, for which he has prepared himself, or our day would be turned into night and our whole life put to confusion.
So far, Christ's words present no difficulty. To many, however, it is a serious perplexity to find that Christ speaks of but two classes into which by the Judgment men are divided. There are the sheep and the goats, the good and the bad, and there are no others. To us it seems impossible to divide men thus. They are not, we think, good or bad, but good and bad. "I can understand," some one has said, "what is to become of the sheep, and I can understand what is to become of the goats, but how are the alpacas to be dealt with?" The alpaca, it should be said, is an animal possessing some of the characteristics both of the sheep and the goat, and the meaning of the question is, of course, what is to become of that vast middle class in whose lives sometimes good and sometimes evil seems to rule?
Now it is a remarkable fact that Scripture knows nothing of any such middle class. Some men it calls good, others it calls evil, but it has no middle term. Note, e.g., this typical contrast from the Book of Proverbs: "The path of the righteous is as the light of dawn, that shineth more and more unto the noon-tide of the day. The way of the wicked is as darkness; they know not at what they stumble." Or listen to Peter's question: "If the righteous is scarcely saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?" In both instances the assumption is the same: there, on the one hand, are the righteous; and there, on the other, are the wicked; and beside these there are no others. The same classification is constant throughout the teaching of Jesus. He speaks of two gates, and two ways, and two ends. There are the guests who accept the King's invitation and sit down in His banqueting hall, and there are those who refuse it and remain without. In the parable of the net full of fishes the good are gathered into vessels, but the bad are cast away. The wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest; then the wheat is gathered into the barn, and the tares are cast into the fire. The sheep are set on the right hand, and the goats on the left hand; and there is no hint or suggestion that any other kind of classification is necessary in order that all men may be truly and justly dealt with.
All this may seem very arbitrary and impossible until we remember that the classification is not ours but God's. It is not we who have to divide men, setting one on the right hand and another on the left; that is God's work; and it is well to remind ourselves that He invites none of us to share His judgment-throne with Him, or, by any verdict of ours, to anticipate the findings of the last great day. And because to us such a division is impossible, it does not therefore follow that it should be so to Him before whom all hearts are open and all desires known. We cannot separate men thus because human character is so complex. But complexity is a relative term; it depends on the eyes which behold it; and our naming a thing complex may be but another way of declaring our ignorance concerning it. We all know how a character, a life, a course of events, which, on first view, seemed but a tangled, twisted skein, on closer acquaintance often smooths itself out into perfect simplicity. And there is surely no difficulty in believing that it should be so with human life when it is judged by the perfect knowledge of God. Life is like a great tree which casts forth on every side its far-spreading branches. Yet all that moving, breathing mystery of twig and branch and foliage springs from a single root. To us the mystery is baffling in its complexity: we have looked at the branches. To God it is simple, clear: He sees the hidden root from which it springs. So that, to go back to our former illustration, it is only our ignorance which compels us to speak of "alpacas" in the moral world. To perfect knowledge they will prove to be, as Mr. Selby says, either slightly-disguised sheep or slightly-disguised goats.