RPM, Volume 18, Number 1, December 27, 2015 to January 2, 2016

Expositions of Holy Scripture

St. Matthew
Chaps. I to VIII
Part 1

By Alexander Maclaren, D. D., Litt. D.



THE NATIVITY (Matt. i. 18-25)



THE KING IN EXILE (Matt. ii. 13-23)

THE HERALD OF THE KING (Matt. iii. 1-12)

THE BAPTISM IN FIRE (Matt. iii. 11)

THE BAPTISM OF JESUS (Matt. iii. 13-17)

THE DOVE OF GOD (Matt. in. 16)

THE VICTORY OF THE KING (Matt. iv. 1-11)



THE NEW SINAI (Matt. v. 1-16)










THE LAMP AND THE BUSHEL (Matt. v. 14-16)

THE NEW FORM OF THE OLD LAW (Matt. v. 17-26)

SWEAR NOT AT ALL' (Matt. v. 33-37)

NON-RESISTANCE (Matt. v. 38-42)

THE LAW OF LOVE (Matt. v. 43-48)




OUR FATHER' (Matt. vi. 9)


THY KINGDOM COME' (Matt. vi. 10)

THY WILL BE DONE' (Matt. vi. 10)

THE CRY FOR BREAD (Matt. vi. 11)

FORGIVE US OUR DEBTS' (Matt. vi. 12)


DELIVER US FROM EVIL' (Matt. vi. 13)

THINE IS THE KINGDOM' (Matt. vi. 13)

FASTING (Matt. vi. 16-18)

TWO KINDS OF TREASURE (Matt. vi. 10-20)


ANXIOUS CARE (Matt. vi. 24-25)


OUR KNOCKING (Matt. vii. 7)

THE TWO PATHS (Matt. vii. 13-14)

THE TWO HOUSES (Matt. vii. 24-26)





THE HEALING CHRIST (Matt. viii. 17)






The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. 2. Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren; 3. And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram; 4. And Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon; 5. And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; 6. And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias; 7. And Solomon begat Roboam; and Roboam begat Abia; and Abia begat Asa; 8. And Asa begat Josaphat; and Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Ozias; 9. And Ozias begat Joatham; and Joatham begat Achaz; and Achaz begat Ezekias; 10. And Ezekias begat Manasses; and Manasses begat Amon; and Amon begat Josias; 11. And Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon: 12. And after they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel; 13. And Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim begat Azor; 14. And Azor begat Sadoc; and Sadoc begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud; 15. And Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob; 16. And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.'--MATT. i. 1-16.

To begin a Gospel with a genealogy strikes us modern Westerns as singular, to say the least of it. To preface the Life of Jesus with an elaborate table of descents through forty-one generations, and then to show that the forty-second had no real connection with the forty-first, strikes us as irrelevant. Clause after clause comes the monotonous begat,' till the very last, when it fails, and we read instead: Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus.' So, then, whoever drew up this genealogy knew that Jesus was not Joseph's son. Why, then, was he at the pains to compile it, and why did the writer of the Gospel, if he was not the compiler, think it important enough to open his narrative? The answer lies in two considerations: the ruling idea of the whole Gospel, that Jesus is the promised Jewish Messiah, David's son and Israel's king; and the characteristic ancient idea that the full rights of sonship were given by adoption as completely as by actual descent. Joseph was of the house and lineage of David,' and Joseph took Mary's first-born as his own child, thereby giving Him inheritance of all his own status and claims. Incidentally we may remark that this presentation of Jesus as Joseph's heir seems to favour the probability that He was regarded as His reputed father's first-born child, and so disfavours the contention that the brethren' of Jesus were Joseph's children by an earlier marriage. But, apart from that, the place of this table of descent at the beginning of the Gospel makes it clear that the prophecies of the Messiah as David's son were by the Hebrew mind regarded as adequately fulfilled by Jesus being by adoption the son of Joseph, and that such fulfilment was regarded as important by the evangelist, not only for strengthening his own faith, but for urging his Lord's claims on his fellow-countrymen, whom he had chiefly in view in writing. Such external fulfilment' goes but for little with us, who rest Jesus' claims to be our King on more inward and spiritual grounds, but it stands on the same level as other similar fulfilments of prophecy which meet us in the Gospels; such as the royal entry into Jerusalem, riding upon an ass,' in which the outward, literal correspondence is but a finger-post, pointing to far deeper and truer realisation of the prophetic ideal in Jesus.

What, then, did the evangelist desire to make prominent by the genealogy? The first verse answers the question. We need not discuss whether the title, The book of the generations of Jesus Christ,' applies to the table of descent only, or to the whole chapter. The former seems the more probable conclusion, but the point to note is that two facts are made prominent in the title; viz. that Jesus was a true Jew, forasmuch as He also is a son of Abraham,' and was the true king of Israel, being the Son of David,' of whom prophets had spoken such great things. If we would take in the full significance of Matthew's starting-point, we must set by the side of it those of the other three evangelists. Mark plunges at once, without preface or allusion to earlier days, into the stir and stress of Christ's work, slightly touching on the preliminaries of John's mission, the baptism and temptation, and hurrying on to the call of the fishermen, and the busy scenes on the Sabbath in Capernaum. Luke has his genealogy as well as Matthew, but, in accordance with his universalistic, humanist tone, he traces the descent from far behind Abraham, even to Adam, which was the son of God,' and he works in the reverse order to Matthew, going upwards from Joseph instead of downwards to him. John soars high above all earthly birth, and begins away back in the Eternities before the world was, for his theme is not so much the son of Joseph who was the son of David and the son of Abraham, or the son of Adam who was the son of God, as the Eternal Word' who was with God,' and entered into history and time when He became flesh.' We must take all these points of view together if we would understand any of them, for they are not contradictory, but complementary.

The purpose of Matthew's genealogy is further brought out by its symmetrical arrangement into three groups of fourteen generations each--an arrangement not arrived at without some free manipulating of the links. The sacred number is doubled in each case, which implies eminent completeness. Each of the three groups makes a whole in which a tendency runs out to its goal, and becomes, as it were, the starting-point for a new epoch. So the first group is pre-monarchical, and culminates in David the King. Israel's history is regarded as all tending towards that consummation. He is thought of as the first King, for Saul was a Benjamite, and had been deposed by divine authority. The second group is monarchical, and it, too, has a drift, as it were, which is tragically marked by the way in which its last stage is described: Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time that they were carried away to Babylon.' Josiah had four successors, all of them phantom kings;--Jehoahaz, who reigned for three months and was taken captive to Egypt; his brother Jehoiakim, a puppet set up by Egypt, knocked down by Babylon; his son Jehoiachin, who reigned eleven years and was carried captive to Babylon; and last, Zedekiah, Josiah's son, under whom the ruin of the kingdom was completed. The genealogy does not mention the names of these ill-starred brethren,' partly because it traces the line of descent through Jeconias' or Jehoiachin, partly because it despises them too much. A line that begins with David and ends with such a quartet! This was what the monarchy had run out to: David at the one end and Zedekiah at the other, a bright fountain pouring out a stream that darkened as it flowed through the ages, and crept at last into a stagnant pond, foul and evil-smelling. Then comes the third group, and it too has a drift. Unknown as the names in it are, it is the epoch of restoration, and its bright consummate flower' is Jesus who is called the Christ.' He will be a better David, will burnish again the tarnished lustre of the monarchy, will be all that earlier kings were meant to be and failed of being, and will more than bring the day which Abraham desired to see, and realise the ideal to which prophets and righteous men' unconsciously were tending, when as yet there was no king in Israel.

A very significant feature of this genealogical table is the insertion in it, in four cases, of the names of the mothers. The four women mentioned are Tamar a harlot, Rahab another, Ruth the Moabitess, and Bathsheba; three of them tainted in regard to womanly purity, and the fourth, though morally sweet and noble, yet mingling alien blood in the stream. Why are pains taken to show these blots in the scutcheon'? May we not reasonably answer--in order to suggest Christ's relation to the stained and sinful, and to all who are strangers from the covenants of promise.' He is to be a King with pity and pardon for harlots, with a heart and arms open to welcome all those who were afar off among the Gentiles. The shadowy forms of these four dead women beckon, as it were, to all their sisters, be they stained however darkly or distant however remotely, and assure them of welcome into the kingdom of the king who, by Jewish custom, could claim to be their descendant.

The ruling idea of the genealogy is clearly though unostentatiously shown by the employment of the names Jesus Christ' and Christ,' while throughout the rest of this Gospel the name used habitually is Jesus. In verse 1 we have the full title proclaimed at the very beginning; then in verse 16, Jesus who is called Christ' repeats the proclamation at the end of the genealogy proper, while verse 17 again presents the three names with which it began as towering like mountain peaks, Abraham, David, and--supreme above the other two, the dominant summit to which they led up, we have once more Christ.' Similarly the narrative that follows is of the birth of Jesus Christ.' That name is never used again in this Gospel, except in one case where the reading is doubtful; and as for the form Jesus who is called Christ,' by which He is designated in the genealogy itself, the only other instance of it is on the mocking lips of Pilate, while the uniform use of Jesus in the body of this Gospel is broken only by Peter in his great confession, and in, at most, four other instances. Could the purpose to assert and establish, at the very outset, His Messianic, regal dignity, as the necessary pre-supposition to all that follows, be more clearly shown? We must begin our study of His life and works with the knowledge that He, of whom these things are about to be told, is the King of Israel.


Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as His mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. 19. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. 20. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. 21. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins. 22. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, 23. Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. 24. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: 25. And knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born son: and he called His name JESUS.'--MATT. i. 18-25.

Matthew's account of the Nativity sets Joseph in the foreground. His pain and hesitation, his consideration for Mary, the divine communication to him, and his obedience to it, embarrassing as his position must have been, take up larger space than the miracle of the birth itself. Probably in all this we have an unconscious disclosure of the source of the evangelist's information. At all events, he speaks as if from Joseph's point of view. Luke, on the other hand, has most to say about Mary's maidenly wonder and meek submission, her swift hurrying to find help from a woman's sympathy, as soon as the Angel of the Annunciation had spoken, and the hymn of exultation which Elisabeth's salutation heartened her to pour forth. Surely that narrative could have come from none but her meek and faithful lips? The two accounts beautifully supplement each other, and give two vivid pictures of these two devout souls, each sharply tried in a different fashion, each richly blessed by variously moulded obedience. Joseph took up his burden, and Mary hers, because God had spoken and they believed.

The shock to Joseph of the sudden discovery, crashing in on him after he was bound to Mary, and in what would else have been the sweet interval of love and longing before they came together,' is delicately and unconsciously brought out in verse 18. She was found'--how the remembrance of the sudden disclosure, blinding and startling as a lightning flash, lives in that word! And how the agony of perplexity as to the right thing to do in such a cruel dilemma is hinted at in the two clauses that pull in opposite directions! As a just man' and her husband,' Joseph owed it to righteousness and to himself not to ignore his betrothed's condition; but as her lover and her husband, how could he put her, who was still so dear to him, to public shame, some of which would cloud his own name? To put her away' was the only course possible, though it racked his soul, and to do it privily' was the last gift that his wounded love could give her. No wonder that these things' kept him brooding sadly on them, nor that his day's troubled thinkings coloured his sleeping hours! The divine guidance, which is ever given to waiting minds, was given to him by the way of a dream, which is one of the Old Testament media of divine communications, and occurs with striking frequency in this and the following chapter, there being three recorded as sent to Joseph and one to the Magi. It is observable, however, that to Joseph it is always the 'or an angel of the Lord' who appears in the dream, whereas the dream only is mentioned in the case of the Magi. The difference of expression may imply a difference in the manner of communication. But in any case, we need not wonder that divine communications were abundant at such an hour, nor shall we be startled, if we believe in the great miracle of the Word's becoming flesh, that a flight of subsidiary miracles, like a bevy of attendant angels, clustered round it.

The most stupendous fact in history is announced by the angel chiefly as the reason for Joseph's going on with his marriage. Surely that strange inversion of the apparent importance of the two things speaks for the historical reliableness of the narrative. The purpose in hand is mainly to remove his hesitation and point his course, and he is to take Mary as his wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.' Could the superstitious veneration of a later age', which is supposed to have originated the story of a supernatural birth, have spoken so? As addressed to Joseph, tortured with doubts of Mary and hesitations as to his duty, the sequence of the two things is beautifully appropriate, otherwise it is monstrous. The great mystery, which lies at the foundation of Christianity, is declared in the fewest and simplest words. That He who is to show God to men, and to save them from their sins, must be born of a woman, is plainly necessary. Because the children are partakers of flesh and blood,' He also must take part of the same.' That He must be free from the taint in nature, which passes down to all who are born of the will of the flesh or of man,' is no less obviously requisite. Both requirements are met in the supernatural birth of Jesus, and unless both have been met, He is not, and cannot be, the world's saviour. Nor is that supernatural birth less needful to explain His manifestly sinless character than it is to qualify Him for His unique office. The world acknowledges that in Him it finds a man without blemish and without spot. How comes He to be free from the flaws which, like black streaks in Parian marble, spoil the noblest characters? Surely if, after millions of links in the chain, which have all been of mingled metal, there comes one of pure gold, it cannot have had the same origin as the others. It is part of the chain, the Word was made flesh'; but it has been cast and moulded in another forge, for it is that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.'

She shall bring forth a son.' The angel does not say, a son to thee,' but yet Joseph was to assume the position of father, and by naming the child to acknowledge it as his. The name of Jesus or Joshua was borne by many a Jewish child then. There was a Jesus among Paul's entourage. It recalled the warrior leader, and, no doubt, was often given to children in these days of foreign dominion by fathers who hoped that Israel might again fight for freedom. But holier thoughts were to be Joseph's, and the salvation from God which was expressed by the name was to be of another kind than Joshua had brought. It was to be salvation from sin and from sins. This child was to be a leader too, a conqueror and a king, and the mention of His people,' taken in connection with Joseph's having been addressed as the son of David,' is most significant. He, too, is to have a subject people, and the deliverance which He is to bring is not political or to be wrested from Rome by the sword, but inward, moral, and spiritual, and therefore to be effected by moral and spiritual weapons.

It is the evangelist, not the angel, who points to Isaiah's prophecy. He does so with a certain awe, as he thinks of the greatness of all these things'. Undoubtedly the Hebrew word rendered in Matthew, after the Septuagint, virgin', does not necessarily imply the full meaning of that word; and as undoubtedly the prophecy, as it stands in Isaiah, pointed to an event to occur in the immediate future; yet it is clear, from the further development of the prophecy by Isaiah, and especially from the fourfold name given to the child in Isaiah ix. 6, and the glorious dominion there foretold for Him, that Isaiah conceives of Him as the Messiah. And, since any fulfilment' of the glowing prophecies attached to the Child were, in Isaiah's time, but poor and partial, the great Messianic hope was necessarily trained to look further down the stream of time. He who should fill the role set forth was yet to come. Matthew believed that it was completely filled by Jesus, and we know that he was right. The fulfilment does not depend on the question whether or not the idea of Virginity is contained in the Hebrew word, but on the correspondence between the figure seen by the prophet in the golden haze of his divinely quickened imagination, and the person to be described in the gospel, and we know that the correspondence is complete. The name Immanuel, to be given to the prophetic child, breathed the certainty that in God with us' Israel would find the secret of its charmed existence, even while an Ahaz was on the throne. The name takes on a deeper meaning when applied to Him to whom alone it in fullest truth belongs. It proclaims that in Jesus God dwells among us, and it lays bare the ground of the historical name Jesus, for only by a man who is one of ourselves, and in whom God is with us, can we be saved from our sins. The one Name is the deep, solid foundation, the other is the fortress refuge built upon it. He is Jesus, because He is Immanuel.

How different the world and his own life looked to Joseph when he woke! Hesitations and agonising doubts of his betrothed's purity had vanished with the night, and, instead of the dread that her child would be the offspring of shame, had come a divinely given certainty that it was a holy thing.' In the rush of the sudden revulsion, all that was involved would not be clear, but the duty that lay nearest him was clear, and his obedience was as swift as it was glad. He believed, and his faith took the burden off him, and brought back the sweet relations which had seemed to be rent for ever. The Birth was foretold by the angel in a single clause, it is recorded by the evangelist in another. In both cases, Mary's part and Joseph's are set side by side (she shall bring forth … and thou shalt call: she had brought forth … and he called'), and the birth itself is in verse 25 recorded mainly in its bearing on Joseph's marital relations. Could such a perspective in the narrative be conceived of from any other point of view than Joseph's?

We do not enter on the controversy as to whether that till' and the expression first-born' shut us up to the conclusion that Joseph and Mary had children. The words are not decisive, and probably opinions will always differ on the point. Medievally-minded persons will reject with horror the notion that Jesus had brethren in the proper sense of the word, while those who believe that the perfect woman is a happy wife and mother, will not feel that it detracts from Mary's sacredness, nor from her purity, to believe that she had other children than her first-born Son'.


… Thou shalt call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins.'--MATT. i. 21.

I. THE historical associations of the name.

It was a very common Jewish name, and of course was given in memory of the great leader who brought the hosts of Israel to rest in the promised land.

There is no sharper contrast conceivable than between Joshua and Jesus. The contrast and the parallel are both most significant.

(a) The contrast.

Joshua is perhaps one of the least interesting of the Old Testament men; a mere soldier, fit for the fierce work which he had to do, rough and hard, ready and prompt, of an iron will and a brave heart. The one exhortation given him when he comes to the leadership is be strong and of a good courage,' and that seems to have been the main virtue of his character. The task he had to do was a bloody one, and thoroughly he did it. The difficulties that have been found in the extermination of the Canaanites may be met by considerations of the changed atmosphere between then and now, and of their moral putrescence. But no explanation can make the deed other than terrible, or the man that did it other than fierce and stern. No traits of chivalrous generosity are told of him, nothing that softens the dreadfulness of war. He showed no touch of pity or compunction, no lofty, statesmanlike qualities, nothing constructive; he was simply a rough soldier, with an iron hand and an iron heel, who burned and slew and settled down his men in the land they had devastated.

The very sharpness of the contrast in character is intended to be felt by us. Put by the side of this man the image of Jesus Christ, in all His meekness and gentleness.

Does not this speak to us of the profound change which He comes to establish among men?

The highest ideal of character is no longer the rough soldier, the strong man, but the man of meekness, and gentleness, and patience.

How far the world yet is from understanding all that is meant in the contrast between the first and the second bearers of the name!

We have done with force, and are come into the region of love. There is no place in Christ's kingdom for arms and vulgar warfare.

The strongest thing is love, armed with celestial armour. Truth and meekness and righteousness' are our keenest-edged weapons--this is true for Christian morals; and for politics in a measure which the world has not yet learned.

Put up thy sword into its sheath,'

(b) The parallel.

It is not to be forgotten that the work which the soldier did in type is the work which Christ does. He is the true Moses who leads us through the wilderness. But also He is the Captain who will bring us into the mountain of His inheritance.

But besides this, we too often forget the soldier-like virtues in the character of Christ.

We have lost sight of these very much, but certainly they are present and most conspicuous. If only we will look at our Lord's life as a real human one, and apply the same tests and terms to it which we do to others, we shall see these characteristics plainly enough.

What do we call persistence which, in spite of all opposition, goes right on to the end, and is true to conscience and duty, even to death? What do we call the calmness which forgets self even in the agonies of pain on the cross? What do we call the virtue which rebukes evil in high places and never blanches nor falters in the utterance of unwelcome truths?

Daring courage.

Promptness of action.

All conspicuous in Jesus.

Iron will.

It has become a commonplace thing now to say that the bravery which dares to do right in the face of all opposition is higher than that of the soldier who flings away his life on the battlefield. The soldiers of peace are known now to deserve the laurel no less than the heroes of war.

But who can tell how much of the modern world's estimate of the superiority of moral courage to mere brute force is owing to the history of the life of Christ?

We find a further parallel in the warfare through which He conquers for us the land.

His own struggle (I have overcome'), and the lesson that we too must fight, and that all our religious life is to be a conflict. It is easy to run off into mere rhetorical metaphor, but it is a very solemn and a very practical truth which is taught us, if we ponder that name of the warrior Leader borne by our Master as explained to us by Himself in His words, In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.'

Ps. cx. Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth.'

II. The significance of the name.

Joshua means God is Saviour. As borne by the Israelitish leader, it pointed both him and the people away from him to the unseen and omnipotent source of their victory, and was in one word an explanation of their whole history, with all its miracles of deliverance and preservation of that handful of people against the powerful nations around. It taught the leader that he was only the lieutenant of an unseen Captain. It taught the soldiers that they got not the land in possession by their own arms, but because He had a favour unto them.'

1. God as Saviour appears in highest manifestation in Jesus.

I do not now mean in regard to the nature of the salvation, but in regard to the relation between the human and the divine. Joshua was the human agent through which the divine will effected deliverance, but, as in all helpers and teachers, he was but the instrument. He could not have said, I lead you, I give you victory.' His name taught him that he was not to come in his own name. But he shall save'--not merely God shall save through him. And his people'--not the people of God'

All this but points to the broad distinction between Christ and all others, in that God, the Saviour, is manifest in Him as in none other.

We are not detracting from the glory of God when we say that Christ saves us.

Christ's consciousness of being Himself Salvation is expressed in many of His words. He makes claims and puts forward His own personality in a fashion that would be blasphemy in any other man, and yet all the while is true to His name, God is the Saviour.'

The paradox which lies in these earliest words, the great gulf between the name and the interpretation on the angel's lips, is only solved when we accept the teaching which tells us that in that Word made flesh and dwelling among us, we behold God manifest in the flesh,' and in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.'

The name guards us, too, from that very common error of thinking of Christ as if He were more our Saviour than God is. We are not without need of this warning. Christ does not bend the divine will to love, is not more tender than our Father God.

2. The Salvation brought by Jesus is in its nature the loftiest.

It is with strong emphasis that the angel defines the sphere of salvation as being their sins.' The Messianic expectation had been degraded as it flowed through the generations, as some pure stream loses its early sparkle, and gathers scum on its surface from filth flung into it by men. Mere deliverance from the Roman yoke was all the salvation that the mass wanted or expected, and the tragedy of the Cross was foreshadowed in this prophecy which declares an inward emancipation from sin as the true work of Mary's unborn Son.

We can discern the Jewish error in externalising and materialising the conception of salvation, but many of us repeat it in essence. What is the difference between the Jew who thought that salvation was deliverance from Rome, and the Christian' who thinks that it is deliverance not from sin but from its punishment?

We have to think of a liberation from sin itself, not merely from its penalties. This thought has been often obscured by preachers, and often neglected by Christians, in whom selfishness and an imperfect understanding of the gospel have too often made salvation appear as merely a means of escape from impending suffering. All deep knowledge of what Sin is teaches us that it is its own punishment, and that the hell of hell is to be under the dominion of evil.

3. God's people are His people.

Israel was God's portion--and Joshua was but their leader for a time. But the people of God are the people of Christ.

The way by which we become the people of Jesus is simply by faith in Him.

III. The usage of the name.

It was a common Jewish name, but seems to have been almost abandoned since then by Jews from abhorrence, by Christians from reverence.

The Jewish fanatic who during the siege stalked through Jerusalem shrieking, Woe to the city', and, as he fell mortally wounded, added, and to myself also,' was a Jesus. There is a Jesus in Colossians.

We find it as the usual appellation in the Gospels, as is natural. But in the Epistles it is comparatively rare alone.

The reason, of course, is that it brings mainly before us the human personality of Jesus. So when used alone in later books it emphasises this: This same Jesus shall so come'. We see Jesus, made a little, etc.'

Found in frequent use by two classes of religionists-- Unitarian and Sentimental.

We should seek to get all the blessing out of it, and to dwell, taught by it, on the thoughts of His true manhood, tempted, our brother, bone of our bone.

We should beware of confining our thoughts to what is taught us by that name. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Even with thoughts of His lovely human character let us blend thoughts of His Messianic office and of His divine nature. We shall not see all the beauty of Jesus unless we know Him as the Christ, the Son of the Highest.

And besides the name written on His vesture and his thigh, He bears a name which no man knoweth but Himself. Beyond our grasp is His uncommunicable name, His deep character, but near to us for our love and for our faith is all we need to know. That name which He bore in His humiliation He bears still in His glory, and the name which is above every name, and at which every knee shall bow, is the name by which Jewish mothers called their children, and through eternity we shall call His name Jesus because He hath finally and fully saved us from our sins.


Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judae! in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 2. Saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him. 3. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. 5. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judae!-o for thus it is written by the prophet, 6. And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Judae: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. 7. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. 8. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found Him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship Him also. 9. When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. 10. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 11. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary His mother, and fell down, and worshipped Him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. 31. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.'--MATT. ii. 1-12.

Matthew's Gospel is the gospel of the King. It has a distinctly Jewish colouring. All the more remarkable, therefore, is this narrative, which we should rather have looked for in Luke, the evangelist who delights to emphasise the universality of Christ's work. But the gathering of the Gentiles to the light of Israel was an essential part of true Judaism, and could not but be represented in the Gospel which set forth the glories of the King. There is something extremely striking and stimulating to the imagination in the vagueness of the description of these Eastern pilgrims. Where they came from, how long they had been in travelling, how many they were, what was their rank, whither they went,--all these questions are left unsolved. They glide into the story, present their silent adoration, and as silently steal away.' The tasteless mediaeval tradition knows all about them: they were three; they were kings. It knows their names; and, if we choose to pay the fee, we can see their bones to-day in the shrine behind the high altar in Cologne Cathedral. How much more impressive is the indefiniteness of our narrative! How much more the half sometimes is than the whole!

I. We see here heathen wisdom led by God to the cradle of Christ. It is futile to attempt to determine the nationality of the wise men. Possibly they were Persian magi, whose astronomy was half astrology and wholly observation, or they may have travelled from some place even deeper in the mysterious East; but, in any case, they were led by God through their science, such as it was. The great lesson which they teach remains the same, however subordinate questions about the nature of the star and the like may be settled. The sign in the heavens and its explanation were both of God, whether the one was a natural astronomical phenomenon or a supernatural light, and the other the conclusions of their science or the inbreathing of His wisdom. So they stand as representatives of the great truth, that, outside the limits of the people of revelation, God moved on hearts and led seeking souls to the light in divers manners. These silent strangers at the cradle carry on the line of recipients of divine messages outside of Israel which is headed by the mysterious Melchizedek, and includes that seer who saw a star arise out of Jacob, and which, in a wider sense, includes many a poet of their own' and many a patient seeker after truth. Human wisdom, as it is called, is God's gift. In itself, it is incomplete. It raises more questions than it solves. Its highest function is to lead to Jesus. He is Lord of the sciences, as of all that belongs to man; and notwithstanding all the appearances to the contrary at present, we may be sure that the true scope of all knowledge, and its certain end, is to lead to the recognition of Him.

May we not see in these Magi, too, a type of the inmost meaning of heathen religions? These faiths have in them points of contact with Christianity. Besides their falsehoods and abhorrent dark cruelties and lustfulnesses, they enshrine confessions of wants which the King in the cradle alone can supply. Modern unbelieving teachers tell us that Christianity and they are alike products of man's own religious faculty. But the truth is that they are confessions of need, and Christianity is the supply of the need. At bottom, their language is the question of the wise men, Where is He?' Their sacrifices proclaim man's need of reconciliation. Their stories of the gods coming down in the likeness of men, speak of his longing for a manifestation of God in the flesh. The cradle and the cross are Heaven's answer to their sad questions.

II. The contrast of these Gentiles' joyful eagerness to worship the King of Israel, with the alarm of his own people at the whisper of his name, is a prelude of the tragedy of his rejection, and the passing over of the kingdom to the Gentiles. Notice the bitter and scornful emphasis of that Herod the king' coming twice in the story in immediate connection with the mention of the true King. He was a usurper, caricaturing the true Monarch. Like most kings who have had great' tacked to their names, his greatness consisted mainly in supreme wickedness. Fierce, lustful, cunning, he had ruled without mercy; and now he was passing through the last stages of an old age without love, and ringed round by the fears born of his misdeeds. He trembles for his throne, as well he may, when he hears of these strangers. Probably he does not suppose them mixed up with any attempt to unseat him, or he would have made short work of them; unless, indeed, his craft led him to dissemble until he had sucked them dry and had used them to lead him to the infant rival, after which he may have meant to murder them too. But he recognises in their question the familiar tones of the Messianic hope, which he knew was ever lying like glowing embers in the breast of the nation, ready to be blown into a flame. His creatures in the capital might disown it, but he knew in his secret heart that he was a usurper, and that at any moment that smouldering hatred and hope might burn up him and his upstart monarchy. An evil conscience is full of fears, and shrinks from the good news that the King of all is at hand. His coming should be joy, as is that of the bursting spring or the rosy dawn; but our own sin makes the day of the Lord darkness and not light, and sends us cowering into our corners to escape these searching eyes.

Nor less tragic and perverted is the trouble which all Jerusalem' shared with Herod. The Magi had naturally made straight for the capital, expecting to find the new-born King there, and His city jubilant at His birth. But they traverse its streets only to meet none who know anything about Him. They must have felt like men who see, gleaming from far on some hill-side, a brightness which has all vanished when they reach the spot, or like some of our mission converts brought to our Christian country,' and seeing how little our people care for the Christ whom they have learned to know. Their question indicates utter bewilderment at the contrast between what they had seen in the East and what they found in Jerusalem. They must have been still more perplexed if they observed the effect of their question. Nobody in Jerusalem knew anything about their King. That was strange enough. But nobody wanted Him. That was stranger still. A prophet had long ago called on Zion' to rejoice greatly' because thy King cometh'; but now anxiety and terror cloud all faces. It was partly because self-interest bound many to Herod, and partly because they all feared that any outburst of Messianic hopes would lead to fresh cruelties inflicted by the relentless, trembling tyrant. So the Magi, who represented the eagerness of Gentile hearts grasping the new hopes, and claiming some share in Israel's Messiah, saw His own people careless, and, if moved from their apathy, alarmed at the unwelcome tidings that the promise which had shone as a great light through dreary centuries was at last on the eve of fulfilment. So the first page on the gospel history anticipates the sad issue: They shall come from the east, and from the west,' and you yourselves shall be thrust out.

III. Then followed the council of the theologians, with its solemn illustration of the difference between orthodoxy and life, and of the utter hollowness of mere knowledge, however accurate, of the letter of Scripture. The questions as to the composition of this gathering of authorities, and of the variations between the quotation of Micah in the text and its form in the Hebrew, do not concern us now. We may remark on the evident purpose of God to draw forth the distinct testimony of the ecclesiastical rulers to the place of Messiah's birth, and on the fact that this, the most ancient interpretation of the prophecy, is vouched to us by existing Jewish sources as having been the traditional one until the exigencies of controversy with Christians pushed it aside Notice the different conduct of Herod, the Magi, and the scribes. The first is entangled in a ludicrous contradiction. He believes that Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem, and yet he determines to set himself against the carrying out of what he must, in some sense, believe to be God's purpose. If this infant is God's Messiah, I will kill Him,' is surely as strange a piece of policy gone mad as ever the world heard of. But it is perhaps not more insane than much of our own action, when we set ourselves against what we know to be God's will, and consciously seek to thwart it. A child trying to stop a train by pushing against the locomotive has as much chance of success. The scribes, again, are quite sure where Messiah is to be born; but they do not care to go and see if He is born. These strangers, to whom the hope of Israel is new, may rush away, in their enthusiasm, to Bethlehem; but they, to whom it had lost all gloss, and become a commonplace, would take no such trouble. Does not familiarity with the gospel produce much the same effect on many of us? Might not the joy and the devotion, however ignorant if compared with our better knowledge of the letter, which mark converts from heathenism, shame the tepid zeal and unruffled composure of us, who have heard all about Christ, till it has become wearisome? Here on the very threshold of the gospel story is the first instance of the lesson taught over and over again in it, namely, the worthlessness of head knowledge, and the constant temptation of substituting it for that submission of the will and that trust of the heart, which alone make religion. The most impenetrable armour against the gospel is the familiar and lifelong knowledge of the gospel.

The Magi, on their part, accept with implicit confidence the information. They have followed the star; they have now a more sure word, and they will follow that. They were led by their science to contact with the true guide. He that is faithful in his use of the dimmest light will find his light brighten. The office of science is not to lead to Christ by a road discovered by itself, but to lead to the Word of God which guides to Him. Not by accident, nor without profound meaning, did both methods of direction unite to point these earnest seekers, who were ready to follow every form of guidance, to the Monarch whom they sought.

IV. Herod's crafty counsel need not detain us. We have already remarked on its absurdity. If the child were not Messiah, he need not have been alarmed; if it were, his efforts were fruitless. But he does not see this, and so plots and works underground in the approved fashion of kingcraft. His reason for questioning the Magi as to the time was, of course, to get an approximate age of the infant, that he might know how widely to fling his net. He did it privately, so as to keep any inkling of his plot secret till he had secured the further information which he hoped to delude them into bringing. Like other students and recluses fed upon great thoughts, the Magi were very easily deceived. Good, simple people, they were no match for Herod, and told him all without suspicion, and set off to look for the child, quite convinced of his good faith; while he, no doubt, breathed more freely when he had got them out of Jerusalem, and congratulated himself on having done a good stroke of business in making them his spies. He was probably within a few months of his death. The world was already beginning to slip from him. But before he passed to his account, he too was brought within sight of the Christ, and summoned to yield his usurped dominion to the true King How different this old man's reception of the tidings of the nativity from Simeon's! His hostility, in its cruelty, its blundering cunning and its impotence, is a type of the relations of the world-power to Christ. The rulers take counsel together, … against His anointed… . He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh.'

V. We have next the discovery of the King. The reappearing star becomes the guide to the humble house. It cannot have been an ordinary star, for no such could have pointed the precise house among all the homes of Bethlehem. The burst of joy at its reappearance vividly suggests the perplexity of the recent days, and the support given by its welcome beam to the faith which had accepted, not perhaps without some misgivings caused by the indifference of the teachers, the teaching of the prophecy. Surely that faith would be more than ever tried by the humble poverty in which they found the King. The great paradox of Christianity, the manifestation of divinest power in uttermost weakness, was forced upon them in its most startling form. This child on His mother's lap, with none to do Him homage, and in poverty which makes our costly gifts seem out of place,--this is the King, whose coming set stars ablaze and drew us hither. Is this all?' Their Eastern religions were not unfamiliar with the idea of incarnation. Their Eastern monarchies were splendid. They must have felt a shock at the contrast between what they expected and what they found. They learned the lesson which all have to learn, that Christ disappoints as well as fulfils the expectations of men, that the mightiest power is robed in lowliness, and the highest manifestation of God begins with a helpless infant on His mother's knee. These wise men were not repelled. Our modern wise men are not all as wise as they.

VI. Adoration and offering follow discovery. The worship' of the Magi cannot have been adoration in the strict sense. We attribute too much to them if we suppose them aware of Christ's divinity. But it was clearly more than mere reverence for an earthly King. It hovered on the border-line, and meant an indefinite submission and homage to a partially discerned superiority, in which the presence of God was in some sort special. The old mediaeval interpretation of the offered gold as signifying recognition of His kingship, the frankincense of His deity, and the myrrh of His death, is so beautiful that one would fain wish it true. But it cannot pretend to be more than a fancy. We are on surer ground when we see in the gifts the choicest products of the land of the Magi, and learn the lesson that the true recognition of Christ will ever be attended by the spontaneous surrender to Him of our best. These gifts would not be of much use to Mary. If there had been a practical man' among the Magi, he might have said, What is the use of giving such things to such a household?' And it would have been difficult to have answered. But love does not calculate, and the impulse which leads to consecrate the best we have to Him is acceptable in His sight.

This earliest page in the gospel history is a prophecy of the latest. These are the first-fruits of the Gentiles unto Christ. They bear in their hands a glass which showeth many more,' who at last will come like them to the King of the whole earth. They shall bring gold and incense; and they shall show forth the praises of the Lord.' There were Gentiles at the cradle and at the cross. The Magi learned the lessons which the East especially needed, of power in weakness, royalty in lowliness. Incarnation not in monstrous forms or with destructive attributes, but in feeble infancy which passes through the ordinary stages of development. The Greeks who sought to see Jesus when near the hour of His death, learned the lesson for want of which their nation's culture rotted away, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone' So these two groups, one at the beginning, the other at the end, one from the mysterious East, the other from the progressive and cultured West, received each a half of the completed truth, the gospel of Incarnation and Sacrifice, and witness to the sufficiency of Christ for all human needs, and to the coming of the time when all the races of men shall gather round the throne to which cradle and cross have exalted Him, and shall recognise in Him the Prince of all the kings of the earth, and the Lamb slain for the sins of the world.


And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and His mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy Him. 14. When he arose, he took the young child and His mother by night, and departed into Egypt; 15. And was there until the death of Herod; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called My son. 16. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. 17. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, 18. In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. 19. But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth to a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20. Saying, Arise, and take the young child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for they are dead which sought the young child's life. 21. And he arose, and took the young child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22. But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judae! in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither; notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: 23. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.'--MATT. ii. 13-23.

Delitzsch, in his New Investigations into the Origin and Plan of the Canonical Gospels, tries to show that Matthew is constructed on the plan of the Pentateuch. The analogy is somewhat strained, but there are some striking points of correspondence. He regards Matthew i. to ii. 15 as answering to Genesis. It begins with the genesis of Jesus,' and, as the Old Testament book ends with the migration of Israel to Egypt, so this section of the Gospel ends with the flight of the Holy Family to the same land. The section from ii. 15 to the end of the Sermon on the Mount answers to Exodus, and here the parallels are striking. The murder of the innocents at Bethlehem by Herod answers to Pharaoh's slaughter of Hebrew children; the Exodus, to the return to Nazareth; the call of Moses at the bush, to the baptism of Jesus; the forty years in the wilderness, to the forty days' desert hunger and temptation; and the giving of the law from Sinai, to the Sermon on the Mount, which contains the new law for the kingdom of God. Without supposing that the evangelist moulded his Gospel on the plan of the Pentateuch, we cannot but see that there is a real parallel between the beginnings of the national life of Israel and the commencement of the life of Christ. Our present text brings this parallel into great prominence. It is divided into three sections, each of which has for its centre an Old Testament prophecy.

I. We have first the flight into Egypt and the prophecy fulfilled therein. The appearance of the angel seems to have followed immediately on the departure of the Magi. They were succeeded by a loftier visitor from a more distant land, coming to lay richer gifts and a more absolute homage at the infant's feet. The angel of the Lord, who had already eased Joseph's honest and troubled heart by disclosing the secret of Mary's child, comes again. To Mary he had appeared waking; her meek eyes could look on him, and her obedient ears hear his voice. But Joseph, who stood on a lower spiritual level, needed the lower form of revelation by dream, which betokens less susceptibility in the recipient and less importance in the communication. It is the only form appropriate to his power of receiving, and four times it is mentioned as granted to him. The warning to the wise men was also conveyed in a dream. We can scarcely help recalling the similar prominence of dreams in the history of the earlier Joseph, whose life was moulded in order to bring Israel into Egypt.

The angel speaks of the young child and His mother,' reversing the order of nature, as if he bowed before the infant, Lord of men as well as angels,' and would deepen the lesson which so many signs gathering round the cradle were teaching the silent Joseph,--that Mary and he were but humble ministers of the child's. The partial instruction given, and the darkness left lying over the future, are in accordance with the methods of God's leading, which always gives light enough for the next duty, and never for the one after that. The prompt and precise obedience of Joseph to the heavenly vision is emphatically expressed by the verbal repetition of the command in the account of its fulfilment. There was no hesitation, no reluctance, no delay. On the very night, as it appears, of the dream, he rose up; the simple preparations were quickly made; the wise men's gifts would help to sustain their modest wants, and before the day broke they were on their road. How strangely blended in our Lord's life, from the very dawning, are dignity and lowliness, glory and reproach! How soon His brows are crowned with thorns! The adoration of the Magi witnesses to Him as the King of Israel and the hope of the world. The flight of which that adoration was the direct cause witnesses no less clearly to Him as despised and rejected, tasting sorrow in His earliest food, and not having where to lay His head.

But the most important part of the story is the connection which Matthew discerns between it and Hosea's words. In their original place they are not a prophecy at all, but simply a part of a tender historical resume of God's dealings with Israel, by which the prophet would touch his contemporaries' hearts into penitence and trust. How, then, is the evangelist justified in regarding them as prophetic, and in looking on Christ's flight as their fulfilment? The answer is to be found in that analogy between the national and the personal Israel which runs through all the Old Testament, and reaches its greatest clearness in the second part of Isaiah's prophecies. Jesus Christ was what Israel was destined and failed to be, the true Servant of God, His Anointed, His Son, the medium of conveying His name to the world. The ideal of the nation was realised in Him. His brief stay in Egypt served the very same purpose in His life which their four hundred years there did in theirs,--it sheltered Him from enemies, and gave Him room to grow. Just as the infant nation was unawares fostered in the very lap of the country which was the symbol of the world hostile to God, so the infant Christ was guarded and grew there. The prophecy is a prophecy just because it is history; for the history was all a shadow of the future, and He is the true Israel and the Son of God. It would have been fulfilled quite as really, that is to say, the parallel between Christ and the nation would have been as fully carried out, if His place of refuge had been in some other land; but the precise outward identity helps to point the parallel to unobservant eyes. The great truth taught by it of the typical relation between the nation and the Person is the key to large regions of Old Testament history and prophecy. Rightly, therefore, does Matthew call our attention to this pregnant fact, and bid us see in the divine selection of the place where the young life of God manifest in the flesh was sheltered, a fulfilment of prophecy. Egypt was the natural asylum of every fugitive from Palestine, but a deeper reason bent the steps of the Holy Family to the shelter of its palms and temples.

II. The slaughter of the innocents, and the prophecy fulfilled therein.--Herod's fierce rage, enflamed by the dim suspicion that these wily Easterns have gone away laughing in their sleeves at having tricked him, and by the dread that they may be stirring up armed defenders of the infant King, is in full accord with all that we know of him. The critics who find the story of the massacre unhistorical,' because Josephus does not mention it, must surely be very anxious to discredit the evangelist, and very hard pressed for grounds to do so, or they would not commit themselves to the extraordinary assumption that nothing is to be believed outside of the pages of Josephus. A splash or two of blood of poor innocents,' more or less, found on the Idumean tyrant's bloody skirts, could be of little consequence in the eyes of those who knew what a long saturnalia of horrors his reign had been; and the number of the infants under two years old in such a tiny place as Bethlehem would be small, so that their feeble wail might well fail to reach the ears even of contemporaries. But there is no reason for questioning the simple truth of a story so like the frantic cruelty and sleepless suspicion of the grey-headed tyrant, who was stirred to more ferocity as the shades of death gathered about him, and power slipped from his rotting hands. Of all the tragic pictures which Scripture gives of a godless old age, burning with unquenchable hatred to goodness and condemned to failure in all its antagonism, none is touched with more lurid hues than this. What a contrast between the king de jure, the cradled infant; and the king de facto, going down to his loathsome death, which all but he longed for! He may well stand as a symbol of the futility of all opposition to Christ the King.

The fate of these few infants is a strange one. In their brief lives they have won immortal fame. They died for the Christ whom they never knew. These lambs were slain for the sake of the Lamb who lived while

Little flowers of martyrdom, Roses by the whirlwind shorn,'

That quotation, from Jeremiah xxxi. 16, requires a brief consideration. The original is still less a prophecy than was the passage in Hosea. It is a highly imaginative and grandly weird personification of the mighty mother of three of the tribes, stirring in her tomb, and lifting up the shrill lamentation of Eastern grief over her children carried away to captivity. That hopeless wail from the grave by Bethlehem is heard as far north as Ramah, beyond Jerusalem. Once again, says Matthew, the same grief might have been imaginatively heard from the long-silent tomb so near the scene of this pitiful tragedy. And the second ancestral weeping was fuller of woe than the bitterness of that first lament; for this bewailed the actual slaughter of innocents, and wept the miseries that so soon gathered round the coming of the King, so long waited for. Seeing that the prophet's words do not describe a fact, but are a poetical personification to convey simply the idea of calamity, which might make the dead mother weep, the word fulfilled' can obviously be applied to them only in a modified and somewhat elastic sense, and is sufficiently defended if we recognise in the slaughter of these children a woe which, though small in itself, yet, when considered in reference to its inflicter, a usurping king of the Jews, and in reference to its occasion, the desire to slay the God-sent King, and in reference to its innocent victims, and in reference to its place as first of the tragic series of martyrdoms for Messiah, was heavy with a sorer burden of national disaster, when seen by eyes made wise by death, than even the captivity which seemed to falsify the promises of God and the hopes of a thousand years.

III. The return to Nazareth, and the prophecy fulfilled therein.--They who patiently wait for guidance, and move not till the cloud moves, are never disappointed, nor left undirected. Joseph is a pattern of self-abnegating submission, and an example of its rewards. The angel ever comes again to those who have once obeyed him and continue to wait. This third appearance is described in the same words as the former. His coming was the appearance of a familiar presence His command begins by a verbal repetition of the former summons, Arise and take the young child and His mother, and go,' and then passes to a singular allusion to that command to Moses which was the first step towards the former calling of God's son--the nation--out of Egypt. All the men are dead which sought thy life,' was the encouragement to Moses to go back. They are dead that sought the young child's life,' is the encouragement to Joseph. It sums up in one sentence the failure of the first attempt, and is like an epitaph cut on a tombstone for a man yet living,--a prophecy of the end of all succeeding efforts to crush Christ and thwart His work. The dreaded infant's hand' is mightier than all mailed fists, or fingers that hold a pen. Christ lives and grows; Herod rots and dies.

Apparently Joseph's intention was to return to Bethlehem. He may have thought that Nazareth would scarcely satisfy the angel's injunction to go to the Land of Israel,' or that David's city was the right home for David's heir. At all events, his perplexity appeals to Heaven for direction; and, for the fourth time, his course is marked for him by a dream, whether through the instrumentality of the angel who knew the way to his couch so well, we are not told, Archelaus, Herod's son, who had received Judae! on the partition at his father's death, was a smaller Herod, as cruel and less able. There was more security in the obscurity of Nazareth, under the less sanguinary sway of Antipas, whose share of his father's vices was his lust, rather than his ferocity. So, after so many wanderings, and with such strange new experience and thoughts, the silent, steadfast Joseph and the meek mother bring back their mysterious charge and secret to the humble old home. Matthew does not seem to have known that it had formerly been their home, but his account is no contradiction of Luke's.

Again he is reminded of a prophecy, or perhaps, rather, of many prophecies, for he uses the plural prophets,' as if he were summing up the tenor of more than one utterance. The words which he gives are not found in any prophet. But we know that to call a man a Nazarene' was the same thing as to call him lowly and despised. The scoff of the Pharisee to Nicodemus's timid appeal on Christ's behalf, and the guileless Nathaniel's quest ion, show that. The fact that Christ by His residence in Nazareth became known as the Nazarene,' and so shared in the contempt attaching to all Galileans, and especially to the inhabitants of that village, is a kind of concentration of all the obscurity and ignominy of His lot. The name was nailed over His head on the cross as a scornful reductio ad absurdum of His claims to be King of Israel This explanation of the evangelist's meaning does not exclude a reference in his mind to the prophecy in Isaiah xi. 1, where Messiah is called a branch' or more properly, a shoot' for which the Hebrew word is netzer. The name Nazareth is probably etymologically connected with that word, and may have been given to the little village contemptuously to express its insignificance. The meaning of the prophecy is that the offspring of David, who should come when the Davidic house was in the lowest depths of obscurity, like a tree of which only the stump is left, should not appear in royal pomp, or in a lofty condition, but as insignificant, feeble, and of no account. Such prophecy was fulfilled in the very fact that He was all His life known as of Nazareth' and the verbal assonance between that name, the shoot' and the word Nazarene' is a finger-post pointing to the meaning of the place of abode chosen for Him. The mere fact of residence there, and the consequent contempt, do not exhaust the prophecies to which reference is made. These might have been fulfilled without such a literal and external fulfilment. But it serves, like the literal riding upon an ass, and many other instances in Christ's life, to lead dull apprehensions to perceive more plainly that He is the theme of all prophecy, and that in His life the trivial is significant and nothing is accidental.


In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judae! 2. And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. 3. For this is He that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. 4. And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey. 5. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judae and all the region round about Jordan, 6. And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. 7. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8. Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: 9. And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. 10. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the flre, 11. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to clean he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: 12. Whose fan is in His hand, and He will throughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.'--MATT. iii. 1-12.

Matthew's Gospel is emphatically the Gospel of the kingdom. The keynote sounded in the story of the Magi dominates the whole. We have stood by the cradle of the King, and seen the homage and the dread which surrounded it. We have seen the usurper's hatred and the divine guardianship. Now we hear the voice of the herald of the King. This section may be conveniently treated as falling into two parts: the first, from verse 1 to verse 6, a general outline of the Baptist's person and work; the second, from verse 7 to end, a more detailed account of his preaching.

I. We have an outline sketch of the herald and of his work. The voice of prophecy had fallen silent for four hundred years. Now, when it is once more heard, it sounds in exactly the same key as when it ceased. Its last word had been the prediction of the day of the Lord, and of the coming of Elijah once more. John was Elijah over again. There were the same garb, the same isolation, the same fearlessness, the same grim, gaunt strength, the same fiery energy of rebuke which bearded kings in the full fury of their self-will. Elijah, Ahab, and Jezebel have their doubles in John, Herod, and Herodias. The closing words of Malachi, which Matthew, singularly enough, does not quote, are the best explication of the character and work of the Baptist. His portrait is flung on the canvas with the same startling abruptness with which Elijah is introduced. Matthew makes no allusion to his relationship to Jesus, has nothing to say about his birth or long seclusion in the desert. He gives no hint that his vague expression in these days' covers thirty years. John leaps, as it were, into the arena full grown and full armed. His work is described by one word--preaching'; out of which all modern associations, which have too often made it a synonym for long-winded tediousness and toothless platitudes, must be removed. It means proclaiming, or acting as a herald, and implies the uplifted voice and the brief, urgent message of one who runs before the chariot, and shouts, The king! the king!'

His message is summed up in two sentences, two blasts of the trumpet: the call to repentance, and the rousing proclamation that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. In the former he but reproduces the tone of earlier prophecy, when he insists on a thorough change of disposition and a true sorrow for sin. But he advances far beyond his precursors in the latter, which is the reason for repentance. They had seen the vision of the kingdom and the King, but not nigh.' He has to peal into the drowsy ears of a generation which had almost forgotten the ancient hope, that it was at the very threshold. Like some solitary stern crag which catches the light of the sun yet unrisen but hastening upwards, long before the shadowed valleys, John flamed above his generation all aglow with the light, as the witness that in another moment it would spring above the eastern horizon. But he sees that this is no joyful message to them. Nothing is more remarkable in his preaching than the sombre hues with which his expectation of the day of the Lord is coloured. To what purpose is the day of the Lord to you? It is darkness and not light'; it is to be judgment, therefore repentance is the preparation.

The gleam and purity of lofty spiritual ideas are soon darkened, as a film forms on quicksilver after short exposure. John's contemporaries thought that the kingdom of heaven meant exclusive privileges, and their rule over the heathen. They had all but lost the thought that it meant first God's rule over their wills, and their harmony with the glad obedience of heaven. They had to be rudely shaken out of their self-complacency and taught that the livery of the King was purity, and the preparation for His coming, penitence.

The next touch in this outline sketch is John's fulfilment of prophecy. Matthew probably knew that wonderfully touching and lowly answer of his to the deputation from the ecclesiastical authorities, which at once claimed prophetic authority and disclaimed personal importance, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.' The prophecy in its original application refers to the preparation of a path in the desert, for Jehovah coming to redeem His people from captivity. The use made of it by Matthew, and endorsed by all the evangelists, rests on the principle, without which we have no clue to the significance of the Old Testament, that the history of Israel is prophetic, and that the bondage and deliverance are types of the sorer captivity from which Christ redeems, and of the grander deliverance which He effects.

Our evangelist gives a vivid picture of the asceticism of John, which was one secret, as our Lord pointed out, of his hold on the people. The more luxuriously self-indulgent men are, the more are they fascinated by religious self-denial. A man clothed in soft raiment' would have drawn no crowds. A religious teacher must be clearly free from sensual appetites and love of ease, if he is to stir the multitude. John's rough garb and coarse food were not assumed by him to create an impression. He was no mere imitator of the old prophets, though he wore a robe like Elijah's. His asceticism was the expression of his severe, solitary spirit, detached from the delights of sense, and even from the softer play of loves, because the coming kingdom flamed ever before him, and the age seemed to him to be rotting and ready for the fire. There is no need to bring in irrelevant learning about Essenes to account for his mode of life. The thoughts which burned in him drove him into the wilderness. He who was possessed with them could not come eating and drinking,' and might well seem to sense-bound wonderers as if some demonic force, other than ordinary motives, tyrannised over him.

The last point in this brief resume of John's work is the universal excitement which it produced. He did not come out of the desert with his message. If men would hear it, they must go to him. And they went. All the southern portion of the country seemed to empty itself into the wilderness. Sleeping national hopes revived, the awe of the coming judgment seized all classes. It was so long since a fiery soul had scattered flaming words, and religious teachers had for so many centuries been mumbling the old well-worn formulas, and splitting hairs, that it was an apocalypse to hear once more the accent of conviction from a man who really believed every word he said, and himself thrilled with the solemn truths which he thundered. Wherever a religious teacher shows that he has John's qualities, as our Lord in His eulogium analysed them--namely, unalterable resolution, like an iron pillar, and not like a reed shaken with the wind, conspicuous superiority to considerations of ease and comfort, a direct vision of the unseen, and a message from God, the crowds will go out to see him; and even if the enthusiasm be shallow and transient, some spasm of conviction will pass across many a conscience, and some will be pointed by him to the King.

II. The second portion of this section is a more detailed account of John's preaching, which Matthew gives as addressed to the Pharisees and Sadducees. We are not to suppose that at any time John had a congregation exclusively made up of such; nor that these words were addressed to them only. What is emphasised is the fact that among the crowds were many of both these parties, the religious aristocrats who represented two tendencies of mind bitterly antagonistic, and each unlikely to be drawn to the prophet. Self-righteous pedants who had turned religion into a jumble of petty precepts, and very superior persons who keenly appreciated the good things of this world, and were too enlightened to have much belief in anything, and too comfortable to be enthusiasts, were not hopeful material. If they were drawn into the current, it must have run strong indeed. These representatives of the highest and coldest classes of the nation had the very same red-hot words flung at them as the mob had. Luke tells us that the first words in this summary were spoken to the people. Both representations are true. All fared alike. So they should, and so they always will, if a real prophet has to talk to them. John's salutation is excessively rough and rude. Honeyed words were not in his line; he had not lived in the desert for all these years, and held converse with God and his own heart, without having learned that his business was to smite on conscience with a strong hand, and to tear away the masks which hid men from themselves. The whole spirit of the old prophets was revived in his brusque, almost fierce, address to such very learned, religious, and distinguished personages. Isaiah in his day had called their predecessors rulers of Sodom'; John was not scolding when he called his hearers ye offspring of vipers' but charging them with moral corruption and creeping earthliness.

The summary of his preaching is like a succession of lightning flashes. We can but note in a word or two each flash as it flames and strikes. The remarkable thing about his teaching is that, in his hands, the great hope of Israel became a message of terror, the proclamation of the impending kingdom passed into a denunciation of the wrath to come,' set forth with a tremendous wealth of imagery as the axe lying at the root of the trees, the fan winnowing the wheat from the chaff, the destroying fire. That wrath was inseparable from the coming of the King; for His righteous reign necessarily meant punishment of unrighteousness. So all the older prophets had said, and John was but carrying on their testimony. So Christ has said. No more terrible warnings of the certain judgment of evil which is involved in His merciful work, have ever been given, than fell from the lips into which grace was poured. We need to-day a clearer discernment of the truth which flamed before John's eyes, that the full proclamation of the kingdom of heaven must include the plain teaching of the wrath to come.'

Next comes the urgent demand for reformation of life as the sign of real repentance. John's exhortation does not touch the deepest ground for repentance which is laid in the heart-softening love of God manifested in the sacrifice of His Son, but is based wholly on the certainty of judgment. So far, it is incomplete; but the demand for righteous living as the only test of religious emotion is fully Christian, and needed in this generation as much as it ever was. All preachers and others concerned in revivals' may well learn a lesson, and while they follow John in seeking to arouse torpid consciences by the terrors which are a part of the gospel, should not forget to demand, not merely an emotional repentance, but the solid fruits which alone guarantee the worth of the emotion.

The next flash strikes the lofty structure of confidence in their descent. John knows that every man in that listening crowd believes that his birth secured him joy and dominion when Messiah came. So he wrenches away this shield against which his sharpest arrows were blunted. What a murmur of angry denial must have met his contemptuous, audacious denial of their trusted privilege! The pebbles on the Jordan beach, or the loose rocks scattered so plentifully over the desert, could be made as good sons of Abraham as they. A glimpse of the transference of the kingdom to the despised Gentiles passed across his vision. And in these far-reaching words lay the anticipation, not only of the destruction of all Jewish exclusiveness, but of the miracles of quickening to be wrought on the stony hearts of those beyond its pale.

Once more with a new emblem the immediate beginning of the judgment is proclaimed, and its principles and issues are declared. The sharp axe lies at the roots of the tree, ready to be lifted and buried in its bark. The woodman's eye is looking over the forest; he marks with the fatal red line the worthless trees, and at once the swinging blows come down, and the timber is carted away to be burned. The trees are men. The judgment is an individualising one, and all-embracing. Nothing but actual righteousness of life will endure. All else will be destroyed.

The coming of the kingdom implied the coming of the King. John knew that the King was a man, and that He was at the door. So his sermon reaches its climax in the ringing proclamation of His advent. The first noticeable feature in it is the utter humility of the dauntless prophet before the yet veiled Sovereign. All the fiery force, the righteous scorn and anger, the unflinching bravery, melt into meek submission. He knows the limits of his own power, and gladly recognises the infinite superiority of the coming One. He never moved from that lowly attitude. Even when his followers tried to stir up base jealousy in him at being distanced by the Christ, who, as they suggested, owed His first recognition to him, all that his immovable self-abnegation cared to answer was, He must increase, but I must decrease.' He was glad to fade in the light of the Sun that he loved.' What a wealth of suppressed emotion and lowly love there is in the words so pathetic from the lips of the lonely ascetic, whom no home joys had ever cheered: He that hath the bride is the bridegroom… . My joy is fulfilled'!

Note, too, the grand conception of the gifts of the King. John knew that his baptism was, like the water in which he immersed, cold, and incapable of giving life. It symbolised, but did not effect, cleansing, any more than his preaching righteousness could produce righteousness. But the King would come, bringing with Him the gift of a mighty Spirit, whose quick energy, transforming dead matter into its own likeness, burning out the foul stains from character, and melting cold hearts into radiant warmth, should do all that his poor, cold, outward baptism only shadowed. Form and substance of this great promise gather up many Old Testament utterances. From of old, fire had been the emblem of the divine nature, not only, nor chiefly, as destructive, but rather as life-giving, cleansing, gladdening, fructifying, transforming. From of old, the promise of a divine Spirit poured out on all flesh had been connected with the kingdom of Messiah; and John but reiterates the uniform voice of prophecy, even as he anticipates the crowning gift of the gospel, in this saying.

Note, further, the renewed prophecy of judgment. There is something very solemn in the stern refrain at the end of each of three consecutive verses,--with fire.' The first and the third refer to the destructive fire; the second, to the cleansing Spirit. But the fire that destroys is not unconnected with that which purifies. And the very same divine flame, if welcomed and yielded to, works purity, and if repelled and scorned, consumes. The rustic simplicity of the figures of the husbandman with his winnowing-shovel, the threshing-floor exposed to every wind, the stored wheat, the rootless, lifeless, worthless chaff, and the fierce fire in some corner of the autumn field where it is utterly burned up--needs no comment. They add nothing but another vivid picture to the thoughts already dealt with. But the question arises as to the whole of the representation of judgment here: Does it look beyond the present world? I see no reason for supposing that John was speaking about anything but the sifting and destroying which would attend the coming of the looked-for kingdom on earth. The principles which he laid down are, no doubt, true for both worlds; but the application of them which his prophetic mission embraced, lies on this side of the grave.

Note, further, the limitations in John's knowledge of the King. His prophecy unites, as contemporaneous, events which, in fact, are widely separate,--the coming of Christ, and the judgments which He executes, whether on Israel or in the final great day of the Lord.' There is no perspective in prophecy. The future is foreshortened, and great gulfs of centuries are passed over, as, standing on a plain, we see it as continuous, though it may really be cleft by deep ravines. He did not know what manner of time' the spirit which was in him did signify.' No doubt his expectations were correct, in so far as Christ's coming really sifted and separated, and was the rising and the falling of many; but it was not attended by such tokens as John inferred. Hence we can understand his doubts when in prison, and learn that a prophet was often mistaken as to the meaning of his message.

Again, while we have here a clear prediction of the Spirit as bestowed by Christ, we find no hint of His work as the sacrifice for sin, through whom the guilt which no repentance and no outward baptism could touch was taken away. The Gospel of John gives us later utterances of the Baptist's, by which we learn that he advanced beyond the point at which he stood here. Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,' was his message after Christ's baptism. It is the last, highest voice of prophecy. The proclamation of a kingdom of heaven, of a king mighty and righteous, whose coming kindled a fire of judgment, and a blessed fire of purifying, into one or other of which all men must be plunged, contained elements of terror, as well as of hope. It needed completion by that later word.

When John stretched out his forefinger, and with awe-struck voice bade his hearers look at Jesus coming to him, prophecy had done its work. The promise had been gradually concentrated on the nation, the tribe, the house, and now it falls on the person. The dove narrows its circling flight till it lights on His head. The goal has been reached, too, in the clear declaration of Messiah's work. He is King, Giver of the Spirit, Judge, but He is before all else the Sacrifice for the world's sins. Therefore he to whom it was given to utter that great saying was a prophet, and more than a prophet; and when he had spoken it, there was nothing more for him to do but to decrease. He was like the breeze before sunrise, which springs up, as crying The dawn! the dawn!' and dies away.


He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.'--MATT. iii. 11.

There is no more pathetic figure in Scripture than that of the forerunner of our Lord. Lonely and ascetic, charged to light against all the social order of which he was a part, seeing many of his disciples leave him for another master; then changing the free wilderness for a prison cell, and tortured by morbid doubts; finally murdered as the victim of a profligate woman's hate and a profligate man's perverse sense of honour: he had indeed to bear the burden of the Lord.' But perhaps most pathetic of all is the combination in his character of gaunt strength and absolute humility. How he confronts these people whom he had to rebuke, and yet how, in a moment, the flashing eye sinks in lowest self-abasement before Him that cometh after me'! How true, amidst many temptations, he was to his own description of himself: I am a voice'--nothing more. His sinewy arm was ever pointed to the Lamb of God.' It is given to very few to know so clearly their limits, and to still fewer--and these, men who keep very near God--to abide so contentedly within them, and to acquiesce so thankfully in the brightening glories of One whom self-importance and ambition would prompt to take for a rival and an enemy.

The words before us signalise at once John's lofty conception of the worth of his work, and his humble consciousness of its worthlessness as compared with Christ's. I indeed baptize you with water, but He with fire.' As is the difference between the two elements, so is the difference between His ministry and mine--the one effecting an outward cleansing, the other being an inward penetrating power, which shall search men through and through, and, burning, shall purge away dross and filth. The text comes in the midst of a triple representation of our Lord's work in its relation to his, each portion of which ends with the refrain, the fire.' But these three fires have not the same effects. The first and last destroy, the second cleanses. These are threatenings, but this is altogether a promise. There is a fire that consumes the barren tree and the light chaff that is whirled from the threshing-floor by the wind of His fan; but there is also a fire that, like the genial heat in some greenhouse, makes even the barren tree glow with blossom and loads its branches with precious fruit. His coming may kindle fire that will destroy, but its merciful purpose is to plunge us into that fiery baptism of the Holy Ghost, whereof the result is cleansing and life. Looking at the words before us, then, they lead us to think of that emblem of the Spirit of God, of Christ as bestowing it, and of its effects on us. I venture to offer a few considerations now on each of these points.

I. The Holy Spirit is fire.

It would scarcely be necessary to spend any time in illustrating that truth, but for the strange misapprehension of the words of our text which I believe to be not uncommon. People sometimes read them as if the first portion referred to those who trust in Christ, and who therefore receive the blessings of His sanctifying energy, whilst the latter words, on the other hand, were a threatening against unbelievers. Now, whatever may be the meaning of the emblem in the preceding and subsequent clauses, it can have but one meaning in our text itself--and that is, the purifying influence of the Spirit of God. Baptism with the Holy Ghost is not one thing and baptism with fire another, but the former is the reality of which the latter is the symbol.

It may be worth while to dwell briefly on the force of the emblem, which is often misunderstood. Fire, then, all over the world has been taken to represent the divine energy. Even in heathendom, side by side with the worship of light was the worship of fire. Even that cruel Moloch-worship, with all its abominations rested upon the notion that the swift power and ruddy blaze of fire were symbols of glorious attributes. Though the thought was darkened and marred, wrongly apprehended and ferociously worked out in ritual, it was a true thought for all that. And Scripture has from the beginning used it. It would carry us too far to enumerate the instances which might be adduced. But we may quote a few. When the covenant was made between God and Abraham, upon which all the subsequent revelation reposed, the divine presence was represented by a smoking furnace, and a lamp of fire that passed between the divided pieces of the sacrifice. When the great revelation of the divine Name was given to Moses, which prepared for the great deliverance from Egypt, the sign of it was a thorn-bush--one of the many dotted over the desert--burning and unconsumed. Surely the ordinary interpretation, which sees, in that undying flame, an emblem of Israel undestroyed in the furnace of bondage, is less natural than that which sees in it a sign having the same purpose and the same meaning as the deep words, I am that I am.' The Name, the revelation proper, is accompanied by the sign which expresses in figure the very same truth--the unwearied power, the undecaying life of the great self-existent God, who wills and does not change, who acts and does not faint, who gives and is none the poorer, who fills the universe and is Himself the same, who burns and is not consumed--the I am.' Further, we remember how to Israel the pledge and sacramental seal of God's guardianship and guidance was the pillar which, in the fervid light of the noonday sun, seemed to be but a column of wavering smoke, but which, when the darkness fell, glowed at the heart and blazed across the sleeping camp, a fiery guard. Who among us,' says the prophet, shall dwell with everlasting burnings?' The answer is a parallel to the description given in one of the Psalms in reply to the question, Lord, who shall abide in Thy tabernacle?' From which parallelism, as well as from the whole tone of the passage, the conclusion is unavoidable that to Isaiah everlasting burnings' was a symbolic designation of God. And, passing by all other references, we remember that our Lord Himself used the same emblem, as John does, with apparently the same meaning, when, yearning for the fulfilment of His work, He said,' I am come to send fire on earth--oh that it were already kindled!' The day of Pentecost teaches the same lesson by its fiery tongues; and the Seer in Patmos beheld, burning before the throne, the sevenfold lamps of fire which are the seven spirits of God.'

Thus, then, there is a continuous chain of symbolism according to which some aspect of the divine nature, and especially of the Spirit of God, is set forth for us by fire. The question, then, comes to be--what is that aspect? In answer, I would remind you that the attributes and offices of the Spirit of God are never in Scripture represented as being destructive, and are only punitive, in so far as the convictions of sin, which He works in the heart, may be regarded as being punishments. The fire of God's Spirit, at all events, is not a wrathful energy, working pain and death, but a merciful omnipotence, bringing light and joy and peace. The Spirit which is fire is a Spirit which giveth life. So the symbol, in the special reference in the text, has nothing of terror or destruction but is full of hope and bright with promise.

Even in its more general application to the divine nature, the same thing is to a large extent true. The common impression is the reverse of this. The interpretation which most readers unconsciously supply to the passages of Scripture where God is spoken of as flaming fire, is that God's terrible wrath is revealed in them. I am very far from denying that the punitive and destructive side of the divine character is in the symbol, but certainly that is not its exclusive meaning, nor does it seem to me to be its principal one. The emblem is employed over and over again, in connections where it must mean chiefly the blessed and joyous aspect of God's Name to men. It is unquestionably part of the felicity of the symbol that there should be in it this double force--for so is it the fitter to show forth Him who, by the very same attributes, is the life of those who love Him and the death of those who turn from Him. But, still, though it is true that the bright and the awful aspects of that Name are in themselves one, and that their difference arises from the difference of the eyes which behold them, yet we are justified, I think, in saying that this emblem of fire regards mainly the former of these and not the latter. The principal ideas in it seem to be swift energy and penetrating power, which cleanses and transforms. It is fire as the source of light and heat; it is fire, not so much as burning up what it seizes into ashes, but rather as laying hold upon cold dead matter, making it sparkle and blaze, and turning it into the likeness of its own leaping brightness; it is fire as springing heavenwards, and bearing up earthly particles in its shooting spires; it is fire, as least gross of visible things;--in a word, it is fire as life, and not as death, that is the symbol of God. It speaks of the might of His transforming power, the melting, cleansing, vitalising influence of His communicated grace, the warmth of His conquering love. It has, indeed, an under side of possible judgment, punishment, and destruction, but it has a face of blessing, of life-giving, of sanctifying power. And therefore the Baptist spake glad tidings when he said, He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.'

II. Christ plunges us into this divine fire.

I presume that scarcely any one will deny that our version weakens the force of John's words by translating with water, with the Holy Ghost,' instead of in water, in the Holy Ghost.' One of the most accurate of recent commentators, 1 for instance, in his remarks on this verse, says that the preposition here is to be understood in accordance with the idea of baptism that is immersion, not as expressing the instrument with which, but as meaning "in," and expressing the element in which the immersion takes place.' I suppose that very few persons would hesitate to agree with that statement. If it is correct, what a grand idea is conveyed by that metaphor of the completeness of the contact with the Spirit of God into which we are brought! How it represents all our being as flooded with that transforming power! But, apart from the intensity communicated to the promise by such a figure, there is another important matter brought distinctly before us by the words, and that is Christ's personal agency in effecting this saturating of man's coldness with the fire from God. This testimony of John's is in full accord with Christ's claims for Himself, and with the whole tenor of Scripture on the subject. He is the Lord of the Spirit. He is come to scatter that fire on the earth. He brings the ruddy gift from heaven to mortals, carrying it in the bruised reed of His humanity; and, in pursuance of His merciful design, He is bound and suffers for our sakes, but, loosed at last from the bands by which it was not possible that He should be holden, and being by the right hand of God exalted, He hath shed forth this.' His mighty work opens the way for the life-giving power of the Spirit to dwell as an habitual principle, and not as a mere occasional gift, among men, sanctifying their characters from the foundation, and not merely, as of old, bestowing special powers for special functions. He claims to send us the Comforter. We know but little of such high themes, but we can clearly see that, while there may be many other reasons for the full bestowment of the Spirit of God having to be preceded by the gift of Christ, one reason must be that the measure of individual and subjective inspiration varies according to the amount of objective revelation. The truth revealed is the condition and the instrument of the Spirit's working. The sharper that sword of the Spirit is, the mightier will be His power. Hence, only when the revelation of God is complete by the message of His Son, His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, was the full, permanent gift of the Spirit possible, not to make new revelations, but to unfold all that lay in the Word spoken once for all, in whom the whole Name of God is contained.

However that may be, the main thing for us, dear friends, is this--that Christ gives the Spirit. In and by Jesus, you and I are brought into real contact with this cleansing fire. Without His work, it would never have burned on earth; without our faith in His work it will never purify our souls. The Spirit of God is not a synonym for the moral influence which the principles of Christianity exert on men who believe them; but these principles, the truths revealed in Jesus Christ, are the means by which the Spirit works its noblest work. Our acceptance of these truths, then, our faith in Him whom these truths reveal, is absolutely essential to our possession of that cleansing power. The promise is of that Spirit which they that believe on Him should receive.' If we have no faith in Jesus, then, however we may fancy that the gift of God can be ours by other means, the stern answer comes to our fond delusions and mistaken efforts, Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter.' Oh! you who are seeking for spiritual elevation, for intellectual enlightenment, for the fire of a noble enthusiasm, for the consecration of pure hearts, anywhere but in Christ your Lord, will you not listen to the majestic and yet lowly voice, which blends in its tones grave and loving rebuke, gentle pity, wonder and sorrow at our blindness, earnest entreaty, and divine authority--If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that speaketh to thee, thou wouldst have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water'?

Here are we cold, foul, dark, dead: there is that fire of God able to cleanse, to enlighten, to give life. How is true contact to be effected between our great need and His all-sufficient energy? One voice brings the answer for every Christian soul, I will send the Comforter.' Brethren, let us cleave to Him, and in humble faith ask Him to plunge us into that fiery stream which, for all its fire, is yet a river of water of life proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. He shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost and in fire.'

III. That fiery baptism quickens and cleanses.

In John's mind, the difference between the two baptisms, his and the Christ's, expresses accurately the difference between the two ministries and their effects. As has been truly and beautifully said, he is conscious of something cold and negative' in his own teaching, of which the water of his baptism is a fit representation. His message is divine and true, but it is hard: Repent, do what you ought, wait for the Kingdom and its King.' And, when his command has been obeyed, his disciples come up out of Jordan, at the best but superficially cleansed, and needing that the process begun in them should be perfected by mightier powers than any which his message wields. They need more than that outward washing--they need an inward cleansing; they need more than the preaching of repentance and morality--they need a gift of life; they need a new power poured into their souls, the fiery steam of which, as it rolls along, like a lava current through mountain forests, shall seize and burn every growth of evil in their natures. They need not water, but Spirit; not water, but Fire. They need what shall be life to their truest life, and death to all the death within, that separates them from the life of God.

So the two main effects expressed here are these: quickening and cleansing.

Fire gives warmth. We talk about ardent desires, warm hearts, the glow of love, the fire of enthusiasm, and even the flame of life. We draw the contrast with cold natures, which are loveless and unemotional, hard to stir and quicken; we talk about thawing reserve, about an icy torpor, and so on. The same general strain of allusion is undoubtedly to be traced in our text. Whatever more it means, it surely means this, that Christ comes to kindle in men's souls a blaze of enthusiastic, divine love, such as the world never saw, and to set them aflame with fervent earnestness, which shall melt all their icy hardness of heart, and turn cold self-regard into self-forgetting consecration.

Here, then, our text touches upon one of the very profoundest characteristics of Christianity considered as a power in human life. The contrast between it and all other religions and systems of ethics lies, amongst other things, in the stress which it lays upon love and on the earnestness which comes from love; whereas these are scarcely regarded as elements in virtue according to the world, and have certainly no place at all in the world's notion of temperate religion.' Christ gives fervour by giving His Spirit. Christ gives fervour by bringing the warmth of His own love to bear upon our hearts through the Spirit, and that kindles ours. Where His great work for men is believed and trusted in, there, and there only, is there excited an intensity of consequent affection to Him which glows throughout the life. It is not enough to say that Christianity is singular among religious and moral systems in exalting fervour into a virtue. Its peculiarity lies deeper--in its method of producing that fervour. It is kindled by that Spirit using as His means the truth of the dying love of Christ. The secret of the Gospel is not solved by saying that Christ excites love in our souls. The question yet remains--how? There is but one answer to that. He loved us to the death. That truth laid on hearts by the Spirit, who takes of Christ's and shows them to us, and that truth alone, makes fire burst from their coldness.

Here is the power that produces that inner fervour without which virtue is a name and religion a yoke. Here is the contrast, not only to John's baptism, but to all worldly religion, to all formalism and decent deadness of external propriety. Here is the consecration of enthusiasm--not a lurid, sullen heat of ignorant fanaticism, but a living glow of an enkindled nature, which flames because kindled by the inextinguishable blaze of His love who gave Himself for us. He shall baptize you in fire.'

Then, dear brethren, if we profess to have come into personal contact with Jesus Christ, here is a sharp test for us, and a solemn rebuke to much of our lives. For a Christian to be cold is sin. Our coldness can only come from our neglecting to stir up the gift that is in us. People reproach us with extravagant emotion: let us confess that we have never deserved that reproach half as much as we ought. The world's ideal of religion is decorous coldness--has not the world's ideal been our practice? We are afraid to be fervent, but our true danger is icy torpor. We sit frost-bitten and almost dead among the snows, and all the while the gracious sunshine is pouring down, that is able to melt the white death that covers us, and to free us from the bonds that hold us prisoned in their benumbing clasp.

No evil is more marked among the Christian Churches of this day than precisely the absence of this spirit of burning.' There is plenty of liberality and effort, there is much interest in religious questions, there is genial tolerance and wide culture, there is a high standard of morality, and, on the whole, a tolerable adherence to it--but there is little love, and little fervour. I have somewhat against thee, that thou hast left thy first love.'

Where is that Spirit which was poured out on Pentecost? Where are the cloven tongues of fire, where the flame which Christ died to light up? Has it burned down to grey ashes, or, like some house-fire, lit and left untended, has it gone out after a little ineffectual crackling among the lighter pieces of wood and paper, without ever reaching the solid mass of obstinate coal? Where? The question is not difficult to answer. His promise remains faithful. He does send the Spirit, who is fire. But our sin, our negligence, our eager absorption with worldly cares, and our withdrawal of mind and heart from the patient contemplation of His truth, have gone far to quench the Spirit. Is it not so? Are our souls on fire with the love of God, aglow with the ardour caught from Christ's love? Does that love which fills our hearts coruscate and flame in our lives, making us lights in the darkness, as some firebrand caught up from the hearth will serve for a torch and blaze out into the night? He shall baptize with fire.'

O Thou that earnest from above, The pure celestial fire to impart, Kindle a flame of sacred love On the mean altar of my heart.'

Then there is another thought expressed by this symbol, namely, that this baptism gives cleansing as well as warmth, or rather gives cleansing by warmth. Fire purifies. That Spirit, which is fire, produces holiness in heart and character, by this most chiefly among all His manifold operations, that He excites the flame of love to God, which burns our souls clear with its white fervours. This is the Christian method of making men good,--first, know His love, then believe it, then love Him back again, and then let that genial heat permeate all your life, and it will woo forth everywhere blossoms of beauty and fruits of holiness, that shall clothe the pastures of the wilderness with gladness. Did you ever see a blast-furnace? How long would it take a man, think you, with hammer and chisel, or by chemical means, to get the bits of ore out from the stony matrix? But fling them into the great cylinder, and pile the fire and let the strong draught roar through the burning mass, and by evening you can run off a golden stream of pure and fluid metal, from which all the dross and rubbish is parted, which has been charmed out of all its sullen hardness, and will take the shape of any mould into which you like to run it. The fire has conquered, has melted, has purified. So with us. Love shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost given unto us,' love that answers to Christ's, love that is fixed upon Him who is pure and separate from sinners, will purify us and sever us from our sins. Nothing else will. All other cleansing is superficial, like the water of John's baptism. Moralities and the externals of religion will wash away the foulness which lies on the surface, but stains that have sunk deep into the very substance of the soul, and have dyed every thread in warp and woof to its centre, are not to be got rid of so. The awful words which our great dramatist puts into the mouth of the queenly murderess are heavy with the weight of most solemn truth. After all vain attempts to cleanse away the stains, we, like her, have to say, There's the smell of the blood still--will these hands ne'er be clean?' No, never; unless there be something mightier, more inward in its power, than the water with which we can wash them, some better gospel than Repent and reform.' God be thanked, there is a mightier detergent than all these--even that divine Spirit which Christ gives, and that divine forgiveness which Christ brings. There, and there alone, dear brethren, we can lose all the guilt of our faultful past, and receive a new and better life which will mould our future into growing likeness to His great purity. Oh do not resist that merciful searching fire, which is ready to penetrate our very bones and marrow, and burn up the seeds of death which lurk in the inmost intents of the heart! Let Him plunge you into that gracious baptism, as we put some poor piece of foul clay into the fire, and like it, as you glow you will whiten, and all the spots will melt away before the conquering tongues of the cleansing flame. In that furnace, heated seven times hotter than any earthly power could achieve, they who walk live by the presence of the Son of Man, and nothing is consumed but the bonds that held them. His Spirit is fire, and that Spirit of fire is, therefore, the Spirit of holiness.

But take one warning word in conclusion. The alternative for every man is to be baptized in the fire or to be consumed by it. The symbol of which we have been speaking sets forth the double thought of purifying and destruction. Nothing which we have said as to the former in the least weakens the completing truth that there is in it an under side of possible terror. One of the felicities of the emblem is its capacity to set forth this twofold idea. There is that in the divine nature which the Bible calls wrath, the necessary displeasure and aversion of holy love from sin and wrong-doers. There is in the divine procedure even now and here, the manifestation of that aversion in punishment. The light of Israel becomes a flaming fire.'

I have no panorama of hell to exhibit, and I would speak with all reticence on matters so awful; but this much, at any rate, is clear, that the very same revelation of God, thankfully accepted and submitted to, is the medium of cleansing and the source of joyful life, and, rejected, becomes the source of sorrow and the occasion of death. Every man sees that aspect of God's face which he has made himself fit to see. Every gift of God is to men either a savour of life unto life, or a savour of death unto death. Most chiefly is this so in regard to Christ and His gospel, who, though He came not to judge but to save, yet by reason of that very universal purpose of salvation, becomes a judge in the act of saving, and a condemnation to those in whom, by their own faults, that purpose is not fulfilled.

The same pillar of fire which gladdened the ranks of Israel as they camped by the Red Sea, shone baleful and terrible to the Egyptian hosts. The same Ark of the Covenant whose presence blessed the house of Obed-edom, and hallowed Zion, and saved Jerusalem, smote the Philistines, and struck down their bestial gods. Christ and His gospel even here hurt the men whom they do not save.

And we have only to carry that process onwards into another world, and suppose it made more energetic there, as it will be, to feel dimly in how awful a sense it may be that the same fire which gives life may be the occasion of death--and how profound a truth lies in the words--

What maketh Heaven, that maketh Hell.'

Yes, verily; to be salted with fire or to be consumed by it, to be baptized in it or to be cast into it, is the choice offered to us all; to thee, my brother, and to me. Israel made its choice, and in seventy years, the Roman standards on Zion and the flames leaping round the Temple, interpreted John's words in one of their halves, while the growing energy of the fire that was lit on Pentecost fulfilled them in the other. Many a nation and Church has made its choice since then. You have to make yours. The fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is.' Shall our work be gold, and silver, and precious stones which shall gleam and flash in the light, or wood, hay, and stubble which shall writhe for a moment in the blaze and perish? Our God is a consuming fire.' Shall that be the ground of my confidence that I shall one day be pure from all my sins, or shall it be the parent of my ghastliest fear that I may be, like the chaff, destroyed by contact with a holy love rejected, with a Saviour disbelieved, with a Spirit grieved and quenched? Choose which.


Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. 14. But John forbad Him, saying, I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me? 15. And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered Him. 16. And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him: 17. And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'--MATT. iii. 13-17.

When Jesus set out from Galilee to seek baptism from John, He took the first step on His path of public work; and it is noteworthy that He took it, apparently, from self-originated impulse, and not, as in the case of the prophets of old, from obedience to a prophetic call.' The Word of the Lord came to' them; His Messianic consciousness needed no external stimulus to kindle it into flame. What did He mean by seeking baptism? John recognised the incongruity of His submitting to a rite which professed repentance and promised cleansing. It does not follow that John recognised His Messianic character, but only that he knew His blameless life. The remonstrance witnesses at once to John's humble consciousness of sin and to Jesus' acknowledged purity. Christ's answer has a sound of authority, even in its gentle lowliness, and it confirms the belief in His sinlessness by the absence of any reference to repentance, and by regarding His baptism, not as a token of repented transgression to be washed away, but as an act which completed the perfect circle of righteousness, which His life had hitherto drawn. He submitted to the appointed rite, because He would be one with His brethren in all obedience. So, then, the principle underlying His baptism is the principle underlying His incarnation, His life of obedience and identification of Himself with us, and His death. He also Himself likewise took part of' whatsoever His brethren were partakers of, and therefore He was numbered with the transgressors' in that, needing no repentance, He submitted to the baptism of repentance, and cleansed the cleansing water by being plunged in it.

What was the significance of the descent of the Spirit on Him? Matthew's account implies that the appearance of the descending dove was to Jesus. John i. 32 states that it was also visible to John. The accompanying voice is as if principally directed to John, according to Matthew, while Mark and Luke represent it as addressed to Jesus. Both appearance and voice were the tokens of the Father's approval, and acceptance of the Son's consecration of Himself to the Messianic work. The dove descending on Him was the token that henceforward His manhood should be anointed with the unbroken influences of the divine Spirit, and possess the unbroken consciousness of the Father's good pleasure, lying like sunshine on the stormy sea on which He had launched. How different the conception of the Spirit as a dove, which was Jesus' experience of it, from the Baptist's, which was that of fire! Jesus is in this incident, as in all, our pattern and example, teaching us that we too must yield ourselves to do the Father's will, and must identify ourselves with sinners, if we are to help them and to have the Father's approval sounding in our hearts, and the dove of God nestling there, and teaching us, too, that gentleness is the divinest and strongest power to win men from evil and for God.


He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him.'--MATT. iii. 16.

This Gospel of Matthew is emphatically the gospel of the Kingdom. It sets forth Jesus as the long-promised Messiah, the Son of David. And this conception of Him and of His work, whilst it runs through the whole of the Gospel, is more obviously influential in shaping the selection of incidents and colouring the cast of the language, in the early portion. Hence the genealogy with which the Gospel begins dwells with emphasis on His royal descent from David. Hence the story of the wise men of the East is given, who came to do their homage to the new-born King of the Jews, whose innocent poverty and infancy are set in contrast with the court and character of the cruel Herod who had for an hour usurped the title. Hence, also, the mission of John the Baptist is all summed up in his proclamation: The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.' He is the herald that runs before the chariot of the advancing Monarch, and shouts to a slumbering nation, The King! the King!'

Preserving the same reference to the royal dignity of Jesus, we may look at His baptism as being His public assumption of His Messianic office, and at this descent of the Holy Spirit as the anointing or coronation of the King. As His meek head rose, glistening from the waters of the baptism, there fluttered down upon Him the gentle token of the manifest designation from the Heavens, which solemnly declared Him to be the Son of God, anointed Messias, King of Israel and of the world.

So in looking at this incident, I take simply two points of view, and consider its bearing on Jesus, and on us.

I. As to the former, we have here the Coronation of the King.

We need not spend time upon the question which we have no materials for answering, viz.--What was the objective material reality' here? We do not know enough about what constitutes objective material reality,' nor about what are the laws of prophetic ecstasy and vision, to discuss such a question as that. Nor is there any need to moot it. It does not matter one rush whether bystanders would have seen anything or not. It does not matter in the least whether there was any actual excitation of auditory or visual nerves. It does not matter whether there was anything which people are contented to call material--a word which covers a depth of ignorance. Enough for us that this was no fancy, born in a man's brain, but an actual manifestation, whether through sense or apart from sense, to consciousness, of a divine outpouring and communication. Enough for us that the voice which spoke was God's, and that that which descended was the Spirit of God. As to all other questions, they may be amusing and interesting, but they are insoluble, and therefore unimportant.

Well, then, taking that point of view, the next question that arises is as to the purpose of this descent of the Spirit. Plainly, as I have said, it was the coronation and anointing of the Monarch. But a man is king before he is crowned. Coronation is the consequence and not the cause of his royalty. It is but the official and solemn announcement of a previous fact. No additional power, no fresh authority, comes of the crowning. And so the first purpose of this great fact is distinctly stated, in John's Gospel, as having been the solemn, divine pointing out of Messiah to the Baptist primarily, but in order that he might bear witness of Him to others. The words which follow are a commentary on, and part of the explanation of, the descent of the Holy Spirit. They are God's finger, pointing to Jesus and saying, Arise, anoint Him, for this is He.'

But it must be remembered always that this was neither the beginning of that divine Spirit's operation upon Jesus, nor the beginning of His Messianic nature and consciousness; nor the beginning of His Sonship. That day was not in deepest truth the day' on which the Son was begotten.' Before the baptism there was the consciousness of Messiahship witnessed in these words, so singularly compacted of humility and authority: Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness'; and before His baptism, and even before His birth, that divine Spirit wrought His manhood, and ere the heavens opened, or the dove fluttered down upon His head, He from everlasting was the Son in the bosom of the Father.

So we see here, I think, if we follow the lead of the Scriptural teaching, not the beginning of powers or communications, but an advance in these. Christ's baptism was an epoch in His human development, inasmuch as it was the public official assumption of His Messianic office. He came from out of the sheltering obscurity of the Galilean village nestling among its hills. He had now put His foot upon the path, set with knives and hot ploughshares, along which He had to walk to the Cross. Inasmuch as it was an epoch in His development (for His manhood was capable of growth and maturing), and inasmuch as new tasks needed increase of gifts, and inasmuch as His man's nature was subject to the conditions of time, and capable of expansion and increase of capacity, therefore, I believe that when Christ rose from the waters of baptism, no new gift indeed was His, but such an advance in the communication to His manhood of the sustaining Spirit, as fully equipped Him for the new calls of His Messianic work.

His manhood needed, as ours does, the continual communication of the divine Spirit, and His manhood, because it was sinless, was capable of a complete reception of that Spirit. Sinless though He knew Himself to be, as His own words declare, He yet bowed His head to the baptism of repentance, which He needed not for Himself, just as He afterwards bowed His head to a darker, a sadder baptism, which He had to be baptized with, though it likewise He needed not for Himself, because in both the one and the other He would make Himself one with His brethren. The Spirit of God had shaped His manhood ere His birth. The Spirit of God had been abiding in His holy infancy and growing youth, but now it came in larger measure for new needs and His Messiah's work.

So, dear friends, we see in Christ, baptized with the Spirit of God, the realised ideal of manhood, ever dependent, ever needing for its purity that holy influence, and receiving at every pore that divine gift. What a contrast to our limited partial reception, broken and interrupted so often! All the doors that are barred in our hearts by sin, all the windows that are darkened in our souls by vice and self, in Him stood open to the day, and brilliantly receptive of the illumination. And so the Father giveth not the Spirit by measure unto Him.'

Notice, too, the meaning of the symbol. Think of what John, with his incomplete though not inaccurate conceptions, expected in the Messiah whom he proclaimed. To him the coming of the King was first and chiefly a coming to judgment. There is nothing more remarkable than the aspect of terror which drapes the old hope of Israel as it comes from John's lips. He believes that the King is coming, that His coming is to be an awful thing. Judgment is to go before Him, He bears His fan in His hand,' and kindles unquenchable fire,' into which the leafy trees that have no fruit upon them are to be flung, there to shrivel and crackle and disappear. This is what he expects at the worst, and at the best a baptism in the Holy Ghost, from Messiah's hands, which, however, is likewise to be fiery even whilst it quickens, and searching and destructive even whilst it gladdens. When, then, his carpenter cousin is designated as Messiah, John sees two wonders: that this is the Christ, and that the Spirit which he had thought of as searching and consuming, should come fluttering down upon His head in the likeness of a dove. Old Testament symbols and natural poetry unite in giving felicity to that emblem. The Spirit of God brooded on the face of the deep,' says Genesis; and the word employed describes accurately the action of the mother-bird, with her soft breast and outstretched wings quickening the life that lies beneath. The dove was pure and allowed for sacrifice. All nations have made it the symbol of meekness, gentleness, faithfulness. All these associations determined the form which the descending Benediction took.

What then does it proclaim as to the character of the King? Purity is the very foundation of His royalty. Meekness and gentleness are the very weapons of His conquest and the sceptre of His rule. The dove will outfly all Rome's eagles and all rapacious, unclean feeders, with their strong wings, and curved talons, and sharp beaks. The lesson as to the true nature of the true Kingdom, which was taught of old when the prophet said Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, riding on an ass,' and not upon the warhorse of secular force; the lesson which was taught unwittingly, as to the true nature of the true Kingdom, when the scoffers, speaking a deeper truth than they understood, put upon His brow the crown of thorns, and forced into His hand the sceptre of reed, was taught here--the lesson that meekness conquers, and that His kingdom is founded in suffering, and wielded in gentleness. The lesson of the ancient psalm, which in rapture of prophetic vision beheld the coming of the Bridegroom, and said with strange blending of images of war and of peace: Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the King's enemies; in Thy majesty ride prosperously, because of meekness; and Thy right hand shall teach Thee terrible things';--that same lesson was taught when the King was crowned, and in the day of His coronation, that which fell upon His bowed, glistening head, was the Dove from Heaven, the proclamation that meekness and gentleness are the garment of Omnipotence.

II. Consider this incident as showing us the gifts of the King to His subjects.

Christ has nothing which He keeps to Himself. Christ received the Spirit that He might diffuse it through the whole world. Whatsoever He has received of the Father He gives unto us. This conception of the gift that Christ has to bestow upon men, as being the very life-spirit that dwelt in His manhood, and made and kept it pure, is the highest thought that we can have of what the gospel does for us. You do not understand its meaning if you content yourself with thinking of it as simply the means of escape from wrath. You do not understand its meaning--though, blessed be God! that is the first part of its mercy to us--if you think of Christ's gift as only pardon by means of His sacrifice on the Cross. We must rise higher than that; we must feel, if we would understand the unspeakable gift,' that it is the gift of Himself to dwell within us by His Spirit as the very spirit of our lives. Assimilation by reception of a supernatural life from Him, is the teaching of Pentecost. Christ is our life; the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made us free from the law of sin and death.'

Therefore, all Christian men are spoken of in the New Testament in the same language which is used in reference to their Master. Is He the Son of God? They are sons through Him. Is He the High Priest? They are priests unto God. Is He the Light of the World? They are, in their places, kindled and derived lights. Is He the Christ, the Messias, the Anointed? Ye have an unction from the Holy One,' and He hath anointed us in Him. So that it is no arrogance, though it may be a questionably wise form of expression, when we say that the object of Christ's coming is to make us all Christs, God's anointed, and to make us so because He Himself in His Spirit dwells in us.

Christ can do that. He can give this Spirit. That is the very thing that all other teachers cannot do. They can teach tricks of imitation, they can galvanise men, for a little while, into some kind of copy of their characteristics. They can give them the principles which they themselves have been living on, but to repeat and to continue the spirit of the Teacher is the very thing that cannot be done. Let a double portion fall upon me,' said Elisha; and Elijah, knowing the limits of the human relationship between master and disciple, could only shake his head in doubt and say, Thou askest a hard thing; perhaps thou wilt get it, perhaps thou wilt not, but it will not be I that will give it you.' But Christ says: I give My Spirit to you all.'

And let us remember, too, how full of blessed teaching, of rebuke, and of instruction that symbol is, in reference to ourselves. To all of us there is offered, if we like to have it, this dove-like Spirit. What does that mean? Let us for a moment dwell upon the various uses of the emblem, for they all carry important lessons. Our hearts are like that wild chaos which preceded the present ordered state of things. And over the seething darkness, full of all formless horrors and half-discerned dead monstrosities, over all the chaos of disordered wills, rebellious appetites, stinging conscience, darkened perceptions, there will come, if we will (and we may will by His help, which is never far away from us), gently, but quickening us into life and reducing confusion into order, and flooding our cloudy night with light, that divine Spirit. The dove that brooded over Chaos and made it Cosmos, will brood over your nature, and re-create the whole. If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation.' The old things are passed away.' Creator Spirit! create a clean heart in me.

And then again let me remind you that this emblem brings to us another cognate and yet distinct hope, inasmuch as the dove was the emblem of purity and clean for sacrifice. This is the characteristic of the scriptural doctrine of inspiration, by which it is distinguished from all heathen and secular conceptions of a similar sort, viz., that it puts the moral in the foreground, and that the Spirit, which is the Spirit of truth, and of wisdom and of power, is first and foremost the Spirit of holiness. So that if a man is not clean, no matter what his gifts, no matter what his wisdom, no matter what his intellectual force, no matter what his supernatural and miraculous power, he has not the Spirit of God in him. The Dove comes, and where it comes there is peace, there is purity, there is sacrifice. If any man have not the Spirit of holiness he is none of Christ's.

So, brethren, remember that not in shining faculty, not in piercing vision into mystery, not in the eloquence of honeyed tongue, nor the power of a swift hand, not in any of the lesser and subordinate gifts which the world exclusively honours as inspiration, is the power of the indwelling Spirit to be manifested. If the Spirit of God is in you, it is making you clean.

Still further, remember how, as for the King so for His subjects, the Dove that crowns Him and that dwells in them is the Spirit of meekness and of gentleness. That is the true force. Light, which is silent, is mightier than all lightnings. The Spirit, which is the Spirit of love,' is therefore the Spirit of power.' The true type of Christian character, which the gospel has brought into being, looks modest, inconspicuous and humdrum, by the side of the more brilliant and vulgar beauties of the world's ideals. Just as the iridescent hues on a dove's neck, and the quiet blue of its plumage, look modest and Quaker-like beside gaudy parroquets and other bedizened birds, so the Christian type of character, patient, meek, gentle, not self-asserting, seems pale and sober-tinted beside the world's heroes. But gentleness is the mightiest and will conquer at last. For Christ and Christ's followers go forth, through universal love to universal power.

And the last suggestion that I offer to you about the significance of this symbol is one that I freely admit to be fanciful, and yet it strikes me as being very beautiful. Noah's dove came back to the ark with one leaf in his beak. That was the prophecy and the foretaste of a whole world of beauty and of verdure. The dove that comes to us, bearing with it some leaf plucked from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God, is the earnest of our inheritance until the day of redemption. All the gifts of that divine Spirit, gifts of holiness, of gentleness, of wisdom, of truth--all these are forecasts and anticipations of the perfectness of the heavens. To us, sailing over a dismal sea, the Spirit comes bearing with it a message that tells us of the far-off land and the fair garden of God in which the blessed shall walk.

Dear friends, remember the one condition on which is suspended our possession of the Spirit of God. It is that we shall have Christ for our very own by our humble faith. If we are trusting in Him, He will come and put His Spirit within our hearts. Without Him these hearts are cages of unclean and hateful birds. But the meek presence of the dove of God will drive out the obscene, twilight-loving creatures that build and scream there, and will fill our hearts with the tranquillity, the purity, the gentleness, the hope, which are the fruit of the Spirit.'


Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. 2. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He was afterward an hungred. 3. And when the tempter came to Him, he said, If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. 4. But He answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. 5. Then the devil taketh Him up into the holy city, and setteth Him on a pinnacle of the temple, 6. And saith unto Him, If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down: for it is written, He shall give His angels charge concerning Thee: and in their hands they shall bear Thee up, lest at any time Thou dash Thy foot against a stone. 7. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. 8. Again, the devil taketh Him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; 9. And saith unto Him, All these things will I give Thee, if Thou wilt fall down and worship me. 10. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve. 11. Then the devil leaveth Him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto Him.'--MATT. iv. 1-11.

Every word of the first verses of this narrative is full of meaning. Then' marks the immediate connection, not only in time but in causation, between the baptism and the temptation. The latter followed necessarily on the former. Of the Spirit'--then God does lead His Son into temptation. For us all, as for Christ, it is true that, though God does not tempt as wishing us to fall, He does so order our lives that they carry us into places where the metal of our religion is tried. To be tempted'--then a pure, sinless human nature is capable of temptation, and the King has to begin his career by a battle. Of the devil'--then there is a dark kingdom of evil, and a personal head of it, the prince of darkness. He knows His rival, and yet He knows him but partially. He strides out to meet him in desperate duel, as Goliath did the stripling whom he despised; and both hosts pause and gaze. To a sinless nature no temptation can arise from within, but must be presented from without.

We leave untouched the question as to the manner of this temptation, which remains equally real, whether we conceive that the tempter appeared in bodily form, and actually carried the body of our Lord from place to place, or whether we suppose that, during it all, Christ sat silent, and apparently alone in the wilderness. We only divert attention from the true importance of the incident by giving prominence to picturesque or questionable externals of it.

I. The first assault and repulse, in the desert.

Unlike John the Baptist, whose austere spirit was unfolded in the desert, Jesus grew up among men, passing through and sanctifying childhood and youth, home duties, and innocent pleasures. But ere He enters on His work, the need which every soul appointed to high and hard tasks has felt, namely, the need for seclusion and communion with God in solitude, was felt by Him. As it had been for Moses and Elijah, the wilderness was His school; and as the collective Israel, so the personal Son of God, has to be led into the wilderness, that there God may speak to His heart.' So deep and rapt was the communion, that, for forty days, spirit so mastered flesh that the need and desire for food were suspended. But when He touched earth again, the pinch of hunger began. Analogous cases of the power of high emotion to hold physical wants in abeyance are sufficiently familiar to make so extreme an instance explicable.

We have to distinguish in the first temptation between the sphere in which it moves, the act suggested, and the true nature of the act as dragged to light in Christ's answer. The sphere is that of the physical nature. Hunger has nothing to do with right or wrong. It asserts itself independent of all considerations. In itself neutral, it may, like all physical cravings, lead to sin. Most men are most tempted by fleshly desires. Satan had tried the same bait before on the first Adam. It had answered so well then, that he thinks himself wise in bringing it out once more. Adam, in his garden, surrounded by all that sense needed, had yielded, and thereby had turned the garden into desert; Christ, in the desert, pressed by hunger, does not yield, and thereby turns the desert into a garden again. At the beginning of His course He is tempted by the innocent desire to secure physical support; at its close He is tempted by the innocent desire to avoid physical pain. He overcomes both, and by His victories in the wilderness so unlike the garden, and in Gethsemane, another garden, so unlike the first, He brings a statelier Eden back to man.'

The act suggested seems not only innocent, but in accordance with His dignity. It was a strange anomaly for the Son of God,' on whose head the dove had descended, and in whose ears the voice had sounded, to be at the point of starving. What more unbecoming than that one possessed of His mysterious closeness to God should be suffering from such ignoble necessities? What more foolish than to continue to hunger, when a word could spread a table in the wilderness? John had said that God could make children of Abraham out of these stones. Could He not make bread out of them? The suggestion sounds benevolent, sensible, almost religious. The need is real, the remedy possible and easy; the result desirable as preserving valuable life, and putting an end to an anomaly, and the objections apparently nil. The bait is skilfully wound over the barbed hook.

Christ's answer tears it away, and discloses the sharp points. He will not discuss with Satan whether He is Son of God or no. To the Jews He was wont to answer, I say unto you'; to Satan He answers, It is written.' He puts honour on the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,' and sets us an example of how to wield it. The words quoted are found in the account of Israel's miraculous sustenance in the desert by the manna, and are applied by Christ to Himself, not as Son of God, but as simple man. They contain the great truth that God can feed men, in their physical life, by bread or without bread. When He does it by bread or other ordinary means, it is even then not the material substance in itself, but His will operating through it, which feeds. He can abolish all the outward means, and still keep a man alive. There is no reference to the truth which is sometimes forcibly inserted into this saying, that man has a higher than bodily life, and needs more than material bread to feed the hunger of the soul. The whole scope of the words is to state the law of physical nourishment as dependent at last on the divine will, and therefore equally capable of being accomplished with or without bread, by ordinary means or apart from these.

The bearing of the words on Christ's hunger is twofold: First, He will not use His miraculous powers to provide food, for that would be to distrust God, and so to cast off His filial dependence; second, He will not separate Himself from His brethren, and provide for Himself by a way not open to them, for that would really be to reverse the very purpose of His incarnation and to defeat His whole work. He has come to bear all man's burdens, and shall He begin by separating Himself from them? Therefore He answers in words which declare the law for man,' and thereby merges all that was distinctive in His position in a loving participation in our lot. If the Captain of our Salvation had begun by refusing to share the privations of the rank and file, and had provided dainties for Himself, what would have become of His making common cause with them? The temptation addressed to Christ's physical nature was, to put it roughly, Look out for yourself.' His answer was, As Son of God, I hold by My filial dependence. As man, I share My brethren's lot, and am content to live as they live.'

II. The second assault and repulse, on the temple.

We need not touch on the questions as to whether our Lord's body was really transported to the temple, and, if so, to what part of it. But we may point out that there is nothing in the narrative to warrant the usual interpretation of this temptation, as being addressed to the desire of recognition, and as equivalent to the suggestion that our Lord should show Himself, by a stupendous miracle before the multitude, as the Messiah. There is nothing about spectators, and no sign that the dread solitude wrapping these two was broken by others. We must seek for the point of the second temptation in another direction.

The very locality chosen for it helps us to the right understanding of it. There were plenty of cliffs in the desert, down which a fall would have been fatal. Why not choose one of them? The temple was God's house, the fitting scene for an attempt to work disaster by the abuse of religious ideas. The former temptation underlies this. That had sought to move Jesus to cast off His filial confidence; this seeks to pervert that confidence, and through it to lead Him to cast off filial obedience. Therefore the Devil quotes Scripture for his purpose.' What could be more religious than an act of daring based upon faith, which again was based on a word which proceeded out of the mouth of God'? It is not in the suppression of certain words in the quotation that Satan's error lies. The omitted words are not material. What did he hope to accomplish by this suggestion? If Jesus was, in bodily reality, standing on the summit of the temple, the tempter, profoundly disbelieving the promise, may have thought that the leap would end his anxieties by the death of his rival. But, at any rate, he sought to lead His faith into wrong paths, and to incite to what was really sinful self-will under the guise of absolute trust.

Our Lord's answer, again drawn from Deuteronomy, strips off the disguise from the action which seemed so trustful. He changes the plural verb of the original passage into the singular, thus at once taking as His own personal obligation the general command, and pointing a sharp arrow at His foe, who was now knowingly or unknowingly so flagrantly breaking that law. If God had bidden Jesus cast Himself down, to do it would have been right. As He had not, to do it was not faith, but self-will. To cast Himself into dangers needlessly, and then to trust God (whom He had not consulted about going into them) to get Him out, was to tempt God.' True faith is ever accompanied with true docility. He had come to do His Father's will. A divine must' ruled His life. Was He to begin His career by throwing off His allegiance on pretext of trust? If the Captain of our Salvation commences the campaign by rebellion, how can He lead the rank and file to that surrender of their own wills which is victory?

The lessons for us from the second temptation are weighty. Faith may be perverted. It may even lead to abandoning filial submission. God's promised protection is available, not in paths of our own choosing, but only where He has sent us. If we take the leap without His command, we shall fall mangled on the very temple pavement. It is when we are in the way' which He has prescribed that the angels of God' whom He has promised meet' us. How many scandals in the falls of good men would have been avoided, and how many mad enterprises would have been unattempted, and how much more clearly would the relations of filial faith and filial obedience have been understood, if the teaching of this second temptation had been laid to heart!

III. The final assault and repulse, on the mountain.

Again the scene changes, because the stress of the temptation is different. The exceeding high mountain' is not to be looked for in our atlases. The manner in which all the glories of the world's kingdoms were flashed in one dazzling panorama, like an instantaneous photograph, before Christ's eyes, is beyond our knowledge. We note that Satan has no more to say about the Son of God.' He has been foiled in both his assaults on Christ in that character. If He stood firm in filial trust and in filial submission, there was no more to be done. So the tempter tries new weapons, and seeks to pervert the desire for that dominion over the world which was to be a consequence of the sonship. He has not been able to touch Him as Son; can he not spoil Him as King? They are rivals: can they not strike up a treaty? Jesus thinks that He is going to reign as God's viceroy; can He not be induced, as a much quicker way of getting to His end, to become Satan's? Such a scheme sounds very stupid; but Satan is very stupid, for all his wisdom, and the hopeless folly of his proposal is typical of the absurdities which lie in all sins. There is an old play, the title of which would be coarse if it were not so true, The Devil is an Ass.'

His boast, like all his wiles, is a little truth and a great lie. It is true that his servants do often manage to climb into thrones and other high places. It is true that beggars and worse than beggars on horseback, and princes and better than princes walking, is often the rule. It is true that the crowned saints of the world might be counted on the fingers. But, for all that, the Father of lies was like himself in this promise. He did not say that, if he gives a kingdom to one of his servants, he takes it from another. He did not say that his gifts are shams, and fade away when the daylight comes. He did not say that he and his are, after all, tools in God's hands.

What was it that he thought he was appealing to in Christ? Ambition? He knew that Jesus was destined to be King of the earth, and he blunders to the conclusion that His reign is to be such as he could help Him to. How impossible it is for Satan to penetrate the depths of that loving heart! How mole-blind evil is to the radiant light of goodness! How hate fails when it tries to fathom love! If all that Satan meant by the glory' of the world had been Christ's, He would have been no nearer His heart's desire.

The temptation was not only to fling away the ideal of His kingdom, but to reverse the means for its establishment. Neither temptation could originate within Christ's heart, but both beset Him all His life. The cravings of His followers, the expectations of His race, the certainty of an enthusiastic response if He would put Himself at their head, and the equal certainty of death if He would not, were always urging Him to the very same thing.

There is nothing weaker,' says an old school-man, than the Devil stripped naked.' The mask is thrown off at last, and swift and smiting comes the gesture and the word of abhorrence, Get thee hence, Satan,'--now revealed in thy true colours. Jesus still couches His refusal in Scripture words, as if sheltering Himself behind their broad shield. It is safest to meet temptation, not by our own reasonings and thoughts, but by the words which cannot lie. As He had held unmoved, by His filial trust and His filial submission, now He clings to the foundation principle of all religion,--the exclusive worship and service of God. His kingdom is to be a kingdom of priests; therefore to begin it by such an act would be suicide. It is to be the victorious antagonist of Satan's kingdom, because it is to lead all men to worship God alone; therefore enmity, not alliance, is to be between these two. Christ's last words are not only His final refusal of all the baits, but the ringing proclamation of war to the death, and that a war which will end in victory. The enemy's quiver is empty. He feels that he has met more than his match, so he skulks from the field, beaten for the first time by having encountered a heart which all his fiery darts failed to inflame, and dimly foreseeing yet more utter defeat.

The last temptation teaches us both the nature of Christ's kingdom and the means of its establishment. It is a rule over men's hearts and wills, swaying them to goodness and the exclusive worship and service of God. That being so, the way to found it follows of course. It can only be set up by suffering, utter self-sacrifice, gentleness, and goodness. Christ is King of all because He is servant of all. His cross is His throne. His realm is of hearts softened, cleansed, made gladly obedient, and growingly like Himself. For such a king, weapons of force are impossible, and for His subjects the same law holds. They have often tried to fight for Christ with the Devil's weapons, to make compliance with him for ends which they thought good, to keep terms with evil, or to adopt worldly policy, craft, or force. They have never succeeded, and, thank God! they never will.

That duel was fought for us. There we all conquered, if we will hold fast by Him who conquered then, and thereby taught our hands to war' and our fingers to fight.' The strong man is bound. The spoiling of his house follows of course, and is but a question of time.


Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, He departed into Galilee; 13. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim: 14. That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, 15. The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; 16. The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.'--MATT. iv. 12-16.

Though the narrative of the Temptation is immediately followed by the notice of Jesus' return to Galilee, there was a space between wide enough to hold all that John's Gospel tells of the gathering of the first disciples, the brief stay in Galilee, the Jerusalem ministry, and the journey through Samaria. John i. 43 refers to the same point of time as verses 12-16 of this chapter. It is rash to conclude Matthew's ignorance from his silence, and it is plain, from his own words, that he did not suppose that the return to Galilee followed the Temptation as closely in time as it does in his narrative. For he does link the Temptation to the Baptism immediately, by Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit' (verse 1), and so some interval of time must be allowed, during which Jesus left the wilderness, and went to some place where He could hear of John's imprisonment. A gap is necessary. Its extent is not indicated, nor are the reasons for silence as to its contents. But we may as reasonably conjecture that Matthew's eagerness to get to his main subject, the Galilean ministry, led him to regard the short visit to Jerusalem as an episode from which little came, as put his silence down to a very improbable ignorance. The same explanation may account for the slight mention made of His leaving Nazareth,' of which Luke has given the memorable story.

John was silenced, and that moved Jesus to go back to Galilee and take up His ministry there. His reason has been thought to have been the wish to avoid a similar fate, but He was safer from Herod in Jerusalem than in Capernaum, within reach of the tyrant's arm, stretched out from Tiberias close by, and the supposition is more probable, as well as more worthy, that a directly opposite motive impelled Him. The voice that had cried, After me cometh a greater than I,' was stifled in a dungeon. It was fitting that He, of whom John had spoken, should at once stand forth. There must be no interval between the ringing proclamation by the herald and the appearance of the king, lest men should say that one more hope had been dashed, and one more prophet proved a dreamer. And is there not a lesson for all times in the fact that when John is silenced, Jesus begins to speak? Is not the quenching of a light kindled to bear witness to the true Light, ever the occasion for that unkindled and unquenchable Light to burn the more brightly, though tear-dimmed eyes often fail to see it?

The choice of Capernaum as a residence suggested to Matthew Isaiah's prophecy, which he quotes freely, fusing into one sentence the geographical terms, in verse 15, which, in the Hebrew, are the close of one paragraph, and the prophecy in verse 16 which, in the Hebrew, begins another. The territory of Zabulon lay in what is now called Lower Galilee, stretching right across from the northern end of the Sea of Gennesaret to the coast of the Mediterranean, while that of Naphtali lay further north. The way of the sea' is here not the designation of another district, but a specification of those named in the preceding clauses, and may be rendered towards the sea,' while beyond Jordan' is the almost heathen territory on the east bank of the river, and Galilee of the Gentiles' is the general name for all three, the two tribal territories and the trans-Jordanic district. These are all smelted into one designation, the people which sat in darkness,' and thus the whole of verse 15 and the first clause of verse 16 make the nominative of the verb saw.' There is something very impressive in that long-drawn-out accumulation of geographical names, and in their being all massed in the one sad description of their inert darkness, and then equally massed as seeing the great light that springs up. The intense pathos of that description and its sad truth to experience should not be unnoticed. They sit in the dark--the attitude of listless languor and constrained inaction, too true an emblem of the paralysis which falls on all the highest activities of the spirit, if the light from God has been quenched. It is only wild beasts that are active in the night. The lower parts of man's nature may work energetically in that darkness, but all that makes his glory is torpid in it. Christ's light has been the great impulse to progress. Races without it sit and do not march. But that is not all, for the sad picture is sketched again with blacker shadows in the next clause, which substitutes for darkness' the still more tragic words, the region and shadow of death.' The realm of darkness is the region of death. That dread figure is the lord of it, and, grimly enough, its very intensity of blackness has power to throw a shadow even there where there is no light, and to deepen the gloom. The second clause advances on the first in another respect, for while the former spoke only of seeing' the light, the latter tells of the blessed suddenness with which it sprung up.' The one clause speaks of the human perception, the other of the divine revelation which precedes it and makes it possible.

But had Matthew any right to see in Jesus' Galilean ministry the fulfilment of a prophecy which, as spoken, was simply a promise that the northern parts of Israel which, by geographical position, had to bear the first and worst brunt of Assyrian invasion, should have deliverance from the oppressor? Yes; for Isaiah's vision of the light rising on Israel, crushed beneath foreign oppression, was based on a distinctly Messianic prediction. It was because Messiah should come that he expected Assyria to be flung off and Israel to be set free, and he was right in the expectation, for though the Messiah did not come visibly then, His coming was the guarantee, and in some sense the cause, of Israel's deliverance. Nor was Matthew less right in seeing in that earlier deliverance but a germinant accomplishment of the prophecy, which, by its very transiency, outwardness, and incompleteness, pointed onwards to a better spring of the Light, and a fuller deliverance from a murkier darkness and a more mortal death. The life was the light of men,' the teacher of all knowledge of God, the source of all light of true joy, the giver of all light of white purity, and He has risen on a world sitting in darkness that all men may walk in the light, and be children of the light.


From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. 18. And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. 19. And He saith unto them, Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men. 20. And they straightway left their nets, and followed Him. 21. And going on from thence, He saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets: and He called them. 22. And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed Him. 23. And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people. 24. And His fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto Him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had the palsy; and He healed them. 25. And there followed Him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judae and from beyond Jordan.'--MATT. iv. 17-25.

In these verses we have a summary of our Lord's early Galilean ministry. The events are so presented and combined as to give an impression as of a triumphal progress of the newly anointed monarch. He sweeps through the northern regions, everywhere exercising the twofold office of teaching and healing, and everywhere followed by eager crowds. This joyous burst of the new power, like some strong fountain leaping into the sunshine, and this rush of popular enthusiasm, are meant to heighten the impression of the subsequent hostility of the people. The King welcomed at first is crucified at last. It was roses, roses, all the way' in these early days, but they withered soon. There are three points in these verses: the King acting as His own herald; the King calling His first servants; and the King wielding His power and welcomed by His subjects.

I. In verse 17 we have a striking picture of the King as His own herald. The word rendered preach' of course means, literally, to proclaim as a herald does. It is remarkable that this earliest phase of our Lord's teaching is described in the same words as John's preaching. The stern voice was silenced. Instead of the free wilderness, John had now the gloomy walls of Machaeu^3 for the bound of his activity. But Jesus takes up his message, though with a difference. The severe imagery of the axe, the fan, the fire, is not repeated, as it would seem. Sterner words than John's could fall hot from the lips into which grace was poured; but the time for these was not yet come. It may seem singular that Christ should have spoken of the kingdom, and been silent concerning the King. But such silence was only of a piece with the reticence which marked His whole teaching, and was a sign of His wise adaptation of His words to the capacity of His hearers, as well as of His lowliness. He veiled His royalty by deigning to be His own herald; by substituting the proclamation of the abstract, the kingdom, for the concrete, the King; by seeming to careless hearers to be but the continuer of the forerunner's message; by the simple, remote region which He chose for His earliest work. The belief that the kingdom was at hand was equally necessary, and repentance equally indispensable as preparation for it, whoever the King might be. The same law of congruity between message and hearers, which He enjoined on His followers, when He bade them be careful where they flung their pearls, and which governed His own fullest final revelations to His truest friends, when He said, I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot carry them now,' moulded His first words to the excited but ignorant crowds.

II. The King's mandate summoning His servants. The call of the first four disciples is so told as to make prominent these points: the brotherhood of the two pairs; their occupation at the moment of their call; the brief, authoritative word of Christ; His investiture of them with new functions, which yet in some sense were the prolongation of the old; their unhesitating, instantaneous obedience and willing abandonment of their all. These points all help the impression of regal power, and do something to explain the nature of the kingdom and the heart of the King. Matthew does not seem to have known of the previous intercourse of the four with Jesus, as recorded In John 1. His narrative, taken alone, would lay stress on the strange influence wielded by Jesus over these busy fishermen. But that influence is no less remarkable, and becomes more explicable, on taking John's supplemental account into consideration. It tells us that one brother of each pair--namely Andrew, and probably John--had sought Jesus on the Baptist's testimony, and in that never-to-be-forgotten night had acquired the conviction that He was the King of Israel. It tells us, too, that Andrew first found his own brother, Simon; from which we may infer that the other one of the two next found his brother James, and that each brought his own brother to Jesus. The bond of discipleship was then riveted. But apparently, when Jesus went up to Jerusalem on that first journey recorded only in John's Gospel, the four went back to their fishing, and waited for His further call. It came in the manner which Matthew describes. The background, which John enables us to fill in, shows us that their following was no sudden blind impulse, but the deliberate surrender of men who knew well what they were doing, though they had not fathomed the whole truth as to His kingdom and their place in it. They knew, at any rate, that He was the Messiah and that they were called by a voice, which they ought to obey, to be His soldiers and partisans. They could not but know that the call meant danger, hardship, conflict. They rallied to the call, as soldiers might when the commander honours them by reading out their names, as picked for leaders of the storming-party.

Was this the same incident which St. Luke narrates as following the first miraculous draught of fishes? That is one of the difficulties in harmonising the synoptic narratives which will always divide opinions. On the whole, I incline to think it most natural to answer no.' The reasons would take us too far afield. But accepting that view, we may note through how many stages Jesus led this group of His disciples before they were fully recognised as apostles. First there was their attachment to Him as disciples, which in no degree interfered with their trade. Then came this call to more close attendance on Him, which, however, was probably still somewhat intermittent. Then followed the call recorded by Luke, which finally tore them from their homes; and, last of all, their appointment as apostles. At each stage they might have had opportunity to have returned.' Their vocation in the kingdom dawns on them slowly. They and we are led on, by little and little and little, to posts and tasks of which we do not dream at the beginning. Duty opens before the docile heart bit by bit. Abram is led to Harran, and only there learns his ultimate destination. Obedience is rewarded by the summons to more complete surrender, which is also fuller possession of Him for whom the surrender is made.

The word of a king is with power.' Christ's call is authoritative in its brevity. All duty lies in Come ye after Me.' He does not need to use arguments. From the very first this meek and lowly man assumes a tone which on other lips we call arrogant. His style is royal. His mouth is autocratic. He knows that He has the right to command. And, strangely enough, the world admits the right, and finds nothing unworthy of His meekness--a meekness of which He was fully conscious, which is another paradox--in this unconditional claim of absolute submission to his curt orders. What is the explanation of this tone of authority? How comes it that the kingdom which is liberty is, from its very foundation, an absolute despotism? That same peremptory summons reaches beyond these four fishermen to us all. They were the first to hear it, and continued to hold pre-eminence among the disciples, for they make up the first group of the three quaternions into which the list of the apostles is always divided. But the very same voice speaks to us, and we are as truly summoned by the King to be His servants and soldiers as were they.

Their prompt self-surrendering response is the witness of the power over their hearts which Jesus had won. The one pair of brothers left their nets floating in the water; the other left their father with the mesh and the twine in his old hands. It was not much wealth to leave. But he surrenders much who surrenders all, however little that all may be; and he surrenders nothing who keeps back anything. One sweet portion of their earthly happiness He left them to enjoy, heightened by discipleship, for each had his brother by his side, and natural affection was ennobled by common faith and service. If Zebedee was left, John still had James. True, Herod's sword cut their union asunder, and James died first, and John last, of the twelve; but years of happy brotherhood were to come before then. So both the surrender which outwardly gives up possessions or friends, and that which keeps them, sanctified by being held and used as for and from Him, were exemplified in the swift obedience of these four to the call of the King.

I will make you fishers of men.' That shows a kindly wish to make as little as may be of the change of occupation. Their old craft is to be theirs still, only in nobler form. The patience, the brave facing of the storm and the night, the observance of the indications which taught where to cast, the perseverance which toiled all night though not a fin glistened in the net, would all find place in their new career. Nor are these words less royal than was the call. They contain profound hints as to the nature of the kingdom which could scarcely be apprehended at first. But this at least would be clear, that Jesus summoned them to service, to gather in men out of the dreary waves of worldly care and toil into a kingdom of stable rest, and that by summoning them to service He endowed them with power. So He does still. All whom He summons to follow Him are meant by Him to be fishers of men. It was not as apostles, but as simple disciples, that these four received this charge and ability. The same command and fitness are given to all Christians. Following Christ, surrender, the obligation of effort to win others, capacity to do so, belong to all the subjects of Christ's kingdom.

III. The triumphal progress of the King. Our evangelist evidently masses together without regard to chronological order the broad features of the early Galilean ministry. He paints it as a time of joyful activity, of universal recognition, of swift and far-spreading fame. We do not exaggerate the impression of victorious publicity which they give, when we call these closing verses the record of the King's triumphal progress through His dominions. Observe the reiterated use of all,'--all Galilee, all manner of sickness and all manner of disease, all Syria, all that were sick. Matthew labours to convey the feeling of universal stir and wide-reaching, full-throated' welcome. Observe, too, that the activity of Christ is confined to Galilee, but the fame of Him crosses the border into heathendom. The King stays on His own territory, but He conquers beyond the frontier. Syria and the mostly heathen Decapolis, and Perae! (beyond Jordan'), are moved. The odour of the ointment not only fills the house, but enriches the scentless outside air. The prophecy contained in the coming of the Magi is beginning to be fulfilled. From its first preaching, the kingdom is diffusive. Note, too, the contrast between John's ministry and Christ's, in that the former stayed in one spot, and the crowds had to go out to him, while the very genius of Christ's mission expressed itself in that this shepherd king sought the sad and sick, and went about in all Galilee.' Observe, too, that He teaches and preaches the good news of the kingdom, before He heals. John's proclamation of the kingdom had been so charged with threatenings and mingled with fire that it could scarcely be called a gospel'; but here that joyous word, used for the first time, is in place. As the tidings came from Christ's lips, they were good tidings, and to proclaim them was His first task. The miracles of healing came second. They were not the bell before the sermon,' but the benediction after it. They flowed from Christ in rich abundance. The eager receptiveness of the people, ignorant as it was, was greater then than ever afterwards. Therefore the flow of miraculous power was more unimpeded. But it may be questioned whether we generally have an adequate notion of the immense number of Christ's miracles. Those recorded are but a small proportion of those done. There were more grapes in the vineyards of Eshcol than the messengers brought in evidence to the camp. Our Lord's miracles are told by units; they seem to have been wrought by scores. These early ones were not only attestations of His claim to be the King, but illustrations of the nature of His kingdom He had conquered and bound the strong man, and now He was spoiling his house.' They were parables of His higher work on men's souls, which He comes to cleanse from the oppression of demons, from the foamings of epilepsy, from impotence as to doing right. They were tokens of the inexhaustible fountain of power, and of the swift and equally inexhaustible treasures of sympathy, which dwelt in Him. They were His first trophies in His holy war, His first gifts to His subjects.

Thus compassed with enthusiasm, and shedding on the wearied new hopes, and on the sick unwonted health, and stirring in sluggish souls some aspirations that greatened and inspired, the King appeared. But no illusions deceived His calm prescience. From the beginning He knew the path which stretched before Him; and while the transient loyalty of the ignorant shouted hosannas around His steps, He saw the cross at the end, and the sight did not make Him falter.


And seeing the multitudes, He went up into a mountain: and when He was set, His disciples came unto Him: 2. And He opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, 3. Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. 5. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. 6. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. 7. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. 8. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. 9. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God, 10. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake. 12. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. 13. Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. 14. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. 15. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. 16. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.'--MATT. v. 1-16.

An unnamed mountain somewhere on the Sea of Galilee is the Sinai of the new covenant. The contrast between the savage desolation of the wilderness and the smiling beauty of the sunny slope near the haunts of men symbolises the contrast in the genius of the two codes, given from each. There God came down in majesty, and the cloud hid Him from the people's gaze; here Jesus sits amidst His followers, God with us. The King proclaims the fundamental laws of His kingdom, and reveals much of its nature by the fact that He begins by describing the characteristics of its subjects, as well as by the fact that the description is cast in the form of beatitudes.

We must leave unsettled the question as to the relation between the Sermon on the Mount and the shorter edition of part of it given by Luke, only pointing out that in this first part of Matthew's Gospel we are evidently presented with general summaries; as, for example, the summary of the Galilean ministry in the previous verses, and the grand procession of miracles which follows in chapters viii. and ix. It is therefore no violent supposition that here too the evangelist has brought together, as specimens of our Lord's preaching, words which were not all spoken at the same time. His description of the Galilean ministry in ch. iv. 23, as teaching' and healing,' governs the arrangement of his materials from chapter v. to the end of chapter ix. First comes the sermon, then the miracles follow.

The Beatitudes, as a whole, are a set of paradoxes to the mind of the flesh.' They were meant to tear away the foolish illusions of the multitude as to the nature of the kingdom; and they must have disgusted and turned back many would-be sharers in it. They are like a dash of cold water on the fiery, impure enthusiasms which were eager for a kingdom of gross delights and vulgar conquest. And, no doubt, Jesus intended them to act like Gideon's test, and to sift out those whose appetite for carnal good was uppermost. But they were tests simply because they embodied everlasting truths as to the characters of His subjects. Our narrow space allows of only the most superficial treatment of these deep words.

I. The foundation of all is laid in poverty of spirit. The word rendered poor' does not only signify one in a condition of want, but rather one who is aware of the condition, and seeks relief. If we may refer to Latin words here, it is mendicus rather than pauper, a beggar rather than a poor man, who is meant. So that to be poor in spirit is to be in inmost reality conscious of need, of emptiness, of dependence on God, of demerit; the true estimate of self, as blind, evil, weak, is intended; the characteristic tone of feeling pointed to is self-abnegation, like that of the publican smiting his breast, or that of the disease-weakened, hunger-tortured prodigal, or that of the once self-righteous Paul, O wretched man that I am!' People who do not like evangelical teaching sometimes say, Give me the Sermon on the Mount.' So say I. Only let us take all of it; and if we do, we shall come, as we shall have frequent occasion to point out, in subsequent passages, to something uncommonly like the evangelical theology to which it is sometimes set up as antithetic. For Christ begins His portraiture of a citizen of the kingdom with the consciousness of want and sin. All the rest of the morality of the Sermon is founded on this. It is the root of all that is heavenly and divine in character. So this teaching is dead against the modern pagan doctrine of self-reliance, and really embodies the very principle for the supposed omission of which some folk like this Sermon; namely, that our proud self-confidence must be broken down before God can do any good with us, or we can enter His kingdom.

The promises attached to the Beatitudes are in each case the results which flow from the quality, rather than the rewards arbitrarily given for it. So here, the possession of the kingdom comes by consequence from poverty of spirit. Of course, such a kingdom as could be so inherited was the opposite of that which the narrow and fleshly nationalism of the Jews wanted, and these first words must have cooled many incipient disciples. The kingdom of heaven' is the rule of God through Christ. It is present wherever wills bow to Him; it is future, as to complete realisation, in the heaven from which it comes, and to which, like its King, it belongs even while on earth. Obviously, its subjects can only be those who feel their dependence, and in poverty of spirit have cast off self-will and self-reliance. Theirs is the kingdom' does not mean they shall rule,' but of them shall be its subjects.' True, they shall rule in the perfected form of it; but the first, and in a real sense the only, blessedness is to obey God; and that blessedness can only come when we have learned poverty of spirit, because we see ourselves as in need of all things.

II. Each Beatitude springs from the preceding, and all twined together make an ornament of grace upon the neck, a chain of jewels. The second sounds a more violent paradox than even the first. Sorrowing is blessed. This, of course, cannot mean mere sorrow as such. That may or may not be a blessing. Grief makes men worse quite as often as it makes them better. Its waves often flow over us like the sea over marshes, leaving them as salt and barren as it found them. Nor is sorrow always sure of comfort. We must necessarily understand the word here so as to bring it into harmony with the context, and link it with the former Beatitude as flowing from it, as well as with the succeeding. The only intelligible explanation is that this sorrow arises from the contemplation of the same facts concerning self as lead to poverty of spirit, and is, in fact, the emotional side of the same disposition. He who takes the true measure of himself cannot but sorrow over the frightful gulf between what he should and might be and what he is, for he knows that there is more than misfortune or unavoidable creatural weakness at work. The grim reality of sin has to be reckoned in. Personal responsibility and guilt are facts. The soul that has once seen its own past as it is, and looked steadily down into the depths of its own being, cannot choose but mourn.' Such contrition underlies all moral progress. The ethical teaching of the Sermon on the Mount puts these two, poverty of spirit and tears for sin, at the foundation. Do its admirers lay that fact to heart? This is Christ's account of discipleship. We have to creep through a narrow gate, which we shall not pass but on our knees and leaving all our treasures outside. But once through, we are in a great temple with far-reaching aisles and lofty roof. Such sorrow is sure of comfort. Other sorrow is not. The comfort it needs is the assurance of forgiveness and cleansing, and that assurance has never been sought from the King in vain. The comfort is filtered to us in drops here; it pours in a flood hereafter. Blessed the sorrow which leads to experience of the tender touch of the hand that wipes away tears from the face, and plucks evil from the heart! Blessed the mourning, which prepares for the festal garland and the oil of gladness and the robe of praise, instead of ashes on the head and sackcloth on the spirit!

III. Meekness here seems to be considered principally as exercised to men, and it thus constitutes the first of the social virtues, which henceforward alternate with those having exclusive reference to God. It is the grace which opposes patient gentleness to hatred, injury, or antagonism. The prominence given to it in Christ's teaching is one of the peculiarities of Christian morals, and is a standing condemnation of much so-called Christianity. Pride and anger and self-assertion and retaliation flaunt in fine names, and are called manly virtues. Meekness is smiled at, or trampled on, and the men who exercise it are called Quakers' and poor-spirited' and chicken-hearted' and the like. Social life among us is in flagrant contradiction of this Beatitude; and as for national life, all Christian nations' agree that to apply Christ's precept to it would be absurd and suicidal. He said that the meek should inherit the earth; statesmen say that the only way to keep a country is to be armed to the teeth, and let no man insult its flag with impunity. There does not seem much room for a spirited foreign policy' or for proper regard to one's own dignity' inside this Beatitude, does there? But notice that this meekness naturally follows the preceding dispositions. He who knows himself and has learned the depth of his own evil will not be swift to blaze up at slights or wrongs. The true meekness is not mere natural disposition, but the direct outcome of poverty of spirit and the consequent sorrow. So, it is a test of their reality. Many a man will indulge in confessions of sin, and crackle up in sputtering heat of indignation at some slight or offence. If he does, his lowly words have had little meaning, and the benediction of these promises will come scantily to his heart.

Does Christ mean merely to say that meek men will acquire landed properly? Is there not a present inheritance of the earth by them, though they may not own a foot of it? They have the world who enjoy it, whom it helps nearer God, who see Him in it, to whom it is the field for service and the means for growing character. But in the future the kingdom of heaven will be a kingdom of the earth, and the meek saints shall reign with the King who is meek and lowly of heart.

IV. Righteousness is conformity to the will of God, or moral perfection. Hunger and thirst are energetic metaphors for passionate desire, and imply that righteousness is the true nourishment of the Spirit. Every longing of a noble spirit is blessed. Aspiration after the unreached is the salt of all lofty life. It is better to be conscious of want than to be content. There are hungers which are all unblessed, greedy appetites for the swine's husks, which are misery when unsatisfied, and disgust when satiated. But we are meant to be righteous, and shall not in vain desire to be so. God never sends mouths but He sends meat to fill them. Such longings prophesy their fruition.

Notice that this hunger follows the experience of the former Beatitudes. It is the issue of poverty of spirit and of that blessed sorrow. Observe, too, that the desire after, and not the possession or achievement of, righteousness is blessed. Is not this the first hint of the Christian teaching that we do not work out or win but receive it? God gives it. Our attitude towards that gift should be earnest longing. Such a blessed hungerer shall receive … righteousness from the God of his salvation.' The certainty that he will do so rests at last on the faithfulness of God, who cannot but respond to all desires which He inspires. They are premonitions of His purposes, like rosy clouds that run before the chariot of the sunrise. The desire to be righteous is already righteousness in heart and will, and reveals the true bent of the soul. Its realisation in life is a question of time. The progressive fulfilment here points to completeness in heaven, when we shall behold His face in righteousness, and be satisfied when we awake in His likeness.

V. Again we have a grace which is exercised to men. Mercy is more than meekness. That implied opposition, and was largely negative. This does not regard the conduct of others at all, and is really love in exercise to the needy, especially the unworthy. It embraces pity, charitable forbearance, beneficence, and is revealed in acts, in words, in tears. It is blessed in itself. A life of selfishness is hell; a life of mercy is sweet with some savour of heaven. It is the consequence of mercy received from God. Poverty of spirit, sorrow, hunger after righteousness bring deep experiences of God's gentle forbearance and bestowing love, and will make us like Him in proportion as they are real. Our mercifulness, then, is a reflection from His. His ought to be the measure and pattern of ours in depth, scope, extent of self-sacrifice, and freeness of its gifts. A stringent requirement!

Our exercise of mercy is the condition of our receiving it. On the whole, the world gives us back, as a mirror does, the reflection of our own faces; and merciful men generally get what they give. But that is a law with many exceptions, and Jesus means more than that. Merciful men get mercy from God--not, of course, that we deserve mercy by being merciful. That is a contradiction in terms; for mercy is precisely that which we do not deserve. The place of mercy in this series shows that Jesus regarded it as the consequence, not the cause, of our experience of God's mercy. But He teaches over and over again that a hard, unmerciful heart forfeits the divine mercy. It does so, because such a disposition tends to obscure the very state of mind to which alone God's mercy can be given. Such a man must have forgotten his poverty and sorrow, his longings and their rich reward, and so must have, for the time, passed from the place where he can take in God's gift. A life inconsistent with Christian motives will rob a Christian of Christian privileges. The hand on his brother's throat destroys the servant's own forgiveness. He cannot be at once a rapacious creditor and a discharged bankrupt.

VI. If detached from its connection, there is little blessedness in the next Beatitude. What is the use of telling us how happy purity of heart will make us? It only provokes the despairing question, And how am I to be pure?' But when we set this word in its place here, it does bring hope. For it teaches that purity is the result of all that has gone before, and comes from that purifying which is the sure answer of God to our poverty, mourning, and longing. Such purity is plainly progressive, and as it increases, so does the vision of God grow. The more the glasses of the telescope are cleansed, the brighter does the great star shine to the gazer. No man hath seen God,' nor can see Him, either amid the mists of earth or in the cloudless sky of heaven, if by seeing we mean perceiving by sense, or full, direct comprehension by spirit. But seeing Him is possible even now, if by it we understand the knowledge of His character, the assurance of His presence, the sense of communion with Him. Our earthly consciousness of God may become so clear, direct, real, and certain, that it deserves the name of vision. Such blessed intuition of Him is the prerogative of those whose hearts Christ has cleansed, and whose inward eye is therefore able to behold God, because it is like Him. Unless the eye were sunlike, how could it see the sun?' We can blind ourselves to Him, by wallowing in filth. Impurity unfits for seeing purity. Swedenborg profoundly said that the wicked see only blackness where the sun is.

Like all these Beatitudes, this has a double fulfilment, as the kingdom has two stages of here and hereafter. Purity of heart is the condition of the vision of God in heaven. Without holiness, no man shall see the Lord.' The sight makes us pure, and purity makes us see. Thus heaven will be a state of ever-increasing, reciprocally acting sight and holiness. Like Him because we see Him, we shall see Him more because we have assimilated what we see, as the sunshine opens the petals, and tints the flower with its own colours the more deeply, the wider it opens.

VII. Once more we have the alternation of a grace exercised to men. If we give due weight to the order of these Beatitudes, we shall feel that Christ's peacemaker must be something more than a mere composer of men's quarrels. For he has to be trained by all the preceding experiences, and has to be emptied of self, penitent, hungering for and filled with righteousness, and therefore pure in heart as well as, in regard to men, meek and merciful, ere he can hope to fill this part. That apprenticeship deepens the conception of the peace which Christ's subjects are to diffuse. It is, first and chiefly, the peace which enters the soul that has traversed all these stages; that is to say, the Christian peacemaker is first to seek to bring about peace between men and God, by beseeching them to be reconciled to Him, and then afterwards, as a consequence of this, is to seek to diffuse through all human relations the blessed unity and amity which flow most surely from the common possession of the peace of God. Of course, the relation which the subjects of the true King bear to all wars and fightings, to all discord and strife, is not excluded, but is grounded on this deeper meaning. The centuries that have passed since the words were spoken, have not yet brought up the Christian conscience to the full perception of their meaning and obligation. Too many of us still believe that great doors and effectual' can be blown open with gunpowder, and regard this Beatitude as a counsel of perfection, rather than as one of the fundamental laws of the kingdom.

The Christian who moves thus among men seeking to diffuse everywhere the peace with God which fills his own soul, and the peace with all men which they only who have the higher peace can preserve unbroken in their quiet, meek hearts, will be more or less recognised as God-like by men, and will have in his own heart the witness that he is called by God His child. He will bear visibly the image of his Father, and will hear the voice that speaks to him too as unto a son.

VIII. The last Beatitude crowns all the paradoxes of the series with what sounds to flesh as a stark contradiction. The persecuted are blessed. The previous seven sayings have perfected the portraiture of what a child of the kingdom is to be. This appends a calm prophecy, which must have shattered many a rosy dream among the listeners, of what his reception by the world will certainly turn out. Jesus is not summoning men to dominion, honour, and victory; but to scorn and suffering. His own crown, He knew, was first to be twisted of thorns, and copies of it were to wound His followers' brows. Yet even that fate was blessed; for to suffer for righteousness, which is to suffer for Him, brings elevation of spirit, a solemn joy, secret supplies of strength, and sweet intimacies of communion else unknown. The noble army of martyrs rose before His thoughts as He spoke; and now, eighteen hundred years after, heaven is crowded with those who by axe and stake and gibbet have entered there. The glory dies not, and the grief is past.' They stoop from their thrones to witness to us that Christ is true, and that the light affliction has wrought an eternal weight of glory.


Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.'--MATT. v. 2.

Ye are not come unto the mount that burned with fire, nor unto the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of "awful" words.' With such accompaniments the old law was promulgated, but here, in this Sermon on the Mount, as it is called, the laws of the Kingdom are proclaimed by the King Himself; and He does not lay them down with the sternness of those written on tables of stone. No rigid thou shalt' compels, no iron thou shalt not' forbids; but each precept is linked with a blessing, and every characteristic that is required is enforced by the thought that it contributes to our highest good. It fitted well Christ's character and the lips into which grace is poured,' that He spake His laws under the guise of these Beatitudes.

This, the first of them, is dead in the teeth of flesh and sense, a paradox to the men who judge good and evil by things external and visible, but deeply, everlastingly, unconditionally, and inwardly true. All that the world commends and pats on the back, Christ condemns, and all that the world shrinks from and dreads, Christ bids us make our own, and assures us that in it we shall find our true blessing. The poor in spirit,' they are the happy men.

The reason for the benediction is as foreign to law and earthly thoughts as is the benediction of which it is the reason--for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.' Poverty of spirit will not further earthly designs, nor be an instrument for what the world calls success and prosperity. But it will give us something better than earth, it will give us heaven. Do you think that that is better than earth, and should you be disposed to acquiesce in the benediction of those who may lose the world's gifts but are sure to have heaven's felicities?

Now, I think I shall best deal with these words by considering, most simply, the fundamental characteristic of a disciple of Jesus Christ, and the blessed issues of that character.

I. First, then, the fundamental characteristic of Christ's disciples.

Now it is to be noticed that Luke's version of the Sermon on the Mount, which is much briefer than Matthew's, omits the words in spirit,' and so seems at first sight to be an encomium and benediction upon the outward condition of earthly poverty. Matthew, on the other hand, says poor in spirit.' And the difference between the two evangelists has given occasion to some to maintain that one or the other of them misunderstood Christ's meaning, and modified His expression either by omission or enlargement. But if you will notice another difference between the two forms of the saying in the two Gospels, you will, I think, find an explanation of the one already referred to; for Matthew's Beatitudes are general statements, Blessed are'; and Luke's are addressed to the circle of the disciples, Blessed are ye.' And if we duly consider that difference, we shall see that the general statement necessarily required the explanation which Matthew's version appends to it, in order to prevent the misunderstanding that our Lord was setting so much store by earthly conditions as to suppose that virtue and blessedness were uniformly attached to any of these. Jesus Christ was no vulgar demagogue flattering the poor and inveighing against the rich. Luke's ye poor' shows at once that Christ was not speaking about all the poor in outward condition, but about a certain class of such. No doubt the bulk of His disciples were poor men who had been drawn or driven by their sense of need to open their hearts to Him. Outward poverty is a blessing if it drives men to God; it is not a blessing if, as is often the case, it drives men from Him; or if, as is still oftener the case, it leaves men negligent of Him. So that Matthew's enlargement is identical in meaning with Luke's condensed form, regard being had to the difference in the structure of the two Beatitudes.

And so we come just to this question--What is this poverty of spirit? I do not need to waste your time in saying what it is not. To me it seems to be a lowly and just estimate of ourselves, our character, our achievements, based upon a clear recognition of our own necessities, weaknesses, and sins.

The poor in spirit.'--I wonder if it would be very reasonable for a moth that flits about the light, or a gnat that dances its hour in the sunbeam, to be proud because it had longer wings, or prettier markings on them, than some of its fellows? Is it much more reasonable for us to plume ourselves on, and set much store by, anything that we are or have done? Two or three plain questions, to which the answers are quite as plain, ought to rip up this swollen bladder of self-esteem which we are all apt to blow. What hast thou that thou hast not received?' Where did you get it? How came you by it? How long is it going to last? Is it such a very big thing after all? You have written a book; you are clever as an operator, an experimenter; you are a successful student. You have made a pile of money; you have been prosperous in your earthly career, and can afford to look upon men that are failures and beneath you in social position with a smile of pity or of contempt, as the case may be. Well! I suppose the distance to the nearest fixed star is pretty much the same from the top of one ant-hill in a wood as from the top of the next one, though the one may be a foot higher than the other. I suppose that we have all come out of nothing, and are anything, simply because God is everything. If He were to withhold His upholding and inbreathing power from any of us for one moment, we should shrivel into nothingness like a piece of paper calcined in the fire, and go back into that vacuity out of which His fiat, and His fiat alone, called us. And yet here we are, setting great store, some of us, by our qualities or belongings, and thinking ever so much of ourselves because we possess them, and all the while we are but great emptinesses; and the things of which we are so proud are what God has poured into us.

You think that is all commonplace. Bring it into your lives, brethren; apply it to your estimate of yourselves, and your expectations from other people, and you will be delivered from a large part of the annoyances and the miseries of your present.

But the deepest reason for a habitual and fixed lowly opinion of ourselves lies in a sadder fact. We are not only recipient nothingnesses; we have something that is our own, and that is our will, and we have lifted it up against God. And if a man's position as a dependent creature should take all lofty looks and high spirit out of him, his condition as a sinful man before God should lay him flat on his face in the presence of that Majesty; and should make him put his hand on his lips and say, from behind the covering, Unclean! unclean!' Oh, brethren, if we would only go down into the depths of our own hearts, every one of us would find there more than enough to make all self-complacency and self-conceit utterly impossible, as it ought to be, for us for ever. I have no wish, and God knows I have no need, to exaggerate about this matter; but we all know that if we were turned inside out, and every foul, creeping thing, and every blotch and spot upon these hearts of ours spread in the light, we could not face one another; we could scarcely face ourselves. If you or I were set, as they used to set criminals, up in a pillory with a board hanging round our necks, telling all the world what we were, and what we had done, there would be no need for rotten eggs to be flung at us; we should abhor ourselves. You know that is so. I know that it is so about myself, and heart answereth to heart as in a glass.' And are we the people to perk ourselves up amongst our fellows, and say, I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing'? Do we not know that we are poor and miserable and blind and naked? Oh, brethren, the proud old saying of the Greeks, Know thyself,' if it were followed out unflinchingly and honestly by the purest saint this side heaven, would result in this profound abnegation of all claims, in this poverty of spirit.

So little has the world been influenced by Christ's teaching that it uses poor-spirited creature' as a term of opprobrium and depreciation. It ought to be the very opposite; for only the man who has been down into the dungeons of his own character, and has cried unto God out of the depths, will be able to make the house of his soul a fabric which may be a temple of God, and with its shining apex may pierce the clouds and seem almost to touch the heavens. A great poet has told us that the things which lead life to sovereign power are self-knowledge, self-reverence, and self-control. And in a noble sense it is true, but the deepest self-knowledge will lead to self-abhorrence rather than to self-reverence; and self-control is only possible when, knowing our own inability to cope with our own evil, we cast ourselves on that Lamb of God who beareth away the sin of the world, and ask Him to guide and to keep us. The right attitude for us is, He did not so much as lift up his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.' And then, sweeter than angels' voices fluttering down amid the blue, there will come that gracious word, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.'

II. Turn, now, to the blessed issues of this characteristic.

Christ does not say joyful,' mirthful,' glad.' These are poor, vulgar words by the side of the depth and calmness and permanence which are involved in that great word blessed.' It is far more than joy, which may be turbulent and is often impure. It is far deeper than any gladness which has its sources in the outer world, and it abides when joys have vanished, and all the song-birds of the spring are silent in the winter of the soul. Blessed are the poor … for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.'

The bulk of the remaining Beatitudes point onward to a future; this deals with the present. It does not say shall be,' but is the Kingdom.' It is an all-comprehensive promise, holding the succeeding ones within itself, for they are but diverse aspects--modified according to the necessities which they supply--of that one encyclopaea of blessings, the possession of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Now the Kingdom of Heaven (or of God) is a state in which the will of God is absolutely and perfectly obeyed. It is capable of partial realisation here, and is sure of complete fulfilment hereafter. To the early hearers of these words the phrase would necessarily suggest the idea which bulked so large in prophecy and in Judaism, of the Messianic Kingdom; and we may well lay hold of that thought to suggest the first of the elements of this blessedness. That poverty of spirit is blessed because it is an indispensable condition of becoming Christ's men and subjects. I believe, dear friends, for my part, that the main reason why so many of us are not out-and-out Christian men and women, having entered really into that Kingdom which is obedience to God in Christ, is because we have a superficial knowledge, or no knowledge at all, of our own sinful condition, and of the gravity of that fact. Intellectually, I take it that an under-estimate of the universality and of the awfulness of sin has a great deal to do in shaping all the maimed, imperfect, partial views of Christ, His character and nature, which afflict the world. It is the mother of most of our heresies. And, practically, if you do not feel any burden, you do not care to hear about One who will carry it. If you have no sense of need, the message that there is a supply will fall perfectly ineffectual upon your ears. If you have not realised the truth that whatever else you may be, of which you might be proud--wise, clever, beautiful, accomplished, rich, prosperous--you have this to take all the self-conceit out of you, that you are a sinful man--if you have not realised that, it will be no gospel to you that Jesus Christ has died, the just for the unjust, and lives to cleanse us.

Brethren, there is only one way into the true and full possession of Christ's salvation, and that is through poverty of spirit. It is the narrow door, like the mere low slits in the wall which in ancient times were the access to some wealth-adorned palace or stately structure--narrow openings that a man had to stoop his lofty crest in order to enter. If you have never been down on your knees before God, feeling what a wicked man or woman you are, I doubt hugely whether you will ever stand with radiant face before God, and praise Him through eternity for His mercy to you. If you wish to have Christ for yours, you must begin, where He begins His Beatitudes, with poverty of spirit.

It is blessed because it invites the riches of God to come and make us wealthy. It draws towards itself communication of God's infinite self, with all His quickening and cleansing and humbling powers. Grace is attracted by the sense of need, just as the lifted finger of the lightning rod brings down fire from heaven. The heights are barren; it is in the valleys that rivers run, and flowers bloom. God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.' If we desire to have Him, who is the one source of all blessedness, in our hearts, as a true possession, we must open the door for His entrance by poverty of spirit. Desire brings fulfilment; and they who know their wants, and only they, will truly long that they may be supplied.

This poverty of spirit is blessed because it is its own reward. All self-esteem and self-complacency are like a hedgehog, as some one has said, rolled up the wrong way, tormenting itself with its prickles.' And the man that is always, or often, thinking how much above A, B, or C he is, and how much A, B, or C ought to offer of incense to him, is sure to get more cuffs than compliments, more enmity than affection; and will be sore all over with wounded vanities of all sorts. But if we have learned ourselves, and have departed from these lofty thoughts, then to be humble in spirit is to be wise, cheerful, contented, simple, restful in all circumstances. You remember John Bunyan's shepherd boy, down in the valley of humiliation. Heart's-ease grew there, and his song was, He that is low need fear no fall.' If we have this true, deep-rooted poverty of spirit, we shall be below the tempest, which will go clean over our heads. The oaks catch the lightnings; the grass and the primroses are unscorched. The day of the Lord shall be upon all high things, and the loftiness of men shall be brought low.'

So, dear brethren, blessedness is not to be found outside us. We need not ask who shall go up into the heavens, or who shall descend into the deep,' to bring it. It is in thee, if at all. Christ teaches us that the sources of all true blessedness are within us; there or nowhere is Eden. If we have the tempers and dispositions set forth in these Beatitudes, condition matters but very little. If the source of all blessedness is within us, the first step to it all is poverty of spirit. Be ye clothed with humility.' The Master girt Himself with the servant's towel, and His disciples are to copy Him who said: Take My yoke upon you… . I am meek and lowly in heart … and ye shall find rest'--and is not that blessedness?--ye shall find rest unto your souls.'


Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.'--MATT. v. 4.

An ordinary superficial view of these so-called Beatitudes is that they are simply a collection of unrelated sayings. But they are a great deal more than that. There is a vital connection and progress in them. The jewels are not flung down in a heap; they are wreathed into a chain, which whosoever wears shall have an ornament of grace about his neck.' They are an outgrowth from a common root; stages in the evolution of Christian character.

Now, I tried to show in the former sermon how the root of them all is the poverty of spirit which is spoken of in the preceding verse; and how it really does lie at the foundation of the highest type of human character, and in its very self is sure of possessing the Kingdom of Heaven. And now I turn to the second of these Beatitudes. Like all the others, it is a paradox, for it starts from a wholly different conception from the common one, of what is man's chief good. If the aims which usually engross us are really the true aims of life, then there is no meaning in this saying of our Lord, for then it had been better not to sorrow at all than to sorrow and be comforted. But if the true purpose for which we are all gifted with this solemn gift of life is that we may become imitators of God as dear children,' then there are few things for which men should be more thankful than the sacred sorrow, than which there are few instruments more powerful for creating the type of character which we are set here to make our own. All lofty, dignified, serious thinkers and poets (who for the most of men are the best teachers) had spoken this same thought as well as Christ. But He speaks it with a difference all His own, which deepens incalculably its solemnity, and sets the truth of the otherwise sentimental saying, which flies often in the face of human nature, upon immovable foundations.

Let me ask you, then, to look with me, in the simplest possible way, at the two thoughts of our text, as to who are the mourners that are blessed,' and as to what is the consolation that they receive.

I. The mourners who are blessed.

Blessed are they that mourn.' Ah! that is not a universal bliss. All mourners are not blessed. It would be good news, indeed, to a world so full of miseries that men sometimes think it were better not to be, and holding so many wrecked and broken hearts, if every sorrow had its benediction. But just as we saw in the preceding discourse that the poverty which Christ pronounced blessed is not mere straitness of circumstances, or lack of material wealth, so here the sorrow, round the head of which He casts this halo of glory, is not that which springs from the mere alteration of external circumstances, or from any natural causes. The influence of the first saying runs through all the Beatitudes, and since it is the poor in spirit' who are there pronounced happy, so here we must go far deeper than mere outward condition, in order to find the ground of the benediction pronounced. Let us be sure, to begin with, of this, that no condition, be it of wealth or woe, is absolutely and necessarily good, but that the seat of all true blessedness lies within, in the disposition which rightly meets the conditions which God sends.

So I would say, first, that the mourners whom Christ pronounces blessed' are those who are poor in spirit.' The mourning is the emotion which follows upon that poverty. The one is the recognition of the true estimate of our own characters and failings; the other is the feeling that follows upon that recognition. The one is the prophet's clear-sighted I am a man of unclean lips'; the other is the same prophet's contemporaneous wail, Woe is me, for I am undone!'

And surely, brethren, if you and I have ever had anything like a glimpse of what we really are, and have brought ourselves into the light of God's face, and have pondered upon our characters and our doings in that--not fierce' but all-searching, light' that flashes from Him, there can be no attitude, no disposition, more becoming the best, the purest, the noblest of us, than that Woe is me, for I am undone!'

Oh, dear friends, if--not as a theological term, but as a clinging, personal fact--we realise what sin against God is, what must necessarily come from it, what aggravations His gentleness, His graciousness, His constant beneficence cause, how facilely we do the evil thing and then wipe our lips and say, We have done no harm,' we should be more familiar than we are with the depths of this experience of mourning for sin.

I cannot too strongly urge upon you my own conviction--it may be worth little, but I am bound to speak it--that there are few things which the so-called Christianity of this day needs more than an intenser realisation of the fact, and the gravity of the fact, of personal sinfulness. There lies the root of the shallowness of so much that calls itself Christianity in the world to-day. It is the source of almost all the evils under which the Church is groaning. And sure I am that if millions of the people that complacently put themselves down in the census as Christians could but once see themselves as they are, and connect their conduct with God's thought about it, they would get shocks that would sober them. And sure I am that if they do not thus see themselves here and now, they will one day get shocks that will stupefy them. And so, dear friends, I urge upon you, as I would upon myself, as the foundation and first step towards all the sunny heights of God-likeness and blessedness, to go down, down deep into the hidden corners, and see how, like the elders of Israel whom the prophet beheld in the dark chamber, we worship creeping things, abominable things, lustful things, in the recesses within. And then we shall possess more of that poverty of spirit, and the conscious recognition of our own true character will merge into the mourning which is altogether blessed.

Now, note, again, how such sorrow will refine and ennoble character. How different our claims upon other men would be if we possessed this sober, saddened estimate of what we really are! How our petulance, and arrogance, and insisting upon what is due to us of respect and homage and deference would all disappear! How much more rigid would be our guard upon ourselves, our own emotions, our own inclinations and tastes! How much more lenient would be our judgment of the openly and confessedly naughty ones, who have gone a little further in act, but not an inch further in essence, than we have done! How different our attitude to our fellows; and how lowly our attitude to God! Such sorrow would sober us, would deliver us from our lusting after the gauds of earth, would make us serious and reflective, would bring us to that sad, wise valour' which is the conquering characteristic of humanity.

There is nothing more contemptible than the lives which, for want of this self-knowledge, foam away in idle mirth, and effervesce in what the world calls high spirits.'

There is no music in the life That sounds with idiot laughter solely, There's not a string attuned to mirth But has its chords in melancholy.'

So said one whose reputation in English literature is mainly that of a humorist. He had learned that the only noble humanity is that in which the fountains of laughter and of tears lie so close together that their waters intermingle. I beseech you not to confound the laughter of fools,' which is the crackling of thorns under the pot,' with the true, solemn, ennobling gladness which lives along with this sorrow of my text.

Further, such mourning infused into the sorrow that comes from external disasters will make it blessed too. As I have said, there is nothing in any condition of life which necessarily and universally makes it blessed. Though poets and moralists and Christian people have talked a great deal, and beautifully and truly, about the sanctifying and sweetening influences of calamity, do not let us forget that there are perhaps as many people made worse by their sorrows as are made better by them. There is such a thing as being made sullen, hard, selfish, negligent of duty, resentful against God, hopeless, by the pressure of our calamities. Blessed be God, there is such a thing as being drawn to Him by them! Then they, too, come within the sweep of this benediction of the Master, and outward distress is glorified into the sorrow which is blessed. A drop or two of this tincture, the mourning which comes from poverty of spirit, slipped into the cup of affliction, clears and sweetens the waters, and makes them a tonic bitter. Brethren, if our outward losses and disappointments and pains help us to apprehend, and are accepted by us in the remembrance of, our own unworthiness, then these, too, are God's sweet gifts to us.

One word more. This mourning is perfectly compatible with, and indeed is experienced in its purest form only along with, the highest and purest joy. I have been speaking about the indispensable necessity of such sadness for all noble life. But let us remember, on the other hand, that no one has so much reason to be glad as he has who, in poverty of spirit, has clasped and possesses the wealth of the Kingdom. And if a man, side by side with this profound and saddened sense of his own sinfulness, has not a hold of the higher thing--Christ's righteousness given to penitence and faith--then his knowledge of his own unworthiness is still too shallow to inherit a benediction. There is no reason why, side by side in the Christian heart, there should not lie--there is every reason why there should lie--these two emotions, not mutually discrepant and contradictory, but capable of being blended together--the mourning which is blessed, and the joy which is unspeakable and full of glory.

II. And now a word or two with regard to the consolation which such mourning is sure to receive.

It is not true, whatever sentimentalists may say, that all sorrow is comforted and therefore blessed. It may be forgotten. Pain may sting less; men may betake themselves to trivial, or false, unworthy, low alleviations, and fancy that they are comforted when they are only diverted. But the sorrow meant in my text necessarily ensures for every man who possesses it the consolation which follows. That consolation is both present and future.

As for the present, the mourning which is based, as our text bases it, on poverty of spirit, will certainly bring after it the consolation of forgiveness arid of cleansing. Christ's gentle hand laid upon us, to cause our guilt to pass away, and the inveterate habits of inclination towards evil to melt out of our nature, is His answer to His child's cry, Woe is me, for I am undone!' And anything is more probable than that Christ, hearing a man thus complain of himself before Him, should fail to send His swift answer.

Ah, brethren! you will never know how deep and ineffably precious are the consolations which Christ can give, unless you have learned despair of self, and have come helpless, hopeless, and yet confident, to that great Lord. Make your hearts empty, and He will fill them; recognise your desperate condition, and He will lift you up. The deeper down we go into the depths, the surer is the rebound and the higher the soaring to the zenith. It is they who have poverty of spirit, and mourning based upon it, and only they, who pass into the sweetest, sacredest, secretest recesses of Christ's heart, and there find all-sufficient consolation.

In like manner, that consolation will come in its noblest and most sufficing form to those who take their outward sorrows and link them with this sense of their own ill-desert. Oh, dear friends, if I am speaking to any one who to-day has a burdened heart, let such be sure of this, that the way to consolation lies through submission; and that the way to submission lies through recognition of our own sin. If we will only lie still, let Him strike home, and bless the rod,' the rod will blossom and bear fruit. The water of the cataract would not flash into rainbow tints against the sunshine, unless it had been dashed into spray against black rocks. And if we will but say with good old Dr. Watts,

When His strokes are felt, His strokes are fewer than our crimes, And lighter than our guilt,'

it will not be hard to bow down and say, Thy will be done,' and with submission consolation will be ours.

Is there anything to say about that future consolation? Very little, for we know very little. But God Himself shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.' The hope of that consolation is itself consolation, and the hope becomes all the more bright when we know and measure the depths of our own evil. Earth needs to be darkened in order that the magic, ethereal beauty of the glow in the western heavens may be truly seen. The sorrow of earth is the background on which the light of heaven is painted.

So, dear friends, be sure of this, that the one thing which ought to move a man to sadness is his own character. For all other causes of grief are instruments for good. And be sure of this, too, that the one thing which can ensure consolation adequate to the grief is bringing the grief to the Lord Christ and asking Him to deal with it. His first word of ministry ran parallel with these two Beatitudes. When He spoke them He began with poverty of spirit, and passed to mourning and consolation, and when He opened His lips in the synagogue of Nazareth He began with, The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach good tidings unto the poor, to give unto them that mourn in Zion a diadem for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.'


Blessed are the meek! for they shall inherit the earth,--MATT, v. 5.

The originality of Christ's moral teaching lies not so much in the novelty of His precepts as in the new relation in which He sets them, the deepening which He gives them, the motives on which He bases them, and the power which He communicates to keep them. Others before Him had pronounced a benediction on the meek, but our Lord means far more than they did, and, both in His description of the character and in the promise which He attaches to it, He vindicates the uniqueness of His notion of a perfect man.

The world's ideal is, on the whole, very different from His. It inclines to the more conspicuous and so-called heroic virtues; it prefers a great, flaring, yellow sunflower to the violet hiding among the grass, and making its presence known only by fragrance. Blessed are the strong, who can hold their own,' says the world. Blessed are the meek,' says Christ.

The Psalmist had said it before Him, and had attached verbally the same promise to the word. But our Lord means more than David did when he said, The meek shall inherit the earth.' I ask you to think with me now, first, what this Christian meekness is; then, whence it issues; and then, whither it leads.

I. What Christian meekness is.

Now, the ordinary use of the word is to describe an attitude, or more properly a disposition, in regard to men, especially in regard to those who depreciate, or wrong, or harm us. But the Christian conception of meekness, whilst it includes that, goes far deeper; and, primarily, has reference to our attitude, or rather our disposition, towards God. And in that aspect, what is it? Meek endurance and meek obedience, the accepting of His dealings, of whatever complexion they are, and however they may tear or desolate our hearts, without murmuring, without sulking, without rebellion or resistance, is the deepest conception of the meekness which Christ pronounces blessed. When sorrow comes upon us, unless we have something more than natural strength bestowed upon us, we are all but certain, like fractious children when beaten, to kick and plunge and scream, or to take the infliction of the sorrow as being an affront and an injury. If we have any claim to this benediction, we must earn it by accepting our sorrows; then the accepted sorrow becomes a solemn joy, or almost akin thereto. The ox that kicks against the goads only does two things thereby; it does not get away from them, but it wounds its own hocks, and it drives the sharp points deeper into the ragged wounds. Let Him strike, dear friend, for when He strikes He cuts clean; and there is no poison on the edge of His knife. Meekness towards God is, first, patient endurance of His Will.

And, in reference to Him, it is, next, unquestioning docility and obedience. Its seat is in the will. When the will is bowed, a man is far on his road to perfection; and the meaning of all that God does with us--joys and sorrows, light and darkness, when His hand gives, and when His hand withdraws, as when His authoritative voice commands, and the sweet impulses of His love graciously constrain--is that our wills may be made plastic and flexible, like a piece of wrought leather, to every touch of His hand. True meekness goes far deeper down than any attitude towards men. It lays hold on the sovereign will of God as our supreme good, and delights in absolutely and perfectly conforming itself thereto.

And then there follows, as a matter of course, that which is usually the whole significance of the word, the meekness which is displayed in our attitude towards men. The truly meek heart remains unprovoked amidst all provocation. Most men are like dogs that answer bark for bark, and only make night hideous and themselves hoarse thereby. But it is our business to meet evil with good; and the more we are depreciated, the more we are harmed, the more we are circled about by malice and by scorn, the more patiently and persistently to love on.

Ah, brethren, it is easy to say and hard to do thus; but it is a plain Christian duty. Old-fashioned people believe that the sun puts out the fire. I know not how that may be, but sure I am that the one thing that puts out the fire of antagonism and wrath and malice in those who dislike or would harm us is that we should persistently shine upon, and perchance overcome, evil with good. Provoked, we remain, if we are truly meek, masters of ourselves and calm and equable, and so are blessed in ourselves. Meekness makes no claims upon others. Plenty of people are sore all over with the irritation caused by not getting what they consider due respect. They howl and whine because they are not appreciated. Do not expect much of men. Make no demands, if for no better reason than because the more you demand the less you will get; and the less you seem to think to be your due, the more likely you are to receive what you desire.

But that is a poor, shallow ground. The true exhortation is, Be ye imitators of God, as dear children.'

Ah, what a different world we should live in if the people that say, Oh, the Sermon on the Mount is my religion,' really made it their religion! How much friction would be taken out of all our lives; how all society would be revolutionised, and earth would become a Paradise!

But there is another thing to be taken into account in the description of meekness. That grace, as the example of our Lord shows, harmonises with undaunted bravery and strenuous resistance to the evil in the world. On our own personal account, there are to be no bounds to our patient acceptance of personal wrong; on the world's account, there are to be no bounds to our militant attitude against public evils. Only let us remember that the wrath of men worketh not the righteousness of God.' If contending theologians, and angry philanthropists, and social reformers, that are ready to fly at each other's throats for the sacred cause of humanity, would only remember that there is no good to be done except in this spirit, there would be more likelihood of the errors and miseries of mankind being redressed than, alas! there is to-day. Gentleness is the strongest force in the world, and the soldiers of Christ are to be priests, and to fight the battles of the Kingdom, robed, not in jingling, shining armour or with sharp swords, nor with fierce and eager bitterness of controversy, but in the meekness which overcomes. You may take all the steam-hammers that ever were forged and batter at an iceberg, and, except for the comparatively little heat that is developed by the blows and melts some smell portion, it will be ice still, though pulverised instead of whole. But let it get into the silent drift of the Arctic current, and let it move quietly down to the southward, then the sunbeams smite its coldness to death, and it is dissipated in the warm ocean. Meekness is conqueror. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.'

II. Notice whence this Christian meekness flows.

You observe the place which this Beatitude holds in the linked series of these precious sayings. It follows upon poverty of spirit' and mourning.' And it follows, too, upon the comfort' which the mourner is promised that he will receive. It is the conduct and disposition towards God and man which follows from the inward experience described in the two former Beatitudes, which had relation only to ourselves.

The only thing that can be relied upon as an adequate cold water douche to our sparks of anger, resentment, retaliation, and rebellion is that we shall have passed through the previous experiences, have learned a just and lowly estimate of ourselves, have learned to come to God with penitence in our hearts, and have been raised by His gracious hand from the dust where we lay at His feet, and been welcomed to His embrace. He who thus has learned himself, and has felt repentance, and has received the comfort of forgiveness and cleansing, he, and he only, is the man who, under all provocation and in any and every circumstance, can be absolutely trusted to live in the spirit of meekness.

If I have found out anything of my own sin, if my eyes have been filled with tears and my heart with conscious unworthiness before Him, oh, then, surely I shall not kick or murmur against discipline of which the main purpose is to rid me of the evil which is slaying me; but rather I shall recognise in the sorrows that do fall upon me, in the losses and disappointments and empty places in my life and heart, one way of God's fulfilling His great promise, From all your filthiness, and from all your idols, I will cleanse you.' The man who has thus learned the purpose, the highest purpose, of sorrow, is not likely to remonstrate with God for giving him too much of the cleansing medium.

In like manner, if we have, in any real way, received for our own the comfort which God gives to the penitent heart, we shall be easily pleased with anything that He sends. And if we have measured ourselves, not against ourselves, but against His law, and have found out how much we owe unto our Lord, it is not likely that we shall take our brother by the throat and say, Pay me that thou owest.' If any treat me badly, try to rob me, harm me, sneer at me, or turn the cold shoulder to me, who am I that I should resent that? Oh, brethren, we need, for our right relation to our fellows, a deeper conviction of our sinfulness before Him. Many of us are blessed with natural tendencies to meekness, but these are insufficient. Many of us seek to cultivate this grace from true and right, though not the deepest, motives. Let us reinforce them by that which comes from the consideration of the place which this Beatitude holds in the wreathed chain, and remember that poverty of spirit' and mourning' must precede it.

Now, there is a sharp test for us Christian people. If I have learned myself, and have penitently received God's pardon, I shall be meek with God and with man. If I am not meek with God and with man, have I received God's pardon? One great reason why so many of you Christian people have so little consciousness of God's forgiving mercy, as a constant joy in your lives, is because you have so little obeyed the commandment, Be ye imitators of God, and walk in love, as God hath forgiven and loved us.'

III. And now, lastly, note whither this meekness leads.

They shall inherit the earth.' The words are quoted, as I have already said, from one of the psalms, and in the Psalmist's mouth they had, I suppose, especial reference to Israel's peaceful possession of the promised land, which in that Old Dispensation was made contingent on the people's faithfulness. In that aspect, and looking at this Sermon on the Mount as the programme of the King Himself, what a bucket of cold water such words as these must have poured on the hot Messianic expectations of the carnal Jew! Here was a King that did not expect to win back the land by armed rebellion against the Roman legions, but said, Be meek, and you will truly possess it, whether there is a Pilate in the procurator's house at Cae^3!rea or not.'

But for us the words have a double reference, as all the promises annexed to these Beatitudes have. They apply to the present; they apply to the future. And that is no mere looseness of interpretation, eking out an insufficient verification of them here upon earth by some dim hopes of a future fulfilment, but it flows from the plain fact that the gifts which a man receives on condition of his being a true disciple are one and the same in essence, and only differ in degree, here and hereafter. Circumstances alter, no doubt, and there will be much in that heavenly state unlike that which we experience here. But the essence of Christian blessedness is the same in this world and in the furthest reach of the shining but dim eternity beyond. And so we take the double reference of these words to be inherent in the facts of the case, and not to be a makeshift of interpretation.

There is a present inheritance of the earth which goes, as certainly as the shadow with the sunshine, with the meekness spoken of in our text. Not literal, of course, for it is not true that this Christian grace has in it any tendency whatever to draw to itself material good of any sort. The world in outward possession belongs to the strong men, to the men of faculty, of force and push and ambition. If you want to get through a crowd, make your elbows as sharp, and your feet upon the toes of your neighbours as heavy as you can, and a road will be made for you; but, in the majority of cases, the meek man on the edge of the crowd will stop there.

Nor is it true that there would be any real blessedness, though the earth were ours in that outward sense. For you cannot measure happiness by the acre, nor does an outward condition of the most full-fed abundance, and of wealth beyond the dreams of avarice, and above the gnawings of care, ensure to any man even the shabby blessedness that the world knows, to say nothing of the solid beatitude that Christ proclaims.

So we must go deeper than that for the meaning of inherit.' Whatever are our circumstances, it is true that this calm, equable, submissive acceptance of the divine will and obedience to it, and this loving and unresentful attitude towards men, bring with them necessarily a peacefulness of heart which gets the highest good out of the modicum of material supplies which God's providence may send us. It used to be the idea that gods and beatified spirits were nourished, not by the gross, material flesh of the sacrifices, but by a certain subtle aroma and essence that went up in the incense smoke. So Christ's meek men do live and thrive, and are blessed in a true possession of earthly good, even though their outward portion of it may be very small. Better is a little that a righteous man hath than the riches of many wicked.'

And, beyond that, there is a further fulfilment of this promise, upon which I venture to say but very little. It seems to me very probable that our Lord's words here fall in with what appears to be a general stream of representation throughout Scripture, to the effect that the perfected form of the Kingdom of God is to be realised in this renovated earth, when it becomes the new earth in which dwelleth righteousness.' Whether that be so or no, at all events we may fairly gather from the words the thought that in the ultimate state of assimilation and fellowship with God and Christ to which Christian people have a right to look forward, there will be an external universe on which they will exercise their activities, and from which they will draw as yet unimagined delights.

But, at all events, dear brethren, we may be sure of this blessed thought, that they who meekly live, knowing and mourning their sin, and who meekly take to their hearts as their only hope the comfort of Christ's pardon and cleansing, who are meekly recipient, meekly enduring, meekly obedient, shall have in their hearts, even here, a quiet fountain of peace which shall make the wilderness rejoice and blossom as the rose, and hereafter shall be crowned with the lordship of all. Meekness overcomes, and he that overcometh shall inherit all things.'


Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.'--MATT. v. 6.

Two preliminary remarks will give us the point of view from which I desire to consider these words now. First, we have seen, in previous sermons, that these paradoxes of the Christian life which we call the Beatitudes are a linked chain, or, rather, an outgrowth from a common root. Each presupposes all the preceding. Now, of course, it is a mistake to expect uniformity in the process of building up character, and stages which are separable and successive in thought may be simultaneous and coalesce in fact. But none the less is our Lord here outlining successive stages in the growth of a true Christian life. I shall have more to say about the place in the series which this Beatitude holds, but for the present I simply ask you to remember that it has a background and set of previous experiences, out of which it springs, and that we shall not understand the depth of Christ's meaning if we isolate it from these and regard it as standing alone.

Then, another consideration is the remarkable divergence in this Beatitude from the others. The meek,' the merciful,' the pure in heart' the peacemakers,' have all attained to certain characteristics. But this is not a benediction pronounced upon those who have attained to righteousness, but upon those who long after it. Desire, which has reached such a pitch as to be comparable to the physical craving of a hungry man for food or to the imperious thirst of parched throats, seems a strange kind of blessedness; but it is better to long for a higher--though it be unattained--good than to be content with a lower which is possessed. Better to climb, though the summit be far and the path be steep, than to browse amongst the herds in the fat valleys. Aspiration is blessedness when it is worthily directed. Let us, then, look at these two points of this Beatitude; this divine hunger of the soul, and its satisfaction which is sure.

I. Note, then, the hunger which is blessed.

Now righteousness' has come to be a kind of theological term which people use without attaching any very distinct meaning to it. And it would be little improvement to substitute for righteousness' the abstraction of moral conformity to the will of God. Suppose we try to turn the words of my text into modern English, and instead of saying, Blessed are those that hunger and thirst after righteousness,' say, Blessed are the men and women that long more than for anything else to be good. Does not that sound a little more near our daily lives than the well-worn and threadbare word of my text? Righteousness is neither more nor less than in spirit a will submitted to God, and in conduct the practice of whatsoever things are noble and lovely and of good report.

The production of such a character, the aiming after the perfection of spirit and of conduct, is the highest aim that a man can set before him. There are plenty of other hungers of the soul that are legitimate. There are many of them that are bracing and ennobling and elevating. It is impossible not to hunger for the supply of physical necessities. It is good to long for love, for wisdom. It is better to long most to be good men and women. For what are we here for? To enjoy? To work? To know? Yes! But it is not conduct, and it is still less thought, and it is least of all enjoyment, in any of its forms, which is the purpose of life, and ought to be our aim here upon earth. We are here to learn to be; and the cultivation and production of characters that lie parallel with the will of God is the Omega of all our life in the flesh. All these other things, even the highest of them, the yearning desire

To follow knowledge, like a sinking star, Beyond the furthest bounds of human thought,'

ought to be subordinate to this further purpose of being good men and women. All these are scaffolding; the building is a character conformed to God's will and assimilated to Christ's likeness.

That commends itself as a statement of man's chief end to all reasonable and thoughtful men in their deepest and truest moments. And so, whilst we must let our desires go out on the lower levels, and seek to draw to ourselves the various gifts that are necessary for the various phases and sides of our being, here is one that a man's own conscience tells him should stand clearly supreme and dominant--the hunger and thirst after righteousness.

Still further, notice how this desire, on which our Lord pronounces His benediction, comes in a series. I know that all men have latent, and sometimes partially and fragmentarily operative in their lives and manifest on the surface, sporadic desires after goodness. The existence of these draws the line between man and devil. And there is no soul on earth which has not sometimes felt the longing to be better than it is, to its own consciousness, to-day. But the yearning which our Lord blesses comes after, and is the result of, the previous characteristics which He has described. There must be the poverty of spirit which recognises our own insufficiency and unworthiness; or, to put it into simpler words, we must know ourselves to be sinners. There must be the mourning which follows upon that revelation of ourselves; the penitence which does not wash away sin, but which makes us capable of receiving forgiveness. There must be the comfort which comes from pardon received; and there must be the yielding of ourselves to the Supreme Will, which is the true root of all meekness, in the face of antagonism from creatures and of opposition from circumstances. When thus a man's self-conceit is beaten out of him, and he knows how far he is from the possession of any real, deep righteousness of his own; and when, further, his heart has glowed with the consciousness of forgiveness; and when, further, his will has bowed itself before the Father in heaven, then there will spring in his heart a hungering and thirsting, deeper far and far more certain of fruition, than ever can be realised in another heart, a stranger to such experiences. Brethren, if we are ever to possess the righteousness which is itself blessed, it must be because we have the hunger and the thirst which are sharpened and accentuated by profound discovery of our own evil, lowly penitence before God, and glad assurance of free and full forgiveness.

Then note, still further, how that which is pronounced blessed is not the realisation of a desire, but the desire itself. And that is so, not only because, as I said, all noble aspiration is good, fulfilled or unfulfilled, and aim is of more importance than achievement, and what a man strongly wishes is often the revelation of his deepest self, and the prophecy of what he will be; but Christ puts the desire for a certain quality here as in line with the possession of a number of other qualities attained, because He would hint to us that such a righteousness as shall satisfy the immortal hunger and thirst of our souls is one to be received in answer to longing, and not to be manufactured by our own efforts.

It is a gift; and the condition of receiving the gift is to wish it honestly, earnestly, deeply, continually. The Psalmist had a glimpse of the same truth when he crowned his description of the man who was fit to ascend the hill of the Lord, and to stand in His holy place, with, he shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.'

Of course, in saying that the first step towards the possession of this divinely bestowed and divinely blessed righteousness is not effort but longing, I do not forget that the retention of it, and the working of it into our characters, and out in our conduct, must be the result of our own continual diligence. But it is effort based on faith; and it is mainly, as I believe, the effort to keep open the line of communication between us and God, the great Giver, which ensures our possession of this gift of God. Dear friends, the righteousness that avails for us is not of our making, but of God's giving, through Jesus Christ.

So, before I pass to the other thoughts of my text, may I pause here for a moment? Blessed are they that hunger and thirst'--think of the picture that that suggests--the ravenous desire of a starving man, the almost fierce longing of a parched throat. Is that a picture of the intensity, of the depth, of our desires to be good? Do we professing Christian men and women long to be delivered from our evils and to be clothed in righteousness, with an honesty and an earnestness and a continuity of longing which would make such words as these of my text anything else, if applied to us, than the bitterest irony? Oh, one looks out over the Christian Church, and one looks--which is more to the purpose--into one's own heart, and contrasts the tepid, the lazy, the occasional, and, I am afraid, the only half-sincere wishes to be better, with the unmistakable earnestness and reality of our longings to be rich, or wise, or prosperous, or famous, or happy in our domestic relationships, and the like. Alas! alas! that the whole current of the great river of so many professing Christians' desires runs towards earth and creatures, and the tiniest little trickle is taken off, like a lade for a mill, from the great stream, and directed towards higher things. It is hunger and thirst after righteousness that is blessed. You and I can tell whether our desires deserve such a name as that.

II. And now, secondly, the satisfying of this divine hunger of the soul.

They shall be filled,' says our Lord. Now all these promises appended to the Beatitudes have a double reference--to the certainty of the present, and to the perfection of the future. That there is such a double reference may be made very obvious if we notice that the first of the promises, which includes them all, and of which the others are but aspects and phases, is cast into the present tense, whilst the remainder stand in the future. Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven,' not shall be--they shall be comforted,' they shall inherit the earth,' and so on. So, then, we are warranted, indeed we are obliged, to regard this great promise in the text as having two epochs of fulfilment--one partially here upon earth, one complete hereafter. And these two differ, not in kind, but in degree.

So then, with regard even to the present, they shall be filled.' Should not that be a gospel to the seeking spirit of man, who knows so well what it is to be crucified with the pangs of a vain desire, and to set his heart upon that which never comes into his hands? There is one region in which nothing is so impossible as that any desire should be in vain, or any wish should be unfulfilled, and it is the region into which Christ points us in these great words of my text. Turn away from earth, where fulfilled desires and unfulfilled are often equally disappointed ones. Turn away from the questionable satisfactions which come to those whose hearts go out in longing for love, wisdom, wealth, transitory felicity; and be sure of this, that the one longing which never will be disappointed, nor, when answered, will prove to have given us but ashes instead of bread, is the longing to be like God and like Christ. That desire alone is sure to be fulfilled, and, being fulfilled, is sure to be blessed.

It is not true that all desires after righteousness are fulfilled. Those which spring up, as I have said, in men's hearts sporadically, and apart from the background of the experiences of my text, are not always, not often, even partially accomplished. There are in every land, no doubt, souls that thirst after righteousness, as they are able to discern it. And we are sure of this, that no such effort and longing passes unnoticed by Him who hears the young ravens when they cry,' and is not deaf to the prayer of men who long to be good. But the experience of the bulk of us, apart from Jesus Christ, is the things that I would not, these I do, and the things that I would, these I do not.' The hunger and thirst after righteousness, imperfect as they are, which are felt at intervals by all men, do not avail to break the awful continuity of their conduct as evil in the sight of God and of their own consciences. And so, just because every man knows something of the sting of this desire after righteousness, which yet remains for the most part unfulfilled, the world is full of sadness. Oh, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?' comes to be the expression of the noblest amongst us. Then this great Gospel comes to us, and the Nazarene confidently fronts a world dimly conscious of its need, and sometimes miserable because it is bad, and says: Ho! every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters… . Come to Me, and drink.'

What right had He to stand thus and promise that every desire after goodness should be fulfilled in Him? He had the right, because He Himself had the power and the purpose to fulfil it. For this is the very heart of His Gospel: that He will give to every one who asks it that spirit of life which was His own, and which shall make us free from the law of sin and death.'

Thus, dear friends, we have to be content to take the place of recipients, and to accept, not to work out for ourselves, this righteousness for which, more or less feebly, and all of us too feebly, we do sometimes long. Oh, believe me, away from Him you will never receive into your characters a goodness that will satisfy yourselves. Siberian prisoners sometimes break their chains and escape for some distance. They are generally taken back and again shut up in their captivity. If we are able, as we are in some measure, to break the bondage of evil in ourselves, we are not able to complete our emancipation by any skill, effort, or act of ours. We must be content to receive the blessing. There is no loom of earth which can weave, and no needle that man's hands can use which can stitch together, the pure garment that befits a soul. We must be content to take the robe of righteousness which Jesus Christ has wrought, and to strip off, by His help, the ancient self, splashed with the filth of the world, and spotted by the flesh: and to put on the new man,' which Christ, and Christ alone, bestows.

As for the future fulfilment of this promise--desire will live in heaven, desire will dilate the spirit, the dilated spirit will be capable of fuller gifts of God-likeness, and increased capacity will ensure increased reception. Thus, through eternity, in blessed alternation, we shall experience the desire that brings new gifts and the satisfying that produces new desires.

Dear friends, all that I have been trying to say in this sermon is gathered up into the one word--that I may be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.'


Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.'--MATT. v. 7.

THE divine simplicity of the Beatitudes covers a divine depth, both in regard to the single precepts and to the sequence of the whole. I have already pointed out that the first of the series Is to be regarded as the root and germ of all the subsequent ones. If for a moment we set it aside and consider only the fruits which are successively developed from it, we shall see that the remaining members of the sequence are arranged in pairs, of which each contains, first, a characteristic more inward and relating to the deep things of individual religion; and, second, a characteristic which has its field of action in our relations to men. For example, the mourners' and the meek' are paired. Those who hunger and thirst after righteousness' and the merciful' are paired. The pure in heart' and the peacemakers' are paired.

Now that sequence can scarcely be accidental. It is the application in detail of the great principle which our Lord endorsed in its Old Testament form when He said that the first great commandment, the love of God, had a companion consequent on and like unto it, the love of our neighbour. Religion without beneficence, and beneficence without religion, are equally maimed. The one is a root without fruit, and the other a fruit without a root. The selectest emotions, the lowliest faith, the loftiest aspirations, the deepest consciousness of one's own unworthiness--these priceless elements of personal religion--are of little worth unless there are inseparably linked with them meekness, mercifulness, and peacemaking. What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.' If any Christian people have neglected the service of man for the worship of God, they are flying in the face of Christ's teaching. If any antagonists of Christianity attack it on the ground that it fosters such neglect, they mistake the system that they criticise, and are judging it by the imperfect practice of the disciples instead of by the perfect precepts of the Master.

So, then, here we have a characteristic lodged in the very heart of this series of Beatitudes which refers wholly to our demeanour to one another. My remarks now will, therefore, be of a very homely, commonplace, and practical kind.

I. Note the characteristic on which our Lord here pours out His blessing--Mercy.

Now, like all the other members of this sequence, with the exception, perhaps, of the last, this quality refers to disposition much rather than to action. Conduct is included, of course; but conduct only secondarily. Jesus Christ always puts conduct second, as all wise and great teachers do. As a man thinketh in his heart so is he.' That is the keynote of all noble morality. And none has ever carried it out more thoroughly than has the morality of the Gospel. It is a poor translation and limitation of this great word which puts in the foreground merely merciful actions. The mercifulness of my text is, first and foremost, a certain habitual way of looking at and feeling towards men, especially to men in suffering and need, and most especially to men who have proved themselves bad and blameworthy. It is implied that a rigid retribution would lead to severer methods of judgment and of action.

Therefore the first characteristic of the merciful man is that he is merciful in his judgments; not making the worst of people, no Devil's Advocate in his estimates of his fellows; but, endlessly, and, as the world calls it, foolishly and incredibly, gentle in his censures, and ever ready to take the charitable--which is generally the truer--construction of acts and motives. That is a very threadbare thought, brother, but the way to invest commonplace with startling power is to bring it into immediate connection with our own life and conduct. And if you will try to walk by this threadbare commonplace for a week, I am mistaken if you do not find out that it has teeth to bite and a firm grip to lay upon you. Threadbare truth is not effete until it is obeyed, and when we try to obey it, it ceases to be commonplace.

Again, I may remind you that this mercifulness, which is primarily an inward emotion, and a way, as I said, of thinking of, and of looking at, unworthy people, must necessarily, of course, find its manifestation in our outward conduct. And there will be, what I need not dilate upon, a readiness to help, to give, to forgive not only offences against society and morality, but offences against ourselves.

I need not dwell longer upon this first part of my subject. I wished mainly to emphasise that to begin with action, in our understanding of mercifulness, is a mistake; and that we must clear our hearts of antipathies, and antagonisms, and cynical suspicions, if we would inherit the blessings of our text.

Before I go further, I would point out the connection between this incumbent duty of mercifulness and the preceding virtue of meekness. It is hard enough to bear the spurns that patient merit of the unworthy takes,' without one spot of red in the cheek, one perturbation or flush of anger in the heart; and to do that might task us all to the utmost. But that is not all that Christ's ethics require of us. It is not sufficient to exercise the passive virtue of meekness; there must be the active one of mercifulness. And to call for that is to lay an additional weight upon our consciences, and to strain and stretch still further the obligation under which we come. We have not done what the worst men and our most malicious enemies have a right to receive from us when we say, with the cowardly insincerity of the world, I can forgive but I cannot forget.' That is no forgiveness, and that is no mercifulness It is not enough to stand still, unresisting. There must be a hand of helpfulness stretched out, and a gush of pity and mercifulness in the heart, if we are to do what our Master has done for us all, and what our Master requires us to do for one another. Mercifulness is the active side of the passive meekness.

Further, in a word, I would note here another thing, and that is--what a sad, stern, true view of the condition of men in the world results from noticing that the only three qualities in regard to our relation to them which Christ sets in this sevenfold tiara of diamonds are meekness in the face of hatred and injustice; mercifulness in the face of weakness and wickedness; peacemaking in the face of hostility and wrangling. What a world in which we have to live, where the crowning graces are those which presuppose such vices as do these! Ah! dear friends, as sheep in the midst of wolves' is true to-day. And the one conquering power is patient gentleness, which recompenses all evil with good, and is the sole means of transforming and thus overcoming it.

People talk a great deal, and a good deal of it very insincerely, about their admiration for these precepts gathered together in this chapter. If they would try to live them for a fortnight, they would perhaps pause a little longer than some of them do before they said, as do people that detest the theology of the New Testament, The Sermon on the Mount is my religion.' Is it? It does not look very like it. At all events, if it is, it is a religion behind which practice most wofully limps.

II. Let me ask you to look at what I have already in part referred to--the place in this series which Mercifulness holds.

Now, of course, I know, and nothing that I say now is to be taken for a moment as questioning or underestimating it, that, altogether apart from religion, there is interwoven into the structure of human nature that sentiment of mercifulness which our Lord here crowns with His benediction. But it is not that natural, instinctive sentiment--which is partially unreliable, and has little power apart from the reinforcement of higher thoughts to carry itself consistently through life--that our Lord is here speaking about; but it is a mercifulness which is more than an instinct, more than a sentiment, more than the natural answer of the human heart to the sight of compassion and distress, which is, in fact, the product of all that has preceded it in this linked chain of characteristics and their blessings.

And so I ask you to recall these. Poor in spirit,' mourning,' meek,' hungering and thirsting after righteousness'--these are the springs that feed the flow of this river; and if it be not fed from them, but from the surface-waters of human sentiment and instinct, it will dry up long before it has availed to refresh barren places, and to cool thirsty lips. And note also the preceding promises, theirs is the kingdom of heaven'; they shall be comforted'; they shall inherit the earth; they shall be filled.' These are experiences which, again, are another collection of the head-waters of this stream.

That is to say, the true, lasting, reliable, conquering mercifulness has a double source. The consciousness of our own weakness, the sadness that creeps over the heart when it makes the discovery of its own sin, the bowed submission primarily to the will of God, and secondarily to the antagonisms which, in subservience to that will, we may meet in life, and the yearning desire for a fuller righteousness and a more lustrous purity in our own lives and characters--these are the experiences which will make a man gentle in his judgment of his brother, and full of melting charity in all his dealings with him. If I know how dark my own nature is, how prone to uncommitted evils, how little I have to thank myself for the virtues that I have practised, which are largely due to my exemption from temptation and to my opportunities, and how little I have in my own self that I can venture to bring to the stern judgment which I am tempted to apply to other people, then the words of censure will falter on my tongue, and the bitter construction of my brother's conduct and character will be muffled in silence. Except as to open outbreakings,' said one of the very saintliest of men, I want nothing of what Judas and Cain had.' If we feel this, we shall ask ourselves, Who art thou that judgest another man's servant?' and the condemnation of others will stick in our throats when we try to utter it.

And, on the other hand, if I, through these paths of self-knowledge, and lowly estimate of self, and penitent confession of sin, and flexibility of will to God, and yearning, as for my highest food and good, after a righteousness which I feel I do not possess, have come into the position in which my poverty is, by His gift, made rich, and the tears are wiped away from off my face by His gracious hand, and a full possession of large blessings bestowed on my humble will, and the righteousness for which I long imparted to me, shall I not have learned how divine a thing it is to give to the unworthy, and so be impelled to communicate what I have already received? Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love as Christ also hath loved us.' They only are deeply, through and through, universally and always merciful who have received mercy. The light is reflected at the same angle as it falls, and the only way by which there can come from our faces and lives a glory that shall lighten many dark hearts, and make sunshine in many a shady place, is that these hearts shall have turned full to the very fountain itself of heavenly radiance, and so have received of the Lord that which also' they deliver' unto men.

And so, brethren, there are two plain, practical exhortations from these thoughts. One is, let us Christian people learn the fruits of God's mercy, and be sure of this, that our own mercifulness in regard to men is an accurate measure of the amount of the divine mercy which we have received. The other is, let all of us learn the root of man's mercy to men. There is plenty, of a sort, of philanthropy and beneficent and benevolent work and feeling to-day, entirely apart from all perception of, and all faith in, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in so far as the individuals who exercise that beneficence are concerned. I, for my part, am narrow enough to believe that the streams of non-Christian charitableness, which run in our land and in other lands to-day, have been fed from Christ's fountain, though the supply has come underground, and bursts into light apparently unconnected with its source. If there had been no New Testament there would have been very little of the beneficence which flouts the New Testament to-day. Historically, it is the great truths, which we conveniently summarise as being evangelical Christianity, that have been mother to the new charity that, since Christ, has been breathed over the world. I, for my part, believe that if you strike out the doctrine of universal sinfulness, if you cover over the Cross of Christ, if you do not find in it the manifestation of a God who is endlessly merciful to the most unworthy, you have destroyed the basis on which true and operative benevolence will rest. So then, dear brethren, let us all seek to get a humbler and a truer conception of what we ourselves are, and a loftier and truer faith of what God in Christ is; and then to remember that if we have these, we are bound to, and we shall, show that we have them, by making that which is the anchor of our hope the pattern of our lives.

III. Lastly, notice the requital, They shall obtain mercy.'

Now, it is a wretched weakening of that great thought to suppose that it means that if A. is merciful to B., B. will be merciful to A. That is sometimes true, and sometimes it is not. It does not so very much matter whether it is true or not; that is not what Jesus Christ means. All these Beatitudes are God's gifts, and this is God's gift too. It is His mercy which the merciful man obtains.

But you say: Have you not just been telling us that this sense and experience of God's mercy must precede my mercy, and now you say that my mercy must precede God's?' No; I do not say that it must precede it; I do say that my mercifulness is, as it were, lodged between the segments of a golden circle, and has on one side the experience of the divine mercy which quickens mine by thankfulness and imitation; on the other side, the larger experience of the divine mercy which follows upon my walking after the example of my Lord.

This is only one case of the broad general principle, to him that hath shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken even that which he hath.' Salvation is no such irreversible gift as that once bestowed a man can go on anyhow and it will continue; but it is given in such a fashion as that, for its retention, and still more for its increase, there must be a certain line of feeling and of action.

Our Lord does not mean to say, of course, that this one isolated member of a series carries with it the whole power of bringing down upon a man the blessings which are only due to the combination of the whole series, but that it stands as one of that linked band which shall receive the blessing from on high. And the blessing here is stated in accordance with the particular Grace in question, according to that great law of retaliation which brings life unto life and death unto death.

No man who, having received the mercy of God, lives harsh, hard, self-absorbed, implacable, and uncommunicative, will keep that mercy in any vivid consciousness or to any blessed issue. The servant took his fellow-servant by the throat, and said, Pay me that thou owest,' and his master said, Deliver him to the tormentors until he pay the uttermost farthing.' You receive your salvation as a free gift; you keep it by feelings and conduct correspondent to the gift.

Though benevolence which has an eye to self is no benevolence, it is perfectly legitimate, and indeed absolutely necessary, that whilst the motive for mercifulness is mercy received, the encouragement to mercifulness should be mercy still to be given. Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us'; and when you think of your own unworthiness, and of the great gifts which a gracious God has given, let these impel you to move amongst men as copies of God, and be sure that you deepen your spiritual life, not only by meditation and by faith, but by practical work, and by showing towards all men mercy like the mercy which God has bestowed upon you.


Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.'--MATT. v. 8.

AT first hearing one scarcely knows whether the character described in this great saying, or the promise held out, is the more inaccessible to men. The pure in heart': who may they be? Is there one of us that can imagine himself possessed of a character fitting him for the vision of God, or such as to make him bear with delight that dazzling blaze? They shall see God,' whom no man hath seen at any time, nor can see.' Surely the requirement is impossible, and the promise not less so. But does Jesus Christ mock us with demands that cannot be satisfied, and dangle before us hopes that can never be realised? There have been many moralists and would-be teachers who have done that. What would be the use of saying to a man lying on a battlefield sore wounded, and with both legs shot off, If you will only get up and run, you will be safe'? What would be the use of telling men how blessed they would be if they were the opposite of what they are? But that is not Christ's way.

These words, lofty and remote as they seem, are in truth amongst the most hopeful and radiant that ever came from even His lips. For they offer the realisation of an apparently impossible character, they promise the possession of an apparently impossible vision; and they soothe fears, and tell us that the sight from which, were it possible, we should sometimes fain shrink, is the source of our purest gladness. So there are three things, it seems to me, worth our notice in these great words--How hearts can be made pure; how the pure heart can see God; and how the sight can be simple blessedness.

I. How hearts can be made pure.

Now, the key which has unlocked for us, in previous sermons, the treasures of meaning in these Beatitudes, is especially necessary here. For, as I have said, if you take this to be a mere isolated saying, it becomes a mockery and a pain. But if you connect it, as our Lord would have us connect it, with all the preceding links of this wreathed chain describing the characteristics of a devout soul, then it assumes an altogether different appearance. The pure in heart' are they who have exercised and received the previous qualifications and bestowments from God. That is to say, there must precede all such purity as is capable of the divine vision, the poverty of spirit which recognises its true condition, the mourning which rightly feels the gravity and awfulness of that condition, the desire for its opposite, which will never be the hunger and thirst' of a soul, except it is preceded by a profound sense of sin and the penitence that ensues thereupon.

But when these things have gone before, and when they have been accompanied, as they surely will be, with the results that flow from them without an interval of time--viz. enrichment with possession of the kingdom, the comforting and drying of the tears of penitence, and the possession of a righteousness bestowed because it is desired, and not won because it is worked for--then, and only then, will the heart be purged and defecated from its evils and its self-regard, and its eyes opened and couched and strengthened to behold undazzled the eternal light of God. The word of my text, standing alone, ministers despair. Regarded where Christ set it, as one of the series of characteristics which He has been describing, it kindles the brightest and surest hope.

Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?' No; but God can change them; and the implication of my text, regarded in its due relation to these other Beatitudes, is just that the requisite purity is not of man's working, but is God's gift. The same truth which here results from the study of the place of our text in this series is condensed into a briefer, but substantially equivalent, form in the saying of another part of the New Testament, about purifying their hearts by faith.'

Dear brethren, we come back to the old truth--all a man's hope of, and effort after, reformation and self-improvement must begin with the consciousness of sin, the lament over it, the longing for divine goodness, the opening of the heart for the reception thereof; and only then can we rise to these serene heights of purity of heart. This, and this alone, is the way by which a clean thing' can be brought out of an unclean one.' and men stained and foul with evil, and bound under the chains of that which is the mother of all evil, the undue making themselves the centres of their lives, can be washed and cleansed and emancipated, and God be made the end and the aim, the motive and the goal, the power and the reward, of all their work. Righteousness is a gift to begin with, and it is a gift bestowed on condition of repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.' We all have longings after purity, suppressed, dashed, contradicted a thousand times in our lives day by day, but there they are; and the only way by which they can be fully satisfied is when we go with our foul hands, empty as well as foul, and lift them up to God, and say, Give what Thou commandest, even the clean heart, and we shall be clean.'

But then, do not let us forget, either, that this gift bestowed not once and for ever, but continuously if there be continuous desire, is to be utilised, appropriated, worked into our characters, and worked out in our lives, by our own efforts, as well as by our own faith. Having, therefore, these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiniess of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord.' Every man that hath this' gift bestowed, purifieth himself even as He is pure.' He that brings to us the gift of regeneration, by which we receive the new nature which is free from sin, calls to each of us as He presents to us the basin with the cleansing water, Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings; … cease to do evil, learn to do well.' What God hath joined together let not man put asunder,' viz. the act of faith by which we receive, the act of diligence by which we use, the purifying power.

II. Note how the pure heart sees God.

One is tempted to plunge into mystical depths when speaking upon such a text as this, but I wish to resist the temptation now, and to deal with it in a plain, practical fashion. Of course I need not remind you, or do more than simply remind you, that the matter in question here is no perception by sense of Him who is invisible, nor is it, either, an adequate and direct knowledge and comprehension of Him who is infinite, and whom a man can no more comprehend than he can stretch his short arms round the flaming orb of the central sun. But still, there is a relation to God possible for sinful men when they have been purified through the faith that is in Jesus Christ, which is so direct, so immediate, that it deserves the name of vision; and which, as I believe, is the ground of a firmer certitude, and of a no less clear apprehension, than is the sense from which the name is borrowed. For the illusions of sense have no place in the sight which the pure heart has of its Father, God.

Only, remember that here, and in the interpretation of all such Scriptural words, we have ever to be guided and governed by the great principle which our Lord laid down, under very solemn circumstances, when He said: He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.' Jesus Christ, whose name from eternity is the Word, is, from eternity to eternity, that which the name indicates--viz. the revealing activity of the eternal God. And, as I believe, wherever there have been kindled in men's hearts, either by the contemplation of nature and providence, or by the intuitions of their own spirits, any glints or glimpses of a God, there has been the operation of the Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.' And far beyond the limits of historical Revelation within Israel, as recorded in Scripture, that Eternal Word has been unveiling, as men's dim eyes were capable of perceiving it, the light of the knowledge of the glory of God. But for us who stand in the full blaze of that historical manifestation in the character and work of Jesus Christ our Saviour, our vision of God is neither more nor less than the apprehension and the realisation of Christ as God manifest in the flesh.'

Whether you call it the vision of God, or whether you call it communion with God in Jesus Christ, or whether you fall back upon the other metaphor of God dwelling in us and we dwelling in God, it all comes to the same thing, the consciousness of His presence, the realisation of His character, the blessed assurance of loving relations with Him, and the communion in mind, heart, will, and conduct, with God who has come near to us all in Jesus Christ.

Now, I need not remind you, I suppose, that for such a realisation and active, real communion, purity of heart is indispensable. That is no arbitrary requirement, but inherent, as we all know, in the very nature of the case. If we think of what He is, we shall feel that only the pure in heart can really pass into loving fellowship with Him. How can two walk together except they be agreed?' And if we reflect upon the history of our own feelings and realisation of God's presence with us, we shall see that impurity always drew a membrane over the eye of our souls, or cast a mist of invisibility over the heavens. The smallest sin hides God from us. A very, very little grain of dye stuff will darken miles of a river, and make it incapable of reflecting the blue sky and the sparkling stars. The least evil done and loved blurs and blots, if it does not eclipse, for us the doers the very Sun of Righteousness Himself. No sinful men can walk in the midst of that fiery furnace and not be consumed. The pure in heart'--and only they--shall see God.'

Nor need I remind you, I suppose, that in this, as in all these Beatitudes, the germinal fulfilment in the present life is not to be parted off by a great gap from the perfect fulfilment in the life which is to come. And so I do not dwell so much on the differences, great and wonderful as these must necessarily be, between the manner of apprehension and communion with God which it is reserved for heaven to bestow upon us, and the manner of those which we may enjoy here; but I rather would point to the blessed thought that in essence they are one, however in degree they may be different. No doubt, changed circumstances, new capacities, the withdrawal of time and sense, the dropping away of the veil of flesh, which is the barrier between us and the unseen order of things in which we live and move and have our being,' will induce changes and progresses in the manner and in the degree of that vision about which it would be folly for us to speak. If there were anything here with which we could compare the state of the blessed in heaven, in so far as it differs from their state on earth, we could form some conception of these differences; but if there were anything here with which we could compare it, it would be less glorious than it is. It is well that we should have to say, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things that God hath prepared.' So let us be thankful that it doth not yet appear what we shall be'; and let us never allow our ignorance of the manner to make us doubt or neglect the fact, seeing that we know that when He shall appear … we shall see Him as He is.'

III. Lastly, notice how this sight brings blessedness.

There is nothing else that will satisfy the eye with seeing.' The vision of God, even in that incipient and imperfect form which is possible upon earth, is the one thing that will calm our distractions, that will supply our needs, that will lift our lives to a level of serene power and blessedness, unattainable by any other way. Such a sight will dim all the dazzling illusions of earth, as, when the sun leaps into the heavens, the stars hide their faces and faint into invisibility. It will make us lords of ourselves, masters of the world, kings over time and sense and the universe. Everything will be different when earth is crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God.' That is what is possible for a Christian holding fast by Jesus Christ, and in Him having communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Brethren, I venture to say no word about the blessedness of that future. Heaven's golden gates keep their secret well. Even the purest joys of earth, about which poets have sung for untold centuries, after all singing need to be tasted before they are conceived of; and all our imaginings about the blessedness yonder is but like what a chrysalis might dream in its tomb as to the life of the radiant winged creature which it would one day become. Let us be content to be ignorant, and believe with confidence that we shall find that the vision of God is the heaven of heavens.

We shall owe that eternal vision to the eternal Revealer; for, as I believe, Scripture teaches us that it is only in Him that the glorified saints see the Father, as it is only in Him that here on earth we have the vision of God. That sight is not, like the bodily sense to which it is compared, a far-off perception of an ungrasped brightness, but it is the actual possession of what we behold. We see God when we have God. When we have God we have enough.

But I dare not close without one other word. There is a vision of God possible to an impure heart, in which there is no blessedness. There comes a day in which they shall call upon the rocks to fall and cover them from the face of Him that sits upon the throne.' The alternative is before each of us, dear friends--either every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him; and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him'; or, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness. I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness.' If we cry, Create a clean heart in me, O God!' He will answer, I will give you a new heart, and take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh, and I will pour clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean.'


Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.'--MATT. v. 9.

This is the last Beatitude descriptive of the character of the Christian. There follows one more, which describes his reception by the world. But this one sets the top stone, the shining apex, upon the whole temple-structure which the previous Beatitudes had been gradually building up. You may remember that I have pointed out in previous sermons how all these various traits of the Christian life are deduced from the root of poverty of spirit. You may also remember how I have had occasion to show that if we consider that first Beatitude, Blessed are the poor in spirit,' as the root and mother of all the rest, the remainder are so arranged as that we have alternately a grace which regards mainly the man himself and his relations to God, and one which also includes his relations to man.

Now there are three of these which look out into the world, and these three are consummated by this one of my text. These are the meek,' which describes a man's attitude to opposition and hatred; the merciful,' which describes his indulgence in judgment and his pitifulness in action; and the peacemakers.' For Christian people are not merely to bear injuries and to recompense them with pity and with love, but they are actively to try to bring about a wholesomer and purer state of humanity, and to breathe the peace of God, which passes understanding, over all the janglings and struggles of this world.

So, I think, if we give a due depth of significance to that name peacemaker,' we shall find that this grace worthily completes the whole linked series, and is the very jewel which clasps the whole chain of Christian and Christ-like characteristics.

I. How are Christ's peacemakers made?

Now there are certain people whose natural disposition has in it a fine element, which diffuses soothing and concord all around them. I dare say we all have known such--perhaps some good woman, without any very shining gifts of intellect, who yet dwelt in such peace of heart herself that conflict and jangling were rebuked in her presence. And there are other people who love peace, and seek after it in the cowardly fashion of letting things alone; whose peacemaking' has no nobler source than hatred of trouble, and a wish to let sleeping dogs lie. These, instead of being peacemakers, are war-makers, for they are laying up materials for a tremendous explosion some day.

But it is a very different temper that Jesus Christ has in view here, and I need only ask you to do again what we have had occasion to do in the previous sermons of this series--to link this characteristic with those that go before it, of which it is regarded as being the bright and consummate flower and final outcome. No man can bring to others that which he does not possess. Vainly will he whose own heart is torn by contending passions, whose own life is full of animosities and unreconciled outstanding causes of alienation and divergence between him and God, between him and duty, between him and himself, ever seek to shed any deep or real peace amongst men. He may superficially solder some external quarrels, but that is not all that Jesus Christ means. His peacemakers are created by having passed through all the previous experiences which the preceding verses bring out. They have learned the poverty of their own spirits. They have wept tears, if not real and literal, yet those which are far more agonising--tears of spirit and conscience--when they have thought of their own demerits and foulnesses. They have bowed in humble submission to the will of God, and even to that will as expressed by the antagonisms of man. They have yearned after the possession of a fuller and nobler righteousness than they have attained. They have learned to judge others with a gentle judgment because they know how much they themselves need it, and to extend to others a helping hand because they are aware of their own impotence and need of succour. They have been led through all these, often painful, experiences into a purity of heart which has been blessed by some measure of vision of God; and, having thus been equipped and prepared, they are fit to go out into the world and say, in the presence of all its tempests, Peace! be still.' Something of the miracle-working energy of the Master whom they serve will be shed upon those who serve Him.

Brethren, the peacemaker who is worthy of the name must have gone through these deep spiritual experiences. I do not say that they are to come in regular stages, separable from each other. That is not the way in which a character mounts towards God. It does so not by a flight of steps, at distinctly different elevations, but rather by an ascending slope. And, although these various Christian graces which precede that of my text are separable in thought, and are linked in the fashion that our Lord sets forth in experience, they may be, and often are, contemporaneous.

But whether separated from one another in time or not, whether this life-preparation, of which the previous verses give us the outline, has been realised drop by drop, or whether it has been all flooded on to the soul at once, as it quite possibly has, in some fashion or other it must precede our being the sort of peacemakers that Christ desires and blesses.

There is only one more point that I would make here before I go on, and that is, that it is well to notice that the climax of Christian character, according to Jesus Christ Himself, is found in our relations to men, and not in our relation to God. Worship of heart and spirit, devout emotions of the sacredest, sweetest, most hallowed and hallowing sort, are absolutely indispensable, as I have tried to show you. But equally, if not more, important is it for us to remember that the purest communion with God, and the selectest emotional experiences of the Christian life, are meant to be the bases of active service; and that, if such service does not follow these, there is good reason for supposing that these are spurious, and worth very little. The service of man is the outcome of the love of God. He who begins with poverty of spirit is perfected when, forgetting himself, and coming down from the mountain-top, where the Shekinah cloud of the Glory and the audible voice are, he plunges into the struggles of the multitude below, and frees the devil-ridden boy from the demon that possesses him. Begin by all means with poverty of spirit, or you will never get to this--Blessed are the peacemakers.' But see to it that poverty of spirit leads to the meekness, the mercifulness, the peace-bringing influence which Christ has pronounced blessed.

II. What is the peace which Christ's peacemakers bring?

This is a very favourite text with people that know very little of the depths of Christianity. They fancy that it appeals to common sense and men's natural consciences, apart altogether from minutenesses of doctrine or of Christian experience. They are very much mistaken. No doubt there is a surface of truth, but only a surface, in the application that is generally given to these words of our text, as if it meant nothing more than he is a good man that goes about and tries to make contending people give up their quarrels, and produces a healing atmosphere of tranquillity wherever he goes.' That is perfectly true, but there is a great deal more in the text than that. If we consider the Scriptural usage of this great word peace,' and all the ground that it covers in human experience; if we remember that it enters as an element into Christ's own name, the Peace-Bringer,' the Prince of Peace'; and if we notice, as I have already done, the place which this Beatitude occupies in the series, we shall be obliged to look for some far deeper meaning before we can understand the sweep of our Lord's intention here.

I do not think that I am going one inch too far, or forcing meanings into His words which they are not intended to bear, when I say that the first characteristic of the peace, which His disciples have been passed through their apprenticeship in order to fit them to bring, is the peace of reconciliation with God. The cause of all the other fightings in the world is that men's relation to the Father in heaven is disturbed, and that, whilst there flow out from Him only amity and love, these are met by us with antagonism often, with opposition of will often, with alienation of heart often, and with indifference and forgetfulness almost uniformly. So the first thing to be done to make men at peace with one another and with themselves is to rectify their relation to God, and bring peace there.

We often hear in these days complaints of Christian Churches and Christian people because they do not fling themselves, with sufficient energy to please the censors, into movements which are intended to bring about happier relations in society. The longest way round is sometimes the shortest way home. It does not belong to all of us Christians, and I doubt whether it belongs to the Christian Church as such at all, to fling itself into the movements to which I have referred. But if a man go and carry to men the great message of a reconciled and a reconciling God manifest in Jesus Christ, and bringing peace between men and God, he will have done more to sweeten society and put an end to hostility than I think he will be likely to do by any other method. Christian men and women, whatever else you and I are here for, we are here mainly that we may preach, by lip and life, the great message that in Christ is our peace, and that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.'

We are not to leave out, of course, that which is so often taken as being the sole meaning of the great word of my text. There is much that we are all bound to do to carry the tranquillising and soothing influences of Gospel principles and of Christ's example into the littlenesses of daily life. Any fool can stick a lucifer match into a haystack and make a blaze. It is easy to promote strife. There is a malicious love of it in us all; and ill-natured gossip has a great deal to do in bringing it about. But it takes something more to put the fire out than it did to light it, and there is no nobler office for Christians than to seek to damp down all these devil's flames of envy and jealousy and mutual animosity. We have to do it, first, by making very sure that we do not answer scorn with scorn, gibes with gibes, hate with hate, but seek to overcome evil with good.' It takes two to make a quarrel, and your most hostile antagonist cannot break the peace unless you help him. If you are resolved to keep it, kept it will be.

May I say another word? I think that our text, though it goes a good deal deeper, does also very plainly tell us Christian folk what is our duty in relation to literal warfare. There is no need for me to discuss here the question as to whether actual fighting with armies and swords is ever legitimate or not. It is a curious kind of Christian duty certainly, if it ever gets to be one. And when one thinks of the militarism that is crushing Europe and driving her ignorant classes to wild schemes of revolution; and when one thinks of the hell of battlefields, of the miseries of the wounded, of mourning widows, of ruined peaceful peasants, of the devil's passions that war sets loose, some of us find it extremely hard to believe that all that is ever in accordance with the mind of Christ. But whether you agree with me in that or no, surely my text points to the duty of the Christian Church to take up a very much more decisive position in reference to the military spirit than, alas! it ever has done. Certainly it does seem to be not very obviously in accordance with Christ's teachings that men-of-war should be launched with a religious service, or that Te Deums should be sung because thousands have been killed. It certainly does seem to be something like a satire on European Christianity that one of the chief lessons we have taught the East is that we have instructed the Japanese how to use Western weapons to fight their enemies. Surely, surely, if Christian churches laid to heart as they ought these plain words of the Master, they would bring their united influence to bear against that demon of war, and that pinchbeck, spurious glory which is connected with it. Blessed are the peacemakers': let us try to earn the benediction.

III. Lastly, note the issue of this peacemaking.

They shall be called the sons of God.' Called? By whom? Christ does not say, but it should not be difficult to ascertain. It seems to me that to suppose that it is by men degrades this promise, instead of making it the climax of the whole series. Besides, it is not true that if a Christian man lives as I have been trying to describe, protesting against certain evils, trying to diffuse an atmosphere of peace round about him; and, above all, seeking to make known the Name of the great Peacemaker, men will generally call him a son of God.' The next verse but one tells us what they will call him. Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake.' They are a great deal more likely to have stones and rotten eggs flung at them than to be pelted with bouquets of scented roses of popular approval. No! no! it is not man's judgment that is meant here. It matters very little what men call us. It matters everything what God calls us. It is He who will call them sons of God.' So the Apostle John thought that Christ meant, for he very beautifully and touchingly quotes this passage when he says, Beloved! behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.'

God's calling is a recognition of men for what they are. God owns the man that lives in the fashion that we have been trying to outline--God owns him for His child; manifestly a son, because he has the Father's likeness. Be ye therefore imitators of God as beloved children, and walk in love.' God in Christ is the first Peacemaker, and they who go about the world proclaiming His peace and making peace, bear the image of the heavenly, and are owned by God as His sons.

What does that owning mean? Well, it means a great deal which has yet to be disclosed, but it means this, too, that the whisper of the Voice which owns us for children will be heard by ourselves. The Spirit which cries, Abba, Father!' will open our ears to hear Him say, Thou art My beloved Son.' Or, to put it into plain English, there is no surer way by which we can come to the calm, happy, continual consciousness of being the children of God than by this living like Him, to spread the peace of God over all hearts.

I have said in former sermons that all these promises, which are but the natural outcome of the characteristics to which they are attached, have a double reference, being fulfilled in germ here, and in maturity hereafter. Like the rest, this one has that double reference. For the consciousness, here and now, that we are the children of God is but, as it were, the morning twilight of what shall hereafter be an typesetting meridian sunshine. What depths of divine assimilation, what mysteries of calm, peaceful, filial fellowship, what riches beyond count of divine inheritance, lie in the name of son, the possession of these alone can tell. For the same Apostle, whose comment upon these words we have already quoted, goes on to say, It doth not yet appear what we shall be.'

Only we have one assurance, wide enough for all anticipation, and firm enough for solid hope: If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.' He must make us sons before we can be called sons of God. He must give us peace with God, with ourselves, with men, with circumstances, before we can go forth effectually to bring peace to others. If He has given us these good things, He has bound us to spread them. Let us do so. And if our peace ever is spoken in vain as regards others, it will come back to us again; and we shall be kept in perfect peace, even in the midst of strife, until we enter at last into the city of peace and serve the King of Peace for ever.


Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.'--MATT. v. 10.

We have seen the description of the true subjects of the kingdom growing into form and completeness before our eyes in the preceding verses, which tell us what they are in their own consciousness, what they are in their longings, what they become in inward nature by God's gift of purity, how they move among men as angels of God, meek, merciful, peace-bringing. Is anything more needed for complete portraiture, any added touch to the picture? Yes--what the world is to them, what are its wages for such work, what its perception of such characters. Their relations to it are those of peace-bringers, reconcilers; its to them are those of hostility and dislike. Blessed are the persecuted for righteousness' sake.

I take these words to be as universal and permanent in their application as any which have preceded them. This characteristic is, like all the others, the result of those which go before it and presupposes their continuous operation. The benediction which is attached is not an arbitrary promise, but stands in as close a relation of consequence to the characteristic as do the others. And it is marked out as the last in the series by being a repetition of the first, to express the idea of completeness, a rounded whole; to suggest that all the others are but elements of this, and that the initial blessing given to the poor in spirit is identical with that which is the reward of the highest Christian character, the one possessing implicitly what the other has in full development.

1. The world's recompense to the peace-bringers.

It may be thought that this clause, at all events, has reference to special epochs only, and especially to the first founding of Christianity. Such a reference, of course, there is. And very remarkable is it how clearly and honestly Christ always warned would-be disciples of what they would earn in this world by following Him.

But He seems to take especial pains to show that He here proclaims a principle of equal generality with the others, by separating the application of it to His immediate hearers which follows in the next verse, from the universal statement in the text. Their individual experience was but to illustrate the general rule, not to exhaust it. And you remember how frequently the same thought is set forth in Scripture in the most perfectly general terms.

1. Notice that antagonism is inevitable between a true Christian and the world.

Take the character as it is sketched in verses preceding. Point by point it is alien from the sympathies and habits of irreligious men. The principles are different, the practices are different.

A true Christian ought to be a standing rebuke to the world, an incarnate conscience.

There are but two ways of ending that antagonism: either by bringing the world up to Christian character, or letting Christian character down to the world.

2. The certain and uniform result is opposition and dislike--persecution in its reality.

Darkness hateth light.

Some will, no doubt, be touched; there is that in all men which acknowledges how awful goodness is. But the loftier character is not loved by the lower which if loves.

Aristides the Just.' Christ Himself.

As to practice--a righteous life will not make a man popular.' And as for opinions'--earnest religious opinions of any sort are distasteful. Not the profession of them, but the reality of them--especially those which seem in any way new or strange--make the average man angrily intolerant of an earnest Christianity which takes its creed seriously and insists on testing conventional life by it. Indolence, self-complacency, and inborn conservatism join forces in resenting the presence of such inconvenient enthusiasts, who upset everything and want to turn the world upside down.'

The moping owl doth to the moon complain Of such as, wandering near her ivy tower. Molest her ancient, solitary reign.'

The seeds of the persecuting temper are in human nature, and they germinate in the storms which Christianity brings with it.

3. The phases vary according to circumstances.

We have not to look for the more severe and gross kinds of persecution.

The tendency of the age is to visit no man with penalties for his belief, but to allow the utmost freedom of thought.

The effect of Christianity upon popular morality has been to bring men up towards the standard of Christ's righteousness.

The long proclamation of Christian truth in England has the effect of making mere profession of it a perfectly safe and even proper thing.

But the antagonism remains at bottom the same.

Let a man earnestly accept even the creeds of established religion and live by them, and he will find that out. Let him seek to proclaim and enforce some of those truths of Christianity whose bearing upon social and economical and ecclesiastical questions is but partially understood. Let him set up and stick to a high standard of Christian morality and see what comes of it, in business, say, or in social life.

All that will live godly will suffer persecution.'

4. The present forms are perhaps not less hard to bear than the old ones.

They are, no doubt, very small in contrast with the lions in the arena or the fires of Smithfield. The curled lip, the civil scorn, the alienation of some whose good opinion we would fain have, or, if we stand in some public position, the poisonous slanders of the press, and the contumacious epithets, are trivial but very real tokens of dislike. We have the assassin's tongue instead of the assassin's dagger. But yet such things may call for as much heroism as braving a rack, and the spirit that shoots out the tongue may be as bad as the spirit that yelled, Christianos ad leones.' 5. The great reason why professing Christians now know so little about persecution is because there is so little real antagonism. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own.' The Church has leavened the world, but the world has also leavened the Church; and it seems agreed by common consent that there is to be no fanatical goodness of the early primitive pattern. Of course, then, there will be no persecution, where religion goes in silver slippers, and you find Christian men running neck and neck with others, and no man can tell which is which.

Then, again, many escape by avoiding plain Christian duty, shutting themselves up in their own little cities.

(a) Let us be sure that we never flinch from our Christian character to buy anybody's good opinion.

It is not for us to lower our flags to whoever fires across our bows. Do you never feel it an effort to avow your principles? Do you never feel that they are being smiled away in society? Are you not flattered by being shown that this religion of yours is the one thing that stands between you and cordial reception by these people?

(b) Let us be sure that it is righteousness and Christ which are the grounds of anything of the sort we have to bear, and not our own faults of temper and character.

(c) Let us be sure that we are not persecutors our selves.

To be so is inherent in human nature.

Men have often been both confessors and inquisitors. The spirit of censorious judgment, of fierce hate, of impatient intolerance, has often disgraced Christian men. It is for us to be only and always meek, merciful peace-bringers; and if men will not accept truth, to seek to win and woo them, not to be angry.

It is very hard to be both firm and tolerant, not letting the foolish heart expand into a lazy glow of benevolence to all beliefs, and so perilling one's own, nor letting intense adherence to our own convictions darken into impotent wrath against their harshest opponents. But let us remember that as God is our great example of mercy, so Christ is our great example of patience, both under the world's unbelief and the world's persecution.

II. God's Gift to the persecuted.

The kingdom of heaven.'

This last promise is the same as the first--to express completeness, a rounded whole. All the others are but elements of this.

That highest reward given to the perfectest saint is but the fuller possession of what is given in germ to the humblest and sinfullest at the very first. The poor in spirit gets it at the beginning.

It is not implied by this promise that a Christian man's blessedness depends on the accident of some other person's behaviour to him, or that martyrs have a place which none others can reach. But theirs is the kingdom of heaven as a natural result of the character which brings about persecution, and as a natural result of the development of that character which persecution brings about. This promise, like all the others, has its twofold fulfilment.

There is a present recompense.

Persecution is the result of a character which brings Christians into the kingdom. Theirs is the kingdom--they are subjects. To them it is given to enter.

Persecution makes the present consciousness of the possession of the kingdom more vivid and joyous. It brings the enforced sense of a vocation separate from the hostile world's. As Thomas Fuller puts it somewhere, in troublous times the Church builds high, just as the men do in cities where there is little room to expand on the ground level.

Persecution brightens and solidifies hope, and thus may become infinitely sweet and blessed. How often it has been given to the martyr, as it was given to Stephen, to see heaven opened and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, as if risen to His feet to uphold as well as to receive His servant. Paul and Silas made the prison walls ring with their praises, though their backs were livid with wales and stained with blood. And we, in our far smaller trials for Christ's sake, may have the same more conscious possession of the kingdom and brightened hope of yet fuller possession of it.

There is a future recompense in the perfect kingdom, where men are rewarded according to their capacities. And if the way in which we have met the world's evil has been right, then that will have made us fit for a fuller possession.

In closing we recur to the thought of all these Beatitudes as a chain and the beginning of all as being penitence and faith.

Many a poor man, or many a little child, may have a higher place in heaven than some who have died at the stake for their Lord, for not our history, but our character, determines our place there, and all the fulness of the kingdom belongs to every one who with penitent heart comes to God in Christ, and then by slow degrees from that root brings forth first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear.

Here is Jesus' ideal of character--poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, persecuted for righteousness' sake. To be these is to be blessed. And here is Jesus' ideal of what, over and above the inherent blessedness of such a character, constitutes the true blessedness of a soul--the possession of the kingdom of heaven, comfort from God, the inheritance of the earth of which the inheritor may not own a yard, full satisfaction of the longing after righteousness, the obtaining of mercy from God, the name of sons of God, and, last as first, the possession of the kingdom of heaven. Is Jesus' ideal yours? Do you believe that such a character is the highest that a man can attain, that in itself it is truly blessed, and will bring about results in contrast with which all baser-born joys are coarse and false? Happy will you be if you so believe, and if so believing you make the ideal which He paints your aim, and therefore secure the blessedness which He attaches to it as your exceeding great reward.


Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.'--MATT. v. 13.

These words must have seemed ridiculously presumptuous when they were first spoken, and they have too often seemed mere mockery and irony in the ages since. A Galilean peasant, with a few of his rude countrymen who had gathered round him, stands up there on the mountain, and says to them, You, a handful, are the people who are to keep the world from rotting, and to bring it to all its best light.' Strange when we think that Christ believed that these men were able to do these grand functions because they drew their power from Himself! Stranger still to think that, notwithstanding all the miserable inconsistencies of the professing Church ever since, yet, on the whole, the experience of history has verified these words! And although some wise men may curl their lips with a sneer as they say about us Christians, Ye are the salt of the earth!' yet the most progressive, and the most enlightened, and the most moral portion of humanity has derived its impulse to progress, its enlightenment as to the loftiest truths, and the purest portion of its morality, from the men who received their power to impart these from Jesus Christ.

And so, dear brethren, I have to say two or three things now, which I hope will be plain and earnest and searching, about the function of the Christian Church, and of each individual member of it, as set forth in these words; about the solemn possibility that the qualification for that function may go away from a man; about the grave question as to whether such a loss can ever be repaired; and about the certain end of the saltless salt.

I. First, then, as to the high task of Christ's disciples as here set forth.

Ye are the salt of the earth'! The metaphor wants very little explanation, however much enforcement it may require. It involves two things: a grave judgment as to the actual state of society, and a lofty claim as to what Christ's followers are able to do to it.

A grave judgment as to the actual state of society--it is corrupt and tending to corruption. You do not salt a living thing. You salt a dead one that it may not be a rotting one. And, Christ says by implication here, what He says plainly more than once in other places:--Human society, without My influence, is a carcass that is rotting away and disintegrating; and you, faithful handful, who have partially apprehended the meaning of My mission, and have caught something of the spirit of My life, you are to be rubbed into that rotting mass to sweeten it, to arrest decomposition, to stay corruption, to give flavour to its insipidity, and to save it from falling to pieces of its own wickedness. Ye are the salt of the earth.'

Now, it is not merely because we are the bearers of a truth that will do all this that we are thus spoken of, but we Christian men are to do it by the influence of conduct and character.

There are two or three thoughts suggested by this metaphor. The chief one is that of our power, and therefore our obligation, to arrest the corruption round us, by our own purity. The presence of a good man hinders the devil from having elbow-room to do his work. Do you and I exercise a repressive influence (if we do not do anything better), so that evil and low-toned life is ashamed to show itself in our presence, and skulks back as do wrong-doers from the bull's-eye of a policeman's lantern? It is not a high function, but it is a very necessary one, and it is one that all Christian men and women ought to discharge--that of rebuking and hindering the operation of corruption, even if they have not the power to breathe a better spirit into the dead mass.

But the example of Christian men is not only repressive. It ought to tempt forth all that is best and purest and highest in the people with whom they come in contact. Every man who does right helps to make public opinion in favour of doing right; and every man who lowers the standard of morality in his own life helps to lower it in the community of which he is a part. And so in a thousand ways that I have no need to dwell upon here, the men that have Christ in their hearts and something of Christ's conduct and character repeated in theirs are to be the preserving and purifying influence in the midst of this corrupt world.

There are two other points that I name, and do not enlarge upon. The first of them is--salt does its work by being brought into close contact with the substance upon which it is to work. And so we, brought into contact as we are with much evil and wickedness, by many common relations of friendship, of kindred, of business, of proximity, of citizenship, and the like,--we are not to seek to withdraw ourselves from contact with the evil. The only way by which the salt can purify is by being rubbed into the corrupted thing.

And once more, salt does its work silently, inconspicuously, gradually. Ye are the light of the world,' says Christ in the next verse. Light is far-reaching and brilliant, flashing that it may be seen. That is one side of Christian work, the side that most of us like best, the conspicuous kind of it. Ay! but there is a very much humbler, and, as I fancy, a very much more useful, kind of work that we have all to do. We shall never be the light of the world,' except on condition of being the salt of the earth.' You have to play the humble, inconspicuous, silent part of checking corruption by a pure example before you can aspire to play the other part of raying out light into the darkness, and so drawing men to Christ Himself.

Now, brethren, why do I repeat all these common, threadbare platitudes, as I know they are? Simply in order to plant upon them this one question to the heart and conscience of you Christian men and women:--Is there anything in your life that makes this text, in its application to you, other else than the bitterest mockery?

II. The grave possibility of the salt losing its savour.

There is no need for asking the question whether such loss is a physical fact or not, whether in the natural realm it is possible for any forms of matter that have saline taste to lose it by any cause. That does not at all concern us. The point is that it is possible for us, who call ourselves--and are--Christians, to lose our penetrating pungency, which stays corruption; to lose all that distinguishes us from the men that we are to better.

Now I think that nobody can look upon the present condition of professing Christendom; or, in a narrower aspect, upon the present condition of English Christianity; or in a still narrower, nobody can look round upon this congregation; or in the narrowest view, none of us can look into our own hearts--without feeling that this saying comes perilously near being true of us. And I beg you, dear Christian friends, while I try to dwell on this point, to ask yourselves this question--Lord, is it I? and not to be thinking of other people whom you may suppose the cap will fit.

There is, then, manifest on every side--first of all, the obliteration of the distinction between the salt and the mass into which it is inserted, or to put it into other words, Christian men and women swallow down bodily, and practise thoroughly, the maxims of the world, as to life, as to what is pleasant and what is desirable, and as to the application of morality to business. There is not a hair of difference in that respect between hundreds and thousands of professing Christian men, and the irreligious man that has his office up the same staircase. I know, of course, that there are in every communion saintly men and women who are labouring to keep themselves unspotted from the world, but I know too that in every communion there are those, whose religion has next to no influence on their general conduct, and does not even keep them from corruption, to say nothing of making them sources of purifying influence. You cannot lay the flattering unction to your souls that the reason why there is so little difference between the Church and the world to-day is because the world has grown so much better. I know that to a large extent the principles of Christian ethics have permeated the consciousness of a country like this, and have found their way even amongst people who make no profession at all of being Christians. Thank God for it; but that does not explain it all.

If you take a red-hot ball out of a furnace and lay it down upon a frosty moor, two processes will go on--the ball will lose heat and the surrounding atmosphere will gain it. There are two ways by which you equalise the temperature of a hotter and a colder body: the one is by the hot one getting cold, and the other is by the cold one getting hot. If you are not heating the world, the world is freezing you. Every man influences all men round him, and receives influences from them, and if there be not more exports than imports, if there be not more influences and mightier influences raying out from him than are coming into him, he is a poor creature, and at the mercy of circumstances. Men must either be hammers or anvil';--must either give blows or receive them. I am afraid that a great many of us who call ourselves Christians get a great deal more harm from the world than we ever dream of doing good to it. Remember this, you are the salt of the earth,' and if you do not salt the world, the world will rot you.

Is there any difference between your ideal of happiness and the irreligious one? Is there any difference between your notion of what is pleasure, and the irreligious one? Is there any difference in your application of the rules of morality to daily life, any difference in your general way of looking at things from the way of the ungodly world? Yes, or No? Is the salt being infected by the carcass, or is it purifying the corruption? Answer the question, brother, as before God and your own conscience.

Then there is another thing. There can be no doubt but that all round and shared by us, there are instances of the cooling of the fervour of Christian devotion. That is the reason for the small distinction in character and conduct between the world and the Church to-day. An Arctic climate will not grow tropical fruits, and if the heat have been let down, as it has been let down, you cannot expect the glories of character and the pure unworldliness of conduct that you would have had at a higher temperature. Nor is there any doubt but that the present temperature is, with some of us, a distinct loss of heat. It was not always so low. The thermometer has gone down.

There are, no doubt, some among us who had once a far more vigorous Christian life than they have to-day; who were once far more aflame with the love of God than they are now. And although I know, of course, that as years go on emotion will become less vivid, and feeling may give place to principle, yet I know no reason why, as years go on, fervour should become less, or the warmth of our love to our Master should decline. There will be less spluttering and crackling when the fire burns up; there may be fewer flames; but there will be a hotter glow of ruddy, unflaming heat. That is what ought to be in our Christian experience.

Nor can there be any doubt, I think, but that the partial obliteration of the distinction between the Church and the world, and the decay of the fervour of devotion which leads to it, are both to be traced to a yet deeper cause, and that is the loss or diminution of actual fellowship with Jesus Christ. It was that which made these early disciples salt.' It was that which made them light.' It is that, and that alone, which makes devotion burn fervid, and which makes characters glow with the strange saintliness that rebukes iniquity, and works for the purifying of the world. And so I would remind you that fellowship with Jesus Christ is no vague exercise of the mind but is to be cultivated by three things, which I fear me are becoming less and less habitual amongst professing Christians:--Meditation, the study of the Bible, private prayer. If you have not these--and you know best whether you have them or not--no power in heaven or earth can prevent you from losing the savour that makes you salt.

III. Now I come to the next point, and that is the solemn question: Is there a possibility of re-salting the saltless salt, of restoring the lost savour?

Wherewithal shall it be salted?' says the Master. That is plain enough, but do not let us push it too far. If the Church is meant for the purifying of the world, and the Church itself needs purifying, is there any power in the world that will do it? If the army joins the rebels, is there any force that will bring back the army to submission? Our Lord is speaking about ordinary means and agencies. He is saying in effect, if the one thing that is intended to preserve the meat loses its power, is there anything lying about that will salt that? So far, then, the answer seems to be--No.

But Christ has no intention that these words should be pushed to the extreme of asserting that if salt loses its savour, if a man loses the pungency of his Christian life, he cannot win it back, by going again to the source from which he received it at first. There is no such implication in these words. There is no obstacle in the way of a penitent returning to the fountain of all power and purity, nor of the full restoration of the lost savour, if a man will only bring about a full reunion of himself with the source of the savour.

Dear brethren, the message is to each of us; the same pleading words, which the Apocalyptic seer heard from Heaven, come to you and me: Remember, therefore, from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works.' And all the savour and the sweetness that flow from fellowship with Jesus Christ will come back to us in larger measure than ever, if we will come back to the Lord. Repentance and returning will bring back the saltness to the salt, and the brilliancy to the light.

IV. But one last word warns us what is the certain end of the saltless salt.

As the other Evangelist puts it: It is neither good for the land nor for the dunghill.' You cannot put it upon the soil; there is no fertilising virtue in it. You cannot even fling it into the rubbish-heap; it will do mischief there. Pitch it out into the road; it will stop a cranny somewhere between the stones when once it is well trodden down by men's heels. That is all it is fit for. God has no use for it, man has no use for it. If it has failed in doing the only thing it was created for, it has failed altogether. Like a knife that will not cut, or a lamp that will not burn, which may have a beautiful handle, or a beautiful stem, and may be highly artistic and decorated; but the question is, Does it cut, does it burn? If not, it is a failure altogether, and in this world there is no room for failures. The poorest living thing of the lowest type will jostle the dead thing out of the way. And so, for the salt that has lost its savour, there is only one thing to be done with it--cast it out, and tread it under foot.

Yes; where are the Churches of Asia Minor, the patriarchates of Alexandria, of Antioch, of Constantinople; the whole of that early Syrian, Palestinian Christianity: where are they? Where is the Church of North Africa, the Church of Augustine? Trodden under foot of men!' Over the archway of a mosque in Damascus you can read the half-obliterated inscription--Thy Kingdom, O Christ, is an everlasting Kingdom,' and above it--There is no God but God, and Mohammed is His prophet!' The salt has lost his savour, and been cast out.

And does any one believe that the Churches of Christendom are eternal in their present shape? I see everywhere the signs of disintegration in the existing embodiments and organisations that set forth Christian life. And I am sure of this, that in the days that are coming to us, the storm in which we are already caught, all dead branches will be whirled out of the tree. So much the better for the tree! And a great deal that calls itself organised Christianity will have to go down because there is not vitality enough in it to stand. For you know it is low vitality that catches all the diseases that are going; and it is out of the sick sheep's eyeholes that the ravens peck the eyes. And it will be the feeble types of spiritual life, the inconsistent Christianities of our churches, that will yield the crop of apostates and heretics and renegades, and that will fall before temptation.

Brethren, remember this: Unless you go back close to your Lord, you will go further away from Him. The deadness will deepen, the coldness will become icier and icier; you will lose more and more of the life, and show less and less of the likeness, and purity, of Jesus Christ until you come to this--I pray God that none of us come to it--Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.' Dead!

My brother, let us return unto the Lord our God, and keep nearer Him than we ever have done, and bring our hearts more under the influence of His grace, and cultivate the habit of communion with Him; and pray and trust, and leave ourselves in His hands, that His power may come into us, and that we in the beauty of our characters, and the purity of our lives, and the elevation of our spirits, may witness to all men that we have been with Christ; and may, in some measure, check the corruption that is in the world through lust.


Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. 15. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. 16. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.'--MATT. v. 14-16.

The conception of the office of Christ's disciples contained in these words is a still bolder one than that expressed by the preceding metaphor, which we considered in the last sermon. Ye are the salt of the earth' implied superior moral purity and power to arrest corruption. Ye are the light of the world' implies superior spiritual illumination, and power to scatter ignorance.

That is not all the meaning of the words, but that is certainly in them. So then, our Lord here gives His solemn judgment that the world, without Him and those who have learned from Him, is in a state of darkness; and that His followers have that to impart which will bring certitude and clearness of knowledge, together with purity and joy and all the other blessed things which are the fruit of the light.'

That high claim is illustrated by a very homely metaphor. In every humble house from which His peasant-followers came, there would be a lamp--some earthen saucer with a little oil in it, in which a wick floated, a rude stand to put it upon, a meal-chest or a flour-bin, and a humble pallet on which to lie. These simple pieces of furniture are taken to point this solemn lesson. When you light your lamp you put it on the stand, do you not? You light it in order that it may give light; you do not put it under the meal-measure or the bed. So I have kindled you that you may shine, and put you where you are that you may give light.'

And the same thought, with a slightly different turn in the application, lies in that other metaphor, which is enclosed in the middle of this parable about the light: a city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.' Where they stood on the mountain, no doubt they could see some village perched upon a ridge for safety, with its white walls gleaming in the strong Syrian sunlight; a landmark for many a mile round. So says Christ: The City which I found, the true Jerusalem, like its prototype in the Psalm, is to be conspicuous for situation, that it may be the joy of the whole earth.'

I take all this somewhat long text now because all the parts of it hold so closely together, and converge upon the one solemn exhortation with which it closes, and which I desire to lay upon your hearts and consciences, Let your light so shine before men.' I make no pretensions to anything like an artificial arrangement of my remarks, but simply follow the words in the order in which they lie before us.

I. First, just a word about the great conception of a Christian man's office which is set forth in that metaphor, Ye are the light of the world.'

That expression is wide, generic,' as they say. Then in the unfolding of this little parable our Lord goes on to explain what kind of a light it is to which He would compare His people--the light of a lamp kindled. Now that is the first point that I wish to deal with. Christian men individually, and the Christian Church as a whole, shine by derived light. There is but One who is light in Himself. He who said, I am the light of the world, he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness,' was comparing Himself to the sunshine, whereas when He said to us, Ye are the light of the world; men do not light a lamp and put it under a bushel,' He was comparing us to the kindled light of the lamp, which had a beginning and will have an end.

Before, and independent of, His historical manifestation in the flesh, the Eternal Word of God, who from the beginning was the Life, was also the light of men; and all the light of reason and of conscience, all which guides and illumines, comes from that one source, the Everlasting Word, by whom all things came to be and consist. He was the true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.' And further, the historic Christ, the Incarnate Word, is the source for men of all true revelation of God and themselves, and of the relations between them; the Incarnate Ideal of humanity, the Perfect Pattern of conduct, who alone sheds beams of certainty on the darkness of life, who has left a long trail of light as He has passed into the dim regions beyond the grave. In both these senses He is the light, and we gather our radiance from Him.

We shall be light' if we are in the Lord.' It is by union with Jesus Christ that we partake of His illumination. A sunbeam has no more power to shine if it be severed from the sun than a man has to give light in this dark world if He be parted from Jesus Christ. Cut the current and the electric light dies; slacken the engine and the electric arc becomes dim, quicken it and it burns bright. So the condition of my being light is my keeping unbroken my communication with Jesus Christ; and every variation in the extent to which I receive into my heart the influx of His power and of His love is correctly measured and represented by the greater or the lesser brilliancy of the light with which I reflect His radiance. Ye were some time darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord.' Keep near to Him, and a firm hold of His hand, and then you will be light.

And now I need not dwell for more than a moment or two upon what I have already said is included in this conception of the Christian man as being light. There are two sides to it: one is that all Christian people who have learned to know Jesus Christ and have been truly taught of Him, do possess a certitude and clearness of knowledge which make them the lights of the world. We advance no claims to any illumination as to other than moral or religious truth. We leave all the other fields uncontested. We bow humbly with confessed ignorance and with unfeigned gratitude and admiration before those who have laboured in them, as before our teachers, but if we are true to our Master, and true to the position in which He has placed us, we shall not be ashamed to say that we believe ourselves to know the truth, in so far as men can ever know it, about the all-important subject of God and man, and the bond between them.

To-day there is need, I think, that Christian men and women should not be reasoned or sophisticated or cowed out of their confidence that they have the light because they do know God. It is proclaimed as the ultimate word of modern thought that we stand in the presence of a power which certainly is, but of which we can know nothing except that it is altogether different from ourselves, and that it ever tempts us to believe that we can know it, and ever repels us into despair. Our answer is Yes! we could have told you that long ago, though not altogether in your sense; you have got hold of half a truth, and here is the whole of it:--No man hath seen God at any time, nor can see Him!' (a Gospel of despair, verified by the last words of modern thinkers), the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.'

Christian men and women, Ye are the light of the world.' Darkness in yourselves, ignorant about many things, ungifted with lofty talent, you have possession of the deepest truth; do not be ashamed to stand up and say, even in the presence of Mars' Hill, with all its Stoics and Epicureans:--Whom ye ignorantly'--alas! not worship'--Whom ye ignorantly speak of, Him declare we unto you.'

And then there is the other side, which I only name, moral purity. Light is the emblem of purity as well as the emblem of knowledge, and if we are Christians we have within us, by virtue of our possession of an indwelling Christ, a power which teaches and enables us to practise a morality high above the theories and doings of the world. But upon this there is the less need to dwell, as it was involved in our consideration of the previous figure of the salt.

II. And now the next point that I would make is this, following the words before us--the certainty that if we are light we shall shine.

The nature and property of light is to radiate. It cannot choose but shine; and in like manner the little village perched upon a hill there, glittering and twinkling in the sunlight, cannot choose but be seen. So, says Christ, If you have Christian character in you, if you have Me in you, such is the nature of the Christian life that it will certainly manifest itself.' Let us dwell upon that for a moment or two. Take two thoughts: All earnest Christian conviction will demand expression; and all deep experience of the purifying power of Christ upon character will show itself in conduct.

All earnest conviction will demand expression. Everything that a man believes has a tendency to convert its believer into its apostle. That is not so in regard to common every-day truths, nor in regard even to truths of science, but it is so in regard to all moral truth. For example, if a man gets a vivid and intense conviction of the evils of intemperance and the blessings of abstinence, look what a fiery vehemence of propagandism is at once set to work. And so all round the horizon of moral truth which is intended to affect conduct; it is of such a sort that a man cannot get it into brain and heart without causing him before long to say--This thing has mastered me, and turned me into its slave; and I must speak according to my convictions.'

That experience works most mightily in regard to Christian truth, as the highest. What shall we say, then, of the condition of Christian men and women if they have not such an instinctive need of utterance? Do you ever feel this in your heart:--Thy word shut up in my bones was like a fire. I was weary of forbearing, and I could not stay'? Professing Christians, do you know anything of the longing to speak your deepest convictions, the feeling that the fire within you is burning through all envelopings, and will be out? What shall we say of the men that have it not? God forbid I should say there is no fire, but I do say that if the fountain never rises into the sunlight above the dead level of the pool, there can be very little pressure at the main; that if a man has not the longing to speak his religious convictions, those convictions must be very hesitating and very feeble; that if you never felt I must say to somebody I have found the Messias,' you have not found Him in any very deep sense, and that if the light that is in you can be buried under a bushel, it is not much of a light after all, and needs a great deal of feeding and trimming before it can be what it ought to be.

On the other hand, all deep experience of the purifying power of Christ upon character will show itself in conduct. It is all very well for people to profess that they have received the forgiveness of sins and the inner sanctification of God's Spirit. If you have, let us see it, and let us see it in the commonest, pettiest affairs of daily life. The communication between the inmost experience and the outermost conduct is such as that if there be any real revolution deep down, it will manifest itself in the daily life. I make all allowance for the loss of power in transmission, for the loss of power in friction. I am glad to believe that you and I, and all our imperfect brethren, are a great deal better in heart than we ever manage to show ourselves to be in life. Thank God for the consolation that may come out of that thought--but notwithstanding I press on you my point that, making all such allowance, and setting up no impossible standard of absolute identity between duty and conduct in this present life, yet, on the whole, if we are Christian people with any deep central experience of the cleansing power and influence of Christ and His grace, we shall show it in life and in conduct. Or, to put it into the graphic and plain image of my text, If we are light we shall shine.

III. Again, and very briefly, this obligation of giving light is still further enforced by the thought that that was Christ's very purpose in all that He has done with us and for us.

The homely figure here implies that He has not kindled the lamp to put it under the bushel, but that His purpose in lighting it was that it might give light. God has made us partakers of His grace, and has given to us to be light in the Lord, for this among other purposes, that we should impart that light to others. No creature is so small that it has not the right to expect that its happiness and welfare shall be regarded by God as an end in His dealings with it; but no creature is so great that it has the right to expect that its happiness or well-being shall be regarded by God and itself as God's only end in His dealings with it. He gives us His grace, His pardon, His love, the quickening of His Spirit by our union with Jesus Christ; He gives us our knowledge of Him, and our likeness to Him--what for? For my own salvation, for my happiness and well-being,' you say. Certainly, blessed be His name for His love and goodness! But is that all His purpose? Paul did not think so when he said, God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness hath shined into our hearts that we might give to others the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.' And Christ did not think so when He said, Men do not light a candle and put it under a bushel, but that it may give light to all that are in the house.' Heaven doth with us as we with torches do: not light them for themselves.' The purpose of God is that we may shine. The lamp is kindled not to illumine itself, but that it may give light to all that are in the house.'

Consider again, that whilst all these things are true, there is yet a solemn possibility that men--even good men--may stifle and smother and shroud their light. You can do, and I am afraid a very large number of you do do, this; by two ways. You can bury the light of a holy character under a whole mountain of inconsistencies. If one were to be fanciful, one might say that the bushel or meal-chest meant material well-being, and the bed, indolence and love of ease. I wonder how many of us Christian men and women have buried their light under the flour-bin and the bed, so interpreted? How many of us have drowned our consecration and devotion in foul waters of worldly lusts, and have let the love of earth's goods, of wealth and pleasure and creature love, come like a poisonous atmosphere round the lamp of our Christian character, making it burn dim and blue?

And we can bury the light of the Word under cowardly and sheepish and indifferent silence. I wonder how many of us have done that? Like blue-ribbon men that button their great-coats over their blue ribbons when they go into company where they are afraid to show them, there are many Christian people that are devout Christians at the Communion Table, but would be ashamed to say they were so in the miscellaneous company of a railway carriage or a table d'hote. There are professing Christians who have gone through life in their relationships to their fathers, sisters, wives, children, friends, kindred, their servants and dependents, and have never spoken a loving word for their Master. That is a sinful hiding of your light under the bushel and the bed.

IV. And so the last word, into which all this converges, is the plain duty: If you are light, shine!

Let your light so shine before men,' nays the text, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.' In the next chapter our Lord says: Take heed that ye do not your alms before men to be seen of them. Thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are; for they love to pray standing in the synagogues that they may be seen of men.' What is the difference between the two sets of men and the two kinds of conduct? The motive makes the difference for one thing, and for another thing, Let your light so shine' does not mean take precautions that your goodness may come out into public,' but it means Shine!' You find the light, and the world will find the eyes, no fear of that! You do not need to seek to be seen of men,' but you do need to shine that men may see.

The lighthouse keeper takes no pains that the ships tossing away out at sea may behold the beam that shines from his lamp; all that he does is to feed it and tend it. And that is all that you and I have to do--tend the light, and do not, like cowards, cover it up. Modestly, but yet bravely, carry out your Christianity, and men will see it. Do not be as a dark lantern, burning with the slides down and illuminating nothing and nobody. Live your Christianity, and it will be beheld.

And remember, candles are not lit to be looked at. Candles are lit that something else may be seen by them. Men may see God through your words, through your conduct, who never would have beheld Him otherwise, because His beams are too bright for their dim eyes. And it is an awful thing to think that the world always-- always--takes its conception of Christianity from the Church, and neither from the Bible nor from Christ; and that it is you and your like, you inconsistent Christians, you people that say your sins are forgiven and yet are doing the old sins day by day which you say are pardoned, you low-toned, unpraying, worldly Christian men, who have no elevation of character and no self-restraint of life and no purity of conduct above the men in your own profession and in your own circumstances all round you--it is you that are hindering the coming of Christ's Kingdom, it is you that are the standing disgraces of the Church, and the weaknesses and diseases of Christendom. I speak strongly, not half as strongly as the facts of the case would warrant; but I lay it upon all your consciences as professing Christian people to see to it that no longer your frivolities, or doubtful commercial practices, or low, unspiritual tone of life, your self-indulgence in household arrangements, and a dozen other things that I might name--that no longer do they mar the clearness of your testimony for your Master, and disturb with envious streaks of darkness the light that shines from His followers.

How effectual such a witness may be none who have not seen its power can suppose. Example does tell. A holy life curbs evil, ashamed to show itself in that pure presence. A good man or woman reveals the ugliness of evil by showing the beauty of holiness. More converts would be made by a Christ-like Church than by many sermons. Oh! if you professing Christians knew your power and would use it, if you would come closer to Christ, and catch more of the light from His face, you might walk among men like very angels, and at your bright presence darkness would flee away, ignorance would grow wise, impurity be abashed, and sorrow comforted.

Be not content, I pray you, till your own hearts are fully illumined by Christ, having no part dark--and then live as remembering that you have been made light that you may shine. Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.'


Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 18. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. 19. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. 21. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: 22. But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell-fire. 23. Therefore, if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; 24. Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. 25. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. 26. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.'--MATT. v. 17-26.

This passage falls naturally into two parts--the former extending from verse 17 to 20 inclusive; the latter, from verse 21 to the end. In the former, the King of the true kingdom lays down the general principles of the relation between its laws and the earlier revelation of the divine will; in the latter, He exemplifies this relation in one case, which is followed, in the remainder of the chapter, by three other illustrative examples.

I. The King laying down the law of His kingdom in its relation to the older law of God.

The four verses included in this section give a regular sequence of thought: verse 17 declaring our Lord's personal relation to the former revelation as fulfilling it; verse 18 basing that statement of the purpose of His coming on the essential permanence of the old law; verses 19 and 20 deducing thence the relation of His disciples to that law, and that in such a way that verse 19 corresponds to verse 18, and affirms that this permanent law is binding in its minutest details on His subjects, while verse 20 corresponds to verse 17, and requires their deepened righteousness as answering to His fulfilment of the law.

The first thing that strikes one in looking at these verses is their authoritative tone. There may, even thus early in Christ's career, have been some murmurs that He was taking up a position of antagonism to Mosaism, which may account for the think not' which introduces the section. But however that may be, the swift transition from the Beatitudes to speak of Himself and of the meaning of His work is all of a piece with His whole manner; for certainly never did religious teacher open his mouth, who spoke so perpetually about Himself as did the meek Jesus. I came' declares that He is the coming One,' and is really a claim to have voluntarily appeared among men, as well as to be the long-expected Messiah. With absolute decisiveness He states the purpose of His coming. He knows the meaning of His own work, which so few of us do, and it is safe to take His own account of what He intends, as it so seldom is. His opening declaration is singularly composed of blended humility and majesty. Its humility lies in His placing Himself, as it were, in line with previous messengers, and representing Himself as carrying on the sequence of divine revelation. It would not have been humble for anybody but Him to say that, but it was so for Him. Its majesty lies in His claim to fulfil' all former utterances from God. His fulfilment of the law properly so called is twofold: first, in His own proper person and life, He completes obedience to it, realises its ideal; second, in His exposition of it, both by lip and life, He deepens and intensifies its meaning, changing it from a letter which regulates the actions, to a spirit which moves the inward man.

So these first words point to the peculiarity of His coming as being His own act, and make two daring assertions, as to His character, which He claims to be sinless, and as to His teaching, which he claims to be an advance upon all the former divine revelation. As to the former, He speaks here as He did to John, thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.' No trace of consciousness of sin or defect appears in any words or acts of His. The calmest conviction that He was perfectly righteous is always manifest. How comes it that we are not repelled by such a tone? We do not usually admire self-complacent religious teachers. Why has nobody ever given Christ the lie, or pointed to His unconsciousness of faults as itself the gravest fault? Strange inaugural discourse for a humble sage and saint to assert his own immaculate perfection, stranger still that a listening world has said, Amen!' Note, too, the royal style here. In this part of the Sermon' our Lord twice uses the phrase, I say unto you,' which He once introduces with His characteristic verily.' Once He employs it to give solemnity to the asseveration which stretches forward to the end of this solid-seeming world, and once He introduces by it the stringent demand for His followers' loftier righteousness. His unsupported word is given us as our surest light in the dark future, His bare command as the most imperative authority. This style goes kingly; it calls for absolute credence and unhesitating submission. When He speaks, even if we have nothing but His word, it is ours neither to make reply' nor to reason why,' but simply to believe, and swiftly to do. Rabbis might split hairs and quote other rabbis by the hour; philosophers may argue and base their teachings on elaborate demonstrations; moralists may seek to sway the conscience through reason; legislators to appeal to fear and hope. He speaks, and it is done; He commands, and it stands fast. There is nothing else in the world the least like the superb and mysterious authority with which He fronts the world, and, as Fountain of knowledge and Source of obligation, summons us all to submit and believe, by that Verily, I say unto you.'

Verse 18. Next we have to notice the exuberant testimony to the permanence of the law. Not the smallest of its letters, not even the little marks which distinguished some of them, or the flourishes at the top of some of them, should pass,--as we might say, not even the stroke across a written t,' which shows that it is not l.' The law shall last as long as the world. It shall last till it be accomplished. And what then? The righteousness which it requires can never be so realised that we shall not need to realise it any more, and in the new heavens righteousness dwelleth. But in a very real sense law shall cease when fulfilled. There is no law to him who can say, Thy law is within my heart.' When law has become both law and impulse,' it has ceased to be law, in so far as it no longer stands over against the doer as an external constraint.

Verse 19. On this permanence of the law Christ builds its imperative authority in His kingdom. Obviously, the kingdom of heaven' in verse 19 means the earthly form of that kingdom. The King republishes, as it were, the old code, and adopts it as the basis of His law. He thus assumes the absolute right of determining precedence and dignity in that kingdom. The sovereign is the fountain of honour,' whose word ennobles. Observe the merciful accuracy of the language. The breach of the commandments either in theory or in practice does not exclude from the kingdom, for it is, while realised on earth, a kingdom of sinful men aiming after holiness; but the smallest deflection from the law of right, in theory or in practice, does lower a man's standing therein, inasmuch as it makes him less capable of that conformity to the King, and consequent nearness to Him, which determines greatness and smallness there. Dignity in the kingdom depends on Christ-likeness, and Christ-likeness depends on fulfilling, as He did, all righteousness. Small flaws are most dangerous because least noticeable. More Christian men lose their chance of promotion in the kingdom by a multitude of little sins than by single great ones.

Verse 20. As the King has Himself by His perfect obedience fulfilled the law, His subjects likewise must, in their obedience, transcend the righteousness of those who best knew and most punctiliously kept it. The scribes and Pharisees are not here regarded as hypocrites, but taken as types of the highest conformity with the law which the old dispensation afforded. The new kingdom demands a higher, namely a more spiritual and inward righteousness, one corresponding to the profounder meaning which the King gives to the old commandment. And this loftier fulfilment is not merely the condition of dignity in, but of entrance at all into, the kingdom. Inward holiness is the essence of the character of all its subjects. How that holiness is to be ours is not here told, except in so far as it is hinted by the fact that it is regarded as the issue of the King's fulfilling the law. These last words would have been terrible and excluding if they had stood alone. When they follow I am come to fulfil,' they are a veiled gospel, implying that by His fulfilment the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us.

II. We have an illustrative example in the case of the old commandment against murder. This part of the passage falls into three divisions--each occupying two verses. First we have the deepening and expansion of the commandment. This part begins with the royal style again. What was said to them of old' is left in its full authority. But I say unto you' represents Jesus as possessing co-ordinate authority with that law, of which the speaker is unnamed, perhaps because the same Word of God which now spoke in Him had spoken it. We need but refer here to the Jewish courts and Sanhedrim, and to that valley of Hinnom, where the offal of Jerusalem and the corpses of criminals were burned, nor need we discuss the precise force of Raca' and thou fool.' The main points to be observed are, the distinct extension of the conception of killing' to embrace malevolent anger, whether it find vent or is kept close in the heart; the clear recognition that, whilst the emotion which is the source of the overt act is of the same nature as the act, and that therefore he who hateth his brother is a murderer,' there are degrees in criminality, according as the anger remains unexpressed, or finds utterance in more or less bitter and contemptuous language; that consequently there are degrees in the severity of the punishment which is administered by no earthly tribunal; and that, finally, this stern sentence has hidden in it the possibility of forgiveness, inasmuch as the consequence of the sin is liability to punishment, but not necessarily suffering of it. The old law had no such mitigation of its sentence.

Verses 23, 24. The second part of this illustrative example intensifies the command by putting obedience to it before acts of external worship. The language is vividly picturesque. We see a worshipper standing at the very altar while the priest is offering his sacrifice. In that sacred moment, while he is confessing his sins, a flash across his memory shows him a brother offended,--rightly or wrongly it matters not. The solemn sacrifice is to pause while he seeks the offended one, and, whatever the other man's reception of his advances may be, he cleanses his own bosom of its perilous stuff; then he may come back and go on with the interrupted worship. Nothing could put in a clearer light the prime importance of the command than this setting aside of sacred religious acts for its sake. Obedience is better than sacrifice.' And the little word therefore,' at the beginning of verse 23, points to the terrible penalties as the reason for this urgency. If such destruction may light on the angry man, nothing should come between him and the conquest of his anger. Such self-conquest, which will often seem like degradation, is more acceptable service to the King, and truer worship, than all words or ceremonial acts. Deep truths as to the relations between worship, strictly so called, and life, lie in these words, which may well be taken to heart by those whose altar is Calvary, and their gift the thank-offering of themselves.

Verses 25, 26. The third part is a further exhortation to the same swiftness in casting out anger from the heart, thrown into a parabolic form. When you quarrel with a man, says Christ in effect, prudence enjoins to make it up as soon as possible, before he sets the law in motion. If once he, as plaintiff, has brought you before the judge, the law will go on mechanically through the stages of trial, condemnation, surrender to the prison authorities, and confinement till the last farthing has been paid. So, if you are conscious that you have an adversary,--and any man that you hate is your adversary, for he will appear against you at that solemn judgment to come,--agree with him, put away the anger out of your heart at once. In the special case in hand, the adversary' is the man with whom we are angry. In the general application of the precept to the whole series of offences against the law, the adversary may be regarded as the law itself. In either interpretation, the stages of appearing before the judge and so on up till the shutting up in prison are the stages of the judgment before the tribunal, not of earth, but of the kingdom of heaven. They point to the same dread realities as are presented in the previous verses under the imagery of the Jewish courts and the foul fires of the valley of Hinnom. Christ closes the grave parable with His solemn Verily I say unto thee'--as looking on the future judgment, and telling us what His eyes saw. The words have no bearing on the question of the duration of the imprisonment, for He does not tell us whether the last farthing could ever be paid or not; but they do teach this lesson, that, if once we fall under the punishments of the kingdom, there is no end to them until the last tittle of the consequences of our breach of its law has been paid. To delay obedience, and still more to delay abandoning disobedience, is madness, in view of the storm that may at any moment burst on the heads of the rebels.

Thus He deepens and fulfils one precept of the old law by extending the sweep of its prohibition from acts to thoughts, by setting obedience to it above sacrifice and worship, and by picturing in solemn tones of parabolic warning the consequences of having the disobeyed precept as our unreconciled adversary. In this one case we have a specimen of His mode of dealing with the whole law, every jot of which He expanded in His teaching, and perfectly observed in His life.

A gospel is hidden even in these warnings, for it is distinctly taught that the offended law may cease to be our adversary, and that we may be reconciled with it, ere yet it has accused us to the judge. It was not yet time to proclaim that the King fulfilled' the law, not only by life, but by death, and that therefore all His believing subjects are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law,' as well as endowed with the righteousness by which they fulfil that law in deeper reality, and fairer completeness, than did those of old time,' who loved it most.


  1. Meyer
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