“What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops.”
THESE striking words are applicable to us all. Our Lord is constantly taking us into the dark, that He may tell us things.
Into the dark of the shadowed home, where bereavement has drawn down the blinds; into the dark of the lonely, desolate life, where some infirmity closes us in from the light and stir of life; into the dark of some crushing sorrow and disappointment. Then He tells us His secrets, great and wonderful, eternal and infinite. The eye, which has become dazzled by the glare of earth, becomes able to behold the heavenly constellations; and the ear to detect the undertones of His voice, which is often drowned amid the tumult of earth’s strident cries.
But such revelations always imply a corresponding responsibility—that speak ye in the light—that proclaim upon the house-tops. We are not meant to linger always in the dark, or stay in the closet; presently we shall be summoned to take our place in the rush and storm of life; and when that moment comes, we are to speak and proclaim what we have learned.
This gives a new meaning to suffering, the saddest element in which is often its apparent aimlessness. “How useless I am.”
“What am I doing for the betterment of men?” “Wherefore this waste of the precious spikenard of my soul.” Such are the desperate laments of the sufferer. But God has a purpose in it all. He has withdrawn His child to the higher altitudes of fellowship, that he may hear God speaking face to face, and bear the message to his fellows at the mountain foot. Were the forty days wasted that Moses spent on the Mount, or the period spent at Horeb by Elijah, or the years spent in Arabia by Paul?
“And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.”
A FRIEND has turned these words into another beatitude—The blessedness of the unoffended. The Baptist was tempted to take offence with Christ, first, because of His long delay in asserting Himself as the promised Messiah; and second, because of His apparent indifference to His own welfare. “If He be all that I expected, why does He leave me in this sad plight, extending to me no word of comfort; making no attempt to free me from these dark, damp cells.”
Are there not such hours in our lives still? We say, If He really loves us and is entrusted with all power, why does He not deliver us from this difficult and irksome condition? Why does He not hurl these prison walls to the ground? Why does He not vindicate and bring me out to the light of life and joy?
But the Lord made no attempt to emancipate His servant; and He seems to be unmindful of our sore straits. All He did for John was to send him materials on which his faith should feed, and rise to a stronger, nobler growth. “Go back,” He said in effect to John, “tell him what I can do; he is not mistaken—I have all power, I am the expected King; and if I do not come to his help in the way he expects, it is not through lack of power and willingness, but because of reasons of Divine policy and government, to which I must be true. Tell him to trust Me, though I do not deliver him.
Assure him of the blessedness which must accrue to those who are not offended at My apparent neglect. I will explain all to him some day.” Thus He speaks still. He does not attempt to apologize, or to explain—He only asks our trust; and promises blessedness to those who do not stumble at life’s mysteries.
“Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless? But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple. But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.”
THE Pharisees were great sticklers for rites and ceremonies.
Their religion consisted in little else than a perpetual round of outward observances. They believed that they were thus observing and maintaining the ancient Mosaic code. In their judgment, great human necessities, like hunger, must be subordinate to their minute exactions. Our Lord, on the other hand, claimed that the laws of God, as written in the nature of man, must have a priority over mere ceremonial enactments. And He showed that His contention was supported by those Scriptures on which they rested their case.
There are two ways of studying Scripture. The one deals with its letter; the other compares Scripture with Scripture, and seeks to fathom its profound and eternal meaning. Do not read as the scribe, but as the Son of Man. Do not rest in the outward rite, but in the spiritual attitude of which the rite was intended to be the expression. Everywhere there is One greater than the Temple; greater than the rigorous exactions of the Jewish Sabbath; greater than the code on which Pharisaism insisted.
All through the Old Testament you may detect the spirit of the New; the mercy in which God delights, the pitiful appreciation of the frailty and hunger of the nature He has made. The New Testament is in accord with the Old of Scripture, and the older Testament of man’s nature, as God made it at first.
It is highly important to remember this. The God who redeems is He who created all things by His word, and for His pleasure. Is it likely that He will contradict His original design, and undo what cost Him thought and care? Surely not; He is pledged only to undo the evil which has marred His work.
“He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.”
IN explanation of this statement, our Lord reiterates His favourite saying: “Whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have abundance.” His disciples had already given heed to His words. On the thin soil of their hearts the precious seed had already begun to germinate: and as it throve, it prepared the way for more and more to follow.
In the case of the crowds that pressed around Him, however, there was no such earnest giving heed. They were content with the interest, the beauty and grace, of His nature-teaching, without a thought of its deeper aspects. Hearing, they did not understand; seeing, they did not perceive; face to face with Incarnate Truth, they thought only that He had a pleasant voice, and could play skilfully on the harp.
First, Understand what you hear. Do not be content to have a merely intellectual appreciation of its force or beauty; but open your heart to meditate and ponder it. It is only thus that truth really strikes its roots into the soul, and defies the birds.
Second, Beware of the response of mere emotion. Too many of these receive the word with joy. Their expressions of interest and pleasure are loud and emphatic. Tears course down their cheeks.
You think them most hopeful. But it passes like the sunshine and cloud of an April day.
Third, Guard against cares and worldly success. The first, of the poor; the second, of the rich. There is not room in the heart, or nutrition in the soul, for the absorbing pursuit of both earth and heaven, of time and eternity.
Fourth, Practice what you hear. Remember that not the hearers of the Word, but the doers of the work, are blessed.
“And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.”
STONEWALL Jackson was once asked what he meant when he used the expression, “Instant in prayer.” “I will give you,” he said, “my idea of it for illustration, if you will allow it, and not think that I am setting myself up as a model for others.” On being assured that there would be no misjudgement, he went on to say: “I have so fixed the habit in my own mind, that I never raise a glass of water to my lips without a moment’s asking of God’s blessing. I never seal a letter without putting a word of prayer under the seal. I never take a letter from the post without a brief sending of my thoughts heavenward. I never change my classes in the section room without a minute’s petition on the cadets who go out and those who come in.” “And don’t you sometimes forget this?” “I think I can say that I scarcely do; the habit has become almost as fixed as breathing.”
And if this was the habit of the servant, how much more of the Master. Frequently, in the Gospels, we are told of His heavenward look. It was as though He were always looking up for His Father’s smile, direction, and benediction; so that He could be assured that what He was engaged in was in the line of His Father’s purpose, and that He might gain the needed power to act and wisdom to speak.
It is only thus that we shall be able to meet the hunger of our times. Our slender stores will not avail for so great a multitude. But if we bring them to Him, and place them in His hands, and look up to heaven for His enablement, we shall break and break again till all have sufficed and left. But this habit can only be maintained by those who go into the mountain of prolonged fellowship.
“Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.”
THIS was a remarkable permission. It is not often that Christ takes the key to His stores out of the bunch which hangs at His girdle, and entrusts it to a soul, saying in effect, Take what you will. “Of the work of My hands, command ye Me.”
1. We must intercede for others. This woman came for her child.
We must always be on our guard when we ask much for self, lest somehow our requests be prompted by self-aggrandizement. If we do ask for power, wisdom, or likeness to Christ, let it be that we may help others better. The apostle says that Christ “washed us from our sins… and hath made us kings and priests” (Revelation 1:5, 6). We all need this washing, that we may become intercessors.
2. We must accord Christ His right place. The Canaanitish woman came to Him as the Son of David, and He answered her not a word. She had no claim on Him as such. That He was the Jews’
Messiah could not help her. She had given Him that title by courtesy and hearsay. It was necessary that by His silence she should be driven to find Him for herself. When she gave Him a universal title, and said, Lord, help me! worshipping at His feet, she was a step nearer the goal.
3. We must answer His affirmations with Yea. He told her what she was. She was an alien and outcast. She was not part of the chosen family; she must understand her true position, and take it.
And she did. She said, Yea, Lord. If you can perfectly accept God’s will, so that it shall take the place of your own; if you will take your place among the clogs beneath the table, you are sure to obtain answers to your prayers—God can let you have your way, because it will be His.
“Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.”
THROUGHOUT His life these words were perpetually flung at the heart of Christ. Spare Thyself this hunger, the devil said in the wilderness, on the threshold of His public ministry; spare Thyself this agonizing death, he said again in the garden, on the eve of the crucifixion.
It is noticeable that the cross was surrounded by voices that repeated the same words. They that passed by it wagged their heads, and said “Thou that destroyest the temple and buildest it in three days, save Thyself.” the chief priests mocked Him, with the scribes and elders, and said, “Can He not save Himself?” The soldiers also mocked Him, coming to Him, offering Him vinegar, and saying, “If Thou art the King of the Jews, save Thyself.” And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on Him, saying,
“Art not Thou the Christ? save Thyself and us.” All these voices spoke after the methods of human wisdom.
This made our Lord turn so quickly on Peter, saying, “Get thee behind Me, Satan: thou art a stumbling-block unto Me.” How often are the same words addressed to us: “Pity thyself. Have mercy on your sensitive human nature; do not be too lavish with your money; give yourself a little more license.” But it cannot be. You cannot save others and yourself as well. Those that would follow Jesus in His steps of redemptive help to mankind must deny themselves, take up the cross, and follow Him into rejection, shame, spitting, and the grave. They who have mercy on themselves will never show much to others, or receive much; but the merciful are blessed, because they obtain mercy. Thus mercy is “twice blessed; it blesses him that gives, and him that takes.”
“And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him.”
LUKE tells us that they “spoke of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem.” Moses, as representing the Law, would remind Him that if as God’s Lamb He must die, yet as God’s Lamb He would redeem countless myriads. Elijah, as representative of the prophets, would dwell on the glory that would accrue to the Father. These thoughts were familiar enough to the mind of our blessed Master; yet they must have gladdened and strengthened Him, as they fell from other lips: the more so when they conversed together on the certain splendour of the resurrection morning that should follow His decease.
And where could there have been found greater subjects than this wondrous death, and His glorious resurrection? Here the attributes of God find their most complete and most harmonious exemplification. Here the problems of human sin and salvation are met and solved. Here the travail of Creation meets with its answer and key. Here are sown the seeds of the new heavens and earth, in which shall dwell righteousness and peace. Here is the point of unity between all ages, all dispensations, all beings, all worlds.
Here blend men and angels; departed spirits and the denizens of other spheres; Peter, James and John, with Moses and Elijah, and all with the great God Himself, whose voice is heard falling in benediction from the opened heaven.
We, too, must often climb the mount of transfiguration in holy reverie; for the nearer we get to the Cross, and the more we meditate upon the decease accomplished at Jerusalem, the closer we shall come into the centre of things; the deeper will be our harmony with ourselves and all other noble spirits and with God Himself.
“Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.”
“WHERE is thy brother, child?”
“I do not know, Lord; I have not seen or spoken to him these many days; and, as far as I am concerned, I would not mind if I never saw him again; he is as good as lost to me.”
“Hast thou wronged him, that this gulf has yawned between you? Remember that I said, if on coming to the altar, thou shouldest remember that thy brother hath some complaint against thee, thou wert to leave thy gift, and seek to be reconciled; then return to offer thy gift.”
“Yes, Lord, I remember well. But that is not the case now; my brother has nothing against me; he is in the wrong, not I; he has trespassed against me, not I against him. It is therefore for him to come to me, not for me to go to him.”
“Is it likely that he will come to thee?”
“I do not think it is, Lord. He is not one of Thy disciples; and it is most unlikely that he will ever cross my threshold to apologize and ask forgiveness.”
“Then thou must go to him, and tell him his fault between thee and him alone, and do thy best to win him back.”
“But I think he is most likely to put the wrong construction on my going, and to account that I feel myself in the wrong.”
“Thou art thy brother’s keeper, and thou must win him out of his fault, and lovelessness, and wandering. He is drifting away—not from thee only, but from Me. I know he was in the wrong at first; but thou art in the wrong now, and thou must go and tell him his fault, and try to wash his feet and win him back.”
“He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.”
THIS is a very profound principle, which is of immense value in dealing with Scripture. There were certain precepts and commands given to Israel, which are not of lasting obligation, because they were stages in their moral discipline and education. It would have been impossible to lift them suddenly from the degradation into which they had sunk in Egypt, to the glorious levels of Isaiah or the Sermon on the Mount: so God’s dealings with them were graduated and progressive.
Such were the regulations about a plurality of wives, the keeping of bond-slaves, the treatment of captives, the destruction of their foes. With respect to these, our Lord says, Moses interposed a parenthesis of legislation, which was a stage higher than anything known among the surrounding nations, though it was not God’s normal or original code.
What was true of Israel is true of us. We do not realize, in the first stage of our redemption, all that is included in the word “sin.”
We are like men enveloped in morning mist, which permits them to descry only the bolder outlines of the cliffs around them, but as yet veils the minuter eminences or depressions. As the mist clears, surrounding objects become ever more distinctly defined: so that we know more of God, we know ourselves better, and realize what sin is, and come to see it where we had never guessed its presence.
Thus we condemn today what we permitted five years ago. It is interesting to find in these words of Christ the germ of an argument which His apostle used afterward in the Epistle to the Galatians with such marvellous force. He said the Mosaic dispensation was a parenthesis; but it cannot disannul God’s primal institution (Galatians 3:15-17).