“And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.
IT was a wise and good request, prompted by the Saviour’s own practice. He did not, in the first instance, command His disciples to pray; but He gave Himself to the blessed practice of prayer, and this made them eager to learn and practice the holy art.
This is the best way of inculcating new and holy habits on those who surround us. Do not begin by exhorting them; but by living before them a life so holy, so unselfish, so consecrated and devout, that they shall spontaneously approach you, saying, “Give us your secret; tell us how we may do and become as you.” It is a holy life which constitutes our best pulpit.
We should daily ask the Master to teach us to pray. Each time we kneel in prayer we may well preface our petitions with the sentence: “We know not what we should pray for as we ought; but by Thy Holy Spirit, Lord, teach us to pray.” And probably the Lord’s answer will fall into suggestions, borrowed from the form and model of prayer which He gave His disciples. It has been called the Lord’s Prayer; it should be called the Disciples’.
Address prayer to the Father, through the Son. Do not be selfish in prayer; but look out on the needs of others, incorporating them in every petition—us, we, our. Remember, you are speaking to your Father, and that His honor and glory should have a paramount and foremost place. If you desire first the hallowing of His name, and the coming of His kingdom, all your personal needs and desires will fall easily and naturally into their place, which will be a comparatively subordinate one. You will need forgiveness as often and as regularly as your daily bread. Be also direct and definite in prayer.
“And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say:”
SO often through this discourse the Lord refers to anxiety: “Take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer” (Luke 12:11). “Which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit?” (Luke 12:25). “Why take ye thought?” (Luke 12:26).
There must have been a great strain on the crowds who listened to Him; and there was every likelihood of the strain becoming even greater for His disciples as the years passed on. So, also, the characteristic of our age is anxious strain.
But the heart of Jesus was always at peace. His life was calm amid the storms of life; as the coral-island, with its fronded palms and lagoons of still water, is peaceful amid the storm-tossed ocean, because of the protection of its reef. The surf breaks there, but does not intrude further. The secrets of Jesus were the perpetual presence of God in His soul, and His never-faltering faith in the loving, careful providence of God in all the experiences of His chequered life.
Can we not have this? We may if we are willing to pay the price.
If we will resign or surrender our will utterly to Him; if we will tear down every veil that might hide His face, and throw open our whole being to His indwelling and use; if we will cease scheming, planning, devising, and fall back on the absolute care and arrangements of God; if we will learn to reckon on God as absolutely as on any resourceful human friend; if we will dare to believe that God holds Himself responsible for the sustenance and equipment for duty of all who absolutely seek His glory—then,
“Our lives shall be full of sunshine,
And the cares that infest the day,
Shall fold up their tents like the Arabs, And as silently steal away.”
“Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.”
THE question which the disciples asked was for their gratification and curiosity. Man has always been curious to know what will be the numerical result of the Redeemer’s work.
But to such questions the Lord had no reply. He was only eager that none of those whom He loved should miss the full measure of blessedness that was within His reach; therefore He bade each be sure of entering the narrow door, so narrow that there is no room to carry through it the love of self, the greed of gain and the thirst for the applause and rewards of the world.
We may be saved from the penalty of sin by one single glance at the Saviour, who lived, and died, and lives forevermore; but we cannot be saved in the deepest meaning of the word, in the sense of being delivered from the love and power of sin, unless we are willing to enter through the door, so constructed and straight, that it seems impossible to effect an entrance. Art thou willing for this, to leave behind thy amassed and hardly-gained treasures, thy luggage and impedimenta, thy jewels and gew-gaws, thy certificate of merit and credentials, thy notions of self-importance, the weights which thou hast carried so long, the pillows with which thou art always sparing thyself from the stern realities and efforts of a noble life? If thou art willing for this, and prepared to strive, even to the rending of thyself asunder, then thou shalt be saved from the love and tyranny of that wild, dark power, which, hitherto, has always dragged thee downward.
It is not enough to eat and drink of the blessed memorial supper, nor to listen to the voice of Jesus teaching in His Church. Many may do all this, and yet never be included in the Kingdom of Heaven.
“If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. ... So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.”
THREE times Christ repeats these solemn words; and it may be that earnest men have done injury to His cause, which they desired to serve, by omitting these stringent conditions in their Gospel invitations. It is quite true that whosoever will may come and take; that whosoever believeth in Him shall never perish; that the door of mercy stands open wide. But it is equally true that the faith that saves must pass such tests as these; and if it does not, it is not of the quality which can bear the soul through the swelling billows of the river of death. These three tests may be classified thus:
Separation: It sometimes happens in the disciple’s life that Christ’s work lies in one direction, whilst the blessed ties of home lie in another. Tender voices call; loving hands reach out to hold him. Here the plough is waiting in its furrow; there the hearth with its tender memory and association. At such times, for the true man, there can be but one choice.
Crucifixion: Everyone has his own cross—some one thing in which the will of God crosses his will. Jesus made that cross, and bids us take it up and bear it after Himself. Yet how many evade it, flee from it, postpone it. They think they can follow Him apart from it; but it is impossible. We can only follow the Crucified when we bear each his own cross. And to shrink from it shows that we are not disciples.
Renunciation: All we have must be gladly yielded when Christ asks for it. If the accumulation of a life be on one scale and Christ in the other, we must choose Christ, come what may to the rest, or we must abandon our title to discipleship.
“And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him.”
THE elder brother is the dark contrast which heightens the glowing picture of the repentant prodigal; as the gargoyle does the beauty of the angel faces on the cathedral front.
When we look at sin, not in its theological aspects, but in its everyday clothes, we find that it divides itself into two kinds. We find that there are sins of the body and sins of the disposition; or, more narrowly, sins of the passions, including all forms of lust and selfishness, and sins of the temper. The prodigal is the instance in the New Testament of sins of passion—the elder brother of sins of temper. Now we might be disposed to think that the prodigal is the worse sinner of these two; but it is at least worthy of remark that as the story ends, we see him found, forgiven, restored; whilst the elder brother is still outside the house, and an absentee from the feast. Does Christ mean that the ill-tempered murmuring of the Pharisee is more hopeless than the passion of the publican and sinner? We must not press the thought too far; but we may at least ask whether we are harbouring, beneath a very respectable, moral exterior, the spirit of the elder brother, who plods daily to work, and is accounted a paragon of filial dutifulness, but is left without the door.
One has made a careful analysis of the ingredients that went to make up that one spiteful speech; they come out thus: jealousy, anger, pride, uncharity, cruelty, self-righteousness, sulkiness, touchiness, doggedness. “His speech, like the bubble escaping to the surface of the pool, betrays the rottenness beneath.” Let us carefully read our hearts, lest there be any trace of this spirit in ourselves, when others are pressing into the kingdom with joy.
“And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?”
OUR Lord is speaking of money and its use.
1. He describes money: It is so associated with unrighteousness that He speaks of it as the unrighteous mammon. It was as though the inveterate money-maker, who will get money at all costs, was an idolater, prostrating himself daily in the temple of the heathen deity who bore that name. In His judgment, also, it is a very little thing (Luke 16:10). We only know how little when we compare it with the immortal qualities of a lowly character. At least, it is not the true riches (Luke 16:11). Moreover, it is not our own—it is clearly another’s—God’s (Luke 16:12). We have nothing that we have not received.
2. He indicates the main use of money: It is God’s; but He puts it into our hands to watch the use we will make of it, before He entrusts to us the true riches of eternity— just as you will test a child with a toy watch before you dare to place in his hands a real one. If he is destructive of the one, you hesitate to hand him the other; whilst if he is careful, you feel able to consign to his care some family heirloom. So God is testing men by giving them money that He may know how far to trust them in the mart of the New Jerusalem.
3. He arouses us to fidelity: Care for God’s interests as much as the wasteful and unfaithful steward cared for his own. He used his master’s money to secure a welcome to the debtor’s houses when he lost his situation. But God has so arranged it, that if you use His money aright, you shall not only win His approbation, but His interests will be so coincident with yours, that when the world fades from view, those whom you have helped for God’s sake shall welcome you to heaven.
“And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:”
THE Kingdom is “in mystery” just now. It is hidden from mortal eye, because the King Himself is withdrawn from the visible sphere. The creation groans and travails for its manifestation. He must be manifested before we can be manifested with Him in glory. In the meanwhile, it is not without, but within; not compelling human attention, but pervading human hearts. Let us remember this when we are lamenting the slow progress of Christianity in the world. It appears to recede almost as quickly as it advances; what it gains in one place it loses in another. If heathen lands are receiving Christ, are not the populations of Christian lands departing from Him? Stay; you cannot tell! It is useless to argue! There may be much more good working than you know. For every bold confessor there are probably seven thousand who have not bowed to Baal.
When we are tempted to estimate our success by numerical results, when our church is crowded; our roll of communicants constantly augmented; and the money revenue large—we are disposed to think that the cause of Christ is really advancing in our midst. It may be so. But sometimes, where numbers are scant and difficulties many, a yet deeper and more lasting result is being achieved.
When we are lamenting the apparent slowness of our growth in grace, when you do not feel as you would; nay, to judge by your emotional life, when you fear lest you are positively receding in the divine life; when you think that the quality and quantity of your fruit unto God is decreasing—Stay; the deepest work is not always the most obvious. Before the mole appears above the wave, years of work have been expended where no eye can see; but every stone tells in the result.