The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Book Overview - Matthew
by Joseph Parker
The following information was presented at the end of Matthew in the printed edition:
Almighty God, thou art slow to anger, but we are swift to do that which is evil. Because thy compassions fail not, therefore do we rebel against thee with a high hand and with an arm outstretched. Judgment is thy strange work, mercy is thy delight, and the heart of man is set in him to do evil, for he knows that the Lord will not smite until the last, and that his mercy endureth for ever. This we have learned through Jesus Christ thy Song of Solomon, our one and only Saviour: he wept over us; though we had stoned the prophets and killed them that were sent unto us, yet he wept over us as over those whom he would gladly have redeemed. Thou lovest the sons of men, thine heart is moved towards them in great love and in continual compassion and hopefulness. Therefore is thy providence a revelation of thy mercy, and therefore is every day a token for good unto our souls, if we could but read upon it thy sweet and gracious purpose. Thou hast no thought of evil towards us, thine heart looks out upon us wistfully, with the yearning and expectation of love that cannot be satisfied until the last prodigal has returned and the whole household is complete.
We come to thee now with songs of delight far above all words to utter—a love that has no speech because of thy lovingkindness and thy tender mercy. Thou hast stooped very low to find us, thou hast gone out of thy way to recover those who have strayed, thou hast lighted the house and swept it diligently to find the meanest piece that was lost. We were as sheep gone astray, now we are returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, and safely enfolded upon the high mountains of Israel, we will be glad in the Lord and praise him with a new song. Once we were blind, now we see, once we knew not what was above the blue sky which we called the day, now we see beyond it into the upper spaces and wider liberties of thy creation, and behold how high is God"s sanctuary and how wide the temple of the Lord.
Bless us, we humbly pray thee, in the name of Jesus Christ the Priest and Saviour of the world, with daily revelation of truth, and daily delight in thy wisdom. Wean us from all forbidden things, overcome the fascinations of time and sense with some mightier attraction of thine own, destroy within us him who rules over our life, set up thine own kingdom in the heart and be our one Master. We would be slaves of thine, we would be captives of the Lord, we would be bound hand and foot, head and heart, by the chains of thy love, and seek no other liberty than the range of thy will and purpose. For this desire we bless thee: it is the marvel of our misspent life: we knew not that thou wouldst bring us even so far as to lay down our will at thy feet. This is the Lord"s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.
Continue thy ministry within the soul, break down every barrier, drive away every cloud, and cleanse the whole sanctuary of the life and make it a fit dwelling-place for the Father, the Song of Solomon, and the Holy Ghost. Give us the eye which sees the inner meaning of things, give us the hearing ear and the heart which listens for the lowest tones of thy music and all the subtle suggestions of thy revelation in the Book, in life, in history, and in providence. Deliver us from supposing that we are bounded only by things seen and temporal, and give us such a consciousness of other presences and other distances as shall ennoble our whole thought and lift up our life to the heavenly level.
We have done the things we ought not to have done, and left undone the things that we ought to have done, and our lamentation is a sorrow that should have no end. But thou dost interrupt our reproaches and confessions with assurances of love and offers of pardon: ere we have completed the tale of our shame, thou hast called for a robe to clothe us, for a ring for our finger, and thou hast lighted the house with a new glory and filled it with ineffable gladness. This is thy wondrous way, this the very mystery and glory of thy love; because thy compassions fail not, therefore are we not consumed, therefore have we a great hope.
Thou knowest what hearts are burdened, what lives are strained by difficulty and bewildered by perplexity; thou knowest where the shadow of death has broadly fallen, and where the grave has been dug in the household. Thou knowest those who are feeling inward pain and weakness and. distress hitherto concealed, thou knowest all the wants of our life, its pain and its poverty are continual prayers unto the heavens. We humbly desire therefore that thou wouldst, in the name and for the sake of Jesus Christ, come to us with answers larger than our prayers, and with revelations that shall astound our vision by their beauty and magnificence.
Let our houses be precious to thee, may they be homes indeed, wherein dwells the spirit of rest, and broods the angel of peace. Make our fire in the winter time, and fill our windows with light when the summer comes round, and out of every flower may we bring some new lesson of thy care. Let the little ones all live and grow strong and wise, and become sources of gladness in the house. Let the old grandfather and grandmother, those who represent the older generation, be comforted with very rich solaces, and be made quite young again—not in their flesh, but in their Christian inspiration and hope. Dry our tears when we dare not touch them, soothe the grief too sensitive to be approached by the kindest human love, and into the ear that is dying, pour the last earthly word of comfort, and speak of the resurrection and the life.
As for our enemies, do thou forgive them with great pardons; when the abjects gather themselves against us and we know it not, the Lord dispel their illusions, and preserve their lives. Amen.
Review of the Whole
We have come to the end of this gospel of Matthew, and if you ask me what I think of the gospel now that I have closed it, I will tell you. I am like a man who has been in a strange land, whose speech and usages he cannot wholly comprehend, and about which there is a touch of infinite charm. All the people wore unfamiliar garments, no man spoke my native tongue, the whole population moved in urgent haste, and often whispered with keenest energy. Amongst them stood a Man like no other man I ever saw, with a face that burned, an eye that changed from pity to judgment and from judgment to pity with startling rapidity, a voice in which thunders were chained and all the mysteries of music hidden. A voice marvellous; now so like other voices that it moved no sense of wonder, and now so unique that all other voices sounded shallow and commonplace as compared with its compass and solemnity. A strange Man—now shrunk from like a mountain on fire, now sought as a garden of delight in which palms grew for wounded hearts, and flowers bloomed that were fit for festivals of unutterable joy. Loved by all women, kissed by all children, longed for by all sufferers, besought, entreated with tears, honoured, worshipped, hated with all the malignity of hell.
His name was Jesus. He was a Man of strange ways: so fond of loneliness that he stole away secretly to the mountain long after the sunshine had fled from its slopes and crags, and when the cold stars looked glitteringly upon the cold dew of the still night. There he was, there within the crags as within a holy church, there on his knees, with his face upturned to the starry canopy, and his lips moving in the eloquent agony of speechless prayer. No human creature was at hand; angels thronged the steps, and the low winds brought fragrance from sweetest paradises, and the planets attested the solidity and beneficent rigour of infinite law—but no man was there, no child, no woman, not Mary who bore him: he stood off like a Priest, he stood above, like a Sun that cannot be touched.
Then in the morning when I saw him on common ground again, how weird he looked, how solemn, how unlike all other men, so old, yet so young, so commonly clothed, yet so dignified, speaking the language of all with an accent which none could imitate, as ready for good work as he had been ready for holy prayer. Men never knew what to call him, he was almost the anonymous one; he was called "JESUS" by the angel, but to others he was all but Nameless. I never heard him called by his name to his face; every one said thou, or Hebrews, or Rabbi, but no lips could be so far irreverent as to call him familiarly by his name, except when away from him, and then the name was spoken with tender gratefulness—"A Man that was called Jesus said unto me,"—"But Jesus said."
His shape was as a cloud that changes every moment into some new suggestion of magnificence or beauty. His movement was through an uncalculated orbit, his outlook rested upon points which no astronomy had mapped. Like a bird he sometimes came so near as to be almost familiar, then like a bird with outspread wings that carried him to the entrances of other worlds. O those wings, wings of the soul, wings of almightiness, wings that told all the world that he was here but for a time, and that he had brought with him the power to return—those wings that give the life that carries with them so much liberty, the soul-wings that bear him away above the range and above the uproar of the thunder, which makes the timid earth afraid. O that I had wings like a dove, then would I flee away and be at rest! The sun of righteousness is risen with healing in his wings.
If you ask me what further I think of the gospel now that it is closed, I will tell you. I shut my eyes and see it all, I betake me to some quiet dream-spot where the flocks lie down at noon, and in a waking dream I hear and see everything once more. What voices of the night are these like silver bells that sweetly sound? Is it the plash of some gentle stream flowing through gardens that slope towards the sun? Is it converse between spirits that speak to one another some tender secret of the heart? It is in very deed a song: it rises and falls with the rhythm of some other and infinite movement to which the throbbing stars beat time, and which all Heaven accepts as the law of its own security. What song is that? It is a birth-song: it is no prophecy of mere hope, it is the joy-song of an immediate blessing—"A Child is born, a Son is given: the second Adam has appeared to retrieve the fortunes of the first, and to work out some unknown mystery of grace. Glory to God in the highest!" That song leaves us until it becomes but a whisper in the air, further, further it goes—"On earth peace, and good will toward men." That song comes downward, it broadens and it rolls and fills the whole earth with musical thunder. That was the song I heard. The first Adam came in silence, the second with songs of angels; the first a dying body, the second a quickening spirit. He came with music, he came to make music, he loves music, he will reign till all nations repeat his song and call him blessed.
Such is the impression with which I came out of that gospel scene. Quickly the scene changes and enlarges, and many a wonder crowds upon my eyes. The Man who was born amid the songs of angels goes out to make the whole world glad. He himself will be the song. That is the purpose of our being, not to listen to music only, but to make it and to be it. He is as a Father standing at the wide-open door, wistfully longing for the prodigal"s return. Then swiftly he is a King that says he will make a marriage feast for his Song of Solomon, and fill the whole house with radiant guests, and make it glow with sacred fire. Then suddenly, he is as a mother that will gather all her children within her arms and press them to a heart that never felt towards them other than with unutterable love. She will give them rest, wine, milk, and honey. Then he is as a tender nurse who will take into the custody of his love all little children and helpless lives.
He does not care for mere literal consistency in the figures under which he represents himself. He is a broken-hearted Father, bitterly disappointed because his last born is not at home, a great King who takes out of his wardrobe all the wedding dresses and sends out invitations to the whole universe. Mother, and Shepherd, and Nurse, and Friend, and Teacher,—he will condescend to assume any figure and condition that will touch the pathos of the occasion with which he has to deal. Tell him that the brother is dead, and he will cry over the vacancy in the family circle,—but he will cry in fuller and bitterer floods over the city which has stoned the prophets and killed them who were sent to it.
So weak, yet so strong—amid the weakness of tears there is the energy of almighty power. The Man touches the blind eyes and they are blind no more. The deaf ear he unstops, and blesses it first of all with the music of his own voice, after which all other music must be commonplace. He turns the desert into a banqueting hall, walks upon the sea, summons the dead from the winding sheet, and in the presence of his health all disease flies away, ashamed of its own corruption. He went about doing good. He came not to destroy men"s lives, but to save them. In a moment of supreme passion of love, he confounded all sense and reason and literal understanding by saying that he would give his flesh and his blood for the life of the world. We must be a long time with him before we can enter into the mystery of that gift.
Again the scene changes before the vision of my memory, and I see a man who boldly announces that he has come to set up what he calls the kingdom of heaven upon the earth. Not to raise a house, but to establish a throne; not to be one of many, but to be the all-including One; not to consult other kings, but to rule them; not to offer homage, but to claim it from all masteries and dominions, from all chiefs and potentates. This Man"s subject of speech is a kingdom, this Man"s kingdom is heaven, this Man"s heaven is not a distant city but a presence in the soul. It was the royal element in this Man"s teaching that troubled the great ones of his time; it was the royal element that troubled Herod and all Jerusalem with him—he did not send to ask where the Shepherd was born, but where was born him that is King of the Jews. It was the royal element that threw Pilate"s mind into perplexity and involved the throne of Cæsar in mysterious and threatening clouds. Christ would be royal, there was royalty in his voice as he reviewed the morals of the ancient world and replaced them by principles of his own; there was royalty in his parables as he spread in them a feast for the hunger of all nations; there was royalty in his spirit as he declined all flattery, resented all patronage, called all men to himself as the centre of completeness and rest.
The royal element in his thought and action contradicted all that was mean and lowly in his outward circumstances, and those circumstances in their turn seemed to mock with bitter irony the claim of royalty which he continually set up. Royal, yet he had not where to lay his head; royal, yet he had not a stater for the tax-gatherer when he called; royal, but not recognized as one of the brotherhood of kings or invited to dine with that charmed circle. How then was he royal? In the magnificence of his thought, the sublimity of his purpose, the infiniteness of his love, and the splendour of his priesthood. Royal, and therefore he could stoop; royal, and therefore he could wash the disciples" feet; royal, and therefore he could accept the cross and triumph over its shame and pain. This is kinghood, this is royalty—not a decoration which perishes, but a splendour self-created and self-sustaining, evermore.
We have lost the royal element in our preaching; we are now making apologies, we are now asking permissions, we are now requesting to be allowed that Christ should be heard along with teachers venerable by their antiquity and dignified by the general pureness of their tone. The preacher now has no kingdom to set up, but some little apology to offer. Now the cry is not "Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be yet lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in,"—it is some weaker cry, some paltry tone of excuse, or some dainty endeavour to escape the tragedy of the occasion. Christianity is nothing if not a kingdom. This doctrine does but palter with the shattered fortunes of humanity, if it does not come with royal credentials and offer royal bounties to the soul. Again and again, day by day, do I, in the hearing of my memory, listen to this weird, mysterious Teacher, talking about "the kingdom of heaven."
Then comes the strangest scene of all the scenes so strange in this exciting gospel. No such spectacle ever appalled the human imagination; the mere historian cannot touch it with his tool of cold iron, language dare not take within its prison bars a story so tragical as if it could hold it up. Every word has an atmosphere of its own, between the lines deep rivers roll with apocalyptic images reflected from their gleaming waters. The very punctuation hides hints of mysteries yet to be explored, or marks our progress towards glories yet to be revealed. We are lost in worlds whose paths we have not known. Marvellous vision, this. A prisoner, held in a cruel grip; a silent Man in the presence of imperial power, a Man deserted by the few followers whose uncertain worship seldom passed beyond the point of selfish or troubled wonder. A great grim cross, stoutly built, and built with savage delight, and thrust into the stony ground with the joy of cruel triumph. An unresisting victim, with nails driven through his hands and feet, with the crown of thorns crushed into his temples, with the spear thrust into his side. I see darkness at midday, a field of solid rocks throbbing under my feet; above are clouds through which innumerable eyes may be peering, and soughing around the whole circle of visible things are winds in which innumerable travellers seem to be hastening to the cross. Then a cry of orphanage, an uprising of the sheeted dead, the cry, "It is finished," and I see and hear no more—for the praying fails beneath the accumulated fear. Be quiet for a little while: in such a presence speech would be profane: but a little while be quiet—a day or two be quiet.
Then the light comes back, the blue sky sheds its blessing on the terror-stricken earth, and away yonder on a mountain stands the risen Prayer of Manasseh, possessed of all power, sending out his gospel to the whole world, and having spoken of his great last word of love he rises, he enters into a descending cloud sent down to receive him, as in a chariot, and into the skies where the angels sang the birth-song rises the Conqueror who has made that lofty song the possible music of all human life. Hark! A grand Man. Even Song of Solomon, Amen.
Son of Prayer of Manasseh, what seest thou? I see a handful of corn upon the top of the mountains scattered by a sower who went forth to sow. I see first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear: field after field of golden grain, all the hillsides rich with corn, all the valleys rejoicing in the abundance of its sunny harvest. I see reapers going forth to reap, I see the shocks of corn fully ripe, I hear the angels" song—"Harvest home."
Son of Prayer of Manasseh, what seest thou? I see a good Shepherd going forth to seek the sheep that was gone astray. I watch him threading his way through stony places and looking wistfully for some footprint to guide him. I see him climbing hills, crossing streams, and cleaving through rank brushwood. I see his eye brighten and his face flush as he lays the lost one on his shoulder and returns to the fold with thankful, shepherdly joy.
Son of Prayer of Manasseh, what seest thou? I see a Father, looking tenderly and wearily into far-off space, if haply he may catch sight of a figure well known and long wished for. On his face are the stains of many tears, in his eyes is the glitter of an expectancy daily disappointed. Old age has come upon him with the prematureness of sorrow overmuch. He can find no home in the house though the house is ample and grand. Now he suddenly starts, now his breast heaves with emotion, he runs, he falls on his son"s neck and kisses him, and with many a sob he says, "This my son was dead and is alive again, was lost and is found."
Son of Prayer of Manasseh, what seest thou? I see the shining of a great light, the outbursting upon all nations of the glory of the Lord. Gentiles are coming to his light and kings to the brightness of his rising. The abundance of the sea is being converted, and the forces of the Gentiles are hastening to the cross. Midian and Ephah, Sheba and Tarshish, Kedar and Nebaioth are moved by new sensations. City is saying to city, "Let us go up speedily to seek the Lord of Hosts." Men are beating their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning-hooks, and idols are being cast to the moles and to the bats. I hear a shout; it out-swells the mean eloquence of the thunder, and rises in towering pride of strength, "Hallelujah! The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, for ever and ever. Hallelujah, Amen. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and blessing, for ever and ever, Amen. Blessing and honour and glory and power be unto him that sitteth upon the throne and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. Hallelujah, Amen."
Despised and rejected of men, he is now the Light of the universe and the joy of the whole creation. He sees of the travail of his soul and is satisfied, for his boundless Universe is a boundless Heaven. Sweet, sweet Gospel!
Because certain people had given Jesus Christ bread when he was hungry, drink when he was thirsty, and clothing when he was naked, and because they had called upon him when he was sick, and visited him when he was in prison, therefore they were called to enter into the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. That is one side of the context And because other people had omitted to do the whole of these things, they were pronounced accursed, and sent away into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. That is the other and completing aspect of the case. Then the conditions of entering into the kingdom prepared for good people from the foundation of the world are exceedingly simple, and the conditions upon which people are rejected from that kingdom, are, apparently, at least, most insufficient and inequitable. Because you have given a loaf to a beggar, thrown an outworn garment upon the shoulders of some shivering pauper, and have done both things so carelessly as actually to have forgotten that you had ever done them, therefore you may enter the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, and be happy in the enjoyment of eternal life. This, perhaps, you could understand, acknowledging the simplicity of the case, and wondering much concerning that simplicity. But you could not so well and comfortably comprehend the other side of the case—namely, that because a man has not given a loaf or a garment, therefore he should go away into outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, and into everlasting punishment, a state typified by the worm that dieth not and the fire that is not quenched. If you read that in the newspaper, you would say this is unjust; if any magistrate in England attempted to do anything of this kind, the whole country would rise in moral indignation and rebellion against injustice so monstrous and aggravated.
Thus we are brought into a very critical condition of mind in relation to this text. Nothing can be simpler than the terms: there is no long word here within whose tortuous scope men may wriggle and make mistakes, and come to false conclusions. This part of the Testament might be cut out as an elementary lesson for young readers. It becomes, therefore, of supreme importance that we should really understand this matter, lest some of us should be trusting false refuges in relation to the coming of the kingdom, and others should be so infinitely distressed by a sense of injustice at the very outset as to be utterly discouraged from making any attempts at a lofty and noble life. What is to be done? You have to do here what you have to do along the whole line of the Christian kingdom: if you will do it, you are equal to every emergency, triumphant in every controversy, and perfectly at rest regarding the equitability and benevolence of the divine rule of mankind. What you have to do is to enlarge the terms. Observe, I will not have a word changed: I call for expansion of meaning, for the natural development of the words, for enlargement of definition, and then God"s providence is illuminated and commended for its justice and nobleness, and for the very necessity of those principles which it elevates and enforces and honours with final and complete vindication. The Christian faith is to take its place amid all the controversies of the times, by changing nothing essential, touching nothing vital, but by enlarging its terms so as to comprehend all unsuspecting occurrences, all startling accidents, all varieties of the highest and most urgent thinking of the times.
If you take the word hunger, you naturally limit it to the demands of the physical appetite. A child will tell you what hunger means: ask your least child who can speak, what do we give to people who are hungry, and the child will say "Bread." That is only the beginning of the definition, and the difficulty I have with many persons in the study of this divine kingdom, is that having got the alphabet, you cannot get them into the construction and combination of syllables. They will hang on by the mere alphabet, and therefore what is their Christianity? A rattle of letters, not high, resonant, infinite music. Is the child"s definition of hunger correct? It is perfectly correct as far as it goes—but what is hunger? Many a man has risen from a king"s feast hunger-bitten, with a thirst unquenchable burning in him. How so? Have the viands been insufficient? Nothing of the kind; the startled table groaned under the load of luxury. Were the wines few or poor? Nay, vintages are poured out through the channels of that banquet-room. What was wanting? Bread for a keener hunger, water for an unappeasable thirst. "Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will send a famine upon the land: not a famine of bread nor a thirst of water, but of hearing the word of the Lord." We have all been amply satisfied with our morning repast: there is no man here, probably, with a craving hunger within him, which he at all events has not the means of appeasing. Yet it is possible that the richest man amongst us, the man that has left a table loaded that he might return to a table still more laden—it is possible that even such a man may know "the curse of a high spirit, famishing because all earth but sickens it." Now that we are throwing out the meanings thus legitimately, so as to take in the whole line of human want, we begin to enlarge the terms of the trial, so as to meet the terms of the award.
First then, in reference to the giving of actual bread—bread as usually understood. Most unquestionably there is a distinct reference to that gift: that is the very basis of the judgment: that is the initial and necessary line of the whole movement—for if you would not give natural and ordinary bread, you would not give the higher necessaries to the hunger and the thirst of mankind. Imagine not, therefore, that I am liberating any man from the responsibility of giving natural bread to natural hunger: that must be assumed initially, intermedially, and finally—no change or modification can be allowed there. If you ask me to justify the enlargement of my terms, I justify the enlargement by a reference to your own experience and your own consciousness. The word hunger is variously used in Holy Scripture, as is the word thirst. "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled." Let us visit this Prayer of Manasseh, sitting on his velvet cushion upon his luxurious carpet, with his hand upon a bell which, touched, will bring a hundred servants around him, with pictures, horses, and large estates, and gold hardly to be counted. Happy man? Never has one moment"s happiness. Satisfied? Burning with an intolerable hunger and thirst. What wants he? You must find that out. He wants one word of love, one assurance of sympathy, one breath of condolence, one prayer of intercession—he hungers to know himself: he says, "I cannot tell what I Amos, what I feel; I am tormented, distressed: I feel in my heart an aching void." If you would sit down beside that Prayer of Manasseh, and break the bread of the Kingdom of Heaven to him, and give him to drink of the water of which Christ said, if a man drink he shall never thirst again, you would leave that man behind you satisfied, delighted, thankful; you would have come within the sweep of the infinite meaning of this marvellous passage. To satisfy the hunger of men is to be on the way to the approval of heaven.
Let us visit another soul amply supplied with all things material and temporal—a man to whom you can do no favour in the ordinary sense of that term. He has more than he can eat and drink of a physical kind: his house is large enough, his resources are more than abundant, they are redundant to the utmost plentifulness. If you gave him more gold he would not know that you had given it to him. What can we do for this man? Listen to him. He is the victim of superstition, of narrow notions, of false ideas, of bigoted conceptions, of sectarian sympathies: he is in prison, his soul is in bondage. Reveal the truth to him, show him how little he has yet seen, teach him how to take up his stakes and put them further out, how to lengthen his cords, take in more roofage, give him a peep over boundaries that have already shut him in—what have you done to that man? You found him in prison, you opened the door and sent him into a wide and glorious and incorruptible liberty. We have never been in prison, in the ordinary sense of the term, and, therefore, I contend we must not have the Kingdom of Heaven shut up within a few terms that are necessarily limited: we must find for the limited word an illimitable meaning, and thus the Kingdom of Heaven shall overlap the kingdom of earth, and the greater shall include the less.
If we make a third call, the case will be still more complete. It shall be upon a person who has gone the round of the whole scheme of things in society—a man who has drunk every cup, tasted to exhaustion every enjoyment, who has had men-servants and women-servants, and the delights of the sons of men, and musical instruments of all sorts, gardens, and pools of water—who has been in the giddy swirl and riot of conventional happiness, gone through it all, and set down the drained goblet with a curse. "What are you, sir?" I say to this Prayer of Manasseh, who has passed the whole round of earthly and sensual delights. He says, "I am sick, sated, nauseated, poisoned." Will you take again the goblet you have set down? Never. What ails thee? Sickness—death. Ah! let me speak to thee: there is another world, a faith-world, where souls live, where Hope rekindles her lamp, where the spirit can be satisfied, where ideas are enlarged, and answered by ever-completing Revelation, a kingdom thou hast never been in, bread thou hast never eaten, water thou hast never tasted. The king of the fair land sends me to thee, sick one, and dead, and says, "Compel him to come in." Wilt come? He says, "Will you take me?" I answer, "I will." He says, "I will arise and go to my Father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned: there is nothing on thy side to be accounted for, explained or justified, the burden is on me and on me alone." He goes: his sickness is forgotten: a new and healthy appetite stirs every faculty of his nature. He was sick and in prison—you visited him—so you have enlarged the number of the guests that throng the house of the Saviour.
I begin now, with these incidents before me, to see that the upshot of this, if ever it came to a great Assize, must be very solemn; for this hunger was no passing appetite, this thirst was no flake of fire that could be put out with a drop of water, this nakedness was no exposure of the skin, this sickness was no affection of the physical functions. It was a hunger of the soul, and a thirst of the spirit, and a nakedness of the whole nature, and the whole head was sick, and the whole heart was faint; and if you can find a man who can answer these necessities and destitutions, you will find a man worthy of a kingdom, be it infinite in measurement, be it lasting as eternity; you will indeed deserve the "Well done," which is Heaven.
The other side of the case is thus abundantly provided for. The difficulty of everlasting punishment is now no difficulty at all, but a necessity. For what would the case be then—who are they that go away? According to the terms set forth in the Scripture before us, as enlarged according to human experience and consciousness, there are people who have done nothing, answered no cry of the spirit, appeased no desire of the soul, healed no affection of the conscience, thrown no light of liberty upon the judgment of men, neglected every one, answered no prayers, heeded no cries, satisfied no wants—my friends, to what can they go? When the solemn answer comes, "To everlasting punishment," the conscience says, "Severe, but right." The hunger of the universe for uprightness and justice is answered and satisfied in that going away. I believe in everlasting punishment. I cannot define it, nor will I have any ordinary human definition thrust upon me. I only know this, that it must be something fearful beyond the imagination of man to conceive. It is not everlasting because it continues three hundred centuries rather than three hundred days. That is a question of time: everlasting is a quality as well as a quantity. Eternal is more than duration, it is duration forgotten, duration sunk in an agony or delight. Joy has no time, misery has nothing but time.
How large the field of service is: hunger, thirst, nakedness, sickness, imprisonment, destitution of every kind—there is room enough in that field for your talent and mine, and the resources of the individual and the whole commonwealth. Find your corner—work it well. If it be the giving of natural bread, God bless you—it is much needed. If it be the giving of ideas, God bless you—they are the true bread which cometh down from heaven. If it be the giving of sympathy, God bless you—it is wanted, for the sick heart dies of the poisoned confections of time. It is just the field Christ himself occupied; Jesus Christ has written his own history in these words: he did nothing else for three years than what he describes the righteous as having done in these verses—he went about doing good. If the people were hungry he said, "Give them to eat." If they were thirsty of spirit, feeling the keen necessities of the heart, he sat down upon the mountain and opened his mouth and taught them. If they were deluded, victimized, ensnared by temptations, traditions, and if they were befooled and misled by incompetent teachers, he liberated them from their prison of inadequate perceptions and perverted ideas and introduced them into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
This leads me to say that no man can occupy this field except in Christ"s spirit. It is not an inviting field: no man goes to the hospital for a day of recreation, he goes to teach, to heal, to mitigate pain. No man would go to the lunatic asylum for the purpose of spending a half-holiday. He goes to see if anything can be done, if any poor wretch can yet be saved from the outermost,—and as he goes in the angels sing "Glory to God in the highest: on earth peace and good will towards men." If you have not Christ"s spirit, you soon tire of dealing with the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, imprisoned, miserable. There is nothing in these things themselves to fascinate the taste, to engage the affections, to conciliate the esteem and fire the energy of the human heart. These things are repulsive in themselves; unless we get the right view they will shock us and affright us and repel us, and we shall seek health and beauty and plenty and freedom, and call these things our delights.
So then the case is not so simple as you at first thought it to be. It is not the thrusting a loaf into the hands of a beggar and therefore going to Heaven. It is not a sinful life for seventy years, and then calling in some poor wretch off the streets and giving him a goblet of water, and then saying, "There now, I am going straight up to glory." I thought it must be deeper than that: I felt that that was wrong: I know it now. What has the Christian teacher done this morning—changed a single word? Not one. Altered the venue? Not for a moment. Rewritten the Bible? Not a verse of it. What then? What every Christian expositor and every Christian controversialist must do: then he will take the spoil from mighty kings: he must enlarge his definitions, thrust out his terms to their full signification, and he will find that the kingdom of heaven is wide enough to include all science, all politics, all hunger, all thirst, all misery, all need—that it is a kingdom of kingdoms, as its Lord is King of kings.
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18