Last Updated on : Saturday, October 11, 2014









by Robert Roberts



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sp chapter XXIV

After His Discourse to the Twelve.


Two things must strike the reflective reader in connection with the work upon which Christ sent forth the apostles in the address considered in the last chapter.The first is, that fishermen, "ignorant and unlearned men" should have been chosen for it; and the second is, that such men should have succeeded. Both facts powerfully yield the one conclusion which is the all important one in the case, namely, that the work was in no sense of human contrivance, but was purely divine and true. A human enterprise would have laid hold of men of position, education and influence -- men that were "somebody" and likely to throw some weight into the scale. A new principle of choice was at work in the selection of the humblest class in the community.The reasons leading to such a choice have been looked at. Such reasons could only operate where God was at work. It never occurs to man -- it could not in the nature of things occur to man -- to make use of instruments likely to be uninfluential with men. The apostles were such. And that such men should have succeeded both in obtaining a hearing, and in producing conviction among thousands everywhere, not only in the absence of favourable conditions, but in the very face of every form of opposition which authority could offer, and influence could bring to bear, argues the possession by them of some weapon of argument altogether out of the category of error or imposture. We examine the case, and find the all-sufficient weapon in the earnest testimony of personal knowledge, supported by miraculous co-operation. The men knew the truth of Christ's works, and afterwards the reality of His resurrection, and "the Lord worked with them and confirmed their word with signs following." These two things account for all. These two elements of their operation explain the character of their work and all the results that came from the efforts of ignorant and unlearned fishermen. In the absence of either of these elements, it is impossible to understand their work. Either of them denied involves the whole subject in a fog, and presents an impossible historical problem. Both admitted, invest the whole work and word of Christ and His apostles with transparent light, and a magnitude of urgent personal importance that nothing can equal.
In the course of his address, Jesus made one remark that appears a little obscure: "Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of Man be come." Did he mean that he himself would arrive at the places he was sending them to before their work would be finished? This would seem to be favoured by the statement in Luke x 1, about the sending out of the seventy, that he sent them "two and two before his face into every city and place whither he himself should come." But such a meaning is not borne out by what happened. The seventy "returned with joy" to him: he did not overtake them (verse 17). Or did he mean that after he should be taken away from them and they should depart on their larger labours, their work would be interrupted by his second coming before they had actually "gone over the cities of Israel?" This seems equally out of harmony with the facts, even if we suppose, with Dr. Thomas, that the destruction of Jerusalem was the event referred to, for the apostolic work was all over by the time the Roman legions pitched their camp outside the walls of Jerusalem. Even Paul's "course" was "finished" before that event. The probable explanation may be found in the tense of the verb which Jesus actually employed. He did not use the language of absolute futurity as in the common translation. He spoke subjunctively -- in the potential -- the possible -- elqh -- may come; as if he had said "Ye may not have finished your work till the Son of Man come." Did he not know exactly then? He expressly said he did not know. 'Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no not the angels that are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father" (Mark xiii. 32). He said the Father had reserved the knowledge of the times and seasons (Acts i. 7). This knowledge was afterwards revealed to Him and communicated by Him to His servants (Rev. i. 1). But at the time of the discourse he did not possess that fulness of knowledge which would have enabled him to speak with certainty on questions of "when," What he probably meant to convey was, that the disciples were not to be checked by persecution, but were to persevere in the face of it, fleeing from one city to another as it arose, with this pleasant reflection in view, that the Son of Man might himself arrive on the scene before their labours were completed.
Having finished iris address, he sent the apostles on their several journeys, and himself proceeded to that work of "teaching and preaching" in the cities in which he had been for some time engaged. At this stage, several notable sayings of his present themselves. It was at this time that the enquiry came from John in prison whether he were really the Christ. We considered this closely in chapter v. and need not repeat. At this time also, while repelling the charge of being a gluttonous man and a wine drinker, he admitted eating freely with the people in a way John did not do, and at the same time defended John in his abstemiousness on the ground that "Wisdom was justified of all her children," of which she had various sorts, for various works and various times. "Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works had been done, because they repented not" (Matt. xi. 20). Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum were specially singled out, and heavily mentioned by name. These, up till now, had seen his chief miracles, and appear to have been least moved in a reasonable way with regard to them, and Christ now declared that Tyre, Sidon, Sodom and Gomorrha would have been more impressible, and would not have come into the judgment that destroyed them if they had the same opportunities. How abandoned and insensible must have been the condition of communities of whom such things could be affirmed. Josephus bears testimony to this condition, though not in this connection. He told the Jews in his speech front outside the walls of Jerusalem in the last days of the siege, that they were the most impious generation the world had ever seen. Upon them accordingly came the most scathing judgments ever experienced.
Were these judgments just? Who can doubt it that believes in the divinity of their origin? If they were just, they were deserved; and if deserved, the people must have been responsible for the state they were in. If that state had been a helpless state, they could not have been held responsible, on the principle enunciated by Jesus: "If ye were blind, ye should have had no sin" (Jno. ix. 41). But they were held responsible, and therefore it was a state that could have been otherwise had they willed and laboured for it to be otherwise. What Jesus charged against them was that they had "neglected weightier matters of the law, -- judgment, mercy and faith" The neglect of God's expressed will is sure to lead to a state of spiritual insensibility, because the human mind can only be kept in a state of living susceptibility by exercise in that which develops it. God's ideas, brought to bear in His spoken word, constitute the power by which man is brought and kept in mental harmony with Him. Separation from this will soon lead to estrangement, and estrangement will deepen to deadness. In any subject, a man soon drops away from knowledge and sympathy who ceases his contact with that subject, even if he have a native partiality for it. How much more is this the case with divine ideas which are foreign to fundamental human sympathies and tastes. Hence Paul's advice to Timothy: "Meditate on these things, give thyself wholly to them." Hence also the counsel of Solomon to search for wisdom as hid treasure, to watch daily at her gates, waiting at the posts of her doors. Now if a man or nation, through disobedience of these divine commands, sinks into a state of spiritual hardness of heart, in which there is reprobateness to every good word and work, the man or the nation is responsible and obnoxious to judgment for that state, though at the moment of judgment, the state may be a helpless one. God himself may make it helpless after a certain time of neglect, long before the natural workings of things would lead to it. Of the Jews, it is testified he poured the spirit of slumber for this very reason (Is. xxix. 10-14), and on the Gentiles, to whom the Gospel was sent, but who received it not in the love of it, but in the mild patronising spirit of approbation which we often see exemplified in the present day, which is an insult to its priceless wealth and majesty, it was foretold (2 Thess. ii. 11), and the prophecy has long since been fulfilled, -- he would send strong delusion that they should believe a lie, and all be condemned.
Jesus said it would be "more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment," than for those places that had been unmoved by the unspeakable honour of his personal presence, and miracles among them. We may understand this when we remember that the restitution of the land of Sodom is one of the promised events of "the day of judgment" (Ezekiel xvi. 53, 55, 61; xlvii. 8, 9). The day of judgment, in its largest sense, is the day when God will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained (Ps. xcvi, 13; Acts xvii. 31) -- a day which, though commencing with judgment on the house of God, extends to the whole earth, and lasts a thousand years and beyond. In this day, Sodom as a place re-appears, and shares in the blessedness of the age; but not so Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, which were swept away in the wave of destruction that passed through all the land 40 years after Christ's ascension, and whose very sites will probably be buried for ever at the bottom of the capacious inland sea that will be formed when waters pour in through the earthquake cleft on the Olivet range, and fill up the valley of the Jordan to the Mediterranean sea level. The earthquake that thus buries the sites of these doomed places in a watery grave, will probably elevate Sodom and Gomorrha to a pleasant position overlooking the lovely water expanse thus formed in the heart of the land of promise. There is no reason to anticipate the resuscitation of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrha. On the contrary, the righteous judgment of God which swept them away will keep them away, for God changes not. But "the land of Sodom" is to be recovered, and will form part of the paradise of God, as the delightful habitation of a new and righteous generation. For this reason Jesus was able to make the striking declaration concerning Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, which in effect made them worse than Sodom.
He added words which cannot receive too much attention in the special connection in which he spoke them. They were words of address to the Father, uttered in the presence of his disciples, but bearing instructively in human directions. They are a sort of commentary on the unbelief of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum: "I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent and hast revealed them unto babes" (Matt xi. 25). From this it would seem that the inhabitants of these places were what in our day would be considered "knowing ones" -- people considered and considering each other the intelligence and respectability of their several neighbourhoods: "the wise and prudent," the discerning and the not rash, not fanatical -- the proper and not impulsive -- not carried away with the enthusiasm of simpletons and babies. Jesus, taking them at their own estimate, thanks God that the things which he had in hand were "hid from" them, and revealed to a class whom they despised as mere "babes." Did Jesus disparage capacity, then? and glorify incompetence and shallowness and ignorance and craze? Far from it. He is himself to be taken as the perfect type of the class he means by "babes." Let us look at him, and we see them. Was he dull? Was he shallow? Was he ignorant? On the contrary, who so "sharp as a two-edged sword, piercing asunder to the dividing of soul and spirit?" Who so quick witted and profound? Who so ample in his knowledge of all things -- great and small -- and yet so adroit and subtle in question and answer that his enemies were at last afraid to ask him any more questions?
In what, then, did he show himself one of the babes as distinguished from the wise and prudent? This point deserves and demands clear, strong, and decisive apprehension -- the failure in which is the failure to discern Christ and his little ones of all ages. The difference between him and his clever enemies lay in the object to which his unparalelled intellectual powers were directed. What did he love? At what did he labour? To what taste, or theme, or aim did he consecrate his life? Was there ever his like for deep and constant fervour towards God? Was there ever his like for burning zeal on behalf of what God required? Was there ever his like for detestation and condemnation of what God disapproved? Look at his enemies of that age and this, and see the difference between them and him. Clever they may be, but clever to what end? Not to promote divine ends, but human ends always and only. "I know you," said Christ, "that ye have not the love of God in you." This is their character in all generations -- "wise and prudent" in human expediencies, but not in those ends and aims that constitute true wisdom and true prudence -- wise to serve themselves, but not to serve God; prudent to avoid temporal dangers, but not those connected with the purpose of God; sagacious and diligent in all things likely to bring human honour and human gain, but as absolutely insensible to the will and the honour and the purpose of God as if God had no existence. And because this is a wisdom and a prudence that all men appreciate, all men applaud their successful exercise.
The wise and the prudent are in high esteem universally. But Jesus has said, "That which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God." In this he fixes the status of the wise and prudent in divine estimation. Is it without a reason that he should promulgate a view so apparently harsh and illiberal? Why should "the wise and the prudent" be an abomination to God? Because they are truly the reverse of what they are considered. They are not truly wise: they are not truly prudent. They are "wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight" (Is. v. 21) and in the sight of men, but not in the sight of God -- when looked at from the standpoint of the eternal relations of things. True wisdom and prudence consist in the discernment of that which is truly good from that which is only seemingly so, and in the determined choice of the same in the face of all obstacles. The wise and the prudent, so called, are not equal to this truly noble performance. Isaiah says of them, they "call evil good, and good evil: and put darkness for light, and light for darkness; bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter" (Is. v. 20). It will be found upon a thorough inspection of their case in its modern form, that this is just what they do. There is a great appearance of light and dignity with them; but examine it, and it disappears in the process. Their philosophy, their science, their art, their associations, their degrees, their honours, their professional titles and distinctions are all reducible to this -- a little know. ledge of nature in her transient relations, and a great inflation of personal importance on the strength of it. This wisdom all ends in nothing. It imparts no knowledge of the object of existence; it furnishes no reliable rule for the guidance of life; it sheds no light on the problem of the future. It supplies no materials on which love, joy, and peace can feed. Death comes and sweeps away its painful ornamental labours as completely as the rising tide obliterates the forts and ditches dug by children in the sand. If God had not spoken -- if a Gospel had not been preached -- if evidence were not before us right and left of the reality of a divine purpose shaping earth's development, pity could but weep over the vain and useless labour, while commending the men who sought to turn the prevailing vanity to the best account. But another element comes into the case with Christ standing before men in the apostolic writings, declaring the name of Father, and expounding his wisdom, his will, and his purposed kindness, and beseeching them by apostolic hands to be reconciled to him on the reception of the truth, and submission to its requirements, with the certain prospect of emancipation from this sin-blurred and imperfect state, and introduction to a glorious and immortal efficiency of life at the return of Christ from heaven. The wisdom of men which looks upon this as so much childishness, and glorifies its own abortions as the true wisdom, calls good evil, and evil good; light, darkness; and darkness, light, &c. Or if it be not so bold as to charge the name and work of Christ with childishness and untruth, but practically relegates them to a position of contempt and neglect while making a nominal obeisance in their presence, then it is convicted of the highest form of impudence, and puts bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.
It is on the whole easy to see why Jesus gave thanks that the things of God had been hid from the wise and the prudent, and revealed unto babes. The wise and the prudent self-complacantly reject His truly wise and beneficent proposals, while idealising and worshipping the puny conceptions of their own limited powers of intellect and imagination. They are a sort of race of spiritual monkeys, grimacing and capering about in the enjoyment of their own limited agilities, and scorning, in their stupendous conceit, the exalted operations that are going forward outside their cage. Such are not suitable for the Father's use. Therefore, he arranges circumstances in such a way that wisdom is hid from their eyes. "Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight" The "babes" are men of rational and reverent mind, with an eye to behold, and a heart to receive truth with the docility of little children. Though children in their earnest simplicity, they are not children in understanding. They are in reality more lucid than the wise and prudent, and for that reason more humble and pliable to the divine will, and more acceptable to the divine regards. They see what the wise and prudent see, but they see farther and more. They see not only nature, but the intelligent power which has organised nature. They see this power in a larger purview of the universe and a larger contemplation of human history than is habitual with the rejectors of divine truth. They see not only the present but the past; not only Britain of the hour, but the Holy Land of Joshua and David and Christ; not only the proximate bearings, but the future issues of things: not only pleasure, but wisdom: not only themselves, but others: not only man, but God. They surrender to facts without dictating to facts what they ought to be. They open their hearts in adoration and trust to the God of heaven and earth; the God revealed in the Bible: the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. And they accept His Son with joy and love and enthusiasm, yielding themselves heartily to his service, and bind-themselves by his law, in the certainty of his promised appearing, to render to every man according as his work shall be. The muster of this class, from every age, to whom God's high things have been revealed, and their union under the visible headship of Christ at his coming, will reveal the most noble community that it ever entered into the heart of man to conceive.
Jesus then proceeded to utter deep things concerning himself, in which it is far from unprofitable to follow him: "All things are delivered unto me of my Father." A mighty fact in simple words -- Jesus, made possessor of the earth, -- Disposer, Lord and Judge of all, by "the Father, Lord of heaven and earth." Who can he be who claims to have had such an absolute position assigned him? Such a question appears to be anticipated in the next statement. "No man knoweth the Son but the Father." Men knew Jesus, but not as the Father knew him. Men understood him not, and this is the evident sense in which the word "know" is here used. Looking on him, men saw him but a man as other men -- graver, perhaps, and more thoughtful looking, and more interesting on account of what he did and said, but still merely an individual man -- a member of the genus homo -- a remarkable variety of the species. They did not know as they looked upon his form that they looked upon more than man. Even the disciples, while calling him "Lord and Master," looked up to him as to a trusted leader, rather than with the fulness of understanding to which they attained when the Holy Spirit "took of the things that were Christ's and showed them unto them" (Jno. xvi. 13-15). The Father only, at that time, looking down on the teeming multitudes of Israel, could discriminate the man Christ Jesus from the rest in his true nature and character: -- " My beloved son in whom I am well pleased; who could say, "I and my Father are one:" "The Father dwelleth in me." "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." The facts afterwards made known so fully in the writings placed in the hands of believers and transmitted to our day -- that Jesus was begotten of the Holy Spirit, and guided and developed by it from his infancy upwards, and finally anointed with it effulgently at his baptism, constituting him the manifestation of God in the flesh -- were not generally understood or known among the multitudes while Christ walked among them. In this sense, he was not known among the people, though he walked among them.
Neither was the Father known, as he proceeded to say -- "Neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal them." This is the authentic revelation of the actual state of things in the heart of the nation that God had chosen for Himself. They were religious in the ceremonial sense; but they knew not the God of their fathers in any intelligent or living manner. They understood Him not, discerned Him not, apprehended Him not in any real sense, and, therefore, loved Him not. He was but a name to them -- a name of mystery, superstitiously regarded as at this day; not a glorious, actual Eternal Living Being whom they loved -- whose character they knew, whose will they understood, whose word they rested on, whose power they trusted, and in whose service they delighted. Jesus knew Him as no man knew Him; and it was his work to reveal Him to all whom the Father had given him, that they, knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he had sent, might have life eternal.
It was in the execution of this mission that he uttered the beautiful words with which he concluded the discourse delivered on this occasion: words which have lingered as music in the air from that day to this. "Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me: for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light." It is well said that a man's mouth makes or destroys him. In an important sense, a man's words are himself. Nothing more powerfully attests the superhuman character of Christ than these words of invitation and assertion. We have only to imagine any other man saying them to see and feel the unutterable difference between "all that ever came before" Christ or after him. What "rest" can any other man give us? The statement David made about "ransom" may well be applied to rest: "None of them can by any means redeem his brother, or give to God a ransom for him." No man can give his brother rest. All are alike distressed and powerless -- burdened with sin, oppressed with weakness, devoid of the least ability to change the hapless state of man, or avert the inevitable issues of vanity. But here is one who says "Come unto me: I will give you rest."
And his words are not mere words: that is, our confidence in them does not rest on the words alone, though the words alone greatly inspire confidence. They come from the mouth of one who wrought miracles, and as he said, "though ye believe not me, believe the works." They come from the mouth of one who rose from the dead, and therefore they are words sealed, ratified and confirmed as no words have been that ever came out of human month before. They are the illustration of God's meaning when he said to Moses concerning him: "I will put my words in his mouth." They are therefore words that we can trust absolutely, and to which we can commit our lives without the least reservation.
Jesus said on another occasion, "All that the Father hath given to me shall come unto me." Some have concluded from this that such would therefore come to him by a law of spiritual gravitation, -- without means, and without necessity, and without distress. But Christ's words under consideration are the disproof of this. He gives the invitation, and he addresses himself to those who are "heavy laden." If, therefore, the invitation come under a man's attention, he may consider himself within the scope of the process by which God gives men to Christ, though he never felt himself disposed in such a direction before;and he need not be deterred, but rather encouraged, by the fact that instead of finding himself in the mood of a spontaneous gravitation to Christ, he labours troublously and is heavily laden in the burden of his spirit. To such, the invitation has been given, with the assurance that the yoke to be assumed is a light one, and that in the Master imposing it, we shall find one, not austere, exacting, and harsh, but one who is meek and lowly of heart, in whose service and society, we shall find perfect rest and joy at last.


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