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gospel, or “glad tidings.” In his teaching there is not a trace of any vengeful feeling towards the stranger, not a hint of the doom of destruction awaiting the heathen oppressors of his country; and it is comparatively seldom that we meet with those anticipations of sudden and violent revolutions which John and his other contemporaries so constantly expressed. Jesus expected that the kingdom of God, in accordance with its spiritual nature, would establish itself in secret, and would subdue and renovate all things before it displayed itself in its glory. He illustrated this secret influence and progress of the kingdom of God by an image taken from one of the occupations of daily life. When a woman is going to bake she takes three measures of flour and begins to knead; but first she throws in a piece of leaven (equivalent to yeast), and as she kneads the mass of dough the leaven is spread about and mixed up with it until every particle is leavened and ready to rise. Thus must the spiritual principle of the kingdom of God penetrate society. And however small and insignificant the beginnings of the great work of regeneration might appear, there was no need to despair ; for it would be with it as with a grain of mustard seed which a man takes and sows in the ground. It is the smallest of all garden seeds, but when it grows up it is the greatest of herbs; nay, it becomes a tree under the branches of which the birds of heaven come for shelter. 1
In such images as these Jesus expressed his faith in the power of good, in the influence of truth ; in a word, his faith in God. But we must not forget that he had great faith in human nature too. He compared his own work to that of a husbandman who sows his field with seed, and then does nothing more to it, and never sees the grains as they silently burst and sprout below the ground. But as he is going on his way the seed shoots up, and grows he knows not how ; for the earth brings forth fruit of itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear; and then the reapers are sent in with their sickles, for the harvest time has come.” So Jesus could afford to wait. He did not expect to see the fruits of his labor immediately. He was content for them to ripen gradually and slowly, and he never for a moment doubted the fruitfulness of the soil, never doubted the natural, inborn goodness of the human heart. Not that he allowed himself to be deceived by mere appear.
! Matthew xii. 31-33 (Mark iv. 30–32; Luke xiii. 18-21).
ances! Not that he believed, when hundreds of hearers were pressing round him, that they were all inspired by a true, a deep, a holy interest in the message he delivered, or that all would receive a lasting impression from it. His own words will teach us how far he was from any such delusion. A husbandman went out to sow his field, and, as he flung the seed before him in a semicircle, some fell upon the pathway that ran across the land, and lying exposed upon its beaten surface, unbroken by the plough, was snapped up by a swarm of birds that alighted behind him. Other seed fell upon a place where a rock lay hidden just below the surface of the soil. Here the corn shot up luxuriantly, for there was no room for it to strike deep root, and all its strength went into the blade, and the warm rock fostered its growth from below as the sun did from above. But when the heat of summer came, the feeble ears were soon parched up. They could draw no moisture from the earth, and so the hot sun killed them. Yet other seed fell on a spot where brambles had been growing, and though the plough had cut them down their roots were still in the ground; and when the seed began to grow the brambles came up also, and were too strong for the corn, and at last choked it. But some of the seed fell upon good ground and full ears sprang from it, and each grain brought forth fruit a hundred or sixty or thirty fold.
Jesus himself laid special stress upon this parable, for he closed it with the solemn words : “ He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” Indeed, he is said to have explained it immediately afterwards at the request of his disciples. It gives us a vivid picture of the difficulties against which the husbandman had to contend in Palestine ; but it is far more noteworthy as a testimony to the deep and varied knowledge of human nature possessed by Jesus. He divides his hearers into four classes. Some are simply incapable of understanding him, for they are without any sense for the higher truths of the spirit ; for them his teaching can do nothing, — it goes in at the one ear and out at the other. Then there are superficial hearers, who understand something of his teaching and are highly delighted with what they hear, but have no depth of nature; as soon as they meet with opposition or persecution their enthusiasm dies and they fall away. There are others who understand and feel the truth, but are weak of will; they lack decision and perseverance, and so the cares and
i Matthew xiii. 3-9 (Mark iv. 3-9; Luke viji. 5-8).
temptations of life prevent their putting what they have heard into practice and choke their good resolutions. Lastly, there are those who understand the word, in whose heart it finds an echo, who carry it out and put it into practice in a spirit of power, and bring forth fruits, – the one more and the other less, according to their moral and spiritual capacity, but all abundantly.
So Jesus knew with whom he had to deal; but he also knew that though the profound and the superficial nature, the earnest and the careless, could not be separated now, they would not always be left together. At present all must be received who came to listen to the preaching of the kingdom, but they would be sifted finally. - It is with the kingdom of God, he said, “ as with a net that is dragged through the water, and brings in all kinds of fish. When it is full, the fishermen draw it to shore, and sit down and pick out the good fish to collect in their baskets, but throw away the worthless."
With hallowed zeal he warned the multitudes not to be content with merely listening to what he said, but to do it. There were once two houses a built not far apart upon the bank of a stream that ran through a pleasant valley; and one appeared to the eye to be just as firmly and strongly built as the other. But winter came, and the rain fell like a waterspout, and the swollen stream rose above its banks and rolled onwards, a fierce mountain torrent breaking a way for its waters. The storm arose with terrific violence, and wind and wave dashed upon the two houses as though the elements had joined their strength to hurl them to the ground. In the one house, when thus assailed by flood and storm, a single stone might be loosened here or there, but the whole stood firm, for its owner had built its foundations on a rock, and it could defy the fury of the storm. This builder is the type of the wise man who listens to the words of Jesus, and then does what he commands. But where is the other house? A mighty crash is heard for a moment above the howling of the wind and the rush of the maddened waters. This house could not defy their onslaught. Its walls tottered, its timbers cracked, it fell in with a crash, and the wild waters carried down the treasures of the house and rolled the very stones away! For the owner had built upon the yellow sand of the desert, that in dry weather seems almost as hard and firm as the very rock itself; but the waters of the stream had washed it loose, the foundations gave way, and the house
1 Matthew xiii. 47, 48. 2 Matthew vii. 24-27 (Luke vi. 47–49).
fell in upon the heads of those that dwelt in it.
6 Such builders are the foolish ones who listen to my words, but do thein not!”
Enough has now been said of the Master's mode of teaching. We shall not return expressly to the subject, but in the following chapters we shall meet with constant evidence of his keen observation that hardly any thing escaped, and his wonderfully happy power of producing the right illustration at the right moment. In a word, we shall see how Jesus makes the whole field of Nature and of man serve to bring the truth before the very eyes of those whom he addresses. We may conclude in the words of the same poet, whose lines we placed at the head of this chapter, and so pay our tribute of admiration and wonder to the teaching which Jesus gave his people :
To thee all Nature's oracles unfold
Each sparrow and each lily of the field
The shepherd seeking his lost lambs again,
The housewife's bread, the gently-falling rain,
The green grass, and the sports of careless youth, -
Matthew V. 3-12.1
"BFsm of heaven
LESSED are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the king,
dom of heaven! “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted !
* Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“ Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteous. ness, for they shall be filled. “ Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy
1 Luke vi. 20-26.
“ Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“ Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.
"Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely [for my sake). Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven ; for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you."
Such are the well-known Beatitudes which stand at the nead of the so-called Sermon on the Mount. They contain tlie great central thoughts of Jesus' preaching, - his gospel in fact. Should any one ask who Jesus was, and what were his purposes, we could give him no more concise and no fuller answer than these eight or nine short sentences. This was what Jesus had to offer, what he brought into the world,
not a new code with its penal enactments, not a new sy'stem of doctrine with its curse upon all who should dare to depart from it; but a sure promise of deliverance from misery, of consolation under all suffering, and perfect satisfaction of all the wants of the soul. In these beatitudes he gives us his best thoughts, shows us the purpose of his life, and, as it were, lays bare his soul before us. It is with true spiritual insight that Matthew places them at the head of all the discourses, though they cannot really have come first in point of time. The concluding passage shows that in their present form, at any rate, they cannot date from the early days of the Master's ministry; for the direct form of address,
"Blessed are ye,” and the words that immediately follow the beatitudes, clearly show that they were addressed to the friends of Jesus; and in the early days of his mission they cannot have been subject to the reproach, the calumny, and the persecution which are here implied as their lot. As for the expression “ for my sake,” it is probably added to the real words of Jesus, both here and elsewhere, by the tradition. And yet it was well to put the beatitudes first, for they are the greeting which Jesus offers to the world ; they are the scheme of his life-work, the pure reflection of what was in his heart. the express image of his life and character. As the gentle sound of that reiterated “blessed” falls upon our ear, we feel in the first place that he who utters it himself rejoices in the blessings, or has them within his grasp ; and then that 1 See p. 141.
2 Matthew v. 13-16. See, also, pp. 163, 164.