"Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins."—Matt. 1:21
Almost every historic person in the Bible bears an appropriate name; thus the name came to be identified with the person. In this text the name Jesus is declared to be descriptive of the person and the work of Christ.
I. Let me call your attention to the Saviour. Jesus signifies, Jehovah that saves. So Jesus is Divine: He saves His people from their sins. Not the word, not the ordinances, but Jesus Himself.
II. Look at the salvation.
1. Jesus saves from sin by bestowing forgiveness—full forgiveness, free, immediate, and irreversible.
2. Jesus saves His people from the pollution of sin; not in their sins, but from their sins. It is true that holiness is progressive, but the Christian cannot and does not love sin. Nor can he live in sin as the choice and habit of his life. This salvation shall be completed in heaven.
III. Let us look at the saved. "He shall save His people." Who are His people? They must have been at one time in their sins. Therefore no one need despair. "But does not the phrase speak of election? and how do I know that I am elected?" Your business is not with election but with your calling, and you may make your calling sure by believing. Whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish. "Whosoever!" Every one feels that includes him. "Whosoever believeth;" does that include you?
W. M. T.
"Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child."—Matt. 1:22, 23
Many readers of the Bible must have been struck by St. Matthew's reason for the occurrences connected with Christ's birth. It would have seemed more natural to say that the prophecy existed for the sake of the event than the event for the sake of the prophecy. There were other reasons for the birth of Jesus of a virgin mother, but one reason was this, that it was foretold on Divine authority. St. Matthew's plan throughout his Gospel is to show that the life of Jesus in all particulars corresponded to what Jewish prophecy had said about the Messiah.
I. The importance of the event to which Isaiah looks forward, and which the evangelist describes as fulfilled.
1. The occurrence was of preternatural character. The birth of Christ is often discussed now as the birth of a great man, but without reference to the virginity of his mother, as if it were not of importance. It is necessary to say plainly that the account in the Gospel is true or false: if false it ought to be repudiated by every honest man as baseless superstition; if true, as we Christians believe, then it is a very momentous truth. To raise us from degradation, Christ must Himself be sinless. Evil had descended from generation to generation like a torrent, ever since Adam by transgression fell, and the millions of mankind had ever to say with David, "Behold I was shapen in iniquity." How was this fatal entail to be cut off? The virgin birth was the answer.
2. Christ's birth marked the entrance into the sphere of sense and time of One who had existed from eternity.
3. No other birth has ever involved such important consequences to the human race. Who of all the greatest of mankind has left behind him a work comparable with that achieved by Jesus? What was the empire of Alexander, or of Cæsar when compared to that of Christ? Theirs were transient and limited; Christ's is lasting and ever extending. The institutions which make life tolerable to the suffering classes—such as hospitals—all date from Jesus Christ, and from the promulgation of His teaching. The position of woman in Christian society is due not only to our Lord's teaching, but to the circumstances of His birth. The incarnation of Jesus was a bridge across the chasm which parted earth and heaven.
II. The contrast between the real and the apparent importance of Christ's birth. The kingdom of God had entered into history without observation. That birth-place at Bethlehem seemed commonplace enough. Cæsar's palace seemed to be more important to the world than the manger. The apparent is not always the real.
III. What is the practical meaning of this birth to us, and what relation have we to Him who, for love of us, was born of the virgin?
H. P. L.
"Behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen His star in the east and are come to worship Him."—Matt. 2:1, 2
This visit of the wise men shows us:—
I. How variously God speaks to us—how many are the voices whereby He calls us, if we will, out of darkness, whether of mind or of heart, into His marvellous light He uses a language to each which each can understand. These men were probably from Parthia, and under Divine guidance, clearly miraculous, they were led to the manger of Bethlehem. Truly it has been said that man can more easily understand the infinite magnificence of God than the depths of His loving condescension. We, in our narrowness constantly prescribe conditions for Him, under which alone we think souls can be brought to know and love Him. He may seem to violate our narrow rules, but He has a larger heart than those rules allow for, and the day will come when we, too, shall understand Him. The universal Father sooner or later during our brief period of existence here has a word, a star, for all of us.
II. How truth, if it is to be grasped in its fulness, must be earnestly sought for. These wise men had a little stock of truth to start with, but they made the most of that which had been given them. They studied till they saw the star. They persevered until they actually found. It is the law of God's kingdom to the end of time: "He that hath to him shall be given, he that hath not from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have." God gives to all the necessary light at some time, and if we follow it, it will lead us on. Some word, some example, some passing inward inspiration, may be the star in the East, bidding the soul hope and persevere. And everything depends on the fact of that soul's perseverance.
III. This history teaches us what is the real object of religious enquiry. "We have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him." Worship is the joint result of thought, affection, and will rising upward towards God and then shrinking into the very dust before Him. It is much more than mere religious thought; it is the soul seeking the true centre of the spiritual universe with all its powers. In the worship of the Eastern sages there was reverent outward homage, and also the practical proof of their sincerity in their gifts.
H. P. L.
"Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy."—Matt. 5:7
This beatitude implies that mankind are not naturally merciful, or, at least, that they are imperfectly so. There is something strange in that; for if there is one quality we ascribe to humanity more than another it is this of mercy. We say of an unkind and cruel action, that it is inhuman, by which we imply that there is something in humanity that abhors it. The words would not seem so strange to us if we could throw ourselves back to that cruel time. But is it true that we need mercy yet?
I. Are we wanting in this grace of mercy? Let us compare ourselves with God. God's mercy is unchanging, ours is fitful. God's mercy is provident, it is a thoughtful mercy; our mercy, even in the most benevolent, capricious and not sufficiently thoughtful.
II. How may we hope to have this mercy supplied to us? In the redemption of the fallen world by the Son of God we see this thoughtful, this universal, this provident mercy unblurred by a single confusing line. Surely, we may say, we have need of supernatural grace to make us thus merciful.
III. Are we merciful in our judgment of others? Are we merciful in our speech to men? Do we not sometimes take pleasure in making a criticism as sharp and as pungent as we can make it? Are we merciful in our consideration for others? Are we merciful as employers of others? Surely there is a sad want of thoughtful mercy among us all
W. C. M.
"For My sake."—Matt. 5:2
The words specially bring before us the relation of the Christian to his living and loving Lord.
I. Let us seek to get a clearer view of the influence of the Christian motive.
The Lord Jesus has certain special and peculiar claims on us.
There is the authority of His Godhead, and the love of His incarnation and death.
II. Let us seek to get a juster estimate of its range.
1. It bears with full force on our efforts after personal holiness.
2. It bears with great effect on the Christian's work for others.
3. The principle extends to the enduring of suffering for conscience sake.
4. It applies with great force to the sacrifices we are required to make.
This principle has a testing power in it which will reveal whether or not we are as we profess to be, the followers of Christ
W. M. T.
"A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid."—Matt. 5:14
Christians must be, to a certain extent, the light of the world before they can be its salt They must illuminate it before they can save it from its corruptions. The startling assertion of our Lord to the company of Galilean peasants, "Ye are the light of the world," implies the duty "Let your light so shine before men."
In the proverb, "A city set on a hill cannot be hid," He implies that whether His disciples will it or not, they cannot help, in their corporate capacity as His Church, living much before the eyes of men in the full glare of public life. Now of these two figures, the hill suggests an elevation above all merely human institutions of the city, defensive walls without, and life, movement, organization within. There are other sayings of our Lord with which, at first sight, this doctrine of the publicity of His Church appears to be at variance. "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation." "The kingdom of God is within you." A chief reason for this visible publicity is that by it the Church of Christ challenges the attention of men to the claims of Christ. Its real strength and beauty are undoubtedly within, but its outward form and being are a proclamation of the great King, which all men more or less intelligently decipher for themselves.
This publicity is also characteristic of the lives of the Church's great servants and missionaries. What a public life was St. Paul's! He could say at an early date of his career, "From Jerusalem even round about unto Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ."
H. P. I.
"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."—Matt. 5:16
Christ, the Light of the world, says to His followers, "Ye are the light of the world." There is no real discrepancy between the two statements: the city is lit by lamps and yet it is the gas that lightens it
I. There is first: the positive injunction that Christians are to do everything in their power to secure that their light shall shine as brightly as possible. This is to be done:—
1. By the position we take up A lamp on the floor will not send out its rays so widely as if it were suspended from the ceiling. The Christian should connect himself with the Church, let his light shine by joining the company of those who confess with their mouths the Lord Jesus.
2. By the character which we form. Character is the most important thing in the world. There is no eloquence so powerful as a good man's life.
3. By the exertions we make for the conversion of our fellow men. By these we benefit ourselves; let a man tie up his hand so that it becomes motionless, and by and by it will become withered and powerless like the limb of an Indian devotee.
II. Look at the negative side of this injunction. We should remove everything that tends either to obscure or to hide our light, or which so affects it as to make it suggestive of ourselves rather than of God.
1. We should get rid of the undue reserve by which multitudes are characterized.
2. We must keep ourselves clear from all practical inconsistencies.
3. We should avoid all self display. The best style in writing is that which gives the thought with such transparency that the reader sees nothing else; and that is the noblest Christian character which shows the most of Christ.
W. M. T.
"Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil."—Matt. 5:17
This is one of those sayings of our Lord which exhibit "His enormous personal pretensions," which from any man's lips would have been blasphemy and intolerable impertinence. Prophets always appealed to the law of God as their authority; but Christ speaks as if He needed no higher authority for His mission than His own.
Twice over He says "I am come," as if to place Himself far above all prophets that were ever "sent of God."
I. The greatness of the assumption here made by Christ: "I am not come to destroy but to fulfil." Taking the ful-filment of the law to mean the rendering to it an absolute and faultless obedience, Christ first asserts his own sinlessness. He declares He had come to render a full and perfect obedience to the law of God. But He came to fulfil the law also by completing and explaining its moral and disciplinary training. The law is unintelligible without Christ. He asserts His own power and right to "fill out" the law and the prophets, throwing new life on both, taking the letter of the law and expanding it into richer spiritual significance, making men feel that God's command was "exceeding broad." Christ accepts the prophecies of the Old Testament as Divine, and points to Himself as their fulfilment.
II. These words of Jesus reveal to us the historical continuity of Christianity. It was founded on a great and glorious past, of which it was the Divine development. To destroy Christianity it is not enough to get rid of the miracle of Gospel history; you must also destroy the history of the Jewish Church.
III. These words teach us the permanent authority of all the moral principles of the Jewish law. One might as well ask if the authority of conscience is still to be recognised by Christian men, as ask whether the moral law of Judaism is still binding on the Church. Nothing that is moral can ever be destroyed. We do not need the light of stars when the sun is risen; but the stars are shining still.
G. S. B.
"Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven."—Matt. 5:20
The sermon on the Mount may be regarded as Jesus Christ's first formal public announcement of the nature and object of His mission, and of the relation of His Gospel both to the law of Moses and to the religious parties then existing among the Jews. The text is the centre of this unrivalled and unapproachable discourse.
The "kingdom of heaven" here, as elsewhere, in the Gospels, designates that spiritual society which Jesus came on earth to found.
When it is alleged that "righteousness" is essential to entrance into this kingdom, we are not to suppose that because of its possession a man merits admission into the kingdom, but rather that righteousness is the one essential characteristic of all connected with the kingdom. The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was at fault, because they placed righteousness in what a man does irrespective of what he is, and though practising many things which might be call virtues, yet they did so from mere outside considerations. The results which sprang from this false principle, were:—I. The divorce of religion from common life.
II. The overlaying of the spirit of God's law by the letter.
III. Ostentation in the performance of their so-called religious duties, with its invariable accompaniment in the uncharitable judgment of others.
This Pharisaism is a form of righteousness that is not extinct among us.
The disgraces and defeats of the Church are owing in most part to the Pharisees nominally connected with her. Like the barnacles on a ship, which are not in it but on it, they impede her progress and give occasion to the enemies of God to blaspheme.
W. M. T.
"Thy will be done on earthy as it is in heaven."—Matt. 6:13
The chief meaning of this petition is not that we should suffer, but that we should act. With very earnest and firm resolve we should set ourselves upon doing that which our own consciences tell us God would have us to do. But let us consider, first, its bearing upon suffering.
I. Though this is a part of the meaning of the petition, it is but a small part. God has so constituted the world as for trouble to form part of our common lot, falling upon some but lightly and at distant intervals, and visiting others blow upon blow until their hearts are bowed down and overclouded with sorrow. Our reason tells us that to submit to God's law is wise. But when our own turn comes to suffer, our will rises against God, and it is faith only that can make us say, "Thy will be done,"—faith in God's love, in Christ's salvation, and in the promised glory of Christ's kingdom.
II. The more important meaning of the petition is "Thy will be done" actively by us, by our earnestly setting ourselves to live a life of faith. This is the more important for two reasons—first, because it is the true meaning of the petition, not "Thy will be endured," but "Thy will be done;" and, further, it is to be done as in heaven. But there is no suffering in heaven. Besides, the doing of God's will includes the bearing of it as the cause includes the effect.
All we can do is by the grace of God. To obtain this grace we must pray.
III. God's will must not only be done, but done as His will. How this is to be is to be seen by our Lord's example. That is the hardest thing of all—to do God's will, because our natures have been transformed, all selfishness and a earthly longing removed, and the image of God once again restored in our defiled and sin-corrupted breasts.
R. P. S.