The spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.—Isa_61:1.
As we speak of the “The Lord’s Prayer” we may call this “The Lord’s Sermon.” He adopted it as His own (Luk_4:16-22) as He did not the Lord’s Prayer. It is the model of all sermons. It contains all that a sermon need or can contain—(1) The Audience, (2) the Message, (3) the Preacher.
There are four classes.
1. The meek, or “the poor.”—It is the same word that is applied to Moses in Num_12:3, and it means the opposite of self-seeking. In Luk_4:18 it is given as “the poor,” the same word being used as Jesus uses when He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Mat_5:3). “Blessed be ye poor” (Luk_6:20). Perhaps its meaning is best expressed by the phrase, “poor and needy.” The “poor” may not be blessed as such, and the rich may; but the poor are more likely to be blessed because more likely to feel their need. It is a gospel to them that need and know it. It is for all the young, all the helpless, all but the self-sufficient.
The Hebrew word has just a shade of ambiguity between “poor” simply and “poor in spirit,” and we can easily imagine it susceptible of both renderings. It is a word, too, which comes into one of those central passages of the Old Testament which our Lord took up most directly as His own teaching. It will be observed that, in the Revised Version of Isa_61:1, the old rendering is retained: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek”: but “poor” is given in the margin as an alternative for “meek”; and in the quotation of this passage in St. Luk_4:18, “poor” “is the rendering both in the Greek and in the English. In Psa_9:18, “The expectation of the poor shall not perish for ever,” the Revised Version has “poor” in the text, “meek” in the margin. There can be little doubt that the Hebrew (or Aramaic) corresponding to this was the word originally used in the first beatitude, and that the evangelist has represented it to us by an apt and just paraphrase.1 [Note: W. Sanday in The Expositor, 4th series, iii. p. 313.]
When ‘ânâw is translated “the poor” or “the afflicted, oppressed,” or “the helpless, the meek,” its exact significance will be best understood if we bear in mind the traits in the character of the toil-worn man, his poverty of spirit, his slowness to insist upon his rights, his patient forbearance, his long enduring of any number of wrongs. It may be said that this is introducing into the slow-moving, tranquil Eastern world the conditions of life which pertain only to Western civilisation. But an enslaved nation, as the Israelites were more than once in the earlier part of their history, would be likely to know something of the wearing effect of laborious toil on both the body and the mind, and that knowledge has left its impression on the plastic surface of their language.2 [Note: A. T. Burbridge in The Preacher’s Magazine, 1901, p. 542.]
The Rev. Thomas Guthrie, fresh from his Forfarshire parish, bounded by the restless North Sea, with singing larks and decent peasants, looked down through the iron gratings on George iv. Bridge on the one he had come to cultivate. It was before the age of the City Improvement Commission, and the Cowgate showed battered humanity in a state not now visible there. High-flatted houses, each having the population of a village, with windows innocent of glass and stuffed with dirty rags, some of these tenements were the scene of domestic tragedies, for in one of their upper flats five families had been made fatherless through the fever. But the dwellers did not mind, for Guthrie noted women lying over window-sills, and others at close mouths with children in arms, chaffing passers-by, or screaming each other down. It looked to the new minister a venture into the darkness of a coal-pit from the light of day. A hand was laid on his shoulder. Then the voice of Dr. Chalmers, whose face glowed with enthusiasm as, waving his arm, he exclaimed, “A beautiful field, sir, a very fine field of operation.”1 [Note: T. Cochrane, Home Mission Field, p. 7.]
2. The broken-hearted.—These have more than a general sense of need. They have learned in the school of suffering. They can recall loss, perhaps betrayal, at least disappointment. They cannot help recalling it. For its scar is on them. They bear about in their hearts the marks of wrong—wrong which they have suffered, and, yet more deeply, wrong which they have done. They are broken-hearted; they cannot receive or they cannot give restitution.
The exact significance of shâbhar is “to break in pieces”; thus there is contained in it the idea of destruction, with its resultants, “helplessness, uselessness, inactivity.” For instance, shâbhar is used of ships broken by the storm, of the tearing asunder of wild beasts, of the dismembering of corporate bodies, e.g. a kingdom, a city, a people. And the verb must suffer no impoverishment of meaning if the exact significance of the now familiar expression, “the broken-hearted,” is to be retained. The phrase, “a broken heart,” is descriptive not simply of an organ full of aching and suffering, but of an organ which, while it is racked with pain, is also helpless, unable to do what is required of it. That which can happen to any physical organ or limb of the body can happen also to the heart conceived of as the centre of man’s emotional life. Struck with a sudden blow, the arm is broken, hangs down suffering and useless. Overtaken by a sudden calamity the heart is broken, suffering intensely, but amid all its suffering useless. The broken heart can still feel, it is not dead or hardened like the heart of the wicked or the stubborn, but it can no longer prompt, purpose inspire, urge on to fresh effort, to victory or death; its vitol strength is gone. Some forms of suffering act as a stimulus, they arouse new energy in a man, but the suffering of the broken-hearted is accompanied by a listlessness, an apparent inability to do anything but suffer, an utter helplessness not simply of body but also of mind and soul. It is this element of helplessness which constitutes the tragedy of a broken heart, and it is this element of helplessness which is emphasised in the Hebrew term nishberç-lçbh. Yet even in this most disastrous effect of human trouble, when sorrow robs the heart of its last resources and strength, the Bible discovers an opportunity for the coming of God: “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart,” “a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” Is not every form of human helplessness a recommendation to the Deity? Must not this extreme form be so most of all?1 [Note: A. T. Burbridge.]
An old woman came into the city from the country to buy medicine at a native medicine vendor’s. While the man was preparing the medicine, his wife came into the shop, and noticing the old woman looking very sad and unhappy, asked her the reason. The old woman replied, “Last year I lost my husband. Now my eldest son is ill at home, and I am afraid he is going to die, and I am taking this medicine to see if it will do him any good.” “Ah,” replied the shopman’s wife, “I am sorry for you. I wish I could help you. If you want the words that comfort men’s hearts, go to the Gospel Hall across the way there. They have the words that comfort men’s hearts.”
3. The captives.—The description grows denser. These are more needy than even the broken-hearted. They are the victims of habit, evil habit, ill-regulated deeds settling or settled down into an ill-regulated life. If women, they are such as St. Paul describes (2Ti_3:6), “silly women laden with sins, led captive with divers lusts.”
The word does not describe those whose condition is a woeful one by reason of bonds and imprisonment. It has nothing to do with either gaol or dungeon. By paying attention to the exact significance of the original meaning we shall best know how to interpret the Hebrew. The term means literally “those carried off as booty.” It depicts what must have been one of the bitterest moments in the experience of the prisoner of war, the moment when the power of the conqueror dragged him away from home and native city, when he saw for the last time loved walls and ways and faces without which life was without joy. Thus, as generally used, it denotes the ever present bitterness of the enslaved among strange faces in a strange country; the sad memories, the troublous longings which would haunt him even when the treatment he experienced was the kindest and his lot was of the easiest and pleasantest.
Crouched in the corner of every house sat a thing, without home, without rights, without hope, called the slave; the victim of every caprice, the safety-valve of every passion, the tool of every lust. The work of construction Christianity wrought out. It restored the family life by restoring the marriage relation. It made every Christian home a retreat where purity might repose in the bosom of order. It created that type of Christian gentleness which we see in our mothers and sisters and wives. It touched the brow and heart of the slave—not just snapping the chains and then leading him forth to a freedom he could not use. It first touched the slave’s soul, and taught him to raise his branded brow, and to know that he was a free man, that Christ had made free—free from the yoke of sin, and therefore free one day to walk as king.1 [Note: Archbishop Alexander, Primary Convictions.]
4. Them that are bound.—The proper and more general sense of the verb ’asâv is “to bind,” but in its special sense as applied to prisoners the original meaning seems to have faded out. The history of the word presents us with an excellent illustration of the elasticity of the Hebrew language. In earliest times one can understand how “a prisoner” and “a bound-man” were synonymous terms. But when arrangements for confining a person guilty of some offence were rendered more secure, the bonds might be dispensed with and a man might be shut up in prison without being pinioned. However, the old word was still used, and such a man was known as ’âsîr, literally “one bound,” properly “a prisoner.” The place where he was confined was known as “the house of the bound,” “the prison house.” Illustrations of this can be found in the histories of Joseph and of Samson (Gen_40:3; Gen_39:20; Jdg_16:21). A reference to the context will make it clear that though referred to as ’âsîr Joseph and Samson were evidently not pinioned. But, while losing its old significance, ’âsîr gathered about itself a fresh meaning. One of the most dreadful horrors of the prison house was its darkness, and, if this were not absolute, its sunless gloom. Thus the word came to signify a prisoner, as one to whom light was denied. In several passages “prisoners” are classed in the same category with “the blind” and “them that sit in darkness” (Isa_42:7; Isa_49:9; Psa_146:7-8). It is evident that it would be a mistake to adhere strictly to the original significance of the word. The literal meaning “the bound” is no longer applicable, and there must be substituted for it, as characteristic of “the prisoner,” “one who is longing for the light.” In the interpretation of Isa_61:1, it is quite possible that even the idea expressed in the term “the prisoner” may be dismissed, and only the broader significance of “one who is longing for the light” retained.
It is their eyes that are bound. And so these are in worst case of all, for they cannot see their condition. They are as good as dead—dead in trespasses and sins. “She that liveth in sin is dead while she liveth.” When Lazarus came forth from the tomb his face was bound about with a napkin, for that was the way they did with the dead. The eyes were closed and bound. These are they who say, “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing,” and do not know that they are “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.”
A spirit lay bound in a house of clay,
Closed to the light of God alway,
Dark with the gloom of mortal sin,—
Earth without and a Spirit within.
But how can Earth with Spirit agree?
Or Death with Immortality?
There moved a Form in the shadows dim,
And a tender radiance flowed from Him;
But the light disclosed in the prison cell
Ignorance, Pride, and Hate as well.
His voice was sweet, and soft, and low,
And the poor dumb Spirit loved it so;
But Ignorance, Pride, and Hate unite,
To drown the voice, and hide the light.
O who will set the Spirit free,
And save her from the hideous three?
The Light has pierced the gloom of sin,
The Word has silenced the strife and din,
The Saviour has broken the house of clay,
And borne the ransomed Spirit away.
O hidden Life! O Christ within!
Break Thou the fetters of my sin!
My soul from mortal limits free
And bear me up to Heaven with Thee.1 [Note: H. Marwick.]
The message is determined by the audience. It is fitted to be good tidings to each class, each person.
1. To the poor and needy it is simply a Gospel. What they need most is hope. It is the hopelessness of the poor that is the most striking, the most characteristic thing about them. Watch the faces of the tramps—they are all hopeless. This is a message of hope. And it is a hope that does not die out, “that maketh not ashamed.” To poor shepherds, working lads, came the first Gospel sermon: “To you is born this day a Saviour.” Jesus is a Saviour from hopelessness.
(1) First of all, this Gospel goes to the very root of the matter, in its cause and in its history. “Know you certainly that it is God’s visitation.” It is the will of God that you should be poor. Suppose that your poverty be even the result of folly, misconduct, or sin, still it is now, for you, the will of God. There is repose, there is satisfaction, at once. Whatever second causes have been at work—sickness or misfortune, wrongdoing of another, wrong doing of your own—this, to-day, in fact, is the will of God concerning you; poverty—poverty as a providence, or else poverty as a chastisement. It is the will of God.
(2) Again, the Gospel of Jesus Christ says this to me. The life that is, is the mere porch and vestibule of the life that shall be. I must walk by faith. I must claim and I must practise already that equality of being which is mine, in God’s sight, not only with the greatest of earth’s heroes, but even with just men already made perfect. These distinctions of birth and rank, of fortune and station, are absolutely unrecognised in heaven. It is difficult, I know, to see it so: it is of the very nature of these inequalities to strut and parade themselves; it is natural to us, it is even our duty, to feel and to own these varieties below; it is a part of Christian virtue to order myself lowly and reverently towards those who are here above me. But let mine be a willing subordination—willing, because it is also erect, independent, dignified. Let me live already as one whose citizenship is in heaven—whose fellow-citizens are saints and angels, the souls of the faithful here, the spirits of the righteous in glory. There is no degradation in that poverty which, within a few years, will be transfigured and recreated into glory.1 [Note: C. J. Vaughan.]
2. It heals the broken-hearted. Macbeth said to the physician, “Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased?” and the physician answered, No. This Physician can bind up a broken heart, can heal a wounded spirit. He came as a Physician to the sick. “They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick; I came to call sinners.” He healed the “woman that was a sinner,” broken-hearted perhaps through men’s sins. He healed Zacchæus, whose extortions had broken others’ hearts, and sent him to restore what yet was in his power.
A great thinker has said that Christianity first taught man the reverence for things beneath him. It is profoundly true. The Spirit of Christ can say distinctively, “He hath sent me to bind the broken heart.” It has come through other channels for other purposes, but through this channel it has had but one purpose. Sometimes its mission has been to teach me God’s majesty, sometimes to reveal His beauty, sometimes to proclaim His law. But here in the heart of Jesus the mission of the Spirit is to show me a new exhibition of God’s power—His power of infinite stooping.2 [Note: G. Matheson.]
3. It is a message of liberty to the captives. Jesus did not loose any one’s chain, so far as we know, when He was on earth. He sent John’s messengers back to John in prison, not with a message to open the prison door, but with “Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me.” But He gave liberty to the captive in sin. He said to the paralytic, “Son, thy sins are forgiven thee.” He did more than break the chains of sin for the moment. He set in a large place, gave liberty to go in and out, victory over the very temptation that it became no temptation longer. He brought His banished home again, with the Father’s welcome and the Son’s place.
I do not know whether you generally read the daily newspaper. I think we might get up a “Society for the Suppression of Useless Knowledge.” A great deal that appears in the newspapers amounts only to that, and much time is wasted thereon; but sometimes we get a gem amongst the news, and to my mind there was a gem contained in a Reuter’s telegram from Rio Janeiro, 10th May:—“The Brazilian Chamber of Deputies has voted the immediate and unconditional abolition of slavery in Brazil.”1 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 1894, p. 349.]
The island of Capri in the Bay of Naples is a very tiny island, only about three and a half miles square. But it is a very beautiful island, for small though it is, it has upon it two mountains, connected with each other by a ridge or saddle. And the sides of these mountains are covered with gardens and trees. There are orange trees and lemons and olives and vines. And the air in the summer time is heavy with the sweet fragrance they send forth. There are remains also upon the island of Roman villas and baths and temples. And on one side of the island is a wonderful grotto, which can be reached only from the sea.
Now if we were in the island of Capri on Easter morning we might see a very curious sight. Rising early, we should climb the long flight of steps that lead upward from the shore, past the quaint old houses, by the vineyards and the orange groves, until we reached the church. There we should find a crowd of people waiting; dark-eyed boys and girls with jet black hair; women wearing the many-coloured costume of the island; men with their faces sunburnt from their daily exposure to the rays of the hot, fierce sun.
By and by there comes the priest, with the boy acolytes behind him, chanting as they come. First they enter the church, where they hold a service; then, after a while, they reappear outside the church, and people and priests and boys all stand together on the great open square in front, with the wide sea below and the great broad dome of the blue sky above. But what are those people carrying in their hands? Cages. And what are in the cages? Birds. Let us watch. See, there is a signal given. What does it mean? The doors of the cages are being opened; and the men, or the boys, or the girls who hold them are putting in their hands. And now they are taking out the birds. They must be about to set them free. And so they are. Another moment and there is a little cloud of birds just above the people’s heads, and in another the birds which a minute ago were captives in their cages are flying upward, here and there and everywhere, into the wide sky beyond. They, every one of them, are free. This is what may be seen every Easter morning on the island of Capri, and it may be seen also, I believe, in other places, especially in Russia.1 [Note: J. Byles, The Boy and the Angel, p. 191.]
Conquering kings their titles take
From the foes they captive make.
Jesus by a nobler deed
From the thousands He hath freed.
4. And it is a message of the opening of the eyes to the blind. None of Christ’s miracles astonished more than His making the blind to see; none cost Him more. In the spiritual sphere it verges on the impossible. The blindness of ignorance is removable: we are to blame if we do not remove that. But who so blind as he that will not see? Whose eyes are so hard to open as theirs who say, “we see,” while yet their sin remaineth? But the things which are impossible with men are possible with God. This Worker is anointed for His work. Therefore He has the Spirit, and the Spirit will stay with Him till his work is done—even to the opening of the eyes of the blind.
Lo! the light cometh that shall never cease;
Soon shall the veil be lifted; be at peace!
Light, and more light, shines from the eternal shore,
Light of the life that dieth nevermore.2 [Note: Walter C. Smith.]
In a dialogue between a Christian and a Jew, which was written in the beginning of the second century, but published in English only a few years ago (Expos. 5th ser. v. 302, 443), the Christian quotes this prophecy of Isaiah, upon which the Jew remarks, “All this is to be in the future, though the time is not yet.” That is the Jew’s admission of the extraordinary wealth of promise this prophecy contains. He does not acknowledge Jesus Christ, but he sees that no one else has yet come to fulfil it. We acknowledge Jesus Christ. We know that He took this sermon and made it His. We believe that
He comes the broken hearts to bind,
The bleeding souls to cure;
And with the treasures of His grace
To enrich the humble poor.
The majority of people do not think of Christ as a great preacher. They look at Him as a man of supreme love, gentleness of spirit, kindness of manner, and as thoroughly good and unselfish in all He did; but they do not think of Him as possessing the qualities which we think necessary to make what we call a great preacher. The wonderful gift of language, the skilful choice of words, the ability to gather His arguments and focus His thought so as to carry His audience to the point of decision, most people, I say, do not thus think of Christ. When the great preachers of history are named, people speak of Brooks, Beecher, Finney, and Edwards in America; Spurgeon, Chalmers, Whitefield, and Wesley in Britain; Luther, Savonarola, and Chrysostom of the old world. But did you ever hear any one put Christ in this category?
1. That Christ was a great preacher is evident from our text, for the requisites, which all concede as necessary, are here set forth as being in His possession.
(1) First, He had the right qualification for His work, namely, the anointing of the Holy Spirit. “The Lord hath anointed me to preach.” Christ received this special qualification at the time of His baptism, with the declaration, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” It was this anointing for the work that gave Christ His power. The account in Luke closes with the suggestive sentence, “His word was with power,” and immediately following the text occurs the statement, “And they wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth.”
The fact that Christ’s earthly life became effectual through the ministry of the Holy Spirit within Him, and not alone through the inherent virtue and power He brought with Him from His pre-existent state, has become one of the commonplaces of theology; and yet how little do we realise its true import, and cultivate that humility and dependence of soul which would distinguish us if the great truth were ever in view! In spite of our formal adhesion to this doctrine, it seems still strange to us that one whom we think of as holy and Divine should be indebted at every stage of His earthly life to that inward mystic ministry which is so necessary to us because of our sinfulness. We speak of the Holy Ghost as a Deliverer from inbred corruption, and are ready to assume, quite unwarrantably, that where there is no corruption in the nature, the stimulating forces and fervours of His benign indwelling are needless. We are accustomed to look upon this ministry, which perpetuates in our souls the saving work of the Lord Jesus, as though it were a special antidote to human depravity only. For the Spirit to abide moment by moment with Jesus Christ, and work in His humanity, seems like painting the lily, gilding fine gold, and bleaching the untrampled snow.
But that is a mistaken view. When the universal Church shall have been built up and consecrated to its high uses, it will be “by the Spirit” that God will dwell in the temple. And the temple of Christ’s sacred flesh needed this same indwelling presence. It was imperative that to the Son in His humiliation the Father should give the Spirit, and give Him, too, upon no grudging scale—give Him for His own sake as well as for ours, whom He came to represent and to save. The great Sanctifier blends the essential forces of His personality into this divinest type of goodness, to show that goodness in even the only begotten Son is not self-originated. In the less mature stages of Christ’s expanding humanity implicit and docile dependence on this inward leading was the test of His entire acceptability to the Father.
(2) He had also the second requisite of a preacher, whose sermon must always be about Christ. Christ’s sermon in Nazareth was about Himself. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, He has sent me.” The personal pronoun runs through all He has to say. The subject of His discourse was, in a word, Himself. Just after the resurrection, when Christ was on the road to Emmaus with two of the disciples, we are told that, “Beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the thing concerning Himself.” Again, He said: “I am the Vine.” “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” “I am the Son of God.” “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
More than that, Christ’s sermon was Himself. He gave His life a ransom, His soul an offering for sin. That day this Scripture was fulfilled. He preached the sermon in Nazareth by anticipation; for He delighted to do the Father’s will,—and it was as good as done already, even to the last agony.
I once heard a prayer of a rough ploughman in a village schoolroom; and this was in his prayer—“Dear Lord, if there be any poor stricken one in this room to-night, come and bind him up, and bind Thyself, Lord, into the binding.”1 [Note: J. Vaughan, Sermons, viii., No. 729.]
2. It is because Christ is this sermon, not because He preached it, that the prophet could preach it, and that we can preach it now. The Cross of Christ looks before and after. One arm stretches backward and gives this prophet the right to preach a sermon he has no power himself to fulfil; the other stretches forward and gives the same right to us. For the Spirit of the Lord is not straitened by time or circumstance. As the prophet spoke, the Cross of Christ was already raised in His sight, and it stands erected in His sight to-day.
Thus the preacher can say, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach glad tidings to the meek.” This is his work. It is a special work. Like every work for which one is anointed, it is honourable and glorious. He has been chosen to accomplish it. And because he has been chosen to accomplish this work, the Spirit of the Lord will be with him as long as he gives himself to its accomplishment.
The question very naturally arises, if one of the offices of Christ was that of physician, and He healed the sick and made the lame to walk, and gave sight to the blind, will He not do these same things to-day? In other words, it is asked, have we not here Scripture which supports the theory known as Divine healing, or faith cure? Christ undoubtedly could heal the sick to-day, and give sight to the blind, just as much as when He was here upon earth, for He has the same power now that He had then. “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” But what He can do and what He will do are two different things, and while many would willingly concede that He could do these things, yet most Christians believe that He will not now work miracles of physical restoration.
The reason for this is that such miracles are not needed. God could inspire men to prophecy, but the probability is that He will not. Simply because Christ has come, the acme of all prophecy has been fulfilled, and the necessity does not now exist. So God could inspire men to write a Bible, for He has the same power as when He spoke to Isaiah, and Paul, and James; but the probability is that He will not thus inspire men to-day, for we have a Bible, and such inspired writings are not needed. On the same basis do we believe that Divine healing is not to be expected in present times. The purpose of Christ’s physical miracles was to support His authority as a spiritual healer. He restored the sight of the blind that the world might be more easily convinced that He had the power to heal spiritual blindness. He bound up the broken-hearted that people might be taught to trust Him as the physician of the soul.
The Lord’s Sermon
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Bourdillon (F.), Short Sermons, 39.
Byles (J.), The Boy and the Angel, 190.
Challacombe (W. A.), The Soul’s Wardrobe, 48.
Harper (F.), A Year with Christ, 195.
Henson (H. H.), Westminster Sermons, 280.
Jowett (B.), Sermons on Faith and Doctrine, 282.
Kingsley (C.), National Sermons, 17.
Knight (G. H.) Divine Upliftings, 2.
Lewis (A.), Sermons Preached in England, 206.
Manning (H. E.), Sermons, ii. 200.
Manning (H. E.), Sermons on Ecclesiastical Subjects, ii. 383.
Matheson (G.), Voices of the Spirit, 73.
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