Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield.

Faith and life; 'conferences' in the Oratory of Princeton seminary online

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to be put under the bushel, or under the bed, and not to be put
on the stand? For there is nothing hid, save that it should be
manifested; neither was anything made secret, but that it should
come to light. If any man hath ears to hear, let him hear. And
he said unto them, Take heed what ye hear: with what measure
ye mete it shall be measured unto you; and more shall be given
unto you. For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that
hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he hath."

One of the peculiarities of our Lord's method
of teaching is His repeated use of a number of fav-
ourite sayings — or maxims, we may call them — in
varied connexions and in differing applications.
This gives a remarkable piquancy to His speech
and must at the time have served the double
purpose of fixing the several teachings which He
embodied in these gnomic sayings firmly in the
minds of His hearers, and of attracting them to the
matter of them as something peculiarly weighty.
In the passage before us we have a cluster of
these "proverbs," all of which meet us elsewhere
and sometimes with other applications, but which
are combined here to give pregnancy and force
to the specific message of this passage. Here is
the beautiful parable of the lamp. Here is
the amazing paradox of secrecy in order to open-
ness. Here is the crisp proverb that ears are



given for hearing. Here is the simile of equitable
measures. Here is the gnome of the relation of
possession to receptivity. No one of these is a
stranger to readers of the Gospels. They are
found elsewhere also in much the same connexion
as here; but they are found elsewhere also in
other connexions. They are marshalled to-
gether here to give wings to a specific teaching.

What is that specific teaching .^^

Well, there is too much in it — too much depth
of suggestion, too many implications of meaning,
for us to attempt to draw it all out at once. But
we may direct our attention to at least four
things that lie on the surface. Obviously this
cluster of sayings lays before us an important
declaration, presses on our attention an urgent
exhortation, reveals to us a profound philosophy
of life, and founds on this a serious warning.
Let us attend for a moment to these four things.

The important declaration that is made in
these sayings amounts to this: that there is no
esoteric element in Christian teaching. This is
the primary suggestion of the parable of the lamp
and the explicit assertion of the startling paradox
which immediately follows it, to the efiPect that
"there is nothing hid save that it may be man-
ifested, neither has anything been made secret
save that it might come abroad." For a lamp
exists, the parable tells us, for no other purpose
but to illuminate; it comes not to be put under


the bushel or under the couch, but on the stand —
that its light may shine. And, the paradox adds,
there is to be nothing cryptic or apocryphal in the
whole sphere of Christian teaching. It is, in
effect, the very contradiction of Christianity as
truth, to imagine that it can exist for any other
end but to serve the purpose of truth — to en-

The strength of our Lord's emphasis on this
important declaration just on this occasion finds
its explanation of course in the need that had
arisen to guard from misapprehension His own
methods of teaching. For a change had just
been introduced into His modes of instruction,
from which His disciples might be tempted to
infer that Christianity was a double system,
with an esoteric and an exoteric aspect. Our
Lord, who had hitherto spoken plainly, had sud-
denly begun to speak in parables; and He had
not concealed from His disciples that His object
was to veil His meaning. Was there not intro-
duced thus the full-blown system of esoterism?
It is to correct this not unnatural inference that
our Lord declares so emphatically that the truth
He is teaching — even in parabolic form — is a
lamp, and has for its one end to shine; that what
is now hid and made secret under this parabolic
veil, is hid and made secret not that it may not be
made known, but just that it may be made known.
The impulse to use parables thus arises from wis-


dom and prudence in teaching, not from a desire
to conceal. He teaches in parables in order
that He may teach; not in order that He may
not teach. This method of veiled teaching, in a
word, is forced on Him by the conditions under
which He is teaching and arises from the state
of mind of His hearers; it is not chosen by Him
in order to conceal His meaning, but in order to
convey it to those for whom it is intended. It is
with Him either to teach thus or not to teach at
all; and He consequently teaches thus. This is
the fundamental doctrine of parabolic teaching.
I do not say it is the whole account to be given of
it; we may see in the sequel that there is more to
say, and that the adoption of paraboHc teaching
has a punitive side — as, indeed, it could not fail
to have — with reference to those who could and
would not endure sound doctrine; whom it puz-
zled, therefore, rather than instructed. But this
is the fundamental account of it.

We may see this from an illustration. Take
as such the teaching which was the immediate
occasion of these remarks of our Lord's. He
had just been delivering the first cycle of the
parables of the Kingdom. Why had He taught
the fundamental facts as to the Kingdom in par-
ables? Briefly, because He could not have taught
them in any other way. For His conception of
the Kingdom was at just the antipodes of that of
the people He was addressing. Should he have


plainly and didactically proclaimed just what
their error was, just what the truth was? He
certainly would have been understood in that
case. But there would have been an end to His
teaching and so of His mission as Teacher. And
so, instead, He told them some beautiful stories.
In these stories He embodied the whole funda-
mental doctrine of the Kingdom. What was the
effect? To those open to His instruction the
whole doctrine of the Kingdom was conveyed.
Those not receptive to it were simply puzzled;
instead of being outraged and driven to violence,
they were simply puzzled and thrown back into
dull inertia. When He said, the Kingdom of
Heaven is like the sower, and the like, they could
only look perplexed and shake their heads. The
Kingdom of Heaven as they understood it was
like nothing less than these things. What could
He mean? And thus He obtained opportunity —
the Great Sower that He was — to sow His seed
and to exemplify His own parable. Meanwhile
receptive souls pondered and understood, under-
stood, that is, more or less. For even His own
disciples, nay, the Apostles themselves, were not
yet capable of receiving the truth in its purity
and entirety. And, accordingly to them too. He
taught as occasion offered, in parables, by which
He lodged the truth in their minds that it might
germinate and grow.

Nothing is more obvious than that this wise


prudence in the mode of disseminating the truth
has nothing in common with esoteric teaching;
and our Lord's broad denial of esoterism was as
justified as it was needed. A lamp that is shaded
is shaded, not for the benefit of the lamp, as if it
were too good for common use, or existed for some
other end than enlightening, but for some extrinsic
end. There may be a violence of wind from which
it needs temporary protection; there may be weak-
ness of eyes which require guarding. So with the
truth which Jesus came to teach. It is not too
sacred for the knowledge of men; it exists to be
known. But it may require temporary protec-
tion from violent opposition; it may require
veiling because of the weakness of men's under-
standing. Hence it is spoken under the veil of
parables. But this is that it may be spoken,
that it may be made known, and not that it may
be concealed. No crypticism, no apocryphalism
is in place here !

Accordingly, then, within this declaration there
is embodied also an urgent exhortation. It is
interlaced with the declaration in this passage of
Mark^so as to be scarcely distinguishable from it.
Elsewhere it is brought out most explicitly and
with tremendous emphasis. It is an exhortation
to the recipients of the truth to see to it that it is
not quenched in the darkness of their own hearts,
but permitted to act in accordance with its nature
as light — to shine. In Matthew, for example, we



read: "Even so let your light shine before men,
that they may see your good works and glorify
your Father which is in heaven." Here it appears
only in the way of implication. Jesus says in
eflFect: The truth I am delivering in this veiled
form is, like all truth, of the nature of light; it
comes to enlighten; temporarily it is veiled, but,
emphatically, it is hid only that it may be man-
ifested; it is made secret only that it may come
to light. Ye are my chosen witnesses; to you I
say with significant emphasis, "If any man have
ears to hear, let him hear." There is a subtle
implication that not the truth only which He
spoke is the lamp, brought to be put on the stand;
but these disciples of His, to whom the truth has
been brought, have been lighted by the truth,
and having been lighted, are lighted that they too
may shine. In effect, there is a solemn commis-
sion given here to His disciples — not to His
Apostles only, but (as. verse 10 shows), to the
whole body of His disciples, to see to it that what
He is now preaching in parables shall be in its
due season brought out on the housetop. There
is careful provision made, in a word, for the cul-
tivation of the seed He was now sowing. He was
speaking in parables — the times required it — but
they are to see to it that what is thus taught
veiledly shall in due time be announced openly.

No doubt, in this whole procedure, there is di-
vine sanction given to the principle of wise adap-


tation of our preaching to times and circum-
stance. But, O, how easy it is to misapply this
principle and pervert it to cowardly ends of per-
sonal profit. Preach to our times? Yes, of
course. But preach what to our times? Our
Lord's example does not give warrant to the sup-
pression of unpalatable truth. It only sets an
example of how still to preach the unpalatable
truth while staving off for the fitting time the
inevitable rupture, and providing for its full
proclamation in the end. He spoke in parables?
Why in parables? First, because by speaking in
parables, He could still teach the unpalatable
truth. If He had been willing to suppress the
unpalatable truth He would have had no need of
preaching in parables. There will be no need of a
veil if we remove the thing to be veiled. And
secondly, because He would so teach the unpala-
table truth, that men must needs hear it before
they know what they are hearing, and thus He
would catch them with holy guile. You see
there is nothing here so little as an example of
suppression of the truth. There is only an exam-
ple of finding a way to preach to men, despite
their opposition, what they do not choose to hear.
Christ does not yield to men; He triumphs over
men. And this is the commission He gives to us:
Let your light shine! Do not think you are imi-
tating Him when you quench your light; when
you permit the clamours of men to drown your


voice of teaching. You imitate Him only when,
despite men's opposition, you find a way to make
your voice heard and the truth with which you
are charged a power among them. Silent, Christ
was not; compromising. He was not; He was
only persistently inventive in modes of procla-
mation. You imitate Him least of all when you
put your light under a bushel or under a couch;
to be like Him you must let your light shine.

It is already clear to us, no doubt, that there is
implicit in this passage a fully developed philos-
ophy both of teaching and of life. Why did
Christ preach in parables? To conceal the truth
or to teach the truth? The proper answer is,
of course, both. The two are not mutually ex-
clusive. Fundamentally we say, it was in order
to teach the truth. Proximately it was, of course,
so far to conceal the truth as to be able to teach
it in the circumstances in which He stood. People
who would not listen when He told them plainly
what the Kingdom He came to found was like,
would listen to His story and so have the unpal-
atable truth told them before they were aware.
But this is not the whole story. There is more
to be said and Christ says it. Truth so taught
becomes a touchstone and discriminates among
men. When Jesus said "the Kingdom of God
is like to . . ." that was an opening familiar
enough to the whole body of His audience. The
most rigid Pharisee, the most fanatical zealot


would prick up his ears at that. But when He
went on and told them what — in His view — the
Kingdom of God was like, what would the Phar-
isee, what would the zealot, make of that? Noth-
ing. The disciples themselves could not make
much of it. The others naturally could make
nothing. Thus, the method of teaching by par-
ables, certainly did not succeed in illuminating all.
The plainest teaching under heaven could not
have illuminated those minds. They were too
filled with preconceptions, prejudices, personal
desires, to be accessible to the truth. How could
veiled teaching dispel their darkness? It could
only avail to make the darkness of their minds
deeper; they could only say in puzzlement, "We
do not understand ! " How can the glorious King-
dom of Heaven — God come to triumph over Is-
rael's foes, how can this be like the sower sowing
His seed, and the like? So our Saviour explains
that the teaching is given to them in parables,
that seeing they may see and not understand.
In effect, parabolic teaching becomes the test of
men. Whether men understand or do not under-
stand the teaching veiled in the parable, is the
revelation of their state of mind and heart, or, as
it is fashionable nowadays to call it, of their
receptivity. Parabolic teaching then comes into
the world as a rock of decision; those who are
open to the truth understand, those not open to
the truth do not understand.


Observe how pointedly our Lord develops this
idea in the later verses of our passage; with what
piercing directness He asserts the effect in the
last verse of all : For he that hath to him shall be
given, and he that hath not from him shall be
taken away even that which he hath. Here is
the underlying philosophy of parabolic teaching;
and along with it of all teaching. And is it not
so, our own hearts being the judge.? Let the
parables fall on the ears of one instructed in the
Kingdom of Heaven and how beautifully rich in
their teaching they are. Points of attachment
are discovered at every step and the conceptions
that rest half-formed in us are developed in the
richest manner. Let them fall on the minds in
which no thought of the Kingdom of Heaven was
ever lodged; and they are but as rocks in the sky.
All teaching as to divine and heavenly things is,
in a measure, parabolic; we can reach above the
world and ourselves only by symbols. All such
teaching comes to us, then, as a test, and the prox-
imate account of its varied reception may be
found in the condition of the ears that hear it.
Have we ears to hear this music. f^ Or does it
beat a vain jangling discord only in our ears.^*
The philosophy of the progress of the Kingdom in
the world rests on the one fact — the condition of
the hearer. He that has ears to hear, hears;
he that has no ears to hear this music, remains


Accordingly, then, the passage culminates in
a great warning. "Take heed how ye hear."
And this warning is supported by the verses al-
ready incidentally adduced: "With what measure
ye mete . . ." ; "He that hath . . . ; He that
hath not ..." The warning is, of course, of
universal application. It is spoken here to
Christ's immediate disciples, and it is most im-
mediately a warning to them to look with care
and loving scrutiny on the teaching He was giv-
ing about the Kingdom. Do you not fail, it
says, to hear and ponder; to understand and
profit by this teaching. But it stretches further.
As we, too, are His disciples it comes in these
times also to us. Let us not fail to-day to hear
and ponder and understand and profit by the
teaching brought to us by these pungent words!


Mark 10:15: — "Verily I say unto you. Whosoever shall not re-
ceive the Kingdom of God as a little child, he shall in no wise enter

The declaration embodied in this verse, ap-
parently very simple, and certainly perfectly
clear in its general sense, is not without its per-
plexities when examined in its detailed implica-
tions. The occasion of its enunciation was an
incident in the life of our Lord which manifests
His beautiful tenderness as few others of those
narrated in the Gospels. In the prosecution of
His mission He went up and down the land, as we
are told, "doing good." It was characteristic
of His teaching that the common people heard
Him gladly. It was of the essence of the benefi-
cent impression that He made that He drew to
Him all who were afflicted and were suffering
with diverse diseases.

The Evangelists stud their narratives thickly
with accounts of how the people flocked to him,
bringing all their sick and receiving from Him
healing of body and mind. This appeared to
His closest followers well worth while. It was all
part of his office as One sent from God to heal the
hurt of Israel. But the people did not stop
there. Mothers brought their babies also to Him,



and asked Him to lay His hands on them and bless
them, too. Here His disciples drew the line.
These babies were not sick and did not need the
healing touch of the Great Physician. By the
very fact that they were babies they were incap-
able of profiting by His wonderful words. To
intrude them upon His attention was to interfere
unwarrantably with His prosecution of His press-
ing labors, and to supplant those who had superior
claims on His time and strength. So the dis-
ciples rebuked the parents and would fain have
sent the babies away.

But the Lord, perceiving what was toward, was
moved with indignation and intervened with His
great, "Let the little children come to me, pre-
vent them not." And taking them in His own
arms. He laid His hands on them and blessed
them; the word employed being a very emphatic
one, meaning a calhng down fervently of blessings
upon the objects of the prayer. The mothers
went away comforted, bearing their blessed babies
in their arms.

What a picture we have here of the Master's
loving -kindness ! It is not strange if, when we
read the narrative, we stop, first of all, to adore
and love Him. It is a revelation of the charac-
ter of Jesus; and what can we contemplate with
more profit than the character of Jesus .^ But
we soon begin to realize that the incident is
freighted with instruction for us relatively to


our Lord's mission as well, and to question what
messages it brings us from this point of view.
We ask why was our Lord "moved with indigna-
tion" at His disciples for intercepting the ap-
proach of the mothers with their babies to Him.
They meant well; surely He needed protection
from unnecessary and useless draughts upon His
energies. Indignation was certainly out of place
unless there was some very harmful misunder-
standing somewhere.

And so it begins to dawn upon us that the dis-
ciples ought to have known better. And that
means ultimately that they ought to have
known better than to suppose that Jesus' mis-
sion was summed up in instruction and heal-
ing. Were this all that it was, it had been right
enough to exclude the babies from His pres-
ence. Only if He had something for these babies
too; only if His blessing on them — not needing
healing and incapable of instruction — neverthe-
less, brought to them the supreme benefit; would
it be a crime to shut them out from His oJ95ces.
Whence we may learn that the blessing which
Jesus brought was something above His instruc-
tion and superior to His healing ministry. A
great physician, yes; a prophet come from God,
yes; but above and beyond these, the bearer of
blessings which could penetrate even to the help-
less babes on their mothers' breasts.

Perhaps if the disciples stopped short of this,


it is not inexplicable that men of to-day, having
proceeded so far, should show a tendency to stop
right here and utilize this much gain with such
devotion that they do not stay to search further.
We have obviously here a warrant for infant
baptism, they say. For does not Jesus declare
that infants are to be permitted to come to Him
and are not to be hindered — aflSrming further
that the Kingdom of Heaven is of such, and taking
them in His arms and blessing them.^ And can
His Church, representing Him on earth, do less.^^
Must not His Church suffer the infants to be
brought to Him and take them in her arms and
mark them with His name and bless them.'^ Nay,
say others, this and more: A warrant here for con-
fidence in the salvation of infants. For how can
we believe that He who on earth so tenderly and
solemnly took them in His arms and blessed them,
forbidding their access to Him to be hindered,
will now in heaven refuse to receive them when
they come flocking to His arms? And does He
not distinctly declare that the Kingdom of God
belongs to such; and does that not mean first of
all — whatever else it may mean — just this simple
thing, that infants as such are citizens of His
heavenly kingdom and must be accredited with
all the rights of that heavenly citizenship.^

It is no part of my purpose to stop and examine
the validity of these inferences. Let it be enough
for us to-day to note clearly, merely that they are


inferences. And having noted that they are in-
ferences, let us for the moment at least pass them
by, and engross ourselves in the teaching which is
explicit and for the sake of which, therefore, we
must suppose that the incident is recorded. For
our Lord did not leave His disciples to draw in-
ferences from the incident, unaided. He draws
one for them; and that one is what we have
chosen as the subject of our meditation to-day.
In this inference He withdraws our minds from
the literal children He had taken and blessed,
and focuses them upon the spiritual children who
should constitute the Kingdom of Heaven.

You will observe that He passes at once from
the one to the other. When He says "For of
such is the Kingdom of God," He does not mean
that the Kingdom of God consists of literal in-
fants, but rather of those who are like infants.
You may assure yourselves of this by turning to
the first beatitude: "Blessed are the poor in
spirit; for theirs" — or "of them" — "is the King-
dom of heaven." That is to say, the Kingdom of
heaven belongs to — or is constituted of — the
"poor in spirit." So, here, if what were in-
tended were that the Kingdom of God belongs to
— is constituted of — infants, we should have:
"For of them''— or "theirs"—" is the Kingdom of
God." What we do have, however, is not that,
but, on the contrary, "For of such as they — of
their like — is the Kingdom of heaven." The


Kingdom of heaven is declared, therefore, to be
constituted not of children but of the childlike.
And the declaration is at once clinched by the
words of our text, introduced by the solemn
formula "Verily," "Verily I say unto you, Who-
soever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a
little child, he shall in no wise enter therein."

The message which the incident is made by our
Lord to bring us, therefore, — and which, accord-
ingly, the passage directly teaches us with no
inferences of ours — does not concern either in-
fant baptism or infant salvation, but distinctly
the constitution of the Kingdom of God. The
Kingdom of God, it asserts, is made up, not of
children, but of the childlike. And that con-
cerns directly you and me. The Kingdom of
God, our text asserts, is made up of people like
these children whom our Lord took in His arms
and blessed. And that being so, we are warned
that no one can enter that Kingdom who does not
receive it "hke a little child." This is as much as

Online LibraryBenjamin Breckinridge WarfieldFaith and life; 'conferences' in the Oratory of Princeton seminary → online text (page 4 of 27)