The Sermon On The Mount
It now remains for us to ascertain what is signified by the hurricane which struck the "house" of the "wise" and of the "foolish" builder. Concerning that of the former it is said, "And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock" (v. 25). Identically the same thing is narrated in connection with the latter, except in regard to the outcome: "it fell, and great was the fall of it." After having entered into such detail concerning the "wise" and the "foolish" man, the "digging deep" of the former and this fatal omission by the latter, the foundation of "rock" and that of "sand," and the "house" which each one erected, there should be little difficulty in discovering the general drift of what is denoted by the storm: though the language used be figurative, its purport is obvious. By means of the storm the strength and stability or the weakness and insecurity of the "house" was demonstrated.
The hurricane was that by which the work of each man was put to the proof and his wisdom or folly made evident. Thus it is clear that once more what is here before us is the testing of profession and the making manifest of its worth or worthlessness. This had been the dominating theme of our Lord's Sermon from 7:13, onwards. The "strait gate" and "the narrow way" correspond to the digging deep and the foundation of rock, while the "wide gate" and "broad way" correspond to the omission of digging deep and the foundation of sand. In like manner we may see in the "wise" builder the "good tree" which brings forth "good fruit," and in the "foolish" builder the "corrupt tree" with its "evil fruit." In the "he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven" we have the one whose house stands firm, while in the many to whom Christ will say, "I never knew you, depart from Me, ye that work iniquity" we have those whose building is overthrown by the storm.
We must not, however, conclude that nothing more is signified by our Lord in this figure of the storm bursting upon the house than the testing of Christian profession, though scarcely any of the commentators seem to have seen anything further in it. Surely due attention to the immediate setting, to say nothing of the more remote or general context, requires us to enlarge our viewpoint. Consider the outcome of the storm. In the case of the "wise man" it beat upon his house in vain: in spite of all its fury, his building stood firm. And why? Because it was founded upon a "rock." And what did that purport? Why, that the wise man was something more than a hearer of the Word, namely a doer of it, one who heeded its warnings, who responded to its exhortations, who performed its precepts, whose character and conduct were moulded and regulated by its teachings. This, and nothing but this, is what Christ insists upon at the beginning of our passage: "Whosoever heareth these sayings of Mine and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man which built his house upon a rock."
Among the "sayings" of Christ are some peculiarly distasteful to flesh and blood, yea, at direct variance with the inclinations of fallen human nature. To pluck out right eyes and cut off right hands, to love our enemies, bless them which curse us, do good to them that hate us, and pray for them which despitefully use and persecute us, is not so simple as it may sound-see, then, the appropriateness of our Lord's similitude of "digging deep" when portraying such tasks. To distribute our alms and perform our devotions in secret, to expressly ask the Father to forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors-being told that if we forgive not neither shall we be forgiven-to take no anxious thought for the morrow but to have a heart freed from carking care, to have such confidence in the providential bounty of God that we trustfully count upon Him supplying our every need, are duties which will tax our abilities to the utmost. True, but we shall not be the losers by practicing such precepts.
"And it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock": that is what we desire to lay hold of in this connection. Here is encouragement indeed. Instead of being so occupied with the narrowness of the way, cast your eye forward to the glorious goal to which it conducts you-even life. Instead of being so concerned about the painfulness of the work of mortification, think rather of what it is the appointed means of saving you from-even from being "cast into hell" (5:29). Instead of complaining about the difficulties of obedience, consider its rich compensation. God has definitely assured us that in the keeping of His commandments "there is great reward" (Ps. 19:11), such as "the answer of a good conscience," peace of soul, the enjoyment of His approbation. It is this aspect of the Truth which Christ is here pressing upon our attention: the one who does His "savings" is assured of safety in the day of testing and trial. The "house" of such a one will not, cannot, be overthrown by the storm. Is not that a recompense well worth striving for?
Throughout this Sermon on the Mount the Lord Jesus had presented a most exalted and unique standard of morality and spirituality, one which calls for real self-sacrifice on the part of those who sincerely endeavour to measure up to it and perform the duties it enjoins. But here He shows how great is the reward of those who submit themselves unto His yoke. In the stability and security of the wise man's "house" we have depicted one of the principal fruits of an obedient walk: the actual doing of these "sayings" of Christ delivers from the fatal assaults of the Devil, the world and the flesh. This consideration ought to move us to perform obedience readily and gladly, for this is a benefit which no human monarch can bestow. Neither wealth, education nor social prestige can confer security on the soul-rather do such things generally occasion destruction to their possessors. Neither human wit nor strength of resolution can procure preservation in the hour of trial and tribulation: nothing hut the keeping of Christ's Word will obtain it, but that does. How this promise should encourage us and stimulate unto unreserved obedience!
The force of the figure which was here used by Christ would he more impressive to His immediate hearers than to those of us who live in strong houses and in those parts of the earth where devastating floods and tornadoes are seldom or never experienced. "In Judea, as in other oriental countries, the rains are periodical. When they descend, they often descend in torrents, and continue to do so, with unabated violence, for a number of days. In consequence of this, the most trifling mountain brook becomes a mighty river-a deluge rushing down with dreadful impetus from the high grounds to the plains, converting them into one wide waste of waters. The huts of the inhabitants, generally formed of clay hardened in the sun, are exposed to great danger. They are often literally melted down by the heavy rains or overturned by the furious gusts of wind; and, when not founded on the solid rock, undermined and swept away by the resistless torrent. In such a country, it is the part of a wise man to take good care that the foundation on which he builds his habitation be solid. He who attends to this precaution is likely to find the advantage of doing so, and he who neglects this precaution is likely to pay dear for his folly" (J. Brown).
Spurgeon was right when he said, "Whether your religion be true or false, it will be tried; whether it he chaff or wheat the fan of the great Winnower will surely he brought into operation upon all that lies on the threshing floor. If thou hast dealings with God, thou hast to do with a 'consuming fire.' Whether thou be really or nominally a Christian, if thou comest near to Christ He will try thee as silver is tried. Judgment must begin at the house of God, and if thou darest to come into the house of God, judgment will begin with thee." It is God's will that whosoever takes upon him the profession of His name shall he tried and proved. Adam and Eve were tempted and tried by Satan. God made trial of Abraham when He bade him take his only and dearly loved son and offer him up for a burnt offering on mount Moriah (Gen. 22). For the trial of his faith and patience He gave Job and all that he had, except his life, into Satan's hand. God left Hezekiah to himself to try him and make known what was in his heart, when the ambassadors of Babylon came to inquire of him what wonders God had done in the land of Israel (2 Chron. 32:31).
It will he gathered from the above that we do not accept the view of those who restrict this trial of the "house" to the hour of death or the day of judgment. It is true that at death "the spirit shall return unto God who gave it" (Eccl. 12:7) and that it then enters paradise or is consigned to the abode of the damned. At the Grand Assize the worth or worthlessness of the profession will he made manifest to an assembled universe. But we can see nothing in our present passage which requires us to limit the meaning of this storm unto the final testing, while on the other hand there is much in Scripture which makes it clear that both real and empty profession is, in a variety of ways but in different degrees, put to the proof in this life. When our Lord announced of His apostles "Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat" (Luke 22:31). which desire was granted, He expressed that which applies to all His people. It is as requisite that the faith of the saints should be tried by afflictions as gold is tried in the fire (1 Pet. 1:7).
When the apostle said to believers, "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you" (1 Pet. 4:12), he was referring unto an experience which is met with in this life, and one which, as his language denotes, is by no means exceptional. For example, for a Jew belonging to an orthodox family to make public profession of the Christian faith has always involved dishonor and disgrace; his family disinherit and disown him, and in the sight of all his brethren he is regarded as "the offscouring of all things." In the first two centuries A.D., being a Christian frequently involved forfeiture of citizenship, the "spoiling of his goods" and being cast unto the lions, or at least living in caves "destitute and afflicted." Yet notwithstanding such trials the faith of God's elect remained unshaken. During the past century the Lord's people, and especially His servants, have been tested in a more subtle manner: they have had to suffer the reproach of credulity and simple-mindedness, of being hopelessly behind the times, because they refused to believe the agnostic scientists and the theories of "modern scholarship"-sensitive natures find such reproaches harder to bear than physical sufferings. In this day, the test is to resist the seductions of an alluring world, to refuse to compromise.
Having generalized so much upon the verses before us, it is time that we turned to examine more closely their several details. First, "And the rain descended." This may be taken as a figure of the providential trials and adverse dispensations by which those bearing the name of Christ are put to the proof. "These rains typify afflictions from heaven. God will send you adversities like showers, tribulations as many as the drops of the dew. Between now and heaven, oh, professor, you will feel the pelting storm. Like other men, your body will be sick; or if not, you shall have trial in your house: children and friends will die, or riches will take to themselves wings and fly like an eagle. You must have trials from God's hand, and if you are not relying on Christ, you will not be able to bear them. If you are not by real faith one with Christ, even God's rains will be too much for you" (C. H. Spurgeon). The response of the heart, the manner in which we act in times of adversity, reveals our state; if unregenerate, our unbelieving heart will betray itself by acting as the worldling does-seeking to drown our sorrow amid carnal pleasures, or sinking in despair.
Second, "and the floods came," or as Luke 6:48, says, "the floods arose." Thus it is a thing of the earth which is here in view, namely opposition from the world. By this also must the professor be tested, to demonstrate whether or not his claim to being a Christian is genuine. It is true that in former days the floods of persecution raged more furiously than they do now; nevertheless, they are far from having totally subsided. The world's opposition assumes many forms: sometimes it is ridicule-and how often have the gibes and sneers of the ungodly tumbled down the "houses" of those who made a fair show in the flesh! Cruel mockings are still used against the people of God. In other cases it is reproach and slander, the "cold shoulder," boycotting, and only those who have a rock foundation will bear up under them. Not that the ones exposed always drop their profession entirely: far from it-often they retain the name of Christian, but compromise and walk arm-in-arm with the world to escape its persecutions.
Third, "and the winds blew and beat upon the house." Here it is "the prince of the power of the air" (Eph. 2:2) who is at work: in other words, it is Satan assaulting the one who claims to be saved. At times he will Cast a cloud of despondency over the human spirit, assailing with artful insinuations and blasphemous suggestions, particularly so when God's providences seem to be all against us, seeking to fill the soul with doubts of the Divine goodness and faithfulness. At other times he seeks to beguile with error, and only those established in the Truth will withstand him. He employs various tactics, according as he approaches in the form of a serpent or seeks to terrify as the roaring lion. He attracts by the world, appeals to the carnal nature, and only those whose "treasure" is really in heaven scorn his gilded baubles. He suggests a compromise, the making the best of both worlds, the serving of two masters, and none save they who have truly "received Christ Jesus the Lord" (Col. 2:6) resist him.
The Lord plainly teaches us in this passage that he who takes upon him the Christian profession must expect a stormy passage through this world. He who is Truth incarnate painted no false and flattering picture of what Christian discipleship involves, but faithfully warns us that severe testings and trials await those who profess to he His followers. So far from being carried to heaven on "flowery beds of ease," they may expect to meet with fierce opposition from the world, the flesh and the Devil. He who was despised and rejected of men, tempted of the Devil, hated by the world, opposed by the religious leaders, deserted by those who should have stood by Him, has said, "the disciple is not above his Master." "We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22), and they who deny this are false prophets. "All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Tim. 3:12), yet that very persecution shall be made to work together for their good.
"And it fell not." Here are consolation and compensation indeed. Severely assaulted and shaken their "house" may be, but overthrown it shall not be. And why? "For it was founded upon a rock," that is to say the profession was a genuine one, and, therefore, one which endures and survives every testing. It is no comfortable thing to live through such an experience as this hurricane: Ah, but dwell upon the happy issue. It is no pleasant experience to meet with the sneers of acquaintances, the loss of friends, the opposition of the world and the enmity of Satan, but is it not worth all these and much more if, like the three Hebrews, we come forth from the fires unharmed? While I do Christ's "sayings," Satan can gain no advantage over me: while I tread the path of obedience the "flesh" is denied and cannot bring about my ruin. Neither in this life, the hour of death, nor the day of judgment will the "house" of such a one fall.
"And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell; and great was the fall of it" (v. 27). Here is the solemn contrast. Here is the fearful outcome for the one who erects his house upon the sand. Here is the certain fate of all who rest their hope and base their confidence on a worthless foundation. Here is the fearful ruin which overtakes the empty professor. He who makes no conscience of Christ's "saying," joins not practice to profession, who refuses to walk in the path of the Divine commandments, is headed for eternal damnation. An empty professor may withstand the lighter gusts of opposition in days of peace and prosperity, but he is not at all likely to survive the temptations of the times in which our lot is cast, as witness the multitudes now making shipwreck of the faith they once affirmed. And even those who continue to call themselves Christians but refuse the Master's yoke will find in the hour of death that they have no refuge from the judgment awaiting them.
Sometimes God exposes those who have made an eminent profession by sending them such anguish of conscience and foretastes of hell that at the end they are exposed to all around them. A notable example of this was Francis Spira in the seventeenth century. For weeks he lay groaning on his couch, not from physical pain but from anguish of soul, and though numbers of God's servants spoke to and prayed with him, no relief was obtained. Said he to the ministers and friends around his bed, "Take heed of relying on that faith which worketh not a holy and unblamable life, worthy of a believer. Credit me, it will fail. I have tried it. I presumed I had gotten the right faith. I preached it to others. I had all places of Scripture in memory that might support it. I thought myself sure, and in the meantime lived impiously and carelessly. And behold now the judgment of God hath overtaken me: not to correction, but to damnation." He felt the fires of God's wrath burning in his soul as few have ever experienced them in this world, and expired thus. His house "fell" and great was the fall of it.
What has been before us should dispel the influence of the world, move us to self-judgment, and warn us against a superficial use of God's Word. If we allow Satan's world so to ensnare us that, for the sake of enjoying it, we consent to ignore Christ's rules for separation from evil and holiness of life, then dire will be the consequences. Such a passage as this ought to bring home to us both the heinousness and madness of our acts of disobedience, cause us contritely to confess the same, and entreat the Lord's pardon while it may yet be obtained. Finally, we would press upon our readers that the will of God, the standard He has appointed, cannot be known by mere casual and occasional glances at the Bible. Too many are but text-mongers, singling out favorite passages which appeal to them. It is only by carefully and earnestly searching the Scriptures, by a systematic and continuous pondering of them, that we can discover "all the counsel of God." Those who do so will have their souls sustained by grace and upheld by the power of Christ in the day of trial, and will have no regrets for so employing their time and energies when the hour of death is upon them.