Project Canterbury

Through Fire and Water
And Other Sermons, Preached in St. Ignatius' Church, New York
by the Rev. Arthur Ritchie

New York; the Guild of St. Ignatius, 1898.

Dogs and Swine.

"Give not that which is holy unto the dog-., neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you." ST. MATT. VII, 6.

There is a story in the book Leviticus which one can hardly read without a shudder. Aaron the high priest had four sons, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. These men with their father were the priests of Israel in the wilderness. When the tabernacle was ready for use, the priests having been solemnly consecrated were directed to offer the sacrifices which God had appointed. After all had been duly performed, and Aaron had blessed the people, the glory of the Lord appeared. "And there came out a fire from before the Lord, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat: which when all the people saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces." It was the will of God that this miraculously kindled fire should be kept alight constantly by the priests and used for sacred purposes in the sanctuary. Presently the two elder sons of Aaron came according to their function, to burn incense before the Lord. Instead of taking the holy fire with which to kindle the incense, they took common fire, very likely from their own household hearth. Why they did this--whether it was wanton disregard of the divine will, or fear of the celestial fire; or possibly, as the context would suggest, because they were not quite sober and did not realize what they were doing--does not appear. But their irreverent course angered the Lord, and there went out fire from Him and slew them. That is tragic enough, but there is something yet more solemn about the story. The father of the dead men, and their brothers were not allowed to show any signs of mourning for them, nor to take part in their burial, nor even to lay aside their sacred duties. Their responsibility for the sanctuary was too great to permit of the most urgent obligations and privileges of blood-relationship. How greatly the Israelites must have feared a God Who so jealously guarded His holy things!

I. Whether Nadab and Abihu sinned wilfully or thoughtlessly we cannot tell. In a somewhat similar case, that of Uzzah, in the days of king David, who was smitten by the Lord because he put forth his hand to steady the Ark of God when the oxen shook it, as it was being brought up in a cart to Zion, it is likely that there was no intentional transgression; the irreverence was thoughtless. Nevertheless God would not suffer His holy things to be treated like common things even unintentionally. If the lesson was needed by men in old times, it is probably not less needed in our day. For there is an irresistible tendency on the part of almost all of us to lose sight of the solemnity which ought to attach to divine things, directly we are allowed by God to have them constantly and, as it were, unfenced in our midst. We dislike mysteries, at least so far as ourselves are concerned. We want to understand everything, to be able to explain the obscure places of the Bible,and themore intricate doctrines of our religion. A priori, one might argue very plausibly that mystery and obscurity belong to the Old Testament and not to the New, that one great meaning of the Incarnation was the making of all deep things simple, the bringing down of the awful majesty of God to the humility and approachableness of a little child. Therefore it is something of a surprise to us to meet with such a text as the one I just now read to you; " Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine." i. By dogs we are to understand, so the commentators say, people who wantonly and violently attack our religion and its holy things. The dogs of Eastern lands are not only unattractive and unclean creatures, but vicious and treacherous, ready to snap and bite even where no provocation is given them. There are many open enemies of God's religion. The Master says that we should not give them occasion to assail our faith.

2. By swine on the other hand we ought to understand all spiritually dull and uninterested people, absorbed entirely in the things of this world. They are apathetic about religion unless one provokes them by constantly forcing it upon their attention. Then like swine, goaded into fury by being interfered with, they are likely to turn and attack their ill-advised teachers.

II. As one ponders our Lord's saying, the thought comes up that He Himself, in His own person, did the very thing He warns His followers not to do. Did not He give Himself, His all-holy humanity, to the dogs, when He came down to earth to die? Did He not in the most real sense cast the lovely pearls of His heavenly doctrine before swinish men, who at last enraged turned upon Him and rent Him? We cannot but remember what He says in the 22nd psalm; "Many dogs are come about me, and the council of the wicked layeth siege against me." And presently He cries further in the same psalm, " Deliver my soul from the sword, my darling from the power of the dog." And if this be spoken of the Church, the verse is still more noteworthy as a commentary on our text, because He of His own free will and choice has thus given both Himself and His holy Bride to the dogs. If the swine are not mentioned directly, they are portrayed in character when our Lord says of the Jews, to whom He preached in vain, ''For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed." Why did He thus do Himself that which He tells His followers they are not to do? He did it to redeem the world. Because in the divine wisdom there was no way so suitable as this way of the Lord's Incarnation and Death to show, first the prodigality of the love of God for His creatures, and secondly the frightful depth of depravity to which men had fallen. He would give Himself to the very dogs and swine to be treated by them as they pleased, in order that the universe might know its Creator would stop at nothing to redeem His creatures. He would let the dogs and swine work all their will upon Him, in order that the universe might truly understand the profundity of the wickedness of human sin.

III. But while our Lord gave His all-holy life to the dogs and His heavenly truth to the swine, He did not give that which was another's but that which was His own. In truth He gave Himself. And it might be permitted to even sinful men, such as we are, to give our own lives up to malignant and brutish enemies of the faith for His sake. Many of the martyrs in this way followed their Lord. Very notably St. Stephen, the first martyr, did that very thing with his own life which the Master says we should not do with our pearls. As he stood before the great council of the Jewish rulers he cried: "Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and mind, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of Whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers; who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it." Was not this to provoke the swine to turn upon him and rend him, as they presently did? It is written, "When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and gnashed on him with their teeth." It may be a question how far one has the right to provoke the enemies of the faith to put him to death for Christ's sake, yet it is evident in the case of St. Stephen and all the noble army of martyrs who came after him, that they cast before the swinish persecutor not their pearls but their bodies, not the holy things of God, but their own lives. They did not give up their Lord to His foes. He could make that splendid sacrifice Himself, but for any one to be disloyal to Him in connection with it were grievous transgression indeed. " The Son of man goeth as it is written of Him; but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born."

Does He not say, however, that we are not to cast our pearls before swine? They are ours only in the sense of being entrusted to us by the Master. All the gifts of grace, all the treasures of truth, all the precious fruits of the Spirit in our lives are ours to guard and develop, and by holy living so to appropriate and identify with ourselves that they shall be our own in all eternity. Yet there is no gift of God, no holy pearl which we now have that may not be taken from us, in the day of our judgment, if we have shown ourselves unworthy to keep it. The pound is to be taken from the unfaithful servant at the last day and to be given to him that hath ten pounds. So they are our pearls which we are not to cast before swine, nevertheless God's pearls also, and therefore not to be misused by us who have them in possession for Him.

IV. One cannot but feel that there is a special appropriateness in our text for the times in which we now live. It is pre-eminently the day of the popularization of religion. Earnest men in various Christian denominations are moved by the thought that the Gospel is not reaching the masses, and something ought to be done about it. It is not clear to everyone what the trouble is; whether the traditional message wants restating to meet the needs of these days; whether there is demand for a zealous pruning away of human additions and excrescences which have little by little accumulated upon the simple doctrine of the Apostles; or whether the trouble lies in the lack of zeal and self-denial on the part of believers. Whatever may be the difficulty, all seem to be agreed in the fact that the religion of Christ is not popular and must be made so.

i. One scheme for reaching the masses is the spreading abroad of the Bible in every direction. Millions of copies are printed and sown broadcast over the face of the earth. Energetic colporteurs penetrate into the heart of Siberia,, within the great wall of China, among the mountains of Thibet, through the jungles of India, distributing the Word of God translated into many tongues and even into the different dialects of the same tongue. A like zeal puts testaments into railway carnages, and into the guest-rooms of hotels; into public parlours and meeting rooms. And one cannot but ask whether this may not be in too many instances giving that which is holy to the dogs, and casting pearls before swine.

2. Then there are what are called 'evangelistic methods;' such Christian work among the masses of the people as is undertaken by the Salvation Army and similar agencies. A feature of this is the deliberate elimination from religion of all that which outwardly gives it solemnity. There is to be no mystery, no hush of bated breath and bowed head as the great things of God are spoken of, or the sacred rites enacted. When the most holy name JESUS is spoken it is to be uttered as the name of one's boon companion and every day friend, or shouted forth as a war-cry. No one is to think of the Saviour as holding Himself aloof from the commonest and most degraded comradeship, else poor sinners will be afraid to approach Him. And the sacred ordinances are to celebrated anywhere and everywhere stripped of the trappings of dignity, in order that the humblest folk may feel they can approach the table of the Lord without trembling. There is an aspect of this conception of popularized religion which is attractive, for our Master did descend to the lowest ranks and conditions of our social life, yet there is also an aspect of it which is most revolting to those who have been trained in the traditional ideas of reverence for holy thing and holy places.

V. Is not the key to the matter to be found in carefully distinguishing between the message of salvation with its works of mercy, and those spiritual powers and ordinances which one may call the mysteries of the faith?

1. So far as works of mercy are concerned we cannot too thoroughly popularize our religion. To feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to harbour the stranger, to clothe the naked, to visit the sick, and to minister to prisoners, are deeds which everyone is called upon to perform for all who are in need, even if they be enemies of the faith and hopelessly debased in their ignorance and sin. There is never any fear that in such gracious beneficence we shall be doing what the Master forbids when He says "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine."

2. Again, so far as the proclamation of the Gospel call to repentance and the higher life is concerned, it is meant for all the world to hear, whether it be met with mockery, with indifference, or with faith. The simple truths that man is a sinner, and is lost except for the mercy of God; that God has sent His Son into the world to redeem fallen humanity; that the Saviour so loved the guilty world as to die upon the Cross for its salvation; that He had power to rise from the dead, and is therefore able to bring immortality and life to all who will become His loyal disciples; that in this world there is pardon for the penitent; that after this world is judgment, and the result of judgment must be heaven or hell for evermore--these facts of the Gospel must be proclaimed without hesitation, and in the ears of all nations, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear.

3. But in the Christian religion there are deeper things also. The profound doctrines of the Creed, such as the Trinity and the Incarnation; the celestial mysteries of the sacramental system; and the unearthly sublimity of the great sacrifice of the altar--these things cannot be treated as common things, argued about and discussed as our politics, or made occasions for jesting. They must ever be surrounded by such accessories of dignity and solemnity as we have power to throw about them. They must be led up to and prepared for, the neophyte being little by little initiated as it were into their heavenly environment as he shows himself fitted for such privilege. To treat the profounder doctrines, the sacraments and the worship of the Church as one might treat the common place affairs of this world, is without doubt to give that which is holy to the dogs and to cast our pearls before swine.

VI. Most edifying is it too, as it seems to me, to consider what our Lord says about the reactionary effect upon one's self of disregard of His most solemn injunction. He adds to that injunction the warning, "Lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you."

i. Zealous men in these days affect the popularizing of the Catholic religion by dwelling particularly upon the humanity of our Lord. They never weary of pointing out how altogether of our own race He was, not only in taking a veritable human body, with man's soul and mind and will, but even yielding Himself to the imperfections and ignorances of our nature. They do not quite dare to say that He could commit sin, but so great is their desire that each sinner may find our Lord to be in every respect his brother, that they are prepared to profess their belief that He laid aside His divinity in order to be human. How could He be truly tempted unless it were possible for Him to have yielded to the Tempter? How could He know what our ignorance is unless He too was ignorant? How could He sympathize with our hopelessness unless He did truly experience upon the Cross the woe of despair? One writer or preacher seems to vie with another in glorifying the humanity of the Master by minimizing His divinity more and more. They are casting pearls before swine. There are a plenty of dull sensuous ones of the earth who care naught for this sort of advance of Christian teachers towards them. They may never be induced to take interest in the matter at all. Yet if at last goaded into expressing themselves in one way or another, they are more than likely to turn upon their persistent instructors with the scornful taunt, If Christ be such as you declare Him to be, He is not God and cannot save. Thinking to humanize the divine life those who deny our Lord's omniscience will some day awake to find themselves Arians.

3. The very same sort of thing is going on today with the Bible. Eager evangelists, anxious to commend the Word to the indifferent and the careless, are conceding this and yielding that to the critics and the unbelieving scientists. The Bible is not the Word of God, it only contains it; so they begin. Much of it is uninspired, some of it is actually untrue. The part that is inspired is no more inspired than other good books. And so it goes on, until at last the men of this world who really care nothing about the matter at all, are forced to take a cynical interest in it by the pertinacity of their would-be shepherds, and turn on them with the brutal avowal that they believe the whole thing to be a lie, and there is no divine Bible. And if no Word of God, why any God? The pearls have been cast before swine. What wonder that these presently trample the precious things under their feet and turn again to rend the foolish men who so wantonly cast them there?

I do not believe there could be anything much more fatal to true religion than the notion that it can be popularized by disregarding its unearthly sanctity and tearing the veil from off all its mysteries. If it be God's religion it must partake of His holiness, and He will not suffer His creatures to set that aside with impunity.

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