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The Good Exchange.

by Isaac Williams

from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days

throughout the Year, Vol. II. Trinity Sunday to All Saints' Day 

Rivingtons, London, 1875, pp. 435-443.



Saint Matthew the Apostle. 


2 Cor. iv. 1-6.  St. Matt. ix. 9-13. 


What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for CHRIST. Yea,

doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the

 knowledge of CHRIST JESUS my LORD,--PHIL.  iii.  7, 8. 


THE Evangelist St. Matthew has been supposed to be represented by one of those four living creatures which are spoken of as being in the midst of the throne of God; and that passage which describes them in the Apocalypse, used in consequence to form the Epistle for this day.  But on account of some uncertainty in the application of those symbols to the four Gospels, or from that passage being used as our Epistle for Trinity Sunday, our Church has appointed another Epistle for to-day.  This, taken together with the Gospel, affords us an instructive lesson, which by her Collect the Church has turned into a prayer.  Let us consider this lesson. 


St. Paul and St. Matthew had renounced all, not in heart only, but also in deed; not in deed only, but also in heart.  Hence the wonderful power unto salvation unto this day in the Epistles of one, and in the Gospel of the other.  The treasure is in earthen vessels, but the excellency of the power is of God.  Having relinquished all, they were clothed with poverty of spirit, through which so strongly shines the light of Christ.  They had the single eye, and their whole body was full of light.  "For it was not," says St. Chrysostom, ''as Moses when he came down from the Mount with the stony tables in his hands, but with the Holy Spirit in their hearts, that the Apostles went forth dispensing spiritual doctrines and gifts."


Therefore, says St. Paul, speaking of marvellous transformation into the image of Christ in beholding of His glory—therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not;  by His mercy we are entrusted with this service; by His mercy we endure, and faint not, but have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty—the works of darkness which bring shame, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the Word of God deceitfully—not corrupting God's word to render it acceptable to the worldly mind,—but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.  They that are of God will hear His words; the spirit within will answer to the call, if it hath ears to hear.  The appeal of truth shall not be in vain to the sincere heart which hath renounced the world.  Thus the love of God in the soul will multiply images of itself, and be a witness in every place as the savour unto life and also unto death.  But if our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost; for to see the light and to love darkness is itself condemnation.  "He that believeth not is condemned already." In whom the God of this world, the mammon of unrighteousness, the deceivableness of temporal pursuits, the carefulness about many things, the glare of this world's praise, hath blinded the eyes of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, Who is the image of God, should shine unto them: for to believe in Christ crucified is to love Him, and to love Him is to despise the world.  For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake.  This manifestation of Christ in all godly simplicity can only be by the servant which is as his Master was in this world; it is not for nought that this relinquishing of things temporal was bound up by their Lord Himself in the first Apostolic commission; that they should go forth to preach His Kingdom, possessing nothing, desiring nothing, but freely to give as they freely had received.  With this their likeness to their Lord, Who being rich for our sakes became poor, was intimately connected their power of converting souls.  For God Who commanded the light to shine out of darkness—He Whose mercy is our all in all—Who brings life out of death—gives to humility exaltation, to unlearned men the highest wisdom, to poverty of spirit true riches, to the broken-hearted the very Comforter, to the weak things of the world the strength of God; Who brings out of darkness His marvellous light,—He hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ. 


How beautifully were these last words of St. Paul fulfilled in St. Matthew.  He himself in his Gospel says that when our Lord came to dwell in Capernaum, which is upon the sea-coast, the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled—that “by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people that sat in darkness saw great light; to them that sat in the region and shadow of death, light is sprung up.”  It was “by the way of the sea,” it was by the mouth of the Jordan, by “Galilee of the Gentiles,” that he himself sat, a Gentile tax-gatherer “in the region of death;” it was then that the light out of the darkness of God's great and free mercy shined in his heart; it was then that he beheld "the light of the knowledge" of Christ, which is "the glory of God;" it was then that he beheld in faith, no doubt, and then in unspeakable adoration and love, “the face of Jesus Christ.”  All this in him was, oh how fully and literally fulfilled!  Our Blessed Saviour saw him, and cast His eyes upon him, and he beheld that gracious Divine look, and instantly cast behind him for ever all the world.  “In that human face,” says St. Jerome, “there shone forth the brightness and majesty of the hidden Godhead, and might at first sight draw unto itself them that beheld.  For like as power is in the magnet to unite things unto itself, much more might the Lord of all creatures draw unto Himself whom He would.”


But it is not necessary to consider that this call and conversion of St. Matthew was altogether sudden; from the example of what took place with some of the other Apostles it is not improbable that faith and knowledge had been at work in his heart, and had preceded that call.  At all events, He who Himself predisposes the heart, knows also the thoughts long before, and knew that His invitation and call would not be in vain.  How must his heart within him have sprung and leaped for joy at that summons, that choice, that word, that countenance directed unto himself! And surely one who dwelt by that lake, near Capernaum, in Galilee, himself in the midst of a concourse where he sat, and if he went forth amidst crowds that followed, could not but have known something of the works and the words of Jesus of Nazareth.  It cannot be that such should have been unheeded by that lowly Publican: that He who was spoken of as the Friend of Publicans should have been altogether unknown to one who was himself a Publican, and as such held as an outcast by his own people—of Israel. 


However this may be, let us come to the Evangelist's own account of his call.  And as Jesus passed forth from, thence, that is, after healing the paralytic in a house at Capernaum, and forgiving his sins; ''as He went forth again by the sea-side," He saw a man named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and He saith unto him, Follow Me.  And he arose, and followed Him.  St. Luke says, "and he left all, rose up, and followed Him."  And St. Mark and St. Luke afford him a more honourable name than that of Matthew the Publican, for he was known as an Israelite, "Levi, the son of Alphaeus."


And it came to pass, the account proceeds, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many Publicans and sinners came, and sat down with Him and His disciples.  Now we might have supposed from this account that this circumstance, which he is about to record, took place at the same time that he was called, viz. that Jesus then sat at meat at his house with Publicans and sinners, and there gave that very touching answer of His compassionate loving-kindness and tenderness, as the Physician of souls, keeping company with sinners.  But, from an attentive consideration of the circumstances as they are mentioned in this and the other Gospels, we find that it was not so, but that this occasion took place long after.  Why then does St. Matthew hasten to mention this, introducing it at once when he has spoken of his own call?  You can see in this, as in other places, what was in this Evangelist's mind in the order of his narrative.  As St. Paul ever delights to dwell on the goodness of God to himself, “a sinner, the chief of sinners,”—as “having received mercy,”—as “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, having shined in his heart,” and the like; so we can see by the very order of his narrative what was deepest in the heart of this lowly Publican.  He wishes to explain how it was that his gracious Lord should have had mercy upon him, and no doubt he thought over with himself, and treasured most tenderly in his memory, that conversation in his own house; he associated it in his mind with his own call; he loved to think of them together, and together he naturally mentions them, as if saying, “You will wonder how He should have cast His eyes on me, and had mercy on me, a sinner—it was of His own compassion and loving-kindness, because I was sick and needed His Divine aid;—do not think it was from any merit or goodness of mine: let me think of His love.  He shall himself explain to you how it was: He sat down in my house—with sinners such as I had been."


And when the Pharisees saw it,—Here again let us pause.  St. Matthew had got all his former friends and associates about him, that they might hear and see and converse with his own gracious Master, the Saviour, whom he had found.  This was natural; but the loving and meek Publican had invited all, without exception, and the proud and unkind Pharisees were there too, the mourning and bereaved disciples also of John the Baptist, together with Peter, James, and John, and the rest.  This feast of the Evangelist's was like his own Gospel, embracing all of every kind, bringing all into the presence of his Lord, Who was full of virtue and healing for all; and this circumstance also shows the loving patience and lowliness of St. Matthew, that he should have invited to his house these Scribes, from whom he could receive nothing but ill-will and malicious complainings.  They, the Pharisees, when they saw it, said unto His disciples, murmuring against them, says St. Luke, Why eateth your Master with Publicans and sinners?  But when Jesus heard that, He said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.  But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy and not sacrifice; for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. 


Sacrifice, indeed, is good and necessary, but it is of no avail at all without mercy, which sanctifieth the gift; but both sacrifice and mercy were found together in this lowly Evangelist. He made a sacrifice of all that he had, but in doing so was as if he had made no sacrifice at all on account of love.  He had found the treasure hid in a field, and, as in that parable he has himself recorded, for joy thereof he went and sold all that he had and bought that field; he sat at his custom-house as a merchant seeking goodly pearls, but found them all counterfeits, till in the knowledge of Christ he found that One Pearl of great price, and went and sold all that he had and bought it. [Matt. xiii. 44, 45.]  In poverty of spirit he found the door into the Kingdom of Heaven.  In giving up all, he had, no doubt, found that “manifold more in this present time,” which our Blessed Saviour promises to them that do so.  He had parted with shadows, and had found great substance; he had given up things temporal, and had found things eternal.  We indeed know not—no understanding man can know—what he gained.  It is ever spoken of as a thing hidden; it is treasure hid; it is the hidden manna: as our Lord adds in the Apocalypse, “I will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written which no man knoweth, saving he that receiveth it.”  Such is the love of God in the soul; the heart which is in Heaven, because the treasure hath been laid up there. 


But though the love of God which makes these sacrifices is itself hidden, yet it is ever accompanied with lowliness of mind, such as appears in this the first Evangelist; such as ever feels its need of mercy and is full of mercy to others; being so knit to Him Who is the Friend of Publicans, Who receiveth sinners, Who is the Physician of the sick, Who bringeth light out of darkness—the knowledge of the love of God in the face of Jesus Christ.


And this is the danger of wealth, that it prevents this lowliness of mind: "Thou sayest I am rich and increased with goods, and knowest not that thou art wretched and miserable and poor and naked."  And to this the advice and command is given, "Buy of Me gold tried in the fire," "and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see." [Rev. iii. 17, 18.]  That is to say, in this case there is a film or veil upon the eyes, something must be done to remove this before you will be able to see the truth, and to love God.  As our Collect expresses it, "to forsake covetous desires and to follow Christ," the forsaking of covetous desires must come first, before we follow Christ.


And here arises a question, how far it is necessary for us to do as St. Matthew and the Apostles did—to give up their possessions.  For our Lord seems to speak generally, as if to all: "Sell that ye have and give alms," and "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth."  This is, indeed, a point of no little difficulty, for the love of riches is incompatible with the love of God, so that both cannot exist in the same heart together; and it is almost impossible to possess riches without in some degree trusting in them and loving them.  And no doubt it is the case that there are some who cannot be saved without parting with their possessions, on account of the love of money in the heart.  And what renders it still more dangerous, where this is the case, the persons themselves are the last to see the necessity of it, because, as St. Paul says, in the Epistle, "the god of this world hath blinded their minds;" and our Lord speaks of “the deceitfulness of riches,” and their needing eye-salve to anoint their eyes, that they may see.  “I counsel thee,” He says in this passage, “to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich.” [Rev. iii. 18.]  Now, to buy, implies to give up something in exchange: the necessity of buying shows that it is not to be obtained for nothing.  So likewise in the parable, he who would possess the treasure hid in the field, or the pearl of great price, sells what he has in order to purchase it; so did St. Matthew, so did St. Paul, and the other Apostles. 


It will be of some assistance to us to apply the example of St. Matthew himself; whatever might have been in his heart, he did not give up all till called upon by Christ to do so; and he that watches his own soul and the providences of God, will find numberless calls of Christ to make sacrifices out of love and mercy.  Let him do these as they occur, and God will open his eyes to see more clearly what to do—to know the things of God and Heaven, and to know what is needful for himself to do in order to attain them.