BEING the first-born son in His mother's house, it would fall to the Holy Child Jesus to perform the part laid down for the first-born son in the feast of unleavened bread. And thus it was that after Joseph had struck the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that was in the basin, and after the whole family had hurriedly eaten each a portion of the pascal lamb, and a piece of the unleavened bread, at that appointed moment the eldest son of the house came forward and said, Father, what mean you by this service? What mean you by the blood, and the unleavened bread, and the bitter herbs? And Joseph would say, It is the Lord's passover, because He passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when He smote the Egyptians and delivered our houses. And Joseph, and Mary, and Jesus, and James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas, and their sisters, all bowed their heads and sang the Hundred and Thirteenth and the Hundred and Fourteenth Psalms. And once every year till the Holy Child came to the full stature of the Christ of God: every returning passover He entered deeper and deeper into this great ordinance, both hearing Joseph and asking him questions. Till He came to be of more understanding about the feast of unleavened bread than all His teachers: and understood both the blood, and the bread, and the bitter herbs, far better than all the ancients.
As long as He was still a child, He spake as a child, He understood as a child, He thought as a child. And the great haste that the unleavened bread signified, was enough for His imagination and His mind and His heart as long as He was a child. But then, as time went on, He would watch His mother at her housewife-work, and would observe how her leaven spread till her three measures of meal was all leavened. And as He meditated on the process going on under His eyes, He would again see in the leaven and in the meal another parable of the kingdom of God. And He would lay up the leaven and the meal in His mind and in His imagination and in His heart for some of His future sermons. And thus it was that on that great day of teaching and preaching when He sat by the sea-side, He had already given out parable after parable, till any other preacher but Himself would have been exhausted; but He still went on as fresh and as interesting and as instructive as when He began in the morning. "I am full of matter," said Elihu. "The spirit within me constraineth me. I will speak that I may be refreshed." And our Lord was like Elihu in that. For though He had already that day illustrated and applied the kingdom of God by a long and splendid series of parables, His mind was still as full of matter as ever. And the more He tried to put the kingdom of God into this and that parable, the more He saw other things in that inexhaustible kingdom for which no parable had as yet been provided. And thus it was that at this point, and as if to teach them to keep their eyes always open for their own future preaching, their Master suddenly turned to His disciples and asked them whether any of them had any light to cast upon the subject in hand. As if He were asking some of them to help Him out with His great subject, He said to them-"Whereunto shall I go on to liken the kingdom of God?" And when none of them had a word more to say concerning the inwardness, and the hiddenness, and the all-assimilating power, of that kingdom, He called to mind a former reflection of His own which came to Him one day beside His mother's kneading-trough. He remembered that day her three measures of meal, and the way that she took to turn that raw meal into wholesome and palatable bread. "And so is the kingdom of God in some respects," He said. "It is in some respects like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till the whole was leavened." And here are we tonight, and in this church, suddenly transported back into Mary's little kitchen in Nazareth, in order to learn there yet another of her Son's parables about the kingdom of God.
Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, He said to His disciples on one occasion. Now, what did He mean by that saying, do you suppose? What would you say was the leaven of the Pharisees? I do not know any more than you do, but I will tell you what I think. Leaven, to begin with, is something that is hidden and inward, and then it works inwardly and secretly, till it works its way through the whole surrounding measures of meal. Now, what was the leaven of the Pharisees? It must have been something inward and hidden, to begin with. And then it had by that time worked its way through their whole heart and character till they were the Pharisees who were bent on our Lord's death and destruction. Well, a little lump of leaven that a woman can hold in her hand does not look to be much, nor to have much power in it. But wait and see. And a little self-esteem in a young man's heart is not very much to be suspected or denounced, is it? But wait and see. Let that young man set out on his life with that little lump of self-esteem in his secret heart, and, as sure as he lives, this will be his experience, and the experience of all who have to do with him. So many and so unavoidable are the oppositions, and the contradictions, and the collisions of life, that if his self-esteem is not by means of all these things, and by means of the grace of God co-operating with all these things, chastened and subdued and cast out, then all these collisions, and corrections, and contradictions, will only the more increase and exasperate his self-esteem, till he will end his days as full of self-righteousness, and pride, and hardness of heart, as very Lucifer himself. On the other hand, humility, that is to say disesteem of a man's self, is so much good leaven hidden in a good man's heart. These are the words of well-known master in Israel,-"Humility does not consist in having a worse opinion of ourselves than we deserve, or in abasing ourselves lower than we really are. But as all virtue is founded in truth, so humility is founded in a true and just sense of our weakness, misery, and sin. So much so, that he who rightly feels and lives in this sense of his condition lives in humility." That is to say, he who at all rightly knows himself is done for ever with all self-esteem. There is not left in all his inward parts so much as a single ounce of that leaven of the Pharisees. But that sect in Israel were so set against all introspection, as they called it: their doctors of the law so denounced that sanctifying habit of mind and heart, that their scholars ended with crucifying the Lord of Glory. To such a lump of villainy and wickedness will a little leaven of self-esteem grow under the fit conditions, and in the fit heart, and left fitly alone. Now our Lord saw, only far too well, that evil leaven already at work in His twelve disciples. I do not take it upon me to say how far it is at work in any of you. I will not insist that your self-esteem is eating through your whole heart and is destroying your whole life and character. I will not fall out with you about that. I will not insist on what you call introspection, but I for one both feel and confess the truth of His words when my Lord says to me-Preacher, Beware! lest having discoursed so beautifully on humility to others, you yourself, through your self-esteem, should be a castaway from the kingdom of God. Till it has to be my prayer, with the candle of the Lord in may hand continually-Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any of this wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!
The Apostle Paul also has this on this same parable: "Purge out therefore the old leaven. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." Now, what is malice and wickedness? We have seen what self-esteem is, and how it works till it leavens the whole lump. But what is the leaven of malice? You may be old enough to know without being told. You may have enough of it in yourself, and you may have suffered enough from it in others; but there are new beginners in self-esteem, and in malice, and the word must be rightly divided to meet their case as well as yours. Now, you who are new beginners in morals and in religion-what think you is malice? For you cannot purge it out, nor keep it purged out, if you do not know it when you see it. Well, malice also is like leaven in this. Its first beginning is so small as not to be worth speaking about in a dignified pulpit. You do not like some one. Nothing is so common, surely, as that. Already, at school, at college, in the office, in the workshop, in the house, you do not like some one. Well, that is your first half-ounce of the leaven of malice. And your feelings toward that man, and your thoughts about him, and your words about him, and your actions toward him, are like the three measures of meal with the little leaven at its heart. You just dislike that man-that is all as yet. But then full-grown men are so leavened with that same dislike that they actually come to hate one another. And-"hates any man the thing he would not kill?" You see then where you are. You see on what road you are travelling. You are travelling on the road of the Pharisees. You are travelling on the road to hell. And there is no surer, no shorter, and no more inevitable, road to hell than hatred, which is just dislike, and umbrage, and a secret grudge, come to their three measures of meal. Malice is bad blood, as we say. It is ill-will. It is resentment. It is revenge. Till it is in God's sight very murder itself; hidden, as yet, it may be from your introspection in its three measures of surrounding and smothering-up meal. And it is while this red-handed murder is still at its early stages of dislike, and antipathy, and animosity, that Paul beseeches you to purge it out. But in order to purge it out. you must take a candle like this to the work. A clear candle like this. You have a neighbour. He may at one time have been a friend. He may never suspect but that he is a friend still. He may be befriending you all the time. But at heart you are not his friend any more. Something has happened to you. Something that you must search out and admit about yourself. However humbling, however self-condemning, however self-hating, it may turn out to be, you cannot be a good and a true man any more till you have found yourself out. Your friend forgot you on some occasion. Or he preferred some one else to you. Or he took his own judgment and conscience for his guide in some matter in which you demanded to dictate to him. Or he got some promotion, or praise, or reward, that you had not humility and love enough to stomach. Track out your heart, sir! Heaven and hell hang on your tracking out your heart in that matter. No. Hell does not hang upon it, for hell has possession of your heart already. That wicked heat in your heart at the mention of his name, that is hell. That blackness which we all see in your very look, that is the smoke of your torment already begun. Purge it out, implores Paul. Ah! it is easy saying purge it out. Did Paul manage to purge it out himself, after all his most earnest preaching about it? No: he did not. No more than you and I. And it was when he had lighted all the candles he could lay his hands on; and when with them all he could not get down to all the malice that was still hiding in his heart, it was then that his Master had mercy on His miserable servant, and said to him, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness.
And though Pharisaic self-esteem and diabolical malice are all the instances to which our Lord's parable is applied first by Himself and then by His best Apostle, yet the parable is equally true of all the other leavenings of the devil that are insinuated into our souls. A little of the leaven of pride-think it out, with home-coming illustrations, for yourself. A little of the leaven of anger-think it out, with home-coming illustrations, for yourself. A little of the leaven of suspicion, and of jealousy, and of envy-with illustrations and instances taken from yourself. A little of the leaven of sensuality-"the inconceivable evil of sensuality"-as Newman calls it-with a whole portfolio of illustrations taken from yourself. A foul thought, a foul hint, a foul innuendo, a foul word, a foul image; a foul-mouthed boy in the playground; a foul-mouthed man in the workshop, in the office, in the bothy; a foul-mouthed woman in the workroom, in the kitchen, in the field; a foul book, a foul picture, a foul photograph in a shop-window in passing,-think it out, with a thousand illustrations taken from your own experience, and you will be wiser in this universal leaven of sensuality than all your teachers. You will yet be a master in Israel yourself in such sickening, but at the same time necessary, self-knowledge.
It is surely very striking to discover that while our Lord says so plainly that the kingdom of God is like leaven, yet both He, and His best Apostle, descend into the kingdom of Satan for all their best instances, and all their most pungent applications of the leaven. They would seem in this to leave it to ourselves to apply and to verify the parable in its application to the things of the kingdom of God. Whereunto shall I liken it? He said to His disciples. As much as to say-find out more and better instances, and illustrations, and verifications, for yourselves. And His example, and Paul's example, would seem to say to all preachers-give your people one or two illustrations taken from things they are only too well acquainted with already, and then leave them to prosecute the parable further for themselves. Would, said Moses, that all the Lord's people were prophets! And I will leave this parable where our Lord and His Apostle left it, only saying over it and over you, Would that all the Lord's people wore expositors and preachers, and that out of their own observation and experience!