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Lord’s Day 31, 2009

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”

Horatius Bonar (1808–1889)

That clime is not this dull clime of ours;
   All, all is brightness there;
A sweeter influence breathes around its flowers,
   And a far milder air.
No calm below is like that calm above.
No region here is like that realm of love;
Earth’s softest spring ne’er shed so soft a light.
Earth’s brightest summer never shone so bright.

imgThat sky is not like this sad sky of ours,
   Tinged with earth’s change and care:
No shadow dims it, and no rain-cloud lowers,—
   No broken sunshine there!
One everlasting stretch of azure pours
Its stainless splendor o’er these sinless shores;
For there Jehovah shines with heavenly ray,
There Jesus reigns dispensing endless day.

Those dwellers there are not like these of earth.
   No mortal stain they bear;
And yet they seem of kindred hlood and hirth,—
   Whence, and how came they there?
Earth was their native soil, from sin and shame,
Through tribulation they to glory came;
Bond-slaves delivered from sin’s crushing load.
Brands plucked from burning by the hand of God.

Those robes of theirs are not for these below;
   No angel’s half so bright!
Whence came that beauty, whence that living glow?
   Whence came that radiant white?
Washed in the blood of the atoning Lamb,
Fair as the light those robes of theirs became,
And now, all tears wiped off from every eye,
They wander where the freshest pastures lie,
Through all the nightless day of that unfading

—Horatius Bonar, Hymns of Faith and Hope, First Series (James Nisbet & Co., 1878).

imgThe Gospel According to John
Christ Changes Water to Wine

2 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” So they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it to him. When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, 10 and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.

imgThese verses describe a miracle which should always possess a special interest in the eyes of a true Christian. It is the first, in order of time, of the many mighty works which Jesus did, when He was upon earth. We are distinctly told, “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee.”—Like every other miracle which John was inspired to record, it is related with great minuteness and particularity. And, like every other miracle in John’s Gospel, it is rich in spiritual lessons.
   We learn, firstly, from these verses, how honourable in the sight of Christ is the estate of matrimony. To be present at a “marriage” was almost the first public act of our Lord’s earthly ministry.
   Marriage is not a sacrament, as the Church of Rome asserts. It is simply a state of life ordained by God for man’s benefit. But it is a state which ought never to be spoken of with levity, or regarded with disrespect. The Prayerbook service has well described it, as “an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, and signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church.” Society is never in a healthy condition, and true religion never flourishes in that land where the marriage tie is lightly esteemed. They who lightly esteem it have not the mind of Christ. He who “beautified and adorned the estate of matrimony by His presence and first miracle that He wrought in Cana of Galilee,” is One who is always of one mind. “Marriage,” says the Holy Spirit by Paul, “is honourable in all.” (Heb. xiii. 4.)
   One thing, however, ought not to be forgotten. Marriage is a step which so seriously affects the temporal happiness and spiritual welfare of two immortal souls, that it ought never to be taken in hand “unadvisedly, lightly, wantonly, and without due consideration.” To be truly happy, it should be undertaken “reverently, discreetly, soberly, and in the fear of God.” Christ’s blessing and presence are essential to a happy wedding. The marriage at which there is no place for Christ and His disciples, is not one that can justly be expected to prosper.
   We learn, secondly, from these verses, that there are times when it is lawful to be merry and rejoice. Our Lord Himself sanctioned a wedding-feast by His own presence. He did not refuse to be a guest at “a marriage in Cana of Galilee.” “A feast,” it is written, “is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry.” (Eccles. x. 19.) Our Lord, in the passage before us, approves both the feast and the use of wine.
   True religion was never meant to make men melancholy. On the contrary, it was intended to increase real joy and happiness among men. The servant of Christ unquestionably ought to have nothing to do with races, balls, theaters, and such-like amusements, which tend to frivolity and indulgence, if not to sin. But he has no right to hand over innocent recreations and family gatherings to the devil and the world. The Christian who withdraws entirely from the society of his fellow-men, and walks the earth with a face as melancholy as if he was always attending a funeral, does injury to the cause of the Gospel. A cheerful, kindly spirit is a great recommendation to a believer. It is a real misfortune to Christianity when a Christian cannot smile. A merry heart, and a readiness to take part in all innocent mirth, are gifts of inestimable value. They go far to soften prejudices, to take up stumbling-blocks out of the way, and to make way for Christ and the Gospel.
   The subject no doubt is a difficult and delicate one. On no point of Christian practice is it so hard to hit the balance between that which is lawful and that which is unlawful, between that which is right and that which is wrong. It is very hard indeed to be both merry and wise. High spirits soon degenerate into levity. Acceptance of many invitations to feasts soon leads to waste of time, and begets leanness of soul. Frequent eating and drinking at other men’s tables, soon lowers a Christian’s tone of religion. Going often into company is a heavy strain on spirituality of heart. Here, if anywhere, God’s children have need to be on their guard. Each must know his own strength and natural temperament, and act accordingly. One believer can go without risk where another cannot. Happy is he who can use his Christian liberty without abusing it! It is possible to be sorely wounded in soul at marriage feasts and the tables of friends.
   One golden rule on the subject may be laid down, the use of which will save us much trouble. Let us take care that we always go to feasts in the spirit of our divine Master, and that we never go where He would not have gone. Like Him, let us endeavour to be always “about our Father’s business.” (Luke ii. 49.) Like Him, let us willingly promote joy and gladness, but let us strive that it may be sinless joy, if not joy in the Lord. Let us endeavour to bring the salt of grace into every company, and to drop the word in season in every ear we address. Much good may be done in society by giving a healthy tone to conversation. Let us never be ashamed to show our colours, and to make men see whose we are and whom we serve. We may well say, “Who is sufficient for these things?” But if Christ went to a marriage feast in Cana there is surely something that Christians can do on similar occasions. Let them only remember that if they go when their Master went, they must go in their Master’s spirit.
   We learn lastly, from these verses, the Almighty power of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are told of a miracle which He wrought at the marriage feast, when the wine failed. By a mere act of will He changed water into wine, and so supplied the need of all the guests.
   The manner in which the miracle was worked deserves especial notice. We are not told of any outward visible action which preceded or accompanied it. It is not said that He touched the waterpots containing the water that was made wine. It is not said that He commanded the water to change its qualities, or that He prayed to His Father in Heaven. He simply willed the change, and it took place. We read of no prophet or apostle in the Bible who ever worked a miracle after this fashion. He who could do such a mighty work, in such a manner, was nothing less than very God.
   It is a comfortable thought that the same almighty power of will which our Lord here displayed is still exercised on behalf of His believing people. They have no need of His bodily presence to maintain their cause. They have no reason to be cast down because they cannot see Him with their eyes interceding for them, or touch Him with their hands, that they may cling to Him for safety. If He “wills” their salvation and the daily supply of all their spiritual need, they are as safe and well provided for as if they saw Him standing by them. Christ’s will is as mighty and effectual as Christ’s deed. The will of Him who could say to the Father, “I will that they whom thou hast given me be with me where I am,” is a will that has all power in heaven and earth, and must prevail. (John xvii. 24.)
   Happy are those who, like the disciples, believe on Him by whom this miracle was wrought. A greater marriage feast than that of Cana will one day be held, when Christ Himself will be the bridegroom and believers will be the bride. A greater glory will one day be manifested, when Jesus shall take to Himself His great power and reign. Blessed will they be in that day who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb! (Rev. xix. 9.)

—J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (Baker Books, 2007) [Westminster (PB) | Amazon (HC)], 3:88–92

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Posted  in: Expository Thoughts on the Gospels · Horatius Bonar · Hymns of Faith and Hope · J C Ryle · Lord’s Day
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