Matthew 8:9 — "For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it."
ALL THE SCENES of New Testament history lie in the atmosphere of Roman government. Its earliest stories are connected with the decree that went forth from Caesar Augustus that the world should be taxed. The last definitely historical picture that it presents is that of a notable prisoner, at large in his own house in the imperial city. As we read, we grow familiar with Roman armies, with cohorts, legions, and bands; with captains, centurions, and soldiers. We meet with seven centurions.
Centurions on Parade
The first centurion appears in the passage from which my text is taken; he came to Jesus about his servant who was sick. The next one we see, at the close of the gospel narrative, is in charge of the crucifixion of Christ. Then, in the book of Acts we find Cornelius, a devout man, the first Gentile believer to be baptized by the Hebrew apostle. Next we read of a centurion placing bonds upon Paul, and, as Paul objects, immediately seeking the advice of his superior officer. Also, there are the two centurions who were taking Paul to Felix and protecting him from the threatened hostility of the crowd. Another centurion took charge of Paul and gave him great indulgence by the direction of Felix. Then, at last we come to Julius, who was Paul's custodian on his voyage, and who became interested in Paul, so much so that he saved him from death at the hands of the soldiers in the hour of threatened shipwreck.
In all these centurions there is something to admire; in some of them much to admire; and in one of them at least everything to admire. The three first mentioned stand out upon the page of the New Testament, and are remarkable in many ways. This one came to seek the aid of Christ for his slave, and uttered the remarkable words of my text. At the crucifixion another centurion ( with others) watched the dying of the Man of Nazareth, and his reaction is shown in Matthew 27:54 — " Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God." Of Cornelius the highest things are written.
In Search of Excellence
How is this excellence to be accounted for? If I were to declare that the military system accounted for it, I am inclined at once to say that would be too broad a statement, yet there is a sense in which it is true. I want to discover that sense, and to make it the method of my appeal to the young manhood of this congregation, to whom this message is to be particularly delivered. The end of the life of the soldier is not in view. I am not dealing with that. Whether that end be war, or whether it be that for which war is waged, I am not discussing that question at all at the present moment. It may be that if I were I should arouse the hostility of some of you, or, rather, I should not find you in perfect agreement with my own standpoint. I think there is a wonderful amount of insight in the words that occur in the comments of (Bagshot) a British political commentator years ago, who said: "There is no ‘peace at any price' party. There are only various parties which disapprove of each other's wars," I have read that an eminent a theologian once said, "I am for peace at any price, even at the price of war if necessary." I am not discussing that. I am attempting to bring you to a consideration, not of the purpose of the soldier's life, whether that object be war, or the reason for which war is waged; but of the method of the soldier's life. In understanding that method, we shall discover why it is that these men of the old Roman armies had a philosophy that, in some ways, attracts us.
That method is declared clearly and simply and inclusively in the words the centurion uttered to Jesus, in Luke 7:8 — " For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.
That is a philosophy of life. I wonder if he had ever said that before. I think not. I am inclined to think that it was a sudden expression of a subconscious philosophy. Remember, while he spoke in the first person singular, and while the philosophy was stated in the terms of experience and not in the terms of theory, this declaration was drawn from him by what he saw in Jesus. You can drop the word "also" and you still have the same core idea, and still have the experience and pattern of looking at life. "I am a man under authority, having under me soldiers."
That is my whole text, and yet it is not my whole text. It is the "also" that attracted me to the text. It is the supreme word. The centurion implied that Christ was a Man under authority and that He had those under Him. He looked at Christ and he saw in Him the fulfillment of the highest ideal of life as He knew it, and so Christ compelled from him the confession of the level upon which he was living his own life, the confession which revealed the philosophy of his life, which I think he may never have formulated before.
The Philosophy of Submission
I shall ask you, first of all, to consider this philosophy of life, "I am a man under authority," that is submission: "having under myself soldiers"; that is responsibility. I am a man under authority. I have soldiers under me. I know how to bend the knee to a throne. I am able to exercise the power of a throne. I have kissed a scepter. I sway a scepter. I am responsible to a throne. I therefore am able to be responsible for those who are beneath me. I am a man under authority, submission. I have soldiers under me, responsibility. That is the highest philosophy of life that can be stated for a young man.
Let us attempt to see a little more clearly what it really means. So far, then, as the method of the life of the centurion is concerned, I borrow the career of one who is the ideal for young men. First consider the view of life suggested, and then see how the Christian life realizes that ideal at its highest and best.
What is this view of life suggested? This man first said, "I am a man under authority." To illuminate this I will take three simple prepositions: "to," "of," "for." "I am ... under authority." That is submission to, submission of, and submission for.
Submission to — The Roman soldier was submitted to the cause of the Roman Empire, but for the Roman soldier the cause of the Roman Empire was personified in the emperor. The Roman soldier was under authority, so he was submitted to a cause personified in a person. You need not stay with the Roman soldier. It is true all through the ages. "For my country" is the motto of the soldier today. But even today, in countries where they have a King, the King himself is the personification to the soldier of the larger purpose and issue. The soldier is submitted to the cause of his country as it is personified for him in the King.
Submission of — The submission means submission of the whole or central will. Upon enlisting in the army of the emperor, the Roman soldier surrendered his will, his property, his relations. From the moment when he enlisted he had no will of his own, no possession of his own, no property of any kind. He could not hold property. Neither could he speak of his relations as any longer being his. He gave up everything. The soldier submitted to a central authority has submitted his will and everything else. His time, his habit of dress, his choice of foods, and all his ability are handed over.
Submission for — The Roman soldier was submitted for fitting himself for his work. That meant drill. He was submitted also for his work. That meant war.
The centurion was submitted to the service of his country as personified in a sovereign; he had made submission of his will and of all he had: he had submitted for the purpose of his own perfecting, for the accomplishment of the work to which he was called.
Turn to the other side of this: responsibility — "having under myself soldiers." I want you very patiently to follow me as I say that the responsibility of the centurion was connected intimately with his submission to his own ruler. He was responsible for the soldiers under him, to the state to which he himself was submitted. He must identify himself with them. He must exert an influence upon them. He must insist upon certain things in their lives. All this for the sake of the state. The state looked to him and held him responsible for all those who were placed under him, that he should recommend it, utter its requirements, and insist upon the accomplishment of its purposes.
There was a close connection between the soldier's submission and his responsibility. "I also am a man under authority, having under myself soldiers." The first was an upward look to the throne which he served; the second was a downward look to the territory over which he reigned. The upward look was in order that he might realize the territory over which he reigned. The downward look was in order that he might satisfy the throne under which he served.
In order that we may understand this great philosophy of life, I am more anxious that we should realize the connection between these two things than that we should see either in isolation. This is not a picture of the two sides of a man's nature, the one side subservient to authority, and the other getting satisfaction out of the fact that he was able to make others bend the knee to him. Here is NOT a man who says, "For years I have been serving a master, now it is my turn. I am going to make someone else serve me!" Nor is it a man who says, "In a certain department of my life I have obeyed; now I am going to compensate myself for the irksomeness of that by making someone else obey me." That is not the picture presented by these words. Let us be careful to draw the distinction.
The unifying and guiding principle of life to the centurion was the Roman Empire. He said, "I am under the empire, and of the empire. I submit to its authority and I represent its authority. I look up to a throne in order that I may represent the will of the throne to those over whom I reign. I look down upon the territory over which I reign in order that I may realize in it the will and purpose of the throne to which I am submitted.
This is a perfect harmony and interrelationship. There can be no right and perfect government of the territory over which I reign, save as I am in right relationship to the throne over me. The reason I should perfectly submit to the throne over me is that I may exert its influence among those who are placed under me. I am under authority, submission; I have soldiers under me, responsibility. The responsibility of reigning is intimately connected with submission."
The Application of Submission
That is a revelation of perfect life. Before I turn to show that the Christian ideal realizes that, do you see the importance of it? Let me get my sermon out of shape and take the application now. To what throne is your life submitted? What territory are you reigning over? Have you found a throne to which you bend the knee? Have you found a throne to which you reign? That is the meaning of human life. Every man is intended to reign, but before a man can reign he must submit. Every man here has found a throne. Every man has found a territory over which he is reigning. You cannot escape it. These are the deep things of human nature which no man can elude. The trouble is that men submit to the wrong throne, and therefore their reign is that of despotism, destruction, death.
The influence you are exerting within the circle of your own manhood, the circle of your friends, in your home, your city, is an influence created by your relation to a throne. If the throne before which you bow is the throne of the world, or the throne of the flesh, or the throne of the devil — and these are not separate thrones, that is the trinity of evil — if you bow before that throne, you are still reigning, but it is a reign of devastation, a
reign of death. You cannot escape submission to a throne. You cannot escape the exercise of influence, of power. Whether the power be constructive or destructive, for life or death, for lifting or flinging down, depends upon the throne to which you bow the knee. Every man can say, "I also am a man under authority, having under myself soldiers." I am not here to press young men to go forth and find a kingdom. I am here to press them to see to it that they find the right authority, and are exercising the right influence in the place where they reign.
The Pattern of Submission
That leads me to the second point. The Christian revelation most perfectly realizes this ideal of life. That ideal was perfectly presented as a pattern in Christ. That is what this man meant, though I do not imagine, or suggest, that he perfectly understood it. Thou art a Man under authority, and Thou hast soldiers under Thee. That is the story of Christ's life. Jesus of Nazareth might have said with perfect accuracy and with far fuller, richer, more spacious meaning than did the centurion, "I am a Man under authority, having under Myself soldiers." Jesus Christ was under authority. He was under authority to the great universal empire of God, which He expressed in that term which we are still using and still have problems understanding the full meaning of, that is "The Kingdom of God." That for Him was personified in God Himself, Who was King, Ruler, Sovereign over the whole empire. He was a Man under authority. Look at John 8:28 and 29 — " Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.
"29 And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him."
Now listen to John 4:34 — "Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work."
Christ's was a life under perfect and absolute authority. It was a life of perfect and absolute submission. It was a life, therefore, responsible, "having under Myself soldiers," all the forces of the Kingdom of God over which He was appointed to reign. He was under authority and exercised authority. The authority He exercised over the things under Him was the authority to which He submitted, as He yielded Himself wholly to the will of God. The authority of life, light, love, the authority of pure, high, noble ideals; to these things He yielded Himself, for they are in the will of God. Mor than that, they are in the very character of Go! These are the very elements of the empire of God. Wherever He exercised His authority it was toward the realization of these things in human life.
Christ did not merely reveal to us the fulness of this ideal as a pattern; He came to call us into submission to it, and to communicate to us the power that would enable us to fulfill that in our life, which is essential to it on the highest level and in all fulness and breadth.
The Call to Submission and Authority
To what, then, does Christianity call every young man? To submission and authority! Submission to what? To the Kingdom of God personified in Christ as King. I call you in the name of this Christ to submission to the Kingdom of God. I pause because I am so conscious that the familiarity of these words robs them of their wonder and grandeur and beauty.
Young men are constantly telling me they are looking for a career. Here is an all-inclusive one, passion for the Kingdom of God. All honor to the soldier who really and truly and deeply loves his country. I ask you to make the master passion of your life not this country of Britain, but the Kingdom of God. If the idea be too spacious, too gracious, as indeed it is, then focus it, localize it, personify it, only remember that when you have personified it, that to which you come, or He to whom you come, does stand for the larger purpose, the Kingdom of God.
We call you for this purpose to the Christ, for submission to Him is submission to the Kingdom of God. Come, not merely that you may kiss a scepter and be under a King, but that you may make the Kingdom of God the goal of your endeavor, the passion of your life, that to which you devote all your energies.
Here is the true throne. Here is the true state. Here is the true empire to which men should give themselves. The man who can go forth from this place saying, I am a man under authority to God's King and God's Kingdom, is fulfilling the essential necessity of his life on the highest level and in the fullest possible sense.
The Reality of Submission
Remember that if submission means submission to the Kingdom of God it means submission of the will. As the Roman Centurion in the olden days, having handed over his will and choice, ceased to have property or time or relations of his own, so must the soldier who submits to the Christ.
If you say I am carrying my figure too far, listen to the King Himself in Luke 9:23 and 24 — "And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.
"24 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it."
Luke 14:26 and 27 says it this way — "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
"27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple."
This does not mean that the man giving his life fully to Christ and His service is to have no love for father, mother, wife, child, brother, sister; but that forever, in every hour of crisis, in every day matters, in all circumstances, if there should arise conflict between the interest of Christ and that of father, mother, wife, child, brother, sister, or any other thing, then Christ must have the pre-eminence, and the Kingdom of God must come first.
So that passage in Matthew 10:37 thru 39 is clear and plain to understand, where it says (Matthew 10:37 thru 39) --- "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
"38 And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
"39 He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it."
This message is the awful and yet necessary word of the King when men come into contact with Him if they are to truly submit themselves to Him.
Sometimes I think that we lose something of power and force by stating the case in all its widest reaches and its most spacious applications. It means that the soldier is to have no habit not submitted to Christ for approval or disapproval, no hour of his time which he calls his own, no interest in life which is to him a vacation from his vocation.
There must be no single detail of our life over which Christ is not supreme, which does not enter into the supreme master passion of serving our glorious King! That is the life of the true Christian soldier. I know there are a great many people who call themselves Christians who have never come within a million miles of realizing this. Are they Christians? I suggest the question and leave them to their own conscience and the clear teaching of Christ for decision. You are "under authority." You have played at life long enough. Now let us begin to live by giving ourselves in complete submission to this Jesus, our wonderful King.
When you have done that, what then? Begin to reign in power over that little portion which the King has given into your hands. Begin to realize your kingdom. "Where shall I begin?" some one might say. "Give me my work." I give it to you now. Now hear Proverbs 16:32 and 33 — "He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.
"33 The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD."
I am not going to preach from that text apart from the New Testament. I long ago gave up preaching the doctrine of self-control. I seldom say to a man, "Control yourself." Galatians 5:22 thru 24 tells us — "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
"23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
"24 And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
You begin to control yourself only as you submit yourself to your King. That is the first empire over which man is called to reign: All forces and conditions of his own life, the desires and aspirations; the movements of intellect, emotion, and will. I can reign only when I am under authority, when I have kissed the scepter.
Enlarge this idea in your own mind, without my staying to illustrate it. Think of your home or your class in the Sunday school if you are a teacher. Even this pulpit is a throne of power for me if I am under authority. If I am not, then it is an awful opportunity for wrecking human life. I am not talking idly. These are the deep and awful and heartbreaking convictions of any man who knows what it is to be called to preach the Word of God. Yet blessed be God, as the apostle declares, the true minister is "led in triumph." If I would reign in this pulpit and bring a territory into subjection to the vast empire of God's Kingdom, then the measure in which I submit is the measure in which I command, and reign in my own life and service. So also in your city, in your country, everywhere. First under authority, and then reigning in power.
So What Is Your Authority?
Let us go back to the application which I have already used in the middle of my sermon. Under what authority are you living? What are the aims, goals, purposes and guide of your life? By what do you measure everything? The lusts and desires of your own life? Is that so? Tell me, under what authority are you living? Tell me that, and I will tell you the effect you are producing upon the territory over which you are reigning. The authority to which a man submits is the authority he exercises.
Let us break this up into small pieces. Are you submitting your life to the authority of the flesh, answering its desires, yielding all the forces of your being to whatever your flesh life asks and demands? Then you are exerting the authority of the throne to which you bow. You are spreading a poison and paralysis wherever you go for no man liveth unto himself. Are you bending the knee to the world with its maxims and methods? Then you are exerting the influence of the world in the circle of your friends, and your friends are becoming worldly because you are reigning over them in the power of the world to which you bow the knee.
Are you serving the devil, the devil who was a liar from the beginning and a murderer, the devil who is the prince of compromise and of subtlety? Then you are exerting the influence and aiding the kingdom of the devil wherever you go. Are you serving that great Kingdom of God by crowning Christ? Then you are exerting the influence of that Kingdom and that Christ wherever you go. That which you are under, you transplant into that which you are over. That has a wider application than just to young men. Fathers and Mothers, and daughters, that is true of you.
It is not always the precept which you utter, it is the throne before which you bend that you will see reproduced in your children. It is true everywhere. Let me cease my illustrations and leave the vast, awful sublime truth upon your conscience, and turn to my final word to young men.
A Word to Young Men
Young men, you must fulfill your manhood by bowing the knee to a throne and then reigning. To what throne are you bowing? That life of yours, the history and mystery of which I know not, nor could I know if you attempted to tell me, the history and mystery of which you know not, for there are greater reaches in your manhood than you have yet discovered. God only knows it all. Take that life and hand it over to that One who out of the eternal ages came into the little spaces of passing time that evil man might come to know the meaning of life in its richest fulfillment. Turn your life over to Him and He will do wonderful things with and to that one who is fully obedient. This message will come like music to the heart of the man who has failed — He will even "restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten", to paraphrase Joel 2:25. He will give you back the things you have missed.
Though the vessel be marred in the hand of the Potter, He will make it again, another vessel that seems good to Him. If you, like Jonah, in unbelievable foolishness, have paid your own fare to try to escape Jehovah and have gone to Tarshish, if only you will turn back, the Lord will yet come to you the second time, and will establish you in your life that you may begin again in your portion of His kingdom to reign and serve Him acceptably. Our God is still a God of the second chance — If He were not, none of us would have any hope of serving Him in a proper fashion.
But that second chance does not extend beyond the grave, of course!
Is there anything you more desire than a sense of power? Is there anything any man who is a man at all desires more than to be able to say, "I can"? It is the next great word to "I am" on the level of human life. "I am" is the first expression of human personality. If the next be "I think" the outcome is "I can, with God's power and blessings." Do you want to say it? Oh, the men who have said to me, "I cannot." No doubt some are here now like that. Perhaps there are some here now who may be saying, "I cannot, God knows I would if I could, but I cannot do it. I see the vision, but I have no virtue to win the victory."
If that is your case, you have bent your knee to the wrong throne, and the influence resulting from your bending to the wrong throne has been destruction of the territory over which you should reign. And remember, your paralysis is your own doing, your weakness is the result of your own yielding. I urge you now to turn deaf ears to the false and destructive teaching that declares that you cannot help your sinful indifference, or sloth, or carelessness in the things of God. I urge every one to recognize and resolve that with God's help you will serve Him, that you will seek, find, and do His will for your life. Come before our King with full submission to Him and His will and pattern for your life.
Sin is the rebellion of our will, and it is rebellion against God. You know that you need not place your life at the disposal of evil things. But when you fail to seek and find and follow that perfect will of God for your own life and service to Him, it is as a sin of rebellion! If you go that way you are poisoned, paralyzed, spoiled. You are saying, "I cannot," and you have ruined your kingdom because the throne to which you bowed was the wrong throne.
There is a "trysting place where heaven's love and heaven's justice meet," and that trysting place is at the cross where Christ, who came to die for all those who will believe. At that place you can know the power that will make life over again. If you have been the slave of the awful evil things to which you have yielded yourself, that chain can be broken here and now.
May God help you to find the right authority and bow under it, and so find your own place in His Kingdom and then reign over it as His faithful servant.