Matthew 12:43-45

THE PERIL OF THE EMPTY HEART

Matt. 12:43-45

“When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, it goes through waterless places, seeking for rest, and does not find it. Then it says, `I will go back to my house, from which I came out,’ and when it comes, it finds it empty, swept and in perfect order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and take up their residence there. So the last state of that man becomes worse than the first; so it will be with this evil generation.”

There is a whole world of the most practical truth in this compact and eerie little parable about the haunted house.

(i) The evil spirit is banished from the man, not destroyed. That is to say that, in this present age, evil can be conquered, driven away–but it cannot be destroyed. It is always looking for the opportunity to counter-attack and regain the ground that is lost. Evil is a force which may be at bay but is never eliminated.

(ii) That is bound to mean that a negative religion can never be enough. A religion which consists in thou shalt nots will end in failure. The trouble about such a religion is that it may be able to cleanse a man by prohibiting all his evil actions, but it cannot keep him cleansed.

Let us think of this in actual practice. A drunkard may be reformed; he may decide that he will no longer spend his time in the public house; but he must find something else to do; he must find something to fill up his now empty time, or he will simply slip back into his evil ways. A man whose constant pursuit has been pleasure, may decide that he must stop; but he must find something else to do to fill up his time, or he will simply, through the very emptiness of his life, drift back to his old pursuits. A man’s life must not only be sterilized from evil; it must be fructified to good. It will always remain true that “Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do.” And if one kind of action is banished from life, another kind must be substituted for it, for life cannot remain empty.

(iii) It therefore follows that the only permanent cure for evil action is Christian action. Any teaching which stops at telling a man what he must not do is bound to be a failure; it must go on to tell him what he must do. The one fatal disease is idleness; even a sterilized idleness will soon be infected. The easiest way to conquer the weeds in a garden is to fill the garden with useful things. The easiest way to keep a life from sin is to fill it with healthy action.

To put it quite simply, the Church will most easily keep her converts when she gives them Christian work to do. Our aim is not the mere negative absence of evil action; it is the positive presence of work for Christ. If we are finding the temptations of evil very threatening, one of the best ways to conquer them is to plunge into activity for God and for our fellow-men.

Back to: THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW (Chapters 11-28)

Back to: Barclay’s Commentary

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