The Second Mile
May 9th, 1965 @ 7:30 PM
THE SECOND MILE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-9-65 7:30 p.m.
You are invited to turn to the First Gospel, the Gospel of Matthew. If you listen on the radio, on WRR, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the evening message entitled The Second Mile. Our passage that we read together is from the Sermon on the Mount, chapter 5, beginning at verse 38 and reading to the end of the chapter [Matthew 5:38-48]. So get your Bible. If your neighbor does not have his Bible, share yours with him, or give it to him. And let us read it out loud together, Matthew chapter 5, beginning at verse 38. Now all of us reading it out loud together:
Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
But I say unto you, That you resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.
And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same?
And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so?
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
Isn’t that a magnificent outline for a child of God? If he were only able to do it . . .
Now, out of those many, many marvelous things that the Spirit has written here, writing it down from the lips of our Lord—and some of you who are here from Amarillo, the first sermon that I preached in a church house was from a text in the passage we have just read. I was seventeen years old, I had been licensed to preach by the First Baptist Church in Amarillo, and Dr. G. L. Yates invited me to preach at the morning hour. And my text was “What do ye more than others” [Matthew 5:47], and after I had preached about twelve minutes, I had said everything that I knew conceivable to say. What a change from those happy and halcyon days to the present; what things can happen to us!
Now the text tonight: “And whosoever shall compel thee to go one mile, go with him two” [Matthew 5:41]. The thing that lies back of that admonition on the part of our Lord was a mandate in the Roman Empire. As you know, practically all of the empire was subject, it was slave. Those Roman legionnaires had overrun the civilized world. And it was a mandate on the part of the Roman government that any time a Roman citizen and especially a Roman soldier was walking down the highway with a load or with a package or with a burden, that he could commandeer any of the citizens of that subject country and compel them to carry the baggage, the load, a measured Roman mile. Now that was the mandate that lies back of what our Lord says here.
And to illustrate its spirit, may I hypothetically tell a story? This didn’t happen that I know of, but it could have happened, and it certainly illustrates what our Lord is saying here in this unusual passage. “Whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain” [Matthew 5:41]. Now let’s have the little story.
Down the highway, the Roman road that leads through Palestine, there walked a Roman soldier with a heavy load on his back. He stopped, seeing a Jewish farmer with a crude home-made hoe working in his field, and he put his fingers to his lips and blasted out an ear-splitting whistle and caught the attention of the farmer and said, “You, you dog of a Jew, come here and carry this load!”
The Jewish farmer laid down his crude implement and with bitterness and hatred left his field, walked over to the highway and picked up the load of the Roman soldier, and, following three or four paces behind, walked with that burden the full Roman measured mile. All the time that he did it, he was seething on the inside with hatred for that representative of the conquering nation that ground his own people under an iron heel.
And when he had walked with the burden the full mile, he cast it down with hatred and turned on his heel and walked away back to his farm and his implement. And as he turned and walked away, the Roman soldier turned and looked at him with contempt and disdain; “that Jewish dog!” Having had his burden borne for the measured Roman mile, he looked around to see if he could find another Jew, “another dog” he could impress into his service.
So he saw one in a field with a light, crude instrument and whistled again, and this time the farmer raised his face and saw the soldier standing by the side of his heavy burden on the road. He raised his hand in acknowledgment and spoke friendly and kindly to the Roman soldier. He leaned his crude hoe against the little tree, and walking over there to the legionnaire, he asked him as he picked up the burden and shouldered it on his own back, he asked him if he could be permitted to walk by his side and to talk to him. Amazed, the Roman soldier acquiesced. So the two walked side by side on the Roman road; the legionnaire and the “dog of a Jew” carrying his burden.
As they walked together, the Jewish farmer asked the soldier about the imperial city at Rome, and he asked him about the places that he’d been, and he asked him about his life as a soldier, and he asked him about his family and his home. And as they talked together, it was an amazing thing to the Jewish farmer how much they had in common, for he learned that the life of a Roman soldier was also difficult and hard. They came to the first measured mile, and the soldier was amazed that they had arrived at it so soon! And instinctively, impulsively he reached over to take the load, and the Jewish farmer said, “No, no! In your permission, grant me the privilege of walking by your side and carrying the burden for another mile.” In astonishment, the soldier acquiesced, and they walked along together; the legionnaire and the “Jew of a dog,” side by side, and came to the second Roman mile, and when they came to the second mile, the Jewish farmer carrying the load asked if he might walk a third. “No,” said the soldier, “No, I would not allow it. I could not think of it; no, no.”
The farmer laid the burden down. He bid the Roman soldier “Godspeed” and the merciful remembrance of our Father in heaven, and turned, with a song on his lips, back home. And when he did so, the Roman soldier turned also and watched him walk down the road with a song on his lips.
As he neared his house, the wife and the daughter inside preparing an evening meal, the girl said, “Look, father is coming and he’s singing a song. It must be he’s done some good thing today.” And the mother replies, “Yes, daughter, yes, there is such a change in your father since he has learned from the Master the duty and the sweetness of the life of the second mile.”
I’m not saying a thing like that ever happened, but I am saying that it reflects the spirit and the time in which our Lord lived and the meaning of this passage. “And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain” [Matthew 5:41], not like a dog, not like a galley of slave scourged to his place, but triumphant, victorious, like a child of God, sun-crowned and heaven blessed.
Ah, the will to hurt, and the will to compel, and the will to coerce, and the will to destroy is in this world and has been from the days of Cain and Abel [Genesis 4:8-9]. I think of our Master. Why spit on Him? [Matthew 27:36]. Just because spitting on Him was a part of the depravity of the human heart. Why tear out His beard? [Isaiah 50:6]. Because tearing out His beard illustrated the contempt and bitterness in the human heart. Why smite Him with the back of the hand? [John 19:3]. Why press on His brow a crown of thorns? [Matthew 27:30]. Why mock Him and bow down in ridiculous posture before Him? [Mark 15:19-20]. Because to do so is to express the depravity of the human soul. And finally to crucify Him [Matthew 27:32-50; Mark 15:21-37]—Oh, oh, oh!
That is a part of human nature. There is something of the sadistic in all of us—in the house, in the home, things said and things done for no other reason but just to hurt! No good comes from it, no blessing come out of it, no furtherance of anything holy and precious, just saying things and just doing things because they cut and leave a wound, bleed. We have that in the church. There’s something of the sadistic in our people, regenerated and saved as they are, just to hurt, criticize, say things—ah! You have it in all of the relationships in life. You have it in business, in the offices. Sometimes the most unhappy situations in the world are in these business offices. A woman hates another woman; hurt her, cut her, injure her, anything to help destroy her. Men do that with one another in the business world; cut them down. Sometimes nations do that, oppress, enslave. It is a part of all of life. It is a reflection of human depravity.
Now, in every normal person, in every normal life, in every normal situation, there is immediately the responsive spirit to retaliate, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Smite me, I smite back. Hate me, I hate back. Seek to destroy me, I seek to destroy back. Curse me, I curse back. Hate me, I hate back. That is the spirit of the world, and it’s in all of us. It’s in the house. It’s in the home. Ah, what things are in the house and in the home! Isn’t it a good thing that most of the world doesn’t know about us; how marvelous it is that every man’s house is his castle. You go in and shut the door and you hope nobody knows what goes on on the inside. Isn’t that a wonderful thing? Isn’t that a wonderful thing? Man, what a comfort to your soul, shut the door, shut the door.
One of the members of the family said, “You know, our dog is just like one of the family.” And the guy said, “Which one?” The man said to his friend, “You know, my wife has been nursing a grudge all week long.” And the guy replied, “I didn’t know she’d been sick.”
The great old loving pastor up there in the pulpit was preaching to his folks on Mothers Day, and he was saying to them all the duties of a life of the man and the woman walking side by side, and he waxed eloquent as he described the glory and the comfort of that beautiful relationship. And then he said, “And you know of that sweet and precious couple who walked together for over fifty years without a single quarrel and without a single difference between them.” And by that time eyes were moist and people were wiping tears off of their cheeks. And then that beloved old pastor lowered his voice and in a confidential tone he said, “And do you know how they achieved it?” And with bated breath, they all listened for that ultimate and final and spiritual answer. And the old pastor said, “They did it simply by lying.” You couldn’t convince me if you swore on a thousand Bibles that you’ve been married any length of time at all and you haven’t had some kind of a fuss, and some kind of an altercation, and some kind of a difference; that is, if you are normal.
I read the other day where they were having a sewing circle and the women were sitting around sewing, and one of them said, “Oh, my sweet darling, my husband, oh, oh, oh!” She said, “You know, we had our first quarrel, and when we had our first quarrel, in memory of that day that we patched it up and resolved we would never fall out again, we planted a tree in the yard to remind us of our love and to be tolerant and sympathetic with one another; we planted a tree.”
Another woman said, “How sweet, what a marvelous idea!” And the third one spoke up and said, “I think it’s the most abominable thing I’ve ever heard of in my life, for,” she said, “I’d hate to go home every night, being scared as I am to walk through a forest.” An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth; you say that to me and I got this to say back to you, you do this to me and I got this to do back to you, you hate me and I hate you!
Same thing in the church—the head usher, after the years of his service and ministry, was turning over his assignments to a young man, a young usher, and he said to the young fellow, “Ah, how sweet and how fine they are. Only wonderful Christians come to this church, and you’ll never hear anything out of them except sweetness and gladness until you ask them to move out of their seats, until you ask them to change where they’re seated.”
It’s everywhere, it’s everything; the spirit of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, to retaliate [Deuteronomy 19:21; Matthew 5:38]. You double up your fists, and I’ll double up mine. You snap at me, and I’ll snap at you. You say words to me, I’ll say words to you. You curse me, and I’ll curse you. You do evil to me, and I’ll do evil to you—that is the world.
Oh, when we pick up this Book and listen to the Word of our Lord, how vastly different, oh, unbelievably different:
I say unto you, if a man smite thee on one cheek, let him smite the other cheek also.
If he sues you to take away your outer garment, give him your inner garment also.
If he compels you to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that ask of thee.
You have heard it said, Love your neighbor, hate your enemy, love those who love you, hate those who hate you.
I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, pray for them which despitefully use you.
[from Matthew 5:39-44]
O Lord, how to be triumphant like that, how to do it!
Sometimes these people out in the world will evince the most wonderful and gracious spirit. I could emulate, even though I say I’m born again and I’m a Christian, I wish I could emulate sometimes some of the marvelous people I see out there in the world, who take and take and take, and without feeling rebuffed, or insulted, or offended, they seemingly live triumphant above it.
I read this last week of a young salesman who’d been out on the road for his first trip, and he came back, and he told an old-timer in the business, he said, “You know what I don’t understand? Everywhere I went, I was insulted!” And the fellow who’d been on the road a long time said, “Well, I don’t understand that. I can’t understand that. I just don’t understand that.” He said, “I’m puzzled by that.” He said, “I’d been on the road for over forty years,” and he said, “Sometimes I’ve had my samples pitched out the door,” and he said, “Sometimes I’ve been kicked out myself,” and he said, “Sometimes I’ve been pushed down the stairs,” and he said, “Sometimes I’ve been punched in the nose, but,” he said, “insulted? I’ve never been insulted in all the days of my life.” Isn’t that all right? Oh, isn’t that fine? Isn’t that wonderful? And to be that way in our Christian life—ah, how infinitely precious!
Now may I conclude, for our time is gone. All of us have a tendency to be coercive in our lives, all of us. I want to take our children first. When our children are young, you have to beat, I don’t know any other way except to beat, you have to go get the ruler, you have to go get the switch, you have to go get the strap. When I was fetched up as a boy, on the kitchen door was a leather strap, and I looked at that thing, I don’t know how many times, every day of my life as I was fetched up as a boy. She should have used it more, not less.
When our children are young, discipline is necessary. God’s Book says so. “Spare the rod, spoil the child” [Proverbs 13:24], but, my dear parents, there comes a time, and don’t you forget it, there comes a time when you could beat until the child was blue, until you could punish until the child is destroyed, but you would never reach the heart and you would never the soul. There comes a time when coercion must give way to love and devotion—to all of those things that you sought to build into them in loving care and prayerful intercession. For a while you can use a rod, for a while you can use a switch, but the day comes when it has to be of the soul and of the heart.
And our whole ministry before God is like that. You can’t make people come to church. You can’t be coercive in it. They must want to come, out of their hearts: “I’d rather be there than anywhere in the world.” You can’t make people read the Bible; it has to come out of the soul. You can’t make people pray; it has to be a wanting to talk to God. You can’t make people give; it has to be something that they want to do out of the heart, out of the fullness of the heart. And so all of our relationships in life; if we are Christian, they are never coercive, but full, abundant, laden with the sweet incense of love and Christian devotion.
To illustrate, have any of you read that little play The Terrible Meek, The Terrible Meek? When it was published, when it was written, it was one of the most famous little pieces of literature in its day, The Terrible Meek. It’s a little one act play, and it has three people in it: a soldier, and a captain, and Mary the mother of Jesus. And the captain and the soldier have crucified the Lord, and in the darkness that followed when they raised Him up beneath the sky, the captain said to the soldier, “Duty, duty, what is duty that can make us crucify and murder a Man like that?” Then he turns to the mother and says, “We have grasped this whole world, and what have we in return? Nothing but the enslaved hatred of the people. We have not only not gained the world, but we have lost our own souls.”
And then, turning to the silent form of Him who has bowed His head in death on the cross, he says, “The future cannot belong to the armed might of a Roman army, but the future shall belong to the terrible meek”—and that was the name of the play—”to the terrible meek who in love, and in devotion, and in sacrifice possess the world” [paraphrased from The Terrible Meek, C. R. Kennedy, p. 38-39]. Ah, isn’t it so?
Hatred and coercion: an animal force will never change this world, never, nor inherit it. But love, and forgiveness, and devotion, and prayers, and the spirit of Him who died for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3], someday shall be triumphant forever and ever, and we who follow our blessed Savior shall share in that glory also [Revelation 22:3-5]—the reflection of the spirit of Jesus; “if he compels you to go one mile, go with him twain” [Matthew 5:41].
O Lord, help us to be just that in this world that so desperately needs our Savior! Now while we sing our hymn of appeal, somebody you, give himself to Jesus [Ephesians 2:8]; somebody you, coming into the fellowship of the church, while we sing this song, while we make this appeal, if you’re in the topmost balcony, come; from side to side, into the aisle and down to the front: “Here I am, pastor. I give you my hand. I give my heart to the blessed Jesus,” or “Pastor, we’re coming into the church tonight.” A couple, a family, one somebody you, on the first note of the first stanza, make it now. Make it tonight, while we stand and while we sing.