The Salt And Its Savour Matthew 5:13

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men. - Matthew 5:13
"Ye are the salt of the earth."

1. Salt is one of those superfluities which the great French wit defined as "things that are very necessary." From the very beginning of human history men have set a high value upon it and sought for it in caves and by the seashore. The nation that had a good supply of it was counted rich. A bag of salt, among the barbarous tribes, was worth more than a man. The Jews prized it especially because they lived in a warm climate where food was difficult to keep, and because their religion laid particular emphasis on cleanliness, and because salt was largely used in their sacrifices.

Both in Hebrew and in Roman bywords, salt is praised as a necessity of human life. Homer calls it "divine," and Plato speaks of it as a "substance dear to the gods." It is an indispensable element in the food both of men and of animals. It is so cheap and plentiful with us that we can hardly realize that there are places where there is what is known as salt starvation, which is in its way even more painful than hunger or thirst. A missionary tells us that in Africa he has known natives who have travelled fifty or sixty miles in search of salt. Their hot African blood, lacking the purifying and health-giving salt, has broken out in painful ulcers which drain the life and energy; and when the mission-house has been reached they have begged in piteous tones, not for money or bread, but for salt.1 [Note: J. G. Mantle, God's To-Morrow, 22.]

Chloride of sodium (common salt) is fortunately one of the most widely distributed, as well as one of the most useful and absolutely necessary, of nature's gifts; and it is a matter of much comfort to know that this mineral exists in such enormous quantities that it can never be exhausted. "Had not," says Dr. Buckland, "the beneficent providence of the Creator laid up these stores of salt within the bowels of the earth, the distance of inland countries from the sea would have rendered this article of prime and daily necessity unattainable to a large proportion of mankind; but under the existing dispensation, the presence of mineral salt, in strata which are dispersed generally over the interior of our continents and larger islands, is a source of health and daily enjoyment to the inhabitants of almost every region." Even supposing that the whole of the mines, brine pits, and springs become exhausted, we can fall back on the sea, whose supply is as boundless as its restless self; and there is as little fear of its exhaustion as there is of the failure of the sun's heat.1 [Note: W. Coles-Finch, Water: its Origin and Use, 167.]

2. From one point of view it was an immense compliment for the disciples to be spoken of as salt. Their Master showed great confidence in them. He set a high value upon them. The historian Livy could find nothing better to express his admiration for the people of ancient Greece than this very phrase. He called them sal gentium, "the salt of the nations." But our Lord was not simply paying compliments. He was giving a clear and powerful call to duty. His thought was not that His disciples should congratulate themselves on being better than any other men. He wished them to ask themselves whether they actually had in them the purpose and the power to make other men better. Did they intend to exercise a purifying, seasoning, saving influence in the world? Salt exists solely to purify, not itself, but that which needs its services. The usefulness of the Church as a separated society lies wholly in the very world from which it has been so carefully separated. It exists to redeem that world from itself. Out of love for that world it is sent by the same impulse of the Father as sent to it His only-begotten Son; and the damning error of the Pharisee is that he arrests this Divine intention in mid career, arrests it at the point where it has reached him, arrests it for his own honour and his own benefit, refusing to let it pass through him to its work on others.

(1) Salt is most largely used as an antiseptic, for allaying corruption, and for stopping the effects of climate upon animal matter; it is a preservative of sweetness and purity in that with which it is associated. So the presence of Christ's Church in the world, of a Christian man or woman in the smaller world of his or her own circle in society, is to be preservative: to allay corruption, to maintain life, to ward off decay and death, to uphold a standard of right, without which the world would be a far worse place than it is.

"Ye" - Christians, ye that are lowly, serious, and meek; ye that hunger after righteousness, that love God and man, that do good to all, and therefore suffer evil - "ye are the salt of the earth." It is your very nature to season whatever is round about you. It is the nature of the Divine savour which is in you to spread to whatsoever you touch; to diffuse itself, on every side, to all those among whom you are. This is the great reason why the providence of God has so mingled you together with other men, that whatever grace you have received of God may through you be communicated to others; that every holy temper and word and work of yours may have an influence on them also. By this means a check will, in some measure, be given to the corruption which is in the world; and a small part, at least, saved from the general infection, and rendered holy and pure before God.1 [Note: John Wesley.]

(2) To put our Lord's comparison in its full relief, however, we must add the sacrificial use of salt in Hebrew worship as well as in the rites of heathen antiquity. No offering of cakes or vegetable produce was laid on Jehovah's altar saltless; perhaps this seasoning was added even to animal sacrifices; certainly it entered into the composition of the sacred incense. With all this in their minds, Jesus' audience could understand Him to mean no less than this, that His disciples were to act on society (Jewish society, of course, in the first place) as a moral preservative, keeping it from total decay, and fitting it to be an oblation, not distasteful, but acceptable, to Jehovah. The thought was far from a new one to the Hebrew mind. Remembering how the world before the flood perished because "all flesh had corrupted his way," except one salt particle too minute to preserve the mass; how ten men like Lot would have saved the cities of the lower Jordan; how it marked the extreme ripeness to destruction of the Israel of Ezekiel's day, that even these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, had they been in it, could have delivered "neither son nor daughter"; no Jew could miss the point of our Lord's words to His Twelve around Him, "Ye are the salt of the land." When He spoke, the corruption of His nation was extreme, as His own sermons show us; and effete Judaism was fast ripening for its fall.

(3) Salt gives relish to what would otherwise be tasteless or unpleasant; and Christ's people are, if we may so speak, the relishing element in the world, which prevents it from being loathsome altogether to the Lord. So Lot was in the cities of the plain the one savour which made them even so long endurable. There was not much salt in Lot; but there was a little, there was a righteous soul that at least vexed itself because of the unrighteousness around it, if it did not do very much to arrest that unrighteousness. And because of Lot, God almost spared the place, would have spared it had there been only a few more like him, or had he been just a little truer than he was. Even so Christians are to be as salt to the earth, which, without them, would be in a manner loathsome, being so possessed with mean and base and ignoble souls.

A king asked his three daughters how much they loved him. Two of them replied that they loved him better than all the gold and silver in the world. The youngest one said she loved him better than salt. The king was not pleased with her answer, as he thought salt was not very palatable. But the cook, overhearing the remark, put no salt in anything for breakfast next morning, and the meal was so insipid that the king could not enjoy it. He then saw the force of his daughter's remark. She loved him so well that nothing was good without him.1 [Note: A. C. Dixon, Through Night to Morning, 197.]

(4) Salt does its work silently, inconspicuously, gradually. "Ye are the light of the world," says Christ in the next verse. Light is far-reaching and brilliant, flashing that it may be seen. That is one side of Christian work, the side that most of us like best, the conspicuous kind of it. But there is a very much humbler, and a very much more useful, kind of work that we have all to do. We shall never be the "light of the world," except on condition of being "the salt of the earth." We have to play the humble, inconspicuous, silent part of checking corruption by a pure example before we can aspire to play the other part of raying out light into the darkness, and so drawing men to Christ Himself.

I was once travelling in an Oriental country, where life was squalid, women despised, and houses built of mud; and of a sudden, I came upon a village where all seemed changed. The houses had gardens before them and curtains in their windows; the children did not beg of the passer-by, but called out a friendly greeting. What had happened? I was fifty miles from a Christian mission-station, and this mission had been there for precisely fifty years. Slowly and patiently the influence had radiated at the rate of a mile a year, so that one could now for a space of fifty miles across that barren land perceive the salt of the Christian spirit, and could see the light of the Christian life shining as from a lighthouse fifty miles away. That was the work to which Jesus summoned the world, - not an ostentatious or revolutionary or dramatic work, but the work of the salt and of the light. The saying of Jesus is not for the self-satisfied or conspicuous, but for the discouraged and obscure. A man says to himself: "I cannot be a leader, a hero, or a scholar, but I can at least do the work of the salt and keep the life that is near to me from spoiling; I can at least do the work of the light so that the way of life shall not be wholly dark." Then, as he gives himself to this self-effacing service, he hears the great word: "He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it," and answers gladly: "So then death worketh in us, but life in you."1 [Note: F. G. Peabody, Mornings in the College Chapel, ii. 53.]  

 to be continued