The Salt Without The 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
"If the salt have lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted?"

1. Salt may lose its seasoning power. In Christ's era salt frequently reached the consumer in a very imperfect state, being largely mixed with earth. The salt which has lost its savour is simply the earthy residuum of such impure salt after the sodium chloride has been washed out. Blocks of salt were quarried on the shores of the Dead Sea and brought to Jerusalem, and a store of this rock-salt was kept by the Levites in the Temple to be used in the sacrifices. It was very impure - usually containing a large mixture of sand - and in moist weather the saline ingredient deliquesced and, trickling away, left the porous lump in its original shape, but all its substance, all its "savour" gone. For food it was no longer fit seasoning. Cast on the altar it would no longer decrepitate and sparkle, and in flowers of flaming violet adorn and consume the offering. Even the farmer did not care to get it. The gritty, gravelly mass was good for nothing - only fit to be pounded and sprinkled on the slippery pavement, and trodden under the feet of men.

I have often seen just such salt, and the identical disposition of it that our Lord has mentioned. A merchant of Sidon having farmed of the Government the revenue from the importation of salt, brought over an immense quantity from the marshes of Cyprus - enough, in fact, to supply the whole province for at least twenty years. This he had transferred to the mountains, to cheat the Government out of some small percentage. Sixty-five houses in Jûne - Lady Stanhope's village - were rented and filled with salt. These houses have merely earthen floors, and the salt next the ground in a few years entirely spoiled. I saw large quantities of it literally thrown into the street, to be trodden under foot of men and beasts. It was "good for nothing." Similar magazines are common in Palestine, and have been from remote ages; and the sweeping out of the spoiled salt and casting it into the street are actions familiar to all men. Maundrell, who visited the lake at Jebbûl, tells us that he found salt there which had entirely "lost its savour," and the same abounds among the debris at Usdum, and in other localities of rock-salt at the south end of the Dead Sea. Indeed, it is a well-known fact that the salt of this country, when in contact with the ground, or exposed to rain and sun, does become insipid, and useless. From the manner in which it is gathered, much earth and other impurities are necessarily collected with it. Not a little of it is so impure that it cannot be used at all; and such salt soon effloresces and turns to dust - not to fruitful soil, however. It is not only good for nothing itself, but it actually destroys all fertility wherever it is thrown; and this is the reason why it is cast into the street. There is a sort of verbal verisimilitude in the manner in which our Lord alludes to the act - "it is cast out" and "trodden under foot"; so troublesome is this corrupted salt, that it is carefully swept up, carried forth, and thrown into the street. There is no place about the house, yard, or garden where it can be tolerated. No man will allow it to be thrown on to his field, and the only place for it is the street; and there it is cast, to be trodden under foot of men.1 [Note: W. M. Thomson, The Land and the Book, chap. xxvi.]

2. What is a saltless Christian? A saltless Christian is one who has gone back to the earthly, the worldly, the carnal. The heavenly element is no longer in the ascendant; the salt has lost its savour.

(1) One sign of deterioration is to be found in a lowered and attenuated ideal. Christ has little by little become almost a personal stranger. We do not seek His company, watch His eye, listen for His voice. The thought of Him does not send a thrill of joy into the heart. We have not renounced Him or consciously taken another Lord in His place. But we have lagged so far behind in the journey that He is quite out of our sight and reach. We can no more honestly say, as once we could say with a kind of rapture, "He is chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely." It is the inevitable result from this changed relationship to Christ that the cross has dropped from our back (we did not feel it drop, nor do we miss it now that it is gone); there is nothing in our lives, or activities, or general profession, that is irksome or troublesome, compelling sacrifice, and earning joy. The world is apparently neither worse nor better for us. Really it is worse. The candlestick is still in its place, the candle is still feebly burning, but in a moment it may go out, and then where shall we be?

If you take a red-hot ball out of a furnace and lay it down upon a frosty moor, two processes will go on - the ball will lose heat and the surrounding atmosphere will gain it. There are two ways by which you equalize the temperature of a hotter and a colder body; the one is by the hot one getting cold, and the other is by the cold one getting hot. If you are not heating the world, the world is freezing you. Every man influences all men round him, and receives influences from them; and if there be not more exports than imports, if there be not more influences and mightier influences raying out from him than are coming into him, he is a poor creature, and at the mercy of circumstances. "Men must either be hammers or anvil"; - must either give blows or receive them. I am afraid that a great many of us who call ourselves Christians get a great deal more harm from the world than we ever dream of doing good to it. Remember this, you are "the salt of the earth," and if you do not salt the world, the world will rot you.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]

(2) Another sign of deterioration is a growing indifference to all great enterprise for Christ. Few things are more exhilarating, more invigorating, more uplifting, more solemnizing, than a mighty gathering of Christian people, met, let us say, for a great missionary anniversary, to hear the glad tidings of the progress of the Redeemer's kingdom, and to return to their homes, stirred, joyful, thankful. The man whose heart is cold to all this, sceptical about it, indifferent to it, and who yet looks back on days when every word spoken, every blow struck, every triumph won for Jesus, was a joy which few things else equalled, has good reason for asking himself what has happened to him to make the growth of the Kingdom of Christ so small and dull and unattractive and commonplace a thing. The change is assuredly not in the purpose of Jesus, or in the value of the soul, or in the duty of the Church, which is His Body.

If, as can be reasonably argued, the historian may trace an increasing deterioration in the moral worth of Alexander Borgia from the period when the influence of Cesare at the Vatican replaced that of Juan, the fact has its obvious explanation. Rodrigo Borgia was a man of extraordinary vitality, with unusual reserves of power for his years. His energies had found their chief outlet in keen interest in the functions of his office as he understood them. His sensual indulgences, however disreputable, were never the first preoccupation of his nature; they were rather the surplusage of a virile temperament to which such interests as art, letters, or building made no serious appeal. In any position but that of the Vicar of Christ his excesses would have passed unremarked. If they weakened, as they undoubtedly did, his spiritual authority, they had hitherto scarcely detracted from the respect due to his political capacity. But in proportion as he surrendered his initiative in affairs and shared the control of policy, of finance, and of ecclesiastical administration with Cesare, the less worthy elements of his nature asserted themselves more forcibly. It was inevitable that in such a man abdication of responsibility should have this result, till in the end Alexander became a thoroughly evil man; evil, in that under guise of natural affection, in reality through cowardice, he allowed his authority, both spiritual and political, to be shamelessly exploited. Thus knowingly and without resistance Rodrigo Borgia steadily yielded to the worst impulses of his nature.1 [Note: W. H. Woodward, Cesare Borgia, 136.]

3. When the salt has lost its savour it is good for nothing. There are some things, the chemist tells us, which, when they have lost their own peculiar form and utility, are still of some good, for they can be put to other and baser uses. But to what use can a dead Church be put? You may try to galvanize it into newness of life by artificial means, but, after all, it is nothing more than a corpse. All that can be truly said of such an attempt is that it was an interesting experiment. A mere profession of religion is either an embarrassment or, what is worse, a fatal delusion. This old world of ours has undergone many material changes during its existence, yet it has grown more and more beautiful, in spite of them, as the forces of evolution have unfolded themselves. But there is one change it could hardly survive as the habitation of man, and that is the lost consciousness of the presence and power of God with the people, or the loss of the sweetness and beauty of the Redeemer of men as revealed in the lives of those faithful souls who sincerely love Him. For the Church which has lost its savour there will come a day when men, overwhelmed by their disappointment, and maddened by their sense of its lost savour, will tear it to pieces, just as the enraged mob in Paris is said to have torn the fillet from Reason's brow and trampled it under their feet.

If the salt should lose its savour, if the regenerative force should die out of the Church - if there were a Church into which the spirit of the world had passed, a Church which had become assimilated by the world, a Church which had somehow learnt to speak the world's language and to justify the world's morality, and to echo the world's phrases, a Church which are and drank at the world's table without the world becoming aware of any protest, or any discomfort, or any fear, a Church which, instead of awakening consciences, sent them to sleep, instead of exposing the world's plagues flattered them into excusing or forgetting them: in the name of God what use, or place, has such a Church on the face of the earth? Such a Church has falsified the first law of its existence. It has killed out the very conscience which it was created to sustain. It has destroyed the very power of remedy from sin which it alone held in charge. It has poisoned the wells of human hope. "If the very 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."

The really amazing thing is that such immense numbers of people have accepted Christianity in the world, and profess themselves Christians without the slightest doubt of their sincerity, who never regard the Christian principles at all. The chief aim, it would seem, of the Church has been not to preserve the original revelation, but to accommodate it to human instincts and desires. It seems to me to resemble the very quaint and simple old Breton legend, which relates how the Saviour sent the Apostles out to sell stale fish as fresh; and when they returned unsuccessful, He was angry with them, and said, "How shall I make you into fishers of men, if you cannot even persuade simple people to buy stale fish for fresh?" That is a very trenchant little allegory of ecclesiastical methods! And perhaps it is even so that it has come to pass that Christianity is in a sense a failure, or rather an unfulfilled hope, because it has made terms with the world, has become pompous and respectable and mundane and influential and combative, and has deliberately exalted civic duty above love.1 [Note: A. C. Benson, Joyous Gard, 197.]

Glanced over some lectures of Mr. Gore's on "The Mission of the Church." He tells a story of St. Thomas Aquinas which is new to me. The Pope said to him, as the bags full of the money of the faithful, who had crowded to the Jubilee, were carried past: "Peter could not say now, ‘Silver and gold have I none.' " "No," was the reply, "neither could he say, ‘Arise, and walk!' "2 [Note: Sir M. E. Grant Duff, Notes from a Diary, 1892–1895, i. 138.]