Luke chapter 13
REPENT OR PERISH
The murder of the Galileans, mentioned in the first verse of this passage, is an event of which we know nothing certain. The motives of those who told our Lord of the event, we are left to conjecture. At any rate, they gave Him an opportunity of speaking to them about their own souls, which He did not fail to employ. He seized the event, as His manner was, and made a practical use of it. He bade His informants look within, and think of their own state before God. He seems to say, "What though these Galileans did die a sudden death? What is that to you? Consider your own ways. Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish."
Let us observe, for one thing, in these verses, how much more ready people are to talk of the deaths of others than their own. The death of the Galileans, mentioned here, was probably a common subject of conversation in Jerusalem and all Judea. We can well believe that all the circumstances and particulars belonging to it were continually discussed by thousands who never thought of their own latter end. It is just the same in the present day. A murder--a sudden death--a shipwreck, or a railway accident, will completely occupy the minds of a neighborhood, and be in the mouth of every one you meet. And yet these very people dislike talking of their own deaths, and their own prospects in the world beyond the grave. Such is human nature in every age. In religion, men are ready to talk of anybody's business rather than their own.
The state of our own souls should always be our first concern. It is eminently true that real Christianity will always begin at home. The converted man will always think first of his own heart, his own life, his own deserts, and his own sins. Does he hear of a sudden death? He will say to himself, "Should I have been found ready, if this had happened to me?" Does he hear of some dreadful crime, or deed of wickedness? He will say to himself, "Are my sins forgiven? and have I really repented of my own transgressions?" Does he hear of worldly men running into every excess of sin? He will say to himself, "Who has made me to differ? What has kept me from walking in the same road, except the free grace of God?"
May we ever seek to be men of this frame of mind! Let us take a kind interest in all around us. Let us feel tender pity and compassion for all who suffer violence, or are removed by sudden death. But let us never forget to look at home, and to learn wisdom for ourselves from all that happens to others.
Let us observe, for another thing, in these verses, how strongly our Lord lays down the universal necessity of repentance. Twice He declares emphatically, "Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish."
The truth here asserted, is one of the foundations of Christianity. "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God." All of us are born in sin. We are fond of sin, and are naturally unfit for friendship with God. Two things are absolutely necessary to the salvation of every one of us. We must repent, and we must believe the Gospel. Without repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, no man can be saved.
The nature of true repentance is clearly and unmistakably laid down in holy Scripture. It begins with knowledge of sin. It goes on to work sorrow for sin. It leads to confession of sin before God. It shows itself before man by a thorough breaking off from sin. It results in producing a habit of deep hatred for all sin. Above all, it is inseparably connected with lively faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance like this is the characteristic of all true Christians.
The necessity of repentance to salvation will be evident to all who search the Scriptures, and consider the nature of the subject. Without it there is no forgiveness of sins. There never was a pardoned man who was not also a penitent. There never was one washed in the blood of Christ who did not feel, and mourn, and confess, and hate his own sins. Without it there can be no fitness for heaven. We could not be happy if we reached the kingdom of glory with a heart loving sin. The company of saints and angels would give us no pleasure. Our minds would not be in tune for an eternity of holiness. Let these things sink down into our hearts. We must repent as well as believe, if we hope to be saved.
Let us leave the subject with the solemn inquiry--Have we ourselves repented? We live in a Christian land. We belong to a Christian Church. We have Christian ordinances and means of grace. We have heard of repentance with the hearing of the ear, and that hundreds of times. But have we ever repented? Do we really know our own sinfulness? Do our sins cause us any sorrow? Have we cried to God about our sins, and sought forgiveness at the throne of grace? Have we ceased to do evil, and broken off from our bad habits? Do we cordially and heartily hate everything that is evil? These are serious questions. They deserve serious consideration. The subject before us is no light matter. Nothing less than life--eternal life--is at stake! If we die impenitent, and without a new heart, we had better never have been born.
If we never yet repented, let us begin without delay. For this we are accountable. "Repent you, and be converted," were the words of Peter to the Jews who had crucified our Lord. (Acts 3:19.) "Repent and pray," was the charge addressed to Simon Magus when he was in the "gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity." (Acts 8:22.) There is everything to encourage us to begin. Christ invites us. Promises of Scripture are held out to us. Glorious declarations of God's willingness to receive us abound throughout the word. "There is joy in heaven over one sinner that repents." Then let us arise and call upon God. Let us repent without delay.
If we have already repented in time past, let us go on repenting to the end of our lives. There will always be sins to confess and infirmities to deplore, so long as we are in the body. Let us repent more deeply, and humble ourselves more thoroughly, every year. Let every returning birthday find us hating sin more, and loving Christ more. He was a wise old saint who said, "I hope to carry my repentance to the very gate of heaven."
THE BARREN FIG TREE
The parable we have now read is peculiarly humbling and heart-searching. The Christian who can hear it and not feel sorrow and shame as he looks at the state of Christendom, must be in a very unhealthy state of soul.
We learn first from this passage that where God gives spiritual privileges He expects proportionate returns.
Our Lord teaches this lesson by comparing the Jewish Church of His day to a "fig tree planted in a vineyard." This was exactly the position of Israel in the world. They were separated from other nations by the Mosaic laws and ordinances, no less than by the situation of their land. They were favored with revelations of God, which were granted to no other people. Things were done for them that were never done for Egypt, or Nineveh, or Babylon, or Greece, or Rome. It was only just and right that they should bear fruit to God's praise. It might reasonably be expected that there would be more faith, and penitence, and holiness, and godliness in Israel than among the heathen. This is what God looked for. The owner of the fig tree "came seeking fruit."
But we must look beyond the Jewish Church if we mean to get the full benefit of the parable before us. We must look to the Christian churches. They have light, and truth, and doctrines, and precepts, of which the heathen never hear. How great is their responsibility! Is it not just and right that God should expect from them "fruit?"
We must look to our own hearts. We live in a land of Bibles, and liberty, and Gospel preaching. How vast are the advantages we enjoy compared to the Chinese and Hindoo! Never let us forget that God expects from us "fruit."
These are solemn truths. Few things are so much forgotten by men as the close connection between privilege and responsibility. We are all ready enough to eat the fat and drink the sweet, and bask in the sunshine of our position both as Christians and Englishmen--and even to spare a few pitying thoughts for the half naked savage who bows down to stocks and stones. But we are very slow to remember that we are accountable to God for all we enjoy; and that to whomsoever much is given, of them much will be required. Let us awake to a sense of these things. We are the most favored nation upon earth. We are in the truest sense "a fig tree planted in a vineyard." Let us not forget that the great Master looks for "fruit."
We learn, secondly, from this passage, that it is a most dangerous thing to be unfruitful under great religious privileges.
The manner in which our Lord conveys this lesson to us is deeply impressive. He shows us the owner of the barren fig tree complaining that it bore no fruit--"These three years I come seeking fruit and find none." He describes him as even ordering the destruction of the tree as a useless cumberer of the ground--"Cut it down; why cumbers it the ground?" He brings in the dresser of the vineyard pleading for the fig tree, that it may be spared a little longer--"Lord, let it alone this year also." And He concludes the parable by putting these dreadful words into the vinedresser's mouth--"If it bears fruit, well--and if not, then after that you shall cut it down."
There is a plain warning here to all professing churches of Christ. If their ministers do not teach sound doctrine, and their members do not live holy lives, they are in imminent peril of destruction. God is every year observing them, and taking account of all their ways. They may abound in ceremonial religion. They may be covered with the leaves of forms, and services, and ordinances. But if they are destitute of the fruits of the Spirit, they are reckoned useless cumberers of the ground. Except they repent, they will be cut down. It was so with the Jewish Church forty years after our Lord's ascension. It has been so since with the African Churches. It will be so yet with many others, it may be feared, before the end comes. The axe is lying near the root of many an unfruitful Church. The sentence will yet go forth, "Cut it down."
There is a plainer warning still in the passage for all 'unconverted professing Christians'. There are many in every congregation who hear the Gospel, who are literally hanging over the brink of the pit. They have lived for years in the best part of God's vineyard, and yet borne no fruit. They have heard the Gospel preached faithfully for hundreds of Sundays, and yet have never embraced it, and taken up the cross, and followed Christ. They do not perhaps run into open sin. But they do nothing for God's glory. There is nothing positive about their religion. Of each of these the Lord of the vineyard might say with truth, "I come these many years seeking fruit on this tree and find none. Cut it down. It cumbers the ground."
There are myriads of respectable professing Christians in this plight. They have not the least idea how near they are to destruction. Never let us forget that to be content with sitting in the congregation and hearing sermons, while we bear no fruit in our lives, is conduct which is most offensive to God. It provokes Him to cut us off suddenly, and that without remedy.
We learn, lastly, from this parable, what an infinite debt we all owe to God's mercy and Christ's intercession. It seems impossible to draw any other lesson from the earnest pleading of the dresser of the vineyard--"Lord, let it alone this year also." Surely we see here, as in a glass, the loving kindness of God, and the mediation of Christ.
Mercy has been truly called the darling attribute of God. Power, justice, purity, holiness, wisdom, unchangeableness, are all parts of God's character, and have all been manifested to the world in a thousand ways, both in His works and in His word. But if there is one part of His perfections which He is pleased to exhibit to man more clearly than another, beyond doubt that part is mercy. He is a God that "delights in mercy." (Micah 7:18.)
Mercy founded on the mediation of a coming Savior, was the cause why Adam and Eve were not cast down to hell, in the day that they fell. Mercy has been the cause why God has borne so long with this sin-laden world, and not come down to judgment. Mercy is even now the cause why unconverted sinners are so long spared, and not cut off in their sins. We have probably not the least conception how much we all owe to God's long-suffering. The last day will prove that all mankind were debtors to God's mercy, and Christ's mediation. Even those who are finally lost will discover to their shame, that it was "of the Lord's mercies they were not consumed" long before they died. As for those who are saved, covenant-mercy will be all their plea.
And now are we fruitful or unfruitful? This, after all, is the question that concerns us most. What does God see in us year after year? Let us take heed so to live that He may see in us fruit.
A CRIPPLED WOMAN HEALED
We see in these verses a striking example of diligence in the use of means of grace. We are told of a "woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could not straiten up." We know not who this woman was. Our Lord's saying that she was "a daughter of Abraham," would lead us to infer that she was a true believer. But her name and history are hidden from us. This only we know, that when Jesus was "teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath," this woman was there. Sickness was no excuse with her for tarrying from God's house. In spite of suffering and infirmity, she found her way to the place where the day and the word of God were honored, and where the people of God met together. And truly she was blessed in her deed! She found a rich reward for all her pains. She came sorrowing, and went home rejoicing.
The conduct of this suffering Jewess may well put to shame many a strong and healthy professing Christian. How many in the full enjoyment of bodily vigor, allow the most frivolous excuses to keep them away from the house of God! How many are constantly spending the whole Sunday in idleness, pleasure-seeking, or business, and scoffing and sneering at those who "keep the Sabbath holy!" How many think it a great matter if they attend the public worship of God once on Sunday, and regard a second attendance as a needless excess of zeal akin to fanaticism! How many find religious services a weariness while they attend them, and feel relieved when they are over! How few know anything of David's spirit, when he said, "I was glad when they said to me, Let us go into the house of the Lord." "How lovely are your tabernacles, O Lord of Hosts!" (Psalm 122:1; Psalm 84:1.)
Now what is the explanation of all this? What is the reason why so few are like the woman of whom we read this day? The answer to these questions is short and simple. The most have no heart for God's service. They have no delight in God's presence or God's day. "The carnal mind is enmity against God." The moment a man's heart is converted, these pretended difficulties about attending public worship vanish away. The new heart finds no trouble in keeping the Sabbath holy. Where there is a will there is always a way.
Let us never forget that our feelings about Sundays are sure tests of the state of our souls. The man who can find no pleasure in giving God one day in the week, is manifestly unfit for heaven. Heaven itself is nothing but an eternal Sabbath. If we cannot enjoy a few hours in God's service once a week in this world, it is plain that we could not enjoy an eternity in His service in the world to come. Happy are those who walk in the steps of her of whom we read today! They shall find Christ and a blessing while they live, and Christ and glory when they die.
We see, secondly, in these verses, the almighty power of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are told that when He saw the suffering woman of whom we are reading, "He called her to Him, and said unto her, Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity. And He laid His hands on her." That touch was accompanied by miraculous healing virtue. At once a disease of eighteen years' standing gave way before the Lord of Life. "Immediately she was made straight and glorified God."
We need not doubt that this mighty miracle was intended to supply hope and comfort to sin-diseased souls. With Christ nothing is impossible. He can soften hearts which seem hard as the nether mill-stone. He can bend stubborn wills which "for eighteen years" have been set on self-pleasing, on sin, and the world. He can enable sinners who have been long poring over earthly things, to look upward to heaven, and see the kingdom of God. Nothing is too hard for the Lord. He can create, and transform, and renew, and break down, and build, and quicken, with irresistible power. He lives, who formed the world out of nothing, and He never changes.
Let us hold fast this blessed truth, and never let it go. Let us never despair about our own salvation. Our sins may be countless. Our lives may have been long spent in worldliness and folly. Our youth may have been wasted in soul-defiling excesses, of which we are lamentably ashamed. But are we willing to come to Christ, and commit our souls to Him? If so, there is hope. He can heal us thoroughly, and say, "you are loosed from your infirmity."
Let us never despair about the salvation of others so long as they are alive. Let us name them before the Lord night and day, and cry to Him on their behalf. We may perhaps have relatives whose case seems desperate because of their wickedness. But it is not really so. There are no incurable cases with Christ. If He were to lay His healing hand on them, they would be "made straight, and glorify God." Let us pray on, and faint not. That saying of Job is worthy of all acceptation--"I know that you can do everything." (Job 42:2.) Jesus is "able to save to the uttermost."
We see, lastly, in these verses, the right observance of the Sabbath day asserted and defended by our Lord Jesus Christ. The ruler of the synagogue in which the infirm woman was healed, found fault with her as a breaker of the Sabbath. He drew down upon himself a stern but just rebuke--"You hypocrite, does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or his donkey from the stall, and lead him away to watering?" If it was allowable to attend to the needs of beasts on the Sabbath, how much more to human creatures! If it was no breach of the fourth commandment to show kindness to oxen and donkeys, much less to show kindness to a daughter of Abraham.
The principle here laid down by our Lord is the same that we find elsewhere in the Gospels. He teaches us that the command to "do no work" on the Sabbath, was not intended to prohibit works of necessity and mercy. The Sabbath was made for man's benefit, and not for his hurt. It was appointed to promote man's best and highest interests, and not to debar him of anything that is really for his good. It requires nothing but what is reasonable and wise. It forbids nothing that is really necessary to man's comfort.
Let us pray for a right understanding of the law of the Sabbath. Of all the commandments that God has given, none is more essential to the happiness of man, and none is so frequently misrepresented, abused, and trampled under foot. Let us lay down for ourselves two special rules for the observance of the Sabbath. For one thing let us do no work which is not absolutely needful. For another, let us keep the day "holy," and give it to God. From these two rules let us never swerve. Experience shows that there is the closest connection between Sabbath sanctification and healthy Christianity.
PARABLES OF THE MUSTARD SEED, AND THE YEAST
There is a peculiar interest belonging to the two parables contained in these verses. We find them twice delivered by our Lord, and at two distinct periods in His ministry. This fact alone should make us give the more earnest heed to the lessons which the parables convey. They will be found rich both in prophetical and experimental truths.
The parable of the mustard seed is intended to show the progress of the Gospel in the WORLD.
The BEGINNINGS of the Gospel were exceedingly small. It was like "a mustard seed cast into the garden." It was a religion which seemed at first so feeble, and helpless, and powerless, that it could not live. Its first founder was One who was poor in this world, and ended His life by dying the death of a malefactor on the cross. Its first adherents were a little company, whose number probably did not exceed a thousand when the Lord Jesus left the world. Its first preachers were a few fishermen and publicans, who were, most of them, unlearned and ignorant men. Its first starting point was a despised corner of the earth, called Judea, a petty tributary province of the vast empire of Rome. Its first doctrine was eminently calculated to call forth the enmity of the natural heart. Christ crucified was to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness. Its first movements brought down on its friends persecution from all quarters. Pharisees and Sadducees, Jews and Gentiles, ignorant idolaters and self-conceited philosophers, all agreed in hating and opposing Christianity. It was a sect everywhere spoken against. These are no empty assertions. They are simple historical facts, which no one can deny. If ever there was a religion which was a little grain of seed at its beginning, that religion was the Gospel.
But the PROGRESS of the Gospel, after the seed was once cast into the earth, was great, steady and continuous. The grain of mustard seed "grew and became a great tree." In spite of persecution, opposition, and violence, Christianity gradually spread and increased. Year after year its adherents became more numerous. Year after year idolatry withered away before it. City after city, and country after country, received the new faith. Church after church was formed in almost every quarter of the earth then known. Preacher after preacher rose up, and missionary after missionary came forward to fill the place of those who died.
Roman emperors and heathen philosophers, sometimes by force and sometimes by argument, tried in vain to check the progress of Christianity. They might as well have tried to stop the tide from flowing, or the sun from rising. In a few hundred years, the religion of the despised Nazarene--the religion which began in the upper chamber at Jerusalem--had overrun the civilized world. It was professed by nearly all Europe, by a great part of Asia, and by the whole northern part of Africa. The prophetic words of the parable before us were literally fulfilled. The grain of mustard seed "became a great tree; and the birds of the air lodged in the branches of it." The Lord Jesus said it would be so. And so it came to pass.
Let us learn from this parable never to despair of any work for Christ, because its first beginnings are feeble and small. A single minister in some large neglected town-district--a single missionary amid myriads of savage heathen--a single reformer in the midst of a fallen and corrupt church--each and all of these may seem at first sight utterly unlikely to do any good. To the eye of man, the work may appear too great, and the instrument employed quite unequal to it. Let us never give way to such thoughts. Let us remember the parable before us and take courage. When the line of duty is plain, we should not begin to count numbers, and confer with flesh and blood. We should believe that one man with the living seed of God's truth on his side, like Luther or Knox, may turn a nation upside down. If God is with him, none shall stand against him. In spite of men and devils, the seed that he sows shall become a great tree.
The parable of the leaven is intended to show the progress of the Gospel in the heart of a BELIEVER.
The first beginnings of the work of grace in a sinner are generally exceedingly small. It is like the mixture of leaven with a lump of dough. A single sentence of a sermon, or a single verse of Holy Scripture--a word of rebuke from a friend, or a casual religious remark overheard--a tract given by a stranger, or a trifling act of kindness received from a Christian, some one of these things is often the starting-point in the life of a soul. The first actings of the spiritual life are often small in the extreme--so small, that for a long time they are not known except by him who is the subject of them, and even by him not fully understood. A few serious thoughts and prickings of conscience--a desire to pray really and not formally--a determination to begin reading the Bible in private--a gradual drawing towards means of grace--an increasing interest in the subject of religion--a growing distaste for evil habits and bad companions, these, or some of them, are often the first symptoms of grace beginning to move the heart of man. They are symptoms which worldly men may not perceive, and ignorant believers may despise, and even old Christians may mistake. Yet they are often the first steps in the mighty business of conversion. They are often the "leaven" of grace working in a heart.
The work of grace once begun in the soul will never stand still. It will gradually "leaven the whole lump." Like leaven once introduced, it can never be separated from that with which it is mingled. Little by little it will influence the conscience, the affections, the mind, and the will, until the whole man is affected by its power, and a thorough conversion to God takes place. In some cases no doubt the progress is far quicker than in others. In some cases the result is far more clearly marked and decided than in others. But wherever a real work of the Holy Spirit begins in the heart, the whole character is sooner or later leavened and changed. The tastes of the man are altered. The whole bias of his mind becomes different. "Old things pass away, and all things become new." (2 Cor. 5:17.) The Lord Jesus said that it would be so, and all experience shows that so it is.
Let us learn from this parable never to "despise the day of small things" in religion. (Zec. 4:10.) The soul must creep before it can walk, and walk before it can run. If we see any sign of grace beginning in a brother, however feeble, let us thank God and be hopeful. The leaven of grace once planted in his heart, shall yet leaven the whole lump. "He that begins the work, will perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ." (Phil. 1:6.)
Let us ask ourselves whether there is any work of grace in our own hearts. Are we resting satisfied with a few vague wishes and convictions? Or do we know anything of a gradual, growing, spreading, increasing, leavening process going on in our inward man? Let nothing short of this content us. The true work of the Holy Spirit will never stand still. It will leaven the whole lump.
THE NARROW DOOR
We see in these verses a remarkable question asked. We are told that a certain man said to our Lord, "Are there few that be saved?"
We do not know who this enquirer was. He may have been a self-righteous Jew, trained to believe that there was no hope for the uncircumcised, and no salvation for any but the children of Abraham. He may have been an idle trifler with religion, who was ever wasting his time on curious and speculative questions. In any case, we must all feel that he asked a question of deep and momentous importance.
He that desires to know the number of the saved, in the present dispensation, need only turn to the Bible, and his curiosity will be satisfied. He will read in the sermon on the mount these solemn words, "Strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leads unto life, and few there be that find it." (Matt. 7:14.)--He has only to look around him, and compare the ways of the many with the word of God, and he will soon come to the conclusion, if he is an honest man, that the saved are few. It is a dreadful conclusion. Our souls naturally turn away from it. But Scripture and facts alike combine to shut us up to it. Salvation to the uttermost is offered to men. All things are ready on God's part. Christ is willing to receive sinners. But sinners are not willing to come to Christ. And hence few are saved.
We see, secondly, in these verses, a striking exhortation given. We are told that when our Lord Jesus Christ was asked whether few would be saved, He said, "Strive to enter in at the strait gate." He addressed these words to the whole company of His hearers. He thought it not good to gratify the curiosity of his questioner by a direct reply. He chose rather to press home on him, and all around him, their own immediate duty. In minding their own souls, they would soon find the question answered. In striving to enter in at the strait gate they would soon see whether the saved were many or few.
Whatever others may do in religion the Lord Jesus would have us know that our duty is clear. The gate is strait. The work is great. The enemies of our souls are many. We must be up and doing. We are to wait for nobody. We are not to inquire what other people are doing, and whether many of our neighbors, and relatives, and friends are serving Christ. The unbelief and indecision of others will be no excuse at the last day. We must never follow a multitude to do evil. If we go to heaven alone, we must resolve that by God's grace we will go. Whether we have many with us or a few, the command before us is plain--"Strive to enter in."
Whatever others may think in religion, the Lord Jesus would have us know, that we are responsible for exertion. We are not to sit still in sin and worldliness, waiting for the grace of God. We are not to go on still in our wickedness, sheltering ourselves under the vain plea that we can do nothing until God draws us. We are to draw near to Him in the use of the means of grace. How we can do it is a question with which we have nothing to do. It is in obedience that the knot will be untied. The command is express and unmistakable--"Strive to enter in."
We see, thirdly, in these verses, a day of dreadful solemnity described. We are told of a time when "the master of the house shall rise and shut the door," when some shall "sit down in the kingdom of God," and others be "shut out" for evermore. About the meaning of these words there can be no doubt. They describe the second coming of Christ and the day of judgment.
A day is coming on the earth when the patience of God towards SINNERS shall have an end. The door of mercy, which has been so long open, shall at last be shut. The fountain opened for all sin and uncleanness shall at length be closed. The throne of grace shall be removed, and the throne of judgment shall be set up in its place. The great assize of the world shall begin. All that are found impenitent and unbelieving shall be thrust out forever from God's presence. Men shall find that there is such a thing as "the wrath of the Lamb." (Rev. 6:16.)
A day is coming when BELIEVERS in Christ shall receive a full reward. The Master of the great house in heaven shall call His servants together, and give to each a crown of glory that fades not away. They shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and rest forever from warfare and work. They shall be shut in with Christ, and saints, and angels, in the kingdom of heaven, and sin, and death, and sorrow, and the world, and the devil, shall be eternally shut out. Men shall see at last that "To him that sows righteousness there is a sure reward." (Prov. 11:18.)
We see, lastly, in these verses, a heart-searching prophecy delivered. Our Lord tells us that in the day of His second coming, ''Many will seek to enter in at the strait gate, and shall not be able." They will "knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us," but will find no admission. They will even plead earnestly, that "they have eaten and drunk in Christ's presence, and that he has taught in their streets." But their plea will be unavailing. They will receive the solemn answer, "I don't know you. Go away, all you who do evil." Religious profession, and formal knowledge of Christ will save none who have served sin and the world.
There is something peculiarly striking in our Lord's language in this prophecy. It reveals to us the dreadful fact, that men may see what is right when it is too late for them to be saved. There is a time coming when many will repent too late, and believe too late--sorrow for sin too late, and begin to pray too late--be anxious about salvation too late, and long for heaven too late. Myriads shall wake up in another world, and be convinced of truths which on earth they refused to believe. Earth is the only place in God's creation where there is any infidelity. Hell itself is nothing but truth known too late.
The recollection of this passage should help us to set a right estimate on things around us. Money, and pleasure, and rank, and greatness, occupy the first place now in the world. Praying, and believing, and holy living, and acquaintance with Christ, are despised, and ridiculed, and held very cheap. But there is a change coming one day! The last shall be first, and the first last. For that change let us be prepared.
And now let us ask ourselves whether we are among the many or among the few? Do we know anything of striving and warring against sin, the world, and the devil? Are we ready for the Master's coming to shut the door? The man who can answer these questions satisfactorily is a true Christian.
JESUS' SORROW OVER JERUSALEM
Let us learn from these verses, how entirely our times are in God's hands. Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us this lesson by His reply to those who bade Him depart, because Herod would kill Him. He said, "I cast out devils, and I do cures today and tomorrow." His time was not yet come for leaving the world. His work was not yet finished. Until that time came it was not in the power of Herod to hurt Him. Until that work was finished no weapon forged against Him could prosper.
There is something in our Lord's words which demands the attention of all true Christians. There is a frame of mind exhibited to us which we should do well to copy. Our Lord, no doubt, spoke with a prophetic foresight of coming things. He knew the time of His own death, and He knew that this time was not yet come. Foreknowledge like this, of course, is not granted to believers in the present day. But still there is a lesson here which we ought not to overlook. We ought, in a certain measure, to aim at having the mind that was in Christ Jesus. We ought to seek to possess a spirit of calm, unshaken confidence about things to come. We should study to have a heart "not afraid of evil tidings," but quiet, steady, and trusting in the Lord. (Psalm 112:7.)
The subject is a delicate one, but one which concerns our happiness so much that it deserves consideration. We are not intended to be idle fatalists, like the Muhammadans, or cold, unfeeling statues, like the Stoics. We are not to neglect the use of means, or to omit all prudent provision for the unseen future. To neglect means is fanaticism, and not faith. But still, when we have done all, we should remember, that though DUTIES are ours, EVENTS are God's. We should therefore endeavor to leave things to come in God's hands, and not to be over-anxious about health, or family, or money, or plans.
To cultivate this frame of mind would add immensely to our peace. How many of our cares and fears are about things which never come to pass! Happy is that man who can walk in our Lord's steps, and say, "I shall have what is good for me. I shall live on earth until my work is done, and not a moment longer. I shall be taken when I am ripe for heaven, and not a minute before. All the powers of the world cannot take away my life, until God permits. All the physicians of earth cannot preserve it, when God calls me away."
Is there anything beyond the reach of man in this spirit? Surely not. Believers have a covenant ordered in all things and sure. The very hairs of their heads are numbered. Their steps are ordered by the Lord. All things are working together for their good. When they are afflicted, it is for their profit. When they are sick, it is for some wise purpose. All things are said to be theirs, life, death, things present, and things to come. (2 Sam. 23:5; Matt. 10:30; Psalm 37:23; Rom. 8:28; Heb. 12:10; John 11:4; 1 Cor. 3:22.)
There is no such thing as chance, luck, or accident, in the life of a believer. There is but one thing needful, in order to make a believer calm, quiet, unruffled, undisturbed in every position, and under every circumstance. That one thing is faith in active exercise. For such faith let us daily pray. Few indeed know anything of it. The faith of most believers is very fitful and spasmodic. It is for lack of steady, constant faith, that so few can say with Christ, "I must proceed on my way today and tomorrow, and not die until my work is done."
Let us learn, for another thing, from these verses, how great is the compassion of our Lord Jesus Christ towards sinners. We see this brought out in a most forcible manner by our Lord's language about Jerusalem. He knew well the wickedness of that city. He knew what crimes had been committed there in times past. He knew what was coming on Himself, at the time of His crucifixion. Yet even to Jerusalem He says, "How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing."
It grieves the Lord Jesus Christ to see sinners going on still in their wickedness. "As I live," are His words, "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked." (Ezek. 33:11.) Let all unconverted people remember this. It is not enough that they grieve parents, and ministers, and neighbors, and friends. There is one higher than all these, whom they deeply grieve by their conduct. They are daily grieving Christ.
The Lord Jesus is willing to save sinners. "He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." He would have all men saved and come to the knowledge of the truth." (2 Pet 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4.) This is a mighty principle of the Gospel, and one which severely perplexes narrow-minded and shallow theologians. But what says the Scripture? The words before us, no less than the texts just quoted, are distinct and express. "I would have gathered your children," says Christ, "but you were not willing." The will of poor hardened unbelieving man, and not the will of Christ, is the cause why sinners are lost for evermore. Christ "would" save them, but they were not willing.
Let the truth before us sink down into our hearts, and bear fruit in our lives. Let us thoroughly understand that if we die in our sins and go to hell, our blood will be upon our own heads. We cannot lay the blame on God the Father, nor on Jesus Christ the Redeemer, nor on the Holy Spirit the Comforter. The promises of the Gospel are wide, broad, and general. The readiness of Christ to save sinners is unmistakably declared. If we are lost, we shall have none to find fault with but ourselves. The words of Christ will be our condemnation--"You will not come unto me, that you might have life." (John 5:40.)
Let us take heed, with such a passage as this before us, that we are not more systematic than Scripture. It is a serious thing to be "wise above that which is written." Our SALVATION is wholly of God. Let that never be forgotten. None but the elect shall be finally saved. "No man can come unto Christ except the Father draws him." (John 6:44.) But our RUIN, if we are lost, will be wholly of ourselves. We shall reap the fruit of our own choice. We shall find that we have lost our own souls. Linked between these two principles lies truth which we must maintain firmly, and never let go. There is doubtless deep mystery about it. Our minds are too feeble to understand it now. But we shall understand it all hereafter. God's sovereignty and man's responsibility shall appear perfectly harmonious one day. In the meantime, whatever we doubt, let us never doubt Christ's infinite willingness to save.