The Strange Announcement
"I tell you the truth: corrupt tax collectors and harlots will get into the Kingdom of God before you do!" Matthew 21:31
What class of people could be referred to by our Lord, when He uttered these words? Not the openly profane, or bold opposers of the truth — but rather, those who professed it, and were employed, some of them, in expounding it to others! This language, as strange as it may appear — is still applicable to a large class of people in the present day. They admit the inspiration of holy Scripture, and the truth of the doctrines preached by the servants of Christ. Many of them approve of preachers, and manifest their approbation by regularly sitting under the Word. They give their sanction, and often financial assistance to the cause. They assent to gospel requirements. But remain year after year unchanged, as to state and character! They have no deep, inward, painful sense of sin; they feel no real concern about a present salvation; but imagine that all will be well at last. They neither fear God's inflexible justice, nor prize His sweet mercy. They do not come to Jesus for life or salvation — in the exercise of desire, prayer, and hope. They come to ordinances — but not to Christ!
They are at ease, though evidently unconverted. They talk of doing the best they can, and of God doing the rest; but in reality they do nothing which God can either approve or accept. They read of being born again; but never examine whether they are so born or not. They hear of conversion — but never trouble themselves about it. If they are occasionally alarmed — they quiet their fears, by reference to the mercy of God; and because God is merciful, they live as if they did not believe Him to be just. They admit that others may be lost — but cannot think so badly of themselves; and though they allow that the Word of God may be true when applied to others — they always plead as if they did not believe it would be in their instance.
There are thousands of such people in our country, and to all such, the Savior's words are strictly applicable. Reader, are you one of them? Search and look, for your danger is imminent — if it should be the case.
The Roman tax-collectors consisted of the lowest and most depraved class of men. Harlots were common prostitutes, the lowest and most degraded class of women. But such, our Lord says, will enter into the kingdom of Heaven before Pharisees, and proud self-assured professors. Open sinners are generally more easily wrought upon, for they have no covering or excuse for their sin. They have no self-righteousness to ward off the conviction; they see it is true, what is spoken of them, and they flee to the refuge set before them. They are more generally converted, than those who have formed a shield of their religious duties and observances — with which they throw back the arrows of God's Word.
My friend, the most dangerous state is to be gospel-hardened; to be able to sit under the Word year after year, or month after month — without feeling its power, or yielding to its claims. A decent exterior is often a deceitful covering! What is within the heart? Is the Spirit of God there? Is the power of godliness there? Is the sanctifying grace of the gospel there? If not — then you are but a white-washed sepulcher — and tax collectors and harlots go into the kingdom of God before you!
Gospel opposers often receive the gospel they oppose, and become monuments of its purity and power. We should never despair of such; their enmity is often slain, and gives place to pure and holy love. We have more cause to despair of those who have been hearers of the Word for years, who are externally moral and decent — for to such very often the gospel becomes, "a savor of death unto death."
Yet there is still space for repentance, and a way of escape for you, reader — if a Pharisee, Saul, who was a Pharisee of the Pharisees, was converted, and became a champion in the Lord's cause, and a blessing to thousands of souls. We do not mean that you should despair of mercy; but that you should see your danger, and flee at once for safety to the Lord Jesus, who casts out none who come unto Him. That gospel which you have neglected — still speaks to you; it is still God's message to you; in it He speaks to you, and says, "Come unto me."
Beware of that spirit of cold politeness, which says, "I will go, sir;" but leaves the person under the power of sin, the slave of Satan, and the lover of the present world!
If my reader has been one of those who have said, "I will not go," then let me beseech him at once to repent, confess his sin, and he will find saving mercy.