BIBLE THOUGHTS & THEMES
by Horatius Bonar (1808—1889)
The gospel of LUKE
The Gracious One and His Gracious Word.
Luke 4:16-30 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. "Isn't this Joseph's son?" they asked. Jesus said to them, "Surely you will quote this proverb to me: 'Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.'" "I tell you the truth," he continued, "no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah's time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed--only Naaman the Syrian." All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.
Looking at this scene generally, we notice three outstanding points (1.) The grace of Christ; (2.) The sovereignty of God; (3.) The pride of man. But in connection with these there are several others which fall to be noticed.
The place is Nazareth. The scene is a Jewish synagogue. The actors are (1) the Son of God and (2) the congregation of Jewish worshipers. Christ is not a stranger here, they know Him well, for He has been brought up among those hills of Galilee. Here He began his ministry; and it might have been expected that his first sermon in a place where He was so well known would have been welcomed.
The scene consists of two parts—the sermon, and the remarks of the hearers—and then the strange events which followed up the sermon. The sermon is just like the only begotten of the Father—full of grace and truth. The grace of Father, Son, and Spirit is here. It is the gospel of the grace of God that comes from the speaker's lips. The hearers wonder at the gracious words. The first impression is good. But the wonder dies away; the admiration passes into cavil: "Is not this Joseph's son?" Can we listen to the carpenter, the son of the carpenter? This is the sermon-scene. It brings out the narrowness of the human heart, and shows the folly of those who say that were the genuine truth but presented to man, he would receive it. Here was the best discourse ever preached—no error either in word or doctrine—full of grace—the very gospel—and that from perfect lips—yet man only wonders, and cavils, and rejects. What proof of our need of the Holy Spirit in order that we may believe. That Spirit could have taken out the stony heart from these Nazarenes, and made them receive instead of rejecting Christ's sermon; yet he did not put forth his power, even though the Son of God was the preacher. And why? Even so Father, for so it seemed good in your sight.
But let us look at the after-sermon-scene, which brings out these points more fully.
I. Man's thoughts as to Christ's work.Man does not indeed at first speak. It is Christ who reads their thoughts and interprets their question, "Is not this Joseph's son?" The unbelief that lay at the root of it He brings out. They were seeking a sign. They wanted miracles. Do your Capernaum wonders here! Heal your own fellow-townsmen! Thus their unbelief scoffed. But more. They wanted to direct or manage Christ's work; to tell Him where and how to work! They would have Him take their advice. If He works at Capernaum, and not at Nazareth, He is acting unfairly; showing partiality; He is respecting people and places! Vain, proud, selfish man! He would be God! He would control and manage Christ!
II. Christ's answer.
(1.) You would not receive me though I worked miracles here. My whole life among you has been one long miracle of holiness and love, yet you despise it, and ask for more! You would not honor a prophet who was one of yourselves. You want some unknown worker of miracles from afar! Such is man's heart as interpreted by the Son of God.
(2.) God is sovereign. He selects people and places according to his own good pleasure. He selected Sarepta, and He chose Naaman, passing the cities of Israel and the thousands of other lepers. For He does what He pleases. He cures some, and passes by others; He does miracles at one city, and not another; He heals one leper, but not another. Is He, therefore, a respecter of people? This is the language of infidelity and blasphemy; of men who say God has no right to rule according to his will. He does not indeed respect a rich man because he is rich, nor a king because he is a king; but He does choose one and pass by another. He chose Israel, not Egypt; Jerusalem, not Babylon; is He therefore an unjust respecter of people? He chose David as his king; He chose a Sidonian widow; He chose the Syrian captain; is He a respecter of people? Is He not entitled to do as He sees best? Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?
III. Man's anger.They were filled with wrath, and rose up to slay Him! Their anger was kindled by this solemn assertion of God's sovereignty. They thought they had a right to blessing. The Lord denied this; and showed them that sovereign pleasure of the infinite Jehovah on which all creation hangs. He gives or takes; kills or makes alive; wounds or heals; as it pleases Him. It is He who makes one man, or one nation, or one city to differ from another. Britain has the Bible, China has not. So God has willed. Spain is in the darkness of Popery, Scotland in the light of Protestantism. Even so Father, for so it seemed good in your sight. He does according to his will. Behold He breaks down, and it cannot be built again. He opens, and no man shuts; shuts, and no man opens. The deniers of God's sovereignty cannot account for any of the differences that exist on earth. They must maintain either universal perdition or universal salvation.
Few things make man so angry as the assertion of God's sovereignty. It was so in the case of Christ. Why? Because it prostrates man, and makes him feel wholly in God's hands.
Health in Jesus
"And the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all." Luke 6:19
Jesus is here the center of a great crowd from all parts of Palestine. They have heard of him, and they flock to him. His words and deeds attract them. He has what they want; so they gather round him. The scene teaches us such lessons as the following:
I. There is health in Jesus.He came from heaven with all the health of heaven in him; health, like sunshine, flowing out irrepressibly; health of every kind; health without measure; health inexhaustible. The balm of the mountains of Gilead might wither down and die out; this heavenly balm could not; it was like the leaves of the tree of life, never falling, ever growing and evergreen. The physicians of Gilead died, until none was left; this physician dies not. He is the everlasting Christ, the Son of God. All health, and skill, and kindness are to be found in him; for not only is He perfect man, but very God; no, and the fullness of the healing Spirit without measure dwells in him.
II. There is sickness in us.We are sick, near unto death; sick in body, sick in soul; the whole head sick, the whole heart faint; our wound incurable by man; our hurt grievous. It is sickness pervading our whole system; sickness accompanied with pain and weakness; with sorrow, and sadness, and heaviness of spirit. It prostrates the body and clouds the mind. We may cover it over, but it is still there. We may soothe with anodynes and administer sleeping draughts, but the disease is unremoved. We may deaden or drown the pain in worldliness, or business, or vanity, or lust, but the mortal malady is still working in every part. O deadly disease of sin! what a world have you made here—what an hospital, a lazar-house, a city of the plague! O pains of earth, not temporary or occasional, but constant and abiding; fore-runners of the eternal pain, the eternal sickness, the eternal agony and woe.
III. Contact with Jesus heals.The medicine must be taken; the physician's hand must touch us; we must in some way or other come within the circle where the divine virtue is flowing out. It is indeed the Holy Spirit that applies the remedy; but he does so by bringing us within this healing circle, by making us touch Him who is the divine treasure house of health. There was no healing for Israel without looking at the brazen serpent; so there is no healing for us without the look, the touch that brings us into contact with Jesus. It is not a clasping or embracing, but a touching; a touching even the hem of his garment; a touching his shadow, as in the case of Peter. Such is the resistless efficacy, the irrepressible virtue that is lodged in Him. And as we are healed by touching, so our health is continued by our continuing to touch. It is to be a constant touching; a lifetime's contact; no, an eternal contact.
Thus is our new health begun and prolonged. Does this seem a hard thing? A hard thing to be always in communication with Jesus; to be always under the shadow of the tree of life; to be always on the brink of the crystal river of the New Jerusalem. If some think it hard, they show that all is yet wrong with them; and that it is sheer necessity and force that is bringing them to entertain the thought of contact with Jesus at all. Should we call it a hard thing to be daily obliged to breathe the fresh air and bask in the glorious sunshine? Is it a hard thing to be obliged to eat that we may be fed, or to sleep that we may be refreshed? Is it a hard thing for the friend to be in company with the friend, or the parent with the child? Is there not among multitudes who call Jesus, Savior, a feeling that they would rather only use Him in times of great necessity, but at other times have the fellowship of others in preference to Him? But the disease which brings us to Him keeps us at his side. There is no health away from Him; neither is there joy. We come for the cure of our pain, but we find this only a small part of what we obtain from Him. We find all in Him; and so we hold Him fast, and will not let Him go. It is our very life, our very joy to remain in contact with Him.
IV. This health and this contact are free to us. There is no fence around Him to keep us off; no guard to forbid or warn us away. Anyone, everyone may come at once to be healed. It is the sick, not the whole, which He invites. It is the leper, the palsied, the fevered, the blind, the lame, the deaf, the devil-possessed, which He bids welcome to. On every side we may approach Him. At any time, and in any way, we may come. Whatever be the duration or the deadliness of our disease, we may come. The Physician is divinely skillful; the medicine is free, the cure is certain.
Health for sin-sick humanity! Medicine for a diseased world! A Physician for a dying race! Such are the messages which we bring. All of them overflowing with God's great love to sinners; to sinners simply as such. The depths of divine compassion are infinite. So are its heights. God's pitying love takes in the worst sinner that ever breathed the air of earth. Wide as earth; wide as the bounds of sin; wide as the evil of human hearts wide as heaven; wide as His own infinite heart; such is the pitying love of God.
Much Forgiveness, Much Love
Luke 7:36-50. Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is--that she is a sinner." Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to tell you." "Tell me, teacher," he said. "Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?" Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled." "You have judged correctly," Jesus said. Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven--for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little." Then Jesus said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." The other guests began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" Jesus said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
This is a feast of worldly hospitality on the part of Simon; probably little more. It does not look like the table of a believing, loving man; but of a hospitable Jew, who, puzzled, perhaps curious, about the character and claims of Jesus, is anxious for an opportunity of closer and freer communion. The expression in the thirty-ninth verse, "if he were a prophet," seems to indicate some such state of mind—an oscillation between faith and unbelief.
Simon, though inviting Christ, has not been over-kind to his guest. "You gave me no water for my feet." He has shrunk, too, from all expression of intimacy, all acknowledgment either of friendship or of discipleship. "You gave me no kiss." He withholds the token of festal gladness. "You did not put oil on my head." Simon is evidently not at home with the Lord; nor does he wish to be thought at home with Him. Whatever might be his anxious questionings of soul, he is still "one of the Pharisees." He is no disciple.
The Lord knew his heart and understood his invitation; yet he went to his house and sat down at his table. For whether it were Pharisee or publican, Simon or Matthew, that invited him, it mattered not. He went wherever he was desired, like the physician in a city of pestilence, putting himself at the disposal of sinners, and turning his footsteps in the direction of their varied needs. Nor did He take offence at the incivility of Simon in not washing his feet, or anointing his head. He mentions these afterwards, to humble his pride; but He is not affronted thereby; for he ever acts and speaks as one who "came not to be ministered unto, but to minister"; 'not to be served by any, but to be the servant of all.
The four following things are brought out in this narrative: (1.) The sinner's approach to Christ. (2.) Christ's reception of the sinner. (3.) The Pharisee's interference. (4.) Christ's rebuke and judgment.
I. The sinner's approach to Christ.It is not enough that she knows that a prophet has arisen, and that the Son of God has come. The report of others will not do. She must see and hear for herself. It will not do for her to stand afar off; she must draw near.
(1.) She comes earnestly. She must get at Him. She must encounter difficulties; she must brave scorn and sneers, and the risk of being thrust out; for she is "a sinner"; and the house of a Pharisee is the last place she would think of going to. But she is in earnest. She will not be hindered. Access to this wondrous man, whom she has heard of as the forgiver of sins, and the friend of sinners, she must have. What are the taunts or jests of Scribe and Pharisee to her? True earnestness breaks through every barrier.
(2.) She comes directly. She makes use of no mediator or messenger. She brings her own case in her own hand, and approaches him directly. She comes just as what she is, and as nothing else. She does not come as what she may be, or hopes to be, or is making herself to be. She does not come with excuses on palliations, but with confessions only; and He is her one confessor, and this is her one confessional. She deals directly with Jesus Himself; for the sinner and the Savior must meet each other face to face; both just what they are: the one the sinner, the other the Savior.
(3.) She comes trustfully. She may not yet know Him fully; but she knows something of Him, and of his grace; and that something is enough to call up her trust. She "trusts, and is not afraid." Man may look coldly on her; Jesus will not. Man may thrust her out; Jesus will not. She has few else, perhaps none, to trust; but she has Him, and it is enough. What she knows of Him, and of his love, removes all misgivings. She believes; but it is not in her faith, but in Jesus that she trusts. She weeps; but it is not in her tears that she confides. She repents; but it is not on her repentance that she builds. She loves; but it is not on her love that she leans. She trusts in the Son of God. She trusts Him for what He is. She has already learned something of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, who, though He was rich, for her sake became poor.
(4.) She comes thankfully. She comes to show her love—then grateful love. She brings her precious ointment; she brings her tears; she brings her kisses; she brings her reverence; she brings her thanks—thanks not the less true and warm because uttered not in words, but in deeds. Her sin, and his love to the sinning one; her unworthiness and his overflowing grace; her outcast condition as far as man is concerned; her admission without upbraiding into the presence of the Son of God—these are the things that call up gratitude. "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift," are the words which we seem almost to hear from her lips as she kneels behind his couch, kissing and anointing his feet.
Thus it is that the sinner draws near with the "true heart" to the Son of God. Her knowledge of Him is very imperfect as yet; she has not yet realized all the glory of his person, nor known his coming death and resurrection; but she knows enough to give her confidence, for she sees his grace towards the sinner, and understands that he came to seek and to save that which was lost.
II. Christ's reception of the sinner.In the scene before us, it is his reception of one who is in unqualified phrase, even according to man's judgment, a sinner, that is shown us. She is not one of the best of sinners, but one of the worst; without goodness, or merit, or recommendation. She has nothing to prepare or qualify her; nothing to make her less unworthy to stand before the Holy One. Just as she is, she comes! And how is she received?
(1.) Immediately. She is not kept waiting for a moment. The Son of God does not hold her in suspense; does not bid her go and come again; does not send a message telling her to wait a little outside and make herself more fit for a reception. He receives her immediately; yet in a way which does not make light of her past sin, or lead her to forget who and what she is. Ah, yes! It was immediate reception which the Lord gave her; and it is immediate reception which he still gives to each coming one among ourselves. He does not stand on ceremony with us, nor repel us, nor, either by word or deed, give one sign of reluctance to receive us. As the Father received his prodigal son—so He receives his returning wanderers with wide arms, seeing us afar off and running, and having compassion, and falling on our neck and kissing us.
(2.) Freely. "When they had nothing to pay, he freely forgave them both." The forgiveness was the free gift of love; a love which the many waters had not quenched, nor the floods drowned; a love which had survived years of sin, and ungodliness, and lust, and vanity; a love which, now meeting its object face to face, can no longer restrain itself; but like Joseph on the neck of Benjamin, gets vent to its long pent-up yearnings, in forgivenesses and blessings, as frank, and free, and generous as they are unearned and undeserved. Man's love of man is according to merit, on expectation of response; God's love of man has no reference to deserving or to return. Man's love of man is contracted, exclusive, and grudging; God's love to man is as boundless as it is free. He forgives without condition; He loves without reserve; He blesses without measure or end.
(3.) Without upbraiding. There may be immediate and frank reception; yet afterwards there may be reproof and upbraiding. Not so with the Lord. Man's forgivenesses may be compatible with upbraiding; but the forgivenesses of God are too large, too generous, too free, to admit of this. As He "gives," so he "forgives," "liberally, and upbraids not." He does not bring up the woman's past life to remembrance. He reminds Simon of his unkindnesses; but He has no such remindings for the woman; He has not a word of upbraiding for her. He shows us in her case what He means when He says, "I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, their sins and iniquities will I remember no more."
III. The Pharisee's interference.Simon does not feel comfortable in the midst of this scene. He does not like the sinner's free approach, or the Lord's free reception. He finds fault with both. The root of his interference is his idea of how a prophet or godly man ought to act, and of how a sinner ought to act. In other words, it was on religious principles that he would thus object to what was going on, and would step in between the Lord and the sinner. The basis of his religion was man's goodness, not man's sinfulness; and his idea of reconciliation between God and the sinner was that of a compromise on both sides; the two parties meeting each other half way; man improving himself in moral and religious feeling, and so doing his part; God abating somewhat of his solemn righteousness, and modifying the stern integrity of law, so as to give man a chance of reaching Him by a little exertion and strictness of life.
The basis of what God calls reconciliation is altogether different. It assumes that God must come the whole way to meet man, and that that meeting must be as truly one of highest righteousness as of deepest love on the part of God. God takes man as he is, simply a sinner, "without strength," and without goodness. He does not ask man to meet him half way between earth and heaven; He comes down all the way to earth in the person of his incarnate Son. He does not resort to half measures, nor is He content with half payment. He comes down to man in absolute and unconditional love; without terms or bargains; himself paying the whole price, and thus leaving nothing for the sinner but to accept the full and free forgiveness which his boundless love has brought.
Of these things the Pharisee understood nothing. Wrapped around with his own religiousness, and merit, and goodness, his prayers, and fastings, and tithe-givings, he could not enter into the mind of God, nor comprehend the nature of his love to sinners, his way of forgiving and receiving the guiltiest. Hence it is that, in his thoughts at least, if not in words, he steps in between the sinner and the Savior. He would blame both.
(1.) He blames the sinner. He thinks she ought to have been more respectful, more distant. He does not like the idea of a well-known sinner coming into his house without invitation, and kissing the feet of Jesus without asking permission. He sees in this step, an undue and unwarrantable boldness; the taking of a liberty with this reputed prophet, such as she should have been the very last to take. He does not understand how a sense of need draws the sinner irrepressibly into immediate contact with the Lord. They who have not known their sin, nor felt their need, may hesitate, or stand at a respectful distance; but he who has realized his own sin and need cannot thus keep aloof. He must go at once to the Son of God. Let self-righteousness forbid him, and formalism frown upon him—he cannot stay away from Christ any more than can the prodigal from the arms of his father. Men may say this is too free, too direct, too simple, too easy; and blame him who thus acts; but if ever they come to know their own need, they will feel that nothing else would do but this.
(2.) He blames the Lord. He demurs to this manner of treating the sinner. Can he who does this be the Son of God? Can he be even a prophet? He either knows or does not know—that the woman is a sinner. If he does not know, he is no prophet; and if he knows, he is acting most inconsistently with his character and office. He ought to have kept her at a distance; to have refused to allow such liberties, and to have reproved her for being so bold. As the Scribes and Pharisees at another time did, so Simon does here. He murmurs. What! Be so kind to a common sinner! What! Allow a profligate to kiss his feet! This is trifling with sin, and countenancing the sinner. Thus man blames God for his love—at least for its freeness. Were it love bought or deserved, he would say nothing; but it is love to the undeserving, love to the guiltiest, this he cannot tolerate. This frank, and free, and immediate forgiveness is something which his religion abhors. But let man's religion turn away from God's free love to the sinner; still this is God's way. His thoughts are not our thoughts; his ways are not our ways. High as heaven is above the earth, so high are his thoughts of grace and blessing above all our thoughts and ways.
IV. Christ's rebuke to the Pharisee.He defends Himself; He defends the woman; He reproves Simon. Assuming Simon's ground, that he was much less a sinner than the woman, He still reasons with him as with one who professed to have received forgiveness to some extent. Both needed forgiveness; and the question was thus one of more or fewer sins; not one of sin and no sin.
Look then at the fruits. On the one hand you have the fruits of one who knew that she had sinned much, and had been forgiven much. These were overflowing love, gratitude, and reverence. On the other, you have the fruits of one who thought himself a man of far fewer sins, and therefore needing fewer pardons. They are so scanty that they cannot be named. No washing of the feet, no anointing of the head, no kiss of affection—no manifestation of love at all; bare worldly civility and hospitality—no more. It was as if Christ had said, Look at the fruits of the woman's pardon, and look at yours! How different? What warmth in her, what coldness in you? What love in her, what indifference in you! To you I am nothing; to her I am all. You have given me your table and your house; she has given me her heart and soul.
Simon's religion was founded upon the idea of needing little forgiveness; of so making up for past sin by a strict life of ritualism, that when the day of settlement came between him and God, the balance against him might be very slight. He judges himself by this; and he judges the woman by this. He has few arrears to pay off; she has a fearful amount. Should both be treated in the same way? Should Christ show as much favor to the one as to the other? Christ shows him the fruits of this false idea, this self-exalting religion; and bids him judge of himself and of his religion by these. Man may think well of him, and of his prayers, and alms, and sacrifices, by means of which he hoped to pay off his debt; but what could God think? How could God look upon a religion that led to no love, no gratitude, no fond allegiance of the soul? God can do without our sacrifices and services, but he cannot do without our love.
The religion that is founded upon the idea of few sins and a small forgiveness—a trifling debt, and man's power to pay it off by a good life—must lead to little love; so by it we are made more debtors to self than to God; no, we are hardly debtors to God at all. The religion founded upon the truth of man's utter evil, and his need for infinite pardons, must lead to much love; for it makes us wholly debtors to God, and to his free, forgiving love. When pardon is to be bought or deserved, there can be little love, if any; when it is wholly undeserved and unbought, coming straight to the sinner from the free love of God, there must be much love; love in return for love; the pardoned sinner's full-hearted love, responding to the mighty, the stupendous love of God! Oh, if we would learn to love God, let us do full justice to the love of God to us.
How Much More!
The Bible is not only a revelation from God, but it is the revelation of God; of his mind, his heart, his whole character. It is given to us for the purpose of leading us to place our trust in Him, drawing us to Him, removing our suspicions, rooting out the evil heart of unbelief. "Those who know your name will put their trust in you"; "how excellent is your loving-kindness, therefore the sons of men shall put their trust in the shadow of your wings."
"If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children; how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?"—Luke 11:13.
Here the earthly parent and the heavenly parent are brought before us, for the purpose of showing us the confidence which we ought to place in the latter. The argument rests on the natural confidence which the child has in its father's bountifulness; and runs thus, "If in spite of all the drawbacks arising from a naturally evil being, a narrow heart, and limited love, an earthly father is trusted; how much more should our heavenly Father be trusted, in whom there are no such drawbacks?"
The argument of the whole passage turns on this. Ask, seek, knock! You shall not, cannot fail! If a son ask bread, will his father mock him by giving him a stone? That cannot be. If a fish, will he be so cruel as to give a serpent? Far more impossible! If an egg, will he present him with a scorpion? Much more impossible and incredible. No parent, however unnatural, would do any of these. If impossible with men, how much more so with God?
There is here both a comparison and a contrast; a likeness and an unlikeness between the earthly and the heavenly; and it is on this that the argument of our text turns.
The comparison is just this: If an earthly father will give his son what he asks, how much more our heavenly Father? For our heavenly Father is truly what his name indicates, "Our Father in heaven." That name is no mere figure when applied to him. The figure is all the other way. It is far more real when used in reference to Him than to any other. In all the others it is a figure, in Him it is real and literal. He has all a Father's heart and feelings; he made that heart, and knows what it is, and what is in it. That human heart is formed after the model of the divine. Our parental feelings tell us what his are; our yearnings show us what his are. He knows, if one may say so, what are a father's responsibilities—to provide for his own. He made us, and will He not support us? will He not bless us? As a father is the source of blessing to his children, so is God.
But we have specially to mark the contrast or difference between the earthly and the heavenly parent. For the point of our text turns more especially on this. It is from this that we get the force of the "how much more."
I. Earthly parents are feeble—He is almighty.He has all a father's ability, and far more. He is always full—full to the uttermost; He can always afford to give, and is always able to do for us. His is the fullness of omnipotence. How irresistible the argument of our text!
II. Earthly parents are ignorant—He is wise.They do not know what, or when, or how to give. His mode of giving is wise; his skill is infinite. He commits no mistakes in giving. His is a wise giving; He knows our needs; He does not give at random.
III. Earthly parents are easily provoked—He is patient.A father needs patience in dealing with his children; and love lends him patience. But his patience is not inexhaustible. It wears out. He is at times provoked. Not so with God. His patience is infinite. He can put up with affronts, and bear coldness; always ready to give when asked, whatever the past provocation be.
IV. Earthly parents are changeable—He changes not.Even the love of earthly fathers does not exempt them from frailty and caprice. They are fickle; giving and refusing according to their mood or temper. He changes not. His feelings, his mode of acting and giving remain the same; without variableness or shadow of turning.
V. Earthly parents are often perplexed—He is never at a loss.Their resources are limited, and they sometimes know not what to do. He is not harassed or distracted by the number of petitions and petitioners; never bewildered, never at a loss, because of the variety of the needs of his vast family. He can give to each case as much attention as if He had no other to care for. His hand, his heart, his mind are large enough for all.
VI. They are but imperfectly happy—He is the blessed One.Our giving depends much on the state of our minds at the moment. When depressed, we have no pleasure in giving; we either refuse, or we give merely to get quit of the applicant. Darkness of mind shrivels us up, makes us selfish, neglectful of others. When full of joy, giving seems our element—our joy overflows in this way; we cannot help giving; we delight in applications; we seek opportunities of giving. So with the blessed God. Being altogether happy, his delight is to give; his perfect blessedness flows out in giving. We can never come wrongly to such an infinitely happy being. He teaches us by his own example, that it is "more blessed to give than to receive."
VII. Earthly parents cannot be always giving—He can.His heart and his treasure are inexhaustible. Their past gifts are no pledges for future ones; his are; all his gifts; specially his beloved Son. We count upon the future because of the past. What will He not give!
We have but to open the mouth; to stretch out the hand. There is no unwillingness on his part. All is love. Asking is not unnecessary; it is the expression of dependence, the attitude of creaturehood. But he loves to give—freely—to all. Let us come boldly to the throne of grace.
Jesus Watching For Sinners
"This man receives sinners." Luke 15:2.
Such was the conclusion of the Pharisees respecting Jesus, from what they saw of his daily life. Between Him and them there was mutual repulsion, as if not suited for each other; between Him and the publicans there was mutual attraction, as if exactly suited for each other. It is sinners that this man receives. He does not care for the righteous. He passes them by.
Were these Pharisees right or wrong in their conclusion? They were right; and the parables which follow are meant as both an admission and a vindication of our Lord's proceedings. He accepts their interpretation of his life, as the true one, the only true one; and He proceeds to furnish the key, the divine key to what appeared to so many unaccountable. He gives the solution to the difficulty raised by the Pharisees in his days, and continually resuscitated and re-stated in other ages by the descendants of those Pharisees, self-righteous men.
Thus those men, who hated Christ, preached his gospel. We must call this "the gospel according to the Pharisees." They meant it not; yet they spoke the true gospel when they said, "This man receives sinners, and eats with them."
The word "receives" is in the original singularly expressive. It means waits, watches, looks out for, lies in wait. It occurs fourteen times in the New Testament; and in all other places it is translated in some such way: as Mark 15:43, "who waited for the kingdom of God"; Luke 2:25, "waiting for the consolation of Israel"; 2:38, "looked for redemption in Jerusalem"; 12:36, "men that wait for their Lord," Acts 23:21, 24:15, Titus 2:13, Jude 21. Jesus is looking out for sinners! Paul waited to receive all who came to him (Acts 28) ; but Jesus goes out in search for them. He lies in wait for sinners; for Mary's, and Matthews, and Zaccheuses. Let us see (1) what this lying in wait implies; (2) how He lies in wait.
I. What it implies.Many things; all of them favorable to the sinners, for He does not lie in wait as the lion for his prey, but as the Shepherd for his stray sheep. It implies then:
(1.) Love. Indeed otherwise it has no meaning. The three parables which follow indicate this. It is love, tender, compassionate, forgiving love, that is the mainspring of this waiting for sinners.
(2.) Patience. As the huntsman or the fisher waits patiently hour after hour to seize his object, so does this waiting, watching Savior. Unwearied patience with the ungodly, the wandering, the hard-hearted, the profligate, marked his life on earth; and He is still the same patient one in heaven. "He has long patience."
(3.) Earnestness. He is intent on his object; thoroughly in earnest. His patience is not indifference; his love is not mere good-natured benevolence. It is all earnestness with Him. It was so on earth; it is so in heaven.
(4.) Desire to bless. His direct and honest object is blessing. He longs to bless. He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. He longs for their life. "Oh that you," are still his words to the sinner. "How often would I have gathered you," He says with profound sincerity to every lost one.
II. How He does it.His life on earth is a specimen of how He does it. His days and nights were spent in seeking the lost. By the sea of Galilee, in the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, on the highways of Judea, in the synagogue, in the temple, in the village, in the city, by Jacob's well, He was seeking the lost. How does He do this now? How or where is He lying in wait for sinners?
(1.) In the word. Of that word He is "the spirit," the Alpha and Omega, and out of that word He speaks to us. From Genesis to Revelation we hear his voice. It is the voice of love. "Come unto me" is the burden of the Old Testament as well as of the New. It is not merely that each chapter speaks of Jesus; but in each chapter Jesus speaks to us. In each verse He is lying in wait for us.
(2.) In sermons. For sermons are not disquisitions, nor declamations, nor orations—but messages from Christ. In them we hear God and Christ beseeching men to be reconciled; ministers, in speaking Christ's gospel, "beseech men in Christ's stead." Thus each Sabbath He is looking out for sinners; stretching out his hands from the pulpit to them.
(3.) In providences. What a meaning there is in that word providence when used not a substitute for God, but as a word to denote his doings! In each providence, great or small, private or public, personal, or family, or social, or national, or universal; in mercies or in judgments; in wars, famines, pestilences, shipwrecks, railway disasters; in the seasons, in the sunshine, in the storm; in all, Christ is lying in wait for sinners; out of them comes his loving voice.
Thus Christ lies in wait for sinners: not merely waits in his house to receive them, but watches for them, looks out for them, goes out in quest of them. The expression is beautifully applicable to the three cases in the parables which follow. The Shepherd is looking out and going out for his sheep; the woman with her lighted candle is going through every room, turning over all the lumber, and looking into every nook, for her piece of silver; and the father is watching at the door for his wandering son. Ah, "this man lies in wait for sinners."
Yes; in his work of saving, Christ is aggressive and compulsory. He goes out in order to find them. He is ever on the outlook. He does not merely sit above on his throne, willing to receive the applications of those who come. He comes down among us. He goes to and fro in the earth; He walks up and down in it. His daily, hourly work is going in quest of sinners.
His doings on earth imply this; his words as well. It is the same in heaven. His doings from Pentecost onwards to this hour imply this. Every soul saved shows this. His words spoken after He left earth intimate this. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock," implies this.
Thus we are compassed about with love. For the lost, there is the compassionate love; for the saved, there is the love of delight. We cannot escape from it whatever we are. It follows us, pursues us, cries after us, surrounds us! Why the love of an almighty heart should ever be ineffectual is a mystery beyond our power to solve, But for all this the love is the same—sincere and true.
God's Joy Over The Returning Sinner
"Likewise, I say unto you, There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."—Luke 15:10.
Let us not overlook the words with which this statement is introduced, "I say unto you." He speaks as the faithful witness; testifying of what he knows; what He has seen and heard in that heaven where He came.
It is of a sinner that he speaks—a sinner such as those who were now gathered round the Lord—a publican, a profligate, a harlot; not some worthier sinner, but one of the worst. He wishes the Pharisees to understand the feelings of God above—to these sinners below; to see that God's thoughts were not their thoughts. Whatever earth might do, heaven took an interest in them. The "religious" ones of earth might turn away; the holy ones of heaven did not.
It is of a sinner's repentance that He speaks; of that mighty change whereby old things pass away, and all things are made new. It was to produce this change—this change of the whole inner man—this total renovation of being, that the Son of God came. He came to "call sinners to repentance."
It is of one sinner that He speaks; not of multitudes; so that no one may think that it is the number that is the occasion of his statement. It is one sinner; one of
Poor publicans that He thus so graciously holds up to view; it is one poor fragment of lost humanity, despised by all else—which He here declares to be the object of his own and of the divine compassion. So was it always in his life here; one woman of Sychar; one woman of Tyre; one Zaccheus—thus He declares his interest in individual souls. He cares for each.
But it is specially of the joy which the Lord speaks of that I ask you to think. It is not simply pity or love—but joy.
(1.) It is joy in heaven. There is always joy there, but sometimes it swells up and overflows. On the occasion of the event referred to, there is peculiar joy—an outburst of irrepressible gladness in that glad and glorious heaven which the presence of God fills.
(2.) It is the joy of God. It is He himself who is thus represented as rejoicing. The joy is in heaven; and it is the joy of God himself; the joy of the Shepherd on finding the lost sheep; the joy of the woman on finding her lost silver; the joy of the father on finding his lost son.
(3.) It is joy in the presence of the angels of God. As the shepherd and the woman call together their friends and neighbors, so God calls his heavenly hosts. In their presence He utters his joy; and He calls on them to rejoice with Him. He is full of this joy of love, this joy at recovering the lost, that He must have them to share it with Him. There is something in this representation of the divine joy that brings it very close to us, as it makes it so like our own in its way of manifestation. How like ourselves is this way of dealing with his joy and getting vent to it, and making others partakers of it. Is it not a strange truth this—that the infinite Jehovah should need, and should ask for, the creature's sympathy in his joys? How like that infinite heart must be to ours! How near to us does this bring the Eternal One!
From all this we learn much; chiefly such truths as the following:
(1.) The knowledge in heaven of what is going on here on earth. How far this extends we cannot say. It refers here only to what concerns the great redemption-scheme; and even as to that, the knowledge is only that which is directly communicated by God, when He has something special to announce. But heaven knows this at least: that there is such a place as earth; that it is full of God's lost property; that God loves it; that it is not hell; that salvation is there, and that God is every day getting hold of some lost one there. News is constantly going up to the heaven of heavens; and God is making known so much of it as suits his purposes of sovereign wisdom and grace. Probably, they do not know all; but certainly they know what is fitted to augment their gladness, and call forth their songs.
(2.) The delight which God has in saving. This is manifest from the pains He takes about this; the perseverance and patience; the patient endurance of rejection and hatred; and all this in the desire to rescue the captive, and to win him back, heart and soul, to himself. He seeks and saves "with his whole heart and soul" (Jeremiah 32:41). He loves to bless; and when He has blessed, He rejoices over the sinner to whom the blessing has come. As the father receives the prodigal, so does the great Father receive his wanderers; calling all heaven to join in his song over them, "This my son was dead and is alive again—he was lost and is found!"
(3.) The appeal which He is thus snaking to the sinner. No appeal could be more forcible than that which is thus made by the great love of God—the overflowing joy He has in saving. Will you continue in sin, and rob both God and the angels—yes, and yourself too—of such a joy? All heaven would rejoice over your salvation, and will you not be saved? Will you persist in wandering, in worldliness, in ungodliness? Are you determined to be lost when God is so bent on saving you?
(4.) The encouragement thus held out to the returning sinner. Look at all the three parables! Is there one word of discouragement? Does not each of them say, Come! Is God not bidding you welcome, stretching out his arms? What joy it would give God to pardon and to bless you! What a song would be sung in heaven over your repentance and return! Shrink not back; turn not away; do not be afraid, the gate is open, and your God stands beckoning you in.
What a comment is this verse on Christ's tears over Jerusalem! His sorrow was sincere and true; so is his joy in the day of the sinner's return. His tears were real and genuine; so are his songs. All is real, both the sorrow and the joy.
What a force does this passage throw into such words as these: You will not come to me; him who comes to me I will never cast out; if any man thirsts, let him come unto me and drink; we beg you in Christ's stead, be reconciled to God.
What a great thing must salvation be! And what an important and precious object must a sinner be! So much love, so much sorrow, so much seeking, so much joy in connection with him!
The Father's Love
"And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him." Luke 15:20.
It was hunger, not love—which drew the prodigal back to his father. There was no noble nor unselfish motive in his return. He stayed away as long as he could; he only came back when he could not help himself. It was not the thought of his father—but of the plenty of his house, as contrasted with his own want—which led him out of the far country to seek his father's face. So with the sinner. It is need, misery, danger—not love nor any noble motive which leads him to seek the face of God. How foolish the thought of those who would shrink back from God because they have not come to Him with a pure and unselfish motive! But it is with the Father that we have now specially to do. (1.) Paternal watchfulness and far-sightedness; (2.) paternal haste; (3.) paternal compassion; (4.) paternal tenderness; (5.) paternal reconciliation.
I. Paternal watchfulness and far-sightedness."When yet a great way off, his father saw him." He had doubtless been watching; "this man looks out for sinners." How quick-sighted is the paternal eye, made keen and clear by the yearnings of the paternal heart. The figure seen thus far off was no doubt very unlike his boy; it was one of rags, and filth, and disfigurement. Yet it is recognized. There is my son at last! Poor wanderer, God's eye is on you in yon far land of famine. He has not forgotten; He has his reasons for not coming out and taking you back by force, like the shepherd the sheep; for He needs your heart, and that cannot be won by force or gold; yet He is on the outlook for you, however far off you be.
II. Paternal haste."He ran." The son was coming to him, yet he ran to meet him, eager to shorten the distance. He did not keep state or ceremony. He did not think of what might comport with dignity or with offended authority; he did not wait nor move slowly towards him; he ran, as if every inch of distance or moment of separation were intolerable. What eagerness to meet did that haste imply! What heedlessness of all ceremony! No fear of seeming too eager, no thought of thus encouraging sin, or making the prodigal think lightly of his wickedness. Haste was the best for the prodigal, as well as most congenial to his own feelings. What a rebuke does that word "ran" furnish to those who think that a sinner can come to Christ too soon; can be reconciled too quickly. God runs, sinner, to you—will you not run to God? He makes haste, oh make you haste.
III. Paternal compassion."He had compassion." It would seem as if the pity were stirred by what he saw. The nearer he came the more he had compassion. The rags and filth—instead of repelling him, only awoke still more his pity. Instead of turning away from the loathsomeness, his paternal heart was moved by the sight of it. As we read that Jesus, when He saw the multitudes, was moved with compassion, so was it with the father here. Poor wanderer, you need not then try to cover your rags, or to hide your filth, or to try to make yourself more respectable—in order to attract your father. It is just your desparate condition—which excites his compassion. Your wretchedness, ignorance, defilement, squalor, will be no obstacle. They awake his pity. Go to him then just as you are, and see if his compassions are not infinite. Whoever and whatever you may be, He pities you. The tears of Jesus over Jerusalem are the expressions of that pity—sincere, and true, and deep.
IV. Paternal tenderness."He fell on his neck." So was it when Jacob and Esau met; and when Joseph met Benjamin. Falling on another's neck is the expression of tender love—love that, for the moment, cannot express itself in words, but buries its face (and with it, past griefs and wrongs) out of sight—on the neck of the beloved one. Ah this is tender love! He fell on his neck! It is the tender love of God. Yet all these manifestations of human love, these tokens of family endearment, are poor to express his unutterably earnest yet tender grace. In listening to God's gospel we too often feel as if it were the mere intimation of his consent to our salvation, implying but a cold willingness to save us from hell. How much we mistake. His is true parental fondness, pity, tenderness, yearning; his is the eagerness to bless us, which words cannot express. Yes, God is in earnest in his tender love.
V. Paternal reconciliation."He kissed him." This is the completion of the whole the consummated and manifested reconciliation. There is the kiss of affection—Jacob kissing Joseph's sons; the kiss of sorrow—when the disciples fell on Paul's neck and kissed him; the kiss of reconciliation—when Jacob and Esau kissed, and when righteousness and peace are said to kiss each other. How much is implied in that paternal kiss—love, joy, pardon, pity, reconciliation. Thus God comes up to the sinner with the fullness of reconciliation in his heart. He does not wait to be entreated, or pleaded with, or persuaded. He hastens up to us, and embraces us in the fullness of his heart. Ah, this kiss is the seal of pardon to the prodigal; and it is this kiss that He is longing to imprint now on your polluted lips! He comes up to you with the reconciliation of the cross; for He is reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing unto them their trespasses.
God's Free Love
"But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet!" Luke 15:22.
There is among many a secret dread of the gospel in its freeness. They may not deny that freeness, but they shrink from it as dangerous, if not pernicious. There is among others not so much a dread as a distrust of that freeness. They hesitate, for they are not sure but that freeness may be abused; and they take precautions, as they think, by a long and deep preliminary law-work to place the sinner in circumstances in which he will not abuse the gospel; as if they knew better than God what these circumstances are, and as if any circumstances, any convictions, any law-work could prevent the sinner from abusing the gospel; or as if the gospel itself did not contain within itself, in its own good news, the best safeguards against abuse. They do not deny it; but they do not give it fair play; so modifying, circumscribing, clogging it, guarding it—that it ceases to be good news to the sinner as he is—convinced or unconvinced, penitent or impenitent, sensible or insensible.
These words of the parable rebuke all such unworthy ideas of the gospel; as if it could be made more free; as if it could not guard itself; as if its sanctifying power did not lie in that very element of free love which it contains, and which some dread as the destruction of all holiness.
The distrust of a free gospel is the reflection of the old spirit of the Pharisees; the modern arguments against its freeness, are a mere reproduction of the old self-righteous murmurings of the Scribes. And the answer to all this is contained in the parable of the lost son. No doubt some of those who heard Christ's words cried out—How dangerous such statements, how prejudicial to the interests of morality, how fitted to encourage laxity, how certain to end in backsliding! Nevertheless these are the words of the holy One, of Him who is true as well as holy, and who spoke these words for us as well as for the publicans and the Pharisees of old.
It was misery, poverty, hunger, straits—which brought the son to the father. No high, pure, holy motive. He comes as he was—with nothing about him but evil. He speaks few words; and these are simply the declaration of what he was. Yet he is received at once. He had no promise, no message, no encouragement. He had never heard of such a case as his before. But be ventures; he makes an experiment.
Not so with us. We make no experiment. We undertake no venture. We do not come unbidden. We are invited and besought. We have a thousand promises of reception and proclamations of free love. We have heard of, and seen multitudes go in before us. What a gospel is that which we have to go upon! So free; so full of love; so rich in promises!
I. There is here the difference between man's THOUGHTS and God's thoughts.Man despises, God pities; man hates, God loves; man repels, God attracts; man rejects, God receives. God's thoughts are love, and forbearance, and paternal patience, and pity. The Pharisee speaks out man's mind, Jesus speaks out the mind of God. And what a difference! As heaven is above earth, so are God's thoughts above man's.
II. The difference between man's ways and God's WAYS, between man's treatment of the sinner and God's.This difference has many aspects, and comes out at many points. But let us take that of our text: "Bring forth the best robe and put it on him." Here is God's way, God's treatment of the sinner. It is the treatment of love. It assumes that the sinner is all in rags and filth—half naked; and that God must deal at once with this wretched condition. It does not assume any previous preparation, or preliminary treatment. God must take him as he is; deal with him as he is; not that the sinner must deal with himself, or fit himself, or wait, or work, or amend; but that God must take up his case just as it stands.
(1.) The robe. He came for food, not thinking of his rags; hunger made him forget all else. But the father sees his nakedness, and at once removes it. Clothe him! he says. There is a robe for him. Ask not whether he is worthy of it; he is in rags—let him be clothed at once.
(2.) The best robe. There were different robes in the house: for the servants, for strangers, for the eldest son. Would these not do for him? If he must be clothed, any robe will do for such a wretch. So man would have said. Not so with God. There is hardly a robe in the house good enough for him. He must have the best. The best robe for the vilest son. What love is here. What delight in loving and in blessing! We poor prodigals must be gloriously clad! Not sackcloth, nor cast-off clothing, nor a servant's dress; not Adam's nor an angel's righteousness; but something better than all—the robe of Jesus!
(3.) Bring it forth. He must have it at once. He is not to go in search of it. It must be brought out to him. On the spot; just where he is and as he is, bring it out, bring it to him. Out of the wardrobe bring it; select the best, the very best, before he moves another step, that he may enter the house even better clothed than when he left.
(4.) Put it on him. It is not, "Give it to him, and let him put it on himself"; but, "Put it on him." He has but to stand still and allow himself to be thus clothed and blessed. He does nothing. He does not need to do anything. Love does it all. The Father does it all.
Ah, herein is love! Free love! Love to the uttermost. Love without measure. Yes, such is the love of God to the sinner. He is rich in mercy, and abundant in loving-kindness. There is nothing like it in earth or heaven!
"Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all!" Luke 17:26-27
Our Lord's comparison between the days preceding his own coming and the days of Noah throws us back on the sixth chapter of Genesis, from which we learn.
(1.) The state of the world in Noah's days. There was ungodliness, corruption, violence, lust, flesh-pleasing, vanity, pleasure, engrossment with business—so that there was no room for God—either in man's thoughts or man's world. Verses 5 and 2.
(2.) Gods inquiry. It is said that He saw and that He looked; as in the case of Sodom (Ch. 18:21), He "makes inquisition." He does not judge hastily or at random, but calmly and deliberately. Hence his condemnation is such a solemn thing, and his vengeance so dreadful.
(3.) God's feelings as to all this. It "repented the Lord, and it grieved Him at his heart." Though He is speaking after the manner of man, yet these words are the utterance of profoundest feeling. He is not indifferent as to our treatment of Him; He speaks like a broken-hearted father, disappointed in his fondest hopes.
(4.) Gods thoughts in consequence of this. He must withdraw his Spirit. That Spirit must strive no more. God cannot allow Him to be thus grieved and quenched. He must retire.
(5.) God's sentence. (Verses 7 and 13), "I will destroy"; "the end of all flesh is come before me." He must now declare his judgment and indicate the course He means to pursue. In this sentence man is to read his guilt, and God's abhorrence of his crimes.
(6.) God's long suffering. (Verse 3, and 1 Peter 3:20) He pronounces the sentence on the spot, but He delays its execution, for He has long patience, not willing that any should perish. He gives man one hundred and twenty years to turn and live. How long He bears! How much He loves and pities! How desirous to bless and love; how reluctant to curse and to destroy!
(7.) God's sovereign grace. The world would not be saved, but God would have some one whom He might deliver. His free love fixes on one man. Him it selects; him it lays hold of; him it carries through; and for his sake the whole family. Such is grace. "By the grace of God—we are what we are." It is grace that makes the exceptions in a world of evil, and shows itself in some saved ones, however few.
Such is a sketch of Noah's days. Let us compare these with the days of the Son of man. Mark the resemblance which our Lord suggests.
I. In the characteristics of evil. All that marked Noah's days is to mark the last days; only evil is to be yet more developed and pronounced in all its forms. God allows sin to ripen and unfold itself, that its true character may be seen, and that the human heart may be fully revealed in all its aspects of opposition to God. He has sought to check it; He has given his fiery law; He has raised up prophets; He has inflicted judgments; He has sent his Son. But all in vain. Man will not turn to God. He will not be restrained; and God gives him over to a reprobate mind. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and the flesh is ever showing itself. The seed of the serpent is the same to the last. Satan is the same throughout. Iniquity is to swell, and deepen, and overflow, and toss its waves of darkness, until earth becomes a suburb of hell. 2 Timothy 3:1; 2 Peter 3:10; Jude 18. They desire no law, no restraint, no Bible, no Christ, no God, no religion, no heaven, no hell, no eternity!
All evil, from Cain's downward, concentrated and expanded in the days of the Son of man! It is to this that we are hastening on! Nothing but self; self-will, self-pleasing, self-indulgence, flesh-pleasing, lust, pleasure-seeking. Let us eat and drink. Our lips are our own; who is Lord over us? Universal apostasy; rejection of God and of his Christ, prophet, priest, and king. All this on an earth marked with frequent judgment. In Noah's days there had been no previous judgment; not so in the last. Everything in the world's long history tells what sin is, what it has done, how God hates it, how He will avenge it, and how He will utterly sweep away the transgressor. The whole history of man, as well as the whole Bible, gives the lie to the fable that sin is just men's misfortune, and that God will not be very hard on the transgressor; and as for eternal punishments, they are a libel on God's character! Such is modern progress—modern development!
II. In the patience of God. (2 Peter 3) Truly it is long-suffering. Noah's days were nothing compared to the last days—as a revelation of long-suffering. Ages of long-suffering! So many mercies, so many warnings! This patience cannot be measured. It passes knowledge. It is infinite and divine. What a gospel do we preach to the world when we tell of ages of long-suffering! In Noah's days it was one hundred and twenty years; in ours it has been already thousands. Reckoning from the cross, we can point to eighteen centuries of long-suffering. What a message to rebellious man! The message of divine compassion and the good news of infinite grace and love.
III. In the warnings given. Noah's message was, "I will destroy"; and "the end of all flesh is come before me"; He made the world ring with these warnings. So our warnings are yet more terrible and quite as definite, "The end of all things is at hand." "Behold the Lord comes." "The Judge stands before the door." Vengeance, sword, fire, the blackness of darkness forever. Read Matthew 24:21, 31; 2 Thessalonians. 1:6-9; 2 Peter 3:7-10; Revelation 4:12, 17; 8:13; 14:8-11; 14:15-21. Dreadful warnings! And they shall all come to pass. Careless man of earth, can you hear them unmoved! Is it nothing to you that such infinite wrath is being prepared for the world? Oh flee from the wrath to come!
IV. In the handful of witnesses. Only Noah and his family. He is the one preacher of righteousness. He condemns the world! So shall it be in the last days. When the Son of man comes shall He find faith on the earth? Satan shall deceive, if it were possible, the very elect. God shall send strong delusion. Only a few shall be found faithful. Iniquity shall abound, and the love of many wax cold. A few out of millions! A few even among professing Christians and in Christian churches! "Few that are saved"; fewer at the close! Let us hold fast our testimony in an age of unbelief.
V. In the deliverance of these witnesses. The deluge comes, but Noah is safe. The flood touches him not. God has provided an ark. So with the saints in the last days. They shall be delivered from the fiery deluge. Some tribulation they may have to pass through, but the last and terrible one they shall escape from. "Watch and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape these things, and to stand before the Son of man."
VI. In the suddenness of the judgment. They knew not until the flood came! So shall the coming be. He comes as a thief; as a snare; as the lightning. One taken and the other left. The world might have known, but they would not. They said, "peace and safety" to the last. Then in a moment the trumpet sounds—the fire comes—the Lord appears! Oh be ready! In the last days perilous times shall come. They shall end in the coming of the Son of man. Enter the ark and be safe forever.
The Lowest And Highest
Luke 19:11-27 (The Parable of the Ten Minas)
"While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. He said: "A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. 'Put this money to work,' he said, 'until I come back.' "But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, 'We don't want this man to be our king.' "He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it. "The first one came and said, 'Sir, your mina has earned ten more.' "'Well done, my good servant!' his master replied. 'Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.' "The second came and said, 'Sir, your mina has earned five more.' "His master answered, 'You take charge of five cities.' "Then another servant came and said, 'Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.' "His master replied, 'I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn't you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?' "Then he said to those standing by, 'Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.' "'Sir,' they said, 'he already has ten!' "He replied, 'I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away. But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them--bring them here and kill them in front of me.'"
This parable is spoken to correct a mistake among his followers. They thought that the kingdom of God was immediately to appear or be "manifested." It does not seem that their views of the nature of the kingdom were incorrect. These were not so carnal as we sometimes suppose. They believed in the promised kingdom; and in Jesus as the promised King; and in Jerusalem as the center or metropolis. Our Lord does not interpose to correct these beliefs; but assumes them as true. But they were wrong as to the time. They thought it immediate. He corrects this in the following parable. He shows them that He must first suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation. Let us bring out the meaning of the parable under the following heads or points, the three people or classes of people, the three events, the three transactions.
I. The three classes of people.
1. The nobleman. It is literally the "high-born man." This is Christ's name; the name of Him who is the Son of God, the only begotten of the Father. He is higher than the kings of the earth. His is a heavenly parentage; and His relationships are all divine. In all senses He is a nobleman; the heir of a kingdom.
2. The servants. Not His disciples only of that day; not the Jews only; but all who enter His service by believing in His name and following him. As He was the Father's servant, so are we his. Each one who calls himself a Christian undertakes this service. These servants are not all alike faithful, or alike zealous; nor are they all alike gifted. But they all profess to be doing his work.
3. The citizens. Not the men of Jerusalem only or Judea, but the men of this earth. They are subjects of his kingdom, in so far as they are dwellers on his earth. They hear of him and of his claims to rule; but they hate and reject him. These are the open rejectors of the Lord. Yet they are called citizens, "His citizens."
II. The three events.
1. The departure. This nobleman comes to the region where his kingdom is to be; but there is a hindrance as to his immediate occupancy of the throne. He must leave and go to some far country to receive the kingdom and to return. So Christ came to earth, the seat of his promised empire; but not as monarch, or at least not to exercise his sovereignty. He must depart. He must go to the Father to receive the kingdom. He has gone; and He is in that country now.
2. The absence. He is now absent. He is preparing for the day of sovereignty. He is receiving the kingdom; and proving the servants and the citizens in his absence. He proves the servants, making this day of his absence the special day of service; and giving to each one work to do, as well as gifts to do it with. It is in his absence that we are specially called to show our service—to be faithful and zealous.
3. The return. He is not always to remain in this far country. He is to return when the fullness of the times has come. He comes back with honor and glory to a kingdom. His shame and sorrow are done. He has come to be glorified, to reign. This same nobleman, this same Jesus will come—He will not tarry. Such is the Father's purpose; such is His own promise, "Surely I come quickly."
III. The three transactions.
1. The commission. He calls his servants, and assigns them their work, apportioning their gifts and spheres. He deals with them personally and directly. He does not send them to his work at their own charges or in their own strength. It is not a commission to some servants, but to all, to each—not to ministers only, but to each one who names his name. He gives you a commission when he gives you pardon; He not only says, "I forgive you all your iniquities, go and sin no more"; but, "I forgive you, go and work for me." If we have had any personal dealing with Christ about salvation, we have received this commission.
2. The judgment. He comes to judge as well as to reign; and his first act is to examine his servants. Have you done my work? Have you made use of my gifts? I left you to yourselves for awhile, but I am now come to ask an account of your doings. What have you to show in the shape of work done for me? Each is examined according to what he has received, and questioned as to what he has done. None exactly alike. Some more, some less faithful; some wholly unfaithful and unprofitable.
3. The recompense. All are not only judged, but recompensed; each receiving according to his deeds.
(1.) The faithful. They receive His "well done," and a glory proportioned to their work.
(2.) The unfaithful. They are stripped of everything, and cast into outer darkness (Matthew 25).
(3.) The citizens. These were never servants; always rejectors, enemies, rebels. These are the multitude, who hear of Christ, but yield no obedience, choose another master and another service—the hosts of Anti-Christ—the men of the world, the mixed multitude in our churches. They are summoned only to be "slain," destroyed by the breath of His mouth and the brightness of His coming.
Christ Must Have Praise
"I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out." Luke 19:40
The meaning of this passage is briefly this."Christ must have praise somewhere; if not at one place and by one class, then assuredly somewhere else and by another class: rather than that He should not have this, a miracle would be wrought, and the stones made to cry out." Christ must have praise. Why?
I. Because it is His due. It is due to His person. He is Son of God, and Son of man; the possessor of all created and all uncreated excellence; the center of every divine and every human perfection. Praise is his due, his right, his lawful and necessary claim. It is due to him as the Word made flesh, as Messiah, as the King who comes in the name of the Lord. It is due to his work and office. He comes as the revealer of the Father and the Father's will; the executor of the Father's purpose; the object of the Father's love; the doer of the mighty work in which the Father was to be glorified and peace made, and love carried out to the sinner in a righteous way.
II. Because it is the Father's purpose. That purpose is that Christ should be praised, that He should receive honor, and glory, and blessing. The Father presents Him to us as the great object of universal praise. He says, "Let all the angels of God worship Him;" let all men worship Him; let creation worship Him; let this earth worship Him, even its stones. For such a purpose (namely, concentrating all praise on Jesus), He must have infinitely wise reasons, even though we did not see them. But what has been made known concerning the person and work of Messiah, shows how infinitely reasonable and glorious that purpose is.
There are some who dislike this praise and this purpose. Such were the Pharisees. Not the "publicans and sinners." Self-righteousness, a self-justifying, self-exulting, religion is the most opposed to the praise of Christ. The professors of it hate such praise. They cannot bear to hear it from others, far less to give it them selves; the voice of praise calls forth their enmity. There are others who are simply silent. They are engrossed with other things, or indifferent. They do not trouble themselves about the matter. They close their lips and their ears. Does either of these classes describe any here? Are there some disregarding the Father's purpose, and giving no praise to Him whom He delights to honor? What! Neither praise nor love! Neither homage nor obedience!
Now what will this refusal, this silence, this anger do?
1. It will not profit themselves. It will not make them happier. It will not secure any favor or honor for them. It will not forward their prospects for eternity. It will not avail them in the day of wrath, or serve them at the judgment-seat.
2. It will not lessen Christ's honor. He will still deserve the honor, though they refuse to give it. He will still be the infinitely loveable, infinitely glorious one, possessed of the name that is above every name.
3. It will not silence others. Heaven will still praise Him, the redeemed will still praise Him. His enemies may be dumb, but that will not silence angels. It will not close one lip, nor cause one tongue to falter.
4. It will not hinder the fulfillment of the Father's purpose. That purpose shall stand, whoever may resist. If these be silent, the stones shall immediately cry out. If one will not praise Him, another shall praise Him; and that praise shall never sink lower than a certain amount. If it should do so, from the silence of those who were expected to praise Him, others—even the unlikeliest—even the dead creation, the stones, will cry out—cry out in praise, and cry out against the wretched men who have refused the honor. God's purpose concerning Christ, and the praise due to Him, shall be carried out to the uttermost, both in time and eternity, both in earth and heaven. That purpose is even now unfolding itself. Christ is glorified even here. There are some that praise Him, in every kingdom and out of every kindred, and every new soul gathered in adds to the song of praise. All earth shall yet praise Him. Creation's universal song of praise shall begin when He returns in His glory to make all things new. All heaven praises, and shall praise Him. Every angel glorifies Him. The multitudes of heaven ascribe blessing to the Lamb. No, all the universe shall yet praise Him. Everything that has breath and being shall praise Him. Sun, moon, and stars shall praise Him, throughout the widest space!
Are you praising Him, brethren? By lip and life, by word and deed? Helping others to praise Him; gathering in the unpraising ones of earth—that they may praise Him?
Will you praise Him, O men? You who have praised self, the creature, the world, "nature," as you call it—will you now begin to praise Him who is infinitely worthy of all your praise and love?
Signs Of The Times
"And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draws near." Luke 21:28.
The things here referred to are the signs of his coming; the sure tokens given by himself that He is at the door. When these are just beginning to unfold themselves, then be of good cheer; your deliverance is at hand (redemption, see Romans 8:23). He uses two remarkable words to indicate the effects which ought to be produced by these premonitory signs:
(1.) lift yourselves up (stoop no more—lift up your bodies);
(2.) lift up your heads; do not merely stand with erect body, but turn your head and eyes upward. The church's posture has hitherto been that of one bowed down (Psalm 14, 38:6, 40:25) under the heavy burdens of an evil day and an evil world. Both body and head are bent towards the earth in grief. But so soon as she hears the signal of her Lord's approach, she rises up from her stooping posture, she looks upwards to observe the coming deliverance and glory.
It is of great importance, then, that we read the signs aright; not only as given here by our Lord, but afterwards by his apostles. It is of little consequence in what order we take them. They are numerous, and scattered over the New Testament. I take them alphabetically for the sake of memory.
I. Anti-christianity.I mean not Popery merely, but all the forms, in which opposition to Christ shows itself; whether false doctrine or active hostility to Christ. A false Christianity; error regarding the person and work of Christ; subversion of the cross, and blood, and righteousness of Christ; all the ways in which Christ is opposed, directly or indirectly; in which men are uttering the cry, "We will not have this man to reign over us"; let us break their bands and cast away their cords (Luke 14:14; Psalm 2:3; Acts 4:27). There are many antichrists.
II. Disbelief of the advent.The advent of Christ itself shall be one of the things which scepticism shall assail. There are two classes which shall be found rejecting it—the professing Christian who says, "My Lord delays his coming," the scoffing world that says, "Where is the promise of his coming?"
III. Error.The fruit of the tree of knowledge is still being eaten by man, and still infusing its poison. Love of knowledge is the professed starting-point. But in the pursuit of this, God is not acknowledged as the teacher, nor the Bible as the infallible textbook. Speculation abounds; inspired trammels are flung off; pride of intellect operates; man worships his own mind; every day brings forth some novel opinion; revelation is thrust down from its high position; every form of error gives vent; until God gives men over to a reprobate mind, and sends them strong delusion that they should believe a lie. "They will not endure sound doctrine," but are "carried about with every wind of doctrine."
IV. Energy of evil.Evil men and seducers are to wax worse and worse. Sin will unfold itself to the uttermost. The human heart will speak out. It will not be dormant or inactive evil; it will be energetic to the utmost in seeking to counteract the good—no, to destroy it utterly. In some ages evil seems to sleep. In the last days it will awake to full life and activity. It will seize every instrument, the press, the pulpit, the platform. It will enlist every science and art—music, sculpture, painting, poetry, philosophy—making them all subservient to its development. Satan, both as the prince of darkness, and as an angel of light, will come down, having great wrath, to put forth his wiles, his powers—to the utmost. The multiplication of crimes, contempt of laws, blasphemies—these are specimens of the energy of evil.
V. Formalism.The apostle, after enumerating the sins of the last days, adds this: "Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof." There is to be the appearance of religion to suit the "religious" part of man's nature; but this is to be coupled with all sin, and error, and ungodliness—more, infidelity. Whited sepulchers; wells without water; trees without fruit; lamps without oil; a religion without the Holy Spirit!
VI. Latitudinarianism.Indifference to revealed truth, no, to all truth; making light of error; holding that all religions are right and acceptable, and that there are a thousand ways to heaven, if there is a heaven or a hell at all. Laxity of opinion, and laxity of morals, will prevail. Immorality is to overflow in every form, and will not be condemned. A loose faith, and a loose practice, an easy law, an easy gospel; all the evils described in the third chapter of second Timothy, unfolding themselves, and not disapproved of.
VII. Missions.Towards the close of the last days, we are to expect special efforts in behalf of Jew and Gentile. The gospel is to be preached to all nations. The Jew is to be sought out. The Bible is to go over the earth. The messengers of Christ are to make their errand known. At no time since the apostles has this been the case so much as now.
VIII. Political changes.European changes; the reconstruction of the ten kingdoms; the breaking up of old land marks; the confusion of all political principle; the placing of government in the hands of the lowest; the speaking evil of dignities.
IX. Pride and self-will.The pride of power; the pride of knowledge and intellect; self-reliance; belief in self-regeneration, without the power of God, or the Holy Spirit. Unwillingness to brook restraints: "Our lips are our own; who is Lord over us?" This willfulness or lawlessness is to come to a head in Antichrist; but it is to be manifested everywhere, in the church and in the world. Self-will! That is to be the characteristic of the last days.
X. Restlessness.Many shall run to and fro. The whole world shall be in motion; fermentation everywhere; rushing here and there; unable to be still. As the man possessed by a devil could not rest, so our world in the last days, possessed by the devil, shall exhibit the very restlessness of hell—of him who is ever going to and fro in the earth, walking up and down in it.
XI. Satanic influences.We see this not only in the errors and blasphemies that are abroad—infidelity and atheism. But we see it in the pretended communications with the invisible world—the spirit-consulting, which is spreading everywhere; so that millions are under these subtle and potent influences.
XII. Wars.The world's great crisis is the Armageddon battle. Up until that time there are to be wars and rumors of wars.
XIII. Worldliness.This present evil world is to be the object of man's idolatry. In this way materialism will show itself. Religious materialism, ecclesiastical materialism, political materialism. This material world in all its aspects will be worshiped. Luxury, lust of the flesh, lust of the eye, &c., all mingle together to make up the intense worldliness of the last days.
Deliverance In The Day of The Lord
"Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man." Luke 21:36
This chapter, though relating at its commencement to the days of our Lord, runs on far into the future, and carries us down to his second coming. The "last days" are the times more especially referred to; the days which end with his arrival as Judge and King.
I. These days are days of calamity.Both for Israel and for the church; no, for the world also, these were to be days of sorrow. These sorrows were to be various, as if all past calamities were summed up and gathered together in these. Then are the vials of divine wrath to be poured out. Nothing in the past can equal them. Judgments, terrors, persecutions; earthquakes, overturnings, darkenings of sun and moon and stars; these and such like are to mark that solemn day. The destruction of Jerusalem was only a shadow of this. The Indian horrors are but preludes of what is coming. The day of the Lord will be a day of darkness and gloominess.
II. These calamities are to be very widespread.They are to be terrible as the doom of Sodom and Gomorrah, but far more universal. They are not mere judgments on a city or a land, but on a world! The heavens and the earth; the sea and the land; Israel and the Gentiles; Jerusalem and Babylon; Judea and Idumea; all are to share the judgments, for all have sinned. God's sword shall smite and not spare; for it is the day of His vengeance; vengeance against sin, against idolatry, against anti-Christian rebellion, against Jewish unbelief, against apostate Christianity; vengeance for dishonor done to Himself, to His Son, to His Spirit; to His Bible, to His gospel, to His law. Like the deluge, the vengeance will overflow the earth.
III. There will be some that will escape.Such has always been the way in the execution of judgment. The great mass of the ungodly have perished, for God's purpose was to show His hatred of sin; but a few have been preserved to declare His grace and sovereign pleasure in saving whom He will. The flood swept the world away; but Noah and his family were saved. The fire of heaven consumed the cities of the plain, yet Lot and his two daughters were preserved. Tens of thousands perished in the overthrow of Jerusalem, but the Christians in it escaped. So is it to be in the last and most terrible of God's visitations. A remnant shall be saved. Balaam asks, Who shall live when God does this? And certainly it will be a time of trouble such as never was upon the earth, such as seems to make escape impossible. But some Noahs, some Lots, shall be delivered. God will show how He can preserve—as well as destroy; how He can rain down judgment on Egypt—and yet keep Israel in safety.
IV. This deliverance shall be by the direct hand and power of God.This passage does not say so. But others intimate that God will interfere to deliver. Indeed, in such a burst of universal vengeance, it seems difficult to conceive of any escaping save by miracle; either by being caught away from the judgment just before it begins, as in the case of Enoch, or being carried through the midst in safety, as in the case of Noah, or the three children in the furnace. God speaks of "chambers," into which He calls His people to enter until the indignation be overpast; and He speaks of the righteous being taken away from the evil to come; and the 91st Psalm will be specially fulfilled to these preserved ones in that day of trial and destruction.
V. Those who are saved are they who watch and pray.There are many allusions in the prophets to a chosen few of faithful worshipers who are to be delivered. We commonly give these passages a mere general application, as referring to any time of calamity; and no doubt they are so written as to bear this meaning, and to afford comfort to God's believing ones in any day of sorrow. But like many other words of the prophets, they have a fuller meaning, and point to a prophetic application in the last days. Such is Psalm 91. Such is Isaiah 24:13, 14; 33:14-16; Malachi 3:16, 17. And in these passages the characters of the delivered are fully described. But our Lord in His exhortation here sets them before us in two words, Watch and pray; two words which He elsewhere used, and which the Apostle Peter, doubtless remembering the Master's words, makes use of, "The end of all things is at hand, be therefore sober and watch unto prayer."
(1.) Watch. Beware of sleep. It is a drowsy world; or rather it is a world fast asleep in sin. It is the world's night, and this induces drowsiness. It is to be specially the temptation of the church in the last days, "while the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept." Many things in the present day tend to lull us asleep; worldly prosperity, the progress of the arts, outward comforts, luxury, freedom from danger, lack of persecution. We are in danger of being overcome by these opiates, these soporifics of the evil one. Therefore let us watch. Let us be ever on our guard against the drowsiness that is constantly overtaking us. Let us beware of being led into this by pleasure, or covetousness, or vanity, or love of ease. Let us watch. It is not for nothing that God has spoken to us during these late years in such appalling judgments abroad, such afflictive disasters at home. He says, Wake up! to those who are asleep. He says, Watch! to those who are drowsy. Let us not sleep as do others.
(2.) Pray. While watching, let us pray. Let us watch upon our knees. A watching time should be a praying time. It is to more than merely keeping ourselves awake that the Lord calls us. Pray! Pray always! or literally, in all times and seasons; not yesterday only, but today; not in darkness only, but in the light; not in adversity only, but in prosperity; not in the day of bereavement, and terror, and weariness, but in the time of security, and comfort, and peace. Pray always. Pray without ceasing.
It is the watchers and the prayers who shall be saved out of, or carried through, the coming storm. Only they. If you fear the day of trouble that is at hand, watch and pray. That only will avail. How God is to deliver in that day, I cannot say; but He will, though it should be by a fiery chariot, or by an ark, or by his angel sent down from heaven. He will deliver.
VI. These delivered ones shall stand before the Son of man.This standing has a twofold reference:
(1) A standing in judgment (Psalm 1:5), that is, being acquitted in the day of the Lord;
(2.) a standing in the presence of the Lord, as in Revelation 7:9, 14:1, 5, 15:2, 22:4.
There is not merely deliverance in that day for these, but glory and triumph in the presence of the King. They shall see his face, and his name shall be in their foreheads. They shall stand before him as part of his glorious retinue, his honored ones, his chosen ones, his blessed ones. Having suffered with Him, they shall reign with Him; having been partakers of his shame, they shall be sharers of his glory.
Watch and pray always; and so much the more as you see the day approaching. For the time is short, and the coming of the Lord draws near. This year may unfold much; be ready for what is coming. Whether it ushers in the advent of the Lord or not—be ready. Watch and pray. Your own spiritual prosperity demands this. Your exemption from impending judgment demands this. Your usefulness in the world, during the world's brief remaining day, demands this. The glory of your Lord demands this; and the Lord himself expects it at your hand. Watch therefore, and pray always!
The New Wine Of The Kingdom
"For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come." Luke 22:18.
Two feasts had just been celebrated by our Lord and his disciples immediately before these words were spoken. The first was the Passover, and the second was the Supper. Both of these were festivals of rejoicing, the one for Israel after the flesh, the other for the spiritual Israel—the saved and called ones of every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people. It might seem then to the disciples as if this were now at last the beginning of their joy, a joy no more to be overcrowded or withdrawn. It might seem as if this were the final cementing of their happy union, a union no more to be broken up. Notwithstanding all that the Lord had said about his approaching sufferings, they were so "slow of heart to believe," that they might be even at this moment imagining that the time of their tribulation was now about to close and the hour of their triumph to begin. In a prospect such as this they would be disposed greatly to rejoice, not for their own sakes only, but for the sake of a Master whom they loved so well, and over whose unceasing sorrow their loving hearts had often mourned.
Perhaps it might be then, to counteract some such rising feeling of exultation, that our Lord addressed to them the words of our text: "But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom." They were right in their anticipations of the coming kingdom, with all its fullness of joy, but they had altogether miscalculated the time of its approach. They still overlooked the suffering which lay between. They refused to admit the idea of Messiah's shame and death as being the only way to his final glory and honor in the everlasting kingdom. In the verse before us He makes reference to the interval that still lay between Him and the kingdom. He tells them that though there should certainly come a day of festal joy, in which He and they should rejoice together; yet that day was not immediately at hand. It would assuredly come—but not now. They must prepare for separation, not for union; for sorrow, not for joy; for fasting, not for feasting; for the Bridegroom's absence, not His presence. This was His farewell-feast with His disciples until the day of the eternal meeting in the heavenly Jerusalem. And the words are evidently similar, in reference and import, to those of the apostle: "As often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, you do show the Lord's death until He come."
It was as if he had said to his disciples, "You may think this the beginning of my joy and your joy, the dawning of a bright day of happy fellowship and union with each other. It is not so. It is the commencement of my deepest agony; it is the last time that we shall thus feast together, until the kingdom shall come. Between that period and this, there is a long and dreary interval to elapse. But after these dark days are over, then shall I sit down with you once more in happy communion, and drink of the fruit of the vine new with you at a better table; not in this poor upper chamber of the earthly Jerusalem, but in one of the many mansions of my Father's house, prepared for us in the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from God."
There is a calm melancholy in these words which at once touches and subdues us. Simple as they are, a deep solemnity pervades them. Both He and they were sad; yet it was expedient that He should go away. He would gladly have remained and feasted with them, but he had other work to do—both in earth and heaven. He must go. "I say"; "truly I say"; thus he assures them of the unwelcome truth of his departure. He thus speaks,
I. Of a time when He DID drink of the fruit of the vine.This He had been doing since they had come together, at each feast, each passover, at their accustomed meals, at Simon's house, at Cana in Galilee; partaking with them of their common food, and interchanging fellowship. He had expressed his desire to do so once more: "With desire have I desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer." He is now doing so—presenting to us the bread of blessing and the cup of blessing. Thus Jesus delighted in human fellowship. He came not only to give joy to us, but to receive joy from us. He sought communion in every way. His delights were with the sons of men. See the whole of the Song of Solomon. Let us give Him the fellowship He seeks; He longs for admittance to our house and table, let us not shut Him out. His promise is, "I will come in and sup with him, and he with me."
II. Of a time when He would NOT drink of the fruit of the vine."After this I shall not taste it again." He puts away from Him that cup, which was expressive of fellowship and joy. The period here alluded to consists of two parts: (1.) the period of his agony onward to his resurrection; (2.) the period from his resurrection to his second coming.
(1.) His agony and death. He had hardly uttered these words when his enemies seized Him, led by a disciple. There was his betrayal, desertion, denial, scourging, crucifying, the myrrh and gall, and crown of thorns. Truly this was another cup; not the fruit of the vine which makes glad, but bitterness, and trembling, and death. As if he were now saying, "I have another cup to drink, a cup of gall and wrath—to drink alone; this cup I must drink—that you may not drink it. I must forego your fellowship and love—for the presence of enemies; now is the hour and power of darkness." What deep sadness is here! It is the language of the man of sorrows; of one who delighted in the love of his disciples, and would rather that this cup had passed from Him, but who was yet willing to drink it to the dregs. What deep love is here! It is love which many waters could not quench.
(2.) From his resurrection to his coming and kingdom. The present interval is one of absence. Not that this is a period of suffering; that is all over. But it is not the period of his full joy. That fullness is still future; his great joy is still postponed. It is not perfected yet; so long as He is absent from His church and His kingdom; so long as His chosen ones are not gathered; so long as the bride is not ready, and the marriage not consummated, and the bodies of his beloved are still lying in the grave. Thus he reserves or postpones his full joy until the great day of resurrection and reunion.
III. Of a time when He SHALL drink again of the fruit of the vine with them.That is the day of his coming and kingdom; the day of his crowning is the day of the gladness of his heart (Song 3:2). It is the day of feasting (Isaiah 25:6). It is the day of his royal glory. It is the marriage day; the day of full fellowship with his own. He shall then drink the wine of the kingdom, and drink it new with them; not as in Cana, the guest; but himself the bridegroom; the governor of the feast as well as the provider of the wine.
Let us mark here,
(1.) His deep SORROW. He is like one surrounded with friends, yet having within him a grief too deep for utterance.
(2.) The calm RESIGNATION. As if He said, "I leave this happy company to suffer." He shrinks not, murmurs not, though foreseeing the cup he is about to drink. He goes calmly, like a lamb to the slaughter. "The cup which my Father has given me, shall I not drink it?"
(3.) The gentle LOVE. It is love which utters these words; love willing to be torn away from the beloved object, if by this he can be of service to it. He pleased not himself. It was our happiness he sought.
(4) The joy in our FELLOWSHIP. Interchange of affection is what he seeks. His desire is for nearness and communion.
(5.) The anticipation of the GLORY. There is glory to be revealed; glory for Him as for us; when he returns to his kingdom. For this he longs. "I come quickly," he says. Let us answer, Even so come, Lord Jesus! Come to raise your saints! Come to the marriage supper! Come to the crown and throne! Come to the joy and glory!
The Heavenly Feast
"And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you." Luke 22:19-20
This was Passover-night; the anniversary of "the night much to be remembered," when the Lord God of Israel led Israel out of Egypt. Jesus kept all the passovers; and specially He desired to keep this, the last of the long series of memorable nights in which Israel commemorated the grand deliverance.
The roasted lamb disappears, and in its place come the bread and wine; the symbols of the new and better covenant. It is with these that we have to do in the ordinance of the supper. And, as of the passover, so of the supper—Jesus is all.
I. The taking of the BREAD.It is bread that he takes; one of the passover cakes; made of the produce of this soil—earth's wheat, sown, watered, springing up and ripening here. For he took not the nature of angels, but He took the seed of Abraham. Himself the incarnate One, the Word made flesh He presents to us. He is very man, of the substance of the virgin, of the flesh of man, true seed of the woman, true Son of Adam; not angelic, but human, thoroughly human in His nature; man all over in everything but sin; for that passover cake was without leaven.
II. The thanksgiving.The other evangelists call it "blessing." The meaning is the same. He "gave thanks" and He "blessed;" not the bread, but God; for "it" is not in the original. He praised God in connection with this bread. Jesus gave thanks for the bread, and specially for that of which it was the symbol. He gave thanks to the Father for his now almost completed work, and for all that that work was to accomplish.
III. The breaking of the bread.He broke the thin passover cake in pieces, that thereby He might complete the symbol. For the breaking was a most important part of the feast. The bread was to be first broken before it was eaten. Not a bone of Him was to be broken, and yet his body was to be broken. The "bruising of the heel" and the "breaking of the body" were the two expressions used to denote his suffering work as the substitute or sacrifice for sin. It is not incarnation merely, which we have in the supper, but death—sacrificial death; the body broken by the burden of our guilt laid upon Him. Christ crucified is the alpha and omega of the Lord's supper. It is his cross that is set before us there; his cross as the place where our guilt and our curse were borne.
IV. The giving.In many ways Christ gave himself to us; but here it is specially as the sin-bearer that He does so. It is his broken body that He presents to us. This is his gift to us. That broken body, with the sin-bearing work which it accomplished, He gives to us. It is the gift of his love; the love that passes knowledge.
V. The word of explanation and command.The explanation is, "This is my body, given for you." The command is, "This do in remembrance of me." Thus, we learn these two things:
(1.) that it is the body of Christ—Christ on the cross—that we have so specially to do with here; "my flesh is food indeed;"
(2.) that the Lord's supper is a memorial of Christ himself; not a sacrifice, but the memorial of a sacrifice. That bread is to be received by us in remembrance of Christ. It fixes our eye on Jesus only.
Such is the first part of the supper; that concerning the bread or body of the Lord. The second is like unto it; concerning the wine or blood of the Lord. The process is repeated. As was done with the bread, so is it done with the WINE.
(1.) He took the cup. It was the cup of blessing. He took to himself not only the flesh but the blood of man.
(2.) He gave thanks (Matthew 26:27). For the wine as well as for the bread He gives thanks; double thanksgivings in this ordinance.
(3.) He gave the cup. The cup He meant for them as specially as the bread. Yes; He gave it; who then can take it away? Can man, or priest, or church take the cup from us? Does not He who takes the cup from us prove himself to be an Antichrist?
(4.) He bade them drink. "Drink from it, all of you" (Matthew 26:27). And "they all drank of it" (Mark 14:23). It is by his command that we drink. He says to us, "Drink"; not, Gaze on it; but, Drink of it.
(5.) He interprets the cup. "This cup is the new testament in my blood." In Mark (14:24) it is, "This is my blood of the new testament." In 1 Corinthians 10:16 it is called "the cup of blessing," and the "communion of the blood of Christ." Thus the cup connects us:
(1.) with the new covenant;
(2.) with the blood;
(3.) with blessing;
(4.) with communion.
In that cup we see the covenant, the blood, the blessing, the communion. Let us fully understand it, and realize its contents.
Of these symbols—of this whole ordinance—we may say truly:
(1.) The love of Christ is here. It is the feast of love. The symbols tell of love. The whole scene is love. His banner over us is love.
(2.) The joy of Christ is here. It is not the man of sorrows that we hear in this feast. Joy and peace are here. "My peace;" "my joy."
(3.) The glory of Christ is here. For though the symbols take us back to the cross, they bid us look forward to the coming and the glory. We show his death until He comes.
The Three Crosses
Luke 23:32-43. "Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals--one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One." The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, "If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself." There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."
The place of this transaction is Jerusalem; the holy city; outside its walls. The scene is that of three crosses, three criminals, soldiers, priests, a Jewish crowd, a great execution, a few weeping women, and one or two afflicted men in the distance. It has much to say to us; most of it not upon the surface, but hidden and silent; something of God, of the Savior, of the sinner; something of sin, of salvation, of damnation; something of heaven, of earth, of hell; sin pardoned, sin unpardoned; a soul won, a soul lost: Christ received, Christ rejected.
Let us select a few lessons.
I. Man's hatred of God.Human enmity, malice, envy, come out in every part of the transaction. Pilate's hall; the scourging, mocking, spitting, smiting; the cry, Crucify Him! the nailing, the wagging the head; the thief's railing. The very idea of placing Him between two malefactors, is a reproof of desperate malice; the refinement of hatred. Here are man's heart, hands, tongue, all coming out against God and his Son. If there were a spark of love in man, it would have come out. But only hatred! "Haters of God" is written on each forehead yonder; "enmity to God" breaks forth in word and deed. It was not love, it was not mere indifference that came out at Calvary, but hatred; the hatred of the human race, to the God who was yearning over it in love.
II. God's love to man.Herein is love! Love to the uttermost; unquenched and unquenchable by all that man can do. Man pours floods upon this love to quench it, but it grows more intense. What patience with man's utmost malice; what forbearance with his sin! "Father forgive them; for they know not what they do." Was ever love like this? So large, so free, so overflowing. Sin abounding; grace much more abounding. The tide of divine love meeting that of human hatred, and overcoming it.
III. God's purpose to finish the work.He will not allow Himself to be provoked to leave the propitiation half finished, the sacrifice half offered. Man does his utmost to provoke God to let him alone, to withdraw the salvation and the Savior. But God's purpose shall stand. Every part of it shall be carried out. The wrath of man shall praise Him. All the indignities heaped upon the holy Son of God shall not cause Him to draw back in his work of righteous grace. It shall be finished! The altar shall be built—built by man's enmity; the sacrifice shall be slain—slain by man's enmity. The work shall be done.
IV. The divine interpretation of the work.The saved thief is a specimen of what it is appointed to do. Sin abounding, grace super-abounding. What is yon cross erected for? To save souls! See, it saves one of the worst; one who had done nothing but evil all his days. What does that blood flow for? To wash away sin. See, it washes one of the blackest. What does yon sufferer die for? To pardon the guiltiest. Not merely to save from hell, but to open Paradise to the chief of sinners—to open it at once; not after years of torment, but "today." Today "with me." Yes, Jesus goes back to heaven with a saved robber at his side! What an efficacy in yon cross! What grace, what glory, what cleansing, what healing, what blessing, yonder! Even "in weakness" the Son of God can deliver, can pluck brands from the burning, can defy and defeat the evil one. Such is the meaning of the cross! Such is the interpretation which God puts upon it by saving that wretched thief, whose hanging yonder proves that he is under condemnation—the first saved by the cross after it had been set up; and Christ Himself goes up to join in the joy over one sinner that repents.
V. How near to hell a man may be—and yet be saved.That thief, was he not on the very brink of the burning lake; one foot in hell; almost set on fire by hell? Yet he is plucked out! He has done nothing but evil all his days—down to the very last hour of his life—yet he is saved. He is just about to step into perdition, when the hand of the Son of God seizes him and lifts him to Paradise! Ah what grace is here! What boundless love! What power to save! Who after this need despair? Truly Jesus is mighty to save!
VI. How near a man may be to Christ—and yet not be saved.The other thief is as near the Savior as his fellow—yet he perishes. From the very side of Christ he goes down to hell. From the very side of his saved fellow—he passes into damnation. We see the one going up to heaven from his cross, and the other going down to hell from it. In Judas we see one who had been with Christ in His life, go down to hell; in the lost thief, one who was beside Him in His death. This is astonishing; and it is fearful! Oh what a lesson, what a sermon is here! Was there ever such a warning given to us! Can any of you be nearer to Christ than that thief was? Looking at Him, hearing Him, speaking to Him! Yet he was lost after all! Oh make sure. Not outward nearness; not religion; not contact with the Word of God; not eating and drinking the symbols of His body and blood; not all these can save! You may be very near Christ, and yet not be in Him. Your next neighbor may be saved, and you lost; one taken, the other left. Take heed; make sure. Salvation is too precious to be trifled with!
The Disciples' Invitation To The Master
"They constrained Him, saying—Abide with us." Luke 24:29
Here it is not the Master to the disciple, but the disciple to the Master, that is saying, Come. It is not the Lord that is standing at the door and saying, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with me"; it is the disciple that is saying, "Come in you blessed of the Lord." As of old, He said to Jacob at Peniel, "Let me go, for the day breaks," so here it is said, "He made as though He would have gone further"; but as Jacob said, "I will not let you go except you bless me," so do the two disciples here, "They constrained Him, saying—Abide with us"; and as He blessed Jacob before He parted from him, so here He does go in and sit down with them, and when He leaves them He leaves a blessing behind Him, for the house was filled with the odor of the ointment, doubtless to retain its fragrance for many a day.
The request seems to have been made for two reasons—on their own account, and on his. They had enjoyed his converse and fellowship by the way so much that they are unwilling to part; and, besides, the evening is coming on, and He must not expose Himself to the dews, and cold, and darkness of the night.
The latter of these reasons we cannot use now in the sense in which they were used by the disciples. The risen Christ is now far beyond the days and nights of time; beyond the mists and clouds of earth; far beyond the chills and the gloom of this world. He needs no earthly roof to shelter Him, and no earthly table to sit at. He is now in his Father's house, and on his Father's throne, compassed about with light, and majesty, and glory, and honor.
But in his members He is now passing through the same hardships, and sufferings, and privations as when He was here. "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me" is still his admonition; and still He so identifies Himself with his saints that we may use the words which originally meant Him personally in reference to ourselves as one with Him. Without, however, confining it to this sense, let us meditate as follows upon these words, "Abide with us."
1. Abide with us—for past days have been so pleasant.Since first we apprehended You, or rather since You apprehended us—since you did overtake us on the way, we have found such blessedness, that we cannot bear the thought of parting. Your fellowship has been so sweet that we must have more of it. The little that we tasted in the past, makes us long for more. Abide with us.
2. Abide with us—for the world would be a blank without you.Life would not be life if you were gone. We would be like the disciples on the stormy sea—"It was night, and Jesus had not come to them." Night and tempest, without moon and stars, would be nothing to this world without you. A house left desolate without an inhabitant, without a sound, or a voice, or footstep—would be nothing to the dreariness of our earth and of our homes without you. All would be blank and chilling. It is You who fills hearts, and lights up homes, and gladdens even wildernesses with your presence.
3. Abide with us—for we know not what our future is to be.We know the past, we know the present, but the future is hidden. For that future and all its uncertainties, we need a guide and a protector; one who will light up our path, who will fight for us, who will deliver us and keep us to the last, in all changes, trials, sorrows, joys. Abide with us. Leave us not, neither forsake us, O God of our salvation, O rest of the weary, O light of the dark, O Savior of the lost, O joy of the sorrowful, O helper of the helpless—unchanging companion, friend and kinsman, with whom there is no variableness nor shadow of turning—the same yesterday, today, and forever! Lead us out, leads us in, lead us along the way, lead us by the still waters, lead us into your banqueting house, and let your banner over us be love!
4. Abide with us—for earth's night is at hand.Time's shadows are lengthening; its sun is going down behind the hills of earth. The end of all things is at hand; the day of the Lord hastens greatly; the time of vengeance and judgment comes; Satan is about to do his worst; Antichrist will rage; evil men and seducers will wax worse and worse; perilous times will come; wars and rumors of wars will disquiet us; earthquakes shall be in diverse places, the sea and its waves roaring, men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after the things that are coming on the earth. Oh abide with us! Abide with us in all your love and grace; in all your strength and help; in all your joy and peace. Abide with us for evermore!