Christ's Gracious Words
"All who were there spoke well of him and were amazed by the gracious words that fell from his lips." Luke 4:22
"And all bore him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth." -Luke 4:22
It was one of the grand and peculiar characteristics of our Lord's preaching, that He Himself was the great theme. Without entrenching upon His Father's glory, or arrogating to Himself an honor not His own, He could embody in His teachings all the truth of which He himself was the subject. As He came down from heaven to reveal heaven, as He came from the bosom of His Father to unveil that bosom, as He was one with the Father, it was impossible that He could faithfully and fully proclaim His gospel unless He Himself were its one grand and holy theme. The passage at the head of this chapter presents to us a view of the subject, character, and glory of the Lord's preaching. Indeed, it was most glorious for it was a proclamation of grace to fallen, sinful man. It is a testimony wrung from the lips of His unwilling witnesses, from individuals who had no sympathy with the grand theme of His mission, who rejected His person and His preaching, because of the humiliating character of both; yet they stood amazed at the words with which that ministry was unfolded.
The first truth that the passage suggests to us is that the Lord Jesus is one into whose lips God's grace is poured; and the second is the gracious words that proceeded out of those lips. In Psalm 45 we have this truth beautifully exhibited: "My heart is inditing a good matter [the matter is always good where Christ is the substance,] my tongue is the pen of a ready writer. You are fairer than the children of men; grace is poured into your lips." You who have a spiritual eye to discern spiritual things will find another striking unfolding of this truth in Cant. 5:13,16: "His cheeks are as a bed of spices his lips like lilies, dropping sweet smelling myrrh; His mouth is most sweet." It is a description by the Church of the superlative excellence and preciousness of her Lord. This is one of the marked excellences His anointed lips. The great truth here set forth is the plenitude of grace poured into the humanity of our adorable Lord not into His lips merely.
Alas! how many of us have cause to mourn over the shallowness of our grace, it going no deeper than the lip yet of how many professors it may be said, "they have no grace even in their lips; their lips utter no words of grace." We speak not of volubility, for little confidence do we place in much talking and in long prayers. It is an easy matter for a man to talk fluently of divine things, and yet live a most unholy life. We know that the deepest water is the most quiet, and the brook that is the most shallow is the most noisy. The grace that is welled the deepest in a man's heart will be exhibited in the most humble walk with God. He will talk like a man deeply feeling the power of the truths of which he speaks. As Hart quaintly expresses it, "not loud talkers, but, lowly walkers." Blessed is the man in whose lips grace is poured, who can talk of Christ, the King in His beauty- who can testify he has felt God's love in his heart- that there is grace in Christ to break the strongest corruption, consolation in Christ to lift the soul above its sorrow- that there is that in Jesus that can make a man happy in the midst of the wreck of all created good!
The grace that was poured into the lips of Christ welled up from the depths of His manhood. There was a blessed necessity that our Lord should be endowed with all grace. He stood as the Head of His Church. Adam was originally its head and all the grace of the Church was deposited in him. - But the grace was deposited in a mere creature; that creature, left to itself, fell; and when it fell, the beautiful vessel in which the sacred treasure was deposited was destroyed, and the Church became a bankrupt and necessitous Church. In order to her recovery, it was necessary there should be another vessel of grace into which the grace of the Church should be deposited. Where would God look for that vessel? He would not look for it in angels, for they were but creatures, and God had tested the creature; and why may not angels fall, as they had already fallen? Where would He then look for the vessel? He saw one dwelling in His bosom. His own beloved Son, one co-equal with Himself, essential with Himself; and in that Son He deposited the grace of the Church. He made Him the Vessel in which He placed it, and from which every vessel of mercy shall be fully and eternally replenished. Now, that part of our Savior's complex nature into which this grace was deposited was His humanity. It could not possibly be His deity. The Spirit without measure was poured upon Christ; and as man, He was made the depositary of this rich grace, yet all derived from His Godhead- the fountain, where it flowed.
We proceed now to consider the gracious words that proceeded out of those lips. It will be difficult to imagine any other than gracious words flowing from Christ, whose heart was the overflowing fountain of grace and love. Our Lord was the great Prophet of His Church. A greater than He never appeared, to whom His hearers bore witness, "Never a man spoke like this man." What, for example, are His doctrines but doctrines of grace? Our Lord was a doctrinal preacher. He made doctrine the basis of precept, and precept the basis of promise. It is the foundation of all truth. Did He propound the everlasting love of the Father? Did He set forth the great doctrine, the election of grace? Did He exhibit the sovereignty of God's mercy? Did He unfold the perpetuity of God's covenant? They were all exhibited as doctrines that laid man's pride in the dust, and exalted the grace and mercy of God. There is not a doctrine in Christ's ministry that does not tend to abase the creature.
We know that these doctrines are by some abused, awfully abused- nevertheless, the abuse of a doctrine is no valid argument against the truth or holiness of a doctrine. But we know there are those who do use them to the glory of God's name, and can bear this testimony, "I never saw my heart so sinful, I never was so weaned from self-confidence, as when these glorious doctrines of grace were opened up to my mind by the power of the blessed Spirit, and I saw that God's everlasting love, God's choice of me, the effectual calling of the Spirit, sprang from the fathomless depths of His most full and sovereign grace."
And was not this free, unconditional grace the charm of Christ's preaching? Did He not reiterate the glorious truth, "You have destroyed yourself, but in Me is your help." Was not His one blessed theme, the announcement of God's matchless love and pardoning grace to the vilest sinner, drawn by the Spirit to avail himself of the divine and precious boon?
The promises that fell from His lips, were they not gracious Words? Were they not such as met the circumstances of man's deep necessity as a sinner, based upon the free mercy of God in Christ? Oh, if the promise of a Savior's blood had waited until it saw in its recipient some virtue, some merit, then that promise of sin-forgiving grace would have never saluted our ear. But they are promises of free, rich grace; and it is a humiliating reflection, had God dealt with us after our dealings with Him, He would have withdrawn every promise of grace which now cheers and sustains our pilgrimage.
What, too, are the invitations of Christ but gracious words? Truly, "His lips are like lilies." When He invites the weary and the burdened to come to Him for rest; when He stretches out His gracious hand to the vilest sinner, to the man who has lifted his arm against God; when He heals the broken heart, lifts up the dejected spirit, and with the skillful tongue of the learned, speaks a word in season to him that is weary; are they not gracious words? The invitation that bids me to throw down the weapons of my rebellion before the cross, and meet the embrace of a reconciled Father- is not that gracious? The invitation that bids me come and slake my soul's deep thirst at the well-spring of free salvation- is not that gracious? The invitation that bids me reason the matter with God, and tells me that "though my sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool"- is not that gracious? The invitation that bids me lay my deepest sorrows on His heart, and my heaviest burdens on His arm; is not that gracious? O beloved! the words of Jesus are full of grace and there is nothing in the gospel of Christ that wakes one harsh note upon the ear of a poor, sin-burdened, guilt-distressed soul.
There may be an allusion here to the manner of our Lord's teaching- He spoke gracefully. There was that in His mode of stating the gospel like Himself. There was nothing harsh or severe in His unfoldings of truth. He spoke like one who had authority. "I am the light of the world," "I am the way, the truth, and the life," "I am the bread of life," "I am the good Shepherd," "I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly," "You call me Master and Lord; you say well, for so I am." With what authority He preached, with what boldness He enunciated His own gospel! And it is no small comfort to a child of God to know that He has authority to announce salvation, to declare the mind of God, and that, if we believe His testimony, and cast ourselves upon His word, we shall be saved. There is no view of the Lord's ministry more blessed than this. With what dignity and skill did He speak! His enemies sought to entangle Him in His conversations. Did they ever succeed? No, did He not foil them with their own weapons, and send them away abashed at their folly?
Let us for a few moments trace the different effects which the words of Christ have upon some. In all cases it is not the same. This unfolds an instructive feature- that the same gospel some times produces almost opposite effects. In some, the emotion of wonder is produced. It was so with regard to the hearers in the present instance. There they rested. What was it prevented a deeper impression upon their minds? We have it in the question they asked- "Is not this Joseph's son?" They knew Him from early life, knew His parents and His avocation, and they stumbled at the external lowliness of the great Prophet of the Church. May we not detect the workings of similar feelings in the minds of men in the present day?
Why do men ignore Christianity? Why do they reject the Savior? They are confounded at the philosophy, and are amazed at the depth of thought there is in Christianity! They are lost in admiration at its morality, and are enchanted with its purity and sublimity; and yet they reject the salvation and refuse the Savior, and rest in the mere emotion of wonder; and thus the truth of Christ produces no permanent and saving impression. Their condition is graphically described in Ezekiel, "They come unto you as the people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear your words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they show much love, but their heart goes after their covetousness. And, lo, you are unto them as a very lovely song of one that has a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear your words, but they do them not." Eloquence attracts them, intellect delights them, gracefulness charms them, and they go away but to hug more closely the chain that binds them to the service of sin and Satan, to live ungodly, and to die hopelessly.
My reader, is it possible to evade the solemn conviction that there will be summoned up at the last day a record of all these means of grace- the sermons you have heard, these pages that you read- as witnesses against you before God's tribunal? See how far you may go, and yet stop short of doing the will of God. Do not be deceived! Is your judgment informed? -it is not religion. Is your taste pleased? -it is not religion. Is your imagination feasted? -it is not religion. True religion is to break the thraldom of sin and Satan. Religion constrains us to walk humbly with God, to live for an eternal world, to receive Christ as the Savior and Redeemer, laying our own righteousness beneath the cross as vile and worthless, and stretching out the hand of faith for the righteousness of God's dear Son.
With others, it is the emotion of gratitude, love, and praise. They heard the gracious words of the gospel, and they were just the words they needed. They came as poor bankrupts, with the pressure of guilt upon their hearts, with the great inquiry, "How may I be just with God?" The Savior met them, bade them bathe in the fountain of His precious blood, cast from them their own righteousness, and rest in His finished work, yes, to rest in Himself; and they were saved!
So, my reader, may you be found hanging upon the lips of the Savior, into which grace was poured, and from which words of grace abundantly flow. And may the Spirit of all grace enable you not to stop at admiration, but pass on to acceptance, imitation, and obedience, that Christ Jesus may be formed in your heart the hope of glory! Oh, do these pages speak to one heart-broken sinner? It is their mission to tell you that the Lord Jesus has not in His lips one harsh expression for your ear. He invites you to receive salvation. He bids you come and sit down at His feet, and hear the gracious words that flow from His anointed lips. Precious Son of God! at Your feet we will sit, on Your lips we will hang- You alone shall be our Teacher, our Prophet, Priest, and King.
"Encouraged by Your word
Of promise to the poor,
Behold a beggar, Lord,
Waits at Your mercy's door
No hand, no heart, O Lord, but Thine,
Can help or pity wants like mine."
"The beggar's usual plea,
Relief from men to gain,
If offered unto Thee,
I know You would disdain;
And pleas which move Your gracious ear
Are such as men would scorn to hear."
"I have no right to say,
That though I now am poor,
Yet once there was a day
When I possessed more
You know that from my very birth
I've been the poorest wretch on earth."
"Nor can I dare profess,
As beggars often do,
Though great is my distress,
My faults have been but few
If You should leave my soul to starve,
It would be well what I deserve."
"It was folly to pretend
I never begged before,
Or if You now befriend,
I'll trouble You no more
You often have relieved my pain,
And often I must come again."
"Though crumbs are much too good
For such a dog as I,
No less than children's food
My soul can satisfy.
Oh, do not frown and bid me go!
I must have all You can bestow."
"Nor can I willing be
Your bounty to conceal
From others, who, like me,
Their needs and hunger feel.
I'll tell them of Your mercy's store,
And try to send a thousand more."
"Your thoughts, You only Wise!
Our thoughts and ways transcend,
Far as the arched skies
Above the earth extend
Such pleas as mine men would not bear
But God receives a beggar's prayer."