“Let her alone: against the day of My burying has she kept this” (John 12:7).
Mary of Bethany, who had ere this found her happy place at the Master’s feet, came to the supper prepared for Him just six days before His death, and poured upon them her very costly ointment of spikenard, the odour of which filled the house.
Her act of devotedness was directed toward the Lord Himself. It was in the nature of intelligent worship, but it provoked the hostility of the disciples. To them it was a “waste.” They said that it should have been sold for three hundred pence and given to the poor. To them worship so pure and elevated seemed superfluous.
But the blessed Master viewed it otherwise, and placed upon it his own gracious interpretation. What they called a “waste” He recognized as heartfelt worship. What they considered as so much loss to “the poor,” in that He saw an apprehension on her part of His coming death—an appreciation of His sufferings—which marked her as being in possession of the truth in a way unknown to them. “Against the day of My burying has she kept this,” were His words; just as though He gave her credit for anticipating and preparing for His burial; just as though it had been the leading thought in her mind, whilst His kingdom and glory had occupied those of the disciples. But the glory is reached through death. She was right, and they were wrong; and, therefore, He gently screens her from their cruel censures. He will not allow her to suffer under their aspersion. He spreads His sheltering wing around her, and firmly says, “Let her alone.” If none can value her devotedness, He can, and does; and that is enough for Mary. Her Master’s smile suffices. The sense of giving Him pleasure compensates for the misunderstanding of man. Blessed experience!
“Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: and if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut down” (Luke 13:8-9). “Let it alone this year also” was the prayer of the dresser of the vineyard on behalf of the fruitless fig-tree. The Lord of the vineyard had come and looked for fruit for three years; and being utterly disappointed, he gave commandment that it should be cut down. The tree cumbered the ground. It was occupying space that could be planted with profit. It was not only fruitless, but it was doing mischief. Such a fate became it. But the dresser, knowing that his Lord was not a “hard man,” and divining his thoughts of mercy, prayed that another year of grace might be shown, during which time he would do all in the way of pruning and culture that could be done; then, if fruit were still wanting, the blow should fall.
His prayer was granted, and the tree was “let alone” for one year more. But the fruitless fig-tree fell. Israel, illustrated thus, yielded no fruit for the three years of Christ’s sojourn on earth, He came seeking for fruit and found none. Judgment called loudly for the death of the fruitless tree, but mercy interposed, and another year of grace (protracted, indeed, until the death of Stephen; that is, until the definite rejection of the Holy Ghost) was allowed. Then the stroke fell, and the fruitless, mischievous nation was cut down as a nation. But how mercy lingered! How judgment delayed! How the voice of patient grace was heard saying, “Let it alone.”
If that be true in the case of a nation, is it not likewise true in the case of the individual? “This year also”—and also, and also—until, alas! spite of great long-suffering, no fruit can be found; and then, “after that,” judgment, long suspended, overtakes the sinner, and he is “cut down”!
“Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matt. 15:12). A solemn verdict this—awfully solemn! It was spoken by Christ in reference to the false teachers of that day—the teachers who placed tradition above Scripture, and who taught for doctrines the commandments of men. Of religion (such as it was) they had plenty, for they drew nigh with their mouth, but their heart was far from God. Oh, what a difference! Mouth-religion may be musical, eloquent, attractive, imposing, but most delusive. It may consist of prayer and chant and oratory, but never affect either the throne of God or the conscience of man. It may present the most splendid appearance outwardly, but withal leave the soul barren and unsatisfied.
It may appeal to history, to language, to learning, or to fathers, but pass over the plain, palpable facts of Scripture. The light of truth, its liberty, its moral power, all is unknown. It dwells in the unspiritual darkness of human thoughts and reasonings. Its teachers are blind, and by them the blind are led. What a condition! And they glory in it.
True of the first century, it is true of the nineteenth. The disease is chronic. Moreover, rebuke is unbearable. “They were offended after they heard this saying.” They are offended still. Nothing offends more quickly or deeply or unpardonably than the exposure of a false religion; and, strange contradiction, the more false and foolish the greater the tenacity with which it is held!
Thank God, the written Word, when received by lowly faith, makes all plain; but as to the proud teachers of a tradition that is contra-scriptural, “Let them alone,” says the Lord. They have made their bed; they must lie in the same.
“Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone” (Hosea 4:17). “Joined to idols,” not merely idolatrous, bad as that may be, but definitely joined to them in a fearful and daring unity. Recovery appears hopeless. A long course of tampering with evil has not only blunted the conscience, but turned the evil into a pleasure, and every sense of what is due to God is dulled, so that the idols assert their authority, and God is forsaken. Alas, that the heart should thus become entrapped, Satan so easily conquer, and man fall so completely! Yet so it is; and when Ephraim is thus joined hopelessly and willingly to idols, the only, but terrible, sentence is, “Let him alone.” He must he left to the governmental ways of God. The ministry of man must not now interfere. He has chosen his course, and selected his path, and he must rue his folly. A man’s way is his reward. What he sows he reaps. The object of his worship gives form to his life and character to his future. Such is the nature of God’s government, and therefore He said, as to idol-ruined Ephraim, “Let him alone.”
To be “let alone” by God is the most awful condition in which man can find himself. Ten thousand times better to be emptied from vessel to vessel, like Job, than allowed to drift down the stream, like Ephraim. Better to feel the weight of God’s hand in chastening—for it is a Father’s hand—than exist under a sense of His averted countenance.
Thank God there is grace as well as government, and His desire is that His people should “continue in the grace of God.”
What a wide difference between the “let alone” that was passed on the conduct of Mary and that passed on Ephraim; between the “let her alone” of divine approval and the “let him alone” of divine displeasure; between the shield of heavenly shelter and the sentence of holy condemnation.
Dear reader, may you know and enjoy the first for your own comfort, and for the joy and glory of the blessed Lord who died and rose in order to give us a place at His feet, as the happy, blood-bought worshippers of a Saviour who knows how to appreciate the smallest oblation that love can bring.