Gospel Address on Matthew 15:21-28
In the previous part of this chapter we get a good deal about the heart of man. The heart Searcher was present, and though men might not only deceive themselves as to their true condition morally, but might also desire to be deceived, in His presence everything was revealed in its true character. This, we can very well understand, was not pleasing to man, because what was brought to light was not to his credit. Men, the best of men, were seen in the presence of Christ to be nothing but poor degraded sinners; and whatever preference the Jew might have above the Gentile, he was seen, in the light which manifested everything, to be no better. The fact is the coming of Christ into the world laid bare the heart of man as it never had been before, All God’s dealings with man in the past dispensations had failed to improve him in the least, and the presence of Christ proved him to be utterly corrupt.
The Pharisees made clean the outside of the cup and platter, but that did not cleanse the inside, for it is that which comes from within defiles the man. The stream was bitter because the fountain was bitter; and the fruit was bad because the tree was bad. The fountain of a man’s defilement lies in his own heart. No attendance upon a religious ritual could be of any value. The mere fact of this only made men hypocrites. An appearance of sanctity and goodness might be, and had been, adopted by the Pharisees as an outward garb, leaving the seat of the disease untouched; but of what avail was that in the presence of One whose eye was upon the heart. And “out of it are the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23). There is nothing to be gained by attention to that which is merely external. If the tree were good the fruit would be good, and if the fountain were sweet the stream would be sweet; and if the heart were pure the man would be pure also. Not that which entereth into a man defiles him, but that which comes out. “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: these are the things which defile a man.”
If the evil were only external it might be dealt with and removed, but it lies in the very fountain of a man’s life. The heart of man has been proven to be nothing else than a cesspool of wickedness and rebellion against God. The rejection of Christ has demonstrated this. Man is worthless. There is nothing in him for God. Good he does not practise, because he is not good. He does only evil, because he is only evil. There is nothing good in him, and therefore nothing good can proceed from him. If he opens his mouth he declares what he is. He is either a Pharisee, self-deceived and hypocritical, or a publican and profligate. He has been searched and tested and no good has been found in him.
And yet the thought of every man who is a stranger to the grace of God is that the ground of his acceptance with God must depend upon the good that God may find in him; and hence the great aim of everyone who has an exercised conscience is to present something of his own goodness to God on the ground of which he expects to find favour. He hopes by making clean the outside of the cup to make clean the inside, to make himself “not as other men are,” to distinguish himself by some superior religiousness and good works, and by these things render himself acceptable to God.
But where a man has to do directly with God he finds out that these things are not to be trusted in. He will be found saying like Job, “if I wash myself with snow water, and make my hands never so clean, yet shalt Thou plunge me in the ditch, and mine own clothes shall abhor me.” He felt that when he recounted his works of righteousness he had cleansed his hands as with snow water, but that when God came afresh before his soul he became utterly detestable to his clothes; he uses a very strong figure, “mine own clothes shall abhor me.” I think that what is meant by it is this that the perfections of his life with which he sought to clothe himself were the effect of the work of God in him, and refused, as it were, to be used as decorations for the flesh; they did not belong to that man, and were not to be used for his glorification. By and by he says, “I abhor myself.” He came to the same mind as his clothes.
There is no good in the flesh. I do not expect any one to accept this statement either because I say it or because scripture says it. This has to be learned by bitter experience. You and I may read in scripture that the works of the flesh are only evil, but it is another thing to be able to say “I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing” (Rom. 7:18).
Well, if God has come into this world in Christ and put the heart of man to the test, this poor Canaanite comes to Christ to prove what is in the heart of God. If He told the multitude what was in the heart of man, this poor woman turns to Him and says, as it were, “If this is what is in the heart of man, tell me what is in Thy heart. If Thou hast found no good in my heart for Thee, shall I find good in Thy heart for me?” “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou Son of David, my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.” She was oppressed by the power of Satan, and comes to the only One who could relieve her. “But He answered her not a word.” Ah! is she to come to the discovery that as there is no good in the heart of man for God, so is there no good in the heart of God for man? It looks like it. It seems she is to cry in vain.
The power for her deliverance was there in Christ, but she has to learn that she has no title to it. As Son of David, He was “not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” She had no claim, and she must learn it, so that she may see that her blessing depends entirely upon the goodness of His heart.
Next we find her at His feet crying, “Lord, help me.” But He answered and said, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread and to cast it to dogs.” She was not one of the children, but a Gentile dog, who had no title to the blessing that she so much sought and which was there in Him.
What ground does she now take? Is she repulsed by these words of His and driven away? No, indeed. The ground she now takes is this, “It is not a question of what I am. I may be anything, vile, and without claim upon divine goodness, but it is now a question of what is in Thy heart for me, not of what is in mine for Thee. I am but an undeserving Gentile dog, but the goodness of the Master’s heart provides substance for those who have no claim.” “The dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”
If He has come and put the heart of man to the test, here is His own heart put to the test. Can He turn to her and say, you are mistaken; you have too exalted ideas of My goodness? I have found no affection in your heart for Me, and now I must let you know that there is none in My heart for you. Impossible. He was there that men might learn where the source of good was, that it was in God, and that men might turn to God on this account and find their everlasting joy and satisfaction in Himself.
What could He say to her? She has no title to anything, but does she need to have a title in the presence of infinite, divine goodness? He had intimated she was a dog, but the children have bread enough and to spare, and there are crumbs for those who have no claim. She virtually says, the question of what I am has all been discussed, and does not come in here. The only question now is, what art Thou? What is the heart of God? What could He say to her but what He did say? “O woman, great is thy faith; be it unto thee even as thou wilt.”
In what did the greatness of her faith consist, but in this, that God was before her soul in Christ in all the rich grace of His heart. It was no longer a question of the badness of her heart, but of the goodness of His, and she is made to taste that the Lord is gracious.
O, my friends, is not this unutterably sweet and blessed? God has sent His Son into this world that the hearts of men might turn to Him and find in Him everything that would make them supremely happy; that men might never again need to turn to the world or to anything else for satisfaction.
People are naturally self-occupied, and think that if only a change for the better could take place in them, a change would take place in God toward them, and He would be gracious to them. How foolish! What you really need to know is that He has come out in Christ in the most perfect grace to all, and to all alike. You think the gospel is for believers, and if you were only a believer all would be well. But it is all a question in your mind of what you are or what you are to become. The gospel comes to unbelievers, and if it came not to unbelievers it could come to nobody, for no-one can be a believer till he hears the report. The gospel comes to you just as you are and tells you what God is toward you in Christ. You do not need that any change should take place in God. If you only believed in the way He has approached you, in His present attitude toward you, you would not desire that any change should take place in Him. He has come out to you in grace. Do you desire that He should change toward you in this? He speaks to you through Christ of forgiveness. Do you want Him to change His voice to you? You will do as you are for Him. He has come out that you might be turned away from yourself to Himself and never for all eternity turn to yourself again. Through Christ is preached to you forgiveness of sins. The kindness and love of God toward man has appeared. And if this does not turn you to God nothing else ever will. If the declaration of the grace of God does not turn you to Himself you will never be turned to Him at all.
If you believe in Christ in whom God speaks to you in grace, and turn to Him, you will get from Him the Holy Spirit, and you will have in you a new fountain of life that will completely deliver you from the flesh. You will be able to turn from the flesh and sow to the Spirit, and reap life everlasting. The love of God to you will become the great enjoyment of your soul, and you will no more be seeking for good in your heart or inquiring after it as after something you are in search of, but have not found, for you will have reached the source and fountain of all good in the heart of God.