J. N. Darby.
(Notes and Comments Vol. 6.)
In this chapter even we have the blessed witness that there is One who can perfectly tell the temper and spirit of heaven. What a privilege this is!
The graciousness of the Lord which attracted the despised and miserable ones of the earth, was the full form and character which now presented itself, and excited cavils of those who thought and called themselves righteous, the learned and righteous of the Jewish people. It was not only that He taught them or told them on due repentance they might return, but He received them and ate with them. The Lord has to justify His kindness and grace towards sinners, for man, wretched, infatuated man would condemn the Lord for being a Saviour and gracious to sinners - pride and self-righteousness despising ever goodness. The great point which the blessed Lord insists on so gloriously and triumphantly here is that it became God to be happy in receiving a poor sinner, that it was His joy, that it became Him as natural to Him, so to speak. This was the character and way of heaven. But in doing this He unfolds the whole order and operation of the economy of grace accomplishing and communicating as flowing from this love - the efficient love of Christ - the operation of the Holy Ghost in the Church by the word, and the reception of the new-hearted sinner by the Father of grace. But in all signalises this principle, that it was the joy of God Himself to show grace to and receive the poor sinner; and in all this, the fullest appeal to the want and to the ways, the affections and the principles of the human heart. For while the wickedness of the human heart rejects the gospel, the Lord has perfectly adapted it to all the springs and chambers of need that are in it. It is the unfolding the whole heart of God under the form of the need, and otherwise hopeless affections and wants of ruined man; proud wilful man may reject it, and does but for grace. But this is the reason why mere nature can easily receive it in its affections, when the will is not hurt by it, and yet there be no root. Therefore the Lord can appeal, even in a Pharisee, to what passes in his heart, not when it is in collision with God in pride, for then it is pure wickedness, but when it acts in the mere natural expression of its feelings, and justify God in their own hearts. "What man among you?" He appeals to their own way of acting in a like case. Here is the difference. Pride is not concerned in submission and return in confession. For, note, this blessed exercise of mercy supposes a great principle, and one of all importance and blessing too, exactly what the natural heart will not admit, saying: Our river is our own, our tongues are our own; who is Lord over us? The sheep belonged to the Shepherd, the money to the woman. This is not the point urged here. I notice it because in the rebellion of man's will it shows why, in a gospel suited in the very perfection of God to man's heart and need, man left to himself or under the influence of Satan invariably rejects it. Independence, the principle of all evil and misery, is what he loves; the spring and character of restless pride leads him captive. An evil conscience, and unsatisfied will under its governance still carry him further from God.
252 But here Jesus shows the part and character of supreme grace in God. Hence also the sure character of love thus in exercise, and applied to its object, the perseverance of love until it finds and secures blessing to its object. There is a concentration and care when its object is in need, which shuts out the relationship with what is at ease at the time, it does not sympathise with it, for it is not at ease till it has restored its object to peace, and the comfort of the love it is wandered from. The heart thus in exercise is itself necessarily concerned in the happiness of that it loves. It is its joy, pain, toil, labour for it, till it be, is its food, its only consolation. Thus the Lord presents God to us. He has lost His sheep, always His, but lost in its folly. He compares the numbers to make the principle come out in all its force. Having lost one sheep, He leaves the ninety-nine in the desert, and goes after the lost one (cost what it will - shame, reproach, scorn, toil, labour, self-denial and loneliness, as accounted hopeless, or ill-judged, He has His known object at heart, they were not the Pharisees' sheep; blessed Jesus Master!) until He find it - the perfect perseverance of love which could not rest without its object. And Jesus (for He would lay down His life even to have it, for He loved the sheep, and better than Himself, i.e., His life in this scene) could not fail to find it, for what cloak, or screen, or craft of Satan could hide it from His search who brought death, the uttermost power of the enemy to the search? The darkness of the power of death, where indeed the sheep were hid, He entered into - aye! the enemy in this sense, He willing, forced Him into. Nowhere else could He find them; they were dead in trespasses and sins, there He found them, for He entered and was willing to do it, and thence delivered, for who could hold love so strong? Hatred and enmity, Satan's power, were weak, nay! opened the door, and forced on the love of Jesus into the place of need and ruin - in the power of a life which was beyond the power of all this darkness, and brought right out of it all His helpless, terrified, and ruined sheep. He laid them on His own shoulders, bore all the burden, not a foot had the poor sheep to put to ground, already weary and worn out; He carried on His own shoulders rejoicing; for it is not the means but the character and way of the love towards the sheep, ever so miserable as it might be, which is here in question. Returning home - the sure sign of joy, a heart overflowing with joy, He calls others to partake with Him in it, counting, as it were, all must be as happy as He in it, and, as ever when very happy oneself, desirous that others should partake of it too, of our joy. Thus the Lord describes Himself, for in the midst of sorrow His heart could depict what it knew, His love always rising above the evil which surrounded and pressed upon it, only bursting forth more bright and in evidence of greater power.
253 It seems to me there is a very clear allusion in these parables to the three Persons in the Trinity, in their several work, their several plans, if I may so speak, in the economy of grace. In the first two we have the pure supremacy, work, and power of grace, the sheep does nothing, but is brought home. The drachma does nothing, but is found for the joy of the housekeeper. In the last we have the internal action and effect as manifested in his ways, the once wanderer's ways, and his reception by the Father. Besides, it seems to me that the work of Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, is clearly marked in the first parable, who recovers, and Himself brings home His sheep - the woman is as the Holy Ghost acting (instrumentally) and while in pure grace using the means, lights the candle, sweeps the house, and searches diligently till she finds, as by the light of the Word set up, and the pains of continual labour, the Holy Ghost searches the world for that which is lost till it be found. Thus the love of God in the same divine Spirit, the Holy Ghost working in love by these means of light or truth and labour, external instrumentality, works to the same end, finding what is lost. The woman's money was lost, it was precious to her, she sought till she found it because her heart was in it. This, says the Lord, is the Spirit of heaven. Angels, the angels of God, pure as they are, better than Pharisees surely, enter into its nature and its joy, for they dwell in the presence of God, breathe the atmosphere of His presence, and have, by continual association with Him, the nature of His joys, what His nature and character is, and love is large, does not require great stimulants of excitement, but exercises itself in its own fulness, draws its resources from itself on sinners repentant, awakes the chord, for the blessed sound and harmony is in love itself, in the presence of God, awakened it is true by the exercise of divine blessing, but not produced by the result, but joyful because of it. Love is happy, because it loves when another is happy, especially that it loves or that needs. One sinner repentant awakes (Blessed God! what Thy full compassions, and the blessedness of Thy nature, communicated to us) the joy of all heaven, because love reigns there, for God is it. How poor, how meagre, how wretched in the flesh are we! The height of nature makes only higher joy, does not generate pride where this reigns. Yet the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost given to us, so that we are privileged to enjoy with the Lord thus, and by the Holy Ghost, co-operate, infinite blessedness in (and through) Christ the Lord. The Lord first speaks of the comparative joy to make it sensible, as of Christ who calls, and then of the positive joy, the thing itself, when the Holy Ghost associates us with it. It is actually (a step so higher) the joy in the presence of the angels of God, if not amongst proud men.
254 In the third parable we have this great principle of grace, joy in God, that it became God to be happy, and that He was so in the conversion of a sinner, applied to the detail of a sinner's return, and his reception by the Father. This grace contrasted with the spirit of Pharisaism in general, or the return of sinners of the Gentiles, with the position of the self-righteous Jews in general - I merely notice the traits which explain, not exactly which apply all this. It is that which is natural which is communicated, for even what the Jews held they held on the principle of creation blessing. The Gentile sinner was in the far country before he spent his goods, and as much so when all was gone. But then he spent what he had of nature, in Satan's country, the far country. There all nature gave gone, for the life of nature spends itself and gains nothing, he began to be in want, to feel the practical effects of nature's spendthrift life. This only attached him more to Satan, for the Lord presents the full effect of evil, and he becomes the slave of a citizen of that country, wretched, ruined, and abandoned, to share with the lowest what might meet the cravings of a wasted by insatiable appetite; "He would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat, and no man gave unto him." For, while all may be spent in Satan's country, there is no giving there. The sense of want, according to nature, only drives to the wretched resources of nature, it may be the lowest, for supply. Utter degradation is the consequence, and no love is found there. It is the contrast of God's house and God's mercy. This describes the way in which the natural man, in feeling his want, turns to everything rather than to God, and thus becomes the slave of Satan in the lowest and most degraded lusts. Thus the way of the natural man, and the character of Satan's country - no man gave unto him - are brought fully out, not merely for Pharisees but for all.
255 Note, the life of nature spends itself, while the divine life, having all fulness in the Lord, enriches itself in all and every its action.
The Lord then pursues all that characterises his return; he came to himself; he saw things as they really were. And what does this? Not merely a sense of misery, that may drive us to sin, but the introduction of the thought of God, of a true idea of God - God really known, and the whole state of misery consequent on departure from Him. There is always in the conversion and return of the soul, a thought not of the application of goodness to us, not of a salvation which assures our approach, not a knowledge of redemption, but of goodness in God, consequent blessing of all in His presence, and the folly of being absent. It is not the thought of mercy which can sanction evil, not the thought of possibility of, so to speak, negligent entry, not the Spirit of adoption on the other hand, but a necessity, whatever our place, of being with Him, and at the same time an entire confession of our unworthiness of being so. An attractive sense of goodness in Him, and humbling but not deterring sense of unworthiness in us, for it is associated with the sense of, imperative sense of need which has no resource but in that goodness. "I perish." So Peter, struck with the Lord's power, draws near and falls at His feet, but it is to say: "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." "How many hired servants of my father abound in bread and I perish here with hunger!"
256 Note also here, what a glorious inconsistency this produces - a consciousness of the abounding faithfulness of the Father to a child, and use really of the language which belongs to a child - "The servants of my Father, and I!" A real, though not realised consciousness that he was a child, but not an idea, when he rendered reason to himself of his condition, of presenting himself as such, or owning himself, or claiming a title of which he was utterly unworthy. A result of knowledge, true knowledge of, and honouring what God was, his Father was, but a sense of what he was in respect of that which implied the responsibility of a child, and knowledge of a child, and consequently the secret consciousness of being one, but not of one received by the manifested action of what the Father was and did towards him. But the ground of action is had, "I will arise and go" - impossible, with this knowledge, to remain there, for good was now known, not merely misery. Evil was now seen, not merely by the force of natural conscience even. It was sin against heaven and before his Father. It was sin viewed in relation with the position in which he viewed himself placed, being renewed in understanding and will. He was no more worthy to be called His son - true humiliation and intelligence as to that, but mixed with the thought that there was question of his worthiness to be it. No clear understanding of grace, and of its ways; consequently he demands that which was not in God's thoughts at all, to go halfway, and receive him, and make him a servant "as one of thy hired servants." Much more was due in justice strictly, and it in no way answered on the other hand to grace, for it did not satisfy, nor manifest it. But such is the ignorant heart of man, who confuses all, and ever is ready to act on its own thoughts, and make the Lord act on them, when it is drawn even into a (in some not a clear) sense of its misery. There is much instruction in this.
257 But the proposal in the heart of the young man was distinct. He felt he had forfeited all title to be son, wasted it wickedly, did not really see the extent of his guilt, nor the extent and riches of divine grace, though drawn by it, and, therefore, he proposes to be made as a hired servant. This is always the case. There is in this state a profound principle of moral rectitude, but entire ignorance of the ways and grace of the Father. But he rises and goes, for there is a principle of living activity. What follows is not the call of the sinner, but the reception by the Father, and His view of the matter - just compassion and tenderness - His heart was in the matter while the poor prodigal was far away yet occupied with his own thoughts, proposing to be servant, determined in grace, but humbled, perplexed, and degraded in his own eyes, though the thought of his Father's house and goodness, and his own need predominated. But, if there was doubt as to his reception in his heart, there was none in the Father's. A great way off He saw. Whose eye so quick as a Father's in love? And had compassion. No question here of dignity, of severity of judgment. He must relieve His own heart, full at the thought of His son returned, in showing him love. He ran and fell on his neck. First, love to him in his wretched and ruined state, far from the servants, from all. He must encourage and restore a child's heart in showing a Father's; thence it must flow. It became Him to be the Source and first in grace. Without reproach or enquiry, He, the Father, expresses what was in His heart - the more terribly he was lost, the greater the joy of the Father to receive him back. This passed entirely between the Father and the child. Then the affection can flow forth unhindered for restoring the soul. The son's mouth was opened for confession, but opened with a word which now had infinite power, for the expression of the Father's love came first, before a word of confession - was not caused by it, but the expression of what was in His heart finding its joyful occasion in returning sorrow. "Father, I have sinned." The love made the confession much more, infinitely more profound, yet withal much more easy and sweet. It was no expression, remark farther, of suffering or of consequences, not concern for character, no excuse nor explanation. "Father, I have sinned": not before men - they were forgotten in the sense of the Father, for the sense of the sin brought into relationship with the Father, and that possessed his thought - "against heaven and before thee." Far from the Father, the poor prodigal had well arranged his purpose to say: "Make me as one of thy hired servants," content to be in a lower place, as those under the law. But, come to the Father, these thoughts were impossible. It would have been to dishonour the expression of his Father's love; his tongue hung there suspended by the sense of a Father's love which embraced him. Could he say to a Father so loving: 'Set me far from you, do not make me a son in your love'? Impossible! It was not the time for such thoughts. Far from the Father we can reason so in our minds, but not when thus received and met by Him. Nor did the Father give him time, but, in lieu of setting him among mercenaries, all the servants of the house are called out to wait upon him.
258 The Father pursues the thoughts of his own heart, and stamps the character of its feeling on the thoughts and manners of all the house but one - the self-righteous Pharisee; his heart only felt no joy. For God, in His ways with the sinner, follows the ways and thoughts of His heart in grace and joy of love, not of the sinner's, even repentant, for he has not reached, under the consciousness of his deserts, the thoughts and ways of God's heart in grace. The servants whom he would have been among were the servants and instruments of God's grace, and goodness, and bounty; he could not place himself among them as a mercenary. They are made to wait on this good pleasure of God's goodness. This presents, not the grace which seeks and supports, nor the diligence of the same love which sweeps and takes pains till it finds, but the reception of the sinner, not according to the thoughts even awakened in his heart when he comes to himself, but to those of the Father founded on His own joy. Next, we remark, this stamps its character and honour on the son. His shame and separation was not a matter unknown, but known as the occasion of the Father's joy on his return, and the Father goes out, first attaches all the honour of His acceptance and joy to him, and then brings him into the house, there to be esteemed according to the thoughts of Him whose favour was the glory and life of all in it. What grace in this way of procedure! First, we have between the Father and son himself these manifestations of affection and delight, which claim for themselves an interest which he alone who is the object of them can enter into. A stranger intermeddles not with the joy. This is the first way of God's love, and the heart restored to its place, and to the possibility of honour before others, because to Him whom it honours, but afterwards the full honour of a publicly honoured son is put upon him, every trace of the far country removed, in robes and signs of adoption which are found only in the Father's house. We know where that is found; he who knows it could be content with no other. Thus introduced, clothed in the acceptance of Christ, festivity and joy filled the whole house (all but one heart) for He who led its joys, and gave tone to its pleasures, said: "This my son was dead, and is alive again, was lost and is found." Thus the joy of this principle of grace filled and characterised the house - the Father's grace.
259 "And they began to be merry." The sound of joy reached the elder son's ears. The natural conclusion would have been that in the Father's joy he should partake, and that if his Father was joyful some blessed thing must have happened. But there was NO real union or sympathy between his Father's heart and his. A selfish mind is not made for joy. The workings of grace are unintelligible to it. He enquires of a servant boy (pais) what made his Father's house happy, and he was informed - informed in terms which ought to have awakened every sympathy and every feeling. A double motive is presented - what he should have felt himself, and the Father's mind if that were his. "Thy brother is come, and thy Father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound." For the servant boy had caught, and in some measure entered into the joy of the house. "But he was angry and would not go in." A loss to himself only! The persevering grace of the Father is yet manifested. He goes out, and beseeches him. Wondrous and persevering mercy thus to reason with those condemning God's goodness, condemning for being good, and towards his brother! But in vain. All his reply is that the Father had never indulged his selfishness and inclination for having always served Him. He pleads his righteousness as a claim for God's honouring his selfishness, for indulgence of selfishness is his sense of joy, and that in envious grudging at joy for his lost brother's return. But the Father, gracious as He was, did not relinquish His purpose of grace, nor His heart of love for the jealous ill-will of the elder brother's heart. He declares that all His life and house had been an exercise of abundant kindness towards the elder brother, and that it became, it was fitting. What grace in itself! What grace so to reason with such an one! But all is grace here. "It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this thy brother," thus showing the motive for himself to be glad, and condemning his thoughts, "was dead and has come to life again, was lost and has been found." Such is the sentence of God upon the case. The application of the case of the elder brother to the Jews (as under the law) is evident. Hence all things were theirs, and they ever with Him.
260 Luke 16
This parable addresses itself to the Lord's disciples. In the former, the Lord spoke to the Pharisees and Scribes. There, the reception of the sinner or Gentile in contrast with the Jew or self-righteous is stated, as dependent on the character and blessedness of God, for the gospel rests on and always puts forward God. It is the great principle of it, whether as to character or dispensation. Here, the Lord explains to His disciples the position of man, and consequently Israel, man entrusted before God as such, or who held, in responsibility laid on him, this place. Man who really had ceased entirely to be the steward of God, and who wasted rather the substance once entrusted to him so blessedly and confidentially, below all put in his hands as lord, as if it was his own, was again as on trial, and specifically for the manifestation of these things, set in this place in the Jews, the earthly blessings and privileges freely and fully conferred upon him on the responsibility of being faithful. And now it was reported of them (and oh, how true the report! Jesus would not willingly have borne it against beloved Jerusalem) that they had been unfaithful, that they had wasted the Lord's goods, and after the fullest trial man must be treated after the kindest and now repeated, repeated with the utmost care to instruct him in his duty, as a steward through proved unfaithfulness out of place. The goods of nature are in his hand, but he has lost his title really to distribute them. But they are in his hand, and the Lord instructs, the Christian may use them so as to turn them to real account. The steward made friends of his Lord's debtors with the goods, and authority de facto that he possessed. We also, the goods being thus left, though our authority is gone, have to use them to make friends that we may be received into everlasting habitations. It is the lowest transition point of service; the things are of the old man; the principle of using them of the new, and of the Lord. The men of this world are wise in their generation. The Lord gives us - it is a great grace - permission to turn this mammon of unrighteousness to good service according to His will - this, which has the stamp of evil and of the world upon it, to a purpose in which His favour is manifested, those He loves even consoled, excellent affections exercised, and thus His name honoured, and acceptable service done, and we make gain through that which is acceptable to Him, friends according to Him with this evil thing. It is indeed a great grace to introduce such a thing into His kingdom, and turn the evil, or what represented it, round to good; but so the Lord has ordered it.
261 Our use of present things is always unrighteous, for we have lost our title. These riches represent now the alienation of the world from God, and the setting up, and realisation of self and its enjoyments instead of God. But the Lord turns it round to good. Our natural character is unrighteous stewards of unrighteous mammon. But it becomes thus a matter of faithfulness so to use it, for spent on self it resumes its natural character of the expression and representation of selfishness. On the other hand, this use is a test of faithfulness, and he who is faithful in the least is faithful also in much; and he who has used or given this according to the mind of God, thus setting up God, and down self, God will entrust him on the same principle with more important, even the true riches, for there has been faithfulness to God and forgetfulness of self, which is the principle on which God can give, and on which alone we can use these true riches, our own proper riches as new creatures. On the one hand it is righteousness, on the other a real test of what hold the authority and excellency of God has on our mind. Besides, this object really becomes our master; in truth Satan governs by it. What governs our heart, our object, is our master, and the love of money thus rules, and God is not sound according to our natural character. This will manifest itself in loving one and hating the other, or at least cleaving to one and despising the other. These two forms of attachment are given, because the subtle and deceitful heart might plead against one form. But so it is - we cannot in effect serve God and mammon.
262 - 14. The Pharisees, in rejecting the Lord's doctrine, proved its truth. They cleaved to money and despised the Lord; they could not serve both. The Lord declares the judgment of God upon them, which indeed is needful where there is much influence, and that unholy. They justified themselves before men - easy when they suited to themselves, really to the same principles, and gave the credit of religion withal. But God knew their hearts, for what is exalted among men is nothing but an idolatrous abomination before God.
The Lord then pursues the instruction as to the change of economy, or however the passing away of all they rested in, and the enforcement doubly of what they violated, and the coming in withal of the energy of faith. This change, in general, the Lord states in verse 16; a terrible word for the Pharisees! They were left altogether out, and behind. The Law and the prophets were until John. A Law given to a people already such, and the prophets recalling a people, owned as such, back to the Law. John closed this scene, and now a kingdom was set up whereinto entry was to be made by the energy of individual faith, and thus the door opened to all who of God had it. This changed all. It was not Law nor prophets, but God's kingdom announced to all who had faith to enter in, those who clung to the flesh and self were left behind, acceptable perhaps to men, but left and deserted by the Lord in His kingdom. The testimony of Malachi, which shall have its full force before the second coming of the Lord, is evidently distinct from this. The great and terrible day of the Lord was not in question in the gracious presence of Christ in the flesh, except as the result of His rejection. But now the kingdom of God is preached, even on His rejection, for every man to press into it. The difference is manifest. It was not, however, to set aside or enfeeble the Law that the Lord Jesus came. The Law, and the prophets which recalled to it, were until John. But while He enforced its holiness, He suffered its malediction, or accomplished its ceremonies, did anything but set it aside. In its moral power it became (through our sin) a curse to us; He bore it. In its prefigurative ceremonies its value was purely what Jesus was, and He accomplished it; and even what was admitted in it, because of the hardness of their hearts, was now to revert to its original character. In the purpose and mind of God, "In the beginning it was not so." And the Lord hated putting away; now, it was condemned as sin. Further its supposed benedictions, as the flesh enjoyed them, were all set on their true footing, and judged by the revelation of another state, and world. But while the passage following judges entirely the view the flesh took of the earthly blessings, really attached to the old covenant and Israelitish faithfulness, and threw the light of another world (always true) on the circumstances of this, and in doing so necessarily changes the sanctions and principles, so as to bring in a kingdom which admits all who believe, and are renewed in Spirit to receive heavenly things, and thus lift up the kingdom into heaven, it yet justifies the whole mind and goodness of God, all His part and way in the economy, the Law and the prophets, so much so that if Israel did not receive and be converted by them, it was useless to present to them a risen Messiah. The Lord might at once pass into the heavenly kingdom, and grace to all through faith. The circumstances of the history show evidently its bearing on the elements of the Jewish position, and also their fallen state on which the word did not act.
263 - 20. Lazarus is probably named to mark the interest which the Lord took. Poor and utterly despised, he was known by name before God. The rich man, known and waited on, was known only by his character; he was rich, and what was that before God? Luxurious, and that showed a heart alienated from Him. He had his "good things" in his life here below, and thus he was characterised. In the same manner angels wait upon the poor man. The rich man is buried far from Abraham; and here the circumstances are purely Jewish. He lifts up his eyes in Hades in torments. Lazarus is in the bosom of Abraham, the highest place of honour for a Jew. Hence it is also that the rich man says: "Father Abraham." It is addressed to Jews and covetous Pharisees, to explain the judgment of their evil, and the entire change which took place on their judgment, introducing the results of another world. The rich man had had his "good things" in this. The portion in the other world was a final one; they could not there change their position, or find assuagement. And, moreover, the resurrection (even of Christ) from the dead would not change when there was incredulity as to the Law and the prophets. They, the Pharisees, were condemned by the word of their own Law and prophets; they repented not at their call, and Jesus risen would not be sent to them. Nationally they were condemned on their own ground, the ground too they chose in pride - ground of God's righteousness withal. The prophets spake in grace, for it was to recall the wandering. Thus, while every principle of external sanction (so long abused as a system addressed to the flesh, and abused by the flesh) was changed, all that was passed as a testimony was validated in the highest degree, and given the fullest authority to. The house of His Father was in fact the Jewish people in their carnal glory, and on these the passage pronounces a full judgment.