A Series of 4pp. Gospel Tracts by W.K. for distribution after preaching.
1 The Fig-tree
2 The Household Servant
3 The Ten Virgins
4 The Talents
5 The Seed left to grow
6 The two Debtors
7 The Samaritan
8 The importunate Appeal
9 The Blasphemy of God's Power in Christ
10 The rich Fool
11 Waiting for the Lord
12 Working for the Lord
1 The Fig-tree
(B.T. Vol. N1, p. 133-134. Gospel No. 6:1.)
We have the Lord's authority for regarding the fig-tree here as the groundwork for its parable. "Now from the fig-tree learn the parable. When its branch is already become tender, and putteth forth its leaves, ye know that the summer is nigh; even so ye also, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, at the doors" (vers. 32-35).
It is clear that the Lord treats this tree as symbolic of the Jews. So He had done shortly before, and both so graphically that no believer need miss the meaning. Mark gives details, as often beyond others, illustrating His ministry. Seeing a fig-tree (there was but one, as Matthew says), and being hungry, He came and found nothing but leaves. This was decisive, for it was the season of figs, it was too soon for gathering; so that if none ware there, the tree must have borne none. The Lord therefore said unto it, No one eat fruit of thee henceforth for ever; and His disciples heard. On the morrow, as they passed by, they saw the fig-tree dried up from the roots; and Peter remarked on it, when the Lord's answer dwelt on the all-importance and the power of faith. There is no obstacle too strong to resist; only the grace that forgives all personal wrongs must accompany the faith of him that serves Christ. And so it has been. Not only have the fruitless Jews, as responsible under the first covenant, lost their religious position, but they are no longer a power. They are scattered and swamped in the sea of peoples.
It was one of the two miracles of the Lord which was not an expression of grace but judicial; and both told the destinies impending on Israel because of their evil and unbelief. The one, as we have seen, was their judgment under legal responsibility as barren after all God's care and claim of fruit. The other was set forth by the destruction of the swine, when the demons expelled from Legion entered and drove the herd into the abyss. So it will be in the latter day when the apostate Jews are given over to uncleanness and energised by the powers of darkness. These were the two exceptions. All the other miracles of the Lord displayed the glory of God and grace toward man.
What then is the parable to be learnt from the fig-tree in our chapter? The Lord is opening to the chosen disciples His appearing for the Jews first (Matt. 24:4-44) ; then (vers. 45-25:30) His dealings with professing Christians; and lastly (25:31-46) His judgment of all the nations or Gentiles.
It will be seen therefore that verses 32-35 concern the Jewish remnant directly, however we may profit by this as by every other scripture. The Jews will be objects of grace once more, and come under the new covenant in that day. Here accordingly the fig-tree falls under no curse. Far from withering away from the roots, Israel, which knew nothing but misery and ruin from trusting its own righteousness, is cast on the Messiah in repentance and faith ; and now mercy henceforward flows as a river. But "the many," the mass, judge themselves unworthy of life eternal and perish with their Antichrist; the godly remnant become the strong nation, and they are "all Israel" that shall be saved. They will have dates which must run their course; and also have successive events which must be accomplished. Times and seasons particularly characterise them.
Here the Lord deigns to give them signs in a way He never did to us of the church who are called to walk by faith, not by sight. So we may observe in the early verses of Matt. 24 and specially in verse 14. Still more emphatic is what follows from verse 15, where Daniel 12 is referred to, and, more than any, verse 11. There is a tribulation without parallel, but no translation to heaven; and the coming of the Son of man is like the lightning. For there is pre-eminently the carcase, whither gather the eagles. Immediately after the tribulation convulsions above and below follow; and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven; and all the tribes mourn, and they see Him coming to the earth. And His angels gather His elect (who seem here to be of Israel, as in Isa. 65, 66); for over these He will reign in the promised land. The heavenly saints are seen in their own place. Here our Lord treats of Israelitish saints.
The fig-tree is no longer barren; for the Son of man received, and the new covenant with Him, will change all. These are early days; end we hear no more than of the branch tender, and putting forth leaves. The time of fruit will come; but as yet, they only know that summer is nigh. "So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, at the doors." Grace will not fail to work its due effects.
How is it with you, dear reader? Have you learnt that you are no better than the barren fig-tree? If you have, it is well. For most deceive themselves and are indifferent If you know that you have neither fruit nor life, oh! look to Him by faith Who is life and gives it to all that believe. It is ruinous to talk of your privileges. The greatest is that you have the New Testament as well as the Old. But only Jesus, the Son of God, can avail; only His blood cleanses from every sin, when you will have the seal of His Spirit and bear fruit by His grace. "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." Thus will you welcome His coming Who says, "Surely I come quickly," and you will answer, "Amen, come, Lord Jesus."
2 The Household Servant
(B.T. Vol. N1, p. 149-150. Gospel No. 6-2.)
It is the first part in our Lord's prophecy at Olivet which bears directly on Christian profession. This therefore is wholly distinct from the parable of the fig-tree which refers to Israel, as all the preceding discourse did, and accordingly from ver. 15 occupied with the land and the sanctuary, the sabbath day, and the tribulation without parallel for the Jews, with signs before and after, heed being expressly claimed to Daniel the prophet, and illustration drawn from the deluge in Noah preserved through it, not from Enoch caught up before it.
Here begins that which is so general that it applies wherever the Lord's name is called on, Jewish peculiarities being quite dropt. The Lord takes the place of other objects. His service in His house is without restriction or addition the prominent character. Relationship to Him and His rules exclusively. We shall find in the third and last parable of the series His gifts conferred on His servants according to His sovereign will, with which each is called to trade according to the figure of talents committed for profit. But here it is the supply of His house with food in season.
"Who then is the faithful and wise bondman, whom the lord set over his household to give them food in season? Blessed [is] that bondman whom his lord on coming shall find thus doing. Verily I say to you, that he will set him over all that he hath. But if the evil bondman say in his heart, My lord delayeth [to come], and begin to beat his fellow bondman, and eat and drink with the drunken, the lord of the bondman shall come in a day which he expecteth not, and in an hour which he knoweth not, and shall out him in two, and appoint his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth" (vers. 45-51).
It is clear that the Lord looks for faithful and prudent stewardship in His absence from him who is entrusted with the charge of His household, and that, when He is come, He will deal with this responsibility. Did the bondman dispense food in due time? Blessed that bondman whom his Lord on coming shall find thus doing! It is His mind and will and grace about His own. Already elsewhere He had assured His own sheep that entering by Him they should be saved, enjoy liberty, and find pasture. It is in the last particular that the bondman is here made responsible; and this would test him. Faith and love alone render any one faithful and wise; they attach the heart to the household through devotedness to the Lord. Loving Him leads out to feeding His sheep and His lambs; as the Lord puts it to Peter, restored and reinstated after his fall: which by grace would only make him more tenderly considerate of others. And him who thus nourishes duly Christ's household He will set at the head of His inheritance by and by, when He returns the Heir of all things. It is only Christianity which is based on the Lord already come and about to return, while His own serve during His absence; and hence the prominence given to this in the third parable.
But solemn beyond expression is the doom of the man who, professing to be his Lord's bondman, arrogates to himself dominion, and is no model to the flock, but lords it as his possession. What can be conceived more opposed to the mind which was in Christ Jesus? He in infinite pity to the lost and to the glory of God the Father emptied Himself, taking a bondman's form, coming though yet in the likeness of men; and found in figure as a man He humbled Himself, becoming obedient as far as death, yea, death of the cross. The evil bondman, oblivious of all and heartlessly inconsistent, seeks a place of power and pride; he courts the world as one who never died to flesh nor was crucified to the world, but begins to beat his fellow bondmen, and eats and drinks with the drunken. There is both ecclesiastical oppression and commerce with the world, even in its self-indulgent dissoluteness.
Such is just the general aspect of Christendom for long ages, as at the present moment. There way be differences of degree here or there. But the picture applies to Catholics and Protestants nationals and dissenters. They are not separate from the world; nor do they walk in the Spirit, as those that crucified the flesh with its passions and its lusts; they boast in man and his literary elevation and his scientific inventions, like heathen that know not God.
And what does the Lord indicate as the occasion if not cause of so ruinous a departure? "But if the evil bondman say in his heart, My lord delayeth [to come]." No one betrays the evil of his unfaithfulness so much as a faithless professor of Christ. And here the Lord puts His finger on his heart putting off His own coming again as a living practical truth. Abandoning that hope, the heart can soon learn to value and associate with the world, to slight and ill-treat Christ's household.
What is the end? "The lord of that bondman shall come in a day which he expecteth not, and in an hour which he knoweth not, and shall cut him in two, and appoint his portion with the hypocrites; and there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth." God's wrath is revealed from heaven upon. all impiety, and unrighteousness of men holding the truth in unrighteousness. The Jew if wicked is worse than the Gentile; the professing Christian if evil is more guilty than either. His portion shall be, not with bondmen only, but with the hypocrites.
How is it with you, my reader? You, most of you, are neither Jews nor heathen; are you not a professing Christian? Do you not then own your evil if you slight the word of God, and especially the gospel? Any one who disregarded Moses' law died without mercy on the strength of two or three witnesses: of how much worse punishment, think you, shall he be judged deserving that trod under foot the Son of God, and esteemed the blood of the covenant whereby he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? But the door of grace is still open. Oh! flee for refuge to Him Who is set before you, the only yet sure Saviour of the lost. Delay is proverbially dangerous; and nowhere is danger so great as in putting off the word of salvation which God has sent you. For, as He was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, when He sent Him into it, so even when Christ was rejected, God made Him Who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be made divine righteousness in Him.
3 The Ten Virgins
(B.T. Vol. N1, p. 166-167. Gospel No. 6-3.)
Here again we have the mysterious likeness of the kingdom of the heavens while Christ rejected but glorified is hidden on high. Only, as the parable looks onward specially to the future, when the difference between those taught of God and mere professors will be manifested, the word is "Then shall the kingdom of the heavens be made like to ten virgins," etc. "Then" refers to the execution of judgment on the evil bondman who embodied the collective responsibility of Christendom, as our parable sets out rather the secret of wisdom or the lack of it individually.
"Then shall the kingdom of the heavens be made like to ten virgins, such as, having taken their torches, went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were foolish and five prudent. For the foolish, when they took their torches, took no oil with them; but the prudent took oil in their vessels with their torches. Now while the bridegroom tarried, they all fell heavy and were sleeping. But at midnight a cry is made, Behold, the bridegroom: come ye forth to meet him. Then arose all those virgins and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the prudent, Give us of your oil, for our torches are going out. But the prudent replied, saying, Nay, lest there be not enough for us and you: go rather unto those that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went away to buy, the bridegroom came; and those that were ready went with him unto the marriage feast; and the door was shut. But afterwards came also the rest of the virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore, for ye know not the day nor the hour" (vers. 1-13).
The ten virgins vividly represent the Christian profession. All took their torches and went forth to meet the Bridegroom Who is coming again. But if anyone have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His. The unction of the Holy One is indispensable. The possession of this, symbolised by oil, depends on having faith in Christ and His work. The foolish never knew their ruin; they were content with ordinances and rites and their own heed to them. To be born anew, to receive remission of sins through Christ's blood, to be sealed with the Spirit, they were strangers: Jews or heathen might want these things; but they had every privilege in their religion, the christian religion, and had no cause for alarm: such was their self-deception.
Alas! as with Israel so with Christendom, the forgetfulness of God's work and departure from Him were complete. While waiting for the bridegroom they fell heavy and were sleeping. The true attitude of the Christian was lost; the blessed hope no longer animated any. They ceased to go forth to meet the Bridegroom, and turned in here or there to slumber. Prudent or foolish, all slipped away from the true hope.
But God is faithful, and, when things are darkest, He arouses the sleepers. At midnight is made a cry, Behold the bridegroom. All awake, when even the foolish become uneasy, for they perceive that the prudent have a power which they have not. Torches may burn brightly for a while; but without oil they soon go out. But the believer has the Spirit only for himself; and none can receive that anointing save through God's grace on the faith of the gospel. Hence the appeal of the foolish to the prudent is vain. They must go to Him who sells on the terms of grace, without money and without price. Sinners must have to do with God. The creature cannot avail. The sinner must face his sins before Him, Who points the lost to the Saviour. Those who are religious after the flesh hate grace and shrink from God's presence. They may be zealous; they are willing to do "some great thing" if bidden; but to stand before Him as nothing but guilty ones, and to be saved of divine grace like the worst by a dead and risen Saviour, is repulsive to the old man. They may go their way to buy; but this is all we here learn of these self-deceivers.
Meanwhile the bridegroom came; and those that were ready went in with him to the marriage feast. And the door was shut.
Oh, the horror of finding out the truth too late! In vain then to cry, Lord, Lord, open to us! To such as are refusing a like warning and invitation now, His word then will be, Verily, I say to you, I know you not.
My reader, how would the coming of the Saviour find you? Those who really long and watch for the Saviour have already heard His voice and found in Him redemption, the forgiveness of their sins, through His blood. Hence they are sealed with the Holy Spirit of God unto the day of redemption. They know Whom they have believed, as the Good Shepherd knows such as hear His voice and follow Him. Do not trust in any institution, even of Christ, or any observance of your own, or any class of men however honoured, to fit your souls for God's presence. Nothing but the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses from all sin; but this it does perfectly even now on earth for every believer. And unless you here believe in Him and in the efficacy of His sacrifice for your evil case, flatter not yourselves that He will receive you to Himself or present you to His Father.
But if you are born again and resting on the redemption that is in Christ, you will have the Holy Spirit dwelling in you and strengthening you to render a true witness to Him who is on high and about to return. "This is He that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth." Your hope will be as real as your faith, and Christ the object of both. You will not doubt His love, but long for His coming to receive you to Himself, having the oil in your vessel, and earnest to call the thirsty, or whoever will, to drink of the water of life freely.
4 The Talents
(B.T. Vol. N1, p. 179-181. Gospel No. 6-4.)
This is the third of the parables in our Lord's great prophecy, which are distinctively Christian, as compared with the Jewish section (chap. 24:3-44) and the Gentile that concludes all (chap. 25:31-46). All three contemplate an absent Lord, Who is to return, and Whom His own are to expect. The first embodies the professor in one bondman set over the household, either wise or evil, The second is a likeness of the kingdom of the heavens in virgins, five foolish and five wise, who went forth to meet the Bridegroom. All slumbered, but were awakened at midnight. But they only who had the oil in their vessels, the indwelling Spirit, were there to meet Him, and go in with Him to the marriage-feast. This applies not to the future remnant, who are not anointed till Christ appears, but to Christians wholly who are now before them. The third is not such a likeness being in no way the general state, but refers nevertheless only to Christians, as is certain from applying to the entrusted servants while the Lord went abroad (that is, to heaven), Who meanwhile delivered to His own His goods.
"For [it is] as a man, going abroad, called his bondmen and delivered to them his goods (or, substance). And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to. each according to his own ability, and went abroad immediately. And he that received the five talents went and traded with them, and made other five talents. Likewise he also that [received] the two gained other two. But he that received the one went away and dug in the earth and hid the money of his lord. Now after a long while the lord of those bondmen cometh and reckoneth with them. And he that received the five talents came up and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst me five talents: see, I gained other five talents (besides them). His lord said to him, Well done, good and faithful bondman; thou wast faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things: enter into the joy of thy lord. And he also that [received] the two talents came up and said, Lord, thou deliveredst me two talents: see, I gained other two talents. His lord said to him, Well done, good and faithful bondman, thou wast faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. And he also that had received the one talent came up and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou didst not sow, and gathering from where thou didst not scatter; and being afraid I went away and hid thy talent in the earth: see, thou hast thine own. And his lord in answer said to him, Wicked and slothful bondman, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather from where I scattered not; thou oughtest then to have put my money to the bankers, and I on coming should have received mine own with interest. Take then from him the talent and give [it] to him that hath the ten talents. For to everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall abound; but from him that hath not, even what he hath shall be taken. And cast out the useless bondman into the outer darkness: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth" (vers. 14- 30).
It is plain that the substance which the Lord submitted to His servants for work in His absence means gifts of a spiritual kind. For He delivered to each according to his respective ability. They are distinguished from the ability of each, which was natural, and are suited to it. They are not merely "sanctified capacity," or "theological learning," but a gift from the Lord adapted to the ability of each as the vessel. With His goods they were to trade, "each ministering it one to another, as good stewards of God's manifold race; if one speaketh, as oracles of God; if one ministereth, as of strength which God supplieth, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom is the glory and the might unto the ages of the ages. Amen" (1 Peter 4:10-11). The reception of a gift was the ground of exercising it in dependence on the Giver, and for His glory.
Accordingly, where this loyalty ruled, one made five talents, another two: such is the figure in the parable. Without faith it is impossible to please God; and this is no less true of service, than of walk, as it is of salvation too. But God sets Christ before us everywhere: no creature's authority can become the object in any of them, save to His dishonour and our own sin and hurt. Confidence in the Master's grace was the animating spring of the true labourers. They bowed to His sovereignty Who entrusted as He saw fit; and they will in result enter into His joy. The kindred parable of the Pounds in Luke 19 shows individual responsibility, all starting with the like sum, and each rewarded according to the issues of labour. Both are true and important; but each is distinct.
In either case the third servant wronged the Lord. He regarded Him according to his own hard and wicked heart. He did not believe in His grace, and so sought not His pleasure or glory. Such selfish fear as his excludes love. There was no answer to the Master's trust. On his own showing he was inexcusable in hiding the talent in the earth. "Wicked and slothful bondman, thou oughtest to have put my money to the bankers, and I on coming should have received mine own with interest." To yield to fear was to distrust his Lord; and this is fatal. It is unbelief in His goodness. This servant had no sense of grace. A bad unpurged conscience led him to impute to the Lord what wholly denies and mis-represents Him, Who is full of grace and truth. And his end was according to his heart and his works. The evil he falsely attributed to the Master, which was really his own, finds its place in the outer darkness. It rendered him useless for God. He must be cast where the weeping and the gnashing of teeth shall be. His Master's joy was nothing to him.
How is it with you, my reader? Have you bowed to God's word which declares you to be sinful, ungodly, and without strength? If so, you must need a mighty and a gracious Saviour. And God Who pities you has sent in His love His beloved Son-sent Him to die for you, yea, for your sins. Do not presume to think of serving Him till you are brought to God without a spot or stain. Nothing but the blood of Jesus His Son can thus cleanse you: His blood cleanses from all sin. So His word attests, that you may by faith know yourself made whiter than snow. To doubt this is to dishonour both the Father and the Son; as it is to set yourself against the Holy Spirit Who is here to glorify the Saviour. Those who would bid you distrust God in such mercy are His enemies. Those who curse the proclamation of this truth pronounce a curse which will fall upon themselves when the Lord judges them.
5 The Seed left to grow
(B.T. Vol. N1, p. 197-198. Gospel No. 6-5.)
This is a parable peculiar to the Gospel of Mark, and therefore characteristic of the divine design. It is as far as possible from having any analogy to the leaven in Matt. 13, which a woman took and bid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened. Christ's service is here set out first and last, marking for the kingdom of God the unexpected fact of His seemingly leaving things to take their course between His action at the beginning and that at the end.
"And he said, Thus is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast the seed upon the earth, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should spring up and grow, how he knoweth not himself. Of itself the earth beareth fruit, first a blade, then an ear, then full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is presented, immediately he despatcheth the sickle, because the harvest is arrived" (vers. 26-29).
Matthew gives a complete view in its seven parables of the varying phases of the kingdom of the heavens, and especially in view of the rejection of the Messiah by the Jews and of its special form, "the mysteries of the kingdom," while the rejected King is on high, before He returns as the glorified Son of Man in possession of the universal inheritance.
Mark was led to dwell on the Sower, as the fullest expression of the Saviour's personal ministry, thwarted for the most part, but fulfilling the purpose of grace in such as have ears to hear. Then he records like Luke the solemn admonition that follows. The lamp was not to be put under "the bushel" or under "the bed," but to be put on its stand. God's testimony exposes the true character of things, and tests the witness himself; who, if he makes it his own, has more given, and if not, loses what he has. If the lamp was to shine openly, the truth was to be valued personally.
Then Mark alone adds the beautiful comparison of the Lord's relation to the work which has been cited. He would prepare His servants for the trial of faith that awaited them in His absence. He carefully guards against the difficulty which has often been expressed, and sometimes weakly evaded. For those who know Him reject the unworthy thought that He absolutely abandons all care over His work here below, and yet more, that He Who knows all things knows not how it fares with that on which He laboured. Our Lord took pains to say that the kingdom is "as if"; not that He did not watch and work diligently, any more than that the husbandman does no more than sow and reap, without intermediate interest or services. These dealings are through other scriptures fully revealed, which the parable assuredly does not in any way contradict.
The aim was, while affirming His personal work as ushering in God's kingdom and His gathering the. fruits at the end of the age, to mark emphatically how it should be left while He is on high; but this with fullest confidence that His sowing would come to the just and expected result. We have, therefore, here no thought of seed destroyed by the enemy's power, nor of failure through the flesh, nor of the choking influence of the world, any more than of darnel foisted into the field unawares and spoiling the crop. All goes well, though the great Servant is hidden in God: just "as if a man (after sowing) should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should spring up and grow, he knows not how."
Jehovah's messenger had been sent before Messiah's face to prepare His way; but he was imprisoned and slain. Messiah came Himself proclaiming the gospel of God's kingdom, and saying that the time was fulfilled, and the kingdom had drawn nigh. The cross, not the throne, was before Him; and He begins to call servants and to make them fishers of men. For though the unclean spirits obeyed Him, and disease vanished at His touch, even then the men of repute and leading taxed Him with blasphemy, because He forgave sins as God only can. He therefore, knowing all that was to befall Him, provides for the progress of God's work in His rejection unto death, and shows how nothing should hinder its completion.
So, even in Isa. 49:3-6, we have Jehovah saying, "Thou art my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified. But I said, I have laboured in vain. I have spent my strength for nought and in vain: nevertheless my judgment is with Jehovah, and my work with my God. And now, saith Jehovah that formed me from the womb to be his servant, that I should bring Jacob again to him (though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorified in the eyes of Jehovah, and God shall be my strength); and he saith, It is a small thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel; I have even given thee for a light of the nations, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth."
Similarly here too nothing shall destroy the gracious purpose of God in Christ; and His humiliation on one side and rejection on the other only give it lustre and force. "Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness." The apparent frustration for a while secures in the end, and glorifies God and Christ all through. It appears as if He who began and will end had no more to do than the man who, having sown his seed, sleeps and rises, yet the seed springs up and grows, he knows not how. God has so ordered this creation that of itself the earth brings forth fruit in the case supposed, first a blade, then an ear, then full corn in the ear. And so it is spiritually, without visible intervention of His righteous Servant on high.
But when the fruit is presented, He despatches the sickle immediately to reap, since harvest is arrived. It is the contrast of His two advents of personal action, with the unseen advance of what He has sown and what He will reap. On this His own can count without hesitation. God's work, of which Christ is the doer, can fail in nothing to glorify Himself.
Have you, dear reader, a sure part and lot in this work? Are you content with flesh and its glory, though God pronounces it all to be as grass? Oh, receive His living and abiding word, that you may be born again, if you have not received it already" This is the word which in the gospel is preached to you. The Lord Jesus sowed what produced fruit; and this goes on still. It is of faith that it might be according to grace. How welcome should this be to one who knows himself a lost unworthy sinner! The word reveals Christ to you as God's gift; and fruits follow when you receive Him and life in Him. Apart from Him you can do nothing. May grace give you while owning yourself ungodly and powerless without Christ, to receive Him on God's word, that you may go on your way rejoicing!
6 The two Debtors
(B.T. Vol. N1, p. 215-216. Gospel No. 6:6.)
Among the beauties of this beautiful story is the fact that no name is given to make known who the sinful woman was, now plainly renewed by grace through faith. Many have thought her to be Mary of Magdala. But she first appears only in the chapter following, with a terrible history quite different from the woman "that was a sinner." Others yet more strangely have fancied Mary of Bethany had once sunk into that infamy, because she too at the close anointed the Lord — with marked difference from this. Luke was inspired to leave in the shade, not the trophy of grace, but her name, whose previous life had been so shameful.
Why should any wish to know what the Lord hid? It is enough to hear what she had been; best of all that He who knew and felt all according to God, pleaded the cause of grace, as it was never pleaded before, pronounced her forgiveness, and sent her away in peace. Whether she had heard the Lord before, or only heard of Him, she came in faith. This drew her to the Lord. This made her brave the Pharisee's scorn. This bent the eyes of her heart on the Saviour only, raising her above all fear of the company. The grace of God in Jesus so filled and transported her soul that at all cost she went to pour her precious unguent on His feet washed by her tears, wiped by her tresses, and covered with her kisses. She came behind as He lay at meat in Simon's house, and thus told her love, and devotedness of that heart, once so debased, now repentant and purified by faith. Not a word did she say with her lips; but the Lord Who knew the hearts of all men appreciated every feeling and every act of a new-born soul entranced with the moral glory of Christ while bowing to light and love of God rising above her many sins. Simon too saw enough to manifest his utter distance from God and alienation from His goodness; he judged as a natural man, confiding in his own righteousness, and condemning the Lord from all that passed yet more than the woman that stood at His feet behind weeping., He had gone so far as to have Him at his house, and felt assured that He could be no prophet who allowed such a woman to touch Him
The Lord answered the Pharisee's unuttered thought, and showed Himself not only a prophet of God, but God of the prophets, come in the lowliest humiliation not to judge the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. Only, he that believeth on Him is not judged; but he that believeth not hath been already judged, because he hath not believed on the name of the Only-begotten Son of God. The Lord put the case. "A certain creditor had two debtors: one owed five hundred denaries, and the other fifty. As they had nothing to pay, he forgave them both. Which of these then will love him most?" On Simon's supposition, "He to whom he forgave most," He said, "Thou hast rightly judged," and contrasted the woman's deep, fervent, and humble affection with the Pharisee's scant courtesy, which told the tale sufficiently of those two hearts.
"And turning to the woman, he said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house: thou gavest me no water for my feet; but she wetted my feet with her tears, and wiped them with her tresses. Thou gavest me no kiss; but she, since I entered, ceased not kissing my feet over. With oil thou didst not anoint my head; but she with unguent anointed my feet" (vers. 44-46).
Simeon had in the temple said of Him as a babe that He was set for the fall and rising up of many in Israel, and for a sign spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts should be revealed. But there was more here. Jesus revealed God's heart, of which the Pharisee proved unconsciously that he knew nothing. The woman had learnt it. His goodness had penetrated her; and her sense of it expressed itself in her profound reverence to the Lord Jesus. There she had met God; there God made Himself known to her as God of all grace. It was not dogma, but a divine person of infinite love Who attracted, filled, and fixed her heart. All her way and bearing testified to her self-judgment, to her faith, and to her love (for she loved much); as Simon's conduct demonstrated, in Jesus slighted and grace misjudged, that he knew not God. But she knew Him, or rather was known of Him.
"Wherefore, I say to thee, her many sins are forgiven. For she loved much; but he to whom little is forgiven loveth little." Simon had unwittingly sentenced himself. Impossible to know God in Christ without discovering His goodness and our own shameful endless badness. "And he said to her, Thy sins are forgiven." O reader, have you heard His voice? This is your need; and this is His grace. May you too believe! Are there those who resent such love to the guilty on God's part? Who resist the Saviour, not knowing that they fight against God to their own ruin? How did He meet this, for well He knew it? "And He said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee: go in peace." May it be your portion.
7 The Samaritan
(B.T. Vol. N1, p. 230-231. Gospel 6-7.)
This parable is the Lord's answer to the lawyer's question. And who is my neighbour? A conscience not at case finds difficulties; the heart that is animated by love answers at once, because it finds none. Every sorrow or need makes an appeal to it, and never in vain. Flesh under law being self-occupied, has neither room nor time for others.
"A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho; and he fell among robbers, who, having stripped and beaten him, departed, leaving him half dead. And by coincidence a certain priest was going down by that way; and on seeing him passed on the other side. And likewise also a Levite, when he came to the place and saw, passed on the other side. But a certain Samaritan on journey came to him, and when he saw him was moved with compassion, and came up and bound his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and setting him on his own beast he brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow he took out and gave two denaries to the inn-keeper, and said to him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou shalt spend more, I at my coming back will repay thee. Which of these three, seemeth to thee to have been neighbour of him that fell among the robbers? And he said, He that showed him mercy. And Jesus said to him, Go and do thou likewise" (vers. 30- 37).
Grace and truth in Christ changed all. It was not only from earth to heaven now acting on souls who believed, but love that raised above our own things, imitating God, as the Apostle puts it, like dear children, Christ Himself the motive and power no less than pattern.
Man's sad lot is graphically shown in him who was going down from the place of religious privilege and pride to that of the curse, and fell in with robbers who took his all and beat him, leaving him half dead. Earthly priesthood, and earthly ministry, wholly failed. Only the despised One availed; and none was more despised or hated than a Samaritan, unless it were the One Who exceeds all comparisons. He on His errand of love, far from passing by and shutting up His inmost feelings of compassion, came up and bandaged the wounds, pouring on soothing and cleansing grace, dismounted to raise up the wretched one now comforted, and took him under His care. Doubtless it is the Lord's congenial sketch of practical grace for the lawyer's help; but it is the shadow of His own path day by day, and far indeed from exhausting or even describing what was deepest in His work.
Nor is His love satisfied with thoughtful beneficence for the present; He charges himself with the future in terms all the more striking, because the figure is homely. How full and transcendent is the love which is not bounded by ties of flesh or obligations of earthly duty, but flows from a divine and eternal spring from within, and only finds objects of need without to act on, no person too repulsive, no need beyond the resources of grace. "And on the morrow He took out and gave two denaries to the inn-keeper, and said to him, Take care of him, and whatever thou shalt spend more, I at my coming back will repay thee." Yes, His provision while absent is adequate, whatever the unbelief may think of it as of Him; and when He returns, what repayment where He is trusted! What forfeits, where He is scorned! Even the lawyer could not but feel the appeal, and own the superiority of that mercy which the Lord depicted and exemplified. If he ever did in like manner, it must have been through the faith that received the Saviour and realised the truth and love of God in Him.
God Himself is now acting on such love, though shown in a way infinitely more profound in giving His own Son up to compassionate, save, and bless the powerless and ungodly. It is no question of a claim but of ruin in man and of grace in Himself: only the work of Christ makes it righteous in God, and us righteous in Christ. Such is the efficacy of His death on the cross.
How does it affect you, dear reader? It finds you a lost and rebellious sinner. Such you have been really, whoever you are and whatever you may have seemed to yourself or other men. You may have sought and provided a religious veil; but it is of no more value in God's eye than the web the spider weaves. Their webs, says the prophet, shall not become garments, neither shall they cover themselves with their works; their works are works of iniquity, and the act of violence is in their hands. For none are prouder or more bitter than natural men under a veil of religion. The way of peace they know not, and there is no judgment in their goings. They have made their paths crooked: whose goeth therein knoweth not peace.
All depends for efficacy on Christ alone. He it is Who brings God to man and man to God; but it is vain for me or you or any that hear the gospel unless we believe on Him. This is to submit to the righteousness of God, Who is ever found in His grace, by him who truly owns his sins in the faith of Christ. Oh, fellow sinner, dare to be thorough in confessing what you have done and are at the feet of Jesus Who never rejects one that comes confiding in the call of God. It is what God delights in; it is to vindicate Him and honour His dishonoured Son, the all-worthy One, in the face of every foe, and of all our own sins and unbelief. Do not drop this call to your soul. You cannot pretend that you do not need the Saviour; or that you are now pleasing God Who summons you to believe in Him. Turn to Him therefore at once, and confess your guilt and evil, but doubt not His grace. Look not away till you rest on Him and His precious blood which cleanses from every sin.
8 The importunate Appeal
(B.T. Vol. N1, p. 246-248. Gospel No. 6:8.)
The Holy Spirit at this point in the Gospel of Luke brings together, as is His manner frequently, two things which may have been by no means near historically, to illustrate a great moral truth. The value of the divine word, and of prayer. The one closes chap. 10, the other opens chap. 11.
Of His own will God the Father begot us with the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of His creatures (James 1:18). So Peter in his First Epistle (1 Peter 1:22) speaks of our having purified our souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit, being born again not of corruptible seed but of incorruptible, by the word of God which liveth and abideth forever. "And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you." Wherefore as new-born babes, we are exhorted, laying aside evil of word, deed, and spirit, to desire the sincere milk of the word that we may grow thereby unto salvation, the salvation ready to be revealed at Christ's appearing. The same word of God that quickened us who believe, nourishes, strengthens, and guards our souls. Paul teaches the same truth. Faith is by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Rom.10:17). "In Christ Jesus I have begotten you by the gospel" (1 Cor. 1), not by baptism, for he had baptised very few, but by the gospel which they received of him and he preached to them. It was the word which corrected their faults and restored their souls, as we see in 2 Cor. For Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, to a sure and glorious end. Nor is John a whit less explicit; for he shows us the disciples already clean because of the word Christ had spoken to them (John 15). They are sanctified through the truth, which the word is (John 17).
But when we have received the word as Mary did in the love of it, and at the feet of Jesus, we none the less but the more need prayer to walk worthily of God, Who called us to His kingdom and glory. And so we find the Lord, as He is seen continually in prayer, teaching His disciples to pray. For the life we receive in Him, as it is of God, so lives in dependence on Him habitually and in obedience of His will made known in His word. Man, as our Lord cited to the tempter, shall not live by bread alone but by every word of God. My meat, said He to the disciples, is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work; and again, As the living Father sent Me and I live (not merely "by" but) on account of the Father; so he that eateth Me, as every true Christian does, even he shall live on account of Me. Christ thus becomes the believer's object and motive. None of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live to the Lord; and whether we die, we die to the Lord: whether we live therefore or die, we are the Lord's (Rom. 14). And He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live to themselves, but to Him Who died for them and rose again (2 Cor. 5).
Hence the great apostle lays down that every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God, and prayer (1 Tim. 4:4-5). The word here used goes, no doubt, beyond the ordinary word for prayer and implies that intercourse which is now open to us with God by redemption, and encourages us in all intercession because of the access we have into the grace wherein we stand. But it is thoroughly prayer to God in a way that is as full as it is free which His love sanctions, now that His righteousness is manifested, the word expressing what comes from Him, as prayer what goes up to Him, in the life of faith.
On the details of the prayer here given, and yet more fully in the Gospel of Matthew, we need say little beyond noticing the efforts of unbelief to assimilate them. Each is perfect for the purpose of God where they are given, the shorter one for Gentile instruction no less than the longer for believers of the circumcision. The petition for 'he earth is here omitted, as also about that power of evil, which the Jew must know peculiarly to mark the time which precedes their deliverance and blessing at the end.
But what a stimulus the Lord here adds! "And he said to them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go to him at midnight, and say to him, Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and 1 have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot rise and give thee. I say to you, though he will not rise and give him because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth" (vers. 5-8).
Truly the Saviour needed not that any should testify of man; for He knew what was in man. As really man as Adam, He was always and perfectly above all the taint of fallen humanity, "the born holy Thing." Not only He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth, but in Him, it could be and is said absolutely, is no sin. And He know what is in God, for God He was and is for ever. He was thoroughly aware of man's reluctance to draw near to God, and his indisposition to expect good from God. Man is not a giver himself, least of all does he feel that God gives continually and abundantly in the natural sphere of man's wants. But that God should give His best, the Son of His love, to deliver him from evil and from judgment, to blot out his sins, to give him life eternal, so exceeds all that is in his own heart and all that his conscience justly needs, that he cannot, will not, believe it, even though God has sent the most complete and solemn testimony in the grace and truth that came by Jesus Christ His Son. He is averse to the glad tidings, because it makes nothing of man, every-tidings, be thing of God's own goodness in Christ. If it were only a rite or an institution of mysterious efficacy by man and for man, this he could understand; something done for him if not by himself by another, this he could trust, especially if many others accepted the same way. But to own himself only evil, God alone good, most and best of all in giving His Only-begotten that he might live and have Him as propitiation for his sins, this indeed is God's love beyond creature thought, yet the very love we are called to believe in the gospel.
In early days a great persecutor had it revealed to and in him, as he was given to see the glorified Lord and to hear the words of His mouth. What was the immediate effect? "Behold, he prayeth." And so it ever is. Faith in Him leads into new relationships and creates new wants; while the old man is still there, though judicially condemned in the cross and calling for vigilant self-judgment in the practice of every hour here below. But the believer not only was justified by faith and has peace through our Lord Jesus Christ; through Him he possesses access by faith into this grace wherein we stand. No doubt he is called to praise and give thanks continually, but to pray in his weakness and exposure to a world of evil and a sleepless subtle foe. As prayer is due to our God and Father, so is it most necessary for His children. And the Lord illustrates it even from man, evil as he is, and though appealing at midnight, when difficulties were greatest. Yet then, where the want was urgent, and without any resource to meet it, a mere man does not fail to rise and give, not for friendship alas! but because of importunity. How much more should the believer count on God! "Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened. For every one that asketh receiveth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened." God giveth to all life and breath and all things; it is His nature.
Relationship only adds to this. "If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if [he ask] a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? or if he shall ask an egg, will he give him a scorpion?" An enemy might, but God is the truest of friends, a Father as none also approaches. "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall the Father who [is] of heaven give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him" (vers. 11-13)?
The Lord has in view His own in their new wants and awaiting their special privilege. The Spirit, though ever working in the family of faith, was to be given, as the Son was already; the Son for sinners, the Spirit to saints. The disciples were awaiting the promise of the Father and received the Spirit at Pentecost, when Peter laid down the terms, "Repent, and be baptised each of you on the name of Jesus Christ for remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). No wonder that they continued stedfastly, as in other holy functions, so "in prayers," fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
9 The Blasphemy of God's Power in Christ
(B.T. Vol. N1, p. 263-264. Gospel No. 6:9.)
The casting out of unclean spirits or demons has a great place in the synoptic Gospels, and most justly. It fell to the fourth Gospel rather to set out the positiveness of life eternal in Christ and of the Holy Spirit to be sent in His name on His departure. In the Gospel of Mark it is the first miracle recorded, and it often reappears and with no little detail. Our Gospel begins His ministry characteristically with His words of grace to man, and if His own would not hear, to the Gentile; for grace is sovereign. But the special power of Satan over man (never so manifest as when Jesus was here) immediately follows, as we may readily see the prominent place it has also in Matthew's Gospel.
But Christ's power in expelling demons drew out man's hatred and blasphemy. "Through Beelzebub, the prince of the demons, he casteth out demons," said some; as others tempting sought from Him a sign out of heaven. The folly and wickedness of such an imputation the Lord proved at once. Not only would Satan be at war with himself, but their own sons who cast out demons reproved them. Yet in their case it was rare, in His constant and unfailing, the witness that, if the display of God's kingdom in power and glory is not yet, that kingdom had come upon them in His person. Alas! the old sentence Was renewed only more stringently their heart grown fat, their ears heavy, their eyes closed as asleep, lest they should be converted, and healed of God.
Thereon the Lord states first the case of God's gracious power in Him, next the consequence of unbelief in them.
"When the strong one in arms keepeth his own court, his goods are in peace; but when the stronger than he cometh upon and conquereth him, he taketh away his panoply on which he relied and divideth his spoils" (vers. 21, 22).
This the Lord was then doing before all eyes in the land. The acceptable year of Jehovah was manifest, not yet to all the world, but in Him Who in the wilderness had vanquished Satan in simple obedience and by the written word. This is the moral power of the Spirit in man; and the Lord was the blessed witness of it in perfection. This was followed by the powers of the age to come, manifestations then of that energy which will wholly deliver the coming age from the enemy. Long had the strong exercised his baneful, blasting influence, long were his goods in peace. Now the stronger than he was come and had conquered him. His power was broken before the Seed of the woman; he could no longer retain his possessions. Demons, were they a legion, were cast out. Blind saw, lame walked, lepers were cleansed, deaf heard, dumb spoke, and dead were raised.
It is true that the devil was not yet crushed, and had departed from Him but for a season. He had sought in vain to draw Him out of the path of obedience; he would return to kill Him in it. But this would only turn to a greater victory for God and man, not merely over "his goods" in the present, but in the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the whole world. The question of guilt and evil in the face of judgment and eternity would then he solved as it now is in the precious blood and death and resurrection of Him Who sits at God's right hand in glory.
Still the victory already gained was great, and the ground of confidence for all that would follow in its time, and the wondrous way of God in the cross. If, as Luke says, some from among the crowd, blasphemed; if, as Matthew says, the Pharisees did, and, as Mark says, the scribes, all together show that the Jews did high and low, religious and learned emphatically, to their common and utter ruin, But the Lord points out the crisis for faith. When the worst unbelief works, it is just the moment for bold openness of faith. "He that is not with me is against me, and he that gathereth not with me scattereth" (ver. 23). With this standard the believer too wins the victory. The middle way here is a delusion. Christ alone is worthy of all trust. Neutrality here is fatal. To be with Him is imperative; to gather save with Him is scattering, however fair man's promise or the appearance for the moment.
How is it with you, my reader? "I am (said He) the light of the world. He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life." "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath life eternal." Dread then above all things not to be with Him. If you are not with Him, you are against Him. Any or every other companion fails to be a security: Christ alone is so.
And He is the True God and eternal life, so gathering with Him alone stands, and is acceptable to God. All that embraces or seeks the world bears on itself the brand of the enemy, and is in no way of the Father. Nay more, there is no gathering of saints that pleases God, unless Christ be the test and the centre. And the claim of infallibility for any man but Him Who is God is most daring sin against God, and a most manifest antichrist, denying the Father and the Son, however secure such think themselves.
What then is the consequence? "When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he goeth through dry places seeking rest; and finding none he saith, I will return to my house whence I came out. And having come he findeth it swept and adorned. Then he goeth his way and taketh seven other spirits worse than himself; and entering in they dwell there; and the, last of that man [is] worse than the first" (vers. 24- 26).
It is the failing away, the apostasy followed by the man of sin. The unclean spirit of idolatry among the Jews was the precursor and moral cause of the captivity in Babylon. Since then the Jews have been generally free of that evil, conspicuously so after the Maccabees prevailed. But they no less peremptorily rejected Jesus the Messiah. They were against Him, and, instead of gathering, scattered and were scattered as never before nor so long. And they are still "empty," as Matthew says, empty of the power of God. What avails then to be swept and adorned? The old unclean idolatrous spirit will surely return, with the sevenfold power of the enemy; and how awful the end for the many! A remnant who will then be with Jesus will be graciously owned as His own, and they with Him will be the centre for the gathered peoples of the earth.
In Luke the Holy Spirit does not confine its bearing to "that generation," but widens it to "man." And the end of the individuals and the nations of Christendom will be no better. For God is not mocked. They have not continued in God's goodness and must also be cut off. They are largely idolatrous already, and this will grow to greater ungodliness, to the apostasy and the man of sin for them as for the unbelieving Jews.
Oh! then receive Christ, and the love of the truth that you may be saved, while the door stands open and God calls you to believe in His Son.
10 The rich Fool
(B.T. Vol. N1, p. 276-277. Gospel No. 6:10.)
Christ puts before the disciples the consequences of Jewish unbelief. The light of God's testimony shines only the brighter. He is the Son of Man as well as the Messiah, and His rejection by the old people of God but opens the door of grace through His death to all the nations of mankind. Here He warns of not Sadducean evil only but of Pharisaic: their leaven was hypocrisy. But as God is light, so everything covered up shall be revealed.
Such is Christ and Christianity. The veil is rent, and the blood of Christ brings the believer to God, Who alone, not man, is to be feared. And the Son of man is the test. Him who Shall confess Him before men will the Son confess also before the angels. For now it is not a question of the earth, but of hell (Gehenna) and of heaven, of things eternal, not seen and temporal. And the testimony of the Holy Spirit is final: he that blasphemes Him shall not be forgiven. The Holy Spirit deigns to teach the believer; no matter what the emergency, he need not be anxious: the Holy Spirit suffices (vers. 1-12).
Another root of evil is now laid bare thoroughly — covetousness. "Teacher (said one), speak to my brother to divide the inheritance with me. But he said to him, Man, who constituted Me a judge or divider over you?" This the Lord will be in the most glorious way when He comes in His kingdom. It was therefore no unreasonable wish for one, who if he owned Him as Messiah, had no perception of the change His rejection brings. It was in no way for the rejected Messiah to divide earthly inheritances. "And he said to them, See and keep yourselves from covetousness; for, while one may have abundance, his life is not in his possessions. And he spoke a parable unto them, saying, The land of a certain rich man bore fruitfully. And he reasoned in himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have not where to gather my crops? And he said, This will I do: I will take down my granaries, and build greater; and there will I gather all my produce and my good things. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast many good things laid up for many years: rest, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said to him, Fool, this night is thy soul required of thee; and whose shall be what thou didst prepare? Thus [is] he that treasureth up for himself, and [is] not rich toward God" (vers. 13-21).
Are not these evils rife now in Christendom? Do not both abound in what we are apt to think the most favoured lands on earth? Who can deny their sanctioned prevalence among the Anglo-Saxon race? Where are they more unblushing than in England and America? What is a fair show in the flesh but hypocrisy, not merely in Establishments here or there, but quite as really in the dissenting societies? Where is not the influence of money dominant? Where is "the unrighteous mammon" so much discussed, so earnestly sought, and, as far as given, so glaringly vaunted? Money is treated even by pious men as the sinews of the gospel; just as the world counts it the sinews of war. The entire system of religious societies rests on the pillars of gold and silver. Never was there so deep and open and general an affront put on the Holy Spirit; never did Christian effort rest on so debasing a foundation. Never were souls encouraged so distinctly to make money insatiably that they may give more liberally. In this gold and gain-hunting day are not Christians as assiduous and eager to heap up wealth as the sons of this age? And if they spend on themselves and their families, who reproves worldliness, if there be fairly large gifts for the chapel and the societies, for Bibles, for Tracts, and for Missions, to enumerate no more?
Here the Lord presents the picture of an everyday reality. Covetousness implies no dishonesty, and is not even hard or sharp dealing, being no more than the desire of more: the very spring of modern effort, the motive of bettering himself commended to all from the mechanic to the millionaire. Thus the creature becomes the object, not God; and therefore is covetousness declared to be idolatry. It is man looking down, not up in dependence on God. The rich man was not content, but high-minded and trusted not in God but in the certainty of what is most uncertain. Rich in good works he was not, nor liberal in distributing, nor grateful for the abundance which he had, nor disposed to communicate. He aspired after greater things and planned for nothing but his own ease and enjoyment, as if he had a lease for ever. God was in none of his thoughts, but read them all. When the rich man called on his soul to be merry over the many goods laid up for many years, the summons came: "Fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee."
O my reader, rich or poor, is this your folly? For it may be in hope, yet more frequently than in possession; and God is not mocked. Many a rich man perishes in his selfish ease; many would-be rich fall into temptation and a snare, into unwise and hurtful lusts which plunge them into destruction and ruin. Oh! look to Him Who, being rich, for our sakes became poor, that we by His poverty might be enriched. The abiding riches of glory we, changed into His likeness, shall receive and use aright. The riches of His grace He offers you now in His redemption. Despise not them nor Him; for this is to brave or court perdition. Confess your true place as a lost sinner before God, that He may give the salvation of your soul now by the faith of Christ, and by-and-by the salvation of your body at His coming.
11 Waiting for the Lord
(B.T. Vol. N1, p. 292-293. Gospel No. 6-11.)
Throughout this chapter the Lord is withdrawing His disciples, now that His rejection proceeded and His departure approached, from their thoughts and ways as Jews. This is ever wholesome, for it grounds the believer in Christianity, which nature and the world resist. But then it was absolutely requisite and of the highest value that they should be weaned from the old weak and beggarly elements, to learn, enjoy, and live the new thing. It is not the power of Messiah present and governing here below, but God's word and Spirit. Hence the unseen and eternal things are revealed; hence confession of the truth, of the rejected One, is imperative, as God only is to be feared, and the danger is of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Only the gracious Lord encourages the faith that owns Him by the very things which terrify unbelief. Earthly justice is not His care now; nor should earthly care be theirs. What was the portion of the rich man that forgot his soul?
The disciples are called to confide in Him Who feeds the ravens, and clothes the lilies and the grass, with a glory beyond Solomon's. Why then should they be anxious like the nations of the world? Their Father knows their bodily wants, and adds these things to such as seek His kingdom. Moreover He would have them of good courage; for was it not His delight to give them the kingdom? Hence, far from covetousness, they were called to be kings now in superiority to money. The world was no more their quest, but to use its things in unselfish love. This is to make for themselves an unfailing treasure in the heavens, where also their heart was to be. And thus in practice they become heavenly. "Let your loins be girded about, and your lamps burning, and ye like men awaiting their own lord, when he may return from the wedding, that, when he cometh and knocketh, they may immediately open to him. Blessed are those bondmen whom the lord on coming shall find watching! Verily I say to you, that he will gird himself, and make them recline at table, and come up and serve them. And if he come in the second watch, and in the third, and find them so, blessed are they!" (vers. 35-38.)
Here then beyond just question the Lord lays down the attitude of the Christian. Is it yours? He Himself is the test beyond all else. It is not consistent with faith to be worried with anxiety about the things that perish. It is well to be of good cheer, knowing His love and His purpose of glory for the little flock, tried and exposed as it now is. But to be like men that wait for their own lord is a still more positive and decisive test. It presupposes in a personal way faith working by love. Their treasure is in the heavens where He is. They love Him, because He first loved them. They do not forget Him in His absence; they are not merely occupied with their work, for indeed their loins were girt about and their lamps burning, but themselves awaiting their own Lord. Nor again were they discussing dates, nor on the lookout for political change, nor yet with eyes fixed on signs in the sun, moon, and stars. The Christian watches for Christ. He, his life, his righteousness, his Saviour, his Lord, is gone with the promise of coming to receive him to Himself, one knows not how soon. And He has sent His last message since that He is coming quickly.
Therefore would we not doubt but wait, content with His word Who is the Truth, and the Faithful and True Witness. Long as it may seem, He is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, "but is longsuffering toward you, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." As He is waiting, so should we be; and thus we keep the word of His patience, but assure our hearts in the bright hope. Is He not worthy? is not the hope well worth the while? and is it not deep consolation that meanwhile many hear His voice, believe in His name, and with us wait for Him?
O my reader, if it be not so with you, where are you, and what? You well know whether you are waiting for the Lord Jesus; yea others, even the world, can in fair measure judge whether this is your habitual attitude. The Lord recognises no other object of hope in His own. This is also the chief responsibility as His bondmen. Be assured that other duties will be done all the better, because this has the first and constant place. Read all the N.T. and see if this hope be not bound up with every joy and sorrow, with the walk and work and worship of the Christian, who found in Him the object of faith when he was a lost sinner and now as a saint has none other as his hope. If you believe in Him, be not untrue to Him as your hope, but judge yourself in every thing that hinders your waiting for Him day by day.
If you have no faith in Him, how sad is your estate! Perhaps you are so beguiled by the spirit of the age growingly infidel, as to deny His glory as the Son of God and His humiliation as the Son of man. Perhaps you deny His resurrection, if not His death, yea the death of the cross. You deny all this at your peril; and your peril is everlasting punishment. For it is folly to suppose that, if the Son of God came to be propitiation for our sins, God did not give adequate proof to make mankind responsible to receive Him, and verily, fatally, guilty in rejecting Him. To reject a divine Person, Who in infinite love deigned to die in order to save you and me by faith from judgment, cannot be a secondary thing. It is the truth that God now testifies to all in the gospel, which bears the self-evidence of His holy love as no pretended sacred book does comparably. It has been proved to the peace and joy and salvation of millions as guilty and incredulous as you. Why then be so careless, so mad, so wicked as to fight more against God, and turn His message of mercy, because refused, into a sentence of condemnation righteous and everlasting? Receiving the Lord Jesus by faith, you are entitled by God's grace to salvation, and can then welcome His coming with love and delight; and triumph. You can then join those that are waiting for Him, that, when He knocks, you may open to Him immediately.
Job 38:7 appears to express poetically the joy of the orbs of heaven when first ushered in as the hosts of heaven, with the audible acclaim of the angels, who in this book as in Genesis are called God's sons.
12 Working for the Lord
(B.T. Vol. N1, p. 308-309. Gospel No. 6-12.)
Christ is the fullest test for every soul of man, for sinner or for saint. He is the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Him; as he that has seen Him, the Son, has seen the Father. For no one has seen God at any time: the only begotten Son that is in the bosom of the Father — He has declared Him. All blessing for the sinner turns on receiving the Saviour. He only is the propitiation for our sins, as He alone gives the believer life eternal.
So also Christ makes manifest the practical difference between one believer and another. Thus of the two sisters with their brother, whom Jesus loved, Mary was shown to have chosen the good part which should not be taken from her; whereas Martha chose rather that much serving which distracted her, and made her grumble because her sister sat down at His feet, listening to His word.
Not otherwise is it here in the Lord's estimate of waiting for Him with working for Him. Undoubtedly the believer is called to do both. But we readily let slip His mind, and are apt to prefer what gives us importance to what pleases Him most. Now the lack of being filled with the sense of His glory and His grace weakens and injures our service; because it exposes us to the ways, if not devices, of our own activity, instead of dependence on Him and subjection to His word.
Hence our Lord draws the twofold picture of blessedness in this chapter. (1) "Blessed are those bondmen whom the Lord on coming shall find watching: verily I say to you, that he will gird himself and make them recline at table, and coming up will serve them" (ver. 37). And He repeats their blessedness in the following verse. What immense grace on His part! It was love that wrought thus mightily. It was His love that created theirs; His that was seen by faith to be so great in One so glorious that formed and fed theirs, and drew them out in waiting for Him as their chiefest, clearest, and constant hope. At His coming He will not forget their loving and worshipping hearts. He will show in the day of His glory His appreciation of their longing for Him, while others expended it more or less on other objects. It will be His joy, never ceasing His service of love even in glory, to pay them especial honour, girding Himself to serve them.
(2) But there is more than this, though not so near His heart nor so high morally. For when Peter said, "Lord, sayest thou this parable to us or also to all?" the Lord said, "Who then is the faithful and wise steward whom his lord will set over his household to give them the portion of food in season? Blessed is that bondman whom his lord on coming shall find doing thus: verily I say unto you, that he will set him over all that he hath" (vers. 41-44). Here it is working as distinguished from waiting or watching. It is doing Him service, rather than the eyes of the heart fixed on His coming. His interests may be cared for with zeal, His work done faithfully and with intelligence. Sinners are sought earnestly that they may be saved; saints are loved and tended because they are precious to Him. Neither is the Lord unmindful of the service; nor is God unrighteous to forget the work. For that bondman whom the Lord on coming shall find so doing, He will set over all that He has. And has He not pledged Himself so to act, Who is Heir of all things? The servant shall share in the display of His Lord's glory, if he serve faithfully now in the day He is slighted.
Yet great and glorious as will be the day of recompence, and the requital worthy of Him Who is now served, however weakly in the face of the world which crucified the Lord of glory, what are such returns, wondrous as they shall be, compared to the inner scene of His love! Then, according to the graphic figure, He will make them recline in the Father's house and serve them in that loving service that has no end. When Christ our life shall be manifested, then shall we also with Him be manifested in glory. All the world will see and know it. But it is a deeper thing to enjoy His personal love and honour in a way beyond all creature thought and the world's ken, as He here promises to the bondmen who wait and watch for Him.
O my reader, how is it with you as you read these lines? You may not be conscious of enmity to the Lord Jesus. But are you a confessor of His name? Are you following Him openly as well as believing in Him? Remember the ruler so moral from his youth, who could bear neither to part with his large possessions, nor to follow Christ. It is indeed impossible with men, but not with God, as the Lord said; for all things are possible with God. And what has He done for you and your salvation? — given His own Son to become a man, and a bondman, and a sacrifice that you by faith may lay your hand on that all-efficacious Burnt-Offering. "And it shall be accepted for you to make atonement for you." For nothing less than this, but even more, does the gospel of God present to you in His name.
Fear not therefore if you draw near in that Name of Jesus which is above every name; fear not; only believe. You cannot make too much of the one Mediator between God and man. God will honour your drawing on His infinite grace, if you draw in the name of the Lord Jesus. The Son of God became man, Christ Jesus, and gave Himself a ransom for all; and the Holy Spirit in the gospel proclaims it now that you may believe in the Lord Jesus and be saved. This is God's testimony in the good news, and these are its own times. The night comes when none can work and none can hear, when those that refuse to hear must perish. If it be so with you, it is your own sin. God sent His only-begotten Son that you might not perish but have life eternal. Oh! hear His word that you may believe and be saved.