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Jesus lodges in the house of Zacchaeus, "the chief among the publicans" at Jericho. This episode, which took place at Jericho just before the Lord's entry into Jerusalem the last time, is peculiar to this Gospel. That the source was Hebrew (Aramaic) is clear from the wording of the narration. Some brief Hebrew (Aramaic) memoir was given to St. Luke, whence he derived his information of this most interesting and instructive incident of the last journey of the Master.
Luke 19:1, Luke 19:2
And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. Jericho, under the Herods, had become again an important centre of trade. It lay on the road from Person to Judaea and Egypt, and had, of course, an important custom-house. The Balm which came especially from the Gilead district was sent through there into all parts of the world. Zacchaeus was at the head of this customs department at Jericho. The exact position of such an official in those days is not known. He probably farmed the customs revenue under some great Roman capitalist of the equestrian order. In such an appointment it was easy to commit even involuntary injustices. The temptations to such an official to enrich himself at the expense of others, besides, were sadly numerous. Named Zacchaeus. Zakkai signifies "pure" (see Ezra 2:9; Nehemiah 7:14). It is curious that we find in the Talmud a man named Zakkai, the father of the famous rabbi Jochauan, living at Jericho.
He was little of stature. Such a curious detail comes, of course, from some memoir written just at the time.
Into a sycomore tree. Floss sycomorus, the fig-mulberry, is here meant. It grew in the Jordan valley to a considerable height; the low, spreading branches were easy to climb. "We can picture the scene to our mind's eye. The eager, wistful, supplicating face looking down from the fresh green foliage—it was early spring—and meeting the gaze of Jesus as he passed" (Dean Plumptre).
Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to-day I must abide at thy house. Jericho was one of the cities of the priests, and yet our Lord, setting public opinion at defiance, passed over their houses, and announced his intention of lodging for the night with one whose life's occupation was so hateful to the Jewish religious world. The Master recognized in the intense eagerness of Zacchaeus to get a sight of him, and possibly a word from him, that it was in the chief publican's house where lay his Father's business for him in Jericho.
They all murmured. This very inclusive statement, "they all," shows the general intensely Jewish spirit of the age, narrow and sectarian. The people could not imagine goodness, or earnestness, or generosity in one who served the hateful Roman power. Probably in priestly Jericho this stern exclusive spirit was especially dominant.
And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. Zacchaeus's memorable speech was addressed not as an apologia to the murmuring, jealous crowd, either in the room or the courtyard of the house, but to his Divine Guest, who, he felt, understood him, whose great heart, he knew, sympathized with him in that life of his, so tempted and yet so full of quiet, noble acts; for the chief publican's words do not refer to a future purpose, but they speak of a past rule of life which he had set for himself to follow, and probably had followed for a long period. So Godet, who paraphrases thus: "He whom thou hast thought good to choose as thy host is not, as is alleged, a being unworthy of thy choice. Lo, publican though I am, it is no ill-gotten gain with which I entertain thee." In a profession like his, it was easy to commit involuntary injustice. There may, too, have been, probably was, many a hard if not an unjust act worked by the chief of the tax-gatherers and his subordinates in their difficult employment.
And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house. This solemn announcement on the part of the Redeemer was something more than a mere comforting assurance to a man who, in spite of difficulties and temptations, had striven manfully to lead a brave and generous life, helping, it is clear, the very multitude who were so ready to revile him. It is an assurance to the world that men might work in any profession or calling, and at the same time live a life pleasing to God. It repeats with intense emphasis—and this is the great lesson of this striking scene—that it is never the work or the position in life which ennobles the man in the sight of God, but only the way in which the work is done, and the position used, which are of price in his pure eyes. The hated publican at the receipt of custom—the servant of Rome, might so live as to win the smile of God, as well as the priest in the sanctuary, or the rabbi in his theological school. He also is a son of Abraham. That is to say, a spiritual son—a son in the highest and most real sense. Zacchaeus was a faithful follower of Abraham, in his life and in his faith.
For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. A quiet rebuke to the Pharisees and priests and their followers, who would limit the redeemed. Surely the "publicans" and the great tempted mass of mankind needed him more than the happy privileged class. It was for the sake of these poor wandering sheep that he left his home of grandeur and peace. But there was a vein of sad irony running through these words of the Master. Between the lines we seem to read some such thoughts as these: "You know, O priests and Pharisees, you do not want me. You think you are safe already. But these poor despised ones, they want, they welcome me, like this Zacchaeus." This, too, was a lesson for all time. This scene probably took place the evening of the Lord's arrival at Zacchaeus's house at Jericho, after the evening meal, when the room arid court of the house were filled with guests and curious spectators. Dean Plumptre has an interesting suggestion that Zacchaeus the publican was one and the same with the publican of Luke 18:10-14, who in the temple "smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner! Is it too bold a conjecture that he who saw Nathanael under the fig tree (John 1:48) had seen Zacchaeus in the temple, and that the figure in the parable of Luke 18:14 was in fact a portrait?"
The parable of the pounds.
And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable. The words which introduce this parable-story indicate its close connection with the events which had just taken place. "He added, and spake (προσθεὶς εἶπε)." Because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear. Thus were briefly stated the reasons which determined the Master to speak the following parable. First, "he was nigh to Jerusalem," only at most a few hours' journey from the holy city—his last solemn, awful visit, when the mysterious act of stupendous love would be accomplished. So he determined to give a veiled parabolic picture of himself and of his chosen people. Second, "they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear." In his parable he proposed to moderate the wild romantic enthusiasm of his immediate followers and of the Passover crowds by painting for them a quiet picture of the future of work and waiting which lay before them. The parable contains three sets of lessons.
(1) The varieties of reward apportioned to different degrees of zeal and industry in the Master's service.
(2) The eternity of loss and shame which will be the portion of the slothful and unfaithful servant.
(3) The terrible doom of his enemies.
He said therefore, A certain noblemen went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. There was a singular fitness in the Master's choice of a framework for his parable, which at first sight would seem strange and unreal. Two nobles, Herod and Archelaus, in that age had literally gone from Jericho, where the Speaker of the parable-story then was, to a far country across the sea—to Rome, to receive a kingdom from Caesar (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 14.14; 17.9). And one of these two nobles, Archelaus, had rebuilt the stately royal palace of Jericho, under the very shadow of which the Speaker and the crowds were perhaps standing.
And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. No doubt when our Lord spoke these parables he considerably enlarged the details, made many parts of the framework clearer than the short reports which we possess can possibly do. The meaning of the great noble's action here is that he wished to test his servants—to try their various capabilities and dispositions, intending, when he should return from his long journey, having received his kingdom, to appoint them to high offices in the administration, to such positions, in fact, as their action in regard to the small deposit now entrusted to them should show themselves capable of filling. The Greek verb rendered "occupy" (πραγματεύσασθε) occurs here only in the New Testament: a compound form of it is rendered (Luke 19:15) by "gained by trading."
But his citizens hated him. Again history supplies the framework. This was what the Jews had done in the case of Archelaus. They had sent a hostile deputation to complain of their future king before the emperor's court at Rome. In the parable, in these "citizens who hated him" a thinly veiled picture is given of those Jews who utterly rejected the mission of Jesus, and by whose designs the Crucifixion was brought about.
Thy pound. At first the smallness of the sum given to each of the servants is striking. Was it not a sum unworthy of a noble about to receive a kingdom? The Attic pound was in value somewhat less than £4 sterling. In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), where although very different lessons are inculcated, yet the imagery is somewhat similar, the amounts, however, are vastly larger, varying from five talents, which would represent about £1000. Here the very smallness of the sum entrusted to the servants has its deep meaning. The "nobly born" one who is about to receive a kingdom, represents our Lord, who here is in a state of the deepest poverty and humiliation. The little sum In one sense represents the work he was able then to entrust to his own. Again, the paltriness of the sum given them seems to suggest what a future lay before them. No sharing in what they hoped for—the glories of a Messianic kingdom on earth. No rest in repose under the shadow of the mighty throne of King Messiah. The "very little" (Luke 19:17) told them—if they would only listen—that their future as his servants would be a life of comparatively obscure inglorious activity, without rank or power, landless, homeless, well-nigh friendless. But the sequel of the parable told more than this. It proclaimed that their Master was able to estimate the moral worth of those who had been faithful and true in a "very little;" ay, more, was in a position to reward the faithful servant. And the recompense, a city for a pound, just hints at the magnificent possibilities of the heaven-life, just suggests the splendour of its rewards.
Well, thou good servant. It is noticeable that, in the bestowal of the "five cities" upon the servant who had with his one pound gained five, no expression of praise like this "good servant" is used by the King on his return. Now, what does this omission teach us? Christ, we know, was very careful and very sparing in his use of moral epithets. "Why callest thou me good?" was his stern address to the young ruler who used the expression, not because he was convinced of its applicability, but because he was desirous of paying a flattering compliment to the wise Rabbi from whom he desired information. We may safely conclude that, from the second servant in the story, the one who had earned but five pounds, he withheld the noble appellation "good" because he felt he had not deserved it. He had done well, it is true, and was splendidly recompensed, but he might have done more. He had won a high and responsible place in the kingdom; he was appointed the ruler over five cities; but he had not earned the noble title, ἄγαθος, "good." Very accurately, indeed, it seems, will places and names and power be awarded in the heaven-life, exactly in proportion to merits and deserts.
Luke 19:20, Luke 19:21
And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin: for I feared thee, because thou art an austere man; thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow. This is the third class into which the servants who knew their Lord's will are roughly divided. We have, first, the devoted earnest toiler, whose whole soul was in his Master's work—great, indeed, was his reward. And, second, we have the servant who acquitted himself fairly respectably, but not nobly, not a hero in the struggle of life; he, too, is recompensed magnificently, far above his most ardent hopes, but still his reward is infinitely below that which the first brave toiler received at his Lord's hands. The third falls altogether into a different catalogue. He is a believer who has not found the state of grace offered by Jesus so brilliant as he hoped; a legal Christian, who has not tasted grace, and knows nothing of the gospel but its severe morality. It seems to him that the Lord gives very little to exact so much. "Surely," such a one argues, "the Lord should be satisfied with us if we abstain from doing ill, from squandering our talent." The Master's answer is singularly to the point: "The more thou knowest that I am austere, the more thou shouldest have tried to satisfy me!" The Christian who lacks the experience of grace ought to be the most anxious of workers. The punishment here is very different from that awarded to the enemies (Luke 19:27). We hear nothing of darkness and gnashing of teeth; it is simply deprivation. Still, even this modified penalty seems to tell of an eternity of regret and loss. Instead of the ten cities, or even the five, there is not even the poor pound left to the hapless condemned one, unworthy even to retain that little heritage.
Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury? Many in "the bank" have seen mirrored those Christian societies and religious organizations to which every believer may entrust the resources which he is uncertain how best to use himself. Without particularizing, however, it seems better to understand the Lord here simply intending to teach, by his image of the bank, that no man in this world is doomed to inactivity or uselessness, but that there will be opportunity afforded to every one who is willing to use his talent in a humble and obscure, if not in a heroic and conspicuous, way.
But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me. An obvious reference to the Lord's dealings with the chosen people, and an unmistakable reference to the awful ruin and disaster which was so soon to overwhelm the city and temple and the whole nationality. But behind this temporal reference there looms in the background the vast shadow of a terrible eternal doom reserved for the enemies of the Redeemer. Godet has a beautiful and suggestive note on the signification of the ten and five cities, the reward of the faithful toiler here. "They," the "cities," "represent mortal beings in a lower state of development, but whom the glorified faithful are commissioned to raise to their Divine destination."
Jesus enters Jerusalem as King Messiah (Luke 19:29-44). His work in the temple (Luke 19:45-48). St. Luke here passes over in silence the events which happened after the episode at the house of Zacchaeus at Jericho and the speaking the great parable of "the pounds." This parable may have been spoken in the house of Zacchaeus before leaving Jericho, but it seems better to place it somewhere in the course of the walk from Jericho to Bethany, a distance of some twelve miles.
St. John fills up the gap left in the narrative of St. Luke.
The main body of pilgrims to the feast, with whom Jesus and his company were travelling, left him on the Jericho road at Bethany: they going on to their caravanserai in the holy city, he remaining for two nights with his friends at Bethany—the next evening Jesus was entertained at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper—the feast at which Lazarus the risen sat a guest and Martha served, and to which Mary brought her precious ointment and her contrition (John 11:1-9).
Jesus must have arrived at Bethany before sunset on Friday, Nisan 7, and therefore before the sabbath began.
The sabbath was spent in quiet. The supper probably took place directly after the end of the sabbath. The next morning (Palm Sunday)the Lord started for Jerusalem, and entered the holy city in the triumphant way as King Messiah related by St. Luke in our Gospel.
And it came to pass, when he was come nigh to Bethphage and Bethany. Bethphage is never mentioned in the Old Testament, but in the Talmud we find it specified in some interesting ceremonial directions. It was evidently an outlying suburb of Jerusalem. Bethphage, which lay between the city and Bethany, was by the rabbis legally counted as part of Jerusalem. Bethany signifies" House of Dates," no doubt so called from its palm trees. Bethphage, "House of Green Figs," from its fig-orchards. The modern Bethany is known as El-Azarieh or Lazarieh, the name attaching to its connection with the history of Lazarus.
Ye shall find a colt tied, whereon yet never man sat: loose him, and bring him hither. The account of this transaction is less circumstantial in St. Luke than in the other evangelists. The reference to the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 is here left out. This prophecy is, however, necessary for the full understanding of the mystic act of riding upon an ass's colt. St. Luke, compiling especially for Gentile readers, would feel that such a reference to the old Hebrew story would scarcely interest a foreigner, and would serve to distract such a one's interest in the progress of the great recital. For us, however, the meaning of the scene, read in the light of the Zechariah 9:9 words and of Hebrew story generally, is as follows: The disciples and multitude wished their Master to claim a kingdom. At this moment in his eventful history, aware that death awaited him in the course of the next few days, he chose to gratify them; so he claimed his kingdom, but a kingdom utterly unlike what they longed for. He came to his royal, sacred city in the strange guise foreshadowed by Zechariah, as a Prince of Peace, not with chariot and horse, but meekly riding on an ass's colt, claiming, too, a dominion from sea to sea, from the river to the ends of the earth (Zechariah 9:10). Whereon yet never man sat. For this reason specially adapted for a sacred use (see Numbers 19:2; Deuteronomy 21:3; 1 Samuel 6:7).
And if any man ask you, Why do ye loose him? thus shall ye say unto him, Because the Lord hath need of him. Had he not right here? surely the cattle on a thousand hills were his I St. Matthew not only mentions the colt, but also the ass. This little detail is unnoticed by St. Luke. Probably the colt, though not broken in, would go the more quietly accompanied by its mother. But the reason of St. Matthew's special mention of the ass as well as of the colt was the reference to Genesis 49:11, in which Justin Martyr, in a curious chapter of the 'Dialogue with Trypho,' finds a direct reference to the ass and the foal.
They cut their garments upon the colt. "An extemporized housing in default of the purple trappings. Doubtless the fittest of the proffered robes would be selected by the disciples" (Morrison).
And as he went, they spread their clothes in the way. A common act of homage to a king or royal personage. So in the case of Jehu, the officers of the army offered him this tribute (2 Kings 9:13). So Agamemnon walked on costly carpets and tapestry when he entered his palace at Mycenae. Clytemnestra, in the' Agamemnon' of AEschylus, says—
"But, my loved lord, Leave now that car; nor on the bare ground set
That royal foot, beneath whose mighty tread
Troy trembled. Haste, ye virgins, to whose care
This pleasing office is entrusted, spread
The streets with tapestry; let the ground be covered
With richest purple, leading to the palace,
That honour with just state may grace his carry."
At the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen. At this point on the Bethany road the city of Jerusalem comes into view. Here a crowd of pilgrims to the Passover Feast, many of whom were well acquainted with Jesus, came out to meet and welcome him with their branches of palm. These joined his friends who accompanied him from Bethany. This enthusiasm was excited among the Passover pilgrims in great measure owing to the report which by this time had got abroad of the raising of Lazarus (see John 12:17, John 12:18). Many had already gone out from the city to Bethany to see Jesus and Lazarus. Of the Messianic shouts of welcome which sounded in the crowd, St. Luke does not mention the "Hosanna!" of St. Matthew, no doubt because this peculiar Hebrew cry would not have conveyed any meaning to the Gentile readers to whom his story was especially addressed. The two incidents which follow—the crying out of the stones, and the weeping of the Master over his beautiful doomed city (verses 39-44)—occur only in St. Luke. His source of information here was evidently quite different to the other two synoptists or St. John.
Luke 19:39, Luke 19:40
And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples. And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out. These Pharisees were probably some of that great and influential sect who had all along listened with respect and attention to the Master, looking upon him as a most able and powerful Rabbi, but refusing to entertain any of the growing Messianic conceptions respecting his person. Godet graphically paints the scene in his suggestion that the words, "Rebuke thy disciples," were accompanied with an irritated and anxious look towards the frowning citadel of Antonia, where the Roman garrison of Jerusalem lay. It was there in full view of Jesus and the crowds. The anxious look seemed to say that the Romans were on the watch for any signs of disaffection on the part of the hated and suspected Jews. The answer of Jesus, continues the same writer, has a terrible majesty. "If I could silence all these," looking round on the impassioned faces of the multitude as they waved their palm branches in homage to their King, "the very stones on the ground would cry aloud." This striking imagery was a memory of our Lord of the prophecy of Habakkuk: "The stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it" (Habakkuk 2:11).
He beheld the city. It was a very different view to what the traveller of the present day would see from the same spot. Though Jerusalem, when Jesus Christ was teaching on earth, was subject to the stranger Herodian, and the Herodian to the great Italian power, yet the beauty and glory of the city were remarkable. Still glittered in the midst of the great city that "mass of gold and snow" known as the temple. The far-extending suburbs were covered with the gardens and palaces of the wealthy Jews. But the mighty memories which hung so thickly round the sacred city and the glorious house of God after all constituted its chief charm. What might not that city have been! what splendid and far-reaching work might it not have done l and now the cup of its iniquities was just brimming over; only a few more short years, and a silence the most awful would brood over the shapeless ruins of what was once Jerusalem and her house on Zion, the joy of the whole earth. And wept over it. No merely silent tears of mute sorrow, but ἔκλαυσεν, he wept aloud. All the insults and the sufferings of the Passion were powerless to elicit from the Man of sorrows that expression of intense grief which the thought of the ruin of the loved city called forth.
If thou hadst known,' even thou, at least in this thy day. The emphatic repetition of the "thou" and the broken form of the sentence, tell of the intense feeling of the Divine Speaker. "In this thy day." There was still time, still one day left, before his terrible trial-time began, Which filled up the measure of Jerusalem and her people's iniquity. Still one day in which, had they only known "the things which belonged to their peace," they might have won a forgiveness for all the past centuries of sin.
Luke 19:45, Luke 19:46
And he went into the temple. The recital of St. Luke here is more general and less precise than that of the other two synoptists. The Lord on that "Palm Sunday" evening simply went into the temple, ,, and when he had looked round about upon all things" it was then evening, and he returned to his lodging at Bethany with the twelve (Mark 11:11). The expulsion of the money-changers, mentioned in the next verse (46), took place on the following day. St. Matthew adds another interesting detail respecting the excitement caused by the presence of Jesus in the city. "When he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this?" (Matthew 21:10). And he went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought; saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves. This visit of the Lord to the temple, in which he spoke and acted as King Messiah, was a fulfilment of Malachi 3:1, Malachi 3:2. In the outer court of the temple stalls had been erected in which money-changers were located (geld-wechsel comptoir—change de monnaies), in order that pilgrims from foreign lands might be able to exchange their foreign coins for the purchase of sacrificial victims. These also seem to have been sold in the precincts. All this made the courts of the Lord's house a scene of noise and tumult, and, from the Master's stern words, a scene often of cheating and overreaching. The words of Jesus were taken from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11.
And he taught daily in the temple. This and the following verses give, after the manner of St. Luke, both in his Gospel and in the Acts, a general picture of the Lord's life in these last days of his public ministry in Jerusalem; anal of the effect of his last teaching (l) upon the priests and scribes, etc., and
(2) upon the mass of the people. The Greek word rendered "very attentive to hear (him)" is an expressive one, and describes the intense attention with which the people generally listened to the last solemn public utterances of the Master. It means literally, "they hung upon his lips."
Very pleasant was the city of Jericho when our Lord passed through it; and very pleasant is the Scripture which records the visit of Jesus to it. It has a fragrance like that of the roses and palms in which the gardens of Jericho were luxurious; its verses remind us of the cells of the many honeycombs for which it was famous. Each verse is full of sweet and holy thought. A child can understand it; an angel will desire to look into it. One of the two incidents which have made Jericho memorable in connection with the life of the Saviour of men has been already considered. That which is told in the verses before us points to a different series of circumstances, a different and perhaps fuller illustration of the more Catholic aspect of Christ's mission. Consider three points.
I. The incident illustrates a PURPOSE TRIUMPHANT OVER HINDRANCES. These hindrances connect with social position, with wealth, with personal disqualifications.
1. He was a tax-gatherer. His place was usually filled by Roman knights, who farmed the taxes that they might replenish their empty coffers. It was a calling which aroused the hostility of the Jews. And to be a social Ishmael is hurtful to all that is generous and noble in the breast. He was "chief among the publicans "a great man to whom many deferred; with the temptation, therefore, to imagine that the crowd was a vulgarity to be shunned, and so to isolate himself from the enthusiasms of the townsfolk.
2. He was rich. Almost insensibly a kind of pride grows in the person who is wealthy. He is conscious of his means. And the comfort with which they surround him tends to dull the edge of more spiritual feeling, to withdraw the interest from truths which imply the sense of need and poverty. He might have said to himself, "This Jesus of Nazareth, what is he to me? I have all that heart can desire: why should I make an ado about this travelling Prophet?"
3. He was short of stature. A little man: what hope was there that he would obtain a glimpse of the passing Nazarene? Why should he expose himself to the risk of being laughed at, especially when the chances were against his obtaining even a glimpse of the Stranger? Against all such hindrances the purpose to see Jesus is supreme. He must; the necessity of his soul makes him quick in invention. He forces his way through the crowd, climbs the small sycamore tree, and there he waits. He knows, confusedly enough, but by a kind of intuition, that the Poorest of all who on foot treads the street is his Lord; that with him is the wealth wanting which a man has no real inheritance. When the fountains of the inner deep are broken up, when any one is in earnest about the kingdom of God and his righteousness, the mere accidents of position and circumstance are forgotten. The Princess Alice of England, on her dying-bed, acknowledged her debt to a Scotsman in humble life for the help he had given in bringing her soul back to its rest in Christ. Zacchaeus, chief among the publicans, heeds not appearances, thinks not of dignity, runs before the multitude, perches himself on the branch of the fig tree that he might see him whom his soul loved.
II. The incident illustrates THE MEETING BETWEEN A SUPREME PURPOSE IN MAN AND THE PURPOSE OF THE LOVE OF GOD. It may be said that the publican's motive was mere curiosity. Supposing that it was, it brought about the sight of the Lord. Curiosity impelled Augustine to the church of Ambrose in Milan, and there Christ found him. It is a gain to get people, even from an inferior desire, within the reach of the gospel of grace: who knows whether the one who came to scoff may not remain to pray? But was there not a cause deeper than mere curiosity at work in Zacchaeus? He may not have had the same kind of plea as blind Bartimaeus, but he had his own plea; and what Christ asks from each of us is that, as we are, in the specialties of our need and condition, we come to him. Faith carries an "I must" in its bosom. It always presses: "To-day I must see thee who thou art." That day the two "I musts," the one in the sinner, the other in the Saviour's heart, meet and touch. "Zacchaeus, to-day I must abide at thy house" (Luke 19:5). What a journey that "I must" of Jericho represents! Has it not come from the heaven of heavens, out from the bosom of the great God himself? The fig leaves and branches cannot hide from Christ. The eyes of the two are seeking each other. He looks up; the one for whom he is in search receives the gaze. That one knows that he is looked into; he is understood; he is named. And the fellowship is formed from which neither things present nor things to come can separate.
III. The incident illustrates THE PURPOSE OF A MIND RENEWED IN ITS SPIRIT. What is the response to *he Lord's "make haste "? "He made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully" (Luke 19:6). The whole heart opens to this new Master. There is no further asking who he is. That has been answered by the heart itself; and the welcome to his home, to all, immediately follows. If Christ will take one such as he,
"Love so amazing, so Divine,
Demands the soul, the life, the all."
There is more than this. We need not discuss whether the noble speech recorded in Luke 19:8 is the vindication of the publican as against the calumnies of those around him, indicating that he had not been the unjust extortioner whom they took him to be; that he had been in the habit of giving half of his goods to the poor. The latter part of the verse at least is the expression of a solemn purpose formed in Christ's presence. It indicates a change of character. "Is his pocket converted?" was a question put, when the conversion of one who had been greedy and selfish was announced. Hitherto this Zacchaeus had lived to make money; now he will live to use it. Hitherto he had lived for himself; now he will live for God. Henceforth he will aim, not only at being just, but at making others the better and happier for him. When Christ is received joyfully, the narrow becomes the broad, the hard becomes the generous; the levels of the life are altered: "Old things pass away, and all things become new."
IV. Reflecting on the incident, two points are to be noted—its revelation of Christ, and its enforcement of the solemn word "opportunity."
1. Christ the Brother and Saviour.
(1) It is interesting to observe that, on the same day, poor and rich were visibly embraced within the love of God. That love stretches from pole to pole in human experience and condition. Christ's sympathies are not with class as against class; for he is the Son of man. When the beggar comes he is so polite: "What wilt thou?" As to Zacchaeus, he turns to the Jews (Luke 19:9). Everywhere he recognizes a something of God—a jewel to be snatched from among the ruins. "He is not afraid of consorting with the rich lest people should say he cares too much for money, any more than he is of consorting with the poor lest they should say he cares too little for respectability. He will dine with the Pharisee, if invited; and he will dine with a publican, even when uninvited, if the man's heart be indeed a guest-chamber." The most brotherly of hearts is the heart of God.
(2) The Brother and the Saviour. See the sentence in which the conjunction is realized (Luke 19:10). It was spoken with immediate reference to Zacchaeus. He was lost, for he had lived alone; and whoso lives alone, away from the light of God, out of sympathy with Iris brethren, an outside person, is really one lost. And is not Christ among us to bring the outsiders in, to awaken up dead worldly souls, and restore them to communion with the Father in heaven and the Father's children on earth? Christ is the Saviour because he is the Brother, and he is the Brother because he is the Son. Look at the Saviour in his work of love. The royalty of his grace shines marvellously forth. Note the self-invitation:—I love him because he first loved me." Note also the joy of salvation—not a passing glimpse—"I must abide." There is a new rule, a new companionship, a new mirth.
2. The word "opportunity" is enforced. That word contains the lesson most obviously taught in every part of the story. Jesus is passing; to-day and to-day only. There is no time to trifle. "Make haste, and come down."
The parable of the pounds.
This parable closely resembles that reported in Matthew 25:14-30. The two are undoubtedly different, but they have much in common. We cannot rightly understand each without balancing it by the other. Certainly we realize the full effect of their application when, to borrow an expressive figure, we look on them "as twin parables, resembling one of those trees whose main trunk separates just above the earth into two equal towering stems." Thus connecting them, let us extract a portion of the instruction conveyed, our topics these:
(1) The endowments bestowed;
(2) the trading recommended; and
(3) the dealing of the Master with his servants presented.
I. Observe the two principles which run in parallel lines as THE PRINCIPLES OF GOD'S DISTRIBUTION OF ENDOWMENTS.
1. The parable of the talents suggests an inequality in the gifts or faculties with which God enriches men: one gets five talents, another two, and another one. And this description is entirely consistent with fact. It is true as to even the commonest things; it is true as to higher qualities of intellect and will. There is no dead level. There are hills and plains; there are gardens and deserts in man's world as well as in the physical universe. God takes fact into account. He distributes according to ability; he imposes responsibility according to ability. He does not demand that the one with two talents make the ten—only the four. Let the vessel, according to its possibilities, be full; the smaller vessel is not required to hold the amount of the larger. One farm may not be as extensive as another, but it is still a farm. Cultivate to the measure of the farm; make full use of the capital such as it is. "What but this, O man, does the Lord thy God require of thee?"
2. But observe the teaching in the parable of the pounds. If talents are unequally bestowed, remember every one has his pound. The pound was of very small value as compared with the talent—£3 or a little more as compared with £160. The ten servants get each one pound—the same sum in every case. We have varying capacity, but we have all some capacity—"a little knowledge, a little love, a little experience, a little money, a little favour with men, a little conscience, a little pity, a little time, a little opportunity.'' We have one mina, one pound. Work, my brother, with thy pound, rather with the pound that the Lord has given thee. It may be increased tenfold, and the gain is (Matthew 25:17) a city for every added pound—a blessing in possession, and rule, wholly unmerited by, yet graciously corresponding to, the servant's faithfulness.
II. WHAT MEANS THE OCCUPYING OR TRADING WHICH THE LORD ENJOINS ON ALL TO WHOM HE GIVES HIS GOODS? Let it be remembered that, in the olden time, the relation between master and servant was different from that in our time. It is not usual to leave sums of money to the servant to be put out by him in his master's behalf when he takes a journey into the far country. But it was a common practice to make such arrangements as allowed the slave to transact business, either on condition of paying a yearly sum to his master, or on the footing of a man with so much of another's wealth committed to his charge to be invested for the other's benefit. To this custom our Lord feints. "Occupy [or, 'trade '] till I come." The two persons opposed are the trader and the idler; and the striking feature is that the idler is denounced as "the slothful and wicked servant." All start with some advantages; they are not persons just hired; they have been in his service, they know his character, and they know what he wants. The one who does not trade is lying when he excuses himself; his slothfulness (Matthew 25:22) is sheer wickedness. The point of the exhortation can very readily be apprehended. God wants his interest, as the merchant wants his. How is this interest to be gained? The purpose and destination of life must be kept steadily in view—
"Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end and way;
But to act that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day."
Recollect that the self in each of us connects with two factors—God who made us; and our brother, whose good is to be as sacred to us as our own. We cannot be making increase unless we are true to him whose we are, and to every one who is near us; unless both God and man are benefited, and benefited the more the greater our means and ability are. Consider how we can best lay out our influence, whatever that may be; how we can best use our time; how we can get the best percentage for whatever capacity, whatever force, we possess. As it is essential to a prosperous business that there be a good administration, reflect how we are administering the affairs with which, in one sphere or another, we are entrusted—in a word, on what plan, with what aim, and by what methods, our life is being fulfilled. Give two men five pounds each; in the hands of the one they may remain five pounds neither more nor less, or they will gradually melt away; the other will spend the sum wisely, will so invest it that it will increase to him tenfold. We have read the story of the successful merchant of Bristol—the beginning of whose merchant life was the horseshoe that he picked up one day on his way to school, and carried for three miles and sold to the blacksmith for a penny. That penny was the foundation of a business pronounced, after his death, the largest in the West of England, turning nearer millions than thousands in the course of the year. All was the result of the judicious use of that which he had. In our Christian life and service this is the lesson which we most need to learn. Is there not comfort in the thought that, whilst the talents increase only twice, the pounds increase ten times? The more ordinary gifts which we all have, when faithfully applied, are capable of indefinite increase. We cannot keep unless we add; and it is God's law that to him who, thus adding, has, much is given. In spiritual, as in every other kind of commerce, much always tends to the making of more. The trader and the idler! Notice, neither the talent nor the pound is absolutely lost. It is not a spendthrift who is held up to contempt. It is the awfully careful man. It is the one who hoards. "There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth … and it tendeth to poverty." Here is the one who withholds. And a distinction is delicately hinted at. The pound is carefully wrapped in the napkin; the man intends to do something with it when the convenient season comes; in the mean time it is safe in the napkin. But the talent is not in a napkin; it is hidden in the earth—"a precious thing," as it has been said, "made worthless because abandoned to be useless. And within how many a man's earthiness is there a talent hidden and wasted?" Take that thought home—the Master's antipathy to the idler. Who of us, in these harvest-days of God, is standing all the day idle?
III. Consider THE DEALING OF THE LORD WITH HIS SERVANTS. That is very striking and solemn as it is set before us in both the parables, especially the one as to the talents. In that of the pounds we are told only that the unused, napkin-hidden, pound is taken from the unprofitable servant and given to the one who has ten pounds. "Lord," his hearers exclaim, "he hath ten pounds" (Matthew 25:25). The thriftiest, the most diligent, will get the addition. Why not? He has proved himself the ablest, the one who has given the most abundant guarantee that it will not be wasted. But in that of the talents the judgment is, "Let the unfaithful be bound hand and foot, and cast into the outer darkness." The wasted life, the life that has buried its force in mere earthiness, is that for which the outer darkness is reserved. The soul consigns itself to an unspeakable loneliness that, by indolence and engrossment with what is perishing, loses the grace of God. Abiding alone is the second death—the outer darkness. Most noteworthy are the scathing sentences to the poor trembling idler! How he stammers out his lame and impotent excuses (Matthew 25:20, Matthew 25:21)! The very words are sent back. The mouth is the witness against the man. He might have known, should have known, if he had done right would have known, that his excuse was a falsehood. Hard thoughts of the Lord are certain if the Lord's work is shirked. The man would not be foolish if he were not wicked. O man, woman, with thy pound kept, but not traded with, who shall abide the day of his coming? who shall stand when he appeareth? Very different are the sentences on the nine who have been faithful, who have seen in their pound the Lord's pound, and traded with it for him. Humbly, joyfully, the first and the second meet the Master's eye (Matthew 25:16, Matthew 25:18). What is the award? It is so gracious (Matthew 25:17): "Thou hast been faithful in a very little." To faithful service, rule is given. The one who can best serve is the one who can best rule.
"Strive, man, to win that glory;
Toil, man, to gain that light;
Send hope before to grasp it,
Till hope be lost in sight."
From Jericho to Jerusalem.
The last glimpse which we obtain of Moses presents him wending his way up the slope of Mount Nebo, thence to give one fond gaze towards the land he might not enter, and, having so done, then to lay himself down and die. Imagination has often attempted to portray the working of the great lawgiver's mind, the emotion of his heart, the thoughts which must have crowded on him as he took that last solitary journey to the sepulchre which no man must know, in which the Lord alone was to bury him. Jesus Christ, by whom came grace and truth, is now facing the hill of sacrifice. He has begun the ascent to Mount Calvary, not alone and yet alone; the people crowd behind, but of the people there is none with him in the region of consciousness and desire. Only the Father knows the Son. Let us not attempt to draw aside the veil. Words to be pondered, but not commented on, are these (Luke 19:28): "When he had thus spoken, he went before, ascending up to Jerusalem." Coming near the capital, Jesus and his apostles made for Bethany. It was Friday evening. He must spend the last sabbath on earth in the quiet of the rural village. We can suppose what that sabbath was—not so much to him, for now he is moving in a sphere beyond our vision, but to those with whom he passed the hallowed hours. When the sun sets and the sabbath is over, a family feast is made in the house of Simon, once a leper. Lazarus, the man raised from the dead, one of the party, Martha for the time resuming her old ways, and Mary filling her heart with his love, until, swayed by an irresistible impulse, she pours on him the contents of an alabaster box of ointment—the preparation against the approaching burial. It was on the Sunday morning that the Lord set out for Jerusalem, at first in the ordinary guise of a pilgrim. People were hovering around the home, waiting for him, and at every step of the journey the number increased. Then occurred the transaction mentioned in Luke 19:29-35. From a place not now to be identified, but not far from Bethany, called Bethphage, or "the house of figs," the Saviour "in lowly pomp rides on to die." Verily, the King comes, "meek and lowly." His state, his pageant, at best is humble. And yet its simplicity is its royalty; its want of the poor tinsel and trapping of earthly greatness is the sign of the kingdom which is in the world, yet not of it. "Behold the Man!" "Behold your King!" The procession sweeps onward, along the southern shoulders of Olivet, until the road, having gained the summit of the hill, turns northward and begins the descent. And there the stream that had poured out from Jerusalem when the news was borne that the Prophet was on his way to the city met the stream pouring towards Jerusalem, and the disciples, inspired by an enthusiasm which was caught up and prolonged by the multitude, rent the air with songs (Luke 19:38) of joy and praise to God, and rock and cave and peak sent it back in gladsome echoes. Truly, a soul-stirring entry! The whole city is moved as Jesus of Nazareth rides through its gate, and passes towards Mount Zion and the holy and beautiful house which glitters on its heights. Before we think of him there, pause over two characteristic signs of the King given in his journey on that day.
I. THE KING'S WORD OF POWER. (Luke 19:31.) "Say, The Lord hath need of him." We do not believe that there was any secret agreement between Christ and the owner of the colt. But he was a man prepared for the announcement; he was at least in the outer circle of believers. He understood who was meant by "the Lord," and the Lord's need was the one irresistible argument. So should it be. That the Lord needs, that there is a use for us and ours, should be enough. First, the King's word has its bond over us personally. Man, woman, it is for thee that Jesus calls. He needs thy heart, for he redeemed it; thy life, for it is his; thyself, for "he is thy Lord, and worship thou him." Shall not the response "straightway" be, "Now to be thine, for ever thine"? And then the possessions. Art thou ready to give him what thou hast, however dear it may be? Ah! the life is a new life when Christ's voice, as the voice of the life's true Master, is heard, and the answer is returned, "Here am I; for thou didst call me."
II. THE KING'S SORROW. (Luke 19:41.) "He beheld the city, and wept over it." It has been noticed that "at the grave of Lazarus he had dropped silent tears, but here he wept aloud. All the shame of his mockery, all the anguish of his torture, was powerless to extort from him a single groan, or to wet his eyelids with one trickling tear, but here all the pity that was in him overmastered his human spirit, and he not only wept, but broke into a passion of lamentation in which the choked voice seemed to struggle for its utterance." It was the agony of the Saviour over the lost. There had been the time of the visitation, and Jerusalem had not known it. Now was the day, the hour, the last offer, the last opportunity; and it was to be rejected. The city was hardened in ignorance. It was blinded by its own deceived heart, and all that remained was ruin. And thus he weeps still; for still men hear their own passions and inclinations, not the voice of the prophets whom he rises early and sends.
"Ye hearts that love the Lord,
If at this sight ye burn,
See that in thought, in deed, in word,
Ye hate what made him mourn."
Luke 19:45 Luke 20:18
The last of the old Hebrew prophets, Malachi (3. and 4.), had announced that the Lord, the Sought One, would come "suddenly" into his temple, and manifest himself there in a threefold character—that of Judge, that of the Purifier and Refiner, and that of the swift Witness of the kingdom of heaven. It is in this threefold character that Christ is presented during the week in which he suffered. The Judge. St. Mark, with his usual delicacy of touch, informs us that, after the procession which swept through the gates of the city halted at the foot of Mount Moriah, Jesus advanced to the temple, walked through its courts, and looked round about on all things (Mark 11:11). Every part of the building, every arrangement, every feature, was comprehended in that gaze. It was the act of the Judge. The survey completed, the Purifier and Refiner disposes his crucible. At the beginning of the ministry he cleansed the house of his Father, which had been rendered a den of merchandise; at the end of the ministry he repeats the cleansing (verses 45, 46). Jerusalem was crowded; outside the city wall there was a vast city of pilgrims' booths. For the sale of victims for sacrifice, and no doubt for the vending of many wares besides, the temple precincts were for the time a huge holy fair. One could scarcely distinguish that its real purpose was an asylum for weary hearts, a refuge for sin-stricken consciences, a place for quiet meditation and prayer. Where, amid the hubbub of buyer and seller, could the pious Israelite "dwell in the courts of Jehovah, beholding his beauty and inquiring in his temple"? It is this that kindles the wrath of the Son of God, and incites to the action portrayed by the synoptic evangelists. "Who shall stand when he appears who is like a refiner's tire, and like fuller's soap?" This purging of the holy house of that which made it like a cave of brigands was the work of that first day, which has been called Palm Sunday. The night which followed was spent in Bethany, perhaps on the slope of Olivet. On the second day we find the Lord again in the temple, and now in the third of Malachi's characters—as the swift Witness against the enemies of God. This was the aspect of his countenance on the days which remained until the night came on which, in the form of his human presence, the Lord could no more work. "He taught daily in the temple" (verse 47). The events of the Monday would seem to be these: In the keen-aired early morning, Jesus, on his way to the temple, is hungry. He sees a fig tree, evidently a conspicuous one, which, rich in leaves, gave the promise of fruit. There is nothing but leaves, a mere simulacrum, the semblance without the reality of goodness. As a lesson to all the ages, a swift witness against all part-acting, he pronounces over it the curse of the Eternal Truth, and leaves it to wither and rot. The temple gained, again the dense crowd gathers around the Prophet of Nazareth. The phrase is most expressive: "The people were very attentive to hear him" (verse 48). The tide had not yet turned. He was still engirt by the hosannahs of the multitude; when, lo! cries are heard, "Make way for the chief priest!" and, followed by a retinue of priests and scribes, the head of the temple-worship confronts the Teacher. Poor, purblind souls! they do not look for his authority to the truth with which he is filled, to the works which he does. To bigots like them the certificates which the truth supplies are unintelligible; their only point is a formally expressed delegation of power (Luke 20:2). Had not Jesus met similar cavils at the Feast of Tabernacles two years before? Had he not argued (John 5:32-47) that it is impossible for minds brimful of prejudice, loving and courting the honour of men, to understand him, to know whose he is, whence he comes, and by what right he speaks? But now he will not thus argue. They are there to browbeat and overawe him; they shall themselves be silenced by a thrust impaling them on the horns of a dilemma from which they will escape only in confusion and chagrin. Question is replied to by the question of Luke 20:3,
4. They cannot answer. Then, rejoins the Truth, "Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things" (Luke 20:8). And there follows a series of parables bearing on and bringing out the obstinacy which had just been exemplified: the two sons; the wicked husbandmen; and the marriage of the king's son. Only the second of these is quoted by St. Luke (Luke 20:9-16). The parable is in harmony with well-known prophetic symbols; e.g. Isaiah 5:1-7. The vineyard is the kingdom of God, which had been planted in Israel; the husbandmen are the priests and scribes to whom had been committed the care of the vineyard; the servants sent—first one, then another, and then a third—to demand the fruit, represent the prophets, ending with John the Baptist; and the climax of the wickedness of the husbandmen is the rejection and death of the beloved Son. "What will the owner do with such men?" Christ demands. He pauses for the reply; and, not perceiving that it is pronouncing its own judgment, his audience answers, "He will miserably destroy them, and give the vineyard to others," Ah! priest and Pharisee, out of your own mouth are you condemned. "The kingdom of heaven shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof." And from startled consciences comes back the shuddering, "God forbid!" He has not done with them. The eye, flashing its holy fire, fastens on the crouching multitude, and, resuming the discourse, he sends straight home the words of Psalms 118:22, Psalms 118:23. Solemn, memorable words! Pause and ponder them. The spurning of the Incarnate Love and truth by those amongst whom he came often seems to us a miserable infatuation, a double-dyed sin against the Holy Ghost. Are we sure that Christ, coming as the swift Witness, would be welcomed even in the house of his friends to-day? The late General Gordon said, "No; he would be a Stranger, rejected, if not despised, by the society which is professedly Christian," One thing, at all events, is strange; and that is that men and women should live in such marvellous light as that into which we are called, and remain the men and women they are, unmoved by, unresponsive to, the voice of God, willing to live apart from him whose service is their perfect freedom. May we not summon ourselves before the great white throne of truth, and ask whether God is receiving from us the fruit of his own vineyard; whether we are consciously and really living to him; whether our attitude towards the Son of his love is that of a whole-hearted and loyal acceptance; or only like that which has been strikingly compared to "some fever-reduced patient, lifting himself up for an instant from the bed on which he is lying, and putting out a hand, and then falling back again, the vacillating, fevered, paralyzed will recoiling from the resolution, the conscience having power to say, 'Thou oughtest,' but with no power to enforce the execution of its decrees, and the heart turning away from the salvation that it would have found in the love of God to the loss that it finds in the love of self and earth." That vacillation, that impotence, is the strange, sad thing. Reflect intensely, prayerfully, on the house which the builders rejected. Which of the two ways is it, will it be: this House taken as the Head of the corner, the reconciling centre of all the days—pride, wilfulness falling on it, and through the fall broken? or, the house rejected, and the Corner-stone falling on the disobedient soul, grinding its very strength to powder? Love rejected—the wrath of the Lamb: who can measure that force?
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Zacchaeus; the triumph of earnestness.
The incident here recorded provides a very good opportunity for the imagination. We can picture the scene before us quite vividly; it is a subject for the sacred artist. But let us look at the triumph of earnestness as illustrated in the story of Zacchaeus.
I. It triumphed over THE PERIL WHICH ATTENDS WEALTH. This man was rich (Luke 19:2). Riches are unfavourable to religious earnestness; we have Christ's own word for it (Luke 18:24; see homily). They present a very strong inducement to their owner to forsake the fountain of living waters, and to quench his thirst in the lower streams. Far too often they lead to luxury, to indulgence, to spiritual indifference. But Zacchaeus did not suffer this calamity to befall him, this fatal injury to be wrought upon him. His spiritual solicitudes won the victory over his temporal circumstances.
II. It triumphed over THE DEMORALIZING CALLING IN WHICH HE WAS ENGAGED. Our daily vocation must necessarily have a very great influence over us for good or evil; and if it be one that tends to lower and degrade a man, he is placed in the greatest possible peril. Much wisdom of mind, much resoluteness of soul, and much devoutness of spirit must be required to withstand the adverse powers. But though Zacchaeus was engaged in a pursuit that invited avarice and oppression, still he did not lose his religious earnestness.
III. It triumphed over AN EVIL REPUTATION. Few things are more degrading than a bad name. Men quickly become what they are supposed to be and what they are called. Let all his neighbours consider and call a man a rogue, and it will be strange indeed if he maintains his integrity. Yet, although Zacchaeus was denominated and dismissed as "a publican," spoken of by a term which was full of the strongest reproach, he did not descend to that level.
IV. It triumphed over THE OBSTACLES WHICH STOOD BETWEEN HIM AND CHRIST. He could not venture to solicit an interview with this holy Prophet; that he knew was completely barred by his vocation. He found it difficult to secure even a view of him as he passed along; his smallness of stature was against him. But such was his determination that he disregarded all considerations of dignity and decorum, and ran any risk of popular derision and affront, and climbed up, as if he had been a boy, into a tree to command a view of Jesus of Nazareth. So he prevailed.
V. IT WON WHOLLY UNEXPECTED GOOD.
1. The honour of entertaining this great Prophet at his own house; thus securing a standing to which he had long been a stranger.
2. The advantage of a protracted interview, an extended privilege, in which he could not only secure a few sentences from the great Teacher, but could unburden his heart to him and learn his holy will.
VI. IT LED TO NEWNESS OF LIFE. (Luke 19:8, Luke 19:9.) Zacchaeus from that day forth was a new man. His character was thenceforth determined: whatever selfishness or wrongness there had been, it should be renounced, and, where possible, reparation should be made. Character and life were to be cleansed and renewed; and Christ took him up into his favour and friendship. He was to be perfectly restored to the position he had lost. By his pursuit and practice he had become an alien, disinherited, no longer admitted to the services of the sanctuary. But now he was to be, in the fullest and deepest sense of the word, "a son of Abraham," a far truer son of his than many who prided themselves on their descent from the "father of the faithful."
Thus earnestness of spirit completely prevailed.
1. Only earnestness will prevail. Indifference will go down to the death from which it is already not far removed. Halfheartedness will go only a very little way towards the goal; it will have to take some trouble and to suffer some pains, but it will not win the prize. Even impulsiveness, which bears a considerable resemblance to earnestness, but is not the same thing, will fail before the way is trodden and the end secured. Only earnestness wins.
2. It always must. Whatever comes in the way; whatever inward or outward obstacles present themselves; whatever personal or social hindrances intervene; however victory be delayed; notwithstanding that the case may again and again seem hopeless;—still in the end earnestness will succeed. Jesus Christ will manifest himself; he will be found in the home; his presence and his grace will fill the soul with joy; he will declare sonship and heirship to his devoted and determined follower.—C.
Forfeiture and recovery.
Our Lord's words refer in the first instance to—
I. THE LOSS AND RECOVERY BY ZACCHAEUS of his place in the commonwealth of Israel.
1. He had forfeited this. It was by no means inalienable. Only they were the true children of Abraham who did the deeds, who lived the life, who were possessed with the spirit, of Abraham. So our Lord taught himself (see John 8:39). This was Paul's doctrine also (Romans 2:28, Romans 2:29; Romans 9:7; Galatians 3:7). The true child of Abraham was he who walked by faith, who was the servant and the friend of God (Isaiah 41:8). But Zacchaeus had lost this true, this real and effectual sonship, For he had been living the life of sense, and not of faith; he had departed from the service of God, and engaged in the practice of extortion and corruption. He had ceased to be the friend of God, and made friendship with an evil world.
2. But now he was in the path of restoration. He was penitent; he was a seeker after heavenly wisdom in Jesus Christ; and this meant renewal of heart and life; it meant rising into a new and elevated region, breathing the pure air of devotion, of service, of righteousness; it meant the recovery of the forfeited birthright. Salvation had come to himself and his household; once more he was "a son of Abraham." We are thus led to look at—
II. THE SAD POSSIBILITIES OF FORFEITURE open to all the children of men. God made us to be heirs of all that is good and blessed—of liberty, of truth, of honour and of love, of himself and of his kingdom. But sin comes in and spoils our heritage; under its evil ban we lose our good estate; our inheritance is forfeited; instead of being the "sons of God" and the "children of wisdom," we become rather the "children of wrath." We may forfeit:
1. Our liberty. We may become, how many do become, enslaved by some evil habit which holds them fast in its strong coils—some bodily or mental habit!
2. Our hold upon the truth. We may lose our faith in, and our appreciation of, the leading and vital doctrines which bring us into close and conscious fellowship with God.
3. Our very manhood. For there are many who suffer themselves to sink so low in the moral scale that they forfeit all claim to be accounted men; their lives are simply brutal.
4. Our rightful place in the estimate of our fellow-men. We may lose all the esteem, the confidence, and (consequently) the affection of our neighbours.
5. The friendship of Jesus Christ. Too often those who once walked with him and worked for him stand aside, and "walk no more" by his side; they leave his service, they lose his loving favour, they cannot be any longer counted among his friends. And with all this there must be the sad and grievous forfeiture of:
6. The hope of eternal life. For when fidelity is lost, hope is lost also.
III. THE BLESSED OPENING FOR RESTORATION provided by the Saviour of souls. There is no "house," however fallen, to which "salvation ' may not come; no human being, however sunk in sin and wrong, who may not be restored in the mercy of God by the power of Jesus Christ the Saviour. It is when he is admitted to the home and to the heart that recovery is attained. In him, for all earnest seekers, is escape from bondage and from error and unbelief; in his service is found the gradual but effectual return of the trust and the love of man; he offers the renewal of his friendship, and opens again the closed door of hope to the penitent and the believing spirit. The slave of sin becomes the son of God; the companion of the evil-doer becomes the friend and co-worker of Christ; the candidate for condemnation becomes the heir of heaven.—C.
The great purpose of Christ.
Mankind had lost its way utterly, its way from the home of God, from the fields of truth, from the path of holiness, from the fountains of joy; was wandering, blind and miserable, in forbidden ways; was stumbling on the dark mountains of error and sin. And the Son of man came to seek this erring and lost race, to lead it back again, to restore it to its heritage in wisdom, in righteousness, in God. This great and most beneficent purpose is enough of itself to explain such action as he took on this occasion; it covers the propriety of the conduct which seemed at the time so inexplicable to the good people of his day. For on what more fitting errand could the Saviour be engaged than on that of saving another human soul from its sin and its shame, and lifting it up into the light and liberty of the truth? But there are three reasons which we gain from the words or the actions of our Lord which perfectly justified him (and would justify us) in seeking out and saving a lost human soul.
I. AN APPEAL TO OUR FINER AND NOBLER INSTINCTS. If you have a hundred sheep, and of these all but one are safely sheltered from the cold and protected from every peril, but that one is shut out, is away shivering in the blast, is exposed to the attack of the wild beast, is nearing the deadly precipice,—your heart prompts you to, leave those that are safe, and to go and seek and rescue the one that is lost. Christ's heart prompts him to find that human soul which is lost in the mazes of error, or caught in the meshes of vice, or starving on the barren plains of unbelief. The most generous instincts of our nature will help us to understand his action when he went to the house of the publican, or suffered the daughter of shame to come in penitence to his feet.
II. AN APPEAL TO OUR HIGHER INTERESTS. We should put forth that labour in the field of sacred usefulness which is most remunerative. But which answers best—attention to the pretentious Pharisee, or to the shamefaced publican? To forgive fifty shillings to him who will first dispute the claim and then think nothing of your readiness to forego it will not be so satisfactory as to forgive five hundred pounds to him who is constrained to acknowledge the indebtedness, and is filled with gratitude to you for cancelling it. To endeavour to convince the scribe and the Pharisee of sin would have proved vain and fruitless work; but to lead some guilty ones to penitence and purity was to earn unbounded gratitude, and to unloose streams of devoted love that should refresh the parched and thirsty soil.
III. AN APPEAL TO OUR SENSE OF DUTY. The physician has several patients; some of them are not very ill, and these have the idea that they know what ails them and what remedies will do them good; but there are two or three that are dangerously, perhaps desperately ill, who do not know what they should do for recovery, and who will gladly take his advice and adopt his measures. To whom should he go but to those who need him most and will receive him best?
1. Let us enter more into the pitifulness of spiritual degradation. Sin is to be condemned, and strong indignation is often a duty and even a grace. But it is also very pitiful. Whether we find it in publican or harlot, in the covetous man or in the degraded woman, it is a thing to grieve over, even as Christ our Lord did, with a generous compassion; to affect our hearts with a pure and even deep distress. And it' we should feel thus as we contemplate the condition of one lost human being, what should our emotion be in view of the multitudes who are sunk in superstition, in wrongdoing, in utter hopelessness and helplessness! When we "see these multitudes," should we not, like the Master, be "moved with compassion for them, because they are as sheep without a shepherd"? May we not well exclaim—
"My God, I feel the mournful scene,
And my heart bleeds for dying men,
While fain my pity would reclaim
And snatch the firebrands from the flame"!
2. Let us avail ourselves of every means for seeking and saving the lost: whether it be individual effort, or action in combination with others, or liberal contribution to the missionary institution, let every opportunity be taken to follow in the path of love once trodden by "those sacred feet."—C.
Saving the lost.
It has been questioned whether there can be mentioned one word which is more pathetic than any other. It might be well maintained that this word would be found in our text. What truly and profoundly pathetic pictures are called up before us by the sound of the word, "lost"! It speaks to us of the vessel far out of its track and drifting toward the rocks where it will find its ruin; it speaks of the traveller lost among the mountains, moving toward the precipice over which he is bound to fall and perish; it speaks of the firm whose affairs have been growing serious and have now become desperate, before which there is no other prospect than the closed door and a place in the gazette; and it speaks of the sad story, old as sin but young as yesterday, of one that has been deceived and led astray, over whose character and over whose future the darkest shadows rest. But our text reminds us of—
I. THE LOST WORLD WHICH CHRIST CAME TO SAVE.
1. There was a day in the history of heaven when it was announced that a new world was lost; that a race created in its Divine Maker's image was lost, had departed from the truth and wisdom of God, had left its home in his love, and had wandered away in guilt and wrong.
2. Only God himself could comprehend what that meant; what evil, what sorrow, what error, what darkness of soul, what wretchedness of life, what degradation of character, what death-fulness.
3. But the Son of God determined to restore it; ordered everything in his holy providence that would prepare for his own personal intervention; in due time manifested himself in the flesh, spake, wrought, lived, suffered, died, arose, reascended; left behind him the great work of redemption in all its fulness and fitness—the gospel of the grace of God.
II. THE LOST SOUL WHICH HE IS EVER SEEKING AND SAVING.
1. The sense in which each sinful human soul is lost.
(1) It has lost its way; it is a traveller going in the wrong direction, away from his home toward the perilous precipice.
(2) It has lost its treasure, its heritage; for it has lost its peace, its harmony, its accordance with all those beings to whom it is most nearly and vitally related; it has lost its hopes.
(3) It has lost its worth, its likeness to the Holy One; it has been brought down to folly, to that which is unbeautiful and unworthy.
2. The fact that Christ is seeking it.
(1) He is tenderly interested in every human soul. At all stages in its history. When it is in the far country he is regarding it with infinite compassion and Divine yearning; when the first thought of returning is kindled in the heart and the beginnings of penitence are seen; when there is earnestness which makes toward, but does not amount to, actual repentance; when the soul is seeking its Saviour
(2) He is endeavouring to win it. He is coming to it various approaches, laying a loving hand upon it at many points, addressing it in many tones, returning again and again to it in patient solicitude. "Behold, he stands at the door, and knocks.
(3) Our only possible response. Not, indeed, that we cannot reject and refuse him; we can; it is open to us to do that. But, then, how can we? If we would not be shamefully and guiltily ungrateful, if we would not make his dying and ever-living love to be of no avail to us, if we have any regard for our own present and immortal blessedness, if we would win the prize and enjoy the heritage of eternal life, the only possible response we can make to the seeking Saviour is to open wide the door of our hearts and bid him enter and take full possession of our grateful and loving spirit.—C.
Probation and award.
Jesus Christ here invites us to do two things.
I. TO TREAT THIS LIFE AS A TIME OF SACRED OPPORTUNITY. The "nobleman" of the parable gave to his servants a certain sum, of which they were to make good use during his absence. His charge was this: "Occupy till I come."
1. The time of the nobleman's absence stands for our mortal life. Whether it be long or short, our present life is a period during which we have to be preparing for another of far greater consequence. It is a probationary period, that on which the larger and more serious future depends. This is in harmony with our experience; for one part of our life is a preparation for another, and the nature of the succeeding period depends upon the character of that which precedes it—childhood for youth, youth for young manhood, etc.
2. The "pound" of the parable stands for God-given opportunity—for the constitutional capacity with which we are endowed; for the favouring circumstances and facilities by which we are surrounded; for the Christian privileges with which we are blessed.
3. The smallness of our endowment affords no escape from responsibility. Only "one pound." It seems a very small sum for a nobleman to give in charge; but clearly it was large enough for a righteous requirement. No plea could be found in the littleness of the sum; it is not even urged. No man is entitled to say that his human spirit is worth nothing to God, his life worth nothing to the cause of righteousness; only God knows how valuable one human spirit, one earthly life, is.
4. No slavish timidity will excuse the most faint-hearted (Luke 19:21, Luke 19:22). Our God is not a Being from whose service we have to turn because we shrink from his severity (Psalms 103:8-14; Isaiah 40:29; Isaiah 57:16; 2 Corinthians 8:12).
II. TO LOOK FORWARD TO A DAY OF ACCOUNT AND OF AWARD.
1. There will be a day of judgment. The nobleman will return and call his servants before him (Luke 19:15). This may stand for some one great day, or we may still better look upon it as the day, when our earthly life terminates, and when we shall, as individual souls, stand before the Judge.
2. God will require of us the use we have made of our opportunity; what we have gained; what we have done in the direction
(1) of self-culture, ministering to the growth of our spiritual faculties;
(2) of the service of our kind, enlightening and aiding and blessing them;
(3) of magnifying the Name of our Divine Lord.
3. He will express his Divine judgment concerning us—his warm approval of those who have been most faithful (Luke 19:17); his acceptance of those who have not been unfaithful (Luke 19:19); his displeasure with the unworthy (Luke 19:22). We are to look for the clearly and fully expressed decision of Jesus Christ upon the character of our life-work, upon the comparative excellency or faultiness of our Christian life.
4. He will determine the measure of our award by the degree of our fidelity (see Luke 19:17, Luke 19:19). The more faithful and devoted the life on earth, the larger the recompense, the brighter the crown, the broader the sphere, in the heavenly kingdom. The doctrine of Matthew 20:14, Matthew 20:15 does not contradict this; it simply teaches that those to whom God gives a smaller share of bounty and of grace are not to complain because there are those to whom he grants a larger one. God is righteous, and he not only will not forget our work and labour of love (Hebrews 6:10), but he will not allow those of his servants who have devoted their powers to his cause with the greatest energy, constancy, and self-sacrifice to miss the most generous and gracious recognition at his loving hand.—C.
Life a sacred opportunity.
We may bring out the main thought of our Master in this parable if we consider the four points of—
I. GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY OF OUR LIFE. He is the Divine Lord of our life. It came from him; it is continued by him; it is enriched perpetually and liberally from his bountiful stores; and it is subject to his sway. He has a sovereign right to determine what it shall be—what shall be its aim and its issue. He is the "nobleman;" we are "his servants." if we do think of objecting to his claim (Luke 19:14), we shall only be disappointed and defeated in our rebelliousness of heart. He cannot be dethroned; against his right to rule there can be no appeal. Submission is our true wisdom, as it is our first and last obligation.
II. THE SACRED CHARGE HE LAYS UPON US. He gives to each of us money (silver)—a talent (Matthew 25:1-46.), a "pound" (text), and he says to each of us, "Occupy till I come."
1. The time of the nobleman's absence represents our mortal life, or (more correctly) the period between our first sense of responsibility and the last hour of consciousness.
2. The pound (talent)represents the opportunity of service which he places within our reach. This opportunity is compounded of
(1) our natural capacity—bodily, mental, spiritual; and of
(2) all the favourable circumstances by which we are attended as we pass through our life—education, home influence, capital, facilities for entering a sphere of activity, etc.
And this sacred opportunity looks out in three directions:
(1) the cultivation of our own nature;
(2) the service of mankind;
(3) the worship of God, and work in his broad field.
The Lord of our life is saying to us, "Occupy till I come;" i.e. put out this pound, employ this sacred opportunity now within your reach, turn it to good account, use your capacities and your circumstances for high and noble ends—for your own spiritual enlargement, for the good of your brethren, for the glory of Christ.
III. THE REWARD OF FAITHFULNESS. (Luke 19:16-19.) Here are two principles on which we may depend as guiding the Divine hand when the day of account arrives.
1. Those who have done well will receive God's gracious commendation and reward. To them he will express his good pleasure, and to them he will give an award.
2. They who have been more faithful will receive the more gracious approval and the larger sphere. He who turns his one pound into ten has a warmer welcome and a more liberal reward; to him are those most gladdening words addressed, and to him are entrusted not five but ten cities over which to rule (Luke 19:17). "Then shall every man have praise of God." But then shall those who have striven hard and Toiled long and suffered much in the cause of Jesus Christ have a full measure of benediction; and to such will be apportioned a crown that will be bright indeed, a sphere that will be broad indeed.
IV. THE PENALTY OF NEGLIGENCE. (Luke 19:20-24.) The slothful servant may make excuses, but they will be brushed aside; he himself will be severely condemned; he will he divested of what he has left him; he will be sent into saddest exile (Matthew 25:30). It is not the atheist, or the criminal, or the perpetrator of vicious deeds; it is not the outward and flagrant transgressor, who is here condemned and sentenced; it is the man who made nothing of his life; it is the man who had no sense of sacred responsibility; it is he who withheld his powers from the service of God;—it is he who is pronounced to be so guilty. To let our lives go by without making them a service and a blessing, to let our powers and our opportunities rust in mere disuse, is to be accumulating a debt which we shall not be able to discharge, and which will make us to appear bankrupt at the great account.—C.
The law of spiritual increase.
Here we have one of those paradoxes of Jesus Christ into the heart of which many have failed to find their way. Why, it is asked, should one who has have more? will he not have too much? Why should he who has but little lose the little he has? will he not be still worse off than ever? Where is the wisdom, where the righteousness of this course? This criticism arises from a pure misunderstanding of Christ's meaning. We shall see what he meant if we consider—
I. THE VIEW CHRIST TOOK OF POSSESSION. When may a man be said to have anything? When he has legal documents to prove that it belongs to him? Or when it is securely locked up in a box or buried in the earth? Not at all. It is when he is using it, when he is turning it to account, when he is making it answer the purpose for which it exists. If a man lets an object rust in disuse, remain unemployed, he has it not, virtually and practically. It is not his at all; it does him no good, renders him no service, is to him as if it were not; he has it not, in truth. This accords perfectly with Christ's usage in Matthew 25:1-46. There the men who put out their talents had them; the man who hid his latent had it not. He who does not make use of that which is at his command only "seemeth to have" (or thinketh he has) it (Luke 8:18). It is use that really constitutes possession. This is not a mere fancy or conceit; it is the language of truth, it is the verdict of experience. The miser does not really possess his gold; it answers to him none of the ends which make it the valuable thing it is. He might as well own as many counters. He seems to have (thinks he has)money, but in truth he has it not. It is thus with men of great intellectual capacity which they do not employ; their faculties, unused, are of no value to themselves or to others; they might as well be non-existent. According to the wise and true usage of the great Teacher, we have the things we use; those we use not we have not. Now we can understand—
II. THE DIVINE LAW OF INCREASE AND DECLINE. For this is not a mere action done on one particular occasion; there is nothing exceptional or arbitrary about it. It is a Divine method invariably adopted; a Divine principle running through the whole economy; a Divine law with illustrations on every hand. It affects us at every turn of our life, in every part of our nature. It applies to us considered:
1. Physically. The muscle that is used is developed; that which is neglected shrinks, and in time becomes wholly powerless. To him that has is given; from him that hath not is taken away.
2. Mentally. The boy who cultivates his intellectual capacities becomes mentally strong; every acquisition of knowledge is an increase of power; the more he knows the better he can learn: to him that has is given. But the boy who does not study, but wastes his youth in idleness, not only does not acquire knowledge; he loses the faculty of acquisition: from him that has not is taken away that (capacity) which he has.
(1) Spiritual perception. The little child can readily understand the elements of the Christian faith, and, apprehending them, go on to master "the deep things of God." But the aged man who has learnt nothing of Divine truth through a long life of godlessness, is quite unteachable; he is dull of apprehension: from him has been taken away, etc.; his faculties have become shrivelled.
(2) Christian work. Every one has a certain capacity for usefulness; and he is bound to put it out at once; if he waits until his capacity has grown into a power, he will find that not only will he not gain the skill he is waiting for, but he will lose the capacity he now has. But if, on the other hand, he uses what he has, the exercise of his humblest talent will bring increase, and he will soon acquire the strength and facility he is eager to possess. What, therefore, we wish to be able to do—teach, preach, pray, etc.—we must set about doing; every intelligent, devout effort to do good means not only a little good done, but a little power gained. What we do poorly to-day we shall do fairly well to-morrow; be ourselves to-day, we shall surpass ourselves to-morrow. Aptitude comes with effort and exercise: to him that has is given.
(3) Spiritual sensibility. The little child is open to impression, and, if he yields to the truth he knows, that truth will always be effective; but if he rejects it his heart becomes hardened, and he becomes increasingly unresponsive: from him that has not, etc. Thus God's holy Law engirts us on every side; we cannot step outside it. It is determining our character and our destiny. We must act upon it, must turn it to good account. We must see to it that we really have what we seem to have, that we are using the talent, the opportunity, that is at our command. Then to us will be given—here, on the earth, in the shape of increased faculty and multiplied usefulness; there, in the heavens, in the way of a far broader sphere of celestial service.—C.
Something like a royal procession is here described. On the foal of an ass, on which it comported as well with Oriental ideas of honour as with Christian ideas of peace that he should ride, the "King came, meek," but not without attention and acclaim, into Jerusalem. A large company of the curious, the devout, and even the enthusiastic, welcomed him as "the King that came in the Name of the Lord." At last, thought his disciples, his hour is come; at last their Master was entering on his heritage, was assuming his kingdom; at last their long-delayed hopes were to be fulfilled. Gladly they accepted and sustained the greetings of the multitude, and fondly, we may be sure, they hoped that a triumphant issue was at hand. But it had no such ending as they looked for. Jesus went into the temple, healed the sick, received the adoration of the children, whose voices (as we can well believe) were the last to sink into silence, and went quietly back to Bethany. What, then, did it mean? What was the service and significance of the scene?
I. A VALUABLE REMINDER OF HIS POWER OF SELF-RESTRAINT. He had been moving among men as "one that serveth," as one that "ministered." He had moved as a very humble traveller along the path of human life. But how easy it would have been for him to call forth the honour of the people, and to live amid the excitements of popularity, and to reach the high places of power! But this he resolutely declined to do, choosing deliberately the lowlier but the nobler path of humble, holy service.
II. A STRIKING INDICATION OF HIS ACCEPTANCE WITH THE PEOPLE, NO one can say that Christ's teaching was not profound; it was deep as the very fountains of truth. No philosophy went further; he went down into the deep places of the human soul. Yet, while the philosophers made their appeal to the cultured, Christ addressed himself to the multitude, to the common human heart. And "all the people were very attentive to hear him." So here, while the men who prided themselves on their knowledge looked on with angry disdain (Luke 19:29), the people and the children were enthusiastic in his favour—they recognized in the Prophet of Nazareth the true Teacher that had come from God. Better be numbered among the simple-hearted who can appreciate the Divine than among the wise and learned who misread the providence of God, and stand sullen and silent while everything is inviting to joy and praise. Better be the ignorant cottager whose heart is full of reverence, or the little child who has the songs of Zion on his lips and the love of Jesus in his heart, than the learned critic who never bends the knee or bows the heart in homage to the true and the eternal.
III. A HINT OF CHRIST'S TRUE ROYALTY. The Messiah of the Jews was to be a King. To that conclusion prophecy pointed with unfailing finger, and on that event Jewish faith rested with gathering hope. The Son of David was to occupy his father's throne; the daughters of Jerusalem were to rejoice because "her King was coming." Claiming the Messiahship, Jesus was bound to claim this sovereignty, but how do this without encouraging the current fallacy as to his temporal and visible royalty? Is not this simple scene the answer? Christ then and thus said, "I am the King you are awaiting." But its extreme simplicity and its transiency showed that he did not intend to wear the trappings and be surrounded with the common grandeurs of earthly royalty; it showed that he came not for pomps and pageantries and outward triumphs, but to seek a sovereignty of another kind in another realm altogether. That very simple and passing regal state was only an emblem of the spiritual sovereignty which was immeasurably, higher and more to be desired. Sweet to his ear may have been the acclaim of the populace and the hosannas of the children; but how much sweeter is the voice of man or woman or of little child who goes in glad submission to his feet to offer loyal service to the Divine Redeemer, to place heart and life beneath his gracious and benignant sway!
IV. A PROPHECY OF FAR FUTURE GLORY. Never on this earth will that scene be re-enacted; but there is an hour coming when, in another realm, it will be amplified and perpetuated. Christ will be acknowledged King by all the hosts celestial and terrestrial. The transient gladness of the sacred city will be nothing to the everlasting joy of the new Jerusalem; the passing enthusiasm of that happy demonstration to the abiding blessedness of the life in the heavenly land. Yet may we take that one hour of Jerusalem's acceptance of her King as a prelude and a prophecy of the adoration which the redeemed of every kindred and tribe shall pay him when they cast their crowns at his feet.
"Oh that with yonder sacred throng
We at his feet may fall," etc.!
PRACTICAL LESSONS. We gather:
1. That Jesus Christ is now claiming the real, spiritual sovereignty of ourselves. He is calling upon us not to strew his path with palm branches, but to offer him the first place in our heart; to yield him our perfect trust, our unfailing and unfading love, our cheerful and constant obedience.
2. That the rest of soul which follows such surrender of ourselves is incomparably better than the passing exultation of a triumphal entry.
3. That by loyal and devoted service in his cause we shall gain a place in the acclaiming company that will praise the King in his celestial glory.—C.
Eagerness in the upward path.
"He went before, ascending up to Jerusalem." "To go to Corinth" once meant to give way to dissipation. What did it mean to "go to Jerusalem"? To the Jews generally it meant to go to some sacred service, to visit the temple of Jehovah, to enter the sacred precincts where sacrifice was offered to God. To Jesus Christ, now, it meant to go on to martyrdom and to death. But still to go thither was to "go up," was to "ascend, and in his progress to that sacred city he did not lag behind, nor even walk abreast; he "went before," he showed great eagerness in that upward and most honourable path. Such was his eagerness of soul that the disciples were astonished and even awed as they beheld it (Mark 10:32); they were profoundly impressed with the ardour and intensity of his spirit: "As they followed they were afraid." We may share the Saviour's spirit of holy ardour and elevation as we tread—
I. THE PATH OF HOLY PRIVILEGE. When may we be said to be on the upward road so tar as our activities are concerned? When we are presiding? or when we are ruling? or when we are winning? or when we are rejoicing? It'-racy be so. But assuredly we are then on the way that slopes upward and heavenward when we are in the path of sacred privilege, when we are "on our way to God"—to his nearer presence, to the worship of the Holy and the True One, to communion with the righteous Lord of all, to fellowship with Christ, to gathering at his table of love, to work in his vineyard. Then are we in the high places—" in the heavenly places;" then are we engaged in an exercise of human power which is most worthy of our highest faculties and reflects dignity on our human nature; then are we "ascending" in spirit; and we do well to feel that it is not a time for slackness of speed, for exhaustion of spirit, for signs of weariness. We should show a sacred ardour, a holy eagerness, like unto him who "went before" as he ascended to Jerusalem.
II. THE WAY OF WITNESS-BEARING. To go to Jerusalem was, to our Lord, to go where he should "bear witness to the truth" (John 18:37); should bear witness by words, of which many would be utterly misunderstood, and many treated with high disdain; should bear witness by suffering, by calm, brave, patient endurance of wrong. And to do this was to go up, to ascend; as it is to-day, and will always be. Where shall we find the martyr-witnesses among mankind? Not as we look down, but as we look up—up to the very loftiest altitudes that human foot has ever trodden. Kings and statesmen walk not along such lofty, such truly celestial paths as do they who speak amid derision or suffer without flinching to attest the living truth of God. When we go forward toward self-sacrifice for Christ's sake we "ascend up" to the high places of the kingdom of God. It may well be with no faltering or lingering step, but with a free and forward movement, like him who now "went before," that we move to those sacred and noble levels.
III. THE MOUNT OF TRANSLATION. Jesus went up to Jerusalem, to Calvary, to that wondrous redeeming death which is the world's great sacrifice. We may well say that he ascended to that. That was the culminating point of his career; that not only concluded, but crowned his course. And after receiving all the light which he has shed upon it, we need not be ever speaking of death as a dark valley down which we must descend; we may rather regard it as a mount of translation up which we move. In all things physical, indeed, we descend to die; our powers become lower, our life grows less. But we walk by faith in Christ Jesus. And by faith we regard ourselves as going up to the gateway which admits to the celestial glories. In view of that which immediately afterwards awaits us, we need not lag behind; we may press forward, like our Master, as we draw toward the close, and may eagerly pass on the way which ends in death and victory.—C.
Luke 19:39, Luke 19:40
Suppression and expression.
It is not difficult to find the meaning of our Lord in this hyperbolical utterance of his. "Why should I silence my disciples?" he says. "Of what use would it be to suppress such strong feelings as theirs? Feeling will always find its vent. If suppressed in one form, it will express itself in another; if driven underground in one spot, it will only come up in another; if these human beings whose hearts are so filled with exultation were silenced, the very stones would cry out." It is useless, and worse than useless, to try to extinguish enthusiasm by a hard repressive commandment. The folly of suppression and the wisdom of allowing and inviting, indeed of providing, the means of suitable expression will apply to many things.
I. YOUTHFUL CURIOSITY. Curiosity is an irrepressible thing; it will be satisfied. Age cannot extinguish it, try how it may. It may have occasion to check it, but its true wisdom is to guide it—to take the necessary trouble to satisfy it in the best possible way. Curiosity is not a plant of the evil one; it is rooted in the soul by the heavenly Father; it is a main source of knowledge; it ought to be wisely but amply nourished. If we endeavour to suppress it we shall find that it will not be suppressed, but will find other ways of satisfaction than those we disallow.
II. THE LOVE OF LIBERTY. A desire for freedom and independence is a strong sentiment of the human soul. Where intelligence exists there it will arise and assert itself. It will not be put down; it cannot be put out. Authority may "rebuke" it, as the Pharisees wanted Christ to act on this occasion; but the Lord of our nature knows that it will be heard and must be respected. Neither domestic, nor social, nor national, nor ecclesiastical despotism can survive beyond a certain time. The aspirations of the human soul for freedom will not be denied. If not permitted a wise and rightful form of action, they will take improper and harmful ones.
III. THE RELIGIOUS SENTIMENT IN MAN. Philosophy has tried to silence the voice of faith; it has undertaken to rebuke the disciples; and it has temporarily and superficially succeeded. But it has found that so deep and so strong is the religious sentiment in man that when religion is driven down below the surface it comes out again in superstition in some form or other. The sense of the Supreme, a yearning of the human heart for the living God, is not to be erased from the soul, is not to be removed from the life of man.
IV. DEFINITE RELIGIOUS CONVICTIONS. These also are not to be suppressed. Men have taken very various views of the doctrines of the Christian faith; and, as we know too well, opponents have not only "rebuked," but tried arrogantly and forcibly to silence, those who have differed from them. But they have not succeeded. Religious conviction is an inextinguishable force; slain in the persons of its champions, it rises again and reappears, often in tenfold power.
V. RELIGIOUS ENTHUSIASM. To this the words of our Lord primarily and most properly apply. Religious fervour may frequently be disposed to take a form which we do not think the best, or even the suitable and becoming. But we must take care how we deal with it. It is not a thing to be suppressed; it is to be encouraged and enlightened and guided. It is, or it has within it, a true, living power; this power is of God, and is for good. Abruptly and harshly rebuked and silenced, it will only assert itself in other and probably still more questionable forms. Treated with Christian sympathy and encouragement (see Luk 10:1-42 :49, 50), informed and enlightened by superior intelligence, directed into wise channels, it may do a noble work for the Master and mankind.
1. Let not a young enthusiasm be mindful only of its own exuberance; let it be regardful of the judgment and feeling of experience.
2. Let experience be tolerant of eager-hearted enthusiasm, and be prepared to count it amongst its friends.—C.
The tears of Christ.
We are touched by the tears of a little child; for they are the sign of a genuine, if a simple, sorrow. Much more are we affected by the tears of a strong and brave man. When a man of vigorous intelligence, accustomed to command himself, gives way to tears, then we feel that we are in the presence of a very deep and sad emotion. Such were the tears of Christ. Twice, at least, he wept; and on this occasion we understand that he gave free vent to an overpowering distress. The tears of Christ speak of two things more especially.
I. HIS TENDER SYMPATHY WITH HUMAN SORROW, The grief which now overwhelmed the Saviour was (as we shall see) very largely due to his sense of its past and its approaching guilt. But it was also due, in part, to his foreknowledge of the sufferings its inhabitants must endure. An intense sympathy with human woe was and is a very large element in the character and life of Jesus Christ.
1. It was his compassion for our race that brought him from above—that we by his poverty might become rich.
2. It was this which, more than anything else, accounts for the miracles he wrought. He could not see the blind, and the lame, and the fever-stricken, and the leprous without tendering them the restoring grace it was in his power to bestow. He could not see mourning parents and weeping sisters without healing the heart-wounds he was able to cure.
3. It was this which drew to himself the confidence and affection of loving hearts. It was no wonder that pitiful women and tender-hearted children, and men whose hearts were unhardened by the world, were drawn in trust and love to the responsive Son of man, whose step was always stopped by a human cry, to whose compassion no stricken man or woman ever appealed in vain.
4. It is this feature of his character which makes him so dear to us now as our Divine Friend. For in this world, where sorrow treads so fast on the heels of joy, and where human comforters so often fail us, of what priceless value is it to have in that Everlasting One, who is the Ever-present One, a Friend who is "touched" with our griefs, and who still carries our sorrows by the power of his sympathy!
(1) Let us thank God that we have such a Friend in him; and
(2) let us resolve before God that such a friend will we seek and strive to be.
II. HIS PROFOUND REGRET FOR THOSE WHO ARE IN THE WRONG. With what eyes do we look upon human sin when we see it at its worst? How are we affected by the sight of a drunkard, of a thief, of a foul-mouthed and fallen woman? Are we filled with contempt? Many bad things are indeed contemptible; but there is a view to be taken which is worthier and more Christ-like than that; a view which is more humane and more Divine—a feeling of profound pitifulness and sorrowful regret. It was this which filled the heart of Christ when he looked upon Jerusalem, and that called forth his tearful lamentation. Much was there about that city that might well move his righteous anger, that did call down his strong, unsparing indignation (Matthew 23:1-39.)—its spiritual arrogance, its religious egotism, its fearful pretentiousness, its deep-seated hypocrisy, its heartless cruelty, its whitewash of ceremony without with all its corruptness and selfishness within. But Jesus forebore to denounce; he stopped to weep. He was most powerfully affected by the thought that Jerusalem might have been so much to God and man, and was—what she was. Jesus Christ was not so much angered as he was saddened by the presence and the sight of sin. He might have withered it up in his wrath, but he rather wept over it in his pity. This is the Christian spirit to be cherished and to be manifested by ourselves. We must contemn the contemptible; but we rise to higher ground when we pity the erring because they are in error, when we mourn over the fallen because they are down so low, when we grieve for those who are afar off because they are astray from God and blessedness. But we must not only weep for those who are in the wrong because they are in the wrong. We must do our utmost to set them right. "How often" did Christ seek to gather those sons and daughters of Jerusalem under the wings of his love! How often and how earnestly should we seek to reclaim and to restore!—C.
Luke 19:41, Luke 19:42
Judaea and England.
Did Jesus Christ grieve over Jerusalem as a patriot over his own country? Was there an element of patriotic sorrow in that touching and tearful lament? Did he love that land any the more because, as concerning the flesh, he was the Son of David, was born at Bethlehem, and regarded the Jews as his fellow-citizens? The idea is open to one objection. To be a patriot seems to put a man under limitation. To love our own country more than others is to love others less than our own. We shrink from associating with him anything that even looks like partiality or partisanship. On the other hand, we must take care that we do not lose the human in our desire to preserve the Divine. Might not the same consideration be urged against our Lord cherishing a peculiar regard and affection for his mother, his sisters, his brothers, his personal friends? But who can doubt that there was especial love in his heart for these? There was then, probably, something of patriotic grief in those tears of Christ, an additional pang in his heart, as he thought that it was Jerusalem itself, the city round which so many associations gathered, whose guilt and doom stood in clear, sad vision before him. However that may be, he felt deep compassion as he looked forward to—
I. THE FUTURE OF THE HOLY LAND. We speak of the land or country, though it was the city of Jerusalem over which he wept. But in the sense in which "Paris is France" Jerusalem was Judaea, was Israel itself. It was the strength, the light, the glory, of the land; it was the centre to which all the inhabitants looked and journeyed; it was the source of the people's habits and beliefs. The capital taken, everything was well-nigh gone, the fate of the country was settled. Concerning this people, this nation, Jesus Christ felt, as he beheld the city:
1. That it had been enriched with peculiar privilege.
(1) Commencing with a signal and glorious deliverance from bondage;
(2) continued with the granting of a Law and a system admirably fitted to save them from surrounding superstitions and impurities;
(3) multiplied by the coming of psalmist and of prophet with inspiring song and elevating speech and life, uplifting their imagination and cleansing their conscience;
(4) enhanced by the strong and severe, but yet kind and merciful, discipline through which they were made to pass;
(5) culminating in the presence, the teaching, the life, of him, in whom One wiser than Solomon, mightier than David, devouter than Samuel, nobler than Elijah and John, "was there."
2. That it was charged with a high and sacred mission. It was designed by God to be the depository and guardian of his Divine truth, to hold fast and to hold high those great verities which are the strength, the life, and the glory of our manhood. Just what part it was to have played, and what exact service it would have rendered our race had it been loyal and true, may be questioned by us. But it would undoubtedly have played a very great part, and been, as a nation, the great factor in the restitution of mankind.
3. That it had now missed its chance, and was hastening to its doom.
(1) The Hebrew faith had become a hollow formality, a mere ritual, from which true reverence, love, charity, earnestness, were all absent; and
(2) the nation was in the very act of rejecting and was about to slay its Messiah, thus going down into the darkest crime and then going on to the saddest disaster. We glance at—
II. THE FUTURE OF OUR OWN COUNTRY. There is no little parallelism between Judaea and England.
1. God has enriched our land with peculiar privileges. We have
(1) a large share of religious liberty;
(2) a good measure of spiritual enlightenment, not indeed without some dark shadows of ignorance and superstition;
(3) numerous and strong organizations covering the land, whose function is to teach, to guide, to guard, to rescue, and redeem. May we not say, "He hath not dealt so with any nation; as for his statutes and commandments, they have not known them" as we have known them?
2. God has given us a high and a great mission to perform. Responsibility goes with privilege; it is, indeed, the obverse side of the same thing. We have not only to present to his view "a holy nation" within our own borders, to raise our own community to the height of Christian knowledge, of social purity, of national well-being in all its forms; but also to diffuse the light of Divine truth far and wide, and to make our influence tell for peace, righteousness, and truth in every quarter of the globe.
3. We have to consider whether we are declining that mission or are fulfilling it. That is s question which cannot be determined bey public professions; nor by the number or character of our sanctuaries; nor by t number or constitution of our Churches. It can only be determined by the actual spiritual and moral condition of our people, of the multitudes and millions of our citizens; and by the earnestness and devotedness of Christian men and women in the field of sacred work. By these criteria we stand or fall.—C.
The time of visitation.
"This thy day;" "The time of thy visitation." What is it that makes man, everywhere and under all conditions, so deeply interesting? He is found on savage shores in nakedness and barbarism, in idolatrous lands living in saddest superstition, in the slums and purlieus of great cities as debased and vicious as the brutes of the field, yet still most interesting. It is because God made man for himself, and, far as he has wandered from his side, it is still open to him to return. It is because man was created to move along the loftiest levels, and, low as he has fallen, it is in him to rise. Bring to bear the right influences upon him, and from the very lowest depths of debasement and dishonour he may attain to noble heights of excellency and power. Again and again in the history of mankind and of individual men has this been proved to be true. Illustrative and reassuring instances can be adduced in which whole tribes, or even nations, and in which particular men and women, have been visited with "the truth and grace of Jesus Christ," and have been lifted up to knowledge, to virtue, to piety, to spiritual beauty, to preparedness for the heavenly sphere. But the serious aspect of this truth is that which is here suggested, viz. that God's dealings with us may reach a climax which is ignorantly and fatally neglected. We know how true this was of the Hebrew people. God's dealings with them (see previous homily) were long-continued, varied, gracious; they culminated in the coming of the King's Son. Then Divine Wisdom uttered its voice in their hearing; then Divine Power wrought its marvels of mercy before their very eyes; then Divine Purity lived its life of loveliness; and Divine Love manifested itself in a hundred forms of kindness and of pity in the very midst of them. But "this their day," this "time of their visitation," they did not know. Israel missed its golden chance, and went down, as a nation, to rise no more. But looking at God's redemptive dealing with ourselves, as individual spirits, we see—
I. How OFTEN GOD VISITS US in his redeeming love. In childhood, by a mother's tenderness; in youth, by a father's wisdom; in young manhood (womanhood), by many voices of the home and of the Church, uniting to say, "Thy God hath commanded thy strength;" in prime, by some chastening providence, laying his hand upon us and constraining us to listen and to understand.
II. HOW HIS DEALINGS WITH US CULMINATE in some day of grace. There comes a time in the history of souls—it may come in any period of life—when "the powers of the world to come" are most strongly felt, when God's nearness is most vividly realized, when the claims of Christ most forcibly touch and move the soul, when the kingdom of God is very near, and its gates are seen to stand wide open. It is "this thy day," it is the "time of visitation" to such a human heart.
III. HOW WISE, THEN, IS IMMEDIATE ACTION! How wise and well for us to know the time of our visitation, to recognize our great and priceless opportunity, to flee to the seeking Saviour "swift as the morning light," lest the golden chance be gone, the gates of opportunity be closed!—C.
The house of prayer.
The strong indignation of our Lord shown on this occasion is a plain indication of the importance he attached to right thought concerning the sanctuary, and to the right use of it. He brought into prominence the act of prayer as that which should, above all things, characterize the house of God. We enter into his thought if we consider—
I. THE SENSE IN WHICH SACRIFICE WAS PRAYER. The temple existed primarily and pre-eminently for sacrifice. There, and there alone, might sacrifices be offered to the Lord. It was the one place in all the land where the sin offerings and the burnt offerings could be presented. Was it not, then, essentially, the place of sacrifice? Truly; but sacrifice, when rightly viewed, was a form of prayer. In it and by it the offerer drew near, consciously, to the loving God; in it he made confession of sin to God; in it he made acknowledgment of his continual indebtedness to God; in it he supplicated the mercy and the grace of God. But this is prayer; it is prayer in the form of offering rather than in words. Less than this—this conscious approach, this confession, thanksgiving, and supplication—is not prayer at all. Inasmuch, then, as the temple was the place of sacrifice, it was the place of prayer.
II. THE FACT THAT THERE WAS ROOM IN THE TEMPLE FOR PRAYER AS WE ORDINARILY UNDERSTAND IT. We gather from our Lord's own words that the temple was the place commonly chosen by the people for the offering of prayer (Luke 18:10). It was toward the temple that the exiled Jews looked when they knelt down to pray in distant lands; and it was in the temple that they stood to pray when that sacred building was within reach. It was, no doubt, regarded as of all places in the world the very fittest in which to realize the presence of Jehovah, and to spread forth the soul's desires and aspirations before him. There were many places for prayer, but that was the place of prayer.
III. THE PLACE OF PRAYER IN THE CHRISTIAN SANCTUARY. By what, above all things else, should the Christian sanctuary be characterized?
1. It should be the place of common assembly. Where all classes of the people meet together, the rich and the poor, and feel that the Lord is the Maker of them all (Proverbs 22:2); where the learned and the unlearned worship and bow down together, and "kneel before the Lord their Maker" (Psalms 95:6); it is the place where human spirits meet, and where earthly circumstances are of no account whatever—where wealth does not weigh, and rank creates no distinction.
2. It should be the place of spiritual enlightenment.
(1) Where the Word of God is read, and should be read impressively and effectually; for there is nothing in literature which is more fitted to attract and interest a miscellaneous assembly;
(2) where the will of God is faithfully delivered, and the gospel of Christ expounded and enforced;
(3) where the cause of the Master and of mankind is fully and earnestly pleaded. But most especially is it:
3. The place of prayer. Here, either in sacred psalmody, or through some prepared formula, or led by the extemporaneous thought and aspiration of the minister, the worshippers draw nigh to God in every way in which he is approached by man—in adoration, in communion, in thanksgiving, in confession, in supplication, in consecration. No worshipper in the house of the Lord can reach a higher level of spiritual attainment than when he pours out his heart in prayer to God in these various utterances; and no minister in the house of the Lord can render to the people gathered together a truer or higher service than when he helps them thus to approach the Father of spirits, and thus to come into direct communion with him. Then is the house of God put to its noblest and worthiest use when it is made by those who meet within its wails "the house of prayer."—C.
Our Lord was touched and troubled with a holy indignation as he saw the temple of Jehovah turned into a place of traffic; that which was intended for the approach of the human spirit to God made to serve the purpose of hard bargaining, and even, as we judge from the language of the text, of dishonest dealings. It was a shocking, an intolerable desecration, and, exerting the authority which always resided in him and which he occasionally put into exercise, he drove these hucksters from the sacred place which they were desecrating by their presence and their practices, What places are we now tempted to desecrate?
I. THE SANCTUARY. When, instead of making it a place of worship, of drawing near to God, of speaking to him or for him, of learning something more of his holy will, we make it a place for distinguishing ourselves, or for advertising our respectability, or for gaining enjoyment which is wholly unspiritual.
II. THE HOME. When that which should be the abode of peace, of love, of purity, of fellowship, of tenderness, of gracious ministry, of quiet growth and joy, is turned into a scene of bitterness, of recrimination, of estrangement, of deterioration, of unhappiness.
III. THE PLACE OF BUSINESS. That might be a sphere where valuable virtues and most acceptable graces are manifested and are strengthened—truth, equity, courtesy, honour, courage, sagacity; too often it is nothing better than a sphere in which deceit, low cunning, dishonesty, a mean and miserable selfishness, are sown and reaped bountifully.
IV. THE HUMAN BODY. In our treatment of this bodily frame, so skilfully and so wonderfully made, so nicely adjusted to receive and convey impressions from and to the outside world of man and nature, we may and we should act as if we were dealing with a very sacred thing. By cleanliness, by moderation, by purity; by entertaining through the ear and the eye God's own truth and wisdom; by employing the tongue to speak his love and to sing his praise; by letting the graces of Christian character write themselves, as they will, in lineaments of beauty upon our countenance; by letting our bodies be, as they may be, the very temples of the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 6:19),—we may make them worthy and sacred in the sight of God. But when we regard them as mere instruments of gratification, and make them the ministers of sinful and even shameful pleasure, how great is such desecration before God!
V. HUMAN LIFE. It is here that the Holy One most often sees with Divine regret a pitiful desecration. He gave us our life that it might be spent, through all its stages, in sacred service, in spiritual growth, in elevating joy, in excellent preparation for the larger and fuller life beyond. How grievously is it desecrated when it is turned into a time for mere pecuniary acquisition, or for mere fleshly enjoyment, or for mere emptiness and aimlessness of existence!
1. What a pitiful waste is this I and how it will one day be deplored as absolutely irreparable!
2. How perilous to form such evil habits of the soul, every day becoming more fixed l how wise to hear the Master's voice summoning us to noble service, "Why stand ye all the day idle? go, work in my vineyard"!—C.
That Jesus Christ, as a Teacher, had no small share of popularity is beyond all question. "The people were astonished at his doctrine; for his word was with power;" "He taught them as one that had authority." His hearers wanted to know "whence hath this Man this wisdom?" The officers of the Sanhedrin declared that "Never man spake like this Man." His enemies' purpose was defeated: "They could not find what they might do: for all the people were very attentive to hear him." Large companies of men and women flocked to hear him; he had not to seek an audience; he had to seek shelter from their curiosity and intrusion. "Whence had this Man" this popularity? What was the source and the secret of it? There were—
I. THREE THINGS IN SPITE OF WHICH HE WAS POPULAR WITH THE PEOPLE.
1. The depth of his doctrine. Many gain a ready audience with the people by carefully restricting themselves to those truths which their hearers can easily understand: superficialities are generally acceptable. Not so with the great Teacher. He struck far below the surface, and was frequently announcing and enforcing truths which the majority of his hearers must have found "hard to be understood." Many of his utterances were "hard sayings" (John 6:60).
2. The height of his purpose. Christ would have "got on "with the multitude much further and faster if he had but brought down his teaching to the level of their national aspirations. But when they were thinking of something as shallow and as transitory as a political revolution, he was laying broad and deep the foundations of a spiritual, universal, everlasting kingdom of God. The strength and straightness of his charge. "Do you suppose these men were extraordinary sinners? I tell you, Nay; but except ye repent," etc.; "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye cannot enter the kingdom;" "Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scriber," etc. (Luke 13:2, Luke 13:3; Matthew 18:3; Matthew 5:20).
II. TWO THINGS WHICH CONTRIBUTED TO, WITHOUT ACCOUNTING FOR, HIS POPULARITY.
1. The illustrativeness of his style. He called to his aid all visible nature, all homely occupations, the familiarities of social and domestic life.
"He talked of grass and wind and taint
And fig trees and fair weather,
And made it his delight to bring
Heaven and the earth together.
He spoke of lilies, vines, and corn,
The sparrow and the raven;
And words so natural, yet so wise,
Were on men's hearts engraven."
2. The fearless front he showed to those who were the worst enemies of the people. He denounced in unsparing terms the selfishness and rapacity as well as the pretentiousness and actual impiety of those who were fastening the bonds of a merciless and oppressive legality on the necks of their victims; and the people looked on with approval and with enjoyment. Men always listen with delight when oppression is unsparingly denounced. They always like to see the mask torn off the face of falsehood. But it is not here that the secret of the popularity of Jesus is to be found.
III. FOUR THINGS WHICH MADE CHRIST'S TEACHING ACCEPTABLE TO THOSE WHO HEARD HIM, and may well make his doctrine acceptable to us to-day.
1. He spoke of those things the truth of which the people most wanted to know. They did not want to know a number of legal niceties and small social and domestic proprieties of which the scribes spoke to them. They wanted to know what God thought of them, and how he felt toward them, and what was the way by which they could gain and claim his favour; what was the meaning and the purpose and the possibility of human life; what followed death; and what was the true hope for the after-time. On such themes Jesus spoke to men, and we need not wonder that "all the people listened attentively" as he spake.
2. He spoke as one that knew. He spoke "with authority, and not as the scribes." "His word was with power." He did not indulge in hair-splitting argumentations, nor in vague and dreamy imaginings, nor in doubtful and unreliable guesses. He spake as one that knew; as one who could speak about God, because he came forth from him, and dwelt with him; about prayer, because he was in constant communion with Heaven; about righteousness, because he himself was pure in heart; about love, because his whole life was one act of self-denial. Oat of the depths of a living soul he gave the known facts of experience, the certain truths of God.
3. His teaching was that of helpfulness and hopefulness. He saw men "as sheep without a shepherd, tired out and lying down," wandering, smitten, dying. He grieved over the multitudes that were being misled, and he longed to do them good, to lead them back; he knew that he could help, that he could restore them. So he announced himself as that One who came "to preach good tidings to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captive;" he offered himself as One to whom all the heavy-laden might repair, and in whom they would find rest unto their souls. He stretched forth an uplifting hand to those who were thought by every one else to have fallen beyond recovery. He breathed hope and life into despairing and dying ears.
4. His doctrine was sustained by his character and his life. Men listened to him, not only because he "spake as never man spake," but because he lived as never man lived before—in such perfect purity, in such constant devotion, in such self forgetting love, with such gracious and tender sympathy in his heart and upon his countenance. They listened to him with such wrapt attention because they loved him for his goodness and for his love.
(1) Such popularity as springs from such sources as these we may desire and seek to obtain.
(2) For these same reasons we should be as attentive to hear the Master as were "the common people who heard him gladly" when he lived amongst us.—C.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
A son of Abraham found in Zacchaeus the publican.
The healing of blind Bartimaeus was not the only saving act done by Jesus at Jericho. A notable publican, called Zacchaeus, becomes the object of our Lord's compassion and the subject of his grace. He was at the head of the custom-house, as we should now call it, and in his important post he had become rich. Having heard of Jesus and seen the advancing crowd, his curiosity prompted him to have a look at him if possible; but, being little of stature, he could not from the ground obtain the view he wished. Accordingly he ran before, climbed up into a sycamore tree, one of whose branches it has been supposed may have extended across the road, and, perched upon this, he awaited the advent of Jesus. How astonished he must have been to find Jesus pausing below his perch, looking up, naming him, and telling him, "Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to-day I must abide at thy house"! Thus invited, he came down with all haste, and received Christ joyfully. Doubtless the Pharisees will murmur at Christ becoming the publican's guest; but what does it matter when Zacchaeus is gathered into the kingdom of God, makes his declaration about future conduct, and receives the Lord's assurance of being Abraham's son? Let us notice the points of interest as they present themselves in this case.
I. ZACCHAEUS NEEDED A SAVIOUR. For success is not sufficient for any man. He needs besides, salvation from sin, that is, from selfishness, and often from success itself. It is well when even curiosity leads a man to the Saviour, and to a sense of his great need. Zacchaeus's case is instructive for us all. His need of a Saviour ought to emphasize our need.
II. HIS HINDRANCES. IN SEEKING THE SAVIOUR. And of these we shall only mention three.
1. His riches. These are often a great hindrance to souls. They compete with Christ as a ground of trust. Men are tempted to trust in uncertain riches instead of in the living God. Zacchaeus had, however, got over this hindrance, and, rich man though he was, he was not ashamed to climb the sycamore to get a sight of Jesus.
2. His business. For the tax-farming had been denounced and excommunicated by the Jewish authorities, so that Zacchaeus, because of his business, did not enjoy the means of grace in the measure and amount he might otherwise have done. Jesus had, however, overcome this hindrance by his own manly and merciful policy, and insisted on associating with publicans and sinners to save them. Every one should ask himself the question, however, if his business is a hindrance or a help to his salvation. Can we ask Christ to meet us in it and save us in it? or can we only expect him to save us from it?
3. His physical state. His stature hindered him for a time from seeing Jesus, as the physical state of others often hinders them. But when one is thoroughly in earnest, he can overcome all hindrances as Zacchaeus did by climbing the sycamore. Hindrances may be changed by energetic action into helps and spiritual gains.
III. SALVATION MEANS HEARTFELT SYMPATHY WITH A PERSONAL SAVIOUR. For salvation comes to us clothed in loving personality, and the advent of Jesus to our souls, as in the case of Zacchaeus, is the advent of salvation. What we are asked in the gospel to do is to trust a Person, and to accept of safety in his blessed society. There is no abstract and confusing process to be passed through, but a concrete and real fellowship to be entered on and enjoyed.
IV. THE SAVED SOUL PROVES HIS SALVATION BY LIBERALITY AND RESTITUTION. As soon as Zacchaeus enters into sympathy with Christ, he makes a public profession. Here is his resolve deliberately made to Christ, "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have wrongfully exacted aught of any man, I restore fourfold" (Revised Version). His riches are now to be made a means of grace, enabling him, in the first place, liberally to make restitution to all wronged ones; and secondly, to dedicate largely to the poor. Contact with Christ has opened his heart and made him open-handed. Murmuring Pharisees might restrict their ostentatious almsgiving to a tenth, but converted Zacchaeus will dedicate a half to the wants of the poor! A rich man may thus make his wealth the basis of princely generosity, and reap a reward in the gratitude of God's poor people.
V. JESUS GIVES ZACCHAEUS A BLESSED ASSURANCE OF SONSHIP. For Zacchaeus, if originally a Jew, had forfeited through his tax-gathering his position in the Jewish Church. No longer would the son of Abraham or Jewish authorities regard him as a heir of the promises. But Jesus interposes and reinstates him in his position of privilege. He declares before the guests that Zacchaeus has been saved by his visit to his house, and that this salvation-visit is because the publican is also a son of Abraham. In this beautiful way the selecting love of God in Christ is set before the people and the assurance of Abrahamic sonship conveyed to the new convert. It is thus the Lord comforts those who trust in him.
VI. CHRIST THUS DEMONSTRATES HIS MISSION TO SEEK AND SAVE THE LOST. Not by the parables of the fifteenth chapter merely does he demonstrate the merciful character of his mission, but also by such a missionary act as the salvation of Zacchaeus. As "the Son of man" he is interested in the welfare of his race, and finds in the lost the sphere of his gracious operation. It is thus he comforts the lost ones, by enabling them to see that they are the proper objects of his compassion.—R.M.E.
The law of capital in Christ's kingdom.
Zacchaeus's conversion and all the stir on leaving Jericho led many in the crowd to imagine that Christ was immediately to assume a visible kingdom. To remove misapprehension, therefore, he proceeds to tell them a parable which would at once rouse them to the necessity of working instead of indulging in lackadaisical waiting. Comparing himself to a nobleman who is going into a far country to receive a kingdom and to return, he compares his disciples to servants left to make the best of what is entrusted to them. The worldly minded as distinct from the servants are called his citizens, whose spirit is manifested in the message transmitted to him, "We will not have this man to reign over us." Then the return of the crowned king is to be celebrated by the distribution of rewards and punishments as the case may be. Out of this significant parable we may learn the following lessons.
I. IT IS IN HEAVEN, AND NOT ON EARTH, OUR LORD IS TO RECEIVE HIS KINGDOM. This is the great mistake many have made about Christ's kingdom and reign. They localize head-quarters on earth instead of in heaven. It is not by a democratic vote, by a plebiscite, our Lord is to receive his kingdom, but by donation from the Father. When he went away by death, resurrection, and ascension, therefore, it was to receive a kingdom that he might return crowned. Hence we are to regard him as now reigning over his mediatorial kingdom. He is on the throne. His government is administered from the heavenly places.
II. IT IS PERILOUS TO REFUSE TO ACKNOWLEDGE HIS PRESENT REIGN. The citizens that hate the absent King will be slain before him when he returns for judgment. Hostility, enmity, to Christ, if continued, must lead to utter discomfiture at last. Rebellion of spirit is, therefore, to be diligently uprooted if we would have any share in Christ's kingdom. It is at our peril if we refuse his loving and righteous reign.
III. CHRIST'S SERVANTS LIVE UNDER A LAW OF CAPITAL IN HIS KINGDOM. In this parable we have "pounds," and not "talents," referred to. The question is, therefore, of some equal endowment which all receive in common, not of unequal endowment distributed in sovereign wisdom. In the parable of the talents, given in another Gospel, we have equal diligence exhibited in the use of unequal endowments; and the reward is righteously equalized in the completed kingdom. Here, on the other hand, we have an unequal use of equal endowments, with the unequal reward attached in proportion to the diligence. We discern in the arrangement, therefore, that law of increase which has been denominated the law of capital. But first we have to settle the signification of the pounds. We shall not be far astray if, with Godet, we regard them as indicating those donations of Divine grace which are offered to the Lord's servants, we may suppose, in equal measure. These endowments are put to use in some cases, utterly neglected in others. It will be found at last that the law of capital has obtained in the Lord's arrangements. One man, by judicious use of what the Lord has given, finds his grace growing tenfold, so that by the time the Lord returns he is ready to undertake the government of ten cities. Another man, by diligence, but not so persevering as the former, finds his graces growing fivefold, so that in the final arrangement he is equal to the oversight of five cities. A third is represented as making no use whatever of his endowment, under the impression that the Lord is a grasping speculator, who wants to make the most he can out of men. He ventures to return his trust just as it was. He finds, however, that his selfish idleness is visited with utter ruin. He has the misused endowment recalled and made over to the better trader. "To him that hath shall be given." Accumulated capital tends to increase in proper hands, and it is right it should do so. It follows, then, from this law of capital as thus applied:
1. That we should use diligently every means to increase our Christian graces. Sanctification should be our life-work, and all action, meditation, prayer, should be utilized for the one great object of becoming the best servants of our Master our circumstances admit of.
2. We shall find ourselves thereby becoming rulers of men. It is wonderful the influence exercised by consecrated lives. It is easy understanding how we may become kings and priests unto God the Father. As consecrated by his grace, we begin immediately to influence others for good and to reign.
3. The influence on earth will have its counterpart in the reign enjoyed by us in heaven. For heaven will be the home of order. It will be no happy, musical mob. It will be a great society, with recognized kings of men, under the gracious authority, of course, of him who is "King of kings, and Lord of lords," Influence, character, all that is gracious, is destined to be continued and to abide. Those who have done men most good, and made the most of their opportunities here, shall be rewarded with corresponding influence in the well-ordered commonwealth above.
4. Wrong views of Christ's character may also be perpetuated, with their corresponding judgments. The pitiful servant who thought his Master austere, hard, grasping, was only attributing his own hard character to his superior. He failed to understand him. So is it with some souls. They insist on misunderstanding God, and the result is that their misunderstanding continues and is its own punishment. How important, therefore, that we should have correct views of God our Saviour! It will save us from misuse of his gifts and graces, and from the doom awaiting all faithless souls.—R.M.E.
The advent of the humble King.
To illustrate still more thoroughly the character of his kingdom as one not of ostentation and worldly glory, but of humility, our Lord directed two of his disciples to procure for him a colt, the untrained foal of an ass, that he might ride into Jerusalem thereon. The marvellous way in which the ass was lent to him indicated preternatural knowledge. Upon this colt, then, he sat, and passed amid the hosannas of the people into the sacred city. But his advent was in tears, and his terminus was not a palace, but the temple. The whole character of the procession and its termination tended to upset all vulgar Messianic hopes and lead thinking minds to reflection. Let us look at the different stages of the royal progress and such lessons as they suggest.
I. THE HUMBLE CHARACTER OF THE PROCESSION. (Luke 19:28-40.) For it was on an ass, not on any royal mule, he rode; to fulfil the prophecy of Zechariah, "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass" (Zechariah 9:9). The very fact of his selecting such a lowly and despised animal indicated his humility. At the same time, his perfect command of the untrained colt revealed his sovereignty in animated nature—that, like an unfallen Adam, he was lord of the lower creatures. It was akin to his being with the wild beasts and unscathed in the wilderness. But secondly, the extemporized character of the procession was humiliating. A great king gets the parade organized, and knows what will for the most part compose his escort. But this King of kings rests his escort upon the extemporized enthusiasm of the crowd, and values at its proper figure the measure of enthusiasm that is evoked. He knew that the same people who then shouted, "Hosanna; Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest!" would a few days after cry out, "Crucify him!" And so he was humiliated rather than honoured by the shallow enthusiasm of the motley crowd. Thirdly, the unseemly interruptions of the Pharisees rendered it humiliating. So irritated were they that they urged him to rebuke the disciples for crying out as they were doing. But the Lord only declared that, if the disciples were silent, the very stones would get tongues to sound his praise. This Pharisaic jar, this unseemly interruption, must have been humiliating to the Lord. To bear it as he did demonstrated the humility and meekness of his spirit. Truly he was "meek and lowly in heart."
II. THE TEARS OF THE ADVANCING KING ARE NOTABLE. (Verses 41-44.) For instead of a city welcoming him, instead of this city of the great King recognizing the day of her visitation, and opening her arms for her Deliverer, there was apathy and scorn for his methods and aims. No wonder, therefore, that he had to speak about the siege of Titus, which he saw plainly must come. Pursuing their poor worldly policy, they must be encompassed ultimately by the Roman eagles. And so he wept those tears of deepest sorrow over the impenitence of Jerusalem. How different from the processions of earthly monarchs or great captains! The very last thing looked for on such occasions would be tears. The sympathy of this Saviour for Jerusalem sinners was deep indeed when it led him to such a weeping-time as the processionists witnessed.
III. HIS SECOND PURIFICATION OF THE TEMPLE WAS THE CULMINATION OF THE PROCESSION. (Verses 45, 46.) The tempter wanted him to begin his Messianic work by a harmless descent from the temple-pinnacle; he began his work by entering into the temple and casting out the traffickers. And now he has to finish his work by repeating the purification. Usually the processions of kings end at palace gates and in palace halls; but the procession of Christ ends at the temple and in its court. He must convert it from a den of thieves to a place of prayer. The meaning of his kingdom could not be better represented. It was really the sphere of religion and of worship that he made his own; in the regulation thereof he was supreme, and exercised his influence.
IV. HE TAUGHT DALLY IN THE TEMPLE UNTIL THE END. (Verb. 47, 48.) He was surrounded by his enemies. They were on the qui vive to secure him and put him away. But now that his hour of self-sacrifice is near, he feels himself immortal till his work is done. It is the interests of others that occupy him. He must teach to the last. And so from Bethany he comes in morning by morning to instruct the interested crowds. What solemn lessons they must have been, those closing ones of Jesus! And they attracted great attention, and their popularity restrained his enemies, although it must have intensified their determination to put him out of the way. Thus we have seen how this humble King entered Jerusalem to work reformation there, and, if possible, save the people by enlightening and teaching them. If his mission failed with most, it succeeded with some, and inaugurated the new kingdom, which is "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost."—R.M.E.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Luke 19". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13