J. N. Darby.
Collected Writings Vol. 25, Expository No. 4d. (b & c are the charts, pp. 28-36)
Luke 15, 16.
We have seen the Lord shewing out His own rejection, in grace, followed by an entirely new order of things. The church, brought in subsequently, is not an age, properly so called, but a heavenly episode between the ages. There are three ages spoken of in Scripture: the age before the law; the age under the law; and the millennial age. Christ was "made under the law," and that age is not finished yet. The disciples said to Him, "What shall be the sign of thy coming and of the end of the age?" That was the age when He was there, but when they rejected Him, the age was suspended. As He straitly charged Peter to tell no man He was the Christ, saying, "the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected," etc. Therefore He says to them, "Ye shall not see me, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord." We, who form a part of the church of God, and not having anything to do with the earth, are in no sense an age, but are a heavenly people united to Christ above, during the suspension of this age, filling up the gap between the Lord's leaving the Jews, and His return to them again. So in Romans 11 we have the olive tree with some of the branches broken off, and others graffed in. This is the tree with its root in the earth, and consequently it could have nothing directly to do with the church in heaven. Some of the branches were broken off, and some left; but this could never be said of the church, the body united to its head, at the right hand of God. The church, of course, does fill up a certain place and time, but it is during the suspension of the age to which Christ came. Characteristically we belong to that which is above and beyond anything connected with this world. It is grace that has set us there, and that is not of earth but of heaven.
In chapter 15 we find the Lord rising above Jewish dispensation altogether, to the full display of God's own nature - love - in the gospel. At the close of chapter 14 He takes up the professing system in its responsibility. "Salt is good, but if the salt have lost its savour," it is good for nothing. Thus He shews what man is. Then in chapter 15 come publicans and sinners, and we have the display of what God is. Here God is dealing with lost man, in grace. Sinners, who owned their sins and came to repentance, were those who justified God. "Wisdom is justified of her children." God is vindicated in His ways, whether in the condemnation or salvation of a sinner. The publicans and sinners justified God, being baptized of John, while the Pharisees rejected His counsel against themselves. All that is wanted to justify God is that He should shew Himself; and this is what the Lord now does. He manifests what God is in grace, and this it is which makes the chapter ever so fresh and full to our souls; the heart that has been awakened never tires of such a chapter.
141 Then, in chapter 16, He shews the responsibility of those who are thus dealt with. The earth was given to the children of men, and God looked for fruit. He first dealt with man as to what he ought to have been on the earth, but there was entire failure. Now there comes out another thing, entire grace, which is irrespective of all that man was, and takes an absolutely heavenly character. Divine love is its source, and its character is heavenly. Revealing heaven, it puts man into connection with it; and the people so put must be a heavenly people. Why so? Because this world is all gone wrong; it has fallen from God, and is become the "far country." Hence, its riches are of no value, but a great hindrance, unless used in a heavenly way; and chapter 16 shews how they should be used. Chapter 15 shews the sinner called out by grace; that which follows shews what he, who is called out, is to be as a heavenly man. This world is a scene of evil, and that which attaches to it is now ruin and not blessedness. (See the rich man and Lazarus.) Adam had a place in this world, and Israel had a place in it; but now that is all gone, and grace has come in, lifting those who are the subjects of it into another state of things altogether. Christ is justifying God. His nature being love, it was His joy to manifest grace to sinners. It is not here the joy of those brought back, but God's own joy in bringing the sinner back to Himself. This gives the tone to heaven. "There is joy" above in the poor wretched sinner brought back.
I have no doubt we have, in these three parables, the unfolding of the ways of the Trinity. In the first is shewn the Son, as the Good Shepherd, going after the sheep. In the second, the woman lighting a candle, and searching diligently till she find the piece of silver, we have the painstaking work of the Holy Ghost, lighting up a testimony in this dark world. The third is the Father's reception of the returning sinner, when brought back. In this, the prodigal son, we find the work in the sinner; but in the two previous ones, it is the sovereignty and the activity of grace, which goes out in love to find that which was lost, and brings the sinner back without his having anything to do in it. This persevering energy of love is in the Shepherd Himself - the Good Shepherd cares for the sheep, and gives it no trouble in getting home; He carries it on His shoulders. Herein is seen the perfect grace in which the Lord Jesus has so charged Himself with bearing our every burden, our every trial and difficulty all along the road. Christ is thus the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. Then mark, in verse 6, the peculiar character of this joy. "He calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost." There could not be a more genuine picture, or a fuller expression of a person being happy than this. Joy always speaks out. In the second parable we have the same general principle. The painstaking of the Holy Ghost is shewn in the acting of the woman who sought the lost piece of silver; the piece of silver could have neither trouble nor joy itself. The difference in the two is, that in the first, the Shepherd bears all the burden; in the second, it is the pains taken in finding the lost piece, proving the woman cared enough for it to take all this trouble to search it out. Thus does God's love act towards us, to bring us out of the dark world to Himself. What a work it is to bring man's heart back to God!
142 "'Twas great to speak a world from nought"
"Twas greater to redeem."
If we look at man, as he is in himself, he could never get back to God. But look at what God is in Himself, and who or what can resist His grace! Still it is the joy of the finder, and not of the thing found: "Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep - my piece - that was lost." And in the case of the returning prodigal, who made the feast? Not the young man, but the father, saying to those in the house, "Let us eat and be merry, for this my son was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found." All caught the joy of the Father's heart, the servants, etc., all except the unhappy self-righteous elder brother (the Pharisee, the Jew), to whom the father replied, "It was meet that we should make merry and be glad, for this thy brother was dead and is alive again," etc. It is the joy God has in receiving a sinner back to Himself. In the parable of the prodigal son, by itself, the full glory of grace is not seen, as these three parables set it forth together. The case of the sheep is the Shepherd charging Himself with the whole burden of the sheep; the silver is the painstaking of the Holy Ghost. Before actual departure there was moral departure. When the young man left his father's house, it was but a display of the evil in his heart. He was just as wicked when he asked for his portion of goods, and crossed his father's threshold, as when he ate husks with the swine in the far country; he was doubtless, more miserable then, but his heart was gone before. One man may run farther into riot than another, but if we have turned our backs upon God, we are utterly bad. In this sense there is no difference.
143 The moral evil was just the same with Eve. She gave up God for forbidden fruit. She virtually thought the devil a much better friend to her than God, and took his word instead of God's. Satan is a lair from the beginning, and at the cross the Lord proved this. It cost the Lord His life to prove that God was good. Christ came to contradict the devil's lie, which man believed, and under which the whole world is lying. Grace and truth came by Christ, and at all cost were set up by Him on the cross. Man can do without God, and from the beginning the whole world has been a public lie against God. Who could unriddle it? Look at creation, how it groans under the bondage of corruption. Look at providence - how can I account for the goodness of God when I see an infant writhing with pain? How can I reconcile the two things? The villain prospers - the good man suffers. When I see Christ on the cross, I see what God is. Death came on man by reason of sin. But Christ takes my sin on His own sinless person, bows His head in death upon the cross, and thus sets aside that lie of Satan, "Ye shall not surely die." Thus was God's truth re-established here below in the work and person of the Lord Jesus, and nowhere else. In Him I see holiness, truth, and love, no matter at what cost.
The natural man is just like this prodigal, he spends his substance in the far country, and ruins himself. A man having £5,000 a year, and spending £20,000, will seem very rich for the time; but look at the results. He is a ruined man. The moment man departed from God, he sold himself to Satan, and is spending his soul, his heart, away from God; he even spends what God has given him against God, and when he is thoroughly spent, and has nothing to live on, he begins to be in want. "There arose a mighty famine in that land," and all the world feels that. Every sinner does not go to the same lengths of eating the swine's husks, but all are in the same condition of ruin. Every man has turned his back upon God, though all have not run to the same excess of riot, nor fallen into the same degradation. The famine never draws back to the Father's house.
144 The prodigal joined himself to a citizen of that country - not his father's country. "He would fain have filled his belly," etc., and "no man gave to him." Satan never gives; that is found where God's love is, who spared not His own Son. When the prodigal thinks of his father's house, the whole work is morally done, though he is not back there yet. He turns, his heart was changed, and thus his whole desire was to get back to his father's house, from whence he had departed. He was not yet in the full liberty of grace, so as to have peace and happiness, and he says to himself, "make me as one of thy hired servants." He is brought to a sense of his guilt; and what was it? feeding with the swine? No, this was the fruit of it; but his guilt was in leaving his father's house, turning away from God. When he came to himself, he desired to return. This was truly a right wish, but the form it took in his mind, from his not yet knowing grace, was a legal one. "I am no more worthy to be called thy son! make me as one of thy hired servants." But the father does not give him time for that. We hear nothing more about hired servants; for when he was "yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion on him, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him." He could not have been a servant with the father's arms round his neck. It would have spoiled the father's feelings, if not the son's.
It was the joy of Him who was receiving back the sinner to Himself; and it is the knowledge of this which gives peace to the soul: nothing else does. If a man does not know love, he does not know God, for God is love. The full revelation of God is what we have in Christ. "Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me?" God acts from the joy and delight He has in Himself, in receiving back the sinner, and therefore He does not think of the rags but of the child He has got back again. What right has man to call God in question, when He indulges His own heart in the outflow of love to the sinner? You will never get peace by the mere act of coming back, but by learning the Father's mind about you. Could the prodigal get peace as he was coming back if the father had not met him? No, all along the road he would be questioning, how will he receive me? - will he be angry with me? will he spurn me from his presence? And if he does, what will become of me? "But when he was get a great way off his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck, and kissed him." If not so, he would have trembled even to knock at the door.
145 When the father's arms were on the son's neck, was he defiled by the rags? No; and he will not have the son bring rags into the house, but orders the best robe to be brought out of it. God sends His own Son out of heaven, and clothes the sinner; and, thus arrayed, the young man could bring credit to his father's house. And, surely, if we are so clothed with Christ, we shall do credit to God; and, in the ages to come, He will shew the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness towards us through Christ Jesus.
"Let us eat and be merry." It is not, Let him eat and be merry. Again, he says, "It was meet that we should make merry and be glad." There was but one exception to the delight in the house. The elder brother (the self-righteous person) was angry, and would not go in. God had shewn what He was in Himself, by His Son, in thus receiving the prodigal: and now He would shew what they were in themselves. We know the Pharisees murmured from the beginning, and the elder brother had no communion with his father: for if the father was happy, why was not he happy too? "He was angry, and would not go in." If such a vile person as the publican gets in, this makes my righteousness go for nothing! It is truly so; for where God's happiness is, there self-righteousness cannot come. If God is good to the sinner, what avails my righteousness? He had no sympathy with his father. He ought to have said, "My father is happy, so I must be." There should have been communion in the joy. "Thy brother is back." That ought to have rung on his heart, but no.
Then see the perfect patience of God's grace: the father goes out and entreats him. And do we not, all through the Acts, see God entreating the Jews to be reconciled, although they had crucified His Son? So Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16, says that the Jews filled up the measure of their sins by forbidding the apostles to speak to the Gentiles, that they might be saved. It is all selfishness in the elder son. "Thou never gavest me a kid that I might make merry with my friends." To which the father replies, "Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine." The oracles of God, the covenants, the promises, God gave to the Jews; but He will not give up the right to shew His grace to sinners, because of the self-righteous selfishness of the Jews, or of any one else.
146 Chapter 16. "There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him, that he had wasted his goods." Man, generally, is God's steward: and in another sense and in another way, Israel was God's steward, put into God's vineyard, and entrusted with law, promises, covenants, worship, etc. But in all, Israel was found to have wasted His goods. Man, looked at as a steward, has been found to be entirely unfaithful. Now, what is to be done? God appears, and in the sovereignty of His grace, turns that which man has abused on the earth, into a means of heavenly fruit. The things of this world being in the hands of man he is not to be using them for the present enjoyment of this world, which is altogether apart from God, but with a view to the future. We are not to seek to possess the things now, but, by the right use of these things, to make a provision for other times. "Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness," etc. It is better to turn all into a friend for another day than to have money now. Man here is gone to destruction. Therefore now man is a steward out of place. "Give an account of thy stewardship, for thou mayest be no longer steward." He is discharged from stewardship - has lost his place, but not the things of which he has the administration. Here is something far better than the alchemy which would turn all into gold. For this is grace, turning even gold itself, that vile thing which enslaves men's hearts, into a means of shewing love and getting riches for heaven.
To Israel, God is saying, You have failed in the stewardship; therefore now I am going to put you out. In chapter 15 the elder brother, the Jew, would not go in; and here, in chapter 16, God is putting the Jew out of the stewardship. With Adam, all is over; but we have a title in grace to use, in a heavenly way, that to which we have no title at all as man. "If, therefore, ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?" "If ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own?" Our own things are the heavenly things; the earthly things are another's; and if you do not use your title in grace in devoting in love these earthly temporal goods, which are not your own, how can God trust you with the spiritual things which are "your own"? Our own things are all the glories of Christ - all that is Christ's is ours, for "we are not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold," etc. We were bought with a price, it is true, not with money, but "with the precious blood of Christ," etc. God has not given us eternal life in order that we might be getting money. "No man can serve two masters," and if you want to be rich, you cannot be seeking to serve God. We may have to do our duty in this world, but it is never our duty to serve mammon and desire riches.
147 Now He goes on to shew that there are these everlasting habitations, when the grand results will appear of what has been done here. The old thing is fleeting away, and the new coming in. The Jew, who refused to come to the feast, is loosening the law, while rejecting grace. See chapter 14:18-19.
Verse 19. "A certain rich man, clothed in purple," etc. The thought here is Jewish, and the great principle is that all God's dealings, as to the distributive justice on the earth, were no longer in force, and that now He only deals in grace. He draws aside the veil to shew the result in another world. The rich man had his good things here - he belonged to the earth, and the basket and the store belonged to him - his treasure was on earth, and his heart there too. But look into the other world and see the result - "torment." The good things have changed now. "The rich man died and was buried; and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torment." "And there was a certain beggar, named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, etc … and the beggar died." Was he buried? Not a word about it, for he belonged not to the earth. "He was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom." He who had the "evil things" down here, "was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom." He who have the "evil things" down here, was carried to the best place in heaven. Then mark, it was not the affliction, sores, etc., of Lazarus made him righteous, any more than the riches of the rich man made him unrighteous. God having done with the earthly things, no earthly circumstances are a mark of God's present favour, or the reverse: though, no doubt, God's dealings with Lazarus were the means of bringing down his pride, breaking the will, etc., and so preparing him for the place He was going to take him to.
148 Verse 31. "If they hear not Moses and the prophets," etc. Here this solemn truth comes out, that even the resurrection of Christ will not convince them; for if they refuse to hear God's word as they have it, they will not hear the testimony of God, even though one rose from the dead; and we know they did not.
This chapter 16 is to let in the light of another world upon God's ways and dealings in this. The whole world is bankrupt before God; so that man is now trading with another's goods. When man rejected Christ he was turned out of his stewardship. This is man's position. We should therefore, dispose of everything now, in reference to the world to come, according to this permission in grace revealed in chapter 16, to use the things of which we have the administration. If we are serving mammon, we shall not get the blessing of serving God, in the sense of God's gifts; for it is retributive justice here, in a sense. If you are not faithful in another man's, who will give you that which is your own? If you have not been faithful to the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? If you are loving money, you cannot have your heart filled with Christ. We are not to be "slothful in business," but "fervent in spirit, serving the Lord"; and for this He opens heaven to us. Not as He said to Abraham, "Unto a land that I will shew thee." He has shewn heaven unto us, having opened it to us in grace. It is the revelation of grace that gives power over earthly things. May the Lord keep before us a living Christ, as our light for guidance and salvation to walk and trust in!
We have seen the great principle of divine grace in contrast with self-righteousness, and the Jewish economy, which refused its Messiah, the Son of God, set aside to make way for bringing to light life and incorruption through the gospel. "Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come; but woe unto him through whom they come" (v. 1). We enter here on the spirit and way of serving, now that the world to come was let in upon the conduct and faith of the disciples in this world, for none could serve two masters. God is carrying on a work - in a little child perhaps - but it is His own work and individual faith is needed in the path of a rejected Christ. Among those who professed to follow Him and His glory on the principles of faith, there would be alas! many scandals. It was not now, nor yet to be, a reign of judicial power when the Son of man would gather out of His kingdom all scandals and them which do iniquity. Satan's power is permitted, the exercise of faith is required. It is a time of proving, by the prevalence of evil, that which lasts because of God. The cross must be taken and self denied. It is a hard lesson, but blessed when learned. The cross and the glory are always connected. The cross must be on the natural man, not on sin merely, so as to break the will. Christ had no will, shewing perfectness; but we need the cross practically, as the means of communion by breaking down that which hinders.
149 Then, again, the whole system of the world is a stumbling-block: there is not one thing in it which is not calculated to turn the heart from God. Take the merest trifle - dress, vanities in the street, flattery of man, of brethren, perhaps, etc. - all tend to elevate the flesh. What a different thing is heaven opening on a rejected Saviour! And this is our light and pathway through the world, for now the heavens are open to faith, as we pass through it to Him whom we see in glory. There is an active energetic flow of God's love in carrying on souls. Is our walk a witness? Take care you are not a stumbling-block. You may say, A person must be very weak to feel such or such a thing, but it is the very reason why he is to be cared for. The Lord give us never to hinder but to help the weak! These things are the stumbling-block of the enemy, and the man by whom they come is so far an instrument of Satan. The Lord loves His little ones. Better for that man that a millstone were hanged about his neck and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of them.
Verse 3. But suppose a person does something to stumble you, what then? "Take heed to yourselves." Your part is to forgive. Take heed to yourselves, jealous and self-judging. "If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him." What! if he trespass often - "seven times in a day?" Yes, if he "seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent, thou shalt forgive him." Watch incessantly yourselves and see to it that the spirit of love (the power of unity and the bond of perfectness, as we know from elsewhere) be not broken, nor the spirit of holiness, that the peace be not false. Blessed path! what condescension to our weakness and danger in the introduction of grace, and the moral judgment of present things, which are the aliment of the flesh and the domain of the world! Watchfulness against self and grace to others bring us through, rising like a life-boat above all breakers.
150 Verses 5-10. In such a position there would be need of faith and the energy proper to it. The apostles (led of God, though perhaps seeing but a petty part of the difficulty and with a confused sense of this new position) pray for an increase of faith. The Lord answers by setting forth the fulness of its energy: for faith realises a power which is not in the person and thus acts without limit. He applies it also, though in general terms, to the removal of the obstacles of a system, which might present the form of what was good and great, but fruitless. In every need we may draw upon God. All consists in looking simply to Him. All things are possible to him that believes. For it is God accomplishing His will, and He has willed to accomplish it by man and to honour Himself in man, after being dishonoured of Satan in and by man; but this in faith according to His will, till the Lord Jesus returns in power and glory. God is at work, and if you are co-workers under Him, you could believe that He is and say, Let this be done and this. Is it nothing to wield God's power? If you know what it is to be opposed by Satan, you will feel how blessed it is to call in the power of God. Your place and work may be very humble - outside - no matter what: still you need God's power to be little. What the Lord says in verses 7-10 is not applicable to a careless servant. If he has neglected his work, he is a slothful one. But I am an unprofitable servant when I have done all that I am commanded. Am I neglected? It is to try me. Something needs it. Perhaps I want to learn that God can do without me. Now that Christ is rejected, God is at work. If He uses me, it is a great honour; if He lays me by because self was elated, it is a great mercy. He is saying, as it were, Be satisfied with Myself, be content to know I love thee. Are you content with His love? Do you want man's honour or your own? Remember that when you have done all, it is the time to say, "unprofitable servant!"
151 Verses 11-19. The history which follows shews that when God brings in new power, those who have had the previous privileges are the last to rise above them into what is better. But there is a faith wrought of God in the heart which sets free from the subsidiary forms thrown around God's will in the past economy. Thus, recognising God in Jesus, it carries the soul beyond the law of a carnal commandment and associates it with Him in whom is the power of an endless life. It occupies us with His person who is above all, planting us not in dishonour of the law ("yea, we establish the law" through faith), but in the liberty wherewith the truth - the Son - makes free. All were cleansed by the word of divine power. The nine went on to shew themselves to the priests, acting on the word of Jesus and thus far in faith. But the Samaritan stranger perceived God's glory in what had taken place, and so turned back to Jesus and aloud glorified God. The others owned the power which had come, but remained in their religious habits and associations. He, less pre-occupied with outward institutions, returned to the source of power, not to its shadow and witness, which nature always uses to hide God. He had experienced divine power in Jesus, and instead of merely enjoying the gift, he most humbly, but in the boldness and propriety of faith, went back to own the Giver. "He fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks." He wanted no priest. The priest did not, could not cleanse, but only discern and pronounce a man clean. Evil had levelled the Jew and the Samaritan. They were alike cast out of the presence of divine communion by the leprosy which afflicted them. But He who healed lepers under the law was He who gave the law, and the word of Jesus at once recognised the law and manifested the Jehovah who gave it. The gratitude of faith was a readier reasoner than the instruction of the law; for the blessing afforded by the work and presence of Jesus was to the nine the means of keeping up Jewish distinction, to the tenth it was the evidence of divine goodness. To him, therefore, it was complete deliverance. He was by faith arrived in grace at the fountain-head from which the law itself proceeded, and was let go in peace, made whole by his faith, having liberty from God and with God, giving thanks and glorifying Him, and withal knowing how acceptable it was in His sight.
152 How many reasons might have been pleaded for going on and not returning to Jesus! How might the nine Jews have said, You are ordered to go and shew yourself to the priest! But faith goes straight to the heart of God, and there finds all grace and a dismissal in the liberty of grace. To him who returned to Jesus, cleansed and with heart-felt thanks, the priests were left behind. In spirit and figure the healed Samaritan was passed into another system by faith - the grace and liberty of the gospel. It is blessed thus to be at the source of power and goodness, and there only does God put now those who believe. If under the law before, we are become dead to it by the body of Christ that we should belong to another-to Him who is raised from the dead. It is this way alone that glorifies God, however men may plead the letter. Thus only can we joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received (not the law, but) the reconciliation. In Him, thus known and enjoyed, we have all and more than all then the priests ever conceived. We have communion with the Father and the Son by faith in God fully revealed. We have to do with Him in heaven now, not with a temple and priests on earth. "Arise, go thy way." You have found the person and glory of the Lord. You are beyond the priests and the temple, your faith has pierced the veil and found One greater than both. The rest went their way, cleansed, to be under the law. Stupefied by Judaism, they did not return to glorify God. All this, at the point of the gospel we are arrived at, is full of importance. It is another light thrown on the passing away of the law and of that dispensation.
In the next verses, from verse 20 to 37, the question was actually raised as to the coming of God's kingdom. The Pharisees asked when it should come, and the Lord places them on their plain responsibility. "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation," or outward show. It should not be said, Lo here! or Lo there! for that kingdom then was there among them. The King was speaking to them. Ought they not to have known Him because He came in grace? If He had humbled Himself to know their sorrows and to die for their sins, was that a reason for not discerning His greatness and moral perfection manifested in ten thousand ways? Did not His holy love to the poor and guilty prove, plainly enough, who He was? If man's heart had not been opposed to all that was the delight of God in the kingdom, if his eye had not been blind to all that was lovely and of good report, he would have felt that the lower Christ stooped, the more wonderful were His works.
153 To His disciples He had other things to say. He was rejected and leaving them. Suffering awaited them. Trying as their position might now be as the companions of His rejection, the days would come when they would long in vain for one of those days when they had enjoyed blessed and sweet intercourse with the Son of man. They would, as Jews in the land, feel the difference. Then Satan, to allure and deceive in that day, would lead men to say, "Lo here," or "Lo there"; but the disciples would know its falsehood. There was no hope for the nation which rejected Christ. The King had been there but refused; He was no longer "here" or "there." This day the Son of man would be as the lightning flashing from one quarter under heaven to another. But first He must suffer many things and be rejected of this generation, that is, the unbelieving Jews.
It is evident that while the Lord takes this name of Son of man to His disciples as revealing a relation higher and wider than that of Messiah (the link of which was broken and gone in the nation's ruinous rejection of Him), the whole of this instruction is Jewish and shall find its accomplishment properly in a godly remnant of the latter day. The Christian part is not spoken of here, for that is association after a heavenly sort with Christ, and we have its great moral outlines, at least in Luke 12. Here we are on the ground of responsibility, not of heavenly grace. We must separate the church's place with Christ from the government of the world by Christ. The very character of the predicted delusion confirms this distinction. For if men said to the Christian, "Here is Christ," he would instantly know that it was of Satan, because we are to meet Him, not here or there on earth, but in the air; 1 Thess. 4. But this is not the case when you come to the government of the world. There the hope rests on Jewish ground, and then the witnesses for God must go through tribulation such as has never been. Now, unless expressly forewarned, they would naturally look here or there for the Deliverer: for in that character His feet shall stand upon the Mount of Olives, and He shall come to Zion and shall come out of it. "Jehovah shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion; rule thou in the midst of thine enemies." All this differs from the Christian's hope and his desire meanwhile; for we do not want our enemies destroyed, but converted, and we are looking to be taken from them all to heaven with the Saviour, instead of waiting for Him to join and exalt us under His reign upon the earth.
154 But, again, the subject here is neither the past siege of Jerusalem nor the future judgment of the dead. Titus's capture of the city was not like the lightning, but a long, fierce, hardly-contested struggle. Nor were the Jews, up to the moment of the final stroke, in a state of ease and carnal security, resting on the continuance of things as they were, as in the days of Noah and Lot. Suddenness of judgment is its first feature, certainty is the next, discriminating certainty, neither of which things could be fairly said of the Romans. Without or within, at rest or at work, men or women, it mattered not, God would burn up the chaff and preserve the wheat: the one should be taken, and the other be left. Next, there is a local and earthly stamp, which excludes the scene from that of the great white-throne judgment. For there is no resemblance between the judgment of the dead and the deluge or the fate of Sodom. It is the end of the age, not of the world, and is a judgment on a temporal people, and more especially on their city; for they were not to return into the house, if on the housetop; and if in the field, they were not to turn back. None of these things could be said of the dead, any more than the bed or the mill. It would be no time for human motives, artifices, or concessions (v. 33). Faithfulness to the Lord and His testimony would be the true and saving wisdom. The day of the Son of man's revelation was in question - His judgment of the quick, and especially of a generation which has rejected and caused Him to suffer. If they asked, "where?" the solemn word for conscience was, where the body, the corpse, was, the swift inevitable judgments of God would fall.
We saw, from verse 20 to the end of the last chapter, that the kingdom of God was presented, first, in the person of Jesus, as a question of faith, not of outward show, nor of a Lo, here! or lo, there! and, secondly, in the way of judgment, which should deliver the remnant by the execution of divine vengeance on their enemies.
155 Verses 1-8. The first eight verses of our chapter complete the prophetic warning, and shew that the resource of the righteous in the last days will be prayer. Nevertheless, though the parable has the special application to the future oppression of God's witnesses who will then be found in Jerusalem, the instruction, as usual with this gospel, is made general so as to suit any or all kinds of difficulty by which men might be tried. "And he speaks a parable unto them, to this end, that men ought always to pray and not to faint." Faith would be put to the test. If God were looked to, and not merely the blessing, men would not faint, though there was no answer. They would go on, always looking up, though all seemed against them. The widow represents those who have no human resource: their resource would be constancy in prayer. Such will be the godly seed in Israel, for it is the remnant, not the church which is here meant. They will plead with the judge to avenge them of their adversary. Their patience and confidence may be sorely tried, but they will not cry in vain. "And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him." He may be slow in taking up their cause; but when once He shall rise up, a short work will He make on the earth. Meanwhile, patience must have its perfect work. In Jesus it had its full perfection. There was the rejection and the reproach of men, the forsaking of disciples, the power of Satan, the cup of God's wrath; but He went through all to the glory of God. In detail, we too have to be sifted, and to find all circumstances against us but God for us, yet more than if we had outward help, miraculous power, the church all right, etc. Even joy may hinder our entire dependence on God, making us forget, practically, that the flesh profits nothing. When no circumstances lead you to have any hope, is your hope then in Him? The flesh may get on for a long while, as in Saul; but faith only can wait with all against it. It is then the divine life depending on divine power. Thus it was in Christ pre-eminently. "I believed, therefore have I spoken." He went down into the dust of death, and has introduced a wholly new order of things. And we, having the same spirit of faith - we also believe, and therefore speak. "Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh; yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation." Christ is dead, risen, and now set down at the right hand of God. Having this life, we are put to the test practically to learn the lesson of death and resurrection, where nothing but God can sustain.
156 In the parable there are two considerations. If the unjust judge hear and act for the defenceless, be the motive what it may, will not God? But this is far from all. God has His affections, not only His character, but objects of His delight. "And shall not God avenge his own elect?" etc. It never can become the righteous God, who taketh vengeance to make light of evil or let the wicked go unpunished. For then how shall He judge the world? He notices the cry from the oppressed day and night, and it is the cry of His own elect. "I tell you that he will avenge them speedily." But will there be the faith that expects His interference? They will cry from distress and God will hear. Nevertheless, the question is raised, Will there be, when the Son of man cometh, that faith on the earth, which is founded on God known in peaceful communion? Will it not rather be the cry of the righteous, in bitterness of spirit, a cry forced out of them, and not the cry of desire?
Verse 9. We have next, the moral features of, and suited to, the kingdom, the characters which are in harmony or discord with the state of things introduced by grace. The Pharisee and publican set forth, not the doctrine of atonement or of justification by faith, but the certainty that self-righteousness is displeasing to God, and that lowliness because of our sin is most acceptable in His sight. The Pharisee does not set God aside. He "stood and prayed thus with himself: God, I thank thee." But then he thanks God for what he is, not for what God is. The only hope of the publican was in God Himself. He was very ignorant, no doubt, but he had the right spirit to get at God. Light had broken in and shewn he was a sinner, and he submitted to the painful conviction, and confessed the truth of his state to God. He was cast on God's mercy to his soul. He dared not appeal to justice, he did not ask indifference, but that mercy which measures the sin and forgives it. The revelation of grace had not yet come in, the work of reconciliation was not yet done, so that the publican stood "afar off," but his heart was touched, and God was what he wanted. If a soul is brought to a sense of sin now, it need not, and ought not, to stand afar off. The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared. Nevertheless, though he did and could not thus know grace, the publican gives God and himself their true character. It was not full knowledge, but the knowledge, as far as it went was true. "I tell you this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." Universal truth! but where so shewn as in Jesus? For if the first man, exalting himself, was abased to hell, He who was God, made Himself of no reputation, humbled Himself to the death of the cross. "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him," etc.
157 In one sense men cannot humble themselves, because they are sinners already, and cannot go lower; a saint may. True humility is forgetfulness of self.
This is illustrated yet more by the incident that follows (v. 15-17), where they brought infants to Jesus, that He would touch them. It is the lowliness of real insignificance, as the former was because of sinfulness. Who would be troubled with beings of such little consequence? Not the disciples, but Jesus. The Lord delighted in them, and that is the spirit of the kingdom of God. And here too a general moral maxim comes out. If a man is to enter that kingdom, all confidence in self must be broken down, and the truth be received simply, as a little child hears its mother. If it is not so, God and man have not their place. When He speaks, all I have to do is to listen. This is the humility of nothingness, as the other was on account of sin.
Next, in verses 18 to 27 comes the question of doing in order to eternal life, not salvation for a lost one, but that which searches the heart to the bottom. The young man was a lovely character, looked at as a creature. For if there are the ravages of sin in the world, there are traces of God there too. This ruler did not see God in Christ. Morally attracted, he came to learn to do good, without a doubt of his own competence. In Jesus he only saw a perfectly good man, and one therefore eminently able to advise and direct him in the same path. Sin, on the one hand, and grace, on the other, were altogether ignored by him. He knew neither himself nor God. There is no man good. All are gone astray. Man is a sinner, and needs God to be good to him: he is incompetent to do the good which satisfies God.
158 The Lord took up the young ruler on his own assumption that he could do good, for the purpose of bringing out what he was. The good Master that he had appealed to puts to the test what his heart really is. "Yet lackest thou one thing; sell all that thou hast … and come, follow me." Would he give up self-importance? After all, he loved his riches too well. "He was very sorrowful; for he was very rich." Had not such things been promised as a blessing to the Jews? Christ shews them to be a snare. But then they do much good! Nay, are they good for your heart? It is not that they may not be used in grace; but the man did not know his own heart. Good is not there, nor the strength to produce it. Every motive which governs man is rooted up by the cross. But all within is bad, and I can never work a thing fit for God out of bad material. I need God therefore, who can give me a new and holy nature, who can be merciful to me because He is above all sin. The spring of all good is, that it flows from God and not man. It is an impossibility, as far as man is concerned, that any should be saved. Sin has ruined man and all his hopes. If one looks at the means he can avail himself of, they are wholly useless to save him. But "the things which are impossible with men," said the Saviour, "are possible with God." Such is the sole foundation for the sinner.
On the other hand (v. 28-30), if Peter is quick to speak of the devotedness of the disciples, in leaving all and following Jesus, the Lord shews the certainty that every loss, for the kingdom's sake, will turn into manifold gain, both now and in the world to come.
But He binds it all up (v. 31-33) with what was coming on His own person. They were going up to Jerusalem; but for what? He, the Messiah, "shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on; and they shall scourge him, and put him to death." All hopes must end here: "Yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more." Even He, if He is to deliver the lost, must come down to the dust of death. Christ has no association with sinful man. How then can He deliver? He must die for us; He cannot take corruption into union with Himself. A living Christ, we may reverently say, could not deliver us, consistently with God's nature and character; redemption was a necessity. "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit."
159 But it was the only means of a holy salvation; man's full wickedness came out in the rejection and death of Christ. He hated what is in God and Him who is God - hated both the Son and the Father. All question of human justice is settled and negatived for ever. Alas! the disciples understood none of these things, neither His shame and death, nor His resurrection. It was the accomplishment of what the prophets had written concerning the Son of man. But they knew not what He said nor what they wrote. The death of Christ would manifest what man was, and what God was; His resurrection would evince the power of life that can deliver the dead. But He was not understood.
Verse 34 closed that part of our Gospel which shews the bringing in of the new and heavenly dispensation. With verse 35 we enter on the historical account of the Lord's final intercourse with the Jews. "Son of man" was the general character of the Gospel, but now, in the midst of Israel, He takes up that of Son of David. Jericho was the first place Israel had to say to when they crossed the Jordan, and a special curse was pronounced against it. But Israel had not walked in obedience, and the Messiah enters not as the king in outward glory, but as the rejected Jesus of Nazareth, with blessing for the remnant that received Him in faith.
"And it came to pass that as he was nigh unto Jericho," etc. It is not "came nigh," as if it were necessarily His first approach, but a general expression, just as applicable to His being nigh on His leaving the city. (Compare Matthew and Mark.) "A certain blind man sat by the way side, begging … and he cried, saying Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me." He was rebuked by many, but there was the perseverance of faith, and he cried so much the more, "Thou Son of David, have mercy on me." Here was a sample of the power of the Name that Israel rejected. The eye of the blind was opened then, as it will be in the remnant by-and-by.
160 Luke 19.
Next, we have the account of Zacchaeus (chap. 19:1-10), for the Spirit of God did not tie Luke to the mere order of time; and morally viewed, it was the fitting sequel to the healing of the blind man. Found only in this Gospel, it is a striking illustration of the grace which receives a man, no matter how low, and in the face of Jewish prejudices. For a publican, a rich chief of the publicans, was justly an object of abhorrence to those who regarded him as the expression of Gentile dominion. All was wrong through sin, and Israel was not humbled. Still it was a sad position for an Israelite, however honest and conscientious Zacchaeus might be in it. But it was the day of grace, and "he sought to see Jesus." There were difficulties, hindrances in him and around; but faith perseveres in spite of opposition. As the blind man was bent on his object, so was the rich publican set on seeing Jesus. This marks the working of God's Spirit - the apprehension of the worth of the object. We want it and more of it; we know enough to want more. It is an appetite produced by the Holy Spirit. It is a terrible thing, if we, as Christians, have not this craving, this hungering and thirsting after a greater enjoyment of God; for where this is not, deadness and apathy of soul have come in.
Jesus came to the place, and saw him and said unto him, "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for today I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully." He had not yet the full knowledge of Jesus, but his desire had been met, and he had joy. It was neither law nor glory, but a hidden Messiah come in full grace. There was abundant evidence who He was, but in grace He was come down where they were. No matter what people thought. Finding Jesus is everything. Zacchaeus had the answer to the want which divine grace had created. Grace does not give at first the knowledge of Christ's work; there may be little or no understanding that we are made the righteousness of God in Him. Hence the first joy often wanes; because, when conscience is accused, I want the consciousness of that righteousness. The first joy is constantly that of discovering that we possess the felt need of the soul for Christ; but the full question as to righteousness may still have to be met in the conscience, though of course every believer in possessing Christ does possess divine righteousness. Nevertheless, much as there is to learn, there is joy. New interests are awakened, new desires arise, a new insight is obtained into good and evil. When there is a deep sense of what it is to be lost and saved, the world (man) is a light matter. But when the pressure on the conscience is removed, too often nature resumes a sort of place, and Christ is not all and everything to the saint.
161 Zacchaeus' heart is opened. There is confidence, which tells itself out. There might be ever so much honest effort to satisfy conscience in his false position; but after all what a place it was! Men murmured. The Lord passed all over. Self-defence was needless. The Lord did not accuse, and speaks of nothing but the salvation which was that day come to the house. Zacchaeus was a son of Abraham, and the Son of man was come to seek and to save that which was lost. What, could a Pharisee object? There had been a work with the conscience of Zacchaeus, but the Son of man was come and salvation was the word. He brings it. He gave what Zacchaeus had little thought of. He was come to meet the need He had created. He was come to seek, that is, to produce the desire; and to save, that is, to meet the desire.
The Lord was now nigh to Jerusalem, and so He added a parable to correct the thought that the kingdom of God was immediately to appear; for Jerusalem is the city of the great King, and the question of His rejection would be closed there. He shews, on the contrary, that He was going away - going to a far country, to heaven, where He was to receive the kingdom and to return. The time was not come to set up the kingdom on earth. Meanwhile, the business of His servants was to trade with the money He delivered them. When returned, having received the kingdom, He assigns them places according to their faithfulness; for in Luke it is a question of man's responsibility; in the corresponding parable of Matthew God's sovereignty is the point. Difference of gifts appears in Matthew, difference of rewards in Luke. In Luke each servant receives a mina from the Lord; in Matthew all who gained in trading enter alike the joy of their Lord. Here the whole force is, occupy. "Occupy till I come." Our position is serving a rejected Saviour till He comes again. We are not yet to share in the glory of the kingdom. When He returns, all will be disposed of impartially, and there will be that which answers to authority over ten cities and over five. The righteousness of God is the same for us as for Paul; but as there is very different service, and different measures of fidelity, so there will be speciality of reward. No doubt it is grace that works, still here there is reward of faithful service The secret of all service is the due appreciation of the Master's grace. If one fears Him as "an austere man," there is unfaithfulness too, even on one's own principles.
162 Verse 26 is a universal principle. When through grace there is the realisation in our souls of the truth presented to us, we are of those "who have." But if a truth comes before a man, and he talks about it without its being mixed with faith in the heart, even that he hath shall be taken away from him. Truth, if it reveals Christ, humbles me and deals with the evil within. Then it is not only Christ as an object outside me, but a living Christ in my soul. Knowledge, which has not power over the conscience, only puffs up. If truth be not acted on, it troubles the conscience. But how often one sees a conscience, having lost the light, quite easy at a lower standard than before, rejoicing that it has lost its trouble, though the light of truth be lost with it! The soul has sunk below that which had exercised the conscience, and thus the whole standard, principle, and life are lowered, and opportunities of winning Christ lost for ever.
Holding fast the truth - Christ - I have Him as it were a part of myself, and learn to hate the evil and to delight in the good; so that I get more, till I grow up into Christ, into the measure of the stature of His fulness. Common duties do not rob us of Him: from these the heart returns with fresh delight into its own centre. It is the heart clinging to vanity that spoils our joy; it is anything which exalts self and lowers Christ - an idle thought even, if allowed in the heart. As to the citizens, the Jews on whom He had rights as king, their will was against Him, not only hating Him there while among them, but above all, sending the message after Him, We will not have this man to reign over us. Unsparing vengeance must take its course on them in His presence.
Verse 28. Jesus enters Jerusalem as Messiah. His rights as Lord of all were to be asserted and acted on, verses 29-36. He presents Himself for the last time to Israel, in the lowliness of grace, which was of far greater importance than the kingdom. This gives rise to the most marked contrast between the disciples and the Pharisees. The whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with loud voice, saying "Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven and glory in the highest." Some of the Pharisees appeal to Him to rebuke the disciples, but learn from His lips that if these were silent, the very stones would cry out. There must be a testimony to His glory; verses 37-40.
163 When Jesus was born, angels announced it to the poor of the flock, and the heavenly host praised God, saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace - good pleasure in men. Such will be the result, and the angels anticipate it, without reference to the hindrances, or to the means. But Christ was rejected here below; and now the disciples say, "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest." When the question of power is raised, in order to establish the kingdom, there will be war then (Rev. 12). In fact there can be no peace in heaven till Satan and his host are cast out. Then will the King be established in power, when the obstacles shall be taken out of the way. Psalm 118 celebrates this, His mercy enduring for ever, spite of all the people's sins. It is the song of the latter day. If God sends peace to the earth in the person of His Son, it is in vain, not as to the accomplishment, but as to present effect. Meanwhile, to faith there is peace in heaven, and when this is asserted in power against the evil spirits in the heavenly places, there will be blessing indeed. Oh, what a time will it be! What a relief to the working of God's grace! For now it is ever toil and watching. What, always? Yes, always; and that is not the rest. But then it will be, as sure as God takes His great power and reigns. "The Lord shall hear the heavens," etc. (Hosea 2). There will be an unbroken chain of blessing, and that too on earth. It will not be one "building, and another inhabiting," but blessing flowing down and around to the lowest and the least. Till then, as now, the word is suffering in grace, not victorious power. Never fear persecution: it will make your face shine as an angel's. But God could not be silent if His own Son were cast out. He might leave Him to suffer, but not without a testimony. If there were no others, the stones would speak. And so if we are faithful and near to Christ, this will turn for a testimony.
164 Next (v. 41-44) we have, not the cursing of the fig-tree, but the spirit of grace in the Lord's weeping over the city. The counsels of God will surely be accomplished, but we ought also to know His real tenderness in Jesus. Those tears were not in vain, whatever the appearances. It was the time of Jerusalem's visitation, but she knew it not. We ought, as having the mind of Christ, to know when and how to interfere spiritually. We are the epistle of Christ, whereby the world should be able to read what God is. Christ manifested Him perfectly. But what did He find in the people? See verses 45, 46. God declares His house to be one of prayer: men - the Jews - had made it a den of thieves. It was a terrible moral estimate, but this is the true way to judge; that is, having God's word, to take facts as they are. We are ignorant and morally incapable of judging without the word of God. Let the eye be fixed on Christ and our judgment be formed on things around by the word.