By J.C. Ryle
THE PARABLE OF THE PERSISTENT WIDOW
The object of the parable before us, is explained by Christ Himself. To use the words of an old divine, "The key hangs at the door." "He spoke a parable to this end; that men ought always to pray, and not to give up." These words, be it remembered, are closely connected with the solemn doctrine of the second advent, with which the preceding chapter concludes. It is prayer without fainting, during the long weary intervals between the first and second advents, which Jesus is urging His disciples to keep up. In that interval we ourselves are standing. The subject therefore is one which ought to possess a special interest in our eyes.
These verses teach us firstly, the great importance of perseverance in prayer. Our Lord conveys this lesson by telling the story of a friendless widow, who obtained justice from a wicked magistrate, by dint of sheer importunity. "Though I fear not God, nor regard man," said the unjust judge, "yet because this widow troubles me, I will see that she gets justice, lest by her continual coming she weary me." Our Lord Himself supplies the application of the parable--"And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?" If importunity obtains so much from a wicked man, how much more will it obtain for the children of God from the Righteous Judge, their Father in heaven!
The subject of PRAYER ought always to be interesting to Christians. Prayer is the very life-breath of true Christianity. Here it is that religion begins. Here it flourishes. Here it decays. Prayer is one of the first evidences of conversion. (Acts 9:11.) Neglect of prayer is the sure road to a fall. (Matt. 26:40, 41.) Whatever throws light on the subject of prayer is for our soul's health.
Let it then be engraved deeply in our minds, that it is far more easy to begin a habit of prayer than it is to keep it up. The fear of death--some temporary piercings of conscience--some excited feelings, may make a man begin praying, after a fashion. But to go on praying requires faith. We are apt to become weary, and to give way to the suggestion of Satan, that "it is of no use." And then comes the time when the parable before us ought to be carefully remembered. We must recollect that our Lord expressly told us "always to pray and not to faint."
Do we ever feel a secret inclination to hurry our prayers, or shorten our prayers, or become careless about our prayers, or omit our prayers altogether? Let us be sure, when we do, that it is a direct temptation from the devil. He is trying to sap and undermine the very citadel of our souls, and to cast us down to hell. Let as resist the temptation, and cast it behind our backs. Let us resolve to pray on steadily, patiently, perseveringly, and let us never doubt that it does us good. However long the answer may be in coming, still let us pray on. Whatever sacrifice and self-denial it may cost us, still let us pray on, "pray always"--"pray without ceasing"--and "continue in prayer." (1 Thess. 5:17. Coloss. 4:2.) Let us arm our minds with this parable, and while we live, whatever we make time for, let us make time for prayer.
These verses teach us, secondly, that God has an elect people upon earth, who are under His special care. The Lord Jesus declares that God will "avenge His own elect, who cry day and night unto Him." "I tell you," He says, "that He will avenge them speedily."
Election is one of the deepest truths of Scripture. It is clearly and beautifully stated in the seventeenth Article of the Church of England. It is "the everlasting purpose of God, whereby, before the foundations of the world were laid, He has decreed by His counsel, secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation, those whom He has chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation." This testimony is true. This is "sound speech which cannot be condemned." (Titus 2:8.)
Election is a truth which should call forth praise and thanksgiving from all true Christians. Except God had chosen and called them, they would never have chosen and called on Him. Except He had chosen them of His own good pleasure, without respect to any goodness of theirs, there would never have been anything in them to make them worthy of His choice. The worldly and the carnal-minded may rail at the doctrine of election. The false professor may abuse it, and turn the "grace of God into lasciviousness." (Jude 4.) But the believer who knows his own heart will ever bless God for election. He will confess that without election there would be no salvation.
But what are the marks of election? By what tokens shall a man know whether he is one of God's elect? These marks are clearly laid down in Scripture. Election is inseparably connected with faith in Christ, and conformity to His image. (Rom. 8:29, 30.) It was when Paul saw the working "faith," and patient "hope," and laboring "love" of the Thessalonians, that he knew their "election of God." (1 Thess. 1:3, 4.) Above all, we have a plain mark, described by our Lord, in the passage before us. God's elect are a people who "cry unto Him night and day." They are essentially a praying people. No doubt there are many people whose prayers are formal and hypocritical. But one thing is very clear--a prayerless man must never be called one of God's elect. Let that never be forgotten.
These verses teach us, lastly, that true faith will be found very scarce at the end of the world. The Lord Jesus shows this, by asking a very solemn question, "When the Son of Man comes, shall He find faith on the earth?"
The question before us is a very humbling one. It shows the uselessness of expecting that all the world will be converted before Christ comes again. It shows the foolishness of supposing that all people are "good," and that though differing in outward matters, they are all right at heart, and all going to heaven. Such notions find no countenance in the text before us.
Where is the use, after all, of ignoring facts under our own eyes, facts in the world--facts in the churches--facts in the congregations we belong to--facts by our own doors and firesides? Where is faith to be seen? How many around us really believe what the Bible contains? How many live as if they believed that Christ died for them, and that there is a judgment, a heaven, and a hell? These are most painful and serious inquiries. But they demand and deserve an answer.
Have we faith ourselves? If we have, let us bless God for it. It is a great thing to believe all the Bible. It is matter for daily thankfulness if we feel our sins, and really trust in Jesus. We may be weak, frail, erring, short-coming sinners. But do we believe? That is the grand question. If we believe, we shall be saved. But he that believes not, shall not see life, and shall die in his sins. (John 3:36; 8:24.)
PARABLE OF THE PHARISEE AND THE TAX COLLECTOR
The parable we have now read is closely connected with the one which immediately precedes it. The parable of the persevering widow teaches the value of importunity in prayer. The parable of the Pharisee and tax-collector teaches the spirit which should pervade our prayers. The first parable encourages us to pray and faint not. The second parable reminds us how and in what manner we ought to pray. Both should be often pondered by every true Christian.
Let us notice, firstly, the sin against which our Lord Jesus Christ warns us in these verses. There is no difficulty in finding out this. Luke tells us expressly, that "He spoke this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others." The sin which our Lord denounces is "self-righteousness."
We are all naturally self-righteous. It is the family-disease of all the children of Adam. From the highest to the lowest we think more highly of ourselves than we ought to do. We secretly flatter ourselves that we are not so bad as some, and that we have something to recommend us to the favor of God. "Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness." (Prov. 20:6.) We forget the plain testimony of Scripture, "In many things we offend all." "There is not a just man upon earth, that does good and sins not"--"What is man that he should be clean, or he that is born of a woman that he should be righteous?" (James 3:2. Eccles. 7:20. Job 15:14.)
The true cure for self-righteousness is self-knowledge. Once let the eyes of our understanding be opened by the Spirit, and we shall talk no more of our own goodness. Once let us see what there is in our own hearts, and what the holy law of God requires, and self-conceit will die. We shall lay our hand on our mouths, and cry with the leper, "Unclean, unclean." (Levit. 13:45.)
Let us notice, secondly, in these verses, the prayer of the Pharisee, which our Lord condemns. We read that he said, "God, I thank you that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax-collector. I fast twice in the week. I give tithes of all I possess."
One great defect stands out on the face of this prayer--a defect so glaring that even a child might mark it. It exhibits no sense of sin and need. It contains no confession and no petition--no acknowledgment of guilt and emptiness--no supplication for mercy and grace. It is a mere boasting recital of fancied merits, accompanied by an uncharitable reflection on a brother sinner. It is a proud, high-minded profession, destitute alike of penitence, humility, and charity. In short, it hardly deserves to be called a prayer at all.
No state of soul can be conceived so dangerous as that of the Pharisee. Never are men's bodies in such desperate plight, as when disease and insensibility set in. Never are men's hearts in such a hopeless condition, as when they are not sensible of their own sins. He that would not make shipwreck on this rock, must beware of measuring himself by his neighbors. What does it signify that we are more moral than "other men?" We are all vile and imperfect in the sight of God. "If we contend with Him, we cannot answer him one in a thousand." (Job 9:3.) Let us remember this. In all our self-examination let us not try ourselves by comparison with the standard of men. Let us look at nothing but the requirements of God. He that acts on this principle will never be a Pharisee.
Let us notice, thirdly, in these verses, the prayer of the tax-collector, which our Lord commends. That prayer was in every respect the very opposite of that of the Pharisee. We read that he "stood afar off, and smote upon his breast, and said, God be merciful to me a sinner." Our Lord Himself stamps this short prayer with the seal of His approbation. He says, "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other." The excellence of the Tax-collector's prayer consists in five points, each of which deserves attention.
1. For one thing, it was a real petition. A prayer which only contains thanksgiving and profession, and asks nothing, is essentially defective. It may be suitable for an angel, but it is not suitable for a sinner.
2. For another thing, it was a direct personal prayer. The tax-collector did not speak of his neighbors, but himself. Vagueness and generality are the great defects of most men's religion. To get out of "we," and "our," and "us," into "I," and "my," and "me," is a great step toward heaven.
3. For another thing, it was a humble prayer--a prayer which put self in the right place. The tax-collector confessed plainly that he was a sinner. This is the very "A B C" of saving Christianity. We never begin to be good until we can feel and say that we are bad.
4. For another thing, it was a prayer in which mercy was the chief thing desired, and faith in God's covenant mercy, however weak, displayed. Mercy is the first thing we must ask for in the day we begin to pray. Mercy and grace must be the subject of our daily petitions at the throne of grace until the day we die.
5. Finally, the Tax-collector's prayer was one which came from his heart. He was deeply moved in uttering it. He smote upon his breast, like one who felt more than be could express. Such prayers are the prayers which are God's delight. A broken and a contrite heart He will not despise. (Psalm 51:17.)
Let these things sink down into our hearts. He that has learned to feel his sins has great reason to be thankful. We are never in the way of salvation until we know that we are lost, ruined, guilty, and helpless. Happy indeed is he who is not ashamed to sit by the side of the tax-collector! When our experience tallies with his, we may hope that we have found a place in the school of God.
Let us notice, lastly, in these verses, the high praise which our Lord bestows on humility. He says, "Every one that exalts himself shall be abased, and he that humbles himself shall be exalted."
The principle here laid down is so frequently found in the Bible, that it ought to be deeply engraved in our memories. Three times we find our Lord using the words before us in the Gospels, and on three distinct occasions. Humility, He would evidently impress upon us, is among the first and foremost graces of the Christian character. It was a leading grace in Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Job, Isaiah, and Daniel. It ought to be a leading grace in all who profess to serve Christ. All the Lord's people have not gifts or money. All are not called to preach, or write, or fill a prominent place in the church. But all are called to be humble. One grace at least should adorn the poorest and most unlearned believer. That grace is humility.
Let us leave the whole passage with a deep sense of the great encouragement it affords to all who feel their sins, and cry to God for mercy in Christ's name. Their sins may have been many and great. Their prayers may seem weak, faltering, unconnected, and poor. But let them remember the tax-collector, and take courage. That same Jesus who commended his prayer is sitting at the right hand of God to receive sinners. Then let them hope and pray on.
JESUS AND LITTLE CHILDREN
Let us observe, for one thing, in this passage, how ignorantly people are apt to treat children, in the matter of their souls. We read that there were some who "brought their little children to Jesus so he could touch them and bless them, but the disciples told them not to bother him." They thought most probably that it was mere waste of their Master's time, and that little children could derive no benefit from being brought to Christ. They drew from our Lord a solemn rebuke. We read that "Jesus called them unto Him, and said, Allow the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not."
The ignorance of the disciples does not stand alone. On few subjects, perhaps, shall we find such strange opinions in the churches, as on the subject of the souls of children. Some think that children ought to be baptized, as a matter of course, and that if they die unbaptized they cannot be saved. Others think that children ought not to be baptized, but can give no satisfactory reason why they think so. Some think that all children are regenerate by virtue of their baptism. Others seem to think that children are incapable of receiving any grace, and that they ought not to be enrolled in the Church until they are grown up. Some think that children are naturally innocent, and would do no wickedness unless they learned it from others. Others think that it is no use to expect them to be converted when young, and that they must be treated as unbelievers until they come to years of discretion. All these opinions appear to be errors, in one direction or another. All are to be deprecated, for all lead to many painful mistakes.
We shall do well to get hold of some settled scriptural principles about the spiritual condition of children. To do so may save us much perplexity, and preserve us from grave false doctrine.
The souls of young children are evidently precious in God's sight. Both here and elsewhere there is plain proof that Christ cares for them no less than for grown-up people. The souls of young children are capable of receiving grace. They are born in sin, and without grace cannot be saved. There is nothing, either in the Bible or experience, to make us think that they cannot receive the Holy Spirit, and be justified, even from their earliest infancy. The baptism of young children seems agreeable to the general tenor of Scripture, and the mind of Christ in the passage before us. If Jewish children were not too young to be circumcised in the Old Testament dispensation, it is exceedingly hard to understand why Christian children should be too young to be baptized under the Gospel. Thousands of children, no doubt, receive no benefit from baptism. But the duty of baptizing them remains the same. The minds of young children are not unequal to receiving religious impressions. The readiness with which their minds receive the doctrines of the Gospel, and their consciences respond to them, is matter of fact well known to all who have anything to do with teaching. Last, but not least, the souls of children are capable of salvation, however young they may die. To suppose that Christ will admit them into His glorified Church, and yet maintain that He would not have them in His professing Church on earth, is an inconsistency which can never be explained.
These points deserve calm consideration. The subject is unquestionably difficult, and one on which good men disagree. But in every perplexity about it we shall find it good to return again and again to the passage before us. It throws a strong light on the position of children before God. It shows us in general terms the mind of Christ.
Let us observe, for another thing, in this passage, the strong declaration which our Lord Jesus Christ makes about little children. He says, "Of such is the kingdom of God."
The meaning of these words no doubt is a matter of dispute. That they were not meant to teach that children are born sinless and innocent, is abundantly clear from other parts of Scripture. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh." (John 3:6.) A threefold lesson is probably contained in our Lord's words. To that threefold lesson we shall do well to take heed.
"Like such as little children," all saints of God should strive to live. Their simple faith and dependence on others--their unworldliness and indifference to earthy treasures--their comparative humility, harmlessness, and freedom from deceit--are points in which they furnish believers with an excellent example. Happy is he who can draw near to Christ and the Bible in the spirit of a little child!
"Out of such as little children," the Church of God on earth ought to be constantly recruited. We should not be afraid to bring them to baptism even in their earliest infancy, and to dedicate them to Christ from the beginning of their days. Useless and formal as baptism often is, it is an ordinance appointed by Christ Himself. Those who use it with prayer and faith may confidently look for a blessing.
"Of such as little children," the kingdom of God in glory will be largely composed. The salvation of all who die in infancy may confidently be expected. Though sin has abounded, grace has much more abounded. (Rom. 5:20.) The number of those in the world who die before they "know good from evil" is exceedingly great. It is surely not too much to believe that a very large proportion of the glorified inhabitants of heaven will be found at length to be little children.
Let us leave the whole passage with a deep sense of the value of children's souls, and with a settled resolution to "put on the mind of Christ" in all our dealings with them. Let us regard children as a most important part of Christ's professing Church, and a part which the great Head of the Church does not like to see neglected. Let us train them from their earliest infancy in godly ways, and sow the seed of Scripture truth in their minds, with strong confidence that it will one day bear fruit.
Let us believe that they think more, and feel more, and consider more, than at first sight appears; and that the Spirit is often working in them, as really and truly as in older people. Above all, let us often name them before Christ in prayer, and ask Him to take them under His special charge. He never changes. He is always the same. He cared for boys and girls when He was upon earth. Let us not doubt that He cares for them at the right hand of God in heaven.
THE RICH RULER
The story we have now read is three times reported in the Gospels. Matthew, Mark and Luke were all moved by the Holy Spirit to record the history of the rich man who came to Christ. This fact should be noticed. It shows us that there are lessons before us which demand special attention. When God would impress on Peter his duty towards the Gentiles, He sent him a vision which was repeated "three times." (Acts 10:16.)
We learn, firstly, from these verses, to what lengths men may go in self-ignorance. We are told of "a certain ruler," who asked our Lord what he should "do to inherit eternal life." Our Lord knew the ruler's heart, and gave him the answer which was most likely to bring to light the real state of his soul. He reminds him of the ten commandments. He recites some of the principal requirements of the second table of the law. At once the spiritual blindness of the inquirer was detected. "All these," said the man, "I have kept from my youth up." An answer more full of darkness and self-ignorance it is impossible to conceive! He who made it could have known nothing rightly, either about himself, or God, or God's law.
Does the case of this rich ruler stand alone? Do we suppose there are none like him at the present day? If we do, we are greatly deceived. There are thousands, it may be feared, in all our congregations, who have not the least idea of the spiritual nature of God's law, and consequently know nothing of their own sinfulness. They do not see that God requires "truth in the inward parts," and that we may break commandments in our heart and thoughts, even when we do not break them in outward actions. (Psalm 51:6. Matt. 5:21-28.) To be delivered from such blindness is one of the first things needful to our salvation. The eyes of our understandings must be enlightened by the Holy Spirit. (Ephes. 1:18.) We must learn to know ourselves. No man really taught of the Spirit will ever talk of having "kept all God's commandments from his youth." He will rather cry with Paul, "The law is spiritual, but I am carnal." "I know that in me dwells no good thing." (Rom. 7:14-18.)
We learn, secondly, from these verses, what harm one master-sin may do to a soul. The desires which the rich ruler expressed were right and good. He wanted "eternal life." There seemed at first sight no reason why he should not be taught the way of God, and become a disciple. But there was one thing, unhappily, which be loved better than "eternal life." That thing was his money. When invited by Christ, to give up all that he had on earth, and seek treasure in heaven, he had not faith to accept the invitation. The love of money was his master-sin.
Shipwrecks like this are sadly common in the Church of Christ. Few are the ministers who could not put their finger on many cases like that of the man before us. Many are ready to give up everything for Christ's sake, excepting one darling sin, and for the sake of that sin are lost for evermore. When Herod heard John the Baptist, he "heard him gladly and did many things." But there was one thing he could not do. He could not part with Herodias. That one thing cost Herod his soul. (Mark 6:20.)
There must be no reserve in our hearts, if we would receive anything at Christ's hands. We must be willing to part with anything, however dear it may be, if it stands between us and our salvation. We must be ready to cut off the right hand and pluck out the right eye, to make any sacrifice, and to break any idol. Life, we must remember, eternal life is at stake! One leak neglected, is enough to sink a mighty ship. One besetting sin, obstinately clung to, is enough to shut a soul out of heaven. The love of money, secretly nourished in the heart, is enough to bring a man, in other respects moral and irreproachable, down to the pit of hell.
We learn, thirdly, from these verses, how great is the difficulty of a rich man being saved. Our Lord declares this in the solemn comment which He makes on the ruler's case--"How hard it is for rich people to get into the Kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!"
The truth which our Lord lays down in this place, is one which we may see confirmed on every side. Our own eyes will tell us that grace and riches seldom go together. "Not many mighty, not many noble, are called." (1 Cor. 1:26.) It is plain matter of fact, that comparatively few rich men are to be found in the way of life. For one thing, riches incline their possessors to pride, self-will, self-indulgence, and love of the world. For another thing, the rich man is seldom dealt with faithfully about his soul. He is generally flattered and fawned upon. "The rich has many friends." (Prov. 14:20.) Few people have the courage to tell him the whole truth. His good points are grossly exaggerated. His bad points are glossed over, palliated, and excused. The result is, that while his heart is choked up with the things of the world, his eyes are blinded to his own real condition. What right have we to wonder is a rich man's salvation is a hard thing?
Let us beware of envying rich men and coveting their possessions. We little know what we might come to if our desires were granted. Money, which thousands are constantly wanting and longing for--money, which many make their god--money keeps myriads of souls out of heaven! "Those who will be rich fall into temptation and a snare." Happy is he who has learned to pray, "Give me neither poverty nor riches," and is really "content with such things as he has." (1 Tim. 6:9; Prov. 30:8; Heb. 13:5.)
We learn, lastly, from these verses, how mighty is the power of God's grace. We see this in the words which our Lord addressed to those who heard Him speaking of the rich man's danger. They said, "who then can be saved?" Our Lord's reply is broad and full--"The things which are impossible with men are possible with God." By grace a man may serve God and reach heaven in any condition of life.
The word of God contains many striking instances in illustration of this doctrine. Abraham, and David, and Hezekiah, and Jehoshaphat, and Josiah, and Job, and Daniel, were all great and rich. Yet they all served God and were saved. They all found grace sufficient for them, and overcame the temptations by which they were surrounded. Their Lord and Master still lives, and what He did for them He can do for others. He can give power to rich Christians to follow Christ in spite of their riches, as well as He did to rich Jews.
Let us beware of allowing ourselves to suppose that our own salvation is impossible, because of the hardness of our position. It is too often a suggestion of the devil and our own lazy hearts. We must not give way to it. It matters not where we live, so long as we are not following a sinful calling. It matters not what our income may be, whether we are burdened with riches, or pinched with poverty. Grace, and not place, is the hinge on which our salvation turns. Money will not keep us out of heaven if our hearts are right before God. Christ can make us more than conquerors. Christ can enable us to win our way through every difficulty. "I can do all things," said Paul, "through Christ who strengthens me." (Philip. 4:13.)
JESUS PREDICTS HIS DEATH
Let us observe, firstly, in these verses, what a glorious and satisfying promise our Lord holds out to all believers who make sacrifices for His sake. He says, "There is no man that has left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God's sake, who shall not receive many times as much in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting."
The promise before us is a very peculiar one. It does not refer to the believer's reward in another world, and the crown of glory which fades not away. It refers distinctly to the life that now is. It is spoken of "this present time."
The "many times as much" of the promise must evidently be taken in a spiritual sense. The meaning is, that the believer shall find in Christ a full equivalent for anything that he is obliged to give up for Christ's sake. He shall find such peace, and hope, and joy, and comfort, and rest, in communion with the Father and the Son, that his losses shall be more than counterbalanced by his gains. In short, the Lord Jesus Christ shall be more to him than property, or relatives, or friends.
The complete fulfillment of this wonderful promise has been often seen in the experience of God's saints. Hundreds could testify in every age of the church, that when they were obliged to give up everything for the kingdom of God's sake, their losses were amply supplied by Christ's grace. They were kept in perfect peace, staying their souls on Jesus. (Isaiah. 26:3.) They were enabled to glory in tribulation, and to take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in distresses for Christ's sake (Rom. 5:3. 2 Cor. 12:10.) They were enabled in the darkest hour to rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, and to count it an honor to suffer shame for their Master's name. (1 Pet. 1:8. Acts 5:41.) The last day will show that in poverty and in exile--in prisons and before judgment seats--in the fire and under the sword--the words of Christ before us have repeatedly been made good. Friends have often proved faithless. Royal promises have often been broken. Riches have made themselves wings. But Christ's engagements have never been known to fail.
Let us grasp this promise firmly. Let us go forward in the way of life with a firm conviction that it is a promise which is the property of all God's people. Let us not give way to doubts and fears because of difficulties that cross our path. Let us press onward with a strong persuasion, that if we lose anything for Christ's sake, Christ will make it up to us even in this present world. What believers need is more daily practical faith in Christ's words. The well of living water is always near us, as we travel through the wilderness of this world. Yet for lack of faith we often fail to see it, and faint by the way. (Gen. 21:19.)
Let us observe, secondly, in these verses, the clear and plain prediction which our Lord makes about His own death. We see Him telling the disciples that He would be "delivered to the Gentiles, mocked, spitefully entreated, spitted on, scourged, and put to death."
The importance of our Lord's death appears in the frequency with which He foretold it, and referred to it during His life. He knew well that it was the principal end for which He came into the world. He was to give His life a ransom for many. He was to make His soul an offering for sin, and to bear our transgressions in His own body on the tree. He was to give His body and blood for the life of the world. Let us seek to be of the same mind with Christ in our estimate of His death. Let our principal thoughts about Jesus be inseparably bound up with His crucifixion. The corner-stone of all truth concerning Christ is this--that "While we were yet sinners, He died for us." (Rom. 5:8.)
The love of our Lord Jesus Christ towards sinners is strikingly shown in His steady purpose of heart to die for them. All through His life He knew that He was about to be crucified. There was nothing in His cross and passion which He did not foresee distinctly even to the minutest particular, long before it came upon Him. He tasted all the well-known bitterness of 'anticipated suffering'. Yet He never swerved from His path for a moment. He was straitened in spirit until He had finished the work He came to do. (Luke 12:50.) Such love passes knowledge. It is unspeakable--unsearchable. We may rest on that love without fear. If Christ so loved us before we thought of Him, He will surely not cease to love us after we have believed.
The calmness of our Lord Jesus Christ in the prospect of certain death ought to be a pattern to all His people. Like Him, let us drink the bitter cup which our Father gives us, without a murmur, and say, "not my will but yours be done." The man that has faith in the Lord Jesus has no reason to be afraid of the grave. "The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Cor. 15:56, 57.) The grave is no longer what it once was. It is the place where the Lord lay. If the great Head of the body looked forward to the grave with calmness, much more may all His believing members. For them He has overcome death. The king of terrors at the worst is a conquered foe.
Let us observe, lastly, in these verses, the slowness of the disciples to understand Christ's death. We find that when our Lord described His coming sufferings, the disciples "didn't understand a thing he said. Its significance was hidden from them, and they failed to grasp what he was talking about." We read such passages as these, perhaps, with a mixture of pity and surprise. We wonder at the darkness and blindness of these Jews. We marvel that in the face of plain teaching, and in the light of plain types of the Mosaic law, the sufferings of Messiah should have been lost sight of in His glory, and His cross hidden behind His crown.
But are we not forgetting that the vicarious death of Christ has always been a stumbling-block and an offence to proud human nature? Do we not know that even now after Christ has arisen from the dead and ascended into glory, the doctrine of the cross is still foolishness to many, and that Christ's substitution for us on the cross is a truth which is often denied, rejected and refused? Before we wonder at these first weak disciples for not understanding our Lord's words about His death, we should do well to look around us. It may humble us to remember that thousands of so-called Christians neither understand nor value Christ's death at the present day.
Let us look well to our own hearts. We live in a day when false doctrines about Christ's death abound on every side. Let us see that Christ crucified is really the foundation of our own hopes, and that Christ's atoning death for sin is indeed the whole life of our souls. Let us beware of adding to Christ's sacrifice on the cross, as the Roman Catholic does. Its value was infinite. It admits of no addition. Let us beware of taking away from Christ's sacrifice, as the Socinian does. To suppose that the Son of God only died to leave us an example of self-denial, is to contradict a hundred plain texts of Scripture. Let us walk in the old paths. Let us say with Paul, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Gal. 6:14.)
THE BLIND BEGGAR
The miracle described in these verses is rich in instruction. It was one of the great works which witnessed that Christ was sent of the Father. (John 5:36.) But this is not all. It contains also some lively patterns of spiritual things which deserve attentive study.
We see, for one thing, in this passage, the importance of diligence in the use of means. We are told of "a certain blind man who sat by the wayside begging." He sought the place where his pitiful condition was most likely to attract notice. He did not sit lazily at home, and wait for relief to come to him. He placed himself by the road-side, in order that travelers might see him and give him help. The story before us shows the wisdom of his conduct. Sitting by the wayside, he heard that "Jesus was passing by." Hearing of Jesus he cried for mercy, and was restored to sight. Let us mark this well! If the blind man had not sat by the wayside that day, he might have remained blind to the hour of his death.
He that desires salvation should remember the example of this blind man. He must attend diligently on every means of grace. He must be found regularly in those places where the Lord Jesus is specially present. He must sit by the wayside, wherever the word is read and the Gospel preached, and God's people assemble together. To expect grace to be put into our hearts, if we sit idling at home on Sundays, and go to no place of worship, is presumption and not faith. It is true that "God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy;"--but it is no less true that He ordinarily has mercy on those who use means. It is true that Christ is sometimes "found of those who seek Him not;"--but it is also true that He is always found of those who really seek Him. The Sabbath breaker, the Bible-neglecter, and the prayerless man are forsaking their own mercies, and digging graves for their own souls. They are not sitting "by the wayside."
We see, for another thing, in this passage, an example of our duty in the matter of prayer. We are told that when this blind man heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, he "cried, saying, Jesus, you Son of David, have mercy on me." We are told further, that when some rebuked him and bade him hold his peace, he would not be silenced. "He only cried so much the more." He felt his need, and found words to tell his story. He was not to be stopped by the rebukes of people who knew nothing of the misery of blindness. His sense of wretchedness made him go on crying. And his importunity was amply rewarded. He found what he sought. That very day he received sight.
What the blind man did on behalf of his bodily ailment, it is surely our bounden duty to do on behalf of our souls. Our need is far greater than his. The disease of sin is far more grievous than the lack of sight. The tongue that can find words to describe the necessities of the body, can surely find words to explain the needs of the soul. Let us begin praying if we never prayed yet. Let us pray more heartily and earnestly, if we have prayed in times past. Jesus, the Son of David, is still passing by, and not far from every one of us. Let us cry to Him for mercy, and allow nothing to stop our crying. Let us not go down to the pit speechless and silent, without so mach as a cry for help. None will be so excuseless at the last day as baptized men and women who never tried to pray.
We see, for another thing, in this passage, an encouraging instance of Christ's kindness and compassion. We are told that when the blind man continued crying for mercy, our Lord "stood and commanded him to be brought unto Him." He was going up to Jerusalem to die, and had weighty matters on His mind, but He found time to stop to speak kindly to this poor sufferer. Then Jesus asked the man, "What do you want me to do for you?" "Lord," he pleaded, "I want to see!" At once we are told, "Jesus said unto him, receive your sight; your faith has saved you." That faith perhaps was weak, and mixed with much imperfection. But it had made the man cry to Jesus, and go on crying in spite of rebukes. So coming with faith, our blessed Lord did not cast him out. The desire of his heart was granted, and "immediately he received sight."
Passages like these in the Gospels are intended for the special comfort of all who feel their sins and come to Christ for peace. Such people may be sensible of much infirmity in all their approaches to the Son of God. Their faith may be very feeble--their sins many and great--their prayers very poor and stammering--their motives far short of perfection. But after all, do they really come to Christ with their sins? Are they really willing to forsake all other confidence, and commit their souls to Christ's hands? If this be so, they may hope and not be afraid. That same Jesus still lives who heard the blind man's cry, and granted his request. He will never go back from His own words, "Him that comes to me, I will in no wise cast out." (John 6:37.)
We see, lastly, in this passage, a striking example of the conduct which becomes one who has received mercy from Christ. We are told that when the blind man was restored to sight, "he followed Jesus, glorifying God." He felt deeply grateful. He resolved to show his gratitude by becoming one of our Lord's followers and disciples. Pharisees might cavil at our Lord. Sadducees might sneer at His teaching. It mattered nothing to this new disciple. He had the witness in himself that Christ was a Master worth following. He could say, "I was blind, and now I see." (John 9:25.)
Grateful love is the true spring of real obedience to Christ! Men will never take up the cross and confess Jesus before the world, and live to Him, until they feel that they are indebted to Him for pardon, peace, and hope. The ungodly are what they are, because they have no sense of sin, and no consciousness of being under any special obligation to Christ. The godly are what they are, because they love Him who first loved them, and washed them from sin in His own blood. Christ has healed them, and therefore they follow Christ.
Let us leave the passage with solemn self-inquiry. If we would know whether we have any part or lot in Christ, let us look at our lives. Whom do we follow? What are the great ends and objects for which we live? The man who has a real hope in Jesus, may always be known by the general bias of his life.