corner graphic

Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

Luke 19

 

 

Verses 1-48

Jesus Christ and ZacchUs

Luke 19:1-10

You may build God out of cities, or you may throw open the city gates and bid him welcome with all reverence and thankfulness. You cannot build him out with common masonry. He can crumble our rocky walls to pieces, and drive the ploughshare through the foundations of our fortresses; he can touch the mountains, and they will go up before him as the smoke of incense; wherever mere power is required, God can break us down by a stroke. How then, you will say, is it possible to build God out of the city? I answer, by corrupt institutions, by depraved laws, by tricks of trade, by knavery and fraud, by selfish dispositions and oppressive usages, by forgery, by unjust balances, by defective measures, by practical lying, by false-heartedness, it is possible to build God out of a city more thoroughly than he could be excluded by the most elaborate masonry. Ancient Jericho attempted to enclose herself within solid walls, but men appointed by God threw down all her boasted defences. Can anything resist the thunder of the march which is commanded by God? When men walk according to the divine order, when they step in harmony with the rhythm of the divine movement, they overturn the rocks, and cast the mountains into the sea. Yet, alas! there is a region in which Omnipotence itself is weakness: even a child can shut the door of its heart against God, and Almightiness may be defied by an evil will! Jericho was favoured of God in exceeding measure—bountifully supplied with water, having a tropical climate, her palm trees equalling the palms of Egypt, rich with fruits, spices, and perfumes, growing in abundance the sweet-smelling camphire and the balm of Gilead; yet, while the beasts of the field, the dragons and the owls honoured the Most High, she departed from her Maker, and praised not the goodness of her Lord. She trusted in her walls, and confided in the strength of her arm, until God smote her by the breath of his mouth! Gladly do we come to the words before us, as marking a new era in the annals of Jericho. And Jesus is passing through our own city to-day; and, busy as we are with the claims of daily life, we may see his beauty and learn his will.

"And, behold, there was a man named Zacchus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich" ( Luke 19:2).

A whole paragraph devoted to the delineation of one man"s life, whilst so many great subjects are hardly touched upon in the Christian Scriptures. Yet let us not complain of what looks to us like the capriciousness and incompleteness of divine Revelation , for in these portrayals of individuals, we have not only the most practical aspects of the Christian faith, but we get nearer to God than would otherwise have been possible. When we see Jesus Christ face to face with an individual sinner, we see the whole scheme of redemption as it were in miniature; and we have the advantage of concentration; our minds are not distracted by the bewilderment which is occasioned by a vast scale of operation; everything is brought to a point; and to us is given the benefit of the conciseness of individuality. Does not one man require in his own experience the whole scheme of divine redemption? Is it not with this as with the light, the atmosphere, and the whole mechanism of the world? Were there but one man upon the globe, he would as much require the sun, the summer, the harvest, as do the millions who now exist upon it. We shall see God"s love perhaps more vividly displayed, because more intensely concentrated, in the case of one man than when applied to the necessities of the whole world. Each man should have a paragraph of Christian history specially his own. Is your life to be found in Christian history? Can you point to any record of a personal interview with the Saviour? Blessed are you whose lives are part of a great unwritten Bible, which is continually before God.

"And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature" ( Luke 19:3).

Let me take out of this verse three words which set forth the highest object of human life; these three words are—"To see Jesus"! Zacchæus sought to see him through natural curiosity, yet such curiosity may be turned to the highest uses; Zacchæus sought only to see the Prayer of Manasseh , but in the end he saw the Saviour; he desired to see a wonder, and in the end he was made into a wonder himself. So it is evermore,—a man is made either infinitely better or infinitely worse by coming into contact with Jesus Christ; the Gospel kills or makes alive. This man found a difficulty in attempting to realise his wish. Is it not so with some of us who are listening to this story to-day? Zacchæus was little; every man is little somewhere. The signature of defect is upon every character; we cannot write a complete biography of any man without having to use this word little, in one relation or another. Men are truly little when they are little in spiritual force, in moral sympathy and tender-heartedness, in appreciation of objects that are noble, progressive, sublime. Any other littleness is but a trivial defect; this is a mortal blemish. Hear how the descriptive words go in the case of Zacchæus—chief, rich, little! It is possible for a man to read his life in this fashion, and to complain that it has been set on a descending scale; but it is also possible to reverse the order of these epithets, and so to get a more inspiring view of life. He will then say, not chief, rich, little, but little, rich, chief! Take care how you read your life! Some lives may be read thus—little, less, nothing! If we look at those who are higher than ourselves, we may become censorious critics of the divine way; but if we make ourselves familiar with those who are in the lowest positions of life, suffering pain, hunger, loneliness, we shall abound in grateful praises to the Giver of all good. Did Zacchæus give up his object because of the difficulty of the situation? Let us read:—

"And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way" ( Luke 19:4).

He never would have been chief among the publicans and rich if he had succumbed to difficulties. His character was brought out by opposition. I contend that, whatever a man"s disadvantages may be, he can see Jesus Christ if he so determine in his heart. There are men, now-a-days, who profess that they have endeavoured to see Jesus Christ, but have been kept back by the press of sects, sceptics, speculators, critics, commentators, and controversialists; but, in the face of an incident like this, the triviality of such pretence is made evident. I allow that there is a great press of the sort described; no doubt it Isaiah , more or less, a difficulty to urge one"s way through the throng surrounding Jesus Christ, yet there is a sycomore tree up which we may climb if we are truly in earnest. Zacchæus was little, but he could run; Zacchæus was short of stature, but he could climb. How very shocking—how manifestly improper of one who was chief among the publicans and rich, to be seen running along the road and climbing up a tree! Such enthusiasm in pursuit of his object is in keeping with the whole character of the man. Are you willing, if need be, to go out of the Song of Solomon -called regular way to see the Saviour, or are you sacrificing your destiny to the tyrannous claims of conventionality? Then I exhort you to climb up any tree, to enter any church, from which you can more clearly see the face of the Redeemer. Break up your old associations, cast off your creeds and usages, and incur the censure of established proprieties, rather than not see the Friend of sinners. Incidents like this make me impatient of all the excuses which are urged in explanation of not accepting the salvation of Jesus Christ. Can we not do as Zacchæus did? What is the value of our earnestness, if it does not enable us to overcome difficulties? No excuse should detain us, except such as we can tell Jesus Christ himself. Remember that it is written, "Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way." The Saviour himself acknowledges the difficulty, yet he never says it is insurmountable, and never promises that it shall protect men from the consequences of unbelief. Oh, ye men who are exhausting yourselves in the pursuit of riches; ye who rise early and retire late, that you may increase your worldly substance; you that are prepared to make any sacrifice of strength and time, that you may compete successfully in the strife of scholarship; you that are prepared to encounter every form of suffering and incur any danger, that you may extend your knowledge of the world and your influence among men as legislators and economists, say not that you have been driven back from seeking Jesus Christ by some petty inconvenience or contemptible barrier! Sobriety is undoubtedly the snare of some men; they must needs take their first considerations from what is called prudence; and whilst they are deliberating whether it be proper to adopt some extraordinary method of attaining their object, the Saviour passes by without being seen. Better run the risk which comes of the intoxication of enthusiasm, than be rendered powerless by a benumbing conventionality. Zacchæus would never have been the man that he was, had he been incapable of enthusiasm; he would have succumbed to propriety, where he overcame by a noble passion.

"And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchus, make haste, and come down; for to-day I must abide at thy house" ( Luke 19:5).

Observe the development which is traced in this verse. Jesus Christ looked, saw, and said. It is possible to look without seeing; many men can look upon the throngs of the world without emotion; human history has to them no deep significance; in their eyes men are but customers, clients, patrons; the idea of immortality never mingles with their coarse thinking. On the other hand, it is possible both to look and to see; to the highest type of mind, the sight of a crowd brings sadness of heart; every man is seen to be a mystery—to be the bearer of untold sorrow—to be the distracted subject of many ambitions—to be weak through sin, and to be bearing the black seal of death; to such types of mind life becomes one long sigh, by reason of the wickedness which enfeebles and dehumanises the race. It is possible, however, both to look and to see, yet not to say. There is a want of moral courage, even where there is a deep appreciation of the necessities of the case. Many men will tell you, that when they have been brought into contact with men of extreme depravity, they have just been on the point of preaching the Gospel, yet they have forborne to speak the Word of life. When Christians look, and see, and say, there will go forth into the world such an evangelising commission as never yet sought the recovery of men. Have you ever spoken to one human creature about his personal salvation? You tell me you have looked upon your friend, and that you have seen the deepest want of his life, yet you have not delivered the message of God to his soul. Believe me, this is not friendship, and that there is a day coming on which you will feel that in neglecting these opportunities—you have risked your own salvation. Is it not noticeable, that Jesus Christ addressed Zacchæus by name? To the reverent mind, this circumstance justly suggests the omniscience of the Son of God. Did not the Lord say unto Moses, "I know thee by name"? We, too, are known in our individuality. If we have set ourselves in any position, ordinary or peculiar, for the purpose of seeing the Saviour, the All-seeing Eye is upon us, and our personal name is associated with the act. How did Zacchæus receive the word that was addressed to him? Did he hesitate? Did he excuse himself on the ground that he had been seeking to gratify merely a natural curiosity? Many persons take up positions of observation in the sanctuary, and when they are personally invited to active service on behalf of Jesus Christ, or closer communion with the Church, they instantly plead a merely general interest, and excuse themselves from consenting to the appeal on most trivial grounds. They turn the sanctuary into a convenience; they make use of the vantage-ground without any pledge of loyalty to the claims of Christ, and treat with coldness the invitations which might call their souls in a most fruitful and glorious development. How did Zacchæus act? Let us read:

"And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully" ( Luke 19:6).

This is in striking harmony with all that we have seen of Zacchus. The man who could run and climb was just the man to make haste in coming down, and to give a joyful answer to such an appeal. Men would be better if we spoke to them more kindly. Take high ground with a Prayer of Manasseh , and you instantly put him on his own defence; speak to him in a conciliating tone, and you may gain audience of his very heart. Be sure, as Christian teachers, there is something in every man to which you can address yourselves with good effect. We may clearly infer from this text, that the unlikeliest men may yield the most blessed results of our ministry. Here is a Prayer of Manasseh , chief among the publicans and rich, despised and avoided by a large portion of society, who returns a joyful answer to the appeal of Christ. Has it not been so in our own experience? Some of the men on whose adhesion we had reckoned most confidently have fallen back into coldness and unbelief; and some whom we had regarded as hopeless have responded to our ministry with most unexpected and startling joy. We must be more cordial with neglected men. In all congregations there are men little counted of, or even hardly known, lying under the ban of suspicion, or misunderstood by reason of some social disfavour, who only need to be personally addressed in the language of Christian love, to yield themselves with overflowing joy to the gentle demands of the Saviour.

"And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner" ( Luke 19:7).

What a life of criticism Jesus Christ endured! Always reproached, always suspected, often despised, truly had he been less than God, he would have abandoned his ministry in disgust and returned to the world whence he proceeded. The whole of the religion of his day was hostile to his spirit and method, and no man entered into sympathy with his world-embracing schemes; his brethren distrusted him, and his friends fell away from his standard, and he was left to work in loneliness that would have been terrible, but for the divinity that was in him. Even the most despised worker amongst us can have but a faint notion of what it is to live under a fire of continual reproach; to have all one"s motives misunderstood, to see our whole purpose resented with contempt, to have one"s name made synonymous with that of the devil. Think of what was the condition under which Jesus Christ worked, and let us learn from it patiently to endure the contradiction of sinners.

The relation of Jesus Christ to sinners enforces a lesson which the Church has yet to learn. We shall not severely criticise the Church in the exercise of moral discipline; but we shall ask most earnestly whether the discipline of exclusion should not be followed by the discipline of recovery? It is perfectly right to depose from the honour and privilege of Church standing those who have brought the Church"s name into disrepute. Justice to those who have maintained a consistent profession demands this, not to speak of the higher consideration in which Jesus Christ himself is involved; yet, when such deposition has been effected, there should be a most kindly concern on behalf of the Church to recover the excluded. Discipline is not exhausted by the mere act of excision; it is doubtful whether this is not the lowest aspect of discipline. It is easy to thrust out the offender, but not so easy to go after him and to say, that having fulfilled the law of penalty, we have come to attempt the law of restoration. It is to be feared that we have not been filled with God"s love towards backsliders; we have not pursued them with our prayers; we have not stood around them in masses to put before their feet every possible impediment in the road to hell. Which of us would dare to go into the house of a publicly known sinner, such as Zacchus was thought to be, for the purpose of drawing him towards higher life? Our own virtue has often been so feeble, that only by associating with the best men could we escape the reputation of being vicious. Only where there is superabounding spiritual life can there be a graceful descent into the haunts of evil which defies the tongue of scandal, and ignores the murmuring of outraged respectability.

This verse shows very strikingly that the path of duty often lies across the prejudices of society. It is not an easy thing for one Prayer of Manasseh , poor and friendless, to set himself against the current of public opinion. A word of caution Isaiah , however, necessary here, for there are self-opinionated men enough, who boast of their singularity, and imagine themselves to be somebody, because they are foolhardy enough to throw out a challenge to the whole world. Singularity, considered strictly in itself, is no virtue. When it is the expression of self-confidence, it is neither more nor less than detestable affectation; when it is the expression of intelligent and anxious conviction, animated by a profound humility, and dictated by a self-sacrificing desire to do good, it is noble and praiseworthy. Men should not aim at singularity; but, being forced into it by their loyal constancy to Jesus Christ, they should not fear its consequences. Some consciences seem to describe an eccentric orbit, and, in doing Song of Solomon , become whimsical and fantastical in what, from want of a better word, may be called their moral phases. Out of this eccentricity there comes a narrow and censorious criticism, which gives just offence to the most honourable and generous minds. Jesus Christ was never singular merely for the sake of singularity. It was the divinity of his virtue which compelled the loneliness of his life—more earthliness would have meant more popularity.

"And Zacchus stood, and said unto the Lord, Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold" ( Luke 19:8).

You have seen flowers which have been closed during the night, opening to the morning sun; so is it with human hearts shut up in the cold dark night of selfishness, when the Sun of righteousness arises upon them with healing in his wings. Zacchus would never have known himself if he had not first known Jesus Christ. It is ever noteworthy that by contact with the Saviour men become greater, and to their fuller strength is added all the charm of generosity. In this case there is a noticeable combination of liberality and justice; the poor and the wronged alike feel the blessed influence of this man"s renewal; all with whom he had to do were to be the better for his having received Jesus Christ into his heart. This kind of evidence ought to form the most powerful vindication of Christianity. Renewed men explain God"s revelations to the soul. Instead of saying, Examine this or that doctrine, we ought to be able to point to the poor man who is being comforted, and to the wronged man who is being compensated, and to say, These are the claims which we set up in exposition and defence of Christian truth. Let me beseech you to think of Jesus Christ, not only as the Saviour, but as the revealer of men. See how all generous resolutions, all divine aspirations, and all unselfish impulses result from contact with him. In the presence of such evidences of new life, I am constrained to say that no man need hesitate to decide whether or not he is really under the influence of the Son of God. He has only to put to himself such questions as these: Am I doing my utmost to repair the wrongs of the past? Do I measure everything by a divine standard? Do I make myself the centre of the circle in which I move, or do I refer everything to Jesus Christ as the one Lawgiver and Judge? Am I the friend of the poor? Is my presence as a light of hope in the dark places of oppression and misery? These are the questions that determine the quality of our manhood. We have heard of professing Christians who were narrow in their creed, selfish in their policy, grovelling in their dispositions, and illiberal in their judgments; we have no hesitation in charging upon them the high crime of dishonouring the name that is above every name. It is the glory of Christianity that it ennobles human life. Do you know of any man who has been made less true, less generous, less compassionate, less forbearing, since he identified himself with the cross? My bold and lofty challenge on behalf of Jesus Christ is this, that he meets man dwarfed and crippled by sin, and glorifies him with the dignity, and enriches him with the blessedness, of eternal life. Let men receive the spirit of the Saviour, and every transaction of their lives will be simplified, elevated and made pure, their business will be regenerated, their houses will become sanctuaries, and their whole character a living persuasive defence of all that is wise, and true and good. We do not for one moment deny the heightening and refining effect of intellectual education; but we have seen evidence enough in the history of the world under all conditions of civilisation, to justify the opinion that man"s best estate, apart from Jesus Christ, is but as the artificial plant to the living and fruitful garden.

"And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham" ( Luke 19:9).

Have you had such a visitation in your house? Truly, there are special days in our life which seem to throw all other days into insignificance. Chiefest and brightest of them is the day on which salvation becomes the culminating fact of our history. I am afraid that this word salvation is becoming somewhat unfamiliar; nor am I sure that it is always used in its fullest meaning, even by those who are not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ. It is possible to think of salvation as a distant blessing, but Jesus Christ speaks of it as a present reality. He gives eternal life to men now, and we fall short of the happiest realisation of our privileges, if we allow the heart to dwell upon anything less than the immortality which has been given to us by the Son of God. It may not always be possible to point out the exact day on which salvation came to us; I do not press for the identification of mere dates, but I do contend that it is impossible for Jesus Christ to have been received into any house as Redeemer and King, without his entry having made such an impression as can never be effaced from the memory or dislodged from the liberated and rejoicing heart. It ought not to be a merely sentimental exercise to recall the hour in which we received the blessings of salvation. Men are poor when they give up the great memories of the soul. It is one of the most blessed enjoyments of the Christian life to fall back upon hallowed recollections, and to summon them to our aid in anticipating a future on which there may rest somewhat of the shadow of doubt or fear. Men can say, This day I was ruined in trade; this day I undertook a most important commercial engagement; this day I fell under the power of a terrible disease; this day I came into possession of great riches—blessed are they amongst whose recollections is the transcendent day on which Jesus Christ set up his kingdom in their hearts.

Whilst dwelling upon this verse, it is important to observe the view which Jesus Christ takes of Zacchus. The multitude had called him "a man who is a sinner"; Jesus Christ openly declared him to be "a son of Abraham." Little natures delight to take lowering views of human life; it is the delight of great souls to give high interpretation and sublime significance to the capacity and destiny of men. See the mercifulness of the Saviour"s judgments! If there is one spark of light in us, he increases it to a great flame; if he can possibly classify with the children of Abraham, he will never identify us with the sons of perdition. It is better to fall into the hands of God than into the hands of men.

After this came the last grand word, worthy of being written in letters of fine gold—

"For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" ( Luke 19:10).

The Claims of the City

Luke 19:41

The city was Jerusalem; the beholder who looked at it through his tears was Jesus Christ. Our difficulty is that men will not come near the city. They live in it, and do not see it; they have their little accustomed macadamised roads, hardened by the feet of business, but as for what lies behind, just ten feet from their own turnpike, they know nothing. No man knows London. The people who live in it mayhap know less than those who only visit it now and then. The familiar way, the daily swing, the repeated routine: that is not London; that is not the city. It is but so much custom, so much paved road; what was done yesterday, done again to-day, and to be repeated tomorrow, and so on to the end of life"s little day. London is behind all that, and below it, and immeasurably beyond it; a city of sorrow, a city of death, a city of health. London is not at church to-day; London is never at church. Respectable London is there; custom is observed, old superstitions are repeated, or ancient reverences are observed with gracious concern and gratitude; but million-headed London is not at church; does not want to go to church; finds nothing at church, but mockery, disappointment, things hung so high up in the air that hunger cannot seize them with the clutch of its eager hand, or the tooth gnaws it like a cruel beast. It was when Jesus Christ came near the city that he wept over it with a heart that could not hold all its sorrow. There are men who dare not go off their own beaten way in the great city; in the smallest number of minutes they might make themselves strangers in their own metropolis: they would not know the faces—faces out of which God has been expunged; they would not know the voices—voices that might once have been made tuneful, musical, but are now instruments of harshness, clamour, vulgar noise and tumult. Some of us are bound to know a little about the city. We would rather live in a garden; it would be quieter, sweeter, altogether more in accordance with cultivated taste. Some of us would rather live in an art gallery; it would be serener; it would be more favourable to oblivion as regards all things unpleasant. But because we belong to the Cross we belong not to the respectability of society, only to the part of it that is already half-condemned.

The Cross has nothing to do with respectability; it loathes it. If the Cross is not this day and every day going down the city"s darkest roads, then the men who professedly bear that Cross have broken every oath that makes life sacred. Go to the poor and see them pay their rent. When will the counting cease? The shillings are but a little handful, and there is one, two, three, four—what for, poor woman? What for? For a floor to sleep on, for space to toil in. Climb high and find in the unfurnished room the sufferer who has no friends—silent, solitary, cursing this world and defying every other, and determined if ever he should see a God to face him as tyrants should be faced, for calling men into such existence that is all pain and no joy. The poor, irrational sufferer no doubt will be spoken about as eccentric, and wild, and lacking in self-control: but a sufferer nevertheless, in every pore of his skin, in every nerve of his curiously complicated body—a body as well made as if it had been the body of a prince, with exactly the same capacities of enjoyment, but capacities that are sealed with the black seal of death. The statistician knows nothing about the city; the politician knows nothing about it, unless he be more than a merely political student. The sick-visitor knows a little about the city; the city missionary goes where many philanthropists would prefer not to go, but would be willing to throw the missionary a guinea that he—he—might work it out, whilst the philanthropist drank his wine and said his unheard prayer. A real sight of the city would convert any man to Christianity—to Christianity as exemplified in the person and ministry of Christ himself. When we speak of Christianity it is not of Christianity as professed by preacher or hearer, but as embodied in the Son of God. When you answer Christianity, please to answer Christ. As for answering us, you could grind us to powder. We cannot stand before you if ye be righteous men, pressing the claims of morality and honour and truth and benevolence and sincerity; if you pelt us with our inconsistencies we are stoned to death. When you would plead against Christianity make your assault upon the Son of God himself.

How beautiful is this text in every aspect! Take it as a picture: Is there anything finer in art? Take it as a sentiment: is there anything deeper in human pathos? Take it as a revelation of God, and surely to the weeping God even a little child might go. God should be so pictured that little children would run to him. Call him invisible, eternal, immutable, omnipotent, and no one wants to see him: point him out crying over the city, and a child might want to go and catch some of that sacred rain. It is to this Saviour, and to none other, that we are committed. As for speculation about him, away with it; as to this man"s theory about him, and that man"s contradictory theory concerning him, and some other man"s elaborate philosophy about the Son of God, they have injured, hindered, degraded the Cross. The only Christ to whom I have given my poor soul, my little frail, dying life, is yonder Christ, blind with his own tears. Take it as a Revelation , a sentiment, a picture; and what can go so far towards inflaming with celestial life and fire the imagination of mankind?

There is some grim encouragement about the spectacle—"And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it." Then even he had his disappointments in life. The ministry was not a "success," even in the hands of Christ How easy to blame the minister because he does not make all the city good! That miracle, being moral and spiritual, and not of a nature that comes within the limits, even of almightiness, the Son of God himself could not accomplish. The youngest child can double its fist against God. Every heart can shut the door in the face of Jesus Christ. Let us accept the circumstance as an encouragement marked by many limitations. Let us first be quite sure that we have done for the city, in our degree, what Christ did for Jerusalem before we plead that where Christ failed it is impossible for us to succeed. This is not an encouragement to indifference; this is not a sanction to careless work; this is not a plea that should bar the soul against the claim and agony of sacrifice. When Jesus Christ wept over the city he realised this fact, that even he could do nothing more. Is omnipotence exhausted? There is no omnipotence in moral suasion. Omnipotence has to do only with vulgar things. The almightiness of God is but a pagan attribute—almighty in moulding star bubbles, almighty in keeping the infinite machinery in action, so that there can be no collision, friction, or tumult amid all the roll of the stars. There is no omnipotence amongst hearts. God has, so to say, divided his sovereignty with man in this particular. Even God can only reason with man; at last, indeed, his almightiness may become a destructive agent, but even that does not relieve it from the comment we have made upon it, as relating only to those things which come within the sphere of creation and destruction. Men have to be persuaded to be good. O mystery, miracle, wonder, greater than any other surprise—a man has to be wrestled with to keep him out of hell! These are the difficulties of unbelief and these the difficulties of faith. You would justly say that it would be impossible for any man to have any other conviction than that which is spiritual, lofty, pure, beneficent; such reasoning would à priori be pronounced correct, inevitable; that a man with brain, mind, mental fire, moral sensitiveness, should ever do one mean thing is impossible. So it would seem, so it ought to be; the only difficulty in the way Isaiah , first, personal consciousness and experience, and secondly, universal history. It is quite in our power not to see the city. You can get rid of the comfortless spectacle if you like. You can live at the financial centre, and gamble all day; you can live at the political centre and gamble in another way both day and night; you can live at the literary centre, and enjoy yourselves in sweet companionship with "the dead but sceptred monarchs who still rule our spirits from their urns"; you can live at the home centre, and when the wind howls you have only to stir the fire and the answering flame will make you warm, you have only to touch the bell and order bread and wine and manifold luxury. You can thus live in London and know nothing about it. For such seclusion, monasticism, selfishness, literary luxury, there is no sanction in Christianity. You can come home every night with a broken heart because of misery you can hardly touch, and can never heal; you can come home to hug your children with a tenderer embrace because of the orphans whose fathers are not dead, the widows whose husbands are still alive, the agony that defies even the approach of prayer. All that any of us can do is to undertake the little area within which he personally, socially, or ecclesiastically lives.

As a minister in the city of London I appeal to men who do not spend their sabbaths in the City. We have a claim upon you. You make your money in the City—where do you spend it? Are you the men to talk about absenteeism as a political blemish on the history of landlordism? Come, we are not going to talk about that until we have first cast the beam out of our own eye. You do not make your money in the suburbs, you only reside there. It is the City that feeds the world. Is it right that a man should be six days in the City and then turn his back upon it on the seventh day when moral agency, spiritual activity, is to be set in motion for the redemption of those for whom there is no country, no green field, no singing bird in the blossoming hedges? Is this right? Nor can I allow you to escape on the lie—the lie—that you have so much to do in the suburbs. So you have, but you never do it! Do let us tell our lies anywhere but in the house of God. In the suburbs you say you have so much to do for the City; in the City you have so much to do where you reside—you who could pay off that little chapel debt with one scratch of the pen, you talking about having so much to do for the little or the great suburban place. But whatever you have to do for that place you owe your prosperity to the City: you sell your goods in the City. The whole commercial pulsation of the world Isaiah , in a sense, in the cities of the world, and not in the villages and suburbs. In this connection the word "city" must apply to London, Paris, New York, and all the great centres of population, enterprise and activity. It is easy to mount the wagonette, and touch the steeds that will hardly bear touching, so fiery are they, and drive away into the green and beautiful places; but what of those who are left behind, to curse society, because they know not what else to curse, for deprivation that gnaws like hunger, and for solitude that is aggravated by a sense of neglect? Is it right that these City churches on all hands should be dying out? Is it right that-great Episcopal churches should be torn down or sold because it is impossible to maintain them? Is it right that the whole City should be left and that Sunday should be a suburban luxury? Every family that goes into the suburbs and leaves London on a Sunday to take care of its own churches and schools is a guilty family and ought not to prosper; some member of the family should say, We owe what we are and have to the City, and part of the day shall be given to visitation, to teaching, to exercises of Christian sympathy within the boundaries of the City.

Nor does the matter end here. Given a thoroughly spiritual, Christianised city, and the influence of it will be felt thrilling through every point of the great circumference. A converted London is a converted world. When London is religiously in earnest, all its wealth, education, and intellectual force and social eminence devoted to the good of men, the world will know it, must feel it, and will inevitably respond to it. I would have our City churches the greatest of all. In speaking thus, I do not speak of one communion, but of all communions. I want every City church to be crowded to the doors, and if this were all I would not repeat the desire; but it is not all. It is suggestive of the further possibility, which ought to be the further assured fact, that crowded churches should mean energetic, evangelistic, devoted communities. A crowded church is nothing in itself; if it be a sign, a symbol, a symptom, meaning that behind all this, and after all this, there is a spiritual inspiration and Christian consecration, then a crowded church is an honour, a glory, a profound and inexhaustible spiritual satisfaction.


Verse 10

Chapter2

Christ"s Object As a Preacher. Evangelical Preaching—Christ"s Injunction to the Church—Charming the Poor By Music—the Difficulty of Salvation

Text: "To save that which was lost."Luke 19:10

The preacher is bound to set before himself a distinct object. The question which he ought to propose is this: What is my purpose in this discourse? Is it to instruct, convince, or comfort? Is it to convince sinners, or is it to edify believers? He must be perfectly familiar with the end at which he is aiming, or he will spend his time in fighting uncertainly, and in beating the air. The preacher will always find his object in his text. What was Jesus Christ"s object as a preacher? To save men. If that was the object of the Master, should the servant have any lower end in view?

But let us look at that word "save." Like many other simple-looking words, it is very large in its application. It is not to be limited to one point. Men are to be saved from sin—certainly primarily. But does the word "save" end there? Men are to be saved from ignorance, to be saved from error, to be saved from the bondage of the letter, from false worship, from self-confidence, from despair; so that this word "save," which looked so little and so simple, stretches itself over our whole life—of guilt, action, ignorance, behaviour, spirit. It includes in its holy purpose the whole circle of our being. I wish we could thoroughly understand this, and we should be more liberal and more just in our construction of what our ministers are endeavouring to do for us. When the preacher is refuting a false doctrine he is as certainly endeavouring to save men as when he stands by the very cross of the one Saviour, and speaks of nothing but the reconciling and all-cleansing blood. Men say to us, "Preach the simple gospel." What is simple? and why should there be any difficulty about the simple gospel? When we preach apparently otherwise it is not because the gospel is wanting in simplicity, but because sin, vice, is manifold in its duplicity. The ten commandments are not ten because virtue is divisible into ten mysteries: they are ten because vice has a tenfold aspect, and must be met in every phase and attitude.

Our whole conception about preaching, so as to save men, needs enlargement and purification. Only let a man cry out for the space of half an hour, "Come to Jesus, come to Jesus, just now; come to Jesus, just now;" and he is thought to be preaching the gospel. To me he would be preaching no gospel. I am so constituted that I must instantly ask him to define his terms. "Come—" What is the meaning of that short word? Is it easy, is it a child"s walk, is it a luxury, is it a natural expression of the intellect and conscience and will? Why come? And how? Thus that which appeared to be so simple, small as a grain of mustard seed, when I plant it or sow it, it becomes a great tree, outbranching widely, and shaking questions and difficulties from every twig of the gigantic fabric. So I must ask for definition of terms.

Another man might preach to me and never mention the name of Jesus, and yet he would so preach as to make me unhappy; he would so deal with my life, showing its mystery, its pain, its poverty, its self-helplessness, as to make me cry out, "What shall I do?" And when he had wrought that question in me, and brought it to my tongue, then he would unfold the infinite and unsearchable riches of Christ.

Now this was Jesus Christ"s method of gaining his object. When I say "his method" I speak a millionfold term. When you heard him, though it were the thousandth time, you felt as. if you had never heard him before—so new was Hebrews , vital, true, sympathetic, beautiful. The chariots of God are twenty thousand. Does he always ride forth in one chariot, so that you can tell it is the King by the chariot he rides in? No. Twenty thousand and thousands of thousands are his angels. So in the ministry of Christ I find innumerable methods, all converging upon one object. Watch that marvellous ministry. Jesus Christ told stories—about a man who had two sons, about a man who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, about a woman who took leaven and hid it in three measures of meal, about innumerable other things, and he so told them that little children quickened their ears, and looked with eyes full of wonder. The busy man stopped with foot half way up in the air to hear what next he would say with that magical, mysterious, musical voice. He created fine fancies of the mind, as, for example, "A sower went forth to sow," "The kingdom of heaven is like to a net thrown into the midst of the sea." He asked questions. When they would not admit him into the house as a preacher, he went in as a doctor. Every preacher ought to be a healing Prayer of Manasseh , a physician. He said, "If you will not have me as the Son of God, come to reveal the Father—where is your poor child that is sick? I will raise the little life up again." And once he was so busy breaking bread that you would have thought he was the world"s housekeeper. Martha never was so busy as was her Lord just then, and for what purpose? What does he mean by all this?—to save men, to get a hold over them, to win their attention, to conciliate their confidence, and then to open their wondering and delighted eyes to the light of the kingdom of God.

Sometimes we must adopt a roundabout method in trying to secure our object as Christian teachers. Instead of sharply clashing with prejudice, we might diffidently ask a question. Instead of bluntly asking a man about his Christian condition, we might delicately ask him about his children. Instead of giving a man a tract, we might sometimes politely offer him the paper of the day. Only we should have our object always in view, and it should always be sovereign, supreme, holy. This was the Apostle Paul"s method. He tells us exactly how it was with him in his ministry. "I made myself servant unto all that I might gain the more. Unto the Jew I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews. To them that are under the law as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak. I am made all things unto all men, that I might by all means save some." When will the church learn this great lesson? The church is not fertile in invention; the church is not quick and full in suggestion and adaptation; the church is stiff, iron, stolid, wanting in elasticity and power of accommodation to the ever-changing phases and necessities of the time. If Paul had lived now how would he have modernised that paragraph in his letter to the Corinthians? "To the outsiders I became an outsider, to the musical I became musical, to the scientific I became scientific, to the man of the world I became as a man of the world, that by all means I might gain, save, bless, some." And to what pass have we come? This—"If they will not come to me, I will not go to them. I have my church, and my service at eleven in the morning and seven in the evening, and if they will not come to me I will not go to them. I have so many hymns and prayers and readings. I begin at a point and end at a point, and I do the same all the year round; my programme never changes. If they come, so be it; if they stay away, so be it." An un-Christly speech, an ungodly and unholy position!

Look at this matter in a practical light. As a matter of fact, nine-tenths of the places of worship in London on Sunday night are almost deserted. Some of them are perhaps half full, in others there is what is called "a nice sprinkling." In many churches there are less than fifty men of any size and force. Now there must be a reason for this. Let us faithfully ask, What is that reason? It is either that the attraction at church is very poor, or that there is a greater attraction elsewhere. Let me, as a Christian teacher, ask myself the question, seriously, Is the singing cheerless, is the preaching dull, is the service too long, would some other method better gain the attention of the population than the method which I am adopting? If men will not have my methods ought I not to change them? If they would like a parable, a story, a high imagining about the kingdom of heaven, ought I not to endeavour to supply these? If I cannot supply them, ought I not to retire and make way for the man who can? What changes can I introduce so as to gain some and save some? This is the question which the church dare not ask.

What is the remedy for all this? Christ gives us the remedy. We must leave the ninety-and-nine and go out. I stop there,—Go out. O wondrous word! Go out. How far! Far as the prodigal has strayed! Go out from old methods, old usages, old conventionalities, old habitudes, old institutionalisms. Go out. How far—how long? Until we find it. The church dare not do this; the church is paralysed with timidity. Sydney Smith said the church was dying of dignity; its dignity is now drivelled down into timidity. Think of those great churches—I mean by churches all kinds of places of worship—standing nearly empty every Sunday night in the year. Why not have music in them? Music would fill them; music would startle the old echoes; music would make the walls wonder what was the matter with them. Music—God"s first-born angel! Try music. Why not have lectures? Observe, where there is no need of these things I do not advocate their introduction. If a church can be filled because a man is going to read a chapter of the Bible, and do nothing else, I should say that was the highest triumph of modern civilisation. If a church can be filled to hear a sermon preached about Jesus and sin, and truth, and God, and Heaven, so much the better; but when you find the people running away from you, abandoning your churches, leaving your finest edifices almost wholly empty, then leave the ninety-and-nine old methods, plans, programmes, and go out after that which is lost, and do not come back until you have found it.

How many noble church organs are standing dumb to-night that might be doing the work of God in the minds and hearts of the people. They will be used here and there for the purpose of eking out the ebbing life of some aged and asthmatic common metre tune mumbled by persons of decaying respectability, when they might be interpreting infinite and thrilling melodies to hearts in which baffled hope is dying. God made the organ! He who orders the winds out of their caves, and makes the ocean roar its hoarse amen, fills the air with birds of varying note, and makes the rills drip music as they fall down from mountain slopes, and sends the wide rivers singing to the sea, there to merge their liquid treble in creation"s ancient bass—he whose deafening thunders seem to shake the universe, Hebrews , mighty God, put it into the mind and heart of man to make that king of instruments, the organ, which can announce a jubilee or bless a mourner"s heart. Yet we lock it up and hide the key, and must not have too much of it, though there be poor people to-night in many of these places round about us who would be glad to come in and hear the thousand-throated instrument, speaking its gospel of soothing and hope. Some persons would rather hear themselves humming and booming like lost bumble bees than they would admit stringed instruments into the house" of God. I say let us by all means seek to save some. If they will not hear the preacher preach, let them hear the organ play. If they will not hear the preacher theologise, let them hear the lecturer expound and instruct and startle by many a happy suggestion. By all means let us try to save some. You will be forgiven on the last day if you can say that you did stretch a point here and there, and you did really venture to do something irregular and almost eccentric in order to charm the drunkard from the public-house, and the sensualist from his den of iniquity, and the wayfarer from his strolling, and the prodigal from his wilderness. You meant it well. What will he say—Man of the parable and the story, and the bread-baking and the child-kissing—what will he say? "Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful according to thy light and opportunity; enter into the joy of thy Lord."

Many of you could help very much in gaining some and in saving others. Why don"t you who have this gift of preaching by music take the schoolroom belonging to your several churches, and invite the poor old people round about who would not be admitted" into concerts, to hear any kind of music you could give them?—a nice bright little Song of Solomon , sometimes a hymn, put in by stealth, as it were. What kind of people? Why, just the poorest old crones you could gather—nobody to come in who had the slightest trace of respectability about him, the door shut in the face of every man who has one sixpence to rub upon another. Poor old bodies, with their knitting, it may be, or their sewing—poor worn mothers, with two or three children in their arms, who have not seen their husbands for many hours—get them in. But perhaps they will—they will—spoil the place? Let them spoil it. I like to see a place spoiled in that sort of way. "Lord, here is the place, unspoiled; no paint scratched off, no varnish interfered with, every chair in a nice cleanly condition. This is how we kept our place, but we took care never to open the church night or day more than we could help." What will he say? May I not be there to hear!

Now what I have said about one department outside the church, namely, music, I would say, if time permitted, about fifty others, and ask you music people, literary people, persons who can contribute towards the enjoyment of the people, especially the poor—I would have you say, each of you, "What is my talent, and how can I spend it so as to save some?" I want allies of all kinds, lieutenants big and little; I want men to be doing all they can, each in his own way, and all meaning the same thing, namely, the gaining and saving of men. I take Jesus Christ"s idea of preaching, which he turned into the widest institution upon the earth. It included feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, healing those that were ill, working miracles, preaching the truth, revealing God, pronouncing benedictions, denouncing public sins, encouraging the young and the old—a great ministry. He who built that great sky, and filled it with worlds so many and so bright, must have grand and gracious conceptions about any ministry that is meant to teach and save and bless the immortal soul.

Why is it so difficult to save men? We say, "If this gospel is of God surely it will at once vindicate itself and save the souls of them who hear it." The salvation of men is the supreme difficulty of God. The question you have just put would be to me the most disturbing and distressing of all questions if we could not relieve it by others which do not come strictly within the power of reason to answer. Why do men need to hear more than one appeal to come to the Saviour according to the way he has laid down himself in his blessed word and testimony? One would suppose that, with a divine message, a man had simply to stand at the place of the concourse of people, and say, "This is God"s message," and instantly all hearts would yield their homage and their love. How can we relieve the fearful mystery?—by suggesting, or rather calling to mind, the fact, how difficult it is to do right in any direction. Do you know how difficult it is to get any man to be thoroughly clean? I do not say difficult to get a man to wash his hands, but to be thoroughly clean and to love cleanliness. Do you know how exceedingly difficult it is to get some persons to be punctual? Why, to be punctual—they do not know the meaning of the word. You say, "Eight o"clock is the time." They will be there at half-past nine, or they will forget the appointment altogether, or they will come the day after. Do you know how exceedingly difficult it is to get some people to pay their debts? To pay—they are not to the manner born.

Now I use these outside illustrations, only on an inferior level, to lead you up step by step to the crowning difficulty. Do you know how difficult it is to get a man to say absolutely what he means? When Jesus Christ said, "Let your yea be yea, and your nay nay," he seemed to be talking a very small kind of talk, but where is the man whose yes means yes without a taint or shadow of no in it? Have you thought of that? Where is the man whose speech is dazzlingly true? The most of us speak what is generally true, relatively true, substantially true, true with a grain of salt, with a mental reservation, with a suppressed parenthesis—but dazzlingly true, transparently and gleamingly true! If it be so difficult in these matters to do that which is right, can you not see, through them, how possibly it may be the supreme difficulty of the universe to save men? Jesus Christ said, "Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life." The great difficulty for us is to do right in any way. Now, if you could show me that it is so natural and so easy for men to do right in every other way that they ought to accept the gospel if it were true, I would say you had urged against this divine testimony a very powerful argument. But the whole head is sick, the whole heart is faint. Through and through, up and down, we are wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; the right hand is crippled, and the left hand is withered, and the head is giddy, and the heart irregular, and the foot skilled in going backwards. What wonder, when the grand climax, the sovereign appeal is reached, to surrender to God and to love him, we should come upon the supreme difficulty!

What, then, is left the preacher to do to himself, and to those who hear him?—to proclaim the gospel, to speak of human sin and Christ"s precious blood, to announce the grand catastrophe of evil, and the grander remedy of God"s holiness in Christ. That is all he can do except to announce the consequences of the rejection or acceptance of his ministry. The rejection—"The wicked shall be turned into hell, with all the nations that forget God. These shall go away into everlasting punishment. There is no more sacrifice for sins. The door will be shut. Many will say to me, Lord, open unto us, but I will say, I never knew you. Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness, there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth." And the minister dare not trifle with these terms. They are not given to him to gloss, amend, soften, but to utter with self-suppression and with tearfulness. The result of acceptance—"Ye shall find rest unto your souls. Your sins, which are many, will all be forgiven you. Let the wicked turn unto the Lord, for he will abundantly pardon. Great peace have they that love thy law."

Thus promise after promise must the speaker pronounce to them who receive the word with joy. This I would humbly, reverently do now. My friend, are you hearing the gospel for the thousandth time, and yet have not received it? Are you going to reject it now? This may be your last visit to God"s house. Think! Are you going to receive Christ to-night, saying, "Well, he endeavoured by all means to save some, he shall save me. Lord, receive me, save me; open thine arms, and I will flee to thee"? Are you going to say that? There is joy in the presence of the angels over one sinner that repenteth.

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Luke 19:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/luke-19.html. 1885-95.

Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology