I WANT to lay emphasis on the fact that God desires to show mercy to all. Christ's last command to His disciples was, |Go ye into all
the world and preach the Gospel to every
creature.| There may be some hearing me who have not received this grace, though it has often been pressed on their acceptance. One reason why many do not become partakers of this grace is that they think they can do better without it. The Jews said they were the seed of Abraham. They had Moses and the Law: therefore they had no need of the pardoning grace of God that Christ had come to bring. We read in the book of Revelation of a church that said it was |rich, and increased in goods, and had need of nothing.| That was the trouble when Christ was down here. Instead of coming to Him to be blessed, the people too often went away thinking and saying they had no need of His favor and blessing.
THE TWO PRAYERS.
In the Gospel by Luke Christ brings two men before us. I do not know that we can get any two cases in Scripture that will give us more light on this subject than those of the Pharisee and the Publican, who went into the temple to pray. One went away as empty as he came. He was like the church described in Revelation, to which I have referred. He went into the temple desiring nothing; and he got nothing. The other man asked for something; he asked for pardon and mercy. And he went down to his house justified.
Take the prayer of the Pharisee. There is no confession in it, no adoration, no contrition, no petition. As I have said, he asked for nothing and he got nothing. Some one has said that he went into the temple not to pray but to boast. The sun and the moon were as far apart as these two men. One was altogether of a different spirit to the other. The one prayed with his head, and the other with his heart. The one told God what a wonderfully great and good man he was: |I am not as other men or even as this publican.| His prayer was not a long one; it consisted of thirty-four words; yet there were five capital |I's| in it. It was self in the beginning, self in the middle, self in the end -- self all through. |'I fast twice a week;' 'I give tithes of all I possess;' I am a wonderfully good man, am I not, Lord?| He struck a balance twice a week, and God was his debtor every time. He paraded his good deeds before God and man. Such a one was not in a condition to receive the favor of God.
You can divide the human family to-day into two classes -- pharisees and publicans. There are those who are poor in spirit: the dew of God's grace will fall upon them. There are others who are drawing around them the rags of their self-righteousness: they will always go away without the blessing of God. There were but seven words in the prayer of the Publican: |God be merciful to me a sinner!| He came to God confessing his sins, and asking for mercy; and he received it.
If you were to run through Scripture, you would find that where men have gone to God in the spirit of the Publican, He has dealt with them in mercy and grace.
A young man came to one of our meetings in New York a few years ago. He was convicted of sin; and he made up his mind he would go home and pray. He lived a number of miles away, and he started for home. On the way, as he was meditating about his sins and wondering what he was going to do when he got home, the thought occurred to him: |Why should I not pray right here in the street?| But he found he did not know just how to begin. Then he remembered that when he was a child, his mother had taught him this prayer of the Publican: |God be merciful to me a sinner!| So he began just where he stood. He said afterwards, that before he got to the little word |me,| God met him in grace, and blessed him. And so the moment we open our lips to ask God for pardon, if the request comes from the heart, God will meet us in mercy.
Let our cry be that of the Publican: |Be merciful to me!| -- not to some one else. A mother was telling me some time ago that she had trouble with one of her sons, because he had not treated his brother rightly. She sent him upstairs; and after awhile she asked him what he had been doing. He replied that he had been praying for his brother! Although he had been the naughty one, he was acting as if the fault lay with his brother instead of himself. So many of us can see the failings of others readily enough but when we get a good look at ourselves, we will get down before God as the Publican did and cry for mercy: and that cry will bring an immediate answer. God delights to deal in grace with the poor in spirit. He wants to see in us a broken and contrite heart. If we take the place of a sinner, confessing our sins and asking for mercy, the grace of God will meet us right then and there; and we shall have the assurance of His forgiveness.
In Matthew we see how God deals in grace with those who come in the right spirit. |Then came she and worshipped Him, saying, Lord, help me!| But he answered and said, |It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs.| And she said, |Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master's table.| Then Jesus answered and said unto her, |O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.|
The disciples did not understand how full of grace was the heart of Christ. This poor woman belonged to the far-off coasts of Tyre and Sidon. She was a poor Gentile, and they wanted to send her away. They thought she was not one of the elect; she did not belong to the house of Israel. So they said to the Master, |Send her away, for she crieth after us.| Can you conceive of the loving Saviour sending away a poor troubled one who comes to Him? I challenge you to find a single instance of His doing such a thing, from the beginning to the end of His ministry. Send her away! I believe He would rather send an angel away than a poor suppliant for His mercy; He delighted to have such as she come to Him. But He was going to test her, as well as to give an object-lesson to those who should come after. |It is not meet,| He said, |to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs.|
A HUMBLE SPIRIT.
I am afraid if some of us had been in her place we would have answered somewhat in this fashion: |You call me a Gentile dog, do you? I would not take anything from you now if you were to give it to me. Why, I know a Jewish woman who lives in my town. Though she is a daughter of Abraham she is the meanest woman in the whole street. I would not let my dogs associate with her.| If this poor woman had replied to the Master in such a fashion, she would not have got anything. Yet you will find a good many men who respond to the Saviour in that way when He wants to deal in grace with them.
What does this Gentile woman say? |Truth Lord; yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table.| She took her right place down at the feet of the blessed Master. There was humility for you! She was willing to take any place if the Lord would but meet her need; the Lord blessed her. See asked for a crumb, and He gave her a whole loaf!
I once heard Rev. William Arnot say that he was the guest of a friend who had a favorite dog. The animal would come into the room where the family were sitting at the dinner table and would stand looking at his master. If the master threw him a crumb, the dog would seize it before it got to the floor. But if he put the joint of meat down on the floor the dog would look at it and leave it alone, as if it were too good for him. |So,| said Mr. Arnot, |there are many Christians who are satisfied to live on crumbs, when God wants to give them the whole joint.|
A FULL BLESSING.
This poor woman got all she wanted; and if we will come in the right spirit -- if we are humble and poor in spirit -- and call upon God for what we want, He will not disappoint us. She went right to the Son of God, and appealed to His great loving heart with the cry, |Lord help me!| and he helped her. Let that cry go up to him today, and see how quickly the answer will come. I never knew a case where God did not answer right on the spot, where there was the spirit of meekness. If on the other hand we are conceited, and think we have a right to come, putting ourselves on an equality with God, we shall get nothing.
In the Gospel by Luke we read of the centurion who had a sick servant. He felt as though he were not worthy to go himself and ask Christ to come to his house; so he asked some of his friends to beseech the Master to come and heal his servant. They went and delivered the centurion's message, saying, |He is worthy for whom Thou shouldst do this: for he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue.| The Jews could not understand grace; so they thought Christ would grant the request of this man, because he was worthy. |Why,| they said, |he hath built us a synagogue!| It is the same old story that we hear to-day. Let a man give a few thousand dollars to build a church and he must have the best pew; |he is worthy.| Perhaps he made his money by selling or making strong drink; but he has put the Church under an obligation by this gift of money, and he is considered |worthy.| The same spirit was at work in the days of Christ.
The Master immediately started for the centurion's house; and it looked as though He were going because of his personal worthiness. But if He had done so, it would have upset the whole story as an illustration of grace. As the Saviour was on the way, out came the Roman officer himself and told Jesus that he was not worthy to receive Him under his roof. He had a very different opinion of himself to that of his Jewish friends. Suppose he had said, |Lord, you will be my guest; come and heal my servant because I am worthy: I have built a synagogue.| Do you think Christ would have gone? I do not think he would. But he said, |I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof. Neither thought I myself worthy to come unto Thee; but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed.|
Jesus marveled at the man's faith. It pleased Him wonderfully to find such faith and humility. Like the Syro-Phenician woman, he had low thoughts of himself, and high thoughts of God: therefore he was in a condition to receive the grace of God. His servant, we are told, was healed that very hour. His petition was granted at once. Let us learn a lesson from this man, and take a humble position before God, crying to him for mercy; then help will come.
I never noticed till lately an interesting fact about the story of the poor sinful woman mentioned in Luke's Gospel, who went into Simon's house. If you have not observed it before, it will be quite interesting for you to know it. The incident occurred immediately after Christ had uttered those memorable words we read in Matthew: |Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.| Matthew closes the narrative there; but in the seventh chapter of Luke you will find what the result of that invitation was. A poor fallen woman came into the house where He was, and obtained the blessing of rest to her soul. I think that many ministers will bear me out in this statement, that when one has preached to a large congregation, and has given an invitation to those who would like to remain and talk about salvation, probably the only one to do so is a poor fallen one, who will thus become a partaker of the grace of God.
We find that the Saviour was invited to the house of Simon, a Pharisee. While he was there, this poor sinful woman crept into the house. Perhaps she watched for a chance when the servants were away from the door, and then slipped into the room where the Master was. She got down on her knees, and began to wash his feet with her tears, wiping them with the hairs of her head. While the feast was going on the Pharisee saw this; and he said to himself: |Jesus must be a bad man, if He knows who this poor woman is. Even if He did not know, He would be unclean according to the Mosaic law| -- because he had allowed the woman to touch Him. But the Master knew what Simon was thinking about. He put some questions to him: |And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he to whom he forgave most. And He said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.|
Then He makes the application, |I came to your house,| He says, |and you gave me no water for my feet; you gave me no kiss; and no oil for my head. You refused me the common hospitalities of life.| In those days when one went into a gentleman's house, a servant would be at the door with a basin of water; the guest would slip off his sandals, and the servant would wash his feet. Then the master of the house would salute him with a kiss instead of shaking hands as we do. There would also be oil for his head. Christ had been invited to Simon's house; but the Pharisee had got Him there in a patronizing spirit. |You gave me no water, no kiss, no oil; but this woman hath washed my feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head: she hath not ceased to kiss my feet, and she hath anointed them with ointment. She was forgiven much: and so she loves much.| To the poor woman herself Jesus said, |Thy sins are forgiven.| They may have risen up like a dark mountain before her; but one word from the Saviour and they were all gone!
The spirit shown by Simon was altogether different from that of the poor woman. Christ said that the publicans and harlots would go into the kingdom of God before the self-righteous Pharisees! Simon, the Pharisee, got nothing; and so there are many who go away from religious meetings without one drop of heaven's dew, because they do not seek for it. From the morning of the creation down to the present time no man or woman ever went to God with a broken heart without experiencing the forgiving love and grace of God, if they believed His Word. It was so with this poor woman. Notice, the Master did not extract any pledge or promise from her. He did not ask her to join some synagogue; all He said was, |Thy sins are forgiven thee.| She found grace. So it was with the Syro-Phenician woman. Christ did not ask any pledge from her; He met her in grace, and blessed her according to her soul's desire.
You know what touched the heart of the father of the prodigal; it was the broken and contrite spirit of his returning son. Would not the same thing move the heart of any parent here? Suppose you had a son who had gone astray: the boy comes home; and when you meet him he begins to confess his sin. Would you not take him to your bosom and forgive him? Nothing in the wide world would you more readily do than forgive him. So if we come to God with this contrite spirit, He will deal in grace with us and receive us freely, When Saul left Jerusalem, there was nothing he wished for less than to receive the grace of God. Yet the moment he said, |Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?| the forgiving grace of the Master flowed out towards him. We are told by Matthew and Mark that the thief on the cross, who was converted, railed on the Saviour at first like the other: but the moment his heart was broken down and he said, |Lord, remember me!| that very moment Christ heard and answered his prayer. God is waiting to cover all your sins today; He has a long and a strong arm that can reach down to the darkest, vilest, deepest depths of sin. He will lift you up on a rock, and put a new song into your mouth. Will you let him do it?
A man was telling me some time ago that he had prayed for over ten years that God would have mercy upon him. |Has not God answered your prayer?| |No.| |Indeed! Let me ask you one question: suppose I offered you that Bible as a gift, and you were afterwards to come and ask me for it; what would I think of you?| |I do not know what you would think.| |Well, but what do you suppose I would think?| |You would perhaps think I had gone a little wrong in my head.| |What is the use of your asking that God would deal in grace with you, if you are not willing to receive it; or if you do not believe that He gives it to you?|
When I was on the Pacific coast some years ago, I stayed with a friend who had a large garden, with a great many orange trees. He said to me: |Make yourself perfectly at home; if you see anything you want just help yourself.| When I wanted some oranges, I did not go into the garden and pray to the oranges to tumble into my mouth; I just put out my hand and took all I required. So it is with us. Why should we go on asking and beseeching God to have mercy upon us, when He has already given His Son, and given His Holy Spirit? What we need is to have a broken and a contrite heart, and to be willing to receive Him. The trouble with us is that we have locked the doors of our hearts against Him.
There is a story that Dr. Arnot was accustomed to tell of a poor woman who was in great distress because she could not pay her landlord his rent. The Doctor put some money in his pocket and went round to her house intending to help her. When he got there he knocked at the door. He thought he heard some movement inside; but no one came to open the door. He knocked louder and louder still; but yet no one came. Finally he kicked at the door, causing some of neighbors to look out and see what was going on. But he could get no entrance; and at last he went away thinking his ears must have deceived him, and that there was really no one there. A day or two afterwards he met the woman in the street, and told her what had happened. She held up her hands and exclaimed, |Was that you? I was in the house all the while; but I thought it was the landlord, and I had the door locked!|
Many people are keeping the door of their heart locked against the Saviour in just the same way. They say |I am afraid I shall have to give up so much.| That is something like a ragged beggar being unwilling to give up his rags, in order to get a new suit of good clothes. I pity those people who are all the time looking to see what they will have to give up. God wants to bestow His marvelous grace on His people; and there is not a soul who has believed on Jesus, for whom God has not abundance of grace in store. What would you say of a man dying of thirst on the banks of a beautiful river, with the stream flowing past his feet? You would think he was mad! The river of God's grace flows on without ceasing; why should we not partake of it, and go on our way rejoicing?
Do you say you are sinners? It is just to such as you that God's grace is given. There was a sailor whose mother had long been praying for him. I do think mothers' prayers are sure to be answered some day. One night the memory of his mother came home to this man; he thought of the days of his childhood, and made up his mind he would try and lead a different life. When he got to New York he thought he would join the Odd-fellows; he imagined that would be a good way to begin. What miserable mistakes men make when they get trying to save themselves! This man applied to a lodge of Odd-fellows for admission; but the committee found that he was a drinking man, and so they black-balled him. Then he thought he would try the Freemasons; they discovered what sort of a man he was, and they black-balled him too. One day he was walking along Fulton Street, when he received an invitation to come to the daily prayer-meeting held there. He went in, and heard about the Saviour; he received Christ into his heart, and found the peace and power he wanted. Some days after he stood up in the meeting and told the story how the Odd-fellows had black-balled him; how the Freemasons had black-balled him; and how he came to the Lord Jesus Christ, who had not black-balled him, but took him right in. That is what Christ will do to every poor penitent sinner. |This Man receiveth sinners.| Come to Him to-day, and He will receive you: His marvelous, sovereign grace will cover and put away all your sins.
I am so glad that we have a Saviour who can save unto the very uttermost. He can save the drunkard, the man who for years has been the slave of his passions. I was talking to a friend not long ago, who said that if a man had a father and a mother who were drunkards, he would inherit the taste for drink, and that there was not much chance of saving him. I want to say that there is a grand chance for such men, if they will call upon Jesus Christ to save them. He is able to destroy the very appetite for drink. He came to destroy the works of the devil; and if this appetite for gin and whiskey is not the work of the devil, I want to know what is. I do not know any more terrible agency that the devil has got than this intoxicating liquor.
An Englishman went out from England to Chicago, and became one of the greatest drunkards in that city. His father and his mother were drunkards before him. He said that when he was four years old, his father took him into a public-house, and put the liquor to his lips. By and by he got a taste for it; and for several years he was a confirmed drunkard. He became what in America we call a |tramp.| He slept out of doors. One night, on the shore of a lake, he awoke from his slumber, and began to call upon God to save him. There, at the midnight hour, this poor, wretched, forlorn object got victory over his sin. The last time I met him he had been nine-and-a-half years a sober man. From that memorable midnight hour, he said, he had never had any desire to touch or taste strong drink. God had kept him all those years. I am so thankful we have a Gospel that we can carry into the home of the drunkard, and tell him that Christ will save him. That is the very thing He came to do.
Bunyan represents the power of grace, as shown by its first offer to the Jerusalem sinners, the murderers of Christ, thus: |Repent, every one of you: be baptized, every one of you, in His name, for the remission of sins; and you shall, every one of you, receive the Holy Ghost.|
|But I was one of those who plotted to take away His life. May I be saved by Him?|
|Every one of you.|
|But I was one of those who bore false witness against Him. Is there grace for me?|
|For every one of you.|
|But I was one of those who cried out, Crucify Him! crucify Him! and who desired that Barrabas, the murderer, might live, rather than He. What will become of me, think you?|
|I am to preach repentance and remission of sins to every one of you.|
|But I was one of those who did spit in His face when He stood before His accusers; I also was one that mocked Him when, in anguish, He hung bleeding on the tree. Is there room for me?|
|For every one of you.|
|But I was one of those who, in His extremity, said, Give Him gall and vinegar to drink! Why may I not expect the same when pain and anguish are upon me?|
|Repent of these thy wickednesses; and here is remission of sins for every one of you.|
|But I railed on Him; I reviled Him; I hated Him; I rejoiced to see Him mocked at by others. Can there be hope for me?|
|There is; for every one of you.|
Oh, what a blessed |Every-one-of-you| is here! How willing was Peter and the Lord Jesus by the ministry of Peter -- to catch these murderers with the word of the Gospel, that they might be monuments of the grace of God!
Now it is a solemn fact that every one who receives the offer of the Gospel can lock and bolt the door of his heart, and say to the Lord Jesus Christ he refuses to let Him in. But it is also a blessed truth that you can unlock that door and say to Him, |Welcome! thrice welcome, Son of God, into this heart of mine!| The question is: Will you let Christ come in and save you? It is not a question of whether He is able. Who will open their hearts, and let the Saviour come in?
|There's a stranger at the door:
Let Him in!
He has been there oft before:
Let Him in!
Let Him in, ere He is gone;
Let Him in, the Holy One,
Jesus Christ, the Father's Son:
Let Him in!
Open now to Him your heart:
Let Him in!
If you wait He will depart:
Let Him in!
Let Him in, He is your Friend;
He your soul will sure defend;
He will keep you to the end:
Let Him in!
Hear you now His loving voice?
Let Him in!
Now, oh now, make Him your choice:
Let Him in!
He is standing at the door;
Joy to you He will restore,
And His name you will adore:
Let Him in!
Now admit the heavenly Guest.
Let Him in!
He will make for you a feast:
Let Him in!
He will speak your sins forgiven,
And when earth-ties all are riven,
He will take you home to heaven,
Let Him in!|
Rev. J. B Atchinson