A Sermon Delivered On Sunday Morning, June 2, 1867, By C. H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.
And all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill upon which their city was built, so that they might cast him down headlong. But he, passing through the midst of them, went his way. (Luke 4:28-30)
1. Jesus had spent several years in retirement in the house of his reputed father at Nazareth. He must have been well known: the excellency of his character and conduct must have attracted notice. In due time he left Nazareth, was baptized by John in Jordan, and later began his work of preaching and working wonders. The inhabitants of Nazareth, no doubt, often said one to another, “He will be sure to come home and see his parents; when he comes, we will all go to hear what the carpenter’s son has to say.” There is always an interest in hearing one of the lads of the village when he becomes a preacher, and this interest was heightened by the hope of seeing wonders, such as he had done at Capernaum. Curiosity was excited, everyone hoped and trusted that he would make Nazareth famous among the cities of the tribes; perhaps he would settle down there, and attract a crowd of customers to their shops by becoming the great Physician of Nazareth, the great Wonder Worker of the district. By and by, when it so pleased him, the famous Prophet came to his own city, and, when the Sabbath drew near, the interest grew very intense, as men asked the question, “What do you think, will he be at the synagogue tomorrow? If he shall be there, he must by some means be induced to speak.” The ruler of the synagogue, sharing in the common opinion, at the proper point of the service, when he saw Jesus present, took up the scroll of the prophet and passed it to him, so that he might read a passage, and then speak according to his own mind upon it. All eyes were opened; no sleepy people were in the synagogue that morning, when he took the scroll, unfolded it like one who was well accustomed to the book, opened it at a passage most pertinent and applicable to himself, read it, standing, thus paying respect to the word by his posture; and then, when he had folded up the book, he took his seat, not because he had nothing to say, but because it was the good practice in those days for the preacher to sit down and the hearers to stand, a method much to be preferred to the present one in some respects, at any rate when the preacher is lame, or the hearers drowsy. The passage which Jesus read to them, I have said, was very suitable and applicable to himself; but the most remarkable point perhaps in it was not so much what he read, as what he did not read; for he paused almost in the middle of a sentence: “To proclaim,” he said, “the year of the Lord,” and there he stopped. The passage is not complete unless you read the next words, “and the day of vengeance of our God.” Our Lord wisely ceased reading at those words, probably wishing that the first sermon he should deliver should be altogether gentle, and have in it not so much as a word of threatening. His heart’s desire and prayer for them was that they might be saved, and that instead of a day of vengeance it might be to them the acceptable year of the Lord. So he folded the book, sat down, and then began his exposition by opening up his own commission. He explained who the blind were, who the captives were, who the sick and wounded and bruised were, and after what manner the grace of God had provided liberty and healing and salvation; they were all wonder struck; they had never heard anyone speak so fluently and with so much force, so simply, and yet so nobly. All eyes were fastened, and everyone was astonished at the speaker’s style and matter. Soon a buzz went around the synagogue, for each man said to his companion, “Is this not the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” They were astonished and envious too. Then the speaker, feeling that it was not the object of his ministry to astonish people, but to impress their hearts, changed his subject, and charged with tremendous vigour upon their consciences; for if men will only give the minister their wonder, they have given him nothing. We desire you to be convicted, and converted, and short of this, we fail. Jesus turned from a subject so glowing with interest, so fruitful with every blessing, seeing that to them it was no more than pearls to swine, and he spoke to them personally, pointedly, somewhat cuttingly, as they thought. “You will surely say to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself’: whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in your country”; and then he plainly told them that he did not recognise their claims, that albeit he might have been brought up in that district, and have lived among them, yet he did not recognise from that reason any obligation to display his power to suit their pleasure; and he gave an instance in point: he showed that Elijah (when God, “the father of the fatherless, and the judge of the widow,” would bless a widow) was not sent to bless a widow of Israel, but a Gentile woman, a Syrophenician, one of the accursed Canaanites. To none of the widows of Israel “was Elijah sent, except to Sarepta, a city of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.” Then, again, he mentioned that Elisha, the servant of Elijah, when he had healing to give to lepers, did not heal Israelite lepers, he healed not even those lepers who came with the good news that the Syrian host had fled, but he healed a stranger from a far country, even Naaman. Thus the Saviour explained the doctrine of sovereign grace; thus he declared himself to be free to do as he wished with his own; and this, with other circumstances connected with the sermon, so stirred up the anger of the entire congregation, that those eyes which had looked upon him with wonder at first, now began to glare like the eyes of beasts, and those tongues which were ready to have given him applause, began to howl forth indignation. They rose up at once to kill the preacher; the curiosity of yesterday was turned into the indignation of today; and whereas, a few hours ago they would have welcomed the prophet to his own country, they would now think, “Crucify him! crucify him!” too good for him. They dragged him out of the synagogue, breaking up their own worship, forgetful of the holiness of the day to which they paid such wonderful respect, and they haled him out to throw him, as malefactors sometimes were from lofty rocks, from the brow of the hill upon which their city was built. He evaded them and escaped, but what a singular conclusion to such a beginning! Why, you and I would have said, “What a fruitful field we have here!” The best of preachers, and one of the most desirable of audiences—a people all attentive, every ear open, almost every mouth open, they are so wonder struck with him, with his mode of address, and with what he has to say! There will be innumerable conversions here. Nazareth will become the stronghold of Christianity. It will be the very metropolis of the new faith. But no such thing: such is the perversity of human nature, that where we expect much, we get very little, and the field which should have brought forth wheat a hundredfold, yields nothing but thorns and thistles.
2. My intention is, as God may help me, to make an application of this narrative to the hearts and consciences of some now present, who are doing with the Saviour something similar as these men of Nazareth did with him in the days of his flesh. We shall consider, first of all, who were these rejectors of Christ; secondly, why this rejection; and thirdly, what came of it.
3. I. First, then, WHO WERE THESE REJECTORS OF CHRIST? I ask the question because I am persuaded that they have their types and representatives here at the present moment.
4. They were, dear friends, first of all, those who were most closely related to the Saviour. They were the people of his own town. Ordinarily, you would expect fellow townsmen to show a man the most kindness. He was come to his own, and though his own did not receive him, this was a subject of wonder that they should not do so. Now, there are some in this house this morning who are not Christians: they are not with Christ, and consequently they are against him; but still they are the most closely related to Christ of any unconverted people in the world, because from their childhood they have attended religious worship, they have joined in the songs, and prayers, and services of the Lord’s house; moreover, they are fully persuaded of the authenticity and divinity of the word of God, and they have no doubt that the Saviour was sent from God, and that he can save, and is the appointed Saviour. They are not troubled with doubts, sceptical thoughts do not perplex them; they are, in fact, Agrippas, almost persuaded to be Christians. They are not Christians, but they are the most closely related to Christians of any people living upon the face of the earth. You would naturally expect that they would be the best people to preach to, but they have not proved to be so. They have not proved to be so in my case, for some such attending here are less likely to be brought to a decision than those who are afar off. You know to whom I refer, for some of you, as you look me in the face, might well think, “Master, in saying so, you rebuke us also.”
5. These people of Nazareth, again, were those who knew most about Christ. They were well acquainted with his mother and the rest of his relatives. They knew his whole family tree. They could tell at once that Joseph and Mary were of the tribe of Judah; probably could tell why they came from Bethlehem, and how it was that they once sojourned for awhile in Egypt. The whole story of the wondrous child was known to them. Now, surely these people, not needing to be taught the rudiments, not requiring to be instructed in the very elements of the faith, must have been a very hopeful people for Jesus to preach to; but alas! they did not prove to be so. I have many here who are wonderfully like them. You know the whole story of the Saviour, and have known it ever since your childhood. More than that, the doctrines of the gospel are theoretically well understood by you. You can discuss gospel truths, and you delight to do so, for you take a deep interest in them. When you read the Scripture, it is not to you a dark, mysterious volume, which you cannot at all comprehend, but you are able to teach others what are the first principles of the truth; and yet, for all that, how strangely sad it is, that, knowing so much, you should practise so little. I am afraid that some of you know the gospel so well, that for this very reason it has lost much of its power with you, for it is as well known as a thrice told tale. If you heard it for the first time, its very novelty would strike you, but you cannot feel such interest now. It is said of Whitfield’s preaching, that one reason for its great success was, that he preached the gospel to people who had never heard it before. The gospel was to the masses of England in Whitfield’s day, very much a new thing. The gospel had been either expunged from the church of England and from Dissenters’ pulpits, or where it remained, it was with the few within the church, and was unknown to the masses outside. The simple gospel of “believe and live,” was so great a novelty, that when Whitfield stood up in the fields to preach to his tens of thousands, they heard the gospel as if it were a new revelation fresh from the skies. But some of you have become gospel hardened. It would be impossible to put it into a new form for your ears. The angles, the corners of truth, have become worn off for you. Sundays follow Sundays, and you come up to this Tabernacle—you have been here long—you take your seats and go through the service, and it has as much become as mere a routine with you as your getting up and dressing yourselves in the morning. The Lord knows I do dread the influence of routine upon myself; I fear lest it should get to be a mere form with me to deal with your souls, and I pray God he may deliver you and me from the deadly effect of religious routine. It would be better if some of you would change your place of worship, rather than sleep in the old one. Go and hear someone else, if you have heard me long and obtained no blessing. Sooner than get to sit in those pews and perish under the word, lulled by the gospel which is meant to arouse you, go elsewhere, and let some other voice speak to you, and let some other preacher see what God may do by him. Oh may the Spirit of God only save you, and it shall be equal joy to me whether you are saved under someone else, or under my own word. Yet here is the rub: it is sad indeed that men so closely related to Christianity, who know so much about Christ, should still reject the Redeemer.
6. Again, these were people who supposed that they had a claim upon Christ. They did not feel that it would be a great kindness on the part of the Lord Jesus to heal their sick. They no doubt argued, “He is a Nazareth man, and of course he is duty bound to help Nazareth.” They considered themselves as being in a way his proprietors, who could command his powers at their own discretion. Our Saviour rejected that idea, and would not wear their yoke. I have sometimes feared that you who are children of godly parents, or seat holders, or subscribers to various religious objects, in your hearts imagine that if any are to be saved, surely it must be yourselves, yet your claim has no basis to rest upon. I wish that you were not only almost, but altogether saved, everyone of you; but perhaps the very fact that you think you have a claim upon grace, may be the stone which lies in your path, because you think, “Surely Jesus Christ will look with favour upon us, even if others perish!” I tell you he will do as he wishes with his own, and tax collectors and prostitutes will enter into the kingdom of heaven before some of you, if you think that you have any right to mercy; for the mercy of God is God’s sovereign gift, and he will have you know it to be so. He has said it, said it as with a voice of thunder, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” If you kick against his sovereignty, you shall trip over a stone upon which you shall be broken. Oh, but if you can feel you have no claim upon God, if you can put yourself into the position of the tax collector who dared not lift up so much as his eyes towards heaven, but beat upon his chest, saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” you are in a position in which God can bless you, consistent with the dignity of his own sovereignty. Oh take up the position which grace accepts. Beggars, and that is what are, must not be choosers. He who asks for grace, must not set himself up to dictate to his God; he who wishes to be saved, though he is unworthy, must come to God upon the basis of a supplicant, and humbly plead that for mercy’s sake, the Lord’s love would be revealed towards him. I fear that there may be a spice of this kind of spirit in the minds of some of you, and if so, you are the people who have rejected Christ. Hear, oh heavens, and give ear, oh earth! We call the skies, and the round earth to witness, here are those who are close to being Christians, who know the gospel by the letter of it, and who think they have a claim upon the Saviour, who still remain disobedient to the divine command, “Believe and live”: they turn upon their heel and reject the Saviour, and will not come to him so that they might have life. Hear it, I say, oh heavens, and be astonished, oh earth!
7. II. Secondly, we are to explain the reasons WHY THEY THUS REJECT THE MESSIAH.
8. The reasons will be applicable to some of you, you unconverted people, who are sitting here. Sometimes the Spirit of God comes with a melting power over an audience, and makes men feel the truth which is meant for them. Pray, my dear brethren in Christ, that such may be the case now; that our unconverted friends, who give us so much concern because of their enmity toward Jesus, may be impressed with the appeals now addressed to them. Why did they reject Christ? I think they did so under a very complex feeling, not to be accounted for by one circumstance. Several things went to make up their wrath and enmity. The fire of their anger fed upon several kinds of fuel.
9. 1. In the first place, I wonder if the groundwork of their dissatisfaction was laid in the fact that they did not feel themselves to be the people to whom the Saviour claimed to have had a commission. Observe, he said that he was “anointed to preach the gospel to the poor.” (Luke 4:18) Now, the poorest ones in the synagogue may have felt pleased at that word; but as it was almost a maxim with the Jewish doctors that it did not matter what became of the poor—for few except the rich could enter heaven—the very announcement of a gospel for the poor must have sounded to them awfully democratic and extreme, and must have laid in their minds the foundation of a prejudice. He meant, of course, the “poor in spirit,” whether they are poor in pocket or not, for those are the poor whom Jesus comes to bless; but the use of expressions so contrary to all that they had been accustomed to hear made them bite their lips, while they said within themselves, “We are not poor in spirit; have we not kept the law?” Did not some of them say, “We have worn our phylacteries, and made broad the borders of our garments; we have not eaten except with washed hands; we have strained out all gnats from our wine; we have kept the fasts, and the feasts, and we have made long prayers, why should we feel any poverty of spirit?” Hence they felt there was nothing in Christ’s mission for them. When he next mentioned the brokenhearted, they were not at all conscious of any need of a broken heart. They felt that their heart was whole, self-satisfied, perfectly content. What is the use of a preacher? Who is to preach to the brokenhearted when all his hearers feel that they have no reason to rend their hearts with repentance? Then when he spoke of captives, they claimed to have been born free and not to have been in bondage to any man; they rejected with scorn the very idea that they needed any liberator, for they were as free as free could be. When Jesus further spoke of the blind—“Blind!” they said, “does he insult us? We are far seeing men—blind! Let him go and preach to some of the outcasts who have become blinded, but as for us, we can see into the very depths of all mysteries. We need no instruction and opening of eyes from him.” When at last he spoke of those who had been bruised, as though they had been beaten with stripes for their sins—“We have no sins,” they said, “for which we should be bruised; we have been honourable, upright people, and never have been chastened by the scourge of the law; we want no liberty for those who are bruised. What is the acceptable year of the Lord to us, if it is only for bruised captive ones? We are not such.” At a glance you perceive, my brethren, the reason why in these days Jesus Christ is rejected by so many church going and chapel going people. Here you see the reason why so many of your respectable attendants at our places of worship reject salvation by grace; it is because they do not feel that they need a Saviour. They think that they are rich and increased in goods, and have need of nothing; but they do not know that they are naked, and poor, and miserable. They claim to be intelligent, thoughtful, and enlightened; they do not know that until a man sees Christ he walks in darkness and is stone blind, and sees no light. They say they are not bruised. If only they were! God perhaps has left them, because it was of no avail to bruise them; and why should they be stricken any more? They only revolt more and more. Because they feel no smarts of conscience, no terrors of God’s law, therefore Jesus Christ is a root out of a dry ground to them. They despise him, as the healthy man laughs at the physician, and as the man who is rich does not care for the alms of the benevolent. Ah! but my dear friends, let me remind you that if you do not feel your need of a Saviour, that need exists for all that, although you do not see it. You were born in sin and shapen in iniquity, and no baptismal waters can wash away your defilement. Beside this, you have sinned from your youth up in heart, and word, and thought; and you are condemned already, because you have not believed on the Son of God. Although you may not have been openly wicked, yet there is a text which I need to bring to your remembrance—“The wicked shall be turned into hell with all the nations that forget God.” (Psalms 9:17) That last list includes you, my hearer—you who forget, and postpone, and trifle, who wait for “a more convenient time”; you who live with the gospel before you, and yet do not comply with its commands, but say to your sins, “I love you too well to repent of you,” and to your self-righteousness, “I am too fond of this foundation to leave it to build upon the foundation which God has laid in the person of his dear Son.” Ah! my dear hearers, it is the self-conceit which makes the empty bag think itself to be full, which makes the hungry man dream that he has feasted and is satisfied. It is self-righteousness which damns the souls of thousands. There is nothing so ruinous as this presumptuous self-confidence, I pray the Lord may make you feel yourself to be undone, ruined, lost, cast away, and then there is no fear of your rejecting Christ, for he who is perfectly bankrupt is willing to accept a Saviour; he who has nothing of his own, falls flat before the cross, and gladly takes the “all things” which are stored up in the Lord Jesus. This is the first and perhaps the greatest reason why men reject the Saviour.
10. 2. But, secondly, I am almost certain that the men of Nazareth were angry with Christ because of his exceedingly high claims. He said, “The Spirit of Jehovah is upon me.” That startled them. Yet they might be willing to admit that he was a prophet, and so, if he meant it in that sense, they would be patient, but when he said, “The Lord has anointed me to preach,” and so on, claiming to be none other than the promised Messiah, they shook their heads, and murmuringly said, “He claims too much.” When he placed himself side by side with Elijah and Elisha, and claimed to have the same rights and the same spirit as those famous ones, and by inference compared his hearers to the worshippers of Baal in Elijah’s day, then they felt as if he set himself up too high, and put them down too low. And here, again, I see another primary reason why so many of you good people, as you would be thought to be, reject my Lord and Master. He sets himself too high: he asks too much of you: he puts you down too low. He tells you that you must be nothing, and he must be everything. He tells you that you must give up that idol god of yours, the world, and its pleasures and that he must be your Master, and not your own wills. He tells you that you must pluck out the right eye of pleasure, if it comes in the way of holiness, and rip off the right arm of profit rather than commit sin. He tells you that you must take up your cross and follow him outside the camp, leaving the world’s religion and the world’s irreligion, being no longer conformed to the world, but becoming in a sacred sense a Nonconformist to all its vanities and maxims, customs and sins. He tells you that he must be the Imperial Prince in your souls, and that you must be his willing servants and his loving disciples. These are claims too high for human nature to yield to them; and yet, dear hearer, remember that if you do not yield to them, a much worse thing awaits you. Kiss the Son, kiss his sceptre now, I say. Now bow down and acknowledge him, for if not, beware “lest he is angry, and you perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled only a little.” Those who do not kiss the sceptre of silver, shall be broken with the rod of iron. Those who will not have Christ to reign over them in love, shall have him to rule over them in terror in the day when he puts on the garments of vengeance, and dyes his vesture in the blood of his foes. Oh acknowledge him when he is covered with his own blood, lest you have to acknowledge him when he is covered with yours! Accept him while you may, for you will not be able to escape from him when those eyes, which are like eyes of fire, shall flash devouring flame upon his adversaries! Alas! this is a fruitful source of mischief to the sons of men: they cannot give King Jesus his due, but would gladly push the Lord of glory into a corner. Oh, base hearts to kick against so dear, so great, so good a King!
11. 3. Thirdly, another reason might be found in the fact that they did not intend to receive Christ until he had exhibited some great wonder. They craved for miracles. Their minds were in a sickly state. The gospel, which they needed, they would not accept; the miracles which he did not choose to give, they eagerly demanded. Oh! how many there are nowadays who must see signs and wonders, or else they will not believe! I know you, young woman, you have said in your heart, “I must feel as John Bunyan felt—the same horror of conscience, the same gloom of soul, or else I never will believe in Jesus.” But what if you never should feel it, as probably you never may? Will you go to hell out of spite with God, because he will not do for you just what he did for another? A young man over there has said to himself, “If I had a dream, as I hear So-and-so had, or if there should happen to me some very remarkable event in providence, which should just meet my taste; or if I could feel today some sudden shock, then I would believe.” Thus you dream that my Lord and Master is to be dictated to by you! You are beggars at his gate, asking for mercy, and you need to draw up rules and regulations regarding how he shall give that mercy. Do you think that he will ever submit to this? My Master is of a generous spirit, but he has a very royal heart, and he spurns all dictation, and maintains his sovereignty of action. But why, dear hearer, do you crave for signs and wonders? Is it not enough of a wonder that Jesus invites you to trust him, and promises that you shall be saved at once? Is this not enough of a sign that God has proposed so wise a gospel as that of “Believe, and live?” Is this not enough—is the gospel not its own sign, its own wonder, and its own proof, because he who believes has everlasting life? Is this not a miracle of miracles, that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him might not perish?” Surely that precious word, “Whoever will, let him come and partake of the water of life freely,” and that solemn promise, “He who comes to me, I will in nowise cast out,” those are better than signs and wonders. A truthful Saviour ought to be believed. He never did lie. Why will you ask for proof of the veracity of one who cannot lie? The demons themselves declared him to be the Son of God; but will you withstand him? Sovereign, mighty, irresistible grace, come and conquer this wickedness in the hearts of men, and make them willing to trust Jesus, whether they see signs and wonders or not.
12. 4. Again, and perhaps this time I may hit the nail on the head in some cases, though I suppose not in many in this place: part of the irritation which existed in the minds of the men of Nazareth was caused by the particular doctrine which the Saviour preached upon the subject of election. I question whether that was not at the root, the real sting of the whole matter; he explained that God had a right to dispense his favours just as he pleased; that in doing so he often selected the most unlikely objects: that for instance, a widow away in idolatrous Sidon, had her needs supplied in famine, while the widows of Israel were left without food: that at another time under Elisha, when God wished to heal a leper, he left the Israelite lepers to die, but a leper who came from the idolatrous land of Syria, and who had been accustomed to bow in the house of Rimmon, received healing. Now, they did not like this, and I suppose even in this congregation, though you are pretty well accustomed to strong statements upon the sovereignty of God, and we are not ashamed to preach predestination and election as clearly as we preach any doctrine, yet there are some who are mightily uneasy when the doctrine is proclaimed, and feel as if they could almost kill the preacher, because the doctrine is so offensive to human nature. Everywhere you will notice that the church of Rome has not half the hatred for Lutheranism that it has for Calvinism. It is the doctrine of grace, which is the soul of Calvinism, that is the poison of Popery; it cannot endure the truth that God will save where he wishes that he has not given salvation into the hands of priests, nor given it for our own merit or our own will to save us. God holds the keys of the treasury of grace, and distributes as he pleases. This is the doctrine which makes men so angry, that they do not know what to say about it; but, my dear hearer, I trust this is not the reason why you refuse to believe in Jesus, for if it is, it is a most foolish reason, for while this is true, there is still another truth that “Whoever believes in Jesus Christ, shall not perish.” While it is true that the Lord will have mercy on whom he will have mercy, it is equally true that he wills to have mercy, and has already had mercy on every soul that repents of its sin, and that puts its trust in Jesus. Why object to a truth because you cannot understand it? Why kick against the pricks to your own wounding, when the pricks remain as sharp as ever, and will not be moved by all your kicking. The Lord of Hosts has purposed it to stain the pride of all glory, and to bring into contempt all the excellence of the earth: “It is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.” The Lord will bring down the high tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree to flourish, so that no flesh may glory in his presence, but that the Lord may be exalted. Bow, then, to sovereign grace! Should he not be King? Who else should rule except God? And if he is a King, has he not a right to forgive the felon condemned to die, and yet give no reason to you? Leave that question, and all others, and come to Jesus, whose open arms invite you. He says, “Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” If you wait until you have solved all difficulties, you will never come at all. If you refuse Christ until you understand all mysteries, you will perish in your sins. Come while the gate is opened and while the lamp holds out to burn, and he has said it, “He who comes to me, I will in nowise cast out.”
13. 5. I must still mention another reason for the quarrel of the men of Nazareth with our Lord: it was probably because they did not like such plain, personal speaking as the Saviour gave them. Some hearers affect great delicacy. You must not call a spade a “spade”; it is an “agricultural implement,” and only to be spoken of in dainty terms. But our Lord used no fine talk. He was a plain speaking man, and he spoke to men plainly. He knew that men would go to hell, let him be as plain as he might, and therefore he would not let them have the excuse that they could not understand the preacher. He expressed the truth so clearly that not only could they understand it, but they could not misunderstand it if they tried. His preaching was most personal. “You will say.” He did not speak about Capernaum, but all about Nazareth, and this also helped to make them angry.
14. 6. Once again, he gave a hint that he meant to bless the Gentiles. Elijah had fed and Elisha had healed a Gentile, and this undoubted fact made the Jew set his teeth on edge, for he feared that the monopoly of blessing was to cease, and that gifts of grace were to be given to others besides the sons of Israel. A Gentile dog was to be admitted into the family, to be permitted not only to eat the scraps that fell from the table, but to be changed into a child: the Jews could not bear it. Now, there is a great deal of this monopolising spirit among self-righteous people. Why, I have heard people say—I have been shocked to hear it—“Oh! they are having meetings for getting together these girls off the street. It is no use—you may try; it is no use trying to reform them. And then here are other people looking after these low characters, going into those nasty back slums. Well, if people get there, they ought to be there; we ought not to lower ourselves to look after such good for nothing people. There is the church, if they do not choose to go, let them stay away.” As for going after the very lowest, some people turn up their noses at the very idea of it. This is just the horrible old Jewish monopolising of the gospel; as if these people were not as good as you, for all their sins and for all their poverty; for though their vice may happen to be outward, it is not a whit more detestable than the pride of some people which makes a boast of a self-righteousness which does not exist. I do not know which God looks upon with the greatest abhorrence, the open sinner or the openly good living person whose inward pride opposes the gospel. It does not matter to the physician whether he sees the eruption outside the skin or knows it to be inside; perhaps he thinks it may be harder to get at the second than at the first. Now, our Lord Jesus Christ will have you to know, however good you are, that you must come to him just as the vilest of the vile must come. You must come as guilty—you cannot come as righteous; you must come to Jesus to be washed; you must come to him to be clothed. You think you do not need washing; you imagine you are clothed, and covered, and beautiful to look upon; but oh! the garb of outward respectability, and of outward morality, often is nothing but a film to hide an abominable leprosy, until God’s grace changes the heart. God requires truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part he will make us to know wisdom; but this superficial England of ours is perfectly satisfied with outside gentility, and you may be as rotten as you wish within the heart. The living God will have no pretence, you must be born again. This doctrine, again, is one which people cannot endure, and they will say all harsh things about the preacher, and for this reason they reject Christ, but in so doing they reject their own mercy, they reject the only hope of heaven, and they seal their own destruction.
15. I wish the time did not fly quite so rapidly when I have such a subject as this. I seem to have the consciences of some of you here, and I am hammering away as with a big sledge hammer, but I am afraid there is very little effect produced, because the iron is cold. Oh that the Lord would thrust you into the furnace, and make you like molten iron! Then the hammer of the gospel and the law together might well beat you into something like an evangelical state, and you might be saved. God’s arm is strong enough, God’s fire is fierce enough, to melt even the iron of self-righteousness.
16. III. And now, WHAT CAME OF IT?
17. This came of it. First of all, they thrust the Saviour out of the synagogue, and then they tried to hurl him down the brow of the hill. These were his friends, good, respectable people: who would have believed it of them? You saw that goodly company in the synagogue who sang so sweetly, and listened so attentively, would you have guessed that there was a murderer inside everyone of them? It only needed the opportunity to bring the murderer out; for there they are all trying to throw Jesus down the hill. We do not know how much devil there is inside any one of us; if we are not renewed and changed by grace, we are heirs of wrath even as others. The description which is given in Romans, that second chapter, that awful chapter, is a truthful picture of every child of Adam. He may look respectable; he may seem to be a lamb, and to be so quiet that a weaned child might play on the cockatrice’s den; but he is a deadly cockatrice for all that. The snake may sleep, and you may play with it, but let it wake up, and you will see that it is a deadly thing. Sin may lie dormant in the soul, but there may come a time when it will wake up; and there may come a time in England when those good people who hang on to the skirts of Christ, and attend our places of worship, may actually develop into persecutors. It was so in England. The people who used to hear the gospel at the close of Henry VIII’s day—the people that were so pleased to hear Hugh Latimer under Edward VI, were quite as ready to carry a fagot under Queen Mary, and to burn the servants of the Lord. My dear friends, your opposition to Christ may not take that active form, but unless you are converted you are enemies to Jesus. You deny it! I ask you why then do you not believe in him? Why do you not trust him? You are not opposed to him, why do not you yield to him? But as long as you do not trust him, I can only mark you down as his enemy. You give this clearest proof of it, that you will not even be saved by him. If there was a man drowning, and another man put out his hand, and he said, “No, I will not be saved by you, I would sooner be drowned,” what a proof that would be of enmity! What proof could be more plain? That is your case, you refuse to be saved by Christ’s grace. Oh, what an enemy of Christ at the bottom of your heart you must be!
But what came of it? Why, though they thus thrust him out, they
could not harm the Saviour. The harm was all their own. Christ did
not fall from the hill; he escaped by his miraculous power: and the
gospel will not be harmed even though you reject it, and do worse
than reject it—set yourself in opposition to it. Jesus Christ glides
through the midst of his enemies uninjured. Through the persecutions
of Nero, and Diocletian, the true Christ of God went on his way.
Through all the burnings of Mary, and the hangings of Elizabeth I,
right on through the times of Claverhouse and his dragoons, the good
old gospel remained unconquered by its foes. It still remains to this
very day the same: it escapes from all the anger of its most virulent
foes. But what became of them? Well, they had rejected Christ, and he
left them, left them unhealed because of their unbelief—that will be
your case. And now it is almost two millennia ago, and the souls of
all these men of Nazareth have appeared before the judgment seat; and
in a few more years, when the great trumpet shall sound, all those
men who tried to throw him down the brow of the hill will have to
look at him; and they will see him seated where they cannot grasp
him, nor abuse him, nor cast him down. What a sight it will be for
them! Will they say to one another, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” When
they see him sitting on the throne of his glory, and all his holy
angels with him, will they say, “His mother, is she not with us, and
his brothers and his sisters?” Will they then say to him, “Physician,
heal yourself?” Oh, what a change will come over those brazen brows!
How for every sneer there will be a blush, and for each word of anger
there will be cries, and weeping, and wailings, and gnashings of
teeth! My hearers, the same thing will happen to you. Within a few
more years, you and I will have mixed our bones with mother earth,
and then after that shall come a general resurrection, and we shall
live and stand in the latter days upon the earth, and Christ will
come in the clouds of heaven, and you who heard the gospel and
despised him, what will you say? Have your apology ready, for you
will soon be called upon to say why judgment should not be pronounced
upon you. You cannot say you did not know the gospel, or that you
were not warned of the result of rejecting it: you have known, what
more could you have known? But your heart would not receive what you
knew. When the Lord begins to say, “Depart, you cursed,” what claim
will you have not to be numbered with that accursed company? It will
be in vain to say, “We have eaten and drank in your presence, and you
have taught in our streets,” for that will be an aggravation that the
kingdom of heaven came so near to you, and yet you did not receive
it. And when the thunderbolts are launched, and he who was once the
Lamb so full of mercy, shall shine forth as the Lion of the tribe of
Judah, full of majesty, that thunderbolt shall be winged with extra
force and speed with this tremendous fact—that you rejected Christ,
that you heard him, but turned a deaf ear to him; that you neglected
the great salvation, and did despite to the Spirit of grace. As I
cannot even hope to find words that can have the force of God’s own
language, I shall close this sermon by reading you these few words,
which I beg you to lay to your heart. They are in Proverbs: “Because
I have called, and you refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no
man regarded it; but you have set at naught all my counsel, and would
have none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will
mock when your fear comes; when your fear comes as desolation, and
your destruction comes as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish come
upon you. Then they shall call upon me, but I will not answer; they
shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: because they hated
knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord: they would have
none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. Therefore they
shall eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own
devices.” (Proverbs 1:24-31) May God save you from that curse.
[Portion of Scripture Read Before Sermon—Luke 4:16-44]