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IN this chapter and the one pre- do it with an assumed gravity and ceding, we have an interesting ac- a hypocritical profession of religcount of our Lord's conversation ion! But, Jesus, who knew what with some of his most intelligent, was in man, perceived the design subtle and bitter opposers. While of these canting impostors, and walking in the temple, as was his defeated it in such a manner, that custom, there came to him, first, they marvelled at him. Then the chief Priests, Scribes and El- came the Sadducees, a kind of freeders of the nation, and undertook to thinkers and atheists, who denied call in question his authority to teach the resurrection, and the existence and do as he had done. When these of invisible spirits, and laboured were silenced by a question re- to puzzle him with the case of the specting the baptism of John, and woman and her seven husbands. severely reproved by the parable of After the error of these had been the husbandmen; there were next fully exposed, and all the cavillers, sent to him some of the Pharisees who had attacked the Divine and Herodians, men of boasted Teacher, had been put to silence learning and acuteness, to catch and confounded, there came to him in his words. Their object him a man of a different characwas, to get hold of some unguard-ter, a Scribe indeed, but not like ed expression, by which they might represent him as unfriendly to government. This is an artifice frequently practised by the enemies of true religion. These Pharisees and Herodians came with a serious face, and said, "Master, we know that thou art true, and carest for no man: for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Cæsar, or not?" How natural it is for those, who would accuse Christ, or his servants, of being unfriendly to government, to
the others. The short account given of him in the verses preceding my text, is as follows: "And one of the Scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? and Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first com
mandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. And the Scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: For there is one God; and there is none other but he: and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, THOU ART NOT FAR FROM THE KINGDOM OF GOD.""
heart." These explanations of the words under consideration, however generally they may be received, and by whatever great names they may be sanctioned, are believed to be erroneous. But, without attempting a direct refutation of the comments of others, I will endeavour to illustrate the passage before us, by answering the following questions:
I. What did our Lord mean by saying to the Scribe, "Thou art not far from the kingdom of God?" And,
II. What reason had he for thus saying to this Jewish Lawyer?
I. What did our Lord mean by saying to the Scribe, "Thou art not far from the kingdom of God?" In answer to this question, let me observe,
This peculiar and remarkable expression of our Lord, it is apprehended, has been misunderstood, and so explained, as to lead to inferences, false in themselves, 1. That the phrase, kingdom of and subversive of some of the es- God, which occurs as much as sixsential truths of the gospel. Mr. ty times in the New Testament, Burkitt, in his exposition of the generally means the church of passage, writes, "As some per- Christ, under the last or Christian sons may be said to be far from dispensation. This, it is believed, the kingdom of God, so are there will be apparent to any one, who others, who may be said, not to be will take the pains to examine all far; such who have escaped the the passages, in which the phrase pollutions of the world, abstained occurs. I will quote two or three, from open and scandalous sins, are as a specimen: Mark, i. 14, 15, less wicked than the multitude"Now after that John was put in are, but are strangers to an inward, thorough and prevailing change in the frame of their hearts, and course of their lives; they have often said, I would be, but they never said, I will be the Lord's. When the work of regeneration is brought to the birth, after all it proves an abortion.". Similar to this is the paraphrase of that able, and generally correct expositor, Dr. Guise. His words are, "And when Jesus observed with what good humour and judgment the Scribe received his answer and replied to it, he expressed his approbation, saying, These sentiments and dispositions are near approaches to a real change of
prison, Jesus came into Gallilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent ye, and believe the gospel." Mark ix. 1, "And he said unto them, Verily, I say unto you, that there be some of them that stand here, who shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power." Luke xviii. 16, "Jesus said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: For of such is the kingdom of God." The phrase, kingdom of heaven, is of the same import. The kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven, is the church of
Christ, which began, when the Mosaic economy ended, and will continue forever. This kingdom, at first, consisted of the few, who embraced Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ; but it will, finally, embrace all the redeemed from among
2. The kingdom of God, or church of Christ, as it exists upon earth, has a visible appearance, and may be considered as including all those, who own Christ before men, and furnish evidence, that they are his true disciples.None, however, are really members of the kingdom of God, but such as have been born of the spirit, and cordially embrace the truth as it is in Jesus. In order to be properly a member of the kingdom of God upon earth, neither a profession without faith, nor faith without a profession, is sufficient; but one must both confess with the mouth, and believe with the heart. None but saints have a right to offer themselves to become members of a church of Christ; nor has a church of Christ a right to admit any as members, except such as appear to be real saints. Hence,
5. To be near the kingdom of God, is to be about to become a true and living member of the church of Christ. At the time of our Lord's conversation with the Scribe, the Mosaic ritual had waxen old, and was about to vanish away. The kingdom of heaven was at hand. The church of God was about to be purged of its unsound members, and to assume a new form, under the Christian dispensation. The olive-tree was shedding its dry and barren branches, to be grafted with fruitful scions. When, therefore, our Lord said to the Scribe, "Thou art not far from the kingdom of God," his meaning was, as if he had said, I perceive, from the
sentiments which you express, and the spirit which you manifest, that you are prepared to embrace the truths of my gospel, as soon as you shall be made acquainted with them, and that you will, ere long, unite with my disciples, and become a member of the visible Christian church, the kingdom of God upon earth.'
It remains to enquire,
II. What reason Christ might have, for thus speaking to the Jewish Lawyer?
An answer to this question, may be gathered from the preceding context, which has just been read. And,
1. Christ perceived, that this Scribe possessed a truly candid mind. He came to the Teacher sent from God, not to cavil, but to learn. Instead of manifesting a wish, like the Pharisees and Sadducees, to entangle Christ in his talk, he appeared desirous to hear the gracious words, which flowed from the lips of him, who spake as never man spake. There was nothing captious in the question, which he put to our Lord. It was a serious and truly important question, which evinced a sincere desire to know the truth respecting his duty to God.
2. Christ perceived, that this Scribe had correct views of the Divine Law. He readily assented to the answer, which our Lord gave to his question; and, in his remarks upon it, made it evident, that he had just apprehensions of the spirituality and extent of the law of God, and of the superior value of obedience to it, when compared with the performance of sacrificial rites and ceremonies.In this respect, he differed widely from the Pharisees and other Doctors of the law, who perverted the words of Moses and the Prophets, and made void the commandments of God by their traditions,
3. Christ perceived, that this Scribe not only understood, but really loved the Divine Law. He answered discreetly, and in such terms and with such an air, as manifested a cordial and warm attachment to the Law of God, in its true import and spirituality. Christ looked through his heart; and had he perceived that his professions were hollow, and his show of regard to the Divine Law, hypocritical and false, it is not to be supposed that he would have flattered his iniquity with an expression of his approbation. Without doubt, the Searcher of hearts saw him to be sincere, and a real lover of the holy, just and good Law of the Lord. Hence,
honest and good heart, and would, therefore, not only hear the word with joy, but keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.
Since such was the character of the Scribe, our Lord knew that he should soon be precious to him, as the true Messiah and Saviour of Israel, and that he would soon forsake all that he had, and take up the cross and follow him. And hence, with the greatest truth and propriety, he closed his conversation with him, by declaring, in the hearing of the multitude, "Thou art not far from the kingdom of God."
1. It is natural to conclude, from what has been said, that all the sound members of the Jewish church, in the days of our Saviour and his apostles, cordially embraced the gospel. Thus the Scribe was prepared to do, as soon as he was made acquainted with the character of Christ, the evidences of his Divine mission, and the na
4. Christ perceived, that this Scribe was a sound member of the true church of God. The Jewish church, was, at that time, the only true church of God upon earth. To this church the whole Jewish nation professedly belonged. Very many of them, however, were but Jews outwardly, being stiff-ture of his doctrine and requirenecked and uncircumcised in heart. But those, who were sound members of this true church of the living God, were real saints, who actually loved the Lord their God with all the heart, soul, mind and strength, and their neighbours as themselves. Such was the Scribe. And hence,
5. Christ perceived, that this candid, sincere, and upright Scribe was prepared to embrace the gospel, as soon as he should hear it, and to join the Christian church, as soon as it should be formed.The moral obstacle in the way of his embracing the gospel and becoming the disciple of Christ, had been removed by Divine grace; and every natural obstacle was soon to be removed by the light of evangelical truth, which was breaking in upon his mind. He had an
ments. And thus all were prepared to do, who were, what all the members of the Jewish church professed to be, friends of God, and lovers of his holy, just and good law. There was nothing to hinder such from receiving the Lord Jesus, as their Prophet, Priest and King. The prophecies attested the Divinity of his mission, his works manifested the Divinity of his person, and all his words and actions exhibited the purity and benevolence of his character. Those members of the ancient church, therefore, who could see no form nor comeliness in him, nor any thing for which they should desire him,' were morally blind, loving darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. Hence Christ said, "Ye believe not, because ye
are not of my sheep. Every one that hath heard and learned of the Father, cometh unto me." Those, who were broken off from the e good olive, because of their unbelief and rejection of Christ, were never sound members of the Jewrish church. He, who knew what was in man, pronounced them hypocrites, and compared them to A whited sepulchres.
2. We may infer from this subject, that those, who are really friendly to the Divine law, will not reject the gospel of Christ.Though the law and the gospel are distinct, yet they are not opposite. The law lies at the foundation of the gospel; and the gospel establishes the law. It requires precisely the same feelings of heart, to approve of the one, as to approve of the other. Those, who love the Divine law, receive the gospel, as worthy of all acceptation; and those, who embrace and 河 obey the gospel, are such as have been born of God, have become reconciled to the Divine character and government, and delight in the law of God after the inner man. Under the light of the gospel, all, who love God, repent of sin; and all, who repent of sin, receive Christ, as the Lord their righteousness. There is not a friend of God upon earth, who rejects the gospel of Jesus Christ.
s. We may infer, from what has been said, that our text lends no countenance to the popular sentiment, that there are two sorts of sinners, the one very bad, and the other negatively, if not positively good; the one stout-hearted and far from righteousness, and the other tender-hearted and near to holiness. This, moral sinners would feign believe; and this, some, whose duty it is to teach them better, encourage them to believe. But the Divine Teacher advanced no such absurd and un
scriptural sentiment, in the words of our text. The Scribe, who was
not far from the kingdom of God, was not a good, impenitent sinner, but a penitent, humble saint. He loved the law of God, which all impenitent sinners hate. He desired to know, that he might do the will of his heavenly Father; while all impenitent sinners say unto God, Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways. As there is but one kind of sin; so there is, essentially, but one sort of sinners. The difference between unrenewed men is merely circumstantial. They all possess the carnal mind, or evil heart, which is enmity against God, and are alike children of wrath, being dead in trespasses and sins. There is none that doeth good; no, not one. Nothing is more absurd, than to suppose, that there is a class of seeking sinners, who are daily growing better, and are already near to the kingdom of God. Impenitent sinners are always far from God and holiness, and are constantly growing worse, in proportion to the light and advantages which they enjoy. They are never so bad as when most thoroughly awakened and convinced of sin, and most deeply sensible of their guilt and danger. And hence it is easy to see, what direction it is proper to give enquiring sinners. The proper direction is not, Go on, seek and strive, and pray, with such hearts as you have: For they are in the way to death. But the proper and scriptural direction is, Turn ye, turn ye; for why will you die. Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spiritRepent and believe the gospelBelieve on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.
Wherefore, "Let the wicked,