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not a physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” How plainly did this answer declare that all men are sinners in the sight of God; that “there is none righteous, no not one." For surely our Lord would not have left his eternal home in the heaven of heavens to recall righteous beings into the path of duty. Surely those inust have been sinners, whom He at so great a cost came to bring to repentance. Surely, “if He died for all, then were all dead.” Oh! what a reproof was there in those blessed words, for all who, like these proud Scribes and Pharisees, fancied themselves righteous :—they are sick indeed, even unto death, but they know it not; therefore they do not see their need of a physician, and do not seek to him for a cure. These are not the persons whom Jesus came to save. The really sick, those who know and feel themselves to be sinners before God, to them this gracious Saviour came. To them He spoke those comforting words, “I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; for they that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” The Pharisees you see found great fault with Him for associating with those whom they considered as great sinners; therefore our Lord explains to them that He does not move among such persons, as their companion, but as their physician. Just as if our Lord had said, “With whom should a physician converse, but with his sick patients ? Now I am come into the world to act the part of a kind physician unto men; surely then I must go among them, I must take all opportunities of conversing with them, that I may help and heal them; for they that are sick need the physician: but as for you, Scribes and Pharisees, who think yourselves well, I have no hopes of doing good unto you; for such as think themselves well desire no physician's help.”
E. Then these Pharisees, Mamma, were not righteous, though they complained of our Lord for eating with sinners ?
M. No, Edward; and had our Saviour acted as they proposed, and declined to eat with sinners, He must have refused to accept of their invitations, which we shall find He did not, as well as that of Matthew. For though they were very strict in their outward conduct, and on that account had a great contempt for the publicans, they were by no means free themselves. For not only does the Scripture represent all the world guilty before God, but by St. John the Baptist's account, and indeed by what our Saviour Himself says, we see that the Pharisees were more than commonly wanting in righteousness. They made indeed a great show of religion ; but generally it was mere show: their hearts and secret lives being full of wickedness. Even in the better sort of them pride spoiled all they did, and caused the penitent publican to be far more pleasing in the sight of God than they, or than any who, like them, boast of their righteousness, and think they have no need of repentance.
E. Oh! but, dear Mamma, I am sure we all need repentance.
M. Indeed we do, my child; we have every one of us offended against God in thought, word, and deed; we have all “erred and strayed from His ways like lost sheep;” and unless we repent and return to the Great Shepherd of our souls we must perish. This is what our Saviour's words mean, that the world which He came to call to repentance, is not a righteous, but a sinful world. There may be other beings, like the Holy Angels, who need no repentance; but man is fallen and corrupt; his moral nature altogether disordered by sin, and greatly needing the help of the Physician.
When our blessed Lord ate and drank with sinners, He taught us that such are those whom He came to save; that such are we, and that, until we feel ourselves to be such, and go to Him with humble and deep repentance for help, we can have no share in His Salvation. We must not indeed suppose that, by eating and drinking with sinners, our Lord meant to encourage sin. Oh no!
sinners to call them to repentance; He visited those who were spiritually sick, to cure them, not to increase their disease.
Our Lord's presence at this feast led the Pharisees to ask another question, about fasting; they came to Jesus and said, “ Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not ?" Fasting is in itself neither good nor bad. It has been chiefly used by pious persons, for the sake of humbling themselves before God in seasons of sorrow. at this very time, a season of great sorrow to John's disciples; for he was in prison, and fit was it for them to mourn and lament. But to the disciples of Jesus, especially to Matthew, who gave the feast, and the other Apostles, this season was not yet come.
On the contrary they were rejoicing in having so lately been called to follow the Son of God wherever He went; they had their blessed Lord and Master continually with them, and they little knew how soon He
Now it was,
would be taken away from them. This then was no time with them to weep; mourning and fasting would have been as unnatural in them as weeping at a marriage feast: and this was what our Lord meant when He said, in reply to their questions, “ Can the children of the bridechamber fast, when the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.” Yes when the blessed Jesus should return to His Father and leave them alone, then indeed they would have good cause to weep and lament; but they cannot grieve much for any thing whilst He is still with them. Solomon, the wisest of men, had said long before, " There is a time to weep, and a time to laugh ;” and One greater than Solomon has here taught us, that there is a time to feast and a time to fast. To grieve when God gives us happiness, would be, as our Saviour said, like repairing an old garment with new cloth, which must make the rent worse; or like putting new wine before the fermentation has ceased, into old leathern bottles such as are used in Eastern countries. The consequence would be that the bottles would burst, and the wine would be spoiled.
As unreasonable would it have been to put grief into the hearts of the disciples in the midst of their joy at finding such a Saviour, and being called expressly by Himself to follow Him. The time, alas! would come when they would be inclined enough to sorrow; but it would have been as unnatural for them now to mourn, as for one who has tasted old wine, immediately to ask for new. For as old wine is better than new, so is joy, when God permits it to visit us, to be preferred to sorrow. Only it is good for us, when we are happy, to remember Who it is that allows us to be so, and not to suffer the happiness that He gives to lead our hearts away from the Giver. It is also good for us to remember that joy cannot stay with us always in this world ; that times of sorrow may and will come. Let us bear this in mind, that we may
make sure of Christ for our Friend in the time of trouble. But we must now bring our conversation to a close, for it has already occupied us for a long time.
E. Only let me ask you one question, Mamma. Is Matthew the publican the same as St. Matthew who wrote the Gospel ?
M. He is, and we have the satisfaction of knowing that he was from the first an eye-witness of our Lord's labours. For though God gave His Holy Spirit to guide the sacred writers, He does not unnecessarily work miracles. One great end which was answered in choosing the Apostles, was, that they thus became witnesses continually of what our Lord did and suffered; so that they could afterwards bear their testimony to Christ, by their preaching in different nations, and some of them by their writings, which still remain the light and ornament of the Christian Church. See Matt. ix. 9. Mark ii. 13-22. Luke v. 27–39.
TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY EVENING.
THE POOL OF BETHESDA.
M. You will remember, Edward, that the first public opening of our blessed Lord's ministry took place