And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles sought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath.…
I. THAT CLEARLY WE ALL ARE, however exorbitant may be our estimate of our own excellencies. Finite merit can never entitle us to an infinite reward. If it were ordained that for each year lived in perfect virtue we were to have meted out to us one year more of heaven, he would be a rash man who would affirm that the reward was insufficient. But suppose that for each such year we were to have a thousand years in glory, who would dare to say that the reward was not far in advance of our deserts?
1. Try and form some idea of everlasting life, that you may be the better able to realise how little you can merit it.
(1) It stands contrasted with all forms of life in this transient world. We read of some who seem to have lived to an extraordinary age in primitive times. Yet each record ends with the words, "And he died." Even Methuselah had to come to this at last. I have seen trees in England that possibly may have been growing in the time of Caesar, and there are trees in America that may have been young in the days of Moses, but even these have to die at last. Let your mind wander backwards until you reach the time when man first appeared, and back further through the long ages in which animal life assumed a thousand forms of wonder and beauty, while type after type appears only to pass away. Go back further still through those past ages whose history is written only in "scarped cliff and quarried stone," until you reach the period inconceivably remote, when the earliest forms of life began to exist. Look back beyond that to the time when the world was desolate and lifeless, and back beyond that to the time when it was but a stormy aggregation of gases and vapours, and back beyond that to a time when the planet had no separate existence; and as you contemplate these vast geological periods, which have to be measured by millions of years, reflect that all these are but as a watch in the night as compared with everlasting life, and then tell me who can merit such a destiny as that.
(2) Try to present the wondrous vision of the future. Everlasting life! the glory of an age that has no period; a God-like life — a life in which existence itself must be an unmixed boon, because all that could interfere with its blessedness has passed away forever; and as you contemplate the wondrous object, pause and ask, "What can I do that I should win for myself such a prize?"
2. But now look at the other side. Although eternal life is so glorious, yet there is not a man in this congregation who can bring his own heart to be satisfied with the prospect of anything less. Promise to yourself, if you will, a thousand ages, or multiply that thousand by any number of figures, yet let it be understood that there is to come a term at last, sooner or later, and at once there is a bitter drop in your cup of pleasure.
3. But now place these two definite conclusions side by side — that we none of us can deserve eternal life, and that we cannot be satisfied with anything short of it. Bring these two facts together, and then you will find yourselves landed in one of two further conclusions — either that man is to be disappointed, and that human life is to be the victim of death, or else eternal life must become ours without our meriting it, that is to say, by deed of gift on the part of Him who alone has the power to impart it. Nothing can be more plain than the utterances of the New Testament upon this point (John 10:27, 28; Romans 6:23; 1 John 5:9-11).
4. But if God has given it, why is it that we do not possess it? The answer is, that a gift needs to be accepted as well as given. The gift has not been given to each sinner severally, but it has been treasured up in the Son for all. "He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life." Over and over again we are taught that our eternal life is dependent upon our faith in Christ as God's provision for our need. Now it is obvious that this faith is not an exhibition of merit, but rather a confession of helplessness. Hence clearly it follows that this life is only to become ours by deed of gift. We may receive a gift by an act of simple faith, but something more than faith is required to earn it. If, for instance, the condition had been prayer, we might have felt entitled to some sort of favourable consideration because we had struggled so long and so patiently. Or if the condition had been fasting, etc., we should have felt that our penances had established some sort of claim upon God's mercy. Or had the condition been almsgiving, should we not have felt as if we had paid a very considerable, if not a sufficient, price for this wondrous boon? But faith is at once the simplest and the least meritorious of conditions, and in ordaining this God has not only proved that eternal life is a gift, but that it is a gift that none need find it difficult to appropriate.
5. And this leads to the next point, that there is no excuse for us if we do not possess ourselves of eternal life. If we had to earn it we might well despair. But what have we to say for ourselves if we are so blind to our own interests as to refuse to accept everlasting life as a gift? Are you possessed of eternal life? You have no right to remain uncertain about this. It is not too much then to say that you may become possessed of this blessed gift today. Will you spurn such a splendid gift as this? And will you barter this for fleeting trifles, and thus judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life?
II. But you say, "HOW CAN WE AVOID JUDGING OURSELVES UNWORTHY OF ETERNAL LIFE IF, AS YOU HAVE YOURSELF SHOWN, THIS IS OUR REAL CONDITION? If We are unworthy of it, nothing is gained by our abstaining from judging ourselves to be so." This objection brings us to ask, "In what sense were these Jews judging themselves unworthy?" Obviously not in the sense in which we have used the words; had that been so, they would have been the more disposed to listen to the messengers who brought it as a gift. It is one thing to be absolutely unworthy of any particular benefit, and another to prove relatively unworthy of it when it is brought within our reach. If a benevolent man chooses to take a homeless street Arab and offer him the benefits of a comfortable home, it is clear that this fortunate boy is receiving treatment that he can lay no claim to; he is absolutely undeserving of it. If, however, his benefactor chooses to bestow all this kindness upon him, it is a deed of gift, and the unworthiness of the boy is no bar to his enjoying it. But suppose the silly boy does not know when he is well off, turns his back upon his benefactor, and prefers the gutter to the mansion — what do we say of him now? It is with quite a different meaning now that we affirm that he is unworthy of his benefactor's goodness; and so absolutely we are all unworthy of everlasting life. But when God brings this unspeakable gift within our reach, we judge ourselves relatively unworthy when we treat the priceless treasure as though it were not a thing worth having. Now this is the great sin of man. "Ye put it from you." All I that is how we pronounce sentence upon ourselves. Men put it from them —
1. When they are too busy with other concerns to pay any attention to this. The making of money, the improvement of our social position, the politics of the day, the claims of science or of art, these things are allowed to absorb the attention, while the great question, besides which all other things are mere trifles, How shall I inherit eternal life? remains unanswered and unconsidered.
2. When they endeavour to feel satisfied with a religion that does not impart this gift.
3. When they allow themselves to be blinded by prejudice, or held in bondage by the opinions of others. This was the way in which these Jews of Antioch put it from them. The first thing to be settled before we touch doctrines or party creeds is the question of life.
4. When they treat it with contempt, sneering at it as cant and hypocrisy, instead of examining carefully the nature of the spiritual phenomena occurring before their eyes.
5. By clinging to the sins and follies of which the apostle says so truly, "The end of those things is death." We cannot sow the seeds of death and reap the harvest of life.
(W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath.
WEB: So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath.