"And the Pharisees and Scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them." (Luke 15:2)
We read in the word that God said, in a council of the Divine persons, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness (Gen. 1:26):" and that the Holy Spirit was with him. Paul, alluding to the fall, says, "Sin entered, and death by sin." Death temporal, spiritual, and eternal, "and so death," he says, "passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." "Judgment came on all men to condemnation." Adam sinning, the Holy Spirit left him, and the image of God in him, in which he was created, was lost. Therefore, "by the disobedience of one, Adam, many" (that is, all) "were made sinners (Rom. 5:19)."
In this state are all men by nature. Now, in my text we read, "This man receiveth sinners." The man here spoken of is the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom we read in another place, "Be it known unto you, that through this man is preached the forgiveness of sins, and by him all that believe are justified from all things from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses." We should not be discouraged from coming to Jesus Christ on account of sin, for here we read, "he receiveth sinners." "He came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Matt. 9:13)." And all these, all the elect, Christ Jesus received at the hand of his Father in the council of peace, and in the everlasting covenant of grace. He desired the elect of God, and the Father gave them to him, "not withholding the request of his lips." "He asked," (it is said), "life of thee, and thou gavest it him, even length of days for ever and ever (Psalm 21:2,4)." He receives them as the Father's gift, who gave them to him as his children. These children are all taught of him. "All thy children shall be taught of the Lord (Isa. 54:13);" and, bless his name, he continues to teach us daily by his word, by his Spirit, and by his providence.
By his providences he teaches us that, wherever we are, we are under his providential care. The Lord careth for us; he is ever thinking of us. This is a thing which ought to dwell every day in our minds, namely, that in heaven God is watching over us, that we are daily and hourly in the keeping of his providence. "The peace of his children," (it is said), "shall be great." Their internal peace, which arises from a sense of pardon and of justification. And when they come into tribulation, which the Lord says they shall have, "In me," says Jesus Christ, "they shall have peace." And with what composure of mind, with what tranquility of mind, does a man sit down when tried and perplexed with tribulation, when he knows and feels that he is pardoned, that he is justified from all things! He feels himself quite satisfied with the will of God; and, although tossed and buffeted in the world, he rests undismayed upon the promise, "In quietness and confidence shall be your strength."
He receives them as his children at the hand of his Father. The promise is, that these children shall be established in righteousness. Now the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ, is unto all and upon all them that believe; and in order that these children may be established in righteousness, faith must be given them. It is only through believing that they can be made the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. Every believer is justified, and being justified, is a righteous man, notwithstanding he may and will feel daily the depravity of his nature, and the working of indwelling sin, which is one of the greatest plagues that he has in life. And although it is thus with him, and though he groans and mourns, more or less, over indwelling sin every day, yet these remnants of sin shall not be imputed to him. "Blessed is the man to whom God will not impute sin (Rom. 3:8)." That is the greatest blessing God has to bestow upon him. If this be your case, you may return from this place just as the publican returned from the Temple, when he went down to his house justified; and exercised daily as you may be with the depravity of your nature, or the workings of inward pollution and uncleanness, these remnants of sin shall never be imputed to you.
Christ receives the elect from the Father as his children, he receives them as his sheep; we are the sheep of his pasture and the work of his hands, and he will grant us the promised fruit. Says he, "My sheep hear my voice;" they have felt my my love, my grace, my mercy: "My sheep hear my voice, and know me." They have also other proofs and evidences of their interest in their great and gracious Shepherd. Is not this their daily portion, watching for the gracious words that proceed out of his mouth, and waiting for the choice morsels that come from his hand? They are given to the Lord Jesus Christ as his seed, as of a truth they are; and the blessed word which is written concerning his seed, is fulfilled to them. "I will," says God, "pour out my Spirit upon thy seed, my blessing upon thine offspring(Isa. 44:3)." They are blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus, and they are brought to know and enjoy the blessings and the benefit of the death of their Redeemer, and his most glorious resurrection.
Thus it is written in the word, and I believe that it shall be as the Lord hath spoken. What hath he spoken? What hath he said? "Even as the dew of Hermon, and as the dew descended upon Mount Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore," and they are brought to Mount Zion. "I will pour out my Spirit upon thy seed, my blessing upon thine offspring; and they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water-courses (Isa. 44:4)." This divine and spiritual life, which is communicated by the Spirit, when it begins to spring up, will at once be seen. Where this life is communicated, the workings of it will be at once perceptible. Its recipients will come out from the world; they will withdraw from it, and their minds will be continually after the word of God. Their friends may miss them, and they will be found alone, in some place where they can without interruption search the Scriptures. And not only this, but they will confess their sins before God; if not audibly, they will confess their sins in their own hearts, and seek from the Lord the forgiveness of them. Feeling their ignorance in the word, their most cherished employment is more or less to beseech Jesus Christ to open their understandings, and show them by the Scriptures what is the mind of the Holy Ghost concerning them. "They shall spring up as among the grass;" which springing up is from the Holy Spirit and his grace, for "the water that I shall give you shall be in you a well of water springing up into eternal life." As this springing up is felt and enjoyed, there is an increasing confidence, "I shall not die, but live and declare the works of God;" "I shall not die till I have seen the Lord Christ." I shall have a manifestation of him to my soul; he will manifest the name of his Father to me; he is my faithful friend, and he will give me an experience of every part of his covenant name.
Again, the Lord Jesus receives the elect as his portion, his spouse, his bride, his inheritance, his people, his church; and Christ so loved the church that he gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word (Eph. 5:25,26). "He receiveth sinners." His blood cleanseth from all sin; the blood of sprinkling being applied to their consciences, they are all fair; they are without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; they are perfectly comely, righteous, holy, and clean, and all in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the fountain of the water of life; and all that are washed therein were given to him in the council of peace, and he is made to every one of them wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption 1 Cor. 1:30). And, concerning all those whom he received from his Father in the covenant of grace, he says, "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me." They that come to him always come "with weeping and with supplication;" and although their hearts are dull indeed at times, and they know what is meant by the stony heart, yet they have moments of contrition, and shed the tears of repentance. They are enabled to come to the Lord in Zion by the power and mediation of Christ, who leads them "with weeping and supplications;" they begin to enter into what God says, "I will lead them in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble." They are led, not by their own wisdom, but only by the grace of God, straight to the Lord Jesus Christ, and to him shall they all come. Well, say you, how am I to come? Not as holy, not as righteous, not as good, but as a sinner. Come as one laboring to obtain peace and rest in your conscience, for, with all your labor, you cannot get it while your views are still legal. Come "as laboring and as heavy laden." "Iniquity has gone over my head, as a burden too heavy for me to bear, and grace is not given me to cast my burden on the Lord." Laboring and heavy laden, what do such want but peace in their consciences and rest in their souls? Christ tells every one how they may come at it, and you will never get it in any other way; you must come to God by him. Christ says to every poor, sensible, lost sinner, "I will give you that peace, that rest, that tranquility, that composure of mind that no other one can bestow on you; then, leave your own righteousness, your own wisdom, your own prudence, your own good works, leave them all, and come to me with sackcloth on your backs, ashes on your heads, and the rope of condemnation about your necks; and you will find that I shall do just what is revealed of me in my word, 'this man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.'"
Then, being given to him (as we have been speaking)by his Father, every sensibly-lost, helpless, perishing sinner that comes to him, saying, "Help, Lord, or I perish! have mercy! receive me, gracious Lord!" that comes "laboring and heavy laden," he receives with open arms into his love, affection and favor; and when they are thus received into the love and favor of Christ, what a melting of the heart there is! What a sweet and blessed feeling of rest and security! What comfort from the word! What a full enjoyment of his many precious promises! "He receiveth sinners," and every poor sinner that is taught of God may come to him. All that are taught of God are taught by the Spirit. He comes into their hearts; but when he, the Spirit, "is come, he shall convince them of sin." Before this coming of the Holy Ghost, the sinner is not in the least concerned about sin; like Gallio, he cares not for God, nor the things of God, and in his word to him there is not anything that is good. Notwithstanding this, he is in the eternal purposes of God a vessel of mercy; and at length the time is come, the decree is gone forth for his effectual calling, the Spirit falls upon him, and in an instant he feels himself concerned about sin. Perhaps he thought before that he was very good, very holy, and very righteous; but now he feels only one thing, and that is, that he is a sinner, although he has not done such and such things as many around him have done. No one knows what this sense of being a sinner is, but those who have felt it.
I remember that when my conscience accused me I was covered with shame, because of the multitude of evil things which were in me, and of which none knew anything, nor I myself indeed, until by the teaching of the Spirit I was made to feel their sinfulness. "When he is come, he shall convince you of sin;" of original sin, "that by the offence of one, Adam, judgment came upon many;" thus you will feel, that without one actual transgression you are undone; that you came into the world in a state of condemnation, that in Adam you sinned unto death. But he will not only convince you of original sin, but of actual transgression. Many things will be brought home to your consciences, which have never given you any concern before, things which you never thought were sins. "He shall convince you of sin," original and actual transgression. He shall convince you of the sin of your nature, and you will find that, turn which way you will, and do what you may, you will find you are vile, and altogether defiled with sin. I used to think myself very good and righteous; but, alas! alas! so far from that, how did I stand? What did I feel when he came? I then felt that I was filled with unrighteousness; that I was one of those unrighteous ones that the word said should not enter into the kingdom of heaven; that I was one of those who should not stand in the day of judgment; that I was one of those of whom it is expressly said, "They shall not stand in the congregation of the Lord." Fifty years ago, nay more, I used to think that I believed, and that my path was right; but how did I fear, and quake, and tremble, when I obtained a glimpse of my real condition? I then thought that I should never stand in the congregation of the godly; that, however things might go on through life, the day of separation would come, and where should I then stand? "At the left hand," my fears would answer, not amongst those who are to go into life eternal. My thoughts used to dwell very much at that time on the passage, "If a man gain the whole world and lose his own soul, what shall it profit him?" I was at that time much exercised with almost irresistible inclinations to "get on in life," as it is called; and while I had my eyes fixed upon this spot of earth, the words "what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" went through my mind, and made me try to reconcile my worldly desires with my hopes of heaven; nor did I get rid of the delusion until the word was applied with power to my heart. "What is the hope of the hypocrite when God taketh away his soul?" Let you and I remember, every day, that we stand before God just as we are. If our consciences condemn us with this, that, and the other, God is greater than our consciences, and he knows all things.
"He shall convince you of sin," but not of sin only, but also of righteousness; that is, the want of a better righteousness than your own. In truth, we have no righteousness of our own at all; therefore, he convinces us of the necessity of a righteousness by which we may enter into the kingdom of heaven. He also convinces us of judgment; and when he does that, our thoughts all the day long run upon the day of judgment. Before, we gave ourselves no concern about that great day, and if by any chance it did intrude itself into our minds, we put it away as soon as possible; but now we are convinced of judgment to come, and that there can be no escape from judgment; for we must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, and receive sentence according to what has been done in the body. I used to think, "What have I done?" I could only answer myself, "Nothing; nothing in the world but sin;" and from the light I then had of the word, it appeared clear to me that the wrath of God was revealed against just such people as I. I had nothing to do with other people and their sins; I no longer said I was no worse than others, but felt myself a lost man. I often think now of the state my mind was in when it pleased God to open my eyes, and to give me to see I was a lost man; that the whole of mankind was in this lost state; and that none could or would be saved but those who are called and pardoned. I am just of this faith now; all that the Father gave to Christ shall come to him, and they only. Many would be vastly offended if they were told this; but it is the truth. There will not be one more, there will not be one less. The gate is strait, the way is narrow, and what makes them so? The fact that we want to bring something more than Christ. Only bring the least possible thing else, and we make the road broader than the Lord, who is the living way. Nothing will give us admission at the strait gate, but the righteousness of Jesus Christ, without the least thing of our own added to it. In nine hundred and ninety-nine cases out of a thousand, the sinner is hindered and hampered by free will, and till that is gone, and he feels that it is all free grace, he will never get in. Christ was once asked, "Lord, who then shall be saved?" and when you ask that question Christ will answer, "Do you strive to enter in at the strait gate;" and that is what I say. Go on, if you feel that you do strive; but, say you, "I have been long striving, pray what will give me an entrance?" It is the justifying righteousness of Christ that gives us an entrance into the gate of life. The Holy Ghost brings it near, sets it before us, enables us to submit to it, and, with the Apostle, to renounce our own righteousness and embrace that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith. By the Lord Jesus, all who believe are justified from all things, from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses. He that believeth is passed from death unto like, and shall not come into condemnation. You will be assured that you have gained the entrance when you are visited with the Spirit of adoption, and enabled to say, "My Father, my God! the rock of my salvation (89:26):" when the happy words, "God in peace, my son, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven you," are applied with power to your heart. It is a somewhat puzzling matter to understand how this can be reconciled with the word, "Many shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able." Those who are mentioned here as seeking an entrance without ever being able to enter in, are those who are still legal, still clinging, more or less, to their own works. They do not come strictly as lost and destitute creatures, unable to think one good thought, or speak one good word; or, if they should read a good work, or hear a good thing from any other person, without the least power or disposition to receive it. I was tried for a long time on account of the evil of my nature, the power of the adversary, and the fiery darts of the Devil, as they were hurled through my mind. I could not go on without reading the word, and yet I dreaded to take up my Bible; sometimes the enemy came furiously upon me, and for a time carried all before him. I could not live without prayer, and yet I could not pray, but that a multitude of things, too dreadful ever to mention, rose up in my heart. If I heard another pray, I felt inclined to shut my ears; if I heard the word preached, it was just the same with me; I could never meditate on the things which concerned my soul, but instantly the Devil would hurl through my mind that which I could not mention. These were the exercises which I had for a great length of time; but I bless God that I am not now terrified and affrighted as I used to be. I now firmly believe that all the iniquity with which I was tried came from the Devil, because I would not have entertained such thoughts if I had had the power to withstand and overcome them; and I am brought to believe what the Holy Ghost says in the word, "This iniquity shall fall on his own pate." "He shall convince you of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment." When we are convinced of these three things, how do we come to Christ? We come to him as lost, as helpless, as perishing sinners, saying, "Be merciful to me, O Lord; for thy great name's sake, pardon my iniquity, for it is great." It seems strange that people should ask for forgiveness on the plea that their iniquity is great. For my own part, I used at times thus to think. Persons go into things which I never did, and never could; such and such persons were, I thought, indulging in secret sins, and yet appeared to enjoy God's presence and favor. I thought I know not what; in all these things the enemy came in upon me like a flood, and I was almost carried away. When these things come we must pray, we must throw ourselves at the footstool of Jesus as lost, distressed, perishing sinners, in anguish of soul, and knowing not what to do, for the word says, "This man receiveth sinners."
Suppose you say, "So I have come, and so I do come." All I can answer is just what the word says, "This man receiveth sinners." If your hearts are honest, if it be really thus with you, there is another word for you. "He that cometh to me I will in no wise cast our." Of whom does he here speak? of sensibly-lost, helpless sinners, perishing sinners; and "This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them." He receives them openly, he receives them into his love and affection, and speaks thus to them, "Come out of the world and be ye separate, and I will receive you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord." Though you are poor, helpless, backsliding creatures, and prone to sin, yet after all he will receive you graciously. You may fear, and be disquieted; be so troubled with doubts, and so harassed that you cannot call upon the Father; troubles may come from the thought that you have not been received, and that you shall not be accepted; but the time will come when you will say, as others have said before, "While I was yet a great way off, and trembling lest I should not be received and accepted, the Father saw me, and ran and fell on my neck and kissed me, and showed his compassion and readiness to forgive," (as we read, "received him gladly)." You have nothing to bring; all your substance is wasted by riotous living, and all that you want is to feel this in order to be received graciously. "This man receiveth sinners." I stayed at this a long time. I used to think, if I were more actively engaged in the Church; if I prayed more fervently, and without these working of evil, God would own my prayers; if I could be more holy altogether, then things would be better with me. Oh no! while these things remain they keep us from Christ. We want to be holy, we want to be good, and then we think we could come with a pretty good face to Christ; but the word says, "This man receiveth sinners."
But as you and I find that what is born of the flesh is flesh to this day, and as we believe from what we read in the word, that it will be so while we are in the body, how will it be with us at the last? Why, when Christ has wiped away all our troubles, when he has freed us from all sin, as he will when he raises this body, in a form and fashion like his glorious body, he will then receive us to himself. Christ says, "In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. But I go to prepare a place for you (John 14:2,3);" and if we go where he is gone, as our representative, our advocate, our head, the recollection of al our trials and exercises and temptations will be swallowed up in the joys of his glorified presence. He is gone before, to prepare for his people mansions of peace, of rest, of comfort, of love and joy. He will come again; his counsel therefore to us is, "Be ye ready." He will come again to receive you, that you may be with him for ever, and behold his glory. This will be when he has freed us from all sin, by the death of our bodies; and when we rise again, all sin, all the corruption of our nature, will be left in the grave. We shall be fashioned like the glorious body of the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:21) . "This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them." And happy shall we be when we sit down to eat with him in his kingdom. I add no more. May God bless what I have spoken.