« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
No. 1. VOL. 8. NEW-YORK, JUNE, 1833. WHOLE No. 85.
BY REV. GEORGE B. MILLER,
PROFESSOR IN THE LUTHERAN THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY AT HARTWICK, NEW-YORK.
THE CONVERSION OF ZACCHEUS.
LUKE XIX. 5.-Zaccheus, make haste and come down.
THE publicans were persons concerned in collecting the tolls and customs, which the Roman government were used to let out to the highest bidder. And they sometimes gained wealth by those frauds and impositions for which their situation afforded so very favorable an opportunity. But a variety of causes concurred to bring the whole body of publicans into abhorrence and contempt with the Jews. For first, the Jews still considered themselves a free people, though in the time of our Savior they were under the power of the Romans, who with their usual policy allowed to them in a great measure the exercise of their own laws. This independent spirit made them regard imposts and taxes under every shape as the badge of slavery. What tended still more to aggravate the animosity against the publicans was their being themselves Jews. Of a stranger, a heathen, nothing better could be expected; but, for one of their brethren to take part with the enemies of God's people was an injury not to be endured. Hence you may form some idea of the nature and degree of that antipathy with which these men were regarded by the rest of the nation. Our blessed Lord drew upon himself much obloquy and resentment, by the condescending familiarity with which he conversed with a set of men so universally detested. This single trait in his character was enough, in the sight of bigoted Pharisees, to disparage every excellence that the strongest prejudice had to acknowledge in him. "Why eateth your master with publicans and sinners?" was the taunting reproach made to his disciples. If this man were a prophet, he would know that they were sinners; that is, abandoned outcasts, whose touch was polluting. These were the principles that governed the judgment of self-righteous Jews, and caused them to condemn the noble conduct of the Redeemer, who considered none too low, too wretched,
or too dissolute, to be beneath his regard or instruction. His efforts were directed to reclaim the most sinful: as he aptly expresses himself," I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
To the class of despised publicans belonged the person to whom Christ addressed the words of our text: "Zaccheus, make haste and come down." Of his previous character not much is said by the sacred writer; only from the account of his riches, and his own confession, it is evident that he was not behind his brethren in extortion and covetousness. We are told that "he was the chief among the publicans, and was rich"-one that speculated on a large scale; and who probably took large contracts, and let them out again to others. Had he dealt fairly and honestly in this matter there might have been no just cause for reproach. But there was too much ground for the dislike to which he and his fraternity were subject: though this does by no means excuse the virulent hatred of the Jews; much less does it justify the indiscriminate contempt with which they regarded a whole body of men, among whom, we may suppose, there must have been many honorable exceptions.
It appears that, for some reason or other, the publican named in the text had a very strong desire to see Jesus. Under the influence of this feeling he had come out with the multitude that flocked to Christ, as he was about to enter Jericho. Owing to his small stature, he was unable to gratify his wishes, while the press was so great as to prevent his near approach. He therefore ran before, and climbed up a tree, standing near the road where Jesus was to pass. Was it the mere curiosity to see a celebrated prophet that induced him to take this pains? It may be. Then it was the happiest curiosity that ever possessed the breast of Zaccheus. But the consideration of all the circumstances connected with the history, leads one rather to suppose that it was something more than an idle curiosity. It is very probable, that the accounts which he had previously received of the miracles and doctrines of Christ, had excited in his mind a wish to be more fully acquainted with this great Teacher. The desire to be taught, and the earnest wish to forsake his sinful course and to become a follower of Christ, were beginning to spring up in the recesses of his soul; but he deemed himself unworthy of notice from this sacred personage. He wants to obtain a sight of one whom he revered and dreaded. He must first be satisfied whether he is indeed of that mild and gracious and condescending character generally ascribed to him. Behold him seated in a convenient place, where he hopes, unobserved, to examine the features of the Savior, concerning whom he has exalted ideas. Here he waits in breathless expectation the approach of Jesus; but judge what was his surprise, when he observed that the Savior cast his eye upon him. "How did he discover me?" Jesus speaks-"Zaccheus !" "What! does he call me by name? Whence does he know me? Wo is me! Now he will expose me before all this multitude for my crimes. What shall I do? where shall I hide myself? "Zaccheus, make haste and come down, for to-day I must abide at thy house." What language can describe the min
gled sensations of astonishment and joy and gratitude, that seized the breast of Zaccheus, when he heard these gracious words. To be at once relieved from all his fears; so unexpectedly to have his utmost wish fulfilled; a wish that lay concealed in the bottom of his heart, to which he thought no human being was privy, which he durst scarce repeat in silence to himself. What a flood of light now poured upon his mental vision. "Sure, this is no ordinary man. This is more than a prophet. Truly he is the Son of God. Else how could he know, even better than myself, what was passing in my mind? But what benignity and grace beam from his countenance, and sound from his lips! How is it, that he overlooks the learned scribes, the self-righteous Pharisees, the great, and those in high esteem, these or similar reflections passed the mind of Zaccheus, you must not imagine that he waited to have all his doubts resolved. No sooner did the Savior accost him, "Zaccheus, make haste and come down," than he unhesitatingly obeyed. Gratitude and joy lent speed to his limbs. Amid the sneers of Pharisees and scribes, and the murmurs of the astonished multitude, he conducts the Savior to his house, and gives him a cordial and a thankful welcome. Happy day! delightful meeting! Not only were his fears removed, but he felt himself to be another man. Repentance sprang up in his heart; faith in the Savior was called forth; new and heavenly hope beamed into his happy soul. His Another and a holier affection now attachment to money was gone. filled his heart. Zaccheus the extortioner, Zaccheus the publican, is now the devoted disciple of a self-denying Master. Such was the divine energy that accompanied those words-" Zaccheus, make haste and come down." Such the occasion, and such the delightful result of the Savior's gracious address.
THE CONVERSION OF ZACCHEUS.
Some profitable reflections very naturally arise from this portion of sacred history.
First; Observe the sovereignty of God in dispensing particu lar favors as he sees fit. This our Lord plainly taught when he thus addressed the people of Nazareth, where he had been brought up. "I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; but unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow." Then he pro ceeds to mention the case of Naaman too, the Syrian leper, who was healed by Elisha. The passage that we have been considerSo that we may employ the Saing is full to the same purpose. vior's language, and say, Many publicans were in Jericho, but with none of them did Jesus abide, save with Zaccheus. Was it that he was more worthy than the rest? No. But we go farther. It is certainly to be supposed, that there were in Jericho many who bore a much better character than Zaccheus ; who not only were free from the stigma attached to the office of a publican, but whose charac But it was not with one of this ter was actually more correct. description, however esteemed of men, that Jesus chose to
abide on this occasion. What shall we say to these things? What better, than with the divine Redeemer to resolve it into the good pleasure of God, "Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight." If this satisfied the Son of God in the days of his humiliation, sure it were arrogance for us, short-sighted creatures, to demand a more satisfactory reason. But, let us not fall into the opposite error, and imagine, because extraordinary means are employed when and where God sees fit in his infinite wisdom, for bringing rebellious creatures back to himself, that therefore the regular and ordinary means are not kindly intended. Though Jesus called but here and there one, for particular purposes, he never sent off any that came to him, imploring his assistance and grace. When he spoke harshly to the Canaanitish womah, it was but to put her faith to the test, that it might be more signally rewarded. And, on the other hand, neither are the extraordinary means that God sometimes employs, in themselves saving. We have but to refer you to the Jews, who saw the miracles wrought by Christ, who heard him preach, who were witnesses of his power, his eloquence-if I dare apply the term to the gracious words that fell from the Savior-his spotless innocence. What effect did these powerful persuasives produce upon the greater part? Did they not remain as prejudiced and obstinate as before? Need I advert to Judas, who was called as well as the other apostles, and yet remains, perhaps, the only individual of whom we can affirm without any fear of mistake, that he is "gone to his own place?" I know the turn that some will be ready to give to this subject, but for my own part I am satisfied with the solution of St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Hebrews: "The word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard; wherefore let us also fear."
We notice, in the second place, that the passage under contemplation affords a striking example of the power of Divine grace. What a contrast is presented between Zaccheus the publican, and Zaccheus the disciple of Jesus! To what are we to ascribe this surprising change? Shall it be attributed to his climbing into the sycamore-tree to see the Savior? or to the ardent curiosity that instigated him? But you will answer, it was the wish to be benefited by the instructions of Christ. I might ask in return, Why did he not then attend his ministry? Three years or more had Jesus publicly preached through the towns and villages of Palestine, and Zaccheus had not even seen him yet. He could not be ignorant of his fame. It was near to Jericho that John the Baptist had announced the coming of the Son of God. But granting that the desire to be instructed was at the foundation of the great change that is observable in the man, tell me, whence proceeded the desire? Why did he not manifest it long before? Not to multiply questions of this sort, it is evident that it was Divine grace, and the influence of the Holy Spirit, that brought about this radical change in the views and desires and hopes of Zaccheus. And it is the same grace and the same Spirit to which we, my hearers, must look for a similar change in our hearts. In order to form some faint estimate of the aston
ishing power of Divine grace displayed in Zaccheus, let us reflect upon his peculiar situation. He was rich. Remember what Christ, who well knew the human heart, said on another occasion, "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!" It is true that he afterward explained his meaning; "How hardly shall they that trust in riches enter into the kingdom." But this was precisely the situation of this publican. He was covetous. And what is this but trusting in riches, setting up mammon for God? "Covetousness, which is idolatry." Further, he was not only covetous, but dishonest. He could dare to add to his store by unlawful means and fraudulent practices. Would to God that this description was not applicable in our day, that we could affirm there were no publicans, no extortioners among us, in this Christian land, in this enlightened age, imposing upon the ignorance or abusing the confidence of their brethren! But "they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in perdition."
Thirdly, Contemplate the effect produced by Divine grace upon the disposition and conduct of Zaccheus. "A tree is known by its fruits." And here there does not lack an early harvest of rich and heavenly fruit. Listen to the confession which he makes to Christ in the presence of his former companions. "And Zaccheus stood and said unto the Lord, Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor, and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold." Here, my brethren, is the proper evidence of a thorough repentance. A repentance that does not, like that of too many, evaporate in words, but which manifests itself in deeds. Is any of you fond of money; has he indulged himself in dishonest means to acquire it?-let him try to imitate this noble example; then he will be able to appreciate the change that took place in the breast of this publican, before he made the declaration you have heard. Where was now his covetousness, his attachment to wealth, the pride of property, the trust in uncertain riches, that had so long been the ruling passion of his heart? They were lost and absorbed in that new and heaven-born disposition which Divine grace had implanted.
We might next dwell upon the proof of his Divinity, which the Savior manifested when he called Zaccheus by name, a man to whom, humanly speaking, he was an utter stranger. But we pass over this point, and mention as our last reflection on this subject the condescension of the Lord Jesus; which he displayed both in his address and in his subsequent visit to the house of Zaccheus. How unexpected this kindness was to the latter we have already reminded you; and also how unaccountable the conduct of Christ appeared to the Jews, and how it excited loud murmurs of disapprobation on their part. As the world is composed of similar materials in our day, and as it is certain that God, who changeth not, deals with men now on the same principles as formerly, it is not to be wondered at, when we hear of, or witness, the conversion of persons whose once profligate lives and vicious