The Sunday Sermon...
Gospel Driven Disciples introduces a new component: The Sunday Sermon. These sermons will be from various men of God from various time periods with the goal of provoking a deeper appreciation of our Lord Jesus Christ and to facilitate obedience to the admonition given in II Peter 3:18 – “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Savior Jesus Christ.”
This Sermon is by J. C. Ryle, (1816-1900) First published by Drummond's Tract Depot, Stirling, Scotland
Occupy Till I Come (Part I)
"And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear. He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come." -Luke 19:11-13
The words before your eyes form an introduction to the parable, which is commonly called the "Parable of the Pounds." They contain matter which deserves the prayerful consideration of every true Christian in the present day.
There are some parables of which Matthew Henry says, with equal quaintness and truth, "The key hangs beside the door." The Holy Ghost himself interprets them. There is no room left for doubt as to the purpose for which they were spoken. Of such parables the parable of the Pounds is an example.
St. Luke tells us that our Lord Jesus Christ added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear."
These words reveal to us the secret thoughts of our Lord's disciples at this period of His ministry. They were drawing nigh to Jerusalem. They gathered from many of their Master's sayings, that something remarkable was about to happen; they had a strong impression that one great end of His coming into the world was about to be accomplished: so far they were quite right. As to the precise nature of the event about to happen they were quite wrong.
Reader, there are three subjects opened up in the passage of Scripture, which appear to me to be of the deepest importance. Upon each of these I wish to offer a few thoughts for your private meditation. I purposely abstain from touching any part of the parable except the beginning. I want to direct your attention to the three following points.
I. I will speak of the mistake of the disciples, referred to in the verses before us.
II. I will speak of the present position of the Lord Jesus Christ.
III. I will speak of the present duty of all who profess to be Jesus Christ's disciples.
May God bless the reading of this tract to every one into whose hands it may fall. May every reader be taught to pray that the Spirit will guide him into all truth.
I. I will first speak of the mistake into which the disciples had fallen.
What was this mistake? Let us try to understand this point clearly. With what feelings ought Christians in the present day to regard this mistake? Let us try to understand this clearly also.
Our Lord's disciples seem to have thought that the Old Testament promises of Messiah's visible kingdom and glory were about to be immediately fulfilled. They believed rightly that He was indeed the Messiah,—the Christ of God. But they blindly supposed that He was going at once to take to Himself His great power, and reign gloriously over the earth. This was the sum and substance of their error.
They appear to have concluded that now was the day and now the hour when the Redeemer would build up Zion, and appear in His glory (Ps.cii. 16),—when He would smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips slay the wicked,—when He would assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah (Isaiah xi. 4, 12),—when He would take the heathen for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession,—break His enemies with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel (Psalm ii. 8, 9),—when He would reign in mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before His ancients gloriously? (Isaiah xxiv. 23),—when the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven would be given to the saints of the Most High. (Dan. vii. 27.) Such appears to have been the mistake into which our Lord's disciples had fallen at the time when He spoke the parable of the Pounds.
It was a great mistake unquestionably. They did not realize that before all these prophecies could be fulfilled, "it behoved Christ to suffer." (Luke xxiv. 46.) Their sanguine expectations overleaped the crucifixion and the long parenthesis of time to follow, and bounded onward to the final glory. They did not see that there was to be a first advent of Messiah "to be cut off," before the second advent of Messiah to reign. They did not perceive that the sacrifices and ceremonies of the law of Moses were first to receive their fulfilment in a better sacrifice and a better high priest, and the shedding of blood more precious than that of bulls and goats. They did not comprehend that before the glory Christ must be crucified, and an elect people gathered out from among the Gentiles by the preaching of the Gospel. All these were dark things to them. They grasped part of the prophetical word, but not all. They saw that Christ was to have a kingdom, but they did not see that He was to be wounded and bruised, and be an offering for sin. They understood the end of the second Psalm, and the whole of the ninety-seventh and ninety-eighth, but not the beginning of the twenty-second. They understood the eleventh chapter of Isaiah, but not the fifty-third. They understood the dispensation of the crown and the glory, but not the dispensation of the cross and the shame. Such was their mistake.
It was a mistake which you will find partially clinging to the disciples even after the crucifixion. You see it creeping forth in the first days of the Church between the resurrection and the ascension. They said, "Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?"* (Acts i. 6.) You have it referred to by St. Paul: "Be not soon shaken in mind or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there be a falling away first." (2 Thess. ii. 2.) In both these instances the old Jewish leaven peeps out. In both you see the same tendency to misunderstand God's purposes,—to overlook the dispensation of the crucifixion, and to concentrate all thought on the dispensation of the kingdom. In both you see the same disposition to neglect the duties of the present order of things.—Those duties are to bear the cross after Christ, to take part in the afflictions of the Gospel, to work, to witness, to preach, and to help to gather out a people for the Lord.
It was a mistake, however, which I frankly say, I think we Gentile believers are bound to regard with much tenderness and consideration. It will not do to run down our Jewish brethren as "carnal" and earthly-minded in their interpretation of prophecy, as if we Gentiles had never made any mistake at all. I think we have made great mistakes, and it is high time that we should confess it.
I believe we have fallen into an error parallel with that of our Jewish brethren,—an error less fatal in its consequences than theirs, but an error far more inexcusable, because we have had more light. If the Jew thought too exclusively of Christ reigning, has not the Gentile thought too exclusively of Christ suffering? If the Jew could see nothing in Old Testament prophecy but Christ's exaltation and final power, has not the Gentile often seen nothing but Christ's humiliation and the preaching of the Gospel? If the Jew dwelt too much on Christ's second advent, has not the Gentile dwelt too exclusively on the first? If the Jew ignored the cross, has not the Gentile ignored the crown? I believe there can be but one answer to these questions. I believe that we Gentiles till lately have been very guilty concerning a large portion of God's truth. I believe that we have cherished an arbitrary, reckless habit of interpreting first advent texts literally, and second advent texts spiritually. I believe we have not rightly understood "all that the prophets have spoken" about the second personal advent of Christ, any more than the Jews did about the first. And because we have done this, I say that we should speak of such mistakes as that referred to in our text, with much tenderness and compassion.
Reader, I earnestly invite your special attention to the point on which I am now dwelling. I know not what your opinions may be about the fulfilment of the prophetical parts of Scripture. I approach the subject with fear and trembling, lest I should hurt the feelings of any dear brother in the Lord. But I ask you in all affection to examine your own views about prophecy. I entreat you to consider calmly whether your opinions about Christ's second advent and kingdom are as sound and Scriptural as those of His first disciples. I entreat you to take heed, lest insensibly you commit as great error about Christ's second coming and glory, as they did about Christ's first coming and cross.
I beseech you not to dismiss the subject which I now press upon your attention, as a matter of curious speculation, and one of no practical importance. Believe me, it affects the whole question between yourself and the unconverted Jew. I warn you, that unless you interpret the prophetical portion of the Old Testament in the simple, literal meaning of its words, you will find it no easy matter to carry on an argument with an unconverted Jew.
You would probably tell the Jew that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah promised in the Old Testament Scriptures. To those Scriptures you would refer him for proof. You would show him Psalm xxii., Isaiah liii., Daniel ix. 26, Micah v. 2, Zechariah ix. 9, and xi. 13. You would tell him that in Jesus of Nazareth those Scriptures were literally fulfilled. You would urge upon him that he ought to believe these Scriptures, and receive Christ as the Messiah. All this is very good. So far you would do well.
But suppose the Jew asks you if you take all the prophecies of the old Testament in their simple literal meaning? Suppose he asks you if you believe in a literal personal advent of Messiah to reign over the earth in glory,—a literal restoration of Judah and Israel to Palestine,—a literal rebuilding and restoration of Zion and Jerusalem? Suppose the unconverted Jew puts these questions to you, what answer are you prepared to make?
Will you dare to tell him that Old Testament prophecies of this kind are not to be taken in their plain literal sense? Will you dare to tell him that the words Zion, Jerusalem, Jacob, Judah, Ephraim, Israel, do not mean what they seem to mean, but mean the Church of Christ? Will you dare to tell him that the glorious kingdom and future blessedness of Zion, so often dwelt upon in prophecy, mean nothing more than the gradual Christianizing of the world by missionaries and Gospel preaching? Will you dare to tell him that you think it "carnal" to take such Scriptures literally,— "carnal" to expect a literal rebuilding of Jerusalem,— "carnal" to expect a literal coming of Messiah to reign,— "carnal" to look for a literal gathering and restoration of Israel? Oh, reader, if you are a man of this mind, take care what you are doing? I say again, take care.
Do you not see that you are putting a weapon in the hand of the unconverted Jew, which he will probably use with irresistible power? Do you not see that you are cutting the ground from under your own feet, and supplying the Jew with a strong argument for not believing your own interpretation of Scripture? Do you not see that the Jew will reply, that it is "carnal" to tell him that the Messiah has come literally to suffer, if you tell him that it is "carnal" to expect Messiah to come literally to reign? Do you not see that the Jew will tell you that it is far more "carnal" in you to believe that Messiah could come into the world as a despised, crucified man of sorrows, than it is in him to believe that He will come into the world as a glorious King? Beyond doubt He will do so, and you will find no answer to give.
Reader, I commend these things to your serious attention. I entreat you to throw aside all prejudice, and view the subject I am dwelling upon with calm and dispassionate thought. I beseech you to take up anew the prophetical Scriptures, and pray that you may not err in interpreting their meaning. Read them in the light of those two great pole-stars, the first and second advents of Jesus Christ. Bind up with the first advent the rejection of the Jews, the calling of the Gentiles, the preaching of the Gospel as a witness to the world, and the gathering out of the election of grace. Bind up with the second advent the restoration of the Jews, the pouring out of judgments on unbelieving Christians, the conversion of the world, and the establishment of Christ's kingdom upon earth. Do this, and you will see a meaning and fulness in prophecy which perhaps you never yet discovered.
I am quite aware that many good men do not see the prophetical subject as I do. I am painfully sensible that I seem presumptuous in differing from them. But I dare not refuse anything which appears to me plainly written in Scripture. I consider the best of men are not infallible. I think we should dread Protestant traditions not according to the Bible, as much as the traditions of the Church of Rome.
I believe it is high time for the Church of Christ to awake out of its sleep about Old Testament prophecy. From the time of the old Father, Jerome, down to the present day, men have gone on in a pernicious habit of "spiritualizing" the words of the Prophets, until their true meaning has been well nigh buried. It is high time to lay aside traditional methods of interpretation, and to give up our blind obedience to the opinions of such writers as Poole, Henry, Scott, and Clarke, upon unfulfilled prophecy. It is high time to fall back on the good old principle that Scripture generally means what it seems to mean, and to beware of that semi-sceptical argument, "such and such an interpretation cannot be correct, because it seems to us "carnal!"
It is high time for Christians to interpret unfulfilled prophecy by the light of prophecies already fulfilled. The curses on the Jews were brought to pass literally:—so also will be the blessings. The scattering was literal:—so also will be the gathering. The pulling down of Zion was literal:—so also will be the building up. The rejection of Israel was literal:—so also will be the restoration.
It is high time to interpret the events that shall accompany Christ's second advent by the light of those accompanying His first advent. The first advent was literal, visible, personal:—so also will be His second. His first advent was with a literal body:—so also will be His second. At His first advent the least predictions were fulfilled to the very letter:—so also will they be at His second. The shame was literal and visible:—so also will be the glory.
It is high time to cease from explaining Old Testament prophecies in a way not warranted by the New Testament. What right have we to say that Judah, Zion, Israel, and Jerusalem, ever mean anything but literal Judah, literal Zion, literal Israel, and literal Jerusalem? What precedent shall we find in the New Testament? Hardly any, if indeed any at all. Well, says an admirable writer on this subject:—"There are really only two or three places in the whole New Testament—Gospels, Epistles, and Revelation—where such names are used decidedly in what may be called a spiritual or figurative state."—The word "Jerusalem" occurs eighty times, and all of them unquestionably literal, save when the opposite is expressly pointed out by the epithets "heavenly," or "new", or "holy." "Jew" occurs a hundred times, and only four are even ambiguous, as Romans ii. 28. "Israel" and "Israelite" occur forty times, and all literal. "Judah" and "Judea" above twenty times, and all literal. —Bonar's "Prophetical Landmarks." p.300.
It is no answer to all this to tell us that it is impossible to carry out the principle of a literal interpretation, and that Christ was not a literal "door," nor a literal "branch," nor the bread in the sacrament His literal "body." I reply that when I speak of literal interpretation, I require no man to deny the use of figurative language. I fully admit that emblems, figures, and symbols are used in foretelling Messiah's glory, as well as in foretelling Messiah's sufferings. I do not believe that Jesus was a literal "root out of dry ground," or a literal "lamb." (Isiah. liii.) All I maintain is, that prophecies about Christ's coming and kingdom do foretell literal facts, as truly as the prophecy about Christ being numbered with the transgressors. All I say is, that prophecies about the Jews being gathered, will be as really and literally made good as those about the Jews being scattered.
It is no good argument to tell us that the principle of literal interpretation deprives the Church of the use and benefit of many parts of the Old Testament. I deny the justice of the charge altogether. I consider that all things written in the Prophets concerning the salvation of individual souls, may be used by Gentiles as freely as by Jews. The hearts of Jews and Gentiles are naturally just the same. The way to heaven is but one. Both Jews and Gentiles need justification, regeneration, sanctification. Whatever is written concerning such subjects, is just as much the property of the Gentile as the Jew. Moreover, I hold Israel to be a people specially typical of the whole body of believers in Christ. I consider that believers now may take the comfort of every promise of pardon, comfort, and grace which is addressed to Israel. Such words I regard as the common portion of all believers. All I maintain is, that whenever God says He shall do or give certain things to Israel and Jerusalem in this world, we ought entirely to believe that to literal Israel and Jerusalem those things will be given and done.
It is no valid argument to say that many who think as I do about prophecy, have said and written very foolish things, and have often contradicted one another. All this may be very true, and yet the principles for which we contend may be scriptural, sound and correct. The infidel does not overturn the truth of Christianity when he points to the existence of Antinomians, Jumpers, and Shakers. The worldly man does not overturn the truth of real evangelical religion when he sneers at the differences of Calvinists and Arminians. Just in the same way one writer on prophecy may interpret Revelation or Daniel in one way, and another in another. One man may take on him to fix dates, and prove at last to be quite wrong; another may apply prophecies to living individuals, and prove utterly mistaken. But all these things do not affect the main question. They do not in the least prove that the advent of Christ before the millennium is not a Scriptural truth, and that the principle of interpreting Old Testament prophecy literally is not a sound principle.
Reader, I say once more, we ought to regard the mistakes of our Lord's disciples with great tenderness and consideration. We Christians are the last who ought to condemn them strongly. Great as their mistakes were, our own have been almost as bad. We have been very quick in discovering the beam in our Jewish brother's eyes, and have forgotten a large mote in our own. We have been long putting a great stumbling-block in his way, by our arbitrary and inconsistent explanations of Old Testament prophecy.
Reader, let us do our part to remove that great stumbling-block. If we would help to remove the veil which prevents the Jews seeing the cross, let us also strip off the veil from our own eyes, and look steadily and unflinchingly at the second advent and the crown.*