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gish quiet, until they heard the voice of God's messenger. When that awful word, Repent! struck into their consciences, it roused up that voice of God within, and opened up their inward ear to the voice of God, which to their eternal blessedness was not closed again, though they had for a long time resisted that voice, and with a high hand, and with disrespectful mouth, had said
our lips are our own, who is Lord over us?" Yet they did repent, and did trouble themselves; they listened to the voice of God's messenger, to the preacher of true righteousness; they went and did their Heavenly Father's will; their hearts were prepared to receive the Son of that Heavenly Father, when he came.
" The Publicans and Harlots go into the Kingdom of God before you."
Here was that parable which Jesus delivered on this day of his last public ministry.
There were two classes of people before him, the one sinners, but repentant sinners; the other sinners also, but self-righteous sinners; the one making their own good works a wall of separation between them and the sin-cleansing Saviour; the other bringing all their bad works to the fountain of their Saviour's blood; washing them out in his atonement, and accepting his offer of mercy, they enter with him into the Kingdom of Heaven.
There is a solemn lesson to ourselves brethren here. There is still the imitation righteousness, and the real righteousness. There is still the service of God that does not begin at repentance, and there is the service of God that does begin at repentance. There is that state of mind in which men by way of reformation can multiply their religious services, and make many good resolutions ; may increase the number of their external ordinances,
and be not only no nearer but further from the Kingdom of God. And there is that state of mind in which the conscience being aroused, and the heart humbled, and the lips confessing sin, and feeling oneself utterly fallen, prostrates himself at the footstool of the divine mercy, and turns away from the evil of his ways and changing his heart; submissive to the power of divine grace and love, he enters into the true Kingdom of God, and the sinner becomes fitted and ripened for the final Kingdom of Glory
Now we must be aware here of a very common and fatal error, as if there were something better in being for a while wicked; as if wickedness had any thing in its own nature that could fit us for the Kingdom of God. This is indeed a most dangerous error, by no means intended to be taught by our Lord here. It is true that the Publican and the Harlot, the vile and the profligate, are nearer to the Kingdom of God than the self-righteous. But our Lord is not here contrasting the profligate with the truly religious; but the profligate with the unconverted man who has the form of godliness; with the man who has mistaken his outward ordinances for religion ; and not with the real, earnest seeker of God, who from his youth upwards has walked in those ways which are ways of pleasantness, and those paths which are paths of peace.
We have to consider why the Publican and the Harlot are nearer to the Kingdom of God than the others. It is simply this, he has no danger of a self-deceived conscience. He may for awhile deceive himself while he is walking in darkness, for the man who is living in sin does not see and does not know the depth of his sin, or the true nature of corruption. But there is an hour coming when God's voice comes into his conscience and that conscience responsive to the voice of God makes him feel how he has came short of the Glory of God; how deep have been his corruptions ; how heavy his guilt. The reason why he is more ready to receive the preacher of the gospel is only that he has no deceived conscience to make him build up a hope in his self-righteousness. If he think of Heaven, he must feel his own unholiness; if he think of merit he must feel his own demerit; if he hope for salvation, it cannot be in his holiness or his purity; and therefore in this respect and in this manner is he nearer to the Kingdom of God; is he more likely to listen to the teaching and warning of the messenger of God. When we come to the other, not converted to a pious heart, but to one who has the outward form of religion, who has been outwardly like a whited sepul. chre beautiful and fair, but inwardly full of corruption and excess; he may not have been conscious to himself of the nature of his guilt. If we read the ten commandments in his ears, he may say with the young man, “All these have I kept from my youth up;” he may imagine himself not very deeply guilty of the breach of any one of them, and because he has lived with a certain kind of attention, and in some respects with a scrupulous attention, to the duties of religion as well as of life, forgetful of the state of his heart; attentive only to the forms of religion, and the practice of moral duties; he is not so likely to be aroused in his conscience, he is more likely to turn away from the humbling doctrines of the cross. If the preacher of righteousness come to him and tell him, All your good works are as filthy rags, your fancied holiness is an abomination in God's sight; all this outward form of religion has been without the inner
power of heaven's holiness, it is utterly worthless; he is not prepared to count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ; he is not ready to believe himself in this way a hell deserving sinner before God; he will not listen to the voice that thus speaks of humiliation and repentance to him, he turns away, and though it be the Son of God that speaks, and though it be miraculous powers that attest the credibilities of his teaching, all is nothing to him, he does not feel his need; he does not see his state, he thinks himself safe, and he wraps himself
in the garments of his own formalities, which his own folly has woven for him, and he will not put on that only wedding garment which can make him meet for the Saviour's presence.
There is also another important lesson taught us here; and that is, There is no reason why we should continue in sin, because we have refused to listen to the message which our Heavenly Father has sent to us. Jesus represents them here as not only not doing the work of God, but as refusing to do it. His Father said to him, go work to-day in my vineyard; and he speaks to him with the tenderness of a father's care, “Son go work to-day in my vineyard,” and he answers that father's paternal words with disrespect, and refuses, “I will not." He might naturally have said to himself, "well, I have refused to obey my father, and now he will not receive me into favour, he will not employ me in his service, there is no hope of acceptance from him." He did not say so, on the contrary, he afterwards repented and went. Oh what comforting words are these from our Saviour's lips; how soothing they are to the awakened conscience; how do they set before us the long-suffering and goodness, the tender love of him who as a father pitieth his children,
so doth the Lord pity them that fear Him, them that hope in his mercy. There are seasons when an awakened conscience remembers the warning voice of God that had been for how long unheard, the tenderness of expostulation that had been so long unheeded: at those times the heart is in danger of being unduly depressed, and the spirits unscripturally dejected; the time past of life seems such a sea of corruption, such a season of darkness, such an accumulation of guilt, that the heart is ready to sink under the prospect and the load, and to say, There is no hope for me, I have sinned against light and against knowledge, I have trampled under foot the Son of God himself, I have done despite unto the Spirit of grace, and now there is no hope, no more offering for sin. But here we have our Saviour's own words, those who had be. come Publicans and Harlots, had repented and returned, but yet were received into that kingdom. - The Publicans and the Harlots go into the Kingdom of God before you." On the other hand we have here those who make good resolutions, who make solemn promises to God, who do so respectfully, “I go sir," and taking these resolutions as if they were performances, as though they had in the profession of religion fulfilled the duties of religion; or in their outward observances have been what they ought to be to recommend them to God; they hear the real mes. sage of righteousness, the terrible sounds that speak of God, of the need of repentance, they hear the warning voice of the Saviour's own words and life, and yet they do not do that which they had promised to do; they turn aside from the work of the vineyard, and they choose their own work. Oh, how many are fulfilling the proverb that has been formed from but too great and bitter experience, " the road to hell is paved with good intentions." Many