“…on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth”

5 Jul

From J.C. Ryle Expository Thoughts on Matthew:

“Therefore, behold, I send to you prophets, wise men, and scribes. Some of them you will kill and crucify; and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city; that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zachariah son of Barachiah, whom you killed between the sanctuary and the altar. Most certainly I tell you, all these things will come upon this generation.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets, and stones those who are sent to her! How often I would have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me from now on, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'”

These verses form the conclusion of our Lord Jesus Christ’s address, on the subject of the Scribes and Pharisees. They are the last words which He ever spoke, as a public teacher, in the hearing of the people. The characteristic tenderness and compassion of our Lord, shine forth in a striking manner at the close of His ministry. Though He left His enemies in unbelief, He shows that He loved and pitied them to the last.

We learn, in the first place, from these verses, that God often takes great pains with ungodly men. He sent the Jews “prophets and wise men and scribes.” He gave them repeated warnings. He sent them message after message. He did not allow them to go on sinning without rebuke. They could never say that they were not told when they did wrong.

This is the way in which God generally deals with the unconverted. He does not cut them off in their sins without a call to repentance. He knocks at the door of their hearts by sicknesses and afflictions. He assails their consciences by sermons, or by the advice of friends. He summons them to consider their ways by opening the grave under their eyes, and taking away from them their idols. They often know not what it all means. They are often blind and deaf to all His gracious messages. But they will see His hand at last, though perhaps too late. They will find that “God spoke once, yes twice, though man paid no attention.” (Job 33:14) They will discover that they too, like the Jews, had prophets, and wise men, and Scribes sent to them. There was a voice in every providence, “Turn, turn, why will you die?” (Ezek 33:11.)

We learn, in the second place, from these verses, that God takes notice of the treatment which His messengers and ministers receive, and will one day reckon for it. The Jews, as a nation, had often given the servants of God most shameful usage. They had often dealt with them as enemies, because they told them the truth. Some they had persecuted, and some they had scourged, and some they had even killed. They thought perhaps that no account would be required of their conduct. But our Lord tells them they were mistaken. There was an eye that saw all their doings. There was a hand that registered all the innocent blood they shed, in books of everlasting remembrance. The dying words of Zacharias, who was “slain between the temple and the altar,” would be found after eight hundred and fifty years, not to have fallen to the ground. He said, as he died, “the Lord look upon it and require it.” (2 Chron. 24:22.)

Yet a few years, and there would be such an inquisition for blood at Jerusalem as the world had never seen. The holy city would be destroyed. The nation which had murdered so many prophets would itself be wasted by famine, pestilence, and the sword. And even those that escaped would be scattered to the four winds, and become, like Cain the murderer, “fugitives and vagabonds upon earth.” We all know how literally these sayings were fulfilled. Well might our Lord say, “Most certainly all these things will come upon this generation.”

It is good for us all to mark this lesson well. We are too apt to think that “bygones are bygones,” and that things which to us are past, and done, and old, will never be raked up again. But we forget that with God “one day is as a thousand years” and that the events of a thousand years ago are as fresh in His sight, as the events of this very hour. God “requires that which is past,” and above all, God will require an account of the treatment of His saints. The blood of the primitive Christians shed by the Roman Emperors–the blood of the Vallenses and Albigenses, and the sufferers at the massacre of Bartholomew–the blood of the martyrs who were burned at the time of the Reformation, and of those who have been put to death by the Inquisition–all, all will yet be accounted for. It is an old saying, that “the mill-stones of God’s justice grind slowly, but they grind very fine.” The world will yet see that “there is a God who judges the earth.” (Psalm 58:11.)

Let those who persecute God’s people in the present day take heed what they are doing. Let them know that all who injure, or ridicule, or mock, or slander others on account of their religion, commit a great sin. Let them know that Christ takes notice of every one who persecutes his neighbor because he is better than himself, or because he prays, reads his Bible, and thinks about his soul. He lives who said, “he that touches you, touches the apple of my eye.” (Zech 2:8.) The judgment day will prove that the King of kings will reckon with all who insult His servants.

We learn, in the last place, from these verses, that those who are lost forever, are lost through their own fault.

The words of our Lord Jesus Christ are very remarkable. He says, “I would have gathered your children together–and YOU would not.”

There is something peculiarly deserving of notice in this expression. It throws light on a mysterious subject, and one which is often darkened by human explanations. It shows that Christ has feelings of pity and mercy for many who are not saved, and that the grand secret of man’s ruin is his lack of will. Impotent as man is by nature–unable to think a good thought of himself–without power to turn himself to faith and calling upon God, he still appears to have a mighty ability to ruin his own soul. Powerless as he is to good, he is still powerful to evil. We say rightly that a man can do nothing of himself, but we must always remember that the seat of impotence is his WILL. A will to repent and believe no man can give himself, but a will to reject Christ and have his own way, every man possesses by nature, and if not saved at last, that will shall prove to have been his destruction. “You will not come to me,” says Christ, “that you might have life.” (John 5:40.)

Let us leave the subject with the comfortable reflection, that with Christ nothing is impossible. The hardest heart can be made willing in the day of His power. Beyond doubt, Grace is irresistible. But never let us forget, that the Bible speaks of man as a responsible being, and that it says of some, “you always resist the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 7:51.) Let us understand that the ruin of those who are lost, is not because Christ was not willing to save them–nor yet because they wanted to be saved, but could not–but because they would not come to Christ. Let the ground we take up be always that of the passage we are now considering–Christ would gather men, but they will not to be gathered; Christ would save men, but they will not to be saved. Let it be a settled principle in our religion, that men’s salvation, if saved, is wholly of God; and that man’s ruin, if lost, is wholly of himself. The evil that is in us is all our own. The good, if we have any, is all of God. The saved in the next world will give God all the glory. The lost in the next world will find that they have destroyed themselves. (Hosea 13:9.)

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