CONVERSION OF ZACCHEUS. BY NEHEMIAH ADAMS, D. D.

,

LUKE XIX. 5, 6. AND WHEN JESUS CAME TO THE PLACE, HE LOOKED UP, AND SAW HIM, AND SAID UNTO HIM, ZACCHEUS, MAKE HASTE, AND COME DOWN; FOR TO-DAY I MUST ABIDE AT THY HOUSE. AND HE MADE HASTE, AND CAME DOWN, AND RECEIVED HIM JOYFULLY.

The conversion of Zaccheus affords a striking illustration of the kindness of Christ as a Friend of sinners.

The man before us was the chief among the publicans. Of these there were two classes; one, an order of knights, respectable, and generally mentioned with honor. The other class were deputy assessors and collectors. They gave their bonds for a certain sum, and then, in many cases, enriched themselves by unjust exactions. A publican of this class was therefore odious, and the name was a proverb. Christ himself used the name in that manner : " Let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican." Theocritus, a poet, being asked which was the most cruel

1

(74)

CONVERSION OF ZACCHEUS. 75

of beasts, said, " Of the beasts of the wilderness, the bear and the lion, and of the beasts of the city, the publican and the parasite," or the designing flatterer. These publicans were for the most part foreigners. When a Jew became a publican, he was, of course, looked upon as a vile traitor, and was so abhorred that he was not permitted to enter the temple or engage in public prayers, and his testimony was not admitted in courts of justice.

Now, the man mentioned in the text, as we learn from the feelings of the people when they saw Christ enter his house, was one of these publicans, the principal of the extortioners ; men knew him, perhaps, as the Shylock of Jericho ; " and he was rich." In his personal appearance, it seems, he was below the common stature. Great talents at financiering have not
2

unfrequently been associated with smallness of size, so that painters and poets have connected the two things together. If he were mean and wicked, his inferior personal appearance must have made him an object of contempt. But besides this, he was a Jew ; not a foreigner plundering strangers, but one of their own countrymen hiring himself to their Roman masters, and making use of his office to oppress the Jews, his countrymen, and enrich himself. So that, all things considered, we shall not err if we suppose him to have been an odious character ; a little, brisk, shrewd, cruel Jew, rich in ill-gotten treasures, and small as he was.

76 CHRIST A FRIEND.

bearing sway among the herd of pubHcans through his intriguing manners, or the influence of his superior wealth.

This man had a desire to see Christ. " He sought to see Jesus, who he was." As Christ entered and passed through Jericho with a crowd of people around
3

him, the excitement in the street caught the attention of this publican ; but not being able " for the press," " because he was little of stature," to obtain a sight of Christ, he ran before the crowd, and climbed into a sycamore tree, and waited for his coming. He does not seem to have had any religious impressions, or any thing but a desire to see a celebrated stranger. The crowd soon came by the tree, and Jesus looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, " Zaccheus, make haste and come down ; for to-day I must abide at thy house."

This is not the only instance in which Christ showed his knowledge of one who supposed himself to be a stranger to him. " Nathanael said unto him, Whence knowest thou me '? " There can be no reason to doubt that Christ knew who Zaccheus was without being informed, and the sequel of the story leads us to believe that the whole transaction was arranged by the omniscient Saviour for the purposes which will presently appear.

As Christ came to the tree, and looked up, and said, " Zaccheus ! " we may easily conceive the surprise of
4

CONVERSION OF ZACCHEUS. 77

the man at the salutation. He little dreamed of being noticed, especially of being addressed by name, on the part of him whom all Jericho followed. As the Saviour paused and the crowd halted, there was one moment for the arch publican to think of his situation. It is not impossible that, with the inconceivable rapidity with which thoughts pass through the mind under sudden excitement, some disagreeable apprehensions seized him; and it may be his conscience awoke. Perhaps he thought that Christ had come to arraign him, and expose him to the populace. He was like one caught and bound fast ; the tree was a pillory if Christ saw fit to use it for that purpose, and turn the indignation of the people against "the sinner. At the moment when the eye of Christ was directed towards him in the tree, it were not surprising if his past life and forebodings of shame filled the mind of this transgressor.

5

The call of Christ was more surprising to Zaccheus than his discovery of him. We can hardly imagine the effect which the Saviour's words must have had upon him after his first painful alarm : " Zaccheus, make haste and come down ; for to-day I must abide at thy house." Never could there be a more sudden and affecting change in the feelings of a man. A moment before he was like an arrested culprit, liable, at a word from Christ, to meet the scorn and indignation of the populace ; now the Saviour's words of

78 CHRIST A FRIEND.

kindness and confidence in him melted his heart. "Zaccheus, make haste and come down." But for what purpose 1 To meet the insults or reproaches of the people ? "I must abide at thy house." ' With me ! ' he might have said ; ' thou with me ! ' With what emotions must he have descended. " He made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully."

Then, indeed, a strange sight appeared. There
6

walked together the Son of God and the chief of the publicans ; he " who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth," and the wicked Zaccheus, side by side. In silent doubt for a season, it would seem, this new object of the Saviour's mercy must have passed along, wondering whether it were a dream, and experiencing a conflict of feelings as he met the eyes of the people in his new and strange position. What joy there must have been in the presence of the angels of God at such a sight ! What bitter feelings in the great enemy of Christ and man at the loss of such prey!

Christ went into the house of this sinner, and, with his disciples, became his guest. The crowd, as we infer from the narrative, followed him to the door ; and we are prepared to feel the truth and force of the remark made by the evangelist with regard to them : "And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner." Was there no virtuous, upright man in

7

CONVERSION OF ZACCHEUS. 79

Jericho, that Christ should have chosen such a sinner for his host? Docs he mean to set at nought public opinion by honoring a pest of society with his presence? Perhaps his friends, some of them, expressed their surprise and fears that he should be willing to associate with such a man, that he would so far risk his reputation with the people as to pay such needless attention to this publican and sinner. Many, no doubt, went back, and walked no more with him ; and here and there a great moralist disdained ever after to follow a man who would seek the company of such a character. Zaccheus, no doubt, knew or could imagine what they thought and said; and, altogether, his feelings must have been a singular ccTmbination of opposite emotions which it would be hard to describe.

But it seems that the immediate effect upon Zaccheus of the Saviour's conduct toward him was, conviction of sin, unfeigned repentance, confession, and restitution.

8

" And Zaccheus stood and said, 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."

It was as though he said, ' Thy kindness to me, a sinner, has broken and subdued my heart. I adore and love that goodness which treated me so infinitely above my deserts. I expected, for a moment in the

80

CHRIST A FRIEND,

tree, to be exposed before the people, to have my sins set in order before my eyes. It would have been just and right. But, instead of this, I am selected from all the people in Jericho, and thou hast come into my
9

house to be my guest. I can not withstand thy wondrous mercy. Truly thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. Is this the manner of man, O Lord? Thy mercy is above the heavens, and behold, I am vile! Here I repent of my past wickedness, and shall make restitution. One half of all my property I now divide among the poor. I shall make it known that to every one whose property I have rated unjustly, and so have extorted money from him by wrongful assessment, I will pay back not only his proper demand, but fourfold.'

" And Jesus said unto him. This day is salvation come to this house, for that he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and save that which is lost."

These words, no doubt, were intended to comfort Zaccheus, and assure him of pardon and restoration to the favor of God and to the confidence of the good. Though Zaccheus was a lineal descendant of Abraham, yet he was not, in the popular acceptation of the term, a son of Abraham, by reason of his former life and conduct, but, on the contrary, " a heathen man
10

and a publican." But by his repentance, through the mercy of Christ, he was restored to the condition and

CONVERSION OF ZACCHEUS. 81

privileges of those who were called after the father of the faithful. Christ then added the explanation of his conduct in his treatment of Zaccheus, as though he said, The multitude wonder at me for my treatment of this sinner ; they little understand the purpose for which I came on earth. " For the Son of man is come to seek and save that which is lost."

There is great instruction to be derived from this narrative.

I. Divine wisdom ivas displayed in the conversion of Zaccheus.

" He that winneth souls is wise." When Jesus entered and passed through Jericho, on purpose, as there is reason to believe, to convert this sinner, there were
11

many ways in which he could have done it ; but the way which he took to accomplish his object was singularly beautiful for its adaptedness to the end in view. The Spirit of God moved Zaccheus to ascend that tree, and so prepared the way for the call which was to be made to him.

Approaching the tree, Christ did not first of all turn the attention of the people toward him in a way to cause embarrassment ; nor did he for one moment mortify him ; nor did he make the most distant allusion to his past life ; and, indeed, it does not appear that in all his conversation with him, in the tree, by the way, or in the house, he said one word to him in

82 CHRIST A FRIEND.

the form of reproach, or even reproof, but made his kindness and love the almighty instrument of breaking his heart. It is the highest wisdom in governing men and children, to make them govern themselves. We can imagine that kind, gracious voice, as the Sa12

viour paused and looked up into the tree : ' Come, Zaccheus, I will go home with you as your guest.' Exquisitely beautiful was this stroke of divine skill ; — not adroitness, for this savors too much of human artifice ; — not tact, for this is too common and low a term by which to designate it ; rather it was an instance of heavenly wisdom inspired by heavenly love. It began by the gratifying act on the part of a stranger of speaking the name of one who, though personally a stranger, was made to feel that he had some distinction or importance which made his name familiar, even to this distinguished visitor. But look at some of the words in the call. To effect the design it was necessary that there should not be much formality in the invitation. For if Christ had stood and said to Zaccheus, ' If you are willing to receive me as your guest I will go to your house,' it would have embarrassed him ; many difficulties would have started in his mind ; and at last, like a reptile or slave, he would have crept down from the tree. To save this embarrassment, and to put the man wholly at ease, observe that Christ throws in the words, malce haste, as though it were already a settled thing that

13

CONVERSION OF ZACCIIEUS. 83

he would go with him, and he need not embarrass himself even by accepting the proposal. The wise and gracious art had its effect upon the sinner : " He made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully."

Christ could have rebuked Zaccheus, and so have brought him to repentance, as Peter properly rebuked Simon Magus: "O, full of all subtlety, thou child of the devil," and as Christ himself rebuked certain Pharisees ; but he spared his feelings, and took him to his house ; and one of the mightiest of the Saviour's triumphs on earth then and there took place — a triumph over one who, besides being a practised extortioner, was one of those of whom Christ himself said, " How hardly shall " they " enter into the kingdom of God ! " Zaccheus will never, never forget, that instead of paining him by exposure, Christ took him into his company, under his protection, went into his guilty dwelling, and there, rather than in the street,
14

and rather than by shame, there, in the retirement of his home, gently turned the thoughts of the sinner to himself, and led him rather than drove him to repentance. It would have been interesting to hear him afterward, as, for the first time in his life, perhaps, he called his family, if he had one, together for spiritual worship, and related all which that day had happened; how he went out in the morning a wicked man and an enemy to God, and how, accidentally, he climbed that

84 CHRIST A FRIEND.

tree, and how he felt when Christ paused, and looked up, and began to speak to him, and when he found himself a moment after walking side by side with him, and how he condescended to come into his house to save the chief of sinners, one to whom he was under no obligation even by the slightest courtesy or by praying him that he would eat with him, but from all the people of the place, chose him, and that too when, by his prominence before the multitude, there was such an opportunity to treat him with marked
15

displeasure. What a prayer that man must have uttered that night in the presence of his family ! Ministering angels might have paused over that dwelling to say, " Behold, he prayeth ; " and, if he sung a hymn, to learn that penitential song and rehearse it on their harps in heaven. There is a hymn whose sentiments and language would well have expressed the feelings of that new convert : —

" Lord, thou hast won — at length I yield ; My heart, by mighty grace compelled,

Surrenders all to thee : Against thy terrors long I strove : But who can stand against thy love ? Love conquers even me.

" If thou hadst bid thy thunders roll, Or lightnings flash to blast my soul,

I still had stubborn been ; But mercy has my heart subdued, A bleeding Saviour I have viewed, And now I hate my sin."
16

CONVERSION OF ZACCIIEUS. 85

II. It is useful to jJi^ft ourselves with any innocent motive in the ivay of Christ.

It is well to bring others with us to public worship, and to the places where prayer is wont to be made, even when they have no interest in the subject of religion ; for such persons are sometimes most likely to be awakened. If any have a desire to know what spiritual religion is, while they are conscious of no special religious impressions or proper feelings, let them, nevertheless, be encouraged to visit the house of God and the places where Christians meet to pray. Zaccheus had no other feeling in climbing the tree to see Christ than bare curiosity; but every ordinary thought or feeling with regard to Christ which will prompt us to put ourselves in his way is to be cherished, nor must we suspect or despise it though it be not all that it should be. If we would obtain religion, there are appropriate means to be used, as in every
17

other pursuit. Riding, or sailing, or sleeping on the Sabbath, or strolling with idle company, has no tendency to make us acquainted with Christ. Put yourself under religious influences, be in earnest to gain heavenly wisdom ; wait at her gates, show zeal in seeking Christian knowledge, run before the multitude, climb the tree, obtain direction in your doubts and difficulties ; for if Zaccheus, from a mere motive of curiosity to see Christ, found eternal life, and if men who had confidence in him to venture and ask

86 CHRIST A FRIEND.

for cures received forgiveness of sins, let us be persuaded that he will notice and cherish every desire, however poor and feeble, which is directed toward him. Zaccheus could not even plead the promise, " A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench." His heart bore no sign of contrition ; no spark of right desire had fallen into it. And yet his merely placing himself in the Saviour's path was followed by happy consequences which are
18

never to end.

Til. The case of Zaccheus is an instance of sudden conversion.

There is something highly encouraging in the truth of instantaneous conversion. Many are looking and waiting for the comfort and joy of an established hope in Christ through some process of awakening, conviction, anxiety, and final discovery of the way to be saved, such as they have known to be the experience of others. But, happily, neither this nor any other process is the essential way of becoming a Christian. Zaccheus went through no extended process of awakening and distress, which, in his case, would have been, as it usually is, struggles against convictions of duty, unwillingness to comply at once with the requirements of God. He went home with Christ ; the thought of Christ's goodness to him touched his heart ; such great confidence and love showed him his

CONVERSION OF ZACCHEUS. 87
19

own guilt in contrast, and inspired him with hope that there was mercy even for him.

You will be permitted to repent and believe on Christ in the same summary manner, if you choose. Nothing but unbelief, unwillingness to make that full surrender to God which Zaccheus made, has kept you, or keeps you this hour, from an experience similar to his. It is a great mistake to suppose that protracted anxiety is required of us, or that God needs to be influenced by many prayers and tears to bestow mercy upon us ; for he is waiting to be gracious, and the more promptly and heartily we yield ourselves to him, the more acceptable is it in his sight. While we suppose that we must prevail on him, he, by his Spirit, is striving to prevail on us without delay to comply with his offers and promises. We say, then, that the truth of instantaneous conversion is highly encouraging, relieving you from the necessity of waiting for a future and more favorable opportunity ; because " the word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart ; that is, the word of faith, which we preach." Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you
20

that God the Spirit can, at this hour, apply to you the benefits of that great sacrifice which God the Son has offered for your sins 1 Are you, alone, beyond the reach of his skill and power ? or, must you labor with your wretched heart a few weeks or months longer to make it easier for the almighty Spirit to

88 CHRIST A FRIEND.

change it 1 "What if some sudden accident or sharp sickness should bring you in a few hours to the border of the grave? You would believe in instantaneous conversion then. It would be essential to your salvation that all which is done for you should be done quickly. Take courage, then, for you may at this moment turn to God ; and, as you can not doubt the reality of a sudden and radical change in Zaccheus between the moment when he climbed the tree and the moment when he stood in his house and confessed and repented of his sins, so let the goodness of God lead you to repentance without delay, and of you it shall be said, "This day is salvation come to this
21

house," and you shall be numbered forthwith among the subjects of the Saviour's power and grace.

But some say, ' Religion is the work of a life ; it can not be acquired in a moment.' Keligion was the work of a life with Zaccheus after his heart was changed ; but it was not the work of a life to obtain that change of heart. A single tide occupies six hours ; but there is a moment when that tide ceases to ebb, and begins to flow. In all great experiences and events there is one decisive moment ; in retracing the steps over a very long, mistaken road, there is a first step backward, the result of a conviction and a resolution. If instantaneous conversion by the almighty grace of the Spirit be impossible, what melancholy and despair would attend our approach to many a dying bed!

CONVERSION OF ZACCHEUS. 89

But now we can say, "Be of good cheer ; " had you lived a religious life, you would need at this moment to come, as you must come now, to the feet of sov22

ereign mercy, and be saved without money and without price. There is hope ; God is not willing that you should perish ; only believe ; remember the penitent thief; lay hold on Christ ; " he that belie veth shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life."

IV. The history of Zaccheus shoivs how lost reputation, in certain cases, may he perfectly retrieved.

Leaving out of view those cases in which public offences have been followed by punishment at the hands of the law, in which it is necessarily far more difficult to satisfy the community that repentance and reformation are not merely a natural effect of the punishment, or assumed as the only chance of removing outlawry, we will confine ourselves to cases in which men have fallen from virtue in some notorious and shameful transgression, have been exposed, have used falsehood to screen themselves, have been detected in their lies, and are left defenceless with a blasted character, the objects of mingled scorn and pity. In such cases men are generally regarded as wholly lost. They are, indeed, desperate cases ; but must these men
23

despair 1

If they seek to associate with respectable men, they

90 CHRIST A FRIEND.

are shunned ; if they crave employment, they are denied ; if they purpose to outHve their shame, and struggle out of their degradation, the laws of human society and the laws of their own nature baffle them ; the conviction is forced upon them that for this world they are ruined. The philanthropist, the moralist, the man of wealth and commanding influence, should they try their skill to raise and restore such men, would be compelled to despair.

There is a door of hope even for these men, ruined, cast out, and trodden under foot of men. One Friend remains to them ; they have a Friend, and he is the best of friends ; a Friend who not only can give them right feelings, but can turn the hearts of all men toward them, not merely with relenting, but even with
24

confidence and love.

The method by which this Friend will restore and save them, if he undertakes to do it, will be by leading them to feel in such a manner toward him as their God and Friend as will make them happy to confess in the fullest manner ; to humble themselves before every foe, to make restitution and reparation at any cost, and to feel that the world knows all of which they have ever been accused or suspected. Their sense of acceptance and peace with God will make every thing easy, and even pleasant, which before would have been beyond endurance, or impossible.

In this manner, the kind and merciful Saviour

CONVERSION OF ZACCHEUS. 91

dealt with Zaccheus. He first gained his confidence by publicly owning him as a companion ; nay, as a host, receiving kindness from him. Let any man, in his own apprehension and that of others, ruined and
25

friendless, be assured of this, that his sins, his meanness, his lying, his fraud, have not alienated from him that one Friend, who, ' when we were yet without strength, died for the ungodly,' who penetrates the deepest and darkest wilderness into which remorse may have driven a guilty man, and rejoices more to save him than over the whole company of the righteous. Let him read in the New Testament how this Friend selected extreme cases of guilt and shame, to illustrate the depth of his compassion. " This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners ; of whom I am chief" If God the Saviour does not cast him off, why should he fear ? " Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out." " Wherefore he is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing that he ever liveth to make intercession for them."

Probably there was not a happier man in Jericho, or Judea, than Zaccheus at the moment when he stood before Christ and made confession. Doubtless he said within himself, ' Men have known me as avaricious and an extortioner. They shall know me henceforth in a
26

different character. I crucify my avarice, and share

92 CHRIST A FRIEND.

my all Avitli the poor. When men hear that Christ has been in my house and I have become his disciple, a thousand taunts and insults will descend upon me. I will meet those whom I have injured, and those who may have hated and abused me. I shall demand the privilege of making confession and restitution and of humbling myself before those who have justly charged me with crime, even though they have unnecessarily or wantonly abused me. I will acknowledge all, forgive, and seek forgiveness.'

He parted at once with half of all that he had, to "give to the poor." Out of the other half he promised to pay each one whom he had injured, fourfold. We see him passing along the street. What confidence, what love, what kindness mark the varying expression of his face. He has a diiferent air and manner ; it almost seems that he has added to his
27

stature since yesterday. Instead of skulking about, afraid or ashamed to meet men, he goes to some who he knows fear or hate him, and bids them behold in him a new man. What scenes of confession on his part, of weeping on the part of those whom he grasps by the hand. The joy of heaven over him is not so rich as his. Not waiting to be called upon, he goes to one and another, — the widow, the orphan, to all whom he has wronged, — receives forgiveness, has peace with his own conscience and with God.

Let some one who has fallen into the deepest disgrace

CONVERSION OF ZACCHEUS. 93

with his fellow-men simply accept Jesus the Saviour as his Friend, and he can not refrain from repentance and confession. Instead of its seeming to him like a scaffold, it will excite the deepest and richest emotions to confess and make reparation. He will have a proper conscious superiority to those who have accused, or convicted, or abused him ; being able then
28

to meet them with a spirit which will not only satisfy them, but will disarm and subdue every feeling of hostility. " When a man's ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him."

There are cases in which it would not only be needless, it would be wrong, for a man to disclose his sins. Let him make all possible reparation as privately as the nature of the case will admit ; but if he is not known to others as having injured them, he might injuriously throw away the reputation which God has kindly preserved for him. Justice may not require that he should make confession to a fellow-man, unless an innocent person should be suffering punishment, or be under unjust suspicion on his account. Even here, it may be, the innocent may be delivered, and the penitent transgressor retain his reputation with men ; at least, let him by no means needlessly expose his sin, if he can satisfy all the demands of justice. Yet if the burden be too great to bear alone, if it would be a relief to make the disclosure, if a family and friends would not have pain and shame

29

94 CHRIST A FRIEND.

inflicted on them, some -way will offer itself in which all the demands of conscience, as well as justice, may be answered without further injury to the transgressor.

Finally. There was one moment in the life of Zaccheus when his history for eternity was decided.

The day when he met Christ was an accepted time, a day of salvation. He might have hardened his heart against Christ, as the Pharisee did when Jesus ate with him, and that Pharisee spoke harshly of Christ and of the penitent woman who brought her box of ointment to anoint him. Zaccheus might have said, ' How much I must confess, how much I must expose myself, how much I must lose, if I become a Christian ! ' It was a solemn and important moment ; Christ would probably never come so near to him again, never

asrain tell him that he must abide at his house. The

30

o

balances for eternity were hung up, and the sinner, by the grace of God, weighed his eternal salvation against his shame and his gold. Happy decision ! This day, among the blissful scenes of heaven, he feels the consequences of that choice.

If you are at this moment interested in the subject of religion, it may be as important to you as eternity can make it, that you come speedily to a right conclusion. Suppose that Christ should suddenly appear in this house, and passing near the place where you sit,

CONVERSION OF ZACCHEUS. 95

should cast his eye upon you, saying, " To-day I must abide at thy house." Are you willing to have Christ come into your house '? You know what it cost Zaccheus. When Christ comes into a man's house by his love, the barred and bolted heart opens its doprs, the treasures fly abroad, the secret sin, the long-stand31

ing quarrel, the iniquity of the man's calling are confessed and forsaken. All this is done under the influence of feelings which make the man supremely happy. Are you willing that Christ should come into your house ? When you open your door on your return home, think, ' The Saviour has come here before me, and is waiting for me to welcome him.' When you shut your door to-night, and think, as you do it, whether all the family are within, ask yourself, ' Is the Saviour within "? Or am I shutting the door upon him, and locking it against him, as I have done every night before 1 ' There he stands, there he has stood, till " his head is filled with dew, and his locks with the drops of the night." While you sleep, he will not depart. He longs to abide with you and bless you ; and while dwelling with you he will be preparing a mansion for you in heaven, where he will dwell with you forever. Make haste, then, and receive him joyfully.

1. 68 FREE BOOKS http://www.scribd.com/doc/21800308/Free-Christian-Books 2. ALL WRITINGS http://www.scribd.com/glennpease/documents?page=1000
32

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful