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BY ALEXADER GARDIER MERCER, D.D.
This day is salvation come to this house, formsmnch mm he ¦i*^ b a ton
of Abraham. — Luke xix., 9.
These words are the conclusion of the story of Zac-
cheus the publican. There are some thing^s in this story
which it will always be useful to notice. " And Jesus en-
tered and passed through Jericho. And, behold, there
was a man named Zaccheus, which was the chief among
the publicans, and he was rich." You know^ something
of the publican, what he was. Well, Zaccheus was the
chief of these, and by his nefarious business had amassed
wealth. He was then in that most odious of all condi-
tions, — a man wealthy through wickedness, his fortunes
built on crime, and worse still, built directly on the mis-
eries of his fellow-creatures. He belonged to a class of
men not at all confined to the ranks of the publicans,
and not now entirely extinct, — nay, much increased in
the world, and, to the lasting disgrace of humanity,
atoning for meanness and crime by success, and covering
almost any fault of their lives with their gold.
The manner in which Zaccheus was called was this.
As Jesus was about to enter the city of Jericho, com-
passed by a dense throng of the populace, Zaccheus, out
of mere curiosity, it would seem, " sought to see Jesus,
who he was, and could not for the press, because he was
little of stature. And he ran before, and climbed up
into a sycamore tree to see him \ for he was to pass that
way." The picture is as vivid as if the thing had oc-
curred this morning. " 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."
I date from this moment the beginning of the change
in the heart of this chief publican, — a change due to the
condescension and goodness of the act by which a
prophet, in the face of the keen prejudices of the people,
so honored one of the despised class of publicans. This
sent a flash into the heart of Zaccheus \ so, in an agita-
tion of surprise and gladness, he made haste, and came
down, and received him joyfully. o grudging or surli-
ness on the one hand, — ** I can't aflord it " ; and no false
humility on the other, — ** I am too base for such com-
pany." The Lord had called, and so he felt he must
needs make haste joyfully.
The same Lord, in a thousand ways, has passed by
each human spirit, has fixed his eye upon us, and named
us as distinctly as he called '' Zaccheus." He has bidden
us "make haste." Years and faculties already wasted,
and death not far off, have repeated the monition, " make
haste, and come down,"— come down from the position
of vain curiosity, or of thoughtless thronging about him
in our churches ; regard him and his eternal Gospel no
192 BIBL£ CHARACTERS.
longer as an idle spectacle for our Sundays, but '' come
down " really to receive him to our homes and our
When the multitude saw it they murmured and said,
'* He has gone to be guest with a man that is a sin-
ner." The plaudits of the crowd for Jesus changed at
once, you see, to murmurs. In this loss of favor with
the people observe another instance of that constant sac-
rifice of himself which Jesus made in behalf of the casta-
way. His reputation was built up at this moment by his
great works, but he remorselessly casts it down, because
truth and mercy shall not yield to prejudice, even against
the cruel and mean publican. So Jesus accompanied
him to his house. Then this follows : " 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
By what process he reached this state of feeling is not
set down. What passed at the house to deepen and fix
his convictions is not recorded. But the mere presence
of the Holy One was, of course, to the open heart like a
breath, an influence, from above. ot a word is said of
Jesus' preaching to Zaccheus. But to be alone with
Jesus Christ in one's own house indicates enough. The
publican starts up from this divine contact a renovated
creature. He was a hardened creature, and he had met
nothing but hardness ; but when he looked at Jesus
¦ • .
Christ and saw the holiness, the mercy, the beauty, the
personal pity, his soul was melted and recast ; he was
turned at the divine touch from common earth into gold.
ow there are several things I wish to notice in this
repentance of Zaccheus. First, its difficulty. It seems to
be a miraculous power which can turn any human heart
from earth to heaven ; but here was a special case of dif-
ficulty. That he was rich, that he was a publican, that
he was the chief of the publicans, seem to set forth an
ideal case of unfitness for religion. Merely as rich, —
" How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the
kingdom of God ! " But a publican and chief I It is
necessary to describe that, to get a full impression of
the difficulty of the repentance of Zaccheus.
To be a successful publican meant, not merely wealth,
but avarice ; not merely avarice, but greedy and remorse-
less avarice, through which the Jew's heart became as
stone. It meant more. It meant power (for these
publicans were official people, you know), and it meant
the insolence of authority over the wretched. The pub-
lican, paying a certain sum, bought of the Romans the
power to get as much tax out of the Jew as he could
grind out, so he ground and ground most remorselessly.
So they necessarily saw nothing of human nature in
others but the deception and baseness of victims who
would escape in any way the red jaws of the wolf ; and
they felt very little of human nature in themselves, but
a relentless barbarity in wringing out the blood from the
194 BIBLE CHARACTERS.
hearts of the poor. Hatefulness and war then toward
the poor, — hatefulness and war toward all the world I
For they felt themselves, no matter how rich they were,
as men looked at with the bitterest contempt and hate,
underlings to the Romans, renegades to their nation.
ow, to be below all around us socially and in personal
character, and to be above those around us officially, is
just the acme of popular odium. Thus, in fact, the pub-
lican of the time of Christ was an ideal case of unfitness
for religion. Supposing that Zaccheus was even of the
better class of this bad brood, we can see the difficulty
of his repentance, almost the impossibility of it. But the
better man beneath, though buried under a mass of ob-
structions, awoke. The pure Lord was tender to him,
and so drew the spirit up and out, even though millions
of acres were heaped upon it, though dark mountains
divided between it and a noble life. It is just the old
Gospel tale over again. The Lord said, " I must abide
at thy house," and it was done. To whom much is for-
given, the same loveth much.
This is that secret, that peculiar miracle on which
Christianity itself is built, — namely, the unlimited power
of pity, especially where it is shown, by a Being pure and
lofty, toward those who are consciously degraded. All
the world — you and I — are not reclaimed to God, because
we do not know and believe the love and pity which God
hath toward us.
The next thing I notice in this repentance is its appro-
priateness. I feel a special genuineness in it, because of
its appropriateness. Zaccheus reversed the action of the
engine. Where he was most gone wrong there he turned
fully round. •* The half of my goods I give to the poor."
His life of gain he turns at once into a life of gift, a
world of greed into a world of generosity. ay, " and if
I have done any wrong to any man I am ready to make
restitution." The bitterest injustice and all its habits he
reverses at once into the noblest and most generous
honor, — " fourfold." I like this. A repentance of mere
feeling, given for a life of sin, is not admirable* It is
not admirable for a man to reform everywhere but at the
right point, and leave untouched the cherished vice. It
is not admirable, either, for one who begins the higher
life to change a thousand things which are perhaps
trivial, or merely external, and allow the master-current to
run deep and silent below.
ext, I like this repentance because of its heartiness :
it seems clearly to be a heart revolution. A man whose
soul had slowly grown to be a thing of sordid nature —
where the graft of avarice had become part of the tree,
and the life of the root and stock had passed into the
graft, — where, as a rich man said the other day, ** My
money is my life," — where, to repeat, money was in-
grained into the soul, so that to touch the treasure was
to touch the quicky — that this being should be changed as
in a moment is an incredible thing, as hard as " for a
camel to go through the eye of a needle," — incredible if
we did not see it done.
;! 196 BIBLE CHAIIACT£J^S.
I i The new birth, then, an outbreak of new soul, a
!;! creature fresh bom out of baseness and ugliness into
|1 a heavenly beauty, is a thing possible. I behold with
awe this divine transmutation. Being loved, Zaccheus
loved in return. o parade of sorrow, no talk of faith
and repentance, but a whole heart bursting out. His
first breath sweeps away, in noble, tender charity, half the
gains of a sordid life. '' Behold, Lord, the half of my
goods I give to the poor." His next breath pledges all
that remains in restitution to the wronged : " And if I
have taken any thing from any man by false accusations,
I restore him fourfold." He made his own deep sense of
the wrong he had done the measure by which he recom-
pensed it, — not the cold rule of arithmetical justice.
He would lavish back justice. Here is the fair, large,
living fruit of a touched and transmuted heart. Here is
the singular, the supernatural power of love as a force.
It is strongly marked, to be sure, in Zaccheus, whose
nature I suppose was originally noble, and responsive to
God, but it is possible, I believe, in every thing called
t ^ human.
* And now, last of all, see how such a penitence is
\ accepted by Him who knew the heart. And Jesus said
\ unto him, ** This day is salvation come to this house, for-
I • asmuch" (turning to Zaccheus) "as he also is a son
of Abraham." This man is of the lineage of right re-
sponsive hearts; when the divine calls to him he hears.
] ; "This day is salvation come to him."
Behold the freedom, the promptitude with which life,
forgiveness, salvation, is given to the touched heart. Do
not object, — do not demur and say, ** Too sudden." It
is true a man may have many things to learn and to un-
learn ; he has a great future to advance through. There
is a threshold, and there are inner courts in the holy city
of God, but he who is within the gates is within, and the
morning light of the new sun shines upon him. To-day,
then, if any one hears the kind voice, " Hasten and
come down, for I must abide to-day in thy house," no
matter if we are very low down ; if we are of that which
is lost, no matter, " The Son of man is come to seek and
to save that which was lost *' — if we are only glad and
welcome him. Henceforth we belong to the living, not
to the dead, and he will pronounce over us that magnifi^
cent benediction, ** This day is salvation come to this
house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham."
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