And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.…
I. We think that it must be obvious THAT IMPEDIMENTS LIE IN THE WAY OF EVERY MAN'S CONVERSION — impediments in the way of his conversion, and yet impediments that are perfectly distinct from each other: as distinct as men's circumstances are from each other. You shall find that the impediment to one man's conversion is his education; you shall find that the impediment in another man's way is the peculiar circumstances in which he is placed; you shall find that the impediment to a third man's conversion is simply a natural impediment; you shall find that the impediment that lies in the way of another man's conversion is simply the example to which he is perpetually subject. All these things, so to speak, put the different individuals in a false position. They in all probability wish to be God's servants, nevertheless things there are which prevent them from being God's servants, and it is by the steady overcoming of these difficulties that God for ever shows the omnipotence of His grace. Now when we come to look to the immediate history before us, we shall find that these impediments were of a twofold description. The first of these impediments arose out of the man's circumstances, and the second of these impediments arose out of the man's occupation.
II. Consider now some of THE ANTECEDENTS TO HIS CONVERSION. We may have oftentimes observed, at least if we have proceeded far in the consideration of human character, that with most men there are soft spots in their character. You will find it, indeed, impossible to meet with any character that is not accessible through some avenue and approachable by some peculiar circumstance in that character. It is not the fact that every man is wrapped up in induracy and in obduracy. You shall find that now and again there will come back out of the deep darkness that which tells you there is a spot there if you only knew how to reach it. It is like standing in the midst of some of those volcanic regions. All about you looks to be nothing but the hardness and the ruggedness of rock itself, but there are jets of flame and puffs of smoke that come up which tell you that there is volcanic action underneath. You shall find in most men's character there is something of this kind — things that tell you this, that possibly, if only means were used, they are not irreclaimably hopeless; and it is these things we venture to call the antecedents of a man's state of conversion. Now let us bring this explanation to bear upon the case before us, and ask ourselves what antecedents there were in the case of Zaccheus the publican. I turn your attention, in the first place, to the marvellous charity of the man. "The half of my goods I give to the poor." I conceive it to be a mistake to suppose that this is expressed as being the fruit of the man's conversion. We hold it to be the revelation of his very publican life. It is a sort of exculpation of himself against those who said, "He is a publican." He was one of those men that could not see his brother have need without sharing his means with him, ay, up to the very moiety of his fortune — "The half of my goods I give to the poor." We turn to another feature in this man's antecedents. We are not now looking to his temper of charity, but we are looking to his temper of equity. "The half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold." The law of Moses simply required this amount of restitution — the restitution of the principal, with one-fifth added by way of interest; but this man transcended this rule. "If I have taken anything from any man,... I restore him fourfold." Why: Not because the law compelled it; net because custom compelled it; not, in all probability, because ostentation dictated it; but simply because there was a high, strong sense of equity in this man's soul, that compelled him to this restoring or restituting that which he had unjustly taken. Now, we hold it is marvellous to find all this in a character, and in the midst of circumstances such as the publican's were in those days — marvellous to find charity in them — still more marvellous to find equity. It is a something, because it is a something telling us this — that there is a soft part still in this man's soul — a point on which you might rest your apparatus for effecting this man's conversion. There was a deep sense of charity, in the first place, and there was the ample recognition of the duty of equity in the second place. What are we to know and what are we to understand in this? Why, we ask you to look round to the world in our better and our more enlightened days. Can we find much that looks like a parody to it? You shall find and know something, perhaps, of the tricks of commerce, and of the ungodliness of trade; but you seldom hear anything of the fourfold restitution. You shall hear, in all probability, of hard bargains being driven — of the simplicity of unwary customers being taken advantage of — of the adroitness of men of wealth practising upon the ignorance of men of poverty; and you shall find, perhaps, that these successful tacticians wrap themselves in the congratulation of their successful doings; but you shall never hear of the fourfold restitution. No, even in our better days the privileged Christian is beaten by the despised publican.
III. We have but one thought more to throw before you. We have looked at the man's impediments, and we have looked at the man's antecedents; in the last place, we have to look to THE MANNER OF THE CONVERSION OF ZACCHEUS THE PUBLICAN. Now there is nothing more certain, as we have said before, than that none of these antecedents could have been the parent of Zaccheus's conversion. There may be, as we have said before, differences of experience upon the road, but that it does not lead to the same termination is, if Scripture be true, an utter impossibility. The Scripture has said, "No man cometh to the Father but by Me." The Scripture has said it, "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, He is none of His." The Bible has said it, " We must be found in Him, not having our own righteousness which is of the law, but the righteousness which is of God by faith." And none of these up to this moment had Zaccheus the publican. A man of moral propriety, and a man of promising indications he may have been, but as yet outside of the field of conversion. We may, then, ask ourselves the question, how it is that this missing element was to be supplied. We answer, that his conversion went upon these two principles: that Christ sought him, and that Christ spake to him; and that those two things must be fulfilled in every man who is to be truly a believing child of Abraham — the Saviour must come, and the Saviour must speak to him.
Parallel VersesKJV: And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.