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MATTHEW IX. 12, 13.

“But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

The occasion on which our Lord spake these words, is stated in the preceding connection. After he had called Matthew, who was a publican, it came to pass that he sat at meat in the house, and behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, “Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?” When Jesus heard that, he said unto them, namely, to the Pharisees, “They that be whole need not a physician.”

In the figurative language of our Lord, he assumes the character of a physician, and in that character came to cure those who were diseased and unable to cure themselves, but the Pharisees of that day, like those of our times, supposed that his mission was to them that were whole: to receive the complimentary greetings of the pious, the self-righteous, and those who had never known the exceeding sinfulness of sin, nor felt themselves guilty and helpless sinners against God, and to bestow on them high encomiums for their zeal and piety. As a Physician, they felt no need of him. They were Abraham’s seed, and never in bondage to any man, and indignantly spumed the idea of being made free by him. They, like their brethren of the present age, no doubt held the doctrine of free agency, and being totally ignorant of their leprous and diseased condition, gloried in their own conceited righteousness. But our Redeemer informed them that his object in coming into the world was to seek and to save that which was lost. He had come to display his power and skill, and healing medicines on those who knowing their malady could appreciate them.

“They that be whole need not a physician.” Jesus had come down from heaven for the benefit of the needy, and not for any who were able to dispense with his services. It would be a waste to bestow skill, labor and healing medicines on those who being whole do not need them; but the work of the Savior was not to be wasted nor misapplied. Having thus reproved their blindness and ignorance of his character, object and work, and thereby justified his course in associating with publicans and sinners, of which they had complained, he bade them “Go, and learn what that meaneth; I will have mercy, and not sacrifice; for I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Although more than eighteen hundred years have elapsed since he gave this task to the scribes and pharisees, and although they have monopolized all the Colleges and Theological Schools which have existed in the world from that day to this, for the purpose of teaching religion as a science to men, they have not to this hour found out the meaning of our Savior’s words. Not because of any ambiguity or want of clearness in the words, for no language could be more plain, simple and emphatic, but because the words referred to the Mediatorial work of Christ, and therefore involved a spiritual subject, of which no natural man can possess any knowledge. Up to this day all pharisees, willworshipers, free agents, workmongers and Arminians in general, suppose that Christ came not so much to minister, as to be ministered unto; to receive gifts, sacrifices, honor and fame, as though his object was to enrich himself. But they did not then understand his character nor his object; neither do they now, for the same description of religionists to this day prove by their doctrines and their works that although they have been “ever learning, they have never been able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” In this their speech betrays them, when they talk of coming to the help of the Lord against the mighty, as though it were the Lord who stands in need of help, instead of his coming to the help of Israel, against the mighty; hence they talk of being co-workers with God, and engaged in the enterprise of converting sinners to God, in order to give Christ a kingdom, or to enlarge his dominions and add to his triumphs. Still farther, it is very common for them to represent the Lord as being bankrupt, in every sense of the word; his treasury empty, his power exhausted, and his cause languishing for the want of human aid. The people are called on to contribute funds to replenish his empty treasury, and to aid in means and instrumentalities to bring subjects under his government. Dead sinners are gravely told that he has exhausted his resources on them, that he has done all he can for them, and the next move must be made by them, or they will certainly be lost forever. They must minister to him something, if it be only to give him their deceitful and desperately wicked hearts, or his work will fail for want of such ministration. They represent him as standing and knocking at the dead sinner’s heart, for liberty to come in, until his head is filled with dew, and his locks with the drops of the night, but all availing nothing until the sinner can be induced to minister to him, or offer some sacrifice to give efficiency to the Savior’s blood and righteousness.

But all this Ashdod jargon would cease forever if they knew what this meaneth, He will have mercy and not sacrifice. But this is hidden from their eyes. That he will have mercy, on condition that the sinner will approach him by sacrifice or gifts, conditions and terms, they believe, but that he will have mercy, and reject all sacrifices, is a matter they have not yet learned. That he has had mercy and not sacrifice, every heaven-born sinner knows, for he has been taught it experimentally by the Spirit. When stripped of all their works, means and instruments; when naked and bare, destitute of a particle of righteousness in themselves, guilt-stricken, helpless and sinking in their sins, having nothing to offer, and deeply sensible that if they could command the cattle of a thousand hills, or ten thousand rivers of oil, the offering of all would avail them nothing, in their extremity they learned that he would have mercy and not sacrifice; mercy without an equivalent either in works or in gifts.

For I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. If men were truly righteous, they would need no repentance, or change, but there are none righteous, as the Scriptures positively testify, for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. Every mouth is stopped, and all the world is guilty before God, but if we were indeed righteous, as the Pharisees of ancient and of modern times claim to be, or as they would represent to the unconverted that they must make themselves before they can become recipients of God’s saving mercy, they would be beyond the reach of salvation, for Christ came not to call such, and there is salvation in none other than Christ.

This doctrine of God our Savior, while it disconcerts the proud, self-righteous pharisee, and boasting Arminian is happily adapted to the case of the lost, the helpless, the guilt-burdened, weary and and heavy ladened sinner. Here is just such a Physician as he needs to cleanse him of his leprosy. He can speak the words, “I will; be thou clean,” and a perfect cure is effected. As a Physician he understands the case of all his suffering, dying patients, and he is able to cure them all. And as they are too poor to offer him a fee for his official services, how consoling to learn that he will have no sacrifices; it is without money and without price; without fee or reward. The quickened sinner who knows that he is lost, wretched and undone, rejoices in him who came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. This is not calling them to produce repentance, nor to bring him repentance as a condition or means of obtaining his saving grace, but he has repentance to give them, and with it the forgiveness of sins; for he will not be ministered to, but he will minister, because he is exalted to be a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance to Israel and the remission of sins.

Middletown, N.Y.
May 15, 1858.

Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 4
Pages 89 - 92