"And they were all amazed, and they glorified God, and were filled with fear, saying, We have seen strange things today. And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me. And he left all, rose up, and followed him (Luke 5.26-28)."
The call of Matthew, or Levi as he is named by Luke, was one of a series of miracles performed by Jesus and listed in the fifth chapter of Luke. We can safely describe Matthews calling a miracle, for when called he left all, including the taxes he had been collecting; a miraculous action indeed for a tax collector. Surely the strange things spoken of in verse 26 were no stranger than the call and response of this tax collector.
It is the act of leaving, or giving up, the things of this world we hope to consider here. The poor sons of Adam do not freely abandon or forsake the accumulated treasures of this world. Unless, or until, a work of grace is wrought in them by the call of God, that is. Material possessions are not the only treasures sinners are loathe to walk away from, however. Creature comforts, familiar surroundings, family, religious notions, public positions and the like are all held sacred as life itself to the multitudes. But by grace these things can, and are, left behind at the time of our Lord's summons. A summons of grace is just what Matthew got.
It was a blessed summons for Matthew, though he probably little realized it at the time. There were many citizens of Israel working as tax collectors for their Roman masters. All but Matthew remained so as far as we can tell from the sacred record.
The order of events involving Matthew was, first, Jesus saw him; second, He called him; third, Matthew left all; fourth, he rose up; and fifth, he followed Jesus. None but God Himself could both initiate and bring to pass such a series of actions. Would Matthew, or anyone else, with nothing more than a gaze and a "follow me" from this stranger, leave all, rise up, and follow him? Curiosity might lead one to ask a few questions. Suspicion might lead one to gruffly decline the bidding. Nothing but a power greater than one's covetous nature, however, could cause them to abandon the receipts of taxation, and all else as well, and follow an unknown traveler. We do believe, with much satisfaction, that it was indeed a great power that induced Matthew to leave all. Nor, we repeat, will anyone else leave all to follow the Lamb of God unless called by this great power.
Some poor misguided free-willer might suggest that Matthew could have obeyed, or not obeyed, as suited him at the time; he could have just as soon stayed as he could have left all. Just as soon might darkness have prevailed when God said, "Let there be light." Just as soon might the storm have continued raging on the sea when Jesus said, "Peace be still." Just as soon might Lazarus have continued reposing in the tomb when Jesus said, "Lazarus, come forth." This was the word of the King, and "Where the word of a king is, there is power: and who may say unto him, What doest thou (Ecclesiastes 8.4)?"
Matthew's leaving all was no singular incident. "By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went (Hebrews 11.8)." Abraham's call was to leave one place for another. Did he first muse on the matter to weigh the benefits? Was he unwilling to respond to the directions of Jehovah? If he was, there is no record of it. The account is all too clear to doubt that Abraham was made willing in the day of God's power, which was the divine call from God to leave his home and surroundings. "Now the Lord had said unto Abraham, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee; And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curseth thee: and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed (Genesis 12.1-3)." Words would fail us to describe a call to leave that is plainer than this. God said, "Get thee out." As we might well expect then, the following is recorded to settle the matter: "So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran (Genesis 12.4)." "So Abram departed!" God had said for him to leave, and so Abram left. This could well be accepted as an example of the law of cause and effect, or action and reaction.
We fairly believe we have in Abraham, much like with Matthew, a fitting figure of the call of God to His elect in every age to leave, or abandon, their past prospects for that which they should after receive for an inheritance. Not that the circumstances would always be the same, or even similar, but that these accounts are given us in the Word of God as a general pattern. Was not Abraham the "father of the faithful"? Was it not by faith he obeyed? And so then must we, if so be the gift of faith is ours. At the appointed hour we too shall leave such things behind as God directs.
One of the more comforting stories of a child of the heavenly King leaving behind all their prospects, both the pleasant and the blighted, is that of Ruth. The family of Naomi had been decimated by the death of her husband, Elimelech, and her two sons, the husbands of Orpah and Ruth. They had sought a refuge from famine by sojourning in Moab, but their plans had all been crossed by the Divine will. Naomi was returning to her home land with "her daughters-in-law when she encouraged them to turn again and remain behind." And they said unto her, Surely we will return with thee unto thy people (Ruth 1.10)." We solemnly learn from this account that it is one thing to say such, but it is quite another thing to carry through with it. It was not long until Orpah kissed her mother-in-law and took leave of them, "but Ruth dave unto her (Ruth 1.14)." Who made them, these sisters-in-law, to differ? Both had a common background; both were united to the family by marriage; both seemed to want to make the journey. Why was Ruth willing to leave her home and Orpah willing to stay? Put simply, God had no future plans for Orpah as regarded the family of Naomi, so she must turn back and walk no more with them. She went out from them because she was not of them, "for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us (I John 2.19)."
Ruth must go with Naomi! We are aware the agents for choice will recoil at the expression, "must go" but if they rave on until the world is turned to a cinder the eternal purposes of God for His elect to leave one realm for another will stand fast. Ruth was to be the wife of Boaz, and the great-grandmother of David. If it were possible that she not leave Moab then it could have been possible that she not marry Boaz, and then what of David, not to mention all those who came later from his loins, including Mary, the mother of Jesus, the Christ? Though not called with an audible voice, we must conclude that Ruth was as certainly called by God to leave her native land as was Abraham. Her departure from Moab was certain to transpire, just as it was certain for Matthew to leave his tax money where it lay.
"And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me (Ruth 1.16,17)." Ruth pleaded with Naomi that she be privileged to follow on with her to the blessed land of bread (verse 6) for she was made willing to leave Moab that she might not leave Naomi, or her people, or her God. Life for Ruth in the land of her nativity was now but a page turned in her life; she must leave it to be with Naomi. We are fully satisfied that is somewhat how all the chosen ones feel when they have been exposed to the joy and love of the family of God. Like Ruth, there is much yet to be seen, to be learned, and to experience, but the foretaste has been so satisfying that we must leave all to follow this new way. May God be praised if we have been given grace for the journey.
The appointed hour came when David, the young shepherd lad, must leave his little flock and follow the high calling for which he had been anointed earlier by Samuel (I Samuel 16.12,13). This was no voluntary departure at the first, for he was instructed by his father to do so: "And David rose up early in the morning, and left the sheep with a keeper, and took, and went, as Jesse had commanded him; and he came to the trench, as the host was going forth to the fight, and shouted for the battle (I Samuel 17.20)." Sad to say, David met with early resistance to his leaving the sheep and following his calling, and we may add, so will all the saints of God in every age meet with contempt and resistance; often from our families. Leaving our current circumstances to follow God's bidding will usually meet with similar rebuffs such as David met. "And Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spake unto the men; and Eliab's anger was kindled against David, and he said, Why camest thou down hither? and with whom hast thou left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know thy pride, and the haughtiness of thine heart; for thou art come down that thou mightest see the battle (I Samuel 17.28)." Clearly David's leaving was not understood by his brother. Neither should we expect consideration or approval when we part from our former pursuits. David, however, viewed his situation in a much more spiritual light than did his carnal critics. "And David said, What have I now done? Is there not a cause (I Samuel 17.29)?"
Moses also is a beautiful example of the high calling of God to leave those things held dear by our natural passions. He had refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter (Hebrews 11.24) for the clearest of reasons: he was not her son, and the time had come to make it plain. To state his situation in unmistakable language we contend that the nature of Moses' circumstances left him with only one option, for his ties and affections were with his true family, the Israelites. Thus we read as follows: "Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season (Hebrews 11.25)." This was no spontaneous or impulsive decision by Moses; rather it was the direct outworking of the Lord, calling him to forsake Egypt, its wealth, and all else he held dear there. "And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel (Acts7.23)." There was an appointed time for Moses to make his choice; it was when he was full forty years old. And, we add, he was neither early or late in what he did. So he left his adoptive mother and the throne with all its prospects in order to visit his true brethren, for, it came into his heart to do so.
Thus the time came for Moses to leave his prospects, just as did Matthew, Abraham, Ruth, David, and all the saints of God. "By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible (Hebrews 11.27)." He left.
It might be conjectured by some that these examples are exceptions, and not the rule, but were that so, why are they given to us at all if they do not serve as a pattern? Let the Scriptures speak: "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope (Romans 15.4)." Among the things we will assuredly hope for is that we, like these examples, will also be called of our God to leave all behind and follow Jesus in the gospel way.
It should be observed that God's little children do not always receive a call to leave all at once. Some, like the woman at the well, are brought along in a more gradual way. "The woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did; is not this the Christ (John 4.28,29)?" She had come seeking water at Jacob's well, but found instead, by the rich grace of God, the "...well of water springing up into everlasting life (John 4.14)." Thus, in the presence of Him Who is the fountain of life, she had no present need of her waterpot; it was at once left.
Others, like Peter and the rest of the disciples, upon hearing how hard it was to enter the kingdom, respond as follows: "Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee (Mark 10.28)." True enough, they had left their nets and ships, which was their livelihood (Matthew 4.20), but they had not yet seen the grand purpose of God in these things. In due time they would see, and what a soul searching revelation it would be.
Often, the children of the heavenly King are found grubbing around in Babylon and this sweet message to leave is delivered to their souls: "...Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues (Revelation 18.4)." When the bidding then comes effectually into the hearts of His people, leaving out of the old mother of abominations to travel as a pilgrim to the new Jerusalem is a pleasure equal to that experienced by Matthew, Abraham, Moses, David, Ruth, or any other elect saint who left all to follow Jesus.
Soon enough, hopefully, all the chosen and redeemed family of God, weary from sin, self, and manifold tribulation, will finally be gathered home to heaven, there to behold all the vast riches obtained through salvation by grace. No more tossing to and fro by conflicts both inward and outward. We will have left all behind entirely.
"Amidst the roaring of the sea,
My soul still hangs its hope on thee;
Thy constant love, thy faithful care,
Is all that saves me from despair.
Dangers of every shape and name,
Attend the followers of the Lamb;
Who leave the world's deceitful shore,
And leave it to return no more."
May it be our happy lot until then to follow the Lamb, gladly leaving all below.
J. F. Poole
Volume 7, No.5