THE CONVERSION OF ZACCHEUS
Extracts from a sermon by George Whitefield
And Jesus said unto him. This day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is the son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:9,10).
Salvation, everywhere through the whole scripture, is said to be the free gift of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Not only free, because God is a sovereign agent, and therefore may withhold it from, or confer it on, whom He pleaseth; but free, because there is nothing to be found in man that can any way induce God to be merciful unto him. The righteousness of Jesus Christ is the sole cause of our finding favour in God’s sight. This righteousness, apprehended by faith, (which is also
the gift of God) makes it our own; and this faith, if true, will work by love.
The conversion of the person referred to in the text, I think will be of no small service to us in this matter, if rightly improved. I would hope most of you know who the person is to whom the Lord Jesus speaks; it is the publican Zaccheus to whose house the blessed Jesus said, salvation came, and whom He pronounces a son of Abraham.
The evangelist Luke introduces the account of this man’s conversion thus, verse 1. “And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.” The holy Jesus made it His business to go about doing good. As the sun in the firmament is continually spreading his benign, quickening, and cheering influences over the natural; so the Sun of Righteousness arose with healing under His wings, and was daily and hourly diffusing His gracious influences over the moral world.
Well might the evangelist usher in the relation of this man’s conversion with the word behold. For, according to human judgment, how many insurmountable obstacles lay in the way of it! Surely no one will say there was any fitness in Zaccheus for salvation; for we are told that he was a publican, and therefore in all probability a notorious sinner. The publicans were gatherers of the Roman taxes; they were infamous for their abominable extortions; their very name therefore became so odious that we find the Pharisees often reproached our Lord, as very wicked because He was a friend unto and sat down to meat with them. Zaccheus then, being a publican, was no doubt a sinner; and, being chief among the publicans, consequently was chief among sinners. Nay, he was rich. And one inspired apostle has told us, “that not many mighty, not many noble, are called.” Another saith, “God has chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith.” And He who was the Maker and the Redeemer of the apostles assures us, “that it is easier for a camel (or a cable rope) to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” Let not therefore the rich glory in the multitude of their riches.
He could not see Christ because of the press and the littleness of his natural stature, he did not smite upon his breast and depart, saying, “It is in vain to seek after a sight of Him any longer, I can never attain unto it.” No, finding he could not see Christ if he continued in the midst of the press, “he ran before the multitude, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him; for he was to pass that way.”
There is no seeing Christ in the glory unless we run before the multitude and are willing to be in the number of those despised few who take the kingdom of God by violence.
At length, after taking much pains and going (as we may well suppose) through much contempt, Zaccheus has climbed the tree; and there he sits, as he thinks, hid in the leaves of it and watching when he should see Jesus pass by; “for he was to pass by that way.”
But sing, O heavens, and rejoice, O earth! Praise, magnify, and adore sovereign, electing, free, preventing love; Jesus the everlasting God, the Prince of peace, who saw Nathaniel under the fig-tree, and Zaccheus from eternity, now sees him in the sycamore tree, and calls him in time.
Verse 5. “And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zaccheus, make haste and come down; for this day I must abide at thy house.” Amazing love! Well might Luke usher in the account with it. It is worthy of our highest admiration. When Zaccheus thought of no such thing, nay, thought that Christ Jesus did not know him; behold, Christ does what we never hear He did before or after, I mean, invite himself to the house of Zaccheus, saying, “Zaccheus, make haste and come down; for this day I must abide at thy house.” Not, pray, let me abide, but I must abide this day at thy house He also calls him by name, as though he was well acquainted with him and indeed well He might; for his name was written in the book of life he was one of those whom the Father had given Him from all eternity therefore He must abide at his house that day. “For whom he did predestinate, them he also called.”
With what different emotions of heart may we suppose Zaccheus received this invitation? Think you not that he was surprised to hear Jesus Christ call him by name and not only so, but invite Himself to his house? Surely, thinks Zaccheus, I dream: it cannot be; how should He know me? I never saw Him before; besides, I shall undergo much contempt if I receive Him under my roof. Thus, I say, we may suppose Zaccheus thought within himself. But what saith the scripture? “I will
make a willing people in the day of my power.” With this outward call there went an efficacious power from God which sweetly overruled his natural will; and therefore, verse 6. “He made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully,” not only into his house but also into his heart.
Thus it is that great God brings home his children. He calls them by name, by His word or providence: He speaks to them also by His Spirit. Hereby they are enabled to open their hearts and are made willing to receive the King of glory. For Zaccheus’ sake, let us not entirely condemn people that come unto the Word out of no better principle than curiosity. Who knows, but God may call them? It is good to be where the Lord is passing by. May all who are now present out of this principle hear the voice of the Son of God speaking to their souls, and so hear that they may live! Not that men ought therefore to take encouragement to come out of curiosity. For perhaps a thousand more, at other times, came to see Christ out of curiosity, as well as Zaccheus, who were not effectually called by His grace. I only mention this for the encouragement of my own soul and the consolation of God’s children who are too apt to be angry with those who do not attend on the word out of love to God: but let them alone. Brethren, pray for them. How do you know but Jesus Christ may speak to their hearts’? A few words from Christ, applied by His Spirit, will save their souls. “Zaccheus,” says Christ, “make haste and come down. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.”
It should seem that Zaccheus was under soul distress but a little while; “perhaps,” says Guthrie, in his book entitled, The trial concerning a saving interest in Christ, “not above a quarter of an hour.” I add, perhaps not so long; for as one observes, sometimes the Lord Jesus delights to deliver speedily. God is a sovereign agent and works upon His children in their effectual calling according to the counsel of His eternal will. It is with the spiritual, as the natural birth. All women have not the like pangs; all Christians have not the like degree of conviction. But all agree in this, that all have Jesus Christ formed in their hearts: and those who have not so many trials at first, may be visited with the greater conflicts hereafter; though they never come into bondage again after they have once received the spirit of adoption. “We have not (says Paul) received the spirit of bondage again unto fear.” We know not what Zaccheus underwent before he died. However, this one thing I know, he now believed in Christ, and was justified, or acquitted, and looked upon as righteous in God’s sight, though a publican, chief among the publicans, not many moments before. And thus it is with all that, like Zaccheus, receive Jesus Christ by faith into their hearts. The very moment they find rest in Him, they are freely justified from all things from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses; “for by grace are we saved, through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is the
gift of God.”
Say not within yourselves this is a licentious, Antinomian doctrine;
‘or this faith, if true, will work by love, and be productive of the fruits of holiness. See an instance in this convert, Zaccheus. No sooner had he received Jesus Christ by faith into his heart, but he evidences it by his works; for (verse 8.) we are told “Zaccheus stood forth, and said unto the Lord, Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give unto the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.”
After all this, with good reason, might our Lord say unto him, “This day is salvation come to this house; forasmuch as he is the son of Abraham;” not so much by a natural as by a spiritual birth. He was made partaker of like precious faith with Abraham. Like Abraham, he believed on the Lord and it was accounted to him for righteousness. His faith, like Abraham’s, worked by love; and I doubt not but he has been long since sitting in Abraham’s arbor.
And now are you not ashamed of yourselves, who speak against the doctrines of grace, especially that doctrine of being justified by faith done, as though it would lead to licentiousness? What can be more unjust than such a charge? Is not the instance of Zaccheus a sufficient proof to the contrary?
What therefore has been said to Zaccheus, may serve as a rule, whereby all may judge whether they have faith or not. You say you have faith; but how do you prove it? Did you ever hear the Lord Jesus call you by name? Were you ever made to obey that call? Did you ever, like Zaccheus, receive Jesus Christ joyfully into your hearts? Are you influenced by the faith you say you have, to stand up and confess the Lord Jesus before men? Were you ever made willing to own, and humble yourselves for your past offenses? Does your faith work by love so that you conscientiously lay up, according as God has prospered you, for the support of the poor? Do you give alms of all things that you possess? Have you made due restitution to those you have wronged? If so, happy are ye; salvation is come to your souls; you are sons, you are daughters of, you shall shortly be everlastingly blessed with faithful Abraham. But, if you arc not thus minded, do not deceive your own souls; though you may talk of justification by faith, like angels, it will do you no good; it will only increase your damnation. You hold the truth, but it is in unrighteousness. Your faith being without works is dead; you have the devil, not Abraham, for your father. Unless you have a faith of the heart, a faith working by love, with devils and damned spirits shall you dwell for evermore.
But it is time now to enforce the latter part of the text. “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” These words ire spoken by our Saviour in answer to some self-righteous pharisees who, instead of rejoicing with the angels in heaven, at the conversion of
such a sinner, murmured, “that he was gone to be a guest with a man that was a sinner.” To vindicate His conduct He tells them that this was an act agreeable to the design of His coming; “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” He might have said, the “Son of God.” But O the wonderful condescension of our Redeemer! He delights to style Himself the Son of man. He came not only to save, “but to seek and to save that which was lost.” He came to Jericho to seek and save Zaccheus; for otherwise Zaccheus would never have been saved by Him. But whence came He? Even from heaven, His dwelling place, to this lower earth, this vale of tears, “to seek and save that which was lost;” or all that feel themselves lost, and are willing, like Zaccheus, to receive Him into their hearts to save them; with how great a salvation? even from the guilt and also from the power of their sins;
to make them heirs of God and joint-heirs with Himself, and partakers of that glory which He enjoyed with the Father before the world began. Thus will the Son of man save that which is lost. He was made the Son of man on purpose that He might save them. He had no other end but this in leaving his Father’s throne, in obeying the moral law, and hanging upon the Cross. All that was done and suffered, merely to satisfy, and procure a righteousness for poor, lost undone sinners, and that too without respect of persons. “That which was lost.” All of every nation and language that feel, bewail, and are truly desirous of being delivered from their lost state, did the Son of man come down to seek and to save; for He is mighty, not only so, but willing, to save to the uttermost all that come to God through Him. He will in no wise cast them out. For He is the same today as He was yesterday. He comes now to sinners as well as formerly; and, I hope, hath sent me out this day to seek, and, under Him, to bring home some of you, the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
Make haste then, O sinners, make haste, and come by faith to Christ. Then, this day, even this hour, nay this moment, if you believe, Jesus Christ shall come and make His eternal abode in your hearts. Which of you is made willing to receive the King of glory? Which of you obeys the call, as Zaccheus did? Alas! why do you stand still? How know you, whether Jesus Christ may ever call you again? Come then, poor, guilty sinners; come away, poor, lost, undone publicans; make haste, I say, and come away to Jesus Christ. The Lord condescends to invite Himself to come under the filthy roofs of the houses of your souls. Do not be afraid of entertaining Him; He will fill you with all peace and joy in believing. Do not be ashamed to run before the multitude, and to have all manner of evil spoken against you falsely for His sake. One sight of Christ will make amends for all. Zaccheus was laughed at; and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution.” But what of that? Zaccheus is now crowned in glory as you also shall shortly be, if you believe on, and are reproached for Christ’s sake. Do
not, therefore, put me off with frivolous excuses; there is no excuse that can be given for your not coming to Christ. You are lost, undone, without Him; and if He is not glorified in your salvation, He will be glorified in your destruction; if He does not come and make His abode in your hearts, you must take up an eternal abode with the devil and his angels. O that the Lord would be pleased to pass by some of you at this time! O that He may call you by His Spirit and make you a willing people in this day of His power! For I know my calling will not do it, unless He, by His efficacious grace, compel you to come in. O that you once felt what it is to receive Jesus Christ into your hearts! You would soon, like Zaccheus, give Him every thing. You do not love Christ because you do not know Him; you do not come to Him, because you do not feel your want of Him; you are whole and not broken-hearted;
you are not sick, at least not sensible of your sickness; and, therefore,
no wonder you do not apply to Jesus Christ, that great, that almighty Physician. You do not feel yourselves lost and therefore do not seek to be found in Christ. O that God would wound you with the sword of His spirit and cause His arrows of conviction to stick deep in your hearts! O that He would dart a ray of divine light into your souls! For if you do not feel yourselves lost without Christ, you are of all men most miserable: your souls are dead; you are not only an image of hell, but in some degree hell itself: you carry hell about with you and you know it not. O that I could see some of you sensible of this, and hear you cry out, “Lord, break this hard heart; Lord deliver me from the body of this death; draw me, Lord make me willing to come after thee; I am lost;
Lord, save me, or I perish!” Were this your case, how soon would the Lord stretch forth His almighty hand and say, be of good cheer, it is I; be not afraid? What a wonderful calm would then possess your troubled souls! Your fellowship would then be with the Father and the Son. Your life would be hid with Christ in God.
Some of you, I hope, have experienced this, and can say, I was lost, but I am found; I was dead, but am alive again. The Son of man came and sought me in the day of His power, and saved my sinful soul. And do you repent that you came to Christ? Has He not been a good Master? Is not His presence sweet to your souls? Has He not been faithful to His promise? And have you not found, that even in doing and suffering for Him, there is an exceeding present great reward? I am persuaded you will answer, Yes. O then, ye saints, recommend and talk of the love of Christ to others, and tell them, what great things the Lord has done for you! This may encourage others to come unto Him. And who knows but the Lord may make you fishers of men? The story of Zaccheus was left on record for this purpose. No truly convicted soul, after such an instance of divine grace has been laid before him, need despair of mercy. What if you are publicans? Was not Zaccheus likewise? What if you are rich? Was not Zaccheus rich also? And yet almighty grace made
him more than conqueror over all these hindrances. All things are possible to Jesus Christ; nothing is too hard for Him: He is the Lord almighty. Our mountains of sins must all fall before this great Zerubabel. On Him God the Father has laid the iniquities of all that shall truly believe; in His own body He bare them on the tree. There, here, by faith, O mourners in Sion, may you see your Saviour hanging with arms stretched out, and hear Him, as it were, thus speaking to your souls; “Behold how I have loved you! Behold my hands and my feet! Look, look into my wounded side and see a heart flaming with love:
love stronger than death. Come into My arms, O sinners, come wash your spotted souls in My heart’s blood. See, here is a fountain opened for all sin and all uncleanness! See, O guilty souls, how the wrath of God is now abiding upon you. Come, haste away, and hide yourselves in the clefts of My wounds; for I am wounded for your transgressions;
I am dying that you may live for evermore. Behold, as Moses lifted up he serpent in the wilderness, so I am here lifted up upon a tree. See how I have become a curse for you. The chastisement of your peace is upon Me. I am thus scourged, thus wounded, thus crucified, that you by My stripes may be healed. O look unto Me all ye trembling sinners, even to the ends of the earth! Look unto Me by faith, and you shall be saved: for I came thus to be obedient even unto death, that I might save hat which was lost.”
And what say you to this, O sinners? Suppose you saw the King of glory dying, and thus speaking to you; would you believe on Him. No, you would not, unless you believe on Him now. For though He is dead, He yet speaketh all this in the scripture; nay, in effect, says all this in the words of the text, “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Do not therefore any longer crucify the Lord of glory. Bring those rebels, your sins, which will not have Him to reign over them, bring them out to Him. Though you cannot slay them yourselves, yet He will slay them for you. The power of his death and resurrection is as great now as formerly. Make haste, therefore, make haste, O ye publicans and sinners, and give the dear Lord Jesus your hearts, your whole hearts. If you refuse to hearken to this call of the Lord, remember your damnation will be just. I am free from the blood of you all. You must acquit my Master and me at the terrible day of judgment. O that you may know the things that belong to your everlasting peace, before they are eternally hid from your eyes!
Let all that love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity say. Amen.