Arthur Pink, August, 1951
"For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost." Luke 19:10
Our very familiarity with those words is apt to deprive them of their impressiveness and make us lose our sense of wonderment at them.
First, in connection with the Seeker Himself. This was none other than the Beloved and co-equal of the Father. To engage in His quest, it was needful for Him to leave Heaven and come down to this earth. But more it was required that He become incarnate and take upon Him the nature not of angels, but be made "in the likeness of sin's flesh" (Rom 8:3). Nor was that sufficient He had to go where the objects of His search were, and that entailed His . . .
being made sin,
coming under the curse of the broken Law,
being abandoned of God for a season.
All this was absolutely imperative if any of Adam's fallen race were to be recovered, for in themselves they were utterly undone, irretrievably ruined but the Son of God became the Son of man . . .
to bring hope to the hopeless,
to give life to the dead,
to heal the incurable,
to not merely try to, or offer to, but actually to seek and save those who were lost.
There could be no possibility of failure in connection with such a mission as that, for the infinite resources of the Godhead guaranteed its complete success, and therefore was it divinely announced of Him as a child, "You shall call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins" (Mat 1:21). Not simply that He would be willing on His part so to do, but that, despite their native unwillingness and all other opposition, He would save them. Ah, but note who are the ones to be so favored and blessed not all mankind, but "his people" those given to Him by the Father before the foundation of the world (John 17:2, 24; Eph 1:4). It was not the "dogs" (Mat 7:6), the "wolves" (Mat 10:16), or the "goats" (Mat 25:32), but the "sheep" that Christ came to seek and to save (John 10:16), and for whom He gave His infinitely precious life (John 10:11). And that was given at no perhaps or uncertainty, but with the infallible assurance that He "shall see his seed he shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied" (Isa 53:10-11).
As the Lord Jesus so plainly and so blessedly taught, He would "go after that which is lost, until he find it" (Luke 15:4), for since a lost sheep never seeks its owner, the Shepherd must seek His sheep. This He does, in marvelous grace, with every one of God's elect, and therefore does He declare of each of them, "I am found by those who sought me not" (Isa 65:1). From the apostle's quotation of it in Romans 10:20, it is clear that, in its general scope, that verse was a prediction of God's turning unto the Gentiles after His casting off the Jews. The heathen nations neither sought after God nor called upon His name; yet without any solicitation from them, the preachers of the Gospel were sent unto them.
But as John Calvin (1509-1564) pointed out, their case "was a type of a universal fact." Such is indeed so, as Old Testament and New abundantly illustrate. The salvation of any lost sinner is due alone to the amazing and sovereign grace of God, and not because of anything he does or purposes doing, for not only is his salvation entirely unbought, but unsought by him.
Take the case of Abraham, and his is a pattern one, for he is "the father [or prototype] of all those who believe" (Rom 4:11). Joshua 24:2, 14 reveals something of the conditions in which he lived before and at the time when God "found" him. He came of an idolatrous stock who served false gods. When the Lord would humble the proud hearts of Israel, He reminded them of their lowly origin and bade them look "to the hole of the pit whence you are dug. Look unto Abraham your father" (Isa 51:1-2) whom I plucked as a brand from the burning. Acts 7:2 informs us, "The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia." That was an act of distinguishing favor, for He did not discover Himself to his fellow citizens. As Isaiah 51:2 declares, "I called him alone, and blessed him," and as Joshua 24:3 records, "I took him throughout all the land of Canaan." Thus, in his case, God was found of one who sought Him not.
Take the case of Jacob. If ever there was a man who exemplified in his own person that God has chosen the base things of the world (1 Corinthians 1:28), it was he. According to the flesh, there was nothing winsome or pleasing about him. Selfish, scheming, deceitful, untruthful he was a most unamiable character. There was nothing whatever in him to attract the love of God, yet on the memorable night at Bethel, he found Him whom he sought not.
A fugitive from his father's house, fleeing from his brother's wrath, most probably with no thought of God in his mind, he laid himself down on the ground to sleep, with stones for his pillows. It was then that the God of all grace appeared unto him and made Himself known as a giving God (Gen 28:13), and declared, "I will not leave you, until I have done that which I have spoken to you of." He found him when he had nothing, deserved nothing but wrath gave him everything, and promised to protect him wherever he went.
Moses (Exo 3:1-2), the Hebrews in Egyptian bondage, Samuel, David, are further examples.
But consider the case of the woman at the well (John 4), who most unmistakably found the Lord, though she sought Him not. A despised Samaritan, an adulteress, shunned by others, she came at midday when she supposed the well would be deserted to draw water. She was unacquainted with the Lord Jesus, and had no expectation of meeting Him and no thought of being converted that day. Poor desolate soul! But Christ was there at the well. There first, for He is the Alpha of salvation as well as the Omega of it. He was there waiting for her! He knew all about her desperate need and was ready to minister unto it. He was there to illumine her darkened understanding, to overcome her prejudices, to subdue her rebellious will, to invite Himself into her heart. He did so, and she "left her waterpot" and went on her way rejoicing, to witness unto His grace.
Take the case of Saul of Tarsus. He was a self-righteous Pharisee, and when such a one came before God, it was not to seek mercy at His hands, but to thank Him that he was not as other men were, and to boast of his good deeds. He belonged to that sect which, instead of welcoming the gracious ministry of Christ, complained that He was the friend of publicans and sinners. But worse: he was filled with enmity against Him and took the lead in persecuting and hounding His people. Not only did he consent to the death of Stephen, but "he made havoc of the church," entered the homes of its members, and committed them to prison. Having obtained yet greater authority from the high priest of the Jews, and while yet "breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord," he was found of Christ. So far from seeking Him, he was resisting with all his might, for it is clear from His words in Acts 9:5, that the Spirit had been striving with him; yet, instead of yielding to conviction, he was kicking against the goads!
Does some reader exclaim, "But my case was very different from any of those you have described above, being more like that of Nicodemus, Bartimaeus, or the dying thief. I was indeed a great sinner, yet realized my lost condition, and earnestly and diligently sought the Lord"? Even so and you were but doing what God has commanded all to do (Isa 55:6) that in no way clashes with anything we have said. God was equally beforehand in your case, for He not only chose you before you chose Him (John 15:16), and loved you before you had any love for Him (1 John 4:19), but acted upon you before you acted toward Him. He had to . . .
speak the quickening word before you could come forth from your spiritual grave (John 2:43),
open your blind eyes before you were able to see your lost condition,
change your heart before you were disposed to seek Him,
and draw (John 6:44) before you came to Him.
Thus you have no ground for boasting, nothing for which you can take any credit unto yourself. All the glory of your salvation belongs alone unto the Lord.
Does He not "go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home" (Luke 15:4-6). How little is this aspect of our salvation dwelt upon today, either by those in the pulpit or those in the pew! So self-centered are we, so occupied with what redemption brings to us that we give little thought unto what it means unto the Redeemer Himself. Oh, what holy satisfaction is His, each time that He sees of the travail of His soul! How His heart is gladdened, whenever He secures another of those who were given to Him by the Father! It was in anticipation of the same that He endured the cross (Heb 12:2). Moreover, as Luke 15:6 goes on to inform us, He shares His joy with those in the "home" above each time one of God's elect is saved, tidings of the same are announced in Heaven!
"Every display of the Savior's grace is a jewel in His mediatorial crown. O what hearts have we, that we are not more humble before Him, more thankful to Him, and more joyful in Him! Lord Jesus help us, Gentile sinners, to look back, to look within, to look up, and to look forward to excite humility, thankfulness, and joy of heart. Look forward my soul, for Heaven is before you. Jesus stands ready to receive you, the Father to embrace you, the Spirit to triumph over you. Glory shall complete what grace has begun" (W. Mason, 1785).