He Ran, and He Ran
“But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him.” — Mark v. 6.
“But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.” — Luke xv. 20.
THESE two texts have a measure of apparent likeness: the man runs to Jesus from afar, and the father runs to the prodigal from afar. They both run; and when two run to meet each other, they soon meet. When a sinner is running to Christ, and the Father is running to the sinner, there shall be a happy meeting before very long, and there shall be joy in heaven and joy on earth, too.
I shall begin my discourse by noticing the case of the demoniac, whose story we read: “When he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him.”
I. Using that narrative as a kind of parable, I would remark, in the first place, that we have here an emblem of THE SINNER’S PLACE.
He is “afar off” from Christ; and when first of all the Spirit of God begins to open his eyes to his own true condition, one of the chief difficulties in his way is the realization of his distance from the Saviour. He begins to cry, “Oh, that I knew where I might find him! that I might come even to his seat!” The poor man feels as if there were a great and dreadful distance between him and the great Mediator; he can only see “Jesus afar off,” as the demoniac did. He has not yet come to Christ, nor proved his wondrous power to bless.
I daresay there are some in this congregation who feel that they are “afar off” from the Lord Jesus Christ, and “afar off” from the great Father. You are “afar off” as to character. I am not going to bring an accusation against you, for your own heart and conscience accuse you. It is not necessary for me to describe your past life; if you are the person whom Christ has come to bless, then I know that your sin is ever before you. You cannot bide it from yourself, it seems to be painted on your very eye-balls. You have to look at everything through the mist and haze of your past guilt, and consequently everything looks dark and dreary to you. The very mercies which God gives you seem to accuse you of your ingratitude to your Benefactor; and any denials of mercy, any chastisements that you are enduring, seem to you to be but premonitions of a coming doom; for you feel yourself to be by your past life very far off from Christ. He is perfect, and you are full of sin. He is just, and you are unjust. He is meek and lowly, and you confess that you have been proud and wayward. He is beloved of his Father, the beloved Servant of God; but you have derided God’s gospel, and you have refused to obey him. You are, indeed, far off from Christ. It seems to you that, if Christ and the penitent thief made a pair, then you also might make a pair with your dying Saviour, but not else. You feel yourself to be unworthy to be in the same world with him, much less to be in the same heaven with him. Well, now, when our Lord went to Gadara, as far as I can see, he crossed the sea of Galilee, and endured that storm at night, in order that he might heal one man, and he went back again well content when he had wrought that one miracle. It may be that you are a man of that kind, as far off from any likeness to Christ as that poor lunatic was; and he may have come here at this good hour with the intent to save you. At any rate, his servant will go home as grateful as a man can be, if he be but made the means of saving one such sinner as you are; but, first of all, you must realize that this is your position, “afar off” from Christ as to character.
But what, perhaps, may appear to you to be even worse is that you seem to be “afar off” as to any hope of salvation by Christ. It may be that you have long been a hearer of the gospel. When you were younger, it did seem as if the kingdom of God had come nigh unto you; but now, the older you grow, the less susceptible you are of holy influences. You used to weep under sermons; you can more easily sleep under them now. Time was when your rest was broken after some kindly admonition from a Christian friend; but now, perhaps, Christian friends scarcely ever admonish you, because you have a sarcastic way of repelling what they say; and even while you are sitting here, you are moaning to yourself, “Some in this congregation may be converted, but I shall not be. The Lord Jesus Christ may come here, and deliver some poor soul; but assuredly he will not deliver me. I am an offcast and an outcast; not, perhaps, by open sin, but by an inward hardening of my spirit till my soul has become like the northern iron and steel, and nothing can move me. I am far off from any hope that the Saviour will ever bless me.”
Well, now, let me say to you, dear friend, that I am very sorry that it should be so with you; yet am I glad you are here when such a subject as this is being handled, for that Gadarene demoniac did seem to be about as hopeless a man as there was in all the country round about. Apart from Christ, his case was absolutely hopeless. They had, doubtless, used all the arts for the management of lunatics which they understood in those barbarous days, but no chains of iron, nor bands of brass, could hold him; he could not be tamed, or kept in And yet, O thou blessed Christ, thou couldst cross the stormy It may be that it is so with from Christ in the check. sea at midnight to save this one man! you also, dear friends, who are so far away misapprehensions of your want of hope; yet it may be that this very hour is the time when you are to be set free from the power of the devil, and brought to sit at Jesu’s feet, clothed, and in your right mind.
Some also are “afar off” from Christ as to knowledge of him. They know but little of the Christ of God; they have heard his name, they have some dim notions about him; but as yet they only see him “afar oil.” In these days, when the gospel is preached at so many street-corners, and when there is a sanctuary in almost every street, it is astonishing what gross ignorance there is about him whom to know is life eternal, by knowledge of whom many are justified, and without knowledge of whom men must perish eternally. O friends, it is terrible to think that there are persons, well instructed in everything else, who know nothing about this salvation which God has provided for the sons of men! You hear them railing against the Bible; and in almost every case the railer has never read the Book. You hear them speak against Christ; and it is almost a proverb that those who speak most against him are ignorant of the common facts of his life. They have not studied his character, nor have they examined his teaching, yet they cast it all aside as if they were infallible, and as if they were qualified to judge and to decide without hearing the case at all. This is a wretched mode of action; yet, if any of you who are here know but little of Christ, for all that I am glad you are here, and I only trust that you may be led to do what this poor ignorant demoniac did; though he must have known very little about Christ, yet he ran to him and worshipped him. A little knowledge, like the star of Bethlehem, may suffice to guide to Christ those who are willing to follow its light. A faint gleaming of what Christ is may burn and glow into a more complete and perfect knowledge of him, and by that knowledge you may be brought into the liberty wherewith Christ makes his people free.
I will not keep you longer in describing the sad state of the sinner in being thus far from Christ, except to say that it may be possible that you feel far from Christ because you do not feel as if you could get at him. You are so unspiritual that you say to yourself, “If Christ were on earth, I would walk till I dropped, but I would get to him; and if I could speak with him, so that he could hear my words, and could answer me with actual vocal sounds, if I could see him, and he would look at me, I would spend the last penny I am worth, and pass over any length of sea and land if I could but get at him; but somehow I cannot. If it were a matter of touching the hem of his garment with my finger, I would push through the press to do it. If it were a matter of taking him up in my arms, as Simeon took the young child Jesus, I would do it, and do it with joy; but I do not know how to get to him, it seems to be all mist and all cloud to me.” I know what you mean, dear friend, for I was in that state once, and then indeed I also “saw Jesus afar off,” and for a long while I could not get to realize that he was mine. Well, notwithstanding that feeling which possesses you, I shall speak to you yet further, in the fond hope that you may imitate this poor man, who must have been very much like you, only in a worse plight than yours, and it will be my prayer and desire that you may come running to Christ, as he did, and that you also may worship him.
II. Now notice, secondly, THE SINNER’S PRIVILEGE: “He saw Jesus,” though he only saw him “afar off.”
Those of you who only see Christ in the distance, who do not know much about him, and cannot get at him, do at least know that there is such a Person, You have heard, and it is the best news you ever did hear, that the Son of God came down to live among men, and took our flesh, and became man of the substance of his mother, and that, though he died upon the cross, yet he has risen from the dead, and he still lives. You have heard tell of all that; you have not thought of it as you ought to have done, you have not let it weigh upon your heart, or sought to understand all its holy lessons; but still, you have such a knowledge of him that you have seen him “afar off.”
More than that, you have heard, and you believe, that Jesus has done great things for men. You do not think much about what he has done; still, it has come to your knowledge that he lived, and loved, and died, that he might save men. You have often heard that, on the cross, he made an expiation for human sin; and let me tell you that this is the choicest news you ever heard, or ever will hear, and the day may come when you will look at this truth as the only star of hope in a night which else must be eternal. I hope you will yet clasp that truth to your heart as the brightest jewel and the rarest treasure you have ever met with.
And I believe, further, that some of you have caught the idea that the Lord Jesus Christ is saving other people. You have met with some whom you observe to be very much changed, greatly altered from what they used to be; and, though you sometimes laugh at them, yet deep down in your heart you do not really mock them, but you wish it was yourself. You have, after all, a respect for any one of these wonderful changes, called conversions, when you see them to be real and genuine; and you, perhaps, know some fellows with whom you work, and although you ridicule them, you know that they are better men than they used to be, and you admire the change; and there is a feeling in your inmost heart that, though you cannot make out the mystery, still there is something in it. Yes, you can see Jesus, though still I grieve to say that you do but see him afar off. You have, in your heart, some sort of belief that it may be possible that he will yet save you, and there is some sort of humble desire in your own soul that he will look your way, and cast the devils out of you, and make you to be his happy servant.
But, once more, concerning the sinner’s privilege, Christ has come to the district where he is. It is a horrible country, full of tombs and full of pollution, and the man has made it more horrible himself by his wildness and his madness; yet there is the Christ himself treading that same Gadarene shore. He who is “mighty to save” has come into the land of death-shade. He who could cast out devils has come into the devil’s own territory, he has come to beard the lion in his den. Herein also is the privilege of men to-day; the Lord Jesus Christ, who made heaven and earth, is still among us, and will be with us to the end of this dispensation. He who could raise the dead, and heal the lepers, and cast out demons, is still here working by his Spirit. Though corporeally he is gone, yet in efficacious power to save he lingers among us still, and his lingering means salvation to all who trust him. Hear it, O sons of men, and as ye hear it, may God bless the message to your souls!
III. What did this demoniac do when he saw Jesus afar off? That is the point to which we are coming, and that will teach us THE SINNER’S WISEST COURSE: “He ran and worshipped him.”
I do not know that he did intelligently, and after the right manner, worship Christ as the disciples worshipped him. Perhaps at first, when he was up a hill, howling and cutting himself with stones, he espied a boat come near the shore, and he saw a single stranger coming up from the boat, much as the natives of Erromanga saw John Williams landing on that cannibal shore, and his horrible instinct moved him to fly down at once to the beach, perhaps to attack the man who dared in open daylight intrude on the wild man’s domain. But as he approached nearer and nearer to this mysterious stranger, quite a new feeling came over him. His step grew slower, his fierce eye beamed with a duller fire, the beastlike instinct became calm, the ravening wolf, the roaring lion within him began to tremble, for it perceived its Master; and when he had come near enough to get a fuller view of Christ, who stood there in simple majesty, calm and serene, the very opposite of the poor creature’s mad fury, the man fell down at Jesu’s feet, and worshipped him. Then the devils within him spoke out, and using the man’s voice, said, “What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God?” But for the moment it was the man, and not the devil, who prevailed; for an instant, what little relics there were of manhood made themselves felt, and the man fell down and worshipped under the influence of the mysterious presence of Christ. What I hope and trust may come of our consideration of this subject is that some big sinner here may have a lucid interval, — that some mad sinner here, before the devil can speak again, may have just a little quiet time, so that, though he may have come in here fresh from all manner of evil, yet for the moment he may feel a solemn calm steal over his spirit, a sacred hush that shall make him quiet as he has not been for many a day. I pray that some strange influence — strange to him up to this time, — may draw him so that he shall run to Christ, and fall at his feet, and worship him.
I am not just now saying anything about faith in Christ except that I do not believe any man worships Christ without having some faith in him; but I am just going to take this very low standard, and say that this man, with all his madness, was wise in what he did, and the Spirit of God was leading him in the right direction when, breaking loose, as it were, from the devil’s power for a moment or two, he ran to Christ, and worshipped him. And to any poor soul, in like case, I would say, — “I beseech thee, for a minute or two, at any rate, worship the Christ of God whom I preach to thee.”
For consider that, first, Christ is God as well as man, and therefore worthy to be worshipped. This poor demoniac was wiser than the Socinians or Unitarians of our day; he felt that there was more in
Christ than in any mere man. Devil- possessed though he was, yet he fell down and worshipped Christ. And thou, my friend, — thou also knowest that Christ is God. Well, then, for a few minutes do thyself the justice to worship him as God over all, blessed for ever. If he shall never save thee, yet is he worthy to be worshipped, for he is so great and so gracious. Therefore, let thy mind be still for a moment, and pay thy homage before his feet, and from thy very heart call him “Lord” and “God.”
Besides, Christ died to save sinners; and being God, and having died to save sinners, I say to thee, “Worship him.” I recollect the time when I was afraid that Jesus would never save me, but I used to feel in my heart that, even if he did not, I must love him for what he had done for poor sinners. It seemed to me, as I read the wondrous story of his life and death, that if he spurned me, I would still lie at his feet, and say, “Thou mayest spurn me, but thou art a blessed Christ for all that, and, if thou dost curse me, yet I can only say to thee that I well deserve it at thy hands. Do what thou wilt with me; but thou didst save the dying thief, and thou didst save her out of whom thou didst cast seven devils, and if thou dost not deign to save me, yet thou art a blessed Christ, and I cannot rail at thee, or find fault with thee, but I lie down at thy feet, and worship thee.” Cannot you speak and act like that? Cannot you look up at him through your tears, and, as you see the nail-prints in his hands and feet, and that great gash in his side, which reached his heart, can you not feel that you must lie at his feet, and worship him? Just waive all questions about yourself for a minute, and think only of him; forget even your own sin for the time being, and think of what he deserves, and now, at least, for the nest few minutes, bow your soul reverently before the Christ of God, and worship him.
I think I may add that you may well worship him, because there is in that poor, flurried soul of yours, worried and confused and devil-ridden though it be, this thought, — that Christ alone can save you. You do know that. Where else can you go but unto him? What other door is open to you? What other hand was ever pierced for you? What other side ever bled that it might give cleansing for your sin? Where lives there another person who loves as Christ has loved? Therefore, do realize that he is unique, One altogether by himself; and while you cannot and will not worship others, yet, poor devil-possessed soul that thou art, fall down and worship him. Say to him, “Lord, if my night never ends, yet will I look eastward, for there the sun will rise, if not for me. Lord, if I die of thirst, yet will I linger by the lone well in the desert, for if I ever drink at all, I must drink there. I can but perish if I linger at the cross; and I am resolved to linger there, for if my blood shall stain that blessed tree, then e’en so it must be, for I am resolved — and it is my last resource, — if I must perish, I will die here.” O soul, I am not telling thee to do any great thing now, am I? I am not urging thee to exercise any unreasonable confidence, but I do advise thee to fall down and worship at my Lord’s dear feet, Mad though thou art, and thy mad worship so poor and imperfect, yet, nevertheless, he will accept thee, and do great things for thee.
For remember, next, that Christ can save thee; Christ can save thee. Thou hast gone to the end of thy tether, but thou hast not gone beyond the reach of his power. Thou hast cut thyself, and howled through many a dreary night, and snapped thy chains, and cursed the men that bound thee. Thou hast driven away friend and helper, and thou art altogether undone; but, all the same, Christ can save thee. What if the devil be in thee? There is no devil in hell, or out of hell, who does not tremble at Christ’s presence. Oh, that he would come, and lay his cool hand upon thy fevered brow, and put his own life into thy poor withered heart, and make thee to live! I To can save thee; of that I am sure. I cannot speak as my Master can, but yet my Master can make these poor words of mine to bless and comfort thee; and I pray that he may. This is the one thing that I bid thee do, run to him, and worship him.
IV. Now, turning to my second text, I must briefly remind you of THE SECRET HOPE FOR SINNERS, that while you are yet a great way off, the Father himself will see you, and will run to you. While you are running to his Son, the Father will run to you, and you and he shall moot in Christ, — the only safe meeting-place for God and man.
Turn your thoughts for a minute or two from that Gadarene demoniac to the prodigal son. He was coming back, you remember, and when he was a great way off, I should not wonder that his heart began to misgive him. “Oh!” he seemed to say, “there is the old house!” He has reached the top of the hill, and he can see it. He recollects those old trees under which he used to play with his brother, and he thinks that he can spy out the very spot where he left his father, and went that reckless journey into the far country. “I wonder what father will say to me,” he says; “I do not know how I can ever face him. I have treated him so badly that I must have broken his heart. I fear he is angry with me, yet I do not think I can bear his wrath. I am ready to humble myself, and say, ‘Father, I have sinned;’ but, oh! what a wretch I am! He will hardly know me; I do not look like the person I was when I left. What awful times I have been through since last I saw his dear face! I think I must run back again. Bad as it is to perish out in the far country, I do not think I can really face him.” He is just turning back when, to his surprise, his father clasps him in his arms, for, “when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.”
O dear hearts, if I knew there was a poor soul here beginning to seek the Lord, how glad I should be to speak with him; and there are some of my dear brethren here who are always on the look-out for any in whom there is the faintest beginning of a work of grace! But, you see, we cannot see the germs of grace as God can, we cannot spy out returning sinners as he can, for God has far-reaching eyes; and if there is only in any of your hearts half a wish to repent, the Father sees it. If you only know that there is a Christ, and that you would fain worship him, but you have not gone the length of really trusting him, and casting your souls upon him, yet remember that when the prodigal was yet a great way off, his father saw him. When God sees anything, his is a very different sight from yours or mine. We see a thing with our eyes, and then we get a microscope, and look through that, and see it very differently; but God, as it were, always sees everything microscopically and telescopically. He sees the whole of it, sees the very heart and soul of it. God at this moment sees all the sin of the whole of your life, he sees all your brokenness of spirit, all your doubts, all your fears, all the strugglings against sin, and all the strivings of his Spirit. He takes it all in with a single glance, and comprehends and understands it all; and though you are a great way off, the Father sees you, and he sees you with a father’s eye, too. How quick a father’s eye is when he looks at his boy who is ill! He spies out that hectic flush before the boy believes there is any trace of consumption in his countenance, for a loving father has a physician’s eye, and a mother’s eye is still more quick to perceive anything wrong.
Moreover, God sees with a compassionate eye: “His father saw him, and had compassion” on him; the two things went together. I know a sister in Christ, who did me great good one day. I had helped a man many times, poor wretch that he was. I never clothed him but he sold the garments in a day or two; I never helped him but he sank into deeper degradation than before; and, at last, after he had been rigged out afresh from top to toe, and a situation found for him, and he was put into a position for getting on in life, he came here again, and, when I saw him, I shrank back from him. I felt indignant with him, but our sister — a better Christian than I, — lifted up both hands, and began to cry. The man was covered with vermin, and he had evidently been drinking hard; and she lifted up her hands, and she cried, “O poor creature, we have done all we can to save you, and you will go to hell;” and she stood and cried as if he had been her own child. And I believe that is how God feels for poor sinners, for he cannot bear to see them act as they do. If you are coming back to him, that is the compassionate way in which he is looking at you. He spies you out, and, like as Jesus wept over Jerusalem, so does the great Father weep over sinners, grieving that they will be so desperately wicked and foolish as to destroy their own souls.
V. Now I must close, for our time has gone. The last point to be noticed is, THE ACTION OF THE SINNER’S FATHER.
No sooner did the Father see his son coming back than “he ran.” When God runs, it is quick running. “He ran, and fell on his neck;” and when God stoops to fall on a sinner’s neck, it is wondrous condescension. This is compassion like a God. “And kissed him.” God’s kiss is the essence of a million kisses all in one. One kiss from God is the soul of heaven laid to the heart of a burdened sinner. “He ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him,” and so the prodigal was received back into his father’s family.
What I am longing for is that God’s blessed Spirit may move some of you to run to Christ, if only in the poor way that I have set forth. Just for a few minutes, quietly worship him; and while you are doing that, may the great Father come in with all his omnipotent love, and put away your sin, and change your nature, and receive you into eternal union with himself to the praise of the glory of his grace! If I were to say ten thousand things, but God did not bless what 1 had said, all would be in vain; I hope that you do not need more words, but that you will come at once to Christ. Do not perish, I pray you, do not damn your own souls. There is enough misery in this world without incurring the miseries of the world to come. The Lord himself says, “Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die?” In the name of the bleeding Christ, seek his mercy even now; by his bloody sweat and crown of thorns, seek him now. I know no better argument except it be by his death-cry, “It is finished.” Come ye to Christ; look to him and live, even now, and to him shall be the praise for ever and ever. Amen.