“But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.” Matthew 9:36.
The question we consider this time is: "Why did the Lord Jesus have compassion on the multitude if God has no compassion on the reprobate wicked?" The text we have just quoted is referred to specifically.
Let there be no doubt about it at all that God has compassion only upon His people. Compassion is the same as pity or mercy. And mercy is that attribute of God according to which He sees the misery of His people because of their sin, longs to deliver them from their misery, and purposes to make them eternally happy. God's mercy is, however, always sovereign. That is, God's mercy is not only a mere attitude while God is unable to accomplish that for which He longs. God's mercy actually saves.
There is no adequate figure that we can appeal to as an illustration of this truth. But we can come close with the act of saving a drowning man. If a man is drowning in deep water and someone on shore sees the drowning man's plight, he may be moved with compassion. But true compassion is not to stand on the shore wringing his hands and hoping the man will summon sufficient strength to swim to shore. Compassion is not even throwing the man a lifeline when he knows ahead of time the man is too near death to grab hold. (Although this is what the teachers of the well-meant offer maintain.) No, compassion is to brave the crashing waves, swim out to the man, take hold of him, and drag him to shore.
This is Jesus' compassion as well as God's. Jesus' compassion or mercy actually saves. That is the power of His cross.
But why then does the text speak of compassion on the multitudes?
We must understand, first of all, that the reason for Jesus' compassion is given in the text: "they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd." These words are a terrible indictment of the wicked scribes and Pharisees who claimed to be the leaders of the people, but who were false shepherds who scattered the flock and only sheared the sheep -- for their own profit.
But Jesus is the good Shepherd, Who knows His own and is known by them. He has compassion for those who are scattered abroad, and He purposes to lead them into the green pastures of salvation.
But why the compassion on the multitude? Does not this imply that Jesus has compassion on every one in that multitude, head for head including the reprobate in the multitude?
No, it does not mean that, and cannot mean that. The answer lies in a great truth of Scripture which, if people would once get a hold of, they would never be Arminian in their thinking. That truth is that God always deals "organically" with men.
I dislike introducing a word which almost no one understands in our days of crass individualism; but it is a crucial term. I can only suggest the ideas here, and our readers may ask more about it and give me opportunity to discuss it in other articles.
The text looks at the multitude from the viewpoint of its organic unity. We do this all the time in our own lives. We look at families and nations from the viewpoint of their unity as an organism. We can say, e.g., that England has become apostate. Does that mean that there are no people of God in England? Of course not. But it does mean that the nation, taken as a corporate or organic unity, is apostate.
We may say that in the days following the first General Assembly in Scotland, the nation became Christian. Does that mean that everyone in the nation was elect? Of course not. But it does mean that the nation, taken as a whole, lived according to the Scriptures.
It is this organic idea which Scripture uses when it compares the church with various creatures in God's world. The church is a vine (Psalm 80, Jn. 15) even though branches are cut off and the vine nearly destroyed. The church is a vineyard (Is. 5:1-7) even though it brought forth wild fruit. It is a vineyard because God has His elect there and He looks at His church as a whole from the viewpoint of His purpose with the church, i.e., to take it to glory.
Scripture calls the church in Corinth (or Ephesus, or Colosse, or whatever) the church of Christ, saints, redeemed, etc. Does this mean there were no reprobate in Ephesus? or Corinth? or Colosse? No, but it is the church and it is called the church. The Scriptures speak of the love of God to that church and the compassion of Christ. Does that mean that God loves the reprobate? Of course not.
I suppose that in a way one can speak of the "compassion" a farmer has for his wheat field. He takes good care of it, does what is necessary to see to it that the wheat grows, is deeply concerned that no pests or diseases or hail destroy it, and delights in its well-being. Does that mean that the farmer loves the weeds which are there? has compassion on the weeds? takes good care of the weeds? Of course not. It is his field and he looks at it and deals with it as his wheat field. So Jesus has compassion on the multitude, for they were as sheep without a shepherd. But that compassion is for the purpose of saving His elect.
- Volume: 7
- Issue: 9
Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)
Ordained: October 1955
Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965
Emeritus: 2001Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko
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