A Heart for Christ – by C.H. Mackintosh
(Read Matthew 26)
In this solemn chapter we have a great many hearts revealed. The heart of the chief priests, the heart of the elders, the heart of the scribes, the heart of Peter, the heart of Judas. But there is one heart in particular, unlike all the others, and that is the heart of the woman who brought the alabaster box of very precious ointment to anoint the body of Jesus. This woman had a heart for Christ. She may have been a very great sinner, a very ignorant sinner, but her eyes had been opened to see a beauty in Jesus which led her to judge that nothing was too costly to be spent on Him. In a word, she had a heart for Christ.
Passing over the chief priests, the elders and the scribes, let us look at the heart of this woman in contrast with the heart of Judas and the heart of Peter.
Judas was a covetous man. He loved money — a very common love in every age. He had preached the gospel. He had walked in company with the Lord Jesus during the days of His public ministry. He had heard His words, seen His ways, experienced His kindness. But, sadly, though an apostle, though a companion of Jesus, though a preacher of the gospel, he had no heart for Christ. He had a heart for money. His heart was ever moved by the thought of gain. When money was in question, he was all alive. The deepest depths of his being were stirred by money. “The bag” was his nearest and dearest object. Satan knew this. He knew the special lust of Judas. He was fully aware of the price at which he could be bought. He understood his man, how to tempt him and how to use him. Solemn thought!
Be it observed that the very position of Judas made him all the more fit for Satan. His acquaintance with the ways of Christ made him a fit person to betray Him into the hands of His enemies. Head knowledge of sacred things, if the heart be not touched, renders a man more awfully callous, profane and wicked. The chief priests and scribes in Matthew 2 had a head knowledge of the letter of Scripture, but no heart for Christ. They could at once hand down the prophetic roll and find the place where it was written, “Thou Bethlehem in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah; for out of thee shall come a Governor that shall rule My people Israel” (v. 6). All this was very well, very true and very beautiful, but they had no heart for this “Governor,” no eyes to see Him. They did not want Him. They had Scripture at their fingertips. They would have felt ashamed, no doubt, had they not been able to answer Herod’s question. It would have been a disgrace to men in their position to exhibit ignorance, but they had no heart for Christ. Hence they laid their Scriptural knowledge at the feet of an ungodly king who was about to use it, if he could, for the purpose of slaying the true Heir to the throne. So much for head-knowledge without heart-love.
It is not that we would make little of Scriptural knowledge. Far from it. The true knowledge of Scripture must lead the heart to Jesus. But there is such a thing as knowing the letter of Scripture so as to be able to repeat chapter after chapter, verse after verse, yes, so as to be a sort of walking concordance, and, all the while the heart be cold and callous toward Christ. This knowledge will only throw one more into the hands of Satan, as in the case of the chief priests and scribes. Herod would not have asked ignorant men for information. The devil never takes up ignorant or stupid men to act against the truth of God. No; he finds fitter agents to do his work. The learned, the intellectual, the deep-thinking are used, provided they have no heart for Christ.
What saved “the wise men from the east?” Why could not Herod — why could not Satan — enlist them into his service? Oh! reader mark the reply. They had a heart for Christ. Blessed safeguard! Doubtless, they were ignorant of Scripture. They would have made but a poor hand of searching for a passage in the prophets, but they were looking for Jesus — earnestly, honestly, diligently looking for Jesus! Herod would eagerly have made use of them if he could, but they were not to be used by him. They found their way to Jesus. They did not know much about the prophet who had spoken of the “Governor,” but they found their way to the “Governor” Himself. They found Him in the Person of the Babe in the manger at Bethlehem. Instead of being tools in the hands of Herod, they were worshippers at the feet of Jesus.
Now, it is not that we would commend ignorance of Scripture. By no means! People are sure to err greatly who know not the Scriptures. It was to the praise of Timothy that the apostle could say to him, “From a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures which are able to make thee wise unto salvation,” but then he adds, “Through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). The true knowledge of Scripture will always conduct us to the feet of Jesus, but mere head-knowledge of Scripture, without heart-love for Christ, will only render us the more effective agents in the hands of Satan.
Thus it was in the case of the hard-hearted, money-loving Judas. He had knowledge without a spark of affection for Christ, and his very familiarity with that blessed One made him a suitable instrument for the devil. His nearness to Jesus enabled him to be a traitor. The devil knew that thirty pieces of silver could purchase his service in the horrible work of betraying his Master.
Reader, think of this! Here was an apostle — a preacher of the gospel, a high professor. Yet underneath the cloak of profession lay “a heart exercised in covetous practices” — a heart which had a wide place for “thirty pieces of silver,” but not a corner for Jesus. What a case! What a picture! What a warning! Oh! all you heartless professors, think of Judas! Think of his course! Think of his character! Think of his end! He preached the gospel, but he never knew it, never believed it, never felt it. He had painted sunbeams on canvas, but he never felt their influence. He had plenty of heart for money, but no heart for Christ. As “the son of perdition” “he hanged himself” and “went to his own place.” Professing Christians, beware of head-knowledge, lip profession, official piety, mechanical religion. Beware of these things and seek to have a heart for Christ.
In Peter we have another warning, though of a different kind. He really loved Jesus, but he feared the cross. He shrank from confessing His name in the midst of the enemy’s ranks. He boasted of what he would do when he should have been self-emptied. He was fast asleep when he ought to have been on his knees. Instead of praying he was sleeping. Then, instead of being still, he was drawing his sword. “He followed Jesus afar off” and then “warmed himself at the high priest’s fire.” Finally, he cursed and swore that he did not know this gracious Master. All this was terrible! Who could suppose that the Peter of Matthew 16:16 is the Peter of Matthew 26? Yet so it is. Man in his best estate is only like an autumn leaf. “There is none abiding.” The highest position, the loudest profession, may all end in following Jesus afar off, and in basely denying His name.
It is almost certain that Peter would have spurned the thought of selling Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Yet he was afraid to confess Him before a servant girl. He might not have betrayed Him to His enemies, but he denied Him before them. He may not have loved money, but he failed to manifest a heart for Christ.
Christian reader, remember Peter’s fall and beware of self-confidence. Cultivate a prayerful spirit. Keep close to Jesus. Keep away from the influence of this world’s favor. “Keep thyself pure.” Beware of dropping into a sleepy, tepid condition of soul. Be earnest and watchful. Be occupied with Christ. This is the true safeguard. Do not be satisfied with the mere avoidance of open sin. Do not rest in mere blamelessness of conduct and character. Cherish lively, warm affections toward Christ. One who “follows Jesus afar off” may deny Him before long. Let us think of this. Let us profit by the case of Peter. He himself afterwards tells us to “be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist, steadfast in the faith” (1 Peter 5:8-9). These are weighty words, coming as they do, from the Holy Spirit through the pen of one who had suffered so from lack of “vigilance.”
Blessed be the grace that could say to Peter before his fall, “I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not.” Mark, the Lord did not say, “I have prayed for thee that thou mayest not fall.” No; but “that thy faith fail not” when you have fallen. Precious, matchless grace! This was Peter’s resource. He was a debtor to grace from first to last. As a lost sinner, he was a debtor to “the precious blood of Christ”; as a stumbling saint, he was a debtor to the all-prevailing advocacy of Christ. Thus it was with Peter. The advocacy of Christ was the basis of his happy restoration. Of this advocacy Judas knew nothing. It is only those who are washed in the blood that partake of the advocacy. Judas knew nothing of either. Hence “he went and hanged himself,” whereas Peter went forth as a restored soul to “strengthen his brethren.” There is no one so fit to strengthen his brethren as one who has himself experienced the restoring grace of Christ. Peter was able to stand before the congregation of Israel and say, “Ye denied the Holy One and the Just,” the very thing he had done himself. This shows how entirely his conscience was purged by the blood and his heart restored by the advocacy of Christ.
Now, one word as to the woman with the alabaster box. She stands forth in bright and beautiful contrast with all. While the chief priests, elders and scribes were plotting against Christ “in the palace of the high priest who was called Caiaphas,” she was anointing His body “in the house of Simon the leper.” While Judas was covenanting with the chief priests to sell Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, she was pouring the precious contents of her alabaster box upon His Person. Touching contrast! She was wholly absorbed with her object, and her object was Christ. Those who knew not His worth and beauty might pronounce her sacrifice a waste. Those who could sell Him for thirty pieces of silver might talk of “giving to the poor,” but she heeded them not. Their surmisings and murmurings were nothing to her. She had found her all in Christ. They might murmur, but she could worship and adore. Jesus was more to her than all the poor in the world. She felt that nothing was “waste” that was spent on Him. He might only be worth thirty pieces of silver to one who had a heart for money. He was worth ten thousand words to her, because she had a heart for Christ. Happy woman! May we imitate her! May we ever find our place at the feet of Jesus, loving, adoring, admiring and worshipping His blessed Person. May we spend and be spent in His service, even though heartless professors should deem our service a foolish “waste.”
The time is rapidly approaching when we shall not repent of anything done for His name’s sake. If there could be room for a single regret, it will be that we so faintly and feebly served His cause in the world. If, on “the morning without clouds,” a single blush could mantle the cheek, it will be that we did not, when down here, dedicate ourselves more undividedly to His service.
Reader, let us ponder these things. And may the Lord grant us a heart for Christ!