The Last Farthing

—Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou have paid the last farthing.

— St. Matthew 5:26

There is a thing wonderful and admirable in the parables, not readily grasped, but specially indicated by the Lord himself—their unintelligibility to the mere intellect. They are addressed to the conscience and not to the intellect, to the will and not to the imagination. They are strong and direct but not definite. They are not meant to explain anything, but to rouse a man to the feeling, “I am not what I ought to be, I do not the thing I ought to do!” Many meaningless interpretations may be given by the wise, while work goes undone, while the child who uses them for the necessity of walking in the one path will constantly receive light from them. The greatest obscuring of the words of the Lord comes from those who give themselves to interpret rather than do them. It was not for our understanding, but for our will, that Christ came. He who does that which he sees, shall understand; he who is set upon understanding rather than doing, shall go on stumbling and speaking foolishness. The gospel itself, and in it the parables of the Truth, are to be understood only by those who walk by what they find. The Lord did not intend that any should know what, known but intellectually, he would imagine he had grasped. When the pilgrim of the truth comes on his journey to the region of the parable, he finds its interpretation. It is not a jewel to be stored, but a well springing by the wayside.

Commentary

HOW SHALL WE THEN KNOW?
|by Dave Roney

MacDonald says "There is a thing wonderful and admirable in the parables, not readily grasped, but specially indicated by the Lord Himself—their unintelligibility to the mere intellect." On the surface of it, that is to say intellectually, such a pronouncement makes little sense; for, when we read the parables, do we not then say to ourselves “Ah! That makes sense!  Now I see what the Lord is talking about!”  He uses the phrase "...to the mere intellect;" in our modern Western English, better it may be understood as "by means of the mere intellect alone."  God indeed works in us through our minds (are we not to have the same mind as the Mind of Christ?); but the mind is similar to a door, which may be barred or flung open, through which He may pass into our innermost selves, into the secret place of heart and will.  And every locked door requires a key.

He may through conviction, a lack within us, or by beauty, the abundance in Him, begin to unsettle the mind, may through His Spirit begin to elevate it by the growing sense of our lack and need; but the mind cannot be transformed until His work in the heart has begun.  The construction is not His work alone but is shared by us.  He to offer, we to accept; He to will in us, we to submit to His will; He to lead, and we to follow.  He is our King and we His subjects, but not subjects first, for our God is relational, and Christ would have us first and best as His brothers and the children of our Father, only then as subjects, but subjects only as to our willing submission and obedience, a condition but not a positional standing.  Therefore, within the Royal Family of which we are members, we are the heirs of God our Father and heirs jointly with His Son, our Elder Brother, the King.

With my mind I know Him as God; by my spirit, conscience, heart, I know Him better as God my great Father.  Intellect alone, logic and reason, tell me He is God; but "by means of the mere intellect alone" I could never know Him in the beauty of most intimate and personal familial relationship such as comes welling up from a source much simpler yet more profound than my mind is able to generate.  At the time our Lord presented His parables, those men, His followers, did not know what they would come to know, what we know today; they listened to Him speak, the words entered into their intellects, and they thought they understood.  Far be it the case.

“They [the parables] are strong and direct but not definite.  They are not meant to explain anything, but to rouse a man to feeling, 'I am not what I ought to be, I do not the thing I ought to do!'  Many meaningful interpretations may be given by the wise [according to their mere intellects], while work goes undone, while [on the other hand] the child who uses them for the necessity of walking in the one path will constantly receive light from them.”

This parable (Matthew 5:21-26) is located in the Lord's great Sermon; throughout He is explaining but two things; first, what His Kingdom is like, for it, its Ruler, and its rule are radically different from any earthly kingdom and, second, what the citizens of that Kingdom must be like; and the entire sum of it is for us wrapped up in this simple conclusion: Be just like Christ Jesus.  He seeks not by the parable to broaden the intellect but to agitate a man at his depth to recognize “I am not like the man Jesus describes!  I don't act and react to life situations in the manner He commands!”

“The greatest obscuring of the words of the Lord comes from those who give themselves to interpret rather than do them.  It was not for our understanding, but for our will, that Christ came.  He who does that which he sees, shall understand; he who is set upon understanding rather than doing, shall go on stumbling and speaking foolishness.”

Last evening at our little home group meeting a dear lady admitted her difficulty in surrendering her will to God.  I said to her something which hopefully will help.  Namely, that as long as she, by her strength and intellect, continues to struggle she will never be able to do it.  The answer is simple to me; whatever the next thing is that the Lord commands you to do, do it.  It may be something as simple as opening a door for a lady, or even bending down to pet the head of a friendly dog.  It need not be profound, nor even Scriptural for that matter, only to begin where you are with what little you know to do and do it.  And by, as faithfully as one can, to continue to do what God impresses upon us to do, we are subtly forming the habit of submission to Him and His will for us; such are the tiny steps of the spiritual toddler who, through the rigors of practice, will soon enough come to walk with sureness and then to run the race set before her.  With each small and unsure step we are ascending the staircase which leads to the perfect will of God for our lives.  And we need not know before we are obedient any more than our earthly children must understand before they are obedient to we their parents; if they will obey and do, in time they will come to know and understand.

“The Gospel itself, and in it the parables of the Truth, are to be understood only by those who walk by what they find.  The Lord did not intend that any should know what, [if] known but intellectually, he [such a person] would imagine he had grasped.”

Would you truly know this parable, any of the Lord's parables?  Then before attempting to form a great commentary on them first ask yourself “What is the Lord asking of me?  What does He require of me, and what must I now do?”  If you first seek the golden thread of what He would have you to do, and do it, then will that strand lead you directly into the priceless gown of true knowing, into the very mind of Christ.  When He wove the garment of His parables for you, He left this one strand dangling that you might, by taking it in your hands, follow it, and do it, and thus find your way into the knowledge of Him.

In closing, and in harmony with the things said here, let us consider the well known passage from St. James (1:22-25).  In one version, though they are all quite similar, it reads as follows:

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”

Have you always been taught and come to understand that by “word” in this passage the Apostle is referring to Scripture?  Go to any chronology and discover that James wrote before much of the other New Testament books were penned; in some historic estimations his is, in fact, credited as the first Epistle penned, and before any of the Gospel accounts.  There was, that is to say, no New Testament at the time he wrote the above words, and it would be several centuries beyond him before what we now recognize as the canon of Scripture was settled upon by the church fathers.  His epistle is addressed “to the twelve tribes scattered abroad in the Dispersion,” who had only their Old Scriptures; but He couldn't have meant for them to continue their old way of keeping the Mosaic Law and the Levitical code.  He speaks of something entirely new.

James, therefore, is not speaking of the written “word” of God, the Scripture, but makes reference singularly to the Author of it, the Living Word, the Man Christ Jesus.  When he writes “be doers of The Word” (italics & caps added for emphasis) he is speaking expressly of obedience to Christ Jesus.  Obedience was the Lord's command, and all other commands are swept up in that single one; whatever He says, to that we must yield willingly, if by knowing, then well and good, but if not knowing, so also well and good.

But in any case, in every case, His will for us is to obey all which we know to be obedient to, no matter how small that may be—He will not be satisfied with us, but He will be pleased. If we look into the Mirror of the Lord we see His image only as we are obedient; if we cease to be obedient, we are that man who turns away and immediately forgets the image.  And in turning away we turn also from the Light of the world and to darkness, from Life to death, from Liberty back to bondage.  Would we know this parable?  If so, let us ask His will for us and then obey what He commands, for indeed He speaks a command to us in the parable.  For the time being His parables may be enigmas to us; not to worry that we do not understand.  But within the parables is a message for those who have eyes to see it, they who are willing to do.  If we will do what we see to do, then we shall begin to know.

And as to this parable His command is to forgive, and we dare not disobey Him, which forgiveness the intellect alone may not be able to fathom, is in some inexplicable way the giving of Life to another—and thereby for us it is also the receiving of Life.  In the following days will be other commentaries on this parable, written by my friends.  With each successive entry the heart that is willing, proven by obedient doing, will come to understand it more and more...

 

The Doing and the Knowing
by Dave Roney

“I’m telling you the truth: You won’t get out until you’ve paid the very last cent!
— Matthew 5:26

“Then what is my next duty? What is the thing that lies nearest me?”

“That, I repeat, belongs to your every-day history.  No one can answer that question but yourself... —Is there nothing you neglect?  Is there nothing you know you ought not to do?... Your duty will begin to comfort you at once, but will at length open the unknown fountain of life in your heart.”
From a conversation with Lady Georgiana, “Robert Falconer,” Part III, Chapter X

In our reading, which introduces the next sermon series, titled “The Last Farthing,” we discover immediately that MacDonald cautions that the wonderful parables of our Lord (which to the untrained eye seem readily perceivable) should be considered in light of their “unintelligibility to the intellect.”  Surely they can be understood, after a fashion, by the mind alone, the same being true for all of Scripture; but, as with Scripture, so also the parables are addressed to the conscience, and not the intellect; to the will and not the imagination, as to say they cannot satisfactorily be understood, or “figured out,” by the fancies of analytic thought and interpretation: Our Lord is childlike; His words are, then, also childlike; they are addressed to the children of their Father, both those near and those afar from Him, to every person within hearing.  The deepest, widest, highest, expression of thought is not that of the mind but the heart; in His parables our Lord is reaching down through the mind of man to find the source of all his thinking, saying, and doing, to the very wellspring of his life.  He does not bypass the mind but enters in through its door to the heart-house of man, his cathedral, the inner sanctum of being.  If any person would know what the parables are saying, it shall be known first by the heart and only then the mind.

GMD declares: “The greatest obscuring of the words of our Lord comes from those who give themselves to interpret rather than do them.” 

You ask, “What is my next duty?  What is the thing that lies nearest me?”

I reply, “It is to do the thing you know to be done; it is to be obedient in every case to all you know to be obedient to, which is to be like Christ Jesus.”

“Who can tell me what that next thing to do is?”

No one can answer that question but yourself.”

“But how will I know what to do?”

“You will only know by doing it; God never makes revelation to a man but that the man is not firstly obedient, or at the least is willing to be obedient.”

“If any man wills to do God's will,” says the Lord, “he will know whether the instruction is [or is not] from God.” —the order is without variation to first, through obedience, do, and when a man wills to do the Will he will then know as much as he needs or is able in order to accomplish the will of God for him.  “He who does that which he sees, shall understand; he who is set on understanding rather than doing, shall go on stumbling and speaking foolishness.”  By “sees” is meant, I think, to see by the light of the Spirit of God as He leads us in ways we do not know, in ways of obedience that our intellects could never understand, and which, by any mere human analysis, might seem to be incomprehensibly wrong; for instance, daily Self-crucifixion, the selfless sacrificial life lived by the child of God, himself becoming a living sacrifice, a state of being run absolutely contrary to the world's values.  Ferguson's words ring true: “Be obedient even when you do not know where obedience will lead you.”

“When the pilgrim of the truth comes on his journey to the region of the parable, he finds its interpretation.”  The pilgrim is no slacker, not one with idle hands and feet, but one in motion, on a journey; he is the one who is doing for his Lord and, by his childlike obedience, and by coming to the parable, “finds its interpretation,” which is to say “knows its meaning.”  Though he be alone (or think himself alone) in this knowledge, which may run contrary to the counsel of the wise, he knows it as God knows it, and that is enough for him.  On his roadway he comes to the parable; it is no dulled gemstone for him to put in any proud pocket of his faculty, by which he can rear up pompous, as a grand dispenser of over-lording wisdom to his peers, but begins to flesh his dry bones, giving strength in sinews and hands, and a heart that bleeds and pants after God, that he might in compassion reach to the poor, the broken, the bedraggled brother and sister, to lift them up and set them on their feet if he can.  To, as a priest after the high priesthood of Christ, open the very gates of Heaven itself.

There is herein no starched collar of religiosity about his neck, no outward sign of his superiority over any other, it is the Light shining through the shade which is his flesh that men shall see, and by which they shall be led into more light; from this man's heart gushes streams of living water, filled with the luminescent glow of life eternal, a fountain erupting into the darkened air, falling down on the lives of those without either light or water for their souls.  Where is the wisdom of men, of this world?  There is only one good, wise, God!  The parables are understood only by the doing of them; and the man who knows them witnesses this knowing by his doing, his living, his very life poured out in obedience.

In Shakespeare's “Hamlet” he has Polonius saying to Laertes:

“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

How will I be true to myself?  It is only by surrendered will in obedience to God; and inherent in that surrender is to do the will of God for me in my life; for obedience always implies doing.  Only in this way can a man be true to himself; and if a man is thus true, he shall also be true to his fellows; it is the will of God.  “It was not for our understanding,” says MacDonald, “but for our will, that Christ came.”

There shall follow eight commentaries written for each of the forthcoming daily readings from “The Last Farthing.”  I have not here, in this introduction to the series, attempted to deal with the actual parable around which the readings are built; with great anticipation I await what my brothers and sisters shall describe of the profound thought and rich beauty awaiting us!  For today, and following what I perceived to be MacDonald's form, I have made attempt merely to set the stage for the parable of “the uttermost farthing,” to show in some small way how it is to be understood when we arrive at it.

This, as all of our Lord's parables, is “...not meant to explain anything but to rouse in us the feeling 'I am not what I ought to be, I do not the thing I ought to do'.”  Let us enter into this parable driven sermon with deepest contrition and Christlike humility, knowing that our last owed farthing is to become the very living image on earth of Him Who loves us, and washed us, and continues to wash us, in His own precious blood...