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

So might I imagine a thousand steps up from the darkness, each a little less dark, a little nearer the light—but, ah, the weary way! He cannot come out until he will have paid the uttermost farthing! Repentance once begun, however, may grow more and more rapid! If God once gets a willing hold, if with but one finger he touches the man’s self, swift as possibility will he draw him from the darkness into the light. For that for which the forlorn, self-ruined wretch was made, was to be a child of God, a partaker of the divine nature, an heir of God and joint heir with Christ. Out of the abyss into which he cast himself, refusing to be the heir of God, he must rise and be raised. To the heart of God, the one and only goal of the human race—the refuge and home of all and each, he must set out and go, or that last glimmer of humanity will die from him. Whoever will live must cease to be a slave and become a child of God. There is no half-way house of rest, where ungodliness may be dallied with, nor prove quite fatal. Be they few or many cast into such a prison as I have endeavored to imagine, there can be no deliverance for the human soul, whether in that prison or out of it, but in paying the last farthing, in becoming lowly, penitent, self-refusing—so receiving the sonship and learning to cry, Father!

Commentary

All Things, Including the Last Farthing and the Prison,
Are of the Kingdom of Our Lord

 

Based on Matthew 5:26 – here is offered the conclusion of our Sermon titled "The Last Farthing," which leads directly into the next Sermon, titled "Abba, Father!"  By now the subject has been well treated through nine daily readings and a like number of commentaries written by our friends.  As we prepare, being nomads in study, to pull up our stakes and move to the next Sermon, I here expend my energy in writing about those things of the Kingdom we should bear in mind as we study the Lord's “Sermon on the Mount.” 

In the verses just preceding the ones under our scrutiny here (5:21-26) came the words from our Lord; "Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them" (5:17).  Understand this sermon, which includes the 5th through the 7th chapters of Matthew, as the formal declaration from the one true King giving what may be called His “State of the Union Address” to His subjects.  In all three of the synoptic Gospels, Christ introduces Himself, therefore His message, as being that of the Kingdom, and in the victorious statement attributable to Him in Rev. 21:5 ("Behold, I make all things new!") we must understand that this "making new" began with His earthly presentation of Himself as that one and only true Potentate Who possesses the Power to make new; the King of kings alone can do it.  All things from God for His entire creation (His entire Kingdom) comes from, and through, and to this King.

And what is a kingdom?  It is any sphere over which we have authority or control.  For instance, we often refer to things as “mine” not because we literally own them but because we have at least some degree of jurisdiction (“my” desk in the office, although the company owns it).  Every person has a kingdom, from the most abject slave to a czar.  The borders of these kingdoms vary widely, from physical domains of emperors down to the most basic kingdom, the internal heart and mind of a man.  And all the kingdoms of the world are subjected to the reign of a Usurper, the Wicked one; yet what he usurped our Lord claimed by His Kingdom message, qualifying Himself through the cross; from Him till now we the citizens of His Kingdom, having learned from Him how we should then live, have been in company with Him retaking the world in His name.  In Rev. 11:15 the angel declares "The kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of our Lord," and that messenger speaks of the coming Day when He shall reign openly, without impediments, unrestricted as to scope, unquestioned by men and and angels, in the full revelation of Himself as King.

And with much more left unsaid than spoken, this Kingdom message was Christ's from the very beginning of His earthly ministry.  It is the pervading thought behind every word in His great Sermon, in His miracles, found in His parables, shown before Pilate, attested to by the inscription set over His cross, the sure and steadfast truth and hope of it made manifest to His subjects by His resurrection from the dead.

With these things in mind, we turn to the Sermon on the Mount, as we call it, and particularly to our present study of the last farthing. He first describes what His subjects ought to be like in the Beatitudes, then moves to setting the affairs of His government in order.  In each instance He tells what the state of affairs has been up to now, doing so with each "You have heard it said," and then rectifies what has been the case by the radical change to new thinking, that of Kingdom people; "But I say unto you."

He does not speak, as He often did, to His inner circle of followers but now proclaims His Kingdom to all, far and wide, every soul—to the hated Roman soldiers and other Gentiles, to religious Pharisees, to the poor and to the wealthy, to believers and skeptics, to every person—I envision all the characters in His parables being represented by real people in the vast audience: They are all His subjects living in His Kingdom; some are wayward, or hardened, some rebellious, and others accepting of Him and His message—they are all His and in the end He will have them every one heart-in-heart with Him, for that is what a perfect King would do, and could do no less—it must be so because before they are His subjects, they are His Father's children; and if it be The Will of this Father that none should perish, then His great King must go to any length, pay any price, suffer any humiliation necessary to redeem them all.  And He has done it by His Atonement. 

So we see in the Sermon that He has introduced a radical new way, a departure from everything which had come before Him, upending the static Jewish legalism and undoing world systems by replacing them with what will be, in its fullness, the universal, much more than ubiquitous, reign of Justice throughout the world.  And by Justice is meant "fair treatment."  It is only fair that a Father and Elder Brother should love the little ones; only fair that from these Senior Family Members should come all the provision the little children will ever need; fairness in the prevention of crime, the dispensing of Justice, of Love; fairness in every conceivable way.  Justice.  That He speaks to all is that He reigns over all, so that in time there will be no borders, no separation of men, no injustice allowed anywhere; the kingdoms of the world, and the citizens of those kingdoms, all, each and every, will be His, through and through, world without end.

"Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them"—He declares!  His entire Sermon is counter-intuitive to nearly everything the Jews had come to understand from their Scriptures.  "You have heard it said" He reiterates again and again, followed by "But I say unto you..."  The Law proscribes labor on the Sabbath; He, leading His men into the grain field in full view of the Pharisees and other religious leaders, sanctions them to pick the grain-heads and eat.  How can He break the Law and yet satisfy it?  He makes His case by David eating the shew-bread, and by the priests who labored in the Tabernacle on the Sabbath yet were found guiltless; and then He sets forth the counter-intuitive thought which none had perceived; that God's Law is satisfied through Mercy; that the Son of Man is not lorded over by the Law but is Lord over it; and finally with the incredible, shocking, declaration that "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath."

All said thus far by me is to bring the focus upon the truth in the face of Jesus.  First, by making it clear that He presented Himself first and only as the King of kings, that He is Lord over all things (including the Law), that all things are from and through and to Him.  Then, second, that His is the only right understanding of the things of God, even though the truth in Him is counter-intuitive to the natural mind.  In Exodus 24 the Law prescribed for injustices "Life for life; eye for eye; tooth for tooth; hand for hand; and foot for foot."  The spirit, if not the reality of the Law, which Christ preached is "if a man takes your life, let no man take no revenge on him; if a man takes your eye, even in an act of cruelty, do not begrudge him your other eye—if he needs your coat, give it to him, and if that is not enough, give him the shirt off your back as well; turn the other cheek, do no violence but only love and trust God; then you shall love your tormentor."  Better, He says, to enter into life maimed than to suffer the consequences of putting you, and your welfare, first—better, He says, that if your eye keeps you from the Kingdom, that you, or as it were another, should pluck it out than to go on with that eye in your living-death.

Every person will understand these things differently, as each is able, but all will find agreement in this—that what our Lord taught, and His faithfulness even unto death in demonstration of what He taught, is entirely counter-intuitive to what our natural minds would suggest.  Different, and radically so, from what we see in the world around us; different as well—and so sadly—from much of what comes from our seminaries and pulpits.

Now, perhaps the most difficult thing to both understand and be faithful to is His command to forgive.  The very antithesis of love for neighbor, for enemy as well, for any person, for every person, is unforgiveness of him or her, including not only persons but institutions as well.  Often it is that by a few unkind words, or some small infraction, real or only perceived, it is enough to set stirring within us the flames of resentment for another—perhaps something so trivial as only an unworded scowl; we are so easily offended and keep such long accounts.  It has to do with what are our personal "kingdoms," those areas over which we have or exercise some degree of control—Nathan says to old David, "You are the man," and I first-most must admit to my own failings.

We are each the minor-monarchs over our own little personal domains, and at any threat or intrusion by another into our private realms we are at the ready to take action to ensure our borders.  We are, so to speak, warlike sovereigns; and those believers who understand God as a warrior-god are among the quickest to live out this "warrior" God vicariously in their relationships with other people.  Such are quick to argue, to fight, to resent, to by angry and judgmental and condemning.  Are so because they perceive God to be filled with wrath and condemnation.  And to this Jesus would say "You have heard it said (and have come to believe that such is your God...) but look to Me, for I AM The Truth, I know perfectly, fulfill, and satisfy every demand of the Law, and reflect perfectly Who and What your Father is like; see Me and you will find quite a different God than the one you have supposed, One Who is counter-intuitive to all you have come to believe;” and for this cause He therefore declares boldly His “But I say unto you” followed by all His instruction of things that are radically different.

Those who refuse to forgive, without regard to the magnitude of the thing to be forgiven, without reference to the one to be forgiven, shall be shut up in the prison house until their debt is paid.  Their crime is unforgiveness; it is the worst of crimes against man and God, for it is murder in the heart; but how shall they, without even a farthing, the smallest portion of a penny, pay their way out of the prison?  By reversing the very thing that got them into the prison!  The currency required for their emancipation, for the clearing of their record, is carried in no purse but the heart. 

God forgives each of us; He cannot forgive for us—that is a thing each of us must do for ourselves.  Our forgiveness of others is a barometer of how truly Christlike we have become; you cannot escape it, you know it true—that one who refuses to forgive has little in common with his King.  And this King, being all powerful in love and justice, will not long allow any of His subjects to continue non-loving, non-forgiving, doing themselves and their neighbor grave injustice. 

You may swoon at sermons, weep with true emotion at the singing of hymns, do all manner of good things in the name of God, but you know these come to nothing in the eyes of your God, and that lest you forgive you will be consigned by Him to the prison house until you are willing to and then do forgive.  It is a thing you must immediately do; leave your offering, whatever it may be, where it is and now go straightway to your neighbor and forgive him, pray him to forgive you as well, set the account right before you face your Judge. 

Do it now, in this life, else you will have to do it later when it may be harder for you to do.  The prison exists and you well know it; you know it because by harboring unforgiveness your heart is even now ensconced in the prison you have fashioned and sustained by your own hardness of heart; and you are miserable.  The next prison, beyond the grave (call it what you may, Hell, or Purgatory, or the Outer Darkness) is where God will, if necessary, continue His refining work in each of us, when His Love will take on its most severe form, that of the Consuming Fire which burned dimly in this life, will burn with all the intensity required in the next.  And in the end of it we shall all be burned clean, the hateful and consumable things in us at last purged so that all which remains is the likeness of Christ Jesus.

And on that note we bring to an end this series of studies from “The Last Farthing.”  To the degree that we love another is the degree to which we are able to forgive them; to whatever degree we are self-forgetting is the degree we are able to serve, sacrifice,  for our neighbors.  It is a hard thing perhaps, a much harder thing yet to have not even the simplest, lowest, meanest thing in our purse, the final farthing which sets us free.  That is the hard thing.  Take upon you His Kingdom yoke and learn from Him; for He is gentle and humble, and in Him we find at last rest for our weary souls.

“There is no half-way house of rest, where ungodliness may be dallied with, nor prove quite fatal.  Be they few or many cast into such prison as I have endeavored to imagine, there can be no deliverance for the human soul, whether in that prison or out of it, but in paying the last farthing, in becoming lowly, penitent, self-refusing—so receiving the sonship and learning to cry, Father!

 

Till The Debt Be Paid
by Dave Roney

Our journey through The Last Farthing has come to the final entry; along the way we have been blessed with commentaries by our brothers and sisters for each of the daily readings; to theirs I add this closing one.  Might I here say that our salvation makes a demand on God, but also on man; God has a part, and we have a part; He does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, and we must do what we are able to do.  His part was to secure our Ransom; our part is to become like Him.  Even as He paid the uttermost farthing in Ransom, we are to pay the last farthing to our neighbor.  Thus I begin: 

How exacting is God about the payment of a debt due?  I do not know, except that it must be so stringent as to demand return of the tiniest floor-fallen crumb to its place in the table-set loaf.  Not asheep to be lost, not a lamp left under basket; no hungry man sent away with a stone, no tares left in the wheat field, nor pearl of great price left on the vendor's table unclaimed, and no desired fish left outside His far flung net.  He Who can, will; He will go to any length, pay any price, suffer any humiliation to redeem that which is His, to reconcile and restore it and fill it with His abundant Life; He has given everything of Himself to do it; will He not demand of men their all and have it from them?  For Him the path to Victory has been one of unimaginable excoriation, execration, the entire giving away of Self and the very forgetting of self ; “So I might imagine a thousand steps up from the darkness, each a little less dark, a little nearer the light—but, ah, the weary way!” for humanity: “Hard is the way!”

What God is ever doing a man must learn to do; he must take first a small step out of his darkness toward a glistening Light which yet remains to him a dim candle, and by a procession of steps this Light, which is sent out to him from the breast of the Divine, grows brighter and brighter.  And the first step is to begin loving God, followed on its heel by the loving of neighbor; as grows the one so also grows the other, love for God and man in tandem, and neither is possible except for the other.  I must stress this: If a man does not love his neighbor whom he has seen, he cannot love God Whom he has not seen.  Obversely, if he truly loves his neighbor, to that degree he is also loving God. And the neighbor of a man is every man, not only those lovable but equally those despicable, hateful, the most vile, evil and profane, those loathed by society, every man who is yet to be reconciled to God.  These we must love, forgive, and be friend and brother to—to do it is to pay the required farthing!

Has not God of Himself given everything; will He not, then, of men demand their all, and have it from them, which is also to have it to themselves, by His will at the right time, when His heart has become their heart?  Many have been taught “Once saved always saved;” I would say a man, in view of his debt still owing, ought to think to himself that he will finally be saved, for surely every man will ultimately be saved.  Today I may have paid the final farthing of debt to the man offensive to me, but tomorrow when another such man offends me, and I harden my heart against him, have I not taken upon myself another debt which I owe to the man and to the man's God?  And in that debt-ridden condition am I fit to enter the courts of our Lord?  The gates into His presence are wide to include every man who has paid his due; those gates are strait to all others who do not love their neighbor as their self.

Those who enter by the path which is narrow, by the peculiar gate, are those who are like Christ Jesus; if there is aught in me which is other than like Him, I am not ready and He is not willing, for He loves me too much to allow my old Self to have any claim over me.  What He seeks to accomplish in me during this life, because of my Self-driven willfulness (should I say selfishness, the withholding from another that which I owe him, my forgiveness?), may have to continue beyond this life.  And I know it.  If my dross I will not surrender, though His fire burn hotly in me, shall He overlook it in His grand attempt to build me into His crown while I am yet filled with the imperfections of my unpaid farthing?  No, never!  He must increase His heat, must allow me to subject my own self to the misery which only I can release in the purging fumes.  A man must pay as the final farthing that which he owes.

Let me be quite frank; because a man at sometime, and sincerely, placed his trust in the Atoner he is not given an automatic pass into the realm of heaven, of God's presence; to enter in the man must be as pure as Christ is pure; the command of God, “Be holy for I am holy” is no vain collocation of words or some nebulous idea, but a real command made by God with intention; and it is a thing of which we are capable of doing, for God issues no command to us that we cannot do.  Do we think “Well, I know I shouldn't feel that way toward so-and-so, but yet I am saved; God will deal with me when I get to heaven?”  Do we reckon, based on our supposed “eternal security” and by our assumption “once saved always saved” that we will be given some Divine pass, that God will nod at our sin and let it go?  He will not do it!  “There is no half-way house of rest, where ungodliness may be dallied with, nor prove quite fatal.”

The last farthing must be paid else He can not embrace us; He may turn away His face, but never release His hand, will love us but “have us to be entirely clean.”  What shall become of us in such case? Shall we then be consigned to some eternal torment without hope as some of the preachers have said?  God forbid! For He can never leave nor forsake His children, and every person is His child, be they near or estranged.  Is not “Self” the man's enemy?  Has he not put Self before Sacrifice?  Has he not set himself up in his heart as its master?  Is there not running through his life-lump of gold a dark vein of sin, which is his dross, which must be burned out of him before he is made whole?  He may purge it from himself by contrition and the becoming like Christ Jesus, or he may cling to his dross so that only God can by the Consuming Fire loose its bands.  What is his consignment?  “In the midst of the live world he cared for nothing but himself; now in the dead world he is in God's prison.”  And in that prison house of darkness he will find the Consuming Fire is still doing its work, and will continue for as long as it takes, until the Christian man and the worldly man alike cry out, turn from self, loathe that which within them is not like our Lord Christ, and repent; this is the paying in Hell of what ought to have been paid in life, the uttermost farthing.

Is Hell a place of literal fire and brimstone?  I do not judge it to so be; I think it is the place of “outermost darkness,” that the entire teaching of it in Scripture, that of “fire and brimstone,” is a metaphor, something we can for its actual horror relate to at least a little bit:

“It is the ghastly dark beyond the gates of the city of which God is the light—where the evil dogs go ranging, silent as the dark, for there is no sound any more than sight.  The man wakes from the final struggle of death in absolute loneliness.  Not a hint, not a shadow of anything outside his consciousness reaches him.  All is dark and dumb; no motion—not the breath of a wind, nothing to suggest being or thing besides the man himself, no sign of God anywhere.”

This is is as apt a description of Hell as a mortal mind is able to make; it is the place made for spirit beings to bring about their repentance, is also become the haunt of disembodied souls of men, themselves spirits, the incomplete selves, they then being suited to the deathly rigors of the place; literal fire might burn flesh and consume it, the Fire of Hell is Love designed to consume the creature's dross of heart and leave his gold; it is both purgative and redemptive in nature, the ultimate, fearsome, corrective if not disciplinary side of God's Love.  And I see it so because man was created for and to be in relationships; but in Hell he is absolutely alone, a condition for which he is unprepared and unable to long abide.  Earthly isolation will drive a man to insanity; Hellish isolation will drive him to God.

“God is not bound to destroy sinners but sin;” when a man, a Christian man or an unredeemed man, any man, enters into Hell it is the outer darkness (which is no metaphor but the actual) with no sensory perceptions left to himself, for those are moldering in his grave; all that is left of the man is his spirit self, and it may not be long that thus robbed of all his distractions, those of sight and sounds, of hearing and touch and taste, that he will finally begin to think of the very things he should have been thinking during his life on earth.  And whether he comes to his senses in a moment or if it takes “ages of ages,” yet he will; whether his debt be considerable or small, he will come to the point that he is freely willing to pay it, down to the uttermost farthing.  God will not force it on the man, His patience is such that He allows the man to come to it himself; and when the man is willing, either fast or finally, his Hell vanishes of an instant; before him then stands His risen Lord, filled with light, with arms open and extended; “Come!” He says; “Let me now take you to your Father!”

Shall every man go to a purgatorial hell at his final breath?  I do not know; I can only speak of myself, for no man knows the innermost heart condition of another save the man himself and God; this, however, that God would have all men everywhere to repent.  I do know that every man who owes a debt to his neighbor owes it also to God, and that the demand of God is for payment in full:

“Be they few or many cast into such a prison as I have endeavored to imagine, there can be no deliverance for any human soul, whether in that prison or out of it, but by paying the last farthing, in becoming lowly, penitent, self-refusing—so receiving the sonship and learning to cry, 'Father'!”