Some of Satan’s Devices.
THERE is great subtlety in the question raised by Judas when Mary "anointed the feet of Jesus" with her "ointment of spikenard." "Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?" (John xii. 5.) He durst not say anything that was disrespectful of the Lord; that would have been too gross, and would have been resented at once by the other disciples. But the apparent philanthropy of the suggestion carried them, at least some of them, away (Matt, xxvi. 8; Mark xiv. 4), and in their indignation at the thought of the poor being robbed they asked, "Why was this waste of the ointment made?"
How easily Satan could picture to their minds the many poor this sum of nine pounds, seven shillings and sixpence would have fed! And how readily they forgot that the Lord had fed thousands of the poor by His Own bountiful hand, leaving sufficient fragments to last themselves for days, and had moreover, repeatedly spoken of the death He was about to die, by which blessing to the poor of all tribes and nations would be secured for eternity. Thus Satan got an advantage through their shortsighted charity; and, while Mary, in faith and love, was anointing that precious body for its burial, they, in their unbelief, were ingloriously murmuring over what they called "this waste."
Why did not Peter, who was ready to say to the Lord, "I will lay down my life for Thy sake," now rise up and speak on behalf of His worthy handmaid, in opposition to the Satanic suggestion of Judas? He might well have pointed out that by speaking of it as "waste," he was both reproaching her and dishonouring the Lord, whom they all delighted to honour.
And why did not John, whose place was on the Saviour's bosom, repel such an insinuation, and put the blessed Lord in His Own place of dignity? He might have said, "Is it too great an honour for the Lord to receive the homage of one to whom He has shown such mercy, who, in sitting at His feet and hearing His Word, has received such blessing that she feels, as we all do, that she cannot repay Him? In the low place she has taken, does she not show that she has surpassed us all in her knowledge, her faith and her affection? And when we remember the deep sympathy that filled the Lord's Own bosom when He met her at the grave of her brother, and how the tears streamed from His precious eyes, I cannot but think that the suggestion just made is an evidence that Satan is in the midst of us. I feel ashamed that it should have been made, and especially by one of ourselves, who should each have striven to be the first to do Him honour. We have confessed by the lips of Peter that we believe and are sure that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and we have seen Him feed the poor, heal the sick, the lame, the deaf, the blind, and even raise the dead. Has He not also taught us that He that honoureth not the Son, honoureth not the Father which hath sent Him, and confirmed the great truth that they who honour God shall be honoured by Him, while they who despise Him shall be lightly esteemed? (John v. 23; 1 Sam. ii. 30)
"I feel," he might have added, "that a great insult has been offered to the Lord by this remark—an insult to His wisdom, as if He did not know what it was fit and proper for His handmaid to do; and an insult to His grace, as if He did not care for the poor, but would absorb for Himself what should be given to them. I see indignation (Matt, xiv. 4) sitting on the brow of some of you; I hope it is indignation that such a question should have been raised. Is not He on whom this has been bestowed entitled to the sincere love of our hearts, and the possession of all our substance? Should we not by loving any creature—even a father or a mother—more than Him, prove that we were unworthy of Him? And have we not often seen those who were most eager that others should help the poor most niggardly with their own money, and most covetous for themselves?"
Let us consider who it was that made this suggestion. It was Judas—a man of whom we have not a word recorded that he ever spoke till this foul question came from his lips. His recorded utterances are the following:
—1. The one under consideration. 2. "What will ye give me, and I will deliver Him unto you?" 3. "Master, is it I?" 4. "Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is He: hold Him fast." 5. "Hail, Master!" 6. "I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood." His recorded acts are:—1. He "had the bag, and bare what was put therein." 2. He bargained "with the chief priests and captains for the betrayal of the Lord," and then "sought opportunity to betray Him unto them in the absence of the multitude." 3. He "received the sop" from the hand of the Lord and "went immediately out." 4. He acted as "guide to them that took Jesus"—he "went before them, and drew near unto Jesus" and "kissed Him." 5. He returned the money, casting down "the pieces of silver in the temple." 6. He "went and hanged himself." 7. He went to "his own place." This is the man who set generosity to the poor against a special token of regard for the Lord.
But who actuated Judas, and inspired such a suggestion? Satan. Now we have the secret of the whole matter. The devil would set up his philanthropy against what he would represent as the selfishness of the Lord Jesus. He would put the creature before the Creator, and thus set himself up for worship instead of God. He who deprived Job of his property and his family in one day, and then covered him with a sore disease "from the sole of his foot unto his crown," now talks about giving to the poor, and at the same time, offers an insult to the Lord. He lowers the Lord's dignity in the presence of His friends. Let us beware of Satan's philanthropy, and Satan's help in God's work. This help he will readily give when the children of God turn to amusements, bazaars, concerts, penny-readings, and yield to the world for the sake of its patronage, under the plea that it is to obtain money for a good object.
We do well to ponder the meek reply of the Lord Jesus: "Let her alone; why trouble ye her? She hath wrought a good work on Me. For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will, ye may do them good: but Me ye have not always." He will encourage faith while He will not lessen charity. Mark the high-toned principle in this reply. It enunciates the principle that there are occasions when our highest duty is to do certain things to certain persons, to the setting aside of other claims that at other times are binding upon us, and that will come in properly in their turn. "Honour to whom honour" is due is a divine principle. "Honour thy father and thy mother"; "Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head"; "Honour the king." Some are to be honoured for their office, some for relationship, and some for the circumstances in which they are placed. If a parent were leaving home, or had just arrived after a long absence, and children were coming forward with their parting or welcoming gifts; how strange and unbecoming it would be to tell the children at such a time to bestow their gifts upon the poor rather than waste them upon father or mother!
Now there are many things that combine to make the Son of God the proper Object of universal honour. His eternal glory before the world was; His high offices as Saviour, Redeemer, Prophet, Priest and King; His service, which was of such infinite value, and His giving Himself a ransom for us; His near and dear relationship to us as Head and Bridegroom, and "First-born among many brethren"—all combine to entitle Him to the highest honour we can render unto Him. He was just on the point of leaving His disciples, and could anything be accounted waste that was laid out upon Him? Is not the thought revolting to every Christian heart? As well might we object to the spices of Nicodemus and the women, or even Joseph's grave.
"Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my heart, my life, my all!"
There is no question that this principle may be greatly misapplied, for what good thing has God ever introduced which Satan has not led man to abuse? If you quote Scripture, he can do the same, as we see in the narrative of the Lord's temptation. (Matt. iv. 6) So it has been in this matter. Failing in the effort to keep men from seeking to honour Christ, he has led them to all kinds of extravagances under the false plea of doing Him honour. What are all gorgeous cathedrals, ornate chapels and costly ritual, but abuses of this principle? In the past dispensation, when a worldly sanctuary, a visible altar and animal sacrifices, with a sinful and dying priesthood, were appointed as figures of the good things to come, that which was beautiful and imposing had its place. But Christians have a heavenly sanctuary, and an eternal Priest Who ministers in the heavens on the ground of His finished sacrifice, and are called, as themselves being God's priests, to offer up spiritual sacrifices through the ministry of the Spirit of God. Not only therefore have they no need of the outlay of money on things which simply please the eye and tastes of carnal men; but when they do spend wealth upon such things, instead of using it in feeding the hungry and carrying the gospel to those who are in darkness, they dishonour Christ, and do not glorify Him. To build a room of suitable dimensions, strength and convenience, in a proper place, and to keep it clean and comfortable for worship and the ministry of the Word, is becoming to those who assemble in the name of the Lord; but they need nothing more than this.
In the Lord's commendation of Mary, we see how He recognizes the greatness of a lowly act, and how everything may be great when the mind is actuated by a great principle: "She hath wrought a good work on Me"; "she hath done what she could: she is come afore-hand to anoint My body to the burying"; this shall "be told for a memorial of her." Little did the humble actor in this "good work" think that her last loving act of service to her blessed Lord, before His death, would receive such notice, or produce for her such fame—a fame even beyond that of some of the apostles. Satan himself is the means of adding to her honour, for perhaps less notice would have been taken of the act, if the objection had not been raised. Someone has said, "Virtue would lose half her honours if slander and evil report did not come to her praise."
Having said "The poor always ye have with you," the Lord adds, "But Me ye have not always." It was the very uniqueness of the occasion that gave the act its special value and significance. It was the only occasion of the kind that ever did occur, or ever could occur, and yet on such an occasion, Satan would deprive Him of the homage rendered to Him. But we are not "ignorant of his devices." His object ever is to trample under-foot the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame; and the man who would be his instrument in thus seeking to dishonour the Lord, was prepared to do anything at his bidding. That man's conscience was gone, all respect for the Saviour of mankind had vanished, and there was nothing left to hinder Satan from filling his heart and leading him to betray his Master. Step by step the devil leads him on till "it had been good for that man if he had not been born." What an end was his! Just as the swine, when the demons took possession of them, drowned themselves, so Judas went and hanged himself. He runs fast whom the devil drives. As "the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him" (1 Sam. xvi. 14), so, in the case of Judas, it only required the restraining power of the presence of Jesus to be withdrawn, and the full power of Satan drove him to despair and self-destruction. He had done the enemy's work, and he received his wages.
Amongst the many lessons this narrative is calculated to teach we may note the following:—
1.—Let us learn to be on our guard against side issues. It is one of Satan's devices to turn the minds of God's people aside to some trivial matter, and so frustrate what should be their main object. The disciples were invited by those whose aim it was to do honour to the Lord; but by the devil's cunning, the feast might have ended in great disgrace had not Jesus Himself pleaded the cause of His handmaid. When we assemble at the Lord's-table, are not our minds often turned aside from the great matter before us to some bye-question? Thus other matters take the place of the Lord Himself, who alone should occupy our thoughts. What an advantage Satan often gets over us in this way!
2.—Let us remember that just as Satan aroused the spirit of "indignation" against Mary's lowly service on this occasion, so shortly after, at the supper of which the Lord said, "With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer," we have further evidence of his presence, for "there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest." Now "where envying and strife are, there are confusion and every evil work," for these things come of a wisdom that is "earthly, sensual, devilish." (Jas. iii. 15, 16) When a Diotrephes becomes pre-eminent, unwary souls are drawn away and join in over-riding their brethren and casting them out of the church. How the devil must have gloried over this strife amongst the friends of Jesus, almost at the foot of the Cross, and how he triumphs over the same thing now in connection with the Lord's-table. The whole law is comprehended in the one word love.
3.—How encouraging is the Word, "She hath done what she could"! An angel can do no more. While the disciples are pitying the poor to the dishonour of their Master, and yet are seeking the highest places for themselves, she is meekly and unostentatiously pouring the wealth of her perfume on the only One worthy of her love, and filling the house with the odour of the ointment. May it not be so to-day? Someone, little known, hid away in some back corner, behind others—perhaps even cast out of fellowship—may be doing Him more honour than many who are more prominent. Oh, for that meek and lowly mind that can sit at His feet and hear His Word, and then, in resurrection power and with a contrite heart, render Him such service as He can appreciate and find joy in! P. G. A.