Some Matters of Personal Responsibility
“And he said unto them, Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick? For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear. And he said unto them, Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given. For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.” (Mark 4:21-25)
Salvation is the work of God’s free grace in Christ. Every gift and blessing of God, which we enjoy now and hope to enjoy forever in heaven’s glory, is the result and work of grace alone. All spiritual benefits are spiritual blessings, gifts of pure, free, sovereign grace.
Yet, the Word of God also teaches us that every one of us is responsible for his own soul. You are responsible for what you are, for what you do, and what you fail to do. I am responsible for what I am, what I do, and what I fail to do. That is exactly what our Lord Jesus teaches us in Mark 4:21-25.
These sobering, pithy statements were given immediately following our Lord’s parable about the sower. They are to be understood in that context. They are short, pointed, barbed arrows, meant to pierce the heart. Our Savior is here warning us (He is specifically warning all who profess to be his disciples, all who claim to be the children of God.) to make certain that our faith is true faith, and not the spurious faith of an unregenerate religionist.
Any casual reader of the New Testament is aware of the fact that our Lord Jesus in his preaching ministry frequently repeated himself. Numerous attempts have been made over the years to harmonize the different accounts of his ministry by the gospel writers. But most of them raise more questions than they answer, and confuse rather than clarify.
The fact is the best preacher who ever lived, the Son of God, showed us by example that spiritual truths need to be often repeated and pressed upon the consciences of men. Our Lord frequently preached about not putting the candlestick under a bushel, the fact that “nothing is hidden that shall not be revealed,” the fact that “with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured unto you,” and the danger of false religion. He made no apology for preaching the same sermon many times, even to the same people, because the truth of God never changes, though it is always fresh and new. The best message is the oldest message, the one most repeated, and the one most constantly needed. It is the message preached to fallen Adam in the garden and the message preached to the fallen sons of Adam today, the message of redemption and salvation by Christ the last Adam.
The Responsibility of Light
“And he said unto them, Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick? For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad” (vv. 21-22).
First, our Lord Jesus teaches us that it is the responsibility of all who have the light of the gospel to spread that light, the responsibility of all who know the gospel to make the gospel known to others. Our Lord’s language here is not difficult to understand. No one with good sense lights a candle and then covers it up. The purpose for lighting the candle is that it may give off light. We do not turn on a floor lamp and put it in a closet. If you turn on a light it is so that it might dispel darkness.
The meaning is this: — If God almighty has been so gracious and good to us as to give us the light of the gospel of his free grace in Christ, he intends for us to hold forth that light in this world of darkness and death. The Lord did not give us the light of the gospel for our own benefit alone. He did not teach us the truth merely for our personal gratification. If God has taught us, it is our responsibility to teach others.
All who know Christ are responsible to make the gospel of Christ known to the generation in which he lives. This is not the work of preachers alone, but the work of all who know the Lord. If you have received the gift of grace, it is your responsibility to carry that gift to others. — “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10).
We would be worse than barbarians if we had discovered a cure for a devastating disease but did not tell our neighbors, politely excusing ourselves, saying to ourselves, “They wouldn’t understand. They would just think I am a fanatic. I would not want them to think I was proselytizing.” Nonsense! That is exactly what we are supposed to do. We have been placed where we are in this world by God’s providence to make proselytes out of every heretic who we can influence by the Spirit of God.
It is no accident that our Lord here refers to us as candles. — “The spirit of man is the candle of the LORD, searching all the inward parts of the belly” (Proverbs 20:27). Regenerate men and women are the candles of God in this world of darkness, lit by the Father of lights. Yet, the brightest candles are but candles, very poor, dim lights, compared with the Sun of righteousness. Matthew Henry wrote, “A candle gives light but a little way, and but a little while, and is easily blown out, and continually burning down and wasting.”
Many who claim to be candles, lit by grace, put the light they say God has given them under a basket. They seem to manifest very little grace and minister even less grace to others. They have plenty, but do little with it. In fact, though there are exceptions to the rule, as a general rule, I have observed that those who have the most and have the most ability to do good do the least for others. I know many wealthy people who profess to know Christ, who seem very content to watch a brother or sister endure hardship without a thought of helping.
Those who seem to be in the strongest health, possess the greatest wealth, and have the greatest abilities usually do the least for others. They may think they are very spiritual, but no one is better off because of them. They are like candles burning in a basket. They burn only to themselves.
If we belong to God, it is our great privilege and responsibility to be his witnesses in this world. Every believer is Christ’s missionary. Our mission field is the world in which we live and the people our lives touch (Isaiah 44:1-8; Acts 1:8). Those who are lit as candles should set themselves on a candlestick. We should seize every opportunity for doing good, as those that were made for the glory of God and the service of others. We were not born for ourselves. We are born of God and born for God, for the service of God, to make known the light of the gospel of the glory of God. We have been given the light of the gospel that we may give the light of the gospel to others.
Our Lord tells us plainly that though the gospel was hidden from the nations of the world in ages past, it must be proclaimed everywhere, to all men in this generation of grace. —”For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad” (v. 22). Everything revealed in the Book of God was revealed to be taught and preached publicly. It is the responsibility of every gospel preacher to faithfully preach to eternity bound sinners all the counsel of God revealed in Holy Scripture, keeping back nothing that is profitable for their souls.
To the heaven-born soul there is nothing hidden. Our Savior has declared, “All things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you” (John 15:15). There is nothing in the covenant of grace and the eternal purpose of God that we need to know that is hidden from us. And it is the responsibility of every heaven-born soul to make manifest to others the treasure of grace the Spirit of God has hidden in his soul.
The Responsibility of Hearing
Second, our Redeemer teaches us that it is our responsibility to avail ourselves of the means of grace afforded us by the providence and grace of God.
“If any man have ears to hear, let him hear. And he said unto them, Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given” (vv. 23-24).
I cannot state this with sufficient emphasis to express my deep convictions concerning it. Nothing in this world is so needful, important, and beneficial to your soul as the ministry of the gospel. Our Savior says, “If any man have ears, let him hear.” You may think, “That is talking about spiritual ears and spiritual hearing.” You are absolutely right. But I ask, “How you are going to hear the gospel spiritually, if you do not hear it physically?”
No one will ever be saved, no one will ever trust Christ, who does not first hear the word of truth, the gospel of their salvation accomplished by Christ. That is what Paul said to the Ephesians (Ephesians 1:13). That is God’s appointed means of grace for the saving of chosen, redeemed sinners (Romans 10:17; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23-25). In this day when men everywhere decry the preaching of the gospel as an antiquated thing, let us remember Paul’s words: “Despise not prophesyings” (1 Thessalonians 5:20). His dying charge to Timothy, and to every gospel preacher in this world was, “Preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2). It is by the preaching of the Gospel that the glory of God is revealed, chosen, redeemed sinners are regenerated and called by God the Holy Spirit, believers are instructed in the gospel, edified, built up in the faith and sustained in this world, and our lives are molded into the will of God in conformity to Christ.
Not only is it vital that we attend the worship of God in the public assembly of his saints, it is also vital that we “take heed what we hear.” I frequently meet people, and regularly hear from people all over the world, who willfully put themselves and their families under the influence of pagan, Arminian, free will, works religion. They try to justify themselves, saying, “We have to go to church somewhere. We must not forsake the assembly of the saints.” … “The preacher says some good things.” … “I don’t pay any attention to what they teach.”
To all such people, I repeat our Savior’s warning: — “Take heed what ye hear!” Our Lord was not just beating the air when he said that. Mark was not just filling up space when he wrote it (1 John 4:1; 2 John 1:7-10). If you care for your soul and care for the souls of those under your influence (wife, children, etc.), do not subject them to the influence of Arminian, free will, works religion to any degree, for any reason. If you care for your soul and care for those under your influence, if you care for the worship and glory of God, addict yourself to the ministry of the gospel, to the preaching of God’s free and sovereign grace in Christ.
The Responsibility of Measure
“With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given. For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath” (vv. 24-25).
Third, we are taught that it is our responsibility to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. In these two statements our Savior tells us plainly that every one of us is responsible for his own soul. You can back off from these two statements and say, “That cannot mean what it seems to mean. That is not consistent with good Calvinism.” You can do that, if you dare so trifle with the Word of God. For my part, I want to hear what our Lord is saying. Look at these two statements carefully.
“With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given.” —Our Lord is telling us that God measures out his grace to us in proportion as we measure it out to ourselves by the use of the means he has given us. As I stated earlier, we know that salvation is altogether by the grace of God. We know that both grace and our growth in grace is God’s work. Yet, just as no man will be saved without hearing and believing the gospel, no believer will grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ except as he applies himself to the use of the means of grace, the ministry of the gospel.
The degree to which a believer grows in grace is set before us here as being closely connected with his own diligence in the use of means and his faithfulness in walking in the light God has given him. The wise words of Solomon are applicable. — “The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat” (Proverbs 13:4). — “Slothfulness casteth into a deep sleep; and an idle soul shall suffer hunger” (Proverbs 19:15).
That person who grows in grace and in the knowledge of Christ will always be found a diligent soul, diligent in prayer, diligent in reading, diligent in hearing the Word of God. And the man who is diligent in these things is usually diligent in other things. Yet, when he thinks of himself, he would never describe himself in such terms.
Regarding this matter of growing in grace, we generally sow what we reap. We are commanded to do it, because it is something we are responsible to do. — “Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever” (2 Peter 3:18).
“For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.” — John Gill wrote, concerning these words that fell from the lips of our Savior…
“He that has Gospel light and knowledge, and makes a proper use of it, shall have more. His path shall be as the path of the just, which shines more and more to the perfect day. The means of grace and knowledge shall be blessed to him. Attending constantly thereon he shall… come to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ, shall grow up to maturity, and be a man in understanding.”
That is exactly what our Lord is teaching us here. Those who have the grace of God in truth shall have the grace of God in abundance. Though the beginnings of grace in the soul are small, and keep a saved sinner humble, in the end, the glory of grace shall be indescribable. As we exercise faith in Christ and learn of him, we grow in the grace and knowledge of our blessed Savior by the power and grace of his Spirit. We do not get more holy, or make ourselves more holy; but God’s saints do grow in grace. That is to say, being taught of God continually, believers grow in faith, in love for Christ, in love for one another, and in consecration to their Redeemer.
Those who faithfully give themselves to the cause of Christ shall be given greater usefulness in the cause of Christ. Allow me to quote Gill again.
“He that has gifts for public usefulness, and does not neglect them, but stirs them up for the profit of others, he shall have an increase of them. He shall shine as a star in Christ’s right hand, and appear brighter and brighter in the firmament of the church.”
This last statement, “For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath,” also means that those who profess faith in Christ, but do not possess the grace of Christ shall in the end lose what they thought they possessed. Perhaps there is a reference here to Judas. Certainly, there is here a warning to all who have nothing but a profession of faith, without the possession of grace.
He that has only a speculative notion of the gospel and is without any experience of it will sooner or later lose everything. In course of time his candle will be put out. His light will be made darkness. He will drop and deny the truths he once held and relinquish the profession he once made. He that has only counterfeit grace, a pretense of faith, a false hope, and lip love, will, in due time, be discovered for what he really is: — Nothing but a hypocrite!
True grace can never be lost, or taken away. But all pretensions of grace and faith shall be an everlasting embarrassment and torment to the hypocrite.
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