HH Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he comes, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. —Matthew 12:43-44
Christ’s Insight into Secret Failures
Our Lord had a quick eye for moral tragedies, and in the pictorial setting of these two verses, He has delineated one of the saddest of them all. One marvel at the sure touch of Christ in dealing with the disasters of the soul. Men felt instinctive that He would understand them, and so they came to Him when things were going wrong. And one of the inexplicable wonders about Jesus is this sure insight into secret failures. When we have failed, we grasp a brother’s failure, and our insight is the child of fellow feeling. There are whole ranks of tragedies we never suspect, just because God has mercifully guarded us against them. But Christ, in the panoply of perfect manhood, was separated from every taint of sin, and yet had an exquisite understanding of the sinner. It is something to feel that you are known. Your tragedy is not so secret as you thought. You are haunted with a dull sense, that unless there are effort and clearing of your feet, your last state is going to be worse than your first; and Christ has spoken on that theme long ago.
Now what strikes us first in this man with an unclean spirit is that all his tragedy was underground. I mean by that that his very nearest and dearest friends and relatives had never suspected what had been going on. If you had asked some villager about him, he would have answered, “He is an unclean beast.” And if ten years later you had asked again, you would have been told he had been going downhill steadily. Steadily, gradually, so it had seemed to everybody. Always a little worse, a little lower. And only Christ knew that that view was false–the man had been standing at the gates of freedom once! He had played the man against his tyrannous vices. He had cast them out and cried to God to help him. He had breathed liberty, and tasted the joy of triumph, and known what a noble thing it was to live! And when the ousted tenants came back again, and the old disorder began to reign within, none but Christ knew the struggle, the cry, the passion to be free, of the man whom all the village thought a prisoner.
Are not many of our tragedies underground? They are transacted in the hidden sphere. There are molten fires under the vines of Etna. There are hidden graves among the garden flowers. And we sow and water the flowers in our garden, just to conceal the sepulchre that is there. Who knows how you have dreamed, how you have struggled?–and men look at you and call you contented, merry! But there are memories of prayer stored in your heart, and of days when your life seemed utterly unworthy, and you stood up and cast the devils out. And they are all back again, and never a soul knows of it, except yourself and Christ.
But there is another feature in this story besides its secrecy. It is the story of an unused triumph. This man did not fail because he never won; there was one morning when his heart was clean. That was his day of victory, and the promise of final conquest was in that, but he misused his victory and was lost. One of the saddest stories ever written is just the story of our mismanaged triumphs. It is our little victories that curse us because we have neither head nor heart to manage them. We are so apt to be self-centered in success; so ready to forget how weak we are; so prone to think that the campaign is ours because in one skirmish the enemy has fled. Then we grow careless, we do not walk with God; we do not garrison our heart against assault, and in an hour when we think not comes the old temptation, strong, subtle, doubly sweet because forsworn, and we are taken unawares and mastered, and our last state is worse than our first.
How Wisely Christ Used His Triumph
I have often thought, on reading this little parable, of the wonderful wisdom of Jesus in His victory. I have often thought of the self-restraint of Christ when He triumphed over sin and death. If there was ever a triumph in the history of a man used for a lasting blessing, it was the triumph of Jesus when He rose. There was a sweet restraint in resurrection joy. There was no spectacle of a risen Saviour for the crowd. There was a watchful reserve, a choosing of times and companies, a holy management of the resurrection glory, that marked the risen Saviour as divine. Even Christ was guarded in His hour of triumph–how much more guarded should the Christian be? This man cast out the unclean spirit and said all’s well. And his last state was worse than his first!
A Soul That Is Empty Is an Open Invitation for the Devil
And you see what his peculiar danger was? It was the peril of the empty heart. His soul lay vacant, that was the pity of it. There was room for the ousted devil to return. Some men are tempted because their hearts are full. Life is so rich, so strong in a thousand interests, there is no room in it for Christ at all. But many are tempted because their hearts are empty, and the old ways creep back again to stay. It is not sufficient to expel the wrong. We must fill the emptied heart with nobler things. A tenantless heart–a soul that is to let–is a standing invitation to the devil.
Something Good Must Fill the Vacuum Created by the Expulsion of Evil
It was there the man of our story failed. Have you never failed just at that point? There was a struggle with evil, and momentary triumph, there was an empty and swept and garnished house. And that was something; you were right proud of it, after the moral disorder of the past. But you forgot that a habit expelled is not by any means a habit slain. You forgot that new interests must fill the life if the old interests are never to lodge again. It was because no ruling passion had been begotten, that you began to hanker for the old again. It was because there was no new enthusiasm, no worthier tenants to occupy the soul, that you craved for the ousted things and drew them back. Had the empty house is filled with a new purpose, controlled by a new hand and nobler will, the cast-out spirit would have acknowledged defeat, and felt there was no room in that soul for him. It was the soul to let that did the harm.
Christ within You Saves You from the Peril of the Empty Heart
And so I bring you face to face with the great mystery of an indwelling Christ. I want you to set that truth in the light of all I have been saying until you see how practical it is. These deepest doctrines of the Word of God were never meant to be speculative wonders –it is when we live them, we find how real they are —and it is Christ in you the hope of glory, that saves you from the peril of the empty heart. The Gospel does not merely come to you and say, “My brother, my sister, my friend, you must give up that sin.” It does not bid you empty your heart of evil, and leave it empty and garnished to the end. It knows the danger of a soul unoccupied; the certain fall of a heart without a tenant. And so the Gospel is prepared to give you something far better than what it drives away. It is prepared to inhabit the temple of your heart with the Holy Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ. Know ye not that your bodies are temples of the Holy Ghost who dwelleth in you? That is the glad exchange the Gospel makes. In place of the unclean spirit who is gone, the Spirit of the Lord comes in to dwell.
Christ in the Heart Means Freedom and Life
Now where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is life. And it is that new liberty and life within the heart that make us strong when old things steal back again. “I can do all things,” cried the apostle–not through a barred door and an empty heart–“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me”; his empty and swept and garnished heart was full. You have been fighting out your sin. But what you want is a new enthusiasm in its place. And I wish to ask you seriously and simply, have you ever made room for Him to take Him in? There is love, there is power, there is liberty in Christ. Open your heart. Receive the gift of God. It is in the bitter hour of temptation that men find the worth of an indwelling Saviour.
Old Sins Hang Around to Find Emptiness in You Again
For our old sins are hungering to get back. That truth is clearly written in our text. They are houseless and homeless, and restless and ill at ease. They crave their old shelter in our lives again. And you do not mean to give it to them. No! You are done with the past forever and a day. But so was the hero of our text, and yet his last state was to be lost. Your cast-off vices are not dead. They are going to return in subtle ways. Do not pride yourself on a swept and garnished house; there is no pledge of victory in that. But there is in a heart where dwells the love of Christ and something of the high power of His passion. It is in Him that we are more than conquerors. It is in Him that our last state shall be our best.