When you go with your adversary to the magistrate, as you are in the way, give diligence that you may be delivered from him…
Here is a high controversy between man and God. This is not one of those disputes in which plaintiff and defendant are working one against the other with all those subtleties and chicaneries which, in the hands of ingenious advocates, can place the best rights in peril. The court is one in which every one of us is quite sure of justice, and nevertheless in which every one of us is quite sure of condemnation. Come, and let us weigh well the excellence of the counsel which would urge us to an immediate endeavour to the settlement of our quarrel, and that, too, on the principle that if our adversary once bring us before the judge there will be no alternative to our being "cast into prison," and our remaining there till we have "paid the last mite." Now, when you have once given a spiritual character to the passage before us — when, that is, you have abstracted your thoughts from litigation in a mere human court, and settled that our Lord was speaking of a controversy between man and God — it will become evident that our text announces the chief truths both of the law and of the gospel; of the law which brings us in as guilty, of the gospel which proposes to us a method of deliverance from our adversary whilst we are yet "in the way." The position of every one of us — whether he be duly alive to it or not — is that position which gives him God for his adversary. But, still further, he is actually on the way with this adversary — on the road with him, to bring the cause before the magistrate. For this of which we affirm that it could hardly take place, except the party were all awake to his condition of having some cause about to come on at a human tribunal, holds good of every living man who (whether he heed it or not) is daily drawing nearer to the judgment-seat of Christ. So that there is the most thorough accuracy in the description of our text, when applied without exception to every child of man. It is not in this life that he will be brought to that trial by which his state for eternity shall be unalterably fixed; but he is on his way to the trial. Let him walk what path he will out of the many which present themselves to the steps of wandering man, it is a path which inevitably conducts him direct to the court and to the bar. He may swerve from all that is right; he may change the precise line, and be continually deviating to the one side or the other; but he is always advancing to the dreaded tribunal, where on His throne of light sits the anointed Judge of humankind; for there is no escape from this universal enactment — "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment." Neither in all these wanderings — wanderings which must lead to the same termination — is there any escaping, even for a solitary moment, from the adversary whom our sins have called up. Go what winding or intricate way you may towards the court in which you have been cited to appear, as though it were your own shadow inseparable from you whilst there is nothing to interrupt the fierce blaze of the sun, the adversary is with you that you may not suddenly make your way to the bar, and there find no accuser. Oh, awful condition of every one of us l And we cannot forbear from dwelling for a moment on one peculiar word in the text, the peculiarity of which may have escaped your attention; that is, the word "hale." "Lest he hale thee to the judge." The word implies the being dragged violently, by main force. Up to this word the description is almost that of two parties, who though they have a dispute are walking quietly together, as if they had agreed to refer it to the judge, and to abstain in the meanwhile from any altercation. There is no evidence of anything like struggle between the two; the accuser is using no violence with the accused. But at this word there passes a total change over the picture; as though on the very threshold of the judgment-hall, just when the two were about to enter, the accused drew affrightedly back — made desperate resistance — but seized as in an iron grasp by his accuser, were thrown down before the judge. May not this indicate what otherwise we have no means of positively asserting — that often at the very last moment of a life of worldliness and indifference; aye, and when, so far as bystanders can judge, the departing man is going off the scene without a fear and without a struggle, there is an awful trepidation and repugnance — the soul being roused into a sense of its tremendous position, shrinking back as though it would find some mode of escape, and passionately pleading if but for an hour's delay. Such an expression would seem to admit us as spectators of the final fearful struggle, exhibit to us, whilst there is externally every appearance of quietness, that shuddering attempt at retreat when retreat is impossible, which must prove beyond all power of description, what a tremendous thing it would be the being found unprepared to die. If anything can make you dread the being unprepared to die, it is that. If anything can scatter the delusion which is often caused by the apparent composedness of the dying, though they have lived careless of religion, it is that. You may not mind the having your adversary always at your side; you may walk as unconcerned as though you were not thus compassed, until — ah! until the foot is on the threshold of the court, and then — O God, look graciously upon us, and spare us the ever knowing the grief, the strife, the more than mortal agony, which make up the one expression "hale thee to the judge." But is there, then, no possibility of escape for the accused, if he once come with his accuser before the judgment-seat? Evidently not. The whole stress of our Lord's representation lies upon this. Without giving any reasons for the fact, it is assumed as incontrovertible. You are exhorted, you observe, to "give diligence as thou art in the way"; it being most distinctly implied that there is no place for diligence afterwards. But how long shall we be "in the way "? I know not where this mysterious threshold is; I know only that it may be everywhere. The man who is standing at my side one instant may have crossed it the next. One finds it in the crowded street; another on the solitary mountain; a third upon the waters. This man reaches it after years and years of painful walking; that whilst his step has lost nothing of its youthful spring. Where is this mysterious threshold; where the precincts of this terrible court? Anywhere-everywhere! Then is only for this one moment that we can pronounce ourselves "in the way."
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: When thou goest with thine adversary to the magistrate, as thou art in the way, give diligence that thou mayest be delivered from him; lest he hale thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and the officer cast thee into prison.
WEB: For when you are going with your adversary before the magistrate, try diligently on the way to be released from him, lest perhaps he drag you to the judge, and the judge deliver you to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison.