But if we will not bear fruit we must be taken away. We shall lose our sphere of Christian service, and be exposed as hollow and lifeless professors. The vine-branch that has no wealth of purple clusters is good for nothing. Salt which is savorless is fit neither for the land nor the dunghill. Vine-branches that bear no fruit are cast into the fire. Professors that lack the grace of a holy temper, and the beauty of a consistent life are taken away. "Men cast them into the fire and they are burned."
These three years the Divine Husbandman has come hungrily seeking fruit of thee, yet in vain. Nevertheless, He will spare thee for this year also, that thou mayest mend thy ways. This is the reason of thy multiplied anxieties; He is pruning thee. If thou bearest fruit, it will be well, eternally well; but if not, then it is inevitable that thou shalt be cut away as dead and useless wood.
"Abide in Me, and I in you"
"Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in Me."—JOHN xv. 4.
These words are so familiar by constant repetition, that their power to awaken the soul is greatly lessened. They go and come through ear and mind, as a lodger who has gone and come with exactly the same appearance and at precisely the same hours for years, and no one notices him now, because there is nothing novel about him to awake notice or remark. How good would it be if we could hear this tender injunction for the first time. Next to this, let us ask the Divine Spirit to rid it of the familiarity of long use, to re-mint it, and to make it fresh and vital, that it may seem to us that we have never before realized how much Jesus meant, when He said, Abide in Me.
Perhaps it may assist us, if we adopt another English word for abide, and one which, in some respects even more neatly, and certainly in sound, resembles the Greek. It is the word remain; so that we may read the Master's bidding thus: Remain in Me, and I in you.
This word is often employed in the New Testament in connection with house and home. "Mary abode [or remained] with Elizabeth for three months"; and "There abide [or remain]," said our Lord, when giving His disciples direction for their preaching tour, and referring to some hospitable house which has been opened to welcome them. It is used three times in that memorable colloquy which introduced John and Andrew to their future Teacher and Lord; "Master," they said, "where abidest [or remainest] Thou; He saith unto them, 'Come and ye shall see.' They came therefore, and saw where He is remaining, and they remained with Him that day." And again: "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for to-day I must remain in thy house." We are to remain in Christ as a man stays in his home.
It is inferred, of course, that we are in Christ.—It would be absurd to bid a man remain in a house unless he were already within its doors. We must be sure that we are in Christ. Naturally we were outside—"Remember," says the Apostle, "that aforetime ye were separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world." We were shoots in the wild vine, partaking of its nature, involved in its curse, threatened by the axe which lay at its root. But all this is altered now. The Father, who is the Husbandman, of His abundant grace and mercy, has taken us out of the wild vine and grafted us into the true. "Of God are ye in Christ Jesus."
It is quite true that we repented of our sins, and turned toward God; that we have believed in Christ, and taken His yoke; that we have found rest under the shelter of His cross, and joy in expecting His advent; but we must never forget that behind all these movements of our will, and choice, and faith, were the willing and doing of God Himself. It is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath begotten us again unto a living hope." What confidence this gives us! We are in Christ by the act of God's grace and power, and surely He who put us in, can keep us there. Did He not shut Noah into the ark, and keep him there amid all the crash of the pitiless deluge! We have only to consent to remain, and allow God to perfect that which concerneth us. Be confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.
The stress which the Master lays on our abiding in Him.—He appears to summon all His forces to accentuate His parting message. You always reserve your most important injunctions to the last, that they may remain fresh and impressive, as the train steams out of the station, as the boat leaves the landing-stage; so Christ left this entreaty to the last, that it might carry with it the emphasis of a parting message forevermore. But note how He drives it home. Its keyword occurs eleven times in eleven consecutive verses. He depicts the terrible result if we do not abide: we shall wither, be taken away, and consigned to the fire. He shows how utterly we shall miss the one end of our existence, the glorification of the Father by fruit-bearing, unless we strenuously and continuously abide. He allures by the thought of the much fruit; by the assurance of success in prayer; by the promise of fullness of joy, of love, and of blessedness. He entreats, commands, exhorts, all in one breath. It is as though He were to say, "Children, I am leaving you; there are many things I desire for you, many commands to utter, many cautions, many lessons; but I am content to leave all unsaid, if only you will remember this one all-inclusive bidding, Abide in Me, remain in Me; stay where God has put you; deepen, emphasize, intensify the union already existing between you and Me. From Me is your fruit found. Without Me ye can do nothing. Abide in Me, and I in you. Grow up into Me in all things, which am the Head, rooted and built up in Me, and stablished by your faith, even as ye were taught."
There are many analogies to this appeal.—The sun says to the little earth-planet, Abide in me. Resist the temptation to fly into space, remain in the solar sphere, and I will abide in the formation of thy rocks, the verdure of thy vegetation, and all living things, baptizing them in my fire.
Abide in me, says the ocean to the alcove, that shows symptoms of division from its waves. Keep thy channel unsilted and open, and I will pour my fullness up to thy farthest shore, twice in every twenty-four hours.
Abide in me: the vine says it to the branch, that it may impart supplies of life and fruit; the air says it to the lung, that it may minister ozone and oxygen to its cells; the magnet says it to the needle, that it may communicate its own specific quality, and fit it to guide across the ocean the mighty steamer, laden with the freight of human life.
Abide in me: the artist says it to the novice; Edison would say it to some young Faraday; the preacher to the student. Any man who is eager to impart his ideas to coming time is glad when some young life, eager, quick to receive formative impressions, presents itself. Here, says he, is my opportunity of incarnating myself afresh, and still living, speaking, painting, when my life is done. "Stay with me, young soul, share my home, saturate yourself with my ideas and methods of expression, go to no other fields to glean, and I will give my best self in return."
So, also, the mother speaks to the child. If she is wise she will be chary of handing it over to the nurse, or sending it away to the care of strangers, except for the hours necessary for education. Companions and games, books and studies, shall be within the influences of her mother's love; and she, in return, will gladly bestow herself to the eager life that waits on her every movement, look, and word.
In all these cases, it is always the stronger that pleads with the weaker to abide, promising the communication to fuller life. Each, in measure, says, in the words of the glorious Christ, "I am stronger, wiser, fuller, better than you; all is mine that it may be yours, therefore, abide in Me, and I will abide in you."
Notice Christ's consciousness of sufficiency for the needs of men.—It were blasphemous audacity to speak thus, if He were not more than man. He affirms that there can be no life apart from Him; that souls not united with Him wither on the forest floor. He says, that fruit-bearing is only possible to those who receive from His fullness grace for grace. He says, that to be in union with Him will secure union with all holy souls. He says, that if His words are carefully pondered and obeyed, we shall make no petition which His Father will not grant. He says, that His love, in quality and quantity, is like the love that God has toward Himself; that His commands take rank with those of Deity. He offers Himself to all mankind in coming ages, as their contemporary, and as the one sufficient source of life and godliness. All these assumptions are made in the range of these verses; and as we ponder them, we feel that the Speaker must be conscious of being other than human, and as possessing those infinite attributes which are the sole property of the Eternal.
Yet, who shall say that He has offered more than He can give? Have not we tested Him in each of these particulars, and do not we, who have come to Him by faith, know that in no one item has He been guilty of exaggeration? We were dead, but behold, we live! We spent our energies in profitless work; but now we bear fruit unto God. We were lonely and isolated, but now have come to the heavenly Jerusalem, to the innumerable company of angels, and to the Church of the Firstborn. Our prayers were aimless and ineffective; but now we have the petitions we desired. New hope and joy have filled our hearts, as the ruddy clusters hang full and ripe in the autumn. Prove Him for yourself and see if this shall not be so for you also. Only give yourself entirely up to Christ. Abide in Him. Remain in Him. Let thought and speech and life be bathed in the influences of His Holy Spirit; Let the sap of His life flow where the sap of the self-life was wont to flow; and lo! old things will pass away, and all things will become new.
The law and method of abiding.—There are two currents always flowing within our reach:
The Not I, and the I.
The last Adam, and the first.
The Spirit, and the flesh.
God has put us by His grace into the first of these. The Master says, "Stop there." Much as when a father puts his little boy in the railway carriage, en route for home, and says, "My boy, stop where you are. Do not get out; no change is necessary." We are in Christ by regeneration and faith. We may not always be thinking about Him; but we remain in Him, unless by unfaithfulness or sin we consciously and voluntarily leave Him. And if we have left Him for a single moment, it is always possible by confession and renewal to regain our old position.
This is confessedly an inadequate figure of speech. There is a sense in which the member cannot be amputated from the body, and the soul cannot be divorced from its union with Christ. But we are not dealing now with our integral oneness with Christ for life, but with our abiding union with Him for fruit-bearing and service. And again we say, for those who are so immersed in daily business, as to be unable for long together to keep their minds fixed on Christ, that their abiding in Him does not depend on their perpetual realization and consciousness of His presence, but on the faith that they have done and said nothing inconsistent with the holy bond of fellowship.
You are in a lift until you step out of it, though you may not be thinking of the lift. You keep on a road until you take a turning right or left, although, engrossed in converse with your friend, you do not think of the road. You are in Christ amid the pressure of daily care, and the haste of business, so long as your face is toward the Lord, your attitude that of humble submission, and your conscience void of offence. During the day it is therefore possible at any moment to say, "I am in Thee, O blessed Christ. I have not all the rapture and passion of more radiant hours, but I am in Thee, because I would not by a single act, leave Thy secret place." If at such a moment you are conscious that you are not able to say as much, instantly go back over the past few hours, discover the place when you severed yourself from your Lord, and return.
Study Godet's beautiful definition of abiding: "It is the continuous act by which the Christian lays aside all he might draw from his own wisdom, strength and merit, to desire all from Christ by the inward aspiration of faith."
Whenever, therefore, temptation arises to leave the words of Christ (ver. 7), for the maxims of the world, step back, remain in Him, deny yourself.
Whenever you are tempted to leave the narrow path of His commandments (ver. 10), to follow the impulses of your own nature, reckon yourself dead to these that you may run in those.
Whenever you are tempted to forsake the holy temper of Christ's love, for jealousy, envy, hatred, step back and say, I will not go out of my hiding-place, I elect to remain in the love of God.
The one effort of life is therefore reduced to a persistent resistance to all the suggestions of the world, the flesh and the devil; that we should step out of that Blessed Man into whom the Father has grafted us.
Then He abides in us. He is strong where we are weak, loving and tender where we are thoughtless, holy where we fail. He is in us as wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption; and as the hope of glory.
Prayer that Prevails
"If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you."—JOHN xv. 7.
Christ expected answers to His prayers, and in all His teaching leads us to feel that we shall be able to obtain, through prayer, what otherwise would not come to our hand. He knew all that was to be known of natural law and the Father's heart; but notwithstanding His perfect acquaintance with the mysteries of the Father's government, He said, "Ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you."
A careful comparison between the confident assurances of the Master, and the experience of Christians, as detailed in their biographies or personal confessions, discloses a wide difference between His words and the findings of His disciples. Many have become accustomed to disappointment in prayer. They have asked so many things which they have never received; have sought so much without finding; have knocked so repeatedly, but the door has remained closed. We are in the habit of accounting for our failure by saying that probably our prayer was not according to the will of God, or that God withheld the less that He might give us something better. In some cases there may be even an unspoken misgiving about the harmony of prayer with our Father's love and wisdom, or with a perfect confidence in Him as doing the best for us in the world. We forget that if we prayed as we should, we should ask what was according to His will. We evade Christ's definite words, "Whatsoever ye shall ask in My Name, that will I do."
When we consider the lives of some who have wrought mightily for God, it is clear that they had learned a secret which eludes many of us. Take this, for instance, from the biography of Dr. Burns Thomson. "When much together as students," writes his friend, "we agreed on special petitions, and the Lord encouraged us by giving answers, so early and so definite, as could only have come from Himself, so that no room was left for the shadow of a doubt that God was the Hearer and Answerer of prayer. Once the answer came the same day, and at another time, whilst we were yet speaking. My friend often spoke of our agreement, to the glory of Him who fulfilled to us His promise, and I refer to it, to encourage others." This is but one leaf out of the great library of prayers, intercessions, and supplications for all saints, which stand recorded before God.
We naturally turn to our Lord's last utterances in which His instructions about prevailing prayer are fuller than those of the Sermon on the Mount; and than those given in the mid-passage of His earthly life, which depict the importunity of the widow with the unjust judge, and of the friend with his friend at midnight. The words spoken in the chapter we are now considering are particularly pertinent to our purpose, because they deal exclusively with the age to which our Lord frequently referred as "that day," the day of Pentecost, the age of the Holy Ghost, the day of this dispensation.
OUR LORD TEACHES THAT ANY PRAYER WHICH IS TO PREVAIL WITH GOD MUST PASS FIVE TESTS, though these are but different phases of the same attitude.
(1) The glory of the Father.—"That the Father may be glorified in the Son" (John xiv. 13). The one purpose of Christ on earth was to glorify the Father; and at the close of His life here He was conscious that He had not striven in vain. "Now," said He, "is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him." This was the purpose of His earthly career, and it was perfectly consistent with that of His eternal being; for each person of the Holy Trinity is ever intent on unfolding and displaying the moral beauty of the other twain. Having sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, Christ still pursues His cherished purpose of making His Father known, loved, and adored. No prayer, therefore, can hope to succeed with Him, or can claim His concurrent intercession, which is out of harmony with this sublime intent.
Whatever petition we offer should be submitted to this standard. Can we establish it in the presence of Christ, that our request will promote the glory of the Father? Bring in your evidence—establish your pleas—adduce your strong reasons. If you can make good your claim, your prayer is already granted. But be sure that it is impossible to seek the glory of God consistently with selfish aims. These two can no more coexist than light and darkness in the same cubic space. The glory of God will ever triumph at our cost. It is equally certain that none of us can truly pray for the glory of God, unless we are living for it. It is only out of the heart that has but one purpose in life and death, that those prayers emanate which touch the tenderest chord in the Saviour's nature, and awaken all His energies to their highest activity, "That will I do."
(2) In Christ's Name.—"Whatsoever ye shall ask in My Name" (John xiv. 13). Throughout the Holy Scriptures, name stands for nature. The Master says, "You must ask My Nature." In other words, when we pray, it must not be as the self-nature, but as the Christian-nature dictates. We always know when that is paramount. It excludes boasting; it is pure, peaceable and loving; it is far removed from the glare and gaud of the world, it is full of Calvary, Olivet, and Pentecost. There are days in our life when we feel borne along on its tidal current; when Christ is in us, the hope of glory; when a power is working within us beyond what we can ask or think; when we live, yet not we, but Christ in us—these are the times most propitious for prayer. Pour out your heart before God. Let Christ, who is in you by the Holy Spirit, speak to the Christ who is above you on the throne. Let the living water, which has descended from the eternal city, return back to its source through the channel of your heart. This is praying in His Name, and according to His Nature.
Before we can expect our prayers to prosper, let us sit quietly down, and, putting aside all other voices, permit the Christ-nature to speak. It is only in proportion as it countersigns our petitions that they will reach the audience-chamber of eternity. Surely, if this test were properly applied, many of the petitions we now offer so glibly would never leave our lips, and we should be satisfied about the fate of many another prayer which, like some ill-fated barque, has left our shores, and never been heard of again. But again let it be remembered that none can pray in the name of Christ who do not live for that name, like those early evangelists of whom John says that for the sake of the Name they took nothing of the Gentiles. The name of Christ must be predominant in life, if it is to be efficacious in prayer.
(3) Abide in Christ.—"If ye abide in Me, . . . ask what ye will" (John xv. 7). We are in Christ, by the grafting of the great Husbandman, who took us out of the wild vine of nature, and incorporated us with Christ. That union is forever, but its conscious enjoyment and helpfulness arise only in so far as we keep His commandments. A limb may be in the body, and yet be dislocated and useless. If you are in a train running through to your destination at the terminus, all that is necessary is to resist the temptation to alight at the stations en route, and to remain where you are. If, then, God the Father has put you into Christ, and is seeking to establish you in Him, be careful to resist every temptation or suggestion to depart from living fellowship by any act of disobedience or unbelief.
If you abide in Christ in daily fellowship, it will not be difficult to pray aright, for He has promised to abide in those who abide in Him; and the sap of the Holy Ghost, securing for you fellowship with your unseen Lord, will produce in you, as fruit, desires and petitions similar to those which He unceasingly presents to His Father. Throughout the ages Christ has been asking of God. This is the perpetual attitude of the Son to the Father. He cannot ask what the Father may not give. To get then into the current of His prayer is to be sure of success. Abide in Him, that He may abide in you; not only in the activities of holy service, but in the intercessions and supplications of the hour of private prayer.
(4) Submit prayer to the correction of the Word.—"If My words abide in you" . . . (John xv. 7). Christ's words have been compared to a court of solemn and stately presences, sitting to try our prayers before they pass on into the Master's presence.
Here is a prayer which is selfish and earth-born, grasping at the prizes of worldly ambition and greed. But as it enters it encounters that solemn word, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness," and it turns back surprised and ashamed.
Here is another prayer, full of imprecation and unkindness toward some one who has maligned or injured the petitioner. But it is met by that solemn word of the Master, "Love your enemies, pray for them that despitefully use you," and it hastens to retire.
Here is another prayer full of murmuring regret because of the pressure of the cross, the weight of the restraining yoke. But forthwith that notable word of Christ forbids its further progress, saying, "In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." In the presence of that reminder and rebuke, the prayer, abashed, turns away its face and departs. Like the accusers of the woman taken in the act of sin, prayers like these are inwardly convicted of unfitness, and go forth.
The words of Christ forbid unsuitable prayer, but they also stir the heart with great desire for the realization of those good things which Christ has promised to them that love Him. In this sense prayer becomes a dialogue between the Master who says, "Seek ye My face," and the disciple who responds, "Thy face, Lord, will I seek."
(5) Fruit-bearing.—"I appointed you that ye should bear fruit that . . ." (John xv. 16). In other words, answers to prayers depend very largely on our ministry to others. If we are prompted by desire for our own comfort, peace, or enjoyment, we shall stand but a poor chance of audience in the secret of His presence. If, on the other hand, our prayers are connected with our fruit-bearing—that is, with our ministry to others, with the coming of the kingdom, and the accomplishment of God's purpose of salvation—the golden sceptre will be extended to us, as when Ahasuerus said to Esther, "What is thy request? Even to the half of the kingdom it shall be performed."
Is sun needed to ripen the fruit? Ask for it. The Father waits to give it. Is dew or rain needed that the pitchers may be filled to the brim with water which is to be made wine? Ask for it. God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love. Ask for all but pruning; this the Father will administer, according to the good pleasure of His goodness. The fruit-bearing branches have a right to claim and appropriate all that is needed for the sweetening and ripening of their precious burden.
The temple of prayer is thus guarded from the intrusion of the unprepared footstep by many tests. At the foot of the marble steps, we are challenged for the watchword; and if we do not speak in harmony with God's glory, our further passage is peremptorily stayed. The key, engraven with the name of Jesus, will only obey the hand in which His nature is throbbing. We must be in Him, if He is to plead in us. His words must prune, direct, and control our aspirations; His service must engage our energies. We must take part in the camp with His soldiers, in the vineyard with His husbandmen, in the temple-building with His artificers. It is as we serve our King, that we can reckon absolutely on His answer to our prayers.
THREE CONCLUDING THOUGHTS REMAIN.
First. It is clear that our prayers depend very largely on our inner life. Where that is vigorous and healthy, they will be the same. But let deterioration and failure set in there, and the effect will be instantly apparent in our prayers. They act and react. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks; and when the mouth is opened in prayer and supplication, the heart speaks.
Second. Bespeak the Spirit's indwelling. He is the bond of communion and fellowship between the Father and the Son, and will lift us into the holy circle of that eternal life, so that the current may pass through us with uninterrupted velocity and force. He makes inward intercession for the saints according to the will and mind of God.
Third. Expect that prayer will become ever more engrossing, as the Divine impulse is yielded to; so that what now occupies but a comparatively small portion of time and energy will become with us, as with the great Apostle, an exercise which we prosecute with unceasing ardor, an ever-delightful method of promoting the Redeemer's Kingdom.
The hatred of the World
"They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things they will do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor Me."—JOHN xvi. 2, 3.
How near love and hate dwell in these words of Jesus! He had been urging His disciples to cultivate perfect love, the love of God; He now turns to describe the inevitable hatred with which they would be assailed in the world that knew neither the Father nor Himself. And if an additional motive were needed to induce that love, it would surely be given by the consideration of that hate.
This is no unimportant theme. It touches, very nearly, the lives of thousands of believers amongst us. Though they have not to face the thumbscrew and the stake, they discover painfully enough that the offence of the Cross has not ceased. There are amongst us many who daily quiver under the venomous gibe of neighbor and fellow-workman, and find that their acceptance of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Master has suddenly changed their family and working-life from a garden of roses into a bed of thorns. Many a young man in the city counting-house, many a mechanic at the bench, many a traveller in the commercial-room, many a student on the college-benches, is doomed to discover that the world does not love the Church better than in those days when the fires gleamed in Smithfield, and men and women were burned to death for loving God. But how sweet to know that all this verifies the Master's words: Ye are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
I. WHAT THEN IS THE WORLD?—It consists of those who are destitute of the life and love of God, as contrasted with those who have received and welcomed the unspeakable gift which is offered to all in Jesus Christ. The great mass of the unregenerate and unbelieving, considered as a unity, is the world, as interpreted by our Lord and His apostles.
The world has its god and its religion, which was first instituted by Cain at the gates of Eden; its prince, and court, and laws; its maxims and principles; its literature and pleasures. It is dominated by a peculiar spirit which the apostle calls a lust or fashion, and resembles the German Zeit-Geist: an infection, an influence, a pageantry, a witchery; reminding us of the fabled mountain of loadstone which attracted vessels to itself for the iron that was in them, and presently drew the nails from the timbers, so that the whole fabric fell a helpless, shapeless mass into the waves. The votaries of the world attach themselves to the objects of sense, to the things which are seen and temporal. They have the utmost horror of poverty, suffering, and humiliation; these they consider their chief evils to be avoided at any cost; whilst they regard as the chief good, riches, pleasure, and honor.
The world is thus a great unity and entity; standing together as a mighty kingdom; united and compacted together as Nebuchadnezzar's image; environing the Church, as the great kingdoms of Assyria and Egypt did the chosen people of God in the days of the kings. It resembles a pack of wolves. "Behold," said Christ, "I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves." Between such irreconcilable opposites as the Church and the world, there cannot but be antagonism and strife. Each treasures and seeks what the other rejects as worthless. Each is devoted to ends that are inimical to the dearest interests of the other. Each follows a prince, who met the prince of the other, in mortal conflict. Let us thank Him, who out of this world chose us for Himself.
II. LET US TRACE THE STORY OF THE WORLD'S HATRED.—It was foretold in Eden. "I will put enmity," so God spoke to the serpent, "between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed." We are not disposed to treat that ancient record with which our Bible opens as romance or fairy story, but to regard it as containing a true and authentic record of what actually transpired. That declaration is the key to the Bible. On every page we meet the conflict, the bruising of the Church's heel by the dark powers, and the increasing area of victory covered by our Emmanuel, the Virgin's Child. This hatred is then in the very nature of things, for this is but another name for God. It is, like others of the deepest facts in the experience of man, fundamental and inevitable, the outcome of mysteries which lie beyond the ken of man.
And it has characterized every age.—Abel is slain by Cain, who was of the evil one, and slew his brother. Joseph is put into a pit by his brethren, and into a prison by his master's wife; the Hebrew is smitten by the Egyptian; David is hunted by Saul as a partridge on the mountains; Micaiah is hated by Ahab because he always testifies against him; Jeremiah lives a very suffering stricken life, until he is slain in Egypt for remonstrating against a policy he could not alter; each of the little company then listening to Christ is forecast for a martyr's death, with, perhaps, the exception of John himself, whose life was martyrdom enough; Stephen sheds the blood of his pure and noble nature, and from that day to this the blood of the saints has poured in streams, until the last harrowing records, which have come to light, only of recent years, of the indescribable tortures and death of Armenian martyrs.
Each age has had its martyr-roll. They have been tortured, not accepting deliverance, have had trial of mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment; have been stoned, sawn asunder, tempted, and slain with the sword; wandering in deserts and mountains and caves, and the holes of the earth: of whom the world was not worthy.
The root or ground of hatred is not due to the evil discovered in the persons, who are the objects of the world's hate.—"They hated Me without a cause," our Saviour sorrowfully said. There might have been some cloke for the shamelessness of the world's sin, if He had not spoken words and done works among them such as none other ever said and did; but in the face of the perfect beauty of His character, the grace and truth of His words, and the loveliness of His deeds, it was by their perfidy He was crucified and slain. In vain He challenged them to convince Him of sin, and to bear witness to any evil which might justify their malicious cruelty. They knew it was innocent blood; but this knowledge, so far from mollifying them, only exasperated them the more.
The world hates the Church, not for the evil that is in it, but for the good. It hates without cause. The holier and purer a life is, the more certainly it will attract to itself malignity and dislike. The more Christlike we are, the more we must suffer the relentless hate that drove the nails into His hands, and the spear into His side. Do not be surprised at this. Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which cometh to prove you, as though a strange thing happened unto you; but doubt and question and be in fear, if you meet only smiles and flattery and such honors as the world can give. You may then ask yourselves whether you are not one of the world's own.
The real origin and fountain of the hatred of the world is due to Satan's antagonism to God.—In his original creation, he was doubtless as fair as any of the firstborn sons of light; but in his pride he substituted himself for God, and love faded out of his being, making way for the unutterable darkness of diabolic hate. Satan hates God with a hatred for which there are no words; and therefore when the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world, Satan gathered up every energy and resource of his nature to dog His steps, and make His course through the world as painful as possible. Do you wonder that the life of Jesus was so full of suffering? It could not have been otherwise. Directly God, in the person of Jesus, stepped down into the time-sphere, and assumed the conditions of earth and death, He came within the range of the utmost that Satan could do to molest and injure Him. Similarly, when the blessed Lord becomes the tenant of the heart, and in proportion as He is so, that heart attracts to itself the hatred with which the devil from the beginning has hated God. "If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father nor Me."
It is natural for the evil to hate the good.—First, the sinner has an uneasy conscience, and it hurts him to come in contact with those whose character reminds him of what he ought to be, and might be, and perhaps once was. The diseased eye dreads the light. The uncanny, slimy things that lurk beneath stones, and in dark caves, squirm in pain when you let in the day. The Turkish Sultan dislikes the presence of British representatives, and correspondents of the Daily Press, amid the dark deeds of blood and lust by which he is making Armenia a desert. "Every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved."
In addition to an uneasy conscience, the sinner has an unbroken will. He stoutly resists the impression of a superior and condemning goodness. He hardens his heart, and strengthens its defences. "Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice? Double the tale of bricks: summon the choice chariots and veteran soldiers of Egypt, that we may pursue, overtake, and divide the spoil." Such are the successive boats and challenges of the hardened heart.
Is it to be wondered at, under such conditions, that the wicked plotteth against the just, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth, that he draws his sword and bends his bow, to shoot privily at the upright of heart? "The wicked watcheth the righteous, and seeketh to slay him. The Lord will not leave him in his hand, nor condemn him when he is judged."
The great object of this hatred is to overcome the good.—In this respect the hate of the world is like the love of the Church. The child of God loves, that he may overcome the evil in the world, by converting evil-doers from the error of their ways and assimilating them to holiness; the child of the devil hates, that he may overcome the good of the world, by arresting their goodness, and assimilating to evil. Ah, how thankful we may be that we are not of the world, but have been chosen out of it; for it lieth in the wicked one, and is infected with the hatred of hell.
It is not difficult, therefore, to go through the world, and escape its hate. We have only to adopt its maxims, speak its language, and conform to its ways. In the well-known picture of the Huguenots, the young girl, with pleading, upturned face, seeks to tie the Royalist scarf around her lover's arm. She will secure his safety if she succeeds! Ah, how many pleading glances are cast at us to induce us to spare ourselves and others, by toning down our speech, and covering our regimentals by the disguising cloke of conformity to the world around! "If you do not approve, at least you need not express your disapproval." "If you cannot vote for, at least do not vote against." If you dissent, put your sentiments in courtly phrase, and so pare them down that they may not offend sensitive ears. Such is the advice, which is freely proffered. But those who follow it quickly discover that the compromise of principle involves certainly and awfully the loss of influence for good.
III. OUR BEHAVIOR AMID THE WORLD'S HATRED.—We have fallen on evil days. The world has been coated over with a Christian veneer, whilst the Church has become leavened with the subtle spirit of the world. It is hard to come out and be separate, because in the dim twilight one is apt to mistake friend and foe. The bribes are so rich for those who conform, the dissuasive so strong for those who refuse to bow to the great golden image. But our duty is clear. We must be true to the spirit of Christ. We must live a holy and unworldly life; we must avoid all that might be construed as an unworthy compromise of the interests of our Master's Kingdom.
And through all the pitiless storm of hate that beats in our faces, we must be glad. "Blessed are ye," said our Lord, "when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake: rejoice and be exceeding glad." And why rejoice? Because your reward is great in heaven; because you know that you are not of the world; because you are shown to be on the path trodden by the saints before you, every step of which has been trodden amid similar manifestations of the devil's hate.
Moreover, abound in love. Let there be no slackening of the patient, tender, pitying love, which heaps coals of fire on the head of the wrongdoer, and will never rest content until it has subdued the evil of his heart, overcoming it with good. Love must ultimately conquer hate, as surely as tomorrow's sun will conquer the darkness that now veils the landscape.
The Work of the Holy Spirit on the World
"He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment."—JOHN xvi. 8.
Three facts forced themselves home on the apostles during the Lord's parting words. First, that they were to be bereaved of their Master's presence (ver. 5). Second, that they were to be left alone, amid the world's hatred—"Whosoever killeth you" (ver. 2). Third, that their mission would be witness-bearing to the unseen Lord (xv. 27).
And as they fully realized all that these facts involved, they became too absorbed in their own sorrowful conclusions to inquire what bourn the Master sought as He set sail from these earthly shores. "O Master," they said in effect, "why canst Thou not stay? Our orphaned hearts will never be able to endure the blank which Thy absence will cause. Easier could a flock of sheep withstand the onset of a pack of wolves than we the hatred of the world! And as for our witness-bearing, it will be too feeble to avail aught."
And the Master, in effect, answered thus: "I will not leave you without aid. I shall still be with you, though unseen. My presence shall be revealed to your spirits, and made livingly real through the blessed Comforter. He will be with you, and in you. He will authenticate and corroborate your witness. He shall testify of Me; and when He is come, He will convince the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. You see then that I shall be able to help you better by sending the Holy Spirit than by staying with you Myself. It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away the Comforter will not come to you, but if I depart I will send Him unto you."
We may not be able to fathom all the reasons for Christ's withdrawal before the Spirit's advent was possible. But some of them are obvious enough. The full union of the Son of God with our race must be secured through death and resurrection, and His full union with the Father must be indicated in His glorification with the glory He had or ever the worlds were made, before He could be the perfect channel of communicating the Divine fullness to our human nature. The Head must be anointed before the Body. There must be no physical distraction arising from the outward life of Jesus to compete with the spiritual impression of His unseen presence. The text must be completed before the sermon can be preached. Christ must die, or there can be no witness to His atonement; must rise, or there can be no testimony to His resurrection; must ascend, or there can be no declaration as to His finished work and eternal intercession. Since the Spirit reveals Christ, all that was appointed unto Christ to do must be completed ere the Spirit can commence His ministry.
The work of the Spirit on the world is through the Church, and is described by our Lord as threefold. By His revelation of Christ He creates three convictions. Each of these is necessary to the regeneration of man. There must be the sense of sin, or he will not seek the Saviour. There must be a belief that righteousness is possible, or the convicted sinner will die of despair. There must be the assurance that sin is doomed, and shall be finally vanquished, or the baffled warrior will give up the long conflict as hopeless.
I. THE CONVICTION OF SIN.—We are constantly meeting people who are perfectly indifferent to Christianity, because they say they do not feel their need of it. Why should they trouble about it, when they suppose themselves able to do perfectly well without it?
In dealing with these, it is a great mistake to entice them toward the gospel by describing the moral grandeur of Christ's character and teaching. We should at once seek to arouse them to a sense of their great sinfulness. When a man realizes that his life is being eaten out by some insidious disease, he will need no further urging to go to a physician. This is the weakness of modern preaching—that we expatiate on the value of the remedy to men who have never realized their dire necessity.
But what is the truth most appropriate for producing the conviction of sin in the human breast? "Preach the Ten Commandments in all their stern and uncompromising 'shalts' and 'shalt-nots,'" cries one. "Read out the descriptions given in Scripture of the evil things that lurk in the heart of man as filthy things in darksome caves," says another. "Show men the results of sin, take them to the edge of the bottomless pit," insists a third. But not one of these is the chosen weapon of the Holy Spirit. He convicts men of the sin of refusing to believe in Jesus Christ.
There stands the Cross, the evidence and symbol of God's love; and there stands the risen Christ, offering Himself to men. There is nothing which more certainly proves the innate evil of the human heart than its refusal of that mystery of grace. Disbelief is the creature, not of the intellect, but of the will. It is not the result of inability to understand, but of stubborn obstinacy and stiffneckedness. Here is the supreme manifestation of moral beauty, but man has no eyes for it. Here is the highest revelation of God's desire for man to be reconciled with Him, and be at one with Him, His happy child; but man either despises or spurns His overtures. Here is the offer of pardon for all the past, of heirship of all the promises, of blessedness in all the future, but man owns that he is indifferent to the existence and claims of God, and is quite willing to accept the sleeping retribution of bygone years, and to risk a future irradiated by no star of hope. Here is God in Christ beseeching him to be reconciled, declaring how much the reconciliation has cost, but the frail child of yesterday absolutely refuses to be at peace. No trace of tears in his voice, no shame on his face, no response to God's love in his heart.
This is sin at its worst. Not in a Nero drenched with the blood of relatives and saints; nor in an Alva expert to invent new methods of torture; nor in the brutalized expression of the felon; nor in the degradation of the heathen: but in those beside you, who have heard of the love of Jesus from their earliest childhood, and who know that He died for them, and waits to bless them, but who deliberately and persistently refuse Him, you will find the most terrible revelations of what man is capable of. "This is the condemnation, that Light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil."
Conviction in itself is not enough. Many have been convicted who have never gone on to conversion. They have dropped to the ground as untimely fruit, blighted before its maturity.
Conviction of sin does not come to all in the same manner or to the same extent. Indeed, those who have come to Christ in early life are in a degree exempt from drinking this bitter cup, though they have much tenderness of conscience afterward.
Do not wait for more conviction, but come to Jesus as you are, and tell Him that the saddest symptom in your case is your inability to feel as you know you should. Do not tarry to be convinced of sin. Do not stay away till you feel more deeply. Do not suppose that strongly roused emotions purchase His favor. His command is absolute—Believe. But whenever that true repentance is wrought which needs not to be repented of, or those tears of penitence fall from the eyes of the suppliant, the means will always be the person and work and love of Jesus Christ. This is the burning-glass through which the Spirit focuses the rays of God's love on ice-bound hearts.
II. THE CONVICTION OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.—The aggravation of sin of which the Spirit convicts the sinner seems to present a gloom too dark for any ray to penetrate. He cannot forget. The dead past will not bury its dead. The wind of eternity blows away the leaves with which he tries to hide the corpses of murdered opportunities, broken hearts, and dissipated years. He cannot forget. He may close his eyes, but still the memories of the past will haunt him, the deeds he would undo, the words he would recall, the dark ingratitude toward the love of Jesus. Conscience is a flaming terror till a man finds Christ as his Saviour. Her brow is girt with fire, her voice peals with doom.
"Can I ever be cleansed?" cries the convicted soul. "Can these awful gnawings be silenced, and these terrors laid? Can I rise from this ruin and become a new, righteous, God-like man?" These questions are answered by the Spirit who induced them. "There is righteousness," He says, "because Christ is gone to the Father, and ye see Him no more."
He is gone to the Father; and the seal of Divine authenticity has therefore been placed on all He said and did in the Father's name.
He is gone to the Father; and it is clear, therefore, that He has been accepted as the Saviour and Redeemer of men.
He is gone to the Father in the likeness and nature of men; evidently, then, man is an object of God's love, is reconciled to God, and is admitted to the rights and privileges of a son and heir.
The work of Jesus on man's behalf finished at the Cross, accepted by the Father—of which the resurrection is witness—presented by our Great High Priest within the veil, is the momentous truth which the Holy Spirit brings home to the convinced sinner. And inasmuch as we are unable to see within the veil and discern the Divine marks of approval and acceptance, the Holy Spirit descends, and in His advent proves that Jesus has gone where He said, and done what He promised.
How do we know that the work of Jesus Christ has been accepted in the courts of eternity? On this wise. Before He died the Master said that He went to the Father, and that when He was glorified He would ask and receive the Spirit in His fullness. After days had elapsed and the second week from His ascension was already passing, the Spirit in pentecostal fullness fell upon the waiting Church, giving it an altogether new power to combat with the world. What the wagons were to Jacob, proving that Joseph lived and thought of him still, and was indeed supreme in Egypt, that the day of Pentecost was in declaring that Christ's personal righteousness had been vindicated, and that the righteousness He had wrought out for man had received the hallmark of the Divine assay. Therefore the apostle says, "The Holy Ghost also is a witness to us that He hath perfected forever by one offering them that are sanctified." And again, "Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour; and the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey Him, is witness of these things."
III. THE CONVICTION OF JUDGMENT.—When we have been freed from sin, and made righteous in Christ, we are left face to face with a tremendous struggle against sin. The sin of the past is indeed forgiven, the voice of conscience has been hushed, the sinner rejoices to know that he is accepted on the ground of righteousness; but the old temptations still crop up. Passion prompts us to live for present gratification; the flesh deadens the burning aspirations of the spirit. We ask in sad earnestness, How shall we be able to survive the terrible struggle and to come off victorious? It appears a vain hope that we should ever rise to perfect and victorious purity.
At such a time the Comforter convinces us of judgment. Not, as the words are so often misquoted, of judgment to come, but in the sense in which our Lord spoke of judgment to the inquiring Greeks: "Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the Prince of this world be cast out." Our Lord's references to the existence and power of Satan are always distinct and unhesitating. It is impossible to accept Him as our supreme Teacher without accepting His statements concerning His great antagonist, to undo whose work brought the Son of God to earth.
The whole Gospel is a story of the duel in which our Lord forever worsted and mastered Satan. The conflict began with the lonely struggle of the temptation in the wilderness; it pervaded Christ's earthly career; it culminated in the Cross. Its first note was, "If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread"; its last note was, "If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the Cross." But when our Lord cried, "It is finished," with the shout of a conqueror, He proclaimed to the universe that, though tempted to the uttermost, He had not yielded in one particular, that evil was not an eternal power, that wrong was not omnipotent. The Cross was the crisis of this world's history: the prince of this world measured himself for one final wrestle with the Son of God. Had he succeeded, evil would have reigned; but since he failed he fell as lightning from heaven.
On this fact the Holy Spirit loves to dwell. He unfolds its full meaning. "See," He says, "Christ has conquered for you, and in your nature. You meet a foe who is not invincible. Christ conquered, not for Himself, but for all who believe. The prince of this world has been judged and found wanting. He is condemned forevermore. Only abide in the last Adam, the Lord from heaven, and let Him abide in you, and He will repeat through you His olden victories."
What a majestic thought is here! The world comes to us first with its fascinations and delights. She comes to us next with her frowns and tortures. Behind her is her prince. But since he has been cast out by a stronger than himself, and exists only on sufferance, his most potent bribes and lures, his most violent onsets, his most unscrupulous suggestions, must collapse. Believer, meet him as a discredited and fallen foe. He can have no power at all over thee. The Cross bruised his head. Thou hast no need to fear judgment. It awaits those only who are still in the devil's power. But thou mayest rejoice that for thee a victory waits, the measure of which will only be explored when thou seest the devil cast into the bottomless pit, and thence into the lake of fire.
Christ's Reticence Supplemented by the Spirit's Advent
"I have yet many things to say unto you; but ye cannot bear them now."—JOHN xvi. 12-15.
How confidently our Lord speaks of the Spirit's advent; not more so did the prophets foretell His own. Repeatedly He returns to the phrase, When He is come. The advent of the Spirit to the heart of the Church on the Day of Pentecost, was as distinct and marked an event as the advent of the Son of God Himself to the manger-bed of Bethlehem. Let every reader of these words be sure of having taken the full advantage of His Presence, just as we would wish to have availed ourselves to the uttermost of the physical presence of Christ, had our lot so befallen.
I. THE THEME OF THIS PARAGRAPH IS THE INCOMPLETENESS OF OUR LORD'S TEACHING.—For three and a half years He was perpetually pouring forth His wonderful words; in many different places—the market-place, the home at Bethany, the hillside, the Temple cloister; to many different audiences—now in thronging crowds, and again to the secret disciple whose footfall startled the night, or the lone woman drawing water from the well; on many different themes—to mention all of which would be impossible, though He never spoke on any subject, common as a wayside flower, without associating with it thoughts that can never die. We have but a small portion of His words recorded in the Gospels, it is therefore the more remarkable that He left anything unsaid, and that at the close of His ministry He should have to say, I have yet many things to say unto you. Many parables, fair as His tenderest, woven in the productive loom of His imagination, remained unuttered; many discourses, inimitable as the Sermon on the Mount, or as this in the upper room, unspoken; many revelations of heavenly mystery not made.
A comparison between the Gospels and the Epistles will indicate how much our Lord had left unsaid. The relation of the law of Moses to His finished work was left to the Epistle to the Romans: the relation between His Church and the usages of the heathen world, for the Epistle to Corinth: the effect of His resurrection on the sleeping saints for the Epistle to the Thessalonians. He said nothing about the union of Jew and Gentile on terms of equality in His Church; this mystery, hidden from ages and from generations, was only fully unveiled in the Epistle to the Ephesians. It was left for the Epistle to the Hebrews to disclose the superseding of the Temple and its ritual by the realities of the Christian dispensation. The practical precepts for the right ordering of the Churches were left for the pastoral Epistles; and the course of the Church through the ages of the world's history, for the Apocalypse of the beloved Apostle. When we perceive the many things, taught in the Epistles, which were not unfolded by the Lord, we discern a fresh meaning in His assurance that He left much unsaid.
We are perpetually assailed by the cry, "Back to Christ," which is significant of men's weariness of theological system, and organized ecclesiasticism, and of a desire to get away from the accretions of the Middle Ages and the dead hand of Church Tradition, into the pure, serene, and holy presence of Jesus of Nazareth. It always seems to us as if the cry should be Up to Christ, rather than Back to Him. To put it as men generally do, suggests the inference that Christ lies far in the wake of human progress, and behind the haze of eighteen centuries; that He was, but is no longer, a potent factor in the world's life; whereas He is here, now, with us, in us, leading us as of old through rugged passes, and to mountains of transfiguration.
If the endeavor to get back to Christ means the Synoptic Gospels to the exclusion of the fourth, or the Epistles; or the Sermon on the Mount to the exclusion of the Epistle to the Romans; or Jesus to the exclusion of His Apostles, we feel it is but half the truth. Our Lord Himself protested that His teachings were incomplete, that there was much left unsaid which would be said by the Comforter, as even He could not, because the Spirit of God speaks in the inner shrine of the soul, uttering to the inner ear, truths which no voice could speak or ear receive. Let us always remember therefore that the Gospels must be completed by the Epistles, and that the Spirit who spake in the Son, spake also in those whom the Son had prepared to be His mouthpieces to men.
II. THE PARTIAL MEASURE OF HUMAN ABILITY TO KNOW.—"Ye cannot bear them now." Our Lord's reticence did not arise from ignorance, He could have said so much had He not been able to say more. All things were naked and open to His eye, but He had a tender regard for these men whom He loved.
Their bodies could not bear more. When the mind is strongly wrought upon, the delicate organism of the body is deeply affected. On the banks of the river Hiddekel, words of such wondrous importance were uttered to the lonely exile, that Daniel fainted, and was sick many days. "When I saw Him," says John, "I fell at His feet as dead." Flavel, on more than one occasion, asked that the excessive revelation might be stayed. Our Lord, therefore, feared that in their weakened state, torn by anxiety and sorrow, His followers would collapse if further strain were imposed upon their powers of spiritual apprehension.
Their minds could not bear more. The mind cannot receive more than a certain amount. After a while its eye gets weary, it ceases to receive, and even to remember. There are multitudes of cases in which, when too great a weight has been crowded on the delicate organism through which thoughts move, its balance has been upset, and it has drivelled into idiocy. Against this danger, also, our Lord guarded, for His disciples were already excited and over-strained. Their brains were so exhausted that in a few moments they would be sleeping on the cold ground of Gethsemane. Had He poured the light of the other world in full measure upon them, the tide of glory had submerged them, like spent swimmers.
Their affections could not bear more. Because He had spoken to them, sorrow had filled their heart, and He forbore to describe the valley of shadow through which they were still to pass, lest their hearts should break. They had hardly commenced to drink its cup: what would its dregs be? The footmen had wearied them: how would they contend with horses? The brink had terrified them: how would they do in the swellings of Jordan?
It is thus that He deals with us still. He knows our frame, and proportions our trials to our strength. He carefully feels our pulse before commencing the operation through which He would lead us to perfect health. He tempers His discipline to our spiritual capacity. We desire to know many things: the reason why sin has been permitted, the fate of the impenitent; the state of the great masses of men who have passed into eternity without a true knowledge of God. Peter asks for John, "What shall this man do?" Each wants to know the secret plans, whether for himself, or his beloved, which are lying in the mind and purpose of the Eternal. What will the end be? Where does that path lead by which I am going, and which descends steeply into the ravine? Will the fight between evil and good be much prolonged? What are hell, and the bottomless pit, and the meaning of Christ's references to the undying worm and unquenchable flame? And Christ says, "My child, you cannot bear it; you could not sleep at night, you could not play with the merry children by day, you could not perform your slender tasks, if you knew all that I know, and see as I see. Be at rest. Trust Me. I will tell you as soon as you are strong enough. Nothing shall be kept back from you, all shall be revealed." And surely the sufferings and limitations of this present time will not be worthy to be compared with the exceeding weight of glory, when in the presence of our Lord we shall see eye to eye, and know even as we are known.
In the light of these words we may get comfort. When some crushing trouble befalls us, He who only spoke as they were able to bear, will not permit the flame to be hotter, the tide stronger, or the task more trying than we have strength for. We often do not know our strength nor the power of His grace. Sorrow may be sent to reveal us to ourselves, and show how much spiritual energy we have been silently acquiring. Do not, therefore, run to and fro, and say, "It is too much, I cannot bear it." But know and be sure that Christ has ascertained your resources, and is sure of your ability, before He permits the extreme ordeal to overtake you. Dare to say with the apostle, "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me."
III. THE TEACHING OF THE DIVINE SPIRIT.—His personality is unmistakable; though the Greek word for Spirit is neuter, a masculine pronoun is used in conjunction with it when Jesus says, "He, the Spirit of Truth." The personal Christ sent as a substitute for Himself no mere breath or influence, but the personal Spirit. The Advocate before the Throne is well represented by the Advocate in the heart of the Church, and these two agree in one. Distinct as different Persons, but one in the mystical unity of the Holy Trinity.
Note the method of the Holy Spirit. He teaches truth by taking of the things of Christ and revealing them. There are two methods of teaching children, by precept, and by example. I go into a schoolroom one summer afternoon, and remark the hot cheeks and tired eyes of the little ones. Outside the open window the bees are droning past, the butterflies flit from flower to flower, and nature seems to cry to the little hearts, "Come and play with me." Does a garden ever look so beautiful as to children shut up to their studies? "What are you learning, little ones?" I say. "Botany," is the sad answer "We've got to learn all these hard names, and copy these diagrams." "Well," I say, "shut up your books, and come with me." And presently I teach them more botany by contact with the flowers themselves, than they would have learned by hours of poring over lesson-books. It is so the Spirit teaches. Is gentleness or purity, self-sacrifice or prayer, the lesson that we are set to acquire? There is no need for Him to make a new revelation to us. It is enough if He but bring us face to face with Jesus, and show these qualities shining through His words and deeds. The truth certainly, but the truth as it is in Jesus.
The condition of proficiency in the Spirit's school is obedience. "He will guide you into all truth." This word is very significant. Literally it means, Show the way. Ordinarily men ask to know the truth before they obey. The Spirit demands that they should obey before they know. Let me know the outcome of this act; its philosophy, its reasonableness, its result, then I will obey. But the Spirit answers, "It is enough for thee, O child of man, to know Me. Canst thou not trust? Wilt thou not obey? And as thou obeyest thou shalt know. Take this path, plod along its difficult way, climb where it climbs, so shalt thou ascend the steep of obedience, and at each step a further horizon of the truth will open outspread beneath thee."
Let us be more sensitive to the guidance of the Spirit, following whithersoever He clearly indicates, as when the Spirit said to Philip, "Go, join thyself to this chariot." We shall know when we follow on to know the Lord. His going forth is prepared for those who are prepared to obey whatsoever He may appoint.
The aim of the Spirit is to glorify our Lord. "He shall glorify Me, for He shall receive of mine." The Spirit's presence, as such, should not be a subject of our close scrutiny, lest we conflict with His holy purpose of being hidden, that Jesus may be all in all before the gaze of saint and sinner. He is so anxious that nothing should divert the soul's gaze from the Lord whom He would reveal, that He carefully withdraws Himself from view. "There must be nothing, not even God Himself, to distract the heart from Jesus, through whom we come to God. But remember that when you have the most precious views of your dear Lord, it is because the Holy Spirit, all unseen, is witnessing and working within you."
The authority of the Holy Spirit appears in the words, "He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak." Where does He hear the truths He utters? Where? There is only one place. In the depths of the eternal throne, in the heart of Deity itself, in the secret place of the Most High. Oh, marvel! surpassing thought, yet true! that things which pass between the Father and the Son, in the depths which no angel can penetrate, may be disclosed and made known to those humble and contrite hearts who are willing to make a space and pause for the Divine Spirit to speak the deep things of God.
May it be ours to be patient and willing pupils in this heavenly school in which the Holy Spirit is Teacher, and Jesus the Text-Book, and character the essential condition of knowledge.
The Conqueror of the World
"In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."—JOHN xvi. 33.
It was the road between Jerusalem and the Gate of the Garden. Behind, lay the city bathed in slumber; before, the Mount of Olives with its terraced gardens; above, the Passover moon, pouring down floods of silver light that dropped to the ground through the waving branches of the trees. The Lord was on His way to betrayal and death, along that path flecked by checkered moonlight.
The farewell talk had been prolonged until the disciples had grasped something of the Master's meaning. With many a comforting assurance it had borne them forward to the magnificent but simple declaration, "I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world; again, I leave the world, and go to the Father" (ver. 28). At that announcement light seems to have broken in upon their hearts, and they said unto Him, "Lo, now speakest Thou plainly, . . . by this we believe that Thou camest forth from God." Jesus replied, not as translators render it, "Do ye now believe"; but as it should be rendered, "At last ye believe"; and He proceeded to formulate three paradoxes:
First, That within an hour or so He would be alone, yet not alone.
Secondly, That they would have tribulation, and yet be in peace.
Thirdly, That though He was going to His death, He was certainly a conqueror, and had overcome the world, whose princes were about to crucify Him.
That word overcome appears to have been used only this once by our Lord; but it made a lasting impression on the Apostle John, who constantly makes use of it in his Epistle. We meet with it six times in his brief first Epistle, and sixteen times in the Book of Revelation. Who can forget the sevenfold promise spoken by the risen Lord to those who overcome; or the sublime affirmation concerning the martyrs, that they overcame by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony?
I. CHRIST AND HIS DISCIPLES HAVE A COMMON FOE—"The world."—And what is the world? It is well to take the inspired definition given in 1 John ii. 16. After enumerating her three daughters—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—the apostle goes on to say: "All that is in the world is not of the Father," i.e., does not originate or proceed from Him, but has its source in the world itself. We might reverse this proposition and say: "All that does not emanate from the Father, which you cannot trace back to His purpose in creation, is that mysterious indefinable influence or spirit which makes the world." The world, in this sense, is not primarily a thing, or a collection of people, but a spiritual influence poured out into the very atmosphere of our lives.
The spirit of the world insinuates itself everywhere. It is what we call society; the consensus of fashionable opinion; the spirit which finds its satisfaction in the seen and transient; the ambition that is encircled by the rim of an earthly horizon; the aims, plans, and activities which are comprehended, as the Preacher says, "under the sun." You meet it in the school, where little children judge each other by their dress and the number of horses their fathers keep; in the country town, where strict lines are drawn between the professional or wholesale man and the retailer; in gatherings of well-dressed people, stiff with decorum and the punctilious observance of etiquette.
The world has formulated its Beatitudes, thus:
"Blessed are the rich, for they shall inherit the earth."
"Blessed are the light-hearted, for they shall have many friends."
"Blessed are the respectable, for they shall be respected."
"Blessed are they who are not troubled by a sensitive conscience, for they shall succeed in life."
"Blessed are they who can indulge their appetites to the full, for they shall be filled."
"Blessed are they who have no need to conciliate their rivals, for they will be saved from anxiety."
"Blessed are they who have no poor relations, for they shall be delivered from annoyance."
"Blessed are they of whom all men speak well."
The world's code says, "Do as others do; don't be singular; never offend against good taste; have a tinge of religiousness, but remember too much is impracticable for daily life; whatever you do, don't be poor; never yield an inch, unless you are going to make something by the concession; take every advantage of bettering your position, it matters not at what cost to others—they must look after themselves, as you to yourself."
But it was reserved for John Bunyan to draw Madame Bubble's portrait: "This woman is a witch. 'I am mistress of the world,' she says, 'and men are made happy by me.' She wears a great purse at her side; and her hand is often in her purse fingering her money. Yea, she has bought off many a man from a pilgrim's life after he had fairly begun it. She is a bold and impudent slut also, for she will talk to any man. If there be one cunning to make money, she will speak well of him from house to house. None can tell of the mischief she does. She makes variance betwixt rulers and subjects, 'twixt parents and children, 'twixt a man and his wife, 'twixt the flesh and the heart. Had she stood by all this while,' said Standfast, whose eyes were still full of her, 'you could not have set Madame Bubble more amply before me, nor have better described her features.' 'He that drew her picture was a good limner,' said Mr. Honest, 'and he that so wrote of her said true.' 'Oh,' said Standfast, 'what a mercy it is that I did resist her! for to what might she not have drawn me?'"
II. CHRIST AND HIS DISCIPLES HAVE A COMMON CONFLICT.—It is inevitable that there should be collision, and therefore conflict, and as a result tribulation. The world-spirit will not brook our disagreement with its plans and aims, and therefore they who persist in living godly lives in this present evil world must suffer persecution.
Conflict about the use of power and prerogative.—At His baptism our Lord was proclaimed to be the Son of the Highest, and anointed with the Holy Ghost and with power. Instantly the Prince of this world came to Him with the suggestion that He should use it for the purposes of His own comfort and display. "Make these stones bread for thine hunger; cast Thyself down and attract the attention of the crowds." Here were the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes. But our Lord refused to use for Himself the power which was entrusted to Him for the benediction and help of men.
Conflict as to the way of helping and saving men.—The world's way was to leap into the seat of power at any cost, and from the height of universal authority administer the affairs of the world. But Christ knew better. He saw that He must take the form of a servant, and humble Himself to the lowest. If He would save men, He cannot save Himself: if He would bring forth much fruit, He must fall into the ground to die: if He would ascend far above all heavens, bearing us with Him to the realms of eternal day, He must descend first into the lower parts of the earth.
Conflict in the estimate of poverty and suffering.—The world looked on these as the most terrible disasters that could befall. Christ, on the other hand, taught that blessedness lay most within reach of the poor in spirit, the mourners, the merciful, the forgiving, and the persecuted. But the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, when they heard all these things, scoffed at Him.
Conflict in their diverse notions of royalty.—The Jews looked for a Messiah who should revive the glories of the days of David and Solomon, driving the Gentiles from the land, and receiving the homage of the surrounding nations, whilst every son of Abraham enjoyed opulence and ease. Referring to this expectation, the Master said, "My kingdom is not of this world: if My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight." His conception of royalty was founded on service, which would wash the disciples' feet; on humility, which meekly bore the heavy yoke, on patience, which would not quench the smoking flax, on suffering, which flinched not from the cross; on the nobility and dignity of the inner life, which shone through the most humble circumstances, as the transfiguration glory through His robes. For this He died. The chief priests and scribes hunted Him to death, because He persisted in asserting that He was the true King of men. "And Pilate wrote a title also, and put it on the Cross, Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews."
There was conflict in regard to religion.—The people of Christ's day were very religious. The world likes a flavor of religion. It makes a good background and screen, it serves to hide much that is unbecoming and questionable; it is respectable, and satisfies an instinctive longing of the soul. But the world manages its religion in such a way as not to interfere with its self-aggrandizement; but, in fact, to promote it. Christ, on the other hand, taught that religion was for the Father in secret; and consisted, not in the rigorous observance of outward rite, but in pity, mercy, forgiveness, solitary prayer, and purity of heart.
Thus the Lord's life was the reversal of everything that the world prized. Wherever He touched it there was conflict and collision, strong antagonism was evoked, and profound irritation on the part of the poor hollow appearance-loving world. So it must be with His followers. "These pilgrims must needs go through the fair. Well, so they did; but behold, even as they entered into the fair, all the people in the fair were moved, and the town itself, as it were, in a hubbub about them. They were clothed with such kind of raiment as was diverse from the raiment of any who traded in that fair; few could understand what they said; and the pilgrims set very light by all their wares. And they did not believe them to be any other than bedlams and mad. Therefore they took them and beat them, and besmeared them with dirt, and then put them in the cage, that they might be made a spectacle to all the men at the fair."
Child of God, your conflict may be altogether hidden from the eyes of those around you, lonely with the awful loneliness of one in a crowd of unsympathizing strangers, painful with the tribulation that Christ foretold. You have been ridiculed, sneered at, maligned; your tools hidden, your goods injured, violence threatened or executed. You have been as a speckled bird, pecked at by the birds around. But this is the way the Master went. By these marks you may be sure that you are in the way of His steps.
III. THE COMMON VICTORY.—"Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."
In the midst of a battle, when the soldiers are weary with fatigue, galled with fire, and grimed with smoke, if the general rides into the midst to cheer them with a few hearty words, and tells them that the key to the position is in their hands, they cheer him enthusiastically, and take up new hope. So down the line our Leader and Commander sends the encouragement of these inspiring words. Let us drink their comfort and encouragement to the full, that, amid our tribulation, in Him we may have peace.
He conquered for Himself.—The Lord has shown that a great and blessed life is possible on conditions which the world pronounces simply unendurable. He would not accept the world's maxims, would not be ruled by the world's principles, did despite to the world's most favorite plans. He even tasted the dregs of reprobation that the world metes out to those who oppose her, enduring the cross, and despising the shame. But His life was blessed while it lasted, His name is the dearest and fairest treasure of our race, and He holds an empire such as none of the world's most favored conquerors ever won. Does not this show that the world is a lying temptress, that there is another and a better policy of life than hers, that the real sweets and prizes of this brief existence are, after all, not in her gift. Christ has overcome the world. Her prince came to Him, but found no response to any of His proposals. He disregarded her flatteries and threatenings; He would not have her help and despised her hate; He prosecuted His path in defiance of her, and has left an imperishable glory behind. Thus He overcame the world.
And he conquered as our representative and head.—What He did for Himself He is prepared to repeat in the life-story of His followers. Ah! lonely soul, thou shalt not be left unaided to withstand the seductions of the temptress world; Jesus is with thee, thy Great-heart and Champion. As the Father was with Him, so He is with thee; so thus thou mayest boldly say, "The Lord is my helper, I will not fear what man can do unto me."
He does more. Behind the light of this world's glory, Jesus reveals another; and it is as when the sun rises, while the yellow moon still lingers in the sky. The world has no glory by reason of that glory, which excelleth. We are content with this world until He reveals the glory of the unseen and eternal; then a holy discontent arises with us, such as the patriarchs felt toward Canaan, when by faith they beheld the city which hath foundations. I only say to you, get that vision, and it becomes as easy for you to refuse the passing and worthless attractions of the world as for an angel to ignore a wanton's beauty, or a child to make light of diamonds in the rough.
In Jesus you may have peace. It is not certainly ours, unless we follow the two conditions He lays down. First, of abiding in Him; and, secondly, of meditating on His words. But if these be observed we shall have in the midst of strife, just as there is an oratory in the heart of the castle keep; a hollow cone in the midst of the candle flame; and a centre of safety in the midst of the sweeping whirlwind. Oh, abide there, child of God!
And, in addition to peace, there shall one day be victory. We also shall overcome, and shall sit with Christ on His throne, as He overcame, and sits with the Father upon His. Then the fruit of the tree of life, immunity from the second death, the hidden manna, the white stone, the morning star, the confession before the angels of God, and the pillar in the temple of Eternity!
Consecrated to Consecrate
"For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth."—JOHN xvii. 19.
"The most precious fragment of the past," is the unstinted eulogium which a thoughtful man has passed on this transcendent prayer; transcending in its scope of view, its expressions, its tender pathos, all other prayers of which we have record.
Its primary characteristic is timelessness. Though uttered within a few hours of Calvary, it contains thoughts and expressions which must have been familiar to our Lord at any moment during the centuries which have followed. As we study it, therefore, we are listening to words which have been uttered many times on our behalf, and will be uttered until we are with Him, where He is, beholding the glory of the Divine Son, superadded to that of the Perfect Servant.
The R. V. margin substitutes the word consecrate for sanctify, and it probably conveys a better meaning, because devotion to the will of God is prominent, rather than the holiness of personal character. Devotion to God's will is the primary thought suggested by the word; but of course it involves a blameless and spotless character. Thus we might read the words, "For their sakes I consecrate Myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth." Through the dim twilight the Lord clearly foresaw what was awaiting Him—the agony and bloody sweat, the cross and passion, the foresakenness and travail of His soul. The cross with out-stretched arms waited to receive Him; the midnight darkness to engulf Him, the murderous band to wreak their hate on the unresisting Lamb—and yet He flinched not, but went right forward, consecrating Himself.
"Twas thus He suffered, though a Son, Foreknowing, choosing, tasting all, Until the dreadful work was done And drank the bitter cup of gall."
I. THE SUBJECTS OF CHRIST'S SOLICITUDE.—In the earlier verses the Lord speaks of Himself, of His finished work, of the glory which He had left, of that to which He went, asking only that He might be able to glorify the Father in every movement of His coming sorrow (1-5).
Then He launches Himself on the full current of intercession, and pleads for those who had been given to Him, as distinguished from the world of men out of which they had come. Evidently the same thought was in His mind as inspired His words in John x., when He spoke of the sheep whom the Father had given to Him, that He might give them eternal life (27-29). And it may be that each of these two utterances was inspired by older words yet, that Zechariah had addressed to the poor of the flock when he cut asunder his two slaves, Beauty and Bands (Zech. xi. 7-14).
The underlying conception in all these passages seems to be that the Father has entrusted to the special keeping of Jesus certain elect spirits having an affinity to His nature, and who should stand in the inner circle to Him because associated with Him from high redemptive purpose. All souls are God's by right of creation, and all are included in the redemption wrought on the cross; but not all had been included in the Divine gift of which Jesus speaks, "Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me." We conclude that in the eternity of the past, as the Father beheld all future things as though they were present, and surveyed the vast multitudes of the human family, He discerned those who would be attracted by indissoluble union with His Son, manifest in the flesh; and whom He did foreknow, these also He did predestinate to be His flock, His brethren and sisters, His chosen band of associates in His redemptive purpose. These were the subjects of His powerful solicitude, "I make request, not for the world, but for those whom Thou hast given Me."
What then? Did not God care for the world? Certainly. He so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.
How then can we reconcile the love of God to the world with the selection of some as the flock of the Lamb, whilst the great world seems expressly excluded from His prayer? That question is fitly put. The emphasis is on the word seems. It is only to the superficial view that the world is excluded. Are the planets excluded from the law of gravitation because suns are filled with fire and light? Are the lower orders of creation excluded from the circle of enjoyment because man with his high organization is more richly endowed than they? Are sufferers excluded from the healing virtues of nature because a comparative few are specially qualified as surgeons and physicians? Can a missionary be charged with neglecting a dark continent because he concentrates thought and care on a few elect spirits gathered around him? For instance, could Columba be held guilty of neglecting the Picts and Scots when on Iona's lone isle he focused his care upon the handful of followers who assembled around the ancient pile, whose ruins are his lasting memorial? There is but one answer to these questions. Election is not exclusive, but inclusive. Its purpose is not primarily the salvation or delectation of the few, but their equipment to become the apostles to the many. And if Jesus thought, cared, and prayed so much for those whom the Father had given Him, His ulterior thought was that the world might believe that the Father had sent Him (ver. 21). If then it should be proved that you, my reader, are not included in the band of the given ones, that would not necessarily involve you in the eternal condemnation and loss of the future; though it would exclude you from sharing with Christ in His lofty mission to the sons of men.
What are the marks then that we belong to the inner circle of the given ones? They are these—
1. That we have come to Him (John vi. 37).
2. That we hear His voice, listening for the slightest indication of His will (John x. 27).
3. That we follow His steps through the world.
4. That we receive His words and believe that the Father sent the Son to be our Saviour.
5. That the world hates us (ver. 14).
Wheresoever these marks are present, they indicate the hand of the Great Shepherd and Bishop of Souls, and though we be amongst the most timid and worthless of the flock, He is pledged to keep us, so that none shall snatch us from His hand, and conduct us through the valley of the shadow to those dewy upland lawns over which He will lead us forevermore.
II. WHAT HE SOUGHT FOR THEM—"that they might be consecrated in truth."
Christ does not ask that His own should be forgiven, comforted, supplied with the good things of life—all thought for these pales in the presence of His intense desire that they should be consecrated, i.e., inspired by the same consuming passion as was burning in His heart. He knew that He was no more in the world. High business connected with its interests summoned Him to the far country, whither He went to receive the kingdom and return. But He desired that the passion which filled His soul, His tears, His prayers, and, to an extent, His sufferings, might always be represented amongst the sons of men, embodied in human lives, finding utterance through human lips. He could not Himself perpetuate his corporeal visible ministry among men, and therefore desired with a great desire that those whom the Father had given Him should evermore show forth His death till He came. Not simply by gathering at His table, but by going forth to live His life, and fill up that which is behind of His sufferings.
Is this your life? We have sometimes heard consecration stated as though it were a matter of choice whether believers should bind themselves by its obligations or not. When a student enters the university there are certain subjects in which he must matriculate, but there are special ones which he may graduate in or not, as he pleases. Should he refuse them, he is not blamed. The matter was within his option. Now, let it be clearly understood from these words of Christ that consecration is not in the same sense optional, but obligatory. For all those whom the Father had given Him He pleaded with His dying breath that they should be consecrated; and if you are not consecrated, if there are extensive reserves in your life, if you are holding back part of the price, if you are saying of aught that you have, It is my own, I shall do as I choose, then understand that you are in direct conflict against Christ's purpose and prayer. He asked that you might be consecrated; and you have chosen to regard consecration as the craze of the fervid enthusiast.
III. CHRIST'S METHOD OF SECURING THE CONSECRATION OF HIS SERVANTS.—"For their sakes I consecrate Myself."
(1) There is the potency of example.—"He hath left us an example to follow in His steps." "He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also to walk even as He walked." Once when He was praying in a certain place His disciples said, "Lord, teach us to pray." They had come within the powerful attraction of His Spirit. Like a swift current it had caught them, and they were eager to emulate Him. It is impossible for the saint to gaze long on the stigmata without becoming branded with the marks of Jesus; impossible to see Him hasting to the cross without being stirred to follow Him; impossible to behold the intensity of His purpose for a world's redemption without becoming imbued with it; impossible to see Him in love with the cross without feeling a similar infatuation; impossible to behold Him plunging into the dark floods of death that He might emerge in the sunlit ocean, without the consciousness of the uprising of an insatiable desire to be like Him, to drink of His cup, and be baptized with His baptism, to fall into the ground to die, that He may not abide alone, to know the fellowship of His sufferings, and conformity to His death, that He may appoint unto us a kingdom, as the Father hath appointed to Him.
(2) There is our implication in His mediatorial work.—"I have been crucified with Christ," the apostle said. And, again, "Ye died with Christ from the rudiments of the world." Of course, Christ died for us, presenting to the claims of a broken law a perfect satisfaction and oblation. It is also true that we died with Him, were in Him as our Representative, wrought through Him as our Forerunner; the first fruit-sheaf contained the promise of all its companions.
Consider for a moment a remarkable expression that casts light on this whole subject. In that memorable discussion with the Jews in Solomon's porch, which practically closed our Lord's public ministry, He said that the Father had sanctified and consecrated Him and sent Him into the world (John x. 36). In these sublime words He undoubtedly refers to a moment which preceded the Incarnation, when the Godhead designated the Second Person to redeem men? Was it the same moment, think you, as that in which Jesus said, "Sacrifice and offering thou wouldst not, but a body thou hast prepared for Me (or, Mine ears hast thou pierced). I delight to do Thy will, O My God." If so, what an august scene that must have been when, in the presence of the assembled hierarchies of heaven, the Father solemnly set apart the Son for His redemption work, consecrating Him to bring in everlasting salvation, to destroy the works of the devil, and to bring together in one the children of God that are scattered abroad!