John calls himself the "disciple whom Jesus loved." This designation gives him a distinction even among the Master's personal friends. Jesus loved all the apostles, but there were three who belonged in an inner circle. Then, of these three, John was the best beloved. We are not told what it was in John that gave him this highest honor. He was probably a cousin of Jesus, as it is thought by many that their mothers were sisters. This blood relationship, however, would not account for the strong love that bound them together. There must have been certain qualities in John which fitted him in a peculiar way for being the closest friend of Jesus.
We know that John's personality was very winning. He was only a fisherman, and in his youth lacked opportunities for acquiring knowledge or refinement. If Mary and Salome were sisters, the blood of David's line was in John as well as in Jesus. It is something to have back of one's birth a long and noble descent. Besides, John was one of those rare men "who appear to be formed of finer clay than their neighbors, and cast in a gentler mould." Evidently he was by nature a man of sympathetic spirit, one born to be a friend.
The study of John's writings helps us to answer our question. Not once in all his Gospel does he refer to himself by name; yet as one reads the wonderful chapters, one is aware of a spirit, an atmosphere, of sweetness. There are fields and meadows in which the air is laden with fragrance, and yet no flowers can be seen. But looking closely, one finds, low on the ground, hidden by the tall grasses, a multitude of little lowly flowers. It is from these that the perfume comes. In every community there are humble, quiet lives, almost unheard of among men, who shed a subtle influence on all about them. Thus it is in the chapters of John's Gospel. The name of the writer nowhere appears, but the charm of his spirit pervades the whole book.
In the designation which he adopts for himself, there is a fine revealing of character. There is a beautiful self-obliteration in the hiding away of the author's personality that only the name and glory of Jesus may be seen. There are some good men, who, even when trying to exalt and honor their Lord, cannot resist the temptation to write their own name large, that those who see the Master may also see the Master's friend. In John there is an utter absence of this spirit. As the Baptist, when asked who he was, refused to give his name, and said he was only a voice proclaiming the coming of the King, so John spoke of himself only as one whom the Master loved.
We must note, too, that he does not speak of himself as the disciple who loved Jesus,—this would have been to boast of himself as loving the Master more than the other disciples did,—but as the disciple whom Jesus loved. In this distinction lies one of the subtlest secrets of Christian peace. Our hope does not rest in our love for Jesus, but in his love for us. Our love at the best is variable in its moods. To-day it glows with warmth and joy, and we say we could die for Christ; to-morrow, in some depression, we question whether we really love him at all, our feeling responds so feebly to his name. A peace that depends on our loving Christ is as variable as our own consciousness. But when it is Christ's love for us that is our dependence, our peace is undisturbed by any earthly changes.
Thus we find in John a reposeful spirit. He was content to be lowly. He knew how to trust. His spirit was gentle. He was of a deeply spiritual nature. Yet we must not think of him as weak or effeminate. Perhaps painters have helped to give this impression of him; but it is one that is not only untrue, but dishonoring. John was a man of noble strength. In his soul, under his quietness and sweetness of spirit, dwelt a mighty energy. But he was a man of love, and had learned the lesson of divine peace; thus he was a self-controlled man.
These are hints of the character of the disciple whom Jesus loved, whom he chose to be his closest friend. He was only a lad when Jesus first met him, and we must remember that the John we chiefly know was the man as he developed under the influence of Jesus. What Jesus saw in the youth who sat down beside him in his lodging-place that day, drank in his words, and opened his soul to him as a rose to the morning sun, was a nature rich in its possibilities of noble and beautiful character. The John we know is the man as he ripened in the summer of Christ's love. He is a product of pure Christ-culture. His young soul responded to every inspiration in his Master, and developed into rarer loveliness every day. Doubtless one of the qualities in John that fitted him to be the closest friend of Jesus was his openness of heart, which made him such an apt learner, so ready to respond to every touch of Christ's hand.
It would be interesting to trace the story of this holy friendship through the three years Jesus and John were together, but only a little of the wonderful narrative is written. Some months after the first meeting, there was another beside the sea. For some reason John and his companions had taken up their fishing again. Jesus came by in the early morning, and found the men greatly discouraged because they had been out all night and had caught nothing. He told them to push out, and to cast their net again, telling them where to cast it. The result was a great draught of fishes. It was a revealing of divine power which mightily impressed the fishermen. He then bade them to follow him, and said he would make them become fishers of men. Immediately they left the ship, and went with Jesus.
Thus John had now committed himself altogether to his new Master. From this time he remained with Jesus, following him wherever he went. He was in his school, and was an apt scholar. A little later there came another call. Jesus chose twelve men to be apostles, and among them was the beloved disciple. This choice and call brought him into yet closer fellowship with Jesus. Now the transformation of character would go on more rapidly because of the constancy and the closeness of John's association with his Master.
A peculiar designation is given to the brothers James and John. Jesus surnamed them Boanerges, the sons of thunder. There must have been a meaning in such a name given by Jesus himself. Perhaps the figure of thunder suggests capacity for energy—that the soul of John was charged, as it were, with fiery zeal. It appears to us, as we read John's writings, that this could not have been true. He seems such a man of love that we cannot think of him as ever being possessed of an opposite feeling. But there is evidence that by nature he was full of just such energy held in reserve. We see John chiefly in his writings; and these were the fruit of his mellow old age, when love's lessons had been well learned. It seems likely that in his youth he had in his breast a naturally quick, fiery temper. But under the culture of Jesus this spirit was brought into complete mastery. We have one illustration of this earlier natural feeling in a familiar incident. The people of a certain village refused to receive the Master, and John and his brother wished to call down fire from heaven to consume them. But Jesus reminded them that he was not in the world to destroy men's lives, but to save them.
We know not how often this lesson had to be taught to John before he became the apostle of love. It was well on in St. Paul's old age that he said he had learned in whatsoever state he was therein to be content. It is a comfort to us to know that he was not always able to say this, and that the lesson had to be learned by him just as it has to be learned by us. It is a comfort to us also to be permitted to believe that John had to learn to be the loving, gentle disciple he became in later life, and that the lesson was not an easy one.
It is instructive also to remember that it was through his friendship with Jesus that John received his sweetness and lovingness of character. An old Persian apologue tells that one found a piece of fragrant clay in his garden, and that when asked how it got its perfume the clay replied, "One laid me on a rose." John lived near the heart of Jesus, and the love of that heart of gentleness entered his soul and transformed him. There is no other secret for any who would learn love's great lesson. Abiding in Christ, Christ abides also in us, and we are made like him because he lives in us.
John's distinction of being one of the Master's closest friends brought him several times into experiences of peculiar sacredness. He witnessed the transfiguration, when for an hour the real glory of the Christ shone out through his investiture of flesh. This was a vision John never forgot. It must have impressed itself deeply upon his soul. He was also one of those who were led into the inner shadows of Gethsemane, to be near Jesus while he suffered, and to comfort him with love.
This last experience especially suggests to us something of what the friendship of John was to Jesus. There is no doubt that this friendship brought to John immeasurable comfort and blessing, enriching his life, and transforming his character. But what was the friendship to Jesus? There is no doubt that it was a great deal to him. He craved affection and sympathy, as every noble heart does just in the measure of its humanness. One of the saddest elements of the Gethsemane sorrow was the disappointment of Jesus, when, hungry for love, he went back to his chosen three, expecting to find a little comfort and strength, and found them sleeping.
The picture of John at the Last Supper, leaning on Jesus' breast, shows him to us in the posture in which we think of him most. It is the place of confidence; the bosom is only for those who have a right to closest intimacy. It is the place of love, near the heart. It is the place of safety, for he is in the clasp of the everlasting arms, and none can snatch him out of the impregnable shelter. It was the darkest night the world ever saw that John lay on the bosom of Jesus. That is the place of comfort for all sorrowing believers, and there is abundance of room for them all on that breast. John leaned on Jesus' breast,—weakness reposed on strength, helplessness on almighty help. We should learn to lean, to lean our whole weight, on Christ. That is the privilege of Christian faith.
There was one occasion when John seems to have broken away from his usual humility. He joined with his brother in a request for the highest places in the new kingdom. This is only one of the evidences of John's humanness,—that he was of like passions with the rest of us. Jesus treated the brothers with gentle pity—"Ye know not what ye ask." Then he explained to them that the highest places must be reached through toil and sorrow, through the paths of service and suffering. Later in life John knew what the Master's words meant. He found his place nearest to Christ, but it was not on the steps of an earthly throne; it was a nearness of love, and the steps to it were humility, self-forgetfulness, and ministry.
It must have given immeasurable comfort to Jesus to have John stay so near to him during the last scenes. If he fled for a moment in the garden when all the apostles fled, he soon returned; for he was close to his Master during his trial. Then, when he was on the cross, Jesus saw a group of loving friends near by, watching with breaking hearts; and among these was John. It lifted a heavy burden off the heart of Jesus to be able then to commit his mother to John, and to see him lead her away to his own home. It was a supreme expression of friendship,—choosing John from among all his friends for the sacred duty of sheltering this blessedest of women.
The story of this beautiful friendship of Jesus and John shows us what is possible in its own measure to every Christian discipleship. It is not possible for every Christian to be a St. John, but close friendship with Jesus is the privilege of every true believer; and all who enter into such a friendship will be transformed into the likeness of their Friend.
JESUS AND PETER.
"As the mighty poets take Grief and pain to build their song, Even so for every soul, Whatsoe'er its lot may be,— Building, as the heavens roll, Something large and strong and free,— Things that hurt and things that mar Shape the man for perfect praise, Shock and strain and ruin are Friendlier than the smiling days."
Our first glimpse of Simon in the New Testament is as he was being introduced to Jesus. It was beside the Jordan. His brother had brought him; and that moment a friendship began which not only was of infinite and eternal importance to Simon himself, but which has left incalculable blessing in the world.
Jesus looked at him intently, with deep, penetrating gaze. He saw into his very soul. He read his character; not only what he was then, but the possibilities of his life,—what he would become under the power of grace. He then gave him a new name. "When Jesus beheld him, he said. Thou art Simon: ... thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, a stone."
In a gallery in Europe there hang, side by side, Rembrandt's first picture, a simple sketch, imperfect and faulty, and his great masterpiece, which all men admire. So in the two names, Simon and Peter, we have, first the rude fisherman who came to Jesus that day, the man as he was before Jesus began his work on him; and second, the man as he became during the years when the friendship of Jesus had warmed his heart and enriched his life; when the teaching of Jesus had given him wisdom and kindled holy aspirations in his soul; and when the experiences of struggle and failure, of penitence and forgiveness, of sorrow and joy, had wrought their transformations in him.
"Thou art Simon." That was his name then. "Thou shalt be called Cephas." That was what he should become. It was common in the East to give a new name to denote a change of character, or to indicate a man's position among men. Abram's name was changed to Abraham—"Father of a multitude"—when the promise was sealed to him. Jacob's name, which meant supplanter, one who lived by deceit, was changed to Israel, a prince with God, after that night when the old nature was maimed and defeated while he wrestled with God, and overcame by clinging in faith and trust. So Simon received a new name when he came to Jesus, and began his friendship with him. "Thou shalt be called Cephas."
This did not mean that Simon's character was changed instantly into the quality which the new name indicated. It meant that Jesus saw in him the possibilities of firmness, strength, and stability, of which a stone is the emblem. It meant that this should be his character by and by, when the work of grace in him was finished. The new name was a prophecy of the man that was to be, the man that Jesus would make of him. Now he was only Simon—rash, impulsive, self-confident, vain, and therefore weak and unstable.
Some of the processes in this making of a man, this transformation of Simon into Cephas, we may note as we read the story. There were three years between the beginning of the friendship of Jesus and Simon and the time when the man was ready for his work. The process was not easy. Simon had many hard lessons to learn. Self-confidence had to be changed into humility. Impetuosity had to be chastened and disciplined into quiet self-control. Presumption had to be awed and softened into reverence. Thoughtfulness had to grow out of heedlessness. Rashness had to be subdued into prudence, and weakness had to be tempered into calm strength. All this moral history was folded up in the words, "Thou shalt be called Cephas—a stone."
The meeting by the Jordan was the beginning. A new friendship coming into a life may color all its future, may change its destiny. We never know what may come of any chance meeting. But the beginning of a friendship with Jesus has infinite possibilities of good. The giving of the new name must have put a new thought of life's meaning into Simon's heart. It must have set a new vision in his soul, and kindled new aspirations within his breast. Life must have meant more to him from that hour. He had glimpses of possibilities he had never dreamed of before. It is always so when Jesus truly comes into any one's life. A new conception of character dawns on the soul, a new ideal, a revelation which changes all thoughts of living. The friendship of Jesus is most inspiring.
Some months passed, and then came a formal call which drew Simon into close and permanent relations with Jesus. It was on the Sea of Galilee. The men were fishing. There had been a night of unsuccessful toil. In the morning Jesus used Simon's boat for a pulpit, speaking from its deck to the throngs on the shore. He then bade the men push out into deep water and let down their net. Simon said it was not worth while—still he would do the Master's bidding. The result was an immense haul of fishes.
The effect of the miracle on Simon's mind was overwhelming. Instantly he felt that he was in the presence of divine revealing, and a sense of his own sinfulness and unworthiness oppressed him. "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord," he cried. Jesus quieted his terror with his comforting "Fear not." Then he said to him, "From henceforth thou shalt catch men." This was another self-revealing. Simon's work as a fisherman was ended. He forsook all, and followed Jesus, becoming a disciple in the full sense. His friendship with Jesus was deepening. He gave up everything he had, going with Jesus into poverty, homelessness, and—he knew not what.
Living in the personal household of Jesus, Simon saw his Master's life in all its manifold phases, hearing the words he spoke whether in public on in private conversation, and witnessing every revealing of his character, disposition, and spirit. It is impossible to estimate the influence of all this on the life of Simon. He was continually seeing new things in Jesus, hearing new words from his lips, learning new lessons from his life. One cannot live in daily companionship with any good man without being deeply influenced by the association. To live with Jesus in intimate relations of friendship was a holy privilege, and its effect on Simon's character cannot be estimated.
An event which must have had a great influence on Simon was his call to be an apostle. Not only was he one of the Twelve, but his name came first—it is always given first. He was the most honored of all, was to be their leader, occupying the first place among them. A true-hearted man is not elated or puffed up by such honoring as this. It humbles him, rather, because the distinction brings with it a sense of responsibility. It awes a good man to become conscious that God is intrusting him with place and duty in the world, and is using him to be a blessing to others. He must walk worthy of his high calling. A new sanctity invests him—the Lord has set him apart for holy service.
Another event which had a marked influence on Simon was his recognition of the Messiahship of Jesus. Just how this great truth dawned upon his consciousness we do not know, but there came a time when the conviction was so strong in him that he could not but give expression to it. It was in the neighborhood of Caesarea Philippi. Jesus had led the Twelve apart into a secluded place for prayer. There he asked them two solemn questions. He asked them first what the people were saying about him—who they thought he was. The answer showed that he was not understood by them; there were different opinions about him, none of them correct. Then he asked the Twelve who they thought he was. Simon answered, "The Christ, the Son of the living God." The confession was wonderfully comprehensive. It declared that Jesus was the Messiah, and that he was a divine being—the Son of the living God.
It was a great moment in Simon's life when he uttered this wonderful confession. Jesus replied with a beatitude for Simon, and then spoke another prophetic word: "Thou art Peter," using now the new name which was beginning to be fitting, as the new man that was to be was growing out of the old man that was being left behind. "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church." It was a further unveiling of Simon's future. It was in effect an unfolding or expansion of what he had said when Simon first stood before him. "Thou shalt be called Cephas." As a confessor of Christ, representing all the apostles, Peter was thus honored by his Lord.
But the Messianic lesson was yet only partly learned. Simon believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but his conception of the Messiah was still only an earthly one. So we read that from that time Jesus began to teach the apostles the truth about his mission,—that he must suffer many things, and be killed. Then it was that Simon made his grave mistake in seeking to hold his Master back from the cross. "Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall never be unto thee," he said with great vehemence. Quickly came the stern reply, "Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art a stumbling-block unto me." Simon had to learn a new lesson. He did not get it fully learned until after Jesus had risen again, and the Holy Spirit had come,—that the measure of rank in spiritual life is the measure of self-forgetting service.
We get a serious lesson here in love and friendship. It is possible for us to become Satan even to those we love the best. We do this when we try to dissuade them from hard toil, costly service, or perilous missions to which God is calling them. We need to exercise the most diligent care, and to keep firm restraint upon our own affections, lest in our desire to make the way easier for our friends we tempt them to turn from the path which God has chosen for their feet.
Thus lesson after lesson did Simon have to learn, each one leading to a deeper humility. "Less of self and more of thee—none of self and all of thee." Thus we reach the last night with its sad fall. The denial of Peter was a terrible disappointment. We would have said it was impossible, as Peter himself said. He was brave as a lion. He loved Jesus deeply and truly. He had received the name of the rock. For three years he had been under the teaching of Jesus, and he had been received into special honor and favor among the apostles. He had been faithfully forewarned of his danger, and we say, "Forewarned is forearmed." Yet in spite of all, this bravest, most favored disciple, this man of rock, fell most ignominiously, at a time, too, when friendship to his Master ought to have made him truest and most loyal.
It was the loving gentleness of Jesus that saved him. What intense pain there must have been in the heart of the Master when, after hearing Peter's denial, he turned and looked at Peter!
"I think the look of Christ might seem to say,— 'Thou Peter! art thou then a common stone Which I at last must break my heart upon, For all God's charge to his high angels may Guard my foot better? Did I yesterday Wash thy feet, my beloved, that they should run Quick to deny me 'neath the morning sun? And do thy kisses like the rest betray? The cock crows coldly. Go and manifest A late contrition, but no bootless fear! For when thy final need is dreariest, Thou shalt not be denied, as I am here. My voice, to God and angels, shall attest, "Because I know this man, let him be clear."'"
It was after this look of wondrous love that Peter went out and wept bitterly. At last he remembered. It seemed too late, but it was not too late. The heart of Jesus was not closed against him, and he rose from his fall a new man.
What place had the denial in the story of the training of Peter? It had a very important place. Up to that last night, there was still a grave blemish in Simon's character. His self-confidence was an element of weakness. Perhaps there was no other way in which this fault could be cured but by allowing him to fall. We know at least that, in the bitter experience of denial, with its solemn repenting, Peter lost his weakness. He came from his penitence a new man. At last he was disinthralled. He had learned the lesson of humility. It was never again possible for him to deny his Lord. A little later, after a heart-searching question thrice repeated, he was restored and recommissioned—"Feed my lambs; feed my sheep."
So the work was completed; the vision of the new man had been realized. Simon had become Cephas. It had been a long and costly process, but neither too long nor too costly. While the marble was wasting, the image was growing.
You say it was a great price that Simon had to pay to be fashioned into Peter. You ask whether it was worth while, whether it would not have been quite as well for him if he had remained the plain, obscure fisherman he was when Jesus first found him. Then he would have been only a fisherman, and after living among his neighbors for his allotted years, he would have had a quiet funeral one day, and would have been laid to rest beside the sea. As it was, he had a life of poverty and toil and hard service. It took a great deal of severe discipline to make out of him the strong, firm man of rock that Jesus set out to produce in him. But who will say to-day that it was not worth while? The splendid Christian manhood of Peter has been now for nineteen centuries before the eyes of the world as a type of character which Christian men should emulate—a vision of life whose influence has touched millions with its inspiration. The price which had to be paid to attain this nobleness of character and this vastness of holy influence was not too great.
But how about ourselves? It may be quite as hard for some of us to be made into the image of beauty and strength which the Master has set for us. It may require that we shall pass through experiences of loss, trial, temptation, and sorrow. Life's great lessons are very long, and cannot be learned in a day, nor can they be learned easily. But life, at whatever cost, is worth while. It is worth while for the gold to pass through the fire to be made pure and clean. It is worth while for the gem to endure the hard processes necessary to prepare it for shining in its dazzling splendor. It is worth while for a life to submit to whatever of severe discipline may be required to bring out in it the likeness of the Master, and to fit it for noble doing and serving. Poets are said to learn in suffering what they teach in song. If only one line of noble, inspiring, uplifting song is sung into the world's air, and started on a world-wide mission of blessing, no price paid for the privilege is too much to pay. David had to suffer a great deal to be able to write the Twenty-Third Psalm, but he does not now think that psalm cost him too much. William Canton writes:—
"A man lived fifty years—joy dashed with tears; Loved, toiled; had wife and child, and lost them; died; And left of all his long life's work one little song. That lasted—naught beside.
Like the monk Felix's bird, that song was heard; Doubt prayed, Faith soared. Death smiled itself to sleep; That song saved souls. You say the man paid stiffly? Nay. God paid—and thought it cheap."
JESUS AND THOMAS.
I have a life in Christ to live, I have a death in Christ to die; And must I wait till science give All doubts a full reply?
Nay, rather while the sea of doubt Is raging wildly round about, Questioning of life and death and sin, Let me but creep within Thy fold, O Christ! and at thy feet Take but the lowest seat. PRINCIPAL SHAIRP.
There is no record of the beginning of the friendship of Jesus and Thomas. We do not know when Thomas became a disciple, nor what first drew him to Jesus. Did a friend bring him? Did he learn of the new rabbi through the fame of him that went everywhere, and then come to him without solicitation? Did he hear him speak one day, and find himself drawn to him by the power of his gracious words? Or did Jesus seek him out in his home or at his work, and call him to be a follower?
We do not know. The manner of his coming is veiled in obscurity. The first mention of his name is in the list of the Twelve. As the apostles were chosen from the much larger company of those who were already disciples, Thomas must have been a follower of Jesus before he was an apostle. He and Jesus had been friends for some time, and there is evidence that the friendship was a very close and tender one. Even in the scant material available for the making up of the story, we find evidence in Thomas of strong loyalty and unwavering devotion, and in Jesus of marvellous patience and gentleness toward his disciple.
We have in the New Testament many wonderfully lifelike portraits. Occurring again and again, they are always easily recognizable. In every mention of Peter, for example, the man is indubitably the same. He is always active, speaking or acting; not always wisely, but in every case characteristically,—impetuous, self-confident, rash, yet ever warm-hearted. We would know him unmistakably in every incident in which he appears, even if his name were not given. John, too, whenever we see him, is always the same,—reverent, quiet, affectionate, trustful, the disciple of love. Andrew appears only a few times, but in each of these cases he is engaged in the same way,—bringing some one to Jesus. Mary of Bethany comes into the story on only three occasions; but always we see her in the same attitude,—at Jesus' feet,—while Martha is ever active in her serving.
The character of Thomas also is sketched in a very striking way. There are but three incidents in which this apostle appears; but in all of these the portrait is the same, and is so clear that even Peter's character is scarcely better known than that of Thomas. He always looks at the dark side. We think of him as the doubter; but his doubt is not of the flippant kind which reveals lack of reverence, ofttimes ignorance and lack of earnest thought; it is rather a constitutional tendency to question, and to wait for proof which would satisfy the senses, than a disposition to deny the facts of Christianity. Thomas was ready to believe, glad to believe, when the proof was sufficient to convince him. Then all the while he was ardently a true and devoted friend of Jesus, attached to him, and ready to follow him even to death.
The first incident in which Thomas appears is in connection with the death of Lazarus. Jesus had now gone beyond the Jordan with his disciples. The Jews had sought to kill him; and he escaped from their hands, and went away for safety. When news of the sickness of Lazarus came, Jesus waited two days, and then said to his disciples, "Let us go into Judea again." The disciples reminded him of the hatred of the Jews, and of their recent attempts to kill him. They thought that he ought not to venture back again into the danger, even for the sake of carrying comfort to the sorrowing Bethany household. Jesus answered with a little parable about one's security while walking during the day. The meaning of the parable was that he had not yet reached the end of his day, and therefore could safely continue the work which had been given him to do. Every man doing God's will is immortal till the work is done. Jesus then announced to his disciples that Lazarus was dead, and that he was going to waken him.
It is at this point that Thomas appears. He said to his fellow-disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." He looked only at the dark side. He took it for granted that if Jesus returned to Judea he would be killed. He forgot for the time the divine power of Jesus, and the divine protection which sheltered him while he was doing the Father's will. He failed to understand the words Jesus had just spoken about his security until the hours of his day were finished. He remembered only the bitterness which the Jews had shown toward Jesus, and their determination to destroy his life. He had no hope that if Jesus returned they would not carry out their wicked purpose. There was no blue in the sky for him. He saw only darkness.
Thomas represents a class of good people who are found in every community. They see only the sad side of life. No stars shine through their cypress-trees. In the time of danger they forget that there are divine refuges into which they may flee and be safe. They know the promises, and often quote them to others; but when trouble comes upon them, all these words of God fade out of their minds. In sorrow they fail to receive any true and substantial comfort from the Scriptures. Hope dies in their hearts when the shadows gather about them. They yield to discouragement, and the darkness blots out every star in their sky. Whatever the trouble may be that comes into their life, they see the trouble only, and fail to perceive the bright light in the cloud.
This habit of mind adds much to life's hardness. Every burden is heavier because of the sad heart that beats under it. Every pain is keener because of the dispiriting which it brings with it. Every sorrow is made darker by the hopelessness with which it is endured. Every care is magnified, and the sweetness of every pleasure is lessened, by this pessimistic tendency. The beauty of the world loses half its charm in the eyes which see all things in the hue of despondent feeling. Slightest fears become terrors, and smallest trials grow into great misfortunes. Our heart makes our world for us; and if the heart be without hope and cheer, the world is always dark. We find in life just what we have the capacity to find. One who is color-blind sees no loveliness in nature. One who has no music in his soul hears no harmonies anywhere. When fear sits regnant on the throne, life is full of alarms.
On the other hand, if the heart be full of hope, every joy is doubled, and half of every trouble vanishes. There are sorrows, but they are comforted. There are bitter cups, but the bitterness is sweetened. There are heavy burdens, but the songful spirit lightens them. There are dangers, but cheerful courage robs them of terror. All the world is brighter when the light of hope shines within.
But we have read only half the story of the fear of Thomas. He saw only danger in the Master's return to Judea. "The Jews will kill him; he will go back to certain death," he said. But Thomas would not forsake Jesus, though he was going straight to martyrdom. "Let us also go, that we may die with him." Thus, mingled with his fear, was a noble and heroic love for Jesus. The hopelessness of Thomas as he thought of Jesus going to Bethany makes his devotion and his cleaving to him all the braver and nobler. He was sure it was a walk to death, but he faltered not in his loyalty.
This is a noble spirit in Thomas, which we would do well to emulate. It is the true soldier spirit. Its devotion to Christ is absolute, and its following unconditional. It has only one motive,—love; and one rule,—obedience. It is not influenced by any question of consequences; but though it be to certain death, it hesitates not. This is the kind of discipleship which the Master demands. He who loves father or mother more than him is not worthy of him. He who hates not his own life cannot be his disciple. A follower of Jesus must be ready and willing to follow him to his cross. Thomas proved his friendship for his Master by a noble heroism. It is the highest test of courage to go forward unfalteringly in the way of duty when one sees only personal loss and sacrifice as the result. The soldier who trembles, and whose face whitens from constitutional physical fear, and who yet marches steadily into the battle, is braver far than the soldier who without a tremor presses into the engagement.
The second time at which Thomas appears is in the upper room, after the Holy Supper had been eaten. Jesus had spoken of the Father's house, and had said that he was going away to prepare a place for his disciples, and that then he would come again to receive them unto himself. Thomas could not understand the Master's meaning, and said, "Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?" He would not say he believed until he saw for himself. That is all that his question in the upper room meant—he wished the Master to make the great teaching a little plainer. It were well if more Christians insisted on finding the ground of their faith, the reasons why they are Christians. Their faith would then be stronger, and less easily shaken. When trouble comes, or any testing, it would continue firm and unmoved, because it rests on the rock of divine truth.
The last incident in the story of Thomas is after the resurrection. The first evening the apostles met in the upper room to talk over the strange things which had occurred that day. For some reason Thomas was not at this meeting. We may infer that his melancholy temperament led him to absent himself. He had loved Jesus deeply, and his sorrow was very great. There had been rumors all day of Christ's resurrection, but Thomas put no confidence in these. Perhaps his despondent disposition made him unsocial, and kept him from meeting with the other apostles, even to weep with them.
That evening Jesus entered through the closed doors, and stood in the midst of the disciples, and greeted them as he had done so often before, "Peace be unto you!" They told Thomas afterwards that they had seen the Lord. But he refused to believe them; that is, he doubted the reality of what they thought they had seen. He said that they had been deceived; and he asserted that he must not only see for himself, but must have the opportunity of subjecting the evidence to the severest test. He must see the print of the nails, and must also be permitted to put his finger into the place.
It is instructive to think of what this doubting disposition of Thomas cost him. First, it kept him from the meeting of the disciples that evening, when all the others came together. He shut himself up with his gloom and sadness. His grief was hopeless, and he would not seek comfort. The consequence was, that when Jesus entered the room, and showed himself to his friends, Thomas missed the revealing which gave them such unspeakable gladness. From that hour their sorrow was changed to joy; but for the whole of another week Thomas remained in the darkness in which the crucifixion had infolded him.
Doubt is always costly. It shuts out heavenly comfort. There are many Christian people who, especially in the first shock of sorrow, have an experience similar to that of Thomas. They shut themselves up with their grief, and refuse to accept the comfort of the gospel of Christ. They turn away their ears from the voices of love which speak to them out of the Bible, and will not receive the divine consolations. The light shines all about them; but they close doors and windows, and keep it from entering the darkened chamber where they sit. The music of peace floats on the air in sweet, entrancing strains, but no gentle note finds its way to their hearts.
Too many Christian mourners fail to find comfort in their sorrow. They believe the great truths of Christianity, that Jesus died for them and rose again; but their faith fails them for the time in the hour of sorest distress. Meanwhile they walk in darkness as Thomas did. On the other hand, those who accept, and let into their hearts the great truths of Christ's resurrection and the immortal life in Christ, feel the pain of parting no less sorely, but they find abundant consolation in the hope of eternal life for those whom they have lost for a time.
We have an illustration of the deep, tender, patient, and wise friendship of Jesus for Thomas in the way he treated this doubt of his apostle. He did not say that if Thomas could not believe the witness of the apostles to his resurrection he must remain in the darkness which his unbelief had made for him. He treated his doubt with exceeding gentleness, as a skilful physician would deal with a dangerous wound. He was in no haste. A full week passed before he did anything. During those days the sad heart had time to react, to recover something of its self-poise. Thomas still persisted in his refusal to believe, but when a week had gone he found his way with the others to their meeting. Perhaps their belief in the Lord's resurrection made such a change in them, so brightened and transformed them, that Thomas grew less positive in his unbelief as he saw them day after day. At least he was ready now to be convinced. He wanted to believe.
That night Jesus came again into the room, the doors being shut, and standing in the midst of his friends, breathed again upon them his benediction of peace. Then he turned to Thomas; and holding out his hands, with the print of the nails in them, he asked him to put the evidences of his resurrection to the very tests he had said he must make before he could believe. Now Thomas was convinced. He did not make the tests he had insisted that he must make. There was no need for it. To look into the face of Jesus, to hear his voice, and to see the prints of the nails in his hands, was evidence enough even for Thomas. All his doubts were swept away. Falling at the Master's feet, he exclaimed, "My Lord and my God!"
Thus the gentleness of Jesus in dealing with his doubts saved Thomas from being an unbeliever. It is a great thing to have a wise and faithful friend when one is passing through an experience of doubt. Many persons are only confirmed in their scepticism by the well-meant but unwise efforts that are made to convince them of the truth concerning which they doubt. It is not argument that they need, but the patience of love, which waits in silence till the right time comes for words, and which then speaks but little. Thomas was convinced, not by words, but by seeing the proofs of Christ's love in the prints of the nails.
We may be glad now that Thomas was hard to convince of the truth of Christ's resurrection. It makes the proofs more indubitable to us that one even of the apostles refused at first to believe, and yet at length was led into triumphant faith. If all the apostles had believed easily, there would have been no comfort in the gospel for those who find it hard to believe, and yet who sincerely want to believe. The fact that one doubted, and even refused to accept the witness of his fellow-apostles, and then at length was led into clear, strong faith, forever teaches that doubt is not hopeless. Ofttimes it may be but a process in the development of faith.
The story of Thomas shows, too, that there may be honest doubt. While he doubted, he yet loved; perhaps no other one of the apostles loved Jesus more than did Thomas. He never made any such bold confession as Peter did, but neither did he ever deny Christ. Thomas has been a comfort to many because he has shown them that they can be true Christians, true lovers of Christ, and yet not be able to boast of their assurance of faith.
No doubt faith is better than questioning, but there may be honest questioning which yet is intensely loyal to Christ. Questioning, too, which is eager to find the truth and rest on the rock, may be better than easy believing, that takes no pains to know the reason of the hope it cherishes, and lightly recites the noble articles of a creed it has never seriously studied. Tennyson, in "In Memoriam," tells the story of a faith that grew strong through its doubting.
You say, but with no touch of scorn, Sweet-hearted, you, whose light-blue eyes Are tender over drowning flies, You tell me, doubt is devil-born.
I know not: one indeed I knew In many a subtle question versed, Who touched a jarring lyre at first, But ever strove to make it true:
Perplext in faith, but pure in deeds, At last he beat his music out. There lives more faith in honest doubt, Believe me, than in half the creeds.
He fought his doubts and gathered strength; He would not make his judgment blind, He faced the spectres of the mind And laid them: thus he came at length
To find a stronger faith his own; And power was with him in the night, Which makes the darkness and the light, And dwells not in the light alone,
But in the darkness and the cloud, As over Sinai's peaks of old, While Israel made their gods of gold, Although the trumpet blew so loud.
That which saved Thomas was his deep, strong friendship for Christ. "The characteristic of Thomas," says Ian Maclaren, "is not that he doubted,—that were an easy passport to religion,—but that he doubted and loved. His doubt was the measure of his love; his doubt was swallowed up in love." If friendship for Christ be loyal and true, we need not look upon questioning as disloyalty; it may be but love finding the way up the rugged mountain-side to the sunlit summit of a glorious faith. There is a scepticism whose face is toward wintriness and death; but there is a doubt which is looking toward the sun and toward all blessedness.
Thomas teaches us that one may look on the dark side and yet be a Christian, an ardent lover of Jesus, ready to die for him. But we must admit that this is not the best way to live. No one would say that Thomas was the ideal among the apostles, that his character was the most beautiful, his life the noblest and the best. Faith is better than doubt, and confidence better than questioning. It is better to be a sunny Christian, rejoicing, songful, happy, than a sad, gloomy, despondent Christian. It makes one's own life sweeter and more beautiful. Then it makes others happier. A gloomy Christian casts dark shadows wherever he goes; a sunny Christian is a benediction to every life he touches.
JESUS' UNREQUITED FRIENDSHIPS.
"Friend, my feet bleed. Open thy door to me and comfort me." I will not open; trouble me no more. Go on thy way footsore; I will not rise and open unto thee. "Then it is nothing to thee? Open, see Who stands to plead with thee. Open, lest I should pass thee by, and thou One day entreat my face And howl for grace, And I be deaf as thou art now. Open to me." CHRISTINA G. ROSSETTI.
There is a great deal of unrequited love in this world. There are hearts that love with all the strength of purest and holiest affection, whose love seems to meet no requital. There is much unrequited mother-love and father-love. Parents live for their children. In helpless infancy they begin to pour out their affection on them. They toil for them, suffer for them, deny themselves to provide comforts for them, bear their burdens, watch beside them when they are sick, pray for them, and teach them. Parent-love is likest God's love of all earthly affections. It is one of the things in humanity which at its best seems to have come from the Fall almost unimpaired. Much parent-love is worthily honored and fittingly requited. Few things in this world are more beautiful than the devotion of children to parents which one sees in some homes. But not always is there such return. Too often is this almost divine love unrequited.
Much philanthropic love also is unrequited. There are men who spend all their life in doing good, and then meet no return. Men have served their country with loyalty and disinterestedness, and have received no reward—perhaps have been left to suffering, and have died in poverty, neglected and forgotten; too often have lain in prison, or been put to death, or exiled by the country which was indebted to their patriotism and loyal service for much of its glory and greatness. Many hearts break because of men's ingratitude.
Jesus was the world's greatest benefactor. No other man ever loved the race, or could have loved it, as he did. He was the divine messenger who came to save the world. His whole life was a revealing of love. It was the love of God too,—a love of infinite depth and strength and tenderness, and not any merely human love, however rich and faithful it might be, that was manifested in Jesus Christ. Yet much of his wonderful love was unrequited. "He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not." A few individuals recognized him and accepted his love; but the great masses of the people paid him no heed, saw no beauty in him, rejected the blessings he bore and proffered to all, and let his love waste itself in unavailing yearnings and beseechings. Then one cruel day they nailed him on a cross, thinking to quench the affection of his mighty heart.
There are many illustrations of the unrequiting of the holy friendship of Jesus. The treatment he received at Nazareth was one instance. He had been brought up among the people. They had seen his beautiful life during the thirty years he had lived in the village. They had known him as a child when he played in their streets. They had known him as a youth and young man in his noble strength. They had known him as a carpenter when day after day he wrought among them in humble toil.
It is interesting to think of the sinless life of Jesus all these years. There was no halo about his head but the shining of manly character. There were no miracles wrought by his hands but the miracles of duty, faithful service, and gentle kindness. Yet we cannot doubt that his life in Nazareth was one of rare grace and beauty, marked by perfect unselfishness and great helpfulness.
By and by he went away from Nazareth to begin his public ministry as the Messiah. From that time the people saw him no more. The carpenter shop was closed, and the tools lay unused on the bench. The familiar form appeared no more on the streets. A year or more passed, and one day he came back to visit his old neighbors. He stayed a little while, and on the Sabbath was at the village church as had been his wont when his home was at Nazareth. When the opportunity was given him, he unrolled the Book of Isaiah, and read the passage which tells of the anointing of the Messiah, and gives the wonderful outline of his ministry. When he had finished the reading, he told the people that this prophecy was now fulfilled in their ears. That is, he said that he was the Messiah whose anointing and work the prophet had foretold. For a time the people listened spellbound to his gracious words, and then they began to grow angry, that he whom they knew as the carpenter of their village should make such an astounding claim. They rose up in wrath, thrust him out of the synagogue, and would have hurled him over the precipice had he not eluded them and gone on his way.
He had come to them in love, bearing rich blessings; but they drove him away with the blessings. He had come to heal their sick, to cure their blind and lame, to cleanse their lepers, to comfort their sorrowing ones; but he had to go away and leave these works of mercy unwrought, while the sufferers continued to bear their burdens. His friendship for his old neighbors was unrequited.
Another instance of unrequited friendship in the life of Jesus was in the case of the rich young man who came to him. He had many excellent traits of character, and was also an earnest seeker after the truth. We are distinctly told that Jesus loved him. Thus he belongs with Martha and Mary and Lazarus, of whom the same was said. But here, again, the love was unrequited. The young man was deeply interested in Jesus, and wanted to go with him; but he could not pay the price, and turned and went away.
It is interesting to think what might have been the result if he had chosen Christ and gone with him. He might have occupied an important place in the early church, and his name might have lived through all future generations. But he loved his money too much to give it up for Christ, and rejected the way of the cross marked out for him. He refused the friendship of Jesus, and thus threw away all that was best in life. In shutting love out of his heart, he shut himself out from love.
Of all the examples of unrequited friendship in the story of Jesus, that of Judas is the saddest. We do not know the beginning of the story of his discipleship, when Judas first came to Jesus, or who brought him. But he must have been a follower some time before he was chosen to be an apostle. Jesus thought over the names of those who had left all to be with him. Then after a night of prayer he chose twelve of these to be his special messengers and witnesses. He loved them all, and took them into very close relations.
Think what a privilege it was for these men to live with Jesus. They heard all his words. They saw every phase of his life. Some friends it is better not to know too intimately. They are not as good in private as they are in public. Their life does not bear too close inspection. We discover in them dispositions, habits, ways, tempers, feelings, motives, which dim the lustre we see in them at greater distance. Intimacy weakens the friendship. But, on the other hand, there are those who, the more we see of their private life, the more we love them. Close association reveals loveliness of character, fineness of spirit, richness of heart, sweetness of disposition—habits, feelings, tempers, noble self-denials, which add to the attractiveness of the life and the charm of our friend's personality. We may be sure that intimacy with Jesus only made him appear all the more winning and beautiful to his friends. Judas lived in the warmth of this wondrous love, under the influence of this gracious personality, month after month. He witnessed the pure and holy life of Jesus in all its manifold phases, heard his words, and saw his works. Doubtless, too, in his individual relation with the Master, he received many marks of affection and personal friendship.
A careful reading of the Gospels shows that Judas was frequently warned of the very sin which in the end wrought his ruin. Continually Jesus spoke of the danger of covetousness. In the Sermon on the Mount he exhorted his disciples to lay up their treasure, not upon earth, but in heaven, and said that no one could serve God and mammon. It was just this that Judas was trying to do. In more than one parable the danger of riches was emphasized. Can we doubt that in all these reiterations and warnings on the one subject, Judas was in the Master's mind? He was trying in the faithfulness of loyal friendship to save him from the sin which was imperilling his very life.
But Judas resisted all the mighty love of Christ. It made no impression upon him; he was unaffected by it. In his heart there grew on meanwhile, unchecked, unhindered, his terrible greed for money. First it made him a thief. The money given to Jesus by his friends to provide for his wants, or to use for the poor, Judas, who was the treasurer, began at length to purloin for himself. This was the first step. The next was the selling of his Master for thirty pieces of silver. This was a more fearful fruit of his nourished greed than the purloining was. It is bad enough to steal. It is a base form of stealing which robs a church treasury as Judas did. But to take money as the price of betraying a friend—could any sin be baser? Could any crime be blacker than that? To take money as the price of betraying a friend in whose confidence one has lived for years, at whose table one has eaten day after day, in the blessing of whose friendship one has rested for months and years—are there words black enough to paint the infamy of such a deed?
All the participators in the crime of that Good Friday wear a peculiar brand of infamy as they are portrayed on the pages of history; but among them all, the most despicable, the one whose name bears the deepest infamy, is Judas, an apostle turned traitor, for a few miserable coins betraying his best friend into the hands of malignant foes.
This is the outcome of the friendship of Jesus for Judas; this was the fruit of those years of affection, cherishing, patient teaching. Think what Judas might have been. He was chosen and called to be an apostle. There was no reason in the heart of Jesus why Judas might not have been true and worthy. Sin is not God's plan for any life. Treachery and infamy were not in God's purpose for Judas. Jesus would not have chosen him for one of the Twelve if it had not been possible for him to be a good and true man. Judas fell because he had never altogether surrendered himself to Christ. He tried to serve God and mammon; but both could not stay in his heart, and instead of driving out mammon, mammon drove out Christ.
This suggests to us what a battlefield the human heart sometimes is—a Waterloo where destinies are settled. God or mammon—which? That is the question every soul must answer. How goes the battle in your soul? Who is winning on your field—Christ or money? Christ or pleasure? Christ or sin? Christ or self? Judas lost the battle; the Devil won.
A picture in Brussels represents Judas wandering about the night after the betrayal. By chance he comes upon the workmen who have been preparing the cross for Jesus. A fire burning close by throws its weird light on the faces of the men who are now sleeping. The face of Judas is somewhat in the shade; but one sees on it remorse and agony, as the traitor's eyes fall upon the cross and the tools which have been used in making it,—the cross to which his treason had doomed his friend. But though suffering in the torments of a guilty conscience, he still tightly clutches his money-bag as he hurries on into the night. The picture tells the story of the fruit of Judas's sin,—the money-bag, with eighteen dollars and sixty cents in it, and even that soon to be cast away in the madness of despair.
Unrequited friendship! Yes; and in shutting out that blessed friendship, Judas shut out hope. Longfellow puts into his mouth the despairing words:—
"Lost, lost, forever lost! I have betrayed The innocent blood ... * * * Too late! too late! I shall not see him more Among the living. That sweet, patient face Will nevermore rebuke me, nor those lips Repeat the words, 'One of you shall betray me.'"
The great lesson from all this is the peril of rejecting the friendship of Jesus Christ. In his friendship is the only way to salvation, the only way of obtaining eternal life. He calls men to come to him, to follow him, to be his friends; and thus alone can they come unto God, and be received into his family.
There is something appalling in the revealing which this truth teaches,—the power each soul possesses of shutting out all the love of God, of resisting the infinite blessing of the friendship of Christ. It is possible for us to be near to Christ through all our life, with his grace flowing about us like an ocean, and yet to have a heart that remains unblessed by divine love. We may make God's love in vain, wasted, as sunshine is wasted that falls upon desert sands, so far as we are concerned. The love that we do not requite with love, that does not get into our heart to warm, soften, and enrich it, and to mellow and bless our life, is love poured out in vain. It is made in vain by our unbelief. We may make even the dying of Jesus for us in vain,—a waste of precious life, so far as we are concerned. It is in vain for us that Jesus died if we do not let his love into our heart.
Ofttimes the unrequiting of human love makes the heart bitter. When holy friendship has been despised, rejected, and cast away, when one has loved, suffered, and sacrificed in vain, receiving only ingratitude and wrong in return for love's most sacred gifts freely lavished, the danger is that the heart may lose its sweetness, and grow cold, hard, and misanthropic. But not thus was the heart of Jesus affected by the unrequiting of his love and friendship. One Judas in the life of most men would have ended the whole career of generous kindness, drying up the fountains of affection, thus robbing those who would come after of the wealth of tenderness which ought to have been theirs. But through all the unrequiting and resisting of its love, the heart of Jesus still remained gentle as a mother's, rich in its power to love, and sweet in its spirit.
This is one of the great problems of true living,—how to keep the heart warm, gentle, compassionate, kind, full of affection's best and truest helpfulness, even amid life's hardest experiences. We cannot live and not at some time suffer wrong. We will meet injustice, however justly we ourselves may live. We will find a return of ingratitude many a time when we have done our best for others. Favors rendered are too easily forgotten by many people. There are few of us who do not remember helping others in time of great need and distress, only to lose their friendship in the end, perhaps, as a consequence of our serving them in their need. Sometimes the only return for costly kindness is cruel unkindness.
It is easy to allow such unrequiting, such ill treatment of love, to embitter the fountain of the heart's affection; but this would be to miss the true end of living, which is to get good and not evil to ourselves from every experience through which we pass. No ingratitude, injustice, or unworthiness in those to whom we try to do good, should ever be allowed to turn love's sweetness into bitterness in us. Like fresh-water springs beside the sea, over which the brackish tide flows, but which when the bitter waters have receded are found sweet as ever, so should our hearts remain amid all experiences of love's unrequiting, ever sweet, thoughtful, unselfish, and generous.
JESUS AND THE BETHANY SISTERS.
Her eyes are homes of silent prayer, Nor other thought her mind admits But, he was dead, and there he sits, And he that brought him back is there.
Then one deep love doth supersede All other, when her ardent gaze Roves from the living brother's face, And rests upon the Life indeed. TENNYSON.
The story of Jesus and the Bethany home is intensely interesting. Every thoughtful Christian has a feeling of gratitude in his heart when he remembers how much that home added to the comfort of the Master by means of the hospitality, the shelter, and the love it gave to him. One of the legends of Brittany tells us that on the day of Christ's crucifixion, as he was on his way to his cross, a bird, pitying the weary sufferer bearing his heavy burden, flew down, and plucked away one of the thorns that pierced his brow. As it did so, the blood spurted out after the thorn, and splashed the breast of the bird. Ever since that day the bird has had a splash of red on its bosom, whence it is called robin-redbreast. Certainly the love of the Bethany home drew from the breast of Jesus many a thorn, and blessed his heart with many a joy.
We have three glimpses within the doors of this home when the loved guest was there. The first shows us the Master and his disciples one day entering the village. It was Martha who received him. Martha was the mistress of the house. "She had a sister called Mary," a younger sister.
Then we have a picture as if some one had photographed the scene. We see Mary drawing up a low stool, and sitting down at the Master's feet to listen to his words. We see Martha hurrying about the house, busy preparing a meal for the visitors who had come in suddenly. This was a proper thing to do; it was needful that hospitality be shown. There is a word in the record, however, which tells us that Martha was not altogether serene as she went about her work. "Martha was cumbered about much serving." A marginal reading gives, "was distracted."
Perhaps there are many modern Christian housekeepers who would be somewhat cumbered, or distracted too, if thirteen hungry men dropped in suddenly some day, and they had to entertain them, preparing them a meal. Still, the lesson unmistakably is that Martha should not have been fretted; that she should have kept sweet amid all the pressure of work that so burdened her.
It was not quite right for her to show her impatience with Mary as she did. Coming into the room, flushed and excited, and seeing Mary sitting quietly and unconcernedly at the Rabbi's feet, drinking in his words, she appealed to Jesus, "Lord, dost thou not care that my sister did leave me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me."
I am not sure that Martha was wrong or unreasonable in thinking that Mary should have helped her. Jesus did not say she was wrong; he only reminded Martha that she ought not to let things fret and vex her. "Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things." It was not her serving that he reproved, but the fret that she allowed to creep into her heart.
The lesson is, that however heavy our burdens may be, however hurried or pressed we may be, we should always keep the peace of Christ in our heart. This is one of the problems of Christian living,—not to live without cares, which is impossible, but to keep quiet and sweet in the midst of the most cumbering care.
At the second mention of the Bethany home there is sore distress in it. A beloved one is very sick, sick unto death. Few homes are entire strangers to the experience of those days when the sufferer lay in the burning fever. Love ministered and prayed and waited. Jesus was far away, but word was sent to him. He came at length, but seemed to have come too late. "If thou hadst been here!" the sisters said, each separately, when they met the Master. But we see now the finished providence, not the mere fragment of it which the sisters saw; and we know he came at the right time. He comforted the mourners, and then he blotted out the sorrow, bringing back joy to the home.
The third picture of this home shows us a festal scene. A dinner was given in honor of Jesus. It was only a few days before his death. Here, again, the sisters appear, each true to her own character. Martha is serving, as she always is; and again Mary is at Jesus' feet. This time she is showing her wonderful love for the friend who has done so much for her. The ointment she pours upon him is an emblem of her heart's pure affection.
Mary's act was very beautiful. Love was the motive. Without love no service, however great or costly, is of any value in heaven's sight. The world may applaud, but angels turn away with indifference when love is lacking. "If I bestow all my goods to feed the poor ... but have not love, it profiteth me nothing." But love makes the smallest deed radiant as angel ministry. We need not try doing things for Christ until we love him. It would be like putting rootless rods in a garden-bed, expecting them to grow into blossoming plants. Love must be the root. It was easy for Mary to bring her alabaster box, for her heart was full of overmastering love.
Service is the fruit of love. It is not all of its fruit. Character is part too. If we love Christ, we will have Christ's beauty in our soul. Mary grew wondrously gentle and lovely as Christ's words entered her heart. Friendship with Christ makes us like Christ. But there will be service too. Love is like light, it cannot be hid. It cannot be shut up in the heart. It will not be imprisoned and restrained. It will live and speak and act. Love in the heart of Jesus brought him from heaven down to earth to be the lost world's Redeemer. Love in his apostles took them to the ends of the earth to tell the gospel story to the perishing.
It is not enough to try to hew and fashion a character into the beauty of holiness, until every feature of the image of Christ shines in the life, as the sculptor shapes the marble into the form of his vision. The most radiant spiritual beauty does not make one a complete Christian. It takes service to fill up the measure of the stature of Christ. The young man said he had kept all the commandments from his youth. "One thing thou lackest," said the Master; "sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor." Service of love was needed to make that morally exemplary life complete.
The lesson is needed by many Christian people. They are good, with blameless life, flawless character, consistent conduct; but they lack one thing,—service. Love for Christ should always serve. There is a story of a friar who was eager to win the favor of God, and set to work to illuminate the pages of the Apocalypse, after the custom of his time. He became so absorbed in his delightful occupation that he neglected the poor and the sick who were suffering and dying in the plague. He came at last, in the course of his work, to the painting of the face of his Lord in the glory of his second coming; but his hand had lost its skill. He wondered why it was, and realized that it was because, in his eagerness to paint his pictures, he had neglected his duty of serving.
Rebuffed and humiliated by the discovery, the friar drew his cowl over his head, laid aside his brushes, and went down among the sick and dying to minister to their needs. He wrought on, untiringly, until he himself was smitten with the fatal plague. Then he tottered back to his cell and to his easel, to finish his loved work before he died. He knelt in prayer to ask help, when, lo! he saw that an angel's hand had completed the picture of the glorified Lord, and in a manner far surpassing human skill.
It is only a legend, but its lesson is well worthy our serious thought. Too many people in their life as Christians, while they strive to excel in character, in conduct, and in the beautiful graces of disposition, and to do their work among men faithfully, are forgetting meanwhile the law of love which bids every follower of Christ go about doing good as the Master did. To be a Christian is far more than to be honest, truthful, sober, industrious, and decorous; it is also to be a cross-bearer after Jesus; to love men, and to serve them. Ofttimes it is to leave your fine room, your favorite work, your delightful companionship, your pet self-indulgence, and to go out among the needy, the suffering, the sinning, to try to do them good. The monk could not paint the face of the Lord while he was neglecting those who needed his ministrations and went unhelped because he came not. Nor can any Christian paint the face of the Master in its full beauty on his soul while he is neglecting any service of love.
We may follow a little the story of what happened after Mary brought her alabaster box. Some of the disciples of Jesus were angry. There always are some who find fault with the way other people show their love for Christ. It is so even in Christian churches. One member criticises what another does, or the way he does it. It will be remembered that it was Judas who began this blaming of Mary. He said the ointment would better have been sold, and the proceeds given to the poor. St. John tells us very sadly the real motive of this pious complaining; not that Judas cared for the poor, but that he was a thief, and purloined the money given for the poor.
Jesus came to Mary's defence very promptly, and in a way that must have wonderfully comforted her hurt heart. It is a grievous sin against another to find fault with any sweet, beautiful serving of Jesus which the other may have done. Christ's defence and approval of Mary should be a comfort to all who find their deeds of love criticised or blamed by others.
"Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me." The disciples had said it was a waste. That is what some persons say about much that is done for Christ. The life is wasted, they say, which is poured out in self-denials and sacrifices to bless others. But really the wasted lives are those which are devoted to pleasure and sin. Those who live a merely worldly life are wasting what it took the dying of Jesus to redeem. Oh, how pitiful much of fashionable, worldly life must appear to the angels!
"She hath done what she could." That was high praise. She had brought her best to her Lord. Perhaps some of us make too much of our little acts and trivial sacrifices. Little things are acceptable if they are really our best. But Mary's deed was not a small one. The ointment she brought was very costly. She did not use just a little of this precious nard, but poured it all out on the head and feet of Jesus. "What she could" was the best she had to give.
We may take a lesson. Do we always give our best to Christ? He gave his best for us, and is ever giving his best to us. Do we not too often give him only what is left after we have served ourselves? Then we try to soothe an uneasy conscience by quoting the Master's commendation of Mary, "She hath done what she could." Ah, Mary's "what she could" was a most costly service. It was the costliest of all her possessions that she gave. The word of Jesus about her and her gift has no possible comfort for us if our little is not our best. The widow's mites were her best, small though the money value was—she gave all she had. The poor woman's cup of cold water was all she could give. But if we give only a trifle out of our abundance, we are not doing what we could.
It is worthy of notice that the alabaster box itself was broken in this holy service. Nothing was kept back. Broken things have an important place in the Bible. Gideon's pitchers were broken as his men revealed themselves to the enemy. Paul and his companions escaped from the sea on broken pieces of the ship. It is the broken heart that God accepts. The body of Jesus was broken that it might become bread of life for the world. Out of sorrow's broken things God builds up radiant beauty. Broken earthly hopes become ofttimes the beginnings of richest heavenly blessings. We do not get the best out of anything until it is broken.
"They tell me I must bruise The rose's leaf Ere I can keep and use Its fragrance brief.
They tell me I must break The skylark's heart Ere her cage song will make The silence start.
They tell me love must bleed, And friendship weep, Ere in my deepest need I touch that deep.
Must it be always so With precious things? Must they be bruised, and go With beaten wings?
Ah, yes! By crushing days, By caging nights, by scar Of thorns and stony ways, These blessings are."
Even sorrow is not too great a price to pay for the blessings which can come only through grief and pain. We must not be afraid to be broken if that is God's will; that is the way God would make us vessels meet for his service. Only by breaking the alabaster vase can the ointment that is in it give out its rich perfume.
"She hath anointed my body aforehand for the burying." I like the word aforehand. Nicodemus, after Jesus was dead, brought a large quantity of spices and ointments to put about his body when it was laid to rest in the tomb. That was well; it was a beautiful deed. It honored the Master. We never can cease to be grateful to Nicodemus, whose long-time shy love at last found such noble expression, in helping to give fitting burial to him whom we love so deeply. But Mary's deed was better; she brought her perfume aforehand, when it could give pleasure, comfort, and strengthening, to the Master in his time of deepest sorrow. We know that his heart was gladdened by the act of love. It made his spirit a little stronger for the events of that last sad week. "She hath wrought a good work on me."
We should get a lesson in friendship's ministry. Too many wait until those they love are dead, and then bring their alabaster boxes of affection and break them. They keep silent about their love when words would mean so much, would give such cheer, encouragement, and hope, and then, when the friend lies in the coffin, their lips are unsealed, and speak out their glowing tribute on ears that heed not the laggard praise.
Many persons go through life, struggling bravely with difficulty, temptation, and hardship, carrying burdens too heavy for them, pouring out their love in unselfish serving of others, and yet are scarcely ever cheered by a word of approval or commendation, or by delicate tenderness of friendship; then, when they lie silent in death, a whole circle of admiring friends gathers to do them honor. Every one remembers a personal kindness received, a favor shown, some help given, and speaks of it in grateful words. Letters full of appreciation, commendation, and gratitude are written to sorrowing friends. Flowers are sent and piled about the coffin, enough to have strewn every hard path of the long years of struggle. How surprised some good men and women would be, after lives with scarcely a word of affection to cheer their hearts, were they to awake suddenly in the midst of their friends, a few hours after their death, and hear the testimonies that are falling from every tongue, the appreciations, the grateful words of love, the rememberings of kindness! They had never dreamed in life that they had so many friends, that so many had thought well of them, that they were helpful to so many.
After a long and worthy life, given up to lowly ministry, a good clergyman was called home. Soon after his death, there was a meeting of his friends, and many of them spoke of his beautiful life. Incidents were given showing how his labors had been blessed. Out of full hearts one after another gave grateful tribute of love. The minister's widow was present; and when all the kindly words had been spoken, she thanked the friends for what they had said. Then she asked, amid her tears, "But why did you never tell him these things while he was living?"
Yes, why not? He had wrought for forty years in a most unselfish way. He had poured out his life without stint. He had carried his people in his heart by day and by night, never sparing himself in any way when he could be of use to one of God's children. His people were devoted to him, loved him, and appreciated his labors. Yet rarely, all those years, had any of them told him of the love that was in their hearts for him, or of their gratitude for service given or good received. He was conscious of the Master's approval, and this cheered him,—it was the commendation he sought; but it would have comforted him many a time, and made the burdens seem lighter and the toil easier and the joy of serving deeper, if his people—those he loved and lived for, and helped in so many ways—had sometimes told him how much he was to them.
All about us move, these common days, those who would be strengthened and comforted by the good cheer which we could give. Let us not reserve all the flowers for coffin-lids. Let us not keep our alabaster boxes sealed and unbroken till our loved ones are dead. Let us show kindness when kindness will do good. It will make sorrow all the harder to bear if we have to say beside our dead, "I might have brightened the way a little if only I had been kinder."
It was wonderful honoring which Jesus gave to Mary's deed, when he said that wherever the gospel should be preached throughout the whole world the story of this anointing should be told. So, right in among the memorials of his own death, this ministry of love is enshrined. As the odor of the ointment filled all the room where the guests sat at table, so the aroma of Mary's love fills all the Christian world to-day. The influence of her deed, with the Master's honoring of it, has shed a benediction on countless homes, making hearts gentler, and lives sweeter and truer.
 For a fuller treatment of this incident, see Chapter XI.
JESUS COMFORTING HIS FRIENDS.
Not all regret, the face will shine Upon me while I muse alone; And that dear voice, I once have known, Still speak to me of me and mine:
Yet less of sorrow lives in me For days of happy commune dead; Less yearning for the friendship fled, Than some strong bond which is to be. TENNYSON.
A gospel with no comfort for sorrow would not meet the deepest needs of human hearts. If Jesus were a friend only for bright hours, there would be much of experience into which he could not enter. But the gospel breathes comfort on every page; and Jesus is a friend for lonely hours and times of grief and pain, as well as for sunny paths and days of gladness and song. He went to a marriage feast, and wrought his first miracle to prolong the festivity; but he went also to the home of grief, and turned its sorrow into joy.
It is well worth our while to study Jesus as a comforter, to learn how he comforted his friends. For one thing, it will teach us how to find consolation when we are in trouble. This is a point at which, with many Christians, the gospel seems oftenest to fail. In the days of the unbroken circle and of human gladness, the friends of Jesus rejoice in his love, and walk in his light with songs; but when ties are broken, and grief enters the home, the hearts that were so full of praise refuse to take the consolation of the gospel. This ought not so to be. If we knew Christ as a comforter, we would sing our songs of trust even in the night.
Another help that we may get from such a study of Jesus will be power to become a true comforter of others. This every Christian should seek to be, but this very few Christians really are. Most of us would better stay away altogether from our friends in their times of sorrow, than go to them as we do. Instead of being comforters to make them stronger to endure, we only make their grief seem bitterer, and their loss more unendurable, doing them harm instead of good. This is because we have not learned the art of giving comfort. Our Master should be our teacher; and if we study his method, we shall know how to be a blessing to our friends in their times of loss and pain.
Much of the ministry of Jesus was with those who were in trouble. There was one special occasion, however, when there was a great sorrow in the circle of his best friends. We may learn many lessons if we read over thoughtfully the story of the way Jesus comforted them.
It was the Bethany home. Before the sorrow came, Jesus was a familiar guest, a close and intimate friend of the members of the household. He always had kindly welcome and generous hospitality when he came to their door. They did not make his acquaintance for the first time when their hearts were broken. They had known him for a long time, and had listened to his gracious words when there was no grief in their home. This made it easy to turn to him and to receive his comfort when the dark days of sorrow came.
There are some who think of Christ only as a friend whom they will need in trouble. In their time of unbroken gladness they do not seek his friendship. Then, when trouble comes suddenly, they do not know how or where to find the Comforter. Wiser far are they who take Christ into their life in the glad days when the joy is unbroken. He blesses their joy. A happy home is all the happier because Jesus is a familiar guest in it. Love is all the sweeter because of his benediction. Then, when sorrow's shadow falls, there is light in the darkness.
There seems to be no need of the stars in the daytime, for the sunshine then floods all earth's paths. But when the sun goes down, and God's great splendor of stars appears hanging over us, dropping their soft, quiet light upon us, how glad we are that they were there all the while, waiting to be revealed! So it is that the friendship of Jesus in the happy years hangs above our heads the stars of heavenly comfort. We do not seem to need them at the time, and we scarcely know that they are there; we certainly have no true realization of the blessing that hides in the shining words. But when, one sad day, the light of human joy is suddenly darkened, then the divine comforts reveal themselves. We do not have to hasten here and there in pitiable distress, trying to find consolation, for we have it already in the love and grace of Christ. The Friend we took into our life in the joy-days stands close beside us now in our sadness, and his friendship never before seemed so precious, so tender, so divine.
When Lazarus fell sick, Jesus was in another part of the country. As the case grew hopeless, the sisters sent a message to Jesus to say, "He whom thou lovest is sick." The message seems remarkable. There was no urgency expressed in it, no wild, passionate pleading that Jesus would hasten to come. Its few words told of the quietness and confidence of trusting hearts. We get a lesson concerning the way we should pray when we are in distress. "Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of," and there is no need for piteous clamor. Far better is the prayer of faith, which lays the burden upon the divine heart, and leaves it there without anxiety. It is enough, when a beloved one is lying low, to say, "Lord, he whom thou lovest is sick."
We are surprised, as we read the narrative, that Jesus did not respond immediately to this message from his friends. But he waited two days before he set out for Bethany. We cannot tell why he did this, but there is something very comforting in the words that tell us of the delay. "Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When, therefore, he heard that Lazarus was sick, he abode at that time two days in the place where he was." In some way the delay was because of his love for all the household. Perhaps the meaning is that through the dying of Lazarus blessing would come to them all.
At length he reached Bethany. Lazarus had been dead four days. The family had many friends; and their house was filled with those who had come, after the custom of the times, to console them. Jesus lingered at some distance from the house, perhaps not caring to enter among those who in the conventional way were mourning with the family. He wished to meet the sorrowing sisters in a quiet place alone. So he tarried outside the village, probably sending a message to Martha, telling her that he was coming. Soon Martha met him.
We may think of the eagerness of her heart to get into his presence when she heard that he was near. What a relief it must have been to her, after the noisy grief that filled her home, to get into the quiet, peaceful presence of Jesus! He was not disturbed. His face was full of sympathy, and it was easy to see there the tokens of deep and very real grief, but his peace was not broken. He was calm and composed. Martha must have felt herself at once comforted by his mere presence. It was quieting and reassuring.
The first thing to do when we need comfort is to get into the presence of Christ. Human friendship means well when it hastens to us in our sorrow. It feels that it must do something for us, that to stay away and do nothing would be unkindness. Then, when it comes, it feels that it must talk, and must talk about our sorrow. It feels that it must go over all the details, questioning us until it seems as if our heart would break with answering. Our friends think that they must explore with us all the depths of our grief, dwelling upon the elements that are specially poignant. The result of all this "comforting" is that our burden of sorrow is made heavier instead of lighter, and we are less brave and strong than before to bear it. If we would be truly comforted we would better flee away to Christ; for in his presence we shall find consolation, which gives peace and strength and joy.
It is worth our while to note the comfort which Jesus gave to these sorrowing sisters. First, he lifted the veil, and gave them a glimpse of what lies beyond death. "Thy brother shall rise again." "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die." Thus he opened a great window into the other world. It is plainer to us than it could be to Martha and Mary; for a little while after he spoke these words, Jesus himself passed through death, coming again from the grave in immortal life. It is a wonderful comfort to those who sorrow over the departure of a Christian friend to know the true teaching of the New Testament on the subject of dying. Death is not the end; it is a door which leads into fulness of life.
Perhaps many in bereavement, though believing the doctrine of a future resurrection, fail to get present comfort from it. Jesus assured Martha that her brother should rise again. "Yes, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day." Her words show that this hope was too distant to give her much comfort. Her sense of present loss outweighed every other thought and feeling. She craved back again the companionship she had lost. Who that has stood by the grave of a precious friend has not experienced the same feeling of inadequateness in the consolation that comes from even the strongest belief in a far-off rising again of all who are in their graves?
The reply of Jesus to Martha's hungry heart-cry was very rich in its comfort. "I am the resurrection." This is one of the wonderful present tenses of Christian hope. Martha had spoken of a resurrection far away. "I am the resurrection," Jesus declared. It was something present, not remote. His words embrace the whole blessed truth of immortal life. "Whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die." There is no death for those who are in Christ. The body dies, but the person lives on. The resurrection may be in the future, but really there is no break in the life of a believer in Christ. He is not here; our eyes see him not, our ears hear not his voice, we cannot touch him with our hands, but he still lives and thinks and feels and loves. No power in his being has been quenched by dying, no beauty dimmed, no faculty destroyed.
This is a part of the comfort which Jesus gave to his friends in their bereavement. He assured them that there is no death, that all who believe in him have eternal life. There remains for those who stay here the pain of separation and of loneliness, but for those who have passed over we need have no fear.
How does Jesus comfort his friends who are left? As we read over the story of the sorrow of the Bethany home we find the answer to our question. You say, "He brought back their dead, thus comforting them with the literal undoing of the work of death and grief. If only he would do this now, in every case where love cries to him, that would be comfort indeed." But we must remember that the return of Lazarus to his home was only a temporary restoration. He came back to the old life of mortality, of temptation, of sickness and pain and death. He came back only for a season. It was not a resurrection to immortal life; it was only a restoration to mortal life. He must pass again through the mystery of dying, and his sisters must a second time experience the agony of separation and loneliness. We can scarcely call it comfort; it was merely a postponement for a little while of the final separation.
But Jesus gave the sisters true consoling besides this. His mere presence brought them comfort. They knew that he loved them. Many times before when he had entered their home he had brought a benediction. They had a feeling of security and peace in his presence. Even their inconsolable grief lost something of its poignancy when the light of his face fell upon them. Every strong, tender, and true human love has a wondrous comforting power. We can pass through a sore trial if a trusted friend is beside us. The believer can endure any sorrow if Jesus is with him.
Another element of comfort for these sorrowing sisters was in the sympathy of Jesus. He showed this sympathy with them in coming all the way from Perea, to be with them in their time of distress. He showed it in his bearing toward them and his conversation with them. There is a wonderful gentleness in his manner as he receives first one and then the other sister. Mary's grief was deeper than Martha's; and when Jesus saw her weeping, and her friends who were with her weeping, he groaned in the spirit and was troubled. Then, in the shortest verse in the Bible, we have a window into the very heart of Christ, and find there most wonderful sympathy.
"Jesus wept." It is a great comfort in time of sorrow to have even human sympathy, to know that somebody cares, that some one feels with us. The measure of the comfort in such cases is in proportion to the honor in which we hold the person. It would have had something—very much—of comfort for the sisters, if John or Peter or James had wept with them beside their brother's grave. But the tears of Jesus meant incalculably more; they told of the holiest sympathy that this world ever saw—the Son of God wept with two sisters in a great human sorrow.
This shortest verse was not written merely as a fragment of a narrative—it contains a revealing of the heart of Jesus for all time. Wherever a friend of Jesus is sorrowing, One stands by, unseen, who shares the grief, whose heart feels every pang of the sorrow. There is immeasurable comfort in this thought that the Son of God suffers with us in our suffering, is afflicted in all our affliction. We can endure our trouble more quietly when we know that God understands all about it.
There is yet another thing in the manner of Christ's comforting his friends which is very suggestive. His sympathy was not a mere sentiment. Too often human sympathy is nothing but a sentiment. Our friends cry with us, and then pass by on the other side. They tell us they are sorry for us, but they do nothing to help us. The sympathy of Jesus at Bethany was very practical. Not only did he show his love to his friends by coming away from his work in another province, to be with them in their sore trouble; not only did he speak to them words of divine comfort, words which have made a shining track through the world ever since; not only did he weep with them in their grief,—but he wrought the greatest of all his many miracles to restore the joy of their hearts and their home. It was a costly miracle, too, for it led to his own death.
Yet, knowing well what would come from this ministry of friendship, he hesitated not. For some reason he saw that it would be indeed a blessing to his friends to bring back the dead. It was because he loved the sisters and the brother that he lingered, and did not hasten when the message reached him beyond the river. We may be sure, therefore, that the raising of Lazarus, though only to a little more of the old life of weakness, had a blessing in it for the family. This was the best way in which Jesus could show his sympathy, the best comfort he could give his friends.
No doubt thousands of other friends of Jesus in the sorrow of bereavement have wished that he would comfort them in like way, by giving back their beloved. Ofttimes he does what is in effect the same,—in answer to the prayer of faith he spares the lives of those who are dear. When we pray for our sick friends, we only ask submissively that they may recover. "Not my will, but thine be done," is the refrain of our pleading. Even our most passionate longing we subdue in the quiet confidence of our faith. If it is not best for our dear ones; if it would not be a real blessing; if it is not God's way,—then "Thy will be done." If we pray the prayer of faith, we must believe that the issue, whatever it may be, is God's best for us.
If our friend is taken away after such committing of faith to God's wisdom and love, there is immeasurable comfort at once in the confidence that it was God's will. Then, while no miracle is wrought, bringing back our dead, the sympathy of Christ yet brings practical consolation. The word comfort means strengthening. We are helped to bear our sorrow.
The teaching of the Scriptures is that when we come with our trials to God, he either relieves us of them, or gives us the grace we need to endure them. He does not promise to lift away the burden that we cast upon him, but he will sustain us in our bearing of the burden. When the human presence is taken from us, Christ comes nearer than before, and reveals to us more of his love and grace.
The problem of sorrow in a Christian life is a very serious one. It is important that we have a clear understanding upon the subject, that we may receive blessing and not hurt from our experience. Every sorrow that comes into our life brings us something good from God; but we may reject the good, and if we do, we receive evil instead. The comfort God gives is not the taking away of the trouble, nor is it the dulling of our heart's sensibilities so that we shall not feel the pain so keenly. God's comfort is strength to endure in the experience. If we put our life into the hands of Christ in the time of sorrow, and with quiet faith and sweet trust go on with our duty, all shall be well. If we resist and struggle and rebel, we shall not only miss the blessing of comfort that is infolded for us in our sorrow, but we shall receive hurt in our own life. When one is soured and embittered by trial, one has received hurt rather than blessing; but if we accept our sorrow with love and trust, we shall come out of it enriched in life and character, and prepared for better work and greater usefulness.