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The Teaching of Jesus
by George Jackson
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There is a further fact also to be taken into account in considering Christ's two-fold classification. Since it is the work of infinite knowledge and justice it will have regard to all the facts of our life. God looks not only at the narrow present, but back into the past, and forward into the future. He marks the trend of the life, the bent and bias of the soul. He chalks down no line saying, "Reach this or you are undone for ever." He sets up no absolute standard to which if a man attain he is a saint, or falling short of which he is a sinner. And when He calls one man righteous and another wicked, He means very much more than that one has done so many good deeds, and another so many evil deeds; "righteous" and "wicked" describe what each is in himself, what each will decisively reveal himself to be, when present tendencies have fully worked themselves out. There are two twilights, the twilight of evening and the twilight of morning; and therefore God's question to us is not, how much light have we? but, which way do we face? to the night or to the day? Not "What art thou?" but "What wilt thou?" is the supreme question; it is the answer to this which sets some on the right hand and some on the left.

* * * * *

Let us close as we began, remembering that it is Christ who is to be our Judge. Therefore will the judgment be according to perfect truth. We know how He judged men when He was here on earth—without respect of persons, undeceived by appearances, seeing things always as they are, calling them always by their true names. And such will His judgment be hereafter. On the walls of the famous Rock Tombs of Thebes, there is a group of figures representing the judging of the departed spirit before Osiris, the presiding deity of the dead. In one hand he holds a shepherd's crook, in the other a scourge; before him are the scales of justice; that which is weighed is the heart of the dead king upon whose lot the deity is called to decide. The pictured symbol is a dim foreshadowing of that perfect judgment which He who looketh not at the outward appearance but at the heart will one day pass on all the lives of men. And yet an apostle has dared to write of "boldness in the day of Judgment"! Surely St. John is very bold; yet was his boldness well-based. He remembered the saying of his own Gospel: "The Father hath given all judgment unto the Son ... because He is the Son of Man." Yes; He who will come to be our Judge is He who once for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was made man, and upon the Cross did suffer death for our redemption. Herein is the secret of the "boldness" of the redeemed.

"Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness My beauty are, my glorious dress; 'Midst flaming worlds in these arrayed, With joy shall I lift up my head.

Bold shall I stand in that great day, For who aught to my charge shall lay? Fully absolved through these I am, From sin and fear, from guilt and shame."

* * * * *



CONCERNING THE FUTURE LIFE

"My knowledge of that life is small, The eye of faith is dim; But 'tis enough that Christ knows all, And I shall be with Him." RICHARD BAXTER.

* * * * *



XVI

CONCERNING THE FUTURE LIFE

"Where neither moth nor rust doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal."—MATT. vi. 20.

"Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched."—MARK ix. 48.

These are both sayings of Christ, and each has reference to the life beyond death; together they illustrate the two-fold thought of the future which finds a place in all the records of our Lord's teaching.

Popular theology, it is sometimes said, seriously misunderstands and misinterprets Jesus. And so far as the theology of the future life is concerned there need be no hesitation in admitting that, not unfrequently, it has been disfigured by an almost grotesque literalism. The pulpit has often forgotten that over-statement is always a blunder, and that any attempt to imagine the wholly unimaginable is most likely to end in defeating our own intentions and in dissipating, rather than reinforcing, our sense of the tremendous realities of which Christ spoke. Nevertheless, much as theology may have erred in the form of its teaching concerning the future, its great central ideas have always been derived direct from Christ. It has not, we know, always made its appeal to what is highest in man; it has sometimes spoken of "heaven" and "hell" in a fashion that has left heart and conscience wholly untouched; nevertheless, the time has not yet come—until men cease to believe in Christ, the time never will have come—for banishing these words from our vocabulary. Unless Christ were both a deceiver and deceived, they represent realities as abiding as God and the soul, realities towards which it behoves every man of us to discover how he stands. In the teaching of Jesus, no less than in the teaching of popular theology, the future has a bright side and it has a dark side; there is a heaven and there is a hell.

I

That there is a life beyond this life, that death does not end all, is of course always assumed in the teaching of Jesus. But it is much more than this that we desire to know. What kind of a life is it? What are its conditions? How is it related to the present life? What is the "glory" into which, as we believe, "the souls of believers at their death do immediately pass"? Perhaps our first impression, as we search the New Testament for an answer to our questions, is one of disappointment; there is so much that still remains unrevealed. We do indeed read of dead men raised to life again by the power of God, but of the awful and unimaginable experiences through which they passed not a word is told.

"'Where wert thou, brother, those four days?' There lives no record of reply. . . . . . Behold a man raised up by Christ! The rest remaineth unreveal'd; He told it not; or something seal'd The lips of that Evangelist."

How much even Christ Himself has left untold! At His incarnation, and again at His resurrection, He came forth from that world into which we all must pass; yet how few were His words concerning it, how little able we still are to picture it! Nevertheless, if He has not told us all, He has told us enough. Let us recall some of His words.

He spoke of "everlasting habitations"—"eternal tabernacles"—into which men should be received. Here we are as pilgrims and sojourners, dwelling in a land not our own.

"Earth's but a sorry tent, Pitched but a few frail days;"

and the chances and changes of this mortal life often bear heavily upon us. But there these things have no place. Moth and rust, change and decay, sorrow and death cannot enter there.

"The day's aye fair I' the land o' the leal."

Again, Christ said, "I go to prepare a place for you." Just as when a little child is born into the world it comes to a place made ready for it by the thousand little tendernesses of a mother's love, so does death lead us, not into the bleak, inhospitable night, but into the "Father's house," to a place which love has made ready for our coming. "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit." Into Thy hands—thither Jesus passed from the Cross and the cruel hands of men; thither have passed the lost ones of our love; thither, too, we in our turn shall pass. Why, then, if we believe in Jesus should we be afraid? "Having death for my friend," says an unknown Greek writer, "I tremble not at shadows." Having Jesus for our friend we tremble not at death.

Further, Christ taught us, the heavenly life is a life of service. Every one knows how largely the idea of rest has entered into our common conceptions of the future. It is indeed a pathetic commentary on the weariness and restlessness of life that with so many rest should almost have come to be a synonym for blessedness. But rest is far from being the final word of Scripture concerning the life to come. Surely life, with its thousandfold activities, is not meant as a preparation for a Paradise of inaction. What can be the meaning and purpose of the life which we are called to pass through here, if our hereafter is to be but one prolonged act of adoration? We shall carry with us into the future not character only but capacity; and can it be that God will lay aside as useless there that which with so great pains He has sought to perfect here? It is not so that Christ has taught us to think: "He that received the five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliverest unto me five talents: lo, I have gained other five talents. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord." God will not take the tools out of the workman's hands just when he has learned how to handle them; He will not "pension off" His servants just when they are best able to serve Him. The reward of work well done is more work; faithfulness in few things brings lordship over many. Have we not here a ray of light on the mystery of unfinished lives? We do not murmur when the old and tired are gathered to their rest; but when little children die, when youth falls in life's morning, when the strong man is cut off in his strength, we know not what to say. But do not "His servants serve Him" there as well as here? Their work is not done; in ways beyond our thoughts it is going forward still. [60]

One other question concerning the future with which, as by an instinct, we turn to Christ for answer is suggested by the following touching little poem:

"I can recall so well how she would look— How at the very murmur of her dress On entering the room, the whole room took An air of gentleness.

That was so long ago, and yet his eyes Had always afterwards the look that waits And yearns, and waits again, nor can disguise Something it contemplates.

May we imagine it? The sob, the tears, The long, sweet, shuddering breath; then on her breast The great, full, flooding sense of endless years, Of heaven, and her, and rest."

Can we quote the authority of Jesus for thoughts like these? The point is, let it be noted, not whether we shall know each other again beyond death, but whether we shall be to each other what we were here. At the foot of the white marble cross which his wife placed upon the grave of Charles Kingsley are graven these three words: Amavimus, Amamus, Amabimus ("We have loved, we love, we shall love"). After Mrs. Browning's death her husband wrote these lines from Dante in her Testament: "Thus I believe, thus I affirm, thus I am certain it is, that from this life I shall pass to another better, there, where that lady lives, of whom my soul was enamoured." Will Christ counter-sign a hope like this? I do not know any "proof-text" that can be quoted, yet it were profanation to think otherwise. There are many flowers of time, we know, which cannot be transplanted; but "love never faileth," love is the true immortelle. And whatever changes death may bring, those who have been our nearest here shall be our nearest there. And though, as I say, we can quote no "proof-text," our faith may find its guarantee in the great word of Jesus: "If it were not so, I would have told you." This is one of the instincts of the Christian heart, as pure and good as it is firm and strong. Since Christ let it pass unchallenged, may we not claim His sanction for it? If it were not so, He would have told us.

II

I turn now to the reverse side of Christ's teaching concerning the future. And let us not seek to hide from ourselves the fact that there is a reverse side. For, ignore it as we may, the fact remains: those same holy lips which spoke of a place, "where neither moth nor rust doth consume," spoke likewise of another place, "where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched."

In considering this solemn matter we must learn to keep wholly separate from it a number of difficult questions which have really nothing to do with it—with which, indeed, we have nothing to do—and the introduction of which can only lead to mischievous confusion and error. What is to become of the countless multitudes in heathen lands who die without having so much as heard of Christ? How will God deal with those even in our own Christian land to whom, at least as it seems to us, this life has brought no adequate opportunity of salvation? What will happen in that dim twilight land betwixt death and judgment which men call "the intermediate state"? Will they be few or many who at last will be for ever outcasts from the presence of God? These are questions men will persist in asking, but the answer to which no man knows. Strictly speaking, they are matters with which we have nothing to do, which we must be content to leave with God, confident that the Judge of all the earth will do right, even though He does not show us how. What we have to do with, what does concern us, is the warning of Jesus, emphatic and reiterated, that sin will be visited with punishment, that retribution, just, awful, inexorable, will fall on all them that love and work iniquity.

"But why," it may be asked, "why dwell upon these things? Is there not something coarse and vulgar in this appeal to men's fears? And, after all, to what purpose is it? If men are not won by the love of God, of what avail is it to speak to them of His wrath?" But fear is as real an element in human nature as love, and when our aim is by all means to save men, it is surely legitimate to make our appeal to the whole man, to lay our fingers on every note—the lower notes no less than the higher—in the wide gamut of human life. The preacher of the gospel, moreover, is left without choice in the matter. It is no part of his business to ask what is the use of this or of that in the message given to him to deliver; it is for him to declare "the whole counsel of God," to keep back nothing that has been revealed. And the really decisive consideration is this—that this is a matter on which Christ Himself has spoken, and spoken with unmistakable clearness and emphasis. Shall, then, the ambassador hesitate when the will of the King is made known? More often—five times more often, it is said[61]—than Jesus spoke of future blessedness did He speak of future retribution. The New Testament is a very tender book; but it is also a very stern book, and its sternest words are words of Jesus. "For the sins of the miserable, the forlorn, the friendless, He has pity and compassion; but for the sins of the well-taught, the high-placed, the rich, the self-indulgent, for obstinate and malignant sin, the sin of those who hate, and deceive, and corrupt, and betray, His wrath is terrible, its expression is unrestrained."[62] "Jesu, Thou art all compassion," we sometimes sing; but is it really so? St. Paul writes of "the meekness and gentleness of Christ"; and for many of the chapters of Christ's life that is the right headline; but there are other chapters which by no possible manipulation can be brought under that heading, and they also are part of the story. It was Jesus who said that in the day of judgment it should be more tolerable for even Tyre and Sidon than for Bethsaida and Chorazin; it was Jesus who uttered that terrible twenty-third chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel, with its seven times repeated "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" it was Jesus who spoke of the shut door and the outer darkness, of the worm that dieth not, and the fire that is not quenched, of the sin which hath never forgiveness, neither in this world, nor in that which is to come, and of that day when He who wept over Jerusalem and prayed for His murderers and died for the world will say unto them on His left hand, "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels." These are His words, and it is because they are His they make us tremble. He is "gentle Jesus, meek and mild"; that is why His sternness is so terrible.

These things are not said in order to defend any particular theory of future punishment—on that dread subject, indeed, the present writer has no "theory" to defend; he frankly confesses himself an agnostic—but rather to claim for the solemn fact of retribution a place in our minds akin to that which it held in the teaching of our Lord. We need have no further concern than to be loyal to Him. Does, then, such loyalty admit of a belief in universal salvation? Is it open to us to assert that in Christ the whole race is predestined to "glory, honour, and immortality"? The "larger hope" of the universalist—

"that good shall fall At last—far off—at last, to all, And every winter change to spring"—

is, indeed, one to which no Christian heart can be a stranger; yearnings such as these spring up within us unbidden and uncondemned. But when it is definitely and positively asserted that "God has destined all men to eternal glory, irrespective of their faith and conduct," "that no antagonism to the Divine authority, no insensibility to the Divine love, can prevent the eternal decree from being accomplished," we shall do well to pause, and pause again. The old doctrine of an assured salvation for an elect few we reject without hesitation. But, as Dr. Dale has pointed out,[63] the difference between the old doctrine and the new is merely an arithmetical, not a moral difference: where the old put "some," the new puts "all"; and the moral objections which are valid against the one are not less valid against the other also. I dare not say to myself, and therefore I dare not say to others, that, let a man live as he may, it yet shall be well with him in the end. The facts of experience are against it; the words of Christ are against it. "The very conception of human freedom involves the possibility of its permanent misuse, of what our Lord Himself calls 'eternal sin.'" If a man can go on successfully resisting Divine grace in this life, what reason have we for supposing that it would suddenly become irresistible in another life? Build what we may on the unrevealed mercies of the future for them that live and die in the darkness of ignorance, let us build nothing for ourselves who are shutting our eyes and closing our hearts to the Divine light and love which are already ours.

* * * * *

"Behold, then, the goodness and severity of God;" and may His goodness lead us to repentance, that His severity we may never know. This is, indeed, His will for every one of us: He has "appointed us not unto wrath, but unto the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." If we are lost we are suicides.

THE END



Footnote 1: J. Stalker, The Christology of Jesus, p. 23, footnote.

Footnote 2: "The sources for our knowledge of the actual teaching of Jesus do not lie merely in the Gospel accounts, but also in the literature of the apostolic age, especially in the Epistles of Paul.... Even had no direct accounts about Jesus been handed down to us, we should still possess, in the apostolic literature, a perfectly valid testimony to the historical existence and epoch-making significance of Jesus as a teacher."—H.H. Wendt, Teaching of Jesus, vol. i, p. 28.

Footnote 3: What is Christianity? p. 20.

Footnote 4: Three Essays on Religion, p. 253.

Footnote 5: Literature and Dogma, p. 10.

Footnote 6: See Harnack's What is Christianity? p. 4.

Footnote 7: See A.S. Peake's Guide to Biblical Study, p. 244.

Footnote 8: Thoughts on Religion, p. 157.

Footnote 9: The Kingdom of God, p. 50.

Footnote 10: "Christian apologists," says Dr. Sanday, "have often done scant justice to the intensity of this [monotheistic] faith, which was utterly disinterested and capable of magnificent self-sacrifice."—Art. "God," Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible, vol. ii, p. 205.

Footnote 11: See R.F. Horton's Teaching of Jesus, p. 59.

Footnote 12: A.M. Fairbairn, Christ in Modern Theology, p. 244.

Footnote 13: On the subject of this chapter see especially G.B. Stevens' Theology of the New Testament, chap. vi.

Footnote 14: Christian Doctrine, p. 77.

Footnote 15: Bishop Gore, Bampton Lectures, 1891, p. 13.

Footnote 16: J. Denney, Studies in Theology, p. 25.

Footnote 17: For an admirable statement of the argument of this paragraph see D.W. Forrest's Christ of History and experience, chap. i. and note 4, p. 385.

Footnote 18: Cp. Denney's note on St. Paul's description of Christ, "Him who knew no sin," in 2 Cor. v. 21: "The Greek negative (mae), as Schmiedel remarks, implies that this is regarded as the verdict of some one else than the writer. It was Christ's own verdict upon Himself."

Footnote 19: The Death of Christ, p. 28.

Footnote 20: The Philosophy of the Christian Religion, p. 408.

Footnote 21: John xii. 27, 28; xiii. 31; xvii. 1.

Footnote 22: G.B. Stevens, Theology of the New Testament, p. 133.

Footnote 23: I quote once more from Dr. Denney.

Footnote 24: J. Denney, Studies in Theology, p. 154.

Footnote 25: See W.N. Clarke's Outlines of Christian Theology, p. 373.

Footnote 26: "It is the Holy Spirit who supplies the bodily presence of Christ, and by Him doth He accomplish all His promises to the Church. Hence, some of the ancients call Him 'Vicarium Christi,' 'The Vicar of Christ,' or Him who represents His person and dischargeth His promised work: Operam navat Christo vicariam."—Owen, Works, vol. iii. p. 193.

Footnote 27: "Our sources with the utmost possible uniformity refer to the Spirit in terms implying personality."—Stevens, Theology of the New Testament (p. 215), where the whole question is discussed with great fullness and fairness.

Footnote 28: John Watson, The Mind of the Master, p. 321. May we remind Dr. Watson of what he has himself written on the first page of his Doctrines of Grace: "It was the mission of St. Paul to declare the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to the nations, and none of his successors in this high office has spoken with such persuasive power. Any one differs from St. Paul at his intellectual peril, and every one may imitate him with spiritual profit."

Footnote 29: See, in confirmation of the argument of this paragraph, Orr's Christian View of God and the World, p. 401 ff., and Art. "The Kingdom of God," in Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible; Denney's Studies in Theology, Lect. VIII.

Footnote 30: J. Watson, The Mind of the Master, p. 323.

Footnote 31: F.G. Peabody, Jesus Christ and the Social Question, pp. 88, 89.

Footnote 32: Fellowship with Christ, p. 157.

Footnote 33: See Trench's Study of Words, p. 100.

Footnote 34: The chapter entitled "Christ's Doctrine of Man" is one of the most suggestive chapters in Dr. Bruce's admirable work The Kingdom of God.

Footnote 35: Studies in Theology, p. 83.

Footnote 36: See Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible, Art. "Sin," vol. iii. p. 533.

Footnote 37: This is the R.V. marginal rendering of Gen. iv. 13.

Footnote 38: R.W. Dale, Evangelical Revival and other Sermons, p. 66 ff.

Footnote 39: The Kingdom of God, p. 203.

Footnote 40: In his famous sermon on the Pharisees, University Sermons, p. 32.

Footnote 41: R.W. Church, Gifts of Civilisation, p. 71.

Footnote 42: Prov. iv. 7: "Get wisdom; and with all thy getting get understanding," which does not mean simply, "Whatever else you get, be sure to get understanding." The marginal reference is to Matt. xiii. 44: wisdom, like the pearl of great price, is to be secured with, i.e. at the cost and sacrifice of, everything else that can be gotten. (See J.R. Lumby on "Shortcomings of Translation," Expositor, second series, VOL. iii. p. 203.)

Footnote 43: 2 Cor. v. 9 R.V. margin.

Footnote 44: Laws of Christ for Common Life, p. 59.

Footnote 45: Bible Characters: Stephen to Timothy, p. 95.

Footnote 46: On the Authorized Version of the New Testament, p. 14.

Footnote 47: I am indebted for these two quotations to Bishop Paget's Spirit of Discipline, p. 66.

Footnote 48: P. Carnegie Simpson, The Fact of Christ, pp. 116, 117.

Footnote 49: Time and Tide, p. 224.

Footnote 50: F.G. Peabody, Jesus Christ and the Social Problem, p. 219.

Footnote 51: Emerson had surely overlooked this nobler meaning of the word when he wrote, "They [the English] put up no Socratic prayer, much less any saintly prayer, for the queen's mind; ask neither for light nor right, but say bluntly, 'grant her in health and wealth long to live'" (English Traits).

Footnote 52: To those who are interested in the subject of this chapter Prof. Peabody's book already referred to, and an article entitled "The Teaching of Christ concerning the Use of Money" (Expositor, third series, vol. viii. p. 100 ff.) may be recommended.

Footnote 53: Studies in Theology, p. 239.

Footnote 54: "There is no subject on which it is more difficult to ascertain the teaching of Christ than that which relates to the future of the kingdom."—A.B. Bruce, The Kingdom of God, p. 273.

Footnote 55: J. Agar Beet, The Last Things, p. 46.

Footnote 56: Marcus Dods, The Parables of our Lord (first series), p. 238.

Footnote 57: Cathedral and University Sermons, p. 10.

Footnote 58: John Watson, The Mind of the Master, pp. 203, 204.

Footnote 59: See T.G. Selby's Imperfect Angel and other Sermons, p. 211. Cf. Zachariah Coleman in "Mark Rutherford's" Revolution in Tanners Lane: "That is a passage that I never could quite understand. I never hardly see a pure breed, either of goat or sheep. I never see anybody who deserves to go straight to heaven or who deserves to go straight to hell. When the Judgment Day comes it will be a difficult task."

Footnote 60: See the very striking and beautiful chapter entitled "The Continuity of Life" in Watson's Mind of the Master.

Footnote 61: See T.G. Selby's Ministry of the Lord Jesus, p. 279.

Footnote 62: R.W. Church, Human Life and its Conditions, p. 103.

Footnote 63: In a striking article entitled "The Old Antinomianism and the New" (Congregational Review, Jan. 1887).

THE END

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